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CMO Strategy Series: Navigating People Management Challenges

Jake Sorofman is the CMO of Visier, the leading analytics solution that helps companies see the truth in their people data and make better decisions. With over 20 years of marketing experience, Jake has a track record of guiding companies through multiple phases of growth: from market acceptance through scalable revenue.

1. What three things are absolutely necessary for you to have while you’re working?

The first thing has to be my notebook: I’m old school and very list-driven. On one side are all the tasks I need to complete during the week and on the other side is a scratch pad. I highlight and cross things out until the page is filled and I transfer over anything remaining. It’s a very cathartic process of turning the page on what I need to do – I live by it.

The second thing is my diet Pepsi, I live on it. The third thing is a new addition that I’ve been loving. I set up a secondary camera and aimed it at the whiteboard in my home office. Now during meetings, I can stand in front of it and host collaboration sessions with my team. Brainstorming isn’t the same without a whiteboard pen and eraser in your hand. It’s new but working really great.  

2. Hiring and retaining employees has changed dramatically over the last year, what trends in people strategy and employee experience do you think we’ll see in 2021? 

There’s a perfect storm of challenges in people management. First, there’s the sudden geographic dispersion of teams, the rise of remote work, and the new problems and dynamics it presents daily. 

Next is the overdue reckoning on race, diversity, and inclusion which is creating new opportunities as well as challenges regarding people management. It’s forcing companies to think very differently about these issues and to do it as part of their strategy. 

The final piece is that hiring and retaining talent is harder than ever. People come to work with expectations of doing work that’s fulfilling, motivating, and engaging. Then there are certain expectations about the tools they work with, the way the company operates, and their potential career paths. All of these things need to be understood and that’s the role of Visier: bringing together all of this people data to answer important questions. 

Rather than providing a bunch of charts and graphs to stare at in vain, waiting for patterns to appear, we’ve built Visier around 2,000+ questions that HR leaders, people managers, and executives need to answer to better manage globally distributed workforces. And a lot of these questions are nuanced and difficult to answer. 

For example: of our highest performing sales reps, which are most likely to churn? Understanding to what extent your revenue bearing employees are at risk of not wanting to stick around is critical because it’s a massive business risk waiting to happen. What’s our female representation at the divisional/department level? What are our minority representations at a leadership level? These are not easy questions to answer, but we make it very simple.

3. What’s the biggest market strategy shift you’ve made recently?

The same one everyone is still dealing with: the obliteration of physical events. That’s been a real adjustment for marketing teams and I think we’re still finding our way. It’s working, it’s fine, everything is digital – but it’s not the same. One of the struggles I’ve witnessed in a lot of marketing teams is that they’re trying to recreate what works so well at physical events in a digital environment and it doesn’t have the same effect. 

The whole trade show experience is so personal, so organic, and spontaneous and in many ways it really doesn’t lend itself to a digital environment. The thing I’m starting to appreciate is that you need to let digital be digital and physical be physical. I can’t wait to get back on a plane again and meet with people in person. But in the meantime, don’t try to force it. Don’t try to force things that belong in a physical medium to become digital because it’s a very different experience. 

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

Hand-in-hand with the obliteration of physical events is a shifting of everyone’s mix towards digital. That’s the obvious answer. The less obvious statement is that we have to punch harder. We need to over-invest and be really thoughtful on what we’re putting out. 

Digital is becoming very noisy on every channel because there’s been a wholesale shift in every industry and it means people are fatigued by the sheer amount of content to consume. Content and webinars still work, but it’s raised the bar on the level of quality and thoughtfulness required to create an impression. 

5. We’ve all had to adopt new ways of working over the last year, are there any crisis-era adaptations that you think marketing leaders should make permanent?

I’m a big fan of the hybrid work arrangement. I’m an 80-20 person: I’m very happy working in a home office 80% of the time but I’d like 20% of my time to be interacting with my team and colleagues face-to-face. Finding those moments where teams come together and then disperse is a really good model for a lot of companies. 

There’s been a lot of overinvesting in “trophy offices” that are extremely expensive and frankly not conducive to the kind of work-life balance that people want. The flexibility to work from home is so much better for me, and I know I’m not alone in that respect. As a people manager, I try to empathize and understand what are the things driving and motivating my team so I can harness that and get the best results while creating an open, collaborative environment where people can have fun. I think the best work happens when people are joyful about it, particularly in marketing. That’s the magic. 

Although anything to an extreme degree isn’t sustainable or particularly palatable. We need a little bit of both. Going forward, I think a lot of trophy offices will be scaled down and replaced with a space that allows people to come in when they need to gather together as a team, but doesn’t require a waterfall in the lobby. 

6. If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?

I’m envious of journalists. I’m always working on the craft of writing and I love listening to the Longform podcast on NPR. Writing – and doing it well – means a lot to me; it’s how I think and process things. 

But I also get a lot of personal fulfillment out of it. I don’t know if anyone can become an “expert” in writing but I’m certainly trying. I’m humbled by people that I think are more expert than myself. 

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