Trying to put oneself in the customer’s shoes is a noble notion expressed by many a marketer. Remarkably, few marketers actually make this standard operating procedure and fewer still address the shortcomings revealed by such an endeavor. But the real rarity is the customer who becomes the marketer — which is exactly the case with Alicia Jansen. Alicia sought the job of CMO of MD Anderson Cancer Center only after having witnessed the extraordinary patient care provided to a member of her family. And even 11 years after becoming the CMO, Alicia has never forgotten that experience or the need to stay focused on the patient.
With this bit of background, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alicia received the CMO Officers Award from The CMO Club late last year. This award is “based on a marketing executive’s demonstrated leadership in leading the brand beyond the marketing department and leading the growth agenda for the company,” and as you will see in our interview below, Alicia accomplished all that and then some.
Drew: You’ve been at MD Anderson for 11 years but before that you were working at Compaq. Selling computers and selling cancer treatment are pretty different things. Were you able to take any of the things that you learned at Compact and apply them to what you’ve been doing at MD Anderson?
Yes, I have. I believe that marketing is a type of job that you can apply to so many different industries. In my opinion there are a couple of characteristics that you have to have in order to really enjoy it; one of them is that you have to be curious. You have to be able to raise your hand and say, let me learn as much as I possibly can about this business, because in order for me to be able to market it and tell other people about it I need to know it and you can do that in any industry. I did that with computers and software and I found it very intriguing and I find the same thing at MD Anderson. One thing about MD Anderson that I find very satisfying as a marketer is that we are doing something to help other people go through this cancer journey, and that’s very satisfying at a personal level.
I think marketers also have to be able to tell a story. They have to be able to learn what the business is about and understand who the audience is that you’re talking to so you can translate that to something that they can understand and that will move them in some way; whether it’s to move them to buy something, move them to talk about it or move them to donate. I think good marketers have the ability to tell a good story and to get others to tell the story as well, and that applies to any industry.
Drew: When you are selling cancer care, the degree of empathy and the sensitivity required is quite a bit different than when you are selling computers or software. I’m wondering how that plays in as a part of the story that you tell at MD Anderson?
My story of working at MD Anderson probably influences the way I do my job. Many people who work for MD Anderson have similar stories. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and I was the primary caregiver; I was at MD Anderson every day. I witnessed her journey and I was able to see what it is like to fight this disease. It made me a better person because I could have that empathy, whether I apply it towards everyday life or apply it to my job. It influenced me so much so that when I heard a job opening was available at MD Anderson in the marketing department I raised my hand, was hired and eventually took over the department.
That initial experience of being with my mother-in-law through her cancer journey taught me the lessons of why people go through this and what I can do to make the journey better, what I can say, what programs I can initiate, what are the things that I can help MD Anderson do better in order to make it easier on our patients and their families. I realized that this is where I need to be and that’s why I took the job. I find working here very inspiring because of the customers that I work with every day.
Drew: How have you been able to impact the customer experience in your current role?
The patient experience to me is a passion because I experienced it with my mother-in-law and it is something that I am extremely excited about helping MD Anderson do better. A couple of years ago we started doing market research by talking to patients and their families while they were going through the treatment here. We also spoke with members of the community to understand their needs and their expectations and how they would behave if they were faced with this decision to treat cancer. I took that information back to our leadership and said, we have a lot of patients here who feel that we do a fantastic job, but when you peel back the lemon there are a couple of things that keep surfacing and I’m seeing a few trends of some things that we could be doing better.
I truly believe that in order to be appreciated and have a seat at the table you have to be more than an order taker. You have to offer more than the latest ad or brochure or update to the website. You have to show that you’re bringing valuable information to the table that will enhance the decision-making process and help executives and yourself be able to make better decisions in order to satisfy the customer, exceed their expectations, and run the business better. Marketers today have to have knowledge and this goes back to being curious, knowing the business and bringing information to the table that’s going to help the business.