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It should go without saying that effective marketing management can make or break 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 Lenny Liebmann.

Lenny Liebmann

Lenny Liebmann

Lenny is a veteran marketer whose teams have achieved success in technology, healthcare, and financial services. He was part of the team that led RightNow from a home-based startup in Bozeman, Montana to its eventual acquisition by Oracle for $1.5 billion. His other successes include CA (acquired for $18.9 billion), Change Healthcare (acquired for $13 billion) and Compuware (acquired for $2.4 billion).

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?

Sure! I would love to claim that I had the foresight back in the 80’s to get in on the tech boom, but it didn’t happen like that. What happened was that I graduated with a BA in English from Yale and landed a gig with Bell Labs developing their internal training materials. That work essentially gave me a crash course in every technology that would fuel the ensuing tech boom, including the Internet and wireless mobility. It also gave me a first-hand education in how not to market technology—since AT&T, Bell Labs’ parent company, failed miserably at every turn when it came to computers, networking, and mobility.

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’m not sure any of us know ourselves well enough to determine exactly what enables us to achieve the outcomes we achieve. But if you press me to name three, I’ll say:

  1. Intellectual curiosity, which is what enables one to make decisions based on reality as it is rather than one’s own current prejudices and suppositions.
  2. An appetite for work, which is what can get you through the long hours you have to put in when it’s “crunch time.”
  3. A willingness to propose something weird, which is what keeps your team’s work from devolving into mediocrity.

These three attributes are, I believe, entirely secondary to good old dumb luck—which has always been my main asset.

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?

Marketing teams require a diverse set of skills: business acumen, an understanding of buyer psychology, creativity, cultural literacy, relationship management, etc. And the people with those skills tend not to fall into any one category. So I think identifying talent is more about assessing each individual on their own merits, rather than looking for any common denominator.

I’m also a little skeptical about the notion of a “good fit.” I know they say that culture eats strategy, but a monoculture will eat strategy in the exact wrong way. I’ve seen companies fail precisely because they’ve assembled a group of smart, agreeable, hard-working people who get along great and meet their deadlines—and are thus constitutionally incapable of coming up with and executing on an original, breakthrough idea.

What specific backgrounds, qualities, or credentials do you look for when hiring for management and senior positions?

One thing I look for is intellectual integrity. I really don’t want to work with someone who will “go along to get along” and "yes" the product managers to death. You’re being hired to contribute, not avoid friction. Of course, you need to get along with people and compromise when necessary. But I want to know you’ll also fight for what you believe. I mean, there’s a reason you don’t work for your previous company anymore. Be honest about why you wanted out.

It’s also important to hear any potential candidate talk about my target customer. Too many marketing teams are obsessed with their internally formulated value propositions. But what do customers want? What do they really like about us? What concerns are preventing them from engaging with us? If you don’t genuinely understand your shoppers, specifiers, and final buy decision-makers, you’re not going to do a very good job of marketing.

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?

I’m not sure we should even be asking this question anymore in 2023. A cohesive marketing strategy manifests when you put three good sentences down on paper and get everybody to say “Amen!”—and when you flag every variance from that strategy that needs flagging. The collaboration tools we have for distributed teams are sufficient to overcome the challenges of space and time. If you still think you need everyone in the same room at the same time to do their best work, you should probably get in a time machine and go back to 2010. The best talent works better independently than under your thumb. If someone on the team isn’t an adult, get rid of them.

How do you stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and AI to ensure your team is implementing the most effective marketing strategies?

“Latest” and “most effective” are not synonymous. And, as a leader, you have to be careful not to burden yourself with mechanics when your real job is to lead, advocate, test, and decide. So I suggest having people on your team who are specialists in that kind of stuff. Let them brief you on the capabilities they believe you may want to consider adding to the portfolio. But please—PLEASE—beware of the hype regarding algorithmic marketing mechanisms. Pricing, partnerships, and even postcards often succeed where SEO fails.

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?

Data is good for what it’s good for. But I’m skeptical of most methods. And I’m the guy who coined the term “DataOps” for IBM and just gave a keynote and DataOps Shanghai. But data only tells you what seemed to work in one or two specific aspects. Ultimately, the best data is the retained customer’s feedback.

Of course, that’s me speaking as a B2B marketer. I’m sure metrics are much more important in mass-market B2C, where you don’t have that same kind of relationship with your customers.

What tips do you have to motivate and inspire your team to consistently meet and exceed their goals?

Make the goals personal, and be wary about making them excessively quant. A single good idea is often more important than a high response rate from a campaign that yielded a bunch of tire-kickers. The real questions are: Is the organization succeeding? Do customers love us? Are we people of integrity? Do we believe that we are going in the best direction for our families and our communities?

How do you handle underperforming team members?

It depends on what you mean by “underperforming.” I try to coach people as much as I find reasonable. But, generally speaking, it’s better for them and for us for them to move on. They most likely need to work for someone else in order to thrive. I would never claim to be the best person for everybody to have as a teammate. There’s something called “chemistry.” And if we ain’t got it, we ain’t got it.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Rapid Fire Question Round

What’s your best quality as a leader? Making people laugh when they want to cry, quit, or otherwise succumb to the pressures of business.

What bad management habit should cease to exist? Excessive compliance with mediocrity masquerading as being a “team player.”

What single piece of advice would you give to aspiring CMOs? Focus less on “marketing” and more on markets.

What are you reading right now? Aidan Levy’s massive biography of jazz saxophone great Sonny Rollins.

What product, tool, or service do you wish existed? A reliable bullsh*t detector.

What would you say is the most valuable marketing software in your tech stack?

For obvious reasons, I am not going to endorse any specific software vendor’s product. But I will say there are some very good collaboration tools for checking projects in and out, managing revisions and approvals, etc.

Also don’t sleep on TikTok.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five things you need to lead a successful marketing management team?

1 . Make sure everyone on the team understands your customer personas. Too many marketing teams think almost exclusively about messaging the benefit of their product or service as *they* conceive it. But when you understand your customer, you also understand their secondary concerns, potential objections, etc. This is especially true in B2B where your target buyer may have to contend with the personal agendas of other people in other roles within their organization—such as a CFO, legal counsel, or infosec team.

This is why I generally advocate thinking in terms of vertical markets wherever I go. Manufacturers, for example, like when you speak to them in terms of supply chains, inventory, cost predictability, and defect rates. Financial institutions, on the other hand, need to know that you won’t create any problems for them with audit and compliance.

2. Map out the real-world customer journey. Too many marketers try to open and close in the same breath. This is especially true of less experienced team members. But the sales cycle you’re supporting probably doesn’t work that way (again, especially in B2B). So you have to understand what piques interest vs. vs. what the criteria are for potentially shortlisting your solution vs. what helps drive the final close. And you have to promulgate that accurate understanding of the customer journey across your team so they can effectively support your sales efforts.

Tying your solution to a recent regulatory development, for example, may be a great way to start a dialog with a prospect. But as you get closer to decision time, one of your biggest weapons may be your commitment to return your customers’ phone calls within ten minutes. Understanding that distinction will help your team deliver the right messages to the right people at the right time.

3. Understand your competition without getting too wrapped up in counter-programming. Of course you need to know what your competition is doing. But too many marketers are excessively influenced by this noise. So they wind up either a) duplicating what their top competitor is doing because they think it must be better than anything they could come up with or b) counterprogram against the competition as a sort of kneejerk reaction.

In B2B, however, most of your losses aren’t due to a competitor. They’re due to a "no decision" decision that the prospect defaults to because you haven’t given them enough motivation to overcome their inertia. So if you worry too much about the competition, you’ll fail to win against your biggest opponent: the inertia monster.

4. Foster true outside-the-box creativity. Too many marketing managers stifle creativity by saying “no” instead of "yes and." Over the long haul, your team will be much more effective if you allow more less-than-perfect ideas that you don’t quite grasp see the light of day—because the upside is high engagement from your writers and art people. And the downside of disengaged staff is certain failure.

5. Stand up to your internal stakeholders. Too many marketing people let product managers, sales leaders, or other peer decision-makers "vote" on their team’s marketing ideas. But product managers are not marketers. And if you allow them to consistently veto your ideas, you’ll wind up with vanilla content and low staff morale. So stop making decisions by committee. Fight for your team’s best ideas. If those ideas don’t yield hoped-for results, take responsibility. But if they turn out good, take full credit—and remind the naysayers that they should maybe trust you.

I’ve done a few successful campaigns that took a contrarian approach—i.e., leading with why prospects should NOT buy the type of solution we were selling. In most cases, the product managers and other internal stakeholders at these companies balked at the idea. It was simply too divergent from what they assumed was our mission: to tell people how great we were. But lead gen isn’t always about telling people how great you are. It’s about starting an engagement. And those campaigns were very successful—because of course the punchline was that the prospect should only buy the type of solution we were selling if they bought a solution that happened to look just like ours.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

Don’t chase money. Pursue excellence. Money-chasers often wind up with great careers and empty lives. Those who pursue excellence, on the other hand, find meaning in everything they do. Trust me on this, I know a lot of miserable rich people.

How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?

They can’t. I keep a very low profile. I do have a book coming out, though. You can go to thesoftwarerevelation.com if you want to pre-order it!


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Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.