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 Marta DeBellis.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, what do you think was a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CMO?
Earlier in my career if you would have asked me what my dream job would be, I would have said: running marketing in a region. I had a passion for travel and learning about other cultures and had made it a point to get in-market assignments in both EMEA and APAC. When I joined Adobe, I let the CMO know that I was interested in doing another in-market assignment and soon an opportunity came to run marketing for all of Adobe in APAC.
Taking on that role was pivotal on my path to CMO because I had ownership for all aspects of marketing for that region and was tightly aligned to the region president to drive the financial metrics for the business. That breadth of marketing management experience and close alignment with high-level business considerations were key responsibilities to become a successful CMO.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the things that has been new for me in this role is uniting the culture around science and technology. My career prior to Dotmatics has been in technology companies. Dotmatics marries science data with data science, which means applying technology and analytics to support scientists working on life-saving discoveries, from cancer research to food scarcity.
Forty percent of our employees are PhD scientists, and 65% of our 800-person-strong team is dedicated to R&D. The culture in scientific professional fields (around discovery and knowledge) is very different from hyper-growth SaaS businesses (agile and performance driven). Our focus is on bringing together the best of both, being “better together” to accomplish our mission, which is to accelerate scientific innovation to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
My very first boss after college taught me a couple things that have stuck with me throughout my career. The first was about giving feedback and asking for feedback from people that work for you—the latter part being most important.
He also taught me to inspire your team about the bigger mission you're working on, relate it to things happening in the world and to why it is important for both the business and the customers. That is easy at Dotmatics, where we get to support the scientists working to develop new personalized and preventive patient treatments, or using algae to create clothes and plastics, or even to reversing climate change.
Can you please share your favorite 'Life Lesson Quote'? How is it relevant to you in your life?
“Carpe diem” and “life is an adventure or it is nothing” have been two mantras throughout my life. I have constantly pushed myself to try new things that are challenging and out of my comfort zone. For example, for the Adobe assignment I picked up and moved my family of five to Asia for two years. During my tenure there, I also did a major career pivot to learn a different part of the business, moving into the product team in a customer success role.
As mentioned, most recently moving between dramatically different industries—from education technology to HRtech to now life sciences—have been major adventures that have challenged me in new and exciting ways!
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?
1. Growth mindset—always striving to learn new things.
2. Being a connector.
3. Seeking to understand the business from the top level financials and goals to make sure what I am doing is impactful to the bottom line.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
Bringing about big changes often requires striking a delicate balance. Sometimes I can push too hard and too fast to move things forward. I am working on change management and how to be effective in bringing my team along. And while that applies to my team, it also applies to my interactions with other cross-functional stakeholders who may be three steps behind where we are.
This is especially critical at a company like Dotmatics that must always prioritize the complex needs of researchers and scientists in the field. We really endeavor to keep the science at the forefront of every decision we make, so that our products and processes are always driven by what will best support the drug discovery lifecycle.
Having reached this space in your career, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?
- You must believe in what you work on. For me, mission has been very important in selecting my last few roles. At Dotmatics, our mission is to accelerate science to make the world safer, healthier and cleaner. Our customers primarily work in the R&D phase of drug discovery and the more we can help them bring drugs to market faster and more efficiently, the more they can help people globally.
- Be data-driven and ROI focused. Dotmatics was built based on acquiring best-in-class scientific software tools. For many of these tools, we have a PLG (product-led growth) model. The foundation of our business is on having the data to understand who is engaging with our tools via trials and tracking conversion to purchase. We also have an enterprise platform offering and with the markets shifting to value profitability and cash-flow, impact metrics alone are not enough to be a successful CMO. You must look at the total cost of the marketing department including program spend, headcount spend, tech stack spend, and travel & expenses, and tie each back to return on investment and to pipeline and revenue. Attribution and Media Mix modeling are also important to strategic budget planning.
- Maintain a robust network to recruit the best talent to join your team. I feel grateful to have worked with some amazing marketers and wonderful human beings over the years. I make an effort to reach out and touch base periodically to see what they are working on and how their career is going. I have been fortunate to bring some of this talent into each of my last three companies.
- Become customer-experience centric. As marketers we can sometimes be one level removed from the customer, especially in the virtual world. Here at Dotmatics, my team is looking at the messaging and experience for both scientists and R&D or Lab Directors. I encourage my marketers to buddy up with a sales team member and get invited to their sales calls or to spend time at industry events talking to customers. It is also important to map out visually and in messaging the customer or buyer journey of touch points across marketing, and to build in digital touch points for customer feedback.
- Be a Chief Market Officer. During my time leading marketing at Adobe for Asia Pacific I had to focus on 15 different countries. To really understand the local market opportunity and current perception of our brand and product offerings, I spent time with our country and sales leaders in each region. Part of my role was to help build the business case for investments to drive growth and look at tradeoffs across the different markets.
Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?
The biggest one that comes to mind is dealing with ambiguity. This is super important in building managers and leaders that can figure out what to do without being told. Often the signals from the market, customers and internal management are not aligned. To sort through the signals and figure out the best course of action, a good marketing leader will build a framework focused on objectives, target audiences and target outcomes.
What are some of the main issues that other CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?
CMOs can sometimes be left out of the board room as they may not be viewed as crucial to the overall business plan as someone like the CFO or General Counsel. More work needs to be done to clarify the huge impact a strong, business, market and customer oriented CMO has on the business. Marketing has always needed to have a strong relationship with Sales, but increasingly the Chief Product Officer and Chief Financial Officer are equally important strategic impact. So, build relationships across the C-Suite, with the CPO, CRO and CFO in particular.
The CMO also needs to understand the market and work with Product to orient towards areas where there is a differentiated value proposition and a sizable market for growth. The CMO needs to clearly position both the company and the products in a simple and clear way for multiple audiences to understand. The CMO needs to be an owner for revenue (in partnership with Sales) to drive pipeline and make sure it will hit growth targets. And finally, the CMO needs to spend time with customers to understand their pain points in order to clearly build content and programs that resonate with them.
What do you believe is the most effective way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?
Be extremely clear on how the work you do meets the business objectives at the company level, around financials, retention and customer satisfaction.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to a great number of people, what would that be?
I am passionate about mentorship and coaching for women and minorities in tech fields; it’s something that I helped build inside the companies I have worked in. I would love to see a broader community network for organic matching opportunities. I imagine a movement where more experienced leaders could fill out their strengths and experiences, and be paired with someone new in the field based on matching to those sought after skills.
Lastly, is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I am excited to see and read about successful female tech CEOs and would love to get them involved with helping more CMOs move to the CEO role. Melanie Perkins, CEO of Canva or Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild are two that come to mind.