Change Before Something Breaks
Nothing kicks change into higher gear than when something goes wrong.
But for DataKinetics, an Ottawa-based data performance and optimization business, this wasn’t the case.
In 2000, everything was running smoothly. DataKinetics’ founders could have cruised along for another 10 years, easing into retirement, satisfied with their mainframe business’s enduring success. But these gentlemen weren’t ready to ride off into the sunset just yet. Before they could empty their desks and tee up a celebratory golf game, they wanted to recruit a dynamic new CEO.
When they landed Allan Zander for the job, the founders were confident DataKinetics was in good hands. But here’s what they didn’t know: Very soon, Zander would catapult the company into a brave new future – one in which it would score major market breakthroughs, completely transforming its marketing and evolving its business model along the way.
Sounds pretty remarkable for any organization. But for a mainframe business? Downright incredible. And, as marketers reading this will discover, profoundly useful. If you’re implementing changes in your marketing organization, be prepared to take notes. DataKinetics’ six tips for marketing transformation may come in handy along the way.
Tip 1: Land Transformational Leadership
In 2008, the DataKinetics founders recruited Zander as the company’s new CEO. Zander’s passion for rejuvenating companies was particularly appealing.
“I knew DataKinetics had a complex field to navigate. It sold a very technical product to Fortune 500™ companies,” explains Zander, a self-described engineer and computer scientist turned guerrilla marketer. “The sales teams were doing pretty well, but when I came on board, they hadn’t visited their customers in something like five years.”
While DataKinetics employed brilliant computer scientists, engineers and Ph.D.s, Zander discovered these employees lacked a deep understanding of sales and marketing processes. And because they weren’t talking regularly with customers, they didn’t fully understand why their product was relevant. Without this information, it was impossible to know which benefits and values to emphasize in DataKinetics’ messaging.
Clearly, major changes needed to be made to the company’s marketing approach. Zander was ready.
“When it came to transforming its marketing, DataKinetics started at the top,” he says. "I recognized the importance of radical changes right away, so we didn’t need a CMO to propose them.”
DataKinetics CEO, Allan Zander, on change: “The best time to change is not when the fire bell goes off, but while you’re doing business.”
Tip 2: Prepare to Blow Up Best Practices
Zander’s transformational mindset set the tone for Andrew Armstrong, who joined DataKinetics in September 2015 as the senior VP of marketing. While Armstrong was aware of the company’s shortcomings in marketing, he didn’t approach the challenge as something to “fix.” He believed change in marketing should be ongoing, regardless of the specific organization. In his mind, it’s absolutely essential for the practice as a whole.
“The traditional funnel has been blown apart,” says Armstrong, whose professional dossier also includes business development, product management, and alliances and partnerships. “What’s relevant for buyers isn’t static.
“Marketing has to evolve along with its customers,” he continues. “Sometimes that means blowing up your team structure. At the very least, it requires adapting skill sets and changing the way you do things.”
As an indicator of customers’ needs and preferences, data helps signal the need for marketers to alter their course. Behavioral, firmographic and interaction data guide a wide range of marketing decisions, including which prospects to target, how and when to approach those prospects, and what to say. While these incremental tweaks – and the individual data points that inspire them – are a vital part of any marketer’s job, they don’t reveal everything we need to know.
“Data gives us clues about where buyers are in the lifecycle and what they care about in the moment, but you have to find a way to put all that data together to create a substantial picture,” he says. “Once this comes together, we can be confident we’re providing a satisfying customer experience that delivers on our brand promise.”
Tip 3: Cater to Buyer Influencers
But when Zander came on board (long before Armstrong’s arrival), DataKinetics’ customer expectations largely remained a mystery. Its marketers had a lot of learning to do. They began talking with customers directly (who, at that time, mostly held technical roles). They learned what these buyers loved about DataKinetics. Then, they used these insights to shape value propositions.
Over time, through trial and error, DataKinetics’ marketing eventually resonated, and pipeline began to build.
“We experienced sales success, which was great, but it wasn’t as fast as we had hoped for,” Zander says. “We began to realize the technical roles we were targeting influenced the sale, but they weren’t check writers.”
So the company’s marketing team diversified its buyer profile beyond technical experts to include economic influencers (i.e., budget holders) and product users (who may not have a technical background). The marketing team built out metrics and analysis around messaging to each of these personas.
“We had to change our high-tech sales pitches because they were heavy on speeds and feeds, bits and bytes and cost-saving benefits,” Zander says.
To help revamp its messaging, DataKinetics tapped the talents of the EyeVero Marketing Communications Group, which services a prolific pool of top global B2B and B2C brands. Incorporating customer knowledge from multiple sources, EyeVero and DataKinetics built out a communications matrix for each of its buyer types, highlighting specific value propositions and channel preferences. The agency, which grounds its marketing communications strategies in behavioral science, also guided DataKinetics in mapping its customer journey.
“We identified seven buyer stages that sales and marketing could both rally around,” Zander says. “This turned out to be one of the most critical steps we took in our transformation, because it put everyone on the same page when it came to delivering the right content to the right constituent at the right time.”
In November, DataKinetics launched the inaugural issue of its new quarterly publication, DirectionIT Magazine, written for CIOs and IT executives.
Tip 4: Co-Create With Your Customers
Zander also wanted to sell to the C-suite, which was virgin prospecting territory for DataKinetics. It turned out to be much more difficult than expected.
“We thought our 37-plus years in business and impressive client roster would get us in the door,” says Zander, adding that DataKinetics customers include 20% of the Fortune 50, five of the top seven banks in the world and the top three global credit card companies. “We went in with the rationale, ‘We have these top-tier customers, so we should be able to get more.’”
But CIOs were unimpressed. To better understand CIO challenges and priorities, Zander decided to go straight to the source and form a CIO Advisory Board.
“When we started recruiting, we were concerned that we wouldn’t attract high quality CIOs, but that turned out not to be the case at all,” Zander says. “In fact, one of our applicants was the CIO of a Fortune 10 company.”
Once the advisory board was assembled, its input was “incredibly enlightening,” according to Zander. After consulting the board, CIO Wayne Sadin and other experts, the marketing team learned the importance of framing its CIO messaging around the question CFOs and CEOs would inevitably ask, “Why should we dedicate budget to DataKinetics?” By explaining how DataKinetics could help attract revenue, boost customer service and reduce risk, sales teams gained traction with CIOs.
“CIOs aren’t just our customers – they’re our partners. The advisory board just made it official,” Armstrong says.
He adds the company relies on the partnership of other customers as well, but it’s more informal.
“For example, we have a group of customers who regularly weigh in on our content and help us understand where the holes are, which is incredibly helpful,” he says.
Tip 5: Take What Works, Try It Elsewhere
DataKinetics’ partnership approach has transformed more than its marketing. It has also evolved the company’s business model.
When it comes to making investment decisions, the mainframe already has a pretty good argument going for it. According to Zander, it contributes significantly to an organization’s revenue ($10.55 for every dollar spent on it, compared to $8.22 for distributed computing systems). Working alone, DataKinetics had a good track record in increasing that ROI.
But Zander knew they could boost results by offering their customers turnkey solutions, so DataKinetics created a partnership alliance program. Today, working with technical integrators and consulting service providers, DataKinetics delivers more value to its Fortune 500™ customers. The company also helps its alliance partners with sales and marketing strategies.
“We all work together to get the most out of our investments, so it’s a true win-win,” says Zander.
In early November, DataKinetics ventured into the retail sector, launching omNovos . The new company, which provides omni-channel customer engagement solutions to Global 100 retailers, builds on DataKinetics’ engagement lessons and proven success in the global financial space.
Tip 6: Fail Fearlessly, But Don’t Ruin Everything
DataKinetics’ marketing transformation is a remarkable story, but its road to change was pitted with mistakes. About this, Zander is blatantly honest, citing periods when the company “chose wrong 100% of the time.” But it seems he would much rather move forward and make mistakes than stick to the status quo, even when the business is operating at an even keel. His philosophy is pretty simple: If you wait until the “fire bell” goes off to pivot, it’s probably too late.
“As long as I’m CEO, no one is going to get fired for making a mistake. Assuming we’re all able to sit around the table and talk about what we learned, it’s all good,” Zander says.
Armstrong echoes Zander’s proclivity for movement. “If marketers want to grow the top line, they must run, grow and transform. It’ll take some time, but if you make mistakes with the best of intentions, you’ll eventually get there.”
It seems to me that DataKinetics’ intentions set it apart from many businesses on the fast track to making their cash registers ring. DataKinetics’ marketing strategy – and that strategy’s contribution to business growth – isn’t about taking without giving (which ishow marketers ruin everything), but about consistently delivering value. And, as Armstrong reminds us, what buyers value evolves over time.
“We don’t want to just stay ahead of the curve,” he says, “We want to create the curve – with our customers.”