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I speak in front of groups, large and small, pretty often these days, but I must admit I definitely had some butterflies as I stood in front of 30 or so students in a classroom at George Mason University recently. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what hard questions I’d get from this class of bright-eyed undergraduate students, but I was graciously afforded the opportunity by GMU professor Sergei Samoilenko (connected through my colleague Richard Sheehe) to speak to the students. The topic was market research we had done recently at Merritt Group to better understand the priorities and challenges of technology CMOs. I titled my presentation “Inside the Mind of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).”

So, I showed up with data, along with a genuine willingness to share insights I’ve gathered over the last 19 years in marketing. I was hoping to help these students, in some small way, prepare for work post-graduation by sharing lessons learned through trial and error.

Thankfully, as I started diving into our research data — with slides on topics like CMO spending, market penetration strategies and the challenges of mobile marketing — the butterflies disappeared. I was boosted by the attentive faces of the students and the flow of my content, which lasted about 25 minutes. We talked about how B2B CMO budgets have been mostly flat since 2015, but downtrends in key metrics like customer retention are putting the pressure on them to do more with less. As a result, a lot of CMOs are spending on market penetration and addressing customer growth and retention, with 63 percent of B2B CMOs spending dollars in those two areas, vs. 37 percent on customer acquisition. We also talked about the trends around increased spend in analytics, digital channels and content. And, the fact that mobile marketing, while still only making up 7 percent of B2B marketing budgets today is set to more than double in the next 3 years.

Next up was open Q&A, which was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. The students asked really great questions, from the art and science of scoping and pricing creative work to the one piece of advice I’d give my younger self, knowing what I know now about the world of marketing and PR.

I tried to answer as thoroughly and honestly as possible. Scoping, starts with the time it takes to complete tasks and multiplying that with the fair market price you can charge for those hours. But then we dove into the nuances of setting expectations with clients and managing overservicing. On the advice for my younger self, I said I’d tell young Shahed to take more pride in the quality of work. I understand the employer/employee value exchange now — the responsibility of an employee to maximize their time at work, and the responsibility of an employer to compensate fairly and provide the environment and resources conducive to quality work. But right out of college, in my first job, I didn’t get it and didn’t take that value exchange seriously.

One student asked what I love the most about my job. Great question. I told her it’s simple: I love technology because of the way it is fundamentally changing our world; I love marketing because it is really about understanding people; and I love the colleagues that I work with every day at Merritt Group.

Many of the students came up after the class, to ask for advice on a specific Internship they’re doing, or talk about Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars and culture (one of my favorite hobbies). We talked about some of our job openings as well, as we’re always looking for great candidates both for full-time and intern positions. I had such a great time. I thank Serge for the opportunity to speak to his class. And, the students at GMU for putting up with me for an hour and fifteen minutes. I hope I get the opportunity again soon.

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