Some Chief Executive Officers consider getting involved in marketing strategy to be beneath their pay grade. That’s a big mistake, according to Rashid Skaf, the CEO of AMX LLC, the Richardson, Texas-based audiovisual tech giant.
To Skaf, marketing strategy demands a CEO’s attention and participation because it is, in essence, “a time-specific plan to deliver on a company’s mission.” A company’s marketing strategy brackets a successful product and services development program: On the front end, the marketing strategy identifies key market trends and customer needs that are critical inputs to the product development process.
On the back end, that strategy defines the plan to effectively communicate the company’s story and value proposition, framed in the language of its customers.
“Failure or poor execution in any part of this can seriously jeopardize the company’s success,” Skaf says. “That’s why it’s essential for the CEO to be very involved, and I certainly have been so myself.”
AMX specializes in hardware and software that automate the audiovisual experience of conference rooms, homes, classrooms, network operation/command centers, hotels, entertainment venues and broadcast facilities. A subsidiary of Harman International Industries, Inc. since June 2014, AMX serves the business, education and government markets.
Skaf was promoted to CEO in 2005, after serving as AMX’sPresident and Chief Operating Officer for four years. Immediately, he set out to shake things up: first, by better assessing the outcomes AMX customers were seeking, and then, by aligning the company’s marketing strategy to deliver them. To that end, AMX has discarded 60 percent of the 1,300 or so products in its catalogue over the last several years and went on an acquisition spree to buy up other enterprises in its space that dramatically increased both its size and its capabilities.
“It’s about anticipating and aligning ourselves to marketplace trends, not getting buried by them,” Skaf says. “Eighty percent of our revenue last year came from products that didn’t exist three years prior. That gives you an idea of how far we look ahead. Those products came out of strategies from seven years before. That’s how we stay on top of the wave and not under it.”
In 2007, the Metroplex Technology Business Council, the leading technology organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, named Skaf its “Corporate CEO of the Year” for his outstanding leadership in the technology and communications industry. Since the fourth quarter of 2006, Skaf has led the acquisitions of eight industry-leading companies.
Skaf is the first to admit that acquisitions are “big, risky commitments of time, money and attention.” However, it sometimes makes more sense for a company to acquire an existing business, rather than build one from the ground up, when it is a question of faster time-to-market, access to unique technology, or strong market position or brand equity, he says.
Failure or poor execution in any part of this can SERIOUSLY jeopardize the company’s success.
“Any acquisition has to be measured against developing the same product and market position organically,” he says. Skaf admits he has purchased a couple of companies in the network media space where he didn’t expect to see real growth immediately but rather served as a foundation for the future.
To assess where the market is headed, Skaf starts with the drivers of his business: For all AMX markets, that revolves around the ways people will communicate, collaborate, educate and entertain five years from now.
“We are looking to understand how to provide the perfect experience for each market,” he says. “We play in a lot of different verticals, and each one will have different questions and answers—what is the perfect business meeting, the perfect classroom, the perfect government facility. Those represent our three major verticals.”
Traditionally, AMX had sold to integrators—intermediaries who would take the AMX technology, package it up with other products and then sell the packages to the end users. The integrators controlled the information on what the end users needed and why. To get the market insights on the outcomes customers were seeking, Skaf realized that AMX needed to talk directly to the end user.
While the company uses social media to collect feedback on current problems and products, AMX collects the bulk of its intelligence through roundtables with end users from its principal vertical markets, talking to them about what keeps them up at night. It conducts similar sessions with partners who help bring AMX products to market and the technology consultant community.
Skaf’s own experience has made it easier for him to lead AMX’s transformation, giving him the credibility he needs to gain support for his changes. He was once, as he puts it, “a bag-carrying sales guy,” who also holds 19 patents in his name. Before joining AMX in 2001, he previously lead the broadband wireless market for Nortel Networks Broadband Wireless Access as their VP and GM, which had acquired Broadband Networks, Inc., where he served as Executive Director.
He also held technical and management positions within several divisions of Ericsson, including its Network Systems and Point-to-Multipoint Microwave Communications Network divisions, as well as Ericsson Radio’s NMT and GSM divisions.
To Skaf, success, such as AMX has enjoyed, can only come about when a company’s leadership is able to go above and beyond what people expect or realize they need, and then create marketing strategies to deliver upon those promises.
“The company’s mission is a broad and enduring statement of a company’s commitment to address the fundamental needs of its customers,” Skaf says. “But it is the marketing strategy, a level below, that translates that to the market. That’s why it’s so essential for the CEO to not just be involved but to be at the center of the action.”
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