Close-Up with W. Sean Ford, CMO, Syncsort

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Syncsort Inc. is a global software company specializing in data integration and protection for a variety of computer systems. The Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based company has offices in France, Germany and the U.K. CMO Close-Up recently asked Syncsort CMO W. Sean Ford, who came to the company in January 2010 from Oracle Corp. where he was VP-global business unit marketing, to elaborate on best practices around building a marketing organization from scratch. CMO Close-Up: Tell us a bit about Syncsort's business and market? Ford: We've been around for more than 40 years and have been profitable for many years. We're privately held, bought a little more than two years ago by such investors as Insight Venture Partners and Goldman Sachs, and the pace of our transformation has been fascinating. On the data integration side, we partner with such system integrators as Hewlett-Packard and Accenture, and we also go direct in selling. On the data protection side, one of our transformations was to activate our partner channel and build relationships with other global companies, such as our recent partnership with NetApp and their distributors, to build support and drive our products through their reseller channels. CMO Close-Up: In what ways has the company, and the marketing department, changed since the acquisition? Ford: Before coming to Syncsort in January 2010, I had built up Oracle's global marketing effort and worked with a number of acquired companies to stitch together teams. But at Syncsort, our brand wasn't well known. Further, we had a culture built around products and the strength of our engineering. Yes, the products work. They're fantastic; but I had to get the sales and marketing engine in front of engineering. I needed to build the right organization with the right strategies and metrics based on an understanding of what marketing actually is and its impact on the company. We also didn't have a website that reflected who we are as a company. And we didn't have the ability to do email marketing; we could send emails but had no way to do massive email solicitations or branding. CMO Close-Up: Where did you begin? Ford: The first thing I did was over-invest in aligning marketing with sales and our primary business objectives. With two different markets, there were a lot of choices the company could make, and we didn't have unlimited resources. One motto I use is, “Silence keeps you sick.” If you can't discuss priorities and align with expectations at the beginning, you won't be able to optimize the operation. Second—and this isn't rocket science, but there is a bit of art to it—was assessing our assets and major liabilities. We had more than 5,000 customers but no customer marketing function to speak of, such as advisory boards and customer case studies. We now have an advisory board and 20-plus case studies. Another liability was lack of market awareness, which is ironic for a 40-year-old company. We developed a theme, “Rethink the economics of data,” to tell our customers how to unlock the hidden value in their data, whether on the protection or integration side. CMO Close-Up: How would you describe your marketing operation today? Ford: We constructed a framework on how to invest our marketing dollars. Our framework now has three legs: demand generation, building brand awareness with analysts and thought leaders, and foundational investments such as public relations and metrics to record the success of our campaigns. We put demand generation first because the trains were running and we needed to continue pipeline-building at the same time as building the brand. Last August we participated in VMworld [an annual conference for IT professionals focusing on virtual server environments] to launch our NetApp Syncsort Integrated Backup product. We participated in a customer event with more than 140 people in attendance. And we brought in more than 50 top customers to speak and meet. And we incentivized the salesforce to target a number of meetings. And we're now working collaboratively with our partners, such as NetApp and others, to leverage our brands and co-market. We started a training function in November to train our more-than 100 external resellers on understanding our products and how to sell them. CMO Close-Up: What's your assessment of progress to date? Ford: Compared to a year ago, we have five times the amount of coverage and awareness among analysts and the media. We also have five times the number of resellers from where we were. Our website has been completely rewritten, and we've rewritten, branded and positioned about 400 pieces of sales-enablement collateral. One of our biggest pieces of progress has been in marketing staff. When I came in, the average tenure within marketing was about eight months. We've more than tripled the marketing experience of that group while increasing staff by 10%.
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