CMO Insights: Karen Steele, CMO at LeanData

February 12, 2019

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Karen Steele, CMO at LeanData.

In this video, Karen talks about:

  • The complications of taking a company from public to private and the importance of keeping a customer focus
  • Building customer intimacy through the three A’s – advocacy, advisory and adoption
  • The challenges faced by a smaller company in a niche market and how she works to overcome them

Learn more about Karen from her LinkedIn profile and follow LeanData 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, welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Series. I’m your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Today, we have Karen Steele, Chief Marketing Officer of LeanData. Karen, welcome to the show.

Karen Steele:

Thanks Jeff. Happy to be here.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Happy to have you. So you’ve had a awesome career. You’ve worked at some great companies when you data now Marketo shortly before that what are some of the, whether it been, I guess, some of the biggest moments as you look back over your career that have kind of know if you think about like arcs and trajectories as your bike really grown in your leadership role, can you think of some different times over the last 10 or 20 years that really served as an inspiration for you?

Karen Steele:

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had the good fortune Jeff of working for startups, like lean data midsize companies, both public and private, and also very large brands like VMware and, you know, in every one of those, by the way, they’re always interesting challenges and opportunities for a marketer. Whether that be launching new products, whether that be, you know, repositioning the entire company, whether it be exiting out of a product line you know, hosting a major conference, you know, which is stressful. And we’re coming up on one of those now. But I would tell you that, you know, going through just recently, I was at Marketo and we took the company from public to private, private equity firm Vista bought the company and, you know, it was about transforming to the new Marketo and, and it was a very positive effort but it took the entire marketing organization to sort of turn that ship.

And it was very rewarding at the end because I think we kept, what was great about Marketo is the core of the new company and really move the company forward as a private entity. And that’s an experience you don’t get every day, you know, going from private to public. And so that’s recent and top of mind, but it was a lot of fun. I’m very proud of the team that worked on that and I’m proud of, you know, what Marketo is today and where they’re going in the future.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. So if you don’t mind, let’s talk about that for a couple minutes, cause you’re right. That it doesn’t happen as much, right. Everyone’s typically trying to go the other way go private to public, but when you go public to private so Marketo is has been infamous for its ability to drive demand, right? Like 90% of every dollar going towards marketing, just and having such an amazing marketing engine. So when, when you guys went from public to private, what were some of the major things that as a marketing team you changed?

Karen Steele:

Yeah, well, it probably started a little bit ahead of that because I was brought in to run corporate marketing. So you’re a hundred percent, right. Marketo is known for its chops in its demand engine and was incredibly effective and efficient at that. So even just my joining and building a team on the corporate side, focusing on brand and thought leadership and communications and a whole host of it, customer marketing and a whole host of other things meant that there was a shift in the business and a shift in marketing where, you know, the demand engine was critical, but there were a whole bunch of other things that we needed to balance. And so it sort of started earlier. And then when Vista bought the company out, I think one of the things that became clear was the customer focus, because obviously you want to keep your customers happy and secure that you’re still the same company, the same brand that they bought from that they trust.

Karen Steele:

And so a big emphasis on the customer side, a big emphasis on how do you position the new brand, the new Marketo, how do you position the strength and credibility of the new executive team? Cause it was almost a complete, you know, change out in terms of the overall exec team, you know, C CEO down. And so there was a lot of work with influencers like yourself, with analysts, with press to just convince people that we were the same heart and soul more of that we always were and that the brand was bigger than anything around us. And, and that was never going to change. And so the company that Phil Fernandez and John Miller built in the early days, the core of that still remained the product and the customer base still remained. And so I think keeping that strength was really the focus and most of what we did was focused around that and customer intimacy.

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s an interesting word customer. It’s a mistake. So now, because you have worked at both small and larger, is it harder to keep customer intimacy as you get bigger? And, and how do you maintain that from a, I guess, so an operational point of view.

Karen Steele:

Yeah, well, I guess I would juxtapose, so I have the customer marketing team at, at VMware and, you know, I’ve had customer marketing teams at smaller companies, including I have one person here at lean data. I think it really starts the way I think about it philosophically. And this hasn’t changed from a big company perspective or a small company perspective. There’s sort of three key ingredients that make up sort of customer intimacy in my mind. I call it the triple a it’s advocacy advisory and adoption, and there’s a whole bunch of things under each of those. But first getting close to your customer means you have to build those relationships. And so putting customers in advisory seats, whether that be user groups or customer advisory boards, or just, you know, feedback teams where you’re listening to customers on a regular basis, not just your frontline CSMs, but your marketers and your salespeople that want to learn from what customers are doing. 

You know, that’s sort of part one. The advocacy piece is critical, you know, building relationships, building references, using your customers as ambassadors, whether that be telling stories on your behalf, through the press, through speaking engagements using your customers to create a, I mean, Marketo was one of the best communities out there called marketing nation. We’re building one here at lean data called op stars. And so building a community around your customers is so critical to get the feedback, to share best practices, to help these customers sort of move their careers forward. So that’s critical and then the other piece is adoption and, you know, it’s fine to sell a product, but how do you make sure, particularly when you’re selling add on products in the future, that customers are using those and they’re happy and they’re getting the value out of those.

So having the processes built around that is, is paramount. I mean, you know, in the SAS business, of course you have a customer for year and they have to renew, you know, otherwise you, we spent a whole bunch of money to get them and you don’t have anything return after 12 months. So there’s a whole cycle in process. It requires a team, but I don’t think it’s any different having one person at lean data than having a team of, I don’t know how many I had 15 or 20 on the customer marketing team at VMware. It’s still the same philosophy and focus.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. I think it, in some ways when you’re in a SAS business, it does almost force you to think about that lifetime value of a customer because the whole financial valuation is predicated on it. Right. And you’re spending a lot of time to drive that renewal in other businesses, I think everyone cares about their customer, right. But I’m not sure that the same focus as there for driving that the adoption, the awareness, the advocacy. So what do you, I mean, in your opinion, do you think that marketers spend too much time on really, maybe on the front, on the, on the, on the top of the funnel should they be spending more time and effort on customer expansion, adoption advocacy?

Karen Steele:

Yeah, I think, I think it depends on the business. I can’t say it’s 50 50, but I would say that, you know, we do spend a lot of time on new logos and we do spend a lot of time on up sell, cross sell. Also as we’re entering larger enterprise accounts, you sell into one division and then you move to another division. So there’s, there’s sort of the, the land and expand mode as well. And so I think it depends on the business, but both are important. And I think any good marketing organization has to be, you know, scalable to do both new customer, new logo acquisition, as well as upsell, cross sell

Jeff Pedowitz:

Good advice. So you’ve managed all kinds of people, small teams, big teams, maybe MTMs how’s that changing, you know, is your management style changed over the years? Are the people that you’re hiring different?

Karen Steele:

So I guess a couple of things, I think the talent pool has changed over the years. So obviously there’s lots of millennials out there now that are very digitally savvy, which is fantastic. So I’ve had the pleasure of, you know, picking up some of that type of talent. In terms of my own style, I would say that you know, when you’re at a larger company, you have a bigger team. It is, it is by definition, you have to you, you have to let go of certain things and, and you have to, you have to let the team run on their own in smaller teams sometimes by necessity, you have to be a little more hands on and that’s not to micromanage. It’s more because you need the hands because you just have fewer people doing the work. So I think the skill has changed out there.

I think there, the marketing talent pool is actually very exciting right now because I think there’s a whole set of skills. I’m a huge fan of what green fig is doing in the digital marketing sort of micro education programs. So we’re teaching people in college now how to do social programs, how to run digital campaigns, how to look at web personalization, you know, how to manage your data strategy. I mean, these things didn’t exist when we were all learning this back in the early days when, you know, when direct mail was King or queen. And so it’s an exciting time to be looking at talent as a marketer.

Jeff Pedowitz:

I would say when you said that I was thinking about my first job, I had that internship at a bank and it was sending out catalogs. You know, there was no email, there was no internet. And there’s kind of funny. I had to get it right, right. Cause it’s really expensive to send out the catalog even then. So

Karen Steele:

I mean, I, I started my career at Apple in the early days and I mean, this is back in the eighties just to date myself. And I had multimillion dollar budgets for printing collateral or direct mail pieces, which is just crazy. When you think about it now, none of those budgets exists because everything’s online. And so yeah, the, the world has changed and it’s a, it’s a fun time to be marketer.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So how have you changed? You know, I mean, if you, if you were going to go back and visit that younger version version of yourself at Apple, what advice would you give you?

Karen Steele:

Wow. that’s a great question. I guess just stay true to, to, to your yourself and what makes, what fulfills you. I mean, I had the good fortune of, of sitting in pretty much every function of marketing and sort of learning the ropes, which I don’t know that everybody gets that chance over their career. And so I’m probably unique in that. I’m very, multi-disciplined, I certainly have a sweet spot. But I, I really had to sort of stick to my core. And so I skew a certain way and there’s nothing wrong with that. And so I think that a lot of people try and retool themselves, you know, to be different for a particular job. I think that’s just a tough thing to do. I think that in your heart of heart, you you’re really good at something you’re really passionate about something, just stick with it. And I think I learned to do that. I think sometimes I strayed, you know, in the early days, but I think over the last 15, 10, 15 years of my career, I’ve been very true to the core of, of what I do best

Jeff Pedowitz:

Good advice. So now, especially over the last 10 years, you’ve worked at some of the hottest marketing technology companies, and you’re at one now a lot of talk about technology, you know, it’s helped marketers, but there’s also so much of it. You have kind of more of like a strategic philosophical take on the role technology has been playing in marketing.

Karen Steele:

Well, I mean, I’m probably not going to say anything you haven’t already heard and I’ve listened to some of your other interviews. And so I’ll probably echo what some of my peers are saying. I mean, it’s a little overwhelming. You know, if you follow Scott, Brinker’s, you know, reports 5,000 plus MarTech apps, et cetera. Yeah. Bigger and bigger and bigger. And honestly, I think that the biggest issue I have is that I think that marketers and particularly younger marketers today and sales teams, sales ops teams try and solve every problem with technology and not every problem needs to be solved with technology. So I think we put a lot of tools in our tool bag and frankly not all those tools get used and lean data. And my team is guilty of that as any. And so I think you have to look really carefully at what you’re buying because all these tools are expensive.

And you’ve got to train people on them. You’ve got to integrate them with other stuff. And so it’s a big investment to bring a tool in house. So, you know, we have a steering committee here at lean data. That’s comprised of our sales ops or marketing ops myself, our head of sales. So when we make any decision, even about renewals of existing tools, we sit down and say, okay, what’s the value we’re getting out of this? How well is it integrated? You know, what could we be doing better, et cetera. And so I think if you’re going to buy a lot of these tools, you just have to have checkpoints and make sure you’re getting the ROI. And and, and getting people trained. Cause a lot of these tools become shelfware and that’s certainly not a good thing.

Jeff Pedowitz:

No, I like that. I I think one of the things we’re starting to see more is kind of this role of vendor management within marketing, because, you know, as marketing, not just manages as traditional agency and content vendors, but now it’s managing technology vendors much like it. And procurement does, they almost by necessity have to start developing more processes to manage these vendors, right. I mean, are they meeting your service level agreements? Are we getting a fair price? Are they upholding their contract value? Are they driving adoption versus just buying it to buy it? So we we’ve seen it as an emerging function, at least on the bigger companies. I think it’s gonna start working its way down more into marketing. So I guess you’re kind of doing a quasi version of that, right? You’re a team. Your committee is acting as kind of like a vendor management team.

Karen Steele:

Yes we are. That’s a good point.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So now you’re at lean data, obviously very different than the coming the last couple. Cause you’re on the smaller side. So what are some of the challenges that you’re facing?

Karen Steele:

Well, it’s, you know, we’re, we’re a fairly, in some ways we’re known among the people that in the B2B sort of software tech world where we’re very known because there there’s a lot of word of mouth and people buy us and they’re very happy and they might move to a new company and they, the first thing they do is they it’s a hopscotch thing and they bring us with them with them again, which is fantastic, but the broader market you know, lean data is not as well known. So certainly we have awareness challenges as a smaller company. And, and part of, one of the things I did very early on when I joined is we, we stepped back and we looked at sort of the overall brand position because it’s very easy to look at lean data and say, that’s a tactical tool for lead routing.

But there’s a bigger value proposition. And so I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek you know, start with why. So one of the first things I did at lean data, cause I felt that we needed to explore this was brought the executive team together and had an exercise where we, we did start with why and looked at vision, mission, brand promise. You know, why do you exist as a company? What whom do you serve? What is the strategic problem you solve and what is the real value? And I think when you, when you step back at any company and do that, it’s always really revealing. And it certainly was for us and it led to a brand transformation in terms of our market position. We, we tweaked the brand identity actually more than tweaked. We completely changed the logo. But all for the right reasons because, you know, we’re, we’re we’re more than a niche tool for lead routing. We’re more strategic. We are, we are a strategic data tool that sits between sales technology and marketing technology. And we connect people in data to help companies get to revenue faster. So that’s certainly a different story. Then we help you do your lead routing or lead to account matching. So that’s an important exercise that I think any company and particularly startups has to go through to really help with the awareness challenge, help with the education challenge and have different and more strategic conversations with your buyers.

Jeff Pedowitz:

All right. Well said. So exciting times ahead. And you guys got a big conference coming up, right?

Karen Steele:

We did. Oh, wow. It’s a standalone conference it’s complimentary and it’s really the go to place for the operations teams and their leaders. We expect about 1500 this year with the mint in San Francisco. And we have 40 world-class sessions. We have workshops, we have networking. But it’s really, you know, a set of curated content that people don’t get at Dreamforce. You know, you don’t get this kind of content. This is really for the operations professionals. And as I mentioned, ops stars, our goal is to make it a community. And so this is the start of it in a conference format. This is our third year. And it’s my first conference to be leading op stars and taking that wonderful asset forward. So 16, 17 sponsors that are super excited about it. And so are we,

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s awesome. Well, congratulations. And so happy to see all the success that you’re having and great to see lean data, totally transforming the marketplace. So thank you for being on the show. Karen.

Karen Steele:

Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet.

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