CMO Spotlight: Suaad Sait at Rackspace Hosting

Posted by on August 21, 2012

Suaad Sait is the Chief Marketing Officer at Rackspace Hosting, and the first CMO to join the Cloud Hosting and Services company in its 14-year history.  Having joined Rackspace in January 2012, Suaad and his team have been on a rapid mission to apply marketing innovations using small, push-the-envelope bets for big business and customer gains. had a chance to sit down with Suaad to learn more about Rackspace’s focus on building an open cloud platform and ecosystem for Cloud developers, launching an aggressive community initiative around OpenStack, an open source Cloud operating system, and what skills make a great CMO in the new era of technology-driven marketing.

Suaad Sait, CMO, Rackspace

You are the first CMO for Rackspace Hosting.  Where is your focus looking out over the next 12 months?

Rackspace was a successful company for the first decade-plus, developing a strong brand with a focus on “fanatical support.” It is a service business first; our service is a big differentiator and a core driver from the founders and our executive team.  We have established our position as a service leader, but hosting is evolving rapidly and now there are new rules of engagement.  IT is also changing, and, as we look out, IT will look very, very different in the years ahead.  We are expanding beyond being a service company that just uses other companies’ technology, to a company who is on a mission to become the innovative technology provider in the Cloud.  By going all in on OpenStack, an open source Cloud operating system, we believe it will fuel massive acceleration and easier adoption of Cloud computing.  You can look to what happened with LINUX and Android to see the potential, especially as businesses embrace the Cloud. I was hired as CMO to amplify our message to the market and align with our products, customers and partners.

With Rackspace’s transformation, can you highlight some of the marketing strategies and tactics you are using?

B2B marketing has changed more in the last 10 years than the prior 50 years.  We need marketing muscle to more directly contribute to revenue growth and drive lead generation, which are both critical to our foundation.  We utilize Marketo for marketing automation, have many analytics tools in place, and use a mix of SEM, display and digital advertising, content marketing and a strong effort around events.  However, with our company transformation, we need to experiment, be on the edge and try new things all the time.  We’ve set aside budget for small bets, using rapid innovation applied to our marketing programs and tactics.  Some things work, but some don’t, and we know we can quickly kill what is not working.    We have had to learn patience, which is not often acquainted with marketing today as executives expect immediate results.

Let me share an example of where we have applied rapid innovation in our go-to-market efforts, We started a program for high-growth start-up companies, helping entrepreneurs get off the ground using Cloud computing.  For those that qualify, we can get them up and running on the Cloud quickly to jump-start their business.  As they get funded, they become paying, loyal customers that we can grow with and both prosper.  This is an example of directly contributing to revenue and, as a service company at the core, building long-term relationships versus a one-hit wonder.  It was an innovative bet and one that is turning out to be a great venture.

What are the differences between marketing a service and a platform solution?

We offer “Fanatical Support®” to IT and system administrators building web based applications and have built a strong, successful business offering services-based solutions.  Companies that are shifting to the Cloud have created a new opportunity for Rackspace.  As we become an Open Cloud platform solution with OpenStack, we need to both expand our reach and better target our message and value.  For Example,we have expanded our reach to include developers that are building and creating cloud-native apps.  The developer community is a unique target developers want access to technology and to talk to peers and experts in the ecosystem- especially since Cloud is a big opportunity for developers.  We want to engage developers where they are working and going for information. We are now focused on bringing together a community of developers, who are innovating to work together to architect and create great code and smart solutions. This way, we can be part of the conversation and dialog, including participation from our experts and thought leaders that are involved in OpenStack.  As we expand our customer base and targets, we have to make sure we keep the right balance in our targeted marketing and make sure we do not alienate or confuse those customers who choose us first for our service.

Speaking of balancing, how do you balance marketing OpenStack and the Rackspace brand?

Good question.  In our messaging we are going to brand around the Rackspace open cloud powered by OpenStack, and our Open Cloud message.  Our tagline and emphasis is “the open cloud company,” backed by our Fanatical Support® and powered by OpenStack.  Rackspace is a founding member of the OpenStack Foundation (which launches in a couple of months).  We contribute economically, provide technology and we have Rackspace people working with other members to improve and innovate with OpenStack open source code base.  This effort applies the “wisdom of the crowds” approach with many smart engineers contributing to both advance the solution and make it stronger.  This is a core, deliberate go-to-market strategy to accelerate Cloud adoption and Rackspace business opportunity.

What is the right background or training for a CMO today?  How do you apply those skills?

My view may be biased (Editor’s Note: That is way OK with us; we like opinions!).  I have a technical degree and an MBA; this is different than many CMOs who may have English, Communications or Sociology degrees.  I think the right mix for a CMO today is a technical background or to have worked in the tech field plus an MBA.  Tech + business is an extremely powerful combination.  Technology is core to marketing today, and if you don’t get revenue, forget it.  In a positive sense, these types of CMOs are more dangerous as they can apply technology and rapid innovation to day-to-day marketing execution and go-to-market strategies for their company.  This combo also enables a “seat at the executive table”.  I think of myself as Chief Revenue Marketing Officer, partnering with business leaders to develop smart, market-driven moves that create growth.  I want to add that Brand and storytelling is an important skill and discipline.  In fact, I spend about 15% of the time worried about that.  I am also a huge believer in using PR and getting the story of the customer and how they are using our solutions to help their business out into the market.  You can’t pound your chest on features and functions- that’s just noise.  The words of our customers and partners are so much more powerful.  If this message is resonating, your product is right, and go-to-market is aligned, then storytelling is the last mile.