Interview with Cornelius Willis, CMO, Clari

Interview with Cornelius Willis, CMO at Clari
Cornelius Willis, CMO at Clari

“Marketing leadership, particularly revenue marketing, needs to understand technology — not just what to buy, but how to integrate it into a strategy and use it to power a marketing engine.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What made you join Clari?

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of exposure to AI and predictive technology, most recently running technical marketing for Google Cloud Platform, including its various AI and deep learning tools. Algorithms are well understood and constantly improving. But algorithms only matter if you have signal data that you can capture and apply to business.

Clari’s AI has figured out which business signals will tell if you’re going to close a deal, and how much that deal will be worth. We’re analyzing 47 million deals each day to do just that for leading companies such as Audi, Adobe, HP, Dropbox, Okta and hundreds of others. There’s nothing more powerful in business.

How do you see the MarTech landscape evolving from an IT perspective?

What’s changing is these aren’t even IT projects anymore — they are products. Got a vision for how customer usage patterns predict satisfaction and churn? There’s an app for that. Think rep activity and customer engagement can predict your sales? There’s an app for that, too — it’s called Clari. Just a few years ago these would be enormously expensive custom IT projects — now they are competitive necessities.

Does having a background in technology enable CMOs to make better marketing and buying decisions in B2B? How did it help you in your career?

Yes. Marketing leadership, particularly revenue marketing, needs to understand technology — not just what to buy, but how to integrate it into a strategy and use it to power a marketing engine. I’m a geek by nature and nurture. My father taught me to write Fortran when I was just 12 — in the days when software was written on punch cards. My willingness to tinker has been helpful, even as it is burdensome for my teammates.

How much have Marketing Operations changed since the arrival of Automation and BI/Analytics tools? How do you leverage these tools in your work?

Automation and BI/Analytics didn’t just arrive one day — more like waves of disruptive innovation landing on the marketing beach every day, and the rate of innovation isn’t slowing down, it’s accelerating. In our work, we use both historic and real-time analytics to identify targets, react to demand signals, reduce revenue risk, forecast our business. The big difference? These tools are hands-on, designed with Sales and Marketing workflows in mind. Products, not projects.

How do see companies like Adobe, Salesforce, SAP and Oracle raising the bar of Marketing and Sales in the B2B industry?

The challenge for all these application franchises is building value beyond their data silos. In the new world — the world of AI and predictive analytics — you need all the data you can get your hands on, and whoever can access the most wins in the market. Platform players need to focus on adding value to the data under their roof, and it’s not always in their interest to provide connections across platforms. That’s why the interesting innovations tend to come out of players that can bridge those silos.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

Clari, Engagio, Marketo, Outreach, Salesforce CRM, Pendo.

What are the core tenets of your business development model?  How does Clari add value to digital transformation journeys for businesses?

Our core tenet is  “sales-ready” — we’re built by sellers, for sellers. Customers love that we’ve combined a deep, nuanced understanding of sales management workflows with predictive analytics — we call it Sales Ready AI. Your team is more productive, and your revenue is more predictable.

How often do you measure the performance of your marketing analytics and sales reporting?

Constantly — switching cost is zero and there is constant innovation. We look at how easy they are to use, whether we hit our goals, and how accurately we predict our forecast.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing Operations for 2018-2020?

There is a ton of signal data being thrown off from buyer and prospect activity. Packaging that into business-ready use cases and workflows will be a game changer for sales and marketing in many industries.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Anyone doing interesting things with data — finding, applying, and packaging it into business use cases.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

We’ve run a series of campaigns focusing on how CROs lead and manage their organizations, how they can build a metrics-based revenue operation — the interest is phenomenal among both sales operations and sales management leaders.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?

I carve out time for reading and learning, and get lots of sleep. It’s really not a question of “preparing for; it’s a question of navigating and optimizing. We’re in an AI-centric world right now. Ask your phone to play Shakira’s biggest hit and then order a pizza — it’s likely to complete both tasks significantly faster than you can type. At this rate of change, your only option is to be always learning.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Because we work in a high-growth, venture-backed AI startup, people join the team to work with cutting-edge technology. No need to inspire them — they inspire me.

One word that best describes how you work.

Open — open to change, to new data, to suggestions, to feedback, to opportunities.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Google Docs, Android, Zoom, Clari.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Podcasts while driving: Sales Hacker, Masters of Scale, Demand Gen Radio, Ted Talks.

What are you currently reading?

The Overstory by Richard Powers. Typically I enjoy one book for diversion, and then sample lots of work-related texts for nuggets.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

From General Georges Doriot, legendary HBS professor and the acknowledged inventor of venture capital, by way of my father, one of his students, “Show up on time.”

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success

 There is someone someplace who can do anything better than you can, and you should consider hiring them to do it. Knowing this is the secret to my success.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Chris Lochhead. Denise Persson, CMO of Snowflake.

Thank you, Cornelius! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

As CMO of Clari, Cornelius Willis leads the marketing team for the fastest-growing predictive sales management platform for B2B sales teams. Previously, Willis led product marketing and strategic communications for Google Cloud Platform. There, Cornelius’ team launched Google’s AI product strategy, bringing to market breakthrough machine learning products, including TensorFlow, BigQuery ML, Cloud Translation API and Cloud Vision API, and debuted Google in two different Gartner leader’s quadrants. Prior to Google Cloud Platform, Willis held other senior marketing roles at BEA, Rackspace and VMware.

Clari Logo

As a team, we’re obsessed with creating software that sales people love to use. We apply artificial intelligence to solve some of the biggest challenges in running sales. We’re sellers ourselves, and we obsess over how to combine data-driven insights, sales-optimized workflows and simple user experience to make the selling process transparent and predictable.

We call this approach Sales Ready AI, and hundreds of companies use it to accurately forecast their business and make their sales teams more productive.

Our mission is to set our customers up for consistent success by creating a new selling culture powered by transparency and actionable insights. Here’s how: Sales is the most important function in every company, but sales force automation technology doesn’t provide the data sellers need to do their job. Reps don’t have time to update CRM systems, so activity and deal data is often missing or out of date. Managers are chasing facts rather than leading and coaching. In spite of billions of dollars invested, sales still generates and forecasts revenue with little visibility and insight.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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