MarTech Interview with James Whitemore, Chief Marketing Officer at NetApp

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“Increasingly, marketing is delivering the sale too – right there online—essentially becoming a digital revenue engine. The notable aspect is we are moving Marketing away from just being a cost-center, we’re actually contributing to the company’s bottom-line.”

James, please tell us about your experience as a CMO of a global tech company through the COVID-19 crisis.

My career path has taken me through several different types of roles, each of which brought their own challenges. COVID-19 has been one of those challenges, to say the least. It’s changed the way I think as a CMO, how I engage with my employees and how we support NetApp customers.

One of the first things I had to consider when COVID-19 hit was how I was going to adjust my management style so that the employees in my organization were still engaged, thinking creatively and operating efficiently, despite being forced to work from home. We started by making some tactical changes that gave my team the time and space to think and stay creative – something that I personally believe is absolutely critical. We shortened our meeting times from 30 to 25 minutes max (shorter where able) to give people a moment between calls, we implemented “No Zoom Fridays” so people could take a day to just work without all the distractions and we started a “What’s Up Marketing?” digital meetup series to keep the team connected. It wasn’t all business though, we added in some fun things that were good for morale and engagement along the way. My favorites included hosting a stand-up comedian and holding what I believe to be the industry’s first virtual petting zoo (which was strangely compelling).

All of these tactics were designed to ensure that NetApp doesn’t miss a beat during the pandemic and that our teams remain just as engaged and dedicated as they were before. I worked to establish new systems that help my teams thrive, which in turn ensures that we can continue to help our customers succeed.

Tell us about how you are using your experience with marketing and sales tools to safeguard business beyond the disruptions.

Our sales/marketing tools have played a massive role in keeping us going throughout the pandemic. We’ve had to learn how to connect with our customers and each other in new and innovative ways.

One strong example is our improved chat functionality, driven by AI-enhancements. This improved channel helps ensure that our customers do not experience any delays in support, even as we have had to distribute inside sales and support agents.

We’ve also invested in our Learning Management Systems, which have been so critical during this time. There’s been a significant increase in demand for online training, particularly for tools that enable customers to remotely monitor and manage their data infrastructure, and we needed to be able to deliver on that demand.

We use our tools to actively identify what types of buying experiences a person is looking for and then providing what they want, when they want it, where they want it. For example: what do they want to understand about a product or solution, who do they want to engage with to get to their next step, etc. – and delivering on that even before they initiate contact.

What are the key business decisions you took as NetApp CMO to realign the brand and its strategy to fulfill customer needs in the midst of the pandemic?

We began realigning our marketing brand and its strategy before the pandemic, but we’ve definitely accelerated our approach as a result of it. With companies suddenly needing to digitally transform at an unprecedented pace, we knew we had to ensure that our customers and prospects understood exactly how NetApp can help them unlock the best of Cloud and also modernize their datacenter.

We did not make that clear enough in the past. We had to move faster to make shifts in our brand, so we focused on a couple of areas to revamp our strategy.

First, we are insourcing services that have traditionally been outsourced. We’re letting go of outside agencies that delivered media sourcing or marketing trends and bringing it in-house. We’re getting our people smarter and more specialized so that they can become the best consultants to our customers. This “specialist” mentality also aligns with our revamped brand image.

Second, we’ve made some significant technology stack updates.

This was a project that we started back in August where we ripped out our MarTech stack and replaced it wholesale – every piece is new. This helps our team reprioritize the production of revenue over the traditional marketing goal focused on the production of leads.

Which tools and platforms currently make up your Remote Workplace technology stack? How have these evolved in the past 6 months?

Our teams are continuing to stay connected and collaborate over Zoom and on Slack, as we had before the pandemic.

What’s changed is the intense fatigue that we’re all experiencing from being stuck on camera and in our chairs all day. We modified how we engage through these tools by sometimes just having a call and realizing that we don’t always have to be looking at each other. We try to be conscious of the need for mental breaks from Zoom and meetings and so we started “No Zoom Fridays” once a month to try and give people a break to get work done and be creative.

What are your thoughts on the role of AI and Data Science in a CMO’s automation deck? How do they ease workflow for a busy routine? 

AI and data science are both very powerful tools in my marketing arsenal.

We’ve continued to increase our investment in digital programs and channels based on well thought out Cloud-led data strategies and solutions. My team has the right data informing us on the right move to pull our customers towards a sale. Marketing is now able to play an increased role in progressing customer engagement and can deliver “conversation ready” leads to sales where a live person takes over. Increasingly, marketing is delivering the sale too – right there online—essentially becoming a digital revenue engine. The notable aspect is we are moving Marketing away from just being a cost center, we’re actually contributing to the company’s bottom line.

What Customer Experience (CX) trends are you keenly following in the Marketing and Digital advertising space?

One of the trends we’re passionate about at NetApp is human marketing and we believe that all audiences are done with the marketing fluff. They don’t want to go through an entire lead-qualification process in order to engage with a member of the NetApp team. They want to be spoken to in human language and they want to be related to and understood. Most importantly, they want to get the information they need as quickly as possible without all the unnecessary marketing blasts.

We’re working on accomplishing that.

Our goal is to completely revamp how we show up in the marketplace – how we look, talk sound, etc. – in order to enhance our customer experience. We are doing this through digital execution, specifically with a rapid increase in digital programs and channels based on well-thought-out cloud-led strategies and solutions.

My teams will learn how to gather the right data to inform us on what our customers need and we’ll be able to adjust the content and distribution of information to get the right people the right materials. We’re streamlining everything and delivering just what they customer asks for.

Thank you, James! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

James Whitemore is a Chief Marketing Officer at NetApp

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NetApp specializes in helping our customers get the most out of their data with industry-leading cloud data services, storage systems, and software.

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