Jill Rowley has an impressive track record: 20 years in Silicon Valley and 52 quarters in software sales at companies like Oracle, Salesforce, and Eloqua. Over the last ten years she’s served as an advisor to over a dozen or so of tech’s most noteworthy companies, and been a keen observer of trends in both sales and marketing. Today, she serves as Chief Growth Officer at Marketo, the marketing automation behemoth that was acquired by a private equity firm in 2016.
But if you talk to Rowley for just a few minutes, another of her strengths becomes crystal clear: She has an uncanny ability to identify and connect emerging trends in sales to build a clearer picture of the future. Combine that with her wealth of experience in the world of tech, and it’s a formidable combination.
Recently, I sat down with Rowley to hear first-hand about her journey to the C-suite, how she shops for B2B software, and where she sees sales and marketing tech moving in the near future.
The Journey to Marketo
Rowley spent 20 years in the Bay Area before deciding in 2017 to make the move to Charleston, South Carolina. Thinking she was ready for some down-time, plans changed when she got a call from Marketo’s CEO, Steve Lucas.
“I was listening to Steve say that nobody wants to be marketed to, and I’ve always said nobody wants to be sold to. We want to be engaged, we want help, we crave–we demand–value. The Marketo opportunity represented a chance to make that happen.”
And, she says, “I love transformation–I’m a transformation junkie,” a reference to the changes happening at Marketo at the time.
So, with that potential for transformational change in the marketing technology landscape, Rowley accepted the role of Chief Growth Officer at Marketo.
“It was never a goal of mine to be in the C-suite. I don’t f*cking care about titles. Clearly I believe a lot in influence. But influence doesn’t always equal authority–it also takes work,” Rowley states matter-of-factly.
The Rise of Conversations and Chat
When Rowley was at Eloqua in the early 2000s, companies were just standing up their first websites.
“Basically, it was your corporate brochure on a web page. It wasn’t interactive, it didn’t engage, it didn’t convert,” she says. She points out that if you worked in marketing back then, you simply didn’t have a need for software to help you manage it.
But, of course, the internet changed everything.
And it gave rise to a suite of marketing automation platforms just like Marketo–think Oracle, Pardot, and others–based on email functionality. And that’s been the status quo ever since.
Which got Rowley thinking:
“I wondered, Is the marketing automation space ready to be disrupted? Is the foundation of that the right kind of foundation? Because all of those platforms were birthed with email as the central focus, not the account. That got me asking the question, If not email, what’s next?”
For Rowley, the answer seems to be a more conversational approach to sales that makes the buyer the key driver of action–not the sales rep.
“People want to have conversations about themselves: their problems, their goals, their business, their aspirations, their world. As a buyer or prospect, why would I want to start a conversation with you about… you?” Rowley points out, referring to the old school B2B style of sales.
Today, she says, we must always serve the buyer. And that means meeting them outside of just email interactions in other marketing channels like social, or as of late, chat. Having customer-first conversations is now a requisite for the modern sales process.
“People want the conversation on their terms–where they want to have it, and when they want to have it.”
How A Chief Growth Officer Buys B2B Software
As Chief Growth Officer at Marketo, it’s not surprising that Rowley is hit up by sales reps all the time.
“Every martech company in the world wants us to use their product. We just can’t consume every partner product–we just don’t have the capacity to consume that much tech,” she explains.
So, how does a member of the C-suite at one of the world’s most well-known tech companies shop for software?
“I look for success,” she states.
Pressed further, Rowley explains that one of the key factors in considering a new product or solution is whether or not she’s heard of another company’s success with it.
“A company has to be good at selling their product, sure, but I also want to know what happens afterwards–how are customers feeling after they’ve purchased?” she says.
Rowley says that far too many marketers and sales leaders suffer severe FOMO–fear of missing out–all too often. This prompts them to buy a product simply because everyone else is, without really knowing how it’ll be used in their respective organization.
“I always ask, is the organization ready for whatever it is that we’re looking to buy? I’ve seen a lot of people buy software they really weren’t ready for, and don’t get value from,” she says.
If she doesn’t see or hear about real customers having value with the product after purchase, it’s an instant disqualification.
Spotting Emerging Trends In B2B Sales Tech
Rowley has seen a lot of software trends come and go over the last twenty years.
So, what does she see as the next big thing in sales?
“Sales enablement as a function reminds me of the early days of marketing operations. Sales enablement tools remind me of the early days of marketing technology. I remember being a rep at Eloqua in 2002, and nobody had software in marketing. It just wasn’t something marketing purchased. In B2B, data and workflows–that just wasn’t there. And I remember reading the first report published by IDC and it was on marketing operations and I was like, ‘This is what we need within an organization!’ Similar to the marketing operations revolution, I think sales enablement has the potential to make a huge impact,” Rowley says.
But it’s not sales ops she’s talking about.
“Sales ops is so focused on the guts–CRM, quote-to-cash, electronic signature. Those are all neat things, but it’s the sales enablement stuff that I think hooks marketing and sales together. It’s really that translation engine from marketing to sales, and I really think this function has the potential to bring the knowledge, skills, and the assets into alignment with marketing,” she explains.
The Power of Meeting the Buyer Where They Are
If Rowley’s time in tech has taught her anything, it’s the power of putting the customer’s business needs first during the sales process. In order to do that, sales teams can’t afford to wait for perfect alignment and hand-offs from marketing, she says. With the help of chat and other conversational marketing tools, though, sales reps can meet the buyer where they are, and serve them on their terms. And that is the real secret to success in the modern buying journey.