Interview with Mark Bergen – EVP, Sales at Vision Critical

online panelsBrief background of Mark Bergen:

As EVP, Sales, Mark Bergen oversees Vision Critical’s worldwide sales effort involving teams in Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. Mark brings 15 years of sales experience and leadership to Vision Critical.

Prior to joining Vision Critical in 2005, Mark spent time with various technology based companies including Colligo Networks, Bell Intrigna and Ernex Marketing Solutions. Mark has an undergraduate science degree from the University of Guelph, a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from Simon Fraser University and has completed the first level of the Chartered Financial Analyst program.

Online MR: Sales Superstars are born that way – do you believe this notion?

Mark Bergen: Nonsense. That said, there are some key attributes that definitely contribute to crafting a strong, successful sales person – natural curiosity, empathy, confidence, listening, intellectual capacity to name a few – but sales, like research, is a craft involving technique, strategy, planning and hard work.

Online MR: How do you micro manage your sales target?

Mark Bergen: As best I can, I avoid micro-managing towards a sales target.

Rather, I strive to hire good sales people, paint a clear vision they buy into, provide them the tools they need, and then block and tackle the day to day distractions that prevent them from achieving what they are capable of.

In a global operation with nearly 40 sales people, I can’t involve myself in every deal. Rather, we need smart, hardworking and self-motivated people to accomplish the goals set.

Online MR: 2012 – what personal milestones you have set?

Mark Bergen: As we go global and grow, it’s important to have clear structure with good leadership and authority.

We have grown very quickly and building internal infrastructure (sales training, sales processes, etc.) always lag.

I’d also like to continue working on helping client side researchers sell the community panel concept into their organizations.

How can I better enable them to sell the idea to the CMO, etc. On a purely personal level, I’ve starting playing hockey in the last year and would love to figure out a good slap shot.

Online MR: In terms of growth plans of Vision Critical – has recession slowed it in any ways?

Mark Bergen: Early 2009 was a challenging period as companies put a hold on new spending, but since then we’ve successfully grown quarter by quarter.

In fact, we just completed our most successful quarter ever and show few signs of slowing down.

If you look at the fundamental promise of community panels, they are to make researchers more efficient and to produce more actionable insights. In a recessionary environment, this is a strong value proposition.

Online MR: How are you enhancing the value proposition offered by Vision Critical to the clients?

Mark Bergen: Over the years, something that Vision Critical has been extremely good at is being innovative.

As a technology based research company, we pride ourselves on not only improving our products feature by feature, but using technology to help redefine the very nature of the Market Research industry itself.

It was only a few years ago that we coined the term Community Panel. Since then we’ve worked hard to make it a household name in MR circles.

Today, our larger vision for the market is closer than ever.

We’re working on pulling all opinion and feedback data, regardless of the study or modality, together with behavioral data into one central spot – Community Panels, Satisfaction research, ad-hoc studies, etc.

Impossible to do without sophisticated technology and virtually unheard of in the market today. The resulting insights are useful not only to MR, but to marketing teams and even the broader organization.

Lots of opportunity ahead.

Online MR: Is the future of this industry Proprietary Panels or Customized Communities?

Mark Bergen: Community Panels. There is a frequent misperception that it is either / or.

Both have huge value but it depends upon the question being asked. We decided as an organization that it is about the customer (aka. ‘respondent’) and ultimately the client needs – technology should revolve around both of these stakeholders.

Our Sparq platform seamlessly handles both quant surveys and qualitative communities with the researchers deciding when to deploy which.

For the customer, it’s a seamless transition between the two, while enabling the client to deploy the right solution to answer their need

Online MR: How important it is to follow ethical business practices?

Mark Bergen: I don’t really see it as “following ethical practices”.

It’s really a question of integrity – you either have it or you don’t.

I have been selling for Vision Critical for over 6 years – and to many of the same relationships that I made when we first started selling our first panel solution.

Integrity was and is foundational to those relationships. Services can’t make up for weak technology – strong technology can’t cover for poor services. You need to deliver what you say you will today and tomorrow.

Online MR: What immediate challenges do you foresee in this line of business?

Mark Bergen: Marketing. In particular, marketing leading research vs. research leading marketing.

With the explosion of new technologies – Social CRM, Twitter, FaceBook, Social Media Monitoring, etc. – we are seeing many researchers struggle to help marketing understand the real value these technologies bring and why research should continue to have a strong voice in their use.

In many cases, the market research principles built into these technologies is suspect but to the marketing department, they are cheap and easy.

I think researchers are going to need to continue to work on educating the companies where they work on the role and value of research, and finding ways to share that value far and wide within those companies.

The ‘truth’ of research should be addictive to marketing teams, and it should therefore before ‘sticky’.

Online MR: What are your expansion plans in the Asia Pacific region?

Mark Bergen: We recently announced the launch of our Hong Kong office as our gateway into Asia.

We have a highly capable leader who is heading our efforts in region and we expect great things. It has been encouraging that we enter into Asia on the back of existing interest and clients that have been sold / serviced out of our Australian operations giving us a solid base to build from.

That said, Asia adds a huge level of complexity that we are working thru – languages, technology adoption, pricing structures, etc.

We have a large amount of work ahead of us but are very optimistic we have the team and the financial resources to pull it off.

Online MR: What qualities do you look for in your team member?

Mark Bergen: I noted a few above, but in no particular order – strong intellectual curiosity, empathy, an ability to listen well, modesty and an ability to celebrate others success, goal orientated – and last, an enjoyable personality.

We have an amazing team at Vision Critical that get along well, battle hard, mourn loss and celebrate success. Last, go with your gut. If you are questioning cultural fit, don’t do it.

Online MR: What are the 3 effective ways to motivate your sales team?

Mark Bergen: Clear mission, clear territory, clear incentive structure that generously rewards success. I’ll add a 4th – recognize and celebrate success across the company.

Online MR: Your choice between Chess (being calculative) and Boxing (being spontaneous) as a sport?

Mark Bergen: As a Canadian, can I add Hockey? Fast paced team sport but one underpinned by strategy and skill. You win when you work together, believe in yourself and have a willingness to be creative when tough situations arise.

Most importantly though, in hockey (and business), in order to be successful you need to skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.

online panelsMark’s co-ordinates are mentioned below:

2 Bloor Street East

Suite 1700, Toronto, ON

M4W 1A8 Canada

Phone: +1 416 323 5715

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