ESG's Mark Peters discusses business challenges during these challenging times with James Whitemore of NetApp.
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Mark: Sitting alongside me today for this installment of "Marketing in Challenging Times," I'm thrilled to have James Whitmore, who is the CMO at NetApp. James, great to have you here, and let me start by asking what I ask everyone. How have the last few months been? What changes have occurred because of COVID?
James: Well, I mean, just travel, kind of like, it was so much a part of my life, you know, every week, and, you know, it's been a pleasure not to travel. If I never have to see the inside of a Marriott hotel, or sit in a seat of a United Airlines aircraft ever again, I'll be quite happy, and I don't think until you stop traveling you realize quite how draining the constant travel can be. What I have, did figure out is that the travel time every week was my think time, was the time that I set aside to organize my thoughts, kind of like, you know, really pull my, kind of like, you know, to-do lists together, and when that travel time disappears from your calendar, you have to create artificial, kind of like, blocks of time which are truly your think and work time.
And it took me and my EA angel a few weeks to figure that out, and how to do that, just creating those periods of downtime.
Mark: There are two specific things I want to ask you about adjustments you've had to make as a result of the current situation. Sort of just generally with your team and the way of working, so I'll let you do that one first.
James: It was really when, kind of like, everybody had to work remotely, work from home, that things started to level out, and the team have really found Zoom is a great leveler across the teams, and meetings are so much more productive. You know, we post 10-minute meetings rather than 30-minute meetings. We start and stop meetings five after the hour and five before the hour, to make sure that everyone gets a 10-minute break between meetings.
We, kind of like, are being a little bit more creative, rather than just trying to replicate, like, you know, face-to-face meetings. But I think in general, everyone has found, kind of like, you know, everyone on a Zoom platform, or whatever your platform of choice is, to be a great leveler.
Mark: You've reminded me of something which really links me to the main thing I wanted to ask you, so, I attended your analyst session a few weeks ago, and actually, you had a chart up there of all the different COVID rules and regulations and expectations, and which way the charts were going, in all of the, you know, the regions that you operate, to the extent that you could.
Which I thought was you to a T, to be honest, because I know you as a very specific and quantitative marketeer, but you've always been someone who loves to detail the numbers and what's quantifiable. Does COVID make that more amenable, more likely, more common? Are you able to adjust things in that direction, or has that really not changed much?
James: I actually have a ton more data at my disposal. You know, about six months ago, we started some projects internally, way before, kind of like, COVID started rating sales tools, and the way that marketing and sales interact together, on a project we called internally the digital revenue engine, which was basically bringing, kind of like, a whole new level of marketing automation in play, AI tools to play.
And that has given me a ton more data, kind of like. And when I can show that, hey, our salespeople are having to interact with our prospects, our partners, and our customers in these ways, through these type of channels, therefore, we need to apply these learning and enablement processes, we need content to help them in these areas, we need to focus on these parts of our websites, we need more of these type of events, kind of like a...
It's all kind of like based on a huge amount of insight that we're able to gather now, from very specific interactions that our customers and prospects and partners are having on our websites, and our sales teams are having in their day-to-day activity, and that data is so, so key.
Mark: So, final question. Where do we go now? Where would you like to? Can you steer the boat in different directions in the future? Is the tide gonna take us somewhere else? And how do you see the next, I guess, few months, year or so, and maybe beyond that?
James: Well, you know, I guess, first thing I would say is that everything that we're seeing now is actually accelerating what my view of the world has been, you know, pre-COVID, that basically, in technology, B2B technology marketing and selling, you're seeing a ton more kind of like behavior patterns that we are typically used to in consumer-based marketing, and, you know, I call it "business-to-human marketing," rather than B2B or B2C, kind of like, we're trying to engage with humans, and those humans want to interact with us in different ways.
They want access to information, when they want it, in short, digestible chunks that speak in human language. They want digital interactions. They want AI-driven content presented to them. They want access to experts, whether it's, you know, inside teams or field-based teams, they want to be able to get access to those experts now, and this immediacy, this personalization of services, I think, will be the new norm or us moving forward.
Mark: It's fascinating, isn't it, that as we've taken away some of what many of us would perceive, or usually accept to be human, going to Vegas or whatever, you're saying that what we have now actually, to some degree, enables more of that to take place. So, fascinating insight. Thank you very much for taking the time.
James: Well, thank you for having me. Cheers, Mark.