Women in Business Q&A: Lisa Pearson, CMO, Bazaarvoice

Lisa Pearson is the CMO of Bazaarvoice, a technology platform that captures and shares authentic consumer opinions online about the brands they buy.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
At age ten, I wrote a letter to the restaurant critic of the Times Picayune complaining he'd skipped my favorite red beans and rice joint in his roundup of best New Orleans dishes. He didn't write back. There was no retraction issued, no triumphant moment validating a little kid but it started a lifetime of offering unsolicited opinions.

I've always scribbled the names of bakeries, baristas and babysitters onto lipstick-stained receipts and passed them out at parties and on playgrounds. My mom claims the first sentence out of my mouth was "you will love..." and I've been saying it ever since. I have always been passionate about the power of word of mouth, even before word of mouth was a "thing." Everything I've done professionally has been connected to the belief of third party, peer to peer influence. While I love advertising and other forms of direct marketing, I believe that there's no more effective way of influencing consumers than authentic word of mouth.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Bazaarvoice?
I spent close to 20 years on the agency side, which is great training ground for many career paths. At agencies you live and die by the results you generate for your clients and the value they perceive you to add. So I learned a deep appreciation for being able to deliver and communicate ROI. Agencies require you to be very 'in the now' in terms of results and this has led to a lifelong belief that if there's something I can do to better benefit a customer, I feel real urgency to implement it right away. The best CMOs I know are ROI-driven, insatiably curious and passionate about delivering exceptional customer experiences. These are behaviors I learned early in my agency career and they have served me well in my tenure at Bazaarvoice. I am currently leading the company's charter to deliver customer-centric innovation. This is super exciting, as it has me spending lots of time with our very smart clients getting a better understanding of how to meet their needs and then communicating that back to product management so we can innovate alongside them.

I also learned early in my career the importance of collaboration and the ability to work effectively with multiple stakeholders. I had a great boss who drilled into my head the idea that you should always look for a scenario where everyone can win. To be clear, that doesn't mean diluting the end result. It means understanding the motivation behind each person's needs. If you listen carefully and assume no negative intent, you can usually find a solution; a way for everyone to get part of their needs met - effectively everyone can win. In a fast growth industry, at a senior level, the ability to work effectively with your peers is one of the most critical skills an executive can have.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Bazaarvoice?
Like all companies, we've had our challenges including leadership changes. The biggest challenge is the business environment. Our buyer is typically a senior marketing executive. And that's a tough role right now. Many marketers work for companies that are still slow to embrace the voice of the customer. They continue to push their own messages through a traditional marketing playbook that, quite frankly, is outdated and doesn't account for the fact that the social web has shifted the balance of power to consumers who are the ones defining the brands they buy.

I am so proud of the leadership stance Bazaarvoice has taken around authenticity. Knowing that 70% of consumers won't make a purchase without reading online reviews, it's essential that this content be authentic and trustworthy. We take this issue really seriously and we implemented an Authenticity Policy for all of our customers. The policy guarantees that the content being viewed is free from fraud or spam; is unedited or altered and is transparent. We recently launched the Bazaarvoice Trust Mark, a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" type badge that signals to consumers that the review content they see is safeguarded - by a neutral 3rd party - with sophisticated fraud detection technology and industry-leading best practices.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in online marketing?
Do it because you are passionate about digital. I think it's the most exciting space to be in and there are endless opportunities for great careers in digital. If you're passionate about the space, you will naturally be curious. Experiment with new technologies. Try out apps that seem silly to you. Build a digital brand for yourself that is about engaging with others. Ask a lot of questions. Monitor campaigns that you think are interesting. The space changes so quickly that the most effective practitioners are the ones who are most current and the most passionate. If you're not actively engaging in digital, you won't be a credible candidate, in my mind. For those already in digital careers, I encourage you to take some risks. You're not going to break the internet and unlike other mediums, digital can be a low risk forum to test and learn.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't. Setting balance as a goal is a surefire path to failure. It's impossible to be a brilliant executive, mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter all at the same time. As I've gotten older, I've learned a few things that help me have more time for the things that matter. I'm really aware of time vampires. They can be people; who soak up my energy and are too negative. The older I get the less willing I am to spend time with people with people I find draining. My social life is a lot narrower than it used to be but it is of great quality. I have an amazing husband and a tight knit group of friends that I love being with. Time vampires might also be things that take a long time but provide little value. I'm lucky enough to be able to outsource a lot of our household chores. For me, grocery shopping is fun, cooking is delightful and laundry is tedious. As the time vampire in my equation, laundry had to go. I found a workaround, so that I can spend some of my 'domestic' time trying out new recipes and making healthy meals for my family.

I talk very openly about work with my kids. It's not a black box or mysterious place where mommy goes every day. They are 8 and 10 and it's important for them to understand what it means to go off to work each day. I'm curious about their days and they're curious about mine. They are happy and proud when I come home excited about a work accomplishment. And they have seen me cry or cuss when I've been disappointed about something that happened in the workplace. I don't belabor the details, but I use work challenges as a way to coach them through their own issues in the classroom.

Lastly, I take vacation. Real vacation where I read books all day and eat ice cream for breakfast and don't go anywhere near a computer. It's taken me a long time to get comfortable doing this, but I realize it's really important. My family needs to see that I put time with them first. And I need to slow down my brain from the adrenaline rush that work provides. I always come back refreshed and with more clarity. And I'm pretty sure my team loves a break from me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest issue is one that effects both men and women and it's that there aren't enough women leaders in business. Period. This is an issue in almost every industry, but particularly acute in technology. It's a time proven fact that companies are more successful with gender-diverse leadership teams. Women need to see that there's a path to success with women in top roles and they need exposure to women executives they can learn from/model themselves after. More women leaders leads to more women leaders.

I'm excited to be a part of a grass roots effort within Bazaarvoice to create a group called B@BV to help women achieve life-long success. Creating an environment for women leaders to flourish is a priority for both our CEO and chairman of our board. This kind of effort requires top-down commitment, and I'm glad that we are having open, candid conversations across the company about this critical issue.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have never had someone that I have pedigreed as a "mentor" but I have had dozens of amazing people who have helped grow, connected me into new opportunities, called me on my own BS and given me blunt feedback on how I need to be better, boosted my confidence when I needed it and pushed me to stretch.

There's a great kids' book called, "Are You My Mother?" where a newly hatched bird roams around asking a dog, a kitten, a cow, and a hen, "Are you my mother?" I feel like this is the approach I often see young women use around mentorship. They want to check the mentor box and haven't really thought through what they want to get out of the relationship.

Asking someone to be a mentor can put a lot of pressure on a relationship that could just evolve organically. I have never asked someone to mentor me, but I have, for many years, kept in close contact with people I admire and called on them for advice about specific issues. I have never had a circumstance where one of those people has been unwilling to talk to me or share their perspective.

And I've adhered to some good rules of thumb in return. I try to be clear and transparent about what I am hoping to get from them. I meet them where they are. Literally but also in the medium of their choice. An executive with a rigorous travel schedule may not have the time to meet in person, but might easily be able to chat by phone from an airport. Rather than make the ubiquitous ask for lunch or coffee, try to find out what works best for them. I also always follow back up and let them know what happened if I've asked for their advice around a specific issue. I always say thank you. I try to offer some form of value in return for their time. It might be forwarding them an article that's of interest or helping their kid find a summer internship. Whatever it is, the best professional relationships are never one sided.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I greatly admire all working moms, whether they are in a boardroom or their work is in the home. Parenting is a tough job and it's one where the rewards are recognized over the very long haul - raising independent, confident adults. Work is often about the short term adrenaline rush of an immediate accomplishment - a great meeting, a new account, a company award, a promotion - and it can become easy to focus more on the short term at the expense of the long term.

I admire women who are honest about these challenges whether they are big names like Indra Nooyi or Sheryl Sandberg; bold voices in the industry like Marisa Thalberg of Estee Lauder and founder of Executive Moms; mom bloggers or my neighbors in Austin. Women who are honest about their challenges and fears are heroes (heroines) to me.

What do you want Bazaarvoice to accomplish in the next year?
I want us to continue to have a major role in creating better and easier shopping experiences for consumers; to innovate with our most progressive customers; and lead the charge around authentic word of mouth.