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From the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to a 20-year career in tech and his new role leading Medallia’s EMEA Sales team, Sean Farrington’s work focuses on two things: making a difference and connecting with people. In a conversation with Bill Schuh, Sean discussed Medallia’s place in the global marketplace, what success looks like on his team, and lessons from previous roles he carries into his current work.
To start, give us your cocktail-party version of what Medallia does.
Simply put, we want to help create a world where companies are loved by their customers and their employees. We give organizations a deeper understanding of the customer experience they provide, thus improving how they engage with the people they serve. Medallia’s platform can reach thousands of people and gather insights into how they feel about a company and what they want; then, rather than just throw a bunch of data at our clients, we help them analyze the feedback, so they can decide what to do next, and then deliver it to the relevant people in their business to take action on what they’ve discovered.
What inspired you to join Medallia?
I’ve been in technology for 20-plus years now and served in the British Armed Forces before that. Through all that time, the jobs I’ve enjoyed most have placed value on exciting and impactful technologies, as well as the human side of the business. I always look to work with leaders in a particular space—companies who are pushing the boundaries of technology to improve people’s lives. I also believe giving your people opportunities to grow is key to an organization’s success, so I look for companies where personal development, leadership, and respect are part of the DNA, the culture. Medallia checked all of those boxes and then some.
What opportunities and challenges is Sales facing, as a team?
Part of what brought me to Medallia was its desire to expand out from the strong base they’d established in London and put down roots in other European countries. Establishing a larger presence across EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) to help balance revenues between North America and Europe is key to becoming a truly global business.
I also liked Medallia’s dedication to growth mindset, which in this case means things that have fueled our success up to 2016 may not necessarily make us successful in 2017, 2018, and beyond. The market is changing, having actually formed around us, in a way—more companies are embracing the need to become customer centric and are looking for Customer Experience solutions to help them get there.
Some of our clients are starting from square one and want to make a transformational leap forward in how they engage with their customers. Others have already dipped their toe in the water, collecting market research or digital or call center-based feedback, and they realized how much they could gain by drawing those strands together for a more holistic view. We’re also now seeing a shift where smaller companies want to access the same customer feedback solutions as their larger counterparts, albeit in a scaled-down manner.
To meet these shifting needs, we have evolved our Medallia Experience CloudTM to be highly flexible. Customers can start at a particular point and scale up as their needs evolve. We’ve also developed specific offerings, specialized digital packages, for example, and “best practices” packages that give clients a launching point for Customer Experience management, combining our software with services to help them quickly expand and add to their solution. In this way we can be as effective for a new company gathering its first customer feedback data as we are for a huge multi-national entity.
What characteristics make someone successful in Sales at Medallia?
Creativity and intellect are key. Medallia Experience Cloud hides a lot of complexity, and it takes smart and focussed individuals to understand how best to position and sell it. That doesn’t mean we expect people to know everything on day one, but they do need to be willing to dive in and keep learning. Because no two clients have the same set of needs, we have to be agile—our team members need to understand each client’s business goals and the verticals they’re operating in, before finding the best entry point for that organization. They need to be able to walk in the client’s shoes, so to speak.
Tell us more about your military background, and how you ended up in the private sector.
I spent thirteen years in the British Army, first in logistics and then in aviation. I worked in ammunition, guided weapons, munitions, and bomb disposal, and eventually I flew helicopters. Leading a squadron gave me that ideal combination I look for—cutting-edge technology and human connection. I see it as a symbiotic relationship; the best tech in the world will be wasted without effective leadership.
After the first Gulf War, I was ready to leave the military and I thought really carefully about what I wanted from the rest of my life. The simple answer might have been a civilian version of my military job, flying private planes or working in the defense industry. But the technologies that were really growing at the time were mobile telecom and software, and I decided to step into that world instead. I started out selling equipment and leading sales teams, then I moved to applications to help manage mobile phones, and eventually I landed in information management and business intelligence software. I worked in various leadership roles that took me around Europe, including a four-year stint in Sweden, and then I came back to the U.K. to join an in-memory analytics company. I went through an IPO with them and spent about seven years there before I was ready for something new. That’s when Medallia came along.
Any lessons you took from your time working in Sweden?
Definitely. Subtle differences in culture can have a significant impact on how you do business. For example, all Swedes speak English, and quite well. But I learned not to therefore assume they would pick up every nuance of what I was saying—there’s a difference between communication and understanding. That experience taught me it doesn’t matter what you actually say, it matters what the other person hears. And that’s just as true in a meeting between two Brits; it’s always important to think about your message and how it will be received.
What does leadership mean to you? Is there a leader who inspires you?
Yes, though it’s nobody famous, like Thatcher or Churchill. James Rutter is his name; he was my squadron commander when I first went flying. There was a lot of stereotypical male behavior then—as the saying goes, you have to leave extra room in the cockpit for the pilot’s ego. When I joined the military, in fact, there was only one female pilot in the entire Army air corps; thankfully, there are many more these days. But James didn’t conform to any of the typical posturing. He was an individual—engaging but not gregarious, not the extrovert you might expect in a squadron leader. He was more studious and intellectual, and he expected us to take ourselves seriously and focus on how we could best contribute to the mission. We were the best squadron in the whole regiment, which I attribute to James’ leadership, in part because after he left our ranking fell. He showed me the tangible impact one person can have on an entire organization.
What does personal development look like at Medallia?
Broadly, we have review cycles and a range of development courses that extend well beyond purely technical competence with our platform. That’s important, of course, but we also offer training in personal engagement, motivation, performance management, and leadership. And we’ve created an entirely new coaching system; people are matched with more experienced colleagues for weekly conversations, which gives them an additional touchpoint for any issues that might come up. There are countless ways to approach individual growth, but the bottom line for me is giving people the space to learn and the freedom to make mistakes. That’s the behavior that proves Medallia takes personal development seriously.
Why is this an exciting time to join the EMEA Sales team?
I think you need two things in order to sell—demand and a good product. Medallia has both. And the demand is growing; a while back, there was a big market survey that asked how many C-level execs felt their ability to compete relied heavily on customer experience. The number then was less than 40 percent; four years later, it’s close to 90 percent. As we become ever-more engaged with technology, consumers increasingly expect a high-quality, personalized experience, and companies have come to realize how critical that experience is to driving their own demand. So Medallia is at the center of what’s making our clients successful, and it’s amazing to be a part of that journey.
This story was created in conjunction with Job Portraits, a San Francisco-based creative agency that helps teams scale using culture-focused content.