CMO Secrets with Aaron Dun

Welcome to our blog series, CMO Secrets. On the first and third Wednesday of every month, we feature an exceptional Marketing leader from around the industry. Some names will be easily recognized, and others may be new to you, but every single one will have been hand picked for their experience and knowledge in the world of Startups, Technology, and Marketing. The questions are ours, but the answers are theirs – every word, shared without edit, from their fingers to your eyes.

Today we welcome Aaron Dun. Aaron has nearly 20 years of experience running marketing programs for high growth venture funded companies and publicly traded global organizations. He focuses on connecting marketing performance to sales achievement through transformational go-to-market strategies. Aaron currently serves as Chief Growth Officer for Jobiak, was previously the SVP of Marketing for SnapApp, and the CMO for Intronis through the company’s acquisition by Barracuda Networks. He is a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma and a vocal opponent of lead-gated PDFs. Sometimes he tweets interesting things on Twitter at @ajdun.

Tell us about Jobiak – why you were excited to join them as Chief Growth Officer, and the role marketing plays there.

It’s been a fascinating journey jumping into such an early stage opportunity. My career has typically focused on more mature businesses (and a few large global ones as well) so I thought this was a good point in my life to partner up with a great team solving a really interesting problem and see where it leads.

It has been cool to start from scratch. To think deeply about what it means to engage with customers and how to create rapid scale. I was joking with a friend recently that I now have a lab to test out all of my crazy ass ideas that I have had over the years. And as Chief Growth Officer, I get to look closely at the intersection of marketing, sales, and customer success to truly drive the business forward.

Have you noticed a shift in the marketing stack tools that are most critical to your success at Jobiak compared to any of your previous companies?

More broadly, I would say that we are overrun by technology, and the opportunity to use technology very often gets in the way. You have to be laser focused on the tools that are going to help you move the needle. And even more importantly, make sure you can measure the results that the technology is giving you.

Buyer patterns are changing dramatically under our feet, and the old “outbound disguised as inbound” model B2B marketers have been using for the last number of years needs to adapt. We need to find new, creative ways to engage with our prospects, but we still have to deliver a result. Prioritizing products and platforms that help you create new engagement paths, and measure those results will be critical.

Over the course of your career, what trends have you noticed in terms of the marketing programs that consistently perform best?

I think the universal thread from campaigns that were very successful vs campaigns that didn’t perform as well, really centers on the data, and how we used that data. The times we assumed we knew, didn’t work as well as the times that we really did know. Your gut can get a new idea of the ground, but the data tells you if it’s working and where to tack to scale the idea or shelve it if you need to. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeve and do it manually if you have to. If you don’t have the numbers you are just hoping for a miracle.

Do you think there are any attitudes or beliefs in marketing that need to change? Outdated approaches or misunderstood insights?

Well I believe pretty passionately that the era of the “gated whitepaper” is fundamentally over. The idea that you can post a piece of content, collect leads, send those leads to sales, and have them convert into deals quickly worked well for a long time, but content overload, and changing buying behaviors are rendering this approach obsolete.

Rather than spending a ton of time figuring out how to wring another 100 downloads of your whitepaper and somehow imputing “intent” from that activity, find those new engagement paths. How do you get people to raise their hand and *ask* to see your product or ask to engage with you? Live chat is the thing of the moment, but what else are you doing to find those paths? Change is hard, but now is the time to lead change rather than being forced to react to that change later.

If you could play Marketing Professor for a semester, who would you want in your class and what would the syllabus look like?

I love this question. I think as marketing leaders part of what we have to do is teach the next set of marketers who are coming up and help them define their own growth path in their careers. I see my job as helping my team members achieve their goals and if they can take something from our time together that helps them along the way then it was all worth it.

So who is in the class? I love to work with new managers and soon to be directors on how to start to think about shifting from managing your own activity to manage the activity of others and how big a shift that is. How to be accountable for work you didn’t do, how to set a vision and bring people with you to deliver an outcome, how to deal with underperformance, how to set goals and measure them, how to analyze data to make change, how to think bigger, etc. Lots of people are really good marketers, but not everyone is able to make the jump to management and then to leadership. These are hard things to learn, but it’s so important, and you rarely get to go to a class to learn them, you need to get it on the job. (Of course now I want to teach a class on this subject!)

What’s one of your secret weapons when it comes to marketing? A particular approach you take, or a tool you love to use, or a program that you keep running with because it just works every time?

Surveys Surveys Surveys… I sort of fell in to this idea quite a few years ago, and it has worked for me ever since. Surveys rule for so many reasons. You get to market the survey itself, the results becomes a kick ass piece of content that you can turn into a webinar, fuel campaigns, drive PR, customer communications, enable sales, etc. The key is to design the questions to make sure you get a great headline that serves as the hook for everything else.

And maybe another one is doing lunches with your target segment/customers-at scale. And by scale I mean 10-20 or more a month! (PS the amount of work it takes to recruit 10 people to 2 or 3 lunches in a month isn’t that much different from planning 20… so why not scale?)

If we asked your team members from throughout your career what they’ve learned the most from you, what would they say? And if we asked your current team members what they rely on you for the most, what would they say?

  1. The thing I am most pleased about is when people come back to me for advice on their careers. Hopefully, in addition to just learning about driving strategy and delivering outcomes, people who work for me have learned to think about their career strategically and make smart moves to get where they want to go while staying true to their goals and ideals.
  2. I think my job today is mostly about putting great people in the right roles, helping them devise a great strategy, clearing any roadblocks to execution and then getting out of the way. I always say that “I have got a few good ideas, but if I am the only one coming up with the ideas, we are screwed.” I have found that if people don’t feel like they have room to breathe, to provide ideas that will actually get executed, and can take ownership of that idea through to completion, then you aren’t leading, you are just managing.

What’s the best career advice you ever received and who did it come from (e.g. a mentor/peer/parent/made-for-tv movie)?

There are so many jokes here, but it’s a family show so I will leave those be! Here are two things (among many) that have really stuck with me:

First: Read every contract, all the way through. I was young, I was rushing to get out the door for Xmas holiday. I chucked a contract on the desk of my CEO expecting him to just sign it. He called me to his office, and asked me 3 specific questions that I could only know the answers to if I had read it all the way through. He summarily sent me on my way with my tail between my legs to fix a few things in the contract which caused me to be late leaving the office. I read every contract all the way through to this day.

Second: You have to give everyone room to have a voice, even if you think you know the answers. When I first got promoted to director I had a mandate to run a specific project and I didn’t do a good enough job bringing people into the process. My CMO at the time gave me some great perspective about how that isn’t scalable that I appreciate still many years later.

What deserves to be on your marketing hall-of-fame plaque? Put another way, what are the 1-2 marketing ideas you are most proud of from your career to-date.

Hah, a marketing hall of fame, that would be funny, LOL! I am so proud of the work we did at Intronis with our targeted direct mail campaign where we sent Atari Flashback devices to our prospects and upgraded them to an Xbox if they converted to a meeting. We did all the work ourselves and absolutely blew away every possible conversion and outcome metric. We ran it over the course of two years, delivering literally thousands of Ataris, and generated millions in new bookings. And we won a few awards along the way too (you can read more here: https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/case-study/direct-mail-marketing-multi-channel-approach). We thought big, thought way outside the box, and it was a total team effort. Huge home run.

I also think that transforming our leads to sales approach at SnapApp was really cool. We completely broke the model, ungated all of our content, and increased our lead conversion rate 6x. We were generating the same outcome even though we were delivering around just 20% of the lead volume to sales. This created huge efficiencies for both marketing and sales. We took a big risk, bet on our ability, and made it happen.

Time to rant or rave: what’s a marketing topic that’s getting you fired up right now?

Incremental targets! It drives me crazy when I hear someone talking about running this killer A/B test and how they are going to double conversion rate, but the volume of people going through the test is so low that doubling would have zero impact on the overall goal. It’s fine to test things incrementally, but how will it SCALE when you are done?

And when you set incremental goals you naturally think small. We need to think bigger in order to deliver bigger. I had a running joke with my team that “the target is 10,000” no matter what we were doing. Imagine going from 100 blog subscribers not to 1,000, but how do you get that to 10,000? It forces to you to think completely differently about the kinds of things you will run to find that kind of growth. You can’t increment your way there, you have to find big, step changes to drive scale.

There are no magic bullets to finding scale, but I promise you if you are happy just going for 20-30% increases you will never find it. We have to get out of our heads, push ourselves to think about the problem differently, and create real growth.

We talk a lot about open marketing at Mautic. To us, there are very real and meaningful differences between open and closed systems, as well as open vs closed approaches to marketing and business in general. What does the idea of open marketing mean to you?

Where I really see this playing out is in developing an understanding of the larger community available to you as a marketer. Rather than thinking only within the “four walls of your website,” how do you go create conversions elsewhere. If your customers are active on a big community like Spiceworks, how can you authentically engage that community and create an outcome? Push yourself to think more broadly.

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