Of all the collaborations we focus on as marketers, how often do we consider a duet with our former colleagues? There’s value in staying connected says Jane Scandurra, global marketing consultant and coach, as she shares her experience of working with IBM.

One of the most memorable concerts I ever attended was an amazing performance of two legendary superstars, Carole King and James Taylor, at NYC’s Madison Square Garden on June 16, 2010.  

If you’re under the age of 45, there’s a chance you may not be familiar with these two powerhouse singers/songwriters/performers (still, I’d find that really hard to believe). Although they each have their own long list of hugely popular, award winning hits, their friendship goes way back and they are forever bound by one specific song: “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Carole King wrote it and recorded it in 1971 for her masterpiece album, Tapestry (which I literally wore out as a kid). But it was James Taylor’s cover version, also released in 1971, that made it world famous, hitting #1 in the US and #4 in the UK.

“You’ve Got a Friend”, Madison Square Garden, June 16, 2010

(feel free to sing along)

This particular concert in 2010 was truly memorable, not only to thoroughly enjoy seeing two of the greatest talents of all time, but also for the reason I was there – to celebrate and promote collaboration in a different way: to help drive new business opportunities for my professional alma mater, IBM.

After working for IBM in various global marketing management capacities over 11+ years, I left for a VP Marketing job at an internet start-up in 2006. That experience didn’t last long – but thankfully, it led to starting my own consulting business shortly after. In 2009, I returned to IBM with a contract to work on its corporate alumni program. “The Greater IBM Connection” was a global initiative developed to connect past and present IBMers around the globe for mutual benefit – both professionally and socially.  Since I was an IBM alumnus, it was a great fit.

My specific mission was to help educate and enable the global marketing and sales teams on how to engage with former IBMers who were now IT decision-makers and influencers in other companies to specifically promote collaboration and business development.

Your former employees present a valuable and virtually untapped treasure trove of brand ambassadors, potential clients, future business partners and top-notch rehires.

Given the massive size of the company, it’s not surprising that IBM alumni work in most of the company’s top client accounts around the world, including in those tough to break into competitive accounts, and increasingly in fast-growing mid-sized companies, where IBM is keen to increase its market share through its Business Partner Channel. Many alumni are executives. Many are not, but they likely have access to them and have the ability to influence key decision makers.

A large number of former employees continue their relationship with IBM as part of its vast Business Partner community – which means they either start or work for companies that sell and/or support IBM offerings.

Which brings me back to the Carole King / James Taylor concert…(yes, there is a connection)

Given my mission, I had a creative idea to capitalize on the collaboration theme and bring past and present IBMers together by hosting an exclusive networking event — in a private viewing suite, AT THE CONCERT.

By invitation only, the attendees at this event were:

Former IBM employees who were now key executives and sales reps at a Premier IBM Business Partner (who also sponsored the event).

Current IBMers (consultants, business development reps) who were specifically focused on strengthening the Business Partner channel and had a vested interest in the sponsoring Partner’s success.

A handpicked list of former IBMers currently working in key accounts. Also members of the alumni program, they were considered to be prime prospects for the sponsoring Business Partner and for selling IBM offerings.

With the backdrop of the Carole King/James Taylor collaboration, the objective of this pilot program was to shine a spotlight on the opportunity for current and former employees to connect and do business together, in the hope of inspiring more of the same in the future.

I’m happy to say, results exceeded expectations. New relationships were formed. New business engagements were forged. Money eventually changed hands. 🙂 The event seemed to epitomize the type of camaraderie that most former colleagues feel for each other, regardless of their current company affiliation. Common shared experiences become a bond.

New relationships were formed. New business engagements were forged. Money eventually changed hands

On top of all that, everyone enjoyed the concert and the song, “You’ve Got a Friend” seemed to take on new meaning that night.

Turn up the volume on ABM: “Alumni Based Marketing” should be explored as a potential component of a comprehensive Account Based Marketing plan.

It should be pretty obvious why client-facing teams should have their company’s alumni on their business development radar. Regardless of how they left the company, many alumni may still have a very strong and positive affinity to their corporate alma mater, so there are many reasons to purposely expand professional networks to include former colleagues – and Marketing needs to consider them in Account-Based Marketing programs. 

Even if a formal company-wide alumni program is not created, Marketing should help to proactively educate and enable Sales teams to focus on this low hanging fruit for business development.

More than ever before, sales is about building strong relationships. If you’ve maintained a personal network of your current and former colleagues, now is the time to leverage it in creative ways, because the payoff is there to drive serious business value.

More than ever before, sales is about building strong relationships

From the company’s perspective, if handled well, investing in an alumni program is well worth it in terms of serious cost savings (talent acquisition) and revenue generation (business development).

Although alumni networks are not new to the corporate world, there has been a renewed interest in growing them in recent years. One estimate says 8% of the companies in the Fortune 1,000 have some form of alumni program, offering seminars, career-networking events, or discounts on products and services, just like a college would.

No industry has made as much use of its alumni as management consulting. Firms like McKinsey & Co and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have long benefitted from a continued relationship with their former employees.  BCG has calculated that when an alumnus is involved in pitching a new client engagement, it is 40% more likely to with the business than without that connection. That’s pretty impressive.

By harnessing the collective power of their past and present workforces, many companies are finding there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.   

In addition to business development, actively engaging with alumni can be helpful for a variety of reasons – for collaboration and assessments on products and services they may have worked on while at the company… for benchmarking, gathering industry best practices, and even for competitive intelligence. 

Without a doubt, the music of Carole King and James Taylor contributed to the musical ‘tapestry’ of my life (pun intended). Making a conscious effort to continue and strengthen relationships with colleagues we work with – past and present – helps to create a diverse and valuable tapestry of our professional lives, with the ability to create lasting business value.

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