CMO Confessions Ep. 35: Jon Russo of B2B Fusion

Good morning, Webinerds! We’re back with another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with the top leaders in marketing and sales today. Today’s CMO Confessions features Jon Russo, CMO and Founder of B2B Fusion.

In today’s episode, Jon and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Jon’s firm, technology and training in marketing.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about Jon’s experiences and career path through his LinkedIn page here and you can connect with him through his Twitter feed here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here on Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions!

Table of Contents:

The Road to CMO of B2B Fusion
Tech CMO vs. Agency CMO
Technology in Marketing
On-the-Job Marketing Training
Excitement for the Future of B2B Marketing
The Digital-First Future of Event Marketing
Marketing Pet Peeves
The Gym Membership Syndrome
A Groundbreaking Project

Cheri Keith:

Hello, and welcome to CMO Confessions, the weekly B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I am Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24. On today’s episode, I am so excited for Jon Russo to join us. Jon is CMO of B2B Fusion, a strategy and execution revenue optimization firm focused on ABM. Thanks for joining, Jon.

Jon Russo:

Thanks Cheri. I really appreciate it.

The Road to CMO of B2B Fusion

Cheri Keith:

Of course! We’re going to just jump right into this. I want to first talk to you about what led you here being the CMO of your own firm for the past 11 years or so, and why you decided to do that.

Jon Russo:

Yeah, great question. I’ve had a career only in B2B marketing and high-tech B2B marketing in Silicon Valley and New York City in Luxembourg. And, throughout that career, call it 20+ years. About 10 of those have been a high-tech kind of marketing. I’ve been through several situations and early on in my career in Silicon Valley where things grew very, very quickly.

I was kind of appointed to head marketing on a couple occasions. A few of those occasions, we took companies public, occasions where I helped bring companies together and combined companies. I’ve been through a couple of mergers and acquisitions as head of marketing and came out as a head of marketing on the other side, which was terrific.

I kind of stuck with that theme and I began looking around a few years ago thinking, “Well, I can be a CMO for the, as you said, the 11th year in a row, or I could try to go out on my own and help others with their journey.” And what I decided to do is build my own agency, in and around helping other marketers succeed. It’s a very challenging role as I’m sure you’re well aware. In the marketing side, it’s a lonely role. It’s a hard role and not an easy role.

Tech CMO vs. Agency CMO

Cheri Keith:

How is it going from being the CMO of technology companies to an agency CMO? Because those are very different roles.

Jon Russo:

Yeah, it definitely was quite an adjustment at first. As a head of marketing, you’re used to calling your own shots and having people do things. When you’re building something from scratch, you’re delegating to yourself. So, there’s been a lot of self-learning as part of that process.

It’s also been an adjustment too, because I had teams that were sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes regional, sometimes global. Having to manage those global teams actually has suited me well in this new role in that I’ve got a number of people that are outside of the U.S. as well as inside the U.S., so it has helped.

But. it is definitely a different feel as an agency owner than it is working for a company per se. People always say, “Oh, you got your own job. That must be great. You can set your own hours.” I’m probably working as hard. I think the difference is perhaps in the travel side of things. Pre COVID. I was able to project out a little bit more clearly as to when I would be traveling. Whereas the CMO, I felt like I was on a plane a lot and it was a little bit more random. So that’s probably the biggest variation there.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, that makes sense. I think it’s important though, that agencies have that role. Obviously, you have the dual role of founder and CMO. But, one thing I would always advise clients on when they were doing agencies is “Well, do they even have the role that they’re purporting to help you with within their organization today?” So, I think you must bring a lot of credibility both to that role internally, but also externally, and actually talking to clients about what they’re looking to do.

Jon Russo:

Yeah. I think you’re bringing up an excellent point and one, I probably should have highlighted earlier as to why I eventually founded B2B Fusion, was that exact frustration. I was dealing with agencies and organizations that didn’t have that operational expertise. And I was baffled because they came in with a lot of infrastructures that didn’t make sense for my business. And so, that definitely was one of the reasons or catalysts for jumping into it.

Yeah, I hope you’re exactly right. Hopefully, it does lend some credibility having been in the role and knowing how tough it is to go to a CEO or a head of sales and to have those difficult conversations or even your board of directors.

Marketing is such a unique career path, really because it can be interpreted so many different ways. And I think by being a head of marketing in different locations of the globe, it really opened my eyes to how differently people can really interpret what the word quote-unquote “marketing” really means to non-marketers.

Technology in Marketing

Cheri Keith:

That makes a lot of sense, but you mentioned technology here, and I know that’s critical to both the work you are doing today, but also why you decided to found the company. So, can you talk a little bit about weathering that change and what you saw on the client-side that led you to decide to take on more of this advisory, client-facing perspective on MarTech?

Jon Russo:

Yeah, early in my career, the first 15 years I was out in the Valley and I did a lot of high-tech marketing out there. So, I probably had it kind of infused in me early on. What I noticed when I moved to the New York City area, we were early adopters of a technology called Eloqua that a lot of people are very familiar with and I was incredibly frustrated. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get the promise of the software in terms of it measuring the marketing impact and lo and behold, what I learned probably a couple of years later was the deficiency really was within myself. I had to go to school and I actually ended up, oddly enough, certifying in Eloqua, certifying in Marketo, certifying in Salesforce, so I could really understand all the moving parts. I don’t know many CMOs who would ever go down that path. I’m a bit, probably woke in that regard, but I really want to understand, why was it so challenging for me?

Then I started thinking about a couple of things. I was thinking, “Well, if it’s this challenging for me, what’s everybody else going through?” And this is 2009-2010, very early on in the marketing automation trajectory. At the same time, I was 23 years old, I’m not 23 anymore, but I had somebody producing my marketing impact reports in Excel and the ink was still wet from my marketing impact report that I would race to the board of directors moments before our board meeting. And it just really ate at me. I’m spending all this money for marketing automation and I’m hearing about the promise of marketing impact. And I couldn’t really put those two up.

That’s what kind of pushed me into that technology side. And again, earlier on in my career, because I had spent so much time in Silicon Valley with a very technical sale. I think it’s lent itself very well for the MarTech world. So, for me, smashing these technologies together and APIs. To me, that’s second nature. Like I don’t really think too much about it. But for a marketer who doesn’t come from that background, I could see why it would be challenging. So, I think that probably is what kind of pushed me into this area where we’re now focused on, which is mostly account-based marketing and the technology that supports that and the strategy that supports that, as well.

On-the-Job Marketing Training

Cheri Keith:

Well, it’s interesting also, because I think your point about training is well taken. I was not a marketing major in college. I don’t run into a lot of them. But once you enter the world, there’s not a lot of places to go for training. Obviously, the technical training for you to even do that is amazing.

I think the technology providers do a good job of having that in place, but outside of that, there tends to be a gap for someone who, especially on their own, is just looking to advance their skills. I mean, yes, you can go on LinkedIn. They had acquired the LMS provider a few years ago, so there’s content out there, but a lot of marketers don’t have the time or the ability to be able to go out and stay on top of things. Does that resonate with what you see in clients?

Jon Russo:

Yeah, I think you’re exactly right that we kind of eat our own as marketers. There’s not a lot of formal training. I’m a finance major, so go figure, that finance to marketing. I don’t know. how. Somewhere along the way, I got my wires crossed. But that helps me a lot to have credible conversations with the CFO side because I can go toe to toe and really go down deep into financials. But, that’s me.

Let’s talk about the industry. I agree, the industry as a whole, they don’t really place a premium on it. They seem to place more of a premium on the types of companies and the types of experiences that you’ve had. And really the only way to do it is learn by doing it. Trial by fire. You have to keep doing and repeating and making mistakes and hope that nobody sees those mistakes. Or they’re not too egregious. It’s on the job training.

But I still think today, unlike maybe the years prior that we grew up in, there are a lot more online resources today to do that training that didn’t exist before. I was spending my time over the weekends or at night going through cram courses on some of these topics. And a lot of this stuff is common sense. So, it wasn’t like it was too tough, but there’s still a lot of online work that didn’t exist back in the day. Marketers do have that kind of opportunity, whether they are able to take advantage of that. That might be a different issue.

Cheri Keith:

But also, are CMOs investing in that? I think I’ve run across data that says training’s a priority, but then you don’t see that really coming to fruition. I think people say they want to do it, but because it’s so fragmented where to go to get that, to do it in a systematic way can be a challenge. And to be honest, I’m a French language and literature major so my major’s definitely not helping me out today.

Jon Russo:

Keep this one in English for the rest of the way, if that’s all right, because I can’t speak French.

Excitement for the Future of B2B Marketing

Cheri Keith:

Hopefully my employer doesn’t find out that I definitely have not qualified for my [inaudible]. A little self-deprecating humor. All right. I want to shift gears now. I am curious, you have such a good vantage point both on what you’re doing, but also what clients are doing. So, what’s really exciting you about B2B marketing right now?

Jon Russo:

Well, this is a really unique time in history. If you think back over the last, particularly the last 20 years, we’ve seen this kind of dip in activity a couple of other times. We saw it in 2000-2001, particularly in Silicon Valley where the bubble popped, and a number of companies consolidated and like tumbleweed was blowing in the streets. We saw it again in 2008 with the financial crisis. And even as a head of marketing at the time, I was an interim head of marketing for a company called Gartner Group. They ended up cutting a third of their division right out of the gate because of the financial institution. I had just started my role there and the last one was the first one out.

Cheri Keith:

Yep!

Jon Russo:

So, a lot of companies right now are kind of in that same situation where I’m hearing that there’s been a little bit of a pause for some companies. It really varies by industry. The travel industry, as an example, where they’re feeling that same kind of downfall.

Now that wasn’t your question, your question is what excites me and what excites me is what’s about to come. What I’m hoping has happened is for the last 90 days or so, at the time of this recording, there’s been kind of a pause on a lot of decisions. We’ve all stopped traveling. We’re not going to events. Everything has been paused. Your prospects or the prospects that I’m seeing or talking with, they’ve all paused a lot of those decisions. Unless it’s a mission-critical decision that goes through the CFO, it’s probably getting paused.

What I think is going to happen in the back half of the year, particularly industries that would benefit from more acceleration like security, maybe pharmaceuticals. I think you’ll see an acceleration like you’ve never seen before in the second half of the year because there’s so much pent up. People can’t just be in this idle stage forever. So, I think there’s going to be a pent-up period, and I’m hoping it’s going to be the second half where people really start getting re-engaged globally.

Now, I will say there is one difference this time that didn’t exist in those prior years. One of the ways that this has kind of manifested, the Silicon Valley bubble really impacted Silicon Valley. The 2008-2009 crisis was felt most acutely, naturally, when I was on the East Coast. It was most acutely felt in the New York City area, in particular.

This is different in that it’s global. So, what I hope happens here is, globally, we somehow solve whatever this issue has been the last six months and pockets will start seeing these rapid rises or rapid decisions. And if it doesn’t happen the second half of the year, it will happen. It’s just a matter of time.

Companies are not built to withstand this amount of indecision for extended periods of time. And I think you’re starting to see that in pipelines today. So, I’m really excited about what the future holds for a lot of us and B2B marketing.

The Digital-First Future of Event Marketing

Cheri Keith:

Hmm. Well, what I would add to that is the marketers’ day-to-day life had such an abrupt change to it and everything over the past 90 days was all reactionary. What’s going to happen once marketers actually have time to plan for it?

I think we’ve seen some great marketing over the past three months, but now that people can plan for the fact that there aren’t events, that it is a digital-first future. I’m excited to see what people can actually start to do when they’re not in the pure chaos that was going on anymore. And yes, obviously we’re all hoping that we moved out of that indecision phase because, you’re right, no one stagnates very well, especially at the top level of organizations. So, I think that’ll be interesting to see and obviously hopeful to watch it change.

Jon Russo:

Yeah. You may even see, too, a hybrid which benefits you guys at ON24 without a doubt, where you have this hybrid environment, especially as it relates to events because now I’m spending the majority of my day in front of my webcam, which I didn’t normally do. And perhaps events become almost a hybrid event where it becomes a little bit more regional with regional people getting together and you’re augmenting that with a virtual experience or kind of a real-time experience. So, that too could be pretty exciting.

I think the whole virtual event piece has also gone through an evolution over the last 10 years. But in the last 90 days, marketers have had to really get schooled on this in a big, big way. So yeah, I agree with you the second half of the year, I think will be really interesting because now we have even some learnings of the last 90 days to build from in the second half of the year.

I think ON24 is really well-positioned to take advantage of that in a positive way. I don’t think ON24 is doing anything that they shouldn’t be doing, but you will be able to continue to ride that wave as it goes forward.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s changed marketers’ lives, but it’s changed the event team’s life too. I have a close friend who’s the head of in-person events and I admire her. I do not know how to manage the logistics that she does of events that are thousands of people. I do not have the patience, the like anything of that make up, but overnight she has become an expert.

Let me tell you, I got a text message. She’s like, “We’re in, let’s go.” And she was able to turn this massive user group into a virtual event and it looks amazing. But technology was the furthest thing that she dealt with aside from bad lead scanners and all that. She had never even done that, but I was so impressed to see it.

And that’s just one example, a personal example of someone who had a 20+ year career had never once done one of these. And she was like, “I’m going to learn because I have no choice. If I don’t adopt right now like there’s no future for me.” So, I really think the event marketer, event planners, whatever their titles are within organizations, their toolkit has forever changed as well. Where they used to be off in a silo, like they’re integrated now.

Jon Russo:

Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. A hundred percent right. That’s exciting to hear and think about how that person, your friend, can potentially share that knowledge with others because they’re probably doing things at a scale and scope that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to learn.

So, in a way, this situation, or this virus has actually been helpful because it’s helped round out skills. And in this next evolution of this hybrid in-person and virtual event, what better person to leverage or lean upon is somebody with that kind of experience. So, yeah, I think that definitely is a future of marketing without a doubt.

Marketing Pet Peeves

Cheri Keith:

Exactly. So, tell me what your pet peeves are in marketing and you don’t have to name clients or anything like that. The clients aren’t listening to my feedback out of this one.

Jon Russo:

I need another hour on that! No, I’m kidding about that. But yeah, pet peeves. The big thing, because I’ve studied so much on marketing attribution and being able to connect that marketing investment to new revenue, whether it’s account-based marketing or lead generation.

I have studied a lot of the models, probably more so than most, and the common denominator in all of that is data and what I’ve noticed with data, meaning the data quality, quality of your contact information, the quality of the account data. It’s the least sexy part of marketing or sales operations, or marketing ops, or whoever owns it. That’s a whole different podcast, but it’s really the gas in the engine.

We’ve just gone through an event here where 15 million people are unemployed and what I’ve noticed, even in our own clients because we try to help them with this journey with processes and best practice approaches and the right software and the right tools and the coaching, so to speak. What I’ve noticed is people underestimate the impact that data has on your measurement, on your productivity of your sales and marketing teams that you’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on and your technology. You can have the best people in the world. You can have the best technology in the world, but if your data and your database is stale or wrong, then you’re wasting money everywhere else.

So, I don’t know if it’s a pet peeve, it’s probably like an order of operation and now is a really good time to be getting the digital shop in order. And even we’re doing this within our own business. I can’t say I’m lily-white here and I’ve solved everything. But it has to be a priority at some point in time. And why not now? Why not now, instead of going out and shopping for the new technology, take advantage of what you have and make it work better.

One of the ways that you can do that is through cleaner processes in and around your data. Marketing should have a vested interest in this, as should sales. It’s almost equally vested. It’s just that the salespeople are probably not and, no disrespect to sales, but they’re not cognitive people. They just want to go, go, go.

Marketers are probably in a really good position to take a step back and figure out what it is that they need. So, I think that would probably be a pet peeve is really investing that time and finding companies that value that as an activity. It’s very difficult and very challenging.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I think it’s a Gartner study that shows that 50% of marketing technologies … marketers are only using 58% of the capabilities of the technologies they have today. I just don’t even understand.

I kept that analogy only somewhat resonated with my team when I was taught it. This is if my son comes to me with his drink juice box and asks for another one, and he has one that’s pretty well full in his hand, I’m saying no to that. Like, you can’t go out and buy more if you still have what you haven’t even used.

I mean, gosh, the failure of so many technologies isn’t the technology. It’s either the user or the training like we talked about earlier, or the fact that it’s not integrated within the rest of the MarTech stack. So, therefore, there’s no data. It’s a challenge for people to really understand that.

The Gym Membership Syndrome

Jon Russo:

Yeah, you’re exactly right. And by the way, I was guilty of that too as a CMO. I was yelling at my team saying, “Move faster, move faster. Why is this hard?” They’re coming to me saying it’s difficult. I’m like, “What do you mean it’s difficult?” Well, you know what? It is difficult.

It took me years to really understand that after a lot of studying. I call it the gym membership syndrome. A lot of companies typically go in and they buy the gym membership. They buy the technology thinking that they’re going to get in revenue condition. And lo and behold, the gym membership is like the price of entry. You have to actually go in and do the work.

Now it’s somewhat self-serving, I’ll take it a step further and say, we’re the certified personal trainers that’ll help accelerate you in your progress in that gym. But the analogy I think still holds true.

A lot of these companies are buying the gym memberships thinking it’s automatic, that they just kind of mail it in, “Oh, I’ve got Salesforce. I’ve got Marketo. I’ve got Engagio or Demandbase.” Whatever the product or technology of the month is, but they hadn’t really thought through the data that connects all that or the processes to drive the systems. They get upside down very quickly and usually, that bears out in their revenue performance.

If they take a step back and really think through the processes and this is where we help them with that process because we’ve seen it so many different times. We’ve seen it probably close to a hundred plus times in account-based roles where we’re helping with the strategy and then kind of bringing that back into “Alright, well, this is what we want the systems to actually go do for us to support that strategy.” That to me feels like a bit of a missing piece.

A Groundbreaking Project

Cheri Keith:

Hmm. That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, people are definitely struggling with it. I think it’s hard because vendors want to sell themselves as the silver bullet, but no one ever is. And it’s also okay not to be that silver bullet, but we’re here to solve for that today.

So, we’re entering an interesting time of year. Hopefully, you have some time off or at least some downtime to relax. But are there any projects that are coming up that are really exciting or you’re looking forward to taking on either on behalf of clients or for your own organization?

Jon Russo:

Yeah. It’s funny, you mentioned that and it’s a thoughtful question. We’ve just come out of a really interesting engagement where we helped create the right dashboard for true marketing measurement at the account level and we’re able to tie leads to that as well.

What we discovered from our data and from that dashboard was there was a new target market that was emerging that our client wasn’t focused on, but the data supported that they ought to take a second look at it. Not only did they take a second look at it, but the entire company, and they’re probably not a large company. Call it around somewhere between 100-200 employees. But the CEO of the company got wind of it and pivoted the entire company toward this new segment. So, for us it was very groundbreaking.

Now we had spent several months laying the foundation to get to that point. That was not an automatic thing, but it was really exciting to see that at that level. And at our recommendations that they’re starting to really carry some significant weight and in a meaningful way.

What I attribute that to is getting the systems to perform the way they’re supposed to perform it and laying it out. And it’s not easy work. It is not easy work. So, it’s not surprising that a lot of companies are struggling with it. But somehow, we were able to piece this together in a way to present, “Here are the accounts that are showing engagement. Here are the accounts that are showing engagement from marketing. Here are the accounts that sales is engaging.” So, we could kind of see the delta between what sales was doing and what marketing was doing and what the prospect was doing. So, it gave us some really clean insight that we didn’t have before. To me, when I was able to see that and then hear how the company was pivoting their strategy as a result, that to me was exciting and fulfilling.

Cheri Keith:

Oh my gosh. Yes. How rewarding not only to be able to make a client happy but make the highest level of the organization happy. That’s great. Congratulations.

Jon Russo:

Yeah. Yeah, no, thank you. It was a lot of hard work to get there. It was a lot, a lot of hard work. I won’t kid you, but they were at a stage where they were willing to shift.

A lot of these companies, sometimes they have, you’ve probably heard the term technical debt where they’ve built their processes in a way that are so unique and so proprietary. In this case, this company was like, “We’re not wed to that. If there’s a better way, we’re open to that.” So, we were able to convince them and show them that better way and now it’s really paying off.

But that’s a really difficult decision for companies to make because it’s just easier to keep Botoxing. “I don’t want to, I don’t want to tear down. I want to Botox.” And you Botox something to death and then it becomes unrecognizable on the other end after a few years. So, I give him credit for kind of acknowledging it and then moving in that direction.

Now they also did have a lot of investment in the right technologies for account-based in this case. That also helped. But it’s the gym membership just because you have the right investments doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to leverage it the right way.

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. And I know our audience is going to take that into their next board meeting to make sure you those adjustments and why doing it right from the start is the best way to go.

Jon Russo:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Cheri Keith:

And I’ve learned so much and I’m sure our audience has as well. Thank you everyone for tuning in and have a great day.

Jon Russo:

Cheri, thanks for having me. I’m really excited.

CMO Confessions Ep. 34: Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing

Hey, Webinerds! We’re back with another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with the top leaders in marketing and sales today. Today’s CMO Confessions features Matt Heinz, President and Founder of Heinz Marketing.

In today’s episode, Matt and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Matt’s upcoming book, The Predictable Pipeline, marketing fundamentals and shifts in the field as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about Matt’s career and experiences through his LinkedIn page here and his Twitter feed here. 

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here on Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions!

Table of Contents:

The Predictable Pipeline Book
The Writing Process
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Marketing Fundamentals
Marketing Discipline and Shifts in the Paradigm
Seven Focus Areas of Predictable Pipeline and Matt’s Favorite Part

Cheri Keith:

Hello, and welcome to CMO Confessions, the B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world.

I am Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24. Today, I’m excited to have Matt Heinz on the episode. Matt is the President and Founder of Heinz Marketing. Matt, thanks so much for coming on.

Matt Heinz:

Oh my goodness. Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure.

The Predictable Pipeline Book

Cheri Keith:

All right, let’s get right into it. One of the projects that I’m really curious for an update on is the book that you’ve been working on called The Predictable Pipeline. First of all, how is this process going for you?

Matt Heinz:

If you have ever written a book before, you know that it is painful as all get out. It’s one thing to write a 600 to 800-word blog post. It’s another thing to put together a 50,000-word book.

The good is this is not a new topic. I know some authors, especially for some of my favorite nonfiction writers like David McCullough and others. They pick topics they know nothing about. Then they go and research it because they want to learn about it and then they write a book about it.

For me, fortunately, the whole idea of The Predictable Pipeline is something we’ve been working on for 12 plus years. I think the more we work with companies on what’s keeping them from creating predictability, what’s leading to random acts of marketing. It continues to feed the copy into the book.

I feel like every month that goes by, it might be a little bit different, a little bit more enriched, but we’re going to get it out. It’s going to launch in February now at this point. February 2021 and then yeah. Excited to get it out and get it in front of everybody.

The Writing Process

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. You mentioned the process that other authors use. What are you doing to either keep yourself on track when it comes to getting those prints down or just generally kind of your approach to developing all that content?

Matt Heinz:

Yeah, there’s a couple of ways, a couple of things that really helped me in the process. One is I think a lot about Ann Handley’s process of writing, where she has this four-part process, four parts of writing. She says 50% of writing is preparing for writing. It’s doing your research and organizing your thoughts, writing an outline. So, understanding what you want to write. She says the actual act of writing is once you have all that organization in place, it’s the discipline of sitting down and doing it. So that’s maybe 20% of the time.

Then there’s a short period of time during the writing process where you really questioned your career choices and that imposter syndrome sort of feeds in. Then there’s editing at the end. I think if you ignore the imposter syndrome part, it’s preparing to write, writing and editing are the three steps. And the shortest part of that actually is the writing, if you do the first part right. For me, that’s been really helpful just to spend a lot of time organizing my thoughts before I started writing.

Also, in some cases, if I feel like I have writer’s block, or if there’s a section that I’m really struggling to put on paper, instead of writing it, I’ll speak it. I’ll literally make a video.

Many of the videos that I’ve made for this will never see the light of day. They sometimes have just been me talking through things. Some of them won’t make the light of day because they literally are me out sweating, walking in 90-degree weather here in Seattle that we’re having, thankfully, here this summer. I just turn on my audio on my phone and record myself on a talk track. That talk track obviously needs editing. It’s way too wordy, but it helps me think through the progression of the content in the book.

Honestly, I would recommend that for anyone writing blog posts, writing scripts for videos, any kind of content, just to get your stream of consciousness out of your head and do it in a format that you promise yourself will never get published. It eliminates those barriers of complexity and perfection. “I better have my makeup on and I’m a face for radio.” No, forget it. Just get it down and you’ll have something you can build off of and it’ll make it a lot easier to turn your ideas into print.

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. It’s interesting you say that. I remember one time I had writer’s block and I was feeling kind of silly, but I was like, you know what? I need to go for a run right now. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you’re like, “Oh crap, that’s a really big hill in front of me.” Maybe I’ll have an idea here that I need to jot down in the notes section of my phone before I tackle this bad boy. It’s amazing how that works.

Matt Heinz:

Yeah. I mean, there’s something to be said for taking time to focus on something else, like get yourself out of the context of sitting in front of your computer. We joke sometimes when ideas come on when we’re in the shower or working out or in the car and it’s in part because your brain is partially at rest. You’re focused on something else.

I’ve done a lot of reading on neuroscience. Our brains are amazing. If we give it something to think about and then leave it alone, it’ll work on that problem in the background. It’s pretty amazing.

Before the iPhone, way back in the day, I used to run with a little mini recorder. It may still be around here somewhere. It’d be hilarious to go and listen because you’d have these ideas. Like you said, you’re going up a hill and you can barely breathe, and I have these ideas to record. You really have to listen to it three or four times afterward and try to figure out what I was trying to say.

But I think there’s something to be said for just giving yourself space and sometimes a little distance to get the idea out. But, also that idea of when those ideas come. To constantly have some means of capturing your ideas and the things that go through your brain because let’s face it, no matter who we are, most of the ideas we come up with are going to be terrible. But that’s part of the process of working through things in your brain and on paper and on your video or in a recorder to get to the good stuff.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, I also think the distractions that you have sitting in front of your computer, the things like email and your Slack messages. Where you’ve sat down to start writing, whether that be the book or another piece of content, and you get all of these distractions that aren’t really distractions. They’re work, but it’s hard to shut off all of that and then sit there and not feel the need to pull up Amazon and do some shopping at the same time.

Matt Heinz:

It’s really hard. It gets really, really hard. And I think, I mentioned a business book oftentimes will be 50,000 words. If you sit down and try to write 50,000 words, God help you. That’s going to be an awful process, right? So, you have to sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to do 500 words at a time or a thousand words at a time.” Whatever sort of time you have or whatever your process is.

I’ve also found that for things that feel intimidating I use something called the Pomodoro method. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and the guy that created it apparently used one of those little kitchen tomato timers that you can turn it. Twist the tomato and you get to your time. Well, it’s very simple.

You take 25 minutes at a time and then take a five-minute break. Then you can do another 25 minutes, take a five-minute break. You can string them along or you could just do one. And the whole point is, it’s hard. If you haven’t sat and done one thing for 25 minutes, you’ll realize just how distracted we all are. Or just how much our brain is straining to try to do something else because we’re focused on something intently.

Our brains can’t focus on something for more than 40 or 45 minutes at a time. So, you do it early. You do it for 25. But it’s amazing, if you could just do 25 minutes of something and not distract yourself, how much you get done, how much progress you make. If there’s a project you’re sitting on that feels intimidating, that you don’t want to start, don’t finish it, just do 25 minutes.

You’ll realize in that 25 minutes how much progress you’ve made. It’ll feel less intimidating because now that you’re into it, you get a sense for how much is left. Like, “Okay, I only have this much left to do.” Instead of thinking, it’s going to take 40 days, it’s probably only going to be a couple more hours.

Then you can choose another Pomodoro period or just say, “Okay, I get it. I know how this is going to get done.” So really sort of giving yourself short focused periods of time to focus. I know you guys have a diversity of people listening to this podcast. Listeners, email me as soon as you listen to this, matt@heinzmarketing.com if you think you can’t get away from your email or Slack or text for 25 minutes. If you can’t spend 25 minutes away from that stuff, God help us all.

Cheri Keith:

I saw a really funny meme the other day. It’s like, “Did I really go to college to become a professional email writer?” That just needs to be the enabling mechanism for something else to be happening. You’re not supposed to be a full-time emailer. It’s missing the point at that stage.

Matt Heinz:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s really easy to feel like you’re being productive by just responding to other people’s stuff, right? In your inbox and your Slack channel and everything else.

It means it’s that much more important at the beginning of the day, the beginning of the week, beginning of the year, you have to know what’s most important. Your inbox is 90% of other people’s priorities and their priorities may be important to the business. You may be part of the solution to help them achieve their priorities. Well, that’s important to know, but if all you do is focus on other people’s stuff and don’t get your stuff done, that’s a failure. That’s not a success. So there has to be a strong balance.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Marketing Fundamentals

Cheri Keith:

Absolutely. So, one more question here about the book before we talk a little bit more about just predictable pipeline in general. Has the pandemic changed the way you’ve written? Has it changed the overall process that you were using? Certainly, this was in the works before the world completely shifted for us.

Matt Heinz:

The short answer is no and I would argue that it’s even more important. When things are going well, when we’re in great market conditions when the wind is at your back, you’re sailing downstream and whatever metaphor you want to use, you can afford to be less disciplined. You can afford to do random acts of marketing or not have all your processes in place between sales and marketing and things might still work out.

When opportunities constrict, when your pipeline shrinks, when deals stop coming through as easily, it’s even more important to master the fundamentals.

If you read the book, The Predictable Pipeline, and you’re like, “Well, this is all kind of fundamentals.” It’s like, “Yeah and none of us are doing it very well.” Defining our target audience, who do we sell to and why, defining roles and responsibilities across sales and marketing.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a company say, “Oh, we know exactly what a qualified lead looks like. We don’t have to go through that part of the process.” I’ll be like, “Great. Show me where it’s written.” And they’re like, “No, no, we all just know it.” I’m like, “Okay, then let’s get five people in the room and I want everybody to tell me.” If it’s anecdotal, if it is institutional knowledge, it is inconsistently applied, right? To be actively defining that and staring everybody in the eye and saying like, “Okay, do we all agree with this?” I mean, this isn’t set in stone. We can adjust this, but this is what we agree to now. That is so important.

I think it’s even more important now to have those things in place, to know your ICP, to know rules and responsibilities, to understand what happens when a good lead comes in, having alignment between sales and marketing and sales kickoffs. Great. What about alignment on Tuesday morning? If a good lead comes in, how do you know what’s a good lead? Who follows up with it? How often? With what message? How is that recorded? It’s not about getting draconian. It’s about defining the consistent components of your process, which allows you to be creative more of your time. It allows you to spend more time being creative with your programs, more time being creative with each individual opportunity. If you can get the fundamentals right and make that predictable, consistent and scalable as you grow your business.

Cheri Keith:

You’re preaching to the choir here. It’s not the sexiest part of marketing, but it’s the part that just needs to be done. I think my favorite example isn’t necessarily about the definition of lead, but usually, I love to ask people about their personas. “Oh, we have those. Yeah. We have those. Yeah.” “When were they created?” “Uhh…2014?” I’m like, “Come on!”

Maybe that’s one of the good things that comes back to looking at the fundamentals right now is no one’s persona should be the same as they were before the pandemic. Chances are, you are marketing to a target audience that had some sort of shift or change within their environment over the past six months.

At least it’s that opportunity to go back to understand what’s going on in their world so you can market in a better way to them. So that you can actually make the messaging that will resonate to them. That you’re not being tone-deaf, either.

I think that’s the big missed opportunity for people right now is just that understanding that the message that worked before might not land now. And that’s okay. Now’s the time to go back and think about this in a different way.

Matt Heinz:

Yeah, I agree. And like we said earlier, ideally you should be doing that anyway. If your persona was written seven years ago, that person, that member of the buying committee still may be relevant, but what they think about and what they prioritize may be different.

We’ve seen buying committees change in the last eight, nine months, right? I mean, when I started my business 12 years ago, I started in November of 2008 and that was the beginning of our recession. There was a lot of buying committees that changed.

I had a client that was selling into HR and the primary buyer previously was a director of HR. Well, going into a recession, all of a sudden, the buying authority for their size of a product actually went up to the CFO. So, we now have to add the CFO to the buying committee. By the way, the CFO didn’t want to get on any sales call, even though the CFO had purchase authority needed to sign off on the final purchase. It was still such a small deal, she didn’t want to get involved in the details. So, we had to teach the HR director how to speak CFO language, which isn’t necessarily a natural skill for a lot of HR managers, right?

They also talk about personas. Personas are a great start, right? Understanding who that person is and what makes them tick. That’s a great start, but it’s missing three components. If you have personas where you don’t understand the context of the buying committee, right? The multiple members of the buying committee internally who are going to ultimately reach consensus to make a decision, you have to put the persona in the context of their colleagues.

Two, you have to understand the buying journey that that prospect is going through. What are the problems that need to exist for them to be willing to do something about it? What’s the status quo that’s going to get challenged that gets them to commit to change? So, there are stages of that persona through a buying journey with that buying committee, you have to think about.

The third piece relative to that buying committee are buying committee cohorts. So let’s look at a big enterprise deal. There are eight or nine people that have a vested interest in the problem. So, there are eight or nine members of the buying committee. You don’t need all eight or nine of those people to make decisions at each stage, right? There may be subsets of the buying committee that can reach lower case “yeses” to move the deal along, to eventually get to the all caps “Yes” that gets your deal closed.

So, understanding the buying committee, buying journey and then journey cohorts. And again, I don’t want to overcomplicate this, but if you can think about those three things, you will have dramatic differences in the efficiency and velocity of the deals you’re working on.

Cheri Keith:

Well, I think one of the reasons why marketers get so scared once you start to introduce this notion of the buying committee, which I think everyone realized it wasn’t just one person saying “yes” all along, but then they start to do, I call it marketing math in their head.

To use your example, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, there are 10 people involved through each stage. Now I need to multiply everything I’m doing by 60 in order to make this work.”

When in reality, I think if you’re going through this process thoroughly and you’re really being introspective about it, what it’s actually going to help you do is better prioritize the work that needs to get done. It’s not that you need to create the most earth-shattering experiences for everyone. It’s about knowing when they will need that type of content and being sure that it’s available at that point in time.

Matt Heinz:

Right. You’re exactly right. And “content” quote-unquote does not mean a 20-page white paper in every case. Content may be a quote. It may be a testimonial. It may be one or two sentences that just sort of address the right person at the right time with the right sort of context or right sort of issue that they’re dealing with. Right?

I think the other perspective we get is like, “Oh my gosh. I thought personas [blip]. I just got this medical company I want to sell to. This just got way more complicated than I’m willing to deal with.” I’m like, “Well, buying is hard. Selling is hard.” We have to be willing to embrace a level of complexity to do this well.

You asked at the beginning of this interview, “Hey, what’s different now in terms of the beginning of the year relative to predictable pipeline?” Well, this is one example. In a good market when there’s lots of money flowing when people are willing to fund priority number five on their list, you can get away with having more of a one size fits all message. But when people are no longer funding the priority number five on their list, when they’re only funding one through two, you have to be a lot more precise about how you’re approaching that prospect and with what message and why. So, there will be a lot of companies who embrace this complexity and embrace the discipline behind it and come out of this pandemic stronger than ever before.

If you think about this in terms of a racing metaphor, I’m not a big racing guy, but I like this metaphor that we’ve been in straightaway for a very long time, right? And in a straightaway, in a race, you just [blip].

We’re right now in a curve and a curve is the hardest part of the race. You have to slow down, you have to watch all your metrics and make sure you don’t hit the wall. But races are won in the curve because some race car drivers know when to accelerate through the curve into the straightaway.

You don’t wait to hit the gas pedal when you’re on the straightaway. You hit it when you’re coming out of the curve. And there will be companies that do the workaround creating critical pipeline systems for themselves that not only help them sell more now, but it’s going to help them create competitive differentiation as we move into a new normal and work our way back into another straightaway.

Cheri Keith:

Hmm. I really liked that analogy. My parents are race car drivers. I was raised at a race track. So that definitely resonates with me.

Matt Heinz:

Whoa, really?

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. That’s how they met. They were race car drivers. It’s kinda crazy.

Matt Heinz:

I want to hear about that.

Cheri Keith:

I know! That explains why I drive a six-speed MINI Cooper, right?

Matt Heinz:

Yes.

Marketing Discipline and Shifts in the Paradigm

Cheri Keith:

I think that’s interesting because especially if you look at the shifts that are happening. It’s like being able to build the discipline right now. In a way, right now for marketers, it’s harder to be disciplined because of all of the other things that are happening within the organization, but if marketing can be the forcing function to getting things done and having that repeatable process with sales, I think that’s also where people will start to see the real impact. It’s not a racing analogy, but I was thinking about it the other day.

Of course, if you think about like the pandemic bingo card, I’ve checked off getting a puppy because I’m not traveling anymore. So, the kids finally got their way. We got the puppy and it’s not easy, right? But I’m like, if we’re disciplined now with the approach, we don’t have to worry when the dog gets to be whatever size that it’s going to jump on you. You need to do it now so that you have that creativity like you were talking about, to play with, but you can’t do that in reverse.

I think that’s where it’s about building good habits early on for people. But I think event marketers actually, strangely, might be some of the best people to think about this because they have the biggest new normal that’s going on right now. They need to figure out how to do digital marketing all of a sudden. And I think they can be an interesting enabler for the marketing team right now. What do you think?

Matt Heinz:

Oh, this is crazy, this is a really exciting time for event marketers. I think that we will eventually go back to more in-person events. Those are never going away, but I think you’ve seen so many companies start to reinvent what events mean, to reinvent what field marketing means, to reinvent what it means to engage someone in an online experience.

Sitting back and watching someone walk through a PowerPoint without seeing their face on a webinar is like, that hasn’t worked for a while and now we’re seeing it with even greater attention that that doesn’t work. Right?

This is a really exciting time to rewrite the field marketing playbook. I think there’s a little bit of experimentation that goes along with that, for sure. But if you’re wondering what that should look like, just go back to your customer, go back to your understanding of the personas, your understanding of the buying journey, your understanding of the buying committee. It will give you evidence. It’ll give you a blueprint of which things you should go invest in in the market.

Cheri Keith:

Well, that’s interesting too, that you say that because I think one of the biggest strengths, and I see this both professionally and personally for my friends who are in field marketing and event marketing and event management, I feel like one of the biggest differentiators for them is that attention to detail and discipline that they have. That is really within their DNA and makes them really good at what they are and that’s all back to predictable pipeline. Infusing that type of rigor could be an interesting role that they could play in all of this.

Seven Focus Areas of Predictable Pipeline and Matt’s Favorite Part

Matt Heinz:

Yeah. Well, and the way we’ve defined predictable pipeline, there’s sort of seven focus areas that we recommend companies work through. It doesn’t mean you have to go work all seven at once.

Usually, we’ll go in and if we audit the benchmarks, so to speak, where people are at, there are places where you’re strong and there are places where you need improvement and that gives you a bit of a roadmap of where to go and focus. So, you’re not going to go do everything at once. You’re never going to have time or the ability to do that. Usually, it’s not very efficient to do so anyway, but to know where to put focus and to know where your best leverage is going to be to not only create greater impact now, but to create more consistency, moving forward. It’s super helpful to have that level of clarity.

Cheri Keith:

So, of those seven areas, what’s one of your favorites to work on with clients?

Matt Heinz:

There are seven areas and the first four are in a grouping called Plan and Understand. We impress upon people that the majority of this process is before you start to execute, because I think a lot of companies say, “I just need to go get leads,” right? So, let’s just send more emails, let’s make more calls. And then you end up with those random acts of marketing that really don’t have a face. It’s like, “What are you saying to who and why? Or what happens after that lead is generated?” It leads to chaos very, very quickly.

I would say the most important piece is understanding your target, right? Understanding who you’re selling to and why from an account standpoint, as well as who the people inside the companies are. I’d say that’s the most important, but my favorite part might be actually the roles and responsibilities part of the process.

So many companies haven’t just thought through consistently what happens with the lead and why? Like if it’s good, here’s what happens. Here’s the kind of follow up that happens. Here’s the right kind of message and the right format. Is it video? Is it email? Is it different? Is it social? Having that documented and having an iterative improvement process for that.

Sometimes that alone, sometimes we’ll go in and we’ll say, “Listen, the personas are okay. The buying product, the ideal customer profile and a definition of discipline is fine for now, but there are no processes in place. You go fix that and you go get that in place.” And boom, I mean, you can say you have existing opportunities, you have existing leads, you fix that process piece and the impact can be, I don’t want to say, immediate is a bad word, but it can be very quick. Right?

Sometimes we have a process we use called pipeline rescue. It’s the idea that if you have deals frozen, opportunities frozen, let’s figure out where to get them unstuck. Sometimes it’s about honing the messaging. Oftentimes, it’s about just getting your process dialed in.

There are those things that, depending on the nature of the company that you asked, what are my favorites. There’s a couple I gravitate towards, but once we’ve benchmarked where they’re at, usually there’s something that stands out that I think can have that boom impact for the company in terms of unleashing this pent-up demand, this pent-up interest that they just haven’t been able to get out of their own way to address. It’s exciting to watch.

Cheri Keith:

That’s why you’re in the business you’re in though. Because you enjoy seeing the clients being able to unlock those results based on the methodologies and the guidance. I think that’s what differentiates people who spend their career in client service or on the external view. That’s the most rewarding part.

Matt Heinz:

Yeah. That’s what this is about, right? This isn’t about documenting personas and creating processes and sending more emails. This is about impacting people’s lives by impacting their business.

We joke internally that none of this matters unless it impacts metrics you can buy a beer with. If you start to really impact pipeline velocity, closed deals, consistency of getting those deals across the line, increasing the accuracy of forecasts and the accuracy and predictability of pipeline development. That can change a business. That can change a business’s growth opportunity. It can change its profitability and there are often places with companies where that can happen in a pretty short order.

Cheri Keith:

Absolutely! Well, Matt and I are actually partnering on a workshop on predictable pipeline in the next few weeks. I’m sure the audience will be invested in joining us. I think there’ll be a lot of [blip] in there and a lot of great resources that we’ll have.

Any closing thoughts about either that workshop or guiding perspectives on predictable pipeline?

Matt Heinz:

No, I’m excited about the workshop. If you like what we’re talking about here, the workshop is going to land the plane, right? To be able to walk through what does this look like? What does the template look like? What does the sample process look like?

I’m not big for ivory-tower theory. I’m big on pragmatic, how do we get this done? And so, the workshop’s going to get pretty detailed and just how this can actually impact companies pretty quickly at the end of the workshop.

I look forward to that and look forward to getting the book out, too. It’s one of those things that’s 12 years in the making, right? I have a methodology that I think has really impacted a lot of companies in a positive way, so excited to get that out to more people.

Cheri Keith:

Absolutely and we’ll all be waiting for that. February, as far away as it seems, it will be right around the corner. I’m sure with all your deadlines, you’re feeling that crunch a little bit more, but thank you.

Matt Heinz:

Very much so, but no, it’s a good thing.

Cheri Keith:

Well, thank you for your time today, Matt. I always value our time together and, Audience, thank you for tuning in and make sure that you register for the workshop that Matt and I will be running in September about predictable pipeline. Thanks and have a great day.

CMO Confessions Ep. 33: Jen Horton of Swivel

Okay, webinerds, we’re back with another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with the top leaders in marketing and sales today. Today’s CMO Confessions features Jen Horton, CMO of Swivel, an agile real estate software company.

In this episode, Jen and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Jen’s career path and how it led her to Swivel, what excites them about B2B marketing, trends they’re seeing and some of their pet peeves in B2B marketing.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about Jen’s career through her LinkedIn page here and her Twitter feed here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions.

Table of Contents:
First time CMO
The Shift from Advising to Practicing
Transitioning to a Startup
New Technology
The Excitement of Being Responsive and Creative Storytelling
The Plight of Crappy Chatbots and Other B2B Pet Peeves
Buzzwords and the Language of Real Estate
Trends in B2B Marketing
Overcoming Challenges

Cheri Keith:

Hello, and welcome to CMO confessions, the weekly B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I am Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24.

On today’s episode, I am so excited to have Jen Horton as our guest. Jen and I spent time together at SiriusDecisions and she is now the chief marketing officer at Swivel, an agile real estate leasing software for companies. Jen, thank you so much for coming on.

Jen Horton:

Thank you for having me. Looking forward to it.

First Time CMO

Cheri Keith:

I know! This’ll be fun. I’m going to start with some questions about where you are today and how you got here. But I first want to start by asking about your current role being a CMO since this is your first time being a CMO, which is exciting and inspiring. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Jen Horton:

Yeah. It was exciting, and I think I continue to be inspired every day.

Prior to joining Swivel, I started my career as a practitioner doing demand gen and implementing marketing automation. I think I was one of Eloqua’s very first customers back in the day. But, then I took a detour and went the vendor route and worked at Eloqua for many years, both in the product and in the services side, which was fantastic to learn about the other parts of a software company.

I then worked at SiriusDecisions for many years as an analyst and have been advising clients for a long period of time. I just really figured that my next step in the path was to dust off those practitioner muscles and really get back into the game and use all the new technology that has exploded since the days of when I first adopted Eloqua. And really just get my hands dirty with a lot of things.

That’s kind of why I took this step and where I am and my path. And I was fortunate to join a very small company so that I can wear all the hats from strategy, to actually having hands on a keyboard, to sending out emails. So, it’s been quite a ride and a lot of fun.

The Shift from Advising to Practicing

Cheri Keith:

You mentioned something really interesting, which is the transition from advising to actually being the one who’s in the shoes of the advice you’d have to take. First of all, how has that been? And second of all, I want to know if you give yourself advisory sessions at any point.

Jen Horton:

No, I don’t. It actually has helped me realize what the role, why advisory can be important and helpful because when you’re in it and doing it and worrying about all the things and taking all the requests and supporting all the sales needs, you don’t have a lot time to just take a step back and breathe and think really strategically long-term. It’s hard to find that time.

I realized that now, when you think about all of our clients, they were like, “Oh, that makes sense.” And I know that a lot of analysts have always been like, “Oh, the imposter syndrome. I’m not necessarily the smartest person in the world, or maybe I am the smartest person in the room.” But as an analyst, it’s like, no, an analyst gets paid to take the step back and to look at lots of clients and what they’re doing and really synthesize that. As a practitioner, it’s really hard to do that and stay on top of it in a really well-informed way. So, I have a greater appreciation for the role that has.

That said, moving back into practitioner land. I’ve also really tried to be very clear with myself to say, “Just ‘cause you have all that wealth of information and best practices that you may not know everything, right?” You really have to kind of just start fresh and rely on the best practices, but not solely. You’ve really got to get things out there and try different things and let the data and the feedback from your customers really start to inform what you need to do next. So, yeah, it’s been an interesting shift.

Transitioning to a Startup

Cheri Keith:

I have one more question about shifts before we go to talk a little bit more about technology, but how about the cultural shift that you just went through? When I was thinking about what you were saying there, you went from working for a publicly traded, pretty large organization based up in Massachusetts. And I know Massachusetts people can be tough, coming from one. Now you’re working again at a startup, like you mentioned, but also in your hometown of Austin, how has that shift been?

Jen Horton:

Oh, that’s a great question. And it has been a big shift. I went from a team of all, very senior tenured marketing sales, product minded people that spent a lot of time thinking about those things. Managing some of them, which is also kind of a loose term in some cases to being the only person on our team that thinks about marketing and really thinking about even sort of go-to-market strategy and selling strategy.

The transition has also been, you’re right. I haven’t gotten on a plane in about a year and a half, and I’ve really started to ground myself in my own local network. We have a Marketing Maestro’s Leadership and Austin MeetUp, and it’s been really great to just reconnect with other people that are locally dealing with similar transitions. But yeah, it has been a big shift, but ones that I welcome.

I like that I’m not traveling. I like that I’m getting in touch with networks that I had many, many years ago, but I’ve lost touch with because I’ve been working for global companies. But yeah, it’s been good.

I still educate. One thing I do love, and I do like to educate the rest of my very technical team on marketing and why we’re doing this and how do you spell persona and why is it important that we care? It’s good to educate, but it’s just a totally different audience and as to why I have to educate them. But, that’s a good question.

New Technology

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. I know all of us are feeling that no travel thing, but even more so you had started out at the end of last year, not having the travel in place.

You mentioned marketing automation platforms. You obviously worked for Eloqua, having that experience there, but have implemented it before joining the vendor side. What is it like being inside that technology again, after just receiving briefings from those companies for so many years?

Jen Horton:

Oh, it’s been good. On the one hand was very clear on what I needed and what my requirements were. It was easy to quickly assess. There were some technology decisions that I inherited and moving into this role. Although they’re serving us quite well. I had big eyes to want to try all kinds of other technologies. We’ve implemented Drift. We’ve implemented TripleO. We’ve implemented EverString. For a small company, we’ve actually adopted quite a bit of technology, but it’s been really great to put some of those visions together.

At the same time, I also understand the notion of investing in technology prematurely, not really being able to adopt all of the things, but for the most part, we’re leveraging all of those platforms pretty strongly. Using HubSpot for the first time. That’s been interesting and cool.

Talk about the local networking side of things. There’s a lot of HubSpot users that are here in Austin, so it’s been great to learn from some of those elements. And I love the fact that HubSpot has in-app support, cause I’m constantly needing it. It just changes what your expectations are with the software product and getting real, live, in-the-moment-when-you’re-working-on-something support on that front just changes your expectations with all the technologies that you use. But yeah, it’s been great.

I started off really diligent. Like I had my little marketing ops hat on. I had my data dictionary, it was mapping out all my fields and then we’ve had to pivot as a business very, very quickly. I’m a team of one so I had to make some tradeoffs. I haven’t been as diligent with my data cleanliness as I want to be. And I sit there and I roll my eyes at myself back to your comment of, do I give myself advisory sessions? I do. I do, but sort of more on the fact that I can’t do it all. I’ve just got to prioritize.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, of course you want to take the best practices, but there’s also an end of the day and a beginning of the day that you need to respect at the same time.

Jen Horton:

Exactly.

The Excitement of Being Responsive and Creative Storytelling

Cheri Keith:

All right. Well, keeping that in mind, with the two hats that we wear as both analyst and also practitioner, I want to talk more about what makes you tick. Were the same things that were the pet peeves of yours when you were an analyst, still the case when you’re a CMO? If you were thinking just in general about B2B marketing, what is it that excites you? Cause you’ve been in B2B your entire career fair to say, right? And like, what do you love about it? What, what gets you excited?

Jen Horton:

Well, right now, what gets me excited is the ability to be responsive. You and your team had seeded me with some questions and one of them was the biggest challenge. How did you overcome it? And right now, more than ever, and I’m sure that a lot of people are feeling this as a lot of organizations have had to shift and adapt to our current times and situation, just the ability to be agile and really be very nimble and be responsive to customer need and the market.

I think this whole situation has really been a forcing function to not overthink things, to not over control the dialogue that you’re having with your prospects, but to really feel how you can be more responsive to buyer needs and to the changing situation. That has been very energizing for me. I mean, literally the priorities of even our clients have changed from last week to this week and the ability to adapt. I’m thriving in that. I really love that.

I really liked this notion of focusing on continuous improvement and not delayed perfection. ‘Cause I think also when things are shifting really, really quickly, there is a tendency to put your head in the sand and wait until somebody else does something and then figure out how to respond.

Granted, I’m part of a small team. It’s different when you’re probably talking about this at a larger scale, but the notion of checking in every day and making sure that the objectives, the priorities and what you’re delivering at the end of the day is on point and is on point in that moment. I’m seeing that happen and it’s very exciting and what my to do list was yesterday changes very quickly and the next day. So, that’s energizing.

I get energized by also super creative storytelling. Whether that’s somebody targeting me specifically. I can’t say that I’ve necessarily nailed it as a CMO, but we’re striving to get to that point on “how do we tell a broader story?” And I think those stories that are meaningful and creative, and creative doesn’t have to be like laugh out loud. It could be an emotional connection. It could be just nailing the pain point right on. But that gets me really energized.

I think one of the transitions of moving from analyst to CMO is how many people have reached out. My LinkedIn box is nuts with so many people that want to sell me things and there’s just such a genuine lack of creativity. All of those requests, it’s depressing. It’s just absolutely depressing. And the fact that they think that a CMO of a 15-person company is going to want all of the things at any given moment leaves me feeling like blah, blah. But those people that nail it and kind of connect emotionally, I just think that’s it.

So, agility, responsiveness, and creativity are the things that are really energizing me right now. Did I answer the question?

Cheri Keith:

Yes, that was awesome. I think your point about being able to be nimble, I mean, we’re in a little bit different of a situation where overnight the market came to being like, “Yes, we need more of this” with in-person events being canceled for the foreseeable future.

I don’t think there’s going to be any large-scale events till 2020 at the very earliest. And it was shocking, I think, for a lot of the team members here. People’s full-time jobs were to plan these massive events.

Then, we had this whole crew of event marketers coming and being like, “We need to use your platform.” We’re like, “But you know how to do webinars.” And just the education that has had to go on internally.

We, of course, want to be responsive to people and we want to help people, especially within organizations where they’re already using one part of our technology. But overnight, for everything to have to change, it’s been tough. From a company that had to really be the ones driving the need for the demand, for that to shift overnight.

I think the salespeople, when I talked to them, everyone was just so appreciative and humble about it. To have these major changes in your career can be so shocking, but to at least have team members that are going through it with you, I think has been one of the things that have helped a lot of people at the end of the day is to feel like everyone is in this together. And I think that’s one of the things that has been so energizing about where the market is now is that no one has all the answers. Like there’s not a playbook written for this right now.

Jen Horton:

No, there’s no playbook. And I mean, talk about virtual events, like so front and center. And I know that there’s a lot of talk about burnout of being on video platforms and all of those things. But, I feel like it has humanized a lot of these technologies in a way to do effective storytelling, right? Like connecting with the human side of it. And not just the push of those slides and the content, but a lot of these conversational events that are taking place. I’ve loved it. I have. I’ve sat in on them. I have participated in them. And honestly, it’s been a really great way to connect and it has really humanized a lot of this technology for good. You know what I mean?

It’s interesting to see all the shifts that are taking place and you’re right, nobody has the answers. There is no playbook for this. And so, we went as a team here to being in the office. We had our Monday meetings, but now we have our morning check-in every morning we’re all on the same page. And just being aware of where all those shifting priorities and what feedback we’re getting from our customers on what they’re needing. It’s been quite the ride.

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. But I liked your point about the storytelling too, because you’re right. You went from getting a million pitches a day about people who want to tell you about their product, but now they just want to sell you their product. And I think that’s been a shift as well. I think that to see the other end of the storytelling or the lack of storytelling that you get within your inboxes.

Right now, I must’ve ended up on some lists about being a product manager. I’ve noticed a trend over the past week where I’ve received many pitches about UX and the design of a product. I’m like, I don’t have any of that to do though.

Jen Horton:

That’s crazy and strange. And yeah, the other thing I’ve gotten hit up a lot is like, “Are you hiring? Are you hiring?” Not people looking for jobs, but recruiters that are like, “I can help you fill jobs.” And that’s semi tone def right now where we aren’t hiring actively. In fact, we had a few layoffs that we went through. And then there’s like a lot of business coaches and I was like, “I don’t know how you’re going to coach.” Anyway, it’s just off. It’s just sort of off in that message. And it’s not the right story that I want to hear in the moment. And so, it’s just easy to tune it out.

The Plight of Crappy Chatbots and Other B2B Pet Peeves

Cheri Keith:

Well, we’ve gone over a little bit of the pet peeve, but are there any other pet peeves maybe you see about the broader industry rather than just our inboxes right now on the marketing front?

Jen Horton:

I think it’s been, and this was a theme that started back at our time together at SiriusDecisions. This notion that marketers think they can control all the touchpoints. And what that is now translating to for me, now that I’m sort of back in the real world, is you can’t control everything, but also that control notion is just a lack of creativity. Just the lack of willingness to do things that are different.

We are so bombarded by all the things. And now I’m exponentially bombarded by all the things like timing and relevance, which I know sounds tired, but it’s everything. It’s more than everything, right now, in terms of when you can connect with something and take a couple of extra minutes to dive further into it. It really has to cut through the noise.

One of my favorite books, and I know it’s really old, but it’s The Purple Cow, the Seth Godin book. And I just am like, we need more purple cows. There’s just too many cows right now. There’s just too many cows and I need a purple one. That whole notion of really standing out is just critical.

So, anyway, that pet peeve of mine is I think the control has led to, not laziness, but a lack of creativity. And it goes back to the storytelling component too. But I think the notion of one-way pushing information, rather than really rethinking how you can get more conversational and dynamic and responsive and engaged. I think the one-way push just doesn’t work anymore. And it’s a one-way push of boring content.

Cheri Keith:

It’s a really good point. And it’s totally a B2C example, but I’ve been cruising around online for a new car. And I have been shocked when I land on a dealership’s website, not when you first get on the homepage, but once I click into a model and actually get to a specific vehicle, like I’ve narrowed it in on my criteria. And it’s like, “Do you want to buy this car now?” It’s like purchasing online. And I’m like, “No, why would I do that?” Like, come on. I need to drive it beforehand, but timing and relevance.

If you even think about what a considered purchase your car is, never mind what a considered purchase you have in the B2B world. And it’s like, “Are you ready to buy now?” Hi, I’m here at the little, the chatbot I think is my pet peeve. The really crappy chatbots.

Jen Horton:

The really crappy ones, yes!

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. I don’t have an official stat on this, but I would estimate the majority of webinars in the world, they’re pretty crappy, right? People just do slides and they don’t even show videos.

The strong majority of the chatbots that appear out of the wild are pretty crappy implementations. No fault to the technology. The fault of the marketers who haven’t trained it in a better way.

I just can’t stand when you first arrive somewhere and rather than directing you, it’s like, “Hey, want to buy?” It’s like, “No, I don’t actually.” And every time it drives me crazy.

Jen Horton:

Or it’s like, “How can we help?” And then you ask a question that’s totally custom and different and then there’s no one on the other end to actually answer your question. Then, don’t offer me the ability if you’re not prepared to respond.

Cheri Keith:

Exactly. Our coworker, Jesse and I were working on chatbot research. I had actually kept a file on my desktop of all the crappy chat interactions I had. I spent like a day, not really a day. Like every time I would land somewhere, I try to have an interaction to see what would happen.

I actually tried it out multiple places and all the bad conversations I would screenshot. Then, of course, I didn’t get to use it ’cause you can’t shame people on stage, but it was an interesting dynamic of actually trying them out to see what would happen.

Jen Horton:

I love it. I would love to see your wall of shame sometime.

Buzzwords and the Language of Real Estate

Cheri Keith:

I deleted it. Any buzzwords that you can’t stand right now? Or ones that you like, maybe?

Jen Horton:

Oh, they’re the same ones that I’ve always hated. Although I saw a thread today actually, and someone was like, “Oh, the PQL.” The PQL?

Cheri Keith:

What’s that? What’s a PQL?

Jen Horton:

A product qualified lead, meaning in-app sort of gamification things that can lead to new revenue opportunities. And I get it. I totally get it. I was like, “Come on!” It’s a qualified something or other, and we have different sources for where it comes from. I don’t know. It cracked me up. I was like so many acronyms for the definition of what is quote-unquote, “A qualified something or other” that you’re going to send to a sales rep for follow up. It just cracks me up. I think the other one, Oh, go ahead.

Cheri Keith:

I was gonna say, PQL, should we see if that domain is taken? Is that something that we need to go action-on right now to confirm that when someone creates a product for it that we already own it?

Jen Horton:

Yeah, right? I think the notion of drip and sequins and things that are related to that, they still kind of make me roll my eyes. Yeah.

Right now, I’m learning a whole new language. I’m learning the language of commercial real estate. And there’s a whole ton of buzzwords, but I’m not sick of them yet because I’m just learning them.

I’m learning to speak a whole new language with brokerages and leasing teams and understanding how owners and occupiers talk to each other. And there’s a whole set of understanding the property technology that all these buildings have to invest in. And what’s top-of-mind now with people wanting to communicate about cleanliness and all the procedures that are changing in terms of staffing offices. There’s a whole new set of language that I’m learning there so I don’t have too many annoying buzzwords right now, actually.

Cheri Keith:

That’s pretty good. The ones that annoy me so far are people trying to change what digital events are and trying to make it sound new, just because they’re not in-person events and, kind of, the faking of it.

I’m like, “No, it’s okay to just be like, we know they’ll come back at some point. And we know that they’ll, of course, still be a digital component.” We’re okay with that. Let’s not pretend that this is something new.

People have been doing digital events for some time and now more people want to do them. I think it’s a lot of the companies that have really been impacted by this who are pretending like they always had done it. That’s the type of marketing that really annoys me.

I’m like, “No, it’s okay to say you’re pivoting.” Right? It’s okay. I feel like people wouldn’t like that transparency rather than when you see the posers out there changing things. It’s like, “No, it’s okay to say your company had a pivot.” You’re not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes at this point. I don’t think so.

Jen Horton:

Yeah. Agreed.

Trends in B2B Marketing

Cheri Keith:

All right. Any B2C trends that you’re seeing or experiencing that you hope, or maybe don’t hope, show up in B2B?

Jen Horton:

Oh, that’s a really good question. Hmm. I don’t know. I am immersed on the real estate side.

It’s funny, residential real estate is a lot further along in terms of adopting technology than commercial real estate. Commercial real estate has been a lot about who you know. Who’s your broker? And where the latest, the coolest properties? And what’s their availability? And what part of town? And make sure that it’s not in a restaurant desert. We have pockets of Austin where there are no restaurants, and they call it the restaurant desert. You don’t want office space there.

But anyway, it’s interesting to see how residential really quickly pivoted to virtual touring really well. And the notion of being able to schedule a collaborative tour to either tour an apartment or to tour a house.

Commercial has been a lot slower to adopt some of that thinking. They think a virtual tour is just a pretty interactive picture that they just put onto a flyer. Where they could get really creative and think about virtual open houses and even creating scavenger hunts through virtual tours to get people to familiarize themselves with their space.

For my industry, there’s a lot to be learned in terms of the B2B side versus the consumer side and best practices for leveraging that. Now that makes it fun because it makes it fun for me ’cause there’s a lot of opportunity to try new things and educate on the commercial side, but that’s kind of where my focus has been.

As a regular consumer trend over into B2B. I haven’t been paying attention to it like I used to. Quite honestly, I have been just heads down in my own world on the real estate side. But, what do you think?

Cheri Keith:

Well, I would say on the residential side, I actually shared this to our internal Slack channel the other day. It was this house in, I want to say it was California went viral, I mean a million-dollar house. Right? And because in the photos they had bigfoot, so they had a person dressed up throughout the house. In every photo of this gorgeous house, you would find the bigfoot doing something hilarious like doing laundry, doing something at the kitchen.

I mean, houses are shared everywhere on Zillow. It’s not going to change the market for who buys it, but I thought it was a really clever way to promote your house. I don’t know. Maybe we’re looking at listing this house maybe next year. I don’t know if that’s going to increase the sale value if I have a big foot or dress up as a bigfoot in my house. I don’t know. But, I thought that was clever.

The trend that I’m watching most, and this is because my daughter is a few years older than your daughter, Olivia, is TikTok right now and the dances and, oh my God.

Jen Horton:

Enlighten me, Cheri, enlighten me!

Cheri Keith:

Oh my gosh. I’ve seen only a few videos where it’s not even about technology. It’s like women in business doing some funny thing, but I don’t know if it’s going to come into B2B.

No one was on TikTok before the quarantine that was over the age of like 20. Now, we’re all on there because we’re all watching our kids. But yeah, that’s the one thing I’ve been, it’s a guilty pleasure at the same time. I don’t know. I’m very conflicted on it, but someone is going to make that leap.

Jen Horton:

From what I can tell, and I am by no means a TikTok expert and Olivia has not mastered it yet. Although some of my friend’s kids really have. It’s a creative platform back to what we were talking about earlier. Like if you get it right, it could be a lot of fun.

My neighbor is an orthodontist and they’ve been using it just to keep the people top of mind. Right? They were closed for a while and now they’re coming back, but they really used it just to kind of stay in touch with their clients.

That’s like back to this notion of creative platforms that humanize the brand. I mean, yeah, you’re totally right. It’s a win, it’s a win. It will be interesting to see B2B brands that embrace it and who wins and who maybe falls flat on their face trying to be funny when they’re not. I think there are great opportunities there.

Overcoming Challenges

Cheri Keith:

We’ll have to see. All right, final question I have for you today. What is a challenge you’re currently facing and how are you going to overcome it?

Jen Horton:

My challenge is I am a team of one and there’s a lot to be done. I think as a team of one and as a CMO, I think from strategic at the top to tactical at the bottom, I tend to spend a lot of time at the tactical level and not enough time at the strategic level. At the same time, I choose to not feel that guilty about it because things are rapidly changing and evolving so quickly that even my best-laid plans for two quarters out are going to change. I take peace that it’s meant to be this way and agility is the way forward. And we kind of keep that focus.

That said, balancing out the strategy and the execution is tough for me. Also, we’re a super small company. I have a super lean budget and we are preparing for the long haul. We want to weather this storm and we don’t know what all the future holds. My budget is very, very lean, which is causing us to be purely organic content developers for most cases in terms of getting awareness out there and looking creatively at partnerships in our ecosystem that we can leverage as effectively as we can. I have to get creative ’cause I can’t spend a lot of money on things to get the word out there.

I think the way to get through it is back to that agility notion. Stay on top of what’s most important and what’s most important now because what was most important last week may have changed. And I think networking, right? I think really tapping into some of these events where people are getting together and sharing what’s working and what’s not working has helped me to be like, “Oh, we didn’t anticipate that challenge. That’s probably going to be a challenge for us. I gotta get on it.”

The local networking and even just my broader network has been really, really helpful. Especially since I don’t have a broader team to brainstorm and collaborate with. Just really helpful to kind of be like, our little local Austin group as an example, people were like, “Hey, are you guys going back to the office yet? And how are you handling that? How do teams fairly divvy up the space that we can’t all go back to at the same time?” And it’s just been helpful to hear what people’s questions are. ‘Cause then I was like, “Oh my God, I haven’t asked that question yet. We need to get on that.” So, I think networking has been really helpful as well, but then I think just over communication with my team every morning has really been the key. What about you, what’s your biggest challenge right now?

Cheri Keith:

I think just getting up to speed in a world where I didn’t have enough [inaudible] speaking at, I was in Austin for a beta. I was supposed to be onboarding that week in San Francisco. And that was where I knew people because I was pretty close to ON24. But everyone else, except the CEO doesn’t know me meeting these people for the first time virtually. So, we turn on the video and it’s different, not in a bad way, but I always just wonder, I’m like, “Do these people whack a mole or like, do they understand this is just my personality?”

I think when you work in a remote way [inaudible] a ton, which is fabulous. So a challenge for me is just getting up to speed in such a strange way, remotely. I’m just doing my best and we’re communicating in all places. But, also just being really open, I don’t know. Well, and I’m doing my best and I think everyone has been really just great.

I think maybe that’s the biggest takeaway is I think that most people are handling this as best they can. And I think there used to be not, not necessarily a stigma, but you would certainly feel bad when your animal barks or your child came bombing in. Everyone’s okay with it in the right circumstances. It’s been probably a good learning experience that we can all realize that we have lives outside of work that might intrude at times.

Jen Horton:

Oh, for sure.

Cheri Keith:

That is all the time that we had. I have enjoyed our time together so much and learned so much from this conversation. I know our listeners will have as well. Thank you for joining CMO confessions and thank you, Audience, for joining in.

Jen Horton:

My pleasure. And thank you for having me.

CMO Confessions Ep. 32: John Steinert of TechTarget

Hello webinerds and welcome back to another edition of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast featuring opinions and perspectives from the top leaders in marketing and sales today.

In this episode, Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, is joined by John Steinert, CMO of TechTarget. Cheri and John discuss John’s career path, his advice for new marketers and his perspective on the wealth of MarTech solutions combined with the lack of marketing training available to professionals.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about John and his career through his LinkedIn page here and his Twitter feed here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes here in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions.

Table of Contents:

The Journey to TechTarget
Working With Tenured Colleagues
Advice for Career Pivots
Pet Peeves in B2B Marketing
How Selling a MarTech Solution is Exciting
Future Plans

Cheri Keith:

Hello, and welcome to CMO Confessions, the weekly B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24.

In today’s episode, I’m joined by John Steinert, CMO of TechTarget, a purchase intent provider for B2B sales and marketing. John, thank you so much for coming on today.

John Steinert:

It’s good to be here. Good to talk to you again. Nice to see your face.

The Journey to TechTarget

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, of course. I’m going to start with some questions around where you are today, what it’s like working at TechTarget. And then we’re going to jump into some more questions about maybe some of your pet peeves and you know what it’s like being a marketer working at a marketing tech and services provider.

You’ve been the TechTarget CMO for just over four years now. What’s that journey been, being there so long?

John Steinert:

I don’t know if it’s “so long.” I’d say being there a very short time, one of the interesting things about our company is how long people stay. Compared to my peers in the organization, I’m a relative newbie and there continues to be a ton to learn. And then I try to add my little bit.

Cheri Keith:

All right, how long are some of these crazy tenured people there then?

John Steinert:

So, our company is 20 years old. We started in ‘99. So, going on 21. We say that we’re almost legal. We became public in 2007 now so we’ve been really transparent for quite some time.

Long-timers, including people who are many years earlier in their career than I, have been there the entire time. The leadership team, with the exception of me and a couple of other people, average about 15-plus years.

Working with Tenured Colleagues

Cheri Keith:

Wow. Are there any challenges in working in an organization where there are so many people that have been entrenched that long?

John Steinert:

I think there’s the obvious challenges: catching up to them, what they know about the company, what they know about what we do, how well they understand it, how they understand the customers. There’s a lot of embedded knowledge and we’re still a small company, relatively small compared to places I’ve been, but there’s a lot locked in people’s brains, so you have to stay cognizant of that. You have to really work with them to learn as much as you can from the people who’ve been there.

Cheri Keith:

Are there any projects that come to mind that have been particularly challenging over that tenure? Perhaps pulling on the idea that there are some people who are so knowledgeable about the customer based on their exposure at the company?

John Steinert:

Well, I think the nature of the company is that it’s sort of changed its direction or modified its path a number of times over that 20-year time span. And I think that culture and the people involved are remarkably nimble in doing that. So, they’re not particularly set in their ways. Their long careers are not built in a particular area. It’s still got this really entrepreneurial culture where people are very interested in taking their raw talent and taking on new assignments.

You could think of the history of the company as having some very distinct milestones. The company was essentially founded as a publishing company. Today it’s a major publishing company, the largest internet publisher in the enterprise tech space. So, there’s a massive volume of original content that is still created by the company.

As we all know, the media industry has evolved dramatically, and the company saw this early on. So, starting with this foundation of information products, they learned and built an infrastructure that said, “If we create these information products correctly, they will assist buyers of technology who are looking for information to support those purchases. And then if we can gain their permission, we can actually learn from the buying behaviors that are exhibited by these folks. And we can work with the sellers of technology to help them understand the buyers more directly.”

The question then became, “How do you do that? How do you serve that up in a way that the marketplace will accept it?” And the early days were simply about delivering leads. But, more and more as the infrastructure evolved, it was about what is leading up to these engagement behaviors and how can you refine the information capture, shape the content to stimulate behaviors that signal buying, and then package that for vendors so they can use that information to bring what they do to the people who are looking for solutions of those kinds.

So, we go from a media company to lead gen to data supplier, and those transitions have been really nimbly handled by this entrepreneurial and innovative culture.

Advice for Career Pivots

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. I think right now, there are so many pivots happening, especially in the CMO’s world with the world being in upheaval and all live events being canceled for the very foreseeable future.

Are there any takeaways as a CMO who’s been through some pretty significant changes internally at TechTarget that you would kind of share as best practices for CMOs that are thinking about their own pivots just within their team, but also at their company level?

So many, whether they be event providers or anyone who really relied on an in-person presence to sell their product or even their product themselves, have had to make one of those changes. What would your advice be for those people?

John Steinert:

I think you’re onto something here. And I think it’s a couple of things. One is if you’re a practitioner and your bread-and-butter is doing field marketing activities, let’s hope you built your core skillset to make pivots in applying what you understand about customers and what you understand about marketing techniques, so that you’re not locked into one technique.

As a manager looking across multiple channels, I always think that it’s really useful to think in terms of the portfolio of options open to you and not to place too much emphasis on any one particular channel or technique should something happen to your ability to leverage that channel. So, if you’re overweight on something like events now, you’re going to have to rebalance. We see a lot of folks saying, “Well, this worked really well last year,” and you see people jumping on board and overweighting happening. That’s normal. What really helps is to have the skillset to pivot as quickly as you can.

Cheri Keith:

Absolutely. I definitely am hearing a lot of themes around not being locked in and making sure that you’re nimble both at the company, but also within your own career.

Do you have any times in your career where you’ve had to make a pivot that might be interesting before joining TechTarget, potentially?

John Steinert:

Yeah. I wanted to talk about this positively, but there is this trend, and it gets to my pet peeve a little bit. There is this trend in marketing that marketing pretty much reflects economic conditions because so much of marketing can be a variable spend. When the economy goes south, marketing people seem to be, or in my experience, have been disproportionately affected. And so, my marketing career has been incredibly long. And I’ve been personally affected by these dramatic shifts in variable spending. But, I will say that B2B marketing, where I’ve been for 80 – 85% of my career, is less affected. Furthermore, by constantly trying to skill myself, I’ve always recovered reasonably fast. It’s never been easy. I’m not sure that any career path is particularly easy.

So, what I’d say is this, and I think younger people are doing this naturally now that you have to manage your own career, you have to maintain and expand your skill sets. And you have to look forward, as well as doing what is right in front of you. And do that, both in good times and in bad times. In a bad time, you look beyond the bad time. In the good times, you look beyond the here and now. Then, disruption is less painful. It’s always a huge growing experience. It can be frightening, but we get through it.

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. And I think you’re right, there are a lot of marketers right now who are going through some pretty tectonic career shifts. But like you said, in B2B, they tend to weather the storm more.

And I’ve seen a lot of event marketers that I’m personally friends with, jumping right in. And like you said, leveraging their knowledge about how to customize experiences for an audience so well, and being able to apply that by learning more about the digital opportunities that are out there. More about the different marketing tactics. So, I think we’ll see that new breed of marketer with more event planning experience be really helpful for the rest of the marketing organization where they’re able to land.

Pet Peeves in B2B Marketing

John Steinert:

Yeah. I agree with you. It kind of gets to my pet peeve.

Cheri Keith:

Yes. Tell me about your pet peeve.

John Steinert:

My pet peeve is, and I’ll speak to the SiriusDecisions thing in a second. My pet peeve is that we have not yet, in B2B marketing, found a way to provide enough education to our teams. The first part of it is, nobody studies B2B marketing in college. They might study B2B sales in a very specific type of business program, but they don’t study B2B marketing. And I can’t really understand why that is because it takes so long to learn. There are so many different parts to B2B marketing. It takes so long to learn them. We’re really slowing everybody down because first, they’re not trained when they come in.

And second, we don’t have structured training programs to accelerate their growth. So, contrast that to, at least our sales organization, where we train every week formally and, many times beyond that for the people who are just coming on board. So, why it is that marketing organizations, or companies as a whole, don’t structure marketing training the same way they do sales training is beyond me.

So, the SiriusDecisions thing is, I have always said, “You’ve got wonderful training materials,” but they’re not pushed hard enough. So, for some reason, I just don’t see it. Except with Summit, which is a huge training opportunity, but completely overwhelming. The track training that’s available is something I think the industry really needs. And I’d be fascinated, or I’d be excited when an organization figures out how to become the standard for training for marketers across portfolio marketing, product marketing, executional marketing and even the technical elements and marketing ops.

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. I think we’ve seen some data show that CMOs have a priority on training. It always ends up in the top 10, but you’re right. No one’s really nailed it. There are whole teams dedicated to sales enablement, like you were mentioning before, but we just don’t see that on marketing enablement.

It’s been my experience that it usually just falls to the manager of those people, not even a department head to actually train people. So, if a director has a manager under them, a manager’s job to ensure that the specialist is trained. There ends up being many [inaudible] the marketers come up to speed. What do you think of that?

John Steinert:

Yeah, it’s a huge gap and when we talk about pivots you make in your career, it now is incumbent on each person to train herself. And I can’t say that loudly enough. If for some odd reason, B2B marketing has captured your attention. So, the obvious reason is that B2B marketing is a great career, right? There’s clearly a huge need for marketers. You can have a long and wonderful career. You can rise really high in an organization. But, it’s not quite as flashy. It’s harder to tell your friends about it. It’s not easy, cocktail party conversation, but it’s endlessly fascinating. So, it’s not a flashy kind of job, at least for many of the career paths. But, if you find the complexity, the rigor, the endless options fascinating, then make the effort to gain new skills.

You have to do a lot of reading. And if you do that, you grow yourself. You protect yourself and it opens doors for you. So, if your organization is not offering that in a formal way, what I’m saying is, you gotta be self-starting. You gotta look after yourself and you’ve got to pursue that on your own. And I’d say that’s probably one of the greatest ways marketers can use things like LinkedIn to develop networks and to ask questions, like, “What should I read next?” of people like me and you. Because when they do, marketers are remarkably friendly about that kind of thing. The community is not that large of B2B marketers, especially B2B tech marketers. And so, we tend to have big networks and we tend to like to help people.

How Selling a MarTech Solution is Exciting

Cheri Keith:

I think that’s a really interesting point because you’re right. There’s not necessarily always the secret sauce, because it all comes down to how you’re actually going to apply it internally. So, you can be very open and share your learnings as a marketer with another marketer. But, let’s take this positive spin on that then.

So, we’ve gone over the pet peeves, what excites you most about B2B marketing? And it’s interesting because you do work at a company that’s very cutting edge and a lot of the work they’re doing in order to help inform marketers. So, you can look at it from that perspective or also your own perspective as leading that organization.

John Steinert:

Yeah. It’s very difficult to answer the question, “What excites you most?” The thing that excites me most day to day, is how fast it’s changing and how competitive it is because we sell a solution. We’re in a very competitive space. If you read those market landscape things where there are 5,000 or 8,000 MarTech solutions, it’s just craziness. And so that makes it endlessly exciting day-to-day. Terrifying at times. Confusing at times.

You have to learn to keep focus, but at the same time, observe what’s going on because you don’t know what wonderful new sort of innovation or capability is going to prove useful. So, that’s very exciting. More specifically, we’re finally getting to the point of using data in marketing. Really hands-on use of data to improve what we do.

And so, it kind of started with the involvement of predictive modeling, but now it’s getting into the behavioral data space, which is a sort of more agile approach. If you look at what’s just happened, obviously this is a Black Swan situation that we’re in, but we were talking about if you lose one channel, how do you pivot?

If you think about a predictive model being built on historical data and the historical data is no longer valid because we’re in an unprecedented situation, you’ve got to find a way to pivot to something different and related. So, if you’re building up your data skills, you’re understanding the data you have. Now is the time to start understanding the data you don’t have and trying to be more agile as you adjust to whatever is going on week to week in the marketplace.

Cheri Keith:

That’s definitely one thing that was top of mind for me the other day, actually. I was thinking as we were upscaling our current team about how we want to be more data-driven because we as an organization need to do better at that. But, there actually aren’t a lot of training on how to use data for marketers. So, I think that’s a, maybe we should go start a company doing that and be co-CEOs. How’s that?

John Steinert:

Yeah, it’s a big thing. It really is hard. I think you’ve got the operative term there. It’s “use the data.” So, we can get stuck in just looking at the data, but then what do you do? And that really is the sticking point in becoming a data-driven organization because you have to have this action orientation.

That requires something that we can learn from sales, I think. One of the most wonderful things about salespeople and if you compare salespeople to me in particular, but maybe I can stand in as sort of a general example of marketers. They are much less risk-averse. So, they are always forward-looking, forward-moving and very much sort of like an athlete… [inaudible] goalie, if you’re scored on, you can’t dwell on having just been scored on. You can’t be distracted by that. You have to look forward because if you dwell on your mistakes, you won’t have the emotional focus to continue getting better, to get ready for the next play. And so, salespeople are really daring.

Cheri Keith:

Hmm.

John Steinert:

And marketers are not so daring because they’re afraid that somebody will criticize their work. It’s in public. It’s large scale. Maybe mistakes can have a big effect, but that tends to make us a little bit more conservative in things we do. So, my point is when you get the data and it’s telling you to do something, you’ve got to do it. You gotta do it. And if it’s behavioral data, you gotta do it fast because the longer you wait, the more opportunity you’re missing.

Cheri Keith:

You’re right. Salespeople definitely tend to put themselves out there more than marketers and I think acting on the data quickly is so important. But, also it takes courage sometimes to act on that data, because it could be showing you something that you did in the past was wrong or not working. And I think that’s where you often see marketers getting afraid of using the data because they view it as they were doing something wrong rather than because we have new information and we have to act on the new information.

It doesn’t mean that what you did in the past was wrong. It just means, “Now we have more information and now we are making different decisions.” I think that’s been my experience, so far. I’m not sure if that resonates with you at all, though.

John Steinert:

Yeah, absolutely. How do you get culturally to an experiment-oriented organization? How can you create a bigger percentage of your total effort that is open to experiments? It takes a huge amount of energy. It requires real creativity, and that’s hard for people. But, it’s essential to improve marketing performance.

So, getting stuck in your job, not being prepared for pivots, not being risk averse is all part of the same sort of cultural change that we want to create in marketing. We can foster it by training, but we also have to foster it as managers by celebrating efforts to try different things. Obviously, they have to be wisely chosen. It’s not simply, “We’re going to buy this new tool and we’re going to do this stuff because we’ve heard it’s cool.” There should be real rationales. It’s helpful to write these down. Anytime you document your rationale, it sort of forces you to reflect a little bit before you pull the trigger on something.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. I think, the mis-purchases of MarTech are, maybe there’s a way to layer that on top of all these crazy landscapes that we see to be like, what percentage of these technologies are purchased in haste, and ended up being returned after a few years or not used or underutilized? I forget the exact statistic, but it came out of Gartner. It was like 58% of MarTech capabilities go unused. It just can’t be that way.

John Steinert:

Yeah. I think the reason that we buy stuff now, still, is not because it’s helping drive the business outcome that the organization is trying to get to, but that it helps us do our particular job. The odd thing is that doing our job may not be helping the business outcome very directly. And that’s a very difficult thing for an individual to grapple with. It is the job that I do. The best thing that can be done to improve business results. That is very hard to answer as an individual. This is the job I’m assigned. So, it’s the one I’m going to do. And it’s super hard because we’re doing it all manually. So, I needed a tool and I can show I’m going to save labor by buying a tool.

So, now we have the tool and then only later do we realize that this particular channel or how we were trying to engage with this audience was not effective at all with that audience. So, then we have to abandon both the tool and sort of downsize the channel. I would say it’s really helpful to try to understand what the actual impact of what you do every day is on the business. And as you plot your career, you plot your path, try to get closer and closer to things that are more directly impactful, if you can.

Cheri Keith:

One piece of advice I heard early in my career also was to always attach your star to another rising star and learn from the people who are navigating it well, because they tend to have the best advice rather than going to someone who might be not the one who’s always looking at continuous improvement and training.

John Steinert:

Yeah. I think there’s another piece to that. It is to keep your eye both on the ball, where it is, and also on where it’s going to be. So, if you’re going to connect with other people who are inspired in some way, that’s really good. Look for inspiration beyond what you do every day. Constantly ask yourself if you can get from here to there, but also really focus on delivering what you’ve been asked to do. Because that’s how you gain recognition by having done what you were asked to do and more. So, unfortunately, so many of us are asked to do tasks, enough tasks in a day that there doesn’t seem to be time for more, and I don’t have a solution for that kind of overwhelming amount of work. I’m a really bad example of how to balance work and life.

What I found is a career that I really am interested in because there’s so many different aspects of it. Now I’m mature enough so that I don’t have kids to take care of anymore and I can spend even more time on it. I’m not recommending spending as much time as I seem to spend, but I am recommending doing the job you’ve been asked to do well and innovating on top of it. So, I think it’s essential to do both those things. How you get it done is sort of a challenge. But, nobody I know who moves faster than average, who realizes some of their ambitions, has done it by having bigger priorities outside of that job. They’ve had other priorities and they’ve learned to balance those priorities, but the job actually is a priority for them.

Future Plans

Cheri Keith:

Yep. It’s always a juggling act. And as someone who has kids on the smaller side, I know it for sure. I’m just glad no one came bombing into the podcast today.

I have one more question for you before we closeout. We are heading into the summer months, but are there any projects that you are looking at over the next few months that perhaps you’re really looking forward to or ones that have been on your radar that you haven’t had a chance to tackle that you’ll be tackling?

John Steinert:

Yeah, as we always do, we have a summer release. That summer release, I think is going to be really exciting for the market. It should be terrifying for our competition and it’s all-around contact level, opt-in contact level intent data.

The way I started out this conversation was I talked about publishing and it is what we publish and how we publish that elicits real purchase intent signals. More and more we’ve found that to make these signals particularly useful to sellers, they have to be really clear at the individual level. And so, the more information you can provide that is useful to having sales conversations and to enabling a sales organization, and even a product organization, to understand and work to solve customer problems the more value you can get out of the data. And so, we’re really focused on how do you let the people who are interacting with the customers, how do you give them access to data at the granularity that is particularly actionable for them?

So, we’ve got the summer release, we’re doing all the things we can to explain and beta it right now. And then they’ll roll it outright at the end of their quarter and the market will be awed and thrilled that we’re helping them to this extent.

Cheri Keith:

Well, it sounds like you have a full plate with that and obviously wish you and the team the best of luck. We’ll all be sitting here very excited to see that come out at the end of the summer, then.

John Steinert:

Good. I’d love to come back and tell you all about it.

Cheri Keith:

Yes, of course. Well, thank you so much for your time today, John. I know I’ve enjoyed our time together and your takeaways about the need to have marketing training, nimbleness, and looking at the data. I think our audience will definitely benefit for that.

So, thank you for your time and thank you, Audience, for tuning in.

John Steinert:

Good to be here.

31. Jay Gaines, CMO at Large

Hey Webinerds, welcome back to CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with the top leaders in marketing and sales today. Today’s CMO Confessions features Jay Gaines, former CMO of SiriusDecisions and Forrester.

In this episode, Jay and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss their time at SiriusDecisions and Forrester together, what Jay loves about B2B marketing today and a few marketing pet peeves.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here and an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about Jay’s career and the projects he’s working on through his LinkedIn page here and his Twitter feed here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions.

Table of Contents:

Shifting Gears with Different Marketing Roles
The CMO Role Through an Acquisition
What’s to Love about B2B Marketing Today
Marketing Pet Peeves
Marketing Buzzwords
Future Plans

Cheri Keith:

Hello and welcome to CMO confessions, the weekly B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world.

I am Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, and on today’s episode, I am so excited to have a long-time coworker of mine, along for the ride with us, Jay Gaines. Jay and I spent time together at both SiriusDecisions and Forrester. So, Jay, thank you so much for coming on.

Jay Gaines:

Well, thanks, Cheri. It’s great to be here and it’s great to see you again.

Cheri Keith:

I know awesome times to reconnect and then also get some great content going.

Jay Gaines:

Exactly.

Shifting Gears with Different Marketing Roles

Cheri Keith:

So, I want to first start because when we were working together, we each held different roles within our organization at SiriusDecisions. And I think your career trajectory is pretty interesting being an analyst, advising CMOs, and then switching back to the practitioner role in being the CMOs. So, can you talk about how you were able to shift gears and what that looked like?

Jay Gaines:

Yeah, sure. So, before I got to SiriusDecisions, I had been the CMO twice. I joined Sirius because I bought into the vision. I love the idea that our founders, John Neeson and Rich Eldh, had. And as you said, I joined as an analyst, but at that time I was, I think I was the 21st employee. So, I was also doing some marketing in those early days because we’d had no marketing leader. I think we had one marketer on the team, but we kind of were all doing everything. I was selling a little bit. I was advising clients as an analyst. I was marketing a little bit. So, that’s how the role was pitched to me. Then I became a full-time analyst because I fell in love with the job and you did it for long enough to know why that is. I think you enjoyed it as well. It’s just so great to work with so many clients and the variety in the work is awesome. It’s a way to kind of earn your Ph.D. in whatever it is you’re an analyst on, because you’re learning from so many great marketing people.

So, I did that for a number of years. And as you pointed out, I spent several of those years advising chief marketing officers and that work was great. So, I think the transition at Sirius was pretty natural for me. I’d been there for a long time. I had spent a lot of time learning from our best and brightest clients, what they did and what really worked and what didn’t work. I think when John and Rich were ready for a real CMO, I was kind of the natural place to look. And you know, the other thing about it though, which made it a little bit more challenging, was by that time I was surrounded by what? Almost a hundred brilliant marketing analysts, yourself included?

So, I think part of the reason why they went with me as opposed to any one of a number of other people was because the time I had been there, I just developed great relationships, not just with people on the research side, the analysts, but really on the sales side too. And I think one of the things I was a little bit known for was spending a lot of time in the field with the sales organization. We had a younger sales team and I needed them to sell the CMOs. So, I kind of had to join them all the time. So, it builds a really strong relationship there too. I think they liked the idea of kind of a selling CMO being there.

But I’ll tell you, moving from an analyst to an actual practitioner, again, wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Because, as you know, as analysts at Sirius, we dug in with our clients. We weren’t just kind of pontificating from on high. We would really dig into what they were doing, what their tech platforms were. Kind of benchmarking what was working and what wasn’t working. So, we went deep with them. So, I never felt very far removed from the actual work of being a marketer and marketing leader as an analyst, so it was a pretty smooth transition. I knew the business pretty well at that point. And, I re-fell in love with being a CMO when I made the transition. Although I got to still be an analyst a little bit.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. Well, that’s a good thing when you like, or the good and the bad thing. When you move within roles at a company, you never can fully leave behind what you were doing before you reached that other level. Because people will still come to you for things that quote “isn’t in your job description,” but you get that street credit internally for doing something. So, you just keep doing it. Like you don’t want to be a “no” person, but I think…

Jay Gaines:

That’s right.

Cheri Keith:

What you mentioned definitely resonates because if you think about all the transitions that marketers have to make constantly it’s ever-changing. But at the same time, you’re always thinking of new things, but you can’t leave too much of what you were doing previously behind you.

Jay Gaines:

Exactly. And it’s interesting because I kind of insisted when I was asked to take on the CMO role, I said, okay, but as long as I can still work with some of our clients. Part of that was the Sirius culture, as you know, you had no credibility unless you were client-facing on some level or another. So, I wanted to maintain that, but also I love the work so much and I knew it was a way for me to keep learning all the time. So, yeah.

The CMO Role Through an Acquisition

Cheri Keith:

Awesome. But then you also made a leap going from a CMO of a relatively smaller organization where, I will say, the hardest job at Sirius was being on the marketing team. ‘Cause you had, like you mentioned, a hundred marketing experts around you always giving you little tips and tricks that you should be doing. But then moving to a larger, publicly-traded organization was part of the acquisition. And how was that transition going from the CMO of a smaller organization to one that you navigated through a pretty significant acquisition?

Jay Gaines:

Yeah, that was harder. So yeah, as you mentioned sometime after Forrester acquired SiriusDecisions, I became the interim chief marketing officer at Forrester, and I went from a team of about 15 people that I had at Sirius to a team of over 80 people, including the Sirius 15. Actually, more than that. There were 76 on the Forrester side plus my 15 on the Sirius side. So much bigger team, much more complex business as well.

Sirius was pretty complex for the size we were, but Forrester was vastly more complex in terms of the portfolio of offerings, the target markets that they went after. We were global at Sirius, but Forrester was even more global. Right? And you know, we extended across not just B2B sales, marketing and product, but obviously into technology also working with B2C marketing. There was so much more there. So, the first thing for me was a learning curve. And luckily, I had some time to get up to speed on Forrester. So, that wasn’t too bad, but there still was a learning curve there. But then there was really, what I was tasked to do.

The CEO at Forrester gave me a handful of top priorities when I moved into that role. The first was to integrate the marketing teams. That was a big one. The second was to lead the effort to refresh the Forrester brand, to reflect “Hey, we acquired SiriusDecisions,” but also it just needed to be updated and modernized. That included not just visuals, but messaging, as well. The third was to kind of help with the rationalization of the offering portfolio with the acquisition of Sirius, the biggest acquisition in their history. So that was big stuff. And also build a foundation for a revitalized demand engine. Right? So, and then working on a kind of sales and marketing alignment was a big one, as well.

So, those were kind of big, big things. And frankly, the hardest of all of them was the integration of marketing. So, again, what I had to do is tackle a learning curve, both on the kind of the offering and business side, but then on the people side too. So, my top priority was I met with every single person in marketing on the Forrester side to really learn about them. They had been through some change themselves. I wanted to kind of reduce any uncertainty they had, as well, but I also just really wanted to learn about them, understand what they did, their scope of responsibility, what they were focused on and why, where their skills and strengths were, where there might be gaps and weaknesses.

So, moving to a team that big, all of a sudden I was like, yeah, I’ll just meet with everybody.

Cheri Keith:

We used to hug everyone at SiriusDecisions. You’re on hugging terms with every employee, but that’s not the same once you get a publicly-traded company. They’re like, “No, don’t touch me.”

Jay Gaines:

Exactly. And also, I like to be liked, so I really wanted them to like me too. So, you know the bigger picture here though, part of the challenge was at Sirius I got to build a lot of things ’cause they had been there from very early on. But at Forrester, it was about changing some things that were already in place. Not that they were doing anything really bad or anything like that, but there were new ways that things needed to be done with the integration of the teams, the new whole giant portfolio of offerings with the Sirius acquisition. And that was everything from, kind of how we go to market, to how we use existing technologies, new technologies we want to introduce, reporting and measurement.

I really wanted to take that to the next level so that I could communicate more effectively with the leadership team and the board about the contribution marketing was making. And there was a lot of change management came into play as well, both on a kind of a personal level, talking to people, across the business, kind of helping them understand the role of marketing a little bit differently and how we were going to operate, but also within marketing. Some change management there as well, which is always a lot of fun, because I love repeating myself and in change management, you gotta say things over and over and over again.

What’s to Love About B2B Marketing Today

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. Well, what I want to do next is actually shift gears and just talk a little bit more about the industry and kind of your view both from that analyst hat that you can wear so well, but also from the CMO hat about what do you love about B2B marketing today?

And I mean, obviously, it’s like these last three months as we were catching up on earlier have been crazy from a personal perspective, but also, it’s really just created upheaval in marketing in general. Nevermind B2B. So, what are you thinking about right now?

Jay Gaines:

Yeah, it’s a good question. So, you asked me what I love about B2B marketing today, and today is the keyword because there are really three things I think I love the most. One is the constant change and variety that appeals to me. I know it doesn’t appeal to everybody, but it is always moving. And the pace of change is really incredible. And I really got picked up on that from being an analyst working with so many CMOs across so many different companies, and GOs and industries, you really saw incredible innovation happening all the time. And I’m not just talking about the rise of new technologies and mapping available to us, but also kind of the rise of new approaches and how things were constantly shifting.

So for example, product marketing is so essential these days and for a while there, it was kind of being overlooked as people were really obsessed with, “Hey, I need kind of marketing, the operations people. I need people who are excellent using marketing automation platforms and measurements” and all that stuff and digital. And now it’s, “I need people who can tell stories.” “I need people who can build deeper audience insights.” “I need people who have a totally different skill set.”

I love those kinds of changes. So that’s one thing that I love about B2B marketing today. The second thing I love about it is that it’s kind of complicated. It’s not just as simple as executing marketing programs and campaigns and generating leads and doing product marketing, right. And all the other things that marketing does, it’s that relationship with a sales organization too, because that’s kind of the big difference between B2C and B2B and the ability to not just build strong relationships with them, but really strong operational alignment, which as is what Sirius was really fundamentally all about, is really challenging and in a lot of ways, but in a way that I found very engaging, very satisfying. And when you could, kind of, really get that engine humming where sales marketing understood each other’s roles, worked well together, especially in kind of the end to end demand work that needed to be done. It was really gratifying because that actually contributed to measurable growth and that feels really good, right?

To make that happen. And then the third thing is that B2B marketing is respected, for the most part, today. When I started in B2B marketing, it was a very different world. It was designed that pretty thing, host these events, any old sales rep could walk up to any marketer and say, “Hey, do this for me.” And they would hop-to and go and do it, right? But now more and more and more marketing is really viewed as a driver of growth and innovation for the business, a lever for increased productivity within the business and efficiency.

It’s got a seat at the table and that’s not universally true across all industries in B2B, but it is so much more true today than it was when I was first starting out. I remember just feeling beat down at the end of every workday. It’s just tough, but today it’s a respected function. And I think also kind of along with that marketing is just one of those things that if it’s done well, everybody looks at it and says, “you know, I could do that” because it’s intuitive. It kind of makes sense to them. But I think people are understanding that there’s real data. There’s a real process. There’s complexity behind what makes for good marketing. So, there isn’t this assumption that like any old layperson could step in and do it. So that adds the respect that I think the function has.

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. I always joke that the worst time to be in marketing is after Thanksgiving and Christmas, where everyone (blip) who isn’t in marketing meets someone at a party or a long-lost uncle who all of a sudden has a marketing agency that you need to hire. And we just found this out and do they have to do that, that

Jay Gaines:

Or they have that random idea. Why aren’t we doing this? And I should do that, which is always nice to hear.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah.

Jay Gaines:

But it’s always very helpful. You know, it’s funny. I just have to tell this little side story, you pointed out that, Hey, I was CMO of a company with a hundred plus really brilliant experienced marketing analysts and consultants in it. And a lot of people would assume that would be a bad thing, but my attitude was, you know what? Any company I’ve ever been at, everybody always assumes that they can do marketing or help it improve or have that one great idea.

But I actually happened to be in a company with people who really knew marketing. So, most of their ideas were really good, so it kind of helped me along. So, it would have happened either way. I was lucky enough to have a bunch of really bright analysts making suggestions rather than a bunch of laypeople who’d never done it before.

Cheri Keith:

You were sharing an anecdote about how most people would not have liked working with a hundred marketing experts at a company.

Jay Gaines:

But I loved it because, as you were pointing out, whenever you’re a marketing leader, you’re getting tips, tricks, ideas, thoughts from everybody anyway. But I had the benefit of getting those from people who actually knew what they were talking about. So, it was super valuable to me which was nice.

Cheri Keith:

You must’ve had a sticky note to remind you, like “They have good ideas, don’t get upset with them.”

Jay Gaines:

Right? I did!

Marketing Pet Peeves

Cheri Keith:

But I think your points about the pace and changes, that’s what’s so exciting. I mean, most of my career was spent working in agencies. I’m addicted to the client’s needs and the need to have multiple people talking to and doing that on an ongoing basis, so I hear you there. And like you said, B2B isn’t easy. And that’s what I really feel like. That’s one thing that unites B2B marketers is this, everyone’s looking for that challenge. I remember my first internship was in PR and B2C PR.

So, I thought I was going to live in Manhattan, have a glamorous lifestyle, you know, Sex and the City, all of the things. I was calling stylists to find out the shoe sizes for celebrities. So, I could mail them like lug the mail out, free shoes when I couldn’t even afford my own shoes. So that celebrities could maybe get photographed wearing those. That would be a win in US Weekly, but that’s when I realized it wasn’t for me. So, now you know that I hate doing shipping and that’s a trigger for me. What are some of your pet peeves in marketing?

Jay Gaines:

Yeah, it’s a good question. So, I have a few. Right now, I think my biggest pet peeve, and it has been for a while, and this comes from my experience working with so many CMOs and, I stay in touch with a lot of the people who were my clients as CMOs. And what drives me crazy is when something like what is happening right now happens, right?

If there is a dip in the economy and there’s way more than a dip going on right now, I mean, businesses lock up in a big way. There are always these complaints from marketers in general and CMOs, especially that, “Hey, why do they always come to marketing first to cut budgets?” And that’s a pet peeve of mine, not the fact that they go to marketing first, but that there’s any complaints about it because it’s for obvious reasons — and the reasons are marketing has a large discretionary budget that is not tied to actual headcount.

So, any company that’s trying to really significantly cut costs without reducing staff are going to turn to marketing first. The second thing is that most CMOs, now there are a lot that are really great at this, but in my experience, a lot of CMOs aren’t prepared to have a good conversation when those cuts come. And by a good conversation, what I mean is, can you explain to the CFO, to the CEO, to the board of directors, the impacts of specific types of cuts and can you guide them and “Hey, here’s what we can do without right now. Here’s what we really need. And here’s why.”

What are those things that are going to affect sales, productivity, or customer acquisition costs? What are those things that are going to negatively impact customer retention, for example, and growth within existing client accounts? Being able to have that conversation when the time comes and, by the way, educating all along really relieves a lot of that stress because those cuts are going to come anyway, but at least you can have an intelligent conversation and direct to the business about where to make those cuts and where not to, and, frankly, how much those cuts should be.

So that’s one pet peeve, and that might not be exactly what you’re talking about because it’s a little bit different from hating shipping, which by the way, I hate.

Jay Gaines:

But, another pet peeve for me is this kind of notion that marketing continues to be a disrespected and misunderstood function within B2B. And we talked about this a little bit before and that’s improved quite a bit, but when I talk to B2B marketers, there’s still kind of this victim mentality that happens, not all the time, but sometimes. And when that exists, I just start asking questions that kind of puts on my analyst hat and start digging in and asking questions.

And frankly, if that’s the state of things in the business that you’re working in, right where marketing is misunderstood, kind of is the island of lost projects, nobody else will do it so marketing will do it kind of scenario. That to me is marketing’s fault ultimately, and I’m not talking about necessarily all the individual team members. People can be doing great work, but typically the leadership’s fault because they’re really not doing a great job of helping the business, understand how marketing should be focused and why they should be focused there. But even bigger than that, they’re not doing a good job of focusing the business itself.

In my experience, great CMOs, great marketing leaders are forcing focus within the business. For example, they’re saying, look, these are the audience segments that we need to double down in. And that should not just extend to marketing, but across sales as well and impact it and product development and product management and being able to have that audience insight is key. So, I always started asking questions. My job for a long time was to work with some CMOs and ultimately point out, listen to them, hear them. And I felt like a therapist a lot, but then sometimes I have to say, well, the problem here may be you. Let’s talk about why that is.

Cheri Keith:

Right! Yeah, very gently So.

Jay Gaines:

Right, exactly. And so that’s a bit of a pet peeve, this little bit of a victim complex that sometimes exists because marketing is the greatest function to work in, in my opinion. I mean the blend of the science, the operational excellence, process, creativity, the impact you can have on the business to leverage. You can create all that stuff. It’s just super exciting for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some company cultures where you just can’t get past it. Marketing is going to be kind of stepped on and beat down. And if you find yourself there, my typical advice would be; start looking to move on. That’s extra hard today. I’m not going to give anybody that advice if you’re in a solid spot, stay there for now, but just know that there are better places to go. And you might be able to change that culture a little bit.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, I think that the whole idea of marketing being that victim mentality also feeds behavior that doesn’t gain more respect internally. If you have the mentality that everyone is upset with you, you’re never going to do good enough. You all of a sudden become an order-taker, which isn’t your job generally?

I mean, yes. If you’re in a shared service organization, that’s one thing. But generally, if you just become a “yes” person and fulfill on things that aren’t going to drive the results you as a marketer know you should be driving, that’s not going to help your cause in any way. So it’s almost like once you have that in your head, your behaviors are only going to make it worse for yourself. Like there’s not a lot of people who think that they’re a victim of marketing who the next stage, turn it all around. Like you need a complete mind shift in order to get that done.

Jay Gaines:

That’s right. It’s true. And not to get too, kind of, lofty about the whole thing, but it is a state of mind that kind of permeates entire organizations, I’ve found. And usually, it’s a top-down issue. But if you find it, it’s gotta be addressed. And typically, there’s no reason to feel that way. And one other pet peeve that is interesting to talk about right now is the hatred sometimes for events.

Events are great, in my opinion, and all kinds of events are great. I mean, again, if you want to talk about leverage and a way to make an impact. I think marketers sometimes hate events because they’re like, “Well, we’re viewed as kind of the field events team.” Right? We’re just trying to do that. Now that’s temporarily a thing of the past, obviously. But the fact of the matter is, that there’s great power in bringing groups of people together, right? There are all kinds of things you can do in those scenarios, whether it’s digitally and online or live and in-person.

Live and in-person is on hold indefinitely. But, the point is that it’s what goes into those events, the pre-planning, the actual execution. Then what comes after it and integrating it into a broader campaign and mix is what’s key about it. But everybody loves bashing on events. And I never quite understood that one.

Cheri Keith:

Everyone that was bashing on it, but every salesperson wants to go and bill the really expensive dinners there. So, at the same time, which is it? They want to go, but they don’t want to work in the booth like, “heck no, on that one.”

Jay Gaines:

No, they do want the fancy dinners and the cocktails and all of that, but you’re right.

Cheri Keith:

Right!

Jay Gaines:

And my advice to marketers is to get out there and enjoy those things too. Be in the field, meet clients. That will earn you credibility.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. And I mean, that’s where so many connections happen and yes, it’s all online right now. And, obviously, I work for a company that does a lot of that. So, it’s been kind of wild to see it. While ON24 is a company that does digital and provides technology to do that. So much of our marketing focus is on in-person events because that’s what marketers want. And that’s what helps our buyers’ journey is having really amazing in-person events.

So, we’ve been in this weird scenario internally where we’re like, we just had to shut off something that drove so much demand for us. But, at the same time, the market has completely shifted when it comes to coming to us now, rather than us going to them. So, it’s like, kind of, it’s very much like Inception. It’s like, “Wait, which level am I on right now?”

Jay Gaines:

Exactly.

Cheri Keith:

Make sure I get back to the top in time.

Jay Gaines:

Right, right. Assuming we get back to something like the old normal, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a new wave of passion around live events just because people are going to want to connect again and get out of the house and see other humans. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens.

Cheri Keith:

Every webinar I have done in the past six weeks, I will get at least 10 questions. Like, “When are live events coming back?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” Quite honestly, I need a trip to Hawaii before I go to another trade show. So, we’ll put that on hold until we all take some time off and relax for a few minutes without homeschooling, pets, animals, all of it happening at once.

Jay Gaines:

I’m with you.

Marketing Buzzwords

Cheri Keith:

I know one thing that oftentimes gets marketers all riled up is the need to create new buzzwords. And as you sit now, are there any things that are kind of driving you crazy? Any buzzwords about marketing that… I was told to create categories and then disassemble them and create things that drive hype, but kind of outside of that, are there any things that are on your radar?

Jay Gaines:

Yeah, there are a few things. That is another kind of pet peeve of mine is kind of this shiny object syndrome, right? This kind of rabid pursuit of like whatever the new thing is, the new acronym, the new way of doing things. And it’s usually problematic as it creates whiplash and a lack of consistency over time. And sometimes it bogs people’s ability to see what really makes sense and what works, what doesn’t. This propensity to say, “things are dead” or “that’ll never come back.”

So, if, for example, it’s Sirius when we did benchmarking and there was a long period of time where, guess what? Direct mail was the most effective tactic we saw a lot of our clients using. And I remember for years, people were like, “Direct mail is dead and it’s never coming back.” And then of course it became new again. ABM is another example of that account-based marketing. I love it. It’s great. It’s fantastic.

But I had clients, CMO clients, who would come to me and say, I want to learn all about ABM. We have to start incorporating ABM into our business. And these would, some of these businesses were very transactional in nature. They had a very broad base of markets and types of customers they were going after. They didn’t have strategic accounts. And I was like, “ABM is really kind of tangential to what you want to do. I know it sounds cool and everybody’s doing it. And you want to jump on that bandwagon, but you’d be better off focusing on these other areas.”

And they get super-upset hearing that. You know, a new one right now, which I take a little bit personally, is the whole, the MQL is dead and lead generation is dead and it should have never existed. I get the point. Yes, buying groups are wonderful and we need to focus on buying groups. Also, kind of conversational marketing is really key as well. And I’m all for those things. But, the fact of the matter is that actually having a funnel or a waterfall, if you will, and leads and agreement on where those leads were and how to manage them appropriately worked really well, and continues to work really well, for a lot of companies. It made sales more productive. It was measurable. Something you could improve upon over time.

So, this readiness to dismiss things before their time, to be dismissed has actually come, annoys me. But, also the readiness to kind of jump on the next bandwagon before it’s really proven, is also a bit of a pet peeve. Now I’m all for experimentation, but kind of the whiplash effect is something that, I think most of us in B2B marketing has to be careful about.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I always talk about it being very clickbaity. I’m giving to people to sound like something you would see in a banner ad. I don’t think that can be the best advice you give someone is to go over the top on something. Even if it is true and like direct mail, I think it is a (blip) like where it wasn’t true, but people were saying it was because what? You’re trying to steal budget from direct mail. So, you need to say that it’s dead.

As a vendor, it just seems like there’s usually enough place in the marketing mix for a lot of things to be supported. And especially if you think about buyer enabled and what it’s like, who knows what that means to a lot of different people.

But if we know that we’re going to have a variety of people who are going to interact with us, they probably have different tactics. You can’t all of a sudden change your entire marketing mix to one thing and expect (blip). It doesn’t stand to reason that that could be effortless. But I think direct mail must, now that people are like, we know you’re wanting swag, can we ship it to you? I say this now, of course, I’m looking outside, and I see a UPS man out front of my house. On a first-name basis.

Jay Gaines:

Getting deliveries and mail is the most exciting thing that happens for a lot of us every day.

Future Plans

Cheri Keith:

It’s like, now we understand why dogs are so happy when the mailman comes. Like, we have become the puppies. So, why shift gears one last time to talk about what you’re working on now? I think you have some exciting projects going on. Like, what’s going to keep you busy over the next few months, aside from dos I’m online shopping like me.

Jay Gaines:

Yeah. So, well, thanks for asking that there’s a number of things going on. So, as I think you know, I resigned from the CMO role at Forrester in January. And since then, I went to Sundance in late January, early February to see a film I was involved in, which got bought by Amazon Studios, which was super exciting. As exciting, but less timely, I also was part of launching a restaurant in Los Angeles in mid-February, which, not the best time to launch a restaurant, but still it was exciting.

It was like a lifelong dream of mine. I love food. I love cooking. I have always been curious about the industry. And we’re okay. We’re hibernating for as long as we have to, but other than that, I continue to stay very close to a lot of my CMO clients. I’m working on a couple of side projects looking at possibly starting a couple of new things with some people and some friends. And also, I am looking at a couple of CMO roles that I’m actively considering. I can’t really name names just yet. Because.

Cheri Keith:

No, no, of course not! We don’t want to jinx anything.

Jay Gaines:

I don’t want to jinx anything. I also have a big decision to make do I want to start a new thing, or do I want to go back to the life of the CMO? Both are really appealing, but for different reasons. So, I feel really fortunate that I have options. But I’m terrible at making decisions. So, I might just ask you once we’re done here to tell me what to do. Yeah.

Cheri Keith:

Awesome. Well, that has been amazing. Thank you so much for your time today, Jay. We appreciate it. And thank you audience for listening.

Jay Gaines:

Cheri, thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.

CMO Confessions Ep. 30: IBM Europe’s Alison Orsi

Hello and welcome to CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast examining what it takes to be a leader in marketing and sales today. Everyone’s ready for the holidays, so our parting present to you is this fantastic conversation with Alison Orsi, CMO of IBM Europe. 

In this episode, Alison and I discuss how she — a natural world traveler —  came to be the CMO of IBM Europe, how IBM Europe approaches agile marking and why having a high tolerance for experimentation and failure adds up to marketing success.

This is a great episode, so I’ll leave you to get to it. 

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here and an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about how Alison approaches marketing on her Twitter feed here and follow her on LinkedIn here

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Marketing in the US vs. Europe
Transforming IBM to the next frontier of marketing
World traveler to CMO of IBM Europe
Strategic components of becoming CMO
Embrace marketing agility
The agile mindset
Use failure as a learning opportunity

TRANSCRIPT

Joe Hyland:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24 and joining me this week, all the way from West London, is Alison Orsi, vice president and CMO IBM Europe. Alison, how are you doing?

Alison Orsi:

I’m doing well. How are you? Thank you for inviting me.

MARKETING IN THE US VS. EUROPE

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, thank you. I’m doing great. And thanks for being on the show. We really appreciate it. So I think your career path is super interesting and I’d love to talk about it just for a little bit. I guess the first question I have, I think it’d be interesting for our listeners to get your perspective on the difference between marketing in the US versus marketing in Europe. You’re obviously from Europe, or Europe as of now, but spent a lot of time in the US running marketing for a division of IBM out of New York. So, what were those differences, were they that pronounced and talk about those experiences?

Alison Orsi:

Sure. I’ve spent most of my career at IBM which has meant I’ve had the privilege to work for a US company and spent most of my time working in Europe, but I’ve worked in many countries in Europe and also had the privilege to travel internationally. 

And as you alluded to, I also spent the last three years living and working in New York and just recently returned to London. So I would say that many, many things are the same. And the way that we think about how we work, the way that we think about how we work together and collaborate, the way that we really try to put the customer at the center of everything we do, all of those things are the same.

Alison Orsi:

How to do them is slightly different. I would say what makes a great event in the US might not necessarily make a great event in Europe. Obviously in Europe now we have the challenges of things like GDPR which I understand is coming, there’s more legislation coming into the US shortly. But all of those things I prefer to see not as challenges but as opportunities. 

Actually things like that and things like the differing regulations and the differing cultural expectations and cultural norms are invitations for us to show up at our best and to really think about what is it that marketing can do to add value in the relationship with the customer, add value to the person that you’re trying to connect with. And things like GDPR and privacy rules and regulations really mean that you have to make sure that you deliver something of so much value that that customer is willing to share their details with you and continue a relationship with you. 

And so that to me, I guess is the biggest thing. There’s always fun. You know, my US colleagues had great fun keeping a chart of all the strange British things that I said presented to me on a card when I left and those kinds of things. But for the most part, I think we’re actually very, very similar.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant on many fronts. I mean, you’re right, great marketing is about adding value it’s not about us or your own organization. It is about, as you said, putting your customer, or future customer, at the center of everything you do. There are some nuanced differences to the approach to how you disseminate a message and how you go about it, right. And a good point on the cultural differences. Language is amazing by the way.

You and I speak the same language, but I find myself pretty confused and perplexed half the time with British English versus American English. But you’re right at the end of the day, it is all about our audience and making sure that they are central to everything that we do. So it’s actually not that different.

TRANSFORMING IBM TO THE NEXT FRONTIER OF MARKETING

Alison Orsi:

No, it’s, not, and I think it really is part of the journey that, you know, most organizations, if I speak to a lot of my peer CMOs, we’re really starting to think about how do we transform? What’s the next frontier of marketing and where do we need to get to? The part of that transformation journey has to start with being completely customer-centric. And so, most recently now we’ve been talking about how we drive NPS. And so, the marketing transformation that we’ve been on at IBM for the last few years, started with actually, how do we get more customer-centric? How do we really embrace NPS and make IBM an NPS led organization?

The next piece then is around really making data available to everybody so we can be data-driven. So we can become the most customer-oriented, data-driven and ultimately agile to the core marketing organizations. That’s kind of the journey that we’re on. And as we start to think about how do you put the customer at the center, but then how do you deliver the best value? Those for us are the keys to how you can deliver value.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, isn’t it? it’s exciting, right? Think about how much marketing has changed in the last, well, the last five years, never mind in the last two decades. You’re right. Marketing is at the center of the strategy of the organization talking about the next frontier and the customer journey and being customer-centric.

I don’t know about you and what it was like at IBM two decades ago. But where I started my career marketing wasn’t that strategic. You know it was more on the branding side in corporate communications. But I would say marketing was more the make it look pretty department, you know, make it presentable.

Alison Orsi:

We were the brochures and events department when I started in B2B marketing and you know, we built the right relationships and then opportunities with a very, relatively small number of very large customers. So our customer base has changed, customer expectations have changed, technology has changed. The blurring between personal life and work-life has moved forward at pace, enabled by technology. Who people go to for advice where people get their information; all of that has changed completely in the last 20 to 25 years.

So, and it continues to change really, really quickly. And so one of the things that’s beholden on us as marketers and one of the reasons that I enjoyed the career in marketing all this time is that we are continually changing.

The one thing that I tell my team is that the first thing you have to learn is to be comfortable with change and to be willing to embrace change and get on the bandwagon. Be curious, continue to ask questions, because that’s the thing that will help keep you and your career moving forward and keeping pace with the opportunities that are out there.

WORLD TRAVELER TO CMO AT IBM EUROPE

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that is fantastic advice. If you don’t mind, walk us through your career path and along the way talk about some of that change and how marketing has transformed over this time.

Alison Orsi:

Sure. I spent most of my career at IBM, as I told you. I’ve described myself many times as an accidental marketer because my degree at university was in Geography, so actually all I wanted to do was travel the world. And so I ended up at IBM as a way to earn money to go traveling.

I worked for IBM for a few months or a year. And I left and went to South America and had a fabulous time and ended up back at my old job within a week of being back in the country simply because I needed the money and I actually said, this is great I can figure out what I want to do with my life, then I will leave and get a proper job. That was 25 years ago and I think one of my colleagues at IBM was in a marketing department where we were actually really focused on our business partner channel and helping run enablement sessions. So really thinking about our ecosystem and enabling our ecosystem. The thing that attracted me to the role was, of course, was that at that time our organization was Europe, Middle East and Africa, so EMEA.

And he was flying to a different country every week to run training courses for our business partners, which of course sounded amazing to be paid to travel. So I went to my boss at the time, I was in an admin role and said, I’d like to join that team, they’re hiring. And he said, but Alison, that’s marketing. I was like, okay, but you need qualifications.

Okay. So I went and got the qualifications, was allowed to move and discovered that I was actually quite good at it. And so for the first three years of my marketing career, I was flying, you know, two-three cities a week, all over Europe, Middle East and Africa, helping our business partners understand the value propositions and differentiators and how to sell our technology and how to differentiate our technology. And that was in the PC division of IBM at the time.

So from that, I spent 10 years in that part of the organization and moved from that ecosystem enablement into product marketing. And at that time, that was high-volume, relatively low-value compared to the rest of what IBM was doing. But I didn’t really understand or appreciate how big the organization was or what else there was available to me.

And so it wasn’t until at the end of 10 years I also had the opportunity to go and live and work in Paris for three years, so our European headquarters at the time was in Paris. So that was great. And that’s where I really learned how the first lesson for my career really actually made sure that you use the opportunity to do roles from lots of different perspectives.

Alison Orsi:

As I had spent my time sitting in a Europe role or in a UK role, kind of wondering what this European team was and who were they and why were they telling me what to do I’m in a big organization? Actually to then flip and sit and work in a European role, trying to enable and help the markets or countries be as successful as they could be, gives you a completely different perspective on the market and how to lead, but also how to operate in an organization perhaps like ours.

It really was helpful to truly understand you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and that works the same for internal customers just as it does for external customers to get your point of view across, and to understand how to work the matrix in a big B2B organization like ours.

Alison Orsi:

And then when I came back to the UK, after three years in Paris as the product marketer for our desktop and laptop product, I switched completely into a new bit of the organization that really focused on our customer sets. And so I ran marketing in the UK for what would be called our small and medium business division essentially. So again, the whole breadth of IBM, so flip, so everything that we did from hardware, software, and services, but for small and medium clients.

And then from there I moved into our technology services division, our business consulting division, and ultimately became the CMO for IBM in the UK. I kind of realized at the time, but every job that I’ve had along the way was actually preparing me for a CMO role because I’d done that thing of really understanding and learning what are the things that are all the different perspectives of things that we could do. What are the different types of clients that we have? I experienced everything from, as I said, high-volume, low-value to extremely high-value, really deep customer relationships, complex deals, multi-year deals that required multiple stakeholders and buying decision-making units that we’d have to address. So, lots of different angles and aspects. And every time we changed roles, something changed in the market; new technology would be available, a new way of engaging.

Our customers, in my career, have changed from, you know, trusting the vendor and the relationship that they had with their vendor through to really trusting their peers to get even 70% of the information that they choose to make their decision online before they, even before they’ve even engaged any vendor. And so all of those things have changed and we’ve had to change our approach, our understanding of the customer, the way that we deliver value to the customer.

And of course one of the things that’s been enabling us to do that over time is the amount of data that’s available to us and the way that we can use that data, and now obviously more so now actually how we apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to get even better at doing that in a way that differentiates us.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Well, that’s fantastic. When there’s so much in there. First I’ll say it is, isn’t it amazing? And I think this is true in our personal lives and in our careers. Life is so often what happens while you’re planning everything out, while you’re planning your life, right? Like you want it to work just enough so you could travel.

Then all of a sudden, lo and behold, you ended up getting to travel because of your work and then on your career side, you’re right. I mean, cause I get asked this question a lot is, you know, what is the ideal path giving me the formula to become a head of marketing. And I don’t think that there is a formula and you know, you’re correct.

Alison Orsi:

I think I’d agree, every one of my peers at IBM as well, I think, you know, you need, every single one of us has had a career path and there’s been some serendipity involved in everyone that I know.

STRATEGIC COMPONENTS OF BECOMING CMO

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. No, that’s right. there’s a lot of luck and chance, but I had a similar career path in that I didn’t have a master plan, but I ended up in product marketing, campaign marketing, demand gen events, channel, you name it. And then lo and behold, after 15 years I realized, “Oh, I actually know a lot about the kind of all aspects of marketing.” Perhaps I’m qualified to run marketing, right? So and, you don’t know until you try it.

But, talk a little bit about the, I’m curious about this one thing that you talked about, so you mentioned your stint in product marketing, which I think is, that is evolved of course a lot in the last decade as well. But, that’s interesting in a part of marketing where marketers get to do a lot more than a traditional campaign or brand marketing where you have to really understand the market’s needs, competition, pricing.

Do you think your time in product marketing set you up for the strategic components of being a CMO or did it not play a larger role than the other roles that you had?

Alison Orsi:

I spent most of my career in what we would describe as product marketing inside IBM and I think the thing that taught me was that you truly have to understand your customer and your market. You also truly have to know how to connect with the business and really understand what it is from what the business objectives that you were trying to achieve. And over time, product marketing has evolved to then really start to think about well how do I embrace NPS? How do I get direct customer feedback? Not just it filtered through the sellers who are kind of interpreting what customers are saying. We’re getting direct quotes from customers directly in your product sometimes.

And so for me, the notion of product marketing is incredibly important. But I would say having spent three years in what we call performance marketing inside IBM, which includes all of the demand gen and campaign management and everything else that actually, that’s equally important as well. The product marketing piece helps you with the art of marketing. It helps you with the value propositions. It helps you with the things that resonate with your customers.

That helps you understand your audience. The performance marketing piece actually helps with the science. That’s where a lot of the data sets and truly understanding what are the leavers that I can pull. How do I best engage with my audience, which is the way that they want to engage with us most? And it’s not about guesswork and qualitative feedback, but quantitative direct feedback that you can use that you can see through A/B testing and you know, just which route to market actually works best in terms of cost per click or engagement rate or yield rates. And so actually it’s the combination of the two that makes us the most successful.

Alison Orsi:

So in, in my career, actually, the thing that I value the most is the three years that I spent leading performance marketing most recently in New York because that really opened my eyes to the importance of data and actually not data for data’s sake, but the art of asking the question. I think one of the things I learned was, as marketers, as product marketers and performance marketers and particularly product marketers, actually the first thing we want is all the market insights that we can get and all the market research that I can find. I want to build a plan and I want to segment my audience and day-to-day-to-day to help me make some decisions.

And where we’re moving to now I think actually is that if you, if you wait too long and you do all that analysis, the market’s moved before you’ve even caught up. And it really is about how do I was reading in an article that we’ve got our relationship with data all wrong, right, actually. And if you think about how you do scientific exploration, you can look back at data, but if you only use the data set that you’ve already got, you only can discover what’s in that data set.

Most of what happens when you’re doing scientific experiments are you’re trying something new and there’s new data and there’s usually happy accidents which are where the big breakthrough discoveries come from. You apply the same to marketing. Actually what you want to do is use your existing data as my colleague would say, to not be stupid, right? And make the best assumption that you’ve got.

EMBRACE MARKETING AGILITY

Alison Orsi:

But then the most important data you can gather is your live feedback from customers to get something into the market quickly, test your value propositions live, test your campaign journeys live, test your offerings live. And we’re getting more and more used, particularly now in the technology world, to putting out products that we then iterate on very, very quickly and improve with direct customer feedback.

So you get direct feedback on what features and functions work the best in your products or how they would like to consume your products or how they would like to interact with you. And it’s much, much better to get that feedback immediately and directly and to be able to respond as quickly as you can to that kind of data than it is looking at more traditional data sets. They’re important. Absolutely. But, but I’d encourage everyone to get into getting to market fast and really embracing this notion of agile in marketing is what I was saying,

Joe Hyland:

I’m so glad you brought this up. I read — it was like eight or ten years ago when the lean startup came out — and obviously it was about product development and very quickly bringing things to market so you can get market feedback versus sitting in a room pontificating on what the ideal product is and what people’s problems are. And I read the whole book and I thought this is about marketing. They’re talking products, but this is really about marketing and marketers need to be agile. They need to get things out as quickly as possible, and you need real market feedback and then you can adapt somewhat within a blink of an eye.

So, talk about how you guys do that. Like how do you look at agile? How does that change how you market in the last, I don’t know, five, ten years? And how quickly can you adapt?

THE AGILE MINDSET

Alison Orsi:

I think we’ve been on a journey to become the most agile to the core marketing organization globally. And I guess that journey started maybe three or four years ago. But there are many different ways and people think very differently about agile. And often when we talk about agile, we think about how you do agile. So you think about the rituals you think about that agile is all about daily stand-ups and backlogs and sprints and all this buzz, all this buzz language.

And you can do agile and pretend that you’re doing agile by going through the motions and that will probably give you some benefit. For me, agile actually is about, is a mindset shift and it’s a mindset, not a behavior and you want it to become a movement in the organization that people want to be part of. And what that means is that agile is something that you be rather than something that you do.

So we talk about being agile and that means that actually what agile for us is predicated on is a core set of values, which means that we all have trust, respect, openness and a little bit of courage to try something new. That allows us to collaborate very effectively in cross-functional teams. We are a little bit agile about how we implement agile and there’s a very prescribed way agile was designed for something very specific in terms of designing software. What we’re doing is taking the best bits and what works for us to really help us think through how it adds value in marketing.

Alison Orsi:

So we built agile squads. They are teams of individuals who have specialist skills and specialist disciplines that contribute to an outcome. You’d find product marketers, campaign marketers, digital strategists, event specialists, our agency teams, our ecosystem teams, social media coms, all working together in a team aligned to a common outcome and a common goal. When that team works together with those values, with this notion of experimentation, everybody being really clear on what is it that we’re trying to get done, everybody being clear on what the outcome is, but also then being clear on what’s the most important thing that we need to get done in the next two weeks.

When we start to have teams working in this way they have more fun, they get creative. It’s a little bit of a hard transformation, but once you get through that kind of first six to eight weeks, suddenly everyone starts having fun. The results start coming in. People get bolder. They try more wild experiments.

Alison Orsi:

I remember one of the first agile teams I worked with, probably four or five years ago now, went through that kind of early pain stage. It was a pilot. So, they set themselves a target to achieve in their first three months of work. They hit their three months target after eight weeks.

And actually by the end of three months did double what they thought they would do simply because they were working differently and thinking bolder and trying lots of new things. So I would encourage people to explore agile and embrace it because it is a very different way of working, but it unlocks so many things.

USE FAILURE AS A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

Joe Hyland:

So many organizations and I want to talk about how you’ve set this up so that people feel they have agency and they feel empowered to fail because you talked about bold experiments and bold testing. And as a part of any tests like some experiments will work and others won’t right?

That’s how you learn; that’s the point of it. But that has to start at the top. I mean, I think a lot of organizations are worried about failure and they want to hit 100% of their goals and they don’t want to miss anything. So, how drastic of a shift was this three or four years ago when you put this in place and did you have to tell people and did it take a while for employees to understand, “Oh, it’s okay if we miss the mark on many of our experiments?”

Alison Orsi:

Yes. I mean, I think it obviously it is led from the top and it has the full support and the drive of our CMO Michelle Paluso. But it also, it is prevalent at every level of the organization. And often people think about, “Oh my God, failure,” which means that I miss my numbers. That’s not what we mean. It means that we’re trying lots of things and we fail fast. And we use failure as a learning opportunity.

So you think about the example you were just talking about A/B testing. A/B testing doesn’t mean that I’m going to pick, I’m going to do one thing or another. And the fact that I’m doing A/B testing to know which of the variance I have is going to get me to my goal better. Which of those works better?

Alison Orsi:

So we don’t think about failure as something that means I’ve missed the opportunity. We think about failure as how we learn to get better and go faster. And so you don’t think about agile as one big change.

I think about agile as lots of little things and lots of little experiments and continuous experimentation, continuous iteration and this mantra that we have inside IBM, which is always better tomorrow, right? There is always something I can learn. Where am I today and what’s the one thing I want to do differently tomorrow? And if you think about agile in that sense and you’ve got everyone working in the same way, then you will continually improve.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, isn’t it amazing when you can get everyone rowing in the same direction? And I love the quick pace too, right? This notion of things not being bolted to the ground. I remember when I started in marketing and we had our annual kickoff and everything was planned for the entire year in January.

I have to say a lot changed by June, yet we stuck to that damn plan. And it was boring, but I don’t think anyone wanted to admit that we were wrong with the original plan. So we just kept doing the same thing even though it made no sense. So I think this is brilliant and I love that it comes right from the top. It sounds like the team is structured around it.

And you’re right, marketing should be fun. And what’s more fun than coming into work every day and truly not knowing exactly what’s going to happen because you’re agile, things will change.

Alison Orsi:

Right? I mean, and I will tell you that first team that I worked with once they’d figured out what it meant and it felt freeing and they were able to experiment. I mean, other people in the office were coming over to ask me to be quiet cause they were laughing so loud and having too much fun coming up with crazy ideas. Some of the crazy ideas they even tried.

So, who knew you could set up a pop-up shop in a cheap basement in London. I mean, that’s not the kind of thing you’d expect from our brand, but we tried, we learned, we moved on and it’s become something bigger and better now. So, there are lots of little things that you can try.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I love it. I think this is just amazing advice. Well, we’re half an hour in, so I want to honor the time. Alison, thank you so much for half an hour. The accidental marketer turns CMO. I love it. And again, thank you so much.

Alison Orsi:

You’re very welcome. Thank you.

CMO Confessions Ep. 29: Aprimo’s Ed Breault

Hi folks and welcome to CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast examining what it takes to be a leader in the marketing and sales side of business today.

This week, we have Ed Breault, CMO at Aprimo. Ed started his marketing career as many of us do: graduating from college and wondering what’s next. After graduating from Bowling Green State University, Ed spent some time analyzing nuclear power plan data before moving onto a Big Four consulting firm and, eventually, his role as CMO at Aprimo.

In this episode, we discuss what makes marketing marketing today, why simply having data isn’t enough to drive results, what experiences young marketers ought to pursue to further their careers and why constantly challenging yourself and working out of your comfort zone is critical to success.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here and an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about what Ed has to say by following him on Twitter here and checking out his LinkedIn here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Table of Contents

What Does Ed Breault Love About Marketing Today?
What Is B2P Marketing?
Get Back to the Basic Human Elements of Exchange of Information
What Is the Objective of the Marketing Team at Aprimo?
Marketers Need to go Deep: Customer Experience and Advocacy
Marketing Longevity and Staying the Course
How to Deal With the Analytical Side of Marketing
Ed Breault’s Biggest Career Challenge

Transcript:

Joe Hyland:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24, and joining me this week from the greater Pittsburgh area is Ed Breault, CMO at Aprimo. How’s it going, Ed?

Ed Breault:

I’m doing well, how are you?

Joe Hyland:

I am doing great. Thank you for joining me on a Friday afternoon.

Ed Breault:

Thanks for having me.

WHAT DOES ED BREAULT LOVE ABOUT MARKETING TODAY?

Joe Hyland:

All right, let’s dive right into the state of the space you and I live and work in B2B marketing. I want to hear, I’ll start on a positive note. Tell me what you love about what we’re doing today in the world we live in.

Ed Breault:

Yeah. I love it because I think we’ve got out of our own way as B2B marketers. And I think we just got back, we got out of the way of all the hype and all the distractive like technologies. And I think we just got back to being helpful and realizing where we’re needed and where we’re not needed.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. That’s it. One thing I love about marketing is well a lot of changes. I mean, think of the technology we have at our disposal on our fingertips on a daily basis. You know, the basic principles and tenets of marketing have not changed in decades and in some ways in centuries.

And I see so many marketers just making it about the tactics or making it about the next click or getting someone’s attention or trying to make too much noise and actually not focusing on, well, how do I help someone solve their problem and what’s the best way to show them that I can do that.

WHAT IS B2P MARKETING?

Ed Breault:

Exactly. Yeah. I think one of the things, and whether it’s B2B or B2C, it’s just I call it B2P business to people. And that’s the constant right, that you’re talking about as we’re just, we’re people, we’re humans and when we stop being humans that’s probably one of my biggest pet peeves. I think just keep it human, keep it conversational and remember how we are pre-wired, which is, you know, through stories, through visual communication.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. We talked about this for a moment before trying to be authentic. You know, oftentimes what we’re doing is really just trying to relate to another person and another individual. It just happens that we might have to do it to thousands or millions of people, right? But, if you walk up to someone at a bar and talk to them like a robot, it probably won’t be a good conversation and if we could do that in our marketing we’ll probably be okay.

Ed Breault:

Exactly. A good framework I use is SLAP, speak like a person, you know, it’s the worst. Our area is so full of jargon and buzzwords and I think some of the best marketers don’t have to use any of that.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I had this great boss once who, back when I was in product marketing, who would just go through whatever was written and either cross out or write a question mark above, like a slang phrase like optimize business processes. He’s like, Joe, what the hell does that mean? I was like, wow, we’re going to do things better. He’s like, you say that.

Ed Breault:

Exactly. I’ve seen with my team and then in general, I mean I’m very into saying the most with the least amount of words and just looking at how sometimes copy can be just so full of wasteful information.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree anymore and it’s refreshing to feel like you’re not being sold to or marketed to. Right, I mean, I think it’s easy for everyone to relate to that shitty feeling of when you’ve got a slick salesperson who’s just trying to shove something down your throat like no one likes that, right?

And we can all relate to it in our personal lives. But I think we forget that marketers kind of do the same thing and when they push a whole bunch of BS at you, that probably isn’t going to, you’re not going to get the desired results.

GET BACK TO THE BASIC HUMAN ELEMENTS OF EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION

Ed Breault:

Exactly. Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I do, I market to marketers. So that’s one of those places where you are so pushed to bring value.

And differentiate from everybody else out there who’s speaking because a marketer can pick up on that and oftentimes it’s like, “Why are you using those words? Why are you using those tactics?” You have to be genuine, you have to be authentic and get back to the basic human elements of exchange of information.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. It’s interesting to play in the marketing technology space where your audience is actually your own discipline, right, where you and I are marketing to marketers. On one hand, I would hope that what you said is true, that marketers are should be a little more savvy to marketing tech, which I think they are.

I don’t know, I see a lot of bad marketing in our space. It’s also such a crowded space. Like you just said you were at Martech, right? I mean it’s, they speak with pride about having thousands of vendors in the space. Which on one hand might be a good thing, on the other hand, it makes it so it can be a pretty loud echo chamber.

Ed Breault:

Absolutely. It’s so crowded. And what is it like 7,000 plus Martech vendors? I mean, it’s just a ridiculous amount. Some survive, some don’t. And we make it hard when we don’t differentiate in any way because it’s such a crowded space. There’s overlap, there’s convergence. And I think those that have like the staying power are the ones that continue to keep up and evolve what they’re doing.

WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF THE MARKETING TEAM AT APRIMO?

Joe Hyland:

So talk to me about what, or our audience, about what you guys are doing. Like what are what’s your team look like? You know, you referenced you’re selling to marketers and what’s your goal? What’s the objective of the marketing team at Aprimo?

Ed Breault:

Absolutely. The objective of marketing at Aprimo is to be helpful, right? It’s really to, we have we sell digital asset management for customer experience and marketing resource management and we’ve got 25% of the global 100 as customers and they’ve got major pain points like.

Ed Breault:

These are the brands that have to do massive storytelling with lots of content, with a lot of appreciation for sophistication and they need really bulletproof technology. And they’re companies who have evolved over time; they went through mergers and acquisitions and now they’re at this point of simplifying their tech stack and bringing it all together.

Ed Breault:

And so what we have to do is help them make very difficult decisions. Decisions that are in the millions and billions around how they’re designing their org, designing their technology for this future. I mean, it’s 2020s right there. I can’t believe it’s here right now. So we just have to be as helpful as possible with the right information, the right content, and we have to teach along the way.

We actually used some of the Challenger Sales Methodology, marketing methodology, and so we really have to know these industries up and down, inside and out and where they’re going. And so we can bring information and content to help them through their discovery and buying process and bring empathy.

MARKETERS NEED TO GO DEEP: CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE AND ADVOCACY

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Well, I love that you said empathy there. I think that’s a great topic is marketers going deep. Meaning, if you want to be respected you better know what the hell you’re talking about.

And I see a lot of marketers, particularly earlier in their careers, who kind of shy away from knowing the product or knowing the space or the industry or the vertical you’re selling into, it’s like, I don’t need to do that. I just need to make it pretty, so to speak.

Joe Hyland:

And I think marketing has, that’s a really exciting thing about marketing, is it’s evolved so much in the last 10 years on the tech side, but also on the value side. And marketers are if we can be on the tip of the spear and on the front end of driving growth in our organizations. But to do that, you really need to know the space. You need to know the competitors. You need to know how you’re providing value to a potential customer.

So I love that. I love that you guys look at the Challenger Model. I think many salespeople adhere to that, but I think it’s really helpful for marketers to think about how they market and how you can add value to your customers versus just trying to push your message to them.

Ed Breault:

Exactly. Yeah. In their research, they look at customer advocacy and what was the key driver in that? And it was the sales process. So it’s even before they become a customer, advocacy and customer experience they really do matter. Not just at the transaction point to keep them as customers, to continue to add value. It’s this experience is the new battlefront, that’s for sure.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I love that you just said that and I think, talk about another exciting opportunity for marketers is I think marketers can own that, right? Or at least be on the bleeding edge of it. What we’re doing on a daily basis should be creating experiences.

I think it’s cool and exciting that so many marketers are stepping up and owning more of that customer experience. Cause you’re right, it could start with the first web form they fill out or like your nurture email all the way through to hopefully having them as customers for years and years.

Ed Breault:

Exactly. Yeah. The idea, I mean we were talking about it earlier, but this idea that it’s not just B2B or B2C, it’s business to people and even like direct consumer, right?

Where those disruptive direct to consumer experiences are raising the experience bar in B2B now because you’re not competing over the best experience your competition delivers. It’s you’re competing over the best experience who you’re trying to help, has ever had, whether it be Amazon, right, a company that’s built from the experience out.

And so I think we as B2B or B2C marketers if we can think about experience as one of the new differentiators that’s where really where we should be spending a lot of our time.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I love it and in a world where, you know, so many solutions are rented, not owned, that experience is so much more important. Right? It’s not like the good old days where someone would plop down $1 million and they’d own your software and you’d get a little maintenance.

Consumers have a lot of choices now and they can choose to, they’re actively choosing do I stay with you or do I go to another solution? So you’re kind of only as good as the value and experience you’re providing.

Ed Breault:

Exactly. As consumers, we’re just looking for an experiential differentiation deck. Don’t make me buy, let me try. Just like Uber, right? I don’t like to buy cars; let me use yours.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Soon enough we won’t like to drive and no one will be driving the car. So that’s probably the world we’re going. Actually they were doing a lot of their testing in and around Pittsburgh. Right?

Ed Breault:

That’s exactly right. Yeah. They have the with Carnegie Mellon and a lot of these, there’s a lot of high tech in Pittsburgh. It’s really gone through quite a bit of innovation surge and the infrastructure too. We’ve gotten really liberal with some of the testings and actually working with the local government there.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I read a good article on how the mayor was kind of leaning into, you know, trying to bring more tech companies in. I think that’s cool and exciting because so I live in the land of startups but it’s almost we’ve kind have jumped the shark so to speak. Like it’s too much out in San Francisco. It feels like everyone you bump into has kind of founded the latest tech company and most likely it’s a marketing tech company. So I like seeing it in other parts of the country. That’s cool.

Ed Breault:

There’s a lot of Fonzies jumping the shark out there in Silicon Valley.

MARKETING LONGEVITY AND STAYING THE COURSE

Joe Hyland:

It’s bad, it’s bad. Okay. It’s also exciting but it’s bad. The career path I think is really interesting to talk about and actually it’s a natural jumping-off point after I lovingly made fun of the Bay area.

And I get asked a lot about how you perfectly curate your career path and I think a lot of people think it’s natural, particularly when you’re younger in your career, to think that there was a formula for how someone went from, you know, an entry-level employee to an executive and there’s not.

What I’m seeing is a lot of employees jumping pretty quickly staying at a job for under a year. And I’d love for you to talk about your career path and how you look at longevity and kind of staying the course.

Ed Breault:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think it comes down to, and I felt would give one piece of advice to an emerging marketer, somebody younger in their career or emerging in their career. It’s to stay uncomfortable.

And what I mean by that is that when you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing, right? It’s you’re never done growing. And if you start to stagnate or start to feel like, hey, I’m good, I got this, it’s time to think about what’s next. You’ve got to continue to evolve in your career. But I really embraced that idea even when I went to school at Bowling Green State University, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Ed Breault:

I had a double major in business administration and management information systems. So I took the accounting classes, the finance classes, the marketing, plus I did all the coding and all the technology. Just so I had options. Right?

And then I moved, I got a couple of internships. I worked for Intel Corporation and First Energy Corporation, nuclear energy. So you gotta get your experience young, really get experienced is what I’d recommend. And then from there, I got into nuclear energy of all things. I was working with a lot of data.

Joe Hyland:

Really?

Ed Breault:

Yeah. Nuclear power plants. I was pulling, well it was big data. They, these nuclear power plants have tons and tons of data that collects in these mainframes. And I was building advanced analytic models to pull all the data out and build predictive models for whenever parts in the nuclear power plant would fail. From an obsolescence standpoint because when they shut down these reactors, these companies lose millions of dollars like a minute. So they have to be extremely efficient.

So I did that and again, got comfortable and I’m like, okay, I’m out. Then I got into big four consulting and business model transformation, which was really fun. And that’s where I really first got into marketing. And I saw what was really cool about it is I could have the, be data-driven, as the science part of it, but then also the creative, the human elements. So the art and science of business are what marketing afforded me. And then from there, I was just two feet in marketing all the way and there’s no other place I want to be.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I love the left and right brain aspects of marketing, right?

Ed Breault:

Full brain.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, full brain. We do full brain work here, we work both sides.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE ANALYTICAL SIDE OF MARKETING

Joe Hyland:

Talk more about that data component because that is one thing. It’s easy to say a lot hasn’t changed in marketing while a lot legitimately has, right? And you know, we have more and more and more data and I think a lot of marketers struggle with that right?

And I know of a few marketers who come from a nuclear background and then went into consulting. So you’re an interesting person to get a take on this how are you guys using data? How do you view the analytical side of marketing?

Ed Breault:

Yeah, I think you’re right, it’s the analytical side of marketing which it starts with asking questions. Don’t start with the data. You know, before we didn’t have a lot of data now we’ve got tons of data and now we’ve got big data. The volume, variety, velocity, the veracity of data. Is that the data even of quality? Do we have good data hygiene?

I like to call it data fitness. Cause my team, I’m like guys, we’ve got to have good data fitness. We’ve got update Salesforce. Put your, put your data in, fill out your call logs. You know, we’re only as good as our data to mine for insight. So we always start with questions. We ask a lot of questions. One answer to a question leads to three more questions.

Ed Breault:

And so I think you really have to number one really respect the data. Make sure you’ve got a good infrastructure hygiene process down. You have good data fitness meaning marketing and sales. We’re all in this together. This is how we communicate, it’s the lifeblood of our decision making.

I use those decisions to make very directional decisions for marketing, for sales, for the company to report to my senior leadership team, to my board of directors, to make investments, to make more headcount to all of that. The data is probably secondary to what you do with it. And then it’s asking the questions and then being informed and making informed decisions. Yeah. From there it’s making sure then that you’ve got a good data storytelling framework.

Joe Hyland:

I liked that you led with asking questions cause I think you’re so right. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing can cause a problem, right? So data’s a wonderful thing that we have data. But if you just kind of mindlessly go in and say, “Oh I’m going to just interpret the data and I’ll see where it leads me.”

First, you can reach false conclusions. You don’t really know your starting point, like what are you trying to accomplish? And truthfully, you’ll probably just lose yourself for years. Like yeah, I also love the phrase data fitness. And you’re right, this is a partnership between marketing and sales it’s like we have to speak a common language and there’s gotta be a common framework to determine success.

And so much of that is based on the information that we have in marketing automation and sales in your CRM. And if you don’t have good information going in, well the output will be worthless, right? You’ll just reach false conclusions.

Ed Breault:

Exactly. And that’s the problem too. If you say, “Hey, we’re going to be data-driven and we’re going to do what the data tells us,” but if your fitness was terrible you’re going to make very poor, very detrimental decisions that are going to impact your business, your reputation, right, as an executive on multiple levels.

And so when I say fitness I bring together not just the cleanliness of the data, but it takes a lot of physical, human power, right? I empathize with my sales teams and sales leaders. It’s like, fill out your call logs, listen well, be a very good listener. Put the right data in and then actually put the data in. Right? Because if you only put pieces or parts, again, it’s not the full picture.

ED BREAULT’S BIGGEST CAREER CHALLENGE

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. No, there’s a lot of good advice in there. Okay. Speaking of staying uncomfortable, which is the phrasing I wrote down when, when you were talking about you know, your career path and what you would recommend for why people stay. Talk to me about whether it’s your biggest challenge now or the biggest challenge you’ve had in your career. You pick.

Ed Breault:

Yeah. I mean, you know, my biggest challenge right now as you know, as a chief marketing officer or you know, chief markets officer, you know, the best markets. I mean there’s a lot, I mean, you’re a CMO, I’m a CMO, there’s a lot on our plate. There’s the brand, there’s demand, there’s culture, there’s experience, there’s bringing in a lot of assistance with like digital assistance for, from what’s the right technology to help with our business.

And then strategy, right? Where I think that the more we CMOs spend time in strategy, then I think we’re going to be the most valuable. And that’s definitely where the most discomfort lies because that’s the more, I want to say, you’re burning political capital sometimes. You are you’re held to a new level. You’re making decisions on what markets to get into — what’s the product-market fit, what regions, what countries, what territories — being a strategic partner to your head of sales to your CEO.

That’s where I want to say that’s where the most discomfort that I love is because I’m growing in that area right now. Definitely have moved through like content and a brand demand and all those traditional elements. But I think the more we as CMOs spend time in strategy I mean that’s the place to be.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I mean that is literally the best advice I think anyone can ever give. And that’s always changing, right? Some things get boring, right? Like, working on the same content, particularly you stay at a company, if that’s all you do, I could see that getting old or only worrying about a brand. Not that that’s a small thing. But if you’re signing up or at least at the table to influence strategy that is an evolving task that will never get dull.

And it’s pretty cool to see how marketers, you and I both work in Martech companies, but like, I think marketing is so different and light years ahead of where it was a couple of decades ago when we started, or maybe you were a nuclear engineer at that point, I was a lowly marketer right when marketing was just “What should the color be?” And can you make sure this package is shipped, it’s not that tactics aren’t important.

But if you can have a say in the strategy of the company, if you know the market, like you were talking about earlier, you understand how you can be helpful to your customers. The sky’s the limit for marketers.

Ed Breault:

I agree. Yeah. And one of the things I’m using right now in terms of market analysis is like predictive analytics and there’s the total addressable market, but then there’s a total addressable market is what I like to say. And so I think right there it’s, you know, the economics of winning and moving the guns and moving the teams and making sure that you can say, “Yeah, I’ve got proof. I’ve got the data, here’s where we should go in the market.”

Joe Hyland:

We’re going to end it there on the economics of winning. I love that Ed, talk about a phrase that wasn’t in marketing two decades ago. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. This was fantastic.

Ed Breault:

Awesome. Joe. Thanks for having me.

CMO Confessions Ep. 28: David Fortino of NetLine

Hi folks and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast that examines what it takes to be a leader in the marketing and sales side of the business and the trends, technologies and fads that we all try to keep up with.

This week, we have David Fortino, Senior Vice President of Audience and Product at NetLine. David and I have been on somewhat of a speaking tour with our Scrappy Marketing webinar series, so we sat down finally discuss how he got to be where he’s at and he thinks marketing is heading.

In this episode, we discuss the dangers of Shiny Object Syndrome in marketing, why tech alone doesn’t make great marketing and why having customer advocates is so very, very important in an age that demands authenticity.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here and an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about what David has to say by following him on Twitter here and follow him on LinkedIn here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Table of Contents

What does David Fortino love about marketing?
What drives David nuts about marketing?
How bad marketers devalue marketing
Shiny object syndrome: too many tech toys and not enough tools
Tech doesn’t make great marketing
If you don’t believe in the product or solution, what should you change?
Walk the walk of your market, don’t just know their interests
The gold nugget of authentic marketing
David Fortino’s curated path
David looks back on 17 years of NetLine’s growth

Transcript

Joe Hyland:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a B2B sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at On24, and joining me this week from the greater Philly area is David Fortino, SVP of Audience Marketing and Product at NetLine. David, how’s it going?

David Fortino:

Great, great. Thanks for having me on, Joe. It’s good to catch up. It’s been a what a whapping few days I suppose since our last digital exchange here. So, it’s always good.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, that’s funny. We’re doing this on a weekly basis now.

David Fortino:        

Right, right.

WHAT DOES DAVID FORTINO LOVE ABOUT MARKETING?

Joe Hyland:        

Okay, David. So I get asked this question a lot and I think it’s really interesting to get other marketer’s perspectives on it. Talk about what you love about marketing, what are you incredibly passionate about in terms of what you guys are doing today or what you’re seeing in the space?

David Fortino:        

So, I think there’s probably a few things that I love and some of them are personal while others relate to what we do as a company. Speaking for myself, I love every aspect of digital marketing. I love the progression of the space, I love the constant innovation, the clutter and cluster blank that it creates and also the ability to then find companies that solve problems.

This gets into more of our corporate things that I love. There’s nothing better for me to hear that a client has solved a major pain point. And for us, that specifically means using content to drive lead gen success that builds pipeline and ultimately wins business. Hearing that feedback from our clients that by running campaigns, using their own content across our platform and successfully pulling in a $100,000 order, whatever it might be, that is just immediately gratifying.

And it really kind of sets us down a path where, not only our content marketing strategy is centered around customer centricity and engagement, but also it affirms our ability to innovate on a product perspective too because we are small, we are about 80 employees, every ounce of our pipeline is directly fed by direct interactions with our clients.

Being that close with customers allows us to innovate quicker than most in our industry because of the fact that we’re just that close to them and hearing their pain points, their concerns and obviously the accolades we love to hear all the time. But we’re never really stopping from an innovation perspective and I think that really stems from our CEO. Prior to founding NetLine, he was a semiconductor engineer by trade, so he brings a lot of product discipline, iterative mindsets around releases, MVPs and so on, and that’s really rolled down through the entire organization, every discipline.

WHAT DRIVES DAVID NUTS ABOUT MARKETING

Joe Hyland:

That’s super cool to hear. And I want to come back to the notion of growth marketing and being a growth marketer. So I’ll come back to that in a couple of minutes. What about things that just drive you crazy about marketing? Because you referenced being excited about and loving digital marketing and reusing your own content to drive growth. Like, there’s a lot of great things about marketing today, but there’s a lot of really shitty things and I want to hear one or one or two of them from you. What just drives you nuts?

HOW BAD MARKETERS DEVALUE MARKETING

David Fortino:        

Yeah, I think, there’s the byproduct of shitty marketing, which unfortunately does damage to all of us regardless of where you play in the landscape. It devalues what a marketer’s capability can and should be to not only their customers, their audience, readers and/or their own employer. But beyond that, it creates so much freaking confusion in the space that you’ve got, we as marketers tend to feed this, unfortunately.

There’s always this shiny object syndrome that happens and I would say ABM is probably in the epicenter of that, at least in B2B marketing space right now. AI is being thrown around as if it’s the next coming of whatever. And yet it eventually will be, but it won’t be what is promised today. And it certainly won’t be what it is today, which is in most cases, AI truly isn’t AI today. They’re nothing more than simplistic algorithms.

And so I think the biggest concern I have is that there are countless events that we go to, to either speak at, sponsor or simply attend. And you’ll look at marketers in the eye and they look back at you with the face of complete and utter confusion. They have no idea how this ABM vendor is different from that one and that one and that one and that one and that one. And so this is due to bad marketing. It’s due to probably too much VC funding going into 19 companies that directly compete against each other and so on. Part of that is that marketers simply need to have solutions and be more focused on finding vendors that can quickly, easily articulate how they solve those pain points versus there’s a ton of me too’s, I commonly say there’s just too many toys and not enough tools for marketers to legitimately know how to use.

SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME: TOO MANY TECH TOYS AND NOT ENOUGH TOOLS

David Fortino:

And speaking to that, I printed out a quote that I just saw this morning, that I thought was perfect for this, which was by Brent Adamson over at Gartner — they’re holding a summit that I’m not at, which is Gartner CSO and Sales Leadership, I believe it’s in Austin this week or conference — and, he was speaking specifically to the biggest challenges that sales teams face and this quote really stuck out. So, “It’s not customers confidence in suppliers, but customers confidence in themselves and their ability to make good buying decisions that is in critically short supply.”

And to me, that really summarizes everything about there being too many toys and not enough tools and shiny objects syndrome is that marketers, although they want to find solutions, they’re also their worst enemy because of the fact that they’re constantly attracted to what’s next. And the fear of missing out that there’s this paralysis by analysis that occurs and they’re unable to make smart decisions because they just don’t have enough time to do them because they’re evaluating 19 different vendors that all do the same thing.

I don’t know how you solve that. And it’s a very, very big hurdle where there’s no clear assumption. And I don’t hear it enough in this space where people are recognizing that, yeah, there’s too much, and you see it almost celebrated Joe, where it’s like, you see the marketing landscape every year and it’s like, oh, now there are eight thousand vendors and it’s like, shit, what? Is that good?

Joe Hyland:        

Or how about the awards for you know the most, you know, creative or complicated tech stack? I mean, you know, I think they’re called the Stackies. Yeah, I know. It’s interesting. And I live in the land that is responsible for this, right? So, I live in San Francisco, that’s where we’re headquartered. Yeah. I mean, it’s almost an epidemic, you can’t help but bump into someone in the street and if they’re a founder the odds of it being a Martech company is high and you’re right. There’s like six or 7,000 of these companies now.

It’s interesting to admit this as a technologist, but technology is not what is not going to solve all of your marketing challenges. Right? And I think the pendulum sadly is probably swung wildly too far to one direction where young marketers are pretty fickle on just chasing the next hot thing, whether it’s ABM or something else. And implementing pretty complicated tech stacks that don’t integrate with each other is not ultimately great marketing. Right?

David Fortino:

Yeah, you hear it all the time where yes, someone, we have countless clients who come to us and they’re wrapping up a yea-long install of marketing automation system Brand X. I won’t out any of them, but it’s so common that they’re spending significant time on not only the software but the team and expertise around that and yet still struggling to have a system that does everything that it was supposed to do out of the box. Again, that’s bad marketing.

TECH DOESN’T MAKE GREAT MARKETING

Joe Hyland:        

Tech isn’t great marketing, right? Like now, what’s amazing about what we know that the space we play in and what’s exciting about being a marketer today is, “look at what we can do now that we couldn’t do five or 10 years ago.” So, the technology when properly harnessed can, and properly leveraged, can lead to even better marketing. But just lining up all this tech on top of each other and assuming that this is going to lead to great customer experiences from the first interaction someone has with you on our website or you know, or an ad to all the way through to what it’s like being a customer — tech is not the only answer. It’s probably pretty low on the list.

David Fortino:

Yeah. And it’s, it’s interesting too, the accessibility to tech right now is difficult. I mean, we just got back from Content Marketing World, you guys were there obviously too. The amount of people that came over towards the end talking to us saying “What’s your minimum buy-in on our software?” And that varies dramatically. But at the core, there are companies that are just priced way above what a lot of the world can support, especially if they’re not going to risk their job on trying to engage with a vendor, specifically at certain price points.

And so we’ve used that as a way to augment how we’ve played in the market whereby we were always historically just enterprise only. And so you couldn’t really work with us if you didn’t have at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars allocated annually. And that was heavy service or [inaudible] business where we didn’t need to do a ton of amazing marketing there because it was very high touch, almost like a consultative type relationship.

We still have that. But on the flip side, we’ve now really kind of embraced the democratization of lead gen. And so literally any B2B marketer can flight a content-centric lead gen campaign in minutes. And so it comes down to, maybe making accessibility something that should be centric for a lot of these ideas. Cause it’s not just a price point thing. It’s a complexity thing. It’s the ability to, if you were building this product, could your grandmother launch it? If she’s going through that interface. A lot of the stuff that we so-called experts build and release and celebrate sometimes they’re just terrible, right? You go through the experience and you’re like, “Wow, this is really complicated.” It shouldn’t have to be that way. And so that’s, again, for the technology behind the scenes, it can be as incredibly complicated as it needs to be to support whatever that product is. But from a usability perspective that ties into marketing and positioning. Things don’t have to be that way.

IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN THE PRODUCT OR SOLUTION WHAT SHOULD YOU CHANGE?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And, you know, I think an interesting company to look at, to inspire great marketing … have a great product. You’ve got to have, right, no one wants to market a shitty solution. Right? And truthfully you’re put between a rock and a hard place if that is the case. So if you’re a marketer at a company where you don’t believe in the product or solution perhaps you should look to change something whether that’s your career, and we’ll talk about that more in a second, or drive internal changes in what the product looks and feels like.

But I look at what Zoom has done. So Zoom entered an incredibly competitive space. So, the video collaboration market was not exactly ripe for disruption, right? There were a lot of players, it was a crowded market and Eric Yuan went in there, you know, from WebEx, where he was the head of engineering, so he knew a great deal about it and he just built the best product and had the best customer experience. And I think a lot of people didn’t believe in him or did not believe in their mission or the space he was trying to disrupt.

And they went public last year, their market caps around $20 billion I haven’t checked in the last month or two, wildly successful. And it was on the backs of putting customers first. I mean, he and that whole team led with customer experience. They actually had pretty loud but simple marketing. And it worked because they focused on the customer and they focused on ease of use. And I think, you know, Zoom is a product that would pass your grandmother or grandfather test, right? Like, and I think there’s a lesson learned in there for how we market because I think we have this tendency to try to make things too complicated.

David Fortino:        

And it also speaks a lot to don’t underestimate the power of what great design, clear and concise messaging can do for a product that is put up against incumbents that have been around for a decade or longer. And everyone’s telling you you’re crazy. He specifically had a ton of true knowledge about the space, understood the product’s limitations in the marketplace and thought that there could be a better way of doing this. And so with that knowledge and customer-centric transparency and accessibility of the product, yeah, it’s a recipe for a win. It’s still not a guarantee but I think that’s a beautiful outcome. That’s a good example that you brought up.

WALK THE WALK OF YOUR MARKET DON’T JUST KNOW THEIR INTERESTS

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, and I think any, you just referenced this, I think any market is prime for disruption if you look through the lens or view it through the lens of what is best for the customer, right? Like if you are customer obsessed, I think a company can do pretty well. And I think a lot of marketers have a tendency to shy away from that. And I’d love to get your perspective on this. I think a lot of marketers want to make things sound great. They want to, you know, maybe have a surface-level understanding of a product or an industry because they’re not going to write white papers, right? Like they don’t need to know everything. But I really feel like to do phenomenal marketing you need to be able to walk the walk of your addressable market more than just knowing what they’re interested in. So how do you look at that at NetLine and what are your views there?

David Fortino:

Yeah, I would completely agree. I mean, I’ve gotten to a point where I am so comfortable with what our customers can and or will say about us that it’s not uncommon like at Content Marketing World I was in a case study session, we presented with a client of ours and I specifically didn’t want to see their slides. I didn’t want to see any of their talking points.

I knew the underlying tone was positive, obviously. But aside from that, I’m very comfortable with it being a fully honest, transparent and owned message coming from our client. The authenticity bleeds through that. There’s no tone of NetLine massaging the messaging or anything becoming somewhat of a corporate tone there. Yeah. Then we can take that as a marketing team and craft different elements from there. Extract that into whether it’s a video or a webinar or afterward, perhaps it’s even just simple blog posts summing up the session.

THE GOLD NUGGET OF AUTHENTIC MARKETING

David Fortino:

But the notion of having a customer-centric content marketing strategy, but also that the DNA of the company being comfortable with that has been hugely immense and immensely helpful for us. It’s something that wasn’t always that way. I would say over the past two years we’ve gotten really good at that, but it was a cognizant decision of basically saying like look a lot of our marketing our best stuff should be really created by our clients. They just don’t know that they’re creating our marketing. But they are the seedlings for all of it. And so if we’re coming around, like you said, trying to dream up the next best and sexiest way to talk about NetLine, odds are it’s going to come out, as you know, something that’s been either done before said before in similar veins.

Joe Hyland:        

We’re all biased, right? Like, I’m paid to say great things about ON24. You’re paid to say great things about NetLine. Hopefully, we believe those things. But yeah, if it can be authentic and come from your customers or the peers of whoever you’re marketing to like that’s gold.

David Fortino:

Yeah. And even when they sprinkle in something where it’s like everything about it has been exceptional, I just wish it had this feature. Like that’s, to me, it’s never a negative. That’s a phenomenal positive. Put it out there on G2. I could care less. Let’s use that and publicly respond then and actually be accountable to customers in a transparent way that other future customers can even see before they ever engage with us.

We know that the vast majority of buyers are making their decisions before they ever talk to anybody at NetLine and the same thing would be for ON24. And so the more we can have customers’ voices, their opinions, their pros and cons out there, the more authentic of a brand we become.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, and you said something a moment ago that I wrote down authentic experiences. Like so much of marketing, and I think this is changing, however, so much of marketing is overly scripted, overly curated, overly produced — people see through that, right? I think what everyone wants is a real authentic human experience. And marketers have just gone so far to one extreme on volume and scale, that I think they’ve lost a little bit of that human touch. So I love what you just said.

David Fortino:

Well, I think that, I mean, look at podcasts, look at the advent of video in communication. I think both of those really speak to that being an authentic communication. I mean, even just this, right? Like, we’ve not had any rehearsal to this. This is us just talking.

Joe Hyland:        

We’re winging it.

David Fortino:

Right. And so there are surely there might be an element here where one of us flubs a word, who cares? That’s fine. We’re real. And then we may have some genius statement that we don’t even know what came out of our mouth and that’s going to be fine too. But yeah, I think it’s just extremely relatable and it comes back to a lot of things. You hear a lot of our, you know, so-called thought leaders in this space, talking about emotional intelligence, bleeding through in your marketing, humanization of marketing. As much as you hear these things, it’s like at some point it’s just common sense though too. And so, there’s a lot of hype around these things, but at the core, it’s just doing right by your customers or your constituents.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s funny, I think there are some tenants in life, in business and in marketing that we can, you know, kind of, we can lose our way. And you just listed one of them, right? Like great marketing is always about your audience; it’s never about you. And if you come across in a real authentic, human way people will probably be pretty receptive to your message. It’s just we all have so many great things to say about our own company that sometimes we lose our way.

David Fortino:        

And I think it gets lost too largely to internal just bureaucracy and process regardless of how big or small your company is. Marketers are tasked with taking a lot of the stakeholders’ opinions, perspectives, things that they hate as well, and channeling that into their final message that’s released to the public. And sometimes, maybe what your CEO wants you to say may not be the right message, but you’ve got to have a relationship that allows you to challenge that and articulate why and obviously test delivering a different message to the marketplace that is more customer-centric. But yeah, not everybody’s afforded those types of things though. So it seems set and done, I assume.

Joe Hyland:        

I’m sure no one listening can relate to having their messaging being essentially crowdsourced internally, particularly by executives. Yeah, you’re right. I mean, that’s where you get a disastrous duct tape set of messaging where it goes through too many people and you know, it loses its way really quickly.

David Fortino:        

You may have some execs that are happy, but I can tell you the sales team’s not happy cause they’re like, that’s not what our clients want. We hear this every day and anyone in client services or account management is like that’s not what we talk about every day. So where did those words come from? So then ultimately that poorly reflects on marketing which then even gets to like a lot of turnover issues that are systematically associated with high ranking marketing professionals. Yeah, it’s a tough one.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. I think a telltale sign of a crowdsourced value prop is one that has like three or four hyphens in it. It’s like, oh, we need to get data-driven in there. We need to get customer-centric. And all of a sudden before you know it, it means nothing.

David Fortino:

Right, right. Agreed.

DAVID FORTINO’S CURATED PATH

Joe Hyland:        

Okay. So I want to hear this is another question we get a lot of career path. And you know, I think it’s common to think that there is a perfect path to become a head of marketing. You have a pretty unique path in that there’s some real longevity there. So talk to us and talk to me and our listeners on your curated path over the last 20 years.

David Fortino:        

Yeah, it is completely an anomaly up against any of my peers in the space. And so, I worked at a company called VerticalNet which was part of the dotcom era one. Typical rise and fall story. I highly encourage you to check it out. It’s highly documented, I believe it’s still taught at Wharton as a case study of what not to do.

Joe Hyland:        

Really, that bad huh?

David Fortino:        

Yeah. But it was exceptionally fun, and it taught me a lot about what not to do. And, I will forever cherish that period of my life. It introduced me to NetLine and so as I was there we were responsible for selling off of the business unit and I told our GM that once that transaction was done I was going to move on. And so I had loved NetLine from the outside looking in and that there was this little business in California and their business model was based upon getting content from marketers that are largely gated content. But I think they only had a couple of dozen pieces of content and getting that content across the web in front of professionals as they’re looking to learn and research various business and or technical problems.

So that was the client chasing value prop. The publisher facing value prop was publishers would pick up this content, inject it into their websites and get a revenue share from NetLine based upon qualified leads being delivered to those customers. And I thought that was a genius idea because at the time, and what turns out to be still pretty much today, everyone’s just focused on shoving CPM display ads down everyone’s throat. And so, as programmatic has grown tremendously and billions of dollars have gone into that space the byproduct is still the same. It’s an ad that’s a display standard governed by the IAB that yields of 0.04% click-through rate on average in the B2B space.

So all that money being spent. It’s questionable at best. I don’t get it and nor do I, will I try. So I kind of fell in love with content-centric and lead gen oriented business models and was fortunate enough to, I sent a hair-brained email to the president of NetLine and he flew me out. I said I’m not relocating. I think I can grow the business tremendously and little did we know now we’re 17 years later, I’ve got a team out here on the East Coast, we’ve grown as a business together tremendously over that period of time. But I’m really lucky to have a great management team that allowed that to happen. And that’s our president and our CEO largely responsible for that.

Joe Hyland:

You did not have, there was not a presence on the East Coast before you started working there I assume?

David Fortino:        

No, they never had even remote employees. So, yeah.

DAVID LOOKS BACK ON 17 YEARS OF NETLINE’S GROWTH

Joe Hyland:

So, what did this email say? Go back 17 years.

David Fortino:        

Oh man, I don’t even know. And I laugh at myself now. It’s like, who the hell did you think you were just being like, yeah, I can totally blow this up. And, but it turned out it was really hard and there were a lot of things that I thought about that were completely wrong. And then our president and I at the time, his name’s Werner Mansfeld shout out Werner.

Yeah, I spent a ton of time kind of unpacking what they did and then tried a million different strategies and we started getting traction. And then at that point also our CEO, Bob Alvin, is heavily involved in the business as well. And yeah, so we’ve kind of grown out from there. But it’s taken a ton of time and obviously, every side of the business is hugely important making that happen. So I like the urge to grow it and bring a publisher model to it but aside from that everybody else was partially responsible for it.

Joe Hyland:        

Well, you just mentioned a couple of cool things. One is that there’s a lot of preconceived notions that we all have that are wrong, like take risks, right? Like I don’t think anyone expects perfection or “no bad ideas.” I think the worst idea is not actually not trying new ideas. The second thing is you focus on growth and I think as marketers if we can lean into owning growth or at least being strategic and you know, fully understanding and, or trying to understand, what are the drivers for growth. Like how do we, what markets should we be in, what should our product offerings be and how do we tweak our go-to-market strategy to influence growth?

It’s easy to shy away from that because it’s scary to own or talk about things that we don’t fully, fully understand. And I think the dirty little secret is no one does, like, there’s no perfect answer for growth. And, so it’s refreshing to hear marketing leaders who sign up for these things fully knowing that not everything that comes out of their mouth will be correct or perfect.

David Fortino:

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, looking backward, my goodness, we’ve tried all different types of things and a lot of them actually do work and then they stop working. So you think you’re on the right path and then all of a sudden it’s a dead-end and it’s like a year into that. So then, okay, well what the hell happened? Why? Learn from that and then go forward again. So I think that’s exciting about the space. It’s exciting about my role and the company itself. But yeah, I’ve been here for a long time.

I realize that’s not normal for a lot of folks in this industry. Like I was telling you before, I think to me it just comes down to two things. It’s one: am I being heard, as not only a member of the management team but anywhere in the company and am I helping to drive this business forward? And lastly, am I learning anything? Am I continuing to develop my craft? And if those two things are happening I personally don’t really care where I would be. I happen to be at NetLine and that’s why I’ve stayed. All the normal things everybody else cares about I care about too; being compensated well, having a good work/life balance, all of those things. That’s very important. But at the core, I think my two measurables are around it driving the business and learning and personal development.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, no, those are pretty foundational items that I hope everyone’s striving for whether you’ve been in a company for six months or 17 years.

Joe Hyland:        

So. David, this was fantastic. We’re at the bottom of the hour so I want to wrap it up. Thank you for the time, phenomenal discussion, and hopefully, everyone enjoyed listening to this.

David Fortino:        

Thanks again, Joe.

CMO Confessions Ep. 27: Sarah Kennedy of Adobe Marketo

Hello again and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, our B2B sales and marketing podcast that examines what real leadership looks like in marketing and sales organizations today.

This week we have Sarah Kennedy, Vice President at Adobe and former CMO of Marketo, an Adobe Company. Sarah has a fascinating story to tell about how she came to be CMO at Marketo and that her team navigated one of the biggest acquisitions in the martech world.

What do we discuss in this episode? Well, oddly enough, Jaime Foxx, the importance of keeping teams on track, why you should always, always be on finance’s good side and how teams can stay scrappy and agile even after being acquired by a large enterprise. It’s a great episode and we’re thrilled to have had Sarah on.

As always, we provide an edited transcript for you to scan below.

Check out what else Sarah has to say on her Twitter profile here and on her LinkedIn profile here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Table of Contents:

How was the first year since Adobe acquired Marketo?
Staying dynamic, scrappy and agile in a large enterprise
Instilling incredible efficiency and financial discipline
Get more out of every dollar spent on marketing
Marketers need to get a seat at the financial table through trust
What Sarah Kennedy loves about marketing
What drives Sarah Kennedy insane about marketing
How Sarah became a young CMO
Sarah’s interview with Jamie Foxx

Transcript

Joe Hyland:        

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24, and joining me this week from the Greater Denver area is Sarah Kennedy, Vice President of Global Marketing at Marketo Digital Experience, Adobe. That was a tongue twister at the end.

Sarah Kennedy:        

That’s a long title. It’s a little cleaner these days; it’s just Vice President at Adobe these days.

Joe Hyland:        

That’s cleaner. Okay. That is also some good marketing. Sarah, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Sure, thanks for having me, Joe. I appreciate it.

HOW WAS THE FIRST YEAR SINCE ADOBE ACQUIRED MARKETO?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, of course. I think most of our listeners recognize that you were at Marketo — hence the long title that I had and you guys were acquired by Adobe. So, how is that going?

Sarah Kennedy:        

It’s great. It’s actually, oh my gosh, it’s almost been a full year.

Joe Hyland:        

Has it been that long? That’s crazy.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Not quite, but it’s about to be the year anniversary, I think it was, in November. So we are now fully a part of the team and now saying words like we instead of they, which is a good thing, but it’s been incredible.

Sarah Kennedy:        

It has actually been a very, I would call it an exciting but also lovely place to land because it’s one of those companies where, you know, there was already this passion for marketing and Marketo was clearly that and had that as part of our DNA. So joining a company that was just as much, if not more so focused on the marketer and serving them well was quite a blessing in many ways. And for my team, I know it was even more energizing. I think it was the only company in the world I could have told them was going to be acquiring Marketo and my whole marketing team was pumped. It was an upgrade. In a sense.

So that’s been, it’s been quite a journey. We’ve had a lot of learnings along the way. That’s for sure. As businesses come together. You do. But it’s been awesome. Start to finish.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s super cool. And you’re right, I think Adobe’s kind of recognized for some great marketing. Not that Marketo was small, but everything’s relative. Right?

Sarah Kennedy:        

We felt big and then we got acquired by Adobe and it became very apparent that we were not very big.

STAYING DYNAMIC, SCRAPPY AND AGILE IN A LARGE ENTERPRISE

Joe Hyland:        

It’s crazy. Right. So, how have you, or talk about what it’s been like in terms of staying pretty dynamic or scrappy or agile at just such a large enterprise? Like how’s that going?

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah, that was part of the thing that my team got most excited about whenever we were being acquired was the openness, number one, to the team that was on the Adobe side to understanding how we work because Marketo’s marketing team — they’ve been incredibly efficient over many years and I inherited a team that was very good at what they did. And also in a world where we were owned by a private equity firm, we got a lot more efficient also while maintaining being good.

And any startup, which is still what Marketo essentially is if you compare it to Adobe I guess, or was, is going to be a lot leaner I think in scrappier at getting work done because you just over time, a larger company has more resources and you kind of build up almost this tolerance for working in a certain way and being well-resourced, which is amazing, like it’s an amazing problem to have in air quotes.

But it’s been quite awesome because the marketing team on that side, they’ve been starting to learn from our team. And just an example of that, like in creative and content production, the way that our team worked is it was by design, it had to be incredibly efficient but also producing really high-quality work in that context to support a very robust demand gen engine was a big challenge that we had to solve for at Marketo. And it’s something that Adobe has taken on and adapted a lot of what that team had done quite well to their model now. And I think that’s been great.

We’ve also learned on the flip side, a lot of the ways that Adobe has scaled actually up into the enterprise space. Like we were just in the early days of building out a demand gen engine that was sophisticated in terms of moving upmarket and also having a message resonated and even a product and portfolio that resonated end to end has been, it’s been a really cool thing. So we brought a lot of compliments to one another. And you know, you can think about Marketo’s been a bit of a scrappy beast in a good way. And I think Adobe’s been a beast at scale and a good way for, from a marketing point of view and bringing those things together is really, it’s created a very powerful dynamic and there are some really cool synergies that we’re still just now even scratching the surface of.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That’s man, that must be really exciting to be a part of.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah. It’s fun. It’s hard, but it is fun.

INSTILLING INCREDIBLE EFFICIENCY AND FINANCIAL DISCIPLINE

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. Yeah, I bet. So you referenced the team you inherited at Marketo and of course, Vista had bought Marketo and obviously sold them to Adobe. And you’ve been pretty open about responsible growth and you know, kind of what you guys were able to accomplish. But at the time, you know, it wasn’t a sure thing. Many marketers are focused on doing really, really big things, maybe not doing it in a cost-effective manner. So what was that like? Cause that’s a really interesting balance to strike and I think marketers can learn a lot from it.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah, it was actually eye-opening. So I came from a background, before Marketo, at a company called Sabre where, you know, it was an incredibly efficient organization just because of the financial discipline that that company had. And I learned, later on, it was kind of funny, so the CFO at Marketo actually had been the CFO at Sabre for many years, Mark Miller.

He was a man who put in so much discipline and rigor around how Sabre operated that I didn’t even realize, long after he was gone from Sabre, I was operating still kind of in this Mark Miller regime, and I like to call it that because I then went to Marketo and I got to work as his peer and his partner in a much closer way.

It was really cool to better understand how he was taking a company that had not been profitable for a few years and turning it into a profitable business. And in Silicon Valley, that’s actually quite rare. It was a cool journey to go on with him because we got to partner in making that happen. And even just teaching my team how proud they should be over their contribution to EBITDA and efficiency was a big part of our journey. And I think it’s made the Marketo marketing organization or the past Marketo marketing organization, everybody who was a part of that, I was so proud because we were proud of both doing great work as marketers and being absolutely focused on our customer as much as we possibly could and not skimping in that area but doing that through rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work while also paying maniacal attention to exactly every dollar that was spent and the return on investment we would get out of that. And that was a discipline that both Mark brought but also Vista brought to us as well.

GET MORE OUT OF EVERY DOLLAR SPENT ON MARKETING

Sarah Kennedy:

It’s been such a healthy way for my team now to walk into Adobe because we’ve got that mindset and that foundation. So this team is always looking for both ways to, you know, do bigger, better things and scale. But also how do we get more out of every dollar we spend and every dollar you spend on marketing, no matter if it’s on brand or awareness or if it’s on like true demand gen, it’s content syndication. Like everything is part of the demand engine and every dollar actually feeds that beast in some way, shape or form.

It’s up to us as marketers to find ways to thread that together and to represent that and to track that and then to optimize based on that. It was a cool journey to go on because actually everybody who stuck around at Marketo, and those who left too actually — it’s unfair to say if it’s a lot of people were really energized by that being kind of the new flavor of challenge that we took on in our journey as a part of Vista.

And I think everybody was really proud to walk away from what we, I think played a big role in accomplishing the valuation of the business in every part is based on, somewhat is based on EBITDA in addition to growth. And I think that’s been for me, I can point back to our team and say, look at what we were able to contribute in a very positive way by being just a healthier operating marketing engine and then still driving also incredible growth at the top line for the business.

MARKETERS NEED TO GET A SEAT AT THE FINANCIAL TABLE THROUGH TRUST

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. I also love that you mentioned EBITDA a few times in there just because so many marketers don’t want to even if they don’t want to get that close to the operating side of the business. They don’t want to think about — this is the creative branch, right? Like this is where brilliant thoughts come from. Like, different business leaders, the finance department can think about profitability and if marketers want to be taken seriously, they need to speak the language [Amen – Sarah] and the lingo that you just had, like you are right. Like we’re marketers are not just the make-it -pretty department, but if you act that way, you won’t have a seat at the table.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah. You have to have the CFO trust you. And that’s the thing, that’s been the most, I just love we’re kind of like the moteliest crew whenever it’s the CMO and the CFO get together, but that’s actually the that was the person I spent the most time within my time at Marketo and now also actually it’s true at Adobe as well. I’m spending more time with finance than any other team and that may be wrong, but for me, it’s been really important because getting close to the numbers and getting close to the details of the business, the foundational context that I can then operate and make decisions within.

It just makes it easier for you to go back and say, “Hey, if something in a given quarter or month isn’t going perfectly or you just need more juice or you think you can get more out of doing this, X versus Y,” it just makes it so much easier for them to trust you and to activate those dollars quickly instead of meeting three or four meetings to review, review, review. I think it’s a direct correlation in terms of how much finance trusts marketing in terms of how many review meetings you have to go through to get incremental dollars approved to spend.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, you’re right. Time to dollars being unlocked. Well, you know, you said trust there, right? Like I think so, again this goes back to a lot of marketers I think being reluctant to kind of open up the Kimono and have full transparency because not everything works. And I’ve been in so many presentations, and I try to not be in them now cause I’m responsible for it, but so many presentations where you’re saying everything worked just great. Every campaign we ran worked, we exceeded all of our targets. And that’s not believable. That’s not credible. If you do that, it becomes a kind of a lockbox. And then finance or other organizations don’t really trust marketing and you’re in a conundrum.

Sarah Kennedy:        

And that’s just been, trust for me is big. And I do think that us building that, across every team for sure, and I think that’s actually been a learning at Adobe is there are so many more stakeholders that have a “GM like hat” on and a seat at the table that run the digital experience business for Adobe, that’s actually quite refreshing cause everyone comes to the table with that mindset. But everyone’s also focused on a narrower area of responsibility with broader impact.

It’s an interesting and different dynamic than obviously, Marketo was. It’s like we had fewer leaders with broad responsibility across many different disciplines and I think everybody at Adobe actually comes in with that same mindset. But I think having a cohesive approach to how we build trust with one another, that’s all with the same foundation and it’s with financial discipline and operating a healthy business in mind is it’s really, it’s a great way to just start from a baseline of commonality.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That’s fantastic. All right, let’s switch gears a little bit and I want to hear things that you’re super passionate about. Like, what do you love about marketing today?

WHAT SARAH KENNEDY LOVES ABOUT MARKETING

Sarah Kennedy:        

Oh Gosh. It’s hard. So my job actually has evolved so going from, you know, the CMO of Marketo and then coming into Adobe, my job is, even as I just described, it’s now, it’s now broader in terms of the impact. And I’ve got a team that’s three times the size as the one I had at Marketo. But the areas of responsibility are fewer because we have an amazing corporate marketing engine, that Ann Lewnes, runs and it supports all of our creative and content and communications needs and PR and social, etc. And they do great work across the board, but it’s reduced the scope of responsibilities where I focus; I’m focused solely on just (to get air quotes), the demand gen engine which is an important thing.

Joe Hyland:        

That’s easy stuff, right?

Sarah Kennedy:        

The growth engine. Yeah. And we’ve actually, it’s been the first time Adobe, maybe not the first time actually, I’m probably misspeaking there. In the last couple of years, let’s say it’s been the first time that we brought together sales development and marketing. I’ve got both of those under my remit right now. But the one thing that hasn’t changed about what I’m passionate about is, and this is gonna sound cheesy, but I mean it sincerely and I’ll describe that. But like my customers, I get really passionate about because I’m fortunate enough to market, still at Adobe now even on a broader scale, to marketers in many respects. And certainly, now I’m serving a broader base of customers in IT with the CIO being a critical partner to the CMO. I still get so passionate about thinking about how do we unlock more value and being career catalysts for marketers is a really cool reason to get out of bed in the morning for me.

And I swear to you, like every time I get in front of our, we have what we call the Marketo champions that are now evolving to become a broader part of the advocate community for Adobe. They are our strongest supporters and the most tenured you know, well versed Marketo in a sense that could actually run circles around even all of us in my own marketing team with their knowledge of Marketo. But we hosted them actually recently at Adobe’s headquarters for the first time in a forum, and I just get emotional in a way that’s just so mom-like, and it’s like ridiculously not professional, but I just, the way that they that they pour their time, energy and effort into our business in a very altruistic way, I feel like because they’re there, they’re a part of a community that is there to help each other because somebody else before in their own career helped them. And that’s why a lot of them say they participate in this is because they’re kind of paying it forward in a sense.

And I get really nerdy and passionate when I talk about them because they’ve been the answer to every hard question I had in my first CMO gig at Marketo. I had a hard first, really three to six months and didn’t spend a lot of time with them cause I was just getting my feet under me, didn’t understand really what the community was all about and how passionate that group was.

As soon as I started spending more time with them and actually got to meet them at Marketing Nation Summit they became one of the most powerful sources of insight for me that have both fueled our team’s energy and the kind of “why we get out of bed in the morning.” But also you know, they’ve been such a great source of insight for how we answer the questions that are the hardest questions that we’re trying to solve for as marketers. Just because they’re doing the same thing in their job day to day. And so doing that for them and then figuring out how do we help accelerate their careers and then connect even with their bosses in a powerful way that can be, again, a career accelerant has been a really cool part of my journey.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that. Great marketing is always about them. It’s never about you. Many organizations get that confused, right? And you just learn so much from your customers and it also makes for easy marketing. I mean, if you have…

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah, it does. It makes my job easier.

Joe Hyland:        

Right? Yeah. You know, advocates are, as you guys call marketing nation that just makes marketing what you do a little bit easier, which is, you’ll take.

Sarah Kennedy:        

For sure. I will.

WHAT DRIVES SARAH KENNEDY INSANE ABOUT MARKETING?

Joe Hyland:        

Okay. all right. That was all super positive and, and I don’t think it was corny at all. So let’s flip it over though. What drives you insane? Like there’s a lot about B2B marketing today that gets under my skin and I think kind of drives a lot of people crazy. Give me one or two items for you.

Sarah Kennedy:        

So it’s probably not even specific to B2B, but it might be, and it’s actually unfair for me to even say that it’s not because I’ve really only lived in the world of B2B marketing up until joining Adobe even. I increasingly am surprised by the lack of just in some pockets of marketing, like, we touched on it earlier, like shying away from accountability — and people are well-intentioned. It actually is not, you know, because people are trying to shy away from it. I think it’s almost like there’s a lack of awareness when it’s happening that maybe people misinterpret what marketing actually is in 2019 and 2020.

So I view marketing so much more increasingly as an operational and again, it’s a growth driver and it’s an operational discipline in many respects. There is absolutely a critical need for creativity and having the art come together, but with a heavy, heavy emphasis on the science and having the balance of the two things and that they always have to do with one another. They’re never separate and independent.

I think bringing those things together, I see such a lack of that in some pockets of marketing that I’m surprised cause it’s just not an — and I don’t, by the way, I don’t suppose to be the one to know it all or assume that I have all the answers, but I just, I get, I’m surprised because I feel like why go to work every day if you don’t want to be the one who’s like leaning into raising your hand to be the one to be accountable for something. And I think that that fulfills me and my team, I know every day in our jobs is to do even more of that. I just get disappointed if I don’t see that across the board in marketing sometimes.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I agree. I also think in business — that’s just so well respected and received, meaning I think other organizations, other individuals when they see someone step up and say, “I’ll own that and I’ll sign up for that, I’ll own pipeline,” you know, that’s okay, let’s put together a plan and work on it together. And if you don’t hit all your goals, that’s okay. I just think you’ve just got to be striving for progress. And yeah, I think you’re right. I think a lot of marketers, there’s probably no mal-intent, but trying to fly below the radar or shying away from it is I think, kind of missing the point.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah. And I think it also reminds me of the other thing that is the biggest pet peeve. Well, there’s two more, actually. I’ll be introspective on it a little bit.

But I think just, you’ve mentioned this earlier a little bit too, but just rose-colored glasses. I cannot handle it. My team knows this, but if I ever get anything that feels like an excuse train, not understanding the why and I want to deeply and intimately be able to go through, it’s okay when the answer is not great or what we hoped for. The bigger problem is if we pretend that it is still okay or we present what is a lack of urgency around and a lack of awareness around knowing when it’s wrong and knowing when it needs to be better or needs to be different.

My own, this is like me talking about my own team and I will fall into this trap too because I have to just, we have to catch ourselves because but I always take on the ear and the eyes of my peers that I’m presenting to when I hear from my team what they’re presenting to me and I want to be, and I’m probably harder on my team than I should be in some respects here. But I do not like, I do not like the overly optimistic view of the world. Not that we shouldn’t be optimistic and positive, but marketing takes some punches and that’s part of our job. And we’ve got to be more focused on explaining the why and really deeply, intimately understanding the explanation behind how we got to X and Y so we can change it to get to Z. And that’s, that’s a big focus for my team.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And being introspective. Right. Get going back to what I think other people respect is, listen, we don’t have all the answers, not every hypothesis will turn out to be correct. Just own it and say, “Hey, we had this theory. Here’s what happened here with the good things. This didn’t work. We’re analyzing why. ” Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you anymore.

And you mentioned the data as well. That’s another area. It’s like, we know platforms like Marketo very much help with this. We have so much data at our fingertips. So just saying things like, “I think that subject line should work.” It’s like, well, have you AB tested this? Or like, what kind of data do you have to show, look at, let’s look at open rates, let’s look at engagement or conversion. I don’t know.

know it’s just such an amazing time to be in marketing, but you always run the risk of becoming a little bit antiquated, right? So I think marketers have to lean into the data even if it’s not necessarily natural for them.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Absolutely. And I think that was actually my third pet peeve is when I can’t get access to data. If you asked my team what they would probably say is their pet peeve about me, it’s how much access I want to have to data and I’ve done all those like personality tests, whenever I’m under stress, apparently I move from, I’m a red personality, surprise, surprise, but I move red into green, which is super analytical.

So when things aren’t going right or whatever, I’ll nose dive to way too deep of a level into data. And when I can’t get access to it, it drives me up the wall. So I’m learning a new organization now and there’s actually, Adobe has, Marketo actually we had a ton of data in marketing and it was easy to get access to that. And so I never really had a challenge there, but in a bigger company, there’s actually more data at Adobe than I could have ever imagined. It’s just figuring out which data to dig into and probably also not do it myself. It’s my, again, my team would probably say that’s their pet peeve about me.

HOW SARAH BECAME A YOUNG CMO

Joe Hyland:        

I like this. This is a very honest assessment. Okay. You talked about Sabre earlier and I think your career growth is interesting because on the one hand, I think it would be natural to say, wow, you became a CMO so young. And I was fortunate as well. I got my first head of marketing job around 32 or 33. So similar for me. But I get the question a lot around career planning and you know, should you move jobs every 18 months to two years and that’s how you get growth. You really hunkered into one company and it seemed like did everything under the sun for marketing. Can you talk about that?

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah, it was a surprise to me as well. I remember, so I started actually in the ad agency world before I went back to grad school. And then in grad school, I had a professor who really encouraged me to go try. He had said to me I’ve shared before that he’d said to me that I was meant for working in a large corporation and he just wanted to see me go try. And I was like, that might be an insult, like, I don’t know and I trusted him so much, it’s Professor Hazzard at UT in Dallas and he was so great. But I trusted him and I certainly trusted his judgment and it’s how I ended up at Sabre in an internship.

And I remember thinking probably in a typical, I’m an older millennial, but I’m still a millennial and I remember typical millennial fashion, I was like, “Oh, I’ll probably be here for like two years maybe you know.” But I fell in love with Sabre during my internship because it was the pinnacle of complexity in a good way. It’s like the entire engine behind the travel industry.

So it’s like the cool behind the scenes, impossible problems behind one of the coolest industries in the world. It’s hard to not be passionate about travel. That was a really neat place for me to land and to be able to start learning B2B because it’s almost an entirely B2B business in many respects.

So I got to dive into what was a very traditional part of the business and it’s been like the cash cow of the business and learn it from the ground up and learn the whole inner workings of that industry before I was then stepping into more front-facing marketing roles. And I got, after the second year, I think it flew by so fast and the company was so diverse in terms of how many different types of audiences it served.

So one business unit was focused on aviation and other was focused on hospitality another was focused on online travel companies like Expedias of the world. And it was such a diverse set of audiences that I got to kind of dabble in all of those. And every job felt like a completely different challenge and almost like a different company just with the same culture and the same core set of values. That was a really cool place for me to be able to stretch and grow. And also when I came in the door, there weren’t a whole lot of millennials working there and it became a catalyst for, they were very open to my ideas and I was empowered because I just came in with a different point of view to start to stretch what I could bring to that business.

I was always really inspired by working there. But then I ended up in my last job as the CMO of the hospitality business unit. And that was incredible cause I got to serve all of the CMOs of some of the most discerning B2C brands in the world who were buying our technology as their underpinning to their entire guest experience and their commerce play.

That was really a cool learning ground for me because it was also a business unit that was similar in growth to what Marketo was doing. Whenever I made that jump, it made that transition a lot easier because I had a really strong foundation that I had learned at Sabre and then was able to take that and apply that in completely different business and in many different industries, which was the really neat new thing for me in that role. But I had done it and I came in confident with a very strong foundation that I had gotten there. It was like year 10 and I was still enjoying my time there. But I was like, “Oh my gosh, no one’s going to think I’m ever going to leave here if I don’t push myself out of the nest.” I spent about a year just kind of thinking through what that might look like next. And then my absolute dream job came along at Marketo and I could not say no.

Joe Hyland:        

That is so cool. And I’m noticing a trend line which is growth, right? So you, you really focused on growth at Sabre. That was the name of the game at Marketo, particularly when their PE-backed and look what you’re doing now.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Yeah. And it’s a whole new world too ’cause Adobe’s just now I feel like it’s funny because Adobe’s been in the business of enterprise software for many, many years and having an experience platform has been at the core of their strategy. But I think we all agree we’re just barely scratching the surface of what’s possible at Adobe to serve the needs of the marketer and the CIO and everybody across the spectrum that are trying to actually have an influence on their own customers’ experience in a powerful new way.

And the series of acquisitions that have come together over the years with a lot of diverse viewpoints and people who actually come from high-growth entrepreneurial backgrounds that have come together to form this business unit. And it’s a very large business unit. Now we’re all figuring out how do we help our customers scale and create these incredibly compelling experiences at the same time we’re doing that in our own business. It’s kind of this very meta, a value proposition that we have going on right now on both fronts. But it’s a really cool challenge to be a part of.

SARAH’S INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE FOXX

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, that is so exciting. Okay. I have one final question, which is, what was it like interviewing Jamie Foxx on stage in front of 5,000 people? Cause I was there. I was there. I purposely not brought this up with you yet. That was an unbelievable interview for anyone who didn’t see it. He was, he was running across the stage at one point. He, Jamie, was stretching his hip flexors in front of Sarah. I don’t know why? You rolled with it.

Sarah Kennedy:        

And I can’t explain to you like I had a view nobody else did.

Joe Hyland:        

Yes, it’s true. That is true.

Sarah Kennedy:        

It was honestly, there were a whole lot of horrifying moments of Summit for me because I had never been in front of an audience that big. And I had so many other components of that, our whole board of directors was sitting in the front row. And the thing that scared me most was interviewing Jamie Foxx. I was completely freaked out and cause Steve and I had gone back and forth.

We actually hadn’t decided until two days before who was going to interview whom and we, I was originally to interview Lindsay Bond. And we decided at the last minute we were like, no, we’re going to flip it. And because I’m from Texas and I was like, I know Jamie Foxx. Like I actually have watched him for so many years, have been such a fan of him growing up.

And I know Steve, feels the same way about Lindsay Bond, I was like we just need to go with like where we have passion. But then, so I met him behind the stage and we were like randomly wearing almost the same thing, which was kind of funny. We were Twinkies. So that worked out well. And then when he got on stage and he started sprinting, it was, I didn’t know what to do ’cause I was so nervous and I had actually prepared for this more than my keynote, more than my opener like everything, I was prepared for that because I was so nervous at how it would go.

And of course he just, the lid comes off immediately and he is sprinting across a hundred-yard stage and singing and stretching and doing whatever. And it threw me off totally because he then just sat down in the wrong chair and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m in the wrong chair. I can’t see my monitor. I don’t know what questions I was supposed to ask.” Yes, my monitor was like, it was turned perfectly for the other chair. And I’m  trying to squint and see and I’m just going, “Oh my God.” I was like, “Thank goodness I have note cards but I don’t like looking at note cards cause then I’m not paying attention!” I got lucky ’cause he was so gracious and he was a great interviewee and it was stressful though. I will say that. But, he was so great.

Joe Hyland:        

It was epic. I thought it was a phenomenal interview. You did a great job of that whole event, it was a great Summit. But that interview for me capped the whole event. I was sitting in the audience with my wife and two minutes into the interview she turned to me and said, this is going to be interesting. It was like, how do you control such a big personality and you kept it on topic. You were incredibly flexible ’cause you had no choice but you could have been rigid and that could’ve gone very badly. So I think there’s a lot of lessons in there.

Sarah Kennedy:        

It was funny, I did for him being unpredictable and I was like, guys, what do I do with my hands? Like, where do I stand if he just decided to go do something else? I’m like, what do I, I don’t know what to do when it was it was great. My team was fantastic at preparing and we did deep, deep research on him, but he’s such a dynamic talent and he was so gracious. He was the best pick that we probably could have made just to make that a fun, fun way to cap things off. So it’s great that you were there to see it in person.

Joe Hyland:        

Life’s about experiences, right? So that was one hell of one.

Sarah Kennedy:        

That was a bucket list moment for sure.

Joe Hyland:        

So cool. Well listen, Sarah, thank you so much. This has been great. We’ve used up a perfectly good half an hour. I think people will really like this. And again, thank you for all the time.

Sarah Kennedy:        

Awesome. Thanks, Joe for having me. I appreciate it.