Sheila Johanneson, Sr. Director of Marketing at SAP Concur, brings a wide range of expertise to drive results, built upon years of experience on both the agency and client side.
What’s been consistent across her career is her passion for identifying the business problem and using innovative design and solutions to solve it. Sheila says she loves the energy required to solve the creative problem of knowing what you want a person to think, feel and do, and making it happen. She loves the connections and process, identifying the pain points, developing the strategy, and connecting it back to goals.
In our interview, Sheila talked about how she navigates her current journey: building out a shared service model at SAP Concur to penetrate the SMB market, a market that is relatively new for the company. The following is in her own words.
How do go about unlocking those market opportunities in the SMB market?
It’s important to start with clarity on specific goals. Part of what I love here at SAP Concur is getting back to the basics of successful marketing and building a team rallied around a clear understanding of what’s important to the business.
My team focuses primarily on in-person and virtual events, building out content strategies, and a creative services and engagement model.
I always start by asking: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? And what do we want to get out of it?
And then we figure out what we have control over, and are accountable for. What do we need to deliver to meet our business goal? A lot of times it’s shared accountability. There are always several people who own a goal—who can influence, support and drive an objective. But all of those people need a sense of ownership.
Let’s take events, for example, I have one person focused on new business events, driving registrations, and pipeline. So that events marketing lead has ‘end-to-end’ ownership: from engaging prospects, driving interest to the event, and ultimately helping drive sales pipeline and sales working ARR from that event. Not in a scary way (which for some marketers would be nerve-wracking), but in a way that says, “look at the amazing business impact you’re making.” It’s cool for the individuals on the team to see and feel pride in how they truly help drive the business forward. We can see they are making a huge difference, and it’s showing up in the bottom line.
How do you think about the customer journey?
We are looking at the journey holistically, starting with where prospects are in the journey and putting ourselves in the shoes of that person at the various ‘funnel’ stages. We think about the hand-offs, because marketers are focused on different parts of the journey. I look at whether there is consistency in messaging and branding.
When I first started, there wasn’t a lot of sharing between teams. Now we are creating visibility, helping teams focus on key objectives. We’re also thinking through the customer experience we’re creating.
When marketers can share information, they can discover where there’s duplication or where there’s an opportunity to borrow what someone else is doing and apply that to their own work.
How do you learn and adapt strategically as you make progress toward your overall goals?
It’s important to look at how we’ve been doing things historically, listening to feedback, and using learnings to create a better customer experience.
I always talk about Voice of the Field and Voice of the Customer. It’s important to listen and not create marketing programs in a vacuum. It’s easy for marketing to sit in an ivory tower, but we need to learn from our resources: from our sales leaders, our customers and the folks in the field. Our goal is to continually improve the customer experience, the messaging, and the content.
From a customer experience perspective, we want to try and keep things fun and simple. Humor is always good. We want to make sure we’re delivering cool experiences as a technology company.
I’m always trying to think about fun, simple and new ways we can be showcasing technology. From how prospects and customers want to consume content, to getting more ‘hands on’ with our solutions at our events. For example, we provide iPads, so they can demo for themselves how easy and fast it is to use. It’s important for them to experience it themselves, versus just hearing about it.
What kind of culture are you and the leadership team focused on building?
The culture area we’re focusing on today is anticipatory leadership. Anticipating that things are going to change.
We talk about how important it is to think about change. There are many examples of companies that were at the top of their game. Suddenly, things change and they didn’t foresee it and couldn’t act in time.
Continually looking out for what’s next and innovating means that we must take risks and be ok with projects that may fail. It’s one thing to say, “we prescribe to the ‘fail fast’ mentality” and it’s another thing to live it. Anticipatory leadership demands a fail-fast approach; that’s how to summarize the culture we’re building.
What we’re trying to implement across our teams is the safety of failing. If you’re not talking about what’s not working, you’re not living the fail-fast mentality.
No one will get in trouble if you’re failing and learning together as a team. If we can fail together, then we will win together. We spend time celebrating our successes, but talking about where we can improve is how we’re going to evolve and change.
How would you define your own leadership mantra?
As a leader I try to ask myself, “Where are my blind spots?” It’s easy for managers to listen for a specific response instead of actually listening to learn and understand. With listening I remind myself to ask more questions to really learn and understand, versus jump to a conclusion or solution. Many times, I find myself asking the same question.
Why is it important to keep asking the same question? The medical field provides a great example. A doctor might ask similar questions multiple times because what appears to be a textbook case could truly be the opposite, and they don’t want to misdiagnose.
You have to continue to anticipate that something can be different with every case. This is part of anticipatory leadership. By continuing to ask questions, we might uncover something that we had no idea about. And the answer can change the direction we want to go.
As a leadership team we want to take the time to ask as many questions as we possibly can that will inform us before we make a judgment or decide on a future direction.
We also want to share learnings quickly so the organization can continue evolving. There’s a great podcast by Craig Groeschel who talks about this style of leadership.
So we look at the state of the organization, the people, and our blind spots as leaders to judge whether we are truly an anticipatory organization.