SDL’s CMO on data-driven decisions, marketing and IT, and customer experience

Paige O'Neill

In today’s Q&A, I had the privilege of hearing from Paige O’Neill, the CMO of SDL, one of the top providers of customer experience management (CXM) software.

Paige has had extensive experience across the marketing technology landscape, and it was fascinating to hear her perspective on how it’s changed — and is still evolving.

Can you start by telling us a little about your background and your current role at SDL?

Waking up every morning to work in a field I’m passionate about makes me a very fortunate individual. Marketing, or more specifically, good marketing is something that is felt, it’s not tangible. After 20 years of honing this craft at some of the largest technology brands in the industry, like Oracle, IBM and Teradata, I have found that the learning is never done.

As the CMO at SDL, I manage the global marketing and communication strategies and have spent the last year spearheading the communications for SDL’s new cloud-based customer management suite, the SDL Customer Experience Cloud (CXC). I joined SDL at a really exciting time as I had the opportunity to play a role in the restructuring of our global executive team and staff to align with the company’s integrated business strategy.

As an executive responsible for hiring and building a marketing team, how has the kind of talent that you hire evolved? Are there more technical roles? What are the characteristics of the people who are great at them?

In my early days at Oracle, Larry Ellison said, “If you can’t fix it, feature it!” and I think this saying is a great indicator of a good marketer — figuring out how and having the guts to do it. As the marketing industry continues to shift to evolve with consumer trends, we are feeling the impact technology has had on our strategy to reach them.

The biggest shift recently is the effort toward being data-driven in all decisions. It’s no longer just in the realm of a few people in the marketing organization — the expectation is that everyone is looking at the data all of the time, and using it to drive better decisions. This is certainly the case at SDL and many other organizations; there is an increasing demand for marketers who understand how to analyze data and apply it back to marketing programs.

The growth of technical roles on the marketing team is inevitable and something that will continue to expand organically, and become a greater feature of customer experience strategies.

The growth of technical roles on the marketing team is inevitable and something that will continue to expand organically, and become a greater feature of customer experience strategies. Marketers should anticipate an ongoing need to advance their technical skills in order to deliver impactful customer experiences to an audience that continues to become more and more digitally savvy.

Can you give us a glimpse into your organizational structure? How do you structure your marketing team to best be able to take advantage of these new technical capabilities? Where are the intersections with IT?

We recently underwent an entire organization restructuring to better align our team with the company goal of achieving and providing true customer experience management. We realized that working in siloed departments based on technical solutions ultimately provided a disjointed message to the market. As a company working with some of the largest brands in the world to unify its messaging, we decided to set the bar for how that should be done by unifying our solutions and messages, and in doing so; we’ve achieved a greater level of integration between marketing and IT.

At SDL, the IT team treats marketing and sales as its top customers — and this direction came down from the CEO level.

For example, at SDL, the IT team treats marketing and sales as its top customers — and this direction came down from the CEO level directly to the IT team. So, it changes the customer service equation between IT and marketing.

This organizational shift has been taking place at SDL and across the industry in the last few years as uts become apparent that marketing is moving to the driver’s seat for go-to-market strategy. As such, marketing needs to be a top customer of IT versus one of the last priorities. We’ve seen that if departments within an organization share the goal of achieving the best outcome internally, the work translates into what is best for the customer.

Because SDL sells to both IT and marketing, you probably have a pretty good view of how other organizations are striking a balance between these two departments. In general, what are the trends you see with marketing and IT collaboration out there? What’s working? What’s not?

Within marketing teams there tends to be siloed roles with corresponding technology for each responsibility within a department — one team member may manage the data analysis, while another owns segmentation, another creates content and yet another owns targeting. While they may be aligned in goals, it’s difficult or impossible to bring the technologies together and the end result is a disjointed customer experience.

This year, you’ll see more emphasis on the seamless and integrated customer experiences and software upgrades that reach for that next level of engagement: maximizing relevancy and providing contextual customer engagement on self-perpetuating interaction cycles, rather than intermittent campaigns, a strategy which just doesn’t cut it anymore.

What about agencies and marketing service providers? How do you see their roles and interfaces with clients changing as marketing departments engage more customer-facing technology and become more data-driven?

Many digital agencies are the top strategic advisers to the CMO or senior digital marketers, and as such, drive the bulk of marketing strategy and digital-spend decisions. Therefore, digital agencies are under tremendous pressure to adapt to the rise of digital channels and stay on top of the new channels that pop up every day, or risk becoming irrelevant.

Increasingly, digital agencies are developing their own technology to help manage this equation and to differentiate them in the marketplace.

Increasingly, digital agencies are developing their own technology to help manage this equation and to differentiate them in the marketplace. They used to differentiate on people, but now it must be both people and technology.

As a leading provider of customer experience management software, what are the most exciting innovations in marketing technology that you see emerging this year?

It wasn’t that long ago that I launched IBM’s first e-commerce payment product and had to convince the world that customers would feel comfortable entering their credit card information over the Internet. I was excited about that technology then, and I continue to be excited about it now. These are the types of impactful technologies that are worth getting excited about.

So while there isn’t a single emerging technology like IBM’s that I would cite today, I am excited about the overall industry shift happening amongst all marketing technologies. The focus on the seamless customer experience and increasing meaningful engagement with customers is enabling marketing campaigns to be continuous exercises that are consistent across all channels.

This is crucial as we target the current consumer generation that are completely disenchanted with marketing campaigns that start with a contact list and stop with an email blast. It’s about gleaning the right data from the right customer and continuing the right conversation and any technology that enables this process will be one I, and the industry, will be excited about.

If a young person asks you what they should do to pursue a career in marketing and someday become a CMO, what advice would you give them?

Be brave. The marketing industry has changed dramatically since I entered it and it will continue to evolve. While these weren’t skills I had mastered upon entering the industry or knew would be desired, today, it’s important to have strong analytic skills, be data-driven, and have a solid understanding of social media and the digital world.

Having your finger on the pulse of the next wave of change is imperative for future marketers and CMOs.

Having your finger on the pulse of the next wave of change is imperative for future marketers and CMOs as we’re in charge of keeping the brands we represent relevant above all else.

Thanks, Paige!

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