MarTech Interview with Sarah Kennedy, CMO at Marketo

MarTech Interview with Sarah Ellis, CMO, Marketo

“Savvy marketers should focus on finding opportunities or new challenges where AI can uniquely provide a new type of solution or answer.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into Marketing Technology. What inspired you to be part of Marketo?

Marketo was always ‘the’ dream job for me, or really any CMO who grew up in B2B marketing and technology as I did. It was the biggest shock and blessing to have the opportunity to join such an incredible company, brand, team, and a community filled with so much passion for the product and its purpose – to serve the marketer better than anyone in the world. And today, nearly two years after first walking down the purple halls of Marketo’s headquarters in 2017, I am lucky enough to get to lead a team of world-class marketers who are fearlessly focused on helping B2B marketers drive business impact more significantly than ever before.

Before joining Marketo as CMO, I spent ten years at Sabre, a company serving an industry that I love – travel and hospitality. I learned more in a decade there than I ever could have imagined when I started as an intern. By the time I reached my ten-year anniversary, having become one of the youngest executives at the company, I knew that to fully round out my experience, I had to diversify and make myself uncomfortable again for the sake of learning something entirely new. I needed to prove to myself, I could take on an entirely new challenge and succeed.

At Marketo, I found the most exciting challenge of my career to date. As a marketer, I know how critically important it is to engage, empathize, and truly understand both the joy and the pain our customers face each day. And to do that for other marketers was one of many reasons the job was undeniably appealing to me. Add the genuine passion and talent of the entire Marketo team for supercharging the success of marketers around the world, along with the most passionate and powerful community of customers in B2B technology that I’ve ever encountered – known as the Marketing Nation – and together this created one of the most special, unique roles I could have experienced as a CMO. And honestly, that’s what continues to motivate and encourage me daily. So many marketers bet their careers on Marketo and being a steward of that is a tremendous honor.

Since becoming part of Adobe, how much have your marketing strategies transformed to benefit your customers and technology partners?

One of the most powerful things each of these businesses uniquely bring together is an unrivaled commitment to serving the needs of digital storytellers and marketing innovators better than anyone in the world. And throughout the process of bringing our organizations together, one constant was the shared priority of ensuring that our customers would be our North Star, guiding every decision we made. Nearly seven months after the acquisition, that focus has remained unchanged and has even increased. I was able to share my excitement both with customers and my team throughout the process, because Adobe is sincerely committed to the mission and vision of Marketo, our customers, products, and solutions, allowing us to differentiate on empathy, understanding, and technology innovation. And as we continue to innovate, while leveraging Adobe’s scale to reach new geographies, verticals, and an existing enterprise customer base representing nearly all of the Fortune 500, our potential to serve every marketer’s needs is truly unlimited.

More specifically, the integration of Adobe Marketing Cloud’s industry-leading Experience Delivery, Personalization, and Analytics solutions with the lead management and account-based marketing capabilities of Marketo Engage now help marketers orchestrate unforgettable experiences across every dimension of B2C and B2B use cases. And this is all with enterprise-grade scale, simplicity, and ease.

Tell us about your preparation to tackle challenging activities in B2B technology and enterprise software marketing?

Marketers today face a number of challenges including delivering compelling experiences, gaining a single view of the customer or account, aligning with sales on day-to-day processes to drive revenue, data privacy, and more. That’s why it is crucial for marketers to share their stories of success, and more importantly, the failures they’ve learned from along the way. The bravest thing many of us can do is be honest and vulnerable about how imperfect we find ourselves as leaders or in our work as marketers. But the reality is that someone else is struggling every day with the same fear, and sharing openly is the single most powerful and transformative decision any of us can make in our careers. Sharing our concerns and overcoming them together makes us collectively and individually stronger and better.

Marketo goes through many of the very same challenges our own customers and their marketing teams are facing. But that gives us a uniquely honest point-of-view regarding the challenges our customers are facing and gives us the ability to share what we’ve learned from our experiences and others along the way. In fact, anytime my team and I are faced with a tough decision, hit a creative wall, or face a moment of doubt, the one thing that has never failed us is to lean hard into the voice of our customers. We stay connected to them daily. That’s why we never miss a chance to remind other marketers: The customer is always the answer.

What is the current state of Behavioral Analysis? How much of this state has evolved with the maturity of AI and Bigdata Management?

Machine learning and AI have evolved the way we conduct Behavioral Analysis. In the past couple of years, we were introduced to third-party intent data, which provides a broader view of activity, including more ‘early warning’ signals. We have also seen a shift from rule-based triggers solely based on behaviors to intelligent detection and action against thousands of signals across large quantities of data. The result of this evolution gives us the ability to provide rich, compelling interactions across each step of the buyer’s journey at scale.

Does Behavioral/Intent Analytics impact account-based marketing and orchestration? If yes, how?

Absolutely. At the end of the day, marketing isn’t just about names, leads, or accounts. It’s about one human connecting with another. And sometimes many humans collectively signal the readiness, need, or challenges facing an account that our solution can solve. At Marketo, we take an account-based approach to Marketing Orchestration, which allows us to consider all factors and behaviors at play when designing a personalized, more relevant, and thus effective engagement strategy. The communications are based on persona or role within the buying committee, individual and collective account background, buying stage, and much more, so understanding behaviors along with demographic and firmographic insights are crucial to deliver optimal value to the right contact, at the right time, at scale.

How do you build and grow the influence and credibility of ABM technology? Who do you huddle with from the industry to discuss these influencers?

Marketo has always been seen – long before I started as CMO – as one of the top thought leaders and a resource for cutting edge insight on the latest trends in marketing, as well as training and talent development materials to help make those insights actionable. Our focus on ABM has been a cornerstone of that thought leadership. And even though the industry is still in the early stages of ABM adoption and maturity, the interest remains high and continues to grow at an impressive rate.

For example, our Definitive Guide to Account-based Marketing is one of our most popular pieces of content this year, with Predictive Content and Marketing Analytics as other top areas of interest. We also work closely with our LaunchPoint partners to make sure our customers have the tools and services they need to make their ABM strategy successful. Additionally, I’ve never been more inspired by any customer community than the Marketing Nation, which collectively views it not only as a duty but more so an opportunity to give back to others by providing free training and education to pay it forward to other marketers.

Tell us about your go-to strategies to support rapid growth, lessons learned through periods of massive shift and transition.

Hire ahead of the need. When you think your team is perfect, you probably should be looking even further ahead to the need you will have next. Also, I find the most powerful outcomes my team produces are when they are connected to a single, motivating purpose, even if the team is small and challenged to do something that feels impossible. That’s when real creativity, support, and the effort to go the extra mile take a team’s work from pretty good to inspiring. My team shines when they have a passion for a shared purpose. Marketing Nation Summit is always the most prolific example of this each year, but other examples include the global Marketo rebrand, the overhaul, and upgrade of the Marketo instance at Marketo, and – of course – the history-making acquisition by Adobe. Through all of this change, the consistent shining light we point ourselves to when things get hard and when days get long – are our customers. We make every decision to deliver amazing experiences to our customers. It is not only our duty but our honor, and we have anchored our entire 2019 strategy around that North Star with pride.

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

Well, the first that comes to mind is no shocker – Marketo Engage. We are one of the heaviest users of our own solution. We learned a lot last year about the rest of our MarTech stack by re-architecting our instance. Now, we are in the process of implementing a similar, but arguably even better, world-class instance across all of Adobe. We have multiple staples across our own stack from ON24 and Bombora to Mintigo, LeanData, Alyce, and many more. We also have a special innovation layer in our stack, where we introduce innovative new technologies. We frequently invest in tools we trialed through that innovation stack. A good example of this is Drift, which we implemented last year to support conversational marketing via intelligent chatbots and personalized engagement on our top-performing channel,

We’ve invested even more in Drift since we implemented their solution last year, and we just announced an industry-first ‘Conversational ABM for Marketo Engage’ integration, enabling enhanced personalization with any visitor to your site from an account.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in AI and Content Curation technology for 2019-2020?

We’ll continue to see the expanded use and maturation of content recommendations in real-time, leveraging large volumes of data to drive predictive and surgical outcomes over time. Adaptive audience selection is the next big opportunity for marketers – using data and models to automate the selection and targeting of audiences to achieve specific campaign goals. And beyond that, I’m still optimistic we’re not too far out from not only marketing automation but spend optimization and return on marketing investment. Why can’t a marketer finally take a day off, come back and find their campaign got smarter throughout the day, all without human intervention but instead from technology intelligently observing and optimizing campaigns continuously to get closer and closer to desired outcomes? The more data our platform processes and leverages to refine and enhance the most important work every marketer does, less time is spent on the most tedious tasks.

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

I have an unhealthy obsession with startups and am guilty of probably being one of the most frequent AngelList visitors over the years just to see if there’s anything cool enough to sign up for the free trial. These days, I often see a myriad of variations of AI-driven everything. And I like how many attempts are out there, honestly, not because most, if any of them, are good attempts, but because the attempts are necessary to get to the one in 100 startup ideas or concepts that succeeds. I’ve seen a lot of intelligently outsourced SDR teams designed for SMB and mid-market companies, which seem to be gaining some traction, as well as new automated and on-demand analytics tools. These aren’t groundbreaking capabilities, but they are still in urgent, dire, and painful need to be solved for, which is why we have and will continue to see a deluge of attempts to get it right – especially in the on-demand analytics space – for years to come.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Marketing Leader?

Savvy marketers should focus on finding opportunities or new challenges where AI can uniquely provide a new type of solution or answer. How can AI make us smarter as a marketing organization about real-time pivots we should make or spend we should shift or media cycles we should bow out of to maximize return on every dollar spent? This will continuously get easier, more seamless, and impactful for marketers who look for small ways every day where AI can make something just slightly better here and there. Over time the rapidly advancing technology continues to become democratized and applied across every corner of our marketing functions and teams, adding up to significant productivity and performance gains. Oh, and you better start recruiting for the right type of critical thinkers and analysts today who can help implement and capture value from emerging technologies like AI. Not only will your tech stack benefit, but every member of your team will be equipped with the tools and support of these recruits who will help us leverage AI daily.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

I constantly tell my teams not to be afraid to experiment, to fail as long as they take the time to reflect, learn, and improve every time. The only failure is an attempt that you failed at and never bothered to learn from or improve as a result of experiencing. The same goes for testing out new technology. If my team believes there is something special, potentially valuable in a new way of doing things, I’m always willing to trial it.

One word that best describes how you work.


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

Marketo (of course!), iMessage, Slack, Drift, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Microsoft Excel (boring, but crucial 30-50x daily), and Instagram to laugh a few times at senseless videos of French bulldogs or my latest obsession, #Chiitan.

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

Not sleeping. Just kidding. That’s a terrible idea for your health. This is going to sound weird, and these days it’s the thing I am least inclined to do in my digital obsession; If there’s a complicated problem to solve, the best solution is picking up the old school phone. In 10 minutes on the phone with a peer, I can get through what would typically take 10-12 painfully crafted emails with spreadsheets or slides attached. Often, the harder the problem, the faster your voice is at resolving it.

What are you currently reading?

My Inbox… and it gets zero stars. Not a page-turner. In all seriousness, I’ve recently downloaded 8-10 new books and haven’t jumped in yet, but it’s been too long since I’ve read just for fun. So first up, I’m a few pages into ‘Turning the Flywheel’, and I also plan to start a random selection this weekend, ‘On Grand Strategy’. If either of those bore me, I’ll probably flip over to a good ‘ole fiction business book that I do enjoy, like a nerd, ‘Leader Shifts’, by John C. Maxwell.

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

Jump first, then find your parachute on the way down.

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

Telling authentic, visually rich stories to connect with people any time I had the opportunity to present on stage or in any meeting. And in fact, I was able to do that thanks to what is today known as the Adobe Creative Cloud – I was (and still am) addicted to Photoshop and Illustrator.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Dave Gerhardt, VP, Marketing at Drift.

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

Sarah Kennedy serves as the Chief Marketing Officer of Marketo. Sarah started at Marketo in October of 2017. Sarah currently resides in Greater Denver Area.

marketo logoMarketo, an Adobe company, offers the leading Engagement Platform that empowers marketers to build brand value, grow revenue, and prove impact. Consistently recognized as the industry’s innovation pioneer, Marketo is the trusted platform for thousands of CMOs thanks to its scalability, reliability, and openness. To learn more about the Marketo Engagement Platform, LaunchPoint® partner ecosystem, and the vast community that is the Marketing Nation.

[mnky_heading title=”MarTech Interview Series” link=”|||”]

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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