Rohit Wadhwa brings a variety of leadership experiences from diverse industries to his role as CMO of EXL. Rohit has developed marketing strategies, led brand transformation and pioneered digital experiences for top organizations worldwide.
He joined EXL in 2017 and is responsible for the strategic direction and execution of the firm’s global brand. This includes all brand initiatives, external communications, strategic marketing, account-based marketing, thought leadership, influencer programs, sales enablement and digital marketing.
He’s proud of the brand transformation EXL recently completed over the last 8 months. The transformation required extensive research, and experimentation from EXL leadership and as well as his marketing team.
In our interview we asked Rohit what went into this transformation and its keys to success.
Can you tell me more about the recent brand transformation at EXL?
EXL has been around for nearly two decades, helping insurance, banking, financial services, utilities, healthcare, travel, transportation and logistics companies solve complex business problems through a mix of analytics, operations management and technology. We were there when the digital age was just dawning, and we’ve seen a lot of changes occur over that time.
Today, with more than 27,000 professionals operating on five continents, EXL has eyes and ears in a lot of places, and a global reputation to uphold. Our stock is traded on NASDAQ (EXLS). Our shareholders expect a lot from us, and with the world’s top management and technology consulting firms competing with us on a day-to-day basis, it can be a definite challenge to stand out from the crowd.
When we started our brand transformation, we first had to examine how the marketplace had changed over time. This included taking a cold, hard look at how we had changed, and examining what value we could truly offer to our customers. Our goal was to devise a strong, credible brand message that set us apart, rich with meaning, that our people and, ultimately, our customers could grasp, articulate and, above all, believe in. More than that, we wanted to create a strong emotional connection with our audience. Everyone talks about being “digital.” But we wanted to get to the bottom of it, to make it real, and position ourselves with conviction in a way that resonates with current and future customers.
The danger was getting caught up in the process. So, to avoid paralysis by analysis, we set an aggressive target date of six months for understanding our competition, interviewing clients and building our brand positioning, visual identity and brand narrative. We talked to industry analysts, advisors and internal employees. We took both a scientific and a creative approach to the task, exploring how our customers viewed our brand attributes and then working to enhance, clarify or redesign our core messaging.
A large part of the process involved a survey we conducted with Harvard Business Review in April. This was of the science behind our journey. We interviewed some 800 executives and sent questionnaires to about 200 customers, asking them about their organizations’ current and emerging digital priorities. We asked them to define what was working and what was not, and whether they believed prior digital efforts had truly “transformed” their business for the better.
We found that, all too often, the needle had not moved. The productivity gained, the value derived, simply did not meet expectations. We found that leading edge technology, while critical to the transformation, could not alone guarantee success.
Customers want a strategic digital transformation partner, not a vendor. They want someone with a vested interest in their business, who won’t waste their time and resources, but rather, help them identify and capitalize on opportunities to outperform.
Based on this, our direction became clear. We operate in the context of our customers’ reality. We help them look deeper to identify and capitalize on opportunities, including first-to-market advances, revenue growth, improved profitability, satisfied customers.
EXL has a refined ability to orchestrate the complex and interdependent technologies associated with the digital economy. We uniquely deliver tailored, targeted, breakthrough solutions crafted around our deep industry experience. For us it’s all about impacting outcomes and helping customers stay ahead of the pack.
The art of the message came down to this: Digital Intelligence. That is, combining data and domain knowledge in a business-specific context to help humans create higher and greater outcomes. Our visual brand naturally spun off from this thinking, capturing the energy and spirit of Digital Intelligence at work. The modern look and feel is exemplified through brighter, more vivid brand colors. The “human X technology” imagery centered on the “X” overlay, graphically suggesting our company name. The Digital Intelligence story line flowed naturally from that.
It truly is a combination of science and art, working in context, to uniquely position the EXL brand.
What was the key to success for the brand transformation?
Branding that merely relies on a visual refresh and some clever sloganeering is not reliable branding at all. The key to any successful brand transformation is to align the messaging and visual to the reality of the customer experience, which in EXL’s case, revolves around value, respect and commitment.
That said, no brand fanfare would work without top executive buy-in of the program. Our top leaders, along with our employee from various functions, were involved from the get-go. This ensured that our re-brand would play internally, as well as to the outside world. As we ran each sprint over the six-month development process, we continued to seek top management and peer support, not only to get the positioning and messaging right, but to ensure the authenticity of the brand by broadly vetting it internally in the process.
Also, we didn’t just accept our own “feel-good” reaction to the exercise. We gut-checked it with clients, to see if we were actually hitting the mark by their estimation. As our tests proved out, we were able to devise our go-to-market strategy with confidence, assured that what we were representing was indeed what we could deliver.
There’s nothing worse than attempting a brand transformation that is misaligned with your business model. Digital Intelligence reflects how EXL goes to market, how we do it, bringing data and domain together around appropriate operations, analytics and technology capabilities, so that human beings can make better decisions.
How is B2B marketing evolving?
Over the years, B2B marketing has grown fairly bland and unimaginative, driven by well-worn tactics including paid media advertising, trade show participation, direct mail, and a dose of public relations sprinkled in for good measure.
Today, however, B2B has evolved to look more like B2C. Look at what consumer brands, such as Under Armor, Coke and Nike, are doing. They evoke emotions, they deliver a promise, they build meaningful interactions and they communicate through stories. In reality they market to individuals. They leverage technology and social platforms to tailor messages base on consumer buying patterns. They know what to say at the right time to elicit a response.
They have effectively set the tone for B2B marketing, shifting business marketers away from the tried and true tactics of the past to look more like B2I marketing, that is, taking the Business-to-Individuals.
In B2I marketing, businesses market to specific people or personas, using social, internet and other technologies to make a connection, weaving the individual customer into the brand storyline to create a lasting, personal relationship.
Marketing in this context puts a different spin on the CMO’s role. Rather than simply focusing on building brand equity and the firm’s net promoter score, CMOs now have to focus on nurturing relationships, acquire new customers , build the sales pipeline, aiming for growth and revenue.
It’s truly an exciting time to be a B2B – or should I say, “B2I” – professional marketer.
What are your learnings and best practices for account-based marketing (ABM)?
Fundamentally, one has to believe that creating relationships leads to revenue. Account-based marketing is that mindset. It is a strategic approach to business marketing that views each prospect, not as a company, but as an individual, as in the B2I viewpoint I described above. If the strategy is orchestrated in the right manner, then the belief will come true and revenue will follow.
This requires with a long-term commitment. You can’t just launch an experiment or pilot program and expect results. The actual practice takes time to engrain in an organization and for the process to play out. This means that senior management is going to have to back it from the start and communicate it with the sales force. As well, marketing must serve as a partner to both, creating an enterprise-wide platform for success and communicating regularly for those results to pan out.
At EXL, we approach ABM at a number of important junctures in the sales process. Starting with the top of the sales funnel, we focus on accelerating demand to increase the pipeline. At mid-funnel, we seek to nurture relationships and influence the opportunity conversion. There are several tactics such as pursuit based marketing, role based campaigns that are being deployed.
Because it’s an extended process, some people have difficulty seeing the outcomes at scale, so it’s important to build a practical scorecard, jointly, with sales. Some of our ABM plays can run four to eight months, some even longer. In that time, stakeholders can run out of patience. Constantly reporting on small wins can help gain traction and ensure that investments don’t dry up.
Lastly, you have to fix your automation stack to be data-driven. When you talk about B2I and ABM, you need timely, granular information to relate to your prospects in a relevant way. As we preach in our branding, technology amplifies human effort by unlocking the Digital Intelligence to intersect an opportunity at just right place and time.
There are a number of tools available to get account-level insight and rank on the relevant social platforms. The ability to capture behaviors and patterns of engagement across different channels will help you understand those moments of truth, when a prospect is ready to become a customer, or just as important, when a customer is prime to jump ship. When it comes to large-scale ABM programs, think long-term and prepare to dig deep into the details.