On this episode, I was joined by Umesh Patel, Head of Global Customer Reference Programs at Fujitsu Global, where he’s been leading customer marketing for the past eight years. Umesh believes that customer stories provide tangible evidence for how companies help customers realize their visions, and you can tell that he gets so much joy out of connecting with people. We spoke about his background in bid marketing and how it influenced his current approach, how he structures his small team to meet massive scale, and all of the ways he raises awareness of his program internally. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Umesh.
Margot Leong: Umesh, really thrilled to have you on Beating The Drum. Thank you so much for joining us.
Umesh Patel: I’m honored that you’re inviting me to take part in this. So thank you for inviting me.
Margot Leong: What I’d love to do is kick off the conversation by talking about bid marketing. It was not a term that I was familiar with, but I do know that it’s something that’s more common in the UK. So first off, can you tell me, what is bid marketing?
Umesh Patel: Yeah. Sure. So, bid marketing is a concept where marketing are working very closely with bid teams , and most cases is essentially on understanding the customer and personalizing and amplifying what our brand is with the customers or potential customers brand, so really making the response very personal to the customer, and also thinking about from the marketing perspective of how we can make and influence that bid. So, you know, it’s really working with the opportunity owners, working with a bid manager, but having a marketing lens to try and see how we can win this piece of business.
Margot Leong: My understanding is that bid is basically the same as RFP, right?
Umesh Patel: The bid world is RFPs, RFIs , framework agreements, whatever comes through to a kind of public notification or send something to a number of suppliers. The term is bid world because you’re responding then as a bid team.
Margot Leong: This is the first time that I’ve heard about the idea of the marketing team being more involved with sort of that bid process. Is that common? Because usually where I’ve seen it is that sales enablement will own the process or sales ops. So I’d love to hear more about that.
Umesh Patel: Yeah, so it’s not common for all bids, but it’s where the bid is of strategic value, significant value in terms of revenue. And then there’s a focus. And if it’s a must-win deal bid , that’s where I think you try and be different, and the bid marketing team is there to try and make your bid stand out from all the others.
When we do bid marketing, as I’ve done in the past, it’s about actually thinking outside of the response itself as well. How do we position ourselves as an organization? How can we influence the stakeholders, the potential decision-makers. So it’s mixing all of that in which normally bid teams don’t think about, they’re just thinking about the bid, responding and sending it off. And bid marketing is there actually to come up with a different lens, thinking in a different way to really stand out from all the others.
A good example is where sometimes when you are working on a bid as part of that team, you’re thinking about the response and how you personalize it to the recipients, how you brand it. So it feels if it’s a co-branded story, rather than just our story. But the other clever thing I think is, which is quite good, is if you can understand who your stakeholders are, understand who your potential decision-makers are, is really then using that to influence them in their day-to-day lives outside of the bid.
Sometimes what we’ve done is decided to put some kind of subtle or sometimes in your face advertising outside their buildings where they’re working, or outside a venue that we know they will go past, to subconsciously influence who we are and what we’re about. It’s all about actually not being too close to the response and thinking outside of the box to really influence subconsciously to those decision-makers, those organizations who are going to receive the bid.
Margot Leong: That’s fascinating. I know that you’re no longer within bid marketing, but how do you think that experience influenced your current approach ?
Umesh Patel: Totally influenced because, in the past, I’ve worked as a bid manager. I’ve worked in marketing for many years and then combining that with bid marketing actually helped me to do that job really well. But what I’m doing now actually, it started from the bid marketing world, having that experience of what bids needed, having the experience of what marketing can provide. When the opportunity came to actually take the program to try and support the business from a reference and an advocacy point of view, it was a natural step. I had the pains, the scars of the bid world. I understood what the demands were, and being able to kind of come up with some kind of programs to actually support and help them was perfect.
It was the ideal stepping stone from what I’ve done to what I’m doing now. It gives me so much insight and actually gives me some weight when I’m talking to the community to say, look, I felt your pain. I understand where you’re coming from. Because, sometimes, as you know, marketing is seen as an activity, but people think they’re just fluff, but when you can talk their language, you can talk their pain points, then I think you get that traction to be able to help and support.
Margot Leong: I think that is a really salient point. If I were to put myself in the shoes where I would get the chance to even work in sales ops or within sales, right. Being responsible for a quota, that would give me such a different lens. And I think a much more wider, nuanced lens.
Umesh Patel: The fortunate thing with working with a large organization like Fujitsu is that you’re able to do different roles. So before doing the bid world, I was doing sales as well. So, the combination of sales, understanding the bid world and understanding marketing, there was a natural step to try and do something which is around our customers and able to support the business needs. And you know what the needs are, so you’re able to help from the beginning and not sometimes come up with silly things the business doesn’t appreciate.
Margot Leong: Got it. And so what did the advocacy program look like when you started?
Umesh Patel: Well, we didn’t have an advocacy program when I started, so I’d say there was an opportunity to create something because we knew there was a need. So I started a customer reference program with a very small team, and it started in the UK because that’s where I was based. We knew where the pain points were, and then very fortunately, we recognize that this is not just a UK pain point, it’s a global pain point. So we rolled the program from UK to a whole company wide, apart from Japan, because Japan was very big, had its own way of behaviors and steps. So my role became a global role.
And then obviously the other thing to note here is, you know, the term advocacy, the term reference world, is very kind of hand in glove. Very close . They’re slightly different, but they’re so close at the same time. At the moment, I’m the head of the customer reference program globally, and we are about to actually kick off as an organization, a formal advocacy program, which is still in its planning stage.
But when we talk about advocacy, we’re talking about a very select group of people who are going to be becoming, they’re more than ambassadors , they are individuals who are very passionate about Fujitsu , who are very interested in innovation that we do and want to talk about Fujitsu. You know, in the reference where you sometimes have to ask organizations to say something about us. What we’re trying to do with the advocacy programs is actually get these individuals talking about Fujitsu without us asking. They will be using their platforms to talk about Fujitsu because they’re passionate about who we are. They’re really positive about what we do. And so that’s where the advocacy program is going to go, and that’s being planned and hopefully launched early next year.
Margot Leong: So let’s rewind a little bit where you first started the references program at Fujitsu. And it sounds like where it kicked off was bids need references. And so with that in mind, it’s very natural to transition into that.
Umesh Patel: Absolutely. We’ve felt that there’s a real need here, because what we found is that bid teams were going just randomly into account teams asking, right, we need a reference. And we felt, you know, this needs to be a bit more organized, orchestrated, and most importantly, what we wanted to do was try and understand our customer base and who would do what for Fujitsu centrally.
It’s a, win-win. We’re trying to shield the account teams from thousands of requests. We’re, at the same time, trying to unearth information from the account team so that the bid teams know which customers are suitable. So we’re like a bit of a gateway between the two.
One of the things I’m quite passionate about for the team is to look at where we have gaps, so that we can proactively go in and ask into the business to try and get more references and capture more customer stories. Because now, today, the reference program is not just about the referenceability of accounts, but we’re now creating content to really share our customer stories, be it written, be it video, and really emphasize and publicize how we are working with our customers.
I would say there’s three pillars to my program. One is about working with the people in the regions, in the business, to understand what we do with our customers and where we have a willing customer. Then we go into creation mode. We work with agencies, dedicated agencies to really create content, which is very consistent of the same tone and style, regardless of where that customer is. They should all read and feel the same. From the same organization, written in the same way. And so we can leverage that, not just in the country, but also outside the countries. And then the third pillar is actually helping the internal teams when they are in need of references or in need of case studies or in need of examples. So we do this fulfillment, as I call it, we have a dedicated team helping to support the demand where somebody needs help.
Margot Leong: Got it. Just to go over that again, the pillars that you mentioned is the content piece, right. Working with those agencies to create the content. It’s also helping internal teams in need of references. And then it’s also the investigative style of digging in and seeking to understand. So that’s working with people in region to understand what is needed, basically.
Umesh Patel: Yeah. What is needed and also what’s available. Because again, as a global central team, sometimes the regions are not always receptive. We are very much like an octopus. We have tentacles into the regions and the regions are really the people who help us make things happen.
Margot Leong: And I know that Fujitsu is not a small company. You guys are, I think, over 140,000 employees, give or take.
Umesh Patel: I think the current state is around just over 130,000 employees globally across all regions. We’re not small. We’re in the process of actually transforming ourselves in the digital world, but also enabling our customers to transform. We’re practicing what we’re preaching and we’re also really at the cutting edge of really working with our customers, collaboration, co-creation, and partnering with customers on stuff rather than doing things to our customers.
As an organization, I think the one thing that makes us stand out from others is that we were talking about human-centric society 10 years ago and we still are very passionate about that. I think other organizations that are now getting involved in that kind of human aspect, but we’ve been talking for over 10 years and we are practicing and we are delivering this human centric society. It’s really important that we are here to make money as an organization, but we also want to make a difference to society and improve society. So that’s a really fundamental part of our values.
Margot Leong: You mentioned, being an octopus, right, with tentacles all throughout this organization. That’s a lot of people, that’s a lot of departments to filter through it and be that octopus. How big is your team currently?
Umesh Patel: We’re a very small central team. I have four people directly reporting to me. I manage the program, but I’m also very hands-on as well. I’ve given each of the team members dedicated regions and countries. Primarily we go through the marketing teams, but then we build contacts through the business lines, through the offering teams. So your network grows, and I think that helps because then you’re able to understand, not just from a marketing perspective, but also from a business perspective of what’s required in those regions.
Margot Leong: I think that there’s a really good story to understand here around scale. So for the people that are on your team, each of them is dedicated to a specific region, right?
Umesh Patel: I’ll give you an example. One of my team members, Frank, he has responsibility for the Western European region. So his responsibility to be will be to speak to the country marketing teams, speak to the contacts that he may have already, and just start to capture where we have an opportunity of customers willing to create content for us.
Secondly, we’ll also look at the key strategic accounts and make sure we understand the referenceability of those customers. Once we have a willing customer for an opportunity to create some content, we will use agencies, third parties, and they will then orchestrate the work between the account teams and the other stakeholders and the agency and the customer to create that content.
And then thirdly, they will look proactively where there’s gaps by business, by industry, where it’s very light, they will then also go out and proactively reach out to people who are responsible for those areas to see if we can create some more.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. Talk to me a little bit more about this idea of the gaps. I feel like within customer marketing and references, there will probably always be gaps, as you get bigger, there are always more regions. There’s always more business lines, right. There’s always more products. How do you think strategically around, do I have to fill in this gap? Is this a gap that aligns with what the business is trying to go for?
Umesh Patel: It’s a really tricky line . Internally, they’ll be people who think their thing is really important, but as a central team, we are trying to provide assets which are balanced. We try and balance from region, business line, and everything. I try not to say no to anybody who has a customer willing to do a story. What I do is sometimes prioritize, and say, okay, let revisit this if I think it’s not a strategic value, or I think it’s already there and we don’t need another one today. But we will not say no. I don’t believe in saying no to a customer when they’re willing to do things for us.
In terms of the gaps, we’ll prioritize on where we trying to go in the future. So as an organization, we are fine to be recognized as a DX provider. So we are definitely interested in stories and projects where we are demonstrating collaboration, co-creation, and partnership, so that takes priority. Some of the traditional ICT kind of offerings that we provide still, they’re still of interest, but probably lower down the tier.
For me, what drives what we can and can’t do at the end of the day is budget. If I think I need more budget because we’ll have more opportunities, I will probably ask the business for it. I try not to spend over, but where we have customers willing, touch word, right? I’ve been running this program for eight years, I’ve never had to say no. I’ve always found a way to do something where we have a willing customer. And I hope that continues, because I think at the end of the day, there’s nothing stronger than a customer endorsing who we are and what we do.
So even some of this stuff, which maybe is not of high priority, you can get some really strong content from customers by just talking about the bigger picture, talking about something different, right, and then refocusing the story to really get some strong sound bites of what you want.
Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I think those are the golden types of customers, even if they may not necessarily be the biggest names or within the industry that we’re trying to prioritize or whatnot. Continuing to maintain those relationships, it does pay dividends over time because you never know when there is a need to just have a willing customer go on the record to talk about how much they love the company.
Umesh Patel: Yeah, you can’t go wrong with that. They will do things for you, which some of the bigger brands may not. So I think you need to nurture and keep hold of those, you don’t want to switch them off. So it’s fine having some priority to say, you need these. If they’re not going to come through as many as you like, then you backfill with those which you know are gonna come through and are going to be good.
Margot Leong: I think another variable that needs to be considered from a prioritization standpoint is how much work is involved in the type of collateral that you choose to do with a specific customer. How do you think about that?
Umesh Patel: I always say this: it’s whatever the customer’s willing to do. When we start the journey of the reference ask, we have a short list of ten options. What as an organization, as an individual, we’re willing to do. And we let them decide.
My experience, again, tells me that some of these smallest organizations. They are fantastic in telling their story, and they are really passionate about who they are and also how digital has helped them. For me, brand is not the key thing. For me, it’s about the content of the story and how important that is for the customer to tell it.
So we are creating content, but with the vision that what we create, not only Fujitsu uses, but they will use, because it’s their story, internally or externally. I’m seeing that some of our customers and some of the videos we’re creating and some of our written stories, our customers are using it internally for education, promotion of what work they’re doing, and also externally on their websites, on their social platforms. And for me, that’s the ultimate way our customers are talking about Fujitsu independently of us making the ask.
Margot Leong: If you can take us back to that time when you’re like, all right, we’re starting the references program here. How do you spread the knowledge within the organization that they should go through you? And I’m sure that that it’s not a one and done process either. So talk to me a little bit about how you did that at the time and how you still do that now.
Umesh Patel: So in a larger organization, everybody has their own contacts and they like to work in their own style. And they’ll reach out to those people because they’ve always reached out to those people, and they’ve always helped. But what we did and we continue to do is actually make sure internally, we have awareness of who we are, what we do. So one-on-one, part of my team, and me myself, we are constantly delivering updates of what the program is and what we’re here to do. New people join, some people have changed roles. So we are always talking about the program, and what we can do, and inform them that this is the right way to do it.
In addition to that, we have intranet sites by each region. So we are constantly sharing content, like customer stories and the videos, but also making people aware that we’re here to give them help.
Thirdly, we get our stakeholders to tell the story. And I think that’s really powerful when you have people in the region who are advocates of the reference program, then they will tell colleagues. And if you can get a champion in the bid communities or in the sales communities that this is some great work, it’ll save you a lot of time and effort, then that’s what we focus on as well. So. It’s a mix of things, but it’s a bit like your title, Beating The Drum, you’ve got to do it all the time. You can’t just do it once a year.
Margot Leong: Can we dive into some more specifics around the channels that you use to beat the drum about your program?
Umesh Patel: Yeah. So internally, we use intranet sites, but I have a dedicated customer reference news that goes out every couple of weeks. It goes to around two and a half thousand people globally. That is open to anybody who’s interested about what we do with our customers, what stories we’re creating, what information we have, in any country, as well.
I do this newsletter every couple of weeks, going to give them glimpses of the stories that we’ve just completed or new information around referenceability, and it’s growing week by week, which is great. That means people are interested in this whole customer experience and this customer kind of storytelling. That’s the most powerful internal, I think personally, because you’ve got people who are interested, because there’s lots of newsletters that go out there. But when somebody is reaching back to say, I want to be part of this newsletter. That means it’s a warm person, who will open and who will understand and who will digest.
The other areas of how we really push the stories, we have what we call coffee roundtables . So these are marketing-led webinars to the business on certain topics. So we will take slots in those, so that business people are getting refreshed in terms of these programs exist, what they’re about, and who to speak to.
Margot Leong: This newsletter that you created, how many years have you been doing that now?
Umesh Patel: It’s happening at least four years, on the increase month on month.
The other interesting thing is that we’re trying to make it more dynamic. So what we try and do now is, previously, I would just put an introduction, and I’ll do a little video clip for every time. So people are seeing me, firstly, but also what we do every quarter, we’ll do an in depth. So there’s an in-brief session that comes out every two weeks, and then an in-depth one, which is a quarterly one. And in there, what we try and do is get some of our stakeholders, some of our consumers to give some feedback by video, by written statements or whatever. So, we’re trying to give insight back, experiences back to the readers who are interested in this space.
And this is a global, reach, right? So, sometimes when there’s somebody in the U.S who reads a story about something that’s in the Oceana Legion, they make the connection by reading this stuff. Otherwise, naturally, they’re not going to go and look for Oceana stories. A lot of people think very in-region, but when we sprinkle these stories, it’s intentionally done so it’s a short newsletter, right? It’s not scroll down 15 pages. So it’s really about actually making that reach and that connection with different people.
Margot Leong: A lot of the work that you’re doing spreading these stories, is meant to be helpful from a sales perspective, right? Helping the reps, see, what types of stories are available that they can then have in their back pocket when they’re talking to customers. Do you feel as though in your experience, reps are pretty good at internalizing the stories that you guys come up with that are not ones that they have sold themselves? Because absolutely, I know reps, if they sold the customer themselves, then they can pull that out of their back pocket no problem. Sometimes where I notice a gap is customer references does a lot of work around creating content, but sometimes reps aren’t necessarily as good at using those stories to sell.
Umesh Patel: I think you’re right. I think the natural behavior of our global sales people is just to kind of cherry pick as and when they need something, rather than actually consume it and then have that. But I think that the reality is that customer stories are like gold dust. For that reason, I think our salespeople, the smart salespeople, are very conscious that they make themselves aware of these stories and they do actually have them in their minds.
And in addition to that, we’ve created a customer stories app, which is the more recent contents. It’s got about 200 of our written/video stories, so sales can quickly just look at the app on the go, they can filter by vertical, region, offering. And so they’re going into a meeting and they want to think about something that, okay. What do we have in retail that is around this space, in this country, they can get very familiar very quickly, rather than having to memorize. We try and make it as easy as possible for our customer-facing teams to really tell the story about our customers.
Margot Leong: That’s fantastic. And I’m guessing you’re also able to track how many people are pulling up stories and looking at them, and my hunch is that you’ve probably seen volume increase, rightm as a result.
Umesh Patel: We do have analytics on the app in terms of how many people are viewing, and the views are getting higher and higher month on month. So, that’s very positive. The thing to remember here, right, is that everybody behaves differently. Some people will do the app. Some people will go on the website. Some people will come back and do their homework before going to me. Part of what I do I think is to try and give that menu of options. If I can facilitate that to help their job, then that’s what we try and do.
Margot Leong: You know, having been involved with the program for eight years now, I’d love for you to talk to us a little bit about how it also evolved over time.
Umesh Patel: Yeah, sure. It started with this knee-jerk reaction of what the business needed and then over time, what I’ve tried to do is actually deliver not just what the bid community needs, but also what other parts of the business need. So, you know, we started with the reference information, it needed to be done centrally. It needs to be validated regularly. You need to be consistent.
Once we got that, we got the insights. You can understand what our customers are willing to do for us. And then on the back of that, creating content in a very consistent way, in a very quality way so that it can be leveraged. And then the evolution after that I would say is that we’re now looking at how we can not just create content, but share that content in a more impactful way.
The other observation is actually since creating our stories, what we’re finding and I don’t think Fujitsu’s alone, is that a lot of organizations are using these customer stories to really differentiate, to really stand out from our competitors. So, what we see is that these stories are not just important for the bids and the sales communities, but also some of our leaders are using these stories to tell the Fujitsu story and how we work with our customers.
The current phase is that we are trying to really sweat the opportunity of a customer and create what we can. Repurpose content in different formats, not just a two pager but different infographics, animated video. How can we tell that same story in different ways without disturbing the customer, but still being able to tell that story. So that was the next evolution.
And I would say now, we’re at that cusp of having a formal advocacy program. Right? So now, the homework has been done. We’ve got an identity, we’ve got a value proposition in place, essentially now laying the internal stakeholders in line so we’re able to do this. And when we do it, we do it properly. We roll it out, make sure the customer is the center of all of this.
And the advocacy program, the other thing here is that they will be getting some real, tangible benefits. And we will get benefits because they will be talking about Fujitsu without us actually telling them what to say. So it’s about having customers who are passionate at the end of the day about our brand and what we do.
Margot Leong: Fantastic. We’re coming up on time here, but I think the last question that I wanted to dig into, is around measuring the value. How do you think about measuring success for your program?
Umesh Patel: That’s a really good question. I think if you ask people how you measure things that are happening, especially marketing, a lot of people are quite obsessed with quantitative measures, right? Views, downloads, clicks, and so on. I personally don’t believe, I’m more of a qualitative person, so I think when you have content from customers, irrespective of the volume, I think the fact that, you know, people are digesting this. I’ll give you an example. All it takes is one of our videos to be watched by somebody who’s a decision maker, and that video might have only been watched by that person. But that will be a game changer because it’s influenced and made that decision time, it’s closed a big deal. So if we just looked at, say one click of a video, we said that was a really bad investment. But the reality is that’s actually changed a real opportunity and that’s brought in millions.
So, I think this quantitative thing is a bit of a red herring personally. I think it’s about delivering good content, which people are viewing. And when I hear from our salespeople, when I hear from my marketing colleagues, that was actually great. And not only that, the evidence I see is that the content that we are creating being used in our showcase events, right. We used to have a face-to-face global event once a year where all our customers and partners and prospects would come. And this year we did it virtually because of COVID.
But when I see what we create being used and shared in that forum, that to me is evidence that what we’re doing is of real value. One video shared in one of the webinars is going out to thousands. That one click actually is representing a thousand clicks, really. That’s why I’m not keen on that kind of quantitative side, and I value feedback from customers and our internal customers on what they think.
Don’t get me wrong. I still need to justify, and I need to demonstrate, you know, volume, numbers, my personal belief, especially when we’re talking about customers, we shouldn’t be driven around volume. We should be driven by qualitative usage, qualitative feedback from our customers internally and externally. That’s my personal view.
Whenever we create a project, we will always ask our customers. How was it? What was your experience? And that’s the end customer, right? And one of the big things about this role is that I get to speak to customers, which is really nice. And by doing that, I was always trying to develop a relationship and a rapport with them so that I can ask the question, was it painful? Was it useful? Was it easy? Is there things that we could do better?
The ultimate is when our customers start using the content that we’re creating. That to me is evidence that what we’re doing is actually spot on, and it’s doing the right things for our business.
Margot Leong: And it’s such a great feeling too, right?
Umesh Patel: Yeah, exactly.
Margot Leong: So last question for you is, if our listeners would like to connect with you, where can they find you?
Umesh Patel: I’m on LinkedIn, and I’m on Twitter, so you can search on Twitter as well. I can give you my email address, I’m quite open. If anybody wants seriously, if anybody needs any help, guidance, I’m more than happy to help. Hopefully it comes through that I’m quite passionate about this. I enjoy what I do, I think it’s important. I’m here to help people, so I’m more than happy to be contacted.
Margot Leong: It was such a thrill to have you come on and I’m just so happy to have the chance to speak with you.
Umesh Patel: Thank you again for inviting me. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Margot Leong: Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.