The CMO Files: Susan Ganeshan, Clarabridge

What keeps CMOs awake at night?


Name: Susan Ganeshan

Organisation: Clarabridge

Job title: CMO

Location: Washington DC, USA

  1. Where were you born and raised?
    I grew up in Pittsburgh PA where the tough-minded steel mill workers shaped our local psyche but I’ve spent the last 20 years in Northern Virginia where politics and history takes a centre stage. I’m lucky then because I believe CMOs need grit, but they also need political savvy.
  2. What was your first job?
    This will date me for sure, but my first important job was working on super computers helping professors and their students manage their massive computation projects on the devices that now are outpowered by your average laptop. Since then I’ve coded (Fortran and C – yes dates me again), implemented client-server solutions (most people will have forgotten this phase of software), product managed, and run large global marketing teams.
  3. What was the first product you got really excited about?
    I remember vividly the day I learnt that the software product my company sold helped Johnson ∅ Johnson ensure that their medical devices arrived at hospitals in time to save lives. It was one of those moments when you realise software really does matter and I’m on a quest to find the impact of software on business since then.
  4. Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
    There is a consultancy in the US called Pragmatic Marketing and I was introduced to them about 15 years ago. The methodology they teach helps software companies deliver products that make a difference, ones that people want to buy. One of the premises of their methodology is that “the answer to your question is not in these 4 walls”, in other words, answers lie outside of your company often with customers, prospects, competitors, industry experts. This had a profound impact on my philosophy as a product manager and marketer. Today I’m CMO for a company, Clarabridge, that helps business understand customers wants, needs and desires. I feel as though I’ve come full circle.
  5. What has been your greatest achievement?
    Not too long ago my CEO (and boss) looked at me with a smile and said, “You’re a quant CMO”. With a mathematics major in college I never imagined I’d use my skills so directly in my job but I’m doing that every day. We make decisions based on numbers, facts, conversation rates, return on investment, and results.
  6. What has been your biggest mistake?
    While I try not to play what if games, I think it’s a mistake to stay at a company too long, like past the time where you’re able to make a big impact with the team and budget and management dynamics of the company. But getting the timing right can be tricky. The average tenure of a high tech CMO is 18 months, which doesn’t surprise me given the ever-changing landscape of marketing high tech solutions.
  7. What is your greatest strength?
    I’ve been lucky enough to have some bosses and mentors who shaped me and helped me to grow in my career, so I try to do the same for the people that work with and around me. The saying “all boats rise with the tide” is something I say often to the team meaning that together we rise or fall. This means giving people more responsibility than they think they can handle and giving enough guidance to watch them succeed. When one succeeds we all succeed.
  8. What is your biggest weakness?
    Ok, cliché I know, but my biggest strength, building great teams, is also my biggest weakness. When you help people grow and give them a little sugar (like promotions and more salary) they can tend to get addicted and crave constant sweets. I’ve seen some of my best performers move on for just that reason, in the end I create people who crave the next big thing.
  9. What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?
    Specifically, in high tech software marketing most of my peers don’t know their products, how they work or why customers love them. A deep understanding of the features of the product and how it is differentiated in the market is requirement number 1 for a successful CMO.
  10. Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
    After I left one job managing a team of 60 people around the globe, my successor told the team they were doing too much and needed to do much less. I couldn’t disagree more. My mantra is “get it done”. If one sales guy needs it, it’s worth doing. If customers ask it, it’s worth answering for all. Not everything deserves the same time and attention, but most times it is just easy to knock something out than complain about doing more.

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