Alison Orsi and
Hans Dekkers, IBM
05 Minute Read
Long-term colleagues at IBM, Alison Orsi and Hans Dekkers have spent the last two years working together on aligning digital sales and marketing. Their aim is to deliver better experiences for buyers by looking beyond assumptions about the journey they take. Here they explain how they’ve gone about creating meaningful alignment in B2B tech.
At the time of interview, Alison was VP & CMO EMEA at IBM – as of today (Sept 2021), she is now General Manager, Ecosystem Platforms and Experiences at IBM.
Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, IBM EMEA:
I've worked at IBM almost my entire career, and people always ask me, "Why?". The first reason is that it's ever-changing but always stays true to its core values. The second is because ultimately, we make technology that makes the world work better. Today, IBM puts the power of hybrid cloud, quantum and AI to work on problems big and small.
Hans A.T. Dekkers
Chief Digital Officer and VP Digital Sales, IBM EMEA:
I'm a technologist. I love to work on complex problems and make them a lot simpler. I love to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds; people who are deeply passionate and have a high level of quality in what they do. And at IBM you find a lot of them.
We're part of the same digital sales organisation and leadership team. It's where our roles overlap, and that's really helped bring those teams closer together. We've been able to foster more experimentation and collaboration and work together as a single team on projects. Ideally though, I think reporting lines should be irrelevant to how successful sales and marketing alignment is. It's not about the silo that you work for or the bit of the business that you work for. It's about making sure that you have strong enough relationships that you can all focus on a common goal, which is the customer experience.
That realisation is what sales and marketing alignment really means, not just at IBM but everywhere. It's a realisation, deep down in the organisation, that the way clients value their experience is everything now. If it was a bad experience, they won't come back. If it's a good experience, they will keep coming back. That gives us a common goal in everything we do from the smallest piece of activity to the largest.
A key ingredient is open, two-way dialogue – not just between Hans and myself but between the teams as a whole. We've built squads that work together, and focus on individual challenges together. We're always coming at it with a mindset asking, what can we improve? How do we break every client journey down into micro-steps, and how do we work together to improve those?
The trick to aligning around the journey is how you frame it. We've adopted a mantra of "Attract, Transact, Interact." You attract clients. You transact with them. And once you transact, you keep interacting, helping them do more with technology. It's really important to redefine these sales motions for how client interaction needs to happen in a digital world – because if you digitise a mediocre process, you just get a mediocre, digitised process.
There's a quote that I think summarises the challenge we face with the traditional way of doing things in sales: "We don't see things as they are – we see them as we are." The fact is, the era of people wanting to speak to a seller is almost gone. It's more about how they interact with a company, consuming their services and building relationships in a very different way. A big change is coming, and we'll see sales starting to transition into areas like client success.
A lot of what people in sales and marketing do is driven by perception and opinion – but its real data on what customers are doing that speaks best. You have to have the relationship between sales and marketing there in the first place, but then I think data can make partnerships so much stronger in terms of delivering really great outcomes.
With data, we can measure whether engagement is improving or declining, which pieces are working or not working, so that we can continue to drive improvement and take stock of what really matters.
At the same time, less is often more with tech stacks. We're thinking about the customer journey as an end-to-end, integrated, long-term relationship that has to work seamlessly. You might have perfect tools that optimise every piece of the journey, but if they don't talk to one another in an integrated way, you're making the problem worse. As sales cycles become longer, they also become more complex. Client journeys aren't linear, and you need that integration of data to be able to see that situation and judge the next best action to provide the right experiences at the right moment.
The (buyer) journey is getting longer and more complicated, but I see companies of all sizes benefiting when they focus on the shortest time to value for the client. Even if the processes are long and the sales cycles are long, how can you achieve the shortest time to value within that? If you’re selling an AI engine - how can you provide that AI in the fastest way possible and then start the rest of the process after that?
As sales and marketing, I really recommend that you focus on the experience that you want to provide – not just the marketing material or the brand campaign but the full buying cycle. What you’ll find will be remarkable, and then once you understand what the client goes through, you can start to ask what actually works in this digital world we’re now operating in. When you do that as one team, as sales, marketing and other functions, you can get remarkable collaboration across siloes.
When you look through the full experience that way, you can very quickly identify where there is a mismatch in expectations for sales and marketing. It might be that what we believe is a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) isn’t qualified to the standard that the next step expects. At every step, we need to make sure the level of understanding is right. Even if you think it’s clear and it’s worked that way for years, it can change over time. In fact, it must change over time and evolve.
We’re all part of the same integrated engine – so if responses are down, we need to understand why. If trials don't convert, what can we learn about how we can work together to remove friction in the end-to-end process? What does NPS tell us?
We work with a small number of OKRs, objectives and key results that we think are the leading indicators of business success at that particular moment. This is often for a particular customer segment or particular route. They don't stay fixed. We add them in and change them over time. Right now, one of the things we're looking at is the performance of events and the switch from face-to-face events to digital events. That’s critical to how we, as a marketing function, contribute to the business and support the digital engine that we have.
How do we cope with the loss of networking that comes with physical events? I think by having a discussion with the clients through the digital experience. More than just demonstrate, we want to have them experience for themselves what a specific piece of technology could do for them, how it will create business value and generate revenue. The creativity that I've seen in the last few months is remarkable: all the way from digital lunches through to co-creation in the digital garages that we have. It's accelerated this motion of building what the customer needs, together.
The world is changing so fast, and there are lots of things happening where nobody has the answer yet. At a time like this, there's a lot you can learn simply by trying and experimenting. We're picking up what we can from the market, from other companies that we speak to, from our clients, from our peers, and from conversations like this one (Live with Marketers virtual talk-show). However, there's also so much that we can learn from ourselves: what happens if we just try something? observe? have a testing plan? I'd encourage everyone to just start. Just try something and see where you get to.
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