Ericsson's Williamson on customer connection

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Although 126-year-old telecommunications equipment and services provider Ericsson has a finite pool of customers—there are only so many cellular and fixed-network operators in the world to sell to—it's always looking to increase its incremental sales. Recently, through a series of acquisitions and business opportunities, Ericsson has moved into new markets. Marlene Williamson, VP-customer marketing with the company's IP and Broadband division, explained how Ericsson plans on communicating with current customers to grab a bigger slice of their overall equipment and services spending.

Inside Technology Marketing: What's your biggest marketing challenge for 2010?

Marlene Williamson: Ericsson has been a leader in the mobility and wireless telecom business for 126 years. Through a series of acquisitions and new-business opportunities, the company is branching out into IP and broadband business, and our services business has grown tremendously. Our company is $33 billion in revenue, and our services business accounts for one-third of that revenue. So our biggest challenge is changing the perception of “Here's what you thought of the old Ericsson, but there's a new Ericsson and it is moving into new areas.”

ITM: Has the new focus changed your media buy?

Williamson: It doesn't change where we're buying media, it just changes our messages because our customers remain the same. Ericsson sells exclusively to service providers around the world … any service provider around the world is probably already buying something from us today. They've been buying our mobility and wireless solutions. As we move into new areas, the media messages change to “Did you know?” and [we try] to get into the consideration set of those service providers in these new solution areas of IP and broadband.

In terms of media choices, I think we have embraced more virtual technologies rather than physical activities. A large part of our marketing strategy has been account-based marketing—developing events and road shows targeted specifically to the needs of that particular customer. It's extremely customized marketing, as opposed to when you're marketing to an enterprise, where it's a more broad-based, one-size-fits-all strategy.

We're not stopping the physical events, but we're taking a second look because it continues to be harder and harder for marketers to entice customers to come out to events, so we're going out to where they are. We will do customized road shows just for that customer and deliver that road show [in media] globally, but around a particular country just so that customer can see, and feel and touch Ericsson's solutions, as opposed to them having to come to us.

ITM: Many b-to-b marketers have jumped into social. Is Ericsson joining the fray?

Williamson:From a social media perspective, we have started a Facebook page called Technology for Good. Sustainability has been a hallmark of our company. Before green was cool, Ericsson was green. It's one of our differentiators as compared to our competition, and that's a big marketing message for us, so [last year] we decided to start a Facebook page and be the enabler of a conversation about how all forms of technology can benefit society. All companies do an annual report, but we also do an annual report about our philanthropy and sustainability efforts around the globe in terms of helping folks in third-world countries increase the quality of their lives and their gross national product, and to help them move out of poverty through the use of broadband and cell phone technology. So enabling those types of discussion in social media forums is something that we feel very passionate about.

ITM: Have you done anything recently to improve marketing operations?

Williamson: One of the things we've improved on as a result of the recession is putting more emphasis on marketing operations and holding ourselves accountable for driving revenue, as opposed to just being an expense. And putting the [key performance indicators] and dashboards in place so we can have intelligent conversations with our leadership about what marketing activities are driving leads, are driving revenue.

ITM: What tools are you using to automate your marketing processes?

Williamson: We're using a customized form of Aprimo, and we've deployed that worldwide. We're pretty careful because, when I talk to my high-tech colleagues, we all agree you go into using tools with stars in your eyes. Yes, we need tools, but it comes down to the human element of using the tools correctly, and having the right taxonomy and working closely with the sales organization to make it a great partnership.

[Our] initial use of Aprimo has been for budgeting purposes. The initial problem that we're trying to solve is where are all the marketers [at Ericsson] spending heir money and what are they spending it on, and trying to show how activities flow from corporate into business units into the field marketing organization, which ultimately translates into revenue and into leads. Step two was event management, because we're so heavily focused on internal and external events and how those events are driving leads.

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