#536: Incremental data-driven transformation in the enterprise with Tommi Marsans, Verizon Business

We are here at PegaWorld iNspire at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada we’ve been seeing some amazing things, including how AI can transform the enterprise and we’ve been hands-on at the Innovation Hub.

Digital transformation is often seen as an overwhelming challenge, and stats certainly confirm this. Understanding how to implement change gradually can be key. Returning to the show today is Tommi Marsans, Associate Director of Marketing Technology Strategy at Verizon Business, who will share insights into making big changes one step at a time within a large enterprise setting.


Tommi has over three decades of marketing technology experience, with a focus on enabling marketing through alignment of technology and strategy.

She is highly skilled in effectively collaborating across the organization to drive transformation and innovation by leveraging marketing technology to drive marketing and sales business strategies.

She is currently the lead for Pega decisioning for Verizon Business Group and has developed a dynamic customer responsive solution called Compass for customer retention and My Solutions for customer growth across digital, sales, and retail channels. She has won several awards for innovative uses of technology including Best in Class and B2B Customer Loyalty awards from The Loyalty 360 group, a SAMMY for User Experience Optimization in 2022 and 2023, and finally the PegaWorld iNspire Impact award. In addition, she has been asked to speak several times to the marketing industry on subjects as diverse as leveraging Big Data to ethical use of AI &ML.

Previously Tommi has held executive roles as a VP of Marketing at a regional marketing company and Executive Director of Marketing Operations at Sallie Mae.

She is also founder of the Force Multiplier Foundation, a charity dedicated to bringing help to those in need. Recently Tommi was selected to be a Crew Captain for the Pre-Leader Academy at Verizon to develop emerging leaders across the organization.

She is also an avid fan of Sci-Fi (Marvel and Star Wars primarily) and has a vast collection of movie memorabilia.


Verizon Business website: https://www.verizon.com/business/

Pega website: https://www.pega.com

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Note: this was generated by AI and only lightly edited.

Greg Kihlström:
We are here at PegaWorld Inspire at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and we’ve been seeing some amazing things, hearing some amazing things, including how AI can transform the enterprise. And I know I’ve gotten the chance to be hands-on at the Innovation Hub as well, so we’ll talk about a few things related to that too. Digital transformation is often seen as an overwhelming challenge, and stats certainly confirm not only this, but also that starting a transformation does not always mean it will end successfully. Understanding how to implement change gradually can be key and more effectively using data to drive decisions can help as well. Returning to the show today is Tommi Marsans, Associate Director of Marketing Technology Strategy at Verizon Business, who is going to share some insights here and talk through a bunch of topics here. So first, Tommy, welcome back to the show. Thank you so much. Yeah, looking forward to talking about this with you and always great to see you as well. So for those that didn’t catch the last show you were on, do you mind just giving us a little background on yourself and your role at Verizon Business?

Tommi Marsans: Sure, yeah. So about five years ago, I was tagged to develop CDH and decisioning for Verizon Business. We’d been already doing it on the consumer side, and so I was asked to do it on the business side. I launched that in about six months. It didn’t take me too long to launch the first use case. Prior to that, for 30-odd years, I’ve been working in marketing operations, mainly CRM implementations and traditional B2C marketing.

Greg Kihlström: Great, great. So a lot of what we’ve been hearing at PegaWorld is, well, we’ve been hearing a lot. There’s a lot to learn, but there’s a lot around data-driven decision-making and just, you know, the power of that and the power of that done effectively. In your experience, you know, what This kind of takes a mindset shift, right? There’s a lot of people that may not be the first way of thinking that they come to. How have you found, you know, how do you transition to this way of thinking more data-driven?

Tommi Marsans: So I think there are two groups that need to kind of shift their paradigm. One is marketers, right? They’ve traditionally had segment-based, time-based, offer-based marketing, right? Send something out, hopefully you get a 1% response rate. This is a very different mindset for them. And to understand the concept, they have to be a little more technical. So the new marketer really has to understand technology, how to leverage it, and how their customers expect to be interacted with. From the technical side, they have to become more marketing savvy. They have to become more business savvy. So, you know, kind of gone are the days of IT and marketing doing two separate things. They really are starting to become one and the same. And, you know, lucky for me, that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of my career. But that’s really what the new marketer and the new developer have to look like.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, data is kind of the glue, so to speak, between marketing and IT then. I mean, how do teams work? So, you know, one is, like, the individual’s mindset of, like, being more data-driven and relying less on anecdotal and we did that last year and it seemed to work or whatever. But the other part is, like, how do teams work together in this data-driven environment?

Tommi Marsans: That’s the key, they have to work together, so it’s a collaboration. You’re never going to get a marketer who completely understands all of the technology, and you’re not going to get a technologist who completely understands all of the marketing. Marketing is really complex, products, offers. competitive advantage, macro and micro economics. There’s just so much going into marketing. And then technology is very specialized. So they really do have to come together and have a conversation. And it’s a little push and pull, right? Traditionally, it’s been more at odds, and one will win or the other will win. Now it really has to be a collaboration or it doesn’t work at all.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. And I think, I mean, to me, collaboration, that seems like a win-win. I mean, again, maybe muscles need to be exercised that hadn’t been used a lot. But have you seen any unexpected side benefits or unexpected benefits from this way of collaborative working?

Tommi Marsans: Absolutely, especially in the digital space. So as digital marketers become more familiar with some of the technologies and the technologists become a little more familiar with the digital space and customer experience, That’s really where it’s come together. I think where there’s more traditional, you know, person-to-person kind of communication, that’s a little harder. But in digital, really, I mean, they start speaking the same language. And the magic that comes from that is IT will bring the art of the possible, and marketing will gobble that up and come up with ideas about how to use it.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, the term breaking down silos, so cliched and yet still true, right? It doesn’t make it inaccurate. Does this help with that? I mean, you know, first of all, you know, collaborating through data and having kind of a common source of truth, what does that do in terms of existing silos?

Tommi Marsans: So I think if you have silos within your organization, you need to break them down now or they’ll be broken down for you. I don’t think there’s a choice. I think that’s where we’re going. And yeah, I think technologies, especially like Pega, that are more of a service and less of a kind of application, these kinds of technologies really demand that collaboration. In itself, this kind of layer cake that Alan talked about demands that technology and users, whether they’re marketers or sales or whatever, really just kind of let go of the reins a little bit and builds the bridge between the two. And so I think there’s gonna be more room for technologies like this that do that bridge because inherently we’ve got spaghetti bowls of data, we’ve got applications on applications, we’ve got traditional marketers that are doing segment marketing, we’ve got database marketers, we’ve got digital marketers. So all of this is, if you don’t coordinate this and you don’t have some sort of centralized hub or some centralized service, or centralized view of the customer, you’re just going to quickly be obsolete.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, well, and then flipping that from the customer view, you know, customers have never cared how organizations are structured, right? So, you know, using a tool like Pega, you know, next best action approaches and things like that, that is, from my perspective, you know, that is truly customer first and customer centric, which seems like it would dictate that there should not be all these siloed channels and teams and stuff. So, like, how does… How does that work in practice from a customer angle? Do you start from internal? Do you start from the customer, like when you’re planning something?

Tommi Marsans: You really have to start from the customer perspective, because you’re absolutely right. Customers no longer, they don’t care. They don’t care whether it’s marketing or the digital team. They don’t care if it’s billing. They don’t care if it’s service. They could really care less if you’re not talking to each other. And even if you have two brands within one company, They kind of don’t care about that either. So you really have to start from the customer perspective. I don’t think I’ve seen a single presentation or had a single conversation while I’ve been here that said anything about your company, it’s always been about your customer. And so, yeah, you really do have to start from where is the customer pain point? Where do they get stuck? Where are there a lot of hands and where’s a lot of time spent? And that’s going to cause friction for the customer. And that’s what you want to relieve. Sometimes your customer will be an internal customer, but really you have to start from their perspective.

Greg Kihlström: So you use the term center out, that’s something definitely those familiar with Pega have heard before, but for those a little bit less familiar, what does that mean to the marketer? How is that different maybe than things that they may be familiar with?

Tommi Marsans: So again, kind of traditional marketing, it’s very product and offer driven, right? We want to identify the people who will buy this thing. And that’s not where we are anymore. Customers absolutely expect a very, I love the word bespoke, a very bespoke experience. Whether it’s a human or whether it’s digital, they very much expect you to understand them, see them, and anticipate their need now. So that sort of central out approach is I think it’s spending a day in the customer’s shoes. And at the end of the day, we’re all customers of something. So we do have some reference point for that. But it used to be we kind of left that at the door, and we were trying to I used to call it, I think I’ve used it before, you want to buy a watch? You have something that you’re trying to fit into the market instead of letting the market dictate. The outcome of that is that the market is going to dictate what products work, what offers work. You no longer have control of that. And I think that’s going to be a seismic shift. It’s already happened. But I think as it bleeds into, well, what’s the next best product? for a company, that’s going to be transformational, I think.

Greg Kihlström: And so to get there, you know, it’s certainly even in smaller companies, but certainly in the enterprise, this doesn’t happen all at once, right? So how do you look at, you mentioned a six-month initiative, you know, how do you look at Guess time to value or you know, I don’t I don’t know what the the there may be a million different KPIs But you know, how do you look at starting and getting incremental value?

Tommi Marsans: I think you start with, again, you start with where there’s a lot of people involved, where there’s a lot of level of effort or a lot of time involved. And then the easiest way to quantify that is to say, okay, how much time can we save and what’s the labor cost for that? And then you can layer in opportunity costs. What else could we be doing with our time? What else could the customer be doing with their time? If the customer were delighted with that conversation, what else would they do? So those are kind of things that you can measure and I mean, ideally, what you’re after is a happy customer that’s going to interact and buy more, right?

Greg Kihlström: Yeah. Well, and it would seem there’s learnings as well, right? I mean, part of this also is the feedback loop, right? And I think that’s what gets lost a lot. Again, even in very sophisticated organizations, there’s such a drive to just move forward and keep doing stuff to move towards some strategic goal. So, you know, how do you look at that feedback loop to determine not only, you know, what to do next, but, you know, when something’s kind of ready to, you know, ready to stop, you know, continuous improvement or something like that?

Tommi Marsans: So 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a marketing operations team, right? About 15 years ago, you started seeing sort of marketing operations start to pop up because technology started to become more available around CRM and around digital. I think now you’re going to see a lot of organizations stand up CX teams so that they’re really focused on the customer experience and not necessarily tied to a revenue goal. That their goal will really be customer sentiment. That’s very hard to measure and I think AI tools, Peg is one of them, can begin to get underneath the covers a little bit and understand that customer sentiment because it is very elusive, which is why we haven’t used it before, right? It’s just hard to get to. You can’t get them to answer customer satisfaction surveys, or like 5% of them will do that, right? And only if they’re mad.

Greg Kihlström: So, you know, you mentioned AI and it’s, we have to mention AI in every show. I think it’s the rules these days. So, you know, there’s a lot of flavors of AI. So, you know, many familiar with tools like Peg are would be familiar with things like predictive and other things like that. But, you know, certainly generative AI is getting lot of attention not only you know the last couple days here at this conference, but a lot of a lot of attention in general What’s your thoughts on you know? There’s there’s a lot of talk also about generative in creation of text-based, image-based, all of that. But a lot of what I’ve seen here is some really interesting things as far as generative applied to process and process improvements and things. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for generative?

Tommi Marsans: So they talked a little bit about this in the keynote, Don talked a little bit about this, that AI was very, generative AI initially was just very good at mimicking, very good at mimicking human behavior and human speech. We’ve gotten to a place where The internet’s exploded with all of this information. We can’t even process it all, right? It’s changed who we are fundamentally as humans and how we deal with the world and interact with each other because of that onslaught of information. Leveraging that, using AI to leverage that in a way that can transform things that humans can’t do because It’s impossible for us to process that amount of information. What I think that begins to look like is augmented living. So it’s not just marketing. It’s not just how can I get one more dollar out of a human. It’s augmentation in the way that we interact with the world. So we’ve got social media. I think that begins to break down a little bit as we have sort of generative AI. And I don’t think we’ll ever end up where we’re just avatars, right? Living in a metaverse, right? But I think we’ll have the ability to have the luxury of thinking about things at a much more higher level and seeing things at a world view kind of instead of incremental little things. I could imagine that I’ve got my cell phone, and along the cell phone is, hey, these are the things that could make your life better today. We already have that. We have some apps that are like, take a minute, sit down, or hey, you’ve been sitting down for three hours, stand up. That kind of augmented living, I think, is where we’re going with generative AI, where it becomes very personal for us.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. And so applying that. And at work as well. I mean, it would seem to do the same. I think what you’re talking about, at least from my perspective, is it’s machines doing what machines do best and humans doing what humans do best, right? And when we free up Either, you know, we get to, again, from my perspective, better results. I think there’s also some really interesting things with, you know, we’ve been talking about personalization for years and years, right, as marketers. Generative AI to me get I get really excited about the opportunities there as well is you know tying things like propensity and you know, the predictive stuff to Generative AI now one-to-one really starts to mean it’s it’s not just a pipe dream and stuff. It really becomes reality What are your thoughts there?

Tommi Marsans: I think going back to the example of Blueprint, you can be probably the world’s best expert in something. You put it into Blueprint and it has now gone out and surveyed the entirety of the world’s knowledge to give you something. to start with. And I can’t imagine that there’s any scenario that it wouldn’t look at and say, you didn’t think of this one thing. And one thing that I’ve noticed, and this is particular to Blueprint, it has these little processes. Like you do this, and then that, and then this, and then sort of these little steps. There’s an icon that tells you what happens in that step. And occasionally, there’s a picture of a human. This is a human in the loop. I think a lot of those things could be automated as well. So I think that’s where we’re going is like layers of AI instead of just like one singular.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got a chance to play with the, I posed as a retail bank and it was a credit card scenario. So yeah, I mean, very, very cool. And it also brings up this, you know, when we’re talking about putting the customer first and next best action, you know, I think a lot of what organizations run into when they start First of all, they may be orchestrating journeys in a very organizational, you know, kind of back to the silos and the building things based on org charts, not based on customers. But there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes of even the best orchestrated journey, right? So I think something like Blueprint, which really It gives you that literal blueprint of here’s the processes, here’s each step, and they even have API. There’s all kinds of stuff for those listening that haven’t gotten a chance to look at it yet. But I think where a lot of organizations get stuck, at least in my experience working with them, is when they start building these journeys and start thinking about what could a next best action approach take. it’s one thing to look at it from the customer journey, it’s a whole other thing to think about, well, how do we actually orchestrate this internally, right? So, kind of back to this incremental approach, you know, is it an incremental, like, build on, you know, you build one piece at a time and build, how do you think about, like, that end North Star goal that an organization could have? Is it just kind of built one block at a time, or, you know?

Tommi Marsans: I think it has to be iterative. I think it has to be iterative. I think you have to start with an MVP and then, you know, I think you can have a kind of a goal. It’s not a North Star because that’s too limiting. I think you kind of have an outcome that you want to get to, maybe it’s a credo, right? And then you work your way towards that. I kind of think of it as Marvel’s multiverse, right? Customers don’t all start in the same place, and you’ve got to pull them and nudge them. And then they wander, and then you’ve got to pull them and nudge them. And that, I think, is what the customer journey starts to look like.

Greg Kihlström: Great. Well, one last question before we wrap up here. It’s been a pretty amazing couple of days here. What’s a highlight for you from the conference?

Tommi Marsans: I would want to say that it has something to do with AI, but it really was the Black Pumas concert. That and the networking opportunities, really. Getting to have these kinds of conversations. So I appreciate it.