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Building a B2B Marketing Culture from the Ground Up with Elissa Fink, former CMO of Tableau Software

The latest Founded and Funded podcast with with Madrona Venture Group’s Tim Porter

Elissa Fink joined Tableau early in the company’s journey as their marketing lead.  Tableau was always a product driven company with an early passionate audience.  Elissa saw this and undertook at the start of her Tableau career to update the brand positioning to be people first and lead with their stories.

Tableau is one of the Seattle success stories.  It was acquired by Salesforce for $15.7 billion in the summer of 2019, making it the second largest acquisition ever in the Seattle tech ecosystem and brought together the leader in CRM with the leader in analytics.  The company started in 2003 and Elissa joined Tableau four years later when revenue was under $5 million a year.  She helped grow the company to over $1billion in annual revenue and helped take the company public. 

A key to Tableau’s marketing success was an intense focus on customers and end users.  By tapping into these early customers and their appreciation of getting a job done faster and better, Tableau was able to have early broad-reach success that was later leveraged into larger enterprise sales.

Elissa addresses the importance of brand in the early days.

“It’s all about consistency.”

– Elissa Fink

The brand voice was the backbone for the demand generation work which was the key to the growth of the young company.

As the company moved into enterprise sales, marketing played a big role.  Elissa and her team had seen the writing on the wall and been working with the influential analyst firm, Gartner, for some time.  Elissa remembers when the Magic Quadrant that had them clearly in the challenger category was sent to her – that was a big day for the company.

In fact one of the important roles for marketing is to look 18-24 months ahead.  What will the market want at that time?

Competition was sparse in the early days but that changed.  Microsoft announced a competing product and wrapped it into their formidable enterprise sales process.  This was a frightening time at Tableau but the strength of the product prevailed.  Customers who were passionate about data wanted to use Tableau and they continued to buy.  Tableau’s product driven approach paid off yet again.

For startup companies, Elissa knows hiring is hard.  For marketing which has become such an analytics and numbers focused endeavor, Elissa advises not to hire for experience but hire people who are deeply interested in a problem you need to solve, and who have the good judgement needed to succeed in a startup.

For marketing leads, she suggests assessing the assets you have across brand, product, and community.  Where are the leverage points? And where do you need to shore up your leverage points in order to have a strong basis for marketing.  This assessment will help you prioritize in the busy world of a startup.

Elissa is an advisor to startups including Outreach.io, Qumulo and Amperity and sits on the board of the Washington Technology Industry Association.  She recently taught a class at the University of Washington on B2B marketing.

Note: The largest acquisition was Amgen’s acquisition of Immunex for $16.0B in 2002. Source: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/technology/salesforce-buying-seattle-based-tableau-for-15-7-billion-in-stock-one-of-the-northwests-largest-acquisitions/