Microsoft has a global mission to change the way people and organisations interact with technology so they are more productive at home, at work, and on the move. To achieve this, it needs a modern marketing team equipped with the right skills and able to communicate in new ways, both internally and externally.
The task of building that team in the U.K. has fallen to Scott Allen, who became CMO of Microsoft U.K. in the summer of 2016, having previously headed up enterprise marketing. Since taking on the role, Allen has set about moving forward the transformation of the U.K. marketing team while embracing a top-down approach to changing the culture within the business. In conversation with CMO.com recently, we asked what his starting point was for his team’s digital transformation.
Scott Allen: Top of mind at the start was to introduce simplicity, both in terms of how the U.K. business was set up and how we went to market to our customers. We now have two clear go-to markets. “Consumer” covers all above-the-line, and below-the-line across advertising (TV and OOH) and digital for our product and device family, across Windows, Office, and Surface. It also covers all the work we do via the Microsoft retail team to ensure we align with our retail partners and link our campaigns to what they’re doing in store, online, with print, or with their own digital assets.
The second go-to market is “commercial.” We’re responsible for Microsoft’s four solution areas: modern workplace, data & AI, apps & infrastructure, and business applications. Cloud is another key area for us. Here the focus is on talking our customers’ language. A lot of organisations, from bigger corporates down to SMBs, are looking to digitally transform and modernise their workplaces. We talk a lot about the changing workplace, the best way to serve customers, and how to get teams to work more efficiently together—using our own customers to tell the story.
Alongside consumer and commercial, I have a CMO Centre of Excellence team with two leaders—the head of experiential events and the head of digital, who also leads the data and analytics team. They’re important for how we optimise our marketing decisions—it’s their hindsight and insight that encourage experimentation and competent risk-taking around particular activities. Going forward, we’ll be looking more at foresight and tying that in with machine learning. Which levers can we pull to increase market velocity and conversion of leads in both the long and the short term? How can we use real-time marketing forecasting against campaign tactics to help make decisions? This is an area I am extremely passionate about.
CMO.com: What do you look for when bringing new talent into the team?
Allen: How I hire today looks very different to just a few years ago. Traditionally, you’d always look for candidates with a strong marketing background—the team would vary in terms of the number of years of experience, but their backgrounds would be similar.
Now, to create a modern marketing team, we talk about hiring two types of people: part-scientist and part-creative. If you put those two together, that’s when you get a stronger team. By part-scientist, I mean data analysts, as I’ve already mentioned; also financial analysts who tie activity to revenue objectives and enjoy performance-related demands; and tech-savvy marketers who understand automation and web production.
In marketing, it’s important to report how performance is tracking against the established goals of the business. It’s up to us to deliver a simple and clear analysis on how things are going, whether good or not so good.
By part-creative, I mean some of the traditional world mixed in with the new world—content marketers who know how to tell a story and can create and amplify very accessible written content across owned and paid channels, whether via web or social. And, then, those who can socially engage in the right channels. It’s not just about tweeting information out but interacting with humans on the other side.
And, then, I wouldn’t forget events. Physical events are still important, but it’s, obviously, now about creating experiences. We want to make sure that when we’re running an event, whether a big flagship event like Future Decoded or a smaller and more defined roundtable event, we create an experience. It doesn’t always have to be fireworks, it could be how content is delivered in a slightly different way, or using technology in a more proficient way. And, then, connecting that physical event to digital channels. The head of social and head of events, who’s really a head of experiential, are both part of the Centre of Excellence team and have to work closely together. Both the digital team and events team will be briefed at the same time so that the strategies work as one.
CMO.com: What kind of relationship do you have with other parts of the business, and how do you connect the new marketing approach to them?
Allen: As with any marketing team, the strongest relationship internally needs to be with sales, so we’ve been working on connecting sales and marketing. For us, it’s about showing up alongside sales and understanding the full process and what they require as sellers. We have a mantra of knowing the three “Cs.” The first is knowing your customer. My team and I have to understand who our customers are, what they’re talking about, and what marketing is going to be relevant to them. You also need to keep an eye on and know the competition, as well as knowing your company and the solutions we have in the business so you can start to translate that into our customers’ language and their requirements.
Being connected to sales gives you a lot of insight and opportunity to get in front of customers and spend time with them as well, so you don’t need to second-guess. It also helps us play a key role in helping the sales teams with a modern selling approach.
The other aspect is that rather than trying to get sales to come along to our meetings and existing conversations, we go where they are. This starts at the top. Since the outset, I have been an extended part of the leadership teams across public sector and commercial so I spend monthly face-to-face time with all the key sales leaders across the U.K. business. That means I can really understand what they need and how we can help them.
Then the CMO team replicates that across sales. For example, instead of just inviting the retail team to a meeting we are hosting, we will go to an all-hands and have weekly face-to-face meetings or phone calls with sales. You know this is working when the team is being invited to meetings they otherwise wouldn’t have known about. We also ensure we continually stay connected to our partners who are key to our success.
CMO.com: How have you led the cultural change that comes with digital transformation?
Allen: The CMO team culture comes right down from [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella. As a business, we talk about growth mindset, customer obsession, being diverse and inclusive, being one Microsoft, and about making a difference.
I’ve taken those five areas and aligned them to things we can do here in the team. A growth mindset approach covers many different areas. Initially, the team agreed they needed time back—back from just executing—time to think, innovate, and go out and see customers.
One way we’ve approached this is through a collaboration project, where we use Microsoft teams to share more frequently and openly, to edit documents at the same time, and Skype when we need to talk. This reduces email significantly and allows you to talk more in real time, be more productive, and get things done really quickly.
We also encourage the team to put GMT (growth mindset time) in their diary for an hour or two a week. In that growth mindset time, we say “don’t do your day job, go and think, or have a run, or a coffee, but use it as your thinking time.” I like to go for a run, and I wouldn’t be worried about putting that for 10 o’clock on a Thursday morning if it was right in that moment. If you don’t put that in your diary, you’ll never find that time. You’ll always be chasing it through the course of the day.
Cultural change is a big part of the approach. My job really falls into three buckets: strong marketing, planning, and execution; culture; and the third piece is developing our marketing technology, or our modern marketing story and approach, and moving it forward.
It helps address a few areas. Have my team and I got the right skills? Do we have the right processes in place? Is the technology we’re using the right stuff? Do we need to use better technologies to do our jobs better? It ensures that the modern marketing story has been applied to the CMO team as we move forward.
Is it perfect? Of course, not. We’re always learning, but we’ve come a long way in the past year, and I’m really pleased with where it’s going. It is an exciting time to be in marketing.