Cheryl Keener, senior director of customer development at Sunnyvale, CA-based Network Appliance, leads NetApp’s installed base marketing initiatives and customer reference program.

Her organization is focused on promoting continuous customer engagement and cultivating relationships with NetApp customers to drive brand preference, customer affinity and revenue acceleration.

Her team enables Sales to accelerate and expand revenue generation with compelling customer content and proof points, references that strengthen credibility, and high-impact programs that open doors and help overcome sales barriers. Keener reports to NetApp’s head of worldwide integrated marketing.

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Roy Young: What type of marketing champion would you say you are? And how has your educational and professional background contributed to your ability to champion marketing in that way?

Cheryl Keener: That’s easy: I’m the customer-centric type! I come from a pretty diverse background. My undergraduate degree is in organizational communication and my graduate degree is in international business and marketing. I gained experience with market research and business development in the pharmaceutical industry and with finance and marketing (especially outbound marketing, customer programs, sales development and product management) in high-tech.

I learned early on about the importance of strong relationships. I was working for a pharmaceutical company in marketing research, had a strong work ethic and was eager to learn a lot. I happened to do some project work for the vice president of business development while in market research. So, when an opportunity came up in business development, he hired me and gave me a chance in the role—even though I was less qualified and less credentialed than nearly all of the other candidates.

RY: What about your experience in high-tech—what did that teach you about customer relationships?

CK: When I was at Sun Microsystems, I also worked on several customer programs. One group, quality and customer care, was focused on operations, quality of customer service, and managing customer escalations when problems came up. I gained a whole new view from this experience: Problems are always going to come up for high-tech customers—technology’s going to break down, parts will fail. What makes the biggest difference to customers is not whether your product or service is perfect—it’s how quickly and helpfully you respond when something goes wrong, as it inevitably will.

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Roy Young is coauthor of Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies for Improving Marketing's Power, Influence and Business Impact. For more information about the book, go to or order at Amazon.