CMO ClubHouse Conversations with Jon Suarez-Davis

The CMO Club talks with Jon Suarez-Davis, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, on Salesforce’s acquisition of The CMO Club, and what that means, leading with core values, and what’s truly important.

Jon Suarez-Davis, or JSD to most who know him, is a graduate of Northwestern University and DePaul. He is a leader with a long list of accomplishments and innovation spanning a nearly thirty-year career in marketing, including advertising, technology, and start-ups, for brands as diverse as Kellogg’s and as innovative as Salesforce. He was CMO and Strategy Officer at Krux Digital, currently serves on the Advisory Boards of Popwallet and IDG Ventures, has a board seat of the Mobile Marketing Association, and is in charge of Salesforce’s acquisition of The CMO Club. JSD currently lives in Indiana with his wife and two sons.    

CMO Club — Well, the exciting news. The CMO Club is now a part of Salesforce. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?

JSD — “We often talk at Salesforce about how we are a value-driven company, and how the four core values of trust, customer success, innovation, and equality mean so much to us.”

“When we started down the path of building relationships with CMOs and others in the C-suite, we looked back at those core values and saw this fantastic opportunity to engage with a community that shares those same values.”

“The CMO role has been so dynamic over the last five years. That dynamic nature has created an incredible amount of change in what it means to be a CMO.CMOs are not only being held accountable for the traditional brand building and communication functions of the past, but are now charged with driving growth and, in particular, being held accountable for consumer–led transformation and innovation at their companies as well. We felt from early on that Salesforce was in a good position to enable, facilitate, grow, and nurture the CMO community based on those core values we hold dear.”

The CMO Club was the perfect fit.”

 “It was serendipitous in many ways. When you look at Salesforce, we’re well-known for being trailblazers, innovators, and for having people who are hungry to keep learning and moving forward; that’s the community we’ve built over these past twenty-one years. Pete Krainik and his team have also built and developed a community with those same type of innovators and trailblazers, a grass-roots, supportive, peer-to-peer community of CMOs with a hunger to learn and move the ball forward. It just made sense to ask, “Hey, why don’t we bring them into the family.”

CMO Club — Wonderful. I understand you came into Salesforce through an acquisition. Were there any surprises along the way?

JSD — “I joined Salesforce just about three and a half years ago. Krux, a data management platform where I was the Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, was a classic start-up.  Before Krux, I was at Kellogg’s, so I came from a large enterprise company, went to a start-up, and then wound up at Salesforce.”

Salesforce became a blend of the two. What I mean by that is Salesforce is a large enterprise company, and the fastest growing software company in history, but yet, even being that big, it has a start-up mentality. We often talk at Salesforce about having the beginner’s mind, truly opening yourself up in how you think about problems and opportunities with that beginner’s mind no matter what preconceived notion or past experience you have. Salesforce now has around 45,000 employees, but still feels innovative and nimble, like a start-up. That surprised me.”  

CMO Club — What does being part of a company like Salesforce, that energy and resources, bring to The CMO Club? 

JSD — “We are here, plain and simple, to carry on the vision that Pete and his team put together ten-plus years ago to have this incredibly innovative, highly engaged community of people supporting each other in their careers and their personal lives. Now, with the resources of Salesforce, we can invest even more in that community. We can make both the in-person experiences like summits, Chapter Dinners, and events even better, as well as having what we believe is a great opportunity to enhance the digital experience through engaging content, Virtual Roundtables, interviews, benchmark studies, and new forms of connection that we have not even thought of yet.” 

“Another thing we are focused on is that today, The CMO Club is primarily a North American community with a growing European presence. We believe that there is great value in creating a truly global community here. We have every intention of supporting the growth of the club, not only in North America, but increasingly in Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America as well.” 

CMO ClubSalesforce is a cloud-based Customer relationship-management service. The CMO Club has traditionally had a “no sales-zone” philosophy, where CMOs can come together to share ideas, peer-to-peer, without the pressures of being sold to. Is there anything you want to say to reassure members who might have concerns that the club will change in that philosophy?

JSD — “That’s a great question. I would be shocked and somewhat concerned if CMO Club members did not express their concern and perhaps even skepticism that a marketing and customer relationship software company acquired The CMO Club, and what that would mean for the club going forward. The reason I would be concerned is that I would have that exact same feeling. I would want to know, and I would want to see, by their actions and investment, that Salesforce was going to be true to the founding principles of the club. We truly understand that this is, first and foremost, a peer-to-peer community with the very clear objective of helping each member’s professional and personal journey. I would want to be reassured that this does not become a place that has other objectives and agendas going forward.”

 “I think it’s critical to articulate to all our members that we will continue to nurture and grow The CMO Club based on the principles and independence that Pete and his team put in place a decade ago. We believe that our resources, both in our financial investment and in our ability to access other thought leaders and grow the company’s reach, will enhance the value and experience for all of The CMO Club members.  The club will remain independent. There is no intention of altering the principals that the club was founded on.”   

CMO Club — Well, in the bigger picture category, the coronavirus is causing a great deal of anxiety, both on a personal and safety level as well as concerns about the economic impact it will ultimately have. Can you give us an idea of your thoughts right now, and any steps you are taking to help lessen that anxiety?  

JSD — “First and foremost, the focus is and will continue to be on the health and safety of everyone in the community. As it pertains to the business activity, we absolutely acknowledge that we are going through a historic time right now.  I was active during the great recession in 2008. This is clearly on that level, if not even more challenging for all of us. For the CMO Club, one of the things we came up with was activating a membership extension program, giving active members who renew an additional six months of membership on top of what they sign up for. That’s just one example, but a key example of how Salesforce is investing in this community, how the strength of this community is our guiding principle.”

“In addition, we fully understand that we can’t have those in-person, peer-to-peer engagements, chapter dinners, and events like The CMO ClubHouse at SXSW; those face-to-face interactions that are so important to everyone involved with the club. We’ve just enhanced and expanded our Virtual Roundtables and initiated individual chapter check-ins for our members. I believe Atlanta just did a virtual cocktail hour, so that everyone could come together. I’m very proud to have the team spring into action and create these online forums so our CMOs can engage with their peers, even now. It’s been incredibly important.” 

CMO Club — You’ve been in Marketing for a long time. How is it best to lead during the type of crisis we are facing right now? What should a leader do when all hell is breaking loose?

JSD — “I really go back to my experience at Salesforce, being a truly values-driven company. Those values should drive everything you do, whether it’s the best of times or, in this case, some of the most challenging times. I particularly focus on the first two values of trust and customer success. Any leader that has trust as their number one value will ultimately be guided by that core value in all the decisions they make. The second value is customer success. If you truly understand your consumer, your visitor, your guest, and in our case, our members, you are going to do the type of things that those members will benefit from, such as a membership extension and creating new opportunities for engagement. Those core values will always help steer you through any crisis or situation.”    

CMO Club — Let’s switch gears. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Is it true that your family is from Argentina?

JSD — “Actually, that’s my wife’s family. It’s so funny, most people just call me JSD, but there are people I’ve worked with for years who don’t know my name, who sometimes call me “Juan,” or “Juan Sanchez-Davis.” I joke with them about that, saying, “who are you talking about?” So, to clear the record, I’m the “Davis” part, and my wife is the “Suarez” part from Argentina.” (laughter)

“I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It’s funny, coming full-circle, there’s a couple of us Kalamazoo folks in the club, Greg Welch and Phil Clement with deep Kalamazoo ties. We’ve come to call ourselves the “Kalamazoo Triad” at the club.” 

CMO Club — What were you like as a kid?

JSD — “I was an outgoing, extroverted kid. I’m an only child, so being an only child, I had to go out and find my friends. I usually took on the leadership role in the things I did. My focus was on school, tennis, and since I grew up in the Midwest, going fishing and enjoying my lake time. I was a one-sport guy, a pretty competitive tennis player, and the leader of the Tennis Team at school. I loved being on a team, working with people, and being a part of something bigger.”

CMO Club — What did you dream of becoming when you were nine?

JSD — “I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to design and build buildings. I didn’t have a reference point for that. It’s funny, the things that I liked, the fitting of things, how it all comes together, that’s what I really liked. I also had a little bit of a marketing bug in me. My dad owned an advertising agency, Upjohn Advertising, which he started in the sixties. I guess I was able to parlay that coming-together, fitting all the pieces into what I ultimately became.

CMO Club — Can you tell us one thing that your parents instilled in you that still has relevance?

JSD — “My dad came from Garfield Heights, Ohio, a traditional blue-collar family, and enlisted in the military at a young age, so very Midwestern roots. What I remember most is him impressing on me that you can’t control your level of intelligence, your genius-quota. That’s given to you. What you can control is how hard you work. I distinctly remember him saying, “rarely will you be the smartest person in the room.” (laughter) I remember pausing at that. “But,” he said right afterward, “you can be the hardest working person. You can be the leader in that room, the one who respects everyone in that room.” Success is defined by how hard you’re willing to work and how you treat people.”

CMO Club — If you could go back and give your twenty-two-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

 JSD — “To find joy and passion in the numerous parts of your life’s journey. If I look back, I realize that, like most driven people, I’ve spent twenty-five-plus years being very focused on my professional business career. I’d tell that twenty-two-year-old to still do that same thing, that’s important, but don’t wait too long to appreciate all the other parts of life that you can find joy in.”

CMO Club — I understand you have two sons at home. How are they handling the “Shelter at Home” thing?

JSD — “It’s funny. We are utilizing every square foot of our home, parents in separate rooms on conference calls, school lessons in others, it’s been interesting. We’ve taken to watching mindless eighties and nineties movies all together. We’ve watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Zoolander, all those comedies we’ve been sharing, and just being together.”

Jon Suarez-Davis and family

CMO Club — When you look back on all those years in marketing, what are you most proud of?

JSD — “The teams that I’ve been a part of. The vast majority of the joy in that nearly thirty-year career all revolves around the teams I’ve been able to be a part of, and all the incredible people that I have met and maintained strong personal relationships with.” 

CMO Club — What gets you angry or frustrated most?

JSD — “Lack of alignment. The inability of a team to come together. Leaders not providing clarity of objectives in what’s most important.”

CMO Club — On the flip side, what brings you the most joy?

JSD — “Other people’s success. Like most people, I enjoy the business metrics of growth and retention, but the thing that brings me the most joy is seeing someone accomplish a goal that they’ve been struggling to reach, giving someone the opportunity to grow. If you get up there, make sure to drop the ladder down.” 

CMO Club — What are you most passionate about outside of work?

JSD—“I went to Northwestern University, and I’m very active in the undergraduate programs in Integrative Marketing and Communications there. I go back and do some courses and did a graduation speech a couple of years ago. On a hobby level, I collect wine. My father-in-law got me into wine about twenty-something years ago. One of the fun things about this “shelter in place” thing is, we have this hashtag going around called, “#drinkthecellar. We take photos of bottles of wine that we’re drinking through the quarantine period and share those photos online. It’s been a light-hearted way to stay connected.”

CMO Club — Can you tell us something that not many people know about you, a story, a memory, or a chance encounter you had, something that means a lot to you?

JSD — “My father passed away three years ago, a couple of days before Christmas. The year before, my dad and I went on a Father-Son fishing trip in Ketchikan, Alaska, a fly-in trip. We spent a week together. The incredible memory I carry with me from that week, a life-changing memory is something that happened between dad and me. My father was in the Military, Intelligence to be exact. There was a three-year period that no one ever spoke about. I never knew what he was doing then. He never said anything to me about that time. It took me forty-seven-years, and a week alone in the woods, fishing with my father, to have this multi-day conversation about this period in his life. He couldn’t talk about it for all those years because he just couldn’t. It was classified, but years go on, and things change. It’s something I’ll never forget, especially that it took place the year before he was gone. It’s forever burned into my memory.”

Jon Suarez-Davis and his father.

CMO Club  — What a wonderful memory. Last question. When all is said and done, what’s the one thing you want to be remembered for?

JSD — “That he was a nice guy.”

CMO Club—Beautiful.