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CMO Confessions Ep. 43: Steve Daheb of ON24

June 3rd, 2021

Hello and welcome to the latest episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with marketing and sales’ top leaders. Today’s CMO Confessions features Steve Daheb, Chief Marketing Officer at ON24.

In this episode, Steve and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss his career, pet peeves and the challenge of marketing to marketers.

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

You can learn more about Steve and his background by viewing his LinkedIn page here and Twitter here.

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

Welcome to another CMO Confessions podcast!

Table of Contents:

A Background in Tech
A DIY Marketing Degree
The Crappy Creative Pet Peeve
The Challenge of Marketing to Marketers
Bridging the Marketing and Sales Divide
Bringing B2C to B2B

Cheri Keith:

Hello, and welcome to CMO Confessions, the B2B marketing and sales podcast where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s world. I’m Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24. This is a special episode for you today. Today, I’m joined by Steve Daheb, CMO at ON24 and full disclosure, my boss. So, we’re all going to be on our best behavior today. Steve, thanks so much for coming on.

Steve Daheb:

Thank you. I’m Steve Daheb and it’s been about 40 years since my last confession so I’m excited.

Cheri Keith:

I was going to save that for the last question, but I guess we’re starting there!

Steve Daheb:

Yeah, I didn’t even know. We definitely did not plan for this.

A Background in Tech

Cheri Keith:

Awesome. All right. Well, I love to start these interviews by asking about what brought you to where you are today. What’s exciting you about marketing? Obviously, you joined ON24 because of the amazing team. We can certainly check that off the list.

Steve Daheb:

A hundred percent.

Cheri Keith:

What brought you here?

Steve Daheb:

For me, it’s an exciting opportunity. I’ve been a marketer for God, I hate to say it, over 25 years now, but born and raised in the Bay area. Son of immigrants. My dad was working at IBM back in the late 1960s and they said, “Hey, there’s this group that we’re forming. It’s going to be called a personal computer division.” That’s sort of how the family got into technology. My dad started working in that early on and was what they used to call a director of information systems and head of IT. Eventually he was a CIO. So, I sort of grew up around it and watched as Highway 101 between San Francisco and San Jose just grew with all sorts of amazing technology companies.

I was a local boy. I went to the University of California at Davis and I had a dual degree in psychology and art studio, believe it or not. And I had a dad who was like, “What are you going to do with that?” And what I did was I graduated in four years because I was on the clock and I found a job in the Valley and it was like early technology. It was like an early networking company. And I basically got a job in manufacturing where they put together this makeshift cube where they will assemble these networking parts. And my job was to count all the components that went into making this product.

It was funny too, because I thought, “Hey, my first real job.” I went to a three-day suit broker and spent $99 on three suits that I rotated. And that was sort of what I showed up in and now I know why everybody was sort of making fun of me. But I got put on a core team, which is a product launch team as the manufacturing representative. And I thought, “Man, I need to know everything about the product and the market and who we’re competing with.” It was about learning and understanding everything. At some point they were like, “Dude, we’re transferring you over to the marketing department.” I wound up learning more about the products than the product marketing guys who were there. And that’s what got me in my career and marketing, primarily product marketing. And since then I’ve been at big companies, small companies, early days of internet security, enterprise apps, and cloud apps. Everything I’ve done led me to this opportunity here at ON24.

A DIY Marketing Degree

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. We need to dive into the art and psychology part of that because those are the two parts of marketing. I mean, you created a marketing degree without realizing it. And this is coming from someone who majored in French language and literature in college, so you can definitely follow the progress there. But did that impact your career? Did you not realize you were interested in marketing, but actually you were interested in marketing then?

Steve Daheb:

I think so. Looking back, I don’t know if I’m sort of reverse engineering a narrative or if it’s nature nurture. The other thing I did in my early days is I went to law school. So, I actually have a law degree as well, but I think it was a fusion of all these things. It was interesting because I excelled at things like moot court where you would go in and it would be like a mock trial. And part of it is you have to be able to persuade people of a particular point. You have to come with the credentials and the proof point. You have to anticipate how somebody might counter that. And then in turn, how do I counter that as well?

And that’s a lot of what marketing is too. How do I sort of message something to the market? What are the key sort of value prop or selling points? How might a competitor respond? How do I respond to that? I think that’s sort of a big piece of just who I am. And I think the psychology is really important because today more than ever, you really do have to understand what people care about. What matters the most to people you target? And I think we sort of lose that with the spam and direct mailing and things like that where you’re sort of missing the deeper understanding of the person. And I think that’s something that’s really important. And then with the art degree, I was always the artist in the class. I was always drawing stuff or doing posters for a school dance or drawing in a yearbook. I got smart enough in college where I learned how to do silk screen shirts and other things, and I would sell them to earn extra cash.

I’m very visual as well and so for me, I think the writing has to be compelling. The messaging has to be very engaging, but to the point. But I also think visually it has to look good. It has to be appealing. So, I always try to make sure things have a nice visual appeal to them. And that’s personally what I respond to and what I engage with and when it doesn’t look good, I kind of feel distracted by it. So, I think it’s all those things that have sort of made me pretty much, I think sort of an [blip] marketing person. I love brands. I love messaging. I love the thinking around go-to-market strategy. What’s the segmentation? Who are our targeted buyers? What’s the messaging and value prop? How do you execute that through sales and demand? So yeah, it’s sort of all those things that factor into different elements of being a CMO and helping to drive a go-to-market strategy for a company.

The Crappy Creative Pet Peeve

Cheri Keith:

Well, that’s really interesting. You started to dig into some of your pet peeves there. Do you want to expand on that a bit, other than probably not putting crappy looking creative in front of you?

Steve Daheb:

My team knows if I see bad creative or bad slides, even for things like internal reviews. It’s like, “Look, it’s just easier to consume, right?” So, I always sort of think about that and I’ll spend time tinkering with things just to sort of get it right like somebody working with clay. I can sort of just get the details right and remove things that are unnecessary and maybe distract from the story.

But pet peeves from a marketing perspective, I just think it’s more an opportunity. I definitely get marketed to a lot. I think the things I respond to are people who tap into things I care about as a CMO and I think most CMOs today understand that it’s about the business. It’s about supporting sales. I don’t know too many marketers today who sort of do victory laps because they hit a top-of-funnel metric.

It’s really about how are we performing all the way through? Are we converting? How does our business look? And how’s marketing contributing to that? And so things that appeal to me are messaging based on that. I respond to ROI metrics where maybe there are certain platforms that help with the reach, that helped drive pipeline and that happen to maybe accelerate progression through pipeline, et cetera. So, some of those things are the ones I’ll actually stop and read and maybe forward on. A compelling case study that’s relevant to me with some good ROI data is something that I’ll stop and read.

The Challenge of Marketing to Marketers

Cheri Keith:

Hmm. Well, that’s interesting because in your career before, what’s interesting about the ON24 challenge is you’re marketing to marketers. I feel like, kind of to your point about when someone markets to you, that issue is that as marketers, we all have a very high bar when it comes to it because it’s one of those things like salespeople have trouble being sold to. Marketers have trouble being marketed to. So you’ve actually undertaken an interesting challenge of marketing to marketers now, rather than IT. Anything there?

Steve Daheb:

Yeah, it’s probably the best job I’ve ever had because I grew up in technology. It’s like, “Okay, let me market a hub or switch. Or how do I make a database sound really interesting? Or this and that.” But for me, it was always about the why. What was the use case? What were we enabling? What was the bigger story we could tell around that? So, the underlying technology might’ve been the how, but what’s the real impact we’re having on business or people? So, it’s all those things. If it’s insights into how we can improve healthcare? Or how do we enable manufacturers to engage? Or just things like that. I think starting with the why and having really compelling stories is something I’ve sort of always done.

ON24 is exciting. It is marketers talking to marketers and I can relate. I’ve been a four-time public company CMO now. I’ve been at big companies, some of the biggest in the world. I’ve been at startups and everywhere in the middle and so I think I can relate to most marketers. So, it’s fun to talk with CMOs and to understand their challenges and walk through what we’re seeing as best practices.

I think one of the really interesting things about being here is we have a who’s who of customers. And I find that they’re only limited by their imagination in terms of how they’re using our platform, how they’re engaging with prospects, and what are the different hooks to get them to stay or to convert or to spend time. And so, part of that is some of my own thinking on go-to-market that I could share and success I’ve seen. And I think where you do a lot of this is being able to sort of share what’s working and what are best practices. And so, for me, that’s just a dream to sort of have that marketer to marketer talk because I’ve been there and done that in every way possible. And I continue to learn from each one of the discussions as well. So, I’m still learning.

Bridging the Marketing and Sales Divide

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. Marketing to marketers is fun. But also, like therapizing with marketers is a lot of fun too, because you’re right. The limit really is usually only budget and the imagination when it comes down to it for marketers. We’re not confined to the internal IT systems. It’s really about, “Alright, what can we do to really go crazy when it comes to an audience? What can we do to really take an experience to the next level?” But that’s why the bar is higher, but you can really do some fun things with it.

I want to go back to a point because you brought up sales before. And one of the very belabored points, I will say, in B2B is the relationship between sales and marketing. You had started to talk about some tips for dealing with sales. Do you want to talk about that a little bit more? How you bridge the divide? I think you started to go down the path about marketing as more accountable to the business than before, but what’s your tip to other marketing leaders?

Steve Daheb:

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I view it as a single integrated team. That’s how I’ve operated for a while now, at least the last decade plus. I think my closest partners, whether it was at Oracle or Citrix before that or others, were the sales team. Part of it is understanding, “Okay, we’re in this together.” There’s always a short term as well as horizon investments. So marketing is always a mix. But we understand there are certain business outcomes we need to help drive today. And so how do we work backwards from that? Like what are the sales plays and motions? What can we do from enablement support? From a sales play development? From a demand execution to ensure we’re aligned with what those motions are? And those motions could be by industry as you get closer to the customer. They could be more prescriptive by use case or by product. Maybe you’re taking more of a solution platform approach and so that’s what it’s about.

I’ll tell you one of the best things that ever happened to me was with Oracle. Half of my compensation was tied to bookings. It was very straightforward, and I think there should actually be more of that. I mean, we’re sort of in it together. And so that’s really the approach I take. Again, I don’t think you can have marketing success when you’re not having business success. It’s just an open conversation too. I think once you get to that level, you can look at things and understand, “Okay, is it a top of the funnel issue? Are we having problems with converting? And if it’s converting, what is it? Is it an enablement issue? Is it a product issue? Is it that we didn’t go after the right prospects?”

You can have these really open discussions about the root cause and how to solve it. And it’s usually not one issue it’s going to be multiple issues. But when you take that approach you’re not like, “Oh, well, yeah, marketing did their job. These guys don’t know how to sell or they’re not doing their job.” That doesn’t do anybody good. And I think those lines between sales and marketing are really blurring today now more than ever, especially when you look at cloud-based SAS models. It’s where does marketing stop and sales begin in a lot of cases. So yeah, I think you jointly own the number. You work backwards from there. You build a model, so you understand what’s accepted or what’s expected for each stage of that pipeline funnel. But I think you own it all together and you work closely together to make it work.

Cheri Keith:

That’s great. I think the key takeaway there for the audience for sure is that it’s easy to problem-solve if you’re approaching it from the team perspective. Because otherwise it’s an endless cycle of finger pointing and that usually doesn’t end up with anyone feeling good or, to your point, getting their compensation. But compensation definitely can influence behaviors strongly. So that was not a good idea from Oracle.

Steve Daheb:

Yeah, exactly. It sort of reinforced lessons I’ve learned throughout my career. The sales relationship is a really important one. And some of the heads of marketing and sales that I’ve worked for are like my best friends in the world because we were in it together and forged those relationships. And now we text each other about, “Hey, are you going to watch the Winter Soldier Falcon episode two coming out?” But those relationships happen because you’re in it together.

Bringing B2C to B2B

Cheri Keith:

That’s great. So now I want to shift gears kind of, cause you started to bring up something that’s outside of work there, but you have a unique perspective like I do with children who are interacting with the B2C world and social media, digital media and video games. Is there anything that you see in that kind of consumer or game world that you think should influence B2B?

Steve Daheb:

I do. Well first I do need help. This is a call to help for anybody listening. I have three boys and all they do is either play video games or they’re watching videos of people playing video games, which I still don’t quite get. Or they’re in their three individual rooms, but they’re playing each other online. So, I’m still trying to figure that whole thing out. So, if people can submit any sort of answers, that’d be great. I don’t know if we can capture that.

I do think when you look at consumer worlds or what’s happened in our personal lives. I think these platforms have allowed us to engage in ways we couldn’t before. We can connect with people in different ways. We could rekindle connections. It’s just interesting to think about that.

A lot of these platforms in the consumer world had a pretty good understanding of what we cared about, and I think those are things that we could bring to B2B. Especially in B2B, I want somebody to have an understanding of what matters the most to me, what content is going to be relevant to me, what messaging is going to be relevant to me and create that personalized experience for me as well. That can help cut through all the clutter and get to that core piece where I’m going to respond and that matters to me. I think that’s where there’s a lot that’s happened in B2C, except for me losing my three boys to video games, that I think we can learn from.

That’s one of the reasons why I was very interested in ON24. I do view it as an engagement platform that allows us to create these compelling experiences that push people from a live experience to something always on that I can binge at my own pace, do my own discovery when it makes the most sense for me. I’m engaging with stuff that’s highly relevant to what I care about and so that’s what attracted me. I think it’s the opposite end of the spectrum from direct email spam so, somebody buying a list and hitting me with something that might be pretty homogenous. So, yeah, I think what we’re trying to do here is, how do we take the best of what engagement looked like in our personal lives and bring that to our business lives? It doesn’t have to be an either-or choice. And I think we’re doing some exciting things here to really be on the forefront of bringing one of the first engagement platforms to enterprise cloud. So, it’s exciting.

Cheri Keith:

That’s great. I mean, I can’t help you with the video game stuff. My youngest is very into Minecraft, I will say. And I mean, gosh, it’s like how things can be so personalized and people spending money on things just to have the customization of like a skin is just, I mean, it’s kind of wild.

Steve Daheb:

I know.

Cheri Keith:

And like, oh my gosh, the watching other people play video games drove me mad. My fiancĂ© said to me, “It’s like you watching Real Housewives on Bravo. You’re just watching people be people. They’re watching them do something that they enjoy.” So, I settled down on that.

Steve Daheb:

Maybe that’s it. I don’t know. Even like Minecraft. I’m like, man, like these are like retro graphics. I mean, I was like a Donkey Kong Galaga champ back in the eighties, but I’m like, these graphics are even worse than those, but I love them.

Cheri Keith:

I peaked at Super Mario on Super Nintendo. Like if I ever have a day to do nothing, I would just love to sit on the couch and just play Super Mario on end.

Steve Daheb:

I mean, I love it. Every once in a while, I’ll jump on like whatever, Super Mario World, Mario Kart and of course I’ll get my butt kicked by my kids in a second. So yeah, that’s what happens.

Cheri Keith:

Well, Steve, I want to thank you for your time today. This has been a really great discussion and personally, it’s so great to learn from you and acknowledge all that you bring to the table and just get to know you on a deeper level. I think the audience is going to greatly benefit from your messages about being one team with sales, how the DNA of a CMO needs to consider a lot of different things like the brand side, the messaging elements, as well as being able to target and work with sales like you said before. I also think people always love to hear more about how B2C can influence B2B and your points about engagement and data. That’s where marketing is going and you’re certainly on the forefront there. So, thank you for your time today, Steve, and thank you, CMO Confessions audience, for tuning in.

Steve Daheb:

Thank you.