Elissa Fink joined Tableau Software in 2007 as CMO, and helped build it from a start-up with $5 million in annual revenue to a public company that was valued at $10.79 B prior to its acquisition by Salesforce. After retiring in 2018, she now divides her time teaching at University of Washington – Michael G. Foster School of Business, sitting on the board of Pantheon, Qumulo and Concora, and advising NOMO Ventures, Outreach, Intellimize, Saviynt, and Exasol. Elissa’s website is elissafink.com.
1. Who – or what – has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I think it would have to be my family. First of all, my mom. When I was growing up, she always found ways to get things done and juggle her busy life. She raised six kids, volunteered, helped my dad with his business and the list keeps going! And even in the face of major challenges, she managed to stay relentlessly positive.
Second would be my dad. He came to the US at age twenty-five and didn’t speak much English. I’ve always really looked up to his integrity and work ethic. Finally my five brothers: I was the only girl but they always treated me as a person, not a princess. In my adult life, each one has given me incredible advice and support. I’m so very blessed to have them in my life.
2. You had an impressive and lengthy tenure as CMO at Tableau – what are some of your highlights or initiatives you are most proud of from that time?
I feel so lucky to have been one of the builders of Tableau. I’m so proud of so much that we built. I’m particularly proud of having hired great people, who formed a great team and culture. It really is about the people.
But I’m also proud of the incredible Tableau community we fostered, the people-centric Tableau brand we built, the customer conferences we held that changed the world for a lot of people, the way we partnered with sales to help bring in the customers and revenue (I still love hearing salespeople tell me today that they never worked at a place where marketing delivered like we did), and being part of an executive team that was able to grow and adapt as we went from $5 million to over $1 billion in revenue. I take so much pride in having helped build a public software company that had an impact on a lot of people’s lives.
3. Do you have a mantra, quote, or principle that you use as a guide during times of stress or pressure?
My favorite quote both in times of stress and joy is “This too shall pass.” When times are good, it reminds you that good times are transient and that you should be grateful – both for big moments and small.
In hard times, it reminds you that the hard times won’t be forever: you can and will get through it. It might not be how you want to get through it, but you will get through it.
4. What project have you worked on recently that had you feeling excited and energized?
It was fun working with my fourteen year old daughter updating my personal website. When you work with your kids in a new way, you see them in a different light and realize how much they’ve grown and matured, how capable they are, and how proud you are of them.
Outside of that, it’s been exciting advising companies focused on helping marketers perform better. I love being around Allocadia – great vision, great leadership and great people. I also love working with companies to bring the power of AI to marketers. I think there is so much opportunity for marketers to make the most of their efforts through AI. It’s an exciting area – but also one that is filled with risk.
5. What is it like teaching B2B marketing during this massive industry shift?
It’s been very interesting teaching B2B marketing during these times. When I left Tableau, some of today’s larger industry shifts were already happening but since then there’s been many more very dramatic ones.
I’m fortunate that I advise a few CMOs and get a look into these new challenges. What I’ve realized is that, at the end of the day, people still need to solve problems and they’re still looking for other people (companies with products, solutions) to help to do that. So while a lot of the mechanisms have changed massively, it’s not fundamentally different to the purpose of why people buy and sell.
With my class, I always lead it back to the big idea of marketing – helping people and companies find each other to connect and solve problems.
6. What advice would you share with marketers that are at the beginning of their careers?
Great question! There are three things I’d want to share, the first being to get some sales experience. It’s so helpful understanding the buyer’s journey on the ground. I don’t mean you have to become a salesperson – but if you can do something that requires a little selling (a side hustle, volunteer fundraising, etc.), it will help you tremendously understand both buyers and sellers.
Second, is to be a data enthusiast. Learn to use data, learn to ask questions of data, learn how to communicate with data. I really believe the more you use data, the better your judgment will be when it comes to decision-making.
My third piece of advice is to think of yourself as a lifelong learner. Never stop learning. It amazes me, but the skills in marketing that would have got you ahead five years ago are not what gets you ahead today. If you’re constantly learning, honing your craft, and updating your skills with the latest and greatest, you’ll be better off.
7. If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?
Oh wow – so many things! I’m going to cheat and give you two. In my family life, I wish I could be an expert mom. I love my kids so much but some days, I feel like a smarter, better mom-expert would serve them better (that being said, no one could love them more).
For my business or intellectual life, I would love to be an effortless, brilliant, expressive, and thought-provoking writer. Words can move us and I love the idea of being able to express myself and move people.