Fiona: Welcome to Market Mentors, a podcast for the marketing leaders of today and tomorrow. I'm Fiona Jensen, a Director and co-owner of Market Recruitment. For over a decade I've been helping B2B marketeers find the best jobs with great companies. Together we'll discover how marketing experts reach the top and learn from their experience. Ask career related questions you can't get answers to elsewhere. Be tough, be challenged, be mentored.
Fiona: Jill Pringle, CEO and Founder of Brand Symphony Marketing gives us a master class in how to build a brand value proposition for a B2B service business. Drawing inspiration from the world of music as a singer and sharing five steps on how to scale a service business, which she's also just brought to life in book form called The Brand Symphony, we talk about many things, but Jill generously shares real life marketing career experiences, lessons and tips from the top. If you've got a small B2B service business and you're looking to scale, this is the episode for you. Enjoy.
Fiona: So, I'm here with the wonderful and inspiring Jill Pringle. Thank you ever so much for having us in and joining the Market Mentors.
Jill: That's an absolute pleasure. Really excited to speak with you.
Fiona: Thank you. So, for those who don't know your background and experience, how you've come to where you are, what can we find out? Where have you come from? What sort of experience are we going to learn from today?
Jill: Sure. So, my background, I actually trained as a musician before I trained as a marketeer.
Fiona: I love that.
Jill: I didn't really even know what marketing was at school. It's not some subject taught at school, right? So, I studied music at university and then I fell into a marketing job, and then went back and trained more formally. And my career is spanned working for arts organisations, flower shows, directories, B2B data products, and then I moved into credit referencing, supply chain advisory services before I set up my own business as a brand and marketing consultant. So it's fairly varied but branded industries.
Fiona: Very varied, indeed, but again, perfect point is that marketing skills are transferrable across any industry and sector, and actually, by the looks of it, add quite a lot of value when you do.
Jill: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that I've enjoyed the most about my career is how much I've been able to learn about different industries, but the common skills and approach has been the same, whatever industry I've worked in.
Fiona: Oh, well, that is exactly the toolkit that we're excited to unpack today and that we're looking forward to you sharing. Some of the companies obviously that you've worked for include the likes of Thomson Local, Equifax, TDX Group, SCM World, Gartner, and now two businesses that you've run on your own.
Jill: Yeah. Absolutely. I've worked in, I suppose, small companies. I started off in a very small arts organisation, actually, so very hands-on, very practical.
Fiona: Time limited, budget limited.
Jill: Yeah, I mean, everything limited, it really was. It really was a great kind of grounding of having to learn how to do everything literally yourself, and that's been really valuable because I just... I've almost like kinesthetically felt how certain things are in order to make them successful, that perhaps if I'd started in a larger organisation I wouldn't have had the same hands-on experience. But I've also worked with Gartner and Equifax in large matrix global organisations where the skills required are... most of the marketing skills are the same, the skills required to succeed are very different in terms of the networking capabilities that you need and the stakeholder management that's required is definitely more complex in those types of organisations.
Fiona: I can imagine. And stakeholders is exactly what we'll get into shortly as well, isn't it? I love the fact that you've just written a book as well. So, not only are you a singer and speaker, a marketing whizz kid, but also now an author. How did that come about? How was that, tell me?
Jill: I'm still pinching myself that I've actually done that. If you'd have asked me a year ago if I'd have been sitting here saying, "I've just written a book," I would have thought you were a little bit kind of crazy. But actually it was a little bit easier than I thought it would be once I got going. It came about because I was doing a course about entrepreneurship. In the last two years I went freelance and then suddenly decided that what I want to do is find a way to build this into an actual business rather than it just be me being a freelance marketeer, and part of that course was about this concept of, you're sitting on a ton of value and how do your share that?
Jill: And that worked really well for me because at school I wanted to be a music teacher. I enjoy coaching and teaching more junior marketeers in organisations that I've worked in, so it felt like a natural step. And I do kind of enjoy writing. The key thing, as you'd have with anything that you're doing, any kind of project, was around preparation and actually going through an ingenious stage that this woman who taught us about, actually almost writing cards, just brain dumping all the things that you'd want to share onto cards, and then ordering them-
Fiona: Oh, my [crosstalk 00:06:07]
Jill: ... and then actually [crosstalk 00:06:08] when you come to do the writing, you suddenly, just each morning, I would get up, I would write for one hour. So, I do like 7:30 to 8:30 each morning, I get up and all I had to do was write about the next card.
Fiona: Oh, wow!
Jill: Didn't have to think about, "What am I going to write about today?" And it needed a bit of work after the first draft, so there was definitely some repetition and stuff around that, but it was a great process to work through. And what it did for me is, it allowed me to take my 25 ideas of marketing experience and actually structure that into more of a methodology, which I use naturally but I haven't really thought about building it into something that then I can now teach other organisations to use to have the same success that I've had in building and repositioning brands and orchestrating marketing strategy.
Jill: So, yeah, it's called The Brand Symphony, and actually what's also really nice for me, personally, is it brings that musical and-
Fiona: Absolutely. I love that.
Jill: ... marketing side together.
Fiona: Yeah. I love that. As soon as I read the title, I was like, "I know why she's done that. I know why she's done that. How lovely." Yeah. And it's really, it's back to your roots, isn't, as well, which is really nice.
Jill: It is and I-
Fiona: The thread that runs through it.
Jill: Yeah. Totally. And actually I never really stood back and thought about how much I use my musical training as a marketeer. But actually, when I look at where some of my best successes have been, often it's been my musical training that's helped me more in a funny way than the marketing training, because thinking of a brand as a performance and thinking particularly with service businesses about the fact that your brand is essentially a bunch of people who are delivering stuff for your clients, the orchestration and coordination of that across the business is the key to whether your marketing strategy works, and whether your brand actually does become what you're telling people it is.
Jill: And if you understand how to build a musical performance and the different roles that you have within that, then that's a really good way of thinking about how to make marketing work. The parallels are much greater than I ever thought.
Fiona: I love it. So, orchestrating a marketing strategy helps you scale a service business, and it's really clear, as you say, because there's so many different parts of an orchestra. But, it's when they all play together and work together that they become a magical and amazing experience, which is basically all the service business is, isn't it? That sort of experience and what people perceive and whether they're then willing to share that experience with others.
Jill: Yeah. Totally. And, actually, as a musician, one of fundamental things that you learn really early on that's really valuable, I think, for individuals in organisations to think about and also I suppose more junior marketeers looking to grow in their careers as well, is that, as a musician you are collectively responsible for the performance, but you are individually accountable for your own part. So you have collective rehearsals, for example, but you individually are expected to go away and do the work between those rehearsals in order to make sure that you're showing up with the right skills.
Jill: And I think that's something I recommend that people think about as they grow through their careers, and even I think about now, which is, "Okay, have I learned my part adequately, or am I actually expecting the organization somehow to do something that's my responsibility?" I learned that as a musician aged like 12, singing in this choir that was very successful, but the expectation was that you played your part.
Fiona: Yeah. No winging it.
Fiona: You've got to know the notes.
Jill: Yeah. Exactly.
Fiona: And words.
Jill: Exactly. And yes, you might get coached, and yes, you might be given the space to rehearse with other people as to how it fits together, but you're responsible for actually going home and learning the notes and learning the words.
Fiona: Practice makes perfect.
Jill: It does.
Fiona: Or 10,000 hours as Malcolm Gladwell [crosstalk 00:10:35].
Fiona: So, you are then the chief marketing orchestrator, which again, was something that I sort of snuffled out of your words of wisdom, and I really like that actually because, as you say, you're kind of the conductor then, almost.
Jill: Yeah. It's really interesting to think about the different roles of different people in a business, and each business will be slightly different, obviously. When I was at SCM World, the CFO, I remember once at a sort of away day, said to me, "I don't really think of you as a CMO." And I was mortally offended, having spent my 25 years trying to build my career [crosstalk 00:11:19] towards being a CMO.
Fiona: What am I, then?
Jill: Okay. Where is this going? But what he said to me was, he thought of me as a little more like a COO because what he watched me do was go around different areas of this business and try and get under the skin of what they were doing, and trying to connect that up with all the other areas. And for me, I think, that's part of what a CMO is there to do. So, job title aside, I think that orchestration piece is really important and any strategy can be totally brilliant, but if all the parts don't align behind that and it's not orchestrated and somebody hasn't actually thought through how that adds up, particularly in a service business, then it's not really going to work. Or it might work once, but you're not going to get that repetition of multiple performances that each audience that comes along hears the same thing or nearly the same thing. You're no going to get that unless it's actually been well orchestrated.
Jill: One of the things that I work with smaller businesses, that I do, is sometimes to work with the CEO, and actually get them to start thinking of themselves a little bit more as the conductor and the marketeer is the orchestrator, the person who actually puts all the parts together and helps the different parts of the organisation think about how it comes together, and connect the detail of what they do day-to-day to the overall proposition and the strategy.
Jill: But one of the other things that I often end up doing is trying to gently coach the CEO to stop thinking of themselves as the composer, and throw out another tune and another new toy and another new toy and another new toy, and actually stand still for a little bit and conduct the symphony that they already have and get comfortable with the different parts across the organisation and how to align those. Because if you have set up a business and you have been that innovator, then you're a composer and you're really hooked on the constant composition of new things, which is great, which is how you've grown your business, but there comes a point where actually what you need to do is let that embed and let people catch up with you before you can actually really scale.
Jill: Because there's just a point where you can't put the individual glue that holds it all together. You've got to start to have layers of management and you've got to start to have processes that actually allow you to grow from being, I don't know, 10 people to 50 people to 100 people to... you know, really grow your organisation. In order to do that the CEO has to learn a slightly different role as well, and once they step into the right role, it also then allows the marketeer to really come into their own and own the marketing position. Often the CEO sort of meddles in the marketeer's role and I've been on the receiving end of that where it's really frustrating.
Fiona: Oh, yes, there's quite a few stories out there around now, I can imagine. But I'm loving the analogy. I'm literally sat on one of those really plushy theatre chairs right now, in the balcony. I've got my binoculars and my bottle of Prosecco ready. I'm so set up with this. I love it. I love it.
Fiona: With regards to that sort of CEO and scale, with regards to your particular tool kit, at what point would a company benefit most from adopting it or seriously taking it and having a look at themselves and adjusting? Because there's varying reports that I've had and feedback and different things that I've read which basically says, the start-up of five to 10, 15 people is, kind of, suck it and see, and figure out if you've got a market, and funding, and all that sort of stuff.
Fiona: But when you get to 50 employees, that's when you're starting to get more of a ship versus a boat, shall we say, on the ocean, and at that point you probably need to start looking at icebergs and figuring out where you're actually going to go in the long run. But where would you suggest people really start adopting and looking at the brand symphony?
Jill: I normally say between about 10 and 50 employees.
Fiona: En route. Between the boat and ship.
Jill: Yeah. Exactly. [crosstalk 00:15:49] It is exactly that journey and it is a painful journey, as well, because it's quite a significant change in the way you're trying to work, and you're trying to embed a bit more process around what you do. You're also starting to add some layers, so at the point at which you're starting to think about, "I need to add some management layers," and the CEO suddenly going, "Okay, once I've got more than 10 people, it becomes quite hard for me to manage all of those people and lead the business and be the chief sales person and be the person that they're speaking and growing the business." They start to get very stressed because it gets a little bit too much.
Jill: I think that's normally the point at which I see companies come to me. It depends on what they do as to the exact size, and normally, turnover-wise, they tend to be around two to seven million kind of size. And it is that transition for them, as you say, up to being from boat to ship, sort of thing.
Jill: And they need that help to change.
Fiona: Because I expect that probably affects culture, as well, wouldn't... That must affect culture within the organisation, because, as you say, you've already talked about the composer versus the conductor versus the orchestrator, and the different skillsets and having to work together and accept where your strengths and weaknesses are. I think that really does happen within start-ups a lot because a lot of companies sell culture when it's a start-up, as in, "We literally, we are 10 people, but we're a great bunch of guys. We like to do this, we like to do that." Or, "We've got dogs and kids running around the office," whatever it is, but you always have an amazing story and a great experience for people.
Fiona: But, as you say, once you start building up those processes and looking at the bigger picture and where we're going and how we're going to scale, that definitely has an impact. So, what sort of advice have you got for people around how to handle or manage that?
Jill: I think it's understanding the... A lot of culture for me is around values, and I don't think your values need to change as you grow. I think one of, perhaps, the mistakes organisations make is that in an attempt to mature the way that they work and add more process, some of that initial values-based culture can disappear. But you know yourself in the business that you're in that the most successful hirers and the most successful placements of individuals are where there's a really good values match. Because, then, you don't get that tension and you feel like you're all pulling in the same direction, even if it's difficult, even if there are growing pains. You've all got that same reason and way of handling those growing pains that allows you to grow together.
Jill: So, for me, I think that's a critical thing that people should really think about.
Fiona: So, I suppose, I'm keen to unpack a little bit of that tool kit-
Fiona: ... that you've got so nicely under your arm now. So, what steps or sorts would you recommend service businesses have in mind moving forward, if they are in this position and they are at the right size, and they want to get to next level. What should they be doing or thinking about?
Jill: I think the first thing is thinking about who you're going to serve, and it is a fundamental of marketing, let's face it. It is an audience-led art/science. I think it's actually both marketing. And so the first step for me is always audience. So I work people through something I call the orchestrate method, which is effectively five steps.
Fiona: I love that. I'm all ears.
Jill: So that's audience, song, score, rehearse, perform. I always start with the audience, and the critical thing to think about is, if you're going to make that transition from almost, "We'll take anyone who wants to pay us to do stuff," which is what you do when you start up, right-
Jill: ... necessarily. And I think that's a really valuable stage because you only learn what works best and not quite so well by doing it. But there's just that point where you need to really form an opinion of, "What is the real problem that we are solving for people here?" And sometimes it's not the problem that you think it is. It's not what they call you up and ask you for. When you get underneath the motivations and almost the personal reasons why they buy from you, it can be very different.
Jill: So, I'll give you an example of something like advisory services. Sometimes very senior people in organisations will buy advisory services to help their team grow and develop, so you're almost thinking that they're buying learning and development for their team. And they are. But actually a bit of research that we did around SCM World was that those people were actually also looking for... they wanted to continue their own legacy and they wanted to bridge the gap between their experience and their teams' experience in order to do that. And also, they wanted to be able to perform a greater role within the boardroom of these big global organisations, perhaps as a supply chain leader who might be pushed into the operations delivery box rather than the strategic box, and so some of the advisory services and some of the networking was about actually allowing them to bring back stories into the boardroom that would help them drive the strategies that they wanted to pursue.
Jill: So, the buying motives were a little bit different. So, really getting under the skin of those motivations and asking questions. I always ask questions around, what are the actual... What's the job that you hire us to do? And keep asking a lot of why questions to get under the skin of that. Sometimes it's very different from what you think, but you can build your proposition around that and also it helps you narrow your audience.
Jill: So, rather than saying... I could say, "Well, I help CEOs of any service business," it's still quite a broad target market. But actually, I've learned to understand that it's those CEOs and MDs of service businesses who are just at that point where they feel like they want to do something different. Like they need to shift from being a boat to a ship, and consequently, their personal pains are much more about, "Do I have the right capability in my business to do this? How do I actually connect my marketing to my cash flow? How do I actually join aligned sales and marketing? And how do I start to get clarity around what we do?" Because for a lot of them, they know what they do but a lot of their people can't articulate it like they can, and it starts to feel like something is getting a little bit out of control.
Jill: And so, that tends to dictate the type of audience that I'm looking for.
Jill: So, the first stage is all about audience.
Fiona: Audience. Yup.
Jill: The next thing is about, what's the actual value proposition that you're going to build around that? So when I first started freelancing, it was actually selling myself almost as a value proposition consultant, except nobody really knows what that is, right?
Jill: But it was brand positioning, and it was about trying to use what a salesperson or a product person would do to develop a very specific proposition at more of a brand level. And rather than being tempted to write almost like a vision or a mission statement, which is great and very inspirational, but if you're someone sitting in an operational role day-to-day doing quite repetitive tasks, it's very difficult for you to connect what you do to that quite fluffy aspirational vision or mission.
Fiona: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
Jill: A value proposition tends to be much more specific around this is what we are going to do, and importantly, this is what we're not going to do. So, through the audience and the song stage, one of the key things that I'm always trying to coach marketeers and MDs and CEOs to do, is focus. To really let go of, "No, you can't be all things to all people." You actually need to pick something quite focused and specific that's going to be what you're going to hang your hat on, as to the real value that you deliver.
Jill: And I always have this sort of musical stave that I now use, which are almost the steps of a value proposition where, for the businesses building that you start with who you're going to serve and who you're not going to serve. And who you're not going to serve is just as important, so that you let go of the all things to all people. But for the audience, what they're interested in is, what's the benefit? What's in it for me? And that's almost where we as marketeers we need to lead, so we need to build it up from bottom to top, but actually it's from top to bottom that it's heard.
Jill: And then after you've build a value proposition, you then actually need to orchestrate it, so that's almost what your marketing strategy and plan is for, and that marketing strategy and plan as service business is, I think, is much more about the physical evidence and the people and the process elements, than it is just about product, price, promotion and place.
Fiona: Ooh. I like it. Something new.
Jill: Well, actually, I think if you go to the CIN, I think they would talk about the seven pieces probably more, even more now. But those three for service businesses is so important because you can have the best product. If your software is a service, you can have the best software in the world, but actually I would put money on the fact that the consulting and support that you provide around that service is as much the value that the customers are paying for as the actual technology. The technology is the enabler, what they're looking for is your experience of how to make that work.
Jill: So, the orchestration piece becomes figuring out who's going to do what across the organisation, and actually building that into your marketing strategy. And I think that's an area that younger marketeers aren't trained in particularly well. I look back to my experience, and yes, part of that came from the musician training, but part of it also came from being a product manager. And I would recommend that if there are listeners to this out there who are perhaps earlier on in their careers, taking a product management role, even if it's a sideways step, getting a job as an assistant product manager, was one of the biggest formative experiences for me as a marketeer and really helped me when I was suddenly a CMO or a marketing director, because I got an end-to-end view of the full... all the Ps of the product mix in order to make that product so successful. So it's almost like being a mini CMO.
Jill: And you learn how to orchestrate because if you can't orchestrate across your business, then your product will fail because it's competing with so many other products. It's almost like a microcosm of what happens when you're a CMO, when suddenly it's about your business trying to compete with a whole bunch of other service businesses.
Jill: So, after you've done the orchestration piece, then you need to rehearse it. I'm always amazed that as marketeers we invest a lot of time in testing products. So, if we've got technology, they'll go through testing, either go through technical testing, user testing, will then put out a beta version.
Fiona: Yup. I was going beta.
Jill: Exactly. With services, we just lob them out there and hope that it all joins up.
Fiona: Yeah. Yeah.
Jill: And I'm going through this for myself now as I'm starting to think about building my own business, because I'm going to have to practice what I preach. And like all people, that's the hardest thing to do, but actually rehearsal is important. And it's important and respectful to your people. So, if you're in a business and someone comes along and says, "We've got to make a new product," and so many people start calling up and asking for this product, you don't know enough about it. You don't know where your role fits, you don't know where the hand-off is between what you do and what the next person in the next part of the organisation does. You're really exposed, you're really vulnerable, and one of two things tends to happen, I find. Either it kind of happens and it feels a bit scrappy to the customer, or actually what happens is people in the organisation shy away from it.
Jill: So they try to stick with what they know because that feels safer. You need to give people a little bit of space to learn, and the rehearsals are about that. And I tend to do customer journey mapping. Customers, not just prospects, but right through from prospects to sort of renewal, and start to get people thinking about what are the things that are visible to the customer. What are the things that are almost backstage versus onstage and visible. And get people to think a little bit about how it's going to connect up and then have some trial runs. Do some mystery shopping. At Thomson Local I didn't make myself very popular at all by implementing a mystery shopping program. I remember trying to launch that and sell that to the sales people. Very hard sell.
Fiona: I can imagine. You're going to do what?
Jill: And literally we hired... You know the kind of people who [inaudible 00:30:03] in mystery shopping for like car dealerships?
Jill: We'd walk in and... In the car sales industry, they're really used to that, right? They also know that their own personal appraisals are based on how well they get their mystery shopping scores. We actually did that at Thomson Local, and it was invaluable, and turned into a training program working with training and HR and sales leaders to help them understand and have training in the customer experience that their sales process created. So there was pain, there was definitely pain of angst, but actually we got some really great development for the sales people after that.
Jill: So, rehearsals are really important and then the final stage is performance, and that's about actually constantly performing, testing, checking in, understanding what is and isn't working with the audience, but also what is and isn't working internally.
Jill: And those five stages, that's quite an investment in time, but it's also fun. It's also enormous fun to work through all of that, and I think if you've worked through all of those stages right from who we're going to talk to, what are we going to say, how does that work across our business, how are we going to train and enable our people to do it, and then how we're actually going to monitor the performance. If you manage to work through all of those stages as a team, you have a very solid business to scale. And that's what this is about.
Fiona: Timescale-wise? What's a realistic timescale for that process? Because, I imagine it's a how long is a piece of string question, but it depends on how willing the company is, et cetera.
Fiona: But realistically? [crosstalk 00:31:53] if they're willing-ish? What would you say?
Jill: I think you could get through the first couple of stages, so the audience and song piece, in about three months. Okay? I think to go through the whole thing might be anything from six to 18 months. I always say that for value proposition to really land... I said this at a conference recently, and it went deathly silent.
Fiona: Oh, really?
Jill: Deathly silent. But for a value proposition at an organisation level to really land, particularly in a slightly larger organisation, takes about 18 months. And I think all too often what happens is that we... because as the marketing team and for the CEO, they've probably been living with it for three or four months before it even gets launched internally. And then, people internally might have been living with it for a couple of months before it gets launched externally. People already forget that for the audience is the first time they've heard it even though you've been living it for six months and already feel a little bit bored by it. So, that's why I say, it can take up to 18 months for a value proposition to really reap the benefits, and for me the benefits are the... is fully ingrained in your culture, people are really comfortable with their roles within it.
Jill: Your audience know that that's what you do and that you've started to get some cut through in the market and people have started to make the right inquiries and it's the right types of customers that are coming through. That does take time. But, it's not like you go from zero and then 18 months later, suddenly it's working. It is a gradual process, and you reap the gradual benefits as well. So it's not like you have to wait 18 months to get the full benefits from it. It's just that it takes quite a long time to get there.
Fiona: Yeah. I can imagine, depending on size of a company and complexity, and... yeah, all that sort of stuff.
Jill: Yeah. I normally find that within six months you've got to the point where you've got something internal traction. That's almost where, for the rest of the marketing team and for the sales team, it becomes about, actually, tweaking the performance element and keep going back around the rehearsal and performance loop in order to really reap the commercial benefits externally. What you were doing in front of the customer, getting a bit of a feedback, re-tweaking that and replaying that. Digital technology helps us a lot with that nowadays as well, where you can literally test and learn, and work your way through rehearsal and performance at a much greater speed.
Fiona: So, Jill, when you've come up with this wonderful value proposition, and you've got all the ducks in a row, but then some of the ducks aren't very happy about being in that particular row, and they're like, "Shoot me, I'm up for being shot," how do you deal with that situation? Because people are people, they never do exactly what you expect, whether they're internal or external customers or prospects, they never always perform as you expect. So, what experiences or examples can you share with us around that, and how to handle that?
Jill: These things are all about constant communication, and by that I don't mean constantly telling them what to do, because, that doesn't work, right? But I think it is about allowing people that... this is where the rehearsal piece comes in a lot, because it allows people the space to, I'm talking internally, particularly, to get a bit more comfortable with it, and to understand why they're objecting, because sometimes their objections might actually be quite valid. There's no such thing as perfect, and it could be that an element of your proposition conflicts with their target, for example. That's a really classic example. The first place they usually go and look when people are screaming is, "Okay, their targets and incentives are probably asking them to do something that's in conflict with who I'm asking them to be." And I think that's something that you need to deal with early on and then go and look at.
Jill: I think sometimes it is about aligning objectives, appraisals, values, making sure that it's aligned. Occasionally it is about recognising that maybe some of the people that got you to where you are now aren't the right people to grow your business moving forward. That's always a tricky one, right?
Fiona: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jill: Which is, some people are just... they like the entrepreneurial chaotic early stages where there's just five of you and you're constantly brainstorming new stuff.
Fiona: So, can we call them jazz musicians?
Jill: Yeah. Totally.
Fiona: They're, you know, like the coolest jazz musicians ever.
Jill: Totally. But, it's improv.
Fiona: Yeah. They're like the rebels in the orchestra though, and they just wouldn't... They're rebels. There's no place for rebels when it comes to an orchestra.
Jill: Well, there's no place for... They have to play the music that's written, right? You can't suddenly have the flautist decide that, "Actually I feel like playing Mozart while everybody else is playing Beethoven." You can't do that, unfortunately. You could go and recommend that the orchestra might benefit from playing some Mozart.
Fiona: Of course.
Jill: But there are those stages. There are those people who are individual performers. They were born entrepreneurs. They actually probably want to sell that business once it gets to a certain scale, or they want to employ somebody to actually manage it day-to-day so they can go off and do the next crazy thing. Musically speaking, you can then get the string quarter musicians, which might be four people. There's no conductor there. They actually are all in tune with each other, and whilst they're playing chamber music, it's written for four players.
Jill: You then get maybe the small chamber orchestra, and then you get the full symphony orchestra. The larger the organization gets, the less individual freedom, I suppose, that you get. And I suppose when you go into those environments, you expect that. You don't go and audition for a symphony orchestra if actually you want to do improv.
Jill: And sometimes it is about... HR are often my best friend. I have enormous respect for HR and training professionals because sometimes a value proposition is also thinking about, what are the type of players that we need and how do we help them? But to go back to answer your question, yes, you do get people, and usually it's about finding the right time, finding the right incentives, listening to why, and being willing to adapt and tweak what you do a little bit in order to, as long as you're still playing the same tune, if actually there's a slightly different way of that section of playing it and it still achieves the same end goal, and they're much happier and much more motivated, and it's way better than you could have thought of, why wouldn't you just do that, and why wouldn't you adapt it?
Fiona: Yeah. There's so many other questions that I've got here. I suppose, what's the toughest challenge once you've got a value proposition, because we talked about specific around the people, but if we look now externally, with regards to the market, because some of the businesses we work with within the tech space, sass is like the hot word, that's who 99% of our customers are. And lots of those businesses are in a ridiculously competitive environment, not just UK but internationally. There's always the next new thing. There's always the next new app or new product out there, and they might have the best value proposition, but they might have another two or three players in that market who are as good and as honed and as competitive.
Fiona: So, if we're looking externally, what advice or processes would you recommend they embrace now?
Jill: Sure. I think there are two fundamental things there. The first one is, being very aware of what you're comparing yourself with when you build the proposition itself. And I don't mean, like, saying... So if we take the directory example, I would never recommend that you go, "We are Thomson Local and we're better than Yellow Pages because..." You don't want to be dissing your competition, but I think you need to help your customer compare you and that feels counterintuitive, but if you're willing to say what you are and like as part of your proposition, I think that that's part of the job done because you've put yourself in the right box.
Jill: The other thing I would say is that you need to keep listening. You do need to keep thinking about what additional features you might need to add in order to stay competitive, but I would say, don't be tempted to keep switching your proposition. Where I tend to see that it fails is people go, "Oh, someone new's come along so we need to reinvent who we are again." One of the key reasons I see that value propositions don't work is that people don't stick at them for long enough. They give up under a little bit of pressure, so I think you need to hold your nerve and you need to think about the added value that you add around that software as a service.
Jill: Very often it isn't the software that people are buying. It is the experience that you have of using that software to solve a particularly problem. And I think the other thing is, it is about being respectful of your customers and their time and the kind of help and support that they need, and trying to go a little bit the extra mile to do that, to meet that need. That doesn't mean ending up doing something that you don't deliver. You know, "My customer always wants this so we're going to take everybody off the focus and actually go and do a completely different product." It doesn't mean that, but it does mean giving your customer a helping hand and staying quite close to them.
Jill: So part of the performance module is about constantly listening to your customers. Yes, you need to see what your competitors are doing, but maybe your customers don't care about that.
Fiona: Yeah. Yeah. What do they care about?
Jill: Yeah. I think one of the questions that you emailed me about before we did this was around value propositions that I really like.
Fiona: Yes. And that was exactly where I was going to go then, as well, so I was like, "Give me a good one." So, I think, they're all [inaudible 00:43:13].
Jill: So there are a couple that I like and they're sort of in a similar space but they're not. One of them is very well documented, which is Vitality. I love what they did, and I love what they did because they're in a very crowded space, which is health insurance. It's also a space that people feel that they need to have but don't want, so they're in that classic sort of... You've already got an uphill struggle of trying to sell people something that they're a little bit resentful about having to have in the first place, right?
Fiona: Yeah. That's a very nice way of putting it.
Jill: But actually, what they did is, they didn't act like an insurer. They got under the skin of why people have health insurance but don't really need it, and then they understood that people obviously don't want to get sick, but people also don't want to put in all the work to stay healthy, and they reward you for doing that. And it was so refreshing when it came out, and I think it continues to be. And you look at the way that they followed through on that, and I think it was really brave, and I'm sure that they've now got lots of other people who have developed all sorts of whizzy apps to help you monitor your health. Things like FitBit have come along, things like... Someone like Under Armour have a great app for monitoring your nutrition, MyFitnessPal I think it's called or something.
Jill: So there are all those different things that are out there, but Vitality have stayed true to what they're all about and made the link between, "Okay, your health insurance premiums will come down, which is what you want, if you are more healthy. We're going to incentivise you to be more healthy," which in a way, for an insurance company, is counter-intuitive because they get better premiums if people are less healthy. The whole healthcare industry is a bit... I always think it's a little bit upside down, in that the whole thing is based around payment for illness, not payment for wellness, and they turned that on their head.
Jill: Another one on a much smaller level is a company called Hussle, who were called PayAsUGym, and that founder was a really busy management consultant who got really sick of the fact that it was really difficult in that lifestyle to fit fitness in to his day because he was constantly traveling around the UK, around the world. Gym membership's quite restrictive in the way that you're going to the same gym all the time or occasionally they'll let you use another one in the chamber, always turns out the one that you want to isn't on your plan level so you can't use that one for free, and... There were lots of barriers to exercise.
Jill: People, psychologically, often don't really want to go to the gym but they know they have to, and the whole proposition was about making that easier. So, it's all about making life work out and fitting fitness in rather than about going to the gym. And I think that whole value proposition is really interesting, is well, because they really got under the skin of what their audience wanted, and again, ended up being really innovative, and they've got other people in that market space. It's a really aggressive space. They've got B2B and B2C sides of it, their B2B partners might have seen them as competitors, but they found a way of actually playing a really valuable role and they've kept true to their proposition and I think that's really interesting.
Fiona: Oh, great examples. Lovely. So, I suppose, with regards to the next steps, we've talked a little bit about the brand symphony and the steps to take and then some of the experiences and challenges along the way. I suppose from your perspective, having orchestrated marketing teams before, if you were to set up a team for a new business who is growing, what would your ideal orchestra look like?
Jill: Wow, what a great question. I mean, I'm going to get to that stage eventually, for myself, and I'm really excited about that. I think one of the things that I've missed being a consultant has been being able to lead marketing teams. I really enjoyed it. I would always start with hiring based on values. I think you can't wrong with that, and I think also being honest about who you are and the types of people that you work well with and not. I don't mean recruit clones, that's always a disaster. I made that mistake quite early on in my career and, you know, five Jills don't work. They really don't. You need diversity of thinking, you need diversity of skills.
Jill: For me, I would always want somebody who is a kind of product skill set in the team, who understands technology, thinks commercially about how to package things up for sale, and has that commercial product management experience. Having somebody in the team who's like is really good. Also, because those people can relate to your sales people, so they're a really good bridge into that part of the organisation.
Jill: I would generally also want somebody who was very visually creative in the team. I've had the pleasure of leading technical teams so, technical developers. I did that at Thomson Local. I'm not a technical person at all so in some ways it was really scary, but actually I really enjoyed what they bought. I've also had the pleasure of leading actual graphic design teams as well, in-house design teams, and they bring a lot of creativity not just to the design but actually to the thinking and visualising customer problems. And then I would also always want your person who loves spreadsheet, your hands-on digital marketeer who gets absolutely fascinated by following through that whole journey of what happens to a person and gets them to buy and... or the metrics that drive that.
Jill: For me, they're the three main disciplines that you need as the backbone of any orchestrated team, and then you can build out from that.
Fiona: Perfect. Very good. And you talked a bit about hiring and recruiting already. So, from your interview experience, what advice would you offer to people who are maybe going through a job hunt now? Just two, three things to either think about or prepare or it may even be experiences that you've had that might help others who are in that boat right now.
Jill: Yeah. Absolutely. I think always do your prep and I can't stress this enough. As a marketing manager or director, I've been found sitting there and I'm recruiting a marketeer, and I might ask them a question like, "What did you learn from looking at our website?" You'd be astounded how many people are blagging that, and I find that quite frustrating, and almost, I have to say, a little bit disrespectful of my time. If you really want to come and work in an organisation, show an interest, and if you genuinely have no interest when you're researching their website and their social media, then they're not the right organisation for you to go and work for either. But I expect people to take an interest in the business that they're joining.
Jill: The second thing I would say is, be honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are. I know that this is much easier with age and experience, because you become more confident in yourself and therefore you're more willing to say, "I am not very good with technology. I'm not the person to ask how to update the latest whatsamajig on the Apple iMac." I know that. I'm the person who calls my friend who's really good at that, right? But be honest about it, because I often get people who would sit in front of me and they come up with the standard answer of, "I'm a perfectionist," and my answer to that is almost, "Okay, that's lovely. Now tell me a real one."
Jill: And I also think that the way... well, people don't understand is the way that it comes across is that either you lack any self-awareness so therefore you're going to be really hard to manage because you're going to think you're brilliant at everything, and it's really hard to coach somebody who thinks they're good at something that they're not. Or, you're going to come across as really arrogant and actually that you genuinely think you're brilliant at everything. And I don't expect people to be brilliant at everything, because no one is, and I'm not.
Jill: What I'm genuinely looking for in a team are the people who can bring something that might be other people's weaknesses on the team. That tends to make for better teamwork as well, because then everybody has the opportunity to shine in that team, because they're bringing something that everybody else looks at and goes, "But I wish I was good at that, but I'm not, so I'm really glad that Jane, or John, or Phil is in this team, because they're good at it."
Jill: Those are two really strong things. And the third thing is to give some thought to where you want your career to go. And I don't mean like... I rarely ask people, "Where do you want your career to be in five years' time?" Because whenever I'm asked that, I'd panic, actually, as an interview candidate. I'd think, "I've got to come up with something really smart, or I've got to say that I want to be a marketing director," and actually I don't know. I think it's okay to say, "Right now what I'm trying to do is get a real breadth of experience across different types of roles, and what interests me about this role is here's what I will learn from it, but also, here's what I will bring."
Jill: I'm always interested to find people who can bring some experience. It's a transaction, right, in a way. You are bringing something to that organisation that is recruiting that they need, which is why they are willing to pay you for it. But also, you are looking for something that you can learn, and people are much easier to manage and coach if you know what it is that they want to learn. So, if you know genuinely they're not going to learn in that organisation, it's probably better to tell them, or to have a conversation with the recruiter. If you brought that candidate to me I might be calling you and saying, "I think they're great. I also think that if they want to learn this, this might not be the right environment for them, and here's why. Here's what they could learn. Are they happy that that's what they'll be getting?" Or you end up having a conversation with them after three months, which is, "You're not performing," because they're not actually interested.
Fiona: Yeah. Not the right job.
Fiona: Amazing bit of career advice or interview advice that, definitely, and everything that you said resonated wholeheartedly with me, definitely around that preparation piece. It surprises me, especially within marketing, you guys know your stuff. You've got to, as you said, research your audience, but you've got to figure out who the company is, who their audience is, and it's not just stopping on the website. It's looking at the latest articles, looking at the people, looking at the backgrounds that people are coming from, checking out social media, where are they, where aren't they, what sort of stuff is it that they're posting.
Fiona: None of that takes ages. None of that takes hours and hours, which is why I'm always so disappointed when I hear that people haven't done their research. Because you just have to know where to look and just be really specific, and if you do it well and organise yourself, you can get it done in an hour. It's not rocket science.
Jill: Exactly. I'm not expecting somebody to turn up and know my full life story. In fact, if they did, I might find that a little bit creepy-
Fiona: Yes. So would I. I might feature that a little bit with the amount of research I did on this. So sorry.
Jill: And to a certain extent, I share a lot in the book, right? But it is about... You're applying for the job. Sometimes I think it's very easy to forget that the person who is interviewing probably has a gap in their team, so they're trying to cover that role. They're probably quite stressed and quite busy. You need to make it easy for them to hire you, in a way. So, if you're honest you make it easy for them to understand what they're going to get, what they're not going to get, what you're going to be like to manage. It's a much quicker decision process and that's actually how you get to second interview or how you get your job offer, is because you made it easier for you to be chosen.
Jill: And it's applying... You just made a really good point. These are marketeers so it's about applying your principles that you'd apply to market a product to yourself. And that's really what it's about. And also, if I'm hiring a marketeer, if they've bothered to do that, I know that a good marketeer... I mean, in a way, just they demonstrated that they're good at the job that I'm trying to hire them to do, right? So, I think you're dead right. It's really a critical thing to do and it doesn't have to take hours and hours.
Jill: And if you want an hour of my time in an interview, comes back to what I said about a musician, right? You want an hour of my time for your rehearsal or your performance, then you need to spend an hour or two of your own time actually learning your lines and your music before you turn up. Otherwise, you don't respect me, and you're probably not going to respect your teammates and consequently you're not going to be a great hire for me.
Fiona: I like it. Very good. So, if we then go the next step. Let's say that you get the job.
Fiona: With all of your wealth of experience, Jill, what things do you do to set yourself up for success when you join a business? Not talking about just the job role itself, but what other things do you do when you land in a job or in a new company? Or would you want someone to do?
Jill: We've talked a lot about the fact that values and culture are important. And I've definitely learned this the hard way. One of my biggest strengths is I'm very focused, so when I've decided I'm going to do something, write a book, I lay out how I'm going to do that and then I get, "I'm going to do it." One of the weaknesses of that approach is that focus inherently means, you don't focus on other things. And sometimes I've gone into organisations where I've been so focused on proving myself in the job, I've forgotten to embed myself in the culture of the organisation, or with the people across the organisation who I'm going to need later on when I actually want to launch my product or get them to buy into my proposition or reposition the brand or whatever.
Jill: So, I think actually just chatting to people across the organisation, getting to know different people, being a human being is actually quite important. You know, getting in the lift in the morning and being that person who says, "Oh, good morning. How was your journey?" People will remember you and it's those little things that make a big difference, but also it's amazing what people will tell you. "How was your day today?" As you're riding down the elevator. They might tell you there's a problem in their department that's actually quite valuable and useful to you in terms of how you're going to interface with them in your actual job.
Jill: So I think there's a big piece around that, and also because you're going to need a network. When I was at Equifax, I have a friend, we both started at the same time. We were both very successful in what we did, but the thing I look at that she did better than me was she was a very, very good networker and she consequently had a much better understanding of what was going on in different areas of the organisation. And I wish, if I had my time again, I'd have done that because there came a point where I had to actually defend what I had done because it was quite radical versus what the global brand organisation were looking for, and more stakeholders would have been more helpful for me at that point, more senior stakeholders across the business. And I recognize that I hadn't done the work to invest the time to get their investment, so it was a harder journey. I got what I wanted in the end, but it was a harder journey than it needed to be.
Jill: So I think building that kind of network is really good. The other thing that I tend to do is, somebody gave me a book when I joined one company called The First 90 Days, and I can't actually remember who it was by, but it was really useful. One of the things it said is, at the end of each week, write down what you don't know. And it's almost like assign a couple of hours a week in your schedule, because you have that perfect moment in your first 90 days where people will give you a bit of latitude to not know. They expect you to know your stuff, i.e., the marketing expertise that you bring, but they do not expect you to know everything about the organisation. So you can ask the questions that feel naïve and actually get the answers. The naïve questions are always the bit that help you build the value proposition so it's always really good for you as a marketeer.
Jill: But also, if you write down almost like a learning list every week, you then can be quite targeted about what you need to go and find out, and finding the person who knows about that. So it's also a new really interesting way of building your network, because then you can go, if you're quite a focused person like me, as well, it was a really good way of me trying to get to know more people across the organisation, because instead of going and trying to just connect with people and go for lunch, it's almost, "I've just started. I don't know very much about this. I feel like I need to learn a bit more about this. I understand you're the expert in this, can you tell me a bit more about it?" People like to share what they know, so that has a dual benefit of you getting the knowledge, but also you build the network. So I think that that's a really valuable thing to do when you first start a job.
Fiona: I love that. I've made two notes there. That's super impressive. Thank you. And then with regards to that market understanding piece, that advice is perfect about navigating the company you've joined, the culture and the network that you need to build. But, aside from that, like yourself where you have literally dropped into completely new sectors and industries, what advice can you help people with around that? How can you get to grips with a whole new industry or service or audience?
Jill: Talk to sales, talk to sales, and talk to sales, basically. Sales are the people who are close to the customers. Yes, they bring their own lens on it and as you get more mature in an organisation and you've been in an organisation longer, you definitely need to be talking to some customers, not just to sales, because sales will tell you about the things that make it easier for them to hit target. They won't always tell you about the other stuff. And I'm not doing a disservice to sales-
Fiona: No, no. Not at all.
Jill: ... in saying that, but actually, you need to respect that sometimes you're getting what that salesperson thinks. But actually they do understand what happens with customers. Again, when you first go in an organisation it's also a good time for you to maybe to go out on accompaniment with some salespeople. So one of the things that Thomson Local used to do very well is, as part of the culture, expect non-salespeople to go out with sales. And you did it once and you only got invited back if you behaved yourself well, and behaving yourself well was definitely not undermining the salesperson or taking over or feeling like you needed to show your knowledge and expertise to this customer, because that's not what you're there for.
Jill: You're there to learn. But actually, if you're positioned as, "I'm new to this organisation. I'm trying to learn a bit more about what we do, but also as a marketeer, I really just want to learn a bit more about what our customers do." That makes the salesperson look good, the salesperson shows what they're good at, but also the customer finds that valuable because you're interested in what they do. And learning from customers is a great way of learning about what happens in the industry.
Jill: The other thing is, try and go to some sort of industry conference, or these days, like when I was a product manager, so, 15 years ago, you had to go to a conference to learn stuff. Now, you can listen to a podcast, you can attend a webinar. So, SCM World, I knew nothing about supply chain, and at first that was fine. After a while that was identified as one of my development areas, which is, people across the organisation are starting to find it a bit disconcerting that you don't know more about the technicalities of the supply chain.
Jill: So, I literally, for about two or three months, would watch a webinar every lunchtime on supply chain and an aspect of supply chain. Didn't know half of what they were talking about, half of it went over my head, but by osmosis I gradually learned more and it did make it much easier for me to interface with stakeholders across the team, but also it made it easier for me to lead my team, because what I identified for me was that the marketing team didn't really know very much about supply chain, either, and one of the things they were hoping I would do was facilitate their learning so that they could better embed in the business. And obviously I could teach them loads about marketing and loads about career and stakeholder management because I got all of those experiences, but I couldn't teach them a lot about what the organisation did, and as their mentor and the person that they trusted, they needed that.
Jill: So then we started to build out a program that inspired their learning, and I was really lucky I had a counterpart, I was much more embedded in the supply chain side who helped me massively to do that, and I learned and my team learned.
Fiona: And then, is it fair to say that you learned so much then that Gartner decided to take you on as VP Marketing of Supply Chain.
Jill: Well, I'd love to say that that was what caused it. Actually the company was acquired and that was down to the exceptional people in the SCM World business that the CEO had hired. My role within that and my team's role within that was to strengthen the brand so that it punched above its weight, and we did that by figuring out the personal motivators of the people buying, rather than the technical motivators of the people buying. So, the example that I gave early.
Jill: And then building an aspirational brand that those customers wanted to be part of. What was nice about that role was that there wasn't another marketing leader in supply chain. There were two exceptionally good product leaders, but not actual marketing leaders that were dedicated to supply chain, so, yes, I could bring some real value then through what I'd learned about supply chain, but also from my experience. I draw on my experience of working with in Equifax when they acquired TDX Group, and I'd had experience of working on both sides of that. So, being the acquirer and the acquiree, and part of my role at Gartner was to actually try to work on the integration of the businesses, which is always difficult. And, if I'm honest, I saw that there were lots of more junior marketeers in my team for whom Gartner was a massive opportunity.
Jill: They were suddenly... Had got a job in a big, global organisation, which was great for them, and they had many more career progression prospects. So, for most of them, that was great. For one or two, they didn't want to work in a big organisation and they went off and found other jobs. The rest of them, it was about trying to find the best place for them to fit and help them acclimatise, because I had worked in a big, global organisation. They hadn't. A lot of them had only worked in small start-ups and it's all a bit of a shock-
Fiona: Oh, yeah.
Jill: ... when you enter into a matrixed organisation.
Fiona: Totally different world.
Jill: You're on conference calls and you're just like, "Okay, what's all this about? I normally just walk over and have a cup of tea with somebody and we figure it out."
Jill: So, that was a great experience for me. And again, I learned from it. I think one of the biggest pieces of career advice I'd give to anybody... Well, there's two. One of them is, every job is a learning opportunity if you want it to be, and the things you think you'll learn and not the things you think you will. So be open to that. And the second thing that I would say was a piece of advice that somebody gave me really early on, which is, "Do the job that you're hired to do well, first, and then start to take on projects that are related to where you want to go."
Jill: You often get people who come in and they want to get involved in the stuff that will get them the next job, but they forget to do their own job well, and ultimately, you make it hard for your manager to get you promoted if you're not performing very well in your current job. Because they have to go and sell you in the organisation and if they can go to people and say, "What do you think about Jill Pringle?" If what they get back is, "Yes, she's really great at her current job," then that's the first tick in the box.
Jill: The second thing they need to hear is, "I think she has more potential because on this project she also did this." You need both. I was an ambitious person and it was actually a manager who I didn't jell with very well. We just didn't quite hit it off, so I've had her quite frustrating to work with, and I'm sure she found me very, very frustrating to manage. But actually, it's probably one of the best pieces of career advice I've had, which is, "Do your own job exceptionally well. You'll naturally stand out. And then start to think about doing bits of the job that you want to go for before you get it."
Jill: And what happens is, you become the natural choice. When everybody across the organisation is going, "Right, okay, that person left. Who should we get?" Everybody starts to go, "Well, clearly, Jill will be the right person for that brand." Again, it comes back to what I said about interviewing. You've got to make it easy for people to hire you.
Fiona: Perfect. Absolutely brilliant advice, and what a great note to end on. So, I suppose, from our perspective, are there any other words of wisdom or advice that you'd want to leave with our audience, apart from, "You must invest in Brand Symphony?"
Jill: Well, the other piece of advice, I suppose, would actually be on the more of a personal level. So, again, because I was a very focused... Well, I am a very focused person, I did compartmentalise life from work quite a lot, particularly when I was in busy and more stressful roles. The downside of that is I, for years, probably missed the opportunity of going... There are sort of three sides to Jill. There is the marketeer, who is very technically good at doing... I can improve like everybody, but I've got some good technical competence there. There is the musician, and I enjoy music and I enjoy singing and performing. And when I wrote the book, I got some people I used to work with me much earlier on in my career who said, "Oh, I never knew all that about you when you worked with us. It would have been really interesting to hear more about that."
Jill: And then, also, because I was born with hip dysplasia, so, effectively, I had a disability, I suppose, that I was born with, I kept all of that as way away from work as I possibly could. And now actually, I also write a blog about that and I share that, and I share my journey of what that was like growing up with that, and I've had to go and learn a little more about the condition that I have in order to do so. But I feel like I've reached this point in my life now where, instead of like three different Jills, there's just one Jill, and different aspects of Jill actually are used in different parts of my life.
Jill: So I might use some of my marketing skills for the blog for hip dysplasia, I might actually use a lot of the strengths that it gave me to overcome adversity and keep trying to find creative and different ways to do things when I couldn't walk very well as a kid. I definitely have brought some of that into the way that I've approached work, and as we talked about, I've used the musical skills for both. I think sometimes people can really overlook the personal characteristics that they have, and the whole of their life, and bring your whole self to work is actually a really comfortable position to be in for you and your teammates, because suddenly you're very authentic.
Jill: So, my final piece of advice would be, bring your whole self to work and don't compartmentalise because you're the person that suffers but so do the people around you.
Fiona: Very good advice. I love that. Thanks ever so much for your time and for all of that sparkling advice. It's wonderful words of wisdom.
Jill: You're welcome. It's been absolutely fantastic to speak to you, and thanks very much for the opportunity to do this, Fiona. It's great.
Fiona: So there you have it. Career advice from a real marketing expert and leader in the field. Thanks for listening. If you're enjoying this podcast, then please leave us a review in iTunes. We'd love to hear your feedback.