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Diary of a first-time CMO - Cut the bs

Hey B2B marketers

Here it is. Four years, $50m+ ARR and 200 pages later… My journey as a first-time CMO.

Covering the key learnings I've gathered in four years of leadership. This diary reveals the lessons that helped me scale Cognism from $3m to $50m ARR, build a team from 3 to 39, and transform our set-up from a classic lead gen function to a demand gen engine.

It’s my handbook for B2B marketers looking to thrive in leadership.

(especially if you’re as daunted as I was when I started out!)


Diary of a first-time CMO by Alice De Courcy
By: Alice de Courcy
1 minute read

Cut the bs

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Firstly, I’d like to reiterate that I’m in a fortunate position where the CEO believes and trusts in marketing.

This was definitely a factor in my being able to change the status quo and the ‘we’ve always done things this way’ kind of attitude. I was able to present ideas for new ways of doing things, and cull some of the old things I didn’t believe were worth our time.

For example, with our content strategy.

We’re in an incredibly competitive market, there’s so much sales and marketing content out there. But I believe content can be a competitive advantage if it’s done well.

One thing I noticed about the sales and marketing content available in the market was that a lot of it was very average. And I do believe that’s changed a little over the last year; with lots of companies focusing more on the quality of their content as they make a move away from lead gen tactics.

But I saw an opportunity for Cognism to make an impact and raise the bar. For us to make our brand known as a source of practical and actionable, forward-thinking sales and marketing content.

This was a low financial investment bet and a long-term approach - and if it worked, then it would continue to scale in a compounding way.

It was more recently that I developed the idea of having dedicated story finders and journalists within the content team, separating the SEO writers from the storytellers.

This idea was born out of my desire to build Cognism into a media machine; this was something marketers were talking about doing - but no one shared how to do it. This was just the way I came up with it.

It became apparent that our current writers couldn’t really produce the ‘story finder’ type content, because they had to write for Google. They have keywords they have to go after, and that dictates the kinds of content they need to cover in order to match the search intent behind those keywords.

Which meant they were restricted when it came to producing stories that would resonate with our audience today.

That’s not to say that the SEO stuff was bad, that's also very necessary, but it became obvious to me that we needed to expand the content team to include both types of writers as they’re two very different things with different objectives.

Our journalists are critical to creating demand for Cognism, while our SEO’ers are capturing the demand that already exists.

Another philosophy I wanted our writers to live by was that each piece of content our readers consume should allow them to go away with something actionable that can make them better at their jobs. That should always be our benchmark for any content that we publish.

That’s what I mean when I say ‘I don’t want a faceless blog’, I want people to find our content through whichever channel they discover us, and instantly see the value.

By having two halves to this media machine, our story finders and journalists are freed from Google and can publish value-led content that I believe really drives our brand forwards and delivers a competitive advantage.

We’ve started to see this approach pay off too, which is amazing to see.

Because there’s been an obvious wave of dark social murmurings happening around Cognism.

We can see it in the numbers, but we can also feel it. LinkedIn posts talking about the content we produce, experts in the field reviewing and praising our content strategy, and lots of people sharing how they’ve experienced value from Cognism content.

It’s something as a team that we’re incredibly proud of, and we want to continue building. A brand where we are the port of call for any questions or learning about sales and marketing.

As an example, I looked at our blog traffic value side-by-side with ZoomInfo. If you compare the size of the teams and resources, they’re about 20x. And yet our blog traffic value is higher (true at the time of writing).

Which simply goes to show we’re talking about the right things. We’re focused on the right types of content and we’re delivering a lot of value.

Not only that, but every Google update has benefitted Cognism massively, which I believe is because we’re doing content the right way, with integrity. This trend will only continue.

One other thing I’d like to touch on around the subject of content is tone.

B2B marketing tends to be very strict, rigid and boring. It’s like writers are scared to put in anything entertaining in case they’re viewed as unprofessional. But I believe that’s the wrong approach.

We had a similar vibe and tone back in the day, but I wanted us to be human, more personable and less corporate, friendly and transparent. Ultimately, I wanted our content to be content that people wanted to read.

No BS, just real-life learnings from the front line. And that’s echoed in the way we work, the way we speak, in the organisational culture in general.

Again, that’s something we’ve had to work on developing. It wasn’t this way in the beginning. But step by step, we’ve made our tone of voice a lot more approachable, conversational and easy to consume.

Want to keep up with Alice's latest CMO advice?

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