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5 Questions with Nick Robinson, Head of Digital Marketing at SAP

Lucas Stewart

B2B marketing are no strangers to using data on a daily basis. Having visibility into KPIs and their drivers are essential elements of reporting and optimizing across channels, campaigns and the pipeline. But as analysts leaders Forrester and Gartner have indicated, there’s a new mandate for 2018: driving business growth. In response, new opportunities to impact the business are flourishing. New business models, product innovations and market opportunities are changing strategies. Digital spending, AI automation, and self-service prospects are changing processes and tactics. Right now, B2B marketers are actively connecting more and more of their data– and their teams– in a holistic manner to take ownership of their goals– and a bigger seat at the executive table.

SAP is at the center of today’s business and technology revolution, helping more than 350,000 businesses to streamline their processes and gain data insights. We caught up with Nick Robinson, SAP’s Head of Digital Marketing in North America, to ask what challenges and opportunities are top of mind for him, as the market leader in enterprise application software plans its next big moves for 2018.

Q1: What’s the day in the life of heading up Digital Marketing at SAP? How how things changed in your role and where do see it heading?

5 years ago, digital marketing was still a separate team off to the side with special skillsets, special technology, a special way of describing the world to the rest of sales and marketing. And frankly, no one took it seriously. We were still relegated to the kid’s table to put it bluntly.

How times have changed. B2B Marketers have finally caught up to digital first customer behavior by shifting their strategies to become digital first. What does digital first mean? Well, for one, it doesn’t mean digital only. Imagine trying to rearchitect your entire finance system for your company without talking to a single person…It’s not realistic for our business. What we mean by digital first is that we need to re-orient ourselves around how customers prefer to engage, which involves both human and non-human interaction. It’s much bigger than paid search or posting on Facebook. It involves a fundamental change in the way that we deliver our products, how we speak to customers, how we manage performance, and of course how we recruit and retain talent in marketing and beyond.

Now that we’re shifting to a digital first marketing org, my role is to make sure digital marketing is just marketing. I am part of a team of T-shaped experts that help with campaign design, performance management, and knowledge sharing. We call ourselves Digital First Sherpas. Performance management involves everything from paid media to social, to email, events and tele nurture. Campaign design involves everything from target setting to user experience, conversion rate optimization and nurture flows. So we’re not only confined to what most folks consider digital marketing tactics. We make sure digital and traditional channels mix together in one central process. The separate digital marketing team has disappeared – we are just demand generation marketers now with a digital first twist.

Q2: What are the common challenges the B2B marketers face?

The two biggest challenges that B2B marketers face today is customer-first mindsets and being data-driven about campaign experience.

First, they need to really understand the ideal experience for a person doing business with SAP. They need to clearly delineate between a prospect who has never engaged with SAP before and a current customer that has been with us for years. This involves heavy alignment with sales, product, and customer success, and also requires sophisticated analytics that are updated in real-time.

Second, B2B marketers need to be very disciplined about setting targets for every campaign and manage to those targets. Targets consist of both very prescriptive audience segments and full funnel volume and conversions. At any given time, a B2B marketer should know whether the results are good or bad vs. target volume and conversions. Based on that knowledge, they need to develop hypotheses for improvement, and then test their hypotheses. It’s not a one and done exercise and must happen more often than traditional marketers are used to.

Q3: We’re hearing a lot about business growth being the new mandate for B2B marketers. How is that playing out at SAP? Is it changing the way you market– and if so, how?

The interesting part about SAP’s own digital marketing transformation is what goes on below the hood. As one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world, we have access to a lot of data, but the problem is that it sits in many places across marketing, sales, customer success, product, and more.

In a very short time period, our marketing, sales, and services teams will be equipped with customer insights like we’ve never seen before. On top of that, this data will fuel the next generation of automation and smart systems inside of our company.

For example, when someone from a large manufacturer strikes up a conversation with our web chat agent about an ERP consolidation project, the agent will know who the person is, what company they are from, whether they are a new or existing contact, and also have the ability to send a real time alert to the account executive and recommend a set of next steps. At the same time, this will trigger a set of communications across various channels to nurture the relationship to the next step. This is the power of data.

Q4: It’s now reported that the majority of B2B prospects want self-service resources to discover and evaluate solutions. How is this impacting your marketing– and the marketing/sales collaboration?

One example is SMB customers. Small and medium sized business owners don’t have the time to wait to implement a solution. They need to move quickly and efficiently without too much heavy lifting. This is forcing SAP to rethink how we package and sell our cloud solutions for this market. SMBs crave free trials, friendly and quick follow up, and less friction in the buying process, which could involve laying down a credit card. They also expect the experience to be consumer grade like we see through Amazon. Customer expectations are forcing marketers to step up and own the experience, which is increasingly digital.

Q5: If you were going to make a recommendation to up and coming digital marketers or marketing technologist on where to focus and what to learn, what would you say?

I have 3 pieces of advice for up and coming digital marketers:

First, read every day. Know what is going on in your industry. Read news about stocks. You’ll have context when you speak to your colleagues, executives, and customers.

Second, try to get into rotational programs in your marketing department. SAP has fellowships that allows marketers to get hands on experience with various disciplines. Typically fellowships are 3-6 months in length, which is the perfect amount of time to get comfortable with one of many digital marketing concepts.

Third, learn about human psychology and how we make decisions. If you understand human nature, you’ll improve the way you influence decision makers. If I were to go back in time, this is something that I would have learned much earlier in my career.


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