Episode #044: Kimberly Storin, Chief Marketing Officer at Zayo Group
Should the title of a CMO be Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Market Officer? Who should own digital transformation? We're answering these questions and more on this week's episode.
In this episode, we chat with Kimberly Storin, Chief Marketing Officer at Zayo Group. Kimberly has more than 15 years working in enterprise technology. Prior to her current role, Kimberly held marketing leadership roles at RapidDeploy, IBM, and AMD.
We’re talking about how CMOs can become more strategic, who should own digital transformation, advice for future CMOs, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsessed about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection, I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a Real Marketer. So first question, tell me something about yourself that few people know.
Kimberly Storin: Well, there's not much that most people don't know, because I'm pretty much an open book, but I would say that if I wasn't a CMO, I would be a private detective that specialized in capers. And so in my daily life, I'm always looking for how I solve the mystery.
Stephanie Cox: So CSI style, is that what you're thinking?
Kimberly Storin: More capers, so think Scooby- Doo versus CSI, like [Jim Fee-free 00:01:24] or Art De Furry versus murders.
Stephanie Cox: Okay. So none of the gory stuff, it's more fun problems to solve?
Kimberly Storin: Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: Well, you are a CMO, and I know one of the things that you really think about is what the title of a CMO should be. Should it be a chief marketing officer, which is what a lot of us really think about in the role or should it be a chief market officer? So what is the difference between the two in your perspective?
Kimberly Storin: There are similarities, but I think the big difference is on strategy versus execution. And so even though I was previously a chief market officer, I've been a chief marketing officer prior to that, I'm now a chief marketing officer. Again, I really view that chief market officer is a mindset, and it's a strategic mindset. So I start many meetings with my peers saying," Imagine I don't have an I- N- G on the back of my title right now, because what I want to talk to you today about is the market. And that's what I really think is the difference. I think sometimes CMOs get caught up in the tactical. We have so much on our plate, from research and insights to social media, to demand gen, to brand, to analyst relations, the list just goes on and on and on. And so a lot of times it's really easy for us to forget we are in service of, and that's the market. And so even if your title is chief marketing officer, we should be acting in the spirit of a chief market officer. And there's no other C level that has an I- N- G on, on the back of their title. We don't have a chief" producting" officer, chief designing officer, chief selling officer. We have chief customer officers, we have chief product officers, and I think the discipline of marketing deserves to not have the focus on execution. And so I really think it's a strategic mindset and it's one that we should all be striving for.
Stephanie Cox: So how do you make that shift? You're right. A lot of CMOs are in the, and I think a lot of just marketers in general, we're in this tactic. Even though we say it's strategic when thinking about strategy, it really all comes down to, are you driving the right results, what channels are working? We go straight from strategy to tactics. How do you get people to pull back and start to think about it differently?
Kimberly Storin: So it starts with changing the perception. And that requires discipline on our side. So every time I go into a board meeting, for example, I start with market insights. I get to the tactics, I get to the results, but I start with the market insights. The same is true when I'm with my peers. I consistently start the discussions with what have I learned from customers, what am I learning from the market, where are we in terms of building out our customer journey understanding, and starting to just really shift from the end result, which we'll get to, but starting with the why is really important. And it just takes a lot of discipline and it takes a lot of ability to almost stand up for yourself and say," Yes, we're going to talk about that shortly, but right now, let's talk about what we're seeing in the market, what our customers are telling us, what people that we wish were our customers were telling us, and let's start there to think about the problem before we try to see if solutions are successful."
Stephanie Cox: So when you, regardless of what your actual title is, when you take on that role of a chief market officer, do you ever find with your peers that are CROs or VP of sales, CFOs, et cetera, that they appreciate that, or is it hard for them to really see you take on this different role that is more about what's happening in the market and what we should be doing, less about the tactical side?
Kimberly Storin: Yes and no. What I see a lot of, when I talk to CEOs, they want a chief market officer. They understand the value that having a right hand that's thinking about the market, that's thinking about customer experience, that's thinking about the customer journey, that's really bringing those insights to the table, the challenge is, once you get in and once you're working with the team, can you keep that focus? So I think at the highest level, most of the CEOs, at least that I've talked to and I've worked with have been really, really supportive of that mission of elevating the function and the discipline of marketing, but where the rubber really meets the road is when you start digging in and working together. And that's why consistently beating that drum, being that advocate for the market and for the customer in everything you do is really important, because even if early on, they are a champion of this concept, there will be a point where the focus becomes, again, on execution and tactics because that's what the role of marketing has been for so long at this point, and that's what they're used to. So in a lot of ways, our role becomes education and change management with our CEOs and our peers and helping them bring them along on this journey with us, because ultimately we are the voice to and the voice from the market, but we have to have a peer group who embraces that mindset because we can't do it alone. Marketing is only as good as product, and only as good as sales, and only as good as customer success. So being able to take on that role of change champion and of educator is really critical in order for us to continue to elevate the discipline.
Stephanie Cox: Exactly what you said is so true, because all of our peers, when you're in that marketing leadership role, want you to drive results, that's how we're held accountable, and especially when you look at the CMO tenure in organizations. How do you, one, get to a place where the CEO goes," Yes, I want you to play this role," and then continues to want that 12 months down the road, 18 months down the road, and can see the bigger picture that it's not always about short- term gains, it's a bigger vision? How can you make that not just be something that CEOs sign onto initially, but they actually continue to remind themselves, this is the type of leader I want in this role, and they don't fall victim to decades of wanting marketing to drive results and having those knee- jerk reactions. I think a lot about, I've talked to others on the show, how many times a CEO comes to them and says," Oh gosh, we're not where we need to be for the quarter, can you go create more ads, send more email, do more things?" So how do you handle that situation where you've gotten your CEO on board," This is the role I want you to play," but it's like this knee jerk reaction in all of us," Results aren't where they need to be, go do more," how do you help them realize that," Hey, remember this is not what we want, it's going to be fine?"
Kimberly Storin: Exactly. Well, I think I learned this coming from management consulting. I spent the early part of my career in management consulting, but also PR and crisis communications consulting. And one of the things that I had to learn early on in my career was how to get smart on an industry and a customer and a market fast. I would get those phone calls, I was at my brother's wedding in Idaho, and I got a phone call," You need to be in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee, on Tuesday ready to be an expert in coal mining. Get ready to pitch a$ 4 billion acquisition." And so you get really used to the ability to jump in quick and learn the industry and the business. And I think that that is what has really helped me in terms of being able to drive trust with a CEO and my peers, is because ultimately marketing is business strategy. And so we have to get out of our own way sometimes because we also tend to focus on the tactics because that's our discipline, that's what we quote'do'. but at the end of the day, what we're really driving is a business strategy. So you have to build trust and rapport with your peers and your CEO by being able to really speak the language of the industry and the customers and the partners and the market really, really quickly. And so one of the things that I've found that has been really successful for me is that by tapping into those skills that I learned early on in consulting, knowing enough to be dangerous, but also recognizing that I'm not the expert and really asking a lot of questions in those first few weeks and months to understand what the market is going through. And once you can start to speak the language of the business, then you can wrap marketing strategy in the context of the business, which drives a lot more credibility with the C- suite. And I'll just be honest, I see a lot of CMOs and marketing leaders who really hone in on their marketing capabilities versus really stepping back and viewing marketing as the business strategy. And so being able to pull that together in a way that resonates with leaders who have likely been in the industry for a long time, who are working with customers and partners and solving operational challenges and product challenges, for us to really be able to speak that language is the first step in terms of driving more credibility for marketing and being able to say," Yes, I'm with you, we need more pipeline, but let's understand why we're having challenges on the pipeline front." And it's likely not a problem with advertising, those are vanity metrics at the end of the day, those are indicators, the challenge is likely a bigger view of how we're engaging with customers, whether they trust us or not. Are there operational challenges? Do we really understand our target persona? Do we really understand what the market wants from us? Are we providing that? And being able to have those conversations with a business lens gets us out of those," Well, what are you doing for me tomorrow?" conversations.
Stephanie Cox: I think we've all had that conversation." What are you doing for me tomorrow?" and they've forgotten what we did for them yesterday already.
Kimberly Storin: Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: I always joke about that. It's like," What have you done for me lately?" So you were just talking about, what role does culture start to play in this versus the role of strategy? So let's say you get someone on board with this kind of role, as perception of thinking about, as a chief market officer, being more strategic, thinking more about the market and what it demands and what impact that should have on the business itself, how do you think about creating a culture that is focused on the customer, and that is focused on what the market needs? Because I think so many times companies lose sight of that and they think they have this wonderful strategy in place, but they're not successful because the culture within their team isn't where it needs to be.
Kimberly Storin: Yeah. It's a good question. I think what ultimately drives that is, do you have a clear understanding of the organizational goals? And what I mean by that is at the highest level. So when you come into an organization that is in full turnaround or transformation, marketing's role is very different than if you are coming into an organization that is in a serious growth trajectory, VC funded, really trying to acquire as many customers as possible to hit those growth metrics, versus a cash cow as well that's just stable and maintaining share. And so I think first we have to understand, where is the business? Because where that business is currently in their life cycle is what drives the culture. For example, I've done both high growth and turn- around. My personality, my style, my leadership, what I bring to the table, I find I'm more passionate about the turnaround and transformation, personally. And what I find there is that, culturally, there is a high bias for action, there is a high bias for what I call radical prioritization, and those cultural elements don't necessarily fit well into a high growth, grow- at- all- costs mentality. And so really being able to step back and understand the organizational goals and focus will help the CMO be able to say," Okay, here's my mandate, understanding where I fit into that puzzle, how do I address the cultural nuances here?" And I find, personally, in a transformation and turnaround effort and why I love them so much is because whatever's been working in the past is not working today. And leadership has a very strong propensity for risk. There's like they know that they need to do something different. And so they're really tapping into the CMO to bring new ideas to the table, but also maintaining constraints, understanding the need for prioritization, versus I think a lot of times in the growth you're throwing things against the wall and trying to see what sticks. And so really understanding that will help from a cultural standpoint of how do you frame up the value of marketing and how much ROI do you have to prove, and when, and what's the tolerance for risk? Do people understand the role of marketing? What's their historical perspective of marketing been? A lot of that can come out as you start to think through," I'm I really joining a turnaround effort, or I'm on a growth trajectory, or I'm in this cash cow maintenance mode?" So I think starting there and tying the cultural piece back to the business strategy is where we can be the most successful.
Stephanie Cox: Your point around really understanding the legacy of marketing in that organization is so spot on, because I think sometimes the CMOs come in, and it seems to influence marketing more so than I see in any other department within a business, no matter what a CEO says and whatever their vision is for what they want marketing to be moving forward, the entire organization will think of marketing however the previous person ran it.
Kimberly Storin: Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: Right? And sometimes, you need to know what you're up against a little bit and what worked for them, what didn't work, not because you're going to use it, but because you need to know how people are going to measure you, even if it's not something that's on a scorecard, it's how they're going to think about you from a perception standpoint.
Kimberly Storin: Absolutely.
Stephanie Cox: So let's talk digital transformation. I feel like it is one of the biggest buzzwords right now. So when you think about digital transformation, first of all, where does that sit? Who should own it? Is it the CMO, is it the CIO, is it chief digital officers and whatever, I've seen so many new titles in the last 18 months, where should that sit if it's going to be a catalyst for strategic growth for an organization?
Kimberly Storin: So I think there's a few reasons why companies undergo digital transformation. As you probably seen, especially COVID has just accelerated the need for digital transformation. The organizations that are doing it right and digitally transforming are the ones who are capitalizing and growing, and the ones who aren't are being left behind at this point. And so it really does come down to how are you building a center of excellence around digital transformation? I did a big research project a couple of years ago when I was at IBM to understand what it takes to cross the chasm when it comes to digital transformation and AI transformation, and basically, we kept seeing four out of five AI projects were failing. And I don't think those numbers have changed all that much over the past couple of years. And I wanted to understand why. And the reality is is that mediocracy of excellence look very similar early on. And it isn't really until you scale and move into production where you start to see that separation. And ultimately, what that means for organizations, the ones that are doing it right and who are able to get into production and scale are building a center of excellence. And that doesn't mean that everything is on- prem. They're leveraging multi- cloud, they're leveraging tools and applications in the cloud, as well as some things that live within their own data center. But what they are doing is that they're taking a holistic look at processes and people and systems and tools and culture and leadership and looking at it holistically and building a center of excellence model to address digital transformation. Now, to your point, there's a lot of people that can own that. And I think it really depends on what the ultimate goal of the digital transformation is. In some organizations and some industries, digital transformation can mitigate risk. You look at insurance and you look at banks and fraud protection, things like that, that's a great use case for digital transformation and AI, and ultimately, that's risk prevention versus necessarily growth. In other companies, you really see growth as the primary driver for digital transformation. And in those cases, there's always the three- legged stool. There's always somebody who owns the data, the chief data officer, whatever it ends up being called in each industry, then you've got the line of business owner, and then you have the IT owner. And ultimately, all three legs of that stool have to come together and work in concert in order to drive that center of excellence forward. I believe that the line of business owners should be the executive stakeholder of digital transformation. Now, that could be a chief market officer, chief marketing officer in a growth situation, it could be the CFO or the head of regulatory in a more risk mitigation, digital transformation agenda. So I think it's less around the actual function itself, but more around the ownership of the outcome, versus the data and the infrastructure are key pieces that need to come together in service of that outcome, but that line of business owner is really the driver of the outcome of that digital transformation and should have an active role in defining the strategy, building that center of excellence, bringing all the right people together, building the processes, building the measurement, building the culture of leadership, and really helping to bring those stakeholders to the table to drive the desired outcomes for the organization.
Stephanie Cox: So if you're thinking that your organization needs to embark on a digital transformation journey, how do you get buy- in to get started on that? I think what's been interesting is we've talked about that topic for so many years. To your point, COVID did accelerate it, it's funny how especially enterprise organizations would say like," Oh, this is our five- year digital roadmap," and some of that stuff they had to do within like four months last year. So it does prove that it can be done faster. But how do you get everyone on board? Because a lot of times, I think people like to talk about it, but what they don't realize is the amount of time and resources needed to really make it happen. So when you think about bringing an organization to where it needs to be digitally, how do you get buy- in from your peers and from your team to say," This is what we need to do, it's going to be a lot of heavy lifting, and we may not see results from it right away," because some of it is building that infrastructure to get there?
Kimberly Storin: Well, I think a lot of those conversations have to happen around the C- suite table. And that's really critical because, ultimately, again, this is not a, we call it digital transformation, but it really is a business transformation at the end of the day. It's typically driving some pretty significant shifts in terms of how an organization connects with their customers. It's solving customer experience as we saw with COVID and the shift in consumer preferences and behaviors and how content is consumed, it can also be regulatory in nature of like I mentioned before, that risk mitigation. And so I think ultimately, it has to be a discussion that's happening across the C- suite because you can't do any of this in a silo. And I think what's interesting is, if you go back, and I was in M& A, I've been in management consulting for a long time, and you think about the stakeholders and the focus on an acquisition, the whole organization is involved. Once you can talk about it, legally, and you have everyone at the table, it really becomes a full team sport across the organization. And yet we don't quite talk about digital transformation at the same level, although I would say it's just as much of a full organization impact and team sport. So I think we have to start by just shifting the conversation from being a marketing or digital effort to really being a" Let's just take the word digital office and this is our transformation, this is how our company is going to better engage with customers or better manage risk or better provide outcomes." You think about the digital transformation in the healthcare space has just been phenomenal in the last few years. And so my belief is that, again, we as marketing leaders, as market leaders, can bring that view and start that conversation, but we really have to be like the chief collaboration officer when it comes to digital transformation and bring those conversations to the full C- suite. Otherwise, if you don't have that buy- in and you don't recognize the full effort, that center of excellence approach that's going to be needed, you're going to be in one of those four out of five digital transformation, AI transformation projects that are failing. And really, we want to be in production and at scale, versus just having some small pilots that we're kicking the tires under a desk somewhere.
Stephanie Cox: So all the things we've talked about today, this just hit me, man, it's exhausting to be a marketing leader. Right?
Kimberly Storin: It is. We have to be able to turn from business and strategic leader to execution and tactical leader in a heartbeat. We have to really understand the ins and outs of the market, the customers, the experience, the fine journey, and then be able to turn around and make sure our social media team and our demand gen teams are performing. So it is a big... You've got to wear multiple hats for sure in this role, more than any other C- suite function, I believe.
Stephanie Cox: So when you hear someone is earlier on in their career, and their ultimate goal is to be a CMO, how do you think they get best prepared for that, just given what we've talked about today, where you have to wear so many hats?
Kimberly Storin: So I think it depends on the type of industry and the type of company that you want to be CMO at. And ultimately, I think understanding the industry, the business model, how that organization is growing, what stage of transformation the organization is in, is really important. And being able to step back and say... There's this school of thought that you're either, every CMO aligns to product, brand or revenue. In my mind, the modern CMO has to align to all three of those. And so the question that I always ask those folks who are interested in being a CMO is, what type of company, what type of industry? Because you have to be a business leader at the end of the day, and so being excited and passionate about the business challenges that you're solving is equally, if not more important, than being passionate about the discipline of marketing. I think we'll continue to see that you've got to span being able to understand product and revenue and brand, storytelling is going to become even more important as we've seen in COVID and beyond. When was the last time you provided your contact information for a form on a website? People don't want to engage that way anymore. And so how do we stop being the hero of our own story, and how do we start listening to the market, the customers, the customers we wish we had, and start telling stories that matter to them? And so I think we're going to have to thread all three of those and the wrapper will end up being storytelling. So my advice to anyone who wants to be a CMO is, start to understand what industry and type of company you're most passionate about and start to get smart on that customer journey, because that's where we're going to add the value. It's not going to be," Oh, I've checked the box on all these different marketing functions, I've done social and I've done demand gen, and I've done brand and I've done analyst relations, I've done PR,' that's not going to be the mindset anymore. It's going to be, how well do you understand this business, how well do you understand how we drive revenue, how our products get delivered and what the market wants? And that's going to be the new world of the CMO. And my fear is that our discipline will not evolve as fast as our CEOs need us to, and that we'll still be caught up in this" Check the box, how many tactics do I know how to do?" versus" Am I really a strategic business leader who understands these vectors and can build a strategy that is not a one size fits all?" Because every industry and every business is different based on where their customers are at, based on where they are in their own transformation journey.
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