CMO Insights: Ron McMurtrie, Executive Vice President of Customer Marketing, Sage

Ron McMurtrie

March 11, 2019

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Ron McMurtrie, Executive Vice President of Customer Marketing, Sage.

In this video, Ron talks about:

  • Selling software to companies in different markets.
  • Unifying the digital MarTech stack and creating a service layer.
  • The marketing challenges of having 3 million customers.

Learn more about Ron from his LinkedIn profile and follow Sage 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 as our guests, we have Ron McMurtry, who is Chief Marketing Officer of Sage. Ron, welcome to the show.

Ron McMurtrie:

Hi, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Why shouldn’t I have you? Sage is just really an amazing company. Lots of different moving parts. So tell us a little bit about your role, because I think you’ve been in it now for a bit over a year. What’s it been like? Just trying to get your arms around everything?

Ron McMurtrie:

Yep. I it’s, it’s great. Actually, I joined the company about two years ago and start running customer marketing across our, our 23 markets. We operate in 23 markets across eight different regions of the globe. And I came in to help work on our, really our front and our customer marketing piece. And then about a year later, I joined us. I was asked to take over the COO role and it’s been a tremendous ride, really with a big focus of helping transition the company from a kind of a perpetual desktop oriented software company to one that’s building a range of subscription and cloud services across the globe.

So I got marketing teams at different life cycles, tech stacks on unifying customer experiences and journeys we’re working on, but it’s been a, it’s been a great, great ride so far. And for those that don’t know, Sage, we, we sell software to entrepreneurs and small businesses, startups and scale ups and an enterprise customer. So we’re one of the few that actually cover all three to single markets globally in all the countries that we operate in.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So as you’ve moved to a subscription model, which many, any software companies and even companies that aren’t in software moving to that model, what have been some of the challenges from a marketing standpoint?

Ron McMurtrie:

Well, we have 3 million customers worldwide, so we’ve got to bring them along with us. We have a philosophy called “C-for-L,” which is “Customer for Life.” And you have an innovation challenge and you have a customer for life challenge. And those, you know, so we have built a series of offerings that help our current customers migrate at the pace that they’re ready when you operate in 23 different countries, all with their own sub verticals and micro verticals. You have different cloud adoption and different adoption cycles of when they’re ready to migrate. So we’ve got to manage that base. Meanwhile, we’re building new products for the next generation of customers. So blending those two together as a bit of art and science, but we always start with the customer and their needs and work to maintain our differentiation.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So within all those markets, how much of all the, I guess the decision making is done centrally with you, or how much are you delegating to the fields are certain countries discretion in terms of their go, the markets and what they’re doing.

Ron McMurtrie:

So great question. It’s always a you know, a tug of war, but the way I’ve run global organizations, I strike a big balance between what gets done in market and what gets done centrally or through the functions. I think of the functions, whether it be brand or communications or our digital teams or our sales ops or marketing ops teams, those are centers of excellence that are enabling functions. But the buck stops where the customer sits, which is in the market. So we have a natural balance between the customer voice, the requirements, the demand sets, and developing those teams to make sure that what gets done at the center is an enabling function. So, you know, when we first started in truth, when I took over the organization, the pendulum is swung too far off center, and it’s really hard to have somebody in Atlanta, Georgia convince somebody in, you know, Sydney that they understand the market.

So I’ve spent a fair amount of time swinging that pendulum to the right center. And that center is different for each market and each kind of center of excellence function. So, you know, unifying a digital stack and creating our Mar tech stack and creating a services layer for everyone is something that you can swing easily, how you handle creative and how you handle things like brand that have to be unified that may have a little bit higher way towards, towards the center. So it really depends on each function, but for me, the voice of the customer and the rep comes from the region. And at the end of the day, the people on the ground are the ones with the right answers and knowing where the customers need to go and what the needs are. And then we work together as a team to create the right optimization and the right service layer to serve the market.

Jeff Pedowitz:

It’s interesting that you mentioned that the digital stack are, do you have one unified model now that all 23 markets use or use, or are you in the process of migrating to one?

Ron McMurtrie:

Well it’s a constant process cause we’re always trialing new technology, but yes, in the course of the last 18 months, I started this one eye in customer marketing, as we have, we are, our biggest challenge is unifying our CRMs because with 3 million customers, 23 countries, we’ve grown up through a range of CRMs and we’re bringing those together. But the layers above that, how we look at data, how we handle our date, data science, how we mine, our systems how we run that through a, for both account based marketing and for more general marketing, we have those platforms stabilize. We have standard systems around social and around how we do our visualization and things of that nature. So we have gone a long way, but we are always using different regions for test beds. That’s for new technology. For example, how we went about ABM as we had two different regions do, if you will bake offs on different tech tech stacks that we could blend into our platform and we determined things outweigh. So I like to have the two D the regions work together and with, and against each other to figure out the best solution for collaboration, and then we bring them together, but it’s never done in my experience of doing this quite some time. There’s always something new. There’s something you want to try, but we work very hard to standardize so that there’s lots of cross training. And I moved teams from on geography to another for leadership development and colleague development and for expertise,

Jeff Pedowitz:

It’s a pretty comprehensive. So you mentioned ABM, you mentioned several other technologies. Is there something that you have your eye on strategically that over the next 24 months, you’re like, Hey, you know, that would be the next technology platform that I’d like to bring in.

Ron McMurtrie:

We are putting more and more AI layers into our, into our marketing and automation and our IBM. And there’s some really cool stuff out there right now that that we’re trialing to really so it started with how we run segment, how we run audiences and segmentation. When you deal with three major markets, small, medium, and large and micro verticals within that, the better we can target and the better we can use technology like AI and audience profiling and target our media, the better we are to handle our call and our conversion. So we, we, we really skip the MQL measure and go straight to sales qualified. It creates better relationship with sales.

So as we’ve looked at our tech it’s, how can we get more specific in our targeting better utilization of media, better intelligence. So when we hand leads over the, the sales teams, whether they be the LDRs or AEs, depending on the type of lead we’re passing, they can act quickly on it and have a qualified lead and with more intelligence behind it. So where we see ourselves going as our stack is kind of stabilizing, although we’re always trialing something new but we’re putting a lot more intelligence and targeting into that.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Are you doing anything with chat bots and conversational web technology?

Ron McMurtrie:

Yeah, yeah. We have we have a system called peg. Today it started as a small business, this system prior for receipt capture, which would then drive right to the books. So you could, you know, talk about what you bought and it, we made a journal entry. We’ve now started using that through some of our marketing and through other self service functions within Sage. So to me, chat bot is more of a narrative UI UX that just says you have visual ones today. So it’s an intelligent layer that gets attached to AI which is more about a different way of interacting with the application and with us as, as marketers.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. It’s really fascinating. So switching gears, I guess, to people you’re running a pretty complex organization, what do you look for when you’re trying to build talent and add it to your team? And what are the types of skills? Are they generalists? Are they specialists a little bit of both?

Ron McMurtrie:

It’s a carefully constructed cocktail, so I’m in my,

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hang on, wait, wait, wait, I want to get this recipe now. I got it

Ron McMurtrie:

In my mean we do a lot of different things. So in the specialized functions, we, we definitely, or the, what I call the functions, the centers of excellence. Those are very specialized groups and we recruit talent in a very, you know, focused way there. So, you know, like for example, we happen to be an Oracle shop when it comes to our, our market automation engine, we run Elica, we’ve got 10% of the luminaries around the globe that work for us. Awesome. So we do very targeted hiring to make sure if we’re going to bring customer reference people in they’ve seen it and done it, and they’ve got the right systems and platforms that can come to us.

So depending on how we were, we’re hiring, we do a mix of generalists to mix a specialist so that we can cross pollinate and educate our teams in the field teams there, then the customer marketing teams or the teams that sit in a region, we can afford to have more, a broader range of campaign managers and event teams and, and data specialists, because we manage a lot of the data locally, given the rules that are happened with customer data, but we tend to, to mix that.

And it has to do mainly by the role. And but we, we get our talent a lot of different ways. We go, we do a lot of, we do some university work. We have a mentoring program within the company. I run a hypo program for cross pollination and cross training. And then of course we do traditional re recruiting to bring in different levels of talent. So for us, it’s, it’s all about tele talent development. And we’ve just implemented a new system called lead within our, within our company, which is it’s more about performance development and performance management. And it’s about a constant system of optimizing and engaging with our colleagues to help them understand where they’re headed and how we can develop them. So for me, a marketer, it at Sage is going to switch jobs on a fairly regular basis so that we can cross pollinate and make sure that they’re learning from the experience.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So given that, what, what are you held responsible for? And then in turn, whether you holding your team, what kind of performance standards did they measure that

Ron McMurtrie:

I run the strategy with the team. I have like my, my group, my call the MLT, the marketing leadership team. So I have each site, each, each region has a marketing lead, a customer marketing lead, and I have a central team. So for our, you know, little over $2 billion company, I have about 15 direct reports, one for each patch, and then the central teams we set the strategy together. I’m accountable for running it and operationalize it and making sure we’re running talent together. And I really let the teams run their, run, their priorities. We, we run a pretty good system of an operating cadence of how we invest, where we invest. It’s a regular approach. We do a lot of team meetings. So that’s a very, even though it’s global, it’s a very collegial team. People reach out from around the globe. We leverage time zones. So from my standpoint, I’m guiding the team, I’m developing the team, I’m looking for the next patch of talent. I’m working to bring in new capabilities and help tap new markets. And I spend a lot of my time quite candidly with my partner in the product delivery team, making sure these next generation of services are going to land correctly in market.

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s fantastic. So, but in terms of actual financial performance, or are you held accountable for pipeline contribution or revenue to the business?

Ron McMurtrie:

Yeah, so I I’m measured off the company’s revenue our recurring revenue growth and our overall contribution and our absolute organic growth that happens in the company. We met, I’m also responsible for lead generation for the company brand perception NPS all the key metrics that you would expect a COO to be tied to. So our customer sentiment, our colleagues’ sentiment cause we do we do surveys on that as well as lead in overall revenue.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So I’m curious a lot of the CMOs I talked to say that with all the investments in technology, they get pressure from finance and from their bosses to reduce personnel because there is this feeling that technology can scale and they need less personnel on the team. What’s your take on that? Are you facing the same pressures? And if so, how are you handling it?

Ron McMurtrie:

I’m not, I’m not facing pressure. I probably one of the most supportive CFOs you can have in the business who often asked me if for the next set of money, what could I do with it more so than how can I reduce? But we’ve kind of taken our with our strategy. We have shifted from, to, I call it fixed and variable, not to kind of position colleagues that way, but we have shifted more of our marketing spend as we’ve deployed technology to programs and less on people. But you know, we’re not, we don’t run a, we run our ship where we put people where we need them.

But you know, I have in the last year and a half shifted that mix cause we were, we were probably overweighted on team versus using automation and data and the analytics, you need to run a really good marketing team and optimize, but that’s, that has changed over time and it will continue. But when you’re running, you know, eight patches around the globe, three different segments and then micro verticals within it, and then lines of business from accounting, people services and payment services, you know, you’ve got to have a certain amount of specialization and talent to make that work. It can’t just all be about the programs.

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s a, that’s a quite an interesting, I mean it’s challenging actually from, yeah. So I’m just curious if you had to go back and give yourself advice as a young person starting out in his career, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?

Ron McMurtrie:

That’s that’s a great question. And I’m, I, I’m a pretty reflective person, but I would say what I, how I benefited in my life, I actually started as a finance person. And so so I’ll give the advice. I give others that I mentor cause I mentor a lot of colleagues, both insights, Sage, and then young, young people outside of Sage and take risks and be bold and continue to always learn. And five years into my career, I put myself out and raise my hand for a task in front of a CEO and an executive team.

When I, I was given a privilege to do something I wasn’t really quite ready to do. And a year later I was running a product line three years later, I was running all a product marketing for a major telecommunications company. And within a handful of years after that, I was running all the business marketing. So part of that was cause I had a great team around me. Part of that was because I took a risk and I kept learning, but I learned every discipline. I studied finance and marketing, but I started my career with a finance focus. But I’d say take risk, always learn and never stop engaging whether it be with other people or with your colleagues or with other professionals outside of your, your own business.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Great advice, Ron McMurtrie. Thank you for being on the show.

Ron McMurtrie:

Great. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet. We’ll see you soon.

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