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PODCAST 78: What this Google Exec Wants You to Know About Success w/ Alison Wagonfeld of Google Cloud

Career Development

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we talk to Alison Wagonfeld, CMO of Google Cloud.

Alison brings a wealth of marketing, investor, and exec experience to the show. We talk about why career paths are rarely linear (and how to roll with it), what gives you a competitive edge at any stage, and how to see an opportunity for what it is.

If you missed episode 77, check it out here: PODCAST 77: Navigating the Pace and Pressure of Startup w/ Vikas Bhambri

What You’ll Learn

  • Career paths are rarely linear
  • The 2 things every successful business has in common
  • Google’s Marketing Message and stance on competitors

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction (0:09)
  2. About Alison Wagonfeld and Google Cloud (01:52)
  3. The 3 Traits of an Organic Career Path (10:15)
  4. What Every Success Business Has Common (12:35)
  5. GCP’s Marketing Message in Light of Direct Competition (20:30)
  6. Sam’s Corner (35:23)

Show Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, Sam Jacobs. Welcome to The Sales Hacker Podcast. We’ve got a great show for you today. Alison Wagonfeld is the Chief Marketing Officer for Google Cloud. She’s responsible for both GCP, which is the Google Cloud Platform and for G-Suite, which is Gmail, Calendar, Sheets, Docs, all the stuff that we all use everyday. So an incredible person and somebody that’s had so many different experiences.

Now before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. We’ve got a new sponsor on the show today, Vidyard. Now email isn’t dead, but man is it boring. Add video to emails to stand out in the inbox, for free, with Vidyard. Vidyard helps you easily record, send and track who is viewing your video content in three easy steps. Go to vidyard.com/saleshacker for more information.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, my interview with Alison Wagonfeld, CMO of Google Cloud.

About Alison Wagonfeld and Google Cloud

Sam Jacobs: We are honored and excited today to have a very special guest. Alison Wagonfeld is the chief marketing officer for a little company called Google, specifically for Google Cloud, representing both the Google Cloud Platform and G-Suite. Previously, she was an operating partner at Emergence Capital, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm that we all probably know about.

Alison has a BA magna cum laude from Yale and an MBA from Harvard Business School where she was a Baker scholar. The San Francisco Business Journal named Alison one of the most influential women in the Bay area.

Alison, welcome to the show.

Alison Wagonfeld: Hi, thank you so much for having me here.

Sam Jacobs: We’re excited to have you. A very impressive background. So you’re Chief Marketing Officer for Google Cloud, representing both Google Cloud Platform and G-Suite. So we all are probably familiar with those broad strokes, but walk us through your day to day responsibilities.

Alison Wagonfeld: So as you mentioned, I head up all of our cloud marketing.

G-Suite, which is our set of apps, including Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and Docs, and then also Google Cloud Platform, which is everything around compute, storage, analytics and, increasingly, artificial intelligence and all of our machine learning programs and all kinds of cloud technology that are being used by companies and organizations globally to transform their businesses. And increasingly, Google Cloud is really expanding globally on that front.

Sam Jacobs: And so how big is the organization, in terms of human beings?

Alison Wagonfeld: We certainly have hundreds on our team globally that cover a number of different functions. Everything from brand and creative and media, to product marketing, to demand gen functions, to partner marketing, to industries. Then we have teams, global locations, five core regions a global team working on a number of different initiatives.

The 3 Traits of an Organic Career Path

Sam Jacobs: You went from being a banker to an operator within a very large company, to an operator at a very small company, to an investor and now back to an operator, but this time at a much larger global company. What are the frameworks that you use as you think about making these decisions and advancing over the course of your career?

Alison Wagonfeld: Yeah, it’s not a particularly linear career path and it’s actually, to some degree, been organic, but there are common themes in that I’ve always liked to build.

  1. I’m a huge believer in how technology can make a fundamental difference in people’s lives and organizations, so everything that I’ve done has had technology at its core.
  2. I’ve always been really curious and able to ask a lot of questions and be comfortable with ambiguity.
  3. I’ve always surrounded myself with really strong people. I feel like every role that I’ve been in, I’ve been working with a top tier team, so that’s another commonality.

What Every Successful Business Has in Common

Sam Jacobs: You’ve seen so many different types of businesses, many of them that have worked and many of them that haven’t. What are the common themes that tell you that a company’s going to be successful and able to achieve those breakthrough moments? And what are the biggest mistakes that you see early stage companies make as they’re trying to grow?

Alison Wagonfeld: It always comes down to the opportunity and the people.

The companies that tended to be successful, they’re addressing large-scale opportunities with unmet needs in a way that there’s some competitive differentiation.

But that alone doesn’t do the trick, because you need to have the right people who are assembling a team that know how to approach it, who can switch gears quickly, who can learn from what’s working, who understand what product market fit looks like, and then are constantly listening to customers and able to adjust accordingly, so I’ve certainly seen those as common trends.

I’ve also seen companies with really strong teams and what seemed to be good markets not make it. And there’s a whole bunch of reasons. Sometimes the competitive dynamic changes materially. Sometimes there’s a regulatory change. There’s many, many different reasons.

When I came to Google Cloud, I felt as if we had really strong technology and a massively growing market. And so that is a really core aspect of it because as we’re watching enterprise companies around the world transition from a world of on-prem technology to cloud based technology. Google had a real opportunity to play a meaningful role here and that building out the sales, the marketing, the business operations and all of those elements, would really be able to make an impact in it.

GCP’s Marketing Messaging in Light of Direct Competition

Sam Jacobs: How do you think about marketing messaging when it comes to direct competition? One approach is that you never mention the competition or you’re just sort of skating to the puck and presenting an aspirational message.

And then there’s obviously organizations that take a much more scorched earth approach and really try to poison the groundwater when it comes to the competition.

I imagine that’s not your approach, but how do you think about differentiating Google Cloud, specifically GCP against these other massive incumbents?

Alison Wagonfeld: Overall, Google’s brand is built around themes of helpfulness, because as a company, Google has always been extremely helpful with our customers and with businesses. And we also lead with a sense of optimism and lead with innovation.

Everything that we do ladders up to the broader Google branding, but within Cloud, it’s certainly a different set of very distinct competitors and we’re thoughtful about that.

We enable our sales teams with compete materials on every dimension across every product. We certainly do our own competitive review as we’re looking at our brand narrative—what do we stand for and how are we perceived in the market so that we know when we do our own brand awareness in advertising what we want to talk about.

But ultimately we believe that Google Cloud comes at it from a really strong place of innovation and the DNA of our company is with engineers that want to help solve the world’s hardest problems and look for the most aggressive, bold opportunities.

And given that that’s the DNA of Google, it’s a really fun place to be able to do marketing as Google Cloud, because it’s understandable and appreciated and respected that Google Cloud would approach to the market in the same way where we are out to help solve with our customers and that is something that we can talk about authentically without having to bash competitors, because it’s really unique to what Google stood for for two decades.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. This is Sam’s Corner. Great interview with Alison Wagonfeld. I think one of the things that you can take away from that conversation is that careers are not a straight line and you have to be open to new opportunity, but you also have to nurture relationships with the communities in which you are currently involved and those relationships will pay dividends over time.

And so just really inspiring to hear somebody that’s running such a massive platform that has marketing responsibility for Google Cloud Platform competing with AWS and Azure, at the same time that she’s running, you know, all of the apps that I use everyday—Gmail, Calendar, Sheets, Docs, so really, really inspiring message. And somebody that has worked at large companies and big companies and also at small companies, also been an investor. She’s played every meaningful role within this broad technology ecosystem. So she’s really somebody that we can learn a lot from.

What We Learned

  • Career paths are rarely linear
  • The 2 things every successful business has in common
  • Google’s Marketing Message and stance on competitors

Don’t miss episode 79 (next week’s episode)

Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform and Vidyard. Vidyard helps you easily record, send, and track who is viewing your video content in real time in three easy steps. Email isn’t dead, but it sure is boring. Add video to your emails to stand out in the inbox with Vidyard.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.

Sam Jacobs

Sam Jacobs is the Founder of Aqueduct Revenue Advisors and the New York Revenue Collective and regarded as one of the top start-up CROs in the tech community.

He has has over 15 years of experience scaling companies from post-revenue to ~$300M, has helped raise over $400M in institutional capital, and has helped companies of all sizes achieve an average annualized revenue growth rate of 48% over the last 15 years.