The CMO Files: Susan Ganeshan, Clarabridge

What keeps CMOs awake at night?

Get inside the minds of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job... and what keeps them awake at night.


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Susan Ganeshan

Organisation: Clarabridge

Job title: CMO

Location: Washington DC, USA



  1. Where were you born and raised?   
    I grew up in Pittsburgh PA where the tough-minded steel mill workers shaped our local psyche but I’ve spent the last 20 years in Northern Virginia where politics and history takes a centre stage. I’m lucky then because I believe CMOs need grit, but they also need political savvy.
  2. What was your first job?  
    This will date me for sure, but my first important job was working on super computers helping professors and their students manage their massive computation projects on the devices that now are outpowered by your average laptop. Since then I’ve coded (Fortran and C – yes dates me again), implemented client-server solutions (most people will have forgotten this phase of software), product managed, and run large global marketing teams.
  3. What was the first product you got really excited about?   
    I remember vividly the day I learnt that the software product my company sold helped Johnson & Johnson ensure that their medical devices arrived at hospitals in time to save lives. It was one of those moments when you realise software really does matter and I’m on a quest to find the impact of software on business since then.
  4. Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
    There is a consultancy in the US called Pragmatic Marketing and I was introduced to them about 15 years ago. The methodology they teach helps software companies deliver products that make a difference, ones that people want to buy. One of the premises of their methodology is that “the answer to your question is not in these 4 walls”, in other words, answers lie outside of your company often with customers, prospects, competitors, industry experts. This had a profound impact on my philosophy as a product manager and marketer. Today I’m CMO for a company, Clarabridge, that helps business understand customers wants, needs and desires. I feel as though I’ve come full circle.
  5. What has been your greatest achievement?
    Not too long ago my CEO (and boss) looked at me with a smile and said, “You’re a quant CMO”.  With a mathematics major in college I never imagined I’d use my skills so directly in my job but I’m doing that every day. We make decisions based on numbers, facts, conversation rates, return on investment, and results.
  6. What has been your biggest mistake?
    While I try not to play what if games, I think it’s a mistake to stay at a company too long, like past the time where you’re able to make a big impact with the team and budget and management dynamics of the company. But getting the timing right can be tricky. The average tenure of a high tech CMO is 18 months, which doesn’t surprise me given the ever-changing landscape of marketing high tech solutions.
  7. What is your greatest strength?
    I’ve been lucky enough to have some bosses and mentors who shaped me and helped me to grow in my career, so I try to do the same for the people that work with and around me. The saying “all boats rise with the tide” is something I say often to the team meaning that together we rise or fall. This means giving people more responsibility than they think they can handle and giving enough guidance to watch them succeed. When one succeeds we all succeed.
  8. What is your biggest weakness?
    Ok, cliché I know, but my biggest strength, building great teams, is also my biggest weakness. When you help people grow and give them a little sugar (like promotions and more salary) they can tend to get addicted and crave constant sweets. I’ve seen some of my best performers move on for just that reason, in the end I create people who crave the next big thing.
  9. What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?  
    Specifically, in high tech software marketing most of my peers don’t know their products, how they work or why customers love them. A deep understanding of the features of the product and how it is differentiated in the market is requirement number 1 for a successful CMO.
  10. Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
    After I left one job managing a team of 60 people around the globe, my successor told the team they were doing too much and needed to do much less. I couldn’t disagree more. My mantra is “get it done”. If one sales guy needs it, it’s worth doing. If customers ask it, it’s worth answering for all. Not everything deserves the same time and attention, but most times it is just easy to knock something out than complain about doing more.

On the other hand, I tend to have a negative reaction when my team tells me they are too busy to deliver quality accurate marketing materials. When you commit to a deliverable date it’s important to meet it with quality in mind.

  1. What makes you stressed?
    An unclean house. The first thing I do on a Friday night to start my weekend is wipe down my counters, vacuum, and straighten. With all that done, I can finally relax.
  2. What do you do to relax?
    I have a habit of drinking cabernet, a lot of it.
  3. What is your favourite song?
    I’m a huge music fan, with music playing around me constantly. A common refrain in our home is “Alexa play ….” so I doubt I can pinpoint one favourite song but I will say that my teenage boys have introduced me to some rap songs that I find myself listening to while I run.
  4. Which book taught you most?
    Many years ago, I read The Five Temptations of a CEO on the advice of the webMethods’ CEO, Phillip Merrick. He is an amazing leader, still one of the best start up CEOs out there. Then recently on the advice of my current company’s Chairman, Yuchun Lee, I re-read the book and had my team read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Not because I think we are dysfunctional but because there is always room for growth, better team dynamics and trust.
  5. Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
    No one grows up in Pittsburgh without being a Steelers fan but on any given weekend my passion comes from watching my son play lacrosse. The sport is fast moving, intricate and requires real skill not unlike the role of a CMO.
  6. Which country would you like to work in?
    Does Silicon Valley count as its own country? In 4 years my kids are off to college so a west coast stint would suit me just fine then.
  7. Which company do you think has the best marketing?
    I admire Domo, Tableau Software, Salesforce, and I’m sort of partial to my husband’s company, Metalogix. Since we are both CMOs we tend to steal each other’s best practices and he’s done a great job of branding and messaging that company.
  8. What do you love most about your job?
    I’m most happy when sales people say, thank you this is exactly what I needed and then turn around and meet their revenue goals powered by the tools marketing provided.
  9. What is your favourite book?
    About 10 years ago I read a book called The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. She’s masterful at architecting the story and I read recently that she’s got a new book out so that is definitely on my summer reading list.
  10. What keeps you awake at night?
    I find myself asking again and again, how can I improve our metrics. How can I get more visitors to our website, more coverage for our brand, more leads for our sales team. Have I turned over every stone? Oh, gotta run, I think I have an idea….