For Henri Richard, starting his job at NetApp during the enterprise storage technology firm’s annual sales kickoff was something of a double-edged sword.
“It was my first exposure to the company, and on the one hand, it gave me a really good feel for the organization at large,” he told B2B News Network in a phone interview. “The disadvantage was that my ability to make change in year one was limited, because a lot of the fundamentals –quotas, comp plans, goalling, territory definition, priorities between regions and channels were — largely set in stone.”
After nearly two years as NetApp’s executive vice-president of Field and Customer Operations, however, Richard has been busy moving changes forward. The firm has been surprising investment analysts with consecutive quarters of growth, for example, building its reputation in flash storage and now repositioning itself as a player in the hybrid cloud arena.
“I kind of follow a framework,” said Richard, who admits to a history of joining companies in need of a turnaround. “Year one is about stabiliziation — you need to establish a good base from which to sprint up. Year two is testing hypotheses to change the operations and culture of the sales force. Year three is doubling down on getting to the end game of the restructuring.”
One of the changes to the NetApp sales team’s comp plan, for instance, ensured that it would not effectively be competing with its own OEM partners for the same customers. Then there is the matter of resolving potential scuffles between sales team members and NetApp channel partners over who has control of the final transaction when someone makes a purchase.
“I’m always surprised how organizations develop a strategy, and then put in place methods and measurements that sometimes don’t support or even oppose the strategy,” he said. “It sounds silly, but it’s pretty simple to fix.”
A more complex issue was catching up to the flash storage space, the disruptive nature of which NetApp underestimated, Richard said. Many B2B firms need to pivot into new areas, of course, but Richard said the only thing that works is to be bold and clear about what you’re trying to do.
“Who gets up in the morning and gets excited about being No. 4 in anything?” he said. “The only way you’re going to get up on stage and have people give the best of themselves is by telling them they’re going to be No. 1.”
Cloud computing, meanwhile, meant changing perceptions among a sales team used to pitching “boxes,” or storage appliances, and meeting with cloud providers to see how NetApp could seize the potential opportunity. Now, he said, the firm not only sees the cloud as a major “demand engine” to for sales but a way to continue doing what it’s done best.
“Every single industry analyst was writing about the fact that NetApp was going to get killed by the cloud,” he noted. “Now we have a salesforce that’s able to start cloud-first, but the reality is eventually, everybody still needs some on-premise IT.”
Richard insists there is a lot more to NetApp’s turnaround than the sales operation, but he spoke with confidence about presenting his future plans for the organization at a financial event this week.
“I’m not an enterprise storage specialist, just a sales leader. You have to come into an organization with humility to get to know the people, understanding what they’re thinking, why they’re thinking it and analyze what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty good scorecard in year two.”
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