4-time CMO Kirby Wadsworth on How to Get Heard and Get Ahead

In #BehindTheMarketing we ask marketers to share their stories. In our first episode, Kirby Wadsworth, CMO of Illusive Networks, discusses how to break through the noise with your marketing campaigns, and break through to the next level with your career.

What was the biggest a-ha moment of your career?

Clearly a CMO that has internalized the importance of customer feedback, Kirby answers our question with a story about a conversation with an existing client. In fact, Kirby had asked his own question:

How do we start conversations with you without driving you crazy?

It’s notable that this client started his answer with what not to do as a marketing or sales team looking to earn his business. He firmly denounced classic enterprise sales and marketing investments: invitations to sporting events, steak dinners and wine tastings - and an endless stream of logo-printed plastic. Invitations and tchotkes would all destined for the garbage. Furthermore, salespeople should be warned not to step uninvited into the landmine that is a conversation about his family. The man in question is divorced, and his ex-wife has full custody of the kids.

In Kirby’s telling of the story, the advice for marketing teams is clear,

Give me a new way to look at an old problem… change my perspective.

The powerful takeaway is that we as marketers should carefully examine programs that may have worked in the past, and have slowly lost potency, avoiding doing things that we’ve always done. Marketing teams should source expertise, original data, and resources that can truly be of value to customers and prospects. Only a fraction of customers will ever want to engage with a company’s reps socially outside of what’s required in their roles, but almost everyone appreciates information and insights that will truly make them better at their jobs. As we hear in this video, we should endeavor to develop marketing resources that will improve the daily lives, careers and companies of the people that we work with.

When did taking a risk in your career pay off?

Kirby emphatically defines what “pay off” is not.

If it’s all about money, power, control or a big office - or all that comes with that...  I probably can't help you.

He continues, “I had all those things, and worked for a $9 or $10 billion company. I had a newly minted MBA. And I walked away from it all to be a founding member of a startup. With nothing. We had four guys in a basement with a white board and box of Oreo cookies and a bottle of Scotch. That's all we had. We didn't even have a dog. Usually, it's two guys and a dog. That was a long time ago.”

That startup failed miserably, as did several others that I was involved in. That's the nature of the startups, and anybody who tells you that it's different is lying to you. But every once in awhile you get lucky, and maybe you'll make some money and maybe things will work out.”

I left BigCo where I was fat, dumb and happy. Many people who stayed are still fat, dumb and happy and make a lot more money probably than I do and have retirements and pensions. I left because I walked into a conference room and there were 40 people in the conference room and every one of them employees for that company. It took over 30 minutes to go around the conference table for everybody to explain their name, their title, who they worked for, what they were doing in the meeting before we could get to the subject of the meeting. It was a one hour meeting, and I walked out of that session and went home, and I told my wife, “I can't do that. I don't want to spend my life doing that. Life's too short. I want to go create things and break things and make a mess. I don't know what's going to happen, and I don't know if we're going to starve or thrive. But I can't do that. I'd rather chop wood or fish than that.

It's been 30+ years.I've done eight startups now, and the payoff for me has been personal. Some financial, but it's been in the people that I've worked with, the people that we have helped and the companies that we've created, the jobs that we've started, the industries that we've shaken up, that's been the real payoff for me.

What advice do you have for marketers trying to take their career to the next level?

I have a lot of little things and some big ones.

The first thing I would say is learn to write. Write every day, write until you write in your sleep, write. Writing focuses your mind. It forces you to put thoughts together in coherent sentences. It helps you structure your thought patterns. And it gives you a way to express yourself beyond your thoughts. So learn to write and write every day about anything and everything that you are interested in.

The second thing is to build and nurture your network. Your network is probably the most important thing that you'll ever have. You need to rely on it for references, for job offers, partnerships, all kinds of things. So collect people, build it, pay it forward, help people. Helping people actually feels good. It's good for your soul, it's good for your network, and it's good for your career. Conversely, ask your network for things too. People like to help and a as long as you're not begging. Asking people for help and asking people for advice and asking people for favors is good. It actually builds on relationships, and it helps you build a tighter network. So help and and ask for help.

Three. Learn, learn, learn all the time. You also have to go to school. Learning on the fly is great and worked out forBill and a few other people, not getting degrees, but in marketing, having an MBA matters. And rail against it - but it matters. It matters in career selection and recruiter attention. If you want to get ahead in marketing and get to a leadership role in marketing, you pretty much have to have an MBA. Or you have to have an amazing thing happen to you when you're relatively young so everybody thinks you're brilliant. One or the other or both. There's no barrier to doing it. I'll just tell you my quick story. I had three children. I had a good job in a great company in Boston, and one day I looked at my wife and I said, I want to apply for executive accelerated MBA program in Chicago. It's going to mean I'm gonna be going every other weekend for two years and I'm going to be gone most of the summer for one whole year. And she looked at me and she said "So, about that fourth kid. I really want to have a girl." She's a pretty good negotiator. We ended up having a girl for the 4th and I ended up getting my degree just about the same time she was born.. So there's really no excuse. If I could do that, and she can do that, you can too. So get off your butt and get back to school and get your MBA. And if you already have an MBA, get back to school and learn some other skills that you're not an expert on. Learning is really important.

Conversely, teaching, mentoring and coaching are really important to because paying back, pays you. You'll learn more from the people that you helped, than you have given them. It forces you to learn. It also gives you a great feeling inside of confidence.

The last thing I'm going to say (I’m sorry if Steve if you and the folks don't like this) but it's true. Don't be an asshole. You know how to tell about assholes right there. There's one on every team. If you don't know who it is on your team, look in the mirror. Don't be that person.

Tell us about the impact of a successful campaign that your team recently executed.

It's always easier to talk about the campaigns that don't work than the ones that do. I'll tell you a quick story about both. We ran a big, expensive ABM campaign in the UK, hired an outside agency, and put together all these lists of senior executives that we wanted to meet with. We decided that this tennis event was going to be a big deal and everybody would want to go to the tennis event. (See to lesson number one that I told you: don't invite me to come to a ball game - anyway we did.) We sent people massive tennis balls with our logo on them. I guess they're used to get signatures. The idea was: come with us to this game and you're going to get to meet the players and get signatures, and it's all gonna be great. We spent $50,000 on this thing. People showed up, but absolutely nothing came out of it. There were no deals. Nothing. Very frustrating all the way around. So that's the kind of thing that didn't work.

Conversely, we recently ran a program that worked great. It was the silliest little thing I had ever seen, but it worked. It's cold and flu season, so we sent out boxes of Kleenex with our logo wrapped around them, disinfecting wipes and bottles of hand sanitizer that you could hang on your purse or your bag. All in a little little kit that said, ”it's cold and flu season we're thinking of you. Protect yourself. And while you're at it, protect your systems and let us tell you how with Illusive Security.” Silly little tie in. We had a handful of people who actually wrote us notes back and said, "Wow, this is really creative." "Thank you very much. I love it." "I always throw this stuff away. But, you know this one? I'm gonna keep on my desk because everybody needs Kleenex.” So there are two examples: the big blown out one and a simple one. The lesson there is simpler is better.

What do you see as the role of video in marketing going forward?

Ah-ha, the self serving Vocal Video question. Editor’s note: Guilty as charged. What do we see as the role of video going forward? So obviously what's happening is that everybody's attention span is shrinking down to that of tsetse flies. We have 17 seconds or something like that to pay attention to something before we either devote time to it or don't. So of course, video's important. We have all grown up with it. Nobody really reads anything anymore. Aside from my advice about writing all the time, nobody ever reads anything, so it's becoming pervasive into everything.

Video is critical for outreach. It's critical for sales enablement because if we all have tsetse fly's attention span - sales reps have baby tsetse fly attention spans. So you have to feed him in small chunks and make things really interesting.

We're doing a lot with it here at Illusive. The coolest thing that we're doing right now around video is taking our crunchy old powerpoint sales presentation and turning it into an immersive experience. We're in the network security business, so we're going to take customers into the network and show them around what it looks like from the attacker's perspective. We're gonna let them interact with the elements of the network, see the attackers off in the distance, moving around the network, and interacting with with the network elements. We let them see what happens when you install our product and how the network reacts to that, and how the attackers interact with this stuff. It's just the coolest approach to technology I've seen in a long time from a marketing perspective. We're pushing the limits of this gameified view.

I could just imagine not too long in the future we're gonna walk into a prospect's office and ask him to put on an Oculus so that we can give him our sales presentation. That’s where I think we're headed with it.

Try the faster, easier way to create testimonial videos.

Sign Up Free

No credit card required • See plans & pricing →

Trusted By

© 2023 Vocal Video ∙ Made with in California ∙ Privacy PolicyTerms of Service