Lessons Learned From A Data-Driven CMO

The CMO job is not for the feint of heart.  I know this to be true because I lived the life of a CMO/VP Marketing for eighteen years at big companies, in-betweens and start-ups. I know a lot about being a CMO, and I know even more now because in my role as Digital Pi’s Chief Strategy Officer I work with many CMOs to help them use marketing automation to make better, smarter decisions – and thrive as modern marketing leaders. For the last few months I served a few days a week as interim CMO for a SaaS web security company in Silicon Valley.  From a strategic perspective, I know what questions to ask of sales and marketing automation systems. From a tactical level, I know how to get to data-driven insights right down to the field, query, and table. I discovered very quickly that as a CMO, knowing how to leverage sales and marketing data and systems is not just a nice-to-have – it’s table-stakes.

When I took on my first VP of marketing role as a co-founder of Bluecurve, the nascent venture capital industry in Silicon Valley invested about $4 billion annually. Compared with the estimated $48B venture capital invested in 2014, you get a sense of the magnitude of change and amount of money poured into companies over the years. Think how many of those venture dollars were sunk into marketing software, people and programs.  At a conservative five percent that amounts to two-and-a-half billion dollars entrusted to marketers last year – and that’s just venture funded companies.

What did stakeholders get for all that marketing money?  That is the $2.5B question everyone from board members down through the ranks of every company wants to know.   Now that I have had a taste of what it’s like to be a CMO with data-driven insights at my fingertips, I don’t see how marketing leaders formulate strategy and make good decisions without good data.  In the last two months, I’ve put data to work for me in some very interesting ways that led to good outcomes.  I will share some of these in the Digital Pi blog in the coming weeks in the hope that readers will learn from my success – starting now.

Maximizing Annual Customer Summit Attendance for Revenue

For five years running, the company has invested a significant amount of time and money in their annual customer summit.  The event provides them an opportunity to promote thought leadership, but more important it’s the year’s biggest and best opportunity to drive revenue. That means they need to get the right people to the event – those customers and prospects that are most likely to buy their products and services.

I asked how they select and drive attendees to the event and learned that historically they leave it up to the sales team.  When the event date gets closer, they always secured an outside firm to call down on their database to drive attendance during the final weeks. With twelve weeks left to drive attendance, low registrations, and no desire to outsource call-downs I jumped in with both feet.  My strategy was simple:

  • Emphasize targeting the best pipeline accounts
  • Use Marketo, applying untried tactics to engage the best targets
  • Track and report registrants in a dashboard everyone can access

The first step required a report in Salesforce.com that showed pipeline opportunities and amounts for the time period just before the event through the following six months.  This report gave us the means to select and track to the best revenue producing potential to drive to the event.

Because the marketing team had been promoting the event to the base for months via email and web, we had good data to gauge interest to date by segment.  Marketing and registrations were tracked in Marketo programs synched over to SFDC so any stakeholder from executives on down could easily access all the key metrics for the event.  Providing broad access to data in SFDC – the platform everyone could access and already used – was an important element of my strategy to shape thinking at all levels and drives action.

Next, we created personal emails in Marketo that would originate from individual sales reps email addresses that were short, personal, and direct.  We switched from leaving it up to each rep to decide who to email, what to say, and how/when to send to using Marketo.  Standardizing the email outreach in Marketo gave us confidence that we would achieve proper and complete coverage with robust performance metrics, as well as giving sales back the time that would have been required for the team to manage email outreach on their own.

I created a Salesforce.com dashboard that showed how sales and marketing were performing relative to registration goals with an eye on pipeline.  The dashboard proved to be a key element in getting sales and executive management to rally the sales team to drive pipeline attendance.  Here is the big lesson in this: putting data to work to drive decisions at all levels is essential for marketing.  I had tremendous advantage to affect change because  their Marketo and Salesforce infrastructures were built by Digital Pi; that enabled me to very quickly draw data-sourced insights any time, with confidence from either platform.

Customer Summit Registration Dashboard

Customer Summit Registration Dashboard

The last two years helping Digital Pi’s clients understand how to mine data for insights has empowered me as the CMO in ways I could never have imagined.  I could see and understand anything and everything about the business because I knew where to look in the systems, and how to access and package data into consumable and useful insights.

So how are we doing now that data working for us?  It’s too soon to tell, but the SFDC dashboard rallied executives to expand the tactics and effort to drive pipeline to the event.  Like any marketing initiative, the story isn’t over until the revenue numbers are counted in the new year.  Welcome to the era of the data-driven CMO.

– Tom


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At Digital Pi, we use technology to connect revenue to marketing efforts. We fuse marketing strategies, processes, data and applications to make marketing technology solutions work for clients' businesses.

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