The CMO Files: Ian Howells, Sage Intacct

What has been your biggest mistake? "[N]ot moving to California sooner. It's the best place in the world to work in the software industry..."

Name: Ian Howells

Organisation: Sage Intacct

Job title: Vice President, Head of Marketing

Location:San Jose, CA

Ian Howells has 20+ years of marketing experience at startups and major software companies. As Sage Intacct's vice president and head of marketing, Howells oversees demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, and marketing communications. Before joining Sage Intacct, Howells led marketing at Argyle Data transitioning the company to a leading machine learning Hadoop application vendor, used by the world's largest mobile carriers to perform fraud and revenue threat analytics.


Where were you born and raised? I was born in the United Kingdom. I studied engineering and earned a Bachelor of Science in Computing and Statistics from Cardiff University, and then a PhD in distributed database systems. Following my studies, I worked in London for 20 years.

What was your first job? My first job out of university was working as an engineer at Ingres, a relational database management software company. I worked there for six years in various roles, including product marketing. Ingres was founded by three UC Berkeley professors. It was incredibly validating to see co-founder Michael Stonebraker win the Turing Award in 2015 - and to meet so many other people that went on to do great things in technology.

What was the first product you got really excited about? There are a couple that come to mind. In 1987, at Ingres in the UK, I helped launch the Distributed Database System called Ingres Star. I was blown away by the distributed query optimizer. In addition, we launched Abstract Data Types. I remember reading the source code to work out how to add arrays as columns to the database.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? The biggest influence on my career has been Geoffrey Moore best known for writing Crossing the Chasm, which highlights marketing strategies for high-tech companies in early stages. Following my time at Ingres, I joined enterprise content management platform Documentum (acquired by EMC for $1.7 billion in 2003, now owned by OpenText) where we worked closely with Geoffrey and lived his strategy. I used it to drive the financial services reach, which became the biggest vertical for the company.

What has been your greatest achievement? My greatest achievement as CMO has been helping Sage Intacct (acquired by enterprise software company Sage Group in 2017 for $850 million in 2017) move to a micro-vertical marketing strategy and creating a world-class marketing organization. Whereas the traditional adage for most companies is to be "big fish in a big pond," we've focused on being a big fish in many, many small ponds. It's led to great results and tremendous growth. (Being involved in that acquisition was certainly another highlight of my career!)

What has been your biggest mistake? My biggest mistake was not moving to California sooner. It's the best place in the world to work in the software industry, offering so many opportunities to learn, to innovate and to be surrounded by great, creative people within the software industry.

What is your greatest strength? My greatest strength is as a data-driven marketer who tries to champion change in all capacities. I like taking members of my team, or an entire company, somewhere we haven't been before. At Sage Intacct, we've been able to do this with our go-to-market strategy focused on microverticals. We've built a customer base of thousands of companies spanning diverse industries by developing very, very targeted campaigns (and products) that appeal to subsets of traditional verticals. All of this is done through a clear focus clusters, determined through rigorous analysis and big data sets. Leading change also allows me to attract great recruits to our team.

What is your biggest weakness? My biggest regrets have hinged on not going with my gut instinct.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? I'd say CMOs as a community need to create and protect a great culture within the team, an aspect of our job often overlooked by others. Spending the necessary time and ensuring alignment between team and company objectives is essential and drives priorities every day. 

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? My mantra is "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

What makes you stressed? Early in my marketing career, I learned that if you hit your opportunity target, everything additional is improved. If you don't hit your opportunity target, no matter how innovative your strategy is, or how innovative your campaigns are, they are not the best that they can be. The sales and marketing partnership should be driven by a data, combined with an industry leading marketing technology stack, which breeds data-driven decisions.

What do you do to relax? I exercise daily, which helps me to relax.

What is your favourite song? My favorite song is Wonderwall by Oasis. "Today is gonna be the day..."

Which book taught you most? The aforementioned book by author Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, has had a definitive impact on my career.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I am a big fan of the California Golden Bears rugby team. My son was formerly a key player on the team, and I've maintained my fandom since.

Which country would you like to work in? I'd have to say the United States, specifically the Bay Area. I'm in the right place!

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Often some of the best marketing comes from brands where the company utilises big data and predictive analytics to allow customers to identify and engage with the brand. Netflix and Amazon are great examples of companies using this personalisation tactic. At Sage Intacct, we're constantly working to learn how to better use data, predictive analytics and AI in more innovative ways.

What do you love most about your job? Three things stand out when I think about my job at Sage Intacct:

  1. The people: I work with change-makers who work hard every day to make things happen.
  2. The culture: It's one that's conducive to hard, creative work, and problem-solving.
  3. The opportunity: I've been able to share my expertise and successes with the team I love. The company also breeds a culture that extensively support professional development and I've had a chance to see many of my teammates grow

What is your favourite book? Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore

What keeps you awake at night?  I'm kept awake by thoughts of opportunity creation and how we can use big data, predictive analytics and AI to accelerate creation and win big in the market.