Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 114: Q&A with Elissa Fink @elissfink


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By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

Are you enjoying Sales Pipeline Radio? it runs live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific.  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at and subscribe on iTunes.

Our guest this time was Elissa Fink, CMO at Tableau  Software @elissafink

A shorter episode this time (due to some technical issues) but a good one!

We talk about the importance of:

  • Hiring the right people and enabling them
  • Staying focussed on the mission
  • Respecting the past, respecting the future
  • Continoius measurable improvement
  • Chasing things that excite you and get you up in the morning

More about Elissa:

Driven by data. Leading by example. Building authentic brands and communities. And most importantly, creating customers for life. Having joined Tableau Software in 2007, Elissa Fink has served as CMO through its rise from start-up to a billion dollar enterprise. Tableau is now widely recognized as the leader in data analytics, one of the hottest technology sectors. Prior to Tableau, Elissa was EVP Marketing at IXI Corporation, a firm specializing in marketing technology and now owned by Equifax. She has also served in marketing, product management and product engineering executive positions at Tele Atlas, a multi-national map data company now owned by Tom-Tom, TopTier Software (now SAP), and Claritas (now Nielsen). She began her career selling advertising for the Wall Street Journal. Elissa holds a BA from Santa Clara University and a MBA in Marketing and Decision Systems from the University of Southern California.

Paul:  Welcome everybody. It’s time once again for another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. With your host, the host with the most, Matt Heinz. Sorry, we got caught up on a guard here. We had a meltdown on the board and we just were able to get you on here. So I apologize for the delay today.

Matt:  No problem. We’re 150 episodes in and the first time that’s happened. So I think our batting average is a lot better than you’d think. So I’m just glad you’re okay. When I didn’t hear from you we were all very worried you got swept away to sea in one of those pipelines or something.

Hey, we’re going to get right into it because this is live show and our guest is super busy and has a commitment at the top of the hour. So want to get right to our guest. We have Elissa Fink. She is the CMO for Tableau Software.

Elissa:  Hey, man.

Matt:  Hey, how you doing?

Elissa:  Good. Thanks. How are you doing?

Matt:  Good. I really, really appreciate you taking the time. I apologize that the one time we have this snafu happens to be your time on the show. I appreciate you joining us.

Elissa:  I feel special. What can I say?

Matt:  We’re going to get right into it, and we’re going to ignore commercial time today. We’re going to get out of here on time to get to your noon meeting as well.

Elissa:  No problem.

Matt:  I’ve got so many different angles I want to take with you, a couple things specifically. You have successfully gone from CMO at the startup to taking that company to being a billion dollar enterprise, and that is not a common thing for startups to get to that point first of all, but also for the startup CMO to continue through that rapid rise. What are some of the learnings you’ve had and some of the keys to success to that kind of longevity and success? A variety of stages of a company where marketing ends up being very different.

Elissa:  That’s a great question because you definitely have to be true to that sort of cycle because it does exist. It really does exist. So I think part of it just recognizing that it is a cycle, but always keeping your eye on the ball. Like what is the most important thing, the critical thing that we got to make happen in this cycle or this phase of the company. So early on it was like oh my God, awareness and feeding the beast, feeding the sales beast, and building the brand on the backs of demand generation. I mean, that was where it was. Then as you get bigger and more well known, then it moved in to other areas of just broader awareness, second order awareness, and still feeding, of course, demand generation that’s starting to build out your message and what you stand for and who you’re about. Again, concentrating on how the product delivers and this problem spaces and how do we adjust the message, how do we bring the message closer to the customer and their problem rather than early days you get a lot of people who have imagination about new tools and are excited about that kind of thing.

I think part of it is just being aware and being aware you’re constantly kind of moving forward, and then having a great team and having the right people and doing great hiring is the thing. I look at myself as like really fortunate because I have really great people that work on the marketing team, part of my marketing leadership team, and that’s grown over time and bringing in the right people at the right time and giving them the space to do what they do, to know your own areas that you’re weak but where you get strength from other people and how to make an environment where you get the best out of people together is, I think, another thing that can take you a long way. Just recognizing how to get the best out of people, how to get them to work together, how to build that team so that as the challenges change and as the phases roll along, you’re just getting the actors in different acts of the play to come forward in the right moments of drama and you make great stuff happen.

Matt:  I love that. Love the feedback. I do want to get back to the idea of sort of people and culture here in a second, but I remember when I was in a startup and we managed to get past early startup days and into a little bit of growth phase. There’s a difference there. One of the key differences I notice is going from being kind of mostly reactive and agile to being able to see more than a couple weeks in front of you and try to be more proactive. For a lot of companies that maybe aren’t thinking about getting to the billion dollar phase but just sort of getting from crazy making into a growth phase where things become a little more predictable where there’s a little more process. Are there any best practices for making that move? Are there any sort of things people should be looking for to know when it’s time to sort of get out of reactive and become more proactive?

Elissa:  Oh gosh. That is such a great question. It’s actually one of the more challenging things. You know that old consultant story about a frog and a pot of water that gets heated. Doesn’t know when to jump out and gets boiled as opposed you. You would jump out of hot water if you knew it. So in a lot of ways it is hard because you’re kind of rolling on day to day, you’re making stuff happen. I think one of the things that as a company that really helps have as well is just we’re pretty religious about our focus on our mission. It’s constantly a how we’re helping people see and understand data. So as you get more opportunities to help, that helps. I think from the get go the company was kind of built and imagined to be a market changing company that would grow. So we kind of always had that in our minds, and we never sed to talk even in the short run about exit strategy or the next round of financing. We just never got caught up in sort of that traps of startup land that sometime take you off your mission, take you off customers, take you off the focus of building great products for people that are going to get lots of value out of it. So I think just in the background is all of that.

But then in the foreground is very much like we do have to scale and when you’re a startup and you’re nimble and your agile and you’re just kind of reacting and pro-acting and your opportunistic. I mean, it’s a bit of addiction. I admit it. I can be that way. So as you scale and bring in people, in your saner moments, you realize you have to bring in people that can help scale, who can help build scale. So we brought in some folks that were particular in the marketing group that scale is their thing and I recognized, “You know what, that is something that you get a startup friends need to startup attitude, startup addiction.” You’ve got to bring those people in if you feel like that’s not something that I can recognize well because you’re just kind of day to day and accustomed to running around. So bring it in people who recognize this, who’ve been there, done that, scaled things, and then enable them. Recognize in your saner moments that we have got to scale. So just not always. It’s not the day to day thing of scale, but you’ve just got to scale. You’ve just got to be thinking about that.

You got to let things go. The other thing I push people on is a little bit like I tell the old folks. They’ll be offended when people come in here and say, “We’ve got to do this differently,” because our old ways, they worked. Then I tell new people just be accepting. Things have changed. We made the right decisions at the right time. We were doing the right thing, but as time passes, new things happen, new stuff happen, people come in. Accept that. Accept things we’ve tried in the past might actually work now. There’s new stuff we’ve never tried. We need to be open to that. So try to bring along the old folks, the tenure folks, and then the new folks. I’m comfort saying, “Look, we weren’t making stupid decisions so don’t come in here and go, ‘Oh my God, what a disaster. This was nothing here. I came into a wasteland.’” That’s pretty insulting to the people who were here building it. You have to come in and understand first we didn’t do … The people didn’t do stupid things on purpose. It might look stupid in retro, but at the time we made those decisions, at the time the people did those things, it actually worked and it was successful and then we’ve just outgrown it. So your job is to help us get to the next phase.

A little bit of like respect the past but plan for the future, and respect the future. Respect that there’s a need for change, but respect what was and that’s good. Celebrate it. But move on. Let’s keep moving forward, keep pushing forward. I say this term continuous measurable improvement. That’s what it’s all about. So I’m not looking for overnight perfect scale. I’m not looking for overnight of perfect presses. But I am looking for progress forward on all of those things.

Matt:  Yeah. Boy, Paul, if you wanted a 20 minute or less master class in marketing management through stages of growth, we got it here today with Elissa Fink. She’s a CMO of Tableau Software, abbreviated addition of Sales Pipeline Radio today. I do want to get back to the call. I think one thing I’ve noticed with companies both where I was before as well as seeing them with our clients is that culture clash sometimes between the early scrappy folks and those that come in that know how to scale, that want to put process in place. The early stage folks may think the process is a little draconian and unnecessary, but really it is valuable for growth and your point about being maybe a little less defensive, being empathic and understanding other perspectives other than yours are going to help the team grow and ultimately help everyone be successful and reap the rewards of that is key to this.

I do want to shift gears really quick. You’ve been at Tableau for a long time. You ran marketing for a number of startups before that. But you started your career selling ads for Wall Street Journal. I think there aren’t many CMOs today that have any kind of a sales background. How did having a direct sort of quota carrying role in a selling environment help you be a better CMO today?

Elissa:  Oh gosh. It’s something I tell early marketers all the time and especially ones that I see that have a little, even telemarketing experience, I’m like you don’t know how valuable that is. That is super valuable. So for at least three reasons. One is for sure you’re just up close and personal with like the process of people, an individual person buying. I mean, we think it’s scale. We think in mass segments. We think groups move through journeys. But it’s not. It’s people move through journeys. Individuals move through journeys and the journey to buy and become a customer and stay a customer. So when you get that up close and personal, it’s just stuff. You’re just empathic to it. You just understand what it means to go through it, and then secondly, you understand your sales organization so much. You understand what it’s like for a salesperson to have to pick up the phone every day or make sales calls or hard scramble scratch for leads or just close the deal. What’s it feel like? It feels great to close a deal. What’s it feel like to lose a deal? It feels horrible. But then it also tells you a lot about your product and how you see macro-messages turn into individual messages when you’re visiting customers.

So you really just get a real sense of the buying cycle, the customer journey, how people stay in your franchise, why they stay, the personal relationship. I just think it’s super valuable. Then I guess, thirdly, again, it’s sort of that you see it in the end. You get the results of what your marketing team has done and then you’re supposed to bring it to deals and get customers. So you see it both in the macro perspective and the micro perspective. You see it from way back, as a marketer you know what it takes to get awareness built and people interested in your product. But then as a salesperson you really know what it takes to take that and turn it in to something.

So I think it just makes me incredibly empathic both to buyers and to sellers and to marketers. So I think it’s a really valuable experience, and it also convinced me of, “Gee, you know what, this is probably the most important lesson.” I was okay at it. I worked hard to be okay at it. It wasn’t my joy, and I started getting in to sort of the demographics of our subscription and got me into numbers. I realized this is not the thing that gets me juiced up every day, gets me excited getting up every day. I’m not psyched to close deals. I’m not psyched to go meet people. That isn’t my thing. My thing is like wow, understanding how people buy, why they buy, what can I do to persuade them on a macro level, what can I write, what can I say, what can we do. So it really taught me go chase things that get you excited and get you up in the morning. Because if you have that passion for what you’re doing, you just have so much better odds of being successful and being luckily, extraordinarily successful. I’ve been so lucky at Tableau to just do something I love and I never have to think hard about, “Oh God. I have to go to work today. What a drag.” I really look forward to work.

So that’s one thing it taught me for sure is chase the things you love because it’s just going to make your whole life better, easier and more enjoyable.

Matt:  Well, I love that. On that note, I think we’re going to have to let you go. You got to get to your next meeting at the top of the hour.

Elissa:  I do.

Matt:  I really, really appreciate all this so much today.

Elissa:  Oh, no, Matt, I always love talking with you, love what you do, love your insight. So thank you for all you do for our community of marketers and salespeople. It’s a great thing. So I love what you’re doing.

Matt:  Thank you very much. Again, Elissa, thanks. She’s the CMO at Tableau Software. Always just amazing insights in today’s no different.

Look, I know, Paul, we got a short trip where we got to go today. We’re going to have to be back in the next couple of weeks with more episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio. Make sure you join use every week, Thursday live at 11:30 eastern, 2:30 pacific. You can also join us on the podcast at Google Play and iTunes store, and every episode past, present, future available We got to go.

For my producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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