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 Jake Sorofman. Jake is CMO of Pendo, a Raleigh-based SaaS company that provides user insight, user guidance and user communication for digital product teams. Founded in 2013, Pendo is backed by Battery Ventures, Spark Capital, Meritech Capital and Sapphire Ventures, Pendo has raised $106 million and counts more than 600 customers, including Zendesk, LexisNexis, Coupa, Gainsight, BMC, and Sprinklr. Before Pendo, Jake was VP and Chief of Research at Gartner, Inc., where he focused on CMO topics and marketing trends. Prior to that, he spent 16 years in marketing leadership roles with venture-backed software companies.
Tell us about Pendo – why you were excited to join them as CMO, and the role marketing plays there.
Pendo is a growth-stage SaaS company focused on helping digital product teams design and optimize web and mobile software applications. Pendo helps product teams understand and guide their users within software applications to ensure they’re finding their way and getting value. We collect rich insights on how users engage with features and which features create delight and frustration. All of this insight is rolled up to product teams and to other groups like customer success, sales and marketing who need to understand how users are or aren’t engaging with their products. Pendo is creating a new category – the product cloud – which we believe will eventually become as widely understood as the marketing cloud. The reality is that products – how they’re designed, improved, and whether they delight users – now matters a ton. Companies can no longer hide behind a false brand promise. If users aren’t deeply attached to the products they use, they should be seen as a legitimate flight risk. Why? Because software switching costs and exit barriers are now absurdly low. Users are generally inclined to find better alternatives if you don’t deliver product experiences they love.
Have you experienced any big surprises or “ah-hah!” moments in your time at Pendo? Programs you were surprised worked or didn’t work?
Events and webinars are still workhorses for us. Not the sexiest tactics, but they deliver consistently for the business. Also, we’ve invested significantly in content marketing – or, more specifically, editorial marketing – to drive awareness, establish thought leadership and feed the top of the funnel. Our editorial site ProductCraft.com has become the anchor for this strategy. It’s having measurable impact on pipeline and deals, but we’re playing the long game. We have deliberately chosen to give this site space to grow as a bona fide editorial property by maintaining brand neutrality and being thoughtful about how much of the site we choose to monetize.
You feature a “get a demo” CTA on your homepage. We have that, too, and it’s a frequent source of discussion internally. What are your thoughts on the pros v cons of including that button/offer on a homepage.
Sure, why not? It’s a CTA that converts well for us. We’re proud of our product and want to show it off. At the same time, we want to give prospects lots of different ways to engage with us. We recognize that not everyone is ready for a demo.
The company just announced a exciting new round of funding (congratulations, by the way). How does something like this impact the role of marketing? Are there significant changes or perhaps interesting, more subtle changes that need to take place moving forward from an event like that?
Thank you! Someone recently said that the greatest challenge of the growth-stage CMO is capital deployment. That feels right. We’re moving fast and placing progressively larger bets. We’re testing and learning in some areas and scaling up other areas. The funding helps us accelerate our pursuit of what we see as a very large market opportunity and to position Pendo for category leadership.
You spent almost 5 years at Gartner as VP, Chief of Research. That was a slight departure from the pure marketing roles you held before and after. What was that like?
Oh, man. Gartner was one of the highlights of my career. I worked with an incredibly smart, passionate, funny and kind group of people. I learned a lot. It’s a departure from an operating role, but I think Gartner made me a better CMO. Actually, I know that for certain. Where else can you see so much, go so deep, and participate in problem-solving across such a range of scenarios? It’s a nerd’s paradise.
Given your role and experience at Gartner, what does it say that a company like Mautic, having only been in market for 2 years, has just earned placement in the 2018 Magic Quadrant for CRM Lead Management?
Congratulations! It’s great to be included in an MQ. At the most basic level, it means that Gartner feels you’re one of the providers clients ought to know about. That’s a good thing.
What’s the best career advice you ever received and who did it come from?
Hiring the best possible people you can find and barely afford. I think I learned this mostly through pattern matching. Every great executive I’ve worked with is perpetually in recruiting mode and leveling up.
If you could offer your own advice to marketing and technology pros making their way through the world, what would it be?
Curiosity is so underrated and so utterly critical. Read and think broadly. Not business books, necessarily. You’ll be amazed by how many creative connections you make and ideas you trigger by simply looking in unexpected places. Also, be human. Demand more than platitudes and marketing-speak. And be humble. That’s always the better long term play. Ego driven leadership will catch up with you.
Are you more of a left-brained or right-brained marketer, and what steps do you take to balance your strengths with those of the team around you?
I like to think both, but if I’m being honest with myself, I’m more right brained. These are certainly the aspects of the role I’m drawn to, but I both challenge myself to spend more time in the other headspace and always prioritize hiring my perfect counterpoint.
You’ve been in technology for most of your career. If you could live as a CMO in another type of company for a day/week/month, what might you like to try and why?
I advised both B2B and B2C clients at Gartner, but all of my applied professional experience is in B2B marketing. I’ve always thought B2C marketing would be a lot of fun and would only make me a better B2B marketer.
Any particularly special, unique, helpful, or just cool new tools or plugins that you’ve added to your marketing stack recently and would recommend to other marketers?
TrendKite for measuring share of voice and Ceros for really cool interest interactive microsites and animations.
What’s your proudest professional accomplishment?
At Gartner, I had the opportunity to publish a handful of Harvard Business Review pieces. That felt pretty good. But I honestly think I’m proudest of the teams I build. I’m humbled and consistently amazed by the talent of the people around me.
Want to spread the marketing love? If there are any specific marketers/teams/companies you think are doing particularly noteworthy things, feel free to give some shout-outs.
Oh, wow. So many. InVision has such polished design and amazing brand affinity. Intercom and Drift are really smart growth marketers. Influitive and Gainsight have nailed the event thing with Advocamp and Pulse. I’m impressed by Farmers Insurance. They’ve used actual insurance claims to tell great stories in their advertising. Oh, and Yeti! They’ve created a lifestyle brand around a commodity category and they’re charging an unreasonable fortune for it. Somehow I’m still happy to buy pretty much anything they put in front of me. That’s powerful branding.
What’s one true thing about you that your teammates would be surprised by or not expect?
I’m a bit of an open book, actually. They know I’m an introvert. They know I’m a word nerd. They may not know that my first job out of college was selling sails. For sailboats. It’s a bit meta. Those were some long winters.
Is there a recent/current marketing campaign or a ‘big idea’ you’re seeing from somewhere around the industry that you love, and why?
I’m probably betraying my minor obsession with InVision, but their Design Genome Project and Design Disruptors documentary are strokes of content marketing genius.
What does Open mean to you in terms of a marketing approach or philosophy?
I love this concept. I had never really thought about it in these terms, but it resonates. I try to make planning and ideation inclusive. I try to avoid top-down thinking. I try to make marketing feel fun, exciting, inclusive. Most of all, I try to encourage contribution from everyone on the team. No CMO is an island. I try to avoid control freakery – although I’m hardly immune to it – and maintain the humility in knowing that my ideas aren’t somehow better than the next ones. The day you adopt the mindset that you alone have the answers is the day you’ve squandered the company’s investment in hiring great talent. From time to time, I have good – occasionally maybe better than good – ideas. But that’s not how you scale a team and grow a company.