Setting the sales standard: How one leader inspired her sales teams to embrace change

To ensure sales teams at Acronis were supportive of and successful throughout a period of change, chief sales officer Katya Ivanova had to manage a shifting business strategy and motivate her teams to support the changes

Acronis Headshot Treatment

When Katya Ivanova joined Acronis, she worked in customer support. Directly engaging with the needs of Acronis’ end users each day gave her a unique insight into how the company’s products were actually being deployed. But, with the desire for a more challenging role, she took on a sales role.

Now, as chief sales officer, she has overseen a shift in the company’s strategy toward cloud solutions. This change has touched every element of the customer journey, which makes it all the more fitting that her career is coming full circle, with her portfolio expanding to include both sales and customer support.

“Most sales leaders only have the experience of what happens before the sale occurs,” Ivanova says. “I saw both worlds, which helps me really understand the journey of the customer with a vendor.”

This shift in the focus of her role has coincided with a change in Acronis’ organisational strategy as a response to market demands. Previously, the end-point security and cybersecurity firm focused on on-premises products. But the SaaS industry has transitioned to a cloud-based working model. Ivanova says this was the right choice for Acronis’ clients which are themselves small IT service providers. Providing a specialised approach for this niche, alongside a cloud-based solution has allowed Acronis to become a massive provider of cloud SaaS services.

Ivanova had to lead Aconis’ sales team through this shift in strategy. Salespeople can be notoriously resistant to change. If something works and is selling – and earning commission – they may be reluctant to try something new and untested.

On a senior leadership level, it’s extremely important to understand how we connect all these pieces and explain to people that this is important, and this is what you need – in any role – to contribute to this goal

Ivanova’s team was no different, with some people remaining hesitant to take the time to learn about and sell the new cloud products. Ivanova says: “We literally went down from top to bottom, making sure that everybody understands there is no escape.” Senior leaders set the example for the rest of the sales teams, demonstrating how the change could still pay off, literally and figuratively.

Ivanova also oversaw the alignment of sales targets with objectives across the business, including product management, research and development and marketing. She says one of the biggest challenges was that salespeople didn’t see how other team’s objectives could help them meet their sales targets. “On a senior leadership level, it’s extremely important to understand how we connect all these pieces and explain to people that this is important, and this is what you need – in any role – to contribute to this goal,” she says.

To enable the business to change the way it sold, Ivanova had to recognise internal champions and manage detractors capably. The biggest detractors, she says, were often the highest performers and the individuals with the most influence over the team. She worked to encourage a shift in mindset and show people the benefits of the new product strategy. “If you bring these detractors over to your side, it will help tremendously with the rest of the team,” she adds.

This approach to change management has helped the sales team at Acronis perform well throughout the shift to cloud-based solutions. But the integration of the customer service and sales functions also helped facilitate a change within the business. Ivanova says the customer experience has improved by taking a page out of the sales playbook: “Sales is an extremely fast-paced environment, and you live in a completely different time sense where one day is already a long time. Now, I’m going back to support, and I realised that two weeks is too long. We can bring this urgency and overall customer-centricity from sales to support because you realise that every day counts.”

Shifting from on-premises IT solutions to cloud-based ones is not only taking place at Acronis, but across the tech and SaaS industry. Ivanova points out though, that companies have to adapt to remain relevant. Big, well-established brands may rest on their laurels, assured of their prominence, which may also be a path to irrelevance. Ivanova points to Oracle, which cornered the market in workplace solutions until it was swiftly outpaced by the more innovative solutions Microsoft, Amazon and Google began providing. Ivanova says: “I love the IT industry because it’s never the same and unless you continuously push yourself to learn what’s happening in the market, you will become a dinosaur very fast.”

Her leadership throughout the change process at Acronis is only the beginning though. It has given her a skillset well-suited to helming the company through future change. And change, in technology, is a certainty. She points to the growing trend toward localisation, changes to corporate risk management and even changing skills requirements as developments that tech companies will have to address in the future.

But, at its heart, leadership is about people. “For me, the most exciting part is to see the people be successful and to help them realise what their top skills are and where they can excel. This is what makes me wake up every day,” she says. “My superpower is the team and the people I’m working with. I’m so happy for some of the people that I hired 10 years back now having senior positions. I feel like I had a little bit to do with that.”