Feature Story

A Recipe for Success: IT, Marketing, and Digital Business

Cisco CIO Guillermo Diaz works closely with CMO Karen Walker, Karen Walker, Cisco CMO

As marketers’ digital needs evolve, partnership with IT is crucial. Cisco’s CMO and CIO delve into their collaboration.

When Karen Walker took the role as CMO at Cisco two years ago, CEO Chuck Robbins told her to start with a clean slate. “Which was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time,” confessed Walker. “But we understood it was a perfect opportunity for change.”

Karen Walker, Cisco CMO Karen Walker, Cisco CMO

At that time, Cisco was undergoing a lot of change. “We were changing our business model. We were changing our portfolio,” she said. “My job was to help tell that story in a very clear and compelling way, with some global consistency and at scale.”

Not only was Cisco’s business changing, Cisco’s customer’s expectations were also evolving — fast. Research showed that business customers had the same expectations as consumers. “Almost two-thirds of a business buyer’s journey is actually done digitally. It’s actually done online,” Walker told the CIOs gathered at Cisco’s 2017 CIO Exchange program in October.

It used to be that Cisco customers would call their sales rep to find out about something. “Today it starts with search. And we need to think about our buyers, our customers in a very, very different way,” she emphasized.

While that was happening, the marketing technology industry was taking off with offerings from Oracle, Adobe, Sprinklr. “You have all these amazing technology solutions, and I needed some help in pulling them together,” she said.

“I tell my team, ‘[Marketing] was the last function to be industrialized, but we are the first function to be truly, truly digital,’ ” she said.

"Marketing was the last function to be industrialized, but we are the first function to be truly, truly digital."Cisco’s CIO, Guillermo Diaz, Jr. reminded Walker of a conversation they had. Diaz remembered Walker saying, ‘G [as many colleagues and close friends call him], let’s automate everything,’ and his response was, ‘Do we really like what you have today?’ And the answer was, ‘No, not really.’ Then Diaz asked Walker, “So you want me to take the crap and make it move faster?”

Some CIOs may be chuckling at that, knowing they too get many requests like that from their stakeholders.

Diaz and team had to pause, “and really think about how do we simplify,” said Diaz.

To add to the complexity, two years ago, Cisco marketing was highly fragmented. “We had marketing everywhere,” said Walker. “I had no chance of being able to simplify this technology that I needed to scale the marketing function,” she explained.

And when organizations hit that degree of complexity, that’s when Marketing and IT need to come together because marketing is dependent on technology, more than any other part of the business.

“Marketing and IT have got to get together because marketing is impacted by technology,” said Martha Heller of Heller Search Associates. “Marketing is the face of the company and marketing’s history has been to do an end run around IT, and that won’t work anymore because you won’t get all that integrated data,” she continued.

It was when the teams took that step back that they had some breakthrough thinking.

To start, marketing had to take an audience-first approach. “Who got that wonderful email from Equifax that said, ‘Dear Valued Customer?’ asked Walker. “You don't even know my name. You don’t know me. You’re not talking to me like I’m a human being. And you’re not engaging with me.”

“We had to really think about how we are engaging our customer in a very human and compelling way,” she responded. “That was a big mindset shift for us in marketing.”

Next Cisco marketing had to become country-relevant. “I had about 70 percent of my marketing team sitting in San Jose,” she explained. “I had to remind my team that as a $50 billion business, not all of that business is transacted in San Jose. We had to move our marketing professionals into the countries, closer to customers, partners, and our salespeople.”

“That was a massive shift,” she continued. “I had decentralized globally the whole marketing function.”

Third, Cisco Marketing went digital and mobile, everywhere. “It had to be the cornerstone of everything that we did,” said Walker.

As part of that process, Walker and team took a good look at Cisco.com. “It looked like it had been built in the ’90s – because it had,” she said.

And the team discovered that only a tiny percentage of web pages drove about 90 percent of the engagement with customers. “We had to do a complete gut-job on Cisco.com,” she admitted.

The hard work has paid off. “Now with the technology I am able to scale that engagement across 36 countries and 21 languages on day one,” said Walker. Other winning metrics show that unique visitors to Cisco.com increased 2X. “I've now got a new front door through which to engage with my customers,” she said proudly.

Personalization also evolved. With the right technology in place, that “Dear Valued Customer,” is now you, who you are, “And it’s not just your professional needs, it’s who you are as a person,” said Walker.

All those people she moved into other countries? “They have completely different roles. They’re managing newsrooms. I’m hiring editors,” she admitted “I’m hiring experienced people who are looking at, ‘Does that content work? No, let’s take it down and put something else up,’ ” Walker explained.

Other accomplishments for Walker and her team have included building a social hub for social engagements, and a virtual community for customer advocacy.

And not only did Cisco marketing achieve all these internal benefits, but they also have won three global awards for their digital marketing capabilities.

Walker is thrilled with the results, “Now that we’ve digitized everything, we’re able to measure everything. And we can share that with our stakeholders and my peers. That’s the biggest gift that our partnership with IT has given us.”

Walker concluded, “G, just thank you. I really value the partnership.”