Interview: Angela Rizzo, CMO eSentire Part 1
I wasn’t sure I would have a new essay for you this week. Unfortunately the new kiddo has had to spend more time in the hospital (nothing serious, but out of caution “just in case”). I’m not worried about him, but it has taken up a fair amount of time (beyond the normal baby-taking-care-of time). Rather than leave you with nothing this week (and next) I am polishing off this interview that has not been released yet. Angela WAS the CMO of eSentire, a leading company in the cyber-security space. Since the recording of this episode she has left eSentire and is looking for her next opportunity. If you would like to get in contact with her, please just reply to this email. (For all interviews you can click on the link next to the audio player to add the stream to a podcast player).
Edward: My guest today is Angela Rizzo, CMO of eSentire. Today we cover Angela's career and path to CMO—Sprint, EDS, Hewlett-Packard. Angela is now the CMO of eSentire, the global leader in managed detection of cyber threats. I'm super pumped to have this discussion.
Angela, you were recently promoted from VP of marketing to CMO. How has your job changed? What did you do to get that promotion?
Angela: I joined eSentire as VP of marketing in July of 2018. When I came on board, most of the marketing focus at that time was on face-to-face events. We knew that we needed to add more programs that delivered higher quality marketing-qualified leads.
I realized that the team was really talented. They just needed a bit more direction and leadership support. I moved quickly to work with the team to expand our focus from an events-only focus to include integrated campaigns, focused on what issues the customers were really grappling with, and how eSentire MDR could solve those issues.
We started doing more paid promotions—Google display ads, paid social media, SEM, SEO. I put in a lead-scoring program. We also started doing a lead-nurture program. We started to build transparency in reporting by creating new marketing dashboards in the sales force that covered everything from where were these MQLs being created to how much pipeline were we actually generating that was marketing-attributed.
Edward: You were doing all that as the VP of marketing, or you didn't start doing that until you became CMO?
Angela: That's correct. That's what I was doing as VP of marketing that I think led to the promotion to CMO.
Edward: What happened when you became CMO? How did the job change? Did you take on other responsibilities, or was it just an escalated title and compensation package?
Angela: No, I did take on more responsibilities. I actually took on the corporate comms function which I had never run before. That included analyst relations, public relations, community relations, and employee relations. This was January of 2020. I get the promotion at the end of the month, and then COVID hits at the end of February. Now, I'm finding myself focusing on how we need to communicate to our customers on what's going on with the company so they can be assured that we're still going to have 100% operations.
Edward: Did you have any experience doing those things before you became CMO?
Angela: No, I did not. Along with putting together the customer communications, we also worked doing employee communications. We were at a point prior to the pandemic where we were doing quarterly employee all-hands. We actually went weekly once the pandemic hit in March.
We were actually pretty fortunate, Ed because the company was prepared to have every single employee work from home. Everybody started working from home in mid-March, and we were doing weekly all-hands meetings. As the CMO, I was actually pulling together the content, making sure that these meetings got scheduled. Our CEO and entire leadership team participated in every meeting because we felt that it was just critical that we kept everybody up-to-date on what was going on.
If you recall, a year ago nobody really knew what was happening day-to-day. We have employees all over the world. We have employees in North America, Ireland, London, and Canada. We just needed to have this regular cadence of meetings to keep folks informed. I think at the end of the year, we ended up doing 20 all-hands meetings starting in mid-March.
Edward: It worked out great. Obviously, you stepped into the role and you did fantastically. How did they trust you to do that though? You had no experience doing that particular part of the job. Why did they thrust you into that role?
Angela: I demonstrated as VP of marketing when I first started that I could look across the organization and figure out what are the things that are either broken or need some TLC. In addition to the marketing function, I actually took on the business development reps when I first took on the VP of marketing role.
I did that because I thought we could do a much better job flowing all of our leads and MQLs into the business development reps if we were part of the same team. I was demonstrating as VP of marketing that I could take on roles that might not have traditionally been part of marketing, and almost, I would say immediately, within a few weeks or a few months, start to show progress.
Edward: When you took on those BDRs, you had never led a team of BDRs before. Is that correct?
Angela: I did have some experience at HP. We had an SDR team down at Conway, Arkansas when I was running the cloud team. I worked with a small group of those SDRs. But this was a little bit different because the entire company was focused on this group of BDRs. They did nothing else other than support what we're doing at eSentire.
They were aligned with sales, and I had convinced leadership that if we could align these BDRs with marketing, I really felt like we could improve productivity. We could make sure that they're focused on all the inbound leads as well as doing the outbound, and it would probably help us with better alignment across the employee base. I have to tell you, I'm proud to say that we did exceed all of our key objectives in the calendar year 2019 as we were going into 2020 when I received the promotion in January of 2020.
Edward: Your success there with the BDRs, do you think that was instrumental towards the organization taking a risk on you, bringing you in as CMO, having you oversee these areas that you'd never overseen before?
Angela: I was able to demonstrate that I really like to get my hands on the things that are most broken, and see what we can do to really fix them, and move them forward. This was an area at the time in the business that we really weren't getting what we needed out of this team. To turn it around and to see the progress within the first 30 days, and then to really see it mature over the next several quarters was really a feather in my hat. It really did help move the business forward in terms of providing more top-of-pipeline opportunities for sales reps.
Edward: I want to go back now to see the path that got you to where you are now. What were you like when you were 12-14 years old?
Angela: I'm number six out of seven kids. I was the entertainer in the family. I always had the ability to make people laugh. I love the crowd. When I was in junior high—I guess that would be when I was 12 or 14—I ran for student body president of the school and won. That was the beginning and maybe close to the end of my political career.
I was a pretty happy kid. I was very upbeat, and I just loved surrounding myself with people. Back in the time I grew up, Ed, it was in the 60s and 70s. There wasn't an internet. There weren't iPads. There weren't cellphones. We played outside. We were always active, always engaged with other people. My dad worked, my mom stayed at home. It was pretty much a traditional family at that point.
Edward: A little later on when you were about 18, you started doing stand-up comedy?
Angela: Yes, 18 or 19 years old I did stand-up. People always encouraged me to try to do it. They thought I was funny. I thought I'll give it a shot. I have to tell you, the first time I was on stage and told a joke and got a laugh, it was amazing. It's like a drug. I have done stand-up comedy off and on throughout my life. The first time I did stand-up I was 19 years old, and then I didn't do it for a while.
When I started working at Sprint, we started going to a local bar down the street from the office. I was going there doing amateur comedy nights once a week. I probably did it for a couple of months and then I thought, I want to focus on my career. I don't think being a standup comedian is really going to make it for me. I really want to focus my time and energy on building my career.
Edward: What did you take away from that time, if anything, from years of comedy? Was it a pure distraction, or did you learn anything there that you use today?
Angela: Back then, I was really struggling with my sexuality. I was gay and was having a hard time dealing with who I was and being my authentic self. I found that back then, I really couldn't talk about the things about my life because anytime you start to talk about your life you expose who you are and how you feel. The comedy that I was doing was very surface-level.
Fast forward a few years later, I realized that once I could get on stage and just be myself, talk about my life, and be authentic, I think having that level of authenticity is really important because if you're hiding something, whether it's something personal about you or something you don't want people to know, you can't be truly authentic.
What I learned from comedy was, yeah it's fun to get up, tell a joke, and get a laugh, but if you really want to do stand-up comedy, you really have to talk about your life and talk about who you are. I didn't really do that until probably, fast forward 15-20 years later when I was in Kansas City doing stand-up comedy and then really just being able to be my authentic self.
Edward: Let's jump ahead a little bit. Where were you in your career when you were 25?
Angela: This was a tough time in my life. I just mentioned being gay, and I was actually married when I was 19. I got recently divorced at 25. I was very disconnected from my family. I was unemployed at the time. I was having trouble finding work. I only had a high school diploma. I did not go to college because I got married at a very young age. It was a very difficult time and one of my brothers is a podiatrist, and I convinced him to hire me part-time just to help him in his office. He had an office in San Francisco.
I would schedule the appointments for him. I'd do the billing. Those were the other key roles. One of the things that I had to do in this role is I had to rub lotion on the feet of old people. His patients were really old. I recall the moment that I was doing it for a patient and I just said to myself, this is not my life, I can't do this.
It's circa 1987, Sprint at the time was headquartered in Burlingame, California and they were running a job fair. I applied and I was hired at Sprint as a customer service rep. That really was the big change in my life when I was 25 years old. I ended up getting on at Sprint, and then three months later, I was promoted to supervisor. Eighteen months later there was an opportunity to move to Kansas City.
There was a huge contract that Sprint won that I thought, I can just start up my life over. I can start in a new city with a new job at this company that I've been with for a few years. Let's go for a few years. Let's see what happens. The rest is history. I've never looked back from that time.
Edward: You spent 12 years at Sprint, moving up progressively more senior the whole time you were there. What skills did you develop there at Sprint that serve you now as CMO?
Angela: It comes back to building great relationships with the people that you work with especially with customers. I love working with customers. I work very hard so that people—not only my peers and people who I work with but also customers—know that they can count on me. I took advantage of every opportunity that I was afforded at Sprint. I really developed this reputation as someone who could get stuff done.
When I had the opportunity to move to Kansas City, I jumped. I thought I would be here in Kansas City for a few years. I was actually here for 10 years. I moved back to San Francisco and then back to Kansas City, but we might get into that. I have to tell you that in order to think about what skills I learned as a CMO, I was in a support position after I moved to Kansas City. I'd learned over time that the best thing that I could do is find ways to say yes when somebody came to you with a problem.
Somebody wants something, how do I get to yes? It wasn't always that way. At first, when somebody would come to me with an issue, I would find all the reasons and excuses why it couldn't be done. Back at that time, I was really the office of no. It was because at that time, I had a boss who had very adversarial relationships with his peers. I realized I was modeling his behavior. He left Sprint. I started reporting to a new boss, and this is probably one of the people who has had the most influence in my life, my new boss at that time.
Again, this was 1990-1991. Her name is Nancy Cole, and she taught me that in order to succeed, I need to focus on what could be done, not what could not be done. How do you say yes when somebody brings a problem? They don't want to hear why it's hard. They need you to figure out how to get it done. That approach and perspective changed everything for me.
It was also at a time where I was encouraged to get my undergraduate degree. Nancy wanted to promote me to director but she couldn't do it until I had my degree. At the time, I was actually in a non-traditional college. I was going to school at night taking an accelerated program every five weeks, earning three credits. I needed to go faster so I doubled up on the course work in an accelerated program, two classes a week. These were four hours every evening and I was still working full-time.
I ended up graduating with honors in '94 with a Bachelor in Business Administration, and then shortly thereafter, I was promoted to director. It really was this lesson of someone in sales, a customer, or someone in another department comes to you and they need something, how do you say yes? How do you figure out how to solve their problem?
Edward: I want to jump ahead to your time at HP. You were there for a decade, advancing in sales, getting progressively more senior in sales, and then you switched into marketing. How did that happen?
Angela: My entire career to date spans over 34 years in technology. I've had the opportunity to lead many functions in my career—sales, operations, customer service, product management. Marketing was the one area that had always interested me, and I'm always up for learning new things. When the opportunity presented itself for me to move into a leadership role from sales to marketing, I really jumped at the chance.
Edward: I want to talk about how that happens though. You, obviously, at that point had demonstrated your ability in sales. Marketing is very different from sales, and you jumped in at a fairly senior level. What did they see in your sales skills that they thought you would excel in a marketing role?
Angela: I've always had a knack to be able to translate really technical concepts to non-technical teams, look at what customer requirements are, and then translate what the customer requirements are back into the technical teams. We thought the skill would bode well in marketing, really understanding what is it that we're trying to deliver to the customers and how do we translate that back into not only the technical teams but into how we market the offerings.
Edward: What are your productivity tricks? What do you do to be productive that most people don't do?
Angela: I really believe that people do not need to be micromanaged. Most people and most people that I have come across in my career, there have been very few instances where I have come across an employee who doesn't want to do a good job. Most people want to do good. They want to succeed. They want to work hard. They just need guidance. They don't need to be micromanaged.
I treat my relationships with my employees almost as a partnership. These are the things that we need to accomplish. This is the time frame of when we need to accomplish these things. Let's figure out how we're going to get there. Let's establish these goals. Let's measure. Let's adjust. Let's repeat. It really boils down to just trusting my team to do their jobs and being available to them when they need my support.
Edward: Angela this has been fantastic. We'll pick this up tomorrow with a dive into your time at eSentire.