The B2I marketing organization: How IBM’s CMO of North America organizes for business-to-individual marketing
CMO of IBM North America Rashmy Chatterjee explains how she delivers on a vision to build trust and understand customers' needs, in an interview with columnists Nadine Dietz and Erica Seidel.
If your company had a population larger than some countries, how would you organize your marketing team to ensure the customer vision doesn’t get lost?
We spoke with Rashmy Chatterjee, CMO of IBM North America, about how she tackles this challenge. Rashmy leads Marketing, Communications and Citizenship for IBM in North America. In this role, she is responsible for client experience, consideration and preference for IBM solutions and for the health of the IBM brand.
Q: IBM has almost 400,000 employees. How do you and your marketing team define and stay focused on the customer vision?
Traditionally, IBM has been seen as a business-to-business company. Today, we see ourselves as a B2I, Business-to-Individual organization.
We focus on three things to stay close to our clients:
- Digital — When our customers make decisions for their business, they have already been influenced significantly as individuals. [A large portion] of their decision journey is completed digitally, and our goal is to be integral to that journey.
- Analytics — Understanding the individuals, their needs, their cohort, and their journey to proficiency.
- Advocacy — Forums like advisory councils where our clients can share their knowledge and learn from each other.
The imperative for marketing today is to build trust. It’s not about delivering potentially irrelevant content. When we demonstrate we understand our customers’ individual needs and support them with real value, we become trusted advisers. Once we’ve established that relationship, our customers share their experiences with their peers, and this advocacy builds a healthy momentum.
Q: How do you organize your marketers to deliver on that vision?
Have you seen “Ocean’s Eleven?” It’s a bit like that.
For each initiative, we create a cross-functional team of experts. We call these “Diamond Teams.” Each diamond team has discipline experts (with a specific area of marketing expertise), an industry or profession expert (such as financial services) and a product expert (such as cloud software, application development tools, flash storage, etc.).
This structure allows our teams to build deep expertise, and to bring that expertise to drive outcomes in an agile manner. Diamond teams focus on not just what we sell, but also on who we serve, so we can deliver insight and value.
The goal is for Diamond teams to be self-directed. To be able to sit down around the table and work together. It has been exciting to see the energy come to life.
Q: What’s an example of a Diamond team in action?
Let’s say we are looking to engage chief marketing officers at health care companies. The Diamond team will have members who understand the health care industry and the marketing profession. They will lay out the customer’s journey to their stated goals and the products and services that enable them to get there.
The Diamond team will have a Campaign expert who knows how best to engage with a customer at each step of their journey. It will have a Digital expert who knows what media strategy to follow; a Database Analytics expert who identifies the customer profiles; an Events expert as well as other contributing members from Communications, Seller Enablement, etc.
The Diamonds have some dedicated members and others who contribute as required. Diamonds also break up and re-form depending on campaigns we are running.
Q: How did you approach this shift toward the Diamond style of marketing, and what did you learn?
The goal of operating in Diamonds was to create an agile and expertise-driven way to work. It was as much about “how we work” as about what “what we do.”
The first step was to align people by discipline based on their skills, passions and experiences. We looked at their natural proclivities — for instance, their love of telling a story, their ability to be socially compelling or their skill at setting standards.
As an example, there was someone who led market development and insights. He was fascinated by how fintech (financial technology) companies are disrupting traditional bank models. When we established a marketing team focused on banking, it was clear that he was the most natural candidate to lead it — not because he had run marketing for a bank before, but because he had deep knowledge of where that market was going, what customers sought, and how IBM could differentiate itself.
In another example, someone was running seller enablement and, as a result of daily interaction with clients and sellers, was able to suggest how we get clients from a particular industry to interact and experience Watson. This resulted in a partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival, where for 14 days, people at the festival could hear Watson-generated music, compare social personalities of celebrities, and play around with Watson’s capabilities. We did this again at the US Open to not only engage those at the event, but fans around the globe.
Q: We keep hearing about Watson. How does Watson fit into your marketing organization?
Watson is a hero brand showing how people and machines will work together to transform professions and industries of the future, and already of today. It’s what we call cognitive computing — based on artificial intelligence and living in the cloud, but its applications are human.
Watson essentially helps to solve problems by its ability to absorb vast amounts of data that a human being cannot process in real time. It is then able to lay out hypotheses for solutions based on the data with varying levels of probability. It’s cognitive — it learns — and hence the insights provided are constantly evolving. The applications range from solving personalization of marketing offers to curing cancer to solving extinction threats of certain species and creating decadent chocolate, just to name a few.
The simple mantra I use for Watson is URL: Understands, Reasons, Learns.
We use Watson extensively inside IBM. For instance, we are leveraging Watson as a security adviser for our own massive information exchange. We recently debuted the IBM Watson Content Hub which uses cognitive tagging and content management capabilities to quickly create relevant offers across multiple channels such as mobile, web and email. Watson has become and will continue to be a key member of all our teams at IBM.
Q: How do you hire?
I look for people who are experts in their domain and astute in their understanding of customers and the ecosystem. For instance, in the past, when hiring for communications people, we would look for people with strong writing skills. But today, we look for people who understand the story as it relates to the conversations our customers are having and who can integrate media to deliver the story for the individual across print, film, virtual reality, music and other mediums.
I also look for people who are very comfortable with using data and have clear points of view based on data and their understanding of customers.
And finally, I look for current and future leaders who are never satisfied with the status quo as they are naturally curious and optimistic. Therefore, they embrace transformation and enjoy building and influencing the networks across our customers’ ecosystem.
- Extend your approach to marketing beyond “getting a message out there”; focus on building trust.
- Think through what makes your organization unique and what soft skills are important in that culture; in a huge organization like IBM, the ability to reach outside of the organization and build external networks is increasingly important.
- When creating cross-functional teams, make sure that your teams include a full array of product, customer, market and functional expertise to deliver insight and value.
- When you take time to explore passions, you could find an unlikely leader for new opportunities.
- Don’t be afraid of data and machine learning. The time is now to put all that data to use to solve the problems humans simply can’t and further the industry. The key is to leverage them as part of your team, not external resources.