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Know Your CMO: Getting Acquainted with Act-On’s Michelle Huff

20171219 bnr michelle huff 351x200 Know Your CMO: Getting Acquainted with Act On’s Michelle Huff

Where were you born and raised?      

I was born in West Palm Beach, FL, but spent most my childhood in Tacoma, WA. I, then, headed to Seattle to attend the University of Washington.

What was your first job?  

My very first job was when I was 14 or 15. I started working at a retirement home on the weekends and on some weeknights serving food in their dining room.

What was the first product you got really excited about?

It’s hard to remember the very first product. While growing up, I remember always loving to try out new gadgets and tools. I remember going with my family to the food shows, and we’d buy all these different types of baking tools, pancake makers, kitchen cutting tools, etc. I just loved watching all the vendors show off their new products and then trying the new things at home. Now thinking about it, this explains a little bit about my love for marketing.

The first software product that got me really excited, though, was during the interview process for my first high tech job after college in the late 1990s. I interviewed with a software company that built technology where you could take a Microsoft Word document and drop it into a folder, where would translate it to HTML, format it to the website’s look and feel, and automatically generate navigation. I thought it was amazing! I had just learned HTML in business school. In a previous job at a marketing consulting company, I helped them modify the website using Microsoft FrontPage. This new way was SOOO much easier! I think my enthusiasm showed through and I got the job. I first started in web marketing, but then eventually moved to product marketing ― apparently, I just loved telling as many people as I could about the product!

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

I’d have to say my Dad. In his career, he ran sales organizations for large companies and then moved to head up Sales, Product, and R&D for a small to mid-size business. I think it’s important for marketers to have a close relationship with sales and, through his stories and advice, he helped me better understand the world from their point of view. Additionally, as I progressed in my career and started managing teams and working across different organizations, he has been a great sounding board for me. Everyone at times needs someone to talk to ― bounce off ideas, hash through problems, talk about pros and cons of management strategies or career changes, or, really, someone to just talk you out of “jumping off the ledge” sometimes when you have those moments at work.

What has been your greatest achievement?

Hmmm. That’s a hard one. I guess I like to think about life and a person’s career as a momentum of lots of small wins and mini-successes. It’s never one thing that makes me feel like I’ve achieved ―or failed, for that matter. Perhaps right now ― managing to be happily married to a husband of 12 years, with two small healthy and happy kids, plus a CMO-gig at a great company with a fantastic team … while still keeping my sanity! Feels like a win to me!

What has been your biggest mistake?

I’ve made a ton of mistakes over the years ― they are all great learning experiences. In some ways, my thinking is that you haven’t tried anything new or innovative if you haven’t made any mistakes. One I recently thought of was an extremely visible mistake. I ran web projects at a company back in the early- to mid-2000s. I was leading a cross-functional team that launched the company’s new website. We were using a new product and architecture and one flaw in our approach was how the versions were replicated from the staging site to the production site. We didn’t realize that every single version of each web page was being sent over and waiting for us to go live. On the big day, luckily after business hours, we went live – and I watched in horror as each edit and modification of the site flashed online. I had written placeholder text saying “blah blah blah” across several of the pages. And I sat, fixated to the computer, hitting refresh over and over again. I’m so lucky we didn’t have Twitter back then! I could just imagine today all the screenshots and commentary that would make my mistake even more visible and long lasting. I learned a few things, though:

  1. When you are doing a new event for the first time as a team, it’s important to talk through what the flow and day is going to look like to catch any mistakes.
  2. No matter how prepared you think you are, it’s hard to catch everything. Try your best, learn from your mistakes, and move on.
  3. There is value in the standard “Lorem Ipsom Dolor” Latin placeholder text! I know we sometimes create things in marketing that are meant for internal viewing (because we think it’s funny), but beware, these things can sometimes end up out there in the open.

What is your greatest strength?

I always try to be positive and focus on the positive.

What is your biggest weakness?

I tend to always look at problems and see “the whole problem” and try to fix it. I always have to remind myself to break it down into smaller parts, take it one step at a time, and get some quick wins.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?   

What I think is unique and fun about being a CMO at a company that sells to marketers is that my team and I are the target buyers here at Act-On. This tends to make the whole company (from Product to Sales to Customer Success) care about my role, my team, our pains, and the approach we take to solve problems. I’m lucky; my role is probably the least neglected role in the company!

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?

My mantra? “No Regrets.” Phrase that makes me squirm? That’s funny … how about “Look behind you ― there’s a spider!”

What makes you stressed?

If I go too many days straight with back-to-back meetings all day, it can be stressful. I’ll start craving some blocks of time during normal business hours to get things done. I started “Michelle Days” where every few weeks my EA will block off the majority of the day for me to work undisturbed. It’s glorious!

What do you do to relax?

Hmmm. Relax? Well, I have a one-year-old son, and a daughter who’s five. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about relaxing on the beach with a book in hand…. But, I do love weekend walks with the family as we head to the park and visit the family’s favorite coffee shops.

What is your favorite song?

How about the Frozen movie song ― “Let It Go!” So many times at work and in life ― you just have to sing to yourself “Let it go! Let it go!” It’s funny, but it’s helpful!

Which book taught you most?

Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit ― there are some good lessons in there for my daughter and me!

Do you have a team or sport that you follow?

I tend to be a fair-weather fan here in Seattle. I usually watch the Seahawks and Mariners when we’re winning. Ha!

Which country would you like to work in?

UK ― I love London.

Which company do you think has the best marketing?

Someone on my team pointed out the BloomThat company to me the other day, and I think they have great marketing and a fun brand. They have clever names for their flower bouquets, catchy campaigns that are tied to current events, offer great CTAs, and their tone is fun and conversational.

What do you love most about your job?

I love meeting with customers. I’m an inquisitive person by nature, and I enjoy better understanding their role, their challenges, organizational structure, how they are using technology, what trends they are seeing, etc. I feel lucky that in the roles I’ve had, I get an opportunity to meet with them well before they are customers, while they are in the sales process, when they begin to adopt the solution and start building out a success plan. The most rewarding part is working with them to showcase their successes both internally and externally. What makes it even more fun here at Act-On is that my customers are in Marketing! So, not only do I find it interesting, but it’s incredibly relevant to what I do as a CMO, and I get to build a great network of peers.

What is your favorite book?


What keeps you awake at night?

Sometimes if I had a conversation or email exchange with someone that I didn’t think went very well, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if it’s my dreams that trigger it, but I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve been playing the conversation over and over in my head. Sometimes, in one version I word it differently or, another time, I’ll have changed my tone. It can be pretty frustrating. But hopefully it’s my silly brain’s way of learning how to better phrase feedback or input to other people and apply it in a new situation in the future.

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Talent Management – Interview Talking MarTech Careers with Michelle Huff, CMO at Act-On Software

Talent Management Interview Talking MarTech Careers with Michelle Huff CMO at Act On Software 351x200 Talent Management – Interview Talking MarTech Careers with Michelle Huff, CMO at Act On Software

Ginger Conlon: 

Hi, I’m Ginger Conlon, Contributing Editor to MarTech Advisor and welcome to our MarTech Advisor video series speaking with CMO’s, and joining me today, I’m excited to announce, is Michelle Huff who is CMO of Act-On software. Welcome Michelle.

Michelle Huff: 

Thanks! Nice talking with you again.

Ginger Conlon: 

Yes, thank you for joining us. So, we are going to talk about the marketing skills that you need to have today. Michelle and I talked about all the things going on in marketing automation and so, check out that video because these things are linked, they are so important to have the skills to take advantage of all these great things going on in marketing automation today. So, let’s start with a little bit about you, tell us briefly about your career journey to becoming CMO of Act-On.

Michelle Huff: 

Yes. So, my journey started off years ago in high tech and I first started off at a small, 30 person company doing web marketing in the late ‘90’s and then over time took on a product marketing role and it continued to be a fast growing business, through that I ended up taking on a product line and then we were acquired by Oracle and so I moved to Oracle. Eventually on the way ended up running, what they call, their outbound product management team for an entire product portfolio that had four different lines. It was interesting just to kind of see, you know, the old company I was at was about 600 people and Oracle at the time was about 80 something thousand and grew to a 120,000 when I was there in five years.

But then I ended up hopping over to Salesforce and so I was at Salesforce for about four years running for one of their divisions first product marketing, then all of their marketing departments and then ended up doing product management, was the General Manager of the division before I jumped over to Act-On. So, it’s been a fun ride, being able to see different companies and how they grow, how you scale, I mean just different sizes of companies and it’s fun to be back into a kind of a mid-sized business where we’re all in it together, really focused on making marketers successful.

Ginger Conlon:

Excellent, that’s a great journey.

Michelle Huff: 


Ginger Conlon:

So, with all the change today, there are skills and traits that have always been important, will continue to be important and then there are some new and evolving in importance traits and skills. So, what are you seeing as one or two of the most important traits and skills that a marketing leader specifically needs today?

Michelle Huff: 

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting because it’s something I’ve always talked about with my team where, it’s funny, marketing, where, as you’re kind of growing in the ranks, some of the skills that require you to grow, to become a, specialist, senior specialist, manager, senior manager, are really different when you start taking on broader leadership roles and I think one really important one is around aligning and communication because at the end of the day, we’ve talked about before in our past interview about how marketers, leaders of marketing focus on the whole customer lifecycle, right, partnering not just with sales but also with the customer success team, normally we partner with whoever the product or service that you’re representing that team as well as the President and people officer. So, how you’re going about communicating your vision, what you’re trying to do, how you’re aligning expectations and goals across all of them determine kind of the success of your career.

So, I think those in particular is so important and then I also feel like, you know, marketing has become such a broad role, right, talk about all those different components and you think about digital, you think about, all the different things with marketing automation but then you also think about brand and customer marketing and it requires so many different skillsets and so, you’ll never be able to be an expert or have done, you know, the work in every single part of marketing and so I think the second part is really how do you, you know, build the skills that you can build a team of experts around you and be able to rely on them to help, you know, your whole entire department become more successful. Then I really just think, you know, being a little more tech savvy and understanding kind of that business acumen part, kind of that both, is just becoming more and more critical for marketers today.

Ginger Conlon: 

Great. So, you would think that as marketers we’re great communicators but maybe, you know, communicating with all these different constituents in your company isn’t what you’re used to do doing and trying to have this kind of broad approach to what you’re learning can be challenging, any advice for senior marketers to get better in these complicated areas?

Michelle Huff: 

It’s interesting because as you say, marketers are, it’s something we’re used to doing and I think it’s so true and I think sometimes people forget internally that you have to think about who your target audience is, right, and what’s important to them and then be able to make sure that you are communicating advantages, the benefits, you know, of what you’re trying to do and so, I think, that’s why the business acumen is really important because it’s – you have to understand that department, what’s driving them, what’s motivating them, what makes them successful, so that when you are trying to build an alliance, when you’re trying to get things done, you know, you’re really selling it, you’re always, selling your vision, getting people to adopt and be excited about what you’re trying to do and so it is using the same skillsets for marketers but I think sometimes people just forget that you need to kind of apply that internally no matter how big or small the company you’re in.

Ginger Conlon: 

Right, it’s great. It’s like you have to be customer centric internally and externally.

Michelle Huff: 

Exactly, right.

Ginger Conlon: 

Definitely. So, let’s talk about marketing teams now. So, there’s all this data, there’s all this technology, it’s changing the marketing landscape and that means that, as we talked about, you know, the skills, the marketers roles are changing, what they need to do is evolving and broadening. So, where are you seeing the greatest need in terms of marketing teams for new skills and what are some of the new skills that you’re seeing a need for today?

Michelle Huff: 

There’s a lot of them. We talk a lot more of marketing being more data driven, so having the skillsets around being more analytical, is definitely a key component. Content marketing is huge, so having creative writers as part of the team, there’s a lot of companies where it’s much more consultative selling, so, having kind of this expertise either in the market or the business or that, a better understanding of the broader solution is really important.

I just feel there are so many different skill-sets that in some sense, we talked about before, where it’s really that team because you don’t always want the person who’s going to be running your brand campaigns to always be the most data driven person, it’s great if they understand it but it’s nice to pair someone on that team who is, it can really help all the different parts of the business think about their world and how they want to be able to articulate the benefits and the value of what they’re trying to do. So, I think a lot of times it’s thinking about you and what skillsets you need to kind of balance with yourself but then also all the people on the team, so that collectively, you know, you’ve got kind of the best combination.

Ginger Conlon: 

Right. So, no matter what level you’re at, you need to be a great communicator, is kind of how it works now.

Michelle Huff: 

Well, yeah and thinking about complimenting, you know, your strengths and weaknesses with the rest of your team.

Ginger Conlon: 

Right. So, for you personally, when you’re hiring, what are some of the things that you look for in a marketer?

Michelle Huff: 

Well, it’s interesting because I’m obviously looking for expertise, right. So, when I’m filling a particular role you’re looking have you done it before, like, have you been there long enough to not just create something but see how it turns out, were you there long enough to see how well it did, any of the challenges, did you learn from any of it. I think communication is important, so much of it is, you know, because it’s how do you communicate internally but also marketers oftentimes are the ones who are speaking, they’re the ones who are presenting, so having great presentation and communication skills are really important.

Then I also just feel like, part of it is cultural fit because one person might work really well in one company but not necessarily kind of fit within that team, so, I think a part of it is testing that out for you and for your team because sometimes the brightest people, if they’re the wrong cultural fit, it just, it’s hard for them to be successful. Then for me, I like people to – a part of it is fun, like you travel a lot, would you go out for beers with someone, you spend so much time at work, is it someone that you think would just be a fun person to be around, I think it just makes work more enjoyable.

Ginger Conlon: 

Yes, absolutely. So, like you said, different skills for different roles. Is there any skill though that’s especially relevant today as part of a marketing team. I mean, you’ve mentioned a lot of things like the ability to collaborate, anything else?

Michelle Huff: 

Yeah, I would come back to the analysts. I think what’s been interesting is that, you know, I think sales a long time ago had their sales ops departments and people to help, you know, with kind of sales strategy and I think marketing also should really have a marketing ops person if they can, I know it depends on the size of the team but really having someone who can help you better track, measure, score, what you’re doing and then tie back because at the end of the day, you know, the impact that marketing is having, the way that you can justify more budget, the way that you can better help and understand are you being effective is how you measure things and so having someone who has not just the ability to be data driven and analytical but be thinking about how it applies to everyone’s role and can work with everyone jointly, just I think elevates the whole team and makes them that much better.

Ginger Conlon: 

Definitely. So, all right, there’s lots of change but some things don’t change, what’s the one trait or skill that’s always been important, that is just always going to be important as a marketer?

Michelle Huff: 

Yeah, I think it’s the communication thing, I don’t know, I keep coming back to it because I feel like as a marketer it’s how you do it internally but, sometimes when I see some of the best marketing campaigns out there, it’s not always the most creative, it’s really how are they communicating the value of what they offer and have connected with that persons need and it’s how they’re communicating, communicating visually, sometimes kind of emotionally or just kind of in the written form and that’s so important. At the end of the day, people are buying things because they’re seeing value and if you can communicate that it will take you a long way.

Ginger Conlon: 

Absolutely. Well, Michelle, thank you again for joining us. Michelle Huff, CMO of Act-On software great conversation, loved speaking with you, thanks everyone for joining.

Michelle Huff: 

Thanks for having me.

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