How this B2B marketer is earning her adaptive marketing stripes

Recently promoted head of marketing for Nutanix A/NZ, Amber Watson, talks about the lessons in rapid pivoting during Covid and human-centred mindset driving her marketing strategy

Quick thinking to pivot a series of physical events to virtual to build partner pipeline has certainly seen Nutanix’s head of marketing, Amber Watson, earn her stripes as an adaptive marketing chief this past year.

Watson was promoted from senior partner marketing manager to head of marketing for A/NZ in April after two-and-half years with the technology infrastructure vendor. The promotion was triggered by work over the past year to ensure pipeline and customer funnel conversion opportunities remained in play despite the Covid-19 crisis and pandemic wreaking havoc for partners and end customers.

Embracing virtual engagement

Prior to the crisis, Nutanix had built out a series of ‘brew-tanix’ face-to-face engagements, allowing partners to network with prospects in a forum incorporating product and technical information sharing as well as networking. Up to 12 are held annually across the country in local breweries, attracting between 20 and 25 delegates each time.

Nine days out from its next physical meeting, the first Covid-19 lockdown struck. “Our brew-tanix events are all around building that prospects pipeline and offering face-to-face engagement with partners holding that relationship with us in a casual environment. I didn’t want to stop this or tell people it was cancelled,” Watson told CMO.

Within a day, Watson had locked Young Henry’s in to supply beer and had started collating home addresses in preparation for the event’s virtual debut. Over time, the vendor also began supplying Nutanix-branded gift packs including cooler bags and branded beer glasses as part of deliveries.  

The result was oversubscribed virtual events with 80-90 attendees apiece. “People were threatened about their own roles, wanted to keep busy, Zoom was still relatively new - as was sharing a virtual drink - and we didn’t have to target by location. It meant we could send to everyone in Australia rather than doing it in each region,” Watson said.  

Off the back of the success and extended reach these events achieved, Watson said Nutanix plans to retain a virtual approach as Australians move out of lockdowns, complemented by the return of face-to-face activities. The virtual brew-tanix format was also adopted by other Nutanix regions across APJ.

“Our approach is definitely going to be hybrid,” Watson said. “I’ve seen the importance of human-to-human interactions – it’s crucial in those enterprise accounts and we will certainly embrace physical events again. However, we can’t forget how cost effective and how much reach we can get through virtual events. A lot of people aren’t fully back in the office, or are choosing to work from home, and we need to cater accordingly.”

As well as extended reach, Watson said another benefit to virtual was a lower dropout rate (about 20 per cent). Cost effectiveness is a further plus. But arguably most importantly, with more of us used to virtual environments, engagement during and post-presentations through quizzes and other fun activities has grown virtually, she said.

Lessons in adaptability

The experience of pivoting the brew-tanix events has taught Watson how important it is to adopt a plan that can pivot and adapt.

“The learning I’ve taken is you need a plan A, B and C. And that’s the approach we’ve taken into our FY22 planning,” she said. “It’s never going to just be one approach anymore. You have to have the back-up and keep pivoting until you get it right.”

Another learning has been ensuring the marketing team takes the approach of “looking from the outside-in”.

“We are there to serve our customers’ problems, so the messaging needs to be what they want to hear, not what we want to tell them,” Watson said. “It’s about listening to our partners who know those customers – such as Lenovo and HP – and finding out their problems then solving them in any shape we can. Whether that’s hybrid, physical or virtual.”

It’s for this reason Watson is a big advocate for a human-to-human approach to B2B marketing. It’s a mindset increasingly becoming popular across B2B marketers, albeit with varying success.

Social B2B

One way Watson is striving for this is by prioritising local social media investment, both in terms of listening and communications. Historically, Nutanix’s social media marketing has been globally driven. Bringing a local approach to bear will allow marketing to speak in a language that better resonates with local prospects, partners and customers.

“There is so much noise out there today. I speak to our prospects and partners and they’re saying no more email communications right now, it’s too much. So how do we find out how we can solve the client’s problem? That’s what we are trying to achieve,” Watson explained. “We also don’t just want an MQL or to fill up our top of funnel, we are also looking at mid-funnel.

“So I’m harnessing that outside-in approach to every marketing and digital aspect to see what is working. If the messaging in one channel isn’t resonating with customers over here, then let’s bring that insight to bear. We are adopting local language and finding out what the pain points of our target customers are so we can bring the right, interesting messages to them.”

Outside of social listening, Nutanix is gathering insights from other sources such as analyst firm, IDC, plus agencies to ensure it localises messaging we’re getting from the US.

Cross-functional mindset

Another element in Watson’s approach is cross-functional collaboration, something that has often been the spur in the B2B marketer’s heel.

“What I found when I first took the [head of marketing] role was there were a lot of silos between marketing, sales and channel,” Watson said. “It didn’t make any sense. I make sure I now have weekly cadence calls with all heads of departments, as well as our inside sales manager, because they’re the ones capturing leads that go to the channels. I can’t create a plan without their input and understanding their priorities. I also need them to know what my priorities are so we all work in harmony.

“If our campaigns aren’t showing the ROI, then the sales team won’t have a good quarter. It’s making them understand you need to spend these dollars like they’re your own. You can’t look at them as Nutanix money, it’s your investment. Would you waste your dollars on this event? And if you did, what follow-up would you be expecting to happen?”

Results are starting to demonstrate the success of Watson’s approach. The Nutanix team has exceed its marketing qualified / sales accepted leads goal for FY21 by +20 per cent, with conversion rates sitting at a healthy 10.5 per cent. Off the original virtual brew-tanix events, four deals have since closed.

“It’s a longer lifecycle but a good result. We’re keeping an eye on that plus where they are getting stuck in that journey to conversion,” Watson said.  

Off the back of the practical learnings of 2020, Nutanix is opting for fewer industry events and taking a more targeted, strategic approach, working with partners and OEMs to better segment enterprise accounts.

“I’m sitting with sales reps, making sure they know all the stakeholders in target organisations. It’s also working with distributors to see who sells into an account, what they’re buying and doing the groundwork to build those personal connections,” Watson said.

As Watson put it, regardless of whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer, “people buy from people”. “It’s as simple as that. We don’t want to target people who aren’t interested in our offering,” she said. “Getting there means knowing them on a personal level.”

Other attributes Watson saw as vital to the marketer’s job are understanding the business objectives and avoiding organisational silos.

“I understand my MD’s vision, attend the pipeline meetings and understand what the local, APJ and global businesses are trying to achieve. It’s making sure you are calculating what your campaigns are achieving and being able to pivot if those need to change,” she concluded.  

“To get a seat at the table at management level is hard for marketers, but we certainly deserve to be there as we make a difference to the business. I make sure I voice my opinions. While I may not be right, I am heard and I’m learning.”

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