CMO Of The Week

SAP CMO: Prioritize Digital & Care For Your People

It goes without saying that marketers must change the way they market to meet the challenges of the current moment. What may be a little less clear is how leaders can change the way they manage in this delicate time.

As SAP Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman gets set to kick off our new Brand Innovators Livecast Series on April 1 (Marketing and Management in this New Landscape), we thought we’d ask her a few questions about how she is caring for her team and maintaining her own sanity both as a CMO and a mother. Tillman heads up an organization of about 1,700 people spread across virtually all regions of the world with an especially heavy presence in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.

How are you managing your team differently given the new dynamics brought on by the coronavirus era?

Every Monday morning I begin my week with a letter to my leadership team. I capture my reflections from the previous week, current focus for the upcoming week and a message about how we need to lead and inspire our teams during this period. In addition, I communicate to my entire team of global marketers weekly. Once a week I send a video. This week we hosted a virtual All Hands to share timely information, how we are responding and outline what I need from everyone. Flexibility has taken on an entirely new meaning. Not just the impromptu video calls, brainstorms and collaboration, but SAP’s entire marketing engine. The environment changes daily, so we need to be ready for that and I’ve been so impressed and inspired by my team’s positive responses and attitudes. 

What challenges are you facing and what changes have you noticed as everyone begins working remotely for the foreseeable future?

There’s a certain level of change management involved in transitioning an entire team to remote work. The scale is unprecedented but we’re seeing a coordinated effort towards greater transparency--I think that will carry with us moving forward. We have opened up an amazing tool by Qualtrics called Remote Work Pulse that allows employers to get a read on employee sentiment during this transition so we can continue to best serve them. This platform is available, free of charge, to everyone.

Austin, TX – March 8, 2019: Alicia Tillman, Global CMO, SAP at Brand Innovators SXSW Mega-Trends at Lamberts Restaurant

In terms of your management style, how are you balancing the personal side of what's going on with the need to keep the work part rolling along?

I have two young children who can no longer go to school so I can absolutely empathize with all of the parents playing the roles of employee, parent and teacher all at the same time! It comes back to transparency and communication, so we’ve all been empathetic to the new challenge of balancing households and careers in this new environment, and we are providing the flexibility needed across our teams right now to keep everything running at our best.

I’m glad you mentioned your kids--I meant to ask you what's working and not working well for you as you seek to run SAP's huge marketing department from home?!

My husband has really been my partner in juggling all of these responsibilities, especially when I need an hour to hop on the phone with my team around the world. Having a schedule and sticking to it has really made a difference. That way we can tag-team more effectively and set aside the time we need. I will say, it’s not perfect, and that’s OK. I try and set time to be with the kids and get them started on their work while I juggle my own. It’s a true test of the superpowers I believe we all possess!

Are there any silver linings for teams and working relationships that we may be able to take and apply when things return to a more normal state?

I think we’re going to come out of this with a newfound appreciation for each other. We all have families, friends and loved ones that we need to care for in this time of crisis, and I’ve seen so many people step up to offer a helping hand and empathy in various ways. I think our new normal on the other side will be a place where we have a new sense of gratitude for our places of work and our colleagues. I also believe that this period will cause us to think differently about how we communicate with our customers and showcase our value. Not having an in-person event is the norm right now--should this be continued in the future? How do we make digital our primary mechanism for showcasing our value and the power of our brand? These are some of the many questions we are asking ourselves as we look towards setting ourselves up for how success will be defined in a new normal. 

Follow this link to register for our Brand Innovators Livecast with Alicia Tillman taking place Wednesday, April 3, at 2 pm EDT.

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