IBM’s Demand Programs Executive Connie Klimko shares valuable insights from the tech powerhouse’s latest C-suite study and offers up helpful, how-to tips for getting started with social media, coping with the data deluge and adopting a mobile-first marketing approach.

Mahlab IBM’s recent C-suite study found that CEOs are increasingly calling on the CMO for strategic input, giving them a level of influence that is second only to the CFO. Could you elaborate?

Connie Klimko In many businesses, the CMO often sees where the market is heading in a clearer way than, say, finance or IT – departments that provide more internally-focused functions. The CMO exists as the voice of and the advocate for the customer, and the customer is, quite simply, the market. About six years ago, we found that CEOs were positioning their customers at around number six on their list of top priorities and points for future development and business focus. Today, not just the CEO but everyone in the business – whether you’re the director of finance or the CIO – recognises that the customer should remain front and centre in everything they do.

This shift is largely a result of digital transformation. Customers are now empowered and hold in their hands the ability to sway the actions of businesses of all shapes and sizes. Take customer service for example; there is now an unspoken expectation of real-time communication between customers and the brands and businesses they choose to engage with. If they are forced to endure a bad customer experience they’re going to seek those services elsewhere. And with social and mobile technologies giving consumers a louder and instant voice, it’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to share their experience with others, whether it’s been good or bad. That’s a powerful thing.

M A growing number of CMOs are working closely with CIOs [Chief Information Officers]. In fact, IBM’s research shows that CMOs and CIOs who liaise closely make their enterprise 76 per cent more likely to outperform in terms of revenues and profitability. Why? And from a marketing perspective, what are the benefits of this specific collaborative approach?

CK In some businesses, the CMO perceives the CIO as someone entangled in time-consuming processes. The CMO says, “It’s going to take six months to get my CIO to even look at what I want to do so I’m going to simply go around the system and find an external expert and pay for the insights I need.” A better way is to partner with the CIO and understand what it is that they do and the confines they work within. Then together, the CMO and CIO can work out the best way to gather information, extract insights from data and spot key trends and patterns in the market, with the goal of making better, faster decisions.

I attended an ADMA event a few months ago at which they held a CIO and CMO breakfast. They hosted a two-person panel – unsurprisingly a CMO and a CIO – from the REA group. We know REA as realestate.com.au, an entirely digital business. A audience member asked the question: “How do you figure out who’s assigned what budget? How do you decide what campaigns to deploy at this time versus that time?” The CIO responded with, “We use this really new technology called ‘talking’”. Often, the CMO and CIO work in entirely separate areas of the office. Perhaps they’re not on the same floor or even in the same building; they might not even know each other. Start with the basics and get to know your CIO as a person, pick up the phone, meet both formally and informally. It’s pretty intuitive when you think about it.

In a quality CMO/CIO partnership, the CMO understands the business drivers fuelling the efforts of the CIO and the CIO in turn understands where the market is heading and what the marketing department needs to be doing to better the business – and what information it needs in order to accomplish that.

M When we know that departmental silos foster inefficient and often negative business outcomes, how can marketers begin to break down the barriers between themselves and other key stakeholders in the business?

CK Put simply, you have to collaborate. My personal philosophy is you can only get to where you want to be with the support of the people around you. You have to develop a high degree of trust between your team and others and you must maintain a level of personal accountability. Reach out to other departments; get to know the sales team – it’s crucial you understand the issues they’re dealing with and what needs they have. If you’re not relevant to sales, what’s the point? Start to develop relationships with other C-level members of the CEO’s team and invest time in trying to understand what their challenges are. Only once you have an in- depth knowledge of the strengths and challenges of the business and its key stakeholders can you begin to develop processes that meet everyone’s needs and, most importantly, meet the needs of your customers.

M Social media has become paramount in the customer brand/relationship, yet, according to the recent IBM C-Suite Study, only 20 per cent of CMOs have set up social networks with which to engage customers. To those CMOs who are yet to make the move to social, what’s your advice and where should they start?

CK First, start with your own personal development. Allocate time each week to learning about social networks and ensure you’re participating in them. Next, look to members of your own team, whether they’re in your digital team or your organisation in general. I guarantee there will be among your ranks young digital natives who will revel in the opportunity to do a little reverse mentoring!

Next, consider partnering with your advertising/marketing agencies. CMOs usually have an agency that they can go to and say, “I want to become more active on social media. What do you recommend? Can you help me out?” Many agencies now have a ‘newsroom’ offering in which they have you pick a topic area, identify the length of your news cycle – say, every week or every day – and then partner with you to set up a series of reactive, pro-active and planned social media activities, always through the lens of what will interest and provide value to your organisation’s customers.

Many large organisations also develop social conversation calendars to facilitate dialogue with customers on social media. They’ll identify key trends and events that are occurring in the marketplace and offer those who are active on social media bite-sized posts containing tips, updates and insights. When it’s done well, it can be a very effective way to garner interest in your business.

M Integrating customer touchpoints across both physical and digital channels can pose quite a challenge to a marketing department. For marketers, why is integration in this instance crucial and how can it be made more simple and more trackable?

CK First and foremost, you can’t do it without the buy-in of the CEO and the rest of the C-suite. To earn the support you need, I suggest pitching it from the perspective of improving your brand’s customer experience. If you’re aiming to deliver a seamless experience to your customers, touchpoint integration is paramount. Your customers need to feel like they’re dealing with the same organisation at all times – in your brand representation, in your customer experience, in your content and in the overall ease of doing business with you.

Consumers expect a seamless experience across each channel. They’ve rapidly adopted mobile and social technologies to engage with brands, endorse them and buy from them. Organisations need to reflect this approach if they are to win over customers.

Being digital is no longer an option for businesses. Take small steps at the onset, call on the expertise of someone who can help you get started and, most importantly, don’t hesitate – a recent IBM study shows that organisations who don’t digitally transform within the next five to ten years are either going to disappear or they’re going to be swallowed up by an enterprise that does embrace digital.

M You say 82 per cent of CMOs feel underprepared to deal with the ongoing data explosion. Could you elaborate on these findings and perhaps offer words of advice to marketers feeling swamped by data.

CK The thing about data is that there are so many different aspects to it. Ongoing professional development in this area is really important but I would also suggest reaching out to an expert who is able to guide you through it. You don’t have to figure everything out yourself. Partnering with your CIO is an important first step.

It might be too difficult to sell a goal like, say, a full-scale, data-driven marketing insights program to your board. But if you start with just one slice of data that focuses on a particular facet of your business – for instance, we can see that see that 30 per cent of customers who are abandoning carts in our online shop will complete the purchase if we send them a reminder email within 12 hours with a special offer – you can use those insights to demonstrate the value that that is generating. Then you’ll get the traction necessary to keep going.

M As noted in the study, there is often a discrepancy between marketers’ aspirations and actions – they appear to struggle when it comes to keeping up with the sheer rate of change that the industry is currently undergoing. Why is it the case and how can marketers turn their aspirations into action?

CK When you’re playing sports, you always do better if you play with someone who’s better than you are. Identify individuals within your nextwork that are effectively turning aspirations in action and shadow them; ask them to be your mentor. Talk to your agencies, talk to a technology partner who gets what you’re trying to achieve from a business perspective. Surround yourself with people who not only understand your language, but also communicate to you in your language about how you can achieve your objectives.

When it comes to the day-to-day, you simply have to bite the bullet and set aside time every week – even go so far as to say to yourself, “I’m going to spend two hours a week on online learning” or “One day every quarter I’m going to attend an industry-related event” or “I’m going to set aside two hours each fortnight speaking to someone who’s more experienced that I am in order to learn.” Once you actually get into it, once you’ve turned these promises into habits, it becomes incredibly easy to maintain an ‘always learning’ state of mind.

M Both predictive analytics and mobile applications are front of mind for CMOs looking to leverage marketing technology. Why do you think these are given greater emphasis than, say, CRM software and collaboration tools?

CK If you’re thinking ‘customer first’ – which you must in order to succeed – then mobile is a priority for every marketer. Mobile is where many of your customers are, and it’s the primary channel through which they want to interact with you and buy from you. By taking this approach, it will convert to strong business outcomes.

I recently read that 95 per cent of mobile users have their mobile within reach 24 hours a day. That means they’re taking it to the bathroom, to bed, to the gym – everywhere! Even within a professional environment, it’s no longer commonplace to see a person sitting down at their desktop to complete tasks and consume content online. Today, it’s all about real-time, 24/7 access and availability – when I want to research something, when I want to buy something, I want to do it right here, right now, on whatever device I choose. Often that’s a mobile device. I saw a great stat the other day: 48 per cent of mobile users who visit a site that is not mobile friendly assume the company doesn’t care about doing business with them.

As for predictive analytics, every marketer leaps at an opportunity to know with certainty where they should be investing budget and resources, particularly in the current digital climate of perpetuating change. The focus on analytics stems from a place of curiosity. We as employees have to maintain a curious frame of mind at all times and be forever asking ‘why?’. We all want to serve our customers in the best way possible, so if we can get our hands on technology capable of providing forward-thinking and well-informed insights into exactly how our customers want to be served, naturally we’re going to gravitate towards it.

M In the face of ongoing digital disruption, how can marketers stay ahead of the game and ensure their strategies are maintaining the foresight necessary for long term success?

CK It’s important to understand what digital disruption means for your business. Know your competition but also identify the ways in which other businesses – and they can be working in seemingly unrelated industries – are adapting to disruption and learn from them. And again, we all need to devote a significant amount of time and mental focus to continual learning to ensure we stay ahead of the curve.

M What are the major pain points you come across most often when speaking with marketers?

CK Marketers often speak of how they lack a clear and concise view of their customers. They don’t know what kind of experience their customers are having and how they can improve the overall customer experience.

Another challenge revolves around how can you be prepared for and how do you respond to a negative brand experience? How should a marketing department attempt to resolve a negative customer experience in the fastest and most effective way? I think it comes down to having the ability to remain nimble and, more importantly, empathetic towards a customer and their wants and needs.

The notion of failing fast is one that marketers are well aware of, but putting it into action can be daunting. Sometimes we feel as though we need explicit permission to take a calculated risk and try something new. But there are people within your organisation, and within your agencies, capable to providing you with the information and insights necessary to make the process of failing fast just that – fast.

M What marketing tools and technologies are in highest demand right now?

CK Anything that helps you to know your customer as an individual is an ideal starting point. This includes tools which provide analysis of structured and unstructured data, sentiment analysis, and many other technologies.

We’re seeing a lot of companies investing in marketing automation software but perhaps not to the extent that they should be. The customer journey remains an afterthought for many marketers new to automation’s structures and processes, as they view it as The Holy Grail, a means through which to patch up deep-seated problems surrounding data capture, lead generation and conversion. If you’re looking to incorporate marketing automation into your strategy, it’s important to ensure a solid and clear customer journey is driving every single actionbased on insights drawn from marketing automation’s capabilities.

For example, just because a prospect has signed up to your enewsletter, it does not mean that they’re ready to open their checkbook. Similarly, downloading an ebook does not warrant a phone call from your sales team. Linkedin recently published a study for B2B marketing showing that most customers will need between five and six pieces of relevant content before they are ready to engage with you. How are you going to provide this? Can you personalise this content? How strong are your offers and are they customised? The aim is to deliver material that provides value to the customer, in the way they want, at the time they want and on the device that they want.

Another technology gaining momentum is commonly known as retargeting. This consists of serving up relevant content to those visitors who have visited your site in the past but ‘bounced’, that is, they didn’t complete a transaction or didn’t engage with you for long. Through reverse IP lookup, you can serve up content and offers to these folks on other sites that they are visiting. The key here is to ensure you’ve got a strong offer to entice customers back to your site.

M Drawing on your experience working with an array of large B2B businesses, what metrics have you found to be the most valuable, and what ones do you think marketers can do without?

CK Marketers often focus on visits and time spent with a piece of content – these are valuable metrics because they provide continuous feedback on whether or not your content and platforms are resonating with customers. But it’s important to remember that these metrics are unrelated to business objectives and results. Business-focused objectives can be things like how many new customers did we attract with that piece of content? How many of our existing customers came to our ecommerce centre through social media compared to those who entered from the website? It’s so easy to get caught up in the minuscule details which are an  important gauge,   for how the digital strategy is performing, but ultimately it has to be about the business results – how do your marketing efforts contribute to the overall success of the business?

M What are the most memorable lessons you’ve learned throughout your career? Is there anything that you know now that you wish you could have known when you were starting out?

CK Don’t ever assume you know what’s in your customer’s mind. Ask for help because there will always be someone eager and willing to offer a helping hand. Collaborate and open yourself up to learning from those around you. Whether it’s your CIO, other members of the leadership team,, your marketing managers or your interns, everyone has a set of skills you can appreciate, tap into and apply to your own role and responsibilities.

With over 20 years of marketing and communications experience, Connie manages the demand generation engine for IBM in Australia and New Zealand. Get in touch with Connie on Twitter or through LinkedIn.

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