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CMO Strategy Series: Climbing the Career Jungle Gym with Drift’s CMO

Allocadia CMO Q&A Series with Tricia Gellman, CMO at Drift

1. What was your first marketing role?

I actually didn’t start in marketing. I have a BA in graphic design and was originally hired as an “evangelist” helping designers understand why to use a Mac, at Apple. The challenge of using the software on an Apple Macintosh to do what designers previously did with paper, pens and boards was invigorating.

But… two months after I joined Apple, I was reorganized into marketing. I cried! I didn’t understand the value that marketing brought to the table. This was in 1997 and honestly it was hard to measure marketing back then. But, I quickly realized that marketing allowed me to be both creative and solve problems, and the rest is history.

While at Apple, I was always working with counterparts at Adobe. Adobe was less than 1,000 people but Apple was 14,000 that was functioning in the red and reorganizing regularly. It occurred to me that I might be able to make a bigger difference if I moved companies. So in 1998 I went to work at Adobe and the team I was a part of was called product marketing. At Adobe we were still functioning in a physical world shipping software to people in boxes. It is hard to imagine that in 2006 when I left this was still the way that software was sold. At that time, I knew this wasn’t going to be the future and so I left to pursue a career working for a SaaS company. I first went to a small startup as the head of marketing doing SaaS for photographers but quickly realized I needed to be at Salesforce, they were paving the market in what SaaS was and if I could go there I would learn so much. I ended up at Salesforce for 9 years, starting in product marketing as that was my staple skill. I then created the demand generation function and later was the CMO for the entire Salesforce Canada business. Along the way, I was a part of the industry transition to SaaS as the way that businesses buy software and that we all run our lives. 

I think what’s so exciting about marketing is that there isn’t one perfect career path, and I don’t think you can think of it as moving up the later – it’s much more like a jungle gym. 

2. What has been the biggest strategy shift you’ve had to make recently?

Our early response to COVID validated one of the reasons I joined Drift. We were able to assess impact within 4-6 days and replanned the entire business. 

The first thing we did was cut our events budget. We’re a company that is known for hosting signature events – we’ve been doing HYPERGROWTH since 2016, and so we had to completely rethink it. 

The bad is that we decided to cut it entirely rather than postpone. But, the good is that we were able to innovate and test new things. Within six weeks we were able to set up a new event – RevGrowth which was a totally virtual event that attracted over 8,500 people to learn about marketing and sales best practices. This event allowed us to partner with some other great companies, and bring in sponsorships to share the expense but also generated pipeline that we would have otherwise missed. 

This event series has been so popular that we now have it as a quarterly event with a different focus of digital marketing during each event.  

3. How has planning changed compared to pre-COVID?

We’ve put an emphasis on content marketing since day one at Drift – and it’s been instrumental in growing our brand and our funnel. But as we’ve scaled, we’ve had to move away from doing more random acts of marketing – and understand what is truly purposeful and what is moving the needle. 

We also needed to ensure that the entire marketing department was unified around the same goals. So, one of the things we did was move to integrated campaigns and planning. This was hugely helpful when we needed to pivot during COVID-19. We were able to be nimble and see which programs still were high priority, and where we needed to change messaging. For example, digital transformation has been a huge emphasis during this time. So, we went through an exercise in which we went through the messaging to make sure it fit with the market changes. 

4. What do you use to guide your planning process?

I try to always think about the number one priority of the company – and how the marketing team and I can support that. Having a strong partnership with sales is key – because while people have been saying for years that sales and marketing need to align, it hasn’t always been the case. But the CMO and the marketing team can be such a lever for business growth, we need to have a true partnership. My goal is to make our marketers smart about revenue and our role in it so they can have a seat at the table and speak to the impact marketing can create for the business. 

5. How has your investment strategy changed compared to pre-COVID?

I mentioned earlier that pre-Covid we had a large part of our budget invested in our first person Hypergrowth events. Since we do not have these events anymore we have invested a lot of energy and resources into virtual events. We have RevGrowth, mentioned above, which is for higher volume pipeline. Then we have our webinar program which was always a pipeline contributor and now we have Ascend which is our exclusive invite only experience event where we gather people of the same role to talk about pressing business topics followed by a unique experience such as a wine tasting with a winemaker. 

6. Who – or what – has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

There are two things I’ve learned along the way that have really affected how I approach my work. The first is something I learned at Adobe from Susan Prescott, an engineer who became a marketer. Adobe InDesign exists because Susan put her job on the line with leaders and the Board of Adobe. She taught me to fight for what you believe in – and to have heart. At the end of the day, if you’re not working on something you’re passionate about, it’s going to show. But if you have passion and heart, you’ll build trust with your team and those around you. 

The second thing is from Hilarie Koplow-McAdams. She never shied away from asking tough questions – and I learned from her that you can have the coolest launch, the most captivating messaging – but if you don’t have alignment with sales, it’s all useless. As I mentioned in the question above, a huge part of marketing success is that partnership with sales, which requires establishing unified goals and objectives.