Amy Protexter, Senior VP, North American Marketing at Insight, joins host Renee Yeager to share her “Top 3 Things to Keep in Mind to Achieve a Successful Marketing Transformation,” including having bold vision, having hard conversations, and hiring good people (and getting out of their way). Amy is in the midst of her fifth global rebrand, so she knows a thing or two about transformation. She shares valuable insights on encouraging inspiration and helping team members find meaning in their work, and discusses fostering a unified vision amidst change to help make transitions smoother. Additionally, Amy notes that transformation can lead to tough yet valuable conversations.
“Some of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to hear in my career from previous bosses or mentors have been the things that have propelled by individual growth the most,” she says.
Renee and Amy discuss the importance of setting expectations and trusting the good people you’ve hired so you can step aside and let them test and learn from their own failures and successes.Read the Transcript
Speaker1: From Yeager Marketing, this is the Top Three for Tech Marketers podcast, where we discuss trends, challenges, successes and plans with today’s most innovative technology marketers. Here is your host, Renee Yeager.
Renee Yeager: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Top Three for Tech Marketers podcast. Joining me today is Amy Protexter. Amy helps business build powerful brands and deep connections with customers by executing contemporary demand generation marketing programs and delivering exceptional business results. Since 2014, Amy has been the Senior VP, North American Marketing at Insight as a Fortune 500 ranked global provider of hardware, software, cloud, and service solutions.
She and her 5,400 Insight teammates provide clients the guidance and expertise needed to select, implement, and manage complex technology solutions to drive business outcomes.
Her previous roles include VP of marketing at Edgenuity and vice president of marketing communications at Vanguard Health Systems.
Amy Protexter: Thank you Renee. It’s great to be here with you.
Renee: We’re so thrilled to have you. Before we get started for our audience, if this is the first time your listening to the podcast, on each episode, we talk with today’s most innovative technology marketers about a specific topic, and narrow it down to three focus areas that they feel are most interesting or really important.
And today we’re talking with Amy about her top three things to keep in mind to achieve a successful marketing transformation. If you’re ready Amy, we can jump right in.
Amy: Sounds great.
Renee: Let’s talk a little bit, first, just to level set with everyone about the types of transformations that you’ve experienced and what’s typical in an organization.
Amy: Sure, so I have to say that during my career, I’ve been attracted to businesses that are in some form of transformation. And with marketing and communications often playing a supportive role to that transformation. I have found those to be really exciting opportunities. A couple of examples … I worked for a very large health system in the Midwest, Alegent Health, and that particular health care system was in the midst of a big transformation as healthcare was beginning to become more and more consumer driven.
When you think about the healthcare of the past, most people just completely relied on what their physicians told them. Didn’t question, didn’t ask. Didn’t have to worry about pricing, and this particular health system really understood that we were all gonna have to get a lot more involved in our health. And of course that drives marketing and communication strategies and different ways of engaging than perhaps health systems had in the past.
Another great example is my time at Ingenuity where we were … The company is responsible for some very high quality online curriculum, and so when you think about education, another broad area in transformation … The way that we all went to school as kids has changed dramatically because of the introduction of technology and today kids’ experiences in schools need to be much different to prepare them for that world of technology.
That particular company was in the midst of a transformation as it pertains to supporting a vertical, a really important vertical for our country, in delivering high quality education that today’s kids would be very engaged in as students.
And then finally here at Insight, again, another organization in transformation, really moving from the company that was started as a true kind of inbound call center for technology, and expanding the realm of our services and capabilities for clients into an incredibly broad array of options. And also in a world where not only as individuals, but companies were becoming more and more depending on technology to run the business. To make growth happen, to make scalability happen, and all of those things.
A lot of transformations in different realms, but always, again, as I’ve said, I have been very attracted to that transformation space.
Renee: It sounds like you’re talking about business transformation and then how the e-marketing organization adapts to the support that change, right?
Renee: I could see transformation, too, if a company implements a broad-based new technology system that would impact marketing’s processes. That could also be a smaller type of transformation. Is that fair to say?
Very fair to say. I think the advent of customer relationship management systems and marketing automation systems, and the interface that often has to happen between marketing and sales, and the changing dynamic there … That, too, is a transformation as a subset of that business transformation and the way customers and clients expect to do business with you.
That in and of itself is another miniature transformation within a bigger ecosystem of transformation.
Renee: Okay, gotcha. Good.
Your first recommendation is to create a bold vision. Can you tell us why this is important, and how you would go about doing that?
Amy: I think there’s a few layers here, too.
I think it’s always important for leaders to create a platform for people to feel like they are becoming a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. Something that is inspirational, that people can get behind. Something that has purpose and meaning so that it helps when you come to work every day, you have a sense of doing something for a higher purpose.
Purpose is really important, right? The purpose of an organization … And when you think about, for example, today’s Millennials. That’s super important. Probably more important than it was for previous working generations. They want to feel part of something important, something transformation themselves. When you think about Edgenuity’s purpose, it was really about helping every student succeed. A very bold vision, and one that everyone could get behind, even if it meant that they were videotaping teachers teaching for the online course.
If you’re in customer support, taking an inbound call where people needed some help with their own transformation in their schools, so creating a purpose, and even creating a purpose for your marketing team. Help people bridge the gap between … How does what we do every single day connect with this broader purpose of your organization.
At Insight, our purpose is we make meaningful connections to help businesses run smarter, and the team here understands that we are helping our business run smarter by having very advanced marketing techniques that are contemporary to today’s world. Helping people connect all those dots and feel like they’re part of something bigger.
And then, I really believe in giving … I call our tribe … Giving our tribe some identity and so, as I’ve been here at insight, and we’ve been in our marketing transformation, we’ve crated our own hashtag for our team, which is hashtag best team ever, and we use it a lot in our e-mails. It gets posted on our social media posts for Insight socials, so if you go out and search on that, I’m sure you’ll see some pictures of our team and some of the things that we do together or in support of the business.
Renee: That’s so fun, and it creates a real comraderies, and I would imagine that things like that are so important when you’re going through a big business-wide, marketing-wide transformation, right? To get everybody on the same team and feeling a part of something bigger.
Amy: Exactly, exactly. Again, we use it as a way to … It’s aspirational, right? To be the best team ever, you can never stop. You always have to keep learning, you always have to keep growing, you always have to keep challenging the status quo, so it’s not just inspirational, it’s aspirational as well.
The second recommendation you mentioned is the willingness to have the hard conversations. This is a tough one, right? Can you talk about why this is so important and share some of your experiences, both some good and some bad?
Amy: Sure, yeah. I mean I think if you are living in a transformational space, and I would argue that there’s probably very few places in this world today that aren’t undergoing at least some minute level of transformation. I think it’s really important on a couple of the different levels. First of all, as you’re hiring people for your marketing team, having the hard conversation and make sure they know what they’re getting into.
Transformation isn’t for everyone, particularly rapid transformation or widespread transformation, and if you’re not a person that’s comfortable with change, it may not be the best fit for you. And how great is it to make that decision before you come in as an individual, maybe don’t succeed as much as you had hoped in a new role or for the team. Somebody that’s really not working out or being able to keep up.
While, it’s hard, I think the ultimate benefit is that you don’t get yourself into a situation that perhaps is disappointing or uncomfortable. The second part of that really is assessing cultural fit. Insight is a big culture company. Culture has always been a big deal here, and so there is a culture that everybody will fit into, and I think we’ve learned overtime we made some missteps early on in some of our hiring.
Somebody might have the most exceptional professional qualifications, but will they really fit into the culture? Will they really thrive in this kind of a pace, in this kind of environment, in open honest conversations, and some of the attributes that are a part of who we are.
Once people are here, I think you have to be willing to have the hard conversations about, individually, about growth.
Some of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to hear in my career from previous bosses or mentors have been the things that have propelled my individual growth the most. As the receiver of a hard conversation, I think you have always look a feedback as a gift, which sounds a little trite, but it truly can help you propel growth for your own professional good. And maybe open up completely new avenues of thinking.
To have those conversations, you really have to get your team to a place of trust, where you can discuss difficult issues, you can come to agreement, you can move forward and have open honest conversations, but I will tell you, it does not happen overnight. It’s something you really have to work on, but I think, as difficult as they can be, they can provide tremendous benefit to you individually, and to your team and your business collectively.
Renee: Yeah, and it helps to create a nice culture in the organization where people feel that constructive criticism is part of the process. It’s there to help you grow, to help the organization get stronger, and it’s not something to be feared or to take so personally, which I think a lot of people tend to do. If you can infuse that kind of mindset into your culture, I think you’d have a pretty powerful organization at the end of the day if everybody was more open-minded to taking feedback.
Amy: Absolutely, absolutely.
Renee: Is there any training or anything that you found particularly helpful when you’re bringing new employees on into a transformational organization? Things that might be a little different or unexpected?
Amy: I think one of the things we try to do … Largely because of the fast pace that happens when you’re a team in a transformational situation is making sure that, as somebody enters the organization, they have an opportunity to meet with multiple parts of the team.
We have a very large team. We have several different kind of key motions like events or digital or web or campaigns or creative or whatever. Just having somebody get a sense of level set across the organization of all the pieces and parts that are there and how they fit into that bigger picture.
Definitely that. I also just think you have an onboarding particularly in a transformational situation, you have to make sure that you connect on that personal level right away, so we actually pair people up when they enter with a buddy that is kind of their go-to person to have lunch with them a couple of times the first few weeks. To be the person like I don’t know who to ask about this, where do I go for this, how do I get signed onto this particular tool, so that they don’t ever feel like they’re asking …
There is no stupid question when you’re kind of paired with your buddy. On the flip side, that person really enjoys having the responsibility of bringing somebody into the organization.
I think that’s maybe another strategy I would suggest that is pretty helpful.
Renee: That’s great. Is that something that you’ve just done at Insight, or have you done that at organizations as well?
Amy: Mostly just here at Insight. It was actually a suggestion from somebody on our team, and I was like, “Well, let’s try it.” I mean that’s the other thing, we’re pretty much a test and learn environment here, so if something … Let’s try it, if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else, but this one really happened to work and work well.
Renee: What a great idea. I was gonna ask you about kind of the role swapping concept and if you’ve ever tried that before. Have you ever put people in different jobs for a day to try to experience that?
Amy: You know, we actually have done that a bit here. We bring people on board, and they get a sense of all the other functions that might be opportunities for them. A couple times we’ve had people sort of swap places for the day or give people …
Recently, we hired somebody on our traffic department and they had a real keen interest in digital, and so they spend a day kind of job shadowing a person on that team, and they said, “You know, maybe I’m not quite ready for that. I think traffic is the place for me.”
We also had a person in content who really found that she loved the tools aspect of things, and so same kind of thing. Spend a day with one of our digital designers and kind of decided like this is where I want to take my career. In one of these instances, and we’ve had this happen a couple times, these have been interns who started as interns, and we hired into full-time roles, and then this would be like their second step as a full-time role.
It’s really exciting to bring that young talent on and give them the chance to figure out in this brave new marketing world where they really feel like they want to take their career. You know Renee, it’s changing every day, practically every hour, all these tools and strategy. You have to be a lifelong learner here in order to really kind of keep up with what’s happening in marketing.
Renee: Oh yeah, and when you come out of college … What you learn in college doesn’t always directly apply to the workplace, right?
There’s a transfer there that happens to what you’ve learned in school, and then the day-to-day function of a job, so that’s so great. How interesting.
And you talked a little bit about hiring, and your third factor to achieve a successful marketing transition is about hiring, and hiring good people and you say get out of their way. How have you gone about doing that, and what works best for you in building a team?
Amy: A few things here, a few thoughts. I mean I think as people enter the organization, it’s so important to make clear what your expectations are of them in that role and what their priorities are. Right? People want to know what am I responsible for, what am I accountable for? What is the organization expecting of me?
I think the other thing that, as you hire good people and get out of their way, is to make sure that you are comfortable with some failure both as a leader but also as a department. Really building this sort of test and learn environment where people are free to be able to try new things and maybe not everything is gonna go exactly as planned or be a 100% successful or any of those things.
You have to have a certain tolerance for that. A lot of that comes out of what happens in Silicon Valley, like so many companies have this fail and fail rapidly. That’s been one of Apple’s mantras, and I think you can apply the same thing to your team. If you hire good people, and you make the expectations clear and you give them some latitude to figure out how to get from point A to point B, you might just be surprised.
In fact I read a book recently, and after I’ve seen the woman who wrote it speak at a conference, called Rookie Smart, and it was all about how when you look at the performance of rookies, people who’ve never done a particular job before, who are given a clear expectation of what they were supposed to achieve, and then you didn’t predispose them how to get that done, often the rookie outperforms people who had maybe been doing that role for a while because they were …
A couple of things, they were willing to ask more questions, they were willing to think a little more creatively about how to solve the problem. In other words, they didn’t rely on, “Well, last time I had something like this, this is how I did it.” They actually start to think completely new in different ways.
I like to think a lot of times, if you do that, if you set out a big goal for somebody, and they maybe have never done it before, you might be really surprised that not only do they meet that objective, they really kind of blow past it. When people have that level of autonomy, they take great pride in their work, they maybe are willing to take a few more risks, and at the end of the day end up maybe outperforming some people who’ve been doing a particular role for a very long time.
I always say to my people that are my team that … If I’m micromanaging you, that’s not a good sign. I hate micromanagement. I hate to be micromanaged. I would prefer that same sort of freedom to say, “Here’s what I want you to achieve now. I’m here if you have obstacles.”
Let me say that again.
“I’m here if you have obstacles, but I’m here to help bust through those. I’m not here to solve it for you, I really want you to do that because I think you’re completely capable of it.”
Renee: That’s so great. There’s a place for process, but I love the thinking that we’re not married to our process, we want to be agile enough where when good ideas come. And I mean we found this in our agency here.
Millennials really think differently about how to get things done, and they bring excellent ideas and question, “Well, why have we been doing it this way all along?” And then when you really start to think about it, you’re like, “Well, I don’t really know, but let’s explore that,” so that’s so great.
Amy: Yep. I know it’s fun to see people grow in their roles and it’s fun to see them maybe even exceed their own expectations. It’s very rewarding to do that.
Renee: And to feel that those ideas are welcomed, too, is so important.
Renee: So Amy, I have one last bonus question for you that I ask all my guests. I ask them each a different question, so your question today is what is your favorite marketing book? What are you reading right now?
Amy: Well, I would say, I’m gonna answer the favorite part because I do have one favorite book that I think about a lot in marketing, and one thing about me … I did come up through my career as somebody who is more on the communication, brand, content side, and have learned over time more about the marketing aspect of a marketing communications role.
The book that really resonates with me is called “Different” by Youngme Moon. I don’t know if you’ve read it or not, but it is about the all important role for marketing is truly differentiation, and it goes through some very different and interesting case studies about brands that dare to be rebels, and talks about like a Harley-Davidson, for example, that by being different, they have actually built an incredibly loyal following of customers.
One of my other favorite highlight in the book is Ikea because if you step back from the whole concept of Ikea, like how you can build a brand around the fact that you bring a box home and you have to spend hours assembling your own furniture is a very interesting prospect, and so she kind of peels back the onion on that, and talks about sometimes finding that very significant point of differentiation and exploiting it is the secret sauce to creating a really powerful brand, but has tremendous brand loyalty.
I think about that book a lot.
Renee: I might have to invite you back on just to have a whole conversation around differentiation and how important it is because we know, in tech, it’s so critical to differentiate. Things all kind of look the same. And it’s really important to stand out, and even down not only from a product standpoint or solution standpoint, but from a company standpoint.
Differentiate your company.
I think about my time in healthcare where there are many, many, many healthcare systems, and if you think about the shift from your physician telling you you’re gonna go to this hospital to the consumer choice of this is a really good hospital and I want to get my care there. Very big shift in buying behavior, one of the things I was really proud of that I’ve accomplished with my team at Alegent Health was this differentiation of health care systems.
How do you tell the difference between hospital A and hospital B and there wasn’t a lot of information available particularly 10 years ago to make sort of the same kind of judgements that you would make about buying a television set or a new car or … It was very hard to do that kind of research, so as we were thinking about having to get competitive where people would be making choices, that’s something we gave a lot of thought to is how do we appear different? What is a point of differentiation because, otherwise, it’s like everybody goes to market the same way, it’s very, very difficult to rise above all of that if you’re not thinking about that point of differentiation.
Renee: And even in the B2B space. I mean we’re all human beings.
Renee: Our buyers are consumers, so they have motivations just like consumers do. Oh wow, this is such a great conversation. I seriously would love to have you back to talk all about branding.
Amy: I’d love to come back.
Renee: You bring such a wealth of knowledge. Well, thank you so much for being here today. This is such a great conversation, and I know with our audience of technology marketers and all of the change and transformation in our industry, that they will no doubt walk away with a lot of really great tips and information here, so thank you so much.
Amy: Yes, thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.
If you would like to ask Amy any specific questions, you can do so on the podcast page at YeagerMarketing.com. Just look for the episode with Amy, and we’ll also include contact information for Amy in the show notes.
You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and we sure hope you’ll do that, and thanks everyone for listening, and we look forward to having you join us again.