How to maintain your customer focus through change
Microsoft's Sydne Mullings offers her advice on managing change, using data to your advantage, and keeping your eyes firmly on the customer
by Alisha Lyndon
March 23, 2022
Sydne Mullings, General Manager, US Central Marketing Organization at Microsoft, offers her advice on managing change, using data to your advantage, and keeping your eyes firmly on the customer.
“Change is hard!” Sydne Mullings, General Manager, US Central Marketing Organization at Microsoft, is speaking on the ABM Podcast about adjusting to the new ways of working brought on by the pandemic. For her, the biggest shift has been the role marketing plays in facilitating customer outcomes, and the tools at our disposal to make those outcomes happen. “Change is really hard for folks, particularly when a team is hitting their current success measures and things are going great.” But as leaders well know, change is essential – and inevitable.
Mullings, who leads a multi-disciplinary team across account-based marketing, industry marketing, customer experience, and analytics at Microsoft, says that marketing’s role today is less of a ‘hey, let’s tell you about this specific product that we think is great for you’, and more about ‘how can we create a community experience where there’s joint learning and joint sharing’.” How can leaders help their high performing teams adjust to this new remit and new ways of working? There are two things to ask yourself: “One is, do [your] people understand the ‘why’ behind the change? And the second is, do they understand the threats in the environment if they don’t change? Without those two components, change is going to be slow.”
The trouble with martech
When it comes to the rapid growth in martech tools, Mullings sees this as “a gift and a curse.” It’s tempting to get over-analytical, lost in the data. “You can spend so much of your brainpower on what’s going on internally,” says Mullings. As such, you can lose sight of the customer.
So much of marketing today hinges on the intersection between people and technology. Get the balance right, and you can make magic happen.
There are arguably few people more knowledgeable on the intersection between technology and people than Mullings. Having graduated with a degree in International Politics, Mullings went on to pursue a masters in Human-Computer Interaction, “which is all about how people interact with, and hopefully are empowered by, technology”. Since 2008, Mullings has held various positions at Microsoft, first in its professional services business and later in its marketing operations. While these departments are hugely different, there is some complementary overlap, she says. “Clearly, in marketing, I’m not working with people who are writing code or deploying software solutions, or setting up technical infrastructure.” But in both instances, the goal is to figure out the customer outcome.
We’re all familiar with the term “actionable insight”, but often that’s associated with sophisticated technology like machine learning or analytics. According to Mullings, it doesn’t have to be so complex. “A number of people have come to me with just pages of really small font and all these numbers. I had to start asking, ‘am I happy or sad about what you’re telling me? Should it be a smiley face or a sad face?’” Whilst that sounds basic, Mullings insists it has changed the conversation and encouraged her team to look deeper into the data and experiment with new approaches.
It’s not just a case of looking at quantitative data. How might your experiences of running a large and complex business resonate with your customers? Other leaders likely share your challenges and you should capitalize on this. “When we have very technical conversations with a customer they’re asking other questions [like] ‘how did you solve this problem in your own company?’ They’re seeking that information out when they search for white papers and sign up for events. It’s those conversations where we focus it back on our shared problems — as companies, employers, managers or leaders — that we found rouses more uptake and excitement in our customers.”
So much of marketing today hinges on the intersection between people and technology. Get the balance right, and you can make magic happen. Get the balance wrong, and you could risk losing the customer.
Want to hear more from Sydne Mullings, including her advice for getting personalization right and getting your sales and marketing teams to unite for the greater good? Listen to the full episode on the ABM Podcast here.
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