We here at Oracle CX Marketing recently had the chance to catch up with Julia Stead, CMO of Allocadia. We discussed how CMOs should view their roles as a driver of business growth, define what success is in that role, and what they should focus on.
Q: What did you go to school for?
I attended McGill University in Montreal for my undergrad. There I majored in English-communications and history. However, while I enjoyed my undergrad studies, I felt like it hadn’t given me enough of a theoretical foundation for the type of work I wanted to pursue in marketing. After graduating and spending a few years out in the working world, I went to the University of Montreal to get an MBA in marketing-entrepreneurship.
Q: Tell us about your first job.
After I finished undergrad, I took a communications position at a law firm, which was a nice transition, since I had previously worked at law firms over the summer. It gave me a chance to hone my professional communications skills and have a 9-5 job in an office.
That lasted for a year, and then I moved on to an entry-level marketing specialist position. I worked in that function for about four to five years before becoming the manager of a small marketing team at a company that was a SaaS marketing attribution platform and agency. It really was both. We built and sold the platform and then offered managed agency services to drive results.
Q: Why did you want to become a CMO?
I didn’t set out to be a CMO, but I’ve always been an ambitious person, and I kept growing in my role as a marketer and people leader. I was always looking to tackle the next challenge, so the role of CMO seemed to naturally crystalize as the next natural step in my career.
Just before my current position as a CMO, I was a vice president of marketing, and I can see a tangible difference between the two roles. The scope of responsibilities is much larger for me now. As a CMO, I’m not just running marketing and owning and driving that function, I’m helping to drive the business as a whole, which is a good fit for me.
I love marketing, but I wanted to contribute to the overall business strategy. As a CMO, I’m able to partner with the CEO and other executives to not only drive an excellent marketing function, but to grow the business overall.
To summarize, I’d successfully tackled what I wanted to achieve in marketing, which made me hungry to achieve more in the world of business growth.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge as a CMO?
It can be easy to get caught up in just driving more pipeline, but I think everyone should take time to stop and assess what you’re doing. This means working with other leaders to time the phases of growth.
More specifically, it’s about knowing when you should invest in marketing and hit the gas pedal on your marketing areas and when you instead should be investing in other aspects of the business that need to grow in tandem with you such as product, sales or operations.
It’s about balancing the right timing and mix of growth levers, so marketing doesn’t get too far ahead of the rest of the business, but at the same time you don’t end up starving marketing and negatively impacting business growth. Finding the right balance means the business can capitalize on what’s working.
Q: Why do you feel the average tenure of a modern CMO is under two years?
I worked at my old company for seven years. I’d see people hopping around to different companies and positions every few years and didn’t understand it. I thought it was critical to stay with a company to grow yourself and the business itself. Now, after ten months as a CMO, I understand more why a tenure might be cut short.
It can be hard at an executive level to fit into a new culture. To ensure a long tenure, you work at aligning with the CEO and other executives about the goals of the marketing function, the goals of the business overall, and what success looks like. You need to ask the big questions that can help fit all of those pieces together and then do the hard work of laying it all in a phased approach to achieve your strategy, rather than just diving in and changing things. It helps ensure a fairer playing field and allows you to do more frequent check-ins, which make you a better bet to achieve long-term success.
It’s a misconception that underperformance is the only reason CMOs leave a position. Some simply leave to pursue a different opportunity, probably with a company that they are better aligned with. The rate of innovation in the world of marketing is rapid, and an innovative CMO might look to go where the rocket ship is launching faster, outcomes are achieved faster, and find that is more of what they themselves are looking for in a business.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to other CMOs?
I feel funny giving advice to other CMOs, as we all learn from each other, and I don’t think I’ve had any lightning bolt ideas that anyone else hasn’t.
I do think it’s critical to make sure that you‘re aligned with your business partners on the executive team, and are having conversations with the CEO about what success is, how to get there, and what your goals are. These might be hard conversations without a simple answer, but getting everyone aligned and on the same page can save you a lot of time, effort, and headaches.
You should also spend an equal amount of time on the business as marketing, but prioritize your people and your teams, since they’re the ones doing the marketing. Make sure they’re supported and are working with their peers. Then you can continue to work with the other executives to tackle bigger business goals rather than just staying in your world of marketing, since your people can handle a good deal of that themselves with your support.
Q: What’s one thing you wish CEOs understood about marketing?
I wish CEOs understood marketing’s impact on growing the business and held CMOs accountable for it. Then they’ll see a CMO as a partner in growth and not just a functionary in charge of marketing. We should ask hard questions about how to prove the impact on business and how marketing is a key strategic piece of the overall revenue equation.
There can be too much of a silo around marketing when discussing how it drives growth. It’s something that’s always asked of sales organizations and marketing shouldn’t be left out. Conversations with peers, executives, and customers should happen more for everyone to have the same understanding of, again, what success is, and how to drive it.
Q: What do you think marketing will look like in 2050? What adjustments do you feel marketers should be making with the COVID-19 crisis?
In 2050, the Holy Grail will be truly personalized marketing. Even if all companies are unable to do that in 30 years, it’ll be table stakes at that point. I think we’ll see marketing shift to being more tied to consumer beliefs and facets of people’s identities rather than being about the brand itself and the products it’s trying to sell. Channels will be completely different, too, and we’ll have the next iteration of digital, whatever it is.
As for dealing with COVID-19, I think we’ll see brands more and more giving people what they want rather than what that brand wants them to want. When the crisis first started, brands went to secure their customer bases and build better relationships with them. They focused more on helping customers during the crisis rather than selling them something. We’re looking at things through the lens of what do consumers want and need right now rather than putting the brand and messaging first. I think marketers should keep on with that throughout the crisis, recession, and recovery.
Q: What job would you never want to do?
I’d never want to have a job related to air travel, whether it’s an astronaut, pilot, or flight attendant. I have a fear of flying and prefer a regular routine and schedule with a home life and not a job where you’re always in different time zones and on different schedules. I like to have order in my routine.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring marketers and aspiring CMOs?
Figure out and define what it takes to be successful in your role and focus on that. The marketing world can be vast, and you might be asked to do a lot of things, but try to pinpoint what you can to help grow the business.
When I was heading up demand gen, the most important thing was pipeline, so I was laser focused on that. Narrow your focus to your top KPIs and cut out the rest of the noise. Today’s world has more competition for people’s attention and more great ideas thrown around than ever before. Don’t spread yourself too thin, and don’t ever feel that you have to be a yes person. Do what’s most important.
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Michael McNichols is a Senior Content Manager for Oracle Digital Marketing. He has over ten years of experience in professional writing and has been widely published.