CMO Interview: Marketo’s marketing chief on strategy, content and customer stewardship

The marketing automation vendor's global CMO talks to us about what it means to be a strategic marketer, and how he's overcoming the cultural challenges associated with digitally driven marketing

Marketo’s global CMO, Sanjay Dholakia, is the first to admit finding the formula for strategic marketing in a world of digitally driven, technology enabled customer engagement is a work in progress. What is confident of, however, is marketing’s role as both the steward of customer engagement, as well as go-to market strategy.

Dholakia joined the marketing automation vendor three years ago following the vendor’s acquisition of social software company, CrowdFactory, where he was CEO. Before that, he was CMO at social technology vendor, Lithium, which focused on the social CRM community. Dholakia also previously helped build learning management software company, SumTotal Systems, into a public company, and earned his professional stripes in the management and strategy world with McKinsey and Company.

During the recent Marketo Marketing Nation Summit in San Francisco, CMO had the opportunity to gauge Dholakia’s views on what being a strategic marketer means today, as well as the skills he’s building and cultural challenges he’s facing internally as the vendor strives to practice what it preaches.

What does being a strategic marketer mean to you?

There are a couple of major shifts in what it means to be a strategic marketer. Firstly, it’s about marketing going from a pure focus on the art of marketing, to the art and science. Secondly, it’s a shift from marketing being viewed as a cost centre, to being the revenue driver through strategic vision.

Marketing has also gone from being viewed as a function that creates brand awareness, to one that architects the relationship with customers end-to-end, and informing the rest of the organisation what that encompasses. You’re still going to have other people involved, such as sales and service, but it’s marketing that’s charting the course. That’s where we start getting into the notion of marketing as a strategic leader, because we’re setting the landscape.

There are other dimensions to this that have always been there for marketing to take, but it’s been very choppy in terms of organisations and whether people took up that mantle. One is about what our strategic position and footprint is as an organisation in the market. Another is how we talk about ourselves to our customers, and what space we’ll occupy.

Now, in this world, where you are the steward of the customer relationship, there is no other person that can or should be articulating that strategic position in the market.

We’ve heard a lot to date about the lack of demonstrable ROI hindering marketing’s strategic role in business. Do you find this is still an issue?

I’m hearing that less and less because the technology now exists to help you see exactly what 50 per cent of your marketing budget is being wasted. My team gives me weekly reports and I have the ability to ask why we spend in one place versus another, as well as to shift direction as my team is nimble enough to do that. As a result, I can produce very clear metrics and reports which I can take into my weekly executive meeting that show exactly how much we’ve generated in terms of pipeline, value and dollars. When a sales guy closes a deal, for instance, I can produce a chart that shows the 52 different touches that led from not knowing us, to that money, and exactly where sales came into it.

Now, in this world, where marketers are the steward of the customer relationship, there is no other person that can or should be articulating that strategic position in the market.

That data is giving marketers the credibility they’ve never had before. That shift is well underway, although there’s no question you will see a maturity curve depending on the industry and player involved.

I also think the era of the sales person becoming the new CEO will wane. That will shift the dynamic of leadership and ensure CMOs become at least equal candidates for the CEO role.

What is it your CEO is asking from you as a CMO?

He’s asking for the investments we’re making, and what revenues we are driving as marketers. There are lots of functions under marketing, and using those, he’s asking me to carve out that strategic position in the market.

My competitors are very big companies, and I won’t outgun them from a marketing spend perspective; instead I have to be strategic and smarter about my competitive positioning and messaging, enabling my sales force with the right talk track and stories. And I need to project into market a set of messages and voice that tilt the whole field in my favour.

I always say to people that the business of business is simple: If you see more of the market and you win more, the rest is math. To me, that’s what the CMO’s job is: To make sure more of the world sees me, and I see them, then to enable the rest of my organisation to make sure we disproportionately win more than our fair share.

How has the structure and skillset of your team changed over your three years with Marketo?

This topic of the ‘organisation of the future’ is something we’ll be doing more research on this year because it’s the big question for CMOs.

One area of focus for us is this notion of ‘content’, which is fundamentally different than it used to be. Content was once something the creative ad people worked on, but now it’s the fuel and lifeblood of the marketing engine; it is what attracts people to your company and brand, and what makes demand engines go. We’re going to start seeing VPs of content, or content strategists, coming into marketing teams. As a company that’s on the bleeding edge, we need to practice what we preach, so I have that role and function in my team today.

Another thing we have more recently implemented is a set of ‘shared services’ bureaus. These dovetail off the rise of the marketing technologist, but for us that’s not one person. I actually think the notion of a marketing technologist is a little small. Instead, I have a marketing operations team that includes the VP of marketing operations, which is a title that didn’t exist three years ago. Marketing technology is going to infuse itself into everything and that’s what driving this push for a shared services bureau at Marketo.

I’ve also pushed product marketing and corporate marketing together. A lot of companies still have these groups that orbit separately - corporate marketing as the brand and PR component, then product marketing. Then there’s a third orbit, which is customer marketing including loyalty, or the folks engaging with customers to keep them loyal. But this has created a false dichotomy between acquisition marketing and loyalty, upsell and cross-sell marketing, particularly if the CMO is the steward tasked with the whole customer journey.

So I have pushed these teams together. Yes you have specialisations under the umbrella, but that customer team is part of the demand team, and the folks driving customer acquisition are sitting side by side with those driving cross-sell, upsell and engagement, as well as corporate marketing. Because what is corporate marketing if it isn’t connected to all of this?

Was there friction between the teams as a result of this convergence?

For sure, and we’re still figuring it out. Because this [customer engagement] is so much more horizontal and end-to-end, it requires a much greater degree of collaboration across functions than it used to.

Historically, the CMO ‘marketed out’ – they organised themselves in a certain way and then marketed to customers that way. For instance, I have an acquisition group that did things separately to the PR group, and what the customer received was based on how the company was organised. That is being turned inside out because the customer is now in control. They have access to so much information today and if you force that structure on people today, they’ll just go somewhere else.

We CMOs are now having to figure out how we break all of these internal silos down and get people working together with a view of the customer at the centre of it all. What we’re seeing at Marketo as a result is that people who never really used to have to work together, are now depending on each other. At a minimum, that creates some learning, if not friction, but we work through it.

Have you established any rules of engagement to help drive that collaboration?

There is nothing more powerful than shared goals. I goal my demand team, on pipeline and sales and they carry a sales quota. That creates incredible alignment between them and the sales team. Shared goals also start to bring the corporate marketers and demand generation marketers together. That was where you commonly had friction – between the people who want to project the message and brand, and those on the hook for pipeline. But by creating shared goals, all of a sudden they’re working together and having conversations about whether the next dollar is best spent on an ad, an event, or a demand program. Since they’re both goaled on the same thing, they have a rational conversation as opposed to what used to be a territorial one.

One idea floated by Marketo CEO, Phil Fernandez, at this conference is that the line between B2B and B2C marketing is being erased. Given your heritage is largely in B2B, how does that change the way Marketo views its customers?

Our vision is of B2B and B2C ultimately going to ‘B2H’- it’s about the human being on the other end and connecting with them that is critical, regardless of the type of business. We have been pulled into all these B2C companies because consumer marketers started realising the things B2B guys do when they talk about nurturing and building a relationship, are things they also need to do. Then the B2B marketers started talking about things the B2C marketers were doing, such as analytics, attribution and the ability to understand immediately the return on that investment.

If you fast forward five or 10 years from now, that distinction [B2B and B2C] is going to be completely artificial. Looked at another way, the number of ‘B2C companies’ has grown stratospherically at Marketo as we’ve been pulled into this. That flavour of company could be 50 to 70 per cent of our customer base by 2020.

What is it that keeps you awake at night?

Scale. I can’t hire enough good people, fast enough. It’s the leadership and skills needed in this new world.

Nadia Cameron travelled to Marketo Marketing Nation Summit as a guest of Marketo.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, join us on Facebook:, or check us out on Google+:

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

More Videos

More Brand Posts

What are Chris Riddell's qualifications to talk about technology? What are the awards that Chris Riddell has won? I cannot seem to find ...


Digital disruption isn’t disruption anymore: Why it’s time to refocus your business

Read more



CMO's top 10 martech stories for the week - 9 June

Read more

Great e-commerce article!

Vadim Frost

CMO’s State of CX Leadership 2022 report finds the CX striving to align to business outcomes

Read more

Are you searching something related to Lottery and Lottery App then Agnito Technologies can be a help for you Agnito comes out as a true ...


The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Thorough testing and quality assurance are required for a bug-free Lottery Platform. I'm looking forward to dependability.

Ella Hall

The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Blog Posts

Marketing prowess versus the enigma of the metaverse

Flash back to the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Television-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be ‘sent by Wonkavision’, dematerialising on one end, pixel by pixel, and materialising in another space. His cinematic dreams are realised thanks to rash decisions as he is shrunken down to fit the digital universe, followed by a trip to the taffy puller to return to normal size.

Liz Miller

VP, Constellation Research

Why Excellent Leadership Begins with Vertical Growth

Why is it there is no shortage of leadership development materials, yet outstanding leadership is so rare? Despite having access to so many leadership principles, tools, systems and processes, why is it so hard to develop and improve as a leader?

Michael Bunting

Author, leadership expert

More than money talks in sports sponsorship

As a nation united by sport, brands are beginning to learn money alone won’t talk without aligned values and action. If recent events with major leagues and their players have shown us anything, it’s the next generation of athletes are standing by what they believe in – and they won’t let their values be superseded by money.

Simone Waugh

Managing Director, Publicis Queensland

Sign in