SDLs Paige ONeill Customer Experience Getting Cheaper

If you've been paying attention to the customer experience management arena over the past two years -- and what marketer hasn't -- you've probably noticed the tools have grown far more sophisticated and far less expensive.

That helps to explain why 750 marketing practitioners signed up for SDL's Innovate conference in San Francisco, where CMO Paige O'Neill hosted three days of activities around CXM from training sessions and keynotes to consultations and, of course, parties.

O'Neill has been at SDL for only about eight months, joining the UK-based company after a 3.5-year stint as vice president for marketing at Aprimo before its acquisition by Teradata. Before that, she was vice president for marketing at Aravo.

Challenges and Opportunities

CMSWire sat down with O'Neill at the conference to get her take on her market, her job, her preferred tools and her pain points as CMO in a red-hot marketing sector. She also shared valuable insights on the role of conferences produced by technology companies.

Murphy: Customer experience has been coming of age for two decades. What game-changing advances have you seen in the last year or two?

O'Neill: The thing I've seen happening recently that I think is quite exciting is the cost of the technology is coming down. It used to be a multimillion-dollar, multiyear exercise that was really only available to the largest, usually B2C companies that were able to get a big data warehouse, build custom technology and start to sort out their data so they can apply it to understanding the customer. Now, because of the access to technology, and because we have been at this for 20 years -- even though we haven't been calling it that for 20 years -- and because of the innovation coming out of everywhere from enterprise companies to little startups, the accessibility has expanded dramatically, I think just in the last 18 months.

We're seeing now it's just a few months and a couple of hundred thousand dollars to solve these problems, if that. And there are price points even lower. So when that starts to happen, you're really at the crossing-the-chasm point with this technology. We've been talking about it a long time and now it's accessible to mid-size and even some larger-small-size companies. I think that's exciting.

Murphy: The recent move to omnichannel communication has become an imperative in marketing, especially as it relates to customer experience. What's your take on how SDL customers are adapting to that change?

O'Neill: I think they're driving that change. Every marketer I talk to has digital as their top priority. I think we're in a unique position because we're a customer experience vendor. Our customers are pushing the envelope on this adoption. I was just with the CMO of a very large CPG [consumer packaged goods company] two weeks ago in London, and he's talking about digital 3.0 within his own brand. So they're in their third iteration.

Their first iteration was 'we've got to get our arms around the channels.' That was several years ago. The second iteration was social and 'we've got to get sharing' and 'we want to incite as many people as possible in our consumer base to participate.' Now, digital 3.0 is how do we segment the personas of our customers, understand what's important to them and custom-tailor context, content, experience so that we're having this one-on-one dialogue with them. That's the kind of conversation I'm having with all our customers, maybe not 100 percent, but the majority of them.

Murphy: Now let me ask you about the broader market. What percent of the marketers beyond your own customers are making this move? And how much more market is there for SDL?

O'Neill: On the one hand, I'm having these customer conversations, mostly with very large B2C brands. On the other hand, I go to conferences -- I was as  Forrester conference, and Gartner conference -- and you ask the question of who has their arms around a digital strategy, and almost no one raises their hands. So I think some of the big brands that are some of our customers who we're really working with on these strategies are down the road, but I'd still stay they have a ways to go. In the larger market, they probably have a digital strategy but aren't applying data to it in any uniform pattern, so they may not be measuring. They're trying to move to 'How do we get smarter about the data, so we can understand what's working and what's not?'

Murphy: In addition to your own company's tools, what tools do you use to enhance the experiences of SDL's customers?

O'Neill: Obviously, we use our own tools pretty extensively. We've also got We use Marketo, the marketing automation campaign system. We cross-pollinate that with our  own campaign system. Those are the two that primarily come to mind.  We have quite an extensive integration with Salesforce, Marketo and our own software stack.  I'm able to do the majority of what I want to do with our software -- web content, social, analytics, campaign.

Murphy: You've got 750 people registered to attend 'Innovate' here in San Francisco. This is the third of five in a road show for this conference. And many companies are holding conferences now. I'm wondering if you see this as a continuing marketing trend with technology companies producing their own conferences?

O'Neill: It's a great question and I hadn't really thought about it that way before. But, yes. And at the same time, we are decreasing our third-party event spend. We are still spending on third-party events, and we do still see some value in them. But when I look at our Innovate events -- we've completed one in London, one in Amsterdam, we're in San Francisco, and we've got Tokyo and Sydney coming up in September -- they're a mix of roughly 60 percent customers and 40 percent prospects. After the ones from London and Amsterdam, we came out of them with very solid prospects that accelerated in the pipeline. The conferences are a sizable portion of the marketing budget, but a sizable return on the investment.

We did one last year, in San Jose, Calif. so we're expanding them. I can look at who came last year, I can see where they were in the pipeline and what revenue resulted from that, and it's double-digit-millions in revenue. That's not the case with third-party events. You're lucking to get one qualified lead from a third-party event, so that is why I would say yes, it is a trend.

I saw this at my last company with the customer conference that we did. Eighty-five percent of the prospects that we brought to the conference closed. I hear it's a similar ratio for SDL, but it's my first year. The reason is you're able to get that high quality conversation once you've got them here. They're obviously here because they're interested in what SDL has to say. Getting mind-share at these larger third-party conferences can be very difficult and not as cost-effective.

Murphy: You've been the job for eight months. What is your biggest pain point as a CMO?

O'Neill: I think it's always the same pain point. I'm just thinking backing on my most recent jobs and I think the answer is always data. I hope that some day that won't be the answer because we're talking about making tremendous strides in being able to leverage data, and we have. I've got more data about the marketing results than I've ever had in my career -- spreadsheets, automated programs, integrations -- just an unbelievable amount of data to tell me success of programs and point to other things that we should be doing.

But we still spend an inordinate amount of time as a marketing department trying to improve the quality of the data, trying to get more data, trying to follow all the myriad data rules around the globe. Because we are such a global company, we've got different considerations in Europe,  different consideration in Asia, in the US there's always talk that we're going to impose more restrictions here. So that's part of our thinking -- how do we get ahead of that? How do we get better penetration within our target accounts of data. So it's always, always, a top consideration.