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International Marketing Director & CMO - EMEA, APAC & LatAm
John Williams is the Chief Marketing Officer for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, the B2B arm of Verizon. Globally, Verizon Enterprise Solutions operates in over 120 countries to provide broad services across global networking, IT security, advanced communications and 4G/LTE/5G network transformation. The organization’s mission is to enable large enterprises to deliver a better experience to their end users. It is marketing’s job—and Williams’ mission – to influence the influencers and decision-makers within large, Fortune 1000 companies.
Prior to taking on the CMO role, Williams architected Verizon’s content and thought leadership with world-wide responsibility for all B2B strategy. With over 20 years of technology and commercial marketing experience to his credit, Williams has made a career of being a change agent, even in long-standing legacy brands like Verizon, bringing the spirit of a start-up nimble leader to high-stakes thought leadership and engagement strategies.
For this CMO, successful B2B marketing comes down to the basics…and doing them brilliantly.
“I remember my coaches in high school repeating the mantra that if you do the basics really well, you’re already 95 percent of the way there,” he says. “As the telco industry rapidly evolves to a software-driven environment, it is very easy to get wrapped up with the next big thing. But how often does the next big thing drive any real value?”
With over 20 years of experience at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, he was keenly aware that through continued growth and success, the organization was becoming increasingly complex. Moving into his current role in 2016, one of the first things he did was to bring marketing back to basics.
He implores his team to test out new technologies, and to explore new opportunities, but never to forget that marketing is an art: it all comes down to the people.
“Two years ago, I wrote in a presentation, ‘Marketing is now no longer an artistic function. It's a scientific function,’” he says. “I truly believed that. Today, I no longer believe that. Marketing is still an art. It’s about finding those nuggets where you can explore concepts and content that truly evolves thinking.” For Williams, that is not to say there isn’t some “science” involved , but that the shift to value and customer demands a reboot in cultural attitudes about data and a crystal clear realization that behind every data point is a person.
As Williams’ sought to transform the marketing organization, he came back to a fundamental truth: Content is king, especially for a B2B enterprise that is not selling a tangible product. Whether in the ground, the air or even in a space center, there is nothing that customers can touch. That means marketing is based on selling a value proposition.
Take for example, the humble case study. Case studies are often one of the most effective selling tactics: by identifying examples that are relevant to the target company’s needs, the team is able to establish trust around the capabilities Verizon has to fulfill its promises. For Williams, the question did not become, should we invest in more case studies but rather which case studies were the most resonant and would deliver the most value for a Verizon prospect? What would shift a reader’s mindset from investigation to intention? Williams pointed the team back to the data in order to define the content.
To better understand target customers’ needs, the team looks at firmographic data around company size, scope scale, and location. By doing this, they are able to map and create buyers journeys, effectively injecting personalized, contextual and strategic digital experiences at the right moment for an individual buyer. Because it is the buyer’s journey (as opposed to the company’s journey through which a customer travels) it became increasingly important that all facets of value delivery be integrated into this mindset and strategy, enabling Williams to truly achieve an omnichannel strategy.
For the Verizon Enterprise customer, there is not a single channel of choice. This makes it even more critical that digital augment face-to-face engagement, not replace it, augmenting the trust and relationships being built across all channels. His team focuses on balancing interactions with customers across the buyer journey of awareness, education and consideration, leveraging data and intelligence from across the organization to more effectively deliver mix of activities, some of which can be automated through digital platforms.
“In our market, we sell complex and expensive solutions to organizations,” he says. “We are asking them to trust us with their critical infrastructure: to carry and secure all their data, whether it's at rest or in transit over their networks across the globe. We are asking them to trust us to ensure that we give their users a consistent and reliable experience when they use applications. This requires us to use a real balance of digital and personal interactions.”
Still, he says there is nothing more important than showing customers the quality of the people behind the services. “We are a people business,” he says.
While digital and data transformation help drive brand value and intelligent customer segmentation, he says the key to driving brand value is having the right people with the right skills, and the right company culture.
“Culture is so important to help you implement the right marketing, brand and digital strategy,” he says. “Last year, I transformed my entire team to inject more digital knowledge. That process was to focus on developing the talent, and learn how to leverage those skills, without losing the personal touch that is so vital to B2B marketing success.”
This becomes even more complicated as stakeholder alignment evolves. “Five years ago, you'd have three or four people, predominately from IT and procurement, with whom you would interface,” he says. “Now, the stakeholder community is a lot broader across the organization. You may have up to 8 to 10 influencers and decision makers. This makes it even more important to intelligently navigate that stakeholder environment across digital and personal engagements.”
With hundreds of thousands of data points per customer, it requires human instinct to determine what is useful. “Data doesn’t do us any good without the right people to interrogate the data we are getting from all these digital platforms,” he says. “You can pull any conclusion you want from any piece of data. It comes down to the quality of the data, and whether your people have the right skills to determine what insights they need to make strategic decisions.”
This makes it critical that data be a part of everyone’s job. “Organizationally, we need to drive a cultural change so that everyone understands they are on the hook hook for data improvement, data quality, data capture and how we use it,” he says.
Data is critical to the marketing function, yet in many organizations, marketing teams continue to operate in siloes, making a cohesive, data-driven customer strategy nearly impossible to achieve. There are also very few marketers that have overlapping skills or knowledge in areas outside of their individual functions, making it difficult to understand how the needs and priorities of one function fit into a larger strategy.
One of his top priorities was to change that, and bring everyone onto the same page, rather than focus on their individual needs. He is working to broaden skill sets while simultaneously building alliances to ensure all stakeholders work together to drive business value.
“By creating a cross-functional working group, we create a cross-subsidization of knowledge and thinking,” he says. “This allows the data team to have real insight into what the market-facing teams, the field teams, and the campaign teams are grappling with every day before they make their data and platform investment decisions,” he says.
Afterall, regardless of where marketing shifts…from creativity to science and back again…people sit at the center of it all, be it the customer or the teams across the organization that sit on the front-lines of experience and engagement. Williams would suggest that data function as more of the connective tissue binding people together in an effort to drive the vision and growth goal forward.