In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
The first global marketing chief at cloud-based accounting software provider Xero has highlighted culture and embracing the brand’s ‘alternative’ position with small businesses as key to his success.
Jeremy Wood was appointed head of global marketing for Xero in July and is responsible for the design, development and execution of the vendor’s global marketing strategy. The role includes overseeing both global and in-country marketing teams and is based out of Xero’s US office in San Francisco. Xero has 38 permanent marketing staff globally.
Wood told CMO the fast-growing software company, which has its headquarters in Wellington, New Zealand, needed someone to coordinate its push into the US and UK markets as well drive customer growth in Australia and New Zealand. Xero’s cloud-based platform was launched in 2006 and is aimed at SMBs. It is used by 200,000 customers worldwide.
“Xero has done an amazing job on the product, business and marketing sides but needs a more formalised push into the US and other markets outside of our core Australia and New Zealand presence,” Wood said. “It became increasingly clear the company needed to have someone overseeing marketing as a whole.
“While in-country marketing is an important part of what we do, my main task is to take that expertise and bring it together with the efficiencies of a centralised marketing engine that can scale.
“Culture is huge and very dear to the Xero leadership team, and they’re now looking to me to bring that to the company and our San Francisco office.”
Wood has experience in both marketing and the SMB sector, most recently as Google’s head of SMB co-marketing for the Americas. Prior to that, he spent eight years as Google’s SMB marketing manager for Asia-Pacific, based out of Sydney, with a focus on Google Apps marketing. He also previously ran his own search engine marketing and analytics consultancy business in Canada.
Wood said the Xero brand has grown up as a “fantastic alternative” to traditional SMB accounting offerings in the market, and said his long-term strategy is about cementing its position as a trusted adviser. There was still plenty of work to do in disrupting the accounting software space and driving awareness, he added.
“SMBs are not huge on change management, so there has been a big push here on getting the word out and presenting our platform as an alternative to the incumbent, and as a better way of doing things,” he said. “It’s a wonderful situation to be in as a marketer – not enough people know about us.”
Cloud computing is a well-known technology concept in the enterprise space, but lesser known at the smaller end of town. Wood agreed there was still a way to go in educating SMBs about the benefits of cloud, but said the consumerisation of technology and Web-based offerings ranging from Gmail to social media and online banking, had helped lift awareness.
“During the time I’ve spent with small business, I have learnt a lot about what their needs are and understood that what we thought was right in our approach isn’t always what they want. It’s a sobering lesson,” he commented.
“I’ll be focused on getting out there, talking to customers and understanding their daily business challenges. It’s great information as a marketer to take back to the organisation. We need to understand these customers as business owners who want to just get back to business and don’t want to be fooled by or focused on the technology.
“I’m a roll up my sleeves, get out into the trenches guy and look forward to meeting face-to-face with small business. They should be the guide to our marketing voice and language.”
Wood’s appointment coincides with Xero’s decision to promote Duncan Ritchie as its first chief platform officer (CPO), focused on the design, development, operations and support of Xero’s online accounting software globally. Ritchie was formerly general manager of operations managing IT and operations teams.
According to the company, the new role is being created to manage continued growth and will allow the COO to work with the CEO on more mid- to long-term strategic initiatives.
In total, Xero has brought on 100 staff in the last three months, taking total staff numbers to nearly 500, and says another 200 jobs are to be created by the end of March 2014.