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Fuelling the customer experience with an entrepreneurial mindset

Miguel Avalos
"We have learned that the website today is the main flagship store for a lot of companies. It's no longer the brick and mortar building that any company or big retailer used to have."

Nathan Anibaba is joined by Miguel Avalos, the EMEA Group Head of B2B marketing for commerce and vertical programmes at Google. With experience in both B2B and B2C across 48 countries, Miguel’s experience is far reaching with some of the world’s most well-known names in tech. On this week’s ClientSide episode, Miguel shares his insights on how marketing and business strategy must go hand in hand to curate the ultimate customer experience to further your brand.

Transcript:

Speaker 1:

This is ClientSide from Fox Agency.

Speaker 2:

Hit it. That’s what I’m talking about. Wait, okay. Now, from the beginning.

Nathan Anibaba:

Miguel Avalos is the EMEA Group head of B2B marketing for commerce and vertical programs at Google. He has worked across 48 countries and has a background in B2B and B2C marketing through a variety of roles, including product marketing, entrepreneurship, strategy, sales, and marketing for the likes of PNG, Citi, Samsung and now Google. Miguel Avalos, welcome to ClientSide.

Miguel Avalos:

Thank you, Nathan. It’s a pleasure for me to be here today with you and with this lovely audience.

Nathan Anibaba:

Well, you’ve got a absolutely fascinating background. You’ve lived and worked in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. So a wealth of experience there. How does that international experience shape the way that you think sales and marketing across B2B businesses should be done?

Miguel Avalos:

Thank you. Yeah, I think that in different fronts, I think that it shapes first of all the way you think, it shapes you as a person. And of course this is translated into the role or the job that you are doing. I will say in terms of sales and marketing, I think that this international experience has helped me to understand the consumer better because you see that needs vary depending on the country, depending on the segment of the population. And it’s such a broad range, purchase habits are not the same in Japan, in Korea versus the US, which is a very particular country, or even in Europe where you have a lot of fragmentation.

So that has helped me definitely understand better the consumer. And the other two elements, I will say, one is being able to work more cross-functionally because you learn how to work with people from different functions and different backgrounds and equally connect better with other people. You can collaborate in general much better when you know what is the approach of someone coming from Israel versus someone coming from Germany or someone coming from Korea. And last but not least, I think that that has allowed me to see the big picture, understanding major trends, the things that are happening in Latin America probably happened already in Europe or in the US. And then you see how things evolve over time, depending on the region.

Nathan Anibaba:

So you’re responsible for developing the B2B product marketing strategy and digital acceleration programs for Google’s AdWord business, which accounts for one of the main revenue drivers for the business. Tell us a little bit more about your role and, and what it encompasses.

Miguel Avalos:

So I think that, starting from the fundamental, our aim is to help our businesses to be successful, to help our customers, to be successful. If a retailer is able to sell more, then as a result, they can also advertise more with Google, right? So we start with that premise that it’s not only about our business, but also we really care about the business of our customers. And from marketing, what we do is provide the tools, programs, products, or content at the scale that can help these companies, whether they are a retailer or a travel company, or an exporter to tap into the digital transformation that is happening in different fronts.

And of course it has been accelerated by COVID, but our aim is to provide these elements that companies can use. In terms of my scope, the majority of the work is conducted in EMEA, which means Europe, Middle, East, and Africa, working very closely with our local markets and my main partners in crime. We have local marketing people in 20 something countries. So we work very closely to make sure that we deliver relevant activation that is appealing to the local market. And it has the important connotations or the specifics of Germany or Spain or wherever the activation is. We work very closely with headquarters too, of course, to make sure that we have a holistic view from Mountain View, California, which is the location of our headquarters and just bring everything together for Europe and then activating the countries.

Nathan Anibaba:

Can you give us an a client example that springs to mind that sort of brings this to life?

Miguel Avalos:

Client example? Oh, we have so many clients and we can talk about the small mom and pop store, the person who’s selling coffee in the corner, and that could be a chain, or that could be an independent coffee seller. But we have also the big companies, the likes of Samsung Electronics, for instance, or the big retailers in most of the countries. We have a high penetration on customers, of course, because most people see Google as a way to reach out to more customers and equally just to be out there to make sure that they are seen by potential customers or traffic.

Nathan Anibaba:

And you’ve got quite an entrepreneurial background within Google, which is quite an entrepreneurial company in of itself. There are lots of intrepreneurs within Google. Actually. I think Google’s culture is to actually hire a number of entrepreneurial people that think in that way. What are the benefits of doing that from your point of view and how have you brought that entrepreneurial thinking into your role at Google?

Miguel Avalos:

Yeah, you’re very right. Despite Google being now a very big company, we still aim to bring people who have some entrepreneurial background. And I think that there are three elements that entrepreneurship is, or this entrepreneurship mindset can be very helpful. Number one is scaling teams, bring people over, shaping the team. I started with a team of two people, and now we’re having 20 something. So just being able to try to scale an operation is entrepreneurial by itself, because you need to figure out which people to bring in, what are the type of skills that you need, not only at the moment, but in the near future or in the midterm.

Number two is about building new products. If you’re entrepreneurial, then you will have that sense of creating something that doesn’t exist. In my team we develop a market finder from My Store or Hotel Insights, which have been very important tools to help some of these businesses to accelerate their digital transformation.

And number three, in terms of entrepreneurship, I will say anticipate trends. I think that as an entrepreneur you tend to see or to understand what are the market dynamics, what are the potential gaps and try to anticipate those things. So you can be relevant with your offering, whether that is a product or a solution or a product feature, and in general the value proposition that you bring to the market.

Nathan Anibaba:

And as you said earlier, Google has a ton of customers all the way from the small mom and pop shop of one or two people all the way up to companies like Samsung. And it’s very hard to kind of have a definitive definition of what an SME is for obvious reasons. But as you said, you help companies go from Air to B in their digital transformational or the digital readiness. Give us an example of kind of what that means for a typical kind of mid-market B2B company.

Miguel Avalos:

So we have, and I’m referring a lot on examples from retail because again, that has been an industry that has gone through a lot of changes and is still going through a lot of changes with pandemic. I think that’s the freshest example that I have, but we created something called the retail acceleration program, which is effectively to help these medium size companies that have some capabilities, but still have room to grow in terms their transformation. And we created this partnership with Accenture by the way consulting company. So we assess these companies from five angles to understand the readiness on each of them. Number one is customer experience. When you go to the website, how did you rate the customer experience? Is it on the basic side or the difficult? And what are the things that we need to do?

We have learned that the website today is the main flagship store for a lot of companies. It’s not any more the brick and mortar building that any company or any big retailer used to have. Nowadays it’s the website. So the better customer experience that you have in the website, that is basically what you are translating into your store, into how customers can go through the purchase funnel or not.

Number two is business activation, communications. That means how often retailers are communicating with their users. Is that a follow up email? Is there a call to action? Is there a thank you note because of the purchase and so on, right? There are multiple email journeys or multiple communication channels that they can follow.

Number three, data transformation. Is the company operating in silos where they have multiple pockets of data here and there? Or are they bringing everything together in a more holistic CRM process that can help as well understand better their customers?

Number four people and processes. People are fundamental for digital transformation regardless of the size of the company. That’s why we have seen that companies that start with entrepreneurs or digital natives, they tend to be faster to adjusting or adapting to the digital threats because for them it’s natural. However, when you have a more diverse group of, of people in your executive team or in the multiple functions leadership team, then you need to bring everyone to the same page that they understand digital, that they understand the processes so they don’t operate in silos. The simplest example is online channel. Many companies they have someone who is operating their online channel, others they have the physical store when for a customer is the same. They just going through this journey that is online and offline, but for them, for a customer, it is the brand that speaks to you.

They don’t care if it is owned by someone, the physical store and someone owns the online channel. So those are the type of synergies that we help companies to create. And last but not least strategic goals, ambition, helping companies shape the strategy. What does it mean in the next two to three months to be more digital ready? How do you go from zero to one or to three, depending on what your goals are and providing you the levers that are going to help you get there. So that is kind of in summary, what this digital transformation or retail acceleration program is, covering these five aspects that I mentioned. As you can see, it’s very holistic. It’s not only about advertising or only about reaching out to more customers, but it’s thinking from a broader perspective, how do we help these companies to be more effective at what they do in the new reality with the digital world?

Nathan Anibaba:

That’s super fascinating. And I can see why those five points apply directly to sort of retail given all the change and the uncertainty brought about by COVID into D2C businesses and retail businesses specifically. But I can see how that applies to all businesses across other industries. What are the in trees or segments of the economy from your point of view that would benefit most from these five points that you’ve outlined? Because it seems to me that sort of retail technology, they’re generally quite forward thinking and innovative and young and digital natives, not all of them, but I’m generalizing, but are there particular industries that would benefit the most from these five points that you’ve outlined as far as digital transformation is concerned and who are the best examples that are doing this well at the moment?

Miguel Avalos:

Well, that’s a tough question because honestly I think that every single industry can benefit by tapping into these elements, right? Probably some elements are more important than others, depending on the industry that you are in. But if you think about customer experience, it doesn’t matter if you are a direct to consumer brand or B2B, customer experience is going to be fundamental for a transaction, so you need to have it. Business activations and communications use the same data, the same… Like it doesn’t matter, I think that while this framework can apply across different industries, probably you need to adjust the content and the levers, of course, depending on the industry that they are in. You can think about big trends as well, right? Of course, retail has been one of the most affected or influenced industries because of all the changes that are happening.

People by default, they stopped traveling, but they want to spend more on shopping that is possibly income dry ? So they benefited out of this trend, but now that travel is back there is a question for a lot of travel companies whether that is in a small hotel or an aggregator, how they can do digital better. And we have seen those things, right? Like if you pay attention at the last Eurocorp actually a lot of companies where tech companies, but also travel companies because they want to increase their brand awareness. So by the time that people can travel overseas, they can just go and click. And they have already at top of mind, a company that they want to book with, they go there and then they just do it. And in terms of best examples, it’s evolving, right?

It’s very dynamic, I think that in the last 18 months, and I don’t see that changing by the way in the next 12 months, things are not static. Now we have other challenges to deal with in the commerce industry with logistics, increase of prices, some inflation in some countries, potential increase of interest rates. So all of those factors are going to play a role in the disposable income of the consumers, in the purchase decisions that they make in how do you go one retailer versus the other, given that there is product availability or lack of product. So it’s not going to be static. And I think that the best example that was six months ago probably may not be the same best example in the next six months. I think that in the UK we have… Because I live here, right, I’m very close to some of the good stores, but if you think about John Lewis, I think that they are doing a fantastic job in terms of omnichannel integration.

Samsung is also doing a great job. Mostly when it comes to omnichannel it’s usually the big brands. When it comes to direct to consumer, I think that you have a lot of new commerce or companies that are younger than these big other brands and they are doing an amazing job. I think that Gymshark is also a great example, right? It’s young entrepreneurs, they are doing a lot of interesting things and the online experience is just amazing. So just some food for thought on these examples and what are the things to come.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about marketing specifically. And I know that the five point plan that you outlined is just far more than the communication and marketing aspect of a company, it’s really holistic business strategy, but what’s your view on what marketing is today, and I guess it’s role and contribution to the business overall?

Miguel Avalos:

I think that marketing should play a role in building the business in general. This is a support function. The way marketing operates depends on the industry a lot. And it depends on the leadership team. I saw recently an article that they said that the new power couple is the CFO and the CMO. And CMO, you can argue there are different definitions, you can talk about the growth chief officer or marketing, or it doesn’t matter. Definitions are probably less important. The relevant or the key piece here is what is the scope of their work. And if you think about doing things at the scale, growing the brand, growing the business, I think that marketing needs to play a big role.

Then you have the branding part, of course, but branding tends to be something that marketers should think more in the mid to long term. If you are coming from a stage where you want to help the company grow their business, you need to think about customer acquisition. You need to think about product adoption upsell, cross-sell, loyalty. And then of course it will build the brand along the way or in parallel. But I do believe that marketing, especially these days where digital is more important, marketing is a fundamental part of any organization to play in the business performance.

Nathan Anibaba:

And what’s your view on sort of the best way to drive long term performance and B2B marketing? It could be what you’ve just mentioned there sort of brand growth or performance. Where do you stand on that?

Miguel Avalos:

It’s an evolution, right? Like in the beginning, any brand has to start with performance or any company has to start with performance. Once you acquire, and it’s also quite expensive by the way acquiring new customers is generally speaking expensive, but once you create this base of customers, you need to shift your budget more and more to the branding part of things. And branding is how do you nurture each of the touch points so they can have this relevant, or this super experience, depending on what you want to convey as a brand. I will say there is always potential for new customers. So it doesn’t mean that performance doesn’t exist. I think that it depends on the brand strategy, but holistically, thinking holistically, I think that at some you evolve, you still continue the performance, but later in the stages, you think more about the loyalty of the brand and how do you continue nurturing those touch points.

A very good example of this is Apple, right? I’m a big fan of what they have done as marketers, because there is a huge loyal base. So whenever they launch any product you know already that there is demand enough to make it through the breaking point of that specific product line because they have nurtured already over time those touch points and they convey this premium perception that you can see along the journey. And there are other examples, right? But each company needs to define what they want to achieve on this side.

Nathan Anibaba:

And then when it comes to Google’s marketing specifically, I mean, marketing represents so many touchpoints within the company. How does Google use marketing to engage your customer base as well as sort of driving the overall growth goals of the business?

Miguel Avalos:

What I’m going to share here is more about the B2B because we also have the consumer side, right? Like what we do with Google Maps or Google Search that is more on the consumer side.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure. But they complement each other I’m sure.

Miguel Avalos:

They do. They do. And I’ll get into that. When you think about B2B will say, generally speaking is thinking about the scale. We work very closely with sales or things that support our customers. But if you want to scale something to the hundreds or to the thousands, then it’s marketing who takes that role. That we externalize that we make something that can be used multiply by X factor more easily. Also, it’s important that we understand the goals and align those goals to ours of our customers so we can have that business performance, because if we don’t have the same business or KPS, we call them OKFs at Google, but if we don’t have the same OKFs align, then it’s more difficult to touch on those business performance. And the way we influence this, as I mentioned, is acquiring customers with the quality driving protocol option.

That means a cross sale upsell that will translate into more revenue, not only for us, but also for our customers. The best example is automation. The more automated campaigns our customers have, the easier for them that is to tap into shifting trends, into the search algorithm. So if they have more impressions and they have more influence with the automation for us that represents a win-win. So it’s a win-win situation basically.

Going back to your point about the relationship with consumer. Yes. Although I will say that probably they are not very interrelated internally, but of course, if there is more traffic looking for shoes, potentially you will have more shoes brands trying to advertise with us. So it’s a little bit of the flywheel, but that flywheel, I will say that is the way the algorithm or the company has been built. So even by the design things work in that way, that if you get more traffic to this specific segment than for us, it’s also easier to advertise or to have a compelling value proposition to the B2B side.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really fascinating. Miguel, just bringing the interview towards a close now. You’ve seen so many businesses go through a lot of digital transformation over the years. What’s your biggest tip for digital transformation and what things do you spend most of your time thinking about or talking about with your customers?

Miguel Avalos:

I think that in general, and this is, again, doesn’t matter if it is company big, small, or medium, the most important thing is that the team has to be aligned. That means the executive team of the company or the heads of the different functions, they have to be aligned on what digital transformation means for them. Because digital transformation is such a buzz word that everyone is using it sometimes just to sell something. But you need to have that definition as a company, and understand, okay, this is where we are. This is our assessment from zero to 10. Do we rate ourselves five or six? And where do we want to go? Is it six or 10 in the next two to three years, whatever. That’s a conversation that has to happen within the executive team that surprisingly doesn’t happen very often.

That’s why I’m emphasizing this point because more often functions are not fully aligned on the digital transformation. So you need to make sure that people are on the same page, that you set KPIs accordingly. So the results of one function are going to affect the other. And then that’s kind of the fundamental piece or the starting point for the digital transformation. Then the other two, I would say is silos have to merge somehow. The example that I was giving is in omnichannel, you have online stores and you have physical stores. Somehow you need to make sure that the data, the experience of the customer, the goals are similar. So this becomes an omnichannel or a single channel rather than two.

And in terms of your question for what I think about, or what I spend most of the time, especially during this month where we are approaching the holiday season, and it seems that it’s going to be another interesting holiday season to say the least given the problem with logistics and some changes in prices.

What I think is, is how can we more be more relevant to the industry? In the past, we were able to provide relevant insights so they can make decisions. So now what we’re thinking is what is the future of retail? What does it mean in 2022 to be a retailer? What are going to be the main challenges? Is it going to be more about logistics? Is it going to be about privacy and so on? There are so many things that you need to start thinking, not only what is the longer list of challenges, but also what are the ones that are going to be more important. And what are the ones that you’re going to be able to influence from your perspective? I think that logistics, we have very little to do as a company, to be honest. So probably that will not be my focus, although I don’t know. Sometimes we also find surprises. The power of data can do a lot of things, but just to give you a general sense, that’s basically what I’ll be spending my time on these days.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really fascinating. And Miguel, final question. What advice would you give to other aspiring sort of sales and marketing technology leaders on how best to navigate their career?

Miguel Avalos:

I mean, one is, especially in the beginning, I think that it’s important that people experience different things. I’m a big fan of the T shape on people’s careers or people development. I think that it’s good that you have an expertise. In my case, it’s more on the commerce B2B side of things, but you also need to have this horizontal part, a good foundation where you can speak about multiple parts of the marketing funnel or the marketing activities, whether that is lead generation or product adoption or narratives or branding. So my advice will be that people should understand what they want to focus on, but equally develop this more holistic or at least a baseline of the holistic skillset. So they can have a T shape as they grow in their careers.

Nathan Anibaba:

Miguel, I’ve absolutely loved speaking to you today. Thank you for sharing your insights.

Miguel Avalos:

Likewise, thank you so much, Nathan. It has been a pleasure.

Nathan Anibaba:

If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at Fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email zoey@fox.agency. The people that make this show possible are Jennifer Brennan, our booker slash researcher. David Clare is our head of content. Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.

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