Episode #88: How to View Experience Through an Industry Lens, with Julie Sanford

What does it mean to view your experience selling and experience marketing efforts through an industry lens? How can you redefine the narrative for specific industry verticals? Julie Sanford, GM of the Global Industry Product Group at Microsoft, joins me for a look at Microsoft’s evolution from a product-first company, to an outcome- and value-based company that is customer focused, customer obsessed, and customer first.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
All right, welcome to the CXM Experience. And today we’ve got a special guest, Julie Sanford, who’s the general manager at Microsoft of the global industry product group. And today we’re going to talk about experience as it relates to an industry lens. How do you zero in on an industry. But before we do that we’re gonna do a little reminiscing and a little bit of fun. Julie and I worked together for a very, very long time in the marketing and operations group at Microsoft, US. And welcome, Julie, to the show. Welcome to the show.

Julie Sanford
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Grad
Yeah, well, really, I’m really appreciate you coming on today. I know it’s a busy, busy, busy time. And there’s lots going on, but it’s really great to have you here and I haven’t talked to in a while. So, it’s great to reconnect.

Julie Sanford
Yeah, we’ve got some good reminiscing, I’m glad we’re starting there.

Grad
Yeah. Well, I’m not sure how to structure the reminisce. Kind of structure like, craziest moment. I’ve got one. I know you do. Craziest moment. Saddest moment, most fun moment. What was the bar we used to go to all the time? Where we had all of our mixers and stuff like that?

Julie Sanford
Earls.

Grad
Earls!

Julie Sanford
Conference room E. That was the secret way… conference room E for the wind down of the day.

Grad
I think you know this, but I’m allergic to nuts, right? And one year at Christmas, just before Christmas, I went to Earls. And I got a Caesar salad or whatever. And they brought it out. And I said, hey, I’m allergic to nuts, blah, blah, blah. And then I was eating it. And I was kind of, hmm, interesting. It was a salad. I know it was a salad. Right? And so I asked the waiter to come back and I said what’s on this salad? And he goes, Oh, that’s ground macadamia nuts. Ruined my entire Christmas and New Year’s. I wasn’t right for two weeks.

Okay, so craziest moment. I’ll give you my craziest moment. You give me yours. My craziest moment was we were in one of our regular monthly meetings, our LT meetings. And Allison Watson, who I love very much and was our manager. Allison Watson wanted us to do a chart that showed the progression of the sales funnel through the different stages of the sales process. But she didn’t want the columns to be the same width. She wanted the marketing columns to be extra super skinny, and the sales columns to be extra super wide so that it would show that marketing wasn’t very important, and sales was way more important. And I was like, that doesn’t make any sense to me. Plus, I don’t think I can fit it in that way. And we ended up having… I think I nearly got fired that day. And I didn’t feel like I was being particularly stubborn. I mean, I’m a little stubborn sometimes. But that was like bananas. I hope Allison has calmed down since then. You remember, do you remember the day I’m talking about?

Julie Sanford
I do. And it’s bringing back all of my mid-year review post-traumatic stress syndrome from the mid-year review. How many minutes and hours of my day did I spend trying to short form bullets because we weren’t allowed to have a wrapped bullet.

Grad
Writing bullets. And remember what happened if you leave a period on a bullet?

Julie Sanford
We created people’s careers. We actually had people… that’s what they did. They came in and made sure everything fit on a mid-year review slide. I got a chance to catch up with Allison now that she’s in her retirement and she’s loving it. She golfs and hikes. That’s it. She golfs and hikes and that’s what makes her happy now.

Grad
That’s awesome. I’m so happy for her.

Julie Sanford
Another moment, I remember, I don’t know if you remember this. We had just started working together. I had moved over into the enterprise and industry team and you were running the CMO. And we were asked to present together at the all-hands.

Grad
Yeah?

Julie Sanford
Allison’s all-hands. Remember how they were so dramatic. They were at the movie theaters…

Grad
They were productions. They were like theater productions.

Julie Sanford
And you always loved doing this to me, where we would know what we’re covering. And you’re like, hey, before we start, do you want to know what people are calling us? And I was like, No. And it was actually more PG than I thought, it was gin and juice. Do you remember that? Gin and juice?

Grad
Mom and dad. That was the other one.

Julie Sanford
And then we were presenting away, we were in our flow. And then Allison stands up to start creeping beside us closer and closer. We thought we still had 20 minutes to go and actually we were 20 minutes over our allotted time.

Grad
We were having so much fun though. That was in the movie theater. That was a great presentation, actually.

Julie Sanford
It was really the first part of the Modern Marketing journey that we were on.

Grad
Yeah, the whole transformation started there. I remember when I first started, I was at the very first one of these giant extravaganza M&O meetings. I was coming from Microsoft Research where we presented all the time, but it was very casual. And so Allison was at the front of the room. And I’d started like, the day before or that week or something. And I wander up to her just to chit chat with her like, Hey, how’s it going? I got some questions for you. And she looked at me with like daggers. Like one of those cartoons where the daggers actually come out of the eyes. Because I was obviously disturbing her pre prep. And then at least I was smart enough to… I’m not great at taking hints. But that was enough for me to go sit down. And then I saw why she was a little wound up because there’s a lot to present. Yeah, so saddest moment? You have a sad moment at the M&O?

Julie Sanford
Yeah. When we stopped working together.

Grad
Oh, that’s nice.

Julie Sanford
I was happy for you. And I was sad for us and Microsoft. You don’t get relationships that often in your career where… I thought what was so special was, how different we were and how well that worked. There was no competition, there was just this alignment. And there was this learning mentality. And there was I’ve got your back, you’ve got my back. And let’s fill in for each other on the areas that we don’t really want to do, which was so aligned. There were areas that you were better at than I was, and I was happy to do some of the operational stuff. And I just thought it was one of those really rewarding work relationships that have turned into an amazing friendship.

Grad
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. We were amazing at just getting stuff done. It was great. Yeah. That was an amazing time in my life. I miss it so much. Anyway, so let’s go and talk a little bit about what you’re doing now. So, you’ve been on this job for a while now? A couple years?

Julie Sanford
Just coming up, yeah, two and a half years.

Grad
Wow. Yeah, amazing. So just for everyone listening, tell everyone what it means to be the industry lead for Microsoft. I know you’ve just launched a whole bunch of new industry verticals. Let’s hear about that really quick. And then what I want to talk about is… as you think about experience, experience selling, and experience marketing, and how we think about experience from a customer standpoint, what does it mean when you take an industry lens on that. But let’s start with what you’re doing and what industries you’re thinking about these days.

Julie Sanford
Sure. Yeah. So, this is a fairly, I would say accelerated motion for Microsoft. We’ve been focused on industry for many, many years. But I think what feels different now is really taking a step back and putting the customer first and bringing to market the full portfolio that Microsoft has to offer. I think we have matured from a product-first company into an outcome- and value-based company for our customers.

It was really first starting with the narrative. It was understanding who… we wanted to redefine our relationship with our customers. We wanted to be partnering with them on their biggest digital transformation work. And in order to do that, you have got to be a trusted adviser to them. And in order for us to be a trusted advisor, we really needed to take a step back and make sure we had depth of knowledge within their industries, the challenges that they were trying to solve. And so that was really a big shift from everybody, from engineering all the way through to the frontline sales organization, of how do we pivot from what Microsoft is bringing to market, to shift and understand what the customers are trying to achieve in their core business and how Microsoft can help empower them to do that.

We are in a unique situation where we have just brought to market five industry clouds in the last six months. Three, we just announced a week ago, a cloud for nonprofit, cloud for financial services, cloud for manufacturing. We announced cloud for retail back in January, at the NRF show. And then back in October, we GAd the very first industry cloud which is cloud for healthcare. That was obviously our biggest priority at the time given what was going on in the world.

Grad
You must be tired.

Julie Sanford
You can hear it in my voice?

Grad
When you do one of these clouds, Julie… because I think the key thing in industry marketing, from my observation, correct me if you disagree, but the challenge with industry marketing is that, to do it correctly, you really got to actually have the right terminology. You’ve got to have the right language. I worked in healthcare for a number of years. And I remember going into different health care organizations, they would literally test us in the room, right? They would throw out some acronyms, they would throw out some concepts to see, do you actually get my industry? Do you know what I’m talking about? And if you fail that early test, then it was like they flipped the bit, and you’re dead to me. And that was the end of that, right? And so, you’ve got to actually have that. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, then you have to keep it up. So, as you set up one of these clouds, how do you organize around it to make sure that you’re current to start and stay current on a going basis?

Julie Sanford
Yeah, so the first thing is we’re hiring differently. So, across the system, whether it’s the set of engineers that we’re going to partner with. For my team, from a product marketing perspective, we hire from the industry first. So, for example, the employee that joined us to lead retail came from Amazon. And prior to that she worked across Pepsi, Coca Cola, Westfield shopping centers. Very deep expertise across that vast industry. So the language is what she thinks first. She’ll think retailer first as a marketing discipline, and then we onboard into the technology piece. Same with our sales organization. We have invested as a company into having… doctors are leading the health industry, that’s who’s leading the business.

Grad
Actual doctors?

Julie Sanford
Mm hmm. Yeah. It’s the way that we could be customer-focused, customer-obsessed, customer-first. And then as far as activating the system of Microsoft, the first thing we do is write a north star document that allows everybody to align on what we’re trying to accomplish with our customers. And before we bring that forward, we have an industry leader program that has a cohort of customers, within each specific industry. And that gives us the opportunity to work on that together with the customer. And they’re giving us input into that document to help guide and steer. We connect them with engineering so as we’re doing our milestones and roadmap, our customers are right there with us. We have early adopter programs, so we bring them into the process as we’re developing and going to market across private previews, public previews, before anything ever sees the light of day.

So, we’re really, really focused to make sure not only is the language… that there’s got to be product truth. I think, for us, in the past, we had been doing some great slideware and messaging and marketing. And I think, for us it was, we have to bring integrated solutions to market that are solving their high-value business processes, that are specific challenges for their industry.

And then of course, Microsoft has this amazing partner ecosystem. And so it’s bringing the partner ecosystem along with us to help extend the platforms into… that’ll allow us to verticalize. Because Microsoft would never be able to solve every single challenge and every single industry and sub vertical. That’s why our partner ecosystem is so important. And, you’ll remember from working with our partner ecosystem, they’ve always led from an industry perspective and solving business problems. That’s how they have developed and defined their business. So, they’ve really helped accelerate us in that perspective as well.

Grad
That’s very cool. I love the fact that you’re switching to value and outcomes, which is actually a very common theme right now in SAS. It’s amazing to see Microsoft do that because Microsoft historically was so product focused. So that must be exhilarating to watch. I can only imagine what that must be like. It’s awesome. How do you think about it from the standpoint of experience? Are you mapping experience flows or thinking about experience outcomes right now as you go through that? Or is that still one step further that you’ve not really gotten to yet?

Julie Sanford
I would say we’re not gotten there yet. The biggest thing for us because of our industry offerings for the first time, are crossing our product boundaries. And so when we were thinking experience for our customers, we’ve been very focused on what does the actual proof of concept feel like for a customer? And can they get up and running faster? So instead of shipping the Lego blocks, the customers are actually being able to get up and running on those high-value processes in a proof of concept perspective. And that was a phenomenal amount of work across all the engineering teams. Because for the first time we had to look at consistencies across Azure business apps, and our M365 portfolio.

And then the second area for us, as silly as it sounds, is selling the high-value. Getting the customers engaged. And then it’s like, okay, now I want to go to a full deployment, and turn this into production. Again, that was work that we wanted to really put the customer first and say, what does that deployment process look like? Because we are going across multiple areas of our business. And so our customer experience was… we’re at the beginnings of that to make sure it’s an amazing opportunity.

And then I would say we work with our partners over in our global demand center on  customer journeys, or customer experience, or customer mapping. How does that change? Because we made the assumption that it was just BDM-led. Like we had to solve for the business decision maker, which meant the content had to be in a different consumable vehicle. It’s more video, it’s less white papers, it’s not as many heavy case studies. And so we were solving for that persona. But then what data was telling us is, particularly in industries like… we saw it in health, we’ve seen it in retail, and we’re seeing it manufacturing for sure. It’s a mix. It’s not just the line of business. IT is right there. There’s the technical aspect to the industry sale. So, I think that’s what we’re going, how do we do that well? How do we do both?

Grad
Do you still do broken flows? Remember that broken flow analysis stuff we used to do to piss everybody off? But it was super helpful.

Julie Sanford
It’s so powerful. It is. It’s funny, because we just pulled one out the other day/ I was like, let’s do the broken flow on what the customer experience looks like moving from first-party to our partner ecosystem. What does that feel like? How do you do that in a really great way for the customer? It’s the most powerful tool I think I’ve ever had, because it takes the emotion out of it, right? Because you’re not criticizing any one area of the business. It’s just if we anchor on the customer, and we give you what that customer experience looks like and feels like. And you can see where it’s “broken” with the big red…

Grad
It is what it is. I don’t know if this is always true, but it was frequently true that the flow would tend to break between a marketing page and an engineering page, right? A marketing set of pages leading to, say, a sign in or something like that. And often that marketing to engineering handoff was executed through API’s and people not talking to each other. And it ended up being somewhat broken from a customer experience standpoint, because it just never got fully coordinated. The look and feel would completely change. I remember, in Dynamics, there was this weird thing where you’d be going through the Dynamic signup flow to do a demo. And then it would sign you into Office 365. Just randomly out of the blue an Office 365 page popped up. It was just like, what is happening? And I worked at the company and I couldn’t understand it. I could only imagine what was happening to customers.

Julie, this has been amazing. I really appreciate your time. I know how valuable it is. And I really want to thank you for being on today. I do have one question for you. And I just…

Julie Sanford
You’re going to put me on the spot.

Grad
So gin and juice, gin and juice. Which one of us was gin and which one of us was juice?

Julie Sanford
You’re gin for Grad, and I was juice for Julie.

Grad
Oh, okay. G and J. Okay. That’s cool. Yeah, that’s cool.

Julie Sanford
Yeah, I was jealous. Gin is better than juice.

Grad
Well, thank you so much.

Julie Sanford
Thanks for having me. It was so good to catch up.

Grad
I love what you’re doing. It’s very exciting. And I love what’s happening at Microsoft and watching the company succeed. The way it is, is just unbelievably rewarding. I was there for a lot of years when it was like walking through the desert. And it’s really cool to see the company finally get to the promised land. It was kind of too bad I couldn’t be there for the full journey. But not everyone makes it into the valley. Right? It’s really amazing to watch.

Grad
All right. Well, thank you, Julie. I’m gonna say goodbye to you and to everybody else today. This is the CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr, and I’ll talk to you next time.