Tifenn Dano Kwan is not your typical chief marketing officer. She rides motorcycles (check out her article on LinkedIn about that), plays the drums, and goes skydiving. Her adventurous spirit carries over to the executive suite at procurement software company SAP Ariba, where she leads the organization's global marketing vision.

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In an era where "job hopping" is typical (the average person changes jobs 12 times over the course of a career), Tifenn rose through the ranks at SAP Ariba, serving as vice-president of integrated marketing, head of go-to-market launches and brand platform, and other leadership roles at the company, including those in channel and partner marketing.

The trajectory of her career has thoroughly steeped Tifenn in SAP Ariba's brand story, and she's spent years driving awareness and adoption for IT, finance, procurement, and supply chain customers, striving to deliver a consistent and compelling brand experience for customers.

I invited Tifenn to Marketing Smarts to discuss her belief that the most effective chief marketing officers are the ones who are the most empathetic. We also delve into her concern that digitization isolates people, and we discuss ways to use digital channels to make connections instead.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Align Sales and Marketing, then take it one step further and partner with your customers (12:20): "One of the things I really, strongly believe in is the power of connecting Sales, Product, and Marketing together throughout the entire buyer's journey. This is something that I'm absolutely passionate about as a CMO: going in the trenches with Sales, with Engineering, with Presales, deeply understanding customers' needs and how to support those needs.

"[I also] spend a lot of time talking directly with customers, understanding what they need to embrace digital transformation and partnering directly with them on this purpose mission that we're all in. One thing that is critical, and it's not just a brand exercise, is the ability to co-innovate with customers. When we co-innovate with customers, that's when we can truly change the world." 

Tuning in to the people around you helps you to create better marketing more quickly (16:00): "My empathy allows me to listen. That's number one. To listen and to truly understand what people want, what makes them 'tick.' When you listen a lot and become mindful about your surroundings and absorb the emotions or vibrations around you, you become more attuned to it. It comes with the good and the bad, as well. The good is that you can feel the energies of the people around you and use your intuition. It's not just about numbers, it's also about feeling what people want, where their mind is at, feeling ideas or creativity. That's really important.

"The not-so-good thing is that you need a very strong support system at home and at work to be able to absorb so much emotion. As a result, it's about rising up to challenges without burning out. It's the ability to take on meeting a lot of people; and, sometimes, you go through that all day long and meet, meet, meet people and have those amazing connections that are happening on a personal level, and at the same time have to rationalize these. The learning is about embracing people, embracing who they are, and learning how to rationalize and prioritize all the inputs that you get. Empathy, in my mind, has brought me incredible abilities to connect with people and get the job done super fast, because when you connect with people...you're able to quickly gauge how they think, and [you can] adapt."

Personal connections are critically important, especially in B2B, so put down your mobile (19:24): "People tune out, and we give them this ability because we equip them with mobile phones, tablets, and digital outlets all day long. it becomes very, very difficult to tune in to true connections anymore. But, unfortunately, you can't just make business decisions based on a click. It does not happen this way in a B2B business. You need to rely on how people react to information. It is absolutely critical, especially in the digital world, where the risk is to get disconnected from each other, to reconnect people.... Let's do business together, let's understand each other's needs, and let's create a connection."

To learn more, check out the SAP Ariba website, and be sure to follow Tifenn on Twitter @DanoKwan.

Tifenn and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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