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Katy Sweetman

Tech Marketers Mentor Q&A: Caroline Francis

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The NZ Tech Marketers mentoring programme is for tech marketers and by tech marketers, designed to bring tech marketers together to learn from others.

We catch up with Caroline Francis, TMG mentor and CMO at large. With a 23-year history leading marketing for global tech companies, Caroline reflects on her journey and lessons learnt, her plans for the year ahead and shares some valuable tips on how to get the most from a mentoring relationship.

Caroline Francis

Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience as a tech marketer.

As a fresh and eager graduate, I embarked on what would turn out to be a tumultuous journey – with my first marketing role focused on data, telemarketing, and email marketing (back in 1996, before it was even really a thing). And over the next 23 years, I had the great fortune to work with some of the best tech marketing and business minds, in global organisations like Hitachi, AMD, 3COM, VMware, EMC, Datacom, Orion Health, and most recently Jade Software. I’ve worked in a variety of global roles – from marketing coordinator, events manager, PR & comms manager, marketing manager, and for the last 15 years or so, I’ve been privileged to mentor, coach, and lead amazing teams of marketers in the capacity of CMO. I’m now working as a Consultant to NZ tech companies that have global aspirations in building their marketing function.

Working in tech happened by chance, as is often the way. If you speak to anyone in my personal life, they’ll tell you that I’m actually a bit of a luddite and not a bit technical, so it’s practically a miracle that I’ve thrived in the industry for as long as I have.

I guess that’s because to me, marketing isn’t a function of technology. It’s a pivotal function in any organisation, regardless of industry. As a marketer, you’re a connector, a storyteller, a customer advocate. It doesn’t matter what product or service you’re promoting. Gaining deep insight and understanding into the person buying what you’re selling – including their drivers, motivators, and what they care about the most – means you can then weave a story that is relevant, compelling, and positions your offer as a must have, not a nice to have.

What I love the most about the technology industry, and why I’ve stayed put for as long as I have, is the rapid pace of change. Nothing stays the same for long. As an example, when I first started in the industry, mobile phones were for texting and making calls – and now we have more compute power in our pockets than Bill Gates ever dreamed would be required (in the 1980s, Gates reportedly said at a computer trade show that 640K is more memory than anyone will ever need on a computer!). It’s an exciting time to be a part of an industry that is literally changing the way we live, communicate, and work.

What attracted you to being a TMG mentor?

The best part of my career so far has been the interactions with the teams I’ve led. Coaching, mentoring, and supporting people to be the best they can be, smash the goals they set, and move up through an organisation is the most satisfying feeling.

My style has always been to lead from the front, get my hands dirty, and be the example I want to see in my team. Being a part of the Tech Marketers mentoring group gives me an opportunity to help less experienced marketers, or people wanting to bounce around ideas, challenge their thinking, or be there for support – when it’s unavailable elsewhere. The group also gives me exposure to a team of senior leaders and peers in the industry that I’d argue are some of the best in the world. How lucky are we to have this amazing resource available to us in New Zealand!

What are you looking forward to as a TMG mentor?

Being a part of the TMG mentoring program sees me connecting with bright new minds in the tech marketing space, and I’m loving that. I find it really rewarding to contribute to the success of someone’s career, and helping them gain the clarity they’re often searching for.

On a selfish note, I’ve found in coaching people, my ideas and thinking are often challenged too, and I’m looking forward to learning new things along the way.

As a tech marketer, what does 2020 hold in store for you and your team? Where will you be focusing your efforts this year?

As privacy laws are getting more restrictive, and customers less tolerant of noise, prospect acquisition is one of our biggest challenges. My teams are focused on exploring new (and innovative) ways to engage and connect with prospects. The regular methods no longer cut it!

I’ve also prioritised content as a huge component of our marketing mix. But there’s already a load of it out there. Being acutely aware of our competitors’ positioning, what will move our prospects through the funnel, and telling personalised stories is what will continue to consume our time.

And the biggie – alignment with our sales organisations. I’m a firm believer that sales and marketing teams should be focused on the same single-minded goal – attracting the right prospects, and accelerating their journey through the funnel. But, so often, this sadly isn’t the case. Communication will be so critical for us in achieving this alignment, and ensuring that the marketing team is not only responsible for top of funnel activities, but supporting the sales organisation with the tools and resources needed for our collective success.

Any key lessons learned or observations over the years that you can impart, from a tech marketing perspective?

  1. Have strong opinions – but hold on to them loosely. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not short of an idea or three. And it’s so very easy to get caught up in your own opinion. What I’ve found works best, is to have a voice, no matter what your role, and be willing to listen, too. 
  1. Emotional intelligence. Funny story. One of the greatest leaders I’ve worked for, suggested I attend a course (about 15 years ago). I turned up to said course, and in front of me were about a dozen middle aged, white men… All A-typical bolshy individuals. NOT the stereotype I’d assumed I was. I was determined and driven, sure. I wanted to get ahead, and quickly. As it turns out though, to be the best, is to have the peripheral awareness required to bring people on your journey. Something I spent the next 15 years working on. Always consider others’ perspectives, communicate along the way – even if you think it’s unnecessary or overkill, and never assume – EVER. 
  1. Be brave and try new things. In a very humbling meeting I attended a few years ago, I had to stand in front of the board and explain why a campaign we’d run hadn’t achieved the results we were expecting. Sure, overall we’d smashed our targets and delivered results, but we’d spent money on something that hadn’t worked too. The response from one of the directors was levelling. His advice was to continue being wrong – but learn and do it differently next time. Not a truer word said. So, be bold, be brave in trying new things, and be prepared to sometimes be wrong.

Tips for making the most out of a mentoring relationship?

The mentoring relationship can be one of the most rewarding you’ll have during your career, but it’s up to you to make the most of the engagement. In my humble opinion, there are a few things you can do to thrive.

  1. Be prepared. Think about the reasons why you want a mentor. What do you hope to achieve as a result of your relationship? What will you do with the information you’re given? How will you measure the success for you personally? Do your research on your mentor. What areas of their experience will be most useful for you? Think about the frequency and length of your engagements. For every hour you spend with your mentor, be prepared to spend at least another two preparing and taking action.
  1. Take notes. Keep a record of your conversations so you can refer to those nuggets of brilliance you’ve taken away, at a later date. As much as you think you have a great memory, we hear about 30,000 words on average every day. You’ll want to write the great ones down.
  1. Take action. The old adage of ‘what you do, not what you say, defines you’ is so true. It’s all very well and good nodding and agreeing with your mentor as they’re providing you with new ideas. What’ll see you win, is when you experiment and try these new ideas out (as they’re appropriate to your business of course).
  1. Feedback. It’s important you have an open and transparent relationship with your mentor. Tell them what’s working and what’s not. Ask for what you need, and don’t be afraid to challenge your assumptions.

You’ll get the most out of your mentoring relationship when you go into it with a curious mind. Be brave, embrace new ideas, and be bold as you accelerate your tech marketing career.

If you’d like to get involved with the TMG mentoring programme, either as a mentee or a mentor, we’d love to hear from you! Head over to our mentorship page, fill out the form and we’ll be in touch.

Katy Sweetman