Disruptive CMO Strategy Secrets with Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Ian Barkin
Marketing is in a constant state of evolution, some by choice and some by force. The pandemic this year is a very real example of evolution by force. Businesses have been forced to reimagine tried-and-true marketing tactics and strategies like in-person events and face-to-face meetings. For the innovative and disruptive professionals and businesses, this challenge has illuminated tremendous opportunities for growth. One such CMO is Ian Barkin, a trail-blazing marketing leader who is making some serious waves in the industry. On this edition of B2B Mentors, Barkin shared key strategy secrets for not only building and amplifying your personal brand, but overcoming adversity and the dreaded imposter syndrome, embracing virtual events, aligning sales and marketing, and more.
What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions of being at the tip of the spear in strategy, business development, and marketing in a billion-dollar organization?
[IB]: That I know what I’m doing every day.
The thing that motivates and energizes me the most is the constant learning, not only from the journey of improvements for myself and the team, but also from everybody we have the privilege of interacting. We’ve got teams all over the world. We’ve got partners all over the world. And honestly, the dynamics of ‘how do you build a brand’ and ‘how do you engage with prospective shoppers and buyers who are looking for a product or a service that you have’ is evolving so rapidly.
When I was building the brand of my small startup, it was ‘who is more raw’? Not because the technology wasn’t there, but because our budget wasn’t there. We just had to build a brand and a name for ourselves through our own tenacity and through our own ideas and our own voice. Now, I’ve got a much larger machine and have a much larger story to tell. I’m learning every day.
Having that entrepreneurial spirit has probably contributed a lot to your success in your current role.
[IB]: I think I bring a healthy imposter syndrome to the role in so much as I wasn’t officially trained as someone who would become chief marketing officer. I came to the craft out of both passion and necessity. I love this stuff. I love storytelling. I love trying to find the nuance in the elements that really matter to the audience — but I didn’t go to school for it.
That’s something a lot of successful people have shared with me — that imposter syndrome. How do you deal with it? How do you manage it? How do you overcome something like that?
[IB]: Just keep going. Just be honest with yourself and continue going. Don’t present yourself to be anybody you’re not. I think my team knows that I very much learn from them and count on them and would not be anything without them. So that’s it. I would never dare to present myself as knowing more than I do because I don’t think it helps me or the mission.
With all the changes, if you had to start with a mid-sized budget or from no budget whatsoever, what would you be doing? What are the immediate channels and action strategies you would be diving into?
[IB]: We are so incredibly privileged to be where we are at this time in the evolution of technology and business. COVID-19 is interesting because it has made us all quite comfortable with a level of fidelity in resolution that isn’t professional production quality. That we are watching newscasters from major networks presenting from their home offices and sitting on their own stairs, and we’re cool with it —and that’s resonating throughout enterprises, too. We are more comfortable with the humanity of ourselves and I think it’s such a unique opportunity to capitalize on that.
So if I were starting again, I would do a lot of what I did before, which is embrace the channels that allow me to reach the market that I need to get to. I am so enamored by LinkedIn. I love the channel. I love the access to people all over the world for virtually free and the way you can create a brand and a name for yourself.
If Facebook is the right channel for you … if Instagram is the right channel … Twitter … TikTok … heck, any of those. Whatever you’re selling, there is a community out there on one, if not multiple, channels. And they are all virtually free. They are all begging for people to be interesting and to share their message. You don’t need a lot of budget to get started, you just have to have a story.
All the tools are there. Literally, before the podcast started, you and I were just talking about recording content on our cell phones.
[IB]: Not to single out Apple products, but the iPhone is the most powerful device on the planet. Not just because it’s got the cool tech and it’s screen is neat, but because it enables anybody to tell whatever story they want and distribute it anywhere they want. I’ve used it multiple ways, too. We use it internally for communication and alignment, as well as education.
People think they need to have a perfect set up before they can start creating content or putting themselves out there, but that’s not true.
[IB]: Absolutely. Just keep iterating and improving. We use smartphones to record in the moment. For example, after a customer meeting, we document things like: What went well in that sales presentation? What really landed? What was their feedback?
You lose some of the value if you just wait for the flight home to start to document in an email to everyone about what just happened. Document, in the moment, the experience that customers are having with the product. It’s the best way to educate your own teams and to disseminate that knowledge internally.
You’re so unique in the way that you’ve built your personal brand as a marketer. Did you have reservations in the beginning or did you just recognize that this is what you needed to do and dove right in?
[IB]: There were some gentle nuances in the beginning because I co-founded a company and had other founders with me. I never wanted it to be all about me. It was more about choosing someone who was comfortable and willing to get out there and get the message out. The comparable value of this is just incalculable. If you consider the number of reservations, show bookings, and stage events that we would have had to pay for to get the same sort of domain authority, it would have been prohibitive. So we quickly realized that it was an absolute necessity if we wanted to stand out and have a brand personality. And since I was comfortable doing it, I did.
When it’s your company and it’s small, if you screw up or embarrass yourself, there’s a smaller cascading effect of having done so. But when you’re in a larger, public company, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not a total idiot publicly because you’re representing a much larger brand. Now, the great thing is, I’ve got tremendous support from executive leadership because we’re telling a good story. We’re having really interesting, thoughtful, and relevant discussions with visionaries in our space.
A lot of younger millennials are moving into business decision-making positions, but are still struggling with the need to build and amplify their personal brand. How do you sell that transformation? Do you think marketers need to lead by example, building their personal brand first to demonstrate how it’s done to other team members?
[IB]: I think there’s certainly value in forging the path, showing that it’s not impossible, and giving people the courage to take the leap. As you get to larger organizations, you may find that there’s an interesting dynamic and divide between marketing and sales, so you have to navigate that carefully.
One area that I’m passionate about learning and am really focused on right now is the awareness-to-purchase framework. Specifically, attribution — finding ways to turn that into as much of a science as humanly possible to understand what’s resonating, what’s adding value, and why anything happens. There’s too much black magic and art to ‘we closed the deal because I was amazing and I got it across the line’. There’s more to the story than just that. We didn’t have the data to really micro-analyze that in the past, but now we have quite a bit more access to data with the right systems, processes, and procedures in place. Next, you need to build the rapport and respect between marketing and sales so they can congratulate each other on the roles they collectively played to win the deal.
Considering the lack of trade shows and conferences right now, how are you navigating that lack of travel and events? What are some of the pivots you’re making?
[IB]: We’re all in the same boat. If this were a volcano in Iceland that erupted and shut down travel from one point to another, it would be different, but this, this volcano erupted over the whole planet. This is a pandemic. This is global. And, therefore, no one can travel. So everyone is trying to figure out how you hold these virtual events. How do you approximate the unstructured networking? How do you approximate just bumping into people like you would over the coffee table at an event? I don’t know that you can, but we’re trying. There’s a lot of industry analysts and a lot of product companies and service companies that are trying to use these virtual events.
When you travel, you get these pockets of focus time, which I’m realizing I don’t have anymore. I’m not sitting in planes for 12 hours focusing on a white paper, for example. However, if you’re not traveling, there’s really no excuse for not picking up your cadence for outreach tenfold. You’ve got a lot more time to reach out over virtual channels and build virtual rapport. It’s a tremendous opportunity for certain areas and industries to grow right now.
What advice would you give regarding co-hosting a webinar that drives revenue?
[IB]: You’ve got to be real nuanced about your message. It’s not a commercial. You can’t focus on selling someone your product during these webinars because everyone tunes out during commercials. So it’s got to be a discussion about relevant topics, sharing genuine insight into something.
It’s important to pick the right distribution partner for your message as well. You can usually find that partner in the form of analysts and/or the advisors in your space. There are companies that will bring attendance to you, but they tend to be more expensive. You should be working on building your list organically. You are unshackled if you can put out enough content and build your own lists to create your own following.
And if you can have a customer talk on your behalf, that’s golden. Information wins. Advertisements turn people away. By allowing customers to share their experiences, you’re creating a genuine story about how they used your product that doesn’t come across as a blatant advertisement.
Any parting words or advice?
[IB]: If you’re in marketing and see the value in passionate storytelling, just do it. Just get over any particular fear. The most you should ever give yourself is a few bullet points of a script idea. Don’t ever sit down and start crafting what the message you should say because if you know anything about what you actually do for a living, you’ve already got all the information in your head. Just get it out. The first time you see yourself on video if you’ve never done it before, you’ll think it sucks and you’ll be completely uncomfortable with it. You’ll think your voice sounds weird and you’ll scrutinize and criticize everything about it. Most people won’t notice most of what you see, so just keep going and tweak and get better as you go.
About Ian Barkin:
Ian Barkin is the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for Sykes Enterprises, host of the OneTAKE Podcast, a speaker, and educator on Digital Transformation, Intelligent Automation and the Future of Work. As a serial entrepreneur, Ian has founded firms in the Internet of Things, Critical Infrastructure & Cyber Security, and the Robotic Process Automation spaces. He most recently co-founded and grew Symphony Ventures, a leading global RPA boutique, that he sold to SYKES in 2018. Follow and connect with Ian on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianbarkin/
Listen to and watch the OneTAKE podcast: https://www.sykes.com/onetake
Connor Dube is Sales & Marketing Director at Active Blogs, an industry leader in B2B social selling and content strategy, Co-Founder of the Mile High Mentors Podcast, and Founder of B2B Mentors. Building his first business at seven, he’s gone on to create multiple companies and supporting his clients approaches to adding multiple 8-figures to their sales pipeline with his innovative approach to Social Selling. As a current leader in sales and marketing strategy for complex industries, Connor’s been featured in top podcasts, resources, and stages, including MSU Denver’s current sales and marketing curriculum.