Tamal Chakravorty, Director IT &Test at Ericsson Global Services
Tamal Chakravorty, Director IT &Test at Ericsson Global Services, says B2B tech marketers have to bring back real storytelling.”

As B2B technology marketers, many of us spend much of our working lives trying to understand IT decision-makers. What makes them tick? What are their current interest areas? How do we get them to read the content we’re creating for them?

 To answer some of these questions, we’re starting a series of interviews with Asian CIOs. We’re asking them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of our attention, what we’re doing well, and what we stink at.

If there are any questions you’d like us to ask them, reach out to us on @B2Bento or at @sunilshares and we’ll try to accommodate you.

 In the first of this series, we’re talking to Tamal Chakravorty, Director IT &Test at Ericsson Global Services. He is an award-winning CIO who has led IT teams at large multinationals including Ericsson, Bata and PepsiCo India. He is a veteran CIO and is among the most recognizable Indian CIOs. A gentleman to boot, he’s known for his easy smile, self-deprecating humour, and refreshing candour.

In this interview, he speaks about the good old days of technology marketing, why he’d like to see more storytelling from technology marketers, and how CIOs buy technology.

Some years ago, I remember speaking with you about the high number of technology-related events. Today, on average, how many invites do you get a week, and what makes you want to attend?

Generally, I attend marketing seminars and conferences. But only if I get a call from someone I know. At that point, I’m going because I want to meet that person, or because that person brought a really hot topic to my attention.

The problem is marketers don’t know (my business journey). Neither do most of them want to know. All they do is push their product. They are unmindful of the journey I am on.

Take digital corporations for example. Right now, if someone told me about a conference on digital corporations, I would probably want to attend.

Roughly, how many invites do you get?

I think about 12-13, including 3-4 invites for webinars, a week. Sometimes, these events are taking place in the same hotel! In two rooms that are side-by-side.

This number excludes other types of marketing material I receive. There’s whole barrage of these marketing messages, around datacentres, cloud, SAP HANA, and this, and that. Most of these, I completely ignore.

Tamal’s Ask of Marketers

Which emails do you read?

I do read some. Especially if I’m traveling. If I’m waiting for a flight, and it’s accessible on my phone, I’d probably sift through some of it because I have time.

Some marketing emails are pretty interesting. But these are few and far between. Probably 10%. The other 90% I don’t regret not reading.

Some of it is pretty interesting. I’ve caught myself regretting that I missed something or telling myself ‘this is a good idea’.

But these are few and far between. Probably 10%. The other 90% I don’t regret not reading.

Broadly, what differentiates the good 10% from the bad 90%? To be sure, it would depend on the topic and time you have. But, generally, what would catch your attention?

If it’s a very tacky topic like cloud computing, which everyone’s talking about today, I’d probably ignore that email.

But some emails have real pointers. Like how ‘this company, this industry, this person, actually did something and either saved something, or made his organization mobile.’ Or something similar. If I knew that person, I’d give them a call to find out how they managed it.

There’s no storytelling anymore. That’s an idea I really want to share with marketers.

Those are they sort of emails that catch my attention. Why? Because they relate to me.

But there are others (sighs heavily) which are so very bland. They say, ‘We are great. We have done this. We are the number 1. We could do this for you. We can do that for you.’

There are even those whose opening line says ‘We can bring down your costs by 30%.’ They don’t even know what my company does!

These I ignore. It’s just chest-beating.

Are there other differences?

There’s no storytelling anymore. That’s an idea I really want to share with marketers.

Let the sales guys do what they want. But if you really want to market a product, or solution, or a service, there has to be storytelling.

It’s this storytelling agenda that completely gone missing.

In a year, I have only one or two topics to attack. This doesn’t only apply to me. Every CIO has only one or two agendas for the year. That’s all the budget that there is.

Could you elaborate what you mean by storytelling?         

I mean like a story. Instead of telling me that 30% stuff, tell me a story. Like Harry had a problem. He worked in a company. He was given a task. He was afraid he could lose his job and he had children and a wife. And then finally, (dramatic pause) he finds the right solution!

Now, I’m reading a story, not being told about a solution. In that story, probably one or two things match my situation. If you relate, you want to hear more. It starts to pull at you.

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That’s how storytelling was like 20 years ago. Today, it’s about showing your face to a customer and having dinner. What’s the point in that? You’ve just called me over to exchange cards.

How much time a week do you get to learn about technology, given your busy schedule?

I’ll go back to what it was like 20 years ago because I liked that era. It was a time when we did a lot of work–but we also had time for vendors. And vendors came to us with stories. They told us these stories face-to-face, and we entertained them. We actually talked.

Today vendors don’t come. Or we don’t entertain them because they send someone junior or they get a re-seller to call from Bangalore.

Today, technology research boils down to two or three things: What is it that can be achieved using a technology–in my industry, my company, and my style of working.

It’s important that marketers help us do our jobs better. Then at least I want to listen to you.

Take the cloud, for instance. I’m not interested in other things around the cloud, like how it is built, or how many companies are using it. I need to understand the impact it could create in my industry, my company. Maybe it could reduce cost, maybe it could make management easier. And then a story must be built around it. All of this is completely missing.

It’s important to note that, in a year, I have only one or two topics to attack. Whether it’s digital or thin applications that run on the Internet, or whatever else. This doesn’t only apply to me. Every CIO has only one or two agendas for the year. That’s all the budget that there is. And he’s only going to spend on that because that’s what he has agreed to, that’s what he has shared with the team.

Essentially, when you (marketing executives) send out messaging, you shouldn’t send it out blindly. You need to connect people to the cause. If you have something new to talk about, you need to find out how many people are interested in listening to it. Or who is where on that specific journey.

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Could you describe your tech buying journey?

Essentially there are three types of journeys.

In the first we have a planned horizon. It’s a 2-3 business-year horizon, broken down to yearly IT plans, because IT changes so fast you can only really make a plan for a year now. We look at what we should do, like cut costs and improve the bottom line, or improve productivity, etc.

That theme could extend into the next year and the year after that, with additional flavours added every year. Of course, this depends on the economic environment. If there aren’t major (economic) shifts, we know what the theme is and what know what we’re trying to accomplish in that 2-3 year window, and we know how to break up our investments.

The problem is marketers don’t know. Neither do most of them want to know.

They know their product. All they do is push their product. They are unmindful of the journey I am on. As a result, you have two different lines running in parallel.

And the two other types of journeys?

The second type of journey is one of exploration. For example, last year I started exploring digital. I wanted to know what truly is digital. Is it about automation? Is it about putting IT on the cloud? Everybody defines digital differently. I still can’t figure out what it is! (chuckles)

In this exploratory journey, I was sold Office 365. Ok fine. But is that the end of the journey? No marketer came and told me “You know, if you are on this journey and you are at this point, here are five solutions or products being used by 10 other people to achieve this end.” That, nobody does.

Someone needs to tap into that.

The third type of investment is purely to put off another competitor. Or I want to find a way to create an offering that’s better than theirs in a certain space, for example.

The other type of competition is supplier competition. If, for example, I’ve given too much to one technology vendor, I might want to bring in a competitor’s product.

Any last thoughts?

It’s important that marketers help us do our jobs better. Then at least I want to listen to you.

And I don’t want 50 emails in my inbox.

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