CMO Confessions Ep 11.: SAP’s Kevin Cochrane
Hi everyone and welcome to episode 11 of CMO Confessions. In this edition, I sit down and chat with Kevin Cochrane, CMO of SAP Customer Experience and C/4HANA. Kevin has an almost religious devotion to identifying customer pain points and delivering a great customer experience — and he does so in an almost unique way in today’s age: by sitting down and actually talking with customers.
Kevin’s CMO journey started when he joined Interwoven as the VP of Web Content Management. From there, he wound his way to Alfresco, Software AG and all the way to SAP. In this episode of CMO Confessions, we dive into what Kevin thinks of today’s marketing landscape, what’s missing in our journey to become more customer-centric and it’s so critical to slow down and ask better questions.
If you’re curious about what Kevin has to say about the state of our industry, you can follow him on Twitter at @kevinc2003 and on LinkedIn here.
Finally, as usual, if you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.
Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.
Joe Hyland: Hello, and I want to welcome you to this week’s episode of CMO confessions the weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast that explores what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Highland CMO here at ON24 and joining me this week from Miami, while I’m in San Francisco, is Kevin Cochrane, CMO of SAP Customer Experience. Kevin, how are you doing?
Kevin Cochrane: I’m doing a great, Joe, great to speak with you today.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it. Okay, Let’s dive right into digital marketing, marketing in general. What do you love about we what we do?
Kevin Cochrane: Well, there’s three things. I love about what we do. Number one, I love being able to make the human connection. At the end of the day, what we as marketers do is we uncover our customers intent; what are their hopes their dreams their aspirations, and how can we effectively engage them in order to help them understand how our companies and our products and our services can help them? So, I love making that human connection. The second thing is I love building teams of people to inspire them to, in turn, learn from customers and how to listen and how to engage.
There’s nothing so much more wonderful than actually seeing a whole team of marketers being able to speak about the customers, speak about their needs and, again, engage them in that one-to-one way so that they can best represent our brands and best deliver value to the customer. There’s nothing more exciting and much more pleasing than that. The third thing is that intellectually speaking marketing the most fascinating place to be right now and it has been for quite a long period of time. The Innovation that’s happening around data, data science and around customer engagement fundamentally challenges each and every one of us in very unique and interesting ways each and every day. So that intellectual challenge, that intellectual rigor, you know, suddenly just makes marketing just so exciting for me personally and hopefully for everyone listening here to this podcast.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, and I love that answer because — and I’ll start with number three there — for me marketing’s about solving problems and for me that’s what makes it fun and challenging and interesting and it’s constantly changing. So yeah, the intellectual rigor for me is honestly one of the coolest things. You talk about human connections, and I love that because, as marketers, finding ways to engage with our audience — I mean that’s the Holy Grail, right? That’s what we should be fantastic at.
But I want to get your take on scale. So, scale is real, scale is very much a challenge that we all have and what I’m finding or what I’m seeing in the space, which is I think particularly interesting is. Marketers automating everything that is humanly possible, even down to the email copy that we write — could have robots write it and in many cases they are. So, I feel like we’re winning in the automation game which is which is great, don’t get me wrong. There are tremendous benefits there. But I feel like there’s a human connection that is lost with all this digital automation. I would love to get your take on that.
Kevin Cochrane: Yeah, I completely agree, and I’ll start off with, and hopefully you don’t mind me sharing our conversation that we started off even before we get began the podcast. You and I have a shared experience as we learned about — we both ran a marathon in Zermatt two months ago, and we had a great time speaking about that for 10 minutes. We’re actually real people you’re a real person. I’m a real person. And outside the context of our work lives and this particular podcast, there are things that we share in common that our interests that can help us actually form a relationship with one another that can facilitate our professional dialogue and to facilitate growth and both of our businesses. And as marketers, we have actually to remember that.
I think we’ve got too far in the shift from brand marketing to demand marketing and we become inundated with data, we become inundated with automation, and we stop actually thinking about who was the actual end person at the end of the email — who is the actual end customer? Who are they really as a real person? And what are the unique things that make them a unique individual that are not just a segment? You know, I love the famous quote from Six Degrees of Separation, Stockard Channing, favorite of mine, of course saying, “I am not an anecdote.” Well, I’m not a segment, right? I’m actually a very unique person as are you. And I think as marketers we need to get back to understanding and relating to our real customers. I tend to challenge people on my team in a very simple way. When was the last time you spoke with the customer? When was the last time you spoke with the customer? When we’re talking about this campaign, and we’re talking about automated, because automation is very important, you have to automate course, can you speak about it in the context of a real customer that you have met, that you have spoken to that you can envision in your mind when you’re building that next nurture program, when you’re building that next email copy? Because if you can’t envision the customer and you can’t think about a real human being then you could go awry and that’s where I like to challenge people on my own team and hopefully in the broader industry as well. At the end of the day, we need to leverage the data. We need to leverage the science, and you need to use it to uncover each individual’s intent, and we need to automate the prescriptive delivery of content experience and services matched against that end to the best extent possible to scale. But never ever, ever should a marketer ever forget of what a real customer a real customer conversation looks like.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. Amen. I couldn’t agree with you anymore. And it’s interesting, right? That mixture of human connection with the amazing breadth and depth of data — and you’re right, automation is not a bad thing in any marketer who tries to run away from it, I think, would risk be kind of becoming yesterday’s marketer, but it’s the mixture of those two things, right? Where you can do something really special.
Kevin Cochrane: That’s the one hundred percent right? I have seen in my career too many times someone who’s an absolute wizard in the martech stack put together beautiful theoretical nurture program against beautiful theoretical segments and then you just simply ask the question, “When was the last time you’ve met a customer?” And it’s never. As marketers remember, we’re trying to form an emotional connection with people and the reason why we want that emotional connection is because the less people have that emotional connection they’re actually literally not going to act, they’re not going to purchase. Because all of the theoretical research shows the end of the day, you can do all of your online research, and you can use as much at your rational brain as possible.
But the moment that you click the buy, the moment that you actually sign up for that webinar, the moment that you actually agree to that meeting with that sales rep , the moment that you signed on the contract, all the rational side of your brain turns out, and it’s a complete emotional response and the emotional responses based on whatever feeling that you have about that brand based on how an individual made you feel, right? The sales rep. How do they make you feel? The inside sales person? Did they make you feel special? That marketer at the event? Did they make you feel special? If you didn’t do that that emotional side of the brain doesn’t kick in and people don’t actually really truly convert to revenue, and so, as a marketer, at the end of the day, never forget like the less, you know the customer and speak to the customer you won’t know what that emotional connection you’re trying to get — even when you’re automating things. It’s so critically important, and this is why, and it will probably get to this little bit later, some of the things that we need to start doing differently and B2B marketing.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, so I love the intersection of marketing and politics. I find the movement of the why and how you inspire people and how pulling at emotional heartstrings ultimately makes people make certain decisions. You don’t need to look that much further than the last presidential election to see that. The polls were off because people enter, regardless of how you feel politically, I could talk for hours on that just alone, but I won’t, but people went in, and for whatever reason they changed their mind they had this gut feeling — and in your right, we as we as marketers can learn from that.
How many times have we been in a room where you know, there’s a beautiful model and everything lines up perfectly on a spreadsheet for how we’re going to attack a new market in gain a certain percent adoption and is dozens or hundreds of millions of dollars and no one’s asked the question of why would someone actually do this? Like, what’s in it for the end user? Which is insane. But but that happens all too often.
Kevin Cochrane: But this is also the shift from inside-out thinking to outside in thinking. This is the shift and customer centricity and marketing which is get to the core pain that the individual fields and find a means and mechanism through your campaign efforts to surface that pain and help give voice to that pain and clarify what the implications of that pain are to the person so that they say, “God, you get me. You understand me, and you’re really hitting me where it hurts right now, and you can actually speak to my pain better than I can.” And then they trust you to do something about it. And the intersection of marketing and politics is a fascinating one.
For many, many years I’ve actually believed good B2B campaigns need to be modeled like a political campaign. Because political campaign serves as a template for how you can do proper a B2B marketing. So, yeah, I couldn’t agree with more, and we definitely are going to have to go on a long run time sometime to talk about that egg. Because there’s a profound implication and, much like yourself, I actually watched the last election season and prior election season as well and just look at it from the perspective of the marketing tactics, the language used, the way events are choreographed absolutely brilliant absolutely fascinating. There’s lessons and models to be learned for effective conveyance of emotions to get people to act for political campaigns — couldn’t agree more.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, so let’s dive into what you alluded to a moment ago. We’ve touched on some of the things, but what needs to change. So we talked about what we what we both love. Let’s move into the what disappoints us in our in our world these days.
Kevin Cochrane: Yeah, so I mean, I think there are three things in B2B marketing that kind of needs change. Number one, is I think in the shift to digital and the shift to become more, you know B2C centric, essentially, and how we drove our B2B marketing efforts, we’ve lost the inherent qualities of what made B2B different, which is a relationship affecting the human aspect and we’ve oversteered our investment in digital channels and we’re not making effective use of in-person meetings, in-person events and tying those two broader digital efforts — specifically around online communities.
Good B2B marketing still puts at its core, and its nucleus, the one-on-one physical engagement people look eye to eye with one another and having a real conversation. And I think that we have started to forget that. And events are always this thing over here, and then your campaigns are things over here, and more money is going over here because we can analyze it and report on it and we can actually document the attribution of it much more effectively than the random influence of we can do an event. We’ve got to be careful that we’re overcorrecting we can’t overcorrect. The second thing is we’re not really thinking about the employee experience that powers that end customer experience. There are so many people that interact with the customer and that build upon and maintain the relationship that marketing may start. And as marketers, we need to take under our wing our sales professionals, our customer success professionals, our service professionals, our support professionals and we need to train them in the art of conversation. We need to train them how the how to continue the dialogue that we begin with the customer to make certain that at every point of interaction for the salesperson, the service person the support person that they are in effect growing and nurturing that relationship.
I think as marketers, we tend to stop our jobs after we hand over to our inside sales teams for we hand over to our AES and we don’t think holistically about how does that person in the customer success organization? Are they trained on how to speak customer do they actually know the difference between an Enterprise Architect and an IT Architect? They know what differences that those two individuals may have in their mind in terms of their career aspirations their professional aspirations, you name it, and can they speak to those? We have to help them so that they, in turn, can best help the customer. So that’s another thing that we as marketers change. And then the third thing that we as marketers need to change is our organizations — and we’ve talked about this before earlier. Too many marketers just hide behind the data right now, and as marketers, we need to be front and center, we need to be leading the charge. If a marketer cannot have a customer conversation that is a bad thing because how can that marketer then in turn support and train someone in sales, support and train someone in the support organization, support and train someone in the customer service organization? As marketers, we have to be the best at the art of the conversation with the customer. You have to know them personally, and we have to leverage that personal law of personal relationship in order to help fuel the conversations and relationships of others in the organization.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I so strongly agree. You said something really interesting in there you mentioned into this customer-centric mindset that really needs to permeate, hopefully, the entire organization, I firmly believe it should start in marketing with though there is a difference of opinions there. I’ll tell you a crazy story, which I think you’ll find alarming, but we’ll see, is a friend of mine works in customer marketing for a very large successful tech company here in here in the Bay Area and their number one metric for success that they came up with as an organization to determine how appropriately, how successfully there they’re communicating with their existing customers was number was number of touches. So how often do we touch the customer?
And so what happened is you saw an in this in this company a 500 percent increase in the number of emails they sent. So, rather than worrying about the quality, how they’re treating their customers. So, they just started blasting their own customer base. It was a horrendous customer experience, but everyone made their bonuses because they hit they hit their milestone.
Kevin Cochrane: You did you were totally right. I mean, this is the same thing that we also did in marketing as well when we shifted to taking responsibility for pipeline. We started flooding the system with MQLs. MQL this, MQL that, everything was an MQL — we got double our bonus because we double our MWL because we spent a whole bunch of money on content syndication and we gamed the system. I mean, we got to talk about quality conversations with the customer that result in a successful deployment and a happy, loyal advocate. And, you know, I do think the strategy of making certain that we regularly engage with customers is absolutely essential, and it’s a metric that should be tracked but to your point, you know, it’s how you do it that matters.
Now, I’ll give you an example from my earlier days. So, you know prior to SAP, and prior to my time in several other places, I started my career as a co-founder of a company called Interwoven, right? And was there for 10 years and one of the hallmarks Interwoven was that we literally just knew our customers by name and we would engage them at a minimum every three months like regular clockwork. So, you know, one of the things very early in the day since 1999. We established user groups all around the planet. And we made certain that every quarter we were at those user groups, and we shook everybody’s hands, and we greeted them by their first name, and we remember who they were — even when we had thousands of customers around the globe. Like, we all knew each other, it was so critically important. So yeah, the level of engagement was really important. If we didn’t see someone at a user group for like two quarters that was worrisome — that was worrisome. Like where are they? Like, what’s wrong?
Joe Hyland: Right things not right, right.
Kevin Cochrane: We want to see them like if I don’t see you eye-to-eye, but I don’t see it at the user group, or if I don’t see it the latest executive event, if I don’t see you at the user conference if I don’t shake your hand and say are you okay? How are you doing? Then maybe something’s wrong, right? So I think that we all need to pay attention to levels of engagement for customers, but to your point, let’s do it right, let’s not blood emails and try to game the system.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. Well, I mean look at your role in your team. The fact that there’s a CMO in charge of customer experience — five or ten years ago — I was I was never aware of such a title. I think so many marketers, you’re right, our jobs ended with hey, we got the MQLs over to the inside sales team, we’re done, and what happens when someone’s a customer, sorry, we’re responsible for getting new customers. Talk about what that’s like because I think that shift alone can lead to the right types of behaviors that we all should encompass in our own marketing.
Kevin Cochrane: Yeah, know exactly. I mean, I actually liken customer experience to the third wave of digital transformation where the first wave of digital transformation was simply putting our presence online to support convenience of access to information about our products goods and services by the online consumer. That was all an era of brand marketing, you know, we wanted to protect our brand.
But in the second age of digital transformation where we rebuilt the entire enterprise web infrastructure stack, that was all about the shift to demand marketing, from brand marketing to demand marketing. And it was really catalyzed because you know, frankly, in the financial crisis the economic outlook was turbulent at best and with poor revenue outlook and potentially flat to declining margins because people needed to lower prices in order to get consumers to spend because consumers were reluctant to spend because their 401Ks tanked, their home values tanked and, you know, maybe they lost their job, suddenly, you know, stock prices were declining. And what happens in that particular case is then people want to boost growth, and the entire digital marketing industry was based on the premise that we need to accelerate customer acquisition because it was all of that spend two thousand nine ten, eleven twelve, all of the martech investments that were funded by VCs were all predicated on the notion of we need to boost revenue by accelerating customer acquisition because it was all driven during the recovery from the financial crisis.
So we are here today because we are still in the overhang that fundamental shift to digital marketing which is all predicated on customer acquisition. But here now in this third wave, which I would argue is just starting right now, it’s we’re returning the art of marketing, we’re returning more to the side of brand marketing, and I like to refer to it as connecting communities, right?
So, from building the brand to driving demand to connecting communities, which is gathering people, right, our customers, our prospects and connecting with them in an authentic way around their personal hopes, dreams, needs, and aspirations, and helping them achieve that day in and day out in their daily lives. And this is fundamentally what’s re-inventing businesses, because suddenly, you know if you’re you know, my favorite coffee company, Starbucks, you can knock me on Starbucks, I am such an advocate — it’s crazy, I go there four times a day. They understand that what I’m looking to do every morning when I get up is I’m looking to have a great start to my day, so they make it super fast, super easy and super convenient for me to never miss a meeting, never miss my time to work because now they let me preorder on my mobile phone and simply walk in and pick up my coffee — it’s fricken fantastic. They’re reinventing their business model in new services to deliver value to me to live my daily life in a faster and more convenient way, right? And so as marketers we’re redefining our brand promise, right? To connect with our communities and then, day in and day out as marketers, we’re basically showing how that we add more value to their lives. So, I do think that this new wave of digital transformation really puts markers at the forefront to be the ambassadors for the customers to be the voice of the customer and to help educate everyone in the organization to understand how does the brand promise improve people’s lives on a daily basis such that they want to come back again, and again, and again and again?
Joe Hyland: Yeah. I love that. There’s probably no better time, I think, I mean we have no choice were in marketing today, it is what it is, but I think there’s no better time to be to be a marketer. And you’re right, when you talked about the second wave of accelerating revenue, there were. I think beautiful things about it and the obvious slippery slopes. Well, what I thought was great is marketers really became core to growing the business in phase one where it was, I say just brand it’s not necessarily meant to be a negative thing, but you know marketers weren’t necessarily quarter driving growth in all scenarios. Phase two where you talked about, yes, I totally agree. I think it went too far, you know, the explosion of inside sales and SDR departments — a pet peeve of mine — and I’m not really sure if that’s the best customer experience have a 23-year-old just lighting up your prospective customers with ten calls in a week. But yeah, I agree, we’re now moving into this nice mix of a true art of marketing where you have the elements of branding. I think marketers are core to growth still, which is phenomenal and marketers are so strategic. But what you just said about Starbucks, back to the core tenets that you talked about at the start of the show is knowing why someone does what they what they do. I mean, knowing what inspires people — Starbucks does that better than better than most companies.
Kevin Cochrane: That’s right, exactly. As marketers, if you can’t figure out what inspires your customers at a very deep emotional level to react positively or brand — not just once but you know time and time again — go back and think harder and think harder by actually walking in the shoes of your customer and spending time with them. And I couldn’t agree with you more, by the way, on the whole, SDR model, and, you know what, an SDR model, done correctly, you know, if you’re 23 years old, there’s nothing more fascinating than to get on the phone with the CIO and listen and learn and ask questions, you know, “What’s going on in your world?” And then just be upfront honest. If the CIO, the CMO starts telling you there are challenges, if you train the SDR properly, the SDR could say, you know, you know ma’am, sir, unfortunately, I can’t help you there. Or, potentially, they can. Now I’ll tell you I start my career, when I was 23 years old, I was a Management Consultant before I did my Interwoven gig. I was a Management Consultant and the way I basically did financial models for mergers and acquisitions, and so, basically, I had to come up with all of the inputs on market size, market growth rates, competitive profiling and so and so forth.
Joe Hyland: That sounds fun work project.
Kevin Cochrane: Yes. Oh my God, they were crazy. They were called grenades because they would blow up in your face because they would take over your life 20 hours days. But what I did was — and these were like weird markets like centrifuges, you know industrial mixers, things that there was no research on, right? And so what you have to do is you have to build up a list of like 300 people you would need to call, like a product manager, CEOs of all the businesses and you just have to engage them. And then, you just have to ask yourself, “Well, how do you do that?” Well, you just show curiosity like, “I’m interested. Hey, I just want to know more about your business like tell me what you can, and in return, I’ll share with you all the insights I gained from my research.” So, an SDR model done right leverages that unique curiosity as a team. Lean in with that curiosity and make sure that they can understand what the customer is saying and they can relate it to something that you can either do or not do and then train them to be up front and honest. Because, to your point, I think an SDR model done wrong is you give the SDR a script you flood ’em with MQLs, go through this script and then try to punch out as many first level meetings as possible. If they’re just trying to punch out first level meetings and they’re not trying, themselves understand listen and learn and try to relate to a customer problem and how we might solve it, then the model is broken. It doesn’t work.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. Now you are you’re totally right and it’s looking at the wrong metrics, right? Like if you’re if you’re looking if you’re so short-term focused that — and let’s face it, every business wants to grow — you got to have a long-term view and short-term metrics can kill you.
Kevin Cochrane: That’s bingo out. Nothing more to say on that.
Joe Hyland: So we’ll end with the topic that I love, and I get asked a lot is what’s the best path? Like, how did you know? How did Joe how did you become a head of marketing Kevin? We know, how did you get here? You talked about management consulting, and then I think you had a decade-long run as an entrepreneur. You know, were you running marketing, where you were marketing report into you? How did how did you get this level of passion and knowledge? For your craft?
Kevin Cochrane:Yeah, I mean and if it’s going to sound like totally try it actually comes from deep customer knowledge and intimacy. So, in my management consulting days, basically, I wound up being the go-to person that everyone wanted to have on their team because within two to three weeks I would know the customer because I would literally call like 300 of them on the phone and interview them, right? And then when I went to Silicon Valley in 1996 like May of 1996, I didn’t know Tech at all. Like, I know nothing. The Apache web server had just been released, and two hundred engineers in a garage got some seed funding from local VC firm that wanted to invent a new category of software called web content management, and, you know, I literally just said, “Look, I don’t know anything and I have no qualifications to be a product manager, I said, but what I can do for you is you guys have this kind of goal to like, you know, help people build websites.” I said, “I’ll just go interview every single person in the Fortune 500, every single CIO, every single architect of this interview and then I’ll help write down what their requirements are and coalesce those into a document that maybe you can actually use to build a product.” And that’s what I did for 10 years is just I was always in front of a customer talking and listening and learning and then going back — that was my day job was to be out in front of the customer.
My night job was I would sit with engineers and pizza until midnight literally every single night saying here are the customer conversations I had today. And just over time what that translated into was just running … eventually, CMO is super easy because then you are just saying look, “I’m the customer advocate.” Like, you know, I just love talking to customers. I know what’s inspiring them. So I would just encourage anyone the right path can be any one of several. You can start and pre-sales, you can start in inside sales, you can start in marketing, you can start in a customer success team. If you are the biggest champion of your customers if you are the person that has the most curiosity if you’re the person who really cares about the customer at such as deep level about you, know what emotionally ties into brand your CMO material. And it doesn’t matter where you start you can start from any place — it’s just you gotta be that customer evangelist at the end of the day.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, well, that’s a perfect way to end because you are 100 percent right. Great marketing is about knowing your end-user, knowing what keeps them up at night, what pains they have and hopefully delivering a message in the product that that will help address that. So, Kevin, this was this was fantastic. I really appreciate you doing this while you’re on the road and we’ll continue the conversation over a run.
Kevin Cochrane: Great, thank so much, Joe. It was great meeting you and thanks so much for allowing me to join the conversation today, I enjoyed it a lot.
Joe Hyland: Awesome. Thanks.