June 20, 2019

Curious Minds: An Interview with Mark Walker, CRO

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Scale-ups around the world have one word on their lips: growth. Attest is no different, in fact we recently united our sales and marketing teams into a single Growth Team. A force to drive our own growth and to help our clients grow their brands in turn. It’s the brain-child of our Chief Revenue Officer, Mark Walker, who is even keener on the word than most, so much so he named a whole team after it.

Tasked with spearheading the commercial efforts of a rapidly expanding scale-up, a growth mindset is vital to staying focussed on where Attest is going, all while taking on board key learnings from the past.  It’s not all about the bottom line, the growth mindset extends to your attitude to developing a team in terms of both size and skill, and your commitment to growing the ROI of clients who turn to us for actionable data.

We sat down with Mark to talk about how he hangs on to his sanity in this fast-paced environment, the best book he’s read recently, and all things growth.

How important is it for a B2B scale-up to have a strong brand?

I think it’s absolutely essential. Brand is pretty much synonymous with reputation. The brand isn’t just colours and fonts, it’s every interaction that a prospect or a client has with us. It’s also the make up of existing and potential employees, all of that goes into brand – AKA reputation. If you don’t have a good reputation, if you’re not consistently presenting your best self, then it’s going to be hard to win business, hard to grow, hard to attract new employees and retain existing talent.

What marketing trends are you particularly excited about at the moment?

This is also to do with brand. I’ve been to a number of industry events this year, and I feel like there’s finally a more balanced view of marketing. People have given up on their almost exclusive obsession with digital, and are thinking about marketing in a much more rounded way.

Marketing had a reputation many years ago for being all fluff and brand. Then as soon as digital came along and you could measure absolutely everything, it did a full 180 degree turn. People started thinking that brand wasn’t measurable, so it’s not important. These events have demonstrated that we’re probably getting to a bit of a balance now. People understand the importance and strength of brand in terms of long term value creation, but also it’s not all about fluffiness, people still demand to see marketing driving the bottom line, they want to see results and performance. For me, that comprehensiveness of marketing is a really exciting trend.

Lots of big brands are talking proudly about tracking their Above The Line campaigns, using brand strength, brand awareness, all the leading indicators that come before revenue such as purchase intent, consideration and so on. These metrics are being elevated as more important now than just the bottom line.

What’s the best thing about working at Attest today?

There are lots of good things! But the best has to be the opportunity to learn. As a scale-up, we’re constantly running into new challenges that we have to solve. It’s great to have the ability to rapidly assimilate knowledge, and not just theoretical knowledge, but actually getting a chance to apply it, being encouraged to try new things and innovate. That should be the most exciting thing about working at any start-up or scale-up, but I’ve heard from people I know that it’s not always the case that people do get given that kind of latitude in their roles. I feel like it’s a true fact about Attest; everyone is given this chance to learn.

Oh, and it’s also full of nice, talented people, we learn from each other really well!

What’s a myth about working for a scale-up that you’d like to demystify?

I used to have a particular mental image of start-ups and scale-ups, where everyone’s hanging around playing table tennis and arcade video games, walking around in flip flops. While I do think Attest has a relaxed vibe, people can tend to see life in a scale-up as an alternative to a ‘real’ job, and it’s not. It’s an awful lot of hard work. People are really dedicated and there’s not a lot of fluff.

The rewards of working at a scale-up are more intrinsic than people realise. You get to do hard and interesting work, rather than spending time playing ping pong and drinking beers on a Friday afternoon. The motivations and rewards are much more intrinsic than extrinsic, and that’s not what is commonly expected.

What are you most excited for Attest to accomplish in the coming year?

We have so many ambitious plans so it’s hard to whittle it down. The top thing would be just seeing how fast the team’s growing. We went to the Crystal Maze earlier this week and there were eight or maybe ten brand new faces there – people starting within the next month – which was quite insane, and that’s only going to continue. Right now we’re just under 60 people, we could almost double between now and January 2020. It’s really exciting having so many new faces join, bringing in new colleagues to learn from.

What do you do to stay sane in such a fast-paced company?

Every Friday I try and have a coffee or lunch with someone who’s not a part of the company. I sense-check by chatting to them, and realise that all the things that we find difficult are difficult everywhere. Problems aren’t unique to us. Actually, what I often find is that we’re doing a pretty good job on most fronts, even when it feels like you’re up against it.

Away from work I would like to say I stay sane playing golf, but as I’m still learning it’s more likely to be the cause of insanity! Really it’s my family who keep me grounded and remind me what’s most important. My girls are 3 and 5, and seeing them learn and the joy they experience in the everyday is reinvigorating and humbling.

What do you want to get better at (other than golf!)?

I still struggle with communication. It’s easy to underestimate how often you need to communicate something for it to stick. I need to remember that saying something once doesn’t mean good communication, I have to repeat it, and present it in different ways – because people absorb information in different ways. Just verbalising something or writing it in Slack doesn’t equal good communication. I need to take the time to explain why we’re doing something, and in what timeframe, and get feedback as part of the communication loop. All of those things are definitely a work in progress.

What’s the most inspiring book you’ve read recently?

I read a lot. But I’d say the most surprisingly inspiring book was How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve been put off reading it for years and years because of its title. On the surface I thought this was probably a guide to manipulating people. But it constantly shows up on the lists of best business reads, so I gave it a go.

In fact, it was entirely opposite to what I was expecting it to be. The whole thesis of the book is “Be Good”: be kind to people, find things in anyone you meet that you genuinely appreciate and let that do the work. It just came across as very genuine and very authentic, I finished it in such a good mood. It’s full of amazing stories of people achieving incredible things by being nice.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Two things:

1. Be more patient. I’m naturally impatient, and when I’ve taken a bit of time and been a bit patient (often thanks to the influence of my wife), then good things have happened.

2. Broadly, do what you’ve done. Everything that I’ve experienced, including all of my failures – I can think of some painful moments throughout my career – they’ve all fed towards who I am today. You can’t erase those without changing who you are. So I’d definitely advise myself to follow the same path.

What would your last meal be?

This was by far the hardest one for me! But I am a man of simple tastes, so it would be a Southern fried chicken sandwich, with cajun chips and mayo. Mother Clucker’s version is up there, although Mildred’s also does a remarkably good [vegan] version!

This is the second in our Curious Minds series. Click here to discover more about our CEO, Jeremy King, and keep your eyes peeled for the next one!