An employee chilling on the beach during working hours? Why not? Valentina Bagniya, Chief Marketing Officer at international IT company SOFTSWISS, shares her management approach.
Large international IT companies today are becoming true corporations with global inspirational goals and a multitude of departments that create unique products for customers worldwide. The iGaming sphere is considered to be a separate caste that has been rapidly developing in recent years. As competition grows, so does the need to fight for customers and build strong brands. What role does a well-built marketing department play in this? How can one succeed when almost the entire team works remotely? And why are mistakes in work not failures, but opportunities for growth?
Valentina Bagniya, Chief Marketing Officer at SOFTSWISS, an international tech product company, shares her experience in this interview. The software company successfully operates in Malta, Georgia, Poland, and Belarus. The company already employs over 1,400 people worldwide, and the list of professional awards, including The Workplace of the Year, continues to grow with enviable regularity.
– Valentina, you joined SOFTSWISS when there was no marketing department in the company. Everything had to be created from scratch. Can you share with us how challenging that journey was?
– It was something I had never done before, but the challenge was inspiring. Instead of immediately diving into recruiting, I made sure to begin with a strategy development. That’s what you have to do first and foremost, I always say that. By starting with a clear understanding of both business and marketing tasks, you can identify the specific skill sets, professional roles and functional tasks required for the team.
Together with the strategy, it took me 3 months to form a core team of employees who would handle the first important tasks. And when the daily routine started, it became clear which functions needed additional resources. Given the complex nature of our industry, I decided to minimise reliance on contractors and perform most tasks internally. It’s challenging to find external professionals who excel. Either they cost a lot or their professionalism can be questioned. They have many clients, which means they can’t fully immerse themselves into the specifics of your tasks, which ultimately affects the quality of the results.
Initially, I planned to have a maximum of 10 people in the SOFTSWISS marketing department. However, 2.5 years later, we have expanded to 41 people.
This period saw numerous transformations. With the company experiencing rapid growth, the marketing department has naturally expanded as well. Initially, my focus was on hiring individuals who could efficiently execute tasks. Now, I am searching for employees capable of making managerial decisions and assuming full responsibility for the outcomes, whether positive or negative.
Is the team currently finalised? We operate in a rapidly expanding market, particularly in the dynamic and trend-driven field of marketing. With the industry constantly developing and competitors emerging, along with our company’s ongoing growth, we constantly face new challenges and tasks. Therefore, we cannot claim that everything is set in stone. Instead, we will continuously adapt our internal processes, prioritise internal communication, and enhance the team’s efficiency and overall marketing performance. These changes will be an ongoing part of our journey.
By the way, one of the key requirements for candidates who join our company is the ability to live and feel at ease with change. The word ‘stability’ doesn’t exist in our industry. Now, embracing a constant state of change has become the new comfort zone. When everything seems stable, on the contrary, it’s a signal we should be cautious. This is one of the most important qualities I seek when selecting people for the team.
– How to spot people who can easily adapt to change?
– I tend to focus less on candidates’ proficiency in functional tasks or their previous work experiences, assuming they possess necessary professional skills since they have reached the interview stage with me.
Typically, I steer the conversation towards the questions that provide valuable insights. What makes our company and this position interesting to you? What are your expectations from your employer and yourself? What are you proud of? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What weaknesses might your previous supervisor mention? Can you share your successes/failures and the reasons behind them? These questions help me assess a person’s flexibility, their willingness to change or maintain their opinions, their ability to take responsibility, or their tendency to blame others for their failures.
– When bringing new people into the team, what do you prioritise more: everyone’s comfort or a new person’s ability to solve business problems?
– It’s essential to recognise that even despite impressive professional skills, a candidate’s negative behaviour, like creating a toxic atmosphere, spreading dissatisfaction, or resisting positive changes, can seriously affect the team’s morale, making it difficult for me to keep them motivated. My main priority as a manager is to cultivate a comfortable and inspiring work environment that not only encourages teamwork but also facilitates smooth resolution of business tasks.
Therefore, when selecting employees, I place great emphasis on their personal qualities. Individuals exhibiting high moral principles, good upbringing, a willingness to take responsibility, flexibility, adaptability, and a thirst for learning can be trained to excel in any functional role, even with minimal prior experience or none at all.
– Could you please explain how the work processes of the marketing department are organised in a large international company, specifically taking SOFTSWISS as an example? Additionally, what system of results evaluation do you follow?
– Now our department consists of seven subdivisions, structured to cater to specific functional tasks and promotion direction. This approach allows us not only effectively promote our commercial brand but also reinforce our employer brand. Our brand team is responsible for the strategy, positioning, visual and image communications. We also have dedicated PR, event, and digital teams, each playing a crucial role in targeted promotions, which is especially important in the B2B industry, particularly when targeting niche audiences like ours. We also have departments which focus on crafting quality content and comprehensive analytics, handling extensive data for planning, and forecasting. Recently, we have established a creative team responsible for developing innovative and visually appealing solutions to promote our products and brands.
In terms of process organisation, our strategy development follows a one-year timeline. The period from September to November is the busiest, as it involves reviewing the current year’s results and devising plans for the next one, aligning with our business objectives, market dynamics, and competitor behaviour. We have quarterly and monthly plans, accompanied by well-defined key performance indicators (KPIs) for all members of the marketing department. Regular monitoring of these figures helps us track progress towards our goals effectively. Additionally, we have brand-wide KPIs that are closely tied to the achievement of our business goals, with each team member’s contribution playing a vital role in attaining overall success.
– In one of your interviews, you mentioned that the marketing team at SOFTSWISS is the source of your professional pride and dignity. However, it’s natural for work processes to encounter bumps along the way. So, how should a manager react to mistakes?
– Nobody is immune to making mistakes. I firmly believe that mistakes serve as valuable learning experiences, allowing us to refine our methods. When everything is going smoothly, it’s easy to overlook the cause-and-effect relationships, dismissing them as mere coincidences resulting from favourable circumstances.
At a certain point of my professional career, driven by my ambition for growth and advancement, I was at work and considered the prospect of leaving a major global brand for a promising opportunity with another company that offered me the coveted position I sought. Before making a decision, I had a talk with the General Manager. He told me that becoming a true marketing professional requires more than just a few successful campaigns. It involves going through many marketing cycles, each lasting about a year. This idea really stuck with me. Some years might bring great success, while others may not be so favourable. To improve, it’s essential to carefully analyse these outcomes, understand what factors influenced them, and learn from personal mistakes. This self-reflection is vital for personal growth. By the way, I ended up deciding not to leave the company.
It’s not about making excuses or trying to defend ourselves, when things go wrong. It’s about having the courage to say “I made a mistake, I was wrong”. Embracing this mindset is the first step to genuine growth.
In a company where a fixed mindset prevails, employees believe that success is a state rather than process. They tend to shy away from challenges and crumble under failures, opting to hide their mistakes and play the blame game to avoid acknowledging their own shortcomings.
Conversely, companies that foster a growth mindset are a different story. Regardless of the circumstances, the focus remains on continuous improvement. Mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth, and we embrace them as stepping stones in both our personal and professional development. Beyond simply recognising our missteps, we actively extract valuable insights from them, using these lessons to prevent their repetition and foster ongoing progress.
– There are various models for managing teams. A manager can act as a mentor, a supervisor, or a delegator. Do you adhere to any specific model?
– It’s rather a blend of my knowledge and experience. People are inherently diverse and even within a cohesive team with shared values, each individual brings their unique strengths to the table. When it comes to managing different people, the one-size-fits-all approach falls short. For some team members, a directive approach like “go and do” might be the most effective. With others, a collaborative approach such as “why do you think that way?” or “let’s think together” might be more appropriate.
One thing I can say for sure: delegation lies at the core of my management style. I want my teams to wholeheartedly embrace their responsibility for achieving our company’s grand visions and goals. And they will never really assume that responsibility if they are constantly instructed what to do.
– What is it like to have several offices in Europe and most of the team working remotely across the world for SOFTSWISS? How does it feel to primarily interact with your colleagues through screens rather than in person?
– When it comes to remote work, managers often worry about whether their employees are truly working or chilling at the sea during working hours. Well, let them enjoy their time! What truly matters is that they cope with their tasks and do it effectively.
When I assembled the SOFTSWISS marketing department, remote work was already part of our lives. Of course, it comes with challenges. Being in the same space all the time gives the team more opportunities to be immersed in processes, transfer information, share knowledge, stay motivated, remain engaged, and be efficient. But I see remote work as a modern necessity, especially for an international company.
At the same time, I am very happy when I get the chance to meet with my colleagues in person. Undoubtedly, we all need such meetings. When you can look into each other’s eyes, share a good laugh, have a chat, and go for a walk – you grow closer together and develop a much greater sense of unity, which you can’t get from a monitor screen.
It’s important to acknowledge that remote work has its advantages. You can go to the sea, swim in the morning and evening, and work during the day while looking at the waves. This can motivate you and give you energy. If we talk about SOFTSWISS, we have people in our team who live in Malta, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and dozens of other countries. It’s challenging, but it adds diversity that helps us look at many familiar things in a different way. And the new way of looking at things contributes to more effective work.
– Do you agree that job seekers in the IT industry have changed their priorities over the last few years? Nowadays they seem to be more interested in the opportunity to work alongside professionals, develop, and find enjoyment in their work rather than focus on monetary compensation.
– There was a time when people flocked to the IT industry primarily for the allure of money. As more companies started offering competitive salaries, employees found themselves with more choices. Bonuses related to comfort, pleasure, work-life balance became pivotal in retaining and attracting talent, sometimes surpassing financial considerations.
Now, It seems the tide is turning once again. The qualities I mentioned have evolved into a new standard, and companies that fail to offer a robust relocation policy, extra days off, bonuses, or other incentives, find it challenging to attract potential employees. Such perks have now become an expected norm, and without them, employers no longer hold the same appeal. While these perks continue to be crucial and are somewhat taken for granted, financial motivation is coming to the forefront again. As if the industry has come full cycle revisiting its roots.
As a result, companies are now faced with an exciting challenge – how to make their work more enticing and captivating. This can be achieved by engaging in special projects, fostering innovative ideas, and instilling a profound sense of connection to the outcomes they achieve. Embracing this new approach will ensure that companies stay competitive and appealing to potential employees in this ever-evolving landscape.
– Do you keep track of histories of prominent giant companies like Google, Apple, etc. Are there any role models that stand out to you?
– Of course, I have read all the bestsellers to explore how teams within big brands came to be. What have I learned, you ask? On their path to greatness, each of these legendary teams weathered an epic storm of complexities, transformations, challenges, layoffs, changes in approach, etc. Take the iconic Steve Jobs, for instance, who was fired from his own company. When I was an MBA student and first learned about it, I was shocked.
However, all these giants have successfully overcome change and growth challenges, propelling themselves to the next level. I genuinely wish there were bestsellers that could reveal the valuable lessons hidden within business collapses. Moreover, it’s essential to consider that after reading books, many people tend to emulate the same strategies and models. But we are not Google or Apple. We have a different mindset, we are building our business in a different time. It’s important to view your circumstances through a unique lens to navigate your path successfully.
– Could you please tell us about the recent win of the SOFTSWISS marketing department at the EGR Marketing Innovations Awards 2023? Which project did you win with?
– We won this award with a super creative idea, inspired by product advertising campaigns in the FMCG industry. What made it even more exciting is that many of our employees have a background in this field, enabling them to effortlessly apply their existing expertise and skills. It is worth noting that marketing in iGaming is still evolving, so we came up with a creative approach that stood out from the norm. Our main goal was to boost SOFTSWISS’ brand awareness in Malta, which is considered to be the heart of our industry with a significant number of people working in iGaming.
We have chosen a hot pepper as the company’s key visual, backed by the “Blazing in” slogan. And to make sure we were noticed, we ditched the ordinary and ventured into the unchartered territory of B2B marketing. From radio to buses, advertising boards to prime spots at Malta International Airport, where iGaming pros roam, we left our mark everywhere. We served unusual ice creams with spicy flavours like chilli mango and strawberry chilli, mirroring yellow and red SOFTSWISS colours, outside the offices of our potential clients.
We also featured key SOFTSWISS leaders, including the company’s Founder Ivan Montik, in an epic photo shoot with those fiery peppers, putting them on billboards that were absolute show-stoppers. This entire project embodied true teamwork and collaboration, and everyone had a blast working on it. We achieved outstanding results, surpassing all targets and exceeding expectations. Our bond as a team grew stronger through this achievement and our vibrant campaign caught the attention of virtually everyone.