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Building Human-to-Human Connections with Luca Destefanis, Marketing Director, IBM Service Asia Pacific


Key Takeaways:

  • Customer experiences work best when you bring together a range of different departments and disciplines.
  • In the services business, while having category credibility is important, ultimately businesses are buying into people; chemistry is almost as important as capability.
  • Design products that add value at every interaction. Celebrate your client success.  Be authentic.

Luca Destefanis | Interview

Luca’s career has spanned finance, business consultancy, and marketing. He joined IBM in 1998 as a junior consultant and over the next 22 years held various roles within the organisation, from Executive Assistant to the General Manager, Customer Experience Service Line Manager, to Enterprise Marketing Executive. He is now the Marketing Director for IBM Services, Asia Pacific.

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We caught up with him to discuss the key principles that he’s learned over the years, and to explore how businesses can build genuine human-to-human relationships.

Can you tell me a little bit more about you and your career to date?

I started my career in New York as a young marketing analyst. After a couple of years, I decided to head back to Italy and try my hand at being a business consultant, focusing on the customer experience and how to engage with clients. This went well; so well, in fact, that a few years later, I moved on to build and lead the Customer Experience Practice within IBM.

This is when I really start focusing on helping organisations really build deeper connections with clients. It’s a really fascinating topic, which you can successfully tackle only by integrating multiple disciplines: business strategy, organizational design, behavioral economics, and of course marketing, from branding to demand.  Following this passion, I decided to move into B2B marketing full-time, and I haven’t looked back.

While I consider myself fundamentally a marketer, I’m also very conscious of the fact that lines between disciplines and departments are blurring:  I realised fairly early on that you can only master the customer experience by bringing marketing together with the product team, as well as sales and customer service. Real client centricity requires sponsorship from the senior leadership team, as well as cultural change across the organization.

I’ve been in Asia for almost nine years now (first in Shanghai and now in Singapore), working in a variety of marketing roles. I am known for challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries and driving business impact through bold, innovative initiatives.  In 2019 we launched the “Breakthrough Partnerships” campaign, aiming to showcase our clients’ success, and their enduring partnership with IBM. In the services business, having category credibility is important, but ultimately businesses buy into the people that they will be working side-by-side with over the long term. To that end, we created a series of portraits featuring our clients standing next to our own people: still shootings and videos that had massive online amplification, increasing our organic traffic by 13 times, and leapfrogging every competitor in terms of share of voice. We really went from branding to account-based marketing in full circle.

Tell me about your company?

IBM is the global leader in hybrid cloud platforms, with three pillars: 1) Technology Unity, with a full stack of software and hardware solutions enabling companies to implement a secure hybrid cloud strategy; 2) Global Business Services, our Consulting unit, working together with our clients to accelerate their business transformation;  3) The Managed Infrastructure Services unit, with 90,000 professionals designing, modernising and running the infrastructure of 4,600 technology-intensive, highly regulated clients.  Last October, IBM announced that it will spin-off this unit by the end of the year.  

As a business, we blend experience with innovation. Despite being 110 years old, we’re constantly reinventing our portfolio of solutions. It’s an incredibly exciting place to work. I currently lead marketing for the two Services units in APAC (India, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, South Korea and Greater China).

Can you tell us a bit more about Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?

ABM is a very deliberate, programmatic approach to strengthen long-term relationships with key clients. Ultimately, the goal of ABM is to build relevance, strengthen reputation, and drive revenue growth. You accomplish this by creating opportunities for meaningful engagement with key stakeholders. It’s about building compelling and differentiated client journeys, understanding that decision makers are human beings with emotions, even when making business decisions.

Clients are time-crunched, managing multiple projects and priorities, and bombarded with similar messages from multiple vendors.  

It’s important to start with what I call the three basics: Know-Your-Account (strategy, priorities, challenges, industry context), Know-Your-Clients (decision makers and key influencers, background and aspirations) and Know-Your-Value (how do you and your company can make successful your account and its key stakeholders). Beyond that, I would highlight 3 elements that can differentiate a successful ABM program:

  1. Add value at every interaction  
    Clients are looking for meaningful conversations that can help them to make tough decision. Create opportunities for clients to learn, and to be listened to. For people to come together and co-design solutions that matter. In the digital world, focus on personalization, and redesign experiences aiming to re-create the high touch element we lost due to Covid-19 with the travel and events restrictions.
  2. Celebrate your clients’ success
    Help your clients achieve their most ambitious goals, build their leadership profile, recognise their achievements, make them shine. Your brand will shine along with them. But don’t forget, in the end it’s all about your clients.
  3. Authenticity is key.
    From branding to ABM, make sure your voice is real, as nothing that doesn’t come across as genuine will ever last long.  

That’s why I sometimes get annoyed when I hear about ‘Business-to-Business’ vs. ‘Business-to-Consumer’. The truth is that it should always be Human-to-Human. Only 14% of buyers perceive enough difference between vendors’ business value to be willing to pay extra for that difference, while personal value has twice the effect of business value across a broad range of commercial outcomes.

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