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Centaur Stage Episode 2: Creating Value Beyond Conversion with Ziad Rahhal

On the second episode of Centaur Stage, Marilyn and Ziad Rahhal picked up a conversation they started a few months into the Pandemic. Marilyn was invited to speak on Ziad’s LinkedIn Video series where they talked about leadership in times of adversity and how brands can create meaning for their customers in the midst of a crisis of health and trust.

Now, about 5 months later, Ziad is our first-ever guest for a ‘discuss’ segment, exploring what it means to lead in today’s world, how his approach to leadership has evolved, and why empathy is not the same as compassion. The conversation also shed light on LinkedIn’s bold mission, how it's evolving its products to create more value for its users and why the term ‘customer-centricity’ has new meaning for sales and marketing professionals.

Watch the full episode here.

About Ziad

Ziad Rahhal has been in the field of media and advertising in the region for more than 16 years, working with both established names such as, and Yahoo! as well as launching startups such as Nimbuzz. He has built and executed diversified monetization strategies and has led multi-cultural teams across functions and geographies.

Currently, Ziad heads up LinkedIn Marketing solutions in MENA, where he and his team help B2B and high-consideration B2C marketers, identify, target, and engage the region's professionals. Their mission is to deliver value to marketers and their agencies, helping them be more successful and productive - and we’ll uncover how he does that in just a little bit.

Setting the scene

The pandemic has become integral to our lives, and beyond the speculation over when it will “end” this discussion of Centaur Stage focuses on how the shift in paradigm has changed the way we work and engage forever. We are firm believers in the concept that every crisis brings about an opportunity to redefine the status quo. Ziad and Marilyn discussed how he has accompanied his teams and clients through that transition and what he has learned.

Marilyn asked Ziad and viewers to look at the pandemic as an opportunity, not a crisis. "If we were to position ourselves mentally in a place where we see the pandemic as a great opportunity, what are the things that you would disrupt, or have already changed in the way you build relationships with clients that you feel are a leap forward?"

"The first thing that comes to mind for me is authenticity," said Ziad. "Especially at the onset of the pandemic, there was a lot of collective fear and I found there was a beautiful sense of community that I saw around me. From customers, friends, neighbors, and so on. I can clearly remember the first day we worked from home in March. I was in the garden, which was nice to do for a few weeks. That morning the phone rang and it was one of my customers. They were just checking up on me and it was the first time we spoke about family and I learned he had family in Canada and we discussed how to bring them together. We started to get to know customers and people on a much deeper level," he continued.

"Another thing that shifted about the way we did business is this idea of whether we lead with our own products or based on the customer's objectives. A few years ago or more we used to have objectives from a product adoption perspective, and we would go into the meeting thinking we need to sell this product, regardless of where it stands. But as the pandemic started, we went in with our data and insights to understand what the customer challenges have been, what is happening in their business so we know how we can better support them."

Ziad also shared a framework they are using at LinkedIn to drive customer-centricity,

"We have a whole new framework called the value engagement framework which is all about gaining an in-depth understanding of the customer challenges, their objectives and industry and then coming up with solutions to help them feedback"

Marilyn who was teaching earlier in the day was so excited about this because it perfectly illustrated a point she was making to her class. "I was telling my students that 70% of organizations focus on their products, not their customers, and we had a session about this. They challenged me, asking if focusing on the product wasn't the same thing (indirectly), and you just illustrated my point perfectly. The reason why people buy products or services is to solve a problem. If you don’t know what that problem is, it doesn’t matter what the product is because it won’t stick," she added.

Taking a question from the audience, Marilyn asks Ziad "Did the pandemic change your understanding of customer-centricity?"

"Yes. In the pandemic, ourselves and other companies have been amazing in driving solidarity and compassion. We’ve seen a lot of brands do this, and LinkedIn was no different. We offered a lot of LinkedIn learning courses for free and so on, offering our assistance, not just our solutions. We asked our customer to let us help them. That also made us feel good. We were able to be there for our customers, it was very rewarding."

More on LinkedIn

Next, Marilyn and Ziad discussed LinkedIn as a product and how it has evolved to better meet the needs of its users amidst the pandemic.

"The most notable product launch for us was events. It was fast-tracked to help assist customers. A lot of industries rely on face-to-face events and overnight they were not able to do so. So we fast track launched events and it performed amazingly well. To date, we have had 7 million event registrations and are hosting about 1000 events per week.

When asked about what's coming up next from LinkedIn, Ziad shared some keen plans for the future, "There are a lot of products that we are planning," he said. "The most exciting one for me is launching 'products'. There are 55million companies with LinkedIn pages and very soon they can feature product pages under their company page including customer reviews. We have launched this with 500 companies so far, check out Slack or Snowflake to see how it works. We’ll be rolling more and more out very soon."

LinkedIn has seen record levels of engagement - up 31% - in the most recent quarter. While many of these users may be in search of a job, Marilyn asks Ziad if this has had an adverse effect on the ability of brands to use LinkedIn as a marketing platform. "Have you seen any major “marketing fatigue” as a result of the pandemic?"

"Let's take a step back to talk about LinkedIn’s vision: to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. It is altruistic and beautiful. We’re all so passionate because we feel we are adding value to other people's lives. How this mission manifests, is by building the world's first economy graph. Meaning. We want to create a digital representation of every member of the workforce, a digital representation of every company, of every job at those companies and every skill the job needs and the educational establishment where one can go to learn what is needed to perform these skills. Then we take a step back and allow a flow of information and all sorts of capital flow to where they can be leveraged (including investment, humans, etc) and in doing so uplift the global economy." "With that context in mind," he continued:

"LinkedIn is a lot more than a job search or job listing platform. As a matter of fact, the data shows that almost 81% of members come on LinkedIn to consume content. 19% come to actively look for a job. It is all about what is happening in the ecosystem."

Ziad also shared some data about LinkedIn Learning. "Take learning, for example, the number of learning courses consumed in August of 2020 is 3x that of August 2019. In terms of sales navigator usage (which is a different version for sales professionals) we are seeing 2.5x growth in the number of connections made. Sales professionals and professionals, in general, are learning, consuming courses, and connecting even more."

"We saw the engagement overall grow in almost every aspect," he adds. "How did that impact marketing or catalyze fatigue? We all know an engaged audience is one that is receptive to ads...

...We have seen some of the best results of my career in this period. I am now seeing CTRs of 7.5% on a single image ad. That of course has a lot of other elements at play but it shows you that the audience is engaged. Some customers spent AED 20,000 and generated leads worth 2 million in sales. We are seeing great results."


Moving into the topic of leadership, Ziad took a question from a viewer who asked "How has the pandemic changed what you look for in people you are hiring?" Marilyn added. "Particularly in sales and account management, what are the new skills you re looking for if at all? How have the characteristics of the people you are now hiring changed?"

"The short answer is nothing has changed. At LinkedIn, we hire for culture before everything else. The way we work is different but the core of our job hasn’t changed. I onboarded a lot of people remotely after we moved to work from home. One new recruit made a LinkedIn logo out of post-it notes on the wall behind her on her first day of work. For me, that explains the culture. That is the culture fit and that is what we hire for. Any skill can be learned, there is so much information, as long as you have the growth mindset, you are curious and have the right attitude."

"Moving to a topic that is close to both of our hearts. At Cosmic Centaurs, we talk a lot about building resilient teams, and we discuss this with the leaders we advise. How do you build confidence and inspire resilience within your team in the current climate?" asks Marilyn.

"The bottom line is: as a team, we are a lot stronger than we were ever before. This is because we have been there for one another. In the first few weeks, we spoke about how there would be variances. We’d be up and down at different times and whoever is up has the responsibility to uplift everyone else."

Offering another framework for audiences, Ziad shared what he learned as part of a summit for LinkedIn from around the world who got together to codify what it means to be a strong leader during these times. "We came up with a framework called ACE: Authenticity, Curiosity, and Empathy."

"Authenticity: It is about being who you truly are, wearing your true colors with pride and joy. But for me, it boils down to vulnerability. How courageous am I as a leader to come in front of my team to be my true self, and share how I am feeling.? One thing I personally struggled with was ‘Sunday’ - it was is my nemesis. Because it was a weekend, and then suddenly I had to go to work in the morning but I was in the same space. So Sunday my productivity was low - it just wasn't working for me. So I discussed this with my team first because that made it okay not to be okay. If I didn't know how they were, how could I help them? And if all they see from me is a perfect image of a leader who is happy-go-lucky, they are not going to feel comfortable coming to me and I won't know that they need help, so I can’t assist them. "

"Second is Curiosity: In some cases, we meet our team for one hour a week, or half an hour and those are the only interactions we have with each other, so we better make it count. I am there, fully present in the moment, with an open heart and mind, and focused on them. That is something I got better at. I wasn't as good at listening as I am now, to be able to have the curiosity to ask them. How are you doing? Are you okay? How is the family? And this makes a big difference. "

Before Ziad shared what he meant by Empathy, he asked Marilyn what the difference between compassion and empathy are in her opinion.

"Empathy is your ability to project yourself in other people's state or context and trying to understand why they behave a certain way. Compassion is doing that with the added ingredient of generosity of intent and accepting that they will never do things from a bad place; that should be your premise and where you start. It's about knowing there is always something you can do to help them if they want to be helped. "

Agreeing, Ziad said. "Yes. Compassion is about taking action, empathy is me feeling what you are feeling. Compassion is putting that emotion into action to help people. The Dalai Lama and Buddhism talk about compassion, but the Goddess Tara of Compassion is always pictured with one foot bent, ready to jump into action. Here it is all about how you can take action and assist your people. We have done a lot at LinkedIn in terms of giving our employees the opportunity to avail certain years and paid leaves of absence to care for elders and family members. For us, as managers and leaders, it's about being ready to take action to help teams."

This might seem like it is ‘too good to be true’. But balance is needed. The happiest teams are those that are challenged and taken out of their comfort zone. If you are familiar with the radical candor framework, it’s about caring deeply but also giving feedback in radical ways. I think the balance between caring and giving feedback is the whole idea, or you fall into the trap of ruinous empathy. You care so much about others, but you're not helping them really, so you're ruining their careers.

Radical Candor Framework

In his closing, Ziad left audiences with a remarkable quote from LinkedIn's Fred Kauffman who said:

"Wisdom without compassion is ruthlessness. Compassion without wisdom is folly. " - Fred Kauffman

One last question...

And finally, our last question for the session. Ziad, told us what he thinks the future of work is:

"The future of work is Different, and therefore it is exciting. We have been working in the same way for a long time and these changes are refreshing. We will be working in different ways and it is refreshing to be a part of that change. For those of us leading organizations, it is such a blessing to be part of that learning journey and to grow really and invest in ourselves under the current circumstances.

Other episodes of Centaur Stage:

Episode 1: Watch Marilyn's debate with Iulia Istrate all about corporate culture in distributed settings, or read the key insights here.


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