Faaez Samadi
Jun 25, 2019

Salesforce global CMO: “To lead marketing, you have to get out of marketing”

Stephanie Buscemi explains why the breaking down of business silos means it’s never been a better time to be a CMO.

Stephanie Buscemi
Stephanie Buscemi

Many people are talking about the growing pressure on CMOs today, due to the rapid evolution of the marketing industry changing the nature of the role. New skills are needed to manage the mass of communications, business, technology and consulting issues that seem to come across a CMOs desk these days, a far cry from the more traditional responsibilities they held.

But for all of this, Stephanie Buscemi, Salesforce global CMO, prefers to see the present landscape as a big opportunity for CMOs, rather than something to be concerned about.

“I focus a lot on working cross-functionally,” she tells Campaign Asia-Pacific at the Salesforce Connections 2019 conference in Chicago. “It’s really important to me, while I lead marketing, to get out of marketing and really interact across the company.  

“When I say get out of marketing, I mean that I’m talking to our service leaders, to our sales leaders, to all of the functions in the company. We’re figuring out what signals are you getting from customers? What’s working and what’s not? How are we adding value for them?”

This, Buscemi says, is the exciting part of being a modern CMO, that you’re increasingly embedded in the fabric of your brand, rather than seen as a last-mile add-on in days gone by. “It used to be ‘oh, you’re the email or the ad’,” she recalls wryly. “But now marketing exists at every touchpoint where you have an opportunity to make a connection or impression. All the walls have broken down, and the service group, the sales team, want to sit down with marketing now and say: ‘help me be better in how I engage’, and I think it’s very cool.”

As a senior marketing leader in the tech industry for more than 20 years, it’s perhaps unsurprising to hear Buscemi’s ease when talking about disruption or big change. It’s been a core feature of her career as a marketer and over that time, she has observed the growing importance of the CMO.

“Around 2000 I felt like the CIO was the c-suite star, in terms of people thinking ‘the CIO will save the company.’ Then we went into a financial crisis and there was a real loss of trust.” Recovering that trust, which was critical to rebuilding brands, became a huge priority, as did the department known for being the custodian of a brand’s values and how to communicate them. With the advent of the digital economy, that position has only become more valuable, she opines.

Buscemi delivering the keynote at Salesforce Connections 2019

“I now feel like every single CMO is just a cellphone call away from the CEO, who wants to talk to them about customer engagement,” which Buscemi believes is the bedrock of modern business success. “So I think it’s an incredible time because CMOs have the opportunity to go beyond the functional four walls of marketing and really help architect and orchestrate what customer engagement looks like.”

That the CMO of a US$120 billion tech giant specialising in customer engagement is touting the value of customer engagement is hardly surprising. But with Salesforce’s range of customer-focused tools and services, it’s what clients—and many marketers—come to talk to Buscemi about, and each has their unique business strategy or issue that they want help with.

To that end, she says the first thing for brands to succeed in today’s business world is to fully embrace transformation of their company processes, something Salesforce has done and re-done since the beginning. “I talk to CMOs where that isn’t the company priority,” she says. “It’s managing to an envelope, to a number. It’s all done on a spreadsheet.”

That then feeds into another crucial area around culture and people, which Buscemi says can directly affect a brand’s transformation strategy. “A lot of times I will meet with CMOs and they want the technology to be the cure-all,” she says. “And what might get revealed is the people and the culture don’t have the appetite for it. It’s both things coming together; we can help provide them with the platform, but they have to come with the mindset and be willing to work with us to reimagine their processes.”

The latest addition to Salesforce’s suite of offerings is business intelligence software firm Tableau, which was acquired for US$15.7 billion. With the deal yet to fully close, Buscemi would not be drawn on its impact on Salesforce’s marketing services. “Data is fuelling business decision-making. Making data more accessible and easier to consume is what Tableau has been doing for 16 years,” she said. “We look forward to that closing and becoming part of our family.”

Another issue for the tech space of late has been the very thing Buscemi says is at the heart of brand building: trust. There are those in Silicon Valley that can’t stay out of the headlines for the wrong reasons, and the drive for greater transparency informed the creation of Salesforce’s office for the ethical and humane use of technology, Buscemi explains.

“I think we’re in uncharted waters. Yes, everyone wants personalisation, they want everything now. But how are we doing this in a way that we’re protecting people’s privacy? We don’t have all the answers on that. We are taking these things on and being super transparent, sitting down with customers and having an open conversation.

“There’s times where we’ve said we don’t have the answer, but we’ve called everyone together in the community and communicated openly on it. Even when you take a decision, you’re not always going to get everyone on the bus. But if you do it with transparency, people can process it and they will still trust you. They might go ‘that’s not what I would have done’ but they feel heard and they understand your rationale.”

For all the technological solutions Salesforce offers brands—the company announced a new customer data platform offering, Customer360, that will be available later this year—Buscemi is clear that marketing still needs to come back to connecting with people. As such, she doesn’t have much time for the creativity versus technology debate.

“Data is really powerful and continues to be in giving marketing a seat at the table to be more strategic around business outcomes,” she states. “That said, I don’t think any time it’s going to change that you have to use both head and heart in this business, and the heart part is the storytelling. It’s still the creativity and the narrative, it’s how you reach people with an emotional connection.”

For Buscemi, while its critical for marketers to embrace transformation and get innovative with new technologies to grow their brands, the fundamentals of marketing remain as important as they always have.

“I mean, behind all the technology, behind every phone and every laptop, there’s a person,” she says. “Especially with a lot of the disruption that’s happening in the world, there’s some unrest and I think people are craving connection more than ever. As marketers, we need to pay really strong attention to that and make sure we’re really focused on storytelling and connecting with people in an authentic way.”

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