Allison Dew, the CMO (chief marketing officer) at Dell Technologies, gave an interesting talk at The Dell Technology Summit this year. CMOs at tech companies are rarely successful for long, largely because everyone and their brother—both in the company and in the analyst community that covers it—feel they know more about marketing than the CMO does. Sometimes that’s warranted because the firm foolishly took some random engineer and plastered the CMO title on their forehead and told them to accomplish some ill-defined goals that generally fall outside of their authority.
Allison is one of the exceptions, in that she has not only a deep marketing background but also an agency background and substantial marketing experience in the firm. I doubt this reduces the unwanted feedback she gets but, unlike many of her peers, at least she has the knowledge to push back, and Michael Dell is somewhat famous for taking care of his people—particularly his female employees—and protecting them from abuse.
Impact of Marketing
Dell is one of the few companies where Marketing has a relatively deep impact on the firm. This difference is because executive management seems to recognize the value of effective marketing. This impact is because marketing collects a massive amount of data and is supposed to but rarely does, use this data to improve company reputation, increase consideration for products, and enhance close rates, particularly in retail where direct sales are largely non-existent.
Dew had the Dell CFO, Tom Sweet, come up and talk about how customer impressions about product and services innovation, workplace improvements, Dell’s governance, and leadership, social responsibility (citizenship), and financial strength make Dell more successful. These aren’t directly related to sales or products but are all concepts that marketing must, and at Dell, has communicated effectively.
Impressions of the company influence even investors. Tom indicated he found out, for instance, that he needs to be in front of investors 30 days a year. That’s a ton of time out from his real job of assuring that Dell’s financials are well managed and the Dell maintains compliance with the massive number of regulations placed on a company of its size. Marketing helps Tom leverage his time so he can keep Dell’s investors engaged and still have time left to do his real job. Tom attributed a significant amount of Dell’s financial success to areas under Allison’s control.
While I do think there may have been a hidden agenda to get some of us to “STFU” (or, be less vocal to put it politely) about marketing because Dell is doing very well, Sweet made solid points that marketing has been very effective.
In technology, Marketing as a strategic function is often almost criminally undervalued. As a result, it is generally underfunded, understaffed, and—in a downturn—one of the first things to be cut. On that last, this is taught as a horrid practice in almost every business school, and yet this practice remains largely an industry norm. Dell is one of the exceptions. Both Michael Dell and Tom Sweet seem to be unusual in this regard as both take Marketing seriously.
Marketing at Dell is particularly strategic because it provides insight into one of the most lucrative growing markets in the segment. But it is also critical to how Dell is perceived. It helps lock down their reputation, and in an increasingly crazy market, helps establish the company as one the buyer (at any level) can trust to execute. This reputational aspect is critical in the IT space because it shields the decision-maker from appearing negligent if problems result, and given how fast technology is moving, and how hard it is to identify dependencies before a deployment, problems always result.
Having the CFO validate that the CMO’s job was important was an interesting and important move to remind us that we all aren’t marketing experts. Dell marketing is doing solid work, and Allison Dew may be one of the strongest CMOs in the segment. Nicely done!