B2B marketing with a commercial mindset, with Oliver Pilgerstorfer, CMO at IFS

Oliver Pilgerstorfer, CMO, shares his journey at IFS so far, what changes he’s enacted in terms of brand and demand gen, and more generally, how he’s retained a commercial mindset to drive tangible growth against ambitious objectives. Plus, listen to learn why IFS decided to sponsor the London Cable Car as one of their best branding endeavours yet!

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Full Transcript:

Alex (00:06):

Hello everyone, and thanks for tuning in to another FINITE Podcast episode. Today we’ve got an exciting guest lined up for you, Oliver Pilgerstorfer, who is CMO at IFS. If you don’t know IFS, they are a leading and very fast growing enterprise software company with over 5,000 employees. 


Oliver’s been CMO since 2018, shifting the marketing function at IFS to have a strong commercial focus with clear goals. We’ll be talking about how the business has changed over the last few years, about a recent rebrand project Oliver led IFS through, how brand and demand gen work together and some of the mental shifts marketers should make to think more commercially about marketing. As well as hearing all about IFS, they’ve recently announced a big investment in brand marketing, the sponsorship of the London cable car. I hope you enjoy. 


Before we continue with the episode, I’d like to give a quick shout out to our partner Terminus, the only account based engagement platform built to deliver more pipeline in revenue through multi-channel account based marketing As the only native multichannel marketing platform, Terminus helps you convert target accounts through orchestrated campaigns using personalised advertising, email signatures and chat bots. Visit terminus.com to learn why doing effective at scale means better marketing.


Alex (01:15):

Hello, Oliver, welcome to the FINITE Podcast. Thank you for joining me.


Oliver (01:19):

Thank you for having me.


Alex (01:20):

Looking forward to talking. This is an interesting one. I think an area that we talk a lot about within the FINITE community is balancing marketing with commercial goals, brand, lead gen, brand versus performance. We’ve covered it from so many different angles and I know we’re gonna have a really interesting conversation about it today. Before we do that, I’ll let you introduce yourself, tell us a bit about yourself and your background and experience today.


About Oliver’s background in B2B tech marketing


Oliver (01:42):

Thank you. My name’s Oliver Pilgerstorfer. I’m the CMO, the chief marketing officer at IFS. We are one of the fastest growing, large B2B software companies out there. My background is that I started and I’ve always worked in tech. Initially I started my career in a comms team or function, I worked for an agency, helped scale that business up, which was one of London’s largest agencies when I left. 


And I was fortunate to work for the agency’s biggest client at the time, a company called Research in Motion. Then that then became Blackberry and then following from my career in the agency background, I moved in house and worked for Blackberry for around six years or so in different countries in Singapore and the UK. 


And then I decided to join IFS back in 2014. So I’ve had a couple of roles here, but I currently am chief marketing officer and hugely proud to lead a team of around 150 marketers and around 50 BDRs, business development reps. So 200 in total of a 5,000 person, a billion dollar revenue business.


Alex (02:55):

Wow, very cool. And give us a sense of structure. You don’t need to go into too much detail, it’s a sizeable team, but of the 150 or so marketers, how are things broadly structured?


Oliver (03:06):

We have a hub and spoke model where we’ve got a corporate function, which includes some business units and then field marketers in the region in market units really undertaking, well marrying up what our go to market is in terms of the sales motions and obviously the marketing that needs to fuel that and support those sales motions. And that gets fed back into the demands and the creation requirements for the corporate team who then create content materials through a hub and spoke model that then get implemented locally. 


So it’s around half and half in terms of our structure. I guess one of the big things that’s changing for us at the moment is that we have traditionally been very much focused on an inbound marketing model. And as we grow as a business and we aspire to go and win bigger clients ourselves, it demands that our requirements go more to an outbound model. And so that’s been one of the biggest shifts in the way that we’re changing our marketing moving forward.


Oliver’s experience as CMO at IFS to date


Alex (04:03):

Interesting. And I guess that leads us into the first question, which was going to be in that area around how things have shifted since you became CMO. I know you said you had a couple of roles at IFS before the CMO role, but I believe you took up the CMO role in 2018, and then maybe you can talk a bit about some of the changes that have happened since.


Oliver (04:21):

Yeah, I was fortunate to be appointed at the same time or just after actually our CEO was appointed and took the helm. And yeah, our CEO Darren has brought a lot of enthusiasm, focus and discipline to an organisation at a time where we really had an opportunity to define the business that we wanted to be and grow in an area that we’re starting to see as a dominance in the areas of service management and asset management that we own. 


And I think having that fresh blood of a leader that then could instigate the change that we needed to see as an organisation led to quite a few changes in the marketing organisation too, which was great to have that support and fueled those changes we needed to make. So what were they, I mean, in summary we focused on really what mattered and defined some very clear goals around demand gen, customer retention and brand awareness. 


It’s been a big thing for us. We’ve operated in the market where there are some very big, well known B2B software brands. And clearly if we’re gonna demand the attention and get the checkbooks signed by our prospects and customers, we obviously need to give them the reassurance that they’re choosing to buy the right software for their business. And so we’ve made a big investment into all three of those areas of demand gen, customer retention, also brand awareness and affiliation. 


So, thinking about what the business needs and what the business wanted specifically around our growth ambitions, over that period that’s four years ago or so, and we’ve been growing around 20 to 25% every year. I mean, our business has doubled. You know, if you take 25% and compound it over a three or four year period, you’re well over doubling in size. 


And so clearly you’ve got to always look at the structures you have in place, your operating model, ensuring that you are aligning to a broader growing environment to make sure that you are actually delivering what the business needs. So that’s always been very much at the back of my mind, and it is certainly as we go into 2023, a key driver to ensuring that we’ve got the right structure, the right processes at the right ambition levels with the people that we’ve got as well.


Why IFS got delisted from the stock market


Alex (06:46):

We’re going to touch on this maybe towards the end, but actually it probably makes sense just to reference now in terms of some of the history of the business and delisting from being a publicly traded business to probably equity backed as I understand it, which took place in 2016, which maybe is worth referencing just as a lens to look at all of this through. Cause I guess that’s a big move and sets the scene for a lot of organisational change.


Oliver (07:10):

Yeah, I mean, it feels like many moons ago if I’m honest, but the history of the company is it was originally founded in Sweden in the eighties and has grown well over the years, clearly with a few peaks and troughs around dot com booms and subsequent impact that happened on a macro level. 


The company has grown consistently over the years and, being Swedish, we were listed on the NASDAQ there for many years. And in 2016, a private equity firm called EQT bought the majority shares and de-listed the company, which is an interesting move actually for any organisation. 


You think about the various different elements that you get judged on, but having to do that on a quarterly cadence of updating the market on where you’re at versus being privately owned and being able to grow without the scrutiny and the public attention has actually been a really good thing so that we can focus on what matters. 


And our management team has got a great mantra to really focus on our customers as being the key to our growth and being able to put the customer at the center of your growth journey rather than your quarterly reporting, which actually creates more long term value for the owners. 


And that has been a really key lesson for me. And I think it is good learning for everybody who would be going through a similar scenario of either a de-listing or perhaps even the inverse of a listing to take and to understand the changes and demands that you’d have as part of your marketing contribution to the company’s growth.


Alex (08:46):

Absolutely. Interesting. And so I guess following that delisting, I assume there was changes to organisation and structure and areas of investment, given the nature of a private equity firm taking things over, maybe you can touch on those.


Oliver (09:00):

Yeah, I mean often you would’ve seen there are different types of private equity investors. There are some that look at an asset and divide it up, strip it and sell it for the components there. But there are others who look at, an investment like IFS and see the potential of where the organisation could go. 


We’ve been lucky that EQT and now the subsequent investments from two other large P firms, HG and also TA associates have certainly been based around our long-term growth. And their sustainable investment philosophy has been very helpful for the organisation to truly create that value that they’re looking in terms of return. So their long term investments, ensuring that we have got the right people, that we’ve got the right focus, that we’re going in the right direction has been invaluable. 


And then clearly as investment firms themselves, they are looking for how we can also grow inorganically through acquisition and that can really help accelerate your growth journey and something that many PE firms look at. And certainly they’ve put their money where their mouth is in helping IFS grow along that trajectory to complement our organic growth. 


So yeah, with that in itself, bring it back to a marketing conundrum that in itself offers some complexity when you know you are growing, that rate that I was talking about before, 25% in terms of software revenue growth, it’s a fast pace. You add onto that inorganic, acquisitions of companies who are operating with similar, but certainly some level of difference in terms of models. That can always be a challenge. 


And I think those are the types of things as a marketeer that you obviously want to get your hands on as quickly as possible to make sure that you are well aligned to the business, but equally something that you need as a marketer to ensure that you’re not eroding value, that you are adding value during that type of integration. And that’s something that I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with my colleagues and also those companies that we’ve acquired to make sure that we’re focused on really where we’re creating rather than detracting from the value that we can see from at such an acquisition.


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About IFS’ rebrand


Alex (11:50):

I know you underwent a rebrand process, which I think was unveiled in 2021, if I’m correct, maybe you can tell us a little bit about the process, and I know you were gonna touch on how it was informed by a lot of competitor research, which is an interesting angle on a rebrand project.


Oliver (12:09):

Yeah, so we did a rebrand, as you say, it was now 18 months or so ago. And the main driver behind that was that I mentioned that we’ve got this aspiration to help create demand for our products. We want to help retain our customers, but then equally we want to build our brand, and we recognise that we’ve got a real opportunity to own part of the software market. 


The analysts tell us the feedback from our customers is clear, the product speaks for itself in many respects, that we know that we’ve got such credibility in this area of assets and then also service management. And so we wanted to really evoke that ownership and that identity through how we go to market and how we present ourselves. Now, at the beginning of last year, our R and D team who are the biggest part of the organisation, they’re well over half of the organisation, had spent three years creating our main platform, our IFS cloud product. 


And it just came at a really good time with what was coming to market. We recognised the unique elements of our proposition, and we were right to mark that change, that evolution in terms of doing a rebrand. Now I referenced it being an evolution rather than a revolution. And that was an important thing because when you’re thinking about a rebrand, it can be quite easy to rip stuff up that’s worth quite a lot of value. 


And our reputation in the market speaks for itself. Our name is well known. Interestingly, the colour that we have got as our company colour, purple, was not certainly over the years been something that many companies had gravitated towards. So we stuck out from the reds and the blues in the marketplace, but we knew that it needed a refresh. So yes, we did a rebrand. It was in February 2020. 


I think the point that you were alluding to was around competitive intelligence and understanding where your brand fits within the organisation. And one of the things that I very much enjoyed as part of this process was, you clearly want to define your space both in message, look and feel and how you portray yourselves to the market, but equally one of the things that I was very keen to do was try and understand the type of business that we wanted to look like and which ones we didn’t want to look like. 


Not just in the fickle stuff of color and look and feel, more than just the messaging stuff, but also the value of some of our peers of companies who perhaps have got low PE multiples, so price earning multiples and those companies who have got higher price earning multiples. And when you start looking at the brands that have been created around those organisations who command a higher PE profile than the ones with the lower one, you can start seeing some quite stock differences. 


And so that was very much something that we looked at and figured, well if we want to build a high value business, and something that demonstrates our ambitions, we clearly want to evoke some of those credentials more than those some of our peers which we disliked and that’s represented in their multiple. 


So I guess that was a lesson learned and something that I would very much gravitate towards if I were to do this again. That yes, you’ve gotta get the look and feel unique. Yes, you’ve got to make sure your positioning is crisp, but also there are some very commercial drivers that you can look at when you’re thinking about a rebrand that can have a material impact on your enterprise value, that can hugely justify doing a rebrand that perhaps I think as marketers we haven’t always gone down the route of of investigating. So certainly something that I’d love to speak to any of your listeners about if they ever did want to talk about that. 


How Oliver took a commercial approach to brand marketing 


Alex (16:07):

Yeah, really interesting. And not one I’ve heard before, but definitely a unique approach to competitor intelligence. I mentioned at the beginning we’ve talked a lot about this idea of where do you focus brand versus demand or brand versus performance, and there’s always a versus in the middle and it’s one or the other, which I think most marketers have come to realise is not how things work and the world is not as black and white. 


But maybe we can talk a bit about how you view the two from a commercial perspective. And you’ve obviously got big investments in the brand happening. We’ll come on to talk about one of those shortly, but maybe you can tell us how you focus on the two side by side.


Oliver (16:44):

It was funny, when I first took my role I went to a management meeting. I remember it was in a hotel near Heathrow. And I remember I stood up and I talked about having these two headline goals around brand awareness and demand gen and I remember a few colleagues saying to me, don’t worry about the brand awareness one because if you just focus on the demand gen you’ve gotta do a bit of brand awareness anyway in order to feed the demand gen. So just focus on the one goal and it’d be a lot clearer. 


And actually there’s a lot of validity behind that. In order to create demand, you’re going to obviously have the brand that’s there. And I don’t question that. The reason that we split the goals out very distinctly is that yes there is a pipeline that we want to build through demand gen with net new customers and then also our install base of customers. But then equally our role as marketeers goes a lot broader than that. 


And I think about the brand custodianship that we as marketing have in certainly defining the elements that we want to evoke as our brand DNA. And whilst we are not the custodians of the brand, every employee of ours and every partner of ours and every customer of ours is a custodian of the brand. We’re in a position of responsibility to redefine what that brand does and how it gets seen. 


And you know, as a business like ours when you’re on a growth journey, it’s a key measure to ensuring that your brand is visible and it’s well known, yes for the gen, but equally for all of the other elements that’s so important to that fast growth business, hiring employees, ensuring that you are bringing the right partners into your business, that you are giving prospects the confirmation that they need when they’re signing a new check, that you are telling your existing customers that you are growing as a business and they should have confidence in where you are going for your investors, for your suppliers, for so many different stakeholders that it goes on and on.


Oliver (18:49):

So every month I run a global marketing team catch up. We always start that meeting by talking about the goals that we have for the year and how we’re performing against them. We’ve got very clear elements of the demand gen around ensuring that we’ve got an overall clear pipeline, but then also that marketing is contributing to that pipeline. And we are quite ambitious with what we want to contribute there. 


But then equally in terms of brand awareness, we cut it into three elements of brand awareness so that we can have very tangible numbers and it’s not a subjective conversation. It’s very objective driven with material numbers demonstrating our growth that we ensure that we’re growing in the right way.


Why IFS sponsored the London Cable Car


Alex (19:33):

That leads nicely into the London cable car. Tell us all about it.


Oliver (19:39):

Yeah, that’s something that we launched last month, so just a few weeks old. It’s a very exciting thing for our UK markets and clearly being based in the UK it was an easy thing for us to get our heads around. But the London cable car, which previously was branded as the Emirates Airline, I think they called it. We’ve rebranded as the IFS Cloud cable car.


Why IFS Cloud cable car? Well, for one IFS cloud is our primary proposition that we bring to market that I mentioned before was the instigate behind our rebrand. Secondly, we wanted to call it cable car because it’s a cable car and there’s no point trying to get too complicated behind it. But the rationale behind doing this is really threefold. 


One, it helps put IFS on the map quite literally, we’re on the tube map, which goes into 3,500 stations. It’s very visible on many ingrained societal pieces of communication. You know, whether it’s visit london.com or other websites. It just gets that brand visibility that helps with our awareness. 


Secondly, there are events that happen either side of the cable car crossing, so there’s North Greenwich, which obviously has the O2, but it also has a couple of very large hotels, primarily the Intercontinental, which is where a lot of B2B tech events happen, IDC run events and Forrester run events there. And then on the other side of the river, there’s the Excel, which as most people will know based in the UK, is the largest event venue in in London. 


And there are lots of trade shows that happen there from industry events, our competitors events. And we just love the idea about getting very visible in front of a very focused audience of ours who we know attends different shows that are happening either side of the river. And the challenge with that area is that there aren’t enough hotel rooms on one side of the river to service an event of the size that get run in either side of the river. 


So a component of your attendees have to cross the river every morning and every evening in order to get back to the hotel room or to logistically just get home. And I just love that it’s a simple way for us to get branding to some of our key audiences in a way that’s just different to having a stand at every event or every show. So it just seemed like something fairly different there. 


And then the third reason I loved it was it’s a genuine story. Our customers are the people that run the cable car. So TFL is a customer use our service management software to manage and maintain all of the gates and the technology that sits behind that through a partner of ours. Dopel Mayer, an Austrian manufacturing company, actually produce the cable car and they use our software too. So it just felt authentic and it felt genuine for us to look at that collaboration.


Alex (22:32):

Very cool. And also, it’s just a cool experience as a way of travelling around London if you’re at an event. And it’s way more interesting than getting the tube.


Oliver (22:39):

I remember I went to an Adobe event probably two years ago, and I stayed on the North Greenwich side and was attending the event in Excel. And I remember calling my wife from the cable car and FaceTiming her saying check this out. It beats the M25 as a commute to work.


So, that certainly, I was the genuine user case of what I was just talking about how I needed to get to the show the other side and staying on the North Greenwich side. So, you I knew that was happening on a regular basis. So yeah, it looks really cool. We’re really pleased behind it. The great enthusiasm and response. I mean, clearly we’re gonna measure the hell out of seeing if this is a success or not, but you know, I just look at some of the initial reaction to that going live and it’s been one of the biggest hits that we’ve had on social date and that’s only just a couple of weeks old, which is great to see.


Alex (23:33):

Great. Well you just said the magic word, which is measurement, which is the next question. So I think everybody listening to this will be saying, that makes perfect sense, great business case, but how do you measure the impact? And it sounds like you’ve got a strong plan there, but how do you go about measuring the impact of such a big brand investment?


Oliver (23:52):

Yeah, I mean, we’ve got a few measures. There’s obviously a social piece that I talked about. We are actually doing some elements of measuring the people because we can obviously provide people with rides on the cable car. And in order to do that, we’ve got an opportunity to measure who goes on the cable car and who takes advantage of those that free ride that we’re happy to offer and extend to people at key events that are meaningful for us. 


So we’ll do some correlation there to see if they transpire into actual opportunities and deals. But equally, some of these things you can get very obsessed with doing measurement around. But sometimes you’ve got to take a bit of a gut feel in terms of thinking, is this the right thing to do? So we’ll certainly measure the hell outta it in terms of awareness and then seeing if there’s any demand that comes from it. 


But to date, I feel, especially considering you’ve got to map up what you’re spending versus what you’re getting in return. And you know, I think we paid a fair and a reasonable price for what exposure we’re currently enjoying off the back of it.


How marketers can think more commercially about marketing overall 


Alex (24:50):

So, final question to wrap things up. I know that you advocate for and have a great perspective in terms of thinking commercially. Are there particular mental shifts you think B2B marketers need to make when thinking more commercially about marketing overall?


Oliver (25:05):

I mean, I think we’re all on a bit of a journey in terms of how our organisation is set up in terms of structure and fit. And I think it’s just really important for any marketing leader to really be very clear with themselves, with their peers, with their boss, but most importantly with their team about what good looks like. 


And I think making sure that that definition is agreed upon before you start, you know, doing what’s been done in the past is, is just instrumentally important to deciding whether you are being successful or not. And that has a huge impact on things like team morale, team performance. People come to work, yes they come to work to earn a salary and to get paid. 


But equally, the people in my team come to work because they wanna make a difference. And you need to demonstrate how you’re making a difference and how that’s having an impact, not just in terms of the warm and fuzzy things in what you put into the machine, but also actually what comes out with the other side. 


And I think that there’s a role that each marketing leader needs to play in equating what those things are that actually deliver value to the business. So yes, I think we fall into the trap of always thinking of the same, I want to build a huge pipeline and that’s hugely important, but equally depending on some of the things that we’ve been talking about, the ownership structure, the ambitions of the business, the potential, where you want the organisation to be in 3, 5, 10 years time are important things to get on the table so that you can build around them. So I would really err on giving some advice around ensuring that the commercial goals are very clearly mapped to the marketing goals, just so you can demonstrate value.


Alex (26:51):

Good advice on which to wrap up, we are at time. But that’s been an incredibly insightful and an interesting conversation. So I appreciate you sharing everything so openly. It sounds like you’ve been on a very interesting, exciting journey. It’s probably more to come, so I’m looking forward to seeing where everything goes. But thanks again for sharing.


Oliver (27:07):

Thank you very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure to chat.


FINITE (27:10):

Thanks for listening. Before we go, just one final shout out to our FINITE partner, 93 x the digital marketing agency, working exclusively with ambitious fast growth B2B tech and SaaS companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams to drive growth. 


We’re super busy at FINITE building the best community possible for marketers, working in the B2B tech and SaaS sector to connect, share, learn, and grow. Along with our podcast, we host online events, share curated content, and have an active Slack community with members from around the world, including cities like London, New York, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, Melbourne, and many more. Head to finite.community and apply for a free membership to strengthen your marketing knowledge, build your network, and connect with ambitious B2B tech marketers across the globe.


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