The Gist

  • Goodbye, sales, hello, marketing. Susan Beermann, CMO at Contentstack, started her career in sales and worked at IBM for 10 years before transitioning to marketing.
  • The whole CMO enchilada. Beermann emphasizes the importance of having a broad understanding of the entire marketing stack, including demand generation, brand, product marketing, and analytics, in order to become a successful CMO.
  • First, the business. Then, the marketing. To become a CMO, it is important to focus on becoming a businessperson first, developing a deep understanding of financials and what matters to investors and the C-Suite. Additionally, maintaining a relentless focus on customers and being a strong leader is key.

Susan Beermann joined Contentstack at its chief marketing officer in December, bringing with her more than 25 years of industry experience. Previously she served as CMO at NAVEX, and as CMO at Ellie Mae (now ICE Mortgage Technology). Through the years, Beermann also held global VP marketing roles at Saba, Jigsaw (acquired by Salesforce), Taleo and Microsoft.

We caught up with Beermann for a five-question Q&A on her role as CMO in our latest edition of the CMSWire CMO Circle series. 

Editor's note: This transcript is edited for clarity.

An Unconventional Path to CMO Success

Jennifer Torres: Hi everyone, I'm CMSWire reporter Jennifer Torres and this is CMO Circle. Each episode we sit down with a different CMO for a little Q&A to get to know them and their role a little better. Today, I'm very excited to have as our guest, Susan Beermann, chief marketing officer at Contentstack. Hi, Susan, welcome.

Susan Beermann: Hi, Jennifer, thank you so much for inviting me today. Really looking forward to talking to you.

Torres: We're so happy to have you here, and we'll get right to it. First question I'd like to start with is to ask you a little bit about your path to becoming a CMO. How did you get into the marketing field in the first place?

Beermann: Well, I didn't start here, that's for sure. So, fresh out of school, I actually went into sales, and I sold for IBM for about 10 years. And you know, that's where I really got my start in the real world in terms of my career. And after that, I realized I was pretty good at it. You know, I made my quota, but I just didn't love it. It wasn't quite where I thought my heart was. So, I made a conscious decision to move into marketing. Because, you know, as with all salespeople — you all think you know how to do marketing. And of course, I didn’t, and it was a rude awakening.

I convinced Microsoft to hire me into a marketing role without any real marketing experience. It was really great. In fact, the gentleman who hired me was an ex-IBMer as well. So, we had a connection and an affinity because we had similar backgrounds. I was there for about six years, and this is really where I learned marketing. I made a point to move around into a lot of different roles because I was just a sponge trying to learn as much as I could about all aspects of marketing, and I'm really grateful to Microsoft for having that opportunity. It really was my training ground and I really felt like I found my product, and I've stuck with marketing ever since. So, I've never looked back.

A Full Stack CMO

Torres: For someone who's looking to get into the field of marketing — someone who's just starting out and one day they would like to become a CMO — what advice would you give them?

Beermann: I look at being a CMO and all the myriad of responsibilities and attributes to be successful. So, I'll start there and then I'll get to the advice if that's okay. I think as CMO you have to really have depth and breadth of knowledge across what recruiters always referred to as a full marketing stack. A full-stack CMO possesses a strong demand generation background, a strong brand background, product marketing and analytics. And so, I think it's important to make some lateral moves along the way to gain experience across the spectrum.

I think the next thing that's critically important, if you want to get to the C-level, you have to hang with the C-suite, and you have to be first and foremost a businessperson. I think that I've become a businessperson first, who happens to specialize in marketing. So, operating from that lens, always keep your eye on the financials, the market, on what investors care about, and what the CEO and CFO care about — making sure you're really aligned and you're being a good business partner, with an expertise in marketing. We would encourage people to not just focus on marketing, but focus on understanding the financials and all the different aspects that make you a good businessperson as well. It's critically important.

Also, you have to have a relentless focus on customers, you can't be an “ivory tower” marketer, who just sits there and looks internally. So, really looking outward to what's going on in the market and talking to customers and meeting with them. You know, picking the salespeople’s brains as to what's going on — or what I call the real world. The nature of our job is somewhat removed from the day-to-day customer interactions, unless we make a point to really incorporate that into our days and our week. So, as much interaction and external focus you've had, the better.

Then of course, there's leadership, you have to be a strong leader. And so, getting those experiences in your career starting with being a first line manager and so on and so forth. And, you don't get there alone, I think it's finding two really good mentors or executive coaches — or there's all sorts of great learnings and resources out there.

Related Article: CMSWire CMO Circle: Paige O'Neill on Exploding Martech, Marketer Career Growth

Crucial to CMO Success: Ability to Pivot

Torres: How do you stay on top of industry trends to ensure that your marketing strategies are relevant and effective?

Beermann: Oh, that's a really good question. I think that there's a myriad of ways. It’s reading the news, it's reading CMSWire. It's looking at the analysts and what they’re saying. It's looking at the business press to see what's going on in the market and the economy. I mean, clearly, we're in an interesting economic time and it seems like every year, over the last several years, there’s been some sort of interesting wrinkle that we have to deal with.

Learning Opportunities

And so, you have to be able to absorb that and pivot, and of course, going back to the customers — look at how we're spending time with customers and what their pain points are, what the successes have been, and where can we help them. I think at the end of the day, no one wants to be sold. They're looking for solutions to problems or solutions to help them explore new opportunities.

The Sweet Spot: Perfect Balance Between Creativity and Analysis

Torres: What is the most rewarding part of your job as CMO?

Beermann: Oh, I love so much about it. I think one of the things I love, is that it’s so right brain and left brain. I have a real creative side that marketing really enables me to tap into, but I also love the analytical side and really understanding — if I do this, I will be able to drive this sort of business — and constantly looking for ways to evaluate how we're doing and improve over time. It creates a culture of continuous improvement. I mean, we could do something today, and maybe it’s greater than B+, but there's always a way to make it an A+ next time.

So, I think it's that sort of experimentation and challenge. As I often say, how can I be even better tomorrow? And then of course, it's just the people. I love my team. I love working with them. I love waking up and collaborating with them. That gives me great energy and great joy.

Driving Revenue Steers CMO Success

Torres: Well, we're up to the last question. How do you measure the success of your marketing efforts? And how do you use that information to continuously improve?

Beermann: Yeah, it's interesting. I think the number one measure of success, and this is going to sound lofty, but I think you have to be really mired in it, is — are we driving revenue? And, clearly there's a ton of marketing metrics beneath that to ensure that we get there, but at the end of the day, I can't do a victory dance if we're not closing enough business. Sales would look at you like you are tone deaf.

So, I think it's really critical to always have our eye on the revenue, and then clearly the pipeline, our conversion rates and our churn rates. We obviously want to minimize churn rates, and we want to increase our conversion rates. And, so again, looking at the things that we do and the conversion rates we need to ultimately turn into revenue. And then, look at what is and what isn't working, so that we can fine tune that — and that means looking at those numbers regularly.

I'm obsessed with my dashboards, and I'm constantly refreshing them, particularly when it's the end of a quarter to see if we are going to make our goal, etc. So, it's not the kind of thing where I think you can wait till after the quarter to evaluate. By then, there's nothing you can do about it, except look backwards. Really be in the mix and really get your team to be doing the same thing, because you can't do it alone.

Torres: Susan, we've come to the end of our chat, but I want to thank you so much for being with us here today.

Beermann: Well, thank you again. It was a pleasure meeting you and doing the interview and I look forward to speaking to you more in the future.

Torres: Thank you, Susan. This has been Susan Beermann, chief marketing officer at Contentstack, and I’m Jennifer Torres with CMSWire, and this is CMO Circle. Thank you very much for joining us.