SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Jake Athey, VP Marketing and Customer Experience at Widen

It’s always been important for sales and marketing teams to work in unison to ensure better customer and sales output, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has only heightened this need and proved that teams with the best alignment processes and data will thrive. Jake Athey, VP Marketing and Customer Experience at Widen dives deeper in this chat:


Tell us about your journey through the years at Widen? How was 2020 and working through the pandemic like for the team?

In terms of my career path, I’ve been at the same company since college, which is very rare today! All the way from a marketing intern when I joined in 2004, to the VP of Marketing and Customer Experience, which is a role I started in 2017. For over 15 years, I have been fully committed to Widen’s growth: securing more new customers, and ensuring great customer experiences.

Like most other companies, we entered 2020 with the best laid plans of an integrated marketing program full of live events, multi-channel campaigns, and live community offerings.

But from March, COVID-19 derailed everything — budget cuts, freezes, cancellations, and the whole nine yards.

Our team shifted to virtual work quite well because we were already set up for it. We shifted our marketing plans to a 100% digital-first and virtual marketing experience. We invested heavily in content marketing to help us continue to educate and nurture audiences on the value of DAM and PIM, and we launched a new product in May.

Most would think a pandemic is a bad time to launch a product, but our PIM capabilities coupled with DAM offerings provide a solution marketers rely on most when a distributed workforce needs to continue collaborating, sharing content, and developing digital commerce strategies and channels.

In summary, spring was survival mode for us, summer was completing the pivot, autumn was preparing for 2021 — expecting more uncertainty, but also more growth because we have a technology solution that every product brand absolutely needs to scale digital commerce (DAM+PIM).

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Can you take us through some of Widen’s customer experience tactics and how that has evolved during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic?

Widen has always taken a “customer-centric” approach with its marketing, sales experience, and customer success journey. During 2020, we built on the things our customers already told us they found helpful like Widen User Groups (WUGs) and the Widen Summit, but adapted them for a virtual audience. We also added more webinars and educational support to help admins train more users as teams dispersed and moved to remote working. Examples include:

  • Launching Widen Connect, an online community for customers to connect and learn from each other by participating in an online forum and focused discussion topics.
  • Launching our customer-facing learning management system (LMS) to facilitate e-learning.
  • Focusing on creating more useful content that helps customers and potential customers learn more about the practice of DAM and PIM, including blogs, whitepaper, ebooks, and guides.
  • Recentering our customer experience strategy on helping customers plan for how to realise measurable desired outcomes.
  • Improving the user experience of our software platform and support center based on customer feedback to support increased adoption among changing and growing user bases.

What are some of the biggest trends in customer experience that you feel both B2B and B2C providers have to now open up more to, in 2021 and beyond?

There are three trends I’d like to highlight as being important when it comes to customer experience, and building and keeping customers’ trust:

  • Providing a stand-out online experience. If companies didn’t have a well-thought out website before, this year certainly pushed them to re-evaluate. We’ve seen a lot of companies looking to up their game, which often has them seeking out the help of a digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) solution.
  • Information is key. When all shopping moves online, customers need to have ample information to make purchasing decisions. We’re seeing this need come up a lot more because this information and product data not only drive purchasing decisions but also SEO and personalisation opportunities. The shopping experience is a content experience. Digital content is the product when buying in digital commerce channels.
  • Flexibility. Customers want more flexibility after last year and now that they have it, they’re not giving it up. From flexible flight cancellations to longer return windows, companies will likely need to build this into their cost of doing business going forward.”

Can you share a few thoughts on the biggest flaws you’ve seen teams make when trying to provide online users with a seamless customer experience and a few tips to overcome these common challenges?

Customers don’t want to be surprised when they get to the checkout that the item in their basket is now out of stock. Providing visitors with clear inventory visibility is key in building trust. This can be achieved by ensuring your technology is working together.

  • Targeting ads at customers with products they’ve already bought — here brands need to use hyper personalisation to target customers with content that’s relevant to them and their buyer journey.
  • Personalisation is key for enhancing customer experience — According to Accenture, 75% of customers admit being more likely to buy from a company that:
  • Recognises them by their name,
  • Knows their purchase history, and
  • Recommends products based on their past purchases.
  • ChatBots gone wrong — the aim of a ChatBots is to aid the customer service team by giving 24/7 help to customers in real-time. Brands who set up ChatBots without keeping their customer in mind will end up causing frustration. For example, brands that account for different scenarios for their chatbots based on past consumer behaviour will have more successful bots compared to brands with a basic script and multiple-answer questions that either take customers around in circles or end the conversation abruptly.

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How, according to you, can marketing and sales work more closely to deliver better customer experiences today? Some alignment tips that can help?

I think it’s pivotal for marketing and sales teams to work together. The experience a customer has throughout their journey from discovery to introduction to customer should be consistent. The approach and level of service should be consistent at every touch point in order to build trust and satisfaction. This is only possible when marketing, sales, AND customer service teams are aligned. My tips are:

  • Communicate. Have regular cross functional touch points to ensure alignment.
  • Speak the same language. The terms and sentiment used should be consistent across teams otherwise, it creates confusion and requires — at best — clarifying conversations, and at worst, retraining or additional education.”

Can you talk about some of your most successful outcomes in 2020?

We spent a lot of time in 2020 delving into more ways to help our customers recognise and measure their DAM success with what we’re referring to as “desired customer outcomes.” Most teams struggle to provide data that shows the impact and value of DAM efforts. We’re working to change that.

When it comes to events, by moving our annual customer conference, the Widen Summit, online, we were able to reach our largest audience ever. Without the need to travel, more customers were able to attend. We had 395 attendees, 236 companies in attendance, and nine countries represented. That was truly a success of 2020!

We also carried out a couple of launches. We launched our new customer community site, Widen Connect. Since there’s typically only one DAM admin at each company, it can be hard to find someone to bounce ideas off of. Widen Connect brings our community of admins and super users together to learn, share, and grow.

We also launched Entries, the +PIM capabilities to the Widen Collective® platform that’s immediately able to help marketers structure all product marketing content — product images, videos, manuals, marketing copy, specifications, and pricing, etc. — in one single source of truth that integrates e-commerce syndication and supports omnichannel marketing.

A parting thought on your most memorable moment in tech or biggest goof-up and the learning that came from it!

If I had a redo, I would not have made significant reductions in marketing budget. At times like these, it’s important to recognise when to reinvest in building long-term assets — content, technology, process improvements, and strategy. Cutting marketing budget to preserve expenses is a short-term move with long-term implications that hamper momentum.

Widen is a marketing technology company that powers the content that builds your brand.

Jake Athey is the VP of Marketing and Customer Experience at Widen

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