Microsoft's Watson says CMO-CIO alignment essential to success

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Allison Watson, corporate VP-U.S. marketing and operations group at Microsoft Corp., is responsible for strategic development for the company's U.S. business. The U.S. accounts for about 40% of Microsoft's worldwide commercial revenue. In this role, Watson works closely with Microsoft's IT group to use the latest technology in marketing efforts. In the following interview with BtoB, she discusses how marketing and IT can work more closely together to improve marketing effectiveness. BtoB: What is the relationship between marketing and IT at Microsoft? Watson: What I call the CMO-CIO bridge is one of the most important foundational items for today's CMO and today's CIO, and it's one of the top conversations I have when talking to peer CMOs in the marketplace. I had the fortunate opportunity for the last eight years, prior to taking on this role, in running the worldwide partner group for Microsoft, and that was a group that marketed and branded to 700,000 external global companies as part of Microsoft's channel. The way we connected with that organization was through IT- enabled assets. So we built tools, and systems and analytics to run that. We not only run marketing through that group but we also run all the revenues that come through our channels and all of the incentives that go to those channels. It's a fairly significant supply chain IT project, so I developed a strong relationship with the CIO there and I have carried it over to this organization. I think that is paramount for other CMOs in the industry. BtoB: How do you build a strong relationship between the CMO and the CIO? Watson: One of the things we've done is we have a dedicated IT business unit that fits inside my organization but works for the central IT organization. By sitting inside my organization, they are able to develop goals and be close to the customer—the marketing department in this case—relative to the business and the activities we're trying to drive. That is pretty critical and a big commitment from the CIO. The second major thing is, marketing had a scorecard that had business goals on it, and the IT department had a scorecard that had IT goals on it. An example might be, I would want to reach a certain number of customers in a campaign and they would want to make sure that my tools were running 99.9% of the time. Well, those are both important goals, but you can have 99.9% uptime and never reach the right number of customers. So one of the things we had to do was establish a joint scorecard, and it ended up with fewer (goals) on each, but blended goals between the two groups and joint accountability, and that was a huge payoff. When we changed the executive review dialogue to one of joint business and IT goals, we really started to see transformation between how the teams were working together. BtoB: What are some of the tangible benefits you've seen from this improved relationship between marketing and IT? Watson: We started the hard work on the data layer a few years ago. The benefits we have now are—because we have our data layer technology enabled—I can take the newest tool or a new piece of analytics R&D on the market, and I can just point it at the data that I know I already have enabled to be consumed. So therefore I have speed to act in answering new questions. That's supercritical because as new marketing campaigns are needed, we need to quickly decide if they're working. If they are working, we need to amp them up; and, if they're not working, we need to turn them off and move on to something else. This is enabled by my IT department giving me great underlying assets, then being able to leverage new technology in the marketplace. I have 36 business systems that are underneath my ability to quickly ask questions against the data. BtoB: How have you used technology to respond quickly with a recent marketing campaign? Watson: Currently, we are marketing Office 365, a new product that was launched in June. We set goals to sell approximately 60% of our total sales volume to small and midmarket accounts online without having a direct sales interface. This was a very aggressive goal for this product, around the marketing pipe being the direct revenue generator. We set very precise goals for the marketing pipe at each step of the sales process, from the customer originally having an impression that this thing exists all the way to the customer either going through a trial or purchase process. In the first wave, we were able to learn after 30 days in market exactly where customers were getting stuck in the process—for example, whether they dropped off a Web page or whether they moved from one button to a different button. We were able to see from weekly analytics tracking where we needed to make adjustments before launching into wave two, which was our big launch in late September. We now are seeing the effect, through a weekly checking mechanism, of customers coming into the funnel through our digital and social marketing activities. We know exactly which marketing activities landed in which media properties against which stories and what actions the traffic is taking. We have a team making weekly adjustments so we are able to hit our goals.
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