Looker’s Jen Grant: From actress to CMO

With experience at Google and Box, Grant continues to blend her creative side with love of business and marketing

Looker CMO, Jennifer Grant, didn’t always envision a career in marketing. In fact, she had her heart set on being an actress. That was, until she realised business - marketing in particular - was her true calling.

“I actually graduated from college and thought for sure I’d go into acting - that would be the career for me. But it was kind of a funny journey,” she tells CMO.

“I spent a year touring with the children’s theatre company and at the end of it I had this moment of realisation that what I enjoyed most about theatre from college wasn’t actually the acting part of it. Acting was the cherry on the sundae, but what I enjoyed most was helping to run the theatre company for the summer.

“It was everything about running the theatre company that was exciting, where we were thinking about the prices of our subscription, how we create the brochure, and what plays people wanted to see to enable us to fill the theatre.”

As a result, Grant ditched her acting attire, and went to work for a number of technology companies before eventually going to business school.

Jennifer Grant
Jennifer Grant


“I’d grown to see tech as being a really interesting area. That was 1998 so it was right in the middle of the dot.com boom, and then the dot.com bust, so seeing all of the intricacies with all of these companies,” she recalls. “I had this moment where I said, ‘Hey, actually it’s marketing and it’s marketing technology that really fits all of the things I’m interested in’.”

Mission at Looker

Flash forward to today, and Grant is working to build the marketing team at the data-driven company, Looker, by focusing on “the big picture”. Looker is a business intelligence software and big data analytics platform that helps users explore, analyse and share real-time business analytics.

Today, the company has 450 staff. Grant joined when just 150 people were on-board. “We’re in that fun growth stage where you’re fixing all of the problems, but you’ve got such growth, and you see quarter-over-quarter the success, and the excitement. So it’s that wonderful growth momentum phase,” she says.  

The marketing strategy at Looker is going through a shift. The company initially emphasised its demand generation sales strategy, focusing on conversion rates, leads, meetings and opportunities. 

“We have that all down to a science, so that was the first couple of years of building the marketing team here,” Grant says. “Now we’re at that stage where we need to start sharing more broadly our bigger story.”

Part of Grant’s mission is to tell companies how impactful data can be to a business. “This is where the brand and the product vision of the future comes in - not just the product today for a business, but what’s the future going to look like in five years in terms of how data is used in organisations and how Looker can be the product that brings that future vision to life,” she says.

Speaking about this data-driven revolution, Grant believes marketers have two main problems. One is getting the data.

“You might have some sort of data system, and a data analyst who’s working it, but the business users have to wait in line. The data analyst is overwhelmed, you can’t get the data analysis you need, and by the time you get it, it is months later,” she says.  

Compounding the problem is the fact many business users run out and find whatever pocket of data they can find, and it will clash and conflict with other users.

“Certainly for marketing, the issue there is you walk into a room with the sales leader and you have different conclusions because you’re looking at different sets of data. You may not have even defined your metrics the same way,” Grant continues.

“How do you define a conversion rate? How do you define the different stages of the sales cycle? All of those things could be different in how you’re looking at your different sets of data. And you end up with sales and marketing butting heads and you can never really focus on the actual strategy of the business.”

2 pivotal career moves

Looking back, Grant says she’s had two significant career moves that taught her invaluable lessons around the power of communication, consumer-driven marketing and the importance of strategic decision-making based off on data and insights.

Google was her first big training ground. She worked at Google in 2004, immediately after the IPO.

“Google was still fun and innovative and fascinating. It was right before launching many different products: Google Talk, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google docs. I joined the product marketing team there,” she says.   

After working with Google Book Search, and learning the power of communication and how to work with authors and publishers, Grant turned her attention to Google Apps, starting with Gmail. During that time, she learned the power of consumer marketing in the form of visual campaigns, using video and YouTube, in particular, and the power of data-driven marketing.

“The core of what I learned there was starting to connect to the importance of data,” she says.  

At the same time, Grant learned the power of data in determining people’s Google app preference - which ultimately became Gmail as the core app. Through data insights and research, she realised people would then choose other apps like Calendar, Blogger and Docs as their secondary or third preference after Gmail.

“It drove our strategy in saying, okay, ‘our energy needs to be around Gmail and around getting more people using Gmail,’ and then cross-selling these products in the Gmail user base - and that was all based on data,” she explains.

“My Google experience was a deep, fascinating PR experience. We then started to actually look at the data of how consumers were using products and being able to make some strategic decisions about how to allocate resources. So Google was a huge learning point in my career.”

After five years at Google, Grant moved to Box.net, which is now known as Box, but at the time was a small company of 30 people pre-IPO.

“I jumped to this tiny company and that turned out to be the second-best decision - after taking the Google job - because I was able to help grow that company from 30 employees to 1000 employees right up to the IPO,” she says.  

“This was B2B, so I learned how to do demand generation. How do you build the systems of marketing? Believe it or not, that was before marketing automation was the big thing. Box was all about building and understanding how to build the demand generation machine, and then how to work to deeply connect with the sales team to be able to give them what they needed to grow the company and to grow the revenue.”

While bridging the gap between sales and marketing is a constant challenge for B2B marketers, Grant saw it s getting easier thanks to data insight.

“Now that we are able to have a more unified view of what the data is, it is much easier to have that sales and marketing relationship that everybody dreams of. You don’t have as much tension,” she said.  

“When you have data across the entire cycle and it’s all coming from the same source, you can’t really hide behind anything.”

Check out more of our in-depth CMO profiles:

 Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu   

 

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