Maura Ginty: “Hold systems accountable”

Know both the organization and the customer well. It’s easy to get siloed and to start feeling very protective about your work, but the path to becoming an executive requires leaving behind hyper-specialization and putting the customer’s needs at the heart of everything you do. As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I […]

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Know both the organization and the customer well. It’s easy to get siloed and to start feeling very protective about your work, but the path to becoming an executive requires leaving behind hyper-specialization and putting the customer’s needs at the heart of everything you do.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maura Ginty.

Maura Ginty is a seasoned SaaS marketing executive with over two decades of experience fusing storytelling with revenue growth for pioneering organizations in the technology and travel spaces. As CMO of Mode Analytics, Ginty has revamped the company’s go-to-market strategy, messaging and positioning, leading to a 9x increase in marketing-sourced pipeline. Prior to Mode, she led marketing innovation at Autodesk, built marketing teams at various B2B software companies, and formed Bridge & Maeve Consulting, where she served as a fractional CMO and marketing advisor for dozens of businesses. She believes that true category creation comes from exceeding customer expectations, one targeted segment at a time.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I began my career in marketing back in the ’90s. My very first job was at a news publication called, and part of the job was to research topics and identify trends, but it was also so early in the days of digital content that I had to learn to write front-end code in order to publish and produce content. Luckily, I have enough of a combination of left brain/right brain to be able to look at the code components and also write really quickly. That job helped me to learn to get past hurdles fast, produce content and generally be adaptable. It gave me the opportunity to see how people were looking at analytics, content and messaging, partnerships and operations, which have been constant themes in my career. By being rooted in the technical and the story, I ended up tripping into a view of product/market fit that helped me to become a good marketing lead.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I first started at Mode Analytics, I walked into the first two weeks of a major product launch, and the company had done enough beta research to know that the messaging wasn’t landing with customers. The entire marketing plan was being outlined and run through Slack. It was one of those classic startup situations in which the team was incredibly thoughtful and brilliant, yet some other areas were in very early stages. And it’s something you see a lot in early stage startups, where they are very sophisticated in certain ways, yet challenged by the absence of some of the basic elements in unfamiliar terrain.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is actually a question that I often ask people when I’m interviewing to hire for demand generation positions, because in that discipline it’s gotten to a point where it’s easy to become an accountant. We know what the revenue targets and KPIs are, so it’s easy to do the math to figure out exactly how many leads need to be generated. But that doesn’t really help you to learn more about the important characteristics of your audience, and determine the right channels for reaching them. These core issues don’t necessarily surface, as long as you are hitting your sales numbers.

Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made have to do with simply turning the wrong channel or campaign off. In the world of data-driven marketing, we’re always striving for true multi-touch attribution and want to achieve a level of sophistication in terms of how all the components work together. But at some point, someone is going to ask you to turn something off, due to budgetary or other reasons. If you’re not watching the network effect, you hit the off switch and wonder why you’re not hitting early numbers. In the marketing biome, everything is interdependent, so it’s critical to keep the right comprehensive view.

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?

There are people who have played important roles for me as friends, teammates and mentors and I appreciate all of them tremendously. Some people have changed seats between the three categories. For example, I have many friends who are wonderful marketers, and I am always learning from them, and in a certain decision or challenge they have taken on the role of mentor where they know more than me. Another twist on mentors is the people who will push you, or come in and tell you the mistakes that you’re making, which can be incredibly valuable.

We all need to turn to different people for help on different sets of problems. I have mentors who have provided guidance at times, and I’m humbled if they come back to me later for advice on any topic. And I make an intentional distinction between mentors and sponsors — a mentor is someone who will give you advice, but a sponsor is someone who will really put their career on the line for you. From what I’ve seen, women in the business world seek out mentors, but have a tougher time getting sponsors. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have met a few people who pushed for my career success as hard as I did.

The best thing about being a marketing leader is having team members who bring a fresh perspective, not just with new techniques, but also by bringing enthusiasm. It’s so exciting to see people’s perspective from the beginning of their career about what they want to do.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Before I go into a stressful, high stakes conversation, I try to approach it from a place of empathy. It’s hard to do when you’re also impatient. I think about the perspective of the other person and figuring out where we have common ground and get ahead of where we have divergence. And If I’m entering into a negotiation, I think carefully about what I hope to gain, and what I might be willing to compromise in order to get it. I’m a deep believer in the spirit of debate, and I deeply respect differences of opinion, as long as they are not based on acrimony. I very much appreciate Mode’s core value of “honest words, kindly delivered.” I like to be ready for any battle, but also respect the line. And I try to keep a sense of humor and self-awareness, so that I understand where my reaction is coming from — is it really related to the particular situation at hand, or something that happened before? Could I be misinterpreting the intent? For example, if I encounter a decision that seems to be unfair, I try to ask myself how we can adjust the larger situation to make it more equitable, and that helps me to go from problem to solution more easily.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I would challenge the notion that this is obvious. These are hard reckonings that we are looking at as a country, and as individuals. We all arrive with inherent unconscious bias, and it can be a functional blind spot for all of us. In looking at the racial justice movement, there is evidence that, as white women have progressed, they haven’t necessarily sponsored other underrepresented groups along with them. And that starts with who you trust on your team, how you hire, and more. I very much respect the efforts that the executive team at Mode has made to address unconscious bias and promote diversity, equity and inclusion within the organization. Although we still have a long way to go in terms of racial diversity, we are doing better than most of the technology industry, and it’s been a very intentional effort, especially with respect to hiring. Half of the executive team and engineering team consists of women, which is something that I’ve never seen at a technology startup. It requires a constant set of choices.

It’s important because there is increasing evidence that there are better business outcomes associated with diverse teams. And it’s particularly important right now, because the larger cultural landscape is backsliding. Many corporations are pushing for a level of social responsibility with respect to issues like climate change, way ahead of government mandates. So, as the businesses take on more of a leadership role within our society, it’s even more important for them to embrace diversity within. And I keep mentioning studies and evidence because there is so much research on diversity and inclusion but so little of it is ubiquitous yet.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Hold systems accountable. For example, we intend to continue pursuing capitalism at all costs, we need to change how we hold corporations accountable — not only for maximizing shareholder wealth, but also for making good choices that will benefit society as a whole. When we choose extreme financial disparities we are choosing not to be accountable for all the downstream social costs.

Sharpen the focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It’s tricky to answer this question, because being a female business leader doesn’t make me a D&I expert, but I will say that it’s clear that we can no longer look to the judicial branch to safeguard our pursuit of a fair and equitable society. The recent rise in functions like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are the best ways we currently have at our disposal to get to the types of diverse teams that produce better outcomes and help us to reduce the extremes of the society we live in.

Make better decisions for the long-term. At this moment in time, women are losing ground on equal pay for equal work. The NBA is doing more for social justice and for COVID-19 testing than our federal government is. So, it’s more critical than ever for businesses to make the kinds of decisions that will lead to better long-term outcomes and not short-term advantage.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The executive team needs to make cross-functional decisions to direct the short and long-term future of the organization. It involves synthesizing so much information as the horizon of what’s next spins closer. As the Chief Marketing Officer, for example, I have specialized experience with regard to how to approach the market, but the question of which market to pursue is a larger business decision that shapes the direction of the short term and long term, but then the day-to-day marketing work is how we pursue that direction.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I would like to dispel the notion that marketing isn’t necessary or is deceptive in nature. It used to be that the scions of the tech universe had nothing but disparaging things to say about marketing — it was perceived to be a waste of time and money. It still tends to be a relatively low-trust function within a company. Marketing tends to be a relatively short-lived role, in part because the CMO roles don’t tend to be well-scoped. CMOs tend to be hired because companies are looking to be sure that there is a tight product/market fit, but then they are scrutinized for their ability to fill adjacent functions from brand to demand generation to sales enablement. Marketing encompasses a wide variety of functions, yet there is still perpetual speculation about the value associated with those functions. And companies often hire for where they think they should be in a few years, rather than on the basis of solid near-term data or realistic projections.

So, the CMO role tends to be fraught with peril. But at the end of the day, the absence of a good go-to-market strategy is one of the top reasons that most startups fail. But one thing I’ve seen continually in my career is that when you go into a company — regardless of whether it’s a startup or a well-established business, and put together a good marketing program, the results are evident almost immediately, and make such a positive impact on the bottom line.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

One of the most convenient weapons that’s often used to challenge diversity is “executive presence.” I’ve seen that used as a way of questioning women on non-specific terms, but what it really refers to is confidence. I’ve seen statistics indicating that women tend not to apply for jobs unless they have 100% of the necessary skill set required, whereas men will apply if they meet 60% of the requirements. Women often don’t negotiate hard enough for their first salary, and this is a mistake that can chase them for their entire career. Men tend to be promoted on the basis of their perceived potential, whereas women are promoted only after they’ve completed a lot of tasks and there is truly no choice — in fact, I’ve often heard the phrase “Nothing is less popular than a woman who wants to be promoted.” So, confidence can be a double-edged sword — not having enough, or being perceived as having too much.

Throughout my career, I’ve run into situations where men were brought in to say the exact same thing I’d just explained. That’s very frustrating when it happens, but fortunately I’m seeing it less and less. But on the flip side, I’ve also worked with people who were willing to defend me when I wasn’t in the room, and even brought me into the room later. That’s the best outcome.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

With Mode, the hiring process was fairly long, so I had a good sense of what I was getting into. And it was not the first time I had served as a CMO, so I knew what to ask. The surprises I’ve run into in this role have been doled out by the universe or at least a very startling 2020. But in marketing, you have to expect the unpredictable.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

What’s really necessary is to have the right balance of speed, decisiveness, and the ability to monitor and adjust the outcomes. Here are a few tips:

Know both the organization and the customer well. It’s easy to get siloed and to start feeling very protective about your work, but the path to becoming an executive requires leaving behind hyper-specialization and putting the customer’s needs at the heart of everything you do.

Ask the right questions and know what data to pursue in order to help make good decisions. Then, be decisive and willing to own results — regardless of whether they are good or bad. That can be harder than it sounds, because having too much data can be paralyzing. But ultimately, you need to have the confidence to move forward.

Decide where you want your career to go, and determine how what you are doing now relates to the next step. There are moments when I have to think like a CMO, and there are other moments when I have to think like a COO or a General Manager. Look at how you synthesize decisions and call out critical changes.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Avoid the habits that hold women back or the assumptions of what makes a good executive. For example, we’ve all been in executive meetings where men arrive in t-shirts and there’s much more judgment on a woman’s appearance. I will be happy when all of the women are welcome to show up in t-shirts, too, if they want to.

With regard to teams, women tend to be better at helping their teams to grow because they often think through all aspects of how people are doing, and wanting to help them thrive. But I’ve often seen women taking on too much of the team’s emotional or social labor, rather than taking on a couple of projects that they can really excel at and attach their names to.

Also, one key bit of advice is, don’t rule yourself out before others have had a chance. I’ve seen women exclude themselves from having a seat at the table because they choose not to speak up in meetings when it seems intimidating. I would love to see more ridiculously ambitious women out there who don’t feel that they have to inhibit it.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I try to bring a sense of levity, empathy and responsibility to everything I do. I wish I were doing more universe-altering work, but I’m very proud of some of the projects I’ve been able to work on. In terms of communicating a message, there are so many things marketers can do, and that every company can do, to make our society more equitable. It will just take the right combination of public and private resources to do that.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I wish I knew more about managing disparate information and communication management systems. Before I took my current role, I had no idea that there would be so many different divergent repositories to juggle and so many ways for messages to get sidelined, misunderstood or lost.

I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to get cornered into one area of specialization and then another early on. It’s very easy to get typecast as the person who does one function particularly well, and that can become a trap. It’s hard to back out of that kind of situation and expand your horizon.

I wish I had started thinking operationally about the larger business sooner — I waited way too long before stepping into a view of market analysis.

Cultivate the ability to go back and forth between high-level and very detailed information. Different kinds of questions require different approaches.

Avoid small issues, squeaky wheels and other bubble-of-the-moment distractions. It’s a perfectly legitimate decision to steer clear of those.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Radical brevity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It would have to be “integrity is the softest pillow,” credited to Narayana Murthy.

We are very blessed that some very prominent 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 if we tag them

Jan Morris, an amazing a Welsh historian, author and travel writer who is 94 and just wrote another book.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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