CMO interview: How Schneider Electric’s global marketing chief is tackling industrial-scale transformation and IoT

In this in-depth interview, Schneider' chief marketing officer shares how she's digitally transforming the 180-year company to meet the industrial Internet of Things revolution

Chris Leong
Chris Leong


Marketing internally to market externally

External transformation doesn’t come without internal change management, however. For Leong, marketing to internal colleagues and educating them on what marketing does and the brand proposition is as important as marketing externally to customers. As transformation lead within the organisation, functions within her remit include brand and campaign management, marketing strategy, digital customer experience, sales operations and the product launch team.

“The first challenge of transformation is ensuring executive sponsorship all the way up from the CEO. Otherwise it ain’t going to happen,” Leong says. “Secondly, we at Schneider believe [transformation] it’s going to be a hybrid between taking the team on that journey as well as bringing in new competencies from the outside. It’s going to be a combination of both.”

For marketing specifically, transformation is about shifting from a product support function into a strategy leader, Leong says.

“We have elevated the conversation [with customers] to the next level to show the value of our brand to the market,” she says. “How are you going to command the margin and pricing saliency if you are just a sub-component provider? In fact, we have higher value to sell.”

Marketing has also had to learn the language of digital, adopt a test-and-learn mentality, and reposition itself as a business function.

To help, Leong restructured reporting lines so marketing leaders from each of its four core business units report directly into the CMO as well as the business. Marketing leaders running individual territories also report into Leong in this way, along with their regional president.

Another vital element of success has been measuring marketing’s influence on sales. Leong introduced the concept of ‘brand to order’ as a way of doing this.

“The core of marketing hasn’t changed – the clarity of the brand, a value proposition that resonates and is relevant. In our business it needs to be tangible, pay the bills,” she says.

In addition, change must translate into core processes, Leong says. “In our case, it’s about institutionalising a customer journey process in the company that identifies where the painpoints are in order for us to help improve those painpoints,” she adds. “Then we measure against them with data, diligently.”

Often, the CMO’s role is to help their CEO “put a stick in the ground first and dragging everybody else along to that level”, Leong says.

“If I can align the vision and help the CEO to drag the organisation forward and putting that stake further and further out, then I can help rally the businesses to that same mission because I have a team that works for those businesses in terms of deliverables,” she adds.

Education is vital to this ambition. Leong points to recent work building a learning curriculum around Schneider’s EcoStruxure Platform, the technology backbone behind its IoT innovation efforts. The site requires staff to sign in and take tests to progress through accreditation levels.

“What’s the point of me advertising and customers seeing the product, if the sales guy can’t answer their questions? I need to make sure the team is ready to catch the ball and close the sale,” Leong says.

“My internal comms leader has a dual reporting line to me and the chief resources officer. It’s about taking the people with us on all these trends and steps forward we’re taking. The learning academy is hosted by HR, but has a dotted line to my organisation for sales and marketing. The learning academy for supply chain is then dotted line to the supply chain organisation, and so on.”

Building agility is another priority for Leong. “Don’t serve the process or guideline, let the process or guideline serve you,” she warns. “Also, there’s no longer a linear customer journey. There is no more waterfall, it’s a complete zigzag. We again need to be extremely agile, and use data.

“But digital and data don’t replace common sense and intellect, it should inform and serve us.”  

Leong’s top four CMO attributes

Leong offer a list of four key attributes marketing leaders must sustain in order to succeed. The first is digital. “You have to understand digital in the broader sense,” she says.

The second is people. “If you don’t take your people with you on the journey, and inspire them as well as demand from them, you’ll lose out,” Leong says. “It’s my job to push boundaries. People need to feel pride, sense of achievement and breakthrough. I call is kick ass marketing. I don’t want to be a chief overhead officer, we’re chief investment officers.”

The third element is customer. “We cannot have one marketing strategy, we need to address different customer types,” Leong says. “Where they are in the lifecycle isn’t the same and we need to address that. We must surprise, delight and serve them well.”

And Leong’s final must is business. “If you are out of whack with the business, it’ll be hard to succeed. The brand and the business are one,” she concludes.

“If you have child labour problems with a supplier, that’s a problem with your brand. If you are serving your customers poorly, even on a call or in face-to-face, it’s a brand problem. If the product fails, it’s a brand problem. The sum of all that is the business. It’s brand business.”

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