Michael Harris’ industry and consulting experience spans Fortune 100 companies to emerging and growth firms in manufacturing and technology. Many of his clients have been acquired. Mike is the Founder of Harris CMO Partners.
As an executive at west coast technology companies for many years, Mike worked throughout the U.S., Europe, Latin America and China. He has served variously as the top marketing, business development, and investor relations executive for both private and publicly traded companies. He has also served as a corporate officer for a NASDAQ:NM company.
He is a former management consultant with PriceWaterhouse Coopers and holds a B.S. from the University of Tennessee and an MBA in Marketing from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University.
He has long been active in community service and has served on the boards of Operation For HOPE Foundation and Kids Included Together. For several years he served as a mentor to entrepreneurs as a member of Connect San Diego. He has also served as a guest lecturer, student mentor and program chair at The Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego.
Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The Nashville tech community vs. Silicon Valley tech community
- The changing nature of sales and marketing
- The emergence of the global platform economy
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Coach the Coach Radio brought to you by the Business RadioX ambassador program, the no cost business development strategy for coaches who want to spend more time serving local business clients and less time selling them. Go to BRXAmbassador.com to learn more. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:33] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Coach the Coach Radio, and this is going to be a fun one. Today we have with us Michael Harris with Harris CMO Partners. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Harris: [00:00:43] Hey, Lee, how are you doing today?
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] I am doing well. I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about Harris CMO partners. How are you serving folks?
Michael Harris: [00:00:52] Yeah, sure. We work with CEOs of technology companies. Our clients are usually in the 10 million to one hundred million dollar range and I would say most of them for the last few excuse me, most of them for the last few years have been SaaS companies. We have clients in Silicon Valley, the West Coast, Washington, D.C. And since I’ve moved to Nashville not too long ago, we picked up a couple of clients here. So what we do is we provide interim CMO services or just general CMO support to the CEO or the actual CMO themselves.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:27] So what’s your back story? How’d you get involved in this line of work?
Michael Harris: [00:01:31] Yeah, sure. It’s it’s a good story. When I got out of business school in the 80s, I, I took, you know, one of the glamorous jobs of so-called glamorous jobs with the consumer products company. And that led to a stint with Philips Electronics in the Netherlands. And I wound up running about one hundred billion dollar division of that company based here in the United States. And somewhere along the way, I got a call from a data storage company in California, and they had seen some of my turnaround background and asked if I would be interested in joining them. It was a 500 billion dollar company and they were in a bit of trouble and took a leap of faith and left the southeast and moved everything out to California. And that’s how I got started in technology. That was in the 90s. And I served as a top level executive for West Coast tech companies for many years. Usually that it was a chief marketing officer role or head of sales and marketing something in that nature. And then when I got my my last job out of high school and off to college in twenty eighteen, I decided to return to the motherland, Nashville, Tennessee. And I moved, moved back here, moved my company here and and really enjoy it. Things are going fine.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:48] So now talk a little bit about kind of the tech ecosystem in Nashville versus Silicon Valley. Obviously Silicon Valley has the history and the kind of the depth of companies there. And Nashville is more of an emerging tech hub. Can you talk about how they compare and what you see in the future for Nashville?
Michael Harris: [00:03:10] Oh, sure. That’s a topic I love to talk about. I think that anybody that’s been immersed in the West Coast tech scene or Silicon Valley develops a certain sense of a sense of style and operating certainly a deep, deep level of knowledge about what’s going on with the investors, what’s going on with new ways of technology. And then when I moved to Nashville, I really set out to learn the technology community here and reached out to tech CEOs and wanted to establish a beachhead here, because I really my vision was to serve the Southeast. I knew the technology was coming our way and I knew that there were a lot of companies in the southeast, especially Tennessee and Nashville, that could use Silicon Valley expertize. So here’s the difference. The Nashville technology ecosystem is still it’s still in its infancy. And the reason that I say that is because the investment community here is not the same as the investment community that I observed in California. So people who have made a great deal of money here typically made it in health care or excuse me, health care and banking and commercial real estate. And so those are those are what we would call more old world industries, even though they’re very much alive, very much thriving.
Michael Harris: [00:04:39] People still make a lot of money in them. But the mindset of these investors is is is not evolved enough to be able to understand what new waves of technology mean and how investing in those new ways of technology could create wealth for them. So it’s still a little bit of a reluctant atmosphere here in Nashville. But in the three years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen really, really good progress. So I think Nashville is well on its way. And of course, we see all the time these news articles of California companies, tech companies that are picking up and moving to Nashville. And they’re moving here for very, very good reasons. So so Nashville has the foundation. And I think as these new companies move in and at new blood comes in, that’s already been immersed in Silicon Valley, that is going to. You don’t spread across Nashville, including the investment community, including the universities and colleges and even high schools and in Nashville is poised to grow, I think, tremendously in what I call the technology ecosystem.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:50] Now, do you find I think I mean, I deal with a lot of I interview a lot of folks in all parts of the startup, the tech startup world, from VCs to private equity to angels to CEOs and entrepreneurs. One of the advantages of Silicon Valley is if you’re a startup in Silicon Valley and your thing explodes, you can jump to another, you know, startup pretty easily. And there’s kind of a deep like that’s OK to do that. And the investment community there has a different kind of sense of urgency when it comes to investing and the different kind of expectation of an investment. Whereas like you said, in some of the southern cities, if their wealth was made in real estate, it’s one of those. Well, we’ll just hold on to it. And eventually it’s going to make us a lot of money. And the time, kind of the condensed time period that people are looking to get in and out of the investments are different. You know, the time moves differently in Silicon Valley than it does maybe in some southern cities.
Michael Harris: [00:06:54] Yes, I would definitely agree with that, I would say from the two clients that we had here, we have had so far in Nashville and both were successfully acquired after we started working with them. So that’s, you know, that’s good news. But from my observance of those two companies versus the clients and see on the West Coast, for instance, things tend to move a little slower here because there’s a learning curve that’s already been achieved by most of the people on the West Coast, that it’s still being achieved by the people who do the work here in Nashville. So I do spend more time educating Nashville clients than I would with clients on the West Coast or in Washington or something like that.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:38] Now, what about have you seen? Because I think this is another part of the growth and the maturity of a of a southern city when it comes to this is having some successful exits where you have some entrepreneurs that have gone through kind of the process and they’ve exited and then want to reinvest back into the community. Are you seeing any of that or any kind of hint that that’s on the roadmap?
Michael Harris: [00:08:02] Oh, yes. Yeah, there are definitely good examples here in here in Nashville. One of the companies that I helped was a med tech company, and it was part of the portfolio of a another company here in Nashville that that funds several medtech and health care startups. And I know they’ve had the entrepreneur who founded it. His name is Jim Saw. I know he had a really successful tech exit. And after that, he began to pull together this portfolio of new companies to fund and to and to nurture. So that’s a great example that you and I have heard and read about several others, which are excellent stories.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:46] So now let’s talk about kind of your day to day work in sales and marketing. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, what you’ve learned from coming from that technology base from Silicon Valley and how that that translates to the tech companies you’re dealing with in Nashville now?
Michael Harris: [00:09:05] That’s a that’s an excellent question. So what’s going on in sales and marketing now? Is that the the distance between what’s being sold and who’s going to buy it has been dissected into about a million pieces. What I mean by that is know back in the day and I’m going I’m going to go back in the day, a sales guy at IBM or HP or whatever could have a name and a phone number and get in front of somebody to make a sales pitch. And today there is about I mean, there’s just dozens and dozens of places that you have to populate with some kind of a message before you even get the attention of a prospect. And I think the interesting thing is today that any prospect for a new solution is going to spin. They’re going to get 70 percent, 80 percent of what they want to know about you and your company and your solution before they’ll ever agree to even have an introductory phone call. And so that all falls back into what is historically traditionally called marketing space. And it’s it’s required that marketing, especially B2B marketing, technology, marketing, become very, very short with content messaging, what we call buyer personas, which is, you know, who am I targeting? What are their what are their hot buttons, what are their pain points and so forth. So I think the net net of all of this is that sales and marketing has become much more sophisticated. And in addition to that, we’re starting to see a merging of the sales and marketing functions because the technology, the platforms that they’re using are merging. And so they have no choice but to start moving these part departments closer and closer together. And so I’m thinking that at least in my lifetime, in my career, we will see sales and marketing become just one operation.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:58] Now, are you seeing any of the. I know I’m old, too, so I know that there was. Kind of a line in between sales and marketing at one point where it was always like sales are saying like, oh, marketing is not giving me the good leads. And then and then marketing is like, well, sales isn’t closing the glades. And I’m saying, you know, it was kind of I don’t want to say adversarial, but maybe their incentives weren’t aligned. And marketing becomes like more of a support role for sales and not like a partner. Are you seeing any of that change or is the blurring of the lines between sales, marketing, advertising, PR, social media, all the kind of kind of the tools that are out there? Are they all kind of, like you said, merging into one, you know, kind of client acquisition department?
Michael Harris: [00:11:48] Yeah, yeah. The people who perform those functions across the board, the ones you just mentioned. Yes. They are merging into one one department. And I think a good example of that, Leigh, is that, you know, like in my company, we use we use a software platform that’s that scores prospects for clients. And it’s up to the marketer. Business usually resides in the marketing department, but it’s up to the marketer to decide what those attributes, the attractive attributes of a prospect are, whether it’s from static information on LinkedIn or whether those attributes are gathered from interaction with social media, post advertising, whatever, whatever is out there in the in the WebSphere. And so it’s up to a marketer to create that model. And then the marketer has to interact with the salespeople who will be selling this to make sure that model is is tweaked correctly and that the attributes have been have been prioritized school correctly, because ultimately it’s the salesperson who’s going to be using that model, but it’s the marketing person that’s going to be doing all the attributes.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:03] Now, what about I mean, in a lot of these tech B2B sales especially, there’s a lot of kind of fingers in the pie and these decisions are made necessarily by one person. It’s a committee or group of people that have to sign off on it. And you don’t know who is the person that’s got the the power to kind of blackball something or veto something. How do you help your clients kind of navigate the politics of the sale?
Michael Harris: [00:13:33] Well, that’s another that’s another good question. You know, I always advise clients to to put one person in charge, whether it’s the S.R.O., whether it’s the CMO, you know, hopefully you walk into a situation where they have a very good relationship and they and they work as one. That’s not always the case because, you know, salespeople are driven by a set of metrics. That is it’s very you know, right now, right at this minute, oriented marketing people tend to look much further into the future. And sometimes it’s hard to get those two viewpoints on the same table. So it’s it’s a it’s always an issue where I walk into a client. I’d say 90 percent of the problems that I find in a client is are people problems. You know, either the skill sets and capabilities aren’t present at that senior level or they haven’t built the underlying infrastructure to putting people correctly, or that just a general level of distrust between those two organizations. And I’m starting I’m starting again. I’m starting to see that mitigating itself as time goes on. But it used to be a pretty big problem in a lot of companies. And now I think it’s a more manageable problem than most companies.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:52] Now, how has the pandemic impacted your business? I don’t know if the pandemic precipitated your moved to Nashville, but it’s obviously kind of expanded people’s where their employees are located, where their clients are located and working from home or working. Has any of this impacted your business? And if so, how have you helped your clients navigate through this?
Michael Harris: [00:15:18] Mm hmm. But, yes, it’s it’s impacting my business positively. So when I set out to build this company several years ago, I decided from the outset it was going to be a virtual company because I had spent many, many, many years managing a lot of people in big organizations. And I just didn’t want to do that anymore. So the people that I hire are all contractors. You know, they’re all too many lines. They’ve all been with me for a long time and they love the work that they do and I pay them very fairly. So in that sense, it hasn’t interrupted it. And on the on the revenue side, revenues actually gone up because so many employers have had a chance to look at what’s going on in sales and marketing and decide that they want to make changes. And they love the idea of having somebody having an On-Demand professional come in, get the work done and then get out. Right. That’s very different from the old consulting model. So back in my early years, my younger years, I was a consultant for a predecessor of PricewaterhouseCoopers. And the mantra then was, you know, go out and play to the base and then dragging its feet on for years and years. So that’s that that is no longer the case, at least with companies my size. And we like to we like to do a good job. Our our pay is actually tied to whether we get that job done right and get it done on time. So everybody in the organization is incentivized to to to work and to do it right the first time and to do it on time.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:50] So now what is the pain that your prospective clients are having? Are they kind of struggling? Are they in a crisis or are they kind of frustrated because of a plateau? Like where where are they at when it’s time to call a CMO partners?
Michael Harris: [00:17:08] Yeah, it’s usually one of the few places they want is that they’ve lost their CMO. They need they need somebody to come in and steer the ship for a few months until they can get their search done. As you know, in today’s hiring environment, it’s getting pretty tough to find the right qualified people who will also fit into that company’s particular culture. And so they like the idea of not losing any momentum. The second the second biggest issue is the CEO is really frustrated at marketing. So he or she is not liking what they’re seeing. They’re not liking what they’re hearing. They’re they’re really questioning the value of the money they’re spending. And they want somebody with a with a very strong budgeting background and a financial perspective on sales to come in and help sort through what’s going on and get everything realigned with the marketplace in a way that that shows exactly what’s happening with every dollar spent on marketing. So those are a couple of situations. Is that enough for this call?
Lee Kantor: [00:18:10] Well, what is the frustration like? What are some symptoms that a firm might be having that, hey, maybe it’s time to make a change in the CMO suite?
Michael Harris: [00:18:18] Oh, gosh, declining revenue. It’s a tough one. Yeah. So I had one client that was in a market really hot market space. The market space itself was growing tremendously and with companies of that particular. Lion size, it was on average, companies were growing 12 percent a year and this particular client was declining 10 percent a year and they just couldn’t, you know, they just couldn’t figure out what was going on. So that’s that’s a very classic example of a frustration.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:49] Now, any advice for the person that is maybe in an enterprise position right now and wants to go out on their own and start their own firm? Anything that you would do differently?
Michael Harris: [00:19:01] Yeah, you know, I I got very lucky right off the bat and landed a couple of big contracts, but when I when I when I decided I wanted to grow the business, I really floundered a lot with the operational side of it. And when I say operations, I mean really the sales process, the paperwork, et cetera, et cetera. And I luckily found a book called Million Dollar Consulting by a guy named Alan Wise. And I later took some personal training from him and he was able to cut through all of the noise for me so. Well, and his mate has made the selling process for my company so easy. You know, we don’t use we don’t use PowerPoint or pitch decks. We don’t do proposals. We don’t do anything. You know, we just work straight with the CEO and we work on it. We work on a term sheet by email. And, you know, this is what we’re doing. This is what we’re going to get done. This is, you know, how long it’s going to take. The it’s going to this is the methodology we use. This is how we measure the success of the project. And then once that once once that term sheet is completed in that manner, we just crank out a simple like two or three page letter of agreement and the CEO signs it. We’re off to the races.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:13] Yeah, I’m a big fan of Alan Weiss. I mean, a long time reader of pretty much everything he puts out there. He’s a smart guy. It’s got a lot of that figured out. And I recommend his books, his newsletter to anybody out there that is kind of to who wants to make sure they’re getting the value they deserve.
Michael Harris: [00:20:32] You bet. You bet.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:34] Now, Michael, if somebody wants to learn more about your firm or get on your calendar, what is the website?
Michael Harris: [00:20:42] It is HarrisCMOpartners.com, or you could Google Mike Harris marketing either one.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:51] Good stuff. Well, Michael, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Michael Harris: [00:20:56] Thanks for having me. It’s so great to hear about what your your company is doing. I only recently heard about National Business Radio, and I’m pretty excited about it because, you know, Nashville really needs to have stronger business reporting, especially on the tech side. And so I’m happy to make your acquaintance and hopefully was able to contribute a little something today.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:18] Definitely did. Thank you again. You bet. Take care. All right. This Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Coach the Coach radio.