Customer Experience and Fan Engagement in Sports and Business

Customer experience is a crucial focus for innovative leaders in both business and professional sports. Cathy Engelbert, Commissioner of the Women’s NBA (WNBA) and Alicia Tillman, Chief Marketing Officer of SAP, offer advice on this topic.


Dec 17, 2019

Customer experience is a crucial focus for innovative business leaders. In professional sports, the same concept translates to fan engagement, creating happy supporters who fill stadium seats and cheer on their favorite players.

Whether improving the customer journey and lifecycle or encouraging sports fans to participate in live events, the principles of customer experience are a foundation of modern business.

In this video, CxOTalk's Michael Krigsman speaks with two senior business leaders, Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the Women’s NBA (WNBA) and Alicia Tillman Chief Marketing Officer of SAP, to learn their thinking on customer experience strategy.

As part of the discussion, these leaders offer ideas for creating market opportunities, driving innovation, and building a high-performance culture. They also share their experience as women in business and offer advice on gender equality and diversity.

Cathy Engelbert is an American business executive and the first Commissioner of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Before joining the WNBA, she had been with Deloitte for 33 years. Engelbert was elected CEO by Deloitte’s partners in 2015, where she led one of the largest professional services organizations in the U.S. with more than 100,000 professionals.

As the Chief Marketing Officer at SAP, Alicia Tillman is responsible for creating and accelerating the company’s marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. She is focused on driving the company vision of helping the world run better and improve people’s lives by building marketing programs and thought leadership to promote our exceptional product innovation and purpose-driven initiatives.


This transcript was lightly edited.


Michael Krigsman: Customer experience and fan engagement, that's our topic today on CXOTalk. We're talking with two of the top business leaders in the world. Cathy Engelbert is the commissioner of the WNBA. My buddy Alicia Tillman is Chief Marketing Officer of SAP. Welcome, both of you.

Cathy Engelbert: Thank you, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Alicia, it's great to be here again with you.

Alicia Tillman: So happy to be here with you today.

Michael Krigsman: Cathy, tell us about the WNBA.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, so after a 33-year career in business, I just became the commissioner in July, so I'm a little past 90 days now. The WNBA stands for the power of women. It's the only professional women's sports league to last over two decades. We just concluded our 23rd year, but we have a transformation ahead of us around the fan experience that you just talked about, Michael, the player experience, and the economics of the league. I'm really looking forward to it.

Michael Krigsman: Fantastic. Alicia, tell us about your role at SAP.

Alicia Tillman: I'm the global chief marketing officer. I have been in this role for a little over two years now, nearly five years at SAP. I think the simplest way to describe it is, I'm accountable for the brand and the visibility of SAP, helping our customers understand the value that we deliver and also helping to grow the business. It's a 47-year-old brand with a story that is always changing based on the growth that we're having, whether it be organic growth or growth through acquisition. We live in a marketplace that's always changing based on our customer needs and being able to constantly position the brand so that it's delivering the value that our customers want is ultimately what I spend my time on, day in and day out.

What is Fan Experience?

Michael Krigsman: Customer experience is so important for each of you. Let's begin with fan experience. What do we mean by fan experience?

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, it's a great question, Michael. Maybe fan engagement might even be a better word because, in sports, a lot of people talk about the experience driveway-to-driveway to the arena or curb-to-curb, I've heard. I actually think it's more holistic than that.

Integrating technology into the fan experience is so important. Statistics, data, and analytics are being driven by what I call the citizen data scientists, now. The fan has become a citizen data scientist.

You go to any arena or stadium, and you see people. What are they doing? They're looking at their devices. To integrate that experience and have popups and have the analytics and probabilities pop up would be an amazing way to really do a holistic fan experience.

Alicia Tillman: Yeah, Cathy is describing what I think every leader in business today is focused on. If they're not, they should be. Success today is all about the quality of the experience that you deliver to your customers, to your fans, to your spectators.

How do we help use technology to support that so that we are not only creating a satisfying experience for our fans or our customers, but we're also doing something to have them keep coming back time and time again? That's the loyalty effect. It's based on a variety of things but, I think, notably, we have this opportunity today with all of the data that we have on our customers to use it to help create an experience that they appreciate, that keeps them coming back and feeling satisfied and feeling loyal.

Why Factors Make Customer Experience Crucial Today?

Michael Krigsman: I'm hearing this common set of themes around engagement, mobile devices, data. You spoke about citizen data scientists. How does this all come together? What's going on out there in the world that is shaping this?

Cathy Engelbert: Well, Alicia talked about trust and the trust deficit. If you think of the fans, sports have been a big uniter over time. I think, as I came from a three-decade career in business, it's not all that different from the business world where relationships meant everything.

Alicia Tillman: One of the things that we have to think about as well, Cathy has said a few times, this notion of the power of the ecosystem. One of the biggest challenges that leaders have is, if you think about data and how we store data, oftentimes it's stored in very separate, very fragmented systems across the company. Leaders spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and resources trying to have some commonality and to draw a seamless approach across all of these systems so that we can really escalate and grow at such deeper levels of interaction to be able to tap into what this ecosystem can do for our brand.

Cathy Engelbert: Especially with the AI, social, mobile, cloud, big data, analytics, AR, VR, blockchain. Think about the power of all that if you could integrate that either within a company or in the ecosystem.

Why is Fan Engagement Important to the WNBA?

Michael Krigsman: How does all of that apply to the WNBA?

Cathy Engelbert: [Laughter] Yeah, so again, we're in what I'll call a multidimensional transformation, whether it's sales and marketing capability because we need more fans in our seats; we need more corporate sponsors.

Less than 5% of all corporate sponsorship dollars in sports go to women's sports. Think about that. Less than 5% of all media coverage of sports is on women's sports.

If you're trying to transform, to Alicia's point on the ecosystem, a league, a women's sports league that's been around for 23 years, you need participation from everyone to do that. The fan experience is part of it. The player experience is part of it. But also, driving the economics of the league to capture more sponsorships, to capture more endorsements for our players because we know endorsement money goes, in a big way, to men professional athletes but not so much to women.

What is the Role of Platform for the WNBA?

Michael Krigsman: You're looking across every facet of the league in order to figure out, how do we create a better experience for every one of our ecosystem and stakeholder partners?

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, and one thing about the WNBA I've been very impressed with is the product on the court is great. Men and women alike who come to our games say, "Wow, this is a great level of basketball." Much better than what I played, by the way. There's no issue there.

A lot of times, you look at your product and, is your product the best product on the market? Ours is for women's basketball. Around the world, we have the best players, the best athletes. Do we have the marketing of our players to make them household names like the men have done very successfully?

Also, platforms are a really important part of differentiating. It isn't just the game. It's not just the product. It's not just one player or even 144 players. It's the platform that these players stand for, their social consciousness, their community-mindedness, and marketing that more broadly amongst the ultimate fans and the fans we're trying to bring in, which is a more digital native, a younger fan.

What we're trying to do is set the league up for success and sustainability going forward. We've got to bring in younger fans into our game.

Alicia Tillman: Mm-hmm.

Cathy Engelbert: We have this opportunity to do that and differentiate across a platform. We're also a small enough league that we can be a little bolder and pilot some things.

Alicia Tillman: Mm-hmm.

Cathy Engelbert: We've actually piloted some rule changes that other sports leagues have adopted. But we need to look at what other sports leagues are doing like soccer and men's basketball, as well as other sports, and say, "What could work here?" Not everything that works in the men's game is going to work in the women's game. But we can be bold and pilot things because we are the WNBA, the only women's professional league that's been around for over two decades.

Customer Engagement, Brand Loyalty, and Trust

Michael Krigsman: Alicia, Cathy was just talking about trust. That's a term I hear you use a lot with respect to SAP and your brand as well.

Alicia Tillman: The thing that we have to be careful of when it comes to building trust with our customers, especially in this day and age today where we are gathering so much intelligence and information on our customers—where they're buying, how they're buying, their habits—so that we can anticipate things. The challenge that we've had, though, unfortunately, over the most recent years, is, there's been an abuse of that. We've seen many companies in the headlines that are abusing the use of customer data unbeknownst to the customer.

Yet, you will have the customer say to you, "If you're transparent in how you use my data and you're using it to help improve my experience, I'm okay with that." The challenge is, there has not been that transparency. As a global brand, we've always kept at our core because we know the importance of it and really the sense of, when you have trust, you have life-long relationships with each other. That's what's always been a hallmark of the SAP brand.

Michael Krigsman: Talk about loyalty, customer loyalty.

Alicia Tillman: Yeah, I don't think anybody could argue that, when you're a fan of something, it is taking loyalty to a definition that I think every business can learn from.

Cathy Engelbert: Yes.

Alicia Tillman: Being in the B2B space, in particular, we talk about our fans as customers. Yet, the dynamic is changing. We want our customers to be our biggest fans. That's where you can learn from sports.

Cathy had said it so well. Sports is a unifier. We talked about how there are a few things in life that can unify people across differences in cultures. Sports is one. Technology is another. Dance and music, these are things that unite cultures all over the world.

When we think about this notion of fandom and how do you achieve it, I think we can both agree that the experience that you deliver in how you really get to the heart of what brings a fan there the first time and keeps them coming back time and time ago, these are emotional-based interactions that you have but it's no different from what I'm trying to do with the marketing strategy of SAP.

Women in Leadership, Authenticity, and Empathy

Michael Krigsman: I want to talk about women in leadership. First, I have to ask you both a question, which is empathy. You're both talking about customer experience and understanding what your customers want. Where does empathy fit in?

Cathy Engelbert: Oh, it is such an important part of being a leader today, as is authenticity. I'd say authenticity and empathy, no matter what issue you're dealing with on a day-to-day basis and we all put out fires as leaders every day. If you're an empathetic leader and an authentic leader, I think it's particularly for the millennial and digital native generations, they can spot an empathetic leader and an authentic leader from miles away. If you're not, you're just not going to be successful with those groups.

Alicia Tillman: It also means you have to really understand the definition of it and what it's not. Brene Brown has this wonderful video which she's talked about where she shows the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is when you're kind of up here looking down on somebody expressing sadness for them but you're not really there at the same level in the trenches, which is empathy. It's when you have that ability to kind of get down there on the same level with those that you're trying to connect with.

It starts with understanding them. Why do they show up at a WNBA game? Why do they purchase SAP technology? They do both because they have an appreciation for it. There is an alignment to values or things that they've grown up with or things that they feel inspire a certain emotion that they want to have when they interact with your product. Being able to appeal to that, recognize it, and learn from it, that's empathy.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, and I think one of the things I've learned in my various different leadership roles is, people want to feel like you've walked in their shoes a bit as you communicate.

Alicia Tillman: Yeah.

Cathy Engelbert: You can be the most empathetic leader, but if you don't communicate. I was a beneficiary of an apprenticeship model at Deloitte where I did walk in the shoes of our 100,000 people because I was once them. When you get in front of them and you talk about how you were once them and how you know it's difficult, we require a high level of performance, long hours, and lots of travel, then they feel more connected to you as a leader and they feel more motivated.

You drive a very people-first agenda because we're all selling a product but, when you're in professional services, you're actually selling your people. Whereas when I was at Deloitte I ran a very people-first agenda, now what I've been saying is I like to run a very player-first agenda because that's important, too, to be empathetic about the player experience, which isn't where it needs to be today. It's all interrelated and similar business issues.

Michael Krigsman: Then empathy drives the trust and the authenticity that you were talking about and Alicia and I have spoken about many times. Let's talk about women in leadership. I know it's an issue that is very important to each of you.

Alicia Tillman: Maybe I'll start and talk a little bit with Cathy about your career so far, which I always like to talk about a career and kind of take us all the way back to our childhood because I do think that there are so many things that we can take away from our childhood that positioned us well for kind of where we are today. There still remain such few women in leadership positions and we're so often trying to inspire others and to almost give them that playbook because people want to know, how did you do it and what was your journey like? You started; you were an athlete growing up.

Cathy Engelbert: Yes.

Alicia Tillman: An incredible collegiate athlete at Lehigh University, basketball and lacrosse; I'd love to start there.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, sure.

Alicia Tillman: Talk about how being an athlete readied you for what your career became post-college.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, it's interesting. I'm also one of eight kids with five brothers and a father who actually was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1957.

Alicia Tillman: [Laughter] Wow!

Cathy Engelbert: Then played in college for a now Naismith Hall of Fame Coach Muffet McGraw, so you might say this was in my DNA from the beginning. Just growing up with five brothers, I competed from the day I was born, whether it was for Pop-Tarts and cereal or time with the parents.

My father worked three jobs to send eight children through college and my mother never got to go to college back in the '50s, and so that's really been a lot of what shaped my competitiveness, I'd say, because of the way schools just changed with year-round.

Alicia Tillman: Mm-hmm, year-round. Mm-hmm.

Cathy Engelbert: Pick one sport even at the high school level, which drives me a little bit crazy because I'm about agility, agility in business, agility in athletics, and multiple sports.

Alicia Tillman: Of course.

Cathy Engelbert: Talk to any famous athlete. They'll say, "I played multiple sports growing up and it helped my agility to become the best at what I do today." Really, that framed it.

I actually went to a college that, at the time, was four to one, male to female. I joined a profession that was 92% male partners at the time in 1986. If you look at it, I was always competing in this very male-dominated world, including at home, including at college, and including in the business world.

Things have changed, thankfully. I, thankfully, had some sponsors at Deloitte who pounded the table, unknowingly to me, to say, "Cathy needs to build her capability more broadly. She needs to run a business. She needs to be on big clients. She needs to have exposure in different parts, become more technical," and so I was fortunate. I didn't even know I had the sponsor behind the scenes who kind of kept a dashboard on me and said it was red, yellow, green, and I was red on three areas, so I was glad he never showed it to me.

Alicia Tillman: [Laughter]

Cathy Engelbert: I'm like, "I wasn't red in those areas." All of that, ultimately.

The one thing I talk to young women and men all the time about is, I never aspired to be CEO, or commissioner for that matter. I aspire to lead. When you aspire to lead, you raise the people behind you to become the next generation leaders.

The one piece of advice I got was actually from Condoleezza Rice when I first started as a CEO of Deloitte. She said, "Cathy, you're not going to be the CEO there forever. One of your number one goals should be to bring the next generation of leaders behind you," so that when I was done and I didn't realize I'd be moving on to sports, but when I was ready for my next role, succession was such an important part of leadership. A lot of leaders today don't see that.

Alicia Tillman: Yeah.

Cathy Engelbert: I just got really good advice around that. That was really my path.

Alicia Tillman: There are things that I've heard from you, as you sort of describe Cathy to all of us. I've heard teamwork. I've heard collaboration. I've heard empathy.

Looking at the next generation and how you will bring them forward, these are all incredible things that you think about not so much in the given role that you're necessarily aligned to, but as a leader and what you feel is your responsibility. Not as a woman in business—

Cathy Engelbert: Yes.

Alicia Tillman: –but as a leader in business that I think all of us can learn and be inspired by.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah, and there are a lot of things you learn along the way. I learned spreadsheets never yield a good answer for women, by the way. People who run all these spreadsheets and they look at numbers, you've got to be empathetic about what's the analysis you're trying to solve, coming back to your core values and principles. Again, in a people-first agenda, what is the right thing to do for your people for the different generations.

When you have 100,000 people and you're thinking about the policies, I put in a family leave policy, but we originally ran a spreadsheet that said it's going to cost too much to put in an industry-leading family leave policy. I said, but it's the right thing to do.

Alicia Tillman: Right.

Cathy Engelbert: It's built loyalty. It's built empathy. It's changed people's lives who were able to take that time off to care for a sick child or parent.

Spreadsheet Analytics and Gender Equality in Business

Michael Krigsman: Elaborate on that comment you just made that spreadsheets don't yield the best result for women.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah. You look at a lot of policies today that are being promulgated, and they're usually based on some kind of economic analysis that just looks at numbers on a page, looks at historical value, and I have a strong belief that that doesn't take into account the intangibles at a diverse workforce, a diverse set of thought will bring into a room. If you're just looking at economics, we're never going to lift, whether it's women, whether it's underrepresented minorities, whatever cohort group you're looking at.

That's one of the things we did at Deloitte. We looked at inclusion more carefully than diversity to make sure we were getting all of the benefits. A spreadsheet would have told us, don't do that. That's what I mean by that, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Alicia, it looks like you're going to get the last word.

Alicia Tillman: I couldn't agree more with what Cathy is saying, especially when she talks about the power of inclusion. We've got over 480,000 customers around the world and, when we create technology, we have to have it appeal to over 480,000 customers across 180 countries.

Cathy Engelbert: Yeah.

Alicia Tillman: The only way for us to be able to do that successfully is to make sure that we have diversity in the employees who are accountable for interacting and understanding our customers and then building the very technology that's going to sit inside their organizations. When you can build an inclusive workforce, then you can build a company that's really going to have that ability to deliver the success that's needed on behalf of your customers. I think, beyond anything else, I think that is the greatest leadership characteristic that we can bring to our organizations today is understanding really the role of inclusion in your companies and creating a workforce that's just representative of the world that we live in today.

Michael Krigsman: Fantastic. Cathy Engelbert, thank you so much.

Cathy Engelbert: Thank you, Michael.

Michael Krigsman: Alicia Tillman, thank you.

Alicia Tillman: Thanks so much, Michael. [Laughter]

Published Date: Dec 17, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 639