Amber Blaha brings nearly 20 years of leadership and consulting experience to the technology services marketing space. As the Chief Marketing Officer at Ness Digital Engineering, her focus is on promoting how the company’s digital transformation and platform engineering services can help clients generate outstanding outcomes for their businesses.
Ness helps clients design, build and integrate digital platforms and enterprise software. These are used to generate revenue, improve operational productivity, and increase operational agility. This creates a lot of storytelling opportunities, and this is what Amber Blaha enjoys most about marketing at Ness.
Amber shares with us her insights and lessons learned from her journey in marketing and consulting.
How do you successfully put businesses on a path of innovation?
We guide our clients on the path of innovation in a few ways. The first is helping them gather inspiration and perspective from outside their business’s typical operating sphere, which can include looking at emerging market trends and behaviors, what’s happening in other (sometimes surprising) industries, and talking to customers, employees, and partners.
It makes sense to get away from your usual frame of reference, because it’s hard to be innovative if you’re always considering the same input. Clients value our ability to help them draw inspiration from all corners of the broader market ecosystem, as well as from learning from other business processes – sometimes from within their own organization. The key is having them take the time to focus on gathering this perspective.
When clients have already identified an opportunity for innovation, we’ll help them develop a prototype or pilot program – and constructively challenge the expression of the problem statement. These initiatives can come from an initial idea they want to build out, or perhaps something compelling that emerged from an internal hackathon. To make it achievable, we recommend that they pick something that can be done quickly, can provide actionable results, and that doesn’t get stuck in development for fear of not having every possible feature available, because this is a learning activity that is meant to be iterative in order to hone in on the greatest sources of value.
The third thing we do is help our clients build out the processes and frameworks that set themselves up for future innovations. Digital transformation is an ongoing journey that needs constant fine tuning. So, when we work with our clients, we’re also talking about how else they can set themselves up to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve.
This involves setting up or changing processes within their current work culture to set aside some time to explore or act upon new ideas, along with feedback loops to ensure there’s a mechanism in place to help solutions continuously evolve and improve.
Lastly, we work with them to make sure they have a roadmap in place that spells out potential advances for the future and that incorporates flexibility within products and processes, so they can adapt as needed.
We talk to clients a lot about setting up a culture of innovation, and we encourage them to make that change by building a company-wide culture to complement the various innovation projects and programs they’re already running. Other organizations sell consulting services on how to be more innovative or agile, but we’ve found the best approach is to institutionalize innovation by applying best practices to actual, in-play programs. We see how much easier it is to learn if you practice what you’re doing, so cultivating these solutions helps establish an institutionalized approach that endures.
What skill sets are needed in the future that a marketing leader should be thinking about and investing in today?
The marketing space is obviously full of technologies that help you gain insight into what’s happening at the market or at the customer level, but ultimately, what’s most important is the ability to translate the data those tools provide into understanding what a company or a customer needs. It’s then possible to articulate a value proposition in a way that is helpful to them. Technology is an enabler, but the business need will always be the driver, and being able to work with that is where your marketing values lies. Business needs most often originate around responding to some human behavior. Empathy and listening skills are a strong counterpoint to selecting the “right-fit” technology for the job.
What new or current marketing programs at Ness are you most excited about?
Something we’re really excited about is our knowledge exchange programs, which we do both internally and externally. One of our objectives is to share information that program attendees can immediately apply in meaningful and tangible ways. We also want to inspire new ideas and help organizations think about applications of newer technologies in use cases that they hadn’t thought of before.
For example, we do various external programs where we bring together our own business technology experts, some customers, and some leaders from other companies to discuss current topics. Recently, we’ve had discussions on practical applications for machine learning, or how you can use the Internet of Things to improve predictive analytics.
Our clients are engaging us to help them solve real business problems and create or implement new solutions. A particularly fun part of the job is helping them define what they need in the first place; it’s often not what the team started out thinking. It’s important to be able to share experiences on different ways to tackle things, as well as help them build the solutions once the strategy is determined.
How do you use customer input and market trends to help define the vision with them?
We feel that approaching a client program with a cross-functional team is important to bring a variety of perspectives to the table. To give an example, when we start client engagements, we typically assemble a team that includes software engineers, customer experience designers, and data experts. As we collaborate in describing what the solution might be, we can utilize the synergies of having these multiple backgrounds working together.
For example, in manufacturing, it’s believed that even if you have a great design, if it’s not possible to build it, then it’s not the right solution. You want to “design for manufacturability” and make sure that your solution has the right design and that it can be executed in a scalable and high-performance way. Having a cross-functional team of different types of experts in the mix from the beginning (including all the business-specific knowledge the client lives and breathes) helps ensure seamless integration among the necessary capabilities.
What are the most exciting and interesting trends or innovations coming through in finance or manufacturing?
I’m going to answer your question in a slightly different way, because within our organization and how we go to market, we promote the concept of a domain over industry. While the concept of industries was helpful in the past, it’s limiting today because it precludes the innovation that comes from looking across industries. We see domains dissolving previous industry barriers, and we now see a set of common business problems (a domain) that we can help our clients address. A bank or insurer must improve and personalize its mobile customer experience, but it can often learn more from a mobile shopping app than from studying a competitor.
If you think about it from a competitive perspective, a lot of companies today are competing against organizations outside of their traditional industry lines. So, we try and think about things as groups of business problems that we help our clients solve, allowing them to develop solutions that are not narrowly focused.
How do you go about measuring the success of marketing at Ness?
We go about this in a few ways. Fundamentally, we’re here to help the company grow, so as a baseline, we’re always making sure every activity is mapped to enabling growth. This can be either directly linked to demand generation programs, or indirectly mapped through internal knowledge exchange that occurs between different regions. On a more technical level, we’re looking at metrics like opportunity volume, opportunity quality, and movement in the buying process. All of this gets looked at along with attribution sources, as we want to be investing the most time on the most valuable activities that support customers and the business.
In addition to quantitative metrics, we also actively seek qualitative feedback from our colleagues, who are engaging with customers, and customers themselves. While numbers can reflect what’s happening, we build on the ‘why’ behind the numbers and what actions can be taken to optimize even more.
When you’re looking at trends and ideas to turn into saleable solutions, how do you prioritize in your listening?
We prioritize by looking for the intersections between customer needs, our expertise, and gaps and opportunities in the market. We also focus on ensuring whatever value proposition we have for the solution is clearly mapped to how it can generate value by solving business problems for our clients. There are lots of technology solutions out there that sound great, but ultimately people are looking for the technology to help them solve problems or pursue new opportunities. They don’t want to spend too much energy wrestling with the technology itself.
Because we’re a services organization, it’s also important for our customers to work with us in a way that best suits their organizations. Business needs change over time, so we need to have flexibility in our collaboration, whether it’s picking a phased approach to a program, or doing an initial pilot and jointly figuring out the next step from there. Our clients consistently say they value our ability to establish a team structure and a governance model with flexibility around business objectives in mind.