Sangram Vajre: Resetting CMO Priorities

May 11, 2021

Sangram Vajre

“If you’re not visible, you’re not going to get promoted.” This is one of Sangram Vajre’s top pieces of advice for aspiring marketing leaders, and also seemingly a guiding principle in his professional life as well. 

That’s not to say Sangram is in need of a promotion — he’s already Chief Evangelist and Co-founder of Terminus, one of the leading names in account-based marketing — but he definitely stays visible, promoting his personal brand in a variety of ways. In addition to his role with Terminus, Sangram has authored two books (with a third on the way), runs the FlipMyFunnel podcast, pens a weekly newsletter called Becoming Intentional, and also launched a group called Peak Community for CMOs.

He’s a busy guy. But this marketer to watch has a lot of important thoughts and perspectives, which is why we appreciate Sangram taking a little time out of his schedule to chat with us about the modern marketing landscape, the evolution of ABM, and how priorities are changing for leaders in the field.

LinkedIn: Your book title and general mantra is “ABM is B2B.” Why do you think the two have grown to be one in the same?

Sangram Vajre: The thesis is quite simple. In 2017, when I started thinking about ABM and wrote a book called ABM for Dummies, I always felt like it was all about marketing. That's honestly what I thought. And it’s kind of scary, now that I look back, that we didn't even think about sales, we didn't even think about customer success, which is something we can talk about a little bit later. But the idea was that marketing and sales really needed to be in it together.

When you look at any company's income statement or balance sheet, you will see that marketing and sales is actually one number. It's one line item. It's one number, which is why the title of the book came out to be ABM is B2B: it’s like, let's not beat around the bush. If you're an organization, especially in B2B, and your role is in marketing, your job is to drive revenue. If you are in sales, your job is to drive revenue. And if revenue doesn't come in, you don't exist in that job. So that's how the title came to be, and I think it did its part, which is to be provocative.

LI: What do you view as the top priorities for today's Chief Marketing Officers who are trying to plan for what's next?

Sangram: I love this question. There are three things that I think modern CMOS have got to have. 

Number one: they actually spend more time with the board and their peers than those they're directing. Now, why do I say that? Because if you do that, you actually know what's going on. And you actually require yourself to have a little bit of humility to know that you're not running the team, you’ve got to have people on your team that are running marketing. So a proper CMO is a business leader with a specialty in marketing.

Number two: if you're a CMO, and you don't have the top 10 customers’ cell phone numbers, and consider them as friends, texting and emailing and following up on a regular basis, then you're not doing your job. Your priority is to know very well — personally, to a level — the top 10 customers of your company. You can’t just be behind the desk and not know them and not have conversations with them. 

Number three: I think this is something that has gotten a lot of people thinking and almost rattled, quite frankly, is the idea that well, if I'm a CMO should I just be working on brand? I think, as we've covered in the first one, your job is to drive revenue. So anything that you're doing, that's not revenue-oriented — that doesn't mean you're not doing brand initiatives and stuff — but you get to keep your job and do the cool stuff when you hit the revenue numbers. And that's only when you can actually get the revenue numbers to work. That's the three priorities.

LI: What's your best advice for a marketing professional who aspires to become a CMO?

Sangram: Join a community! I started a community called Peak Community that's literally for emerging and established CMOs. But I don't care if you join Peak Community or not; just join a community. CMO is one of the hardest jobs to get into because, guess what, most marketers are singularly focused on their craft. You can't have a content writer or copywriter do events; you can’t have an events person do graphic design; you can't have a graphic design person do product marketing. It just doesn't work that way. So from those people, turning somebody into a CMO is extremely hard. There are things like making the CFO your best friend — you're not gonna learn that; you'll probably never talk to your CFO. If you're in brand, you might not understand that driving revenue’s the only way you get to do some cool stuff. So you’ve got to be part of that community that is going to help surround you with that knowledge so you can learn and put yourself out there. Because if you're not visible, you're not going to get promoted. 

LI: What's the most common or problematic misconception about the modern marketing funnel?

Sangram: It's really been the same for the last 20 years: Fewer than 1% of leads turn into customers. I'm amazed at how many people still think that's the only way to grow a business. So for me, one of the greatest misconceptions is that the more leads you get, the more revenue you generate. It’s actually the opposite: the more leads you get, the more inefficient and untrustworthy of a relationship you create with your sales organization, because they're not going to work on it.

Now what's really the key is to get the right leads, which means you get to know the right accounts. It goes back to the idea of just being really good about account-based marketing and strategy.

LI: We really like your "Becoming Intentional" emails. How did you go about making it different and more valuable than the standard newsletter?

Sangram: Thank you so much! I think the newsletter element of LinkedIn is really, really cool. And I think there are like 27,000 subscribers to that. Every week, there are about 100 or 200 new people subscribed to it, which is really cool. 

It started this idea that, I think I became accidentally intentional, if that makes sense. Everything I did, I felt like I've got my pants on fire, I'm running things, and life just is out of balance. Work is out of balance. When you start becoming intentional, you realize that, oh, I can make some choices. I can do things like blocking my time. I can make sure the right things are still done when I need to do it and not get inundated with Slack messages and emails. So it's okay to let some balls drop because they're not glass balls, they are bouncy balls, so they can bounce a little bit. But don't drop the glass balls. Because they’re really important, I learned that from a good friend of mine a few years ago on a podcast. 

So the idea of becoming intentional was to just create less boring sorts of emails, but emails that will get people to pause and just reflect and move on. And I'm constantly innovating on that, by the way. So it's like my testbed of different ideas and things. So thank you for checking it out.

LI: The last year has obviously been a turbulent one for society, with COVID lockdowns and civil unrest stemming from George Floyd's killing. What do you view as the biggest challenges, changes, or lessons of the past 12 months from a marketing standpoint?

Sangram: I think if you don't stand for something, people are going to construe and recognize that you stand against something. That is my biggest lesson from this. So if you are for something, I think you just need to come out and speak for it. And if you don't speak for it, your team, your employees, your customers, your partners, your community are all going to start looking at that, and say well, okay, you stand against it, because you didn't make a stand. So this is a challenge that I think organizations are going to have. 

Jeff Henderson wrote a book FOR that I will highly recommend, and in it he made the case that it's not about companies trying to be the best in the world, but actually the best for the world. And I think that is a very important notion. 

LI: What content is giving you life? (Or, what's the most impactful/memorable piece of content you've encountered recently?)

Sangram: For me, as a man of faith, I love reading my scriptures. It gives me life every single day to move on. What also gives me life is actually listening and reading about how people create things. Not people who amplify other stuff, but the creators of the world who put new frameworks into it. So I love reading from Adam Grant. I feel that gives a lot of interesting thoughts. I love ideas from Kim Scott, who wrote Radical Candor and just released another book. I love Bob Goff, he wrote the book Love Does, and he just has this idea of like giving everybody a hug no matter where they are in their life journey. I love listening to Donald Miller's podcast called Business Made Simple, which talks about the idea of business and just opens it up. So this content where it's more about creation, there is no facade. It's literally: here it is, here’s how it's done, here's how it works. It's not perfect and we don't have all the answers. So the more vulnerable it is, the more original it is, the better I think it performs. And that's really what I'm trying to do with Becoming Intentional as well. 

LI: How are you using LinkedIn to successfully reach new audiences?

Sangram: So I'm really not on many other social platforms or anything like that. LinkedIn is really where I made a big jump three or four years ago, where I said, I'm going to post daily. I'm going to use LinkedIn as a source because it is the most read, it doesn't have spam, and the people there are all mostly professionals. So all in all it has been one of the best things to create a following, to have authentic conversations, in many ways just try and test new ideas.

I love the poll features, because that allows me to see different things, and reading the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions newsletter has helped me track what are the most important trending topics in marketing. It’s become one of one of the things that I read on a regular basis. 

LI: Any final thoughts? 

Sangram: Well, I'm writing my third book, and it's going to be on go-to-market. So we're still working through it, it's going to come out in August. It’s the next iteration. My first book, ABM for Dummies was for marketing, ABM is B2B covered marketing and sales, and this one that I'm writing is going to have marketing, sales, and customer success. So it brings the revenue teams together. So it's speaking to the four questions every go-to-market revenue team should be asking, so I'm looking forward to that.

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