It’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution of an idea.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Maria Pergolino.
Maria is known for building world-class go-to-market teams that drive growth, differentiation, and category leadership. She has served as a senior marketing leader for global B2B technology organizations for almost two decades and is currently Chief Marketing Officer at ActiveCampaign, the hypergrowth Customer Experience Automation platform.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
I was at a company where we were seeing an exponential return from our brand investments. We were getting ready for an event and purchased fruit that was branded with our logo to stand out in a way we thought others hadn’t seen before. And, it had the added bonus of not being the same junk food you get at every conference. It looked great — well, at least the pieces that arrived fresh. Unfortunately, dozens of pieces arrived rotten. The boxes of fruit leaked, stained, and worse, stunk. It was a terrible mess to clean up — but something we still laugh about today.
The lesson? It’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution of an idea. So often people come to marketing with a cool campaign idea, but what they don’t realize is that there’s an unlimited number of great ideas, but success comes from choosing a few of them and executing them with excellence.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
My career has had lots of growth — from coordinator to manager to director to VP to CMO, all in marketing. And I appreciate how everything I learned in each step prepared me for the next. I think that one of the things that makes me a great marketing leader is that I’ve done most roles in marketing. This doesn’t mean I can do each job as well as the team members — they specialize in each of their areas — but it allows me to have empathy for the challenges that the team faces.
My biggest successes are not my own, but rather those of the people I’ve worked with. When I see marketers that have been on my teams move into peer roles — i.e. become VPs and CMOs — it makes me feel like I’ve made a difference.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
I feel energized by my work because I can see the impact of my efforts. I believe burnout exists, but I also think that it’s sometimes mistaken for a lack of alignment within the organization that can make a team member feel like they are in a hamster wheel with no end in sight. I suggest team members compare their goals and work to the goals of the company, ensuring that they are aligned with the shared efforts of the company. Prioritizing and planning with a team toward a common goal ensures that I feel happy and successful.
Great advice. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can’t say thank you enough to the people I’ve worked with throughout my career. This starts with Matt Reid and Rhoan Morgan at Shunra who helped me get into B2B tech, to Jon Miller who invited me to join Marketo in Silicon Valley, where I could really immerse myself into B2B marketing, and to Kamal Ahluwalia (Apttus), Steven Birdsall (Anaplan), and Adam Johnson (ActiveCampaign) who are sales partners that really know the value created by strong alignment with marketing.
Less of a story, but more of a tip, that I received from one of these people, Jon Miller, is that things are rarely as good or as bad as they seem. This may sound like simple advice, but often, in the hardest times or the best times, it’s been important to not get caught up in the situation or the moment, and instead refocus on the strategic objectives and on what is going to make an impact in the long term.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
When we Google the definition of marketing, we see that it has not fundamentally changed. It is basically two things:
1. Promoting something
2. Selling something
But marketing has become more sophisticated. Just look at the search results for marketing — Google found over 2.5 billion results on the topic in less than a second. So when we say we need to be less ‘salesy,’ what we’re really saying is that we need to be smarter about our marketing, because the bar is being raised and all companies are getting more strategic, which customers now expect.
Marketing has had an ongoing evolution, with many CMOs now responsible for the overall customer lifecycle. This is because it’s costly to only focus on finding new customers — not only because of the acquisition costs but because a lost customer could tell others why they left, ultimately resulting in lots of lost business. Marketers must consider the overall customer experience as part of their work — a current, and likely to be long-term, trend.
What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?
- It all starts and stops with the customer. Customer experience is so important, not only to keep them as a customer but to ensure they spread the word. The success or failure of a company can be the difference between a 4.9 and 4.5 Yelp score. It’s not what we think we are selling or our thoughts about our brand, — it’s the customer’s view that truly matters. The saying “perception is reality” has never been more true.
- Getting to the ‘top’ doesn’t mean being in the smartest room. I thought that being a C-level executive was exciting because you’d get to be with the smartest people, but the reality is that there are smart people throughout the entire organization. The C-suite is about being able to prioritize outside of your own team’s objectives, unifying to a single vision, and serving those throughout the company.
- The winner doesn’t follow best practices, they set them. Early in my career, I thought that I would learn all of the different best practices and use that to ensure my and my company’s success. But what I found is that success comes from people that innovate and set the pace, not those that follow behind it.
- It’s up to all of us to create diversity and equality in our workplace. Early on I thought that I didn’t have to think about diversity because I was a female candidate. What I’ve learned is that diversity spans far further than our own characteristics and that it’s up to all of us to ensure inclusion for everyone. As a side note, I’ve also learned that this is much harder than it sounds and something you have to think about every day.
- The company’s success is better than any personal success. I imagine that being the best player on a losing football team doesn’t feel as good as being any one of the players on the Super Bowl-winning team. As someone who is very competitive, I’ve learned that I need to compete in my industry, not with others in my company. And that their success is my success. This approach has transformed how I work, allowing me to feel great when anyone in the company celebrates a victory — big or small.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I have helped build some of the most successful B2B tech brands of the past decade, and the one thing that fuels the dedication and energy to my craft is a phrase I constantly run through my head: “Nothing exceptional happens without doing something exceptional.” Hypergrowth rarely happens by accident. So the books and programs I turn to help motivate me and my teams to do the exceptional. Most recently, I have enjoyed the Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance,” and also love books like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom,” and Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.” I’ve also read almost every popular marketing book to try to stay sharp in what I do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Most days I wear a pin that signifies diversity and inclusion. It’s a small white pin with a black equal sign in a black circle. I had a few hundred created so that I could gift one every time someone asks me about the pin. The power of this little pin is amazing — for those around me, it’s a simple reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion. For those that don’t know what it means, it’s the spark of an important conversation with new friends about how we can build the best teams.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on LinkedIn at Maria Pergolino or on Twitter and Instagram at @InboundMarketer. And I strongly suggest following @ActiveCampaign on all your favorite channels to learn how to turn your marketing into a great customer experience.
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!