Technology marketing leader Jane Rimmer tells Martin Veitch about her career journey
"I'd love to say it was a clear objective of mine but it was right place, right time," says Jane Rimmer when I ask about her uncanny knack for showing up in marketing positions at some of technology's biggest growth stories. "I'm a firm believer that your life is somewhat mapped out for you. You're set on a path to follow."
That modesty may be misplaced for, in a varied career, Rimmer has notched stints at fast-rising Sun Microsystems, Citrix and VMware on her CV, before turning to helping US companies gain a foothold with marketing, channel and comms assistance. In that latter capacity she added another luminous, hypergrowth brand in the form of Nutanix. "I've always worked for leading-edge or bleeding-edge companies," she says.
There's more than fate at play here. Rimmer has a keen eye on what it takes to build and scale a company and has been guided by a few tenets.
"Look at the technology," she advises. "Do you understand it? Do you believe in it? Do you see the value? And if you can answer yes to all of those and it feels right, go for it, but do your due diligence."
A quick outline of her career would include many vignettes.
One was entering Sun in the mid-1980s, seeing all the SPARC workstations and pondering "I thought PCs were meant to be getting smaller." Then spending lots of time printing, stapling and sending press releases but also being present on press junkets, including one where then CEO Scott McNealy ("such a great spokesman … clearly a maverick") told assembled hacks that "I would rather my kids did drugs than did Windows."
Another highlight would be joining Citrix in 1997, just as server-based computing was taking off. Yet another would be joining VMware in 2003, maybe the greatest B2B IT infrastructure break-out story of the past 20 years, helping to de-fang the complexities of virtualisation.
Today, she agrees with my suggestion that CMOs and senior marketers effectively perform two jobs for the price of one. "There's the brand building and the science," as she puts it. "Digital marketing is quite key these days. You need someone to focus and target influencers who are as key, if not more so, than traditional influencers."
She is also a big believer in the power of building communities and put her money where her mouth was by becoming a voluntary leader for the UK arm of the VMware User Group (VMUG) in 2010. The result has been a powerful voice for customers and a fast track for vendors to receive feedback.
Sales, meet Marketing
Rimmer disputes the notion of sales and marketing being the oil and water of corporate structures.
"Part of it is an urban myth," she says, but if peers fail to talk the things get complicated, she warns.
"If sales has a goal to target the top 100 companies there's no need for marketing to have an SME focus," she adds. "I've always made sure I've understood what the sales goals are, but I say to sales teams ‘you're there to feed marketing too'" with case studies and customer feedback.
"Sales people still want leads, leads and more leads, and we still have the traditional challenge of feeding the sales pipeline and putting technology processes in place to move leads through to sales-qualified leads status."
But that process has changed markedly too, with PR and corporate hospitality taking more of a back seat as digital marketing and account-based sales/marketing have become more sophisticated way to identify, and market to, audiences.
"Citrix in the late ‘90s really had a process that was all about leads and spending a fortune in prospect acquisition. It's crucial that sales and marketing attend each other's quarterly meetings, so they all understand the objectives of not just the business but the individual groups."
No more jollies
Many of us who entered the media sector when it was booming regret the dwindling of spend-happy corporate entertainment but Rimmer says today's forensic tools offer superior value.
"That whole [entertainment] approach has been diluted," she says. "Corporate entertainment has been important for nurturing but, especially with the pandemic, it's fallen by the wayside. Budgets are diluted and sales are more cognisant of who they should be nurturing."
However, digital marketing is no panacea.
"It's like anything: you get out of something what you put into it. In Salesforce, if your data is flawed, you'll never get what you need from that platform. But the technology platforms give you visibility and if you work at it, you will get the right outcome."
For Rimmer, marketing chiefs should have a dedicated resource for digital marketing ("A CMO has to be a generalist and you hire specialists so you have to have an oversight of everything going on in the marketing realm") but she is against the trend to freelancing that out.
"There's a tendency to think outsourcing business development and Inside Sales is the way to go but I've never seen that be successful," she says. "You've got to have people on the inside who understand the company."
Despite the fact that she has operated inside the tornado of hypergrowth tech companies, Rimmer says that that has its own challenges.
"When I joined VMware, they weren't owned by EMC, so you had questions of ‘If I deploy you, are you going to be around in five years?'" she recalls. "It never sold itself: you still have to sell and market because there will always be a new market competitor."
That means customer advocacy and case studies are precious because every IT buyer wants someone else to go the edge first and report back.
Although Rimmer has had several hits, her career has not been all plain sailing. She was at Hayes in the mid-1990s when the dialup modems pioneer hit the wall and says that "coming out was actually worse than being in Chapter 11 [bankruptcy protection]."
She also recalls a time when she realised she had taken just one day off in the first year of her son's life. She tried for a while to be a homebody but applying the same energy to housework meant her husband, who generally had taken over domestic duties, asking: "Can you do me a favour please… get a job?!"
That request led to an interview at Citrix and, eventually, a move to Switzerland for a plum senior marketing director role.
Later, she was in at the beginning of the VMware take-off, although it wasn't all smooth. At a company led by an engineer, marketing wasn't top of the agenda.
"I had eight different marketing bosses during my tenure at VMware," Rimmer recalls. "Helping to move VMware from a Workstation licence procured online business into an enterprise sales and marketing led organisation was certainly a challenge in those days."
Advice? Rimmer has a few notes from the front.
"I'm not technical at all but I have to understand how technology delivers business value. If I can't do that, I can't market it. I've always looked at how technology can change the world, even if it's only in a finite way."
For the last 15 years, Rimmer has run her own business, hiviz-marketing, helping companies (often American and often in the datacentre, cloud or virtualisation nexus) set up marketing and other operations in Europe. She has three criteria for taking on consulting roles: she has to believe in the company's technology, like the people she will work with and they can't be competitive with existing clients.
Today, she has time for another passion, horse riding, and she credits her "stay-at-home husband" for giving her the space to work "absolutely crazy hours" and build the platform for her current portmanteau activities. Life is still busy but the days of racking up the long working days and long-haul flights are relatively few.
"I can pick and choose," she says. "I've got a better work/life balance. I wanted to dabble in a bit of freelance work and I wasn't necessarily looking 10 to 15 years down the line but I was very fortunate. All my work has come in from word of mouth."