Q&A with SAP Emarsys Chief Revenue Officer, Thomas Harris

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By Published On: October 24, 20231 Comment

At SAP Emarsys’ Live Power to the Marketer Festival 2023, I sat down with SAP Emarsys’ Chief Revenue Officer, Thomas Harris to deep dive into loyalty, customer relationships and leadership through tough times. 

At the Power to the Marketer Festival 2023 held in Melbourne last week, SAP Emarsys Chief Revenue Officer, Thomas Harris hosted a panel on how industry leaders have stayed relevant and resilient and the strategies they have applied to succeed and thrive through the past few years. On the panel he spoke with Pancho Gutstein, General Manager at Puma, Dan Ferguson, CMO at Adore Beauty, and Angela Ward, Executive General Manager eCommerce & Digital for Rodd & Gunn. 

The event played host to marketing experts across a variety of industries and explored the concept of elevating the art and science of marketing. From economic volatility to advances in AI technology, the SAP Emarsys team and their host of engaging speakers looked at how brands are blending art and science to create masterful customer experiences and achieve results that keep their brands thriving. 

In my sit down with Thomas, he shared his leadership tips and insights, dove into customer relationships, loyalty, and explored the benefits of flexibility and communication through turbulent times.


Throughout the past few years, leaders have really had to shift their strategies to survive in the retail landscape. I’m interested to hear your journey, what lessons have you personally learnt from your experiences?

One lesson has been the importance of clear and concise communication.

The more we grow and expand into new markets, the more I continue to see how important communication is across the business. 

In a typical week there are tens of, if not almost hundreds of customer meetings taking place and there’s all of that rich data and insights on what’s happening out there in the market that we’re learning from all of the time. Then it’s all about how we use this to make smarter business decisions, looking for the green shoots to double down on, and where there might be things that we need to adjust. 

Communication and having access to that information so you can better enable global teams has been, and will continue to be, a big area of focus that we’ll be learning from.


Leaders have to deal with not just hard decisions, but a lot of unpleasant decisions, ones when you know the right answer but know it will be a difficult, anxiety ridden process to implement. During the panel session, Puma’s Pancho Gutstein for example brought up some regretful decisions he made in tough times.
What support or advice can you offer leaders in that position, should they take the plunge? 

Yes. I believe that slow decision-making kills innovation, it slows down the business, and it can impact the team’s trust in leadership. Now, to make decisions business leaders must have data, you have to have input, and you have to gather that input from multiple sources.

But once you have the insights, decisions need to be made and quickly. 

And then, like I mentioned – communication, I find if you’re clear in explaining the why behind a decision then the team can execute in a much more efficient way.

Once a decision is made, the team also needs to know it’s final – that enables them to springboard off and accelerate in making the changes. And remember, it’s impossible to get everything right, there will always be feedback – questions on why is something happening or not? Leaders have to stand by the decision and then execute.

 That’s what I found has really worked well for me and it has built a lot of trust amongst my leadership team.


That leads me to a piece on accountability – How can leaders manage the balancing act of seeking feedback, input and reflection while also being confident and final in their decisions as a figure of authority? Do you know of any strategies for managing this?

The first thing is making sure that your decisions are based on sound inputs. If leaders want to get clear and actionable feedback then there has to be trust and ‘psychological safety’. It’s normal to have promoters and detractors depending on the decision – my team does not hold back and that’s what I love.

Knowing that I will get clear inputs from people, from my leadership team, from them speaking to their teams enables us to make decisions and move forward in the same direction.

I like to frame and make decisions, somewhat like how Emarsys’ customers do it in the platform when using Goals, Strategies, and Tactics. This is the overarching goal that we want to achieve, here are strategies that we believe will achieve that goal, and these are the multiple tactical level activities that will need to be executed. I find approaching it like this makes it clear, and opens up an opportunity for the team to say, “actually, you know what – this tactic needs to shift left or right, this needs to drop, that’s not the real-problem, it’s actually this.”


Moving on to some questions on the marketing vein, Building out a customer relationship is key for marketers to make an impact. Do you think the nature of these relationships has changed since covid?

I would definitely say so. There’s been a rapid digitalization of multiple industries. Businesses have needed to rapidly change in order to keep up with digitalization and what customers are now demanding. Accessibility to technology and really knowing the value of data is much more widely understood.

Another aspect is consumers’ understanding of supply chain and shipping challenges – consumers are much wiser and will make purchases based on convenience and speed.

to the parts of the business that can get challenged under economic stress or in particular pandemic situations, and they are a lot more savvy when it comes to understanding how fragile some of that is and really getting ahead of it.

Have these relationships strengthened/weakened as a result of a landscape forced to evolve? And do you think a new strategy is needed now to form connections?

Both. In my opinion, it depends on the business. 

I was speaking with our client Brisbane Airport about this. During the pandemic, they could’ve waited for things to return to normal, or up their sleeves and get to work. Brisbane Airport chose to roll up their sleeves and do amazing things for their customers and partners.

They looked at their organization and they went, how can we put our customers first?

As an airport they have multiple customer types – the customer that is travelling through the airport, but also the outlets and brands that are at the airport.

They asked themselves –  how can we make the experience better? From parking at the airport to relief on rents, to driving more footfall and engagement for the retailers at the airport. They really used a challenging time as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with customers.

Today, with the economic pressure people are pulling back from spending. There’s not as much flexible money sitting there, discretionary spending is definitely getting tighter, that therefore impacts consumer confidence. Retailers will have to make a decision on whether to provide some flexibility for their customers, and what that flexibility looks like.

 Like Brisbane Airport, if retailers support their customers and demonstrate that they understand the economic situation those customers are not going anywhere. They’re going to make sure that they return to their favorite brands that have recognized those periods of challenge so that they can still buy from their favorite store, and they can still get their favorite produce.

 One of our presenters, Simon Kuestenmacher [co-founder of The Demographics Group] explained how as a result of this pressure, we saw, for example, supermarket brands invest more in own brand labels to drive down 50 percent of the cost on some of those named brands in order to provide flexibility and options for people that might be feeling the pressure. I think that’s a customer centric strategy and a beautiful one because it helps consumers to still get what they need.


Emarsys has recently launched the SAP Emarsys Customer Loyalty Index 2023, something that stood out to me in that report was that loyalty seems to be really fostered over time. Obviously this longevity and consistency are big factors for customers. How can newer brands or companies looking to rebrand their image foster a sense of loyalty without that long term brand presence? Where do they even start?

If you’re going to think about loyalty, you first really need to think about  your brand, your business, the values of your business and how you can present that externally. How do customers identify with your brand and what do they love about your products?

If you think about your favourite brands that you buy from, maybe it’s an Adore Beauty or City Beach, if you love how quickly their product turns up at your doorstep, if you love the quality of the product and the shipping experience, that’s where you start building that trust that leads to customer loyalty and advocacy. There are also opportunities to build loyalty when things go wrong – if an order is late for example but the in-store or online support, or the notification the customer receives is all on point the customer will remain loyal. 

When thinking about loyalty, businesses need to consider what they are prepared to offer those customers in exchange for that loyalty? It will likely have a cost impact, and it’s definitely not about just giving them 20% off – that doesn’t work long-term. Sure, there might be a few sales but then customers will then just move to the lowest priced retailer that’s selling a competing product line, especially if you’re a multi category retailer where you’ve got many options to buy from. No one wants to be in a situation where it’s just a race to the bottom every time.


Judging from how customer spending behaviour has changed this year as discretionary spending drops, what is the messaging retailers should be putting out there going into peak season to boost sales? 

When you’ve got this economic pressure going into these sale periods, retailers do need to bear in mind that if a consumer is out there for a particular type of product and you haven’t built that affinity with customers, they are just going to look for the cheapest option.

Asking if customers truly know the brand – what it stands for, the quality of the product, position on sustainability… and is the purchasing experience personalized, quick and convenient are all key points to check.

Businesses also need to make sure that the omnichannel experience is consistent across all of the channels. Engagement and sales increase when customers interact across multiple channels – increasing engagement and blending mobile channels with email, in-store and social can help to hold back from higher percentages of discounting.


How can Emarsys support businesses struggling from the drop in discretionary spending this year?

One of the latest Emarsys innovations is Mobile Wallet. Introducing mobile wallet as part of the customer engagement and loyalty strategy is an absolute game changer from such a simple innovation that’s so easily accessible.

Customers want to feel more secure, they want to use contactless payment options, they don’t want to be carrying around a physical wallet. I don’t take my wallet out of the house now.

 This provides an opportunity where customers are very familiar with this new channel, they will download a mobile pass and add it to their wallet. Our clients are using this to connect the full customer journey together, and that means that the customer is getting a much more valuable experience, whether it’s online, whether it’s offline, whether it’s going to an event – and the brand is able to build a better picture on the customer and this to drive engagement, sales and reduce discounting.

Again, I think it’s an absolute game changer and it simplifies the whole consumer experience.

The SAP Emarsys Customer Loyalty Index 2023 deep dives into the loyalty landscape on a global scale, revealing, data-driven insights about customer loyalty. You can find out more from Emarsys here:

About the Author: Rosalea Catterson

Rosalea is the Editor of Power Retail. With a keen interest in consumer behaviour and tech, she covers everything ecommerce and hosts the Power Retail Power Talks Podcast.

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  1. Hana November 9, 2023 at 7:05 PM - Reply


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