Following almost 20 years of experience in marketing and communications, Sarah Roberts joined BAI Communications in 2017, now Boldyn Networks, a world’s leading infrastructure provider. As Boldyn’s Group CMO, Sarah led Boldyn’s major rebrand, bringing together six companies under one innovative, bold, and dynamic brand. Sarah is at the forefront of the company’s communication and marketing strategies. She’s been instrumental in ensuring consistency throughout Boldyn’s transformation and has played a crucial role in securing groundbreaking infrastructure projects. Sarah is a founding member of The CMO Club in Sydney. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in marketing from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. She’s based in London.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Sarah shared her professional trajectory, her favorite part about working at Boldyn Networks, insights on the need to embed gender equality and inclusion in the marketing industry, personal sources of inspiration, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Hi Sarah. What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing? How did you get your start in this industry?
At university, I studied psychology and educational development. I was interested in the “people side” of both programs and I was inspired to dig deeper into how people think. After that I obtained a secondary degree in marketing.
My grounding and background in psychology has been invaluable during my career—it has helped to inform how I strategize, architect, and execute high-performing and influential marketing campaigns. It’s also helped me become a good leader—I take time to listen and understand the teams I work with, and with so many team members located in different parts of the world, this soft skill is all the more crucial.
What is your favorite part about working at Boldyn Networks?
There is so much that I love about working at Boldyn.
Our mission is to unlock the power of an interconnected future. Connectivity is so important to humans, especially in a post-pandemic world. It’s not just about speeds and downloads, connectivity can be truly life altering. And I love that we have such an important part to play in this. We are enabling new possibilities in the way people live, work and play, on a global scale. It never fails to excite me to see the impact of our advanced infrastructure solutions – the immediate and direct benefit they have to people and businesses. It’s truly inspiring.
How do you approach the ever-changing landscape of digital marketing and emerging technologies such as AI?
Digital marketing and AI are just a couple of exciting tools in the marketing toolkit. But, before even selecting or applying any tool, it’s important to first ask yourself: “Will this tool help us to focus on humanity?”
The most effective way to answer this question is by tapping into a skill that you should consistently be using in your marketing practices: listening. If you’re not listening to what the customer is telling you so that you understand what they need, no marketing tool is going to make up for that.
AI is a huge topic at the moment. Marketers will definitely look to use it in various ways in 2024, but it shouldn’t—and won’t—replace a human approach. Consumers are way too savvy to even entertain that.
If anything, I hope new technologies like AI will provide us with more time to think and challenge ourselves now that we can automate more routine processes.
What metrics do you measure to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing investments?
I like to use a combination of organic and digital strategies. But one thing I always use, and will always recommend, is speaking with customers directly.
For us, measurement isn’t just a moment in time. It’s cyclical and constant. I keep in touch with our sales team too, and they share their perspectives about what they’re seeing on the front line, which helps when creating our digital marketing strategy. This is combined with the feedback we get from digital tools too, so whenever we roll out a new campaign, it’s based on firsthand knowledge, experiences, and opinions.
That doesn’t mean it always lands perfectly, but that’s why measurement is so key: even campaigns that don’t perform as well teach us something.
When we are successful, we use case studies like this one with LinkNYC to showcase our marketing efforts. This helps our teams tell impactful and inspirational stories about what our connectivity solutions can achieve. Case studies are also an important tool for us, as there’s no validation like third party validation.
What, in your view, should CMOs in B2B be doing more to drive core business value through marketing efforts?
First, you need to find a balance between setting up a vision and long-term strategy, and your short-term marketing goals. It’s important that everything fits together. Within this strategy, it’s important to show how marketing will impact the business bottom line, from the most obvious marketing metrics to the meaningful leads that you bring.
Second, you need to consistently connect with your own team, customers, and other stakeholders on a human level. If you want to drive value through your marketing efforts, where does it start? With you and your own marketing teams. By supporting one another so fiercely, I see firsthand how my teams inspire each other as humans and marketers. This then creates a deep-seated need for us to want to do the best for our customers. A human-centric approach creates a team of empowerment, respect and consistency.
Third, you must be clear about what your purpose is as a business. One of the ways to communicate this is simple yet powerful: storytelling. As marketing leaders, we have responsibility for sharing our brand story authentically. Doing so will see us take our teams and audiences on a journey, as they spread and embrace our messaging, our vision, and our mission.
Another driver of good marketing leadership that drives core business value and helps foster a culture of collaboration is kindness. I truly believe that it’s one of those hidden gems that we don’t talk about enough. It doesn’t mean that we sit back and look at the world with rose-tinted glasses but understanding that there is a person supporting you goes a long way.
What are your thoughts on gender equality and inclusion? Do you think there is a gender bias in your industry?
In a nutshell we need to be doing better.
It’s now happening less, but for decades, marketing and advertising operated under gender-based stereotypes. The danger in this is crystal clear: you are immediately dividing your current and potential customer base. In turn, this creates boundaries around customer growth and retention along with damaging future opportunities.
If there’s one word of caution, I would say to fellow marketers about this, it’s that we are in an age where gender roles are largely fluid. It goes against common sense and makes bold assumptions to craft our marketing efforts around typical—and increasingly outdated—gender stereotypes. Gender roles have dramatically changed and interchanged, from modern families to the workforce.
As leaders we can also fall into the trap of believing that we are considering gender equality just by balancing out gender roles in our workplace and teams. But it is our everyday behaviour that will drive change and ultimately equality. For example, flexible work arrangements are an equalizer in the workplace and can positively impact career growth, but leaders need to feel comfortable making these arrangements even for themselves. We also need to pursue greater psychological safety for our team members through open conversations, a sense of appreciation, and an equal focus on work results and well-being for everyone, regardless of gender.
We have the opportunity to reimagine how we work within our teams to bring the best out of everyone, through productive, open and respectful conversations.
Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
I don’t think there is one person who I can say shaped who I am and my beliefs. Through the years I’ve been surrounded by wonderful people whose insights and behaviors have left a good impression in me. I have been incredibly lucky to have so many different experiences in different industries and in different countries which have made me the person who I am today – the sum is greater than its parts. And a lot of the time I have learnt the most from the people I have led, who have challenged my thoughts. That is why I believe it is crucial to build diverse teams, with different views, perspectives and thinking.
What does the term “authentic leadership” mean to you?
Interestingly, ‘authentic’ was the Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2023. This tells you how important it is for each individual, employee, customer, and partner that businesses and leaders are true to their purpose, to their beliefs, to their passion. As a society, we’ve lost a lot of trust for everything that is presented to us, from fake news to social media, and even to AI to an extent.
This widely applies to us, leaders in the workplace. Today, more than ever, being a leader is to be there for our teams, to be transparent, to provide coaching and guidance while allowing for people to develop. Trust is also key, and being seen as a trusted decision maker who has everyone’s back is an important part of authentic leadership. As our workforce gets younger, we’ll see less belief in traditional hierarchies, and instead connections and loyalty will be based on trust, and on following leaders they can learn from. Being able to embrace this change will force those to step outside of their ‘operational leader’ role and towards becoming authentic leaders.
This brings me to the need for kindness in our day-to-day work interactions. It doesn’t mean we’re less firm or proactive when it comes to business matters, it means creating an environment that invites everyone to bring their best selves to work.
We have to remember that today’s workforce is more powerful in many ways. It has access to a number of job options and locations. It’s nurtured by an always on Internet ‘tutorial’ on all sorts of topics and has global development aspirations. This should push us all to be authentic leaders in anything we do…and for our teams, it means to be more than an operational lead.
What are some of your passions outside of work? What do you like to do in your time off?
Family is what fills my bucket and anything that involves spending time with them. We have only recently moved to London, so we love exploring and getting out and about. London is a wonderful new place to get immersed in.
What is your biggest goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
Being the best, I can be. I love making a difference so wherever I am in the world and whatever I am doing in 5 years’ time that is the one thing I know I will be focused on.
What advice would you give to somebody who is considering entering the field of marketing or has just entered the field and maybe, one day, they would like to become a CMO?
Try as many things as you can, never say no and learn, learn, learn. It may not make sense as to how you might use a skill in the future, but all skills have a use at some point in your life.