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Marketing IS in the Middle: Vikram Singha

So with the recent examination of my overall social network I got to thinking about the people who responded and those that I engage over and over to learn from, either via social media or in person.  To that end, I’m starting a series of interviews on Marketing, which are essentially just 7 questions.  I’ve got a bunch in the queue already, but wanted to start with a key influencer to my marketing experience, Vikram Singha.  I had the pleasure to have Vikram in my group for like 4 years and to work along side him as a peer during his last role I worked with him in.

Vikram is the type of product manager that looks at the numbers – the opportunity and the revenue, plus one of the best statisticians I have ever met.  Vikram is one of the founding members of Global Energy Talent and responsible for Marketing.  To that end, below is Vikram’s overview on how Marketing’s in the Middle from his experience:

What marketing roles have you had and in what markets?
Strategic Marketing- Federal Express; Ecommerce and logistics; worldwide
Product Manager- Inovis; B2B software and services; primarily US
Marketing lead- Global Energy Talent; Human capital  services for the energy industry; worldwide

When you look at your career in marketing, what discipline/component have you found most interesting/challenging?
The sales and marketing interface.  At most of organizations where I’ve worked there has always been tension between these two functions. The push and pull happens on many different levels:

  • who to target?
  • What markets?
  • What to build and pitch?
  • How to price?
  • How to get to the decision maker?

The successful organization aligns the Sales leader and the CMO tightly and creates structures that allow these teams to interact both formally AND informally. The trick is to make sure there isn’t an echo chamber and that creative differences can be brought out and thought through. My sense is that short term focused organizations (typically the tech industry which tend to be more quarter-driven) tend to have more differences. Managing this is always a challenge, as well as part of the fun of marketing.

What do you feel the most important component of a successful marketing gig?  (Product, Brand, Positioning)
Positioning. At the end of the day Marketing’s role is to tell the organization’s story– to prospects, customers, employees and different stakeholders in the market at large. This all boils down to how you talk about yourself, how you empower everyone in the org to tell the same story. Once you sell the vision then its easier to make the transactional sale, whether it’s a product or service.

Since you selected Positioning, how has that contributed to revenue in your experience?
Example at my current gig: Am part of a startup providing recruitment, training and consulting for the energy industry worldwide. We’re competing with both large global generalists as well as regional specialists. The only way we can get access to decision makers is to focus very specifically in one vertical domain and immediately connect with a pain point that most in the industry are generally aware of but usually don’t verbalize- lack of technical talent and the process to fill the crew gap. We’ve done this in a variety of ways and channels, and as result have entrée (and ongoing projects) at quite a few global oil majors that wouldn’t have given us the time of the day if our story was uni-dimensional. Being in the services industry (read: low IP) the value has to be defined at a very fundamental level, else it then just becomes a nickel and dime game.

What experiences brought you to this conclusion?
Trial and error!

If you could design the perfect corporate environment for a marketer to be successful what would that be?
Probably an environment where there is freedom to experiment. Ability to learn, and more importantly, institutionalize this learning. Key point is that this is not a marketing issue, rather an organizing principle at its core.

How far is this from reality?
Some companies are doing this already. Toyota, Apple, P&G, Nokia, Ideo. In fact Ideo has some very interesting approaches to ethnographic learning systems that drive marketing design decisions.

Kill the cheerleader – improve communications


Despite multiple people informing me to the contrary – I consider myself a man of the people, with that comes some union stewardship activities within the organization. Not a true beat people up with baseball bats union role, more of a “hey, I’m noticing “X” in the organization and blah, blah….”. Essentially I’m always willing to hint “maybe we should look at X” to management kinda guy. I know, how un-[tag]proletariat[/tag] of me – but I do think [tag]middle management[/tag] has the best position to drive change and improvement.


Nevertheless – so what is the cheerleader? It’s both a persona and a group mentality, at some point, I’ll write on the persona as part of Stuck in the Middle, but it’s the Corporate Cheer Culture which represents an erosion of corporate-wide execution and what I want to rant about today which may help middle managers be more effective and improve corporate communications.

The cheerleader mentality can easily be recognized: it’s when just doing your job – the job for which you are paid for – becomes a corporate-wide messaging platform from which senior executives send ad-hoc, real-time blackberry-driven snippets to the organization to prove who is the most transparent and dedicated member of the leadership team. Let’s put it in context of [tag]Bring it On[/tag]:

Isis: Where we come from, ‘cheer’ is not a word you hear very often…
Lava: They should call us ‘inspiration leaders’ instead.
Jenelope: Ooo, that’s deep… I like that

Often it starts with the line executive who feels the need to send a “who’s awake” message and prove that they are not really sleeping in their bed, with the initial non-global email that declares project completion at 2 am on a Saturday, which get escalated to the whole organization due to him/her having global distribution list sending rights.   The two word “GREAT JOB!!!!” [tag]email[/tag]s lack originality….

Missy: You ripped off those cheers!
Torrance Shipman: Excuse me, Missy, our cheers are 100% original. Count the trophies!
Missy: Well, your trophies are bullshit, and you’re a sadass liar.
Torrance Shipman: All right, that’s it! Get out of the car, I’m gonna kick your ass!

Communication of project accomplishments should typically remain internal to the group participants or team and leverage a more formal vehicle for corporate-wide communications to be done by the CEO or a similar GM level role.   Not all projects are worthy of corporate-wide communication, and some departments, by their nature have more “projects,” which if the communications plan and policies aren’t well managed, could ultimately suggest a preferred team over another.  For example, IT has all kinds of projects, but Collections…not so much.

Unbalanced, ad-hoc and unstructured communications to an entire organization does not solve for the “you don’t communicate enough” complaint which is never satiated by more communication – really!

Effective communication should start with middle management and be group-oriented. While not an article on general communication on a Hill and Knowlton blog, it is still an important framework to use for the “great job team” stuff, paraphrased:

  • How do you manage culture change/improvement?
  • Where are the middle managers in the communication process?
  • How can you increase your credibility as communicators and the credibility of your communication channels?
  • How can we better use measurement to bolster our communication?

If a “great job” communications plan for the whole company doesn’t address the items above, then it basically degrades to promoting and public recognition for a team which is essentially doing what they are paid for.

If, however, middle management institutes a post-completion, “lessons learned” step into the project plan that promotes coaching and further growth, the company will be better off – every project has coaching opportunities, and global “great job” emails minimize the opportunity to strengthen individual teams and eliminate the effectiveness of more strategic corporate-wide communications which leverage formal or established channels.

Think about it – if the VP of Human Resources sends a 1 line great job email and the line Executive rights a missive on great execution, a little hard to coach most people. Everyone has an ego and an artifact in their inbox to PROVE they did well, regardless of the opportunity for improvement.

Corporate cheerleaders need to determine when and how they will communicate encouragement and appreciation to the entire team.   Again another Bring it On thought:

Sparky: I am a choreographer. That’s what I do. You are cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded.

Perhaps group email love-fests for the whole organization are just bad choreography from a limited leader who wants folks to know what they are doing and how important THEY were in organizing/leading the effort.  There are more sparky’s than one would think on most [tag]leadership[/tag] teams.