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Originally hailing from Finland, often reported as the happiest country on the planet, it checks out that despite a global pandemic and the stresses associated with its inherent disruption, Iris Meijer, CMO and Communications Officer at Vodafone, is optimistic about the future. In a recent conversation with ITSMA’s Senior Advisor Charles Doyle about short- and long-term prospects for B2B Marketing in general and Vodafone in particular, Iris shared insights that will help elevate the outlook for all of us (listen to the audio below).
How Vodafone has responded to the crisis
Iris Meijer explained that as a provider of critical connectivity and communications services for much of Europe, Africa, and also parts of Asia, Vodafone had to react rapidly in order to sustain network services and keep individuals, organizations, and governments connected.
“It’s been very, very busy and it’s really affected all of us. I must say I’m incredibly proud of our engineers, how they maintained and accelerated our network services; it’s absolutely amazing.”
As she acknowledges the swift response and dedication of various Vodafone teams, Meijer is quick to emphasize how important everyone’s well-being is. As they moved to working remotely, she noticed productivity increased and now she warns colleagues that they need to “pace themselves” to try to avoid what Charles Doyle refers to as “virtual fatigue.”
“I am proud of my team’s ability to adapt and of the way they were able to be agile and reprioritize our work and create incredible new programs…if you imagine, all the things people are going through: they have caretaker responsibilities, they’re educating their kids at home…the team came together and really cared for each other and supported each other.”
With stronger collaboration and alignment, marketing’s role grows more powerful
Another factor to support Meijer’s favorable view of the future is a more collaborative relationship developing between marketing and sales. Meijer’s marketing team is working more closely with sales and, in her words, “it’s been fantastic.” The focus on lead generation and account-based marketing is helping to nurture a fertile alliance with their sales colleagues. Evidence of the strength of marketing and sales’ collaboration came from a recent hire from a consultancy, who remarked that of all the companies he has worked with, he’s never seen “such tight interlock with sales, with such an aligned vision.”
Charles Doyle confirmed that ITSMA surveys have surfaced a trend during the pandemic toward more cooperation between sales and marketing. Sales people’s roles have transformed because of the disruptions to traditional business practices. Marketing is assuming a more powerful position within organizations, leading the growth agenda, driving revenues, enabling sales, rather than just playing a supportive role. He asked Meijer if that sounds right to her and she affirmed these findings, saying:
“Absolutely. I think this is the time to be working in marketing, especially business-to-business marketing. I think marketing is really taking a strategic role. There are many drivers for that, but, if you think about it, marketing owns so much data. We have so much insight and understanding of the customer and marketing is also normally very digitally-driven and now even more so.”
New programs for the most vulnerable customers
Simultaneous to assuring people had reliable connectivity, Vodafone endeavored to support its most vulnerable customers in the early stages of the pandemic. Meijer and her team knew that small and medium business enterprises were going to be the hardest hit by the crisis. “Many of them didn’t have the digital means to continue their business when the lockdown came,” she explains. Some didn’t have websites or they didn’t have e-commerce set up properly. They lacked adequate security systems. As her team analyzed the situation, they realized that in order to restart and rebuild their businesses, these customers would need advisory support. They created and launched a digital advisory service, called V-Hub, to meet the needs of these at-risk entities. Today, V-Hub is running in four of Vodafone’s largest markets: UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy. It’s free for the first six months. And, Meijer emphasizes, “it’s really at the core of Vodafone, as a purpose-driven company. We wanted to give something to our customers who are the hardest hit.”
With V-Hub up and running and a renewed focus on ABM activities with key accounts, Doyle asked what Meijer sees ahead, as we pivot towards the next phase of the pandemic. Meijer reiterated an over-arching focus on the health of every team member, and suggested it might be time for a quick refresh in the form of a brief holiday, especially for folks who have worked round the clock for months.
“The well-being of my team is my top priority. But, from a business perspective, we continue to expand. We are continuing to look at how we can best support our customers. We are really looking into what kind of propositions are most valuable for them during this time. My team is leading a propositions task force, really looking into how we support our customers as they are restarting their business, when they are rebuilding their business. And even to a certain extent, re-imagining their business and the new normal.”
Meijer continued that marketing has really become a catalyst for accelerating Vodafone’s cultural and digital transformation. Picking up on her experiences working with ITSMA, she acknowledged they have an ongoing focus on further developing ABM programs and digital marketing and, her personal hope, that “at some point in the future, we don’t even use the word digital anymore. It becomes the new normal.”
Purpose-driven future, led by next gen marketers
In 2019, Meijer’s team commissioned a study to better understand what differentiates future-ready companies from the rest. One area of consistency was a focus on sustainability and the environment—serious action, as opposed to platitudes. Miejer was attracted to Vodafone initially because of its purpose-driven culture. Her research shows that a laser focus on social programs, like those that support the environment and sustainable business, position a company for success. She sees these attitudes as a through line to the next generation of marketers and it feeds her positive view of what’s next.
Young people “have a completely different sense of purpose…they care about the community and that the company they work with is actually doing good. I’ve seen a shift throughout the years and it’s such a positive shift. It’s really nice to see, it’s such an important thing.”
Her advice to her peers is related to this attention to keeping all your community’s needs top of mind. As communication people, marketers know how important communicating is. It’s a simple thing, “it’s something we advocate for our customers, but at the start of the crisis, what I realized is that we should really focus more on communication and cooperation within our teams. Sometimes, when you’re busy, your focus is on delivering, but it really should be on getting everybody together and ensuring everybody’s clear on priorities. I got a reminder during the crisis of how important that is.”
And judging from the impactful way Meijer and her team worked to identify and meet the needs of their internal and external customers and colleagues, her positive approach is not just ‘happy talk,’ it’s strategic marketing.
Judging from the way Vodafone worked to identify the needs of their customers, the approach is not just happy talk, it’s strategic marketing.