Bringing Courage to Marketing at a B2B Tech Giant
BY Kaitlin Loyal
September 15, 2022

Courage in marketing is sticking your neck out and going after an idea that’s going to get attention and drive results for your organization. But getting buy-in and building organizational confidence for a courageous endeavor can be difficult. Ask marketing pro Michael Brenner, who put his job on the line to convince a global marketing organization which path they should take. Over the course of two and a half years, he transformed marketing at B2B tech behemoth SAP. 

Brenner was hired to investigate which tactics worked best for 50 North American marketers and then scale it out across the entire region. In his first three months, he interviewed everyone in the demand center. 

“What I found was a tremendous amount of waste. Marketing managers were each handed tens of thousands of dollars per year on average for lead generation, and half of them didn’t get any leads at all. And the reason they would say was, ‘Well, the VP of Sales said we should spend all this money on a brochure.’ Or, ‘The VP of Sales said we shouldn’t spend all this money on a boondoggle and get everybody to an Eagles game.’”

Basically, marketing was doing what had always been done, and no one had the stomach to push against the status quo.

But one marketer did—Ginger Shimp, now the Global Content Lead at SAP. Brenner found that, with her budget, Shimp ran an always-on content marketing program that consisted of a series of monthly webinars with white paper content syndication and some featured articles. This was the early days of content marketing, and Shimp was producing content that was audience-focused, not SAP features-focused. 

Brenner saw that Shimp’s tactics were working, and he decided to run with it. “Ginger was getting more leads than half of the rest of the marketing organization. So my proposal to my boss at the time was to replicate that across the organization. And all of the budget that people are spending on stuff that doesn’t generate leads should be centralized,” said Brenner.

Standing firm on data-backed ground

Brenner put together a plan that hit the obstacles head-on. Some of his colleagues were skeptical of the idea; they did not want to change course. But Brenner was undaunted. Because he’d interviewed all of SAP’s North American marketers, he was confident he knew the best path forward, and that it was replicating content marketing across the entire North American market. 

“I said, ‘You hired me to do an analysis and the analysis is very clear about what we should do,’” he said. 

Brenner had more work to do convincing the team.

“It was definitely contentious. Sometimes those challenges come from your own boss or your own colleagues.”

But Brenner, who swears he is not a confrontational person, continued to present the business case for change across the organization. Finally, the leader of the group was intrigued by the data and wanted to give it a try. 

Knowledge equals power, so keep collecting knowledge

The first step was getting buy-in, but the true test was seeing if this content marketing program would help the North American region generate leads. 

“It was actually harder once I got agreement than it was getting the agreement, because of the pressure. But one thing that was a thread over the course of my career is that when you create stuff that your audience likes, you’re more likely to get leads from it,” said Brenner. He used his depth of knowledge to stay confident when taking this leap. 

With a small team hellbent on success, Brenner never took his eye off the data ball. Everything they published was measured. When anyone above him, from across marketing or from sales, asked him how it was going, he had an answer that clearly demonstrated progress.

Confidence → growth → success

Over the next two-and-a-half years, he built a region-wide content syndication program. Through its success, Michael grew the program and was given enough budget to implement a centralized content program that was specifically designed for lead generation.

“It was interesting because I had interviewed and started to form relationships with all of the people in the region. There were 50 people, many of whom were feeling the pressure of generating leads, but were also getting the pressure from their salespeople to do stuff that didn’t generate leads and I was giving them, in a way, a way out.” said Brenner. 

Brenner’s confidence to follow the data and do something different paid off, for both SAP and himself. In the final year of the initial pilot program, it generated approximately $30 million in new revenue. The program caught the attention of the CMO, who moved Brenner into the global marketing organization to build out a content Center of Excellence to try to replicate the success.

A huge business success for SAP.

And a huge career success for Brenner, who has become one of B2B marketing’s biggest stars (if there is such a thing).

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