The Role of a CMO has evolved over the years from being a unidimensional process to a multidimensional scalable area of business. Sharon Shahzad thinks that CMOs nowadays have to think like CEOs, as the modern CMO’s scope has expanded to all corners of the business. Sharon Shahzad strongly believes, “To be a successful CMO, you need to have a vision, have the courage of a lion, to start something new in a new market, new product, service and sometimes in a new industry category, whilst leading the company and giving it direction through robust go-to market strategies and testing and learning along the way.” Often businesses look to CMOs, and marketing leads for answers; the modern CMO is meant to have all the answers; it’s the one source for business problem-solving. Today’s CMO has to think about the here, now, and the future, pre-empt failures and de-risking the marketing initiatives, as well as taking well-calculated risks. CMOs have a hand in raising investment for start-ups and position businesses for long time growth. At the heart of any CMO is the customer experience, the user experience, the value-added, brand credibility, and data; without these elements, the CMO can be lost. A CMO is solely held accountable for the budget, therefore needs to spend wisely and identify key areas where to spend the money. The role of the CMO touches all parts of the business, including UX, UI, operations, tech, finance, customer support, and sales, although in some start-ups, marketing departments are now the new sales departments as the shift in marketing from brand building, generating interest, warming up leads, has now moved to generating market interest, educating on product/service, converting and bringing in the sales. The tougher part is identifying the areas to spend the money on and doing it effectively by following the plans. Sharon has scaled her way to becoming a trusted and work-oriented marketer in a male-dominated field. She takes on challenges on the go, which make her resistant to roadblocks and failures. She believes that the sense of business acumen is unique to all, and most of the time, business is all about common sense and encourages creative work and gauges for new ways of doing things.
In her early days, she worked for various businesses where she felt she had very little to offer by sitting in a small department for a collectively large workforce. Sharon always knew she had a lot more to offer than what she was doing. Her quest for perfection ultimately led her to Beelivery, where she is the Chief Marketing Officer using her valuable 17 years of marketing experience. Her journey is inspiring and motivating, and the cherry on top is that she is not done yet. The major principles she lives by are curiosity and an incredible work ethic.
Let’s learn more about her insightful areas of expertise, her origins, and the places she wishes to touch:
Versatile, highly adaptive, an all-rounder marketer – the beginnings
Sharon started just graduating in graphic communications, sending out invites to get a job. Because of her work experience in her final year, she had really strong skills in marketing, but her work experience was actually as a graphic designer because that’s what she was hoping to do. She was also looking for a career of possibilities in marketing because she had a strong skill set in that area, and she naturally had an entrepreneurial mindset. She was quite pleasantly surprised with the kind of reference she had got from her boss when she did her work experience as a graphic designer in the final year of her degree. To her surprise, she was told that she had some very creative ideas and knew how to reach out to people with her creative ideas, including graphics and the suggestions she made for some campaigns; she once sat in a client meeting in which she was supposed to only listen and take notes on. Sharon took this feedback on board and started to apply for jobs in marketing whilst she was still working through her final year. Sharon landed a job in London months before she graduated and was one of the first students in her year to secure a job; she then led some inspirational talks at her university, guiding fellow students on how she did it. Sharon started her marketing career working as a marketing assistant for Nexus. She shares, “I was fresh out of Uni and had a lot to learn; in my first year, I was very successful in my role. I was promoted to Marketing Executive just six months into my role, I sold many magazine subscriptions through direct marketing campaigns and telemarketing campaigns, and I also helped revamp the style of the magazine from the front cover to the editorial layouts. Back in the day, Google was still a new kid on the block, and it had not become the norm for searching; businesses heavily relied on the good old Yellow Pages or Thomson Directory and buying databases to generate leads. I built vast databases on these methods. I helped train up another assistant, and I then took over the event marketing as the other arm of the business was arranging conferences and seminars for the private health investor community. With the same direct marketing campaigns, I targeted private health business owners and financiers. I got bookings via fax machine (yes, there were such machines called Fax). I helped build out marketing; at the time, I wouldn’t say strategies because my role was not strategic, but I built successful campaigns, databases, and generated revenue for the business.”
Sharon then moved on to Polaris, based in Canary Wharf, which was an IT Software financial services business. Polaris was a tech giant in providing software solutions for front, mid and back-end offices to banks and financial institutions. The role was quite interesting for Sharon, where she landed as a marketing executive in the business and ended up being a PA to seven business development managers. Her role there was to build out lists of IT directors, CTOs, and CIOs from banks like Credit Suisse, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, and other financial institutions. Sharon also built an MS Access database to manage several databases she was managing for the BDMs she was assisting. Her role was to target lists, send emails, generate leads, conduct discovery calls, and then book meetings with the BDM to go pitch the relevant solutions to the bank.
Sharon then jumped onto another subscription-based business, which was Informa PLC, a global media publication company based in Oxford Street, London, where she managed a portfolio of five legal publications. Her role was to send direct marketing campaigns to generate leads for the telemarketing team. Sharon was not engaged or felt challenged by this role as she knew she had a lot more to offer on the table.
Sharon Shahzad then landed her first Marketing Manager role with a tech start-up firm called FastMarkets based in Liverpool Street. FastMarkets was an online data vendor that provided live prices from exchanges around the world, including LME, DGCX, COMEX, NYMEX, SHFE, etc. FastMarkets had several sites that provided live prices and up-to-the-minute news for Non-ferrous and precious metals. Sharon was in charge of generating leads by getting people to sign up for 7-day free trials, which will then be passed on to the sales team to convert. Sharon had zero budget for marketing but had a mammoth task of growing the subscription base; she thought on her feet and came up with some strategies for expanding the brand’s reach by conducting some contra-deals with metal specialist publications and event companies as she leveraged off the exclusive access her news team had to the LME trading floor. This worked for her zero- marketing budget but with maximum impact, as she struck free media partnership deals and advertorial deals in industry-leading publications and also got her news team on channels like CNBC, CNN and her MD on BBC News 24.
Ready to Explore More
Sharon was very curious about the subscription database and asked fellow colleagues and the business owners who are our subscribers? The default answer she got was ‘brokers’ our subscribers are LME brokers; with Sharon’s inquisitive nature, she was not convinced with the answer as she wanted hard facts and evidence to back this piece of information. She initiated a data search project which meant she went through the entire subscriber database of 2000 or more subscribers on a spreadsheet one by one, as there were no fancy CRM tools at her disposal. After conducting her thorough search, it transpired the subscriber database predominantly consisted of scrap metal dealers; upon conducting further search, it was discovered the scrap metal market relied on the market news and live prices as they needed a guide price for pricing their scrap materials, so it was crucial for their business to know what market rate was for the raw material which was traded on the future exchanges. This led to Sharon briefing the news team to cover the scrap metal market with relevant new stories, and Sharon also managed to get a free advertorial deal in Recycling Magazine based in Germany.
Ready to Explore More
FastMarkets managed to secure a screen in the viewing gallery at the LME above the only physical trading floor in Europe; she here again used her initiative and went the extra mile by covering the entire screen of the TV with POS listing benefits for subscribing to the service with contact details. She states, “And I remember the director of digital at LME saw the POS on the tv screen, and he actually asked my contact who was working at the LME, asking, “Who did this from FastMarkets as he was impressed because he has never seen any other sponsors of the screen do this before?” And that’s when my name came up. I was headhunted to work for the LME.”
Hard Work Reaps Results
Sharon was directly headhunted by the LME to work as a marketing executive for their Steel Billet’s future contract. They had just launched their new futures contract in Steel Billets. They wanted me to market the billets contract. It was a very tricky product. It could have actually failed and really hit the ground, but she managed to actually get it off the ground. LME had a British heritage that spanned over 130 years; the multi-trillion-dollar organisation’s bread and butter were the two future contacts which were Copper and Aluminium; these contracts took off from the exchange’s inception and did not require marketing in those days, as it was all word of mouth from one broker to another. LME had envisaged the same success for the steel billets future contract; although it was a very risky and volatile market to enter, it was also the start of the great financial crisis. Sharon recalls her boss saying at the time if we crack this, then this will be the 2 largest global contract to be ever launched since crude oil.
The steel billets market consisted of two groups, the producers, and consumers; in this case, it was manufacturers that produced steel billets out of raw materials such as Iron Ore and scrap iron which were rolled into billets and then manufactured into rebars and other construction materials, the consumers were construction companies using the rebars made out of the billets.
As the LME carried a 100-year heritage, its approach to marketing was very traditional and conventional. Sharon had the challenge of making the company break away from traditional methods and try a different strategy. Sharon recalls the challenge she was facing was that the LME brokers were not interested in a new futures contract, as they were only proactively trading contracts that had liquidity, but the LME was insistent on going this route to market and educating the brokers to leverage off their steel producer and consumer contracts. Sharon’s inquisitive nature led her to dig deeper and understand the global steel production and consumption market; she quickly learnt that at the time, 47% of global steel production came from China, and these steel production companies were small family-run refineries where English was not the first language; therefore, the materials and the messaging LME communicated with will only deter the market away, through the fear of complexity for using the exchange. At that time, China was building its Olympic Stadium and therefore needed the steel domestically. China imposed an exporting tax which some of the smaller refineries could not afford; this ensured the steel produced in China remained in China, and the government could use it for the construction of their Olympic stadiums. This then put the strain on the rest of the global market as there was a shortage, and a lot of construction projects were halted because of this new issue. That’s when the markets turned their eye to Europe and the Middle East to fill in the gap in steel production. Sharon devised a go-to-market strategy, where LME will market directly to the producers and consumers and educate them on the benefits of using the exchange and how they could mitigate their risk. This meant LME would be going over the Broker’s heads and doing something they have never done before. Sharon got the approval for her marketing budget after the CEO reviewed the proposal. LME sponsored steel global events, including locations in Hamburg, Athens, Turkey, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Malaysia, and used these events to inform and educate the market on the benefits of using the exchange. Sharon oversaw the whole strategy from beginning to end, as she had a point to prove that this would work for the LME and it’s a new way for the exchange. Sharon also simplified the messaging, communication materials, and brochures with the view to educate the market in simple English and not use LME terminology that only LME or the brokers understood, such as ‘backwardation’ and ‘contangos’. Sharon also created virtual simulations of the hedging process from day one trading to day 30 trading, walking the producers and consumers through the whole trading process in simple visual steps. Armed with the budget and simplified materials, Sharon embarked on a global campaign; with her first stop at Hamburg, Sharon recalls that in Hamburg, she was in a room full of metal producers; there must be 300/400 people, and she worked the room by engaging with the delegates and educated them about the LME and the benefits they can have by using the exchange, at the time the Financial crisis was looming and the reception the LME got, was a bit frosty, as people blamed organisations like the LME to have caused the crisis, Sharon broke through the ice and saw through the hostile conversations, at the end of the event she got people on side and generated interest in the room. From a side table, the CEO of LME was watching the way Sharon was working the room; Sharon recalls, “I was pulled to the side by the CEO, and he said in my 30 years of my career, I have never seen anyone work the room like the way you did, he was so impressed, and he said he wants me at every global event he attends going forward.” The events strategy proposed by Sharon proved to be a success as LME signed on many producers and consumers at the events; in year one of launching the contract, 1.2 billion tonnes of steel billet was traded on the exchange.
Digital transformation was taking place
A new era was born, and Sharon saw this change unfold in front of her eyes; her marketing strategies pivoted from traditional marketing to digital. Sharon says, “For any field to fast-track, digital adaptation is necessary.” The same is the case with marketing. So traditional marketing was direct marketing via email, maybe posting out letters or posting out free publication copies, samples of products where necessary, telemarketing, and cold phone calls. Transitioning all that to the digital transformation in the form of Google ads, Facebook ads, automation, and the actual innovation of data, big data. Sharon has seen over the course of her career. She sees digital transformation as a crucial aspect of marketing, and she uses it to grow the business in multidimensional ways.
Sharon explains, “Today’s marketing is heavily dependent on the digital acquisition channels. It’s about mass reach and instant conversion or shortening the conversion funnel- – and I think that’s what allowed a lot of tech start-ups to rapidly scale up to show significant growth through having a very hybrid, integrated marketing strategy using the digital acquisition channels. But I think going forward; it’s all to do with being data-led. I think those strategies will work the best; data should be used to evidence user behaviour, interaction, engagement, acquisition, conversion, and retention, as well as the drop-off; in marketing, it is equally important to know what keeps your customers hooked to your product service as well what is putting them off, why did they stop using the product and service? This brings me right back to the beginning of what I said. Marketers these days have to think beyond acquiring customers; you have to think from a user experience perspective and disect the product and service you are offering to ensure it is aligned with the customers’ needs, be it B2C or in a B2B environment, this means as a CMO you have influence over the product roadmap, tech, operations, and data. It’s important for businesses to layout the infrastructure to enable their marketing department to track the whole customer journey from the moment somebody puts eyeballs on your ad to the moment they’ve actually clicked on all the CTAs and performed the actions you want them in your app, on your website, on your platform, on your software, and identify the gaps and weaknesses along the way and allow the marketers the room and authority to drive the changes needed to support the customer needs. Often there is misalignment between marketing and tech, as tech would be building the best tech platform they could think of, but it does not necessarily mean the product is aligned with the audience, this is where intervention from marketing is needed, and both departments should work together to build something truly valuable.”
What does the future look like?
I think we’re heading towards more of an artificial intelligence route where we will be able to predict– as marketers; we will be able to predict what the trends are going to be in the market six months ahead or maybe even more; we will be able to build marketing strategies on near accurate future predictions, this will enable CMOs to de-risk marketing activities and plan budgets effectively avoiding wastage in spend. Marketers will be able to drive actions and conversions by pinpointing the exact customers who are going to buy and take away all the guesswork that is needed in today’s marketing. This will become powerful combined with an immersive brand experience through AR/VR technology.”
Sharon’s career has evolved with times, and she has become a stronger marketer with each challenge she took on board, making her more agile, versatile and highly adaptable. Fast forwarding through Sharon’s career by another 10 years, Sharon has built marketing strategies and functions from the ground level up where she has been pivotal to the growth of the businesses which she scaled up globally. Sharon has held senior positions for various organisations, from Education, Tech, Recruitment, FinTech and Blockchain with one of her recent experiences where she worked with a world renowned sports brand, Sharon has worked with some sport brands, such as Liverpool Football Club, where she worked on a film with Ian St John she produced this movie with LFC film production team and came up with a concept of “Football Evolved” as the slogan of her then company who partnered with LFC was ‘Trading Evolved’, this video campaign gained 2.8m views globally with 332K engagements within the first week of it being published on social media, she was exclusively invited to speak as a keynote speaker at the LFC partner summit in 2019, Sharon also initiated an employability programme with the LFC Foundation and did some tremendous work with the ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)’ group and aspired the group to better their lives through a pep talk, she also held CV surgeries and consulted each member of the group on how they can enhance their CVs and experience to get their dream jobs. As part of the program, Sharon invited the disadvantaged NEET group to use up the member’s rights of using the Anfield stadium to play a football match where she invited former LFC manager Roy Evan and John Aldridge to give some tips and make the experience more memorable.
Heading Beelivery as Marketing Genius
In the next chapter of Sharon’s life, she is the CMO of Beelivery. Beelivery is one of the UK’s leading rapid grocery delivery services; Beelivery covers 90% of the UK grocery market, where customers can buy a wide range of groceries and everyday essentials and get them delivered straight to their door within 15-60 minutes from their local supermarket. The drivers, also known as personal shoppers, shop from the local supermarket, as they personally pick, pack, and deliver grocery orders directly to the customers. Beelivery operates 24 hours and seven days a week. Sharon shares, “We make sure that our personal shoppers, take a lot of care and pay attention to detail when fulfilling a customer order. They make sure that the order is fulfilled, achieving almost 100% satisfaction rate for each customer delivery, and we do that within 15 to 60 minutes.”
Beelivery has a network of over 100,000 driver-partners on the system that are delivering for 200,000 customers and counting across the UK. The USP of the company is offering a personalised shopping experience for the customer. The store has a wide range of products, over 5,000+, which Beelivery keeps adding to.
Sharon aims to expand the delivery brand across the UK, acquire more customers to continue providing a seamless user experience for customers and driver business partners, offer better services through the app, through the platform, and change the way people shop. She thinks that the digital world is a small world, and it’s possible to curate a beautiful experience for all. She shares, “Digital innovation has made the world smaller and more instant. We, as marketers have the power to drive the actions and growth we need for our businesses; we hold the power to change people’s perceptions, behaviours, and attitudes to better their lives and enrich their digital experience and their life. As strong marketers, we need to be able to cut through the noise and align our messaging with our customer’s needs; it’s all about listening to your customers. It’s all about what they want and then delivering or producing the product and service that’s going to help solve their problem. Because at the end of the day, we are all in business to solve a problem. Whether it’s a B2B or a B2C business, we are all solving a problem somewhere. So coming back to Beelivery, the problem that we are solving for our customers is we are giving them some time back in their life which is valuable for all, the time we give back can be for working parents to spend it with their children, or to care for an ill loved one, or for a couple to snuggle up on the sofa and spend quality time, whatever customers need the time for they are free from going grocery shopping which is a very time consuming task in itself– we are freeing up their time, every day without compromising on running their household efficiently.”
Sharon is pleased to announce a recent partnership between Beelivery and Universal Pictures to promote Minions – The Rise of Gru movie, which was released in cinemas across st the UK on 1 July 2022 Minions: The Rise of Gru has generated over $600 million across the globe. Sharon has led the promotional campaign throughout the summer and has been working on producing the campaign strategy and the materials to support the promotion.
Sharon has also recently founded and launched her new e-Commerce business selling ethnic fashion online. LAAKHA celebrates the woman of today, bringing designs that are inspired by Indian and Pakistani heritage with a modern twist of elegance to suit women of every fit, style, and culture.
Valuable Bits of Advice
Sharon advises the younger generation to believe in themselves. She says, “So if you believe in yourself, then the world will believe in you. Don’t give up. Always try to think out of the box. Never take what people tell you; always be ready to ask the questions that people are afraid to ask or have never asked. You could go into a new business. You might have the CEO – you might have the founders of the business telling you, “It’s done this way.” But the whole reason why they’ve hired you is that they have a problem, and you are there to solve that problem. So never be afraid to actually think out of the box and go beyond what other people may be telling you and actually try and test it yourself, make data your friend, and be guided by the light of data, as that is your tool to help convince others within the business to drive the change you are expected to make.”
A thing that is essential to being a good marketer is testing. Sharon shares, “Test, test, test, test and then analyse the data whether it’s digital campaigns, whether it’s your email campaigns, whether it’s your messaging, whether it’s a TV ad – whatever you may be doing, test, test, test. Because without testing, you will never know what will work and what doesn’t work. What may work for one industry may not work for the other. So, my main message will be to stay strong and confident. Believe in yourself, and don’t forget to test.”