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Juniper CMO, Mike Marcellin: Think business first, B2B marketing second

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Despite the range of data analytics tools and metrics available today, Juniper's Mike Marcellin believes business growth and customer loyalty must always come first for marketers.

Juniper Networks today employs over 9000 people around the world in 70 countries, posting revenue just shy of $5bn last year. The standard-setting networking technologies that the company produces power the Global Fortune 100, a number of higher educational organizations, and hundreds of US federal, state, and local government agencies.

Ensuring Juniper’s messaging reaches these and new customers is the chief responsibility of CMO Mike Marcellin, who has been with the company since March 2015. In his B2B Marketer interview with Hot Topics, Mike shares his views on fostering good relations with sales, the ongoing data revolution, and always keeping your company’s overall business objectives front of mind.


HT: Much is written about the evolving role of B2B marketing in modern business. How much has your role as CMO changed in the six and a half years you’ve been at Juniper?

Perhaps due to my background in strategy and more general management at other companies, one of the things I’ve specifically tried to bring in is a shift in mindset, from being purely a marketing person to an overall business person. The first order needs to be that you’re thinking about the business objectives of the company, and how B2B marketing as a discipline can contribute to those. That’s for myself and my whole organization; making sure that we are thinking about business growth and customer loyalty as our primary metrics, and not only traditional B2B marketing metrics.

We certainly [still] track all of the usual things like marketing qualified leads, cost per click, share of voice and all of those things. The reason why is because they show us that we’re executing effectively, because we understand what those metric surges aim to tell us. But the rest of the business really doesn’t understand the metrics, nor should they have to, those are B2B marketing metrics.

We have to make sure that we’re translating the work we do into the kind of business impactful metrics that a CEO or CFO would care about. That’s probably been my biggest quest, to make sure that marketing has a seat at the strategic table for the company. You do that by relating what you do to impact on the business in a way that is going to resonate with the CEO or CFO.


HT: Regarding metrics, would you say the continued incorporation of data has been a big driver in that regard?

Absolutely, you can’t effectively measure unless you are able to track data. It underpins the big transformation in the B2B marketing discipline, that we’ve got more data now than we’ve ever had. That can also be challenging. How we manage it, make sense of it and turn data into insight is certainly a big investment that we’ve made into analytics. Over the last year, I’ve hired a handful of data scientists, investing in the folks that can really dig in and ease out the business insight. But [we’ve also hired] in marketing automation and marketing technology, making sure that we have the latest and greatest here so that we’ve got complete visibility into the customer end-to-end.


HT: Compared with traditionally more ‘technical’ business disciplines, is there is an attitude towards B2B marketing where many non-marketers within the business feel that they can and should have a say around the kinds of target groups the company should be focussing on? Do you feel this incorporation of new data helps to combat that attitude somewhat internally?

Absolutely. You remind me of a phrase that I always use; “Everyone has a marketing hat and they’re not afraid to wear it.”

Look, we’re all consumers. Talking about ourselves, every person at Juniper has an awareness of the markets that we serve and has an awareness of the products and solutions that we bring. As a result, they have a point of view on how we should talk about those things and to whom. We’re a very collaborative culture, so all of those things I would say, are good things.

What that does, however, is put the burden on us to really have a way to articulate the strategies that we are undertaking, and to show the impact that they are having. Data is the best way to do that, and so that’s been a key area of focus. At the end of the day, for a given initiative, you want to be able to show its impact, and maybe even add in the potential trade-offs that exist in decisions that you can make.

I treat every conversation I have with someone outside of marketing of this company as an opportunity for education; for me to educate them on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and the discipline and science of B2B marketing. We’re a tech company, so we’ve got a very strong engineering culture, and with that a very analytical employee population. I think showing them the science behind this really impresses people and opens their eyes. Maybe their historical notion of marketing is, ‘Should my brand be this shade of blue or that shade of blue?’ That’s definitely an outdated notion of marketing.


HT: Looking at the flip side of that, is there a danger of deferring too much to data? Is there a limitation to how much you can really take from it, and does data potentially stifle traditionally more creative elements of B2B marketing?

Well, data’s certainly not the be all and end all. As with anything, you have to have a balanced approach, and most of us have been doing this for some time and have some sense of works and what doesn’t. The data can help inform that, it can help us get more targeted, and can help us analyze how the market is changing.

I think you bring up an interesting point, as we think about the talent that we want. We and everyone else want to have the best marketing talent out there, and marketing is a challenging discipline in that you really have to use both sides of your brain. The unicorn marketer is the one that is wildly creative, can think outside the box, and can see things that others haven’t thought about. They can connect what we’re doing to what people are seeing and doing in their lives and make that emotional connection. They can also be very analytical and execution oriented, and increasingly can leverage technology to the benefit of B2B marketing and to the benefit of growth for the company.

I recently wrote a piece that talked about how the CEOs of the future will no longer have business degrees, they are going to have technology degrees, they are going to have experience coding. I think in general that’s where the business world is moving, and I wouldn’t exempt B2B marketing from that. But I think marketing will always have a balance between, if you will, productivity and analytics. Finding that blend is a challenge for all of us.


HT: Earlier you mentioned appealing to the rest of the c-suite. It seems B2B marketing has to be plugged into almost all departments these days; you have to have a good relationship with legal, a good relationship with sales, and of course with the CEO. Is there one particular area which you feel is the most important relationship?

I’m going to cop out a little bit and say that there is a number of them. But if I had to pick one, in a pretty high tech B2B company, it would have to be our sales leadership. There are certain customers that we’re reaching to through direct B2B marketing, but a lot of what we do is to get our sellers equipped to sell. At the end of the day, if I’m not aligned with sales then I’m really falling down on the job.

I’ve been completely transparent with the CFO, and that’s something that alone was surprising to them because it’s not necessarily what they’ve gotten from marketing before. If I can have a transparent dialogue with you about the dollars that we are investing and the levers I’m pulling, and if you as a CFO are open to being somewhat educated on the gives and takes, then I think we can have a really strong relationship, and that’s what I feel like we have.

The other one that you didn’t mention is the CHRO or the Head of HR. Increasingly today people who join companies obviously want to do good work, but they also want to feel a connection to the company, and you certainly hear that as the millennial generation continues to come into the workforce. The opportunity [is there] to reflect your brand internally with employees, but it also helps with recruiting in how you show up as a company, what you stand for. I think that’s only going to grow, and so that partnership is one that I think will also continue to be very important.


HT: How does that transparency with sales manifest day to day, and how else do you ensure a smoother relationship? Are there ways that you enact to stop marketing becoming subservient to sales?

If you approach the relationship with the fact that we completely share the same objectives, then any opportunities for mistrust or anything else should just melt away. As relates to day-to-day or planning, I’ve found that transparency and accountability are the keys, and they go both ways.

As we headed into 2016, I shared our marketing plan and the investments that we were making with the four sales leaders we have across the world. They saw exactly where we were investing, the things that we were doing company-wide, the things that we were doing specific to their area, and we had very good conversations. There was some iteration on the plans as they related to what we were targeting in their market, and so we entered this year in partnership mode with shared objectives and a shared set of execution imperatives. Now we are executing and sharing the results and the impact with them.

There are going to be disagreements, but as long as you’ve got rational heads and a level of respect in the sales process or in the overall go to market process, it works. There are things I’m accountable for, there are things they’re accountable for. I’m measuring myself on giving them leads that they can then work all the way through to revenue. If it’s a larger account, I have very specific account based marketing accountabilities.

But, at the end of the day, if I do my accountabilities and then they are successful in closing the sale then they know that’s their accountability. So that’s how we’ve approached it; it’s definitely a partnership. But it also means I need to be up on the market, with my periscope up, listening to customers as they are so that we can have really productive conversations about what we need to go and do.


HT: Given that technology buying decisions are now split increasingly across a different, diverse set of C-level roles in other companies, how do you ensure that you are targeting the right individuals with the correct B2B marketing messages? Do you invest a lot of time and research in different approaches for different types of objectives?

Yes we do, but I would say the one thing that has evolved over the past few years is – and I particularly am a big fan of is – the fact that most of these interactions now are digital allows us to do some AB testing in ways that we just couldn’t practically do previously. And so while I am a fan of doing the research, doing the homework and really architecting the approach to an extent upfront, increasingly I’m also encouraging my team, ‘Look, let’s just be agile marketers; let’s do some homework, make our best guess, look at the data, and then figure out and tweak as we go.’

And rather than spending six to nine months up front building the campaign only to put it out there and realise inevitably that it’s not perfect, I would rather spend four to six weeks doing some good planning, doing some good research or leveraging the research we have, then get it out there and tweak it and learn. That also keeps us on our toes as marketers, and makes us think more like business people. We’re looking for signs of impact, of maybe where something went amiss, and then we’re tweaking and course-correcting on the fly.

Also, you have to be able to react to what other content is out there, what your competitors are doing, and how the market is changing. This market changes in months, in quarters, not in two/three-year chunks. So you have to be very nimble.


HT: Are there any particular technologies that you use within your B2B marketing strategy to increase efficiency or make campaigns more measurable?

About twelve months ago we were looking at our marketing technology staff, I made more of a strategic decision to move to one of the major marketing clouds that are out there. There are probably three vendors, if you will, that have the broadest marketing cloud suites; Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce. As I entered the job we had some tools from each of those three and from many others as well.

But the reasons I did that were because firstly I feel that technology is going to be a critical tool kit for us to do our job effectively, but also because over time these tools are going to have to be increasingly connected. So I can either choose to ride the wave of R&D from one of these cloud vendors who are investing tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars to augment these tools and stitch them together and create a unified view of the customer, or I can buy a bunch of different tools from different vendors and actually stitch them together myself, which has cost and resource implications for my team and my IT organisation.

So I made the bet that said over time, these marketing clouds are getting better, none of them are where they need to be – I think the vendors will tell you that – but we made our selection. We’re headed down a path with Oracle. I felt like they had the most sophisticated and forward-looking view of the customer, and of how data can inform both the customer journey and B2B marketing decisions. So we’re in the midst of ramping up those tools again.