Behind B2B #17: Sakina Najmi

  • July 26, 2022
  • Reading time: 4 min

For the 17th instalment of Behind B2B, we’re speaking to Sakina Najmi, Vice President of Marketing at Tractable.


Throughout her impressive career, Sakina has played an instrumental role in driving the growth of various B2B businesses, including the likes of Sandvik and Criteo. And she hasn’t only powered results – she’s racked up an impressive number of industry accolades. We sat down with Sakina to hear how her grit and determination took her from aspiring pilot in Pakistan to global marketing leader.

Sakina, you’ve had such an impressive career and won some amazing awards, including being named a top 100 B2B marketing leader in tech. How did you end up in this world?

I’m Pakistani – born and brought up in Pakistan. And in Pakistan, at that time, women had very limited freedom. But I wanted to break the rules. I wanted to be the first woman pilot in Pakistan. I used to cut out all the pictures of aeroplanes and make a scrapbook and hide it under my bed. 

Flying an aeroplane was an impossible dream; I couldn’t share it with my family, my siblings, my parents – because I knew they would laugh at me. Girls in my culture were daughters, sisters, mothers or wives. Nobody had a career. And it was highly discouraged to even study beyond the equivalent to A-levels in the UK. 

My dad agreed I should continue studying, but even he said: after you finish your studies, you need to get married and settle down. So my dream to become a pilot went away when I got married. Fortunately, the man I married encouraged me to continue pursuing my career. And so, after attending university in the US, I got married and moved to the UK and started looking for a role in marketing. That’s what my degree was in.

When I came to the UK and started looking for a job. I already had a little baby, so it was hard to find a role that would give me the flexibility I needed. Because in those days, there were no zoom calls or hybrid models. I worked from home one day a week in 2006/2007, using a “phablet”. I always say that if we didn’t have phablets, I wouldn’t have a career! I’ve attended board meetings sitting by the pool where my daughter was taking swimming classes.

I’ve tried my best to create a balance between raising the kids and thriving in my profession. It wasn’t easy, but here I am. 

You clearly have huge grit and tenacity – where do you think that comes from?

I’ve always been someone who doesn’t go with the flow. Break the rules, try new things. I try and talk about it, especially during International Women’s Day – I speak to Pakistani girls about breaking the rules, going with your heart, chasing what you want to do, and then doing what you have to do to get there. 

It’s been quite an intense journey. It’s hard enough to bring up a family, let alone have a career and a team, and everything that comes with that. But to be honest, I think the strength comes from within. When you have passion and purpose, you just get this extra strength from the universe.

That passion and purpose is evident throughout your career. Could you share your biggest achievement from a marketing perspective?

For me, my biggest achievements have been growth based. Marketing is ultimately a revenue generation function, right? B2B tech marketers are responsible for the growth of the company. You can have a beautiful campaign, but if it didn’t deliver against revenue targets, it wasn’t successful. 

I’ve seen a lot of success from events; I’ll give you an example from the last year. Post-COVID, marketers were really grappling with whether we should continue digital marketing, or go entirely offline and create events again for customers. And I thought, let’s test it. We planned a small, closed-door event for April, starting with a target of 35 customers attending. People would come, be inspired, and then we’d build on it. 

On the day of the event, we had 200 customers, including top insurers from across the globe. We gave everyone a sneak peek of our new brand. And we had David Coulthard, the former racing driver, doing a demo of our product. Then, two weeks later, we launched the brand, in full. 

But we didn’t stop there. We created lots of content – demo videos, product upgrades, and all our digital demand gen pieces – so now, we’re feasting off of that content, targeting individuals with the right content, at the right time. We can leverage that for the rest of the year. The board are thrilled – and that’s the sort of marketing I love to do. It puts marketing at the forefront of the growth of the company. 

We ended up actually generating multiple times our revenue targets. The way it works is: if you have a revenue target of $10, you need to generate a pipeline of $30. I had our revenue target set at three times the revenue pipeline, but we actually generated six or seven times the target revenue, which was amazing.

This could be a difficult question for someone that views success through a results lens, but what’s your favourite marketing campaign of all time?

It’s an old one, but Mastercard’s 1997 ‘Priceless’ campaign. I love that campaign. 

Mastercard’s business at that time was in decline. They had a perception problem and the brand itself was a mess. Lawrence Flanagan joined Mastercard in 1996 as vice-president of advertising. He and the CMO, Nick Utton began a search for an agency to come up with a campaign that they could push long-term. They saw 35 ideas from five agencies until McCann ‘nailed it’ with the Priceless line. 

Mastercard liked it so much that they went ahead with McCann’s first idea – the father and the son attending a baseball game. Funnily enough, they actually tested it with audiences, and a campaign from another agency performed better But the CMO decided to stick with it, which is a great example of marketers trusting their intuition. 

After that, Mastercard saw a huge jump in awareness and impact on the business. The campaign was such a hit in the US that they adapted it locally for domestic markets. I think that was one of the first times that they were running advertising in all markets. It lifted the business because Mastercard started gaining share again at the back of this particular campaign, and it went on for a very long time.

Final question: we’ve spoken about what good looks like, but what’s one thing you would stop B2B marketers from doing? 

What’s non-negotiable for my team is that you cannot use tired visuals. You know, the ones that have become the default for marketing teams. Two hands shaking, or chess pieces, or a light bulb… That’s a big no for me. Fortunately, for the most part, I think B2B marketing has gone a long way from there now. 

Did you catch our last instalment of Behind B2B? Read our chat with comms expert Addy Fredericks here.

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