Elissa Fink was Tableau Software’s CMO for over 11 years and retired at the end of 2018. She is credited with driving marketing strategy and execution through all stages of growth, taking the company from a small startup with ~$5 million in revenue to a publicly held industry leader with over $1 billion in revenue.
Elissa built the Tableau brand and cultivated the enthusiastic Tableau fanbase from just a few hundred to hundreds of thousands.She serves on boards including Pantheon, Qumulo, Concora and Uberflip.
She also advises fast-growth tech companies in scaling and marketing strategy including Outreach, Exasol, Saviynt and Intellimize. She occasionally teaches at the University of Washington.
Welcome to Goldcast Radio - a brand new podcast that gives you a sneak peek inside the mind of modern field marketers, demand generation folks & CMOs.
Every week, Kishore Kothandaraman (Co-founder, Goldcast.io) interviews the thought leaders in event marketing and delves deep into their experience.
What’s broken about events & how could it be made better? What advice do they have for up-and-coming field marketers? What are the institutional/ operational challenges that are associated with being an event marketer?
Goldcast Radio is made up of real-life stories that help you navigate the challenges of the role that is extremely important in creating great digital experiences.
Hey, Elissa. Thanks a lot for coming to Goldcast Radio
Yeah. Thank you, Kishore. It's great to be here.
Awesome. Elissa, so you know, I think ever since you became an investor for Goldcast, we've had a bunch of calls.
And the one thing that came out over during interactions is the energy you show in every call. You have amazing energy. Like, how is that possible?
You know it's one of those things; I think it just comes naturally to me. And many years ago, I felt like I had to suppress it a bit because I'm a naturally enthusiastic and optimistic person.
At some point, I realized, no, I need not suppress who I am; I just need to be around people and situations that appreciate that. And so bringing energy to something comes naturally to me.
And I want to be in places and work with people like you guys who are also optimistic, want to grow, and are enthusiastic about the future.
It just builds naturally when you're in something that you feel positive about and look forward to it. You know, that's how the energy builds, and you pass it on. I think that's a cool thing, too, especially when teams come together. So, it's been fun to work with you guys.
That's awesome. You know there are a couple of things about your background that really stood out. I saw that you started your role at sales at the Wall Street Journal and then moved to marketing. Any particular reason why?
Well, yeah, I was an English major in college and trying not to do very much. So sales were an easy avenue; it was an easy opportunity for a first job. But I also think it was a good place for me because I enjoy people.
I like being around people. I like talking about ideas. Sales are all about being around people, helping them, persuading them, and working with them. So it was a good training background.
But I also realized in those five years at the Wall Street Journal that it wasn't really my thing; I'm a good opener, but I'm not a great closer, particularly when it comes to sales. So I realized that what I loved was the ability to persuade people, look at data, talk about data, facts, and numbers. And I realized I loved that.
So, as I was selling the Wall Street Journal, which is a lot about selling audience demographics and numbers, I realized I loved how I could reach the right audience with the right message? How much advertising do you need to do to get it, right? I came to realize that I liked those numbers. I liked the research. I liked marketing information. I liked talking about marketing. And that's what got me into marketing, marketing analytics, and marketing data.
That's interesting. So I want to understand that when you were trying to switch to Tableau, it would have been a very pivotal decision in your life, right? Because it was so early in the company's journey, probably 5-million-dollar arr. What made you make that shift from your previous role to Tableau? Especially when it was so young.
Yeah, that's a great question. Especially since I was a good seven to ten years older than the rest of the executive team, it was a little late in my career for a start-up, but at the time, I just was looking for something.
I had also realized that it was really important for me to do something that I loved. Be passionate about it.
Believe in the mission and be around smart people. And that in and of itself is part of your compensation package.
And I also realized by having jobs that I didn't love, the harder it is to work somewhere, the more you dislike the people, the more you don't believe in the management's mission, the more you question their style, the more you need to be paid more for it.
This is because you feel you're making so many compromises. But I knew that if I could just be happy at work and enjoy it and feel like I was achieving something and making the most of my skills, that would be a great thing.
And so when I was looking around for something to do after I moved to the West Coast, I found this company, and I tried the product. And it hit me; this is how I wanted to use my knowledge of data.
I just knew they were going to do something great. And then you look at the people and the mission, and you talk about it, and you realize, this is a great group of people with a great mission and a great product.
I thought to myself; this is a winner. In fact, I remember my husband saying to me, are you sure we should move 3000 miles with a new baby to Seattle, where we don't know anybody, for a 30-person company? And I was like, oh, it's a no brainer, of course. But I realized, looking back, it was pretty risky. But for me, it was the right decision.
So I think it's just one of those things where you get attuned with what you want in life and out of your day. You know, it's not just about the money. It's not just about the accolades. It's not just about what you build or whatever. It's about what you do every day and whether it brings you joy.
And I just knew that the work I was going to be able to do at Tableau, being in charge of marketing, making smart calls, driving demand, building a company, that was stuff I wanted to fill my days with. To me, it was the right move.
Interesting. I think many B2B companies these days have started to spend a lot of time thinking deeply about branding, am I right? Like, how do you build a phenomenal brand that people remember? Companies that are doing well like Drift, Gong, and companies of that sort have built a phenomenal social brand. And you guys did it for Tableau. Ever since its inception, it has come a long way. I have to ask, what are three things that you did to build a brand that became a fundamental moat for your company?
First, I think as a marketer, and even in a growth stage company, where it's about pipeline and revenue, and delivering results, the brand is really important. Do you know what I mean? Because even if you're just thinking about the pipeline, revenue, demand, and results, the brand can take you so far.
If you create a consistent brand and voice, and people recognize it and want to be a part of it, it's going to amplify everything you do. It's just going to make all your demand generation that much better. So much stronger.
And so at Tableau, we've always invested in demand generation that touches the brand. And of course, that meant we were spending a lot of money generating demand. But every touch we made was about how to support, define, and reinforce the brand.
Because it's a cycle.
One feeds the other; one amplifies the other. And so if you can build a brand or start building a brand that generates demand, you're amplifying results. This was especially true for Tableau as we brought in customers who were part of the community.
They want to talk about you, and if you facilitate that, this will amplify your brand. It's all interrelated. I look at it as a flywheel.
And that's sort of a popular way to think about funnels now. I have always thought about building the brand, attracting the prospects, keeping the customers in your community talking about the brand, attracting more prospects, getting more customers who amplify your brand, and in turn bring you even more prospects.
So it's very interconnected. And I think the brand is a big deal.
I would encourage marketers to be very focused, especially B2B marketers. They need to focus on results and what they're generating.
You don't have a lot of money to just do crazy, big brand things, especially in the early days. But you can be guerilla and be scrappy. Realize that every touch you make in every market is defining, refining, and saying who you are and why your brand is a big deal. To build a strong brand, know what your brand stands for, and reinforce it in everything you do.
It's also about generating results for your company. So, it's not good enough to just spend and build a brand. If you're spending to build a brand and the brand is not delivering demand, customers, prospects, and renewing existing customers, then your brand's not doing its job.
That's a good point you made there. Companies in the early stages don't have enough money to spend on building a brand of sorts. And you also mentioned 'guerilla marketing tactics' and being scrappy to bring the
I know it's sort of going down memory lane. But do you know what you guys did in Tableau that brought the community together? Could you list out two key things?
Well, for sure. I remember the first thing before I joined the company, and while attending interviews was doing my research. At the time, I remember saying to myself, boy, this company has an incredible product.
I loved the product, but also people loved the product, you could see that. The product was getting these incredible reviews. Though the numbers were small, they were significant.
Hence, one thing you need to do is come to the truth about whether you have something that people want to talk about, something that they can gather around and be a part of. Tableau had that. So I don't want to take any credit for the community itself. Still, I think I could take credit for recognizing; they had an opportunity to build a community that supported them.
And so we made the most of it. We realized that these people would want to be connections; we want to be present; we want to make them successful. Because if we do and they love the product, they'll talk about it, and if we include them and make them feel included, they're going to invest more into it. And they're also going to talk about it more. So I would say, first of all, make sure you have the product that people want to gather around that people want to be a part of.
Second, even as a small company, make sure you're doing things to be inclusive of those customers in as personal a way as possible. Because people want to connect with people, though they connect with brands, they almost see a brand as another person they're relating to.
The people behind that brand, like, you know, the founders, the engineers, the salespeople, have them make sure that you all stand for the brand. And the same way, the voice of the brand has to reflect the culture of the company so that when the people of the company go and talk to the customers and prospects, they're reflective of the brand experience everyone is expecting.
And so that's very connected, it's got to be personal. And I think Tableau was very deliberate about building the kind of culture and company employee base we wanted to build. But it was very reflective of the brand as well. The brand and the culture went hand in glove. Had we had a different company culture and people than what the brand represented, we would not have been as successful. So I think the second thing is, make sure to build a community around your brand, but then make sure that your culture and your people and your brand is exactly the kind of community you want to be. And we were lucky that it all came together. It was the culture of the brand.
Yeah, you know, that is a nice segue to the topic that I want to discuss today, especially the Modern marketing community, especially the field marketing community. But before that, I want to touch upon one point: you've been the CMO of a large company and your work with multiple different CMOS of growing companies. So, if you have to draw two, three things that make a CMO very successful, what would you say makes a modern CMO?
Wow. One of the most important things is to be result-oriented, be data-driven, realize how you can move the needle for the company, like in the current quarter, in the current year, and so on.
You got to be in there with sales, creating customers for life, and being present. Secondly, or another point would be, but you have to think a little further out than other people are thinking, you've got to be thinking about how you're going to scale and build the brand for next year and the year after? And what are the things you're going to need in a year or two?
I remember a template, for example, there was a company selling a small deal of one license or two licenses at a time to people, but I knew we were going to go enterprise someday. And I knew that analysts were going to be really important to us - especially in our space, business intelligence.
So I started investing in our Gartner relationship pretty early on. And some folks thought it was too early, but I really felt like I needed to start establishing a relationship with Gartner, getting their input, talking to them, getting them aware of us. And I think that was a good move.
The work we did was to feed and foster the Gartner relationship and get the Gartner input. They helped us, and we influenced them, vice versa. And though it didn't pay off that year, it probably paid off a year later or a year after that, but it paid off.
So, as a marketer, you have to keep your mind on today's results, this quarter, this year. Still, you also have to be the company to look at the person looking around the corner; what are you likely to need for the market?
This is because markets soften over time. And so you have to be ready to help soften it as it's happening. And if we had started three years later, to get a Gartner relationship when we should have already had it, it would have been a lot harder and wouldn't have been as successful. I think it wouldn't have worked out as well.
As a marketer, you have to be in both places. In today's world, you need to generate results, generate demand, make things happen, and have a foot in the future. Get ready to scale and prepare for what you may need in a year or two. Because in the markets, people's minds don't change quickly, so you have to work on it. And so to just go out there and start with a new message, it's going to take time.
So if you know, six months, a year, 18 months in advance, that your product will launch somewhere down the road, you got to start telling that story or preparing to sell that story to soften the ground for that story to grow. So I think that's the second thing.
And I guess the third thing I was going to say is the need to be a really good collaborator. A lot of people say it's a bridge, we've got to build a bridge between these two departments. Well, I say yeah, build a bridge and be willing to walk all the way across the bridge. Don't say I'm going to meet sales halfway. Or don't say you're going to meet finance or dev halfway. Be willing to go all the way across the bridge that you're building because you're setting a great example, you're creating empathy, you're listening, and you're trying to understand them.
That way, you can understand their problems, understand how things connect, and you can help them, and they can help you. So, I would encourage marketers to think about how you connect all the way through to the other silo or the other department and try to make an impact because it's hard. It's hard out there for marketers of all disciplines. We do a lot of things that don't pay back fast; we spend money, a lot of finance and accounting, and even CEOs and executives think marketing is like a spending group or an investing group. We do have a lot of budgets.
So you have to be willing to build those bridges and be great collaborators because a lot of the stuff we have to accommodate and accomplish doesn't show up in black and white. It shows up in shades of grey that take time to turn to black and white. So you've got to build those relationships and build that trust.
And one way to build trust is to trust the other guys and go all the way to understand them. Putting yourself out there makes a big impact, and you need to represent your team and what you do strongly while being open to see how that fits into the rest of the company.
Yeah, so if I had to summarize it for the audience, while I may be oversimplifying this, three things you said are to be very self-focused, be data-driven, and work-oriented. The second you mentioned is futuristic regarding how the markets move and not just focus on current trends. And the third point is to be a collaborator, figuring out what you want to work with, what does the CEO want, etc. And adjust your tactics to meet those needs.
Points one and three are the points you mentioned in terms of working with sales teams closely and driving results? One of the teams in the marketing division that does well is the field marketing team, don't they? But
there are very different definitions of field marketing. So, according to you, what is field marketing?
It has different definitions across companies. Same with product management and product marketing, very different definitions. But to me, field marketing is a lot about where the rubber meets the road. It's where sales and marketing have to connect to deliver on the promise of the company's potential. It's everything you do as a marketing team, hand in glove with sales, create customers, and expand those customers.
So where you might have a centralized demand generation group, creating early leads, or creating the brand, or creating awareness, field marketing is taking it even deeper, going a little further. It's where account relationships happen. Deeper relationships with customers happen, where you're expanding, where you're nurturing them, from a warm or hot lead to an actual relationship and then expanding it. So it's everything you do hand in glove with sales to deliver on the customer's promise and then keep that customer going.
You work to the point where you could say field marketing is almost an arm of customer success because the relationships happen in the field. And so field marketing is a lot where the relationships happen, what you're doing to help the relationships happen. So there's a lot of things that it could include and not include.
Sometimes, organizations are formed based on the talent they have and their priorities and objectives. But yeah, it's the marketing that's happening right there at the site. The point of customer creation.
Yeah. One of the misconceptions that people have about field marketing is that it's just about events. They are very good at trade shows, sponsor booths. But I think from what you've described, it's not just that, but really working closely with sales teams and accelerating the pipeline depending on what those particular accounts need. Is that right?
Yeah, that's true. Now field events, events in the field, or events for the field or your customers, in particular, are certainly a huge part of it. Events have a lot to do with field marketing.
But it's also things you do with customers. I was recently at a virtual customer event where a customer of Tableau was having a virtual gathering of all their analysts. The field marketing team and the sales team were working very closely to help them have a great set of active, engaged virtual content. And they asked me to speak on this topic, and I was delighted as it was someone I knew from when I left Tableau - one of the leaders at this company. And they were putting together this amazing virtual event. It was not just about putting on a tradeshow or a dinner, but about facilitating the relationship.
It was like, 'Hey, we're putting together this thing to dig deeper, to get to know these people better and to help them make the most of their Tableau investment'. And that's how field marketing did a lot of work around that.
And it's not just about the virtual events; there could have been a lot of account-based marketing, there could have also been content creation and the kinds of things that field marketing does. The differentiating point is its infield.
That's a good point. Since you mentioned many things, I want to pick on the KPIs that field marketers should keep in mind. If they have to be successful in their job, what should they measure themselves on every month?
Oh, boy, that's a great question. And there's a lot of things depending on how you define field marketing. You certainly have your priority accounts. I think the other thing that happens in the field is that there's a lot of focus on priority accounts.
First of all, be clear about who your priority accounts are, what's in your territory, what you're trying to sell and engage and advance, and then what you're trying to do is you're trying to measure engagement. And so that could be a lot of different ways.
I have seen some companies that even measure the number of names for the set of accounts. While I am not a fan of this territory, they act as engagement leads. Like people who come and watch a webinar, people who respond, download a white paper, attend, or don't attend an event.
So, some people are very metric around the engagement, some people metric at the individual level, some people metric around weekly, etc.,. We were very fortunate because we could measure many things, measure around account engagement, like how engaged is this account? Are they using the product? Are they downloading content? Are they engaging on our website? Are they calling support or their support tickets? So there are all kinds of ways to measure account engagement.
You can sort of make metrics that tell you these are our most important accounts, and this is where field marketing is concentrated on; these are being engaged, these aren't being engaged so much. So there's lots of stuff, there's revenue, you could use it in the pipeline, or you could measure it naturally.
But what happens, especially with field accounts that are focused, is that it's not always so smooth. You climb a hill toward a big deal, and then for some time, it's about the deployment of that big deal so you don't have so much pipeline, but you still might need to support them to ensure that they renew. So I think it depends.
I'm in favor of measuring more than one metric. I don't want to be overloaded with too many little metrics. But I think if you know what your priorities are for the existing set of accounts, or that particular territory, those factors should drive the metrics you want to measure. There is a valid need to measure engagement, either by leads, hot leads, conversations, engagement, or pipeline opportunities created. All that stuff is really important.
The further you get down the pipeline, the less marketing there is, so I would suggest metrics like leads and engagements because that's sort of very direct about like, how's your field marketing team doing? And then there are soft metrics where you talk to people. How's it going? How is the relationship going? Are the field marketing teams and the sales teams in that territory working well together? These are legitimate qualitative ways to measure how you're doing.
Yeah. As you said, field marketers have to work closely with sales teams. But I remember one of our conversations where we discussed how, when organizations grow; it becomes harder for field marketing and sales to work together, right?
How could they resolve it? Is it a redesign to allocate field marketing for one particular territory when they work with sales teams? Does it solve the problem? Or how should they sort of make sure that they work on other things?
Yeah, I think depending on your size, it does become smart to start allocating field marketing to redirect the sales team. Like this is the territory, or these are the territories you work; this is the sales team you're aligned with.
I think that's because you have those spheres of marketer's metrics we just talked about for that specific territory or region. So I think as you grow, aligning them super tightly is a really good idea.
Now, sometimes you see some organizations where field marketing might move into sales and report into sales. Now, that's okay in certain environments, but I'm not a big fan because sometimes you end up being a sales assistance or sales support, as opposed to a true field marketer. Like you do things to prepare that market for a sales initiative or sales effort, because a lot of times in field marketing, your goal is to stimulate demand for that territory, regardless of which accounts or maybe even for a particular vertical.
And so I think it depends on your size, but if you're just recording the sales, you sometimes get driven too deep into the funnel. And you're not doing the stuff at the upper funnel that would develop those accounts, those territories, and those verticals. So I'm not a big fan of that. Though I've seen it work, you do get this divide between field marketing and marketing, and the branding gets off, the messaging gets off, and you start seeing a little messiness. And I think that by field marketing, being in marketing, but having, the rubber meets the road, the strong relationship with sales, tied to the same kind of goals or metrics, the same territory, the success of that territory, you can build and reinforce solid bridges between marketing and sales.
This can be done via your field marketing group because they can be your eyes and ears and bring all that knowledge that they see and feel in the field, bring it all back to marketing, and make sure that everything you're doing at scale and marketing, nationally or globally, or by region, is in tune with what's happening in the market. And then, of course, it works the other way as well - you drive a lot of your content, messaging, ideation campaigns, through your fields marketers to your sales team and those territories, so that becomes a very smooth process. The process almost becomes part of sales enablement and sales engagement. And in a lot of ways, field marketing can help that process.
So on that point, I think a lot of things you said make sense. But one of the things I was wondering is that a lot of CMOs I've seen have been product marketers or big demand Gen leaders before, but not many have been field marketers. So what should field marketers do? What do you think about it?
Yeah, that's a great question. I think that you do see that pattern for a couple of reasons. And it has to do with the things I mentioned you need to do as a marketer. So, on the one hand, field marketers need to be strong in their result orientations. But because they're so tied to sales, and their quota, their quarterly quotas, their annual quotas, sometimes the field marketer doesn't get to be strategic about the direction of the company, the direction of the marketing, the direction of the message, or even the brand's direction. They're very focused on how to win the account, how to win the business, how to develop this vertical that they don't get the opportunity to show that they can be incredibly strategic and far forward-thinking.
And that's why you might see that field marketers don't always get the chance to show that. So if you're a field marketer, you ought to be thinking of opportunities to show how you think strategically. The thing that's nice about field marketing is you're generally closer to customers and have more of the customer's voice in your head.
Use that customer voice and don't just do the typical field marketing events and field marketing activities. But when you're talking to customers, talk to them about their problems, where do they see the market going next, because you can be a great source back to corporate, back to the central folks about what's really happening, not just today in the field, but what are the trends in the field? What are you seeing? So make a point of being someone who talks to customers, not just about this thing right now, but where is the industry going, what kind of problems do they have, how can we help you help them more? Etc.,
This way, you can feed information that drives strategy. As you learn more about customers and forward-thinking, you'll be more strategic as you'll be looking further down the road, you'll be thinking about what your customers are telling you about the future, about the problems they're worried about, about the things they want to solve next.
So, use your position as being close to the customer and learn and ask questions. And then don't be afraid to think forward and share that so that people can start to see you really in touch with market results. Strategically think about why this will work and why this won't? People will soon start to see you as a more strategic player.
What you said makes complete sense to me because I believe those field marketers who do an incredible job getting so drawn into the tactical aspects of work that they sometimes forget about the measurability of what they're doing; how is it contributing to the pipeline? And showing that to the internal stakeholders becomes important as well. You have to show them. Hey, you know what? I did this. This is what pipeline expectations are.
Cool, that's it. That brings to the end of our podcast. One last question that I had is for the audience listening to this, you're semi-retired, right? And you will be advising a lot of boards, joining a few boards. So how is this phase of your life been compared to the previous hectic phases?
You know, I feel so lucky. It's been incredible. It's been really fun. I enjoyed it. I remember the first couple of weeks after I went into this semi-retirement. I woke up and looked at my calendar, and I was like, Oh my God, I don't have 60 meetings this week. It was like, I'm in control of my time. And so it's enjoyable for me because I love it. I love the growth journey.
I love what I did at Tableau. I can't even imagine finding another opportunity like that. But to be able to find companies in different stages that have that in front of them. And being a sideline coach or advisor to that, instead of a player, is fun. I enjoy it a lot. It's another phase, you know of your life and my life, and I love it. I do. It's fun; I feel very lucky to be involved with companies like yours and other companies that just have this bright future ahead of them. It's really exciting to see.
Awesome. Thanks, Elissa, for coming on the podcast.
My pleasure. Awesome. Yeah. Great to see you.