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Team Spotlight: René Van Der Zanden

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  • René van der Zanden is the VP of sales at Cognitus EMEA, with 20+ years of experience in sales across international companies like Compaq, Hewlett Packard and Micro Focus. He brings that experience to Cognitus EMEA, along with his belief in the importance of consultative selling.

    When René moved into his role with Cognitus EMEA, it was with the goal of enabling a more hands-on approach to solving customer challenges. “Organizations can do the research themselves, what they need is someone with expertise, who can see the bigger picture, and offer a toolbox of solutions that fit their environment”.

    Getting Started in Sales

    René van der Zanden started out a study information technology and later he studied International Business Administration, at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

    “It’s a very general study, you get a broad education in everything, so it’s perfect if you’re not really sure where you want to go yet. I ended up being interested in the business side, looking into how commercially, sales can make a difference by exposing customers to new solutions.”

    “In IT sales, you’re much more in a consulting role. You’d bring not just your products, but also your expertise, knowledge of the customer, and how you can use that to solve actual business problems. “

    “That’s something I’ve always loved about sales. I can keep learning, seek out coaching and mentors, and keep up with new technologies. It’s challenging, and you can make a real difference to the customers you’re working with. That’s what I’m passionate about and that’s why I love my job”.

    René graduated and moved into AEON Computer Services, a small company in the Netherlands, where he started as the first employee. Over the next 5 years, AEON would grow to a team of 12 people. In the 3 years at Detron René was in charge of a commercial sales team focused on the financial industry.

    In 2000, he decided to make a change, shifting to a role in a much larger organization. René was hired by Compaq as a Corporate Account Manager, retaining his role until the organization was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2002.

    “Working at a large-scale organization changed how I had to approach my customers challenges. Systems were more complex – – but the way the organization handled its environment, and its sales were also massively different. Compliance was a lot more important, and customer needs changed as well”.

    René also spent time working with testing, DevOps, and security – ranging from identity management all the way to data encryption and security testing. Getting involved with that gives him a broad view of the market and how those security factors impact customers looking for cloud integrations.

    “I always want to make sure I have the necessary knowledge to deliver insight across the environment, not just on what I’m trying to sell. I want to be a trusted advisor. I’ve done that across large and medium corporations, in different industries.

    Who is René

    René lives in the Netherlands with his wife, who moved from France. He spends most of his free time on hockey, diving, running, and other sports – even volunteering as a hockey club referee for the Dutch Hockey Association.

    “One book that has made a lot of impact on me is ‘The Goal’ by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, I read it 20-25 years ago and was so impressed by this message that every time you fix a bottleneck, another will appear in a new place. You have to keep learning, keep improving, keep optimizing. The world is going to keep changing, so you have too as well”.

    “I also really like Simon Sinek, especially how he’s able to express complex solutions with relatively simple examples. I’ve tried to incorporate his approach into how I make sales and how I lead. I was a regional sales director for 6 countries, directing 120 people, and responsible for millions in revenue – that approach was invaluable. I want to inspire people, to remove bottlenecks, and that requires simplification”.

    “My leadership approach has always been to just do things. If everyone knows what their responsibilities are, you can be so much more efficient and effective by making those decisions without waiting to consult and get approval – except when things really are above your paygrade. Of course, you will make mistakes. If you haven’t made a mistake, you’re the only person in the world who hasn’t – it’s just you have to learn from those mistakes and keep improving”.

    “With Compaq/HP, I could really see how work has changed, how much legislation impacts how we work, etc. You can really see how business models change, how things that are extremely important to the business once year may be nearly irrelevant the next (E.g., SMS now versus 10 years ago). You also have to go through that kind of change as a person – if you do what you’ve always been doing, you get what you’ve always been getting.”

    Why Cognitus

    René van der Zanden stepped down from his role as Regional Sales Director at Micro Focus to become VP of sales at Cognitus EMEA in 2021. That change was, in part, spurred by his desire to offer customers a more hands-on solution.

    “If you look at where the market is right now, it’s asking for smaller, nimbler companies that want to go the extra mile for their customers. People don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach, they want a flexible model, delivered with a customer-focused and human touch. I think Cognitus offers that in ways that a larger competitor will never be able to.”

    “Plus, within Cognitus, I can address those problems much more directly, without the bureaucracy of a bigger organization – but while bringing my experience from those larger organizations to the table”

    “SAP is in a growth phase, there are a lot of organizations shifting to SAP S/4HANA and many of those organizations are looking to consolidate satellite systems into a core system. That’s going to need a lot of custom and hands on support, and Cognitus is positioned to step into that space.”

    “I think it’s also important that many organizations want to take small, incremental steps towards that point. Cognitus’ approach of doing an assessment and pilot, and then breaking the delivery stages down into technology delivery (SAP S/4HANA transformation), followed by larger transformations to processes,

    people, and the business allow those organizations to start taking steps to where they want to be – without the full stakeholder buy-in needed for a million-dollar deal, but with simple approval for a single step of the process. That’s important for organizations looking to lower risk, reduce waiting periods, and start moving so they can keep up”.

    “I believe in under promising and over delivering, and that’s really what we’re trying to achieve with Cognitus. A satisfied customer will keep coming back, asking for more support, advice, and knowledge, and that’s where good business is at”.

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