Building and structuring a marketing team is one of the key duties of a CMO. With this in mind, we spoke to Ben Rees, CMO of Redgate Software, to get his insights on how he went about building his team.

Hi Ben, first off, please could you give us a bit of background about yourself, Redgate, and your role there as CMO?

Sure — I’ve been working in the software industry for more than 20 years now. I started out as a developer, then became a product manager, and then joined Redgate 11 years ago as a product manager. I worked through a number of (great) opportunities given to me by Redgate over the years, eventually ending up as CMO around 5 years ago.

Redgate is a 400 person scale-up software company providing various solutions for developers and administrators, to help them implement DevOps practices for databases.

I manage quite an advanced marketing function at Redgate, covering everything from product marketing, digital, field marketing, content, advocacy, brand, events, marketing ops, and everything else in-between. I also now look after the customer success function here at Redgate, though customers have always been at the heart of every decision we make.

Could you tell us about how the marketing department was structured at Redgate before you became CMO?

It wasn’t really! At the start of 2016, the company went through quite a significant re-org. Prior to then, marketing work was actually done by five different teams scattered across the business. There was a central “agency”, another separate digital team, then two unrelated product marketing groups, and finally the “web team” who worked in central IT. All of these teams worked for different execs, and as our CEO said at the time “I don’t know who to talk to about getting the website changed!”

So the first thing we did was create a new marketing function that was responsible for all of the marketing efforts for Redgate. A single team all with the same shared objectives. It didn’t matter where you were working before, what you were doing before, we were starting again. There was an enormous amount of activity happening that we jettisoned. Reports that nobody looked at, overlapping work, and so on. Looking back, the goal for that first year was actually just “Stabilisation” — i.e. don’t run before you can walk, and with hindsight, I’m glad we took that approach.

What were the opportunities for improvement that you identified?

Since 2016 we’ve actually re-organized the marketing department almost every year. None of these more recent changes were as big as 2016, but there is always room for improvement.

There are two main types of improvement:

  • Aligning better with future customer groups, and,
  • Aligning better internally with the rest of the company.

The best example of the former is the introduction of an Accounts Based Marketing function around 2017. Redgate has been around for over 20 years now and for at least the first 10–12 of those years, we sold almost exclusively to end-users. Everything from our positioning, to pricing+packaging, to our digital strategy, to our sales support, and everything else was geared exclusively to these customers.

But we realized a few years ago that we simply weren’t serving the more senior decision-makers properly — they didn’t know who we were, they didn’t understand the value we provided, they had no reference points for us, and so on. We still made the occasional Enterprise sale, but I’d argue it was despite our marketing efforts, rather than because of them!

So we saw an opportunity to create a new Accounts Based Marketing (ABM) function to serve the needs of those customers, which has been instrumental in our growth since then. We’ve then further developed that into a broader Field Marketing function to help the alignment with our sales offices in different locations, making sure we look after the needs of the smaller accounts in-region, as well as still doing an incredible job looking after our Enterprise customers.

How did you go about implementing these improvements? Was there a planned goal from the start or was it a developing process?

Speaking about the introduction of ABM at Redgate, we used the SiriusDecisions “Adopt, Operationalise, Optimise” model. Really what this means is “Don’t try to operationalize something till you know it’s adopted and working. And don’t try to then save money and optimize something, till it’s fully embedded and operationalized!”.

So with ABM, we started the adoption phase with one person. And we stuck with one person for pretty much a whole year, learning an extraordinary amount about what works and what doesn’t work. The reality is that what we were doing at the end of that first year was vastly different from the original plan. Then, once we knew what we were doing, we started to operationalize — work out the proper processes, templates, ways-of-working, priorities, and so on.

We’re still in that “operationalize” phase — Redgate is growing and scaling up, so I think it will be a while before we try and optimize — there’s still so much opportunity waiting for us!

Were there any difficulties you encountered during the process, and how did you overcome them?

Every plan for change hits endless difficulties on implementation — it’s impossible to predict all of the problems you’ll encounter, the unforeseen consequences, and so on. And this is the source of most problems with (any) organizational change. On the one hand, everyone expects all of the details to be worked out beforehand, but on the other, that’s simply impossible (not because of lack of effort, but simply because the future is unknowable).

To overcome problems like this, you need to build trust and resilience in your team. Prepare them to know that “Things will definitely go wrong here!”, and support them when that happens. It’s an attitude really, an expectation that everyone will have to think on their feet, and that when things do go wrong, we can solve them together.

What have been the results of your new team structure?

Each new change has, I believe, reduced the friction for customers and internally. For example, it’s now clearer who is responsible for looking after particular customer groups, or who is responsible for working with particular product or sales teams. So often the results are about removing that friction, and freeing people up to worry about what really matters — the customers.

Indirectly, you can see the impact on company performance — over time, growth in particular products or segments, which you can then trace back to improvements in structure. But that takes time and patience.

Did you have experience with building a team prior to your role as a CMO? What specific experiences were the most useful?

Prior to being CMO, I was running a cross-functional business unit (development, marketing, sales) and so yes I had to build a team for that function too.

The first stage in building a team is knowing that you can’t do it on your own. You don’t have enough information, you can’t see things from multiple perspectives, you’ll miss too much. So the first stage is forming a small group of people who will do the work with you. This will either be your existing management team, or “the group of people who will become your management team”. The one thing you have to do yourself prior to this is work out “What are the main priorities for us, for the next year or so?”. This doesn’t have to be forever, but if, for example, you know that Product Marketing will be a core need for you, then you need someone in that small group from the start who is an expert in that field. If you don’t have that, that’s your first port of call — finding that group.

So once you have your small team you can start on the hard work of going through all the details — what are our big problems here? What are we trying to fix? What are the behaviors and cultures we want to embed from the start? Where are the tensions?

And most importantly — how will this interface with the rest of the business? Half of the job of building a new team is understanding your own internal structure. But the other half is figuring out the interfaces with the rest of the company. Product, sales, and others need to know “Who do I talk to about thing X?”, “Who looks after area Y?”, and your job is to make that simple for them. As a concrete example, we’re now very clear that “Product Marketing is the bridge into Product development, via the Product Managers (in development)”. And that “Field Marketing is the bridge into the regional sales teams”. There are far more interfaces around the business, but these two are the main points of contact for product and sales.

How has your team restructuring been useful in aligning marketing with sales?

This has been our primary focus in this last re-org (end 2020). How can we better align ourselves to a rapidly growing sales function? The two main changes we’ve made to improve this are:

  1. Field Marketing teams in each region with responsibility for outbound campaign work for all customer types.
  2. Build the relationship between marketing operations and sales operations, so that everyone is looking at the same data.

We’ve then implemented an opportunity creation review process — effectively an SLA between sales and marketing — to make sure everyone is looking at the same data, and that we’re all taking actions against the same goal — pipeline growth. This has led to a 20% increase in the pipeline (in regions where we’ve kicked off the process) — so far, so good!

What should CMOs look for when it comes to building an effective marketing team? Is there a standard model and checklist of skills, or is it more freeform?

There’s a couple of things I’d pull out here. Firstly, hire for attitude first. Skills can always be taught, but it’s the attitude of your team that will help them take on problems themselves, or show resilience in the face of change. As a specific example, finding people who “pro-actively solve problems themselves” or “Always find a way around obstacles” is crucial to building a team that can run autonomously as you scale.

Secondly, when hiring for a given function (say product marketing, digital, events, or anything else), be very honest with yourself about whether you know what you’re talking about! If you and your team are already world experts in, say, running events, then you don’t necessarily need someone with enormous expertise — you can hire purely for attitude, and train him/her with how you do things at your company.

However, if you’re hiring for something new — for example, if you’ve never done events before at your company — you need to hire an expert, and you need to pay for that. I describe this as “Paying for someone else’s pain” — you’re paying more for someone who has already made all the mistakes, learned the hard way, and is now bringing their expertise to you.

Thanks, Ben!

What are your experiences with building and structuring your marketing teams as a CMO? Maybe you've got some questions on how to go about it yourself. Let us know!