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As the Chief Marketing Officer at Medallia, Marc Vanlerberghe is helping the company—and its customers—navigate a new frontier in customer experience. In a conversation with Molly Stark, Marc explains what intrigued him about Medallia, how he’s applying his experience from a decade at Google, and his role as a “creative energizer” for his team.
First, give us a quick overview of what Medallia does.
We help our customers solve a problem every company is facing, which is how to become truly customer-obsessed. Everyone has realized customer experience is one of the only lasting differentiators, but not everyone knows how to compete in that space. Our platform helps companies anticipate customer needs and adapt their organizations to meet them.
What were you doing before Medallia, and why did you decide to join?
I’m originally from Belgium, and I first came to the U.S. as a student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. After that, I spent about a decade at Google, in several roles, most recently as VP of Marketing for Access and Energy. I was still at Google when I met Amy and Borge, our co-founders. At the time, I hadn’t heard of Medallia, but as they explained what they were building, I realized Medallia was the secret ingredient behind many of the world’s greatest companies.
I think customer experience is the future of marketing. The way companies create and foster their brands is evolving—it’s not about 30-second TV spots anymore, it’s about the cumulative experience you have with a company. Every single CMO needs to understand what customers think of their company, and we help them gather those insights. That’s a huge opportunity.
As a category, customer experience management (CEM) is not yet well-understood, but I believe it will ultimately be more important than customer relationship management (CRM). CRM is essentially a big customer database used to manage sales opportunities and outbound communications, but does nothing to improve the experience for customers. CEM does the opposite. We start by listening to customers—inbound communications—and then help an organization adapt to meet customers’ needs. We’re turning the whole paradigm on its head.
How would you describe your marketing philosophy?
I see marketing as a marriage of the brain and the heart. I think people tend to underestimate the importance of a scientific, data-driven approach. It’s about relentlessly going after the right media with the right messaging, and constantly testing and optimizing to make that funnel more efficient. But at the same time, when you think about a company’s brand, you think about how it makes people feel, right? Borge often says he wants our customers to be loved by their customers and employees—which is not about science, it’s about improving people’s lives through their relationships with those companies. As a marketer, that’s an inspiring thought. Finding powerful ways to express it is interesting to me, especially in the B2B context, where it’s not the usual approach.
This is a very creative role—what inspires you?
I still get excited about technology. I couldn’t imagine a better place to live than Silicon Valley—it’s like Disneyland for geeks. One of the things I took away from my time at Google was the focus on innovation, which was so ingrained in the culture there. Regardless of your role or department, everyone was thinking morning to night about new ways to push things forward. That’s something I see at Medallia, too, and I’m excited to help foster. We approach customer experience from a unique perspective, which goes beyond most competitors’ focus on surveys, so we have an opportunity to land our message in a powerful way.
Another takeaway from Google was thinking big. When they’re looking at a new product or feature, it needs to be designed to reach a billion people. To “change the world” is an overused phrase, but I really did learn to think in those terms.
Outside of work, I’ve gone to Burning Man for many years and that continues to be a source of inspiration. There’s so much creativity there, and I appreciate that it’s not just an event—it’s a radical experiment in community building. It forces you to actively participate in creating the experience rather than just showing up and being entertained.
Tell us about the changes you’ve been able to support at Medallia so far.
When I joined, I was amazed at what Marketing had been able to accomplish with a small but mighty team, including an annual customer conference for more than 1,000 attendees. But we’d seen so much growth on the product and sales sides that our team was facing far more demand than it could meet. So my biggest priority for the first six months was hiring—filling some critical gaps that we needed to support further growth. And we’re still looking for more great people to join the team.
We also relaunched demand gen and are already seeing a significant impact in terms of the number of leads coming in. From an overall messaging perspective, we also took a big step forward with the launch of Medallia Experience CloudTM, our enterprise-grade CEM platform.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, leadership is about inspiring people to do their best work, then giving them the tools they need and removing any bottlenecks that might be in their way. There’s a 360 review from one of my reports at Google that’s always stuck in my mind—he called me a “creative energizer.” That was interesting to me, to think about using your own positive energy to get people excited about what they do. That passion and enthusiasm for the business and where it’s going, I think that’s a very important part of being a leader.
I’d also say that, while it’s important that we set the direction as leaders, I don’t believe in micromanaging. To encourage people to innovate and try new things, you have to give them their freedom.
Why is this an exciting time to join Medallia’s marketing team?
We’re scaling up significantly, so new team members can dive in right away and be part of that growth. They can help us explore new opportunities and get involved in a lot of different areas, whether that’s looking scientifically at demand gen, or taking a unique B2B perspective on brands, or building differentiation in the marketplace.
We’re looking for people who are super passionate about what we do, and are excited about technology and how it can change lives. We also look for people who are aligned with Medallia’s values and culture, which is very collaborative. It’s important that you come in with a growth mindset and be comfortable both expressing yourself and listening to your teammates. As we scale up, we’re also looking for folks who have strong backgrounds in specific skillsets, whether that’s lead gen or creating a new category. We’re looking for people who can really move us forward as a team, to be more innovative and more effective.
This story was created in conjunction with Job Portraits, a San Francisco-based creative agency that helps teams scale using culture-focused content.