Driving pipeline and revenue at the ‘Computing Marketing Team of the Year’

Atos is a giant in the field of digital transformation. Operating in 73 countries, with 100,000 employees –and approximately 10,000 in the UK alone – and a turnover of around €12bn, the company is one of the biggest players on the world stage and a European leader in Big Data, Cybersecurity and High Performance Computing.

It recently signed a global partnership with Google Cloud.

That’s no small challenge for Catherine Howard, VP of Marketing, who has responsibility for the financial services sector globally, and sits on the global marketing steering board, and has responsibility for the UK and Ireland regions marketing. And its challenge that in no small measure she’s set for herself: she’s been setting the marketing KPIs and deciding its objectives at Atos UK&I for four years.

Catherine has four main focuses.

Firstly there’s the overarching challenge of being seen as the leading digital transformation partner. Secondly comes ‘supporting and enabling business growth, winning new business working with the sales community’ – the hard business of filling a sales pipeline. Thirdly, a robust approach to specific clients in what amounts to an emerging ABM (Account Based Marketing) strategy, and finally, there’s the perennial challenge of turning shorter-term contracts into long-term partnerships, that provide sustainable business beneficial to both Atos and the end customer.

For a company with turnover in the billions, you’d expect a large marketing headcount, but that’s not the case.

“In comparison with some of our competitors, we may be resourced more modestly she says, but adds “in terms of effectiveness, we’re leading the way.”

That’s something hard to argue with: including being recognised at the Computing Marketing and Innovation Awards, her team have picked up five external awards in the past few years, including a personal ‘Marketer of the Year Award’ from B2B Marketing in 2015.

Measuring Atos as a digital transformation brand

Catherine needs to know how the Atos brand is perceived, how it compares to core competitors, and to track changes over time. An independent third party has been engaged to manage the brand research process as ‘if the questions were directly associated with Atos, it would skew the responses’.

Survey style approaches have been rejected in favour of interviews conducted on an ongoing basis – and not just with a nebulous or loosely defined target audience, but a laser-targeted group consisting of core customers and prospects: named individuals clearly identified as decision makers drawn from a target account list.

Making the interviews general to the sector rather than specific to Atos disassociates the company from the questions, keeps the answers honest, and provides information that shapes several strands of marketing strategy: the data indicates what content decision makers want and will react to based on their current concerns and objectives, and it allows for the personalisation of content strategy by showing where competitors are favoured and why – intelligence which can be carried into the sales team, which as we will cover later, are themselves a conduit for personalised content marketing.

Working with the sales team

Catherine has a number of KPIs related to the sales pipeline. There’s a measure on unqualified pipeline, a measure on conversion to qualified opportunity, and a further measure on ‘pipeline supported’ where the opportunity – chicken and egg style – may have been marketing, or sales or both – or neither.

Sales and marketing alignment is close at Atos – no sales vs marketing, because there’s only one team ‘marketing is a function, but it’s not separate’. Catherine is part of the sales board and works closely with multiple sales directors.

The close alignment is in many ways a product of the metrics in use, and the superior communication they have engendered ‘we don’t tend to get into usual debates of sales vs marketing, it’s about the value that you bring and the real opportunities for sales, we just don’t have those ‘why would I follow it up, it’s just a lead’ type conversations’.

Central to this is the definition of an opportunity.

To Catherine, someone who has downloaded a white paper is not a lead ‘we don’t use the word ‘lead’ it’s something I won’t use internally’ she says, ‘because in effect it doesn’t really mean anything – for us it’s about having that qualified and unqualified sales pipeline – its real opportunities we have our metrics against’.

Leads have to have be qualified over the phone or face to face. Any opportunity we generate will then be discussed and agreed with sales as unqualified pipeline, which applies to both existing clients and new name business. More often, in the case of new business, marketing qualify first by telemarketing ‘the sales team know we won’t bother them with opportunities that aren’t real’.

Since shifting the metric to qualified/unqualified pipeline, opportunity conversion rates have undergone a step-change – leaping from 8% at the beginning of 2017 to an impressive rate of one in three, which, in her own words, ‘is phenomenal’. I have to agree, and I am impressed: last year some €5bn of sales were supported.

An emerging ABM strategy

The hand in hand functioning of sales and marketing at Atos UK & Ireland is heading towards an Account Based Marketing approach. Catherine has structured marketing along vertical lines. This allows – for example – the manufacturing marketing manager to join the weekly manufacturing sales meeting and discuss upcoming opportunities, and share intelligence, ‘it’s a very open conversation and dialogue that takes place, we need that feedback because without it we can’t improve the return on the campaigns that we are running’. It also means the marketing can point Sales at the right content to share with customers – making sales a content marketing channel.

An ECRM system has been implemented in the last year, as has marketing automation. It’s a work in progress ‘I wouldn’t say we are quite there yet, but we are absolutely moving toward a one-to-one approach’ says Catherine, ‘I invest heavily in the marketing team, we’re actually doing an account based training session next Friday with a recognised professional organisation’.

On staff challenges

The toughest challenge on Catherine’s mind isn’t as you might expect GDPR, but recruiting and retaining the right talent ‘I’m really big on making sure individuals are continuing to learn, that they have the training that’s going to make them effective, that they’ve got individual career progression plans and (staff) retention around that’. She also thinks in terms of protecting the team from taking on too much ‘making sure you’ve got that balance between them delivering for the business and not being bombarded with the volume of programmes, campaigns and requests coming through’. A lot of effort goes into ensuring it’s a fun and creative place to work ‘this is something I think on a regular basis and act on’.

The future

I ask what it looks like ‘in terms of skillset and where people need to focus, I think it’s absolutely on content’ she replies. Routine work is going to be automated and out of existence ‘robotics is going to come in and remove the more admin related tasks’. ‘Marketers’ she says, ‘need to really focus on driving the content hard, creating that content and really understanding their clients and the engagement’.

Are you, I ask, introducing robotics?

“We are going to introduce some robotics into what we do this year, but that’s a conversation for another time!” says Catherine.

Tom Wright is director, content & performance marketing services for Incisive Works.