Leadership Lessons With Dawn Colossi, the CMO at FocusVision
“I would build a global service for internships that would allow young people from anywhere the opportunity to experience and gain real work experience before heading out into the world. My internships got me my start and that’s a case for many people I know. As a sports management major, my son had an internship every summer of college and one whole semester. He worked for the NY Islanders, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Princeton University Athletic Dept and the Dallas Cowboys. None of these teams paid him but he was fortunate enough to have parents that could afford to support him while he gained this valuable experience. After college he was offered a job with the Cowboys. He wouldn’t have gotten that without the internships. But the fact is, not many young people can’t afford to do what he was able to do. That seems unfair. I believe businesses have a responsibility to invest in our young people to grow them, nurture them and give them a chance to experience first hand the opportunities out there in the world. Not only does it help us bring new, smart blood into the workforce, we can prove to those who have seen their families struggle that they have complete control over their future success. If they aren’t exposed to that or experience that, it’s only words they read in inspirational quotes on Instagram. If businesses created programs that supported their interns to live while they worked to gain experience, we’d be giving more young people an opportunity to pursue their dreams regardless if their parents could afford it. This service would include a global website where businesses would post their internships, contribute to the fund that could support travel to get to the cities of the internships, partner with the local colleges to take advantage of the empty dorms in the summer and create a mentoring program. I do believe though that the intern must earn these opportunities, whether that’s through recommendations, grades, certain number of community service hours, etc, the young person would have to qualify for such an opportunity. But I do think, it would be beneficial to the person as well as the business.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Colossi, the CMO at FocusVision — a full-spectrum insights and analytics technology solutions provider. As a strategic marketing leader specializing in digital transformation, Ms. Colossi has built an always-on customer-driven digital-experience marketing model based on data, including intent signals and digital body language, to increase revenue and market share. Ms. Colossi has been named to the Top Women in MarTech and Digital and won the SiriusDecisions ROI Award for Digital Content Marketing Strategy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve spent more than 20 years in editorial, public relations and marketing in the technology space. Technology was completely coincidental. My first job out of college was as an editorial assistant with McCall’s Magazine. I spent an entire summer reading unsolicited manuscripts, bored out of my mind. One of the other editorial assistants had gone on a job interview at Ziff Davis, the biggest technology publisher at that time. When she came back she said it was a start-up magazine about computers and she was not interested. A start up sounded like someplace I could do and learn a lot, so I said I’ll take it. She called the editor in chief, told him she wasn’t interested but knew someone who was. I had the job two days later. I’ve been in technology ever since. Everything happens for a reason, I believe. I’ve been so fortunate to spend my career in the golden age of technology. Millennials take it for granted. But at my internship at Working Woman Magazine, there were two computers on carts so the editors could file their articles but just a year later when I started working at Ziff, we all had desktops and of course now, we all carry so much more capability around in our pockets — that’s how fast business has changed since I started my career. I’ve been acutely aware of how significant technology is to our lives and that has probably driven my passion for digital transformation. Our whole lives have become digital and companies that don’t transform aren’t going to exist in 5 years. That’s where I’m focused — bringing a digital first strategy to the companies I work with.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
B-to-B marketers have traditionally been measured on “leads.” But the truth is the word “lead” has meant something completely different to the c-suite, sales and marketing. And there’s no way to give anyone what they want when you don’t all agree what that is exactly. Leads to the c-suite are names marketing gives to sales to call; to sales, a lead is someone who is ready to sign a contract; and in B-to-B marketing, we have forever put up gates in front of our content, spent money to drive people to landing pages where they fill out a form or scan badges/collect business cards at a trade show booth and called this a “lead.” No wonder the average lifespan of a CMO is about 2.5 years — no one is happy. So since my very first interview, I changed the conversation. I see it as marketing’s job to create engagement with customers, build a digital relationship and provide an easy, meaningful customer experience so they want to buy from you. Since becoming CMO, every time someone said “lead” I had a visceral reaction and explained why. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a webinar for another company to talk about digital engagement and one of the attendees tweeted something I said about content downloads, “It’s an introduction not a lead” and the CEO of my company tweeted in response, “Even I’m not allowed to say lead!”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
FocusVision helps companies bring their customer into every meeting. Modern marketers have all kinds of data available to them from website visits, to social stats, to closed loop reporting. But what we, most of the time, are missing is the people data. Our customers use our surveys to gather quantitative data, even in video format; on the qualitative side, our online focus group platform allows teams to get the right group of participants, regardless of geography, listen and watch from wherever they are and then bring the right sound bites, or video clips back to the entire organization to see and use; and our different video products allow brands to either get feedback directly from the customer in situation using mobile video or actually SEE the customers USE their products like our customer Pampers did. Pampers used our solution to understand parental decision-making and shopping experiences at the moment their children transitioned to new diaper sizes. Using this data, Pampers was able to re-evaluate diaper sizing and start growing their business again.
The benefit of capturing that feedback in video is best stated by our customer, Sam Herami, former Director of Global Customer Loyalty from eBay: “In most presentations, you are forced to help bring to life the voice of the customer through text and pictures but with this new approach, you can bring the customer into the room with you to tell their story.” See the eBay case study here.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
As a new CMO I’m bringing FocusVision through our digital transformation with a digital-first strategy. I’m focused on understanding our customers, their pain points and how we can help solve their problems so that I can build a digital engagement model that helps them find the right solution to their challenges to understand their customers whether that’s through a survey, to understand a customer’s experience or market trends or video interviews and online focus groups to ask and learn from their customers to help drive their business growth.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Your employees are by far your biggest asset. A passionate, engaged team can accomplish amazing things. When employees feel valued, heard and empowered to do their best work, they give 110%. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many companies treat their employees like commodities and believe “anyone can be replaced.” Those companies go stagnant and stop growing. Treating your employees like an asset, allowing flexibility when things in their life need attention whether it’s a school event, a sick parent or waiting for the refrigerator repairman, when you treat people like adults and allow them the flexibility to deal with what they need to, they are less stressed, more engaged as employees and willing to do anything to make the company successful. There’s always someone who will try and take advantage, that person shouldn’t work for you, let them go. That’s another mistake I’ve seen companies make. They let problems fester too long. The cliché is true: a bad apple spoils the bunch. When employees see bad behavior ignored by management, it kills morale. If there’s a problem in your rank, move quickly to take care of it.
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 tend to approach almost everything from the angle that I can learn something. So there have been countless people in my career, in leadership roles, that I’ve managed that have helped me grow and become who I am today. And, I’ve been fortunate to have had so many wonderful women as role models in my career. It’s hard to name just one. I will say that at Working Woman, I’ll never forget the Editor in Chief Kate White (later the EIC of Cosmopolitan) coming into the office with one child in a stroller and wearing her newborn in a pouch. She was on maternity leave but came in to the office for an hour with her two babies. It had such an impact on me because she was young, successful and a mother of two and instead of leaving her babies home she brought them with her. As a 20 year old, she personified the working woman the magazine talked to, juggling a family and a thriving career. She didn’t say a word to me but just seeing that had a huge impact on how I viewed my career.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Just two years into my career I became a mother and have been juggling motherhood and career though different arrangements made possible by the connected world we live in. I was one of the first moms to have a work from home arrangement because of my dial up modem. I think knowing I was “splitting my time” made me work even harder to always prove myself and break through the stereotypes. I also made choices prioritizing motherhood over my career at some points. It slowed down my trip up the corporate ladder, but I made those choices purposefully and have no regrets. When I became a hiring manager, I made it a point to hire mothers re-entering the workforce. So many women take a break for their families and then have a hard time returning to a position equal to the one they left. I saw it as part of my responsibility to help and support those mothers when I could. So I’ve hired many, many qualified mothers returning to the workforce. And I have to say I’ve never regretted it, because like me, they work hard to prove themselves. I also manage all of my folks with the mantra, “Life happens.” So no one who works for me has to freak out because the Halloween parade at school becomes a whole day event or they need to take their dad to a doctor’s appointment. It takes so much pressure off of them personally and for their family. I recognize that this may not bring goodness to the world but it does bring goodness to many many families and I believe that is important.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’m a realist, so I go into things eyes wide open. I anticipated the demands of the job but there are five things I wish someone would’ve told me:
- I wish someone would’ve told me to do this sooner. I read an article that men are more likely than women to go after the next position without worrying if they are completely qualified. Women tend to be more careful and not go after a bigger job until they are completely ready. I believe this was true in my case. When I finally resigned, I told my current boss that the truth is I should’ve done this a few years ago and he said I was right.
- The truth is you are never completely ready because there is no such thing as knowing everything you need to know. Every job is different and every move should be an opportunity to learn and acquire new skills. Otherwise, what’s the point really? I’ve been in technology and software my entire career but never in the research solutions space. I’ve learned so much about an entirely new space and wake up excited every day.
- I wish I knew about what FocusVision does — by bringing people data into your Marketing data. And it doesn’t have to be a six month project that eats up way too much of your budget. I wish I had known I could’ve established an always-on dialogue to gather feedback and sentiment from my customers easily and cost-effectively — that would’ve certainly been powerful in so many ways in my past roles. Now we use our tools to understand our customers pain points, their experience with our company and how the research they do with our solutions changes their business to create deep connections with their customers and grow their businesses.
- I wish someone would’ve told me that just because you feel you have a good situation, doesn’t mean there isn’t another really good situation out there that could be even better. For a few years, I rationalized why I was staying in my current position — it’s close to my house, I still had one child at home, I had a nice salary, I really like the people etc etc etc. This move has improved my life in every way — from a new and challenging job that keeps me learning and evolving to feeling more in control of my life. Yes, those were all good reasons to like my job but they weren’t good reasons to not take the next step in my career.
- I wish I had known I’d be so happy. For years I was in the co-pilot seat. I would watch the pressures, stresses and “injustices” my bosses would experience, and I would think, “I’m good here. Let’s them deal with the C-suite, board etc and I’m content doing really good work, mentoring my team and becoming a voice in the industry.” This mindset really kept me from going out there and finding my next big thing. This position came to me and to be completely honest, I approached it half-heartedly. In fact, I went in to NY during a Nor’easter for the interview and the weather ended up making me late for my interview. I was in constant contact with the recruiter and when I faced my final delay — a complete shutdown of several streets in downtown Manhattan, I called the recruiter and told him I should probably just cancel because there was no way anyone was going to give a job to someone who was so late and would look like a drowned rat by the time I got there. But he insisted I still show up. I had a first great conversation with the CEO but it would take a couple of more months until I finally accepted the job. I’m so happy I did.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would build a global service for internships that would allow young people from anywhere the opportunity to experience and gain real work experience before heading out into the world. My internships got me my start and that’s a case for many people I know. As a sports management major, my son had an internship every summer of college and one whole semester. He worked for the NY Islanders, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Princeton University Athletic Dept and the Dallas Cowboys. None of these teams paid him but he was fortunate enough to have parents that could afford to support him while he gained this valuable experience. After college he was offered a job with the Cowboys. He wouldn’t have gotten that without the internships. But the fact is, not many young people can’t afford to do what he was able to do. That seems unfair. I believe businesses have a responsibility to invest in our young people to grow them, nurture them and give them a chance to experience first hand the opportunities out there in the world. Not only does it help us bring new, smart blood into the workforce, we can prove to those who have seen their families struggle that they have complete control over their future success. If they aren’t exposed to that or experience that, it’s only words they read in inspirational quotes on Instagram. If businesses created programs that supported their interns to live while they worked to gain experience, we’d be giving more young people an opportunity to pursue their dreams regardless if their parents could afford it. This service would include a global website where businesses would post their internships, contribute to the fund that could support travel to get to the cities of the internships, partner with the local colleges to take advantage of the empty dorms in the summer and create a mentoring program. I do believe though that the intern must earn these opportunities, whether that’s through recommendations, grades, certain number of community service hours, etc, the young person would have to qualify for such an opportunity. But I do think, it would be beneficial to the person as well as the business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou. As a leader, I want those around me to feel excited, empowered and inspired. There’s nothing worse than talking to a “Debbie downer” and walking about defeated and asking yourself, “what’s the point?”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Oprah, I mean who doesn’t want to go and have a private conversation with Oprah?
Also, would love to sit down and talk to Diane Keaton, Candice Bergman, Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg and Lesley Jane Seymore — the former editor of More Magazine and founder of the Covery Club. All of these women seem to gain strength as they mature — and have a great sense of humor. I’d like to have a cup of tea, get into a deep conversation about our roles as women — leaders, caretakers, mothers, lovers, daughters, aunts, friends, activists etc — and then laugh until one of us spits the tea out of our noses.
Originally published at medium.com