The Advocate, Saul Lopes, hits the holy grail of marketing — doing more with less

The advocate Saul Lopes.

At the annual Adobe Experience Maker Awards, finalists for The Advocate category all embrace a customer-first approach to digital transformation.

The 2022 winner, Currys (nominated by Merkle UK), did exactly that — improving the customer experience of the British omnichannel technology retailer with Adobe Experience Cloud solutions.

We chatted with Saul Lopes, head of CRM and personalization at the firm, and a key driver of an initiative that’s increased CRM revenue by 167 percent year-over-year, and scaled the number of campaigns executed fivefold — all while reducing costs.

Before we dig into all the work you did to earn this award, can we talk about what brought you to Currys?

As younger people, we always think careers are linear and straightforward. What you find out is that careers are quite squiggly. Mine is probably the most squiggly career ever.

I’ve done literally everything. I started my career in operations and finance, moved into airline operations with private jets, then sales and luxury hotels, travel companies and now a tech retailer! All of those steps led to where I am, and what I’m doing now.

What draws you to the world of marketing, CRM, and personalization work?

What makes me passionate about marketing and CRM is the opportunity to combine science and art in one. I’ve always been very numbers-focused and being able to combine the data-driven science of customer profiling with marketing messages and creative work really puts these two sides together.

Today my work is about driving really big digital transformation projects. I’m focused on not only the traditional CRM channels, but the end-to-end customer experience and personalization moments.

Tell us about this award win, recognizing a transformational shift.

When our CEO joined, he set a mantra that, ‘W e help everyone enjoy amazing technology’.

That’s such a great business vision because it focuses us on an inclusive journey. We are a major retailer, so everyone in the UK is our potential customer. It also focuses us on the end-to-end customer journey: How do I help you choose the right technology? How can I help you buy it? How can I help you better use it after you bought it?

This business vision expands across our entire omnichannel customer journey.

Can you talk about an example of this vision in practice?

The welcome journey is really close to my heart because it really helps and aligns with this business vision. We created a journey that’s all about helping our customers with the technology they just bought. We worked with our call center team to see the top reasons customers were calling, and our category teams to uncover the top tips for our products.

We created a series of videos and content around helping customers better use the technology, for example which picture type to pick when you buy a TV, or how to clean it. Or, we may give a nudge to a customer who just bought a washing machine to make sure they measured correctly.

It’s a pure service-led journey that was all about helping our customers. Only after we serve them do we start with upselling and combining their purchase with other products.

What did it look like behind the scenes of this important shift?

This didn’t happen overnight, it’s been a team working really, really hard driving the transformation agenda.

We started with people at the beginning. Start with people and processes first, then the technology. If you do, you’ll get the most out of your technology investments, and that’s exactly what we did.

What I’m really proud of is that our transformation rose from the ground up. We nominated change champions within the team, gave them the right tools, training, and drove the transformation within our team.

This technology is a career catalyst. But it requires some bold thinking and risk-taking.

There's always that person within a team who is more of a risk taker, and likes to innovate. That type of personality is the best to drive that change.

I always say no one can get angry at you for doing a test. A test is always your excuse to drive that major innovation. For example, we tried AI technology to generate email subject lines and content, and tested it against human-created content. AI won 98 percent of the time. And that’s how you drive that transformation, as no one can say no to experimentation.

At Currys we have a huge innovation culture. That’s the beauty of retail and the environment we work in. Retail is such a fast-paced environment and a numbers-focused business at the same time. It’s so performance-based, so of course if you come up with an idea that makes us more money, improves the experience, or hits one of our KPIs, people are going to be open to it.

What advice do you have for those who want to thrive with their own transformation?

As marketers we sometimes get sidetracked with big ideas.

We can spend a lot of time thinking about the big thing, and oh no 12 months have passed and we haven’t delivered anything. That’s the worst thing you can do when starting a transformation.

Start small with a quick win, then start your major transformation.

With that small experiment, you’re not only proving yourself, you’re proving that your team can do it, that they’re capable. You’re proving that you can drive business results. Then you ask for the big money!

You’ve got to prove it, first! What other lessons have you learned from this experience?

One of the most important things is involving your stakeholders from the start. Focus on solving their problems before your own.

I made sure we had buy-in from multiple teams. We did small projects to help these key stakeholders so when we did ask for their support and help, we already had a track record of delivering something that actually has value for them.

Is there anything you wish you did differently?

One key to driving transformation is keeping the storyline alive. I would have probably communicated more! The more you communicate about what you’re delivering, or how successful it is, or what you’re not delivering, the easier the message is when things actually go wrong.

Our project was far from perfect. We had some really high highs and low lows. It wasn’t always smooth sailing! But, with good communication, when you actually have a bad moment, people take it a little bit easier on you and understand a bit better. It’s about bringing the whole company on board.

The results speak for themselves. You scaled the number of campaigns executed from 40 to 200 — a fivefold increase!

We had such a great transformation. We were an unknown team in marketing. No one talked about us, we weren’t the center of any conversations. Now, we’re a key message in our financial report, our CEO talks about it. That for us is the biggest sign of success, and that came from focusing on driving more revenue from our database which we increased in size from 3.5 to 11 million.

We literally have a third of UK households in our database that we have a direct relationship to and that we can communicate to. How important is that when we’re talking about our competition and differentiating ourselves?

Not only did we have a bigger database, and drove 167 percent more revenue from it, we actually decreased our cost to serve as a department by 25 percent. We hit the holy grail of marketing — we’re making more money with less budget, while growing our reach.

Do you have a mantra for how you approach each day?

One of the big things I always focus on is prioritization. We all have big to-do lists. What are the three things that are going to really help you hit your objectives? What will make you famous and be known for your success?

You’re setting the bar very high. What’s next?

Thank you, where we’re focused now is how we can personalize to an audience segment across all of our channels — web, CRM, call center, retail shops, really the end-to-end journey. We’ve got proof of concepts up and running, and are now working to expand them.

Honoring the movers and shakers. Learn more about the Adobe Experience Maker Awards.