CMO capitalizes on customer interaction to drive sales growth
After 16 years as brand strategy consultant at Interbrand, Carola Jain pushed her career in a new direction, becoming an advisor at Spartan and then its chief marketing officer. While the agency-to-client side switch isn’t unusual, Jain's quick rise to CMO speaks to the unusual nature of her talents and the Spartan brand. Known for staging obstacle course races around the world, the company’s ambition is to “improve the lives of 100 million people,” growing beyond races into a multifaceted lifestyle brand. To get there, Spartan needed a CMO with a deep understanding of brand and the agility to respond quickly to new challenges.
Far from abandoning her brand research training, Jain capitalizes on it, calling a Spartan customer every day. In reaching out to “problem customers and lapsed customers,” Jain has identified new opportunities like “adding more workout tours and bringing more visibility to corporate teams.” Recognizing that demand generation is a top organizational priority but not her core strength, Jain staffed her team with experts in this area. Jain describes her work at Spartan, and the sometimes muddy art of overcoming obstacles.
What was your biggest challenge in transitioning from agency to client side?
At the agency, you’re being paid to develop a strategy. At Spartan, you’re only as good as your latest ticket sales. I would even say, what’s more important than a large positioning statement is to have seamless execution. Every day we need to pivot and find micro strategies to drive sales and meet our daily benchmarks. Positioning statements and year-long strategies are great, but now I can fully understand why the clients were always looking for immediate insights.
At Spartan, we often reference the Mohammed Ali quote, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” When you are a consultant, you don’t have the pressure the client has. The biggest difference is that the strategy is nothing without amazing implementation.
Given your branding background, how did you make sure you had demand generation covered?
I evaluate what expertise we have on our team and where we have the opportunity to bring in additional experts, and then hire the best people and build the strongest team. I empower my team to think big because we want to move beyond OCR [obstacle course racing] and then invest in those areas.
How do you get to know your customers?
I’ve committed myself to calling a customer a day. I reach out to problem customers and lapsed customers and through them I have gotten a lot of ideas, including adding more workout tours and bringing more visibility to corporate teams. Even with products, in speaking to people I realized that women want cropped t-shirts! Many of these customer-generated ideas you can implement immediately, which I love.
What kinds of things have you learned that helped inform your marketing?
By talking to a customer, I realized that one executive impressed his leadership by turning corporate entertainment on its head. He literally earned a seat at the executive table because he brought legions of clients to Spartan races. They built a bond that was so deep, and his clients were so grateful for the training, fitness and adventurous experience, he was promoted and became part of the fabric of his global telecom company. For me, his story now serves as the key insight for how we position teams and how corporate teams are a vehicle for leaders to create change in their own organizations and lives.
It’s interesting that Spartan can impact the culture of companies. How are organizations tapping into the Spartan values?
You need resilience at work. Companies come to us asking how to build individual resiliency. Optum, a current partner we just launched a nationwide corporate wellness program with, told us that having an in-house SGX trainer (that is our bespoke training program) is akin to establishing a prehab mental and physical health center for employees. Today’s employees work so hard they don’t have time to exercise, or their life is so stressful that they don’t have any outlets to decrease stress. Or alternatively, they’re performance-seekers looking for ways to stay healthy. We provide tangible support there.
Spartan is out to improve the lives of 100 million people. How important is it that a mission statement be hugely ambitious?
Any positioning should make you feel a little uncomfortable or you’ll achieve it and then what? Joe De Sena, our founder, believes people can do more than they themselves think they can. We are already touching 12 million lives on an annual basis. If those touchpoints take one thing away, to invest a little time and energy and positivity into themselves, we’d consider them on their way to being a Spartan. Joe is in this for the long run. When you ask him what his exit strategy is, he says, “death.” I know that sounds arresting, but I also know it’s working.