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Making Cybersecurity Marketing People Centric

In this episode of Cybersecurity (Marketing) Unplugged, Lowe also discusses:

  • Standing out in a market full of lookalikes;
  • Not allowing a focus on metrics to run and ruin marketing efforts;
  • Eliminating the competitive nature between sales and marketing. 

Sherry Lowe is the distinguished chief marketing officer at Exabeam. She was also the former CMO at Expanse and served in a similar role at Druva and Splunk. She got her start as a sports anchor at WJXX, the ABC affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida covering the Jaguars, the Dolphins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well as the NBA, NASCAR, Major League Baseball and PGA Tour.

We all know that marketing is all about people, and people are moved by ideas and a bigger vision. Yet far too often marketers get so caught up in numbers and metrics that it stifles creativity. Lowe, who has been in senior leadership in the marketing space for over a decade, is intent on not letting metrics kill marketing and instead injecting more creativity into marketing strategy.

Nobody can deny the need for data and metrics in marketing. And I am one of the first people that asks ‘What was the ROI of that event? Did anyone download that white paper? How did it convert?’ But, a problem really arises when we focus too closely on that number and not enough on the impact or the journey that somebody is taking. You can measure clicks, you can measure views, and likes and website traffic and intent. But it’s really hard to put a number on creativity.

Full Transcript

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. 

Steve King 00:13
Good day everyone. I’m Steve King, the managing director at cyber theory and today’s episode is going to focus on the challenges that marketers face in an overcrowded, noisy cybersecurity market with I think, you know, 4000 competitors these days or whatever it is, but joining me today is Sherry Lowe the distinguished Chief Marketing Officer at Exabeam. She was also a former CMO at expanse and serves in similar role at druvan Splunk. She got her start as a sports anchor at WJ. XX, the ABC affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida. Covering the Jaguars, the dolphins, the Tampa Bay Bucs as well as the NBA NASCAR, Major League Baseball and PGA Tour. So welcome Sherry, I’m glad you could join me today.

Sherry Lowe 01:05
Dave, thank you so much for having me. It’s really great to be here. And when you read off my Silicon Valley experience and my sports experience, I think, Gosh, I’m not that old am I I sound like I am.

Steve King 01:21
Well, being sports fans, is important to me, and probably many of our audience here who who find that there are, you know, similarities between the athletes conditioning and training and rigor and discipline and the execution of cybersecurity marketing plans as well. So, the in my mind, sales and marketing and college and professional athletics go hand in hand.

Sherry Lowe 01:50
Very true. That’s very true.

Steve King 01:52
So let’s get to it here. We’ve got like a million players in the cybersecurity markets. Now, how do you? How do you distinguish yourself from all the other look alikes who claim to do what you do better?

Sherry Lowe 02:04
Well, it is a noisy market. And the challenging part of marketing for a cybersecurity company is everyone says the same thing. You can go on pretty much any cybersecurity company’s website. And they are experts in SDR, they’re experts in zero trust, they’re experts in stopping breaches, everyone says the same thing, whether their product can actually do that, or solve that problem. And that’s really, to me what makes it super challenging. So not only are there you know, 1000s of players, but everybody, in many ways is saying the same thing about what they do. So first, let me address the marketing part of this. And then second one also talk about what prospects and customers can do to help themselves when the market is this noisy? So first of the marketing part of the question, I think the secret, at least for me, and the way I look at marketing is in answering the questions before you get right to talking about your product functionality. And that’s where it just gets to addressing the pain points and translating that to the buyer journey right out of the gate. Because I think when someone is looking for a solution or approaches a website, they’re trying to solve a problem. So you need to focus your marketing on having really strong content, blogs, white papers, videos that address the pain points, again, not just throw you right into a you know, a very complicated product demo. And then this gets to sort of the second part about prospects and, and really why folks looking for a cybersecurity solution need to do their research, it’s really important to do your own homework. Because we shouldn’t be in a world and we’re not in a world where a buyer only listens to the company and then makes the decision. Every cyber company in the world will tell you they can solve your problem. But you as a prospect, you’ve got to do your homework with Gartner and with Forrester. And then find your own backdoor references on the platform you’re thinking about buying. But don’t just listen to the ones the company gives you. It’s really buyer beware, you got to do your homework, or you’ll end up with a solution. That does not what you bought it for.

Steve King 04:17
Yeah, all of that is true. And you and I are on the same page as we usually are here. That is definitely one of the biggest complaints of every season. All I know is that you got to stop bombarding me with these fantastic messages that make no sense at all. As I go from website to website to website, they’re they’re all the same. So we need to do something very different. And that makes a lot of sense to me. One of the things that’s happening in the industry now of course since we’ve seen 18 months or whatever it is of the pandemic sort of changing the landscape in terms of how we present ourselves to our prospects from a marketing point. My view is the trade show business. And so with that in mind, and in your case, what do you guys plan, say, looking out over the next 1218 months in terms of what are your budgeting and marketing spend going to look like related to in person versus virtual events? Do you think that you think the virtual event or some, you know, hybrid version of that’s going to emerge that is going to make sense going forward? Or what’s your prediction in that regard?

Sherry Lowe 05:30
First of all start with what was happening when I arrived at Exabeam. Over a year ago, I inherited a very interesting issue when I came to Exabeam, around trade shows and around live events. But it wasn’t an unusual one. From my conversations with other CMOS, I mean, pre pandemic Exabeam was a heavily events focused marketing organization, very little in place in terms of a digital strategy. And when COVID hit, the team just went straight to virtual events, which I understand it just seemed like a logical and easy thing to do, oh, everyone’s just going to go and rush to virtual events. And, and that’s how we’re going to, you know, reach the buyer. But we had to change. And really, in the last year, we’ve become a digital first marketing team. And we work that 12 months ago. Now we use demand gen campaigns, we use content to drive interest, not a booth at a trade show. And I’ll have to say going forward, when you look at the next 12 to 18 months, we will never go back Exabeam will never go back to 80% of its marketing dollars being spent on booths, and on tradeshow sponsorships, now we’ll still do those smaller in person type of events. And, you know, we will have a presence at RSA and Blackhat, I think there’s a few that you just have to say, Yeah, we’re going to go do those. But we won’t have a big box of events strategy any longer. And to be honest, we see much more, you know, better ROI and qualified leads coming in through investing in things like SEO, and investing in our content and investing in digital and paid media, that we weren’t doing pre pandemic, we were really going to all of those, all of those events and trade shows. So when I look into the future, the next 12 to 18 months, it’s going to be much more digital in terms of the things I mentioned around SEO and content, and much less on any kind of sponsorship of a virtual event.

Steve King 07:29
Yeah, and I think a few you know, RSA is an example of a long time coming. And in a lot of those folks that you know, if you look at the last two, three years where I’ve been there, the attitude generally was kind of like, you know, we’re here, we’re spending this money, we don’t really expect to get a lot out of it. And we went more toward cocktail parties and more cocktail parties and warmer cocktail parties. And pretty soon it’s like a cocktail party with an event show stuck on the side. And, and the returns look like they were diminishing at that point, too. So yeah, maybe it took the pandemic’s is shake everybody loose and say, hey, you know, maybe this isn’t working at all, maybe the, you know, average cost per lead, or whatever the number is 2500 4500 is way too high to begin with. So so it’s probably a really good thing. And I think you’re prognostication of a smaller, more focused events probably is going to make a lot of sense to people if we ever get back to that world.

Sherry Lowe 08:26
Yeah. And I think, Steven, what many of us are still doing is still using the credits that we had from two years ago at some of these events, because they haven’t been back in person. And so now this year, we’re like, well, we have credits, we need to use them. What I’m going to be really interested to see is 12 months from now, when we’ve all used up our credits. Does anyone go back at the level? They were going, you know, before?

Steve King 08:51
Yeah. I think we both know the answer. I think we do. I know you’re a believer in direct human marketing principles. And, and I think you think that today’s marketers spend far too much time dwelling on digital metrics, and not enough on the creative side of the business. What’s your advice about a good mix of creative and and what is apparently our obsession with with these numbers? And numbers? Yeah, yeah. Help me with that.

Sherry Lowe 09:26
Yeah. Well, you know, you and I’ve talked about this a few times. And I’ve written and spoken on this topic a couple of times. And I’ve always, you know, tried to tell the folks around me, don’t let metrics kill your marketing. And I don’t want to date myself in Silicon Valley. But I do remember a day when the first topic on the agenda of every meeting wasn’t the immediate ROI of the marketing activity that you were doing. And that was refreshing because it gave marketing time to breathe. And I think marketing needs time to breathe. And we don’t always get that with the obsession around metrics. Now nobody can deny the need for data and metrics and marketing. And I am one of the first people that asked what was the ROI of that event? Did anyone download that white paper? How did it convert? But, but that a problem really arises when we focus, you know, just too closely on that number, and not enough on the impact or just the journey that somebody is taking? You know, you can really measure clicks, you can measure views, and likes and website traffic and intent. But it’s really hard to put a number on creativity. And how do you really measure how deeply your campaign resonated beyond how long they stayed on the page, I think there’s a lot of ways you can do that. But my worry has always been that the focus on metrics might really harm our willingness to try new things as marketers, because I was thinking about this yesterday, you know, when I was thinking about us talking, and I thought, you know, the focus on metrics, it’s almost like fear based marketing, in a way it makes marketers want to only do the shore things versus really trying something different. And I have to say, I do miss those days where you could, you know, dream up ideas, and not frantically worry about whether it was going to be able to tie to a deal within 24 hours. So I really want to see the balance be yes, let’s look at our metrics. We know the important ones we want to measure, but at the same time, not lose that magic and marketing. Because, you know, at the end of the day marketing, I think is about people and people are moved by ideas. And by a bigger vision, I just hope we don’t lose that as marketers.

Steve King 11:39
It’s kind of a love hate thing to write me the board wants, but always view marketing as a, as a cost center, not as a not as a profit center. And, and historically, it’s it’s a sad sort of self fulfilling prophecy there too. And because there’s no way ever to say, well, you know, the ROI is this. And so because it’s virtually impossible to connect those dots between marketing spend and revenue.

Sherry Lowe 12:06
Yeah, especially in the softer areas of marketing in like the corporate marketing areas where you have customer marketers, and you have, you know, social media and PR and brand. Yeah, and brand. You can’t always tie a direct ROI to that those things, but you have to trust your gut in many ways that they’re working, and that they’re resonating.

Steve King 12:27
Well, I think when PepsiCo looks at Coca Cola, I think they have a different view of brands than you and I do yes. And our compatriots do is super important, super important. If they’re, if the boards don’t get that, then, you know, they only have to look to the leaders in each category. I mean, they’re, you know, the crowd strikes, and you know, whomsoever is and each of their categories are leading for a reason. And the reason is not just lead gen tracking metrics to you know, sales qualified leads, it goes well beyond that, obviously. So,

Sherry Lowe 13:02
yes, you’re right. And it’s very tempting for companies to underfund in that brand area and in the PR and AR area and push a majority of their spended demand gen. And you really do have to try to fight as a CMO to maintain the balance.

Steve King 13:20
Exactly. Your early days in the media business. Were all about sports. And then since you’ve been also deeply involved in soccer at the local level, I think over and Livermore, right? What? What is it about sports that transfers to technology and marketing in your mind? And why is that important? Just for audience.

Sherry Lowe 13:43
This is an article that I want to write. So I’m glad you’re asking me about it. And it’s not so much translates to technology marketing, as I think it translates just in general to leadership. At least that’s how I think of it in my mind. I’ve spent years on the sidelines as a sports reporter, covering the NFL later as a soccer mom watching my daughter. And, you know, when I think about how this transfers to technology marketing, it really transfers to how do you build a team as a CMO? And how do you manage a team because ultimately, you know, the CMO is the coach, and everyone in marketing and the SDR team are the players. So you know, when it comes to building a team, you really need everyone on the field to understand their role and what they’re good at. And focus on that and have them focus on that. It doesn’t mean you can’t learn other roles, but your primary role is what you were hired to do. And hopefully, that’s what you’re really good at. So it’s about roles and responsibilities. So occasionally in the NFL, yeah, they’re running back throws the ball, but that’s rare, and it’s when it’s needed when they want to mix up the play a little bit. So I’m just a huge believer in roles and responsibilities and really staying in your lane. I see a lot of people Problems in organizations arise when people don’t know what position they play their jobs not well defined, they play all over the field. So it just causes chaos. And it’s really the difference between having an organized play that everyone understands, or you just surrender to complete chaos. Turning to my time is a soccer mom, though the team is I noticed this just sitting on the sidelines. And I never played soccer, by the way, and I didn’t know a lot about it until my daughter started playing. But the what I did notice whether the teams that were excellent, were the ones who understood the idea of passing the ball to advance up the shield, even at nine and 10, the ones who got that who had a coach that understood that they played like a team they possessed and the ones who struggled were the ones who had maybe one or two stars, there was a ball hog, they could never, you know, they just dump and run and get a goal that way. But they didn’t use the team to advance the ball. So I think that’s important in terms of building a functioning marketing team, you have to know when to pass the ball. And you have to know when to look up and see, you know, you can’t get to the goal on your own, you need the team, you need to use each other, and then everyone wins. So I don’t know if I answered the question. But that’s what I took away from my years in sports was team building. And the importance of not just relying on a star to save the day.

Steve King 16:23
Yeah, sure. And that chasm, between, in my mind anyway, and in my experience, I should say that, in my mind, between sales and marketing is, is as large as I’ve ever seen it, there seems to be almost a competitive element there that it’s like, I’ve said it many times, you know, the, I can see the STR leader saying this, you know, I’ve said it many times these, these MQLs for marketing are just dog crap, and, and are a waste of our time. And here, I’ve just proven to you they gave us at the other day, not one of them converted. Yeah, you know, and marketing sort of stands there and says, Hey, you know, we’re trying to do our job here. Yeah, ad, you know, affinity for and manage both functions multiple times. So it’s not about STR versus, or sales versus marketing, or vice versa. But it seems to me that whatever genius decided years ago that those two organizations how to report to different people made a big mistake, I think that the skills involved in parts of those jobs are very different. But nonetheless, the goal of revenue is equally shared between those two functions. And until they start to work together, I just don’t see how this is ever going to kind of men. Well, one,

Sherry Lowe 17:41
I couldn’t agree more. And I’ve been in organizations where it did feel like a competition with sales, versus marketing and sales working together. The one thing that I’m so thankful for at Exabeam is that I report into the president of the company, and the President runs sales and marketing, the sales and marketing are together under the president who reports to them to the CEO. And I have never been in a more aligned group than I have an Exabeam. And I do believe it is because sales and marketing have the same leader. And he is I mean, for lack of a better word, he’s got both of our backs. I don’t you know, I don’t feel like sales is going to sell out marketing, because we both report to the president. And he wants us both to succeed. He doesn’t just have sales under him. He has both the both of the functions. And also the SDR is reported in marketing. And that has been a game changer as well. So I you know, I think there’s a lots of different ways you can structure your your teams, but the way we are structured currently at Exabeam has been really, really great. And it’s also doing wonderful things to the business and the business and the growth of the business.

Steve King 18:55
Yeah, I mean, we’re, we’re all motivated by the same things, right? So if you, it’s pretty easy to figure out if you want me to do a you, you reward me for doing a if you want me to do pay you you do you reward me for doing b? So, you know, it’s not a mystery. But we’ve got to change that to be more successful. I think so. Yeah, it’s great. Good for you and good for Exabeam and Aragorn. I’m conscious of the time here, Sherry and I’ve got one final question for you. We’re building out our cyber red.io site cybersecurity, online learning and education platform and a lot of our listeners today are usually interested in how they can develop a mentoring network to help them learn and grow within the field. I know you have some opinions about and experience with mentoring and and I hope you can share some of that wisdom with our with our audience here today. Sure,

Sherry Lowe 19:51
well, mentorships are invaluable and a good mentor is life changing. You know, statistically people who have mentors they’re more likely to To be successful in their careers. So I think mentorship is is key, you know, my hope is that all men and women have an opportunity to meet a mentor. You know, when I got to Silicon Valley 25 years ago, I was fortunate to meet my mentor at my first job. And we’re still close to this day. She’s She’s also a tech CMO. And she’s helped me through some really challenging times, I’m often asked by younger workers, how do I find a mentor? And you know, to be honest, it can be really daunting to pick someone and and just say, Hey, can you be my mentor, I found mentors more through friendship, than actually saying, Okay, I’m going to choose you. But my advice is, also don’t be shy, if you see someone who you think could help you. And also, importantly, who you could see yourself being friends with, then you found your mentor, you know, I would encourage everyone to make sure you have a network of mentors, as you grow in your career, because they’re so key to success, you know, and there’s also some really good organizations you can join, to find mentors and to look for mentors. I’m in an organization called first board.io. They’re an organization looking to get women on their first board. And even though I’ve been in Silicon Valley for 25 years, I’m meeting women in that group that I’m meeting for the first time who, you’re never too old to need a mentor. So I’m meeting a lot of great folks that way. So if you can’t find someone at work, there are lots of organizations you can be part of that can, you know, help you find a mentor that way, too?

Steve King 21:35
Yeah, as you mentioned, that I’m thinking that we created this, this thought leadership group here called the cyber theory Institute, and thus far, we’ve focused it on the zero trust initiative. And we’ve got some, you know, sort of senior fellows who are experienced folks in the zoo of experience than the originators of zero trust, and some of the creators and so forth. And I’m thinking, you know, we’d be great to have sort of an equivalent initiative around around cybersecurity marketing, where you got a dozen or so people that are expert in the field and share the same views about what works and what doesn’t work. And because, you know, from my point of view, and I’ve been doing this for a while, I have yet to find an organization that that is similar to what I just described, that you can go to and say, How did you like solve the problem? This is a broad problem that everybody has. And you would think that that kind of breath that it would get a lot of attention, but it doesn’t, it seems to be fragmented. You know, the whole conversation we just had, I don’t actually have with very many people.

Sherry Lowe 22:45
Yeah. It’s such an important focus, I think for all of us. Yeah, I think it’s great that that you are doing that as part of cyber theory.

Steve King 22:52
Well, thanks. So I might tap you here going forward. Always happy to help. Alright, great. So But for today, we’re out of time. And I wanted to thank our guests, Sherry low again, for taking time out of your crazy schedule was your I mean, what I hope was an interesting exchange. Thank you, Sherry.

Sherry Lowe 23:09
Thank you, Steve. Thank you for having me as a guest, it was great to spend this time with you.

Steve King 23:14
Terrific. Appreciate it. And thank you to our listeners for joining us in another one of our unplugged reviews of the complex and frightening world of cybersecurity technology in our new digital reality. Until next time, I’m your host Steve King, signing out.