#WomenInTech: Marketing and Modern Work with Katie Martell
As the former Co-Founder and CMO of Cintell, On-Demand Marketer Katie Martell is at the forefront of today’s marketing industry. She spoke to us about her experience as a CMO, the opportunities in self-employment, and the importance of networking in modern work.
Menaka: When did you decide you wanted to be a marketer?
Katie: As is always the case, it’s not where I thought I’d be. I found my way into marketing entirely by accident. I had been studying music actually – I’m a trained trombonist. And I loved it. But I realized I actually had to make a living.
The marketing guy at my father’s B2B company had an open summer position, and at first I hated the whole concept of working in an office. But it paid well, and it was a small company with one marketer, giving me the chance to do everything: trade shows, case studies, Photoshop, I mean, you name it, I did it at that job. And I discovered that marketing was not only fun, but that I was good at it. I figured that if I had to make a living in an office, I might as well have a gig I could have fun with.
Menaka: You were a relatively young CMO when you were at Cintell – did you find that people were often surprised when you walked through the door?
Katie: In any kind of management position, many will look at you critically if you’re young, or especially if you’re female. There’s this kind of built-in, unconscious bias. You will likely be discounted at first blush. And that’s just the reality of business.
When I was at NetProspex, as their first marketing hire when it was a 10-person startup, I learned to fake it until you make it – that doesn’t mean make stuff up as you go, it means having confidence in unfamiliar situations. It means being comfortable with the ambiguity that comes with that kind of position. I think being a leader is about showing strength and being composed throughout a lot of chaos. It’s the only way to gain respect from those who doubt you from your appearance.
I knew there was a lot I wasn’t going to know on my first day as a CMO, but I had confidence in my ability to figure it out. Anyone going into a role that stretches their perceived limits can’t be scared by the fact they don’t have twenty years of experience. You have to be resourceful and get things done.
I think it’s also good though to acknowledge the fact that you’re going into these situations at a bit of a disadvantage. If you don’t look like the rest of the people in the room, whether it’s by your gender or your age or your hair color, just go in expecting that. Know that you have to work with that, and know that you will be underestimated.
Menaka: In your TEDx talk, you spoke about how marketers now need to focus on the customer rather than the product. How is this shift going to change the industry?
Katie: Well, companies are no longer able to survive by just being product-driven. These days, buyers have more control than ever, and companies that do well are the ones who get to know the people they’re selling to. Empathy is really the only attribute that matters for a good marketer.
I think many organizations simply give the idea of being “customer-focused” total lip service, but it’s a strategy that must be taken seriously. Organizations are using it as a competitive sustaining advantage.
It’s critically important to listen to customers. It sounds obvious, but many companies are really bad at it. It’s easy to focus on the product and ignore what really matters – how you’re impacting the lives of people it’s being sold to. When it comes down to it, that’s all that matters.
Watch Katie’s TEDx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YziqaD0Oc5g
Menaka: Since leaving Cintell, you’ve started your own consulting practice. Lots of people are choosing self-employment these days – do you think this is the future of work?
Katie: It doesn’t work for everyone, but I think this is the route a lot of people will eventually take. It provides flexibility, whether it be mothers on leave who still want to make a living, or individuals with highly specialized skillsets that don’t want to get pigeonholed into one project.
In my personal experience, consulting has been great. Sometimes it can be hard to find one person within a company who can do it all, and it’s easier to outsource certain work to different people with specialized skills. A lot of companies just need help with short-term projects, and that’s where there’s great opportunity.
Menaka: As a marketer, what role does your network play in your work?
Katie: As a consultant, my network is all that matters. It’s the reason I’ve been able to find new work. But even as someone who worked in positions in-house, my network has been where I have turned for help during challenging problems through multiple jobs. It’s been my most valuable asset throughout many of my positions.
As millennials we’re often perceived as ‘job hoppers,’ but I like to think that we’re willing to admit when something is not the right fit, and try something new when we’re not in the right place. Our network is what gives us that next opportunity. It provides the resources we need when facing that kind of new challenge.
My network is something I actively cultivate for continual support, education, opportunities, and brainstorming help, and it’s honestly the most valuable thing I’ve built over time. Without my network, I’d be lost. It’s a foundational component of being a professional now.