Marketing veteran Matt Preschern had more than 20 years of experience working for such well-known companies as UPS, IBM, and Windstream when he decided to take the CMO role at HCL Technologies last September.
While a well-known IT service provider among those familiar with India’s outsourcing industry, HCL is hardly a household name. What it is, however, is a $5.8 billion technology services company in high-growth mode, with revenues increasing 15.4% annually, a healthy profit margin of 20%, and 104,000-plus employees around the world.
“I spent the majority of my career working for pretty large and well-established U.S.-based companies,” said Preschern, who grew up in Europe. “How often do you get a chance to work for an Indian company that is going global and growing like mad?”
In addition, Preschern saw a chance to bring his digital marketing experience to bear as he integrated HCL’s strategic marketing and demand-generation organizations.
Most interestingly, it was also a chance for Preschern to challenge one of the biggest assumptions of any marketing leader—namely, the idea that the customer is the center of the universe. HCL’s former CEO, Vineet Nayar, publicly and persistently made a point of turning that notion on its head with his corporate tenet of “Employees First, Customers Second.”
CMO.com talked to Preschern about his goals as HCL’s new CMO, why marketing to employees is critical to customer experience, what most marketing leaders get wrong about digital marketing, and the challenges of managing marketing teams halfway around the globe.
CMO.com: What was the state of the marketing function when you arrived at HCL, and what are your biggest priorities?
Preschern: HCL had a really strong marketing function in place. There is a strategic marketing group based in New Delhi, India, and a business marketing function [which is essentially demand generation and field marketing] located in the U.S., Europe, and other key markets.
I’ve been to India eight times since I arrived—I go once a month—and the thing that struck me was that in any meeting outside of HCL that I attended, it was clear that HCL was a household name there. But outside of India, the HCL brand is not that well-known. There’s huge room to grow. We have a huge opportunity to tell the HCL through the lens of our customers. We have a strong reputation across industry sectors in the Fortune 2000. That’s marching order No. 1: establishing HCL further in the marketplace.
My second goal—similar to what I’ve done in previous roles at Windstream and IBM—is to build demand generation. We need to establish a very customer-centric demand generation process.
Third is to really ensure that marketing and sales are tied at hip across the board. There’s a lot of room for improvement there. And we want to do this while maintaining profitable revenue growth in the double digits.
CMO.com: Are there marketing challenges particular to a B2B services business?
Perschern: Fundamentally, it’s a question of value. Whether you’re talking about our offerings in IT infrastructure, application services, or our engineering services business, which has grown to nearly a billion dollars, you want to move the conversation from one about cost to one centered around value creation.
To do that, we’ve built task forces around some emerging growth markets where we think there is real potential for us. We’ve built one around the digitization of business and another around the Internet of Things.
CMO.com: How do those task forces work?
Preschern: We’ve created specific task forces—30 to 40 people dedicated to digitalization, for example—to test the marketplace response. As the response has been positive, we’ve built standalone business units that are protected from quarter-to-quarter performance pressures so that we can nurture them. We put the best people on these tasks, and we’ve seen a tremendous response to date. We’re already working with major customers on digitalization and the Internet of Things. These are great bleeding-edge engagements with great customers.
When I came in, one of the goals was to bring strategic marketing and demand generation closer together under the overarching brand of the company. It’s the right way to do it.
CMO.com: You mentioned that integrating marketing and sales is one of your goals. How difficult is that in your industry?
Preschern: As with most B2B technology companies, we have a very strong sales culture that’s very deal-oriented. They’re focused on closing those deals literally customer by customer. But, as a brand, we want to develop a long-term relationship with that customer beyond the contract.
We’re doing a number of things in this area. One way we’ve moved beyond that quarterly deal discussion to developing real partnerships with our best customers is by creating co-innovation centers. We’ve created one with [Netherlands-based] insurance company Aegon Insurance and one with Deutsche Bank. That takes the discussion up a notch.
I [also] attended my first global customer advisory council in London with 25 of our top clients for two days of open discussion on topics they told us were important to them. They were able to provide valuable feedback about where we were doing well, where we have challenges, what technologies we should be focused on, and what partners they’d like us to work with. It was a fantastic open and candid exchange of ideas.
Our business marketing team also works more closely with the sales organization from the very early identification of an opportunity to make sure it is appropriately positioned before we even get to the request for proposal.
CMO.com: HCL’s former CEO has said the key to corporate success is to put employees first, not customers. What does that mean for marketing—a role that’s traditionally focused outwardly, not inwardly?
Preschern: I was so jazzed when I learned that HCL has an employee marketing function. We have 15 people that, in close collaboration and cooperation with human resources, are solely focused on the interaction with employees.
Marketing is traditionally external versus internal. But it today’s world, everything is increasingly more transparent. How you articulate your brand to the world and how you embody that with your corporate culture have to be one and the same. The traditional notion is that marketing is the custodian of the brand, but your strongest brand ambassadors are your employees. You have to make sure that external brand is the same as what is authentically experience by your customers when they interact with your employees.
The approach here is pretty unique. I’ve never seen another company do this. But having seen it firsthand, I’d encourage a lot of companies to think about this, if not adopt it. Brand and culture must be aligned. And I certainly see our head of HR as a key partner in our marketing efforts.
CMO.com: You have a strong background in digital marketing, in particular. How would you describe the state of digital marketing today?
Preschern: If you go back three or four years ago, when most people talked about digital marketing they were referring to social media. I thought that was too narrow. Then the discussion moved to search engine optimization. And content marketing. And marketing automation. That’s all still too narrow a definition.
The most effective marketing is fully integrated marketing, combining digital marketing with all the other tactics at your disposal. For us that means integrating, for example, our LinkedIn CIO group with advertising in leading business-to-business print publications with face-to-face events. You have to use the entire marketing mix to your advantage if you want your interaction with customers to be successful. You have to build a platform to support that integrated effort.
CMO.com: So would you argue against a separate digital marketing group within marketing?
Preschern: In order to really get truly proficient in the various elements of digital, it does help early on to create a digital center of competence. But as you build that proficiency—in some cases, you may be able to do that in a year, in others it may take longer—it’s important that those skills become a part of the fabric of the entire marketing organization.
CMO.com: How challenging is it to run a marketing organization from New York City that largely resides halfway around the world?
Preschern: Eighty percent of our marketing resources are in India with a very strong marketing leader in different geographies, who is able to leverage knowledge of our teams in India. I call [that model] the “center of gravity.” Every company has one. For IBM, it was Armonk, N.Y. At UPS, it was Atlanta.
From a discipline perspective, it’s 95% similar to what I’ve experienced everywhere else I’ve worked. We’re working on the same issues that you see happening anywhere else, whether it’s GE or Adobe.
I’d be lying if I said that HCL was a carbon copy of the typical U.S.-based company. Indeed, every company has its own rhythm. What is unique is that this is the most dispersed organization I have worked for. There’s no real notion of time zones, so things become a little 24/7. Frankly speaking, that can be a little challenging. However, it’s been pretty exciting to see the rate and pace at which we can accomplish things on a global scale.
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