December 14, 2023

Career Management: Focus on your left foot (podcast episode #80)


Check out my conversation with Asim Zaheer, Chief Marketing Officer, Nasuni, in episode #80 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. Zaheer discussed influential leadership, public speaking, and team management.

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

Career Management: Focus on your left foot (podcast episode #80)

Advance your career by building your artificial intelligence skills. Get a free trial to the AI Guild at (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

Let me confess something to you right now — I have my share of weaknesses.

I’m sure you’re not shocked to hear that. We all do, right?

But I don’t go ‘all in’ on improving them. Instead, I focus on my strengths. I learned this lesson from John Maxwell long ago.

He said, “We’re taught to be well-rounded and to improve our weaknesses. However, in many arenas of life, we naturally perform poorly. Even with hard work, we will never become better than average in them. The reality is that people don’t pay for average. No one gets excited to dine out at an average restaurant, to spend two hours watching an average movie, or to hire someone with average abilities.”

I’ve internalized that and live that in my career. So I was excited when I saw the podcast guest application from my latest guest, and wanted to talk to this kindred spirit to learn how he has taken this approach in his – quite successful – career.

But with all due respect to Maxwell, I like how my latest guest worded it even better – “focus on your left foot.” To learn the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson-filled stories, I spoke with Asim Zaheer, Chief Marketing Officer, Nasuni.

Since its founding, Nasuni has raised $169 million, with the latest funding round a $25 million investment in which all previous investors participated, including Goldman Sachs, Telstra Ventures, and Northbridge Venture Partners.

Nasuni is above $100 million in annual recurring revenue and Zaheer manages a marketing budget of approximately 10% of that revenue.

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

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Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Some lessons from Zaheer that emerged in our discussion:

Focus on your left foot

Earlier in his career, Zaheer heard the great story of Leo Messi (one of his favorite athletes) from Marcus Buckingham. In his years as a youth player in the Barcelona Academy, Messi was very left-foot dominant, rarely using his right foot. The coaches decided to focus him on developing his weakness (right foot) and becoming a more complete player. This resulted in him overcompensating and being less effective by not leveraging his greatest strength – his left foot.

This was later corrected in his career, and he is extremely left-foot dominant but unstoppable because his strength is so good.

He applied this lesson in his own career, and he also uses it when coaching members of his team – what is your greatest strength (your ‘left foot’) and how can we develop that further and make it stronger? Zaheer always considered market positioning and messaging his greatest strength and decided to double down on this over the years.

Sometimes he doesn’t get the opportunity to use his left foot as much as he’d like and has noticed it does get rusty – he needs to continue to work on this part of his craft or it will decay.

Be an influencer (and I don’t mean Instagram)

Zaheer learned very early on that influence is earned and not handed to you (even with your direct reports). Your sphere of influence grows as you demonstrate mastery of your area to stakeholders, and you generate ideas that force people to think. His career started as a product manager – the quintessential role that requires massive accountability with no direct control of people or resources that impact your goals.

It was hard (especially as someone so young compared to peers) but he learned the techniques to influence sales, engineering, and logistics to support his needs. He can’t underscore enough the importance of building relationships to grow that influence; it’s been critical to his growth.

Lessons (with stories) from people he collaborated with

Zaheer also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with.

Be like Randy (research and rehearse your presentations)

via Brian Householder, CEO, Hitachi Vantara

Zaheer’s brand (for a long time) was to be the ‘quick on your feet’ speaker and leader who was not scripted and tried to be as authentic as possible. One year at an industry analyst conference that they hosted, with hundreds of attendees, he served as the MC and host for the day. His style was to hit his talking points but mostly intersperse whatever came into his head and speak off the cuff. His belief was that this was more relatable and interesting to audiences.

His CEO at Hitachi, Brian Householder pulled him aside later that evening and simply said, “less Jim and more Randy.” Jim and Randy were other executives on their team – Jim being more off-the-cuff like Zaheer and Randy being more scripted and prepared whenever he spoke in front of large audiences. That comment really hit home. He completely changed his game from that day forward.

A year later, he walked off a stage (after delivering a meticulously researched and rehearsed presentation) and an audience member literally walked up to him and said, “that’s the greatest presentation I have ever seen!” He chuckled a bit at the hyperbole, but he did give myself a small mental pat on the back for his transformation.

Team above self

Via Jack Domme, CEO, Hitachi Vantara

When Zaheer was at Hitachi, they would have monthly executive committee meetings with scores of people from across the corporation to review the business and present key projects. He learned the culture that Jack Domme (their CEO at the time) had established very quickly

Zaheer was warned and saw firsthand that those who would dare to present something in front of the group and try to take credit for anything they were talking about will be quickly shot down and/or embarrassed in front of the group.

It was about the team that delivered the results or success – it’s not about you. Fortunately, he did not have to go thought that himself as he saw very experienced executives get humiliated for their egos.

Related content discussed in this episode

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

Asim Zaheer: You're always pitching right? And marketing. You're always pitching. I think you've got to be careful internally, though, and it's so necessary to write and you have to do internal marketing so people understand what your function does. A lot of things that people don't even understand what marketing is doing, right? And so you have to share that in search of result but can't overdo it because it turns into spam.

Right. Like the internal version of spam when you're over there overselling. Right. And that means they'll go Now, we don't know what to believe right? Too much.

Intro: Welcome to How I Made It. In marketing from marketing Sherpa, we scour pitches from hundreds of creative leaders and uncover specific examples, not just trending ideas or buzzword laden schmaltz, real world examples to help you transform yourself as a marketer. Now here's your host, The senior director of Content and Marketing at Marketing Sherpa Daniel Burstein, to tell you about today's guest.

Asim Zaheer: And.

Daniel Burstein: Let me confess something to you right now. I have my share of weaknesses. I'm sure you're not shocked to hear that. We all do right? But I don't go all in on improving them. Instead, I focus on my strengths. I learned this lesson from John Maxwell long ago. He said, We're taught to be well-rounded and to improve our weaknesses.

However, in many arenas of life, we naturally performed poorly, even with hard. Even with hard work, we will never become better than average in them. The reality is that people don't pay for average. No one gets excited to dine out at an average restaurant to spend 2 hours watching an average movie, or to hire someone with average abilities.

Ouch. But true, I've internalized that and I live that in my career. So I was excited when I saw the podcast guest application for my next guest and wanted to talk to this kindred spirit to learn how he has taken this approach in his quite successful career. With all due respect to Maxwell, I like how my next guest worded it even better.

Focus on your left foot here to tell us how he learned and lived that lesson and to share many more lesson filled stories is a sin. Zahir, Chief Marketing Officer at the SUNY, Thanks for joining us.

Asim Zaheer: S.M. Thank you, Daniel. Nice to be here.

Daniel Burstein: So let's take a quick look at your background so people understand who I'm talking to. Just cherry picked from his wide, varied career but started early in his career as a senior manager of worldwide product management and marketing at Compaq Computer Corp. He's been a CMO of archives, which is now part of Hitachi Data Systems as CMO of Hitachi VANTARA, and now he is CMO of SUNY.

Since its founding, this new SUNY has raised $169 million with the last funding, a $25 million investment in which all previous investors participated, including Goldman Sachs, Telstra Ventures and Northbridge Venture Partners. The SUNY is above $100 million A are an asset manages a marketing budget of approximately 10% from that revenue. So, Sam, give us a sense what is your day like as CMO of New SUNY?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, that's a great question. Well, I've only been at the SUNY about a month, first of all, so I'm still getting acclimated, but I feel like I've been there a while. My typical day is commuting into our worldwide headquarters in beautiful downtown Boston in the Seaport District, which is always fun because it's a great part of the city.

It's actually a great part of the world. A lot of energy, a lot of tech companies down there, a lot of great culture restaurants and everything. So it's a great place to go to every day. And while we're there, boy, what am I working on? Because we're just getting out of this whole hybrid remote work world that we lived in and people are now starting to get back into the office.

So whenever we're together, we're meeting a lot, which is great because I get energy from other people and I get ideas and we bounce things off each other and we're better for it. And so we do spend a lot of time just catching up, a lot of information sharing. I do a lot of one on ones with my team members.

We actually are able to get into rooms and brainstorm on whiteboards, which is really hard to do on Zoom. So that's my typical day is just catching up on what's going on, brainstorming and what we want to do next, and just kind of learning from, you know, my team members and my colleagues, just about our industry and our about our company, most recently for me, because I'm relatively new.

Daniel Burstein: All right, Fantastic. Well, let's take a look at your Newton SUNY, But you're not new in the marketing industry, Celeste here. Look at your long and varied career and see what we can learn from the things you've made. Your first lesson. You said focus on your left foot. So I referenced this in the beginning. I maybe gave it away, but what do you mean by this?

How you learn this? Yeah. How did you learn this lesson?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, well, first of all, I got this analogy from Marcus Buckingham, who's a bestselling author and speaker. He he spoke to one of my companies many, many years ago, and he talked about this concept, which is to focus on your strength rather than spending too much time trying to build up your weaknesses. Because research shows and history shows that people who double down on what they're good at have a higher propensity to be successful over time in their chosen field.

And so the example, the left foot comes from Lionel Messi, who is arguably the world's greatest soccer player, maybe the greatest player of all time here in the United States, which is fantastic. We love that. He is very left with dominant and early in his career. People try to move him to try to work on his weakness, which is his right foot.

And it was a complete waste of time. He just he chose to stick to his left foot, which is unstoppable, basically. And everybody knows it's coming and everybody knows he's going to use it and they can't do anything about it because he is so good at it. And so that's where the lesson I learned from from Marcus and kind of applied that to myself, which is, all right, what am I really good at and how do I hone those skills?

And it really makes you think, right? Like you focus on making what's good even better, which is a different mindset then, Oh my gosh, I'm not really good at this or I wish I was better at that. Let me spend more time on those. I think you have to have like an acceptable level of competence in certain things, but you don't have to be great at absolutely everything.

But if you are really good at something, you should try to make that even better. Was my lesson that I learned from all of that.

Daniel Burstein: So how did you discover what your left foot is like? How did you discover what to focus on? Because, you know, when I heard that lesson at first, it's funny, I heard that lesson. I was I was I took the Maxwell class and where we teach the Maxwell class internally, and I love the lesson of, you know, people don't go to an average restaurant and it's one kind of smart.

Alec, I brought up a good point. He's like, What are you talking about? People needed Applebee's and Chili's all the time. Those are those are very average restaurants. I was like, That's a good point. It's like, maybe they're awesome being average. So I was trying to figure out what am I awesome at? And for me, it's been the art of business, right?

Like this type of thing. Getting to, like interview leaders like you and kind of pull out all these lessons for people like that is my thing. There's other elements of business where I'll never be better than average, and I just try to tread water to get that done, but partner with people who can really excel there. So we can we can do this and make this happen.

So for you, what was your left and how did you discover that? Yeah.

Asim Zaheer: Yeah. My and this sounds I know this might sound almost like a cliche, but I think I excel at simplifying complexity and it serves me really well as a marketer because I work in technology and it can be a very complex world and it can be very difficult for people who live in this world sometimes to even understand, let alone the layperson.

And so it's part of my job is to make this understandable for people who may not be able to derive, you know, with the value who might be in what you're talking about. And so I had a lesson early, early on. It related to the time when I was just about to join a new company. I was recruited by a pretty hot at the time, about to be pretty hot startup here in the greater Boston area about 20 years ago, and to come in and be their first CMO and take them into the growth stage, etc..

And so before I even began, they wanted me to come in and make a presentation and I had not even really studied their space all that well. And the task was to analyze the market and analyze the competition and present to the board in a week what you learned and how we, the new company. We're going to differentiate ourselves in that space.

And so I had done some cursory work around this and obviously before I decided to join them. But this was a lot of deep late nights and research, trying to understand the space fairly quickly. The people who actually knew it a lot better than I did at the time. But my job was to try to cut through the noise and and walk away with a couple of key takeaways that I could share with them that maybe they hadn't considered previously.

And so long story short, I pulled it off. They didn't fire me before I even started. And I realized, okay, wow, this is I guess I can do this. This is I'm good at this. And so I, you know, I try to apply that I'm not always perfect, but I try to apply that mindset as much as I can because you in business and especially in tech, you have a tendency to get overwhelmed and almost go too deep in certain areas and you completely lose sight of the forest.

You're always in the trees. And so I think as marketers, we our job is to help people see the forest at all times.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. So, you know, as you talking about this idea of books under my foot, double down on your strengths, what have you done in your career to be able to get better and better at that simplifying complexity. Because I know for me, like, you know, as a writer that is has also been an important thing for me. And getting into I mean, I started my career in B2C side, so when I first got into the B2B and working with software companies, enterprise software companies, you know, one thing I did is I just, you know, kind of buried myself in industry publications to learn all I could about it.

I mean, back then there was a lot of like, you know, magazines and all these different verticals like week and all these things. I would just try to like, fill my head with as much knowledge as I can. So then when I was interviewing and going through subject matter experts, I knew what I was talking about and then I could take those skills and actually communicate it out where it made sense.

Because to simplify complexity, first you have to understand the complexity, right? If you don't understand, if you can simplify a lot, you simplify it. And I remember getting a question from copyright, you know, answer questions sometimes here on the marking ship or blog. And he said, Hey, I'm a non-native English speaker and you're not fluent. He's like, What can I do to become a better copywriter?

And so one thing I told him was like, Hey, we're all non-native, right? So I might be a native English speaker, but I was not native in software, I was non-native in tech. I mean, there's so many different industries or, you know, like sub verticals I've had to work with where I started non-native. And so the first step for me was always pick up that fluency.

So you understand that complexity side of it before you can simplify anything. So what's work for you? How to kind of double down on this and improve this skill throughout your career?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, I mean, one of the ways to do it, obviously, is you need to keep trying and take risks.

One key element you talked about, you know, immersing yourself and becoming expert and knowledgeable in a space which I absolutely agree with, it's very important. But I think what's key is always putting yourself in your audiences shoes, like how would they interpret this? How would they perceive what you're trying to say if you always have that mindset, it always brings you back.

And so an example of this and again, you try and you fail, you try and you fail, you don't always get it right. One example of this in my career was it was a pretty big project was when I was at Hitachi and we at the time were a business unit within the Hitachi conglomerate. We were the tech business multibillion dollar business, but we had made some acquisitions.

We were going to inherit other parts of the Hitachi portfolio and we were going to be this bigger entity that offered a much bigger portfolio of capabilities. And so we had to rebrand the company itself and we had to reposition the company as doing, you know, you thought we used to do X, now we do Y. And so that exercise, which is on a massive scale, really forced us to think about, okay, this new brand which became Hitachi VANTARA, which was the unit in the name of the new company, what does it represent when we sell everything under the sun as far as tech was concerned at the time?

But what do we want to be known for? And so that was the ultimate exercise in taking complexity and trying to make it simple. And one sentence answer right for your potential customers and for your existing customers. And so that really was this on steroids, which was, okay, wow. We do everything from, you know, enterprise infrastructure to use cloud software to services, to Internet of Things, which is really hard at the time.

What do we want to be known for? Right. And so distilling that down and the process of doing that repeatedly and it took a lot of iterations was a good example of of doing that. And we thought, I think we did it pretty well. But I mean, you have to do these exercises repeatedly to be good at them, to be better at them.

And so you have to be able to take risks and be comfortable with being told, no, that's stupid, ridiculous. No one understands that. You know, I guess you got to leave your ego at the door. Also, as a marketer, I think that's kind of a known trait that everyone needs to have, which is, you know, everybody's going to criticize, but just be prepared.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. So to lead a company through that, I mean, we call them that because we'd call that the value proposition. And you know, I've been involved in many value proposition workshops and to do that, what I've learned, I mean, you really need some influence in that room because in that room people are going to challenge you a lot, you know what I mean?

And you really have to take like as you were just kind of saying before, you need to take the side of the potential customer you advocate for the audience. I say so again, to do that, you need influence in that room. And one of your lessons is be an influencer. And I don't mean Instagram. I like how you put that.

So how did you learn in your career to be able to build up and be able to get that? What we're talking about gets internal influence in a in a way, in an organization.

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, I think it all starts with relationships. You know, I think you can influence based on authority, which sometimes is effective, sometimes it isn't because you don't have authority over everybody. You don't have authority over your peers, you don't have authority over your superiors. And so the best way I think to develop influence is first build relationships. And you build relationships through establishing trust.

How do you establish trust? You are somebody that your colleague can count on. You're somebody that is helpful, is somebody who can provide them what they need to make them successful. So they will do the same for you. And so once you establish that trust, then they will probably have an inherent bias towards you. If you have an idea that you want to bring to the table of you have something that you want to champion, they'll air typically on the side of your point of view.

They'll challenge you if they're good at their jobs, as they should. But if you have a meaningful argument, they'll typically trust you. And so, you know, it's as simple as that as relationship building and relationship building is not like I described. It's not a simple task. It's not just taking somebody out for coffee, it's building professional trust. Right.

And working together and helping each other solve business problems and helping someone who may need assistance and help it to solve their problem. They're going to come to your aid when you need them to champion for something or need your help convincing others to do something. That's what's worked for me. And it's not, you know, you can come in and into even a new organization or a new company and act heavy handed and say, I have all the answers and here's what we're going to do and everybody get behind me.

Well, the people don't care. They don't know you that well. And B, you haven't been there long enough to establish any trust. Then they may follow along for a little while, but invariably they may abandon you and not believe in your idea. So it takes time. It takes time to establish that. Then you have trust on a team.

Then you know you can accomplish a lot. You know, those are well-functioning teams where, you know, there's trust on the team. Each individual can influence the other. They have respect for each other's ideas. That's when you can start making things happen.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, maybe you can take us back to your mentioning. You really first learned this in your first role as a project manager. What you first did coming into that role and how you learned to kind of build that influence early in your career, then how that kind of translates to what you do now going into even a Sunni or any other.

The roles that you went into starting as a CMO, like kind of what specific tactics you use to actually build trust. I think back to my first role, I remember I was a copywriter, I was right out of college and the thing that shocked me was right away on the team, you know, there's an art director, an account executive, me planner, all these folks, and they would just turn to me and ask me things.

And I was supposed to know answers. And this was shocking to me because when you come when you first come out of college, that's the biggest difference that professors have all the answers that, oh, wow, I, I did need to to your point, like deliver and come through and build those relationships. And that is how I got influence.

And so, you know, fortunately, luckily I was able to do that. But it was kind of shocking stepping into the first role. I mean, like I said, as I moved on and roles of my career was a little smarter coming in of like asking questions and learning more and kind of filling out my role and seeing how I can help and, you know, fit into the team.

What are my strengths, Like you said earlier, what are the team strengths? Where do I fit in? So, so for you to take that first role, how do you how did you first figure this out and how have you done that throughout your career?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, I mean, I think I couldn't have had a better first job, which was as a product manager at a tech company. It was a school. It was actually DAC Digital equipment Corp at the time, which then became Compaq. A couple of years later we got Bot, which then that became HP to this day. But anyway, product Manager Right.

You have responsibility for everything and direct authority over nothing. So it's the ultimate influencer role. And so and I'm a new neophyte, new industry needs a new career and I'm working with people literally, you know, some people double my age who've been doing this for a long time and be responsible. There are different functions like from manufacturing to product development to support to sales.

These are all members of your virtual team and you're trying to convince them to go down a certain path in support of your product. And so it was I mean, I was that was literally being thrown into the fire. And so I navigate all that by just not, you know, being overly opinionated and keeping my mouth shut for a while and just listening and building these individual relationships with everyone.

Because I didn't know anything. I didn't know enough to have an opinion for quite a while. I was just like keeping tabs and making sure the trains run on time. I wasn't going to steer in any new directions, and so I took the time to get to know the individuals that I was working with, figuring out how I could offer them and add value to them.

And they over time became sympathetic to my plight, which was, you know, this kid is being thrown into this fire and we want to make them successful. And so that helped me a ton. But I mean, I won't lie. It was hard at times because you got to like, know your stuff and you got to act. You have to be knowledgeable in discussions around the business.

And I was winging it, you know, for a little bit, a little while there. But over time, I learned, I learned the business, I learned the technology and the people around me that helped lift me up because they they they saw that I was smart and could add value to them, which I worked on individually with each of them.

And it bought me some time to kind of get my feet and then I could, you know, over time, I could make recommendations, I could suggest certain things and people would follow. And so that's same lesson I've learned, that same lesson I applied everywhere that it was almost like basic business skills at this point, right. Where you you know, these are these are values.

I think everybody should follow, which is, you know, everything you do at work, most of it in most roles and particularly marketing, is a function of the people you work with that's going to influence your happiness or unhappiness more than anything. And so you might as well get to know these people and professionally and what makes them tick and how you can benefit each other in the workplace.

And so that's how I've always focused.

Daniel Burstein: Well, speaking of those people, in the second half of the episode, we talk about lessons you learned from the people you collaborated with. But first, I should mention that the How I Made It in Marketing podcast is underwritten by McLeod's Institute, the parent organization of marketing Sherpa, and you can get 10,000 marketing experiments working for you with a free trial of the McLeod's II Guild at McLeod. slash a I that's MTC Ellerbe Eskom slash a I to get artificial intelligence working for you. So let's talk about some lessons from people you collaborated with. Your first lesson you mentioned be like Randy, which means you should research and rehearse your presentations. You learned this from Brian Householder, the CEO of Hitachi VANTARA. So how are you learning from from Brian and who the heck is Randy?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, yeah. So, so we, we had a big analyst conference that we held which we invited 100 plus industry analysts to our company to brief them on our strategy and our and our plans for the upcoming year and beyond. And so it was a very formal event, ballroom style, big hotel and multiple topics on the agenda. I was the emcee, I was the host, did presentations and also I hosted the day's events and my style at that point in time.

This was this, this event was about 15 years ago or even further back was I didn't like to be rehearsed. You know, when I when I spoke, I like to be pretty authentic. I try to speak off the cuff. And I always felt that that was more interesting and meaningful to people when they watched or listened. And so that's how I always did things.

And in these formal settings, that's what I always did as well. I didn't always have a script for what I was going to say or how I was going to introduce the topic or even make a presentation. So after the event was over that evening, I had I met my boss Brian at the time for drinks, and he said to me, I asked him, Hey, how did you think it went today?

And he said, Well, a little less John or a little bit more Randy. And so what that meant was John was the loosey goosey winging seat of the pants guy that Randy was the super rehearsed, buttoned up, very crisp speaker, you know, in front of large audiences. And so they'd be more like Randy said, nothing more actually had to be said.

I completely got it, which was sometimes it needs to be a little bit more prepared and more rehearsed because the setting dictates that you need to be that way. The people will get more value and understand you better when you prepare in those ways and you can actually even have a more interesting and compelling presentation when you prepare and rehearse and so forth.

And so in settings such as that from that day forward, I was always super prepared, rehearsed in advance, had a script, walk through it. This is the 180 degree opposite of what I had been my entire career, and it gotten me pretty far. But at that point in time it was not enough. I needed a change and so I'll never forget it.

Need to be more like Randy.

Daniel Burstein: So what do you do, though, to balance that, to make sure that you're still focused on the audience in front of you? Kind of like you were mentioning before, It's like that's a key part, making sure you're kind of focused on that customer because I know for me, I mean, first of all, that's a great way for a CEO to get feedback.

But I know for me, you know, I was a co-host of Marketing Sherpa Summit, and I did take that approach like like we did with this podcast. Like people don't see like we put a lot of prep into this. I put a lot of prep into those events. But one thing I would always do is I would try to get out and talk to members of the audience, you know, before like open the show or throughout the show and get their feedback, you know, lunches at breakfast, cocktail hours, anything I could do to talk to actual attendees.

And even through the event, you know, there's a few day event like that. Feedback would help me kind of understand what's really hitting and what's not. Because when you're speaking at a big event like this is how it was for us. We're filming the event, so there's lights right in your eyes. It's it's a big venue and so it's really hard to even hear feedback or get a sense.

And frankly, one of the most disappointing things and I think this is going to smartphones, but it was Zoom with laptops of how many people are looking at a laptop or a phone not even looking at you. And I mean, I would have to like go out into the audience again, like networking, cocktail hours, whatever I could do.

The the bus from the hotel to the venue, walking back, you know, to the rooms, whatever. I can just kind of feel people out and get what's going on. Because if I didn't, it would feel like it was flopping because no one was looking at it. But, you know, then you find out, for example, people are looking at their laptops because they're taking notes or the writing their team or they're trying to do these things.

So for you, I 100% agree with that, you know, prepping, you know, practice like you play. But what do you do to make sure it's still focused on the group in the room?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you have to be able to adlib and you have to connect to the audience in some way. And so absolutely, you're right. You're under these big lights. I always feel like I'm under the hot, blazing sun. The giant spotlight over your head all the time. You could barely even see some of these big events and see the audience.

But you have to make an effort to kind of you, you know, some of the people that are out there. Right. You've you've already been mingling amongst the crowds in advance, typically. And so you've got some stories, right, a conversation that you might have had something funny that happened and you can I think it's always a good idea to kind of weave that stuff in.

So that people get the idea that they're going to hear something that's new and unique and not, you know, typically not scripted in any way. And so I always try to do that as well, which is make an observation or something that just occurred or something that somebody just spoke about prior to me getting up there. So it's it's this combination.

I think you have to like your story down like 80% and then you got to have like 20% that you need to be able to improvise and add some color, add some stories that you just heard or something that just happens. Like, I think that's a good mix.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Because that at the end is I think we've probably seen over these past few years more than ever, that is the upside of a live event. It's like there's a because there's a lot of things you could you could just watch a video of or read a PowerPoint presentation. So you don't like the fact that we're congregating together and doing that, you know, And it means I like your point of like, okay, bringing it back to what was going on there live.

Nonetheless, you mentioned team above Self. You said you learned this from Jack Domi, the CEO of Hitachi Vantara. How did you learn this from Jack?

Asim Zaheer: Well, Jack was yeah, he was he was well known for this. He was the ultimate team guy and and he was a senior executive at the company and so forth. And so he set such a tone that if you were to make an update or a presentation or a project update of any kind at his executive meeting, you'd better not forget to thank your teammates and mention all the people that did much of the work.

And you'd better not, you know, talk about me, me, me. Because if there's any sort of self congratulations or any sort of inkling of, you know, I'm here to get my flowers, you will get shot down. And, you know, I saw I saw firsthand a couple of people, you know, get get get knocked down a few pegs for that or being called out for acting that way.

But I was also advised wisely by strong, you know, peers of mine who was who they told me, who had been there a while, and this is the way it works here. And so I always kept that in mind. But what happens, though, is when you live that for so long, it becomes part of you and, you know, it just becomes ingrained in how you view things and how you expect others to operate.

And I think that was one of the biggest cultural impacts that Jack made or had at the company while I was there. It's as simple as that, but it just permeates. And so it became part of my playbook, right? And so that's, that's how I kind of view things and I view others and it makes people better teammates.

And it also forces you to think about how you got where you did.

Daniel Burstein: So when you're setting the culture of your team and you're CMO, like are there any specific things you do to foster that teamwork or to foster that team attitude? Because I mean, there's so much today for example, were these globally distributed teams, there was these hybrid workforces working at home and all of these things. And it it can be hard to foster that team mentality.

I mean, one thing I've noticed now that since I work at home is that, you know fortunately there's a lot of people I work with I've had a long relationship with, but not everyone. And so work becomes a lot more of a transactional relationship. Yeah, there Slack or teams or whatever, but it's more like, Hey, get me this thing, get me nothing.

Versus when you're in the same office all the time, we're going to get lines traveling together, doing events. You have that chance naturally for downtime to get to know each other, get to know families, get to know that person, get to know a lot of things about them. So is there anything specific you do with your teams? You've done with your tends to kind of foster that teamwork and camaraderie?

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, Yeah. I mean, there's there's the teamwork aspect, but there's also the notion of showcase showcase the team. And so what I often do is if there's an update to be made, a project to be presented and this works remote as well as in person, because I want to hear directly from the person who who worked on it.

Not the manager, not the manager's manager, let the person have their moment. And so you set that expectation and then you let those people who are, you know, further down in the organization who often don't get a lot of attention or visibility, if you pull those people out regularly to showcase them in different venues, different settings and all hands meetings and know your virtual town halls like, you know, so-and-so project manager, you know, presenting their work, not that person's leader or their two levels up because, you know, this is an issue for for executive consumption.

Now it has to be the person who did the work. And so that I think, is possible in any work setting. And that set the tone right. And so I think what it also does is, it it forces a those individuals who often don't get the visibility to work on their game right, polished up their work, make sure everything is buttoned up and performing properly, and then be able to present that.

And it also forces managers to then coach and mentor those people to help them get to this stage. Right. And so it creates a dynamic which I think is helpful and beneficial to companies. And so that's a little thing that I think sometimes can go a long way in establishing a culture, and then everybody feels a part of their team, of the team and that everybody over time feels like they're being seen, right?

Not everybody feels seen and they've then become disconnected and they don't feel part of things. And they don't feel as, you know, as dedicated sometimes to the cause. And so once people are acknowledged and they're seen and they are known, they know that they are their worth is valued and seen, then they are going to sometimes go the extra mile for you when they need to.

But they're also going to impress that upon others, and that's going to create the culture that you want.

Daniel Burstein: Now, that's awesome. I really like that. Not just for the defer that that person getting that kind of credit for what they did. But I think something that's so important in marketing is the ability to pitch. I wonder your thoughts on this. I worry sometimes it's markers too much, especially sometimes maybe when we get hiring a career, we overlook the importance of internal marketing.

It's kind of like getting to the influence thing you were talking about, where you feel like either we have the authority and so just do that thing. We don't kind of explain it internally or, you know, lower level marketers. They just get frustrated, Oh, they don't understand. I can't get the budget or technology. And so to me, maybe more coming from the creative side, pitching has just always been such a core part of what I had to do.

It wasn't just having the right campaign or coming up with the right ideas or concepts or budget whatever. For the audience, it was being able to pitch that internally, understanding the different internal stakeholders, whether that's, you know, a CEO, CMO, they've got to go in front of a board, they've got to go in front of investor analysts. What they've got to talk about or just, you know, internally sales, you know, product development, like what matters to them.

So I wonder for you, like the do you feel like that internal marketing by doing that? Are you helping to kind of teach them? It's not just that external customer. We've got an internal customer too.

Asim Zaheer: Yeah, Yeah, you're so right. You're always pitching right and marketing. You're always pitching. I think that you got to be careful internally, though, and it's so necessary. And you're right, you have to do internal marketing so people understand what your function does. A lot of them, some people don't even understand what marketing doing right. And so you have to to share that and share the results.

But you can't overdo it because it turns into spam, right? Like the internal version of spam, which is your over your overselling. Right? And then it means, okay, now you don't know what to believe, right? Is too much. So you do have to find that right balance and different internal audiences. You need to package what you want to present and share to them differently.

And you don't want to overdo it, but you need to do it. It is important to do it so that people understand, Hey, these are important projects they're working on. This is the is this is the business benefit that we're driving from this. And sometimes, you know, sometimes marketing stuff rallies the company, right? They get excited like, oh, wow, We're in an ad campaign on Forbes last month and we've got 5 million impressions.

Like, people get excited about that stuff, right? So there's some things that marketing does that that get it, get companies and organizations excited and and some stuff like, you know, they don't completely understand like, you know, our conversion rates from stage three to stage four in the funnel are not, you know, moving at the right percent like no one cares don't care about that stuff.

Only you care. So you got to know what the right things to communicate are.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, that's a fair point. No internal spamming, no external spamming. There So we've talked about a lot of different things about what it means to be a marketer. What are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Asim Zaheer: Some Yeah. So first of all, you have to have domain expertise. So whatever your your responsibility within the marketing function, be it product marketing, be it you might be on the brand side, be it communications, be it demand generation. You have to be expert, right? You have to work constantly work to be expert in your in your field.

And I think also to be a really good market marketer, you need to have expertise in your market that you're in. So I expect all members of my organization always to know that our market to some degree not as well as, say, our CTO, but know it well enough so that you know how to effectively market and do your work in this space.

So, you know, functional expertise, domain expertise in the industry that you're in. And then thirdly, I think just creativity. Like I'm looking for ideas all the time, right? I do like to mix it up. I like to maintain an innovation budget, even like a small sliver of budget every year, so that if somebody has some ideas that we just didn't think about or wasn't budgeted, I got something just in case we can try it.

So I think that creativity aspect is important. Not everybody has all three and that's okay. You know, some people are just really functionally strong and they know your market really well and they are best in class, right? Just turn on the crank in their space, but they don't have the creativity Gene Right. And so that's okay. We need those people too.

Some people are super creative that they can't get anything done. Those people typically don't last, but you still have to get you have to be able to get things done. You have to have a little bit of the right foot. So but if you have all three, you're like, they're cooking, cooking with gas, creativity, you know, demand a pretty functional expertise.

Daniel Burstein: That's great. Well, thanks for sharing all these lessons from your career with them.

Asim Zaheer: Well, you, Dave, this is really kind of you.

Daniel Burstein: And thanks to everyone for listening.

Outro: Thank you for joining us for how I made it in marketing with Daniel Bernstein. Now that you've got an inspiration for transforming yourself as a marketer, get some ideas for your next marketing campaign. From Marketing Sherpas, Extensive library of free case studies at marketing Sherpa dot com That's marketing essay DARPA dot com.

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