Top 3 Strategies for Leading a Team of Marketers



Lori Gabrielli, Sr. Director, Enterprise Segment & Global Accounts Field Marketing at VMware, joins host Renee Yeager to share her “Top 3 Strategies for Leading a Team of Marketers,” including investing in employees, promoting growth and creating loyalty. Lori shares insights from her wealth of experience in marketing research, analysis, and leading large organizations to shed light on how to cultivate strong, reliable teams. She discusses how to motivate different generations of employees and why investing in your team members is really about listening to them and recognizing their successes. She also dives into building loyalty and culture and how each contributes to a more productive workforce.

In addition, Renee and Lori explore the future of marketing and where technology marketers should be focusing their attention to ensure success as the industry progresses in the coming years.

Speaker 1: From Yeager Marketing, this is the Top Three for Tech Marketers Podcast, where we discuss trends, challenges, successes, and plans with today’s most innovative technology marketers. Here is your host, Renee Yeager.

Renee Yeager: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Top Three For Tech Marketers podcast. I’m excited to have Lori Gabrielli joining me today. Lori is the senior director of enterprise and global accounts field marketing at VMware and she’s a proven marketing later that has worked in the tech industry for over 25 years. Welcome, Laurie.

Lori Gabrielli: Thank you, Renee. Happy to be here.

Renee: Great. Just before we get started, for our audience, if this is the first time you’re listening to the podcast, on each episode we talk with today’s most innovative technology marketers about a specific topic and narrow it down to three focus areas that they feel are most interesting or really important. And today we’re talking with Lori about her top three strategies for leading a marketing team. So if you’re ready Lori, we can jump right in.

Lori: Yup, I’m ready.

Renee: Okay, let’s get started. So like many tech companies, it’s no secret that VMware is a high growth organization. Can we talk a little about how you typically go about structuring a marketing team and what approach you found that works best?

Lori: Yes, no problem. The first thing I try to find out is pretty much taking the roof off the house and looking through the lens of not only what we’re trying to accomplish in marketing but also since we’re in field marketing also with sales is trying to accomplish. And from there we make sure there’s alignment. And from there I start to build a team. So I have to look at that first, the big vision, and then I start to populate with the best talent that I can find within outside or inside the organization.

Renee: Do you find that you will occasionally bring in contract employees to kind of fill gaps where needed or do you typically go for full time hires?

Lori: It depends on the role. For some of our jobs a contractor would be fine, but for some of our jobs we definitely want a FTE in there. For example, we have field marketing managers in our organization and they get very close with not only the customer but with sales, and if we had a contractor in here, and here at VMware, we have to rotate them out every year or 18 months. That would really affect our relationship with sales because normally when you bring a new person in, it takes about three to six months to get that person up and running and develop relationships with sales in our customers. And then you want to continue that because it takes time, and the longer we can improve on that relationship the better we’re going to be with alignment with sales versus a contractor being moved out within a year to six to 18 months.

Renee: Yeah. It gives you that opportunity to build a stronger relationship over time.

Lori: Yeah, but I definitely think there are opportunities for contractors. The other thing I’ll know on that too, Renee, sometimes I’ll outsource to a contractor that has a set of skills, maybe more expensive, but has a set of skills that my current team doesn’t have and it’s something that I need right away. And I know that if I engage with this contractor I’ll get the information I need right away versus bringing somebody in, finding that person, taking three to six months to ramp them into the organization. So it depends on the needs, but having a mixture is definitely what I do.

Renee: Yeah, that sounds great. That makes sense. One of your top three strategies is around investing in employees. Can we talk a little bit about that and what you found to be most effective?

Lori: Yeah, I think that’s my number one goal within my leadership style is making sure number one, I build the right team. So in a way I have a sixth sense of looking for or finding really good talent and I think that’s one of the key things. Making sure you’re hiring right off the bat really good people that fit within the culture in your organization. And then once I’ve got that foundation, it’s where I’m investing in my employees is critical because we want longterm growth there. And the way I do that is a variety of different things. I include them in on all the decision making. It’s when we’re developing our KPIs or developing our strategy, sure I’m the leader and that’s my job, but if I don’t have buy in from my frontline managers, we’re not going to be successful. So them having a voice and being part of the decision making, invest in employees and showing them that we’re listening to what they heard, that what they’re saying as well as if it’s their idea and it becomes very successful, they get the recognition and rewards. We make sure we do that.

The other thing that we do is training. And one thing I just recently invested in my employees is every year I embark on bringing the whole team together and not only for networking and for us to do team building, but to invest in them. And this year the theme was innovation. And I think all of us can look back through our career, at least I think this is the case. And we’ve had lot of leadership and management training, but none in innovation. And in order for us to grow and keep up with the demand that’s out there with our competition and the IT industry, it’s important to train our employees on how to think differently and reward them for the risk taking. And so that’s another way I invest in them is saying, you know, instead of just doing the same old stuff, I won’t penalize you if you take the risks and shoot for the moon and if fails. All I ask is that you’ve learned from that.

So that’s another way I invest in them. And as well as looking for different opportunities within the organization. If they’re really good employees, yes I want to keep them. But I also know that I want to make sure that they have a great career path. So we do development calls. In fact, just this week we had our chief of staff for sales come in who is a very successful woman coming in and talking about her career journey and what obstacles and what great feedback she can give our team in order to promote growth within my organization. So little things like that make a big difference, but they are definitely my priority.

Renee: I love what you said about shooting for the moon and taking risks and it being okay to fail because we learn so much more with that kind of mindset, don’t we? Then if we’re just so conservative all the time. Especially marketing because there’s so much change going on. I wanted to ask you, do you find different a mindset or adaptability with millennials versus older folks on your team or how does that work? Are you seeing any obvious differences?

Lori: Yes, definitely. We’re seeing… I mean, there’s all kinds of papers now and books being written of the mindset of the millennials versus the baby boomers. And I fall into that baby boomers category, so I’m very interested in learning more. I can’t say I’m an expert on it yet, but what I see is right out the gate, their listening skills are different from what we traditionally have. It seems like they can multitask much better than any of us. They come right out of the gate and all they know is social media, right? Which is the next generation of our marketeers. It’s getting bigger and bigger and they were born into that. So they have a little edge on all of us on that area.

And the way I treat them is making sure that I give them just as much as respect, even though they’re younger and newer in the world versus my baby boomers. So there’s definitely a difference in it. And I can’t say I’m an expert in that yet. I am myself learning how to work with those two different groups. Or there’s actually three different groups of individuals. I think one is… I’m not sure on that exact name, but there’s three different groups that are in the workplace right now.

Renee: I think it’s a gen X in the middle.

Lori: Yeah. Gen X, you’re right.

Renee: My next question aligns to this really well. You had, when we talked earlier, you were saying that promoting each of your team members is another strategy that you’ve highlighted and it’s aligned to investing, right? So are there specific things that you’re doing to help your team advance their skills? So maybe for a millennial audience, are you helping them kind of maybe flesh out more foundational marketing? I see a lot of millennials that are very specific in their skillset. Like you said, like they may have expertise in social or digital, but they may not have more of the foundational aspects of marketing. So do you work with them on that? And then for your baby boomers, do you kind of help them kind of come up to speed on the digital side? And how do you do that?

Lori: Yeah, there’s a couple of things that I currently do with the different sets of individuals I have on my workforce in my organization. One, it has to be a joint plan. It can’t be just me feeding to them what I think they should do. It also should be… What I do is find out where they want to go. So that collaboration is so necessary because me feeding to them is not helping them. It’s them coming to me with a development plan of where they see themselves in five or 10 years. And then through collaboration, assess their skillset and make recommendations of good and bad that I think that will help them get to that next level. And what we do here as well at VMware, which is a great opportunity for our employees, is there are several things that we can do.

We invest in education. So if there’s one area that we feel… For example, there was an individual that was very brilliant and this individual’s presentation skills were not up to par and so we had a very open dialogue about this and this person went ahead and took presentation classes. VMware pays for all that. They offer, which is really nice to be in an organization that invests back in their employees. They can take, I think it’s up to $5,000 per year of some kind of training or education that they feel they need. And it doesn’t even have to be in marketing. If there’s another area that they want to get into, say finance, VMware will approve that. It’s investing in employees, the right employees, in the journey that they want to go.

And what I also tell my employees is about promoting growth about where you want to go. It’s always nice to get a range of different sets of skills, not just in marketing, because as marketeers we support so many different disciplines within the organization. Sales, sales enablement, corporate marketing, executive and technical marketing. And it’s important for you to understand the bigger lens, the bigger picture of all of that. So it’s important not to concentrate too much in one area, especially today because marketing is huge. When people think of marketing, they don’t understand that there’s so many different components to it. So I always try to get them to branch out to different areas. They might uncover a nugget there that is something that’s very interesting to them and it might be the next path for them in their marketing career.

Renee: Okay. That’s really interesting. Almost like cross functional learning.

Lori: Exactly.

Renee: Right. And then getting that kind of insight from other departments. It’s probably incredibly helpful. And then bringing more value.

Lori: Sorry, Renee. I’ll tell you another thing that we’ve done is promoting from other organizations, bringing a mix of different type, not the so much normal marketeers into our organization. In fact, we just brought somebody in from inside sales to our organization and I was hesitant about that because they don’t have a marketing background, but the wealth of knowledge this person brought into the organization has made instrumental changes into our organization by looking through our workload or our organization through a different lens. And as a result of that, really positive things come out. So I encourage my team as well to look outside the lens of marketing and promote with different disciplines because it only enriches us to think differently.

Renee: Yeah, it’s like having insider information to your internal customers. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about culture. So there’s a lot of talk today about creating the right culture. And I think part of why there’s so much talk about it to now is that because millennials are very focused on joining an organization that aligns with their beliefs and and has the right culture for them. And you mentioned loyalty is one of your top strategies. So I was wondering, do you see employee loyalty and culture as interconnected? And if you do, what do you find helps build team loyalty?

Lori: I absolutely do. In fact, this is one of my areas that I spend most of my time in because you can create the best strategy ever. But honestly, if you don’t promote the, and the culture isn’t what make the employees passionate or motivated, you will never get to the end results, that strategy that you constructed. So it’s very important to create a very authentic culture within your organization. And that’s something I pride myself on doing, and throughout my career have been instrumental in doing different changes with the organization to promote this culture.

In fact, we’ve had many incidences in the past and also in my career where we had top notch employees and they got the highest ratings all the time. And then changes came in where different leaders, or they took the roof off the house and they changed the organization a bit, and you saw that rockstar employee drop from there to somebody that wasn’t motivated, somebody that was falling down very fast in the rankings.

And it was because of the culture. I’ve seen this over and over. Versus where as a leader I invest in that and I keep a close eye on the changes that are surrounding me that honestly in some cases I don’t have control over. And I make sure that I monitor that within my organization to make sure those rockstar employees are not being impacted by what’s happening around them. And I try to control the culture within us to at least keep that going so that the outside noise that is happening may change to good or to bad. But I have to make sure I have that lens on my particular organization.

And as a result of that, you can just think about it in examples in your life, if you have a manager looking out for you and being insightful to what’s going around and bringing that up and making sure we’re taking care of our employees, that creates and breeds loyalty. And when you have loyalty, you have less churn, you have better employees, you’re more productive, and all it spells out is success.

Renee: Yeah. Yeah. What you said earlier about taking risks and having a leader that supports you in risk taking I think is so important because it not only develops you personally as you learn from those experiences, but feeling confident in trying new things is just such a win for everybody, really.

Lori: Yeah, I totally agree. And there’s been several incidents with my organization recently where individuals have taken risks and a few of them did not pan out. But I make sure that I reach out to that individual because usually it’s people that take risks are usually individuals that are hard performers. They just don’t sit at the desk doing their day to day activities. They see something, they jump on it, they take the risk, and I made sure to comfort them saying, “Hey, it’s not a big deal. All I ask is that you learn from the mistake and then we move on.” It’s something we don’t dwell on. I rather have that type of employee then employee that just does what they’re told.

Renee: So Lori, do you see culture as a management style? I know there’s culture within the company as a whole, but then you also have a culture within your organization. And is that… Do you see that as being based on how you manage your team? Is it how your team works together? Are they collaborative? Are they more independent? What do you think informs the culture?

Lori: It’s a combination of all of that. But I definitely see culture as a management style. When we want to go to a certain company, it’s usually the culture that attracts us. Like a Google, like an IBM. Those two types of companies are very different and they entice different individuals to want to work in that organization. But once you get into that organization cultures do change. So I think it’s important to make sure that what brought in most of the employees is what the overall culture of the company looks like. And if it does change, you want to make sure that you keep that type of culture within your organization. And as you grow your organization and you become more familiar with your people, you’ll know what’s important to them. And most likely all of us have something in common. It’s why we’re there because of the culture.

And as a leader, my job to make sure that I breed that type of culture within my organization. It can also go the other way where as a leader, they look at the culture as they want to change it, versus what the overall arching culture is of the company. And if you do that, you probably will see a lot of different employees starting to leave. And I’ll give you one example here at VMware.

VMware has been around for close to 20 years now. And when it first started out it was a startup company and that bred certain type of individuals, people who like to wear many hats, really no processes in place. That’s a culture that people are attracted to. Over the years we’ve become… VMware’s now a bigger company. So as a bigger company we definitely have to put processes in place. It’s more structured. And those people that came in because to wear many hats and no processes are now in a culture that where we have to have processes and their job is maybe more structured or centered around one or two areas versus a lot.

And that particular individual may not stay because the culture changed. But if a manager sees a really good employee knows that that’s why they came, maybe they look some for something within the organization that still promotes that type of culture that attracted that person in the first place. So it’s a mixture. Renee, to answer your question of how I think culture is within an organization, it’s not just the organization itself, it’s also about the management. It’s also about the team as well.

Renee: And it’s always evolving as the organization grows up and changes and acquires other companies and whatever path it takes, right?

Lori: You’re absolutely right. Yes. Yeah.

Renee: I’ve read a few articles recently on how hiring has become increasingly difficult. And not just specific to marketing but kind of in general. And what I see as the theme is that the challenge is finding people with the right mix of skills and experience. Have you had any challenge there?

Lori: You know, I have not seen too much of that in the IT industry. It seems like there is a plethora of right now of really talented individuals out there. So in the last few years, I haven’t experienced that. Years ago I have. When we were going from the traditional marketing to go into the digital and social area, we didn’t… As you grow and there’s new things that marketeers need to have in their back, there might not be the set of skills needed. We talked about earlier about the millennials knowing that area very well. They might know it but don’t have the experience. So years ago I experienced that but now it seems like it’s caught up. But you know now we’re facing the Cloud transformation and it’s relatively an open ended new area in the marketeers area that I’m looking for. If anything I struggle with is maybe that area, but for the most part I don’t seem to have trouble finding really good marketeers in the IT industry at this point in time.

Renee: How is data driven marketing affected you? Are you hiring more analytic type marketers? Have you seen any skills gap there?

Lori: I have seen not so much skill gaps but in the particular organization that is the heart of marketing. If you don’t have a good organization that can be enabled to pull and read and tell you the story of the results that you need through data, we’re not going to be successful. And what I find is that lies in marketing operations within the big scope of marketing. But where I struggle, Renee, is wanting to have particular analysts, data analysts, on my team to understand my organization. What they usually have is a centralized marketing ops organization. I feel like if you don’t have an analyst, a data-driven analyst, in your organization, they may not know it as well when they’re sitting in a central one. So if I had my way, I would have at least one analyst in my organization to be able to understand me and report out the data.

As a result of that, what’s happening is a lot of that information that is needed is falling onto my employees currently that are not data-driven experts. They don’t know the databases. They don’t know… And not only do you have to know the databases, you have to know what’s behind them of how the data gets in there because sometimes the data is not translated the right way and the data that’s being pulled out is not a fair representation of what’s happening.

So sometimes that impacts my world by not representing really what’s happening. So it gives a false identity. So it definitely is a concern of mine. And like I said earlier, if I had my way I would have an analyst. In the past I always had an analyst on my team. But now it’s seems to be centralized and the priorities are stemmed from the leader of the whole organization versus the area leaders.

Renee: Wow, that’s really interesting. So, that’s one way that marketing teams are changing now, right? To meet this big data requirement that we have. How else do you see marketing teams changing in the next few years? And what should marketing leaders be thinking about now as they build their organizations?

Lori: I think too, one of the thing that I see in marketing organization is… I just actually did a study of how much time my current marketeers spend on administration type of work, and it was actually mind blowing to see once we did this analysis is that it’s over 50% of the time that they spend is doing admin type of function roles or activities, and very little on strategy and development. So I think one of the ways that we should be concentrating on as marketeers for the future is to automate some of the tasks that we do so that marketeers can spend more time on building strategies, in developing themselves so that we can be more productive. That’s one way. I’ll pause there for a moment to see if you have any questions on that.

Renee: I just see so many opportunities. We work with a lot of marketing teams and just… It’s so fun to watch. Not fun to watch their challenges, but fun to watch how they are looking forward and trying to plan, right? How can we use technology to your point? How can we use technology to be more effective and efficient? Right? Although, at the same time it, sometimes you have to get granular to really understand things, right? And as much as technology can store it for you and make it available to you, there’s still that level of granular work that has to happen.

Lori: It’s a balance, right? Trying to find what the right balance is. Like I said earlier was over 50%. Maybe 30% might be the right number, I’m not sure, but trying to scale it down a bit so they can do it. The other thing I think as marketeers that we need to look at is that the market is getting saturated by all these things hitting them. By social, digital, events, email. There’s so many different things and what’s happening is it becomes… They get immune to us and we’re not setting ourselves apart from our competition or anything. So I think what we’re trying to do here now in our marketing organization is it’s more about quality versus quantity. And in the past that is just get everything out there as much as you can. They have to see us, they have to hear us.

But I think there’s a better way to do that versus just sending all this information over the customer, which confuses them. And so right now we’re going through a marketing transformation where we’re trying to structure and look at things through several lenses versus many lenses, and trying to make it more digestible for our customers. And I think that’s what we have to keep in mind. It’s not all about what the new technology is to use and go out there. It’s you have to… The bottom line is keeping our customers in mind, number one, and with the experience they go through. And I think if we hit that, we’ll be successful.

Renee: Yeah. Yeah. That’s really, really interesting. I mean, it’s hard to manage keeping up with all this content creation and then when the demand feels so high and you’re competing with everyone around you for mindshare, oftentimes I think companies are putting out less interesting content, less relevant content, just to have more content. Right? So having it-

Lori: And it goes back to… Oh, I’m sorry. It goes back to them kind of investing in employees and promoting growth. When I talked about innovation, right? Training them on innovation, right? What is that next idea out there? You know, and promoting that type of synergy within marketeer, within marketing, versus just doing the same old, same old. There’s more out there that we all have to learn and promoting in an organization that invest in their employees, invest in innovation, willing to take risks. We’ll promote that and hopefully get some more successful ideas out there of how we contact and reach our customers versus doing everything the traditional way.

Renee: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I have one more bonus question.

Lori: Okay. I’m ready for it.

Renee: You ready? What’s your favorite book on leadership?

Lori: Well, leadership. I have two books. I have to say that when anybody asks what my favorite books are in marketing, these are the two I reference. They’re kind of similar but look at it from a different lens. One is Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office by Lois P Frankel. I read that years ago and I always… I get new team members, I reference that book because it’s a way to think differently as a woman in technology. I grew up and in the technology space for the last 25 years., I’ve seen a lot of evolve and when after reading this book, maybe I read it about eight years ago, and I realized some of the stuff I did early on my career, I wish I would have read this book earlier because it actually makes me think differently and do actions differently based on that.

The other book that, again as I said earlier goes hand in hand, is Lean In A Woman Work And The Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. That is a fascinating book that talks about solutions to empower women to achieve their full potential. And if you read those two books, in a different way they say the same thing. But they have been both instrumental in me at looking at things differently. And even though I have 25 years of experience in marketing, still there’s so much more to learn.

And one of the things you had asked about was my favorite books and leadership is I read all different kinds of books. Not only in marketing, but in social, well social is marketing, but in social, in finance, in statistics, in sales, and about our customers. Because having that breadth of knowledge is what’s going to make a really true, fantastic marketeer. Because if you look at marketing, it comes through different lenses. So those are the two books I would recommend.

Renee: That’s so great. So good, Lori. So good.

Lori: Thank you.

Renee: Okay.