Episode #054: Edwin Abl, CMO at Modulr
Raise your hand if you've ever seen sales throw marketing under the bus or vice versa? In so many companies marketing and sales have an adversarial relationship that lacks alignment and trust which ultimately makes it almost impossible for the organization to be truly successful. What's so fascinating about this issue is that it has been rampant in organizations for decades and few leaders seem to really want to fix it. There is always talk about the importance of having marketing and sales aligned, but how many times do marketing and sales leaders actually sit down together to make sure they're on the same page? How often are they ensuring they are aligned on each team's responsibilities and the metrics of success? Do they really hold each other accountable when they meet? Or, are they likely to blame the other in the next leadership meeting when the company's overall results aren't that great? This happens every single week in organizations, but it doesn't have to. Marketing and sales can easily work together if they try. In fact, neither team can truly be successful without the other and the sooner everyone realizes it the better. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to the Chief Marketing Officer at Modulr, Edwin Abl, about how he started his career in recruiting, why being in a highly regulated industry makes you think twice as a hard about your marketing efforts, the importance of marketing and sales leaders being aligned, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. Today I'm joined by Edwin Abl. Edwin is the CMO at Modular. He's responsible for taking to market their new integrated payment service for businesses that need a faster, easier, and more reliable way to move money. Previously, he led the business for marketing and Appirio in Europe, growing up their business from 300K two more than $133 million in pipeline in just four years. In this episode, Edwin and I talk a lot about how he got started in the staffing industry, and how's that helped him build a strong foundation for success throughout his entire career, why being in a highly regulated industry makes you think really hard about your demand generation efforts and how being the boss isn't always as fun as glamorous as everyone may think it is. And make sure you stick around until the end where I'll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about marketing differently but implement effectively. Welcome to the show Edwin!
So you’ve had a really impressive career. I'd love to just hear how you got started and really what you're doing today and how you got there from the very beginning.
Edwin Abl: Good question and well, thanks for saying impressive. I'm not sure that's how I look at it, I more sort of landed into where I’ve got in the moment in position. Tracing back actually I started my career firstly in recruiting and the staffing industry at 21 years at a cold desk. I was working in IT recruitment at the time. I had the option of going into sales roles and the reason I chose staffing actually is because a lot of the other interviews I was getting were really software sales and product and I couldn’t really see myself being motivated by that point, by a silly headset so at that point the people aspect of recruiting and staffing was really fascinating and I thought it would be an interesting market to go into. My mother was in the industry to 25 years and I guess sometimes you mirror your parents and so I followed the path into that particular industry. And I think it was a great learning curve.
I think a lot of people bash the staffing industry in terms of I can up and you sometimes of the people that work in it and it has a reputation, but I look back in the four years that I spent in that role was probably the most influential of my career in that sense. It really really taught you amazing habits and skills and discipline around what you do every single day to be successful, how you can be metric-driven. It's the consistency of what you do every day that makes a difference and it's very, very hard. But the process of recruitment and stalking just as a great way of teaching you that. And what it also does is it gives you this great knowledge of the market, industries, and the psychology of dealing with people, which is very challenging. So that was a really tough...and I wouldn’t necessarily say enjoyable, but it was a learning curve for the first few years four years of my career because it was very cold-sales driven. And one thing that I picked up in the last few years which upheld since then is the ability to think of doing something a little bit different. My boss always says 150 calls a day, and being frank, I wasn’t the best cold caller in the world. Far from it. And I used to get very nervous doing it and that type of thing. I’m sure that relates to a lot of people. And my focus in that process is “How do I think of a different way of approaching people?” And so I really zoned in on calling at the time was back in 2004 or 2005 people were doing it but it wasn't like it is today and created a process. How do you be persuaded? How do you find people with the common are they didn't have to Lasher or these other email tools, you had to guess people's email address. So there were times where I had to type 10 people’s email in and finally, you’d get one. And it would be a great way to warm calls up and it was an intelligent way of making cold calls every day of making ten warm calls every day rather than doing 150 cold calls and I found my conversion ratios were better. And I’m pretty sure I’ve taken that in my career and do things a little bit differently. I then moved on to setting up my business within the Salesforce.com area where it was a consulting business and did that for several years and what morphed out of that actually was I actually got involved of all aspects of the business because obviously we were a small business at the time and I took control of the operations staff, the team management, the website, also the selling and I had far more broad agreement than my cofounder and that actually gravitated to me, not like a career shift a graduate shift into sort of selling that business and doing a little marketing consultancy type role for a few years where I went out and did advisory and start-ups, CEOs and also launch my platform at the time which was a recruitment platform. So it wasn’t like a structured part, it just ended up into doing that really because I enjoyed doing that and gradually moving into that starter thing. And actually, at the time, I guess many people get like this, but I wasn’t sure what to do next in my career, and lucky I came across and landed a role with U.S company called Appirio who was a...well still are, sorry, a Salesforce.com global services partner also partnered with Google and I didn’t know the type of company I was joining, I just knew that the European marketing function helped build the team out and helped drive pipeline and it was an incredible business to work for, great leadership and very forward-thinking...very collaborative and enjoyed a really good journey with them for four years. And it got acquired by a company called Wipro. I helped roll out and scale pipeline across European regions and successfully helped to develop the brand and organization in Europe. And I learned a lot about pipeline generation and Proscale in that process and we had really, really strong pipeline growth in that area...sort of like $100 million pipeline generation in that period. And so actually that was an excellent learning experience, great people to work with and a very, very good company. And from that year, I then joined a venture capital group called Blenheim Chalcot. And one of their ventures called Hive Learning and in the tech space, which was a bit different, more back to more of a startup feel. And my role was to help build the B2B sort of marketing, marketing and sales engine. And I did that and grew the teams for a couple of years. And then actually that leads me to where I am today. I joined a company called Modular who are also part of the Blenheim Chalcot family of VCs, which is one of the great things about them, that they have opportunities and different ventures. There was not there was a chance to try a different industry in financial services and Fintech Modular was looking to grow quite substantially and that's happened. So I've been there since the turn of the year and we've had an incredible growth curve. We've had several rounds of funding. We've won an award recently in the UK for grant funding. The team is scale tremendously. We've hired across multiple regions. And at the moment we're just gearing up for a very, very exciting 2020 with growth, new offices, growth in the team and working in a really exciting space, which is Fintech, which I know is also blossoming in the US. But in the UK we're really trying to lead the trial with regards to how fintech it's disrupting the financial services sector.
Stephanie Cox: So thinking about that specifically, how would you say, you know, really leading marketing in that fintech world is different than the previous roles that you've had?
Edwin Abl: It definitely is, interestingly, different. There's far more of a consideration around regulations, compliance. Making sure everything you're doing is accurate, correct. Although in Fintech is operating in a disruptive way to usurp the existing banks and banking into institutions in terms of service, we still have the same rules with regards to how we operate. So at Modular, we are a regulated entity, which is really important because that's what gives us the ability to offer the range of services we do. But with that naturally comes a very strong responsibility to adhere to the same processes and regulations. And I think that's the big difference. I've never worked in a regulated environment.
And what that means in real life is things like, you know, things like content, the way you do demand generation. You have to be really thoughtful, really well planned. You can't just do things sort of off the cuff and without thinking things through. And I think actually in some ways, it's not that I did that in previous roles, but having that regulatory burden, well I wouldn’t say burden but regulatory statuses is really helpful in actually making you do things more thoroughly because you you have to do the demand generation correctly and it has to be really specialist and focused. Your content has to be really well written and every statement has to be accurate or your brand has to be accurate.
And so I think that the biggest change is adapting to that that that kind of environment. And at the same time, dealing with an industry which has incredible complexity, financial services is phenomenally complex compared to Edtech or Salesforce.com.
There are many, many facets to and I think learning all those intricacies and then how the actual economic environment within financial services works is fascinating, but a challenge.
Stephanie Cox: So what's the most exciting part, because it sounds like you really enjoy what you're doing. What's the thing that gets you really fired up in the mornings to do in your current role?
Edwin Abl: Great question, a couple of things, probably one would be. I love working in a growth environment, high growth. That's exactly what Modulr is going through. It's incredibly exciting. Hiring a team from scratch and building it and getting everyone brought into a vision of where an organization's going. All my team are brand new. This year we've got high growth rates, again next year and you can bring this team together and bring them into a vision, create a great group of individuals that sort of on a mission to do something.
]And that's the thing that really gets me excited in the morning is, is the leadership principles of building high performing teams and then seeing people deliver on that and creating a great environment to work. And then coupled with the fact it's a real infant, you know, a market in its real infancy. And there's so much opportunity in Fintech and this so much of a lens on, you know, what's happening in that industry that it is quite exciting and not to knock other industries it's own. There's obviously lots for the good industries. But in terms of where it's at and what's the opportunity ahead in the next 10 years, it's quite, it's gonna be really, really fascinating how it pans out.
Stephanie Cox: One of the things that you mentioned earlier when were talking about your career was you've been in both marketing and sales roles and even right, recruit recruiting roles where you're doing a lot of cold calls to try and find people to take jobs. What has been that transition between a more sales-focused role to a marketing role and what do you think others can learn from that?
Edwin Abl: It's a question that comes up a lot in podcasts and other pieces of content, actually. When I meet people in person, especially marketers sometimes or, you know, people trying to move from sales to marketing or marketing to sales or vise versa, and what's the value of having different types of backgrounds? I mean, for me, I think one of the main advantages of coming from a sales background into then a CMO marketing role is you definitely learn the finite processes around selling and the difficulties of selling and what it is like being a salesperson and an appreciation of what's required. Plus, also doing the role yourself gives you an understanding of the sales process. And it's not to say the marketers is you haven't got a sales background, I don't understand that.
But I do think if you've been exposed to sales and they move into marketing, it does give you this really fantastic combination of skills that you can really then serve 10x your sort of deliverables from a marketing point of view because you get your peers that you're working with. And I think everyone loves sales in an organization like that. The main focus in the CRM is the most important person, theoretically, because it's sales-related and it's important you get on with your CRM or your sales pair. And I've always found they they they really appreciate if you understand the sales angle and they see that you might be not just a marketer who doesn't get sales process. And then your other point on how do you transition? I think it's I don't know, in essence, like the best way to say how do you transition? I think I've always had the approach of because I sort of landed in where I wanted to go. Not necessarily in a really structured, structured manner. But there was a couple of core principles, which is always working hard, always be proactive in what you do and work on your communication style, you know, build a good network of people that respect what you do and peers that respect what you do. And then this magical thing happens. If you do that and create that sort of environment for yourself over the years and add value to people is that things certain things work out. You don't know the CRO, a peer, you had as a salesperson someday in five years gets a CRO job and he has the head of marketing he's looking to hire. And you may not be the head of marketing, but he knows your great marketing and you might be great for that role. So I think it's sometimes hard to think so far ahead and being structured about it. It's more about delivering great work, be curious, great, create good connections with people and over-deliver, you know, be a great person to work with. And then and then you just build this really strong network of people that see you as a really, really competent individual. And then out of that, I'm sure opportunities will arise in the future.
Stephanie Cox: So for me, I've moved from primarily marketing role for most of my career. I've always been involved in like the sales process or helping with sales, but I've never been quota-carrying as a true rep. And I recently moved to lead both sales and marketing. And I think what's interesting is I hear from a lot of people that I go, how did you do that? And I'm like, I've always been closely aligned with sales. I think you know, sometimes people think that you can't necessarily get into sales in a leadership role unless you've been a sales rep. What's your thought and experience on that? Have you seen people then be successful with it when they've never previously carried the bags?
Edwin Abl: So to say, I think this is an age-old dichotomy which people always discuss, isn't it? Does a good salesperson make a great sales director or V.P. of sales? And I don't think there's a straightforward answer. I think the answer is it can work, but there are not a lot of the time it doesn't work. I don't know. Some people think, oh, a great salesperson will never be a good VP of Sales and some will say the opposite. And it is definitely on a case by case basis because it's really, really down to the individual's capability to want to invest in leadership and leadership skills and coaching skills and how to manage people. Because what happens more often than not is you're a single AAA or senior A who is the top falling rep consistently over time and time again. Because of that, without any investment in leadership coaching or their own personal investment leadership coaching, they get promoted because it's you promote your top performer. And I think that's more of a probably an indictment of maybe poor management of not understanding the individual you're managing if it doesn't work. Because a lot of the time, the best salesperson isn't going to be the best V.P. of Sales. And I wouldn't say, you know, I'm perfect but I could...I've always over time had a good steer on who I think would make that transition and who would be effective changing roles and who wouldn't. And more often then not, I've seen that come true with my experience. So it's really down to each individual. And then. And then, if you’re their manager or their leader, you have to decide what's best and often all those great to promote from within….it's often the case, not the best idea to promote your best performing salesperson, the V.P. of Sales, but to get someone in who is a V.P. of Sales or who is a senior AE that has clearly got more of a leaning towards leadership capabilities than someone else.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think that's really great. One of the things that I think a lot about, too, is everyone wants to be a leader, but sometimes when you get into it, you realize it's not as fun as people think it is. Being the boss isn't always, isn't always...it's definitely not easy. It's not always fun. So I've seen a lot of people, especially, you know, a senior AEs move into leadership roles. And, you know, after a few months they’re like “I just don't enjoy this, I'd rather just be selling again.”
Edwin Abl: Exactly. And I've seen that. Like you've mentioned over and over again. And also managing people over the years, I often continually have one to ones with people in teams over the years, because I've always managed...I've managed sales inside sales, marketing. And they always say, you know, I want to go into a sales manager role or an inside salesperson says, “I want to be inside sales manager.” And I think it's just because sometimes people don't reflect on what they actually want to do. They make the presumption on what they think is the norm that should happen, which is right inside sales, sales, senior sales, V.P. of Sales, CRO. It's that linear and I don't think it is. And I think people need to reflect and be honest with themselves about what's the actual work you enjoy doing? Not necessarily, “I need to prove that I need to become a CRO” because you won't be happy doing that. And you've got to really, really want to do that type of thing. I had the same conversation with someone the other day, a senior marketer who said, “I'm quite stressed because I want to become a CMO.” And then, you know, when you pick at it, it's all based on the theory of it’s the done thing in the linear career path. And it's not always the case. And so I think anyone in any salesperson thinking of, oh, I'd have to be a CRO, take a step back and think about actually what you enjoy doing. And managing people is really, really hard, as you probably know. It's a challenge, a completely different challenge to being a single rep. And you have to be up for that challenge and invest in yourself to become a better person, better leader, better coach to individuals.
Stephanie Cox: So one of these you just mentioned is a coach to individuals, and I think that's one thing that I find a lot of people when they move into leadership roles are don't realize how much of what they're doing is truly coaching and trying to help people get better. I think you think, well, I'll just assign you like in sales, I'll sign assign you a quota or in marketing, I'll assign you projects. And yeah, part of that is managing to make sure they get it done. They get it done correctly. But also part of it is really coaching and helping them grow and helping them learn. So the next time they do something, they're better at it and so they can grow in their career. And I think sometimes if you haven’t experienced that, you know, with a leader that has helped coach you earlier on your career, it's really hard, I've found for people to understand how important that is. So thinking about that. Are there any personality traits that you've seen that have really made, you know, strong reps turn into strong sales leaders or even strong, you know, individual contributors that are marketers turning into strong CMOs or V.P.s of Marketing?
Edwin Abl: The ones who transition well are the ones who really invest in themselves early and building out there. You know, the ability to manage people and that and often doing it on the side outside of work. Again, I think about it back to how I've done things. I didn't necessarily know...when I first started managing people when I was 23, I didn't really have any management skills. You have to do a lot of reading, learning. You know, I hired a coach at the time to help me out. Again, you have to look at things, investing in yourself a lot and making sure that you're doing that.
So I guess my advice, if you're trying to transition to become a leader, you have to really want to invest in yourself in doing that and do it a lot outside of the workplace. And then you can really build that out as a core capability. And just you have to obsess around leadership basically, and wanting to learn about that particular topic.
Stephanie Cox: So, kind of off of that, thinking about sales and marketing, we talked a lot about how to get that leadership role. We talked a lot about personality traits, and one of the things I always find is successful organizations, especially in B2B, have a really close aligned sales and marketing team. How have you seen sales and marketing teams struggle to work together effectively? And have you seen it be successful?
Edwin Abl: It definitely is a challenge for sure. I've again, I don't think anyone's ever solved it per se, but there's obviously naturally examples of where there's been good sales and marketing alignment and really bad. I think the most important thing is making sure that the two peers at the top of sales and marketing have a good relationship. And a good relationship is not necessarily friends down at the bar or the pub. It's more about being on the same wavelength with how you managed teams, not necessarily as sort of the same style, but the same wavelength, the same understanding of what and how you deliver things and how you push for results, and then also a common ground around expectations from both sides. What is the marketing responsibility? What is the sales responsibility? And then having the ability to hold each other accountable. From that end and treated you, your peers should be treated similar to an individual you're managing.
So you should have a weekly one to one with your CRO. If you're a CMO, it's probably the most one of the most important relationships you have. That was a joke quote I think I saw the other day on LinkedIn around that the number one person who gets the CMO sacked is the CRMO. And I think that point is definitely true because the CRP can easily moan about marketing, not delivering and the CMO can't really do much about that actual scenario. But if you can make sure you create that strong alignment with them, that that will never happen. And you've got to create the “you're in it together” mentality that revenue is both your responsibilities. It's not just the responsibility of him or her, but you really feel for them and make sure that you bought into that is your goal... not, not you've done your bit because you've generated your pipeline, because I think that that can happen a lot. And I think people keep having these discussions over the years and it can be a bit clichéd. I think a lot of it...a lot of the advice is the same. But I think honestly, it is very simple. It's the relationship and all those points I just mentioned. And then how you and how you work together. And if you get that right, then you can solve a lot of the problems around sales and marketing alignment. If you don't have that, you just can't. It's just never possible. And so it's very simple in my eyes.
Stephanie Cox: I love what you said about how you need to work together and not just be friends that hang out at the bar, because I think that's such a big important differentiator. Like for me, the relationships I've had with other sales leaders has always been like a true partnership. Yes, some of them have become good friends with. But it's also been with we've held each other accountable to what we said we were going to do. So, for instance, if I said as a marketing leader, I'm going to deliver X number of, you know, MQLs to sales, you know, if I don't he calls me to the carpet on that. Right. And vise versa. If we agree upon SLAs for calling those and it's not happening, that's something that you know, I can hold him accountable to. I think that's a big part of it.
Edwin Abl: Absolutely. Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And in the end, it's really important. Based on your point there as well, in when you are then in a board meeting scenario or leadership team meeting because the worst outcome for you as a CMO is to have the CRO putting some narrative around, not enough leads or of not enough MQLs...
Stephanie Cox: Or crappy ones!
Edwin Abl: Oh, crappy ones… yes, that just throws you under the bus. And it's not a good situation to be in. The best is you always aligned with each other and prepared together for both your quarterly reviews, for both your board updates, new LT updates so that you're supporting each other's challenges and that it's not him throwing you under the bus and then you feeling like you have to be defensive and say, “Well, your team isn’t converting enough,” you need to really avoid that situation as much as you can and work together in a joint narrative.
Stephanie Cox: I couldn't agree more otherwise. It just turns into a hot mess.
So I know we talked earlier about….but before we even had an interview about, you know, thinking about 2020...I know you said early on we start talking about how you're really thinking about what you're doing next year. When you think about all of your marketing spend and resources for 2020..what are those strategies, channels, and tactics that you think you should heavily invest in and why?
Edwin Abl: Good question. Because we're in the process of 2020 planning right now and budgets and where we spend…. well, the short answer to that is I think there's always trends each year and where we can look. You talk to peers, you read about trends for the following year, where should you invest? And I think what always happens is just natural inclination...people default to the standard channels and then and then spend 80 percent or 90 percent of their budget with that and then use the rest to think of doing an experiment or trying something out. Whereas actually my approach to that is more embedded in all the channels.
So obviously there's only six core channels within marketing or seven outbound marketing, demand generation, brand marketing, digital...and my philosophy is more how can you and I encourage my teams to do this....is how can we look at innovative tools, processes, strategies, tactics in each specific channel and be ahead of the curve in those in. In each one.
What can we invest in what's going to give us maybe a slight miniature competitive advantage in each of the channels that we're looking at and always being evolving in that regard, because all of these things, again, marketing and sales it moves so quick, you have a competitive advantage from a tactic or a tool or process within a three to six month period or six to 12 months and then your competition or the market catches up. And so how can you create a budget that is servicing traditional channels?
But within those traditional owners, you're embedding an innovative mindset to what you can do within each one and how maybe you can find one thing in each one or two things in each, which is a is a new brand new tool, is a brand new distribution mechanism, is a new messaging format, is something that's new within that. And actually investing in make a bet on it. And then if you can make the bet on it and it works and you're in a really, really good spot, you know, if it doesn't quite work, then you can always adapt. But I think if you take that approach, then you can definitely be more innovative in your approach in the way you invest your money. [42.5s]
Stephanie Cox: No, I agree. So one of the other things we do on the show is we just make called “quick cuts” where I ask you really quick questions and what I want is your immediate gut reaction to them. OK?
Edwin Abl: Yep.
Stephanie Cox: Good. All right. So what's the one thing you wish every marketer would do?
Edwin Abl: Learn the sales process.
Stephanie Cox: What's one thing you wish marketers would stop doing right now?
Edwin Abl: Talking about…..Talking about MQL growth.
Stephanie Cox: Preach on that one. What's that one thing every marketer should know?
Edwin Abl: The connection between how what we do converts into the actual sales pipeline.
Stephanie Cox: And what's the most frustrating thing about marketing?
Edwin Abl: Oh, I think our lack of ability to prove value in what we're doing to the business.
Stephanie Cox: What of my favorite aspects of the show is going to chat with really talented leaders in a wide variety of industries with very different backgrounds and with every conversation, I know I'm always challenged to think about a topic in a different manner than I would have otherwise and I hope you had the same experience after hearing a conversation with Edwin. Now. Let's dive into my top three takeaways from that conversation. First, I really love his perspective about how he's constantly asking himself how we can do things differently. How can he look at something and find a different approach or spin on the topic to make himself or his company stand out and his example of using email and Outreach way back when no one else is doing it before is a great example of this idea...this idea that you have constantly challenging yourself to think differently about how you would tackle a problem is something we can all learn from and something we can implement our daily lives immediately. So how many times have you sat back and thought about changing up what you're doing in a specific channel or tactic or try a completely different approach even if what you're doing already ais working?
Sometimes we get complacent until things stopped working rather than being proactive constantly changing what we’re doing to make sure always one step ahead of the competition. This type of mindset can only help you continually deliver credible results, but it's also what’s going to help you stand out from others in the industry. The gap between the average marketer and the exceptional marketer is getting bigger and bigger every single day and I really think this type of mindset of constantly being proactive and constantly challenging yourself is going to help you really set yourself apart.
Next, not everyone should be a manager. I know it's oftentimes the most logical step in your career path at some point, but the reality of management is very different than what you probably think it is. It means you are not only responsible for delivering the overall results for your team, but you are also responsible for ensuring everyone on your team is growing constantly, which means always playing this role of a coach and also means that you have to continually invest in yourself and obsess over leadership. Management is definitely not all rainbows and puppies. It's challenging hard and can be very rewarding if it's something you really want to do, but don't feel like it's the only way to grow in your career. You can still be extremely successful without ever managing a team. And if you do happen to get a role in management and you don't like it once you’re there...it's completely normal many people become managers and realize that they're much happier being an individual contributor and that's why you really need to think about what you want from your career and don't think it has to be what a normal career path is. It should be what's best for you.
Finally, marketing and sales need to be best friends and I'm not talking about friends that just hang out the bar together. I'm talking about best friends who hold each other accountable trust each other and have each other's backs Edwin's comment about how the easiest way for a CMO to get fired is by the CRO is a very true statement. I've seen it happen. It's very easy for sales and marketing to have an adversarial relationship if they're not truly aligned on responsibilities metrics and so much more. I'm personally a big fan of having weekly one-on-ones between the sales and marketing leaders. If there's something that I've done in my career that's been really successful is that, being really close to my sales counterpart. The more the two of us are in agreement on the role that you play for the business...the better the results are going to see. Marketing cannot be successful without sales and sales cannot be successful without marketing. The sooner you realize that and start working together the better results you'll see.
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 Lumavate.com and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.