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?
Marketing automation is one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s armoury today, but it’s also one of the most dangerous, according to Panasonic Europe’s B2B marketing director, Stephen Yeo.
Yeo has spent the past two years spearheading a marketing transformation program first in the UK, then across the technology vendor’s European operations, using marketing automation technology. Having generated more than €178 million in customer pipeline opportunity this year, the proof of success is very much in the pudding.
But getting there required a rethink of operational processes, marketing’s role and culture, he told CMO. “If you approach it [marketing automation] with a traditional marketing mindset, and don’t have an understanding of the technology and business processes involved, it could go badly wrong,” he said.
In fact, Yeo claimed no marketer can afford to purely focus on creative, brand and communications.
“Good marketing now is about a close correlation between technology and marketing, numbers and strategy,” he said.
On the road to marketing automation
Prior to its marketing transformation program, Panasonic ran its 13 B2B product divisions as separate companies with distinct sales staff, customer databases and marketing. In addition, B2B marketing teams were little more than sales administrators, came second-fiddle to consumer, and lacked the IT infrastructure necessary to modern customer engagement, Yeo said.
Things were given a shake-up when Yeo was put in charge of Web and CRM as part of a wider Panasonic CRM transformation project. He immediately raised the need for a marketing automation platform.
“We work on a philosophy that if you have a suspect who’s never heard of you, that you work with them through awareness and lead generation to prospect, then work with your channel and sales teams to move them to a customer,” he explained. “Once they are a customer, you engage with them to sell them products and services from other parts of the organisation. So it is a loop.
“The problem is, CRM only looks at things from prospect to customer, and doesn’t look after the suspect.”
Yeo admitted he used “brute force” to get marketing automation accepted. “I had to insist there wasn’t any discussion on this because it was something we needed to do,” he said. “Perhaps because most people in the organisation have never heard of marketing automation, they put their trust in me knowing about this and let me get on with it.”
After evaluating 10 vendor offerings, Panasonic chose Marketo. Yeo highlighted the platform’s user-friendly interface, advanced capabilities, and the ability to classify a customer lead in different ways and across multiple products in its portfolio as key selling points.
The platform went live in the UK in April 2013 after a one-year implementation. Keen to ensure all marketers had access, Yeo established three user categories - levels one, two and three – with level three users allowed to execute and send campaigns.
Based on the success of the rollout, Panasonic has extended the platform to B2B operations across Europe and the US, and is expecting the Asia-Pacific region to also come on-board.
According to Yeo, the results speak for themselves. In the year before marketing automation went live, B2B marketing undertook 85 campaigns; this past year, his team executed 850 campaigns with a slightly smaller headcount and budget.
Panasonic also measures marketing’s success using ‘campaign contribution’ as the key performance indicator. This reflects what percentage of sales pipeline was triggered by marketing campaigns.
“When I started it was 7 per cent, then went to 12 per cent and we just hit 32 per cent,” Yeo said, referring to the vendor’s financial results for the year to 31 March 2015. This equated to €178 million worth of pipeline.
“We’re talking about thousands of opportunities from campaigns. It has become this rather famous and successful engine for us,” Yeo said.
Another indicator for success has been the turnaround in performance of Panasonic’s B2B product categories.
“Most weren’t hitting their business plan and some of them were declining three years ago,” Yeo said. “In our most recent financial year, we made business plan, and we’re seeing good growth. Obviously it’s a team effort and we have great product and sales people, but marketing has contributed to that.”
There are softer metrics around marketing automation’s impact, too. One was ensuring marketing could operate core campaign and lead generation programs without IT or third-party intervention – something that has been achieved.
“There are a lot of benefits, some you could predict, some you could not,” Yeo continued. “The obvious ones are that you can measure stuff, and we’re very compliant with data laws.”
A less predictable outcome was on event attendance. According to Yeo, core attendance at Panasonic’s annual industry trade shows and events has doubled in some cases because it is able to communicate with customers and prospects more effectively between events, driving repeat visits.
Coping with tech culture shock
Of course, this kind of technological change doesn’t come without significant operational and cultural transformation, and Yeo’s experience is full of lessons in grappling with change.
Technology was just 25 per cent of the work that needed to be done, he said. “Another 25 per cent is having marketing management who know their technology and what they want to achieve,” he said.
“I have seen marketing automation projects go wrong when marketers think they can delegate to a consultant and don’t have to roll up their sleeves and understand the core of what’s going on. I have a lady in my team running the systems, and between us we had more dirt under our fingernails than we’d have had working on a car. So it’s knowing the business architecture of what you’re trying to achieve.”
The remaining 50 per cent is culture, Yeo said. To help manage change, all Panasonic staff have KPIs reflecting campaign contribution, and have undergone compulsory two-day training programs and quarterly catch-up sessions on the platform.
All reporting on marketing’s performance also comes out of the marketing systems, and Panasonic has a helpdesk to provide more guidance and information to staff. Employees are also encouraged to share stories and tips through peer groups.
I have seen marketing automation projects go wrong when marketers think they can delegate to a consultant and don’t have to roll up their sleeves and understand the core of what’s going on... we had more dirt under our fingernails than we’d have had working on a car
“We use things like promoting people through the authorisation tiers to encourage better usage… so it becomes a badge of honour,” Yeo added. “It really has become part of the marketing culture.”
The way Panasonic communicates with B2B customers is another area of change. “If you’re not careful with a good marketing automation tool, people will use it as an email engine just to blast customers,” Yeo warned.
To avoid this, the marketing team has throttles so no contact receives communications more than three times per quarter. “We also made our target database audiences very granular, so we never, for example, send something to the whole database,” Yeo said. “We will always segment based upon language, country, vertical, partner category and so on.”
But he admitted conversations about what communication takes priority are occurring every day. “The thing now is we can measure it; before it was a free-for-all,” Yeo said. “Historically, we have segmented our database but this has allowed us to implement the segmentations we thought we knew about but never had the tools to do.”
The IT relationship
So through all of this marketing transformation, how has the relationship with IT fared?
“In the beginning, there were questions about who I was, but I now have a good relationship and I was even invited to present at IT’s kick-off event recently,” Yeo said.
A big change has been in how the IT operates. Yeo said IT previously worked on the basis of ‘design, build then deploy’, with staff working in specialist areas that were hard to navigate.
“Now we have a sales and marketing-centric account manager who looks after our business from the IT side and hides all of that complexity from us,” he said. This new go-between is a relative newcomer, recruited to the IT team two years ago from KPMG with experience in sales and marketing systems.
“They were an obvious candidate for the new structure we have evolved to,” Yeo said. “You need people with these hybrid skillsets of commercial and marketing, but also IT side. They’re very hard to find.
“From my side, we’re also trying to involve IT a lot more in the business, and we invite them to our key meetings, involve them in key discussions.”
The next step at Panasonic is to extend marketing automation to not only support and keep driving growth in its core product business, but also build more strategic and services-led offerings for enterprise clients.
For the former, a priority for Yeo is to engage with and certify its channel via its automated marketing training academy. With regards to key enterprise accounts, Yeo’s team are working on listening activities via marketing automation to better identify individuals within branches and subsidiaries to improve their level of customer service and engagement.
Panasonic is also looking at how to link the automation platform with its warranty registration database in order to better communicate with customers coming to the end of their warranty period.
Thanks to these efforts, marketing has become a respected member of the executive team at Panasonic and is driving wider change across the organisation, Yeo said. As an example, he pointed to the launch of a centralised product database to improve how sales partners access updated product information.
“That powers all the websites so if a specification changes, it can change all of our 90,000 Web pages in 22 languages,” Yeo explained. “That then feeds not only the websites, but also our automatic collateral, generation and management tool that has workflow capabilities and manages things like the whitepapers or case studies you click on to download, building these in real time.”
Panasonic also has the capability to pass leads to its channel from its CRM databases as well as link call centre teams directly with the CRM platform to improve real-time customer support.
Through all of this, Yeo’s biggest challenge has been ensuring marketing teams are confident using the technology.
“We must continue to grow that community of talented marketing folks – the new generation of marketing – who are as happy with marketing automation as they are with making mousepads and umbrellas,” he said.
Nadia Cameron travelled to Marketo Marketing Nation Summit as a guest of Marketo.
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