Kenny Soto Logo 2020
Interview with James (JD) Dillon – Defining The Role Of CMO – Episode #98

“You gotta be flexible but, not spineless.”

JD Dillon lives by the principle of “Mission First, People Always.” A U.S. Army veteran and graduate of the United States Military Academy, JD has spent his career in Corporate America focused on profitable top-line growth while investing in individuals and organizational development.

Currently, the CMO for renewable energy upstart Tigo Energy, his career has spanned a variety of functions while being focused on bringing value to his customers and his employees.

Questions and topics we covered include:

  • The unique marketing challenges within the energy sector.
  • The mental frameworks every marketer needs to know, just to be a better professional.
  • What does it mean to be a successful CMO?
  • Who measures the success of a CMO’s work?
  • What’s the right way to set expectations and manage-up when working with the CEO?
  • JD’s approach to internal marketing and why all marketers need to learn this skill.
  • The most important type of meeting CMOs need to have.
  • Are organizational charts (company org. charts) still necessary?
  • How marketing teams can use the RACI matrix to get tasks done faster.
  • The “quick wins” new CMOs should focus on during their first 90 days.
  • Can a marketer do sales and marketing at the same time?
  • What are some “old-school” practices that still work, regardless of what changes are going on in the market?

And more!

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto 0:02  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the people Digital Marketing podcast with your host, Kenny Soto, and today’s guest, JD Dylan. Hi, JD, how are you?


James Dillon 0:14  

Doing Great, Kenny, thank you. 


Kenny Soto 0:17  

Now, there are a lot of industries out there that have their own unique challenges. And you are a CMO in a very specific niche industry, which is renewable energy. So could you talk to us about one? How did you get into digital marketing? And then after that, can you describe what your company title energy does?


James Dillon 0:39  

Sure. So digital marketing is a mandatory skill for anybody in general, As a marketing generalist, there wasn’t particularly digital marketing when I started marketing in 98. So it was, it was evolving and learning the skill set as the industry evolved. And that was mandatory. And I personally took a number of courses at like Stanford continuing education and things like that, to start, to learn skills that kind of evolved while I was evolving myself.


Kenny Soto 1:19  

And can you describe what tidal energy does?


James Dillon 1:22  

Sure, tidal energy provides a more optimized solar energy solution by providing equipment that meets code, enables installers to see their installations for operations and maintenance, and optimizes because the shade is a pretty standard problem in solar and we provide equipment that gets the most out of the installation.


Kenny Soto 1:53  

Now, just to paint a bigger picture or clear picture, in this case, when you are doing these installations, are they more commercial, b2c, or b2b.


James Dillon 2:03  

The sale is B to B. But the industry often is thought of more as b2b b2c, because the installer is installing our equipment. And they often have to describe our equipment to the consumer. And ultimately, if there’s a problem, the consumer ends up calling us and trying to get a return, so we do touch the consumer, but the face to the consumers the installer or contractor, any of us that have homes, I’ve had contractors at our house, they’re the face to the consumer, and to the businesses as well. Because just as you and I might want solar on our house, Coca-Cola wants it on a bottling plant, and, and Amazon wants it on a warehouse. So it’s those two types of markets.


Kenny Soto 2:53  

So I can assume that there are a lot of unique challenges when it comes to the solar industry specifically, would that be a good assessment? Or a good assumption to make?


James Dillon 3:04  

It is absolutely a good assumption, I would say. Every industry has its little quirks and little, little oddities. So any marketing, in general, has got a whole number of marketing specific aspects to it. And then each industry has its own little quirks just like humans, right? We’re all often fairly similar. But then when you get down to it, we all have a little bit of uniqueness. Same thing.


Kenny Soto 3:32  

Know, you mentioned that you started doing marketing back in 1998. And for the most part, you’ve been able to see how the industry has evolved. Now, a lot of digital marketers today have gone to school for marketing, but for the most part, there’s only so much you can learn within a classroom, especially with all the changes that are going on with the new channels, new martech tools, new tactics that you can leverage, etc. 


When it comes to bare bones, basic marketing, what are some frameworks or approaches or theories that you’ve used throughout your career that you think other marketers, especially marketers that are new to digital marketing should be considering?


James Dillon 4:19  

That is fairly interesting. So I would say the first one that comes to mind right out of the gate, is that putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, whether it’s b2b or b2c is very hard. And often the customer doesn’t follow the same desires and thoughts that we do. It is a fairly common mistake to write a piece of copy. So you wrote an article and you said I love it. It’s exactly how I think and then you go publish it on the web, and nobody reads it. or even worse, they glance at it and then don’t read the whole thing? Well, clearly you appeal to yourself. 


And, appealing to yourself isn’t understanding your customer. Customers aren’t like us generally. So trying to figure out your customer and appeal to them in the channel that they want to be appealed to, and in the manner in the messaging that they do get through to them is very much a challenge. We often do marketing, as if we’re marketing to ourselves and our friends.


Kenny Soto 5:36  

So you would say that one of the main challenges marketers have today, even with all the available tools out there, is really taking a step back and asking themselves consistently, whether it’s with specific campaigns, pieces of content, or broader strategy, do we really understand the customer and what they want?


James Dillon 5:56  

Absolutely, and, and who is the customer, I mean, I’ll take, I’ll take with my discussion or my business. So I’m writing a piece of copy for the installer, who has a certain set of needs. And then I go and talk about to the homeowner, I don’t talk about optimization to the homeowner, I talked about shade. When I talked to the installer, I talked about optimization. That’s a simple example of just switching a word that the audience is very, very different from.


Kenny Soto 6:31  

Now let’s talk about your position. There tends to be a path, if you will, that marketers can take and that path is eventually becoming Chief Marketing Officer. It’s not for everyone. But for those who stay on that path and eventually want to become not only the leader of a marketing team but also a people manager. Can you speak to the unique challenges that CMOS has when compared to other suite C-suite roles?


James Dillon 7:04  

You bet. So the number one challenge that I believe CMOS have versus the others is if I told you, Chief Financial Officer, with no financial training whatsoever, you can probably tell me what they do. Chief Sales Officer Chief Revenue officers are often called now, I can tell you what they do. CTO, I can tell you, etc. You go through every one of the C suites. Then you get to Chief Marketing Officer. 


People say Oh, advertisements, or something else Yeah, that’s the person who owns the web. Or, my favorite is marketing often follows. And he’s the person who does pretty PowerPoints, what an insulting thing. But it’s hard to pin down. And the job description is not as obvious as any of the other ones.


Kenny Soto 8:04  

And the definition of CMO is fairly unique depending on the organization and the industry, in your opinion. And with your experience, what does it mean to be a successful CMO


James Dillon 8:21  

Has to drive revenue. And then after revenue has to understand a handful of objective metrics that matter, in the company, in the industry, and to the other members of the executive staff and the CEO board, obviously. But, what matters to one company for the CMO may not matter to another. And it may evolve. During the tenure. When I got to my current company, the CEO had a handful of things that he wanted out of the Chief Marketing Officer. And then as I was here, it was clear, we need to do something a little bit different. 


In my case, getting to more demand generation. And I evolved it that way. I ran it by him. He says yes. He didn’t even know he didn’t have that marketing until I could explain it to him. And that takes understanding the stakeholders and being willing to a boss of mine back when I was in the army used to say you got to be flexible, but not spineless. I think that’s great advice.


Kenny Soto 9:44  

So let’s dive a little deeper in there because I’ve had guests in the past who say that one of the challenges CMO, especially first time CMOS have is having the ability and the courage to say no to the CEO, and sometimes CEOs have their own ideas and their own concept. So they want to bring it to the table. How do you approach managing and interacting with the CEO of an organization?


James Dillon 10:11  

So the early tenure as a CMO, that’s probably true for everybody. But I’ll stick to CMO because that’s where talking about the early tenure is setting expectations. And then often involving him or her appropriately in the dialogue. If you’re not checking in a successful CEO, which almost by definition, anybody who’s reached the level of CEO has been successful in their career in various ways, a successful CEO, if there’s a given piece of the organization they don’t quite understand, or they haven’t heard from in a while, or aren’t really sure what they’re working on, they’ll find a way to make you busy with their directions. 


So more important than saying, No effectively, is actually telling them what you’re doing before it gets to that point. It’s funny, I tell my kids, one of my lessons learned when I was going to school is to raise your hand when you know the answer. So that when you don’t know the answer, the teacher doesn’t call on you. So my one-on-one with the CEO is always 150% booked. And I got more materials, and then he can possibly grasp and we can talk about and involve him appropriately.


Kenny Soto 11:40  

Now, when it comes to measuring success as a CMO, who was the person who set that set of metrics to focus on? Is it the CMO? Is it the CEO? Is it the board?


James Dillon 11:55  

It’s different in every company. So I was VP of Marketing at my prior company. And it was, the board couldn’t have cared less, the CEO cared a ton. And there were a couple of other members of the executive staff that cared a lot, too. They all featured themselves, and they all thought of themselves as CMOS, because they read HBr every once in a while. So there are always those people at my current company, I set it, and I am clear with my peers. And each one of my metrics, probably or not, probably definitely has a peer that’s the most interested in it. And then ultimately, I then bring in a dashboard to the CEO. 


And you can tweak it or not. But an important part that I did, I kind of glossed over there is with your peers. And this applies at every level. If you’re at a director level, you’ve got other directors that are maybe the director of product, and then a sales director for North America if you’re staying regional. So the sales director may want to know something, and then that metric is very important to that person, the product may want to know something else. And those metrics are very important to that person. So getting the metrics cleared, sideways, and then up.


Kenny Soto 13:23  

Now, I don’t like equating this to internal politics, because that’s not the kind of term I’d like to use. I’ve been recently studying the topic of internal marketing and the importance of getting buy-in from your peers, from people on the executive board, and from the company overall, when it comes to showcasing the effectiveness of the marketing department and what the marketing department is doing in an organization, what is your approach when it comes to internal marketing?


James Dillon 14:01  

So I’ll give you a quick answer to the question. One-on-ones with every other member of the executive staff every single week. And I always go in there with at least one statement. Hey, we did a webinar and talked about the problem we’ve been facing with crosstalk that’s to a technical person. And I always have a question. 


And by the way, I’d like to know what your thoughts are on the next two webinars. So I give them a statement, you know, what are we doing? I opened it up for a question. and I am Hey, look at this presentation. Tell me if you think this message is right. Do you really think we ought to simplify it this much? Or should it be a little bit more technical, to follow our brand with our installers? I’m just randomly making things up but you get the point. And that marketing intern Only, and it’s nonstop. I don’t just wait until the monthly or quarterly meeting. Because I was doing it constantly. And those ones in one meeting. 


This applies to leadership as well as to the people that work for me. But to my peers, and to the people that work for me, are sacrosanct. They never get touched, I refuse to allow them, and they take priority over anything else, that’s more important than to staff me. Why is that? It’s more, more personalized. And it’s easier to have difficult dialogues. You’re in a room or a virtual room, let’s say we’re on a zoom call with nine people. Are you really going to get deep into anything? I mean, come on, no, if I am on a one-on-one this morning, so I was in a one-on-one this morning with our Chief Product Officer. Chief growth officer is what the technical term is but she’s a product. 


And she was basically telling me that one of my people, she’s going to need to completely monopolize for about a month. And I get it. And it was better to have that dialogue face to face than hear about it secondhand or hearing about it in a large group. And then I said I absolutely agree but realize there’s a trade show coming up. That did. If I, as we approached the deadline for getting materials in, I’m gonna need to pull them away. And you’re gonna have to put that on pause. Did she say, Yep, understand completely? Well, that’s a dialogue you have in one on one, you don’t have a hard setting. And if we didn’t have that one-on-one scheduled coin toss whether or not we would ever have the dialogue. 


Kenny Soto 16:52  

Speaking of dialogue, when it comes to the organization of a marketing team, how important is it to have a clearly structured org chart? And I asked this because in certain instances when a company is already established, the org chart was created either the first second third year when the organization was growing. But when it comes to early-stage companies, sometimes an org chart is an afterthought, especially when you’re focused mainly on just growing as fast as possible. 


When is it appropriate to start thinking about it? Here are the specific sections of the marketing team Hughes, who’s in charge of demand gen. Who’s in charge of webinars, etc? How do you go about thinking about that?


James Dillon 17:45  

When there are more than two people? Quite literally, I am a monster believer in an org chart. Matter of fact, I’ll go a step further at my company. And we have 100 and change people 120 10, something like that. At my company, I own the org chart. And the only reason I own the org chart is not that it says in the org chart that God owns the org chart. It’s because I just do not like to not know who does what. I find it very distasteful. 


So I did it for my own purposes. And I started asking people who were forced to and I kind of filled that out in our HR system as mediocre beds. So I filled it out and did the boxes and lines and I asked people, Hey, can you fill it out? And then there were a couple of people that were somehow direct line to five different people. And I pulled it up and I’m like up this guy, for people say they directly report to him. And then this person says they directly report and it appears and I’m like, how’s that work? Talking through that? Everyone felt better. 


Now, every couple of months, people say, Hey, you can update, update the org chart, because they love it. And it’s very, very important. And I’m a firm believer. I’ll tell you another tool that I’m a monster, Billy. If you ever heard of a racy matrix, I have not. So look up racy a sci-fi. It’s responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. Every task needs to have cross-functional tasks. Need to have a RACI matrix. Accountable means the buck stops with them. They sign it off, and they approve it. 


They’re the ones who get in trouble for it. If it doesn’t happen. They’re the ones who get credit for it. If it does, that’s the Accountable person. The response is the person that does the work. Often the responsible person reports to the Accountable person. Or in a cross-functional team, you might have an accountable person. And then sub-tasks where there are three different responsible people that do different pieces of it. consulted are the experts that you kind of check with. 


You know, anytime you’re getting something done at a company, and someone says, Hey, you know, you want to run this by Mary, that happens inevitably accompanies what Mary is now consulting. She provides advice and counsel. But if it screws up, it’s not Mary’s fault, and she was just there to help. And then informed is after you do the task, or in the midst of it, you say, who’s going to be copied on the memo, or who gets CC on the email or whatever. So thinking in terms of racy, and having that mindset is hugely important.


Kenny Soto 20:52  

This is why I love doing this podcast because I learned cool stuff like that. Now, when it comes to, let’s tie back to let’s say, I’m a new CMO and a company, what are some quick wins that I should be focusing on during the first 90 days?


James Dillon 21:09  

My quick, I’ll tell you, what I did is my quick way. 30 days, after 30 days, I documented and I hate this methodology. But since everybody understands it, it’s so simple a squat. And I actually turned it around, and I read somewhere it really needed an idea. Its Taos swats are easy to remember. But t o w s is threatened opportunity, weaknesses, and strengths. So you’re looking outside in threats and opportunities are out in the market. strengths and weaknesses are internal in the company. 


So it was kind of a neat twist on the SWOT to invert everything and do Taos and I interviewed 25 internal people, mostly sales, marketing, product types of operations, people, and executive staff members, and I interviewed eight customers. And I basically asked them all the same set of questions. What does my company do? Well, what do we do poorly? What can we do differently? That’s it. 


And so I had the internal and the external, wrote them all out, and had a whole laundry list of answers. I didn’t attribute it to anybody, just sort of nobody got in trouble. Came up with Taos and when I presented it, I actually showed it to the CEO. And then at the next board meeting, I showed it to the board. And bringing that external perspective purely by interviewing and asking questions. I got to know people. I’m just reporting on what I learned, man, you know, and I obviously wasn’t stupid, I didn’t take really, really blunt criticism, the CEO an idiot, that didn’t make its way in there. No one said that, but you get the point. But there’s some tough stuff in there.


Kenny Soto 23:11  

And what was a direct result of direct action stuff that happened after you presented that towel presentation?


James Dillon 23:20  

The very first thing we did was make our website more user-friendly. Because one of the bits of feedback is confusing and hard to figure out information that was internal and external.


Kenny Soto 23:45  

That just goes to show that sometimes simply speaking to people who are directly involved or effective, effective excuse me by the operations of your business gives you clear action items to take whereas you can also take the other approach which a lot of people sometimes do take which is guesswork, so creating a list of tactics, there really is no clear strategy or if there is a strategy it still needs work. Will you do exercises like this? It gives you a clearer picture and a clear set of action items so you know which direction to move forward and.


James Dillon 24:19  

Ah, you got me unprompted you got me to my next very important thing that I did 30 days after that because you asked about 90 days. So I only described the first 3030 days after that. I came up with a simple, understandable strategy. That was a three-part strategy. And I have a graphic to back it up. So my strategy is thunder, lightning, and structure. Thunder is making noise in the market. Lightning was initially sales enablement, Thunder is if you think marketing, and broadcasting making noise. 


And then lightning was laser-focused, providing salespeople with the materials, documentation, and whatever tools they need to win in the market. So that was lightning focused. And then the structure was a baseline of, of structure and processes as a gene and simple, basic things that the business needed. And then I had a picture that was really cool picture really just played around, and ended up going to Shutterstock. 


It wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it showed a house that had thunder, and lightning, and then it was a house with a bunch of solar panels on it. So this has become my, my slide, that I’ve got the strategy, and that the house with the thunder, lightning, and I start every single presentation of substance that I do with it.


Kenny Soto 25:59  

I’m glad you mentioned that because I’ve been considering something just within my own team, which is what’s the point of making strategy documents after they’re presented once we don’t revisit them. So when you bring up the fact that you start every presentation, or every meeting with that slide, at least what I get as a reaction is, it’s a cool tool to then remind the team, this is what we’re focused on. This is the direction we’re moving in. That way, there’s no confusion, and everyone’s on the same game plan constantly. Would you agree? That’s the reason why you use it.


James Dillon 26:37  

Oh, yeah. And it says I’m a, I’m a logical structured person, I have said a little couple of quirky things . My shirts are color-coded in my closet. It’s a little weird. So she is sure maybe, but I laid my clothes out the night before. So when I get up in the morning, I know exactly what to put on. And again, that sounds really dumb. But that’s the kind of person I am. So the structure of the light of the thunder, lightning, and structure, I then now have my tactics under there. So I have four tactics under each of the three strategies. 


So I have 12 tactics that I work on. And I literally bundled that way. And then what the slide becomes, I’ll talk about the board meeting. In every board meeting, I start with the same exact slide. And then I put a green because our brand colors are green, a green square around the two that I’m going to cover in that board meeting. So it becomes my agenda. And then I can look back over the last four board meetings. 


And look at oops, I haven’t gotten to this program lately. And, I’ll go a step further. I’m a heavy metal fan. My sales enablement weekly meeting, I call Ride the Lightning, which is a Metallica song. So we have fun with Ride the Lightning, and somebody else came up with it. They’re probably catering to the boss and kind of kissing up a little bit. But okay, so lightning meeting the sales enablement meeting is called Ride the Lightning. So it makes it fun.


Kenny Soto 28:20  

Certainly, I have two more questions for you. The next one is what is one big marketing challenge that you’re really focused on this year.


James Dillon 28:38  

Structuring demand generation. And taking all of the lessons learned from SAS, which are just like industry, SAS industries, live and breathe and die. By demand gen. I apply pipeline and HubSpot and understand all of that, and tweaks to digital marketing to make it work, and my industry is from the Stone Age. So I actually hired somebody from the SAS engine industry, and she is an expert in demand gen. And we’ve been making it work within our company and having real metrics. 


And actively tracking return on investment of dollars and I can rattle off dozens of metrics on it, and that is brand new. Last year we had 2.3% of our revenue was directly attributable to marketing initiatives, which nobody had ever known what the number was at all. So even coming up with anything was a shock to people. And the first quarter was 4% and I’m reasonably certain this past quarter, about 7%. My goal for the year is to end the year. You’re at 10%. So I’m ahead of that. And that’s pretty cool.


Kenny Soto 30:05  

That is really cool. One of the main issues, I had was my first three years of a mark, as a marketer was just trying to learn how attribution works. But once you get a sense of how attribution works, and how to implement it, everything else that you’re doing just, falls into place, because then you can see whether or not you actually are driving revenue for the business. 


James Dillon 30:23  

Absolutely. Absolutely.


Kenny Soto 30:27  

Now, JD, my last question for you is hypothetical, because time machines don’t exist. But if they did, and you can go back into the past about 10 years, knowing everything you know, today, how would you specifically accelerate the speed of your career,


James Dillon 30:42  

I would have been all over social media. I thought it was stupid. And I still do. But I’m pretty strong on LinkedIn. I was all proud, of getting on Twitter. And I was about to get on Facebook when my teenage kids laughed at me and called me a relic. And so I realized I wasn’t, I was trying to catch up by getting on the outdated platform. 


And I’ve chosen to not jump on it. I’m on LinkedIn, and I make the most of it. And I go double down. And I post a lot, and I’m very interested in that platform. But I just don’t keep up with all the rest, I would have done that. And it would have been a more intimate part of my career growth.


Kenny Soto 31:32  

So for the listener, for the listener who just heard that answer, that just is a go-to sign for you to start using TikTok if you haven’t done so already.


James Dillon 31:41  

What’s TikTok now?


Kenny Soto 31:45  

Yeah, definitely know, like when you bring that up, what comes to my mind is the fact that like, the reason why I asked that question I asked all my guests is there’s usually something that I do as an introspective. Exercise me. I asked, What would future Kenny regret that present Kenny’s not doing? So I asked experts like yourself, what is one thing that you would have done differently because that is a sign that if you apply it to what’s happening in the market this year, you can actually attribute it to something that you’re doing right now that you should be focusing on more or something that you’re not doing that you should be incorporating into your own career or your life in general?


James Dillon 32:26  



Kenny Soto 32:29  

Yeah. So JD again, thank you for your time today. If anyone wants to find you online, where can they go to say hello?


James Dillon 32:36  

Not on social media. If you’re listening to what I was just saying, No, LinkedIn, I’m under James parentheses, JD, last name, Dylan, di LL. And LinkedIn, I am very active, I check it constantly. It’s one of the three screens that I always have open at any given time. And LinkedIn is the place for me.


Kenny Soto 32:56  

Perfect. We’ll put your profile into the show notes. And again, thank you for your time today. Thank you, to you, the listener for listening to another episode of the people Digital Marketing podcast with your host Kenny Soto. And believe it or not, we’re almost approaching episode 100. This is episode 98. So if you’ve listened up until now, I just have to say thank you, and I really appreciate it. And we’re doing something very special for episode 100. So if you’re new to the podcast, definitely subscribe and rate us on whatever podcast platform you’re using to listen to this episode. And as always, I hope everyone has a great week. 



Related Episodes