“There’s only one Coke – and we can be that”:  Experian North America’s Stan Oliai on how talent is helping realise the company ambition.

“There’s only one Coke – and we can be that”: Experian North America’s Stan Oliai on how talent is helping realise the company ambition.

The shift to an insight-based approach to working with customers has been crucial to success – but the company needs “high energy, urgency players” to take the market lead, says its EVP of Integrated Sales and Marketing.

By MaryLou Costa

This year, Stan Oliai will celebrate a significant milestone – having been at Experian North America for 28 years, ever since he graduated from the University of California in 1993 with an MA in Business Economics.

“I came into the organisation as a statistical analyst, and really have grown up at Experian,” reflects Oliai, who has since risen through the ranks to become EVP of Integrated Sales and Marketing.

The changes he’s seen in his time across the finance industry and the Experian customer base – from the collapse of big businesses to the rise of fintech and digital acceleration – are too many to fit into the space of one interview. But the key to maintaining and building a formidable sales and marketing function has been down to one big shift Oliai has driven – taking a problem solving approach and becoming insights-based.

“We often think about differentiation in the context of products, innovation, features and functions, and that’s clearly a part of it, but we’ve embraced the notion that we can differentiate with respect to how we sell and service our clients. And a key aspect of that is bringing industry and business insights to the conversation and engaging that way,” he explains.

“That means really embracing insight-based selling and marketing, to drive engagement, and to reinforce our brand. So for customers, the Experian sales team aren’t just people they like and trust, they’re people that helped improve their business. 

“A lot of change has happened across our client base. The way we face up to that is to leverage the insights not just to engage with our clients, but to inform ourselves and our own thinking, as we engage and work with our clients through these changes.”

An insights-based approach needs intelligent people to deliver

In turn, the success of that approach needs a top talent strategy to find and develop the kind of people who Oliai describes as not only being a good fit, but are “high energy, high urgency players” with the “requisite intellectual horsepower, the integrity and frankly, the fire and desire to compete and win”.

It’s a big task, and Oliai hasn’t done this alone. Enter talent strategy consultancy The Chemistry Group, who, first of all, upended the notion that CVs and experience are the primary indicators of a candidate’s potential.

“Our talent agenda was the number one priority when I took the role, and it’s the number one priority today. The piece of conventional wisdom Chemistry turned upside down was in how we’ve historically placed a very high value on experience and CV – does this person have the requisite experience to be successful here?” reflects Oliai.

“Clearly, that’s important. But the research Roger and his team had done show that, on the list of the top five things, maybe that’s number five. Intellect was at the top of the list, along with values and motivations. For me that triggered a lot of curiosity. Smart people, with aligned values and motivations, and are good cultural fits, find a way to succeed. That’s simply stated, but that was the first thing in working with Chemistry which really changed my view on what we’re looking for.”

Taking an analytical approach to performance measurement – with an eye on the prize

Adopting such a lateral approach to talent screening has also gone hand in hand with a more analytical approach to measuring talent performance, building bespoke tools with Chemistry to examine strengths, areas of concern and overall fitness for the role, especially in higher profile leadership positions. This is coupled with a review of performance results both as a wider business and across teams.

Operating in such a competitive space, Oliai asserts, means such a point of differentiation has created an “edge that defines the difference between first place and losing” – while also allowing him personally to be surrounded with the right people to succeed.

“I believe that in a leadership role, probably 70 to 80% of the impact you can have is through the talent and the team you assemble around you. And we took a very deliberate approach to do just that, at all leadership levels. We can see the  strengths or deficiencies for any one leader. Their teams then reflect those strengths and deficiencies. So if you raise the level of the leader, the team comes with that frontline leader,” Oliai elaborates. 

Raising the bar on talent to keep nurturing the insights-based sales and marketing strategy all aligns with Oliai’s ultimate goal for Experian to take the lead and become the “Coke” of its market.

“There’s a level of dissatisfaction with the norm. Five years ago, if you would have told me we’d be where we are, I would have said, ‘I wish – that would be awesome’. And now I think we’re still not where we need to be. We still have room to raise our game. And so it’s that notion of bringing it back to our selection process and informing our development processes,” he considers.

“We’re an ambitious bunch. While I’m pleased with progress, I don’t believe our work is done until we’re seen as the recognised leader in that space we operate. For example, there are many companies that manufacture cola, but there’s one Coke. We actually have an opportunity in the foreseeable future to be Coke. And that’s what we’re after.”

TAKEAWAYS

  • Experian North America believes it’s differentiated its sales and marketing teams through an insights-based approach – but this needs intelligent, hungry people to deliver it.
  • Intellect, values, motivation and cultural fit are more important than experience on a CV when it comes to finding the right talent.
  • In a leadership role, around 80% of the impact you can have comes from the team you assemble around you.