CMO Playbook: Marketing Strategies and Tactics

Although marketing theory is useful, the real comes in marketing tactics and execution. We talk with two seasoned CMOs to learn marketing strategy and tactics that deliver results.


Mar 15, 2019

Although marketing theory is useful, the real comes in marketing tactics and execution. We talk with two seasoned CMOs to learn marketing strategy and tactics that deliver results. 

Tim Matthews is Chief Marketing Officer for Exabeam, the Smarter SIEM company. With a focus on the security market, he has over 20 years of experience building and running software marketing teams. Prior to Exabeam, he was Vice President of Marketing at Imperva, where he led worldwide marketing. Tim also ran the marketing organization for Incapsula (acquired by Imperva) where he drove the growth of the SaaS security service before being promoted to lead marketing for the entire company. Prior to Incapsula, Tim ran worldwide product marketing for Symantec’s enterprise security product portfolio. Tim was also head of marketing and product marketing at PGP Corporation (acquired by Symantec). He began his career in the security market at RSA Data Security, which was acquired by Security Dynamics and subsequently renamed RSA Security. Tim has a BS in Computer Science from Union College in Schenectady, NY. He is also the author of The Professional Marketer.

Mark Herring is Chief Marketing Officer at InfluxData. He is a well-rounded silicon-valley executive with proven experience in taking complex technology and making it understandable to the broader audience. He has a deep passion for marketing starting with the developer all the way up to the CIO. Before InfluxData, Mark was VP of corporate and developer marketing at Hortonworks. Previously, Mark has held senior management positions at Software AG, Sun Microsystems, Forte Software, and Oracle. Mark holds a B.S. Degree from the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.


Michael Krigsman: We're speaking with two chief marketing officers from Silicon Valley to learn their digital strategies. I'm Michael Krigsman. I'm an industry analyst. Thanks so much for watching CXOTalk. Tim Matthews, tell us about Exabeam.

Tim Matthews: Exabeam is a security software company. We are trying to disrupt the security management marketplace. We're a midsized company going up against a couple of billion-dollar giants.

Michael Krigsman: Mark, tell us about InfluxData.

Mark Herring: We're a time series database, so sort of a specialized database. It does a really good job of analyzing and looking at IoT data or machine data from DevOps.

Michael Krigsman: You're both in different spaces, but it's both enterprise software, and so our focus today is going to be on business-to-business marketing as opposed to consumer.

Mark Herring: Yes, enterprise, but the route to market for me is through the developer.

Michael Krigsman: Tim, what is the route to market for you?

Tim Matthews: In our case, we're selling to the IT department, specifically the security team, typically in larger companies.

Michael Krigsman: But in both cases, you're selling to a relatively technical audience.

Mark Herring: I would say a very technical audience. Yeah. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: Tim, as the CMO of Exabeam, give us a sort of broad overview of your areas of focus and priority.

Tim Matthews: As I mentioned, we're an upstart trying to disrupt some very large companies in IBM and Splunk, for those who know those two companies. My two primary areas are to raise awareness of Exabeam so that buyers of our software are even aware of us. Then my probably number one priority is driving pipeline to make sure there's enough pipeline for our sales reps to be able to hit their quotes for the company to hit our number.

Budget Priorities and Demand Generation

Michael Krigsman: Pipeline is the primary set of activities, and that's where your time and budget is spent?

Tim Matthews: Yeah, so people call that demand generation. I say pipeline because I measure my demand not in leads but in dollars.

Michael Krigsman: Mark, how about you? Where are your areas of priority and how does that compare to the things that Tim was just talking about?

Mark Herring: Yeah, it's so funny. I'm smiling. It's exactly the same. Number one, category creation, we call it. Get our names on the map, but even just get people aware that there is a better way of solving … (indiscernible, 00:02:27) problem.

Number two is the pipeline. As Tim said, it's, "Don't care." Obviously, in some way, I care about leads, MQLs, and all the great acronyms that are out there, but it's about the pipeline. If we're not creating pipeline, they'll find another CMO that can.

Tim Matthews: If I could add, Mark and I have a little bit of a different job because he just mentioned category creation. He's got, in some ways, a harder job because he has to convince people they even need what he's selling. In my case, as I said, we're going after an existing market with newer technology and a better way, so we're having to prove that we're better than the incumbents.

Michael Krigsman: If we were to roll this up at a high level, is it accurate to say that what you're both trying to do is stand out for the noise? Is that maybe just too obvious a way of looking at it, too simplistic?

Mark Herring: I think marketing, in general, is a competition for eyeballs, right? It's a competition for mindset. Ask any marketing person, I think that's the same thing.

To me, what's interesting from both of us was, we hold ourselves accountable to a pipeline number, which is very different from an eyeball number. Yes, you've got to get eyeballs to eventually get to pipe, but it is that you've got to have that focus to where you're trying to get someone to as opposed to just going, "Oh, I had 10,000 leads," and I think that's sort of the old way of doing marketing was very much activity-based marketing as opposed to results-based marketing.

Mark Herring: I'd say, too, that I wouldn't say stand out from the noise, although there is definitely a lot of noise in my market, which is the cyber security market. But I like to think of it as meeting the buyer where they are when they're ready. I need to be there whether it's Google or an event, whatever it happens to be, I need to be there to solve their problem.

For a lot of small companies, it's a challenge. When they don't know you already, they're not looking for you, necessarily. Make sure you're in the place where they're looking to do research or actually make a purchase decision.

Page Views vs. Business Outcomes

Michael Krigsman: Let's drill down on these issues you were just describing, the distinction on the one hand between eyeballs and results and, on the other hand, the distinction between driving leads and meeting the customer where they are. Connect the dots for us on that.

Tim Matthews: Sure. Maybe I'll just start. There are certainly a number of businesses where eyeballs or viewers are the metric that matters. I think, in B2B, and probably eventually in all markets but in B2B, the rubber meets the road with pipeline and dollars. The thing about talking about dollars is you could have a conversation with a salesperson or with a board member, and everyone understands dollars. You start talking about some fancy marketing metrics, you probably might lose people or, at best, get a cynical response.

Mark Herring: Yeah, I was going to also jump in there. It's not that the activity isn't important. It's almost, if you want to be a world class athlete, you've got to get up early, you've got to go to the track, you've got to put in a certain amount of effort to get that. It's that end result that's in the top of your mind, so if you're driving your marketing team. I agree with Tim. You can definitely talk about pipeline generation.

Obviously, all the metrics we're looking at is, how many people are coming to our website? What's going on in terms of Twitter follows, and all those types of things? That's not the end. It's almost, you've got to do those things knowing that those will result in that pipeline that then you have this common terminology that you can speak to.

I'd sort of say it gives us a much clearer focus because you could have a ton of users. You could have a ton of leads. You could have a lot of people loving you. But if no one actually buys, we've failed. I think it is sort of that re-looking at everything with that in mind going, "What's our conversion metrics down, all the way down to pipeline?" as opposed to just pure lead gen. There are important things to do, but it's the end that really matters.

Connecting Marketing Activities and Sales Results

Michael Krigsman: I think the question that marketers always have is, how do you draw a direct connection or link between marketing activities and sales results?

Mark Herring: We measure absolutely everything, right? We look at cohort analysis down from where we saw a lead, what did they do last with us, how many touchpoints did they convert into an opportunity and into the pipeline? We just apply that rigorously across everything we do.

I don't think it's that hard to see now in terms of, it might not be this simple, one-to-one correlation. They came to an event. They turned into a pipeline. Let's go do more of those events. It's a multitouch process. With the metrics that we're able to collect now, we can do a much better job of just looking at this whole influence pipe and where things are going.

Tim Matthews: Right, there's an old joke that half of my marketing budget is driving business; I just don't know which half. That's maybe the old way, right? I totally agree that now, especially with a technology buyer, there are so many ways to track effectiveness all the way from that initial click through to a sale. It's become a lot of fun and marketers, in general, are better armed to prove their worth, to really show the investment and the ROI on their marketing dollars than they ever have been.

Michael Krigsman: What is your relationship to sales?

Mark Herring: We drive the car together. It feels like two in a box.

We just came back from one of our events and, outside from the customers I met, probably spent most of the time with our sales VP just trying to strategize what we do, so I definitely feel like we both got the same goals and both driving the car in the same direction.

Tim Matthews: Right, we've got a good relationship as well, but there always is that tension between sales and marketing. Usually, one of two things is the scapegoat: the product doesn't work or the leads aren't any good.

In our case, we go to great lengths to communicate directly with our sales VPs. We actually, on a quarterly basis, sit down with them and review the pipeline on a rep level. We go rep-by-rep, region-by-region and, actually, show them how we're helping to drive their business. Especially now that so much business is driven online that that's critical to show them that.

Michael Krigsman: What does sales say to you or ask of you? What kind of specific things do they want from you in terms of your marketing campaigns, or do they not care as long as you're driving the results that they desire?

Mark Herring: I was going to say, I think, from sales, you can never have enough pipeline, so it's always, what more can you do to generate even more pipeline? What I'd say, and maybe it's unique where I am at, is we feel like we go into this problem together as opposed to it's not like sales asking me to do something like, "Hey, let's strategize through things. Here's the data."

I get sales asking me for a lot more data. Even the sales rep is going, "How many leads happened in my territory? What pipeline came from marketing sourced stuff? How can we help?" They have a lot of ideas.

I also have the maybe unique responsibility of inside sales and this SDI team, the telesales team reports into me, so I get a very easy way of testing out some marketing messages, do they work or don't they work. I really feel we're trying to solve or solve this together, right? There isn't this adversarial sort of sales and marketing thing where we feel like we are pulling each other apart while we still try and beat a competitor. It's more like, how are we going to go after these competitors? What are we going to do to stand out?

We have very frank conversations about which things work to marketing and which things didn't. Which sales reps are working? Which sales reps aren't? That's why I feel like it's a partnership.

Tim Matthews: Yeah, I was going to say that certainly there is no shortage of ideas coming in from the field. I get emails and texts every day, "Why don't we do this? Why aren't we doing that? Our competition is doing this."

You can be overrun by ideas. Some of them are good and some of them aren't so good. But again, that's where having a discussion about the pipeline is critical because I can say, "Well, your reps have more than they need. Why are we going to do more?" for example.

It's helped me professionally and it's a fairly recent development for me to be able to talk about the business in terms of the pipeline and in terms of investment and have it at that level, not, "Why don't we go to this show or that show or advertise here or there?" You can spend a lot of money and waste a lot of money and not hit your business goals, so trying to drive the conversation around investment and pipeline as opposed to tactics.

There is a little bit of tension here. I do try and get our sales leaders to trust me to deliver a number to them and less about giving me suggestions on the tactics.

Importance of Pipeline 

Michael Krigsman: Tim, it sounds like the pipeline is your really primary reference point for evaluating everything that you're doing. Is that accurate?

Tim Matthews: It's definitely true. I may sound like a broken record bringing it up so often, but it's the commonality. Everyone can relate to it, like I said, the sales team, the sales management, executive management, the board. Really, at the end of the day, that is our job, whether it's thinking about awareness or direct demand gen. If I'm not making the phones ring, so to speak, and driving leads that convert into opportunities for the sales team, I'm not doing my job, so why not talk about that most important thing first? If you want to know how I got there, then I'm happy to tell them about all the inner workings of the marketing team.

Mark Herring: Yeah, and I don't know whether it's the same for you, Tim, but what to me has been sort of interesting on this journey is pipeline can only be created by sales, so you own this goal and you focus 100% on this goal. But sales is the only people that can actually create the pipeline, so you're giving them almost these sacrificial leads that you hope will turn into a pipeline but going, "Hey, I'll take the goal of you guys, and I have no control of you creating it."

To me, it was a huge change between sales and marketing when we started adopting that. They're like, "Wow. You're prepared to put your pocketbook where reality is as opposed to just hide behind this perception that, 'Hey, you can create leads out of anything. We really don't care.'"

Tim Matthews: Right.

Mark Herring: Going to the pipeline and not being in control of creating the pipeline, yeah, I think it definitely kept the teams a lot closer together.

Tim Matthews: There's a certain amount of trust you've got to have when you hand off a very good lead that becomes pipeline. Then the flip side is, once they convert it to the pipeline, it's then their responsibility and they're taking this really precious asset that you've created and it's up to them.

In a way, it's marketing, being able to put a little bit of pressure on sales to say, "I'm giving you something really good. You've accepted it. Now it's your responsibility," as opposed to, many times in my career people have blamed really crappy leads or, "No one wants to buy." Well, you've accepted it. You've created it. Right now, it's in your hands.

Tracking the End-to-End Marketing Process

Michael Krigsman: What about the tracking? You've developed this great lead. You've handed it off to sales. How are you tracking the end-to-end process from the source of obtaining that lead to the point of the sale; either it closes or doesn't close?

Tim Matthews: Yeah, and I'll just say to start, even with all the advances, it can be a challenge to really track something 100% accurately. Think about your own browsing habits. One moment you're on your desktop. Then you're on your mobile phone. Maybe at home, you're on your tablet. Think about that kind of dynamic across maybe ten people at a bank who is going to buy your software.

That being said, we do track lead sourcing, so the first time we ever saw somebody, and then we do track all the touchpoints. You can track all the touchpoints and the argument is always, "Well, which one of those touchpoints was the one that really converted them into a buyer?" That so-called lead attribution is actually very difficult to get right.

Mark Herring: Yeah, I agree, but what I'd say is that I think, on a particular piece of the pipeline or particular opportunity, knowing which was the thing that turned them over, but I'd say the laws of averages is what I go by. I go, "Okay, we know if we get so many people into the pipe then they do this. We know in X number of days that this Y percentage will convert."

I'd say we track everything. I almost feel like I'm always asking for, "Well, let's also put another date/time stamp on that field and see what happens there." While my team, and me personally, spend an inordinate amount of time just looking at the data trying to see, is there some trend here that we're missing that maybe another marketer hasn't seen?

I go, "Ah, this will give us a competitive differentiator," because it's not by gut anymore. It's a lot of data-driven, even 100% accurate, knowing exactly what was the thing that turned them over, you know, to our own buying habits, what was the thing that made me go and buy those pair and sneakers? Was it because I saw the ad on TV a month ago? Yeah, I don't know.

Tim Matthews: Right, that's true. If I could just give you one anecdote, our previous company, we had our technical team use chat to deal with technical problems. When I was looking at the data one day, I noticed all of these leads for the lead source said chat.

It turns out that our technical support team were terrible salespeople. They would barely answer the chats. But we realized that buyers, even of enterprise software, wanted to interact via chat and, in many cases, it was over the weekend. You never thought that you would close a deal or initiate a deal on a Sunday.

That led to an experiment in a chat team and eventually a 24/7 chat team. That became one of our most successful lead sources. Really looking at that data and figuring out where your business is coming from is crucial for a modern CMO.

Michael Krigsman: Can we drill down a little bit into those sources of leads since it's ultimately so crucial to both of you? How do you think about it? How do you structure your thinking around where we're going to do demand gen? Where is that demand going to come from?

Tim Matthews: Yeah, so at the highest level, we look at marketing sourced, sales sourced and, in our case, channel sourced. We have resellers who sell our products. Then within marketing, at the very highest level, we look at events, we look at online, and then we look at direct marketing. Then, within each one of those, you can kind of break them down further. Those are the high-level categories.

Mark Herring: Yeah, I think ours are similar. I'd say obviously a strong proponent of ours come from the open source community, so community driven interactions. I think, for all of these things, I'd almost say that the thing we focus the most on is content being king. People come to our website. People come here because there's interesting content, and so you've done a ton of SEO. You just love SEO and you try and deconstruct how Google does its rankings because that's what drives people to start expressing interest.

Then we go to where they are at the moment, whether they're going to this event or that event. We go and meet with them on the floor and that, but usually that's not the first time they've ever seen us. They've heard of us. They've seen us somewhere else. I think it all goes back to having a strong content strategy, but that's also tied very keenly into a strong SEO. Content without SEO doesn't exist.

Content and SEO

Michael Krigsman: Content and SEO, are those the kind of top of funnel points for you?

Tim Matthews: Yeah, so you asked me earlier about what I meant by meeting the buyer when they're ready to research or buy. Mark was just talking about that. Having the right piece of content, you can think of your own searches. How do I do this? How do I do that on a business level? Having, whether it's a blog post or an e-book or a video that answers a question and leads someone toward registering on your site as a lead.

That's crucial to have the right content at the top of the funnel and then, as Mark said, you have to reverse engineer how somebody buys. What is it that they're looking to do at the very beginning when they're looking to buy something like your products? What's the question they're asking? Most importantly, what's the Google search or the phrase that they're typing in and how do you make sure you're there? There's a lot of technicality in how you do that, but it's a really important thing in today's digital marketing.

Mark Herring: Yeah, and I'd also say that the other piece is giving them the right content in the right format. We find a lot of people like to read it on a website just sort of as either a blog or a piece of documentation. But, more and more, we've seen people ask, "Why isn't this up on YouTube? Why isn't this up on SlideShare? Why isn't this in someone else's blog or somewhere else?" It's almost finding the buyers where they are and, obviously, trying to get them back to tell them about our stuff. But, more and more importantly, it's just trying to find out what mediums that the stuff is being consumed in.

I know this, our video here, is out on Twitter and stuff. Twitter is a huge interaction mechanism for us because you just get a lot of people telling you their real thoughts about what the product is like, especially when something goes wrong. It's like the first thing you do is you go to Twitter and tell the world what the problem is, but you've got to engage with them wherever they are.

We found the same thing with YouTube. We found the same thing with SlideShare and a couple of these other mediums where you just go and say, "Hey, things are already out there. The audience is already out there. Let's go be there with the audience as opposed to forcing always the audience back to us."

Role of IT and the CIO in Marketing

Michael Krigsman: We have a couple of questions from Twitter. Why don't we take those now? The first question is from Arsalan Khan. He's an IT guy, and he's asking, "Does IT ever help in terms of this demand gen process? If so, what could IT do?"

Tim Matthews: Sure. First, I'll say that there is a booming area known as MarTech, marketing technology. There's just a lot more software than there's ever been before to track your buyer from every which way. Certain now, we have what's called marketing operations, which is kind of one step away from IT, but we do work very closely with our IT team to do all the integrations, tracking all that data, analyzing all that data, storing all that data.

I read recently that the CMO has become the second biggest buyer of the technology behind the CIO. Certainly, we're kind of moving in that direction.

Mark Herring: Yeah, I'd agree, whether it's just traditional IT or it's almost become shadow IT inside of marketing. We're a smallish company, so we don't really have a big segmentation, but we also find people building our product is another source of information for the content. We're also tracking how many queries did someone write in our product. How long did it take them to get up and running? Did they stop using for the past four days? It's all part of that nurture stream.

I'd say marketing has become just embedded in every aspect, including IT. I always just joke inside the company that everyone is in marketing. I don't care what you do. You're in marketing because you're trying to find more of those eyeballs. IT is a critical part, or at least understanding how the systems work are critical even though it wouldn't be a traditional IT group in the old world.

Tim Matthews: Right. The other thing I'll just add is if you're selling to IT, which I do, and you sell to developers, but just a click away.

Mark Herring: Yep.

Tim Matthews: It's interesting. You could actually go downstairs and talk to our IT team and find out, how do they research when they're buying something? What do they look at? What mediums do they use? It's interesting. You could actually do some market research, so to speak, inside your own building with the IT team.

Challenges of Being a Marketing Leader

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Let's go on to a couple of other questions that are coming in. Shelly Lucas @pisarose asks, "What is the most challenging or difficult thing about being a marketing leader today?"

Mark Herring: Obviously, hitting the numbers is sort of maybe just tongue and cheek if you don't hit your pipeline numbers. It's providing the smarts and the visibility into where to go next. I think that's sort of a huge challenge. There are other smart people out there. It's a very competitive market. There's a lot of VC money being thrown at a lot of different problems, and so I feel perpetually it's only the paranoid survive.

I say to my team the whole time, "We can do better here," and so it's driving the team, I'd say is one thing. Then finding the right people to be part of your group, I'd put at the top of all of those. It's growing the team in the right way to better hit the numbers with the right members because a bad hire is just really taxing on the system. We spend a lot of time worrying about who we're hiring, how do we onboard them, and how do they become part of the fabric of our company and definitely a part of our marketing team.

Tim Matthews: I agree with that. There's definitely now a very specific pressure on hitting the number, the pipeline number, which we've, I guess, brought upon ourselves.

Mark Herring: Yeah. [Laughter]

Tim Matthews: [Laughter] Right? I think, especially in tech, and this is a little different than consumer goods. One thing that is a challenge that we strive to do is really bring market intelligence and vision into the company. It sounds funny to say because, after all, the marketing comes from the word "market," but really understanding the market, providing that back to the company is something that is not as common here because, quite often in Silicon Valley, you've got a technical founder, maybe a sales leader, and that's the source of this data. Really going out and understanding the buyer in the market is something that a lot of marketers don't do, ironically enough.

Michael Krigsman: That's interesting and, in a way, a little bit shocking at the same time.

Tim Matthews: [Laughter]

Mark Herring: [Laughter]

Strategic vs. Tactical Marketing

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Gus Bekdash says a lot of companies he finds that folks are fixated on tactical marketing, which is promotion leads, messaging, really the tactics, but not enough on strategic marketing. What are the products, segments that our focus as a business should be on? How can we correct that to ensure that there's a greater focus on the strategic aspects of this?

Tim Matthews: Yeah, that's what I was just touching on. How do you bring that insight into the company? For example, here, we're beginning. Honestly, we had a lot of the last year or so really focused on making sure the demand engine was there and the awareness was there.

Now we're doing more things like market research. What are the markets? Bringing that data forward into the conversation, things like persona research, going out and doing interviews, so bringing those insights back. I'm not going to design a product, but I can tell people what markets look promising, what buyers are saying. I think, as a marketer, if you provide that information and provide that data into the conversation, then marketing has a more strategic role in the direction of the company.

Mark Herring: Yeah, I agree. I think the thing to me that sort of is bringing that data back, so it's doing those. We sort of do customer advisory councils or surveys of the customer and bring it back going, "Hey, customers are looking for this. This is an adjacent space. This is what we need to get into there, but I'd sort of say where marketing has maybe done itself a disservice in the past would be, "Oh, here's a strategic thing."


"Oh, because it just sounds like it's a good idea."

It's coming back with some of that data and saying, "Hey, this is what we're seeing. This is what we think we could address." Then I spend a lot of time also with our product management group trying to define and prioritize what's needed next in the product because of what we see. I think you can just get so caught up in the day-to-day thing.

I agree with the person on Twitter that, hey, you forget about doing the strategic stuff, but I feel there are some partners that you have inside the company, like I have, definitely project management is a huge partner of ours to go and say, "Hey, this is what we're seeing. What are you seeing? How do we go after that?"

Our CTO, the same type of thing, they spend an inordinate amount of time, as well as our sales engineers, at customer sites. It gives us a much better grasp of maybe some of these more adjacent futures that we can go in. It's all back to bringing data to the table as opposed to just pure gut feel.

Tim Matthews: That's right. I agree with that. Marketing has a lot of data. Just share it. Use that to your advantage to get your point of view across.

Michael Krigsman: To what extent are you spending time and resources calibrating on an ongoing basis? Who are we selling to on a broad level, defining our segments and markets, like we were just saying, versus the tactical efforts of counting page views, counting leads, things like that?

Mark Herring: We spend a lot of time creating the systems to count page views and all the rest. As I said, there's sort of this startup cost of creating a matrix driven marketing group. It's bringing in the right tools to do that. It's hooking them all up together. It's coming up with a common way of thinking about it.

Once that's done, it feels that just becomes very much more of an execution engine. Go drive this. Let's go do a couple more things like this. We spend more of our maybe higher order bit of our brain worrying about where are we going next and that type of thing. There's a startup cost and then that becomes more just sort of an engine that we spend a bit more time then thinking and spend more, I'd say, definitely of my time and maybe the senior members' time thinking a little bit more of where we're going as opposed to what's happening now.

Tim Matthews: Yeah. There's an expression, another old marketing expression, "Nothing important happens inside the building." I'd say that one thing we don't do enough and we have to keep reminding ourselves to do is get out there. Get out to a tradeshow. Go on a customer call. Go to a focus group. Just get out there, understand, and really meet the buyers where they are.

One thing that I realize is how few marketers have ever actually, in some cases, met a customer. Even if they have, how often have they actually gone to their place of work and understood what their day-to-day looks like, what their environment is like, what kind of pressures they're under. That's, to me, really good marketing.

I'll say that we always have to take a pause and force ourselves to get out there as we get caught up in the day-to-day. It's a really important thing to remind yourself to do. I wish I could do more of it, honestly.

Michael Krigsman: Is there some sort of discipline that you can use to enforce that outside in thinking into marketing teams?

Tim Matthews: I'll just tell you, we've done a couple of fun exercises. I have something that I call Be the Buyer Day. We do it once a year. Once a year, we drop everything and we act like a customer of our product. We do our online research. We go to websites of us and our competitors. We call in. We disclose who we are, but we try and find out what it's like to be a customer.

That's really interesting because then you see how good or not you are, as well as your competition. It just kind of puts the marketers in the mindset. That's a pretty easy, daylong exercise where you can divide up your competition or divide up your product line. It's fun to kind of have the marketers report back what it's actually like to be on the other side and try and buy your product.

Mark Herring: I really like that. We haven't done that. I might steal that idea.

Tim Matthews: Go for it.

Mark Herring: I'd sort of say ours has not been maybe as formally applied. I can tell you that for everyone on the team, we all do group duty, right? We all get to the tradeshows. We all stand in the booth. Nothing is beneath anyone. It definitely is a startup, but it gets people out there having to tell the story to see if they can actually have the guts to tell the story and then get the tough questions back and go, "Well, I don't have an answer to that. That didn't work at all."

It's, as I said, almost like having that mentality by doing what you preach. I'm out there as well doing the thing. I do like your idea, Tim, of going, "Hey, be a buyer for the day." I'm definitely going to steal that one. I like that.

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Tim Matthews: It's shocking what you'll find.

Mark Herring: Yeah. [Laughter]

Tim Matthews: [Laughter] Get ready.

Creating Authentic Marketing Messages

Michael Krigsman: One of the things that I've observed working with many, many, many software companies over the years, both really large software, the largest ones, as well as smaller ones, is what seems to happen is it's very hard for software companies to tell their story without sort of falling into sounding like a brochure. Then what happens is customers, the buyers, tend to then discount the content coming out of the software company because they say, "Oh, yeah, it's just their infomercial," no matter what they say.

Tim Matthews: Yeah. In our style guide, we have a list of forbidden words, so "state-of-the-art," "cutting edge," those kinds of things. You start speaking in this jargon and you think, "Can't they just speak English to me?" It's actually, in some cases, a sign that the marketers aren't very good writers or you can't express the idea without using some modifier like "cutting edge."

We do challenge our writers to write like humans in clear English without modifiers. We're trying to stand out, yes, but standing out; that's one way to stand out is to just have a clear message in plain English that people can understand. That helps.

Mark Herring: Yeah. I'd say, for us, because we may be a developer and open source based, and so it's very, very technical influencer audience, they might not be the person who has the check, we've got to really stay clear of any of us saying "market leading" and any sort of things that were talked about in the style guide. I'd say what we've done is we almost describe the product through the lens of the customer.

We'd rather go and take a lot of customer-driven marketing. We go and listen to the customer story. We write up the customer story. Then we use snippets of that to tell the story because then it's authentic.

What I found was you try and speak as a marketer and we all sound the same, right? "The market-leading this. We've all done this. It's great." There's just this rolling of the eyes. I think this is what gives marketing its bad rep.

I was chatting with a developer on a show last week. He goes, "Well, I hate marketing people."

I said, "Well, I'm a marketing person."

He goes, "Oh, but you gave me a shirt, so that's okay."

Tim Matthews: [Laughter]

Mark Herring: There are other bribes that we do to sort of give the audience, but it gets down to giving back to that strong believer on content is king and it's got to be that relevant content because there's just too much of it out there where people don't buy off brochures anymore. They don't buy from what's written on the website. They are asking the peer groups. They're going to shows, seeing what the competitors have got, and you've got to just be very authentic.

I think, also, tell people about some of the problems. We do this; we're really bad at doing that. I think that's always a big challenge, especially when you get some very aggressive new marketer and you go, "Hey, we even say what we don't do."

"Oh, wow, I haven't had that before."

Michael Krigsman: What's the antidote to that?

Tim Matthews: I think that part of the issue in technology is that we don't do a very good job with our brand. Who are we? What do we stand for? You end up with a lot of me-too-ism in the writing, in the messaging.

I'm a big admirer of consumer goods because I love, for example, Yeti coolers. It's amazing. It's a cooler. It works better. But how they do their marketing is just so different and refreshing to any other cooler.

I think that in technical marketing, there are only a very few companies, and Apple is always the example that comes up, that really have their own very unique brand, which is not just their identity, but the way they talk about what they do. I think that's the answer. I think that's a wakeup call for heads of marketing, in tech in particular, but any market that's commoditized or very competitive that's a B2B market.

How do you stand out? What are you even saying? If you don't understand that, you're not going to be able to teach your writers how to be unique without that understanding of who you really are, I think.

Mark Herring: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the other thing that jumped to mind to me is, back to data analysis of what people do, are they coming to the page that you've written about, is that content making a difference? I think a lot of marketers feel like they are gold on word counts and not on page view counts, right?

Tim Matthews: Mm-hmm.

Mark Herring: I go, "Hey, I don't care if it's 100 words or 1,000 words. It really doesn't matter. If it's not having an impact, let's just throw out that page and get rid of it. You might think it's a wonderful piece but, if it's not giving any sort of clarity out there, it's a total waste of time."

I do think it is tough in the B2B world because one database looks very similar to another database and you've just got to try and find that essence, go and find your sort of brand value and essence, and describe it out there in the words of your buyer. I think, again, marketing is this competition for eyeballs of a particular type, and my type would be of a developer or DevOps person.

I've got to speak in their terminology. I can't speak in product marketing or marketing terminology. Otherwise, you do just get this generic piece of thing that you've got 10,000 words and no one came.

Final Advice to Marketers

Michael Krigsman: As we finish up, we have just a few minutes left, let me ask each of you for advice that you can share for midlevel marketers who want to become CMO and who want to do a better job. Sum up everything you know, in a way.

Mark Herring: Yeah, for me it would be, be bold and be prepared to fail. I think the lessons that I've learned as a marketer has come from trying new things and a lot of them don't work. I think it's showing that boldness and that tenacity.

If you're trying to move up in the chain, coming back to your manager with data. To me, data wins anyone over. You can have a theory, but if I come and go and say, "Hey, we've implemented this check feature and it's converted this number of leads," people are going to say, "Wow, okay, that's something to look at." Whereas, "Oh, I think check would be a great thing." I think it's, become a doer and let data be your resume.

Tim Matthews: I would add to that, you should bring a knowledge of the buyer in the market. If you want to move beyond being a director up to a VP or CMO, you've got to bring that market understanding and the buyer understanding into the conversation to have that strategy that's going to help you propel your company. That, for me, could be as technical as you want, but without that understanding, you're never going to have that seat at the table to really start directing where the company is going. You can do that by talking to sales, talking to customers, talking to analysts. If you're not that person, you're just going to be a midlevel event or demand person forever, which is fine but, if you really want to move up, you've got to bring that strategy.

Mark Herring: Maybe just tongue and cheek, I think, then also realize being a CMO isn't maybe as great as you think it is. It's having a goal, as we talked about, that you're not in control of. It's having everyone think that they can do a better job than you because everyone can do marketing.

Tim Matthews: [Laughter]

Mark Herring: It's having the backbone to stand behind that, right? I think there is sort of this, be careful what you wish for on this journey.

Tim Matthews: That's a good point.

Michael Krigsman: All right, well, we are out of time. It's been a very, very fast 45 minutes today. You have been watching CXOTalk. We've been speaking with Tim Matthews, who is the CMO of Exabeam, and Mark Herring, who is the CMO of InfluxData. Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time and for being with us here today. It's been a really interesting conversation.

Everybody, be sure to come back next week, subscribe on YouTube, and subscribe to our newsletter at Thanks, everybody. Have a great day, and we'll see you next time. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Mar 15, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 586