GE Healthcare on how to humanise B2B marketing

GE Healthcare’s move to a more personalised marketing strategy and using automation to track customer behaviour may be pushing up sales but for global head of marketing operations Stephanie Meyer the change goes beyond marketing to the calibre of future recruits.

As the global head of marketing operations at General Electric’s healthcare division, with annual revenues of $18bn (£11.7bn), Stephanie Meyer’s remit is to market life-saving equipment with multimillion dollar price tags to professionals in over 100 countries.

Following a major restructure of the marketing function at GE Healthcare, the division now looks at marketing beyond B2B or B2C techniques, instead focusing on a human-centred approach. Working with automation software developer Marketo, the organisation has switched to a personalised strategy when talking to healthcare professionals.

The personal touch has resulted in Meyer and her team creating $2bn (£1.3bn) in potential new revenue and $600m (£390m) in actual deals last year, a figure the company believes it will easily double this year.

For Meyer, personalisation is a long-term brand building exercise that goes beyond sales and affects not only marketing communications but also the calibre of future recruits to the business. Speaking to Marketing Week, the marketing chief explains the human approach to B2B and being able to do ‘cool things’ despite being in a heavily regulated industry.

As a B2B company, how has your approach to marketing evolved?

Stephanie Meyer: We woke up to the fact that most customers are making up their minds earlier, before they see a sales person. Marketers have to think about content in the context of where the customer is versus where we are. In the past, we mostly thought about closing the deal.

What we are seeing now is that content [can be delivered] higher upstream. There are reading materials and key opinion leaders that publish information that we would like to share with our customers. [We need to consider] how we bring that experience in.

What effect did the evolution to ‘content before purchase’ have on marketing?

We made marketing more functional in order to bring out the right digital tools and automation tools, and [changed] the way we think about making our jobs easier. Now we are using marketing automation as a way of tracking customer behaviours that will help us be more prescriptive in the content, as well as being able to drill down to a specific role, for example [talking to] a radiologist. [We use] the same channels but it’s different in terms of messaging; that has been the biggest thing for our marketers to think about in terms of content strategy.

Has the restructure and move towards personalisation changed the way marketing is viewed by GE overall?

The CMO of GE Healthcare is always called in to strategic meetings with the CEO and that means we have done our job in becoming a credible function, with interesting insights that maybe the sales team or other people would not have.

GE Healthcare’s global head of marketing Stephanie Meyer says working in a highly-regulated industry can be limiting

Do you have any advice for others looking to personalise B2B marketing?

Don’t paralyse yourself by trying to make a perfect decision [about] the vendor or how to design it. Make a choice, go with it and iterate from there. Once you have made that decision, stick to it and go as big as possible because if you pilot little bits here and there, you won’t get the full bang when you go to implement. And don’t underestimate the process and the people because it’s a three-legged stool – people, partners and platforms.

What effect does this have on the skills required from your team?

We haven’t hired people with new-world skills. We would normally recruit from the MBA pool but there is also relevance with people who have masters degrees in IT and different techniques that are becoming very relevant within marketing.

What challenges do you face as a B2B healthcare marketer?

[There] is a big difference between me and someone who is selling farm equipment. When I go to a big conference and talk to people in less regulated environments I think about all the cool things they can do. There are still amazing things I can do but I am in such a regulated industry.

Another difference is the complex selling cycle and complexity of a highly clinical sale. I don’t have many ecommerce transactions because people are not going to buy equipment that costs $3m (£2m) online. There is still a heavy dependence on sales and trade shows.

Given the cost of the equipment you market, how does personalisation help?

We thought if there was a way to talk to a radiologist in the UK who has very different needs from a radiologist in India, how would we talk to them differently and wouldn’t that be cool? [In addition] to that, just within the UK you might have a director of radiology, a chief financial officer and potentially a technician [who can all make purchase decisions].

In the former world, we would give the same message to all of those people. Now we tailor these [messages] and it has challenged us to think differently about content. There have been some amazing things we have been able to think about in terms of elevating our marketing skills [and] content but also our reach and relevance in the marketplace.

What pain points do you experience as a global company using personalisation?

It hasn’t sped up my process of getting things translated or removed my need to do that, so every time we have new global content it has to be translated. That is part of our reality of being a global company.

What results are you seeing beyond driving $2bn in potential revenue and $600m in actual deals in 2014?

It’s a longer-term view. There is a lot of the intangible that happens too. You touch all of these opportunities but have you built the brand, increased loyalty and [changed] how people feel about interacting with GE?

That may not manifest in [profit] that year, as is the case in life cycle marketing, you have to think about investing for the long term because [customers] might not have the budget to buy in that year.

How will the marketing strategy evolve?

We will shift to digital, like everybody, whether that is increasing interactions on websites, apps or email. But we are a handshake business and you still need the sales role.

The biggest change will be enabling those sales people so that when those moments happen when we get in front of the customer, the customer is completely aware of who we are and have been nurtured all along. But also that the sales team are aware of what those customer interactions have been. Then they can be very relevant and maybe start to see deal velocity.