CMO Insights: John Steinert, CMO, TechTarget

July 25, 2018

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is John Steinert, CMO of TechTarget.

In this video, John talks about:

  • Focusing on the strategy of balancing short term needs/results with long term performance
  • Why marketing does not own the customer journey and has not earned the right to manage the customer experience
  • How marketing has evolved over time to be more measurable and to run like a business

Learn more about John from his LinkedIn profile and follow TechTarget on Twitter.

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our other CMO Insights Videos or our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, my name is Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Channel. Today, I’m really pleased to have with us as our guest, John Steiner, who is Chief Marketing Officer of Tech Target. John, welcome to the show.

John Steinert:

Hey Jeff, it’s good to be here finally. And I know we tried to set this up a while ago, and I’m finally at your disclosure

Jeff Pedowitz:

A lot of time and you’re a busy man, you know, like tech targets generating a lot of you know, tat and leads for people around the world. So I’m, I’m actually happy. I was able to catch up with you.

John Steinert:

Well, you know, it’s got breaker says, he talks about how the more you do the better you do as a marketer, the more people expect. And I think, you know all about that and I think it’s true,

Jeff Pedowitz:

Certainly. So you know, I first sent you in a few years ago and, and I know you’ve been in the role as a two point executive for a long time. So what has changed the most for you? In really in the last five years?

John Steinert:

So I think the thing that’s changed the most is that across organizational, I think that, and I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, that as a marketer now when you reach a certain level, you hope that maybe you’re going to be strategizing only or maybe you don’t help them. Maybe you liked the way you started off in the business. But I think what’s changed is that we are all still and more than ever practitioners of marketing. So if you got into marketing not because you loved it, but for some other reason, you really have to hold onto your hat because you’re expected to produce at every level.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Well, that is certainly true. So are you finding along that thread then, are you finding that you have to run marketing more like a business today than you did several years ago?

John Steinert:

I think that clients are finding that marketing has evolved to be more measurable. And if a business is run measurably, then marketing is certainly becoming a lot more like a business. Another way is that marketing is really finding itself closer to sales results and sales organizations. And so if being like a business is being closer to the revenue marketing is certainly getting involved in that. So on the positive side, it really is being run more like a typical business on the negative side, I think it, it risks getting sucked down into a 90 day feel of the world.

Jeff Pedowitz:

And I know that’s a good perspective. So how do you balance that then, you know, short term resolves longterm performance because in a lot of ways, marketing still needs to be that strategic driver, right? Where you’re thinking several quarters out sales is focused on this month, this quarter, but with the change in role and marketing, how do you balance that as an executive?

John Steinert:

So I think it would be nice and it would be flattering to believe that marketing has to be focused on strategy, but I think you want to qualify that and to say that there are elements of what we call marketing and marketing is really a hybrid role and people have different folk focuses within that. But I think that let’s just take corporate marketing and demand. Marketing is two examples and I’ll leave aside product marketing. Although the, the dynamic it’s particularly intense there on the corporate marketing side, we have to be able to focus and spend on building the reputation of our organization.

And that can be in conflict with what is necessary to close deals in the short term, whether the conflict is created by what we do in demand or by sales behavior. So that’s a healthy conflict and it should come together over time, but you can’t lose sight of the fact that building the reputation of the company in a general sense is critical. And so you have to defend that and you have to defend it with sales directly and with the C suite. Because as soon as you stop defending that companies tend to under-invest in reputation. Now I can give examples

Jeff Pedowitz:

If you’re interested. So when you say reputation, you’re referring to really the brand.

John Steinert:

Well, I think brand is certainly an element of reputation. It depends what you mean by brand. So if brand is the look and feel of the company, that’s certainly one part of it. If, if customer experience is part of it, that’s a huge assignment to involve marketing in. And frankly, I think that it’s way too hard and marketing doesn’t have the right hasn’t earned the right to drive customer experience, but how the company acts, how it says things where it’s present, how it looks and then how you promote to the audience at large. So how you define the audience.

So there’s a huge difference between how sales and marketing look at who they need to target. They come together around accounts. They come together around specific individuals roles for Sony within the account, but they’re quite far apart when you say, who do we want to influence in total, let’s say in numbers. So for example, I think there’s something like 250,000 B2B tech marketers in the United States or maybe in the world. But we certainly don’t try to sell the 250,000 people.

Jeff Pedowitz:

No, at least not all at the same time anyway. But then when you talk about, you mentioned the customer experience and marketing, earning the right to lead that there’s so much talk about delivering a better customer experience, but I think there’s such a big difference between customer service and the customer experience. How would you define the two and then what steps are you taking at tech target to, I don’t know, what’s the right term operationalize, I guess, customer experience. Like how do you bring it into your organization with marketing at the, at the tip of the spear?

John Steinert:

Yeah, so I would say my responsibility with respect to customer experience is presales. How we look to our target audience, are we a company that they want to do business with, but that responsibility ends well before product interaction and service delivery interaction. I can’t control those things. I’m part of the discussion, but I can’t control them. I could only control them if I got deeply involved and owned some of the load. And the reason I don’t have the authority is that I don’t own a lot of the the workload.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hmm. So what, but should that everybody on the customer within an organization and marketing can take a role of guiding and spearheading that, but it seems to me that it should be more collaborative amongst the different groups.

John Steinert:

Well, I’m not saying it’s not collaborative. I’m saying that when somebody doesn’t own something, it’s hard to manage it end to end, but I don’t think that marketing has earned the right to manage it. Do I think in the ideal world, somebody is responsible for customer restraints end to end. Absolutely. When I think about how companies are structured and how you would create a role that had authority, I get, I get confused. So I believe it’s critically important. And customer experience is the major differentiator between companies today. The challenge is how do you manage that effectively?

Jeff Pedowitz:

So why do you think marketing has not earned the right? And what would, what should marketing be doing to earn the right?

John Steinert:

I think embedded in that question is should marketing or in the right or shoot, who has the right. I think that in Mar in, in most companies, marketing is not a very large organization and if it’s not a large organization, it doesn’t have the ability to, you know, personally expend the resources solving problems. So then the next question might be, does it have the management authority? Well, in order to exercise authority, let’s say in a product division and in the product divisions delivery of experience marketing somehow has to be anointed to do that.

Marketing has to get the budget. If it’s not itself going to manage the rollout of that change management, it’s got to get the budget to find people to do them. And it has to manage a process or set of processes that are not traditionally its own to manage. So I’m digging myself a hole here. And I would think Jeff, that let’s just stop and say, in order for marketing to do that, and I’m not arguing that marketing doesn’t have an interest in that it would need to have a lot more resource and it would need to be empowered to do that. I think by nature marketing, people care deeply about that. But I think organizationally it’s a rare company where the structure,

Jeff Pedowitz:

But at least in B to B, I think that’s fair. Completely different thing. Yeah. B to C I mean, marketing does have a substantial amount of resources. So but I, I wasn’t sure I was listening for it, but the question of marketing not earning the right, is that because they haven’t gotten the budget in the past or because they’re too small, but specifically, how has they not earned the right?

John Steinert:

So, because they don’t three reasons. One, they don’t have the budget to, they don’t have the, the native resource that they could assign to this versus something else. And three, I would say that it takes a pretty large organization to have the change management skill to do it.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Okay. So I’m a CML and I want to operationalize the customer experience. And I, I go in and I want to get more money. I want to build up resources and I want to drive change. What do I need to do? I got to go in and ask the CEO. I need to build a business case. I, how do I, is there a path, a sequence of getting there?

John Steinert:

So the closest example that I can rank from personal experiences is learning that I have one from when I was at SAP and I was trying to get a really big data project. And I mean, really big in my experience, you know, something around $8 million to do the project and I was pitching it and pitching it. And I was pitching it all on what we might able to achieve and what he said to me. It was a guy named Leo appetizer who was that time head of global sales and marketing reported essentially up to him was, you know, John, as a sales guy, I know, and I, I can compute sort of within the next 90 days, what will happen if I hire another sales person, but every time you come to me and talk about what we might be able to do, if we clean up our data, you come with a mite and I need something more definite than that.

And so that’s an example of, I haven’t earned the right to ask for $8 million. The other thing that he’s teaching is how to pitch it, to get the $8 million. And so I had to do a better job of connecting it to his to revenue and that meant connecting it to sales, productivity, not marketing productivity. So if I wanted a more useful, cleaner data structure, I needed to pitch it as a productivity increase for sales. And so we had to rebuild the analysis, such that that became really the metrics that we were using. It was sales, productivity increase, but that might just be my naivete and how to get things pitched. But that’s what it took. I think that marketing had not earned the right to be believed as a contributor to revenue directly.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So now it’s a great story and I I’m smiling together. So I have, and my partner, Debbie and I, we have this conversation with CMOs at least several times a month where it’s not something that’s always a similar thing. The CEO sits down with the chief revenue officer and the chief marketing officer and says, Hey, we need to do stuff. Our goals for next quarter, we gotta grow by an extra 10%, 20%. And then the marketing person goes first, okay, we’re going to run these campaigns. We’re going to do these events. We’re going to do da, da, da. And then the sales person says, well, that’s easy. I’m going to hire five reps. You know, two we’ll make quota. I’m going to get this many calls, this many deals.

And then CEO always say, okay, where’s the budget going to come from? And the sales person said, I’m just going to take out of marketing because I can prove what kind of work. And then the CML always leaves the room with the head down, you know, with all the jacket. So you’re right. It is a credibility thing. It’s like whether you have a dollar in your budget of a million dollars, $10 million, what do you have one person, 10 or a hundred, you gotta be able to prove it. You gotta be able to get results. And that’s what builds credibility, especially at a board level. And that is how you were in the rain.

John Steinert:

Yeah. And so, so, but you also have to have a board that agrees on the effectiveness of certain things and what the problem is. If the problem is short term revenue in my world marketing’s ability to deliver that is not particularly great

Jeff Pedowitz:

In any world. It’s, well, it’d be the same maybe, but in B2B, think of a scenario where I’m a marketer and B2B can do much of anything to drive revenue in the short term, if this doesn’t make any sense. Yeah.

John Steinert:

Right. And even if you drive substantial contribution to pipeline, there are a lot of things in the way that allow you to claim keep you from claiming that

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s true. You know, whether it’s a pricing strategy or a competition change, or where a lot more salespeople or a sales contest. Yeah. There’s so many different things. But great points, certainly. So if you are if you were given advice to to a young executive starting out, what would you tell him

John Steinert:

About careers or about

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah, they said, Hey, John, I want to be a CMO someday. Just like you, what advice would you give me?

John Steinert:

I would say the easiest thing is you better love marketing and you better understand that you’re working, you’re working to deliver quality and you, if you do that, you may get paid well. But to the point you just made earlier marketing budgets, swing pretty wildly really reflecting economic conditions or the business conditions. So you have to be pretty resilient because my experience has been no matter how well you do, you might lose your job. You have to be relentlessly interested in stuff you really have to be turned on by all kinds of different things. And the reason for that is the variety, the diversity that exists within your, your customer base or your target audience, you know, outstrips anything that an individual can understand.

So you don’t know what hooks are going to work the best, especially top of funnel. And you have to develop those hooks. So part of the country, the contribution of marketing is this idea of how are we going to attract people to us? And it’s not just our product because in both, in, in most markets, there’s somebody else that looks exactly like you. So part of marketing is enjoying learning, and then spinning that back to target different persona diversity within those persona. You have to like to do that because it’s not money alone. That’s going to satisfy you with your work

Jeff Pedowitz:

Very well said, sir. So can’t believe we’re at a time we’re going to probably have to do part two at some point. Yeah.

John Steinert:

So you get two marketers together and just ask yourself, or you’re an entrepreneur too. Why do we do this? And I keep coming back to, I really like to do this work, you know, it’s, it can’t be about the money because I don’t make enough money. It’s because I like, I like content, for example, I like content. I like process. I like organization. And, and I think those are things that differentiate marketers from salespeople, salespeople are super focused and they don’t like different from sales management, you know, they like to control their personal situation. So I think we’re different kinds of people. Would you agree?

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. And I think that’s a good thing. But I, I think awesome marketers have to learn to be more like business people, more like salespeople, mind entrepreneurs, because that’s what today’s business climate dictates. But to your point, I mean, look, I guidance when people ask, why did I start this company? It was never about money. It was about passion. I just love doing this. I just love marketing. I love business. I love technology. And I love helping people build things at scale and see it all work together. So, yeah.

John Steinert:

So there’s a bit of the product piece in there. There is this maker element of marketing that I think is really important, you know, whether, whether you’re putting together systems or you’re making content, there’s great satisfaction in this wonderful job well done that continues to scale and run.

Jeff Pedowitz:

There is, I mean, it’s, there’s, you got really it’s the left brain, right brain, right. You’ve got the traditional storytelling aspects and content and understanding your market and, and, and framing on all together and delivering on your brand promise. And then you have all the other things, the analytics, the insights, the data, the technology, the process, orientation, thinking the logic and then bringing those things together being financially accountable understanding how to speak the language of business. And, and, and that’s when you have the modern marketing executives. So I think you’ve done it yeah.

John Steinert:

To get it right. Yeah. The people who have risen do function more as business people,

Jeff Pedowitz:

But you’ve done a great job of highlighting that today. So thank you so much for being on the program. It’s always such a great pleasure to speak with you, so thank you.

John Steinert:

My pleasure. Hope to do it again. Yeah.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet.

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