Q&A with Marketing Leaders: Tricia Gellman, CMO at Drift

Tricia Gellman CMO of Drift InfiniGrow Q&A interview
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We’re back with another edition of Q&A with Marketing Leaders, our series designed to provide B2B SaaS marketing leaders with the best insights and actionable tips on how to improve their marketing planning by learning from best marketers in the industry.

We have a special Q&A for you today!

We sat down with Tricia Gellman, the new CMO at Drift to get her perspective on marketing planning and how she approaches planning from a tactical angle.

Drift is the Conversational Marketing platform that combines chat, email, video, and automation to remove the friction from business buying. With Drift, you can start conversations with future customers now, on their terms — not days later. There are over 50,000 businesses that use Drift today to generate more revenue, shrink sales cycles, and make buying easy. Our mission is to use conversations to make business buying frictionless, more enjoyable, and more human.

Tricia is the CMO of Drift. She has over 20 years of marketing experience and has a proven track record of building brands and leading change at companies like Apple, Adobe, Salesforce and Checkr. Before joining Drift, Tricia held the CMO role at Checkr, where she built out the marketing leadership team, created the operations foundation and rebranded the company — repositioning it from a background check provider to a multi-product, People Trust Platform. Prior to Checkr, Tricia spent 9 years at Salesforce (NYSE: CRM), where she cut her teeth in product marketing, established the demand generation function – linking sales and marketing together at the company for the first time – and rose to the role of CMO of Salesforce Canada.

How did you originally get into marketing?

Funny story actually.

I originally started my career in graphic design because, as a natural problem solver, I loved solving problems visually. The Macintosh computer was really starting to become the way that people did graphic design and I was invited to go work at Apple as an evangelist to help them get more graphic designers to use the Mac.

At the time, Apple wasn’t doing great. Steve Jobs wasn’t back yet as CEO and they were undergoing reorganization every 3 months! I got there a month and a half into the cycle so, after 6 weeks, they’re like “Oh yeah, you’re not an evangelist anymore. You work in Marketing”. I literally went home and cried. I thought evangelist was the best role ever and marketing was just branding and fluff. I didn’t get how marketing could solve problems and have a real impact. I did love Apple though so I decided to stay and give marketing a shot.

I quickly realized that connecting with and listening to customers, messaging and positioning are the things that marketing is really about and it allowed me to kind of be at the center of everything. When I went to work with the product teams and outbound messaging teams, I realized that I could also use my creativity and my problem-solving skills in the role. I ended up building my marketing career from that.

Do you think that your original background in graphic design helps you today in some way?

For sure.

Brand is becoming such a large part of marketing. Coming from a creative background has really helped me connect things like messaging, look and feel, behaviors, etc. together.

Why did you choose to join to Drift?

After Apple, I ended up working for Adobe and Salesforce where I learned the importance of the connection between Sales and Marketing.

At Salesforce, one of the things that I worked on was connecting sales and marketing and creating the entire demand gen function. I came to realize that, with my storytelling skills, I had the ability to communicate well to salespeople. A lot of marketers don’t really understand how to get into the heads of sales and I truly believe that you can’t be successful as a marketer if you can’t understand the incentives, structure and reason for being of your sales team because, unless you are B2C, Sales and Marketing is 100% connected.

As a marketer, I am really passionate about the relationship between sales and marketing and I believe that Drift is redefining that relationship. I am also passionate about brand building and I think Drift has done an amazing job of building a great brand. For me, joining Drift was all about following my passion and coming to work for a great company where I can have fun every day.

What’s the best marketing advice that you’ve gotten that’s really affected your career?

Tough question. It’s hard to go back and think of all the things.

Because I kind of fell into marketing, a lot of people who have given me advice weren’t necessarily marketers. A lot of them were actually trained engineers who fell into marketing, kind of like David Cancel.

The first thing that comes to mind is what I learned from Susan Prescott, who was the VP of Product at InDesign. Its initial launch was a massive failure. She constantly went to the board and other leaders in the company, essentially putting her career on the line, to explain why it was a great product and why the company should continue to invest in it despite its setbacks. What I learned from that is it’s worth fighting for the things that you believe in. At the end of the day, if you don’t work on something that you are passionate about, it will be reflected in your work. At the same time, you need to pick your battles. You don’t want to fight for little things every day but if it’s something that you really feel is important and critical, it’s worth the fight.

Another, more practical lesson I learned was when I was at Salesforce. They were having a challenge because as they grew into the enterprise space, small businesses were thinking “this is not for me.” The Head of Sales at the time, Hillary Koplow-McAdams, requested that the CMO assign somebody to rethink how they were marketing to small businesses. I learned that you can have the best launch, amazing messaging and a great growth plan, but if you don’t have a partnership with sales and think operationally about how you can turn all those things into pipeline and deals, you’re never going to see the success and growth of your company.

As CMO, how have you seen your role change over time?

Marketing, especially at a B2B software company, has dramatically changed throughout my career.

The CMO of today needs to really think about how to connect the artistic side of marketing to the scientific side, specifically how to connect the brand and the emotion to the data. It’s all about finding the right balance between them. If you can’t look analytically at the business while still doing creative, innovative things, it’s hard to be successful these days.

I also think that marketing is starting to play a larger leadership role within the organization and helping to unify things like sales, product and customer success.

In your perspective, what are the most important skills for a marketing leader to have?

The best CMOs are those that can function in a multi-dimensional way.

Right now, there is a lot of discussion of “what’s happening with the CMO role?” and “what’s the average lifecycle of a CMO”?

I think part of the challenge is that there are a lot of CMOs who are not multi-dimensional. You’ll have an early-stage company and they’ll say “oh, the first thing is we need to establish our brand” so they’ll get a CMO who is amazing at branding. But then, they’ll get to a point where its “oh, our growth is tapering off, we need to figure out how to refuel our funnel” or “oh, we have our premium model and now we want to sell to enterprise”. The CMO of now and the future needs to be adaptable and multi-dimensional.

So, in your perspective, that may be one of the main reasons why the tenure of CMOs is so short? Companies are changing and most CMOs specialize in one area or are not adaptive enough to fit into the new way their company needs to or is growing into?

Yes. 100%

Companies don’t want to invest in a marketing leader every few years to fit their current stage. They want a multi-dimensional leader who is capable of handling numerous stages of growth. They want their leadership team to be more consistent.

Interesting. OK, so what’s your biggest challenge in terms of marketing planning?

I think the biggest challenge today is the massive amount of data that needs to be analyzed.

There is a lot of data. You need to be able to look at your data but not get overwhelmed by it, and clearly identify the most critical for your business. Essentially, you need to find what really matters. Is it leads? Pipeline? What is it that you need to focus on? Are you really picking the right thing?

But at the end of the day, you can’t get too lost in the number –and that can be a hard thing to do.

What’s your process for creating goals and KPIs for your marketing team?

For me, there are two components.

The first component is figuring out the goals of the business and understanding how marketing fits into the delivery of those goals. Also, you have to ask, “what is the capacity of marketing?” By capacity, I don’t mean the number of people on the team. It’s more about the mix of data that we already have. If we say “we’re going to do an event and that event is going to deliver $20 million in pipeline”…that’s great, but if our past history says we do events and they deliver $5 million in pipeline, we don’t have a $20 million capacity. Either we are doing something wrong or it’s not the right return on the tactic.

The second thing is that the goals need to be created in a way that helps motivate your entire marketing team. If you can succeed in building your goals in a way that Product Marketers, PR, Designers, etc. can all see that their goal has high visibility within the company and also directly contributes to your overall revenue goal, you’ll do a much better job of having everyone sign on for the journey and thinking about how they grow the company.

After creating your budget, how often do you go back to check it, revise it and/or adjust it?

I like to set the strategy for the year based on our goals. Because everything changes so quickly and we are focused on fast growth, I generally set out the first 6 months. What are we going to do in our first 6 months? What are our priorities? Who are we going to go after? Once we have that, we’ll build integrated campaigns around it. Maybe we decide to spend the majority of our time focusing on reaching VPs of Demand Generation. Somewhere along the way, you may see a need to address other opportunities and issues and decide something like “we need to do a 4-day event for customers to improve engagement and reduce churn.” That’s why I plan out the first 6 months of the year and schedule reviews on a weekly and monthly basis — because something may have happened and you need to change things around.

So you even revise on a weekly basis?

For sure.

On a weekly basis, we will review the messaging where exactly we are putting our investments. We might say “ok, so we are going for VPs of Demand Generation and will put X% of our budget on direct action digital.” Maybe after 3 weeks, we see that it’s not working. So we’ll ask – Is it our messaging? Is it the channel? We’ll tweak some things around. And maybe after a month, we may decide “okay, these people that we thought hung out over here, they don’t” and need to change course. That’s fine too.

What do you use to quantify what’s actually working and what isn’t?

It pretty much boils down to campaigns in Salesforce, which allow us to measure what’s coming in and what is converting. We’ll look at the source of the campaign and then track it all the way down through the funnel.

What advice do you have for other marketing leaders looking to improve how they plan and how they strategize?

So three things…

The first one may be controversial but, in the beginning, you want to get as many diverse opinions as possible. Try and get outside of your own head. Being open-minded and recognizing that different ideas exist and that there are different ways to approach things will broaden your approach. I’m not saying that your plan needs to be built for everyone or make everyone happy, but their thoughts and opinions are important to account for.

The second thing I’d say is that you need to view data as your friend. Find the most competent person to help you with it, dig into your data and embrace the insights that it provides. It will help guide you towards a better plan and strategy.

The third thing is to remove your silos within your marketing organization. Don’t just create plans for PR, Demand Generation, Customer Marketing, etc. You want to make sure you have a solid overall marketing plan and strategy and have each of the different components of Marketing create tactics that work in unison within the overall plan and strategy.

Which other CMO would you like to get their perspective on marketing, planning, budgeting and strategy?

Good question!

I think it would be someone like the CMO of Target, Rick Gomez.

It’s obviously a B2C thing but I really like what they’re doing. It’s a commodity and they are doing a great job of differentiating themselves in a commodity market. I’d love to see how they plan because their margins are pretty small. It would be super interesting to see behind their planning and understand how they balance everything and approach innovation in the cut-throat, retail market.

You can follow Tricia on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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