It should go without saying that effective marketing management can be make or break to a company's success. To understand the best ways to lead a successful Marketing Management team, we asked CMOs and other leaders in the marketing space to share tips, stories and insights from their experiences. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Ravalli.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and how you got started in your career?
I’m Jennifer “Jenn” Ravalli, and I head marketing at Harri, an employee experience platform built for the frontline workforce. I am a self-proclaimed HR technology nerd—I started my career in employee benefits selling insurance and as I grew into more marketing and operations roles I found a passion for empowering great talent to fulfill and showcase their potential through technology. What we are doing at Harri brings that power to frontline teams, whose needs are often not considered by traditional HR tech companies.
I have held nearly every marketing role at some point in my career and have run a $20 million dollar incubator business within one of the largest companies in the world. I enjoy scaling up unique startups and creating repeatable revenue engines that take companies from $20 Million in revenue to $200 Million. I have led teams of two to teams of 130 across the globe. Developing people is what I love most about my job. I have especially dedicated my career to creating more leaders with a special focus on creating more opportunities for women leaders. We rise by lifting others.
On a personal note, I have been singing professionally since the age of 10. I graduated from NYU with a degree in Communications and Mass Media and New York City is still my favorite place on the planet. I am married to a wonderful man (Mike Tebesceff) who supports my career 100% and have two wonderful children Jack (4) and Samantha (nearly 2). We live on the Jersey Shore with our mischievous Goldendoodle named Sunny.
What are three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
- I Always Raise My Hand: The assignments that took me out of my comfort zone and pushed the limits of my responsibilities are what made people take notice of my skills and my approach to business. “That’s not my job” is not in my vocabulary. Be open to working on meaty cross functional projects, ask for help when you need it, offer your help when you can and, ultimately, you will position yourself as a business leader first and a marketing leader second.
- Scrappy but Strategic: I am equally comfortable doing the work as setting strategy and can move easily between the two. I like to get my hands dirty and that is also how I like to teach—I also won’t ask anyone to do anything that I would not do myself. Be deep in the subject matter you lead but also be aware enough to pull yourself up to a 36,000 foot level—that is often the hardest transition for any leader to make.
- I Build Incredible Teams: My superpower is putting together teams rooted in potential with the right mix of people with superpowers that complement and challenge each other to think differently about an approach or a problem. I actively hire people with different points of view than my own and I prefer to hire people who are far more talented than I am. Your legacy as a leader is not the work you have done but the people who have gone on to be great leaders themselves—I am incredibly proud to have had a number of team members go on to lead at some of the world’s best companies and most exciting startups. Look for people with the ability to learn and apply their skills in context to a situation or problem—the ability to figure it out is more valuable than knowing all the answers.
What are some strategies you use to identify and attract top talent to your marketing team, and how do you ensure they are a good fit for your organization?
I look to attract great talent by providing opportunities to do great, impactful and creative work that challenges people to go beyond what they have done before. I like to pick companies that are on the cusp from start-up to scale-up and have something incredibly special to offer the world—that horizon is where a company begins to put in place the tools to scale to 100 or even 250 million in revenue and requires uniquely skilled talent that can handle the gray areas, chart out new territory and build for the future. It also means you will likely get to do some of the coolest and most challenging work of your career.
If I am working with a recruiting team, I provide really robust outlines on the types of talent I am looking for, their capabilities and their experiences that would make them a great addition to our team. I am usually in a position to build a new function or team when I enter an organization or even at larger companies when I have changed roles they have been focused on innovation and incubation so I am usually looking for people who want to be a part of building something and really putting their mark on it.
When I am not working with a recruiter, I do a lot of my own sourcing through identifying potential candidates on LinkedIn, asking for recommendations, or approaching that perfect person who has worked with me before. Several people who have now worked with me at multiple companies before have joined me at Harri. I also always provide candidates with the opportunity to speak to a reference for me. Hiring is a mutually beneficial relationship: candidates deserve the opportunity to understand what working together could mean to them as much as it means to me and our team. When I joined Harri we began talking on social about building a #badass marketing team, that team has been sourced almost exclusively through personal connections and driving awareness of the great work to be done.
Building great teams is something I pride myself on—that means thinking about culture add instead of culture fit. I look for people who will bring something to the table that will challenge and change us in a positive way. It’s easier to try to fit in, but standing out and standing for transformation is much harder. You have to be thrilled by that and see how it also changes you and your career.
What specific backgrounds, qualities, or credentials do you look for when hiring for management and senior positions?
That very much depends on the stage of growth and point in time at the companies I join. There are some major differences in how you need to operate in environments of different scale and I have led teams at Fortune 100, mid-sized and start-up/scale-ups.
Large companies are all about how you navigate the ecosystem. I look for leaders in that environment with deep subject matter expertise, lean into “outside in” perspective and a proven track record of accelerating their career in large organizations.
Mid-sized Companies are the hardest to operate in—roles tend to have a more limited scope but your impact, positive or negative, can be felt quickly. I look for people who are naturally collaborative, who can deeply share the steps necessary to drive things forward but not get frustrated when change takes time. Mid-sized organizations also invest heavily in early career talent, so you need leaders who are willing to teach and provide safe spaces for people to try new things and fail.
Scale Up from Start Up is my favorite stage business to grow. Here you need a leadership team of “swiss army knives”—people who know how to navigate through change and unclear situations. These are usually folks with innovative backgrounds where they have had the chance to be entrepreneurial but also worked or created operational stability in a larger company. They have had to manage the expectations of buyers who are more traditional but excited to evangelize new approaches. I look for people who can pivot between business and marketing to make a deeper impact and often group functions for a period of time until we mature as an organization and can further specialize.
When it comes to managing large teams, WFH, and different time zones, how do you prioritize communication and collaboration to ensure a cohesive marketing strategy?
In the age of virtual/hybrid global work, you have to use a balance of both personal and professional communication to collaborate and connect with your team globally. I put in place a few key rituals adapted from Agile product development to bring the team together. We have weekly team Coffee/Happy Hour depending on the time zone where we share nothing about work—this is all about connecting as people. I meet daily with my leadership team to ensure in a fast-paced environment we are prioritizing the right things, solving for the biggest challenges and getting in front of issues before they erupt—it is an adapted SCRUM meeting and it is also probably my favorite meeting of the day. It helps us feel connected and help each other be successful. I also meet with my sales leader daily. This has been something that I have done at my last two companies and it helps us both deliver a more connected go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
Also, many times I walk into greenfield situations where there is work to be done to build a cohesive GTM function—Frameworks, Best Practices and Benchmarks are great ways to guide, monitor and prioritize where you need to focus and make progress first. It also gives your team a common language to use for better planning, asynchronous work and communication. I believe 80% of what you work on to scale an organization needs to be well planned, but you should always leave 20% for moonshot ideas, or to take advantage of market conditions. This gives you and your team the ability to know where to go next with the flexibility to take calculated risks safely.
How do you stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and AI to ensure your team is implementing the most effective marketing strategies?
I am a voracious learner; I thrive when I understand and can triangulate my decision making around where the field is going. We share information and inspiration as a team to ensure we are evaluating innovative tech and practices. I also put some money aside from our budget to invest in team development and training.
There are a few things I won’t do in-house and prefer to scale up and down with an agency partner. The most important one is digital marketing. An exceptional agency partner is always going to be better connected to what is new and next, they will also likely stand behind their fees and take less as a percentage because they are confident, they will deliver more. We actively tell our agencies that we will be their best early adopters—we set aside the time and dollars for testing new and innovative strategies regularly.
In an industry that is often focused on data and metrics, how do you balance the importance of quantitative data with the qualitative insights and instincts needed for success?
Marketing is Art and Science. The science continues to take more and more precedence in decision making; giving more marketing leaders the ability to earn the role of CEO. However, you can’t forget the Art—it's what moves people and in the best of circumstances connects with them to consider why what you do will change their world.
I like to use science to help guide the art; quantitative insights and segmentation strategy and modeling are some of my favorite ways to quantitatively create focus for the organization. We get a lot of qualitative data from interviews or even Gong recordings but nothing can replace sitting live in prospect and customer meetings; really listening for the underlying themes they may never say directly or out loud and pulling those themes together to build our Why.
Often new leaders will decide to refresh the brand or develop a messaging strategy as part of their first six months on the job. My thought is you don’t have enough data, or enough experience to really come up with something of value—it won’t be something of endurance and you will end up doing it over again a year from now. Light up the channels and the foundational strategies that will begin to deliver growth to the organization, test, ramp and then put your focus on perfecting the message and the creative (Art) in place so you can bring it to life for your buyer.
You will waste time if you focus on Art before the science—the science delivers the Art. To quote Marshall McLuhan, "the Medium is the Message" and the mediums are the channels that deliver the art of marketing.
What tips do you have to motivate and inspire your team to consistently meet and exceed their goals?
Trust them implicitly - I hired them because they bring incredible value, know their stuff and bring skills to the table that I don’t. I expect them to do their jobs with as little intervention as possible. I am here to guide, teach and support them, not to tell them what to do.
Be as transparent as you possibly can - the realities of business especially when you are in scale up mode it can sometimes be difficult to understand why certain decisions were made or what may be roadblocks to change. This can be demotivating if you are not sharing these things actively and letting them know you are all in it together.
Ensure their success is connected to company success so they are rewarded when all the hard work kicks in.
Make work enjoyable, be realistic and always have their back.
How do you handle underperforming team members?
When underperformance starts to show, you have to establish first if the issue is will or skill. Skill can usually be worked on and overcome through coaching, more direction, inspection or in some cases a reframed/reimagined role. If the problem is will, you need to manage them out quickly—tolerating the behavior is usually toxic to the health of the rest of the team. Have candid transparent conversations when you see risk and ensure you have a plan to either apply the pressure necessary so they leave themselves or to move forward to a documented performance improvement plan. Be empathetic but firm.
What would you say is the most valuable marketing software in your tech stack?
I believe 6sense will be once we have had it up for longer, but I have never seen anything pay for itself as quickly as Qualified!! It is the best technology investment I have ever made.
Based on your experience, what are the five things you need to lead a successful marketing management team?
1. Hire Great People with Diversified Skills, Experiences and Points of View: I learn from my team every day. We challenge each other to think differently about how to conquer the work and solve problems given our different areas of expertise and experiences. We extend this to everyone on our team, not just leadership. Give everyone opportunities to lead projects or analysis—give them a voice and a chance to expose everyone’s point of view.
2. Create Scalable Systems: Establish a network of experts to help you scale your efforts and succeed during the busy seasons. Our network of agencies and freelancers help us get more things done and also tap into expertise we may not have on the team. We also use proven frameworks and best practices to build our GTM plan and make initial assumptions using relevant benchmarks. This gives everyone the freedom to create within boundaries that help them build and design segmentation strategies and themes that guide the work of the whole team.
3. A Great Foundational Infrastructure: Accurate, reliable reporting and systems. It’s the wind beneath your marketing wings and allows you to inspect what you expect. I walk into marketing organizations with lots of disconnected tools or tactics—keep things clean so you can actually realize the value of your investment. Your organization is not a unicorn. When I introduce systems or process changes, I make them as standard as possible. Salesforce is usually a mess with tons of unique fields or processes that have been built—this can make things very difficult to measure. I always ask my vendors, including Salesforce, what works for 90% of your clients and then I implement or adopt them nearly 100% of the time.
4. Trust: Create a culture of genuine trust for your team. When you care for your team as people, trust that they’ll succeed, and recognize their accomplishments, you’ll be amazed at what they can do. I once had an amazing talent on my team who had been through a lot in a prior role that she did not really enjoy or feel supported in. She did not trust herself, let alone me. I made it clear I was a safe place for her to share how she felt, and that this was a fresh start. She told me what scared her and held her back but also what she wanted to overcome and what she loved to do most—we leaned in on the things she wanted to conquer and really highlighted the areas where she shined. She found her voice, has become one of the most respected leaders at that company and has been promoted again and again. Trust is a powerful antidote to micromanagement and gives talented people the space to try new things. I have never regretted putting trust in my team—it creates high performance far more often than poor performance.
5. Vision & Purpose: Give people a purpose to belong to. My favorite way to create a connection with the vision of the business is the V2MOM framework made famous by Salesforce. The acronym stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures. It gives everyone a north star but also empowers them to think creatively about how to achieve those goals. It also helps us define our values as an organization and then share their personal vision and values in context of their role and personal aspirations.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
If I could do one thing it would be to find a scalable way to help women in business navigate their decisions in relation to work, family building and then finding the balance. I had to navigate a very difficult path to become a mother, I made a lot of career decisions at the time that I may not have otherwise. I only found others who had struggled when I opened up about my journey—I would have benefited from having resources or someone to talk to who had gone through similar struggles when making those decisions but really felt alone.
This is an area we don’t talk about enough that contributes greatly to the broken rung where we see women leaders step back from taking on bigger roles. My mission in life is to bring more women leaders through and help them get to c-suite roles but to do that we need to be more open and honest about the things that hold us back, both at work and at home.
How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?
Connect with me on LinkedIn!
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