We spoke to Salesforce’s Ashling Kearns about value-based marketing and how B2B marketers can be driving change in their organisations.
Q. We spoke to CMO Stephanie Buscemi earlier this year about Salesforce’s marketing strategy on a global level. How are the global marketing objectives being executed here in the UK?
A. Here at Salesforce UK&I, we’re totally aligned to the global strategy, which is based around the values of being innovative, championing customer success and building trust. But then, we have the freedom to put a local twist on that and execute it in our own way. It’s a tremendous time for marketers in the UK and Ireland right now — so many of the companies we are dealing with are going through fundamental digital transformation changes and putting the customer at the heart of everything they do.
It’s a very exciting position to be in as a marketer and we feel lucky to be able to work with our customers in the UK and in Ireland to be able to do that. I think it’s a little bit unusual for a B2B software company, but we are so heavily pivoted on our values, and we are finding that a lot of our customers actually really want to do business with us because of it.
Q. How does this values‐based approach translate into a marketing campaign?
A. It manifests itself in many ways. We want to show up where our customers are. We want to have diverse representation in everything from our tone of voice or content, to what we put on stage and what we put on our website. As an example of how this would show up in say an activation or execution, we have recently built a partnership with Marie Claire. And that’s about sharing common values, asking ‘what does the future of work look like?’, or ‘what does an equal society look like?’ And so, we build partnerships such as the Marie Claire one to show that and demonstrate that.
I think this sort of approach is a fundamental change for B2B marketing. In the past, B2B marketers were very pipe‐gen orientated. But actually, what we’re doing from a marketing perspective is leading with a very human conversation around what’s happening in the communities we operate in.
Q. A partnership with a brand like Marie Claire isn’t an obvious choice for a B2B brand. Salesforce is known for its unique style of marketing — what advice do you have for those more traditional B2B companies who want to be more creative?
A. At Salesforce, we talk a lot about psychological safety. We’re in one of the most innovative companies in the world and that innovation comes from every component of the business. One of the brilliant things about being one of the most innovative companies on the planet is we operate in a really psychologically safe environment where every idea is valid and it doesn’t matter where it comes from in the business. But one of the things that manifests itself in my team in the UK, is that we are really comfortable with testing, iterating, failing. We have a fail fast mentality. It’s okay to try things that may not work out.
Q. What do you think the key challenges are for your team here at Salesforce UK?
A. I think that our customers are going through a time of unprecedented change. And change can be very daunting and scary. One of our challenges as marketers at Salesforce in the UK is helping our customers when they are ready for that change. It’s about understanding their challenges and needs, and then being able to support them in the right ways to help them through this digital transformation, using all of the knowledge that we have gained over the past 20 years.
But we also want to connect them with other customers that have been through a similar change themselves. One of the fundamental beliefs that we have here in marketing at Salesforce is that we’re creating with people. We’re creating communities and we want to be a facilitator for people to have these conversations.
Q. As you mentioned, businesses are going through a time of unprecedented change and marketers themselves are too. Which skill sets do you think the modern marketer has to develop to be successful?
A. It’s almost 20 years ago that I entered marketing, and at that time marketing was more of an art than a science. Over the last 20 years, with access to data and to great platforms like Salesforce to harness that data, what you’re seeing is that modern marketing theory has become a beautiful combination of art and science.
But what that has allowed the modern marketer to do is have a pivotal role in the transformation within their organisation. The marketing function is one of the few functions in the company that can touch everything because the core of what we do is so customer‐centric. I think it’s that mindset of being a change agent within your organisation and having the ability to change how a company interacts with customers that is really exciting about being a modern marketer.
Q. I read in one of your previous interviews that mentors have been a huge influence in your career journey so far. What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received as you’ve progressed your career as a marketer?
A. I have been very lucky that I’ve been surrounded by great marketers and leaders throughout my career. I think that there’s probably two pieces of advice: one is for marketing and one is for life. The marketing one is that you’re solving for the business, you’re not solving for marketing. I think the great marketers are actually putting together what ultimately becomes a business strategy, rather than just a marketing strategy. And I’ve always kept that at the centre of what I’m doing — I’m solving for our customers, our company. Not necessarily for a marketing plan or strategy.
The other piece of advice is related more to life and career. I think as a marketer it’s really important to grow yourself as well as your company. What I mean by that, is you could be working in a growth company that has 20, 30% growth year on year consistently. Are you investing in yourself as a marketer at the same pace and rate as your company is growing? I think that has been something that has been very much on my mind as I’ve grown as a leader. What investment am I making in myself to keep pace and stay ahead of my company’s growth? So those are the two pearls of wisdom that I have tried to keep with me as I grew as a leader in Salesforce.
Raconteur Meets is our new interview series that puts the spotlight on B2B marketers doing inspiring, innovative things in their industry. Sign up to our newsletter to be the first to know about the next instalment.