Having held senior roles at the likes of Juniper, AT&T, Netscape, and a number of successfully acquired startups, Steven Wastie is a CMO of considerable reputation for marketing technology and data analytics expertise. His is a skill set that inspired the CEO of Xirrus, Shane Buckley, to simply describe him as, “One of the most comprehensive, knowledgeable and capable marketing professionals I have ever worked with.”
Now eight months into his CMO role at San Francisco marketing analytics company Origami Logic, Wastie holds the responsibility for cementing a reputation which has so far won favor from customers that include Cisco, Intel, JCPenney, P&G, and Visa. In our conversation which followed his nomination as one of Hot Topics’ Most Influential B2B Marketers, Wastie fills us in on the importance of timing marketing messages correctly, getting your CFO on board, and how sometimes, handing back a bit of allocated budget can work out better in the long run.
HT: What’s the biggest challenge you currently face as a CMO?
I think the most important, scarce resource we all have is time, and as a result that becomes our biggest challenge. You’ve got to earn the right [to take up] other people’s time. It’s making sure you have that combination of relevance [in external marketing] that is not just about the topic at hand, but that is super contextual. You can have a great piece of content or a great message, but if you catch your audience at the wrong time, you’re not going to win them over. In that conversation, timing is everything; if you catch people at the wrong moment, contextually it’s just off.
HT: How do you get an accurate understanding of the right time to influence different audiences?
Just listen to the signals, interpret them. It’s a big part of what we do whenever we’re running a campaign. Take the Olympics for example, say you’re a brand that activated around the Olympics, and you’re spending a couple of hundred million bucks around sponsorship and everything you do around it. It takes probably five or six weeks for the agencies to throw all the information back, and you have in house teams running all these models for you. Then a month later you go, “Hey, this worked really well for us last month. This campaign had a really good impact here.” It’s kind of a waste of time.
Social is probably the best example of this. If you’re not set up and don’t have the systems in place or the processing capabilities to understand/interpret signals that are coming in from how your consumers are engaging with you, and you’re not able to pass that through in real time, by the time you take action on it, it’s too late.
HT: In our interview with Jim Stengel [ex CMO of Proctor and Gamble], his main takeaway thought was that half of all CMO’s, in his opinion, aren’t fit to do the job today, mainly because of their lack of understanding of big data or ability to use it and apply it. What are your thoughts on CMOs and data responsibilities?
The short answer is; it depends on what the company needs, and there are various dimensions to that in terms of the state of the company, fiscal domain as well as functional domain, and so on and so forth. That’s the trite, easy, cop-out answer.
The other answer for multi-users is that they have to have the right blend between art and science. The pendulum is shifting because of the reasons we’ve talked about, in terms of just understanding the signals and how people are engaging with you towards the data side. If people are uncomfortable with data and don’t have the organizational capabilities around them to interpret that data and put it to work, then they’re going to fail. If you’re a SaaS business and you’re trying to sell B2B, you’re probably looking at doing a couple hundred million dollars in revenue. If you’re not all over the data all the time, then you’re out of a job in six months.
When you scale that up to a PG size, or another global brand like that, it’s really hard. Those people are phenomenal at what they do, because it’s incredibly hard to do, and particularly after you take into account the disruption that’s happening in every industry right now. PG is really interesting, because obviously they are very sophisticated in what they do and are put up on a pedestal as a result. There are other examples of [companies that do] that, but they’re clearly the biggest, so he’s speaking from a position of strength.
I think what’s interesting about CMOs, or anyone who’s running a multi-function, is that there’s a big difference [in their needs] depending on the state of a company in both B2B and B2C. If you take B2B for example, depending on the stage of that company you are in, you can be expected to be a bit of a unicorn. You’ve got to know everything about the product, and you’ve got to determine market share at the beginning of the cycle. Oh and by the way, two years later, when you’re killing it and sales are going through the roof, you better be damn good about activating over additional channels.
HT: Do you think that the creative, storytelling, brand side of marketing will suffer as the pendulum continues to shift towards data?
I don’t think so at all. I think it’s a critical part of the role. As soon as a brand loses its personality and its ability to engage a consumer, then you’re in trouble, as most decisions are emotive. If you don’t have that emotive connection, then you start to lose out.
Even if you’re a digital native company like Amazon there’s still a very strong branding element. You just need to know how to apply that brand and how to know that your brand is performing in the way that it needs to. Interpreting that information is key; understanding that branding is not just a gut feeling, ‘Mad Men’ kind of exercise. It’s governed by metrics like any other part of the function. But as soon as marketing loses creativity then your accountant rules, basically. How boring is that? Every big brand you think about has personality and some attributes associated with it, an emotive connection.
HT: Regarding those relationships that you have to manage with finance, product, and with others; how do you manage them successfully and what, if any, have you found to be the most important relationships to have to succeed in your role?
The basic fundamentals are key. You’ve got to have a good relationship with your finance guys. The CFO has to trust the CMO, otherwise it’s not a good situation, particularly in B2B. The nature of the beast is that there’s a high degree of discretionary spending, and so you’re constantly in defense mode with your case budget, which takes you back to the data thing. Personally, I’ve always had good relationships with the finance folks because I think that good finance teams will work with you versus just trying to hack you to death. Of course, not all teams do. They’re business managers at the end of the day, and so there’s a duty of accountability for that to be front and center. I’ve always found that relationship to be a good one, if you work with teams versus trying to fight them.
Good marketing teams will come out of finance meetings and say, “Look, the right thing for the business is, we need to put more money over there, in engineering or in product development, versus over here, because we’re not ready to sell it yet.” Handing money back is sometimes a good thing.
HT: Do you think it’s natural for there to be quite a high level of churn with B2B Marketers?
I don’t really think it’s natural or unnatural. If you’re thinking about high growth companies, take a series C company that’s growing at a ridiculous rate, then I think you just need to make sure you have the right skill set for that stage of company. And that depends who you hired in the first place. If you’re forward hiring, then the company’s going to grow into them, or they will grow into the company. [In that regard] it’s no different from any other function.
The first team that shows up is not the one that you have three years down the line doing very large deals, something that’s not unique to marketing. I think it’s just a question of what’s the right profile of team that is appropriate for a particular time and [company] cycle. In some cases, you’re hiring people that will grow into it, and in some cases, people are natural leaders who just go and scale. Some people want to be part of that, while some like the early stage; smaller, ducking and diving generous roles. Some people want to be the product manager for a particular feature versus the portfolio manager. It really depends, there’s a lot of nuances.
HT: Finally, what are the tools and tethers you’re using within your marketing strategies?
I’ve used a lot of tools in the past. We’re still pretty small here, around 100 people, so the stuff we have in place is relatively basic. If you look at that martech stack, there’s a lot of companies in there, and my recent experiences in the last couple of roles has been to be careful not to put too much in. [Otherwise] you get a lot of complexity really fast. There’s a lot of function overlap between tools, and it can all get really ambiguous. Unless you have a big, multi-operations team and a couple developers that are willing to hack this stuff together, then it can get really unwieldy really quickly.
I do believe in a ‘best of breed’ mentality, and I’m a big believer in using APIs versus, “Here’s a big multi-cloud stack, pick your weapon of choice.” That might be right for larger companies, but there’s a lot of great tools out there.
The productivity piece is super key. It’s how you build that kind of agility into your corporate production and into your analytics so you can see how things are performing, making sure you’re not locked into something that you can’t get out of. [Because] there’s always some other tool that comes along.
The interface between sales and marketing is super key from a technology standpoint, making sure that we have support for our PR teams, making sure there’s that lack of friction between your hand-offs with sales people and your partners. That’s all super key as well.