Graphic with CMSWire CMO Circle Shay Howe written to the left and Shay's headshot to the right.

"Being able to use your product as a core go-to-market channel, one which grows as your company scales, creates a beautiful business." — Shay Howe, CMO, ActiveCampaign.

As chief marketing officer at ActiveCampaign, Shay Howe leads the marketing, customer activation, partnership, platform strategy and ActiveCampaign Postmark teams.

Prior to ActiveCampaign, Shay was vice president of product at Belly and Yello, where he was responsible for product strategy and design. He has previously led product teams at multiple high-growth companies, including Groupon and served in-residence roles as an advisor with the Techstars, Lightbank and Prota Venture portfolios.

Shay said his passion for building teams extends outside of work, and he also serves as a mentor with Techstars and LongJump Ventures.

We caught up with Howe for a five-question Q&A on his role as CMO

Editor's note: This transcript is edited for clarity.

A Journey from Design to Chief Marketing Officer

Jennifer Torres: Hi, everyone, I'm CMSWire reporter Jennifer Torres, and today we're introducing a brand-new feature called CMO Circle. Each episode we'll sit down with a different CMO for a little Q&A to get to know them and their role a little bit better. And today I'm very excited to have as our first guest, Shay Howe, CMO for Active Campaign.

Hi, Shay. Welcome.

Shay Howe: Hi, Jennifer, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Torres: Oh, happy to have you here. So, we'll get right to it. First, I'd like to start at the beginning and just ask you a little bit more about your path to becoming CMO and how you got into marketing in the first place.

Howe: I started in design. Design is what I went to school for. It's my background, or origin — or first love, if you will. But design for me was always how to use design sense to solve a problem, to spark an action or an interest, right? I consider myself more of a designer than an artist if you will.

I spent the first six years of my career working at different marketing agencies, designing websites, emails, advertisements, etc. — where I just learned a ton about organic and paid customer acquisition. After that I moved in-house into a small software SaaS startup, designing and building the product and that led me deeper into product and into engineering — and truly understanding the customer's problem and how can we use technology to create a better customer experience for them and if it’s even viable to do that — if there’s a good business reason to solve that problem.

In the very formative years of my career, I came to actually understand how to go out and build something but also learned that's just half of the coin. This isn't the Field of Dreams; if you build it, you truly have to been able to go out and market that product to acquire those customers. And once you have them you have to figure out how to drive adoption and build retention — really just areas I love to dig into.

In the past decade-plus I've spent and held roles in design, product engineering and marketing in different hyper-growth SaaS companies, and I broadly just consider myself an operator who loves building. So in that design and product background, I've generally been more attracted to and focused on building product-led growth businesses, and being able to use your product as a core go-to-market channel; one by which, as the company scales, it creates more go-to-market motions for you. I think it is a beautiful business and something that allows me to dig into that design background as well as the marketing end.

Related Article: Why the 'C' in CMO Stands for Change

Marketing Leadership on Day 1 and Beyond

Torres: What advice would you give to professionals who are just starting out who want to become a CMO one day?

Shay: Yeah, that's tricky. I would say align your marketing role with the mission and goals of the business. And that probably sounds cliche but when I say that, I mean, it can be very easy to rest on what we know or what we do best — to show up and say, hey, I've done this in the past and this works really well, let me go run that same playbook. And sometimes that's correct — sometimes it's not.

But I think you have to truly understand the company's mission. What are we orienting ourselves around? And probably more than likely, that's the customers. And you have to think about what would make them successful; that would allow you to be successful as well. And I think a lot of times, that means you have to stretch yourself outside of that comfort zone, outside of what you've done historically, or what is your standard discipline. And that's good news, honestly. Because to be a CMO, you're going to have to think about all the different disciplines and functions of a marketing organization. It's not just the one thing you may have grown into or built an expertise around. You shouldn't be afraid to go wide into those areas. It's going to better serve your customer and it's going to better serve you long term in becoming a more well rounded CMO.

Related Article: Optimistic or Delusional? The Chief Marketing Officer 2022 Outlook

Wide Variety of Marketing Skills, Knowledge

Torres: What do you consider to be the most challenging part of your role?

Howe: I'll give you two things. The first one would be the wide range of skills, expertise and disciplines required to lead a marketing team. Honestly, my day-to-days are wildly different. I might start my day reviewing a web server architecture and then jump into reviewing a press release. And from there, I'll go into reviewing a social strategy, to then having to balance a paid acquisition budget — it’s always changing.

Second to that is finding the time to do it all. Honestly, there is always more work than there is time to do it. So, it is really understanding our plan and what the priority is and then going out and building a great team. We have an incredible team, and that honestly makes all the difference, and I cannot stress or underline that enough — people will really make such a large difference in how you can grow.

Marketing to Marketers Is Fun

Torres: Well, that kind of leads into the next question, which is the most rewarding part. You mentioned your team. So, I assume they're a very rewarding part. But what do you consider to be the most rewarding part of being a CMO?

Howe: I honestly think I have a dream job. Like it's fun to be able to say that because I get to be on a marketing team that is marketing the leading marketing automation product on the market — and that's a lot of markets. But the meta in that is that I'm a marketer, marketing to marketers, that's really fun. That's unique. So, I think that is a key part. The team is certainly, top of mind there too.

I also love finally just helping businesses grow. We have over 185,000 customers and 170 countries. And I get excited to talk to them to see how they use our platform to be inspired around how they're using it to grow their business and honestly, collaborating on ideas that will work in your business. At the end of the day, it's also it's fun to market a really good product. It makes the job a lot easier, so rewarding, in that factor as well.

Listening to Customers Leads to Action

Torres: All right, well, we're going to wrap it up with one final question. And that is, is there a specific campaign or set of work you completed as CMO that you're most proud of?

Howe: That is a really tricky question. That's like having to pick your favorite child. I'll share one that's recent. In 2018, we held our first user conference where we brought a bunch of different customers together from all around the world to Chicago. A few things happened there that really caught me off guard. One customer flew from Europe to Boston, rented a car and drove to Chicago to attend the event, then drove back to Boston and flew back to Europe. People really want to spend some time with us and a lot of feedback we got was — we want to spend more time with the product.

It's been helpful to hear from different thought leaders who tell us how to use ActiveCampaign in ways we're not thinking about, so an idea kind of sparked — we should go to our customers, meet them in their cities, and go deep into our product.

So, we created what we call study halls, which were just kind of one-day workshops and in 2019, we held over 200 of them throughout the world. But in 2020 when pandemic hit, we had to bring those halt. This week, we relaunched them. We've hosted an event in Dallas and in Austin, Texas, and as we were wrapping up the event, I'm seeing posts from customers on LinkedIn and they are sharing that they are not only educated but they are inspired, ready to take their automations to the next level.

It's been fun to share those throughout the company today — to celebrate the team who put all the work into making that study hall happen and who went down there and actually facilitated those sessions. It's incredible to get in a room with those customers, see their energy and to be able to help them — hands on and grow their businesses. So, I'd say study halls are something more recently that I'd say very proud and excited to basically take around the globe in 2023 as well.

Torres: That's great. Well, thank you, Shay Howe, CMO of ActiveCampaign. I want to thank you for joining us today on our debut episode and giving us a glimpse into your world. And thanks to everyone for joining us and I hope that everyone will tune in for the next CMO Spotlight. And again, Shay I really appreciate your time.

Howe: Likewise. Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate it.

Torres: Thank you and this is Jennifer Torres for CMSWire. Have a great day!