In our most recent episode of Mimeo’s Talk of the Trade, we sat down with Justin Shriber, Chief Marketing Officer at People.ai and Host of The Legends of Sales and Marketing podcast, with a burning question: what makes someone a C-suite legend?
After all, every year, thousands of eager, smart people start their careers as business development reps or marketing assistants. Only a few of them make it to the top of ladder. Even fewer of those are legends within their industries. Since Justin interviews those people on a regular basis for his podcast, we wanted to know his take on how someone becomes a CRO or CMO legend.
Here are the 3 characteristics that Justin identified as key to becoming a legend:
1. They Have Incredible Grit
The more interviews that Justin conducts, the more he finds out that the leaders on the opposite side of the microphone have lived interesting, difficult lives.
For example, Brian McCarthy – CRO of Rubrik – shared two memories from his childhood. The first was that his dad, working as a janitor at a private school in order to enroll his kids there, showed Brian the floor he had been mopping and said “that’s clean enough for me to put my name on it.” In other words, Brian learned to take pride in his work, no matter what kind of work it may be. His other memory is not longer after that, when his father passed away and their house was being foreclosed. Even though it was an incredibly difficult moment for his family, Brian remembers being sure that they would pull through. With those two memories supporting him in the corporate world, Brian has been able to build teams of hard-working, smart people who take their work as seriously as he does.
Justin also shared the story of Shellye Archembeau, one of the first Black female CEOs. She moved around often growing up, and often had to be the new – and only – African American in school. Her parents helped her process this into fuel to take charge of her destiny and plan a new life. In high school, she decided she wanted to be CEO of IBM. So she got herself a job there as an executive assistant. Then she started calling executives throughout the company for informational interviews. They admired her initiative, and she learned how to ask for help and listen to advice. She also started developing a knowledge network so that when she did reach the ultimate rung of the ladder, she could call fellow CEOs for advice.
Of course, one doesn’t have to suffer hardships in childhood in order to become a legend. Rather, Justin has noticed that these legends have learned valuable lessons in hard work, perseverance, and fearlessness because of the adversity they faced, and they use those coping strategies to reach success in the corporate world.
2. They Have a Formula
Besides having the right attitude, Justin has noticed that the legends he interviews all have developed formulas for success in their roles that they take all the way to the top of the organization.
Going back to Shellye Archembeau, even back in high school, she started writing plans to get herself from one goal to the next. Then she asked people for help and advice so that she could achieve those goals. This formula helped her get where she wanted to go and supported her once she got there, so that she could continue to succeed.
In another example, Chris Degnan started out as a business development rep, and he was determined to make enough money to stay off his mom’s couch. So he figured out how many dials he needed to make in order to convert the right number of sales – and then he made those calls. While his friends went out partying, he stuck to his formula, which meant he hit his quota, earned promotions, and eventually made his way to become the Chief Revenue Officer at Snowflake.
3. They Learn How to Inspire People
Having the right attitude and a recipe for success is enough to launch an individual career, but those two things alone will not necessarily result in a legendary team once you end up in a leadership position. The third key characteristic is the ability to inspire people – and Justin is quick to assure us that this is a learned skill, not a natural talent.
In fact, many of the legends he interviewed faced their biggest challenges when they entered a leadership role. When you are already motivated to excel at your job, it can be difficult to empathize with and understand team members who are not inherently motivated or who respond to different motivations than you.
Justin shared a few tips for developing the skill of inspiration. First, make sure you hire the right people into the team who can operate within your formula for success. Then, be self-aware as a leader about what motivates you, so that you can recognize motivation in other people. You should also be aware of your own weaknesses – and lean on your team for help in those areas.
For example, Melissa Murray Bailey, SVP of Global Sales at Hootsuite, moved from consulting into a sales leadership role in a foreign country. She very quickly realized she was in over her head. Instead of pretending everything was fine, she admitted to her team that she needed help, and collectively, the team exceeded in performance because that built so much trust.
Justin’s last piece of advice for inspiring people is simple: be curious about them. Be curious about your team members as human beings, about their wants and desires beyond the workplace, and then work to help them achieve their dreams. When they feel you are genuinely on their side, they will be on your side and be more motivated than ever to excel at their roles.
Not everyone can become a legend of sales or marketing, but everyone who does has the right attitude, skillset, and formula. Hear more of Justin’s observations in the full podcast episode!