Sabra Willner, CMO of Lenovo Software on Being a Modern Marketer

by Jenna Sindle

Not so very long ago, marketing was the department that wrote and readied brochureware, shipped the booth to the next show site, and was far too often chided by the sales organization for not providing enough qualified leads.

But no longer!

According to Sabra Willner, CMO of Lenovo Software, the role of marketing hasn’t so much evolved, as skyrocketed into a new era that is “oh so different from the past.” What has driven this change from Willner’s perspective is the availability of information generated by the customer and delivered to the marketing organization via their marketing stack of choice.

Sabra shared that in the last five years marketers have moved from ‘we hope you like it’ to ‘we know your preferences and we want to be your guide on your buyer’s journey’ all because of the abundance of data. “It’s a tremendously exciting time because all marketers can live and breathe data, but it’s also a little intimidating as the expectations of sales leaders, CEOs, and even shareholders, rise with the increased investment in marketing infrastructure,” she explained.

But far from being intimidated by these new opportunities for marketing departments and marketing leaders, Willner has embraced the change and forged a new path. “In marketing, we don’t just make glossy brochures anymore, we don’t just handle a certain aspect of the customer journey, we’ve come to recognize that the customer journey isn’t linear. They’re ping-ponging everywhere between the product, their interactions with sales, the customer success team, and back to marketing,” she shared. “Data provides an extraordinary opportunity to tap into that non-linear journey.”

This focus on the customer journey demands a new approach. As Willner explains: “It demands greater collaboration and alignment across teams to enable us to better meet customer expectations. We’re not just about supporting sales and generating leads; it’s about creating the experience, making the product sticky, making sure that the value is delivered throughout pre- and post-trial and pre- and post-purchase phases. That messaging that we start at the top continues to go throughout the journey.”

Marketing technology or martech – often referred to as ‘the stack’ – has been essential to Willner’s success at realigning the role of the marketing organization. “Funding go-to-market plans is still an important part of the modern marketer’s budget, but the technology infrastructure and tools that we use as a marketing organization are steering our investments in new directions – and demanding more money.”

But with more than 7,000 different marketing tools available it’s hard to know which ones will gather dust and which will end up doing great work for the organization. Willner found her path forward by creating a cross-functional team made up of representatives from marketing, sales, and product/IT.

“We needed to bring the key stakeholders together to ensure our priorities were in order. We needed product/IT to understand if these tools would integrate with our existing infrastructure, we needed sales to make sure we were creating data that helped them move the needle, and of course marketing, since we are the ones using the tools,” she said.

In doing so, Willner not only built a coalition of stakeholders that made executive buy-in easier, but also helped establish best practices around technology strategy, architecture, and workflow that will guide future martech investments, reduced redundancies in technology investments, and reduced marketing spend.

“All marketers have access to an abundance of data, but it’s how they manage, analyze, and apply that data that creates a strategic edge,” she said. “It’s all too easy to get distracted by a new shiny object because it can take your raw data and offer one more piece of insight, but you have to take control of the stack to be successful.”

With the changes that lie ahead for marketers as they hone their skills at connecting engagement to demand and owning the customer experience in a data-fueled environment, building the right marketing stack will be the key to success. “Marketing is a unique combination of art and science. In my experience the ‘art’ side has always been the strong suit of marketers, but those marketers that take the time to learn the ‘science’ of the field and invest in the right tools will deliver truly remarkable results.”