Today’s ‘Day in the Life’ features Raj Sabhlok, the CEO of CRM company Pipedrive. We caught up with Raj to find out what it was like to move to a new CEO role during a pandemic, and how his team is making changes to help customers.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

In June of this year, I joined Pipedrive as its new CEO. As a leader, I see myself as an enabler. I do need to provide vision and direction for our team, but we have very smart and talented people that know how to execute. So, I see a key part of my job is to make sure I remove any obstacles in their way. Pipedrive has been a huge success based on its unrelenting focus on the needs of users; keeping this focus with everything we do is something I will actively promote and encourage.

Something I’m particularly excited about and working on now is sketching a new vision for Pipedrive as a platform that helps companies to manage their customers’ whole lifecycle – from prospecting to closing deals to customer success. We’re already taking the first step in September when we come out with a new leads product that will provide sales professionals with a powerful prospecting toolset.

How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?

When joining Pipedrive, I relocated from Silicon Valley to Tallinn, capital of Estonia, as well as home and HQ to Pipedrive. Moving to another country during a global pandemic was certainly an interesting experience. I am not only enjoying what this country has to offer but also fortunate that Estonia has resumed in large part to normality after the lockdowns caused by COVID-19.

My day-to-day activities have largely remained unchanged despite the global shift to remote work. As a tech company focused on collaboration and communication, it did not have a significant impact on the daily running of the business. Like so many other companies, of course, instead of face-to-face meetings we shifted to virtual ones, and I got some time back each day without the daily commute!

What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?

With our team working remotely it was more important than ever to keep the communication going, and some great tools have made this seamless. As my teams in Pipedrive are distributed across the globe, I could not imagine my day-to-day work without Zoom. Probably half of my days I am on video calls, which allows me to maintain face-to-face interaction with my colleagues, give interviews to the media or chat with analysts. To avoid Zoom fatigue, I try to keep the Zoom calls short and schedule breaks in-between meetings to recharge before the next one.

Although at Pipedrive we used Slack for almost everything even before COVID, its importance has peaked during this time of remote work. This is an excellent tool for global teams, as it allows collaboration no matter where they are located and keeps the team engaged. Slack allows me to keep all communication in one place and give instant feedback to my colleagues, which is extremely important especially when people work alone from home, being separated from their teams. It is surprising to see how one tool has diminished the role of emails in our work-life within a few months.

From less mainstream platforms, I find performance management tool 7Geese very useful for keeping goal-setting transparent, allowing constructive feedback and sharing peer recognitions that help to keep the overall positive vibe and improve performance in the organization.   

Lastly, I think that one of the most important tasks for a manager is to create a trusting, open, and comfortable environment for everyone to share their thoughts, opinions, and concerns. I see that it is the manager’s responsibility to take obstacles off people’s plates and bear this burden himself so they can focus more on succeeding. This is more important than ever today when we have lots of remote workers and employees are isolated from their peers. That is why I like Pipedrive’s 1:1 meetings where managers and employees can retain that personal touch through sharing their concerns and happy moments with each other, and I’m grateful for all the tools we use that have allowed this to continue almost seamlessly throughout the pandemic.

Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?

Probably the only positive side of COVID is that in the tech industry it has remarkably sped up the development of new technical solutions that help to work effectively with remote teams.

I have been particularly impressed with companies that have tangibly made a positive difference to businesses and people’s lives during COVID-19. I was impressed and inspired by Estonian logistics startup Sixfold. They organised a one-weekend hackathon at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and developed an AI-driven transportation monitoring solution that helped manage European trade flows when borders were closing.

At Pipedrive, we wanted to support businesses during this challenging time. A few days after the lockdown started, our sales, success, and support teams created a ‘rescue program’ for affected customers to help them through this crisis and lessen the impact of it on our users as best we could.

What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?

Businesses of all sizes, across every industry, have been impacted by COVID-19. Companies all over the world have needed to adopt new technologies and alter operations to cater to a remote workforce.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been keen to ensure we continually evolve our offering to provide our customers with the support they need, when they need it. We offered new solutions and integrations with Zoom, MS Teams, and Slack, launched SalesDocs, which is a system for preparing and tracking quotes, proposals, and contracts to better support distributed teams, providing advice on our Pipedrive community platform, and hosting webinars in our various regions to provide best practice insights. Sales organisations and sales teams alike must be agile in shifting and adapting their approaches and mindsets to succeed during these times, so naturally, we strive to offer the tools and support to enable businesses to achieve this.

What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?

In recent weeks, the CRM sector has seen rapid adoption of technologies such as collaboration software and greater investment in their IT generally, to support business performance and thrive in the new reality. With distributed work fast becoming the norm, organisations are keen to get their tech stack right to remain connected, drive results, track progress and collaborate effectively.

This accelerated shift to digital technology will continue well into the recovery era of the pandemic. Businesses need to continue making digital investments to keep up with evolving customer needs. By collating and analysing data insights captured by the technology they use, businesses can adapt to changing customer expectations; to boost developments across the organisation and increase organisational agility – safeguarding their business for the future.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

The CRM market is a crowded one, estimated to be valued at around $40 billion. As such, it is vital to have the right product offering to stand out. Besides the product, my recommendation is to always go back to the two marketing basics. First, talk to your customers, know exactly who they are and identify the pain-points you are solving for them. Secondly, be on top of your data, as data-driven decisions are invaluable in marketing.

What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?

The pandemic has reinforced that businesses cannot be stagnant and need to continually evolve to serve their customers better. At Pipedrive, we will be continually evolving our business strategy, planning processes and offering new solutions that support growth. We want to strengthen our position as a platform that helps companies to manage their customers’ entire lifecycle – from prospecting to closing deals to customer success.

As Forrester predicts, the number of software being purchased through marketplaces is constantly increasing and by 2023, 17% of the 13 trillion USD in B2B spend will flow to marketplaces. Looking towards the future, we aim to further build on Pipedrive’s marketplace – which as of today has nearly 230 apps. Pipedrive’s ambitions are to see this number significantly increase and to develop our platform so that it seamlessly integrates to whichever applications our customers are familiar with.

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