Marketers Count Podcast: #RunMarketing Like a Submariner

Are you running your marketing organization like a submariner?

I recently welcomed Bryan Semple, CMO of SmartBear, to our Marketers Count podcast. I’m always inspired by talking to modern marketers like Bryan and hearing about the strategies they’re using to make an impact in their organizations.

While Bryan’s now leading marketing for a 250-personal company that sells software quality tools, he began his career serving in the U.S. Navy on fast attack submarines. On the surface, running marketing at a global company and being a submariner have nothing in common. But the reality is, there are similarities. Just like there’s an operational leader on a submarine, today’s successful CMO needs to steer both the customer experience journey and run the operational marketing “back office.”

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Below are a few highlights from our conversation. Listen to the full podcast for more of my discussion with Bryan.

More Operations, Less Art

Bryan joined SmartBear from Dell. As CMO of Dell Software Group, he was charged with expanding sales and marketing processes across the Dell software portfolio. Based on what he learned during his CMO and VP of marketing roles at other companies that included VKernel, NetApp and Onaro, Bryan wrote the book to guide CMOs trying to make sense of a complex operational environment: “Digital CMO’s Guide to Marketing Measurement – Think Like a Submariner for Operational Success.”

Running these rapidly growing, revenue-focused (“high-velocity”) marketing teams, Bryan says, “I found it was less about art. I spent more and more time on operational issues versus what does the creation look like for an email blast?” As he pointed out, it became increasingly important to track customer growth and ROI. More than ever, marketing’s job is to drive revenue — and show those results in hard numbers.

Get a Handle on the Operations Foundation

Having an operational understanding of the fundamentals – like how marketing is driving the bottom line or impacting the business – is absolutely critical for all marketing leaders. Without that knowledge, Bryan says he’s seen marketers “overcommit to things they couldn’t do, or not commit to things they should be doing.”

One of my favorite insights from Bryan: “Everybody is finding you can’t spend your way out of a lot of the marketing challenges.” He says that when SmartBear spends money, “we measure it very, very early in the process.” All of that data is then used to drive future decisions.

Run Marketing like a Submariner

When he was in the Navy, Bryan always had an operational leader running the submarine, an officer of the deck. But it’s not just the captain all the time. You also have operational sections – someone from engineering, someone from weapons, someone from navigation – all working together and reporting to the operational leader. So if the officer of the deck calls down to the engine room and says “Go faster,” the guy in the engine room doesn’t say, “Let me check with my boss.” In an operational chain of command, everyone reports to the leader running the ship.

Marketers running a high-velocity organization are surrounded by tons of operational information. Bryan says, “If you think about it, there are literally hundreds of people at a given second flowing through your marketing systems.” But as marketing organizations grow, too often they organize around functions like email marketing or trade shows. When you organize this way, if the person running the ship wants to do a new email marketing campaign, the email marketing teams needs to check with their boss – which just slows everything down.

Bryan says, “I firmly believe high-velocity marketing organizations need to be organized in an operational flow around the customer journey first. The functional organization is almost not important. Then you measure your role on that operational team.”

Flexibility is key to run marketing like a submariner. After all, if there’s a call for an all hands on deck because the person running the ship wants to do something different, you don’t want to slow down the process by seeking appropriate approvals. And of course, having operational data at your fingertips keeps you on course and tracking to the right objectives.

Listen to other Marketers Count episodes and learn other ways to #RunMarketing.