Jim Freeze has spent most of his career in high-tech marketing, dating back to the mid-80's "when I was with a company called CompuServe." Since then, his jobs varied from start-ups to Fortune 500s. He even did a stint as a research analyst at Forrester.
Currently, Freeze is Senior VP and CMO of Centra Software (NASDAQ: CTRA). We asked what advice he'd give other high-tech marketers working their way up the ladder.
-> Tip #1. Get varied experience - including in sales
"A lot of marketers stick with one thing, then hit a wall. I've seen a number of folks who were laid off who only had one discipline in marketing."
Most important experience? Sales.
Psychological profiles of successful marketing and sales executives reveal the two are generally nothing alike. (Which explains why sales and marketing departments so rarely get along very well.) Freeze understands that, but says if you really want to get ahead as a marketer in a sales-driven organization, it helps to have some hands-on sales experience on your resume.
"You can have the best products and the best marketing in the world, but if you don't have an appreciation of sales, it doesn’t really matter," he explains.
However, if your ultimate goal is CMO, make sure your for-the-experience jobs don't sidetrack you.
For example, Freeze says: "I was working for a public company and was running product marketing. We often hosted analysts, and I represented the business side of the company" to the visiting analysts, he says. "I ended up being so effective at that that the company asked if I was interested in becoming head of investor relations."
Though it would have been a promotion -- he was a director at the time and would have become a VP -- Freeze felt the job would have pigeonholed him.
"There were skills I could have gained, but I felt I could have gotten those same kinds of skills by continuing to support the company by what I was already doing."
"You might have the chance to make more money or get a sexier title, but you have to be mature enough to say no if it doesn't take you to the next level," Freeze says.
The easiest way to get varied experience is to make horizontal moves in your own organization. "It's tough to apply for sales positions at other companies if you've never done sales before," he says. "It's easier where you're known, where people know you're capable." This also means very large firms with lots of room for horizontal moves, and tiny entrepreneurial companies where people wear multiple hats, are your best bets overall.
-> Tip #2. Align yourself with outside departments… carefully
"I'm a huge believer in alignment of senior management where everyone walks and talks on the same page. There were times in the past I didn't do as good a job in alignment, where I didn't align with sales, and it created problems."
Also, "seeking out relationships with peers in finance is really important," says Freeze. Get finance involved early on in a project. "If it's a pricing exercise, getting their buy-in early helps smooth the process on the other side of the house." And never underestimate the value of a CFO.
That said, Freeze warns against junior-marketers aligning with senior people who are not in your organization or department. "Someone in marketing aligning with a senior exec in sales, either because they don't respect the leadership in marketing or think sales is more powerful, is really stupid," he says.
"If that person happens to leave, or if you happen to be wrong, you've probably done serious damage to yourself within marketing. I've seen that happen so many times, and it does so much damage, you end up not trusting the person."
-> Tip #3. Avoid politics
"The worst thing you can do is to become highly political," Freeze says. "There are a lot of individuals who focus more on politics than substance. It can pay off, but it's a lot more risky to do that."
Stop trying to figure out who carries the power. Just do your job and be a team player, he suggests.
Plus, don't assume that you know better than your boss what ought to be done. "I've learned that the perspective is always different when in the seat rather than looking at the seat." Bosses have different responsibilities and different information. Assume that there are reasons for decisions being made that you don't have information about.
Bad-mouthing and getting caught up in the rumor-mill affects your ability to be perceived as having substance.
Does Freeze have any regrets about his career?
Here's one: There was a particular company to whom, when offered a job as CEO, he said "No, thanks," and referred them to someone else. That company ended up being a very successful IPOs, and the person he recommended is now wealthy and happily retired.
"But I'm still relatively young. If I was retired now, I wouldn't know what to do with myself," Freeze says. "I've made mistakes, there's no doubt about it. But I wouldn't characterize it as having regrets."
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