Taking a surgical approach to B2B buyers: CommVault CMO David West

Data management vendor's senior VP of marketing talks about the new customer paradigm, data-driven marketing, CMO-CIO relationships and strategy

Today’s marketer must adopt a bigger and earlier role in the customer’s purchasing decision lifecycle if they’re to help their organisations succeed, says the chief marketing officer of storage and data solutions vendor, CommVault.

David West should know what he is talking about. As an experienced marketing chief in the B2B space tasked with using and positioning the company’s data management solutions to both IT and line-of-business executives, he has first-hand knowledge of how procurement of products and services is changing.

“The market has become a lot more sophisticated and the buyer has changed in such a big way that marketing plays a bigger role in the early phases of getting to decisions on whether you’re going to be a vendor selected for business,” West said.

“As brands, that means we need to have our name, content, assets and value proposition in front of decision makers and influencers much earlier than traditionally. This is even different compared with 12 to 24 months ago, when our sales teams or reps were able to get an audience and influence strategy and direction.”

Industry research figures support the new sales paradigm. According to an Corporate Executive Board survey, B2B buyers are 57 per cent of the way through the buying process today before they even make contact with a supplier.

West attributed the shift to the rise in real-time data access. “We’re in the age of self-service knowledge, where buyers can make informed decisions by searching the Web and looking at info on their own,” he claimed. “Whereas they used to invite vendors in to educate them, and then make a decision, more work is now being done by buyers earlier on.

“We need to get in front of that buyer now before the sales rep. Data is a way to achieve that.”

Data and the marketing leader

West has been leading CommVault’s marketing efforts for the past 13 years, the last two-and-and-a-half as senior vice-president of marketing and business development. He is in the rather unique position of being both a consumer of data analytics solutions, as well as positioning these tools to other CMOs, CIOs and lines of business executives hungry for more customer and market information.

According to West, marketing has shifted from a classic support organisation and taken a more strategic seat at the table. He saw CMOs not only driving product direction and market approach, but also taking a large portion of dollars that previously formed part of the IT budget.

“With that comes a lot of opportunity, but a lot of responsibility too,” West said. “The role of the CMO is now about things like big data, driving strategic decisions about how we’re going to reach our customer base, and how we expand our market segments.

“The question is: How can we use data and information in order to be more surgical in our approach to the buying community? That involves everything from creating content and delivering it to ensuring our content reaches our audience more surgically and directly, both vertically and from a solution perspective. In order to do that, we need to leverage data quickly and get our product and value proposition in front of the buyer much sooner.”

At CommVault, data and content are key in repositioning the vendor’s core Simpana information management brand out of its backup and technical heritage, and into something non-IT executives also recognise and want. To achieve this, the company has dropped its product feature-centric marketing philosophy and adopted a persona-based approach, West said.

“It’s now about who I am going to talk to, what role they have in the organisation, what they are motivated by, and how they influence and make decisions. We didn’t look at that a couple of years ago,” he said.

“We’re also shifting from a feature technology perspective to much more of a solution and value-oriented positioning. The reason that is important is because I’m no longer selling to the head of storage, who understands different bytes, feeds and speeds. I’m now selling my solutions to lines of business, like the CMO, head of sales, or compliance team. And they care about how I can make them more competitive and give them access to data faster.”

CommVault’s product development teams are also focused on creating more user-friendly interfaces to give executives better access to information living across their environment. “That’s all about giving people data to make better decisions,” West added.

Peer-to-peer relationships

To take a more strategic approach to buyer needs, West said CMOs must foster better ties with their business peers. At CommVault, a particularly important relationship is with the sales organisation, which oversees direct, OEM and partner relationships.

“My conversation with my counterpart running worldwide sales is very different today to a couple of years ago,” West commented. “Their classic belief was that if they added more feet on the street and channel partners, they’d find more deals.

“The modern CMO has to rethink this; we need to be providing content for people before they’re willing to let us and the channel partner in the door. That’s a mindset shift in how we approach the market place in order to accelerate business.”

One way CommVault has ensured marketing and sales work hand-in-hand is through monthly two-day ‘interlock’ meetings, where both sides plot out go-to market strategy and activity. Heads of marketing and sales, campaign managers and sales enablement teams all attend.

“We have eight core initiatives we measure every month all about alignment, what’s coming, what data sets and campaigns to use, and when am I sending out and how,” West explained. “We then look at what tools we have to ensure the sales reps know what’s coming, and to ensure they can react appropriately with call scripts, or email templates.

“These meetings have become a regular cadence for us to ensure we’re in sync, and help us in how to best leverage inbound data with product releases, market trends, analyst info and corporate campaigns, and then push it out the door.”

CMO-CIO relationship: Not just a shotgun wedding

Another peer relationship, and one arguably more fraught with tension, is that between the CMO and CIO. Most will have heard Gartner’s prediction CMOs will spend more money on technology than CIOs by 2017, raising questions about the future of the IT leader and whether CMOs and CIOs will in fact become interchangeable.

While he agreed marketing has become as significant technology procurer, West didn’t see this coming at the expense of the CIO. Instead, he claimed IT chiefs remain an information “lynchpin” within the organisation.

“The reason we can’t do it alone is that we’re not technologists, nor do we claim to be,” West said. “In addition, it’s the data integration across the business that’s absolutely critical. While I can have access to applications like Eloqua or Marketo, what I lack is integration into in-house systems like finance, accounting, operational and processes our support organisations are running.

“The CIO should be the technology hub between all the different organisations that need access to information and tools to make better decisions.

“Without that, what will end up happening is we’ll become siloed from the organisation and we’ll be making decision based on partial data sets. That will be a problem for organisations as they mature, whether big or small, as they’ll miss critical information.”

West admitted one of the challenges in improving the CMO-CIO relationship is respecting the other executive’s point of view in the face of different time constraints, customer focuses, and governance. “I have previously gone toe to toe with my CIO because I wanted to go faster than their capability sets permitted at a point in time, but I quickly realised that if they’re not a trusted partner in the decision making and implementation of a solution, our end product is not going to be complete,” he said.

“CIOs bring best practices, project management and lots of things CMOs don’t have a clue about when it comes to implementing technology. You should leverage those upfront before you rapidly deploy something only to regret it later.”

Being a CMO

Like many marketers in technology companies, West actually started his career in technical roles, initially working as an electrical engineer for General Electric in the 1980s. From there, he took a 180-degree turn and became a sales rep, before rising into leadership and product management roles. Along the way, he picked up product marketing and sales and marketing duties.

As a CMO today, West reiterated the importance of true collaboration with your peers, early and often, regardless of the type of organisation you work for.

Marketing leaders also need to understand modern tools they previously relied on an IT organisation to find and deliver. “This is not in place of a CIO, but the tools available today are very sophisticated and they’re usually SaaS-based applications, which means the CMO is going to need to be in tune with what’s going on to help them do a better job,” West said.

As a final piece of advice, he warned CMOs not to lose sight of customer experience. “While many CMOs think their job is to generate branding and prospects, the critical component is what is the customer experience, why do they buy it from you, why do they continue to do business with you, what’s important to them and how do you become a trusted advisor to your audience,” West said.

“CMOs must promote knowledge so our consumers can take what we have, leverage those assets so they can be a more informed buyer and therefore have a tighter bond and relationship with our company.”

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