Technology Takes the Helm

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Photo by Shane Kislack
Photo by Shane Kislack

Looking back at my first four diary entries, a question might pop into your mind: Why hasn't he talked more about technology?

My answer: rigor and discipline.

Those foundational principles have guided our technology investment and management approach at Mitel since I joined the company six months ago. This month I'll discuss the key tenets of our information technology (IT) management philosophy, recent investments in marketing technology, and the progress our marketing function has made (and has yet to make) on my half-year anniversary.

What technology should do

Technology should either improve the customer experience, or enable the efficiency and effectiveness of the business. It's ideal when an IT investment achieves both. That said, I firmly believe that if you do not have the rigor or discipline to effectively implement and operate processes manually, you should not expect the introduction of new technology to serve as an elixir to your ills.

Throughout my career I've found that technology can be used as an effective enabler, as well as an excuse for not doing things. For example, I've heard numerous times that “we cannot track and measure X, Y, and Z…because we don't have a CRM application.”

To varying degrees, these excuses may contain kernels of truth. For the most part, however, the inability to measure X, Y, and Z stems from a lack of underlying process rigor and discipline. I would much rather use a paper-based or hybrid tool first, before investing in supporting automation. A software investment should be the third action in a three-step process:

  • Design and develop the process;
  • Refine and strengthen the process; and then
  • Automate the process

As I discussed a few month's ago, many marketing functions, including ours, at times suffer from a “Ready, aim, aim, aim, fire!” mind-set. While the vast majority of marketing initiatives and activities benefit from more of a “Ready, aim fire!” approach, IT investments represent one of the few areas where it pays to procrastinate a bit. By doing so, your aim becomes more accurate and your return on investment (ROI) forecasts are more likely to hit the bull's eye.

Where we aimed our technology dollars

We've recently made several marketing-technology investments and related software applications. All of these investments, including the following, occurred after a rigorous analysis and review:

  • Digital platform

First and foremost, we reexamined our digital platform. My hypothesis was that we were under-serving our customers by providing a suboptimal user experience and failing to provide consistently relevant content, in addition to some other performance issues. To test this hypothesis, we reviewed our current Web architecture and decided very quickly to invest in a more flexible content management system; we're moving to a Drupal platform. Our new platform will help us rebuild our website to significantly improve the user experience, provide more relevant content, and enhance performance, while reducing support costs dramatically. This cost reduction will allow us to reallocate the funds to other programs.

  • Marketing automation

Our second investment was in a marketing automation system from Marketo. If we are to ascend to the next level in terms of driving more demand and more effectively tracking marketing effectiveness, we need a more sophisticated platform.

Marketo will help enable us to more skillfully nurture contacts over time, as well. We're integrating Marketo with our new Salesforce.com platform, and that integrated capability is scheduled to go live in June. The intention of this integration is to equip us with closed-loop lead feedback; we'll better understand and manage the value of the leads marketing delivers to sales, and also from sales to closure.

  • Hosted partner portal

Our third major marketing technology investment is a hosted partner portal. This portal is designed to empower our partners to obtain quicker service and insights on their own (i.e., via self-service). This portal will provide our partners with the latest marketing programs and assets that they use and co-brand. We've tested the portal in the UK and are in the process of implementing it in the United States this month.

How we manage marketing technology investments

So far, I've discussed two facets of managing marketing-technology investments: getting processes in shape and then reviewing and purchasing technology that can automate all or parts of finely tuned processes. There is a third element, and it is equally important: measuring the value of the technology investment.

Research, and my own experience, indicate that this value is determined by many factors, including the nature of the collaboration between IT and marketing. A January PricewaterhouseCoopers survey report shows that companies with healthy and strong collaborations among IT, marketing, and other parts of the business are four times more likely to be in the top quartile of profit margin and revenue growth compared to companies with weak relationships among CIOs, CMOs, CFOs, and other C-suite executives.

It is also well-documented that marketing-technology investments will soon exceed other technology investments in many companies. For the most part, I've enjoyed highly collaborative and supportive relationships with the past several CIOs I've worked with as partners. I also think that many CIOs have a thankless task these days as the era of CIO control over all information systems fades into the past. The growing “democratization” of IT within an organization, spurred on by the growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, means that CIOs increasingly have to facilitate and support the highly individual needs and desires of hundreds or even thousands of end users. Compounding this challenge further are functional heads—primarily CMOs—who are moving beyond BYOD to BYOS: bring your own solutions. If CMOs do not feel that they can get a new application or IT solution immediately from their CIO, they have an ever-expanding set of choices that can deliver immediate gratification with minimal CIO/IT involvement. Happily, here at Mitel, marketing has invested in technology in concert with our CIO and IT.

Just as strong collaboration improves marketing-technology management so, too, does a rigorous approach to measurement. To monitor the returns on our new Web platform investments, we developed a set of digital key performance indicators (KPIs) that we measure monthly. For example, one KPI is Net Promoter Score (NPS), which we use to determine if we gain more promoters based on their holistic view of their own experience on our website.

By measuring this and other indicators, we can make immediate improvements as needed. Our intention is to realize a dramatic improvement in the number of website visitors and, most important, in the number of leads-to-opportunities-to-sales we generate so that the new platform will pay for itself within six months. We're taking a similar measure-and-management approach to our new marketing automation platform; our Marketo KPIs include how much measurable demand (and, by extension, how much business) we drive. We expect the Marketo platform to pay for itself in less than four months.

The ultimate measure of our success in managing our marketing technology is profitable growth. And we can only achieve profitable growth by improving our overall customer experience, which we measure in the form of Net Promoter Score, a leading indicator to future growth. Every other metric is subservient to those two KPIs: profitable growth and a high NPS.

Six-month reflection: Traction takes hold

My six-month Mitel anniversary also motivates me to assess the growth and progress of our marketing function. Like most new leaders, I underestimated the time it takes to change, restructure, resize, retool, and refocus. To succeed, these endeavors require a combination of planning, executing, and applying rigor and operational discipline.

It's really only during the past two months that I feel we've started to get some traction. Our core team is in place. We have the right focus. Our plans are now more right than they are wrong. Plus, now that we have three operation reviews under our belts, we're starting to see the early signs of improving results. Perceptions are also changing as we increase our internal and external communications without the previous division between channel partners and an internal sales channel. We no longer operate as two functions separated by a common language; we now work in unison as one company, one brand, and one voice.

Our unified goal also is clear: profitable growth. And while we are starting to receive positive feedback from our sales peers, we remain cognizant that all of our relationships are organic and therefore require constant attention and nurturing. That said, we will not rest on this progress, as we still have much to do as we are only at the beginning of our journey to transform the marketing function into a competitive advantage for Mitel.


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