Jennifer Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Software AG, began her career as a customer services representative fluent in German; this early job allowed her to use her languages every day and become involved in large events ultimately leading her to marketing.
Jennifer knew her next job had to be on a marketing team with a CMO that could mentor her and give her access to as much training and insights as possible. She remains close friends with this CMO, who Jennifer believes made it possible for her to be where she is today. Additionally, Jennifer Smith says she had the courage to bring her ideas forward at companies where people were willing to listen, evaluate them, and be willing to let her run with her ideas. This was key to demonstrating her capabilities throughout her career.
Rising through the ranks of field marketing coupled with international experience was an essential ingredient to her success. She recalls always sitting in the sales office and being present at customer and sales engagements. All this put Jennifer in good stead when was she asked to relocate to North America to take on a role in global field marketing.
In our interview, Jennifer Smith shares her approach to managing relationships with her C-suite peers in order to make the CEO’s job easier. She also talks about the importance of marketing measurement and ensuring her marketing team has the time and space needed to come up with new ideas.
How do you balance sticking to a plan while being open to discovering news ideas, and executing those in an agile way?
We all set goals around brand awareness, customer experience, and revenue. This directs us on a path. But we try to encourage people to do new things. We have a firm plan on what we’re delivering this year, but we don’t always know exactly how we’ll get there. Last year my current boss asked us: What’s the surprise? I loved that question and so at any point during the year we ask, what’s the next surprise that marketing can deliver? That’s where creativity and team brainstorming come in.
Ideas that are unexpected can turn into the best results. It’s a balance. You have to have a plan to get to a target, you want to see the steps, but you need to leave room for people to come up with new ideas and test them. We did two or three big projects that were not planned at the beginning of last year. They turned out to be great successes.
You can’t be in marketing without taking on new concepts and new technologies. New concepts are emerging all the time so the trick is to be flexible enough to take advantage of them.
How do you budget time for your teams to think outside the box?
I don’t ever prescribe that people should spend an exact percentage of their time on creative projects. But I do encourage people to give themselves down time. I was interviewing a leader from our Asia business for International Women’s Day, and she said, “You need recovery time,” and I think that’s so true.
I get the best ideas when I’m running, not when I’m sitting in the office. Encouraging people to be creative is very important as a leader. Working more hours doesn’t mean you’re being productive.
For our team’s annual plan, I try to create time where they can think outside the box. For example, once a year I run a marketing all-hands meeting, and we bring our entire global team to one location. There are a lot of updates in that meeting, but I set aside time for brainstorming new ideas and off-the-wall thinking.
I always start that meeting saying, “This is two hours of time that might frustrate some people because there may not be an outcome. But this is the time where your brain is allowed to do something different.”
We use this time to brainstorm and we always come back to these ideas in our online meeting, discussing how we can use them. A boss of mine once asked me, “How many hours a week are you working from home?”
I thought he was asking from a negative point of view. But he said, “Give yourself thinking time. You need to be out of the office half a day a week, and you need to use that time to think. You can’t do that if you have too much going on.”
Even beyond leaving the office, I believe it’s important to get out of your comfort zone. This can be time away from the people you work with every day. For example, I’ll go to a networking group by myself. Every time I take myself out of my normal environment, new ideas come to me that are worth investigating.
We get so busy with our days that we forget that working smart isn’t about having back-to-back meetings. Working smart is gaining new perceptions externally, implementing those ideas, and learning how that made the business better.
How do you currently think about marketing measurement?
A current challenge I’m addressing is going beyond the narrow definition of ‘marketing sourced pipeline’. I’m focused on understanding the entire makeup of the pipeline, i.e. which teams are influencing what percentage of pipeline. Only when we look at the pipeline as a collective set of touchpoints from sales, marketing, partner, and so on can we better understand if marketing is truly making a difference.
We have individual teams who produce partner sourced revenue, inside sales sourced revenue, marketing sourced revenue, and together it builds up an entire pipeline—no matter where it comes from. With the rise of digital marketing it’s not fair for one group to say, “I’m sourcing that pipeline,” because there are so many different touchpoints, and there are so many ways a company can influence what’s inside the pipeline that even if it is sales generated, marketing is going to be involved somewhere.
Gone are the days where somebody comes to an event, provides you with their contact information, you call them, they become an opportunity and then a customer. We know this is not the true journey, we can’t say, “this lead was sourced by marketing because the first time we saw them was at our event.” It’s likely they were well aware of our brand before the event. They may have already talked to a salesperson, interacted with our website, engaged with us on social media, but it was not logged in the CRM.
Measuring the “influence” by marketing is as important as revenue “sourced by marketing” because marketing touches many areas of the pipeline, regardless of the where the pipeline was sourced. Viewing the entire pipeline and creating analytics on the quality of pipeline—defined by what closes quicker or has higher value—is something marketing can help with using the analytics that are available.
It is important to understand how many touchpoints it takes to convert someone that is interested in a product to a closed sale. You need to understand their social media profile and what assets they engage with. The classic outbound telemarketing approach where you follow up with a lead and it converts to a sale simply doesn’t happen anymore.
What matters is delivering value to customers which often means serving up relevant content at the right time—and this can only be achieved by gathering meaningful intelligence about your customer, and learning what makes customers decide to buy your product.
How do you manage up, down, and sideways?
I’ve been lucky to work at public and private companies in the US and Europe. My key learning is that you can be as prepared as possible before presenting to a management board, but you never really know what is happening in the boardroom so be prepared for a change in mood or agenda.
Put your content in context. A board is rarely dealing with marketing information so be prepared to position your content in the greater scheme of the business. And try and get as much information as you can, including other agenda items and other matters, that might be impacting the board.
At the C-suite level, managing up, down and sideways is really important. As important as it is to manage up—because your manager will set the objectives and goals you’ll be measured against—never forget your peers. As the marketing leader they are your customers.
It’s really about making the CEO’s life easier and you can do this by helping your C-suite peers deliver on their goals.
Alignment across the C-suite is critical. As a result, on a day-to-day basis, I will spend more time on the relationships with my peers at the C-level than managing up. I’m making sure I’m contributing to my peers’ business and driving what they need.
How do CMOs cultivate those peer relationships and drive C-level alignment?
First of all, understand their business. Your relationship with them is about them, not you. Your goal is to understand their pain points. If I’m going to show value, I have to show value as it is defined in their mind, not how marketing defines value. I’ve made this mistake in the past.
If you’re talking to a product leader, sales leader, strategy leader, or M&A leader, what they’re looking for from marketing is all very different. Their worlds are very different. If you don’t understand their world then you can’t map it to what marketing can do. There’s no cookie cutter approach, you can’t take one presentation and use it for everyone.
So ask yourself, do you truly understand their world and their pain points? Can you talk their language?
Often times marketers use too much jargon, speaking their own “marketing language”. People don’t know what SEM is, they don’t know what SEO is, they don’t know what an MQL is. So make sure you position these terms in their worlds and why they need to consider them.
For example, product divisions need to grow the revenue of their products, I have many examples where product groups are marketing single products and yet sales is marketing multi-product solutions to solve a customer problem. Marketing can be the bridge that connects these groups and creates marketing strategies that make the products relevant to all of your audience’s needs.
As marketers, we now have an amazing array of valuable data providing us with the health of the business. I’m always amazed when I show product leaders, CTOs, and development leaders the Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and the social media interactions we have with our solution. They love that. They want to build that into their board deck to add another level to their story.
This matters because the CEO himself wants to tell a comprehensive story. He or she wants to go to the board meeting and say, we agreed on a strategy, we executed cohesively, and because of that, we achieved our goals
You cannot have your C-suite peers all telling different stories. Having pre-board meetings with the executive team to talk about how we are bringing our stories together to make it more cohesive is a great exercise. It ensures everyone is on the same page.
You seem to start from a listener’s mindset. What are tips for improving listening skills as a leader?
It’s hard. I didn’t start that way. Naturally, if you’re a type A person who’s ambitious and wants to contribute, you have a tendency to quickly recognize a problem and say, “I can come up with a solution,” and that makes you a talker.
As marketers we always feel a bit like second class citizens to sales team. Marketing tends to feel they have to shout about what it can do to make itself known. When you’re in a meeting you naturally always have an argument or solution when a topic comes up. It took me awhile to bite my tongue and listen to what the first 5 people have to say before I give my opinion. Their opinion may inform a better opinion.
That’s what I challenge my team on, being the last person to say something instead of the first.
Marketing is the link in a business and unfortunately business schools don’t see this, they would tell you one the most strategic parts of the business is marketing, but true strategic marketing can link everything together. Unfortunately today in the B2B industries, marketing is seen as the promotional team, the people that drive pipeline. That’s part of marketing. But marketing is about the connections. You can only make these connections after you understand every part of the business.
Once you understand the different parts of the business you can map the product goals with the sales goal. From there you can see how to do something together. This is the part of the job I love. I love presenting an idea and then facilitating the conversation between product and sales, and bringing teams together to brainstorm. That’s what I think our job is. But you can’t get there unless you actively listen and understanding the needs of the person.
For marketing leaders making their way or interviewing, listening is crucial. You don’t know the culture until you’re there. You might have an agenda. Or they may have said, “Brand is really important,” but upon arrival you realize they have no sales assets. So a quick win is creating a presentation for the sales teams. After you deliver quick wins, you earn a seat at the table, at which point you can have the conversation about brand and strategy.
That’s what I say to a lot of people who come into new businesses. Earn the right to have a seat at the table, and when you’re at the table be really conscious of the value you’re bringing.