Krishnan Chatterjee is the Vice President and Head of Strategic Marketing at HCL Technologies. He has the overall responsibility of building HCL’s marketing strategy and infrastructure to propagate demand creation, ensure an intent-driven business approach, and create a superior customer experience. Krishnan is an economics graduate from Presidency College, Calcutta and has an MBA in marketing and strategy from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad. He is an opinion leader and an active blogger who can be reached at MarketingMuse. In this interview with Paul Writer, Krishnan talks about HCL’s philosophy of Employees first, digital efforts to engage with connected employees, his marketing idol – Bruce Springsteen and more.
Krishnan Chatterjee joins Paul Writer’s CMO Hall of Fame program that recognizes senior marketers who are developing and enhancing the marketing eco-system in India. The program is by invitation only and individuals are selected for this honour based on their career track record and peer reviews.
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Paul Writer (PW): What is on your marketing agenda this year?
Krishnan Chatterjee (KC): Of priority on my agenda this year, is our company’s positioning.
The industry is intensely competitive and is experiencing a leveling of playing field this year. We see the distinction between Global MNC and Indian Origin providers thinning down; comparison of key indices of MNC stocks vis-à-vis that of top 4-5 Indian players suggest that the premium Indian players enjoyed, is no more.
An industry that was defined by homogeneous commodity like performance has turned extremely heterogeneous. Mere presence in the market does not guarantee performance unless your strategy is differentiated and you have something unique to offer. Add to this, a backdrop of new businesses generated from an already churned market and no fresh money out there – and you have a situation where some will grow and others will not. If you wish to be the one that grows on a globally competitive scale, you need to be uniquely positioned so you can win. Positioning is, therefore, number one on my agenda.
If you are familiar with the 4 layer identity-position-proposition-campaign approach to building brands, we have done significant work to establish identity – of “Employees First, Customers Second” over last one year. Vineet Nayar’s book, media stories and interviews, films around the philosophy have all helped establish our identity.
This year, our focus is on developing our positioning – we want to be cautious with this exercise because one can confuse proposition with positioning. In the case of HCL, it is quite easy to believe HCL’s positioning to be that of an infrastructure services company or a total IT outsourcing company. Neither is true - HCL has always been good at inventing new businesses. It was first off the block in Engineering Services Outsourcing; it pretty much pioneered Remote Infrastructure Management and became one of the top 3 preferred players in Enterprise Application (along with IBM and Accenture), with the purchase of Axon. It’s very unfavorable, therefore, if positioning is based on one’s proposition.
In the next 1-2 years, we aim to develop positioning that will have to be internally expressed and externally manifested, translate into business units’ proposition and finally onto campaign execution.
PW: How do you translate the philosophy of 'Employees First, Customers Second' as an experience for your customer?
KC: In a brand workshop we had recently organized for our customers, we asked them what made HCL unique. After considerable deliberation, customers in the council picked the word they thought described HCL best– ‘Engaged’. They felt that our people were not regular 9-5’ers but were on the customers’ side, trying their best to understand their business and went out of their way to achieve business objectives; the same held true for senior management as well. The customers observed it to be a common HCL phenomenon and experienced it with HCL far more than any of its peers.
Our annual CSAT ratings have hit world time highest (despite recession) and customer references in analyst reports (independently verified with customers) have a consistent score, higher than that of Accenture and IBM. These are some data points that uphold an intuitive hypothesis that if you practice “Employees First, Customers Second” and empower employees, they can create magic for customers in the Value Zone (where Employees engage with Customers).
PW: What was the most exciting marketing initiative you undertook in 2011-12?
KC: Most marketing initiatives were exciting but the one that stands out and deserves a mention is Team 360.
A year ago, the marketing team underwent a structural change – all marketing services (including graphics, event management, direct marketing among others) were wrapped into one team – what we called, Team 360. And in the last one year, the restructuring has materialized into an 80-man profit center yielding a surplus of $200K this year. Operating on a billable basis, Team 360 offers marketing services to all businesses, including Marketing, HR and Shiv Nadar Foundation.
We have noticed that marketing teams may not get to know if a deal was won or lost because of their efforts. But once they have their own P&L and are able to own business success, it becomes far more motivating and impacts overall productivity.
PW: What changes do you foresee for the customer in 2013?
KC: The market is a state of flux right now – conversations are happening in areas different from that of buying. Conversations are around the areas of mobility, analytics, regulatory and compliance – in change-the-business side. But buying is happening in run-the-business side. Contracts are coming up for renewal, continuing with existing spends and a desire to squeeze the maximum possible. What our CIOs will need, this year, are vendor partners who offer extremely reliable solutions both on run-the-business and change-the-business sides. Vendor partners should be able to engage CIOs in change-the-business topics (from a thought leadership perspective) and offer well-packaged and convenient run-the-business solutions for purchase. In my opinion, the market will continue like this for at least 12-18 months.
PW: How does HCL Technologies engage with the connected customer? And how has technology been an enabler?
KC: We have put in significant efforts to access a connected entity – employees – through social media. One of my other answers to our most exciting marketing initiative was just that – in the last one year, we have grown from negligible social media presence to one of the largest presence in the industry (including Accenture and IBM).
Whether Facebook, Youtube or Twitter, HCL has one of the highest engagement levels on all these platforms. I would love to be able to drive that level and volume of social transactions with customer audience as well.
Technology plays an important role in the areas of sales automation (CRM) and digital communication. Marketing is responsible for sales excellence – including sales force program management, reporting and performance management – and automation has a huge productivity implication. I would be wary of deploying technology in areas other than those mentioned above because the volumes of transactions are not too high. Not every problem can have a solution-in-a-box.
PW: Who is your marketing idol?
KC: That would have to be Bruce Springsteen. Bruce is one of the most uniquely positioned brands in the music industry and has positioned himself completely on intrinsic worth. From a blue-collar perspective, there is probably no greater working-man icon than Springsteen. He based his music on his roots and what he understood of the music that he composed.
There is always a tussle between the marketer’s heart and the humanity issue –marketers are led to creating a unique position in an area that has little to do with the inherent value they possess. So there are very few, what I call, honest brands. And for me, Bruce Springsteen is very iconic of an extremely powerful and honest brand –just by sticking to what he knows best.
I recommend you watch Bruce Springsteen’s keynote at SXSW 2012 where he talks about his life as a musician and the artists who influenced his career. (Ref: Transcript of his speech. Oh…and I’d love to have my band true to itself as well as Bruce Springsteen is. (Krishnan is a member of Contra Band, a ‘white collar’ band comprising successful, young-at-heart professionals.)