CMO Chats with Sheri Bannister, Business Applications Marketing Lead, North America at Avanade

Ortus Chats
Sheri Bannister Marketing Avanade


Business Applications Marketing Lead, North America | Avanade

Sheri Bannister, North America Business Applications Marketing Lead at Avanade, talks to The Ortus Club’s Lorna Davidson about how business applications offer multi solutions to support most industries and enable marketers to create relatable tactics for target audiences.

To watch Sheri’s interview, you can subscribe to our Ortus Chats interview series on Youtube. You can also listen to the interview on Spotify or pour yourself a cup of coffee and read the full interview below.

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What does Avanade do?

Avanade is the leading provider of innovative digital cloud services, business solutions, and design-led experiences on the Microsoft ecosystem, and we’re hailed as their Partner of The Year for the 16th time.

Describe your role as a Business Applications Marketing Lead in one word.

I would say “multifaceted”. I’m sure this is relatable for all marketers, but Business Applications is a solution that suits multiple industries. There are also multi-solutions within Business Apps, so it’s a lot of different pieces and parts, and those things support each other. 

Industries do change from time to time, so being able to connect to each of those industry segments in a way that addresses their day-to-day problems is very challenging. But it’s also really exciting to be able to create marketing tactics and interactions that are relatable and believable.

We are the experts that can help solve so many of those problems through Microsoft solutions. But we also have a dedicated team that advises companies regarding their particular situations for us to be able to build a customised solution for them.

So, the multifaceted part of the marketing side is not only the ability to form these industry solutions, but also assist companies with their sales cycle to help them move forward with the confidence that we’re the right people for them.

What current challenges are you facing right now in your role? Can you identify a solution?

I think marketers are facing the same challenges anywhere in the world, but I also think that there’s always been this problem of figuring out how to break through the noise to get your message to the right people.

Without in-person events, it’s a struggle. Creating a connection with people through a screen is much more challenging than being able to see people personally, shake hands, hold a nice dinner or cocktail. Recreating a way to build that connection is very difficult.

For us, we use a digital channel all the time, so one of the biggest things we’re constantly thinking about is looking for other ways to connect with people outside of the digital space. I think most of us already know the common digital ways to connect with people like webinars, targeted ads, and other content that you’re trying to get people to consume. But what are other ways to do so?

I think there are alternatives. For example, direct mail. Who doesn’t love getting something in the mail? Amazon is a great example of creating excitement, and that’s another way to make people feel something. So I think that being able to find those connection points again outside of a screen is necessary.

But finding ways to integrate both of those things is always a challenge. We created something called the “Cafe Series” where we recreated the cafe experience that we used to enjoy pre-covid. We sent people a coffee kit from artisan coffee. They were a small provider, so it was artisan coffee from very small coffee houses and metal tumblers. 

Being able to do things like that, as well as the smaller type roundtables where we could actually talk to people, really elevates the experience. We did some of the escape rooms and whisky and wine tastings.

Recreating those experiences digitally needs a multi-tactic approach that isn’t just one way. How else can we do that? So it led to a great number of creative brainstorming sessions, and we’ve had quite a bit of success with that as well.

How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?

I would say it’s innovation. So many of the things that worked before still work now, they’ve just been amplified. Constant innovation is key. I’m one of those people that love change, and I find change to be exciting.

I also think risk-taking is critical, but that worked for me. I don’t want to specify “controlled risk”, but think of it as risk-taking that has a bit of a fence around it, where you’re still following the branding of your company. It’s really important to keep that consistent. But when trying things, it’s the personal connection that matters most. How are we reaching our people? Especially those who are not just prospects, but our clients who have been extremely struggling.

Our business serves all these different sectors, and they’ve all been struggling on their own in running the business and keeping staff. We have solutions for those problems, but the CIOs, CFOs, CMOs, or everyone who has to do those things take on the toll of problem-solving. So we really think about how we can take care of them as well. It’s not just those new accounts that we want to bring in, but also the ones we already have. We consider how we can care for them and help them survive in such a hard situation.

Ultimately, innovation means failing then getting back up again. It’s good to be able to recognise the failure and not try to commit the same mistake again. I think it would be difficult if it’s your idea and you felt like it should’ve worked but it didn’t. So being able to walk away from those failures is just as important as being able to pick yourself back up and start working on another solution.

“Ultimately, innovation means failing then getting back up again. It’s good to be able to recognise the failure and not try to commit the same mistake again.”

What marketing/business trends are you taking advantage of right now?

Video is king right now, so we definitely are looking to explore a lot more of that. The great thing about video, with Youtube specifically, is that you get to decide the pace of your journey as a viewer. You can click around and see what videos relate best to you. You can also rewatch videos and share them with others who you think might be interested too. 

For us, video is not necessarily a new trend at all, but from the digital side, it is something that will expand and follow the path of the idea we have about creating a series for our events.

It’s also about really thinking of ways to connect outside of the usual. How do we continue to get in front of prospects and current clients in ways that are surprising, captivating, and intriguing?

I think those two things are what we’ll be focusing on for sure in the next year.

What career advice would you like to share with people that have similar roles to yours?

What I think has been most effective for me is innovation, the willingness to fail, and being fearless when taking on new ideas. We often think that our creativity, especially in marketing, is not always greatly rewarded. Marketing can get very demanding but we cannot abandon our creativity because nobody ventured into marketing to do spreadsheets. That’s not why we’re here. 

We’re here because we want to push our creativity and pair it with strategy, and that’s the really exciting part. It’s the problem solving and human connection that you’re trying to build through various tactics, embracing change, and having endless curiosity about what to do. Find new ways to develop things, develop your craft,  and develop your mind.

I teach a couple of classes at a college near here, and what I love about it is they keep you honest. If you could teach and stay in front of people who push you to continue to innovate and stay on top of new things, I definitely encourage that. 

To all women, don’t be afraid to lead, don’t be afraid to be a leader. Always go into a leadership role with confidence. Work hard and be fearless because we need to get up there and bring up the young women that are coming up behind us, and encourage everyone to utilise the potential that they have without feeling like there are barriers against how high they can go.

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