December 1, 2023

Architect of Influence: The Inaugural CMO’s Impact on B2B Brand

How do you CMO at a B2B org that’s never had a CMO before? In this episode, we explore this unique challenge with Sangeeta Prasad, Slalom’s first-ever CMO (and it’s not her first rodeo either, she was also inaugural CMO at Russell Reynolds). 

Tune in to learn how Sangeeta masterfully approaches the inaugural CMO role, blazing the path for marketing to drive business growth. The conversation covers how to transform frustrations into quick wins, how to balance brand and demand, and how to get marketing a seat at the strategic table. We also explore Slalom “Fiercely Human” repositioning and their big Dreamforce reveal. Don’t miss it!  

What You’ll Learn 

  • How to be company’s first CMO (twice!) 
  • How Slalom repositioned its brand 
  • How to balance brand and demand 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 373 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned 


  • [2:52] Sangeeta: At the intersection of brand & demand
  • [4:53] Russell Reynolds’ first CMO
  • [6:10] The first step
  • [8:04] Transforming frustrations into quick wins
  • [13:01] Rebranding (& measuring) Russell Reynolds
  • [15:38] Daring Moves: Cartoon series
  • [16:50] Slalom’s first CMO
  • [19:43] Discovering how marketing can help
  • [21:24] Repositioning Slalom
  • [22:39] Why “Fiercely Human”
  • [23:26] Bringing the new positioning to life internally
  • [26:40] Ad Break: CMO Huddles
  • [29:42] The big Dreamforce reveal
  • [33:48] Biggest wins 3 years on
  • [38:29] Balancing brand and demand
  • [41:27] AI to impact the day-to-day
  • [43:03] Dos and don’ts: You’re the first CMO at a new company 

Highlighted Quotes  

“Especially if it’s a company that’s already doing well, it’s almost impossible to come in and drive marketing without really understanding the business, the business needs, the leaders, the culture, the people.” -Sangeeta Prasad, CMO at Slalom

“Brand is not an overnight sensation. It’s a long-term investment. It’s years, not months.” -Sangeeta Prasad, CMO at Slalom

“It’s really hard to talk your way into describing why marketing works. It’s much better to show why marketing works.” -Sangeeta Prasad, CMO at Slalom

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Sangeeta Prasad

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew. I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. And if this is your first time listening then welcome. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness. And that has a logo featuring penguins. Wait, what? Yeah, well, a group of these curious, adaptable and problem-solving birds is called the Huddle. And the B2B marketers and CMO Huddles are all that and more, huddling together to heat up the coldest job in the C suite. And now that CMO Huddles has three membership tiers, we’re ready to inspire B2B Greatness at all levels. To learn more, check out Now before we get to the episode, here’s a 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 and tell her Drew sent you. Okay, let’s get on with today’s episode.

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. Being a CMO is not easy, even when all the stars are aligned and you’re working for an organization that understands what marketing can and can’t do, and appreciates what the CMO brings to the table. It becomes a whole nother thing when you’re the first CMO at an organization that’s never had one. To get deeper insights into what that particular scenario requires, we’ve got a guest today who’s actually done this twice, first as the CMO for Russell Reynolds and more recently as the first CMO for Slalom, a global consulting firm. And with that, I’m delighted to welcome Sangeeta Prasad. Hello, Sangeeta. How are you? And where are you this fine day?

Sangeeta: Hi Drew, it’s good to see you. I am very well, thank you. It’s a beautiful fall morning out here in Connecticut and I’m enjoying a sunny day. Much needed and very well appreciated.  

Drew: Awesome. Yes. Well, we’re in good cheer. Now, I noticed on your LinkedIn headline that you describe yourself as, and I quote Chief Marketing Officer at the intersection of brand and demand marketing. Why those words?

Sangeeta: Drew, marketing has changed a lot over the years that I’ve been doing marketing and more and more, we’re looking for results-driven marketing. I grew up in places like Procter and Gamble, where brand marketing and results-driven marketing were very close together. But in many companies, they’re far apart. And I pride myself in driving results. So have expertise in brand. So that’s why I brought those two together because I believe companies need them today.  

Drew: It’s such a great point. There is no demand without brand. Do you at sometimes think about this distinction as being completely artificial or now that you’ve spent enough time with B2B do you really see them as different?

Sangeeta: I do see them as different actually. I think there is a building of a brand versus driving leads through demand-gen marketing. I think they are very different tactics and very different ways of approaching it. I do believe brand is an umbrella that helps drive demand, but I don’t see them as the same thing.  

Drew: Interesting. Yeah, I agree with you. And I particularly am one that doesn’t like it when I hear people say there is no B2B or B2C, there’s only H2H, because B2B is very different. And the demand generation part of B2B is particularly different. But I have to think the tricky part of this is there’s demand creation and there’s demand capture. And that’s where I think the intersection of brand and demand are so intertwined, right? How do you create demand without a brand?  

Sangeeta: That’s well said, I think demand creation is a very important part of brand marketing. And I also think that brand helps create awareness in a way that helps demand creation.  

Drew: Yeah. So before we get into your current role at Slalom, let’s go back to your nearly seven years at Russell Reynolds. What do you think compelled this services firm to hire a CMO? And why you at that time? This is probably what 10 years ago.  

Sangeeta: This is shockingly about 10 years ago. Before I joined Russell Reynolds, it was a big change for me. So I spent quite a bit of time with the then CEO, Clarke Murphy. And we talked about why bring in a CMO, why marketing, and he was looking ahead more visionary and said that the market is changing, the way we’re approaching driving demand is changing. And to have a leg up in this space, you have to have marketing as well. I don’t know that Russell Reynolds really understood what they were signing up for but I think that conceptually, they understood what they needed, and they needed something different.

Drew: It’s interesting that you say that they didn’t know what they had signed up for. So let’s talk about that education curve because it’s funny, even in startups, and so forth with these brilliant genius CEOs, founders, there’s a lot of misconception that marketing can work miracles in like, a day and a half. So how did you manage expectations from the beginning and talk a little bit about early days at Russell Reynolds.

Sangeeta: Being a first CMO I have learned requires a lot of fortitude. You have to come in knowing your why and your own clear vision because no one in the company has because they’ve never experienced marketing. And so coming in, there are a couple of things that a new CMO needs to do in my opinion. First is learn the culture and the people and the leaders. I think learning is the most important thing you can do because you will fail if you don’t spend time understanding how the company works. And especially if it’s a company that’s already doing well, it’s almost impossible to come in and drive marketing without really understanding the business needs, the leaders, the culture, the people. So I think that is the very first step.  

Drew: Yeah. Let’s talk about that one before we get to the other ones. So first of all, I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think it’s true, regardless of whether you’re a first-time CMO or not. You need to come in with your perspective and how you work. So you describe this first one as learning the culture. We talk a lot about having a 90-day learning session. The challenge there, and this gets back to my earlier point is expectations are so high, and it’s like okay, when are you going to make a difference? What do you mean, you’re learning? How do you fend them off and buy yourself time?

Sangeeta: That is, I think one of the hardest things to do Drew and it’s a really good question. The way I did it in both my jobs is, before I even started, I said brand is not an overnight sensation. It’s a long-term investment. It’s years, not months. And I repeat that over and over again. I also explained that brand is not just events, it is long-term brand building, which includes website, which includes positioning, which includes a bunch of different things. And so that is the theory of it. Having said that, you have to have some quick wins on the board, you have to show that the trust the company has in you is well worth it. And so my strategy has been to quickly understand what everyone is frustrated about and can I make a quick difference in that space. And usually, there are a couple of things you can do.  

Drew: I love that and I talked about that in my book, the need for those quick wins. And this is true, again, for any CMO in a new job. While you’re learning the business and before you decide to transform it, find that quick win. And if you can find that quick win on the funnel, you’re really a hero. I interviewed Ed Roush several years ago, and the quick win was getting the 800 number on the website. Look such an obvious thing but it was a quick win because suddenly the phone was ringing off the hook. All these people were coming to the website and he was in an industry construction, where people wanted to talk on the phone, so those quick wins are essential. Learning the culture and this is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve seen this happen over and over again over my career where the CMO comes in and said, “Oh, everything that past CMO did was wrong, we need to change everything.” And they decided to do that in the first six weeks. So talk about what are the things you’re listening for as you’re going in the first three months, six months, nine months, you talked about culture but what are you looking to learn? You mentioned frustrations, but in terms of the insights, 

Sangeeta: Both the companies that I was first CMO at were new industries for me and new businesses. And so I really had to learn the business, how it works, and what drives demand in that particular business so that I can take that and translate that into what it means for marketing. And I think that’s a very important aspect of coming in is having conversations with leaders understanding their goals, the company goals, and how can marketing accelerate business growth. That is something that every company wants to do, is grow faster, do more, be bigger. And that I think, is the crux of it, understanding how that happens, and how marketing can help.   

Drew: Now imagine you’re at Russell Reynolds, there are a bunch of senior executive recruiters who have been doing this just fine for 20 years building their book of business and they’re looking at you like, “Okay, so what are you doing for me?” And basically, these kinds of firms don’t necessarily have management people who grew up, they don’t know anything about marketing, they’re recruiters, that’s what they do. And so as you were learning at Russell Reynolds, in particular, how did you sort of find that moment where you said “Okay, here’s where marketing could play a difference.”

Sangeeta: That is a very real scenario where they look at you and go, “I don’t understand what you’re doing here.” I even had some leaders say to me, “I think it’s a mistake to hire a marketing leader, I don’t know why we did that. We’re doing just fine without you.” And some of this proof is in the pudding, it’s really hard to talk your way into describing why marketing works. It’s much better to show why marketing works. So my strategy has been pick a few leaders who are marketing friendly, partner with them, and show results, even if it is an event done better, even if it is reaching out to people with an invitation that’s better than it was before. The website is a great way to do it and you should use that example before; the website is very visible. So if you can make some quick changes, that’s a big deal, which for me, I changed the profile pages of the consultants and lifted it up a level before we created a whole new website and they loved that. So there are little things you can do that makes a difference and in some ways, a new CMO, and I’ll say maybe even a first CMO, caters more internally than externally in the first six months.

Drew: Yeah, particularly at a services firm, particularly, you know, in these fiefdoms, and so forth. But it’s funny the insight that you said find the allies, find those folks, that’s no different than what it takes to succeed in B2B SaaS, where you’re looking for that salesperson to help implement a new ABM program. You have to find allies and get them because they’re the critical people and again, at a services firm like Russell’s where you’ve got really well-established recruiters in their particular industry who have a massive book of business, but they might realize that you know what, she might be able to get me 10%, 20% incremental, that would be pretty awesome. And then there’s another little nugget in there, which is make the execs look good. How do you go wrong there?

Sangeeta: 100%

Drew: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. Okay, just finishing up on Russell Reynolds, as you look back on that, was there something that you’re particularly proud of, that you were able to do from a brand standpoint, while you were there?

Sangeeta: A couple of things I’m really proud of. One is we rebranded Russell Reynolds, we created a new look and feel and Russell Reynolds had never been rebranded in a 60-year history and so doing that was a very big challenge internally. There are a lot of leaders who felt it was absolutely unnecessary, and nothing, no new look would work better than what they currently had. Once we rebranded and showed how that would look externally, we got a lot of converts, and then we reflected that in a new website, and a new positioning. And so overall, I think we changed Russell Reynolds from more of an old firm to much more modern, forward-looking consulting company.

Drew: Interesting. Yes. That would be the sort of pivot is “we’re headhunters to we’re consultants.” That is a big move in that the old school would have been there. How did you sort of measure the effectiveness of that because you’ve got internal audiences, which obviously, if they don’t buy in, forget it, but also from an external standpoint, to see that whether or not this new branding had an impact.

Sangeeta: It’s almost impossible to measure results directly from branding, because there are so many touch points outside of branding alone, where you use branding, that it’s impossible to say what drove the result. However, I will say that Russell Reynolds grew faster than it had ever in its history during that period of time. The new brand was adopted across all consultants in the work they were doing and they were getting a lot of positive feedback. At the same time. We got the CEO to go to Davos and we increased our thought leadership and the combination of higher profile, more thought leadership, better branding, and presence expertise in that space really drove our external profile and that was very meaningful for Russell Reynolds.

Drew: I can imagine, again, you’re going fromHey you’re a headhunter” to suddenly you’re a consultant and now you add in the layer of thought leadership, you’re going to Davos, all those things, reinforce the fact that if you’re a consultant, you better be a thought leader, right? If you’re a recruiter, you better have listings. Is there anything else on Russell Reynolds, because you mentioned two things, the rebranding, is there anything else that you would want to talk about from that? 

Sangeeta: One thing that was a little risky, we did a cartoon series that poked fun at recruiters and the work we did. I think it did it very respectfully but it was a little bit unusual and I would say, our leaders were very supportive but there were a lot of consultants who were a little bit nervous about it. As we know, you can’t really do a breakthrough marketing without making someone uncomfortable. And so we did make people uncomfortable, but it was a huge success. People really remembered the name Russell Reynolds, because of these moments, and we got emails from customers saying, “Oh, I fell off my chair laughing when I saw it. It’s so right.” And so we touched people in a different way, which was really important.

Drew: Thank you for sharing that. It’s just B2B was well known as business to boring. And just a touch of humor makes a huge difference. I talk a lot about my book, about this family-owned business called Case Paper, which just has a brilliant sense of humor in everything they do. And it helps them across the board, from a recruiting standpoint, from a retention standpoint, because you’re suddenly doing business with humans that have a sense of humor and laugh at themselves. So kudos to you for bringing that to them. Okay. You got your seven years in. It’s mid-2020, you know, the pandemic had already started and you made the switch to marketing executive search to marketing consulting. What was your mandate at Slalom?

Sangeeta: This is a unique thing about being a first CMO, you have to be very comfortable with uncertainty and lack of clarity because when I came in to Slalom I came in because I really felt there’s a transformational opportunity and the culture is amazing. I felt like Slalom, deserved to have a brand that’s bigger than its business. And that was not the case, I wanted to build a brand bigger than the business. That was my “why” as to why I came to Slalom, and I did not have a clear mandate on how to go about doing it. That excites me to know that I can figure out how to go about doing and then do it. But that’s not for everyone.

Drew: Talk about the brand of Slalom that you arrived at and relative to where you are now.

Sangeeta: I arrived right in the middle of the pandemic, I would not recommend that for anyone.

Drew: Too late, lots of folks have done it, oh my gosh. But it is a challenge because suddenly you have to do everything you were doing virtually.

Sangeeta: Exactly and I didn’t meet any of my colleagues for a year and a half. We just were on zooms and I underestimated how difficult that would be. But we’re through it and we’ve come out on the other end. So Slalom is a very successful company, it was nearly $2 billion when I joined it yet, if you haven’t worked with Slalom, you’ve never heard of Slalom. And that is because Slalom really has never had global marketing that builds awareness builds the brand. At the same time being so successful, there was a real question, what can branding and marketing do that will change things? And certainly that was a challenge coming in.

Drew: It’s so interesting. I mean, very similar situations, the parallels are there: services company, very much about relationships between executive consultants and you know, and in consulting, it’s all about fiefdoms, it’s just, there’s these little pockets, and often it could be by country, or by office or by practice. But all these individuals are building their book of business and you know, they use language like “eat what you kill.” I mean, this is very much the way most consulting firms grow is right through the partners and their ability to develop relationships deeply with big companies or mid-size and, you know, just keep repeating what that so talk a little bit about those early days. I mean, you know, obviously it was harder. What did you sort of start to hear what were some of the frustrations that you found?

Sangeeta: Let me talk about a couple of them. One was that at Slalom, we partner with big tech companies, Salesforce, Microsoft, AWS, and in some cases where AWS for example, we’re the biggest partner, yet as a brand we are so much smaller than these big companies we partner with. As a result it’s very unequal and there was a definite sense in the company that there’s benefit from raising our brand profile so that we can be more equal with these partnerships. So that on a global level was something that I uncovered. The other thing at Slalom is that the markets work very independently and part of our success is that local-global model; the local markets are very entrenched in their local communities and the local businesses and build relationships and do very, very well there. At the same time it’s very difficult to build a global brand, when each market is doing whatever they want. And there was, I would say, a growing opinion that more markets needed to do more things similarly. So those were the two big aha’s I found and because there was a desire for more to do more similarly, there was an opening for marketing to be able to help that

Drew: Interesting because what you are describing is a scenario where what they do with these offices was different, maybe even how they did things was different. And of course, in all of this, there’s that opportunity to unify by why. Because regardless of the how, or the what you probably can find a common why. But it’s hard and consulting, because let’s face it, you’ve got clients, and your job is to help those clients succeed. That’s sort of what consultants do. So talk a little bit about the process of repositioning Slalom, which I, and again I’m guessing that’s what you did, because I don’t know that before and after story.

Sangeeta: Yes, that is exactly what we did. Slalom has a very strong culture, we’re a purpose-driven company and the core values and purpose are why and that is, people take that very seriously. So what I tried to do was not change the why that we exist, but to put words to it, so people are united around it. And one of the things that we take pride in is we’re very people-centric, heart and head, we bring our whole selves to work and every customer I spoke to, every partner I spoke to said, interacting with all of you feels different, feels better, feels more fun, we like working with you, we like partnering with you, which is not the case with many consultancies that they work with. And so I tried to really capture that, to explain externally and to unite internally, all the great things that we do, and we captured it in two words, which is fiercely human and we took that then, we rebranded with that as the essence and changed the look and feel.

Drew: Okay, let’s get into why fiercely human?

Sangeeta: So part of it is marketing, right? Because you don’t usually use those words together and separately, they can mean almost opposite things, fierce versus human, but together, they have stopping power, they make you think, “Oh, this is something different.” You could say “I’m innately human, very human, seriously human,” you can say all of those things. It doesn’t have the impact of saying, “I’m fiercely human” – means we come with passion and we’re human along with it.

Drew: Yeah, it’s funny. The essence of storytelling is to find those two slightly competitive notions and putting them together. I mean, I love Angel Soft, strong and soft. Right. But that creates the opportunity to tell the story. So you get to fiercely human, two words, which how does that manifest itself internally? I mean, what does that mean, from a behavior standpoint? What changes? I mean, yes, this was a purpose that you’ve articulated that existed beforehand but somehow something has to change a little bit, right? And I’m wondering how you brought that internally to life.

Sangeeta: It’s a really good question, Drew because launching a brand or rebranding is all about internal first. It’s getting our people to be our brand ambassadors. And I wasn’t trying to change our people, their behavior or culture, I was simply trying to express it in a way that inspired people, created pride and passion. And it didn’t require a lot of selling when people heard it they’re like, that’s what I can tell my clients. That’s what I can talk about, because that now differentiates us from other companies because as our how and our what is quite similar. So why should you work with us, because we’re fiercely human, and we deliver everything else that everyone else does but we do it in a way that makes you feel different. I think that really captured the imagination of our people, our clients, and customers.

Drew: Talk about the communication process internally and what kinds of things that you did. It’s two words and with a tagline, it could become very empty very quickly. So how do you make sure that when you say hey, we’re fiercely human, because I can use that in the sentence twice or three times and then I’m done. Okay, you mentioned that you’re fiercely human. How did you help folks bring that to life, to use that in their day, to make it part of their go-to market strategy, if you will?

Sangeeta: That’s a really good question, Drew because I think having supporters and stakeholders with you along the journey is just as important as the launch process. We created an Advisory Council of leaders and influencers within Slalom and we brought them along the journey and made sure that they understood how we got here and so they became our voices outside our own voices within Slalom. Then we launched and we had an internal launch in a town hall, put it out there. And then we had these small training sessions, webinars where we had, I think, a series of 10 or 15, where you could join and learn about it. We weren’t just launching two words, we were launching a new look and feel, how to describe Slalom – a whole bunch of new things. And we trained people extensively on that. And then we had a Dreamforce event, which was like our coming out and we went there, I had a big booth and presence and we put “fiercely human” and our purpose all over it and that got people really talking and excited because we really stood out in the group of competitors that we were out there with.

Drew: I love it all. I want to revisit many of those things, the training part of it, the internal launch, and of course the big event launch, but we’re gonna take a quick break and then when we come back, we’ll talk more about that. So okay, it’s time for me 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. 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. If you’re a senior B2B marketer and need a shortcut to B2B greatness, take a second to sign up for our free starter program at Okay, we’re back. Now, I want to go through this because this is playbook rebranding, you have an advisory council that brings it along so there’s no surprises, your leadership team is all on board. You train the trainer’s if you will and then you work your way down through the organization so that everybody is on board and gets it and can articulate it. I love the fact that you had 10 to 15. How long was the internal launch before the external launch? 

Sangeeta: Not three months.

Drew: Three months. So in our research that we did before the book, everybody believed you needed three months, but most companies only allowed three to four weeks, which is simply not enough if you want this to be a meaningful rebrand, and not just a new coat of paint. Okay, so let’s talk about the coming out party. You’re at Dreamforce. Talk a little bit about why then, and how you made sure that this new story got out there.

Sangeeta: And before I answer that, Drew, let me go back because I think I neglected to state one thing and how important it is, the tools and templates that you have to create along with the rebranding to make it easy for people to adopt the new brand, we created so many ways for people to use the brand and that I think was a very important part of the success of the launch.

Drew: I appreciate you saying that because I’ve had the CMO of Deloitte here and they talk about Deloitte and remembering IBM and at one point they had a campaign about “IBM errs” – here’s the deal with consulting firms, the people are the firm. If they are not breathing the brand, if they are not living the brand, then you have a problem because there’s this disconnect between what corporate is saying and what they do on a level. So all those tools and templates that you’re describing – every single document that a consultant shares, if it includes “fiercely human,” life’s good because then it gets out there. If they ignore it, you have a problem.

Sangeeta: 100%, everyone’s busy so the easier you make it for them to use it, the more successful you’ll be. I’ve learned that the hard way, because as a marketer, you think, “Oh, it’s so great. Everyone will adopt it.” But people have other priorities so make it easy for them.

Drew: It’s reinforcing because change is hard, change takes time, and you’re really asking them to rethink how they express themselves on a day-to-day basis. Even if it was part of the culture, you’re giving them the words and other sort of visual vocabulary to spread the word and so I love it – three months to do that. Okay, the big coming out party – talk about your event at Dreamforce and, again, you can put the words up there, but how did you make it real at the show?

Sangeeta: In consumer branding, you would go out with a big campaign and launch it and it’s a very different way to launch a rebranding in B2B as you know, Drew, you have to do it at more grassroots level because B2B companies don’t spend that kind of money on awareness building campaigns. The biggest thing coming up after our internal launch was Dreamforce and we have a big presence in Dreamforce because we’re one of the biggest Salesforce partners. We had an opportunity at Dreamforce, to introduce the new colors, the new look, and the new positioning and so we really went all out – our colors, I would say, for the brand, are very different than other consulting companies, they’re brighter, they’re more optimistic, they’re more fun. And so bringing that to life in the 3D way of a booth was really impactful, it got all of our people feeling so proud of what we did. We had over 300 people attend and everyone wore a slalom shirt, we had everyone wear the same slalom shoes. So we got out there and it almost created a movement where people are coming saying “Who are you guys? There’s so many of you out here – what’s happening?” Not only internal pride, we got external people starting to ask “What’s Slalom?” “You’ve arrived.” I’ve actually had strangers come up and say “You guys have arrived.” So it made a really big – more than I had anticipated – difference in how our partner Salesforce perceived us, but also others out there.

Drew: There’s so many thoughts that come to mind. So one, the notion that every employee at the booth is wearing the same thing – I’ve seen that work so many times and it seems like folks forget that. Two, the power of color and having a color that differentiates – in my book, I talk about orange in one accounting trade show and the one group that was orange stood out so well. The notion that you’ve arrived and you had this big presence – one of the things that I’m thinking about is the challenge of the economy right now is that you probably have to do fewer events but you might need to do them bigger. And this is a great example, you did this one big and it was an important show, and the impact, you could see and feel both against employees and customers and this larger audience. Was there anything else that you did at the booth or before, during, or after the trade show launch at Dreamforce that sort of helped extend the value or make it just that much more impactful?

Sangeeta: Yes, from a branding perspective, but from a demand perspective, we do a lot before, during, and after and follow up and make sure that our investment in the trade show is worthwhile. And so there was a lot of activity around that. However, this is not something we did but many of the Slalom-ers there shared pictures on social media of themselves, of the booth, of us all looking similar in our clothes and that expanded the impact in a way that nothing marketing could have done would have done.

Drew: Although, I would argue that is marketing, right? For a consulting firm, employee activation and advocacy is everything.

Sangeeta: 100%, they’re all our brand ambassadors and sometimes we forget how much they can do. Social media is about amplification. No one group can amplify more than 100 people with all of their connections and so the fact that people did it organically is more impactful than global marketing sending out a few social media posts.

Drew: I totally agree. I also want to just point out that that was the first moment that you use the term “Slalom ers,” and I’m imagining that existed before but again, there’s no such thing as a consulting firm that hasn’t figured out how to call their employees like “Deloitters” or “IBMers,” or whatever. But “slalom errs” is particularly good. I just kept thinking of you all on skis.

Sangeeta: Yeah, there is that connection, although we don’t play that up too much.

Drew: You’ve been there three years, over three years now. And suddenly, it’s time – it’s a quarterly review or an annual review. And you’ve got the executive committee of Slalom or the Board of Directors. I’m curious if you’re not in the room, and they were talking about you, what would they point to as your biggest accomplishments thus far?

Sangeeta: I think they would say two things. One is the rebranding because it’s most visible and most widely adopted. But I think and I hope they would say the second thing, which is building the foundation for true marketing. And we didn’t talk about this yet Drew but one of the first things to be a successful marketer is to build an organization that really drives the goals. I spent a lot of time picking my leadership team, because marketing is a team sport, you cannot do it alone and once you have that group of people who have the same goals, visions and can drive it, I think it makes such a big difference. I think our leaders have seen what that can do to elevate how marketing is done at Slalom.

Drew: I love that and yes, building that team and getting that there but talk about what you mean by true marketing.

Sangeeta: More than events?

Drew: Oh, wait, there’s more than events in B2B, what could that be?

Sangeeta: Marketing is a science and an art. We marketers know it but everyone in the world thinks they’re a marketer too. So explaining to them how the science part of it can actually drive results and make a difference is really important. That sometimes seems like the boring part, the part that’s underneath the tip, which is the glamorous part. And I’ve really spent a lot of time explaining to people that if the foundation is not strong, nothing you do up here will have the results you’re trying to get. Building the foundation takes time, getting it right takes time, figuring out how to do it takes time. So all of that I think we have done now and now we’re ready to take off, we are moving and driving demand gen, we are doing Account Based Marketing, we’re doing all these things that we could not have done when I joined.

Drew: Because you now have the team and the expertise and in some ways, the education groundwork done so that you can execute against these programs.

Sangeeta: And Drew, the systems and the processes, really important tools.

Drew: And which is kind of funny, because if you were at Dreamforce, and you guys are experts on building out Salesforce, I’m wondering when you got there, were you state-of-the-art Salesforce-ready implementing as a marketer yourself? 

Sangeeta: No, we use Salesforce very well on the sales side of it, the consultants who go out. But on the marketing side, there’s a whole different set of tools, and you have to learn them, adopt them, buy them in order to do marketing. And we have not done that yet.

Drew: You weren’t a full stack marketer, even if your organization was in some ways helping a lot of other companies become that.

Sangeeta: Exactly, and really, we knew we needed it but then you need people to know it, and implement it and activate it. And we didn’t have that.

Drew: Yeah, we’ve had so many Huddles in the last year, and particularly as we were talking about, if you got a budget cut, what would you do, and one of the interesting areas is that when you’re adopting these new technologies, that sound so cool, and you really want to have them, that tendency often is to understaff them. So I’m just circling that back because you talked about, you gotta bring in the expertise, and you’ve got to staff to take advantage of them. It’s not like I can just buy the tool, and magically good things happen, it just doesn’t work that way, right?

Sangeeta: 100% agree and on the other side of that, in a company, where you’re the first CMO, just getting the people is not enough to activate marketing, you have to invest in campaigns, which is actually different than, say, human resources or finance, you get the people, the job gets done. And so that was another unexpected education process that I needed to take the leadership team through. Just because we’ve got X number of people doesn’t mean you’re done, now you need to invest money so that the people can do things that you brought them here for?

Drew: Well, yeah, I mean, rule of thumb, from a marketing standpoint, if you just looked at people and programs, it should be like 50/50, in terms of budget, not 90% people, because then there’s not enough money for them to do it and not 90% programs, because there’s not enough people to execute. And of course, then we can take technology out of there. So we started this conversation with you promising to the world that you could balance brand and demand, that’s in your profile as LinkedIn. So as we sort of wrap up this episode, talk about this balance that you’re walking right now and where you are, and what you’re looking at moving ahead.

Sangeeta: The way I see it is, it’s a seesaw, sometimes demand is higher, sometimes brand is higher. And as a new CMO, when you come in, in my experience for the last two, you have to focus on brand first, because if there has not been marketing before, usually the brand needs some work. At Slalom now, we’ve done that work. So now we need to focus on the demand side we have the processes, the people, the teams that education done. Now we have to activate the demand side and partner much more closely with sales than ever before to get the go-to-market action as impactful as possible. So the brand becomes less intense, and the demand gets more intense and I can see it cycling back over time where the brand becomes more intense again.

Drew: Interesting and I’m wondering because remember at Russell Reynolds, you needed to find a few advocates, is it the same thing in order to get the activation going, whether it’s a market because I know that you’re a global firm in order to sort of get the proof that hey, this approach works

Sangeeta: 100% I think that’s always true and for B2B, more so than B2C. You have to test and learn pilot it, get it out there, show that it works before it works. Try it out. And I’ve always tried to find the marketing-friendly leaders and advocates and partners to go out and try it. People are so willing to try new things and go out on a limb a little bit and so that’s what we do, we go out to a market or a region and say, let’s try this and if not, we’ll try again, and do something different. That’s one of the good things that digital marketing is allowing us to do, quick, learn and turn. And so we do a lot of that.

Drew: We talked about the rebranding, and I just want to make sure is there an execution program beyond the brand that you had mentioned, the cartoon program that you did for Russell Reynolds? Is there anything that you sort of point to for Slalom that you’re particularly proud of that’s a little on the risky side?

Sangeeta: My first instinct is to say, not yet, but, we have done a few things that are less typical of B2B marketing. So we did in some markets, bus wraps with our new branding, our new branding, the look and feel is a little bit edgy, I would say it’s more lighthearted, it has some cartoonish aspects to it. And so the entire look and feel, I think is a little riskier than a typical consulting brand but I think it’s just right for Slalom, and we’re trying to play around with it a little bit and see where we evolve to.

Drew: Interesting, okay, it feels like it’s impossible to have a conversation today, without at least touching on Gen AI, I know that’s front and center for your firm, because I saw it on your website, talk about, at least from your standpoint, how you and your team are looking at Gen AI.

Sangeeta: The way I see Gen AI. First of all, I think it’s in such early stages, we have to learn so much yet, but I love what Gen AII can bring for marketing, I think it can be a great tool we use to make ourselves more creative, more efficient, more impactful in many ways. We did a Gen AI campaign for Slalom, and the headline is impossible, that was yesterday, and we have visuals that are a little bit futuristic. And we use Gen AI to create those along with Slalom humans. So what we’re doing is really experimenting with practical approaches for Gen AI use. And we use it for content, we use it for creative. Everyone talks about Gen AI changing the world, I want to see how it can change what we do day to day. And I know a lot of our customers want to see that too. So we’ve created demos about how it can impact your business. That’s what I’m doing for my business, how can it impact what I do and my team does day to day. Still learning though I will say

Drew: I love it and it really is about showing not telling, there’s enough conversation about gotta use Gen AI. What I liked and appreciated and I did notice the footnote image created by a human using Gen AI. So I appreciate that. Okay, we’ve got to wrap up now. And we’ve got a bunch of CMOs in the audience. And some of them are thinking about going and being that first-time CMO. So let’s give them two do’s and a don’t, for those who are about to hold the first CMO position at their new company.

Sangeeta: The first do is, really do your research, learn what you’re getting into, understand your CEOs goals and mission and make sure they know why they’re bringing marketing in, so that’s the first do. Second, know that it’s going to be hard, that is probably going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and get prepared for the next few years, that it’s going to be pushing a boulder uphill. So those are the two do’s, understand what you’re getting into and make sure the company is ready for what you’re wanting to do. I think the don’t is, don’t go there with a fixed mindset of this is what I have to do, this is what I’m going to do in my first day, my six weeks, open yourself up to learning and growing, and doing whatever is right at the moment based on the research you do once you get in.

Drew: I love that last one because there are things that are just different about every single company and every single category, and if you sort of come in with a framework of this is how I solve every problem, you might miss something because it’s sort of the old nail and a hammer thing and got to be open to that. So I really appreciate that, Sangeeta. Thank you so much for joining us and thank you, listeners. If you found this episode of value, please thank Sangeeta on LinkedIn, and do me a favor and rate us on your favorite podcast app. For more interviews with innovative marketers visit and hit that subscribe button.

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, 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 I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!