Oct 30, 2020
Jennifer Warawa is a repeat recipient of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting award, named Thought Leader of the Year, and globally pursued public speaker. An executive with deep experience in partner management, sales and marketing, Jennifer is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at DIRTT Environmental Solutions.
Tell me more about the product range because it's very different to accounting product range? Yeah thank you so much, so we do custom prefabricated manufactured construction for interior construction, so we focus on commercial, healthcare, government and education and so we're building out essentially interior environments and so it's very different from the industry I was in before with software. We are powered by technology, so all of our manufacturing process and our design process is all done by our proprietary software, it's a lot of technology used but a very different industry. You've been in the role for a year, six months of that time has been in COVID lockdown. There's been a change, especially in your role of Chief Commercial Officer. What are some of the things that you've had to adapt within the organization to continue to service your customers? Sure, well I think obviously from a sales perspective, all of our sales team is out in the field, so they're out there meeting with clients meeting with partners visiting with architects and designers, so that's what they do every day they're out on the road they're not working from an office. Having that transition going to work from home is a massive transition, and I think safety initially is a huge priority and we were concerned first of all about physical safety. so everybody locks down. We had no one in our offices, and everyone's working from home. But very quickly, the topic went from just focused on physical safety to mental safety and mental health. Some people are used to being out and about they're extroverts, they're doing a lot of interaction out in the field.
Now all of a sudden they're not leaving their house. It's a very very different environment, and so you've had to balance moving the business forward with continually checking in and seeing where people are at. You can have two people that are down the street from each other that have very different experiences. I mean one person can say my life is the same as it was before. Still, now I wear a mask, and someone else says everything is turned upside down. I've missed family events; my kids are driving me crazy. There are these dichotomies of how people are thinking about the quarantine, and you have to meet everyone where they're at, so it's been fascinating. What about in the factories how have you adapted the production side of your manufacturing? That's the heartbeat of our business if we can't manufacture then we can't deliver a product. Making sure that the folks in our factories are safe has been a key priority everyone's safety is a key priority but you know we used to have a lot of interaction between the offices and the factories with people going back and forth. We did factory tours all the time we'd have clients in and partners in, we'd have people flying in, and we've had to stop all of that. We don't have people going back and forth between the office and the factory we're not doing any factory tours we've taken them all virtual and so it's a very different environment. We're not risking anything as far as their health and the safety of our people, so it's just been a very different experience, a different environment.
You say you're taking it all virtual so are there things that you've had to create from the ground up that you didn't have before or were there things already in the pipeline that you've just accelerated?
Yeah, we've had to take experiences and flip those online. So a good example of that is Calgary, Alberta, Canada is our headquarters, I'm based in Dallas, and we have offices throughout the US. But with Calgary being our headquarters we would bring prospective clients and partners up to Calgary all the time every week. We had people flying from all over the world to come and see our solutions and experience the tour of our factory. They'd meet our people, they'd look at our DIRTT experience centre like our showroom, and we'd spend a couple of days with them, and you build some relationship, and you get to know them, and they get to experience our business, and all of that stopped. Right now if you go to Canada from the US, you have to quarantine for two weeks. and so we can't do any of that right now. We had to take an experience that is very personal and very interactive and very tailored to whoever is visiting and flip that to online, which is tough to do. It's like visiting a zoo, I mean you can do it online, but that's very different from actually being right there with the animals, right! We moved that to online, and it was it's a big transition because for salespeople bringing their prospects up to Calgary was a special thing. Hence, they were like I don't know if I want to do this online and so you're bringing them along for the journey and figuring out how that's going to work. Things like factory tours we went and did a whole recording of the factory tour which is a part of visiting our office and then we said okay it doesn't work if you have someone recording the narrative so what we need is we need the video recorded. Still, we need someone live to be talking them through and pausing and taking questions. We had to navigate how to create that experience even though you're not there in person. That's been a challenge, but all that stuff had to get built from the ground up. Same as our onboarding for our employees and our partners that's always done in Calgary, so we bring people in, and we have something that we call DIRTT experience which is a completely immersive experience you get right in there. You're building solutions and seeing how it comes together and learning about the company, our mission, our values previously delivered in person. We have to move all of that to virtual, and I think you're also moving everything's virtual when people are kind of tired of virtual having done a whole day or weeks or months in front of their computer. You have to make it interesting to get them excited and to keep them engaged, so flipping all of that to online has been an experience. It's been good in some ways, I mean we have an office at DIRTT experience centre in New York. We're just about to open a new one in Chicago. Now through all of the virtual things that we've set up any sales rep can offer a tour of any of our DIRTT experience centres from anywhere. They don't need to fly them to New York to tour New York because we've created all these virtual experiences so even post-pandemic whenever that is, they can still go and tour all of our spaces, so there are some positive lasting outcomes from it. Off-camera you told me what DIRTT stands for and I loved it, can you share that again. Yeah, absolutely DIRTT stands for, doing it right this time. Typically when we think about what that means to us, we think about conventional construction and the amount of waste that conventional construction has built-in, we think about drywall all of the waste that's created and how when you build something it is not flexible it's there. When you want to change it, you need to rip it down, throw it out and start over. When we talk about doing it right this time, we think about sustainability and flexibility and being able to have a workspace that changes as your business needs change. Today that's more important than ever because people are trying to figure out what is my office going to need, to look like in six months, no one has any idea, and so they need something that can be flexible with their needs, so it's timely right now. It sounds like DIRTT has always focused on and been customer-centric. Focused on the needs of the customers from the meaning of the name, to the way that they deliver the product to the customer. Was that something that attracted you to the company?
I love the focus on the customer, and I love working with partners, those are two things that I liked, in addition to the culture and so when you put all those things together it creates something magical. I think the part that attracted me as well as how do you take that magical client focus and client experience and scale it, and that's where it gets exciting. Because you've created something that grows in size and it's very hands-on and very personal, and you don't want to lose any of that personal touch or that customized experience, but you want to double and triple the size of the company. That's always the challenge; how do you make everybody feel special and unique while you're scaling your business? that's a fun challenge; I think that the timing now having to do everything virtual allows you to scale as well so two things are running together in experimenting how this would work but also not losing the personality and the personability of it.
Absolutely, what practical strategy would you offer listeners to enable them to scale to build long-term relationships? I know your key area is the partner side of businesses, so tell us more about that.
Yeah, I always think that you want this magic bullet or the silver bullet on what's the one thing, it's not one thing it's many things, but I'll share a few with you. For most companies and us, when you're looking to scale, it's how do you unlock those memorable, magical client experiences in a scalable way? That's where you start to lean on digital strategies. How do you leverage digital nurture, for example, to help clients feel like they're truly your only client like they feel incredibly special? I think that is a huge piece; if you don't have digital, you're not going to be able to scale to a huge extent.
As we're scaling our business, how do you put in all of those structures and systems to make sure that everybody's ready for the next phase of growth?
From making sure that you have all of your sales tools ready and scalable, tools like your CRM, is it ready for your next phase of growth? And the structure, in early days of any business everybody can do things differently, and that's okay but once you start to scale and you're hiring at scale. You're growing your business you want everybody to be doing things consistently. You always want to be refining it based on what delivers the best results and so having that consistency is important. One of the things that are critically important as you're looking to scale your business is to tap into the people that already work with you and love what you do. Sometimes our people are hesitant to ask for referrals or say you had a great experience, but who else do you know that this could apply? I always say of course people in sales say this, but everybody's in sales. It's like, is the sales team going to do this, it's like everybody in this company is in sales, and I say the same thing about marketing. They're like, when is the brand team going to do that, I'm like you're part of the brand team you need to do that. You want to turn everyone into a salesperson and a brand ambassador and so to get people to make referrals and recommendations and provide testimonials and get out there and spread the word on their networks, on their channels about the experience that they've had with you is a great way to scale. You're not going to get any better lead than a lead that's been referred by somebody that is trusted by that lead source! Jennifer is brilliant on social media; everyone, check out Jennifer's Twitter account. because she's always doing selfies, but you know with teams of people and whom she's coming into contact with, some of that must have dried up now because we also see zoom pictures. It's fewer selfies for sure, at the end of this I'll have to take a selfie with you and me on the screen but yeah what you're taking pictures of it's pretty much the same environment every day other than who's on the screen that's the only thing that changes. Hence, I guess I'll have to start taking pictures of who's on the screen. I can't wait to get back out and start seeing people. I think we're all feeling that at the moment.
Let’s talk a little bit about diversity you're at the senior level and the higher up you go often, the fewer women you see in your position and above and I wonder what you feel in the b2b environment how it has progressed what you have seen that's made a difference?
Well I think back you know 15 years ago I had my own business and my largest client was a general construction company. So it was there were very few women on the job site and very few women in the construction industry overall. When I fast-forwarding to today, being a woman in construction, there's a lot more diversity and more women in this industry. We have several partners that are women-owned businesses which is fantastic. I see a lot more diversity. People are starting to realize that diversity is not just about gender. It's critically important for people to realize because some of the magic of diversity is when you get someone who's just out of school and someone who's a few years away from retirement that has a great experience. You put them in a room, and you can figure out to unlock ideas and solutions that you would never have been able to do if everybody had the same level of experience. You get people of racial diversity or diversity from different backgrounds or cultural diversity, and so all that experience coming together provides a different lens on the opportunity ahead. People are starting to see that it has a tangible business outcome. In my career, I experienced there are several years where it was just the right thing to do like people were like it's good to have diversity; we should we want to focus on that. Still, I think people realize now it's not only the right thing to do, but it also creates better outcomes. There's a focus on what does a diverse business look like and how much better can you run and how many different ideas can you come up with and how can you tackle problems differently. Diversity itself is becoming more diverse; it's great to see the emphasis on companies as they as they look to diversify their leadership teams or executive teams and their workforce in general.
Is that's a discussion that DIRTT has in terms of ensuring that there is a diverse balance at all levels of the business?
Absolutely, our CHRO Lindsey Gusso that's at the top of her agenda, diversity and we talk about it in all of our town hall meetings, with our teams and what we're doing there, but it is a topic that we're looking to put more focus on. Naturally, we've had a pretty diverse workforce just this organically that's happened. Now, it's about making sure that we've got focus at all levels when we're hiring and interviewing that we're just keeping that in mind and that we're open. We're making sure that we're deliberately creating diverse environments. It's great to see that become a focus here at DIRTT.
Tell me more about your the partner network at DIRTT and where you want to take it because I know that this is a big area for you, what your plans are from where it was to where you want to see it?
Yeah, I think we talked a little bit earlier about how the client focus has always been our main focus at DIRTT, and the client is the heart of our business. We've always gone to market through our partners, and so we were so focused on clients since inception the last 15 years that we hadn't put a deliberate strategy around how are we going to help our partners grow. How are we going to make sure that we have some diversity in our partner channel? I think about backgrounds and experience and the types of businesses, most of our partners have another business that they're running alongside this that has to do with interior construction or building out interiors and so how do we start to diversify the types of partners that we have? For us it's never a numbers game, it's never about can we get more so when people say to me how many partners do you want to have in five years? I'm like I hope we have the same number; I'm not looking to go and get several new partners. What I want to do is continue to build strength and scale and with the partners that we have, so how do we build into their businesses, how do we help them scale. They're amazing, and we learn a lot from them already but what can we do to add value and help them drive more successful outcomes so that's where we'll be focused for the next number of years. In strengthening the relationship and helping them grow because that's ultimately what's going to lead to our growth as well.
I remember reading you saying about speaking to your partners, particularly now why it's important?
Yeah, when you go to these virtual environments, there are many opportunities when you're sending emails or digital electronic communication for the message to get lost or for people to misunderstand or misinterpret and it's like is that what you meant or is that what you said. Nothing replaces a face-to-face visit; I love to sit down with someone in person, I love to visit a business, I love to see how they do business and see their warehouse and visit their job sites, I love to do that. But in the absence of that, it can't go from that to just emails, and so I'm calling partners. I think the other day I had four different partner meetings and just finding out what's going on in their business, what's working, where do they need some help, how do they think about their future, where do our Partners see risk, where do they see opportunity? Because they're out there in the field every day and we have partners that are fully back in the office, and we have other partners that are still completely locked down working remote, and so you're trying to meet them where they're at, and it all needs to be done through conversation. what's interesting now is previously you'd see them in person and in between then when you talk you call them, well now it's so weird because when you call someone, it's so weird to be talking to someone and not see them, as the cell phone has almost become weird. Because you build relationship lots of times over dinner, you have a long day of meetings you do a bunch of planning, and then you build relationship and trust and that part I'm missing for sure.
Tell me more about the next growth phase you were talking about leadership and systems?
As we're looking and setting our sites around accelerated growth. You want to build that foundation for the next phase of growth we organically have sales methodologies or systems some homegrown some not; you get to a point where you're like okay to continue to grow we need to build that next foundation. So right now we're looking at what is that next foundation looks like and going back to diversity we've got people that have been with the company since day one and then we're hiring people that have just started they're in their first weeks or the first months. So you bring in different perspectives from different industries and combine that with people who have the expertise and the experience in this industry with this company. The leadership mix is helping challenge the status quo and help us think about what the future looks like and what we need to do differently. Hence, there's a lot of investment in leadership, making sure that we have the right people in the right roles at the right time driving the business. Systems, of course, are important and systems have changed even over the last six months as everything has become virtual because of all of our sales presentations. For the most part, have moved online. So people need to get good at new tools and new ways of telling a captivating story. Taking into consideration that someone's sitting in front of their computer for so long in a day that if you don't do something different, you're not going to get their attention. So, making sure that you have the right systems in play. The structure has been another area of focus for us, so just making sure that we have the right structure. You want to make sure that you're doing things in a consistent, repeatable way, not reinventing the wheel every time that you've got a proper onboarding process and so all of those things build that foundation for that next phase of growth.
In terms of amplifying that do you do that very much through the DIRTT experience and you as you say everyone's in sales everyone's you know a brand marketer and ambassador how does that work?
We always want to make sure that our partners have all the tools that they need to be able to tell the DIRTT story, and their story and the difference that we're making in this industry and so empowering the. The best thing you can do to empower someone to be a brand ambassador or to go and tell your story is to provide a great experience. I think about some of the brands that I'm a loyal advocate for, they've never asked me to refer, and I do love doing business with them. So, how do you create an experience where everybody so they're running around raving about the great experience that they had with you. Because that's going to be the best of all, so you know continuing to deliver excellence consistently provides us with brand ambassadors or natural salespeople that are out telling our story.
If you're on a desert island, what's the one thing you take with you?
I suppose the right answer is probably like your spouse. They're not listening so they'll never know. I think this is a bad answer, but I would probably take some device like an iPad because it's like it's a window into the world. It's like a connection to everything, probably not on a deserted island you're probably not allowed to have that there's probably no wi-fi connection. You can't have what you want. Okay, well because it's like a window into the world and right now especially as we're going through these times. You've got family all over the world as well, those devices keep you connected when you can't get there in person, so being able to stay connected to what's going on and to your friends and family I think that's probably what I would take.
It's interesting because many people do say their phone, their iPad, or Audible. Don't you think how much we have changed in that this is the first thing that we go for? Also, the fact that we're in a pandemic had we not had the technology that was available sitting there ready that we weren't fully utilizing, how different our experience would have been? I can't even imagine, I think about even when I started at Sage, there were no video meetings I worked remotely, and I was on the phone I was in conference calls most of the day and you're just sitting there on the phone looking at your computer. Go back another ten years, before that I think there are several businesses that we're able to survive because of technology and if we wouldn't have been able to do this, I think it would have been a very different outcome.
Jennifer, how can the listeners get hold of you?
I'm always available on Twitter, so I'm uh at Jennifer Warawa, and I love social media and love to connect on LinkedIn and love to meet new people and get connected to the folks out there. Thank you so much for being a guest on Scale Your Sales podcast Jennifer. Thank you so much been great.