CFO World

Finding the return on marketing investment: PGi’s Melissa Wong

PGi's senior vice-president of strategy and marketing talks to CMO about her approach to return on marketing investment and how she's using technology to be a change agent

Given her solid background in the software and telecoms space, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn PGi’s marketing chief Melissa Wong is a passionate believer in CMOs embracing technology. What will arguably raise more eyebrows is that she doesn’t like to be called a marketer.

“I prefer to call myself a business stakeholder who’s helping to grow the business,” Wong told CMO. “I’m judged on revenue, acquisition of customers and customer data. These are core business metrics, not marketing metrics. A marketer may think in terms of pages and visitors or lead generation, but you have to then translate that into what is relevant to the business and that’s where technology can enable you.”

Wong certainly has the credentials to support her views. Her resume is a step-by-step guide to working your way up from marketing’s ground floor and spans 20 years in the IT and telecommunications sector. Wong graduated with a communications degree in marketing and PR and spent her first two professional years in Hong Kong, fine-tuning what she calls her regional ‘ethnicity’ while gaining a solid foundation in marketing. This led her to a role with an enterprise software company.

“I have a passion for seeing how software makes a difference in business and in B2B,” she said. “I love to learn as well as problem solve, and I enjoy the opportunity to figure out how to make something work.”

After a stint with a spatial data solutions company, Wong joined Telstra’s wireless applications team as the telco prepared for the 3G launch, then moved into digital marketing and finally product management for its Australian SMB software-as-a-service launch. These roles were also Asia-Pacific focused, offering the chance to interact with a complex and diverse assortment of customers.

For the last two years, Wong has been the Asia-Pacific senior vice-president of strategy and marketing at SaaS collaboration provider, PGi PGi, whose flagship products iMeet, the integrated video and audio collaboration solution for one-to-one people engagement, and Global Meet, the cloud-based Web and audio solution that extends the capability for content-intensive meetings. In the last five years, the company has hosted nearly one billion people from 137 countries in more than 200 million meetings.

“When I look at my role now, I know what it’s like to be in every team player’s shoes. This means I can be enthusiastic and take a holistic view,” Wong said. “Without the pillars of product marketing, program development, digital, pricing and product management and development, I wouldn’t be as successful. A marketer can be strategic, but if you can’t execute the strategy, you are just fumbling your way through.”

This strategic business nous is something Wong strived to obtain from the beginning. As well as completing her MBA in 2002, Wong rounded her executive skills by attending the company director’s course from the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). “As well as your customers, these are the people you need to influence and the decision makers to engage with,” she explained.

“Marketers today have to be business savvy, something I knew intuitively very early on. I needed the core financial metrics and to understand what drives the business, thinking laterally and traditionally. Depending on the lifecycle of the company, different skill sets are needed. For example, if a company is going through a transformation or M&A, the skills utilised and priorities will be different and you have to be adaptable at those different times.”

What keeps Wong motivated today is being a change agent in PGi’s transformation from audio conferencing supplier to a Software-as-a-Service-based player with multi-channel conferencing solutions. As the leader of marketing and strategy regionally, she gets to combine her skills in the software arena with marketing, product strategy and executive responsibility.

A core area of focus has been expanding the regional team’s marketing contribution and customer insights to further product development. As part of these efforts, Wong became the executive sponsor for CRM in Asia-Pacific last year, leading PGI’s deployment of Salesforce and being a regional advocate for the technology.

“CRM is not just a technology platform but your transformational management tool,” Wong claimed. “You have to understand what customers are doing to drive loyalty and advocacy.

“A lot of organisations are good to putting marketing programs together, but fall over when it comes to the engine and foundations – business intelligence, customer insight, marketing intelligence. You need to extract data from loyalty systems and revenue. That needs to align with your marketing plan – for example, customer spend analysis – and trending, including where the market is going and what’s happening externally.

“It comes back to relevancy and personalisation. If I am the customer, how do I want to be treated? My customers aren’t one combined group, and my customer segments have micro-segments. We’re gearing the whole organisation to be passionate about customers internally, asking questions like: 'how to better serve our segments?’. The differentiation is about relevance, being personable and how we can help them. That links to clear business returns.”

Embracing return on marketing investment (ROMI)

One of the challenges all CMOs can relate to is proving marketing’s contribution to their company’s bottom line. In a bid to meet the board’s need for ROI and highlight marketing’s direct impact, Wong introduced the concept of return on marketing investment (ROMI) – a global first for PGi.

“It’s pointless trying to take an ROI approach to something valuable that isn’t quantifiable,” she said. “What I did was ask: what are the metrics we are trying to achieve, and what is it we’re trying to measure? What is the ultimately objective we are trying to reach? For example, are we trying to increase our customer acquisition or sales? There could be a marketing metric and a financial metric. Hence why we needed return on marketing investment.

“The problem with ROI is that it’s calculated on the full costs for the business and factors in labour resources and support costs. For our programs, we look at ROMI. The organisation wants to see marketing spend, and I have advocated ROMI across the region with early success. We did this by segmentation of projects, and the regional executive team and my peers in the business appreciated the insights.

“Acquisition retention comes back to dollars. ROMI is about qualifying the OpEx marketing dollars given to me. We look at campaign spend and what I got out of it. It might for example take a few months to get that return, and results differ by customer segment.”

In order to generate ROMI, Wong signed up to a SaaS-based solution from Allocadia last year, which provides a numeric and visual representation of marketing’s results. It is this information she then puts into a report to share with the board. The cost of the technology came out of marketing’s OpEx spend and its deployment was led by marketing, rather than IT.

“Our ROMI effort is driven by both technology and our own processes. The software enables companies to see and do things around automation and productivity, and I needed a SaaS tool to enable me to numerically report our ROMI and visualise it as well,” Wong said.

CMOs: Redefining the rulebook

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IT relationship

As marketing calls on copious amounts of technology to help calculate things like ROMI, there is the rising challenge of how to integrate it with a company’s IT infrastructure. Wong’s own adoption of technology is made easier because product and marketing capabilities are grouped together at PGi, and technology innovation is core to product development and growth.

“Being technology minded also goes a long way in helping that relationship between IT and marketing,” Wong said. “We better understand their needs and we can be faster, more productive and smarter about how we work. There are also less bottlenecks to overcome. PGi has a passion for and understands the role technology plays in our business.”

For those aren’t graced with such a technology background, Wong recommended working on your individual relationship with members of the IT team. “We are transparent about what we do and engage and treat people with respect,” she continued. “If we are open about a problem, look at all avenues and options and have a two-way conversation, the outcome will be positive.

“My relationships with finance, sales and the client team are equally as good.”

Head-to-head: Do CMOs need their own marketing technologist?

Top of PGI’s to-do list over next 12 months is mobilising its workforce and communicating its own insights to its customer base.

As CMOs rise in importance up the corporate ladder, Wong advocated others to be passionate about learning and embrace technology and change. “Today, a CMO is a translation tool between the cross functions – IT, sales, product development and the board,” she claimed. “This ability to talk to all functions is core to a marketer, but understanding that wasn’t as pronounced 10-15 years ago.

“Look at change as an opportunity to learn, and then look at how it is going to help your customers and the balance. It’s a balance of iQ and eQ.”

It’s also not good enough just being a marketer, Wong said, adding that those who make the biggest impact will do so by understanding the business as well as what drives its customers and sales.

“These are metrics of revenue. The core thinking and principles of running the business are crucial,” she added.

PGi: Melissa's key achievement metrics:
  • The move from traditional conference to software-as-a-service (SaaS) saw growth in licence revenue pipeline of 17 per cent in six months
  • 560 per cent year-on-year growth in the number of licence opportunities from February 2012 to February 2013
  • 88 per cent growth in number of licence opportunities between September 2012 to February 2013
  • As of March 2013, the opportunity pipeline ratio was 52 per cent minutes pipeline revenue vs 48 per cent licence revenue. In comparison, 69 per cent of pipeline in September 2012 was per minute vs 31 per cent licences.

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