Aisling MacRunnels: Redefining the Role of a CMO

Aisling MacRunnels | Chief Marketing Officer | Synack

Marketing, being the integral part of business, demands skilled leaders with certain attributes, who are good at their work. The criteria also involve inspiring people and smartly getting work done from the them in order to achieve the desired goals of an organization. An avid leader, Aisling MacRunnels, the Chief Marketing Officer of Synack, understands these criteria very well and effectively applies it into her practice.

For Aisling, it was never about a journey to become a leader, but instead a journey to be really good at whatever she was doing at the time and to learn everything she could. To learn, she threw herself into uncomfortable situations. In her early years, she never said no to an opportunity to try something challenging. She optimized for learning and made sure she got exposure to the smartest people around.

Aisling firmly believes that we have one mouth and two ears and should use them accordingly. Hence, she keeps asking lot of questions and listens intently.

Aisling always kept herself surrounded with smart and passionate people. She always hired the smartest and most passionate people she could find. Even when they intimidated her, she pushed herself to hire them. Some of the motivation to hire smart people came from her desire to build a career and to be a mother. Although at times hiring smart people is threatening, but she also knew it was the only way she could scale and be sure that her team was always there for her as she went through maternity leave, etc. She always believes that one should respect the people they hire and should never be afraid to offer an opinion. They should just learn how to do it in an appropriate way.

Aisling learned long time ago that the best products don’t always win. One must build a great product, but by taking customer’s needs into consideration. Some of those needs are product specific, and others are about the program, the transition, the pacing, etc. It is the role of a CMO to be able to pick or prioritize. She mentions, “We as a CMO need to pick the target customer (you can sell to lots of people but you need to know what your target really is) and then fully understand your customer – their goals and needs as well as their challenges. Once we have developed our products and company policies around that user, we can add users (always make sure you don’t marginalize onecustomer while trying to appeal to the other). Stick to your convictions to the decisions made. This usually takes resilience and patience.”

A role of a CMO is dynamic. According to Aisling, a CMO is a business executive that happens to execute through marketing and hence, should be a valuable part of the team. Like any of their peers at the executive table, CMOs need to fully know the business they are in and should work to achieve the respect of their peers. They also should have well-thought-out opinions backed up with data and should be able to execute those opinions with conviction.

Aisling has built her career in the heart of Silicon Valley from a geographic and trend perspective. She believes that it is CMO who helps create the trends. CMOs refuse to become victim to their customers but understand them and leverage them as they need and want them. She describes this by saying, “If I am in a market building stage, I’ll harness the tools and trends needed for that stage and not get derailed by sexy, but unimportant or irrelevant trends.”

Having built her career in Silicon Valley, and focusing on startups or new technology and markets, Aisling is usually driving the disruption, and believes that the techniques to do this are simple. It goes back to knowing consumer’s needs, knowing their challenges and goals, being able to develop and champion a strategy and then being patient and confident in execution. It also involves refusing to be derailed and setting the agenda instead of being put in a position to just react to someone else’s agenda.

Aisling never feels short of opportunities, instead she believes that there is always a need for a great CMO. Thus, she tends to focus on the present, believing in what she is doing is well. In the near future, she is working on a goal to create a new category in cybersecurity where Synack can find the perfect balance augmenting humans with artificial intelligence so that security can keep up with the digital transformation. Since the inception of Synack, she is working on this goal, a goal that the company is making a reality.

When asked about the crucial traits every CMO must possess, she emphasizes on three attributes. One is inner confidence, in which she advises to be self-motivated and committed. Second is maintaining balance between strategic and tactical, in which one must be able to have a strategic outlook yet execute tactically. It can be hard to link every activity and initiative to a greater goal, but a CMO must be able to do that. Thirdly, she believes that CMOs are the heartbeat of a company. They should be able to work well with their other departments too such as Engineering, Product, Sales and Operations.

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