Please join the Chief Marketing Officer of SoftServe Inc. as she highlights the importance of a performance strategy and guiding your team through the day-to-day.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Connect virtual cmo Leadership Summit hosted on quartz network. My name is Britt earler que en executive correspondent, thank you so much for joining us. We have a fantastic guest speaker here with us today Christine bilski, Chief Marketing Officer at soft serve. Welcome, Christine. Thank you so much. Pleasure to have you here. And I’m really looking forward to discussing your insights and feedback that you have for Marketing Leaders everywhere. But before we do so, I’d love if you could give us just a quick background about yourself and your current role.
Sure, I would love to. So I’m currently the Chief Marketing Officer at soft serve Incorporated. And we are a privately held company half a billion dollars based out of Ukraine in the technology services arena. And we are really helping clients navigate their transformation to the goal of such a hot topic now especially accelerated around the pandemic and the economic downturn. Prior to so I’ve been its officer for six months prior to softserve. I have a really unique background in that I’ve only worked at two other places in my over 25 year career I want to age myself. But I spent I grew up in the direct marketing arena with gateway computers. Back in South Dakota where I grew up in the Midwest, I spent eight years with with gateway half that time in their consumer division in South Dakota, and then helped with their b2b expansion through some of their acquisitions out in Southern California. And then I went to work for IBM started on the PC side before the transition of Lenovo on PC side. And I spent 18 years at IBM most recently, he was the vice president of worldwide performance marketing for the cloud business. And then took a little bit of time off to recharge my batteries did a little stint as a fractional cmo and decided it was time to kind of get back into things and have just been really loving my role at saucer and really helping me to take their marketing practice to the next level.
Congratulations on your new role I’d add coming in it’s such an interesting time in the industry. And obviously you are no stranger to how fast paced and ever evolving the marketing industry is. And with that comes the need for short term results. But also while building these long term foundations, long term relationships, you know, you’re six months into your role as a marketing leader, what’s top of mind for you. You know, there are so many things that are top of mind. But in the one thing that I’m really leaning into right now is this topic of culture, and really diving into creating the right kind of culture at saucer for our marketing team. And just to set the stage a little bit. You know, like I said before, we’re really at that next stage of b2b marketing maturity at soft serve. And prior to becoming on board, you know, the, the marketing team really wasn’t as connected to the business, we didn’t really have a seat at the at the leadership table to connect the marketing strategies to the business strategy. And a byproduct of that, like many Marketing Leaders phase, the marketing team, you know, really becomes more of a shared services point of the organization rather than a catalyst for growth. And so with that sort of backdrop that’s really set the stage for the priorities in terms of getting marketing, aligned to the business, we have that seat at the table. Now in that permission. We’ve created a charter around a mission and a vision for what we want marketing to be in the short term and in the long term, and really changing this dynamic around evolving our culture from one of activity to one of the outcomes and performance. Absolutely. And I think that’s a huge point to make marketing sales alignment has become one of our biggest key themes, especially for these upcoming summits. You know, it used to be that they were to kind of separate departments to separate areas. And now it’s really about coming together and creating this ecosystem where you’re right. You know, the outcomes, the profit are just as important to focus on on the marketing side as well. Developing that process that strategy, what was your first Step
marketing team, I’ve spent a lot of time with my leadership team, but also every individual contributor and my team around making sure that they understand the business strategy. Right? Our goals are and you know what the metrics of success look like? Then we sort of take the next step, which is, so how does marketing support that business strategy? And where do we align really specific on the marketing strategy? And then we take it down another layer, which is that how do how does each individual and the role that they’re playing on the team fit in to the marketing strategy, and then it just becomes this constant reiteration. In our day to day activities, you know, across our management system, once a month, I get our entire team together, as you know, many leaders do in a town hall or on hands call. And it’s a very consistent update on the business alignment to the marketing strategy, individual, you know, kind of contributions and just that constant, you know, reiteration. And it’s been really amazing to see, as demonstrated through our quarterly NPS scores, how it’s really resonated, and really started to change the dynamic and the team and how they feel about being part of an organization that are starting to be more connected in the business starting to be more respected in the business. And we’re, and we’re just getting started. So it’s been pretty exciting to see that,
of course, and like I said, a lot of companies are just starting that journey, as you guys are as well. And not even just marketing and sales, it really the strategy can go through all departments across the board, and how can everyone be aligned to hit the business goals. And another side of that, especially for you, as a CMO for softserve, is coming in, and really deciding what your mission and your vision is going to be for the marketing department? Let’s talk about that, you know, how did you come up with it? Where did you begin? Yeah, so, you know, it’s, it’s such a great question. And, you know, it became really, really clear, my first week on the job, and, you know, reaching out to the business stakeholders, talking with my leadership team engaging with, you know, my full team, it’s not a huge team, about 60 people. So, you know, it’s really, you know, relatively easy to engage. And, you know, it just became super clear, if you ask five people, you know, what does marketing mean, at softserve, you got five different answers. And so, I actually set up in the first 30 days that I was in the role a couple of times, certainly, with my leadership team, where we went through a vision and mission eight exercise to create our team charter. And, you know, it did it for a couple of reasons. One, it would have been very easy for me to come in and just sort of declare, but by and by using it as more of a team building exercise to really get buying in from my leadership team, who also brought in input from, you know, their, their teams as well, it was really a great opportunity for us as a new team, to really start building trust, it became a great team building exercise for us. And, you know, if you’re getting instant buying and as well from the team, and so, that was, um, you know, that was great. And then, you know, our ability to then be able to take that out to the rest of the team and share that was also, you know, results are pretty sweet. And so again, you know, every month, you know, we’re flashing up our charter, again, it’s sort of that North Star and that vision, you know, our priorities aligning to what that mission is our our, you know, strategic initiatives align you to that vision, that Northstar that we’ve created. And you know, and again, it’s just really been sort of a unifying principle, and, you know, almost artifact for our team. And I sit mentioned as well, you know, the distribution of my team across the globe is pretty interesting as well. So my team is really dispersed across Eastern Europe. So Ukraine, Bulgaria, I’ve got folks in London and then also in Austin and other places in the US as well. So you know, that those, it was just another sort of way, especially in this time where we can’t physically be together face to face through to really get that unification in a virtual environment.
Of course, and then that’s not easy to do, you know, especially kind of what starting from scratch, so to speak. And I want to touch on that Northstar a little bit more and your mission and vision, you know, how do you make that real, especially when your teams are so spread out? Even now, during COVID, where people are at different stages in, you know, quarantine and self isolation? How do you make that happened for them?
Yeah. So, you know, again, this notion of creating a culture of performance, you know, it’s some of the most simplest things that I think make the biggest difference. And so, you know, the first thing was really establishing performance objectives and goals. And, you know, this was a team that really broke goals at the beginning of the year, and sort of set them aside and then come back, and you know, maybe look at them six months later, and at the end of the year, and sort of reframing and redefining, and you know, what our goals look like, and making them much more agile and much more flexible. So short term goals, midterm goals, long term goals, you know, let’s create a culture of transparency where we’re giving feedback all the time, so that it becomes less of a formal notion, and almost like a check mark kind of thing that I’ve got to go do. But rather, if our focus really becomes on the outcomes that we’re delivering, versus just the activity that we’re doing. And then, you know, how do we start to pay recognition and compensation to, to those outcomes? You know, how are we spending our time and what are the processes, you know, that we’re using, so the management systems, and constant drumbeat in our communications programs, you know, again, you know, being really intentional about, you know, when we’re talking to our teams, you know, how we do that, and, you know, again, just this reiteration of outcomes, outcomes, outcomes.
And you know, I also think, just creating this environment of safety, so safety and equipping people, and so making sure that everybody knows that it’s okay to fail. in marketing and Modern Marketing, it’s all about, and, you know, get it out there, get it out fast, see how it performs, make your optimizations, and, you know, the whole what fail fast fail forward phrase, you know, it just couldn’t be more true. And so creating, I think that environment that it was okay to do that. And, you know, in addition, making sure that we’re doing a great job of equipping our marketers, and I’m super excited to be kicking off a pretty significant professional development program to upskill, our entire marketing team, you know, around b2b marketing, we’re starting in just a couple of weeks, it’ll last about three months. And it’ll be over 30 hours of professional development around Modern Marketing. And, you know, again, the team is so excited about it, because, you know, they’re like, we can’t remember when, you know, the business really took marketing seriously enough to really invest, you know, not only in this function at the business, but in us as individuals. And so that’s been really, that’s been really cool, as well.
So rewarding. And you’re in such a unique position right now, as opposed to Marketing Leaders that may have been in a role for you know, like yourself that passwords 18 plus years, and really haven’t had the opportunity to innovate or make these changes, you know, try things that may fail to see what will work. So to be in your position, and really get to experiment here. And you’ll get your team up to date with new ideas and new creative ways of thinking in the industry is fantastic. And I think now’s the time to do it. You know, COVID is a crazy time. So if you’re going to try new things and make mistakes, I think this year is his is the one and as far as, you know, trends that you’ve seen that have emerged this year, and also expectations into next year. You know, what do you think? What do you think will change?
Oh, gosh, well, I think, you know, one thing that has to change, as we’re on zoom today is this experience around in a digital connection and digital events and, you know, being able to just deliver experiences and you know, creating that connection in a really different way. I also think that you know, what this year has really taught us is a lot about resilience, but also about, you know, a marketing plan is a framework that guides you, but you have to have the agility to be able to make those shifts at any moment because you just never know from, you know, what’s going to you know, what’s going to happen next. And so, I think those are, you know, two really big themes
and then you know, I think the other the other piece as well as this is gonna put a lot of I think focus and maybe an evaluation on Mar tech stacks, and you know, the tools that you have and the tools that you really need.
And I think that there will just be a natural prioritization, that perhaps comes out of those investments, as it relates, again, to accelerating, you know, your ability as a marketer to support an authentic connection. And, you know, in a world where face to face interactions may not be as readily available. So, that’s what I sort of see in my magic eight ball. I don’t know if that predictions for the next five years. Yeah, like I said it, you know, as you mentioned, it’s a complete guessing game. But you know, once these changes are made these shifts these trends, do you think it’s something that will stick? You know, once it’s happened, do you think we’ll ever go back to the way things used to be or do you think will continue to evolve?
I think that the event world is changed forever, you know, both from the perspective of marketers and trying to build those experiences, you know, for our clients, whether it’s to progress existing pipeline through the funnel, or it’s to create new opportunities, but I think as an event attendee, um, you know, I think, I think people are just going to make different decisions as they evaluate how they’re going to spend their time. And, you know, what I think this time has proven is that there are a lot of different ways that you can make connection, and that you can also just get information and consume information. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity, you know, from a marketing point of view, and just from an experience, design point of view, what the next, what that next blueprint looks like, for our, for our event space, once things start to open up.
Yeah, it’s something we’re considering as well, obviously, being an events company and specializing in our in person events for our one on one meetings. And, thankfully, we were lucky enough to be able to be a small enough company, we could make a quick pivot, you know, into this virtual space and been very successful at it. But we realized, you know, into 2021 2022, even if in person events come back, we pro will probably always keep this virtual hybrid option. There’s a lot of companies that no longer feel the need to send their marketers to in person summits, when they can get it done just as effectively over a zoom call, you know, like this. So it’ll be really interesting to see. And, and I’m interested to see what you end up doing next year to with your team?
Well, and one final question for you, obviously, everybody’s at different stages right now, in terms of where their company’s at the role, you know, taking out a lot of different responsibilities, but as a marketing leader, any final pieces of advice, anything you think that they should really focus on to help be successful. Yeah, so you know, keeping around this theme, around creating a culture of performance, I think there are a couple of, you know, just additional insights that I would share based upon my learnings. You know, as leaders, we are agents of change. And I think that, you know, your leadership team and having that strong bench of leaders that, you know, not are just experts in their particular craft, but our, our change agents, and you know, have that ability to transform have that ability to bring others along, and sort of that servant leader EQ kind of quotient that sometimes I don’t know, that we necessarily give as much credence to and you know, that is super important, as well as building that talent bench and making sure that, you know, you’re looking at that pipeline at all times. And then, you know, the second piece that I would I would just share is that, you know, while I’m trying to impact the culture and marketing,
I also have parallel efforts that become really important just around the company culture, because that can either work for you, or it really can become a headwind and work against you. And so, you know, just thinking about those actions that you can take in parallel as you’re working to change the culture within your own marketing organization. What are those things that you can be doing on a macro level, to be able to reduce those headwinds and start getting all those boats rowing in the right direction, you know, even if it’s within, you know, some of your primary stakeholder, stakeholder areas like sales or like finance with your CFO or business operations as a couple examples. Of course, those are great pieces of advice. You know, I think a lot of marketers can use moving forward, whether you’re newer to the industry or kind of a veteran, so to speak. So thank you so much for sharing those ideas. I really appreciate you being here. I know everyone’s got a hectic schedule. So the time is appreciated and thank you to everyone else. Who has joined us here today? If you have any additional questions for Christine, there will be a discussion forum below. So feel free to ask away and she will check in from time to time and give you her insights. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the summit. Please be safe and stay healthy. Thank you.
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