Today, I interviewed Romi Mahajan, Group Marketing Manager, in Microsoft’s Business and Marketing Office. Many people ask about Microsoft’s “BMO” so I asked Romi about the group, it’s relationship to other marketing organizations at Microsoft and the open positions on his team.
HH: Hi Romi, thanks for taking time to share with my readers. There seems to be a lot if interest in the BMO. But before we get into that, could you start by telling us a little bit about your background (before Microsoft and since joining)?
RM: You bet. I’ve been at Microsoft for almost 5 years, in the BMO the whole time. Before that I ran Bus Development for a now-defunct offshore software company and before that had 2 small consulting firms of my own. Been in tech for only 6 years and before that was in finance and mergers. The last 5 years have been tremendous for me, in terms of my learnings and the incredible people I’ve had the privilege of interacting with and working towards joint goals with.
HH: Inside Microsoft, we have grown accustomed to the acronym BMO (Business and Marketing Office). For readers outside Microsoft, can you explain what the BMO is responsible for?
RM: At its very core, the BMO is a US marketing organization that looks after marketing for our commercial business. Specifically, we take the main strategies around products and solutions that come from our product groups and work through the field and partners to offer value to our customers and audiences. In many ways, our sales field is our customer of first order and our partner base are our customer of second order. The actual “customer” is one step removed from our day to day but is front and center in terms of how we think about marketing and the value messages we attempt to impart.
HH: What about your team specifically? I notice that you have responsibility for IT Audience marketing in the Server Platform group. Can you explain how the focus of your team is different from others in the BMO, even others with responsibility for marketing Server Platforms?
RM: As with most marketing organizations, we have many constituencies and go to market in a few different ways. Many teams in the BMO go to market through “segments.” This means that the folks in those roles think about the propensities and needs of customers of specific sizes. My team looks after an “audience,” specifically the audience of IT Professionals in the U.S., numbering about 8.5M people. Thus, we look after the specific needs and satisfaction of those people whose primary job, whether by title or not, is dealing with the maintenance, linking, and provision of Servers and other computing devices. We therefore, span across segments and products/solutions.
HH: You currently have three positions open: IT Pro Audience Community Manager, Senior Marketing Manager-IT Pro Audience and Senior Marketing Manager-IT Manager Audience. I want to talk about each of these individually, but can you give us insight into why these are open?
RM: Absolutely. In any organization, there is an ebb and flow of talent. As it turns out, 2 of these positions are open because people had been marketing in this team for 4 years and wanted to move on to different challenges. The third is open because a person left Microsoft for a personal move to a small city in Oregon. We’ve used these changes as an opportunity to focus our team on key themes and bets and have a great organization we are building with absolutely top talent.
HH: Let’s talk about the IT Pro Audience Community Manager position first. Sounds pretty cool. The job description talks about a lot of involvement in “communities”. Can you talk a little bit about how you think of “communities” as they relate to the IT Pro Audience?
RM: Thanks for asking because I can’t think of a more important set of formations for the IT Pros than communities. Communities can be anything from online affinity groups to physical user groups that meet in High School gyms. The key here is that for IT Pros, learnings, nourishment, professional development, camaraderie, fresh ideas, and friendships come through these communities. Being an IT Pro is a way of life and communities allow the life aspects to be understood; also communities are often democratic formations that are usable on your own terms. At MS, we respect these communities tremendously and are committed to seeing them flower and grow.
HH: The IT Pro community sounds pretty technical. How technical would someone need to be to work credibly in this community space? You mention that high-tech marketing experience is preferred. How technical will this person need to get?
RM: I am not looking for pure technical acumen. What I am looking for is what I call technical empathy. What this means is someone who can understand the biases, needs, wants, and desires of people whose lives revolve around technology. Often one will find that having a good relationship bent and a great communications style is far more important than deep technical knowledge. I myself do not have a technology background; what I do have is a passion for technology and for the people who have taken it upon themselves to make technology do new and awesome things. I need smart, hungry, committed folks- that’s all.
HH: How much of this role involves establishing new relationships versus leveraging existing relationships?
RM: The role requires both. The team I run has two basic principles by which we live: Deliver more and mutual value through existing relationships and create new relationships. All roles thus have both.
HH: The job description mentioned creating a strategic plan and executing. Sounds like a big job. Can you tell us how other groups and/or team members’ work will cross-over and what kind of opportunities for collaboration exist?
RM: The name of the game here is collaboration. This person will work not only with the entire team that I run but also the broader Server marketing team run by my manager Chris Weber, who is incredibly committed to the IT Pro business. The beauty of Microsoft is the balance of autonomy and collaboration and I believe strongly that collaboration is key to the success of any roles that span across technologies, segments, etc.
HH: Now let’s talk about the Senior Marketing Manager-IT Pro Audience. This sounds like more of a traditional customer/relationship marketing strategy position with a focus on the academic space. Do I have the right?
RM: This role is actually very cool as it concentrates on three core areas of the business. The first area is academia- and absolutely is relationship management and customer focused. Key here is to understand how academia and academic decisions processes work. The second, related, area of focus is on certification. How does one think about the value of an MSCE or MCDBA etc certification in today’s market. The last area is on helping customers realize the value of technology through identifying skills and certification gaps. So you are right to a large degree. This position is exciting because of the increased investments we are making.
HH: How is this role different from an Academic Evangelist role?
RM: The key differences are in the level of technology acumen, the difference between short-term and long-term and the notion of “scale.” What does this mean? First of all, we don’t need to be super technology savvy as evangelists do. Evangelists work to help create 5 year technology directions. We don’t have such long time horizons. Second, evangelists might have 3-5 Universities they work with but our BMO team has responsibility for scaling broadly to larger swaths of academia. So net is we work very closely with evangelists but the jobs are different to some degree.
HH: The job description mentions that breadth marketing experience is important. Can you explain what we mean by “breadth marketing” and also explain whether specific experience in the IT Pro segment and/or academic environment is required. And how technical will this person need to be able to get?
RM: Don’t need the person to be very technical, just a smart person with great drive and marketing acumen. Breadth marketing perhaps is an archaic term so I apologize. What I mean here is that we are not doing 1:1 marketing; our efforts have to scale broadly, thus the term breadth. I would love someone with knowledge of, respect for, and empathy for the world of IT Pros and with some knowledge, data driven and anecdotal on what makes IT Pros “tick.
HH: What is “Rhythm of the Business”?
RM: Sorry for the Microsoftease! Rhythm of the Business refers to the process by which we manage the complexities of the business in a defined time cycle. This for instance would include a monthly review with my business group, a monthly review with my manager, and a monthly business review with the North American Leadership team of Microsoft.
HH: The travel aspect sounds cool. I assume that the person in this role will be able to travel to some college campuses. Can you tell us what a trip might encompass?
RM: Absolutely travel is a key part of making this job work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not live out of suitcase travel every week kinda stuff. It’s solidifying relationships with key universities and meeting professors and decision makers. A typical University visit would look like this: You hang with the MS Academic Developer Evangelist who owns the relationship and meet key faculty, a faculty sponsor, and maybe an administrator or two. You get to know their needs and understand what we offer. It’s just a great way to understand their core needs and see how we can aid them in the process.
HH: OK, now let’s talk about the Senior Marketing Manager-IT Manager Audience position. It looks like this role is focused on higher level IT decision makers, where the other 2 roles were focused on IT staff. Is that right?
RM: Very close. The key here is not that other roles are limited but that this role looks specifically after the high end IT Pros who also are managers. This is a group that is less satisfied with MS currently so want to ensure we work proactively to meet their needs, on their terms.
HH: What’s the “Executive Circle team”?
RM: That’s a team that looks after VERY deep relationships with a small number of key influentials in the business and technology worlds. Executive Circle is a brand name that connotes a deep relationship with a bounded number of top folks.
HH: How do the requirements for this role differ from the other 2 roles?
RM: The requirements here are different in that they require a very deep dive into a specific sub population. The bent here is also equally business and technology since high level IT Pro decision makers are also business decision makers.
HH: OK, now for some more general questions. Tell us about your team culture. How would you describe it?
RM: The team culture is one of mutual respect and open-ness. Each person on the team is absolutely committed to the success of the broader teams and the customers. We are an informal, flat organization in which we all act as peers; good ideas come from everyone.
HH: And your management style?
RM: I believe I have a very empowering style. I confer a great deal of autonomy to the smart people I hire. I have an open door policy and look to partner with folks to create great business and personal outcomes. Overall, I have been rated high in the management area which is not bragging, its just that I believe strongly in the strength of the individuals on the team.
HH: How does your team interact with Product Groups and the Central Marketing Organization?
RM: We interact with the Product Groups fairly minimally; we work with Central Marketing on many core projects to avail of their research, strategy, and large aircover projects.
HH: OK, shameless plug time…don’t be shy. Why would someone want to join your team?
RM: I think it’s my unbelievable charm. Hah. Our team has an incredible fun and ambitious charter- to make life better for 8.5M IT Pros and to help MS in the process too. So the mandate is cool. Second, I believe in having a bunch of fun at work. I love smarts and rigor but also insist that we all have a sense of humor about this all. That is how creativity takes root and I don’t ever want to have a team of awesome execution automatons. Lastly, I am a great believer in personal development, for all of us. Each of us joins a job or follows a path for a variety of personal reasons. I want to ensure that everyone on the team has the ability to find fruition in these goals.
HH: I think I may have witnessed the charm when we met last year. Let it be known that only the charming people get interviewed here ; ) Now, it wouldn’t be my blog without asking you something personal (I have a reputation to uphold). Tell us something about yourself that few people know.
RM: Okay here goes. And I will NEVER live this down I know. When I was in college I had very long hair and a big gold hoop earring. I visited India at that time and at the airport they still have a process in which at security “ladies” and “gents” have separate lines to get frisked etc. Well I went through the “gents” line and the guy saw me with long hair and a big hunk of metal in my ear and insisted I was a lady. Not fun. Have I bared myself enough here???
HH: Hmm, yes, that's brave of you!
Anyone interested in being considered for Romi's team, feel free to send me your resume any time at Heather.Hamilton@microsoft.com