Setting up a marketing team for success in 2018 – insights from IBM

We asked IBM’s CMO for the UK and Ireland, Lisa Gilbert about how she’s approaching the coming year

January 17, 2018

We asked IBM’s CMO for the UK and Ireland, Lisa Gilbert about how she’s approaching the coming year

Lisa Gilbert’s priority list for 2018 will feel familiar to many marketers. As Chief Marketing Officer for IBM in the UK and Ireland she’s spent the last few months thinking about how to motivate a marketing team, how to balance building a brand with customer acquisition, how to work with sales and how to demonstrate value to the business bottom line. And she’s done so with the unique perspective that IBM provides on integrating technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain into marketing strategy.

We asked Lisa about the principles that she believes marketing leaders should apply, to set up their team for success in 2018:

How do you approach engaging and motivating your team?
The world feels like a tough place right now, and it’s important to be keenly aware of the impact that this has on the people in your team. Employees no longer have one face for the office and one face for life outside of work. They need to be able to come to work as their whole self; to find the internal motivation that they need every morning; to engage with their colleagues and do great things. You can lean on your marketing team a lot – it’s something we actively encourage our business to do. However, you have to make sure that you’ve got skilled people who are fighting fit, in order to deal with that pressure.

At IBM, we have a big cultural play around being bold and brave. We have empowered our whole marketing and communications team in the UK and Ireland to explore new and innovative ways of working. We want them to experiment with new tactics and skills while pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to build stand out campaigns. We believe that "growth and comfort don't co-exist" – and so we’ve encouraged our sales teams to push us if they don’t feel we’re giving them the support and insights that they need. In 2018, we’re going to be focusing on building resiliency into that culture. We want to make sure that we’re providing the right support to ensure that people don’t feel overwhelmed, creating safe spaces to chat, and building a culture that rests on looking out for one another and reaching out when we need to.

What’s the secret to building the right culture internally?
It’s very important to be proactive and put programmes in place. As part of our planning for 2018, my team and I held a session dedicated to this, and we identified four elements of our culture that will be particularly important: empowerment, empathy, a sense of being one team, and fun. From this starting point, we asked ourselves what an empowered team, for example, actually looks like: what language do you use? What rituals do you have? What barriers do you need to overcome? We’ve created a sort of cultural SWAT team known as the ‘Culture Club’ that’s working on these outputs and figuring out the touchpoints that can help to give us the culture we need.

Lisa Gilbert, IBM’s CMO for the UK and Ireland

How important is it to work on marketing’s relationship with other departments?
I expect my team and myself to have a meaningful relationship with our sales organisation, with customer service and with other areas of the business. If you want to be a genuine partner to these functions then you have to be relevant – you have to work on earning your seat at that table. At IBM, data is the currency with which you have to operate, and you have to have data to prove your point – you can’t just rely on vague metrics and conjecture.

That’s why I’m a fan of real targets that have obvious and immediate relevance to the bottom line. For example, we have a significant lead generation target for the coming year – and we know that those leads have to turn into wins. We work with our sales teams and other partners to achieve this – and it gives us something tangible to push against. It keeps you grounded as a marketing team and it ensures that you can immediately get real when you sit down to talk with your sales partners.

How do you determine the priorities for marketing in 2018?
We start with the business plan; sitting down with the CEO to look at where we want to take the business in 2018, including our value proposition and how it compares to our competitors. We’ll ask where we want to drive unique value into the market – in AI, the cloud or cyber security, for example. We’ll then work with sales to determine what IBM needs to be famous for, in order to deliver that business plan, and we’ll pick relevant metrics off the back of that. Finally we look at what our marketing team needs to be famous for, in order to demonstrate that we’re driving incremental value to the business in line with our plan.

In our case, we’ve got clear priorities around brand, customer acquisition and infusing cognitive technologies into our business. On the brand side, we need everyone in the business to be able to articulate what IBM now does in a way that’s relevant and personal to the person they’re speaking to. We have to act as the new client engine of our business, and there’s a big focus on data and analytics to understand the profile of potential new customers and how we can engage them and inspire them to work with us. By using cognitive technologies to make our marketing better, we’re drinking our own champagne: delivering strong results for our business directly, but also walking in our clients shoes, and understanding what it takes to pull off a cognitive marketing project.

Does leading a marketing team for IBM give you a different relationship to marketing technology?
We’re a little more educated because of the AI and Blockchain solutions that we sell. However, the interesting thing about our drinking our own champagne initiative is that we’ve had to go on fundamentally the same journey as any marketer would. Our APIs are open to everyone, but as with any innovation, you’ve got to want it bad. It’s really easy to settle for doing things the way they’ve always been done. Personally, I’ve been learning and trying to become an expert like everyone else, building my awareness of what we can do.

We’ve applied Watson AI to our programmatic buying, run tests and found that using AI alongside human intervention brings much better focus to our programmatic than we had before. We’ve launched our first chatbot on, and we’re working with Mindshare on the launch of a Blockchain project to help show the ROI of programmatic media buys.

How do you balance new marketing channels with tried and tested tactics?
We always have a mindset to try new things – but we have to balance that with brand safety and reputation management. We often take the approach of using a tried and tested tactic, but amplifying that tactic on a range of different channels. If we run an event, for example, we’ll try to develop interesting and innovative social media activity before, during and after the event – to increase the value that we get from it. That’s why we have a good relationship with platforms like LinkedIn. It’s because of the potential it gives us to find new, targeted and innovative ways to reach an audience.

As Lisa explains, there are many different elements to setting your marketing team up for success: a meaningful strategy for keeping people motivated and challenged, a clear vision on how marketing relates to the business strategy that’s shared with your colleagues in other teams, and the ability to innovate effectively. LinkedIn Marketing Solutions can support in each of these areas.