As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Dettling. In his role as CEO of Ansira, an independent global marketing services and solutions company, Jay Dettling is responsible for growing Ansira’s business and building the company’s client roster. Jay leads a team of 1,700 marketing consultants and practitioners who are passionate about achieving exceptional client results through digital transformation and channel partner marketing.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in South Bend, Indiana, attended the University of Notre Dame for undergrad, and earned my MBA from Northwestern University. My wife and I live in Chicago with our four amazing kids and enjoy the local food scene and exploring the world whenever we can get away.
Prior to joining Ansira, I was vice president of the Global Partner organization at Adobe where I led the partner ecosystem and integrated the Marketo and Magento ecosystems. Before Adobe, I was a managing director at Accenture Interactive where I was responsible for accelerating the growth and evolution of digital marketing, content, and commerce offerings. My position at Accenture followed more than 13 years in executive roles at Acquity Group, where I was part of the leadership team for its IPO and subsequent sale to Accenture.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I really enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of my favorites are: “The Daily” from The New York Times, which provides me with news in just 20 minutes; “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” from NPR provides the perfect combination of humor while still making you think; and “Stuff You Should Know” satisfies my hunger for knowledge, in this case taking a dive into some pretty fascinating topics you didn’t know you wanted to learn more about. While I like that these podcasts are informative, they also provide endless interesting topics to connect on with clients and team members.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I joined Ansira as CEO in February 2020. What drew me to the company is the mix of solutions and experience, as well as the client retention rate. Coming from Adobe, a technology partner of Ansira, I knew that the team was smart and talented. The opportunity to work with them and to drive customer-centric ideas and solutions for our clients, which span multiple verticals (including auto, tech, QSR, and retail) and most of which are household names, was an opportunity I could not refuse.
We believe that experience is everything, so our purpose is to help our clients deliver customer experiences at every interaction and transaction from the brand level to the local level, and we help clients to better understand consumers’ ever-changing expectations brought on by innovative industry disruptors and new technologies. My team and I are constantly rethinking and improving on what we do, to provide the best solutions for clients to deliver positive, consistent, and innovative experiences for their customers, ultimately creating and maintaining a loyal customer base. We consider our clients to be true partners, so their success is our success.
Company culture is also something that gives me purpose. It is important to me that everyone at Ansira feels that they are part of the greater team. Connection and transparency provide an experience for them, I hope, that is inclusive and collaborative.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Do your job with grace — that is the principle that has guided me throughout my career. Running a business is stressful so remaining kind, thoughtful, and respectful in the good times and the bad is so important, especially as a leader. My team needs to have confidence in me and really feel that decisions are made with the greater good in mind.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Throughout my career, I have traveled extensively for work but am now at home with my family more than ever, including our four children from the ages of 11 to 18. My family has learned to share spaces, with my wife and I both working remotely and the kids home schooling. I’m also still getting to know my new colleagues and partners over virtual meetings and phone calls, so space, and WiFi, is at a premium. We are dispersed throughout the house, so we send group texts asking anyone who is not using WiFi for work or school to take a break, to ensure those who need it for meetings or class have better connections.
This time has had challenges, but we’ve found solutions even within social distancing. It’s so important to continue to have adult social interaction, whether it is in the form of virtual happy hours or space monitored interactions outdoors. Getting outside really recharges me, so I’ve been taking long walks in the morning and it has been a welcome addition to my morning routine.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have been in a unique situation as I had just started at Ansira in early February, so at the time we moved to a work from home plan to reinforce social distancing in mid-March, I was still traveling to offices to meet the team and getting a feel for the culture of the organization, while also enacting on my plan for my first 90 days and beyond. I quickly had to make tough budget decisions internally, while also being respectful to client budget changes. We worked with several clients to adjust their scope of work or delivery schedule in response to the changes set forth during the COVID-19 social distancing orders in many communities. We worked with our clients to put budget measures in place immediately in order to give them time to work with us on a plan to pivot their business.
Like many other companies, we quickly knew that it was the right thing to do to put in place a remote working plan in order to keep our team safe and continue to serve our clients without disruption. Because of the nature of our work, for some teams it was not as simple as taking their laptops home to work. Our service and support teams act as an extension of our clients, and we needed to ensure we continued global support in line with our clients’ procedures. We came together to quickly identify where and how we needed to implement solutions by activating our virtual support procedures for customer service. We remained transparent with clients during the transition, and worked as a team to anticipate any possible complications as we swiftly and seamlessly got our entire team on a remote working plan.
Personally, working remotely posed a challenge for me as I feed off of being with people and I had only just started meeting with the teams in the different offices and was in the process of diving deeper with them. So, this meant I couldn’t feed my need to connect in person in those early and critical days. However, on the flip side I also think the pandemic accelerated my integration into the team, as we were all going through this together and leadership was more important than ever.
Overall, the transition to work from home was smooth. However, with this change we wanted to make sure we kept our sense of culture and connection. We have regular check-ins with the team with all hands meetings, and I send a company-wide note every Friday to share wins and kudos which are submitted by team members. We have had some impressive client successes over the past couple of months, so making the team aware has kept us inspired and motivated. In addition, Ansira is backed by Advent International, a private equity company, and they created a COVID Global Relief Fund, from which they distributed funds among their subsidiaries to support the teams during the pandemic. We have chosen to donate to food banks in the communities where we have large numbers of employees, but also to share some TLC with our team members in the form of a special relief fund. While our team members can of course spend their special relief fund in any way that they chose, including paying bills or buying groceries, they also have the option of supporting our clients, which provides them with options including purchasing craft projects, workout gear, meals, or even a deep clean of their car.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I think remaining connected to people and engaged with all facets of your social network and with family and loved ones is key. In our house we have done this by having dinner together every night, which is something we have historically done about every 2 weeks. We are also watching movies as a family, including a lot of classics lately, and my daughters keep me entertained with TikTok “dad videos.” As a family who has always had the next big trip on the horizon to look forward to, we have now started to talk about what that next adventure will be. For me, exercise and music are really important, so I make sure they part of my day, every day. All of these things have provided us another level of connection and keeps us all in a good head space.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
With clients across many verticals, Ansira has seen them all impacted in some way, some are thriving while others have experienced significant revenue loss and employee cutbacks — we’re working to support across the entire spectrum. What we do see commonly across all verticals is that how a brand connects with a customer will never be the same again. Some of the pivots our clients have made are here for good — curbside pickup, contactless delivery, supply chain diversification, channel partner fund utilization, and brand philanthropic efforts, are some examples. The customer experience will forever be changed and that’s not a bad thing, but it is something we are working with our clients to support as communities re-open. There is also another level of digital preparedness that brands will want to ensure is in place moving forward. Many clients of ours made manual pivots and are now looking to operationalize them. The need for digital transformation has escalated, and at an accelerated pace, as a brand’s ability to talk to their customers is now more essential to their survival than ever.
What is unique about Ansira is that by working with brands that have a distributed sales model, we have found that our perspective and the examples we can share from one vertical often inspire another. We hosted client and prospect webinars to share our learnings about COVID. The feedback we received was that people in, for example, the auto industry found our work with QSR clients to inspire them to look at things differently for their company. There’s not a “one size fits all” solution for any of our clients, so our team has really dug in on how to support clients right now, and help them look towards the future. A future I am optimistic about. I think there will be re-imagined customer experiences that drive even more brand fans, operational and product innovations from clients, and a new sense of community. I am energized by our clients’ successes, always, but especially now.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Back to my belief that experience is everything. We have all collectively experienced an abrupt and dramatic change to the way we live. And, as a result we have pivoted business operations and family life, been invited into each other’s homes (personally and professionally), and likely engaged to a greater degree in our own communities. Along the way, we’ve seen our resilience take root. So, I think customer expectations will permanently change, partly because as consumers we demand it, and partly because this affords brands a rare opportunity to engage differently moving forward. I believe that companies will be judged on experience, not just product, at an even higher level than before. Some of the conveniences we’ve enjoyed during quarantine have made customers think “why haven’t we done this before?” or “I don’t want to go back to the way this used to be.” We are listening and working with our clients to ensure they provide outstanding experiences for customers at the brand level and the local level now, and in the months to come.
I also believe that the way we work will be forever changed. We will continue to find ways to work in more flexible ways — both individuals and teams. I don’t believe we will snap back to the rigidity of the traditional workspace and workday. So yes, I believe this will forever change the way we live, but I believe that it’s not for the negative.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
My top priorities are keeping my team safe and healthy, and ensuring our clients receive all the support they need to weather this storm and come out stronger after. Our team has already put together new client offerings to show multiple ways we can support clients on multiple levels, including CRM optimization, localized sales acceleration, customer journey enhancement, and scaled digital solutions. Our new business team and business development representatives are armed with new ways to talk with prospects today, as opposed to how we would engage them three months ago. What is also very important to us is to continue to share thought leadership, and really dig into our strategic alliances and partnerships.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
For other client services companies I would encourage them to listen to clients and be a steady and connected partner. I always want our clients to think of us first when they have something that arises or there is something that keeps them up at night, even if it’s not a solution we provide. We are all learning together right now so there is not a playbook we can refer to, but we can use this as an opportunity to help our clients be thought leaders. Clients will need support in navigating new customer preferences that are changing at an ultrasonic speed, and in order to remain relevant they will need to listen to and anticipate those preferences, and implement changes quickly in response.
I also think back to my previous answer about doing your job with grace. Now more than before, one must carry themselves differently. We are all going through a metamorphosis, both personally and professionally, so there’s a new level of empathy and compassion we need to maintain.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”
This quote sticks with me because we are all striving for success, and once it is attained, we need to have a level of humility and the knowledge that we didn’t get there by ourselves.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find me on Linkedin and Twitter. You can also follow Ansira on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook or read more of our perspective and thought leadership on our website, and our COVID-19 resources page.