CMO Confessions Ep 25. ParkMobile’s Jeff Perkins
Hello and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, our weekly podcast encapsulating what it means to be a marketing and sales leader in the B2B space today. I hope everyone’s enjoying the summer as much as possible and preparing for a great Q3.
On this week’s edition of CMO Confessions, we Have Jeff Perkins, CMO of ParkMobile and all-around nice guy. Jeff has an extensive background in marketing and a lot of great experiences to share. (One of which, I have to say, is being offered an extra million in marketing budget by finance — it’s great and in this interview.)
Jeff shows us what it means to be a leader in the marketing world by focusing on the elements that build up a great marketing program while simultaneously scoring quick wins. In this interview, he provides us with a slew of leadership examples any explains why would-be CMOs need to slow down and focus if they’re going to last longer than 18 months.
I know I say this every episode, but this is a great episode that really gets into the minutiae of marketing leadership. Give it a listen or read it through below.
If you’re interested in what else Jeff has to say about marketing, you can find his Twitter profile here. If you’re interested in his extensive 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
What Does Jeff Perkins Loathe About Marketing
The Science Behind (And the Benefits Of) An Effective Campaign
Why Marketing Leaders Need to be Transparent
Brand vs Demand Gen Engine (And How Jeff Got to Where He Is)
Why Marketing Leaders Need to be Able to Focus
Agile Velocity Marketing and Getting Shit Done
The Long and Short of Good Marketing Leaders
Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a B2B sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24 and joining me this week from the Greater Atlanta area is Jeff Perkins, CMO of ParkMobile. Jeff, how you doing?
Hey Joe. Good to be with you. I’m really nervous that I’m going to confess something I’m going to regret. So I’m going to kind of be careful here, very conservative in my answers. But, it’s a very intimidating name for a podcast or a webinar series, CMO Confessions.
That’s right. You better have some good dirt.
WHAT DOES JEFF PERKINS LOATHE ABOUT MARKETING?
Well, okay, good. You know what? I will start us off, I’ll put you in a compromising position. People always tell me what they love about marketing. Some of it I think is true; I am generally pretty trustworthy. But what I find really interesting is what really frustrates people. So what do you loathe about marketing? What just makes you like yawn or your eyes roll in terms of B2B marketing today?
Probably the thing that is most frustrating about marketing, is that everybody thinks they can do it. It’s a, you know, and I’ve been working in marketing since, you know, the mid-nineties. I feel like, say it’s a craft that I have been committed to and worked at throughout my entire career. And when people come in and they just say, “Hey, I want to change, I want to change this headline on the website,” or “I didn’t really like what you did there in that video” or, you know, “Hey, how about this idea, how about that idea?” It gets frustrating, you know, because, you know, no one’s going to the CFO and saying, you know, “I don’t really like how you’re managing the balance sheet there Mister CFO.” People don’t go to the developers that don’t know development and say, “Hey, I was looking at these lines of code and I think ya got it all wrong”. But, for some reason everybody goes to the marketing guy with the, you know, cause they have the absolute best idea that’s going to just change the world.
So that can be frustrating at times and makes our job a lot more challenging than some of our peers that are more specialized in their roles. But it also, it’s kind of what makes the job fun in a way. Marketing is very accessible and it’s very easy for me to go to an all-hands meeting and to show the latest video that we produced or to show a campaign that we’re working on that’s really cool. So, while it’s very frustrating that everybody gets to be a critic and everybody has the best idea, it’s also very fun when you’re able to showcase really good work. And when people see it they totally get what they’re looking at and they get excited about what the marketing team is doing.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND (AND THE BENEFITS OF) AN EFFECTIVE CAMPAIGN
Yeah. I’d say it’s the most relatable department. Right? And it’s true, I don’t walk up to our head of engineering and start handing out my methodology or recommendations for how he runs a SCRUM meeting, right? Like I don’t give a Jack Shit about that. So I’m pretty quiet. But everyone is marketed to, right? Everyone knows marketing because they’re on the other end of it.
I find what quells that or what stops it is when you actually break down the addressable market, who you’re going after and you throw in just a little bit of data and math. I kind of love ideas from any and all corners of the company. If you actually walk them through what the mathematical model is to build pipeline and grow the business you kind of don’t get as many random ideas.
Yeah, that’s true. And I often find that people are surprised by the science, right? There’s a perception that “Oh, it’s just all big ideas and it’s all whiteboarding and creativity.” And there is that, it’s not incorrect, there’s a real science to developing an effective campaign. There’s a real science developing effective messaging. And that’s the stuff a lot of times you don’t see if you’re just a layman looking at marketing from the outside and saying, “Well, I like that, I don’t like that.”
So yeah, I mean that’s always an important thing for me when I think about telling the marketing story to the company is to really share the data and share those insights. And especially when you’re talking to people who are in the departments that are most disconnected oftentimes from marketing like finance.
One thing that I’ve really tried to do in my career is a be a CFO-friendly CMO. Which is challenging at times, but you know, if you think about the CFO, and their perception of marketing, it’s all about overhead, it’s all about — I always joke, every CFO generally thinks all marketing does is just throw money in the fireplace. Right? And what I found is that, with the finance people, it’s not that they’re not willing to open the purse strings and to give you the investments, but it’s on you to go back to them and explain how that money’s being used and make the business case on why the company should invest and why the company should spend. And if you don’t do that, shame on you as the marketing team lead.
You can’t complain that you’re not getting enough money from the CEO or the CFO if you’re not testing and learning, if you’re not trying out new campaigns and trying to make a business case for greater investment. And I’ll tell you, it was interesting when I was at, one of the companies I was at was called PGI. We were so good at reporting back results on our marketing spend that the financing used to come to us sometimes at the end of the quarter and say, “Hey Jeff, there’s an extra million dollars in the budget that we thought we were going to spend it rather than putting it to the bottom line. What do you think about using that money to grow our business?” That’s really unique and that’s when you know you’ve won when the finance guys are actually coming to you asking you to spend more money because they see the value and they know it’s going to drive revenue for the company.
Literally the dream. I’ve never heard it actually so explicitly stated though. Yeah, when I first started in marketing, my boss said marketing is by definition a cost center. We’re a drag on the organization (it was kind of a depressing moment) we’re a drag on the organization, at least from a P&L and balance sheet standpoint. And, you know, we will never contribute. This was on the brand side. And we talk about a massive transformation in the last 20 years.
I also had someone in that same department say that’s not true like that we shouldn’t be viewed that way, but I think a lot of marketers felt that way and I think a lot of people in finance certainly felt that way. Yeah. and I think for most growth organizations now, there’s a reason that marketing’s getting an increasing share of wallet internally is, we’re kind of the tip of the spear for growth. And I know a lot of marketers who shy away from doing what you just said and they kind of don’t want to open up the books and attribute a dollar to revenue.
I think it’s a huge mistake if, I mean that is literally the dream what you said. If you can prove that there are green shoots in that x invested, turns into whatever the model is, two, three, four, five x, I mean that’s how marketers get more and more strategic in an organization, but it’s not easy to do.
WHY MARKETING LEADERS NEED TO BE TRANSPARENT
Yeah. Most executives in a company, whether you’re a CFO or CEO or a COO, they’re not going to accept trust the process, right? As a reason to get investment what they’re going to want to see are real results from what you’re doing. It’s interesting, you know, my last company was called QASymphony and I was at the company when it was just about a million ARR, so very small high-growth and we took it about 15 million and raised, you know, an ABC round, the last round being a $40 million round from Insight Venture Partners. But we were highly, highly scientific in our approach to marketing. And at the end, we were finding that for all of the closed/won deals that were coming in, about 85% were sourced by marketing programs.
And so that’s a great thing when you can go back to your executive team and say, “Hey, marketing is the driver and we know that because we track everything we do and we find that all of our best deals are coming through these three kinds of tactics and that they’re also engaging with us at other points in the funnel.”
If you set up your marketing org the right way and you set up your tech stack the right way and you’re focused on attribution, you will have a very good story to tell your executive team that should get you more investment in your marketing program over the long run.
Yeah, and I think transparency’s key there. When I was earlier in my career I was at a company called Kronos on the time management workforce management space. And one of our beliefs was that we needed to be quite careful with attribution to make sure there weren’t kind of false positives and we moved to a multitouch model, which we can talk about this topic for a while, and it’s almost like a religion, right? There are very strong beliefs and you kind of can’t have it all ways, but, because based off of what assumptions you put into the model, it can kind of skew things pretty dramatically.
Like does first touch own 50 or 60%, is it last touch? But at least it’s open and honest and clear and transparent, right? Like, so we’re trying to do the same thing here where there are no sacred cows and, I’m very, we are to a fault transparent and it starts a discussion. And, well I’m not quite at the point where you were at PGI where finances is asking to pour millions back into the business. We’ve had pretty steadily increasing budgets I think because we’ve proven that, you know, we’re very open and we’re getting good results. But I think it starts with transparency personally.
Yeah. And you know, attribution, to your point, can be very misleading in some cases, right? One example, when we looked at attribution was a, it showed us that, you know, search engine marketing for example, was not the most effective lead source. And when you looked at just the pure attribution, but if you actually looked at what was going on in the search engines, all the competitors were there. So if you were to say, “Hey, search engine marketing is not effective, we’re not going to invest there, you know, because it’s not driving the kind of revenue that we would expect based on the investment.”
That would be probably a bad decision because you’re surrendering the battlefield to your competitors because they’re going to stay there. And then there’s one less competitor that’s going to be bidding up terms. So they’re going to be paying less. So there are some things that you have to do in marketing that are sort of table stakes to just being competitive in the category. I don’t know anyone who works in, marketing yourselves, technology that would tell you that sponsoring Dreamforce is the best investment they make every year, but I think all of them still do it because they know that they kind of have to be there, right?
There are table stakes to competing in this very competitive category against all these other martech and sales tech vendors. So if you’re not there, you might just be missing out on that one deal that could come through from that show, or you’re just going to not be on the shortlist, for people that are planning an RFP because they didn’t see you at the show and they may assume that you’re no longer viable or you’re out of business.
Yeah. I think that’s a great point. For us when we, when we first built our model, and I’ll get off this topic quickly, but, we put, we heavily weighted first touch and like 50% or 60% of the score and we found that contents syndication was by far and away the most important thing we were doing. Cause we’re getting a lot of leads into the database through content syndication. Then we adjusted the model a quarter later and we realized at that time the content syndication was like kind of worst-performing channel.
So, you got to be a little careful with these models. It can, it can lead to some questionable conclusions. But what you just said about during forest, leads me to building a brand versus building a demand gen engine. Because I think it’s pretty common to think you’re doing one or the other if you, things in marketing are that black and white, right? In your example, there you could be doing both. You’ve built things from the ground up at a few organizations.
I’d love to hear your perspective on brand versus demand gen engine. and also coming from both the B2C side and the B2B side. So, I think your perspective will be unique here.
BRAND VS. DEMAND GEN ENGINE (AND HOW JEFF GOT TO WHERE HE IS)
Yeah. And I’ll talk a little bit about my background because I think where I came from in my career influences the way I look at these things. But I spent the first five years of my career working in advertising in New York City, at an agency called Saatchi and Saatchi, working in Procter & Gamble. So I kind of was, really schooled in classic brand management and classic brand building, very early on.
So I always look at, the brand kind of as, as being foundational to everything you do. So if you don’t have a reasonably strong brand, strong brand messaging, a strong brand proposition, strong competitive differentiation, all the lead gen programs you run, will not be nearly as effective as they could be. So that’s something I always encourage people [to do], especially as they’re starting a company.
It’s, you really have to build that foundation first. And once you have that foundation, everything you do, whether it’s your brand building or your lead gen program — all of them will accelerate if you have a strong foundation. And so, when I started at QASymphony, we were a very small company at the time, but one of the things we know is that our path to success would be competing with very big companies, very big enterprises like Hewlett Packard.
So we were going to head with Hewlett Packard and their software solution that was called Quality Center. And we, you know, if we were going to go talk to a large enterprise about enterprise software testing, we needed to have a brand that had real credibility. And so, one of the first things I did is we refine the brand message and we built a website that we felt was going to showcase us as a real enterprise brand.
And this is when we didn’t have big budgets to do this either. We felt getting the right brand position in the market as an enterprise testing tool was going to help everything we did going forward. And so we really focused on the brand probably first, before we spend a lot of time focusing on building that, that lead gen engine.
Once we had the kind of the brand foundational pieces built, then we started layering the lead gen pieces on it. And, and we found that was a very successful strategy for us and not. As I look at, companies that, that I joined, you know, one of the key things, I always look at it as, “Hey, let’s do a quick health check on the brand. Do we at least have a brand that is going to resonate in the market?”
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to pay agencies a ton of money to develop messaging and design, but you need to get it to a certain point where you can compete at a high level in the market and putting your brand up against the competitive brands in the category.
And then once you do that, like I said before the lead gen programs, I think will work a lot harder for you and everything you do, it’s really hard when you don’t build the brand in the beginning to then go back after the fact and have to redo it. That’s always been an important thing because you end up spending a lot of time and energy at a time when you should be generating leads and revenue into kind of like the unplugging and rewiring all the brand stuff that you probably should have done in the first place.
Yeah. Are you have to throw away what is maybe some good material but isn’t in line with the new branding that you’re going to come out with? Right. I get asked this question a lot: what’s your marketing strategy? And, I think your answer actually said it quite well. There is no one size fits all approach. Like when you’re on a smaller organization, particularly if you’re selling into the enterprise, you need to make sure that you are going to be commercially viable.
My last company was a startup that ended up being quite successful. But in the early days, the reason we weren’t getting deals, even though I thought we had a better product, as we were going against SAP and big banks. And ultimately these enterprises, we’re looking at a 50-person company saying, I don’t know if I’m going to stake my job on you guys.
WHY MARKETING LEADERS NEED TO BE ABLE TO FOCUS
And so, we put a ton into the brand to make us look bigger than we were. The website was so important. Demand Gen was act two when I got to ON24, we had an established brand. I don’t know if I thought it was perfect, but it was established, but it was our demand gen engine that was broken.
So I said, “All right, the brand is good enough right now, but you know, there are things we need to fix.” And yeah, I mean your marketing is just problem-solving, right? Each scenario is a different a unique one and you should not have a singular approach to how you go to market. Sounds kind of obvious, but I think, I don’t think it is.
No, I think you’re exactly right. Probably the most important thing that you can do as a marketing leader is focus, right? Because either so many problems in the organization and so many things that you can take on and so many challenges you have to overcome. But at the end of the day, you can do anything but you can’t do everything. You have to really focus on what’s most important to the business at any given time.
I always like to do this exercise, like it’s kind of fill in the blanks exercise, “We are not growing faster because of blank. We are losing customers because of blank.” And especially early on in a business focusing on filling in those blanks. That’s 100% of what you should spend your time on. So if you are not growing revenue because you have a weak brand focus on that.
If you are not growing revenue because you don’t have the lead gen engine to produce the opportunities you focus on that. So it’s all about what those blanks are. And that’s going to be different depending on the company you’re in, depending on the stage, depending on the funding.
Like you said before, there’s not a one size fits all solution to marketing. Even though a lot of probably CEOs would like that, there’s just not every company you look at has a different challenge, a different category, so it’s going to require different marketing solutions within that company to be successful.
I couldn’t agree anymore. I often tell our, my boss, our CEO that focuses our best friend. There are a million things we could be doing, but sometimes “no” is the most powerful word in our vernacular. Within our team — ON24 has about four to five hundred employees, we have 25 or 26 people in marketing. So mid-sized team. We develop, north stars, which are kind of the fill in the blanks for the two or three things we really want to influence. But we, we try to be agile and switch quarter to quarter — sometimes that can be a little frenetic.
My wife works at LinkedIn and when they set their — when an enterprise sets their strategy, it’s a big ship. It’s hard to move it right? So they have their annual strategy. If you’re smaller, go with it. You should be able to move quicker, be a little more dynamic. You don’t have to go through as many approval processes to get something done. and I don’t think you should be too rigid, but you gotta focus, you can’t have seven things that are the top priorities. They just won’t work.
AGILE VELOCITY MARKETING AND GETTING SHIT DONE
I’m a big fan of, I call it “velocity marketing,” where you’re, you know, you’re not taking too much time to do any one thing. And fortunately, I work at companies that are, where the size allows me to do that. You’re right, that when you’re at larger enterprises, a lot of times you have to be a lot more methodical and have a longer view sometimes when you’re thinking about your marketing programs.
But in the size of companies I’m working in, the biggest thing for us is that we want to drive results and we want to move the business. And, and these aren’t small moves, we want to grow the business double digits. We want to make meaningful shifts to help support business growth. So we think about what are all the things we can do to help drive that business and how can we try out as many of those things as possible.
So we had some ideas on, “Hey, let’s get more video content done.” So, in just a few months, we created like 59 videos that are now on our YouTube page and have different demos of the products. And those are the things that we did without spending a lot of money and without spending a lot of time — and we just did them very fast. Maybe they’re not the quality that you would want if you were at a bigger company.
But we really want to be fast and nimble and then get campaigns in the market and figure out what works and what doesn’t, so we can do more of what works and less than what doesn’t. So that’s kind of the approach we take here and I think is important for marketers. Early-stage companies, or companies that are on very fast growth trajectories, you have to keep figuring out what’s the next level you can pull to drive the maximum impact to the business.
When you’re an early-stage company, it’s grow or die, right? So like you just don’t have the luxury of telling your board like, “Sorry, this is our strategy for the next two quarters and I can’t deviate.” You won’t be running things for long. But it’s interesting as you were saying that I jotted down a note and I wrote scrappy and drive results.
Big companies want to do the exact same thing. I think it’s just like BS bureaucracy that gets in the way and there’s just more stakeholders in a larger organization. But I have a lot of friends who run marketing for pretty big organizations. And if they were sitting here, they would be screaming at us saying, “I want to do the exact same thing.” Like if I identify that we have a video problem, I want to, within a couple of months or a quarter, how many videos did you say you did?
Yeah. That’s amazing. When I got to ON24 we did not, and this is insane. And, if anyone listening goes through our website, they’ll find Jeff in one of these, we did not have any customer videos — ON24 had been around for 13 or 14 years. We had over a thousand customers. We had zero testimonial videos. None. No one, no one went on the record saying they loved ON24 and the first, like two or three quarters — we did not create 59, I’m a little embarrassed now, but it was like dozens. We went on a mission from God. You can get shit done. You just have to have a scrappier mindset. We call it 80, 20 here, like 80% sometimes needs to be good enough, that you’re going to move fast and then you test it, right? Maybe your video strategy was idiotic. Maybe it will work brilliantly well, you don’t know until you do it.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF GOOD MARKETING LEADERS
Exactly. And, but it’s interesting what you said about the enterprise marketers. One of the things I’ve noticed, especially in the last five to six years I’ve been at organizations where I’ve been brought in and there’ve been other marketers there alongside me and some senior-level marketers. And they haven’t lasted and they’ve kind of been in and out relatively quickly and they’ve done the classic 18-month stint and then they move on to the next thing.
What I found is interesting, with especially executive-level marketers today, is that they come in, they’re highly strategic. They know what to do and they know how to tackle some big problems, but they just take too damn long. And you know, in a lot of the stuff, it’s not bad that they’re taking a long time to do things that are really important, that require significant financial investments and that are really hard.
But then, the problem is, is that they’re not showing, wins along the way. And so what I always talk about, especially when I started job is as I have kind of like a, a quick win strategy where what I want to do is let me put some runs on the board as fast as I can. So I’m going to identify within my first hopefully week or the week of the job, here’s like five things I can do and I could probably get them done within my first month or two months at the company and I just go do them. Or, I figure out how to get them done. and what it does when people start to see you doing things, and start to see you producing output, it gives them a lot of confidence that, “Oh, we have the right marketing guy here. We hired the right person.”
Whereas if you go off in your own marketing world for six months, working on some, revamped martech stack that’s gonna reshape the way that we engage with customers over the next five years, people are gonna say, “What’s that person been doing? Like, I don’t know what that VP of marketing does here. We haven’t seen anything from him or her.” Whereas, if you’re just getting these quick wins early on, people were like “Jeff’s, just cranking out work. It’s amazing. We’re, we haven’t seen this much output from marketing in a long time. Let’s give him more stuff. Let’s give him more budget. Let’s give them more responsibility.”
And so, especially when you’re early on in your tenure at a company, I think putting runs on the board early and showing people that you can actually do things and get things done is so critical. Because when you do want to take on that really big project down the road and you want to revamp the whole customer journey and you want to invest in all this martech and hire some more people, they’ll have confidence that you can do that because you built kind of this reservoir of credibility through all these quick wins. So I think it’s something that a lot of marketers overlook is, is showing you can get stuff done quickly, to earn the respect to then do bigger things down the road.
Yeah, I think that is, honestly, not that it was hogwash the first 25 minutes, but that was, that’s brilliant advice. I, I’ve got a lot of great marketers on my team who one day will lead marketing and I’ll often tell them there are two things. One, you need to have the presence in the room to get the job, but it’s a totally different skill set than to actually do the job. And I think so many, and you mentioned 18 months, which is like the average tenure is often cited, the average tenure of a CMO.
And I think a lot of that is because they come in with big bold vision, which is great. You need to have that. but it doesn’t always get realized, which is okay, things change in 18 months, right. and get some traction, prove results.
It kind of goes back to what we said at the start like focus is a beautiful thing. Cool. Have the big macro vision but then say, okay, now micro — and part of this is your peers on the executive team and your boss, the CEO — tell them the journey that you’re going to take them on and then you’re right. Six months. And if you’ve got a lot of great results, maybe your big bold vision from six months earlier was full of shit and won’t come to come to a realization. That’s okay. Cause they see all the progress. Right. They see the 59 videos you got up on the website.
You mentioned trust the process earlier and everyone listening might not get the reference, but with Sam Hanky when he came in and totally went to revamp the 76ers in the NBA and had this five or six-year, pretty arduous journey. So like he got, he got 90% there and then the rug got pulled out from him and he’s no longer the GM and the Sixers are, are good with his, with his vision. Maybe if he had some wins along the way, he’d still have it. Yeah.
It was a tough thing he did that took guts. I’d recommend that every marketer or read his, I don’t know if you call it a manifesto or resignation letter or whatever it was that he put together, but it really was, spectacular in that he knew what had to be done and he, he went after it and executed his plan.
Unfortunately, in that industry, in the sports industry, you get rewarded a lot of times for immediate gratification and you get punished for the longer-term thinking. But, as a Sixers fan, I’m very happy where the team is right now and I’m hoping they continue to have a good run in the playoffs.
Oh, you’re a Sixers fan.
I was born outside of Philadelphia. some people call it southern New Jersey, but I always say I’m from Philly.
Okay. Mike Trout land.
Well, listen, I think, Jeff, I think there’s a perfect way to end we bored people for the last three minutes with our sports analogies and references. I really appreciate the time. I think it was a fantastic discussion. So, thank you for being on the show.
All right. Thanks for having me.