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Alicia Tillman

CMO of SAP

Alicia Tillman is the global Chief Marketing Officer at SAP. Alicia is responsible for curating and accelerating the company’s worldwide marketing strategy and furthering its brand recognition. A purpose-driven marketer, she is committed to telling the authentic SAP story, demonstrating how the company’s innovative solutions are powering social, economic, and environmental change through its community of customers.  

Since assuming the role, Alicia has led a factory-reset on the organization’s global messaging strategy. Alicia developed and launched the Best Run Campaign and reinvigorated brand narrative in April 2018. This messaging framework now serves as the bedrock for SAP’s global marketing initiatives. Her efforts have helped elevate SAP’s international recognition, raising the company’s brand ranking four spots across several independent organizations. The company is now ranked the 17th most valuable brand by Brand Z, and 23rd most valuable brand by Forbes. She has also been recognized as a leading CMO, ranked number 29 on Forbes’ Most Influential CMO list in 2018.

Vision, Guts and the Ability to Know When and What to Measure

By Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing, CMO Council

 

SAP is a giant working to carve out an even bigger piece of the even more massive software industry. Headquartered in Germany, offices in 180 countries with over 88,000+ employees, servicing over 335,000 customers and bringing in an estimated 23+ billion EU in annual revenue, SAP is not just a company…it is a powerhouse brand going toe-to-toe with other powerhouses like IBM, Adobe, Salesforce and beyond.

So why is their CMO talking so much about feelings?

For Alicia Tillman, feelings - or more accurately, shifting the tone, tenor and voice of SAP to a more human, consumerized approach - sits at the core of continuing SAP’s 46-year climb to the echelon of technology vanguard. “People respond to humans and the authenticity that a human approach creates. I’m a firm believer that this consumerization of our marketing approach will be a significant brand differentiator into our future,” explains Tillman.

This drive to look beyond the confines of tradition has been a hallmark of Tillman’s career, which started in a management trainee program for a travel management company called Rosenbluth International. A 22-year-old with the world ahead of her, Tillman spent 6-month cycles rotating through every department within the company. From human resources, to finance and operations, to communications, and to marketing and customer service, she eventually rotated through the office of the CEO. This is, arguably, where Tillman cut her teeth in leadership with an eye for innovation.

“I had the opportunity to report to the CEO of a company, to be part of leading the company through the CEO’s eyes…without question it shaped me as a leader," she says. "Here he was, an incredibly entrepreneurial visionary, creative person who also understood that treating your employees well ultimately creates a culture of trust that breeds customer success.”

Eventually, Tillman landed in a permanent role to work directly for the CEO as the head of strategy. This put her in a unique position when American Express acquired Rosenbluth International, rocketing Tillman into a new stratosphere of business and customer experience delivery. “I like to say that I learned HOW to be a marketer at American Express," she says. "Not only was I working within one of the best marketing brands in the world, but thanks to my position, I was able to experience so many invaluable 'firsts'…everything from building to dissolving an organization. When I look back I realize I built the first social media network at American Express and I introduced American Express to marketing automation!”

Leadership skills once again took center stage for Tillman, learning from one of the great leaders in business: now-retired American Express Chairman and CEO, Ken Chenault. His leadership demonstrated a need to appreciate the importance of confronting business realities while still instilling hope. “When you’re in the most senior position in a company, you see the harsh realities of what you are facing – the competitive threats, the marketplace dynamics, geopolitical issues and their impact on the business," she says. "You have to be programmed to recognize everything that needs to be done to overcome obstacles. But you also need to give hope to the organization and here, transparency is key. You must articulate a vision and outline how you will get there, even in the face of obstacles and reality, to align leaders behind you to move the whole organization to a place where you are creating true differentiation.”

It was this same drive that encouraged Tillman to take on a new challenge: to rebuild the marketing organization and transformation engine at Ariba, the procurement and supply chain solution that had been acquired by SAP a few years prior to Tillman’s entry. “I had this beautiful opportunity to join a newly appointed President and tackle a huge opportunity to revise and, in some regard, rebuild the company," she says. "Ariba had, in the wake of the acquisition, lost its footing on innovation, strategic focus and, frankly, growth. So my role was to focus on those issues.”

Tillman’s focus on growth and the crystallization of strategic focus and vision helped guide Ariba to eight consecutive quarters of double-digit revenue growth. This level of success rarely goes unnoticed. Sure enough, it did not take very long for SAP’s CEO, Bill McDermott, to tap Tillman to become the CMO of SAP.

Being a successful CMO has led Tillman to realize that success brings both the warmth of the spotlight and the chill of scrutiny. “The beauty of marketing as a function is that we are so visible in an organization which often means everyone wants you to support their 'stuff'," she says. "But that’s a blessing and a curse. You want the visibility and you want people to work with you. But then everyone wants a piece of you and the ability to ensure that every initiative we take on has value to the organization.”

This corporate-popularity heightens the need for the marketing team to have a sense of measurement and responsibility to the overarching goals and vision of the brand…but, Tillman warns: “You can’t spend all your time beating yourself up believing that the only way to prioritize and understand value is if you can successfully measure or assign a number to it.” 

“I always say to the team, throw the things you have learned out the window. While we are absolutely a B2B company, we need to recognize that everyone is a human being and whether it is your decision-maker or the employee using that technology, we need to market and tell a story to everybody. They might not be the person that signs the contract, but the end users (be them consumers or employees) are quickly becoming the number one driver for technology selection. So if end users are your influencers, SAP needs to make sure we are marketing to them.”

But what really makes this CMO tick, as a leader? For Tillman, her leadership philosophy boils down to vision. “The first thing I prioritize my time on is our vision and what we are looking to achieve," she says. "I’m very, very clear with the team on the way we need to prioritize and organize to achieve that vision. Then, I hold people accountable.”

“Once I clearly articulate the vision and structure of the organization to best realize success, I need to hire the right leaders who can be accountable for that vision, and I am admittedly really tough on holding people accountable," she adds. "We need to work collaboratively and as a team, but there also needs to be clear lanes of responsibility. I have often seen people fail because they lack clarity on their role or are unclear about what they will be held accountable for.“

But above all, Tillman very intentionally bucks the traditional perception that business should be impersonal. “I’ve never understood that line that says that nothing in business is personal," she says. "EVERYTHING in business is personal. This is why I have people on the team that have a high likability factor because let’s be clear: everything in business is personal. How well do you collaborate? How diligent are you with your vision and what you are here to achieve? How respectful are you of people and of their work?”

“At the end of the day, I stand behind my people with every action they make," she says. "As a CMO, I am both a motivator and supporter, but I am also the first person to expect accountability.”

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