The CMO Files: Julian Diaz, Skynamo

The CMO Files: Julian Diaz, Skynamo

Name: Julian Diaz

Organisation: Skynamo

Job title: Head of Marketing

Location:Cape Town, South Africa

Julian Diaz is a B2B marketer with over 25 years of experience marketing technology and helping small technology businesses scale into internationally recognised leaders in their niche. Originally from Atlanta, USA, Diaz moved to South Africa in 1998 after launching his career at a global software house in Germany. Diaz joined Skynamo in September 2017 to help scale the business, build a global brand and successfully take its field sales management software and mobile sales app into overseas markets.

Where were you born and raised? Atlanta, USA. Born there but raised in a Colombian household and spent a lot of time in Colombia.

What was your first job? Customer Service Representative at Blockbuster Video. This was back in the late 80's so it was such a cool job. I could check out up to six movies a day for free! And sometimes I did and spent the whole night watching them. It made me great at my job because I could recommend movies to anyone, because I had seen so many!

What was the first product you got really excited about? A South African e-learning product that created simulations of processes that needed to be followed in an ERP or CRM system. To some that could sound very boring, but the technology was amazing. Product trainers could run through a process in the ERP or CRM system while the e-learning software recorded all their actions, creating an interactive simulation of what the trainer had done. The trainee could then either just watch or interact in a simulation - like a flight simulator but for software - with the learner getting instructions or guidance along the way. From the perspective of an end-user the training was highly effective because people were learning by doing without the fear of "breaking" the ERP or CRM system. It was revolutionary at the time and I am very proud to have been a part of taking this product into the global market and making it a recognised leader in its niche. 

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? When I was working as an intern at a major software company in Germany called Software AG, my boss, the Head of Market Research at the time was a big influence. This was back in 1994 and he asked me to look into "this thing called the internet" (the internet was used primarily by universities and organisations for research) and asked me to see how we could use it for market research. He made me the "go-to" person for all things internet related at this global software company of more than 5,000 employees at the time. It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time, because only months later the first World Wide Web browser was launched, and the task was no longer to see how to use it for research but instead how to market the company and support customers on a global scale.

I became one of the industry's first Internet Marketers in 1995. At a very young age I was considered a "guru" because very few people even knew what the internet was at the time. I was heading up meetings with VPs and country managers across Europe and the US. My boss' belief in me throughout, constant support and encouragement and the fact that he was always raising my profile within the business gave me the confidence to take on such a high-profile role and lead teams of people many years my senior. It really accelerated my career and took it to another level at a very young age. 

What has been your greatest achievement? It's a tie between 1) setting up one of the industry's very first business websites in 1995 and coordinating an effort across its European and US offices to set up localised versions of the company website, and 2) taking an unknown South African e-learning software product and within two years raising its profile as the number one most innovative product in its class (as recognised by US industry analysts and training professionals).

What has been your biggest mistake? Up until I joined Skynamo, there would have been a few career mistakes I could have mentioned. But every mistake I've made has somehow now led me to work at the most amazing company I've ever worked for. The company has an incredible team and an inspiring and fun boss who challenges me and I am constantly learning from.

There is no place I'd rather be right now than heading up marketing at Skynamo. However, I have learned two valuable lessons in my career:

Don't be too focused on cost-savings. I always was, because I was used to working with very small budgets. However, what I've learned is that ROI is what you should be focusing on. If an initiative is expensive but will generate the right exposure or positioning and generate lots of leads as a result, then it's worth it. Few people care how much something cost if they are very happy with the end result. Work within your budget, but also be clever and if you think choosing a more expensive supplier, going in as a gold sponsor at an event, or spending more on a PPC campaign will result in a higher ROI, then push for more budget.

Ensure you have your manual processes down before you decide to bring in technology to automate those processes. I've brought in software in the past thinking it will somehow create the workflows for me and solve all my problems. Doing so without having the process working well manually first only makes a bad process operate faster.

What is your greatest strength? I build world-class brands. I'm able to grow a relatively unknown brand into a recognised, reputable and respected brand on an international scale in relatively short time.

What is your biggest weakness? Numbers. But I'm being challenged to become better at marketing analysis and pricing.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? I can't really comment on what other marketers neglect. However, one aspect I've previously neglected which I no longer do has been speaking with customers. I learn so much every time I speak to a customer, such as what resonates with them, what their pain points are, and why they chose our product. This is such valuable intelligence that I can then use in my marketing copy and positioning of our solution in terms of benefits. It really makes my job easier and my marketing much more effective.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? Hearing "It is what it is." makes me squirm because it sounds like you're expected to just accept an outcome or decision without questioning it and move on. Sometimes that is the only thing you can do because of time and priorities, but it's often used too liberally to avoid having to discuss or explain a decision. My favourite phrase is a uniquely South African one: "'n boere maak ‘n plaan" which in Afrikaans literally means "A farmer makes a plan." I like the spirit of this phrase, because it means that through clever thinking, nothing is insurmountable.

What makes you stressed? Tight deadlines and organising events. I hate organising events and am relieved I now have amazing people who help me with this. This is ironic since my wife is a high-end wedding planner and she loves event planning.

What do you do to relax? Most recently yoga and meditation, but also watching Netflix with my wife.

What is your favourite song? Wicked Game, Chris Isaak. I still remember where I was the first time I heard the song and saw the video.

Which book taught you most? "High Output Management" by Andy Grove. It's taught me so much about being an effective manager of people. I highly recommend it to anyone leading a team and wanting to get the most out of them.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I don't really follow any teams, my sports have been running and cycling. However, if there's an international rugby match and the Springboks - the South African national rugby team - are playing I do get into the spirit of things and support them all the way.

Which country would you like to work in? I love working in South Africa - it's the land of opportunity in many respects and I am passionate about this country. However, I've always been drawn to Scandinavia and the Nordic lifestyle and value system.

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Fast-food restaurant chain Nando's. They are quick to take advantage of topical or current events in South Africa and are always on point and very funny. Their marketers are quick, risk takers and clever.

What do you love most about your job? Besides the people I work with and our culture, I would say building our brand into a recognised leader in the marketplace and seeing the impact of all we do and increasing the amount of leads generated each month.

What is your favourite book? "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff. I like the simplicity of it. It makes me both think and feel happy.

What keeps you awake at night? Nothing, I sleep quite soundly. Honestly, I've always been able to switch off from work when I get home. I would rather put in extra hours in the office but switch off when I leave, so I can recharge and spend quality time with my wife, friends and family.   


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