Jennifer Davis - Jon Miller - Kimberly Whitler
December 31, 2021

Honing Your Decision-Making Chops for 2022

Guest: Jennifer Davis - Jon Miller - Kimberly Whitler - CMOs - Professor, LEARFIELD - Demandbase - UVA Darden School of Business

Decisions, decisions. We encounter them every day. Like whether to snooze your alarm one more time. What way to make your eggs in the morning. Whether or not your B2B brand strategy is in need of a revamp. Yes, some decisions are much more difficult than others, and in this episode, we’ll be discussing how to make great ones with CMOs Jennifer Davis of LEARFIELD and Jon Miller of Demandbase, as well as special guest Professor Kimberly Whitler of UVA’s Darden School of Business.

Tune in while we cover how to conquer decision making (Hint from Jennifer: Decisions are a starting line, not a finishing line). From brand positioning to ABX to taking a stand, this is a great episode for marketers looking to grow more confident in decisions big and small. Check it out!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How to make great personal and professional decisions
  • How to apply this to brand positioning, ABX strategy, etc.
  • Lessons learned from great and not-so-great decisions

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 271 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Marketers Live!
  • [2:09] Jennifer Davis on Decision Making
  • [14:28] Kim Whitler on Positioning
  • [23:55] Jon Miller on B2B Brand and ABX
  • [32:38] On CMO Huddles
  • [34:08] A Look at Great and Not-So-Great Decisions
  • [43:35] Should B2B Brands Take a Stand?
  • [52:05] Tips for Making Big Decisions

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jennifer Davis, Jon Miller, and Kimberly Whitler

[0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Marketers Live!

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers! For our last show of 2021—can you believe it?—we’re podcast-ifying a recording from our live show, Renegade Marketers Live, which is all about B2B marketing and features the CMOs from CMO Huddles, a community—an exclusive community, and amazing community—that is sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness.

In this show, we brought on Huddlers Jennifer Davis of LEARFIELD and Jon Miller of Demandbase, as well as special guest Professor Kimberly Whitler of UVA’s Darden School, to talk about the three books that the three of them have written and have recently been released—which just coincidentally happened to be around the time I released my book. So, we talked about really all four of the books.

While this show doesn’t necessarily focus on one particular marketing topic, we are really zeroing in on decisions. How do you make better decisions? That’s the topic of Jennifer Davis’ book, but also when it came to Jon Miller—how do you make better ABM decisions. And with Kimberly Whitler, it was about better positioning decisions.

Whether you’re looking to make decisions for business or career or personal, this is the perfect show to ponder as you enter a new year which will undoubtedly be filled with, yep, more decisions. Speaking of decisions, let’s get to with show. And hey, if for a change you really enjoy this episode, give me a shout: drew@renegade.com. Enjoy the show.

[2:09] Jennifer Davis on Decision Making

“Decisions are a starting line, not a finishing line.” —@jenniferdavis @Learfield Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m your host Drew Neisser, here in my home studio in New York City and I have a quick favor. My new book—looks like this—Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands came out a couple weeks ago. It’s a number one hot new release on Amazon and the early reviews have been terrific. But I need 85 more reviews and I need them really quickly, so if you’d like a review copy, drop me an email at drew@renegade.com or ping me on LinkedIn.

With that, I need to tell you a story. Reuben Klamer is not exactly a household name. Back in 1951, Klamer went to Milton Bradley with an idea for a craft game, which they rejected, but not unkindly; asking him instead to come up with a game to celebrate their 100th anniversary in 1960. Now wandering the hallways of its Springfield, Massachusetts headquarters, Klamer came upon a game, The Checkered Game of Life, which Milton Bradley himself—yeah, there was a guy named Milton Bradley—had invented 100 years earlier as a way of teaching the value of virtuous decisions.

Remember that word, decision. Ironically, the game became popular among Union soldiers sitting around in between Civil War battles. Anyway, Klamer loved the name of the game, the concept of playing at life, and recognized the incredible marketing potential. Sure enough, the game became a huge hit among young baby boomers, including yours truly, selling over 30 million copies in 18 different languages and as the second best-selling board game of all time behind Monopoly.

Now, I played this game a lot as a kid, and luck plays a part, but you still had to make a decision. The one I remember most important—because these decisions would have implications—the decision I remember most favorably is the option of going to college. It cost a lot of money, and it slowed you down, but it offered significant rewards later on.

It was probably my first introduction to the idea of delayed gratification, and one that I would actually embrace. So at this point, you and my guests are saying to yourself, “Nice story, Drew. But what does this have to do with this show?” And indeed, I’m getting there right now. Marketing, like life, is a series of decisions. The better your choices, the better the outcomes.

So in today’s show, we’re going to be approaching the marketing game from the standpoint of decision making and the implications of those decisions in both the short and long term. To help us do that, we have three marketers whose recent books will take us from the biggest decisions to positioning decisions to those on the account level.

With that—that’s a long introduction—let’s bring on Jennifer Davis, CMO of LEARFIELD. Jennifer is a marketing veteran whose career stops include AWS, Honeywell, and Planar. She recently published this book called Well Made Decisions, the inspiration for today’s show. And with that, please welcome Jennifer Davis. Hello, Jennifer.

Jennifer Davis: Hey, thanks for having me.

Drew Neisser: It’s great to see you. Here’s a question. Did you play the game of Life?

Jennifer Davis: I did. I did. I did find it a bit interesting—you mentioned that the game gives you some choices, but there were some things in that game where you don’t have a choice. For instance, you would spin the wheel and you couldn’t choose whether to get married or have kids. I came from a big family, so the idea of filling your little station wagon?

Drew Neisser: Oh, god, yes. It’s all coming back to me. It’s hilarious. Well, I know they’ve updated the game, but we’re not going to talk about the game anymore. I want to get to your book because Chapter One is bravely titled “Making Hard Decisions Easy.” And since I know a lot of folks agonize over big decisions, even losing sleep over them—and I’m in that book—how do you make hard decisions easy?

Jennifer Davis: Yeah, decisions are so impactful in our lives. And really the premise of the book and the interviews and research and reflection that I did that went into its publication work, really around this idea that, decisions, like genius—Thomas Edison famously said that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Well, I believe the same about decisions. Making them, making that discrete choice—decisions as events—are something that you should put good thought into, and you should demonstrate good judgment and get input from others. But ultimately, you make a choice. And it’s from that point forward that the work actually begins.

Decisions are a starting line, not a finishing line. And so, as I talk about decisions throughout the book, and as I’ve seen in my own career, there’s the choice you make, and you hope it to be the right choice. But actually, in truth, you make that decision right by all the activities that happen after that.

So, it’s provocatively named “Making Hard Decisions Easy,” because the point of the book is, you need to make decisions with the information you have as quickly as you reasonably can. And then you get on to the task of making that decision right.

Drew Neisser: It’s so funny, as you’re telling this, I did a program last night where I interviewed a very successful entrepreneur who’s still quite young. He was telling a story of how he had decided to start an agency—and this was almost right out of grad school, and he had no experience.

And his parents—he’s first generation Indian American—his parents were completely against it. But he had made the decision and of course, he made it work. And by the way, they were in the audience for this particular event. And of course, they were cheering his accomplishments.

So, I’m wondering on this part of outside influence in making decisions versus following your gut, because it’s your gut that’s gonna allow you to finish. To make it come true and sort of commit to it. I just wonder how you manage in this process of decision-making outside input?

Jennifer Davis: Yeah, that’s a great example of that. What you always need to do is seek out wise counsel, but sometimes, you always have to send that through a filter because ultimately, your mentors, your counselors, your boss, your parents, your friends, are not going to have to live with the consequences of that decision, and they’re not going to actually have to do the work.

Ultimately, you have to kind of test your own conviction. I think you said decisions are actually commitments and I think that’s a good way to look at it. Like, what commitment are you willing to make?

Now, there are some decisions that are just, you know, on the face bad ones. Running into traffic, not that great of a decision. But most business decisions or career decisions are not that cut and dry.

Good people with great experience can disagree, and it’s useful to get that input, but ultimately, you have to live with it. You have to make the choice and turn the page to the next chapter that begins. I just made this decision, and here I go.

Drew Neisser: So, I want to bring this into the marketing department because you’re a CMO. And I’m thinking of critical decisions and knowing that you’re not always in charge of these decisions. I mean, you want to be, but you have to persuade a bunch of people to come along with your decision.

So, I’m just curious how, let’s say you’re the CMO and you’ve decided—if you had that choice—that you want to take the brand in a certain direction. And you know it’s a really good decision. But your CEO says, “No, that’s bad decision.”

I know this isn’t covered in the book, but I’m just sort of thinking about this. In life, we can make the decisions and we can make them real. In business sometimes, particularly in the CMO role, it’s got to be harder, right? You’ve got to bring everybody with you.

Jennifer Davis: Right. Absolutely. And I do talk about it a little bit in the book in terms of the importance of writing things down and framing them. Actually, as a marketer, you know that if you want to influence a customer to make a behavior change, you don’t start with a behavior change. You actually get have to get them thinking differently.

I actually feel like that’s the key to influence even within your organization as you’re trying to first decide and then maybe more importantly, implement successfully a decision that you’ve made, it really requires people to think differently. The better that you can be at framing the decisions to help the organization get to the place of making that decision…

You mentioned brand specifically. I just started with LEARFIELD six months ago, and one of the things I did in the first 90 days is we rebranded the company. That was very much an opportunity for me to get feedback and wise counsel and input from our various stakeholder groups and talk to customers and clients and partners and get a holistic perspective.

But ultimately, I had to come forward with a recommendation and a plan to implement, which worked obviously and we’re in the process of rolling out now. But it’s a great example of one of those things. I couldn’t have come in with a “I know the answer now. Here it is.”

No, I had to lead people through a thinking process that not only informed my thoughts and ultimate recommendations but allowed everybody to think about and frame the problem in a way that when I suggested the solution, it was the right thing to do.

Drew Neisser: I just happen to talk about that in chapter four, “Welcome We” in my book, but I’m with you 100 percent. Okay, real quick, because I want to move on. But you talked about—and I thought this was fascinating—how Jeff Bezos and his team looked at decisions between door closing decisions and ones with hinges. Can you just talk about that idea real quick and explain the difference between those two types of decisions?

Jennifer Davis: Of course, and I’m so glad you pulled that out. Because I think this is one of the keys to making high-velocity decisions that are high quality. You need to identify what kind of decision you’re making. In the Amazon nomenclature, there’s one-way door and two-way door decisions.

One-way door decisions are ones that, when got to the other side of the decision, the door locked behind you. If you didn’t like what you saw, you couldn’t easily get back to where you came. A two-way door decision is more like, I don’t know, the turnstiles of the shopping mall where you can come and go.

One way door decisions might be like spinning the wheel of Life and getting a kid in your station wagon. That’s a one-way door decision. You can’t give the little person back. But a two-way door decision might be, I don’t know, what button color should be on our website or something like that. Things that you can easily change.

It’s very important to identify whether you’re making a one-way door or two-way door decision and put the right rigor around it. Often, we apply one-way door decision-making processes to things that are ultimately two-way door decisions and we can experiment.

The idea that I talked about in my book is, if you want to reduce the risk and increase the learning of your decisions to get smarter as a business, you need to install hinges on your decisions. Things that might have been one-way door, high stakes, high impact decisions, think about how you could run an experiment, a pilot, a prototype, a test, a promotion. Something that makes the decision easier, less impactful, and gives you confidence that when you roll it out at scale, you’ll be getting the results that you intend.

[14:28] Kim Whitler on Positioning

“You want to own a space or territory that becomes ubiquitous with your brand.” —@KimWhitler @DardenMBA Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Well, speaking of hinges, we’re gonna move on. We’re gonna open a new door. We’re gonna welcome Kimberly Whitler, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at UVA Darden School of Business and star of episodes 155 and 156 of Renegade Marketers Unite. Hello, Professor Whitler.

Kimberly Whitler: Wow. And guess what I have right here.

Drew Neisser: Oh, I don’t know. What do you have? [Shows Renegade Marketing]. I heard that’s an amazing, amazing book. They just need a few more reviews to kill it on Amazon. Is that true?

Kimberly Whitler: I’ve heard the same thing. Although, all the early reviews are terrific.

Drew Neisser: I know. How’d that happen? Anyway, I have your book right here: Positioning for Advantage. Congratulations on that. We all know how hard it is to get those out the door. Let’s jump in on this. Let’s talk about positioning. You wrote a whole book on it.

I spent a little bit of time on my book on it. You spend a whole book, which means it’s really a critical decision on the road to building an effective program, yet it feels like it’s like a lost art. You and I both spent time in packaged goods, we understand that that’s the way you do things in packaged goods, but most of the B2B world, not packaged goods. Are you seeing brands skipping this step? Or they just don’t have the training to do it right? Or is it both?

Kimberly Whitler: Yeah, you know, it’s a really interesting question. And as I think about it, I actually think it’s a little bit of both. So, what prompted me and inspired me actually, to go and look deeper into positioning was after I became an academic.

I worked for about 20 years and then I became an academic, and I saw many of my students making the same mistake. The mistake is, they would have this great widget, they would have iterated it 200 times, and then when we started talking about basic things, like who are you targeting? What’s the size of the market? Why do you think that this is the best application for this product?

Because I could almost look at it immediately and say, “I don’t think there’s a very big market here for this.” And yet, they had spent years working on something.

What I realized is that they didn’t understand the process. They were steeped in product development, without understanding where product should come from. So that was part of it, that they actually were putting product development before the positioning decision.

Then the second thing that I noticed with some marketers is that they’re just still either young, they’re less experienced, they don’t have the skill yet. I was recently working with a very—this was an individual in another country, and he was a global manager on a product, and this was a very large global company. He clearly had a positioning problem.

He wanted to address it, the issue was he just didn’t have skill in trying to know how to assess the positioning, to develop new positioning options to test those positions. And then how to—and Jennifer just talked about this—but then how do you sell that positioning decision internally.

I actually think it’s a little bit of both. It’s that some folks don’t know that this exists, and others do, but are still younger in their development of building skill. And so, I wrote it to address either issue. This book is really designed to help build skill, not just share stories, etc., but to help build knowledge and skill for those looking to do so.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, that’s what I found really helpful. It’s like, you can’t read this book and not have a bulletproof process for developing a positioning. For me, it’s easy to name brands, B2C brands that are well-positioned.

You know, Proctor has a ton, and one of my favorite examples for Gain detergent: “Smell as proof of clean.” I’m going to bring that one up because what’s interesting is, did the product manager say, “Oh, we’re going to create a really good smelling,” or did we discover that after the fact that, when people are cleaning their clothes, after they’re done, they pull them out of the dryer and they smell it? Because you were talking about—it sounds like, ideally, you bake positioning into the product. You bake it in, you give the idea that the brand can then do it.

Anyway, I’m lost in my underwear here, but give an example of a well-positioned B2B brand.

Kimberly Whitler: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting because there are a number of brands that are hybrid that are both B2B and B2C. You can think of Amazon, Microsoft, are two really good examples. But for a pure B2B play, you know, most folks think about tech brands. I’m going to go in a different direction, and I’ll give you an example of a professional services brand and that’s McKinsey and Company.

So, I’m here on a top MBA campus. And if you talk to any MBA student at a top campus, where do they want to go? The—and I don’t say “a”—the elite strategic consulting firm happens to be McKinsey. What’s interesting about McKinsey, by the way, is that they were founded almost 100 years ago.

They’ve been around for a long time, but when it comes to the biggest problems, whether countries governments or businesses are trying to tackle them, oftentimes McKinsey is involved. I would say McKinsey is a good example.

If you want one from tech, Intel would be an interesting one. Now I like Intel because even though they’re a B2B firm, they also kind of had a pull strategy back in the 80s, 90s, where they were educating consumers on the value of Intel Inside. But again, Intel, surprisingly, is almost 50 years old. I was surprised when I was looking into this. Intel is an older brand in the tech space, if you will.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and Intel, it’s such an interesting one because it’s sort of B2B2C, or B2C2B, if you will. It’s like, we’re gonna create demand for our own brand, and then therefore, the businesses will buy more of our chips. Interesting.

So, as I look at McKinsey, and if we dove in on that… Being the most elite, what makes that positioning so special? Have you looked at it and broken it down at all and found some elements that they’ve been able to keep that alive for 100 years?

Kimberly Whitler: Well, when I think about superior positioning, I kind of think about three different elements. First, you have to have some sizable market, okay. So, let’s just assume that there’s a sizable market. But then when you’re looking at superior positioning there, you want to own a space or territory that becomes ubiquitous with your brand.

If we think about Walmart as low cost, if we think about Amazon, it tends to be, you know, superior delivery. That somehow, there’s something tangible, not always, but there’s something tangible, that you tend to own relative to other brands in the space. That’s one attribute.

The second attribute is that that territory is important and significant. And a lot of times brands forget this, that it has to be meaningful and relevant to consumers. So, for example, let’s pretend that I’m trying to position Sharpie pens, and the Sharpie pen owns size, but size doesn’t matter to consumers. Well, then that’s not necessarily a superior positioning. You want it to be a unique differentiator, but also to be important to consumers.

And then lastly, you yourself have to be excellent at delivering on it. We’ve seen a number of cases where brands try to stand for something that they actually can’t deliver on. If you go back and look at the last days of Kmart, the ads that they would present to consumers about their stores were different than the in-store experience that you would actually receive.

There was a disconnect between what they were trying to say and what they actually delivered. Superior positioning really kind of does all three of these things. And a McKinsey, you know, owns this kind of elite strategic consulting space. They tend to be perceived to do that better than other firms—and I’m talking about general strategy—that obviously is important to the target, and then they have an ability to do it.

Drew Neisser: Right. Okay. I had to laugh when you decided to go with Sharpie because my first college paper, English 101, or actually was English 1—they said write on anything. And I did an ode to Sharpie just because it was in my hand. I did okay on that paper. It was all downhill after that.

[23:55] Jon Miller on B2B Brand and ABX

“The more we can build trust and reduce risk as a B2B brand, the better.” —@jonmiller @Demandbase Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Speaking of folks that have gone out on a limb in their careers, Jon Miller, CMO of Demandbase, co-founder of Engagio, which Demandbase acquired last year, and the co-founder of Marketo, and star of episode 84 of Renegade Marketers Unite. Hello, Jon, how are you?

Jon Miller: Always fabulous talking to you. And it is amazing how long we’ve been talking.

Drew Neisser: Oh, my god. I mean, we met 10 years ago, more than that, when you were at Marketo, and I wrote a piece about you on Fast Company called “Drinking Your Own Champagne” or something like that. But I would argue that looking at your career over the last 10 years, given that two of the companies that you started were acquired for large sums, you’ve made some good decisions. So kudos to you. What has been the driving force of your career decisions thus far?

Jon Miller: Well, you know, there’s definitely a lot of luck involved. That is the truth. But what’s driven me has been a passion for MarTech. A vision of what, you know, how can we make marketing be more valuable and more respected by being more relevant?

I mean, I hate the fact that sometimes, you know, I tell people I’m a marketer and I’m a little bit embarrassed. Because like, “Oh, you’re the one who like sends the emails and the spams and all that kind of stuff?” I’m like, “No.” I mean, when marketing is done well, we are actually helping to connect consumers with products that will make their lives better.

The whole idea of a financial exchange is that utility is created. And if as marketers we can facilitate that, we are actually doing good. But in order to make that happen, the marketing needs to be relevant to the consumer.

I’ve had a belief since the beginning of my career that that can be done with data and intelligence. Pretty much the theme from Epiphany, to then founding Marketo, to Engagio, and now Demandbase has been, how do we achieve that holy grail of, whether you call it one-to-one or just good marketing? That’s the thread that’s driven me.

Drew Neisser: Now, as Kim Whitler, Professor Whitler, was talking and talking about own something, it needs to be important, and then deliver on that… Were you taking notes? Did it spark any thoughts in your mind as we were talking about positioning over your career and how some of these things have been so well positioned that they got acquired?

Jon Miller: Well, it’s funny. It’s like, yeah, positioning is relative. If I look at Marketo, you know, we started Marketo and we were explicitly positioning against a company called Eloqua at the time. You know, Eloqua had been an early adopter in that category, and it was known as being expensive and hard to use.

Marketo, literally, we were like, “Hey, we do the same stuff, but we’re affordable and easy to use.” Thus, Marketo was born. It’s a little bit harder these days, you know, there’s a lot more MarTech and Sales Tech companies, more people eking out their own different positions. I’m thinking a lot about intelligence. If we can own that, you know, that I think is very true to the vision.

Drew Neisser: I just have to say the affordable, easy-to-use combo is killer. In my book, I talk about Wasabi and how their reason for being is they’re 80% cheaper and six times faster than AWS. And they are just a rocket ship with that value proposition and a great name.

Okay, you’ve written eight of these e-books, and I actually read the most recent one, The Clear and Complete Guide to Account-Based Experience, which was 261 pages including the appendix. What compels you to write these treatises?

Jon Miller: Yeah, I mean, first off, I hate calling it an e-book, right? I mean, we think an e-book is like 12 pages or something. I really do write these things to be clear and complete. What drives me is really, two factors.

First is, honestly, I just love teaching. I come from a family of teachers. My mom was a teacher, my uncle is a professor, my sister is a teacher, and so on. And I think, you know, if I may say, I have a gift for explaining things relatively simply. And I just really enjoy it, whether it’s writing or presenting.

The books I’ve written have been meant to help build companies, where I work. And that’s also based on the belief that in B2B specifically, a keyway you build your brand is around thought leadership. There’s so much risk inherent in a B2B purchase. You know, you make a good purchase, your company is better off; you make a bad purchase, you can lose your job.

The more we can build trust and reduce risk as a B2B brand, the better. And I think people trust experts, so if I can establish my company and myself as an expert by helping to teach them something, I think that’s how I’m trying to build my brand and my company brand.

Drew Neisser: So, here’s the thing. A lot of times I’ll have CMOs who will say, “We can’t do anything long because no one is going to read it.” And I emphasize the length. I won’t call it an e-book. It’s a book.

I mean, it is a substantial piece of work that, as you said, is very easy to read and you follow it, but it’s some sophisticated concepts. What’s your feeling on the length of these things? Does it matter? I mean, how do you actually get someone to open this up and read it?

Jon Miller: Well, I mean, we should ask that question to all your speakers, right? And you wrote a book. How are you gonna get somebody to open up your book? I think the fact that mine is delivered in a format that is designed to be easy to read online and is meant to be skippable and flippable… To me, that’s a bonus, not a detractor, compared to your traditional printed book of words.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so you talk about ABX, and let’s put ABX in the framework of decision making, as this show is about. Walk us through a couple of the key decisions to get right when we’re talking about account-based experiences.

Jon Miller: Yeah, if I can sort of connect that little bit to my Marketo experience to get kick off. I mean, what Marketo helped to pioneer and that was so good was the idea of demand generation where you didn’t send every lead over to sales as soon as you got it. Instead, you would hold it back and nurture and score it and only pass it when they’re ready.

That was great for the buyer because they didn’t have to get unwanted sales calls, and it was good for the salesperson who didn’t have to talk to buyers who didn’t want to talk to them. The decision is, when do you pass that lead over to sales? When do you engage?

Now you fast forward to ABM. ABM was all about, instead of waiting for the buyers to come respond to your campaigns, you reach out to them in a targeted way. I used to use an analogy to explain that. Demand gen was like fishing with a net. You run your campaigns, you catch fish, you don’t care which ones you catch, you just care if you catch enough. Whereas traditional ABM is like fishing with a spear. “I’m going to go after that.”

Fundamentally, though, the problem is it doesn’t feel good to get poked by a spear. What happened in traditional ABM is we were reaching out to accounts regardless of whether they were interested in hearing from us.

We were failing in that decision in terms of when should sales engage. ABX, really, what it’s meant to do is it’s meant to take the precision and targeting of ABM, combine it with respect to the buyer experience that traditional demand gen had, and make the decision to only engage with accounts at the right time.

Drew Neisser: Okay, only engage with accounts at the right time. So that way, we’re doing the same thing we did with ABM, which is say, “These are the customers that we want to engage with, but we’re going to engage with them in a way that is appropriate for the moment given that individual.”

Jon Miller: Where they and that account is in its journey. And you do that by using account intelligence.

[32:38] On CMO Huddles

“It's really nice to connect to peers that are B2B marketers from other industries to tackle topics.” —@jenniferdavis @Learfield on @CMOHuddles Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We’re gonna circle back to all of this, but we’re going to take a little bit of break. I’m going to share some stuff about CMO Huddles, so give me a second to do that. I’d like to plug CMO Huddles because we launched it in 2020.

It’s an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. One CMO described huddles as timely conversations with smart peers in a trusted environment, while another call it across between an expert workshop and a therapy session.

If you’re a B2B CMO that can share and care with the best of them, visit cmohuddles.com or send me an email to see if you qualify for a guest pass. So, Jennifer, since you’ve been in huddles for a while, does that align with your experience?

Jennifer Davis: Yeah, I love that share, care, and dare. LEARFIELD has offerings for B2C marketers, so it’s really nice to connect to peers that are B2B marketers from other industries to tackle topics.

Drew Neisser: Very cool. Thank you for that. And I know, Jon, you’re very new to CMO Huddles, so I don’t need to put you on the spot. But you have attended one. So far, so good?

Jon Miller: Yeah, I mean, for me, it was kind of cool. I mean, I know a lot of CMOs I’ve met over the years, so it was fun to get on the call and see some folks I know, meet some new folks that I didn’t know. The one I was on was all about brand, and that’s near and dear to my heart these days, so it was good to hear other CMOs’ opinions.

[34:08] A Look at Great and Not-So-Great Decisions

“I made the career switch to academia to study this, to try to deeply understand CMO roles, how they vary, and to try to help and prevent other CMOs from experiencing what I did.” —@KimWhitler @DardenMBA Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: So, here’s the question that I’m gonna ask you all three. You’ve all been in marketing in various capacities. What’s the best or worst marketing decision you have made in your career? I’m going to randomly pick Jennifer to start.

Jennifer Davis: No pressure. Well, we were just talking about the rebrand. And we’re still in the early days, but rebranding the company. LEARFIELD, after past mergers, and bringing that to the forefront and the new identity system that we’ve brought forward, actually is turning out to be a really good decision.

Not only did it streamline the name and make it easier to consume, but it also is allowing us to tell a new story. For a company that’s nearly 50 years old and is a tech and media leader in collegiate sports, but with a long history in different media types, it’s just a wonderful opportunity to reintroduce the brand. So, I would say that’s a good really recent decision that I made in my career.

Drew Neisser: Okay, Kim, how about a bad decision in marketing? Come on, you’re not a practitioner anymore, so it’s okay. You could have had a bump along the way. Was there a product that you went, “Hmm, I probably could have positioned that differently?”

Kimberly Whitler: I’m gonna actually kind of answer this in a different way, and it’s actually related to a lot of my research. I would say, I’m not a person who believes in having regrets. I don’t believe in that.

But if I had to look at a bad decision, perhaps some of my worst decisions were related to career decisions where I didn’t completely vet a company before I accepted an offer. I wasn’t adept at understanding sometimes how job specs might be misleading or incomplete.

I made that mistake once, but it prompted me, frankly, when I made the career switch to academia to study this, to try to deeply understand CMO roles, how they vary, and to try to help and prevent other CMOs from experiencing what I did. It turned out to be a good thing.

Drew Neisser: And I love that fact that you and I, between the two of us, have interviewed—well, I know you’ve already done it, but several thousand. By the time you add them up there, there’s a lot of expertise there. Jon, best or worst?

Jon Miller: I’m going to stick with the original worst. If I look at my time at Engagio, we started 2015, launched in early 2016. And it was almost magic. Our first product, we had product-market fit to help measure account-based activities. It was like instant. It was amazing. And we hit our first million of ARR in just the first couple of months. VCs literally were throwing money at us.

And then, you know, we had this big vision of what we wanted to do. We then immediately started working on our next product, which ended up being a sales prospecting tool to go compete with Outreach and Salesloft.

All of a sudden, we launched it, and all of a sudden, now I’m fighting a two-front war. I’m in marketing trying to sell to marketers and I’m trying to sell to sales and I’m still a little tiny startup. And honestly, we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t do it.

All that amazing buzz and momentum that we had from just launching and hitting product-market fit so fast fizzled because we were putting so much energy into this other product that was just not—even though I still think the strategy was good, we just weren’t ever going to be able to get there.

Drew Neisser: And so, when you were assessing that and you look back on it—because I talk a lot about this in the first chapter of my book. It’s an obvious thing that focus is your friend. It felt like a big opportunity, but the problem ultimately was, because it was a target difference, your ideal customer profile kept changing. The knowledge base that you needed to sell to was different. There were no synergies from the work that you’ve done from the past…

Jon Miller: There was not brand synergy, there was some product synergy. Honestly, it was hubris in some ways. It was like, “We know where the markets going and we’re gonna lead you there,” when what we should have done is, “Hey, we’ve got people who like our first product, how do we double down there?”

Drew Neisser: Right Yeah. Some wise sage said, “Business history is skewed with the carcasses of the overconfident.” That was a moment. Actually, that was a quote I did, and it ended up in a calendar somewhere. Anyway, thank you for sharing that. We try to do therapeutic things. The good news is you recovered. And I’m really curious, how’d you recover?

Jon Miller: Well, it took a while to sort of figure out that that dog wasn’t gonna hunt and then to go back and refocus on our roots. But honestly, a big part of it was then realizing that the fastest way to pursue our vision, the dream of the next generation marketing platform, was going to be by hooking it up with Demandbase. The combination of these two companies would get us to my goals three years faster than if I kept trying to just beat on that myself.

Drew Neisser: And I’m wondering, Jennifer, as you’re hearing this, and you’re thinking about the decision-making process, and the thing that you do, and you’re going, “What would Jon have done differently?” If he had read your book, where would he have sort of come through and maybe avoided the sales product? Is there anything in the book that would help him there?

Jennifer Davis: Well, certainly—and again, I totally imagine that you took an iterative approach to this. But I think it’s a temptation in all businesses to try to be more feature complete or have a more complete offering.

I guess the advice I’d give to Jon that I give to myself and many others is, how do you break that down? How could you know anything faster with a smaller amount of investment? Or in your case, a smaller amount of distraction that would have told you, “Wow, okay, this is going to be a lot. Let’s put that on ice until we get our core in order.”

Again, I’m sure that in the software world, he took an iterative and agile approach. But as I see more companies try to apply that same methodology to other things, hopefully, it can keep us on that right and focused path.

Jon Miller: Interestingly, arguably, you could say that hurt us rather than helped us. Because, “All right, we have this new thing. It’s not quite working. But gosh, if we just iterate to the next one, it’ll get there. Oh, no! Okay, if we just iterate to the next one, we’ll get there!” That’s why it actually took longer than it should have to sort of realize it’s not hunting.

Drew Neisser: Right, because you kept trying to make the dog hunt. “Oh, we’ll go over here!”

Jon Miller: We were being iterative. “Oh, if we could just get closer!” What Jennifer did say which is important is the amount of mindshare and resources taken. Even though we were being iterative, it was still taking the bulk of the company, when really, we should have been doubling down on our original successful product.

Drew Neisser: And Kimberly, I have to say, Kim, when we look at this, it could have been a positioning problem.

Kimberly Whitler: It could have been, but when I was listening to this, this actually brings me back to a recent class I had where it was a startup, the case was a startup. They had two very different targets that they could go after, and the natural inclination for the students is to say, “I want everything. I want everything. I don’t want to make a strategic choice.”

I just wrote a note to myself to follow up with Jon because I’d love to interview him and write a story about what he learned. Sometimes—I had a CEO at one point who said, “Kim is the genius of ‘and.'” And that was his way of never making a strategic choice. It was like, “I want everything, I don’t really want to make a decision. Let’s not make a decision, let’s not be focused.”

At another point in my life, I had somebody who was ruthlessly strategic, that really understood that how you allocate your resources if you spread them too thin that you’re going to risk implementation quality. He really forced people to make very difficult strategic choices and I tend to lean towards the latter, rather than the genius of “and” approach.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a place for “and” in a lot of situations, but not when it comes to fundamental product offering. In particularly a small business, when you get bifurcated like that where you just get chopped down the middle, you might lose sight of the business that got you at least your first million.

[43:35] Should B2B Brands Take a Stand?

“It's very important to be authentic and to choose the things that are very durable and related very closely to what your company does.” —@jenniferdavis @Learfield Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: There’s another tough decision out there. And I want to make sure we have time to talk about this, which is—and it’s so topical, so I hope people stick around for this, because this is the moment of truth. Companies and brands used to sit on the sidelines when it came to social issues.

They preferred to stay apolitical. “Hey, we sell soda, or we sell software for companies to help them.” But now this decision has become more complicated as some might argue that silence is complicity. And since I know where you stand on this Kim, I want to wait and just as Jennifer, and then we’ll get to Jon on should brands take a stand? Has LEARFIELD taken a stand? And if so, on what and how did you rationalize it as a marketer?

Jennifer Davis: Sure, sure. I think it’s a very timely topic, as you said. LEARFIELD, as I mentioned, plays in the collegiate sports live event space. So, we have university partners, student athletes, fans, sports administrators, others, that are taking stands and being very vocal with their point of view and are having a huge impact on the cultural conversations and a direct impact on policy and the like. They want to know, as a partner, what we stand for.

One of the things that we think about, and I hope everybody is thinking about, is that there are a lot of issues and a lot of causes and a lot of themes that one can focus on. It’s very important to be authentic and to choose the things that are very durable and related very closely to what your company does.

For us, we have chosen to invest around themes of Diversity and Equity and Inclusion in all that we do. And we have some key strategic partnerships in that space to actually develop talent for the sports industry from diverse backgrounds. We’ve also recently partnered with Team IMPACT to connect terminally ill children to college sports teams to make them part of hopefully their healing process.

Using those as examples, we’ve picked things that we think we can uniquely do. If every company, every individual, kind of swept their front porch or thought about the things that they were uniquely positioned to do, I mean, that’s how the world becomes a better place. So that’s the approach that we’ve taken.

Drew Neisser: Okay, connected to the brand. So Jon, have you guys, in any of the companies that you’ve worked or particularly ones that you founded taken a stand on social issues? And if so, like, what?

Jon Miller: You know, I mean, not Marketo, which I’m sort of embarrassed about. Marketo was sort of, I think, notoriously not long on those types of things. And not Engagio. It was, frankly, too small. I mean, nobody really cared what a 30-person company might say about social issues.

I am proud to say Demandbase is, I think, quite good at this. And whether it was, you know, focusing on equity in hiring and diversity, or Black Lives Matter when that was—it still matters, but we were talking about it a lot a year ago. We did some really interesting things. Every quarter at Demandbase, we’re doing something that is about us taking a stand. We’ve also done really good stuff with LGBTQ initiatives. I think it’s part of our culture at Demandbase and it’s something I’m proud of.

Drew Neisser: So, Kim, let’s talk about—you’ve written a lot about this and about taking a stand, and that there’s some risk involved and there’s evidence is it isn’t always worth the reward. Talk a little bit about that research that you’ve been doing or want to do or what’s going on there.

Kimberly Whitler: Well, I mean, the great thing about this is that there actually aren’t always risks, right? There are a lot of efforts, there’s a lot of activism efforts that generally we all agree with. I’ll give you an example.

PetSmart who is the largest pet adoption facilitator I believe in the country, they don’t sell cats or dogs. They’ve provided nearly $500 million for pet services, just an enormous advocate for pet welfare. And that’s largely without risk. Who has a problem with saving little Louie’s lives, right?

What becomes risky—I think—so first of all, there’s unifying activism, and there’s activism that divides us. The activism that divides us tends to be when a mass brand like a Coke, which is historically apolitical, aligns with a political ideology.

What happens, and I’ll go back to the Coke Georgia voting reform law, where they started in a position in the middle that they shifted to the left, and—sorry, they started in the middle, the left wanted to boycott so they shifted to the left, and then the right announced boycotts. They inadvertently repositioned their brand. So, what happens is they start off, Drew, let me pretend that you’re liberal. Which do you like, Coke or Pepsi?

Drew Neisser: I worked on Pepsi, so I’ve always had an allegiance to that.

Kimberly Whitler: Okay, so let’s pretend that Pepsi, apolitical, comes out, and you’re liberal, and they align with a conservative position like on the Georgia voting reform law. What happens is, is that you then ascribe all of the conservative views to the brand, and you’re actually repositioning the brands in the minds of consumers.

I don’t think that’s what CEOs are intending to do when they’re making a paragraph position statement on a topic. But I do think what’s happening is it’s inadvertently repositioning them. What can happen then is it can potentially damage the brand’s image, the corporate reputation over time. What’s interesting is, if you look at Axios Harris, if you look at Nike, Coke, and Procter and Gamble—Procter and Gamble had the Gillette toxic masculinity brouhaha a couple years ago.

Do you guys remember that? P&G owns Gillette, those three brands have all declined about 30 positions in terms of corporate reputation. Coke’s declined almost 30. And guess what, Pepsi has gone up 30 Drew. So, Pepsi has largely stayed out of this stuff. Coke’s brand purpose is to make a difference, which means that there’s no limit to what they’re going to potentially weigh in on.

I think the risk is to understand what your core positioning is, and as you’re engaging in these issues, to try to do it in a way that aligns with your purpose that aligns with your positioning. You don’t want to inadvertently reposition your business.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, you and I have talked about this, and I think there’s a lot of different ways of measuring this. I think ultimately it comes down to the company and the employees of the company and what they want to stand for and what they don’t. They take repercussions.

I mean, in my book, I write about Bank of the West, who decided they weren’t going to support companies that fracked and were involved in coal. That cost them a billion and a half in assets that they had to divest from. They picked up a billion and a half in California and Colorado. And it ended up being a good decision, but they made it because they felt it was like the right thing to do for the brand long term.

So, these things are really tricky, because they took a big hit for that stand, but I think they ultimately had a position that they believed in and they could sell and it helped them with recruiting, and it helped them with retention.

These are really complicated issues that we’re gonna have to get into on another show at another date because we’ve just scratched the surface.

[52:05] Tips for Making Big Decisions

“You can have companies with amazing brands and product-market fit; it makes their demand look amazing.” —@jonmiller @Demandbase Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Final words here on—we’ve had quite a journey on the world of decision making. Jennifer, thank you for bringing that idea to the table here. Let’s give one final words of wisdom for CMOs who are at this critical decision making and they’ve got one decision they got to make. I’ll let Jennifer, go ahead, give them one bit of advice.

Jennifer Davis: Well, I would go back to thinking deeply about the kind of decision that you’re making. Is it one-way door or two-way door? A one-way door, you install hinge. Put as much emphasis on how you would go about making that decision right with great implementation as you put into making the choice.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so make sure you know what kind of decision it is. Okay. All right. Jon, got some sort of random, help us make a tough decision kind of advice.

Jon Miller: Well, my advice is not necessarily related to decisions for CMOs, but I think a lot of CMOs worry about pipeline a lot and demand generation and it’s very top of mind. And yet, I don’t think there’s nearly enough discussion happening in the marketplace around the intersection between brand and demand.

You can have companies with amazing brands and product-market fit; it makes their demand look amazing. You have companies with like, less product-market fit or not as good a brand, I don’t care what you’re doing, your demand is going to be really challenging.

I don’t think there’s enough conversation about those intersections, and I do encourage CMOs to really be thinking about that, and what is the meaning for their business?

Drew Neisser: Okay, and Kim, last shot here in terms of one bit of advice for the CMOs in the audience?

Kimberly Whitler: Yeah, you know, I do some sessions, some executive sessions on strategic planning. I have a way of kind of taking them left, and then I bring it back to one key point, which is figure out what the single biggest project is, like, really, what it comes down to… What is the single biggest item that’s going to get you closest to your goals?

And then make sure you protect that with your very best resources and your time. What we tend to do is, we think, again, everything’s additive. If I do more, more disparate things, a broader play, then somehow that’s going to help me accomplish my goals. I think we lose focus of the big lever that’s going to give us the biggest payoff.

I tend to do this even with my personal goals. If I only could do one thing on my piece of paper that’s going to get me closest, what’s that one thing and make sure that I deliver that to the best of my ability.

Drew Neisser: I love it. I love it. And if you go to my book or send me an email, I will send you the Clear Away the Clutter pledge. Five things on it. One of which is, if you add something to your to-do list, please take something off of it.

Thank you, Jennifer, Kim, and Jon, you’re all great decision-makers. Rest in peace Reuben Kramer, who died last month at the age of 99. He played The Game of Life very well. And thank you, audience for staying with us.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey. Our intern is Alex Smith. For show notes, past episodes, and the latest on my new book Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, please visit renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser, and until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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