November 10, 2022

Product Management & Marketing: Surround yourself with the right people (podcast episode #38)


Get ideas for finding role models for your career, building customer empathy maps, and becoming a better go-to-market leader, by listening to episode #38 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had an exciting discussion with Michelle Huff, Chief Marketing Officer, UserTesting.

Listen now to hear Huff discuss customer empathy, getting involved with the sales team, and seeing obstacles as opportunities.

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

Product Management & Marketing: Surround yourself with the right people (podcast episode #38)

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“Attention precedes interest. Interest precedes engagement; engagement proceeds relationship,” Flint McGlaughlin teaches in Headline Writing: 4 principles that could drive down your website bounce rate.

When I asked my latest guest how she builds those relationships with her marketing, she talked fondly of learning directly from real people, whether in her early days in a trade show booth or more recently using digital technology. The end goal of listening to customers is the same – to help her organization and team of marketers understand customers as real people, which will ultimately help them build more relationships with customers.

You can learn the story behind that lesson from Michelle Huff, Chief Marketing Officer, UserTesting, along with many more lesson-filled stories from her career, on the latest episode of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast.

Huff manages a team of 65 at UserTesting. UserTesting is a publicy traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. It reported $147.4 million in revenue in 2021, up 44% year-over-year.

Listen to my conversation with Huff using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Google Podcasts

Stories (with lessons) about what she made in marketing

Some lessons from Huff that emerged in our discussion:

Obstacles are opportunities, if you choose to view them as opportunities.

When she began her career in her twenties, it was hard to build credibility with people in the industry. Some of that was based on her age and level of experience, and there also weren’t many women speaking about software to leaders of IT, focused on enterprise selling, and answering technical questions.

Huff didn’t have a lot of role models that she could identify with exactly but decided she needed to carve her own path and use the opportunity to learn from nearly everyone she interacted with. Almost everyone has an interesting perspective and set of experiences you can learn from. This continued to be a challenge as she began to lead larger organizations, while also juggling starting a family.

It was a struggle, but it’s been rewarding as well as she has gone through her career, to see more working moms in leadership. She was (and still is) interacting with working mom leaders and it’s great to talk with them about this balancing act (and she says you can learn from working dad leaders, too).

Her experience over the years is that the one thing that she has complete control over is how she chooses to respond to her situation. Sometimes, the obstacle is only in how she is choosing to see the problem…oftentimes, if you look at it differently, it’s an opportunity.

Utilize customer empathy when trying to involve the customer in marketing efforts.

This allows your company to understand the customer on a deeper level. For Huff, she encourages team members to build empathy maps instead of just personas to truly be able to see the world from the customer’s perspective. This enables the team to understand what it’s actually like to be a customer and allows them to build campaigns and experiences that can meet, and exceed, the customer’s expectations.

It’s crucial for businesses to understand typical customers’ pain points, preferences, needs, and how they search for solutions so they can deliver a relevant and resonant message at each stage of the decision-making process. While that data is important to glean valuable insights into customer trends and behaviors, what will set you apart is understanding the “why.” She encourages all of the company’s employees to appreciate the importance of their customer’s “why.”

To do that, she asks her team (and that includes herself) to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and think of the processes and technologies available that will ensure that they are truly understanding the customer’s behavior. Additionally, she holds customer empathy spotlight sessions in every monthly marketing all-hands where they listen to diverse audiences (buyers, customers, contributors, etc.) as an organization and talk about their insights and observations.

They also routinely use their own platform, UserTesting, while building and creating their marketing campaigns and assets. What’s more, she has team members showcase some of their learnings and highlight reels with the broader team.

Surround yourself with the right people.

This may sound obvious but, as a leader, it’s important to understand that you can’t put all the burden of responsibility squarely on your shoulders. It’s impossible and that’s how people burn out. When Huff builds her team, she looks for qualified individuals that balance out the strengths and weaknesses of others (including herself as well). Working with people you trust gives you more peace of mind and frees you to focus on other parts of your business and strategy.

For example, she has a diverse marketing team around her that receives regular feedback from customers on what they like and don’t like from brands. This has allowed them to create designs, messages, and experiences that speak to a much wider audience. On top of that, it’s not just about who YOU hire, but who you choose to work for and with at the executive level. As an executive, you spend a lot of your time “at work,” making it even more important to choose the right situation and environment for yourself.

If you are able to find that work environment, and a leadership team, that matches your values – like having respect, trust, and joy – working is an amazing experience.

Stories (with lessons) about the people she made it with

Huff also shared lessons she learned from the people she collaborated with:

Marketers should get involved with the sales team to learn from them.

via… in EMEA with Andrew Gilboy (now Chief Commercial Officer at Thriva Health), APAC with Bill Kearney (now GM Asia Pacific for Axway), Latin America with Anselmo Castelán (now retired), and North America with Bob Crossman (RVP Sales at Apptio)

When Huff started out her career in technology, she learned a lot about enterprise sales from several of the sales RVPs. They were all at a small public company that was eventually acquired by Oracle. She was in product marketing and built the demos and sales enablement materials.

Anselmo didn’t have an SC (solutions consultant) for Latin America, and since she majored in International Business and spoke conversational Spanish, she had the opportunity to support some of the large trade shows and important partner and customer visits in Mexico and Brazil. In her early 20s, she thought that the opportunity was amazing – and learned quite a bit. Gillboy would invite her to the UK to train the local AEs (account executives) and SCs and visit with customers.

And she’d often deliver product roadmaps and attend exec briefings for Kearny’s and Crossman’s teams. They were all so great at sharing their knowledge and expertise and it was so insightful to be able to listen to different pitches, selling strategies, and navigating objections firsthand while in meetings with buyers, and how it changed depending on company size, region around the world, and what was learned in discovery.

They were all pretty great about sharing direct feedback as well if something wasn’t working or could be better. Huff clearly remembers a time heading to the UK for a product launch and the packaging wasn’t set up in a way that incentivized the sales team.

While the launch received quite a lot of enthusiasm from the press and initial excitement from the teams – once the field learned that there wasn’t an easy way to monetize the new capabilities it was kind of a flop, and they had a hard time keeping the sales team’s attention. Her career of 20+ years in tech has always been enterprise B2B. At the end of the day, all the dollars spent in marketing are pretty worthless if they can’t turn a lead into a revenue generating customer.

These learnings from the beginning were so impactful in helping her as a marketer understand the difference when pitching in 1:1 customer meetings vs. on stage during a keynote and the importance of understanding the motivations of your selling teams as well.

To learn about how your product really works, teach someone else.

via Brian Huff, her husband (originally a software developer and then ran his own software consulting business for over a decade)

They met at work years ago and Huff’s husband taught her quite a bit about software, web architecture, backend infrastructure, programming languages, APIs and all the various technology trends. Being in enterprise software, during the on-premise days prior to SaaS, as a product marketer, you had to roll up your sleeves and install and configure your own databases, application servers, etc. as well your own product line for every major release, plus all the security patches and upgrades.

Huff’s husband was a Physics major in college, and he has always admired Richard Feynman. Feynman was a physicist well known for simple explanations of complex scientific concepts. He believed that the best way to understand something is to teach it. And that if you are unable to explain something at the freshman level, you don’t really understand it. As a result, Huff tended to sign up frequently to present at user group events, sales huddles, and SC training sessions to train on a topic or demo on topics.

If she felt that a topic was important, signing up to do one of these activities was a great forcing function to make herself learn something and create something that could impact and be helpful to the whole org.

As a marketer, in enterprise software, one of the core parts of your role is to help articulate concepts in a way that resonates with your audience. Forcing herself to learn and teach others was a great way to make sure she understood something well enough to position it correctly for different audiences.

Become a true partner with your Sales counterpart.

via UserTesting’s Chief Revenue Officer, David Satterwhite

Satterwhite taught Huff how to be a better go-to-market leader and partner. This is the second company where they have worked together and they both believe in alignment, communication and assuming positive intent. They think about it truly being sales + marketing spend, they share strategies and plans, align around tradeoffs, talk through challenging situations, celebrate wins together and share the weight of the losses.

They support each other’s initiatives, and they’ve even had direct reports and departments roll up into one of their orgs and then dotted line up to the other. Since they’ve worked together through ups and downs – it has helped build a lot of trust knowing that the other person always has your back. It’s interesting that as you rise through the marketing ranks, you don’t necessarily learn these skills or get exposed to the closed-door conversations that happen between your leaders (and what works and doesn’t).

You normally learn the hard way.  When she first met Satterwhite, he set the tone and made it easy to establish this working style – and she is grateful he did.

Related content mentioned in this episode

Empathy Marketing: 3 examples of empathetic marketing in action (with results)

Informed Dissent: The best marketing campaigns come from the best ideas

Healthcare Marketing Leadership: Build communities…not a customer list, walk your own path, take care of yourself (podcast episode #30)

About this podcast

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.


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

Daniel Burstein:  Okay, let me try my best Alec Baldwin impression for just a minute. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you their gold and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. Ooh, harsh. Working in marketing. It's all too easy to blame the sales team when things aren't going well, right. We're sending you all these great leads. Why aren't you closing them? You're wasting all of our great marketing.

And in fairness, that blame get sent in reverse quite often as well, right. Sales blaming marketing for not getting enough leads. But we are our highest and best marketers, not to mention the best versions of ourselves as human beings. When we work to truly understand the other, that can be the customer, that can also be the sales team.

So when I saw a podcast guest application from a leader who dived into the sales team early in her career and learned enterprise sales from the sales reps perspective, and then formed a partnership with her sales counterpart at two different companies in her career, I knew I had to talk to her and we could learn a lot from that career.

So I'm so glad to have with me today. Thank you for joining us. Michelle Huff, the Chief Marketing Officer of  UserTesting. Thanks for joining us, Michelle.

Michelle Huff: Thank you so much for having me.

Daniel Burstein: Well, let's take a quick look at your long and illustrious career. I'll just cherry pick a bit from LinkedIn. You were the Senior Director of Product Management at Oracle. You were VP and GM of at Salesforce. You were Chief Marketing Officer at ACT On. Now you are Chief Marketing Officer at UserTesting where you manage a team of 65. And for those unfamiliar UserTesting is a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, a reported $147.4 million in revenue in 2021, up 44% year over year. Congratulations on that performance. But give us a sense. So that's just that's the numbers let’s see what is your day like as CMO at UserTesting?

Michelle Huff: A lot of meetings, I would say. Yeah, lots and lots actually it was pretty funny. It was. Do you remember in 2020 where everyone was talking about Zoom fatigue?

Daniel Burstein: Oh, my gosh. Yes, I remember that, I hear you!

Michelle Huff: And then everyone wrote all these articles and I remember being upstairs, having coffee with my husband because as the CMO for UserTesting, I work from Seattle. And so I've actually been a remote CMO who works from home. And I travel, actually tonight and flying out to San Francisco. But during the pandemic, I think everyone, I think, got a taste of my life. I'm on a lot of zoom calls back to back. And I remember reading the articles and I was telling my husband, everyone's talking about this thing called zoom fatigue. I think they're just leading my life right now. It's just a lot of back to back Zoom calls.

But it's, you know, in many ways, it's, you know, a lot of times the day is working across a lot of different leaders within UserTesting, working with my team and then occasionally doing fun things like having a podcast with you. It's kind of a fun gig.

Daniel Burstein: Thank you. So you were working remote before it was cool.

Michelle Huff: Yeah totally

Daniel Burstein: You just mentioned you fatigue. I want to get into your lesson filled stories here. But one thing from zoom fatigue that I learned. So we had a campus with three different buildings, right? And then you went to go working at home. And so I would kind of do the same thing I would do. Then I'd have these meetings and I'd be in the meetings and I would end the day and I would be so tired. And I didn't realize it at first. That zoom fatigue that you realized. And then I realized, well, wait a minute. When I had all these meetings at work, well, I was getting up, I was walking around, I was going different places. I was seeing different people. And so it I started I don't know if this works for anyone at home is I tried to not always work in the same place, you know what I mean?

Like, I'm like right now I do the podcast recording from a bedroom because it's nice and quiet, which you're seeing my bedroom, I might be seeing yours. I have an office loft upstairs.I go up there, I go, you know, when I can with a zoom call like it's great to connect and see each other. Like we can see each other right now. But some people I work with all the time, I don't need to. We just do a phone call. I go sit on my back porch. I have a lake, see some nature while we're talking through this stuff.

So if anyone's experiencing zoom fatigue, I don't know if you've learned anything, Michelle. I say get up and move around. Get in your backyard, get in your house, get outside and use the video when you need to, but you don't go for a walk around the block, you know, go in the backyard, stay out of the lake like, you know, your body can’t take it, it’s not natural.

Michelle Huff: I think I've had a few phone calls laying on the floor. It reminds me, actually, in the early days, everyone was on speaker phones. And so, you know, it is actually nice being on the zoom calls and be able to see people that it is nice to occasionally just go back, you know, old school and just hop on a call and go get some coffee.

The funny thing I have learned to do on Zoom is it was working from my bedroom before it was cool. We were doing a remodel and it was before Zoom had the built in backgrounds, but you could do it with a green screen. And I remember I got a big green towel like a blanket and I put it over my curtain rod so I could find something. And I looked for what would Frasier Crane's house look like today? And believe it or not, there's a blog where someone curated all these photos, and I had a few different ones I’d rotate through. But one of them, it's always sunny. And I learned being in Seattle, it's not always sunny. But if my background has all the sunshine, it's almost like faux vitamin D for me, it's a way for me to actually think it's sun shining outside.

Daniel Burstein: That's nice. I want to find Seinfeld's apartment as my background now and use that. Well, it's funny. Yeah, it used to be speaker phones. In the mid 2000s I worked remotely and it was only speakerphones. You didn’t have the video, and so the funny thing I would do is I don't know if you did this I would picture how my team looked, because I met the team on speakerphone before I've met them in person. I’d picture my head how they looked and then I would meet them at a conference or something. I'd be like, No, no, that's not how you look.

Michelle Huff: Totally! Oh, yeah, there's so many people, they look so different. You would always hear people's voices and you would be able to pick them out pretty quickly. But yeah, you can probably be in a plane next to someone and not even know who they were.

Daniel Burstein: That is the upside of today. Okay. Well, let's jump in to all these lessons from your career. It's really fascinating stuff. Let's start out. You talk about you mentioned obstacles are opportunities if you choose to view them as opportunities. So how did you learn this lesson in your career Michelle?

Michelle Huff: Yeah, so, you know, we chatted. It's interesting being in technology for as long as I have. I started in the late nineties and it was at the very early days of building websites and web applications and so highly engineered, focused and you know, when you would sell technology, you went to trade shows. So I'm in my early twenties, going to a lot of trade shows and, you know,  I remember during those days it was always they had this concept of booth bunnies, which were attractive women that they'd put at the booth. And that's like the lure to get people to stop by and say hi.

And I always remember feeling a little caught off guard when people would walk up and ask me point blank, if I'm a booth bunny. I remember having people and I was doing the demos so I'd be the one on stage doing demos. And then I was product marketer at the time. It actually was technical marketing at the time, and I also helped kind of build the website. And so it was just hard having people walk up and make certain assumptions about you and they'd ask, Hey, can I speak to someone that knows actually about the product? And I was like, Oh yeah, you can speak of me I’m n product marketing. And they said, Well, actually, can I speak to, you know, maybe I could speak to a guy that knows this. And I remember getting so just, you know, frustrated.

But, you know, like in some sense, I think that what I've learned over the years is you can really see things multiple ways. And oftentimes it's really about you, it's them and how they, you know, their background perspectives. And that's not really a reflection on me. And so I always, thought about it as an opportunity to prove people wrong. And so you can look at it different ways. I think for me, I always wanted to make sure I was never stereotyped a certain way, so I would try to answer a lot of the technical questions on the board and really make sure that I wasn't just someone who didn't know what I was talking about as a marketer, if that makes sense. Like I really wanted to make sure I understood and wasn't pigeonholed into that way.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, absolutely. And now you mentioned it I think you tried to mentor other women that are coming up. And I wonder, like, what's your biggest tip or whatever? Maybe it's different for everyone that you give to women when you're mentoring coming up. Because it's funny, when you told this story originally, I was thinking back to, you know, when I went to, you know, technology companies around the same time. And obviously, I'm a man. I didn't see things through your eyes. But one thing that stood out to me and I even noticed it as a man is, usually when you go to an event, the women's restroom has a long line, right. And the men's doesn’t, at events in the real natural world. And that was the only place I notice when you go to technology conferences, you know, software conferences, enterprise technology, the men's restroom had a really long line and the women's restroom had a short line. And that even dawned on me at the time. I was like, Wow, there's a really big gender gap here.

Michelle Huff: Totally, it was interesting because andthen you factor in enterprise sales because if you actually look in enterprise sales roles, a lot of those roles were men as well. And so I remember growing in my career and not being always the one at the trade show anymore and leading teams.

And I remember this day we were all at a restaurant and we were sitting around, I think with several teams, a lot of leaders in the organization. And someone said, Michelle, this is kind of weird that you're the only woman in the room right now, like, does that feel great to you? And I remember pausing and looking around. I told them to be honest, like, unless until you just said that I'm so used to this that I don't think I processed that data point, to be honest. I think if I sat and it was all women in the room that would like, I would really catch me off guard because I wasn't so used to it. So, you know, I think growing the career in that, I mean, now it's so different. It's so nice at UserTesting where I actually have few other women on in the C-level, we have people on the board and it's changed quite a bit from the beginning. But I remember looking around and having conversations with other leaders and they all had stay at home wives and I was like, Oh crap. Like I don't have a stay at home wife. Like, I don't know how I’m gonna this right. And so I called my mom and tried to figure things out that way.

But, you know, in many ways, you know, I think sometimes when I do mentor and talk to other people, what's hard is you feel like you need some it.It's a lot easier when you have other people who've carved a path before you and you can kind of emulate and learn from their experiences. And when it's you carving your own unique path, you have this, you know, you have to look to, what I think. what I've learned is people always ask this question of me if there's like one role model or one, and I don't think I've ever had the one. I think what I've always done is looked at a lot of people and tried to pick the things from, you know, from different leaders, from men versus women from you know, people carving their own path and trying to pick the best of to help carve my own.

Daniel Burstein: And that is the greatest way to do it. I love that looking at the multiple people because what tends to happen, I think when we're younger in our career and I've noticed this in, we have a lot of speakers, new speaker training and our founder Flint McGlaughlin is a very good speaker. And so when some younger speakers were coming up, it's like, okay, they would try to emulate Flint, so then they would do like impressions of him or impersonations you know what I mean?

Michelle Huff: And it doesn’t feel authentic , right? Which is then the weird thing too. You read all the articles and they say you're going to be authentic later, but then you're like, What does it mean to be an authentic leader? And then you're trying to emulate the one person and they do it differently. Especially if you are a diverse voice and everyone around you. So then how do you balance that? And so I feel like I’ve always just tried to pick you know, the aggregate of many.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Because there's different ways to be good and successful. So there's different ways to be a good and successful. So there's different ways to be a good and successful Tech CMO, there’s be a good and successful  speaker. So I always just say you've got to find your voice and your way of doing it. Because I was like, I can't do that. You know, I'd be doing a bad impression of it now I've got to do my version of it. So it sounds like you found the same lessons, ou're doing your version of it, right?

Michelle Huff: Yes, you do you.

Daniel Burstein:. So this is such just a great overarching lesson. I want to talk about how you apply this mindset. You talked about, you applied it to your career, but how you apply it to your marketing, how you're talking to customers. Those obstacles are opportunities if we view them as opportunities, right? So for example, we have a free digital marketing course and in the headline writing section, Flint McGlaughlin teaches attention precedes interest, interest precedes engagement, engagement precedes relationship.

And so when you're talking about the story of your career, for example, the path you came up, right, you had, you know, that attention, you had that interest, right? But you were struggling. You couldn’t get that engagement part you didn’t have anyone to engage with. The industry wasn't mature enough. You have those relationships with, you know, those direct people. So I wonder, having lived that, now that you're, you know, we talked about within your career side, but now with customers, how do you get them from that attention to interest to engagement, to relationship? How do you build that relationship with them since, you know, the greatest thing we can do in life is struggle through it ourselves so we can kind of figure out how to do that.

Michelle Huff: Definitely. Well, I mean, that ultimately what we're trying to do as marketers, right? You're trying to position things, phrase things, say things in a way that resonates with someone else. And you're trying to help remove friction, right? Because you're trying to help drive behavior, whether trying to get them to engage, trying to get them to become a customer or stay a customer.

And I would say in the early days, being at those trade shows, I know some people think that they can be burdens. But what I loved about them is you got the real time feedback on the pitch, right? Because you’d get the person walking up to the booth and you know, you get that stare at the side and they're like, you know, what is this? What do you do? Who are you? Right. And that's the moment if you think digitally, that's kind of what happens when they come to your website, right? It's the who is this? What are you? What do you do? And you have to translate that high level pitch in different ways. And it's hard to get the feedback now through all these different areas.

But I loved being with real people because you would you'd start your little pitch and they'd show you all the cues verbally, right? Or just visually. They'd tilt their head a little bit to the left and you know, they're like, maybe they're not following along. And so, you know, how to pivot to maybe explain a little more or less. And I loved learning it that way. Then you'd get immediately that follow up question. The Oh, you know, I don't think I need that right now or I don't understand. And so I think you were constantly learning how to adjust what you're saying in real time. And I think that what's hard in marketing is over time, right? Sales becomes the ones who are having those one on one live conversations and marketing's the one that's doing it at scale. That scale means over time you're thinking of groups of people and personas of people, and you look at the large aggregates of data and you really lose touch with the actual people.

And so I've always, you know, early in my career, strived to be on sales calls to listen in, to hear how people said it, to get my own reactions to, you know, I love doing the industry analyst conversations because you're getting a chance to tell your story and see if it resonates. And, you know, what I've been trying to do at UserTesting, especially with the marketing organization, is really help people understand our customers as people, right. The actual personas and who they are. And because it is B2B, it's not just who they individually are but understanding their role. Like what is their role? What's that role set up to do? How does it work with other departments? Who leads those roles and what's their goal like? How did they move to their next kind of careers? And so we have what's called empathy hours in marketing all hands, where every month I normally play videos of different buyers and will we'll just listen to them. And then we pause and you'll see people in zoom calling out interesting perspectives or thoughts while the person's talking. We also do a lot of using our platform where we basically, you show things, for example, like we have one of the gals who's in content marketing and she writes white papers. And the other months, she was like, I just came up with the new way to write white papers and I'm never going to do it differently again is she writes the outline, and then she gets feedback in the platform from the target audience on the outline, and she just gets them to skim it and get feedback on what resonates, what topics, what they drill into. Are there things that are interesting or not? And it's interesting the feedback you get because they start using words that resonate with them. They translate it almost real time, right, that section. And so if you're trying to go after a new audience, you now better understand how they think about that topic. What words they use.

And she's like, it's almost like it writes the white paper itself. I can really start changing. And so we, basically have all these use cases because I think these are such fascinating learnings that I want to try to share that with everyone in the organization. So they'll come to the all hands and speak some of the insights that they've learned and some of the aha moments. And we continually do that. Because at the  end of the day, right where we're trying to get people to understand customer, the whole business of a company is to find and keep a customer. And so, you know, we spend so many dollars in marketing and we test everything. I feel like live after it's created, we do it with our budgets. And I think it's so important to really start getting that feedback earlier and earlier.

Daniel Burstein: That I think this ties well into your next lesson. You say utilize customer empathy when trying to involve the customer in marketing efforts. And you talked about you create an empathy map. So do you want to kind of explain to us what is an empathy map? How do you create it?

Michelle Huff: Yeah, you know, I think this is for me, it was I first learned about empathy maps here at UserTesting. And so it's a whole concept that came out of the user experience side of the house. And so user experience are people are trying to design applications websites and thinking about the user in mind and in marketing land. But we've always kind of created personas and empathy maps are basically a way to think about how people think versus feel versus say versus do.

And so I think it's important to have personas, but I think an empathy map, if you layer on top, it really starts getting you to think about them and their behaviors differently versus in aggregate. I think it's so tempting sometimes in personas where you describe them all, you know, and you feel like, you know, they tend to be, you know, have 2.5 children and then, you know, like they're more of this characterization of  a role. For example, you know, we're going after security professionals and you've kind of described the role, but you don't really know how they think, how they feel, what they say, what they do. And so what we did with empathy maps is you can you can have people building them.

For one of my annual planning, we actually use this activity to break out into different teams. And so we took our four different audiences and had the empathy map and people went through and actually had some interviews with customers and watched some videos of different buyers and then took out little highlight like little clips of moments that helped articulate how these people think about their role, how do they feel when this happens. And so then we showcased it in all hands so that people just got a different experience.

Daniel Burstein: Oh, great. So, the empathy map is just like, okay, here's what this person's days like. Because if there's one thing I noticed, we've created a tool to help with this is so when I would, you know, I started as an advertising copywriter. And so let's say, you know, I'd create a TV spot or a video or something like that. So I'm sitting there, I'm watching it. You're in an editing suite. It's beautiful. They got catered lunch, a leather chair, perfect speakers, this beautiful screen. You know what I mean? And you are like tuned to every detail. Now it's being watched, you know, out at a park with a mom whose kid just dropped his hot dog and is crying and she's seeing it on her phone and it's hot out, you know what I mean?

And so speaking, empathy map, it's the totally wrong way to try to, like, get a gauge for your creative right. And so that's one thing I always talk about is like figuring out like, okay, the empathy, how is someone actually going to experience this message? So like what? Just give us a high level. What are a few of the factors you include in that empathy map.

Michelle Huff: Yeah, well, so for example, so you can do an empathy map based on just the personas or you can take certain activities and then try to build an empathy map around that. So when people are having the first time experience with your solution something like that, then you can build an empathy map and then you basically it's not just, it's not just a persona of saying, okay, the first time experience of our customers, here's all the people and you break it down into your, you know, if your software, your admins versus your buyers versus your end users, right? And then you kind of group these people.

An empathy map with okay the first time experience and you would ask questions to figure out okay well what are these people actually thinking the first type experience ought to be, right? Are there expectations that they have what this first time experience of UserTesting needs to be? How do they feel right? Do they before and after, do they feel like it actually helped, you know, meet those expectations or not, right?. And then what do they say versus what they do? So, you know, sometimes if you ask people what they're going to do versus actually watch just what they do, it's very different. And you get different insights.

And so, you know, with our solution, you know, it or you can do it the other way is just by interviewing,  the style is more of just asking people ok tell me about tell me about the first time experience that you had, and then say versus watching them go through it for the first time. And you see people fumble. You see people stop and say, like, I don't understand what this means. Or maybe you realize you're using a lot of terminology that assumes a lot of knowledge about the products and the solution. And first time users are really confused by that. And so it's just a, it helps bring that moment and these people to life, I think, a lot more. And I think the goal of, you know, you're trying to problem solve and fix it. But I think the more that you can empathize with the people yourselves, the more that you can make different decisions as you're building content experiences. You know, you name it.

Daniel Burstein: And that terminology is huge. As a writer, I see that all the time. That's why when you mentioned before about showing an outline and getting the actual words they use, I mean using those write words can make all the difference. But I want to ask you also about empathy. We talk about empathy. A lot of companies for them, they're using it for segmentation, for personalization.

So I wonder if you have examples of that, because when I wrote a recent case studies on empathy in marketing, for example, I did a piece on Bank of America. And for them, empathy really comes down to personalization, right? Yes. They want empathy, but what are they going to use it for? Personalization. You're going into the mobile app or you're calling the customer care center. You're having that right experience for you, right. And so I wonder for you, you know as a B2B organization you mentioned, there's all these different kind of levels probably you're talking to in the organization, different roles once you get this empathy map, once you get this understanding. So how does that affect what you're actually doing with your marketing, with your messaging, with your go to market plan?

Michelle Huff: Yeah. I mean, I think for me, you know, like there's so many decisions that marketers make and there's no realistic way that we're going to stop at every single decision point and get feedback on it, right. And so you need to have grounding in the people you are talking about. And to and building things for. And so for me, the empathy maps, these exercises, all these things are trying to help build a culture where, number one, people are curious because you can be in a marketing land where you're so focused on executing and hitting targets that you don't always stop and think about the message.

Daniel Burstein: Or pick your head up.

Michelle Huff: Right and I mean, and it's kind of amazing how many things you can do at scale and quickly and be so far off on the message and not actually make an impact, right. And so, you know, I think it's important to be curious. It's important to focus on the message in the story that you're telling. And I think in order to do that, you know, there might be moments and points that you're deliberately getting feedback on something. But other times, I think the more that you can relate, the more that you understand, the more that you know from the get go, the more that you can start using that as the foundation to build, if that makes sense. And so, you know, we've done it at different times too where we've done things for empathy just maybe for the sake of empathy that to help frame out.

So, for example, in 2020, when the pandemic first hit, there was a lot of people who were our users who were getting furloughed. And we didn't have a furlough going on in our organization and things were going well. I mean, it was hard, but things were going well. And so we actually spent some time getting feedback for people and playing it in all hands for people to really understand what others were truly going through.

Because you can, you can write social media posts, you can be creating promos and you're just framing it all in your mental state and not where other people are at. And you can make silly decisions. And so, you know, we also actually during one we were releasing something that I think it was our CX industry study and it was at a point in time well before everything hit. And so we actually wrote a foreword and we had people react to it because we were trying to hit the right tone because it was hard to know. Everyone was so at a different spot mentally through all of it. And so,  you know you always have that moment in marketing where you are about to send the email, you're about to post it, you're about to go big with something and you're worried. You're just like, Are you just off and are you in the ivory tower or someplace? And so just having people be able to react to it and then then we play it for everyone. So we're all on the same page.

Daniel Burstein: Makes sense. Well so speaking of, you know, everyone getting them on the same page, it also comes down to having the right team to work with, right. And so one of your key lessons surround yourself with the right people. So how do you do that? How do you surround yourself with the right people?

Michelle Huff: Yeah, you know, it's funny, I think we were chatting before where I think early in your career, you know, it's interesting marketing because marketers are such high execution. People and you get rewarded for having expertise in something being able to execute kind of quickly and then you kind of start getting into these leadership roles and a lot of the traits and skills and things that people reward you at that level aren't always necessarily the ones that got you there.

And you know, and you can kind of be trapped in this mindset where you feel like you have to be the expert, right? If you're the boss, you're the expert, you have to know it all. And I think you really have to flip it around. I think people learn to burnout. They that's where the imposter syndrome and all that stuff comes from. Because if you if you think about what higher up means and it’s usually you keep getting more things added to your plate, right? Like, Oh, this is really good, you take on this role and this role. And then at some point you get high enough that there's no way that you've done every single role, right? You can't be you know, the CEO is not an expert at every step and hasn't had every single function. Usually why you're in that role is because you're good at solving problems, right? And you're good at managing a team. You're good at finding right the right way to solve the problems for the company. And so, you know, the way that you have to think about it, I believe, is, you know, what your job is, is to build an organization, a team, processes, right, that fit. And so the team, you know, we all have strengths and weaknesses. You know, you want to find people who balance that out. And so, you know, maybe you come from a very specific, you know, my background. I come from more of the product management, product marketing kind of side of the house. And so I really need to surround myself by people who have extensive experience in demand generation and PR in some of these different locations.

Because for me, I feel like I need people who are going to be my advisors, who are not going to just listen to what I tell them to do, but they're going to be giving me advice on what I should do, should not do, and ultimately, if I make the call, I'm the one who takes the responsibility and everything for it, you know. So you want to know enough about these different roles. But I think once you kind of decide that you're building this team, then you're thinking about how do you get this whole team to function really well? And you're looking across all the different areas of how you balance out and make sure you have a good culture. But you find perhaps, you know, perhaps you need some roles that kind of create a little friction or push people a little bit more. And you're really doing it because you're building this team. So it's experience. I think that you're looking for diversity. I think it's diversity of backgrounds. It's, you know, a lot of different things that's important to set up.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And then for lack of a better word. But how do you get people to disagree? How do you find people who will disagree? How do you get people disagree? Because, you know, I've been in those conference rooms and the uncomfortable thing is we're all this team rallying behind it. And it's so awkward to be that voice. It says, but what about this or what?

You know, I wrote this article and I call it disagreeing agreeably. And there's this great quote from General Patton. He says, If everybody's thinking alike, somebody isn't thinking, I'm sure everyone has heard that quote. But it is so true of everybody's thinking like somebody isn't thinking. So what has been your experience? How do you how do you get those people? How do you foster that culture?

Michelle Huff: I know it is hard. It's hard on zoom, right? That's far easier to do it in person. I think trust is a part of it and I'll be transparent. I think what's interesting about UserTesting is one of our values is be kind. And so a lot of feedback that I hear that I get is people are still learning how to have, you know, I wouldn't say high conflict, but how do you have those conversations where you are being respectful and kind, but your telling people what you think in your telling if it's wrong. I heard a really fascinating TED talk the other day, I shared it with my team. Aand I'm forgetting the woman's name now. Not going to give her great credit on this this podcast. Maybe I should have looked it up. But she talked about you know, there's always been for years around helping people have crucial conversations. So there's been all these management trainings where you're trying to teach leaders how to bring up difficult conversations and how to do that constructively and all of that.

And we still continue to run into a lot of problems. And her thought process was, you know, I wonder if there's also, at the end of the day conversations the two way thing, and what if hearing feedback is also a skill and we should also be teaching people how to hear feedback. So the  problem is, not only when you hear feedback, you either one if it's feedback you don't agree with, you don't hear you either start deciding who are you? What gives you the right.

Daniel Burstein: How dare you, where do you get off…

Michelle Huff: Who are you to tell me this, you know, now, blah, blah. So you're discounting the person. Or you get really frustrated because it's how they said it. They said it this way, they said it that way. They should have used nicer words. And so then you stop listening to the feedback because now you're critiquing the how. But you know, the woman was saying, if you if you really try to say, you know, maybe the person isn't the right person or maybe they said it in a screwed up stupid way. But maybe, just maybe there might be something in that feedback that you could learn to grow from. And if you can separate, right? Like sometimes people say things and they're super angry and you're like, well, maybe they're stressed out, right? Like that's the stress talking, that's the anger talking. So push that aside. What did they really say? Like, what's the essence in there? And is that something that maybe I thought I was reflecting on that that I could use that as feedback.

And so, you know, I say it's a journey we've been on at UserTesting in my own organization of I think trust is so important so that you can say things and have people feel like it's okay that you disagree. That's okay that you blew up. It's okay you put your foot in your mouth on the way you say it because you were so passionate about a topic and you didn't say it in just the right way. But I think it's important for everyone, right. Not just the person who says the feedback, but for the receiver to both be, you know, changing about how they think about feedback.

Daniel Burstein: For the receiver it's a gift if you look at the right way. So I mean, one thing I've always asked myself in my career, well, not always. I learned this the hard way later in my career, but how would I react if I didn't have an ego, right? So if I didn't have an ego how would I react. So sometimes if you didn’t have an ego you would react it’s like well this person is wrong. They’re not in marketing they don't understand this, whatever it is. But oftentimes it's they've got a really good point and my ego is getting in the way here. And if I could just kind of shove that aside, I mean man the ego’s rough huh, especially in marketing. A lot of high alpha high ego people, if you can move that ego aside, it's like, great, this is just data. And now I can use this to improve.

So something I love about your career I want to talk about now about the people you collaborated with. Some places we've had some of these biggest conflicts, some marketers and we've had this biggest challenge with ego is working with sales or tech people and stuff. And you have such a great and unique background in that you've really done a good job in understanding sales and teaming up with them.

And it starts with this, this is your first lesson. Marketers should get involved with the sales team to learn from them. And you started early on and I'm going to list a few sales leaders that you worked with. Then I wonder if you can, tell us a story about how you kind of really dove in there because I wanna give everyone credit here.

You said in EMEA it was Andrew Gillboy who's now the Chief Commercial Officer at Thriva Health. At  APAC it was Bill Kearney, who's now the GM Asia Pacific for Away. In Latin America was Anselmo Castellan, who's now retired and in North America it was Bob Crossman, the RVP of sales at Apptio. So that's where they are now. But in those regions, where were you working with them? And then kind of tell us the story of how you dove in and almost started your marketing career in sales.

Michelle Huff: Yeah, you know, it was interesting. I started out, you know, you've rattled off a lot of the large companies I've worked for, but when I first started, it was a small 30 person tech company. And then eventually I think we were 120 people we were acquired and at that 120 person company, it was called Internet Solutions at the time, later changed to Stellant. You know, we were small and scrappy and there weren't a lot of people. And I think the benefit is you get to wear a lot of hats.

And so, you know, I started this conversation with you talking about being at those trade shows and being in technical marketing and product marketing. And I was the person who built the demos for people and who learned how to just showcase the technology. And it first started Anselmo, hope your doing well Anselmo. He was the head of Latin America and he didn’t have an SC [solutions consultant] yet, you know, because when you're small and you fund sales, you don't fully fund everything else. He was scrappy and trying to find different people. He learned that I spoke Spanish. I graduated in college with international business and lived in Mexico for a little bit and I didn't know business language. I didn't know how to say workflow and version control and all that stuff. But, you know, he invited me to go first some of the trade shows down in Brazil and Mexico. And eventually to different sales calls, because I was the person that was helping to articulate the solution. And I loved it because, you know, as we talked about before in marketing, you know, there's actually different ways that you have to talk about the solution and you have to connect it to the problems that people are trying to solve, depending what stage you're at in the funnel.

So it's so different at the very, very beginning that oftentimes marketers are out of just trying to get you to pay attention to the brands, you know, help you kind of get excited about the possibilities, but later on when you're really at this level of  why you why now, you know, kind of conversations, it's different and so it was it was really fun to see how those conversations went and, you know, and hear how the sales leader would pitch it and how they would address all the objections that would come up and different things. And over time, right. It started with Anselmo and then Andrew Gillboy, which actually a friend of mine that still lives in London just sent me a picture of Andrew. They got together for a happy hour and he was actually in EMEA and he also would have me come out and speak for certain customer calls and I would occasionally do the sales training as well. I think I mentioned in the story that I distinctly remember one of the days and we were launching a new offering and it had gotten the most press attention that we had ever had  I feel like at the company for a new kind of product launch, it was you know, people were so excited about it.

It was right up there on the trends and stuff that the market was going in. And so you can, in marketing, get all these atta girls around like, oh, this is so exciting. And I remember I went out and I was explaining everything to the sales team. I remember the feeling in the room when we started talking about the packaging and how we were just including it with the license. And there was this moment where suddenly no one was really paying attention anymore, right? Because I think at the end of the day, I think what was great is Andrew and I had a good enough relationship where later on. He was like, Well, you know, you just made it. So there's not a lot of incentive for them there was nothing new. They all got excited because this is going to be something new to talk about. And so, I mean, it really helped me better understand because I'd be going on all these trips, you know, I'm a very curious person. So as I was always asking, you know, like, what's your, you know, when you're when you're head of sales, like, what's your job? Like how do you think about your team and what are these different moments? And you hear about these stories.

And from that one, especially in enterprise sales, you know, you have in one part, you're speaking to the market, you're speaking to prospects and customers. In the other part, you're trying to motivate and have your message makes sense to the people who are going to be speaking on your behalf directly to the customers, and you need them to be bought in, them excited, and it just really helped me understand how they think, what motivates them, what gets them excited. And so you do have to change how you position things within companies. And so, you know, Bill Kearney was great, he was really good of helping me understand the difference between Asia Pacific markets and how he thinks about managing, you know for them, they've got that huge diversity of countries, regions, locations and, you know, and Bob Crossman was for North America.

And so, you know, I went on several calls with him as well. But, you know, very I don't know if they all knew it, but being, you know, in my twenties, I found it really impactful to really have that level of close up interactions with sales. I think it really helped me understand, I think, the art of being persuasive and selling and articulating a solution better.

Daniel Burstein: I assume, to empathy. Like we talk about empathy, empathy for the sales team. So, you know, if anyone is in marketing, they haven't had a chance to work in sales. Highly encourage you to try it.  I never had that opportunity, but I did work on sales enablement and so I would work with the win loss center and I would do a lot of cases, interview a lot of sales reps. And the thing that really struck me and which really helped when I got to marketing is the variability of the sales force, right?

So, you know, I was working directly with like the SVP and stuff of sales and so these were brilliant people, great salespeople. They understood the technology inside of all of these things and there were some super high performing sales reps. But on any sales team, there's, you know, a very high turnover there's new people, there's either new people from other organizations or new people fresh out of college or all these things.

And so to understand, I think that the benefit we have in marketing is our message can be so consistent because we're controlling the channels where it comes out of. And then you have to realize with sales there's going to be such a variability of where the message is coming out and how they're dealing with that message. And that is something that I hadn't really thought of before until I kind of lived and worked with all these different sales reps.

Michelle Huff: Oh, totally. Right. And there's also I mean, it's funny. There's also this interesting balance to where, you know, in marketing, we can get so frustrated sometimes in sales because you're like, I sent this message in the newsletter, I've sent it in an email, right. And you get frustrated that no one's reading this and you know, don't they know announced pinging me in slack and I have to answer this 1000 times. You know but if you are trying to have empathy, you know, when you listen to the day of a sales rep, are they they've got numbers to hit. And really the only thing they truly have like control, like, is how they choose to spend their time. And you think about all the different, right, if they're out bounding, if they're closing deals, if they're handling customer conflict, right. If they're like all these different parts, they have to be pretty ruthless with their calendar. And, you know, there could be different fires and, you know, and if you make it really hard for them to find this information, right, like you're potentially making it harder., like they have to choose between do I build pipeline today or do I go look up this information? And we all have things to balance. But I think if you're not really thinking about what their job is like, you miss some of those different nuances.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. To that end, one quick thing I learned, you know, we were doing an email newsletter. It was over at a very big tech company and we were doing an email newsletter and a typical email and through Lotus Notes and you know, on websites and this is when podcasting was just starting Apple, iTunes didn't even have podcasting, it was just starting.

And so we had this idea of taking these case studies we were doing and doing them in podcast form. And so sales reps would even download these onto CDs back then. I mean, this is pretty early and the upside was to your point. We found a way to reach into a time because their time was so important to them, a time when you know they're traveling all the time. So it was like, Oh, this is a downtime where they don't have to actively go through and read this newsletter, actively go to Lotus Notes or sign into the Internet. They could use this downtime of traveling, which they actually have so much of to get enabled and to learn about these things and stuff. So but again, that's where that empathy of living their life really helps to understand them, you know.

Michelle Huff: Totally, totally

Daniel Burstein: So the other way I think empathy came in. This is something I really struggled with when I got into the because I started in B2C and then getting into like B2B tech is really complex. I guess it's the technology part of it really understanding these things. And you have the advice to learn about how your product really works teach someone else. You learned this from Brian Huff, who is your husband. He was originally a software developer and then ran his own software consulting business for over a decade. And so what did you learn? How did you learn this from Brian and how did it help you get a better understanding of the technology that you're ultimately selling?

Michelle Huff: Yeah, so I learned a lot from hubby. So, you know, we actually met years ago, actually. We worked together for a little while and I had a demo I was trying to build and I hit a wall with the developers that all worked in the Seattle location, and I needed to go to headquarters to go figure it out because it was these two technologies talking to each other. And I thought, I'm going to go to headquarters and go down to the first floor. But all the consultants and engineers and support are all there, and I'm going to walk the halls and get someone to help me with my demo. I remember walking. I eventually met Brian and we became friends later on, but he you know, and then over time we became friends with a lot of the engineers. And it really helped me again better understand their roles. And, you know what their job is. But it was great because it was at a time where in product marketing, I mean, today with SaaS sometimes, you know, I feel like an old curmudgeon person. I'm like, you kids have it so easy these days that I remember in the on premise when I was like, you had to install the web servers and the application servers and the databases and you had to literally code into html if you wanted a website like you, you didn't just create it. You had to look at like the entire back end, which people think of DevOps today. You had on your little tiny IBM ThinkPad that you traveled around the country with.

And so there was all these moments where so many new things were happening in technology, right? It was the first time of xml and web services and RSS feeds and all these different things were coming out.

And, you know, in marketing, you're trying to help explain what it is to people, why it matters, why these people should care. And so, you know, he really did help me better understand everything about technology, how it worked, Web applications, you know, it was it was great because what I really admire about him is he's this avid learner. So while he was an engineer, his degree was actually in physics. And then he got a master's in civil engineering and then became an engineer, right. So Obviously a man of different backgrounds.

But his, you know, idol, or someone who mentors, someone he really looked up to is Richard Feynman, who was a physicist. And if you look up Richard Feynman, you will see he has these quotes that say you don't really understand something unless you can teach it to someone else at a high school level, was kind of his thought. And because it's a little bit easier if you talk to someone who has been in your world, you know, like you and I talking about marketing, right? It's easier than trying to explain marketing to someone who's not in that world. And so, you know, I really took a lot of that to heart. And what I would tend to do is we always had these weekly sales trainings. And so I would intentionally sign up to train the team on something that I knew full well, that I had no idea what it was about.

But I thought it was a really good forcing function because I thought it was important for everyone to know it. And so I would intentionally go figure it out and teach myself. And I figured that if I could actually get to a point where I can educate someone else about what I just learned, then I understand it. Then if I understand it, then I can better demo it, I can better build it into the talk track. And so it's really something that I feel like I've just continued to carry all the way through, even into, to the world of being CMO sometimes you know, I've dove into pricing models, into different, you know, things that I'm trying to really make sure that I truly understand something.

Because I never want to be you, you know, telling people things when I don't really understand it. And I think that also comes back to sometimes the challenges in marketing is, you know, I don't know if you've ever read sometimes white papers or things, you're like, I don't think the person actually knows what they're talking about, right? Like they're they saying all the words, it kinda makes sense, but I don't if that actually makes sense.

Daniel Burstein: That is such a great point. So when it comes to writing, you know, I sometimes will get questions from people who aren't native English speakers and they're like, Oh, but I want to be a copywriter and stuff. And I tell them like, we're all non-native on some level. So like I said, when I started in tech, I was a non-native tech person. I mean I could speak perfect English and was non-native in tech.  And let me tell you, it has the language, right?

Michelle Huff: Exactly what I was just talking about , yeah.

Daniel Burstein: And so I had to first become fluent in tech because the other thing is, too, you would get on a call with someone, right? And so if I was writing case studies on this, I was working in sales enablement at the time, I’m writing case studies of wins and losses and stuff so I can learn from them. And I would get on a call a sales rep, and I would either win or lose that sales reps respect because as you said, they've got limited time and they're not going to waste a minute of it. And if you don't know what you're talking about, they realize they're wasting it and they're going. So you would have to be able to speak it fluently enough. And so just getting up to that point, to speak it fluently.

Aand to that end, even we did we you know, when new people would start at our company, I realized how many things that like once you've worked in this industry for a while, you know so well they didn't understand pay per click right. It sounds like a peper click.And so we did a series for our audience because we used to try, you know, when your experienced for a while you try to do very high level content. We did more one on one content. We just did a series of what is X, what is that and just explained it. And we had just the whole like 50 or 60 of them.

And so we know give it to our audience when you've got new people on your digital marketing team. But for our team too just showing them the ropes and getting them, you know, to speak the language.

Michelle Huff: Yeah, it's funny. My husband used to he would, well he still does, he's pacing around the house. So I was like, what are you doing? And then I learned he was he was literally pretending he was lecturing and training. So because when he was learning about something new, he would just even in his head be pretending like he's explaining it to someone else. And that really helped him learn and understand. And so I thought that was really helpful.

Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. So let's talk about one last great example of working with sales. You say become a true partner with your sales counterpart and you learned this by working with UserTesting's Cchief Revenue Officer David Satterwhite and this is not the first time you've worked with David, right? This relationship is a multi company relationship, right?

Michelle Huff: Yeah. Yeah. We worked together at the company before, at Act-On [Software, Inc.].

Daniel Burstein: And so what have you learned from trying to kind of like I said, this is one of the biggest struggles is that marketing-sales alignment when it's not going well. You know, it's funny, like people say this about baseball teams, for example, right? So when things are going well, they're going well because oh, they're such good camaraderie and they're playing poker in the clubhouse and they've got a pool table in the clubhouse and all this stuff.

But when things are not going well, then the relationships always blamed like, Oh, they don't have that relationship, they don't have that cohesiveness and we're a team. So what have you learned about forming a good, like teamwork with your sales counterpart?

Michelle Huff: It's so important. And, you know, what’s interesting, you know, throughout the career I remember before I met David even mentoring some people. And there's a phrase that we would have as leaders, no chinks in the armor. And what that was is sometimes I remember coaching someone who came to me and said that, you know, she was heading marketing. And the GM at the time was trying to drill into something and it was like this interesting moment, where is it a sales thing or is it a marketing problem or like what? And we were talking about it and I was like, oh, like, be careful with that one. I'm like, no, no, no, no. Like, don't, don't say don't throw your counterpart under the bus. Just say, like, I'm going to go talk to this person. We're going to go figure it out, right. And I remember later she's like, Oh, that was good advice.

But what I really appreciated later on when I met David is he had been doing, you know, the whole head of sales thing for much longer than me. And this was my first time being a CMO. I had run marketing, you know, at sales force for a product line, but I hadn't been the CMO of something. And, you know, I think in particular, I think he's lived a lot of the marketing and sales friction as well. And I think that he really approaches things in a partnering way.

And I think he established at first and I'm really grateful he did because, you know, sometimes you kind of feel like you're isolated and alone and you have to do all this stuff. And I think because he first started saying like, hey, I'm thinking about making these changes to the sales organization, like, what do you think? And treating, you know, me as an extension of the sales organization then, right? So like one of the leaders and so vice averse, you know, I started doing that and we really have approached sales and marketing as we both are jointly doing this. So there's over time, there's actually people even today that we fund but actually report into each other's organizations just because it might make more sense for them to be in that organization at the time.

We, you know, I kind of walk through how I'm thinking about spending the marketing dollars and because at the end of the day, right, if we're both not supportive of either one, growing into this new market, right. Like we talk about it now, it's like, okay, we're thinking about creating this segment or going into this, you know. He  could choose one approach where he does it, and them I’m scrambling, right? Or I could say, well, you know, screw you, you did it. Now you know, I'm not funding that, right. And I feel like that's where all the conflict happens as well. Or we have a pretty upfront conversations like, okay, well we can do that. Here's the benefits, here's the trade offs. If we do that, you know, like either we got to change the sales and marketing percentage to spend, right? And we can fund more marketing people to do that. Or maybe we have less marketing and you're doing more outbounding you're doing more right. Like and so the nice thing is we, we talk through the problem sets. We know there's trade offs across sales and marketing. And I mean so much about enterprise selling is marketing, you know, it's not this top of the funnel. You drive things, throw it over the wall and then it's a sales problem, right?

Like you see all the data about how maybe a BDR is on the phone leaving a voicemail and that's brand awareness, right? They might actually come inbound because of all that outbounding work that you're doing. Or there might be a lot of people who are in a sales cycle, but that event or that content or that thought leader that you influenced is influencing that deal to close. And so, so much of the investment, if you, you know, especially if you have a sales leader that appreciates the marketing that's required, you know, it does really make things a lot easier.

But we definitely take an approach of, you know, if we have issues, if we see conflict, for example, of different team members, we'll actually call each other first and talk about how we both want to handle it. And sometimes we'll say, hey, like it might make sense for you to call that person directly or, you know, I'll have a conversation with them or, you know, we really just try to make sure that we're resolving issues.

And, you know, if we have disagreements, yell at it, you know, yell at each other in private, but come to some conclusion at the end, because I think ultimately gets really, really hard for the rest of the organization. Like we might think that we've got a little tiff and it's okay, but the whole organization starts to struggle. So we, we really try to get aligned.

Daniel Burstein: Well, I wonder, have you been able to expand this to the CFO, CTO, CIO, whoever? You know, when I interviewed Kristen Russell, the Chief Marketing Officer of Sympler on the How I Made It Marketing Podcast, she talked about how they live by Patrick Lencioni’s first team mindset. Where your executive team’s, your first team you know prioritized over your Org or your division. No turf war here,  this is our first team, this group. So have you been able to expand it to that set? I mean, that's marketers struggle. The CFO, the CEO, CTO is you know, it's obviously not just with that their sales counterpart.

Michelle Huff: Yeah. Yeah. No I mean, I think the whole no chinks in the armor thing I think applies for definitely a C-suite in general. And so, you know, it is, you know, the nice thing I think from a from a finance standpoint is we talk through, you know, like the trade offs. We talk through budgets. You know, I think sometimes you just think things are happening. You say, hey I’ve got a few minutes and you give them a phone call and you kind of chat through it. I think in particular, everything on the customer success side as well when you're in SaaS is very much similar to the sales and marketing relationship too, and then definitely with product and engineering.

So you know, I think it's so important to be building those relationships, having that same level of trust across everyone, probably maybe the unique difference, especially when you're in public company. At the end of the day, how you're measured is your CAC [customer acquisition cost], your sales and marketing spend is considered one dollar amount, right. And so in that sense, there's a temptation that, you know, if you're needing to fund something that you can just say, like, well, screw the other organizations. I don’t want to hire, I want more marketing spend and you know, obviously that means there's less in sales, like where we're interlinked in maybe a different way than some of the other teams. But, but yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. You really need to be driving that level of conversation and trust across everyone in the C-suite.

Daniel Burstein: Oh Michelle, we talked about so many different things that it means to be a marketer, whether it's customer empathy, whether it's learning so we can teach others, whether it's playing nicely with sales. But if you had to break it down, what would you say, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Michelle Huff: You know, I mean, it's so fascinating to me, right? I don't think there is just one key quality of a marketer, right. Like I've met so many in the past where they come from very data driven marketers or very creative brand marketers or really strong in messaging, right. And so I don't think personally it's a skill set that's the experience level of marketing.

But I think, you know, that what you are doing is I think it's the leadership skills. And so I think it's a lot of the soft skills if you know. The thing about marketing is can you get companies, people motivated, excited, aligned, you know how do you handle conflict? How do you build teams? I think all those things are incredibly important and powerful for a head of marketing.

Daniel Burstein: That makes sense. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Michelle. I learned a lot.

Michelle Huff: Loved being on, thanks for the conversation.

Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. And thanks to everyone for listening.

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