An interview with Sébastien Imbert
The CMO for Microsoft France on translating purpose into demand
06 Minute Read
- Appointed CMO of Microsoft France in August 2018
- Leads on digital marketing, digital operations, infrastructure and operations
- Non-executive board member at business carpooling platform OXYCAR and board member at digital futures think tank La Villa Numeris
- A prominent member of Equaleaders, an organisation working towards equal gender diversity among exec committees in leading French brands
- Spent four years as an executive committee member at IAB France
During a meeting with the CMO of Microsoft France, you're likely to hear the phrase, "one more thing...". When you do, you’re encountering a purpose-led B2B program in action.
‘One more thing’ is how Microsoft France employees introduce the topic of accessibility into conversations. It’s a way of showcasing solutions like Seeing AI, the smartphone technology that helps the visually impaired interact with environments through everything from reading text to reading the mood of a room. As Microsoft France’s CMO Sébastien Imbert explains, it’s also a means of demonstrating to B2B buyers what the Microsoft brand stands for.
“Our core brand objective is to ensure that everyone understands the mission statement of Microsoft, which is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to do more,” he says. “On an ongoing basis, we have to help people understand that we’re not selling a specific solution – we are a platform where everyone can create and collaborate based on their specific needs. We’re not here to create new businesses in retail or finance. The idea behind our branding is to show that we’re here to help.”
Starting a tech buying conversation with sustainability
Besides accessibility, those conversations are also likely to touch on Microsoft France’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and its stance on sustainability – two other areas where the brand has staked out a clear, purposeful position. “Our position on the environment is definitely part of how we engage buyers today,” explains Sébastien.
“To create trust, you need to show concrete engagement on these global challenges. When Microsoft announced that we will be carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon negative by 2050, it drove a lot of engagement, and we’ve created specific content for our sales teams that continues the conversation.”
The importance of sustainability to tech buying is partly a product of an expanded buying committee. “An opportunity will have twice as many stakeholders involved today compared to a few years ago,” says Sébastien. “The Chief Environment Officer is often one of the roles involved, and we’re having conversations with Chief Technology Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Marketing Officers as well.”
Jamais sans Elle: taking a stand through difficult conversations
Building brand trust by demonstrating commitment can involve some tough choices. That’s been particularly true of Microsoft France’s stance on diversity and inclusion, which involved all members of the business’ executive leadership committee in France signing the ‘Jamais Sans Elle’ charter. This commits Microsoft to demanding that women are represented on every panel in which its employees take part.
“We were making a major announcement with one of our customers in front of an audience of thousands of people and our CEO noticed that there were no women speaking,” recalls Sébastien. “He explained to the CEO of the company that it would make sense to have a more diverse approach in the panel of speakers, and he would be much more comfortable to speak if the panel would count relevant female speaker(s). It was a sensitive issue, but the customer accepted, it’s an important stand to take because it’s still often the case that tech industry discussions don’t feature women. We are creating a movement around this.”
How a transformation partner transforms itself
The content of Microsoft France’s conversations with businesses isn’t the only area that’s changed. Those conversations take place as part of a sophisticated sales and marketing strategy that’s involved a fundamental shift in how the business approaches sales and marketing.
“Microsoft is a strategic partner for organisations looking to transform – and since Satya Nadella took over the leadership in 2014, we have transformed ourselves,” says Sébastien. “We’ve transformed the way that we conceive and distribute our products as a cloud company, and in marketing terms, we’ve moved from a series of one-off campaigns to always-on engagement with customers and partners.”
Connecting sales and marketing through AI
As Sébastien explains, this engagement also has a clearly defined purpose. Microsoft uses machine learning to guide prospects through the buyer journey, selecting the most relevant nurture streams and equipping sales with recommended next steps. “We’re entering an era where sales and marketing are connected like never before,” says Sébastien. “Thanks to AI, we can now move away from the era when marketers used to generate leads in quantity not quality. When you start to have specific lead scoring and lead attributes, you start to get a connection with sales – and you can start to have a far more meaningful conversation.”
At the centre of this engagement programme sits the Marketing Engagement Index, which for instance in France tracks the impact of marketing across the business’s managed accounts. “It’s the core way that we measure ROI today,” says Sébastien. “We can see the accounts with high, medium and low engagement on different solutions, and so we can provide specific direction and insights to sales. If a customer is highly engaged on Dynamics 365 but there’s no correlation in terms of pipeline, then we can go to sales and ask, ‘how can we help?’ When we have piloted this approach, we see an impact within months.”
How digital marketing powers always-on engagement
This growing connection with sales is expanding the role of digital marketing at Microsoft. The always-on strategy that Sébastien describes increasingly plays out through LinkedIn targeting, employee advocacy on social platforms – and a reimagining of events as digital experiences.
“We’re making more and more use of digital marketing in general and LinkedIn in particular,” says Sébastien. “It enables us to target specific roles and industries through tailored content. Because we’re doing this at scale, we’re able to generate demand at the same time as building broader awareness and consideration.”
LinkedIn capabilities also contribute directly to sellers to become augmented sellers. “We have automatic recommendations now within our CRM, which help sales to prioritise which roles they should engage with and which content they should use to engage them,” says Sébastien. “With LinkedIn Sales Navigator you get a broader view of the customer and interact in a much more connected way. That’s really part of my job today – to ensure that we’re getting rich insights to the sales team that can be used on a day-to-day basis and interact with more of the roles involved in tech buying.”
Turning events into global media happenings
Perhaps the most visible aspect of digital’s growing role is the transformation of Microsoft’s approach to events – a process that was already underway before the pandemic. “After a lot of tests and learning, we decided last May to go fully digital with our first-party Microsoft events,” says Sébastien. “We’ve learned that digital is far more effective than previously thought – and that the key is to design the event for video, like an interactive TV show. It creates a huge media event and a global platform for our brand. For instance, from May 19 to May 21, Microsoft Global event Build conference reached 193,000 customers from more than 200 countries in two days.”
This early decision on digital events linked to the Microsoft Global Commercial Event strategy meant that Microsoft France was already equipped with extensive digital production infrastructure when the pandemic struck. The business had facilities to leverage global content, global resources in sync with local digital factories allowing a strong agility in terms of events transformation and switch to digital. That might seem fortunate. The truth is, it’s part of a long-planned journey towards building more meaningful relationships at scale. The digital marketing infrastructure that Microsoft has built as part of its transformation enables ongoing engagement at scale, in any circumstances.
“All of these things have become more important since the pandemic,” says Sébastien. “From the importance of digital marketing to the importance of issues like accessibility, and the value that we can add by supporting the transition to social selling. As marketers, we’re better positioned than ever to help identify what customers need, and help guide them through the sales journey.”
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