The Life of a Remote CMO, with Donna Fox

There’s at least one thing that each and every woman of Groove can agree on, and it’s the simple fact that we all strongly feel our values align with the person responsible for molding our company culture: Donna Fox.

It’s no coincidence that being responsible for that very task is what she pinpoints as one of the biggest parts of her job from which she gets the most satisfaction.

Holding a team together while there are innumerable moving parts is hard enough, but Donna does it all remotely and absolutely crushes it, as if it were just another level on her way to inevitable victory in her favorite video game.

Luckily it’s not all work, no play. When she wants to unwind and destress, she likes to actually play those favorite video games or simply go for a swim. By the sound of her dogs in the background while she speaks, she could also happily spend some time with her two gorgeous dogs, who are both border collie-pyrenees mixed.

Donna was born and raised in New Jersey, but now resides in Las Vegas with her husband and above-mentioned two dogs. We know we cannot continue this article without a picture of them, so here you go:

Donna's Dogs

Her earlier career in her 20s was nowhere near the world of internet marketing. In fact, she was a lawyer and real estate investor. It’s a truly fascinating story to hear how she went from a thriving, practicing lawyer to a conference speaker and later info-product seller.

The info business was based on her own “Credit Millionaire System,” but she abandoned the business model after the 2008 collapse in banking, as she knew the integrity in selling the credit system went out the window. But she used her time spent at all of those internet marketing conferences as a speaker and promoter of her product, to fully enter into the world of internet marketing.

She never would have known that when she first got herself a website to sell that info-product based on her Credit Millionaire System that she would end up where she is today, as CMO of Groove. But it is her tenacious ability to roll with the punches, and use the momentum of one activity to sustain another, that is a common theme throughout her career.

And so, she made her debut into the internet marketing world; and all we can say is that she sure made an impressive entrance! She once again found the courage to keep moving forward and has not stopped since.

Speaking of courage, Donna emphasizes the vital role of the mentors, teachers, and advisors that she had along the way to help her push through those moments. She has taken perspectives, thoughts, phrases, and little bits of genius from those around her, and essentially allows herself to be influenced and inspired by it all.

It’s clear that it’s important to her to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk. Being the person that you want to be. She confirms this by stating that she does not make fear her focus and she does not fear failure; She is not afraid to fall flat on her face in the pursuit of doing the things that will allow her to become the person she wants to be.

So, as an extension of her own practice, her advice is to always look out for teachable moments and listen to everyone. And when it comes to pursuing your wildest goals, don’t focus on the inevitable fear. Focus on cultivating courageousness instead and proceed in the face of fear, so that you don’t give up on your dream.

Donna, what did you do this morning to set yourself up for the day?

I started my day with some quiet learning, something I usually do. I’ll either spend some time reading or listening to a podcast, today it was a podcast, just getting my brain functioning for the day! Then I was out the door by 6:45 a.m.

Where did you head off to at that time of the morning?

I have two dogs, so I went for a 2-3 mile walk with them. It’s something that I do every day too.

You really get off to an early start! What time did you make your way to your desk?

Well, today is a typical day. But Groove is an international company, so there are a couple of times a month when I find myself in a 5/6 a.m. meeting, bleary-eyed but eager to contribute. But today I was at my desk at around 8 a.m.

What’s your one-sentence job description?

My “one sentence job description” as CMO is: to realize our founders’ vision and goals, by strategizing and managing the creation, implementation, testing and improvement of our marketing efforts.

However, I’m the head of a team. So the highest and best use of my time is to help my team members do their jobs better, and that’s my biggest focus.

How does that reflect in your day-to-day tasks?

The first thing I do is check in with team members to break through any blockers, and I review and give feedback on all written copy and visual assets (my team includes employees, contractors, outsourced members around the world, and outside companies and agencies).

Then, my day is a mixture of meetings to further projects, promotions or development, and completing tasks. By late afternoon, I’ve reviewed and made suggested changes for advertising, affiliate marketing… and everything marketing-related, really.

As a c-suite executive, can you speak to your experience in managing a remote workforce and leadership? What does it truly take?

Leading a remote team definitely has some unique elements that you don’t encounter with an in-office team… but also some real benefits. Here are a couple of tips based off of my experience managing a fully remote team for the last 8 years:

1. Use emojis

I find that an emphasis on clear communication serves you well in both environments, but is even more important with remote work. When I poke my head into your office and smile and say, “Can you get me those reports before noon?”, you can immediately see by my smile and tone that I’m friendly and open.

When I just type in a Skype message the same words, it can sound short and unfriendly. A smile goes a long way to convey feelings and intent – and the only good way to replace that in print is the liberal use of emojis. :)

Now, I know a lot of executives that don’t use emojis because they are perceived to be unprofessional and childish. But I’d rather look a little unprofessional and have my tone and intention clearly and effectively communicated.

2. Get in front of the camera

Now that we’re all working from home, it’s easy to let the days go by without showering and dressing for work. Committing to having at least one day a week where you get on camera with your staff so that they can see your face and sincerity. We naturally learn about people from quality face to face time… even more so with remote working.

We’ve had a couple company zoom parties as well to create that sense of connection.  We’re an international company, so sometimes it’s an AM coffee or a middle-of-the-night convo with our team members… but it’s good to get together in a social way and see some faces to place with the names of your coworkers.

3. Shift your expectations

Long before lockdowns, most remote companies already learned that you have to measure remote employees’ measurements and contribution to the company differently.

When working with an in-office team, we can simply look and see if someone is at their desk when they should be. But the only way we can judge performance remotely is based off of competing projects, not time.

This means that sometimes team members won’t have much to do, but other times we’ll need a page switched out in the middle of the night, or a replay email to go out on the weekend… and when you aren’t counting hours but results, you find that it’s a lot easier for your team to be happy about working when it’s busy and okay with taking it easy when it’s not.

4. Realize that remote working isn’t for everyone

That goes for both management and workers. Some people don’t do well in a self-directed environment.

Some home environments challenge the effectiveness of working remotely (i.e. lots of small children, or homes in noisy areas, terrible internet access). This impacts their ability to perform effectively.

If you had to hire your replacement, what is essential for success in your role?

The ability to juggle ideas and projects, while keeping a clear view on priorities. When you work with an entrepreneurial company there is no shortage of good ideas. In fact, good ideas are sometimes a burden, because of the time it takes to evaluate, implement, measure, track, and improve.

Any great CMO knows how to handle the constant flow of great ideas from the company visionary (owner or CEO) and determine which of these new idea-distractions are worth putting into action – and when.

Is there anything about your job that people are surprised to hear?

People are often surprised to learn just how much involvement I have in the software development process. It was true when I was head of marketing for Kartra, and even more true now in my role with Groove.

I consider myself the #1 user of the software. No one puts it through as much rigorous real-use testing than me and the incredible marketing team over at Groove. We’re in there every day building pages, memberships, products, etc. All day long, we make suggestions for improvements in feature sets, report bugs… and most importantly, give feedback on the clarity of features and the user interface.

I really love this part of my job – I get to create software that’s a dream for marketers to use. How many CMOs get to say that? :)

What advice can you give to women in senior management, particularly in tech, when it comes to career advancement?

I often remind myself that the year I was born was the first year that women could get credit cards in their own name, without their husband or father as a co-signer. In my lifetime! That’s just crazy to me.

To borrow some great marketing: “We’ve come a long way, baby.”

But we still have a long way to go.

When I got started in online marketing, there were very few women around, and few role models. That’s changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Now we’re seeing roughly equal numbers of male and female tech customers and rising stars in our communities.

However, we haven’t learned how to communicate or navigate through this new environment. It comes to the surface in three major areas: mansplaining, sexual insensitivity, and exclusion.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve perceived that my coworkers are “mansplaining” something to me. I sometimes struggle with feeling that other team members are being condescending when this happens… which (I hope) isn’t their intention. I am in this role because I have a high level of knowledge of software and technology, and that isn’t always recognized.

I suppose it’s a sign of my generation that sexual insensitivity is not really an “issue” for me… meaning I’ve developed a tolerance to it. I am so used to subversive comments like “you’re the smartest woman I know” (why not just say the smartest person?) or comments about how I have both beauty and brains (when my attractiveness shouldn’t even enter the conversation). These are things that don’t bother me because they have always been a part of my life – but maybe they should?  I have a lot to learn from the next generation of women.

Finally, exclusion – and this is where I think Groove does it better than most. When thinking about things like the role of women in tech (or any marginalized group), the first step toward effecting change is just to get a seat at the table where conversations about these topics should be happening.

It’s the very definition of “white male privilege” to opt out of difficult conversations. They can decide “I’m not going to talk about gender (or race, or sexual preference, or whatever) today”… they have the luxury of NOT having to think about it.

I can’t NOT be a woman. I can’t stop thinking about my life through that filter and all that it brings to the table. The same can be said about any “label” that you might apply to a person – but most especially to those marginalized labels.

Thank you for your time, Donna. It’s been great getting this insight into your role at Groove and your perspective on representation.

Groove (and our three majority partners) have taken special consideration to make sure there is representation among the leadership of the company in all areas. I’m so proud to be part of such a diverse and open group of people, and I am honored to use my seat at the table to make sure we talk openly and honestly about these issues.

Oh, one more thing when it comes to advice for women executives. It’s ok to cry.  :)

(If you haven’t heard, we’ve launched a groovy magazine – aptly named Groove Magazine – that brings you original, informative content much like these interviews, right to your mailbox each month. Subscribe here.)