April 11, 2024

Leading Transformation: CMO Strategies for Dynamic Change 

From shifting market trends to M&As to unexpected external events, if great B2B marketing is one thing—it’s agile. And in this episode, we pull back the curtain on CMOs who aren’t merely surfing the waves of change—they’re harnessing them. 

Welcome to a masterclass in change management from Cary Bainbridge of ABM Industries, Narine Galstian of SADA, and Khalid El Khatib who was of Stack Overflow at the time of this recording but is now CMO of Consumer Reports.

Join us as we dissect pivotal decisions, pivot points, and the nimble moves that define successful B2B marketing today. We’ll explore the agility of B2B marketing through the lens of these seasoned leaders, providing actionable insights into how to lead transformation via resilience, strategic foresight, and a culture of continuous learning.

What You’ll Learn 

  • How marketing can lead B2B transformation 
  • The CMO’s role in change management 
  • How to maintain executive alignment 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 392 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned 


  • [3:29] Cary Bainbridge: ABM Industries’ transformation 
  • [4:47] Post-acquisition strategic initiatives  
  • [12:18] Narine Galstian: SADA’s transformation 
  • [16:32] Broadening services and geographies  
  • [20:51] Khalid El Khatib: Stack Overflow’s transformation 
  • [22:40] Managing new CEOs & hiring for agility 
  • [26:45] Reacting to GenAI  
  • [31:02] CMO Huddles Testimonials 
  • [33:58] Maintaining executive alignment  
  • [36:42] The CMO role in change management 
  • [42:29] Managing disruption: Blameless accountability  
  • [48:17] Final Wisdom: Leading during transformation 

Highlighted Quotes

  • Khalid: “When I think about change management, it’s really about having tough conversations when you have to, as often as you have to.” 
  • Cary: “We have a Transformation Office (TMO) in place that keeps us all centered on the objective of the change. We’re all working in lockstep together.”
  • Narine: “You would hit any messaging with the customer several times—you have to do the same internally, and then they become brand advocates.” 

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Cary Bainbridge, Narine Galstian, & Khalid El Khatib


Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness, and that donates 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. Wait, what? Well, it turns out that B2B CMOs and penguins have more in common than you think. Both are highly curious and remarkable problem solvers. Both prevail in harsh environments by working together with peers. And just as a group of penguins is called a Huddle, over 352 B2B CMOs come together and support each other via CMO Huddles. If you’re a B2B marketer who could share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and dive into CMO Huddles. We even have a free starter program, and of course, our robust Leader Program, neither of which requires a penguin’s hat. Thank goodness, join us. And before we get to the episode, let me do a quick shout-out to the professionals at Share Your Genius. We started working with them over a year ago to make this show even better and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through, proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade, Drew Neisser.

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. You’re about to listen to a recording of CMO Huddles Studio, our live show featuring the CMOs of CMO Huddles a community that’s sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness every day of the week. This time we’ve got a conversation on aligning marketing during transformation with huddlers Cary Bainbridge of ABM Industries, Narine Galstian of SATA, and Khalid El Khatib, previously of StackOverflow. Let’s dive in. 

I’m your host, Drew Neisser Live from our home studio in New York City. In this episode, we’re going to pull back the curtain on CMOs who aren’t merely surfing the waves of change – they’re riding high despite the challenges. These leaders harness the whirlwind of external events – be it a pandemic punch, merger mania, or the seismic shift of going public – truly transformative events and use them as rocket fuel. With that, let’s bring on Cary Bainbridge, CMO of ABM Industries, and a returning guest who previously appeared on this show to discuss serving customers in need. Hello, Cary, how are you? And where are you this fine day?

Cary: Hey, Drew, how are you? It’s great to see you. I’m dialing in from Atlanta, Georgia.

Drew: Okay, so you’ve been at ABM Industries for 20-ish years and CMO for six and a half. First of all, congratulations on that longevity. And I know that ABM over the 20 years has gone through a lot of different transformations. Let’s talk about your most recent transformation.

Cary: That’s a great question. And thank you for that. I just celebrated 20 years on October 13th. So over the years, yeah, we’ve transitioned from a $3 billion company in 2007, when I came into the mix, and now we’re $8 billion in the US, UK, and Ireland. And we’ve gone through so much change in terms of the investments we’re making in the business, the organic growth that we’re seeing, and new services that we’re providing. And then strategic acquisitions, right. Since the pandemic, when we last met, we’ve made three significant acquisitions. And that’s really expanded not just our service capabilities, and what we can offer, but also our geographies that we’re in. So we’re really now on this journey of how do we align marketing and our brand strategy to the changes that we’re going through, the investments we’re making in our technology, and the modernization of how we enable our teams with who we are now as a brand.

Drew: Let’s just start with the implications of those acquisitions in terms of new service areas, complimentary service areas, new geographies, all of the above but talk a little bit about it because as those acquisitions come in, obviously, the brand needs to evolve.

Cary: It’s three-pronged. One is yes, to your point, we’ve expanded on hard services, such as engineering, and what we offer our clients in running their engineering in their facilities. Or it could be geographic expansion. And then we’ve expanded our business in EV, and the power business. So there’s a whole shift of new areas that we’re entering. And so what we have in front of us is a perception shift. How do we go from being perceived as a service provider to a strategic partner that can design a solution that can meet our clients’ needs in many areas? So that’s one. Two is really just change management, as we go through this and integrate these companies and these capabilities, change management for not just our operations teams, but our client, and as we’re also modernizing our tech platforms for how we deliver and record on what we do for our clients. And I’d say the third is really through all of this, how do you create culture, internally, through the change and ensure that you keep that original spirit of collaboration, onboarding new talent into the organization and creating community while we’re all focused on the client?

Drew: Other than that, there’s nothing to do.

Cary: No, we’re always looking for something more, right?

Drew: Yeah, I think you just take the rest of the year off. But seriously, all three of those could be year-long, two-year, three-year strategic initiatives, if you will, for any company, and yet, you’re trying to do all three at the same time, and all have implications for marketing in the department. So let’s take one of those at least brand because this is now really stretching the elasticity of the ABM brand, right at $8 billion, I think you said, you might need sub-brands. But although I shouldn’t even say that because Adobe doesn’t think they need sub-brands. How are you thinking about brand when it comes to ABM now that you’re well beyond being a service provider?

Cary: Great question. We are focused on one master brand, right. And as we bring in these new services and capabilities, typically we take about a year to integrate those new capabilities and educate our teams. But now when I think about brand, you know, there’s typically a major brand initiative every seven to 10 years, it’s typically in response to a huge business shift, like what we’re talking about. That’s our time for us right now. It’s been 11 years for us. So what we’re doing is we’re simplifying, as part of our brand repositioning, we’re simplifying what we can do just through three simple key areas. And what that’s going to do for our sales and operations teams, because we start from within, it’s really elevate, and broaden the aperture for how folks can understand what our brand is about.

Drew: It’s funny, we were talking, we had a career Huddle yesterday with Stan Phelps, who’s a great speaker and a teacher of speaking. And the magic number being three, the most that anybody can remember. And whether you’re giving a speech or doing a marketing plan for an $8 billion company, just trying to simplify it. Now, the challenge, of course, with that is you have competing interests with your company. And so suddenly, you’re essentially saying you have three divisions or three areas that matter. And if you’re not in those areas, I mean, they have to be pretty inclusive, right that those three areas? I’ve seen in times where companies have tried to do that, and there might be a $500 million business that’s just sort of left out of the conversation. How are you approaching that?

Cary: Staying true to our 2020 vision that kicked off in ’15, we still go to market through five industry groups. But what I’m talking about is how do we simplify what we do for clients and those industry groups. And the what we do is three distinct areas. You know, one is that it sounds great when you think about telling a new story or a new narrative. But when you think about the downstream impacts of that is how do we report on business and those three areas when you are going through a tech transformation in parallel? So we’re still very much in lockstep with the folks driving our business strategy and that transformation work. And then marketing actually has a seat at the table because we’re helping them by simplifying what we do further along that internal tech transformation.

Drew: You get a seat at the table because you’re delivering. You’re helping them with a major perspective. Simplification is a really important and often lost art. Ultimately, branding is about the art of simplifying as well. I love that earlier on. And before we get to our next guest who’s been up really early this morning, just talk about the role and the intersection of marketing and culture. Do you have a seat at that conversation about the culture and how you say acculturate the acquisitions and bring them into the ABM brand?

Cary: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, for us, this is all happening right now. And it all starts from within. We are leaning in and I think, you know, it’s so easy from a marketing perspective, of course, we want to build everything we do and our outreach to our clients to address their needs. But it has to start from within and one of our most important channels are our team members, and ensuring that we’re arming them with that new story that they can tell. So we have a tight connection and partnership with our communications and culture team, and building brand advocates internally throughout the organization. As we approach this external launch day, it’ll launch internal first and then we go external, and then they become a whole other channel for us to getting that new story out there.

Drew: I love it. How long will you allow for the internal launch just out of curiosity?

Cary: It’s about six weeks right now, six weeks for them to get familiar with the tools, test comprehension, get the message out, and then we’ll continue to evolve. It’s going to be a multi-year transformation, right? We’ll continue to evolve, following the external launch and create that dialogue and feedback to really prove out and test the story we’re telling our clients.

Drew: Got it. Okay. Well, Cary, thank you for that. We’re now going to bring on Narine Galstian, CMO of SADA Systems and an industry expert who has graced our stage before to delve into the topic of branding and analyst relations. Hello, Narine, wonderful to see you again.

Narine: Good morning, Drew. Thank you for having me. Yes.

Drew: Yes. Good morning, indeed. You are on the West Coast time and you’re in Los Angeles.

Narine: In Los Angeles. So very early this morning. Yes.

Drew: Well, but you’re very chipper so we can get right on it. You’ve been at SADA for almost 11 years. 

Narine: It’ll be 11 years in January. 

Drew: Amazing. So another impressive tenure for a notoriously short-tenured role. Share a little bit about SADA’s transformation in the last couple of years.

Narine: So I know I’ve spoken about our past business practices. SADA is a cloud consultancy and technology services provider. We are a Google Cloud partner. Previously, we used to do both Google Cloud and Microsoft. I think you and I have talked about that transition. We have divested that Microsoft practice about four years ago, and went all in on Google Cloud. And so we really had to transform how we were going to market with one platform, a dedicated platform for all of our solutions and services. So that instigated our rebrand about three years ago, and I just talked about this actually, with our agency— I did a podcast with them. I can’t believe it, it’s been three years. And it still feels like, you know, the newness of the brand, and how we’re continuing to explore it, find the flexibility into it as we’ve gone through a global expansion. So very similar to what Cary was saying, you know, we have had an acquisition, we’ve opened up new offices in the UK, and we have an office in India, we have an office in Armenia, and being able to really bring the teams together and having to bridge the gaps culturally, to make sure everyone’s aligned with our global brand. And really understanding what that means and bringing solutions and services messaging to the forefront. And excited to share that earlier, just a couple of months ago, we were first time on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for cloud transformation services in the niche category. So that was a huge transition for us. And one that obviously really put us on the chart, if you will, to bring our services around Google Cloud in a very niche category, and be called out for it by Gartner.

Drew: I’m going to repeat something you and I talked about in the podcast a couple of years ago, but I think it’s so important. You were servicing two partners, Microsoft and Google. You got rid of Microsoft, which was a significant part of your business. And as I recall, even though you gave up this business, your business grew significantly.

Narine: Significantly. And I think everyone was a little skeptical of why would you do this? Right. It was definitely the right decision for us. We were a wonderful cultural fit with Google as well. We were really aligned with their innovation around their products and solutions. And we grew like I said globally, we have top experts in Google Cloud at SADA. We have eight of the 64 fellows at SADA. To say that we are the go-to partner is an understatement. Everyone knows that if you’re going to go Google Cloud, you must do it with SADA. So that has really propelled our brand forward in the ecosystem. And we have just won our sixth Google Cloud Global Partner of the Year award. So we’re very proud of that.

Drew: I’m thinking about this. This is interesting, this goes back to a conversation we had with Peter Weinberg at the B2B Marketing Institute, and the lack of big bets that very few companies will make a big bet. This was a big bet. Right? You went from being able to address let’s just say, 66% of the market to a third of the market. But suddenly, you are the big fish in a smaller pond. My guessing is your win rates go up, your retention rates go up, your insight information to that new partner, so your ability to work with that partner goes up, all of these things happen. But somebody had to have the courage to make a big bet like that.

Narine: That definitely goes to our CEO, Tony Safoian. He very much felt like it was the right thing to do. And obviously along with the executive team who made the decision, he has made big bets in the past 20 years and this certainly was the one that stuck and has really propelled our company forward.

Drew: Thank you for allowing me to put a punctuation point on big bets. We are talking about B2B Greatness here. And it doesn’t happen for the most part, it rarely happens with small bets. But you mentioned acquisitions. And since we talked a little bit about acquisitions already, talk about those and what that meant. Is it a broader service offering, a broader geography? What were the implications of that acquisition?

Narine: Well, we have global customers who need to be serviced around the clock, if you will, around the sun. And it really made sense for us to acquire a company in India, who were also experts in Google Cloud, and adding on to our services and support and engineering teams, and being able to provide the global customers full services across the board and being able to expand our services globally, to serve even more customers in global regions, such as EMEA, and APAC.

Drew: And then again, going back to the big bet notion, because you’ve made the big bet on Google, the acquisition strategy is also equally clear. It’s who else has made that right. And so that, in some sense, makes it easier to sort of define your growth. Now, I’m imagining also, though, that created some cultural challenges and some branding challenges. Because you had this services company in India, how have you managed their sort of migration to the SADA brand?

Narine: They were previously a partner of SADA. So we were very much aligned already in how we worked and went to market and really providing that service excellence. So it really made sense for them to come into the SADA family, if you will, and be part of our brand fully. And because they were already aligned with Google Cloud as the partner, culturally we were really on the same page of where we felt like innovation was going to come from, where we really felt like our next big solutions focus was going to come from, and it was actually easier than we had anticipated. For one, they were so excited to be part of this SADA brand, and two, they have embraced it entirely, new offices, and I’m so proud of what they have done there. And they regularly do cultural events to promote the SADA brand within India and the APAC region. And a lot of it, you know, again, goes back to what Cary said, it’s the change management aspects, right, being able to really go in and make your people a priority, first and foremost, and train them properly. Give them the tools, the collateral, the assets so that they can take it and make it their own as well and really have a connection to it. So we did do that when we rolled out the brand, we did it globally. And then we went into each of the regions and made sure that it was set properly within the regions, taking into account any cultural aspects of messaging that had to be changed, or to align so that we were not offending anyone. We’re being inclusive. And that’s a really important thing, I think, before you go public to take that in and really bring your people into that mix and ask them, “Does this work? Does this not work?” You know, what are the kinks and colors, for example, and typography and messaging that you need to address before you go public with brands?

Drew: Yeah, and Cary mentioned six weeks and that’s just to me, it’s probably just barely enough.

Narine: It’s an ongoing effort. Even after you go public, you really go back and make sure that you’re hitting it home and just like you would hit any messaging with the customer several times, right? You have to do the same internally. And then they become, as Cary said, brand advocates.

Drew: I love it. All right, we’ll come back to you Narine. And when we come back, I do want to talk about change management with all three. But let’s bring on right now, let’s bring on Khalid El Khatib, CMO of Stack Overflow, who previously joined us on the show to shed light on the intricacies of marketing metrics and hybrid leadership. Hello Khalid, welcome back. How are you? And where are you this fine day?

Khalid: Hello, thank you for having me. I am in Chicago right now.

Drew: I love it. Live from Chicago, well, so now we have all the time zones in the US. I’m not quite, we don’t have a mountain time, well done. So you’ve also had a nice run at Stack Overflow, five and a half years, we’re gonna have to do a second show with the three of you to talk about the secrets of CMO longevity. But anyway, walk us through Stack Overflow’s transformation.

Khalid: Yeah, so over the course of the five and a half years that I’ve been there, and I should mention that I’m the outgoing CMO, I’m transitioning out by the end of the year, I’ve navigated a lot of transformation, everything from leadership transformation. So I’ve worked for three CEOs, all the way through the transformation of the business. And I think that’s true of many tech companies, especially in the environment in which we’re operating today. So Stack is played differentiated in that we have four pretty disparate lines of business, two that are tied to advertising, one that’s more B2C, or massive public website, reaching 100 million people. And then of course, a SaaS knowledge management and productivity platform. And so what we found is that this sort of transformation of the business was often tied to or married to the macroeconomic environment. So through the pandemic, and after, as folks shifted to remote work, our Stack Overflow for Teams product really took off. And so we had to inject much more of that SaaS DNA into our marketing team much more quickly than we anticipated. And then most recently, with the sort of rise of generative AI, we’ve really had to reconsider how to make our product stickier, what it looks like, relative to how developers are working today and how to work tomorrow. And so I think more than anything, the only constant has truly been change over these last five and a half years and what I’ve really been focused on is one, making sure that we’re spending responsibly and resourcing accordingly, but two, that my team is really injected with an amount of agility that we’re hiring for agile marketers, so that they can really sustain the pace of change that we’re experiencing at the company, and then the industry more broadly.

Drew: Yeah, on that last point. I mean, if you don’t hire, there are people who just like to keep doing the same thing. And if you don’t hire folks that are open to go with the flow. That’s a problem. But I want to go back to, before we get into the real meat of this most recent one, three CEOs, if I look at the tenure of CMOs that I know who’ve been in the job, the longest, I’m thinking of Kathy Button Bell, who was at Emerson for 22 years, same CEO, you’ve gone through three, how have you managed to sort of survive those?

Khalid: I think I’ve been fortunate to work with CEOs over the course of my career. And you know, here’s three CEOs and my previous company to the company before that, two, as well. CEOs who enter the role open to a partnership, who are not necessarily deferential to marketing leadership, but understand that is not their strong suit, and that they have areas to learn. And then beyond that, my former boss who worked in one of the presidential administrations gave me a piece of advice, which I think is very sound, and I tell people all the time, and he said, “Treat the CEO, like they’re the president,” not to say like be super deferential and respectful at all costs, but really to go into every meeting super prepared, and to be able to see around corners to some extent, and I’ve really taken that to heart. And I think that has protected me along the way.

Drew: I love that. I feel like we should play the music to Hail to the Chief as you go in. But I think a couple things came that I heard one is that you’re agile. And two, that you’ve been lucky enough to have CEOs who recognize that marketing isn’t their strong suit, because I talked to CMOs, as you know, almost every day, and the biggest complaint is that the CEO and the other folks in the C-suite think they know marketing, even though they’ve never had any experience in it. And so it’s fortunate that these folks were mature enough to know what they don’t know and rely on the experts. So it’s like any new job that CMO is applying for, it’s like, either the CEO had experience and actually does know marketing, or is willing to admit this as a blind spot for them.

Khalid: Yeah. I think it’s always an education that has to be done really respectfully. I think the other thing that’s really important, and I talked about this a lot, is through cross-functional partnership, because a one-to-one conversation of like, “This is marketing. This is what your expectations should be. This is what we can and cannot do,” often won’t work. The CEO will always have certain expectations around what marketing can and should do. And that’s why it’s paramount that you build a strong relationship with the CRO, with the CFO, and even the Chief People Officer, in order for them to sort of back you up and validate what you’re doing, to say, “Hey, like marketing’s trying really hard, we’re investing heavily in field. It’s not working right now for X, Y, or Z reason.” Same thing with the CFO, you know, around attribution, for example, multi-touch attribution can sometimes be a pipe dream, depending on how your infrastructure looks. And so having that sort of surround approach is, I think, really important so that they can back you up if there was a misunderstanding or misalignment.

Drew: Another thing you mentioned, tech companies tend to have to pivot, have to adjust both internal changes, external changes, mainly external changes, whether it’s the economy or new competitors, or new technologies. So hiring for agility. And in fact, we’ve never talked about that on any of the shows. How do you recognize someone who is able to respond to change?

Khalid: It’s not easy. You can sometimes glean this from a person’s work history or resume, had they worked at other companies that went through some level of disruption? Have they navigated an acquisition or the equivalent? And then you can sort of take a case study approach, like “What is the time when you went for the job that wasn’t what you expected, and how did you navigate that?” Or something similar? And so I think it’s really important, but also this goes back to what I was saying earlier, strong partnership with the people or human resources team is equally important. As we’ve navigated some of these changes, we put together with the L&D team, very tactical, and prescriptive programs on how you navigate change, how you go through a transformation, having a growth mindset. Our CEO is really passionate about that, and shared books and reading materials with the full company on how to do that.

Drew: L&D as in leadership and development?

Khalid: Correct. 

Drew: Okay, just double-checking on that. I want to go back to this most recent challenge out of nowhere, generative AI, you mentioned it, we’re going there, all of a sudden, developers could go on to ChatGPT and say, “Hey, write this patch of code or do this or tell me how to write it,” or any other things that had some significant impact on their behavior that took time away from other places. Talk about how that sort of bubble, how you all recognized it and reacted to it, and what it meant for marketing in particular.

Khalid: I think people disagree on this sort of time horizon, and when Gen AI will fully take hold or when it will be super ready for primetime. But I think everyone agrees that, you know, December of last year represented a paradigm shift in terms of disruption to not only the developer space, but marketers, ad ops, you know, everything journalism and I think what we did as a company, and we recognized that we needed to allow our products, really needed programs. And so it was time for product marketing to step up, which they did, partnering really closely with our small but mighty innovation team, a tiger team of developers and product managers who are working on how we evolved our products. And to sort of take a step back from a demand generation perspective or a sales perspective and say, “Hey, are we pushing a product too hard that doesn’t necessarily meet this moment? Or is there work for us to do in terms of how we evolve our products via product functionality, etc.” And so we made a big announcement in the summer of last year around how Stack Overflow is evolving, and the company continues to invest heavily in product to do that. And so every sort of company, every tech company, for sure is on a different journey on a different timeline. The choices that they make today are certainly going to dictate how successful they are moving forward in terms of how companies are resourcing right now, and I think we talked about this a lot, Drew, but also with other CMO leaders, like product marketing is so critical in a moment like this, and the company that has product marketers who are glorified sales enablement people are not going to be able to meet this moment.

Drew: Right. And so the difference between those two, product sales enablement is just “Hey, I got what I’ve got,” product marketing people understand the customer and have the insights they need in order to sort of really help guide future development of product.

Khalid: Exactly. Not only the customer, but the market. They understand the technical components of the product, they understand the competitive landscape, they have strong relationships with analysts to understand where things are going. And that level of sophistication to me is the real differentiator.

Drew: The other thing that I’m sort of wondering about, and maybe we’ll get at this with the three of you, is just this challenge of being reactive versus proactive. How seriously do you take this change? What do you do? Because the notion of strategy is that you create a strategy and yes, stick with it. But when something like generative AI comes along, that completely disrupts a market, you have to react, you can’t say, “Well, it’s not our strategic plan.”

Khalid: I think we’ve learned a lot of hard lessons around that, you know, like from COVID to the economy and interest rates to generative AI where it’s like, look, that approach no longer works, you can no longer set a plan at the end of the fiscal year and then execute on it over the course of the next. And similarly with a marketing budget, you can’t even reevaluate on a quarterly basis. At this point, you really have to be looking at your P&L on a monthly basis to say, “Hey, what’s working? What’s not? Where do we reallocate, when do we give money back?” because the world is changing too fast.

Drew: I’m going to push back on that. I still think there’s a way to have planning and you have a perspective, but I’m not going to do it at this second. So I understand why I think it’s an “and” not an “or.” But yeah, we’ll get to it. 

Okay. It is now time for me to talk about and actually for all of us to talk about CMO Huddles, launched in 2020. CMO Huddles is a close-knit community of over 300 highly effective B2B marketing leaders who share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Now, given the extraordinary time constraints on CMOs these days, everything about CMO Huddles is designed to help leaders save time and empower them to make faster, better decisions, kind of like what we were just talking about with Khalid. So if you’re a senior B2B marketer and need a shortcut to B2B greatness, take a second and sign up for a free starter program at CMOhuddles.com. Okay, Cary, Narine, Khalid. Since you’re incredibly busy marketing professionals, I’m wondering if you could share an example of how CMO Huddles has helped you?

Narine: Well, CMO Huddles has been a really great community that I can tap into, especially when it comes to vendors, when it came to PR agencies or other tools, and being able to really tap into the experience that others have had, have they seen success? What were the best practices and rollouts and things like that? So that’s been really helpful. Also, you know, it kind of feels like a community where we can share our struggles, and be able to see what’s been successful for others, when it comes to rolling out an ABM campaign, for example, you know, specific big bets, as we talked about in investments, and especially coming out of COVID, when was a good time to really go back to in-person events, conferences to invest into, you know, how do we get back into that mode that we used to have pre-COVID? Right. So it’s been a really wonderful experience, just to tap into the vast knowledge base of other B2B-specific CMOs because I think that is where the differentiation is. There’s a lot of, you know, marketing and CMO groups, but the B2B component, I think it’s a little different. And being part of this group really brought to light a lot of the similar experiences we’ve all had.

Drew: I love it. Thank you for that. Cary, any thoughts?

Cary: One of my favorite things that I love getting as part of CMO Huddles is the Huddle recaps, like you said, we are all busy, can’t always join every call. But I love those little bite-sized insights that you can get if you can’t be on the call, right? So you never feel like you’re missing a beat or getting those little tidbits of insights for, like Narine said, Account Based Marketing for me, tech platforms. So that as you’re transforming, there’s little tips along the way that you can glean.

Drew: I love it. Well, I appreciate that, because they do put a lot of energy into those recaps. So alright, and Khalid, any thoughts to share?

Khalid: I hate going last because I agree with everything that was just said. I would say I go to sort of two things. One is the sort of validation and help with vendor selection is really critical and really important, like going beyond G2 to actually hear from practitioners on what they’re using and what’s working. And then two, sort of go back to what I was saying earlier, when you’re in a tough conversation with the CEO or the CFO, a lot of what I’ve found in those Huddle recaps has been validating in terms of the arguments I’ve been trying to make, or, you know, just to say this is what’s happening in the market, X, Y and Z CMO is also experiencing this. And it’s much more validating than sharing, like an Ad Age article or something that you see on LinkedIn.

Drew: I appreciate all of you, appreciate those comments. Thank you. Again, if you’re a B2B CMO who can share, care, and dare with the best of them do yourself a favor and visit CMOhuddles.com. 

Okay. So these transformations that we’ve been talking about are so much bigger than marketing, you all approach and Khalid you talked a little bit about this maintaining executive alignment because there is a moment and I’ve heard this happen, where you’re going through a big change, like suddenly there’s an acquisition and something and maybe we need a new CMO? Because this is a new challenge. You need someone who can help align everybody so talk a little bit about how much time and maybe Cary start with this because you’ve gone through what three acquisitions and so forth. How do you sort of maintain alignment around your simplification efforts?

Cary: It’s not just the executive leadership, but a cross-functional group of leaders that we meet regularly, right? So we get that next level down, and come together around alright, what’s the change? What’s our role in that change? And then we do have a TMO in place that keeps us all centered on the objective of that change, right? So we’re all working in lockstep together. So ultimately it starts with that sound business strategy. And then working together through that change along the way that cascade down. 

Drew: And what’s a TMO? 

Cary: Transformation Office.

Drew: Really? There we go, we have a transformation office. Very cool. Narine, what about you in terms of maintaining executive alignment during these transformations?

Narine: Well, it’s really about the relationships that you build with your cross-functional teams throughout, you know, the entire process. And that alignment and kind of being lockstep with them, is really important throughout the year, not only when you need to transform or not only when you have a big business event. We align from the very beginning on the business strategies, marketing is always part of that discussion, where we’re going to make the investments and how are we going to support the— we call it customer growth organization, and then being able to touch point on a regular basis, you know, not just be quarterly updates, right, being part of that discussion on a regular basis of how you are helping them progress the business? How are you are tapping into the culture components? How are you are bringing in those leads and qualifying them? Like, what is your impact internally, as well as externally, throughout the entire process and throughout the entire year? So that when you’re coming end of year, and you’re having discussions about planning forward? You’re already aligned, and you don’t have to prove your case, if you will, to get budgets or you know, realign for the new year ahead.

Drew: Right, because you’ve been sort of doing it along the way. And Khalid, we’ve talked about this term change management has come up a lot in all three of these conversations, because there are professionals that this is what they do. And that, you know, that’s not necessarily something that a CMO has been trained on, how have you approached change management? And what role do you see the CMO playing in that?

Khalid: I’ve always said that I think increasingly, the CMO plays a really critical role when it comes to internal communications. And if you have a communications team that you need people who have internal comms acumen, because oftentimes, internal comms, that’s the regulator to HR focused on the intranet or holiday celebrations, and like, the world is tough now, you know, what’s going on, employees want to talk about it, they expect CEOs to weigh in on some of it. And so I think that there’s a level of sophistication that require a really strong comms background. And so when I think about change management, there are really two components that I find to be critical. One is over-communication. I think about that. Whenever there’s discord with salespeople, for example, it’s like, get on a zoom with them in a team meeting context, pick up the phone, if you have to send the email, send the slack, ensure that the message is permeating everyone, and everything. And then two is being candid and transparent. I think Stack Overflow, because we’ve often had a really developer-centric culture, always had transparency. It’s one of our core values and that sort of radical candor at our core. And not sugarcoating, you know, I think employees can now sort of see past that. And so if a change is coming up, or if you don’t have a level of confidence in a team member, or in yourself, I think it’s fine to have that conversation. It’s better to have it than to let it fester. And so when I think about change management, it’s really about having tough conversations when you have to as often as you have to.

Drew: Yeah, there was a lot in that. And I just want to put a couple of punctuation points on one internal comms, given the fact that employees can be advocates, it feels like marketing needs ownership, a dotted line for sure. One, because there’s a recognition that as fellow Huddler Heidi Bullock talks about, seven times seven ways in order to get employees to actually stick. And so you know, suddenly I’m thinking everybody relies on either slack or email, but no, how about voice message? How about SMS on top of it when it’s a big transformative thing, like we’ve been talking about so far? And I’m just curious, Narine, Cary, where are you in terms of internal comms, dotted line? How much influence do you have on that?

Narine: We work very closely with the people operations team in developing those comms. They will most of the time develop it, but they will always run it by us first, for any input or finessing, if you will, of communications and specifically to also cultural events. And, you know, big rollouts internally, that’s always primarily led by marketing, working very collaboratively with people operations team, you know, anything related to the brand and brand communications that’s always through the marketing team, again, collaboratively with the people operations team. So it’s not just a dotted line. You’re just working as a team on all of this and there shouldn’t be any, you know, “This is your job. This is my job” type of barriers.

Drew: So much of this conversation is about strategic shifts in the organization. One of the things we talk about a lot in Huddles is the need for the CMO to be a representative of the business thinking about the business that happens to do marketing. It’s not just oh, you’re the marketing, and you’re doing demand capture. And I’m curious. And maybe Cary, you can talk a little bit about this. I know you have a change management group. But still, you have more than just a seat at the table here. How do you insert not marketing, but you into these sort of bigger strategic questions and opportunities?

Cary: I center myself every day on my three stakeholders, right? That’s clients, its investors, and team members so partnering with all three groups to address one consistent marketing and brand strategy that’s aligned to the business strategy. Simple asthat, yes, we have a change management group, we have an internal comms group. And then we have marketing but to Narine’s point like we are a collaborative team. They come together and determine how do we help each other. And we all look to each other for their expertise and are respectful of that. Our whole change management group when I think about the methodology they use, it’s very similar to how we think about the marketing funnel, we use an ADKAR methodology and it all starts with an awareness. There’s a lot of similarities in that which creates a mutual respect. And what we’re all here to do at our particular seat. Can you elaborate on ADKAR? Yes, awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. So it’s very similar, right, how we think about, you know, awareness, consideration, purchase, and then loyalty. Right. It’s a very similar approach. That’s what we follow here at ABM, as we’re rolling out change And then like I said, there’s you can see their similarity there.

Drew: Interesting. Is all of that tracked in the similar way that you would from a marketing funnel standpoint?

Drew: Internally, yeah, they build out the plan, have all the impacts and then how does that cascade throughout the organization, and if you don’t have dedicated resources, which we don’t, you create coaches throughout the business that are trained to those methodologies, and helping create that trickle down effect to make sure that impact and folks have that support through the change.

Drew: Interesting, the process that you have, the exact process is less important than the fact that you have one, and that you have a mutual respect for what that process is, which I think is so interesting. And you know, one of the complaints about startups often is that they are always in a reactive mode because there’s no framework for challenging a problem.

Cary: That’s the easy part, getting it up and running. The hard part is keeping it going. Right. Like keeping it going and building that model ongoing throughout your org.

Drew: Yes. Well, this is the moment I think, where we might ask, What would Ben Franklin say, as a man who went through, well, a lot of changes in his life. And one of the things I admire about him is that he had the ability to change opinions as he learned more throughout his life, and he never stopped. So what I would say he’d say, in this circumstance is, “Change is the only constant in life, one’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.” There you go. We’re talking about adaptive, you know, Khalid, you talked a lot about agility and the need to have agile people. I’m curious if we take this agility, and then we have sales are down. When things are good, everybody’s on board, it’s easy. But when things are trouble, and challenging, and particularly when they’re from disruptions, how do you manage that agility? So again, we’re making moves that are strategic and not just reactive.

Khalid: You know. hopefully, you have a culture of blameless accountability in place. And as we’ve talked about, you build relationships that are strong enough that you can have a candid conversation around what’s happening. So there’s not finger-pointing from sales to marketing into sales and product is part of the conversation as well. And you can take a step back and say, “Hey, are we pushing a product that’s antiquated or that, you know, needs an investment right now? Is the pendulum swung too far on digital and paid media? And do we need to invest more in field?” And so I think that’s when you really have to rely on your relationships. And you have to ensure that the culture at the top trickles down onto the teams.

Drew: Blameless accountability. So, Cary, Narine, you hear that idea? Does that idea resonate with you and your organization’s, Narine?

Narine: Yeah, absolutely. I think that if you have this all in, we’re all in mentality, right? There shouldn’t be any blame or finger-pointing happening. And I think it’s just being able to sit down and really evaluate from a business strategy perspective. “Have we made the right investments? Were these the right products and solutions we rolled out? Where are we dropping the ball?” Right? At what stage of that cycle? It’s not just “did we get enough leads,” but maybe like something dropped the later part of that lead? “Are we being competitive in our ecosystem? You know, when it comes to pricing and services? And how are people showing up for the customer at every touchpoint?” Right, I think there are multiple things that you need to sit down and really evaluate, “Where are we losing? What is your loss rate? Where are we losing? And what can we do to change those?” Because it’s not just about getting leads, it’s how are you retaining those and converting them and then keeping your customers happy, right, so that they’re coming back over and over again, for new business. So we tap into our install base regularly with new products and cross-promotional products and cross-selling services. So that’s a big part of our business. And so if we’re seeing a drop there, what are we doing wrong? Is it communications? Is it how our salespeople are showing up? Is it the customer success teams? So it’s really important not to have blame, but just go all in together? And so let’s just break this apart and see where we can fix it.

Drew: Yeah, let’s fix it. And I think that insight here is that it’s never one thing. I mean, if the product suddenly stopped selling, it’s probably not the marketing, you know, if the customer starts dropping you it’s probably not the marketing, right? But often, in other places, the marketer is the first one to be blamed. So Cary, how do you sort of address this and get to this point of blameless accountability?

Cary: We didn’t used to have it this way. Now, we’ve gotten to a really great place where we all lock arms around the strategic planning process. And we work with our business leaders, “What are the asks?” And it’s not so much about, “Okay, what are we going to invest in marketing?” What is it that needs the investment to really give it differentiation? Right, so then we get to a place where we can’t do everything. So we prioritize these investments. And from my perspective, in terms of what I bring to the table, I’m like, “What’s generating the most pipeline for us? What end markets are generating the most pipeline for us?” So then that’s where I put my weight in, “What’s our audience size? And where are we seeing success?” So then that’s when, for me, it becomes an educational opportunity with our business leaders. “Alright, this is how we weighted, who gets what, right, who gets support, because there’s a limited number of investment.” So I characterize it as three tiers, “What gets paid media, right? What gets CRM, and then what gets enablement.” And then everybody feels like they’re getting something, then we aligned around who gets the most in terms of what we’re setting out to do, noting what we expect to get the most ROI from,

Drew: Presumably, and all that you have the math that shows that. What I heard, and through this whole conversation is the importance of understanding the challenge that you’re facing, creating a simple framework to solve these issues, and then having a few priorities because you just can’t do everything at once. Alright, well, with those, let’s get to your final words of wisdom for other CMOs when it comes to managing marketing, managing your department during periods of change, and we’ll go in reverse order. So we’ll start with Khalid.

Khalid: Take care of yourself, you know, I think in times of chaos and change, your marketing team is going to look to you for steadiness, and for steady leadership, nothing will work, nothing will go smoothly. If you’re in a sort of frenetic place and you feel deeply anxious to take care of yourself.

Drew: I love that observation. And it’s so important. And it’s not necessarily one that I would have thought of first, but in our conversation with FranklinCovey, and so forth. I mean, if you are working 22 hours a day and are exhausted, if you are living sort of an unhealthy life, chances are you’re going to be a really poor leader. So I appreciate that comment a lot. Okay, Cary, what’s your final word of wisdom?

Cary: Yeah, I’d say I agree, give the steady leadership but set boundaries and embrace the change. It’s an opportunity that I think your org will be better for, your team and you personally, and I think your grit and determination will show up and all of that. Have fun with that, you know, with that other quote, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.”

Drew: There’s a couple of things that you said I just want to sort of, again, put emphasis on, setting boundaries, but embracing the change and we know when we’re selling change, change is hard. And you know, we talk about the pain of change, versus the gain of change. And so if you’re lucky enough to do what Khalid does, which is hire people who welcome change, then you’re in good shape, but otherwise, you are selling it as fun. This is an opportunity, this is a learning experience. Okay, Narine, bring us home, final word of wisdom?

Narine: Yeah, I have to say that change is a constant in our business and marketing, and especially for us in cloud transformation. So if you’re not able to be flexible and open, and really take the reins, I would say as a marketer and help lead that change from a business strategy perspective, and bringing others along with you in that vision, then, you know, you’re gonna fall behind. And I always encourage my teams to scale up, we talked about a little bit about Gen AI, you know, we have to scale up and we have to stay ahead of our competitors of the market. And I always encourage that change. Learning is never done. It’s a constant process of learning and being able to integrate new initiatives, new tools, new ways of measuring, and so I say welcome it and actually lead it.

Drew: And this a great place to wrap things up. Lead the change, you are the Chief Marketing Officer, you get a chance to lead the change, how cool. Okay, thank you, Cary, Narine, Khalid. You are all amazing. Thank you audience for staying with us. 

To hear more conversations like this one and submit your own questions while we’re live. Join us on the next CMO Huddle Studio, we stream to my LinkedIn profile that’s Drew Neisser, every other week.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, Ishar Cuevas, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!