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How Driving Meaningful Change Can Shape Your Marketing Career    

Olin Hyde

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Today we're talking with special guest John Ellet, CEO of Springbox. He's also a contributing author for Forbes magazine, and the author of the book "The CMO Manifesto: A 100 Day Action Plan for Marketing Change Agents." With any luck, he'll take us on a deep dive of change management for marketing professionals. LeadCrunch[ai] uses artificial intelligence to drastically improve the performance of B2B demand generation campaigns through account-based "lookalike" modeling. Click the link for more information. https://leadcrunch.com/solutions/

Posted by LeadCrunch on Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Hosts: Dave Green & Jonathan Greene

Guest(s): John Ellet, CEO of Springbox 

Topic: B2B Marketing

Subtopic:  Organizational 

Duration: 26 minutes

In this episode of the Green & Greene Show, the LeadCrunch B2B podcast, seasoned marketing experts discuss how driving meaningful change can shape your marketing career. 


  • Introducing John Ellet, CEO, Author & Marketing Change Agent 
  • About Springbox: Demand Gen & Digital for Uncommon Growth 
  • Driving Change Without Losing Your Job 
  • What ideas are really worth sticking your neck out for? 
  • How do you know when it’s time to change marketing tactics?
  • Finding Allies & Advocates To Drive Meaningful Change
  • What You Can Learn from the Naysayers 
  • Marketing vs. Sales: Why Organizational Alignment is still a struggle
  • Why Being a Change Agent Is Good for Your Career

Podcast Transcript


[0:00:05.1] ANNOUNCER: Live from the city with the most perfect weather ever, San Diego, California, all the way to the gleaming shores of Jacksonville, Florida, it’s the Green & Greene Show. Here are your hosts, Dave Green and Jonathan Greene, goofing off instead of working while unlocking the mysteries of demand gen. The Green & Greene Show is brought to you by LeadCrunch, which has reimagined how to find B2B lookalike audiences.


[0:00:33.3] JG: It’s Green and Greene Show time, Dave. I’m excited. Are you excited? 

[0:00:38.4] DG: I am cartwheels and handstands.

Introducing John Ellet, CEO, Author & Marketing Change Agent 

[0:00:43.3] JG: Our special guest today is John Ellet. He’s the CEO of Springbox. We are moving on up in the world, Dave. We’re getting CEOs on this thing now.

[0:00:52.3] DG: I know, it’s really pretty cool. We don’t deserve it, so thank you, John.

[0:00:57.0] JE: Happy to be here.

[0:00:58.8] JG: He also wrote a book. It’s called The CMO Manifesto: A 100-Day Action Plan for Marketing Change Agents. Dave, am I an agent of change? What do you think about that?

[0:01:09.3] DG: You are a change agent. I’m trying to get you to slow down so that we don’t have to change so much so fast, but yeah, absolutely.

[0:01:15.7] JG: Trying to change more than my underwear in the marketing department here.

[0:01:18.8] DG: You know, this is one of my favorite topics. I’ve been involved in some pretty dramatic changes, and obviously, John, you have as well. I just want to say to all the people out there who are not CMOs, this is a playbook that you can help your CMO implement as well, so stay tuned and instead of griping about all the things that maybe are broken and not working inside of your organization, help be that agent of change in making it better. 

With that said, John, thanks so much for coming here. Tell us a little bit first about your background and about Springbox if you would.

About Springbox: Demand Gen & Digital for Uncommon Growth 

[0:01:57.4] JE: Absolutely. I’m thrilled to be able to lead a team here called Springbox, a Prophet company based in Austin. Our focus is doing demand generation programs and building digital experiences for clients of all types, primarily mid-size and large companies in lots of different industries. My career started as a client-side marketer, so I have a real affinity for what it’s like to be a marketing leader inside a company.

I started as an advertising manager on the original IBM PC, launched the next generation of PCs for IBM. Then, we came out here at Austin and started marketing functions for what became Dell. For many years, I was an inside Dell change agent. I eventually became what we today describe as the CMO of North America at Dell, but for the first several years, a lot of my role was as a change agent, supporting the organization not from the top but kind of from the middle.

To your point, you don’t have to be the CMO to be a change agent. Fortunately for me, I stuck my neck out at the right time in a few situations and they worked. It helped accelerate my career, so I would encourage your listeners to think of themselves as change agents who can make an impact for their companies also.

[0:03:25.2] JG: Dave, we have a CMO ascended to the lofty title of CEO here. That almost never happens. We’re basically looking at the Loch Ness Monster.

[0:03:35.7] JE: I’ve been called worse, so thank you very much.

Driving Change Without Losing Your Job 

[0:03:41.3] DG: One question I have. I don’t know about you, John, but I learned a lot more from my mistakes than I did from my success in my career, and unfortunately, I’ve had a few mistakes. When you look back at driving change, if there’s one thing that you have learned that you don’t do, what would that be? What counsel would you have for other would-be change agents out there who want to help drive change inside their organizations?

[0:04:09.9] JE: I think being a bull in a China shop and trying to do it all on your own is not the right way to make change happen. I think the most effective change—and I talk about this for CMOs in the book—is get your allies. If you’ve got a change that you think that organization needs to make, who are the other people you need to help support that change? Enroll them as partners in the change process and don’t feel like you’ve got to take the credit all to yourself.

You may be the instigator. You may be the one who has the vision for whatever that change is, but if you’re trying to do it on your own, it just going to be really hard. The more effective you can be at bringing allies into the process early and helping them be co-conspirators in the process, I think the more effective you’re going to be in the long run.

[0:05:10.2] JG: I was going to ask. You earlier mentioned sticking your neck out at the right times. I’m curious if you have any advice for sticking your neck out without getting your head lopped off?

What ideas are really worth sticking your neck out for? 

[0:05:23.6] JE: Do your homework to the point where you feel like what you’re advocating has a chance of succeeding and place your bets. Don’t go all in on the wrong idea. Make sure that it’s something you’ve got a strong conviction for. For marketers, a lot of times, the conviction can come from understanding the customer. If you’re advocating something because you’ve talked to customers, you understand what the issues are and what you’re doing, it helps the company be more successful with customers.

That’s a pretty good place to stick your neck out. Doing it on behalf of the customers is usually pretty good idea.

[0:06:13.7] DG: You talk a little bit about the research and doing your homework. What does that typically consist of if you’re in charge of a marketing function? What are the key elements of homework that you think absolutely matter for driving change? 

[0:06:31.6] JE: I believe if you start with what the organization is trying to do as a good grounding. What’s the company’s mission? What’s the company trying to achieve? What are the values of the company? Then, when you realize that something isn’t right, that either something’s not happening to live up to the values or there’s a program that accelerates the objective that you’re trying to accomplish (penetrate a new market, launch a new product, acquire customers, be more efficient with your budget), whatever those parameters are, it’s a lot easier to put your ideas in the context of the bigger business issues. If you can do that and you’re aligning the change you’re trying to make to the score card that the CEO or the CMO or your director has, the more likely it’s going to line up to be part of something they can support. You’re advocating change because from your perspective, you see something that they don’t see.

Believe me, as a CEO or a CMO, there are a lot of things that we just can’t see at the level of detail that somebody who’s operating it day to day can, and to not be a victim of “Things aren’t going right,” and “Woe is me,” and “Boy, is that the senior leadership is all screwed up and they don’t know what they’re doing.” 

Trying to live that way every day, well, that’s no fun. They don’t want it to be that way. If you’ve got a better way to do something that achieves the business results, take it forward. Most CEOs and CMOs are happy to have somebody take initiative from their team to figure out a better way because we know we don’t have all the answers. We have an idea of where we’re trying to go, but there’s just no way we can possibly know everything about everything, so it helps to have key members who are willing to have a thoughtful idea to do something better and think about the implications, not just for your own part of the world but what they do that may affect other parts of the organization. 

To have thought through that part of the homework assignment, to know that if you’re going to do something different, what the implications are, and to know that those implications are not going to be disastrous for other people, that it’s actually an accretive recommendation that the organization can support. I think all senior leaders are looking for people on their team who are willing to come forward with some good ideas.

How do you know when it’s time to change marketing tactics? 

[0:09:29.6] JG: How do you differentiate between when it’s time to grind through difficult things and when it’s time for change. I feel like, for a lot of marketers, the last they need is carte blanche to go ahead and start changing tactics every time things get difficult. Help me zero in on when to know that it’s time to become a change agent as opposed to persevering through tactics that maybe are still starting.

[0:09:56.3] JE: I think having a long-term perspective. Thinking of sailing. You know, if you know where you’re trying to go, there are times where you want to tack and adjust with the wind and figure out how to optimize based on what the data is telling you, if you’re doing demand gen programs.

Sometimes certain things you’re testing work great, so you want to double down there. In other cases, they’re not working. Maybe you have a good status quo program, but you’re trying to figure out how to juice it a little bit. How do I come up with something new and different that’s worth testing? Then, let’s make sure the run-the-business stuff is well taken care of, and then if you’ve got a hypothesis on something else that could work, bring that forward as well. I think the folks who get in trouble are the ones who are chasing the shiny object constantly.

They’re always trying to do the shiny object and not taking care of the foundation and taking care of the basics well. They’re just kind of chasing around. Remember the movie Up? The dogs suddenly saying, “Squirrel!” That kind of change isn’t necessarily productive; it’s kind of chaotic.

Make sure you can operationalize the good ideas and keep them running while you’re looking for something new and additive. Just constantly moving and shifting from one idea to the next because somebody wrote a book or you saw a good blog post or you listened to a podcast and they had this brilliant idea, you can’t just drop everything and change for whatever that little hot dot is. 

Have a good discipline to be doing the things that you know work well and keep that going, and then think about the changes that you can add on top.

[0:11:55.5] DG: Earlier, you said something really important in my view: Don’t try to do this on your own, find some allies. Who are those people, and how do you find them?

Finding Allies & Advocates To Drive Meaningful Change

[0:12:12.4] JE: They’re all over the organization. I’m thinking back to when I was trying to advocate for some changes at Dell. One of the people I wrapped in was the CFO. He ultimately had accountability for financial performance and giving us money and proving pricing and a lot of other decisions. Making the CFO and his organization an ally was really important.

Sales. Getting the sales leaders allied is really important. Being able to make sure that what marketing and sales are doing together is a kind of a unified approach so you’re changing together, finding new way of operating more effectively. 

I got involved in a lot of product decisions, so being able to get close to the engineers and being able to make sure that we’re designing the right products for the right segments and making the right tradeoffs became really important.

Being able to connect those different constituents as you’re going through the process can be really important and gives someone organizational credibility when an idea goes up and they look around and see that other people in the room sitting around the table at the CEO’s staff meeting are saying, “Hey, we’ve talked about that. I think that’s a great idea, we should go down that path,” is helpful. Taking an idea for the first time, and the CFO has never seen it, it’s like, “What are they doing? They want to start a price war? Are you kidding?” 

That was one of the projects I had to lead was starting a price war in the PC industry in the early 90s because Dell thought they could win it. It turned out we could, and that helped accelerate the growth of the company, but there is no way that was going to be done without active involvement of the CFO. 

[0:14:20.7] JG: I was that kid, by the way, who ended up buying those computers at the lower rate. I probably bought two or three Dell computers in my early 20s. 

[0:14:29.5] JE: Well, thank you very much. 

What You Can Learn from the Naysayers 

[0:14:30.7] JG: My pleasure, happy that you had success from that. I think we need at least two or three minutes to talk about my poor character fault because I have difficulty suffering fools. I’m a smart, effective guy but sometimes when you are trying to bring people into the fold to create a changed team or change initiative, I feel like you are going to encounter people who are—let’s not call them stupid, John, let us call them “cognitively challenged” and probably don’t get it. Can you walk me through best practices for handling those very special, very lovely people? 

[0:15:05.7] JE: The naysayers. “There is no way this can happen. Are you a fool trying to do this?” There are a bunch of them out there. One of the things I found helpful was if you know who they’re going to be, get with them early and let them be critics in private. Understand this is where it gets hard sometimes because if they’re a jerk, they’re a jerk and it is hard to deal with them but sometimes you just have to try. 

If you can understand the fundamental disagreement that they have, and sometimes they actually have some well-founded reasons for objecting to the idea, some will always object just because they don’t like your beard, but they may object because they think the idea has some flaws in it. If you can separate those two issues and get to the underlying concern, it ultimately helps you craft a better idea and a better recommendation because you have taken time to listen to what the naysayers are talking about. 

It takes an active listener or somebody who is really interested in learning what the objections are to be able to then deal with it. I started my career in sales and one of the things you have to learn in sales is an objection is not a no. It is an opportunity to get to yes, but you have to be able to understand the objection and then know how to deal with it. If you do, then you can get to yes. I think that same thing happens in change initiatives. 

When the naysayers may be either caught by surprise, don’t fully understand what you are trying to do, or know that you don’t necessarily fully appreciate the implication on them, and if you can roll them in early and show that you’ve thought about the implication of the change you are trying to make on that function as part of the process, you can flip a naysayer into part of your co-conspiracy team. 

[0:17:29.2] JG: Nobody doesn’t like my beard, just for the record. 

No, you know what my best tactic is for that is, Dave? I wait until the point in the meeting where we are about to discuss my initiative, and then I pass out peanut brittles to all to the naysayers in the meeting so they just can’t talk because they’re picking their teeth. 

Marketing vs. Sales: Why Organizational Alignment is still a struggle 

[0:17:49.9] DG: John, a lot of people in our audience, being comprised of demand gen marketers, probably often have an adversarial relationship with the sales organization with both sides pointing fingers at one another and really not working together. What is your advice about the sales leadership stakeholder and how to change the conversation so that you are both working toward a common goal as oppose to at odds? 

[0:18:21.2] JE: Yeah, it is all too common, but it really shouldn’t be. You should be the sales organization’s best friend because if you do what you’re doing well, it makes their life a lot easier. Where I think things can get awry and why our process for doing ABM programs, as an example, starts with aligning on what the ideal customer profile looks like. How do you make sure you are talking to sales about who we want to talk to?

What is the best customer that I can get? There’s organizational alignment around what a best customer looks like and your demand gen programs that are designed to attract more of those kinds of best customers, then you have less of the bickering back and forth.

“Thanks for the thousand leads you just gave me but none of them are worth a dime.”

“Well, I met my KPIs. I generated a thousand leads.” 

Sales is looking at that, “Well, I didn’t sell anything so what good are you?” 

I think that dynamic unfortunately happens way too often, so I think starting the planning process together with the conversation between the sales leadership and demand gen leadership to say, “Okay, what kind of customers do we want to create? How are we going to find them? What are the steps we can take to generate them, and at what point do we want to pass them over to sales?” 

I think that that pass-over continuum is different from company to company. Some sales organizations want earlier staged leads that they can nurture and recognize, “I am not going to close 80% of the leads that are coming in that way. If I get 20% that’s good. So, I’ve got four unsuccessful sales calls and I am okay with that.” In other organizations, the sales team may be so stressed for time that, “If it is not ready for a closing conversation, I don’t want to get involved.” 

That is where this sales development, business development rep idea has evolved as sort of this nurturing between the fact that marketing and demand gen teams created a lead and it needs another conversation to understand where they’re at before that high-paid field salesperson takes over. I think getting alignment on the kind of opportunity you want and how ready you want it to be before we pass it over helps in eliminating some of the bickering back and forth. 

Get the free eBook “How to Win the Love of Sales “

[0:21:10.7] JG: Well, I couldn’t agree harder. 

[0:21:14.5] DG: Just getting clear on what the word “lead” means between the two groups is usually a big step forward. In my experience, I have interviewed hundreds of salespeople, and generally speaking, they think the lead means something like, “They want to have a conversation. They are in my target market, and they’ve got a problem that I can solve.” That is sort of a baseline definition by many of them, and you can’t actually deliver on that through lead scoring.

I don’t really know that you necessarily have a problem and I don’t know that you want to talk to sales unless you’ve clicked the box that says, “Let me talk to sales,” so that SDR function can actually go and have some richer conversations with them to just make sure of where they really are and if they’re part of the decision process or not to try to weed people out, so I totally agree. 

Well, this has really been fantastic. Share a couple of final points on driving change that you think are really important for people who want to take that journey. 

Why Being a Change Agent Is Good for Your Career

[0:22:22.6] JE: Yeah, I believe that anyone has the ability to be a change agent. The opening tenet of the manifesto is, “I am not here to maintain the status quo. I am here to be an effective agent of change for my company.” That doesn’t apply just to the CMO. It applies to anybody, and realizing that even in tumultuous times—and this is the advice I have given to folks whose companies are going through a potential layoffs and other changes and they want to duck and stay out of the line of sight—it is like that is the worst thing you can do. If you stay out of sight, nobody knows who you are, then it is likely that you are the one who gets axed in the process. When things are tough, be the one who stands up with an idea, with a recommendation, who is willing to put their neck on the line a little bit. If you are that kind of leader at whatever level, the odds are people are going to see that as a leadership skill that is worthy of advancing over time. 

The ones who are just kind of playing it safe and playing it quiet are going to be playing it safe, playing it quiet at a low level in the organization for a long time. If that is where you want to be, stay quiet and keep your head down, but if you want to advance your career, do your homework and take some educated risk and stick your neck out on occasion. 

[0:23:50.6] DG: You know the other thing that you said I just want to quickly comment on is that, when someone is a CMO or any executive leader—finance, sales, it doesn’t really matter—you don’t always know at the deeper level of the organization where the work is actually happening exactly what the problems are, right? 

It is often only the people who are actually close to the problems who could bring that to light to the executive and help the executive understand the problem more deeply and help collaborate on some sort of a solution to that problem, and I think people forget that. It is very difficult for senior level leadership to have the depth of insight about a department or cross-functional issues, because they are simply not getting that level of detail by definition. 

[0:24:44.0] JE: Yeah, and be willing to own your issues in part of that process. Don’t just point fingers at other people because that is not going to get you very far. It is always somebody else’s problem, but if part of that diagnostic ensures things that we, as an organization, my department, I personally could be doing better and I need your support to do this better, you are going to get an open ear from executives pretty much every time. 

[0:25:09.6] DG: Yep, absolutely. 

[0:25:11.4] JG: Man, my mind is blown. I just want to play the music. 

[0:25:17.5] DG: John, thank you so much. This is very insightful. I really encourage people to pick up a copy of the book. John, any other parting thoughts for the audience? 

[0:25:31.9] JE: Well, if you are looking for demand gen partner to be an ally in your change initiatives, the Springbox team is here. I would love to be your partner in crime. 

[0:25:44.8] DG: Fantastic.

[0:25:47.3] JG: All right, it’s been a great one, Green & Greene Show, we’re done here. Mr. Ellet, thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it as always.

[0:25:54.8] JE: It’s been my pleasure. 

[0:25:56.0] JG: I’m going to play the music, and then I am going to take a nap because I need a recovery from all of that brain dump which just happened there. It’s going, you all have a great day. 


[0:26:02.8] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning into the Green & Greene Show by LeadCrunch. Green & Greene think differently about B2B and are starting a movement to transform demand gen. If you have ideas for topics or would like to be a guest, send an email to david.green@leadcrunch.ai. If you’d like to find more customers, visit our website to talk to one of our demand gen guides at www.leadcrunch.com.