Close-up with Laura Howard, CMO, ECI Telecom

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Laura Howard is CMO of ECI Telecom, a maker of telecommunications infrastructure equipment. The company, headquartered in Petah Tikva, Israel, competes globally for the business of some of the largest telecom providers in the industry—an industry that, as she points out, has witnessed a consolidation among buyers but not among sellers.

In this Q&A, Howard, a 25-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, talks about her industry, her strategy and how both inform her choice of marketing channels.

BtoB: What are your top marketing priorities this year?

Howard: There are four priorities that I've defined for my 2010 marketing strategy and, in large part, they are based upon significant transitions and transformations going on in our industry and being facilitated by the global economic crisis. So fortunately, knock on wood, for all of us, we're seeing a turnaround in the global economic crisis, and the impact on my market is positive. We're going to see about 3% growth, but we still have a scenario where there are more vendors selling products to a smaller number of customers. There's been consolidation of the network operators but not as much consolidation of the vendors. Eighty to ninety percent of the revenue of my target customers will go to the top three vendors in the industry, and the remaining 10%, 20%, 30% goes to another 50 vendors.

BtoB: Are you leveraging social media for this goal?

Howard: No, that's a tactic in my objective to improve my mindshare with key external influencers. One way to do that is through social media, because [social media] levels the playing field. Another is we're implementing a customer VIP program so that we can do peer referencing with our customers without ECI being an intermediary. So we're creating a community of our top VIP customers, bringing them value in terms of analyst research and access to executives and road maps. In return for that value and access to each other, we benefit in the form of references.

Another key thing that we're seeing is that with the advent of the Web and Google, the role of ECI as an information distribution source on technology and solutions is being minimalized. Our sales guides are being looked at more now to solve business problems and technology problems because our customers are self-educating. And so, from a marketing perspective, that means I have to rely on an invest in more third party-validated content. I want to co-brand with industry leaders and other industry forums like standard bodies and councils.

BtoB: What's your second objective?

Howard: My second objective is all about sales, and sales readiness and improving sales productivity. [This is a] huge, huge focus area. Again, as I said, the role of the salesperson is evolving rapidly within the industry. So many customers are self-learning that I need to educate sales and areas of the sales cycle—or on issues relative to the buying cycle—that they typically don't get involved in, such as financing, and go-to-market strategies and competitive strategies. So I'm investing a lot in training, and I'm investing a lot in demand generation to give them a lot of qualified opportunities, spending a lot of time doing market segmentation and targeting.

BtoB: And your third objective?

Howard: My third objective is to better optimize my marketing programs by doing more organized and thematic campaigns. So instead of taking a bunch of marketing tactics, and linking them together and calling it a marketing program, what I've tried to do is set a few key business imperatives, identify those as campaign areas and have anything to do with that linked to that business objective. Integrating more marketing tactics just assumes you're going to get more bang for the buck. The problem is, many of those integrated marketing tactics weren't building to core business objectives, whether it be to penetrate a core market, or to increase a key revenue share or something like that. So now we've created four of what I call “containers” or “campaign buckets” that are going to give priority to any marketing tactic or program—and all of those results are going to be measured for ROI.

BtoB: What's been the biggest change this year?

Howard: I would say the biggest change is the shift to shared services, a centralized model and measuring ROI on a broader basis than on a specific-tactic basis.

BtoB: You mentioned the consolidation in your industry. What's going on with your media partners?

Howard: There are fewer and fewer editorial experts out there. I think there are a lot of media outlets becoming news aggregators and venue aggregators.

BtoB: For the media partners still standing, what would you like them to be doing that they're not doing currently?

Howard: With the media partners that we work with, we've been really leveraging it. ... I spend virtually no money on generic advertising and very little money on sponsorship, unless it's tied directly to a venue or event that I directly relate to. With the advent of marketing automation and my ability to, as a marketing organization, track the digital behavior of my prospects and my customers, I can better target my message and measure my effectiveness of that message and that action than by placing any generic banner ad. So one of the challenges that these media houses have is finding alternative revenue sources. I think what they've done is that they've shifted to provide attractive venues that allow us as vendors to act as thought leaders that go beyond an advertisement.

BtoB: What about their ability to measure their audience in a way that's attractive to you?

Howard: It's always key. A media outlet is sold based on its demographic and the quality of its readership. But I look to that demographic … to fit within a nurturing campaign that I'm executing myself. So I'm more apt to participate in an event they put on to get added to their list so I can ultimately capture that through a direct call to action and get them into my registry. Once I have them, I market directly to them. And with my marketing ability, which is completely automated, I can track their digital behavior and what's working and not working, and the conversion rate.

BtoB: Speaking of metrics, how are you using Web analytics?

Howard: My team is telling me that the value of Web analytics is completely marginalized when you try to look at the ROI of a complete digital profile because it's not just somebody's behavior on the Web, it's what they're doing before they get on the Web, and after they get on the Web and other types of conversion behavior.

So many will say, “What's the point of Web analytics?” You almost need something that's looking at analytics of more comprehensive behavior, which Web analytics is a statistical input to. What you need to do is combine that with your PR analytics, your customer purchase rates, new account acquisitions and stuff like that. And then look at how effective was this activity.

BtoB: Was that always the market strategy of ECI or was there a time where we would have seen ads in trade magazines or signage in airports and so on?

Howard: Oh absolutely, absolutely. Before Web 2.0, before there was any sort of digital marketing and profiling and scoring, the way to get your message out was through advertising; and the battle was who was going to get inside [the] front cover or back cover of the issue right before the key trade show. It was a fight. I was VP of marketing at Ericsson and had a very different budget than I do here at ECI. Ericsson was a $25 billion company and ECI is just under $1 billion. [At Ericsson,] we were doing broadcast radio, and subway and billboards, but I had no way to measure that. That was one of the biggest downsides to what I would call “legacy advertising”—the complete inability to measure.

On the other hand, when somebody attends your webinar and clicks through your site to download your white paper, and then while they do that, they click over to look at your management team or existing customers or reference programs—that tells you a lot more about that customer; and you captured him through the Web site in a way that you can't even compare to somebody walking by your ad.

BtoB: Given your global footprint, what are your thoughts on marketing in different regions?

Howard: I think fundamentally, the science of marketing can apply anywhere. You have a set of marketing aspects that you apply to tactics that you use with programs to link to campaigns. That's the basic marketing model. What is absolutely fundamental is that you have strong linkage to your regions because messaging is very different and the call to action is very different. But using what we call “DORA”—do once, repeat anywhere—the model holds but the messaging and the execution needs to vary. So what I've done to support that as a global CMO is to make sure that there are clear interfaces and checks and balances between field marketing, which is providing the local execution, product marketing which is defining the what, and corporate.

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