Tifenn Dano Kwan is originally from France and dreamed of working in the US. Her career took her to Canada, Singapore and Australia before coming to the US in 2011.
With a career spanning areas like field marketing, channel marketing, change management and integrated marketing in B2B, Tifenn Kwan gained a unique ability to understand different organizations, and quickly become successful.
Tiffen Kwan became CMO of SAP Ariba in October 2017. In our interview Tifenn Kwan discusses how to push boundaries in marketing, collaborate, experiment, and adapt to ever-changing business trends. Her experience helped developed a strong ability to run marketing and run a team.
How has all of your experience in different regions helped inform your approach to marketing?
The best thing to do is to listen, and listen deeply, whether it’s to the engineering team, product team, or sales team. It’s very beneficial to be very connected, to go and meet the people in different regions.
Second, it’s important to understand the trends that are happening in the market. In that regard, you should be open to receiving advice and recommendations from influencers and experts.
Third, you have to experiments and have courage to try new things. Do it with passion, and do it with collaboration with the sales team.
In addition, be very good at executing and implementing. I think the strategy only matters if you know how to implement, and 80% of the time when a strategy is not well adopted it’s because the implementation breaks.
This is where you realize that marketing is part of a bigger machine. If we only do marketing for the sake of doing marketing, if we stay in our silos, we cannot succeed and add value to the bottom line. And that, to me, begs the question of the role of marketing: How do we make sure that that contribution is actually an amplifier for the business?
That’s also where I see the value of marketing moving forward — to have a seat at the table with the sales team all the way to the end. That’s what I call putting the ribbon around the gift box. To expand on this metaphor, the salespeople are the people who bring the gift box. What’s inside the gift box is built by the engineers. But the way you present the box matters.
Marketing puts the ribbon on the gift box in that we make the package look meaningful, valuable, and extraordinarily attractive. The way we speak, the way we show, the way we tell, the way people look at the information has to be extremely consistent, and it has to be extremely personalized and elegant.
We work with sales, pre-sales, the engineering team, the value team, and the post-sales teams, creating great messaging, great stories, and great content that will put the ribbon around the gift box.
What is your approach for understanding marketing’s contribution to revenue, what are the key metrics for you?
When considering metrics, it’s important to understand the impact on the customer. You can gather that data through through NPS scores, renewals, or simply supporting the top line revenue. I don’t necessarily only believe in the core marketing contribution metrics around building pipeline. To me, those are table stakes, and we tracked those metrics for many, many years. In addition to those pipeline metrics, marketing should be able to help convert pipeline into revenue. So to me, conversions is a key metric to track.
Traditional metric have been all about marketing-sourced pipeline. But that only matters if we have the ability to convert that pipeline, and if we support sales in the effort of converting that pipeline. When this is our focus, it ensures that the leads we create in the first place are actually converting to real value. And once that’s done, once we have support of what I call the “pre-sales cycle,” that’s where the hard work starts with post-sales. Especially in the cloud business, everything is about retaining our customers. We need to constantly maintain renewal rates in the high 90 percent.
With this model, we see marketing involved all the way through the process. We’re involved in the pre-sales process to make sure we build the pipeline. We convert that pipeline into sales, and then we help drive adoption and loyalty. It’s an infinite loop that never stops. This is the way I would like to think about marketing, as a continuous partner in the business.
How do you work with C-level peers to drive a cohesive experience for the customer?
Collaboration in the C-suite hinges on the amount of effort that you put into getting to know the C-level peers around you and making the time to have candid conversations. Also, experimenting together on a new project to accomplish a shared goal or specific outcome is a great way to build camaraderie.
Part of my philosophy is making relationships personal. I think that the frontier between professional and personal is a little bit blurred these days. You’ve got to be a little bit more vulnerable and show your authentic self. It takes work and passion to develop partnerships. Also, I think that technology has allowed us to do this much more easily now. So frankly, there’s no excuse to not build relationships within the business, even across geographic regions.
Then, at the end of the joint project, always, always share the credit. Show or explain the value that each individual person, group, or team contributed to the success of the project. Sharing credit really matters to sales team, especially.
One of marketing’s main goals is empowering the sales team and making them look good. I tell my marketing team, “If you’re not okay with the fact that it’s not you first, then maybe you’re not working in the right place.”
How do you manage up? For example, working with the CEO, what does that look like from a collaboration perspective?
First and foremost, when you work with the CEO, you need to be prepared. You should be two steps ahead. Always have a stack of data, stats, and top priorities ready to share. These are things you can pull together very quickly because sometimes requests for updates come at the last minute, and you want to be buttoned-up and prepared.
Second, be concise and very clear in the way you communicate. Learn to balance the strategic and tactical, and that balance often depends on the situation, topic, or need.
Third, the CEO wants to know that you’re in control and on top of things. They want to be confident that execution won’t stop. At the same time, the CEO doesn’t want to get deep into the details. Give them enough information to show that they can be confident in your leadership of your team.
Fourth, once you’ve established a good relationship, you’ll be able to make recommendations or suggest changes. They will begin to be open to your advice. But earning the right to be a strategic advisor takes time and effort.
An example of how to do this is to focus on what they value most. For instance, CEOs care a lot about competitive analysis. So, a CMO should take advantage of every opportunity to provide a positioning strategy and competitive approach. That is always well-received.
Fifth, they need to know also that you have clear objectives, KPIs, and return-on-investment.
Be extremely data-driven. I spend a lot of time with my president on metrics, and specifically the top-line metrics. These metrics answer questions like:
- What’s the contribution of marketing?
- What is the top source of contribution?
- Where are the gaps or issues?
- What’s working, what’s not, and how can we adjust?
- How can we help our teams?
Sixth, the CEO needs you to have deep customer insights and be the voice of the customer. In my opinion, this is absolutely critical. We’re going to see this more and more in the B2B cloud marketing space.
We have access to customer insights across all of our platforms, which gives us the ability to know our customers and potential customers very, very well. Deep customer knowledge isn’t only important to the product team or the sales team, it has to be owned by marketing.
Seventh, CEOs also look to CMOs to lead in experimenting, especially on the digital front. They look up to marketing as the creative soul of the organization. Whether it’s new ways of packaging content, new campaigns, or new big ideas, creativity is a major part of marketing. A lot of people on marketing teams, if they weren’t marketers, they would be artists.
Eighth, CEOs expect CMOs to be great collaborators. I don’t know any CMO who doesn’t have that trait. You are a connector and a catalyst in the organization. One of your goals as a CMO is to have a holistic understanding of the business, and that doesn’t happen unless you are a collaborative person, asking the right questions, working with other departments and functions to create shared goals.
Ninth, persevere and carry things through to the end. This goes back to the creative, intuitive aspect of marketing. We have an ideal or goal, and we have to confidently carry the entire organization through the process until we realize that ideal or goal.
How do you facilitate creativity across the marketing team?
We have to never forget that we’re humans and what we bring is our soul, our ideas, and our creative energy. Allowing our teams to come with ideas, giving a platform for creativity, and not pushing back on experimentation is how we cultivate that creative soul.
Don’t say “no” to experimentation, embrace the vulnerability that comes from experimenting. We can’t let the uncertainty stop us from creating and inventing.
Oftentimes, people don’t want to take risks or rock the boat, but is that the culture we want in our organizations? Don’t we want our teams to take some risks and sometimes fail? Will we give them the chance to try new things and go above and beyond? That’s the entry point to unleashing the imagination of our teams and giving them a chance to exercise that creative soul.
I want to leave you with the notion of purpose. Having a clear purpose is literally a game-changer in how we perceive the impact of our marketing orgs moving forward. And I think it’s going to give us a new mission and a renewed opportunity to do good in the world.
Working toward a clear purpose, a purpose that goes even beyond the bottom line, will shape the way we build the value of marketing. The outcome of what we do has to be purpose-driven because at the end of the day, if companies just focus on profit margins, they won’t survive and thrive. We have to be purposeful and accountable for the direct impact we make in the world, and it’s marketing that drives that outcome.