In this edition of the How 2B Fearless series, we sat down with Darrell Alfonso, who is a Marketo Champion, Los Angeles MUG Leader, and Fearless 50 member. Darrell shares what being a fearless marketer means for him and what it has meant for his career.
What does fearless marketing mean to you?
Marketers today are at the forefront of growth for their organizations – many are given authority over all customer touch-points. This cannot be taken lightly. Fearless Marketers are the ones who continually push the envelope when it comes to innovating for better marketing and better customer experience. Fearlessness is a willingness to challenge the status quo, to advance new concepts and improve upon ideas, even when (especially when) your business is reluctant to change. In addition, I want to underscore the importance of practicing fearlessness in your everyday work life. You don’t need a groundbreaking initiative to make things better; improve on something every day.
I try to do this regularly by always introducing a new idea or new way of doing things at every meeting. Whether it is a meeting with my team or with leadership, I always make sure I speak up. It’s tough to do this sometimes, it requires paying attention, quick thinking, and extra time and effort, but it is well worth it. New ideas, just like fearlessness, are contagious.
Who is a fearless marketer you look up to and why?
I recently finished reading “Imagine it Forward’ by Beth Comstock, former Vice Chair of GE - when I hear the phrase Fearless Marketer, she immediately comes to mind. The book is a biography of her encounters with corporate stagnation and the fear of change that comes with success. The biggest takeaway from her story is that you need to make change and innovation your mission, and you have to prioritize it everyday.
Her story resonates with me because it is authentic. It’s easy to be bold and fearless in your mind, but it’s a different story when your ideas keep getting turned down. There are several examples of Beth’s failures and struggles, and it is inspiring to see how she overcame them.
How did your career start out in marketing?
My early career was in sales, which I highly recommend trying. It is extremely rewarding and informative to speak one-on-one with customers – it gives you a real sense of how your efforts are affecting others and how you can make a big difference in your customers’ work life. My move to marketing came when I found myself always trying to make things better for the entire sales organization. I wanted to connect with people at scale, I wanted to build processes that would benefit more than just the person on the other end of the phone. I took a chance and switched over to marketing, and have been doing it ever since.
How did you get to the point you are at in your career today?
I don't really believe that any one or two moments can make up a career. It's actually all the work you put in every single day. However, when I think of a large risk that I took, it was moving from a sales role to a marketing role. In my mind I thought I could do it - I had studied so much and had talked to a lot of different people. But ultimately you have to make the leap, and that has made all the difference for me.
I wanted to move from sales to marketing because it was the chance to influence more people/customers; the things I created/built would impact people at scale. I enjoyed sales, but my heart wasn’t in it. When aren’t fully vested in your job, it’s only a matter of time before another opportunity will pull you forward.
What have you learned from other members of the Fearless 50?
I learned a lot from the mentorship aspect of the Fearless 50 program. My mentor was Stephen Yeo, the managing director/CMO of Panasonic Europe. He underscored the importance of demonstrating marketing’s impact on revenue, no matter the amount of time or effort required. Over the years, his consistent message of marketing impact has helped grow the Panasonic business by several factors, and is a testament of what hard work and persistence can achieve in marketing management.
Stephen mentored a group of Fearless 50 members, sharing his story and answering our questions on how to overcome professional challenges. Talking with Stephen reinforced my commitment to focusing on real results, and validating some of my thoughts was helpful and reassuring.
What are three pieces of advice you would give to the next generation of fearless marketers?
1. Prioritize the things that only you can do
Professionals today are inundated with projects and deadlines. No matter how busy you are, there are a handful of tasks that are unique to you, that no one can do for you. If you are a manager it is leading your team, if you are in sales it is speaking and connecting with the customer. You have to succeed in the things only you can do, and then focus on the rest.
I remember an occasion when I was operating with a very lean team; a few key members had left and I was swamped with everything - from developing new ideas, to budgeting, to campaign building and reporting. Though it seemed like everything was urgent, I knew that there was one area that only I could execute on that would be a big difference: recruiting the right marketing person to join the team. I prioritized hiring and training, and as soon as my new hire was ramped up, we were able to move quickly and easily achieve our objectives.
2. Work hard, but find time to relax
Great work requires focus and dedication. But that doesn’t mean you need to get anxious, stressed, or strain the relationships you have with other people. Put your best foot forward, and be confident that you will succeed as long as you keep trying.
One example a couple years ago was when I was managing a small team in a rapidly growing division of a public company. My team was new, unruly, and I didn’t have much support from leadership at the time. There was constant conflict, and much distrust in the organization. Looking back at that time, I remember working very hard, and stressing out a lot. The hard work paid off, in terms of learning, and being able to navigate through conflict. What didn’t pay off was the anxiety, and the constant stress - it wasn’t worth it and did not add any value.
I overcome anxiety in two ways. First, I practice daily mindfulness/meditation exercises. And second, more of a mindset strategy, is that I remind myself that success isn’t a single path endeavor - as long as you are improving and persisting everyday I believe you will get there.
3. The challenges you face are the reasons you are here
There is a life-changing book titled “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, that covers this concept from end to end. It’s more than just looking at challenges from a different perspective, it’s truly understanding that you are here to solve problems, and the more obstacles you overcome, the better you become as a professional and as a person. The most successful marketers are the ones that solve the biggest, most challenging problems.
For me, marketing automation as a discipline is a great example of this. I had always wanted to implement sophisticated marketing campaigns, and learning marketing automation seemed like a big obstacle. Instead of just learning about marketing automation, I decided to become an expert at it. I took all the online courses, watched all the videos, and read all the resources from the power users. Slowly but surely, being able to navigate the complexity of marketing automation has been the foundation of my career. I’ve been able to drive marketing impact with more personalized marketing and align sales with a strong CRM and marketing alignment.
Community Profile: Darrell Alfonso