Sudharsan R, Country Marketing Head (India), Dell, on the challenges and joys of his role, and how marketing as we know it is changing.
As a marketing head of Dell, Sudharsan R has a job that is both challenging and interesting. At a time when Dell is moving to become an end-to-end solution brand, Sudharsan’s role is as crucial as it gets. He has been part of the company for more than a dozen years and for good reason. At Dell, his career has blossomed; the company has offered him all kinds of roles, which have helped shape his career in ways he’d never imagined. It has been, as he points out, a win-win for both him and his employer.
With almost no background in marketing—he is an engineer who holds a Master’s in finance—Sudharsan started out as a regional sales manager all the way back in 2003. He then took on a role in pricing analysis before making the shift to marketing when he was appointed the regional marketing director (Asia-Pacific and Japan). Today, Sudharsan is Country Marketing Head (India).
Edited excerpts from a conversation.
Ultimately, what is the difference between sales and marketing?
There is a lot of commonality. But there are a few fundamental differentiators. Sales is operational while marketing is transformational. Secondly, there are no boundaries in marketing; it is more holistic, bringing together all aspects of the business; you’re looking at the customer experience in totality. Thirdly, in marketing there is a mix of art and science. Whereas sales is more science, a more rational opportunity-based assessment of an outcome.
What are the key characteristics of a good marketer?
First and foremost it is the attitude. The approach you take and how you bring value and support to your customers and stakeholders. Secondly, marketers can’t afford to be just good at art. The creative streak is important, but you also need to understand the science part of marketing, be able to understand trends and perspectives, make projections. And, thirdly, you need to be able to adopt and be comfortable with new age marketing techniques, be tech savvy.
What are some of the challenges you face marketing Dell?
The first challenge is to bring a holistic value to the customer no matter where he engages. For example a CIO could be buying a home PC or making a decision for his organisation. We have to ensure a seamless experience either way.
The second big challenge to know what the next big change is going to be, how its going to impact customers, their organisations and be prepared for it. The third is keeping pace with new media and communicating our position more effectively across all media. Brands are no longer what companies tells their customers, it’s what customers tells customers. And to boost this we need to give them proof points. It’s not about telling them what it is, it’s about showing them what it is.
Any big goals this year for the Dell marketing team?
Market and team position are the two anchors on which we’ve built our vision for marketing. One anchor is to action the transformation Dell is going through. We are increasing our footprint on the solution side, adding more capabilities, more people, more IT tools. So it’s important for us to take the lead in communicating this new end-to-end position of Dell. The second anchor is more personal, more internal. To become the best marketing team in terms of people, capabilities, delivering good quality programs as well as a team that is known for having a lot of fun and energy.
How do you keep your team motivated and on target?
We ensure that you’re continuously building skills, whether it’s through training programs or on the job or working with a mentor/coach. I make sure people are spending enough time picking up skills and continuously evaluate where the gaps are. Taking pride in what you do is also important. Marketers have an important responsibility in terms of longer duration sustainability. And I ensure my team members know the importance of their role.
And you have to make sure your job is fun, that you look forward to coming to work. Marketing is a very interdependent job. So we often come together to ideate and solve challenges. It’s an opportunity to learn from each other and channelise the team’s efforts.
What is your favourite part of your job?
It is to really interact with customers, understand what the weak points are, and the best moment is when the problem is solved. I make it a point to meet customers as often as I can, whether it’s through social media, speaking forums, and other engagements. The second favourite part is that I have the best team that I could ever have, of highly motivated and highly skilled people. A team that really comes together when it matters. They really motivate me.
Do you see the role of the CMO changing in the near future?
The change is already happening. New age media is constantly impacting the market and gives more insight than we’ve had before. Marketing heads are participating in technology decisions unlike before. And because you have access to insights and customer behaviour, the business expects you to provide a heads up if a course correction is needed. And more importantly, customers are expecting the change. We have a very active customer base on social media, telling us what we need to do, where they need help, what works for them, what doesn’t. That’s a massive amount of information one needs to consume. The CMO today is also part chief business officer, part CTO and part CIO.
What do you do in your down time that provides a good work-life balance?
I have varied interests apart from work. One thing I connect with very deeply with is social work. I participate in it as frequently as I can; my entire family, including my daughter is keen to give back to society.
I’m also a big sports fan, be it football, cricket, tennis, basketball. I follow all American sports. And I really enjoy reading on all topics. The last one that gave me food for thought was Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis. Peter is one of my favourite speakers and the book reiterates my belief that the future is always bright!
Last, but not least, I’m a man of languages, I speak, read and write five international languages, some of which I’ve taught myself. They give me an opportunity to learn about other cultures, their art, what’s happening in their country. Helps me have a broader perspective on things.
Any big news coming out of Dell this year?
Dell is going through an interesting transformation. We are becoming an end-to-end solution brand. There are very few companies left in the technology space that can boast of devices for data centre strategy. And CIOs don’t want the nightmare of dealing with multiple vendors. From that perspective Dell is set to win with its integrated strategy, with an entire portfolio for customers to choose from. It’s important for us to help customers make the right choices. And marketing itself is at the cusp of a big, big change. There’s customer transformation, company transformation, marketing transformation… The future is really bright. Be bold, the future is yours for the taking!