9 months. 16 interviews. 170+ questions. And a whole lotta knowledge. Here’s a look back at some highlights from the last year of CMO Secrets. This is just a slice, and we encourage you to visit each CMO Secrets interview post to attain full enlightenment. We’ll be excited to kick this series off again in a few weeks, so stay tuned!
What traits or behaviors separate good Marketers from great Marketers, and how do you vet those when hiring?
I think this applies to all roles actually, the best people are always open to feedback, always trying to learn new things, and very coachable. It is hard to vet during interviewing, but some things I try to do are ask people about the last time they were asked to do something that they did not know how to do. I also ask them what books they have been reading and how they keep up to date on their craft. And sometimes I’ll try to find an opportunity to give them some feedback and see how they react to it. And then for marketing specifically, having a balance of skill between analytical and creative is important. Too much of either one can be problematic. I usually ask people about a marketing problem and how they would approach it, as well as how they measure things.
Persistence. The best marketers are the ones that go deep, and then keep going. There are going to be so many failures in marketing, and the best ones embrace the failures, learn from them, level-up, and move on. You can’t approach marketing with ego, a jaded viewpoint, or in isolation. It’s a total team effort. Listening to the biggest accomplishments of marketers in interviews says a lot. I’m looking for folks that not only love to learn, but apply what they’re learning, in addition to constantly selecting action over planning. You need to be strategic in marketing, but there’s also a point of diminishing return and paralysis that can haunt marketers. I love to ask marketers how they contributed to revenue growth, or how they think the role they’re applying for could contribute to revenue growth. The answers/mindset/framework are quite telling. I also don’t like to ask people questions about what they’ve done in the past. When I’m interviewing someone in person, I’ve already checked out their background, have likely had a quick call with them, so now it’s time for us to meet in person and for you to present your strategy and tell me what you’re going to do in this new role… when I ask for that next level of commitment, about 90% of people drop out of the running (voluntarily).
I think great marketers get inside the heads of their customer. As a marketer, you can’t know too much about your customers and about your products. You have to get on a plane and go talk to customers and observe them in their environment. You have to use your own product enough to have credibility with your engineering team and with your customers. This pays huge dividends because it gives marketers the confidence to participate in strategy discussions within the company, generate marketing strategies and campaigns that connect, and make those millions of little decisions at the capillary level of a campaign that make the difference between “meh” and “awesome.”
What rules or best practices deserve to be ignored or broken in order to discover and tell a brand’s story?
Don’t worry too much about consensus in the beginning. Fact is you can’t really write a great story by committee. While it’s important to build support for whatever story is going to act as the foundation of your positioning and brand identity, you need to focus first on formulating that story yourself, after listing carefully to the thoughts and opinions of everyone who has a stake in it. Create something powerful, validate it with the only audience that really matters – customers – and then lead the team by selling it in, across the organization, day in and day out.
What types of marketing decisions do you struggle with?
I’d say the biggest thing we wrestle with is determining when and how to shift and allocate resources to broader awareness activities away from more response-oriented, lower-funnel programs like search. Whenever smart people disagree, the best way to find your way forward is to use testing and data to validate and illuminate things. ezCater has a strong culture of testing and tracking things and that works well for us. Only testing frequently and using the data to learn can really help you find the best path forward.
How important is it to occasionally step away from work to reflect, recharge, and focus?
I actively create downtime. My calendar is unusually empty as I can’t stand big meetings, and I’m obsessed at keeping most of them off of my calendar. I like to find time for 1-1 conversations, and for activities like writing that help me frame ideas.
When the data seems to point lots of companies and teams in a similar direction, how do you create something new so you aren’t copying or following?
If every company has access to the same data, does that mean they all know what to do with it? No. We live in a world now where the marketing playbook is available to everyone, but not every marketing team is successful, why is that? The reason is because you need the right people, thinking creatively about how to use the data. A good example of this is when I was at Nanigans. We were a brand that needed recognition and an increased share of voice… so what do you do? All our competitors had similar data and Facebook “expertise”… I decided to partner with the investment community, and that ended up making all the difference. We became the go-to resource for firms like JP Morgan and Goldman, but why? What was the point? The opportunity I saw was whenever the analysts at these investment firms would get PR opportunities, they would want to include us in the discussion, and that’s exactly what happened. We ended up getting invited to every Facebook stock PR opportunity out there, including going on Bloomberg, being featured in the WSJ, Forbes, CNBC, all the marketing pubs, and we ended up having a 40% share of voice against competitors that were more then 10x our size. Using data and your best assets creatively is what will continue to set marketing teams apart.
If you could wave a wand and fix one area of marketing, what would it be?
Having worked predominantly for smaller companies, I would love to fix the “single view of the customer.” I feel that with marketing, many things that were only feasible for large enterprises are now within reach of smaller companies, but I still find that small companies are not able to piece together this puzzle, which makes marketing a lot more fragmented than it should be.
With my magic wand in hand, I’d have to use it for easier integration across the stack. This seems to be what all marketers are facing. Integration between all the systems. That would be ideal. But if I had the wand for a second day, I’d choose multi-touch attribution and making that a no-brainer. Wouldn’t that be great!
The list is long, but I would want to make it much easier to track the performance of marketing. This is not just on the tools side, because there are some great tools out there. We use Full Circle Insights. But a lead-to-revenue process that requires sales to put their hands on the keyboard in order to track performance is always going to be challenging.
I would totally wave that magic wand and give all marketers a complete and pure view of all touchpoints and influence over the customer journey. There are all sorts of cool advances happening there, but it is still pretty frustrating trying to understand the impact of a view-through or accurately track a cross-device conversion, to say nothing of being able to connect interactions had with the same people on disparate platforms like Facebook and Google.
What do you think is an under-appreciated marketing metric?
I like MQL/Opp conversion ratio since it is a metric that lives on the border between sales and marketing. If this metric is healthy, and MQLs are growing at a good pace, good things are happening on both sides of the house. I think CAC/LTV ratio is a bit overrated. It’s not useless. But you’ll know you have problems (or success) long before you run these numbers.
The most underrated metric for me is deal velocity. So many good things happen when you are able to help sales close deals faster. The most overrated metric is lead scoring, especially point-based lead scoring where you assign a best-guess weighting to specific attributes and actions. Seriously, please stop doing this. Find a data scientist to build a predictive model for you, buy a predictive lead scoring product, or take some machine learning classes.
I think the most overrated metric is the MQL. Unlike SQLs which are usually defined in very similar ways across organizations, I have found that MQL definitions vary greatly and are ultimately under the control of marketing. Anytime you can manipulate your own metrics, that’s a problem. It also makes conversion metrics (from MQL to SQL for example) hard to really gauge and benchmark.
What advice do you have for marketing and technology pros making their way through the world?
Most recently, we hired Dr. Steve Bull, sports psychologist and author of “The Game Plan – Your Guide to Mental Toughness at Work” to speak at our sales kick off. One of the many nuggets I took away from his talk is “control the controllables.” This is important advice and will reduce the stress in any situation, whether worrying about the weather PMC weekend (I need to stop doing this BTW) or staying in a job that makes you unhappy. If you can’t control certain aspects of a situation, then it’s a waste of energy to worry about it – control what you can control.
What’s a recent marketing campaign that you love, and why?
Netsuite’s usage of radio advertising is brilliant – leveraging their customer stories to market accounting software. Last month, I was listening to satellite radio, and an ad came on. I heard the CEO of Ring.com, Jamie Siminoff say how his company revolutionized the home security market with innovative video doorbell products. I happen to know this because I saw him on Shark Tank, and I happen to be a Ring.com customer. I really enjoyed hearing about how he built his business. But then he explains that he’s only been able to succeed with NetSuite’s business software behind the scenes. He never has to worry about payroll or accounting, so he can focus on building great products customers love. The campaign elevates a great brand, and puts Netsuite in the role of “Batman’s utility belt.” To me, it’s a great idea. Check out Netsuite’s CTA page to see an example.
What lessons learned from your agency life make for good advice to B2B marketers, and vice versa?
I learned from being part of global pitches for some of the top agencies in the world like BBDO with brands such as Bank of America, Pepsi and GE. A key takeaway is there’s nothing more powerful than a single insight about your consumer or buyer – to unify a marketing strategy, program or campaign. From that insight, you then want to figure out how to best spark emotion with your buyer, as that insight is illuminated. Finally, executing marketing has to be integrated. When I worked with these global brands, a huge amount went into integrating marketing across multiple disciplines – TV, radio, web, direct mail, PR, field marketing, events, promotions, etc. etc. Today, integration is about more than integrated marketing, it’s about being integrated across all customer touch points which encompasses marketing, sales, customer success and more.
At an agency, your focus is really on the quality of the work. The culture of the world’s best agencies, several of which I’m proud to have been a part of, are a kind of creative cult. Running one is about winning and keeping clients, which of course connects indirectly to getting results, but the day-to-day energy of an agency is all about the quality of the ideas and deliverables agencies produce and deliver through media. A good B2B CMO, in contrast, is all about results. Your value is a function of your ability to create leverage in sales, specifically to enhance the revenue productivity of sales and marketing spend. Somebody did tell me about this, actually, and I wrote a post about it at the time.
Have you experienced any big surprises or “ah-hah!” moments?
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.
What’s the one piece of Marketing or B2B jargon or slang you’d like to never hear again?
ABM. On one level I completely agree with the philosophy. On another level, it is just B2B marketing with a new name, and nearly all the companies using it are equating it with display ads or something else and I just think that is wrong. It’s the database.
If you could play Marketing Professor for a semester, what would you focus on teaching?
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.
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 channel is under-appreciated or under-utilized by tech marketers today?
I think we all do a great job of trying to exploit every channel available to us, probably to our detriment. If there is a shortcoming here, I would posit that most of the B2B marketing space is very good at being present in every channel, but most are also mediocre at aligning channels, leveraging multiple touches across each of these channels and experiences to amplify each other, and really optimizing the customer or prospect experience in each. I believe that as a marketing leader we should be leading our teams to create experiences that change perceptions and build trust. This requires creating a focused message that is delivered in the ideal way for each channel, and which is then holistically directed and measured. There’s so much noise out there — more so than we have ever experienced in human history — and the old rules of consistency and frequency are more important than ever.
What trends have you noticed in terms of the programs that consistently perform best?
Time for another lesson learned by way of bonding with my son over cars. Simple wins. The Porsche 911 design has changed minimally over its lifetime. And if you observe the newer models, it appears as if progress has been made by shedding, not adding, ornament. Marketing programs that take a simple idea and execute it simply are the best. Once marketers begin to layer complexity, presumably to impress themselves or their fellow marketers, the program collapses under its own weight. I mean, when was the last time you admired a Dodge Viper?
What would marketing and sales like to say more often to each other?
Sales wants to know:
#1 – That marketing knows the sales goals, that marketing also has goals to help support those sales goals, and that marketing is driving hard towards hitting those goals.
#2 – That marketing is listening for (and even better, proactively identifying) the top barriers for both generating more deals, and advancing deals along faster.
#3 – That marketing is delivering ways to help solve these barriers – for both generating more deals, and advancing them along faster.
Marketers want acknowledgement when they do quality work – that they are busting their butt too. Marketing can sometimes be a bit “thankless” – as good work may be seen as meaningless if it doesn’t translate to sales, but when it does translate to sales, marketing isn’t usually the first to get the pat on the back.
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?
Customer journey mapping. We serve a number of verticals and personas… and 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 most impactful change you think we’ll see in digital marketing in the next 5 years?
Voice and artificial intelligence are just about to take off and I believe natural language will be a common way people interact with smart home devices, their cars, even hotel rooms. Think about platforms like Alexa – how will your future buyers find and interact with your brand via voice? That’s coming. On the flip side, augmented reality will remain “neat” but inconsequential due to hardware limitations and lack of dynamic (non-gaming) content.
What attitudes or approaches in marketing need to change?
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.
Too many people conflate demand generation with marketing. As vital as demand generation is, it’s not the only aspect of marketing that matters. And yet for many people, the words are synonymous.
The rise of marketing automation has brought us back to the worst days we saw with direct mail and telemarketing. We need to stop carpet bombing and get back to creating value for our prospects and customers. Back 20 years we talked about the “1-on-1 future” a lot. All of the technology available to us has made it easier than ever in our history to communicate at an individual level and match our offers with the people who need us the most. In an ideal world we wouldn’t be talking about MQLs and funnel metrics, we would be looking at 100% conversion rates at the very small number of individuals whose lives and companies we are making better.