Why this B2B CMO believes marketing leaders need even deeper technology skills

Global marketing leader of B2B ecommerce player shares why he sees marketing operations as the most underrated part of the marketing function and how you build tech maturity as a CMO

Chris Brubaker
Chris Brubaker

Product marketing and marketing operations skillsets are “criminally under hired” by organisations today, according to the CMO of ecommerce software company, SLI Systems.

“Everyone wants to hire campaign or PR people because they are very visible and that has immediate, tangible returns,” recently appointed global marketing chief, Chris Brubaker, told CMO during a recent interview at the Online Retailer expo in Sydney.

“But it’s also symptomatic of skipping that step of thinking and understanding your business, the market, your product and how it fits in the competitive landscape.”

Brubaker is also among the growing pot of marketers that see technology smarts and creative intelligence as both vital in the marketing function. It’s a skillset he brings to SLI Systems after a 15-year career in Silicon Valley working for a number of technology startups including Demandforce, Roost and DudaMobile, and was most recently VP of marketing for smart restaurant management app, Upserve.

“It’s really rare to find a CMO who’s had that pure, creative director background, or someone who is purely an adwords, SEM-type person; you have to understand the processes and metrics that are going to be important for your business and be able to put the tools and technology in place to monitor that,” Brubaker said. “But if all you can do is that and you don’t have a creative idea on what to try next, then that’s not good enough either.”

Building technical knowledge as a CMO

Where Brubaker believes CMOs are still falling short is in building a deep enough level of technical knowledge and maturity to successfully navigate the growing pool of tools at their disposal. To highlight just how important technology understanding has become in the B2B space, Brubaker pointed to the rise of account-based marketing (ABM) as a practice and approach.

“A lot of the tools that have normally been in our quiver as marketers have been Salesforce and Marketo – and they weren’t built with accounts in mind but people, and how to manage leads or contacts,” he said. “Now it’s requiring you to think a different way and there are a bunch of vendors popping up to support this new way of thinking.

“You have to understand the strength and weaknesses and how they work together. Because if you find a tool you like, but all your data is in Salesforce and they won’t work together, it’s a problem. Those are the types of problems CMOs today are confronted with and if they don’t have a good understanding of technology and how it not only works but is supposed to work, they’re going to make some inefficient decisions.”

Where maturity of thinking comes in is being able to adjust your technology and creative approach to suit the specific challenges in your own organisation and industry, Brubaker continued.

“You have to understand the ecosystem, the market, then apply the right solution,” he explained. “Today that’s almost always going to include some version of a technology stack, but it’s not the same technology stack every time; you’re going to need flexibility and creativity in how you put together.”

And this is where marketing operations plays a vital role helping CMOs meet their specific business and customer needs.

“Implementing a tech stack to fit that problem without a marketing operations professional on-board is another mistake,”Brubaker claimed. “That’s where you end up using just 5 per cent of a product even when you’re paying for 100 per cent. Or you have 10 tools and only three talk to each other.”

Intertwined with this is understanding what metrics matter most as a marketer, Brubaker said.

“I’ve seen a lot of people look at vanity metrics, such as how many people come to the website, or even leads, which can be meaningless,” he commented. “Understanding the metrics that really move the needle and your funnel – again, you can’t set up Salesforce properly or any of these analytics properly if you don’t understand the buyer journey and what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you in a market where you need to educate them before you sell? Then your funnel should reflect that.”

Taking a targeted approach at SLI

Picking the right technology for the job is not just core to Brubaker’s role as CMO, it’s also the emphasis being adopted in SLI’s customer-led marketing approach. The vendor provides site search, optimisation and data analytics tools specifically for larger ecommerce players.

Brubaker noted SLI is focused on ecommerce companies with hundreds of products on offer. The vendor has also identified its target customers in terms of revenue and search query volume, bringing its addressable market to between 50,000 and 100,000 organisations globally.

Key to Brubaker’s approach is understanding what percentage of companies SLI currently interacts with, who the people are and decision makers inside those organisations.

“Instead of doing broad-based advertising or adwords campaigns, where you’re just throwing the product out into the ether and hoping to capture latent intent, the other approach is to spend all my time identifying those 50,000 or 100,000 companies, and the people in them, put them all in my database and market to them with a nurture approach from the beginning,” he said.

One of Brubaker’s goals is to build the best database of ecommerce companies in existence. Technologies such as marketing automation, customer management and data are vital to achieving this.

“Clearly I need something like Salesforce CRM, and if I’m doing nurturing, I’ll need something like Marketo,” he said. “As I want to identify who all these people are, I’m going to have to talk to the vendors that do contact information like EverString or Lattice Engines. Then that needs to be put together, rather than just saying ‘I’m the CMO, sign me up for whatever’. It’s the way I’m thinking about it.”

At the same time, Brubaker is working to tear down barriers between sales and marketing in order to better nurture and engage prospects within those target customers. To help, he has a sales development team reporting directly to him, acting as a bridge between the two functions.

“As a SaaS company, signing a customer is not the end, it’s the beginning,” he said. “The longer the sales cycle, the more important it is for marketing to handhold that lead to the 60 or 70 per cent mark, which means more nurturing and educating, and championing the person inside the company to influence others to go with you. It really is a joint effort and requires coordination between marketing and sales.”

With customer churn a vital economic force on subscription-based businesses today, Brubaker’s other priority is working closely with SLI’s customer service and engagement teams.

“It’s so easy for someone to go to a competitor these days – as powerful as SaaS has been, it’s the downside for the companies themselves,” he said. “You just turn off your account and start a new account. In that world, you better be thinking about customer satisfaction, and measuring NPS scores, and other measures of customer health.”

Ultimately, Brubaker hopes to evolve SLI’s communications and messaging to place an emphasis on customer needs over product.

“We do three things: We help ecommerce companies increase traffic, maximise order values and convert browsers into buyers,” Brubaker said. “So at any given point, when someone is on an ecommerce site, we’re trying to answer one simple question: What is this person, right now, most likely to buy?

“I want to educate the ecommerce market on what they’re missing. If they just think of SLI as having site search, they’re missing the point.”

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