Sherry Lowe, CMO of Exabeam, joins us this week to talk about marketing strategies during the pandemic as well as representing women in the male-dominated industries of tech and cybersecurity. With CMO experience at Druva, Expanse, and Exabeam, Sherry explains how her encounters with sexism in the cyber industry inspired her to pursue high-level management and board opportunities, including her work with FirstBoard.io, and how she’s pivoted to focus on digital marketing during the uncertainty of COVID-19.
[01:55] Witnessing changes in cybersecurity marketing tactics and practices as the online and digital world continues to influence our audiences
[04:11] Shifting away from events-based marketing budgets during the COVID-19 pandemic and embracing more digital cyber marketing opportunities
[08:29] Changing her strategies and altering her marketing budget when joining Exabeam as the CMO, especially considering the timing for the pandemic
[15:17] Acknowledging progress being made for women in cyber, while also keeping in mind the impact of the pandemic and the economy on mothers working in tech
[20:18] Dealing with sexism and toxicity in the workplace, especially in male-dominated industries, and advocating for more women in marketing and in leadership
How has cybersecurity marketing changed from when you started?
With a storied career both behind and ahead of Sherry, we were excited to ask her about what she’s seen change the most since beginning her career in the cyber industry. Her answer? An increased focus on digital marketing and online content. When Sherry started, websites were not the focus for many cyber companies, versus today where websites are a hugely influential part of the marketing team’s job and generates the best leads for the majority of cyber and tech companies.
“A really huge shift that I've seen over the years is just how powerful driving prospects to your website is. To interact on the website, not just to land on it and read something, but to actually do something there. Those conversion rates are going to end up being really some of the best leads that you ever see.”
Can you pinpoint any specific changes that happened at Exabeam and in cyber marketing, specifically around the pandemic?
Although cyber marketing has changed in leaps and bounds since Sherry became a part of the industry, the pandemic brought a huge shift in the marketing perspective and the marketing budget for cyber marketing and for Exabeam. Joining Exabeam during the pandemic, Sherry was admittedly horrified to realize that a large majority of their budget, nearly 80%, was focused on marketing at in-person events. With the pandemic making travel restricted and group gatherings nearly impossible, Sherry quickly pivoted their efforts and their budget to digital marketing, striving to engage customers online and continue to innovate their outreach beyond what it would be in an event setting or at large gatherings.
“Cyber security marketing loves the trade show. They love the big box trade show, and it was a forced shift for the cybersecurity industry because COVID changed all of that. If you were not a digital-first marketing organization when COVID hit, you had to do that shift so quickly.”
What's the mission of FirstBoard.io, and what ceilings are you trying to break?
We’ve accomplished so much in the cyber world, continuing to bridge the gap between where men and women are represented in the industry. However, Sherry points out that a large majority of company boards fail to provide strong opportunities for women in cyber and in tech. Hoping to give more women the opportunity to serve on their first boards and get a start in leadership in the industry, Sherry became a founding member of FirstBoard.io.
“Right now, women are just not as represented as men on boards…and there's a tendency to keep using the same women on boards. So, we're trying to expand it, so that opportunities go beyond just the same four or five women.”
Do you have any advice that you could share with people listening today about workplace toxicity and sexism?
There’s thankfully a lot of emphasis around creating safe work environments for any company, but especially in cyber these days. Unfortunately, Sherry has seen the reality of what it’s like to experience unsafe work environments first-hand. After being harassed on more than one occasion by a male coworker, Sherry spoke up and had to cope with the consequences of doing so, losing friends and leaving her job after doing so. As difficult as this situation was, Sherry is thankful for the realization that brought her: she could be a CMO, she could be a leader in cyber, and she could build a safer environment for the women that worked with her.
“Everyone always says, ‘If you see something, say something,’ but what they don't tell you is the sentence that comes after that: ‘But prepare for the consequences of saying something.’ That's the sentence they forget to say after that, and you have to weigh that for yourself.”
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Welcome to the Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing podcast.
Where we explore the hottest topics in cyber marketing.
And help you become a better cybersecurity marketer.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to another episode of Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing. I'm your co-host, Gianna Whitver
And Maria here.
And we are so excited to have a very special guests on today's episode. We have Sherry Lowe. She's the Chief Marketing Officer at Exabeam, which provides end-to-end detection, user and entity behavior analytics, and is also a SOAR platform. Sherry Lowe has spent 25 years in Silicon Valley. She's seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the amazing, and has spent the majority of her career in the maledominated industries of tech and cybersecurity. She has experience as the Chief Marketing Officer at Expanse, which was acquired by Palo Alto. She's been the CMO at Druva, and also the VP of Marketing at Splunk. We're so excited for her to bring her years of experience to our podcast and teach us all about navigating the world, her career, our careers, and also, how to pivot marketing during a pandemic.
Thank you. It is so great to be here. And pivoting is something that I had been doing, I think, my whole life. Prior to even coming to Silicon Valley, I was a sportscaster, covering the, NFL Major League
Baseball, MBA. So, pivoting is what I do best, I think.
Just to add to your laundry list of male-dominated industries you've been in, also sports.
Very true. Very true. That prepared me well, for Silicon Valley, I will tell you.
Welcome, Sherry, thanks for being with us. This is going to be an exciting chat.
Yep. Good to be here.
Alright, so let's jump right into it. You have a storied career. How has cybersecurity marketing changed from when you started?
I'm going to really date myself, but honestly, if you had told me, even in 2010, that some of the best leads and the highest conversion rates to pipe, to close, were going to be coming via a website, chat function, or even a free download of a product, I probably wouldn't have believed it. That's how I date myself. So, that's been a really huge shift that I've seen over the years, just how powerful, just that whole motion of driving prospects to your website. To interact on the website, not just to land on it and read something, but to actually do something there. And that those conversion rates were going to end up being really some of the best leads that you would ever see. So, that's been, I would say, in the last 10 to 15 years, just the biggest shift and that the companies who got that right early benefited from that shift. And I will say from the companies that I've been at, Splunk did that well early. They interacted early with the website and got people engaged fast. So, really, that was one of the first changes I saw that happened. Another change, I would just say, from a messaging perspective, it's so noisy out there and it got noisy really fast for cyber companies. There's a new cybersecurity company popping up every day out there, there's a new threat coming every day, a new cybersecurity company pops up to address the new threat out there. So, I think the messaging shifts that are happening, all the time, really fast, and it's really becoming more and more difficult all the time to show that you're different, or show how you're better, show the value you provide. And I would say 20 years ago, 10 years ago, the outlandish claims worked better than they do now. I don't know, I think buyers are just more educated and more skeptical than they used to be. So, those are some of the ways I've seen it change in the last
20, 25 years.
Can you pinpoint any specific changes that happened, specifically to the pandemic?
Well, to the pandemic, yes, definitely. I would say the biggest change I've seen, I saw it just in the last two years due to the pandemic, was cyber security marketing loves the trade show. They love the big box trade show, and it was a forced shift for the cybersecurity industry because COVID changed all of that. If you are not a digital-first marketing organization, I don't know how you drove leads through your company, or pipeline for your company, when COVID hit and you had to do this shift so quickly. I'll talk a little bit about that because I joined a cybersecurity company as CMO in the middle of a pandemic. And Exabeam's go-to-market strategy pre-pandemic was event-focused, as many security companies were. And I've spoken to many of my CMO peers about this and literally 75 to 80% of a lot of marketing budgets were tied up in trade shows. Marketing loves big booths, they love to hand out swag, sales loves to go to dinners, where they meet people in-person and they walk around the hallways, and it feels like you're doing something because you can see something happening. Many security companies, that's how they spent their dollars.
Then COVID happened, and the logical shift was, "Well, let's just go to virtual events," because that's what we know, again, and so, no one really had a digital strategy in place, at least not the cybersecurity companies. And so, that's not how anyone was spending their money. So, everyone learned a very hard lesson fast during that two-year period, and it was this: one, don't tie up all your money in one place. Big box shows, big box virtual events can be a big waste of money, and you've got to find a way to expand your lead sources, you really do. And so, people had to turn to digital marketing, and it wasn't something that they naturally had the DNA in their companies to do, because that's not what they were doing. And so, as a result, there were some hardships that had to do and we had to do the shift at Exabeam in-flight. I came into a marketing organization that had been an event marketing organization, so we literally had to turn this ship around and say, "Okay, let's get a digital marketing strategy in place, and let's all of a sudden, focus on paid search, focus on paid media, focus on contributed content." What's content syndication look like? What are we doing from a webinar
perspective? That wasn't the muscle we had in the company and it wasn't a muscle that sales was used to. Exabeam wasn't in the same boat, a lot of companies were having to do the same thing, so all of a sudden, you had a lot of field marketers who had to become digital marketers. So, that's the biggest shift, I think, from a marketing perspective that many companies had to learn, but I think for the cybersecurity companies, they were a much more in-person kind of marketing motion than some other types of companies were. So, that's the biggest shift I've seen in a pandemic world.
Makes a lot of sense. I think, when you put it into perspective of just 10 to 15 years ago, things were very different. It's actually kind of scary, because I can only imagine how long it will take for the next big shift and change. As cybersecurity marketers, we're already having to learn something new every day, because things are changing every day. So, it'll be interesting to see, looking back at this conversation 10 years from now and thinking, "Yeah, that was totally the right kind of prediction."
You know, you look around you think, "Oh, websites have been around forever, blogs have been around forever." And I actually remember, again I'm dating myself, asking somebody, "What's a blog?" When I first arrived in Silicon Valley, in those early 2000s, and things were just popping up then. And it will be interesting, 10 years from now, to see what's happening in the world, and just from a marketing perspective.
Yeah. So, you actually made a really good point about field marketers having to shift their mindset and actually become digital marketers. Joining Exabeam, what were some of the shifts that you've made in the team to stay agile with the new strategy?
I think good product people can shift, and this was something that I've seen in companies where, you're an on-prem company and you have to go and become a cloud company. If you're a good product person, you can shift from building different kinds of products. I think good marketers can also shift and a great event marketer can say, "Okay, I can become a great digital marketer, because I'm just a really good marketer and I'm always training myself on what's new out there." So, there was just a lot of education internally at the company that we had to do for our marketers to learn a different way to go to market, but you also had to educate the company as well, because we had to ask the company in general, to please also be patient with us, that leads were going to come in, in a very different way that they weren't used to, and they were honestly great about it. We got the company on board to say, "You know what? We're not scanning badges anymore. This isn't happening and we just need some
patience because leads are going to come in in a very different way." And to be honest, now the world is opening back up again, but we will never go back to the way we marketed before. We'll never be, at least not on my watch, a marketing team that 80% of the budget was events-focused. So, we'll never go back to that. And good marketers can shift and learn other things and learn other ways to market. And if anything, it's better for their careers because now, they had to learn to do something a different way. I think, as a team, it was a good thing because all of a sudden, some of our event marketers were like, "Hey, I can actually be an ADR if I need to be for a few weeks. I can go learn how paid media works." So, it was ultimately a good thing because it expanded the range, and everybody learned something new.
Yeah, I love to hear that, thanks for spearheading that movement. We stay the course and we don't go back to our old ways. Let's jump into kind of the budget a little bit. I know you talked briefly about that. How much could you tell us, in terms of what you shifted in your budget allocations across the channels? Obviously, yes, digital was a big one, but what was that breakdown?
Like I said at the very beginning, from our budget perspective, we were spending about 80% of our marketing dollars going to events. As you know, if you go to some of these really large events, and definitely pre-pandemic, you can eat up a lot of costs building your booth and branding your booth and buying swag and traveling and getting people to work the booth. So, when we moved into a pandemic, and you started shifting and really looking at: How do you carve up again? Now, the higher percentage of our marketing dollars is moved into the digital demand gen area. And the nice thing about that, and I'm a huge supporter of this, is that when you put more of your dollars towards digital spend, you can dial those dollars up and down a lot more easily than when you put them into your events. Once you're committed to an event, your dollars are there, and it's really hard to pull them back out. You're committed, you're there. So now, when I look at spend, and how you divvy up spend, it's more around 30% of those dollars are towards those events and we're much more pushing it towards the digital side of things. And also, when you look at the digital side of things, if something's not performing, you can dial it down faster, and you can push it somewhere else. It makes you much nimbler as a marketing department that way, as well. And I really want to stress, we're not walking away from in-person events, those are so important, but we're also going for more of the one-on-one events, more of the smaller, high-touch, and not so many of the larger ones.
I'm glad you mentioned that, about dialing down the larger events. That's what we've been seeing too, in the Cybersecurity Marketing Society, when talking with other marketers, and also what I'm applying to my marketing as well. Let's not go just all big, all out. Again, let's not drop 100k into huge events because even now, and this is being recorded in April of 2022, even now, the turnout is still in flux, there might be another wave. Nobody knows what's going to happen. Companies still have travel restrictions. So, if you could do things that are regional, or small, or you set up your own event, or you empower your Salesforce to do something local in their area, if they have customers there, etc. Like, that's what I've been seeing.
That's what we've been seeing as well, that people are much more willing to go do something small regionally, than they are to travel to a really big show. And in fact, this year, we've always done a user's conference, where people come to a bigger event in one place, and we call it Spotlight. This year, we're taking it on the road, and we just are going to do smaller regional users conferences, versus one big place where everybody has to fly to Vegas, instead of going to do one big show. We're just going to take it on the road as a road show and take the burden out of everybody traveling, in the spirit of we don't know what the world is going to look like this year, and people are much more comfortable just getting together in smaller groups in a region.
That's the events version of digital, because you're taking it to your customer, you know?
Yes. You know what? I'm going to steal that line. That's true, it is the events version of digital.
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Sherry, we're so grateful to have you on you have such experience such sight, and I know this is a topic that's really near and dear to your heart as well. Can we talk about women in the workforce and women in marketing and women in cybersecurity marketing? So, according to some research I found with the CMO Tenure Study, women CMOS made gain in recent years, up from 36% of CMOs are women in like 2017, to 47 in 2020. Of course, the pandemic has had a greater impact on working mothers than on working fathers, as largely reported in the media, as women are still largely caregivers for both young and also parents and family, etc. What's your opinions on this supposed gain in the workplace so far? Whether it's for CMOS or other career levels, do you think that this year's numbers will indicate a slide backwards? Do you think we're progressing? What do you think?
I do you think that we're progressing, I think the stats are showing that. I also just see it more. We all go on LinkedIn, and I see more women getting CMO roles. When I got my first CMO role four years ago, it was kind of a big deal that a woman got a CMO job, and at a security company. It was like, "Oh, my gosh, that happened." And now, you're seeing it more and more, which is so great. It's not as much of a surprise, so I do think that we are making gains. I think the hybrid work model has helped level the playing field a little bit more. I do understand, though, that the pandemic has absolutely impacted working mothers more than it has men, because we're the primary caregivers. I say leveled the playing field, because being in the office to do your job has not become as much of a requirement, obviously. So, there's no commute, and there's more time to just be near our homes. So, those work dinners, those drinks, those hallway conversations aren't happening, so they're not as critical. And I think
employees are more judged on their work output, and not whether they're having those bestie
conversations in the hallways. Sometimes, I say Zoom has been the incredible equalizer. So, my hope is that we won't see this slide backwards. And my hope is that the progress that we've made continues, and that we'll continue to see women being hired at the C levels. I'd also just like to see more women on boards. I don't know that we've seen the progress there, but we will, you have to just keep it's the staircase, we just keep climbing.
You're the founding member of FirstBoard.io. This is something near and dear to you that you're actually working right now to change.
Yes, we are. There's 100+ of us in FirstBoard.io, and we're working to change it and making small steps, but it's something that I very much care about and would like to see change, too.
Tell us a little more about it. What's the mission, and what ceilings are you trying to break?
Well, for FirstBoard.io, it is to get more women on boards. Right now, women are just not as
represented as men. That's again, not a surprise, and the women who are on boards, there's a
tendency to keep using the same women on boards. So, we're trying to expand it, so that opportunities go beyond just the same four or five. For the same four or five women that we're using, it's wonderful that those women have those opportunities. Now, let's go beyond and give more opportunities. So, it's just to really expand the base of women who are getting their first board opportunity.
I love that. Can I just add, I think, for women to be on boards, when we're comparing to men, I think a lot of times they have to hunt and ask to be on a board, versus our male counterparts that are invited to be on boards, and that's the big difference there, which makes it a bigger uphill battle.
Well, and also, all of us are marketers, I've presented to boards many times over the years, and one missing component at the board level is someone who understands marketing. And yet, marketing is always a focus at the board level. And so, as I've presented all of these over the years, I always think: Why don't you have anybody on your board that understands marketing? Because you always ask about it. So, I think it's just an important missing piece at the board level and I'd like to see everybody fix that on their boards.
Yes, but everybody thinks they can do marketing on the board, and they have opinions and ideas that they want you to implement today.
Exactly. It's like when everybody was watching Mad Men and everyone became an advertising expert. Yeah.
Exactly. "I was on the board of a company 10 years ago, and they did this in marketing. You guys should try that." So, Sherry, in our pre-call, we also had a really good conversation about bullying, about toxicity in the workplace, especially for women. Do you have any advice or thoughts on that you could share with people listening today?
Yeah, well, I've obviously navigated the world of male-dominated fields for quite a while, whether in the security industry, in the tech industry in Silicon Valley, prior to that in the sports industry. And I want to say that we have come so far, we really have. I have two daughters, one graduated from college, one is in college, and I hope that my daughters will not face the same sexist workplaces that I've endured. I think that things will be better for them, but I think we are still just taking baby steps in many places. Again, I want to stress that I think it's getting better, organizations are more aware of bad behavior, they are much more aware of it. They are trying to get in front of that, but I will say I think some companies are better than others. I know really great, positive environments, where bro behavior is absolutely not allowed and tolerated. And I know horrible environments where it is still celebrated, and those places have all been in the last five years of my career. So yes, it's getting better and yes, it still exists. It's
hard, because everyone tells you, "If you see something, say something," and everyone always says that, "If you see something, say something," but what they don't tell you is the sentence that comes after that. And it's, "But prepare for the consequences of saying something." That's the sentence they forget to say after that, and you have to weigh that for yourself. And for me, personally, I have always spoken up, I have always spoken up, but speaking up comes with consequences. It comes with some sleepless nights, it comes with maybe losing a friendship or two. I left a job to get away from a person who was absolutely harassing me. Absolutely. I could have stayed quiet and I could have stayed at that job, I loved that job. There was a penalty for speaking up, I wish there wasn't, but the positive of that story is that experience pushed me to be a CMO, because I watched that unethical behavior, his unethical behavior, it made me realize for the first time, I was like, "Well, I could be a CMO. If he could be a CMO." For the first time, I was like, "Well, if he can do that with no ethics, I could do it with ethics." And I'd never thought, before that moment, that I could be a CMO. So, there's a positive to the story. You just have to know the consequences. It doesn't mean not to say something, but understand what comes with saying something.
That's really both an amazing story and also very heartbreaking. We all grapple with this. Us on this podcast, the listeners who are women and other genders affected, and who have friends who are women who deal with harassment like this in the workplace. And of course, we understand some people don't have the privilege of speaking up because there are those consequences, but it's so amazing to hear a story of how you were able to speak up and grow. Not because that happened to you, but despite that happening to you.
Yes, but it took a couple of years to get to that place of looking back and going, "Okay, that actually turned into a good thing." You have to go through it and feel the pain and then, you can look back and go, "Well, a good thing came from that." But going through it was hard, and that's where that became the second sentence of that: understand the consequences of going through it. It doesn't mean don't do it, but just eyes wide open.
Absolutely. We're now gonna switch to a happy topic. We're gonna play our ending game. Okay, so, Maria, do you want to have us ask questions, or have Sherry tell us? Do you want to do it game style?
Yeah, let's guess. I always love this part.
Okay, so, Sherry at the end of every podcast episode, we guess what you would be doing if you were not a CML. If we had to take marketing off of the table— Also, let's do say sports broadcasting and sports because you did that. If you were not the Chief Marketing Officer at Exabeam, or in marketing at a company. Who wants to go first?
I'll go. Sherry, I think you'd be heading up a really big nonprofit, kind of like a multinational organization, whether it's in the medical field or public policy, I don't know, but I think I see you at the leadership of a big nonprofit. I hope I'm not off.
Okay, I see Sherry being a badass racecar driver. That doesn't count at sports, I think, right?
Those are pretty good guesses. Is this my dream job? Like, what would I really want to do if I could do anything?
Yeah. Were we off?
Yeah, you know, if I could do anything, I would want to be the lead guitarist in an all-female rock band.
Oh, that is pretty badass.
That's what I'd want to be. I love music, or I'd want to be a writer for Rolling Stone and be on tour with a band, writing about the band. Something involved in music, that would be what I'd want to do. I can't play an instrument, I can't sing, so.
That is awesome. What would you sing about in your band?
Oh, I don't know. That's a good question, but it would definitely be rock. It'd be hardcore.
Alright, Sherry, this has been so fun. Where can people find you, if you want people to reach out and connect with you? And also, are you hiring Exabeam?
Oh, yes, we are hiring, always hiring, always looking for great marketing talent and also, product talent, engineering, sales, we're hiring across the board, but yeah, folks can find me on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Yeah, please reach out.
Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us on another episode of Breaking Through in Cybersecurity
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