The changing role of the CMO – with Josh Epstein of Kaminario


The role of the CMO is changing. A true partnership with sales requires a mastery of a new set of technologies. But some things never change – like telling a compelling story. Barb Mosher Zinck gives us a look at how CMO Josh Epstein gets it done.

super-marketerJosh Epstein has been in the tech business for over 20 years. He started out at EMC in engineering in the middle of the Dot Com bubble, then slowly moved towards analysis and strategy and then in the last ten years, marketing. He left EMC in 2005 for a startup and his first opportunity to run the complete marketing operations of a company.

It’s fair to say the Epstein has seen a lot and likely learned much more. His startup was an early customer of Hubspot; he started blogging when very few were doing it, and he learned a lot about optimizing the marketing funnel and the tools and techniques that support it.

Today, Epstein is the CMO of mid-sized market Kaminario; a growth-stage startup sells all-flash storage. Is marketing done differently when you are a startup as compared to a large company like EMC? Yes and no. Is it different when you sell hardware or software or services? Yes and no. Epstein shared his views on marketing today and gives us a peek into how he runs his marketing team at Kaminario.

On the role of the CMO today

The more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s one thing that will always remain true to marketing and the role of the CMO, and that is telling the right story. Epstein said the abstract of technologies you use might be different, but the focus is on building the cornerstone story that drives your messaging and everything your sales, executive, and other teams look to.

The way you build mindshare and generate demand is different. The tools and techniques are adapting. Epstein said marketing’s role is to create enablement; to equip salespeople with the messaging and tools needed to win. Marketing needs to be clear about how they can systematically attract, nurture and bring prospects into the fold. And that means becoming savvy about marketing technology.

Kaminario is a data storage company; they sell all-flash storage technology bought by CIOs and IT ops to be the backbone of the data center. B2B Enterprise tech/infrastructure technology. A capital expense, different from selling SaaS-based services which pay a monthly subscription. Kaminario deals typically run from half a million to $2 million per deal. These deals have a much longer sales cycle and a higher cost per customer acquisition. Many of the marketing techniques used are similar to a software company but in a different mix as they think about what’s required to convert a customer.

One thing Epstein sees as critical is the marketing operations role. It’s one of the first roles he fills because he understands marketing needs to support the data infrastructure required to fulfill their marketing strategy. He said while he gets along well with the CIO, there is an inherent conflict because CMO’s manage a number of cloud-based applications like CRM, marketing automation, and analytics, and they deal with a lot of customer data in these systems. The marketing operations role is necessary to manage the new connection points of all the disparate systems they use.

Selling a hardware product like all flash storage means there is no free trial or freemium offering to get a prospective client to try. Epstein said you have to be more innovative in how you provide content and generate demand. This is part of the reason why Epstein is looking forward to working with account-based marketing. He’s only fifteen months into his CMO role at Kaminario and ABM is his first focus for 2017.

He wants to get smarter about how they focus their efforts and spend their budget on programs to ensure they are hitting their target customer. They’ve been looking at the range of solutions in the market and are excited to try some of the new ABM tools that will help them understand the opportunity pipeline and buying stages, and help them put the right marketing in front of customers at the right buying stage.

From marketing to full customer lifecycle

Does the CMO need to play a larger role in the full customer lifecycle? Epstein said yes. He said everyone has their version of the funnel, but for him, his funnel goes all the way through to retain and upsell. He said that the follow-on value of a customer far exceeds the initial investment they make.

The means being smart about helping sales sell more effectively, including cross-sell and upsell opportunities. But it also means that marketing has a role in shaping the customer experience from support and even finance perspectives. There are a lot of touchpoints, Epstein said, and it’s extremely important to ensure the experience is aligned and consistent and sensitive to the buying stage of the customer.

“The key to being a good marketer is to understand the customer and represent that customer psychology to the rest of the organization. That requires adapting the way you talk about the customer psychology to support, to engineering, to community management, to customer success to finance. It’s a challenge, but the potential return is incredible.”

The content marketing strategy

I asked Epstein what his approach was to content marketing and content strategy. Epstein said modern marketing is fueled by content and good content doesn’t come easily. They approach their strategy a few ways. He said his demand gen manager is also very content savvy. All the content they create is developed with an eye to how they can repurpose it and extend it over a longer period. Much of the content they create and the types of content is driven primarily by the demand generation group.

It’s interesting to point out that Kaminario doesn’t have a completely documented content marketing strategy. But Epstein believes in regular content audits for personas, target markets, and buyers journey and that helps them align their strategy appropriately.

Kaminario does have brand and messaging guidelines to ensure everyone aligns. He learned early on to invest in a messaging framework that is used to drive consistency across different audiences and stages in the buying cycle.

As for a content strategy, Epstein says a lot of things go into defining that strategy including how do you invest time and resources, how do measure returns and how do you architect content for agility and repurposing? “Can you document that or do just need to hire really good people who can intuitively make investments in content?”

Epstein does have a set a metrics along the funnel. He keeps it simple, caring about basics like coverage metrics (earned and paid), reach (media and social driven awareness), web traffic and the sources of traffic/trends. Net new contacts and leads are also key. And most importantly, marketing generated pipeline goals that align with the broader company’s sales goals.

What’s in his marketing stack? Here’s a look:

  • Hubspot for marketing automation
  • Salesforce for CRM
  • WordPress for the website
  • Hubspot, Google Analytics and Leadlander for analytics
  • Meltwater for media and social monitoring/reach
  • Bombora and some agencies that leverage Bombora data for ABM and intent marketing (plus a few others that deal with intent research like Spiceworks and TechTarget)

Much of the stack is integrated, and it’s the role of marketing operations to keep it integrated. Epstein noted that much of the technology has come a long way to easing that integration and keeping the different technologies aligned.

My take

Epstein is a great example of a CMO who has a clear understanding of how his team must work to build awareness and engagement with new and existing customers. He understands marketing’s role across the entire customer lifecycle and has in place (or is putting in place)  tools and techniques to support not only his team but other teams across Kaminario to ensure customers do have a consistent quality experience.

Even if your company doesn’t sell enterprise technology like all flash storage, there are key takeaways you use. Such as:

  • The importance of having someone manage your marketing technology within your marketing department.
  • The importance of consistent messaging and experiences not only with sales and support, but other areas of the company that touch the customer.
  • And finally, that – documented or not – you need to have a clear content strategy that feeds your funnel and is constantly monitored for success.

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