CMO Confessions Ep. 22: Hired Inc.’s Katrina Wong

Hello and welcome to CMO Confessions, our weekly podcast encapsulating what it means to be a marketing and sales leader in the B2B space today.

This week on CMO Confessions we have Katrina Wong, Vice President of Marketing at Hired. Katrina is a friend of mine and we have had the good fortune to discuss all things marketing over the years.

As the head of Hired’s marketing efforts, Katrina is tasked with marketing to two significant audiences: businesses and consumers. Her solution to addressing these audiences — to bring them together into one — is an effective one, and one I hope more businesses adapt.

In this episode, Katrina and I discuss a range of topics, including her move to business-to-human marketing, how companies like Hired are reimagining in-person events and the difference between building a brand and building a high-growth engine.

If you’re interested in discovering what else Katrina has to say, you can find her Twitter profile here. If you’re interested in her background you can check out 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

What is B2H Marketing?
Katrina’s Pet Peeves About Marketing Today
The Creation of a Director of Marketplace Operation
The Wow Factor: Inject Whimsy and Humor Into Your Marketing
Building a Brand Vs. Building a High-Growth Engine
Are Customer Engagement and Demand-Gen Worlds Merging?
Partner With Your Customers To Bring In New Customers
Customer Engagement to Retain Happy Customers

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. Today I’m super excited to have my friend and colleague Katrina Wong on from Hired. Katrina is the VP of marketing over at Hired. Katrina, how are you doing?

Katrina Wong:

Good, thanks Joe for having me on. I am super excited to be speaking with you.

Joe Hyland:

I feel like you and I have had this same conversation probably 20 times over a drink or over a coffee. So this is going to be super natural other than the fact that we have recording devices in our face.

Katrina Wong:

That’s right. That’s right.

Joe Hyland:

All right. Let me dive into your world and what you’re doing. And kind of throughout this discussion, I want to talk about the convergence that is occurring between B2B and B2C marketing. I think few companies have that happening within their own organization. So talk what you guys are doing at Hired and how that impacts your marketing because you guys are actually doing both B2B marketing and B2C marketing.

WHAT IS B2H MARKETING?

Katrina Wong:

That’s right. We are a two-sided marketplace and we really work on matching tech talent, primarily engineers candidates, with employers that are hiring the tech talent. So, on one end we are marketing to candidates and on the other end we’re marketing to companies. It’s been a fascinating journey. I really come from a B2B background. And one of the first things that I noticed was that you know, when I started leading the team was that we were very separate.

It was you were either a B2C marketer or a B2B marketer and you know, over time, I’ve been a huge proponent of you are just marketing to humans and it’s really not so much B2C or B2B, it’s B2H. Right. And there’s some other mega themes around that consumerization of, you know, business. We’ve been talking about it, but it’s been a great journey cause I’m witnessing this live and we now don’t have — I kind of took that away — we don’t have B2C marketers and B2B marketers we’re just marketers, one team. And we’re starting to see that the same campaigns really, really resonate with both tech talent as well as business decision makers.

Joe Hyland:

That’s interesting. So when you arrived, you’ve been at Hired for around a year, is that right?

Katrina Wong:

A year and a half.

Joe Hyland:

A year and a half. Man, time flies fast.

Katrina Wong:

It’s been about 18 months.

Joe Hyland:

Okay. So they were, in fact, separate organizations within marketing or within Hired. Did you have a like a B2C side and the B2B side?

Katrina Wong:

That’s right. They were separate organizations all within the umbrella of marketing. But really, I initially just led the B2B team and I barely even knew what we were doing on the B2C team. So a lot has changed since then and you know, we’re now fully integrated.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Okay. That’s fascinating. And to me it makes a lot of sense, but I can understand why they were separated at one point. How do you guys look, how do you view the, how do you handle the personas for each? Because at the end of the day, people are all people, but they have very different goals and objectives and even backgrounds. So you guys have these two groups under one umbrella. Do you just treat them as different personas, different use cases? You’re trying to accomplish different things, like what’s that look like?

Katrina Wong:

Definitely further into the funnel. And especially on a B2B side, we do have developed personas and it is different. But in terms of just top of the funnel, you’d be surprised. We’re starting to do campaigns that are healthy start workouts and that’s appealing to candidates as well as to prospects. And there’s no real agenda other than start your day with a dose of cardio with Hired.

And what was interesting is in kind of today’s times, and we can kind of touch on this later, in such a metrics oriented, I guess, phase of marketing in measuring ROI, we’re getting the same ROI and all of a sudden I was like, “Huh, you know, maybe going to a fun event and it’s not so hefty, not a panel is just as effective as the traditional B2B tactics where we’re doing the data-centric panels,” for example.

THE CREATION OF A DIRECTOR OF MARKETPLACE OPERATIONS

Joe Hyland:

That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? How do you look at measuring; and I promise you I’ll get off this topic, it’s just so fascinating to me, so I’ll get off of it in a second. How do you handle measurement for these two kinds of wildly different groups you’re going after, even if they might be trying to accomplish the same thing in some settings?

Katrina Wong:

Well, you know what? We actually created a brand new role. So we have a Director of Marketplace Operations. And so if you think about the funnel, it’s almost a double funnel on one side with candidates, on the other side we have employers. And this person is in charge of understanding where we stand from a metrics perspective every step of the funnel; but guess what, in real-time. And we’re matching supply and demand also in real-time. So, think of this person as, his name’s John, as an air traffic controller. Right? And at any one time, we’re having to really adjust our marketing efforts in real-time on the B2B side because of dynamics on the marketplace. And same thing on the B2C side. So we had to create a new position. So there’s somebody dedicated full time on this every day.

Joe Hyland:

Okay. Sounds like John’s got a pretty important role.

Katrina Wong:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

KATRINA’S PET PEEVES ABOUT MARKETING TODAY

Joe Hyland:

Okay, cool. So I have my answers particularly since I am living squarely within the B2B side even though I’ve seen convergence as well between consumerization and B2B marketing. I’d love to hear your probably somewhat unique perspective on some of your pet peeves for marketing today and totally your call if you want this to span B2B and B2C or just B2B. But I’d love to hear what kind of irks you and maybe keeps you up at night.

Katrina Wong:

We can talk a little bit about both. In the B2B sphere content marketing, we know that it works. And because the sales cycles are longer, the best marketers really use that window to educate, to share knowledge, and just provide overall value, right, to the audience. So one of my biggest pet peeves is when content is just created so quickly and it’s generic and it falls flat on its promise. And coming from a demand gen background, I know that creating pipeline is hard and sometimes you really are under so much pressure to offer up content quickly and frequently. But, ideally, you really do want to deliver value each and every time.

So there’s a lot of quality information out there that’s available to buyers. The bar is really high; it’s a good thing. And part of that bar of being so high is because on the B2C side of things it is easy to create fun, engaging, whimsical content. So that really elevated the bar for B2B marketers.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s a great answer. I haven’t thought about this for maybe even the last four or five months. I think you’re right. So there’s this huge move to creating kind of short form, very consumable content. That’s great. I think what I’m seeing a lot in our world is a lot of clickbait, BuzzFeed, Ask content that says nothing. And it’s frustrating, right?

I’m pretty vociferous in terms of consuming content. I love it. I think it’s one of the things that’s important when you lead a marketing team. And I can’t tell you the number of times that I click on something and what I actually read has no substance and I don’t even know why I’m reading it at all, and 30 seconds in I just throw it away. But I feel like marketers are creating more and more of that content.

Katrina Wong:

I know. And that’s where, you know, on the B2B side, even though the content should be fun and once people engage in it, it has to provide value and so when the lines are blurred, even more these days, it is that fine line and it’s sometimes it’s hard to walk that fine line.

THE WOW FACTOR: INJECT WHIMSY AND HUMOR INTO YOUR MARKETING

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Do you guys, how do you look at, you mentioned fun and whimsical a couple of times, and I have my own opinions on this, but how do you look at injecting humor into your marketing?

Katrina Wong:

One of the campaigns we did was a nice blend of that. So it was a B2B campaign, but they were a lot of B2C elements to it. So, last year we ran a campaign, we simply called it Nike Talks and we brought in customers to speak and prospects to attend. So it was your standard customer panel, but it was a VIP event at a Nike store. And then we started doing it in all the different cities.

And so the topic was it was about hiring, but the attendees got a gift card and we rounded out the evening with a dedicated shopping experience. So the fun, the whimsical, we call this the “Wow Factor.” So it’s not that common in B2B types of events where we’re combining two brands, it was power of the Hired brand plus drafting off of a larger brand, Nike. So it was the amplification of Nike on top of our brand. So that’s an example of the two spheres kind of coming together and that was kind of fun.

Joe Hyland:

That’s a fantastic idea. Is Nike a customer or did they look at this as like a little partner opportunity or was it’s more just that they were willing to lend out their stores?

Katrina Wong:

They were willing to lend out their store. But since then we’ve actually started partnering with larger brands because now we have this on video and we’re selling ourselves. So without giving too much away, we run an annual equal pay day campaign. So a staging for that, we’re going to be partnering with some larger brands.

Joe Hyland:

Wow. That is awesome. I love that. I love that campaign. That’s really creative. It makes, it makes me think of something that my wife went to a few years ago. It was, I don’t know if it was during Dreamforce, but it was during one of the big conferences. Salesforce rented out the flagship Levi’s store here in San Francisco. And it was a woman. It was pretty funny actually. It was, it was a Woman in Technology kind of event. And they held it Levi’s because, you know, they felt women love shopping. And my wife said to me, “I’m kind of offended at that. Like I don’t like that gross generalization.” But she still went and she came back and she said, “Joe was the best event I’ve ever been to.” I said, “what about the gross generalization on women and shopping?” And she said, “they gave out $200 pair of jeans, so whatever, I’ll take it.”

Katrina Wong:

Oh my God, that’s so funny. But see, right, like the appeal, the Wow Factor, right? She’s a business person, but as well as a consumer. So yeah. So anyway, it’s been, it’s been really fun. This a fun time to be a marketer.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Well I think it speaks to something else as well, which is get creative. Like, you know, I think of myself as blurring lines on what’s what’s possible in a B2B world. And I would have never thought of doing something like that. So Kudos to you and your team. But you don’t have to do, you know, a roadshow at the W every time and have it be following certain rules and protocols for how you engage with customers and prospects like in a get out of the box and do something different.

Katrina Wong:

I really credit the fact that here at this company we have both B2C marketers by training as well as B2B marketers. So it’s been so wonderful working with this team and the synergies that — because once we kind of removed that artificial line the ideas just started flowing. Just started flowing.

Joe Hyland:

And you’re right in the B2C world, of course, you naturally think of that is in fact what you’re doing, you’re marketing for or with brands. It’s really interesting. I think as consumers, you know this has happened in the last 10 years, we’re all so used to finding our own information; we all self-research, all that bs that we’ve all talked about forever. We’re also used to a certain experience, a certain intuitiveness with products starting with whether it’s using our iPhone or Android, no one’s at least I haven’t looked at a user manual in what feels like five or ten years.

And so the old school way of developing business software is changing. And I think more and more technology is intuitive in the business world. But I haven’t, I’ve thought about it less on the persona and profile of marketers. And that’s a super-interesting point that if you have marketers who have been on the consumer side and they bring that thought process and experience of consumer marketing to the business world, that’s pretty cool.

Katrina Wong:

It is. It is.

BUILDING A BRAND VS BUILDING A HIGH GROWTH ENGINE

Joe Hyland:

Okay, cool, all right. Let’s, speaking of consumerization and the consumer side where building a brand is so important and I’ll push you a little bit in the B2B direction for a moment. Talk about building a brand versus building a high-growth engine, and not that they need to be mutually exclusive, but I think traditionally they have been.

Katrina Wong:

That’s right. I think these days the other super-high bar is measurable results, period, as a marketer. And I think that in past years building a brand was perceived to not be as measurable and that building high-growth engine was almost perceived to be kind of boring and it was just about the numbers.

These days with the tech tools out there you really can do both but at the end of the day if I had to pick one or the other, like I really hang my hat on being able to drive revenue for the business and that just does require the high growth engine, the rigor, the discipline and the tracking, honestly.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I agree, I mean, you and I are cut from the same cloths and we both come from pretty strong demand-gen backgrounds, right? So, I wake up thinking about how to grow the business and that’s what I love. You’re the same way. Does that mean you then lean on other folks in the organization to have strong creative or brand leadership underneath you? Because I think one thing that I see a lot of smart leaders doing is knowing their strengths and what they naturally lean into and ensuring that you have strong people around you to kind of fill out or round out the entire sphere.

Katrina Wong:

Absolutely. I mean, you really can’t be an expert in everything. What’s worked out for this team, I mean, we don’t have someone dedicated to owning brand. And in terms of corporate marketing, just really being both mar-comm and visual design. But what’s worked well for us are just working sessions and brainstorming sessions and that’s where I bring everyone into the room. And it’s optional if you don’t want to brainstorm about a particular campaign, you don’t have to, if that’s not what you’re currently working on. And that’s kind of worked really well. So at our company, and the team’s about 25 people big it’s we’re all contributing to a brand creative brand ideas. Yeah, so it’s been another amazing part of the journey.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s, I like that you just said that because I think a lot of people have a “needs to be invented by them” or by a certain group or team. We probably to a fault here at ON24 in our marketing team, we have a pretty similar size by the way, it’s about 25 people, we have these creative brainstorms. We just had our two-day offsite actually earlier this week. Yeah. It’s fantastic. We try to have this, this mindset of there’s no such thing as a bad idea and I think brilliant ideas come out through that creative brainstorming process where there might be someone on the demand-gen team who comes up with a really creative treatment for a campaign or we tend to have a really strong brand leader, so I’m lucky in that sense. But we have kind of an open source model as well in terms of coming up with creative ideas. A little similar.

Katrina Wong:

Yeah. And you know where I see the seeds just kind of growing in terms of creativity it’s certainly all over the place, right? It could be somebody on the growth side, it could be somebody on the demand-gen side, somebody super operational. It’s been interesting to really look at where the hands are being raised about an idea and we definitely don’t quite fall into the stereotypes. Some of the most creative ideas are coming out of groups that aren’t really tasked to do so.

Are Customer Engagement and Demand-Gen Worlds Merging?

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. That’s cool and that gets everyone engaged. Right? I think that’s a really smart thing to do within a team. Okay, so another area I’m curious to get your take on is we’ve talked about a lot of convergence here, so customer engagement and demand-gen and your Nike Talks event kind of makes me think of this. So I think a more traditional view of how to run a marketing team is there is a side of marketing that is doing customer engagement and kind of what happens after someone signs on as a customer, at least in the B2B world. And then there’s the demand-gen side, all they care about is prospects and bringing in new net leads and driving demand and pipeline, which is wonderful, incredibly important. Are you seeing those two worlds merge at all? And I bring this up after you talked about the Nike Talks event. Do you have events where you say, I want customers to be there and but I really want prospective customers to also come and participate or do you separate them still?

Katrina Wong:        

Oh, ours is blended because when possible, right, and you have customers there, they’re your best advocates. And when you mix customers or prospects with no prep, they naturally sell for you. Right? And I think it’s because they come to a Hired event, they’re going to get asked questions about our platform and so I’m a huge fan of mixing the two. Even on our panels, believe it or not, our whole customer panels, some of them are prospects and want deals that way.

PARTNER WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS TO BRING IN NEW CUSTOMERS

Katrina Wong:

We also have our own podcasts. And many of our podcast guests are not customers yet and we’ve certainly closed some business off of just simply talking about our craft. So it’s been amazing to me. I’m excited too.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s well said. Your last point is I think it’s, I think as marketers you’re really careful to not be too aggressive and talking about their product or offering a solution when trying to convert someone from being a prospect to a paying customer. Nothing sells like knowing their space or the space that you serve; nothing sells better than that. Right? So it’s a great point. You have people on your podcast, you’re probably not talking about how they can utilize Hired’s solution, you’re talking about the space and their challenges. Right? And maybe, in the end, they think “Boy, Hired really gets me and gets what we’re doing. We really should partner with them.”

Joe Hyland:

Good for you that’s pretty creative and I think smart. So my take is pretty similar to yours on this one. We see eye to eye on a lot of this stuff. One, I think your best marketing is done by your customers. That you are going to be somewhat biased about Hired, I’m going to be somewhat biased about ON24, but a Hired customer or an ON24 customer, they’ve got no skin in the game. It comes across as very authentic. And I think customers appreciate that. Some of our, not just in this role, but in past roles, some of my greatest advocates have been happy customers because they feel like they researched a space, they made an investment, they made a selection and they want to see that company succeed. So, if you can partner with your customers, man can they help bring in future customers.

CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT TO RETAIN HAPPY CUSTOMERS

Joe Hyland:

So what about, in the example we just talked about, it’s a customer kind of speaking on your behalf, helping you sell, even if even if that’s not the only goal. What about your team, how do you guys look at customer engagement to ensure that you’re retaining customers and your customers are happy and healthy and want to be Hired customers for the long term? I assume you have a services group, which of course that’s their day-to-day responsibility, but does any of that ongoing best practices or communications sit within marketing?

Katrina Wong:

Yes. Some of the believe it or not very transactional types of triggers from within the application currently sit in marketing. So this is also a borrowed concept from the B2C world of life cycle marketing. And so we within the life cycle marketing, we have two team members and Harley for example, is he works with the candidate side to really get engagement up. And then the other team member, Tai, what he does is he will do the same thing, but for the corporate customers, for our employers. So there’s a fair amount of marketing being done just to ensure that we have engagement and hitting milestones from within our application.

Joe Hyland:

I’m seeing a lot of that in many, many, many organizations where more responsibility on the customer side and customer engagements sits with marketing. I think historically that it just really hasn’t companies would hire a whole bunch of CSMs and cross their fingers and hope for the best throw bodies at it. We have a pretty similar model that we put a lot into our customer community the last few years, but less so on the life cycle. For me that’s a really big push is to ensure that our customers are getting the most out of our offering but it’s really an engagement play.

And then the other side is we call it awareness. I try to be really careful on upselling customers too much from our vantage point so we try to make sure that customers are aware of everything that they could use from ON24 without actually giving an aggressive push. But a lot of that sits in marketing now, whereas in the past it sat in our CS organization and our sales side. So we’re trying to own more of that customer journey, which I think is an exciting, an exciting venture.

Katrina Wong:

Super. Awesome to hear. One idea that we’re almost ready to execute on is yet another B2C concept with engagement. So, in terms of the signed-on and signed-off experience, how can we delight and wow them. So without giving all that away it’s been really kind of cool to kind of work on and I’ll drop a hand, it’ll feel like ecommerce and it’s kinda nice. And we’re going to use that as a vehicle to get more engagement within the app.

Joe Hyland:

That’s cool. Well I told you this would happen in a blink of an eye. We’ve gone through our half hour or so we’re at the bottom of the hour.

Katrina Wong:

I know, time flew!

Joe Hyland:

It did. Thank you. Thank you so much to all of our listeners out there, I think the days of a chasm between B2B and B2C marketing is coming to an end. So stop thinking of them as two wildly discreet universes and get creative. I love the Nike Talks campaign, can’t wait to hear what you guys are doing next. Creative marketing doesn’t have to just live in a B2C world it very much can live in both. So Katrina, thank you so much. I really appreciate the time.

Katrina Wong:

Thank you. It’s been great speaking with you, Joe. Until next time.

CMO Confessions Ep. 21: Cradlepoint’s Todd Krautkremer

Hello and welcome again to another episode of CMO Confessions, our bi-weekly podcast exploring the real stories of leadership behind sales and marketing in B2B companies today. This week, we have Todd Krautkremer, CMO at Cradlepoint.

Cradlepoint is an industry leader in cloud-delivered 4G LTE network solutions for businesses, government organizations and more. It’s currently working to extend its lead into the 5G space as well. But we’re not here to talk about Cradlepoint specifically, we’re here to talk about how Todd got to where he is today and learn what he has to say about marketing in general.

And he has a lot to say thanks to his wealth of experience in software engineering, sales and, of course, marketing. Todd started his career as a computer software engineer building networks for AT&T. There, he watched his sales comrades succeed where he couldn’t. So, after leaving AT&T, he found himself a position in sales.

But after he joined sales, Todd realized there was a massive gap in customer-centric marketing. So, he moved into marketing. Since then, Todd has approached marketing with an engineer’s mind and an obsession with approaching marketing from the customer’s perspective.

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about the similarities and differences between engineering and marketing, why data is now the de facto engine behind marketing today and the marketing tech stack has so drastically changed from even five years ago.

If you’re interested in discovering what Todd has to say, you can find his Twitter profile here. If you’re interested in exploring his background, you can check out his 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:

Cradlepoint’s Todd Krautkremer’s journey to CMO
Todd’s early marketing homing beacon
How an engineer approaches marketing
The must-have marketing skill sets and using data to the best of your ability
Handling tech stacks now vs. five or six years ago
What was once old in marketing is now new again
On getting marketing and sales to play nice

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 Bay Area is Todd Krautkremer, CMO of Cradlepoint. Todd, how you doing?

Todd Krautkremer:

Hey, doing great Joe. Thanks for inviting me to the show.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I love having you on. I really appreciate the time. Okay, so let’s dive right in. I get asked a lot, from younger marketers to tell them the path to becoming a CMO, and I think they, most people think there is a very deliberate, set of roles that one needs to get into this chair. You have a you have a different path, or perhaps a less common journey. And I’d love, I’d love to hear more about it.

Cradlepoint’s Todd Krautkremer’s Journey to CMO

Todd Krautkremer:

Yeah, sure. I think everybody carves their own path, but, what is consistent is really being able to have a sense of what the life of a customer is all about. So my path is a very circuitous path. I was trained as a computer software engineer, and my first job was writing software for some of the world’s largest networks. The company I was working for was at the heart of many of the world’s largest networks at the time. And that’s how I stumbled into networking. I got completely driven by understanding how this code that I’m writing actually works in the real world. I had to understand how you build networks and I took a job with AT&T at the time that was building their networks at divestiture, it gives you some idea what my age is for those that are counting. And we needed to build one of the world’s largest networks, literally overnight, by that I mean within a year and a half.

And it was a life-transforming experience because I became the IT guy or the guy in this case, the network engineer, and all the vendors were trying to sell to me and they were trying to get me to buy their technology and their solution. And it was a, it was a life-altering experience. And then from there I, I also noticed that, while I was doing all the work, the cars lined up outside of my window were a Porsche with a personalized plate and a BMW with a personalized plate and the Mercedes with a personalized plate. And I realized that in the world of sales you kind of control your own destiny.

So I decided to get into sales. I went to AT&T and I said, hey, “I want to get into sales.” And they said, “No problem Todd here is literally a seven-year road map of how you can get into sales from where you are today.” I said, “I was kind of thinking now, not seven years from now.” I took a job with Neiman’s that was building at that time, public packet switching networks for the carriers, went through product management, got into sales in about two years and then did my first startup. And I got so frustrated that the, the utter lack of marketing and was complaining all the time because I really had a feel for what customers were going through and how to talk about our value proposition, in a way that matters to customers. Finally, the CEO of the early stage company said, well, if you think you can do a better job, the role is yours. I said, I think I can. And I got into marketing and found my true calling. And it really is the ability to live the customer’s life, to relate to what’s important and to translate the value of what you’re doing into terms that the customer can resonate with and value.

Todd’s early Marketing Homing Beacon

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I love that. Said a little differently, empathy is so important for great marketers and really being able to see things from other people’s perspectives and walk a mile in their shoes, so to speak. Do you think, starting on the, on the programming and coding side and going over to sales and then kind of completing this journey over to marketing, do you think the stops in multiple different disciplines or departments helped you have a more well-rounded view of the customer’s challenges? Or was that just dumb luck and that happened to be your path?

Todd Krautkremer:

Well, gee, how do I answer this both truthfully? It was a little bit luck in that the opportunities had presented themselves. But on the other hand, I had to seize the opportunity and I was clearly moving in a path towards sales and marketing. Otherwise, I would be a CTO somewhere, right? Cause that path is also very fruitful. So I think the way I was wired, what was important to me, what interests me, what I was passionate about, even as I was a developer, remember cause I was writing this code and I wasn’t happy just developing the code, I had to really understand how customers used it. So there was always that attraction in my life that homing beacon, if you will, that I was locked onto.

But let me tell you this, what’s really funny today, and you and I see this all the time, as CMOs, right? For some reason, an engineer walks in the room and says, “I’ve examined the problem and I’ve taken this approach and I’m developing this kind of solution.”

He goes, “Wow, that guy is amazing. He’s gone through all this education and we see it at work right there. Then you go to the next conference room and you say, “Hey, I’ve got this marketing challenge”, and everybody in the room, sales, engineering, customer service, the receptionist all say, “Hey, here’s what I think you should do.”

How a Software Engineer Approaches Marketing

Todd Krautkremer:

So, I don’t know why that’s the case, but to bring it full circle marketing is very, very technical. Let me just draw a comparison here. Let me compare the life of engineering with the life of marketing today to make good on this point. So right? The product and the engineering team, they care about product market fit. We care about product customer fit. They have a DevStack, right, with all this advanced technology that helps them write code and and manage code and deliver products…

we have a martech stack, which is extremely complicated and sophisticated and we can’t do what we’re set up to do without it. They have a DevOps function; we have a marketing ops function. They do continuous integration; we do continuous campaigns. They have sustaining engineering; we have sustaining influence that’s essential to keeping our name in front of the right people, that at some point in their own journey, will decide they’re going to buy something and you’re there, you’re top of mind and you’re relevant. They do QA testing; we do A//B testing. They do user experience, that’s a real big thing to stay in the engineering side; we do persona and customer journey maps. Kind of the same thing. And now the big thing in the engineering side is everybody’s got to hire data scientists. Well, you can’t be an effective marketer today without a quant. So my story here, Joe.

Joe Hyland:

It’s true. It is true. I mean there’s just slightly different personas. Right? But you just touched on data, which I think is, I think it’s fascinating. And you’re right, I know a few marketing departments that aren’t either strongly leveraging data or having plans to do so in the immediate future, and really more the former than the latter with, with every group I’m talking to. It’s a pretty wildly different skill set that when you think about most traditional marketers in the paths they take. You came from the programming side. I think you naturally draw these lines of comparison between engineering and marketing. And I think they’re pretty damn close. Do you guys at either Cradlepoint, or you can go back to previous roles; one, are you utilizing data to the best of your ability? Do you feel good about it? And I guess the second part would be do you feel like you have the, the skill sets within marketing to best do so? Or are you hiring non-marketers to do it?

The Must-Have Marketing Skills Sets And using Data to The Best of Your Ability

Todd Krautkremer:

That’s a lot of questions within that question. But in the world of SaaS, which is the company I was previously at was really a SaaS-based approach to networking. Getting real-time telemetry data from the product was essential and it allowed me to understand the customer journey, not on the outside of the product, which, which is my job, and to the other point about data I’ll cover in a minute, you can’t do that data. Once that journey flows into the product you need that telemetry data to really understand how that customer is consuming your value and are they having success and are they solving business problems and will they churn or not at the end of that journey?

So that I think is, of course, the way you think in SaaS, but increasingly, it’s the way you have to think about all solutions. And in order to map that internal product journey where I get product telemetry data that’s easy to external, I need external telemetry data on the customers and where they’re visiting and what they’re reading and what they’re consuming and where they are in their journey. And am I serving up to them content and insights that meet them where they are in their journey or am I constantly shooting ahead of them and behind them? Which means I’m not being effective and really moving them towards us and our solutions.

So yes, data is essential. It’s what makes marketing different today than it was five years ago. And in order to really get those insights, because nobody delivers to you an exact picture, you have multiple sources. You have to have quants, you have to have people who enjoy finding insights in seemingly unrelated data that now become actionable insights. And the only way you can do that is really to have, you know, our version of data science with people with real business analytics and quantitative analytics backgrounds.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I guess, one, I agree, two, it’s interesting seeing this skill set in marketing departments. You’re right, a lot has changed in the last five years. We’ll talk about technology, you referenced it before, but there really weren’t quants, at least in the marketing departments I was working in, in marketing. They may have sat in different parts of the business, right? But, so many dollars are going into growth marketers and growth marketing. And if you’re not really, if you’re not analyzing the data and making smarter decisions off of all these signals you’re getting back you’re kind of missing the point, right? So, but yeah, it is interesting to see the difference in skill sets required because it’s pretty, pretty stark.

Todd Krautkremer:

Yeah. And kind of the, I would say, the pinnacle of executing based on data-driven decisions and doing this in real-time, which is where we all aspire to get to, right? This notion of real-time [inaudible] in marketing. I had the, the opportunity to meet with a team at IBM and literally they took me into their real-time marketing team and they had a whole bunch of quants crunching data, streaming real-time from their website, and while they were crunching data you could see there were people on the website, they were, they were doing firmographics on that individual in realtime and they were copying offers in front of that individual based on real-time data feeds. All of this in real-time. It looked like a top trading room. The level of activity was crazy. And of course I don’t have the budget and the staff to do that, but it doesn’t necessarily quell my desire to get to that kind of outcome in the not too distant future.

Handling Tech Stacks Now vs. Five or Six Years Ago

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Well, I mean, that sounds like a pretty sophisticated shop they had. But, what’s cool about marketing today is you don’t necessarily, everything is a spectrum, right? And if that’s on one end of the extreme side of the spectrum I think we’re all using data in much smarter ways and technology is making life simpler. It’s also making life a lot more complicated. I’d love to get your perspective on this. So I’m seeing tech stacks grow and grow for marketers, with many great promises of kind of solving all of the marketer’s challenges. How are, how are you handling your tech stack and without actually walking through it from a macro perspective, what’s it look like now versus, you know, five or six years ago?

Todd Krautkremer:

Yeah. You know, it’s the modern version of a gym membership. Just because you have a gym membership doesn’t mean you lose weight.

Joe Hyland:

It’s true. That’s a great idea. That is great, I’ve never heard that analogy. That’s a great one. Combining the two. Yeah, you’re right.

Todd Krautkremer:

So, you know, these amazing technologies, right? There’s whole companies that are just trying to advance the marketing capability set. But just because you buy one of those solutions, plugging in your stack doesn’t mean you’re going to get benefits. So what we’ve done here is we tie kind of, it really gets to a business objective. Let’s take ABM that’s kind of top of mind. I mean that’s a whole different way in which we drive demand through influence and have more of an account based approach, right? So it starts with that business objective.

Then you have to figure out what are the tools I need in the stack in order to execute in a measurable way, our goals of the business around account-based marketing. But then you have to get people that have a dedicated responsibility to leverage those tools to execute against that business imperative and deliver the results. And then you gotta be able to measure the results and have the programmatic elements in place that ensures that it provides basically an operating system for the technology and the people and the business objectives to follow and execute in. And if you don’t have all of those pieces, then you’re likely to have a gym membership that you may visit once a quarter and spend about five minutes on the bike and call it good and think that you’re getting the benefit. That’s just been our experience.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. So I agree with you. I’ll add one element in there is if one is not careful, you get an increasingly large toolset of technologies and if you’re not careful, they operate in silos, which point cleaning data from them is never going to happen. I love that you started with the business imperative and objective. I see too many marketers today either starting with tactics or starting with technology and ABM is a good example. ABM is not a strategy. ABM might be a means through which you can accomplish what you’re trying to achieve. But that is, you know, because of our space that I’m in, I go to a lot of marketing conferences and if I hear that one more time that the new strategy is ABM, I don’t know what I’ll do, it’s not a strategy. And also this,

What Was Once Old In Marketing Is Now New Again

Joe Hyland:

And so you referenced your age or your tenure earlier and ABM is a perfect topic for this. So many things in marketing that were once old are now new again. ABM is all the buzz right now, but it’s not as if personalized marketing and delivering a highly customized message is a new concept for marketers yet it’s talked about like this is some brand new thing that never existed before.

Todd Krautkremer:

No, that’s exactly right. In fact, you know, we’ve always used sales as kind of being that last mile transformation layer that takes our messaging, positioning, our personas and everything else and really brings that together at the point of engagement with the customer. But as we all know, customer behaviors, have radically changed. And where in the past, the salespeople was one of the primary ways they got insights and information about new technologies, what other people are doing. That’s not the case anymore.

So now they’re really on their own self-guided journey and we’re having to figure out new tactics of how do we get in front in more of a persona based in more of a spear phishing type of approach to get the right information to the right person at the right time so we can influence their direction and do that before, long before the salespeople even engage. So you’re right, it’s many of the same things that marketing’s always been about. But because the customers are forcing us to switch up when we apply these tactics in the sales cycle, it’s forcing us to look at technologies like account-based marketing to execute what was done perhaps later in the sales cycle through more face to face engagement.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I mean, it’s a cool time to be a marketer. I always strongly believed that marketing is never about you, it’s always about them, whoever them is, whoever your audience is. And you just said it well: purchasers or consumers are taking themselves on self-guided journeys that is, that started six or seven years ago and I don’t, I don’t actually think it will ever end. But marketers have more and more control now and I’m seeing marketing departments, not just leaders, but departments, becoming much more strategic to the business versus just being the chotchkies and making a pretty department.

Todd Krautkremer:

That’s exactly right. In a good, a good metric of that shift just in my own life when you think about board meetings, right? Our board is spending more time talking about the role of marketing in achieving our business objectives than ever before. So they are recognizing that it’s not just a tool for getting a company brand out there and getting heard and having people resonate. It’s a tool that can really facilitate and drive leverage and scalability in sales and the partners that do the selling on our behalf.

On Getting Marketing and Sales to Play Nice

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, similar to my experience. When we have our quarterly board meeting I present our sales pipeline, so I’m incredibly close with our sales leader, my counterpart, on the sales side. But the board feels that marketing is the key upstream indicator for pipeline. So I stand up there alone and present it. It just, I think that was rarer five or 10 years ago.

Todd Krautkremer:

Absolutely. In fact, that used to be that the sales teams and marketing teams and even boards, they kind of encouraged this tension between sales and marketing and they had to be an odds because that way truth lies somewhere between. That is a very passe view of marketing.

Todd Krautkremer:

Today, you should not be able to see the light between a sales and marketing department. There should be no gaps. They really should be an extension of each other — if you’re doing it right and if you’re really leveraging the full capabilities of marketing together with the things that sales can uniquely do. And, that’s a very different place than we were even three years ago. Certainly five years.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, completely. When I started my career almost 20 years ago, my job was to literally write letters, this is sales and marketing alignment back then, I would write letters for our sales reps, I would print them, I would sign them in the sales rep’s name and then mail them off and hope that, you know, whoever I sent them to write back. So things have changed a little bit.

Todd Krautkremer:

They’re putting more power in the hands of us to do what we’re ultimately paid to do. And that’s really transformed the shape of the business growth. Right? That’s what we’re here to do is to create an inflection through one to many activities and provide more sales leverage.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And your experience coming through sales after your programming days, I think is an interesting breeding ground. But I think many, many, many people still struggle with the relationship with sales. We talked about empathy earlier. If you’re empathetic and you see things from other people’s perspective, life’s actually pretty simple. And you’re right, if you can, if sales and marketing have ultimately the same goals, there should be no light between the two groups. And I actually think the tension, if any existed before really should, should go away. Our marketing department’s goal for the year is our sales team’s goal. I think that’s a pretty simple way to structure it. You just, you just need to think differently about how you set up objectives.

Todd Krautkremer:        

Yeah. I mean it used to be, of course, we talk in the terms of MQLs and SQLs, and that’s just like plumbing, right? If a marketing department is talking about MQLs, there’s still a fence between sales and marketing. Our terminology is pipeline coverage and that is we’re going to guarantee we’re going to deliver this amount of pipeline to meet the number. So we’re in the trenches, we’re committing to delivering that pipeline so sales can do their job. And then helping to find where those other pipeline factors will come in because we have influence over those too. Partners are a great example. And through partner marketing and channel marketing, we can now drive pipeline contribution through our partners.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. That’s wonderful. And you’re right, an MQL doesn’t go away, you know, marketing needs to, needs some way to measure these key upstream indicators. But yeah, the, I hope…

Todd Krautkremer:

It’s the outcome, it’s just a milestone in the process to achieve an outcome.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And so I joined our company four years ago and I said to our CEO, and we’d had some troubles with sales and marketing alignment. I said “Let’s just set the goals the same and it’s all about for us.” So our use case was demand gen, and I said, “Set the goal at pipeline. Let me worry about MQLs. Cause you don’t want me sitting in the room saying, ‘Oh, I know we’re behind our sales targets, but marketing set our MQL goals.'” Like that’s when BS starts and you never get rid of it.

Todd Krautkremer:

Exactly. Spot on.

Joe Hyland:        

All right, well Todd, listen, I told you this would go by fast or we’re at the bottom of the, of the hour. I love your passion. I love the data-driven approach. I don’t think I could ever mimic your background, but it’s fascinating hearing someone who went through it. So thank you so much for the time. I really, really appreciate it.

Todd Krautkremer:

Thanks, Joe. Let’s do this again sometime. I had a blast.

Joe Hyland:

All right. Over a beer next time.

Todd Krautkremer:

You got it. Cheers.

CMO Confessions Ep. 20: Arity’s Lisa Jillson

Hello and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, our weekly podcast encapsulating what it means to be a marketing leader in the B2B space today.

This week on CMO Confessions we have Lisa Jillson, Marketing Leader at Arity, join us to discuss what it’s like working for a spinoff company, why today’s experts should have the courage to take a stand and why the concept of right vs. right now is so important in marketing today.

If you’re interested in discovering what else Lisa has to say, you can find her Twitter profile here. If you’re interested in her background you can check out 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 Arity was Built
Lisa Jillson’s Thoughts and Experience Behind Building Arity
The Evolution of Marketing Skill Sets Over The Last 20 Years
Where Can You Have Persuasive Advertising Power
Brands That Succeed Are Invested in Thought Leadership
Authenticity, Conviction and Controversy
Building the Right Brand With the Realities of Growth

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 chilly Chicago area is Lisa Jillson, a marketing leader at Arity. Lisa, how you doing?

Lisa Jillson:

Hi Joe. How are you?

Joe Hyland:

I am doing great. Thanks for being on the show.

Lisa Jillson:

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

How Arity was Built

Joe Hyland:        

All right, cool. Let’s dive into to things that you love doing in your day-to-day. So this can be what you’re doing on the team or just kind of broader marketing things. What are you, what are you passionate about and what do you love in marketing these days?

Lisa Jillson:

So I will start with what I am loving at Arity. I really have the unique opportunity with Arity to build something from the bottom up. You know, it’s kind of almost a marketer’s dream to be able to start a business and design and build all of the components of that business from the bottom up. So, little history Arity is, it’s a relatively new, we’re about two years old, data and analytics company. We were somewhat probably used the air quotes here, somewhat, spun out of Allstate, when we realized that the data and analytics that we were using around transportation data actually could be used in a lot more areas than just an insurance company. But we had nothing, so we got to really build the brand and the mission and the vision for where the company was going from the get-go.

Lisa Jillson:

So I don’t know that I would necessarily equate it to a true startup in that we certainly didn’t start off with anything. We started off with some assets in the tank, which is great, but we got the opportunity to be able to do things like really map out how we wanted marketing to contribute to the business. But nothing existed. So for me it’s really exciting to kind of be building everything from the bottom up and delivering some of the foundational marketing aspects without having to like either undo or build on top of things that maybe weren’t working ideally at the get-go.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s incredibly exciting. And it’s, it’s nice to do it out of a spinout of such an established brand. I’ve started from scratch at a true startup which was wonderful, I loved starting with nothing, right? You’re not wallpapering over and over existing wallpaper. What I don’t miss is the, “are we gonna make it to payroll in two weeks and we need to do another round of funding and financing?” So you do have the luxury of not having to worry about that. What’s it at? So you’re building, in a lot of ways, correct me if I’m wrong, you’re building a brand within a brand. You’re your own entity of course, but what is that like as a spinoff of Allstate and then building out this brand from scratch?

Lisa Jillson:

That’s a great question. You know, I think while we had a good overarching vision for where we wanted this to go, there were a lot of questions that we had to dive into. You know, we are a wholly owned company within the Allstate Corporation, but we had to make some decisions on how closely we wanted to tie ourselves to the overall organization. In some aspects, especially from a sales perspective, that was a huge benefit. And in other industries, it was a huge hurdle for us. So we had to think through as we were mapping out how we wanted to go to market; how we were going to play both sides of that coin. So we had to think about, you know, gosh, for these constituents, for these potential prospects, they love the fact that we’re connected to Allstate because it says credibility and history and security and data integrity and all of that. On the flip side, in some cases, we were the dinosaur and you know, I think some would say spinouts out of established companies have a high likelihood of not having success because you’re burdened with some of the more traditional stuff. And, and frankly, we were also going to be, and we are, selling to Allstate insurance competitors. And how comfortable are they going to be buying from an entity that is actually owned by somebody that they would traditionally see as a competitor?

Joe Hyland:

So how’s it going?

Lisa Jillson:

Actually, so far better than I had anticipated. I had expected that there would be far more hurdles put in our way. And I think it helps that the senior leadership of the corporation believes in the vision. And to your point earlier, we’re not worried about keeping the lights on or making payroll in two weeks. So we’re well-funded in that respect. We’ve been actually seeing a whole lot of success given that we’ve really only been around for two years and a few months.

Lisa Jillson’s Thoughts and Experience Behind Building Arity

Joe Hyland:

Okay. That’s fantastic. So you come from the advertising and agency side. So you’ve worked with a lot of big CPGs and kind of household names. How, I’m curious how that experience has shaped how you view and your philosophy on building a brand for such an established company? Whereas now even as a spinout, you’re still in early entity and you know, you’re only a few years old, so what’s the brand vision and what are the thoughts behind what you’re building?

Lisa Jillson:

So, I believe that there’s one more component in there that we’ve had to think through. And make and keep conscious as we were building out different components of the business and the brand and that is what the markets that we play in are decidedly B2B. And you know, to your earlier point, most of my career has been on the B2C side. So frankly, when I came into this role it was a little daunting. I mean do I really have the skillset to work in a B2B setting? It’s very, it can be seen as very different. I think what I’ve learned thus far is that it’s not as different as people make it out to be. Actually, if anything, I would say in the last 10 years our society has made it with the advancement of digital and an ability to use digital to communicate and persuade people.

Lisa Jillson:

There’s much less of a difference between B2B and B2C than there used to be. And when you have companies like IBM spending millions of dollars on a brand like Watson, which is a B2B entity, it kind of changes the equation of how you think about what you need to do. So, I would say our vision continues to be, two years out is that awareness is still a big portion of what we need to build. And, and that doesn’t change whether you are selling a, I dunno, laundry detergent or soda pop or you’re selling a business that’s going to be to other businesses. If you don’t have a share of mind, you can’t build some credibility around what your brand is going to stand for, then it’s going to be hard to drive them down the funnel, whether they’re going and buying a dollar item at a convenience store or they’re spending millions of dollars on a software-as-a-service contract. Both of those require the same kind of tools.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I totally agree. I think these long-held notions of pretty rigid walls between the consumer side and the B2B side of they’re crumbling. I mean, what it’s all about the scenarios you just walked through. The most important thing is you know everything humanly possible about the person at the other end of that decision or that purchase, right? And as long as you can do that and you have true empathy and you really understand what drives them, obviously there are other different levers; there’s obviously wildly different personas. That’s okay, but that’s what, to me, that’s what great marketing is about. There’s no like one-size-fits-all marketing philosophy. You have a different business than, I have and we have here. Right? And so we, you have different challenges, but you came over here and ran marketing for a webinar company you would adjust based off of what people are looking for when they’re thinking of digital marketing and buying webinar software. Right? Like you just got to know the other person, that persona.

Lisa Jillson:

I will have to say that, you know, in the last, well it’s been about three years that I’ve been kind of functioning in this role as a head of marketing for Arity. I love the flexibility that you get and the innovation that you get in the B2B world. You just have much less opportunity to do that, I think, in the B2C world. And maybe it’s because they, there’s more at stake, but I actually think it’s just because your target is so much broader that you’ve got to use more of like blunt objects to try to get the awareness built and whatnot. Whereas on the B2B standpoint, you’re a narrower target gives you actually an ability to try so many different things to figure out what levers going to get that person to be persuaded to, you know, listen to your pitch and actually sign a contract.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I agree. I think focus is a beautiful thing, right? So, and the more narrow you can get with your audience and your user more targeted you can be in your messaging and you generally have more success. What’s interesting, what I was always jealous of, so I’ve never done B2C, so while I have opinions that really they’re not grounded in experience on the consumer side. I was always jealous of how quickly data would come back. So you ran a sale or a special and you know, really quickly you can analyze sale data and behavior data and you can determine if it worked or not. And on the B2B side, 10 years ago, you just didn’t have that, right? Like it was, it was a little more of a black box, but yeah, you just started talking about the digitalization of everything we do. I mean, it’s so cool. We just get so much information back so quickly. We really should be making pretty informed and targeted decisions. And I think that’s true in the B2B side right now.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah, definitely. I think as we all lean more into using analytics to help make smarter decisions, again, I don’t know that it changes. To me if you’ve got the right instincts to do well in marketing, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re marketing, it matters how you lean into those instincts of understanding what’s gonna persuade that user to move in a certain direction. You have to start with what are those instincts; let’s get those nailed down. Let’s get those documented and then how are you going to measure whether or not those instincts are right? Then you can drive the analytics to actually help you make those decisions. And for as much as I would say even in my early career of getting data, yeah we’d run ads and get to see the Nielsen sales data coming back. You never were quite sure where advertising played in that. Now there’s an ability on all sides to say, [inaudible]

Lisa Jillson:

Hey, stay out. You’ve got this instinct that if you pull levers, let’s say like a webinar and an email and a banner ad, you’ve got an ability to say, we think it’s going to work this way. How do we make sure that we can get some reaction or some idea of what that data is going to tell us whether our instincts were right? And if you go in, and I’ve told this to my team, we don’t have to be right; we just have to have an opinion and we have to be able to measure whether that opinion is right. It’s worse if you say “Oh, I’ve got to be right” and so, therefore, I’m not going to measure it because I don’t want to know if I’m wrong. That’s, that’s not a good position to be in.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. No, no, I agree. Yeah, where we could, where you can move from correlation to causation and really see that the drivers and the levers that are working or to your point or not, I would rather know that something’s not working than be unsure if something is working.

Lisa Jillson:

Yes, that’s exactly right.

The Evolution of Marketing Skill Sets Over The Last 20 Years

Joe Hyland:

So this is, for me, this is always a fascinating topic is so a lot’s evolved in marketing and as marketers, it’s cool because things change pretty quickly. I’m curious to get your sense on the evolution of skill sets that we as marketers have seen over the last 20 years. Because you’re right, there’s so much — there’s a wealth of information in seas of data which can be problematic as well. But you know, understanding how to make sense of that data and make smart decisions is imperative. Yet that said, there’s, I don’t think the art of marketing is going away anytime soon, but I’d love to hear from someone who has a strong agency background.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah. You know, what was interesting when I started off at, in, some of the more traditional ad agency types out there I struggled to explain to my parents what it was that I did. And I worked in the account service side of the business, the client service accounts service. “Are you in sales?” I’m like, yeah, not really. “Are you doing ads?” No, that’s not really what I’m doing either. “Well, are you in the media on NBC?” No, that’s not me either. I finally hit on what I was doing and what I equated my skill set was almost like being a diplomat or a translator that I could understand what the client’s product was, understand who the user was — the end user, the buyer — and then try to coordinate all of the people that would help us get the product into the hands of the user in the fastest way possible.

Lisa Jillson:

And so a lot of what my skills were is to actually try to translate that equation to be able to articulate that. And I really don’t think that’s changed. I do think certainly there’s a ton of different skills that you need now that you don’t need, that you didn’t need before. I mean I’m well enough long in years that when I started in the industry, I did not have a computer. I was given a yellow legal pad and I have pointed down the hallway and said, there’s your secretary. If you want to write a memo, you can write it on this yellow legal pad and walk it down and that person will type it for you. And I’m like, oh my golly, I actually had grown up using computers, but this agency hadn’t converted. They didn’t have anything, they had some word processing typewriters. And I couldn’t think that way.

Lisa Jillson:        You know, some of my early products suite were packaged goods, but inclusive of that was actually some liquor products, which was fun — for a short time before it wasn’t fun. And you couldn’t advertise everywhere. So we actually had to get creative about what is advertising, what is it other than a message that persuades? So where could we have that persuasive power? And I think I was lucky enough early on in my career that I never was dialed into, well, the only thing that’s going to work is a, you know, a 30-second television ad or a magazine ad or what not. That there was an ability that there were all kinds of things that could persuade and that you had to figure out as those new things came to market, what they would do to change the equation.

WHERE CAN YOU HAVE PERSUASIVE ADVERTISING POWER?

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. By the way, I’m thinking of, I have this vision of your first office as a very madmen-esque office or where most of the work was done on legal notepads as you’re sitting on a couch, you know, about to have brandy or something.

Lisa Jillson:

Pretty much that was it without the brandy because we were all too busy to do anything else. And frankly, the agency I worked for was phenomenal. It was a great training ground. I got a really good experience there. But it’s, and I still have a lot of contacts you know, in the agency world. And I don’t think it’s too much different, but I think having the right people succeed regardless of whether you’re on, you know, client side, agency side, B2B, B2C or even ad tech is having the openness to be able to see what might be coming next and how you might choose to incorporate that because there will always be something coming next. There will always be, you know when we talk about, you know, social and things like blogs or Snapchat or whatnot, you know I look at my kids and I try to think about like, what are they going to do in the next five years? I usually don’t know. I don’t know what they’re going to do in the next five minutes, but at least it keeps me open to what’s changing.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And what I’m hearing as you’re talking about this is like it’s always about, one, never, never fight change, right. And like never, never fight evolution. And, two, the more you can understand about the behaviors and actions and habits of others — particularly if those others are going to be your audience, the stronger you’ll be with your marketing. But I want to go back to something that there was a word that you kept using over and over a few minutes ago and it was what persuades persuasion, the art of persuasion. And I’m curious to get your sense on what feels like a bit of an epidemic right now amongst content marketing, which is more of this BuzzFeed-esque, clickbait, just do anything you can to get someone to take an action, even if it’s truthfully pretty misleading and it won’t actually persuade. I see this as a huge problem, hence using the word epidemic, amongst B2B marketers we’re just so desperate for clicks or likes or some sort of action, that we seem to be losing a bit of the art for persuasion.

Brands That Succeed Are Invested in Thought Leadership

Lisa Jillson:

I completely agree with you. And I’ll give you two anecdotes where I think this is going to play out sooner rather than later. One is — again, I’ll go back to like looking at how my kids interact with different media — they are so cynical at the things that drive them in to interact with, that I think that comes back to bite you. Even from the BuzzFeed standpoint think about it … and I’ve had some interactions with BuzzFeed, you know, in some of my previous roles. They know that is going to be important that they have credibility. Otherwise, at the end of the day, they’d become a fad, not a trend, not a credible source of information. So if as a brand leader or brand owner, all you’re looking at are things that are that don’t help build your credibility, you lose. So the other piece that I would say is evidence that will go by the wayside is that the brands that do succeed are really invested in thought leadership and the ability to be able to drive some information that your organization feels passionate about. You can’t just provide information that is nice to know. You have to kind of take a stand, and I use that term that actually that was a that’s been a key component of Allstate’s marketing for several decades. But that ability to like take a stand is very impactful and I think that…[inaudible]

Lisa Jillson:

Has a lot of impacts whether you’re an end consumer trying to decide to buy a product or your a customer deciding which vendor is going, you’re going to steer a hundred thousand or a million dollar contract to. You want to feel like whatever you’re doing it is bigger than just that one action. And if as an owner of a brand, you can’t help your organization to take a stand within its ecosystem, I think you lose the power of marketing, frankly. You don’t get the ability then you’re always looking for, you know, what’s the Jack in the box? What’s the ClickBait that is going to get you to click this time? You’re always looking for some new shiny object as opposed to having a bedrock of where you’re going to really take a stand on an issue.

Authenticity, Conviction and Controversy

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s brilliant. I think authenticity just cannot be commoditized. It is something that marketers should never, ever sacrifice and unfortunately, it feels like more and more of us are. Yeah. Take a stance, say something real, say something authentic. To your point earlier on, even if you have a point of view on what’s going to work on a marketing tactic or campaign and you’re wrong. Okay, you can get that information and make an informed smart decision. Same thing for your marketing and your content. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. At least you start a dialogue. People can sniff out BS. Like kids can do it, we can do it as grown adults like and I think we need to move away from, you know, just trying to scratch the surface with content and let’s create some real meaningful stuff. I think our audiences will appreciate it. And that’s how, you’re right, that’s how you build something that, that will last. You need to be a thought leader. You need to be an expert.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah. And, and frankly, you should push to be an expert in something that actually has some controversy to it.

Joe Hyland:

Exactly. I love it.

Lisa Jillson:

It can’t just be I love puppies or I think traffic accidents are bad because you know what, nobody is going to say that it’s that they’re going to be for the reverse side of that. It actually has to be something that you have conviction behind that may be a bit controversial. And then to think about it within the context of content marketing. If you have something like that, gosh, it becomes infinitely easier to develop 27 different avenues by which we can communicate about that one issue. If it’s vanilla or it is not really a stand, it’s going to be really, really hard to figure out how many different — it’s almost like how many different kinds of wrapping paper can you put around the same topic? It won’t feel different and it frankly won’t drive any kind of content marketing in the truest sense.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And you know, that’s interesting, boy I could do this for hours, that’s an interesting topic for big established brands versus brands trying to make it in a new market, right? Or, or build a market. So, I think, for example, you know more about Coke’s brand than I do, but if you were the number one player, maybe you don’t take as many risks like you’re okay with the status quo. And you truthfully don’t want things to change. If you’re trying to disrupt a market, you damn better be loud. You better be controversial. Like you just need attention. Yeah, that’s how you start a dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with being controversial. You don’t want to sound like a total jerk, but get a discussion going.

Lisa Jillson:

Well, and you’ve even seen some of the big brands, let’s go back to Coke. They have taken a stand on things. They have been controversial. Some of the recent advertising that they even did on the Super Bowl pushed the envelope.

Joe Hyland:

It’s true, it’s true.

Lisa Jillson:

That have of that conversation more on a B2C standpoint. But I don’t think any brand can afford to be safe. Because of the way that users are interacting with brands, and I think that holds even from a B2B perspective, that a — if I’m expecting somebody to write a check to my company for services that we’re going to provide, it’s not just going to be about a price. It’s going to be because they believe that we bring something to the table, that we bring a lot of value and a conviction to the table. They don’t necessarily have in-house. Otherwise, why would they pay us?

Joe Hyland:

That’s true. Yeah. And to your point, they got to believe that they should believe in your vision, right? Like, no one wants to write a seven-figure check for something that you’ve done years ago. Right. Like they want to feel like they’re picking the right partner to bring them to the next chapter, whatever the chapter is going to be.

Lisa Jillson:

That’s exactly right.

Building the Right Brand With the Realities of Growth

Joe Hyland:

Well what about pressures to, what about pressures on growth? So this is a brilliant discussion so far on brand and the right way to do content. What do you say to marketers out there who would respond to us and say, “Okay, Lisa and Joe, that’s great, but like I’ve got an incredibly aggressive pipeline target like next month? Like I need to, yeah, maybe I’m getting out shitty content, but I’m doing it because you know, I got to have volume but I need to get things in the market.” How do you balance building the right brand with the realities of growth?

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah, I do think of it as a balance. I don’t know that there is one right equation for any of that. You have to calibrate it at the end of the day. As my boss, our president would like to say, you either are in sales or you work for sales. We don’t have jobs if we don’t drive growth. It’s that simple. So we can say that we want to go all in it for the bigger picture, but if we can’t also show that that will actually help us drive to growth, then you’re, you’re kind of SOL. But it is, it’s a hard balance. And I think it’s especially hard from a marketing standpoint because oftentimes I think, especially on the B2B side, it’s actually easier on the B2C side because they’re all run by, those companies are run by marketers.

Lisa Jillson:

You know, we’re a voice at the table and we know we have the experience to understand what levers will help drive forward. But you, you’re often trying to make sure that that voice has the credibility needs to have in the C-suite that you’re all kind of coming at it through the lens of your own viewpoint. And I’ve gotta be able to convince the sales team and the product team and the engineering team and the customer success team that the vision through marketing is actually going to have a net benefit and be helpful to them because it’s, if I’m a team player on this team, I’m not driving all the decisions. And you know, if there’s something that has to be done tomorrow, then it has to be done tomorrow that it, you know, that’s all there is to it. You do have to make that balance.

Joe Hyland:

First of all, I love that quote. You’re either in sales or you work for sales. I think it’s so true. And you just said that very well. As long as you’re looking through the growth lens that can, that can dictate, dictate and shape the decisions. I think where marketers get themselves in trouble is when they decide to be totally agnostic of growth at least in the B2B world. You will not be received very well on the sales side. And ultimately the CEO is held accountable for growth, right? So everyone is in sales.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah. We, we actually even looked at our plans because a lot of what we’re still building is like the foundational components of how we’re going to do this in the future. We have two columns: the right, and the right now and we have filled both of those columns because if we just do the right. We’ll get screwed. We and if we just did right now, we will never get it right, so we actually have to have both of those columns filled.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Wel,l that’s brilliant. I think that’s a perfect, perfect place to end. Lisa, thank you. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the time. And, thanks. Thanks again for joining us.

Lisa Jillson:

Thanks, Joe. Was a lot of fun.

CMO Confessions EP. 19: Vonage’s Rishi Dave

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, a bi-weekly podcast series that discusses the secret side of marketing and sales in the B2B arena. In this week’s episode, I talk shop with Rishi Dave, CMO of Vonage.

Vonage, for those of you who don’t know, is a software-as-a-service specializing in cloud communications for business. The company got its start with voice of internet protocol, or VoIP. It’s been on a bit of a buying spree since then, acquiring several companies over the years to transform into a business cloud communications leader.

Vonage’s marketing efforts are headed up by Rishi Dave. Rishi has an extensive background in the technology field, starting with Trilogy Software, Dell and Dunn & Bradstreet before moving to Vonage. Rishi has some fantastic insights on what’s required of a CMO today — many of which you can find on his blog, Chief Madness Officer here.

In this episode, Rishi and I discuss the dangers of relying on one-size-fits-all playbooks, how complex and difficult being a CMO can actually be and how the presumptions a lot of us marketers have about industry standards (i.e., events and analysts) can actually be damaging.

If you’re interested in diving into Rishi’s career you can find his LinkedIn profile here. You can also follow his marketing insights and quips on Twitter 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 Rishi Got to Where He Is

The Dangers of One-Size-Fits-All Playbooks

How Marketers Drive Top-Line Growth

CMO Expectations and the Problem of Complexity

On Events and Analysts

What Rishi Loves About Marketing and Working as a CMO

Where Tech Marketing Is and Where It’s Headed

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 today, joining me from the East Coast is Rishi Dave, CMO of Vonage. Rishi, How you doing?

Rishi Dave:

I’m great. How are you?

Joe Hyland:

I am fantastic. Where on the East Coast are you? Are you in New York?

Rishi Dave:        

I’m in New Jersey, actually. So, we’re not too far from the city, but we’re actually headquartered in Homedale, New Jersey on the Jersey Shore.

Joe Hyland:

Okay. There you go. Squeezed in between the Jersey shore in New York City.

Rishi Dave:

Pretty much, yeah. But we have, but you know, just to get cool points, we have a pretty significant presence in San Francisco, so it’s almost like a second headquarters.

Joe Hyland:

There we go. Okay You’ve climbed off a few notches again. Okay, cool. Tell our audience what you’re doing over at Vonage and you joined somewhat recently, right? So I think people would love to hear how the ride has begun.

How Rishi Got to Where He Is

Rishi Dave:

Yeah, it’s been a blast. So I joined Vonage five months ago and Vonage is in just a hypergrowth mode. I’m in an industry that’s in hypergrowth mode, which is basically cloud-based communications and cloud and communications APIs. And so it’s been really exciting. You know, Vonage was known a while back what it was founded on, which is a residential VOIP company.

But about four years ago, we signed a major transformation through both acquisitions as well as organic growth. And now the company is very much squarely focused in a SaaS communications applications and Communication APIs. And so it’s a super exciting space that’s in hypergrowth. And so, as a CMO, being in an industry that’s still early that’s blowing pretty significantly is really exciting.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. But there’s some brand equity right in the heritage of as you just discussed, kind of were Vonage has evolved from. So how much of that heritage plays a role in your current brand strategy, if any, or if at all?

Rishi Dave:        

Oh, it definitely does. We’re thinking a lot about not just the Vonage brand itself and kind of where it was founded in how people think about it. But, well, thinking about a whole portfolio of brands with the Vonage brand. On the one hand people kind of think of it as what we used to do in residential VOIP, although that’s changing, but it also has incredible top of mind recall that’s very positive. So people kind of know the name and they have a positive association. It’s always been an innovator. And so, after we have to weigh those things also, as I mentioned, we’ve done a lot of transformation to acquisition, really very successfully. What we also have are a lot of brands that we’ve acquired. And so we’re thinking a lot about how do we bring this portfolio together, of brands, and really drive the strategy forward in terms of what we do.

The Dangers of One-Size-Fits-All Playbooks

Joe Hyland:

Okay. Very exciting. So, I’m curious to get your take on this particularly given your experience.

Rishi Dave:

Okay.

Joe Hyland:

So you were just at D&B and I think had quite a successful run there — and we come back to that in a moment — and now have shifted gears and, and are doing exciting things at Vonage. I talk to a lot of marketers who feel they have a pretty solid playbook and sometimes that’s nice to have, a recipe and a certain approach that has worked well in the past, but you need to be cautious and ensure that you don’t apply a one size fits all approach to a pretty different segment with different challenges, different competition, et cetera. How would you respond to too many marketers talking about this overly simplified, one size fits all. Like, “Here’s my approach to a market regardless of the market.” It doesn’t matter, B2B, B2C old, new, nascent, established, um, et cetera?

Rishi Dave:

It’s a great question. I think that it’s not an either or, so it’s not a black and white where I either do a playbook or I kind of create some new approach from scratch. It’s actually both. And so what I try to do when as I came into Vonage is — of course I had a perspective based on my experience on running marketing organizations are on what works and what doesn’t work and how to approach marketing issues and problems — but I almost try to erase that from my head initially and try to really understand first and foremost the customers that we’re going after and then really think about the customer journey and what the pain points are on what the pain points are.

Rishi Dave:

And then, secondly, think about what are our current marketing capabilities. What do we do well? What do we don’t do well? What can we improve? What’s holding us back? And so I’d like to do all of that initially to really, before I started to formulate a hypothesis on what my strategy in playbook would be. And, as you can guess, it’s not exactly the same playbook that I had as CMO of Dun & Bradstreet. Nor is it the same playbook I had when I was a senior marketer that Dell, but it does draw on things that worked in the past in terms of when I’m implementing. And then secondly, you can draw on that base of experience to help assess how the current state of marketing because of I that those are valuable benchmarks to pull on. And then we see things that are different than you know that they’re different and you can start to look at why they’re different.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s a great answer. Perhaps my question was a little leading indicating I didn’t think there was a one size fits all approach, but there’s not, right? I mean there were, there are certain fundamentals that very much hold true from industry to industry. But they’re wildly different scenarios, right? You might follow a certain formula to assess a problem and form your solution, but your solution will be wildly different depending on the problem.

Rishi Dave: 

Yeah, we will. But also at the same time, you don’t want to not leverage your entire base of experience. So that base of experience helps you identify gaps, right? So for example, you know what you’ve done something that’s been at a previous role. You look at the current situation, you see a gap. Now that you may say that gap is a bad thing. You may say that gap is exactly what makes sense. But at least you know, there’s a gap when you identify how to address it. But you’re right. End of the day, I look back on a number of marketing rules I’ve had the actual implementation was vastly different and the initial implementation changed a whole bunch as well as the market changed and the dynamics change. So, there is no playbook. I wish it was that stable.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I wish it was that easy and that’s a great point. Even though it’s not just from company to company, even within the same role, market dynamics can shift in your initial hypothesis has to get adjusted. Right?

Rishi Dave:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

How Marketers Drive Top-Line Growth

Joe Hyland:

All right. I’m curious to get your take on marketers driving top-line growth because I think this is a wildly exciting time to be in marketing. I remember my first marketing role was basically ensuring that collateral was prepared for sales reps for trade shows and handwriting notes for sales reps and signing their names. And that was my way of impacting revenue. Many more marketing organizations are a little more strategic these days. But I’d love to hear from your perspective either your experience in driving top-line growth or your views on the role marketing should play.

Rishi Dave:        

Marketing is absolutely focused on top-line growth especially in, I can only speak to B2B, but it’s absolutely focused on top-line growth. I think that the entire purpose of marketing ultimately is to drive top-line growth both short, medium and long term. The reason why I say short, medium and long term is that as a CMO what gets a disproportionate amount of mindshare and discussion share is the brand stuff because it’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s things people don’t understand, et cetera. But you know what, that’s a minor part of the strategy that for the mid and long term it’s highly important. But if you look at the portfolio of things that a CMR focuses on, brand is a component, but there’s a whole host of other things that are really focused on driving top-line revenue of which brand is a portion of it. And so I absolutely agree and that has so many components from a component of analytics, demand gen, account-based marketing relationship with sales, measurement in analytics — I mean, there’s so many components of a driving top-line revenue that we have to think about.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And you touched upon this a few minutes ago when you were talking about understanding your customer, understand the pain points. Marketing is — I mean, this is such a pivotal time for marketers and we’re really at the tip of the spear, so to speak and the advice I’d give to marketers, and particularly those early in their careers know, your market inside and out, know the competition, know your customer, know your customer, know your customer — if you do those three things, you’re going to be in a position where you can help the strategy of an organization and can help drive revenue. And that’s how you become strategic.

The Politics of Marketing

Rishi Dave:

Absolutely. One thing I would add to that too is that you have to have — so you referred to marketers early in their career — the advice I also think a lot about is you have to have a lot of fortitude in grit. This podcast is called CMO Confessions, right? So, one thing that I find is, being a CMO or being in marketing — and I am biased — but it’s one of the hardest jobs in the B2B enterprise.

And the reason why is that you’re at the nexus of everything. You’re working with every organization. You don’t always get the glory, right? When things go well. But you definitely get the blame when things don’t go well. Many times. And so much of it is not just driving the numbers, driving the demand gen, driving the brand metrics, but also driving significant relationships across the company. And that’s a lot of complexity that you have to deal with. And so it’s a very complicated, difficult job. And it becomes more difficult as you move up in the ranks.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That was quite well said.

Marketing is amazing, the amount of touch points you have to have within an organization to really do it well. And you’re right, it’s like being careful what you wish for. I think every marketer’s dream, particularly ambitious marketers is to have more of an impact on the organization. Well, when you get a seat at the table, the real table, you deal with the adult problems of the organization and they’re not easy to solve. And you’re right at, at bigger — and this is something, I don’t talk about much with many marketers, this is actually all size organizations — but as you rise up the ranks at larger and larger companies, it is amazing how imperative relationships are. Because you can’t get it all done yourself. You just can’t do it.

Rishi Dave:

You cannot, you cannot. Which you can at other organizations. So, if you’re a great salesperson, you can crank and you can get sales done and you can blow away your quota and you become a rockstar — if you’re a great salesperson. I mean, that’s a hard job, but that’s a different kind of job. And you know, other groups are similar — not true with marketing. I mean, you cannot succeed unless you in a highly specialized technical role, as a marketer without having a whole set of relationships within the company who you work with and who you bring along.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And we even find that — so we don’t an enormous team. We have about 25 or 30 marketers on our team. So medium-sized marketing team. And even within our marketing team, relationships are so important because our demand gen team is pretty reliant on our content team to ensure that they have the materials they need to set up programs and campaigns and likewise through different responsibilities. And yeah, those relationships across the organization become more and more important. Right? So and we’re a 400-person organization, company-wide, not 4,000. So I think it just becomes more important the larger you get.

CMO Expectations and the Problem of Complexity

Joe Hyland:

Okay. So, speaking of CMO Confessions, let’s talk about things. Let’s go to the love-hate portion of the discussion. I want to hear about things that drive you crazy. It can be in marketing today, it can be in your role, but what just keeps you up at night or annoys the hell out of you?

Rishi Dave:

So, what annoys me or drives me crazy is the overly, like how people assume that the CMO primary job is brand, right? Yeah. And everything else is secondary. That’s what you get a disproportionate set of questions on.

I think that that’s challenging because in reality, as we talked about before, you’re driving top-line revenue, you’re driving growth and brand is one of the many tools you have in your quiver as they say to drive that result. And, and so that kind of drives me crazy because it just gets a disproportionate amount of mind share. And people interpret it all different ways and everyone has an opinion, right? That drives me crazy.

Rishi Dave:

So that of things that drives me crazy. The things that I find really difficult is complexity comes in really easily in marketing. And so you have to constantly beat down complexity and simplify. And then as soon as you simplify, complexity starts creeping in again. Because it’s just the nature of marketing, right? It’s like all the technology we have, all the campaigns we run, all the requests we get from all our partners with whom we want to have good relationships with. It comes in and it comes in extremely slowly, like a slow-moving glacier you don’t see coming. And I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs of the CMO is to keep that complexity at bay and then really simplify, simplify, simplify what we do. I think that’s the hardest thing.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I agree. I think one thing that’s interesting, what you were talking about, is there’s lots of opinions towards marketing. Like everyone out there has an opinion on advertising strategy and you’re right, it’s always on the easy thing easy. It’s always on the visible things. It’s always on the brand or their website or someone, one of our, I won’t name any names, someone recently sent me a picture of the bins at security at TSA in airports — and there was some advertising and they said we should do this. And I was like, well yes, we could do that. I’m not sure if that’s actually going to, for us, we’re very, very growth-oriented organization, I’m not really sure what the metrics would be on how that’s going to drive us forward. But everyone has an opinion whereas you and I are not walking up to a full stack engineer and having ideas on the next sprint.

Rishi Dave:        

That’s right. Another great example is, “Oh, our competitor’s doing ‘X’.” And it’s like, we have a different playbook than the competitor. If we had the same plans will be a lot harder. But you know, I can’t tell you, like I mentioned when a hyper-growth environment, we actually have, you know, strong competition. But it’s also, of course, to what you said earlier, your customer, know your competitors, know your market. And so, we know our competitors, but how many times around the company, do I hear, “This competitor did ‘X,’ we should do ‘X’. This competitor did ‘Y.” Why are we falling behind?” We’ll, we’re not falling behind or ahead — it was us choosing not to do those things. So, that also drives me crazy as well. Big time.

On Events and Analysts

Joe Hyland:

One of the first things I struggled with in marketing — this was maybe 15 years ago — the first time I heard this was on trade shows. And if we don’t go to this trade show, people will think we’ve gone out of business. All of our competitors are there. It’s like what? That is not justification for us to attend and spend 50 or $75,000.

Rishi Dave:

Well, it’s funny you say that about events. So I know we’re getting in and talking B2B, but that’s a complex issue. I find, as a CMO, because you can justify at the event. You can justify going to every event, you can also justify not going to every event. And there’s a lot of science and all that, but end of the day, a subset of apps and do an event strategy, some of it’s mathematical, some of it’s emotional, some of it is “the competition is there.” I think that’s another thing that drives me crazy is that an events strategy is one where every single person in the company has an opinion.

Sales teams want to go to every single event. You can always justify the ROI of an event. “Oh, we paid whatever, this much to go to the event. And we sold one deal and huge ROI. By the way, we probably would’ve sold them anyways.” Right? So, there’s so many reasons to go to an event and it’s hard not to go to an event. And that’s another one where complexity creeps in and you wake up one day and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to this huge amount of events. Is that the right strategy?” And so that’s another one that I think is drives me crazy.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, an adjacent one for me in a category that you get a lot of opinions on if you should be involved where it’s pretty difficult to measure the impact and the value is analysts. I’m curious to get your take on this. Because I’ve been at companies where we have great analysts coverage and analysts really can be strategic partners that can also be a black hole. And those analyst fees can start adding up and have pretty questionable return.

Rishi Dave:

Yes. Well, we’ve had a good experience with analysts. Yeah. So, we spend a lot of time with analysts and we have good analysts, but you’re right. With analysts it’s not always measurable, but you have analysts who are — when you have analysts who are covering you and understand what you do at a kind of a visceral level and can repeat it and talk about it and can also be your partner when you have challenging problems. Sometimes you get wrapped up and your inside culture and a good analyst will kind of help you and provide you with an outside-in opinion without having to talk to thousands of customers. And those cases, but you’re right — the fundamental thing here is that they have to be a good analyst. That’s the thing: there are a lot that are not good.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And you’re right, they can be incredibly powerful if you find yourself in a bit of an echo chamber at work where perhaps you can’t get out to talk to enough customers which is a different problem. You really need to hear some difficult truths that you’re not getting internally, right?

Rishi Dave:

You know what’s funny about what we’re talking about? So, I was just thinking about what we just talked about, which is what drives us crazy. Like you would think that we would say something like, “You know what? Data. Clean data drives me crazy. Or, like, managing a marketing technology stack.” You know, that is hard and challenging, but it doesn’t drive me crazy. But it’s hard. What drives me crazy, if you think about what we just talked about, it’s the stuff that has that human emotional irrational component to it. That’s the stuff that I think drives CMOs crazy versus just difficult problems to solve. All the things we talked about, the relationships, the events, the opinion on the brand, all that. Those are all human, emotional elements. Which marketing has a lot of it.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s interesting. And it kind of, for me, gets into what I love is problem-solving. And so I think at its core that’s what we’re doing, right? You’re right, you need to take in your sets of experience and hopefully hundreds of data points on things that have worked and things that haven’t. But ultimately just because your competitors showing up doesn’t mean you should because they have a different strategy. They’re trying to solve a different problem. You’re trying to solve something pretty different at Vonage than you did at Dun and Bradstreet. And Dell was in a completely different situation. My last company was in early-stage startup and we were trying to create a new category. Now I’m at ON24 and webinars are more of a legacy category and we’re trying to make them more relevant and exciting and it was just wildly different scenarios, but ultimately it’s problem-solving.

Rishi Dave:

Absolutely. I totally agree.

What Rishi Loves About Marketing and Working as a CMO

Joe Hyland:        

Okay. Let’s dig into some of the things we went, we went through the hate or the frustrations. Let’s lean into some of the things you just love either about the current role or just the state of B2B marketing today.

Rishi Dave:        

Yeah. What I love about B2B marketing is the combination of left-brain, right-brain. So I love the fact that it’s highly technical, highly analytical, highly mathematical. You get to work with technology and determine technology strategy. At the same time, it’s extremely creative in terms of the content you create, the emotions that you elicit from the messaging, the actual creative itself. And so I love — that’s what ultimately love: marketing’s combination of that technical left brain and that creative right brain and bring it together in service of a customer. I just love that. That’s ultimately what I love about marketing. What I love about this current role is. The hypergrowth markets that we’re in. And the excitement that associates with that because we’re defining new things that don’t exist constantly every day. And that’s really fun for me. But it’s also challenging. High growth environment is also challenging, but it’s also exciting.

Joe Hyland:

Yes. Growth and scale. I love growth and scale and I tend to like things that are intellectually stimulating but are hard. Wouldn’t it just be easy, if you could flip a few buttons or turn a few dials and massively see the growth you’re looking for? It’s just not that simple, right? Scale is hard. A growing, growing at a rapid pace is not easy. If it were, more organizations would be doing so.

Rishi Dave:

Yup. Well, yeah. And the last thing I would say is you have to be in a space that excites you, right? For me it’s the space we’re in terms of the one space we’re in is communication APIs. Which is really about all these developers who are out there, who are kind of creating new applications, new mobile apps, new website experiences, new SaaS apps who need the embed communications into their apps. Are kind of leveraging our APIs. And the kind of apps we have for voice, video all that stuff. It’s just a really forward-looking, right? And really changing the nature of how companies communicate. That’s exciting for me. Because you think about the amount of apps that are being created and technologists being created, it’s just really exciting and you feel like you’re on this hypergrowth space.

Where Tech Marketing has been and Where It’s Headed

Rishi Dave:

We have a whole SaaS business, a SaaS app business around communications. The whole movement of the whole world into a SaaS model on AWS and all of that it’s super exciting. And we get to be part of that. And we don’t know what direction we’re going to go in three, four years from now. It’s really exciting. It’s exhausting, but it’s exciting. Back to kind of advice for younger marketers, it’s like you got to love the space.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. For everyone listening, Rishi and I first talked in 2012 and I had just taken over for a SaaS startup here in San Francisco running their marketing and Rishi was still at Dell. And what I loved about you then, Rishi and I love just now as you were talking, is the passion that you have. So when we talked back then it was on scaling digital marketing and you had some recommendations for me. And now it’s on APIs in the communications space. I mean, I just went back seven years in my mind. But I think that’s really important. To excel at something you need to love what you do because you need to immerse yourself in it. You need to throw yourself into your work. And if you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t do that great of a job.

Rishi Dave:        

Absolutely. You know, it’s funny you talked about 2012, like, I just think about what we were talking about back then. That’s a great example of being in an exciting space. You know, if we had recorded those conversations and played them back now, we would be laughing our heads off. Because all the junk we had about B2B digital, like we will say things like, “Oh, you know, content marketing could really help us drive XYZ” and all of which are completely accepted now. But that’s, then they were like innovative and taking big risks and it’s just like, that just shows how rapidly these things change.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. I mean at the time I was standing up HubSpot and we were literally just turning on email automation and doing some pretty basic content. And now, seven years later, and it feels like 70 years later in terms of technology that we have at our fingertips. But, you know, it’s interesting. So from a technology standpoint, things are very different in just seven years. In terms of what we talked about at the start of the conversation, the core challenge I had back then was understanding inside and out, the challenges of the audience we were serving, the persona that we were trying to market to. And it’s a different persona that I serve today, but, ultimately, it’s that same process.

Rishi Dave:

Definitely. Yeah. It’s interesting. The fundamentals are the same. The execution is different. I mean, that’ll never change. Knowing the persona you’re targeting, knowing their pain points, knowing how to address them — that’s been happening since the 50s. It’s the execution that’s become, that changes every single day. But you’re right: the fundamentals never change.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And it’s not that the strategy is ever easy. So I in no way want to trivialize that. It very much starts there. But the road, particularly out in the Bay Area, is littered with people who have come into organizations and made pretty bold promises and can’t deliver because it is, in fact, the details, the operations, the how you plan on getting something done that is what delivers the results. It’s not necessarily just the exciting whiteboard and then you drop the mic and walk out it, I wish it were that simple. It’s, it’s certainly is not.

Rishi Dave:

The funny thing about what you said is I agree with you and that’s why it’s important, as a CMO, when you’re giving your vision or the goals for the organization, they have to be as simple as possible. And I challenge myself on that. I’m still not good at it, but you want to lay out as simple goals as possible. Now, the execution will be incredibly hard because if it was easy, then you wouldn’t be there. But if even the goals that you set and the vision you set is complex, then it’s only getting more complex. It’s like you have to start with a simple kind of simple goals that you want to go after, that everyone understands that straight forward, that puts calm in people, and then the execution becomes complex. And so I always, I try to challenge myself to actually get to the essence of what we’re trying to do as an organization so that we’re all kind of pointed to the same thing and we all understand it and then we know how to execute against it.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. It’s amazing. And by the way, that’s great marketing, right? I mean, it is part of what we need to do is take a really complex subject matter and boil it down to such a simple talking point that anyone can get it. And yeah, I agree. In terms of great leadership and great communication. Regardless of political slants, look at how, how some of our political leaders are just masterminds in terms of the simplicity in which they can communicate a message. When you’re right, the underlying solution is as far from simple. So, well, listen, Rishi, this has been wonderful. Thank you. Thank you again and I really appreciate your time today.

Rishi Dave:

Thank you. Great to chat again.

CMO Confessions Ep. 18: SurveyMonkey’s Leela Srinivasan

Episode link: 18: Leela Srinivasan of SurveyMonkey: The Real Value of Data, the Power of Personas and the Brand’s Path to the Enterprise.

Hello again. It’s been a wild and crazy trip after our annual user conference, Webinar World 2019. Didn’t make it? No worries. That’s why we have CMO Confessions.

This week on CMO Confessions, Leela Srinivasan, CMO of SurveyMonkey, shares how she got her start in marketing, why too much data is becoming a big problem for even the most data-centric company and how SurveyMonkey approaches customer satisfaction. It’s a really great episode that you can digest here or on podbean.

If you’re interested in diving into Leela’s perspectives on marketing you can find her Twitter profile here. If you’re interested in her background you can check out her LinkedIn profile here. As a special note: Leela is looking for fantastic SurveyMonkey stories to promote. If you happen to have one you’d like to share, please, please reach out to her at either of the above social media channels.

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 to Move a Well-Loved Brand Forward
The Power of Persona
Purpose Over Profits
SurveyMonkey Becomes EnterpriseMonkey
How to Build a Better Customer Story
Data Rich and Insight Poor
The MarTech Stack Conundrum
Leela’s Path to CMO

Transcript:

Joe Hyland:       

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions. Super excited to have my guest on today. I am joined by Leela Srinivasan, CMO of SurveyMonkey. Leela, how are you doing?

Leela S.:

I’m doing great, Joe. How are you?

Joe Hyland:

I am wonderful. I have a million topics I’m hoping we can cover today. We’ve got half an hour, so we’ll see if we even get through half of them. Before we dive into topics, tell me, or tell our audience what’s happening at survey monkey right now, you’re, I think, less than a year in. So I’d love to hear how the journey is going so far.

Leela S.:

That’s right. So I’m about eight months into my time here at SurveyMonkey and it has been a fast and furious journey so far and also really fun one. We completed our IPO — went public just over two months ago and so you can imagine a large chunk of the year has been devoted to getting ready for that. That was certainly an experience. And now we’re onto all the reasons I came here, which are really to help the company spread its wings. For our 19 years in business most of that time we’ve been perceived as a self-serve company that individuals buy a subscription and use online super easy to use, delivering a ton of value and there’s actually a much broader enterprise story to be told. So I’m very excited about that. So just gearing up for the new year and getting ready to hit the ground running.

How to Move a Well-Loved Brand Forward

Joe Hyland:

Okay, wonderful. I’m interested to talk about the brand that SurveyMonkey created before you got there and kind of how you’re evolving it. And before I give you a chance to answer that — just in the hallways, maybe 10 or 15 minutes ago I saw a colleague and said what I was about to do and how you were on the show — and she said, “Oh, love SurveyMonkey. I feel like I’ve been using them forever.” So this is, this is such an approachable, likable brand. What do you do with your brand as you, as you move it forward and move it in kind of these exciting directions?

Leela S.:

Yeah. Well, first of all, that’s very sweet, Joe. Thank you. Good to hear. And frankly it’s one of the things that drew me to the organization. I’ve been in B2B marketing for a number of years now and quite frankly, I almost didn’t take the interview because I couldn’t quite see the parallels between my journey and my value that I hope I deliver to organizations and where serving monkey was in my mind’s eye. So, as I said earlier, we were a self-serve platform, right? That’s the core of our business. But once I started talking to the organization, I realized that behind the scenes of the last couple of years or so, SurveyMonkey has been very quietly building this portfolio of enterprise grade solutions, building out the survey platform so that it is enterprise ready. It meets with all of your compliance and security needs and all that good stuff.

Leela S.:

And so there’s a huge story to be told here to your question of the brand. It is a conundrum. You know, we have this well known, well liked brands. Our mission is to power the curious and we talk about helping individuals and organizations measure, benchmark and act on the opinions of people who drive their success. But 2019 has to be the year in which we help, for example, marketers understand all the ways in which SurveyMonkey can add the value use of all its products. Or where we help the same thing for HR, right? These are two core communities where day in, day out, we’re answering 20 million questions on our platform. Two and a half million people a day are responding to a survey. And so the job ahead for us is to help those different audiences understand the value that we deliver day in, day out to organizations who are empowering the curious individuals within their organization to gather that feedback from the people who matter most. Whether that’s customers, employees, students, patients, you name the audience.

Leela S.:

So yeah, it’s also really fun brand. So, I like fun brands who doesn’t like fun? But the balance between what … and I think this is something we’ve seen evolve over the last five, 10 years, right? You think about brands like Slack and I was actually talking to Kelly Watkins here, so it goes on site to do a fireside chat at our marketing all-hands and we were just shooting the breeze on brands and I think Slack has done an excellent job of nailing sort of that intersection between approachability and fun and the right home while still — we’re very clear that they serve a business purpose. And so you look around the landscape of B2B organizations and a lot of them have been trying to kind of get there, right? They, they’re trying to ditch the sort of white papers and blue suits and buildings, iconography and trying to go for something more human and approachable.

Leela S.:

SurveyMonkey kind of in a different position where we’ve got almost a consumer-esque brand and so, and that’s very powerful for us. We’ve been able to get a lot of benefit from that, but how do we steer into something that’s a little bit more business message-y? How do we talk about the value for marketers, for example?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. Well, one person’s opinion — and I think you do a nice job of that by highlighting the benefits that your customers are seeing. Right? So I’m just, my perception is you guys tell pretty powerful stories from your customers’ perspectives. Ultimately the underlying point is that they’re doing it and it’s powered by SurveyMonkey, but I think you’re doing a nice job of telling the customer story versus saying, “Hey, we want to tell you why SurveyMonkey is so great and you have to listen.”

Leela S.:

That’s good to hear. That’s great to hear actually. I have always tried to be customer centric and the way we think about marketing, whether it’s here or elsewhere. I do think there’s so much opportunity though for us to continue down that path and when I say that we have something like 16 million active users using our platform and there are so many stories in that base and I could almost — sort of tempted to use this podcast as an open casting call for marketers that are driving value. I’m not kidding, actually. I want to tell your story in 2019. So if you have a really good story about how you’re leveraging SurveyMonkey to measure, benchmark and act on customer feedback or get your arms around your target audience and be more effective as a marketer — I want to hear that story and I’m on Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn, you can hit me up in any direction you desire. I will take the call. I will get my team involved and we’d love to just showcase more of you.

How SurveyMonkey Approaches Focus

Joe Hyland:

Alright, I love it. We’ll put your Twitter handle and your LinkedIn profile in the notes for this so that people can take you up on that. I love that. It’s interesting. I think there’s a lot of opportunities in the market, but I’m curious about your perspective on this. Focus can be a beautiful thing and the strength that you guys have, which I think a lot of other companies have is it’s a very versatile solution. So, you referenced just a couple of different audiences. I’m sure there are dozens and dozens of use cases for the product. How do you look at prioritizing where you put your marketing team’s focus because there’s so much you could do, which is good, but it’s also dangerous.

Leela S.:

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I, if I’m honest, I think it is something that’s been a challenge for SurveyMonkey over the years because to your point, it’s a horizontal platform and there are almost limitless use cases for our technology. So since I arrived about eight months ago, one of the things we have been focusing on is really coming back to the customer, of course, thinking in a more persona-based way because if we can really put our finger on the challenges that the different audiences are facing and talk to them in very real terms and empathize with them and then talk about how we can help them solve those challenges, then I think we’re just in a fundamentally better place.

The Power of Persona

Leela S.:        

And so, one of the changes that I made to the team and coming in was to organize around the persona a little bit more in product marketing and demand generation so that we have people in this building who obsess about the, the HR practitioner, for example, their worlds. How difficult it is for them to retain employees in an economic environment where there is more demand than supply of talent, right? I mean an average retention cycles are going down and down and down as people continue to get tapped on the shoulder for new opportunities. And so for employers that just creates this need to create ever more engaging employee experiences. And how do you do that? Well, one of the ways is by listening to your employees and listening to them when they’re a candidate, listening to them when they onboard to figure out if they got what they need, how can you make the next onboarding experience better? Listening to them all the way through their engagement cycle, gathering feedback on them, helping them grow all the way through to offboarding as well and taking the exit interview and learning constantly along the way. How can you create a better workplace? How can you make the workplace more inclusive? How can you help them grow at your organization rather than finding another opportunity?

Leela S.:

So, that’s sort of the team on the product marketing demand gen side is focused around that employer or sorry, the HR persona, they have a counterpart in creative that aligns with that. And then the same is true of marketers of course. So, the marketing faces all kinds of challenges and opportunities, many of which we can help by helping them better understand customer loyalty and identify champions, for example, and package together, proof points really quick with that and in turn, help other customers discover the through the testimonials of customers. We can help organizations to run really quick market research on the fly, which you can use for content marketing, for example. So all sorts of different ways that we can help marketers get closer to the customer. But it starts by just having that focus, that obsession almost with your target audience; what matters to them, what their challenges are and how you can help them to be meaningfully better.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. I think you’ve said that very, very well. You need to be. I feel marketers need to be obsessive on personas and that needs to be the driving force for how we go to market. It’s really natural that talk about all the ways that we as companies are great and no one wakes up in the morning and says, I can’t wait to hear from ON24 or SurveyMonkey or Slack, right? Like, we have challenges, but that is a slippery slope that it’s easy to kind of slide down.

Leela S.:

I just had a sad moment there for all the marketers that actually communicate. It doesn’t. I’ll be looking for your next email, Joe though. I promise.

Joe Hyland:        

That’s fair. Well said. I think it’s very easy to forget that because we all have goals and milestones and objectives that we’re trying to hit and it’s easy to lose sight of it. I think it’s interesting that you organize the team around personas. I personally think that that’s quite smart in part because we’re going through a reorganization or a reshuffling of the deck on our own marketing team and we’re doing just that. We’re organizing content, product marketing and demand generation around key personas and use cases. I find that if something is a hobby, it tends to not go that well. So we were trying to do this over the past year, but without having any vertical or use case owners. And I finally decided that really wasn’t serving us well.

Leela S.:        

Here’s the other thing as well, when you go in that more customer-centric persona-centric direction. We’ve — this may not come as a surprise to you, but we, we occasionally run some research here at SurveyMonkey. We have a fantastic in house research team. Yeah. And they know a thing or two about conducting research. But they recently, we recently ran a study to better understand the connection between customer experience and employee experience. And learned was that if you ask employees who believes that their companies place a great deal of importance on customer satisfaction. If you ask those employees how likely they are to be at the organization two years later, they are significantly likelier to be at the organization two years later than employees who don’t think their companies care about customer satisfaction. And so it’s not just, I think a better way to market, but it also just creating that connectivity between your team and the customer so that they understand that what they’re doing matters that actually reaps dividends in terms of you being able to retain people, which as we talked about earlier, is kind of difficult in this market.

Purpose Over Profits

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. I think that’s brilliant. It’s also so intuitive and logical. People want to feel like they’re what they’re doing matters, that they belonged to something that serves a purpose. And it’s pretty easy in any B2B environment, if you’re not careful, have employees, they — “What are we really doing here? Like what is, what is the point of this?” And if it’s just about profits, I find that is quite unmotivating.

Leela S.:

Again, I think we’ve seen this, I credit the millennials with just articulating things that many of us older folks have been thinking all along, but this notion of providing impact. What does it really mean to have impact? One form of impact is definitely delivering on financial goals, but really if you can, if you can look in the mirror every day and say, “You know what, we’re delivering impact for our end users, for the customers that are leveraging our solutions, our technologies, whatever it is.” That’s a very different feeling from something from just a revenue goal, let’s say.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And I think it’s important that is in the ethos of a company. I think it’s, it’s easy for the executive management to say, “No, no, no, this is just about profits. That’s why business exists.” And that is that, that will not resonate with the masses at the employee level.

SurveyMonkey Becomes EnterpriseMonkey

Joe Hyland:

So anyway, that’s super interesting research. So let’s go back to brand and brand perception. I think you referenced this just a few moments ago, there are so many B2B organizations who have typically played quite well and successfully in the enterprise space who are trying to become more approachable and relatable and humanize their brand. Then there are brands like Slack and SurveyMonkey and Zendesk who I think have kind of always been cool and pretty relatable. How do you see this evolution going specifically at SurveyMonkey and what you’re trying to do given that? I bet you serve the enterprise market pretty well. There’s probably a lot of growth there for you. You’re now a publicly traded company, so how do you balance relate-ability and likability with “We’re serious trusted brand that you should rely on.”?

Leela S.:

Yeah, it’s a work in progress. So I don’t have perfect answer just yet. And it’s sort of like, how do you make sure you don’t throw out all the goodness, right? Because we really are tremendously blessed to have a brand with the strength of SurveyMonkey as our foundation. But I think this comes back to customer storytelling in some ways, right? So, I mentioned earlier, 60 million active users. You said somebody in the hallway, “Oh, I love SurveyMonkey,” that’s all great. But the stories that you’ll see us surfacing more and more frequently will look more like the story of Box.

Leela S.:

So Box is an enterprise client of SurveyMonkey. They leverage SurveyMonkey’s enterprise platform along with our integrations to key systems of record, like Salesforce. And when you think about what we enable for a company like Salesforce, you know they have pockets of customer — sorry, I’m sorry, for Box, rather — they’re customer obsessed, right? They care deeply about the customer experience. And for them what we were able to provide was being able to pipe that real time survey information from their customers directly into the systems where their front lines are interfacing with customers.

How to Build a Better Customer Story

Leela S.:        

So, I’m sure you, along with other marketing leaders, our inboxes are bombarded by requests from BDRs who are selling data enrichment tools of some shape or form. And typically that means they’re providing a data around firmographic information or something like that. I’ve come to think of survey information as the ultimate form of data enrichment in some ways because if you stop and think about, if you ask — and we do this with our integration with Marketo actually — after somebody filled out a lead-gen form, there are auto response email goes back to them and asks them a few more questions so that we can be more prepared for the demo. So it’s almost like we’ve always wished that we knew what was on our customers’ minds…

Joe Hyland:

But with a survey…

Leela S.:        

You can ask what’s on their minds and then you can funnel that information into the systems where your teams are interfacing with them. And what it leads to is just that tighter connection, a much more personalized experience and hopefully a better resolution, which I think is just a win for everyone involved. And so we’re basically powering that across Box as they get really serious about customer experience. Customer Journey, how can they help their front lines be as effective as possible in helping their customers to be successful? So you’ll hear us start to tell more of those stories where it surveys… It’s almost like when we were talking before the show about how a webinar feels constraining, right? Surveys always feels a little constraining, right? Because really what we’re talking about is this feed of immensely valuable data that you’re able to connect to your operational data and deliver better decisions at the end point.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And that kind of goes back to the versatility of the offering, which is tremendous strength. But if you’re not careful, you’re right, like a webinar, like a survey, that can kind of be commoditized and if you’re not talking about the why and why you’re doing this and how powerful it is and it’s just the what, it’s like, “Oh, it’s a survey and we can do that. Like, right, who cares how the data is structured is like.” That actually matters quite a bit if you’re really doing it at massive scale. We have this thing on our team in some ways it’s a bit of a running joke because I talk about it with such passion and I think I get made fun of it. Its codename is the grid, which is every, it’s the intersection of personas and use cases and ultimately how our customers use our product — use webinars and the stories that we want told. And so the grid kind of utopia, what are all the permutations that we want there in the market. And, as you said, the Box story is really powerful one for you. Well, how can we have two or three customers in each kind of, in each Box, if you will?

Leela S.:        

Yes. I call that case study bingo is how I refer to it. Because you have to overlay geographies and industries and company size. And it’s this sort of never-ending grid, right?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, hence the grid nickname here. And it can get a little overwhelming, too. Going back to what we said about focus. Okay. So you guys have a similar method at SurveyMonkey?

Leela S.:

Yeah. I think it’s definitely how we’re thinking about the world going forward is: if you put yourself in the shoes of a customer who’s evaluating solutions, at some point in that journey, you’re probably thinking, does anyone like me use this? Or you know, what are the stories that relate back to my business model that I can take to the c-suite to get sign off on this new investment that maybe I hadn’t quite thought about at the beginning of the year? And so the more that we can help to eliminate for potential customers, how we can specifically help them — and that often comes in the shape of exposing them to different stories that might resonate — then I think the more, the more successful we’ll be in getting that message across. So you can’t cover — and you know this as well when you have virtually limitless problems that you solve are virtually limitless use cases — you have to be specific and you have to prioritize. So we can of course use our own data in doing that and understanding how our current users use survey technology to ask and answer the biggest questions in their minds. So we can use that as I said, to just sort of steer our team and make sure that we are going down the stack ranked list of opportunities and finding customers that can really tell the stories.

Data Rich and Insight Poor

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. I love that you just mentioned data there. I’d love to get a few minutes of your perspective on what it’s like being a marketer today and, speaking of problems that are good problems to have, and all this data that we have coming in versus 15 or 20 years ago when you and I were beginning in this.

Leela S.:        

Yeah. Good Lord. Will the data ever end? I mean, it’s just, to your point, it just comes at you from all sides. And in some ways we’ve potentially created some of this problem ourselves in that. I think back in 2012, it was Gartner — blame Gartner for this — Gartner said that by 2017, the CMO would be outspending the CIO in technology.

Joe Hyland:        

I was just referencing this yesterday to someone.

Leela S.:

I don’t think we ever quite got there, but we sure as heck did buy a lot of tools in that five year period. And some of them talked to each other, but many of them didn’t. And therein lies the problem, right? You’ve got these disconnected, disparate data silos and so the result is, I find, many organizations are data rich, but insight is poor. They have more access to more data than they’ve ever had before, but can they make sense out of that data? Probably not.

Leela S.:

And in fact, I was reading another study by IDC that says that by the end of 2025, only 50 percent, sorry, 15 percent of global data will be tagged. Of that only 20 percent will be analyzed and only 6 percent will be useful. So we’ve created a 94 percent problem for ourselves in some ways. And so I think that’s sort of the reality of the world that we face. And this is not unique to marketing. Many parts of the organization are drowning in data. They’re data rich and insight poor, as I said. And you have to be thinking about how your tools talk to one another. I recently was talking to a journalist about and they were looking for a prediction for tools for 2019. Like, “What’s the one tool you’re thinking about? And the answer is no, that’s the wrong way.” We don’t need more tools. We need more connectivity between our tools so that we can make sense of that data. And whether we do that in one of those tools, we funnel everything into tableau. Whatever the story is, we have to begin to focus on creative insight from that data rather than just having it languish in these silos.

Joe Hyland:

I think that that was very, very, very well said I love this phrase, “Data rich and insight poor.” I had a conference, this was maybe six or seven months ago. I didn’t think that this would be super controversial. Onstage, I said that marketers don’t need more data. We have, we’re swimming in too much data and it’s problematic. So anything that gives marketers more data without insights is actually defeating the purpose. And the next speaker got up on stage and really challenged me. I’m a data driven marketer and I love data. And I was like, perhaps the point was lost or it wasn’t well articulated, but…

Leela S.:

I think you need the right data. Data for data’s sake is definitely not the answer. I’m with you, Joe. I’m with you.

The MarTech Stack Conundrum

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And your other point that you touched upon — I couldn’t agree with you anymore — and this is nowhere worse than were you and I live out in the Bay Area now, there’s so many technologists and specifically marketing technology, that assuming you’re having a marketing tech stack of 20, 30, 40 pieces of technology will solve your problems is really silly. And so many of these technologies don’t speak to one another.

And if you’re going to, you’re going to have either a) unstructured data or b) siloed data, then you have no data. So what’s the point?

Leela S.:

Our team here at SurveyMonkey has been focusing on that for quite some time. So I think we have 100 or more integrations into virtually all the systems I use. And so we never set out to be the system of record. I think we’re losing conscious for a long time that people don’t need another system of record. But they do want to bring that data to the place where they’re working so that they can have that insight and make those better decisions.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. No, I couldn’t agree any more. And for most marketers, that’s within, you mentioned Marketo before. That’s, that’s very likely within their marketing automation system, within sales, within the CRM. But yeah, if you’re fighting for screen time with your user persona, you’re probably violating the principle that you and I talked about at the start, that it’s all about them and should never be about you, right?

Leela’s Path to CMO

Joe Hyland:        

Okay. Well, let’s close on this. So, a lot of our listeners are not in fact heads of marketing or chief marketing officers. They’re aspiring to, one day, get there and no one comes out of the womb or comes right out of university and is heading an organization. You’ve had an interesting path where you’ve done a lot of things. I did a little research on you before you started in sales. You went over to management consulting, which I always find fascinating. And then you get into marketing. So, spend a few moments, if you will, on your path and if this can be replicated or if it was dumb luck and had nothing to do with the master plan that you hatched up 20 years ago.

Leela S.:        

There was no master plan. Oh, actually the master plan was very different, let’s just say. I’m not sure if it’s a path that … I love my path. I’m not sure it’s a path which you should purposely set out to emulate. But what I will say is I didn’t expect to be in sales. I took my first. Really the only sales job I had was five years at a company called BusinessWire, which is commercial newswire service, a part of Berkshire Hathaway.

Joe Hyland:        

And I became a sales BusinessWire because I had my very first job in the states after I moved over was this is not an oxymoron, a fast-growing startup in Jacksonville, Florida. And I started on reception actually for six weeks. And then they — because they didn’t know where … they couldn’t find Edinburgh on the map and that’s where I grew up in Scotland. I was just pleased that I got interviewed six weeks in I moved actually into a marketing coordinator role and then I did some special projects stuff and then I was the PR manager for six or eight months. So I had four different jobs in my first job in the year and a half. And when I was in that PR manager stint, I used Businesswire and it got so much volume at the time.

Leela S.:        

And they just seem to — meaning the organization. So they asked me if I wanted to come over to the quote unquote dark side and be a sales rep and I would never have thought of saying yes to a sales job in my early twenties. But I just really liked the organization and the value they deliver to their customers. And, true enough, I actually ended up being a pretty decent sales rep for them. And then I ended up being a sales manager because I had walked in — I’d been the customer. I knew their challenges, their pain points. You see we’re coming full circle here. And I worked out really well for me. When I became a sales manager actually moved up to Boston to run their New England region and at that point I realized that I was thirsting for more knowledge.

Leela S.:        

So if SurveyMonkey’s mission is to power the curious and SurveyMonkey’s where the curious come to grow back in the early two thousands — I needed to, I realized I was curious. I needed to grow. So I went to business school at Dartmouth. I came that in management consulting, as you said, which I think was the best place to extend and practice skill I might use. I know there’s a lot of debates out in the world about whether MBAs are worth it or not. I’m here in San Mateo running marketing at SurveyMonkey if not for my MBA. And I went to Tuck Business School at Dartmouth and it was transformational for me. It really changed my trajectory and just the course of my career. So did three years in management consulting with Bain and Company. Really fantastic learnings, but I actually missed going deep on a subject, having subject matter expertise as opposed to being a generalist and flying by the seat of my pants on a regular basis.

Leela S.:        

Didn’t realize I’d be flying by the seat of my pants on the other side as well, but a different way. And a connection — a former Bain colleague who moved LinkedIn, who as to this day, runs their talent solutions business globally. We stayed in touch when he moved over and every few months he pinged me and say, “Are you’re ready to leave Bain yet this things come up. I know you like LinkedIn.” And this continued over the months. And I finally, he put an opportunity in front of me and I said, “Well, it looks fantastic but I don’t think I’m qualified to be a senior product marketer.” And then it turns out I didn’t actually know what product marketing was at the time. And Lo and behold find that a lot of the management consulting skills were directly applicable to product marketing.

Leela S.:        

So that was my start at LinkedIn and I joined when it was 500 people was there for four and a half years, got to do a bunch of different things. It was a huge privilege left to join open table as a VP and that was also different and valuable experience. But after that ended up at Lever and a CMO role. And I think what I’ve done over the course of that, that sort of journey before coming to SurveyMonkey and that and now as well is I realize I do my best work when I am very passionate about the problems that we solve for our customers. And that was true at LinkedIn. It was true to some degree OpenTable, but it wasn’t true enough. Which is actually why I moved on more quickly than I otherwise thought I would. It was true at Lever and it is absolutely true at SurveyMonkey today. So for me that’s been a sort of a north star is finding the thing that gets me passionate because of the problems that we’re solving for our customers. And, like I said, we’ve come full circle, I think, in this conversation.

Joe Hyland:

I think that’s one: that’s brilliant to hear and two: I just love it and couldn’t agree with it anymore. There’s nothing more boring and mundane in life than not being challenged and not being passionate. It’s just personal life work life, that is, for me, that is what life is all about and I often get asked about work kind of work home balance, which I think is very important, but it becomes much easier if you love what you do and if you can be passionate about the company you belong to and the problem is you’re solving. I think that’s what we’re doing as marketers is where problem solving and it’s probably why management consulting was a great training ground for you for product marketing and you didn’t even know what product marketing was.

Leela S.:

I can say that now of course, but at the time I was doing my best.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, hindsight is always helpful. Well, listen, this has just been wonderful. I appreciate the time. I hope people the audience has really enjoyed this. And again, thank you. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule for this.

Leela S.:        

Of course. And before I go, I was not kidding about that open casting call. So one more time. You have a fantastic SurveyMonkey story. Please hit me up on social. I would love to hear more. I really would.

Joe Hyland:

Okay, we’ll get that in the description. Leela, thank you so much.

Leela S.:

Thank you, Joe. Pleasure’s all mine.

Joe Hyland:        

Okay. Alright, thanks.

CMO Confessions Ep. 17: Higher Logic’s Hunter Montgomery

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions, a bi-weekly podcast series discussing how sales and marketing really operates. In this episode, we talk to Hunter Montgomery, CMO at Higher Logic, a community management solution based out of the East Coast.

Hunter has more than 20 years of experience in the marketing sector, weaving his way through a variety of organizations. In July 2007, he joined Verizon Business before moving onto Vocus and, finally, Higher Logic.

Hunter has a sharp eye on cutting through the puff that’s common in B2B marketing. As we discuss in this episode, he has a learned preference for impactful action and content. I think that theme of taking the time to think things through carries well throughout this episode and I hope you all enjoy.

If you’re interested in diving into Hunter’s career as a rocket scientist, you can find his LinkedIn profile here. If you’re interested in his insights and expertise, you can find his Twitter 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.

Transcription:

Joe Hyland:        

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of CMO Confessions. I am really excited to welcome Hunter Montgomery, CMO of Higher Logic to today’s show. Hunter, how are you doing?

H. Montgomery:

Good. Joe, how are you doing?

Joe Hyland:

I am doing great. Just, year-end wind-down, which I love. So, we’ll get into that and how you look at the end of the year versus starting the year shortly. Just to start things off, talk to our audience about what you guys are up to at Higher Logic and what you’re all about.

H. Montgomery:

Alright, great. Thanks. So, Higher Logic, we are a community engagement platform. It started off about 11, 12 years ago as a professional association based here in DC. Obviously, there are people who say there’s an association for everything and everyone, which is pretty much true. So we built in a kind of idea of community, right? You have lawyers and accountants and scientists and they’re part of an association — they want to talk and interact. And so we built this online community platform, which is perfect for them. About four or five years ago, we really started to expand out more in the corporate space — software user groups, right? B2B software. And then at last, a little over a year ago, we bought two marketing automation platforms to really expand what we do. And now we kind of talked more about engagement, right? It’s about how do you engage with your customers, your members.

H. Montgomery:

They don’t care if you’re sending an email from a platform or a daily digest from the community or a request from somebody else. They just want to know that you care about them interacting with them and you’re giving them value. And so what we’ve sort of rolled out is combining the ideas of community and really the market automation part to give this personalized, customized interaction between a company and their customers or an association and their members, which is very similar, right? If you really think about an association member is just this SaaS user, right? Every year they get to renew their membership and they want to see value in it. If they don’t see a value, they’ll go somewhere else. So we’re all about that?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, that’s great. I think a lot of marketing mirrors politics. I was a political science major so maybe that’s just my own leaning, but I think all things in life really are local — even as we’re moving to everything being global, I get it. I think people feel more comfortable with small intimate communities and I think a lot of marketing has — and we can talk more about this — but has leaned too heavily on all quantity and just blasting out as much as possible to as big of a group as humanly possible. But it’s all about how about engagement and quality. So talk more about how your company’s philosophy on this community engagement model, how your marketing mirrors that.

H. Montgomery:

So immediate it fits very well, right? It’s all about personalization. It’s about giving your prospect if you will — or your member or your customer — the information that they need that valuable to them. It’s to your point, it’s not blasting out. “Hey, here is a webinar on a topic and I’m going to send it to my entire database where we know not everybody cares about it fit their schedule.” So we’re similar in terms of how the community works, the idea of basically with the market automation platform we added. But what we had it in there also was looking at how people interact and then give them that content that matters to them. If it’s a product they use, if it’s a community, a subcommittee they’re part of, you know, it’s how they interact with it. Like we’re doing a lot now more with AI.

H. Montgomery:

We start to learn about the people in the community and in the marketing side, what they read, what they click on, what they replied to, what questions they ask, all those things. I’m kind of starting to build kind of a digital fingerprint if you will, of what that person’s doing. And then you want to give them what’s valuable to them. That’s when marketing automation came up. “Oh, don’t send a blast to everybody,” but for marketing automation, for a long time, it was firmographic. I know what title you are, I know how big your company is, an industry it’s in, so I have a good sense of what you want to read and look at, but if I all of a sudden learned that you’re the chief customer officer, but you tend to read and interact in a different community, I can actually really show you information and content that matters to you. Not just a generic eBook of what a chief customer officer needs to know about x, y, z, right? Which is great, but maybe I have specific areas of like customer support. That’s my focus. That’s my target. All the sudden I’m getting content around that. So that’s kind of how we’re built the platform. And then obviously that’s how kind of the modern marketing person tries to look at things and every time you get more data you can do more with it.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Love it. I mean, the more relevant we can make our message and our delivery, the more successful we’ll be, right? So, I think people conceptually agree with that. It’s like breaking a bad habit. It’s easy to just flash your whole database with one message and I urge marketers to avoid that temptation.

H. Montgomery:

Part of it too is like what we’re trying to do, I mentioned the AI before, and I was talking to another guy I know, he’s writing a book about marketing in AI, and he had an example. I think it’s like BMW one of those companies, they’re basically creating 10,000 personas. Now, usually, if you have five personas of a buyer persona. That’s not a build-on and they’re great and they’re helpful. They’re good. What have you can create make 10,000? Everybody’s slightly different. The machines can learn more than you can and they can react to it. Not to scare people that marketers aren’t going to be important because you still have to understand who that buyer is, what they want, what they need, create content for them. But if you can just target that much more to somebody and that helps that much more of your click rate, you know, conversion rate — all the rates that you’re trying to track, then you can go focus on other things and stop worrying about the daily tasks. A lot of promises there. We’ll see how it comes out.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That’s powerful. I love walking into a marketer’s office and seeing the five or six personas on the wall with a picture and their tendencies. Like, I’d love to see this 10,000 version.

H. Montgomery:

That’d be pretty cool.

Joe Hyland:        

Okay, well, that makes to me and makes me think about things we love about marketing and things we perhaps don’t. So, I’ll start with the positive side. What do you love about today’s marketing opportunities versus five or 10 years ago?

H. Montgomery:        

I like math, which sounds kind of crazy. I’m not a quant guy, I’m not math major, a history major and undergrad. But it’s made it so marketers can go to the CFO, CEO, whoever, maybe the head of sales and say, “Here is what I’m actually impacting on your sales. I can show you, I can draw a direct line from these people to your bookings, closings, revenue. I can show, I can draw a dotted line to this group saying, ‘Hey, I got them in front of your guys, somehow'” they know I’m not trying to take credit,” but when you can start to look at the math that — a company before called Vocus, we are a PR software company, but a lot of that was built on: you bring a lead-in, they convert to a demo — it was a little old school now — and then they close for win and there are rates each way, there’s your ASP. IT becomes math.

H. Montgomery:        

And if you get on the understanding of math, I mean it shouldn’t cloud everything you do. But at least you can go and say, here’s what I’m doing and if you give me more money I’ll get more of these for you. If you reduce my budget, I’m going to get fewer of those for you. So the math part and the connection with the finance side and really being able to trust it and it’s not “we think we influenced.” And obviously it’s different companies, B2B fits very well in. But that’s the one thing I do like because it gets to be cut and dry and you’re not sort of trying to have to talk smart. You can actually show some numbers.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I love it. I think that’s a fantastic point. I love that in doing a compare and contrast to now to a decade ago when we were doing these models — it was a lot of assumptions. Your right, now like for us, we’re doing this right now actually. We have our plan for next year for revenue, and then we, based off of historical win rates, a conversion from inquiry to MQL, MQL to sales accepted, lead all the way through. We’re pretty granular. And what you said is dead on — there’s give and take. So, great, you don’t want to give us that budget. “Oh, okay. No worries. Like, you know, here’s what the marketing can contribute. It will be less than we had planned in and we do.” And then, so ON24, we then do check-ins every quarter to see how accurate we are. And, for us, a decade ago it was a little different. That’s interesting. I’ll get to the things that aren’t great in a moment, but you raised, you raised a great point.

Joe Hyland:        

I think there’s also … So if we’re going to be more quantifiable, there’s more modeling — there’s truthfully a lot more math in marketing today in data then there was a decade ago — in a lot of ways, I see geeks taking over marketing teams. You have more and more people who focus on data. I’m curious on your team if you’ve seen that shift or if the marketing personas are a little more traditional.

H. Montgomery:        

I think it kind of … there’s a few people who fit it well. They’re not quants or Geeks, but they understand the business side of it because really the numbers are about the business side. It’s one thing to understand the different conversion rates along the waterfall, but it’s why? Why is it important? Why is a booking today more valuable than the booking three months from now? And why is the ASP .. and all those things that the CFO cares about. You got to know what the CFO cares about. So we haven’t got there, I also have a younger team, so it’s almost like we’re helping them understand what marketing is going to be. I want to do email marketing or I want to do content and that’s great and they can. But Now let’s see: Did your content actually get downloads? We love that. Did it then convert — to your point — MQL, SAL, win? What do we see, how are you contributing?

H. Montgomery:

And then now they feel like, okay, I understand I got to be part of the business. I can’t just do content for the sake of content. And they’re not an indicator of that it was successful. It’s the first step So, it’s I have not brought in people and I’ve actually moved, kind of bringing an ops role. We didn’t have an obstacle here before. I’m like from an ops background, so I get the whole marketing ops and what it means and so kind of bringing people in, that’s a hard one to find. I mean, maybe, I think probably out on the West Coast it’s probably a little easier here on the East Coast. It’s still more traditional marketing people.

Joe Hyland:        

Out here, out here, everyone wants to call themselves the growth hacker, but which is really a demand gen person with a new name.

H. Montgomery:

Right, revenue, right? Revenue. What is it, what’s the new one? I can’t remember. It was like basically had of revenue or somebody in the marketing department, you know.

Joe Hyland:

Oh, you see some pretty … our office is right next door to LinkedIn’s. We see some pretty creative titles on LinkedIn.

H. Montgomery:

I’m sure.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I think that’s interesting. We had a similar understanding of the why for a business is really important, particularly for young marketers. We have a lot of the younger marketers earlier in their career who listened to this show. It’s critical to my opinion. One, always tie yourself to revenue wherever possible and then, two, you’re dead-on like understanding why we’re doing all of this is so critical. We had someone who was running our social media a few years ago and was quite successful with it, but it was a bit of a learning curve to get to the why social influencers mattered. And, for webinars, I think ultimately where we landed was they don’t. Which is fine, we just had to change our social media strategy, but it was like, “Oh, wait, all of these people like this tweet.” Like, okay, cool. Like, what do we think that means to the business? So yeah, it’s an evolution.

H. Montgomery:        

We had one of the companies we acquired in the last couple of years, they had a really good blog. And they came over and I looked at it — like, three times as many as our blog in terms of people that subscribed to it. And you know, my CEO is like, “Oh my God, the blog is great. You got to look at it.” And we dug into it and there are no leads there. I mean, it’s not our audience. It’s great. I appreciate it. And one of their sales guys came over with that because he’s like, we got to do like we did before. I said, do you ever see that the leads at the blog generated? I like activity but not activity for the sake of activity. It does not bring any value to what we’re trying to do. And they did keywords. It was optimized for SEO, I guess. Optimized for SEO drives me crazy. I’m sure there are markets there are companies that need to do it and it’s very valuable. But when you look at it and you realize that there’s nothing there for you. You know, we had a lot of homeowners associations. That’s not a professional association. They’re not buying our software.

H. Montgomery:        

So yeah, it’s got to connect the dots for people and understand that’s what it is. Not saying that it’s bad. It’s not our business.

Joe Hyland:        

Focus is a powerful and beautiful thing in life, right? And understanding markets you were going to play in and double and triple down in versus those that are just a distraction I think is, man, that can save so much time and energy and money. Okay, cool. Let’s get back to the original question. Okay. We went over things you love. What about things that frustrate you or you just, you just hate about the marketing landscape?

H. Montgomery:        

Well, I think I kind of jumped the gun. I think that last one I kind of overstated. So, I think you mentioned a little bit about, for a long time social, right? Social’s gonna be the greatest thing ever; you can’t scale it, you can’t track it, to your point. That kind of helped with the SEO. I think SEO was way overplayed in my, in the companies I have been part of. Again, I’m sure there are businesses were they very important. I think the other thing is, and you alluded to, we talked about a little before we got on the call and that is kind of the tech stack. Six or 7,000 tech solutions now in the Martech one, you know, Scott Brinker’s thing, which is great. And it was 150 in 2011. I mean the sheer number that these little point solutions can solve all your problems or you’ve got to put them all together yourself, is crazy.

H. Montgomery:        

And I love the tech side. As I said, I was the op side. I liked for efficiencies. I like to find an advantage you can have. But there’s, I don’t know if there’s really 7,000 advantages out there.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And we talked about this for a second before we started. It’s 10 times worse out here in San Francisco. Scott was on the show a couple of months back, great guy. What a gargantuan effort this has become. He’s got a research team behind it now because I think the last one was like 67, 6,700 companies or something crazy. But yeah, you’re right. It was 150 in year one. So in year one it was just him doing it was like pretty easy, right? Yeah. Everyone and their brother has a little kind of B2B marketing company right now out here. It’s like, you know, two guys in a cat and their garage.

Joe Hyland:        

I think what’s interesting about it, and quite, quite, quite dangerous, is so many of these companies have received funding from these venture capital firms. They have money that they need to deploy. They’re placing bets, if you will. If three or four out of 10 bets work, they’re successful. That’s generally their model. So, you have a lot of these companies who have raised one or two million and so it feels like a quasi-legitimate organization and it doesn’t solve enough of a business need to justify their existence. And so yeah, it’s out of control in ,y opinion.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah, it really is. That and it makes it hard to find things out there. And how do you sift through it all?

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And it’s all in. You alluded to this just a moment ago, anyone thinking that technology will be a silver bullet or, you know, kind of this one-size-fits-all solution and then they’re like, they’re really missing the boat. It’s all gonna work together. So a lot of these techs, it becomes your problem to now implement it, which is not how this needs to work. If it doesn’t connect to your marketing automation or your CRM, I mean forget it. So, and we’re both technologists, we work for technology companies, but I will always advise people to be considerate before they bring in tech to their org.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah. And then, all of a sudden, you get a bloated budget potentially. You know, you add this thing here and that thing. All of a sudden, someone looks, you said you have a hundred thousand dollars for the software in marketing and what are you doing? And because, it’s SaaS, a lot of times you don’t have to get into. It doesn’t go through it. Right. And you just need somebody to hook it into Salesforce or hook it into your market automation or, to your point, it just gets a little bit out of control and then you become an IT guy.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s true. I mean it happens fast. I think it was Gartner, four or five years ago, who predicted that you know, it was probably around now 20, 18, 2019 CMOs would have a higher budget than CIOs. I think that I think they were right. It’s occurred.

H. Montgomery:        

They were right because it’s gotten easier because now these things do work better together. And out of the box, they work your marketing automation and out of the box they work with Salesforce. That’s always sort of the sticking point: How do I integrate it? But now it’s easy.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, it’s easy. Yeah. Last word on this for me: focus on things that will solve your use case if your use case. If your use case is Demand generation. Great. Double down on what will yield a greater return. I’m buying things because they’re nice to have. I mean, you’re just being irresponsible.

H. Montgomery:        

Absolutely right.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s like a PSA from you and I. Okay. So you guys are big in the engagement space, particularly on the community side. I’m curious to get your take on this move for marketers to own more of customer engagement. Again, if we do a compare and contrast to five or 10 years ago, I felt five or 10 years ago, it was rare for marketers — particularly in the B2B world — to own kind of post-sale. Oftentimes marketers said, “Hey, once someone becomes a customer, like, our job is done.” But I’m seeing more and more marketers really care about the customer experience and that customer engagement. So I’d love to get your take on, on this movement and kind of how you guys feel about it.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah, I completely agree with you. We’ve seen it on our end. I’ve been in companies where marketing didn’t even touch the customer. One of the things I’ve seen, at least the customer side is, it has become a bigger deal, right? “Customer, customer, customer,” last couple of years, right? Everyone’s talk about it. There’s so many different places where the customer could sit. There’s renewal. There’s upsell if that’s your model. And then there’s having the whole, “Oh, we’re now we’re going to bring a Chief Customer Officer In” And where do they fit? Do they fit under the CEO? Do they fit under operations? Do they fit under sales? So the customer kind of gets lost. But the one group is sort of a neutral arbiter the whole thing that kind of a neutral friend, if you will, is marketing. Because it’s getting good content.

H. Montgomery:        

Hey, you know, here’s a webinar, here’s content. Yes, it’s, we’re using for a prospect. It’s about the same problem that you had before or issue or topic. So, by default we kind of accepted it and we went out and said, hey, you know what, we’re gonna shifted a woman on my team to just do customer marketing. We weren’t doing it before and she helped the upsell team, right? That was an easy traditional generate leads for them. We do a soft, very, a kind of relationship way. Did a monthly newsletter from the customer success people, but we generated it, but you still have that, “Okay, well who really owns their renewal rate, who really owns how are we going to support them in the right way they need?”

So it’s a little bit in a flux in all honesty. But as I said, it was a great opportunity for marketing to come and say, look we just want to make sure they’re happy. And can provide content and help and if they want to learn more about other products we will be able to give them the opportunity to raise their hand. That’s all we say. But it’s such an important thing now for organizations that they all have to figure it out. And we’ve gone through a transition internally here and I think we figured out, but it took a little time, you know? And there’s a lot of History of people doing this for the last 15 years in a new way. People think that it really needs to be done and for B2B, obviously, B2B is a different model than, obviously, a B2C or manufacturing or you know, whatever.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. And you reference the SaaS model a little bit ago and, you know, 10 or 15 years ago when you were selling an on-prem, bigger upfront cost. And then there was just a small maintenance component. It kind of mattered less. It matters a lot more now.

H. Montgomery:        

Yeah. It does impact. And back to your point, there’s tools now for it, right? You have the customer success platforms like Turn Zero, To-Tango, Gainsight. They’re leveraging that. Everyone’s jumping in. Everyone wants to be helping the customer.

Joe Hyland:        

It’s a big space. It’s actually kind of funny because your business, my business would not exist without our customers. I mean, I know that’s such an obvious point, but like, man, do we lose sight of obvious points in business? And so I had a friend of mine who works for another company here in the city, a pretty big role and he said, “Well. Listen, the only thing that matters is, is our upsell numbers for our customers.” And I said, “I don’t know what if, what if your customers are happy? Like where does that fit in there?” And he was like, “Well, yeah, yeah, that too.” I’m like, “Oh, okay. I don’t know if this should just be like assumed.” And I love it when, when the business strategy gets in the way of what’s actually best for the customer.

So, I think you’re right: marketing can play a pivotal role because we have no revenue targets, we really just want to make sure the customers are getting the best content, what’s, what’s best for them. So I strongly feel marketers should play a bigger and bigger role. Because if this sits on the sales side, and I mean to throw no stones here, sales will naturally lean into upsells. Great. You want them to. But I don’t think they should be the arbiter of ensuring that customers are in fact happy.

H. Montgomery:        

Right, right. Or really no… it’s trying to be a consultative approach where I look at the customer and say, “Wow, they’re struggling with this. I think it’d be a good opportunity.” Yeah. Maybe there’s an upsell versus recommending the wrong thing because they’re just trying to get through their upsell. Like, propagate, versus B or, where b really would fit them. But A is maybe on the spiff list. Someone has to have, truly have the customer’s best interest in mind and it pays off long-term. It’s that balance. Short-term, long-term retention, long-term revenue. You get somebody to buy another product or upsell for three more years versus the wrong one. And they canceled it after a year.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah. That’s not good for the business. You mentioned ToTango and Gainsight and kind of this industry which has sprung up over the last 10 years for customer success. Love to get your take on this. Another thing I think that is interesting for companies is, and I think a lot of companies are getting it wrong, is CSMs didn’t exist eight or 10 years ago. Now every organization has at least who cares about the renewal basis, has a pretty big team of CSMs. Most CSMs though, how do I say this in an eloquent way? Most CSMs come from the client side and they want to ensure people are, you know, the clients are happy, which is great. But I don’t think they were necessary — they may have struggled to see the connection between happy customers and how a business is fully successful. I feel like a lot of companies have thrown a lot of bodies on the customer success side, which is great, but there’s not necessarily a strategy for how we holistically communicate with our customers. It’s almost like you have, if you have 50 CSMs, you have 50 communication strategies. There’s no like centralized plan.

H. Montgomery:        

Right, right. Yeah. I mean I think because, to your point, they all can have different even metrics. Is it NPS? Is it renewal rate? Is it upselling? They do, but I think that I do think it’s maturing. I do think that the idea of CSMs and having … you know, we have a woman here who manages all our CSMs and she also managed all our community managers. We’d have to have them for our professional services and our customers can use us for their community management services. So she comes from that. It’s all about engagement, interacting and making these … it’s one of our best services because it’s running a community is not a light lift. That’s her background. And I think that’s how she approaches she almost his approach to CSMs as community managers, even if they don’t have any community.

H. Montgomery:        

So I think, to your point, you kinda need the right person leading that group. So everyone sort of understands it. It’s, “Here’s how you’re going to communicate, here’s the outcome that we care about. And, but at the same time, you still ask how do you balance the upsell number if you have a strong retention number?” We have a very strong retention number, right? So everyone’s like, “Okay, what do we do?” Do we need fewer of them because our retention number is not an issue and then? No one, I think has solved it yet. I mean that’s the good thing is there’s an opportunity for people to get it right.

Joe Hyland:        

Yeah, I agree. And when you, you said it. Well, it’s, it’s understanding the why, right? As long as the, as long as that side of the organization understands what the real metric is and what we’re trying to accomplish. I think you’re on the right path to success. Right? So Listen, Hunter, this has been fantastic. I could do this for multiple hours, but I’m going to be true to our format and stop at half an hour. I really enjoyed the discussion. Thank you so much.

H. Montgomery:        

No, thank you. I love the opportunity and good luck with everything.

Joe Hyland:        

Awesome. Thanks, man. Thanks.

CMO Confessions Ep. 16: Gil Levonai, CMO of Zerto

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Hi folks and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly-ish podcast discussing all thing sales and marketing related. This week we have a special treat, a former rocket scientist turned marketer and probably one of the most insightful people I’ve met, Gil Levonai, CMO of Zerto — an IT backup and resilience organization.

Like I said, Gil has fascinating career starting in the Israeli Navy as a project manager for missile and rocket development. There, he found a love for software and making sure the right people are in the right places to get work done, an incredible skill he nurtured over his 20-year career.

Gil’s expectations for his teams should, frankly, be an industry standard. He expects customer-centricity, a close understanding of the product being marketed and a curiosity that inspires his team to achieve more.

In this episode, we go over his management style, how he got to where he is and why focusing on marketing fundamentals — a clear understanding of the audience, why you’re executing on a campaign, setting expectations — can set the foundations for scale and (I’m going to steal this term, by the way) business-to-human marketing. Plus, he’s a Patriots fan — so he’s pretty much perfect.

If you’re interested in diving into Gil’s career as a rocket scientist, you can find his LinkedIn profile here. If you’re interested in his insights and expertise, you can find his Twitter here.

I won’t hold you up anymore, but I highly recommend you give this episode a listen. 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.

Joe Hyland:    

Hello everyone, 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 to business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24. And joining me this week from Boston is Gil Levonai, CMO at Zerto. Gil, how are you doing?

Gil Levonai:     

Great. Thanks for having me here.

Joe Hyland: 

Gil and I share one thing in common, which we were talking about before we started, beyond being passionate marketers we’re both New England Patriots fans. So we’re getting, we’re getting geared up for the Super Bowl.

Gil Levonai:     

Yeah. And I’m sure you’re going to air this episode after the Super Bowl, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Joe Hyland:       

That’s funny and true. Okay, so perhaps once this airs we’ll be celebrating the Pats win. We’ll see if we have to edit that out. Okay, Gil, I’d love to hear and I think our listeners would love to hear a little more about your path and the reason I bring that up is I think a lot of marketers who are pretty ambitious in their careers and wanting to lead marketing departments one day a pretty frequently will ask me what was my formula, what was my path? And I think people come from it at different from different perspectives and different angles. I’d love to hear about, about your journey and how you wound up leading such a, such a cool marketing team.

Gil Levonai: 

My path definitely didn’t start with marketing or didn’t start thinking about marketing. I actually come from Israel and in Israel, military service is a mandatory thing. I actually took a different path there, also, which is you go to school first and then you serve in the military in your profession. And I’m actually an aeronautical engineer by profession, so I actually served in the navy, building missile things, so you can call me a rocket scientist if you want. From there I served, which I think you can characterize, my work there as somewhat of product management because I was representing the Navy, against or with contractors that build weapons systems. And I think that’s important because I’ll go back to that in a second. And then after that, I actually find myself in software and I really enjoy developing software.

Gil Levonai: 

But after a while I wanted to join the whole startup scene and I joined a startup and I moved to product management and since then I’ve been many years in one startup and then I had my own consulting firm and I come back from product management to marketing but kept myself in both worlds for quite a long while. And even in Zerto, here, I actually started as kind of like a funny enough a consultant when the company only had like three people and they hired me as a consultant to build the message and start building the product management piece. And since then I actually built the both of the product management team and the marketing team and then when we grew too big and we decided, hey, we need to separate them. I kind of said, hey, I find myself marketing more challenging for me and I want to evolve with marketing and I become only marketing. So, for the last 20 years, I’m doing both product management and marketing, kind of like together in many cases or have teams that are doing both. And I think those two things are very, very tightly integrated, especially in B2B.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. One, that’s a fascinating answer. You were definitely the first person I’ve had on who I could somewhat claim is a rocket scientist and comes from that background. So, that is definitely not a blueprint to a CMO. The other thing, a quick story from me and I tell it because of your product background, I did not originally come from the product side. Pretty early in my career, a company I was working for we had a two day offsite and in day one was all positioning and go to market and messaging. And so I participated in the whole day. Day two was just for the product team. Essentially it was, it was the actual product development. We know what we’re gonna build, et cetera. Pretty basic stuff.

Joe Hyland: 

And I planned on skipping it and I was talking to someone at the company who was in a different group and I said, “Oh, I’m not going to go tomorrow because it’s just product stuff.” And I was probably 25 at the time and this guy said to me, “It’s the biggest mistake you can make. So many marketers are just fluff and if you don’t understand the product and how it works, you’re going to miss the mark.” And for me, that forever shaped how I think about marketing because I think marketers need to go deeper. And I think many don’t.

Gil Levonai:        

I would say two things about it. I think it’s less about — I’m not necessarily expecting my marketers to be as deep in the product as you know, product people or as engineers. But I do want him to understand why the product is doing what it’s doing and what is the customer needs its solving. And I think that’s the key, that’s the common denominator between product and marketing. You need to understand the difference in both cases. And if you don’t really understand the customer, you’re not going to be a successful product person or a successful marketer. So, you see a lot of movement between product and marketing. I have in my team on my technical marketing or product marketing and have lots of people have come from sales engineering, et cetera. It’s all about understanding the product. And that’s where everything starts and ends as far as I’m concerned.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s very well said. Here on our team. We often, when we’ll edit documents or have discussions on programs or content, we’re building a common phrase is “Why?” “Why?” Like what are we saying to our prospect or our customer, what are they trying to accomplish? It’s easy to be a little “you-centric” and I think that’s a slippery slope. So you’re right, if you understand your audience and you can walk many, many miles in their shoes. So you can create some pretty compelling marketing

Gil Levonai:

And product. A quick note about the path. Some of my youngest employees say, “Talk to me about the path.” I give them an example. We have our annual conferences and we always have keynote speakers — just announced today this year our keynote speaker is going to be Peyton Manning, not Tom Brady but Peyton Manning. It’s a good start. But our first one actually was a guy by the name of Story Musgrave. And you may know him you may not know him. He was an astronaut. Actually, he holds the record for spacewalks. He’s an older guy, I think he’s in his eighties now. He’s a fascinating speaker and he tells the story of his life and he keeps going back to the same point again and again and again. He says, “I never planned to be an astronaut. It was never in my even dreams. It wasn’t even an opportunity.”

Gil Levonai: 

He was a farm boy, okay? And then kind of evolved and went to the air force and then et cetera, et cetera. And he says the only thing he was always concentrating in his career, he’s doing a great job. Okay, and that’s it. Do your job the best way you can, and then you will evolve wherever you want to evolve. And I think that’s kind of like — I actually had my teenage son come to listen to him and I keep going back to him and tell him that, remember that “Do a great job, whatever you do, and you will get to whatever you want to become.”

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think you’re right. I think that’s well said. For me, what I love about people who have all walks in life who have been successful within their own careers is when they can bring incredible passion to whatever they’re doing — whether that is tending to crop in a field or putting on a marketing campaign. I just love it when people love what they’re doing. And I think you’re right. If you excel at whatever you’re doing at that moment things will probably work out pretty well for you.

Gil Levonai: 

Yeah. Passion is really easier when you come from my culture, from Israel, from the Mediterranean. We’re more passionate people than many people. And it’s contagious. I think we’re a very passionate company. People who come for our annual kick-off and, you know, we have some new execs that come from other companies and I asked one of them, “Hey, what do you see different here?” He said, “The passion. So everybody, every single person on stage or offstage was very passionate about what you guys are doing here.” And so, and I expect the same from my marketers and they get the same. They are very passionate. Passionate means just like in a family, people fighting and it’s okay, but as long as you’re passionate about the same thing, you’ll get it right. And when you do it with passion, it’s the secret sauce — that’s what you need.

Joe Hyland:

I love it. So, talk to me about how the company’s evolved. It sounds like you were on the ground-level as a consultant getting product marketing off of the ground. Things have changed a little bit since then. What’s the same, what’s different? What are the challenges you guys are facing in your go to market?

Gil Levonai:  

So I think that being a B2B enterprise software company, we’re one of the boring spaces. We call it resilience, backup, D.R., convergence — all of the above. Cloud. We’re kind of like in the back seat of all of these people that are changing the world. We’re enabling them to change the world. And we keep them up and running and available 24-seven. So, the company itself, its evolution was kind of a standard story for a startup — founders, but some unique things. The founders, the two brothers actually sold another company before and are still there. My boss, my CEO, is still the same guy that started the company. He, I’m giving him a lot of credit, because he hired me before he had one line of code because he wanted to talk to customers and understand what they need and run his idea by them to make sure he’s developing the right product.

Gil Levonai: 

And I think that’s kind of like the common for us today — we listen a lot to our customers and we have fanatical followers. Now, we’re like 750 employees, so it’s no longer kind of like that small four-person startup joint. Scaling is huge, a huge challenge. Scaling sales, scaling marketing, scaling engineering. On the marketing side, I see every day the challenges of how we are trying to do things better. You know, in your first blog with Matt Heinz, you talked a lot about alignment with sales. I think that’s crucial. If you want to progress, this whole kind of like — I love the quote, I keep using this, when he said, “You can’t buy a beer with MQL.” And so I think the challenges are a lot on how do you run a large marketing operation that is really impacting business and not only generating MQL or “Hey, we did a great event.” You need to figure it out.

Gil Levonai: 

And I can’t say there’s a simple solution. You have attribution modeling. We, tried one too [inaudible]. We’re going back and forth. Front-oriented, less front oriented, more ABM, less ABM, there’s nothing we were not doing. We’re doing a mix of all of them. And that’s a challenge because it’s not going to be easy at this scale when you’re talking to — we have more than 6,000 customers and we were planning on having many, many, many more. It’s the machine is a very complicated machine, but that’s the fun. That’s the fun because you get to try lots of things, you get to figure out what’s working, what’s not working and what’s not working? Stop doing it.

Joe Hyland: 

I think what you just said is something that marketers don’t talk enough about. And I think actually a brave thing to say I hate this notion that we, particularly you and I — heads of groups — that we need to know it all. That there is a certain playbook that we will implement because we’ve done it before and all these great things will come. This is complicated shit. Growing a company — so you were there at the start from no customers where a line of code wasn’t even written and you said you have thousands now — this is complicated. And I think what makes a common element between great marketers is testing admitting that you don’t know everything. Trying a lot of things, making sure you’re using data to determine what works and then it’s basic A/B testing and then doing less of the stuff that doesn’t and more of the things that do.

Gil Levonai:

Yeah, 100 percent. And going back to the point of the layman. We are very transparent about what you’re testing and what you know because sometimes you will push back and say “Hey, I know I’m doing the right thing here.” And many times, you actually don’t know. So, be transparent. What is that you actually know you’re doing and what it is? Hey, let’s try it together. Let’s figure it out. Maybe it will work, maybe not. And you know, we run across many things mean you and every marketer out there — hey, it worked great last year, but for some reason, it doesn’t work this year. Something changed. I don’t know, maybe some parameter changed. We don’t know why, but do you need to be aware that not necessarily everything that’s worked, we’ll keep working. And also, it’s a moving target because as a company, your messaging and your product is broadening your customers, your approach to the customer. You go to market strategy or your go to market tactics are all evolving as you grow. And you need a different tool sets, you need different ways of getting to the goal posts and it’s not necessarily the same as you did last year. So that adds to the complexity.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. I couldn’t agree with that anymore. I get asked a lot, particularly by CEOs who want marketing advice or friends of mine who are starting companies. What’s my marketing philosophy? I, personally, don’t actually have one. And I’ll explain because I think great marketing is problem-solving and, yes, there are certain basic fundamentals like always know your market and who your customer is, of course. But the challenge that I have — there’s commonality — but I serve a different market than you do, so my marketing plan at ON24 probably wouldn’t work so well at Zerto and vice versa. So I think you’re right. We have to be pretty damn adaptive.

Gil Levonai: 

I think the other piece is that just like every other complex, large organization — or even large campaign, in a sense it can be marketing, it can be anywhere else in engineering — you need to always remember what your focus areas and focus on your focus areas. Otherwise, it can get lost if you don’t always go back up and say, “Hey, why am I doing this? Is this part of what I’m deciding I’m focusing on?” For us, it can be a certain segment of customers we want to get in. So, let’s remember our focus or it’s a pipeline influence type of metric or it’s generating specific geography from awareness. Whatever it is, each at each level you might have different focus areas but remember where they are and keep going back to them. Don’t neglect your focus areas because otherwise you will get lost. We can really do, every day, something different and we’ll just get lost. So you need to remember the north star at every point in time during the year and go back to it all the time.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I liked that you said north star, that’s what we call it on our team. It’s kind of like our guiding principles, the three things that we never take our eye off. At ON24, we work really closely with our sales team, which is I think a good thing. It’s also a little bit of a slippery slope because they’re, you know, it can at times feel like there are hundreds of priorities and if we’re not careful we just feel like we’re chasing today’s task — and before long you just are running in the wrong direction. So yeah, focus is a beautiful thing.

Gil Levonai:  

Yeah. I 100 percent agree.

Joe Hyland: 

I want to talk about the notion of being customer obsessed. So, from your background and just talking to you for half an hour, it seems like you very much want to stay close to the customer and what’s best for the persona, which is kind of great marketing. And you talked about your CEO wanting to talk to customers in the market before any code was written. But you guys have grown a lot, which is great. But sometimes that can be challenging to stay really close to the customer. How do you ensure that remains a north star, so to speak?

Gil Levonai:  

I think it’s in DNA. It’s a DNA thing in the company. Either you have it or you don’t. Yeah, we have it in our corporate values, we have “customer first.” But tons of companies have that, that’s not news. But really how accessible everybody is to the customer and how we’re pushing, really pushing, people to go interact with the customer. Don’t be shy. And we’re bringing people from all walks of the company — can be engineering, IT doesn’t matter where they are — to try and engage with customers if we’re having an event or whatever. And really taking an approach that it’s not that the customer is right, the customer is probably never right, but the customer has a voice. And just like you know, everybody in product management can tell you that you have to balance between what the customer is asking you and what you’re trying to educate them that that’s the better way to do it. Because your product is not in their mind and they don’t know that they can do things this way, so you need to educate them, but it’s, it’s a tango.

Gil Levonai:

You have to dance the tango with the customer and always listen to what they want. I think, you know, there’s this old saying that marketing is a combination of art and science. I think today’s marketers, I might be too much on the science side and forgetting about the art a little bit and the art is all about the customer. It’s the customer language, the customer and the way he thinks — we’re all customers. I keep giving my team examples from campaigns I see on tv. “Hey, this was a great campaign because why did I relate to that? Or why did I care about it? Why are these products made me think about something?” Whatever, you know, I’m stealing something which I wish I can have the right credit because I’ve forgotten — I heard it at a conference many years ago. Someone said it and then I keep using that since then, so apologies to ever said that back then — I don’t remember who said that.

Gil Levonai: 

But he said that there’s nothing B2C or B2B anymore. It’s all B2H. It’s all business-to-human. Okay. Because we all marketing just an individual at the end of the day. Someone needs to read a blog post, or needs to watch our video, or needs to make a decision on buying a product or needs to convince their boss to buy the product. It doesn’t matter. It’s a person. And that’s kind of the art of marketing that always was the marketing — and all of these — you talked about in this series about a little about the explosion of martech. All of this explosion of technologies, we shouldn’t forget that it’s only as good as what you put in it — and that is all about the customer.

Joe Hyland:

Yes. We call that people-to-people marketing like. I know it might sound a little hokey, but I couldn’t agree with you anymore. Like, you’re a person. I’m a person. There is an emotional element to even very rational business decision making, right? Who is, it? Indeed has a job search site has a really powerful advertising campaign right now. And of course they’re competing with LinkedIn and I think Monster, or Monster.com if they’re still a Massachusetts company. So, it’s a competitive space and they have this great ad on people needing to find jobs so they can be close to loved ones. There’s nothing data-oriented about it. And I watched the ad and I said that they were going to see that for the next six months because like, that’s a winner. Like I, I felt warm when I saw it. And that’s not a science — that’s art.

Gil Levonai:

Yes. And, and I think that’s kind of like what I see, when I talk to team members or colleagues, et cetera, and it’s always about — you can see who’s talking from a position of understanding their customers and who’s talking from a position like, “Oh, let’s run this campaign, et Cetera.” And anybody that is really understanding the customer more and taking the extra mile to read notes in Salesforce from the customer meetings, or whatever, or gets back to you on engagements on, “Hey, that’s how the customer talked about this or about that.” It’s, deeper, they will be more successful because of that.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you anymore. I think great marketing is — and it’s very easy to slip on this slippery slope — is always about your audience and it’s never about you. And it’s so easy to get that backwards. One of my first marketing jobs, I was working with a business development director who’s great at many things — and we were going to do an email to prospects. And long story short, it was, like, 2,000 words. I mean, it was like laughable. And I said to him, “I think this isn’t enough about our prospect.” And he said, “There’s so many great things we have to say about our product and I need this audience to understand it.” And I was like, “I think we’re missing the point. It’s not about us. What gets about their challenges?” And I think a lot of marketers miss that.

Gil Levonai:

Are you saying it’s hard? It’s hard because it’s not easy. It’s a message. It’s, you know, it’s much easier to speak about is hearing this kind of like a discussion with I’m here and then actually implementing that in the real world because you are trying to, in the market on your product, you are competing with all of these things happen. So it’s a constant thing that they need to be aware of.

Joe Hyland:   

Yeah, and it’s knowing your personas internally, right? You’re right, it’s easy for us to have this intellectual, macro discussion on great marketing. It’s, hard when the CEO comes to you and says pipelines down, like run five campaigns. You might not want to talk about the art of marketing right then. So, I even think internally there’s a skill set for marketers to make sure key constituents feel heard without necessarily letting other people run their programs for them.

Gil Levonai:

Yeah, totally agree.

Joe Hyland: 

So, we talked a lot about being customer obsessed. I’m curious to get your take on customer life cycle marketing or marketing more of the full customer experience. We of course, obviously, own the website and early stage prospecting. So the first message to a prospect or a prospective customer should be coming from marketing, but I think a lot of marketing departments, historically, once a deal was signed or someone moved from being a prospect to a customer, said, “Okay, we’re done. We’ll hand that over to the services group.” And I’m seeing more and more marketing groups and marketing leaders step up and own the customer relationship. How does that work at, at Zerto and what’s your take on marketers owning more of the customer journey?

Gil Levonai:  

So, at Zerto, we own the more traditional things with the inclusion of SDRs, we call them SDRs and ADRs, one for more targeted accounts, AMB 100 percent and the others are kind of like a mix of inbound and outbound. And we have a strong customer marketing team, which has a lot of the customer reference program and all that stuff. But we both know that’s not what you were asking about. So, we own all of that kind of demand Gen and all of that. But I think ABM is already kind of like a step towards what you’re talking about, because in ABM, especially in existing customers, you keep owning the engagement again and again with the customer. It’s basically a coordinated dance between your customer marketing people, your ADRs, in our case, and the account team because sometimes the account team is already kind of like getting some headways and they want to control the ratio or something or they are more removed and they say “Hey, you guys, go warm up the customer.”

So that’s in that sense. I think, overall, the key is going back to the partnership in this case. And also, of course, with support in this case, because we’re not a SaaS company, we’re an enterprise software company, so it’s not like the customers are — we don’t have a strong customer success team that is doing renewals and things like that when you happen to be very, very high, almost hundred percent, for us anyway. It’s more about maintaining the customer relationship and being there for the customer at the time of need, which is mostly our support and being partners with them and understanding what they need from us. But I would say, more so, with the safe is being there with the account teams understanding what do they need, what are they looking forward to educate the customer to get the customer up to the next level of usage of the product or to make the customer aware of new products or new offerings. Literally, a couple months ago we realized, as a team, both us and sales, that there’s one functionality that customers aren’t really using almost at all because they’re probably not aware of that.

Gil Levonai: 

And so, we’ve launched a campaign specifically with blog posts, et cetera and those people to raise awareness to that functionality in the product because we want them to use that. So I don’t think we own that, but I think you need to be in partnership with all the entities, which is normally customer success, support and the sales team to own that as a company. Making sure the customer gets what they need as a life cycle from everybody.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. And that goes back to the kind of core DNA element that you had talk about where you guys do, in fact, put the customer first, right? So, sounds like a coordinated effort between groups to ensure that that actually happens.

Gil Levonai:

Yeah, definitely. There’s, everybody’s always available for the customer and we all are there for that. So I think it’s easier in Zerto than maybe in other companies. I haven’t worked in other companies, necessarily, I have worked in a few but in Zerto you need to be customer-oriented because everybody’s customer-focused.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah, I think it’s pretty easy in life to complicate pretty simple things and that’s where I want to end today. None of this exists without the customer. So, I hope Zerto is not wholly unique in that mindset. I think you’re right, though, there’s a lot of companies that are so worried about growth of their own internal metrics and it’s easy to lose sight of the reason the company exists, which is solving a problem for someone.

Gil Levonai: 

Gil, thank you so much for the time. From rocket scientist to CMO. Pretty fascinating journey and thanks for sharing it with us.

Gil Levonai:  

Thank you very much for having me and let’s make sure that when we actually air this, we already have a 6th ring on Brady’s finger.

Joe Hyland: 

Okay. I love it. All right, thanks, Gil, have a great day.

Gil Levonai:  

Thanks man.

CMO Confessions Ep. 15: Rob Pinkerton of Morningstar

Hi folks and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly-ish podcast discussing all thing sales and marketing related. This week, we have Rob Pinkerton, CMO of Morningstar. I hope everyone had a restful holiday break and are ready to take on the new year.

Rob’s marketing career started in law as a U.S. Senate counsel. There, the technology side of policy and politics piqued Rob’s interest, and quickly moved on to a variety of technology companies (Siebel Systems, Lexis Nexis, Adobe) before moving onto a start up, HelloWallet, where he took on the role of CMO. Since then, Rob has seized the CMO title at Morningstar, a global investment research and management firm.

In this episode, Rob and I talk about the many paths one can take into B2B marketing along with what’s changed over the years and why acquiring and running technologies on the marketing side can be just so difficult.

If you’re interested in reading up on Rob’s career, you can find his LinkedIn profile here. If you’re interested in his insights and expertise, you can find his Twitter here.

Finally, as usual, 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.

Transcript

Joe Hyland:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. This week, we’re fortunate to have Rob Pinkerton, CMO of Morningstar and joining from the DC area. Rob, how you doing?

Rob Pinkerton:

Great. Thanks so much for having me.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, this is fantastic. I think your background is particularly interesting because you serve both consumer and business space and we’ll talk more about that. But you came into Morningstar through an acquisition in 2014 Morningstar acquired HelloWallet, where you had the same role. I’d love to get your take on what it was like, what I assume, running marketing at a smaller, scrappier organization to then going to running marketing on a global well-established, large enterprise company.

Rob Pinkerton:

Sure. Well, you don’t really appreciate how many resources you have in a big company until you’ve gone to work for a really small company and you have almost nothing. So, I’d say the first thing is that it made me appreciate for sure you just the wealth of opportunity and resources marketers have in larger companies. But at the same time and at that point in time, which was 2014, which, some things have changed — or 2015 — some things changed a bunch since then. I mean marketing is, it’s a pretty transformational role. It’s a role that’s just had more change in the last five years than the previous 50. So it doesn’t really matter if you’re working for a company with 50 people or 5,000 people or 50,000 people. Some of the challenges are very much the same. I mean we’re required to be a much more technically fluent. We have a lot more jobs than we did before this sort of explosion of mobile marketing technologies and our obligation to represent the customer is just considerably higher. And that didn’t change, to be honest, you just ended up having more resources to go to go deal with it.

Joe Hyland:

What was that a given? Give us a sense of scale, what was the size of the team at HelloWallet and what is the size of the team now?

Rob Pinkerton:

At HelloWallet, when we got acquired, it was a little over 20, it was small, but we’d also integrated a lot of different groups into marketing because we were, we had a very strong marketing approach to strategy. So, I mean it had UX and customer support or customer success all within the team, not just your kind of traditional marketing roles. At Morningstar, it’s about 140 plus globally.

Joe Hyland:

And resources certainly help with scale, don’t they?

Rob Pinkerton:

Yeah, I mean they also come with more expectations and there’s usually a reason you have them. Right. There’s more things you have to do some for sure.

Joe Hyland:

Okay, let’s dive into, to the path. One, you have more degrees than most folks I speak with. So I’m to know if you had a master plan when you were going through school. And, I guess, how’d you, how’d you wind up in marketing?

Rob Pinkerton:

Yeah, I mean, a law degree is not something you typically find with someone in marketing. But it sometimes feels that it really comes in handy these days with the level of a level of parties you have to negotiate with and the amount of complexity that we have to sort through as marketers. But no, my master plan changed, to be honest, I had intended to go work in politics and work in and be a public servant, which was great. But along that journey, I got involved with some of the technology, right. And some of the ones was this Microsoft antitrust case where the Netscape and explorer things … in the late nineties were sort of thrown into question in terms of monopoly power. And I spent a lot of time with those companies and started to realize the real opportunity in our lifetime to I thought to change, to do big things was going to be more through technology. So I did make a career change, got some training, went back to Carnegie Mellon and went out to California, which is really what led me more into product development and marketing.

Joe Hyland:

I remember Bill Gates having to go and in front of Congress and essentially explain what, explain what the Internet was. So yeah, I remember those days

Rob Pinkerton:

If you look closely at those pictures, I’m one of those young faces sitting in the center. That’s cool.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I would like to, we’ll talk about what’s changed — because I think you’re right, in the last five years we’ve seen a massive shift in terms of marketing — but it’s interesting to go back to Bill explaining the Internet to Congress. It Didn’t feel that different than when Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of Congress and it felt like a different discussion, but the same level of knowledge and understanding from senators and congressmen.

Rob Pinkerton:

Yeah. It’s the pace of change of technology. And then, you know, in particular in marketing, which was more what Mark was talking about than Bill. But it’s just phenomenal if you think about just changed year on year and not everyone can keep up. It’s not easy to do.

Joe Hyland:

It’s true. And that’s probably a kind explanation of the level of understanding by many people, but that’s not their jobs. Right. So that’s okay. Okay. So, a lot’s changed in the last, as you said, in the last five years. I got into marketing coming up on 20 years ago. So, and I think somewhat similar for you. Let’s have a discussion on what it was like to be a marketer then versus now. I mean, how do you think that the role of marketing has changed in the last 20 years, said differently.

Rob Pinkerton:

I’ll say 20 years ago I wasn’t a marketer, I was building software products for sales, marketing support, right? I was working more like enterprise software development and really back when I was at Adobe, which, and you see Adobe now is a dominant player, we’d figure it out there that the CMO is sort of this next huge wave of change. We’re really, I mean, you’d seen this with the sale was sales support, CEOs, CFOs, heads of HR, they’d really been transformed with technology and we thought that one was coming for the CMO and for marketing departments would just be even at a greater scale. And so because back then what marketers cared about was especially on the B2B side, it was events, it was advertising responding to RFPs. It was content development, all those sorts of things, but it wasn’t managing an experience.

Rob Pinkerton:

Right? And so what, I mean, so back then it seems sort of more of a tactical role that had a lot of creative potentials, right? If depending on if you were in the right industry or not, to one, that evolved to sort of this immersive customer experience driver. Where marketers had to both be creative, they had to be operational, they had to be, basically, today marketers are going to be software developers, right? I mean we don’t necessarily tell them that when they’re getting recruited, but that is what they are. I mean, you have to know how to measure, manage, develop all user experiences and you have to be very close to a strategy. So, for me, it’s become just a much more strategic role. It’s become a driver of the business and enabler of customers. And that’s partially why I switched over to it because it looked like that’s where all the action was.

Joe Hyland:

So when, when did the switch occur then?

Rob Pinkerton:

Oh, when I went to the startup at HelloWallet from Adobe. I mean, from Adobe to HelloWallet, there was an opportunity so — I wanted to go be a CMO, right? That’s all we talked about at Adobe how we go empower the next generation CMO? I was like, all right, well I’ll try to be one of those, which is also then what we’ve tried to do at Morningstar and it’s what everyone listening to this podcast is trying to do also, right? You got into the role because you want to go do something that you believe is bigger than what you know, it maybe once was.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s right. Something impactful. Well, there’s no better way to understand a persona than to actually take on the persona role. Right? So, good on you. I want to touch on customer experience a little later because I agree with everything you said. I think this is the future of marketing. It’s the present as well, but I mean, I think we’re only gonna lean deeper and deeper into this. I’m Morningstar is such a unique company because I think most marketers feel I’m in B2B I’m in consumer marketing, right? I’m one or the other and sometimes it’s easy to get pigeonholed, which I personally think is quite silly. But you guys serve two markets. I have my retirement account in Fidelity and my investments in Fidelity. So, I consume a lot of Morningstar research reports and make investments based off of it. But there’s also the business side where your marketing and selling, I think to financial advisors. So I’d love to hear about how you think of those two worlds and how your brain works and each of them.

Rob Pinkerton:

Yeah. And I think I would say that those two worlds are dramatically converging because of the expectations of B2B buyer. Historically B2B marketing didn’t have anything to do with using software products. Or using whatever they were buying — not just software products but whatever they’re buying, right? But now everyone’s a user. And so they’ve integrated — it used to be back in the day you just needed to get to the decision maker, procurement all the parties or go buy something and then a whole bunch of other people use it. But now everyone’s a user because of consumer marketing and consumer technology. They can do their own independent research. They want to know what the experience is like. So a lot of the discipline from B2C marketing is required in B2B marketing. But I think the bigger difference still remains the same, right? I mean consumer marketing is a volume based endeavor, but you need large scale numbers and fast throughput to reach so many different users. Whereas B2B, it’s a complex system, right? I mean it’s multi-buyer multi-product. You have to reach you have to navigate a complex system which appeals to different disciplines, and that still remains the same. But there’s a lot that folks were learning both ways because the funnel has basically blown up and people navigate the experience they want to and user experience drives everything.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s an interesting topic too, in and of itself as is the traditional marketing funnel I get. There’s different views on it. It sounds like you and I might share a similar view. I believe it’s a thing of the past and people consume information when they want to consume it. It might be completely out of order. We’re more of a traditional B2B model, a product demonstration online, for example, used to be, you know, final stage. Sometimes that’s the first thing people consume, right? I don’t think you can control it and I think a lot of people still hold to it. So, there’s different views there.

Rob Pinkerton:

Well, I think the funnel is still extremely useful for internal communications with stakeholders, with business partners, with the CFO and CEO and whoever you’re working with because marketers are always at risk of just seeming so flaky because they always want to say everything’s changing. Right? Here’s our interpreting the world this week, which has a negative effect on your ability to get things done in the business. The funnel still proves true in certain regards, right? I mean, awareness. You can’t, no one can buy your product if they don’t know it exists.

Rob Pinkerton:

You know, you still have to engage for impact. People still have to engage seven to nine times before they’re going to buy something. Like regardless of what order they do it in, and then you also have to transact and you have to do so in a way that’s consistent with everything else that you’ve just done and you have to retain. Right? You can’t skip the steps. Right? How you bring on a new customer or upsell a new customer, but it’s not something you can control anymore. Right. And that’s the part that is sometimes hard to communicate how it’s internally done you just can’t control it anymore. You can’t broker the entire buying experience. The customer is in charge.

Joe Hyland:

I think that’s well said. It’s like trying to explain multitouch attribution to someone, which you have to, as a marketer, to someone who doesn’t understand attribution, to begin with. Right.

Rob Pinkerton:

It’s not fun. It’s not easy. And then once you explain it and people buy it, then you actually have to do it.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. That’s even worse. Well, okay. So it sounds like there’s a lot about today’s marketing world that you love and are passionate about, which is great. You shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing if you didn’t feel that way. What about things that are frustrating and are kind of overplayed? What bugs you about, about the role or the space of marketing in general?

Rob Pinkerton:

Well, I would say this is one where I’m going to kind of sell out my old crowd on the technology side. It’s a lot harder to run the marketing technologies, right? And, and there’s a huge emphasis on buying technology and a huge effort across the entire organization, right? Not just to marketers, I mean the marketing technology firms or they’re selling into every corner of the business with promises of wonderful outcomes and great experiences and growth. And it takes a lot of time to learn how to use these technologies. You really have to know what you’re auditing, you really have to spend the time to train people. It’s not, I mean, marketers coming up are much more technical, right? But not everyone is. You have to, you oftentimes you have to retrain staff that you’ve had for a long time.

Rob Pinkerton:

All of these technologies are just one degree of abstraction away from basic computer science. I mean, there you’re learning. You’re basically doing if-then statements and loops and concatenation and I mean it’s a totally new skill that people have to develop and the position in the market seems to be a bit more like, hey, this stuff just makes it easy in some regards it makes it harder. And so it’s a big responsibility for marketers and it’s one that I just don’t feel like people talk about enough because a lot of the — and obviously you’re a technology company and you’re hosting this — because the technology companies want to enable marketers. But I think there’s, you know, there’s a big part of this is just like, “Hey, let’s make sure we’re ready for it. We’re embracing it full on.” Which is also good for certain businesses because if you’ve thought it through, you guys will do better and it’ll help a lot.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. The explosion of Martech is interesting. I had Scott Brinker on the show a few months ago and I think when he did his first martech vendor landscape, there were under a thousand companies, well, under a thousand companies under 200 companies. The latest one had 7,200 or 7,300. It’s out of control, truthfully. And the other comment is one, I don’t think there’s a silver bullet — no technology will solve anyone’s marketing and unless you don’t have marketing automation, you have no ability to communicate with people that’s different I suppose — and I think a lot of people complicate their marketing an organization by bringing in too many pieces of technology and if these things don’t work together, you’re screwed. Change management can be significant. Yeah. So there’s no silver bullet for any piece of tech that you can put in and hope that it’s going to be your marketing strategy.

Rob Pinkerton:

Right.

Joe Hyland:

The other thing I find interesting is, speaking of the tech landscape, is five or six years ago you’d have conversations with some marketers and they list a whole bunch of tactics and kind of that together made up their marketing strategy, which I think was flawed. I’m seeing the same thing now with, with technology. So, I have conversations with peers who they’ll just start describing their tech stack is their strategy and your technology is not your strategy.

Rob Pinkerton:

No, it’s not. And it can be really distracting to that. However you’re, if you really know what your strategy is and you understand how technology can be used, it can have a step level impact. Like the application of marketing technology in the right way can have a multistep level impact. I mean, it is powerful. That’s why people are addicted to it.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And they can help you hit an inflection point. It very, very, very much is required for scale. But yeah, you need to know what you’re doing. I’m actually scale’s an interesting one. How are you guys balancing scaling and increasing output with keeping an eye on quality and particularly with your brand? Your research is top notch. Your marketing needs to be. How do you, how do you look at those two paradigms?

Rob Pinkerton:

Yeah, I mean it’s not easy. It’s a perpetual tension because once you get something working everyone wants to do it. Right? So it takes focus and discipline to really know: do this, do this, get to a milestone and make sure it works, don’t no-scope creep before you go onto whatever the next one is. And I think the way that I’ve found, the only way to approach that as good hiring of leadership. Leadership is the number one quality I look for in marketers today because they have so many cross-functional responsibilities, so much prioritization that they have to do and they really have to be able to handle an organizational dynamic to communicate priorities, communicate what they’re not doing and to do so in a positive, progressive sort of way.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think the word no is important too, right? I think it’s equally as important to say what you’re not going to do as it is to say what you’re going to do. Focus is a beautiful thing in life. And um, I am. Marketers are central to so many parts of the organization now is a good thing. There’s a lotta, there’s a lot of inbound and you need to be careful that you’re not just trying to handle everything and, and execute on every tactic. Well you talked a lot about how marketers are changing the persona and the skill requirements are much more technical, but then you, you talked about leadership and being able to communicate and internally with many different stakeholders. The role of marketing has changed. Has the marketer itself changed in the last 10 years? Meaning, are you looking for a totally different set of skills now then perhaps you were a decade ago?

Rob Pinkerton:

I think it depends on the industry. You certainly can look across certain industries and see where marketers — I mean there are just more attractive industries for marketers. And certain industries have an adopted Martech and kind of new marketing skills, modern marketing skills more quickly. And I really think it depends on which industry you’re looking at because some don’t have — marketing is not as strong. And within those certain industries, every industry is required to make the change. So in certain parts of the investing industry marketing just hasn’t been a huge focus. And I see a lot of change in terms of skillsets. In fact, you look at the asset management industry right now and you’ll see new people and outside influences coming in. People from Pepsi or Buzzfeed or whatever are coming in to go run these big marketing operations, whereas before they just never were interested. So I think in certain industries there’s considerable change, but then in others, just more game on, right? They just more of the same and you have these sort of dynamic general manager type marketers playing multifunctional strategic roles.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Uh, and that goes back to your point on the BTC and B2B worlds kind of converging. I would say my comment would be five or 10 years ago, they were huge disparities in the quality of marketing from sector to sector and some are still ahead. Your example of asset management I think is a good one. Those laggards have caught up and you’re seeing a sophisticated marketing segment to segment. Which for me is really exciting.

Rob Pinkerton:

I think it’s good. Brings more customers in.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, it does. And it’s also — I feel like it requires marketers to just up their game, vertical to vertical.

Alright, Rob, well, listen, this was fantastic. We touched on a ton of really interesting points. I think the theme for me is really these converging worlds and think of how we act in the consumer space like ourselves and I feel like that’s changed our expectations of technology and just marketing in general. So net-net, it is an exciting time to be a marketer.

Rob Pinkerton:

Well, thanks for having me enjoyed it. Also enjoyed the product experience. It’s very user-friendly.

Joe Hyland:

Oh, cool. Thanks for saying that. This is fantastic, Rob. Thanks so much and thanks to everyone for tuning in.

CMO Confessions EP. 14: App Annie’s Geraldine Cruz

How can you get more from your marketing efforts? Join us at Webinar World 2019 and learn how you can craft a lean, mean marketing machine. 

Hello and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, our weekly-ish podcast discussing the latest trends, concerns and innovations in marketing and sales. This week, I had the privilege to talk with App Annie’s Senior Vice President of Global Marketing, Geraldine Cruz.

Geraldine started her career in marketing as an analyst for Gartner where, over the short course of six years, she worked her way up the ranks to Vice President. Since then, she’s provided her expertise at institutions like LexisNexis, Bill.com, Kanjoya and more.

At App Annie specifically, Geraldine extracts stories out of data, provides clarity to more than 15 offices across 13 different countries and identifies the company’s must-haves for going to market. If you’re at all curious about what it takes to organize and localize global content, this is the episode for you.

If you’re interested in reading up on Sydney’s career, you can find her LinkedIn profile here. If you’re interested in her musings and expertise, you can find her on Twitter here.

Finally, as usual, 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.

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 our San Francisco office is Geraldine Cruz, SVP of global marketing at App Annie. Geraldine, welcome.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Thanks, Joe. Nice to be here.

Joe Hyland:   

It’s fantastic having you here. I really appreciate you coming into the office.

Geraldine Cruz:

Yeah, me too.

Joe Hyland:

You should see this setup that we have today. It’s much more professional than our normal setup where we’re thousands of miles apart. Okay, cool. I’ll start with something that I sometimes ask our guests which is, how’d you get this gig? I’d love to hear about your path because I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all path to running global marketing and, and hearing your path. I think it will be particularly interesting for folks.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Sure. So the quick answer is I got this particular job from a recruiter, but the longer story is I starter at Gartner as an analyst back when SaaS was probably starting as an industry. And so back then I followed companies like Salesforce when they got off the ground and I helped other companies like HP, IBM and the like to develop strategies around going to market as a SaaS or as a vertical market player. And so I would do things like a forecast and other types of messaging for primarily marketers. And then after that, I thought about what I really liked doing and I liked the data, I like giving insights, but I really wanted to run a business. And so I’ve done a lot of different types of roles around product marketing at LexisNexis, Bill.com, running marketing organizations. That’s what I love to do, not just running with data or providing insights for other people — I want to leverage all of that for my own business.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. Um, that’s interesting. Uh, I liked the time at Gartner. What was it like? So was that right out of school? Was that literally your first job?

Geraldine Cruz:

Uh, it was my first official job. The first real job, a real job.

Joe Hyland:

I just say, what was it like, um, because ultimately you ended up being a strategist for, for marketers. Right. And that was one of the roles. What was that like having such a pretty big role? I think you were vice president at Gartner by the time you left and doing that when you had not actually practiced marketing yet. Right? Like in one way you were an expert on the other hand, as you said, you hadn’t actually run the strategy. Right.

Geraldine Cruz: 

That was actually one of those things that I had to grow into when I first started as an analyst. I literally was doing surveys and doing surveys of health care organizations, manufacturers and the like. So I really did a lot of grunt work. So there was, there was a lot of change and education for me over the six or seven years that I was at Gartner. And so it wasn’t immediate and I had to push myself in a lot of different ways. There were instances where I was with IBM and I really had to kind of step it up and just kind of swallow my fears and go for it. But I think along the way it was just a matter of being comfortable around data because that was my job. If I knew my data and my recommendations, well then that served me well.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I think that’s a good point though, that at some point you have to — anyone has to swallow certain fears and just deal with them, right? No one comes out of the room ready to command a room. So that’s anyway, that’s super interesting.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Yeah. I think about that every day, even in my current job. If you’re not afraid of something, then I think you’re a little too complacent.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. It’s interesting like on one hand, you want to love what you do. And I love marketing. I love what we do. I mean look at the conversation we’re having right now like we shouldn’t be getting paid to do this. Like this is too fun. This is one. I’m on the other hand. Yeah, I need, I don’t know, I need pressure. For me, things won’t get done unless there’s — whether it’s a healthy fear or like a pretty steep hill to climb — I think it’s fun. But also I think it produces great results.

Geraldine Cruz:  

Yeah, absolutely. It’s like taking a challenge to its endpoint. I love marketing and I love talking about it as well.

Joe Hyland:

All right, cool. Okay, let’s, let’s talk about marketing strategy and where strategy kind of meets execution. APP Annie, you guys are a global company and there are pretty diverse challenges and sets of expectations and unique circumstances to any market or any region. What’s your go-to-market strategy like from a global perspective?

Geraldine Cruz: 

Sure. I think from a global perspective, we try as best we can to be scalable for all of the geographic markets that we serve, where we are in 15 different countries, sorry, 13 different countries with 15 offices. And we serve customers in seven different languages. So a go to market strategy that takes into consideration cultures and, and different ways of doing business. There’s a lot of balance that’s involved. And so at a very high level, what we do is we define what our ICP is, what is that customer look like? Is it an enterprise company or is it a mid-market? And then we define how do we go after that. In some countries, like Japan, for example, it takes years to close a business. And so part of that is how do you define what that nurture flow is. And I don’t like to say nurture flow. It’s really how do you cultivate that relationship over that time period.

Geraldine Cruz: 

And so it’s balancing that with, okay, so how do we actually execute? So it’s not just about the strategy, but you know, what kinds of programs are we going to run, what kinds of campaigns and how do we make sure that all of the different assets that we run can be leveraged across as many of our different industries and also geographic markets as possible. That’s the hard part for us. It’s not necessarily easy to go to market in retail banking in the UK as well as the United States without some sort of customization. So, there’s a lot of thought given to how do we actually prioritize what we do and then make it local to that region.

Joe Hyland:

And so you said you have 15 offices or 15 or 13 offices — a lot. How many of those offices do you have marketers roughly? I don’t need an exact count, but…

Geraldine Cruz:

I think soon. Six. Okay. Six or seven.

Joe Hyland:

Okay. So, across most continents?

Geraldine Cruz:

Yes. With the exception of Africa, Antarctica.

Joe Hyland:

I was going to say I’m probably not a huge presence in Antarctica. Okay. And are they, are they primary primarily localization. Are you doing demand-gen locally versus having a centralized hub here in the US? What’s that look like?

Geraldine Cruz: 

Yeah. So our US team is comprised of our content generators as well as product marketing, creative website. And then we also have demand gen that’s focused on the Americas and our regional teams are primarily events, demand gen and localization, obviously.

Joe Hyland: 

Okay. Pretty similar to us. So we try to have like a shared surface hub, if you will, out of San Francisco and then we do localization events, demand-gen and we actually don’t have as many offices as you guys but we’re not too far behind. So you mentioned the, just the kind of off-the-cuff, example of Japan where a market that you really have to have an established presence and you need to have a local presence and it can take time. I’m curious what it’s because we have these challenges. You guys are a pretty fast-growing organization. How do you view a growing as quickly as humanly possible? Which is just the reality for most marketers but while ensuring that you grow the right way? Because we all have these short term deliverables even though we’re probably not necessarily responsible for revenue in marketing, a lot of that growth is coming from marketing, but we need to have a, I think, a longer term view. How do you, how do you look at quality versus immediate scale?

Geraldine Cruz: 

I think that’s always going to be a challenge, especially for — we’re a startup. We are more than a $50 million in revenue, actually much north of that, but at the same time, we have those goals of having hypergrowth. And so, on the one hand, we try to be strategic, but at the same time, we need to be opportunistic as well. So for us, we have a strategic plan every year, every quarter we review them, we review our results every quarter. But then there might be opportunities, for example, it can be in PR where somebody wants a quote based on a mobile app that’s growing fast. And so we’ll do a whole bunch of analysis to have a quote for that particular story. And so it takes a little bit of discipline.

Geraldine Cruz:

I mean the same with like MQLs. We, I’m sure that a lot of other companies have the same problem where we might generate a lead in a target account, but it’s not necessarily ready yet, but, you know, an SDR will go in and jump on it. I mean, it’s kinda hard to say, “You know, hang on just a second,” because there are times when an SDR does help cultivate that relationship and it goes on to be a closed won deal. So I think there’s always balance, as long as there’s some thought ahead of time, I think you can kind of counter some of that opportunistic to just jump on it right away.

Joe Hyland:

I know it’s hard. And actually, SDR is a good example because this will happen here. We have a sales development team, sounds like just like you guys do, and an example of going kind of out of traditional flow would be we have a webinar coming up, super successful, you know 500 to 1,000 people registered, we’re really excited and SDRs will, you know, the week of the webinar say, “Hey, I booked all these meetings based off of people who have registered.” And on one hand, it’s like, I don’t want to dissuade them from being proactive. Isn’t that great? And it sounds like some people actually were receptive to this call. That said, if I registered for an event and someone from sales called me about scheduling a sales call, I’d kind of say, “Well, let me consume your content first. Right?” So yeah, you kind of have to balance those two.

Geraldine Cruz:

Yeah, I think as marketers we are a little more critical of them. Perhaps it’s not that way for someone outside of marketing.

Joe Hyland:

Oh, we are. That’s where our spaces are pretty different. We are marketing to marketers. So I’m marketers tend to be pretty savvy at least to marketing. That’s a different challenge.

Joe Hyland:

So another thing I’m curious about, it sounds like your market is pretty rapidly shifting, right? Things move quickly. We talked about go to market strategy but, and you talked about reviewing results every quarter, even though you have a longer term strategy and a plan, how do you ensure that you guys are going to market in a real agile way so that marketing is just as dynamic as the market you’re going after? And probably at some point, it’s helpful to talk a little bit more about your space because I think the audience members would benefit from hearing about the market.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Sure. So just by way of background App Annie is a data as a service provider and so we provide mobile market data on apps throughout the world and what our customers do with our data is to use it to identify markets that they want to enter, identify what customers actually want in new features and apps or what kinds of marketing campaigns work. And also how are their apps or fairing relative to their competitors? And so the types of personas that we go after are marketers and product marketers, sorry, product managers and even investors. So how do we become agile? I would say that we have a certain level of…we have…let me back up: We want to answer the question in the way of how do you stay agile but at the same time stay true to your, your strategy. And we have a go to market strategy that focuses on those, those, um, personas that I mentioned and the specific industries because some industries are not as ripe for, for mobile market data as others. So we have like a core strategy. But then to be agile around that, we’re constantly, I’m trying to figure out which apps are actually a fairing well, what were the hot new apps. And so we also have a research team that goes in and identifies all of the new stories that we should be paying attention to interest on, that we can actually leverage for a content offer press as well as for our assets and webinars. And so there’s this constant digging into the market, digging into the data.

Joe Hyland:

Do you find this interesting? Is there, and this might not be the case, I’m curious, is there a little bit of a separation of church and state between the research arm versus the go to market arm or do they, do they sync quite well?

Geraldine Cruz:  

I think they see sink really well. The person who runs our insights and research team, Danielle Levitas, she’s done marketing before for App Annie. And so come at it from a very collaborative perspective because what her team unearths, those are the stories that we’re going to be pitching not only to the press but also to our own customers, prospects. Those are the stories that are going to be compelling because, in the end, marketing is about writing a story. And especially for a data company like us, it’s about what stories can we actually tell and what stories are going to be the most important for our customers.

Joe Hyland:  

Yeah. Got It. Okay. So yeah, so that research is probably a mission critical for your demand Gen.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Joe Hyland:

Is data, so. Okay. So, so you guys provide data as a service. Let’s talk about the data you guys use for your marketing. Is the research arm the kind of primary data driver and deliver for your campaigns? Or, how do you look at that?

Geraldine Cruz:  

So that it… I would say it’s more the content provider for assets. So for webinars and white papers and reports, but what we use from our, from our own data that’s, you know, from our own backend, Salesforce, CRM and Marketo. And so it’s capturing all of that on the back end and leveraging that to make decisions about what we go after. So the apps that we cover aren’t necessarily our potential customers. Some of them are, but not all of them. And so, I would say that our own data we don’t use for prospecting for example.

Joe Hyland: 

Got It. Okay. Got It. That’s helpful. Yeah. So for ON24, we have our industry benchmarks, for example, which is data on our platform. We anonymize and aggregate and then we use it for two things and we can talk about thought leadership. And the second one is just to kind of push out general advice and best practices to the market and — we truly want people to be delivering better webinar marketing. But then, part two, is it’s a great demand gen driver for us. So our best demand gen programs or marketing programs really stem from our best content. So we try to be really true with going to market with what we feel is content that people want and, oh, by the way, and when people want it we, we get better results on the sales side. Is Pretty similar content marketing to demand gen strategy for you guys or is it different?

Geraldine Cruz:  

I think it’s a little bit, a little bit different only in the sense that I’m, the primary consumers of our data aren’t necessarily trying to market, they’re trying to build features. And so I would say that they use our data for benchmarking against other apps and we actually are selling benchmarking data so that, an app publisher can actually determine whether or not I’m a competitive app or leading app has better downloads or higher usage. So, that’s actually what we sell and not just, you know, this is a demand gen tool. It’s, it’s what we offer.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. A little different from us in that. So yeah, you want to talk about being B2B to C? I’m curious, do you consider yourself a, B2B marketer a, B2B, or is the first one, B2B2C actually a definitive category?

Geraldine Cruz: 

So I would say App Annie itself is B2B2C. I’m a B2B marketer. I’ve marketed primarily to businesses my entire career. What I mean by App Annie Being B2B2C is that our customers are primarily brands, CPG, consumer packaged goods companies, and so, they have consumers as their customers. And so we offer data to help them market to their or build products for their customers. So that’s why I say B2B2C.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. And so for, and it sounds like you have concentrations, in, high concentrations in particular verticals or industries, right? Do you feel you have to become an expert in‚ you just mentioned CPG? Do you feel with your marketing, you guys have to be experts within the CPG space? Meaning, do you need to know their audience inside and out as a part of your marketing? Are you marketing to proctor and gamble?

Geraldine Cruz:

That’s actually a great question. And I think because our data is about their customers, we have to be smart about their customers. Because if we can’t demonstrate that we know about their customers that we can’t really demonstrate the value of our data. So, a lot of our insights are actually driven from the data that we have on retailers, customers or a brand’s customers.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. I suspected that. And this is one thing… this a shift I see in marketing and it’s just great marketing, but I think it’s easy to forget that. So I’m a quick story is I was visiting FitBit — a customer of ours — and someone on our accounts team asked if I would come and meet their head of demand gen. So anyway, great meeting, but midway through the meeting, we were talking about how ON24 helps technology companies. And finally, the head of demand gen turned to me and said, “Listen, I know that we’re a technology company, but we market to — in this case it was the team marketing to HR — so they, FitBit, actually has a team that goes and sells to businesses. And she respectfully said, “If you can’t tell me something really intelligent about marketing to HR, there’s really not a lot of value for me to be in the meeting.” She didn’t want to hear us talk about tech. She wanted us to know her audience. And I think like if you have an ICP go to market model, knowing your ideal customer profile and knowing segments, I think marketers have to step up and know the end user of their immediate audience. That’s a pretty big shift.

Geraldine Cruz: 

I think so. And quite frankly, I think a lot of the focus on the product, sometimes, is driven by the fact that — we’re in the tech market here. And, uh, it’s very much, I think, a function of the product orientation of a lot of startups or even companies that have been around for a long time. It’s let me tell you about our products and let me tell you about our features and even our benefits of our products but not necessarily how can I help you do what you need to do better or more efficiently or more intellectually. So I think that’s the missing part.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah. When I was in college, I was considering what, what to major in. Someone, one of my friends who is an economics major said, “Hey, let me draw a pretty simple supply and demand curve.” And she said, “Do you understand this?” I was 18 or 19? And I said, “Yeah, no, that makes sense, right?” And she said, “Okay, good. Well, because this is a core principle and fundamental of economics and some people just, it doesn’t resonate. And if you can’t understand this, don’t stay away from economics.” I think that for marketing is, and it’s so basic, you just said it, it’s never about you and it’s always about your audience and I don’t know if it happens more out here in Silicon Valley, but I see so many companies so eager to say why they’re so great — and that is just, it breaks the basic tenet and principle of marketing.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Yeah, it does. And, I think it’s, it’s. I would say that a lot of technology companies are not as advanced. I don’t want to say that they’re not advanced in their marketing, but it’s, I think that the product gets a lot more of the attention than the actual, “How do I sell the product? How do I position it in a way that’s really compelling to prospects and customers?” So I think it’s just a fundamental shift in basically the creators of those products.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah, I’ll say it differently. I think there are brilliant product architects here in San Francisco and the Bay Area. There’s a lot of shitty marketing. I mean, there really is a lot of bad marketing. Maybe that’s good for you and me, but I think there’s a dearth of excellent marketing out here.

Geraldine Cruz:

Yeah, and I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of, you know, highlighting all the, all the great features of these products without really thinking about how is someone going to use this? Or how, you know, what does this actually really mean? Why does it matter? So I’m, I’m guilty, guilty of it too.

Joe Hyland:   

Yeah. One of my first product marketing jobs, I had an amazing boss who every time I would write something, I’m his only comment would be why? Why does it matter? Why does it matter? And I remember writing this two-page brief at one point and they had said it like 30 times and he was like, “Why does that matter, Joe? You just listed amazing features.” Sure. I think there’s a benefit but what’s the difference? Right. So, yeah, that’s interesting. Okay. I guess I touched on some of it for me. We talked about what we love and marketing, what, what drives you insane?

Geraldine Cruz:

I would say, right now, deciphering the differences between marketing technology. I have a whole bunch of emails about why something is, is a great ABM platform, for example. I get a whole bunch of them all the time, but unless I really dig deep I don’t feel like I truly understand what the differences are between this and that platform. So I think that’s one of my big pet peeves about marketing right now.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a good one. For me, I think it’s interesting that marketers, or at least in the Bay Area, a lot of marketers, think technology will solve their marketing. I don’t know about you, technology, we both provide technology — but if you’re not careful, it can really complicate things. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a silver bullet.

Geraldine Cruz: 

No. In fact, oftentimes there’s so many, even for our own product, there are instances where people don’t use it. They don’t know how to use it, and so they never get value out of it. And so, I’d say that’s definitely real and there’s a lot of software that I haven’t used. And it just is so much easier for me to cut it out of the budget next year because I haven’t used it.

Joe Hyland: 

Yeah, I think that’s a good point where we’re trying. Again, neither of us are enormous companies, but we’re trying to trim down our martech stack, right? I’m not looking to have 30 or 40 pieces of technology. Having them all work together as complicated and you said it at the start with your time at Gartner and then what you love doing: technology is not a strategy. It’s kind of like when marketers talk about a whole bunch of tactics — like that’s not a strategy. Putting in an ABM platform isn’t going to solve your personalization strategy. Right?

Geraldine Cruz: 

Yeah. And it’s probably going to end up being more work for me because now it’s got to be GDPR compliant. And so going through the hassles of — not the hassles — I don’t want to say that because there is good in privacy, data protection, but there are more hurdles to face.

Joe Hyland:   

Tons more hurdles. Well, so let’s go out on GDPR because I can talk about this all day. I’m curious, what about it do you, without going through all the legislation, what about it do you think is good? And then we can get to where perhaps it’s, it’s too stringent

Geraldine Cruz: 

Oh Wow. We don’t have lawyers around.

Joe Hyland:        

I know, that’s why I’m saying we don’t need to go into implied consent and explicit consent. But what do you think is what is helping marketers? Because I feel like a lot of marketers have had an over-reliance on what we call click marketing is basically just blasting out 3 million people a week and said, “Cool. We’re all set for the program this week.” So I feel like some of it’s good, right?

Geraldine Cruz: 

Yeah, I think that protecting privacy is really important and in fact, Apple has a very white hat approach to privacy and so there’s a lot of good in that. And so GDPR I think has good intentions. I think the way it’s been executed, you know, we’re going to find obviously over the next couple of years, a lot of, perhaps, either loopholes or like places that are way too stringent. I think one of the areas that’s a little too stringent in my opinion, but this is just purely my opinion, not App Annie’s opinion. And that is, you know if you have a history of interactions with a customer, but don’t have explicit consent — as of May 25th or whenever that date was — officially you can’t communicate with them over email. And so I think that in and of itself is challenging. At least that’s legal guidance that we were provided. So there are elements of it that are just not pragmatic or you could tell that the intent to interact was already provided or it was implicitly provided, but because we don’t have that documentation then we can’t.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. It was interesting to see because we worked with a lot of our — it’s funny, I asked you the question, I was like, I don’t know about lawyers, now I’m talking I’m like, “Oh shit, I shouldn’t say this.” We weren’t setting guidance for our customers, but of course, there is data that’s captured in a Webinar, right? It’s a digital event. So we had to have a point of view. And it was really interesting, some with our customers, but also just I have a lot of friends in marketing — my wife works in marketing — it was interesting to see how different companies had a different read on the legislation. My sense was the larger the company, the more strict the interpretation was. Going back to having to really emphasize growth and scale, I feel like some smaller companies perhaps were a little more liberal with the interpretation. I think it will be a bit of a moving target over the next couple of years. And it was interesting. I could talk about this for an hour or two.

Geraldine Cruz: 

Yeah, I could too, I just remembered the painful months prior to May.

Joe Hyland:

Can you. Oh yeah, same. And by the way, total aside. I tend to not like being stuck in very heavy operations meetings like when we start going, when there’s a meeting with our marketing and sales ops to go through how data moves from Marketo to Salesforce or what fields will be captured, like I don’t know, it’s just not what I’m interested in. Yeah, so I had to endure literally months of this. It wasn’t fun, was it?

Geraldine Cruz:  

No, and you probably have, because you’re a vendor for us. So, we had to get a DPA from you. Yeah, that’s right. And so you probably had to like work through all of that with the customer communications and documentation that’s — I think that was the hard part for me.

Joe Hyland:

That part wasn’t as bad. The bad part for me was we probably had 30 or 40 meetings with our lawyers and outside counsel and there was just like nothing I would rather avoid than that. It’s just so boring, right? So

Geraldine Cruz:

Yeah, I guess the lawyers made off with GDPR.

Joe Hyland: 

That’s true. They very much did, as they do with any regulation. Well, listen, Geraldine, this has been fantastic. I think we’re pretty much past the bottom of the hour. Thank you again so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Geraldine Cruz: 

My pleasure

Joe Hyland:

Okay. This is fantastic. Thanks so much.

Geraldine Cruz:

Thanks.