The CMO’s Approach to Being CEO
Though not all that common, when a CMO role transitions into being CEO, it’s a safe bet that they’ll have an emphatic approach to marketing and will maintain an involved role in the company’s efforts and execution. With Rob Chen, CEO at Brightlink with a CMO background, you’d be half right. Check out a few highlights from his interview below, to learn about how his approach to running the company is influenced by his marketing background.
High up on Chen’s list of priorities is making sure the company puts their own solution to work, which in this case, means using their latest telecom tech as a crucial part of their own marketing and sales strategy. Chen is also a major proponent of active parternships as a form of gaining visibility for the company, especially with small businesses. Lastly, Chen weighs in on how to shape your marketing mentality and how it can help form an ideal company culture.
As a former CMO, how do you keep from being a backseat-marketer with your current CMO, and getting too involved with marketing?
The good news is there’s a natural forcing function—I have a day job. I’ve got to run the company. I am a big believer that you hire good people and get out of the way. I do have some ideas from time to time, but I try to stay at the strategic level to make sure that we’re doing the right things to surround our customer in all the ways we want to reach them.
Have you taken steps to build your company culture as well, and put those good people in a place conducive to success?
I think the best way to do it is to lead by example. I’m still early on; I joined Brightlink as CEO in September and was on the board since May. Culture takes time. But I think about constant repetition, leading by example. The one thing I did that’s very specific was codify what the core values are. It’s on our website. It’s something that we talked about as a company and that reinforcement is in some ways easier than reinforcing to your customer what the attributes of your brand are. You have to actually demonstrate it.
Do you have an overall, guiding mentality when it comes to marketing?
I am a big believer in drinking our own champagne. We have a new product that can actually text message-enable any number. This is particularly important with the generation for whom SMS is native behavior who are unknowingly texting numbers that goes into the ether. So, when we send out emails, we offer the customer the ability to respond back to us and engage us either by phone or by email or by text. And the texting is to the numbers that we have text-enabled for every one of the sales employees.
Who is your main target demographic, if any?
What we do is focus on the business buyer, because the value of what we’re doing; if you’re the business owner, if you’re an SMB, if you’re a large corporate entity—it’s about the sales and marketing function. But the technology functions are actually very helpful and they need to know that this is enterprise grade—and they need to know that this is a file-based solution that’s built on robust infrastructure.
Are you mainly engaging with small or large businesses?
We actually sell to both small businesses and enterprise, so for small businesses we generally leverage a channel model. We have a lot of what I’d characterize as sell-through and sell-with resellers who actually take our co-branded “powered by” solution. And they sell to the SMBs they serve. The use cases tend to get very specific, for example a restaurant wants to manage reservations and wants to be able to take those text interactions. With the large enterprises, we tend to go direct.
And is partnership marketing a big focus of yours?
Sure. We like the fact that we are relying on people who truly know the needs of the small businesses. In prior lives, I’ve run small business marketing; we had tens of millions of customers. I understand that the small business market is highly fragmented, highly diverse. And it’s a little trite to assume that any company, particularly a smaller organization, is like us, or a mid-sized company is like us. It’s really hard to really know how to serve all the different segments. So, bringing in partnerships with some of the value-added resellers and systems integrators delivers a better outcome for the end customer. Also, that “powered by” co-branding model is one that I think was a right decision for us, where someone else will include braning of their solution, and say “powered by Brightlink.” I think the bias, especially someone like myself, coming from a CMO background is to want to go build your own brand. And believe me, I care a lot about brand. I cut my teeth as a brand manager in CPG. I care about brand and great brand equity. That said, we actually get a lot more leverage on our brand by having the “powered by” label. And having it go through those channels of distribution where it’s, in its end delivery, providing true value. That gives me a very material lift. And so that’s tremendous leverage. It was one of the things that I think we’re proud of: we made that decision we can feel good about.
Are there a couple lessons you’d like share with other marketers?
One is: I believe you need to come outside in, and not inside out. Marketers naturally have that outside in mentality. And so, understanding that it starts with the customer and starts with the use cases and starts with kind of, what are the need states and drivers for their success? And that is a good way to think about it, for me as a CEO— how I want to run the business. Next, I think it’s important to realize, across the board, the value of culture. I subscribe to Drucker’s notion that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is in many ways an extension of your brand, it’s an internal extension and also extends outward. So, think about building culture with the same thoughtfulness, the same mentality as we marketers construct our brand equity.
And, have there been any efforts or things that didn’t work for your marketing?
One of the things that we’re focusing on is getting better content to enable the social marketing piece. So, it’s sort of like SEO and SEM, which is very much predicated on having great content. It’s even more so with social and social needs to be constantly refreshed—you need fresh stuff. Our early social efforts weren’t as effective as I would have liked them to be. So, we actually put social on hiatus for a little bit and fined tuned it.
How are you approaching lead gen?
We actually get more lead gen out of search, the SEO and SEM pieces. Our model, as I described it, has sell-to, sell-through, and sell-with. And so, we have a balance of lead gen from things that we do directly—things that I source from sales and marketing directlyand also those that I get from partners. I can be a little bit choosy and not really have to go as big on social marketing right now, when I don’t yet have the content readiness for it right. As a marketer, one of the things that I would call out is that I think what everyone wants to do. But you have to make sure you’re ready for it.
And right now, with social, you might get some brand value lift. But as I have said to my marketing team, I care less about the likes right now. Likes are great, but that’s not leads. So, we just need to categorize it appropriately. Again, it’s absolutely going to be a part of our mix— certain channels are better than others, so we use it in spots. That’s all part of the marketing mix.
Are you in a position where your buyers—marketing or telecom—aren’t necessarily as excited as, say, salespeople who envision the text-based sales approach?
I think that’s a very valid question. That’s no different for us and for anybody else. You mentioned a little bit about Brent Adamson and CEB. Having come from CEB, I subscribe to the whole challenger marketing model where I think the current stat is somewhere in the range of seven people that you touch in a sales interaction.
When I talked about the fact that our solutions span the entire stack, that’s usually something that is very positive for the technology organization knowing that there is effectively one thing to check. We have the application layer. We will also provide the underlying connectivity. It’s not parsed out. It’s not piecemealed together like in many cases where someone would have to go and buy those separately.
Our product, the Cloud PBX, is a big product that we launched last year that we’re getting a lot of market traction and momentum around. We have a different product that I actually use to market that particular offering. It’s also an offering that lots of marketers like to take advantage of. So, this is on the messaging side of our business.
We have the ability to actually text message-enable any number. Particularly with the generation for whom SMS is just native for the way they interact, people oftentimes will text a number and have that go into the ether, because you never really know what’s text-enabled and what’s not. Business numbers are often not. And we have the ability to text people at any number. We have the ability to essentially do what’s called an “override” and actually enable that number and make it possible for you to receive text messages on that. Now you’re going to have to access those messages via a mobile application, that we enable, but you will see it on your phone in a very similar way as your text today. So, it won’t actually come as a text into an app, but you can get a notification like, “Hey, you have a text message.”
So, you use your own solution as a sales tool?
I’ll give you an example. One of the things that I’ve struggled with as a CMO, historically, has been—you know, we talk a lot about the omni-channel experience, right? You want to meet people where they are, interact with them with in a mode that they choose and maybe start a conversation one way and a different way. The reality, that we all know as marketers, is that doesn’t truly happen most of the time. What I’ve done is I’ve taken the traditional e-mail driven campaign and I’ve created a vehicle ( we’re doing this this quarter for our Cloud PBX solution)where my sales team can go out there—they’re listed on the e-mails, we personalize it to them—and we offer the customer the ability to respond back to us and engage us either by phone or by email or by text. And the texting of that is to the numbers that we have text-enabled for every one of the sales employees, as well as our corporate number which we can issue and test out here. And I can show you how it actually works. And when they do that with just very simple keyword prompts, we can respond with multimedia type responses. If you want to know about the product, we can send you a piece of our collateral, if you want to know a little bit about how we compare versus other competitors, we can send that information around comparison with charts relative to other types of offerings in the industry. If you want to know how easy it is to get started, we can send you a quick-start guide, including things like video and more.. All of those are capabilities that are possible when you’re number-text enabled. Previously, that would have depended on people responding by email or calling, which a lot of millennials don’t necessarily want to do.