[To deliver an exceptional client experience], “you have to LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN!” – Colleen Arnold, SVP IBM Sales & Distribution
January is National Mentoring Month. While there are many definitions and meanings for the word “mentor”, at the core, a mentor is a trusted advisor. This summer, I had the opportunity to mentor Leslieanne John, a star student at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, as she navigated the corporate world for the first time. As an intern, her project was to interview top executives at IBM about their career paths, views on technology, and their advice for young people starting in the technology world. Her sixth interview was with Colleen Arnold, who is not only Senior Vice President of IBM Sales and Distribution, but also a mentor to over one hundred IBMers. Colleen has a strong commitment to mentoring and somehow finds the time to schedule mentoring sessions into her insanely busy days. The act of mentoring seems to energize her, enabling Colleen to tackle her daily challenges with an incredible amount of passion and excitement. Read the full interview with Leslieanne and Colleen below:
Leslieanne’s interview with Colleen Arnold
I was nervous, very nervous. As I walked into her office, I was a bit taken aback. She seemed like she was in such a hurry. She must have sensed my fright because just as my heart began to race, she opened her eyes widely, smiled and said “Hi Leslieanne, nice to meet you.” It felt like a long awaited reunion of two friends. Who is this woman who caused me to feel so welcome? Colleen Arnold, Senior Vice President of Sales and Distribution at IBM, and I got the opportunity to interview her.
What is your role at IBM?
I am the head of Sales and Distribution, a transformation agent, an advocate for the client, a collaborator with the other Senior Vice Presidents, and of course a cheerleader for our clients.
What is a typical day for you?
In a typical day, I try to have at least one conversation with a client, whether it be via telephone, videoconference or face to face. At times, I am at a client site to discuss strategy and programs or projects that they are trying to start. After that, I will usually have a round-table discussion with future IBM leaders in an attempt to get feedback about what is working in IBM and what we might need to change. Later, I will go back to the other SVPs and discuss how we can improve what is not working. After intense discussion with them, I go and carry out my position as a transformation agent, and I change things. And that is not even half of my day.
With all of the responsibility that comes with your position, how do you manage your time?
Whatever you have a passion for – you do it because you love it. I have a little-known practice that I would like to share with you. I have what I like to call a meeting request list that I review two to three times a day. I hand pick my meetings strategically based on what I am doing and where I am going. I even have family events, like my daughter’s first day in college and my son’s first day at IBM. This is how I stay organized.
How has IBM changed since you began working there?
Oh my goodness, I have been here for 33 years! When I started here, it was a product business, and the career path was quite clear. You would work in sales and if you were successful, then, in a few years, you would be promoted to a manager. It was simple business for a simple time. But of course, nothing ever stays the same, and the technology industry progressed. So we had to try to get ahead of the curve. We realized that the only way that this would be possible was to go into services. As this change was happening, I decided to jump in with both feet. Everyone thought that I was crazy and said that I was making a huge mistake. But it did not matter to me.
For a while, IBM was doing wonderfully. But somehow, in the midst of all of our progress, we seemed to have lost our way – until our CEO Lou Gerstner provided us with a clear connection between revenue/profit and consulting. We then became more professional and aggressive in putting our clients first.
Over time, I began to see more and more growth in our organization. I was able to run businesses in other geographies like Australia and Europe, and during these transformations, I remember Gerstner saying, “E-business is the way.” We stayed true to those words and never looked back.
We’ve become more market focused, with more of a clear understanding of revenue, profit and the brand. Marketing brought us closer to the client. Then Sam came in, and it became all about developing solutions across different business units (hardware, software services) and driving new markets back to where the growth was at the time.
We are grounded in innovation and the market. Over the years, we realized that we have to be willing to undo any old model that previously got in the way, in order to build ourselves up aggressively in the marketplace to become number one.
Seeing how far we’ve come, I can give employees this one piece of advice: Don’t worry, we will do this. Just don’t get in the way. Go with it. Embrace the change.
What are some of your best practices in delivering an exceptional client experience?
LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN! The client will tell you everything inadvertently or through body language, or as a small piece of information, but you have to LISTEN! You also have to be humble and open to change.
You must have an excited team that is ready and willing to help the client because, no matter what, if you don’t deliver on the things that you promise clients, they will never give you another shot. No matter how humble you are, or how smart and strategic you are, if the trust is broken, there is no coming back from that. These few things are what make the magic happen.
About Colleen Arnold
Colleen Arnold is Senior Vice President, IBM Sales & Distribution, responsible for revenue, profit, and client satisfaction in North America and IBM’s industry client teams globally. Prior to her current role, she was Senior Vice President, IBM Application Management Services, leading IBM in providing clients with an integrated approach to managing their application portfolios.
- Colleen Arnold official bio on ibm.com
- Watch video of Colleen Arnold discussing trusted computing with a senior executive from Visa (IBM System Z YouTube)
About the IBM Center for Applied Insights
The IBM Center for Applied Insights introduces new ways of thinking, working and leading. Through evidence-based research, the Center arms leaders with pragmatic guidance and the case for change.