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.