Get inspiration for your next great idea by listening to episode #23 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. We had a deep yet fun conversation with Dhiraj Kumar, Chief Marketing Officer, Dashlane.
Hear Kumar discuss what he has learned from a career in high-growth technology businesses, what he discovered by listening to the customer support team, and how he overcame customer myths that hindered product adoption.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“If the marketer does not know where to focus; then the prospect will not know where to focus,” Flint McGlaughlin taught in Customer-First Objectives Application Session: See real webpages optimized for marketing conversion.
To help drive home this lesson for you, we found a great story of relentless focus from our next podcast guest. While at PayPal, he made it his mission to develop programs that would educate new customers about the product, and it took two years of relentless focus before his efforts paid off. It’s all too easy for marketers to chase the newest, shiniest object, so we wanted to inspire you with this story of enduring tenacity.
And that’s just one of the lesson-filled stories you’ll hear from our latest podcast guest – Dhiraj Kumar, Chief Marketing Officer, Dashlane. Kumar manages a team of 40 at the software company.
You can listen using the embedded player below or click through to your preferred audio streaming service.
Some lessons from Kumar that emerged in our discussion:
When Kumar first joined PayPal, the company was just coming out of eBay and becoming public. He focused on educating new customers about the product and had to keep that focus for two years before it paid off and results started to improve.
Originally Facebooks Ads was positioned as a brand marketing channel, but serendipity (coupled with experimentation) led Kumar to discover it would work better as a direct response channel.
Dashlane is a high-growth company trying to do something that has never been done before, so Kumar looks to a wide range of sources for insights. For example, he met with the customer support team to get a better understanding of customer onboarding and specific challenges customers were facing.
Kumar also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with:
via Patrick Adams, CMO BlueVine, former Head of Customer Marketing at PayPal North America and former SVP of Marketing at Victoria’s Secret
While at PayPal, Kumar was invited to take part in an executive leadership offsite. While Kumar attended in person, his manager Adams had to call in. Adams asked Kumar questions during the meeting to highlight Kumar’s ideas and efforts, but Kumar kept fumbling the answers.
During a break, Adams called Kumar. Kumar thought Adams was going to tell him to stop talking. Instead, Adams told Kumar that he believed in him. This gave Kumar confidence, and he did a much better job of communicating his ideas when Adams called on him during the rest of the meeting.
JD Sherman, CEO, Dashlane, creates space for failure as well – telling his team that when you lose, just make sure you don’t lose the lesson.
via Alan Gould, CEO of Mutual Markets, Former VC Partner at Greycroft and Former CEO of IAG Research (acquired by Nielsen).
Gould was the leader that helped Kumar transition from engineering to marketing. When Kumar started, he focused on solving the customers’ problems like an engineer because he didn’t know how to sell. It turned out that focus on the customer helped him successfully sign on new customers.
How I Made It In Marketing podcast – “When you mess up you think you are the only one messing up, right? It's amazing. And I love your podcast because you hear all these stories and like, that's what I went through. And there is something special about as a marketing community, commiserating and kind of sharing stories and kind of seeing we all have been through that journey,” Kumar said.
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.
Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.
Daniel Burstein: Do you like being sold to or marketed to? I know I don't even though I work in marketing, but I tell you what I do like being helped. So this lesson jumped out at me in a podcast guest application. Approach customer's like an engineer and solve their problems. I love it. In fact, the whole application radiated this idea.
The questions were answered with a precision that I have not seen in the thousands of applications we have received. A true engineer, so I just had to invite our next guest on the show, and I'm so glad he accepted so you can learn from him today. Joining me now is Dhiraj Kumar, the Chief Marketing Officer for Dashlane Thank you for joining us, Dhiraj.
Dhiraj Kumar: Thanks, Daniel. Thanks for inviting me. Really excited to be here and to have this conversation with you.
Daniel Burstein: Let's start by looking at your background. It’s great to have you here. A big, long background, I am just going to cherry pick a few things from LinkedIn? Yeah, you've got the MBA in Media and Strategic Management from Columbia Business School. You know, we'd expect from a CMO, but the thing that really stuck out to me, like we mentioned, a Master's of Science in Electrical Engineering.
You started your career on that side. You were a Hardware Engineer at Lucent Technology, Senior Consultant Intern at Deloitte Consulting, and then Vice President of Advertising, Research and Solutions in the telecom practice at Nielsen. Head of Product and Customer Marketing for Facebook Ads in the Americas. And by the way, everyone who's listening stay tuned, really interesting story about the launch of Facebook ads that shocked me.
Senior Director of Customer Marketing in North America for PayPal. And right now, you're the Chief Marketing Officer at Dashlane. You've managed bigger teams in the past. You tell me right now you're managing a team of 40 people. And so give me an idea. What does it mean to manage that team of 40 people? Does that mean to be a CMO at Dashlane?
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah. Dashlane is a, you know, high tech growth company solving the human behavioral part of cybersecurity. And we have a focused on businesses of all sizes, not just the largest businesses. So my role obviously is to manage our brand and our communication across the globe. And that means building awareness for our platform, for our products. It also means acquiring new customers, engaging them, onboarding them, and building a true kind of lifecycle journey with these customers. So that's kind of the responsibility. In the end, you know, what my team is focused on is establishing Dashlane as the premier password management solution for small and medium sized businesses globally. So that's what I'm focused on and we are excited on the journey we are in.
Daniel Burstein: Well, let's look at some of the key lessons from your career that are informing what you're doing today, brought you here today. And can help all of our listeners as well. So the first lesson you mentioned, tenaciously focus on a few things until you solve them. So this is great. Tell us how you learn this while you're working at PayPal.
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah. So have spent most of my career in high tech hybrid businesses. And what's true about these businesses and it's true for PayPal is that you're trying to solve problems that you haven’t solved before. And that essentially means you it's a fog of war type environment. There's a lot of things coming at you, context constantly changing, a lot of challenges, a lot of opportunities. And the only way to really parse through and succeed is to relentlessly focus on a few things and don't give up till you solve them.
And so I joined PayPal in 2014. It was still part of eBay, you know becoming public. And the goal was to make Paypal the digital payments platform for millions of minutes of consumers who are using it every week. And the challenge was when I got there was that we were acquiring a lot of customers. So there was clearly a lot of interest in signing up to PayPal, creating an account. But when you get to looking at how many people were actually using it, that number wasn't great.
So we were acquiring a lot of customers, but not getting these customers to really use the platform to do payments to check out of PayPal, which might sound surprising today. But, you know, it's not an unusual problem. And, you know, there's a lot of kind of pieces of that time or why that's happening. Maybe we not acquire the right kind of customers or maybe you know, we need to add a bunch of features.
And there was a piece of research that I saw which was done a year and a half ago. So it wasn’t very recent, it said now the three basic problems our customers have, they think that you cannot use credit card with Paypal, they think you need to balance when you use paper And, you know, there was another myth that they had about PayPal that made it hard for them to use it. They also didn't know, like, how do you actually do simple things like add your card to the account. So we started to kind of develop this thesis, maybe the problem is comprehension. Maybe they just don't understand even the most basic simple things. And maybe we are thinking about this complex thing. Maybe adding in a feature or trying these different ways of acquiring customers.
But the basic problem is they don't understand the product. They have myths about the product. And let's educate them. The first two weeks after they join they sign up, let's educate them. Maybe start the program, but analytics wasn't great. So first six months we didn't even see what was happening. We didn't couldn't say this is actually working.
We didn't give up. Over the course of the next two years, we kept going at it. We changed messaging. We found different ways of reaching out not just through email, but when they sign up in the product. And what we found is that over the course of two years, that became one of the most successful ways we increased engagement among our customers. So, you know, we could have given up many times over on that strategy, on that approach, I think. But when you really kind of understand with the customers telling you and stay focused on it, I think it pays off. And sometimes it takes time to pay out, but you can't give up.
Daniel Burstein: I think there's two lovely things you said that I think we can all learn from. One, myth. That's a beautiful word. I have heard so many words and so many analogies in marketing I have not heard the word of learn the myths that customers think about your product. I think that's a fantastic lesson for all of us.
But the other thing is, is that stick to itiveness. So, I mean, boy, as marketers, don't we have shiny object syndrome? I mean, there's so many marketers. I know we're creative people. We love launching things. We love new ideas, we love the new technology. But the fact that you stuck with it for two years until you made sure that saw some fruit, that is fantastic.
I mean, I think that's really a lesson for everyone. Hey, don't give up too quick, you know? Don't give up too quick. Don't just go to the other next thing too quick. Like make sure you give it time to percolate and to make it happen.
Dhiraj Kumar: And Daniel, the other thing which is interesting is, you know, we live in a world where there's a lot of data and we should be looking at data. But sometime over believing just purely data can be a problem, too, right? You know, sometimes the data is not clean, sometimes not telling you all the signals. And so you have to really combine what you're seeing in data and what you're seeing through induction and what you're seeing from customers together to kind of form decisions.
So I think the other big lesson here that I learned was, you know, a number is a number. You got to contextualize it and you got to really think of all the signals coming at you together.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I think also to your point, a number is a what? So first of all, like you said, assuming that number is correct, the number is the what. But what is the why? What is the why? And that is you know, so I think I'm not sure exactly how you did that research, but it sounds like you did some sort of research where someone was actually talking to customers feeling them out. You know, we have all of these analytic platforms. Sometimes we forget we need to contextualize that information and understand that we see this number. And then why do we see it? What's going on in the minds of customers? So that's beautiful. So let me ask you so I love this lesson tenaciously focus on a few things until you solve them.
But let's talk about what it means in terms of actual product launches. So you're a tech man and this is a huge problem, I've seen the bloatware in tech, but an earlier podcast interview I had was with Mary Rogers. She's the Head of Marketing and Communications for Cuisinart and she was telling me one of their best selling products was from the seventies and hadn't been redesigned. And it had three functions. It was a food processor, it's on, off and pulse, which is another version of On. And so she's like, you know, in our industry, there's constantly like, let's add these new features to it, or right now that let's make everything smart. You know, let's add Wi-Fi capabilities and A.I. or whatever to these these features. And she's like, look, we're in an era now, especially of high inflation. And, you know, to keep our margins high, we shouldn't be adding different functions into the product for one of two reasons. One, you know, the customer values it, so they're more likely to buy it instead of confuse them. Or two, there's value there for the cost that we're going to incur in the cost that the customer is going incur.
So, I wonder in your career in technology especially, how do you take that focus, that tenacious focus and bring it to product features or launching a whole new product?
Dhiraj Kumar: I think you said a great thing, which is we tend to focus a lot on adding features, because if you talk to enough customers, there will be enough requests for features. You have to sometimes step back and say, what does the customer really want? And so have this great story, this is around 2012. I was at Facebook and we had started focusing on building an advertising platform for performance marketers. And we had a lot of work sessions and what came out of it was, well, we had to add these ten to 15 features to make this platform great.
But there was another stream of conversation we came out from. As you talk to customers, what customers really were saying, some of them at least, that what I would love is if I showed up on Facebook as a marketer, as an advertiser, I tell you what, I am looking for. I tell you how much money I can spend and what you know, what is the outcome I want. That you just you do all the work you imagine if it's as simple as that. I come and I do a few things and get started and it's simple. And so we can see this thing where the product team in particular where we said instead of adding a whole slew of features, let's pick the few things that we need to add and actually make it really simple for them, for the advertiser, where they don't have to do that much work to advertise on Facebook.
That was the idea. If you look a few years out and if you look today at what the platform looks like. For the average marketer, that's exactly what it is. You can get started, you can even get an expert within hours, and you don't have to. They take care of targeting and optimization and all the things that, you know, great performance marketers do and make it really simple.
That was a big lesson, and I think that led to so much more adoption of the product and the platform. And so sometimes, you know, what I've learned over the years is like simplify, simplify, simplify. And that in a big way, that's what we focus on at Dashlane. You know, we offer a password manager for businesses, but you know, really what they're asking for is make it simple for me. The less work I have to do, the better.
Daniel Burstein: Exactly. You know, I've heard that called the resulting experience, right. Instead of focusing on we can put out these features and functions, the resulting experience. And a great analogy, I think I was a professor at Harvard, talked about nobody wants a quarter inch drill bit, right? They want a quarter inch hole in the wall. And so, sure, if a quarter inch drill bit is the path to get there, that's fine.
But understand what your customers are really looking for. Nobody's looking for features, right? They're looking for an end result. That's a great example of Facebook. I’ll allways think of Google too as a great example. You know, the original Google you remember like when all AltaVista and Excite, there were all these other search engines. And Google, it was a page with a search box. That was it. I type in here and search. So I think that was a great example, too.
Let me ask you, though, as a marketing leader, so I was thinking actually we have a free digital marketing course. And in Section six, Flint McGlaughlin teaches, if the marketer does not know where to focus, then the prospect will not know where to focus.
So you are giving great examples of like, okay, like knowing where to focus that prospect. How do you focus your team, how do you focus your team to make sure they're able to serve the customer with this level of simplicity and this level of focus?
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah, I mean, I think there a couple things to me that are important. First is to create a clear mission of what you are trying to do. And having that clarity of mission becomes the rallying, you know, rallying call for the team members and what are we trying to solve for? I think the second is, you know, creating guardrails, to me the guardrails then become things like gear values, well, how do we operate? How do we engage with each other? And then kind of the focus areas for us for the next two years, next eight months. Because you can go many different directions.
So to me, that's kind of first and most important thing because it creates not just motivation and excitement because you're trying to solve something bigger, but it also creates the guardrails where you should go and what are we not going to do. I think is very important to say both things, what we will do and what we will not do. I think the second thing is I try to inculcate a lot of culture of customer centricity, constantly thinking about the customer. And one of the things we do at Dashlane I've done in the past as well, is listen to customer calls. it's pretty amazing when you listen to a couple of customer calls. I'll do it on a regular basis. It really clarifies a lot of the things you debate that you're seeing in data that you believe to be true. It really clarifies because the customers don't have the time. They just they will clarify what matters to them. And of course, you can't take everything for face value. You have to contextualize it. But it gives a tremendous amount of clarity of what is the problem that you're trying to solve. So keeping customer front and center and keeping our mission front and center, I think that gives a ton of clarity to me and to the team of where we need to focus on.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, one of our biggest challenges in marketing and in life is we're not the other person, right? So we focus on our brands or we own the website or the email or the app, whatever that piece is, we focus on that all day long, all week long. And so it's so hard to see it with fresh eyes, right?
That's what I have to do sometimes get out and see with fresh eyes. So I love that they get to kind of hear the customer calls and hear what the customer is actually going through, because to them, they probably know it backwards and forwards. Well, with the fourth step, obviously you goe down to the third thing. And of course you can't type it in that way. You have to type it in this way. You can't put a one in front the phone number or whatever it is. Right. But the customer, they're just going about their lives, right? They're not they don't care about our product. They're not focused on it like we talked about. They just want a means to an end. They want to get some problem solved. So I love that.
Dhiraj Kumar: And sometimes Danielle the solution is as simple as saying things differently. You know, we sometimes think this answer is some feature or some things. It's sometimes saying things differently so they understand it. And so yeah, really listening to the customer clarifies what, you know, what the problem really is.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Boy, I mean, that's true in tech. I've really seen that in the medical healthcare industry as well. Where sometimes, I forgot, there is a kidney company I remember seeing. I forgot the word they were using like nephrology or whatever the official word is for kidney, but no one was searching for that. They were searching for like kidney problems or something like that and really like understanding the customer's terminology because you'd be saying the same thing but they're not hearing the same thing, not hearing the right thing.
So let's talk about your next lesson. You said, be purposeful in creating and encouraging serendipity. I love serendipity, by the way. I love that word. I just love the whole idea behind it. So how did you do this at Facebook ads?
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah, I mean, what first of all, when I say serendipity. I mean that this idea of pursuing things, that at first when you started the journey might seem like it not be fruitful, might not feellike anything. And yet pursuing them, and doing it in a purposeful fashion. Because a lot of times the biggest breakthroughs, at least for me in my career, has been through those paths.
So the story from Facebook is an interesting one. You know I joined Facebook in 2010 and in that period of time you're beginning to really scale Facebooks advertising and marketing platform. And we're very much focused on Facebook as a brand advertising platform for two reasons. We believed and so did folks outside Facebook believe that, you know, performance marketing is about you know, that search that's about people expressing real intent or what they want to do and targeting them for that intent.
We don't have intent on our platform. You know, we are here to have customers come in and engage and interact with their friends and family. And the second belief was that we are a platform where a performance platform means you get them here and then get them out. Search, you search for something, you click on it and boom, out there to somebody’s platform to convert, right?And so we're not that, we want customers to come to Facebook and spend time here and that's not conducive for great performance marketing.
And the funny thing is we were wrong about both, And what were wrong about initially was that we had this amazing visual platform. Most businesses wanted to showcase their product and service and tell a story on this amazing platform through which you can tell a story. That you can’t do in search. The second thing was we had tremendous amount of knowledge about our customer, the interest that tells them more about who they are, where they want to go, whether it's travel or whether it’s products, that could be highly effective. And so we were wrong about those two assumptions.
And so what happened was there was a there was a very strong conviction. We were very much focused investment in that brand advertising platform. But there were bunch of us in the company and actually a bunch clients who are finding a chance of success as performance marketers, even though the platform and the product wasn't there.
And the culture of the company at that time was certainly of empowerment. If you believe in something, you try it and make it happen. And the company will support you. And that's what we did. And gradually we started showing how much this platform could be effective for our performance marketer. And it's kind of funny to kind of look at today looking backward and saying, why was that even that question. But it was a big debate and a question. And it was not a year and a half later that we started really building products for it. And the adoption then just went in that platform and has now helped millions of millions of businesses, you know, reach their customers and drive that business.
But that was not the case, and it just came through believing in something and pursuing it. Even though you didn't think it'll happen, even though you didn't believe that is the right answer.
Daniel Burstein: Well, that's fascinating to me. First of all, I didn't know that history of Facebook ads, but obviously things that seem so obvious in hindsight, right? It seems so obvious in hindsight at the time. Like you said earlier, too, it's it can be the fog of war. But where I think that serendipity comes in and I'm hearing a common throughline from you is, there's a certain level of customer intimacy there, right?
So a lot of times customers are finding ways to use our products that we had never intended or we didn't realize. But I think if we keep our ear to the ground and keep as close to customers as possible, and also be customer focused, be customer centric, not be company focus, where we're trying to shove them into using our technology a certain way.
I mean, history is littered with companies, in the telecom industry itself, and so many companies that have tried to force their customers to do a certain thing and the customers didn't want that. Then an upstart would come along and just crush them. So, I mean, think of a prepaid cell phone service and there's so many.
Dhiraj Kumar: Such a great observation. Its customers sometimes tell us, they discover new ways of using our product that we didn't think of. And what is really paying is the signal and the noise issues. Trying to keep your ears to the ground and listening to it. The challenge in very high growth companies is there's so many signals coming at you, how do you parse it and that's a challenge. That’s the challenge that we faced, we were seeing it, but there was a lot of debate is that real? And maybe it works with a few people but is it really scalable? And I think staying close to the customer testing and iterating and you’ve got to get to the answers.
Daniel Burstein: Well, yes, I think I mean, you bring up a point. There are certainly outliers and you have to watch out that you're not just listening to the noisy outliers. One example I love giving, don’t know if you're a Simpsons fan, but there's a classic Simpsons episode where Homer Simpson gets to design a car and the car horn plays La Cucaracha. And, you know, I mean, this is a car designed for that one person who, like no one else was into that.
But I think the other factor, and kind of what I hear you're saying is there's got to be a certain humility to it. Right. Because at Facebook, you could have very easily been like, okay, we need some customer enablement. We need a team to get out there with these customers. They're doing it wrong and we need to go show them how to use it. Or we need to change the features and cut this off because we don't want to be known as a direct response company or something like that. But I think there was a certain humility, you know and especially too in an early nexus of a company like that to say like, what do we got here? How are we going to make it work?
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah, I mean, I think to me the other side of coin of curiosity is humility. Like, you can’t be curious and do things if you're not willing to accept that what you started with was wrong. And you got to not change. And that's true for Facebook, that's true for Dashlane I think we are experimenting a lot because we're trying to solve problems that never been solved before.
You haven't seen a platform at scale that solves the human part of cybersecurity. Much like with Facebook, we had not seen what a social media advertising platform looks like at scale. And so your in unchartered territories, and I think you've got to constantly be humbled that you'll be wrong, but then learn from it quickly.
Daniel Burstein: Yes, learn and iterate. So I think probably it kind of ties into the next lesson we're going to talk about. Marketing is a craft that requires multidimensional thinking. So I think we've kind of been covering this I mean, we've this multidimensional thinking, but you had a specific story around this of something you're working on at Dashlane right now.
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah, I mean,so you know, as I said before, we're trying to solve the human problem of cybersecurity. And you kind of think about this, as the world goes remote, as the world goes in the cloud and people are bringing their own devices. We live in this new world where it's not just the infrastructure that you have to protect. A lot of the vulnerability exists in how employees go about doing their Day-To-Day jobs. And we're trying to kind of solve that problem. And, you know, when you're trying to solve this problem, you realize that the answers sometimes come not from one place. You know, the answers don't necessarily come like, okay, we'll be a marketing team. We got to really figure out how to make an acquisition program work. And if we do that, we'll be fine.
So, you know, one of the things I encourage doing is to kind of talk to and bring a lot of people in the conversation, including our customer support team. They are so close to the customer. They deliver problems all the time. They have a really interesting and accurate sense of what's actually happening on the ground. So we were having these conversations with them about support, what calls do they get and so forth. And the AHA from those conversations were that, well we are acquiring a lot of customers. But, the challenge they're running into is they have to get this tool, they’ve to deploy this tool and they have to get their employees to then start using the tool.
So while they understand the value prop, they understand everything, they didn’t really know how to get started. And they need to know how to get started with their employees and their organization. And that led to this insight that maybe we need to really focus energy in that very early get started period of the journey. But then the question became, well, what do we focus on? We can provide lot training guides. And as we start digging in and really asking the customer, they said the only three things that I need care about, tell me how I can deploy, tell me how I can get the employees to use it, and tell me the the most important things I need to do. Not everything, the most important things early in journey.
And so we have we are now building what we call a get started hub that is very much focused on solving that part of the problem. But as you can tell, that insight didn't come from our marketing programs that came from a very different source, that leading to an effort that we were on.
Daniel Burstein: I mean anyone who's got a customer service group in their organization, I feel like sometimes that is just the most overlooked, let’s throw it down in the basement or we'll just outsource through it overseas. But what are we doing in marketing? We're doing all this work just to get to have a customer touchpoint, right? That's what it is at the end of the day, let's have a customer touchpoint. Then we get these customer touchpoints from customers who are engaged and motivated enough to reach out and contact us. And then we just look at it as a call center. So I kind of always thought of customer service two ways. One, it's one to one marketing. So like you have someone motivated enough to reach out to you.You've invested what you have to get that customer touchpoint like that is a one to one marketing touchpoint that highly reflects on your brand. And it's probably the only time they put a human face to many brands so make sure that's a good experience for them. But secondly, as you said, learn from it. My gosh, they're telling us what they want, right?
Dhiraj Kumar: Right.
Daniel Burstein: So let's see how we can learn from that and better serve them. And it seems like from you a great lesson that I know you mentioned a lot of companies are doing this, there’s get started guides and this and that, but the sale doesn't stop at the first conversion, right? So I assume Dashlane is a subscription product. It's recurring, right?
Dhiraj Kumar: Yes, it is.
Daniel Burstein: And so that is so important. Like how do you set your team up to ensure that like, okay, it's not just conversion and then boom, they're on their own. Like conversion and then retaining that customer.
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, our customers are looking to us, and this is another insight, our customers are not experts in cybersecurity. They are law firms, they are advertising firms, they are a manufacturing company, they are a university that's not their expertise. So they're looking for us for expertise, not just in how the product works, but how do they get to the outcome to the end of actually just having better security, so they don't get breached. That's what's on their mind. So that was another thing that we can play a bigger role not just like an expert in a product, but as an expert in cybersecurity as some of the human part of cybersecurity. And give them guidance in the initial phase and the following phase. And that's the kind of work we're doing right now is very much from a content perspective. That's our focus right now.
Daniel Burstein: Also I've seen many companies learn from that and come up with product extensions or come up with different ways to serve the customer. So in the first half of the podcast, we talked about lessons from some of the things you made in marketing. It's a great thing we get to do as marketers. We get to make things, but we make them with other people.
So let's take a look at some of the people you've collaborated with and some lessons you've learned from them. So first up, we have Patrick Adams. When you worked with him, he was a CMO of BLUEVINE but he was also a former Head of Customer Marketing at PayPal North America. I think you worked with him there too, as well as former SVP of Marketing at Victoria Secret. And from him, you learned create space for failure. So how did you learn this lesson from Patrick?
Dhiraj Kumar: Patrick is just an amazing leader and mentor we have worked for almost ten plus years together. I've learned a lot of things from him, but the biggest thing I learned from him is creating that space for failure and creating that trust you know that I've taken a role model, so I have the story from PayPal days.
We were early in the journey, he and I joined about summer time and he had to attend a leadership off side with the executive leadership of the company, and he couldn't go. And so he sent me and my colleague, both of us used to be on his team to attend the meeting and he said he'll join from a video call. And part of his intention was to showcase us and what would we bring to the table and add to the conversation. We were having conversations on strategy and so forth.
We got to the meeting. I was obviously not known to most of those folks. I was truly establishing myself and during the course of the meeting, the first half, you know, Patrick gave me a couple of opportunities to talk about some ideas that I had. And so he kind threw a question to me. And unfortunately, you know, I didn't do well I flubbed the question. I didn't have a clear articulation, and it caused more confusion and, you know, and so that happened.
So at midway point in the meeting, we took a break and, you know, he called me and what I was expecting he will say is, hey, listen, you know, I know it didn’t work out, but I want you to kind of stand back and I'll take it from here.That's what I was expecting to say. He said the opposite. He asked me what happened. You know, I said you know I got nervous. And he's like, well, you know, you know the answers. You know, you have great ideas. You know, what I want you to do is go back in and I'm going to give you a chance again.And you’re going to answer that. And I know you're going to do it well.
And I was shocked, I was super shocked that he you know, and his reputation was on the line as well. And that he would do that. And we went back in and did the same and it went well. And it was a very important lesson for me. Not just for myself, but it was also how I, as a manager need to role model. And sometimes people believing in you more than you believe has a pretty powerful effect on what you can do. So it also created really trusting environment in a relationship that pays dividends for a long time.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, that's a beautiful story. And I think it's to a good reminder of a lot of the things we've talked about so far. You need to set up a team that feels comfortable, to get into experimentation, and maybe things don't work out right because as we've talked about a lot of the things you've worked on in your career, there's not necessarily a straight line.
And so marketing I mean, from my experience, I don’t know from your experience, it is filled with a lot of big egos, it is filled with a lot of people who feel like they know what they're talking about. I've worked on the agency side. It's 20 times worse on that side because you're getting paid literally for your opinion. But if we're really going to take, as you said, this humble and curious view of things, we're really going to take this and many times we haven't done this before. How do we do this? You have to set up that culture in your team and find ways to celebrate failure. And that's a beautiful, beautiful example of how to do that. It's a very nice Dhiraj. And now it sounds like you've kind of passed this on as you're managing people and kind of shepherd them along in the same way.
Dhiraj Kumar: It is, and I must say, our CEO, J.D. Sherman at Dashlane is a big believer in it. He said you know, no problems if you fail, just don't lose the lesson. You know, that's a statement. And he encourages because reality is that the only way you're going to solve the problems or crack the code, so to speak, is by trying things. And by nature you're going to fail. So I constantly encourage the team to test and try. But it's these big moments when it happens, when you have to show up and support them. You know, it's important. And that's the moments when you create when you really convey that you really believe what you're saying.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, it's easy to say it. It's harder to back it up. So I love it when you lose. Don't lose the lesson, right?
Dhiraj Kumar: Yes.
Daniel Burstein: I had a chance early in my career to be a contractor at IBM. And there's a legendary IBM story. I've heard it so many different ways. But basically, you know, someone working for IBM lost $1,000,000 deal in the 1940s when a million of dollars is even way more than it is today, right. He goes into Thomas Watson, he's going to tender his resignation because IBM, they were not doing too well. They needed that million dollars. And Thomas Watson says back to him, What are you kidding? I just invested $1,000,000 in your education why would we let you go. And it just kind of shocked him and as that idea like boy, you know anytime you can support someone through failure or even encourage that failure because that's how we all learn in life.
I mean, I think when we go back and look at our biggest lessons, the funny thing that's come from me from this podcast, I was actually talking to someone about this recently. You know, as I mentioned, we do written case studies on Marketing Sherpa. And I got a lesson from a reader today, actually. I got a letter from a reader and he said, well, these are so interesting. These companies trying these things and succeeding. It’s a shame the thing we don't see is companies trying to do things and failing because that happens just as much or maybe more. And it got me thinking and I realized when we publish case studies, it's easy to get very successful case studies. It's one in 100 or something that we get a case study of failure.
But for whatever reason on the podcast, I think it's maybe the intimacy of the human voice in conversation. Some of our best stories, I'd say maybe, you know, a third of the stories, at least not most of them are about ways people messed up. And because when you know I’ve talked to them and asked them to look back at your career and think, Boy, those are the things that stick out to us. And we can take that in a positive way and learn from that. I mean, that has a, you know, positive arc to your entire career. So I love that.
Dhiraj Kumar: So it's also you know when you mess up you think you are the only one messing up, right? It's amazing. And I love your podcast because you hear all these stories and like, you know, that's what I went through. And there is something special about as a marketing community, commiserating and kind of sharing stories and kind of seeing we all have been through that journey.
Daniel Burstein: Well, thank you for saying that, Dhiraj. I appreciate it. I feel the same way. Let's talk about the last person that you learned from Alan Gould, CEO of Mutual Markets, former VC partner at Greycroft and former CEO of IAG Research. This was a big inflection point for your career. IAG research was acquired by Nielsen. I believe you started kind of your marketing career going there, you know, transitioning from as we mentioned, you started with an Electrical Engineering Masters. So the lesson you learned was approach customers like an engineer and solve their problem. So how did you learn this lesson?
Dhiraj Kumar: That's right. Alan hired me at a business school, and frankly, I was an engineer for the past 12 years of my life before that. And he hired me as a salesperson on one of the largest accounts a telecom company so I knew a little bit about telecom, but I didn't know anything about advertising research or marketing or media. And I was supposed to sell advertising research to brand marketer and to the largest spenders in the country, helping them with brand marketing.
And so part of that is he believed in me which was pretty amazing and counterintuitive. But I knew nothing better. I wasn't a salesperson. The way I approached the problem was as an engineer. So I would go to the client and I would say, well, what problems are you trying to solve? And they will say, well, I'm trying to reduce my TV budget. How can I get more with less? I'm trying to launch this campaign, but I'm trying to say what should be a creative approach. What we have learned from data, what works and doesn't work.
And so I would approach it like an engineer. It's like, okay, I have a bunch of data. I think I can do an analysis. And I work my team to do the analysis and offer them insights and ultimate solution. And rarely ever I asked them to buy. But once you show up and you have this really powerful analysis based on the data, and then you also say, well, and this is how you can use the data on an ongoing basis, it naturally led to the sale. And we grew the account like two or three times over the course of the time I was there. And I remember two years post me starting in this job, the client said to me, you know, we were having this conversation he was like, well, I didn't feel like you were a salesperson at Nielsen IAG, and like, yes, I am. And it was like, Well, you never sold. And so it occurred to me that this is a powerful idea of actually trying to focus on solving problems and the sale will happen. And I think it happened unbeknownst to me because I wasn't purposely planning, but I've taken that lesson. I think it's a pretty important lesson.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And I want to ask you and then I was going to say something but, what role in marketing and sales, in how we communicate our products online, is there in telling a customer we're not the right fit for you. So when you talk about that engineering approach, helping customers see we're not the right fit and versus, you know, we are the right fit. Because one thing I've learned in my career, I started, as I mentioned, the agency copywriting was very outbound newspaper ads, direct mail, you know, and when I got to switch to kind of this side, the content creation the inbound, it is so fulfilling because you said, not that I'm remotely an engineer, but it is about helping people.
First you help people, you attract people in, and then hopefully you serve them. And one of the things that I've learned is just it's the crux of it all. Is helping the ideal customer, right? So we don't have to sell and push so hard when we've identified the ideal customer. And part of that and I wonder kind of what your opinion on this is, is telling some customers, sorry, we're not the best fit for you, maybe you should go here.
Dhiraj Kumar: Yeah. And it has a powerful effect. First of all, I completely agree. Not only is it great for the customer, that answer is good for you. Our CEO of Dashlane, for example, talks a lot about what we don't do, when we are not focused. And I mentioned that earlier. And actually having clarity internally what we don't do because, you know, your customers will push you to do many things. I mean, especially as you scale as a business you can have a lot of different types of customers of each customer, each segments of customers have different needs. And you have to really have real clarity when you're focused on the limited resources you have.
But on the customer side, I think it really creates a trusting relationship. If you're willing to say no in a respectful way, that kind of rational way. Like this is why we're not the right fit. I don't think we'll be able to serve you well, you know? So I think there are multiple benefits I could not agree more, but it does target with having a little bit of clarity upfront of what is the mission and what are you focused on and what you're not focused on.
Daniel Burstein: I think it starts with a word used earlier, the value proposition like we have the value proposition set up and where do we go from here? Being really clear in outlining that. And along with that like we talked about, becomes focus, a relentless focus on that correct value proposition. We talked about all sorts of things today, Dhiraj all sorts of different values you can have that engineering background, which is fantastic. I think you may be the first marketer I've met with an engineering background, lot of backgrounds with the first one with an engineering background. So let me ask if you had to break it down. All of it that we talked about what are the key qualities of an effective marketer.
Dhiraj Kumar: So I always believe, you know, the couple things that a marketer today needs to have. I think the number one is customer centricity. And that hasn't changed for a marketer from, you know, 50 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago. I think being able to really keep the customer front and center is super important.
I think the second thing is this idea of curiosity and humility coming together. You know, marketers today and I, we live in the golden age of marketing, we have so many different ways we can engage with customers, reach customers, so many different formats in which you can inform, educate customers. That, you know, for us to really create the best marketing experience and be best in class you got to constantly push the boundary, but then you've got to be willing to understand you'll be wrong and have the ability to accept that and kind of learn the lesson.
And the third thing is, you know, really focus on the outcome. You know, one of the interesting things of how the marketers have evolved, how the discipline has evolved is it has become very much a P&L owning discipline. And marketers are now part of the leadership group responsible for a substantial amount of the kind of the P&L responsibility of a company, especially younger companies. And I think that outcome orientation, what we are trying to achieve, not just what are we trying to deliver I think is super important and laughing and having fun.
Daniel Burstein: Yes.
Dhiraj Kumar: You know marketing is a fun discipline I love it. It's so multidisciplinary it’s left and right brain, it’s creative and analytical. II think it’s one of the best disciplines but you know so we got to have fun and that's where creativity comes from. That's where, you know, that motivates us, you know. And so those are kind of things to me that are the biggest one that we that I think, you know, we should have as marketers what I’d look for well.
Daniel Burstein: Dhiraj well thanks so much for joining us. This conversation was a ton of fun for me.
Dhiraj Kumar: Well, it was a ton of fun for me as well. And you have such an amazing background and such an interesting perspective because you talk to so many people. You know, I took a couple of things out of that as well.
Daniel Burstein: Fantastic. Good. And I hope that's what we're trying to do for all the listeners of the podcast. I hope everyone listening learned a lot as well. Thanks for joining us.
Dhiraj Kumar: Thank you, Daniel.
Get Better Business Results With a Skillfully Applied Customer-first Marketing Strategy
The customer-first approach of MarketingSherpa’s agency services can help you build the most effective strategy to serve customers and improve results, and then implement it across every customer touchpoint.Get More Info >
Free Marketing Course
Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages (with this free online marketing course)See Course >
Project and Ideas Pitch Template
A free template to help you win approval for your proposed projects and campaignsGet the Template >
Six Quick CTA checklists
These CTA checklists are specifically designed for your team — something practical to hold up against your CTAs to help the time-pressed marketer quickly consider the customer psychology of your “asks” and how you can improve them.Get the Checklists >
Infographic: How to Create a Model of Your Customer’s Mind
You need a repeatable methodology focused on building your organization’s customer wisdom throughout your campaigns and websites. This infographic can get you started.Get the Infographic >
Infographic: 21 Psychological Elements that Power Effective Web Design
To build an effective page from scratch, you need to begin with the psychology of your customer. This infographic can get you started.Get the Infographic >
Receive the latest case studies and data on email, lead gen, and social media along with MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.