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 Matt Roberts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
I kind of fell into marketing—I was initially considering being an IT consultant. My first marketing gig involved managing and delivering a web project, which had a heavy technical focus, but it allowed me to get closer to marketing. I started to realize that marketing had a good balance of technology, creativity, and business strategy—I was sold.
The company I worked for at the time was acquired by Schneider Electric and I moved from the UK to the US. At that point I was no longer straddling the line between IT and marketing… I was 100% a marketer. I went on to take marketing leadership roles at Staples and Forrester, and from there I then moved into consulting. Last year I became CEO of Demand Spring.
What do you think was a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CEO?
This may be a little boring, but it was my realization, and understanding of the importance, of aligning marketing with the business strategy. We hear a lot about sales and marketing alignment—and don’t get me wrong, it's important—but in reality it's a small part of what is needed.
Aligning marketing with the short and long term goals (both commercial and non commercial) of your organization is critical. Doing this will allow you to be aligned with the Board and every executive in the company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think coming into the role you want to set a vision, and there is temptation to drive a lot of change all at once. It’s natural for people to want to be seen as having a strong sense of direction and tackling big things that the organization needs to get done. However, most companies don’t appreciate mass disruption.
I have learned the importance of being surgical about the areas of the business that you want to optimize; to break things down into short and long term goals in order to most effectively achieve these goals. It’s a real mindset change.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
I 1000% agree with this sentiment. I have a bit of a different approach to mentorship, networking, and support, and it has definitely helped me along the way. When I think of ‘networking’ I think of name tags and awkward events, which I am never particularly comfortable or good at.
I am a big believer that individuals should think of mentorship in the same way a company relies on their advisory board. So I have surrounded myself with different individuals who can offer me advice in different situations. I call it my advisory network. When I need advice on a people issue I go to a different individual in my network then I would go to on a financial alignment issue, for example. It's also a two-way relationship, where I give time and advice to anyone in my advisory network as well.
If I have to pick two individuals from my network who I have been working with and relying on for advice recently, it would be Mark Sullivan (former president of Market One), and Doug Bewsher (former CMO with Skype and Salesforce, and former CEO of Leadspace), who have been helping me transition from marketer to CEO.
Can you please share your favorite "Life Lesson Quote" with us? How is it relevant to you in your life?
“Calm breeds calm.”
This may not sound super inspirational, however it's so important in both leadership and business. When we are calm it calms the people around us. When people are calm they make higher quality decisions, are able to lead in a far more impactful way, and are able to focus—something that is essential in business. We have all been in organizations where leadership is frantic or angry, and it creates swirl and lack of confidence. It doesn't mean that you brush past problems—you just deal with them in a calm, focused, and productive way.
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?
- When it comes to your career, have a plan and an end in mind, and break your career goals down into a 2, 5 and 10 year vision. Someone once said to me you need to paint your own career picture or someone else will paint it for you. This is so true. How many times does an organization decide what your next career move is vs actively having a plan with you, identifying the skills and experience you need, and allowing you to seek out appropriate opportunities to get you to where you want to be. I have always taken this very seriously and have sought out what I need to get to where I want to go.
- Being an active learner. I know this is an obvious one, but we must make time to learn. I always block time on my calendar for learning—my personal preference is to read or watch a video. We are so fortunate with all the formats and availability of information today.
- Being humble and listening first. Arrogance and having a big ego is one of the worst leadership traits, and a close second to not listening. Most people would consider me a humble person, and as I look around me the people that have done their best are also humble. This doesn’t mean you hold back—you should share your experience, knowledge, and ideas with others. But listen to others and have a mindset that everyone in the room is equal. You are not more or less intelligent than everyone else in the room.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
I am always actively trying to improve. This can be anything from learning about leadership and how to be the best CEO possible, to how to leverage AI. The area I am trying to focus on now is identifying how Demand Spring can give back to the community and have a voice on certain subjects. I think organizations and brands are starting to have a voice and are being clear on what they stand for and how they give back. This is going to become more and more important moving forward.
Having reached this space, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?
- A business leader: Earlier in my marketing career I was focused solely on what was going on in my marketing team. It wasn’t until I started to focus outside the marketing team (what is the company looking to do; what is going on in my industry and the surrounding industries), that I started to be considered for larger leadership opportunities. Successful CMOs understand the company financials as well as any other executive in the C-suite, and they are able to tie what they are doing back to the health of the company.
- Effective in managing conflict: This may seem obvious, but being able to actively manage conflict is more important than ever for CMOs. We have all seen leadership where conflict is either ignored, or leadership swoops in at the last minute—neither of which are effective. As a CMO you have to be comfortable with conflict, but also ensure that it’s productive and doesn’t grind the organization to a halt or damage the culture. Because of where marketing sits, and the diverse roles within the organization, conflict can become rife. As a CMO it's your job to ensure that you not only manage conflict in a productive way, but your team does too. At Demand Spring we introduced an operating principle of, “we can disagree and discuss, but we have to agree to execute”. This helps to bring everyone back around when conflict is going on for too long.
- Creating a shared vision and a strong people manager: The organization looks to marketing for a vision to get behind—from where the organization is going, to how it will position itself in the market, to what is the organization's purpose. The ability to create a shared vision with your leadership team (and extended leadership team) is essential to getting alignment across the organization.
- Never look at marketing as a support function: This is particularly common in B2B where, without the right leader, marketing can be positioned as a support function. Always position yourself and the team as revenue driving.
- Comfortable investing in technology: Your marketing strategy is driven by technology and the content that feeds it. I have been in too many organizations that don’t invest in technology. You spend your time arguing with IT, making do with subpar technology, or using people to develop work-arounds. Solving things with technology protects you in the long term, while not doing so creates busy work and bottlenecks, and doesn’t give you the ability to scale.
Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?
Keep repeating your message and vision, and train others in your team to do this as well. You will be surprised how ineffective most leaders are at communicating to the people two layers below them in the org chart. The most effective way of doing this is to get repetition going at all layers in the organization.
Manage your time, protect your time at all costs, and make sure you or your direct reports are not the busy ones. If you are the busy one, or are measuring your performance in terms of how busy you are, I guarantee you will not last in the CMO role. Make sure you have time to think and learn, and protect your time at all costs. I remind myself of the saying, "a drowning man drowns the others around them”, when I find myself in this situation.
What are some of the main issues that other CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?
- Not aligning with the company financials. My advice here is to build a strong partnership with the CFO—there is a reason the CFO tends to be the closest executive to the CEO.
- Leveraging tech and AI. I would recommend bringing in a third party to audit and evaluate how you leverage AI and technology to reach your objectives.
- People management. People management in marketing is hard, as there are so many different types of specialists. It’s a bit like the medical field in that way. My advice is to really invest in strong people leaders as your VP’s.
- Breaking down marketing silos. This has been a problem for many years, and people try to solve it in many different ways. Hire functional leads and leverage a matrix operating model to bring the teams together and align them with a market segment.
What do you believe is the most effective way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?
Standup and commit to a revenue number, and meet it!
If you could inspire a movement for a great amount of good, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
We need to find a way to work as a society to combat divisive content and ‘fake news’, which is causing a great divide amongst people. History has shown us that great things happen when we work together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use our knowledge to build a system that allows us to share reliable information quickly and effectively, for the betterment of humanity?
Lastly, is there a person with whom you would love to have a breakfast or lunch with? He or she might just see this!
Mikel Arteta, manager and coach of Arsenal Football Club. He has done amazing things to build a team for the future; to get the most out of young players vs the old model of buying in expensive talent. There is so much we can all learn from this leadership approach, and I personally would like to understand how he managed to do this and the lessons he learned along the way.