David Friend - Rana el Kaliouby - Larry English
January 21, 2022

CEO Panel: Celebrating the CMO Role

Guest: David Friend - Rana el Kaliouby - Larry English - CEOs, Wasabi - SmartEye - Centric Consulting

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The CEO relationship is one of if not the most important alliance in a CMO’s world. It’s not going to be easy to do your job if your CEO doesn’t have your back. It’s an especially tough job if one’s CEO doesn’t believe in (or understand) the power of marketing, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t learn.

In this episode, we’re airing three Q&As with three CEOs who know that marketing can transform B2B organizations into powerhouses: David Friend of Wasabi, Rana el Kaliouby of Affectiva (now Smart Eye), and Larry English of Centric Consulting. The panel convened during a Super Huddle (a bi-annual mega-huddle exclusively for our CMO Huddles community), and all three CEOs shared their perspectives on marketing and their relationships with their own CMOs.

Tune in for some wonderful insights, including tips for what makes a great brand, why diversity matters, and what trends we can expect in an increasingly digital world.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How 3 CEOs think about marketing
  • Advice on how to foster a strong relationship with your CEO
  • How CMOs can transform B2B organizations

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 276 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: The CMO Huddles Super Huddle
  • [2:00] CMO Huddles: Share, Care, Dare
  • [6:37] David Friend’s Ingredients for a Powerful B2B Brand
  • [15:50] David Friend on the CMO Role: Be a Simplifier
  • [19:40] Rana el Kaliouby on the Value of Diversity
  • [23:01] Rana el Kaliouby on Building Thought Partnership Between CEO and CMO
  • [30:57] Larry English on Leading Remote Teams
  • [34:32] Larry English on How Marketing Can Transform Your Organization
  • [39:36] Larry English on Upcoming Business Trends

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with David Friend, Rana el Kaliouby, and Larry English

[0:00] Cold Open: The CMO Huddles Super Huddle

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers! It’s Drew, your host, here to introduce a very special episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. I know you’re thinking, “They’re all special,” but we’re airing three conversations today with three CEOs about the CEO-CMO relationship. The conversations were recorded during a Super Huddle, one of our bi-annual mega-huddles exclusively for our CMO Huddles community.

The illuminating Q&As with CEOs David Friend of Wasabi, Rana el Kaliouby of Affectiva (now Smart Eye), and Larry English of Centric Consulting served as guides for breakout discussions about navigating a CMO’s relationship with their CEO. This is such a critical relationship. Now, we don’t share those private, behind-closed-doors discussions publicly, but I can tell you that the resulting insights were useful for CMOs no matter what their current relationship with their CEO looked like. If you’d like to be part of conversations like these in the near future, please check out CMOHuddles.com.

Now, you’re about to get 3 different perspectives and loads of astute advice on the CEO-CMO relationship from some seriously renegade CEOs. I hope you enjoy it.

[2:00] CMO Huddles: Share, Care, Dare

“I know that CMOs can help their organizations find their purpose, and then drive the organizational change required to make that purpose real.” —@DrewNeisser @CMOHuddles Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Thank you Huddlers, you all rock! Thank you for your ongoing commitment to sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness. I’d love to focus on those three words for a second.

Why bother sharing? I need not remind you how truly challenging your job is. You are the lucky ones to fill the only role in the C-Suite that varies from organization to organization. You’re the only one who has to educate the rest of your C-Suite colleagues as to what your function can do and not do.

Then there’s the fact that your toolset is changing at unprecedented speed. With new tech, new channels, and new roles to manage, this certainly didn’t exist when you were coming up the ranks. We share to help each other keep pace if not stay ahead of the curve.

In a 2020 huddle, as we all realized we had to do virtual events, one CMO shared their analysis of the top platform, saving the other huddlers weeks of research. Just a couple of weeks ago, we did a bonus huddle on 6sense because so many of you were looking at this platform.

Caring—if any good came out of the pandemic, it is the rise of empathy as a critical leadership characteristic. The all-business business leader had to go into hiding, maybe permanently, as employees struggled with a threat of a deadly disease, an uncertain economy, and a depressing absence of face-to-face peer interactions.

Even as we can almost touch a fully inoculated future—I got my shot, my first one last week—the importance of caring will not go away. You as CMO are only as good as the teams that work for you and if they don’t think you care about them, game over. You as CMO have the opportunity to care about the diversity of your teams, about the inclusiveness of your organizations. You as CMO have the wherewithal to bring equity to your brand ecosystem. It’s caring on steroids, and it makes a difference.

Finally, daring, more specifically, daring each other to greatness. Why make that foundational to CMO Huddles? Why not settle for some quality sharing and caring via a really strong peer-to-peer network? Because I believe—scratch that—I know that CMOs can help their organizations find their purpose, and then drive the organizational change required to make that purpose real.

Greatness is a high bar, but as my multitalented and frequent advisor Benjamin Franklin once said, “We may make these times better if we bestir ourselves.” Thanks, Ben!

So, today’s super huddle is definitely about daring each other to greatness. As you all know too well, greatness cannot happen without a strong working relationship with your CEO.

A lot has been written about this relationship, including an article by fellow huddler Isabelle Papoulias on why it is so often dysfunctional, and what CMOs can do about it. We’ll share that after the Super Huddle.

Think about your most successful engagement as a CMO. What was your relationship like with the CEO? Was there absolute trust? Did you speak the same language? When you took a chance on a strategy or an approach that was a bit out of the box, did your CEO have your back? Was there a shared understanding of what marketing could and couldn’t do? A shared understanding of the impact of dollars invested in the short term and long term? Could you safely talk about brand building with your CEO?

Obviously, it helps to pick the right CEO, and you’re going to meet three amazing ones today. It helps to pick the right one to work for from the beginning, assuming you can go through the interview process and figure out a good match for you. Unfortunately, interviewing is a little bit like dating. Each party is showing their best and hiding their worst. It isn’t until after the honeymoon that the truth comes out. There’s also a possibility that you can get a new CEO at any minute—it seems to happen.

Here’s my take. These relationships are not static. They require constant nurturing. My guess is that you’ll welcome peer input on how they’re enhancing their relationship, how they are getting alignment on organizational purpose, how they are collaborating on business strategy, and how they are securing the resources and capital needed to drive marketing success.

[6:37] David Friend’s Ingredients for a Powerful B2B Brand

“If you can't explain that business to me on a billboard or a little ad that you write yourself, then you're going to have a hard time explaining that business to investors, let alone customers.” —@Wasabi_Dave @wasabi_cloud Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I really want to get to our first guest, David Friend, who is the founder and CEO of Wasabi, the hot cloud storage company. David is a serial entrepreneur, co-founding five other companies, including: Pilot Software, Sonexis, Carbonite. David, how are you? Welcome.

David Friend: Great to be here.

Drew Neisser: It’s so cool. I’m so glad you joined us. When you were on my podcast, I was really struck by how you think about marketing before you even start a company. And more specifically, your rule for describing companies in the simplest possible terms.

Can you share that philosophy in the context of Carbonite? I mean, where did that idea come from? Just describe it as you did on the show.

David Friend: Well, I’m big on simplicity. I think I told you, Drew, when I was teaching at Sloan School at MIT, one of the exercises I had the students go through was: Write a billboard. A lot of people talk about the elevator pitch and so forth. Often you don’t have time for an elevator pitch.

I like to give people the exercise of—if you could create a billboard for your business and put it up on the Mass Pike, and people driving by have probably 5 or 10 seconds to figure out what the heck you’re talking about, can you do it?

It’s harder. It’s harder to be honest with you than writing a business plan, it’s harder than developing an elevator pitch. So, I always tell people, “Write the ad.” Create an ad for your business. Because if you can’t explain that business to me, on a billboard, or a little ad that you write yourself—it doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it has to be succinct—then you’re going to have a hard time explaining that business to investors, let alone customers.

Drew Neisser: I love it. We talked about the purpose-driven story statement and doing it in eight words or less. So, what were the eight words and inspiration for Carbonite?

David Friend: Carbonite? Simple backup.

Drew Neisser: Simple backup. Okay, now let’s talk about Wasabi, what was the simple concept for that?

David Friend: Wasabi is cloud storage. If you look at our website, you’ll see “hot cloud storage.” If you know what cloud storage is, there’s hot storage and cold storage. We’re hot storage. The slightly longer version is, “Same as Amazon S3, but 1/5th the price and 6x faster.”

Drew Neisser: That’s a value proposition that when I heard you say that I went, “Oh, that’s pretty darn clear.” What gave you the chutzpah to think that you could take on Amazon?

David Friend: Well, Amazon’s got 250 different cloud services or maybe more than that by now. No matter how big you are, you can’t be the best at everything. You can go to Macy’s if you want to buy track or running shoes, but you can also go to the Nike store which is what most people will do because there you’ll find a wider variety of products specifically what you’re looking for, and you’ll find knowledgeable salespeople, and so forth.

There was a time when people thought department stores were going to take over the world and that came and crested and now the department stores are all going bust.

Drew Neisser: So, you saw this opportunity, you saw these big players. Some people would be intimidated because it wasn’t just Amazon. There was Microsoft and a lot of other big companies in it.

So, let’s talk about—now you decided you were going to go into the cloud storage business but what about this name? I mean, Wasabi does not sound tech at all, what’s going on there?

David Friend: Hey, Wasabi is hot!

Drew Neisser: It is hot but talk a little bit about that process and your mindset. I know you and Michael, and I talked about this a lot—why it was so important to you to have a name that was different?

David Friend: A company name or product names are probably the most important marketing decision you’ll ever make. Mike Welts, who I see here joining us on the call, Mike and I went through probably 200 different possible names for Wasabi during the first three or four months that we were working together.

We wanted something—and this was true of Carbonite as well, which I thought was another great brand and worked really well for us… You want a name that you can spell when you hear it. It drives me nuts when somebody says, “Oh, I work for x,” and you can immediately envision 20 different ways that you could spell that word. Why make somebody have to go try to search and figure it out? It’s just friction.

The other thing is, you’d like a word that connotes something about your product, it doesn’t have to describe the product, but it has to be aspirational. So many people out there just pick these names that sound like some Latin something or other. They end in “a” or something like that. They’re just “blah” names that are hard to remember.

You’d like to find something that, when somebody hears it, it sticks in their brain. I don’t know how you measure that, but I feel like when I see it, I can tell it. When we went through this list and came up with Wasabi, Mike and I both stopped dead in our tracks. I think we knew that that was the name we had to have.

Now, we had to pay through the nose to buy that URL because it was owned by one of these web hosting guys in England. They wanted a fortune for it. We ended up paying a small fortune anyway. But this is really one of the most important decisions that you’ll ever make.

And I believe Wasabi is working really well for us. People hear it, it kind of got some buzz, it’s got some snap, it’s hot. It describes to some extent the ethics of the company, and the product itself being fast and highly efficient. It’s really important.

Carbonite was great, too, because we had this image of Han Solo encased in carbonite, and we were a backup company and connoted solid and indestructible, reliable, and all that kind of stuff.

When we entered that—talk about competing with big companies—when we entered the consumer backup market with Carbonite, we had EMC, HP, and Iron Mountain—entrenched competitors that really owned that market.

I remember going out to VCs trying to raise money for Carbonite and they were like, “You’re kidding. You’re gonna compete with who?” And we said, “Yeah! But these guys are making it complicated. They have a pricing model that is complicated for people to figure out.”

In four years, we drove all three of those companies out of the consumer backup market. So, I don’t worry about Amazon, I don’t worry about Google. We’re tripling in size every year right now. They don’t care about us because Amazon is $46 billion or something in AWS revenue. They don’t care what we do.

Drew Neisser: I’m thinking about—as you were naming firms, you just rattled off, intuitively, a whole series of criteria for a great name: easy to spell, easy to remember, means something but doesn’t necessarily have to be descriptive of the space that you’re in.

I’m also imagining that Wasabi just sounds fun and sets your brand up for likability. That’s good for employee and recruiting as well as it is for partners. It’s an easy brand to share.

David Friend: Yeah. That’s why I like brands that are existing words or are built on existing words. All of these made-up names that you see out there are sometimes very hard to remember. They don’t connote an image in your mind visually.

When you think of Wasabi, you think of your Japanese meal or something like that. There’s just something about a word that actually means something that helps remember it and give it an identity.

[15:50] David Friend on the CMO Role: Be a Simplifier

“The advice I have for marketing people is constantly simplify, simplify, simplify, and try to get your CEO to buy into a simple message.” —@Wasabi_Dave @wasabi_cloud Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: So, let’s talk a little bit about your expectations for your CMO. Obviously, you’ve had a number of companies, so you’ve worked with a lot of senior marketers.

How has that changed at all or evolved in terms of your expectations for what the CMO can do today versus when you started your first company?

David Friend: The role of the CMO, there’s a lot in common, which is—you’re still building a brand. Building a brand is something that a lot of techies like me overlook. I believe that building a brand is like money in the bank, and that people eventually will pay up for a brand.

But I think the role of the CMO has changed from a technical perspective because when I was starting my career, marketing was advertising in magazines and newspapers. Then it evolved to being online advertising.

Now, from a technical perspective, it’s much different because the vehicles for getting your message out are much more complicated, much more diverse, social media, and so forth. So, somebody like Mike Welts has to be on top of a lot of new developments in the evolution of marketing.

Drew Neisser: So, last question for you before we go to our first breakout. We have a sizable group of CMOs here, what’s your one bit of advice to them in terms of managing their CEOs?

David Friend: Wow. Well, I think the most important thing is understanding what you stand for in the eye of the consumer. Everybody’s battling for attention in the marketplace. No matter how big your marketing budget is, it’s difficult to get your message out there.

Most people in my experience are complicators; they’re not simplifiers. The key to great marketing is simple and simplicity. A lot of the CEOs I know are complicators. They take what should be a simple message and they make it into this very complex proposition.

The battle you’ve got with a CEO, in many cases—especially a CEO who comes out of an engineering background—is what appears simple to somebody like me who’s got a graduate degree in engineering is totally incomprehensible to a lot of other people.

The advice I have for marketing people is constantly simplify, simplify, simplify, and try to get your CEO to buy into a simple message. That’s a challenge, but that is the key to marketing and the relationship you have between a CMO and a CEO. Focus in on that very short, succinct message about who you are, why you’re here, why you exist, and why somebody should care what you’re doing.

Drew Neisser: Amazing, David I want to thank you so much for joining. What a great start to the Super Huddle.

[19:40] Rana el Kaliouby on the Value of Diversity

“The diversity of the data becomes really key. The more perspectives we have around the table, the less biased the system is going to be.” —@kaliouby @SmartEyeAB Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m so excited to introduce you to Rana el Kaliouby, the CEO and co-founder of Affectiva, the emotion AI company.

As I learned from her fascinating book, which is called Girl Decoded, she was born in Egypt, raised in Kuwait, reveled in math and engineering despite the discouragement of her native culture, earned her doctorate at Cambridge by creating the first AI system that could recognize human emotion. Rana was then accepted into MIT’s Media Lab where she started a company that spun out into Affectiva.

So, hi, Rana, are you there?

Rana el Kaliouby: I am! Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

Drew Neisser: Oh, I’m so glad you joined us! I really enjoyed your book. It’s a warts and all approach. You talked about your marriage, your divorce, your family, and other personal things along the way and it’s been an incredible journey.

I sort of think of you as a one-person United Nations all the way through your experience, including becoming an American citizen. How do you think your diverse background helps you as a CEO?

Rana el Kaliouby: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we’re an AI company. It is really key that as we develop and deploy these AI systems that we think about diversity, because that’s how we build systems that are not biased.

I think of diversity not just in terms of gender, ethnicity, or race, but diversity of backgrounds, right? You don’t have to be a computer scientist; you don’t have to be an engineer to play a critical role in how we think about these systems.

The diversity of background becomes really key. We’re a very international team, Gabi is Dutch-American, I’m Egyptian-American, and we have a lot of hyphenated people on our team.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and you may be the most hyphenated person I’ve ever met. I didn’t know if that was even politically correct to say, but if you start adding all of the things, it’s amazing.

One thing that’s interesting—and not to get lost into AI—I have read so much about the fact that AI written by white programming males is very poor at recognizing ethnic individuals and distinctions. So, I’m curious, is that something that you think about?

Rana el Kaliouby: Oh, absolutely. We often bake that into our bonus plan as an executive team. We’re in the business of using cameras to detect people’s facial expressions and emotions and activities and behaviors.

If you train it—it uses deep learning—with gobs and gobs of data that look like you, Drew, it’s not going to work on people like me. So, the diversity of the data becomes really key and we each have our own blind spots. The more perspectives we have around the table, the less biased the system is going to be.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I know this much about AI but what I do know is, you need a lot of data.

[23:01] Rana el Kaliouby on Building Thought Partnership Between CEO and CMO

“We have this super open relationship and that's been really key. She really is a thought partner.” —@kaliouby @SmartEyeAB Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: So, as an engineer by training and then an entrepreneur, how did you come to learn about marketing?

Rana el Kaliouby: It was an evolution. I spun out of MIT, but my role was co-founder and chief technology officer. It was only in 2016 when I realized I was doing a lot of the job anyways and stepped into the CEO role.

That was about the same time that—actually Gabi joined a couple of years before that—but I really teamed up with Gabi and we became thought partners. We recognized that we were creating a new category of technology, and that is super powerful for the company, but it’s super powerful for the industry too.

We both shared this mission of where this could go and a lot of core values. So, we banded up, she became my thought partner—Gabi, you are awesome. It’s been a wonderful seven years of collaboration—hopefully lots more to come.

But we recognized that we have a unique megaphone here, the industry was evolving super-fast. One of our superpowers is a team and as a company is we’re able to translate really complex AI concepts into ideas that are accessible to the general public.

And so, we found that we’re able to leverage that, again, to open doors for the company, but to move the industry in the right direction. We really do feel like we’re stewards of AI and of this category.

Drew Neisser: I want to put a punctuation point—you don’t hear a lot of CEOs call their CMOs thought partners. So, thank you for that because I think there’s a little jealousy in there.

In the book, you describe yourself as a little bit reluctant to take the CEO position. When you did, you were like, “Yeah, I can do this,” there was a reluctance to it. I just wanted to thank you for expressing that reluctance. I think a lot of people will appreciate that. I know my daughter, for example, will appreciate reading that.

But I want to get back to how you made it simple because I remember we’ve had conversations with you and Gabi in that moment when you hit on #EmotionAI.

Rana el Kaliouby: Yeah, she and I literally sequestered ourselves in an off-site. We wanted to create a talk track for what we were doing. We essentially landed on defining a category, we called it emotion AI because it’s a simplified—it’s artificial emotional intelligence but emotion AI almost fits in a hashtag, right? But we built a whole talk track around it: What is emotion AI? Why do you need emotion AI? What are the use cases and applications?  What are the ethical and moral implications? We mapped it all out.

I remember in the earlier days, when we were having press interviews, we would have this talk track right in front of us and use that. Obviously, over time, we internalized it—not just she and I, but as a company, right? It really became the company’s talk track. And we built an ecosystem around this.

This is one thing, again, I want to give credit to Gabi for that. She’s really good around striking these strategic partnerships and alliances. So, we started the Emotion AI Summit, which is an annual summit where we bring all our clients, partners, other thought leaders in the space, ethicists, and sometimes out competitors, so it’s not an Affectiva— it was hosted by Affectiva, but it’s more of an ecosystem industry event. That’s key too.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, we had Gabi on a live show on category creation last week and went through a lot of the things that you did, your sort of textbook category creation, and… You have to build a community, you have to bring everybody together, and you have to get recognized by analysts. And you’ve had to stick with it. That’s a tricky thing.

I think if you’re not a marketer, you could go, “Oh wait! We’ve told that story. Why do we keep telling it?” We’ve had that conversation, too. How has it been for you to stay focused on that in a simple message as you’re trying to grow this company?

Rana el Kaliouby: Yeah, there were many times where I’d tell Gabi, “Wait, but we’ve already said this!” and she’s like, “It’s okay, we need to keep saying it and eventually it lands,” right?

I think one key thing, especially in the AI space, trust is super key. Very early on, we preempted the questions around trust, ethics, and bias. For example, our company does not entertain any applications of the security and surveillance space, so we were very proactive about talking about that as a team and as a company.

So, again, I think being very intentional, building trust. I mean, obviously, Gabi and I have built a lot of trust together, but also trust with the community that we’re part of. I think that’s really key. Being authentic. I think Gabi realized very early on too that I could be a personal brand, which I didn’t initially see, I guess. But I’m an ambassador for the category. Again, I give Gabi a lot of credit for helping make that happen.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and it’s true. I want to ask you one last question. We asked David this. We’re with a bunch of CMOs—what advice do you have to them that you could say would make your job better, if only your CMOs would do this kind of thing? What advice do you have for them?

Rana el Kaliouby: Honestly, and it may be obvious, but first of all, I would say… Gabi and I really care about each other. She knows my family, I know her family, and ultimately, I want her to be successful. I know she wants me to be successful and wants the company to be successful.

We share a lot of things like we love traveling, we’re global citizens of the world, we share the same core values. I think this alignment is super key. But you can’t assume it’s always going to be there.

Gabi and I invest and reinvest in our relationship to make sure that we stay in sync. We will actually notice when we kind of start drifting and we will say, “Okay, let’s put some quality time on the calendar, and let’s get back in sync.” That’s really key.

She’s also my chief “no” officer, so she will often tell me, “I don’t think you should do this. It’s not needle moving,” or “It’s not the right thing to focus on.” Often, I will listen to her. Sometimes I will still do the thing I want to do, and she’ll say, “I know you’re gonna do it anyway but I’m telling you, you shouldn’t.” So, we have this super open relationship and that’s been really key. She really is a thought partner.

Drew Neisser: What I really admire is the recognition that, even though you are so close, that you have to check in again. It’s like a husband and wife and you just can’t take anything for granted. It is a marriage of sorts. I really appreciate that. And in a good marriage, you can have a disagreement and move on.

So, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you in advance for sending books to all the attendees. I know they will find your story as fascinating as I did.

[30:57] Larry English on Leading Remote Teams

“Vulnerability is a shortcut to trust.” —@lkenglish @Centric Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Larry English is the CEO of Centric Consulting, a company that has been virtual for 20 plus years. Larry is also the author of Office Optional, which is a timely book on how to build a strong company culture even if you’re not all in the office together. So, Larry, welcome and thanks for joining us in the Super Huddle.

Larry English: Thank you for having me. My mom would not let me sing in church, I was such a bad singer. So, we will not be doing that.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so we’ve got that one out of the way. Well, let me ask you this. You’ve been a virtual leader for a long time. I mean, that’s sort of the basis, and you talk about in it your book.

What do you think was the hardest lesson that you learned that your fellow executives who were new to virtual may have missed?

Larry English: Yeah. I think everybody’s been learning it this year, but there are a couple of things that stood out. We had a lot of people that were like, “I can never work at home. There’s no way I could ever do it.” They did it and over time they loved it because they found out the balance in their life. We’ve known that secret for a very long time.

But I would say from a leadership perspective, it’s all about building—because you don’t see everybody every day, you want to build those deep relationships and you’ve got to learn to do that virtually. So, some of the things that I talked about in our breakout groups like learning to be vulnerable, because vulnerability is a shortcut to trust. You have to have more frequent check-ins. Then we overlay personal and face-to-face meetings because that deepens relationships.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think as we go back to the hybrid, or as companies start to open up and bring employees back, I think very few companies are saying everybody has to get back. But this hybrid model is going to create some new complications.

So, I’m curious, again, you talked about how often do you need to bring employees back in your virtual model. What are some of the tips that you can provide in that?

Larry English: Yeah, so everybody’s a little bit different. We call it gathering strategy. So, how often do you get together, and what are the reasons for it? Let’s just talk at the team level.

Let’s say you have a team that has a lot of new members that join frequently, so they don’t know each other. If there’s a team that has a lot of conflict—we found that hiring right out of college, we needed to have those guys physically there. Otherwise, they’re at home watching Netflix when they’re supposed to be working. So, those are a few examples.

For us, we’re in the US and India, and we get everybody in the company together in the whole United States three times a year. I can’t measure the ROI on it, but what it does for energizing and building relationships and building culture is invaluable.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and I think it’s really helpful to me to hear and I’m imagining others too. It’s one thing if you’re a 40+ CMO, with a life, it’s another thing if you’re a 25-year-old and work is also social life.

So, recognizing the differences in how employees might want to work remotely I think is really important. And knowing that getting together at least three times a year is probably essential in this thing.

[34:32] Larry English on How Marketing Can Transform Your Organization

“The combination of sales and marketing is the cornerstone of how we'll grow over the next 10 years.” —@lkenglish @Centric Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about your journey to understanding and appreciating what marketing can do.

Larry English: Sure, I will be the exact opposite of Dave. So, the slow learner on the value of marketing. Just to give you context, we’re a professional services organization. Before I started the company, I worked for a large international consulting firm. There was no marketing. All it was is they would pay a lobbyist to get some government work.

So, when we started our company, we grew through relationship-based selling, zero marketing. We grew the company really fast that way. So, people were like, “Well, you’ve got to start marketing.” And we were like, “No.”

I remember being at a leadership retreat and we all voted down spending any money on marketing two years in a row. But we started to feel pain and I’ll give you a few examples of that.

We were trying to be $100 million company and we were looking at our materials. We had PowerPoints with pink flashing text and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is awful.” Then our own clients, when we interviewed him, they didn’t know the other services that we did. Then finally, one of our partners, her husband took a job, he’s a buyer, he got an email that day, the first day on the job, from a competitor.

We were like, “Okay, something’s not right here.” So, we started small, and we started to build from there. We hired somebody who was very patient with us—and we talked about this in one of the breakouts—is patiently educating not only me, but the entire leadership team.

Over time, we’ve grown that and as the world has become more digital and how buyers buy more digitally, especially after this pandemic, all of a sudden, it has become—we’re $150 million.

The combination of sales and marketing is the cornerstone of how we’ll grow over the next 10 years. We’ve made probably a $4 million, $5 million investment in CRM tools, training everybody on Sandler Sales Training the integration of marketing. So, I’m a firm believer now.

Drew Neisser: You are, but it was a journey for you, and I appreciate that. I’m wondering—and this is may be a ridiculous question or may not—but do you manage your CMO different than you might some of your other direct reports?

Larry English: I don’t think so. What is cool about where marketing has gone is because it’s become so much digital—and we’re an engineering background—everything is measurable now.

We can see amazing detail of sales leads and how they turn to work and the ROI. I can see now a direct correlation to how much we spend and how much business we get. So, it’s been transformative for all of us.

Drew Neisser: Interesting, Okay. Talk about your expectations now from a results standpoint. What do you expect on a return? Talk a little bit about that.

Larry English: Well, there’s a couple of components. So, there’s just the day-to-day, where we’re at today, which I’ll talk about which is, we’ve built this incredible engine. I think, by getting everybody speaking the same sales language, the same marketing language, and putting all the infrastructure in place, it is going to… Let’s say, we’re going to grow at 5% or 10%. I think we’re going to be able to grow at 15+% when you add in that capability.

The harder thing for me—this is me being vulnerable—is we’ve grown our thought leadership because we’re an expert-based business. We don’t know how to do that to the next level. We want to become a nationally recognized brand and we don’t know how to do that. So, those are the next big things for us.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so lastly, and this came up a lot in the last two breakouts. How do you make sure that you and Mike are on the same page?

Larry English: Frequent touchpoints. I think there is a period of kicking around strategy. Strategy development has become much more agile because every business is being disrupted and everything is moving so fast.

So, what we’re trying to do is we’ve got a five- to seven-year strategy at the macro level and then you’ve got these key pillars over the next three years, which are big components, big rocks you have to put in place. And then there are yearly imperatives. And then we’re changing those on a quarterly basis.

So, it is being in sync on all of those, and then having those frequent conversations about, “Hey, what’s changed in the marketplace? We need to change our tactics or our strategy” and being in sync on that.

[39:36] Larry English on Upcoming Business Trends

“You have a digital x-ray of how your company's operating.” —@lkenglish @Centric Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Well as a consultant, I have to ask you, what big trends are you seeing right now that you’re advising your clients on? This is just a general thing.

We haven’t talked about it, but you are a consultant, and you pay attention to what’s going on in the world. What’s one big thing that you think is going to change or that companies need to be thinking about in the next 6 to 12 months?

Larry English: Yeah, so we’re not going back to the way things were. I think most companies are gonna be forced to adopt a hybrid model because their employees are going to quit, they’re gonna go work for somebody that allows it.

But if you talk about the bigger trends of a variable workforce, many more gigs, gig workers, and freelancers—you have to learn how to incorporate them into your business and make your business sticky, so they want to continue to work with you.

Then if you talk broader, we can see the data—because customers had to adopt digital channels during the pandemic, they’re not going back. They’re like, “We love this.” So, an example is, I’m on the board of a hospital, and we couldn’t get docs to use telehealth ever and patients didn’t want to use it. They started using it during the pandemic, and they’re like, “Whoa, this is awesome!” And so that is massive.

The other thing that’s really interesting, that’s not obvious, is because everybody now has installed all these tools to work together remotely, you are gathering massive amounts of data. So, you have a digital x-ray of how your company’s operating.

It’s a little scary, there’s a creepy factor to it. But you can see where all the information flows, who the most valuable people in your organization are. You can actually use natural language processing; you can see if people are being included or not. That is going to be a massive trend in the next few years.

The other thing is it’s flattening organization structures because everybody has access to all this information now.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, there are some companies that are in that business of just analyzing the communications and so forth.

You’ve now sat in on two breakouts, you’ve listened to a number of CMOs talk about it—what advice do you have going the other way to the CMOs?

Larry English: Yeah, I already said it, so sorry for those that were in the breakouts. For me, I’m still not a smart marketing guy, so I need patient, continuous education with me to get up to speed of what’s possible so I really understand it and so I can build it into the strategy.

Then, this is me personally, but I need a deep personal relationship where we can go toe-to-toe and say anything to each other. Because that’s really critical in being hand-in-hand and getting the company where it needs to be.

Drew Neisser: Perfect. All right. Well, thank you, by the way, thank you for joining us. Thank you for being part of these sessions. It’s great to have you with us.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit renegade.com. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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