SAS: It's About the People
Despite the economic downturn, SAS is able to navigate its way through difficult waters. How it was able to do so was one of the main takeaways at its SAS Executive Conference, an event for customers and prospects held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas.
The $1 billion company grew revenues 10 percent last year and has been fortunate enough to avoid layoffs in a bear market. Additionally, the company is keeping employees happy as indicated by its low employee turnover rate of roughly 5 percent. SAS executives attribute these successes to its approach to people and technology.
"You need to understand your business. You need to understand it's not about technology, but about people," said Jim Davis, senior vice president of marketing for SAS, in his presentation at the conference.
Industry pundits agree. Showing an interest in customers and the people you work with was the unmistakable message of the featured speech given by Tim Sanders, chief solutions officer at Yahoo! Sanders, author of the book "Love Is the Killer App," suggested people be a "lovecat" to their colleagues and customers. The difference between a good day and a bad day for an employee, Sanders says, is whether a boss takes five minutes at the end of the day to make employees feel good before they go home.
Michael Gomez, program manager at the Indian Health Services, a SAS customer based in Albuquerque, NM, says using a SAS solution has enabled his organization to help more than 1 million Native American Indians and Eskimos receive proper medical treatment. He says many Native American Indians and Eskimos, who commonly suffer from diabetes, have been neglected in the past because technology was not advanced enough to track the health conditions of each person. Indian Health Services is now meeting and beating minimum state health requirements and patients are getting better care, he says.
Sanders says this type of compassion toward others needs to be applied to business. Greed, speed, and efficiency have all acted as business drivers for organizations in the past, he says. "Today, we have a new set of values: knowledge, network, and compassion."
"Every business relationship starts out as a knowledge sharing activity. Over time, if we establish enough trust with the people in our network we establish compassionate relationships," Sanders says. He suggests that knowledge-wise, many people are intellectually bankrupt because they don't read enough. "The average businessperson who has two people making $60,000 a year working for them reads 0.7 business books per career."
Sanders suggests reading one book per week that will help you help the people around you in a positive way. "When you stop learning you start depending on other people for intelligence and that's a bad way to be," he says. "If you read enough, you become more aware of the nature of change."
The networking part of the equation he says requires business professionals to connect people together for no personal gain. "One of the ways to measure your success is your ability to build a network and your ability to disappear without any expectations," Sanders says. He says a free network will be much larger than a brokered network because a brokered network creates friction in a relationship.
The third element, compassion, Sanders says is "the tough part for some of you dudes. We've learned to be very impersonal because of high turnover, but it is important to take concern for others."
One way he suggests business professionals can take more of an interest in their customers is to call two customers or associates each week and thank them for their business and ask them about their life situation. Tough times bring families closer together, whereas companies start laying people off. To build relationships, Sanders says, treat your colleagues and customers like family.
He cites an example of a local coffee shop. In the window of PT's Cafe Espresso, in Topeka, Kansas, a sign reads: "Without the love it's just coffee." This coffee shop is one of the only few small coffee shops that is still able to compete against Starbucks, he says.
In the end, he says, there are only two metrics that matter when evaluating a company -- customer satisfaction and low employee turnover.