CMO Insights: Ana Perez, Vice President of Marketing, Aon Hewitt

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Written by Pamela Muldoon

September 19, 2017

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Ana Perez, Vice President of Marketing, Health and Benefits for Aon Hewitt.

In this video, Ana discusses

  • The transformation of marketing within an organization, moving to a revenue growth driving function
  • How this change is being driven from within the marketing organization vs. the overall business
  • How her department balances a team of generalists and specialists to implement their marketing initiatives.

Learn more about Ana from her LinkedIn profile and follow Aon Hewitt on Twitter.

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our CMO Insights Playlist on our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Series. I am your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Today. It is my distinct pleasure to have Ana Perez, who is Vice President of Marketing of Health and Benefits for Aon Hewitt. So Ana, welcome to the show.

Ana Perez:

Thanks for having me, great to be here.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet. So we were just talking about all the change that’s been happening at AI. And when we think about change though, as marketing executives, what is one of the biggest things that you’ve seen change over the last few years?

Ana Perez:

Yeah, I think that the biggest change it’s transformational really is, is really about the purpose of marketing and the role that marketing plays within the organization. So I know at Ayaan, we’ve been on this journey to move from more of the traditional marketing communications function, to more of a revenue growth driving function, and really trying to change the way our business partners see us in the role that we play within the organization from being about, you know, pretty brochures and sales presentations, and more about integrated campaigns. How do we, you know, build the funnel? How do we accelerate sales? How do we support the sales teams? How do we help bring insights to our business about our customers? And what’s important to them. So really being a key part of our growth strategy, as opposed to being a very tactical function within the organization.

Jeff Pedowitz:

And so how is that changing? How you’re viewing marketing? Is it, are you running it more like a business now?

Ana Perez:

Absolutely. I think I like to think of you know, three critical things that we’re focused on to help us be viewed more strategically and more as a, as a business function. One is changing our mindset to have more of a P and L mindset. So making sure that we on the marketing team understand the numbers behind our business, how we, how we make money, how to, you know, w what’s the operations behind the organization. So we can speak that language with our business partners is critical. The other one is making sure that we are a hub of information and insights about our customers so that we can use that not only to help our sales team, but also our product development team in terms of thinking about what’s next and what we should be bringing to the forefront in terms of our product portfolio is another.

And then the third is really how do we build our credibility within our organization with our business leaders. And again, that kind of sits at the middle of, of, of those two things, the P and L mindset and the, and the customer insights by making sure we’re showing up and speaking the language of the business and, and partnering across functions. So instead of just worrying about what we’re doing over here in marketing and how much we’re investing in typical marketing programming, thinking about what do we, as a business need to be focused on. And that may mean that we’re going to cut down our marketing spend one year, we, we feel like the best path to growth is to hire more salespeople. So it’s really being a partner to the business as opposed to a standalone function.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So within that lens then are what you’re being measured on now, has it changed? And what do you, what, what kind of outcomes are you being held responsible for? And then in turn, what are you holding your team accountable for?

Ana Perez:

Absolutely. It has definitely changed. And the interesting thing is for us, we’re really driving the change. So I think we’re somewhat fortunate in that it’s not necessarily coming from the organization, although there’s certainly that pressure, but it’s really driven from within the marketing organization where we want to be the ones to be held more accountable within our business and, and, and be seen more strategically as a business partner. So we’re the ones really pushing the organization from let’s stop worrying about, you know, how many people we had in an event, or how many downloads we had of a certain piece of thought leadership. And let’s think about how many marketing qualified leads we’re generating through our programming, how many, what’s the percentage of leads that’s converting to opportunities, and then ultimately closing what’s the value, where are the areas where we’re seeing the greatest impact from our marketing programs versus where I think we used to be a little bit more focused on views or engagement. Let’s really let’s really think about how we’re actually driving impact to the bottom line.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So is that changing the type of people that you hire? Are you, I mean, are you hiring the same time pseudo was before, but just training them differently or are you looking for a new set of skill sets?

Ana Perez:

I think it’s a little bit of both. So, you know, we have, you know, Ann who it has been around for a long time. And so we have people who have been with the organization and bring a lot of great historical knowledge. And so we’re leveraging that expertise, but helping people specialize a little bit more. So I think historically we had a lot of generalists who were trying to run the gamut of marketing programs, doing everything from events to online, right. And, and, and not really being specialized in any of those one areas. And so we’re, we’re trying to help them evolve to the model we’re trying to get to while also creating positions that are more specialized in hiring outside talent that understands this idea of lead gen demand creation revenue marketing. And so it’s, it’s, it’s a combination of the two.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Have you changed how you’ve organized your team? So are they in the existing segments that were before, or have you created any type of new groupings to get better optimization?

Ana Perez:

We’ve had a lot of change. So when I first started at an close to five years ago, as I said, we really had generalists. So we had a marketing team but it was, you know, really not distinguished in terms of the different roles that people played. And it was very much focused on kind of catching things that were coming over the fence and more thinking about design and look and, and brand more than really thinking about solution marketing, digital marketing you know, demand generation. And so what we’ve done, the first thing we did was really focused on creating solution marketing. So you know, five, six years ago, we didn’t have people that were really connected to one particular solution line or business unit. And therefore really got in deep understood that market understood the customers within that segment understood the competitive landscape in that area. 

And so we started to really create solution marketers who were really working side by side with the product leader, with the sales leader for specific business unit to really drive that deep subject matter expertise and create more of a marketing strategy. So that was kind of the first area of focus. And then once that really started to get up and running then we started to surround those folks with people who didn’t necessarily need to be subject matter experts within the category that they were supporting, but more functional experts. So we started to build out our digital marketing team and our demand creation team and our marketing operations people.

So these aren’t people who need to understand, for example, the health and benefits industry deeply, but they know how to run really good campaigns, or they know how to, you know, make sure that our email email campaigns are optimized and our website is optimized. So those were more functional experts. And it’s interesting because we find ourself having conversations with business leaders where they, they want to kind of make a trade off and we’re constantly having to help them understand it really can’t be an either, or you need both, you need product marketers, but you need those, you know, support functions behind them, marketing operations, creative, digital, and really you can’t trade off between the two

Jeff Pedowitz:

Very comprehensive. So from a technology standpoint, you know, there’s been so much movement in MarTech over the last few years. What’s your take at Aon Hewitt. You have everything that you need, not enough too much.

Ana Perez:

You know, I think we have, we have a lot of great tools. I, those tools were not implemented necessarily from a marketer’s perspective. So we’re now going back and, and obviously we’re trying to find the right balance between optimizing the tools that we have today, and there’s still a lot we can do today. So, you know, we have marketing automation tools. We have our, our, our CRM system, but those weren’t implemented to their maximum, you know, ability in terms of what we can do with them. And since I was talking to somebody the other day, and in some instances we have a Cadillac and we’re, you know, we’re riding it like a bike, right? So we’re trying to go back and say, how do we take advantage of some of the functionality that we already have before we think about, you know, implementing new tools and investing in new tools, but at the same time, understanding that there may be gaps in tools that we need to go back and fill.

So one example is from a budgeting standpoint, you know, we’re still managing our marketing budgets on spreadsheets, right? And so we, we went back and we said, okay, this is probably an area where we really need to think about investing in new tools that can connect to our CRM, that can connect to our marketing automation tool. So we can get a really good view into where we’re spending our marketing dollars and what the ROI on those dollars are. So that, again, it all comes back to being able to have more strategic conversations with our business partners about what they’re getting for their marketing investment.

Jeff Pedowitz:

No, that makes a lot of sense. So tell me a little bit about your approach to the customer life cycle and marketing. How much of your team is focused on early stage acquisition and versus, you know, ongoing royalty, cross sell upsell advocacy?

Ana Perez:

Hmm. So I would say today from a purely, just from a marketing perspective my team, we are much more focused on the acquisition of customers. And we have not yet gotten to a place where we’re doing a lot around ongoing customer engagement and loyalty, and that’s certainly one of our goals for the future. But we’ve really been focused on how do we help partner with the sales team to build that pipeline, accelerate that pipeline and close those deals. And then kind of that next phase is where we really want to go about how do we make sure, because as we all know, you know, customer engagement, customer loyalty is so critical and it’s a lot easier to keep a customer than it is to, to get a new one. And so thinking about how can we do more around that ongoing customer engagement there’s pockets, where we do certain things. We’ve got a lot of work that we do with our clients in specific areas where we have client panels and we’re constantly bringing our customers together several times a year to think about what could we do better, where are areas that we should invest in from a product standpoint. So we do a little bit there, but certainly a lot of opportunity to do more.

Jeff Pedowitz:

It sounds like you’re definitely already having done the right path from a, from a process perspective. What are some of the things that you’ve been working on strategically to drive better optimization and scale change?

Ana Perez:

One of the things I’m most excited about that we’re in the middle of is you know, a lot of the work that we’ve done historically has been kind of at the request of a, of a sales leader, the request of a product leader. And didn’t really either focus on our product or on a specific challenge that they’re feeling with a specific client in that, in that particular deal. But one of the things we really wanted to do, and it goes back to that second pillar about being really a hub of customer insight is we wanted to make sure that we as strategic marketing partners were really in tune with what our customers holistically were telling us and where there might be differences in segmentation that maybe didn’t align with the way our business was segmented. So we took some time at the end of last year and went in, conducted customer interviews, created customer personas.

We learned that in fact, maybe the way that our sales team in our business organization had historically segmented customers was not actually, the customers was not actually aligning with the way customers segmented themselves. So that was a key insight for us that then it’s helping us now do some work around mapping the customer journey, understanding what are the questions and the challenges that these customers are facing at different points in the, in the cycle and how do we facilitate movement and understanding and engagement at each phase. And so, whereas we’ve been doing a lot of work around value propositions for specific solutions and sales tools, trying to think about how do we move a little bit further upstream and help clients who maybe don’t even necessarily think they have a problem relative to the solutions that we provide and providing that insight that helps them say, wow, this isn’t maybe something I’ve thought about in the past and in a conversation I need to engage in. And again, we then get to come in and be a partner in helping our customers think about what different paths they might want to take. Before we start talking about the bells and whistles of our specifics.

Jeff Pedowitz:

I love that. That’s great. So you you’ve gone through so much change still going through so much change. What would be your advice to your fellow marketing executive on how they began to manage the transformation?

Ana Perez:

You know, I think you need to build credibility with your business partners and your sales leaders first and foremost. And I think the key to doing that again, it goes back to making sure you understand the customer. So, you know, nobody’s going to argue with customer insight and it’s not one specific anecdotal conversation, but as much as you can get out in the field, as much as you can talk firsthand with clients and get some of those insights to fuel some of the, the decisions you’re trying to make, or the changes that you’re trying to implement, that’s key. And I would say again, it goes back to having that PNL mindset. So make sure you’re partnering with people on the finance team, on the sales team, on the operations team to understand what are those key performance measures that your business leaders are concerned about? 

I think as marketers, sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot because we speak in terms that people either don’t understand or they don’t care about. So, you know, if you’re going to have a conversation with a CEO and you’re going to talk about how many downloads of a specific white paper, your CEO is not going to care about that they’re going to care about what, how is that ultimately driving my bottom line? And so we’re doing a lot of work right now to try and map all of the things that we do in marketing back to the impact they have in the terms that the, the executives care about. And it just changes the conversation and how you show up within that conversation. When you can talk about business growth, pipeline, acceleration, et cetera, as opposed to downloads views, reach of advertisement, you know, brand awareness at the end of the day, you know, those are the, those, aren’t the metrics that our business leaders are focused on.

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s great. Ana, thank you so much for your insights today. As always, a delight to speak with you, and looking forward to having you on the show again.

Ana Perez:

Thanks for having me. It’s been great.

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