CMO Confessions Ep. 9: Jenn Steele of Madison Logic
Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions. This week, we talk shop with Madison Logic’s Jenn Steele, who, in my opinion, has one of the more unique backgrounds as CMO. Jenn started her career not as a marketer in marketing, but as the head of IT at a few law firms. After getting her MBA, Jenn shifted into the martech space and started marketing career at a small company named HubSpot. The rest, I guess, is history.
Over the years, Jenn has gained some fantastic insight — and, more importantly, perspective — on the state of the martech space. It seems we’re of the same opinion on a great deal of things, including “awards,” compensating for shortcomings why a lot of martech today just really needs to get a grip.
Finally, Jenn has shared with us an excellent book to dig into called “The New Leader’s 100 Action Plan,” by George Bradt. I’m looking forward to digging into this myself.
Finally, 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, and I want to welcome everyone to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions. The idea here being this is a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast that explores what it’s really like to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m pleased to have Jenn Steele, CMO for Madison Logic, hot off joining the company three weeks ago Jenn welcome to the show.
Jenn Steele: Thanks for having me.
Joe Hyland: Okay, so I haven’t said this thus far, and I said when we were talking earlier, I’m honest to a fault, and I read what I thought was the most brilliant line when I went on your LinkedIn page — opening line, so you now know what about to say, is, “I like big data and I cannot lie,” which one is a great reference to Sir Mix-A-Lot, I believe
Jenn Steele: Yes…
Joe Hyland: It was just fantastic. I think, too, it probably says a lot about you. Unless you’re just a really ironic person and you actually don’t like data whatsoever.
Jenn Steele: That would be wrong. Now, I’m obsessed with data. I have a degree in science and my first marketing role was at HubSpot, where what I heard literally every day was, “In God, we trust, all others bring data.” And so, for me, marketing has always been about data and I’ve even worked at a big data company, or multiple, ones actually, because you can count Bizible. So yeah, I cannot lie, I like big data.
Joe Hyland: Well, one, I find that refreshing. I talk to a lot of marketers who are forced into acting as if they love data and they don’t know what to do with data and they’re lost with data and, I don’t know, a lot of marketers didn’t come from a more of a science background and they get that that’s not necessarily core or natural to them — it’s not intuitive. And I think marketing has so wildly shifted in the last five or 10 years, which I think is really exciting and fun, to being more analytical. But have you come across other other marketers who struggle in this area?
Jenn Steele: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think anybody who started their marketing career before ten years ago — anybody who started their marketing career before about 2008-2009 — if anything, being analytical was exactly the opposite of what you needed, right? You needed to be creative or you needed to figure out how to make sales or, you know, you needed to drink scotch and be Mad Men. And that’s not usually the same personality if someone who’s like, “Oh give me Excel, I have a great relationship with Excel.”
Joe Hyland: Exactly.
Jenn Steele: But I always have the theory that you should hire to your weaknesses. So, for example, I am actually absolutely abysmal at design. I’m slightly colorblind, I’ve got a brother who’s a graphic designer who’s like, “Stay away, Jenn, just stay away.” And so I always try to make sure I’ve got somebody on my team that’s good at design or at least has an eye for it. Because, obviously, brand is a big deal. Well, okay, just like I have to hire somebody who has some visual aesthetic sense then if I’m a marketer without a big grasp of data, then I just hire for that. It’s not the end of the world.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I agree. Since we’re speaking of weaknesses, mine is, operationally, I just I fight anytime I have to sit in a salesforce meeting or we go through flowcharts our Venn diagrams. I just get bored. I hate it. I’m not sure if I’m weak at it or I just don’t have the attention span for it. Like, I’ve never actually sat through and been patient enough to determine that.
But yeah, for me, it’s really important to have operationally-sound people around me. If I just have creative types around me, you know, everything’s a brilliant whiteboard session and then we all go and never execute on it, right?
Jenn Steele: I can see that. Whereas, for me, I need to have ideas people around me because I am one of those just very driven people. And, okay, I will admit, I don’t love the detail, but I might kind of like flowcharts a little bit, but there are people who like detail. I’ll try to hire them when I can because I need them around me. But, if I left to my own devices, my marketing team will absolutely execute on absolutely everything and stay inside their little boxes because I need somebody who’s really an ideas person who can really push us to be wild and then it gets interesting.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I think people know where to fill-in based on their blind spots versus versus trying to force it. Well, if you’ve always been into data and, without looking at exactly when you started your career, I don’t think it’s been in the last five or six years, right? Talk about the shifting world, right? As you said, there’s another we didn’t really have data readily available to us. There was a lot of intuition and gut-marketing. When I started about 20 years ago, I remember my first boss said well we. I asked why we’re going to a certain trade show and I didn’t know enough to really ask the question on what kind of return did we get last year, I guess that’s what I was getting at.
But I was 22 and I had no idea that there was even such a thing as trying to measure ROI and the answer I got back was,” Well, if we don’t go to this event, people will think we’ve gone out of business.” And so that was our event strategy.
Jenn Steele: And that’s still people’s event strategy.
Joe Hyland: It’s true, isn’t it? Isn’t it insane? I guess you’re right, I have perhaps — and a lot of this is just pervasive and it hasn’t left the space — but, I don’t know, perhaps that is the logic that some people still hold — but there’s a shitload of data out there. So I’d love to hear from your perspective as as a self-proclaimed data nerd and junkie how your world has changed in the last 20 years in terms of analyzing like the ins and outs of marketing.
Jenn Steele: So I haven’t have the most traditional career path as a CMO. In fact, I had over a decade of Information Technology experience and I used to be more in the CIO realm. I ran I.T. departments at law firms.
Joe Hyland: Okay, I did I did not know this. Do tell, this is fascinating.
Jenn Steele: So that’s what I did shortly out of college because it was that time when anybody could trip and fall and get into technology. And I ended up in my late twenties being the head of IT departments at law firms.
Joe Hyland: Seriously?
Jenn Steele: Yeah, absolutely.
Joe Hyland: Wow.
Jenn Steele: Absolutely, I used to be able to recover an exchange server.
Joe Hyland: Okay, I don’t even know what that means, so there we go.
Jenn Steele: Email. But my first situation analyses — where you go in and you plan, etcetera — had more to do with servers and systems and Citrix than they had to do with clicks and click conversions. And I started getting really into social media.
Joe Hyland: Okay, and your singer still working in it at the time.
Jenn Steele: I was still in I.T. at the time. Actually, I picked up an MBA in there. Marketing classes were actually my worst classes.
Joe Hyland: Interesting, okay.
Jenn Steele: You call this CMO confessions, here we go.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. No, I like it. This is great.
Jenn Steele: And my MBA concentrated in leadership, specifically. I burned out of I.T. and law firms and I called up my career office and she’s like, “You got to talk to this, it’s a brand new company, it’s called HubSpot.”
Joe Hyland: Really?
Jenn Steele: And I was employee number 90 at HubSpot and they hired me, a former head of I.T., they hired me to be an inbound marketing consultant and tell hundreds of other marketers how to do inbound marketing.
Joe Hyland: Makes sense, makes sense given your experience at that time. Sure.
Jenn Steele: I can speak authoritatively about basically anything, it turns out.
Joe Hyland: Hey, you took a leadership class, so you were you were ready. You ready to tell someone in an authoritative tone what to do you just needed to figure out what it should be.
Jenn Steele: Absolutely. So, and obviously it was easy for me to rise into a management roles there and etcetera. But my first exposure to the data world — well, I started working at a company full of other MIT alums and that was very, very data-driven. But here we were evangelizing to SMBs. We were evangelizing the worth and value of data. So, I was talking to people who were in their 50s who had spent their entire lives in, shall I call it traditional marketing, right? You know, arts and crafts friends and brand and buzz and they were subject matter experts thing on everything. They just didn’t know this internet thing and they knew that they needed to deal with this internet thing. So my exposure to the big switch was more by being a change agent in the environment than it was by going through it myself.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, that must have been super exciting. What was it like early days at HubSpot? You’re creating a market, right? Did you even — I guess I’m asking a lot of questions and not letting you answer — did you even have the notion of inbound marketing at the time when you joined?
Jenn Steele: So, I mean, we made up the term.
Joe Hyland: Sure, I mean, early but you didn’t have it right at the start right?
Jenn Steele: When I started they were already using inbound marketing. It’s like shortly after I started the inbound marketing book came out. So they were using it, and nobody else had ever heard of the term, but we were certainly using it inside HubSpot. And, what was it? Get found using social media and blogs. I think that was one of the big taglines. Oh, Goole, social media and blogs that was it, right?
Joe Hyland: Yeah. I hear I think so many companies, not just marketers, but companies, point to — and I think it’s a dangerous thing to do — but will point to HubSpot as as the quintessential example of creating a category. So, now everyone wants to do it. Right? No, no one wants to be what they actually are. Everyone’s trying to create a category.
Jenn Steele: Seriously, and I’ve been hired at least three times to do that and I have convinced three different companies that it was dumb.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. Well, I think authenticity is so important and it’s perhaps difficult to tell when someone’s being authentic, but it’s really easy to tell when someone’s being inauthentic. Like, we can sniff out bullshit pretty quickly. And I think that’s what that’s what a lot of companies do with these category creation goals and initiatives. They try to create something that shouldn’t really exist and doesn’t exist in — it’s just from their own perspective. So so you’ve been successful in talking CEOs or companies out of doing that?
Jenn Steele: In some cases, yes.So, martech, when I left it — so I went from HubSpot to Amazon and I’ll call that leaving martech — martech when I left it had fewer than a thousand companies in the infamous landscape, right? I came back and I’m like, “What the hell happened while I was gone?”
Joe Hyland: It’s out of control.
Jenn Steele: It went from 500 to 5,000 and I was gone for, oh gosh, what was it? I was only gone for five or six years. I’m like, in six years, we got 10x the number of martech companies.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, well, I mean I live in the land of where they all exist. I’m in San Francisco, you bump into someone on the streets and the likelihood of them working for a martech company is quite high — doing things that don’t really make sense, truthfully.
Jenn Steele: So many of them are apps. They’re really, like, they’re features or they’re apps — they’re not products.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, or they’re not really meant to be standalone companies. And I’m not trying to call anyone out, but they raise money with the sole intent of being acquired within hopefully three or four years, right? That’s kind of a dangerous business model.
Jenn Steele: It is, it is although when most of the money these days is private rather than public I can almost see that as an okay exit exit strategy, but let’s just say that I’m not really attracted to that kind of company.
Joe Hyland: No, same. If you keep you can’t if you can’t explain the business model or how you make money or add value to your customers in 30 seconds, there’s probably a problem.
Jenn Steele: True, and that’s probably why half the martech companies sound exactly the same.
Joe Hyland: They do, right? They do. Well, so there’s the I mean, there’s only so many adjectives and descriptors for giving space, right? So, I mean like they’re like there’s a lot of Engagement overlap, I’ll tell you that much.
Jenn Steele: And we’re all like Lemmings. It’s like engagements the new thing. Oh, and now we’re all revenue marketers. Let’s all run over there. And now let’s make sure we write that on our website. I mean, it’s so frustrating to try to differentiate yourself. At my last company, bizible, we knew we were the best, we also knew that our competitors said the same damn thing we would every single damn time.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. Sadly, I will look at my own website, or our own website, and I can go to 10 other companies and it’s hard to tell the difference. I don’t think we’re copying anyone but you know, again, there’s just only so many descriptors out there and, before you know, it you’re not differentiated and you’re ultimately you’re all Lemmings — you’re just saying the exact same thing. It’s it is a crowded space.
Jenn Steele: It is and now I work at one of the 400 ABM platforms in the world.
Joe Hyland: So, I said this at the start, you started three weeks ago, right? You’re wrapping up week three.
Jenn Steele: Yes, this is the last day of week three I started August 6th or something, yeah.
Joe Hyland: I said this to you when we first spoke, but starting at a new company is exciting. One of the things I love most about marketing is just problem solving, right? That’s what I ultimately think marketing is. You have a thesis, you have a market, hopefully, and there is hopefully a challenge or a problem in that marketing — what’s the best way to align those those two or three things?
So I’m, in some ways, envious of what you’re going through right now just because I think intellectually it’s just exciting. Do you have a blueprint or a philosophy for how you started a new organization or if you look at everyone like a snowflake and it’s completely different
Jenn Steele: So, I should have a blueprint. Or, well, okay, I am developing more of a blueprint philosophy as I go.
Joe Hyland: But it gets dangerous because they’re all different — sorry to interject — every company is different, right? So I’ve seen people come in with a playbook and it’s like, “Dude, that may have worked somewhere else,” like it’s a different problem and it’s a different market.
Jenn Steele: Well, I mean a playbook — there was exactly one marketing thing that was paramount in my mind when I started at Madison Logic and that was, “I have to buy Bizible.” Data I have and not just because I loved the company and I came from Bizible, but because in my time at Bizible I realized there was no way on Earth I could execute, again, data-driven marketing without what I consider to be the best data platform for attribution in the world.
Joe Hyland: Sure.
Jenn Steele: I swear I’m not saying that just because I used to work there. But what I actually did is — I so I’ve tried, actually, several different executive onboarding methodologies — I’ve on-boarded as an executive in two different industries, now in two different very careers in both I.T. and in marketing. So I’ve tried the first 90 days, and, this time, I’ve tried the first hundred days playbook. I can send you the reference later, if you’d like it, and a lot of what they had is it’s not about my marketing plan is going to be X and Y and Z, it’s about what are my milestone dates? Who do I need to talk to before I start? What do I need to do before I come in? And how am I going to execute the sponge period, right? Where I have to basically sit there and listen to people and talk to them until my eyes glaze over and I’m exhausted every night because I’m just trying to onboard all of the information all at one time?
And, of course, for me, working at a New York company and being in Seattle that meant two weeks in New York and then back to Seattle.
Joe Hyland: So, this is your first week back in Seattle since you started, okay.
Jenn Steele: Yes, so and I spent about a quarter of my time in New Yorker. I’m going to but in luckily I’m from the east coast of the snow is not going to kill me. But, fundamentally, it’s all about, “What are what are the Milestones?” So, I went and I attempted to be a sponge and then, on the plane flight back on Friday, I started building a functional organization of what I thought a successful marketing team at Madison Logic would look like. And, then, I have spent a lot of this week trying to tell people to just hang on a second — because I have made the mistake of coming on board and not taking a moment to plan, but instead actually jumping in on all the problems. And, like you, I’m a big problem solver, it’s something I’m super passionate about and it’s something I’m trained to do and you can make an immediate impact. So, I’m, right now, trying to balance. Yes, I want to get some quick wins and solve some problems, but I can get buried in that and not do the really big important stuff and lay out a roadmap and lay out a budget in order to make sure that Madison Logic succeeds.
Because I don’t want to simply solve problems and solve them and solve them and solve them and make little incremental steps.I want to say, “Okay, we’re here, I want to 10x our revenue over the next 10 years. How do I get there?” And without without taking that time to plan — and I’m not a big, “let me take time and go think of something,” I am far more of a, “let’s just get it done” person. But without actually very consciously taking the time to plan I know that we’d actually move slower and not faster.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, and now how mature is the organization, one, and, two, how mature is the marketing team?
Jenn Steele: So Madison Logics actually been around for a while — 2005, I believe. It was acquired by private equity in 2016. And so it’s not it’s not a start-up. Yeah. It’s about a hundred and twenty people but, and what I love about it, is that we’ve got major presence in the enterprise. And, unlike most other martech companies that are trying to go from mid-market to Enterprise, we actually just put out a SaSS product to take us down into mid-market.
Joe Hyland: That’s cool.
Jenn Steele: So, I think that’s a huge amount of fun, because, of course, I’ve spent the last several jobs being like “Enterprise, enterprise, enterprise — I get it, I get it, I get it. That’s why you’ve hired me, yes. I’ve done it and here I am.” Instead, I’m like, “Okay I can start here and then mid-market,” it’s scalability and it’s a little bit more interesting, at least for me, to not try and be going after the same five decision-makers every other martech CMO is going after right now.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I know, it’s crowded.
Jenn Steele: It’s so crowded. The second part of your question was how mature is the marketing org? So, the marketing org is tiny. There’s only two people in there and really they’re just content creators. There’s three now, with me, and so I am effectively starting with the good content foundation and otherwise a blank slate. So it’s it’s fun.
Joe Hyland: It’s exciting. It’s interesting. So, I’ll compare it to when I started at my last company — it was a true startup — we had, trying to think of how many employees there were at the time, about 25 or 30 I forget the exact number employee that I was. When you have a HubSpot-like exit you remember the exact number, when you don’t you can round to within five.
Jenn Steele: I think I’m one of about 10 to 15 people who claim employee number 90. I heard that Kipp, HubSpot’s CMO, claims 90. I’m like, I remember when Kipp started — he was not number 90.
Joe Hyland: That’s funny. I had Kipp on our podcast a couple of months ago. I wish the order had been reversed so I could have asked him that. So, I yeah, I was whatever, 25th or 30th employee. So, we had no infrastructure. We had under a million dollars in revenue. We were the definition of get shit done. We had no choice we had six months of cash by design. So there was no like, “Joe take 90 days. Let’s have a grandiose marketing plan. Let’s do you know to to five-year planning.” Fuck that, there was none of that. It was, “How do we get more? We have a hundred people to the next webinar. Do you have an idea for how we get 500 people?” And that was like my first project.
And anyway, I say that because — and while we did get shit done, I remember, I don’t know, four or six weeks — and so a couple weeks from now for you, I looked at my marketing plan and it was all tactics. And I was disappointed in myself, right? I’d it was a slippery slope that I didn’t mean to slide down but because there so much change that needs to happen right then that I didn’t have the luxury of drawing out a real plan. So, I carved out about three hours a week. It was less than half a day, I remember it like it was yesterday, to just do planning. And I would just go off by myself, there was really no team, I had one other person. And I just did long-term planning. And then the other 60 or 70 hours a week were tactics, which were important to us at the time. When I started at ON24, we had been around since 2001. We were profitable, we had over a thousand customers. So, while there were things that I wanted to change immediately, there was already existing team in place like operations were already set up. So, instead, I had much more of a traditional onboarding. Which, for me helped, because I could put in the proper structure and foundation. But you don’t always get that luxury.
It would be interesting. I don’t know if I would do it differently at a startup. I don’t know if I would actually put in the proper foundation because I didn’t know what I didn’t know — it was an industry. Had I taken the time to put in a ninety or a hundred and eighty day plan, I think I probably would have changed anyway.
Jenn Steele: Well, I mean, any plan only last for me about as long as it takes me to present it, fix it and send it back out again, but realize I’m not taking forever to plan — I’ve got a draft of it right now that just has, “Okay here are big challenges, here’s the values of the marketing team should strive for etcetera,” but also, “and here’s the tactics for my next 18 months and I budget please.” And the answer for 2018. I’m pretty sure, is going to be “no” at least they let me buy Bizible. So, and in 2019, it’s going to be “we’ll talk about it.”
But I think that most of us end up somewhere in the middle between, and I also think that our definition of strategy versus tactics gets a little weird and funky sometimes, too. We throw around the words a lot and it’s like, “Well is strategy just a bundle of tactics or is it just a problem statement you’re trying to solve or what is that again?”
You know, we’re all so fuzzy on what the word “strategy” means that I can claim to be strategic, I’m still not sure exactly what it is.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I appreciate the honesty. I also like the fact that tactic for some reason has become a four-letter word for many marketers, right?
Jenn Steele: It’s just a tactic.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I mean that is kind of like everything we do ultimately is a tactic, right? That’s what you and I are doing right now. “Oh we just want to be strategic,” like I don’t actually want to talk on a podcast, right? No, that’s tactical.
Jenn Steele: Yeah.
Joe Hyland: So, you started after your —first of all that’s amazing, I’ve spoken to no one who’s had such a major career shift before they turn 30.
Jenn Steele: Well, that was not before I turned 30 just so … I spent over a decade in I.T. and I did graduate from college so you can do some math there.
Joe Hyland: Okay, so you didn’t start an it when you were 14, got it. Okay, well, so you started in marketing and martech. I did not. I had about 15 years in marketing before my first job in martech and I was really excited. I thought, man, marketing to marketers will be amazing, which it is. I love that part of the job. What I…to say, I hate it would be too strong of a word… I strongly dislike this quid pro quo nature that exists amongst many, many marketers where it’s just a whole bunch of people buying each other’s technology versus actually trying to solve a problem and help accomplish something.
Jenn Steele: I mean, what do you mean, Madison Logic is ON24 customer, are you not a Madison Logic customer?
Joe Hyland: Exactly, we should work on that. Did I say I hate it? I meant I love it.
Jenn Steele: Okay. There we go. I’m with you. I’m like, do we only sell to martech companies.
Joe Hyland: Its feels yeah, it feels like a bit of an echo chamber and its really and for you with Madison Logic — I don’t think it’s as bad in New York. I mean, it’s a real problem in San Francisco where you’re really just not talking to other martech providers. I don’t actually think that’s a way to build a winning business. So, you’ve only been at Madison Logic for three weeks, and it was a long time ago that you were at HubSpot, I’d be curious to get your perspective on how B2B Marketing in the martech space has changed in the last decade there.
Jenn Steele: Remember, I did go from Bizible to Madison logic. So, I have spent the last year in martech. I think I was telling you before the podcast that I was actually really relieved to get back into martech. Like, it’s a really fun space to me — marketing to marketers.
I’m a no-bullshit person and that I love the fact that like we just have to be honest with each other because we’re probably going to hire each other for our next jobs or something like that, right? Or we’re gonna help each other get to quota or whatever that is, or I’m going to copy your wet messaging not saying that I’m actually going to do that, but somebody will someday.
I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten what question you asked me.
Joe Hyland: Yes. It’s what it’s like being in martech. So, you’re right. You and I, probably more so than most people, we try to be brutally honest — we have been in this half an hour. I don’t think marketers in martech are, I think there’s a lot of bullshit just being served up to each other.
Jenn Steele: My favorite is the list that we keep giving each other awards.
Joe Hyland: Yes.
Jenn Steele: Yes, and I haven’t managed to find my way onto any of those listed. I’m not sure whether I should be relieved or offended.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, well it means you’re not paying someone enough money.
Jenn Steele: Oh, darn, so that’s the problem.
Joe Hyland: Someone who used to work for me got on a 30-under-30 or 40-under-40 list by one of our vendors who we paid the most — it was vendor we paid a lot of money to. And it was really nice for him and I was happy for this guy, but it was like, “Man, this is so silly. Do people really see what’s happening here?”
Jenn Steele: Oh, yeah, it’s like nominations are open for this and that and next thing. It’s like the 43 people who are “blah.” I’ll bet you a quarter it’s all 43 people who got nominated and I’ll bet at least 20 of those are prospects and the other 23 are customers.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. So, what’s exciting for me and what I love is I can get on the phone with someone like you and just geek out on marketing. I love that. In my last space we sold to procurement and treasury — and while I was capable of talking about financial arbitrage and working capital, it wasn’t exactly something I was passionate about, right? That was work for me.
We’re talking marketing, which is not. That part of it I love — I could just do without some of the veneer that exist within the space, I guess.
Jenn Steele: We do. Yeah, we believe a lot of our own BS.
Joe Hyland: Yeah. I know. I think it’s dangerous when you start reading your own press clipping, so.
Okay, cool. Well, this just felt like it was five minutes. We’re at the were bottom of the hour.
Jenn Steele: Yeah,
Joe Hyland: I know Superfast right? Well, this has been amazing. I am excited to hear what happens in week four for you at Madison Logic. So, please, please, keep us in the loop. I would love it. If you sent if you don’t mind sending me the first hundred day playbook. I’ll include it below the this recording so people can check it out and I haven’t actually seen it myself. So I’d love to see it as well.
Jenn Steele: Absolutely will do.
Joe Hyland: Awesome, Jenn. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Jenn Steele: Thanks for having me. This was fun.