What does it take to become a CMO?
Their answer: Joining the c-suite requires a change in mindset.
In this interview with Tricia Gellman, Julia discusses what this means, her transition from VP to CMO, how she’s applying 2020 lessons to 2021 and beyond, and why we need to empower more women in the workplace.
In a hurry? Here’s the tl;dr version:
- Want to become a CMO? Change your thinking: Little of Julia’s day is spent “marketing.” When she transitioned from VP of Marketing to CMO, Julia had to change her mindset from running a best-in-class marketing team to running a best-in-class business.
- Stop leading with your product in messaging: Buyers don’t want to be sold to. That was true pre-pandemic and it’s especially true now. Make sure your marketing message leads with empathy first, always.
- Pay it forward and engage with your community: Whether you’ve just started your career or are a seasoned marketing veteran, you have so much to offer. Identify the communities who could use your insight and support and share your knowledge.
- Everything rolls up to revenue: Marketing budgets get a lot of scrutiny. To move the needle forward for your business, you must interface with executive leadership and other revenue teams outside of marketing on key priorities.
- Make room for creativity: Where do you do your best thinking? What content sparks fresh ideas for you? Make room for those things in your week.
1. Can you talk a bit about your transition from VP to CMO? What advice would you give other VPs or marketing leaders looking to join the c-suite?
I’ve had a very lucky and smooth transition into my executive marketing career. I was promoted internally from Senior Director of Demand Generation to VP of Marketing at my previous company, Invoca, after my predecessor left. This gave me the chance to do my first executive role with “training wheels” for the first few months. I had the safety net of existing relationships with the executive team and CEO, and knew the business inside and out.
After more than seven years at Invoca, I was ready to market a new product. I thought long and hard about what aspects of marketing and leadership motivated me the most, and the answer was clear: Helping grow revenue and having a real market impact.
I was hungry and excited to step into a bigger role where my mandate wasn’t just to run a best-in-class marketing team, but to help run and grow the business.
The main difference between the role of VP and CMO is the amount of time you spend actually “marketing.” Ask most CMOs, and you’ll find that very little of their day is spent doing marketing. I was hungry and excited to step into a bigger role where my mandate wasn’t just to run a best-in-class marketing team, but to help run and grow the business. A distinction that may be negligible to some, but helped unlock a new mindset shift for me and helped me think bigger.
If you’re looking to join the c-suite, here are my top five recommendations:
- Start expanding your curiosity about the business.
- Dive into the numbers and core metrics of your company.
- Deepen your understanding, collaboration, and relationships with other functions and their leaders.
- Think about how marketing fits into the overall puzzle of your business strategy, especially for the size, stage, and strategic goals of your company.
- Focus less on specific marketing channels and tactics (build and coach an empowered team to do that), focus more on the different levers that drive business growth and impact.
2. What are some of the biggest lessons you learned in 2020 and how are you applying these insights to your marketing strategy and plan in 2021?
I re-learned, or perhaps finally understood, that messaging and emotion are the most critical parts of marketing. In B2B marketing, we talk too much about our companies, products, and features. But when the pandemic hit, no one wanted to hear about that. Heck, they still don’t. They wanted to hear understanding, personal empathy, a joke, and to have a bit of fun and surprise in their day.
In B2B marketing we talk too much about our companies, products, and features. But when the pandemic hit, no one wanted to hear about that. Heck, they still don’t.
This is the hardest, but most important part of marketing – nailing the person, the message, the hook, the story, and sparking some kind of emotional reaction. Lead with that first, then bring your product into the conversation later. I’m making a lot more time for this in 2021 and prioritizing the resources to do it well. I’m focused on supporting my team through that mindset, rather than spend our time and attention on channels, tactics, and just churning out “more.”
3. You co-founded an organization called Women In Revenue. What is the goal of this organization and what compelled you to become involved in their mission?
The mission of Women In Revenue is to empower current and future female leaders in technology sales and marketing roles with education, support, and networking opportunities. In just two years, we’ve grown to over 4,000 members. Our members include women at all stages of their careers, from CEOs and CMOs to interns starting their first jobs. It’s been exciting and personally rewarding to see such a passionate, active community. Members get a lot of value from our community – from sharing practical advice and mentorship to fun events to one of the most active job boards I’ve ever seen.
Our members include women at all stages of their careers, from CEOs and CMOs to interns starting their first jobs. It’s been exciting and personally rewarding to see such a passionate, active community.
Five or six years ago, when I was leading demand generation at my previous company, I reached out “cold” to Shari Johnston (the co-founder of Women In Revenue) looking for advice on both demand generation and transitioning into a marketing executive role. She was a speaker at a conference I was attending, and I admired her career path.
Luckily for me, Shari agreed to meet me for coffee and became a mentor and friend from there. So, when she approached me a few years later to help start Women In Revenue, I was completely sold. It was an opportunity for me to help pay it forward, building that mentorship and community experience I’d gained personally with Shari, with a larger group of women.
4. Marketing budgets are under greater scrutiny than ever before. How can CMOs prove marketing’s impact on the business and ensure their teams are focused on activities that move the needle forward?
First, marketers should understand what the overall business’ strategic goals and priorities are, and make sure their spend strategies align with those objectives. Many companies have some kind of official strategy document (like Salesforce’s V2MOM, or a list of company OKRs). CMOs should have regular conversations with their CEOs, sales, product, and customer success counterparts to ensure that everyone is on the same page with what the business is prioritizing each quarter.
For example, is the number one priority net new logo acquisition? Improving customer retention? Launching a new product line, or expanding into a new region? Marketing budgets and plans should then flow into those business objectives, so it’s possible to articulate how marketing spend is planning to drive business impact. My team and I keep track of all of this within the Allocadia platform.
CMOs should have regular conversations with their CEOs, sales, product, and customer success counterparts to ensure that everyone is on the same page with what the business is prioritizing each quarter.
Next, the critical piece is measuring ROI. I tend to think marketing organizations get a little too obsessed with making ROI and attribution measurement perfect, at the expense of it being overly complicated and ultimately too hard to complete. I break my measurements into two buckets:
- The important, high-level metrics that show marketing is operating efficiently and delivering the desired business impact
- Leading indicator KPIs
I focus on bullet one, and let my team go as deep into the weeds on bullet two as they feel is necessary. I look at total marketing programs spend, group, or tag it by business objective (this can be product line, business segment, etc.) and then tie that spend back to pipeline and revenue. I aim for a 10 to 12 times return on pipeline and a three to five times return on revenue.
My team looks at ROI by channel and program as well, but I tend to not focus on those metrics when reporting at the executive level, because they don’t always paint a complete picture.
5. We have a leadership principle at Drift called “Be a curious learning machine.” What people, publications, or resources do you lean on for inspiration?
I love to get out of my marketing mindset to refuel my creativity and learn different ways of tackling business programs. Podcasts where a variety of guests are interviewed – from scientists to artists to politicians to business leaders – help spark fresh ideas about marketing and business success.
I love to meet up virtually with fellow marketing leaders once a month to share successes and swap ideas around shared challenges. In a similar vein, I’ve started bringing in guest CMOs to do “Ask Me Anything” style interviews with my marketing team. It’s been refreshing to hear a different leadership perspective, and it helps my team learn more than just ‘my way’ of leading marketing. I learn a few things myself and get a little peer motivational boost.
Finally, my number one go-to for personal inspiration is either running or swimming laps – this is when I let my mind wander and always come up with my best ideas.