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Published June 29th 2017

Interview: Mike Volpe Shares His Success Stories

We sit down with CMO, investor and advisor Mike Volpe and grill him on his history, his successes, and his views on all things marketing.

In our industry expert interview series, we love talking to thought leaders and learning from brilliant minds in the digital space.

In today’s edition, I had the absolute pleasure to talk to Mike Volpe, CMO at Cybereason, which is one of the hottest startups in cybersecurity and recently raised $100m.

He was previously with Hubspot, where he joined as the fifth employee and as CMO helped the company grow from about a dozen beta customers to over 15,000 customers, 1,000 employees, $150m in revenue, and an IPO leading to a $1.7B market cap.

Mike is also involved in more than 25 startups as an angel investor and advisor. 

Pretty impressive, huh?

Without further ado, let’s dive into his thoughts on measuring metrics that matter, the future of marketing, the role of the CMO in a digitalized company and much more.


Ice breaker: What is your favorite Twitter account and marketing blog?

There’s a lot but I think a couple that stood out to me were on the Twitter side, Aaron Levie, who’s the CEO of Box, I love his account because it’s really funny and he does an interesting job of blending current events with things that are happening in tech.

And then for a blog, I tried to pick one that was maybe a little bit less common than the really big ones. I think the company Drift does a really good job. What I like about them especially is the signal to noise ratio is very high, like they don’t necessarily publish lots of articles, but when they publish something it’s very good, typically.

Could you tell me a bit about your marketing background?

I’ve been doing marketing for about eighteen years. My first job out of university was working in investment banking, which wasn’t about marketing at all, except for a few things that helped me prepare for a marketing career.

The first thing was tons of analytical training, and so I lived in Excel for two years and learned a lot about how companies are valued, how to think about finance, how to read accounting statements, and so on.

And then the second thing was that, as an investment banker, you’re always trying to actually market the companies that you’re working with, to investors or other companies.

It was that aspect of trying to really understand a company, what is special about it and to use that to market it, that was what I really fell in love with.

And once I realized that was marketing, then I left and joined a start-up – so I’ve basically been working in marketing and start-ups for eighteen years or so.

With the rise of digitalization and social media, how do you feel that the role of the CMO within a company has changed?

It’s changed a lot and I think there are a couple of reasons why.

Firstly, there’s a lot more trackable tools available now. So most of the new techniques that have come about in the past five to ten years are way more trackable than most of the things that we were doing before them.

The role of the CMO has changed to be more of a technologist. You need to really understand a lot of the sort of digital interactions that people are having. You don’t need to be an expert on all the new platforms but at least you should be fluent in them.

A lot of the better CMOs have at least tried to use Snapchat and new video platforms just to understand them and get a sense of what’s possible and not possible on them.

Then, the other side of it is because all those platforms are generally way more measurable than most things we were able to do before, you need to be much more analytical.

What are the key differences between being a CMO for Enterprise companies versus SMB?

There are a few key differences; the sales process is obviously very different.

For enterprise companies, the sales process is typically much longer. There are way more buyers involved, who are being more conservative in their buying approach and they’re making more of a commitment.

Additionally, there’s a lot more one-to-one work that’s happening with sales.

There’s also more kind of customization and investment that you can make in each individual deal, so you know, if you’re selling SMB and a sales rep comes to marketing and says, ‘Hey, for this customer we want to do this customized presentation,’ you’re going to laugh at them because you’re like, ‘We can’t make that investment in each deal, there’s way too many deals.’

But the enterprise, you’ll probably say, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea, let’s do even maybe a custom event,’ or something similar for that one individual customer because of the size of the deal.

So what it really means is that there’s a much broader array of marketing tactics.

I always felt like at HubSpot and even to some degree Solidworks where I was before, I had to learn a narrower number of marketing tactics extremely well. At HubSpot, because of the economics of those customers and the fact that they were so much smaller – the deals were so much smaller – we had to get extremely good at the most efficient marketing tactics.

And that’s really valuable because you can then use those tactics in other companies. But I think what’s interesting is that here at Cybereason I can use almost every marketing tactic under the sun because the customer life time value is so much higher, it’s in a completely different universe than it was for me previously.

You need to make sure that you’re using all the tactics that are available and in the right combination.

So we definitely do a lot more trade shows here, we do a lot more outbound, there’s a lot more traditional stuff that’s happening, but the economics really make it work. When we look at the ROI of all those activities, it’s actually quite high because we don’t need that many new deals to come in to very easily pay for a number of different marketing tactics.

How should brands respond to the decreasing attention span of their potential customers?

The most important thing is just to have a high signal to noise ratio and make sure that the game you want to play today is not to publish lots of stuff, but to publish really good stuff.

And so if you can only publish a little bit of really good stuff, that’s fine. If you can publish a lot of really good stuff, then that’s better, but make sure that your quality bar on your content is really high.

And it mostly boils down to not interrupting the content that people want to consume. You want to be the content that they want to consume, right?

You asked me earlier what Twitter account and blog do I like most. Those are places where I go and I want to consume that content. Those are the accounts that have earned my attention because the content quality is really high.

The game that marketers need to play today, is to earn that attention and not interrupt people with ads or other distractions. Simply provide the content that people are seeking.

What are the KPIs brands should measure on social media? What matters most? How important are metrics such as Likes and Retweets?

All this boils down to what your goals are, so consumer brands might have different goals than a B2B company.

The most important thing is to tie your social media goals back to your overall marketing and frankly overall business goals. Try to measure metrics that are close to revenue whenever possible, because that is the ultimate goal of every business.

Likes and retweets are good and certainly a strong measure of engagement, and more is better than less for sure, but I think you also want to look at how many people are moving from those social sites onto my main website? How many of those people are then going on to make a purchase or sign up for something?

Even just asking people when they buy How did you hear about us? Do you interact with us on social media? Did you find us through Google? and seeing what percentage of people really attribute that to social media, can be, in some ways, the most simplistic but frankly sometimes the most valuable KPI.

Which marketing area do you think is going to be growing the most or changing drastically over the next five to ten years?

A lot of people would say video, and I agree with that.

I think video is going to go from something that’s highly produced to an individual, one-to-one interaction. We’re seeing that more and more text chatting apps have now gone video and photos have become video, if you look at Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook Live.

The explosion of video in an unproduced sort of spur-of-the-moment individual interaction, will be an interesting marketing trend for a while.

We’re going to see more one-to-one interactions between companies and individual buyers done via video, than by text and email and even voice today.

That’s going to be one really interesting trend that I don’t really know that anyone can predict exactly how it’s going to come about, but I think that type of activity is something that’s going to increase.

I’ve recently learnt about your interest in increasing diversity in the Boston tech community and your “pay it forward” initiative. I’d love to hear more about it.

As an experiment, I held open office hours and so anyone could sign up for them and come meet with me. I had about 80 different appointments that I held over a three-month period with any entrepreneur or businessperson within the tech community in Boston.

The twist is that I reserved half of the spots for under-represented groups in tech, so women, people of color. It was actually a really interesting experience because there was a segment of people that met with me that were sort of ‘one degree removed’ from my network.

I met some really interesting entrepreneurs and it definitely helped me expand my network and make it work differently than it did previously. This was great as diversity in opinion and connections in your own personal network makes it a lot more valuable.

You were behind the success and rapid growth of the INBOUND conference and turning it into one of the most important events in our industry today. What advice would you give to marketers aspiring to get to that level of excellence?

We grew the Inbound Conference from 350 people to over 10,000, but it would not be successful if we hadn’t built a movement around the Inbound term, right?

The most important thing you can think about if you want to have a very large conference someday, is figure out what is your unique view on the world and try to create a movement around that.

The Inbound Conference, in some ways, is like the family reunion of the Inbound movement that happens every year. So people are interacting on social media, reading blogs, sharing useful content all year long, and then the Inbound Conference is when they come together in person.

Having a unique view, knowing that there’s content that you get at the Inbound Conference that you can’t get anywhere else and tying it to that big inbound movement were some of the key aspects.

One of the key hacks to making a conference grow over time, is focus almost all of your time and effort on the content. If you have a high attendee NPS and the content is very good, they’ll come back.

Additionally, if you have a high repeat rate that will give you good word of mouth, it also makes it easier to hit your attendance numbers in the future, and it’s much easier to grow, obviously, if most of the people that attended your event previously, are coming back. So I think that’s really the key thing – focus on that attendee NPS and the way to drive that is have really, really good content.

Having famous speakers helps get people to sign up for the event, but attendees will only come back the next year if most of the talks that they went to were really good.

I think you need a few famous speakers to get the event off the ground and lend it some credibility.

Famous people usually do a pretty good job at giving a good talk, but in the early years of Inbound we tried to get a lot of practitioners that could offer very relevant and specific advice.

How do you measure success? What does a successful day look like for you?

What I love about marketing is it’s become very analytical, and so to me success is when you can feel and see it in the metrics.

So for most of the key marketing KPIs, we track our progress daily, so when I look at those reports I feel like we really made a dent in the number.

When we hit a goal early or when we’re really crunching the metrics, that gives me a sense of accomplishment.

And that’s something that translates to the team because they can see all of that accomplishment and feel like they’re all part of something special. I tweeted recently that winning is the best form of team bonding and I firmly believe that.

You could do all of these team bonding events in the world, but if you create a culture where your team is on a regular basis hitting their goals and exceeding their goals, that to me is the best form of team bonding.

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