5 Questions with Box CMO Chris Koehler

By Sarah Frazier

Editor’s Note: This interview was first published in our Path to CMO 3.0 newsletter, and was conducted by Tricia Gellman. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

Team collaboration looked a little different in 2020.

Not only did we change how we work together, but the tools we use every day to get our work done.

One business on the frontline of this transition is Box. Box, a cloud content management and file-sharing business, is helping companies – and their growing digital workforce – bridge collaboration and communication gaps every day.

We recently chatted with Box’s CMO, Chris Koehler, to find out how his own team collaborated in 2020, plus insights into marketing’s role in creating a go-to-market (GTM) strategy, the secret behind best-in-class virtual events, and so much more.

In a hurry? Here’s the tl;dr version: 

  • GTM is a team sport: A lone wolf approach to leadership is rarely effective. Marketing leaders must work in lockstep with their sales and customer success counterparts if they want to truly impact their business’ bottom line.
  • Virtual events – shorter, riskier, more human: Like many companies this year, Box transformed their flagship conference into a virtual event. Chris’ advice for getting this popular format right: make them shorter, do it live (despite the risks), and find ways to inject one-on-one human connection into the event.
  • Be the leader your employees need right now: Empathy goes a long way – especially this year. Leaders must be especially sensitive to the toll this year has taken on employees, and approach each situation individually with compassion and, in some cases, humor.
  • Customer experience is everything: Customer experience is just as important to today’s buyers as the products you sell. Marketers must look beyond top-of-funnel activities and begin collaborating with product and customer success teams to provide value throughout the entire customer lifecycle. 

1. What do you own as part of your company’s GTM strategy and how do you partner with other leaders as part of that strategy?

Marketing needs to be the driver of your GTM strategy and partner closely with sales and customer success. Often, these leaders have aligned goals and metrics, then take on a specific KPI. Sales drives revenue, customer success drives adoption, and marketing drives pipeline. But, we all contribute to these goals and hold ourselves accountable for all three.

Alignment – when everyone focuses on the internal metrics that matter – breaks down the silos across an organization.

Together we look at the segments, geographies, and verticals, then agree on an approach across sales, marketing, and customer success. This alignment – when everyone focuses on the internal metrics that matter – breaks down the silos across an organization.

2. Box shifted its flagship conference, BoxWorks, to an online conference. What are some key learnings you can share on running a great virtual event that stands out?

BoxWorks is our global annual event, and much like everyone else, we held it virtually this year. There are positives to virtual events – such as accessibility. After all, not everyone can fly into San Francisco to attend our event in-person. Virtual events also have a big cost savings advantage over physical events – and the fact that they’re recorded is a huge plus.

One of our big takeaways from BoxWorks was to upload event content on-demand as soon as possible after the live event. People really want something to review and share with others right away.

Everyone is extremely busy and spending their lives on video right now. That means many people who register for virtual events will not attend them live. And that’s okay. You can make the content available on-demand and use that content to generate demand and pipeline. But a great follow-up strategy for on-demand content is critical. So build your on-demand strategy ahead of time for GTM teams.

Here are a few key learnings I’d also point out:

  • Short interactive sessions are high-performers (between 15 to 20 minutes): You can also break-up sessions with videos, questions, and more to keep the audience engaged longer.
  • Live is better than pre-recorded, but there’s a risk: When a presenter is live, the energy level is higher and your audience is more engaged. But there’s a risk. We had Magic Johnson as one of our keynotes, and his internet went out mid-interview. Not ideal. Still, the feedback from attendees was positive because they felt it was an authentic experience. It can happen to anyone!
  • Live attendance will be lower, especially if the event is free: Everyone is extremely busy and spending their lives on video right now. That means many people who register for virtual events will not attend them live. And that’s okay. You can make the content available on-demand and use that content to generate demand and pipeline. But a great follow-up strategy for on-demand content is critical. So build your on-demand strategy ahead of time for GTM teams.
  • In-person engagement is hard to replicate: Impromptu coffee, lunch, dinner, and sales meetings are fundamental to high-converting in-person events – and very difficult to replicate in a digital environment. Create opportunities for your GTM and product teams to engage via private video, chat, and more. Also, schedule executive video briefings shortly after the event is over to get feedback.
  • Production quality matters: The bar is continuously being raised in terms of production quality for virtual events. Lighting, sound, video quality, and internet latency are important to the attendee experience. Consider finding a production company to help unless you have a great in-house team. More and more companies are recording/broadcasting in studios to ensure high-quality production.
  • Event platforms are evolving, quickly: Do your research on which event platform will meet your needs. Focus on scale, flexibility, customizations, and interactivity. There is a lot of innovation happening in this space, so stay current on the latest developments.

3. 2020 is taking its toll on employee experience and morale. What advice would you give other CMOs and managers trying to support their teams right now?

This year has been extremely difficult for everyone. Marketing teams have been disrupted because everything needed to be re-written and re-planned. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, marketing employees are tired, stressed, and under increased pressure. I would suggest being as empathetic as possible, and allowing flexibility for your team. Everyone is dealing with a different situation and we have proven we can work from anywhere, at any time.

Actively listen to your team and ask how they’re doing. Ensure you’re communicating frequently, celebrating their wins, reinforcing your strategy, and using multiple channels to engage with your team. Also, find ways to better balance the work to fun ratio!

4. CMOs have more ownership around the customer experience than ever before. How has your background in customer success aided you in your role as CMO?

As a CMO who’s spent years running customer success organizations, I have a unique appreciation for what it takes to create an exceptional customer experience. The Box marketing team is focused on the entire customer lifecycle.

Often, marketing teams will only focus on the top-of-the-funnel. But in a SaaS, subscription-based world, marketers have a huge opportunity to create an engaging customer experience across the customer journey.

Here are a few examples of how to do this well:

  • Focus on customer onboarding: Partner with product and customer success to map out the customer journey. Leverage the right communication channels, write compelling and engaging copy, and measure the effectiveness of the onboarding experience.
  • Adoption is critical to a healthy business: Help drive awareness of current product capabilities through in-product, chat, and email channels. Create digital events focused on the adoption of use cases and product features. Build trigger- and time-based communication sequences based on product usage and engagement. Define and measure a customer awareness metric focused on product capabilities.
  • Renewals are the lifeblood of a subscription business: Get involved by creating compelling up-sell and cross-sell sales plays. For at-risk renewals, find creative ways to get your GTM partners in front of these customers through events or briefings. If necessary, have marketing define discount strategies and messaging with product teams.

Often, marketing teams focus only on the top-of-funnel part of this lifecycle. But in a SaaS, subscription-based world, marketers have a huge opportunity to create an engaging customer experience across the customer journey.

5. What value do you see in leaders, like yourself being more open and human in public-facing roles?

Leaders in today’s environment need to be transparent and vulnerable. The line between our work and personal lives has been blurred. We are inviting our teams into our homes via video and vice versa.

Kids interrupt, dogs bark, cats make cameos, roommates and family members walk by – and that’s ok! Share what you’re doing to cope. Be honest about what you are struggling with. And give people a peek into your personal life to create long-lasting connections.

Want more insights from Chris? You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter @ckoehler8.

This interview originally appeared in Drift’s Path to CMO 3.0 newsletter – a monthly email by Drift CMO, Tricia Gellman – that looks at the customer-centric, data-driven, and barrier-breaking marketing trends that drive today’s CMOs and business leaders. Subscribe now.