To run GE’s marketing efforts, GE Digital’s VP says she focuses on data, analytics, technology & agility
GE's Neenu Sharma joined Allocadia's Sam Melnick for the 'How a $1B Startup Runs Marketing to Lead Digital Transformation' panel at the Martech Conference in Boston.
In 2011, GE created GE digital, a unit within the 125-year-old company tasked with managing GE’s digital efforts. With the goal of leveraging software to solve problems inside the industrial-focused corporation, GE Digital has now grown to be a 26,000-employee division of GE.
Neenu Sharma serves as GE Digital’s vice president of product and marketing operations, overseeing things like product marketing, sales enablement and analytics.
“My team’s responsibility is really to run marketing,” says Sharma.
She and Allocadia’s vice president of marketing, Sam Melnick, came together to present the “How a $1B Startup Runs Marketing to Lead Digital Transformation” panel at this year’s MarTech conference in Boston. The two shared insights into how Sharma has created a powerful marketing engine within GE, built on data, analytics, technology and agility.
As Sharma puts it, her team runs GE’s digital marketing efforts, so that other GE teams can do marketing. To help with marketing performance management, she enlisted Allocadia to help manage budgets and establish a standard taxonomy across GE’s marketing departments.
“For us it was strategy first, then use the right tools,” says Sharma.
According to the GE VP, much of her team’s technology-foundation was inherited — it was her job to fill in the missing holes. To do this, Sharma focused on strategy, putting process before tech.
“GE is a ‘show-me’ culture,” says Sharma. This means she had to choose marketing tools with a fast time-to-value. She also needed an effective content life-cycle management process to distribute and archive content, as well as ensure the most recent content was available to the teams using it.
Melnick, VP of marketing at Allocadia, says companies all too often make the mistake of skipping the foundational needs because they are too distracted by shiny objects or fail to collaborate across teams. They also end up spending too much of their efforts on execution, remaining more focused on the doing of marketing versus the running of marketing.
“When you think about your process, there has to be equal weighting on both sides,” says Melnick.
In addition to focusing on strategy, Sharma says analytics, and the common taxonomy of analytics, was her team’s biggest challenge when supporting the rest of the GE organization.
“We needed to get our entire organization speaking the same language,” says Sharma, explaining how one of the most critical pieces of data was the taxonomy piece: How do they define a customer? What is a ‘contact?’ Is it just an email? Or is it an email and a phone number and a title?
She also realized very quickly as she stepped into her role that she had to change the conversation with finance.
“It was literally about making them part of the decision-making process,” says Sharma.
Melnick says Allocadia’s 2017 Benchmark Study found high-growth organizations are three times more likely to have marketing operations that partner with their finance departments, but only 14 percent of companies saw finance as a trusted or strategic partner.
By meeting regularly with her finance team, Sharma has established a more free-flowing conversation between the two departments. She says her commitment to demonstrate stewardship has allowed her to create a stronger relationship with finance, aligning goals between the two departments.
The move has paid off as the VP recently received a call from her finance department saying they wanted to give her more money.
“It was the first time that ever happened,” says Sharma.
In closing, both Sharma and Melnick reinforced the idea that to succeed, marketing operations must give as much attention to the running of marketing as it does the doing of marketing, building a strong foundation around data and technology.
By thinking like a business owner, marketing operations will be able to elevate the conversation around how marketing impacts the business as a whole.