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Building Partnerships to Help Customers with Smoother Sailing

Helm is building strategic alliances that enhance the ability of clients to manage their maritime operations

This article is part of a series on Acquired Knowledge that profiles leaders in the sales and marketing functions. Volaris Group believes that many small to mid-sized software companies can benefit by investing in sales and marketing and taking a long-term view on nurturing customer relationships.

Managing a modern-day marine operation is a complicated undertaking. Ship captains are responsible for navigating through unpredictable waters to deliver passengers and cargo safely. On top of making crucial decisions about route planning, weather conditions, and safety protocols, captains are also responsible for handling a myriad of administrative tasks that include maintaining records, managing budgets, managing crews, and completing compliance audits.

Luckily for marine vessel operators, reliable software can help with many of their duties, such as dispatching boats, conserving fuel, reducing the cost of vessel maintenance, extending the life of components, reporting to governing bodies, and managing and paying employees.

As a seasoned sales executive at Volaris-owned Helm Operations, Paul Cyr is well-versed in the needs of maritime customers. He is responsible for promoting and selling the company’s leading marine software product, Helm CONNECT. 

Acquired Knowledge magazine sat down with Cyr to learn more about what’s involved in marine operations and the software that helps manage it. He also talks about how things have evolved for Helm since the team became part of Volaris Group.

You have grown your career at Helm over 20 years. What were your early years of working for Helm like before the company was acquired by Volaris?

Helm was founded in 1999 as a bootstrap start-up in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. While the company was still maturing, we definitely had our challenges, like any small start-up would. We would go through large ebbs and flows of energy and focus. 

I started at the company in 2004, and I initially worked on database development and report design. Then I progressed to the marketing side and developed a lot of the early branding and logos for the company. I finally settled into sales around 10 years ago.

Having strong knowledge of your product is crucially important for leaders working in software sales. Can you tell us the customer pain points that Helm’s product addresses?

Helm CONNECT is a maritime operational software solution – sort of like a maritime operational enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. From a day-to-day aspect, if you have floating assets in the water, you can use our software to manage virtually everything around that. Helm CONNECT has four sub-product lines in operations, maintenance, compliance, and personnel.

First and foremost, the product offers shoreside efficiencies that make life easier for shoreside staff in terms of managing data. It also assists with data collection onboard the vessels. And finally, our newest offering is operational analytics. We collect and house a lot of information in Helm CONNECT – some from third parties – and our customers want to analyze it and see it presented in different ways.

When collecting data onboard vessels, they are floating assets that are going in and out of connectivity. Our technology deals with both the offline aspect and the synchronization aspect. Then you throw cybersecurity into that, and it makes it a pretty complex development model.

-Paul Cyr, Manager of Partnerships, Helm Operations

Have you found your job has changed since Helm became part of Volaris?

Since Helm was acquired by Volaris in 2018, I’ve experienced more stability and long-term focus. It’s given consistency to my job.

Guidance from Volaris gives us clear expectations about what we’re doing and where we’re going next. For me specifically, this has meant more support on both the sales side and the partnership side.

How has Helm improved its sales function since becoming part of Volaris?

We’ve been progressing to talking to bigger companies with hundreds of large boats. When starting to talk with those larger companies – where they have an IT department and very regimented rules around cybersecurity – they have a lot of questions and seek validation as far as what you do internally to protect their data. Before becoming part of Volaris, we didn’t exactly have regimented plans or proof of that. 

Now that we’re part of Volaris, we have a governance, risk, and compliance framework (GRC), and that has really helped us with larger deals. It has provided proof to companies that we are audited and are part of a larger organization where we must meet strict standards around our security and data management.

Now that we’re part of Volaris … that has really helped us with larger deals. 

-Paul Cyr, Manager of Partnerships, Helm Operations

In 2020, you evolved your sales position by taking on a new role as Helm’s Manager of Partnerships. What does that involve?

I focus on acquiring, investigating, and developing new integration partners. I see the potential to grow the role into something larger for the company. As the Manager of Partnerships, I build relationships with companies that meet some of our customers’ additional needs. Then I determine how the third-party companies’ products or service offerings can be integrated into Helm CONNECT.

How has staying close to your customers informed Helm’s business decisions?

Having a customer base of 320 customers affords us the luxury of being close to each one. Our account managers maintain frequent contact with our customers, and we spend a ton of time with them because their feedback drives our product.

Ship captains comprise a key customer base for us. They’re very vocal about what works and what doesn’t. For example, they expressed wanting to have a record of what types of training their crew have completed, to make it easier to prove compliance when the coast guard boards their boats. That prompted us to pursue a partnership with a maritime learning management system which allows the crew to go into that system and complete training, and then have it logged as completed in Helm CONNECT. 

Our customers also wanted a place within Helm CONNECT that was private, an area with just their own information. That feedback led to a new feature that we rolled out called My Helm.

Can you explain the spirit of “co-opetition” within Volaris, and what it means to you in relation to other companies in the Volaris marine vertical?

We have a dynamic at Volaris where our competitors may also be owned by the same parent company. But we are kind of in the same circle. In our case, we are part of a collective of marine software companies that includes IDEA, ShipNet, and SpecTec.

For example, I have a good relationship with ShipNet, one of the other companies in the Volaris marine vertical. We meet frequently because I’m developing a partnership integration with them. 

ShipNet makes a product for dry docking that manages the entire process from beginning to end, which is a module that our customers need, and we don’t necessarily want to develop ourselves. We are going to take some of our data and push it over to their solution so our customers can use it there, and then bring it back into Helm CONNECT. It’s a win-win for both sides.

What traits do you believe make a strong salesperson and why?

I can list a few.

  • Persistence: I’ve had conversations with companies that can last a decade before they’re finally ready to buy. It’s never a one and done kind of thing with sales. You have to build a relationship and communicate with them over a long period of time.
  • Curiosity: Without it, you’re not asking all the questions that need to be answered and you’re not digging enough. Wanting to understand your customers deeply goes a long way.
  • Comfort with not always winning the sale: You need to be able to press the reset button and go back at it. Every “no” is one step closer to a “yes.” It’s like an Etch-a-Sketch – you blank the screen and start again.

Interested in reading more?

Read more articles from the sales and marketing series: