Having built a career in sales, marketing and strategic business development, Dirk Gauwberg, Global Operational Marketing Director at AXA Partners, is using that experience to bring marketing even closer to the customer.
Q. Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
Throughout my career, I’ve held sales, marketing and strategic development positions. I’ve been with AXA partners for 8 years now, and have had various roles in that time, starting off in sales and business development before going into marketing. But what has been interesting in this sort of flow of diverse positions I’ve had in the company, is that I’ve always tried to maintain a very close cooperation between sales and marketing. Eight years ago, the two departments were not working very closely with one another and I do still think it can be a challenge in general. But in my experience, having that alignment between the two teams can make a huge difference in realising growth within an organisation.
Q. How has the experience in sales impacted your approach to marketing?
I think it does help if you have experience in both the marketing and sales divisions of a business, because it gives you a total understanding of what motivates the customer. You have visibility on the entire journey a prospect takes, from awareness through to purchase.
This makes it a lot easier to align the two teams, as you can speak the same language. When I’m addressing the sales team now, I can speak about our marketing activity in a way that they will understand and care about, as I know what is important to them. Equally, because I’ve been in that role before, I understand that marketing needs to support sales in other ways than just running campaigns. For example, guiding sales in how to approach a lead who has come from marketing. We can brief them on what content they’ve engaged with and what we know about them already, which will allow sales to have much more effective conversations, and it’s marketing that have opened the door for them.
Q. In what ways are your marketing strategies supporting sales in opening those conversations?
Our sales are split between hunting and farming, as we call it. That is, we have quite an even focus on acquiring new customers and nurturing existing customers to use more of our services. In the past, we focused more on customer acquisition — so in marketing, we put a lot of our efforts into generating awareness of our brand and publishing content that would guide customers into making a purchase.
However, we found that when we were putting that awareness content out, our existing customers were engaging with it too. So, we started to create content specifically for this audience as there was clearly a demand for it. For example, in our content magazine we started to publish more testimonials and success stories and let our clients interact with each other on this. We don’t want our customers to go to a competitor, so it’s important that they feel supported by us and that we continue to engage them after they have made that initial purchase. But this strategy can impact more than just retention — it also offers opportunities for up‐selling and cross‐selling.
Q. Does customer success play an important role in this nurturing process?
It’s very important. Our business is quite unique in that we provide services for our partners to re‐sell to their own customers — but that means that ensuring our clients are successful is vital to our business model. So, from a retention perspective, it’s incredibly important that we provide our customers with any resources they might need to distribute our products more effectively.
But it’s also important in acquiring new customers too — as we use the feedback from our clients to attract new prospects. For example, creating testimonials or case studies that we can share to engage new customers and generate awareness of the solutions that we offer. That allows us to show off the success that our customers have had and at the same time make them advocates for our brand.
Q. What are the key challenges you are facing with such a content‐led marketing strategy?
I think the key challenge for all marketers is that there is just so much content out there today. Even for me, personally, I find that I don’t read something if it is not what I’m looking for at that precise moment in time. So, if I’m experiencing that kind of content fatigue then I know that my target audience are too. The key is to get the right content in front of the right people, at exactly the right time. But that is getting more and more difficult to achieve nowadays.
Another key challenge is getting the buy‐in for content marketing internally. Not everyone fully understands how it all fits into the wider strategy — even though they are encountering content marketing themselves every day! One way we are getting that confidence internally is by positioning some of the content as sales enablement, not just content marketing, which is often seen as only creating awareness. It shows stakeholders that content can have an impact throughout each stage of the customer journey.
Q. If there was one skill that you could develop over the next few years, what would it be?
For me, a priority is to increase my understanding of the buyer’s journey. More specifically, understanding our customer’s needs in each step of the journey not only from a marketing perspective, which is still very important, but in a more interactive way with sales to discover how they are communicating with customers and using storytelling in an effective way.
I think the modern marketer needs to get involved much further into the sales funnel nowadays, in ways that only a salesperson did before. B2B buyers are researching products and services online now, before a they meet a sales person, which makes the role marketing plays in the buyer’s journey more important than ever before. So, as a function, we need to be a bit closer to the customer — so that we can fully understand our customer’s needs, pain points and what motivates them.