Becoming a CMO by 30

Episode #048: Ryan Bonnici, CMO, G2

Episode Information

Most of the episodes on Mobile Matters so far have been focused on hearing from B2C marketing and tech leaders so it was time we hear from a few B2B marketing rockstars. And Ryan Bonnici definitely fits that definition. Ryan’s the Chief Marketing Officer at G2 (previously known as G2 Crowd), one of the World’s Most Influential CMO’s in 2019 according to Forbes, and a keynote speaker. Prior to G2, he’s held leadership positions at HubSpot, Salesforce, ExactTarget, and Microsoft. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to Ryan about why he knew he wanted to be a CMO starting at the age of 10, how he was often able to jump one or two level with each of his job changes, and why he’ll never have Inbox Zero and he’s OK with that. 

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Imposter syndrome is REAL. If you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone in your career then you’re likely going to feel this way at some point. Don’t freak out. Work hard and you’ll succeed. 
  2. Don’t ignore recruiters. It doesn’t hurt to take a call from a recruiter no matter how happy you are in your current role.
  3. Inbox Zero isn’t for everyone. It’s OK if you’ll never have Inbox Zero.

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Stephanie Cox: I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. Today, I'm joined by Ryan Bonnici. Ryan's the Chief Marketing Officer at G2 previously known as G2 Crowd. One of the world's most influential CMOs in 2019, according to Forbes and a keynote speaker. Prior to G2 he had leadership positions at HubSpot, Salesforce, ExactTarget and Microsoft and this episode Ryan and I talk a lot about his desire to be a CMO at the age of 10. How he was able to jump one or two levels with each job change he made and while he'll never have inbox 0 and he's okay with that and make sure you stick around to the very end where I'll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about marketing differently but implemented effectively welcome to the show Ryan.

How did you get from fresh out of school to being a CMO at a really well-known B2B brand at such a young age?

Ryan Bonnici: Good question. Big question. How did I get here? I know... I was one of those kids that at a really young age like around 10 or something. Just weirdly knew that I wanted to be a CMO which again... what like... what is going on with you? Who does that? and A) That’s weird that I wanted to be a CMO at age 10. Then to make it even weirder I knew that I wanted to be a CMO within the next 20 years. So by the age of 30, so again, a very weird kid and you know, I think longer long story short for a lot of therapy. I guess I have worked out if I career for me. It was really kind of one of those things that I leaned on to help me feel like I had self worth and to help me have self-esteem because you know deep down I didn't have that and so like external achievement was how I felt loved. Long story short. 

And like that’s from a hot mess of like bullying as a kid and parents breaking up and all that fun stuff. But you know, I think having kind of like that knowledge of what I wanted to be a really young age and kind of just help me Focus really early. So, you know, I was able to kind of like really focus on my career and really just double down in marketing and not really really like waste time doing other things are the different things. I actually had a stint where I took a few years off and I was an international flight attendant with Qantas, which actually where I was like, I met an executive at Microsoft to then told me that they were hiring graduates and that was kind of how I got like my first job in marketing at Microsoft. But yeah, it was it was being a journey.

Stephanie Cox: So thinking back to that are most of the roles that you found. Is it then because you've been looking for the next thing or is it because people are coming after you I know recently you were on the phone I believe Forbes CMO list and I know because obviously we are connected on Instagram. You're constantly getting messages about people trying to steal you away from G2. You've been very clear they're not gonna be able to do that. But how is that been when you've jumped from you know I would say well-known brands to another well-known brand as that then a point in time where you're like Yeah I'm ready to move on to what's next. Or is it been opportunistic. Tell me a little bit about that journey.

Ryan Bonnici: Good Question. It's been a bit of both what I would say though is for me. You know I've loved all my jobs. Like genuinely like, I have loved what I have done like I have learned so much. I've had so much fun. And you know if you look at my career kind of at every promotion I like typically jump up a level or two. And I reason why I say that is interesting is that like I'm like one of those people that like unless I feel like I am really being challenged unless I'm really under the pump like I just get bored really easily. And so you know again I still need to work on a lot of that. I think in therapy.  

But so I've you know I've jumped up really really quickly and I think a big part of where that came from for me was that I kind of view me in my job and my impact is that like when I join a new business typically takes me what. Like anywhere from three to nine months or something like get up to speed and to know everything about the business not everything but like to know as much as the average person at that company and in my role I guess it's kind of how I think about it. So it took me maybe like I think it took me a good maybe nine to 12 months actually HubSpot to get to a point where I was like OK I feel like I am as good of a marketer now as everyone else on the team as the average of the team and at that point that's because I've been able to learn and work with amazing people and then once I kind of then learned that and I feel like I'm at a point where I can start to excel and push the business for what I always wanted to that right. And so in typically year two is when I'll start to like come together and create and launch some big campaigns or big sales support ideas or just big impactful things and it's because I've taken my time during the first three to nine months or so to to to learn how to do what it is that I need to do in this job and to tick those boxes that you know my boss or the board or whomever is asking of me and it's like only at that one year point typically I find that then I've I've worked out how I've worked out the mastery I guess without sounding like an ego dude but like I've worked out a way to like master and own those metrics so that I can reliably hit what I need to do and that's when I then start to explore and look at like more creative things that we could do as a company and so typically all the companies I've worked year two is big because two and three have been where they went I've been able to drive you know really significant quantifiable impact at the companies that I've worked at. 

And so interestingly though after I have those like big wins I you know I start to get a little bit bored I guess. And you know if the company can help support me and give me more bigger challenges quicker than I'll totally stay around then if they can't like you know it's obviously a weighing up situation of you know is there still more stuff that I can learn from this company. Have I been at the company long enough. And I also think about to like you know I don't I would never want to leave a company without like having to. Having being able to really measurably impact the bottom line for that business like then I would feel like a failure. So it's really at the point where I've done that. That's when I start to need more bigger challenges otherwise I start to get a little bit yeah a little bit bored and that's where I want to take on a new challenge and so I think it's more so than at that point in time that's when I start to be more receptive I guess to offers from the outside because to your point yeah like you know I think when I joined G2 I remember like in my second month I was still getting things from recruiters with offers and I was like as I just started here. Like you know unless this company was like horrible and it's not I love it here. Like you know it'd be pretty odd like someone to leave two months in. So so recruiters are there all the time they might be there more like when you're getting like longer tenure at a company just because they view as a bit more of a target of someone that might be ready. But yeah it's kind of offers of always being there.

I think for me and I'm super open with my boss and my team about this is like if someone reaches out to me about an offer if it's interesting and the company is interesting and the role is interesting I will totally take that call when I tell my team to do that as well because you know I genuinely believe that you know like I'm in this world to do good and that starts off like doing stuff that challenges me that excites me that that I'm learning from and so if I have bigger opportunities elsewhere that are better for me I will take them and I feel the same about my team. Now that said you know the reason why I say that to them is that like you know if you do find these other opportunities elsewhere and it's just about pay or something like that that you're thinking about it like let me know because like if you are a rockstar on the team like we will do whatever we can to keep you but if not like totally fine. No hard feelings like go to that new gig with more money. But the reality is they're probably paying you more because like the work isn't going to be as fun or they are struggling to get people because they don't have a great company culture or the product isn't great. There's just so many layers to it. So yeah yeah that's kind of how I've always thought about it and when I've moved it's been you know sometimes it's been opportunistic. The G2 one was like they reached out to me through you know a connection and I spoke to them and I love what they were doing but I wasn't ready to leave Hubspot and then they reconnected with me maybe a year later and at that time I was ready. Like I wasn't finding that I was learning at the pace that I wanted to keep learning at.  

But you know when I joined HubSpot that was that was very much I think I led that process. You know I'd been at AT for a while then Salesforce and you know full transparency I didn't really love the company that I had joined all that much as I started to get more into the politics of it. That said you know I think there's a ton of things that they do. Salesforce incredibly well and what a machine that they built for me I was still super young in my career and so I didn't want to get I didn't want my skill and learnings to be now about politics and doing internal meetings like I felt like I had far too much like hard core real ROI focus marketing to to learn and to do and so you know who else better than to join HubSpot. You know one of the world's best marketing companies and some of the world's best marketers and so you know gosh I credit HubSpot everything to to be honest because I felt like I learned so much there and I was just so fortunate to work with some of the smartest most incredibly lovely humans. Yeah, I really did enjoy HubSpot.

Stephanie Cox: What's interesting what you said about your team and taking cover like meetings with outside opportunities. I told my team the exact same thing. And part of it is because one especially in the tech world it is so interconnected at some point you will work with the same people again. No matter where you are in the country and sometimes the world. And so always take a conversation because you never know. And for me you know like I'm super happy where I'm at but all I listen to people because I am may not be interested but I may know someone else who would be a good fit. And so passing on that type of stuff is super helpful. But with my team, I tell them I'm like there is going to be a point where you're ready for the next step in your career. That we're it's time for you to go up a level or two and I can't give you that and that's OK. But I will help you find it. 

Ryan Bonnici: I love that. That’s such a great way to think about it.

Stephanie Cox: So that's why I think people come. They want to work for you again. That's why you know people will follow you in different places that you go as a leader because they truly believe that. And I always say like your biggest failure of leadership around you know if you have a team is I am never surprised when someone leaves. Because we've been talking about it typically for months around kind of their feelings their thoughts where I think they're at where they think they're at. Can I. Can I get them to a place you know where they have additional responsibilities or different type of role where they're at today or is that not possible and how can I help them find a place that I know they'll be happy and successful or they can have those things. And I wish more people were like that.

Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, you’ve got to be realistic to you know the industry today. And you know I I I'm very well aware that I won't be a G2 forever. Right? Like and I don't think anyone should and you know no judgment if you want to be forever. That's fine. But you know I think most people want to keep learning they won't be good challenges. Yeah. So yeah I'm I'm a big proponent of that and I think it's I would never want to hold onto someone and stop them from growing and learning so you know. 

Stephanie Cox: I'm the same way. So one of the things that you're talking about earlier was this idea around growth in your career and you know how that helps you from a self-worth perspective. Where? So, one of the big topics right is we're on this imposter syndrome and how you see on social media all of these marketers or other tech leaders that seem to have all their shit together and you know like I know for me personally I'm like oh man like I look at all this stuff I'm like am I as talented as they are. And then you have opportunities where you realize yes I am. But how do you handle that. And think about that because to me the more marketing leaders I talk to. The more they say like. I have imposter syndrome and we all feel like impostors on some level at some point. In a given week. And again we constantly think about that.  

Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, I mean absolutely. How do I think about that. You know I often feel like you know an imposter. I guess what I would say though typically is and the reason why I often feel like that or I have at many points in my career is just that you know like if you whenever I have joined a company like I typically join at a level or two above where I was before. So I like I jumped up considerably and so I always feel like hell out of my depth to a certain degree. And you know like take I mean gosh talk about imposter syndrome.I felt like the world's biggest imposter when I joined G2 right, like you know. Yes I was working at HubSpot amazing company. I had lots of great experiences in my career. But you know moving from kind of senior director straight to CMO without being like a V.P. and most people are like three four years at like companies or multiple V.P. roles right. Like it's yeah it's not that common. And so gosh talk about imposter syndrome. I felt it to the bone. To the f***** core like to the point where actually this is embarrassing, I've never told anyone this but I when I first joined G2 when I knew I was getting the job I oddly went and got a Tom Ford suit made. Like sh*t, you not I spent like twelve thousand dollars on a suit that I wore like for the first maybe like three weeks and I was like f*** this, this is so not me like I am not a suit and shirt kind of guy. Like I love suits like in terms of like you so dapper and s***. The reality is they are the world's most uncomfortable things that you can not move around at all in them. 

Stephanie Cox: Correct!

Ryan Bonnici: And so yeah it's a bit but it's funny because I've never thought about this but that was clearly me I felt like such an imposter that I was like Oh my God I need like a really fancy suit to like prove that I can take this role on and long story short I think the way like I work through that you know you know A) it would be great not to feel it but maybe I don't know if that's even possible if you want to take on roles that are you know bigger and better than what you've done before which I have a tendency to do.

But I think for me the biggest way I overcome it is by just hitting the goals that I was tasked with hitting and you know ideally crushing them and overachieving on them significantly and then I feel like oh you know what. I'm actually not an imposter. I was meant to be here and you know when I say that in hindsight it sounds really lovely but actually going from the feeling of being an impostor to then hitting your goals is like an incredibly stressful process to the point where I you know I've never I had never had antidepressants before and you know last year I started taking them I literally actually about a month ago just like quit cold turkey and touch wood I haven't had any like negative depressive rebound episodes too much. But uhm, that was like and I would have actually previously been pretty like judgmental maybe or maybe not judgmental but I would have kind of judged myself if I thought I needed that. But I just was getting so depressed because like my whole entire worth was focused on like whether I hit my marketing revenue goals and my traffic goals and all of that. And you know that was that sucked. We got there though and I felt a lot better obviously. But at the same time I realized that like hey I shouldn't be putting myself under this kind of pressure and you know you can fail Ryan it is ok to fail at something. You don't have to hit all of your metrics and that's easy to say in hindsight right. Because we didn't fail. And but so but I'm hoping with a lot of therapy and I go twice a week because I love my f****** therapy she is the bomb. You know that has really been great but you know it's painful going through some of those like and ripping open old wounds like a very young age but it's making me better at home it's making me better at work and so I'm all for it.

Stephanie Cox:  Well one of things that you said I thought was really interesting kind of tied to that is around hitting your goals. And you know like this weight you kind of feel that gets lifted off you once you do it and how you feel like you know I am kick ass. I do know what I'm doing but then I find it creates like the next new problem which is now you've hit your goals. Now your goals are higher and it's kind of like this constant circle and while you might feel I know like for me I always tell my team that's like when you do great work comes what people don't realize a lot of times comes more responsibility and higher expectations and you're constantly in this desire to exceed.  And I know for me personally like I always like to win so I'm always continually focused on you know not just hitting numbers but exceeding them. And then at some point you know you grow revenue. Let's say for instance that you know you kill your numbers you're like 120 percent of goal. And then now that becomes your new goal plus sum. And you're it's kind of like this vicious cycle a little bit. So how do you deal with like even when you are successful you know. For us right. Like today's and serve a new quarter. We're starting all over from scratch again this summit you know. And I know a lot of marketers and sales people kind of feel that. So how do you balance you know one day you feel like you're winning the next day you feel like you know we're starting all over again. How do I handle that? 

Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, that’s a good question. I interesting don't often feel that way actually. Because I think what I try and do is typically in my first you know six to twelve months of the company I build the resources I need to like consistently and reliably hit my goals so that when they do grow like I can still hit them and or that I saw I've already got like the structures in place. Now I just need to scale that up. But the system is already working so I don't know. Interestingly I can rarely say I experience that actually. Yeah it sounds like it would. I mean I think that doesn't mean that I don't feel like the pressure of hitting our goals but I don't think it's it's a different feeling maybe like once I'm past that imposter syndrome because I feel like oh I've proven myself like I might not be able to continue hitting these goals or this kind of growth but like I've proven myself already that I can. And so yeah I wouldn't feel as bad about it at that point in time. That said that I think you know my team right now is on track to hit all the goals that this year. And so I feel good about that. But uhm. Yeah but I also kind of think as well right. Like I'm trying to do a better job now. I'm not thinking of myself as just you know my whole self-worth is based on my success at work and me hitting my goals. You know I can still be let's say I was failing at my goals like I should be able to still go home and know that based on the other things that I value and you know I like my friendships and how I am as a person to others and to my wife Kate and all of that stuff like that now gives me a lot of value inherently that no results can take away at work which helps for sure but yeah that and have that helps. 

Stephanie Cox: No that was good. So one of the things that you talk a lot about and we've talked about today and you share a lot on social is a really around like mental health and this you know part of that is this idea that we're constantly connected as just both people from our personal lives or professional life. So if you think back to technology just in your career what impact has that had on the workplace for you and this need to feel like you have to be constantly connected or available about it. 

Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don't think technology is to blame ultimately. I really think it just like I don't think you know you hear people say that like you know - humans today were all drones you know if you look on a train around everyone has their head in a phone. But you know if you took a snapshot of that like 50 years prior everyone would have had a newspaper in their hand right. Like just human nature is that we crave stimulation and our attention are short. And so you know whether it's a newspaper or a phone like a newspaper I think previously just there wasn't as much stigma around it because I was like oh that person can only be learning but really it's actually less about what you're doing and it's like what is what you are doing filling a gap for you right. So for me as an example you know when I am mindlessly scrolling on social it's got nothing to do with social. That's the fact that I am probably stressed out and I'm avoiding like facing my emotions and I'm pretending that they are not there and so I'm trying to numb out with Facebook with food with TV and so I think the technology just means you need to be I think more. More what's the word. More kind of intentional maybe with you know how you use it. Right. Because you know a newspaper lets just use a newspaper analogy again and like a newspaper can't interrupt you right it is not electronic. Whereas a phone can. And part of that is what you want like you want to be alerted when there is important thing that you don't want to always and said the way I've I guess being intentional with my phone is that I don't get any work push notifications on my phone like the zero. Like at all in the daytime the only way I know that there is a slack message or an email is if I open up the app and then 19 and my texts etc. load. So I just like flat out creative that I didn't do that initially at G2 because you know I go to a certain point where I was like at breaking point you know and I was pretty. I was down in the dumps really deep and it was just you I was being hit up like a hundred times a day on LinkedIn. I was getting tweets and mentions and I was getting emails from work and I was getting slacks and I was getting like thick questions from our board and it just there was so much like noise that I just was about to implode. And so I decided to just turn all of them off and like I set just like really good kind of like work hygiene habits around you know when I open up the e-mail app that is there because like I wanted to work but I have time to do it but I'm not going to be like peeing on the toilet and hearing my phone vibrate and now needing to like respond to someone that's how bad it was getting right. And you know that sounds funny but the reality is like most of us I don't know actually I can't say this sounds weird. I've never like peered over the loo but I feel like I am on my phone most of the time when I'm there I used to be anyway. And I think most people do the same is my story. I could be completely wrong because I'm not a creepy stalker but you know I think like I've gotten better now you know actually taking that time to just like breathe if I'm like going to the toilet I just like to stop and just be like present in that moment as opposed to you know need to stimulate my attention with you know reading a news update or responding to an email or a text.  

And so I think you know intentionality around hygiene with notifications for me has been huge. Like that was life changing for me and also I think just starting to accept that I'm never going to have inbox zero and that's okay. And I could have inbox zero but what I would need to do to have inbox zero would be far worse than sorry I would lose so much from my life to get to inbox zero that it's not worth it. And I think I've just gotten better at being okay with kind of like managing the stress of knowing that I haven't gone back to the people for a day I haven't got back to some people for a week. Some people maybe for two months and you know I respond like in order of priority and sorry if you're not on that highest priority like I'm not going to get to you for a while and I'm a little bit like unapologetic about that I guess just because I don't think because you have emailed me I have to email you back within a timeframe. And I think that to me is I know a bit odd thing to say but I think it's a bit of my Australian culture in that which is very different to America. We...we've genuinely and I don't say this in a mean way but I feel like in Australia we kind of like work to live whereas in America I just find a lot of the behaviors I see a lot of people doing is living to work and I don't think you need to do that to be successful. And it can help for sure but I think sometimes people lose touch of why they are doing what they are doing. And so yeah that's being kind of like a big learning curve for me.

Stephanie Cox: No I think that's a really interesting way to think about it because I know for me I very similar situation. I had all my notifications on and I got to a point two years ago where I was just like I literally can't deal with like notifications on my phone unless it's like an emergency or like a text. So I turned like all that stuff off because it was just it was too much like I kept my note like my notification like emails to tell me how many emails I have or whatever but like I would no longer shut my lock screen. It doesn't. You know my phone doesn't vibrate for all that stuff because it becomes overwhelming and then you cant like I was telling myself. I couldn't have a few minutes to process anything I was doing because I was beeping or vibrating somewhere and you just can't focus which is. But it's also at the same token when you move from being someone who responds to you know emails, LinkedIn messages, tweets, slacks, etc. pretty rapidly no matter what time of day it is when you change that. I know for me people are like Are you OK? And I'm like, Yeah.. I just need like better balance. was that. Do you have any similar stories of that similar to you where people kind of like oh why are you taking me taking a couple days to respond to me. Or did people not notice?

Ryan Bonnici: Great questions. Gosh, I don’t know. No actually no one asked me about that. I mean I probably if anything would have been telling people like I would have said to them you know in our senior leadership team meeting sorry guys I'm literally in back to back meetings like for the next three weeks from like 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. So I have a very small window to get to my email and I'm like apologize to you all. But like so I think I would call that out just in terms of you know I was just being vulnerable with folks and letting them know the reality that if I'm not getting back to them it's not because they're not important and stuff it's just that like there are some other big things that are more important for me to focus on right now. 

Stephanie Cox: If you can't tell I've known Ryan for many years more time working together at ExactTarget and Salesforce. He's an incredibly talented marketer and it's been so much fun to watch his career just really excel. Plus, he's extremely enjoyable to chat with and that's why I'm breaking my conversation with Ryan into two episodes. So let's dive into my top three takeaways from the first part of our conversation and then I'll share what you can expect to hear from the rest of my interview with Ryan and next week's episode.

First imposter syndrome is real and I don't think I've met a marketer who hasn't felt like an imposter at some point in their career. Personally, I love touring Ryan's take on how he handles the situation since he's often felt that when he's changed companies and jumped up one or two levels. He's made such a great point about how you're likely to feel like an imposter when you're being pushed outside your comfort zone in your career and it's okay, you will figure out how to succeed you will hit your goals and you're likely going to fail a bit too. And that's okay. I wish more marketers would realize that none of us really have it all figured out no matter what social media or title might say. 

Next no matter how happy you are in your current position at your current company. It never hurts to do a call from a recruiter when I reach out about another company or position that interests you. It doesn't mean that you have to leave, it only means they are always keeping your options open. You never know when your dream job might come up or might come calling and you don't want to miss out on it. In fact that's how Ryan and I both ended up in our current positions because someone reached out to us to see if we might be interested in learning more. And even if you're not interested after talking with them think about whether or not you know, someone who might be interested. I know I've done this numerous times because I happen to know other talented leaders that were looking for their next role at the same time. I've always found recruiters to be extremely appreciative when you take the time to help connect them with someone else who might be a fit. Plus, if you're a leader, you should consider having the same perspective with your own team. Ryan and I both encourage our teams to always take a call or coffee with someone that's trying to recruit them. I know this probably sounds crazy to most of you because who actually encourages their own team to talk to recruiters from other companies. Well, first of all, we're not actually encouraging them to seek recruiters out. So don't freak out. We're just saying that if a recruiter happens to reach out to them, there's no harm in talking. It's our job as a leader to ensure their happy in their current role. And if not, then we need to do whatever we can to make sure we're always challenging them enough and giving them the types of responsibilities they desire. I don't consider it a failure when someone leaves on my team to take a promotion at another company. Because I'm almost always known this was a possibility because we've had open conversations about it for months prior. There'll be times in any company where your team someone on your team is ready to move on to the next step in their career and you can't provide that to them based on we are companies currently at and that's okay. That's why I always tell my team when they get to that point in their career, I'll help them find what's next for them. If I can't provide it for them. To me the only real failure in the situation is as some of my team turns on their notice and I didn't see it coming at all.

Finally don't feel like you have to achieve inbox zero. This is been a pet peeve of mine since that concept first came out and I was so glad to hear that Ryan has a similar feeling as me on the subject because I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt like it was never possible if you can get to inbox zero good for you by all means keep doing it. But if you're like me and Ryan and don't think it's possible given our other priorities and that's cool to. Do whatever works best for you and don't judge others for how they manage their email inbox, LinkedIn, Slacks, tweets, and so on. Now make sure you check out next week's episode with Ryan and I were going to go real deep talk about mental health and why he's been so open with his own mental health. It's a refreshing and honest conversation that I think all of us can benefit from hearing. I'm Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast until then be sure to visit and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.

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