Stephanie Cox: Welcome to REAL MARKETERS, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards, and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. Netflix. If you're anything like me you've spent way too many hours binge watching various shows on Netflix then you would honestly care to admit. And we've all done it, but what most of us don't realize is that every single time we spend countless hours consuming Netflix, we're actively choosing to consume that type of content versus reading a book, educating ourselves about our industry, et cetera. This means as marketers, our primary competition for our consumers' attention are things like Netflix, TikTok, Instagram. And I don't know about you, but I sure as hell don't have the type of budget that Netflix does. Yet here I am competing with them for someone to pay attention to my content. That's why we really need to think differently about the content we create, how we share it, and so much more. And that's exactly what I'm talking about with today's guest. JoAnn Martin is the VP of marketing at Searchspring. She has more than 10 years of experience and previously held marketing roles at Hanzo, Provenir, Facile Studios and more. We're talking about what it's like to be a marketing leader during multiple acquisitions, how you should think about content marketing, how fast you should act when you take on a new job, and so much more. Thanks for coming on the show Joanna.
JoAnn Martin: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Stephanie Cox: What's the one thing that most people are surprised to find out about you or they don't know about you?
JoAnn Martin: That is a tough one because I am a pretty open book. One thing that most people in my professional world don't know about me is I grew up homeschooled. So I was homeschooled my entire school career, aside from one year where I went to high school to play sports. But most people are pretty shocked to find that out. Sometimes I take that as a compliment, because home schoolers tend to have the stereotype of being a little socially awkward. I do live up to that to a certain degree, but it's a surprise for most people to find out that I have never actually went to real school growing up.
Stephanie Cox: Yeah. I wouldn't have guessed that having known you either. Did you find when you went to college, that was like a different transition for you because you hadn't been around a traditional school model before?
No, it was... Part of my college I did virtually, so I just on the awkward introvert scene through most of my high school. But no, I was lucky in that my homeschool background was very socially active. I played a lot of sports growing up. I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. I always did theater and music and art. And so I had that social environment around me that made transitioning into, air quotes," the real world," a little bit more seamless. I know a lot of homeschoolers didn't have that opportunity to have a really rich social or extracurricular environment. So I was really grateful for that.
Stephanie Cox: Well, speaking of transitioning, one of the things that I know your company has been doing a lot of is acquisitions. And so you've been bringing on companies into Searchspring and making them part of that team. And I'd love to just talk more about what kind of challenge has that been for you as a marketing leader, as you think about really immersing another company into yours?
JoAnn Martin: That is a great question. And this year has been a year of intense learning for me in that regard. I had been on the flip side of acquisitions in the past, and I've been part of teams that are assimilated, assimilating or merging multiple teams together. But I think I underestimated the complexity that would come with bringing multiple teams, multiple technologies, multiple processes together into one cohesive unit. And of course this year being the year of the pandemic, even just compounded the complexity of all of that. One of the major things that I've learned in looking back at the year, I underestimated was when I think about growth, I do think about multiple ways you can grow a business. You can grow it organically, and you're doing a lot of organic ground work in marketing to build your install base, build awareness in the market, of course, build that pipeline for the sales team. But I didn't think about acquisitions as a strategic way to grow, in the sense that I didn't account for the operational cost or the operational activity that comes with that kind of growth. And so as a marketing leader, we love to, or at least I do... I am all about being really aggressive with the activity and the output and our demand gen team is going at 100 miles per hour constantly. But I didn't think about culture building or team building or team training when you're assimilating two companies together as that marketing cost of the growth that comes with an acquisition. So that's been a really interesting learning opportunity for me. There are a lot of things I would have done differently. There are a lot of things I would have doubled down on differently, but we do have really aggressive growth goals going forward, and we still are looking at more acquisition as a way to continue that growth trend. So hopefully I'll get to take a lot of the things I learned this year and continue implementing it next year in the future.
Stephanie Cox: So let's maybe start with, you mentioned you like to... Your demand gen team is always moving fast. How do you help them continue to move fast, but also realize at some point you have to maybe take a step back with an acquisition. How do you balance that approach?
JoAnn Martin: Yes, that is something I'm still learning. I tend to have 110 ideas per minute, and I recognize in myself that just always sharing ideas with my demand gen team isn't necessarily going to always produce the results that I think it's going to. And so while I can just say," Hey guys, we're going to... This is our pipeline goal. We're going a hundred miles per hour to hit that, and let me just throw all of these ideas at you constantly," I have to maintain a balance of knowing that one, I have an amazing team who is more than competent and can come up with their own ideas. And two, it's not always taking a step back to build culture or train the team. Sometimes it's taking the step back to let the execution time breathe. And that's the struggle for me. On the flip side in terms of the acquisitions, our first acquisition was acquiring a company that was very similar to Searchspring. In fact, basically head to head competitors in a lot of the deals that they were going after. And so bringing the team in was a pretty seamless transition in terms of knowledge. A lot of the market understanding, the understanding of the technology was pretty easy. The learning curve was slight. The second acquisition really enhanced the technology that we're able to offer, and so there's a steeper learning curve there. And so as a leader through that process, I found that some of it is just being very attentive to how much the team needs to be distracted early on. And that's a really hard balance to find, because the team wants to be involved in all of the knowledge upfront, all of the planning upfront, working out all the details of the acquisition and assimilating the technology and how we're going to take that to market. And I always want things to be very collaborative, but sometimes I have to realize that I'm not doing them favors by pulling them into everything really early. That sometimes we need to, as a leadership team or even our product team needs to do a lot of the deep dive before we get involved. That's hard for me cause I like to have my hands in everything.
Stephanie Cox: Oh, I'm the same way. You're preaching to the choir. I'm like,"But I want to know everything now."
JoAnn Martin: Yeah. I want to have it all ironed out. And I want to know the implication of every single thing that we're going to do, and I want to make sure that every implication is accounted for and the teams that impacts know what they're doing and what's going to happen. And that is just not how the SaaS world works. You have to go on 40% of all of the information and just run with it and test and see how things work.
Stephanie Cox: Yeah, that's why I call myself like a recovering perfectionist, because I used to be so focused on it. And now I'm just kind of like," Good enough." And this idea of like testing and trusting your gut and making decisions on a little information is really what marketing and I think SaaS especially is all about.
JoAnn Martin: And it's so hard. And I think the flip side of it being hard is, probably much like you it seems, I like trying new things constantly. And I forget that trying things requires iteration on the back end of that. You can't just start 500 things and then not go back and think, okay, what does success mean when we try these things? What is the period of time that a good trial requires? Am I giving the team enough information and time to really try that out? Or are we just constantly starting new things and calling it, trying new things, but not really following up on the back end.
Stephanie Cox: I think we've all at some point in our career, if we've moved fast, have been in that challenging situation. We're like," Let's go, let's go, let's go." And they were like... But what do we do if this is successful? How do we scale this? What are we trying to figure out here? The other thing you mentioned earlier, when you're talking about acquisitions, you learned a lot and you also know what you would do differently. And I think one of the things that I want to share with my audience is what are those things that you learned that you wish you would've done differently, and what would you double down on?
JoAnn Martin: Early on... I joined the company last fall, I'm coming up on one year with Searchspring. And so I was learning the company, learning the industry and learning the business as we're acquiring a new company and a new team and assimilating everyone together. So in a lot of ways, we were all in the same boat with learning. And I was very attentive to trying to get as much information as I could from the existing teams and really identify the opportunities in the market early on. And I think I erred toward learning for too long. And I always struggle with doubting myself and my own opinions and my own perspective. And so while it is good to take some time to learn the business and learn from the existing teams, I underestimated the fact that this was new for all of us, and I could have taken a more assertive leadership position in directing some new initiatives on the marketing team earlier. The second thing that I learned that I would have done differently and have implemented differently moving forward, are more strategic conversations with the rest of the leadership team. I am very lucky in that our executive team is highly competent and amazing to work with. And they're all really good at working cross- functionally to get at what might work or what won't work and how can work together to make the business better. We're constantly having growth meetings about how we improve marketing sales and customer success. But I would have taken almost a peer leadership role sooner in upleveling some conversations that were happening at a tactical level, and bringing it up to a leadership team level sooner and saying," Hey, how might this impact our install base, if we're thinking about education as a core pillar to what we do in marketing? Should I be thinking about that differently for our install base?" Because I'm new to this company and our customer success team has so much knowledge about that base, I should have pulled them in cross- functionally sooner. We're much better at that now, having worked together for a lot longer and understanding the business more, but I have to remind myself to go back to those things that I learned to not make the same mistake again. To just move as fast as I can without looping the right people in at the right time.
Stephanie Cox: One of the things that you just mentioned was talking about you wish you would have maybe done more taken more action sooner when you joined the team, but there's a lot of things going on. What do you think, or what would be your recommendation for how long a marketing leader that comes into a new organization should wait before they start implementing change?
JoAnn Martin: Yeah. I think it can depend on the organization and the existing people in the organization. So I will speak from my experience, and that experience being very unique in terms of me being new to the company while also merging two teams. So having other people in the marketing team who were very new to the company, I think it's always good to come in with an understanding that you want to take at least 90 days to understand the business and to really understand what the current team is doing. I had a significant team already in place, so I wasn't coming in and trying to build a marketing team from scratch. Someone doing that would require action immediately. And you want to come in prepared to build that team and know exactly where you're going with it. But I think it's good to take 90 days where you're not making any major structural changes. That being said, one of the things that I did when I first came in and I loved it and I would recommend other people doing it is using the advice of the existing team to take action. Most often, if you come in as a new leader, the existing team have this wishlist of things that they always wish they could do. New resources they wished they had, tools that they always felt lacking because they didn't have. In my first week at the company I interviewed everyone on the marketing team, and I asked a couple of questions. I asked," What do you think is working and you would like to keep doing? What do you think is a waste of time and wish you had stopped a long time ago? And what do you feel that you need?" And that gave me a list of things that I could put into place very quickly. One, because that team already knows what they need. There may be big organizational changes that need to happen over time or changes in how you're looking at investing in marketing that happen over time. But there are some really quick wins you can get if you just ask that your team, what they need. And some of those were things as small as we're sharing an Adobe creative cloud license, and it's been a pain in the ass for a long time, and no one ever thought to ask for another license. And it probably costs us like four hours a week. That's a very small change. But it's a change that speaks a lot to the pain that your team is feeling, and you just get really quick efficiency wins in that way. Another example was the graphic designer asked for a Pantone book and a new printer because the printer was terrible and they had a hard time matching our very unique indigo brand color when we were printing swag. And that was a really quick win. It's not going to move the pipeline needle drastically, but it's going to be a morale boost for the team, and it's going to solve some of that friction that they feel and give them a renewed boost. You asked specifically how long a leader should wait before implementing new initiatives. I don't think there's a set period of time. One of the things that I wished I had done sooner was bring on a writer specifically for SEO. That was something that I waited too long to do. And it's almost like the old proverb of like what's the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. What's the second best time? Now. SEO is very similar to that where I wished we would've just immediately brought on a resource, but done it with the buy- in of the team, as opposed to waiting too long to get that started. And I think that's something that wouldn't have disrupted the team. It would have actually given them or freed up the time for them to focus on other things we needed to focus on.
Stephanie Cox: It's interesting that you bring up SEO. So many marketers I talk to, especially in leadership roles, B2B SAS companies tend to fall in one of two sides of the fence. Either we hire an agency to do all of our SEO, or we bring in in house. And I feel like I find more people hiring an agency. Why did you feel so strongly that it was a good in- house need? And what's been your experience with that?
JoAnn Martin: So a lot of my background is in content marketing. So I'm biased towards that naturally. It's something because of how I came up in my career I have experienced the value of firsthand. In terms of whether you contract it or contract an agency or bring it in- house, I don't think there's a right way to do it. We have an amazing content marketer on our team and a digital marketer. And together, they make an amazing pair in terms of our content marketing strategy and our SEO strategy. And I would recommend anyone bring it in house. One, if you're contracting an agency, you're most often paying an FTE equivalent amount to an agency for the same work, there are some benefits. I am not anti agency. I actually working with agencies on certain things, but I don't think you can understate the value of that writer really understanding the business, really understanding your customers, and digging in on a daily basis to uncover new strategies and new themes you should be talking about. With an agency, it can very easily turn into deliverables, as opposed to having a content marketer who is, has a task to produce one customer story a month, who's been on the phone with customers, hearing about their needs, about their challenges, and then that sparks new ideas for new content beyond the case study. And so I would always bring content marketing in house, but we're actually now looking at supplementing it with a freelancer as we build up capacity for a second FTE on that.
Stephanie Cox: What would you say... You've talked about your background in content marketing. So what would you say if I'm a marketer, I'm taking on a marketing leadership role for the first time, I've been more of a manager or an individual contributor, what should I be focused on first with my content strategy overall? What would you recommend?
JoAnn Martin: I would say first focus on understanding your audience. That sounds like a cop- out answer, but I don't think you can underestimate it. There's a lot of content out there. The number of blogs and articles and podcasts and videos and everything in this whole spectrum of content marketing that it's no longer good enough just to create content. And it's no longer good enough to create content that checks the more tactical like SEO strategic messaging boxes. I think you have to create something that really resonates. And by resonates, I don't mean you put together a checklist that addresses the right tips and tricks. But you see a lot of companies now, and Gong has kind of become the poster child in terms of how they resonate with a sales team in an organization. That they've not only understood their buyer in terms of their needs, but they've also understood their buyer in terms of their personality, their entertainment requirements, their community needs, their need to feel heard and understood. And so for anyone coming in brand new and looking at a content marketing strategy, don't assume that writing a blog checks all the boxes. Your market may not give a sh*t about blogs at all. They may not read content, and you have to take the time to understand them in order to know that. They may actually spend all their time on TikTok. And because you had a bias toward content marketing and to you, that means blogs. You might waste all of your time writing. What would otherwise be great blogs to an audience that doesn't read. So first step, understand your audience. From there it will make it much easier to really then focus your content, both format and content in the right areas.
Stephanie Cox: Really great point because when you said TikTok, my first reaction would be, well why would I want to be on TikTok? But if that's where my audience is, I need to pay attention to that. I think sometimes marketers, especially as we continue to grow in our careers, we think about," Well, what channels am I on? What channels make the most sense or have I used before?" Not," Where do people want to consume content?" It's literally changing it feels like almost on daily basis.
Yeah. And I think, especially in B2B, it can be so easy to mistake your customer as being a business. And I'll tell my team. We have a list of competitors who we come up against in deals. But in terms of our content marketing, our biggest competitor is Netflix. And the reason being, we're competing for mind share with content, we're not competing with other people in our industry. And if I have to choose how I'm going to spend half an hour, and it's between watching Schitt's Creek on Netflix or reading your blog about like 10 things you should do to better merchandise your Shopify store. If your content isn't more compelling than how I want to spend my time on Netflix, then it's probably not going to be consumed. Because they work in businesses, but they're still people. And they still have to make decisions about where they get their information and their entertainment and how they use their time. And that's challenging because, I don't know about you guys, but we don't have a Netflix type budget to create entertaining content. So I think it really takes creativity at that point in terms of understanding where you can create little micro-content experiences so it fits within people's workday.
Stephanie Cox: Yeah. I don't have the Netflix budget or the Netflix connections. I can't get all these celebrities to do these special cameos for me or episodes either. It's interesting that you mentioned that though, because I think part of what every marketer is challenged with that sometimes we forget is how much noise there is. You were talking about like content has to be more compelling, the Netflix, but really everything needs to be, because there's a million messages that I see every day. And why is yours going to stand out? I find so many companies, especially when you scroll on LinkedIn, how many posts look just kind of the same. How do you think about standing out while also being true to your brand?
Yeah. For me, it is thinking about a person and finding gaps. So in a marketing strategy, we will always look at, of course, how we're positioning our company, what the landscape looks like, where the gaps and opportunities are, and then we're focused there. But I think that's sometimes lost in translation when it goes from business strategy into content marketing strategy. And it shouldn't be. And one of the things our media producer is Searchspring did an entire exercise kind of on positioning Searchspring media. What does the market look like? What does the landscape look like? And for the people we want to target, where are the gaps for them? And one of the things that we realized, I'll give away our secrets, I'm sure other people in our industry are listening to this. So you're welcome. It's free. But there's really no one out there creating content specifically for e-commerce merchandisers. And we're actually launching our podcast in the next couple of weeks, and it's the first podcast in English focused on e-commerce merchandising. And that's amazing for how many podcasts there are out there right now. But for us, it was saying we could go any number of routes in terms of where we focus on educating our market. But a lot of these routes are really crowded, and a lot of those formats or platforms are really crowded. And so in talking to our customers, in talking to merchandisers in our install base, we hear over and over again that," Hey, the marketers on our team, they have conferences every year. They have certifications. They can go get their Slack channels all over the place where they can connect with each other. There are 10 billion podcasts out there they can listen to, and YouTube channels, and there is nothing for merchandisers. And so if you guys made merchandisers the next marketers, then we're all in on that. And so for us, it was really identifying that gap that we could go after e-commerce teams as a whole, but the merchandisers are underserved. And so that's where we're focusing our content strategy.
Stephanie Cox: Which means that's where you're going to stand out too, because no one else is doing it.
JoAnn Martin: Yeah, exactly. And we'll be the first and everyone can come copy us, and we will still have been first and best. Hopefully.
Stephanie Cox: So one of the other things I know that we've touched on a little bit is culture, and how you bring those cultures of different companies together during acquisitions, but just overall, how do you think about culture? Whether or not it's a culture of your own team, the culture of a company, the culture of merge companies? What's your thought around the importance of culture and the role that marketing plays in that?
This is a topic that is so close to me because I don't ever want to work for a company that I don't enjoy working for. And that's a very privileged place to be, I realize. So I'm grateful for the fact that over my career I have worked with teams of people that I would choose to be around if I didn't get paid to be around them. But I think coming into leadership in a company, as marketers we have the unique ability and skillset to create culture in the sense that culture can be set by the internal communications in a company, the way that we choose to represent ourselves, and if a marketing team isn't willing to really embody the culture in the way that we market, it doesn't make other people feel comfortable with really living the culture internally either. There are always where you have to consider your market. And maybe if you're in a very conservative market, and let's say you're marketing to auditors, your culture internally might be a little different than your external marketing, but you still have to align that in some way. For me, the way that I think about building culture is I think first and foremost about setting the tone for the culture in the way that I communicate. And I'm not so egotistical to think that what I do matters to everyone, but I do realize the responsibility that I have as a leader in that. And if I'm willing to, one, admit my mistakes, that goes a long way on my team in terms of how my team's willing to admit mistakes. At Searchspring we actually have a Slack channel that we call the wall of failure, and it is open to the whole company. And it's where people, when they screw up, they'll go post about it. You're only allowed to post about yourself. So it's not a place to call other people out, but it is such a fun... It's one of my favorite channels because every day, multiple times a day, people are posting silly things they screwed up, and it is almost comedic it's so relatable. So things as small as," I set a meeting and forgot to invite everyone else that was supposed to be on a meeting." And you look into that and you're like," Oh, I've done that so many times." And then everyone reacts with crazy gifs and emojis, and it's a lot of fun and we all celebrate that failure. And then it can go up to like bigger failures about an engineering mistake that cost the roadmap a couple of weeks. But as a culture and as a team, the fact that we're able to talk about that very visibly, and it's not limited to where you are in the organization. Leadership is very active in that channel, and I admit things that I do wrong all the time. It then sets the tone. I do that in the same way that I communicate and show my personality very clearly, maybe to a fault. I'm not sure yet. But I like to have fun when I'm working. And I like to joke and I like to be kind of sarcastic and I like to make fun of other people. And that's fun for me. And I want to create a culture where people will feel like they can do that too. And I think it's even more important as we're remote to be able to do that very visibly in front of other people on the team.
Stephanie Cox: So, last question for you, what's the one thing you wish all marketers would start doing right now?
JoAnn Martin: I wish all marketers would start hiring people who are better than them. It's something that I have to challenge myself to think about. Not necessarily because I think I'm the standard in marketing and therefore in order to be the best, you have to be better than me. But when I think about building my team, I am constantly thinking about like, how can I find someone who's going to school me in the interview. That in that first hour that I'm talking to them, I learn more about their expertise than I've ever known in my marketing career. And I think a lot of marketers do think like that, but I think in terms of how you're going to move the needle in your company, it all starts with the way you build your team. And it's sometimes overlooked in the sense that we will be stressed to hire a person into a role, and we just want to fill that head count because we're taking on or our team's taking on the burden of that head count and you just want someone and you'll take a B player. I'm challenging myself to the standard of how can I hire someone that makes me feel uncomfortable with how little I know about marketing compared to what they know in their expertise?
Stephanie Cox: No, I think that's one thing that most marketing leaders struggle with. Especially when you are growing in your career and you're kind of the person that knows everything. And then getting to a point when you're a leader, you're a lot of times over areas that you maybe don't have as much experience in, and you need a rock star in it. But it feels weird to hire someone that's smarter than you.
JoAnn Martin: Yeah. And it's weird because... I've recently taken a step back and I'm trying to hear a lot of pitches. I'm learning a lot about new technologies and things that people are coming in and telling me about, I'm like," Where was this 10 years ago when we're doing content marketing?" It's basically automated now. And it blows my mind. And I started to feel so old when I am interviewing new people, but it's something I want on my team. And I have... One of the things that I do, to be honest, is I'm trying to find people in my network, they're in leadership roles, but they're better at me in a certain area. So my background's in content marketing, but a lot of it's inbound. And so I'm trying to learn more about more data- driven demand gen that I've previously known. And so I've tried to bring those other people in who have that background and are now in a leadership level to learn from them how they think about building out a team in that area that's a weakness for me.
Stephanie Cox: I do the same thing. I love to talk to people that have different backgrounds or experience, but have a similar role as me now because they bring just a different context to how they think about it or how they deal with it, which is so helpful for me as a leader.
JoAnn Martin: I was in a meeting... Actually I think you were in the happy hour the other day where a CMO was talking about attribution.
Stephanie Cox: Yes.
JoAnn Martin: And I have a lot of my career has worked for smaller, startup or growth stage tech companies, and hearing someone who works for a half a billion dollar company talk about marketing attribution. It's showed that thought process to me in a very different perspective. In terms of very familiar concepts, very familiar processes, but looking at it from a completely different stage of a company's growth was so interesting to me. And I had to step back and be like," Okay, we're not a half a billion dollar company. We don't have to be there yet, but how can I take that and then learn from it and improve how my team works?"
Stephanie Cox: Nope, same. I felt the same way. And I worked at billion dollar companies. I'm like," We weren't even doing this."
JoAnn Martin: Yeah. There's so much to learn out there. It's hard to pick and choose and what to implement at given any given time.
Stephanie Cox: When you think back to your last piece of content that your company has created, can you honestly say that someone would watch or consume that content rather than spend the same amount of time watching Netflix? Chances are that's probably not the case. And that's why we really need to take a step back and think about how we can make all aspects of our content strategy more creative and engaging. While we may not have the Netflix budget, and if you do kudos to you, but the rest of us don't, there are brands out there that are creating killer content without a huge budget that is garnering a ton of attention. And that's my challenge to you. Take some time to reflect on your content strategy, and then get out of the box, get the most creative minds in your company in a room together, or virtually since we all can't be together and brainstorm a completely outside the box content concept, and then create it, and launch it. And do it fast. See if you can start to cause people to consume your content over spending time on Netflix, even if it's just 15, 20 minutes. That's going to be a huge win for you, and you're going to start to see these incredible results. And then you need to come on the show and tell everyone about how you did it, because we'd all love to learn. So what are you waiting for? You've been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. And don't forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.