Embracing Change: 5 Questions With IBM SVP & CMO Michelle Peluso

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IBM Photo for Michelle Peluso 5Q

Tech giant IBM has been in business for 107 years—an amazing accomplishment for any company, let alone one grounded in technology. Part of that success can be attributed to the company’s willingness to early on adapt technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and blockchain as well as its ongoing commitment to customer experience and agile at scale.

“We have to be always willing to embrace change,” says Michelle Peluso, IBM SVP & CMO. “Today that change is about new technologies and capabilities like artificial intelligence. But it’s also about the way we work.”

Johannes Christensen, Director of Strategy for Interbrand, sat down with Peluso to learn more about how technology is changing marketing, as well as the way the company approaches building the customer experience today and the business’ agile transformation.

What bold bets is IBM making for the future?

Michelle Peluso IBM

This is such an amazing time for companies everywhere in the world because new technologies—like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud computing—are really changing what companies are able to do. And as our CEO Ginni Rometty says, they are changing the nature of almost every profession. Our big bet at IBM has been to transform to a company that embraces artificial intelligence, cloud computing, new technologies like blockchain, things like quantum—all underpinned by security.

How do you make sure you deliver a seamless customer experience?

Client and customer needs are changing at a very rapid pace. We want to make sure IBM is interacting with the people who use our systems, software and services—not just the person making the purchase decisions. We want to make sure their voices are loud and clear every single day—the developers, the doctors, the marketers, the data scientists as much as the CIO and the procurement officers.

And so we’ve been bringing the Net Promoter Score into everything we do. I run the NPS program for the company, and we have hundreds of thousands of pieces of feedback from our users that we get every single day. That feedback is essential to making sure we’re always improving the digital experience, the offering experience, the support and service experience for our clients, and the relationships that our clients have with IBM. We get back to customers and clients who give us feedback within 24 hours, and we take their feedback as a real gift.

What have been the biggest challenges over the past two years since you started at IBM?

There are two things marketers have to think about a lot more than ever before.

First, we can’t just live in our own silos, so the notion of cross-functional and agile teams—and figuring out how to do that in marketing—is really a new challenge for us. How does an agency work in agile? How does an agency work with a cross-functional team? These are challenges that we’re tackling head on.

Second, marketers always have to be learning. There are thousands and thousands of new technologies springing up every couple of years in the marketing tech stack or the advertising tech stack. There’s so much more data than we ever had access to before, so we have to be aware that there is always a journey of education and a journey of learning to make us exceptional marketers.

How has your role evolved since you started?

Since starting at IBM, I’ve been asked to take on the client experience function for the company, running the NPS, which gives marketers invaluable insight into what our clients really think. We’re so much more data-led and science-led and technology-led than we were when I started.

We’re also a much more agile organization truly as a discipline than we were when I started. And that changes the way I have to lead, the way I have to show up with the marketers. It fundamentally shifted how I define my role and hopefully the impact I can have on the company.

This change has also given me a tremendous opportunity to talk to clients more and more often. Especially when I’m out with CMOs of leading clients who themselves are going through this transformation.

Can you tell us more about IBM’s agile approach?

At IBM, we will be the first in the world to have marketing as a discipline in agile at scale and I’m immensely proud of that—but it doesn’t come without its challenges.

One of the hardest things in agile transformation is actually the change of the management routines because all of us grew up in the hierarchy. We grow up to manage a few that then manage others. Agile doesn’t work like that. It puts responsibility and decision making down at the lower level with the agile teams themselves. Their job is to make changes and optimize and make decisions every single day.

So it requires real changes in management behavior. One of the transformations we’ve been working hard on is for all of us as managers to learn how to manage and lead in an agile world. It’s an area that we’re really passionate about as we think about our transformation.


Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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