A successful CMO has many roles, including leading an organization's marketing department, establishing marketing strategies, and tracking successes and failures. How can a CMO create a highly successful career? What tools, strategies, and approaches can a CMO use to be successful? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Breault.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit of your personal 'backstory' and how you got started?
Before becoming the Chief Marketing Officer of Aprimo, I had an interesting journey that led me to this position. I attended Bowling Green State University, where I studied marketing and management information systems, which drew me to the intersection of technology and marketing.
My first internship was with Intel Corporation, where I conducted market research and visited retail locations to interact with buyers and train local sales teams. I call this impostor syndrome checkpoint #1. After graduating, I took a role in the nuclear energy sector with FirstEnergy Corporation, where I built advanced analytic models for nuclear engineers. This was my introduction to "big data" before the term became mainstream. I eventually found my way into consulting for Fortune 500 companies, where I helped with business model transformations. Impostor syndrome checkpoint #2.
I continued to pursue my passion for marketing and eventually joined Aprimo. I've had the opportunity to work with hundreds of amazing brands, where I was able to help transform their marketing, automate and scale with technology, and drive change. This is where I found my home. After years of moving various roles and departments within the organization, I was able to be at the front lines of M&A as well as see first-hand how to generate SaaS enterprise value. This could be impostor syndrome checkpoint #3, but it sure feels a lot different and a constant that should go by another name.
What do you think was a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CMO?
The picture became clear to me after I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of brands and directly with marketing departments in a previous capacity. My career path also took me through multiple departments of the company, so I was able to experience how the entire entity operated and needed to be interconnected to be successful.
Before I became CMO, I was in a marketing leadership position and was able to shape the vision in an operational plan. It didn't just create localized marketing improvements but advocated for success across the company that positively impacted customers, our product, the markets we serve, and how to efficiently grow revenue in partnership with the sales team, which ultimately increases the company's enterprise value.
Can you share an interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I had the opportunity to relaunch the company, which was not initially born in the cloud. We were reborn in the cloud, is what I like to say. I was part of a team that performed a massive transformation to a best-in-class software as a service business. We transformed everything from the business's mission, the product, the brand, and how we operated as a company. Who doesn't like a comeback story?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
John Stammen, my previous CEO. As I write this, my first day at the company was 16 years ago. Every employee was required to go through a two-week boot camp to learn everything related to the company, the markets we serve, and how the product works. If you don't pass the boot camp, you don't assume your role until you do.
At the end of week 2, I was burning the midnight oil preparing for the final certification exam. It was about 9:30 in the evening on the Thursday night before my Friday exam. I was the only one in the building, or so I thought, when a gentleman walked by, he stopped, turned around, and walked in to introduce himself. He gave me some kind words of encouragement, wished me luck, and I returned to study.
I looked him up on the website, and he was on the leadership team. He wasn't the CEO at the time but the GM of sales. I thought to myself, why would he need to be here working so long, leaving so late when he's already in an established leadership role? He ingrained in me throughout the years as I advanced positions that no matter what got you to where you are, you must stay hungry, and there is always room to improve, even by 1% at a time.
Can you please share your favorite 'Life Lesson Quote' and how it has been relevant to you in your life?
Stay uncomfortable; growing includes continuing to push outside your comfort zone. There were many points in my career where I had opportunities to achieve at the next level, and my mind flooded with doubt. I look back at those times, and though painful and with failures, it was where I made my largest leaps forward.
Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
The first is listening, which can be a superpower. Whether it's listening to the market, people, or yourself, there's a time not to talk and intentionally listen. I make it a point whenever I'm in conversations or meetings, especially during my podcast, that my talk-time is much less than anyone else's.
The second is execution. You must do the work. There's never a point in time when you stop creating value outcomes in marketing. Yes, you have to delegate, yes, you have to mobilize a team to be successful, and yes, you have to build a team and manage talent, but you'll always be one of the team members who creates value for the business. Even though you are the CMO and represent the collective value of the team to the C-suite and board of directors, your team needs to see you contributing and leading from the front.
The third is cycle time and a bias for action. George S. Patton is famous for saying, "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." Time is a critical element, and none of us are immune to it.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
Storytelling. The skill has multiple dimensions, and our brains are wired for stories. Storytelling helps create an emotional connection with the target audience and convey a message in a memorable and engaging way. A good story can help a brand stand out in a crowded market, making it easier for consumers to understand and relate to the product or service offered.
Storytelling can be used to communicate a brand's values, mission, and unique selling points in a way that resonates with the target audience. It can also create a sense of community and belonging among customers and help build trust and loyalty.
In terms of marketing campaigns, storytelling can be used to create compelling and memorable content across various platforms and channels, such as social media, email, and video. It can also be used to create a narrative around a product or service, making it more relatable and interesting to the target audience.
One of my evergreen mantras is to always be human. A story can humanize a brand and make it more relatable to the audience, which can help build customer trust and loyalty.
Having reached this space, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?
- Enterprise mindset: This is a must for CMOs. An enterprise mindset is how an individual or organization approaches business and decision-making. It's a focus on long-term goals, strategic thinking, and a holistic perspective that considers the entire organization and its ecosystem. CMOs with an enterprise mindset have the ability to think and act in a way aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. They can see the big picture and consider the impact of their actions on the entire organization rather than just the marketing department or immediate team. They are also able to anticipate and adapt to changes in the market and the industry.
- Decision making: In the context of the enterprise mindset, as I mentioned above, CMOs have to be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole. It also helps foster a culture of collaboration and cross-functional thinking, as individuals with an enterprise mindset can see how their actions can impact different departments and teams.
- Strategic thinking: A CMO needs to think ahead and develop long-term marketing plans that align with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. This includes analyzing market trends and identifying growth opportunities.
- Emotional intelligence: A CMO must have the ability to understand, manage, and effectively express one's own emotions and the emotions of others. It includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. A CMO must understand and respond to the needs of their team members and create a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration.
- Vision: CMOs must see beyond the present and anticipate future trends and opportunities. They clearly understand where the organization needs to go and can inspire and motivate others to work towards achieving that vision. They can think strategically, make difficult decisions and take calculated risks to achieve long-term success. CMOs must also be able to communicate their vision in a compelling way that inspires others to take action.
Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?
Data analysis: Data wins in the boardroom. Being able to understand and analyze data is becoming increasingly important for marketing. The ability to use data to inform marketing strategy and measure the effectiveness of campaigns is a valuable skill.
Financial acumen: If you can’t speak the language of the CFO, you are done. A CMO should have a good understanding of budgeting, forecasting, and performance metrics to ensure that marketing efforts are cost-effective and aligned with the overall financial goals of the organization.
Technical: You can’t scale efficiently without tech. A CMO should have a good understanding of the technical aspects of marketing, such as web design, search engine optimization, and marketing automation tools, to lead the team and make informed decisions.
The “figure-it-out factor”: Ambiguity is everywhere. A CMO should be able to identify problems and develop effective solutions, particularly in a fast-paced, constantly evolving market. Roll up your sleeves, and apply some scientific methods. Iterate, don’t hate.
What are some of the main issues that other CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?
Trust is a MAJOR factor and a win-or-lose quality of a CMO because it helps to build and maintain relationships with their team, stakeholders, and external customers. A CMO trusted by their team is more likely to be able to implement their vision and strategy for the marketing department. It is reciprocal, and the CMO must build talent with trust in mind. This will make the team move faster and provide growth and personal fulfillment.
With trust, they will also be able to secure buy-in and support for their initiatives from other departments and stakeholders. Trust is also important when it comes to building relationships with customers. A CMO who customers trust is more likely to be able to effectively communicate the value of the organization's products or services. Customers who trust the CMO and the organization are more likely to be loyal, engaged, and willing to recommend the organization to others.
What do you believe is the most effective way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?
Standout CMOs are always data and customer-obsessed.
Making impacts requires developing a data-driven approach. A CMO should use data and analytics to inform the marketing strategy and decision-making. By analyzing data from marketing intelligence software, they can gain insights into customer behavior and preferences and use that information to create value in every dimension of the role.
Stay close to the customer, walk in their shoes, and assume their thoughts and emotions. The best CMOs focus on creating a positive customer experience and building a loyal customer base. By understanding the customer's needs and preferences, a CMO can create the experience customers crave.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
It would be related to the global accessibility of mental health services. Of course, it is a complex and multifaceted issue, but we can get there with an inspired movement. Several dimensions of goodness can be created, and some ways to think about it include accessibility, stigma reduction, integration with primary care, community-based approaches, cultural sensitivity, and proper investing.
Lastly, is there a person with whom you would like to have a breakfast or lunch with, and why? They might just see this!
One of the most inspiring spoken word artists and entertainers out there is Henry Rollins. I grew up watching him perform, his music is explosive, and his spoken-word storytelling is masterful. I'd love to have a 1:1 with him, even though it'd probably be one of the most intense breakfast or lunch sessions I'll ever have in my entire life.