Pascal Yammine of Zilliant: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Being overly reactive can create critical mistakes. From a leadership perspective and a business perspective. For Zilliant, there’s a huge parallel between this idea and what we do for our customers. We equip them to react quickly in a data-driven way and not in an emotional way. If you wait for something to happen, you’re never leading, you’re always behind.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Pascal Yammine, Chief Executive Officer at Zilliant.
Pascal joined Zilliant as CEO in 2022. He brings more than 20 years of experience in executive roles within enterprise software and business consulting, with proven leadership in developing strategic visions, developing new products and programs that can be scaled globally, and leading organizations through digital transformations.
Most recently, Pascal was the Senior Vice President & General Manager of Salesforce Revenue Cloud, where he led product direction, marketing, go-to-market and operations. In that role, Pascal scaled the Salesforce CPQ business into the next $1B cloud. He previously held various leadership roles in the Salesforce Customer Success Group, numerous senior consulting roles and executive roles in media and communications industries, ran his own successful consulting firm, and served as chief information officer of a communication service provider.
Pascal earned a Bachelor of Arts and master’s degree in Organizational Communication from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
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?
After receiving my master’s degree from the University of Illinois, I dipped my toes in the technology industry through my first job at Accenture and ultimately found myself as SVP and general manager of Salesforce Revenue Cloud before making the tenacious jump to CEO of Zilliant. I have a fanatical focus on customer success, and my background is truly rooted in staying close to the customer.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As humans, we like to be prepared for uncomfortable situations. I once had a big presentation that I had stayed up all night constructing. I went into the day with a focused plan (or so I thought). I practiced over and over, knowing exactly what I was going to speak to, like a script. However, your preparation is not always aligned with what people need. What I failed to realize is that I was clearly missing the mark. This became clear as I looked upon the audience. To my dismay, I wasn’t receiving the warm reception I envisioned. Rather, I looked upon a sea of disengaged people — some were even leaving the presentation! I was not connecting with my audience because I was so focused on delivering a well-groomed and painstakingly planned presentation. At that moment, it was uncomfortable for me, but I can look back on that day now with a laugh since it taught me an important lesson.
From that day, I learned how important situational awareness is. My advice: don’t get so focused on the planning that you aren’t focused enough on the results. Not just for presentations but for anything. It’s harder than it’s ever been to communicate and convey messages, especially in our remote work environment. The purpose of why we communicate is so that people understand a point: start with that point in mind and seek to understand your audience so that you can effectively connect the two.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have two people I’m grateful for who truly impacted me very early on. The first person is former-Dean Barbara O’Keefe, who recently retired from Northwestern University. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the University of Illinois where I attended. She started out as my professor but ultimately became my mentor, and she was the one who really introduced me to technology. She brought disciplines of organizational behavior, how people behave and how people interact and technology through her teachings. Her background as a professor resided in both engineering and communications so she really instilled in me how technology could help companies become more efficient and effective.
The second person I’d like to recognize is John Durocher. John was the first partner I worked with at Accenture, and he also hired me at Salesforce. In my early days at Accenture and even Salesforce, he gave me a lot of rope to innovate in my role. He not only taught me about what I can do but how to be a great leader.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I’m new to the organization, but I know Zilliant has gone through a lot of transformation, most of which was before my time. It began as a technology transformation, building from a pricing-only offering to adding in revenue growth guidance and being an early leader in the transition from on-premise software to 100% cloud-native, multi-tenant SaaS. From there, Zilliant has built out a comprehensive offering that encompasses price optimization and management, revenue operations and intelligence, eCommerce product recommendations and robust sales-facing software such as its agreement management offering.
Today, we’re focused on helping customers leverage this technology to increase top-line and bottom-line value for their businesses. I’ve seen firsthand the value that Zilliant creates for our customers. For me, now understanding the full breadth of value, I want to make it more accessible and attainable, in essence democratizing our offerings.
Zilliant has helped guide its customers’ pricing strategy through the pandemic, supply chain challenges, inflation, recession and more. In essence, we act as a partner to navigate macroeconomic changes and ensure our customers’ pricing, sales and commercial guidance are in line with real-time market conditions. What most company leaders don’t yet realize is that it doesn’t require a multi-million-dollar investment to attain this level of value. This is my vision for the company: leveraging our fantastic team and innovative software to help more companies reach their highest levels of profitable growth.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I’m always learning myself as I go through this role. I believe the most important thing is having open communication. Uncertainty means you must be agile. As a company, we need to be fluid with each other. Zilliant is putting a plan in place mimicking the V2MOM goal-setting framework from Salesforce, and it’s important that we’ve included all employees to add to this conversation as we prioritize the upcoming year. A few examples from Zilliant’s V2MOM are simple and include:
Transparency. First and foremost.
Shared accountability. We are all in this together.
Agility. Everything is subject to change with the economy, recession, etc. This requires openness and the ability to be agile in how we run the business.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
There are always going to be ups and downs in the role. What motivates me is seeing a positive impact. I enjoy seeing people’s careers grow and being a part of their professional development, not just for our employees but for our customers as well. Watching the impact we have on people’s lives keeps me going.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
Rhinoceros Success by Scott Alexander — I read this book when I was 18. It talks about having thick skin and attaining focus, and it ultimately prepared me for my future role. The book inspired me during times of negative factors impacting my college career and my life.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand — It’s a fictional book based on her philosophy of innovation and invention. I remember picking it up, realizing it was 900 pages long and thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to finish it,” and I read it in just two days. At the time, it was a book I really needed to read.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I understand that this life comes with many challenges. For me, it’s about being open about that and how I’m feeling. I won’t be the type of leader who masks when times are difficult. Some leaders choose to always be positive, but it’s important to be transparent. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. There is still a lot to learn about the company and my role that I will absorb over time.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
In today’s world, getting people together in person is the most important thing we can do. It’s easy to feel like you’re alone not just for meetings but for social hours, lunches, etc., and virtual interactions amplify that feeling. When you’re younger in your career, social interactions are vital to your overall development. It’s human nature that people want to be a part of a community, and we want to support that.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be direct, don’t beat around the bush. Conversely, open and direct communication comes with risk and can make you uncomfortable. However, most customers and team members will respect this. We (our employees and our customers) are all in it together; it’s a partnership.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Data. The more data you have, the more confident you are in making decisions and the fewer variables you face. Responding with data-driven adjustments and equipping your customers to make swift decisions ultimately makes them more confident. Another offensive plan when times are unpredictable is being agile. Agility is a common refrain for me because of its importance in leadership during uncertain times.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle to guide a company through turbulent times that I practice at Zilliant is to simply take a minute. Sometimes I think people are too quick to react. When there’s too much reactiveness, those changes may not be the most productive for the company. There will always be ups and downs, but it’s not fair for your team to deal with constant change if decisions aren’t made strategically. Conversely, don’t be too slow either. Take a minute, not an hour.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Being overly reactive can create critical mistakes
From a leadership perspective and a business perspective. For Zilliant, there’s a huge parallel between this idea and what we do for our customers. We equip them to react quickly in a data-driven way and not in an emotional way. If you wait for something to happen, you’re never leading, you’re always behind.
Hope is not a strategy
Strategy needs to be based on data and objectives. Hopefulness and positivity are helpful, but not if those sentiments aren’t rooted in a goal-oriented mindset. Your people are smart, and they will see right through hollow optimism.
Use data to cast a light to find your best path (not a self-serving path)
Data helps illuminate our options, which allows us to make the best decisions, but it should not be used for self-gratification. From a business perspective, Zilliant does an excellent job at this with our customers. We’re in tune with customers’ data that is unique to them, and we give them clarity of their options. That’s the power of our tools and the value proposition we deliver. This idea is a combination of using data as a strategic commodity and building growth for your business.
Do not put the burden on the people
For leaders in difficult times, it’s not easy to realize when you’re overworking your people. If things are going wrong in the business, leaders should not put that weight on the people on the front lines doing the work. If the burden exists, it’s a burden we must share together.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Stay close to the customer.
This is true for any business but especially for a SaaS business.
With customers, partners, employees and leadership. Sometimes we must have tough conversations. I’ve learned that bad news doesn’t age well — it doesn’t get better with time. Have that hard conversation now followed swiftly by a plan of action to turn it into a positive outcome.
While data is always needed, it is a grounding point for decision-making in uncertain times. Data informs us (not just proprietary data or market data), and the hardest part is leveraging insights from it, especially as it relates to our customers.
Lead from the front.
As a leader, you must demonstrate equal importance across teams and individuals. There isn’t a single task I would ask an employee to do that I wouldn’t do myself.
From a broader perspective, we all have individual lives outside of work, and sometimes the lines between personal and professional are somewhat blended. Again, vulnerability and authenticity are critical as people expect empathy in their personal lives and in a work setting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If it’s important enough, you’ll find a way to get it done,” Ryan Blair, American author, and entrepreneur.
This philosophy applies to everything in life. While most things we tend to worry about are not that important, we have to ask ourselves if we’re focusing on the right things, to begin with.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Pascal Yammine of Zilliant: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.