Many companies do not expect their workers to return to offices until next summer, and even then things may never be the same as before, judging by the comments executives made this week, highlighted in today’s DealBook newsletter.
On earnings calls, executives from Goldman Sachs said that about a third of workers in New York and London were coming in regularly; at JPMorgan Chase, it’s around 20 percent in both cities; and Citigroup said “a small percentage” of employees in North America had returned.
“Being together enables greater collaboration, which is key to our culture,” said David M. Solomon, Goldman’s chief. But Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan acknowledged that some working habits may have changed permanently, which “will ultimately reduce the space you need for your employees.” Terrance R. Dolan, the finance chief at U.S. Bancorp, told analysts that the bank will most likely “consolidate” its corporate real estate to reflect “the new horizon.”
Is that a problem? Steven J. Goulart, the chief investment officer at MetLife, said at a regulatory round table that the “pressure to de-densify” offices to support social distancing could support demand for real estate even if buildings aren’t as full as before.
And as executives conduct more business remotely, going back to in-person meetings and pitches seems less urgent. Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Indian conglomerate Tata Sons, said in an interview with The New York Times that he used to fly from India to the United States to pitch a $50,000 project. But recently, he said, his firm’s consultancy business closed $2 billion worth of deals in “five or six Zoom calls.”
There are other perks from working at home. BlackRock’s Laurence D. Fink is excited about what employees could do with the time they save on daily commutes. “They could spend two hours improving their health by exercising,” he said on a conference call. “They could spend two hours more in building a deeper, stronger, more resilient family.”
Paul Draovitch of Duke Energy said at an investor event that working from home was “not without risks,” but also brought certain benefits: “When my Pomeranians walk into the room, it’s really a pleasure.”
Ephrat Livni contributed reporting
Schools Clamored for Seesaw. That Was the Good News, and the Bad News.
The first requests that upended Seesaw, a popular classroom app, came in January from teachers and education officials abroad. Their schools were shutting down because of the coronavirus, and they urgently wanted the app adjusted for remote learning. The company figured it could do that with a single short hackathon project.
“We were so naïve,” said Emily Voigtlander Seliger, a Seesaw product manager.
Weeks later, reality hit: The virus spread to the United States, where more of the app’s users are. Seesaw had been designed for students in a classroom to submit an audio comment or a digital drawing after a lesson. But thousands of teachers suddenly wanted it to work as a full-featured home learning tool. Rather than using Seesaw for a couple of assignments a week, they were using it for hours each day.
It seemed like every start-up’s dream: racing to keep up with demand from people desperate for your app.
And in many ways, that has worked out well for Seesaw, a San Francisco company. The number of student posts on its app increased tenfold from February to May, Seesaw says, and the paid customer base has tripled from last year. The app is now used in more than three-quarters of American schools, including big districts like Dallas and Los Angeles.
“In a matter of two days the world flipped upside down,” said Victoria Lawyer, global sales manager at Seesaw. Seesaw usually pitched large districts for six months or so before one signed up. Suddenly, she said, those districts were saying: “We need to get set up by tomorrow. What can you do?”
But Seesaw’s experience also shows the kinds of hurdles that a company must jump in such extreme circumstances, going through years’ worth of growing pains in a few months.
Other digital education products, like Zoom and Google Classroom, experienced similar growth spurts and ran into their own problems — such as unwelcome strangers who dropped into those early weeks of Zoom school. But they are public companies with resources to spare. Seesaw had just 60 employees in February, when the coronavirus hit the United States, and was trying to prove that it deserved a tryout for the big leagues.
Small issues that the company knew about but hadn’t addressed before the pandemic became significant problems. Teachers begged for app reliability, but some changes Seesaw made for at-home use didn’t always work smoothly. While Seesaw executives wanted the app to be interesting for students, it had to be streamlined enough for frazzled parents suddenly running at-home school.
All this happened while Seesaw, like many other companies, closed its headquarters and shifted employees to working from home, where many juggled their work with their own children’s classes.
“We’re going through what everyone else is going through in terms of balancing child care and home-schooling and working from home,” Carl Sjogreen, one of the company’s founders, said. “The intensity of the growth in our business at the same time is a challenge and a struggle.”
Mr. Sjogreen, 42, and Seesaw’s other founder, Adrian Graham, 41, first met at Google in the early 2000s. They left, founded a travel-advice start-up and moved to Facebook as product managers when it acquired their company. In 2012, they left Facebook and started Shadow Puppet, an app that lets people make videos by adding voice-overs to photos and other social media.
They thought Shadow Puppet was almost embarrassingly simple. But the app proved popular with teachers, and it led to the idea for Seesaw.
In the fall of 2014, teachers trying out an early version of Seesaw reported back with comments that surprised the founders, Mr. Graham said. Some students opened up once they had an audio recorder, the teachers said, and some who might not be great writers — and didn’t seem that engaged as a result — made lively videos or digital drawings once those became an option.
In January 2015, Seesaw released the app to the public. It’s free for individual teachers, with a features-added version for schools and districts for $5.50 per student per year. The founders took seed funding when starting the company, and $8 million more from investors in 2017. Mr. Sjogreen declined to give valuation or revenue figures, but said the company would be profitable this year.
And it’s been a year. In February, Mr. Sjogreen was mapping out long-term projects from Seesaw’s downtown San Francisco office. Come March, he was working from his Noe Valley house, juggling home-school duties for his 9- and 12-year-old children, just like many of the employees, and Seesaw was in “rapid-response mode,” as he put it.
Teachers like Sharmeen Moosa, a first-grade teacher at an international school in Bahrain, decided Seesaw would be their remote-learning platform.
“Prior to Covid, I used it as just a digital portfolio for kids,” an online collection of their drawings and recordings, Ms. Moosa said, but when her school closed in February, her use “transformed massively.” She used the app for morning messages and daily lessons, adding audio or video clips, posting additional resources, and creating student assignments along with communicating with families.
Many other teachers used the app in similar ways, exposing shortfalls that the company had to race to fix.
The app, designed to work with iPads and Chromebooks, had hardly been used with Android tablets. But now parents were logging on with Amazon Fire or Samsung devices running Android. Numerous students didn’t have email addresses and needed a different way to log in from home. Teachers, who could no longer look over students’ shoulders while they worked on an assignment, wanted to comment on saved drafts before students submitted a final version. Notification delays grew from a couple of seconds to hours. The company’s servers sometimes slowed to a crawl.
Those issues meant teachers, families and schools all fired questions at Seesaw for help. Mr. Sjogreen, who prided himself on getting back to customers almost immediately, found that just wasn’t possible.
“I’m sad that during a time where they were so stressed out, we were not as responsive as we would like to be,” he said.
Internally, the company had to figure out how to handle a remote work force that was also, in many cases, dealing with added responsibilities at home. Many employees needed time off at peak hours to handle their children. While being interviewed for this article, Mr. Graham bounced his baby girl in a Snugli, while Mr. Sjogreen was interrupted by his son, who asked for permission to go on YouTube. (Mr. Sjogreen nodded, resigned.)
Seesaw tried to accommodate employees’ schedules and child care demands, and even added a remote yoga session on Tuesday mornings to clear heads, “but I’d be lying if I said it was easy,” Mr. Sjogreen said.
Mr. Sjogreen said he had gotten a good idea for Seesaw from his 9-year-old, who uses it at his school. While working from home, Mr. Sjogreen heard “tears, frustration” from his son, who had accidentally deleted work completed on the app. The company added a button to confirm deletion — Mr. Sjogreen suggested an icon of a crying child to accompany it.
To prepare for the fall semester, Seesaw added 15 full-time employees and 100 contractors to help with customer support. The app kept adding features: Teachers said students didn’t know what to work on first, so the company let teachers designate priority assignments and let students see which assignments were done. Assignments can now be filtered by topic, like math or Spanish. Users can print posts, and students and teachers can add multiple videos on a single post so teachers can conduct long lessons.
Jennifer Montemayor, a teacher at Bulverde Creek Elementary School in San Antonio, has kindergartners in her remote class who speak Vietnamese, Spanish, Persian or Russian at home. She loves how Seesaw translates her class announcements and assignments into languages the parents can understand.
A Seesaw enthusiast, Ms. Montemayor is finding fewer people to proselytize to these days. “Everybody knows Seesaw now,” she said.
Whether Seesaw can hold on to customers when schools, many of them facing new budget pressures, return to in-person learning is an open question. Kelly Calhoun Williams, an education analyst at the research company Gartner, said that while other ed-tech companies got nervous watching school budgets shrink, Seesaw was well placed because of its users’ “I want to keep Seesaw because now it’s part of my day” attitude.
Mr. Sjogreen said he was just looking for a chance to get back to some long-term planning.
“I never thought I’d say this as a start-up founder,” he said, “but I’m not worried about growth anymore.”
Dunkin’ Brands Is Said to Be Near Deal to Sell Itself and Go Private
Dunkin’ Brands, the parent company of the Dunkin’ and Baskin Robbins chains, is nearing a deal to sell itself to a private equity-backed company, Inspire Brands, that could be announced as soon as Monday, two people with knowledge of the negotiations said.
The deal being discussed would take Dunkin’ Brands private at a price of $106.50 a share, these people said. That would be a 20 percent premium over the company’s closing price on Friday, and implies a company valuation of about $8.8 billion. Dunkin’s share price has more than doubled since March, as investors took heed of its success in building up its app and drive-through services. Its shares are up about 18 percent from a year ago.
The transaction would add Dunkin’ Brands to Inspire Brands’ portfolio, which includes Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic and Jimmy John’s. Inspire is backed by the private equity firm Roark Capital.
The two people requested anonymity because the talks are confidential, and they cautioned that the deal was not yet final and could still fall apart.
The company has said that as stay-at-home orders have shifted working patterns, customers have been coming to its stores later in the day than they used to and spending more on newer and more expensive items like espresso and other specialty beverages. Dunkin’ already brings in more than half its revenue through drinks, and it dropped “Donut” from its name last year as it seeks to shift its emphasis to coffee and take on Starbucks more directly.
“While Dunkin’ may not have been thought of by investors as a beneficiary of the current environment, these results make the case that it has been,” analysts at Morgan Stanley wrote in a research note this summer.
Michelle King, a spokeswoman for Dunkin’ told The Times, “As a public company it is our policy not to comment on rumors or speculation.” A spokesman for Inspire Brands had no comment.
During the pandemic, Dunkin’ has been bolstered by its drive-throughs and online ordering systems, allowing its restaurants to continue to serve customers while smaller, independent chains have faltered. It took an initial hit in the pandemic, reporting a 20 percent drop in sales in the second quarter and announcing plans to close about 800 of its least-profitable stores. But business since then has been improving.
Dunkin’ Brands, whose 21,000 outlets are all franchised, reported revenue last year of $1.4 billion and a profit of more than $240 million.
The chain has been private before. It was owned by a consortium of private equity firms, led by Bain Capital, Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners, who acquired Dunkin’ Donuts from Pernod Ricard in a $2.4 billion deal in 2005. The firms took it public six years later.
3 Secrets to Building a Winning Sales Culture
October 25, 2020 7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Let’s hire a hotshot, expert closer, and to make sure the rest of the company helps out, let’s add “everyone sells” as a rallying cry to address our slumping sales.
I have heard that line from so many companies struggling to generate sales. In an average organization, sales rely on the capabilities of a few skilled individuals who are rewarded for creating as many transactions as possible. They do whatever it takes to close the deal and create temporary results — temporary because they must be consistently recreated for a business to survive.
On the other hand, everyone else attempts to rise to the vague “everyone sells” call-to-action, despite being plagued by the question, “What does that mean exactly?” If sales becomes absolutely results-driven without consulting anyone else, the company will become less productive and effective.
According to a seven-year study by GiANT Worldwide, the average team functions at just 58 percent of its potential because it is not intentionally capturing the genius of eeach person. Instead, it relies on the drive of just one or two “leaders.” Imagine what that means for your business. How many more clients could you serve, and what would revenue and sales look like, if you harnessed more of the team’s capacity?
So how do you build a winning sales culture?
Secret 1: Never hire a rockstar salesperson if you want your company to grow
Instead, build a balanced team, because who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work and view their contributions. According to 5 Voices authors Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram, a winning culture includes five specific type of contributors that complement each other’s weaknesses and are essential to business growth: the Pioneer, Connector, Guardian, Creative and Nurturer.
The Pioneer is usually the person in charge. In this case, the rockstar salesperson is vital because they are results-focused and strategic in thinking. Unfortunately, once they have an idea they want to execute, they rarely ask for input or opinion. Often, they dismiss others they believe are not competent or as experienced as they are. This behavior can be a major contributor to the low functioning of a team. The alternative is to create an intentionally dynamic team
A Connector is the evangelist of ideas and an expert at finding resources. They always seem to know a person who knows a person who can help. They love to share what is happening and inspire others to engage by just talking about an idea. As people pleasers, they have difficulty challenging ideas and will just go along, but often tell people different stories to get agreement. When those people compare notes, they think they were being lied to when the Connector feels they were telling each the same thing.
The Guardian is the process-and-systems guru and key to scaling any operation. They hate to waste resources and are risk averse. A focus on the here and now means they ask the tough questions about how you are going to move from where you are to where you want to be. “We’ll figure it out as we go” is not an option. These folks often clash with the go-getters on a team because it feels like an anchor holding everyone back.
The Creative is an idea scout. When they hear something, they immediately start analyzing all the routes to goal-achievement, including a detailed risk assessment about what is the smartest way to get there. They tend to be perfectionists and may push to avoid as many stumbling blocks as possible in a strategy or plan.
Finally, there is the Nurturer. This is someone who knows the pulse of an organization and is a natural team player. They will always put people first and are great representatives of the how your customers will respond to a product or service and how the company will respond to a change. They will always ask, “Does this feel right? Is it the right thing to do by the customer and the company?” But because they do not like conflict, they will hold on to their ideas unless they feel absolutely safe.
Secret 2: Be intentional with company culture from the start
Much like business processes, company culture is inherently dynamic. It is the result of a constant interaction of elements and practices that grow and change with the company. These can be either accidental or intentional.
An accidental culture will organically form based on the mood and behaviors of the individuals in it. This is usually how toxic environments form, as the norms of acceptable behavior are defined by the few who are in charge.
On the other hand, an intentional culture is one that deliberately monitors team performance to establish practices and behavioral norms to make everyone feel safe when sharing ideas. It focuses on communicating vision and direction. It makes certain that everyone is aligned so that they know exactly how they contribute to the company’s success. It’s an “everyone is in sales” culture
Secret 3: Align everyone around the customer experience
The key to the “everyone is in sales” rallying cry is an effective and impactful process designed to reflect the experience you want your clients to have. This starts with creating a map of the customer journey that identifies every opportunity for a service breakdown. Involve all staff who are involved in a process at these critical interaction points. Be sure to collect data about the process to keep the conversations objective and avoid the blame game.
Once you have identified the breakdowns, convert those to breakthroughs, and redesign internal processes to support the customer journey to be what you want every client to have. Involve every process stakeholder in the design process to build support for the ideas, and increase adoption through a heightened sense of accountability for the sales process. Through engagement of the team, the sales process becomes core to everyone’s job and not left to the person in the field making the deals.
Historically, impressions of a winning sales culture have been predicated on the false beliefs that: 1. Because a rockstar salesperson can temporarily save a company, we should just hire more of them; 2. Focusing on culture won’t provide a measurable ROI; and 3. Culture is something to worry about after we resolve our revenue issue.
To change your business reality, do an honest assessment of the team tendencies and determine which of the contributing voices mentioned above is missing. Hire to fill that gap so that you have an inclusive, balanced culture. Set rules of engagement that show that it is OK to be wrong or fail because you support each other. Focus on intentional communication; not a need-to-know basis exclusion, but transparency in message and content. Finally, make sure everyone knows how they contribute to the customer’s experience.
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