Ian Lee is VP Strategy at Sensei Labs, a Division of Klick Inc. He is a twenty-five year veteran of strategic consulting, digital marketing, solutions architecture and client service. He has worked with clients across a broad spectrum of both consumer and B2B industries, devising business and technical solutions for marketing, infrastructure, collaboration and knowledge management.
Prior to joining Klick, Ian held senior leadership positions at several prominent North American digital agencies, engaging with clients in the automotive, pharmaceutical, retail, finance, aerospace, technology and transportation sectors. His core focus is the technology of business management and how data-driven approaches can be applied to optimize team and individual workflows, performance, innovation and employee engagement. He joins us from Toronto to discuss the role of the digital strategist in sales. You can hear our conversation in the podcast in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud or below now.
Ian sees the role of the strategist in the sales process as ‘bringing to life and articulating what might otherwise be abstract terms and theoretical descriptions of the business benefit we can bring to companies…Being able to couch all the benefits in terms that might mean something to the prospect’.
His start in the industry was as an entrepreneur, working with a partner in University. At this time, Ian was working in more of an operational role while his colleague was the business lead. However, over time he discovered that he really enjoyed the engagement process, and in particular what he describes as solution sales. He defines this as ‘selling on the basis of how all the puzzle pieces come together as opposed to just on features and benefits’.
In order to become successful at this, Ian sees a critical requirement is to develop your emotional quotient and your political and emotional acumen. As he says, ‘you’ll need to learn to think on your feet and be persuasive without being perceived as being manipulative…As part of that you’ll learn to structure and guide conversations to help both you and your clients arrive at end points that are beneficial to the both of you’.
While Ian sees a clear dividing line between the strategist and sales person, there are also cross-overs in skill sets. As he says, ‘good sales professionals are by nature good strategists and good strategists have built good sales bones in their bodies over time as well’. But the requirements for the strategist are distinct. The strategist has to be ‘perceived as the sage…is expected to be the iconoclast, not just for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being refreshingly honest about what is and isn’t achievable’. In order to do this, Ian sees a requirement that we have touched on before and says that the strategist needs to ‘be a storyteller that can paint a picture, not for one person in the room but for all the constituents, to understand from an emotional, political and business basis what really is it that is going to be high on the list of priorities…. (the strategist must) help establish credibility between ‘the smart folks’ on both sides’.
His advice to those that aspire to become strategists is to be relentlessly curious. Ian describes himself as a voracious consumer of content, whether it’s trade news, industry news or ebooks and says that ‘there has never been a time when information has been so accessible, so easily searchable, free…there really is no excuse’.
In addition to this, he says that you ‘have to roll up your sleeves’ and immerse yourself as a ‘digital denizen’, something that he believes sales professionals unfortunately rarely do. From his perspective, ‘they are the ones that learn how to say just enough to be able to open the door and say ‘let me get somebody smarter to talk to you about this’…That’s a cop out’. An example he gives of this need to get first hand experience is that twenty five years into his career he has signed up for code academy.
Ian’s final piece of advice on determining if a career in digital strategy is right for you is to ask you to contemplate the nature of partnership and how you understand your relationship with your client. As he says, ‘we talk about what it means to be a partner to your client, but it’s almost a throwaway term. To become a strategist, you need to think about what does it truly mean to be a partner…what does it mean to be a life partner to someone? You expect that person to look out for your regard. You expect that person to be thinking ahead for your benefit. You expect that person to be protective of your interests and to keep your interests at heart, and if you can’t think that way and can’t train yourself to think that way on behalf of the business that your client is in and can only think on a mercenary basis…then you have no business calling yourself a partner’.
Next week on octopus, we will explore the role of the digital strategist in journalism. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.