February 28, 2022

Don’t Give Clients What They Want: “That’s also the name of a convention for adults who dress as toddlers” – Podcast Episode #6


“Hey, the client writes the check, so just do whatever the client says.”

I’ve heard this argument many times in my marketing career.

But in this podcast episode we bring you a story for why you why you should sometimes (politely) say “no” to your clients. Listen in to hear stories filled with lessons from Liz Harr, Partner, Hinge. Lessons like – the most fatal blind spot lies in audience knowledge, and “just be.”

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Don’t Give Clients What They Want: “That’s also the name of a convention for adults who dress as toddlers” – Podcast Episode #6

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Don’t give clients whatever they ask for. The most fatal blind spot lies in audience knowledge.

These are a few of the lessons from the stories Liz Harr, Partner, Hinge, shared with me in Episode #6 of the How I Made It in Marketing podcast.

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Google Podcasts | Listen in Amazon Music

Some lessons from Harr that emerged in our discussion:

  • Don’t give clients whatever they ask for: When a tech client wanted to name its conference CapCon, Harr’s team did some competitive research and discovered that it was the name of an annual convention for age players – also known as adults who dress up like toddlers and tykes.
  • The most fatal blind spot lies in audience knowledge: Harr worked with a client whose website messaging centered on the fact that everyone on the team came from a Big Four accounting firm. While the messaging was designed to reassure prospects, Harr’s team interviewed executives from deals the firm lost and discovered this messaging communicated something else…A-team rates for basic administrative tasks.
  • Keep friends close and your enemies closer…because enemies can make great partners: When Harr owned a VAR (value added reseller), collaborating with and ultimately merging with a competitor ended up saving both companies during the financial collapse of 2008…and it all began by networking with one of their biggest competitors.

Harr also shared lessons she learned from the people she collaborated with in her career:

  • Junya Sugimoto of the Ministry of Education at Yao Shi Precinct in Osaka taught her to just be. Her first job right out of college was at the Japanese Ministry of Education. One day her boss sat her down for a heart-to-heart talk about how to make a bigger impact by bringing more of her real self to work – the part of her that enjoyed listening to people, making connections with them, and working as part of a team with the same goals.  

During our conversation, Harr had artwork behind her that she bought in Bhutan. It translates to “Just be.”

During our conversation, Harr had artwork behind her that she bought in Bhutan. It translates to “Just be.”
  • Shams Zaman, CFO, Technologist taught her the power that your own stories have to connect more effectively with others: Harr was asked to help run a side business, a car dealership. It didn’t work out, and she was fired. Her boss (Zaman) told her, “Sometimes, the worst moments in life are the launch pads for getting us to where we’re really meant to be.” She has used this story and moment of vulnerability to connect with people reporting to her throughout her career.
  • Lee Frederiksen, Managing Partner, Hinge taught her that our peers play a key role in our development as leaders and experts in our field: Frederiksen coached and advised her through business and personal crises when she ran a startup, and Harr went on to work with him at Hinge.

Articles (and a keynote video) mentioned in this episode:

The Marketer’s Blind Spot: 3 ways to overcome the marketer’s greatest obstacle to effective messaging

Customer-First Marketing: A conversation with Wharton, MarketingSherpa, and MECLABS Institute

Why You Should Thank Your Competitors


Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.

Daniel Burstein: Hey, the client writes the check, so the client makes this decision. Well, I heard this argument so many times in my marketing career. I hate it. But today we're going to bring you a story for why you shouldn't just give clients whatever they ask for.

What do you bring to the table? Our guest will also share other stories from what she's made in marketing with lessons like the most fatal blind spot lies in audience knowledge. So true. And keep your friends close and your enemies closer because enemies can make great partners. I love that.

She's also going to share stories from people she collaborated with where she learned the power that your own stories must connect with others. Perfect for this podcast, how our peers play a key role in our development as leaders in our field and last, perfect for our times right now, our COVID pandemic times. Sometimes you just, just be, just be. We're going to hear about that. Joining us today from Argus. Thanks for joining us. Liz Harr, a partner at Hinge. Thanks for joining us, Liz.

Liz Harr: Thanks so much. I'm happy to be here.

Daniel Burstein: All right, so I'm going to quickly look at some things I read on your LinkedIn that sounded fun. You got a Master of International affairs, International Finance and Economics from Columbia University. You own a software consulting firm. You are a children's book author. And now your firm's clients have included Deloitte, Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and many, many more. Tell us briefly, what are you doing right now in your current role?

Liz Harr: Well, it's kind of funny when I hear you talk about that, none of that seems connected to what I do in my current role as a as a partner at Hinge, you know, Hinge it's a marketing agency, marketing and branding, and there's lots of those out there. We really help professional services leaders totally overhaul their approach to marketing. And when I hear you talk about my background in economics and so on, you know, it doesn't seem so tied to it, but it has been a fun path to growing my own company and helping be part of growing that at Hinge.

Daniel Burstein: You know, if there's something I've learned in doing this podcast, the things we've made him in marketing through our career, sometimes when we're on that path, we don't see how they're connected, but later and reflection like all these things I bet, and that's what we're going to talk about today, how they fit together. They probably have made you the person you are today and made your company the company is today. So, it's going to be fun to learn how it kind of all. It's kind of like you put it all in a blender. You hit the button and you come out with Liz Harr today and Hinge today.

Liz Harr: Yeah, that's right, the stars align.

Daniel Burstein: Exactly. Well, let's look at what we can learn from some of the things you've made in marketing. I want to start with this. I love this. “Don't give clients whatever they ask for”. So, so how did you learn this lesson, Liz?

Liz Harr: Oh my gosh. Well, I have to say, first, you know, remember in the day. Back in the day when it was, the client is always right. And it's just not true anymore because clients, really, they're looking for that advisory. They don't have the sage wisdom that you know, they pay us marketers to bestow on them. So rarely is the client, right? And this really came true, came to full life form when I was working with a client at a team at Hinge that I was leading, was working with this client and they were in the Tech space. So, you know, standard I.T. services and really, they didn't know anything about marketing, and we were doing a bunch of stuff with them, including just teaching them how to really bring visibility to their firm. So, they had this idea. They wanted to do a conference. And of course, this is, you know, pre-COVID. When people had big conferences and big gatherings and they asked us for some help just kind of thinking through a name, first, and they got to have a name.

So, we went through our rigorous process, came up with some what we thought were great names, and they said, eh we don't really like those, but we came up with this one the other day. What do you think of this? So, they told us the name and, you know, seemed benign enough it was Cap Con something like that. And I don't know, I just had this intuition that we should look it up, and not because I thought anything in particular I just, you know, as a marketer, you always pressure test what a client thinks and what they bring to the table.

So, my team and I checked it out and we pulled up, you know, we saw, Oh, there's lots of Cap Cons out there. Wonder what this one is and clicked on it. And we saw images of my little pony. I don't know have you ever heard of that like a kid.

Daniel Burstein: I have two daughters I’m well aware, sparkle, sparkle, pony. I think.

Liz Harr: Yeah, OK. So, we saw these My Little Pony, we were like, that's weird. Cap Con, what's the connection to My Little Pony? And so we kept scrolling down the page that we had pulled up. And then we saw like some images of, of other like kind of like toys. Infant toys and like a rattle, and we were like. What is going on?

And then we kept scrolling down. And actually, this particular Cap Con was one of those conventions where people went to I don't really know how to say it

Daniel Burstein: We are all adults here Liz, we are all adults.

Liz Harr: OK, so it was like a convention of adults who dressed like babies, and I don't really know what else they did at the convention, but we just, you know, we were like, “Oh, shut the page down.” But that wasn't the worst part of it. We then had to relay this to our client.

So, we call the client and we said, look Becky, you cannot use this name. And why? You know, Hinge, tell me why? Well, Becky, click on, Go to this URL. Just click on it. And so she clicked on it, and we could tell when she saw My Little Pony because she said Hmm…And then we said, now keep Becky, keep scrolling down the page, and as she was scrolling, we could hear her different realizations. We could hear her go. Hmm. Hmm, Oh…. so then it clicked, yeah and then it clicked. So, without really having to articulate we showed her why they could not use that name.  So, we laugh about that to this day, and it was one of those funny things.

But honestly, clients really don't think about all the ways that they should pressure test their own ideas. And that's really what we can, you know, we can serve as their sounding boards. We don't want to say they're wrong without doing some of that due diligence, but I will say that nine times out of ten, some of the ideas they come up with need to be put through some rigorous pressure testing.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, and that's why they pay us to write. That's why they pay us, they pay us for expertise. So, you know, when I first got this application in and it was right around, we get hundreds of these and I'm so glad, you know, we got to sit down with Liz because she's got some great stories here.

You know, it was right around the time we were interviewing for an opening, and we were interviewing someone, you know, it's kind of more starting out as a digital marketing consultant, he gave this example of something where the client was clearly wrong. It was about a logo or something like that. And we're trying to get to the bottom of like, OK, well, trying to figure out how did he push back and how did he get it, you know, to where it needed to be? And he didn't.

He said, well, the client's paying the bills, so I just did what they told me even if it was wrong. And so, you know, the first kind of takeaway I had from that is well, that's not good. You know, they're paying us for our expertise and then it kind of, you know, I kind of had this realization listening to your story too, and this is why I really hope it's empowering for everyone listening.

Like at this point in my career, I'm pretty fortunate. I really don't have to work on things I don't want to. And usually when I'm involved in something, you know, my reputation comes before me, so they want to listen to me. But really, for anyone listening to this now who's earlier in their career or, you know, you're just out there scrapping, trying to make it as a marketing consultant, as an agency, as a vendor, it's, you know, it's hard to keep clients happy. It's hard to keep business and you have that feeling, you have that feeling of, wow, they're wrong, but I can't tell them they're writing a check, I just got to do what I got to do to keep this client. I mean, keep this thought in mind. Where you really are going to grow in your career, in your profession? Or where you are truly going to help that company is when you can in the right way, push back and bring your expertise to the table. And at the end of the day, Liz, you helped them from making a mistake. And probably everyone listening can do the same because remember, that's why they're paying you.

Liz Harr: Yeah. I just have to say, I mean, I see this on a daily basis. Clients do pay you to tell them when they're wrong and the second, the second the client feels like they have to drive. You've lost them. So, you don't want those clients. You don't want those bills paid that only is, you know, that's the opposite of building your reputation, a good reputation. So got to stay in the driver's seat, and the way to do it is to have the gravitas to tell them when they're wrong and how to get back on track.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, and they will respect you more for it's hard, it's a hard conversation, but yeah, it's our job, our expert communicators, right?

Liz Harr: That's right.

Daniel Burstein: All right. So, let's look at your next story. You say, “the most fatal blind spot lies in audience knowledge”, very tied to the first story you had because we really can't push back against our clients if we don't have audience knowledge. So, do you have an example of a client that kind of had this fatal blind spot about their audience knowledge.

Liz Harr: I mean, just like the first one, so many examples of this, but one that comes to mind is we're working with this consulting firm. And you know this, this was a group of consultants. They were they were distributed all over the globe. I mean, these people knew what they were doing. They had been doing what they were doing for two plus decades. So, I wasn't telling them how to think about their services or offer their services. But what I do is help them figure a more strategic way to talk about those services and explain what they do.

So, this client came to us and they said, look, you know, we don't need help. We know why we win deals; we don't really need. I know that's in your wheelhouse Hinge, but we don't need help, they're just, you know, “we just need a website can you just, you know just make it look good.” So again, you know, we kind of pressure tested that and said “well, OK, tell us a little bit about why you're winning deals”. “Well, it's because we are different”, OK, how are you different? You know, it's the thing like if you take their logo away from any of their website or any collateral that says we're different, it could apply to hundreds of thousands of other companies out there.

Daniel Burstein: Let me stop you right there, too, and just for the audience listening, something that Liz is doing so well in communicating this is you're just asking them questions right now, right? You didn't even get to come out and say, I could tell you, weren't you sure, you didn't come out and say, Hey, you're wrong about this? You just kind of were leading them down a trail by asking them questions? So that's great.

Liz Harr: Well, right. That's kind of like a Jedi mind trick, right? Where you're really telling them they're wrong, but they're going to tell themselves they're wrong. So, I so kept going down that path, you know, tell me how you're different. Well, you know, the main way we're different is we all come from big four backgrounds, but we're not like the big four. You're always going to get the A-Team because that's all we have. OK, well, you know, I've heard that a couple of times before. But OK, you know let's figure out if there's A way we can work together.

So, the very first thing we recommended, you know, before we did anything like a website is to just talk to some of their clients, and also prospective clients, specifically clients they had pitched to, but then lost these clients to somebody else. And that is, I will tell you, that is really the most, the wisest investment a company can make, is capturing the perspective of their target audience before you develop a strategy, or, you know, tools or anything.

So, we talked to their prospective clients and their clients, and with the prospective clients, we learned something pretty insightful. We learned that the very reason they were not selected is because of this message around having “The A-Team only the A-Team. We're not the big four. We got big four background, but you're going to get the A-Team. You're not going to get the B team and the C team like you do at some of these other larger companies that we compete with,” and we meaning our client.

So, we brought that back to them and had to say, look, guys this message that you've got all over your web site, this win theme that you're so confident in, is why you're losing. You just lost to PWC because of that message. Because people don't want to pay A-team rates for B or C team tasks. They feel comfortable that you've got a deep bench of multiple skillsets and multiple levels.

So, it was really eye-opening, you know, for this client. But just think of the pain of realizing that, you know, you've invested decades convincing yourself that this is the win theme and then you infiltrate that all across your company's personality. So, it's just important for firms to realize you're not doing anything wrong. This is very natural, it's very natural that we as leaders, these myths start to grow inside the company, myths that we create that we think our clients behave this way, we know we're chosen here, we know we're valued, and time and time again, we find that those blind spots are just things that will prevent companies from truly being differentiated and growing and scaling.

Daniel Burstein: And it's so important to call that a blind spot. Our CO Flint McGlaughlin has this big keynote on the marketers’ blind spots, it’s a word we use a lot. Because when you think about, so if you are and you've been a founder of a company, you understand this, but you're a founder of a company if you're a principal so much of your life and the way that you are viewed in the world and view yourself in the world is tied to that company. Right.

So, you look at things in a certain way, and you should. That's what the owner of a company should do A startup, anything like that, right? And that's where it’s our job as marketers to come in and challenge that. And I like to say be the advocate of the audience. I was thinking about this conversation we did; Wharton has a radio show on Sirius XM, and they interviewed us and we're talking, and a quote came out, “The marketer's job is to understand the customer”. That's what we're coming in for. Their job, that company's job is to be a great accounting firm and understand that our job is to understand the customer, right?

And it reminds me of a very similar, now I know you're talking about accounting and services, I had a very similar experience with a tech startup. Tech startups are notorious for this. We're doing a value proposition workshop for them, and we're trying to challenge out and try to find, you know, that right differentiated as you talk about, value proposition. And one of the founders says “Hey, well, here's one thing you need to understand we are a Lamborghini”, right? And everyone else is a bicycle. That's how good our technology is, you know? And I thought about it, and again, if you're that tech founder, you got to feel that way. You're putting your money, your time, your life in 100 hours a week, whatever it is. But what I said to him, because thinking about is like, OK, now let me ask you how many Lamborghinis are sold in the world every year and how many bicycles are sold in the world every year?

Liz Harr: Yeah.

Daniel Burstein:  Right. So, to your point, with services, sometimes you just need the B or C team. You don't want to pay for the A-Team. So, and if you're in technology, if you're building in technology, you got to know sometimes you don't need the Lamborghini. All you need is the bicycle and people don't want to pay for the Lamborghini.

So, you mentioned something that I want to kind of dig into a little bit because there's, I think, a great lesson for the audience that you would talk to customers they lost. So how did you do that? Like, give it give the audience advice. Like, how would you go about talking to customers they lost to get some of these insights?

Liz Harr: Yeah, I mean it. It's valuable insight, right to learn why you've lost and it's great to know why you've won. But what about why you've lost? And so, I mean part of it, like you said, you were talking about reputation earlier. So, you know, our company's reputation is around doing research and having these executive level conversations. And this is not like, you know, dial an intern and have this kind of awkward conversation with these busy executives. This is the real deal. And when these folks understand that they're not going to get on a mailing list is not they're not going to get sold to, this is we're tapping into their perspective. We’re going to have a 15–20-minute conversation, just learn about their perspective.

Well, you know that everybody loves to think that they're being tapped for their perspective. And, but also, you know, it's guards down when they know that this is purely an executive level conversation. This is not going to get on some marketing list. So, and I will also say that most of the firms we work with, none of them suffers from reputation. Each of them has solid reputations for what they do. And I, you know, so we can't take all the credit. A lot of it is our client's reputation, and they've got good relationships with companies that didn't select them.

Daniel Burstein: OK. Are these compensated, or no? It just reaching out and kind of appealing.

Liz Harr: These are just, yeah, we that's a really interesting question. You know, I think a lot of times when you do research, incentives are commonly used. And we don't use those in our space. I think we're a little bit different because we sit inside professional services. And so, the behavior there is already a little different. But people love to be tapped for their perspective and insight on things, and that's really how we set it up. And that's the type of conversation we have.

Daniel Burstein: Great yeah and I can imagine how that can be very, very valuable. OK, and here's a third lesson from something you made. I love this one too, “keep friends close and your enemies closer, because enemies can make great partners”. So, tell us how you did this in your career.

Liz Harr: This is a true story of you know, getting through tough times. So, I don't know if any of the listeners had companies themselves, were running companies, or were part of a company. But you know, in the big market crash, that was like 07-0-09. Those were really tough times, and many companies didn't succeed. And I happened to have a tech startup that I had co-founded in 2000. So we were, you know, we were at that vulnerable stage where they say it's like seven or eight years. That's when you may or may not make it.

Well, financial collapse hit at seven years, seven and eight. So that's pretty challenging. And as an aside, I co-founded this company with my then husband. He's now my ex-husband. That's not why we're no longer married, but I just thought, hey, I've always wanted to grow my own firm and he did as well. So we started it. And as we as we grew that company, one of the things we did was always network to see who's out there, who else is doing what we do, how do they talk about themselves? How can we compete? And really, that networking is I mean, for any listeners, it's networking is really how you listen to the marketplace and you can gather great intel.

So, we were constantly networking, forming relationships. But, you know, with an open eye. Because a lot of the folks we were networking with and coming across were competitors. And so those were in the early days of the company. Then when the market collapse, we had to really pivot and think, okay, how are we going to turn this ship around?

Well, number one, we could just fold, right, everybody, it's time for chapter two, have fun. And that wasn't very exciting because you know, I wanted our clients to continue to have good service, but I really wanted our employees, and we had like ten people at the time. I wanted them to be able to navigate this whole thing and come out on top as well. That was important to me.

So folding wasn't an option. So, then we sat down, and we thought, you know out, there's a Lot of competition in the space. Let's think creatively. What if, what if we reach out to a couple and just see does it make sense to join hands, collaborate and do this thing together? Now that's pretty vulnerable because you know, people are always they’re like, you know, hold the cards tight to the chest kind of mentality. So when you do something like that, you're kind of opening up and you're almost admitting that things aren't going so well, but I don’t I think that was the secret, it wasn't going so well for a lot of people.

So, there was one company in particular that we honestly, they were probably our biggest competitor. I mean, they did exactly what we did. They serve the clients that we served. They were also in the mid-Atlantic. Just like we were, but it was a husband-and-wife team just like our company. And so, we kind of related on that level. And we approached them, had some talks, and in the end collaborating with that company was the thing that allowed my employees to continue to have their jobs, that allowed our clients to continue to have services.

Now my some of our employees went with that company. We folded under that name. And, or should I say we folded into that name, because they were a little bit bigger. And then I was the only one that didn't go with that company. And you know, that was really by choice. I was done with software. I was done in the tech community. I just I didn't want any more of it. I was ready for my Chapter two. So, in the end, though, collaborating with one of our biggest competitors was the thing that got us through.

Daniel Burstein: I think that's beautiful, because so I will say, like earlier in my career, I worked with big software companies and like sales enablement and field marketing. And one thing we would do is interview the win loss department because they're the ones that, like every deal that was won or lost, they’ve got all the information. And it's there's a lot of, you know, value in there, kind of like we were talking about earlier.

And there's always this feeling, I don't know. We, as humans were naturally competitive, like, I think the reason we have like football teams and basketball teams today is because, you know, back in the day we had City-States, you know, Sparta and Athens would war against each other. Now we're hopefully a little less warlike. And so, we just have, you know, L.A. and Cincinnati, you know, playing each other in the Super Bowl, right? Yeah. And I always feel like competitive. Oh, let's get them, any time we would, we would beat one of the competitors like, alright, we did it, you know, I have that feeling.

But then, you know, as I've gone on in my career, I've learned that like, you know, there's a big enough pie for everyone. You know, we don't have to feel like it's so tooth and nail. And I actually got to ask someone about the extreme other side. So, I was at this conference sitting with this guy at lunch and we were talking, and I don't remember exactly what his company did, but they actually had no competition. And I thought, wow, what a dream, like you're living the dream. You’ve got no competition. And he's actually like, no, it's horrible, and I am like. You know, like why? And he's talking about like well, you know, there's a lot of great things that happen in competition, like you can, you know, have like industry groups or whatever and learn from each other.

He's like when you have competition, that means there is a segment that you're all selling together and then, you know, a client can pick from different companies in that competition. When you've got no competition, there's no category for you, there's no one else to work with. And so, I thought, well, I wrote a blog post off it, of like why you should thank your competition? And so, I encourage everyone. Yeah, I encourage everyone on the phone too to say to kind of have that feeling, there's a big enough pie for all of us.

Later in my career, we got to do the media center at IRCE, which is the big e-commerce event, and we were interviewing some of the key speakers and one of them was from Forrester, and he was like, I don't know, aren't Forrester and MarketingSherpa kind of competitive? And, you know, we're kind of we're doing more data back then. And then I got to kind of have that perspective like, there's a big enough pie for all of us, like let people learn about all of us.

So, I think that's beautiful you. You took it to that extreme, just kind of getting together with your competition. And ultimately, the company survived.

Liz Harr: I mean, there's so many reverberating effects in a positive manner from that one decision. And I mean, I've come across the folks that ran the company that we folded into, just in totally different walks of life in different ways. And so, yeah, it's you know, keep them close. But also behave, right, because you run into people from past lives all the time and those folks can help or hinder progress, right? So be on your best behavior.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. You know, I've learned that too, as big as the world is within industry groups and segments. It's a small community. Everyone knows each other.

Liz Harr: That's right.

Daniel Burstein: All right so Liz we talked about “what we can learn from the things you made”? That's a key thing marketers do, we make things, entrepreneurs, we make things. But the other thing we do is we collaborate; we make things with people.

So now we want to ask you some stories about what you've learned from the people you collaborated with. And first, and again correct me, if I get this name wrong, is Junya Sugimoto of the Ministry of Education at Yao Shi Precinct in Osaka. And you learned, I think it’s perfect for the kind of pandemic days we've been in, but you learned “just be”. What do you mean by that? How did you learn that?

Liz Harr: Oh, just listening to that is such a calming sentiment, right? It just gets, I love it. I mean, just be. It just gives you permission to be authentic in who you are. No pressure, right? Just be. And yeah, this is one of my favorite stories.

So, when I graduated from undergrad. You know, so I went to University of Missouri, Columbia, and as an undergrad came to the D.C. area as an unpaid intern on the hill, as you know, everybody used to do. And I quickly understood that I really needed to get a paid job. And so, one of the things I had studied as an undergrad student was languages. I love Japanese because at the time nobody did Japanese. Everyone was doing like French, Spanish and then Chinese. So, I wanted to be different, study Japanese, and my professor at the time told me about this great program where you can work with the Ministry of Education in Japan and, you know live there, be in the culture, everything. It just really appealed to me. So, I applied and got accepted.

And speaking of competition, it was super competitive. So, I felt really lucky, right, that I was accepted. So, knowing that I had to compete, and I was selected, I went in with this attitude like I'm going to make such a difference, I'm going to go there and I'll speak Japanese and all the stuff I've learned about their culture. I'm just going to make such a big impact. This is the start of my career.

And so, I got there, and went in with that attitude and I don't want to create the false impression that I was, you know, egotistical. You know, never really had that in my system, but I wanted to make an impact. I want to put my stamp on something. And so, it's probably like a month or so into the job. The person who I reported to Sugimoto Son, sat down with me and he said Ha Son. And by the way my last name is Harr, but in Japanese, you pronounce it Ha. And Ha means tooth.

So basically, I was Miss Tooth, and this is like not very sophisticated. But so, he is like Ha Son and in his broken English and my broken Japanese we had this discussion, and it was pretty heart to heart. And what he was communicating to me was, look, you bring a lot to the table. And that is your authenticity, your empathy, just your ability to relate and be human. We didn't hire you; you know your 21 years old. We didn't hire you for all this, you know, change the way we run our ministry and the way we educate our kids. And we hired you so that you could learn, and we want to learn a little bit from you. But this is about human relations. That's really what we're doing here human relations.

And it just made such an impact on me because I have taken that literally in all aspects of my life, as a parent, as a spouse, as a leader at my own company and mentor to lots of other people. And it's just, you know, I think it takes confidence and gravitas and courage to show up and just be. But how much better is everybody else that you just interacted with when you are that authentic, empathetic person as opposed to the one who's got to put a stamp on something? I mean, that's that doesn't feel good to anybody. So, I am forever grateful that Sugimoto Son took the time to talk to me about that. Because I think a lot of leaders just kind of let it go and say, well, there's another one I've got to put their stamp on something. I'm so thankful that he took the time to teach me that lesson.

Daniel Burstein: So, you've been a leader for a long time now. Have you sat down and had a similar conversation like that with anyone on your team?

Liz Harr: Oh, absolutely. I mean in, you know, we were talking about. So, we've been talking about the field of marketing. We were talking about competition earlier. I mean, marketing is hyper competitive and also, marketing, you know, the type of advisory that marketers are hired for, is the stuff that grows companies. So this is, you know, this is like real conversation. This is the real deal. And I think I see a lot of people who are early in their careers feel like, oh I really got to make a mark here. And I've got to say something really profound. And I think just listening and feeling confident saying you know that's not really my area, but I'm connected with a couple of people who that's like their domain expertise. I'm going to bring them into the conversation.

That is so much more powerful. And by the way, you look like a solid leader when you can do that as opposed to feeling like you're the one with all the answers. So, yeah, I've said that multiple times to my own team and also just to people who have come to me for career advice.

Daniel Burstein: That's so true, I mean, something I learned in my career, like we were talking about earlier, like they're paying you for your opinion. So the flip side of that is being in that room or on that meeting or whatever, I've always felt a high bar of like well I need to know the answer for these things on the spot, you know, and something I've learned that really works like 99% of the time is like, let me take that away and talk to the team, like, you don't have to come up with that answer on the spot. You know, in the room, or now more frequently on the on the video conference call, take it away and work with your team. It's usually a helpful lesson for me.


Liz Harr: Yeah, absolutely. And you know just a quick aside, one thing I say to my team all the time is, I have succeeded as a leader when I am no longer the smartest one in the room. I mean that when you have the courage to, as a leader, let others have more expertise in certain areas than you do. I mean, that's a gorgeous thing, right?

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Yeah, I think another key thing from, you know what you just mentioned, your story. We were talking earlier about companies and finding what are they about, what’s their differentiator, you know? And as you mentioned, what are we about? What am I about? What are you about? What are all the people listening about? All the people in our team like figuring out also that value proposition, that I hate the term, but that personal brand for ourselves? Yeah. Who are we? And then using your advice that you said, once you figure that out, then just be, be that person or you just come through on that value prop.

Liz Harr: That's right. Just own it. You know that sentiment really has stayed with me. I mean, that was in like the Mid 1990s when I had that conversation. And then it’s years later, in 2008, I took A trip to this little, tiny remote country called Bhutan. It's nestled in the Himalayas, right by Tibet. And I wanted to bring some artwork home and met this artist and I have it hanging in my background, actually in my office, I get to see it every single time I look in a camera, but I couldn't believe how the stars align. I met this artist. He created this piece of art around the Bhutanese character for Just Be. I couldn't believe it, so I brought it home and it's hanging on my wall today. But you know, that has followed me in many places of my life.

Daniel Burstein: That's beautiful. Hopefully, we'll include a picture of that in the article.

Liz Harr: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Daniel Burstein: Let's talk about your next lesson you learned from someone you collaborated with, “the power that your own stories have to connect more effectively with others”, which really is the whole point of the How I Made It in Marketing podcast, so it's perfect. You said you learned that from Shams Zaman, CFO, currently, he's the CFO at Technologists, Inc. How did you learn that?

Liz Harr: Well, let's see. I talked earlier about wanting to have a Chapter two after I had the experience with a startup, and I wasn't really sure what that Chapter two was going to be. So, I was exploring different things. And again, because of my network, I learned about this position at a government contractor company in the DC area. And they needed some help that was in my wheelhouse that had to do with growing and scaling.

So, I applied, got a job and it was great. I mean, it was like making use of all my skill sets, all my, people skills and all my just be skills. And I really loved it. I had a good relationship with the two men who ran it. And so, one day we were sitting down, and we – meaning me and the two owners -- and they were like, you know, you're a real go-getter. And we need to put some life in this investment that we have, it has nothing to do with the company itself. But the investment they had made was in a car dealership.

So, I kid you not. I mean, I don't think there are any humans who know less about cars than I do. Like, I'm the one that when you say a make of a car, it's like irrelevant to me. But I was intrigued, right? Because first of all, it was these two men who believed in me as a smart, entrepreneurial female who could make things happen. And then second, I mean, as any entrepreneur it was like a brand-new thing so, shiny rock, right? Well, I accepted the challenge.

And you know, it was a defining moment of failure because I didn't know what I was doing. And but here's why it was a defining moment. I was afraid to acknowledge that I didn't know what I was doing. And I mean, here I am in this car dealership. I had this office. It was weird. It was like, I guess, car dealerships. I think they're all designed the same way where you've got the showroom. But then like on the second level, are all like the executive offices.

So I was, you know, constantly watching people and they were watching me, and I had this office and I just, I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know the first thing about marketing strategies for selling cars. And you know, I did what I normally do, I did my research, I, I just put nose to the grindstone, tried to figure things out. And I just, I don't know, I was, I had this big fear about saying, I don't, I don't understand this. So long story short. I fell flat on my face.

It just was not a great show of my talents. Eventually, I was let go. That's the first and only time I've been fired by the way. But it really showed me that had I just had the courage to kind of sit down with the leaders and say, look you, I'm happy to take on the challenge, but this is not in my wheelhouse, so you’ve got to give me some more information. Here are the things that I don't know. Here are the boundaries of what I do know. Now let's make stuff happen together. I think that kind of confidence comes as you grow in your own career. I mean, I was still pretty young at the time, and I was the only female there. So, I felt a lot of pressure and I think a lot of people still kind of feel that way today.

But I'll never forget, you know, my boss Shams as I was being humiliated and fired and ushered out the door. You know, he said, look, this, I know this is hard. But sometimes the most challenging, most humiliating, most defeating things in life are the launch pads for where you're really supposed to be, not where you want to be, but where you're supposed to be. I mean, as far as I was concerned, I still wanted to be there because I didn't want to admit failure. But it was, he said, it's where you're supposed to be. And so that kind of stuck with me. Multiple lessons in that singular experience. But I'm grateful for all of them.

Daniel Burstein: I mean, we learn so much from our mistakes. We want to have all these successes, but failures are the biggest teachers in life. So, you mentioned the lesson is “the power that your own stories have to connect more effectively with others.”

So, I'm guessing then as you went in your career, you were able to use this story to connect with others because that, you know, especially marketers, you know, founders, entrepreneurs, leaders, we can be pretty egotistical, right? So once we mention a story like that, I'd imagine can really help you connect with someone and saying, like, hey, here's where I failed, and let's kind of open up this conversation.

Liz Harr: That's right. And I will say that it is to this day within the hallways of Hinge. It is kind of a running joke that Liz was a used car salesman. It's really like not remotely tied to my personal brand today.

Daniel Burstein: But it helped become the fabric of your being and made you who you are today.

Liz Harr: That right? That's right.

Daniel Burstein: So, let's talk about the last lesson you learned from collaborating. This was from Lee Frederiksen, who is currently the managing partner at Hinge. You currently work with Lee. You said, “our peers play a key role in our development as leaders and experts in our field”. So how did you learn this from Lee?

Liz Harr: Oh, Lee is, first of all, Lee is the consummate entrepreneur and fearless leader that you know I want to grow myself into. I mean, he's just done amazing things with all different kinds of companies and startups. And he's been part of taking Hinge to amazing places. And I met Lee actually before I became part of Hinge when I had the tech startup that I was talking about earlier. You know probably some people who are listening today can relate to this.

But when you're a CEO of a small firm, you need a sounding board. You don't necessarily have that in your staff or the team that works for you. And nor would you want to, right, like those aren't appropriate conversations to have with your staff when trying to figure out how to grow the company. So, Lee and his wife, Candice and a couple of other business partners, they had a company at the time that what they provided was executive coaching, specifically to leaders of small companies. So, I came across them at a networking event, just good synergy between us, and so I decided to become one of his clients.

And so, over the course of many years Lee and I had lots of conversations. In those conversations he was coaching me on how to not just grow my company and from a tactical and strategic perspective, but really what he helped me do is grow into a leader. Really a big part of the way I lead today comes from a lot of the conversations I had with Lee. And, you know, it's kind of funny the way things happen. I remember I was sitting at my desk in my office at this tech startup where he was at one of the coaching sessions. And it happened to be the turning point where it was during the financial collapse. And I was just having a discussion like what the H-E- double hockey sticks am I going to do Lee? How am I going to get my company through this? How am I going to make sure my employees have jobs? My clients, they trusted me. I can't just fold. What do I do?

And he, you know, he just looked at me, and it really wasn't anything super profound as much as it was the confidence in me that I could see in his eyes and his body language. And he just said, Liz, you're going to do what you will always do. You are going to succeed. This is going to be OK. And he said, by the way I have a feeling that even though you say you're sick of software and you're sick of tech, I have a feeling that that's going to be part of your chapter two, and I was like you're wrong there. You're right on everything else, but you're wrong there.

And so, what's funny about that is when I became a partner at Hinge, I actually ran the unit that worked with tech and I.T. and consult our software clients. And so, it very much was part of my Chapter two, but who knew at the time?

Daniel Burstein: You know, I think this kind of conversation almost came around to where we began, because at first, we were talking about for our clients, right, we need to be the sounding board. We need to be able to speak truth to power that, that honesty to them, that can be difficult to hear and, you know, coming around in the other direction. We need those people in our own career, in our own lives as well, because I know any time, I've gone through something difficult the crisis in my personal life, my business life. In the moment it's so intense and it feels like that is how things are always going to be.

But for others outside of that, they can have that perspective that you don't. That's our blind spot, right? That like, hey, like I've seen you do better things. I've seen you get through tougher things. You're going to get through this, and things will not always be as they are in this moment. They're going to get better. You're going to make it. So, it's beautiful that you're able to have that relationship with someone and that you now currently still relationship with that person.

Liz Harr: Oh my gosh, it is a beautiful thing. And I'll tell you, you know, being a part of a leadership team at Hinge and navigating our company through COVID was you know, I think I mean there's, I'm one of five partners, Lee is managing partner, as you said, to carry what you just said as a partner team. I mean, I think that's something that Lee has really been successful at spreading across in throughout, you know the hallways of Hinge. But it is it is how we got through COVID as well.

Daniel Burstein: Beautiful. Well, let's leave our audience with final words of advice, final piece of advice to them, I want to ask you what are the key qualities of an effective marketer in your opinion Liz?

Liz Harr: Hmm. Well, that is a very big question to end on, but I like that question because I think, you know, if some people may answer that with, well, you got to have certain hard skills, right? Got to have domain expertise in x y z, and they're going to name the buzzwords of today's marketing environment. I would actually say that what were once considered the soft skills are actually the hard skills of today. The non-negotiables, and those are authenticity, empathy. When you come to the table with those characteristics in mind, you're doing the thing that you're supposed to be doing as a marketer, right? You're listening. You're learning. You are, you are offering the smart advisory that you're being paid to offer, right?

You're in a much more informed perspective, by the way when you've listened first. As opposed to just say, OK, well, you know, yeah, I do this all the time. Just do these three things and you'll be fine. That that doesn't serve anybody. So, I think, as a leader, as someone who works with clients and just as somebody who, you know, evolving your personal brand, I think the soft skills are the ones that are the non-negotiables in today's environment.

Daniel Burstein: It's so true, but I think we kind of have the measurement fallacy that it's easier to measure the hard skills, because you can train for the hard skills, but you can't train for the soft skills. So, you look at so many job postings today and what are they going to have? They're going to have all of the hard skills in there, right, instead of the things that are more difficult to measure but are crucial to a successful hire. Yeah. Well, thank you for having this discussion today, Liz, sharing all these stories from your career, thank you so much for joining us.

Liz Harr: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was it was really fun.

Daniel Burstein: And thank you to everyone for listening.

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