Transcript: Lessons From Building EMEA Customer Marketing Programs From Scratch with Fiona Partlow

On this episode, I was joined by Fiona Partlow, Senior Manager, Global Customer Reference Program at Nutanix. She kicked off her career in customer references at Oracle, then built out the EMEA customer marketing programs at VMware and Nutanix. We talk about why flexibility and adaptability are crucial when running a global program, the customer anecdote document she created to help new sales reps, and the creative ways that she’s working with customers on videos in the midst of COVID. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Fiona. 

Margot Leong:  Hey, Fiona. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Fiona Partlow: Oh, well, thank you for inviting me. I’m really excited and I’ve been a fan of this podcast for awhile. So yeah, really excited to be part of it. 

Margot Leong: Oh, I love hearing that. Thanks, Fiona. I am so thrilled to have you on. So, I would love to start off with a bit of an introduction. Tell me about your journey to customer advocacy and a little bit about how you ended up in your current role over at Nutanix. 

Fiona Partlow: I mean, I’ve been in customer marketing probably for more years than I can remember. So, I started at Oracle many moons ago, and when I was at Oracle, I was in a sales role, an internal sales role and this new marketing role came up. And I think customer referencing was something that was really quite new, but it really looked interesting. So I moved into the customer marketing team and just really loved the whole role and how we’re giving something back to the customer. 

From Oracle, I moved to VMware, so that was basically to run and develop their EMEA customer marketing program. And then a friend of mine started a company called Nutanix, which I’d never heard of. They were quite a small company at the time, and he asked me to join and help with the global reference program because they didn’t have anything in place at all, so I’ve been at Nutanix six years now, which has completely flown. Still really, really loving it here. 

Margot Leong: You’ve had this experience of building out EMEA customer advocacy at both VMware and Nutanix. And I can imagine that those experiences were a bit different. I think VMware is, probably at the time that you were there, a much larger company than Nutanix, right?

 Fiona Partlow: Yeah, definitely. Because I think on the one side, there were a lot of similarities because both of them didn’t have a program in place, but you’re right. There were the differences because of the company size. So, yeah, when I joined VMware and Nutanix, there was no official program in place at all. So, I think that worked well for me, because it was not as if I was going in trying to fix something maybe that wasn’t working. I could start from scratch and put processes in place.

For me, it was initially looking at, what were our key goals of the program that support the overall company strategy? What did we have in place, customer evidence-wise ? You know, an important part of that was, how were you using these references and were they being used officially? Had they had appropriate customer approvals? And then, who are my key stakeholders in those companies and finding out what were their wants and needs for the program? How could I support them? What were the type of customers we were looking for? How could we stimulate sales and marketing to provide us with customers as well?

And then I think , this is one of the issues I’ve found with a number of companies I’ve worked for is, how can we make all the customer evidence easily accessible? So to have one central customer repository, where a salesperson can go and easily extract information he needs on customers.

You know, it’s been fun. I grew and expanded both programs, and I think the key to doing that is just having flexibility and adaptability. Just as the company grows or looking at the current climate, how do we adapt and be flexible in the type of materials we’re producing and how we support the organization?

Margot Leong: I’m curious about like what are some of the challenges inherent in owning EMEA customer advocacy.

Fiona Partlow: I think there’s a number of challenges. I mean, flexibility, I think is key when you’re running a reference program across a region because something that might work well in one country might not work well at all in another country. 

There’s lots of challenges culturally. We have, for example, our central European region, customers in that region aren’t so keen to endorse and talk about the implementations and go into details about the benefits. So one of the things we’ve been looking at is, do we do a more thought leadership-type piece so that the customer’s not really delving into the detail, but more talking on a wider level. And we found that worked.  You know, they’re very much process-driven. So, we have to be really clear in writing a detailed approach of what we’re asking, how are we going to do it, when’s it going to be published? 

I try and do PAN-EMEA stories as much as possible, especially when we’re doing ones for bigger companies or it’s a new product line. But we find some of our Southern European countries, they don’t work. They just want customer stories that are specific to that country. 

So, there’s definitely a number of challenges to take into consideration. And it is a lot just listening to your local teams and understanding their needs and requirements. And adapting the program accordingly because like a general reference program or a general customer marketing program, the same program wouldn’t work across all the different regions.

Margot Leong: With so many things to take care of, what are the ways in which you kind of scale yourself? 

Fiona Partlow: Yeah. I mean, I do rely closely on our internal teams. So I work really closely with our field marketing teams, I have monthly one-on-ones with all of them, and we can talk about, what stories do we have in progress? What ones have we got completed? And how are we going to amplify those stories? And then we can look at pipeline and make sure are we focusing on the right stories? I get their support. If it is a local language story, then they will help sometimes with the development of that, and then sort of the larger stories and PAN-EMEA stories I will work on.

But, yeah, having that regular monthly one-to-one is really important. And then I have quarterly calls with the regional sales leaders. That is really important because I provide them with an update of everything that’s going on, but also it enables me to tell them where I need help and support. And so it’s a two-way communication. So I think it’s really important to have that visibility and to be engaged with both marketing and sales, when you’re running a program and you are just a single person trying to do everything.

I’ve found that sometimes when we’ve had regions that we’re not producing as many assets as we’d like, then getting that top down approach really helps. I had one of my regions that we’ve got a massive pipeline and we’ve got loads of stories we’re working on, but it’s a region that has a lot of big name customers, but we’re unable to get into any of those customers.

So my last one-to-one with the regional sales lead, I spoke to him and all of a sudden, I’m having the account managers contacting me and introducing me to the customers and we’re building up those bigger name references. So I think that’s vital to having a successful program, that the sales leaders do completely buy into it.

Margot Leong: How do you balance what you think would be best from a prioritization standpoint? Maybe based on sort of the global goals, versus if you have sales in different regions saying, Hey, like, we really want you to do these stories and these stories and you’re just one person, really. 

Fiona Partlow: I mean, having the calls helps, because then there’s a clear commitment at the beginning of the quarter, so I can say, right, I will do five stories for your region, and these five stories we’re going to do. And then any additional ones then, I need additional support either from the marketing or sales teams to help with those. 

I do the quarterly dashboard and show all the material we’re producing, because I think a lot of the time, you can produce stories, then you’ll find the sales people aren’t using them, they’re sort of moving on to the next thing. And it’s just like, well, hang on a minute, we’ve got all these great stories that you haven’t shared with your prospects and so it’s making sure that they have visibility of everything that’s available to them. Because a lot of the time, there isn’t the need to have a huge amount of references because we’ve already got material that they can actively use.

Margot Leong: Talk to me a little bit more about this quarterly dashboard that you mentioned.

 Fiona Partlow: I mean, it’s basically me pulling the figures together on a quarterly basis. The positive about that, if I’ve got a region maybe that isn’t performing as well one quarter, and I have all the regions and the assets they produce for that quarter, it can encourage a little bit of healthy competitiveness, you know? So  one region will look at another region and think, well, how come they’ve got 20 stories, and we’ve only got 15? And so it really helps with driving the pipeline and increasing the number of customers we have.

We do have tools available now for salespeople to access information easily. I was finding a vast majority of my time was spent with sales reference requests. So it would be, what customers do we have in this country for financial services? You know, what customer is using this product? And it might be information for an RFP, or it might be they’re going into a meeting and just want to name drop some customers. 

So we have used tools like Reference Store and ReferenceEdge in the past. We’ve got a fantastic internal marketing operations team, so they now have produced a dashboard within Salesforce. So account managers can easily get that information. And then for the bigger requests for actually talking to customers, we can help them with that. But for general, just gathering information, maybe to have a first meeting with a prospect, they easily can get that information themselves. They’re not having to access a separate tool because they’re using Salesforce on a day-to-day basis anyway, so it’s integrated within the system so it’s easy for them to use. 

One of the initiatives that we started last year, we just initially started it for our Western European team, and due to the company growing so fast, we have a number of new salespeople that joined. And one of the requests I was getting more and more from them was they wanted to be able to go into prospects and come out with anecdotes of customers that were doing similar things and using our technology.

So I worked with the local team and I produced an internal document, but it literally has about 40 or 50 customer anecdotes. So it says a little bit about what the challenge was, what the solution is and the benefits. We laminated them and we sent them electronically and it was something that salespeople could either have in their laptop bag or just have on their phone or on their laptop. And before they went into a prospect, they could read through. It was organized by industry and by solution, and they could pick a couple of anecdotes, so when they went to that customer, they could name drop some customers and talk about what they were doing, and it’s been really well received. We update it quarterly and now we’ve started to roll it out in the other regions. So we’ve just done one for our Southern European team. And then we’re just working on one now for our Northern European team as well. 

Margot Leong: Actually, that’s something that I think about quite a bit, which is, a lot of what we do is the content generation, but there’s a big difference between that and making sure that there are stories that stick in a salesperson’s mind that they can use when they go into that pitch meeting with the customer. Because I think from an emotional storytelling standpoint, it’s just so effective. And so this sounds like a really good opportunity for them to brush up on some of these things before they go in.

Fiona Partlow: Exactly. And I think too, when you’ve got new salespeople coming in, they don’t have that historical knowledge of past deals that have closed. So, it’s a godsend for them because they can easily refer to it and they’ve got some great stories to tell when they go in for those meetings.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And just to dig into that a little bit more, so you said it’s an internal document with about 40 to 50 customer anecdotes and now it’s become so successful that you’re starting to break them out by regions, which is great. What do those customer anecdotes look like? How short are they? 

Fiona Partlow: So we have the challenge, solution and benefits, but they’re literally two to three sentences per section sometimes, slightly less, sometimes slightly more. But we wanted to make it bite-size, so that they can just quickly read it, absorb it and then relay it, basically.

Margot Leong: As someone who’s sort of tried stuff like this in the past, there’s so much that you could do potentially include in two or three sentences. What do you make sure is critical to have within that bite, basically? 

Fiona Partlow: I mean, we look at the biggest pain points our customers are feeling, so we make sure that we’re all in line with our company objectives for a start. We will include ones where we’ve beaten certain competitors or they’re just using some of our newer technology, which we don’t have a lot of case studies for, but we will have a few customers that they can talk about that are using our newer technology. So, we basically just pick the key areas where we feel the salespeople will need them the most. 

Margot Leong: So it sounds like you’re framing each of the customer bites maybe a little bit differently, depending on what the needs are. So this is always something that I struggled with is, we have oftentimes these stats, these great benefits. I always struggled with, okay, should it be consistent in the sense of, here’s a little bit about the customer. And then, the customer was able to achieve 95% reduction in backup time, or this percentage reduction in that, or do you list out specific results like that, or do you keep it more high-level from a benefit standpoint? 

Fiona Partlow: If we can quantify in any way, then we always will, because I just think it’s always great. People always want to quote numbers, especially with savings and things like that. That’s across the board in our written stories and everything. The process is that I’ll work with, say,  the regional directors, and I’ll speak to them about the key deals that have closed within your sector, and then we work on the best stories to include in that document. 

Margot Leong: I am always fascinated by the lifecycle of  getting something like this into the hands of internal teams. Let’s talk about that first time that you decided, you’re like, okay, we put this together for the sales team. Now, how do we let them know that this exists and try to drive them to use it? 

Fiona Partlow: The sales lead for Western Europe was the one that actually sent it out because they’re probably more likely to read an email from him rather than me. So we got him to send that out and the good thing was he was a great storyteller when he used to go in and see customers and he loved anecdotes. So he was really pleased with the document, and he really encouraged the guys to use it. 

Margot Leong: I mean, that must be such a great feeling to see that something that you’re creating is really being utilized by the sales team, and it sounds like you’re getting some great feedback in terms of this being useful for not only existing salespeople that have been there for awhile, but also new salespeople. 

Fiona Partlow: Exactly. Yeah. And I think it’s more specific for the new salespeople who had no sort of knowledge of a lot of the deals that had closed. And to just be able to quote a couple of little anecdotes of customers maybe in a similar industry or with a similar issue then. The feedback’s been fantastic. 

Margot Leong: You also mentioned that there’s definitely an importance to not just continuing to pump out stories, but also analyzing whether or not these are useful from a prospect perspective, from an internal perspective. And so tell me a little bit about that piece. What does success look like outside of generating stories? 

Fiona Partlow: We generate a lot of material, it could be case studies or videos or whatever, but it’s taking a step back and how many hits are we getting on that? Are we doing enough through social media? Would social media work with that? Could we integrate it into a marketing campaign? And sometimes we’ve used customers in marketing campaigns and they haven’t been  successful as using other customers. So I think it’s really important. And when I have these monthly one-on-ones with my marketing teams, it’s a process of analyzing, did that work successfully? Is this something we could roll out to another region? 

We generate reports. Our social media team generates supports and our web team, and so we can look at what assets work and we look at whether we can maybe do some more soundbites around that customer, and use those. And if there’s certain assets that aren’t working, do we retire them or do we look to do something completely different?

With customer marketing, we’re the content generators a lot of the time, and sometimes we don’t have the time to step back and look at, how are we doing this? And is this working? And can we adapt it to be more successful? So I really think that’s key to a successful program, definitely. And it’s definitely something we do at a regional level as well. 

We do quite a lot of customer experience programs. So what we will do at events, we will highlight customers, and we’ll maybe tell a story of a day in the life of somebody. And we use our customers’ brands through that. That’s worked better in some regions than other regions and sometimes that’s quite nice actually, because we can engage customers that aren’t able to endorse, but we’re able to position them as a customer. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, I love that. It’s basically using the idea of, we’re telling the story of the day in the life of a customer. And of course, because we’re telling that, you know, obviously they are a customer, but they don’t have to actually say, we endorse this company specifically. So it’s implied. because you are, by virtue, featuring them.

Fiona Partlow: Trek Bikes is a customer of ours. So, somebody was going to work in the morning on their Trek Bike and it was squeaking. So they use some WD-40, which was another customer. So we weren’t actually telling their story, but we were able to integrate all these brands and it’s amazing. Beause I’ve even been at events where they’ve had a whole board where we’ve got the products, and we’re telling the story, and I’ve had actual customers with me and they’re like, Oh, why aren’t we on this board? And I’m like, well, I’ll remember that next time. 

Margot Leong: Yeah. I love that. And it’s actually sometimes surprising, when you have some evidence there and then you meet other customers at conferences, and they see that. And they’re like, Hey, you know, why didn’t you ask us? And you’re like, I didn’t even know you’d be interested, you know? It’s just funny how that comes about. 

You mentioned working with some of these great brands. Is there anything that you do around, like reporting back to them?

Fiona Partlow: Yeah, I mean, definitely we’ve done that more on the video side. I mean, times have changed, but when we used to do the onsite videos, we’d do a lot of footage and then we’d work with our communications team because they’d see this professional crew there and they’d want something. Maybe we’d adapt the video for internal use for them. Or it could be something that be going on to their web page to showcase their offices or something like that. And we’re happy to support that if they’re supporting us with the customer video. And we can give the footage, so they have B-roll footage.

And I think also on an individual level, I’ve worked with customers before that have participated in things like videos, and then I’ve worked with them to use some of the sound bites for PR purposes. So it’s usually our best advocates that always are looking for other jobs , I’ve helped them with some material we’ve had existing that’s enabled them to use that for PR purposes when looking for a new role within another company. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes, I’ve seen it where it’s so effective that the advocate ends up joining your company. 

Fiona Partlow: We had one recently and he was just such a good advocate for me. So when I saw him, I was like, I’m really happy for you, but then again, I’m not happy for you because we’ve lost you as a reference. It happens far too many times. 

Margot Leong: It just means that we’re doing a good job of showcasing how great we are internally , right? 

Another question that I wanted to spend a little bit of time on is, we talked about how to balance requests within region around what stories to go after. When you think about choosing which stories to tell, you also have that added criteria around what regions you want to consider. So how do you decide which regions to go after and how does that play into prioritization?

Fiona Partlow: I mean I think in terms of the customers that we pursue, we have really clear company guidelines on what our objectives are, what our key product areas are, what our key industries are. From a country standpoint too, I’m provided a list of these are the countries where most investment’s going to go into, and these are the ones that we need to focus on. So, I have all that information that I’m given on a quarterly basis. So then I can decide, right, I have this much budget. I need to divide it between these regions and these are going to be the priority countries that I focus on.

And then, there will always be a need for maybe some of the countries that I’m unable to focus on, we might need to promote some stories or do some work. Then that’s why I work closely with the field marketers and they could provide additional budget if they did need to focus on a country that I’m not focusing on.

Margot Leong: It’s interesting because I can imagine too, that having a company where you have those very clear goals from a global investment perspective, that it just makes it a lot easier for you to sort of go back and like gently push back on stakeholder requests to say, Hey, like, this is how it’s been laid out. This is how much budget I have. Ultimately, I’m just trying to move the needle for the business, and it probably makes it a lot easier to be able to say, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Fiona Partlow: Yeah. And I often, well I regularly too, I present on a lot of the sales calls, so I will go through what makes a good story, what are the types of stories we’re looking for? Just so that the sales people understand what type of customers they should be putting through to us. So they know what our key product focus is. They know what our key industry focus is, and everything else. 

Margot Leong: Is there a way that you structure the meetings that is different based off of whether it’s sales, for example, the marketing team or other stakeholders.

Fiona Partlow: Yeah, working with the marketing team, I almost see them as an extended part of my team. You know, especially when we’re looking to produce collateral, or we’re looking for customer speakers for events they’re running, or maybe a certain customer to include in a marketing campaign. 

Whereas sales, I think there’s definitely a different approach, because it’s what you can provide them with, really. And so, subtly making sure that they’re going in the right direction and they’re providing you with the right information you need. I think that’s definitely a difference. 

Margot Leong: A big theme that has come out of this conversation is, if you have local teams, just really rely on them because those are probably going to be the people that they have the most experience and expertise in that country, and they can steer you in that right direction. 

Fiona Partlow: Exactly. And I think working with my marketing teams, they’re on the ground. They’re sort of speaking to the salespeople regularly. So, if I’m not getting responses from certain salespeople about something, I can lean on them and say, look, so-and-so is not responding. Is there anything you can help with? They will support me with that, so it’s good having that ally on the ground. 

Margot Leong: So my last question for you is what’s happening with the new normal with COVID-19. I’m just curious if you have found anything that has changed in terms of how you’re engaging with customers, or the stories that you are pursuing.

Fiona Partlow: Definitely. Historically, we used to produce a lot of customer onsite videos, which of course we can’t do now because they’re traveling and locked down. And so videos, we’ve always found, are more popular than the written case studies and the number of hits we get and things like that. So we’ve started to try and look at different ways that we can tell a story, so we’ve started to do these stop motion videos. So, basically we’re extracting key points from a written case study, and then we’re doing the video with graphics, usually lasts about a minute or a minute and a half, but we’re finding they work really well on social media.

And then also we had a massive transformation in the terms of digital events, which, I know everyone’s having to do at the moment. We had a massive .NEXT event in September. And customer speakers, we always have for our breakout sessions, so this time we had to look at doing things differently. So we did it via Zoom, we sent a video kit to our customers, so they had lighting, they had a really nice microphone, and they had a green screen, which they were able to keep. 

We’d have someone from a production team that would go through everything with them and help them with the whole setup , and then they’d have a rehearsal and then we’d do the actual video shoot, but we’d make sure they were completely comfortable with everything. And the good thing was, because we were then able to edit the footage afterwards, there wasn’t too much pressure on them to get everything right first time. And it was great, because the customers were like, Oh, wow, this is brilliant. You know, I’ve got all this equipment now, which I never thought I’d have. So it was a nice thank you for taking the time to do that for us. 

It was very similar to a breakout session, but rather than doing it live, we pre-recorded it. When you looked at the customer sessions, there would be somebody from Nutanix, and then the customer . Some of them were Q&A sessions or some of them might be a customer showing something on a screen and doing more of a presentation. It was totally up to them, what their preferred format was. 

I mean it was a huge learning curve for all of us, but it worked really well, and we found the customer sessions really well received. And then we’ve been able to repurpose that content, and put it into short videos. So I think we’re probably going to see a lot of creativity over the next few months because we have to change for the new normal and have to look at new and more interesting ways of getting the stories out there.

Margot Leong: I love that you sent video kits to your customer speakers. I completely agree is that when we’re more limited from a creative standpoint, we actually can generate things that we would have never thought about before. 

And so last question for if you, Fiona is, if our listeners would like to connect with you, what’s the best place they can find you? 

Fiona Partlow: So I’m on LinkedIn as Fiona Partlow. I’m also on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @fjpartlow. 

Margot Leong: Thank you so much for coming on and joining us today. 

Fiona Partlow: My pleasure! I’m happy to help and it’s been really good. I mean, it’s nice to sort of chat about what you do. You don’t really realize how much you do, do you, until you actually start talking about it. And you’re like, Oh, wow.

Margot Leong: Yeah, exactly. And I think everyone has so much wisdom to share that they’ve accumulated about this field. So, you know, I think it’s such a pleasure for me to be able to do this. 

 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.

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