MarTech Interview with Johann Wrede, CMO at Xactly

Johann Wrede, CMO at Xactly joins MarTech Series for a candid chat to talk about a few CMO best practices and what B2B marketers need to focus on more to drive buyer engagement and customer value:


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Johann, tell us more about your marketing journey, what led you to your current role as CMO at Xactly?

My marketing journey started off as anything but. After college I started as a developer building database applications. I wound up doing a CRM implementation which set me up for a move into CRM pre-sales and eventually into sales. Selling was fun, but I missed the creative problem solving of pre-sales so I took a CRM solution consulting job at SAP.  A few years later I got my first exposure to marketing when I was working to bring SAP Business ByDesign to market. Then, 16 years into my career, I was offered the chance to try my hand at CRM product marketing and from there it was pretty clear that marketing is what I was meant to do.

As a marketer, I moved from covering a single product to marketing a portfolio, then to leading a product marketing team, then a divisional corporate marketing team and then a series of large global teams covering content, events, and brand. My ‘marketing journey’ has been well rounded and I was fortunate to have great teachers and mentors to help me deeply understand the practice of marketing and to forge my own philosophy.

Spending all of those years focused on CRM, I understand how the systems work and where the gaps are for salespeople…this led to me Xactly, Xactly offers the kind of solutions that I wish I had when I was in sales and business development. So when the opportunity came up to use my expertise to help Xactly scale, I jumped at the opportunity.

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What are some of the top factors that you feel in-coming CMOs need to keep in mind when setting up new martech tools-salestech tools or processes within a new company and team?

It’s an understatement to say that marketing leaders face some pretty unique challenges right now. With everything happening in the world around us – global pandemics, natural disasters, political conflict – our jobs are complex.  We’re trying to attract attention both as employers and as solution providers in a crowded, noisy, disrupted marketplace.

As an incoming CMO my focus is squarely on setting up long-term revenue growth by delivering a resilient opportunity pipeline. I’m not just trying to overcome today’s challenges, but also the ones over the horizon. The tools and processes that I’m most interested in are focused on providing visibility, predictability and profitability.

This is also true of our sales organization, as we are tightly aligned in our revenue growth strategy and our processes and systems interlock – a key factor to consider when establishing anything new. Are you looking at a common data set and agree on benchmarks? How do you align marketing planning and sales planning? Are you set up to create the kind of demand that sales reps can close?  We’re fortunate to use our own technology for planning, forecasting and compensation. With it, I can build my strategy based on visibility into an incredibly accurate sales forecast and 16-years of sales behavior benchmark data.

For marketers and advertisers of today who are at the cusp of having too much martech and too little creativity in their outreach and overall marketing tactics, what are some best practices you’d share with them?

One of our sales leaders used to play professional baseball and we were talking about how much that sport has turned to statistics in player recruitment, which has resulted in players who don’t ‘look like’ traditional baseball players. I feel like marketing needs to take the same approach: use data to be creative instead of just to optimize tactics. Put all of that martech to work helping you find unconventional inspiration in the numbers. Test and measure lots of creative approaches and the data will guide you. After all, as marketers we aren’t really competing with the companies that our business competes with, we’re competing with cat videos on YouTube, text strings with memes about getting old, and the endless string of news stories on vaccines, floods and fighting.  

Can you talk about some of the top internal struggles and issues creative-marketers and B2B marketing teams still face today and how in your journey have you helped alleviate these common everyday-marketing problems?

The biggest struggle is to articulate differentiated positioning.  The market is crowded and it’s hard to stand out, even if what you have to offer is truly unique.  How do you explain your value proposition so succinctly that someone can get it right away?  I’ve addressed this by focusing on language, tone and storytelling in every aspect of marketing creative. It’s often been something that hasn’t come naturally to the teams I’ve led, but once they got it the results were unmistakable.

Another internal struggle that I’ve often dealt with is the ‘journey to consensus.’ The process where there are so many people providing input that the output winds up being either confusing, vague or uninspiring. I’ve overcome this by increasing agility so that we’re running a lot of different campaigns at once.  This reduces the number of stakeholders served by any one thing, simplifying the process and strengthening the work.

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Tell us more about your role at Xactly and how you plan to drive the brand marketing initiatives; a few things we can start looking forward to as users? 

As CMO, my role is to align all of Xactly’s marketing and communications activities with our vision and business goals. We have an ambition to strengthen the global economy by helping companies achieve sustainable long-term growth.  As marketers we need to illuminate that path to growth for our audiences. And as I see it, every one of the activities we undertake in that process falls into the category of ‘brand marketing’ because everything we say and do reflects on our brand.

Central to my approach is the idea that the campaigns and content that we put into the market need to be authentic, credible and illustrate how intelligent revenue (revenue that is resilient, predictable and profitable) drives sustainable, long-term business growth regardless of market factors. To achieve this, you can expect us to put our customers’ successes – many of which are dramatic – in the spotlight. We will also be doing more work to share the knowledge of our experts on topics across sales forecasting, planning and compensation because our audiences want to understand the ‘how and why’ of the processes and technology behind those successes so that they can replicate the outcomes in their organizations.

A few thoughts on the future of martech and B2B marketing? Some top skills you feel marketing leaders need to strengthen in today’s environment?

The future of B2B marketing is one of consumerization. B2B marketers have traditionally talked to ‘buyers’ as though they are the corporations that they represent.  The language has been too jargon-filled, complicated, and unfortunately, generally about ‘the value of my product’ instead of ‘knowledge to support your success.’ Just as the most successful salespeople become trusted advisors by challenging business leaders to think more transformationally, marketers must understand where the individual is in their journey and support them with the knowledge, insight and ideas that will elevate their thinking.

It is this marketing transformation that will drive the skills and technology that marketing leaders need to invest in. On the skills side, marketers need to focus professional growth in three key areas:

  • Become effective storytellers who communicate clearly and crisply to catch and hold the audiences’ attention.
  • Build more empathy for the customer so that they can speak to them from a place of understanding
  • Build product knowledge so that their work is influenced by concrete connection between application and outcome rather than the abstract ‘value proposition’ of the solutions being marketed.

On the technology side, we need to take a step back and ask whether it makes sense to continue to think about martech in isolation. As adoption of the revenue operations model increases, we need to be thinking about tools more holistically in order to break the silos between marketing, sales, finance and HR. Marketing, as the owner of the brand experience, should be seeking better tools to divine intent and directly connect it with audience engagement. Being able to dynamically optimize content and experiences for the journey (through marketing, sales, services, support and customer success) that the individual wants to have will significantly increase trust and reduce waste. A “revenue operations tech” approach would also provide marketing with a much better, more detailed view of the ideal customer by considering behavior in a sales cycle, during implementation, in steady-state use, during renewal, etc. This would enable a far more detailed model for lead scoring, which would drive up lead quality and reduce the costs associated with unsuitable leads.

Some last thoughts and takeaways?

There has never been a more exciting time to be a B2B marketer.  We have powerful tools that enable us to create personalized experiences that were limited to our imagination just a few years ago. We have more credibility with our peers on the leadership team. We have bigger budgets because the value we deliver is being recognized. Even the pandemic, as challenging as it has been, has given us permission to re-invent the way we market in a more human and authentic way. I am excited about the future of the CMO role and the potential that AI, Robotic Process Automation and other new technologies have to streamline work and drive meaningful brand engagement at scale.

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Xactly helps thousands of companies and millions of sellers globally beat their revenue targets. Using Xactly’s solutions, leaders look past the current quarter to create long-term growth. Xactly’s Intelligent Revenue Platform marries AI and 16 years of data in easy-to-use applications. It’s the only solution that aligns seller behavior with boardroom strategy to create a resilient, predictable, and profitable business. 

Johann Wrede is CMO at Xactly. Wrede spent 14 years at SAP, where he held multiple leadership positions, including Global SVP Marketing, Head of Global Events, and Head of Corporate Marketing. Wrede has over 20-years of experience scaling high-growth organizations. 

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