Access Intelligence’s SVP Commercial: How Forward-Thinking Leaders Profit from Breakthrough Innovations

In this interview series Richard Richie, Managing Partner of Alcon Maddox, gets some of London’s most forward-thinking tech leaders to spill the beans on what is making their companies so successful and what innovations the future has in store.

In this week’s interview, SVP Commercial at Access Intelligence, Stéphan Israël, explains the strategic plays he’s made as a commercial leader with “life changing impact for revenue”, and how important people management and messaging to stakeholders, both internal and external, is to the success of an organisation as it grows. He strongly believes that how you manage situations will determine your ability to influence people, and that being an “honest” people person will get you far.

RR: Stéphan, tell us a bit about what Access Intelligence is or does.

SI: So, firstly, Access Intelligence is an acquisitive, innovative kind of tech group, mostly present in PRTech, very much in the UK. Little by little they have acquired companies to build up a more complete value proposition to extend beyond PRTech to MarTech, and even Research Tech, with a more global audience.

Inside Access Intelligence we now have Isentia, the market-leading media monitoring and audience insights provider in APAC; Pulsar, the global audience intelligence and social listening platform; Vuelio, the platform that helps organisations make their stories matter; and ResponseSource, a network that connects media and influencers to the resources they need.

When I joined the group five years ago, it was very much a sales driven organisation. This was the time when investors wanted to see much more reliability in terms of revenue growth, asking ‘how can we keep growing revenue from the existing customers and also gain market share?’

We acquired Pulsar and I fixed that for Pulsar. After a while, I realised that actually the drive of the whole group is going to be behind the Pulsar product set and the way that Pulsar is actually working, you know, big data, AI models, etc. Having already dealt with the customer success project for the whole group, I moved into a kind of CRO role, that we call Commercial, for Pulsar worldwide.

RR: What have been two or three of your big successes that are worth shouting about?

SI: Number one, bringing Customer Success, Account Management, Solution Consultants, and New Business into one department and having them work together. That's been the life changing impact for revenue, but also talent retention, eradicating the kind of natural friction that you see in most companies.

A classic example would be the salesperson closing a deal without telling the other departments exactly what they sold and how, then expecting the account manager to be able to renew, but they can't. Eliminating these simple points of friction by changing the way we operate internally diffuses pressure and increases the chances of us achieving the kind of results that we need to grow.

Number two would be investing in middle managers and their careers. When you operate in an investor type business, you tend to employ young people that you want to train. Which is ok to a point, but you also need to make sure that when you grow and you start bringing scale, you have middle managers that are trained and able to fulfil the responsibilities and objectives you've set. So that's another thing that I've done well, but must admit, I have been absolutely blessed with the people we've employed and nurtured from our acquisitions.

We've developed a management team that I'm really proud of. A SaaS business is very interconnected. It's very much about people. You know, I can teach someone how to follow a process or to sell a product, to train them on what a product does and tell a better story than someone else. I can train someone on the platform technically to be able to support people. What I can't train really, unless they train themselves, is to enjoy being in the environment they're in. As a leader, you know, this is where you spend a lot of your time. Especially when you've got a lot of Gen Z, your management style, the way you motivate and corral people, must change.

The third thing is bringing some credibility to managing sideways and upwards, influencing people in other functions, managing, and helping my CEO and CFO, and being a trusted thought partner. Never to surprise them, always putting things in place to make sure that they get what they need because I understand their pressures. If I do that, they'll continue to give me the resources I need to execute. That's been my focus.

RR: On the topic of breakthrough innovations, what is the best advice you’ve been given?

SI: Challenge the model. You know, the SaaS model started somewhere. I learned my craft with the likes of Barbour Group and LexisNexis. The models that we would employ to make people use technology more than traditional solutions, meant that you had to challenge the SaaS model to actually bring them to the SaaS model and make it relevant for them.

So, you start somewhere with a model, but don't be afraid to change it. That's the best advice I’ve been given, and I've put that in place a lot. Although I've moved from market to market in the SaaS world, the principles are not that different, but you need to tweak them because of cultural differences and adoption barriers.

The UK for instance is totally different to the Middle East. New York, totally different to LA. Some markets are extremely adaptable. Some challenge you. You get in a meeting room full of very senior people and they want to simplify things, they want things to be the same across borders, in their mind, it's a much nicer message to investors. However, that's not the reality of how we are managing the teams at local levels. My job is to make sure that I bring that reality to them. We can still simplify messaging, but we must reflect the reality of what we can't simplify, because actual value is sometimes in the detail.

RR: If someone was starting down this path, maybe one of the people on your team, perhaps they’re looking to pursue a career like your own, what advice would you give to them?

SI: It's about people. Invest in you first, as a person, and how you manage stress. How you manage situations will determine your ability to influence people. If you're a people person, I can teach you loads of technical stuff. We can talk about a lot of technical things that you need to be aware of, that you can learn.

I can't teach you about people, but what I can do is I can show you what it looks like and by osmosis, by discussing it, you might convince yourself you need to shift your attitude towards something. In my opinion, there’s no classroom that’s going to teach that. Observation is key. Being a sponge around people.

Understanding what's going on around you. Really, your success is about your ability to be a people person, and an honest people person. I’ve found that if you are genuine and you're doing the right things, things will come back to you positively. I don't believe you need to stand on other people to get anywhere. That's just not the way I got anywhere. I'm certainly making sure I give exactly the opposite advice to every single person in my team.

RR: What does the next level of success look like for you at Pulsar?

The big transformation for us at a group level is getting everyone on the same major platform. That's the platform of Pulsar. So, transforming the business to use common technology that's really innovative from Pulsar and bringing it to the wider group and making sure sales teams, support teams, and the business at large is able to cope with that transformation.

We’ve been very acquisitive, and as a result have a lot of back-end systems. So, rationalising a unified back-end system will be a key driver of growth going forward. You know, when you've actually run some legacy businesses who are used to their own platform, with resources who are used to functioning around these platforms, with business processes that are linked with these platforms, the transformation is an easy thing to talk about in a meeting room, but in the real world it's very complicated. It takes time and a lot of training. A lot of documentation, a lot of sustained checks and support for people to make that transition. Also, for the market to get used to it, for customers to get used to it, the marketing, etc. It's a big project.

Then, we carry on scaling up. Presently, the group covers the best part of nine and a half thousand customers worldwide. We’re on track to try and actually penetrate all of the markets we serve a little bit more and grow and scale up as best we can. So that for the group would be the definition of success, doing that harmoniously and intelligently.