Brian Kardon is CMO of Fuze, the global, cloud-based communications platform that allows the modern, mobile workforce to seamlessly communicate anytime, anywhere, across any device.
Serving as CMO across a variety of companies, including Lattice Engines, Eloqua, and Forrester Research, Brian knows how to establish a compelling brand purpose and story. For example, at Fuze the storytelling is focused on the future of work, and less focused on the software.
“We want to be part of something bigger than software,” Kardon says, “people can work anytime and anywhere. Finding the best talent often means hiring people remotely located. Effective collaboration across locations and time zones is key. These trends show the future of work is a mindset, and not a place.”
In our interview we discuss a variety of topics including how B2B marketing leaders can drive innovation, build a refined marketing stack, and successfully navigate board meetings.
How do you listen to the customer to drive innovation?
Marketing is responsible for consolidating customer insights, and working with the product team to incorporate those insights on the product roadmap. We like to be “outside-in” – delivering a customer experience that exceeds expectations.
We gather feedback from customers in several different ways. We do win/loss analyses to understand reasons why they became a customer, and why they did not. We do churn analyses, understanding whether a customer went with a competitor, were acquired, etc.
We approach NPS from a few different angles. We ask for a satisfaction rating after every session. We look at NPS scores for support tickets. We want to understand whether we respond promptly and solve the problem fully. With NPS we need to triangulate true customer satisfaction. For example we talk to everyone from the end-user to the CIO. We segment our data to see which areas need focus and study the long term trends.
What role does culture play in customer satisfaction?
Fuze has a cultural focus on customer success.
We have big ears and we want to listen to all the feedback. Our executive team wants to see the data but they also want to hear the verbatim feedback, i.e. what people are actually saying. It’s incredibly valuable and you gain a lot of insight.
We’re very forgiving. There’s no finger pointing in our culture. We have a culture of embracing customer feedback, even when the news is difficult to hear. We embrace learning and finding ways to make the experience better for customers.
What are CMOs being challenged to innovate on today?
A big area of focus for CMOs today is predictive analytics. We use historical performance to better understand which prospects we should target.. We also need to predict who has the best chances of converting before we call. I am seeing more organization taking on AI and machine learning initiatives, as well as bots to drive higher levels of productivity.
Account-based marketing is an area CMOs are innovating on and adopting today. Five years ago it was all about inbound marketing. But marketers are finding there isn’t much inbound for enterprise accounts. With enterprise you may only have 1000 target accounts. So account-based marketing done successfully is an important area for many B2B CMOs.
How do you navigate the rapidly expanding number of marketing technology available to you?
Over the last 5 years marketers have created large and cumbersome marketing technology stacks. You could call them mystery mansions. With the complexity around integration and compatibility, more CMOs are talking about paring down their marketing technologies.
There are many marketing and sales technologies that are bought but never used. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the level of over instrumentation. It’s like stepping into the cockpit of a jet fighter plane, you’ll only know how to read the clock.
It may be time to get back to basics and ask, “What of these technologies are really driving the business and which are ones that are making things more confusing to sales and marketing?
One approach to evaluating technology is to get a reference from a peer CMO. I ask my peers, “What’s working for you? How effective is it?”
We don’t bring on technology unless it’s been proven and verified with references.
Often technology is not about budget. It’s about bandwidth. The rare commodity is the time of the marketing and sales operations teams. To integrate it, teach people how to use it, to do sales enablement, to show sales team what the value is. So we can only take on one new technology a quarter.
When we first started we had to build the core technology stack. We looked at the 4-5 things we really needed to have, including marketing automation, a CRM and a marketing attribution solution.
But now we’re at the point that we have 5-6 technologies we want to bring onboard, but again we only have bandwidth for about one a quarter.
I’ve posed the question with my team, “If you had to drop one technology before adding another one, which one would you drop?”
This way we are force ranking the different martechs in terms of how much value each brings.
As a board member what have you observed that enables CMOs to position themselves for success?
When I joined the board at Innodata Corp. it was a whole perspective for me. Where I was used to presenting to board members, I was now being presented to.
What I’ve learned is that brutal honesty is the most important thing. For example, if you are reporting that every campaign was a success, the board will always be questioning you, and you won’t establish trust because not every marketing campaign performs above average.
The second thing I’ve learned is that there should be no surprises. Sales and marketing leaders can get into trouble when they miss a revenue or bookings forecast. If you tell the board you’re going to hit $10 million during the quarter and a day before the end of the quarter you’re only at $8.5 million, that’s very disappointing.
It shows you’re not ready to be a public company. Imagine being a public company and having a big miss. Having credibility and being trustworthy and delivering what you’re going to say you’re going to do, avoiding surprises, really matters. This is important.
Lastly, I would encourage CROs and CMOs to find opportunities between board meetings to engage with board members.
Going that extra yard to interact with them throughout the quarter means when you get to the board meeting those board members will be very supportive of what you’re trying to do. They’ll be the first to support you and evangelize you at the board meetings. They feel ownership of your plan and what you’re presenting.
In the past I’ve had board members with a sales and marketing backgrounds. I would share challenges and current projects because I wanted to get their input. This enables you to preview what you’re going to show at the meeting. This helps because then they aren’t looking at the slides or data trying to understand what it means. Instead you can have a much higher level conversation, making for a more valuable meeting.