Meet the Channel is a recurring Channel Futures column that examines channel trends through the history and experience of those who work in it. We caught up with Paul Segre, CEO of call center and customer experience solution provider Genesys, to talk about how the relationship between telco and IT has changed in the last two decades and how to build a culture that can go the distance.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Channel Futures: You’ve made quite a name for yourself and Genesys over in the contact-center space. How long have you worked in that sector?
Paul Segre: I started in Genesys in 2002. Before that I was in telecom broadband. I was always on the product-management side of the business through general management until I joined Genesys as CTO. I did that for about 18 months and then moved into [sales, service and support]. I have a strong belief in career development both in myself and for others that you should be moving every three years.
But I’ve been CEO since 2007, and I have to pitch to new employees who are asking, “You’ve been CEO for more than 10 years, so how is that consistent?” My answer is that you need to change the company every three to four years. You’re changing things not just from a technology perspective, but when it comes to process, tools, culture.
CF: In your telco years with AT&T and others, did you have much interaction with the partner community?
PS: Not so much. AT&T ... was a direct business for selling carrier equipment to telcos or software to telcos, so it was always a direct thing. That’s actually one of the things I wanted out of Genesys was to get into a more enterprise-focused cycle where you have 11,000 customers. Alcatel acquired Genesys [in 1999], and I moved down a year later.
At Alcatel, in my last year, 75 percent of my revenue was two customers that did about $1.4 billion [of that].
CF: That’s a dangerous place to be. Did you ever watch Mad Men? They were your Lucky Strike account.
PS: It really was. It’s crazy. Part of what I wanted personally was to get more into selling to a large number of enterprises and more industries being billed direct as well as indirect. And we are about two-thirds of sales through partners, and even where we are direct, we’ll often have technology partners.
CF: The early 2000s was a big time of change, one of the big sea changes in tech. What are some of the other waves you and Genesys have ridden out, and what’s your strategy there?
PS: What we’ve done pretty consistently is look for discontinuities in the market. In the early years, pretty much the first two decades, it was all about the shift from things being proprietary integrated hardware and software to just being software. So whenever something became a software thing, we would move in and have the competitive advantage because we were a software company, whereas the previous [leaders] were hardware companies. You can think about Cisco and Avaya, who came out of that hardware background and, I would argue, have never made the transition to really being a software-type company.
Most recently, it’s extended that idea [of transition] into the transition to cloud. Lately, we've been looking at discontinuities where ... different markets are merging. So you can think about digital merging with voice. WFO, workforce optimization, has been a separate market historically, but it’s converging with our market so we have the early movers driving the innovation of that. The idea is always looking to expand into markets that play to our strengths, both technological and brand strengths.
CF: So how have those conversations with customers changed?
PS: In those early days, sales was primarily to the telecom departments. We tried to disrupt those players by saying it wasn’t about telephony, it’s about IT. Obviously, players like Cisco and Avaya came in and started selling to IT, so we moved more up the business. Even when you’re selling to IT people, the talk within IT is not about speeds and feeds, but about business partners and IT for business. Today when we look at who we sell to, it’s ... roughly 50-50 between business and IT, but even the IT people tend to be fairly business savvy. People care about the technology, but what they really want to see is how am I going to get value? How can I measure the value? How long is it going to take to get the value?
The other key thing is that yes, there is a technology sale, but I would say that it's more about people being convinced that you're going to be there for the long term. When they buy in to us, they're actually buying a product that will survive their vision. Maybe they can roughly see out three years, and maybe if they're really good, maybe five years, but beyond that, it's all foggy. We have lots of customers that have been with us for 15 years or more. For them, they understand that they need a partner who's gonna have to be there because it's a big commitment to deploy the type of systems that we have.
CF: How have all of these changes impacted the culture at Genesys?
PS: I think the hardest challenge for us is that five years ago, we were a company of 1,500 people. Now we're a company of 5,000. The last six years, we made 16 acquisitions. [As] part of our acquisitions we always look at cultural fit, but it's never perfect. Even if they're very similar, it's not the same. Change is hard. Do the people fit in? We're pretty, I would say, intolerant if you don't really like to be nice. We're collaborative, and if you're not nice and collaborative, you're probably not going to be here. If you're not achieving, we'll be very nice about it, but we'll separate ways.
The biggest challenge of our customers is breaking down silos. If you think about it, you have the telecom silo and a digital silo, maybe a geographic silo or internet and voice and data. A lot of what we need to do now is be fluent in all these different silos and help them break things down. Internally, we need to help people think about future stakes. Which, if you're focusing only on one silo, then you're not going to get the right result.
Internally, some of that is on product. Breaking down product silos requires us to connect and to engage, because what we're trying to do is offer one face to our customers. It’s a somewhat personal choice, to set the vision and set the culture of collaboration to help people get to that. I think that's my philosophy. There are other ways to do it. That's our way.