By Peter O'Neill

The IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) has just published this interview with me to its members to coincide with my presentation on this topic at the Forrester Marketing Forum here in Los Angeles. For those European members of ITSMA, I’d like to point out that I will be hosting and contributing to the ITSMA workshop “Building the Business Case for Social Media in B2B Marketing” in London on May 5th. Perhaps I will see you there  . Anyway, I’m enjoying our conversations, so keep your comments and emails coming.   

Always keeping you informed!



In this Viewpoint, Peter O’Neill, VP & Principal Analyst, Forrester, shares his research on and passion for international technology industry marketing, with a specific emphasis on field marketing strategy and execution, including the dynamics of interactions between headquarters and field marketing organizations.

ITSMA:What challenges do marketers face due to globalization?

O’Neill: Our clients often ask the basic question: What does it mean to "go global"? Well, going global really means having customers in multiple countries—i.e., in local geographic

markets. So globalization really means "going local." Many technology vendors and services providers are pulled into a new market by existing customers, and they need to consider the implications of this. Even if you're not concerned about global expansion for yourself, you must understand your customers' requirements for their global strategies. Otherwise, your customers will end up leaving you behind.

Another challenge is that portfolio and market strategies do not automatically translate from one geography to another, and considerations extend beyond language differences. Also, the regulatory environment, availability of essential infrastructure, cultural and political sensitivities to technology, and other factors substantially impact the interplay of global opportunity and risk. We also get inquiries about the technology trends to facilitate global expansion—from networking to remote monitoring to telephone service and packaged software applications.

ITSMA: Given these challenges, what must marketers do to globalize marketing successfully?

O’Neill: Marketers must differentiate between the marketing processes and content that can and should be centralized, and what must remain under local management. I have heard from several field marketers that with the introduction of marketing automation in their companies, they feel more like data entry clerks than marketing professionals. That’s not what should be happening. The most significant opportunity is to automate and centralize certain marketing processes to free up field marketing to be able to manage local issues, influencers, and reference customers much more productively.

Indeed, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of field marketers. In B2B, field marketing usually develops local press and analyst contacts; organizes product and services launches at the local level; and works on localized relationship marketing to generate, qualify, and close sales deals for the local sales theater. And by the way, the word local has many connotations; it could be a market segment defined by geography, industry, or even company size. So the field expertise applied varies according to the individual job appointment.

Interestingly, because they often are expected to provide solutions expertise during sales activities, many field marketers do not come from traditional marketing backgrounds. Field marketing often is a stepping stone for junior engineers or practitioners that wish to embark on marketing—or even sales—careers. Forrester research shows that 28% of CMOs within technology product vendors are engineers, while another 15% come from sales. So it’s important to make good use of these field marketers while we have them.

ITSMA: If the world is getting flatter, why is local management so important?

O’Neill: The result of the world getting flatter is that international markets are becoming more important. We are now living in the “Post-American World,” to quote a recent business book [The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria]. The technology and consulting industry revenues are increasingly global as new markets grow and traditional markets level off. For instance, IBM’s non-US operations generated approximately 65% of global revenue in 2008. IBM’s growth markets unit grew 10% in 2008—compared with 5% across major markets—with an increase of 18% combined in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). With that increased globalization come requirements for meeting specific local needs, both in terms of the products and services delivered as well as the marketing of those offerings. SDL, a global information management vendor providing translation services, reports a doubling of marketing content being localized by technology vendors in the past year over that in the previous year.

ITSMA: Beyond language translation, can you give me an example of how marketers should think about executing locally?

O’Neill: Well, localization must become a strategic process and much, much, better understood by technology solutions and services providers. At Forrester, we define marketing localization as:

Adapting marketing messages and programs to reflect the characteristics and requirements of a specific target market and audience. Those characteristics and requirements include geo-political and economic factors as well as the critical business imperatives and buying behaviors of technology buyers.

Our research tells us that marketing localization processes tend to be less mature than those for other marketing processes. Marketing localization requirements are not the same as product localization. And corporate-level marketing localization decisions aren’t always data-driven. Corporate marketers don’t always know when their local colleagues use localized versions of headquarters-generated marketing collateral or whether local audiences require local language materials.

And the message may have to be localized in more than just language. Let me give you an example. A common trend in IT purchasing has been the adage “doing more with less,” especially in the recent economic environment. Our research shows that some parts of the world focus on the “more,” while others actually emphasis the “less.” So the message of doing more with less really means:

  • “Impact business performance” in North America
  • “Improve business innovation” in Western Europe
  • “Centralize or share resources” in some Asian countries and in South America

ITSMA: What are the obstacles to marketing localization? Why do some companies have such a hard time with it?

O’Neill: The biggest obstacle is finding the right balance between global and local marketing. The reason for this is the lack of a holistic process for managing marketing at both the corporate and local levels. In a recent survey of marketing executives, Forrester found that marketers often manage local marketing activities out of corporate headquarters. In fact, more than one third of the respondents indicated that corporate headquarters manages all marketing budgets and execution. Unbelievable! In our research we found that few firms delegate responsibility for both budgets and execution all the way to the country level. Services marketers, interestingly, tended to be the most centralized.

Meanwhile, who is dividing the marketing responsibilities between the corporate and local marketing teams? Who determines marketing activities at the local level, such as whether a campaign’s messages will be adapted to the local market or which languages a virtual event will support? Who participates in that process? Who makes those decisions? In many cases, no one!

Corporate marketers need to include their field marketing colleagues in the planning and decision-making processes. We recommend creating a global marketing advisory council where corporate marketers and field marketers can exchange their points of view.

ITSMA: What are the best companies doing to achieve the balance between global and local marketing?

O’Neill: The best-practice companies empower field marketers to act as the local extension of marketing rather than as administrators or junior members of the sales teams. While sales teams are focused on accounts and their deals, field marketers are a great place to turn to for local insights. Corporate marketing should establish a process that uses field marketing as a channel to systematically gather information from customers or potential customers in a given market and about the market context. Field marketers have the potential to provide a unique service that not only communicates downstream to the customers but also brings requirements—both solutions and marketing content—upstream to their headquarters-based colleagues.

ITSMA: What other ways do you see the role of field marketing changing?

O’Neill: Firstly, my stake in the ground: I think field marketing’s focus will morph from customer acquisition to relationship management, from demand generation to demand management. It will be all about lead nurturing.

So one of my theses for the future is that field marketers will become a sort of marketing concierge, helping prospective and existing customers to engage with their peers (other buyers/users) as well as with colleagues (in the marketer’s organization) through social media.

To get there, we’ll need to reduce our base of pure marcom professionals (events/collateral) by automating and semi-centralizing (from country to a regional level) marketing campaign management. And we’ll need to increase local resources to engage with local bloggers, communities, prospects, and customers.

That will require a mix of hiring expert people (strong consultative sales reps looking for an easier time, experienced support people, current solution-champion field marketers) and leveraging local journalistic resources. We have seen some vendors use freelancers, others are actually hiring them. We will also need to reengineer our collateral to create a marketing asset library of shorter, more direct, but not hard-selling, pieces that we can leverage into the lead-nurturing programs. This would be a great contribution from central marketing to help field marketers be successful.

But even more important, and this is where most of us need to start right away, is to develop better social marketing skills across the organization. Sure, you can go and hire a boatload of social savvy Gen Y people, but there are actually not that many of those around, and it will take a lot of time before they are familiar enough with your customers’ needs (notice I didn’t say “your solutions”!) The more productive route is to cross-train existing employees to improve their social marketing efforts.

Field marketers are the subject matter experts who can communicate the strength of the offered product or service in the language of the buyers in their local markets. And by language I do not just mean the spoken or written tongue; I also mean an affinity to the business issues being faced by the customer. Even in the days of social media and automatic language and personal control over Web sites, this contribution isn’t going to disappear overnight. But it will change.

A new way of doing business will eventually dominate, but we are a few generations away from digital marketing fully replacing people sitting across the table. In fact, one of my theories is that those new companies on the block who focus on as-a-service and cloud computing will only really become successful and established when they add the traditional processes and resources to their marketing and sales repertoire.

I think field marketers will be their company’s scout on a local basis. Successful field marketing people will acquire social marketing skills and be able to discover prospects with needs in their local markets, probably much earlier than the corporate social media processes will be able to. The local people will assist these prospects in their project investigations and then be involved right through the engagement phase. If solution developers want to discuss product and services needs with these customers, then someone has to be the mediator, combining digital media and person-to-person communication.

ITSMA: What do you see as the best balance between corporate and field marketing?

O’Neill: There are a few things that we see separating the companies that have gotten it right from those who are struggling:

  • Establish a process for marketing localization as part of marketing activities. By establishing a process to determine when and where marketing activities are localized, marketers can increase the likelihood that the marketing budget will be well spent. Waiting to the last minute or treating localization as an afterthought is where we see companies get into trouble.
  • Create a mechanism for systematically gathering requirements for localization. Just as solutions marketing gathers requirements for new offerings, field marketing can gather requirements for local marketing activities. One way to do this is to establish a survey of customers and partners. Field marketers can administer it in specific markets. It is important to consider all segments in a given market, as needs differ across company sizes, industries, and other axes of segmentation. You can ask the target audience if they want to see various marketing vehicles in their local language. You can find out what messages are most likely to resonate. Marketers should keep in mind that these preferences can change as the audience demographics shift.
  • Establish guidelines or market tiers to structure market prioritization. We see companies creating market or country-level tiers to help guide their marketing localization priorities. You can assign different degrees of localization to each tier. In most cases, the larger or more strategic markets would end up in the top tier. Of course, markets are dynamic, so the tier assignments should be reviewed on a regular basis. Establishing localization priorities using a tiering process helps to ensure that limited marketing budget dollars will be well spent.