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 Erin McLean.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to "get to know you" better. Can you share your backstory with us?
My background is in sport. I started playing softball at a young age and pursued my dreams of representing my country and playing internationally. I played 3rd base for the Canadian National Team and represented Canada at the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing, China. I’ve always been ambitious—and yes, competitive. That drive has certainly fueled my marketing career. I love being creative, building programs, and analyzing results, especially when I can work as part of a team to see programs come to life.
Earlier in my career I supported the acceleration of some of Canada’s top brands including Virgin Mobile, Bell Mobility and the Canadian Olympic Committee. Across various marketing roles within these organizations I contributed to brand building, channel acceleration, customer acquisition, retention and led strategic, cross functional initiatives including product launches & compliance adherence programs.
Personally, I am passionate about encouraging young women to pursue careers in cybersecurity. I created the Ambitious 7s program in partnership with the Durham District School Board to expose young female students to career paths in technology, and encourage them to build a supportive community around their common ambitions.
What do you think was a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CMO?
Definitely when I took a leap of faith into a new industry, moving from what I knew (telecom) to cybersecurity. It was an opportunity to hone and mature my marketing skills in a fast-past, growing global market.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I began my CMO role with eSentire during the global pandemic, so I took on an executive role at a global company while I was working at home. That made it interesting in regard to building a team, getting to know the business and building relationships with other executives. Additionally, on my first day on the job I learned plans were underway to launch an entirely new web property in six weeks. I knew I had to make my mark quickly to impact the messaging, brand and overall design—without slowing down the team. It was the perfect way to roll up my sleeves with the team and jump in.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you here?
For me, it’s a group of women from my experience with the Judy Project, one of Canada’s leading executive forums designed to support and prepare women ascending into C-suite positions. Intensely experiential, the forum enables women to embrace their own ambition, cultivate personal and team leadership from within their organizations and ultimately form a personal peer advisory board to support their evolving leadership priorities. Five years after participating in the program I still meet every month with my advisory board. They are a large source of encouragement and guidance personally and professionally.
Can you please give us your favorite "Life Lesson Quote"? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You become stronger in the fractured places.”
I have faced a lot of personal adversity and loss in my life, and I draw on this phrase for inspiration to find the positives on a daily basis. This quote is a real source of strength for me.
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?
- Sense of team. As an elite athlete, I learned the power of teamwork. Whether on the field or in the boardroom, people accomplish more when they collaborate, communicate and work as a team.
- Precise Communication. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to messages. Whether it’s the written word or public speaking, an imperative component of communication is understanding what the audience wants and how you can relate to them and their specific needs.
- Self Confidence. In order to reach the higher levels of your career, you must be comfortable having a voice and being willing to share your opinion. You belong in that room just as much or more than anyone else. Feel comfortable in the presence of peers and don’t be shy about sharing your own perspective.
In regard to how you can build these characteristics in yourself, I believe they all tie together. Find a common purpose to achieve the goal at hand, then, perhaps most importantly, listen before you speak. When you understand the needs and intentions of whomever you are engaged with, you can deliver what they want to hear and build your own confidence as a result.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
I’m working to put more emphasis on my own continued learning and education within the marketing and cybersecurity sectors. In any communication field, how and when you address an audience is constantly changing. It’s critical I keep up with the latest marketing practices, new tools, and new strategies. Being a mom to a young child it’s not always easy to find time to do that, on top of the parenting and “day job,” but it’s important nevertheless. We should never rest on our own knowledge and success.
Having reached this space, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?
1 . Understanding the Market - One must study and really get to know your customer segments, the trends impacting their behavior, the dynamics between buying groups, and real-time marketing strategies to truly build effective programs. As eSentire has continued to establish its authority in Managed Detection and Response (MDR) we have built a robust channel ecosystem where we’re securing proximity to our buyers through new relationships including with other MSPs, VARs, and Technology Service Brokers.
2 . Creative Perspective - You need to have an opinion and be able to root your creative executions in the authentic identity of your business. At eSentire, we’re a mission-focused organization specializing in cybersecurity services. Our mantra that you see everywhere is “An attack on you is an Attack on us.” In other words, our customers know that we have their back in the case of a breach. That perspective—making sure our customers are protected from cyberattacks so they can be successful—is part of our whole company DNA. Whatever your company’s mission is should be that obvious and creatively incorporated into the brand.
3 . Ability to Connect With People – As CMOs, we deal with every conceivable audience. We have to align with internal stakeholders and their goals, yes, but still really need to understand the core audience we’re selling to. At eSentire, we service multiple markets, both directly with customers and via relationships with channel partners. Clearly understanding what role they each serve and how we can help them succeed is critical to deeply connecting with them. We have to make each audience understand how we can help them succeed.
4 . Analytical Mindset – Marketers always need to be curious, always need to be evaluating campaigns and strategies to find out what works and what may not. Make sure your programs are measurable. Look at the data, understand what the insights are telling you. Your gut may suggest one thing and the data backs it up, making it easy for you to make your case. Sometimes the data may surprise you. We had an interesting campaign discovery recently where a key asset for us was lowering in win rate because buyers were engaging with it too late in their decision making phase. This had been a “go to” for us for a long time, and we had to re-evaluate our strategy to improve its effectiveness vs sticking with the status quo.
5 . Resilience – You need to be able to bounce back from failures more strongly than you celebrate successes. This is where my background in sports helps. Sometimes you will strike out. Use those experiences as an opportunity to adapt, evolve, and grow. For example, we launched a program at eSentire designed to get to know our customers’ current security postures better: an assessment tool offered for free to test their cybersecurity maturity. The problem was that customers assumed it was a new resource offered by eSentire, not a free assessment tool, so the results were minimal. We realized the mistake was in positioning so we re-messaged the program, re-launched it and got what we needed.
Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?
Never overlook an athlete. I received the opportunity to interview for my first professional job because of my background in sport. Having a competitive personality, the ability to operate within a team, and resilience when faced with loss are personal skills that are difficult to teach. I’ll hire for passion over specific skill sets every time.
What are some of the main issues that other CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?
We’re always challenged with demonstrating ROI on brand awareness programs. If you find yourself in a debate trying to showcase the value of a campaign through the pipeline, you’re no longer in a collaborative position and that’s difficult. In our business, brand awareness and reputation is everything, but it is difficult to measure. I’ve been fortunate to work with several CEOs who were former CMOs, including Kerry Bailey, eSentire’s CEO, who truly understand the bigger picture. But if you’re working under a leader that defines marketing only pertaining to specific buckets such as websites, events, etc. it can be extremely difficult to prove your division’s value. To address those challenges, really put yourself in the executive’s shoes and understand what they’re looking to measure or how they’re being held accountable, and ensure you’re tying your initiatives back to the greater corporate objectives.
What do you believe is the most effective way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?
The most important thing to remember is that you’re representing people—your internal team, your customer base, and your marketing organization. Every day our job is to connect with other humans. The best CMOs keep it simple, make it personal, and demonstrate the ability to bring multiple perspectives and opinions into your final deliverable.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I’m passionate about encouraging ambitious conversations amongst young women and run a program for Grade 7 girls with my local school board where we help the students identify their best selves, understand what can detract from it, what supports it, and initiate goal setting as a collective group. This stemmed from my own experience with the Judy Project. It was shocking (but unfortunately not surprising) to hear the doubt, guilt and sacrifices these women had made to get to where they were in their professional careers. I mentioned above how important that group of women from the Judy Project has been to me. My thought was if we can initiate that kind of community at a young age, and encourage ambitious conversations early, instead of tearing each other down, not developing a voice, or not exploring a potential passion, young women will learn to thrive and succeed together.
Some very prominent names read this column. Is there a person with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!
Sarah Blakely. She had an idea that was turned down again and again, but persevered through adversity to achieve success. And the brand positioning really resonates with women of all races, sizes, and backgrounds.
I also really respect the writing and perspective of Glennon Doyle and have been incredibly motivated by the work of Amanda Gorman.