Carol Carpenter, CMO of VMware, on Aligning Cloud Marketing and Sales Teams to Operationalize Data

In this episode, our guest is Carol Carpenter, CMO of VMware. Carol is an industry veteran with over 25 years of technology sector experience. Prior to VMware, she served as Vice President of Product Marketing at Google Cloud, where she and her team led the transformation of Google Cloud from its early stage to its current leadership position in cloud computing.

Carol joins Intricately CEO Michael Pollack and VP of Marketing Sarah E. Brown for a conversation on sales and marketing alignment, the role of data in customer journeys, initiating culture change at large enterprises, and much more.

Full Transcript

Michael Pollack [00:00:09] Hello, everyone, and welcome to Selling in the Cloud, a podcast about the business of cloud sales and marketing, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. I'm Michael Pollack and I'm here with Sarah E. Brown, and we are your co-hosts.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:39] Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Pollack [00:00:40] Sarah, it's awesome to be here.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:42] In this episode, we're speaking with Carol Carpenter, CMO of VMware. Shall we get to it?

Michael Pollack [00:00:47] Let's do it.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:48] Carol, welcome to the show. So great to have you with us.

Carol Carpenter [00:00:50] Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Michael, for having me.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:53] Can you please give us a brief introduction; share a bit about who you are and some background of how you got to be where you are today at VMware?

Carol Carpenter [00:01:00] Sure. I'm Carol Carpenter, I'm the CMO of VMware. I love what I do. I think... I consider myself a CMO with a strong business approach. A lot of my background is in product, and I think that also helps me drive stronger positioning and messaging because obviously it's hard to market what you don't really understand. So that's been part of my brand, and I came to VMware from Google Cloud, where I'd been for three and a half years, and we had a fantastic, fantastic growth during that time. So a lot of fun, worked with some terrific people. And the attraction to come here to VMware, was primarily the opportunity to work with some key people and the position of the company. VMware is this very successful large software company that's been around 20 plus years, really made its name in virtualization. And, as a company, is going through this tremendous transformation to more application platforms and developer orientation, and that really got me excited because we play a very unique role in the industry where we are the Switzerland. We work with every single hyper-scaler and we help solve these really complex problems for multi-cloud.

Michael Pollack [00:02:19] I love that kind of lead in to it and your background, to your point, very impressive, right? Stints at Apple, stints at Google and spanning both world class leading consumer companies, as well as world class enterprise companies, right? And companies that kind of, I'd say, made the jump like Google going from a consumer business to building out enterprise business and being wildly successful in both. I'm curious to ask you, when you think about your CMO responsibility, VMware, to your point, huge product, a legacy install base around virtualization and increasingly moving to kind of the cloud of the future of this dynamic system. I'm curious as a marketer in this situation where there's a transition happening in terms of how the business is represented, how it wants customers to think about it. Can you talk a little bit about that challenge and how VMware is doing it differently? I'd love for you to kind of unpack that a little bit.

Carol Carpenter [00:03:09] Yes, Michael. Well, there are many facets to this. So one. Yes, our portfolio has grown tremendously over the past several years, right? We have apps and cloud solutions. We have networking. We have end user employee solutions around security and access and the ability to work anywhere. We have a security portfolio that we sell standalone as well as integrated into all of our products as just built security and not bolted it on. And then we also have a growing edge and computing business. So it is a really broad portfolio, and the way our marketing team has tried to address it is a few ways. One is we have the traditional segmentation that I think most companies have, which is by geography and by company size, right? Small, medium business and then large, very large enterprises. We have that. And then the added layer is we have different buying sects. And I think that's what makes it more challenging and more fun to do what we do here in marketing, which is we have different buying centers that we're working with. So everyone from again, some of the more traditional operations teams who are looking to optimize and manage at scale to developers and DevOps teams who are striving for agility and speed to get code into production. So we have a really interesting portfolio and an opportunity, and that's what my team is so excited about is, how do you drive integrated marketing at scale and speed at a company of our size across multiple buying groups? And I was just chatting with another CMO and we were both just really focused on this idea of customer journeys, which does sound a little jargon-y, but really understanding what are those journeys for those customers? And I'll give you a few examples – like we have 500,000 customers. OK, so the first blush inclination is to say, OK, we have 500,000 customers. How do we cross-sell and upsell them on every single product we own in the portfolio? But you know how that goes, because unless you're talking to the CEO, maybe the CIO or CTO, but even then they have a specific world view of the problems and issues that they need to solve. So how do we segment in a smart way where we look at the customer journey? For example, oK, you're one of our 500,000 customers. You've experienced us from maybe some of our older on premise products. How do we work with you so that you can be a champion to work with, say, the DevOps team around how to ship code faster and how do you use some of our application services to do that? Or how do we also introduce you to the idea that, gosh, you know, security is something you really need to think about, which most are thinking about, but how do we also include the CSO in conversation? So for us, it is about making sure we understand the customer journey. What are the appropriate entry points for these different types of personas? Buying groups, buying centers, whatever you want to use, and that's going to change. And then the other part of the change, which is more of an internal change, I'll just add this one in, is we are transitioning as a company in terms of a business model, from a software license to fast subscription. Which you're SaaS company, so you can appreciate this. It changes everything, right, it changes the metrics you look at, again, more from an internal perspective, the customer value is pretty obvious, right, that there is no such thing as shelfware – it's all driven by... they pay for what they use. It's purely around the value we deliver. So that's really exciting for us. The opportunity is really, how do we enhance our go-to-market with more of a buy-from motion? Because SaaS products give you that opportunity for product-led growth to give you that opportunity to say to certain buying groups, particularly developers and DevOps, like hey, come and try, come and explore for yourself. You don't need a sales person. You don't want a sales person knocking on your door, calling you. So those are some of the changes. There's obviously the breadth and depth of the portfolio and how we think about customer journeys. And then there's also in the background, the business model change, which does drive how we go to market and how we think about the full customer lifecycle.

Sarah E. Brown [00:07:53] I'd love to understand the role of data and empowering these customer journeys. How are you thinking about data and what advice would you give to cloud revenue leaders who are listening and how to use data and their marketing?

Carol Carpenter [00:08:04] Right. Well, this is like every marketer's dream and nightmare. So it's been fantastic these past few years, many years, like the amount of data we now have, has grown exponentially and it's amazing. You can collect data, talking about SaaS products right, on what customers are doing in aggregate, right? There's so much telemetry data so that we can now focus and focus our efforts. And then you marry that with all the like – we just had VMworld, which is our large customer event and a benefit of being mostly virtual this year, is again, more data, right? We can really follow up and pinpoint that. For example, Sarah came, she visited. She engaged with Keynote, and then she went really deep into SD-WAN when trying to understand, how do I improve performance for my remote workers? Well, now we can follow up with Sarah and say, Sarah, do you want to learn more? Now that's a pretty obvious one. Like, we all try to do that all the time, but it's the marriage, because Sarah has also visited the website. Sarah has also done five other things. So we do have a data warehouse that we built a few years ago. It's large, it's unwieldy. It's just like all the problems. Data warehouses always sound like such a great idea, until you actually have to gather your insights and then it's like, oh boy, how many analysts do we have? So there's collecting the data and making sure you're doing it, obviously in a way where you respect your customers' privacy. There's managing the data, which we're always working on. How would you do that better? And then there's the most important part, I would argue, is getting the insights out of the data, and that's what I was referring to. We try really hard and this is something it's a little bit of working backwards, which is identify well in advance what questions are we going to answer? What are we going to do with the state? Again, it's pretty obvious, but the temptation to collect everything is just so strong. And all it does is slow you down, and you could spend days just waiting for your data versus, OK, we want to make five decisions. We want to know, are these customer journeys we hypothesized about truly the right ones? Right? So you have a hypothesis, you want to confirm it. Or, we see, and this is where dashboards are great, being able to see in advance like there's a red flag here. We are not converting as many folks from trial to purchase. And then you go and you pull on the thread and you can do investigations but you need to have data to do that. And that leads to other questions. So I would say data is incredibly important. I tell my team we have to eat data for breakfast. It just needs to be part of our DNA. And this is where you didn't ask about this. But I just want to say this is where I think marketing and sales have really come together more closely over the past few years. There is now a common dataset we can all look at. We can agree upon common metrics that aren't just, well, how much revenue do we produce, how much overall pipeline and driving, because that's the superficial things. Those are not your your leading indicators that are going to actually change behavior. Those are important, but they're usually very much the rearview mirror.

Michael Pollack [00:11:24] You kind of preemptively answered the question I was about to ask there, Carol, which was great, but it's interesting. So maybe just to unpack your comment about data for a second. We're a data vendor. We work with many companies, we provide them with data. And the interesting challenge with data today is to really the third point you highlighted, which is everybody has data. Almost everyone has too much data, and the challenge is now operationalizing that right? How many data analysts does it take to make an insight and then to actually turn it into an action, right? No one is saying, I want more data. They're saying I want more results. And so the hard part is to figure out what data is relevant and so, on that point, I'm curious to have you maybe unpack just a little bit or share some context on how do you align marketing and sales at VMware? Obviously, your shared data sets, that's what piece of it that helps. But when you have a half million customers, I'm sure sales are saying, Hey, we want to market in our existing customers and at the C-suite, I'm sure they're saying, Hey, let's get another half million new customers, and I'd love to hear how you talk about that challenge of balancing out sales needs and ensuring that marketing and sales are truly aligned at an organization of this enormous size.

Carol Carpenter [00:12:35] Yes, and I don't think we've fully figured it out. We're on a journey like everyone and I look for progress, not perfection. And if you know someone who's figured it out, I'd love to talk to them. So a few things just on the sales and marketing piece. Obviously, we have a lot of forecast calls, and what we try to get ahead of is both where can we influence in quarter and what can we impact? So there's a timing factor. And that's how we choose and where we choose to engage. When you look at a customer journey, what is the timing factor? So sales is often, because of the way sales runs, is often a little more short term. Little surprise. We try to look at in quarter – and I'll give you two examples, so in quarter metrics and then what I consider truly like North Star metrics, which are those leading metrics around how are we engaging? Are we engaging new buying centers sufficiently so that they will become champions six months down the road? So that's primarily within the marketing team. Yes, sales cares, but they don't care until the quarter actually gets there, right. So the other piece of it is the in-quarter create. And what are we doing around in-quarter create, and in-quarter influence, both for the lifecycle, the customers we're trying to win, as well as the expansion opportunities? And how do we ensure that those customers are happy? We look at a variety of metrics there. We try and we just started this about a year ago. We try to look at those leading indicators before the forecast call, and we use – everybody uses Salesforce, everybody uses Marketo – we have a bunch of other tools we use as well. But we sit down with our sales counterparts before the forecast call, a week earlier, to look at, OK, what are the top accounts? What are the top accounts expected to close? What are the ones where we want to accelerate velocity? And so it's a very specific agenda and it occurs three times a quarter. And obviously, as you get closer to the end of the quarter, it's much more about like, OK, what can we help you close immediately? But without the data on not just where they are, but how much engagement we've had? We would be lost because when I first got here, it was much more about, OK, well, what's going to close? And it was this very crude, well, let's make sure we blitz. And it was such a blunt use of energy and calories. So we have a very specific agenda. We go through these different areas to see like, you know, to be fair, sometimes, and this is the other thing I've told my team, it's sales led sometimes towards the very end, and there may not be a place for us. Where there's a really good place is then to say, OK, how are we going to onboard? How are we partnering with customer success? Customer success as a huge partner of my team. How are we going to onboard? How are we going to drive time to value? How are we going to ensure that those existing customers are actually educated and understand because this is another thing that's amazing to me. With a complex portfolio, we have a lot of customers who don't know that we do other things that could help them. Now, whether it's us. We also have partners in a marketplace. There are other tools and solutions we have that we can offer them. So that is a big piece of what I would consider like our lifecycle marketing team, our marketing teams, how do we drive that? And we do more of that, to be fair, with the customer success team.

Michael Pollack [00:16:19] I think when you talk about the alignment as counterbalancing the short and the medium term or the medium and the long term between sales and marketing and it being kind of like a give and take, maybe a check and balance, I'm not sure the right way to frame that, but the idea that one team is always looking over the horizon and the other team is looking in their hands at that moment kind of thing. And I think that's one of those things that is so hard to execute and takes enormous discipline, right? It's not even just the data itself, but just the discipline on both sides to say, Okay, we're going to have confidence that each side is looking in the right zone and is covering that part that they need to. And so I'm curious when you talk about arriving at the organization and pushing that cultural change, was the changing of the culture the hardest part of getting that set up? Because to build that is obviously hard, but it only works if both sides trust and work with their partner on the other side. Can you just share a little bit of context there?

Carol Carpenter [00:17:14] Oh yeah, culture change is the hardest, and I don't mean that like... most people want to do the right thing. As humans, it's very natural to resist change. I just want to make one other point on the last question, but I'll come back to the culture piece, which is the segmentation that is required for the ongoing SaaS lifecycle customers. It's slightly different because the cohorts I mean, this is what the power of marketing and customer success can do. The segmentation is not your traditional, what size are they? It is very much where they are in the lifecycle of usage and the lifecycle of value. And so I think it's really important just to make that point that we love our segmentation as marketers and salespeople because it helps us pinpoint. But for the ongoing piece, you have to change your segmentation and that is something I did not fully appreciate until about five years ago at Google Cloud. So anyway, one of the things I tried to do with my team is be a little more specific with language, like when we talk about segmentation to be clear, like, what are we talking about? And language is a big way that you help drive culture change, like getting clear definitions. Like, I'll tell you one, we have debated and we finally have landed is, what is a net-new customer? And when sales thinks net-new is a new logo, and you think net-new is a new buying group, and even within sales and we have a very large sales team, you know, many, many thousands of sellers, when there's not clear alignment, like, big part of culture change, to me, is having common language common definitions so that everybody is talking about the same thing. And net-new customer segmentation. I mean, it sounds really obvious, but it's surprising how many definitions we have running around. There's even different definitions of like, what does it mean for in-quarter create? How do we look at, because we do have SaaS and license revenue, what do we think of as the close, like before we didn't have a common definition. Is the close when you sign the deals? Is the close when they start using your product? What is that pivot point? So anyway, the language – and then the other part of the culture change, frankly, is the behavioral change and the mindset, and it takes a lot of change. So we've adopted OKRs, which has been very helpful, but I'll tell you, until the incentives change, nothing really changes. And so I'll give you the easy example. We have fantastic sellers. They know how to make their number. And you know, we all know how to game the system to optimize our compensation. And so, you know, if I can make my number selling X, why would I move to Y? And so that's an obvious one, but it's a hard one to change and, think about it, like all the systems and processes like I mentioned, we are really good, really good, and I don't mean to brag, but we are really good as a marketing team around account-based marketing, because we're an enterprise B2B marketing machine. We know how to do that. We know how to identify accounts, how to create account plans. We've done ABM at scale really well. What we're marrying now is the product-led growth piece, the buy-from motion. And so that's really exciting. I haven't seen too many companies actually do both and do it well. And really knock out the customer journeys in a way that you really understand what's appropriate when. And that's what I get really excited about. And that's the culture change. Like when you're really good at something, it's harder to change.

Sarah E. Brown [00:21:04] In the vein of customer education, prospect education, what's something you wish your target market knew that if they're listening to the podcast right now, you'd like to tell them?

Carol Carpenter [00:21:15] You know, VMware is a company that offers across cloud services, and these are services from companies with a multi-cloud environment, and we enable them to take control of their large environments, complex environments and also give them the freedom, the freedom to move fast. The freedom to develop and get applications to market faster.

Sarah E. Brown [00:21:39] And for people who are listening, would like to learn more about you and your work. Where should we direct them to?

Carol Carpenter [00:21:44] Oh, please come to VMware dot com. I hope everyone answers that the same way.

Michael Pollack [00:21:50] They generally do answer it the same way. They don't all say, go to VMware dot com. But generally speaking, I'd say it's similar, yes.

Carol Carpenter [00:21:57] Well, you know, I can't imagine anyone saying, Oh, let me send you some of my brochures. I mean, we're just so far past that. What I really should be saying is, oh, meet us in the Metaverse at VMware dot VR or something.

Michael Pollack [00:22:10] There you go. Something like that, only if you have the barbecue sauce on the shelf behind you as the Easter egg to get people interested.

Carol Carpenter [00:22:17] Absolutely. I think we're in for more change and a wild ride. I can't wait to see how sales and marketing continues to evolve.

Michael Pollack [00:22:24] I think we're in a very interesting moment in time, and the comment you made is something that, you know, when we talk to customers who increasingly are shifting from kind of legacy businesses to this new SaaS world, it's an interesting thing because whether you buy into the Metaverse or wherever that goes, the reality is every product we use now digitally creates a huge amount of, to your point, telemetry, and it creates an interesting opportunity if you're a seller to build really thoughtful journeys to move somebody forward in a way that if you bought a product once upon a time and you took it home with you, you could never do as a seller. So I do think it's incumbent upon the sellers of the world, the makers of the world, to figure out really compelling journeys for their product and for their customers to experience and most importantly, enjoy with their product, which is not the way most enterprise creators have ever had to think, which will be a very interesting future we're setting up for.

Carol Carpenter [00:23:18] I 100 percent agree, and that's why, when you look at some of the people on my team, I love it, you know, like many of them have like consumer experience and enterprise experience because frankly, it's all about the experience. How do you create a delightful customer experience? So, yeah, I can't wait to see and see us all, like, push it harder. We have work to do in enterprise software.

Michael Pollack [00:23:42] Yes. Yes. I think that's right. And I think again that the biggest thing that's changing is expectations are going up because consumers have had amazing world class experiences every time they interact with, let's just say, an Apple product or maybe Google search engine that when they go into the office, their expectation's like why on earth should I be using third rate software or have an experience that isn't similar to that? And again, I think enterprise software for the longest time built a business around selling to IT. Increasingly, now individuals have control, and that radically changes everything, I'd argue for the better. In some ways, maybe for the worse, but it's a change nonetheless.

Carol Carpenter [00:24:18] 100 percent. I think it's a positive change. I think it's going to make us all more productive. And frankly, I mean, it sounds so corny, but happier, right? Why deal with difficult products? Our patients, to your point, is very low for poor experiences. There's a good book called The Experience Economy.

Michael Pollack [00:24:40] I haven't seen it, I'll have to order it. But on that note, I do have to say I enormously appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Thank you, and I hope you have a stellar, spectacular weekend.

Carol Carpenter [00:24:50] Thank you. Thank you. Michael. Thank you, Sarah. Great talking to you.

Sarah E. Brown [00:24:54] That's it for us. This episode may be over, but we can continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag Selling in the Cloud. On Twitter, I'm @SEBMarketing. set marketing and I'm at M.R. Pollock. Thank you to everyone for joining us for this episode of Selling in the Cloud. Brought to you by intricately the authoritative source of digital product adoption usage and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. If you like the show, head on over to iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts, please give us a review. We appreciate it. Until next time.

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