Any tools that are leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning are also critical to automation. And there are new ones every day. It’s only going to get more sophisticated, but with that comes automation.
Asa part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with 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 or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Christina Del Villar.
Christina is a Silicon Valley marketing executive, consultant, and author with 25 years of experience at Fortune 100 companies and more than 10 startups. She has developed go-to-market and marketing strategies for exponential growth, new product launches, acquisitions and IPOs, particularly for high-growth companies where she leverages her experience and industry perspective to take them to the next level. Her book, Sway: Implement the GRIT Marketing Method to Gain Influence & Drive Corporate Strategy, is due out in early 2021.
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?
During the first Gulf War, back in the late early 90s, I was working in the Petroleum Engineering Department at Stanford as a Project Manager. One day I received a phone call from someone saying they were doing some student research on the war and implications of the war, our petroleum reserves, and more. It was the same day that my neighbor was loading up her big SUV with “Stop the war” signs for a local protest. As she drove away, I saw the “No blood for oil” bumper sticker on her SUV. I saw a lot of irony in that. So when this poor student called up to get an opinion on things, I had a lot to say. Mostly about the lack of understanding of all the products that petroleum goes into. I shared a long list, including vinyl that makes up bumper stickers, SUV car seat upholstery, the paint on protest signs, etc. I wasn’t making a plea for more petroleum usage or going to war, I was just trying to say that there was more to it than just gas. I hung up feeling pretty good about what I had relayed and thought surely I had been helpful to the person; giving them an angle they maybe hadn’t thought of before.
Imagine my surprise when I was watching CNN that night and saw a quote attributed to a “Spokesperson from Stanford University” that was verbatim what I had shared on my call earlier. Oops. Apparently, the person, while technically a college student, was actually an intern at CNN doing research on the Gulf War for an on-air report. I had a lot of explaining to do the next day when I got into the office. And while the University appreciated my views, they kindly ask that I not speak to reporters on the subject in the future. Lesson learned — always know who you are speaking with, and why.
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?
Without stating the obvious, marketing is hard. We put our hearts and souls into our programs, projects, and campaigns, and often don’t get recognized for our contributions to the overall company performance. If things go great and are successful, sales get the glory. If things aren’t going as planned or targets are missed, marketing gets the blame or gets thrown under the bus.
A tipping point for me was when I started working at Oracle. As a database company, I suddenly had access to a ton of data. Behavioral, demographic, intent, and more. Having access to this data allowed me to show my results, explain the impact marketing was having and showcase the value add.
Once I had access to data and was able to make recommendations based on the data, it made my job much easier. From then on I started focusing on the data to help me tell the story internally of marketing’s successes. But going beyond that, I think it’s important to recognize that even internally you might have different audiences. And the data and outcomes speak to these audiences differently, so you need to think about who needs to see your results, and how.
For example, while at Intacct we used to have a monthly check-in with Sales to update them on our programs and the results. We would start the presentation at the top of the funnel, sharing the number of prospects and leads, then on to MQLs, SLQs, and so on. By slide 3 the Salespeople were bored, tuned out, and getting fidgety. So much so, I don’t think they ever really heard the final outcome of closed deals and revenue numbers attributed to marketing. So I decided to flip the presentation. Start with how many deals closed and how much revenue came in from the programs and campaigns. We didn’t really even need to go back further up the funnel, simply because sales heard what they needed to hear. $$$$. This made for a good lesson in presenting only the pertinent info to my audience in a way they could understand, digest it, and was meaningful to them. It also had the added bonus of cutting the meeting time in half.
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?
I was just thinking about this today. I went to a college-prep high school, and we had a lot of cool options for courses, including some that covered different aspects of business, like econ and marketing. Pat Casey was our business teacher and ran the Junior Achievement for our school. His mentorship helped me understand my options in college and beyond. I am forever grateful for his guidance as it has led me to where I am today. And yes, the companies I was part of in Junior Achievements paid for my first few years of college.
Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
I have been doing this for over 25 years, and still love it. For me, there are always new products and offerings out there. There is new technology to make our jobs easier while making us more effective. I recommend always learning the latest, whether it’s a new tool, a new channel, a new paradigm. Also, understand what skill gaps you have and try to minimize those. Or partner internally with folks who have complementary skills and work together as a cohesive team (these folks don’t need to be in your same department). I also recommend becoming embedded in the go-to-market strategy, as this will provide you better insight into the overall goals of the company and more long-term opportunities.
And please, consider having outside interests, whether it’s reading, cooking, hiking, or my personal favorite, glassblowing. Make sure you have balance in your life.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
I am a big fan of AI and how it will ultimately help marketers automate 1:1 marketing. That way you will \, hopefully, always be sharing the right message and content at the right time to the right person. Sounds a bit big brother, but it should create a better experience for the prospect in the long run. Only giving them what they need or want when they need or want it.
All that said, I don’t think the fundamentals of marketing changed that much. You need to understand your customer and always be keeping them in mind when developing products, defining strategy, creating marketing campaigns, selling, and ultimately getting them to adopt your products or solutions.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started?
- Empower yourself. No one is going to swish a magic wand over you and say “You are now empowered. Go forth and conquer.” I admittedly waited for someone to empower me and at some point realized it was up to me to empower myself. No magic wand or pixie dust needed.
- Take control over the go-to-market strategy. A bit controversial, but I believe that Marketing should own the go-to-market strategy, including defining the product roadmap (from the standpoint of prioritization, viability, and pricing at minimum). The way it is set up now, Marketing is often not part of the go-to-market strategy, yet they are responsible for the execution and success of it. Start by understanding the customer journey, then align that with the corporate goals, and map your programs to align.
- Build influence and trust as early as possible in your career. Don’t think you need to have years of experience before you can start influencing. Find mentors, sponsors, and allies in every role and company. Focus on the corporate strategy and align your programs to these. Then share results from this perspective. And remember who your audiences are and what they want to hear and see.
- Be a storyteller. This goes without saying and we’ve all heard it ad nauseam, but it really is key to helping your prospects and customers identify with you. I work mostly with B2B companies, so this is really critical as you are building a relationship and partnership with folks for the long term.
- Own a revenue target. Trust me, it will make you a better marketer. You could even go as far as thinking about yourself and the team as a Revenue Knowledge Center. Marketing knows which programs and areas we should be investing in as well as divesting from. We know when to pivot. When a company is behind the target, who do executives go to for help? When there aren’t enough leads or pipeline or revenue, who gets called in to fix it? Who knows which programs and channels perform the best, or worst? Who can influence programs and tactics in almost every facet of the customer journey, adding value and having a huge impact? Who knows which levers can be pulled, why, and when to increase lift and conversion? Who knows how to flip a huge in-person event into a virtual event without missing a step? That would be marketing.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
- Marketing Profs. I joined this organization a long time ago. And while they do focus on B2B marketing, they develop and curate some amazing content.
- American Marketing Association. When I finished my MBA, this organization lagged with tools, techniques, and programs. But now I find them to be a wealth of amazing information, resources, and tools.
- I love Neil Patel and Eric Sui’s podcast. They have short snippets of useful information on almost any subject as it relates to marketing.
Shoutout to Neil and Eric, they are outstanding! One more before we go: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
From a marketing standpoint, the idea behind the book Sway and the G.R.I.T. Marketing method and framework is to make marketing professionals more productive, therefore increasing revenue, and ultimately increasing GDP. That would be a great goal.
Thank you for taking the time to do this and for sharing so many fantastic insights with us!