Áine Denn is the co-founder of Altify, a company using artificial intelligence and street smarts to bring sales teams into the digital age. Denn is also on the advisory panel and a spokesperson for Going for Growth, an association of women entrepreneurs. Here Real Business gets to know her a little better as she takes on the slow-to-change world of sales.
Name: Áine Denn
Job title: Co-Founder and EVP
What is the number one thing you want change in your industry and why?
I would give B2B sellers more selling time. At Altify our vision is to elevate the world’s most successful sales organisations and specifically our mission is to empower the next generation of sales teams to have the greatest impact on their customers.
We can greatly advance our mission if sellers have more time for core selling activities.
It sounds simple but sales teams are buried, as well as selling they have non-revenue generating responsibilities. These can be admin, searching for sales collateral, chasing paperwork, and filling in the CRM etc. The stats show only 18% of selling time is spent selling to buyers. If we can give sellers back more selling time then they can be more productive and can have the greatest impact on their customers.
What are the top 3 insights you’d like to share?
I encourage everyone in the business but particularly sales and marketing to understand not just their products but also their customer’s business goals, pressures and challenges. If you combine that with an understanding of the impact of the products /solutions then you can think about things from the customers’ perspective. Only by putting the customer first, truly at the centre, will businesses be successful in the years to come.
Be open, open to new ways of working, open to feedback, open to new challenges and of course to new technologies.
I have learned something that I have incorporated into my working practices from everyone I have worked with over the years I have definitely continued to learn and develop.
We know diversity drives improved business results and makes it easier to attract top talent. Additionally we saw in the latest Altify Performance Benchmark 2018 that a company’s track record on diversity influences 1 in 3 buying decisions and can directly impact your sales cycle. This again relates to understanding your customer but more inclusive work forces out perform the competition.
What was your first job or business?
When I left college I had a degree in Computer Science and in interest in business so I joined Accenture as a consultant. This was my first exposure to large complex Change, IT and Business Transformation initiatives. I also got the chance to travel, working in multiple industries and countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Complete the sentence: If I wasn’t a business leader, I would be…
My earliest career ambition was to be an architect but I re-evaluated that during the 80’s recession. Since then my roles have always been in IT or Business Development so I am happy with how it has evolved. I still like to think I will write a fiction novel one day!
What is your favourite achievement?
I am very fortunate that through our Altify Foundation we are able to make an investment in doing some good. We use our resources to make a positive impact on the world. Established in 2006 the Altify Foundation manages our charitable donations and volunteer programmes. All through the initiative, 1% of company equity and employee time is used to help change the world and build a movement of corporate philanthropy.
In the past year we have been able to support a number of humanitarian and philanthropic causes like Witness and Alone.
I am delighted to have been able to volunteer time to two programmes that support entrepreneurs Back for Business and Going For Growth.
What is the most difficult leadership lesson you’ve learned?
The hardest lesson I have learned is to act quickly to address any staff performance issues.
Be swift to identify problems, and be quick, yet thoughtful and considered, to make decisions.
To do this you need to be very clear on each job description and what success looks likes. You also need a robust on-boarding program. It is much easier to ignore a situation where someone is not the right cultural fit or is not pulling their weight. However if left unaddressed, the wrong person can drag down a culture. Stay true to your values and act on issues right away.
What is one must-read book that has changed your outlook?
Various books have influenced me at different times. I remember an old boss giving me “What Colour is your Parachute” to help me choose a career direction. “Mindset” is great for business leaders and parents alike. However the book that surprised me and gave me pause for thought was “The Widow Clicquot, Tilar J. Mazzeo”. Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin was a daring and determined entrepreneur and a bold risk taker. She was an intelligent woman who looked at other female role models and took control of her own destiny when she was facing financial ruin. She truly left a lasting legacy.
Who are your biggest role models?
I admire those Irish leaders, male and female, who over the last 40 to 50 years have given our country a global reputation for commerce. Irish companies and their management are very well regarded.
Outside of Ireland those women at the top of the business world also influence me. These include Meg Wittman, Indra Nooyi, Mary Barra and Ginni Rometty. There is a shared message of how difficult the road to success can be, the importance of hiring the right team around you and of course a “never give up” attitude.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received?
If you are to perform at your peak it is not sufficient to excel in one area at the expense of neglecting other areas. You may be achieving your current business goals but are you looking after your health? By taking care of yourself, you can take care of others and you can influence others to do the same. In fact by taking care of yourself, you will be a better leader and will make wiser decisions for the business.
They used a great analogy. Every time we fly on a plane we are reminded that In the unlikely event of cabin decompression, all passengers are instructed to don their own oxygen mask before aiding the person sitting beside them, even if that person is a child.
In other words, you are no good to anyone else if you are overcome by smoke inhalation. The same holds true for the health and wellbeing of a leader.
Haters, back off! What’s your best comeback to naysayers?
Good things come to those who work hard, never lose sight of the why, never compromise their values, always keep their promises to their customers and enjoy both what they do and the people they work with.