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Sisense CMO Ashley Kramer Explains How Analytics & BI Help Companies Innovate Faster during the COVID-19

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MarTech Series speaks with Sisense’s Chief Product and Marketing Officer, Ashley Kramer on the impact of COVID-19 on adapting to rapid shifts in the marketing function and how data-driven decision making can help strengthen businesses beyond the crisis.

Hi Ashley, please tell us what are some of the unexpected innovations that will outlive COVID-19.

At Sisense, we’ve seen the pandemic push brands into using data and analytics to pivot quickly and innovate – much faster than they would have otherwise – to either survive or thrive.

Using data analytics/business intelligence for better data-driven decision making in marketing is helping CMOs and CDOs understand quickly emerging trends, evaluate new options, find paths to follow, and make decisions faster at scale. These skills will be relevant long after the COVID-19.

A good example is Sisense client, Soft Stuff Distributors, a mid-Atlantic regional wholesaler of gourmet and quality foods to businesses and institutions. With its core wholesale business decimated by COVID-19 in the months immediately following the COVID-19 shutdowns in the US, Soft Stuff developed and leveraged analytics skills to deeply examine company data and ‘swivel’ its core business strategy and operations.

Earlier this year, leveraging the Sisense platform Soft Stuff began to analyze its data and could see early signs of the business declining, even before it became widely apparent. At the same time, interestingly, they noticed that consumers were asking for groceries and pre-prepared foods.

Sisense enabled the management team to come out of a ‘war-room-like’ weekend session with a fine-grained analysis of data that provided clarity in making its dramatic pivot as a direct-to-consumer culinary-quality grocer and purveyor of fine foods.

Soft Stuff shifted away from B2B selling to open its doors to the public. And in just eight weeks’ time, it began to offer culinary-quality groceries through its new home delivery/curb-site pickup services, aptly called ‘Shop Soft Stuff.’ 

What has COVID-19 changed for the better or for the worse?

There are two aspects of COVID-19 that have shined a spotlight on change for the better this year: customer relationships and marketing innovation.

Customer relations have either faced common COVID-19 related challenges or become fortified – and those that have lasted, are stronger than ever before. Now, more than ever, brands recognize customer continuity is vital to business continuity, and they are taking the time to nurture these relationships using consent-driven data, BI and analytics. Even with customer obsession being a company value, we’ve also done the same—delivering COVID-19 toolkits to all 2,000+ customers, opening up our licenses to expand company use, and providing executive counsel.

COVID has also forced marketers to innovate and make digital transformation and data-driven decision making a priority. For example, Sisense’s recent ANZ State of BI & Analytics Report 2020 shows digital transformation is top of mind in the region, and marketing is leading the charge. In fact, more than 50% of organizations reported that the marketing department is currently performing analytics or employing BI solutions, followed by operations (40%), finance (33%), and HR (31%). Forty percent of respondents also pointed to marketing as the department that will be adding BI and analytics solutions as a result of COVID-19.

As for the pandemic making things worse, some customers are also feeling anxious given the volatile global economic landscape and uncertain market conditions. This creates barriers for marketers as there is a low threshold for selling and communicating how you can help, and an expectation to communicate quickly how you can solve the customer’s problem.

From one marketer’s perspective (who just happens to sell data analytics software), this is a dream vs. a problem. First, it has forced more real and authentic dialogue in selling and marketing for all of us. We’re also getting more authentic feedback from customers. It has also upped the ante on innovation because the competitive landscape to acquire and retain customers is fiercer than ever before.

As an example, in a new world filled with long term uncertainty, customers are resistant to change and prefer engaging with vendors that they trust, and can partner with, and who work the way the customer wants to work. To meet these requirements, marketers must be more agile, even more data-driven, and innovative to deliver solutions that offer customers the right information at the right place and the right time, every time.

How has COVID-19 disrupted the 2020 CMO plans?

Thousands of industries accustomed to leveraging face-to-face events marketing and sales endeavors have all been impacted by COVID-19, Sisense included. Face to face speaker, industry, and networking events have always been something Sisense enjoys and hosts. Like the rest of the world, we’ve moved our entire engagement model to a virtual strategy. And we continue to explore better ways to improve the online experience via technology and creative experiences.

The upside of this dramatic shift to a virtual environment is that connections with industry, prospects, and customers alike are always on.  We can educate and open up more timely discussions on the future of cloud data platforms, product innovations, and the state of BI and data analytics globally across APAC, UK, US and EMEA – something not previously done at such scale.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and that has certainly been the case for Sisense. We now have a robust virtual events roster and a rich library of content and associated assets, which will serve us well into the future. 

…and what does normal look like now?

As a global company, Sisense’s ‘normal’ looks different depending on our region. In Australia, our headquarters are in Melbourne, and a significant portion of our local customers are also there. Given it is the State with the tightest lockdown in Australia, it means we’ve had to increase the support for our customers in the region, and ensure our wider global team is even more responsive, to help scale our local team efforts who are working hard on the ground.

At Sisense we’re also passionate about providing a ‘customer experience beyond the product’ – and this is something we were recently recognized for by Gartner, where we were named the 2020 Customers’ Choice in ‘voice of the customer: analytics and business intelligence platforms’ category.

Our customers don’t just want a product, they want a rich and meaningful experience to support their journey. Experience isn’t just about good technology, it’s also about good people and good support to back it up. This year has taught us that in addition to solving a customer’s problem with great technology, trust and relationships matter more than ever. I believe these tenets will remain important now and beyond the pandemic.

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