Doug Bewsher always knew he wanted to be a CEO. So when he graduated from the University of Oxford in 1989, he took a job that at the time was a proving ground for chief executives: brand manager.
More specifically, he went to work for Unilever managing Timotei shampoo, at one time the No. 2 brand in the world. “It was my dream job,” he said in an interview with CMO.com.
During the dot-com boom, however, suddenly product development—not branding—became a big business driver—particularly in Silicon Valley, where Bewsher had moved to work first as a consultant and then on the agency side at Digitas. “The product CTO-turned-CEO became the big story, especially on the West Coast,” Bewsher said. “From Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook to Mark Pincus at Zynga, it was all about being able to build a great product.”
Bewsher continued climbing the corporate marketing ladder, ultimately taking the CMO title at a series of bigger and more complex tech companies, first at mobile startup mig.me, then at Skype, and most recently at Salesforce.com. Then a funny thing happened: Marketing became a core driver of business growth again. “It became easier than ever to build a great product, and what really matters again today is that you understand the customer and create products and services that resonate with them,” Bewsher said.
In 2013, companies including Google and Facebook hired their first CMOs. “If you’re a marketer like me, it was a superexciting change that will lead to more CMOs becoming CEOs,” he said.
In fact, that’s what happened to Bewsher, who took the top spot at Leadspace, maker of a B2B predictive analytics platform, in April. CMO.com talked to Bewsher about his evolution from marketer to marketing leader, the value the CMO brings to the CEO role today, and what he wants from marketing now that he sits in the corner office.
CMO.com: You’ve seen some great swings throughout your 20 years in the marketing industry. Why do you think marketing is more important to the business than ever before?
Bewsher: If you take Leadspace as an example, there are a number of players out there building predictive analytics; every week, there’s a new product. So what really matters is an understanding of what the customer actually wants and building the product, packaging, and user experience in order to deliver that well. It’s not just about having sexy technology on the back end. Don’t get me wrong—great technology is critical. But you have to be able to connect those dots.
CMO.com: Can you tell me about the challenges and opportunities of your three CMO positions? What did you learn as you progressed from startup to Skype to Salesforce.com?
Bewsher: Each was a bigger challenge for me, first, in terms of scale. At mig33 I had five or six people working for me. At Skype I had 100, and at Salesforce.com I had 400. Second, in terms of complexity, I moved from being responsible for marketing a single product in a single market, to a single product in multiple markets, to multiple products in multiple markets. I evolved from being basically a VP of marketing responsible for the task of selling a product to an audience to a CMO responsible for delivering a consistent brand experience across products, markets, and channels. As a VP of marketing, it was about doing the work; as a CMO, it was more about planning, coordination, and vision.
CMO.com: Was that a difficult transition for you—going from doing the work of marketing to leading the teams that do?
Bewsher: I loved doing the job of marketing. There’s a purity about it, which is fun. I’m passionate about it, and I love to get my hands dirty. But as a CMO, you have a much broader responsibility. And as you get larger budgets, you can do so much more.
Also, I believe the skill set you learn as a CMO is much more relevant if you want to step into a CEO job. You learn about how to achieve success by creating best-in-class teams across multiple functions to deliver. For example, as the CMO of Skype, I was not just overseeing the marketing of the technology but building a strategic partnership to offer the product in China. That’s a very different skill set that became more important as I stepped into a CEO role.
That said, I have a very talented director of marketing here at Leadspace who would tell you I probably still get too involved in what she does.
CMO.com: What drew you to the CEO position at Leadspace?
Bewsher: When I left Salesforce, I knew there weren’t too many other CMO jobs that would take me to the next level and challenge me in new ways beyond the ways that my previous CMO roles had. I wanted a different challenge in the marketing world.
As CMO of Salesforce, I had looked at a lot of predictive analytics platforms over the years. As a practitioner at a big tech company, I knew there was a huge gap in the market to provide a customer intelligence layer on top of sales and marketing processes. I wanted to build a product company, and Leadspace is a very productized solution. Finally, the best companies are driven by customer satisfaction. A hallmark of both Skype and Salesforce was that the users loved the products and thought they were very cool tools. Their success was very much driven by customer evangelism. When I started talking to customers of Leadspace, I learned that they, too, loved the product.
And then there was the audience. When I stepped into my first CEO job from a functional role, I wanted to make sure I could connect to the audience.
CMO.com: Well, as a CMO, you were the audience. What else about your marketing experience serves you well as chief executive?
Bewsher: A CEO has to deal with all the different parts of the organization in order to build customer satisfaction and a strong business. One of the hallmarks of the CMO role is that, compared to most other functional positions, the chief marketer has to manage an extremely broad set of disciplines. Indeed, something many CMOs struggle with is that it is impossible to be a jack-of-all-trades. The ability to manage a broad set of people well is critical for CEOs, and successful CMOs have that in spades.
On the other side of things, a CEO needs to have expertise managing profit and loss. They have to have experience managing the bottom line—revenue, costs, profitability, and so on. I was lucky that I did an MBA, which has been very helpful especially when coming from a marketing background. In addition, particularly at Skype, I had hands-on experience managing a business unit. I was responsible for the P&L for the advertising business unit that we launched, which equipped me well to become a CEO.
It’s very important that CMOs who want to become CEOs figure out how to build end-to-end P&L responsibility into their experience. It’s about much more than managing a budget or a pipeline target.
CMO.com: What new skills have you had to develop in order to be an effective CEO?
Bewsher: One of the most important things I’ve had to recognize is that there are very different types of people doing very different types of roles in the company. As a marketing leader, you’re typically working with very creative, outgoing, idea-driven people. Sometimes you’ll have some analytical folks in there, if you’re lucky. But as CEO, you’re dealing with, for example, an engineering team that has a different way of working and different motivations. I’ve had to work hard on making sure that I vary the ways I engage with people and the ways I manage different teams based on what gets them moving. That’s something that, for those who’ve lived in marketing for their whole lives, could get them flummoxed.
CMO.com: What did you identify as the biggest challenges facing Leadspace when you took the top spot?
Bewsher: I’ve described Leadspace as the best-kept secret in B2B marketing. This is a company that originally built most of its business out of Israel. People who knew what we did loved it, but nobody else knew about it.
I saw the biggest opportunity in building a presence in the U.S. and building an awareness of the product. The key to that is sharing customer-success stories, which is a joy for someone who comes from marketing; that’s what I know how to do.
And like any company that’s growing nearly 300% year on year, it’s about managing that growth and still delivering a good customer experience without burning out your team.
CMO.com: Now that you’re the CEO, what do you want from your marketing group?
Bewsher: When I was on the agency side at Digitas, I’d always get these briefs from clients that would say, “We want to do guerilla marketing,” which was code for, “We want incredible results but have no budget.” And I always wanted to run away from those clients, although we did some amazing work for them. Now that’s the brief I’m giving my marketing group: “Do amazing things within this limited budget.”
The key at this stage of the company is product marketing: The ability to clearly define the value proposition for customers and deliver that message clearly is gold. It’s also very hard to do. The difference between brilliant and average product marketing is the difference between market success and failure. I want our marketers to tell a story that people understand and connect with.
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