How the CMO Killed My Deal – Josh Steimle

Josh Steimle wanted to read a book about CMOs to brush up his sales skills. He searched for “CMOs at Work” since he had seen other “… at Work” books and couldn’t find one. This search led him to the publishers website and eventually to a form reading “write for us.”

Josh filled out the form and in a matter of weeks had a contract and an advance to pen the “CMOs at Work” book.

This episode describes what is in the book and some of the CMOs interviewed for the book. Josh talks about some of the things they said and how the 29 interviews exceeded his expectations.

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[Full transcription follows]

Where are you these days? Where are you calling from?

Josh: I am in Shenzhen, China which is just across the border from Hong Kong. It’s on the southern part of China.

What took you to China? How long you been there?

Josh: I was in Hong Kong for 3 years and then my wife and I just moved to Shenzhen about 2 months ago and we came over here because we’re actually adopting a child from China and that just got us thinking about being over here. But we moved here and I opened an office of my agency in Hong Kong, that’s going great, and now I’m in Shenzhen and we’re opening another office here and the opportunity is just fantastic here.

Scott: Great. I’ve never been there so if I go I will definitely stop by and visit and hopefully I can meet your new family member.

Describe to us why you even started writing Chief Marketing Officers at Work.

Josh: I wrote the book because it was an accident actually. I was in a meeting about two years ago and we were supposed to sign a deal. So I run a digital marketing agency, we had this client, we had negotiated everything with them and I walked into this meeting to sign a contract with the client and as we went to sign the contract, there was this new woman who came into the meeting, I’ve never met her before and she introduced herself and said “Hey, I’m Hope Frank. I’m the new CMO here and everything is on hold until I do an audit and figure out everything that’s going on with marketing at this company.”

So she killed our deal and I walked out of that meeting thinking, “Oh, man, I wish I had showed up to this meeting a week earlier and then we could have this signed before this new CMO came in and squashed everything.” [Josh says he and Hope are good friends now] So about a month later, my team and I, we were together and we were talking about our personas, and who we go after, who we sell to as an agency, and I said, “We really need to think about these CMOs because a lot of times we’re pitching to these CMOs or they get involved and they can just kill our deals. They make or break our deals. So we should understand CMOs better and maybe we should reach out to them more.” And because I’m a writer, we decide that I should write a book on digital marketing for CMOs that helps CMOs to understand what we do. That way will be able to reach out to them and do some thought leadership in the CMO’s face. A few years earlier, I had read a book called “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston who’s with Y Combinator. I knew there were other books in this series like “CIOs at Work”, and “Programmers at Work”, and “Lawyers at work” so I thought, “Well, it’s part of my research to write this digital marketing for CMOs book and that will help me to understand who I’m writing the book to.” But I couldn’t find CMOs at Work, and looking for it led me back to the publisher’s website and they said on the website, ‘Write for us.’” And I looked through the website, I couldn’t find the CMOs at Work book so I emailed the publisher and said, “Hey, I want to write this book CMOs at Work for you.” And they gave me an advance, a contract, and that’s how I got the deal to go write this book “Chief Marketing Officers at Work.”

How long did that process take in from filling out the form in the website and then getting an advance?

Josh: It was just a matter of a few weeks. It was just me sending them a proposal and then there was a little bit of back and forth but they approved it pretty quickly.

Did they give you any type of road map based on the other books or was this just a free form?

Josh: It’s a pretty loose format but the only thing I had to stick to was that it’s interviews so they said we need 15 to 20 interviews of CMOs and each interview should be about an hour long or come out to so many pages. I wanted to get 30 CMOs into it. I started working on it and I just felt like 15 or 20 perspectives wasn’t enough so I was shooting for 30, I ended up getting 29. So that’s what the book is. This is just one interview after another. I tried to ask more or less the same questions to each CMO because I thought people would be interested in seeing how the different CMOs responded to the same questions but the conversations did end up being a little bit free-flowing but that’s the book. It’s these interviews, they’re pretty much verbatim with minor editing for clarity and getting rid of “ums” and stuff like that, but that’s what it is. It’s just a bunch of interviews slapped together.

How exactly did you select all the CMOs that you did?

So I made a big list of several hundred CMOs, I targeted certain companies, I ranked these companies according to which companies I thought would be most interesting or most recognizable, that were hot because they’re in the news and such. I ranked all these companies according to these criteria then I had somebody go do research, find who the VP of marketing or the CMO was at each of these companies. I then started reaching out to them and at first I reached out to a lot of CMOs because I want to get these interviews done fast and then as the book was coming to its conclusion, I couldn’t reach out to so many because if I only had two spots and ten responded then I was in trouble. So that was the process of going through selecting the CMOs. And I had a few contacts as well so I had a contact at Spotify and that allowed me to get in with Seth Farbman and interview him early on. So there were some contacts that helped but a lot of these, I just reached out cold and was able to get them in.

Was there somebody that you really wanted to interview and you are unable to contact them?

Josh: There were several that I tried to contact and I just couldn’t get through to them and I had to get creative in some cases and I thought, “Who has an incentive to help me get interviews with these CMOs?” And I thought, “Well, PR firms do.” If the CMO from a company ends up in a book then that’s great, that’s a success story for the PR firm. So I reached out to a few of the PR firms and said, “Hey, I’m trying to get a hold of the CMO at this company, and I can’t get through to them, and they’re going to be in this book and it’s going to be great, and they’re going to get publicity from it. Can you help me out with this?” And I had a few PR firms that really went to work and were able to get those contacts for me that I wasn’t able to get any other way.

That is a good trick and they did that on their own dime, right?

Josh: Right. They made it their job to get that done and it was great. I didn’t have to pay anybody to do that. But I’ll tell you, the one tool that helped me more than anything else which surprised me was actually LinkedIn in-mails. I was able to get about half of the interviews from the book just by using LinkedIn in-mail and sending a LinkedIn message to the CMO and they responded directly.

Did you say anything specific in your LinkedIn In Mail or just, “Hey, I’m writing a book and I want to talk to you.”

Josh: I leveraged the interviews that I had already done so and I leveraged the credibility I had from writing for Forbes and other publications so I would start off the note saying, “Hey, my name is Josh Steimle. I’ve written a bunch of marketing articles for Forbes and these other publications. I’ve written this book and I’ve already interviewed Seth Farbman from Spotify and Brian Kenny from the Harvard Business School and I’d love to include you in this book.  So right within the first sentence, I tried to establish my credibility very quickly to let them know, “Hey, this isn’t just some random guy writing some random book,” reaching out to you. I’ve got some experience doing this and I’ve got some heavy hitters already involved in this and I think that helped a lot for getting some of the interviews.

Who should really read the “CMOs at Work” and why?

Josh: I think the people who would find the book most helpful and most fascinating is going to be anybody who thinks they might be a CMO someday or they want to rise in the ranks to be that top marketer in their organization. Those people are going to find it fascinating because this is the fly-on-the-wall perspective of what everybody else is doing. I think a lot of times when we’re put into a leadership position, we think, “I don’t know if I’m doing this the right way or not. Maybe I’m doing everything right and I just don’t know it. Maybe I’m doing everything wrong and I don’t know it.” This is a great way to see inside the minds of all these different CMOs and saying, “Oh, okay that’s how they’re doing it, maybe I am doing it right, or maybe there’s something I can learn here and maybe I need to change the way I structure my team or the way I get new tools or the way that I manage campaigns.” So it’s great for those people. I think it’s also great for anybody who sells to the CMO or to a marketing department because these people explain how they think, how they buy systems, tools, software, how they invest their marketing dollars and so anybody who’s selling like a PR firm, an ad agency, a marketing agency, any of these people who deal with marketers as their customer is also going to find this really interesting I think.

What’s some of the value that you got out of it through the interview process? So what did you learn from some of these people?

Josh: One of the things that surprised me from doing these interviews is I thought I’m going to go into these interviews, these are people who have, they have long careers in marketing. And as an agency owner, I’m used to going in and pitching people and when they’ve got a lot of experience, they’ve been around for a long time, they’re often a little bit out of date. Their marketing perspective is from when they were growing up in the ranks and doing all the heavy lifting. And now that they’re in management, they might be a little bit out of touch. And what surprised me from this book was how on top of things these marketers were. Even marketers who just retired like John Costello, he just retired from Dunkin’ Donuts so he’s had a long career, and yet this is a guy who’s heavily invested in mobile and technology and is on top of the stuff and I’m interviewing him. And I’m thinking, “Man, this guy really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to technology.” And the same with Linda Boff at GE and a lot of these other CMOs, they’re really in the nitty-gritty with the data, with the software tools that they’re using, they’re really into social media and I was just surprised how on top of the technology, and data, and the details, and the cutting edge of marketing some of these people are.

Do you think that is because they just have a personal interest in staying on top of the technology or is it more of the consumerization of IT?

Josh: I think it’s both of those things but I think a lot of it is that the marketing role today is becoming so results-oriented so people have to get into the data and they have to get in the technology to get the results that people are demanding. Marketing used to be more of an art form. I mean you look at the Don Draper days, back in the day when you could get a focus group together, brainstorm in a room, come up with a campaign, you put this campaign out there, nobody really knows if it works or not, but you win some awards and use that as a proxy for saying this was a successful campaign. That’s not the way marketing is anymore. It’s you have hypothesis and hypothicize and you go out and you test to those hypotheses, you do experiments, you look at the data, you measure everything. Marketing is this intensely data-driven numbers game and yet there’s still that creative side as well coming up with the different hypotheses and experiments you’re going to run. And these marketers, I think they’re on social media and they’re into tech because they’re just into it, that’s just what they like. But I think they’re also in the position they are because they like those things. That’s what’s allowed them to rise up through the ranks because they are focused on results and data and getting real results rather than just winning awards.

Did you stump anybody with any questions?

Josh: I did not stump any, but I mean, I had some people that I wanted to interview and they were hesitant and didn’t want to be interviewed. I think there was a bit of a tough selection bias there that the people I was able to get through to are people who are more comfortable speaking and just sitting down for an interview like this. But now these people are really bright and quick with the answers and really they were stumping me, they were scaring me because I was sitting there asking these questions, I was thinking, man, these people are really on top of things and I started getting a little bit of impostor syndrome feeling like “Man, they’re going to see through me and see that I don’t know that much about marketing compared to what they know.” So it was it was definitely the opposite experience where I think I was more stumped and scared than they were.

So what scared you?

Josh: I just remember I was doing the interview with, let’s see, I think it was…might have been Michael Mendenhall at Flex, I’m not sure who it was, but I remember I was doing one of the interviews and he started bringing up things in technology and marketing and I pride myself on being up on tech and marketing, and he was just talking about things and saying, “Oh, you know, this, this, this, right?” And I’m like, “No, actually I’ve never heard about what you’re talking about.” So there are these moments where I thought, “Man, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable in these areas but this guy is schooling me.” And he’s talking about tools that I’ve never used or even heard of and he’s talking about concepts that I’m not familiar with and here I am running a marketing agency, I’m trying to sell to these people and I’m realizing some of these people are really deep into this stuff and they know about things I’ve never even heard of.

Scott: Well, you know, at a big company they have lots of resources. They have way more resources than you do as running your own agency. That necessarily wouldn’t surprise me. but what surprised me that he rattled all that stuff off with you there and it kind of caught you off-guard but that’s interesting. It shows that you know they’re really paying attention to what you talked about in terms of making decisions based on data and it is much more data-driven and since we’re creating more data. It’s much more easier to do that and you see the CMOs kind of going to all that data-driven decision making because you can just create more data, you can do small short-term test and things like that.

Were there any consistencies in the answers of the interviews?

Josh: Well, going back to this issue of data, something that came up with a lot of the interviews. I asked questions about big data and how they were using data. A lot of them talked about the importance of data and how much more data there is in marketing today than there used to be. But, there is this common theme of not relying on the data too much. A lot of the CMOs pointed two examples of where data could lead people astray into the wrong decisions and they said that there’s still the need for human involvement in the common sense to look at the data and say, “Here’s what the data is saying but are we asking the right questions? Are we interpreting this data the right way? Are we coming to the right conclusions based on this data?” And so they are pointing out that you can’t automate this marketing process 100%. You’ve got to have that human element in there, otherwise that data I can lead you into trouble.

Scott: There is a whole lot of automation and you do have to have a human element because we are selling to humans. Once it becomes just the machine-to-machine interactions like a chat bot or anything like that. You can see always through that and so you don’t want that kind of impression on your customer because they’re just going to go away because it’s easy to go buy something else.

Do the CMOs really know their customers?

Josh: Yeah. And another thing that came through with a lot of the interviews is that these CMOs are people who get their customer. They understand who the customer is. They’re in touch with the customer and so this word “empathy” was something that kept coming up with me during the interview that these people. They can empathize with their customer. They get their customer. They know what their customer’s life is like and what they feel and what they want and what their motivations are. It was more and more clear as the book went on that the reason these marketers are successful is because of that connection they have to their customers. Often they are the customer of their own product that they’re selling and that’s something that’s come up within my agency as well. When I’m out hiring people, one of the things I look at is just do these people just get it? Do they just get the customer that they understand the perspective of the customer? If a marketer can understand the customer, then they understand what they need to provide to that customer. What message they’re going to respond to. How they want the product delivered to them or marketed to them. that’s such a core part of marketing and always has been and always will be, and that’s not something that’s ever going to change. That simple concept just kept coming through over and over again that if you get the customer, if you empathize with the customer, you can work out everything else.

What’s next after CMOs at Work?”

Josh: Well, so the book is selling now. It’s on Amazon and Audible so you can get it in Kindle print, Audible format and I’m doing some speaking engagements surrounding the book and I’m putting out content as well through my blog at joshsteimle.com so I continue to do research on the role of the CMO and I put out content through my blog on that. And it’s opened my eyes to this role and the future of the role and it’s interesting to follow it now through publications like CMO.com and some other marketing publications out there that really focus on the role of the CMO. Forbes has a lot of articles about the role of the CMO but it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. Here in Asia, marketing is let’s say not the highest priority for a lot of companies. The attitude here is if you build a great product people will buy it. And saw a lot of these large companies over here do not have a CMO, they don’t have a VP of marketing. You go look at the management structure, there’s nobody handling marketing. I’m really interested in seeing if I can push that a little bit here in Asia in the media to bring more attention to marketing and get some of these companies to put that in as one of their top level management positions. I would love to see Asian companies make progress that way.

Is there any type of help that you would want from anybody listening to this podcast? What can we do for you?

Josh: Anytime that I write a lot of articles still so a lot of my writing ends up in Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, Mashable, TechCrunch and other publications. I’m always looking for interesting statistics or data that relates to marketing and especially to the role of the chief marketing officer. If anybody has access to interesting data or stats or case studies, I’m always looking for that as source material for the writing I’m doing.

If you weren’t writing and if you weren’t doing the digital agency and consultancy, what else would you be doing with your time?

Josh: Well, I am doing a bunch of other things with my time so I have an easy answer for that. One of the things I’m working on right now is my next book is going to be called “The Influencer Inc.” It’s a book about how people can create their legacy and personal brand and develop themselves as influencers or thought leaders. So it talks about how to get book deals, how to get into paid speaking arrangements and how to get into the major media. I’m working on that right now and I have a free course up on my website to help people get started building their influence. This actually started because of the CMO book too because as I was writing it, I got in touch with a CMO who then retired and came back to me and said, “Hey, can you help me with this personal branding aspect,” and that led to this new book and the courses that I’m setting up on that topic.

Scott: That is really, really cool. We’ll definitely link back to all those resources that you referenced in the show notes and hopefully people will take you up for that offer and there’s always data out there. Maybe someone just doesn’t know where to send it and we’ll put your contact information in there as well. And I just really wanted to thank you again, Josh, for joining me even though we did have some connection problems from US to China, but we’ll work through that through the editing process, but thanks again, and I really, really appreciate your time.

Josh: Thank you so much, Scott. It’s been a pleasure to be here.