Career Journey with Marketing Leaders – Episode 4 with Leela Srinivasan

Welcome to the fourth edition of ‘Career Journey with Marketing Leaders’, where we sit down with CMOs and Senior Marketing Leaders from the CMO & Marketing Director Forum.


Each publication will ask them five questions about their career journey to date, greatest campaign, biggest failure, challenges facing CMOs and the advantages they hope to take in 2023.


I’m delighted to welcome our next guest Leela Srinivasan who’s been fortunate to learn from and contribute to the amazing cultures at organizations like Bain and Company, LinkedIn, Lever, OpenTable, and Momentive. Most recently, Leela has been CMO at



Alex Marriner: Tell us a little about your marketing career and your journey so far.



Leela Srinivasan: I’m a three-time CMO who fell into Marketing after two other careers. My first real career was in Sales, where I “carried a bag” as an account executive before being promoted into a sales leadership role.


I then invested two years getting my full-time MBA at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (which earned me the best ROI of anything I’ve ever done) before launching my second career in management consulting at Bain and Company.


I liked a lot about Bain, but when I got married and had my first child, I wasn’t sure the lifestyle and the unpredictability of case-based work would be compatible with raising a family. So with the encouragement of a former Bain colleague, I threw my hat in the ring for a marketing role at a 500-person startup he had recently joined. The year was 2010, and the company was LinkedIn.


I was the third marketer to join LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions division – talk about dumb luck! While I was there, LTS (as it became known) was the fastest-growing and soon the most significant portion of LinkedIn’s business. I joined product marketing, which was the best application of my quantitative and qualitative management consulting skills.


I was exposed to and responsible for multiple aspects of marketing during my four and a half years there – from running customer advisory councils to overseeing the blog, content marketing and organic social, to leading a bunch of pricing and packaging work, to helping launch and ultimately owning Talent Connect, LinkedIn’s mega-conference for the recruiting industry, to beta testing early versions of sponsored content on LinkedIn. I also learned a lot about how to be a people leader there, sometimes the hard way.


I loved LinkedIn and had little intention of leaving. Still, in 2014 I accepted a VP position at OpenTable when their then-SVP Marketing convinced me that the experiences I’d amassed at LinkedIn would have a far greater impact at a smaller company. It was honestly thrilling to go to an 800-person company (LinkedIn was 6500 by then), have recurring 1:1s with the CEO, and see my fingerprints on overall company strategy.


I built out the restaurant marketing team and the product marketing org. I worked with some wonderful people at OT, but the Priceline Group (now Booking) acquired the company, which altered the nature of the opportunity a little… so I was lured to my next gig and my first CMO role.


From my LinkedIn days, I still carried a torch for the recruiting world, which made recruiting software company Lever a logical and inspiring next step for me. I spent two and a half years there on the journey from series A to series C.


Lever was only 40 employees when I joined – quite a bit smaller than my prior companies – and in joining, I doubled the Marketing org to two people. We were a relatively unknown, scrappy underdog in a highly fragmented and noisy industry. Still, we were distinctive in our design-driven approach to building intuitive products, which helped us build an ardent following and ratchet up positive word of mouth.


Working at an earlier stage company was hard graft, but my work there was among my most rewarding. I left having helped put Lever on the map and having gained exposure to what it means to be on a senior management team – through highs and lows.


Once again, I was recruited away, this time by SurveyMonkey. Realizing I might be the right CMO for SurveyMonkey was a surreal career moment. I’d been using SurveyMonkey as a consultant and product marketer for many years. When they reached out, I initially thought I needed to be a better marketer for them, given their self-serve focus (my marketing experience had mainly been B2B to date, and I labelled them as ‘consumer’).


On further digging, I learned that they were looking for someone to lead the charge to Enterprise – and that was something I felt I could do. So I joined the company in 2018 and spent 3.5 incredible years there. I did a lot of growing up in the role – as a marketer and as a leader. I was part of the leadership team that steered the company through an IPO, two acquisitions, the formation of a vision and mission, and a global pandemic.


I also grew and led the team that rebranded the company as Momentive while continuing to market the flagship self-serve product as SurveyMonkey. (That’s a long story for another day.)


I would have stayed longer at Momentive, which had an incredible culture and was one of the most special teams I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of. But convinced me to embark on my most recent career chapter and third CMO stint.


Many things attracted me to the opportunity, which I could summarize as leveraging existing skills (building and maturing a global marketing organization, creating a company mission statement, hiring the right leaders, and developing enterprise marketing muscle) while building new ones (principally, joining a UK-headquartered company while living in the US and getting up to speed on the complex world of payments from scratch). When you layer in the macroeconomic conditions of the last year, it’s certainly been an eventful chapter, but one I’ll always be glad I experienced.



AM: Tell us about a campaign that you’re proud of.



LS: Momentive’s mission is to power the curious so they can shape what’s next. Curiosity is a hallmark of the culture and the brand. When the company IPO’d as SurveyMonkey on Nasdaq in 2018, we needed an attention-grabbing campaign to match the occasion.


So we worked with four curious sporting and business icons (Serena Williams, Arianna Huffington, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner) to develop short bespoke surveys on topics that were tied to their personal platforms. For example, Serena’s survey delved into how working parents felt about their sacrifices, while Jeff Weiner explored whether people thought they had a path to their dream job.


The surveys were circulated to our database of millions of users and accessible via QR codes on out-of-home advertising. We also lit up Times Square for the occasion and had a physical activation on the ground, so passers-by could take the surveys in kiosks.


We received tens of thousands of survey responses, yielding significant data to leverage in subsequent content marketing and get people talking. This campaign sticks out because it tapped into SurveyMonkey’s superpowers and aligned well with our influencers’ respective platforms.




AM: What are the key challenges facing CMOs in 2023?



LS: All around me, I see CMOs facing a crisis of confidence. Executives in every function are being challenged to navigate ‘the year of efficiency’, and Marketing budgets and teams have already been reined in to mirror the zeitgeist.


Even when times are good, marketers can face an uphill battle in justifying ‘non-performance marketing’ – which we all know is a mischaracterization because smart awareness-building and top-of-funnel investment ultimately help drive better performance.


Hence, it’s frustrating and counter-productive to make deep cuts in brand and PR. CMOs today need to find a way to conserve some resources, any resources, to keep that top-of-funnel dream alive.




AM: What are the most significant opportunities you hope to take advantage of this year?



LS: The best marketing work of my career – across every organization I’ve marketed at, from series A through post-IPO – has been customer-centric. At LinkedIn, we aimed to ‘celebrate and elevate’ the accomplishments of our clients, and that’s a mantra I’ve stuck to at every company since then.


There is nothing more compelling to a prospect or customer than seeing another company executive they can relate to or aspire to be, scoring success with your solutions. Most recently, at, we’ve successfully elevated our partnerships with Sainsbury’s and GE Healthcare – two venerable enterprise clients furthering their strategies by working with Checkout.


Having launched our first customer advisory council last year, we see the opportunity to double down on customer relationships and build out community virtually and in person. I hope that for Checkout, 2023 is the year of the customer.




AM: What has been your biggest marketing failure? And what were the key learnings you gained from that experience?



LS: There are so many ways I could answer this question! Rather than pick a specific failed campaign, let me share two observations from my career.


One, marketers often need to improve at marketing their accomplishments internally. Part of your role as CMO is to champion your team by shining a light on their work. Whether campaigns succeed or fail, there are lessons learned every time, and it’s essential to socialize what you’re learning as a team while lifting those who are testing and learning on the front lines. One of our values at Lever was ‘know why’, and as a leader, you can play a role by encouraging the team to conduct retrospectives and share what they’re learning from their work, both positive and negative.


Two, sitting on reams of data isn’t enough: the question is what you do with it. I’ve worked at several marketplace/ platform businesses where vast data sets underpinned the product and could theoretically enable us to segment users in valuable ways. At some companies, these data sets were incredibly well structured, which made them a goldmine for marketers, leading us to be able to target whoever we wanted on our platform – which certainly beats paying others huge sums for targeting.


At other companies, the data was elusive – we hadn’t asked the right questions over the years, maintained the data, or structured the data to make it useful. You have to begin with the end in mind. How might you want to segment your customers? What questions should you ask them during onboarding and as you progressively expand their profiles over the months and years? How can you deliver value for your users based on what you know about them? It pays to ponder these questions upfront.




Alex Marriner is the Director & Leadership Search Consultant at Acquire Digital Talent. 


Acquire Digital Talent is a people-first Leadership Search Firm that exclusively partners with Technology companies and Consumer brands to build Digital & Growth Marketing Leadership teams. Our expertise and reputation ensure successful delivery across niche, critical and executive appointments from Seed to Series A and beyond.