Marketers have adapted quickly to what has been the most unpredictable series of quarters in living memory, often making the best out of wildly inclement conditions. Some, however, have seen benefits emerge. Within demand generation strategies, real innovation—fostered in part from necessity, freedom and new skills—has emerged, not just strengthening a brand’s digital position, but also its inter-function relationships, between marketing and sales.
Three marketers leaders, Sakina Najmi, VP Marketing, Tractable, Chris Boorman, SVP Marketing, NTT, Mark Wheeler, VP Marketing EMEA, Nutanix, came together for a roundtable discussion on their demand generation initiatives, how it’s evolved and what they’re doing to capitalize on a new playing field, as Peter Stojanovic, Editor of HotTopics.ht, moderates.
Evolve to survive
Nutanix have been on quite the journey, even before the pandemic, the group heard from Mark. The technology organization already records $1 billion+ revenue sales annually, but its in the throes of a “mega-growth”. That has forced a sea change within the marketing department, which Mark leads.
“[The marketing department] has worked along a performance modelling approach, which has worked well given our simple portfolio and funnel,” said Mark. “We get leads, we convert them. But that changed in the pandemic because it changed our we work—there were no in-person meetings or events.
“Far from being a negative that actually supported our ambitions, and now, as part of our wider transformation, we are shifting from a lead generation focus to demand generation; we’re getting very account based.”
This shift has meant Nutanix has had to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Buyer behaviour has become increasingly erratic, compared to pre-pandemic levels, and establishing intent requires more data—and patience. Mark’s focus therefore is to build a marketing engine to understand intent throughout the funnel within a post-pandemic world.
“It’s been a busy pandemic,” he remarked, wryly.
The same could also be said for Sakina Najmi. Since joining Tractable at the beginning of the year, she has taken what was then a two-person team into a fabled unicorn, far outstripping her initial remit to ‘double the company revenue’.
“My previous role was a legacy organization and my main role was to digitize its various services, tools and strategies,” she said, “but they were incredibly slow…until the pandemic hit and everything became digitized overnight! My work was done for me.
“Tractable didn’t have a large marketing team—in fact, I’m its first marketing leader—but I do have a blank sheet from which to work. I’ve implemented Salesforce, marketing automation tools, and ABM. We’re just getting started, but yes, so far marketers have had an interesting journey.”
Another observation from Sakina was her impression of new starters of late. She has been consistently impressed with the digital skills present within new starters and trainees, which she found with relief given how important those skills are for demand generation.
“I interviewed a copywriter and she discussed with me the impact of marketing through content—amazing!”
Chris Boorman offered his reasoning for this trend and more. He believes that the evolution of skills and engagement comes down to prioritization, people and brands alike becoming better at evaluating the market, understanding its needs and working to solve them. For his part, at NTT, he is building a centre of excellence for demand generation strategies to help NTT’s regional departments execute marketing strategies coherently.
“I’ve seen two sets of pivots during the pandemic,” said Chris. “The first, obviously, was digital and virtual as a direct response to the pandemic. We’re now seeing a pivot to customers because the lack of physical engagements limited our ability to up sell and cross-sell. I begged the question, ‘where is growth going to come from?’”
Demand generation and ABM were also mentioned hand in hand at times throughout the debate. For Chris, demand generation has incentivized marketers to focus on accounts and the personalization that affords, yet the M in the title may actually stand for misnomer, given the fact ABM is more about total-company engagement rather than a purely marketing focus.
This all ties into the customer-experience drive most marketing departments have conducted over the last 18 months, he said. Demand generation demands good relationships with as many layers of a target brand as possible, and that requires good communication between sales and marketing, even in a remote or hybrid working environment.