Inside the First 90 Days of Marketo’s CMO
Sarah Kennedy has had a phenomenal career thus far—and she’s just getting started. Now 90 days into leading the charge as Marketo’s CMO, Sarah speaks about what has surprised her, what CMOs can do to make the most of 2018, and how early-career marketers can get on the right track to be a CMO in the future.
Q: How has your career prepared you for the role that you have now?
I don’t know that you can enter any job and ever feel adequately prepared. During the last few years of the ten total I spent in my career at Sabre, I built the enterprise marketing discipline in our hospitality business from the ground up and led the business’s growth upmarket, just like Marketo is doing right now. I bring that experience—knowing what works, what doesn’t, and what’s fundamentally different about selling into global enterprises, and how to invest in marketing to accelerate growth in that segment surgically. I approach most situations thinking about how we can do a few things really well instead of doing all of the things as well as circumstances or resources will allow. And I believe in doubling down on the handful of investments that can truly make a difference.
Q: What surprised you most about your first 90 days at Marketo?
Marketo has been through a lot of change in the last year, including losing leaders across the team who had historically been key players in the early Marketo success story. I think there was an outside perception that the marketing organization had lost a lot of talent, but the reality is when you look inside of Marketo at the mid-level of marketing leadership, we have incredible strength. And not only do we have strength, but we have rockstars ready and willing to do more to lead the next phase of Marketo’s growth. And that honestly surprised me because of what I had incorrectly perceived coming in the door on day one.
I think every company has that. You think when you lose top-level leaders that somehow will make the organization less successful. But the reality is it’s the people rolling up their sleeves every day that make Marketo successful; they’re the ones that we’re now challenging to do more and putting in leadership positions, giving them a chance to lead, to take on more and to fill those gaps. How many of those emerging leaders we had on our team already when I arrived surprised me, and it excites me more than anything.
Q: What gets you up in the morning?
The amount of potential there is for marketers right now gets me up every day. I’m energized by a drive and a desire to win—I’m competitive. I think that winning comes in a lot of different flavors, and I also get excited about authenticity in the work we do as marketers each day. I just love the idea that we can tell a story that makes people feel connected to Marketo in a different way. I think it makes our company and our marketing team human in a way.
Everyone else is dealing with the same challenges we are inside of Marketo as marketers, and our ability to share that and be honest with them about what challenges we’re facing, and how we’re solving the same problems they are, connects us in a way that’s so powerful. Most companies we compete with often pretend to be something much more perfect than what they are in reality if they’re really honest with themselves. And everyone else sees it. But to me, it’s the beauty found inside of our imperfections that I love and that makes me excited to come into work and tell great stories as marketers each day.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
For me right now, just ramping up in a new role and new company keeps me up at night. I haven’t been in a new company in a decade. I’ve been in many, many new positions with many new bosses at my former company over a decade. But there’s still nothing that can perfectly prepare you for a complete change in culture, team, peers, product or customers overnight.
Right now, it’s about making sure I’m focused on the right priorities and that my team understands, believes in and is aligned on how to execute on those priorities. And at the end of 2018, when we look back on what we accomplished, I hope more than anything our customers feel that we did something incrementally more valuable this year for them than we’ve ever done before.
Q: How can CMOs make the most of 2018?
If a CMO can do anything at all in 2018, it’s doing everything with purpose. CMOs need to be better at saying no to things that they know don’t deliver the most value, even when saying no is painful or politically challenging if your team is convicted about what’s best for the business.
And when we look at what I truly believe can make us most successful in 2018 and beyond, it’s infusing the marketing team with financial discipline. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s one I’m passionate about putting into practice beyond just a prediction for 2018. Finance organizations are at the heart of most healthy companies. And while some leaders I’ve known tend to avoid their CFO, your best bet is going into the room every day, being in front of their team and having the tough conversations. Why not have them help you creatively build models to solve your most complex demand-generation or market analysis problems because it’s not just your problem to solve alone. And often they’re more than eager to help–we just all too rarely ask. That partnership for me personally, at least, will be critical to my team’s success & Marketo’s overall performance this year.
Q: What’s the most significant piece of advice you have for early-career marketers looking to accelerate into a CMO role?
Stay forever hungry and forever curious. What that means to me is don’t always be solely willing to take the straight path. I jumped all around in my previous company life, taking on many different roles, discipline areas, and customer types. The most diversity you can get in the audiences you serve, in the positions you take on, in the teams and the other leaders you collaborate with, is the absolute most important thing you can do. All of those experiences are what you’re going to have to pull from to be successful in that next big job. Get yourself out of marketing to get back into marketing. Go into sales for a year knowing you want to come back into marketing to get that experience base. That will be priceless.
Don’t necessarily think that you have to exclusively stay inside of the marketing organization throughout your career to get a CMO role. I think you’re much better served by a diverse mix of experience once you get to that level if you’re more focused on how many different ladders you learned how to climb in different situations versus how fast or how high you climbed on only one.