2014 May 20 Blair Christie Cisco 320 centr tm.jpgAbout 15 years ago, Blair Christie made one of those life-changing decisions. She gave up her notion of seeking her fortune on Wall Street to become the investor relations director for Cisco, helping to guide Wall Street's expectations for the networking powerhouse.

This week, amid the hullabaloo of the sprawling Cisco Live conference -- it takes up all three halls in San Francisco's Moscone Center plus an adjacent high-rise hotel -- Christie said she's oh-so glad she found the way to San Jose, where she now serves Cisco as chief marketing officer.

Stepping aside from the hoopla from the conference, she shared an inside look at her marketing strategies with CMSWire. We were particularly interested in which tools the mammoth B2B tech vendor uses to market itself globally, but also asked her about her mobile and social strategies, and about her biggest "pain points" as a CMO. 

Data, Talent and a Digital Focus

Murphy: What are the primary technologies you're using as CMO of Cisco?

Christie: We've moved a significant amount of our budget and focus to digital. We're leveraging our website and our online presence has been significant, just like everybody else. We use everything every else does. We're online. We're using banner ads. We're leveraging all the video that we possibly can.

Adobe CQ5 is our latest update. We installed that and had a nice kickoff two months ago. That's updating all of our content. It came at the same time we were integrating a whole new sales enablement platform, so we're working arm-in-arm with sales. In that, we're using Alfresco; we're also using our own technology. We've been working for a year now on this big push.  We've revamped all our content internally. We've done a huge, clean-sweep of our content on Cisco.com. And we're upgrading our systems so that we can drive a really clean focus to our sales force and our partners' sales teams as well as out through Cisco.com. 

And then we're building content all over the place. We've been doing some interesting things with Wired magazine to drive content. We've been doing some interesting things with CNN, the NBA and a full 360-sponsorship mode, too.

Murphy: Mobile is a big question mark for a lot of CMOs right now. What are you doing in t he mobile arena for B2B marketing?

Christie: B2B or B2C, mobile is very important because that's where your customers are, right? I have stats galore showing a significant portion of our customers are accessing our content over a mobile device, whether it's their tablet or their smartphone. So we've been building for mobile for quite some time and we've enabled all our content online to be available in any form or fashion,  so we've had very focused mobile strategy for a few years now.

I think it's really important because, in the B2B space, if someone is coming to your site or coming to some content you're serving up, they're coming there with a purpose. They're not just browsing. So they really need to be able to see it, and they need to be able to engage with it, wherever they might be. So we've been very focused on mobile and it's very important.

Murphy: The other thing that's important is social,  although I think some marketers are having a hard time seeing a return on investment on social. What's your take on that?

Christie:  Well, you know there's something there. I think this is where this B2B and B2C distinction does start to play a role. For us, the most success we've had using some of our partners in the social networking world is when there's a very targeted effort. We've had tremendously successful results with LinkedIn. We can get very targeted. We're reaching a CXO or line-of-business leader. And we've done several initiatives with them that are delivering our content right to that exact target audience, and our click-through rates are three, four, five times better than what we've seen in a traditional type of digital buy.

We use Twitter on a regular basis. That is an amplification for us. Our CTO [Padmasree Warrior] has well over a million followers, I think, now. So she is almost as good as a press release distribution service. [Editor's note: @Padmasree has 1.46 million  followers compared to 370,000 for Cisco itself and 5,429 for Christie.]  If you're at Cisco Live right now, we're trending. We've reached over 24 million individuals just through getting just customers, partners and employees focused on Twitter. So those are two examples that are very powerful for us. The other ones we're still learning. We do a lot with Google and a lot with Facebook, but those are the two I'll call out.

Murphy: At CMS Wire, when we look at social, we not only look at the part you spoke about but about internal social collaboration tools.  What tools are you using at Cisco for your team?

Christie: We use two. We use one that comes through our WebEx systems because we eat our own dog food. We use our own tools, Jabber, WebEx and some unique social portals that we use through WebEx. 

But we're also using Jive. We recently announced a partnership with Jive and they are present in a number of areas. They're not completely across all Cisco right now, but we're beginning to use them as well.

Murphy: The other day, your chairman emeritus, John Morgridge, spoke and he must have used the term "customer success"  five or six times in his address. That's a soaring phenomenon right now in the world of marketing, but I think most people hadn't thought of the term until about two years ago and John was talking about 25-30 years ago. How do you define customer success and what are you doing a little differently in that area?

Christie: That's a great question mostly because customer advocacy, which is a term that I think he used as well, has been part of our DNA. For example, taking marketing aside, for every employee at Cisco, part of their bonus is based on our customer satisfaction score  for the year. So we're all responsible for it. I don't think I can point to any unique program i n marketing that didn't already have that bent.

I will say that engagement and feedback has been an important part of how we're driving an engagement strategy. So we're really paying attention to what kind of content works and what doesn't. From that perspective, just the success of what we create for our customers and our sales team, just knowing that we're giving them something that is useful has been helpful as a way to monitor customer success.

Customer success, more broadly for us -- across the board -- is that our customers can see how our technology is reflected in their business results. We've shifted a big conversation with them and, even in our messaging and value proposition are not around the technology speeds and feeds. They're very much around driving productivity, decrease risk, drive growth and we're trying to create use cases today that showcase customer success so that other customers can understand it in a much easier way.

Murphy: Every CMO has pain points. What are some of the biggest challenges that you're facing right now?

Christie: Probably how to figure out the process and the systems with all this data  coming in -- what we need in place in order to make the most impact. Delivering insight to our sales team to help grow their pipeline, with all this data coming in, especially from the inbound journey, that is one big hairy amazing goal that we're going after right now. It's a challenge, an obstacle.

I think another issue for us right now is getting some of the very best talent because the skill sets are shifting. Right now, I'm on a bent to get the very best storytellers, regardless of what piece of marketing or communications they're in.  They're hard to find. We've kind of lost some of that storytelling.

And then frankly, my biggest challenge right now is prioritizing. There are so many things where marketing can play a significant role in driving your company's strategy, but you can only do so much. We have a limited budget -- that might be another pain point, my budget -- so we need to figure out how to prioritize on where we make the most impact. There are some brilliant innovative ideas out there, but you can't do all of them. Right now, we're going through our planning process this summer. That's what we're facing right now.