NetApp CMO: The CMO-CIO gap is widening

Julie Parrish talks about how marketing has transformed and why the CMO-CIO gap is more pronounced than ever

Julie Parrish is the senior vice president and CMO at NetApp. Before becoming CMO, she was senior vice president of Global Partner Sales at NetApp from 2008 -- 2012. However, marketing is not a new domain for Parrish. She has held leadership roles in marketing at 3Com, Veritas, and Nokia. She is, in fact, one of the very few channel chiefs in the industry to have moved into a corporate and executive position.

Parrish spoke to ComputerWorld India about how marketing has transformed and why the CIO-CMO gap seems to be widening.

You have been a channel person for almost a decade now, though you have had significant marketing experience prior to that. What made you take up the new role as the CMO of NetApp?

Parrish: How I got into the CMO role is an interesting story. The CMO's position had been vacant for a few months. NetApp's chairman introduced the idea to me and I realized it's a good option. There are no too many places in NetApp where I could go. I was serving as senior vice president of worldwide channel and there was no 'chief' job above that. So I realized that I have an opportunity to leverage my marketing background.

How tough or easy is the new role as compared to your previous role?

Parrish: I would say that the new role has been tough in interesting ways. The toughest part of my new job is that if you're not careful, you can be very 'internal'. A lot of marketing is very internally focused. They are focused on--all the right things in fact--getting products to the market and how you want to position the company. But most of them talk to themselves. As the channel head, I used to continuously talk to customers, sales, channels and industry analysts. So my biggest fear was that I would not get to talk to customers as often as I would want to. So that was one area I worked on.

The other challenge, which I believe that our marketing team has gradually transitioned through, is to get them think a lot like sales. Sales teams are measured quarterly, monthly, weekly and may be even hourly--on what they are delivering. Trying to get our marketing team to be faster, and helping them think about which decision is going to move the needle faster was a challenge. But the basic mechanics of the marketing was not surprisingly challenging for me, because I have had marketing experience in my previous jobs.

In a way, it is like homecoming for you, with more than a decade marketing experience in companies like Veritas, Nokia and 3Com. Were there any surprises?

Parrish: Two things in marketing have changed for sure--the world of social and digital. The digital world is particularly interesting. Various researches show that as much as 80 percent of the buying decisions are made online, before even the sales rep ever shows up. While it's an interesting change, it is also very complicated. So we are very careful at delivering the right content to the right person at the right time. Social media marketing is another new component. But outside of that, everybody wants more leads. Pretty much everybody has an opinion or idea on marketing. So I have to be, as always, data-driven. What any of us may think an interesting idea, is not nearly as important as what the customer thinks. So doing a lot of testing and validation with the customer is very critical.

The 'CIO-CMO disconnect' is a widely discussed topic today. Do you think this gap is shrinking or widening in reality?

Parrish: At NetApp, we do not have a problem. But I can tell you that this gap is widening in many companies, thanks to social and digital marketing techniques. It requires massive amount of technology to execute these projects. If the CMO and CIO are not on the same page, then the marketing officer has no other option than figuring out all by herself. Quite frankly, before I got into this role and Cynthia Stoddard (the current CIO of NetApp) took over as NetApp CIO, there was disconnect. But we both worked together to ensure that there is no communication gap. You will be able to close that gap between the CMO and CIO, if you stick to your roles. My role is to tell my CIO about the specific set of requirement that I have, rather than choosing the technology. I believe that I have no business trying to choose the technology or vendor.

Do you think a lot of CMOs are forced to choose technology by themselves because the CIO does not respond quickly?

Parrish: Unfortunately, it is too easy to be charmed by the fact that today you can just swipe your credit card get an application up and running. That is speed. Unfortunately, several months into it, you realize that there are certain trade-offs that you need to make to achieve that speed. And, the end-result is not always good. In markets like India, CIO has always been a technology person and a lot of them are not part of boardroom discussions. But it is certainly changing.

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