This is an important one. Have fun in what you are doing. Celebrate the wins; small and large. Celebrate other people’s wins. Have fun, because it’s infectious. If you are enjoying yourself, people will want to work with you. Likeability and positive relationships go a long way.
I had the pleasure to interview Rashmi Vittal. Rashmi is not like any CMO: she’s a die-hard fan of the Oakland A’s with a great sense of humor; someone who can mix sports metaphors with sales and marketing knowledge to deliver an entertaining and informative interview. Rashmi brings extensive experience in building marketing strategies and teams for both startups and large enterprises. Prior to joining Conversica, Rashmi led marketing for SAP Customer Data Cloud after the successful acquisition of Gigya, a customer identity management startup. In this role, she was responsible for go-to-market strategy, product marketing, digital, content, communications and field marketing strategy. Rashmi has also held various marketing leadership positions at IBM, Oracle and Neustar. Additionally, she has an MBA from the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College. As a startup executive, Rashmi has to be agile and straddle the strategic and the tactical. She understands the need to flex a wide range of muscles in order to develop smaller, younger teams, scale with limited resources and utilize different philosophies for growth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Even a few years ago, I wouldn’t have expected to take on a CMO position. I’ve always thought of myself more on the product side of the house. But as I’ve shifted careers from technical product-related roles to more customer-facing roles — from professional services to product marketing and then to marketing — I realized I really enjoy not just figuring out the go-to-market strategy, the corporate and product positioning and messaging, but also how to craft and execute creative marketing campaigns to build awareness, influence through thought leadership, and drive demand gen.
When the opportunity presented itself to run a marketing organization at my last company, I took it and realized it was actually pretty fun. I really liked it because I got to see how all of the hard work put into a go-to-market strategy translates into marketing campaign execution. Finally the right hand can talk to the left hand in a way that drives continuity and ultimately the required results.
Since I’ve been in the role of CMO, I’ve enjoyed balancing the art and science required to be successful. To measure success you need to analyze the data. You need to have the visibility to see what’s working and what’s not, so you can put the right actions in place and drive improvement.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The first week I started at Conversica, I attended our customer council and I heard first hand how our customers talk about us. They had a real pride of ownership of the solution and they embraced their AI Assistant as a member of their team.
I’ve been in the software industry for over 20 years, and I’ve never heard that kind of care — dare I say, love — for their AI Assistant. At first, I thought it was a one-time thing, but this strong affinity consistently comes up.
It was reinforced at SiriusDecision Summit in Austin earlier this year. Four customers in other vendor sessions (not sponsored by Conversica) talked about our solution as a pivotal part of their overall marketing strategy. I’m used to a situation where we work really hard to get a customer to speak on our behalf. They did this all voluntarily. One was the winner of the SiriusDecisions ROI award. Seeing your product talked about in front of 1,000-plus people on the big stage is pretty impressive.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our customers embrace using AI Assistants and think of them as an integral member of the team and vital to their collective success.
Early in my career, it was ingrained in my head that the number one mission is to delight the customer. At Conversica, not only do we delight the customer, the customer is so delighted to use our AI Assistants they are happy to talk up their experiences with others. There’s an enthusiasm and energy around our cutting-edge software solution. It’s redefining how teams perform and doing so in a super positive way. It is demonstrating growth and success that the leaders running those teams are really impressed with.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on an exciting project right now.
What our technology is able to do is skillfully ask and get answers to a question that may be simple on the surface but is supremely powerful and important. And that question is: “Are you interested?”
Our AI Assistants patiently, consistently and persistently ask if you are interested in such a way that it can garner more engagement and more replies than anything else I’ve seen. There’s real psychology around this. We have some things in play to tell that story in a big way.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
First and foremost, as a female leader, you have to believe in yourself. You have to be instilled with a level of confidence that historically wasn’t nurtured in women as a key attribute. I think this is changing as younger generations are growing up.
In the years since I joined the workforce, I’ve seen a true push for equality; not that we’re there yet but there have been improvements in the workplace. Today, in my own social circles, more women are either the primary breadwinner, have the same career aspirations or are as accomplished, if not more, as their male partners.
To be a female leader you need to believe in yourself and you have to be comfortable with being in positions of authority. Women need to learn to find validation from within and not solely from others. Owning that, accepting it and being it is foundational.
As a female leader, you also need to trust your team. It’s vital to empower, coach and mentor your team. In Silicon Valley — and especially in the technology and startup worlds — it’s very easy to lead with your intellect. As a result, I think we forget what it means to build trust and relate to the human side of building teams. People want to work for people that they trust and respect. They want to work for leaders that believe in them. You have to encourage your team and give them the opportunity to grow. I think that’s a little bit of a lost art in Silicon Valley. This is something I try to foster no matter what company I work for.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Having managed large teams before, the most important thing you can do is hire really good lieutenants. Hire really good people who are your direct reports that you believe in.
You need to foster an environment of mutual trust, respect and communication. You need to empower your team with good strategy and direction, and if you hire quality talent they’ll do what they need to do.
There should be no place for micromanagement at that level. You need to trust them to build teams around them to get the job done and have the open communication to resolve issues and remove obstacles.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I cannot attribute it to any one person. I believe I am the sum of all the people I’ve interacted with; both with whom I’ve had excellent relationships and even those who have been super difficult to work with. I’ve been lucky to have had strong mentors and leaders who’ve challenged me to expand and grow.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try. I love coaching and mentoring folks. Whether it’s coaching youth sports, providing informal career advice, or mentoring undergraduates through my MBA program, I really take it to heart. And when I get the opportunity to do so, I do it gladly.
Very early in my career, I was on a quality assurance team where we happened to hire a few people who learned English as a second language. After all, software transcends all languages. We hired a woman in her mid-career who spoke Russian and very little English. For the next six months, a couple of times a week during lunch, I would sit with her and we’d read a newspaper together to help her learn English. It was just something that organically happened.
A few years ago, she got in touch with me and wanted to thank me for helping her grow her career and become more comfortable speaking the language. It’s rewarding to see people grow.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
#1 — I wish someone told me to get a management consulting job. I think it’s a fabulous foundation for critical thinking and issue-based problem solving regardless of where you want your career to go. When I mentor undergraduates entering the workforce, I often give them this advice.
#2 — Get a mentor early and often. You can have multiple mentors. Different people play different roles in your life. But seek them out, cultivate them. I wish I had known that early in my career.
#3 — Build out your network. Reach out to people, have coffee, talk to people with a wide variety of experiences. Pay attention to the people around you and see how they’re doing.
#4 — Get used to being the only female or minority female in the room. Yes, things are changing now. But it’s vital to be comfortable with yourself so you can be comfortable in any scenario. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t.
#5 — This is an important one. Have fun in what you are doing. Celebrate the wins; small and large. Celebrate other people’s wins. Have fun, because it’s infectious. If you are enjoying yourself, people will want to work with you. Likeability and positive relationships go a long way.
I used to think putting my head down and working really hard was the only way to get ahead. But relationships really do matter. Building that foundation of trust and respect for each other, building camaraderie, only helps us reach our goals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I played a lot of sports growing up and I was on a lot of different competitive teams. One of the key things you learn about being on a team, whether in sports or in business, is the importance of building each other up; reinforcing their strengths and practicing to improve our weaknesses.
The movement I support is all about being better advocates for one another. I want to foster an environment of community, where individuals can work together to accomplish what needs to be done. Yes, individuality is tremendously important but we can do so much more working together rather than working apart. These are the environments where individuality and cooperation can flourish.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s two. The first is more of a formula from Albert Einstein: “Ego=1/Knowledge. More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.” I think that’s really true. I see people use their inflated ego or arrogance as a defense mechanism, especially when they lack specific knowledge. Part of knowledge is seeking it out rather than being all-knowing. Seeking knowledge from someone else is essential for success.
Keep in mind that developing confidence and a strong inner self is not the same thing as ego. It’s tough but knowing when to listen and seek outside knowledge, versus just relying on yourself, is vital.
The second is, “Silence your ego and your power will rise” which is a quote from the Ancient One played by Tilda Swinton in the television film “Dr. Strange.” This quote makes me think about how we can really listen to what people are saying, taking a moment to understand a situation, being a critical thinker, and not letting things like ego or arrogance block your ability to see a different point of view.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
My first choice is the late Pat Summitt, the iconic head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team. She was one of the most successful coaches, not just of a women’s or men’s team, but coaches of all time. Growing up, there were few female role models in the sports world. But I always zeroed in on Pat Summit. Nobody ever talked about what she accomplished just because she was in women’s NCAA. She was on par with Mike Krzyzewski and other top-rated NCAA coaches, and she is revered by them.
I always felt that was the key thing. It’s not whether you are a top female leader, it’s whether you are a top leader. I always wished I could have had a conversation with her.
Someone else is Robin Roberts. She again broke a lot of ceilings by being one of the first sports broadcasters on ESPN. She could sit right next to Chris Berman and be just as forthcoming in delivering sports news. Then, she switches careers entirely and went into general affairs. She’s seen a lot of things and met with so many different people. She’s somebody I looked up to at a young age. She was a woman of color doing something I loved, talking about sports.
I try to bring that same energy, hustle, and drive into the technology space and to the teams I lead. Someday if I leave the tech world, I’d like to coach my own NCAA team.