Women in tech: Driving innovation for salespeople across Southeast Asia and beyond

January 31, 2020

Women in tech: Driving innovation for salespeople across Southeast Asia and beyond

Companies are always on the lookout for new and innovative tools that help salespeople to reach customers, drive engagement and increase sales. But even with great solutions in place for growing your business, internal communication within the organization is critical in ensuring that employees share the same vision and work towards a common goal. 

Yamini Bhat, Co-founder and CEO of Vymo — an AI-enabled personal assistant for salespeople, shares her experiences developing solutions for major corporations, trends in sales and marketing solutions in Southeast Asia and what women are bringing to the table. 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech and start your own business?

I was always interested in productivity and how to make things easier with automation, from my time at university where I majored in computer science to my work at McKinsey driving large-scale sales transformation for large enterprises in the financial, healthcare, and telecom industries.

In trying to understand skill gaps in the businesses, my team found that a lot of data was missing, which prevented us from answering many questions. It was around that time in 2013 when a very close friend of mine was working with Google as a part of its mobility team, and we realized that salespeople needed a solution to help them input data into CRM systems and drive engagement. That was how we got together to found Vymo.

Vymo has grown twice its size in the past eight months, so that is a big development for us. We have customers in seven countries across Asia-Pacific, compared to six months ago when it was three. 

What are some of the things you have learned from corporate life and how did you apply these lessons to your startup?

During my experience working in corporates, I learned that in many cases when an organization grows and scales up, the ability to coordinate work internally worsens at an exponential rate. The gap between the person driving the vision and the person who needs to execute it on the ground increases as a company scales. Sometimes, there are as many as 10 layers of managers in between or there is a physical distance between the headquarters where salespeople actually work. In these cases, there is a massive difference in understanding of the product and company vision at executive and local levels. 

Whenever there were shifts in strategy — for example when we would think, “Let’s change our playbook, and let’s do customer segmentation differently”— after three or four months we would realize that a gap of understanding exists between those who set the strategy and salespeople in remote locations who have to carry it out. The typical way this gap can be closed is through in-person training, classroom training, or personalized coaching, which would take a lot of time. 

However, technology can completely change the game as you can broadcast messages and have two-way conversations. Moreover, you can tailor messages based on different contexts to draw attention to what matters for a particular salesperson in a particular region. By building something that employees love to use, you can bridge the understanding gap in a matter of minutes instead of months or years. 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your startup?

When you work with large enterprises, one of the biggest challenges is aligning everyone in the company to the same goals because each team would focus on different things — for example, the technology, business, and digital teams would be optimizing their operations for different things and pursuing different goals. 

The challenge is getting them into a room to agree on a universal mission and then identify actions that need to be taken to achieve both the company’s ultimate vision and each function’s goals. This takes time and effort. We have to wear the hats of different stakeholders to align with one another while addressing their concerns. 

In your opinion, what are the challenges faced by women in the tech world? 

I wish there are more women on the other side of the table when we go and meet customers. The few women leaders who I know have been extremely good at rallying their teams, having a combined vision, and being persistent in trying to achieve that vision while remaining very outcome-focused. 

But is it tougher being a woman in the tech world? I don’t think so. In terms of physical energy, I think the differences in gender don’t matter. I don’t particularly think it is extra tough being a woman in the tech world.

Do you believe that diversity can drive innovation? How can women bring their differences when they jump into the tech world? 

I have seen women being more focused on building processes and operations that are extremely scalable because they want problems to be solved once and for all. We don’t have the time to keep revisiting the same problems again and again. I’ve seen that women usually try to use solutions that can scale and processes that can stick. So, from that point of view, it would definitely be great to have more gender diversity.

How do you think we can increase the number of women in this industry and encourage more women to enter the tech world?

I think some of the flexibility issues that women are faced with are very real. Creating a more flexible work option or workplace is probably one way of fixing those issues. Women should be considered for specific roles that give a lot more flexibility in working hours, which in turn it much easier for them to be a part of the company even when they’re going through things like maternity leave. I think self-selection of those roles and having an open conversation with your manager and the management on what their constraints are might help people find solutions much more easily.

Often what I’ve seen is that not only women, but men also need flexibility. In fact many men assume they will not be able to create flexibility in their current role and that they have to move to a different company. I would strongly urge people to have conversations when they need flexibility options. I’ve seen that most companies are willing to make it work, especially as recruiting good talent is a key issue for many companies. If you are strong talent with matching skills then it’s easy to give you a different role or build some flexibility in your current portfolio.

What is your opinion regarding the new generation of women in tech in Southeast Asia?

The people from Southeast Asia are some of the best on our team and I am extremely proud of them. In general, I think more women need to get into the tech industry. A few of the women I’ve recruited are extremely successful in their roles as they are able to empathize with customers, understand their constraints, and work to build solutions. That’s why they have been more successful, especially with customer-facing roles where customers need help to navigate the technology which we’re providing.

What are your thoughts on sales/marketing automation in Southeast Asia and Thailand and what are the key trends in the Southeast Asian market?

Southeast Asia is a dense, widely spread-out region consisting of many discrete markets, so the sales and marketing teams are heavily distributed. Many of these teams are pretty young and are still learning how to sell their products. Also, many of these products are being marketed for the first time and they’re getting increasingly complex, whether they are financial products, telecom products or even consumer goods. As such, salespeople are often not experienced: they are still learning and grappling with a changing market. Furthermore, there is a huge millennial customer base so companies will need a huge, competent millennial sales team.

Technology is the backbone of how companies should handle their sales teams because many new-generation talents are well-adapted to using technology as it is part of their daily life. But companies need to help them gain efficiency. People in these markets do not have the patience to spend more than three minutes ordering their own food, so they will not spend that much time trying to schedule a meeting with customers, following up, dropping an email, or engaging someone to learn about the product. They need to have tools at their fingertips and beat competitors through technology. 

For emerging markets in Southeast Asia, I believe technology has to be the foundation of how we plan, how we manage distribution, and how we build sales teams. The way you hire people, the way their first 30 days happen, and the way they are evaluated has to be backed with technology.

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