The new age CMO ought to be a storyteller with sound tech skills: Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, Unisys

The role of a CMO has witnessed tremendous transformation with the advent of digital in the enterprise. Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, Unisys shares her success recipe for the modern CMO.

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If there’s one driving factor that fundamentally transformed the way a new age CMO functions, it’s this – 70 percent of a buyer’s journey is complete even before he or she reaches out to sales.

From deep-diving into tech to understanding the moneyball, from collaboration with peers to defining marketing technology stacks – the CMO’s role is one of the fastest changing roles in today’s corporate world.

In an exclusive interaction with CIO India, Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer at Unisys, throws light on what defines a modern CMO, the challenges that lie ahead. Furthermore, she throws light on why Unisys, operating in only four verticals, swears by the ‘inch wide - mile deep’ strategy.

In addition to bringing over two decades of marketing leadership experience from Fortune 500 companies like Symantec, eBay and HP, Ruckstuhl is a part of the Wall Street Journal CMO Network and the Mayfield Venture CMO Advisory Board.

How has the role of a CMO evolved over the years?

I would say it's one of the fastest changing roles in the corporate world today, and is probably the most exciting role to have. A CMO today has four jobs:

1. The storyteller: They speak about the company, the brand, about the soul and purpose. We're also storytellers on the technical front as well, so you need to emote in addition to be technically strong.

CMOs should also be able to create a lot of content, because at the end of the day 70 percent of a purchase decision is done online - before they talk to anybody at the company. Content creation is extremely important as it can give buyers anything from a 20,000-foot level to a sub-sea level view.

2. The people-person: Make sure people know about you. There's no point having all these great solutions and content if we don't put it in front of the right people. Most CMOs are of the opinion that if they don't get a good advertising budget, they'll be unable to function.

That's not how it works nowadays. People search, so you need understand search engine optimization and place pop-ups at the right time and right place. If you can't organic your way into top of the ranking in search results, your pay your way in.

Account-based marketing is of immense significance – you can't spray and pray. You need to know when to go for paid content or when to go for promoted tweets. That's the smart push.

3. Understanding the moneyball: CMOs in the Silicon Valley are now responsible for laying down tangible pipelines and tangible revenue. The smartest sales leaders I know understand that the CMO and the chief of sales should be glued at the hip.

The CMO has the maximum reach, so he or she should reach out to the maximum number of people. There's a lot of extrapolation going on with marketing technologies nowadays, so most of us can't go anywhere without web analytics, Activity-Based Management (ABM), personalization and re-targeting.

This is critical to gauging velocity, conversion rate and the average selling price. For a CMO to not know this information is an absolute can't-do.

4. The collaborator: Nobody goes to market directly - it's very rare. It's very important for CMOs to play in their ecosystem with strategic partners who have complementary capabilities, so together, you can build something beautiful.

These are the factors I consider for a modern CMO's repertoire and list of must-dos. Essentially, a CMO is an artist as well as a data scientist.

With capabilities like artificial intelligence, predictive marketing and propensity to buy at your disposal, you can take data-driven decisions and rely less on your gut instinct, even though I believe it's really important.

What role will emerging technologies like AI and predictive analytics play when CMOs lay out go-to-market strategies?

We're all experimenting right now. I would say they're not there yet. You have the larger retailers doing this for quite some time now - Amazon does a pretty good job in terms of what they recommend to buyers.

... “We launched LineSight, with which border security professionals can scan incoming and outgoing traffic - this includes pedestrians, cruise ships, pedestrians and vehicles. Currently 21 of the top 25 airlines and over a hundred airports around the world are running on Unisys.”
Ann Sung Ruckstuhl
Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer, Unisys

We're all using AI in some fashion, but is it predictably working? The mileage varies depends upon what you're doing. I believe the B2C companies are well ahead of B2B companies, but that gap is closing because most good CMOs have experience in both B2B and B2C.

The reason why B2C companies are ahead at this point in time is because in B2B, you think you're talking to another business and not to the end consumer - it's like one degree removed.

At Unisys, we keep the end user in mind. For instance for our banking clients, we aim for happy, mobile consumers; for our travel and transportation clients, we ensure customer loyalty - that's the ultimate outcome we want to deliver on their behalf.

What are your top five takeaways for CMOs? How can they help overcome the challenges they face today?

1. Build a balanced team: Building a really smart and curious team is a priority. Technology is developing so fast, your mean time in duration is good for just 2-3 years. So you really want a team that's hungry to learn.

People who've been around in the company for a long time have a very valuable perspective, but they might also have developed blind spots. New comers may be too optimistic and need to be guided. You need a combination of both in your team.

2. Alignment is key: First and foremost, CMOs need to be aligned to sales and technology. Revenue, roadmap, launch process, conversion rate, and the ability to deliver what's promised need to go hand in hand. So the alignment part is really key.

For a CMO to look good while the revenue is not doing so well is the worst thing that can happen.

3. Building the digital market stack: This can modularize how you go to market, how you demand gen, nurture and report. It's very important to have the right mix.

4. Set achievable KPIs: You need to have short-term wins with a view towards long-term gains. With things moving so fast, it's very difficult to establish yourself if you're not highlighting short-term wins. You need to put your success factors in your KPI with care.

5. The peer-to-peer factor: CMOs need to talk to other CMOs, you need to be an adviser and connect with venture firms. You really need to be plugged in. You can go to analysts - they can give you a point of view to some degree, but there's nothing like connecting with practitioners.

CMOs have to be sure of themselves; they also need to be humble enough to tune themselves to be in a constant learning mode. I belong to the Wall Street Journal CMO network, and I find the conversations with other CMOs absolutely eye-opening. The ability to understand what other folks are doing is really key.

Unisys is looking at very specific industry verticals and lining up solutions specific to that vertical. How successful has that proven to be?

Unisys focuses on four industry sectors today. We’re heavily involved in digital transformation for the government – this is at the national, state and city level; travel and transportation; financial services; and life science and healthcare.

... “CMOs should also be able to create a lot of content, because at the end of the day 70 percent of a purchase decision is done online - before they talk to anybody at the company. Content creation is extremely important as it can give buyers anything from a 20,000-foot level to a sub-sea level view.”
Ann Sung Ruckstuhl
Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer, Unisys

We launched LineSight, with which border security professionals can scan incoming and outgoing traffic - this includes pedestrians, cruise ships, pedestrians and vehicles. You have exactly two seconds to make a determination using huge amounts of data.

Travel and transportation is another big area for us. Currently 21 of the top 25 airlines and over a hundred airports around the world are running on Unisys.

In the healthcare space, we run analytics on performance data for MRI and Da Vinci machines. We overlap this with bug reports or other industry reports with which we can tell you, with predictive capability, if a particular component of the machine is going to fail.

The Unisys we're seeing right now is very different from the Unisys of the past. We're purpose-built and we judge our success based on the outcome for our clients, as opposed to engineering services for services sake.