12 ways this CMO is securing the future of a fast-growth B2B brand

The global chief marketing officer of rapidly growing cybersecurity player shares how she's built the B2B brand's marketing strategy

In the highly competitive cybersecurity space, being able to articulate why you’re different from the pack and valuable to the customer is absolutely vital, CrowdStrike CMO, Johanna Flower, believes. And it’s this impetus for growth in other organisations that she also sees transforming marketing’s role today.

Flower has spent the last 20 years growing up as a marketer and executive in the cybersecurity space, including 14 years with dominant player, WebSense. During this time, she was part of the core group running Websense’s M&A activity, including its sale to Vista Equity Partners in 2013 for US$1 billion.

For the past four years, she’s been CMO of CrowdStrike, harnessing and propelling the seven-year-old company’s growth. This work saw CrowdStrike rise to the ranks of ‘unicorn club’ in 2017, just one of a handful of startups to gain a valuation of more than US$1 billion.

“A very important aspect of the modern marketing role is bringing that differentiation and value proposition and positioning of the company to market,” Flower tells CMO. “In addition to that, the expectation of taking marketshare and growing very fast means it’s vital to really understand how to go into the right markets at the right time to capitalise on the opportunity to drive business growth. I see those two things merging together into the CMO role.”

Here, Flower outlines key ways she’s helped accelerate CrowdStrike’s rapid growth geographically and commercially, work that’s led to the company achieving a market valuation of $3 billion and becoming a highly respected leader in the security space.

1. Articulating your differentiator

The first step for Flower was to understand and start articulating what it is separating CrowdStrike from the pack.

“What’s really important in the world of cyber is credibility and trust and that the people who are building and taking the technology to market really understand the segment,” Flowers explains.  

That’s because it’s extremely complex. In addition, what makes Crowdstrike unique is it its position in a very well established part of the market, she says. While the cybersecurity market is highly competitive, many technologies available weren’t keeping up with how adversaries were attacking enterprise IT systems in the digital era.

“The adversaries almost had an upper hand because the technology was not geared to the modern world,” Flower says. In response, CrowdStrike’s co-founders, trusted and highly experienced security experts in their own right, built a cloud native platform to better cope with modern cyber threats. In contrast, many competitors had taken the less risky option of building hybrid solutions augmenting the traditional on-premise security approach, Flower claims.

“Yet you need to have the speed and the accuracy to be able to really defend against the adversaries. If that meant the smaller portion of the market and early adopters were willing to adopt our technology first, then that’s what we’d do,” she says. “We knew the rest would come over time and we just prioritised on the companies ready for this type of technology.”

2. Name the adversary

Another big branding decision, and something CrowdStrike differentiates on, is personifying the security adversary. Today, the vendor has more than 100 adversaries it has named, tracks and reports on.

“When anyone talks about naming one of the adversaries doing something, they refer to our brand as well,” Flower says. “We understand the adversaries’ traits and behaviours. As a result, the industry is coming to us for expertise and understanding of those adversaries and it’s really brought to life the expertise we have and information we’re willing to share with customers, industry and media in terms of what’s going on in the world of cyber.”

3. Build technical marketing capability

Demonstrating what the CrowdStrike product can do in practice has been another emphasis. Last year, the vendor launched a trial offering, giving people access for 15 days to its technology.

“We have a highly technical buyer who wants to be able to see what the product will do in their environment. Building that strong ‘technical’ arm of marketing was therefore critical,” Flower says.

“When I look at my team today, about 20 per cent are more technical marketers, focusing on things like competitive intelligence and product marketing. Most don’t come from a marketing background either – they were technical support, or systems engineers in the field and close to customers. But they had an interest in coming more closely into the commercial side.”

The trial aims to showcase the SaaS platform by having prospects and customers undertake an in-app experience of testing modules. To do this, a taskforce was created, bringing staff from various departments together on a six-month project.

“There’s an engineering component for sure, but there’s also an operational component – people come in, where do they even register for a trial? How do we make sure the trial is intuitive enough for them to get the value they need? What’s the sales process off the back of it? Before you know it you need engineering, marketing, sales, operations all involved,” Flower says.  

“Not only did we meet the deadline we set ourselves because everyone rallied around it, the feedback from people involved was they learned a lot. It was a great way of coming together and creating an initiative cross-departmentally.”

What also helped was the heads of sales, engineering and marketing all allocating resources and coming together physically to look at how we bring this successfully to market, Flower says.

In the first year, CrowdStrike has seen the number of people trialling per month lift to those trialling its products in one day, as well as increased sales conversion.

“The next step is to build a business unit around it looking at acquisition marketing to drive more, but also the whole marketing funnel,” Flower says. At time of interview, CrowdStrike had also just launched a shopping cart, allowing US customers to buys its product online.

4. Know when to be tactical and when to lead

Marketing activities have also evolved over time. Flower cites two reasons: The CrowdStrike brand being more recognised; and the funding available. In particular, $100m in Series C funding was a big milestone, which brought lead investor, CapitalG (Google's investment arm), into the fold, as well as put the company on the mainstream radar.

“In the beginning, marketing was much more tactical – it was going to the right conferences, using those as a vehicle to get in front of as many people as possible, making sure we build up our database. We didn’t have a lot of prospecting data, so we had to find ways to build the database so we could start communicating to the audience and driving education,” Flower says.

“As we got more funding and became more known, we looked to the next phase of evolution of marketing. This was adding more thought leadership to the mix, leveraging our experts to be spokespeople and have a view at an industry level.

“We have never been afraid to go out there and make a point or provide a recommendation, and that helps. You need to spread the word and use your experts to do that. We built a significant communications strategy, incorporating everything from traditional PR through to social, a webcast program, and more orienting to the world of digital.”

Winning over industry commentators has been another vital step for CrowdStrike. In the technology ecosystem, analysts have a highly influential role on how IT and security managers make technology purchase decisions. Companies such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC, for example, report on the endpoint security space as one of many facets of the IT lumascape, making it imperative for vendors to be in their lists.

“When you speak to security professionals, they go and look and from those lists of players in the space, they select 5-6 to try out. If you’re not in those reports, it’s much harder to get considered in some of those assessment phases,” Flower says. “In the early days, it was important to make sure relevant analysts were well educated.”

5. Build the tech stack

In its quest to be more strategic in its marketing efforts, CrowdStrike’s marketing has built a martech stack.

“We have the ability to use various vehicles to go out and find the right buyer at the right time, with the right message, and going outside our own data through digital opportunities,” Flower continues.  

While CrowdStrike possessed some of the building blocks when Flower joined, such as Marketo and Salesforce platforms, they weren’t talking to each other, so integration was a big priority. She’s also invested in marketing operations as a core capability.

“If you get that right, it becomes your engine house and you can build around that,” Flower says. “In addition, I said we needed to do it faster and get it right, which meant consulting services to help us get through it.

“Martech is an evolution too – you get basics right, show it’s helping the business grow, start to get conversion rate analysis and ROI investment, then from there, add to the tech stack to make it extremely strategic.”  

6. Act like a consumer marketer

Another thing Flower keeps telling her team is to act more as a consumer marketing group than it ever used to.

“Gone are the days you can pick up the phone and tell someone about your product. The buyer is really in control of when they want to research, get access to information and even have a conversation,” she says.  

7. Align tightly with sales

This is also arguably the reason why marketing and sales must go hand-in-glove. Flower says her experience working in a field organisation, as well as Websense sales VP for an SMB business unit, helped her forge strong ties with CrowdStrike’s sales team.

Related: Why sales and marketing alignment is more important than ever

Report: Sales and marketing must break down silos to drive growth

“The skillset within sales and marketing are different and complementary but I believe it’s one department,” she comments. “Being very aligned with your sales organisation, where you plan together, agree on go-to-market together, build a tech stack together, and your marketing campaigns so they’re integrated with a sales process and enabled, is absolutely critical. It’s even more critical when you’re still growing your brand, as people are still figuring you out and learning about you. If you can have a truly aligned sales and marketing plan, strategy and implementation, it’ll go a long way.

“The other thing when you’re growing fast, is you don’t have the luxury of trying too many things. You need to make sure you’re executing fast and it’ll yield results. The more close you are to sales, the more you reap the rewards more quickly.”

Up next: The 5 other ways this dynamic chief marketing officer is building her B2B brand

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