Google’s Matthew Davison on Privacy, Fake News and Sales Strategy

The idea of convincing somebody else that he has something of value worth buying gets Matthew Davison’s heart racing (as if storm chancing and volcano exploring isn’t enough). The Head of Sales at Google New Zealand shares unique insight into his winning sales strategy and how he’s navigating the challenges of Covid-19, privacy breaches and fake news.


On Selling Stuff for Google

It’s my job as Head of Sales at Google New Zealand to run a globally-orientated sales and operations team with a purpose of developing best in class, scalable solutions that support our biggest Kiwi clients. I put a lot of time into exploring how new business can be made, consistently investigating and uncovering the business needs of Google’s clients, really understanding how our range of products, offerings and solutions best serve them and grow their businesses. 

On Sales in the Current Covid-19 Climate

The Covid-19 Lockdown created a sudden nation-altering halt here in New Zealand. It has been our essential services and businesses that have needed the most support during this time. So, my team and I have spent much time making sure businesses have the information and tools that they need when launching initiatives that Google can support them with. It’s about providing these businesses with a range of tools and services to help them better navigate the challenges brought on by Covid-19. We have done this by providing a large financial commitment in support of these businesses through access to finance in order to help them better reach their customers through Google platforms during these challenging times.

On Winning at Sales

We put a lot of thought and consideration into what really does make a winning sales team at Google. And, from my perspective a great team is the sum of its parts, but really knowing how to curate those sums is often more challenging and the most critical part of my role in building a successful sales team. It all starts with hiring the right, and diverse range of people. The reason for this is that businesses that partner with Google come in all shapes and sizes and really no one solution works for all. So, having talented people with very diverse experience and backgrounds is paramount. 

If I were to summarise the four key elements that I look for in terms of creating a winning sales teams, I would say firstly its the cognitive ability a person has in their approach to problem solving. Secondly, their leadership ability, particularly around how individuals approach and solve problems. Thirdly, how these traits combine with their experience. And finally, ‘Googleyness’ which encompasses how one works individually and on a team; how they help others, and also how they navigate through ambiguity. And, really thriving in ambiguity has been particularly important as the team navigates through some of the challenges that Covid-19 has presented.

Thinking back to the mid-2000s, one of our very first self-service advertising clients in New Zealand was a mail order lobster company. The idea of what they did was actually very simple: their ad was only shown to people who were looking for pictures of lobster, and they were only targeting those places where they actually mailed the lobsters out to. The results were amazing, their ads worked great and the simple concept of targeting those people in market has continued to work for thousands of New Zealand businesses who can now not only compete within their local neighbourhoods, but be competitive on a global scale through the likes of Google AdWords. 

From those original ads targeting people in market to all the ads you see today, this is the basis our ads are modelled on, and it works because ultimately they are based on human intent. People, through what they do, say and search, reveal what they want which is incredibly powerful information. This gives us a much deeper understanding of audiences so to be able to deliver deeper and richer ads and more insightful information for our customers.

On Putting Customer Privacy First

Our customers’ privacy is a top priority for Google. It’s really important. And everything that we make, all of our products are protected with security technology that can help protect our customers. Additionally, we use security technologies with the many partners that we work with and even our competition. This is because it’s not only about helping Google and our customers stay secure, but everyone. When you use Google products or services you are trusting us with your data and it’s certainly our job to do right by you. To aggregate this to make our products more helpful to everyone. 

We feel as though it’s our job to help our users make more informed decisions, we are firstly very clear about the data that we collect, and secondly, how that data’s been used. We have built in controls so that our users or customers are able to feel secure and comfortable using our products and services. Our privacy and security values are not just about compliance strategy, but is actually an essential part of our mission and of our business.

On Fake News and Being Transparent

This challenge is not new. And, for as long as Google and the web have existed, a bad actor can try to taint the environment. We take the problem with misinformation very seriously, as it ultimately impacts our credibility and our business model. So, on our own platforms we are focused on adding information during times of breaking news and we’ve been able to train our systems to recognise instances of fake news and our signals point towards more reliable content. 

The goal is really about helping people find information from authoritative sources, but at the same time we want to provide a variety of sources to help users get a complete picture of what is really going on. Working with these various reliable news ecosystems, I think together we can deliver a high quality of journalism in a well-informed democracy. 

On Championing Digital Transformation

I’m passionate about digital transformation and technology because they are changing everything around us on a daily basis. For example, even simple things like auto response in emails or the ability for technology to help curate a music video feed. A lot of people even use it to try and beat the  traffic by following the live traffic in Google Maps. 

Digital transformation is driving a great innovation in business. The time of being inspired by doing things the same way they’ve always done is over. Right now the business world is having a hugely transformative moment where I think there are certain companies who are completely out performing their peers. And, the gap is growing between companies which are leveraging machine learning and automation to anticipate a user’s intent to drive incredible business results.

At the same time, there isn’t a week that goes by without a client or an agency ringing me desperate for digital talent. In response to this talent shortage, an initiative that I am part of has been designed to help young people develop their digital skills in collaboration with the University of Auckland. This initiative has put in place a comprehensive digital marketing programme and career summit for students, and to date 100 students who have gone through the programme have obtained full-time employment. It is now being used as a blueprint for a regional expansion programme.

Matthew Davison inside an active volcano.

On Cyclone Chasing and Visiting Erupting Volcanoes

My ordinary life is very much confined to a comfy office. And opposed to sunsets and sipping cocktails, I would much rather be having mind-blowing experiences. At the moment this is in the pursuit of erupting volcanoes and violent storms. The reason I do all of this kind of stuff is that there are so many places on the planet that humans haven’t been to, explored or documented. When I visit a volcano or the depths of Antarctica, I’m often the very first person to have been there, and that’s a really cool feeling. 

A few years ago I did a Google expedition in which we took the Google Street Viewer Trekker 400 meters inside an active volcano with a lava lake at the bottom of its crater – the size of two football fields. This enabled millions of Google Maps users all around the world to view at home. It’s this kind of experience and challenge that makes me want to continue working for Google.  


This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of NZ Marketing. You can subscribe to the magazine, here.

About David Nothling-Demmer

David Nothling-Demmer is Editor of NZ Marketing magazine.

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