Executive Marketer Series: Suzana Ristevski, CMO at GE
Through a dialogue with some of Australia’s best marketing minds, this series looks at the key marketing trends and insights driving industry today.
We spoke to Suzana Ristevski, Chief Marketing Officer at GE Australia & New Zealand, to get her thoughts on what it takes to prosper in the midst of a digital revolution and how to uncover data on customer needs.
In her role as CMO at GE Australia and New Zealand, Suzana has led growth efforts across a variety of sectors in both the B2B and B2C space. Suzana has also worked in a number of leadership roles at Optus, Medical Benefits Private Health Insurance Fund and 20th Century Fox.
Q. Marketing has undergone a rapid transformation over the last 10 years, particularly in the digital space. What’s been your secret to staying on top in this ever-changing landscape?
A. My advice: be an explorer. In order to better understand what customers need and how digital plays into that, I spend time with GE folk, customers and groups of people who have nothing to do with GE.
I’ve had ‘reverse mentors’ in the past where I have had lessons in how to set up social profiles and sat with the team running our digital analytics. I have navigated through websites and lived the user experience, talked to customers and, more recently, I have broadened my views by talking with diverse groups of people who have nothing to do with GE. They look at things differently, and it can trigger different answers to the questions you face.
Q. You’ve recently taken up a new role within GE. What’s your mandate?
A. The focus of the role is to find new pockets of growth. It’s as simple as that – help grow the business. It’s my job to translate the trends and insights from outside the company and then relate them to the inside. It’s about solving customer problems because those who can best solve customer problems are best able to grow.
First, we have to uncover customer problems and then we have to think about GE’s strategic capabilities in delivering those solutions. It’s my job to be the customer advocate and actually forget about GE. We have to go out and discover what the market is doing, what the market dynamics are and what the trends are. I have to focus on what the customer needs and how these needs can be presented in a way that is simple enough for the business to understand. If we can deliver solutions to those problems, we grow.
Q. What are you looking forward to in your role with GE?
A. It’s a role that allows you to fail. I fully expect that we’ll come up with ideas that we may not be able to implement. It’s part of my job to create a culture where putting up ideas and testing them in a low-risk way is practised. Instead of spending millions of dollars on research, product development and sensitivities in various business cases, I want to test some things in the market the way a startup company would – quickly. I’m excited about being in an environment where there is that fail-quick-and-pivot approach that will allow us to see what works and what doesn’t.
Q. Continuous improvement through technological innovation is core to GE’s ongoing success. How do you approach rapidly changing technology in your implementation processes?
A. The advantage of being GE in this respect is that we’re big and we’ve got resources. The disadvantage is that we can become bureaucratic. We have to leverage our scale, but at the same time act more like a startup and make decisions quickly.
We’ve implemented a program here called “Fast Works”, which is about setting up hypotheses and finding a way to quickly test ideas in the market. That could be something as simple as putting up a banner ad offering a discount on a product. I love that about GE – it’s constantly evolving.
Q. GE no doubt has a plethora of data. How do you use that data to go about uncovering customer needs?
A. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for. I think people get very excited about data and gather it without knowing what question they’re answering. I would start off by identifying the question I want answered – for example, what are the customer needs, or what are their pain points? You need to define what you need the data for, otherwise you get overwhelmed with paralysis of analysis.
Q. You’ve been at the C-level for a while now. What do you believe makes a good leader and, more specifically, which traits make a good marketing leader?
A. A good leader is someone who is open to learning, someone who shows humility and someone who is collaborative but knows how to extract accountability from people. A leader needs to understand and bring the best out of diverse teams. Building a diverse team is important because if you hire someone who thinks exactly the same way as you do, you’re not going to get innovation – something that, as far as I’m concerned, is synonymous with marketing in organisations.
In terms of leaders in marketing, at GE we look at four behaviours that depict it quite nicely: you have to be able to instigate, implement, integrate and innovate. You also have to tell the story in a way that everyone jumps on board, not just the marketing team. We have a saying at GE: “Mind share before market share.”
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