Grant Johnson, CMO, Emburse

The CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, How to Keep Your Team Motivated During Change, was timely as COVID-19 continues to create disruption in the business world. Roundtable host Grant Johnson, CMO, Emburse, shared tips and tactics that focus on managing through change in general, but also apply to the specific situation we face today.

Johnson began by sharing examples of managing various change challenges resulting from: acquisition; integration; growth; restructuring; revamping; and business disruption.

“Each challenge, in order to motivate the team, and manage through change, presents a different perspective as to what would work and what would not be successful,” Johnson said.


In August 2013, Kofax purchased Kapow and Johnson joined shortly after that as CMO in October. He quickly learned the marketing team Kofax inherited was not interested in becoming part of the larger company Kofax. Though they talked through it, Johnson said they all left the company after a short period. In this particular case, the lesson learned is that sometimes you can’t really motivate and retain staff if they don’t actually want to stay.


In May 2015, Lexmark purchased Kofax. The biggest challenge became integrating one sizable team within the overall marketing structure as the nexus of control had shifted for many from the Kansas City area to Irvine, California, Johnson said.

“I sensed a lot of the team of around 70 folks felt they might be removed from the decision making path, and thus feel like second-class citizens,” he said. “So I created an organizational development approach and structure that was able to elevate leaders from all locations and better unite the entire global team.”

Using workstreams, new cross business unit groups were formed around key marketing functions such as demand gen, operations and product marketing, he said. They documented the practices across the portfolio, workshopped to find best practices and accommodate what could be done differently for certain customer segments and geos, mapping out the integration over time.  Organizational teams were also blended such that a manager might be in one city, and the team in another to better foster a sense of “one team” across all boundaries.


During Johnson’s tenure at Pega, the company grew from $200+ million to over $500 million, he said. His team more than doubled. He faced challenges in both managing and motivating the team.

“As we reached each successive milestone, the expectations for performance were increasing,” he said. “Some folks were not able to keep pace.”

Roles changed and new people were hired. For some, it became time to move on. The evolving position requirements outgrew their natural development path or preferred organizational size. While some left and new people came in, Johnson said the growing team was not only able to keep pace, but also increased measurable outcomes in key areas such as marketing contributed pipeline.


During his tenure at Cylance, Johnson said the business was growing at around 50% percent year-over-year. It was 2018, yet leads were still mostly coming from general web practices and events.

“The necessary digital marketing capability and systematic demand gen capability to support aggressive growth targets was not in place,” Johnson said.

New hires were needed and new practices were put into place, allowing Cylance to revamp and support the growth objectives and pipeline contribution targets.


Like every company, Emburse is experiencing business disruption today.

“Like most companies, we’ve seen the numbers decline over the past few weeks,” Johnson said, whether that be marketing qualified leads, sales accepted leads, qualified opportunities, etc.

“We’re managing through this with daily monitoring and a more regular reviews of tactics – what’s working, what’s not working, what else we should try,” he said.

Following those specific examples, Johnson shared key behaviors and principles associated with successfully marketing through change.

In order to foster better team performance, he said he’s incorporated marketing recognition programs focused on fostering these behaviors:

  • Customer Focus/Pipeline Contribution
  • Teamwork/Collaboration
  • Innovation/Process Improvement
  • Communication/Brand Champions
  • Taking Initiative/Effective Leadership
  • Adapting to Change/Digital Savvy

In this challenging time in particular, he said it’s important to focus on the following principles:

  • Foster the right behaviors
  • Keep the team motivated
  • Increase communication
  • Continue recognition
  • Maintain a sense of humor
  • Stay focused
  • Be present

And finally, Johnson shared Emburse’s approach to marketing through change, just over the past few weeks due to COVID-19.

  • Emburse’s City Series events are now virtual: this event, originally planned to meet with customers and prospects in-person was postponed, and then turned virtual. Johnson said engagement was strong, feedback was positive and Emburse still accomplished a high level of interaction it sought with customers and prospects.
  • Messaging more empathy, less sales: Emburse makes sure to acknowledge the situation before going into sales mode, if at all.
  • Content/Social: though the organization has always used social, it has now pivoted to provide relevant tips for making a successful work from home transition.
  • New offerings: some of these include free virtual purchase cards and an extended 60-day trial offering.
  • Ramping up Webinars on topics from thought leadership to customer success to demos.
  • More digital spend, and monitoring based on comparative cost per lead (CPL).
  • More selective segmentation: segmentation has also become even more precise, Johnson said. Not all sectors are feeling the same impact from COVID-19, for example.
  • Team management: Emburse checks in with its teams more frequently, he said. There are daily standups, a #virtualwatercooler where the team can post anything from tips to humorous posts to engaging in virtual happy hours.

“These are some of the things we’ve done over the past few weeks to adapt to change, keep the team connected and stay motivated,” he said.  “We are dealing with the present, adapting to the environment and aiming to be poised to hit the pedal when the economic recovery begins.”

Check out what Grant shares in this piece about Adapting Marketing to the Work from Home World.