December 14, 2022

SaaS Marketing: Always bring the customer story forward (podcast episode #42)


Get ideas for contributed content, team management, and transitioning from a journalism career to a marketing career by listening to episode #42 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I got to sit down and chat with Sherry Lowe, Chief Marketing Officer, Exabeam.

Listen now to hear Lowe discuss honoring your brand, how marketing and sales can’t succeed without each other, and why bad news doesn’t get better with age.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

SaaS Marketing: Always bring the customer story forward (podcast episode #42)

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“The aim of a headline is not to impress the prospect,” Flint McGlaughlin teaches in Headline Writing: 4 principles that could drive down your website bounce rate.

I realized that lesson could apply equally well to internal communications, during my latest podcast discussion. Do we spend too much time trying to impress our managers and team internally? Should we just give them the most accurate information and let them come to their own conclusions? As our guest taught – “bad news doesn’t get better with age” and sometimes you just need to “eat the frog.” In other words, stop trying to impress your leaders and your team and just give it to them straight, and quickly.

You can hear that conversation, along with many more lesson-filled stories, from my discussion with Sherry Lowe, Chief Marketing Officer, Exabeam.

Lowe manages a team of 50 marketing and sales professionals at Exabeam.

Exabeam is the ninth-fastest growing company in the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Business Times. The cybersecurity company has reached unicorn status, with a valuation of $2.4 billion based on its most recent round of funding.

Listen to our conversation using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.


Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Google Podcasts

Stories (with lessons) about what she made in marketing

Some lessons from Lowe that emerged in our discussion:

Always bring the customer story forward.

Lowe says she is dating herself a little bit with this first story, but she left the sports broadcasting world for a marketing and PR career back in the 1990s. In one of her first positions in the field, Lowe realized quickly that marketers and PR folks, especially in tech, were creating collateral that was very product focused. With a journalism lens, she always wanted to know – “What’s the story? Why is anybody benefiting from it?”

At the time, she didn’t think anyone was prioritizing storytelling or doing it well. The lesson she learned from that is press releases need to have a story that is interesting, and the customer’s viewpoint should be the primary focus.

Contributed articles can be used to help ease burdens on editorial staffs.

During the 2008 recession when publications were cutting back on editorial staff, Lowe became one of the first people to utilize, and realize the benefits of, contributed articles. With less journalists, her team wanted to make it easier for publications to be featuring their executives. In a sense, they made their executives the journalists to help ease the burden on editorial staffs.

It built their credibility and allowed the journalists an insight into some of their thought leaders’ perspectives. It helped that they had executives with informed perspectives in specific industries, like Roger Burkhardt, the former Chief Technology Officer of the New York Stock Exchange.

Fast forward to 2022, and now contributed content is the norm. You have sites like Medium where individuals can contribute ad hoc.

Honor your brand.

Before she joined Splunk, an employee came up with the idea of having a t-shirt that said, “Take the sh out of IT.” Splunk brought t-shirts with the saying to one of its first tradeshows and everyone loved them. Employees used to joke around that Splunk was a t-shirt company that happened to sell software on the side. The problem is that no one knew what Splunk was actually selling.

When Lowe arrived at the company, her team formalized the t-shirt program and decided to add some to the lineup that connected more to what the company was doing. They created a process that truly honored the brand, and the product, that they were trying to sell to end users.

Stories (with lessons) about the people she made it with

Lowe also shared lessons she learned from the people she collaborated with:

Marketing and sales can’t succeed without the other

via Dave Kellogg, former CEO of MarkLogic, and current Executive in Residence at Balderton Capital

Dave Kellogg taught Lowe one of the most important lessons of her career: when sales and marketing don’t work together, they both drown. He taught her so much about what Sales brings to the table, how marketing can complement that, and how one can’t succeed without the other. It’s one of the reasons that when she came into Exabeam she felt comfortable reporting into Sales. She can now look at spreadsheets and find the error, whereas most marketers don’t look at budgets and see the errors immediately.

Bad news doesn’t get better with age.

via Godfrey Sullivan, former CEO and chairman of the board at Splunk.

Sullivan always used to remind his team that they have one mouth and two ears and recited some other very valuable leadership principles. However, “the bad news doesn’t get better with age” has stuck with Lowe the most. Throughout her career, whenever she had had to deliver bad news, she always made sure to do so as soon as possible (as well as with as much grace as possible). He taught her how you want to make sure that you, “hit people with a velvet hammer.”

You want to make an impact, but don’t want them to bleed.

Always care about your people.

via Lina Vallez, former Sr. Director of HRBP at Splunk, currently People Partner Director for Databricks.

Vallez is so wonderful, Lowe says, and she learned from Vallez how important it is to invest in your people. Just being open and listening to an employee can make all the difference. Vallez helped her through an incredibly difficult time with a fellow colleague just by having her door open and taking the time to listen to her.

Related content mentioned in this episode

Customer Experience: Take risks, fail early, and learn fast (podcast episode #32)

The Indefensible Blog Post: Forget Charlie Sheen, here are 5 marketing lessons from marketers


Product Management & Marketing: Surround yourself with the right people (podcast episode #38)

About this podcast

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.

Podcast guest application

If you would like to apply to be a guest on How I Made It In Marketing, here is the podcast guest application.


Not ready for a listen yet? Interested in searching the conversation? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our discussion.

Daniel Burstein: As humans, we want to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Pleasure, good, pain, bad as eons of evolution has taught us. So, dear marketer, what do you do when something goes wrong? Right. Your body is probably pulling you to avoid it. Put it off until later. Pain is bad, right? Of course, we all know we have to fight that urge, and I like how our next guest puts it in a lesson she learned, bad news doesn't get better with age. So true. Here to tell us who she learned that lesson from and how she learned it, along with many more lesson filled stories. Sherry Lowe, the Chief Marketing Officer of Exabeam. Thanks for joining us, Sherry

Sherry Lowe: Hi. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Daniel Burstein: So let's take a quick look at Sherry's background. I did some cherry picking off of LinkedIn. She's a news and sports reporter at four TV stations, including being the first female Sports Director at a network affiliate. And this is my favorite. She was at First Coast News, the ABC affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida, I’m based in Jacksonville, and got to follow the Jacksonville Jaguars around while they were cruising through the AFC playoffs. It sounds very cool.

But for some reason she said, No, this is not for me. She jumped out of the sports journalism world after ten years and joined the corporate world, becoming Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at SAP business objects. She had other corporate roles, such as being the VP of Marketing at Splunk, where she grew the team from 5 to 80 and she was a CMO at Expanse, a Palo Alto Networks company.

But right now she's a Chief Marketing Officer at Exabeam, where she manages a team of more than 50, both Marketing and Sales. Exabeam is the ninth fastest growing company in the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Business Times. It has reached unicorn status according to the United States Israel Business Alliance, Unicorn is a privately held company valued at $1,000,000,000 or more if you're unaware. And at the last valuation round, Exabeam was at $2.4 billion. So that's some quick background. But Sherryi, tell us, what is your day like as CMO at Exabeam?

Sherry Lowe: Well, it typically starts pretty early because we are a global company, so we have folks in APJ, folks in EMEA, all over North America. So, you know, the day starts early, usually around 6 a.m., but it starts early because I got a couple of Huskies I've got to feed bright and early before I jump on a whole bunch of calls catching up with sales folks, marketing folks all across the company.

But, I love what I do and so it doesn't feel like work. And I know you hear people say that all the time, but it is very important to find a job that doesn't feel like work. And that's what I have. So I feel pretty fortunate.

Daniel Burstein: I hear you. Well, let's dive into why you love this career of marketing so much, and let's see what we can learn from your career. So let's talk about the first lesson you learned it was always bring a customer story forward. And I think your journalism background really helped you here, right? Want to tell us how you learned that?

Sherry Lowe: Yeah, I think it did. And I think that's one of the reasons why I think I've had a successful marketing career is that I did start as a journalist. You know, I left the sports broadcasting world for a marketing and PR career in the early 2000s. And one of my first positions was, I quickly realized that marketers and PR folks, especially in tech, you know, they do a lot of product focused kind of talk and kind of speak. And I was coming from a journalism lens, and one of the first questions I was asking the folks around me was, well, what's the story? Like where is the story here? Like, how are they using the product? What are they getting from it? And at that time, there was just not a lot of prioritizing the storytelling. And because I'm a journalist, that's always where I'm coming at things from.

So the lesson I was really bringing to it for everybody around me was writing press releases. That was one of my first jobs. I was talking to customers and writing press releases, and so for me it was really about bringing that story forward and making headlines interesting, making subheads interesting, and really looking at the customer's viewpoint and putting that as the primary focus of the lot of the press releases that we did in my early days at Business Objects, that company that eventually got acquired by SAP.

So I really started my career taking that customer story, pulling it forward and making us more of a customer first company versus really just burying our story in product news. And I think that's what I sort of brought to the marketing department. And as I've gone through my career, that's what I tend to focus on, is really telling the customer story and trying to, you know, lead marketing departments that way.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, we've got a lot of research about how effective a customer first marketing approach is, and then as someone would get pitched all the time,  I appreciate anyone is not just pitching, you know, their product and they're actually thinking what would matter, not just to their customer but also to the audience of the publication, right. Because that's ultimately why you're going to get picked up.

Sherry Lowe: Well, exactly. And I think, you know, when I was first starting my marketing career, there weren't customer marketing departments, there weren't customer reference teams. There were, you know, in marketing departments, you didn't see those kinds of groups. It wasn't until later on they were forming. So it was fun for me to kind of be at the start of a lot of that.

Daniel Burstein: Well, I want to ask you about a specific local news tactic, see if you ever use this, because this tactic was always curious to me. Speaking of your, you know, there is a tactic where they use the cliffhanger promo technique, you know what I mean? Where it's like there's you know, find out at 11, like, you know, who fumbled the ball in the game tonight or whatever.

And so I interviewed Julian Rio. He's the Assistant VP of International Marketing for RingCentral earlier on the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. And one of his lessons was marketers aren't so different from actors. And I love it because I always love seeing like, what can we learn from different industries? He talked about we can learn from acting so from local news and from that kind of broadcast journalism background. Have you ever used that kind of cliffhanger tactic of you know, telling a bit of the story and trying to pull people through in tech marketing?

Sherry Lowe: You know, that's a great idea. I have not used the cliffhanger tactic in tech marketing. That's a really good idea. What I have used, though, is the concept of headline writing, which I think I've brought from my journalism days, and I've pulled that through into a lot of the email marketing that we've done. A lot of those kinds of concepts. Not so much as the cliffhanger thing is great for, I think, a lot of the advertising type of marketing that you can do. But I haven't done a lot of that type of cliffhanger like see you at 11 type of type of marketing.But oh, good idea.

Daniel Burstein: One of the things happened X, click on this email to find out.  So take us through. Like, how do you write a headline like a journalist? I mean, when you mentioned that, I'm thinking the reverse pyramid, don't bury the lead. Is that what you're talking about or is it some other way?

Sherry Lowe: Yeah, it's the well, it's also like bring them interest. Like, why do I want to read this email,  it's a don't bury the lead concept and also keep things a little shorter. You know, it's that whole kiss method, keep it simple stupid. I'm not going to read four paragraphs to get to what you want me to do. And I still, you know, even on my own team, you know, I'll look at some copy from an email and it's like, why is this four paragraphs long? No one's going to read this. So really making sure that we're keeping things simple, keeping it easy to read, easy to digest. We don't have attention spans where anyone's going to read anything that long. And I think the journalism background helps us learn to keep things a little shorter and understand that people are not going to read anything that's that long.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, I think one thing I appreciate from the world of journalism, too, which is sorely missed, this idea of, you know, dog bites man is not a story. Man bites dog is a story. I can't tell you how many stories I get pitched, like I get pitched throughout the day about content marketing. It's great. It's like we have an audience of professional marketers. They know content marketing essentially.  What are you doing that's so interesting in content marketing or SEO or link building or tech marketing or any of these things that an audience of professional marketers would find it interesting, right? Just something to think about when you're pitching stories and when you're pitching contributed articles because that's we're going to talk about next.

You said one of your lessons contributed articles can be used to help ease burdens on editorial staffs. So tell us, you learned this, you know, pretty early before a lot of people were doing contributed articles. How did you learn this?

Sherry Lowe: Well, this is something that I learned really back in 2008. I'm going to way date myself. But, you know, it was, you know, during the banking crisis and a lot of publications were cutting back on editorial staff. And I think I was in a little company called Ingress. And I do believe that, you know, I was at a company that we were some of the first to realize that with fewer journalists out there, we could actually do a lot of the writing for the companies, for the editorial publications that were cutting back on staffs and use it as a way to feature our executives as that whole idea of brand journalism. And in a sense, we made our executives, the journalists.  That really helped ease the burden on a lot of these editorial staff at the time. And it did build our credibility as a company and it also allowed the journalists some insight into some of our thought leaders perspectives.

So, you know, fast forward to now and contributing content is everywhere. There's actually forums on sites where you can submit editorial content. And you have sites like Medium where individuals can contribute or Huffington Post. So those sites didn't exist back, you know, in 2008. So maybe I missed a window of where I could have done something greater than what I'm doing now. But, you know, when  we came up with this in 2008, nobody was submitting contributed content. So I think there was something there and we were able to do something unique and first, but we also had some great executives there at the time. We had a guy by the name of Roger Burkhardt, who was the former CIO of the New York Stock Exchange. And he had a really great perspective on what was going on in the banking industry. So we also had the right people there at the right time, and I think that helped us.

Daniel Burstein: I think one lesson we can all get from that is kind of looking at the macro of any industry and seeing where we can, you know, have an advantage. And you saw what was going on in the industry of journalism, you also saw kind of the chess pieces you had to play with. But I also want to put a giant asterisk on what you said, because, you know, some people hear that know like great contributed articles, let me do contributed articles.  I will tell you we get no shortage of contributed articles pitched and 95% of them are very bad. And so it's not like with any tactic, it's not just do the tactic, it's how do you do the tactic well?

And so you were mentioning, I think, that you had found, to me just from hearing it externally, this is why this worked. You'd found a good story, right? It wasn't just that you said, hey, journalist, let's write this for you, we'll take it off your back. They are like, yeah, great. What are you going to write? You found a good source. You want to kind of tell us about how you tapped into and found that story that would ultimately resonate, that would get you in the door and be able to write for those publications?

Sherry Lowe: Well, yeah. For example, at Ingress, we were an open-source company. So we, you know, our whole idea behind Ingress was we were the new economics of IT. You don't have a lot of money. You know, banks are failing. You've got to watch your, you know, your nickels, your dimes and your pennies. So let us help you do that because we're open-source and we can help you do it at a lower cost than other organizations.

So we were able to come at it from a way that people would find interesting. Hey, how can I save money? How can I do this with my budgets getting slashed? So we had a point of view and it was a point of view from maybe something that a journalist might write about. And we were able to offer it up as not so much promoting our company, but promoting it from the way a journalist might write about it. So that made it a lot more intriguing to offer up an article like that and byline it from our CEO. So it looked a lot less like publicity and a lot more like an actual article. And I think that that was a, you know, a great selling point for it at the time.

Daniel Burstein ; So it wasn't, hey, version 11 is now out of our software.

Sherry Lowe: Yes, exactly. Yeah, exactly.

Daniel Burstein: So this next one made me laugh out loud. So I can't wait to hear you talk about it. You say, honor your brand. So that's, you know, a lesson that we kind of all think of as marketers. Hey, yeah, we should be branding, right? But honor your brand. What do you mean by honor your brand?

Sherry Lowe: Well, I. I guess I go back to my Splunk days when I talk about honoring your brand. And, you know, before I joined Splunk and I was a one of the pre IPO kids there, which, you know, lucky for me and it was a great company and a really fun place to be pre-IPO when there were just a few of us. But one of the, it was actually a founder who came up with this idea of having a T-shirt that said, take the sh out of IT. And it was just one T-shirt that they took to all these trade shows and everyone loved them. They just popped up a card table through a black, you know, black drape over it and gave out these t shirts.

And it was so popular that at one point people were saying, I think they thought Splunk was a t shirt company, honestly, it was just so popular that happened to sell some software on the side. But, you know, the problem was, you know, nobody really knew what Splunk was actually selling, but it did get the company a lot of attention.

So, you know, when I arrived there and I ran marketing, corporate marketing there, and what we really did well was to really formalize the t-shirt program because we saw how popular that was and how people really it was almost like a religion, those t-shirts. So, we added more to the lineup, and we connected it more to what we were doing as well, connected it tying it into the product and we created a process around it so that it honored the brand and the product and what we were trying to sell and we also made it very hard to put a new line on a t-shirt. So, it couldn't just be anything that made a t-shirt. It was like there were two new ones a year. It was a very special thing to roll out a line on a new t-shirt. For example, another one that we came up with was, I like big data and I cannot lie. That was another one, but it was very special to have something and it was like we voted on them at the company. There was a t-shirt committee.

So, that was what I mean by honor your brand, make it special. Don't let anything just go out with your logo on it. And I know that's hard because as you grow as a company, you know, regions pop up. You know, everybody wants to get involved in the swag business and make something. And you do have to be the brand police at some point. And it's a hard job, but it's very important as a marketer. The CMO’s role is way more than just building pipeline. You have to honor your brand, too, and that's as important as everything else.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, no, that's great. I think, you know, even as creatives in marketing, we can get blinded by that kind of shiny creative idea. We’re so blind about it, we’re just  like let's run with it. And, you know, that's where I think the CMO's role comes in, especially working with an agency and saying like, okay, it's a great idea. Like how does it actually work for brand? What is our value proposition? What are we communicating? What are we not communicating by saying that? So yeah, that's a great example.

Sherry Lowe: Well, I had some crazy stuff happen to like somebody, the company shall remain nameless actually made a magnetic logo of the company that he could put on his car. So, when he drove his car from one place to another, he's like, I can write it. I can do a tax write off if I'm driving because I can just  put the magnetic thing on the side of my car. And I was like, Oh dear. But he thought it looked great. So, you know, crazy thing. I've got so many crazy logo stories anyway.

Daniel Burstein: Well, how about this? If I'm wearing the t-shirt while I'm eating lunch or dinner, I can write off the lunch or dinner as an advertising expense, right. All right. Well, in the first half of the podcast, we talked about some lessons from the things Sherry made, because that's what we do as marketers, we get to make things. I've never been a podiatrist or an actuary or something, but I feel like we actually make things. We make brands, we make products, but we also make them with people.

So, I also want to talk about some lessons from the people she collaborated with. The first lesson comes from Dave Kellogg, former CEO of MarkLogic, and current Executive in Residence at Balderton Capital. And from Dave, you learned marketing and sales can't succeed without the other. So, it's kind of that thing we all hear and we all know should be true. But then when we get in the trenches, it's very difficult not to take out the knives. So how did you learn this and how have you lived this?

Sherry Lowe: Well, Dave Kellogg, this is one of the most important lessons in my career. And by the way, I've worked for Dave twice. He was the CEO of MarkLogic. He was also the CMO of Business Objects. So had the great opportunity to work for him twice in my career. And he has a great blog, by the way, that if anybody doesn't follow it, you should.

It's called Kellblog. And I read it all the time and I learn so much from reading that. But what he, and he writes about this a lot, but he has a blog about just when sales and marketing don't work together. He calls it a double drowning. And he's always talked about this. And it's literally one of the most deadly embraces in Silicon Valley. And I love this. I love the way he describes this often. But it's basically the head of sales and the head of marketing and you know how it goes. They are both pointing at each other. They're both blaming each other for pipeline. And it usually starts as sales signs up for the unrealistic number. Then they blame marketing for the lack of leads or bad leads, and then marketing blame sales for not sticking to the message. It's the classic finger pointing of everybody blaming the other, and it leads to the classic double drowning.

But the lesson here is collaboration, and they have to collaborate otherwise they both go down. And I've heard some CEOs say, oh, I want healthy tension between sales and marketing. That's what's really going to work. And I will tell you, no, it doesn't work. Healthy tension does not work. The teams have to work together. And that's what I've learned from Dave Kellogg, that is the message. He has taught me so much about the importance of what sales brings to the table and how marketing has to complement that. And it's one of the reasons really that I came to Exabeam. I report into sales, I report into the President of the company, and I intentionally came to Exabeam because of that.

I've been CMO of two other companies, Expanse and Druva, where I was a peer to sales, and both times we weren't drowning, but the waves were getting really high and it was getting hard to succeed. Because as peers there was a lot of healthy tension and the collaboration was really hard. So, when I left Expanse, I was looking for my next opportunity and I said, you know what? I'm going to go back to Kellogg's advice and I'm going to look for a place where marketing reports into sales and where there's that true collaboration. Because we're really all in this together. And that's when I looked up and saw Exabeam and said, I'm going to go there. That's really intriguing. And I will say I've never been at a company except I'm going to go back to Splunk, where sales and marketing were super aligned and look at the success the company has had. You can see it, and it was the same example. It just works. So I am a big fan of that. Sales and marketing collaboration. Whenever you hear somebody say there needs to be healthy tension, I don't believe it. So, I'm a big fan of that collaboration. And Dave Kellogg has always said that it's so important. You've got to avoid the double drowning.

Daniel Burstein: So I think, you know, many marketing leaders could be listening to what you're saying now and think that that sounds like a nightmare. That sounds like a worst-case scenario. I know. Yeah. Are you able to do anything that doesn't directly lead to, you know, attributable leads or able to do any branding or press or any of these things? So, you know, what is that like being a marketer day to day, essentially in a sales organization? I'd imagine the Legion activities, hey, everyone's on board there, but getting to some of these bigger picture kind of air cover activities, is that harder to pull those off?

Sherry Lowe: You know, I don't think so. I mean, again, you have to have to have the right sales leadership in place. And fortunately, I'm at a company where the right sales leadership is in place because they do get the value of marketing. Yes, you're going to have more pipeline conversations than maybe you might if you were not in the sales organization. But guess what? If you weren't in the sales organization, those pipeline conversations are probably going to happen without you. So it's better to be in them and have that seat at the table, but then have them respect that you do have to go out and do some air cover. You do need to do the creative piece of marketing. You are going to have to go do some content. So I would much rather be at the seat at the table in the collaborative environment than not be at that seat at the table. So yeah, I just think it's a really good way to work and have that collaboration and be part of that go to market team then to try to have some healthy tension that isn't going to be healthy anyway at the end of the day.

Daniel Burstein: And knives are out. I wonder, are there any practices you've consistently honed to learn from a sales team? Like once I read this blog post, I remember it was Forget Charlie Sheen. Here are five marketing lessons for marketers because at the time everyone was talking about marketing lessons from Charlie Sheen. And so we see it, mark, the lessons from celebrities. The Kardashians are business celebrities. What  can we learn from Steve Jobs and in that post I just wrote learn from the people right in front of you. Like there are so many people right in front of you that you can learn from. You don't have to learn from a celebrity. So I just wonder, you know, you hear some marketing leaders, they'll go along on sales calls or they'll have taken training in whatever the signature sales methodology is being done that time. Are there any things that you've done in your career to kind of really learn what it's like to be in sales?

Sherry Lowe: Well, I'm going to go back to the first one of the first things we talked about is talk to the customer. One thing that marketers don't do enough of is talk to customers. They go off and market and forget to talk to customers and hear what it's really like out there. So go and talk to your salespeople. Because another thing that marketers forget to do is actually go talk to salespeople. So I make sure I'm talking to, you know, the salespeople and our heads of sales regularly. And I talk to my team about that as well. It's like, make sure you're talking to our customers. Make sure you're always talking to our sales folks because you don't want to go a month or a quarter and go, Hmm, have I talked to a customer this week or have I talked to a customer this quarter?

And I think sometimes marketers forget to do that. They go off and market and then wonder, why isn't that message resonating? Hmm, did you talk to anybody that buys our product or is a prospect? Maybe that's a good idea to start there. So, lessons that you can learn from sales is talk to our prospects, talk to our customers because they're doing that every day.

Daniel Burstein: Do you have any advice for how you broach those conversations or what you handle in those conversations? Because one thing I've noticed more and more as we get into getting all this great digital data, this analytics, these metrics, this measurement, it does get harder. We kind of have lost those soft skills and now we're all working remotely.Maybe we're not going to conferences as much, but we've all lost those soft skills of how do you learn from conversations? Wait a minute, I've got the dashboard right here. It’s everything I need to know. So how do you start those conversations? How do you approach them? What do you talk about in them?

Sherry Lowe: Well, I mean, we're all people at the end of the day, right. So the best way is to just treat people like human beings, open a conversation and have a great conversation. But yes, you are right. Most conversations, a lot of times with your sales friends do start with everybody opening up a dashboard and saying, where are my leads? Where's my pipeline? You haven't given me a decent lead in, you know, three quarters. But, you know, if you can dig into the numbers and also have good data on your side and show what you've done and what you've accomplished, I think you can have a healthy conversation. If everybody approaches it from a place of and I'm going to say it from a place of kindness and respect, you can get to a good outcome, but it all starts from the top. If you have good leaders who start from that place, it filters down into the organized action. And you can have a good conversation.

Daniel Burstein: Okay, let's talk about a really difficult conversation, a really difficult internal conversation. And one of these lessons, bad news doesn't get better with age. I love that, I mentioned at the beginning. When I read I loved it because I mean it hit me in the chest. It's one of the things they hit you in the chest, because we've all had those moments in our career when, oh, no, something goes wrong. something's not up to par. And, you know, you got to break some bad news. And you also know you don't want to do it right away. That it’s a great thing to put off. So you mentioned you learned it from Godfrey Sullivan, former CEO and chairman of the board at Splunk. So how did you learn this lesson? Bad news doesn't get better with age.

Sherry Lowe: Well, Godfrey had a wonderful set of leadership lessons that or leadership advice that he would share with all of us. And he was the you know, the CEO of Splunk for many, many years. But this was one that always stuck with me, because I could sometimes be someone who didn't want to have the hard conversation. You know, you want to be nice. You don't want to hurt somebody's feelings, or you just think, oh, you know, give me a few days maybe I can fix that problem before I have to actually tell somebody about it. But, you know, Godfrey, one of his leadership principles was bad news doesn't get better with age. And the more I thought about that one, you know, I was like, he's right. You just need to go. And here's another way to say it. Eat the frog.

Daniel Burstein: I’ve never heard that, I like that.

Sherry Lowe: You’ve never heard of eat the frog. It’s do the thing you don't want to do. Do it right away and get it over with because otherwise you'll spend days worrying about it. You might as well just go eat the frog. Bad news doesn't get better with age. It's the same principle. But, he always used to remind me of that and it's just stuck with me the most. Because throughout my career, whenever I have had to deliver bad news, you just need to do it as soon as possible. Because sitting on bad news, just you just shouldn't do it. And usually you can solve it faster and you know, actually in messaging and in PR another way to say it, tell it early, tell it yourself. Because if you don't share the bad news, somebody else generally is going to., Usually you're not the only person who knows or is going to find out. So you can also control the message. So just get it out there, make sure you share it, and then you can get a group of people together to solve it faster. So that's always been one that stuck with me. And I've really, really taken that one to heart.

Daniel Burstein: Getting out ahead of it you shape the narrative. And I've also learned that maybe I’ve just been lucky, but it's never as bad as you think it's going to be in your own mind, right, once you get it out there, because then people jump in and they try to help solve the problem with you. If you've got a good team.

Sherry Lowe: It's very true. That's kind of where eat the frog comes in. I use that one more around assignments or projects I don't want to get started on. Oh, I've got to write this thing. I don't feel like doing it. It's like, Oh, I spend more time worrying about it. And if you just eat the frog, it usually takes 45 minutes and you should have just done it instead of spending 3 hours worrying about it.

Daniel Burstein: I've heard so many things in my life and my career that's I love that, that's a new one for me, eat the frog. But there's another saying that came up that I love. You mentioned that Godfrey's advice was when you break the news, you have to hit people with a velvet hammer. And I wondered if you had any examples of how you've hit people with the velvet hammer. Or you've had it done to you. Because that lesson got me thinking we've got a free marketing course, and in session number ten, Flint McGlaughlin teaches the aim of a headline is not to impress the prospect.

So, of course we're talking about to the customer, you know like we talked about headlines before, we’re just trying to impress everyone. When really, when headlines, we're trying to help the customer come to the right conclusion for themselves. And it's got me thinking too, hit people with a velvet hammer. We want to break it in a nice way. Don't try to force people, don't try to convince them and push them to your agenda so much. Give them the information. Let them come to the right conclusion for themselves. My opinion. But so anyway, do you have any examples of how someone's done that to you well, or how you've had to do that before that kind of idea of hit people with the velvet hammer?

Sherry Lowe: Yeah, the hit people with the velvet hammer was sort of, it was it was meant to be if you have to have a hard conversation with somebody and it's a pretty hard conversation, you want to make an impact, but you don't want them to bleed. You really need to have them hear you like maybe they're not leading their team in the right approach. Maybe they've done a project and it didn't end the way that it needed to end or it didn't have the results that you wanted it to have. And they need to take the project in a totally different direction and they need to hear you and maybe they don't want to hear you. So it's delivering a really tough message, but you don't want to demoralize them.

So I think it's where you start with the positives, but then you have to really, you know, have somebody know that the way they took that project was not the way that that it should have ended. So that was again, hit people with a velvet hammer but you don't want them to bleed was always sort of one of those messages I'm trying to think of if I have a good example of that.

Daniel Burstein: Well why you are thinking real quick, here’s one example I can think of. You know, I've heard that called to the compliment sandwich or they keep the sh out of IT sandwich. I heard it called to, but you know start with a comment for someone you give them constructive feedback. Then you give them another compliment to kind of, you know, let them know not all is bad, they are good in many ways, but here's something you work on.

And I had somebody who worked on my team. It's great to know your team individually too, it worked very well for a lot of people but I would chat with him and he would stop me right away. He'd say, Dan, just give it to me straight. You don’t have to give me the compliments on either end. I'm fine. Just let me know what the thing is and then move on. And I always appreciated that about him. But there are other people where, you know, they need the compliments on each end and they need that reassurance.

Sherry Lowe: So yeah, I can tell you something I did in my career, which is actually a very big mistake, but it was early. Yeah, that's always good. Early, early in my career I and it was here in Silicon Valley, I leaked some news to a reporter because I wanted them to cover a press conference that we were having the next day. And I didn't think that he would come if I didn't. It wasn't even a press conference, really. It was some news we were putting out the next day, actually, and I knew if I didn't leak it, he wouldn't probably cover it the next day. So I wanted to give him the news ahead of time. So I did that and he did cover it the next day. And we got a nice story, but I, I had to leak it to him and my CMO at the time was very, very upset because it had been some financial, confidential news that I had shared. So the next day when she, you know, learned that I had done that, she took me into her office and this is the velvet hammer, I think she said, you know, she goes, I'm not going to fire you. But this is a fireable offense.

However, you got this great coverage for us. So great job. However, newbie marketing girl, you know PR specialist person, this was just absolutely not the right thing to do. And you're so new in your career, I need to explain to you why this put the company in jeopardy. We're a public company. You shouldn't do these things. And I know you're early in your career and I should fire you, but I'm not going to because I know you need to learn. So that's the velvet hammer kind of approach, because I left her office crying. But boy, did I learn a good lesson. So that's a good velvet hammer approach. And I'm. And bless her for not firing me and giving me another chance.

Daniel Burstein: Oh, and it's a great leadership lesson. And anyone listening, I mean, not that we’ll get into it, but yeah,  I mean, public companies have certain rules they’ve got to follow, there’s  all sorts of things they have to be very careful about. But that's a great leadership lesson too because I’ve always heard there was this famous like Tom Watson story at IBM about like this was back in the forties, someone made like $1,000,000 mistake. And he comes into Tom Watson's office at IBM and he was expecting to get fired and he’s like, are you kidding me? I just paid $1,000,000 on your education. There's no way I'm firing you.

You know when you get that idea like everyone's probably going to make mistakes if you've got the right people and maybe, you know, they're early in their career, like mistakes are valuable. I mean, that's how we often learn the most is from those mistakes. So, you know, don't be so quick to cut ties on someone.

Sherry Lowe: No, no, it's I mean, and fortunately for m, yeah. And it was something I look, I'm telling that story now. That was 25 years ago. I remember it to this day. It was like yesterday. I remember. And I've never I've never leaked anything again.

Daniel Burstein: that’s what I was about to ask you too. The great thing, if you hadn't have made that mistake, you know what I mean, what would happen? But the great thing is, boy, you remember that. And you never do that again, right?

Sherry Lowe: No, never. And other younger people on my teams, as I've gone forward, I think about that and some people have gotten a second chance, so.

Daniel Burstein: Very nice, paying it forward. So I  guess that really goes into our last lesson we're going to talk about here. Always care about your people. You said you learn this from Lina Vallez, former Sr. Director of HRBP at Splunk, currently People Partner Director for Databricks. So how did you learn this from Lina?

Sherry Lowe: You know, Lina is one of those really incredible human resources folks that, you know, just really, really was a great people person. And I say this because you think of H.R. people as well, aren't they all people? That's what their job is. They're supposed to be people people. But, they're not all necessarily great people people. H.R. people are there to protect the company. That's what their jobs are. But Lina is different. And I think she really made a difference in a lot of people's lives because she cared about people. And she just really helped me through an incredibly difficult time with a fellow colleague. And just by having a door open at all times and listening and I could really just come to her at any time and talk through things.


And I felt like I wasn't talking to H.R.. I was talking to a friend. She would also call me and ask for advice. So I really got from Lina the value of listening and slowing down as a leader. And sometimes it's not always about taking an action. Sometimes you just need to slow down. Listen, care. You have human beings on your team and all around you, and sometimes they just need to need an ear.

And I thought Lina was just wonderful at that. And it's not always about, you know, it is about running the business. But we also need to just slow down for a moment. And I really got that from Lina. And she's somebody I often think about. So yeah, it was really, really good to have some time with her at Splunk.

Daniel Burstein: Well, I wonder, is there anything you specifically do with your teams to show you care? I mean, this has only gotten harder. It looks like you're work in your home office. We're all remote now, not seeing each other all the time. I interviewed Michelle Huff, the Chief Marketing Officer at User testing on the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. And one of her lessons was surround yourself with the right people. And she literallyy talked about like, okay, here's how I build that culture. I want to have a certain culture here. Here's how I'm building that. So just wonder for you, is there something specific  Sherry that you do to kind build that culture, anything you've learned over the years?

Sherry Lowe: Well, I try to come to one on ones with my directs with no agenda. It's their time to talk to me about what's going on in their world. So that's one thing that I do. And also, you know, I have a team of 50 plus folks. I do try to meet with the other my direct folks on their teams and make time. It's hard to find the time, but you do try to just give everybody a little bit of your time. And you know, that's you just do the best you can open door policy is really you know my leadership method and making yourself available to your team.

It's hard to work for somebody for a leader that isn't available to you. I've worked for both types of leaders. I do better with, you know, leaders who are available to me, who I can text or call or put some time on their calendar. And that's the kind of leader I try to be. And yeah, it is hard. You just, you don't run into people in kitchens anymore.

Daniel Burstein: I think with remote teams or I think everyone's trying to figure out this balance of like, well, should we have offsites? How often should we have offsites? Do we still do that? Is that still okay? Have you found any right balance for that or any approach that you've taken?

Sherry Lowe: You know, I've tried to do a couple of offsites which have been fun. Sometimes I find now with I mean, we're still we're not in a pandemic, but people do still worry about COVID and they still are wearing masks. I mean, I still wear a mask to the grocery store. So I find sometimes with offsites, people are looking at them as burdens in a way, and they don't necessarily want to go anywhere. Or maybe they have family members who are at risk at home. So we're trying to do maybe one offsite a year and get people together. We're doing smaller lunches in the office and I don't make it a requirement. If you're comfortable coming in, please do, but don't feel like you have to. And also, you know, Daniel, something that popped up over the over, people working from home and working remotely. I hired a lot of people not in headquarters, which has been interesting.  I started hiring the best person for the job, not the best person that could drive to the office. And now I have a team all over the country so they can't get to the office easy, you know, super easy. So everybody people are in Boston, Atlanta and Tampa, they're all over the place. So we are a Zoom culture now.

Daniel Burstein: Let me ask you one last question about that. When you talk about caring for people and building the right team, has the way you interview,  or teacher team to interview or hire changed now that you're hiring virtually? You know, I mean, there's one thing when you get people in the room, you sit there, you look them in the eye, you talk to them. Yeah, we've got Zoom. It's not quite the same has anything changed in how you hire virtually versus when you're hiring just in-person at headquarters.

Sherry Lowe: Well, I think when we were hiring in person, well, we used to look for people who lived in the Bay Area, primarily. We were headquartered based you know, our offices are in Foster City. So we primarily had, you know, hired people who were in the Bay Area. And now we really look at resumes, more resumes in terms of what have you done, what's your experience? And we're not as obsessed with you need to be in the San Francisco Bay area. And I think, for example, you know, our website persons in Boston, we have a Product Marketer in Boston, have, you know, folks in Tampa and Atlanta and South Carolina all in marketing pre-pandemic, probably would not have hired those folks because we would want them near the office.

So I feel we're much more skewed towards is this person going to be able to do the job versus is this person driving distance to our office? And as a result, we have built a stronger team and are less concerned about whether we can see them in person. Has the interview process changed? I don't think so, other than we're not necessarily meeting everybody in person. But I think that's okay. It's amazing how well you can get to know folks over Zoom.

Daniel Burstein: Well, speaking of hiring and what we look for marketers, we've talked about so many different things about what it means to be a marketer from using those journalism chops that you earned to, you know, working with sales. So, I wonder, in your opinion, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Sherry Lowe: Well, you know, I think just emotion and being in touch with that side of yourself and I'm going to go to this place that I've written about, I've talked about it, and I'm going to talk in a headline really quick because I've written about this Don't let metrics kill your marketing. We get so very obsessed with, you know, ROI, how is the campaign performing? How did the event perform? That we don't just slow down, you know, I don't want to date myself but I do remember a day when the first topic on the agenda wasn't that immediate ROI of marketing. You know, marketing had just a little bit of time to breathe, where I feel like we've lost that time to breathe a little bit, so.

I mean, nobody can deny and I will never deny that there's a need for data and metrics. We absolutely have to look at that. And I'm one of the first people to ask, what was the ROI of that event? Should we do it again? Did anyone download that white paper? How many downloads did it have? Is it converting? What's the conversion rate? But the problem arises when we just focus too closely or solely on that one activity or just the, you know, the almighty number from that one activity. And not like the impact of the journey. You know, you can measure clicks and views and likes and website traffic and all of that. But, you know, how do you put a number on creativity or emotion on or how do you measure how deeply the campaign resonated beyond just how long they stayed on the page?

I just don't want us to lose that. That time to slow down, breathe, contemplate. And I've always worried that about that. So ,I  don't want to be marketers that are afraid to try something different because we're worried about the immediate impact of a metric. And sometimes sales cycles are long, you know, and, and sales wants to see a metric within three months. And, you know, sometimes you're seeing something that, you know, hey, we did that campaign 18 months ago. Look, that's where it all started. So, you know, at the end of the day, I just don't want to lose the magic in marketing, because marketing is about people. People are moved by ideas. And if we're only looking at metrics, we're going to lose magic. And I don't I don't want that to happen.

Daniel Burstein: As someone whose backgrounds is a writer, I love hearing you say that. And people are moved by ideas. And like the Splunk example we gave, there wasn't some metrics behind keep the sh out of ITt. That was organization that resonated with people and it brings that attribution. I want to tell one quick story attribution story about how things could be misattributed, not exactly marketing.

We as an organization were buying or leasing or something, some grade office on the ocean front or whatever. And so we go and we go there and our CEO is set up, we're talking and everyone loves it. The only thing they don't like is the interior decorations and they're like, all right, well, we can get rid of this. This was just a staging. So anyway, after that, I walked down the hallway, walk into an elevator, and someone coming off the elevator is I could tell by the conversation she was having is the person who did the staging,  and she said, hey, I did the staging for this office and at least in three days. And I did such great staging.And the funny thing was 10 minutes ago we were in the office saying the only thing we don't like is the staging.

So very different, of course, from tech marketing. But it does make me think you can't always attribute everything that you want to achieve. You can't always understand how this complex factor plays together. And like you said about Splunk, that was an organization that kind of built this relationship with people. It kind of built a movement that probably didn't always show up in the monthly numbers, in the quarterly number. So anyway Sherry, I love hearing you say that.

Sherry Lowe: Yeah, yeah. It's just like give marketing time to breathe. It's needed. And, and I think you'll be happy with the results if you do.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And bring humanity to marketing too. Realize you're humans marketing to other humans not humans marketing to a spreadsheet and a database.

Sherry Lowe: Exactly. Exactly.

Daniel Burstein: Well, thank you so much for your time, Sherry. I learned so much from you today.

Sherry Lowe: Thank you so much, Daniel. I loved being on the program and have enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.

Daniel Burstein: Thanks to everyone for listening.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions