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Mark Say, Group head of CRM and data, Volkswagen Group

Path to power

 

On leaving the Army in 1990, I had lunch with an old university friend who was in advertising at Ogilvy & Mather. He gave me two pieces of advice: “get some sales experience and don’t go into advertising…look at direct marketing, it’s the new ‘thing’!” I did a year with American Express selling financial services and then moved into various junior direct marketing roles with Yellow Pages, Freemans and Hyundai Cars UK. At Hyundai, I hired a CRM consultancy - QCi Assessment - to do an audit. I liked them and they seemed to like me, so I spent a happy 14 years as a self-employed associate of QCi and its latter manifestation as The Customer Framework. I gained massive experience across many sectors in both B2B and B2C in all parts of the world. In 2012, I got a call from one of my network saying that ŠKODA UK (part of Volkswagen Group UK) needed a CRM manager to cover a maternity leave for three months. Three turned into six turned into twelve and I was approached by one of the directors who asked me to turn gamekeeper. I have now been at VWG for 5.5 years and am leading the drive to use data across the group.

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

At Hyundai, we worked with a couple of agencies to create a ground-breaking customer retention programme. It used data to drive sales and customer loyalty proactively and achieved some fantastic results. The programme won many awards, but the highlight was winning the overall Gold Award at the DMA in 1999. It was entirely unexpected and the party has become legendary!

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Understand what it is that gets you excited about your job (and out of bed on a cold, wet, dark morning) and then pursue it. If you find something you don’t understand, then teach it - you will soon become expert!

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

In many ways, 2018 turned out as predicted. However, the sudden pre-eminence of artificial intelligence/robotics, especially in the customer service side of the overall customer experience, has surprised me. Suddenly, very real promises that excite both an accountant and a marketer (cost-savings and delivering a better customer experience) are at hand.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

One of further growth and development. Data will continue to be a C-suite conversation, but we cannot just promise insightful analysis - we have to prove the business benefit. We have to become better at PR-ing our own efforts - we need to package the case studies and ensure that people really understand the value that can, or better still has been delivered.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

Due to punitive headcount restrictions, my belief is that we have to grow and retain our best people. To enable someone to acquire the knowledge, experience and bandwidth to start to become expert in their job, we as managers need to inspire, challenge, support and guide our good people. If I can then supplement them with external expertise/horse-power, then they will grow even more.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

Tangible returns delivered through better use of AI and better use of data and technology. When the business recognises the value that great quality customer data can bring to the business and not just an extra cost burden, then data and analytics will become much more mainstream.

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