Transcript | How to Create Customer Partnerships That Are Truly Win-Win with Julie Ilott

On this episode, I was joined by my good friend, Julie Ilott. She’s the Senior EMEA Customer Marketing Manager at Talkdesk and has previously worked at enterprise technology brands like Oracle and Dell EMC. I had a blast speaking with her and we really delve into a topic that I’m super passionate about, which is thinking outside the box to create customer partnerships that are truly win-win. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Julie. 

Margot Leong: Hey, Julie! Welcome to Beating The Drum and thanks for joining us. 

Julie Ilott: Thank you, Margot. Really nice to speak to you.  So, my name is Julie and I am based in the UK currently, but in terms of background in customer marketing and advocacy, I’ve probably been doing this close to near on 20 years now, which makes me feel quite old.

I’ve done it based in the UK with EMEA-type programs, as well as over in Asia Pacific, and now back in the UK with a European and slight global role with the current company I’m at. 

Margot Leong: Fantastic. And I know that you’ve worked at some pretty incredible companies. Do you mind talking about some of the types of brands that you’ve done these programs at?

Julie Ilott: Yeah. So I’ve worked at Oracle for a number of years, and that was my first experience into customer, which was called customer referencing back then, which we would now know to be as customer marketing. And then the sort of extension of that which I believe to be customer advocacy. And I’ve also worked at EMC, which became Dell, and CA Technologies whilst I was over in Asia Pacific.

I’ve worked with a plethora of customers across that time from really small brands to much, much bigger ones. So my whole role at EMC was to create something called a “Premier Program,” which was a global program focused on some of the largest brands that EMC was working with.   Those would be anywhere from like a huge, large, manufacturing organization out of Japan, which makes motorcycles amongst some of its many products, which some of you would know. And also a large golfing company out of San Diego, which, again, some people would know if they’re golfing fans. 

And  looked at doing a lot of things outside of the box in the customer marketing space – moving away from that more traditional case studies, video clips, speaker slots, quotes, the usual kind of things that we all do as customer marketers, but taking it a little step further and really thinking about how best to showcase the customers that you’re working with. So then it becomes a partnership and it becomes a sort of, much more of a mutually beneficial relationship. 

You move away from the ask, which I think we do a lot of in this space. We do a lot of asking of our customers to do certain activities for us as vendors, but true customer advocacy to me is about a partnership and showcasing your customer in a win-win type relationship.   

Margot Leong: You totally nailed spot on how exactly I feel about this profession because, the transition from even calling it customer references, which I think inherently implies a very “ask” type culture to marketing and then advocacy – you’re really thinking about how can this be, as you said, mutually beneficial? How can it be a win-win for our customer and for us? 

I’m such a consummate people pleaser and I know that, that you are too, which is why I think we’re good at this role. We like to build relationships, but I think in order to also do that, we have to be fully comfortable in that the ask that we’re making comes from the right place. We got along so well because I just think we both believe in this so much. So why don’t you talk about what mutually beneficial means to you, and really what was the catalyst for even developing that strategy.

Julie Ilott: So I always try to think of myself in the customer’s shoes having done this role for a long time. And I think that’s really important. And like you just said, Margot, also being really passionate about the customer, I think if you don’t care about the customer, then you’re definitely not in the right role.

When you’re thinking about what’s mutually beneficial, it’s about taking that step back. Stop thinking about what you need to achieve as a vendor organization and your KPIs and whatever. I mean, yes, you still need to do that, but it’s about thinking: what does this customer do? What products do they sell? What kind of business do they have? Who is their customer base? What are they trying to achieve? Maybe what are some of the challenges they’re having? Like for example, are they struggling to attract IT talent and can we potentially do something around telling their IT story that then helps them attract more talent. 

So as a great example, I worked with a really large media organization out of the US, which would be really well-known for things like Saturday Night Live. They were really struggling to attract IT talent. They were flooded with resumes for people wanting to be on TV and in some of their productions, but they really struggled to attract engineers and IT talent. So we partnered with the customer. They were using our – this is when I was at EMC – they were using our hardware. So hardware is really tough to tell a story because it just does what it does. It’s like a fridge or a television. You just switch it on. 

Margot Leong: I’m well aware with hardware. Oh yeah. 

Julie Ilott: It’s really dry. Right? So you have to try and think, how can we tell an exciting story? So, we basically ended up chatting to them about what they were trying to achieve and they mentioned that they had this real challenge about attracting these engineers and talents. So we decided to partner with them on a hackathon, something that we were already running in our company because we are an IT company and that’s how we attract engineers and so we partnered together on it.

They allowed us to use their logo on the joint partnering of the hackathon. And that gave us kudos because it was this huge media organization that everybody knows and so we got more engineers coming our way. And they actually finally started to get some good resumes coming  of engineers that hadn’t even realized they had this whole IT department. 

Now that’s not necessarily content or telling the story that you’re going to put up on your website, but it starts to change the relationship with a really massive brand that maybe when you go to them and just make an ask like, hey, would you do a customer success story or a video? They might turn around and immediately say, well, no, because we are this huge brand. We’re very protective. 

But if you start the relationship by saying to them, what are you struggling with? Or what are you trying to achieve as a business and you maybe help them. The conversation then becomes a very, very different type of conversation and they’re are a lot more open to do something. So eventually we moved on and did a video with this customer that they hadn’t really done with many vendors before. It was all around them storing the Rio Olympics, all the footage was being stored on one of, well, actually not one, many of our hardware servers and they ended up doing a video with us, telling us, you know, how they could get that real-time and then back out to all the studio locations where they were airing the Olympics, and they allowed us to launch that video the night of the Rio Olympics opening. So again, you’re attracting way more viewers to your vendor site because you’re not just talking IT, you’re now talking the Rio Olympics, for example.

So you’re getting the Joe Public to know who you are, as well as then your IT crowds to have the hardware-type story. I think it’s constantly thinking like that when you’re dealing with customers. One important aspect I think is listening and taking that time to really understand your customer, to work out what is a win-win for them versus what is just a win-win for your company.  

Margot Leong: I absolutely love that. And I think that you really touch upon a very fascinating topic, which is the relationship management piece of this. You know, it’s something that I’m super fascinated by is this idea about  attitudinal loyalty versus behavioral loyalty, right? So behavioral loyalty, meaning I’m just using this service because we’re sort of locked into a contract and maybe I’ll start looking around when the contract ends, but I have really no affinity towards it. 

You’re thinking outside of the box to develop this attitudinal loyalty, which is developing more loyalty to the brand as a result of your personal interactions. And so the fact that you’re so focused on helping the customer be successful, not just in the sense of, because often customer marketing, what we can dangle in front of them is, “Oh, be a thought leader.” but we’ve talked so many times about how that is not the main motivation for a lot of the people that we talk to.

And so it’s really understanding human nature, but also understanding what does wild success mean for this company and how can I leverage the resources at my disposal to help you achieve that? 

To get into some of the other examples that you have would be great. The one that you just spoke to around the IT piece is super interesting.

One question for you there actually is how did you even learn, that something that they were struggling with was hiring for that IT talent? Who did you talk to you to, to get that intel?

Julie Ilott: The point of contact was in digital. So when we were introduced to this particular point of contact to talk about things like, “Hey, let’s create a video, would you be a speaker?” She actually stopped us and said, “Well, actually one of the biggest issues that we have that we’re trying to get over and we think you might be able to help us with this is we’re struggling to attract IT and you are an IT organization – how do you do it? So the conversation kind of went down that path and then we came up with the idea that, you know, every year we run a hackathon to attract the engineers and IT talent that we want in our company. So why not help them have access to that? So we paid for the hackathon. Like I said, we did it jointly – they didn’t do any work around it. We advertised it all, but they allowed us to use their logo so that when we advertised it as a joint hackathon with our company and their organization, and it was, you know, if you win this hackathon, it was to spend a day with this large media organization in their new digital area.

So they got a chance to showcase what they were doing. And then of course, that is advocacy in itself because that person who wins the hackathon that comes into the media organization and has a look at what’s going on will then tell their friends about it, will then tell their other work colleagues about it.

They’ll say, you know, “Hey, this company has an amazing IT department. We all see it on TV and we know the productions and movies that they create, but they have this amazing IT department that I really want to be a part of and so would lots of other IT people. So that again, is advocacy in my opinion.

But yeah, it just came up through a conversation, just around taking time to listen versus just going in with your pitch or the short list of items that you need to achieve. It is about taking that step back and just trying to work out what the customer’s doing or what they are maybe having challenges with – something that’s going to appeal to them.  

Another example is, when I was back at Oracle, we were promoting the cloud platform. I was working with a key account director for a large German car manufacturer, and they’re inherently very protective of their brand, but they also didn’t ever want to really speak to the sales person about expansion. And they certainly didn’t want to talk to us about the cloud platform.  

Again, I took a moment to chat with the key account director. He then introduced me to the customer. I said to him, let’s try and offer them something that actually appeals to them before we then start going down the path of other activities that we want to do.

So, they had one advocate in their organization that was going around and talking about the success that they had had with one part of our cloud platform and it was all to do with their car servicing department. And they were using text messaging and allowing people to book services through mobile and it was working really, really well. 

And I asked that particular advocate what would help her promote, and she mentioned maybe some kind of collateral that looked like the large German car manufacturer the way that they would do it. So we ended up creating a really polished video clip. It didn’t look like ours as a vendor, and this might sound a bit strange for some people, but we had our logo on the mobile app and you saw somebody booking a service through the phone in the video clip, but that was it. It was super subtle. And then the rest of it was like images of their cars talking about the service that they offer. It was their clip that we created for them, and it started to, again, really change the relationship for that key account director.

So he had started to have conversations with people about expanding what they had first initially bought into much deeper areas of the company, which he hadn’t been able to break into before. It’s a long road sometimes with customer advocacy, but it can yield really good results at the end.

So, you might start with that, which, what is that gonna really give you as a company? It’s not going to give you views. It’s not going to give you new customer references in your pool is, it’s not really going to do anything like that, but it’s going to allow you access to a massive brand that has never wanted to work with you before and again, then we started to talk to them about creating another piece of content that talked a little bit more about what they were doing with us. 

Margot Leong: Yep, absolutely. And I think that part of this is when you join an organization, right? Even getting the lay of the land and understanding what are the resources that you have at your disposal, what are the teams and relationships that you can build internally to help promote that customer and help that customer, you know, in any way that you can.

And I think that thinking out of the box in this way perhaps can seem a bit daunting when you haven’t really had this approach before, but when you start opening your mind up to this possibility, there’s so many things that you can do with it. One of the examples at a smaller company is when I was at Gusto, we’re rewarding our customer advocates with other customers’ wares. We worked with such attractive small businesses, and so in some of our welcome kits for our customer advocates, we would send them, um, a gift box filled with a pie from a local small business, with coffee from one of our favorite advocates in Washington and then like, socks from a cool sock manufacturer in Portland. You put in a note to that customer and you say here’s some gifts from fellow customers at Gusto. 

That kind of thinking really can help pay dividends because you’re helping to reinforce to the customer that you’re sending it to that we really care about our customers, and of course the customers that we’re helping out by putting in their stuff. It’s not even that much money to, to pay them for what we’re doing, but we’re helping them with promotion as well.  

 Something that I’d love for you to talk about as well, as you mentioned to me previously around this idea of customer microsites.

 Julie Ilott: Yeah, sure. When I was at EMC, which got acquired by Dell, there was a really passionate CMO there at the time, and he had this idea to create microsites that were dedicated to the customer. We hadn’t launched any, it didn’t exist. I was brought on board to roll out this large global brand program. And the reason we were doing it was because EMC’s brand wasn’t well known. It was a 60,000 people organization and yet hardly anybody knew it and I think it’s because it is hardware, it’s quite dry, it’s a bit dull. This CMO came in and he was really passionate about trying to do something different. 

We talked about creating these microsites. We wanted to have them look and feel like the customer, yet they sit on your company website, but the top half was dedicated to the IT story, and what they were doing with your organization and then the bottom half was completely dedicated to their organization. 

So for example, working with a large Japanese manufacturing company – they had a new superbike that was coming out and they wanted to promote it because they’d fallen behind in the motorbikes space. I mean, they sell lots of other products, but this particular product was being launched at about the same time that we wanted to launch the microsite. So they were prepared to tell their IT story: we created like a series of little mini video clips with them and a couple of blog posts, a press release, an infographic. Lots of really nice visuals that were at the top of the page to tell their story with us, and then the bottom half was dedicated to the launch of the superbike, and we had some wonderful images, some really good clips, all that came from their website. So basically all the traffic that comes to your normal vendor site, which is in the IT space, obviously that large Japanese manufacturing company – they don’t spend their marketing budget necessarily in the IT space, yet they found it to be very appealing when we pitched to them that we were prepared to build a site on our own web page and allow the traffic that we get to that site to then potentially be driven to ther e because all of the links that we put in took them to their website. 

We did the same with this large US golfing organization as well, and the CMO for that company stopped me halfway through the presentation and said, you don’t need to pitch this anymore because this is just a no brainer. You are basically saying that you are going to market our new golf clubs and golf balls that are coming out and allow us to put like hints and tips on swing, and again, lots of really great content that they have on their website. We started to look to do them with more and more really large global brands that gave us really great kudos.

So it’s that wonderful win-win partnership. It takes a while to build the microsites, but I think once you start to have a plan, they look amazing. They get a lot of traffic to them, and then you can constantly keep updating the content, both from the customers pages, but also in content that you create with the customer. So you can launch a little series of many video clips and a little series of blog posts to keep it  refreshed and interesting for your viewers.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is like Relationship Management 101, right? Is that, um, it’s all about long-term wins. And especially when you’re working with the types of companies that I think are the holy grail for every company that brings on customer marketers. It’s like, all right, get me a Fortune 100 immediately. Right? 

No, it’s what are the angles that we need to explore in order to get to that in the first place. And sometimes even getting to the person that can make that decision can take months. And then, once they say yes, then, approvals can take, I mean, I’ve had approvals that never came through, right. Or, you know, took me a year to come through. 

But it’s the course of building that relationship and everything that is involved in it that makes the win when it does come through so much sweeter until you move on to the next thing, right? Because we all have a million things that we’re working on as customer advocacy people.

    I’m always just so sort of blown away by the adrenaline rush that I get when the customer that we have put so much care and thought into, it ends up turning out really well. Yeah, I love this. 

Julie Ilott: And I think once you start to do something like that, it kind of goes back to my earlier point about changing the type of conversation that you’re having with the customer, it doesn’t become an ask. It becomes a partnership, a relationship of what you’re prepared to promote on their behalf, and then they’re obviously going to take time to promote your solution or products, etc., but then you can extend it from there.

Say for example, with the large golfing organization , once we built the microsite, we then started to talk to them about having a popup stand. And this is something which I am really passionate about, the next time you’re going to run a conference or have a big kind of event, you should showcase your customers as much as possible. So a little bit like you were saying about your welcome kits, you’ve put like little products in of some of your other customers, again, do that at your event, say have a popup stand dedicated to a number of like, say these large brand customers that you’ve already built microsites for.

So for example, with the golfing one, we asked to have access to a sponsored player and they said yes, we could have him for like half a day, and they gave it to us at a reduced rate. And this guy came in, he had like a world record swing. And so loads of people wanted to come to the stand and find out about him.

And he did a little, um, swing exercise and where we ran a competition, but then also the popup stand was dedicated to telling their IT story again with us. And we had some of the rolling videos and the infragraphic all blown up, and then some of their merchandise, which we’d had co-branded with our logo and theirs.

That’s just a really great way, again, to showcase your customer. But throughout the event, you can have things like when you have your welcome drinks, if you have a customer that is in the drinks industry, for example, showcase a signature cocktail. Create a drink that’s dedicated using your customer’s champagne and have a little note saying, you know, this signature cocktail has been brought to you by X customer. 

And if you’ve got any charities, definitely have those at your events as well. You should definitely have like, popup stands dedicated to charities because it gives them a huge platform to promote themselves  in a space that they probably never would have access to.

If you’ve got somebody that produces running shoes, maybe have people wearing them in the events space and have a section saying, these running shoes have been bought to you by “X Customer” again .

Customers love it because you’re taking time to promote their products. You can even think about it in things like your customer advisory boards. We had a customer that produced paper notebooks. And so we ended up asking them could we print some special notebooks that were in our company color that were brought to us by their company? And then we had their logo and our logo inside, and we just had –

Margot Leong: Oh, that’s so cool.

Julie Ilott: – special notebooks for the CAB. But they’re subtle, right? It’s very subtle mentions of your customer. 

What a lot of vendors should be doing is thinking about their customers. And when a customer is prepared to talk positively or give you some of their time, also think about, well, what can we give them as well? 

Margot Leong: I’m loving everything that you’re saying. Having worked with global events teams in the past, I mean, they are wanting to do more things like this, right? They need this sort of thing anyway. They need things to give away at the booth. They need ways to attract people. Why not already think about all of the opportunities you can use to showcase your own customers.

Once you start thinking in this way, I think the opportunities are endless. It’s every possible program that you build relationships with how can you showcase that, right? That’s content or social or whichever. 

You know, an example with social is, how do you get more linked in to your social media team and have them be more aware of the milestones that your clients have achieved. So letting them know about, you know, perhaps they’ve raised funding or  announcing a new cancer treatment.

Your customers will mention sometimes offhandedly, they’ll say, Oh, we’re preparing for a big launch and that’s something to catalog in the back of your mind so that you can be aware of when that launch does come out. Then you tell your social media manager, of course, with the client’s permission and say, “Hey, can you promote this?” It’s a great way for your company to broadcast on social, this is our customer and congrats to our customer for doing this.  I mean, the customer just gets so excited. Sometimes they retweet it, but it’s again, understanding that you would just have so many resources at your disposal, that you don’t have to be responsible solely for this, but all these different teams – everybody loves the idea of promoting the customer.  

I think it’s just a matter of, because you’re so close to the customer and you’re constantly thinking about what’s best for them, right? To make sure that you go out and make those things happen. And it’s just the constant drumbeat of things that you’re doing for them that they add up and that really, I think is one of the x factors, right? That helps the customer retain. 

So, you’ve worked with some incredible Fortune 500, Fortune 100-type names. It’s the dream for us to partner with these brands, but it’s also really tough. So I’d love to dig into your approach, if you have some general tips or tactics that you employ when thinking about talking to these types of companies. 

 Julie Ilott: I’m not sure I’ve got anything like written as a script that I would follow for hints and tips, but like I mentioned before, I mean obviously we have an idea of what we need to achieve. Maybe it’s we want to get a video clip or we’d like to create a success story, or maybe have the customer be a speaker. Once you’ve gone through your internal loops and then, and perhaps, the salesperson, you’ve got to build a relationship with first to get access to the customer.

I think it’s about, first of all, speaking to the salesperson and finding out where the customer is at, what some of the history I think is really important so that you don’t go in completely cold in front of the customer. And then when you do get access to the customer, and maybe they have said no to you and you ask them about, let’s say speaking at an event, and they say, no, I think it’s then thinking, okay, well, I’m not just going to accept that and hang up, or you know, close the meeting and walk away. I think it’s about then saying to them, well, is there something you would like to do? And I think people are quite afraid to ask that question. Because you know, they may turn around and say, no, I don’t want to do anything with your organization, which, what’s the worst that can happen? That’s what they end up saying. 

But the best thing could be like that large media organization. You know, initially they were like, we never do anything like this, we’re a huge protected brand, we don’t do external content. When we started to talk to them about their challenges and they mentioned they were really struggling to attract engineers and IT talent. And how did we do that? It then became just a conversation like you and I are having now – an exchange of experiences, and it just opens different doors and then you can think, well, is there an angle here where we could still partner with the customer. We could still kind of get some kind of promotion through the vehicle of them as the voice of the customer. It is subtle because it’s not talking about your solution at this stage, but you are helping them and then hopefully in return, they then will look to be a bit more open to do something with you. 

 I think a lot of vendors tend to look at customers to create content and have it very clipped and only talk about what they do with you as a vendor versus the broader story of what they’re trying to do. Right now, I think in the climate we’re in with the COVID-19, a lot of companies are struggling, small and large, and I think it’s an opportunity almost to say, well, look, you probably are looking for promotion. What can we do together that will best promote what you’re trying to achieve, but then also tell the story that you have with us.

Take some time to think about, is there an angle here that I could go back to the customer with that they might find appealing and then further down the line we might be able to do some more of those traditional type activities that they at first said no to.

Margot Leong: What you talked about there is really interesting and actually with the COVID-19 portion, this is not with a Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 company per se. But when I was at Mixpanel, we worked with one of the leading mobile wallet apps. When we were talking to them, it was just when all the shutdowns were going into place and so obviously it’s a mobile wallet app, you need to be in person shopping, having all your coupons right on your phone. 

Obviously, they were having a real issue there. And they had fully accepted that. But what they were thinking about with the case study is they were actually using Mixpanel in order to provide value to their retail partners, the ones who are advertising and basically provide their revenue.

Julie Ilott: Cool. 

Margot Leong: They were analyzing the data within Mixpanel which then allowed them to showcase the shopping patterns based off of different countries to those retailers. So the retailers would know, okay, like in Germany, electronics are up 19%, but groceries of course, are up 25%. But maybe in France it’s a different type of thing, shopping patterns are like this. And so they presented these reports to the retailers. What they then wanted to do was to think about how we could angle the case study to make them also look good to future partners. To help their partners understand that we are in this for the long run.

And so even if it doesn’t make sense to advertise with us right now, we are also thinking about ways to utilize the resources at our disposal to make your lives easier, and we’re using Mixpanel to do that. I think that even with something as stuffy as a case study, typically, even with that, there’s angles there to make your customer look even better. 

And then once we published that, the champion was immediately like,  I’m sharing this with, with our entire company, and then salespeople are going to share this with the retailers. It’s third party validation that you basically practice what you preach. I love doing that.

You know, it’s the win, win, win, win, win thing that we talked about. 

Julie Ilott: Yeah, I agree. I think that is really, really important. Like you said, it’s about taking a moment to think about what you can do to support that customer and it just changes the conversation massively.

I think a lot of customers are expecting vendors to come in and make asks of them, because that’s what we’ve done for years and it is about changing that conversation and making it a different one.   

So I think when you asked me about hints – patience is one, and that’s hard, right? Everybody’s got pressures and timelines and everybody wants something yesterday. But patience is quite important. Some of these relationships that you build with customers don’t just happen overnight. They are like baby steps that need to take place, particularly I think when you’re dealing with really, really large brands, you have to sort of edge your way in and they have to trust you.

I think that’s really key as well. If they feel like they can trust you and you’re not going to publish something without their approval, you’re going to take steps to understand their business and position them correctly once they feel comfortable. They’re are a lot more open to doing things because it becomes a trusted partnership.  

Margot Leong: I think to your point about sort of the constant pressure – something that we, as customer marketing people can do to mitigate that is to set expectations with our managers upfront and tell them this is a long tail game. We’re in this to pay dividends and to reap rewards for the future. 

However, we know that from experience that smaller businesses or startup types are often going to be a bit more excited to participate in things like this versus larger enterprise brands. That’s going to take a whole different strategy and a whole different type of touch, but obviously to be able to clinch that, it takes a lot longer. 

To just set those expectations upfront and to also say, okay, like, I’m pretty sure that we can have the steady drumbeat if a steady drumbeat is what we are trying to go for and I can fill in the gaps with some of these smaller customers who are no less important, by the way. But then, you know, basically hit it home with maybe once a quarter with a really big customer. 

And so it doesn’t just have to be the big brands, but again, it’s really setting expectations and then mitigating some of those pressures by being like, this is how we can approach it so that it’s a win, win for everybody internally. 

I’ve found that customer stories, depending on how you tell them, even in hardware, if you tell them the right way or if you find that angle right,  it can be fascinating. And it doesn’t even matter how small the company is. Sometimes they’re using you or one of your features that an enterprise company may not have ever touched. 

Another area I wanted to speak to actually, and get your thoughts on is  you have run customer marketing in both EMEA and APAC. I think with any global marketing program, not just customer marketing, it really pays off to be cognizant of the actual cultural nuances versus just trying to copy and paste the same strategy that you’ve adopted within North America, if that’s where the headquarters is.

I think it would be so great if you could speak to how you think about approaching customer marketing based off of region and culture.

Julie Ilott: Yeah. I mean, we’re laughing, right, while still talking about this, but, I mean, I think it’s something that we face all the time as customer marketing people is that we’re told, Hey, this has been working over in San Francisco, for example, roll it out in Germany. Well, the German audience and the US audience, that’s just one tiny nuance that’s vastly different. I mean, you’ve got differences with French audience and just within Europe, right? Germany, France, Spain, they all like to be approached quite differently. And then over in Asia, of course, you’ve got Japan, which is its own ball game of how you need to approach things, how you create content.

I think it’s about being sympathetic to those cultures and not doing the rah-rah-rah of your company and how you’ve done it from the US – even really small things. When I worked in Australia and lived there for 10 years, every time I spoke to an Australian customer, they would say to me, please don’t send me anything that says “Happy holidays.”

We don’t have holidays. We have Christmas. And because I’m British, of course, that’s what we call it to you. I mean, we don’t say vacation and we don’t say holidays. I mean, our language has changed over the years now. And you would hear people in this country say, Hey, I’m going on vacation. But you know, it’s not part of our usual language.

But we work and I think, deal with Americans so much that that language has really, really crept in. It can be really, really tiny, things like that. And they’re just your thank you gifts that are going out, say at Christmas, but Australians would be very like, “Please don’t send me anything that says ‘Happy holidays.'”

Yeah, Australians definitely did not like to be spoken to in US kind of language. Germany definitely doesn’t, it needs to be a lot more formal with your German audience. Same with France. 

And then like I said, Japan, and Singapore and Hong Kong actually, but Japan definitely, they like a lot of – it’s all about respect in that country, but it’s also when you’re highlighting, say a case study, you may have a template that just is words and some images of the product or the company. In Japan, they liked to always have the image of the person that was interviewed at the top and their title, or at least they used to. Obviously now I’ve lived away from AsiaPac for six years back in the UK, but, that was very, very important. 

And so that’s tweaking your template in a very small way, but it really then resonates with the Japanese audience, the customer. It allows you, again, to go back to that question you asked me earlier about how do you sometimes get customers to agree? Well, it’s creating content that works for them and their comfort or their country as well.

This is something else I’ve seen over the years – it’s sort of like a timid approach about doing content in any other language than English. It’s really important to be doing content that you’ve created in English -great for your North America audience, your UK audience, your Australian audience, anywhere when you know English is the first language spoken – but when you’re dealing with countries like Germany, France, Spain, they want to read content in local language, and it’s quite disrespectful to produce pieces in too much English. You know, they want it in their local language. 

Don’t be afraid to do that. Take the time to translate a lot of your pieces because you may not get the amount of viewers or readers clicks, etc., that you could have if you just took that little bit of extra time, if you can, and you’ve got budget to be able to translate a lot of the content. 

I think we all work in organizations now that have multi-language employees, people who speak a lot of languages. And so you don’t have to necessarily outsource it. I mean, I’ve done this before when I’ve been strapped with budget. I’ve just asked around in the company who can speak French and I need some help in translating something. Sometimes you got to do that, sort of tin can it around to other departments and see if they can help you. 

Sales people are hungry, usually in region, for localized content. I think we fall afoul of this: we create our company websites in our language where the HQ is, and then we don’t think about maybe some other pages that are dedicated to the French speaking audience, the Spanish, the German, the Japanese, the Malaysian, etc.

You’re potentially missing huge opportunities for people to know more of who your company is, but also reading that content and maybe even getting future revenue because people are just like, well, this is all in English and I can’t necessarily understand it. It’s not my first language.

When you’re creating content too, I’ve been asked to create content with customers only in English, and yet some of them, it’s not their first language. Like you and I are conversing now, and it’s very natural for us to speak in our language. But when you ask somebody to think snd speak in their second language or third language, depending on how many they have, they can’t express themselves quite the same way as they would if they were just talking in their local language.

So I think that’s important too, is maybe we have to create pieces in French and then subtitle them in English versus it being an English and then subtitling in the other language.  

Margot Leong: Yes, absolutely. One of my last questions for you is around how have you seen customer marketing evolve over time, and are there any trends that you’re noticing?

Julie Ilott: When I first started in this space, it was called customer referencing, and it was all about asks to the customer, will you do a video, a case study, speak, give us a quote. That was it. And then there was nothing back to the customer. No welcome kits, no thank you gifts. No kudos for their organization, nothing. 

And then it starts to become what we called customer marketing, which started to become more about the customer a little bit more. And now we’ve started to move into this customer advocacy space, particularly, with large corporations that have been doing customer referencing and marketing for a while. 

What I would hear years ago, when you’re trying to break into an account, you have to build a relationship with the person that has that. And it’s invariably a salesperson and the salesperson would turn around and say, well, what’s in it for me?

And so you might maybe run a SPIFF or something like that, which I really try to avoid. You know , that would be the pushback you would get. You never heard that from the customer. Now I think at my time back at Oracle, definitely when we were promoting the cloud platform solution, what I heard from customers was, you’ve been making asks of us for years and now what’s in it for us?

You can use the line of, Hey, well, it’s really great networking, but we all have LinkedIn, lots of other networking, apps, connections through social media. Now you don’t necessarily need to go to an event and be told, well, the positive here is you’ll get to network because we’ve all got our own networks going anyway.

So again, it’s about taking that time to think about what is going to appeal to the customer and that’s where you have to think about it being more of a give then an ask. 

Margot Leong: So I’m curious, what is it about this space and this type of work that continues to give you energy and joy?

Julie Ilott: So when I first started working in it, this is probably a strange answer. Some customer marketing people may think, Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with her? But, in my time of being in customer references, I wore two hats. So I would wear one hat of producing a lot of content with customers, and then I’d also wear a hat that we called sales referencing. And you work a lot with the sales guys on the deals that they have coming down the line and connecting them with existing customer references that will talk positively about the solution.

And, so there’s two main aspects that has kept me interested in this space for awhile. And one is obviously definitely the customer and creating some really cool outside of the box pieces of content that you can tell their story and continuously thinking about new ways to do that, but then also working with the sales people. 

When you’re working with that group of people, they’re very, very driven and yes, they can sometimes be very aggressive. They do like results. And when that deal closes and they know that you’ve helped them, that then starts to almost become your pipeline of new recruits of customers for your customer marketing program because they will close the deal and then introduce you to that customer, or maybe you’ve even built a relationship with them already from setting up a reference call or a visit. 

But I really like the energy of salespeople. And that keeps me passionate, but the crux of it is really the customer, as I’m sure it is for you, Margot, as well.  

Margot Leong: I definitely agree with you on both counts. I think the sales side – it’s always a fascinating challenge because there’s the sales people that get it, and they get it immediately, and so you’re like, Oh my gosh, you’re like gold. I want to hang out with you all the time.

And then there’s the ones that they have access to really good customers and so you have to figure out how to get them to get excited about what you’re doing. When they see that reps are becoming successful or even more successful in part due to partnering with you , I mean, that’s when it starts to roll in. 

I used to present at the sales boot camps, when the new sales hires would come in every month. And I always say my ideal world is where sales reps come to me with constant opportunities and I have more inbound than I know what to do with. When you figure out how to sort of crack that nut with sales , I just love that energy as well, and it’s just very rewarding for salespeople to have your back. I think sometimes sales and marketing can be at odds, not everywhere, but you know, there’s the sort of natural tension. 

And with customer marketing, we just spend so much time with sales that you get to close that gap a little bit. They get to respect the sort of work that you do and they see how it drives long-term results and they see how one of the most visible examples is putting their customer’s name in spotlights. They love that stuff. 

Julie, it has been such a pleasure speaking with you. Where can our listeners find you? 

Julie Ilott: Pleasure speaking to you, Margot, as it always is. I mean, both of us are so passionate about this, as I’m sure lots of other customer marketing people are as well. I can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter and I believe Margot, you’re going to add some details into the show notes, so, people can find me that way. 

Margot Leong: Yes, absolutely. I will do that. Thanks again, Julie. 

Julie Ilott: Thanks, Margot. Likewise. Take care. 



Related Posts