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Julie Woods-Moss, CMO of Tata Communications, was voted as one of Hot Topics' 100 most influential B2B marketers in Europe. Here, she discusses the evolving role of the CMO.

As the CMO of Tata Communications, I am often asked what the most exciting areas are that will need significant attention.

I believe that if you look at it very simply, then both – ‘the disruption in customer experience’ and ‘the growth in digital value’ are bringing about exciting changes to the way we think about them.

But they are also bringing about uncertainty in who owns customer experience – is it the CEO, the CMO, or the head of Customer Service? Actually, the CMO is beautifully placed to own customer experience because we have to join the dots across the company.

We’ve got to understand enough about the customer to inform the product teams, we’ve then got to work with sales to grow the business and then ultimately we’re responsible for the brand – so you have to have a foot in customer experience as well.

This opening up of customer experience through digital will mean that more CMOs will naturally take on that role. Then, it’s obviously about creating value for the company. I’m part of a marketing club called Marketing 50 and there is not a single CMO there whom I admire who doesn’t report into the CEO.

For example, Phil Clement of Aon reports to the CEO, so does Jonathan Becher who was CMO, and is now Chief Digital Officer at SAP.

Companies that are growing tend to have a more strategic CMO. Companies that are tactical tend to align the CMO with sales.

The need to build digital clusters

The digital function within a business has to be based around partnerships.

I’ve just hired Craig Hepburn, who used to head digital for Nokia, and the first thing I said to him was that whilst his first mandate is to excel in digital marketing, it is then important to partner with the CIO and Head of Customer Service to be part of this evolution of digital value.

I think it’s really important to create these clusters. I get angry when people say ‘who owns the customer?’ You can’t own how somebody feels.

The way that digital and social is now influencing B2B buyers means that it has to be more of a collaboration. The two things my CEO is looking for in members of our leadership forum (the top 250 employees in the company) and then the top 10 within that are; “can you innovate” and “are you collaborative”?

You can’t qualify for bonus just on the numbers, you have to be seen as an innovator and a collaborator after a peer review.

Creating a culture of innovation

Everyone should have the ability to innovate within whatever sphere of influence they have.

We had this vision, at a systemic level, to declare that innovation is of fundamental importance within Tata Communications.

As a company, within each function and for every individual, 20% of performance is based on a criteria which is called ‘shaping the future’.

I partner with our Head of Strategy to drive this initiative. We have an entrepreneurship program which means, twice a year, anybody can submit an idea and we then choose 3 winners and those people can give up their job and pursue those ideas within the business.

In light of the fact that we have a relatively small M&A budget, the second thing we did was to participate in an investment fund. When we looked at all of the existing funds, most were focused on B2C and driven by mobile.

To counter this, we talked to a fund and suggested they start a B2B fund which would have participation from 4 big telecoms companies, including ourselves, who would all put in money.

Each year we ask them to scope 200 companies and we aim to invest in up to 20.

Integrating new technologies as a CMO

A former CEO I worked with once told me that you should never let experience make you lazy. Rather you should always look for the data and then add experience to that data.

One of the first things I did when I joined Tata Communications three and a half years ago, was to invest in an insights platform and this was before people were talking about big data in the way they are now.

Digital is an area which everyone thinks they understand but it is so specialized.

You’ve got to keep it simple. In all of the CMO roles I’ve had, one of the biggest challenges was communicating to the global business exactly what we are working on in each region.

As a CMO you have to solve the simple things that then provide the most leverage and productivity across the business. Our partnership with IT is key.

For example, we’ve developed some new apps for sales enablement, which is arguably a less exciting area than IoT or cloud, but it has been extremely beneficial for the business.

There is an abundance of new technologies available but you have to take it down to simple use cases that you can see a clear return on.

Adopting simple use cases, testing new technologies and adopting lean methodologies in marketing, as well as in the traditional development, is how you can demonstrate visible business outcomes.