Product & Growth Tips

Marketing lessons learned at Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce from ServiceNow’s CMO

Jordan Carr

According to ServiceNow Chief Marketing Officer Dan Rogers, marketing consists of three complementary areas. There’s product marketing, which entails having deep product knowledge, however possessing the know-how to convert product speeds and feeds from technical jargon into plain English. There’s demand generation, which is what it sounds like: all the tasks that will generate new demand for your product. And then there’s brand awareness, which is crafting a compelling narrative so that people have heard of your product and have a positive emotional response to your company.

For ServiceNow, all three of those pieces are more imperative than ever. With quarterly contract renewal numbers ranging from 97-99 percent, the company’s problem (and when your stock went up 73% in 2017, “problem” is relative) is finding new customers and expanding from IT, where their service management product is a dominant player, into other organizational silos is crucial.

It’s a happy problem Dan Rogers has had throughout his career, spanning time at Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, and ServiceNow: how do you take your marketing to the next level when your product is well-liked and best-in-class?

The three pillars of marketing

In order to explain how he views a CMO’s role, Dan drew a Venn diagram with the three complementary areas of marketing. One labeled “product marketing,” one labeled “demand generation,” and one labeled “brand awareness.” In that place where all three intersect, is where a modern business-to-business CMO needs to situate himself.

“I started in product management at Microsoft. That experience gave me a real sense of engineering requirements. The most important thing I learned there was that people don’t buy products – they buy solutions. So, I had to learn how to translate technical features into benefits that people would actually buy and use. To me, the ability to translate what a product actually means, that is, what problem it solves, is the number one function for any B2B marketer,” Dan tells us.

Then, Dan went to Amazon Web Services (AWS), where he was among the first handful of product marketers. AWS’ story has been written elsewhere, but it is not an exaggeration to describe it as one of the most inventive and successful tech offerings of the past decade. “From Amazon, I took Jeff Bezos’s idea that smart companies approach every situation as ‘Day One’. What we do is take that approach and apply it to our marketing organization. What that means is, when we want to make a decision, we aggressively interrogate whether or not that decision will deliver value to the consumer and to the company. ‘Because it’s how we’ve done it,’ and ‘everyone else is doing it’ are not sufficient reasons. Demand gen, more so than the other two pillars of marketing, suits itself to rigorous analysis.”

Afterward, Dan joined Salesforce, where he was the CMO of the EMEA region. At Salesforce, he was wowed by the team’s ability to craft a compelling message. “They do a wonderful job telling their story. Marc Benioff is amazing, and I tried to be like a sponge around him,” says Dan. “They took all the key questions around brand awareness: how do you build a market? How do you inspire people? How do you create a place in people’s heads that they’re going to associate with you? And they had compelling answers for all of them. I think of it as capturing a little piece of people’s mindshare.”

As CMO of the EMEA region, Dan was a bit like Lucille Ball working at the chocolate factory: “The growth was so explosive, even faster than any other region. And that meant we had to fuel so much activity—webinars, events, online activity, demos, trials, call campaigns, call blitzes, and beyond. No matter what we did, we couldn’t grow it fast enough to keep up with demand.”

“Fast-forward to today, and it turns out all three of these things are what I do at ServiceNow,” Dan says. “To run a world-class marketing organization, you need to have mastery of at least two of the three, and I’ve been lucky enough to have experiences in all three of them.”

Putting the theory into practice

“We are data to the core,” Dan says of his marketing organization. However, demand generation is the area where the data is clearest because there is one metric that stands above all else: pipeline. “With everything we do in marketing, we map it to a closed loop. For example, we can see how event X, or webinar Y, led to Z number of leads. Additionally, our marketing operations team maintains a clear look at whether we’re getting the kind of return on investment that we want. We set goals around numbers of marketing-qualified leads and numbers of meetings, but the general idea is that everything is in the service of creating pipeline for our sales team.”

With product marketing, Dan sees his organization’s role as spreading the word, not influencing the product. “Take, for example, our recent machine learning rollout. The hype cycle on machine learning is out of control. I was joking that I walked past a store the other day and I saw a $300 pair of machine-learning yoga pants – that’s where we’re at in the hype cycle. But at the same time, it is a useful technology, and our engineers have built this terrific product that solves actual customers’ real-world problems,” says Dan.

“So, we’re not just going to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this new, impressive machine-learning thing.’ We’re going to say, ‘One of the problems that IT faced today is the inability to make predictions based on things that have happened in the past, and we’ve solved that.’ So, that’s product marketing: taking opaque technical concepts and making them accessible so that customers can see what your product actually delivers.”

In terms of brand awareness, Dan does not believe that brand is something that can be solely generated in the marketing department—all they can do is amplify what a company’s interaction with its customers already is. “Service Now, in particular, is laser-focused on delivering great experiences for employees and great experiences for customers. So, you’ll see the language that we use avoids a lot of hyperbole. We just describe how we help you in the language that our customers use to describe what they’re trying to get done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone on the planet understands what we’re talking about, but the people who want to interact with those products really understand it.”

Buying in

“When I think of customers, I think of the actual people I interact with,” Dan tells us. “I wouldn’t dare to tell them that I have some algorithm that’s going to solve everything. It would not be credible.”

By listening to customers, Dan and his organization can learn their problems. Perhaps it’s not revolutionary to say you should listen to customers, and then accurately represent them. However, as anyone who has squinted at a billboard on Highway 101 in the Silicon Valley and then tried to figure out what it is that company actually does can tell you, it’s not a universally-held belief. In building a marketing culture that skips the grandiose proclamations in favor of clear communication, Dan is quick to acknowledge that it is bigger than just him.

“From ServiceNow’s founding days, our culture has been centered around the idea that if we help our customers be successful then everything’s going to take care of itself. That culture has attracted the kinds of engineers, salespeople, and marketers who buy into that.”

And for Dan Rogers, it’s that simple: if you want people to buy in, there has to be something worth buying.

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