In this episode, we speak to Leila Modarres, the CMO of Apexon, a digital-first technology services firm focused on accelerating business transformation and delivering human-centric digital experiences. We talk about how Leila reached the CMO suite, her experience rebranding the company, working with Gen Z, and bringing human into customer experience.
In this episode, we speak to Leila Modarres, the CMO of Apexon, a digital-first technology services firm focused on accelerating business transformation and delivering human-centric digital experiences. We talk about how Leila reached the CMO suite, her experience rebranding the company, working with Gen Z, and bringing human into customer experience. For over 18 years, Apexon has been meeting customers wherever they are in the digital lifecycle and helping them outperform their competition through speed and innovation.
At Apexon, Leila pioneered a marketing-as-a-service approach where she harnessed the expertise of her expertly curated team to deliver value to customers and give them another reason to choose to work with Apexon. That has included the creation of the award-winning YouTube channel, DTV, where she interviews customers, partners, and other luminaries to profile their thought leadership and digital expertise.
Leila oversees Apexon’s global branding and communications, covering everything from market positioning and awareness-building to employer branding and demand generation initiatives.
Prior to Apexon, she headed marketing at Cumulus Networks where she helped launch the company and define its position in the emerging software-defined networking market. Before that, Leila was the VP of Marketing at DeviceAnywhere, a pioneer in mobile application development and testing. There, she helped establish DeviceAnywhere’s category leadership and subsequent acquisition by Keynote Systems. Additionally, Leila has held key roles at emerging technology companies Virtual Iron (acquired by Oracle) and PanGo Networks (acquired by InnerWireless).
Leila regularly speaks at events and has received industry recognition for leadership, marketing best practices, and mentoring of female leaders. She was recognized as a Woman of Influence by Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2020.
Leila holds a BA in communications from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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Peter: [00:00:00] Hey, Leila. Thanks so much for being on the next CMO podcast. We're really excited to have this conversation to learn more about you, to learn more about apex on your career and all sorts of good things that we're gonna chat about. And maybe to set the table, you can tell us a little bit about yourself in a little bit about apex on.
Leila: On is pioneering, a new generation of technology services, primarily focused on all aspects of development, helping organizations with their digital transformation initiatives. We have a very hands on approach. Which is what differentiates us from the rest of the pack. Technology services has been around for quite some time.
But what we have is a. And we're very involved with the projects and with the with the partners that we work with. And right now that's a very important thing. Especially, as organizations [00:01:00] tend to want to do things in a much more quick and agile manner. They're turning to organizations like us to help get that done in a much more, you.
Ex exp expedite that in a much more effective way.
Peter: Yeah. And I assume that one of the things that's important for for apex on, in, in your customers is just the scale that you've now achieved is pretty impressive. And it sounds like, let me correct me if I've got this wrong, but it sounds like post this merger you're at about 6,000 employees. I saw that you're hiring another.
Thousand technical people and developers across the team, et cetera. So you, you have really broad, you have the ability, do you know, big, broad, complex digital transformation projects is probably the best way to think about it. Does that sound like I've accurately captured it?
Leila: Yeah, absolutely. And our core focus areas are primarily data analytics and also UI UX, [00:02:00] helping organizations establish a much better customer experience for their clients and also digital engineering. So those are, the key areas that we aim to focus on moving forward for the most.
Peter: Great. And you're of course the CMO there. And and tell us about sort of the story. So how did you get into the job? How long have you been there and then what does the job entail? So I guess that's three questions packed into one.
Leila: Sure. So, I've been with the organization previously info stretch now at peon for about seven years. So this is the longest stint in my career. And I will say part of the reason for that is, is the culture. and the people that I work with, so, any organization can be doing something really cool and really cutting edge, but ultimately it's about, who you're working with that will keep you there and keep you motivated.
So that's essentially, what's kept me there. I come from a product background. . And when I was [00:03:00] in marketing in for startups, primarily in a B2B SAS environment, that was a really hot space. Then I see technology services to be what the B2B SAS was about 10, 12 years ago. So my career I began as a journalist actually at the Harvard business review.
So my. My, area of expertise is really storytelling and writing and content development and content to convince. And I eventually went into the world of PR, so that really involved being able to. Create content into pitches that you had to go after, certain members of the media who are very shrewd and who are not always very friendly and open to talking to people, but it gives a sense.
I would encourage anyone who's going into marketing to do the PR thing first because it make, it gives you thicker skin. and, being hung up on you, you learn that you need to [00:04:00] customize your pitches and your stories in a way that they can sell to the media. It also gives especially for me, it gives me a sense, it gave me a sense of how sales operates and as a marketeer, I think it's very important to really be able to put yourself in the shoes of the field of the sales organizations and be able to support them from that standpoint.
So yeah, so I started out in, at HBR Harvard business review, went into PR. And then went in house and worked for a number of different early stage startup companies which I liked. I liked, rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty and being able to help these organizations establish themselves, establish certain categories.
and really launch and eventually a few of them exited. And so, that's been primarily the story, but ultimately it's about the people I work with and the teams that I've built and the people that I've brought with me to different organizations as I've evolved in my role.
Peter: [00:05:00] Well, it's great that you came from that perspective. And obviously that transition from the from being a reporter to to being in PR gives you a really great perspective for the audience that you're trying to communicate to, obviously. So you knew what. They were trying to, you knew that perspective and you knew how to create the message the right way.
And sounds like do it in a way that was personalized and genuine, which makes a lot of sense. And I'd imagine that when you're dealing with a company at this scale, it's really important to have that background, to be able to communicate a big message to the market. I'd love to hear a little bit about the story of.
Of how you went through this combination of companies, how you ended up with with apex on as an example. And I'll just tell you, before you tell me your story, that I went through a very similar process back in a late two thousands, I think 2000. Seven or something like that. I was at a [00:06:00] company called scan soft and scan soft acquired a company called nuance.
And of course we took the name nuance and became nuance and then grew up from there to be a pretty significant about a 2 billion revenue software company. But it was interesting. It sounds like you did. Similar thing where where the acquirer ended up taking the name of of the entity that it sounds like you acquired, is that right in what was the rationale behind that?
Leila: Well, the rationale behind all of our acquisitions apex on being the latest of a total of three, has really been about bringing the best of the best together under one umbrella. To be able to provide a much more holistic, comprehensive solution to our respective clients. And we initially acquired a company called SZA and their expertise in particular were very strong in CRM, Salesforce.
As well as user experience customer experience [00:07:00] solutions then we acquired a company by the name of Gossi analytics who was very strong when it comes to data engineering, data analytics. And so, those initiatives or those moves were, in particular, were purposefully to bring the best of breed together, to be able to provide a comprehensive and better solution to the clients of our clients and to, to their respective clients.
So it was really, that was the rationale is just to bring it together and be able to capitalize on each other's capability.
Peter: Great. And obviously apex on is a great solid name, right? Because of the word apex obviously is is about, being at the peak. And and obviously being a premier provider of these kinds of services, I think, is something that, that is really important. So that's probably part of.
Telling the story. So, so tell me, I, I want to talk a little bit about your marketing and tell me about, so first of all who are the customers that you're [00:08:00] trying to influence with your marketing messaging? And tell me a little bit about sort of the overall marketing strategy you have in what you're trying to achieve at, with the marketing function at apex.
Leila: Right. So, as I said earlier, these are Traditionally larger organizations, mid side to large organizations who are either launching or growing a digital initiative in various different parts of their organization from, fortune five hundreds in. Different vertical markets, but the markets that we have been working in most predominantly, so far has been healthcare and life sciences, as well as financial services banking.
Et cetera. So we're, this is where info stretch primarily had their core competency. And then if you look at some of the other organizations they've, we've been in high tech, manufacturing, automotive, those are spaces that we're getting into and we're [00:09:00] growing into as well. Because as you can imagine, There's a lot of legacy in, in those areas that really need to be need to evolve.
And there's a, huge amount of demand there. So, those are, but it's been traditionally larger organizations as opposed to early stage startups.
Peter: Yeah. So you're dealing with, it sounds like, probably some relatively complex large projects that you're trying to you're trying to sell and obviously enabling and supporting the growth of the company and the brand of the company has to be an important part of what you're doing.
And but do you, is the focus more. Sort of, capturing projects in the market and making sure that there's a strong brand preference for apex on or is it about sort of creating a new demand and telling people the story of sort of the value of taking on these new digital projects or something in between.
Leila: So I think it would be in between, but one of the core parts of our message is that, [00:10:00] we're, it's a human centric. Digital approach. So what we wanna emphasize there both internally as an organization, cuz customers are also your employees. But also externally it's not just about the project or the initiative that the customer is taking on.
It's about the experience that they're, that their clients are having. And so when we. Interact with them. We really look at that end result. And those targets as how we need to fashion, our interaction with them info Stretch's brand has been well known across the organizations that we've been working with as a marketeer.
Now, under the name apex on we wanna ensure that in the next, several months that the. Gets communicated across the board, but I also have launched an initiative called marketing as a service. And so what that does is it allows the client [00:11:00] contact, many of who wanna be recognized or seen across their internal organizations for any initiatives that they've done.
We capture it on a video. And we then they can go and circulate details and that success story across their organization internally. So what that does is from a branding perspective, it gets our name out there across these large mammoth organizations who have different business units.
That would be very difficult for us to reach to. And then we have somebody internal that is championing us and socializing. What we have been able to do for them inside their organization, which is a far more credible way of doing things than, the traditional campaign outreach to somebody who doesn't know your name.
So that's proven to be pretty effective for us. And it's something that we plan to invest more in.
Peter: Well, that's great. It's really interesting that that we back in, in the early days [00:12:00] when I was at this company nuance, we we had a program. We called map. It was the marketing accelerator program. I think they're probably a million map related acronyms out there in the planet, but that was ours.
And in the goal was similar in, in. We were doing, kind of customer experiencey kind of things, right. It was creating call center experiences for people back in the day. That's what the company primarily did. And part of that was we had this program where we would help. The internal champions of the product market.
It and it's interesting because there's, we Al always looked at the marketing purpose of that about sort of communicating to, the internal stakeholders. So they knew that. This is an important initiative, et cetera and externally, so that the customers would know, Hey, there's this great new way to interface with our company, things like that.
But it sounds like there's a real value point in what you're doing with the project, with this project that you've got your [00:13:00] marketing as a service program. Which really helps them. It sounds like, sort of articulate the value to their company of what they're doing, which I think is fantastic on a lot of levels.
One is it's really important for your stakeholders to be able to communicate the value that's been created under their auspices. And then two, of course it really helps apex on to, to have people able to articulate that value. And that probably makes her some for. Fantastic references in, and not only people who say nice things but if you can do it in a way that actually is precisely communicating economic value, that can be really compelling.
Leila: Yeah, definitely. And as you can imagine, working with these fortune 500 companies, particularly in healthcare, life sciences and financial services, BFSI, it's hard to get a reference, right? Because they have all sorts of different legal Guidelines. So being [00:14:00] able to work from within the organization to get, some exposure is, has, is a much better approach than to try to keep knocking on the door and seeing if you can get past the marketing slash legal organization, which can be tough.
Peter: Absolutely. And it's critical obviously for these kinds of projects to have strong references, cuz a lot of special, especially enterprisey kind of customers are gonna really need a strong reference as part of their sourcing process. So, so that is interesting. One thing I noticed when you were describing a little bit about how you market internally.
Layla is the this interesting dynamic because you help your customers create these sort of digital experiences in a lot of cases, whether it's updating a product, creating new, experience, CRM experience, whatever it is, right. There's you're creating these digital experiences and that's sort of their, [00:15:00] the expression of their brand experience is probably in a very technical way.
And you do it with technology. But the core of it is very human for you because the way you do it in the way you differentiate, what you do seems to be from the people perspective, which is really interesting. Because of course it's a very technical and technological thing. But at the end of the day it's really about the people.
And one of the things that I know when we were prepping for this discussion, you wanted to chat about is just the changing way that you're competing for people in in this world. So how do you think about sort of going out and recruiting. Talent, whether it's in your organization directly in the marketing team or more broadly across apex on how do you reach into these especially younger generations and communicate to them the value of working and committing some of their life to your brand.
Leila: Yeah, so that's, and that's a very good question. It's a different [00:16:00] ballgame now you have a large part of the the targets to hire are either millennials or gen Z or what I call what everybody calls zoomers now. And I think, a lot of companies need to change the way they operate.
To hire and retain these newer generation employees and it's about how you recruit and you're not recruiting workers, right? You're not recruiting people who can check a list of things that you need them to do. You're recruiting human beings. So you have to take on a much more human centric approach to how you onboard.
Recruit onboard. And then also, ensure that you're that you're investing the time to ensure that they know that you are you want their career to be successful. It's not about their success within that role. Or again, checking a bunch of boxes. It's how, how is this going to help [00:17:00] you evolve in your career?
And that's. Fundamentally an important piece of that. And really, trust is essential and creating an environment and a culture that is, that people trust each other. And it's important to have that in leaders must make trust explicitly the foundation of all practices and policies that.
Peter: Yeah. So how do you see your role as the chief marketing executive in the company in. In making sure that the company really embraces that it's one of these things I've seen in a lot of cases, top marketing executives take on a lot on their shoulders, whether it's customer experience or user experience or brand experience or employee experience all these things are very big topics.
So how do you see your role in, in driving that kind of cultural ethic across apex?
Leila: Yeah. So it's it's a role that we have actually, or an area that we've actually [00:18:00] started to focus on much more than before is employer marketing. So that's fundamentally just think about it as the employees are now your customers and the way that you package your capabilities and your solutions to customers also need to be packaged to and interest and retain a loyalty. or initiative around your organization, within the employees. So, having things like a metaverse what some people call it or an intranet, like to ensure that they're communicating with each other, especially now because offices are not filled with people. It's important to have a sense of community and that, that aspect of it is important.
And also. What is it that's gonna make you proud of your brand, establishing social impact programs, something that is meaningful to [00:19:00] people. And you're standing for something good. You have, you have sustainability initiatives that they can stand by and be proud of. And where I see things for employer marketing is you.
You as an organization or I, as a leader am not gonna be that credible touting. What we have in inside our organization, as the employee is gonna be credible, putting that on their social media or communicating, Hey, I've taken advantage of this educational program that we have. And I learned how to, work on some of the Adobe programs.
And I, really now have been able to take my career to the next level that resonates much better than throwing it out on an email or some kind of a video that you're gonna blast to a community that is. They're tired of the screen. So they're screen fatigue. So how are you gonna grab [00:20:00] their attention?
In short bite size ways is, leverage employees who can also speak to the other employees, customers, breed customers, employees, breed employees, and that's kind of the way I see it.
Peter: Yeah, it's really interesting Layla, because it sounds like you're using the same successful blueprint that you created for your marketing as a service kind of capability for your customer marketing and using that same set of techniques and approaches for your employer. Based marketing programs, which is really smart by the way.
It's because I, one, I suspect you start to know what kinds of things work and are genuine. You talked about sort of the. The snackable kind of kind of content versus too much long, more long form stuff, as well as the idea of of having things being genuine and both from the customer and from the employer perspective, it sounds like it.
It makes a really big difference, which is exciting. So is that something that's been [00:21:00] relatively new or is it something that you've been doing for some period of time at apex on, and then before, when it was infras stretch?
Leila: Sure it's relatively new. It coincides with what the dynamics of the market have been and the challenges that have built up to retain and to hire. New bodies and new skill sets and new talent. So, but the target is new. The way that it's done is not new. It's just a different target base and you're cultivating a culture and you're cultivating a community which is largely what marketing tries to do across the organization.
Peter: AB. Absolutely. I do have to comment that you were probably the first person I've ever heard leveraging the concept of a metaverse for your employee kind of communications. And
Peter: pretty interesting.
Leila: borrowed that from Accenture, but I think it was, it's just a brilliant concept to, bring [00:22:00] into the organization and, establish some kind of branded cohabitation environment for people to exchange ideas, post videos, just, compete with different games and just connect and interact.
Peter: Yeah, it sounds like a work averse or something like
Leila: Yeah. Like a work averse. Yeah.
Peter: Yeah, no it's really interesting because I know many of us are really struggling as leaders to try to find ways to engage employees. Have you seen a different kind of approach, especially with with gen Z kind of employees?
And it's funny, I should say, first of all that I think. There are amazing, brilliant, capable, hardworking people within gen Z. I've got kids who are gen Z. I just saw that this is an interesting stat just today. We could have our first gen Z member of Congress because at 25 year old candidate in Florida, when they're primary for the first time.[00:23:00]
So gen Z is starting to become a really important. Generation for our entire society, but what do you think about sort of managing and working with these slightly younger employees and is it different from what you're used to in, in other cases
Leila: yes, it is different. But it also compliments what we have been doing. So gen Xers have traditionally been Bringing a lot of tried and true practices to the table. So my observation is that they're very strong storytellers. And what they put together is they take the time to cross the Ts and dot the I, and back it with substantial amount of data.
So on and so forth, the newer generations have evolved and have shifted towards a lot of efficien. right. And have become better at consolidating those big ideas into smaller chunks that are, that are much easier to digest, but you can also spread that like [00:24:00] wildfire. So the two generations, well, the three generations, if you will have been very complimentary because they can, they have different areas that they have been able to bring to the table and evolve together.
right. So the evolution of social media, and now, the world of influencer marketing, that's all gen Z. And back in my PR days, I remember what I thought was a valuable success. And it still is to, to for the most part, but was a cover story in business week, or, a high profile article in the wall street journal for one of my clients.
But now. There's a whole different definition to the value of an entity based on the number of followers they have or subscriptions they have on social media. Hence, the evolution and now the fast growing area of influencer marketing. So am I better off getting visibility on social media based on the [00:25:00] size of its followers, or am I better off just going with a tried and true practice?
I think you should do. right. And that's what gen Z has offered us that we didn't have before.
Peter: A absolutely. That's it's amazing. And I think finding a way to really work with people from different generations, from different backgrounds. I think that's sort of the magic unlock code to success for companies these days and their organizations, which is which is great. So, believe it or not we're about at our end of at the end of our time.
I did want to ask you one more question that we always ask our guest which is what advice would you give Layla to current or aspiring CMOs?
Leila: I would probably encourage the CMOs to Learn not only, understand what the technologies or the capabilities are that their existing organizations are offering, but look at the end story to [00:26:00] define it. So don't talk about the what and the, how talk about the outcome that your clients, customers are getting.
Right. And that is much more. Much easier to understand and appreciate as I found. So, tell the story in the reverse way, if you will flip the story.
Peter: Makes a ton of sense. Well, I wanted to thank you Layla for being on the podcast and we're excited to see what you do to continue to grow the brand and grow the company at apex on, especially after this really important time when you've merged. And and should be seeing lots of exciting things happening.
So we look forward to seeing you continue to be as successful as you have been. And for those of you who are listening, if you have ideas for topics or guests, just send us an email at email@example.com make sure you follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. And thanks for listening. So thanks so much for being on the show.
Leila: Thank you, Peter. It was great to be here.