Domo CMO: Success lies in c-suite thinking, not marketing

Chief marketing officer and former digital agency leader shares his strategy for winning over the CEO and executive leaders, plus new brand plans for the business intelligence vendor

Shane Atchison
Shane Atchison


One of the first lessons Shane Atchison learnt joining Domo as CMO eight months ago was marketing leaders don’t talk about agencies very often.

“I sit with the CEO, CFO and head of product and the first thing that was clear was we don’t talk about agencies. That’s hard to learn as an agency person,” he says, referencing his 25-year career one the agency side of the fence.

What’s more, Atchison doesn’t see himself as a CMO when he deals with the c-suite.

“We don’t talk about marketing either. It’s all about business; the lines are blurred. What’s financial, technology, sales, infrastructure – we are blurring all these communities,” he tells CMO. “I’m a business person who has responsibility in the marketing realm. My job is to grow the business and make employees, customers aware and happy with what we do.”

Atchison built his career on the agency side of the industry fence. Starting his first agency before he graduated from university in Seattle, he worked for four years on digital activations for Hollywood before selling it off and founding ZaaZ, an agency focused on digital transformation in business with data at the core of unifying ideas and experience.

In 2006, ZaaZ was acquired by giant, WPP, and for three years was the world’s largest partner for Web analytics vendor, Omniture (now part of Adobe). In 2012, ZaaZ rolled into Possible Worldwide and Atchison took charge of scaling WPP’s digital group, purchasing 12 agencies and growing headcount to 1600 people.

Now as CMO of Domo, Atchison has two clear missions: To build brand awareness, and to win at the enterprise end of town.

Domo is one of the many new cloud-based technology platforms to burst onto the scene in recent years, and was founded by former Omniture chief, Josh James. The Utah-based vendor provides business intelligence and analytics tools that can be applied across data from anywhere across an organisation, combining and turning these data sets into reports, insights and visualisations.

Having quickly gained a market valuation of US$2 billion in recent years, and now sitting on more than US$500m in funding, including a recent US$115 million cash injection in December, Domo is at a tipping point, Atchison says.

“The more data coming into Domo, and the more we build the product using SaaS, the more we benefit everyone,” he says. “I came in after that first wave of building the product and getting to the first threshold in terms of customer base. Now we have 1500 enterprises on the platform.”

Marketing transparency

On the brand side, Atchison’s priority is “codifying the Domo story and symmetry with employees”. To get there, he’s spent his first six months foundation setting around values, internally amplifying the right culture, and articulating what it means to be successful.

“There’s lot of energy internally to inspire, teaching, finding unicorns and good ideas we can tell internally and externally,” he says. “My agency background serves me well here - I listen and follow the aspirations and overcome fears of the people trying to break new ground.  

“It’s about finding common goals, saying this is what success looks like, what the future looks like and making it OK to fail. That’s not about you personally, but the initiative.”  

Domo has been set up for every employee and Atchison says he’s using it to make transparent individual goals, the marketing agenda and initiatives under management.

“In one column is a traffic light. When there’s a change in status in the initiative a direct report is managing, we’ve agreed to get a text alert,” he explains. “This defines things before the heat of battle, which means there’s less fear about something changing or being in the danger zone, because we agreed to receive good or bad news.

“Because we set these expectations and built trust, we can now to go for it and do the best we can. It’s also about making it happen together.”  

On the external-facing front, Domo has a new tagline, brand positioning and fresh campaign activity – all the things you’d expect a CMO to do when they come into an organisation, Atchison says. What’s helped him secure buy-in is a strong relationship with Domo’s CEO, who Atchison has known for 20 years.

“When I took the job, I said we had to reconfigure the brand and build our brand reputation,” Atchison says. “It’s not just the product or money raised that we need to be known for. And I needed partnership with CEO to have ownership of this together.

“In January, we launched our brand positioning, values, go-to-market strategy and the new campaign. The CEO and I went together to each board member, sat with them and shared the vision, perspective, artefacts, then listened and designed processes to have them involved. By the time we went to employees, I had the CEO and board on-board, backing the ideas. It wasn’t just the CMO saying this is the path forward, it’s ‘we’ as a leadership team.”  

Winning over the c-suite

Atchison agrees many CMOs have lack the confidence or closeness he does with his CEO, a factor which is contributing to marketers having the shortest executive tenure on the c-suite (about three years).

“The CEO relationship is critical,” he says. “Fear is a big problem. If you’re afraid of the CEO, you’re doomed from the beginning. You have to have respect for each other. The second critical relationship is your peer group in the c-suite. These relationships matter as much as the CEO.

“My services mindset from agency days serves me well here. I think client all-day long. You need to understand what they are coming along for, translate it into a brief, have that coordinated with teams, have success metrics in place, then teach the marketing team that this service point of view is critical. Marketing needs a services mentality and strategic point of view.”  

What’s also vital as a CMO is a willing to talk about business, rather than your area of responsibility. “I see CMOs talking too much about brand, campaigns, widgets, and they can be marginalised into the pretty pictures or media person as a result,” Atchison says.  

“One-third of my time is spent with employees, and one-third is external, with clients and prospects. That feedback loop that makes us stronger in the team and in my job. I don’t have to make stuff up. You have to be continually asking for feedback and process that.”  

As a new CMO, you often rush to make an impact, Atchison admits. “Eight months in, having made some quick decisions, I’m going back to check if these were the right call. And I’m advertising that I’m moving forward and had made choices based on speed to market and fast decisions I now need to adjust,” he says.

“It’s hard for me to be vulnerable and to be advertising that we could do things better. But every time I give a bit and show vulnerability, I get better responses. In the c-suite, no one cares about how you do something either; that’s your responsibility.”  

Customer storytelling with data

Taking the Domo brand out to market, meanwhile, is about showcasing how customers are utilising the platform to better inform teams through data insight.

“We have lots of stories of how customers are using our product, and anecdotes everywhere,” Atchison says, although he admits it’s not always easy to get clients to agree to advertise these stories.  

One example comes from the Domo for good initiative aimed at helping not-for-profits. In Canada, the vendor has worked with five NFPs providing shelters for homeless people to better record occupancy rates via a mobile app in order to improve funding. This has seen up to 50 per cent more people being serviced, he says.  

In the enterprise, Atchison points to one amusement park client and the desire to improve customer experiences onsite. This is seeing Domo work to push real-time insights around queues and wait times to front-line staff in order so they can help better manage expectations and even re-route consumers to different lines.

“They have that insight, but it’s about getting data to the kids who can help facilitate moving people into other lines. This is about moving data to the frontline,” Atchison says. “Such simple use cases make for much better customer experiences.”

More CMO coverage on the CEO dynamic:

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