The Critical First 90 Days as CMO with Kevin Bobowski

Lauren Volpi's headshot on a blue background

Kevin Bobowski is the Chief Marketing Officer at Siteimprove, where he leads all of the marketing teams and operations globally. He has more than 20 years of experience leading market-defining companies and is committed to helping enterprise organizations deliver brilliant customer experiences and world-class marketing performance.

 Here are a few of the topics we’ll discuss on this episode of Long Story Short:

  • How Kevin approached his first 90 days as CMO
  • Why your outside perspective is your biggest advantage when joining a new company
  • The importance of building the right processes as the most foundational part of marketing
  • Why processes are far more effective than playbooks
  • The role of analytics and measurement in marketing—and Kevin’s strong opinion on dashboards
  • Why asking questions and testing your way into the answers leads to more success than pretending you have all the answers
  • How rigid ‘playbooks’ and immediate changes can be your downfall as a new CMO

Resources:

Principles by Ray Dalio

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl

 

Connect with Kevin:

LinkedIn

Twitter

 

Connect with the Host:

Jeff Sirkin on LinkedIn

 

Connect with Sirkin Research:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

LinkedIn

 

Transcript:

Jeff Sirkin:
Hello. And welcome back to another episode of Long Story Short, the podcast about storytelling and connection. I’m your host, Jeff Sirkin. On this show, we talk to people making a difference, as marketers, entrepreneurs, and social impact advocates. We dig into actionable strategies and tactics, to help you connect with your audience and keep your finger on the pulse of the market. My guest this week is Kevin Bobowski. He’s the chief marketing officer at Siteimprove, where he leads all of the marketing teams and operations, globally. He has more than 20 years of experience leading market defining companies and is committed to helping enterprise organizations deliver brilliant customer experiences and world class marketing performance. In this episode, we talk about how to approach the critical, first 90 days as a CMO and why it’s about processes, not playbooks. Then, we get into the role of analytics and measurement and marketing, there’s a strong take on dashboards that you’ll want to hear. So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Kevin Bobowski. Hi, Kevin. Thanks for coming on Long Story Short.

Kevin Bobowski:
Thank you, Jeff. I’m excited, looking forward to the conversation.

Jeff Sirkin:
So I want to start with your role at Siteimprove, and it’s been a few months since you joined and I’m specifically curious to know, how did you approach those first 90 days as CMO?

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah, so I’ll give you a little bit of context, because there’s a lot of different variables that play in here with this opportunity, and in joining Siteimprove. So first of all, most of the company was based in Copenhagen, Denmark. And so, I’m here in the US, on the West Coast. We do have offices in Minneapolis. So immediately, I had to deal with geographical distance, nine hour time zones. And then on top of that, you’ve got all the COVID restrictions as well. So it made for a very interesting first 90 days. What I tried to do, Jeff, is I was coming in, I joined in October. I really spent as much time, and I was fortunate enough actually to make a trip to the Copenhagen office for my first week.

Kevin Bobowski:
And then, I was able to spend time with the Minneapolis team. I spent a lot of time, just meeting as many people as I can. It’s cliche, but it’s the best source of information, met with as many people across marketing and across the company, to understand what we needed to do as an organization. I didn’t do much in the way of new hiring, org alignment, really just wanted to understand what everybody was doing.

Kevin Bobowski:
And Jeff, I quickly zeroed in on, I always think there’s two things marketing departments need to do well, tell great stories and drive predictable revenue. Just that’s it. And then was a lot of details underneath that. But for me, as I spent time talking with folks, it was clear, Siteimprovement as a company, didn’t have that crisp message and that crisp story. And if I didn’t work through that with the team in my first 90 days, it would’ve made everything we try to do, more difficult. And so I spent the majority of my time, at least in the first 45 days, really thinking about the story, our message, our product positioning, and working on that to get that right.

Jeff Sirkin:
So there’s a couple things I want to call out, there. First, I love the idea that identifying the message and the story, as the biggest problem that will cascade and solve a lot of these others, or the opposite. If it’s not solved, that you can run and try to do all these other little things, but it will still not really, be effective. But the other thing I want to call out is, that you didn’t come in and try to make any kind of major overhauls or changes immediately. And I think a big piece of that, which is something I’m really passionate about, is really bringing and trying to maintain as long as you can, which usually lasts about 90 days, that outside perspective,

Kevin Bobowski:
You bring up a very good point and I’m glad you brought it up. Because I think earlier in my career, I would’ve been tempted to make changes. Make changes to pursue quick wins, make changes for the sake of making changes. When I was researching a little bit of first 90 days in change management, I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but at Starbucks, they say, one of the first things all the store managers do is change the location of the cups, because they feel like they need to make a change when they join. And so, I avoided that. I wanted to really understand what we’re doing as a team. And it allowed me to have, to your point, a fresh perspective and maintain that fresh perspective and really have a good point of view on what ultimately, will need to change and the direction we move in as a team.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that. So where I want to transition to, which I think this speaks perfectly to, is the fact that you also didn’t want to come in as to say there’s a cookie cutter approach, that this is going to work. That the first thing is really, to get an assessment of the situation. And why I like that so much is because, from our last conversation, you were so focused around building the right processes for marketing as that first step. And it strikes me, that sounds more like an engineer than a marketer. And so, can you talk about why developing those processes is so important?

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. So what I’ll talk about first is, and I think you’ve heard this, everybody talks about the playbook and you can use the playbook at all these different companies. I think that’s a fallacy, because every company is going through a different phase of development. Think about us as individuals. What may have resonated with us as a young person, doesn’t resonate now, versus even a couple years ago. So I think this notion of somebody saying they’re walking in and they have the playbook and they know how to execute. They’re not really identifying the problem. They’re assuming that problem exists. And I actually think that leads to, in some cases, mistakes that one could make. My playbook is a one about process. What are the questions you ask?

Kevin Bobowski:
What are the goals? What’s the direction you’re trying to get into? Ask the questions and move in that general direction, versus feeling like you should walk in on day one with all the answers and the defined playbook, to solve the company’s problems. And Jeff, I think that actually creates a couple of unique outcomes. Number one is, if you’re listening and understanding, and you think about this as a process, you will get quick wins. You’ll get better. You also bring, I think, the organization along more easily in the spirit, when you’re dealing with change management. The other thing is, whenever I mention process, people get nervous because they think of, that’s going to have a negative or an adverse impact on culture.

Kevin Bobowski:
Because, we’re defining how people work. And I’ve seen the complete opposite. I think the source of frustration that often employees and departments have is, there’s no process. And you’ve heard this probably, from many folks. I’ve had this experience myself, how frustrating is it when you want to do great work, but you can’t get the work done because you can’t figure out who to work with, what the process looks like, you forgot the step. So for me, process is about building great culture and a great team, because it liberates everybody, gives them a vision on how they can do their great work and it just streamlines that process a ton.

Jeff Sirkin:
And it also doesn’t put them in a position where they’re forced to have the answers and something… It’s funny, this speaks so well to our business because what we do fundamentally is, we come in and we help our clients do primary research. But as a result, we’re typically… We go across a couple different industries. And so as a result, we’re not industry insiders. So we get to come in, day one and say, “We don’t have all the answers. But what we’ve done and what we help our clients to do is, to develop that process, to figure it out.

Jeff Sirkin:
To use our approach.” But it’s fun, because we get to come in, having that outside perspective, as we talked about. And I think that’s why it’s so crucial, to be able to come in with that and where I would love to be able to transition to say, I love your story about, and I’d love to hear it in terms of, how you started developing some of that messaging. And speaking of listening to the market, I’d love to get a sense, specifically within some of those sales pitches, how you work to develop that.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. So what I recognized pretty early on is, do some background, because I think the company Siteimprove was going through a transition of being a product to a platform company, point solution to platform. And so, in some ways, we had product market fit around our core capabilities, around optimizing content for accessibility and inclusivity, really nail that market. Helped us get over the hundred million dollar mark. We’re really excited by that, but we needed to move to a platform, because we had three solutions we could sell to different personas. And there wasn’t an overarching message around those three solutions. So I spent time with the chief product officer, Scott Nash, who’s a great guy and I love working with him. He and I worked through with their team on, how do we package up our, at the time, 11 products, in the solutions that we believe we could take to market, to sell different personas and buyers.

Kevin Bobowski:
So that was the first step. And the second step that we took was the old, you’ve probably heard the Zorodeck, I think some people call it the El Zerodeck. It’s the big problem that you’re trying to solve. We built that out. I tested that a ton in the month of October. My first month, I got beat up pretty good, more than once, but along the way, I made really good progress and we got great feedback on what worked and what didn’t. And we tested it internally. We tested it externally. We tested with all different types of personas. And then, about 40 days later, we rolled it out to our sales leaders and started testing it in the month of December. And what we did, Jeff, is built out very detailed grading criteria, using Gong, to hear what was working and what wasn’t in that pitch deck. Took that feedback, did another hard rev right before the holidays.

Kevin Bobowski:
And then in January, we rolled it out at our annual sales kickoff. And what was nice about that is, we were building demand internally, because people were hearing about the deck. They’re like, “Hey, I want to use it. I want to use it.” They also know it had been battle tested. So it worked well, it’s out in market now. We’re getting more feedback as you expect. I think we’re going to end up having a couple different variations that focus a little bit more on specific personas and industries, but all making progress. Little steps every day there.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. And one of the things that you had mentioned when we last talked about this, which I really loved was the idea that, didn’t even care if the message right or not. It’s a matter of, you have to separate yourself from… Especially during the test phase, because I think something that organizations really fail to recognize is that, learning something that doesn’t work is just as important. If not in a lot of cases, even more important than learning what does. And so, actually having real time feedback and not just… Because I think so often, we tend to sit in a room and say, “We just need to get the 12 smartest people around a table and figure out what the answer should be.” When in reality it’s, “No, let’s just put out our best idea right now, and then continue to test it and let the market tell us and let it to continue to refine over time.”

Kevin Bobowski:
You’re 100% correct, because I think this had happened at Siteimprove and it happened at just about every company I’ve been a part of, myself included I’ve made this mistake, but you get a bunch of people in a room, you come up with a message and you decide that’s it. And we’re not the personas. I think the other thing that often happens with marketers is, in some cases, the boards give a lot of feedback on messaging, advisors will provide feedback, but they’re not the persona. They’re not the buyer. They’re investors, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep.

Kevin Bobowski:
And it’s important to remember in marketing, who you’re marketing to, who you’re messaging to. There’s analyst personas, there’s investor personas, there’s recruits that you’re trying to bring into the company. There’s a different message there, than there are with customers. And I think it’s really important to remember the message and who you’re speaking with, there.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. And I want to share a little anecdote from Atomic Habits, it’s a book I know you and I both really enjoyed. And there was a case study in there where, there was actually, specific to marketing messaging. And they were specifically given the instruction. We want you to come up with your best possible tagline. So that was the quality group. And then, the other group, they said, “We just want as many options as possible, just come up with as many… We don’t care if they’re good.” And what actually happened was, the best ones came from the group that was given the exercise of, come up with as many as possible. Not the ones that were needed to sit in a room. And the idea is that you actually want to bias towards action.

Jeff Sirkin:
The more time you work and rework and rework this thing internally, it’s making you feel better, but you’re not actually getting real feedback. And so, the idea is actually more ideas, more action, put it out into the market sooner and continue to do those revs. Because, what ends up happening is, the way you are doing it, where you’re putting out what you think is a good V1. But then with all the feedback you’re getting, in reality, you’re on V50 by now. Whereas, if you were sitting in a room and you might have baked it for an extra six weeks, you’d still be on V1 and maybe it would be a slightly better V1, maybe not. But the point is, you now have 50 versions of real time feedback that you’re getting, to help get to that place.

Kevin Bobowski:
And you have real data. You actually can get quotes from Gong that says, “This is what this customer said.”

Jeff Sirkin:
Yes.

Kevin Bobowski:
The prospect. And I’ll share one more anecdote about this, which was interesting. So I had to present to the board, the pitch deck, because they were very interested in the message and elevating our message in the market. And elevating the message means so many things. It helps with retention of customers, deal sizes, that impacts the economics on the sales side. A bigger story needs to get infused in how we recruit people. So really important for them. And I was sitting now with Shane, who’s my boss, he’s the CEO. And we’re going through this. And I said, “Shane, here’s what we ought to, do rather than ask if they like the message, let’s sell them on the process.”

Jeff Sirkin:
Yes.

Kevin Bobowski:
And so, the deck at that time maybe, had 12 to 14 different slides and he’s like, “Kevin, show them your first version and show them where you are now”, because of how dramatically different it was. And then what I did, Jeff, is I walked through each individual slide, told the story that we wanted to tell. But I also told the intent, the goal of that slide. In one case, it’s about discovery. Another point, it’s about driving urgency. And I think that really helped sell that to the board, because I wasn’t selling a specific story at a point in time, I was selling a construct that they could really see, work well.

Jeff Sirkin:
And the reason I think that’s so powerful is because, to the point of playbooks, playbooks work in a specific point in time, in a specific environment and the truth as we all know is that, the world’s going to continue to evolve. So that playbook is not likely to work two years later, in a new company, in a potentially new industry, just because this was the thing, but it’s the processes that always will. And I think that’s why it’s so powerful. Again, the idea to be very intentional about, we don’t have answers, but we know how to test our way into them. That’s the process that will continue to work.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. And Jeff, one of the things that I’ve been noticing a lot more in the space, in our space of marketing and technology is this, there seems to be this trend or a prediction, that there’s going to be more specialization in marketing. You have to be hyper specialized. That’s probably true to an extent, but in order for you to be successful in whatever you do, you need to be effect. If you’re a paid search guru, you need to know who your persona is, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Absolutely.

Kevin Bobowski:
You need to know the message. There are pain points. They have to be mini product marketers. And so, I struggle at… Because I think there’s valid points, both ways between specialization and being a generalist. But I really do think it’s important that marketers operate in a world where they don’t always have the right answers, but they need to continue to make progress and keep making improvements every single day. And to do that, I think the most important thing is, have a process that helps you to continue to learn and get feedback every day.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. And I think that’s such a great point around the specialization or generalist, because I think we’ve seen the same thing where, the skills needed in some of the platforms, some of the skill sets have become so specialized. But to your point, the farther you then get away from understanding your personas, if there isn’t really this core understanding of that, then the whole thing is irrelevant anyway. So to me, the perfect world is a blend of that. And again, I think each company is figuring it out on their own, but maybe you hire those specialists and they aren’t full-time employees. So you have somebody who can execute this thing very specifically with their skills, but they’re being managed by an internal resource that has the more general perspective and has more understanding of the buyer persona, as opposed to just, everybody as the team, keeps growing that you’re getting farther away from really, that central structure.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. There’s this old saying of that, as you grow in a marketing department, you become like a snowman. And if you’ve ever seen a snowman in a warm day in the Spring, when it’s 50 degrees. Snowmen are still around a week later, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep.

Kevin Bobowski:
Because the inner core is isolated or insulated from the warmth. And when you get to a marketing organization that’s super big, there are large swaths of people that don’t have visibility into the company and the customers anymore. They’re insulated in some ways, not in a good way from customers. I have a really good story to share. There’s a woman that runs our marketing automation, via part op her name is Fernanda. And this is a really good example. She’s an expert in marketing automation, part op, the nurturing, but she also wants to be an expert in persona and our brand identity and our tone.

Kevin Bobowski:
And she worked with Jess on our content team. They completely changed the tone of our messaging, the way we would write content, didn’t really change anything else. And that led to one of our most successful newsletters that went out in January, in terms of unique clicks and conversions and open rates and all this good stuff. And I think that’s a really good example of somebody who’s an expert in their space, but they’re trying to understand more broadly, the customer, our brand identity. And by incorporating those different aspects, they actually drew a really good performance.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s great. And we’re going to transition into analytics in a second here, but similarly, I have an analyst that I worked with for years and years. And she had always been really, on the analytics side. And it’s funny now, in her current role where she’s worked now, she’s actually gone more on the functional side. And so, she was given the ability to go back and run the analytics department. And her and I were talking about it, and we both realized that no, it’s actually more powerful when you can bring that specialized skillset into the execution of it, as opposed to just keeping it in all of these little buckets. So I think the answer is yes, and right to both, where there’s nothing wrong with developing these specialized skill sets, as long as you’re also not losing focus of who ultimately, your personas are, who you’re trying to reach, what the product is and making sure you have an understanding of the message. And then, I think you add that to the specialized skill sets, and now you have, really, a superpower.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. And I think that’s a challenge for us as marketing leaders and marketing departments is, how do you keep everybody educated on that? Especially where we’re going more to the hybrid first model, and that’s been a big area focus for myself is, how do we educate folks across the company on that? So they can distill that or infuse it into their daily work. So that’s another big topic.

Jeff Sirkin:
So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about the role of analytics and measurement in marketing. And so where I want to start on this, just to tee you up is, I’d love to hear, what are your thoughts just more generally, around the idea of dashboards?

Kevin Bobowski:
Oh gosh, I don’t like dashboards at all. And here’s why, because it feels like it takes forever to produce, you spend countless hours arguing about the numbers and where they came from, and it’s always a rear view mirror. And so I get it for board meetings and executive meetings. You need to have some kind of official snapshot of your performance. But what I really like thinking about, Jeff, and working through are, what are the small improvements that we can make on a daily basis? So if we’re driving predictable revenue or predictable pipeline, I’m more interested in understanding, what changes have we seen over the last seven days or 14 days, in different channels? What have we seen changes in the BRCONNECT rates for our outbound programs or call length times, because that might give us indication that, what we’re talking about, the campaign we’re running, isn’t resonating with the right buyers. I’m really interested of understanding those metrics, as opposed to dashboards. Because I think when you see the data in the dashboards, sometimes you’ve already lost a month or two or maybe longer, the impact.

Jeff Sirkin:
Oh, yeah. From my perspective and this is the world I grew up in professionally is, the idea needs to start with, what are we measuring and why? Fundamentally, what are our KPIs? What’s the story we need to be able to tell? And again, this is just been a trend we’ve seen is that, when I was starting out in analytics and marketing, there wasn’t enough data. So you just grabbed on anything that was there. And now, over the last 15 or 20 years, the pendulum has swung so far and so fast the other way. The idea was always, well, of course, let’s just look at everything. And now, that’s just become impossible. And so, as a result, we’re just overloaded and flooded, again, to the point we were just talking about with all of these specialist tools, these little point solutions and how they all capture data in their own place.

Jeff Sirkin:
And so now, it’s just, well, we need to be able to look at all of this. And the answer is no, we need to define what’s important. How are we going to measure that? And the thing I love that you and I talked about before was, dashboards is absolutely, look in the rear view mirror. It takes, let’s just say under a couple weeks to a month. So again, you’re looking at data that’s a month old and you’re not actually, actioning it at all. But I think the other thing that people take for granted is the idea of, if you know that there are leading metrics, leading indicators of what’s running your business, set up daily alerts, right?

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah.

Jeff Sirkin:
So make sure you know what’s important and you can look at that as often as you need to, but it doesn’t have to be a one giant thing, this monolithic thing once a month, where now, it’s going to get lost in the details.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. Jeff, you bring up a good point about when we all started in marketing, there wasn’t a lot of data. And one of my very first foray into marketing was, I was at usps.com, and we were doing web analytics and we were reporting on our web analytics performance, which is great. But it always was a little bit short of where we wanted to get to. And then you fast forward, now there’s more data than we have. And you bring up a good point in the specific use cases. What’s the things that you need to continue to prove on, the most important things, like specific metrics.

Kevin Bobowski:
And then, start to measure those literally, on a daily basis with alerts. And so I’ve made use of tons of Salesforce alerts, any product that I can have that has alerts. There’s a couple of off the shelf products, software products that I’ve subscribed to in the past. I get alerts on certain areas of the business. And it’s really nice, because it gives me immediate visibility, gives the team visibility and you can often solve these problems pretty quickly, before they persist for days and weeks. It’s really a great way to stay agile and stay current in what’s happening in the business.

Jeff Sirkin:
And one of my big things is seeing that, from my perspective, I see there’s a Venn diagram, specific to the functional marketers and the technical analysts, but it’s a Venn diagram that doesn’t overlap. And so, there’s just too much of a disconnect between the marketers doing the work of marketing, don’t have a close enough understanding of the data and vice versa. The people who are running the reports and dashboards don’t have a close enough understanding of the business itself. And so, what that then leads to is, the analysts are being asked direct questions and they’re answering those questions, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to be the most beneficial the business. And so now they’re being tasked with, oh, I guess it’s because we don’t have enough data. And so what happens is that, those analysts are now spending their time building those dashboards.

Jeff Sirkin:
So they’re spending the whole month, in some cases, literally up to the end of the month, just being able to turn out last month’s dashboard. But what they’re now neglecting is really, where the value is, being able to do the analysis, figure out what it means and figure out what you can do differently within your business or what you can test. But when you don’t leave time for that, when all of your time, a hundred percent of your time is just building the report, handing it off to a functional person who maybe won’t even look at it. I know that’s pretty common. Or even if they do, that’s going to be a cursory glance, just so they can get started on next months. And now all of a sudden, that organization is not getting value out of their data.

Kevin Bobowski:
You’re right. And you nailed it, because we all want to get value out of data. That’s a big discussion, data driven, marketing performance and all this good stuff. And I think those aren’t really important. It surprises me, if you look at the world where you’re an IT department team and you’re responsible for maintaining all of your systems, you have Datadog, you have Splunk, adjacent to that is ServiceNow. There’s these huge, huge enterprise companies, software companies that essentially do that monitoring for you, intelligent monitoring. I’m blown in a way that there isn’t a MarTech solution out there that’s doing this. There’s a couple out there that I’ve seen that are starting, that are good for specific channels. My previous company, we had built something for a couple channels where, we would get specific alerts on a daily basis of, at a paid search level, like a keyword level, in some cases.

Kevin Bobowski:
Or specific BDR or SDR performance. My gosh, you could isolate problems so quickly, solve them. And what that actually does, Jeff, is it drives a lot of good data driven coaching. That data driven coaching actually helps a ton with employee development culture, because you’re giving them the feedback they need to be successful. And so, it comes back to my comment earlier about process and structure. I think sometimes, people really feel like process and structure is the enemy of good culture and doing great work.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yes.

Kevin Bobowski:
I think it’s the most important piece you can do, to help everyone on the team be successful.

Jeff Sirkin:
I couldn’t have said it better. Yeah. So are you ready for a couple rapid fire questions?

Kevin Bobowski:
Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

Jeff Sirkin:
Okay. So first, in your opinion, what would you say is the most overrated marketing activity or channel?

Kevin Bobowski:
Honestly, that actually was a discussion. We had a board meeting this week, and ABM was actually the discussion and-

Jeff Sirkin:
Interesting.

Kevin Bobowski:
It could be both, overrated and underrated at the same.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah.

Kevin Bobowski:
I think at this point, what I hear consistently is, marketing departments that are struggling, their recommendation is to it adopt ABM.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Kevin Bobowski:
In my mind, it’s not clear that marketers really understand what ABM is. ABM is about process alignment, it’s around structure. And I think too often, it’s viewed as a silver bullet. You buy a tool, you send these ads and it becomes really awesome. Everything’s solved. And the other thing, Jeff, that’s interesting is, people are bagging on inbound, MQL is dead.

Jeff Sirkin:
Mm-hmm.

Kevin Bobowski:
And I guess my point of view is, to do inbound effectively, you have to understand your buyer, you understand the market, their pain points, what resonates with them. And you could deploy that across different channels. That information is exactly what you need to drive good ABM as well. So I’m always perplexed when people are like, “We’re ditching inbound and we’re moving the ABM.” The other point that I’d make in that is, if you’re focused on building a great brand in the marketplace, which we all ought to be doing, great brand is going to drive a lot of inbound demand. And how are you going to capture that? So anyway-

Jeff Sirkin:
It’s the rising tide that lifts all boats, right?

Kevin Bobowski:
Exactly. And so, I’ve been perplexed by this perception of ABN as a savior. I don’t know if it is right. I think it’s an important tool in our toolbox as marketers, but I wouldn’t bet the whole company on it. That’s my take.

Jeff Sirkin:
And I love that perspective, because actually, there’s a conversation I was having yesterday around personalization and the idea which is similar which is ,getting just a little bit into it, doesn’t really give you any impact because… Okay. So the early stage personalization is, we can put somebody’s name in the subject line of an email.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah.

Jeff Sirkin:
So now, if you get a little more advanced and well, now we can put the name of their company, but if you’re speaking to somebody very generically about their company or the industry they’re in, that frankly, at least for me as somebody who gets a lot of these targeted emails, it’s easy for me to ignore, because it’s like, “Okay, I know you don’t know me.” So it does you more harm than good, and it’s not until you can really fully round it out. And now, if you understand me and can personalize to who I am. And I feel similarly about ABM, if you’re going to approach everybody within an account as if they have the same exact set of priorities and pain points, that’s not going to work.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. And I don’t want to make it sound like I’m negative on ABM. I think it’s a great solution.

Jeff Sirkin:
No, no.

Kevin Bobowski:
The other thing I love about ABM is some of the intent data and this focus from marketing to help move deals through the pipeline, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep.

Kevin Bobowski:
But at the same time, that’s not really an ABM tactic. That would be something you would do regardless.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s right.

Kevin Bobowski:
So we use to call that field marketing, in some ways and-

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Kevin Bobowski:
I think for marketers, just be careful because, to do ABM, well, you need to be doing marketing well. And if you’re doing marketing well, you have a lot of options available to you besides simply, ABM.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s right. So I think the answer is, it’s not that ABM generally, is overrated. It’s poorly done, or ineffectively done. ABM is overrated.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah.

Jeff Sirkin:
So then, let’s look at the other side of the coin. And what would you say is the most underrated marketing activity or channel?

Kevin Bobowski:
Customer marketing. That actually is really interesting, because when I joined Siteimprove in October, I was interviewing with a couple different companies. And I remember this conversation abundantly clear. I can’t remember if I was talking to the CRO or the CEO, and they told me, they’re like, “We need to cut out our customer marketing spend. This is all about driving demand.” And I said, “What better way to drive demand, than have your customer share successes with you?” And honestly, Jeff, it was like I was talking to a bunch of aliens. It was remarkable. And so, that’s amazing if you think about customer marketing. A lot of the companies I’ve joined, not often a lot of dedicated headcount. Not a lot of program dollars. And I think it could be one of the most successful things you do, because you get into references. It helps with waves and magic quadrants, the whole flip the funnel concepts. So I absolutely love customer marketing.

Jeff Sirkin:
I’m so glad you brought that up. I’ve just had this big chip on my shoulder about this for years where, my perspective is that, companies want to be this unicorn. And in order to be the unicorn and achieve this 10, 20, 100X growth, it’s not going to come from your current customer base. But then what happens is, every customer sets that as the aspiration, but then as a result, they neglect their current customers. And when you think about it too, even just how many customers or how many companies, if you’re honest with yourselves, that you have a huge opportunity in cross-sell and upsell that they don’t even look at. Almost every company we work with, when we talk to them, “Oh no, we only care about new logo. We’re not even measuring retention. We’re not even measuring renewals.” And it’s just, Nope, we need to keep filling more and more, without even realizing how much untapped potential is already in your database.

Kevin Bobowski:
Well, Jeff, like at the beginning, I mentioned great stories and predictable revenue. Two things marketing has to do.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep.

Kevin Bobowski:
How do you drive predictable revenue? Well, part of it is net new, logo creation, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Mm-hmm.

Kevin Bobowski:
Marketing certainly has a role in that. I think marketing has a role in helping the AEs that you hire, to enable them, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep.

Kevin Bobowski:
Because with the right message and the right story, that helps with recruiting. But the other part about growing into a unicorn and hitting these high growth targets is NRR. And net revenue retention, I think is what it’s called, what better way than, making it with your customers, drive adoption of products, upsell and cross sell. That NRR piece is always missing from the model and marketing departments. It’s fascinating that, that gets overlooked as much as it does.

Jeff Sirkin:
Couldn’t agree more. So for somebody, especially earlier in their career, what would you say from your perspective, is the most important skill or skillset a marketer more generally could possess?

Kevin Bobowski:
That’s a good question. For me, I think it’s a quest to learn, because our market has evolved so quickly. You really want to be a learner. And secondly, we covered this already. I think you have to be able to operate in an environment with, not all the right answers. You have to create your own direction. It comes back to the process. So you really have to be comfortable with ambiguity, lack of direction, because things are changing so much. Every company’s different, market shift, competitor shift. You really have to be comfortable operating in that ambiguous environment.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that. And I refer to the same thing and I would have the same answer. I refer to it as intellectual curiosity. And just back to where we started the conversation of, what’s the one thing that will make up for all the rest, it’s that right? That’s the thing that if you treat… Because it’s funny, if you think about how specialized marketing has become yet, so much of that specialization, at all times, has been just in the last few years. So nobody who’s been doing marketing for 20 years, knew anything about SEO, paid search, social, let alone the specifics to each channel, 20 years ago. So again, it all needs to be, learning on the job.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah. Jeff, the other thing I would mention very quickly in authenticity. I think you can tell good messaging from inauthentic message that, I think authenticity goes a long way. And as you think about your message to the market, how you communicate internally, to employees and team members and recruits, authenticity goes a long way. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a skill, as is an attribute maybe, but it’s really important.

Jeff Sirkin:
But I think it’s an important North Star to your point. I think one of the best pieces of advice as it relates to content is, write like you talk. You want it to make it feel like a conversation. And what happens is, we get in this and I do the same thing myself, but we get in this mode of wanting to create this glossy nice little thing where, for some reason we write in a different tone, in almost this core speak and would be different than you and I having a conversation. And that’s where it shouldn’t be. But that’s where, the closer the message can be, to being authentic. And again, I do think that’s a very relevant North Star for individuals and for an organization.

Kevin Bobowski:
Yeah, definitely. Definitely agree.

Jeff Sirkin:
So what resources, books, blogs, podcasts, anything that you’ve found really helpful, would you want to recommend to our audience?

Kevin Bobowski:
Jeff, I don’t have a good answer here. It’s an embarrassing answer, because I don’t read a lot of marketing books. I don’t read or listen to podcasts or blogs. I tend to go through LinkedIn a fair bit, because I think there’s some really good feedback from individuals. But to be honest with you, some of the best ideas I’ve had about marketing, have come from outside of marketing. So I actually read the Dave Grohl biography over the holidays, and there’s a whole story around category creation and innovation and the way and the style in which he learned to play the drums. And so, that comes to mind because, I think some of areas, things that I’ve deployed in marketing over the years, have come from things that are completely, not marketing books. So Ray Dalio, who is a prominent investment banker investor, his book is called Principles. He’s very much into the whole process. Every time he makes an investment good, bad, and different, he looks at out what decisions were involved, what went well, what didn’t. I apply a lot of those principles to how we build out our processes, within marketing.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that. And I remember back to my days in travel consulting, and one of the things I loved about seeing different industries for that exact reason, is because, you’d hear these companies that feel they’re so insular and oh, well, this thing, you can’t possibly understand this. But when you start connecting those dots and say… It’s like the idea that, there are only, whatever it is, seven unique storylines in writing. It’s the same idea. It’s no, you might be a large pharma company, but you actually have some of the same issues or you’re in the same position. You don’t see it this way. But I love that perspective of, how can you take things from outside of that realm? Because again, I think that’s ultimately where society does its best work is, finding things from other areas and incorporating it.

Kevin Bobowski:
I couldn’t agree more. The innovation happens by combining different areas, different disciplines and things like that.

Jeff Sirkin:
Exactly. And then, before we let you go, where can people find and connect with you on social media?

Kevin Bobowski:
So they can find me on Twitter @Bobowski. They can find me on LinkedIn, and via those two places, you can always send me a note, opportunity to connect, DM me, whatever the case is, always love hearing and connecting with folks.

Jeff Sirkin:
Great. And we’ll link to both of those in the show notes as well.

Kevin Bobowski:
Good.

Jeff Sirkin:
Kevin, this has been awesome. I feel like we could do this for another two hours, but I think we’ll at least call it for now, but thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for taking the time with us today.

Kevin Bobowski:
Thank you, Jeff. Real pleasure, really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Jeff Sirkin:
I really enjoyed my conversation with Kevin. I love his perspective on establishing the right processes as the most foundational part of marketing. We don’t have to have all the answers, but it gives us an approach to test our way into them. If you want to learn more about the resources mentioned in this episode, you can find them in our show notes. In addition, we’re publishing the full text transcripts of our episodes on our website, at sirkinresearch.com/podcasts. Thank you for listening. And I hope you’ll join us for a new story next week, on Long Story Short.

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