Growth by acquisition is a quick path to scale but one but fraught with pitfalls, especially among businesses with robust inside sales operations whose technologies, cultures and methods don’t match up. The list of corporate marriages that make strong synergistic sense in theory but flop in practice is long, and the difference between success and failure in this area is often simple leadership.
One company that’s consistently managed to navigate the shoals of acquisition peril is Infor. Since its founding in 2002, Infor has made dozens of acquisitions and is known for doing so very effectively. As a B2B software seller substantially built on an inside sales model, effective integration of acquired teams is indispensable. And one person responsible for making it happen is Katie Azuma, Infor’s VP of global business development.
I asked Katie to explain her playbook for ensuring successful acquisitions.
KA: Having been an acquired company at one point in my career I learned from that experience.
The number one thing that is important to do is to listen and to understand the culture of that company. That means understanding who they are, what are their values, what is success to them? What do their processes look like? And to really understand the vocabulary of that organization because while we all use the same words, they often mean very different things from company to company. What I’ve learned over time is unless you really dig into not just the word but the definition behind the word, you can’t get people to see the same thing at the same time, even if they’re sitting at the same table.
So, I spend a lot of time reading their playbooks and looking at how they onboard and what is their job description, and what is the qualification criteria for an opportunity and continuing to ask questions even when it seems like we already have the answer because if not, inevitably there will be that moment when we realize we’ve missed something really critical and that’s where friction happens in an acquisition.
And so, spending the time up front, even when all of our businesses want us to create really quick integration plans and bring the organizations together, spending the time up front listening to what’s important to those teams is the best spent time that I can think of.
DE: What are some challenges particularly unique to merging of sales organizations within acquired companies?
KA: The sales motion of each company is going to be unique. So we have to understand how a deal cycle unfolds with a customer before we start thinking about integration, because the points of integration will vary. And the deal cycles, if they’re different, when we try to mesh them together, will be out of sync. It’ll be like one of those foreign movies poorly overdubbed into English, where the words come out about a second after what’s happening on the screen.
So I think understanding the sales cycle and the deal motion and what the implementation is like and customer success and who talks to the customer and when — I think those are all really critical pieces when you’re looking at a sales organization because in the end, what we want most to do is to preserve the experience for the customer. And so if we look at it from that perspective and keep the customer in front of us at all times, those are the areas we need to uncover when integrating a sales organization.
DE: Do the same rules apply when it’s a global acquisition? When the cultural differences go far beyond corporate culture?
KA: there are going to be unique challenges with a very specific regional acquisition, typically very specific channel partners, core customer base, in a specific language, perhaps. One of the great things about Infor is we’re a global organization, already operating in countries all over the world. Still, I would reiterate the need to listen to understand what is important for those customers and what is the unique value proposition for the company that we acquired — you know, the “why” of why we acquired them — we can’t and shouldn’t lose sight of that through integration.
DE: Thank you, Katie. That’s outstanding advice.
Infor is a company to watch, as is Katie Azuma. She’s progressed rapidly through her career and has a reputation for being sharp, fair and extremely effective.
To paraphrase Tupac, Katie didn’t choose the sales life, the sales life chose her. Indeed, if you’d asked her upon graduation from Toronto’s McGill University what the future held, she would have predicted a masters degree and a career as a clinical psychologist.
Of course, Katie took a road not necessarily less traveled, but one heading off in a very different direction, to which she observes, “Opportunity is everywhere, as long as you’re looking for it and open to it.”
The way I see it, sales might be the ultimate application of an understanding of psychology, and her academic training in the field has likely served Katie well.
XANT is lucky to count Katie and Infor among our clients.