Ask The CMO: Marketo’s CMO On The New Future of Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing Trends


We’ve reached the last installment of our “Ask the CMO: Lessons Learned” series with Mashable. What an incredible collection of reflections and insights from so many accomplished CMOs! For the final post, I had the honor of sitting down with Mashable to reflect on my own lessons learned and where I see our great profession headed. I hope you’ve enjoyed following this series as much as I have and are inspired to dive headfirst into this Next Era of marketing.

And don’t worry—there will be plenty more “Ask the CMO” stories with great marketers in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

The following interview originally appeared on Mashable.

The scene: A smoke-filled room clamors with anger, frustration and optimism as men in earth-tone suits and skinny wool ties debate—from art to copy to product placement—the best ways to sell dishwasher fluid. At long last, they agree, clink their glasses of brandy and set a plan in motion for six months down the road.

That’s marketing in a nutshell, right? A closed-door, one-size-fits-all operation that moves at the speed of molasses.

Well, let’s just say that picture is a little outdated. And not just because of the outfits.

Today, technology plays a massive role in marketing strategy and execution: Automation has turned guesswork into a precise science and months of planning into nanoseconds. Companies like Marketo are leading the way in marketing automation technology, pushing boundaries and helping CMOs everywhere embrace the future.

Of course, this is pretty complex stuff. So we had a chat with Marketo CMO, Sanjay Dholakia, to put the current state of marketing—and the future—into perspective.

Q&A with Marketo CMO Sanjay Dholakia

1. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self that pertains to your career in marketing, what would it be?

The path to success is embracing your unique skill set. Don’t get hung up on being something that you think others want you to be.

In my early professional years in the strategy consulting world, I believed that I needed to prove how smart and analytical I was. I vividly remember standing around with some partners during my time at McKinsey and hearing one partner observe to another, “Sanjay should be in sales and marketing.” There I was trying to be this strategy guy, so I took it as a grave insult! But the truth is that he was just recognizing my unique strengths. If I had it all to do over again, I would still love strategy, but I would also focus on my natural talents and passion.

2. What’s the most unexpectedly important skill from your past that you’ve found plays into your success? (For example, maybe a high school job taught you about the importance of teamwork.)

Humility. I learned early on what it means to be on a team.

When I was very young, I fancied myself a fairly good baseball player. I was in a friend’s neighborhood playing in the sandlot, and I was barking instructions and orders and coaching tips to my team. I will never forget this—the mom of one of the kids on the team was watching us and yelled from her front door, “Hey, why don’t you let Mr. Know-It-All do it?” We lost the game, and I went home and talked to my mom about it. She said, “Live life by the real estate theory.” She didn’t mean location. What said was, “You should always buy the ugly house on block, because if you surround yourself with prettier houses, your stock will rise. If you buy the prettiest house, you’ve already set the market ceiling. Always try to surround yourself with better, smarter people than you, and you will do great.”

Ever since, I’ve sought out environments and places in which I would be the dumb guy in the room. In order to build teams, I actively seek out people who are better than me in every dimension I can find.

Sanjay baseball

Throwback: I learned very young that surrounding himself with a great team leads to championships.

3. You’re the barber’s barber. What’s it like being the CMO of a company dedicated to helping CMOs and marketers?

I’ve held a number of incredible positions in my lifetime—CEO, GM of a public company, strategy consultant. I’ve said it on stage in a room of thousands of people, and I’ve said it in an interview to an audience of one: I consider this role to be the great privilege of my career.

I feel this way for two main reasons. First, I love that I get to interact and learn from smart marketers around the world every day. Having an ability to translate that back directly into my day job is a gift. The second piece is that we are at a fortuitous moment in the world of marketing—we refer to it as the era of engagement marketing. Marketing has changed more in the last five years than it has in the last 500, and will change more in the next five years than we have seen to-date. The opportunity to be here in this moment in time working with smart marketers around the world to shape that change is a gift.

4. Marketo has ties to Madison Avenue, but is very much a Silicon Valley company—what are the misconceptions around marketing automation, and what are the three biggest trends you’re seeing in the space?

One misconception is that marketing automation is a thing strictly for B2B marketers. Another is that marketing automation is an acquisition-focused tool, designed to acquire “leads.” It’s really much bigger than that.

In terms of trends, I believe this is the year that marketing automation goes completely mainstream—it’s something for every organization. Our clients include schools, like George Washington University, and nonprofits, like OxFam. We have financial services clients like Charles Schwab and manufacturing companies like GE. We have sports teams, like the Portland Trail Blazers, or health and lifestyle apps, like Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal. Every type of organization, marketer and industry—regardless of profile—needs this capability.

This trend of marketing automation is growing up beyond the acquisition side of world to truly becoming the brain center or nervous system for all customer engagement across the entire customer lifecycle—retention, loyalty, advocacy, etc. Marketing automation is becoming the new advertising. Marketers are starting to figure out how to connect the art of paid advertising to the science of engagement marketing—the collision of advertising technology and marketing technology—which is creating this ability to get down to real individual levels of communication with customers. That is what’s making all the difference.

5. What’s the most important thing for Marketo to communicate in its own marketing? How do you ensure the company stays above the “noise” from competitors/startups?

Great question. Marketers are being given more and more responsibility and taking on more and more in their organizations, which is something we refer to as a “Marketing First world.” So, first off, it’s essential that Marketo really stays true to our very unique position in the market, which is that we are the only real Marketing First company. The only thing we do is think about marketers and their success, and our ability to stay true to that brand and emphasize that is unique.

The second thing is really practicing what we preach, namely around the concept of engagement marketing that I mentioned before, which is the belief that the only way to successfully market is to build individualized relationships with people based on relevant and helpful content and ongoing interaction. All the other approaches are just noise. This approach will lead to people inviting marketing messages into the conversation and relationship as opposed to ignoring us. We’re not trying to shout at people through billboards at the Chicago O’Hare Airport; that’s not the foundation of a trust-based relationship.

And third, it’s necessary for us to develop and focus on a community of really smart marketers around the world, which is something we refer to as the Marketing Nation. Creating this community will further cement Marketo’s position above the fray or noise, so long as it’s the club that people want to be a part of because that’s where they can interact with other smart people. It’s the same type of value-add and trust that I mentioned in my last point.

6. One thing that appears to be unique to Marketo is the “Marketing Nation.” Can you talk a little about what that is?

In my travels as the barber’s barber, what I’ve come to learn—and this may be shocking coming from the CMO of a software company—is that marketers don’t care about the technology. What they really care about is being successful. They want to grow their careers and personal skill sets and brands. Marketo wants to continue to set the tech standard from an innovation standpoint—and we will—but we also want to create the definitive community literally and figuratively, physically and virtually where smart marketers come together to learn and shape the future of the industry.

It’s not the Marketo Nation—it really is the Marketing Nation. It’s all about creating success for marketers across all the dimensions they desire, regardless of the tools they’re using. Sure, if we help to build it and fuel it, there’s an advantage that accrues for Marketo, but we’re really doing it because we truly believe in this seismic shift that’s happening in marketing and truly want to be part of this community that’s helping drive success for marketers. It is a core part of our brand. We are for marketers by marketers.

7. Describe how technology is changing the backend of marketing. Do you feel like a modern CMO has to be equal parts CCO and CTO?

As I think about it, the answer is probably “yes,” with some nuances. It makes me think of my favorite quip about the “genius of ‘and’ versus the tyranny of ‘or.'” People ask, “Is marketing art, or is it science?” The answer is really just “yes.” Marketing will always be about art and creativity—that is what makes marketing great marketing. But because of this new digital, social world and access to technology and data, we’re able to engage with customers on the personal levels that we’ve all aspired to reach. These CMOs have to be agile at least in the concepts of technology and analytical skill sets. They don’t need to be able to do everything but have to be able to understand how these things contribute to moving their business and creating leverage. I talk about the new prototype for the CMO as a Da Vinci—they must be both a scientist and an artist.

8. Likewise, it’s not just about the CMO—it’s about his or her team as well. What skills do you look for at the non-executive level?

Gosh, there are a myriad of skills that a marketing organization has to have. One of the things I often say is that there is no single marketing function. The reality is that inside of marketing there is an ever-growing number of disciplines, from creative and brand design to product marketing to demand generation to customer marketing to communications, etc. My cop out answer is that you’re probably looking for people with all of these functional capabilities. But, more importantly, in this new world new era of engagement marketing, the skills I look for are marketers who understand how to create relationships with customers and partners as conversations—just like real relationships.

The best marketers have storytelling capabilities. The ability to engage people with compelling stories and content is another critical piece. Regardless of where you sit, marketing is a team sport. Period—full stop. The ability to collaborate is imperative. We have to build relationships with people regardless of what channel they’re on. It’s a single conversation, and marketers likely have to collaborate with other marketers to have that conversation. It’s about raw, intellectual curiosity. We need marketers who are going to be innovative because they are constantly looking to learn and try new things.

9. Ad blocking has become the newest disruptor in the marketing technology industry. What advice or reassurances do you have for marketers as they tackle this challenge?

The concept of ad blocking has been around for a long time. Why? People don’t like ads, and if they can find ways around them, they will use them. Why do you think the DVR became popular? People by and large don’t want to see ads. If I’m browsing the web, I don’t have a huge interest in seeing ads. We as marketers have to assume this trend is inexorable. Advertising as we know it has shifted toward a need for engagement marketing. The way around it is by permission, where people allow you into their lives and look forward to hearing from you because you are a trusted person who provides them with relevant and useful information. That’s why we’re seeing a collision of advertising technology and marketing technology.

10. Looking into the future, what do you think will be the CMO’s most valuable resource in 15 years?

Well, Marketo, of course, haha! Too much?

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