Talking B2B Tech: Katharyn White
In conversation with Katharyn White, Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, T-Systems International
07 Minute Read
- Joined T-Systems International as Senior Vice President and CMO in November 2018, and is working to transform Go-to-Market, Brand and Marketing
- Named as one of the Ten Most Impactful Women in Technology by Analytics Insight
- Leading the redefinition of marketing and repositioning the CMO role as a driver of growth
- In addition to Marketing, Katharyn has worked in Sales, Consulting and Manufacturing. She is a recognised marketing expert and Marketing Society Fellow who never stops learning
- Her global career has included positions at HP, DuPont, IBM, and several non-profit organisations. She’s also on the advisory board of several start-ups
- Has lived in five countries and seven states, to return to a house two doors from where she grew up
There are moments in the life of a marketing team when what needs to be done becomes strikingly clear. Suddenly, there’s no longer a debate about the way forward; there’s no longer a comfort zone that you can choose to stay in. You either rise to the challenge, move forward decisively and get to where you need to be – or you don’t. And the second option isn’t one you want to follow. For Katharyn White and the marketing team at T-Systems International, March 2020 was one of these moments.
“I remember we were looking at this very small number of digital leads and these low conversion rates, and I just said to the team, if we don’t fix this we’re out of business,” she says. “It wasn’t just a piece of the puzzle. It was the puzzle! It was the thing that we all needed to focus on.”
Like many tech businesses worldwide, T-Systems had to grapple with the fact that the pandemic had upended the traditional tech buying journey. Sales meetings and in-person conferences were struck out of diaries, buyers’ priorities were suddenly changing – and digital transformation of both marketing and sales was the only way to respond. Often a transformation partner for its customers, T-Systems now needed to reorganise its go-to-market strategy for a world where all buying journeys were suddenly digital (learn how Katharyn’s Head of Digital Marketing at T-Systems International quickly pivoted in this article).
The digital transformation imperative
“The pandemic gave us no choice… or rather, it gifted us no choice,” says Katharyn. “Our function was in the midst of a transformation even before the pandemic, but we were now given the opportunity to transform the entire organisation overnight. I believe that at that moment, every marketer became a digital marketer, and every seller became a virtual seller. The question we’ll ask ourselves is, what did we do with that moment? How did we come together to change the path we were on. For me, that’s the challenge for leadership, the challenge for CMOs and the challenge for organisations.”
One of the most striking initiatives that T-Systems launched in the moment was a partnership with SAP to develop the open-source Corona-Warn-App. It was an example of agile collaboration that delivered a working app within just 50 days, generated over 6.5 million downloads on the first day of launch, and has more than 80 million downloads to date. The app has become the foundation of contact tracing efforts in Germany and across Europe. Going forward, it will provide the infrastructure for the EU digital Covid certificate, which has a vital role to play in the reopening of Europe following the pandemic.
Katharyn and her team were equally decisive when it came to how they deployed marketing skills within the T-Systems organisation, with a new focus on optimising the digital customer experience.
“We created squads that brought together the different kinds of skills required to create a digital experience, where every touchpoint is more personalised than the touchpoint before because it’s more data-informed,” she says. “We would bring together a digital expert with a product marketing expert, a campaign expert, a content expert; we would bring in our agency partners, and in the future we’d love to bring in expertise like behavioural science, so that we're looking at all of our data holistically. I believe that the Agile methodology is made for marketing, in the sense that we need all of these different skills to have the perfect marketer, and they’re never going to exist in a single person.”
Effective marketing is connected marketing
In Katharyn’s view, it’s connectivity that’s the key to marketing effectiveness. Great brand advertising or punchy product marketing only fulfils its potential when connected to other aspects of the experience in a meaningful way.
“All marketing is more effective when it’s connected,” she says. “I don’t believe in separating brand marketing from digital marketing or campaign marketing. If those things are connected and create a different kind of customer experience, the odds of them breaking through go up dramatically. I’ve always said that good marketing done consistently is better than great marketing done randomly.”
The end goal of such connectivity is relevance through personalisation. Katharyn believes this to be the yardstick by which buyers increasingly judge their experiences of a business.
How Promotion became Personalisation
“The fundamentals of marketing are still there,” she says. “And the four Ps are still relevant – but that fourth P around Promotion? That P is now Personalisation. It must feel as if it's just for me: relevant, engaging, informed and advancing my interactions with your business. I now evaluate that personalisation against the best experience I’ve had at any touchpoint, from any industry, not just the industry in which you happen to be competing.”
As a marketer who’s worked on three different continents, Katharyn is very aware of how personalised communication can mean different things to different audiences in different locations. “Great marketing will always have a mix of global, regional and local,” she says. “At the end of the day, it's a person on their journey, and there are certain aspects of that journey where there’s consistency regionally or globally, and there are certain aspects that will be unique to that person in that context. The marketer’s job is to navigate our way through that complexity with data.”
A mindful approach to data
Data is a thread that runs through much of Katharyn’s thinking about the evolving role of marketing. It’s data that triggers transformation by shining a light on what’s changed in the market; data that informs the different perspectives coming together on her squads; and data that empowers marketing to take on a broader role in the direction of a business. However, she’s clear that it’s not the volume of data that matters. What animates marketing is the ability to identify the right data points, to act based on those data points, and to communicate them to other senior leaders.
“Applied correctly, analytics can simplify the number of metrics that we're looking at, not make it more complex,” Katharyn explains. “I’d like my team to move from KPIs (key performance indicators) to KPAs (key performance actions), not just indicators of a problem but indicators with a clear action attached. We’re trying to look at the metrics that have the most relevance to ultimate business outcomes, where we know the ‘so what?’ of the number.”
This mindful attitude towards metrics flows through into the way Katharyn communicates them to her C-suite colleagues. “We’re focused on the same metrics the business looks at, and that’s what I share: pipeline, revenue, profit,” she says. “I’ll look at the leading indicators as well, but I won't bring it down to a tactical level. I want the C-suite to understand that it’s the mix of different activities that produce the outcomes. I try to explain the entire formula rather than presenting an element in isolation.”
A moment of opportunity for CMOs
This holistic, connected view is central to what Katharyn sees as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for CMOs like herself. “The CMO is one of the most ill-defined roles in the industry because we’ve allowed others to define it,” she says. “If you asked 10 people what the CFO does, you’d get the same answer, whereas if you ask them what a CMO does, you’ll get a lot of different ones. When we’re silent, we become the cost centre. When we look at the go-to-market more holistically, we become an enabler of the business – the chief growth officer, the gearbox across the organisation. In my career, I’ve never seen a better time for the CMO to lead.”
Becoming that gearbox for the go-to-market strategy involves senior marketers taking a much closer interest in sales. “The lines between sales and marketing have blurred so much more in the past 12 months than in any previous time period,” she says. “With self-learning buyer journeys, selling something no longer has to involve a live interaction. Selling occurs through orchestrated touchpoints without people knowing it. That’s why, ideally, sales would be a part of the marketing squad with us. We have to be as close to the sales organisation as possible.”
One hands-on way that Katharyn has closed the gap between the two functions involved helping train salespeople to operate virtually during the early stages of the pandemic. “We did these bite-size guides about how to think about their prospects differently, how to re-engage, how to create a different kind of relationship,” she says. “It’s more proof to me of the blurring that’s going on. When we can get all of these channels working together effectively through data, sales and marketing become indistinguishable from a customer’s perspective. We’ll have to start coming up with a new name for what we do.”
Interested in the future of the tech marketing department? LinkedIn data analysis reveals the five dimensions of top-performing B2B tech teams. Find out about the framework here.
You can find out more about T-Systems’ pandemic response, including the Corona Warn App, at t-systems.com
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