Q&A with Leela Srinivasan, CMO at SurveyMonkey | Reuters Events - Media 7 Keynote Speaker Interviews

MEDIA 7 | September 18, 2020

Leela Srinivasan, CMO at SurveyMonkey is a marketing leader whose journey has included significant stints in sales and management consulting.

She specialises in B2B marketing, customer marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, marketplace businesses, messaging/positioning development, demand generation programs, business unit strategy, pricing, strategic selling, content development, quantitative customer research, qualitative customer insights, global product marketing, field marketing, public speaking, building thought leadership, managing a team while working remotely. Also known to bust out a haiku or two and lead the karaoke charge.

Media 7: What inspired you to get into marketing?
Leela Srinivasan:
I went to Tuck Business School laser-focused on landing an investment banking internship. I reasoned that if I spent a couple of years post-MBA in equity research, I’d deeply understand the investment community and be well-positioned to move into my ultimate dream job: running investor relations for a public company.

In pursuing my plan, I ignored the very obvious signs that I should be in Marketing. I could do the quantitative work required for financial services — but the way I leaned into class assignments was a dead giveaway that Marketing better aligned with my passions than Finance. I love the blend of art and science, of strategy and creativity, and the need to drive actions while developing empathy for the customer. On the science part, we're continually improving our ability to measure and understand through tools and technology. The art part is harder to measure, but the importance of creating an emotional connection with your audience has only increased given the challenges of 2020.

"It’s about innovating for the customer and adding value to help them navigate the perfect storm of a global public health crisis, a global economic crisis, and a global shift in the world’s consciousness around racism. If ever there was a time for marketers to help, not sell, it’s now."

M7: How does a feedback-driven approach help you attain the desired results?
SurveyMonkey’s first real brand campaigns provide a good illustration of the power of feedback in building high-performing campaigns. From previous market research, we knew our brand was well-known, but too many professionals were unaware of our enterprise capabilities. Our goal was to get the word out: SurveyMonkey is for business.

So, we designed an out-of-home campaign in key cities from San Francisco to London. Before we funneled money into wrapping buses and putting up our first billboard, we wanted to concept test what we were going to market with. Essentially, we used our potential creative assets as the survey stimulus.

We dove into messaging, imagery and color, and we surveyed our target audience to zero in on what resonated. In the end, our research showed that people were drawn to green over blue and they found our “superhero” imagery persuasive. We saw strong results from the campaign, including a 103% lift in brand search interest from those exposed to campaign video ads. By tapping into feedback at scale, we were able to follow the winning creative direction with confidence.

M7: Could you share with us some tools and techniques you’ve learned in the past years, and what your takeaway was?
I studied History and English Literature at college, then wore a variety of hats at a startup (including that receptionist/board meeting notetaker job) before moving into sales. By the time I made it to business school, I was long on soft skills, and a little embarrassed about my lack of quantitative chops—not to mention having ‘wasted’ five years selling.

While quant skills and business acumen have been vital to my growth as a leader, I could argue that the softer skills have played a bigger role in my career. Now I’d tell my younger self to embrace every opportunity to grow, and strive for balance between hard and soft skills.

M7: What factors do you take into consideration in order to design different types of survey packages?
Two million people ask and answer questions with SurveyMonkey every single day. Right now, COVID-19 and racial justice are top of mind for companies and individuals alike, so we developed several new resources to help organizations navigate these crises. Our COVID-19 resources page features work-from-home surveys and employee well-being surveys, and our racial equity resources page offers templates for checking in on employees after incidents of racial violence and a whole host of diversity, inclusion, and belonging templates to help organizations build stronger, more diverse teams.

The marketing strategy here, if you want to call it that, is straightforward. It’s about innovating for the customer and adding value to help them navigate the perfect storm of a global public health crisis, a global economic crisis, and a global shift in the world’s consciousness around racism. If ever there was a time for marketers to help, not sell, it’s now.

"People generally crave context and visibility, and especially in the current environment I find they want real, honest conversations."

M7: How does a transparent work culture help you boost up the productivity rate of your employees?
Over the years, I’ve steadily grown to appreciate the power of transparency. People generally crave context and visibility, and especially in the current environment I find they want real, honest conversations. Our employees join SurveyMonkey looking for a career, not a cult where everything is uniformly rosy. The more transparency we can provide - into how things are going, where we could be doing better, and - especially this year - how we’re all coping as human beings, the more engaged our workforce becomes. That in turn boosts their connectedness to our mission and vision as well as their productivity.

Our biweekly Troop Town Hall (as we call our company all-hands) has become a great platform for providing transparency. During shelter-in-place, we’ve had members of the executive team deliver updates with toddlers clambering all over them, because that’s how life is. We take real-time questions from employees on any and every topic, and we try to answer as many as we can. Recently we even piloted a town hall segment called ‘Keepin’ it Real’, in response to the feedback that employees wanted to hear more about initiatives that had failed and what we’d learned from them. This desire for transparency is the healthy byproduct of building a culture of curiosity and emphasizing a growth mindset.

M7: What are the major advertising and marketing tools you use to hike up the brand awareness of your company?
SurveyMonkey has been around for 21 years, and we’ve built up significant brand awareness over that period. Rather than hiking up brand awareness, this current phase of our journey is about shifting brand perception so our target audiences really understand the value that SurveyMonkey provides, particularly to enterprise customers.

I use the plural ‘target audiences’ because SurveyMonkey delivers value through three distinct product pillars. Our Surveys platform is our largest and oldest pillar, with millions of customers leveraging us for use cases ranging from employee engagement through COVID symptom tracking to student and patient feedback. Our second pillar, GetFeedback, provides customers with an agile, powerful customer experience management platform to collect, analyze and act on customer feedback across multiple channels. Our third pillar provides agile Market Research Solutions to marketers, product leaders and others in consumer goods, retail, financial services to tap into real-time feedback from the market.

For all three pillars, we choose channels based on where our ideal customers spend time; arguably the bigger focus is on the stories we tell. We continue to look to our customers for storytelling inspiration. It’s one thing for me to tell you that SurveyMonkey Enterprise is a robust platform used by 98% of the Fortune 500. You may or may not remember that. If, on the other hand, I tell you that the State of Rhode Island has been using SurveyMonkey Enterprise to survey thousands of residents weekly via SMS as part of their COVID tracking initiatives, or that my favorite shoe brand Allbirds relies on SurveyMonkey Market Research for ongoing brand tracking across key markets, those are stories that might stick with you. They’re certainly stories I’d rather tell.

"There’s no faster path to understanding than asking."

M7: What are the top challenges you see for SurveyMonkey in the next few years?
Shifting perception after 20 years of being a predominantly self-serve company doesn’t happen overnight, so we have plenty of hard work ahead of us. If anything though, the circumstances of 2020 - most notably the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed push for racial equity - have accelerated our progress, because more business leaders have come to understand feedback as mission-critical in 2020, and seek us out as part of the solution. 

More broadly, we face the same challenges as many others around attracting and retaining amazing talent with highly sought-after skill sets. We are also focused on reaching our long-term goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion. We’ve worked really hard to develop a culture where everyone can belong and do their best work - but in 2020 it’s become evident how far we still have to go to create a truly equitable workplace. It’s a journey that will take years, and the road ahead will be challenging - but we are prepared to do the work.

M7: How do you anticipate what people want?
You develop empathy for them, you look at the data to understand their needs, and you ask a lot of questions. This year every leader on the planet has had to work overtime to adjust to and anticipate the needs of key stakeholders. Whether you are trying to grasp how your employees are feeling and what they need from you, how your customers are faring, how your students are adjusting to remote learning, or what’s on the mind of future customers - there’s no faster path to understanding than asking. SurveyMonkey’s mission plays right into this: we enable organizations to ask the important questions, and turn that feedback into action.

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SurveyMonkey is a leader in agile software solutions for customer experience, market research, and survey feedback. The company’s platform empowers over 17 million active users to analyze and act on feedback from employees, customers, website and app users, and market research respondents. SurveyMonkey’s products, enterprise solutions, and integrations enable more than 335,000 organizations to deliver better customer experiences, increase employee retention, and unlock growth and innovation. Ultimately, SurveyMonkey's vision is to raise the bar for human experiences by amplifying individual voices.