February 3, 2022

VMware CMO on Big-Time B2B Transformation

VMware is going from big to bigger. To start, VMware has added 8,000 new hires in the last year, standing now at 37,000 employees strong. Not only that, but the mega-B2B brand has also expanded its offerings, spelling out a robust suite of services to encompass on-prem and cloud solutions.

Such massive change requires a massive shift in mindset. In this episode, CMO Carol Carpenter shares how VMware’s value proposition transformed, how they introduced the new brand to employees and customers, and how everything VMware’s marketing team does is driven by one big question: “Does this give us 10x impact?” Tune in for yet another great interview on Renegade Marketers Unite, a top-rated podcast for renegade CMOs and other B2B marketers.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How VMware adjusted its value proposition amidst massive change
  • How VMware brought its new story to employees and customers
  • How to balance Product-Led Growth (PLG) and Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 278 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: Renegade Marketers: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands
  • [1:03] Courageous Strategy: Behind VMware’s On-Prem to SaaS Transformation
  • [5:48] Defining VMware’s Value Proposition: A Company of “And”
  • [12:40] How VMware Brought Its New Brand Story to Employees
  • [20:33] Going Hybrid at VMworld in 2021
  • [23:06] How VMware Marries PLG and ABM
  • [30:45] Why Marketing Should Always Aim to 10x Impact
  • [38:00] Why a Clear Brand Migration Strategy is Necessary Post-Acquisition

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Carol Carpenter

[0:00] Cold Open: Renegade Marketers: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew. You may know that I have a new book out called Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands that is now available on Amazon in paperback, e-book, and audio—I read the audiobook.

Crammed with fun-to-read stories and game-changing insights I’ve gleaned as both interviewer and practitioner, I can’t wait for you to check it out. In fact, for listeners of this show, I’d be happy to share a PDF of the book for free if you’ll commit to writing a review. Just hit me up on LinkedIn and reference the show. Let’s get on with today’s episode.

[1:03] Courageous Strategy: Behind VMware’s On-Prem to SaaS Transformation

“How do we think about the pre-sale all the way through the funnel—go from a funnel to a flywheel?” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers! As I’ve referenced on this show many times and crystallize in my new book Renegade Marketing. Being a CMO today is really, really hard, but the successful ones truly are the cool CATS of marketing, CATS being an acronym for courageous, artful, thoughtful, and scientific.

Lest you think the CATS framework only applies to previous guests, I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s guest, Carol Carpenter, the CMO of VMware. Carol is a Silicon Valley veteran with experience in both general management and marketing. She was a general manager at Trend Micro, CEO at ElasticBox, and global VP of Marketing for Google Cloud before joining VMware in June 2020. So, hello, Carol!

Carol Carpenter: Hello, Drew. Thank you for having me on.

Drew Neisser: Well, I’m excited to have you on. First of all, how are you and where are you?

Carol Carpenter: I’m doing great. I am usually based in the Bay Area, but right now I’m in lovely Santa Barbara.

Drew Neisser: Oh, nice! You know, it’s funny, I was talking with friends about Santa Barbara. This conversation went something like this: “How could you ever leave there?”

Carol Carpenter: Well, it’s a little chilly right now, but it is a really lovely, low key city environment and has a great casual vibe. How are you doing?

Drew Neisser: I’m doing great. It’s a little chilly here in New York. When I woke up it was 25 degrees, so welcome to winter. Anyway, let’s get on with it. VMware is a huge company with more than 31,000 employees. Now, we’re in the courageous strategy mode. What did you do to help boil all the challenges down to a manageable set?

Carol Carpenter: Well, we’re actually 37,000 people strong right now.

Drew Neisser: Okay, good. Thank you for that correction.

Carol Carpenter: Yeah, we’ve hired 8,000 people over this past year.

Drew Neisser: Wow!

Carol Carpenter: Yeah, so we have lots of challenges, lots of opportunities, and I would just boil it down to a few things. One is really around mindset change. I realize that’s probably the hardest one, but as a company, we’re making the shift from our on-prem licensed products to our subscription in SaaS. There’s clear demand, there’s clear interest, the products are strong—a lot of it is ourselves and how we approach the shift and how we think about our go-to-market.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. I want to step back for a second because I wanted to make sure that I got this in for the listeners. When we talked, you’re doing your time at Google Cloud, you mentioned that you’d gone from $4 billion to $12 billion…

This transformation you’re facing it at VMware, and that in many ways is what you like and what attracted you to the role. Let’s zero in on the mindset. It’s easy with the new 8,000 employees to say, “Hey, here’s who we are and here’s who we want to be.” But how did you deal with… this is big cultural shift, this is a big “Hey, what we’re selling is changing,” and we’re talking about it at a massive scale.

Carol Carpenter: That’s right. And what I mean by the go-to-market transformation, it has to do with how we think about reaching customers. So, VMware—incredible organization that for the past several years has been highly enterprise focused.

I will tell you, I think we have one of the best go-to-market people, process, technology for enterprise selling, enterprise marketing, which is more top down, high-touch account-based marketing, right? So, how do we think about supplementing that with more of the bottoms up, learn, try, buy, more of the digital motion. That’s some of what we’re going through when I said, “There’s a mindset shift.”

Because we have been really successful doing what we were doing, how do we add some of these new muscles? It’s all about the process, the people, and how we think about it. How do we think about the buyers and the users? How do we think about the pre-sale all the way through the funnel—go from a funnel to a flywheel? Those are just a few examples of how we’ve been making changes as a team.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot to unpack here in all of this because you’ve got product transformation, in the process of that you’ve got sales transformation, and really your go-to-market transformation, right? Because you were enterprise and now you’re going from top-down and you want to bottom-up. Because you obviously don’t want to give up the enterprise, you’ve got to keep doing that, but building this new one.

[5:48] Defining VMware’s Value Proposition: A Company of “And”

“There's a desire to really communicate that VMware can be your strategic partner for now and the future.” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: At the same time, you’ve got this strategic challenge of: What is VMware?

Carol Carpenter: That’s right. So, let’s start with that because that is where all great marketing comes from, which is being really clear about the core. And we’re in this—we call it our chapter 3, but frankly it’s already happened, which is the multi-cloud enterprise.

So, 70 to 80%, of enterprises are already multi-cloud, which means they’re using more than one cloud. What we do is we are truly the independent, agnostic company that provides solutions and products and services to stitch together all the things—we think about the complexity of a multi cloud environment, it’s everything from the application level down.

We are trying to make it clearer that what we provide is, I call at the “and.” Like we’re a company of “and.” We help you with your applications that are on-premise and in the cloud. We help you whether you want license and you want SaaS products or subscription products. We help the operators and the developers. And so, there’s a desire to really communicate that VMware can be your strategic partner for now and the future.

Drew Neisser: And was there, from a process standpoint—I mean, you been there now what, 19 months or something like that. Was the strategy on what is VMware? Was that work done? Was this part of your mandate? What process did you go through to think this through?

Carol Carpenter: Yeah, it definitely was part of my mandate. When I started 19 months ago—and to be fair, VMware, for many people, still means virtualization. We’ve gone to great lengths to redefine VMware as this multi-cloud foundation for all companies, regardless of size, regardless of industry. And that means a lot of things.

But that process of saying, “What is our core?” I mean, that’s what all good marketers have to do, is get to: What is the core value proposition? And most value propositions, as you know, have a functional, economic, and an emotional component to them.

If you think about it, consumer products typically lean a little more emotional. In B2B, and especially in tech, we sometimes go hard on the functional, but you have to have this layered core and you have to define it.

That’s a lot of what I did. Listening, doing a lot of my listening tour, and then identifying what is our core as a company? How can we drive this multi-cloud transformation? Anyway, that is what we did and we defined our mission around creating the digital foundation for other businesses to transform.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so I want to go help other businesses transform. Let’s talk, so functional, we’re talking multi-cloud enterprise everything. But I’m interested in what you found from an emotional standpoint and/or economic, the two other core values.

Carol Carpenter: Well, here’s the emotional part, which is: Businesses, they want the agility that being able to pick any tool that they want, their developers want the agility. And at the same time, they need control. So, it’s agility and control. How do you maintain consistency? How do you maintain governance? How do you ensure security? How do you ensure reliability? I call it all the “ilities,” right? Securability, reliability, resilience—well, that’s not an “ility,” but I put them all in that same box.

Drew Neisser: Let’s make it an “ility.” We’ll call it resilient-ility.

Carol Carpenter: You know, how do you create the “and” in that? And that’s, again, from an emotional promise. That is what we do. We provide with our Tanzu offering the agility for DevOps and developers to go fast, ship code faster at scale, and at the same time, give them the freedom of choice—they can pick any cloud they want—and the control, compliance, and governance they need.

Drew Neisser: One of the things that is really hard, I mean, obviously a company of your size with so many different solutions for so many different customers… I mean, can you boil this down to eight words or less?

Carol Carpenter: Well, we have tried. That’s why we say we provide the digital foundation to accelerate business transformation. Digital foundation to accelerate business transformation. We have a lot of other pithy lines that you will probably see that show up all across our website and other places. It’s like, “Cloud of your choice without the spin,” “The cloud of your choice without the complexity.”

It’s choice and simplicity. That comes back to what I was describing as—we have this really nice manifesto around the “and.” That’s really important, because companies are struggling with what I call somewhat false tradeoffs that they’re often being asked to make.

So, there’s an emotional component there for sure. And then, of course, the economic one, TCO studies—we are the fastest way to cloud. Companies who want to move to the cloud, they want to migrate, they can pick the cloud of their choice—if you want to do it quickly and securely, VMware is the fastest way to cloud.

Drew Neisser: Is that the functional benefit? The economic benefit? All in the one? Because that’s certainly an easy thing to understand, right? I get it.

Carol Carpenter: It’s kind of a combination of all of them. You know, the functional benefits and the economic—save yourself a lot of money and heartache and time-to-market with VMware.

Drew Neisser: Okay. All right. Just one last question on the strategy portion of this. Would you say you’re a purpose-driven organization?

Carol Carpenter: Yeah, I actually… I do believe we are. We have a very strong vision about our role in the environment. In fact, the way I usually start customer discussions is I say, think about the applications you’ve used on your mobile device or your desktop.

Think about the things you have done and transactions you have executed. There is a high, high likelihood that everything you have done in some way, shape, or form has been touched by VMware.

And that’s what I mean around the digital foundation. It’s a really important job to do that. We partner with all the major clouds—seven, eight of them at this point. We partner with a very large ecosystem of partners of ISVs.

Our role is truly to be, we have a unique position as the Switzerland and make it work together, which is pretty hard in this current environment when companies don’t have the talent, they don’t have the time, and they’re looking for simplicity.

Drew Neisser: Okay. So, wrapping up this section, it feels like you’ve narrowed things down and grounded—I mean—moved away from this notion of what you were known for of virtualization into “We’re the guys, if you want to get to the cloud, we’ll get you there faster, and it doesn’t matter what industry, what size, or what complexity you have.”

[12:40] How VMware Brought Its New Brand Story to Employees

“We love to talk about the product and capabilities. But so what?” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: Now we get to this portion of it. We’ve got a story that we want to tell. One of the challenges you said, you’ve you added 8,000 employees. How did you bring this new story to employees?

Carol Carpenter: There’s the practical and there’s what I call the symbolic. So, it’s all the practical things that I’m sure all the Renegade listeners do—marketers do—which is, you know, enablement, internal training, etc. But people don’t always absorb. It requires engagement.

We’ve done a few things that I believe are pretty unique. Well, one was, we used VMworld, which is our largest event of the year, which occurred in October, to really lay out the story. And we reinforced it. Big, big events, we had nearly 100,000 people involved globally in the event, both customers, prospects, partners, and employees.

We did a few things. One, we leaned really hard into the customer stories, because it can’t be just us saying, “Oh, this is who we are, we’re the multi-cloud leader and this is why we’re so great.”

We needed customers. We purposefully, Drew, went after the unexpected customers. Everyone knows that VMware, we have 300,000 customers. We have all the largest banks and manufacturers and all the Fortune 1000s that you would expect to be our customers. What people don’t always expect are the folks like… Toast is a customer, Lyft is a customer, Zoom, Moderna.

There’s just a whole bunch of customers that people would not expect, and then having them tell our stories… So, VMworld, we lead with customers, we had hundreds of customers. In fact, I mandated every session had to have a customer story, either live or retold by whoever was leading the session.

Because we very much, like many tech companies, we love to talk about our tech. We love to talk about the product and capabilities. But so what? So what? And that’s really what we leaned into. We also had our first ever customer transformation awards in the fall, so we highlighted I think it was eight or nine amazing companies globally who are doing just incredible work.

From a healthcare provider in the Netherlands to an Australian bank that is really changing the way that consumers interact with them. Really, really transformational stories. Highlighting that and leading with that has really had the biggest impact for us in terms of employees really getting it and getting excited.

And then the other thing, which we actually required our own folks to do this interactive assessment, and everyone has to do it, which is effectively the company story. It was really good—I was a bit skeptical, but it was really good. We’ve had nearly 90% of the folks participate.

Drew Neisser: Cool. There are a couple things I just want to put punctuation points on. I loved the “Tech, so what?” comment, I just want to put a punctuation on that. And the fact that you insisted that a customer be a part of every presentation is so important.

If we look at 2022 and the challenges that we’re all going to face, one of the challenges we’re all going to face is that physical events may or may not be on the table again and as a result digital has to be better. And any given day of the week, your prospective customer would rather listen to a customer of yours than you. So, if you’re thinking about a webinar, if you thinking about a virtual event, just think about that.

And then the second thing that I thought was so interesting is you emphasize customers that were just interesting. And it’s obvious, but a lot of times people are like, “We’ve got to get our biggest customer!” The fact that you were looking at, let’s see, Toast, Lyft, Zoom, Moderna, those are, you know, certainly Moderna, highly topical and in the middle of a really important situation. Zoom, highly topical. Think about your customers, all of them.

And then the last part of that is—and I’m just going to reinforce it—customer awards are just a genius play as part of the playbook in terms of recognizing customers, making them feel good about it, and giving you license to put case histories together from perhaps some customers that may not have played before. Lots of things to be thinking about as you think about 2022—can you do your customer stories better and bigger and more consistently across everything you do?

The second thing—before we take a break—talk about the interactive assessment a little bit… One of the things that I talked a lot about in the book is this whole engage employees first and how important this is in the scheme of things.

You have a new story, they’re the ones who are going to have to tell it. But so often there’s a town meeting and there’s a desk drop and there’s a PowerPoint presentation, and that’s it. I love this interactive assessment. I’m just curious, did you use an outside resource to help you do that?

Carol Carpenter: So, our learning team actually used an internal resource to create it. It was very cute; it was very engaging. I was skeptical. Like I said, “Wait, this is phenomenal. I did it right away.” Like, it was very inviting.

Now, there’s also the practice, model it. Our CEO is modeling it, everyone is modeling it, so I think they’re hearing it from enough different places that it’s starting to really take hold. We have to keep on doing it. I mean, we all get so tired of our own messages.

This is our own challenge. We like to update and freshen up. We all know the power of repetition and consistency. Like, we just got to stay on message as a team and keep 37,000 people marching.

And by the way, our partner community, I should really mention them. Our partner community, we just met with them two weeks ago. We had our first ever—well not first ever—our first in-person partner event in two years and we were able to meet with some of our partners in regional settings. It was just really phenomenal.

We rolled out some new certifications, we rolled out new programs and incentives, but getting our partners in the ecosystem also telling the same story? They’re quite excited as well because they see the pain that the customers have around their shift to the cloud and how do you make multiple clouds work together? How do you get the network to work together? How do you get your security and compliance to be consistent and easy so that when something like what just happened last week, the other week with Log4j, occurs that there is a way to manage it in a programmatic systematic way?

Show Break: On CMO Huddles

Drew Neisser: If you don’t mind, I’d like to plug CMO Huddles for a second. Launched in 2020, CMO Huddles is an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. We just hit over 100 CMOs or subscribers. Anyway, one CMO described huddles as timely conversations with smart peers in a trusted environment, while another called it a cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session.

If you’re a B2B CMO that can share, care, and dare with the best of them, please visit CMOHuddles.com or send me an email or send me something on LinkedIn to see if you qualify for a guest pass.

[20:33] Going Hybrid at VMworld in 2021

“For the executive track, we went deeper into some of the business impact, we had more customers, their peers sharing, and frankly, just a little more networking time.” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, we sort of leapt through artful ideation and this seems to happen a lot. We got right to thoughtful execution, and we talked about engaging employees first, you had the interactive assessment.

Then we talked about cultivating customers and customer champs by having your giant VMworld which is such a great way to bring people together and get them excited and I’m assuming that was physical and virtual? Or was it just virtual?

Carol Carpenter: A combination. VMworld this past year was a combination. We had an executive track that was in-person. We also had a VMworld Japan and a VMworld China and they did different things. China mostly was virtual because obviously globally we have this pandemic that will be with us for a while. So, we are definitely tuning our hybrid shops.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. I do want to ask you a question about hybrid because this has come up in huddles a lot because it feels like it’s very difficult to figure out, okay, what do the people who get to go get versus what are the people who do the hybrid?

I mean, do you hybrid every single event? I’m just curious how you made certain decisions about what was exclusive for the physical people and what was the virtual experience.

Carol Carpenter: So, we segmented for VMworld by audience. The parts that were virtual, were the parts that everyone could access. The part that we did in-person was actually our executive track. So, for the executive track, we went deeper into some of the business impact, we had more customers, their peers sharing, and frankly, just a little more networking time because that’s what people were craving. That was the feedback we got.

And then, you know, think about everything virtual, everything that needed to scale. Training, hands-on labs, the genius—I call it the Genius Bar—but you know, the expert sessions. And particularly global customers where we wanted them to speak, it actually makes it easier because they don’t have to wake up at the wrong time of day.

We had some of that semi-live, so I think semi-live is great for a hybrid event. We segmented by audience. Going forward, we are definitely thinking about audiences, and we are also thinking about, for us, how do we reach in particular some of our new audiences? New audiences, for us, are the platform architects, the DevOps teams, and even the developers. We actually think we’re going to do a hybrid for those where we can reach them physically and online.

[23:06] How VMware Marries Product-Led Growth and Account-Based Marketing

“It comes down to great segmentation, great prioritization, and just having a really good data warehouse on your prospects and customers.” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. So, this is first time developers have come up. In our prep call, you talked about this desire—and I’m going to acronym soup here—to marry ABM to PLG—PLG, being product-led growth and ABM being account-based marketing.

Earlier in the show, you mentioned that you’re very good at the ABM part, the enterprise part because that’s sort of your history. You’re learning this PLG, the product-led growth. Talk a little bit about the management of this combo of top-down and bottom-up and the challenges it creates for you as CMO.

Carol Carpenter: Well, of course, Drew, it all comes down to data, your data collection, your data usage. How much of the behavioral data can you collect? Because the bottom-up, the buy-from, the product-led growth piece…

These are users, these are practitioners, and obviously you want them to engage, you want them to have positive experiences, you want them to spread the news. At the same time, you don’t want to just like sic salespeople on them immediately.

What we’ve been doing is running a lot of pilots. We have a handful—actually more than a handful, we have like almost eight, nine, ten SaaS solutions, and we’ve been piloting and doing a lot of testing about: How do we engage and what are the right signals?

Like, you know, the very simple is, “Okay, after X number of people from the same organization are playing—flag! Okay, a salesperson should go in and talk to them.” That’s pretty simplistic.

It’s more around: How are they engaging? How deeply are they engaging? What are the level of engagement, the time they’re using in the solution? Those are better triggers in addition to the number than how do you create an account-based marketing plan at the field level to make sure you’re engaging as well?

Drew Neisser: For the SaaS things that you’re piloting, are some of these free? And therefore, you’re trying to get in and get some usage? And then when you see kind of critical mass you can then…

Carol Carpenter: Yeah, we have a combination of products. For example, tons of observability, which is an observability product. It competes with big players like Datadog, for example. There is a free element.

We also have a product called Cloud Health, which is exactly what it sounds like, which is when you’re using one cloud or more, it helps you manage the financial and load balancing usage overall. It gives you a handle on like, you know, “How do I optimize my management and spend?” That one is not necessarily free because there are some SaaS products where it’s more of an assisted trial.

So, we have different levels of, I would say, pure freemium to more assisted. We’re doing experiments across all of them. And the main things that we’re testing is, you know, it’s the age-old thing: You want volume, but you want quality volume. How do you find the right balance of who is trying and who is serious and what is the appropriate timeframe? Because in my past with other SaaS products, what I’ve seen is, people will come in and play; they may not buy for a year.

You want to just balance out, like, what’s the right timing based upon the product? How much exploration is needed? And then what are the appropriate signals to trigger more of the account-based marketing?

And then it goes the other way, which is, you know, take big company X where we’re trying to penetrate other buying groups. How do we get in front of them? How do we get exposure to the developers in those other groups? The DevOps teams in those companies? Where are they going? So, it’s also going that direction to figure out, like, where are those communities living and how do we engage them?

Drew Neisser: And I’m just curious in that because one of the early secrets to success in the pandemic was hug your customers, upsell, cross sell, but first hug them and make sure that everybody’s doing well. That was the April through June strategy of just making sure that…

But now, a lot of folks are looking at their customers, and obviously, for you, every division of every company in every place is a potential target. I’m just curious, how do you manage that kind of situation where you’ve got one division that’s using you for one thing, and another division that’s using you for something completely different? How are you cross selling?

Carol Carpenter: Well, this is where I really have to thank our data teams for their partnership internally, which is, Drew, it comes down to great segmentation, great prioritization, and just having a really good data warehouse on your prospects and customers. And being very thoughtful about when and where you engage and what you offer them so that you’re not always coming across like, “I’ve got something else to cross sell you.” That’s being thoughtful about it.

Drew Neisser: Well, it’s really hard. I mean, I remember years ago, I worked on IBM and there were so many different product lines, and so many different—and this goes way back to the hardware days.

You always were at risk, in any given day, of selling too many different products to the same person. It just was always a problem. I imagine, and this is where big brand idea really starts to matter, because there’s big brand idea and then there’s thousands of little brand ideas, right? Because you put this down to product level. I’m just tried to imagine the matrix that you’re facing.

Carol Carpenter: We’ve partnered with our data team to build propensity models. And the good news is, there are a lot of proxies and it’s gotten even more sophisticated than ever around the signals.

It’s pretty clear when a company has decided to go with a major cloud provider and that’s obviously a very straightforward signal. It’s pretty clear with the pandemic, we have more people working from home. How do we ensure that the end users being the employees are able to work safely and securely? So, we have products for that. Our digital workspace products.

There are pretty good signals, it’s figuring out like which propensities… I mean, we are always—and this is what I would recommend to everyone, which is, you have to evaluate your propensity model literally at least once a month because things change. Things change a lot, and you get feedback, you have to have a full feedback loop from your BDRs and your inside sales teams around what’s working and what’s not.

Show Break: B2B Market Research at Renegade

Drew Neisser: Have you thought about doing some market research but didn’t have the manpower or expertise on your team to make sure your research was methodologically valid, insight-rich, and newsworthy? Research that can be a tentpole for an entire quarters’ worth of marketing and sales activities? Research that your SDRs can use to help you move a lead into a genuine opportunity? It’s a lot to ask market research, which is why more and more B2B marketers are coming to Renegade for help in this area. We’ll help you craft the questionnaire, field the research, analyze the results, write it up, design the report, and if you want will even be on your webinar if your in-house team is too busy. If you’re a B2B CMO even thinking about newsworthy market research, do yourself a favor, visit renegade.com and set up a time for us to chat.

[30:45] Why Marketing Should Always Aim to 10x Impact

“If you want a CMO who's going to run up and down the stairs faster, that's not me. If you want a CMO who's going to build you a high-speed elevator to get to the 100th floor faster, that's me.” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: Now, in our prep call, you mentioned that a lot of marketing is a lot of activity with few results and that your experience as GM and CEO really helped you clarify what you need to do as a marketer. Can you talk about the insights that you gleaned in your overall perspective to metrics and what matters?

Carol Carpenter: Well, yeah, you know, when you’re in a general manager role or CEO and the numbers really, really, really impact the future of the company and your own job… Yeah, you get very clear about which programs and what you need.

Admittedly a little bit more short term focused than CMOs and marketing teams should be. You always want your marketing team looking six months to a year to almost two years out whereas your sales and your business teams are often like, “Okay, what’s happening this quarter?” So, there’s a reason that there’s tension and it’s usually good.

I guess there are a few things. This is more about what I learned in those roles. First thing I learned is you have to start with “No.” Which is really hard for marketers to do because we’re the support or the service or we’re trying to partner with many, many other groups. The business units or the product teams, the sales team.

But starting with “No” gives you permission to understand the “Why?” When everyone is coming at you and you have lots of things to prioritize, particularly when you have a portfolio that’s more than one product or two products, you must start with “No.” That’s a piece of advice somebody gave me when I became CEO…

Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting. We just spent the last month and four huddles talking about time management and just so many different issues with that. But saying “No” came up in every single one of the huddles and what was so funny is we had one individual who had seven different ways to say “No,” but several others, who had “Not now” was the response that they were able to work with as well.

What this really starts with is the sense that you have some priorities and that whatever it is that individual thinks is a priority may or may not be. I think that’s where you’re going here, right? In the CMO role, you simply can’t do everything. And if you try to you get to the peanut butter effect. Is that where you’re going with start with “No”?

Carol Carpenter: You just said it right there. Right there, you just said it. Then the other thing I always ask my team is, “Does this give us 10x impact?” Because you can say, “Yeah, we value impact over activity,” and everyone will show you that their program, their campaign, their event is going to generate some impact.

I push on them, and this is actually a Google thing, which is, “How do we 10x it? Is that program going to have 10x impact?” And it’s not that every program has to have an ROI of 1:10 or any of that, but it’s stretching the thinking and to think at scale.

Because the temptation is, “Yeah, we’re going to have this event and it’s going to be really great and we’re going to touch these hundred top execs and I always say, “Well, how do you 10x it?” To think about the scale.

That comes back to, you know, I may have mentioned this to you that when I interviewed here, I told the CEO at the time, I said, “If you want a CMO who’s going to run up and down the stairs faster, that’s not me. If you want a CMO who’s going to build you a high-speed elevator to get to the 100th floor faster, that’s me.” And that is why I asked this question, how do we 10x that, to drive the scaled thinking.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, it’s an intimidating question. Part of me says, yeah, because you really do want to avoid doing little things particularly at a big company. But I’m thinking of so many things that started small that became big. I wonder how that impacts… When you’ve asked that question, how has—and could you give a specific example of a program that got changed because of that question? How has it scaled as a result?

Carol Carpenter: Yeah, well, I can give you an example. I hear what you’re saying, which is, there’s a high value on fail fast experiments, right? They don’t have to. When I ask that question, it’s around something we know is already working. Usually, usually, right? Not, “Oh, this is an incubation.”

Gosh, now we’re trying to figure out Tanzu, we have Tanzu Community Edition. We just launched it. It’s a bottoms-up free platform for developers like, we’re still incubating and learning. So, obviously, something that’s young and still forming, you don’t want to drive that, because then you might end up putting a lot of money into something that doesn’t have… I call it product marketing fit.

You know, if there isn’t product marketing fit, you don’t want to just throw resources at it. So, that’s a really good point. Let me give you an example.

We have created—not created, it’s actually already there—there’s a category now called multi-cloud services. Not a lot of people know it exists. Not a lot of people would say, “Oh, yeah, multi-cloud services! That’s VMware.”

The team came to me with a pretty good plan. They said, “Oh, look, we’re going to do some thought leadership with some key analysts. We’re going to do some things with Forbes, brand voice,” typical things.

I said, “Okay, that’s good. But how do we create this tsunami in the industry that’s kind of unavoidable for people?” It’s really to drive the thinking, so they went away and they came back.

This is all underway. One is a proposal to create a consortium that is going to—because multi-cloud can’t just be about us. It’s got to be about a broader ecosystem. They came back with another plan around engaging from a bottom-up perspective. Cool projects around multi-cloud. And the consortium is more around ISVs for multi-cloud, and there are so many of them.

You’re gonna see some really interesting stuff coming out of the team because that’s that reinforcement that’s more external that we need. I appreciate your points. And I do agree, there are times, you know, not everything’s about going big and trying to 10x what we’re doing particularly early, immature, where we don’t have full product marketing fit.

Drew Neisser: Right, but in this case, it makes sense. One thing I really want to emphasize, and I know this is going to be the case that in 2022 your little things are just gonna… Take them off the table.

I do think a 10x approach is smart because fewer-bigger is going to work. Now, fewer-bigger-consistent, as you used the word earlier, was even better. But this notion that a death by thousand paper cuts could actually work next year. It’s just, everybody’s fighting in the same channels. And without physical events to open this thing up, at least in the first half, it is going to be about bigger bets. But bigger thinking too.

I mean, let’s face it, getting the thinking to recognize that you need a consortium and that it’s not about you is really important. And that’s an enlightened perspective that some brands struggle to get to. But that’s what you would need. And in order to do that, in order to create a consortium, that’s a commitment. And that’s a 10xer, so I get that.

[38:00] Why a Clear Brand Migration Strategy is Necessary Post-Acquisition

“What is a brand? Effectively, the brand should be a shortcut for your customer.” —@carol_carolling @VMware Share on X

Drew Neisser: Anything that you tried in 2021 that didn’t work the way you hoped?

Carol Carpenter: Oh, my goodness, Drew. I don’t know if we’d have enough time because that happens all the time. I mean, you know, products slip, products don’t deliver on time, and you think that’s really important.

One area that large companies struggle with, I think, is brand hierarchy, naming hierarchy. We are doing some cleanup on this. We’re not quite where I want to be, but we’re certainly on our way. A lot of teams—we are a branded house.

Most companies are. Most companies cannot afford to be a house of brands. However, when you’re going after new audiences and you’ve grown through acquisition, and there are new target segments that value those brands…

What is a brand? Effectively, the brand should be a shortcut for your customer. Somebody said to me a long time ago, our job in marketing is to lower the cost of customer thinking. I believe the name, the brand should do that. We generally have tried very hard to be very clear that it is “VMware blank.”

I’ll tell you a real quick story—we were at re:Invent. re:Invent was in-person. They also had a virtual piece, but you know, 20, 25, 26,000 people in-person in Vegas, and we had a physical booth. There was traffic, there were people walking around.

In the spirit, which is exactly what our brand team, their remit was create a VMware experience. It was a beautiful booth, blah, blah, blah. The example here is, you’ve got to know your audience, and the audience that goes to reinvent is a developer, DevOps audience, right? Our traditional audience has been more on the operator side.

So, beautiful booth, lots of product demos, blah, blah, blah. But I had people give me feedback, like, “We couldn’t find CloudHealth.” So CloudHealth is a product that has been in the very top of AWS’ marketplace for a long time. It’s a product that anybody on any cloud can use.

It’s a product that has nothing to do with VMware’s 20 year plus historical success. It didn’t stand out, so that’s an example of where, you know, when you do have a multiplicity of brands and products, being very thoughtful about when you’re there and you have proximity to your target customer, being really clear about your message.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s such a great story. I did a whole episode on this issue. And I remember, probably a couple years ago with Jennifer Renaud, who was at two companies who acquired a bunch of companies and then got rid of all of the names and then did a tradeshow as you were describing, and no one could find the brand at the booth.

Eventually, on the second day, they actually made temporary signs, and everything changed. One of the things people forget about booths at physical events of any kind is the first people who come to your booth are your customers. They’re looking for their people.

And so, what’s so interesting and what you’re talking about—and this is the thing that’s fascinating with all the acquisitions—you’ve got to have a migration strategy and you’ve got to bring everybody along. And if you day one make that, as you described, CloudHealth disappear, you’re going to have a problem because your people that identify with that brand… That doesn’t mean that two years from now you couldn’t have migrated them over to VMware CloudHealth.

Anyway, it’s a whole other topic for another day, but thank you for sharing that because it is an issue that a lot of brands face. Alright, well, we’ve gone on a long time, folks are finishing their workouts, so I think we’ll let them go. Carol, thank you so much for all your insights and spending time with us today.

Carol Carpenter: Thank you, Drew. It’s so fun to be here. Thank you.

Drew Neisser: And to listeners, first of all, if you enjoyed the show, hey, do us a favor, go ahead and on your favorite podcast channel, give us a five-star rating, share it with your friend, feel free to subscribe—always love that.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser—hey, that’s me! Audio production is by Sam Beck. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, and learn more about my new book, visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser and until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.