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Published August 9th 2017

Interview: Matt Preschern on Diversity, Employee Centricity and Digital Transformation

Our CMO interview series continues as we speak with HCL Technologies' Matt Preschern, covering a whopping 25+ years of marketing experience.

Our interview series featuring brilliant minds in the marketing space continues.

Whilst stuck in traffic, Matt Preschern, CMO for HCL Technologies, kindly agreed to have an open, friendly conversation about the key lessons he’s learnt in over 25 years of experience in marketing, the biggest challenges he’s facing, views on employee centricity, and some great tips on building outstanding teams.

Let’s find out more directly from him.

Hi Matt! What’s your favorite Twitter account and marketing blog you check on a regular basis?

I follow a lot of people on Twitter, but I do have my favorites.

A good friend of mine is Vala Afshar. He works for Salesforce as a digital evangelist and he has a very strong Twitter feed that I look at almost every day. Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO and leading business expert, also has a great feed.

On a daily basis, I also scan one or two of the academic Twitter feeds, such as the Harvard Business Review, MIT and others.

I don’t necessarily follow specific blogs that much.

Based on what the individuals publish, there may be a blog post here and there, but I have always found that the most information arises from a network of highly respected colleagues and friends.

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and a brief overview of your marketing journey so far?

I’ve been in the field of marketing, strategic consulting for just about 25 years. I was very fortunate to start my career with UPS in the early to mid-1990s, in a strategic marketing role.

Then I worked for IBM for fifteen years and held various leadership roles, from corporate marketing and branding, to very large scale transformational roles.

After 20 years, I decided to take what I had learned to see if I could apply it to other companies, and I became the CMO for Windstream, a $6 billion telecommunications company. From there, and for the last three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for HCL Technologies, a $7.2 billion global IT services company, as its Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

What are your main job responsibilities and what is the biggest challenge you’re facing at the moment?

The biggest challenge that we face as CMOs is we live in I what I call the age of disruption.

There is technology disruption – you have the disruption with respect to trust in brands, and you have a tremendous disruption with regard to security.

What we are increasingly asked is, “how can marketing continue to contribute to the top line revenue growth of the company?”

And that is not an easy goal, as we have very high growth ambitions as a company.

In terms of my job duties, I’m responsible for the HCL brand.

I own everything that has to do with digital. We fill the demand generation engine, and I also lead all of our analyst and advisor functions – very, very important in the industry we’re in.

I manage all field marketing, so figuring out how do we execute and generate demand, as well as all PR and communications.

You’ve been working in marketing for over 25 years. Which are the biggest changes you’ve noticed, and how has digital transformation impacted your job?

I would say this is one of the most exciting times to be in marketing and communications.

I think what’s changed is we today live in a digital world and, as such, there is a lot of discussion about how you authentically interact with your customers.

Today, everybody has access to information at any given point all the time. And so, as a marketer, particularly in the B2B space, you need to be always on, and you need to be authentic and emotionally connect with your target audience. You need to be extremely agile as the pace and speed is, in my view, just exceptionally challenging.

With digital and technology, we have now reached a point where we’re getting much closer to one-on-one interactions.

In addition to the traditional creative side of marketing, there is now a much stronger focus on the scientific part.

So this notion of using data and insight to really understand who your target audience is, to really be able to personalize the methods to interact in a different way, those are the massive changes that have happened, in my view, in the last five years.

Has digital transformation made the CMO’s job easier or more difficult?

Without a doubt, it has made it more challenging.

Not that long ago, you could create a value proposition, really think through who you are as a company and then use various channels to push your message out.

In today’s world, it’s all turned upside down. Your customers will find you through Google, they will reach out through their network, and they will talk to their social media following and learn about you online.

You have to be based across all channels, digital and non-digital, and create a consistent customer experience, which can be challenging.

We’ve been hearing more and more about customer centricity. However, you fundamentally believe in putting employees first in order to grow your business successfully. I’d love to hear more about that.

We feel that one of the differentiators that we have as a company is that we are a very employee-centric company, and the basic premise of employees first, customers second is that we create a culture and environment of empowering our employees, allowing them to innovate and come up with new ideas.

When this happens, those employees will not only be motivated and truly excited to be working for us as a company, but also, in fact, get closer to us and do a much better job working with our customers.

Our firm belief is that when we truly focus on our employees, they will, in turn, actually become the biggest advocates for our customers.

Would you mind telling me a bit about your team’s structure? What are the challenges, as well as the enjoyable aspects of leading such a large, global team?

Our global headquarters is in Noida, India, our US headquarters in New York, and our European headquarters is located close to London. I happen to live and work out of New York.

I travel quite a bit, but the basic structure is creating competence as a type of model.

So we have digital, global communications, and analyst centers of competence. The goal is to take the work that these competency leaders do, develop it and deploy it in as many countries as possible with the minimum required customization.

So you take real areas of expertise and skills, and then you try to align corresponding field leaders in the various geographies.

Having the opportunity to work for a company that’s growing in double digits, working across time zones on a daily basis, brings fantastic opportunities, but is also quite challenging.

What advice would you give to anyone building or growing a marketing team?

One of the single most important questions you should ask yourself is, are you agile enough to respond in a way that is required to succeed?

Secondly, never forget that the purpose of marketing is to build the brand, but to also support the growth objectives of your company.

In other words, if you are marketing for marketing’s sake only, you will not succeed. You have to be really resourceful as to how work with your sales leaders and HR if you want to build an employee-centric company.

Irrespectively of the size of the company or whether it’s global or not, as a marketing leader, you’re only as good as your team. So in other words, your ability to attract, retain and then work with the best of the best is an absolutely essential aspect.

You also have to build some level of data and analytics capabilities.

You have to have some pretty deep knowledge on digital marketing, going from SEM to social media marketing to other types of interaction. It’s equally important to maintain the creative skills that allow us to emotionally connect.

What role does diversity play in your hiring strategy?

It’s a big focus of ours.

I actually believe that diversity of thoughts, approach and knowledge is what will ultimately help companies succeed and, by extension, you can bring the more traditional definition of diversity into that.

The best teams are usually those that have a certain level of diversity.

That can be gender diversity, or geographical diversity, but as a leader it is most important that you create a culture of experimentation and collaboration. This does not necessarily just happen because you speak about it, and as a leader, you owe it to your team to deliver it and to lead by example.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in over two decades of leadership experience in marketing?

In marketing and communications, don’t underestimate the beauty of the written word, whether that’s a press release, website copy or tweet. Words matter.

Secondly, speed is one of the most important aspects today. That does not imply that you can compromise on quality, but 95% right and on time beats 100% right and late every time.

The third one is never accept no from someone who can’t say yes. As we experiment with creative, new things, sometimes we have to push the envelope and there will be enough people who will say, “This hasn’t been done this way before.”

And, you just have to have a certain belief in yourself and sometimes the right things will occur.

If you want to have a career in marketing, it is a great profession, and it has only become more interesting.

Every three or four years you come to a fork in the road where you have to make a decision: are you going to stay working where you are? Are you going to continue on your path or are you going to continue on the more challenging path?

And in your career sometimes you need a little bit of luck.

I have taken the more challenging and not so safe path more often than not. And it has allowed me to gain experiences not only across companies, but also across functional areas that allow me to hold a job like the one I have today. So the basic message is don’t be afraid to take a chance once in a while. It can actually lead to really great things down the line.

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