This article is part of a series of interviews with top marketing executives who offer you insights to help further your career: You will learn what makes these executives successful and what they value most in those who work for them.
The following is a transcript of a conversation between William Arruda, MarketingProfs senior contributor, and Patricia Hume, global vice-president of small and medium business solutions (SMBS) for Avaya, a leading provider of business communications software, systems, and services. Hume is responsible for all marketing, sales, service, and operations for Avaya's small and medium business market segment.
Prior to joining Avaya, Hume was the senior vice-president of channel sales and general manager of the Asia-Pacific market for Critical Path Inc., a developer of messaging solutions for the telecommunications industry. Hume was also president and CEO of VerticalNet Inc., a provider of electronic marketplaces to vertical industries in the small and medium business market. Earlier in her career, she spent 20 years at IBM, where she held numerous management and senior management positions.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and readability. The interview is also available in audio for our Annual Premium members. Click here to play the podcast (click and choose Open). Or you can download it for your MP3 player (click and choose Save).
William Arruda: You've held a lot of senior-level marketing positions. Which was your favorite and why?
Patricia Hume: The job that I am in right now is clearly my favorite. We are in a unique position in Avaya in that we are a small business inside of a very large company. We run the SMBS division, of which I am the head, as a small special business unit inside Avaya. This gives us a tremendous opportunity to really be market-focused, customer-focused, to really be able to go and understand what it is.
For us to be successful in the marketplace, it means having the responsibility for R&D and product management and product marketing and marketing and sales, and operations...so we have complete control over our own success. That in itself is really quite exciting, because how market-driven you are and how good you are at execution is what determines whether you are going to be very successful or not. So far the team has done just a terrific job.
William Arruda: What would you say has been your key to success in senior-level marketing?
Patricia Hume: There are a couple of things. First, any good marketer has to be focused on the market. I know that may sound simple, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that in order to be really good at serving your customer, you have to understand your customer. So one of the things that has been key is that we are a highly customer-focused organization.
It goes beyond [things like] what price is the customer willing to pay and what is the competition doing? It's also from whom does the customer want to buy, and does the customer budget or does the customer have a share-of-wallet approach to purchases? Is he sold to or does he buy his technology? There are a plethora of questions that need to be answered.
Beyond that, skilled people understand the art of marketing. There is a science to marketing, but I also think there is an art to it.
Another area has to do with brand (your area of expertise): an ability to be creative, an ability to be different, an ability to be compelling, catchy—and cognizant, if you are in the global marketing, of the nuances of each country.
William Arruda: How do you feel technology is most affecting the way marketers work?
Patricia Hume: One of the key things is access to data. I think the fact that today we can capture so much information vis-à-vis Web and direct marketing campaigns. The power of the Internet has been tremendously valuable to marketing organizations. Number one is access to data in understanding your own customers.
Here's an example: We had thousands and thousands of downloads of our latest software from the Web. I want to know who they are—are they end-users, are they partners, are they potentials, are they prospects? If they are not existing customers, let's make sure that we capture them. So access to information is a push and a pull. Technology has allowed us to reach more people much more affordably than we ever had in the past.
People are less apt to open the envelope that's on their desk than they are to open the email that's on their laptop or their personal hand-held device. It just is a simpler exercise for human beings, it's easier to open the email, read the title, skim the email and decide whether or not it's relevant versus you see the junk mail you throw it in the garbage. So reach, touch, responsiveness [of technology] has helped us tremendously.
From a standpoint of product management, competitive analysis, and access to information, the Web is phenomenal. We can find out what our competitors are doing by surfing the Web, looking at their Web sites, finding articles that are compelling about them.... I have 27 years of experience, but 27 years ago we did not have that.
William Arruda: One of the other changes is that there are more and more women in marketing. Why do you think that is?
Patricia Hume: As I said, marketing is an art and it's a science. There's an awful lot of creative emotion in marketing, and so there's a very emotional side to marketing. Women tend to be able to be more emotional, and that emotive, creative flair helps an awful lot to be successful in marketing.
Secondly, marketing is extremely important to any company and it crosses many areas within the business. There's a lot of balls you have to juggle at once in order to really be a successful marketer. It's a multitask type of job, and statistics prove that women multitask better than men. Whether that's true or not, that's what the statistics say.
William Arruda: What advice do you have for women who want to be the VP for marketing or the chief marketing officer someday?
Patricia Hume: Number one, you need to understand the business, so I would strongly advise any woman that learning more than just the discipline of marketing will allow them to be more effective. Marketing can make or break a business. [It's the] difference between a good company and a great company.
I don't think a marketing leader can be effective if all they've ever done in their career is marketing. Learning sales, actually doing sales, is an important step in a career. Understanding product management, and product marketing, is an important step in a career. CMOs have major budgets to manage, so they have to understand the financial aspects of the business and the financial aspects of budgeting and cost control and expense management.
You need to have those disciplines underneath you to provide you the platform for success. So my advice is cross-train, learn everything that you can, and be able to say, "Hey, I stood in those shoes once, I understand sales problems, I understand the challenges of product management, I understand because I have done it...." There is nothing more credible.
William Arruda: Once I saw you in a meeting at IBM, a relatively conservative company, and you came in and you hugged all the people in the room—a room full of senior people. How did you develop the confidence to be yourself within a larger ecosystem of a company?
Patricia Hume: You have to earn the right to be free, to be yourself in a business. Now let me explain what I mean by that: We all would love to just enter into our careers at 22 or 23 years old and be who we are, but I am not sure we know who we are at that age. As I progressed along the career ladder, I found job after job after job I was successful, and it wasn't just me—it was me and the surrounding people with whom I worked, and the training and opportunities I was given.
With maturity, you start to realize that the old adage "to thine own self be true" is just so applicable in every aspect of our lives. If you can be comfortable in your own skin, your integrity and your ability to be sincere and your ability to be believable just sort of shines. Whether they like the personality or not, you can't argue with the fact that this person's genuine.
The more I tested it, the more I was able to just say, "You know what, I am going to give this guy a hug," or "I am going to stand in front of an audience (which I did in Vegas last year at our kick off) and cry because I am so proud of [our staff]." I said: "I am really emotional right now, because I love you all so much and I am so proud of you..." and tears were running down my face and they were used to me! Now there's a flip side, because when I am angry, they know when I am angry, too.
William Arruda: When you are interviewing someone for a marketing role, what makes a good candidate?
Patricia Hume: I look for people with high energy and incredible enthusiasm. Obviously, the degrees have to be there, the background in marketing—obvious things.
And if I am going to hire someone to market for me in the small/medium business space, they are going to have different skills and different qualifications than I might [look for] in the enterprise space, because the customer is markedly different.
I look for passion. I look for integrity, authenticity. I look for somebody who can multitask. I look for somebody who wants to know the customer, wants to get out and travel and meet the customer—not just try to create the appropriate marketing tools and collateral and approaches inside headquarters. One of my favorite sayings is, "There are no customers at headquarters." You have to get out to meet them.
I can sit across [a table from somebody] and I can look them in the eyes, and I can say this guy or this gal is going to be great based on looking for those kinds of qualities. [So often,] I went with my gut and my gut was right.
William Arruda: Do you have a particular job interview or resume story that stands out, something that somebody did that really wowed and impressed you?
Patricia Hume: Oh my gosh. I've interviewed so many thousands of people over these 27 to 30 years. I don't want to be redundant, but I go back to more of a generic discussion that sticks in my mind, and that is, the ones with the energy and the passion wow me. If I hear too much of the corporate speak, that corporate language that doesn't make a whole lot of sense... I kind of look at the individual and I say [to myself], you know, this is interesting, it is almost like a canned interview, like they might as well just videotape it because it's not genuine. I feel like saying to these guys, go back and fire whoever coached you on this, because it's not working.
William Arruda: And so it comes back to authenticity, to being yourself and building a relationship even during an interview which may be only 30 minutes long.
Patricia Hume: [Even during] a telephone interview, I want to hear that energy, I want to hear that excitement, I don't want hello this is.... I am interviewing for this job.
So hone your telephone interview skills, come across as who you are. And if you can't, then you really don't belong in marketing, perhaps you belong in engineering... no slur there, I love my engineers, too—they are just different people.
William Arruda: Participating in some kind of lifelong learning is important, too; you can't rest on your laurels. What are ways you recommend marketers stay current?
Patricia Hume: There's always an opportunity for some type of education—and school-based [learning] is fine. There's also tons of people out there trying to assist companies—teaching them how to be advanced, how do you keep on your feet, how do you develop, how do you know keep yourself current or ahead of the trend. There's a lot of opportunity in continuing education.
There are also associations you can participate in, either casually or more formally, to learn from other marketing professionals.
Also, you can take a look at other things like analyst reports, staying current with the analysts. Having a relationship with the analysts—where you have built a network [that allows you] to pick up the phone and call one of your favorite analysts and say I am reading this article, I really want to just talk to you as my friend about what you really think is happening here.
People are always willing to help, I found in my career that people are always willing to sit down and help.
William Arruda: I just want to point out that you've used the word relationship about 712 times today! It's clear that marketing is so much about relationships—one of the themes I am hearing in this interview is that people who can build relationships with those inside and outside the organization and with customers are going to be the most successful marketers.
Patricia Hume: Yeah, I absolutely think that that is one of the key building blocks to being a successful marketer. Those relationships will serve you throughout your life, throughout your career. You can always go back and tap them.
When I started with IBM 27 years ago, I started with people who today are senior executives at IBM—who would have known, right? Who would have thought that your three buddies end up being three of the top 50 executives? That network that started 27 years ago is invaluable now. That makes the difference between a good marketing executive and a great marketing executive.
William Arruda: What one piece of advice would you offer recent grads looking to accelerate their success in marketing?
Patricia Hume: Have no fear.
Take risks, go for the gold, just go and have fun while you are doing it.
That's my best advice.
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