Tuesday, December 22, 2015

An Interview with SmartBear Software's CMO, Bryan Semple

By: Mike Johnson, Director of Communities at MassTLC


This quarter we had a chance to talk to SmartBear Software's CMO, Bryan Semple, about his role, and what he’s thinking about for 2016. You can also check out his blog StoryMETRIX.

You started you post-military career as a sales rep in the mid-90’s, back then sales departments and marketing departments were two very different worlds but now the buzz is all about sales and marketing alignment (Smarketing), when did you start to see the transition and how are the departments aligned at SmartBear?

I was an enterprise sales rep where the marketing contribution to my success was low.  I cold called CTOs, CIOs and worked major Fortune 500 accounts building out a rolodex of contacts.  For high volume, B2B businesses I think sales and marketing have always had to be aligned. A VP of Marketing who does see sales and revenue as his goals is a short term VP of Marketing.  This is as true today as it was a while back.   At SmartBear, each of our sales teams is aligned with a market manager and product marketing manager who are goaled on product revenue and tasked with delivering to the sales manager weekly downloads.  The rest of the marketing organization lines up to support these key players on our team.  It has proven very successful in driving thousands of trials each week.

Your desk looks a bit like mission control, can you run us through what you’ve got going on here? Does this setup bring you back to your Navy days?

Marketing today is a real time endeavor.  You need to monitor not only site operations, response time, but also hot content, social feeds, and hourly day over day traffic comparisons.   Traffic is remarkably consistent hour by hour for a global operation. Its critical to learn these patterns to detect if something good or bad has happened.  In addition, we also stream live feeds of our trade shows back to marketing.  It is important for everyone to realize there are live customers out there every minute of every day and to keep that in front of the team.  In the Navy, we measured everything to stay safe and prepared.  So yes, part of this is probably due to my Navy training.

Sometimes living in a C-Suite world, you can miss out or (hopefully not) lose touch with some of the things that are happening in the entry or mid-level world of marketers, was are two things you’ve learned this year from new marketers?

I don’t feel too isolated at all.  My team is super flat, not hierarchical, and we all sit in an open office plan.  So I hear a lot,  and I am sure they hear a lot from my desk.   We encourage everyone on the team to speak their mind and argue their points. If you disagree, speak up.   We have pretty lively discussions and arguments where my ideas don’t always carry the day.  All of us are always looking at new ways to improve operations and drive more revenue.  This year we doubled down on our commitment to agile marketing expanding our calendaring system to link with Jira.  We started to experiment with Kanban systems for some groups.  We have adopted buyer’s journey models for all our markets and 8 products along with corresponding content models.  We continue to decrease our spending on PPC while looking for incremental spend opportunities that matter. We are also rethinking our whole SEO operation. There always innovation on the team from everyone and that is what makes it fun.

SmartBear is growing quickly and I’m sure your growing your own department, what are the must-haves to be invited to join your team?

We look for culture fit – low ego, team players with a passion for what they do.  Intellectual curiosity is big for us.  We tend to hire quirky people which I am not sure how that happens. For anything but entry level positions, we look for excellence in digital arts.  For entry positions, we tend to hire new college hires if they have had internships that make sense.  We have had great success with interns from Northeastern. We throw a lot at them, and see what they can do.   For regular hires, we do two rounds of interviewing on site with a practical exercise thrown in.  We learn a lot from the practical exercise and  can see how people approach problems, pressure, and how well they listen.  I really enjoy my team and it is one of the things that makes it so enjoyable to come to work each day. 

What’s the #1 to-do for your 2016 marketing strategy?

Same thing as 2015 – grow downloads and traffic.  We are going to do a renewed focus on our content production, distribution, and marketing.  We have always done a lot of content, but are looking to be more precise in its development. We hired an experienced content marketer to drive this for us and we are very excited. In addition, we run the two largest open source communities in the API space – SoapUI.org and Swagger.io.  For 2016 we will be increasing our investments in open source.

What’s something from this year that just isn’t relevant for next year?


Everything we exited the year doing we will be doing in 2016.  If something didn’t work for us, we stopped doing it immediately since we measure everything.  We saturated our event schedule this year, so I don’t expect major changes in events. In addition, our paid advertising is running at max value, so we won’t be changing that much next year.

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