CMO Secrets with Allyson Barr

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 Allyson Barr. As Attivio’s Chief Marketing Officer, Allyson is responsible for all brand, awareness, go-to-market, and qualification functions for the company. Previously, she held marketing and product leadership positions at early stage and emerging growth companies, both in the US and abroad, including Crowdynews, Boxever, and RAMP. Earlier in her career she spent 6 years at Boston-based LogMeIn, in a variety of product and marketing roles, and spent three years in the company’s European offices running global marketing. When she’s not working, you can find Allyson volunteering at the local animal shelter, trying new recipes, or booking her next trip to see the world.

Tell us about Attivio – why you were excited to join them as CMO, and the role marketing plays there.

Attivio is a leading cognitive search and insights platform provider, and has been in the market 10+ years. I was excited to join because of the vision of our CEO and leadership team, which is to empower employees and customers with relevant experiences, and drives the company to look for new and fresh ways to take the core capabilities and realize that vision. I wanted to be a part of making that happen. Marketing is responsible for two core areas: lead generation & pipeline development, and market research. We sign up for delivering a percentage of new pipeline annually that’s really aggressive, and we’re exceeding that. We also look forward at market trends, conduct surveys and interviews of prospects and experts, and feed those learnings into product and go-to-market strategy. It’s a great balance of building today’s business and laying the foundation for tomorrow’s.

What are 1-2 things you’d like people to understand about Machine Learning.

There’s a lot of hope and promise surrounding machine learning, and it can do some pretty helpful things for companies and employees, like removing the overhead of determining what the “right” answer should be to a question, as the right answer changes over time. A machine learning relevancy model can learn what’s “right” based on signals from users and automatically update search results appropriately. And at the same time, machine learning still needs proper training. Our VP of Product, Dorit Zilbershot, wrote a blog about the topic and I think the important takeaway was “machines can only be as intelligent as the information we give it.” So while machine learning can help in a lot of scenarios, I think it’s important for businesses and employees not to become complacent about it. It still needs thoughtful consideration at the outset, and oversight along the way.

What marketing programs are working best for you at Attivio? And how do you think about measurement of those programs?

Because of the size of companies we work with (Fortune 1000/Global 2000), analyst reports and relationships are critical to our business, more so than any other company I’ve worked for previously. We were named a Leader in Forrester’s Cognitive Search and Knowledge Discovery Wave last year, and promote that report through various channels, and it’s one of our best performing assets. Because our sales cycles can be very long (9-18 months) we measure the success of our marketing at every step of the funnel – from how many MQLs we generated at the top, through meetings and SQLs, and finally, opportunities and closed business. We have to make decisions based on the best and most information we have at the time, and that may not always represent a full-funnel view of outcomes, but gives us directional insight into what we need to do next.

If you could add one more role to your marketing team today to own a new or experimental area of marketing, what would it be and why?

I think it would be in customer journey mapping. We serve a number of verticals and personas, and with a new product we’re launching this week – a new ecosystem – we need to continue to refine the experiences we deliver to each unique persona in order to ensure the best chance for that visitor to become a customer. Understanding those personas, building the journey, defining the content and touchpoints, that’s a full time job and needs someone dedicated to ensuring its success.

What’s the best career advice you ever received and who did it come from?

Keep your eye on the goal. Especially in marketing, it can be easy to get distracted with the new shiny thing or demand of the moment. But I have learned, and coach my teams, to ask how does it help us fulfill our commitments to the business and achieve our goals. It can be hard to say no, or not right now, but it can mean the difference between meeting and missing your goals. And because marketing is tied to sales, missing those goals can have real impact on the success of the company.

If you could play marketing professor for a day (or a semester), what would you focus on? What kind of lessons and knowledge do you believe are most important for young marketers these days?

I believe any good marketing team really knows their buyer(s), so I think I would focus my efforts on teaching the marketers of tomorrow about that. Everything stems from grokking prospects’ pains, their dreams, their challenges, their biases, and so on. The better you know them, the better you can communicate (and find the right vehicles for communicating) the value your offering delivers to them, and make a match. It can be easy to lose sight of that when you’re wrapped up in the mechanics of marketing. I encourage all of my employees to ride along with sales people on calls and get out into the field at events. It’s hard to forget the faces and the feedback you get from those experiences – and undoubtedly informs the decisions you make the next day about a message, or an email or ad, or product offer.

Now in your first CMO role, what are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in terms of responsibilities compared to your previous VP of Marketing roles?

In full candor I would say the role is not so different from previous VP of marketing roles, since I’ve had the chance to be the voice of marketing at the table as both a CMO and a VP of Marketing. I am, however, trying to spend more time on what’s next, either for marketing or for the company, and give autonomy to my team to manage the day to day details of current projects and programs.

Any particularly special, unique, helpful, or just cool new tools that you’ve added to your marketing stack recently and would recommend to other marketers?

We’ve been building Drift into our website experience and it’s helped drive meetings into our SDR team that we might have missed before. It took us a little while to find the best way to filter out the noise from the gems, but with their help and dedicated focus on our side, it’s working pretty well.

What’s one true thing about you that your teammates would be surprised by or not expect?

It’d probably be that I seriously considered majoring in musical theater in college. Instead, I opted for a safer route – English 🙂

What’s a marketing/business/technology topic that’s got you fired up right now? Put another way, if you could leave readers with one last thought here today, what’s the rant or rave you’d like to close with?

This is definitely outside of marketing, but I’m fascinated with everything that’s going on around space exploration and travel. We’re able to see into the farthest reaches of the universe, send robots to other planets to give us insights into what comprises them and how they evolve, learn more about the origin of stars and planets which helps us better understand ourselves, and there are companies looking to commercialize getting humans into space for fun and adventure. The folks doing this work are breaking boundaries every day, and using insatiable curiosity to drive their next question, next project. Imagine what would be possible if we all applied that approach to our work?

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