How Microsoft is Mastering Digital-First Thinking

We caught up with Scott Allen, Chief Marketing Officer at Microsoft UK, ahead of his appearance as a speaker at B2B Online Europe 2018.

Read on to discover Scott’s take on the importance of a connected customer journey, digital-first thinking, and how the power of AI and marketers working together can lead to increased productivity and accelerated results.

At B2B Online you’ll be discussing the importance of a ‘digital-first’ mindset. What does digital-first thinking really mean to you, and where should companies begin when trying to encourage it?

Digital transformation is not simply about technology—it requires business leaders to re-envision existing business models and embrace a different way of bringing together people, data, and processes to create value for their customers.

  1. Be obsessed with your customers
  2. Use data and insights to drive your decisions
  3. Nurture your teams

Cultural change is a big part of the approach. My job really falls into three buckets: strong marketing, planning, and execution; culture; and the third piece is developing our marketing technology, or our modern marketing story and approach, and moving it forward. It helps address a few areas. Have my team and I got the right skills? Do we have the right processes in place? Is the technology we’re using the right stuff? Do we need to use better technologies to do our jobs better? It ensures that the modern marketing story has been applied to the CMO team as we move forward.

Is it perfect? Of course not. We’re always learning, but we’ve come a long way in the past year, and I’m really pleased with where it’s going. It is an exciting time to be in marketing.

How are you refining the relationship between eCommerce, loyalty, marketing and advertising in order to understand how your customers buy?

You can’t think of these as being separate unrelated areas. They feed each other and for some time now I have focused on how they work effectively together. Again putting digital transformation at the heart of this has been key.

Which emerging technologies do you consider essential for creating a frictionless customer experience?

I won’t get into the detail of products but instead call out the essential areas. The Utopia is to have a connected customer journey right from their first engagement with you (where they are still unknown) through to them being a customer using your product or service. This means thinking about your digital destinations (web, social, email etc) as well as your CRM and ERP systems. Joining this vision up is key and trying to avoid putting in place lots of point solutions.

In terms of emerging technology there are some really cool things you can do with AI and Machine Learning which helps deliver a better customer experience. I am using Microsoft’s own solution here and love what it gives me.

Where do you stand on the balance between making decisions based on data vs based on instincts/experience?

A key disruptor will be yourself and your organisation if you do not embrace change and invest in people, processes and tools to ensure that you are transforming - we need to get to a place where you don't call it digital marketing, it is just marketing with digital at the heart of it.

I talk a lot around insights being the new muscle of marketing. It is the key to how we optimise our marketing decisions—Marketing teams need to use their hindsight and insight that encourage experimentation and competent risk-taking around particular activities. Going forward, we’ll be looking more at foresight and tying that in with AI/ machine learning. Which levers can we pull to increase market velocity and conversion of leads in both the long and the short term? How can we use real-time marketing forecasting against campaign tactics to help make decisions? This is an area I am extremely passionate about.

The power of AI and the human together (the interpreter) means that you can work faster and be more productive.

What has been your biggest challenge in implementing change in your organisation?

Digital transformation can be a loaded agenda. Too often marketers become too inwardly focused in their transformation efforts, failing to look outward or to put the customer at the heart of both process and objective. That in turn risks a transformation programme that is not right and could easily fail.

Putting digital transformation at the heart of our marketing is not a ‘nice to have’ anymore, and often the hardest thing is deciding where to start. Not everyone is on the same page in their maturity or have the same needs and expectations.

We have been on this journey in Microsoft for a little while now and if I can help other marketers with their thinking and approach then this can only be a good thing as we are all in it together. All marketing leaders are either thinking about this or are already on their transformation journey.

However, the modernisation of your marketing will benefit everyone in marketing and also other parts of the business such as helping modern selling or being better and having ROI conversations with senior leaders and Finance. And most importantly, it will allow you to stand out in terms of the customer experience you will give. As customers demand a much more personalised experience and take good customer service for granted there is a lot at stake, so getting it right is important.

What advice would you give to someone about to take on a role similar to yours?

Try to break down the role into smaller pieces. This will help you have a clearer idea of what you need to do in the role and set realistic goals. Don’t try to boil the ocean- set out what you need to achieve with realistic timescales and try and get one or two quick wins under your belt. Make sure that you get that right mix of internal and external (customers, partners) activities.

And have fun!

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