You Should Talk To

Natalie Cunningham -- CMO at Terminus

February 02, 2023 You Should Talk To Season 1 Episode 20
You Should Talk To
Natalie Cunningham -- CMO at Terminus
Show Notes Transcript

Your relationship with an external vendor is not particularly different from a relationship with your employee. You expect high-quality work, respect, and honesty from both parties. But when it comes to client-agency relationships, the lack of communication is the biggest deal breaker.

In this episode of the You Should Talk To podcast, our host Daniel Weiner welcomes Natalie Cunningham, the CMO of Terminus. They talk about why having agency experience is a plus for employees, why it's important to always read the person you're working with, and the top things to look for in an external partner.


Guest-at-a-Glance

💡 Name: Natalie Cunningham, CMO of Terminus

💡 Noteworthy: Natalie is a versatile SaaS marketing executive with deep experience aligning go-to-market teams to achieve sustainable revenue growth. Before joining Terminus, she cut her chops in B2B marketing agencies and consulted with global Fortune 500 brands on ABM, demand generation, brand, PR, and digital. 

💡 Where to find Natalie: LinkedIn

Key Insights :

Always read the person you're working with. Knowing how to read the person you're working with gives you an edge. That's why this skill is so valuable for client-agency relationships. Natalie explains, "Just remembering in agencies, in the sales process, and certainly in the account management process that you're working with different personas, you are working with people who have different levels of experience and want different things from you. And if you waste an executive's time trying to teach them something that they already know, you've lost my trust."

Honesty comes first. Honesty is truly the best policy when it comes to client-agency relationships. Natalie says, "Let's assume it's a strategic agency partnership. I need you to be honest with me about what you're good at and what you're not. I know that you are not good at everything on your list of services. Just go into it knowing that I know that. Tell me what you're great at. Tell me why you're great at it, and give me some examples — like what makes you great, not just because you think you're great."

Poor communication is a deal breaker. It's a tale as old as time; if you want to build a successful partnership with someone, you need to put communication first. Natalie says, "I think the biggest thing across the board is communication. If you want to hit a pet peeve with me quickly, don't tell me that you are not going to hit a deadline. Just miss it entirely without communicating anything, and then show up for the next meeting and tell me you're still working on it. I will lose my ever-loving mind."


YouShouldTalkTo - Natalie Cunningham

[00:00:00] Daniel Weiner: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the YouShouldTalkTo podcast. I am Daniel Weiner, your host and still sole sponsor of the podcast, maybe after today, we'll get some big names. YouShouldTalkTo pairs brands and marketers, for free, with vetted agencies and, or freelancers for pretty much any marketing or tech need

[00:00:17] because finding great agencies is a giant pain in the ass. I am super pumped to be joined today by Natalie Cunningham, who is CMO at Terminus, who I've known about for a million years being here in Atlanta, but Natalie, thank you so much for joining us.

[00:00:32] Natalie Cunningham: Hey, Daniel. Thanks for having me. I'm excited.

[00:00:35] Daniel Weiner: Where are you calling in from today?

[00:00:37] Natalie Cunningham: I am in Denver, Colorado, snowy Denver, Colorado, actually.

[00:00:42] Daniel Weiner: I love it, I'm jealous. We have, like, 70 degrees and rain here in Atlanta, so unseasonably warm and gloomy and dreary and disgusting.

[00:00:50] Natalie Cunningham: That's how it goes in the south, though. I, I'm originally from Tennessee, so I, uh, I left the, the gray-brown winters for the snowy winters and, hot take, the weather is not that bad here, it's not cold in the winter, so. 

[00:01:04] Daniel Weiner: That is, well, that's a perfect segue into my first question for you of a, uh, I, I want a hot take in the, uh, the marketing world or an unpopular opinion of sorts.

[00:01:13] Natalie Cunningham: I probably have a few of those, uh, I would say 

[00:01:17] Daniel Weiner: This is, this is the con, the controversial, uh, portion of the podcast.

[00:01:19] Natalie Cunningham: I, yeah, I, I think this probably happens, and I know my team would agree with this. I think this probably happens, uh, pretty often. I, I think marketers need to stop reporting marketing-sourced pipeline.

[00:01:34] Daniel Weiner: We love it.

[00:01:35] Natalie Cunningham: Period, end of sentence. It, it's something I'm, I'm doing at Terminus and have been pushing for and sort of trying to make the transition to, uh, for years and years at my prior companies.

[00:01:46] And the reason I think that that is important is we put ourselves in a box. When we add ourselves as a channel into a pipeline engine, instead of being the amplifier to the entire engine, instead of saying, "Hey, actually, we can help." What sales reps source as outbound with account-based marketing, actually anything we do in an account-based marketing program is not gonna show up as inbound source or marketing source just by nature of what it is.

[00:02:17] We also kind of cut ourselves off at the pipe generation when we say that marketing sources pipeline and we become the pipeline engine, and in reality, we are scalable, efficient revenue generation and it, and it becomes a real challenge between your marketing and sales team when you say, "But I generated this much pipeline," and they say, "But I can't close it."

[00:02:38] You've removed yourself from the second part of that deal cycle conversation when in fact, marketing can add a ton of value there.

[00:02:45] Daniel Weiner: How do you think, uh, I'll let you give the other hot takes if you want since you said you had several, but how do you think you best align sales and marketing it to be, you know, I know that's an age-old question, but to, to make it one engine or one cohesive unit, what's your, your tip there? 

[00:02:58] Natalie Cunningham: Right. It's so tough, and I, and listen, some of my opinions on things are, I understand difficult to execute in reality, and I have been in those situations too. To me, I mean, the first thing that is so difficult for a, a marketing leader to be able to have any impact on is you have to have a sales leader that gets it.

[00:03:18] You have to have a sales leader that is willing to partner with you, that doesn't just say, "I like marketing" because they want leads in pipeline from you, but that truly is willing to own their own side of the equation and say, "How can we do this better together?" And is not gonna throw you under the bus.

[00:03:34] And I know all of us have experienced those CROs that do. There are ones out there that don't, and there are CEOs that hold executive teams accountable to doing it together. And so, it starts with the interview process of where you decide to join, frankly, uh, and then I think secondly, more than ever, marketers, in particular marketing leaders, have to have a backbone.

[00:03:56] We have to be willing to have the difficult conversations and not back down when our CRO says, "But you didn't give me enough leads," uh, that we don't get into a defensive conversation, we come with our data, we come with our house in order first, and we all look at the same set of data, we all look at the same business performance, come with solutions,

[00:04:18] don't get defensive. I think that can make a big difference if you do have one of those CROs that doesn't really understand marketing's role or the potential power and is putting you in a sourced pipeline box.

[00:04:30] Daniel Weiner: I'm curious, to that end, you, you mentioned measurement, and you mentioned, like, coming to the table with data to support it. I, again, easier for me to say when it's not my own money, and I don't have to report to the CEO, but I'm curious your opinion, one of my, I guess, hot takes is I think 

[00:04:44] we've just become so obsessed with measurement that it hinders creativity, and you don't, there's just certain things you're not gonna be able to measure, and if you think like that, you're not gonna try cool stuff. I'm curious your, uh, kind of take on that and your current role and how you think of that when thinking through maybe outside-the-box type things.

[00:05:00] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah, I, I deeply agree with that point, that's also one of my hot takes, I think is, I think, and I'm gonna call it marketing attribution, I don't know that it's reporting and metrics, I think it is the way we have done attribution has absolutely put us in a box and has removed creativity, has removed our ability to actually drive anything beyond short-term pipeline,

[00:05:23] and it has put us in the situation that we've been in for the last, let's call it, five years to a decade. What I, what I do with my team is we do a lot of metrics and reporting, but we look at business metrics, we don't look at a marketing source number, we don't look at an MQL number, we look at overall, each stage of the, we call it the revenue flywheel, so from brand awareness to building pipe, to pipe acceleration, to retaining our customers, to expanding our customers.

[00:05:53] Each of those phases, we report out what's happening from an inbound perspective, and again, just looking at the total numbers, I'm not looking at specific channels or campaigns at this point, I'm just looking what is happening throughout that entire journey, including the sales process. Then I look at those that are in our account-based programs,

[00:06:11] obviously, Terminus is an account-based marketing tool, and so we lean in very heavily there, but we also recognize people are gonna come to our website, so we have to have an inbound engine as well. If someone tells you that you should only do ABM, I'm not sure that they understand reality, like, we do both of those.

[00:06:27] On that, we are looking at account-based marketing metrics across the exact same funnel, and then comparing that to our overall performance and looking for things like, did I have an improved velocity for those that are in it, in a target account program? Did I have a higher close rate? Did I have a higher ASP?

[00:06:46] Natalie Cunningham: And then, we go dig into the tactical things that I do have tracking for, but that's not the way I'm presenting the information, I am looking at it in terms of more the, the inbound versus outbound motions, which gets me to a business conversation with my partners instead of a tactical conversation about what marketing is doing.

[00:07:05] Daniel Weiner: And it sounds like it's a more holistic view of the thing of did this work, uh, overall over a specific period of time versus, like, did something convert in a week and short-term wins and short-term goals necessarily.

[00:07:16] Natalie Cunningham: Right. And, and, listen, I'm a realistic person, I have been asked about leads all my career, I been asked about a, "We saw a, a dip in leads in the last two days, you know, sound the alarm, something is going on." I've had that happen, I've had the short-term, uh, "Hey, we saw a dip in web traffic. Is there a major problem?"

[00:07:38] Well, that dip was in the last four days, and there's been a holiday, you know, everybody calm down, it's gonna be fine.

[00:07:44] Daniel Weiner: Sure.

[00:07:45] Natalie Cunningham: I think what's changed over time for me, that I've found to be more successful, going back to the original point of how we get aligned with our internal stakeholders, so we're not constantly in defensive mode, is just removing my own attachment to our great ideas and just coming to the table with humility that they might actually notify us of something that we didn't notice because we were so focused on the 18 other things we were doing, maybe not, but

[00:08:14] taking it with a little bit more objectivity and not seeing as them attacking what our department is doing is a great way to build a better relationship.

[00:08:22] Daniel Weiner: No, that's great and actionable for most people listening, I would say. And if there's a huge spike in, uh, business for Terminus shortly after this, I want to see this podcast on the attribution line in some sort of presentation, I assume thousands of leads will be pouring in after this, so.

[00:08:36] Natalie Cunningham: Add it in.

[00:08:36] Daniel Weiner: Thank you. I appreciate that. Uh, for those who have not heard of Terminus, or maybe not local to Atlanta, who have probably, like, grown through their careers with Terminus and stuff like that, tell us a little bit about exactly what Terminus does and how you describe it. I'm always interested to hear how the person who is theoretically over-messaging and stuff like that speaks about their own company.

[00:08:55] Natalie Cunningham: Uh, yeah. Me too, and it's really interesting because this is my first role marketing to marketers outside of when I was in agencies and running our, you know, sales processes and marketing processes. And so, in the past, no one wanted to hear from me, right? Like, no one wants to talk to the C, at a, at a security company or, uh, at a travel company, right?

[00:09:15] They want to talk to the CPO or potentially the CRO. And so, I've not been in the position until I got to Terminus and realized how different it is when you are the spokesperson, and you do need to, to be able to say the words as well as help your team write the word, the words. So, my, my team is probably gonna cringe when hear this

[00:09:31] 'cause I'm gonna use, uh, as I, I always say to them, my human words, which is not always, uh, the most

[00:09:38] Daniel Weiner: We like, we like human words here.

[00:09:39] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah. I, I am authentic if nothing else. So, Terminus, for, for those of you that don't know Terminus, short version, what actually wakes us up in the morning and gets us excited to go to work is to help our customers, which are B2B go-to-market teams.

[00:09:53] We lean heavily into the marketing engine, but it is the go-to-market team, help them drive more efficient revenue. What we actually offer to do that, uh, is we're one of the leaders in the ABM platform space, and officially we were the first one in the ABM platform space, and what we started with was, really our, our roots are in account-based advertising and obviously marketing changes and the market has changed.

[00:10:18] And so, we have evolved. And today, while I still believe, in my humble opinion, maybe slightly humble, uh, that we are the best B2B advertising platform available on the market, you can also ask analysts that, they will corroborate it. Additionally, we have the most native channels of any ABM platform, we have high-quality intent data, and all of that's built on a, a centralized platform for a go-to-market team to just drive more efficient revenue. We work with companies like Autodesk, Gainsight, Roche, Dow Jones, uh, to do just that.

[00:10:53] Daniel Weiner: I like it. That was very human, I would, I would agree.

[00:10:56] Natalie Cunningham: Awesome. I try.

[00:10:58] Daniel Weiner: What is your biggest focus, uh, from a marketing standpoint for 2023? Inside a Terminus?

[00:11:03] Natalie Cunningham: Oh my, you know, that's always the hard question for a marketer, I know you know that and that's why you ask it 'cause we have 15 focuses, right? We're one of the few departments that serves everyone within the organization as a stakeholder, and everyone externally from the first...

[00:11:18] Daniel Weiner: And it, and it changes every other day, I would, uh, presume.

[00:11:21] Natalie Cunningham: And it, right, exactly. So, so we have a lot of different focuses, but I would say, for me, it, it's probably two things, my two big focuses. One is, uh, in, in full candor, I just gave you the story of kind of our background of being one of the pioneers of the ABM market, as it happens with B2B brands

[00:11:38] sometimes I think in our recent history, we got a little bit lost in, uh, tactics and trying to drive pipeline in the short term and trying to, to hit a number, and we sort of lost who we were in our narrative. And so, we, one of the things I came to do at Terminus, I'm in my first year here, uh, is to retake that narrative in market, uh, and make sure everybody knows who we are and why we are a leader, and in my opinion, the leader in ABM.

[00:12:06] So, while we're going into a, a year that efficiency is the name of the game, and we are not in a place to run a bunch of big, quote-unquote, fluffy brand campaigns, right, that I can't attribute back to revenue. I'm actually leaning into that next year, I'm leaning into telling our story, getting our narrative in place, uh, so that everything else that we do is more valuable and we get the right people in the door.

[00:12:33] And then, the second thing that we're really focused on is while we were absolutely leveraging our tool and, and practicing account-based marketing for a long time, I think we, we didn't do a great job internally of telling that story as I just walked through of, of sort of the metrics side of things,

[00:12:51] and in particular, one of those areas was our customer base. And so, one of my big focuses is customer retention, customer expansion, creating, and, and really amplifying more of those loyal advocates that we have. We're, of course, still gonna build pipeline for new business and do that stuff, but we're gonna double down on what we're doing for our customer base.

[00:13:09] Daniel Weiner: I'm curious to your opinion just on, like, even the term ABM for me, uh, you know, I take calls with CMOs and VPs of marketing all day, a lot of them B2B, a lot request ABM, and usually my follow up to that is, like, talk me through that, like, what do you mean by ABM? And I find a lot, like, it's just a muddied term more than a lot of marketing, quote-unquote, things where, like, everybody has somewhat of a different definition and a wide variance in budgets and all that sort of stuff.

[00:13:36] Do you see that as being a, an issue of ABM in general 'cause it is, it, it can be done in so many different ways? And just, I'm curious since you deal with it every day.

[00:13:46] Oh, man. It's like you have been in my team meetings. Yes. I've been ha, I hacked Terminus a long time ago.

[00:13:50] Natalie Cunningham: You hacked Terminus? 

[00:13:51] Daniel Weiner: I'm, I'm, I'm in there. 

[00:13:52] Natalie Cunningham: We won't tell anybody. Yes, I, yes to all of that, I, we are at a, an interesting place in this market, in the ABM market maturity for how long ABM has been around. If you look at the adoption of something like, uh, email marketing, when the marketing automation platforms first started coming out, right, and the emergence of the, the part of and the Marketo, I think the adoption there was faster because it was more of a, a tactic to change how you're doing things versus a complete change in your strategy, in what you focus on and what you don't.

[00:14:27] And, and I think where ABM has really struggled, uh, over the course of this sort of emerging maturity curve is we forgot to get everybody else on board, and changing the way marketing does marketing to align to business outcomes instead of vanity metrics, which is sort of the core of account-based marketing, doesn't work if the marketing people are the only ones that care about it.

[00:14:54] And, and I think that's why we have had, uh, a continuing struggle to get people to really adopt it, and I think it's also why we have different definitions. I, I'll, I'll tell you a story of a previous place I worked where I came in, and one of the things I was responsible for brand digital, all digital demand gen, and then our inbound BDR team as well.

[00:15:14] And, uh, I had a partner that was running field and account-based marketing programs, and obviously, a lot of those hit through my team as well 'cause you can't do that without digital assets and paid campaigns and all those things, and BDRs is a part of it. And what I learned very quickly was, we had rebranded within the organization what account-based marketing was

[00:15:37] because when the prior team had tried to push account-based marketing without getting buy-in from their partners in sales, from their partners in CX, and from the executive team, it had such a negative reaction because marketing wasn't generating leads that they had to rebrand it and call them target account place, and everybody got on board with the target account place because it was different.

[00:15:59] And we worked with sales first, and it was really just about changing the way we executed it and snapping a different name on it. So, I could talk about this for 45 minutes, but short version, absolutely, I see a mix in market, we are constantly talking about our customer, talking to our customers about what does ABM mean to you?

[00:16:17] Why did you come to us for ABM? Like, what problem are you trying to solve? This, there's not just one way to do ABM, I think that that is unrealistic to say, "ABM is this, it's not that." But I do think there are some foundational things of ABM is not running a lead gen program to generate leads, running them through a traditional email nurture, handing them off to a BDR,

[00:16:41] like, it's not that, but it also could be whatever it needs to be for your organization as long as it is centered around target accounts that are the highest value for you, as long as there is some alignment with sales, RevOps, whomever on who those high-value target accounts are, and as long as you are approaching that in a multi-channel way and not just spitting advertising at them or only sales, uh, engagement, then SAPM and it might be your version of it, it's a journey.

[00:17:12] Daniel Weiner: Sure. I think it's funny, I asked that same question, like, what does ABM mean to you? We're like, why are we here talking about this? And a lot of times, whether it's good or bad not to put marketers on blast, the answer is, "Well, somebody told us we should do ABM," or like, "Our CEO was like, 'We should do ABM.'"

[00:17:27] I'm like, "Cool. What do they think about it?" They're like, "Oh, I don't know the answer to that question." I'm like, "Super. We should figure that out together before we start doing stuff." So.

[00:17:36] Natalie Cunningham: It's, that is, that is such a good point, and it is something we hear constantly, and it's why, like, we have a whole, Terminus has a professional services team that helps people with those strategies 'cause they often do come in, and they are at the mercy of someone else giving them a directive, and we'll help them figure out what it is.

[00:17:53] But going back to my point about CMOs in particular, we gotta have a backbone, we have to be business people first that say, "I hear your directive CEO, now give me the background on why this is more important than X, Y, Z, other thing." And I'm gonna back up ABM probably being more important 'cause I'm a true believer and that's what we do at Terminus. But not if you don't know what you're doing and why.

[00:18:17] Daniel Weiner: Yeah, I totally agree. Again, easier for me to say, I think a lot of it's truthfully, uh, the backbone part, which I feel for is, uh, fortunately, or unfortunately there's been a million articles about it, so I presume not news to you the average tenure for a CMO is 18 months and, you know, layoffs and stuff like that.

[00:18:33] I feel it's, uh, oftentimes CMOs more times than most roles are dealing with, uh, what is right versus security, you know, versus a million things 'cause they're on the chopping block, and marketing's always been a, a first to blame type thing. So, I feel for it in those scenarios, it's, uh, it would be great to be able to do that, but I think to your point, like, there's so much more in terms of, like, leadership buying in and different business units, like, getting even what the hell you're doing and talking about and supporting it and realizing it's not overnight success, so.

[00:19:03] Natalie Cunningham: Yes. Absolutely. A hundred percent. I have deep empathy for that, I mean, obviously, I live that myself. I happen to work at a company that values marketing 'cause that's what we do here, but I haven't, most of my career, uh, and it, and it is a challenge, but we also can get in our own way sometimes.

[00:19:19] Daniel Weiner: Yeah, I agree. What, uh, what's your advice overall in 2023 in the, the climate we're in currently just for B2B brands in general? How can they win?

[00:19:29] Natalie Cunningham: It's tough out there, it's tough here. I think the number one thing, and this is, this is probably gonna be the least sexy answer you've gotten when you ask this question, is just getting back to the basics, and I don't mean the basics of your tactical playbooks that you've been doing for the last 10 years,

[00:19:47] like, just throw that out. I mean the basics of why we all got into marketing and what our purpose is here, actually understanding your audience, telling a compelling story, giving them a reason to care. And then letting them have their own journey instead of trying to pull them in through a form fill or, you know, generate a lead.

[00:20:07] Get out of that attribution mindset to your point and figure out what your customer actually wants. Go do the customer calls that you've been putting off for the last 18 months because you needed to hit a pipeline number, like, you are not gonna hit that pipeline number in this economic downturn if you don't deeply understand the current state of their problems and you aren't giving them some way to solve it.

[00:20:30] And I think we just, in B2B, often we've lost that, and we've lost, to your point about creativity earlier, we've lost our ability to tell a creative story that stands out from everything else they are getting that's just noise. Double down on that, and I think that we will see the returns on the other end.

[00:20:47] That said, I absolutely do not have a crystal ball, and I would love if somebody has a playbook that's watching the podcast. For the last time, we were coming out of a two-year global pandemic, heading into a major economic downturn with increasing data privacy, making buyers even more difficult to find, and constant POC turnover at B2B companies

[00:21:11] because of that, I, I'd love to see that playbook, I think we are all kind of figuring it out, which is what my suggestion is to get back to what you know, which is how to tell stories to people that they care about.

[00:21:23] Daniel Weiner: No, I totally agree. I think storytelling in B2B is, uh, undervalued and underutilized, uh, type thing, it's why, truthfully, I, I, it sounds like you agree, I'll ask anyways. I, I don't think B2B and B2C are that different than, uh, a lot of folks, uh, let on, like, we, we often forget in B2B, like, it's still people at those target companies who are, uh, you know, I, who I interviewed, uh, two interviews ago was, uh, Stord, uh, who's an Atlanta-based, uh, logistics company with a robust ABM program.

[00:21:55] And we joked to my old agency, like, you know, not to be crass, but these people are still sitting on the toilet, scrolling their phones, uh, at the end of the day and laying on the couch and looking at their phone and stuff like that. And I think we forget that in, uh, in B2B often.

[00:22:08] Natalie Cunningham: A hundred percent. Yeah. It's, it's actually something I personally feel really passionately about and have talked about on my, my personal LinkedIn, and it's also something our company feels really passionate about. We get, uh, we see a lot in the market, especially around ABM, around a, like, B2B, DSP, or, you know, you can't, can't have B2C tactics for a B2B play.

[00:22:30] And I just think that's old school, I think they are all humans, and it's why our platform is built the way it is, it's why I execute in the marketing programs the way I do, like, they're humans at the end of the day, and you don't need to be on the business site only, you need to be where that human is spending their time

[00:22:47] 'cause I guarantee you, especially a marketer, they are thinking about it when they're outside of work and it's a great time to reach them. I just couldn't agree more.

[00:22:57] Daniel Weiner: Sure. You've worked agency side, you've worked brand side, which to me is the, uh, I would say the pinnacle of what I think makes a, a good marketer because you've had such a wide swath of experience, you've probably been yelled at by clients who are in your role, presumably in some capacity, I'm, I'm curious, uh, I'm sure there's a million, but, you know, what 

[00:23:16] do you think you've picked up along the way with that shared experience between agency brand and now being, you know, I would say the, uh, the pinnacle role in a, in a marketing organization of leading it and having that CMO title?

[00:23:28] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah. Boy, you're giving me flashbacks, I certainly have been yelled at in those roles, hopefully those, those people...

[00:23:33] Daniel Weiner: We all, we all have.

[00:23:34] Natalie Cunningham: Yes, be nice, uh, be nice to your agency partners. Yeah, I think, uh, I agree with your first statement that I think that one of the most successful pasts, and I won't say it un, unequivocally, but I, I love to hire marketers that have agency experience and have done some in-house in particular, if you've had agency experience and you've done maybe a growth stage or a startup, and you've had a velocity mandate, ooh, you are going to be a powerful marketer.

[00:24:03] I love hiring those people. Uh, for me, velocity is one of the things I've learned, in the, the agency side, uh, there is, there's never enough time anywhere to get done what you need to done, but it, it is amplified times 12 in the agency world and what you need to accomplish, there's never enough resources or if there are enough resources, you know, when you lose a client, then you lay off that whole team.

[00:24:27] And so, most agency models don't work that way anymore. I also learned, I think this has been one of my biggest aha moments, I'm gonna win over to brand side, and I've talked to, to my friends from agency that have made the transition as well. Most marketers don't actually know how to do strategy, they know how to set goals, and they know how to set plans for tactics, but bridging the gap between how does this set of tactics with this message to this audience at this time connected to this other set of tactics, achieve that goal with a true integrated strategy.

[00:25:09] I have almost never worked with a, an in-house team that I've come into, whether I was the agency partner or since I have made the transition that they spent the time to do that. No, I'm not faulting them for that, I understand, like, my other piece, my other learning is empathy for, uh, when I was agency side of thinking, why in the world have they not done this?

[00:25:29] They've, I mean, this is the most important thing, why are they not doing this? Why are they paying us to do this? We're happy to help, but that's crazy, why can't they get turnarounds faster? Working in-house, I understand, like, those people are at your doorstep asking for everything all the time within the organization, and you just feel like you're getting a barrage.

[00:25:48] Making the time to think strategically is really, really, really hard. But I have learned that it is a huge gap and that doing it can absolutely be a game changer for a marketing team that is activity driven and doesn't know how to connect that to impact even without the perfect attribution in place.

[00:26:05] Daniel Weiner: Sure. It's funny. Strategy to me is one of those things when I talk to folks, everybody wants it, no one wants to pay for it, and they think it's, like, uh, it should just be included

[00:26:17] with everything that is, like, happening, which is funny, like, you know, I'm often, like, what I do ends up in coaching to a certain degree with some of the agencies that I work with,

[00:26:27] and like, you know, we talk all the time, like, should we put strategy as a line item? And I take the opinion now, I'm like, "Put it into what you're doing, the cost of it." I'm saying like, I feel like, from my experience at agency, if we ever had a line item that said strategy with a dollar amount associated with it, people, like, free, they couldn't wrap their heads around it as this standalone thing, 

[00:26:47] it wasn't the money, so when we would just wrap it up into the services with that cost, uh, it was totally fine, like, it was, oh great, yeah, price works, let's, let's do it. And it was the same thing just skin a different way, I'm curious if you, if that's been your experience a little as well?

[00:27:02] Natalie Cunningham: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. So, at my last agency experience before I made the jump over, when I left there, I was, uh, running our account services team, which was also a strategy team, we did integrated strategies for, for B2B clients, we also served the accounts, and then I was a, a key partner on the new business side.

[00:27:19] And so, would go into those pitches and help us win business, and, and this was literally the constant conversation was we are a strategic agency, we're not just an execution agency, people hire us because we know how to do something that they potentially don't know how to do or don't have the expertise internally.

[00:27:37] Our strategy has value and it takes time, but we always got pushback for the payment for a thing that didn't put anything in market.

[00:27:45] Daniel Weiner: Because they think you just have it ready is my take on it.

[00:27:47] Natalie Cunningham: They think you just have it ready.

[00:27:48] Daniel Weiner: Like, you come in and have this conversation, you're like, "Great, here's this strategy." When you, when you give ideas and talk through it, I think they equate that to, "Oh, that's, that's the, they, you just did it, it's done, what do you mean we have to pay for it?"

[00:27:58] Natalie Cunningham: Yes. And, and honestly, I have worked with some agencies that, in, in my opinion, that is what happened is they, they did rinse and repeat the same strategy they just sold to the other person because after I went through everything that was unique about my business, the delivery that I got was something that, uh, like, came straight outta a playbook.

[00:28:17] Somebody downloaded from HubSpot, right? Like, this was not a unique strategy by any stretch. However, I know there are plenty that do that, that do it, and, and I certainly work there at my last agency that do really custom strategic plans align to your business goals, your tech stack, your messaging, right? And that has a ton of value.

[00:28:37] When we rolled it into the overall pricing, which we, 'cause we did the same testing, I think it helps on the front end with the sales process, but it made it more difficult on the delivery team because their expectation is, I'm getting the delivery of these things, and delivery team is "Yes, but we need six weeks to get the strategy in place."

[00:28:55] And so, the ti, the clock is ticking on the value of a thing that we didn't call out as an important deliverable.

[00:29:02] Daniel Weiner: No, that's fair. I could definitely see that happening. What, uh, it sounds like that's one of them, but what's one thing, if you could just blanket say to all agencies, what's one thing you think agencies get wrong, or like, you wish that they, quote-unquote, got or, or understood more?

[00:29:18] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah. So, I, I'm gonna put a little caveat on the front end of this. I think that for most agencies I have hired since going in-house, I am neither the best client, or the worst client, one of the two. And I, and I know I can, I can, the names are in my head of the ones that think I'm the worst and the ones that think I'm

[00:29:36] Daniel Weiner: As long, as, long as you're not yelling at any of them, I assure you, you're not the, you're not the worst client, I can almost guarantee it.

[00:29:41] Natalie Cunningham: That's a good point. Yes, I would never do that. But I think agencies struggle to remember to read the person they're working with, I have time and time and time and time again come in and said, "Hey, I'm," you know, maybe it's an existing agency, I came in as a new leader or somebody who just hired and said, "Hey, listen,

[00:30:04] I came from the agency side, like, I've done this before, I understand your structure, I get it, that's why I'm hiring you 'cause I see value in agencies." Sometimes to the chagrin of my CFO, like, I think that this is important and I will lay out for them all the metrics I know they need to know, all the go-to-market strategy

[00:30:23] I know they need to know, and I'll tell them a problem I'm trying to solve. And, and my assumption is from that they can tell that we have it somewhat together, that they're working with someone that they don't need to explain what email marketing is, for example. And then I often get sort of a scripted answer of, like, "This is how you sell to people."

[00:30:45] Just remembering in agencies, in the sales process, and certainly in account management process that you're working with different personas, you are working with people and have different levels of experience that want different things from you, and if you waste an executive's time trying to teach them something that they already know, like, you've lost my trust.

[00:31:04] I didn't hire you for you to teach me something I already know. And that has happened a lot.

[00:31:09] Daniel Weiner: That is my, uh, I would say my biggest hot take, and what I probably, you will find no one who agrees with more is, uh, I'd say the hot take is that the work doesn't matter, and what I mean by that is, of course, the work matters, but like, everybody forgets, they're, they're selling to you, and like, agencies, even when they talk to me, like, when I'm thinking of engaging with them, they, they tell me how great they are and stuff.

[00:31:28] I'm like, "You should be, that's the cost of doing business. Talk to me about your process, like, how you talk to people, I want to hear, like, pos," I would rather hear, like, if I ever set you up with an agency and you told me their work sucked, I'd say, okay, well we can fix that. Were they communicative? Did they have a good process?

[00:31:44] Did they make your life theoretically easier if the work didn't suck? And I would rather you hear, I would rather hear, "Yeah, they were maniacs in a good way, from a communication standpoint, I just didn't like the work." I'd go, "Okay, that's work subjective, communication's a lot more binary, so." They forget that all the time,

[00:32:00] like, when I'm talking agencies and they're so, just stringent with their, their, quote-unquote, uh, proprietary whatever they're selling and stuff like that. And I have to remind them often that what I do is oftentimes too, like, as much personality matching as it is capability matching of, like, talking to a marketer and hearing their pain points.

[00:32:17] And at the end of the day, like, your job is to, of course, do good work and these things, but like, you need to make their life easier, you wanna make them look good to their peers, to their bosses, to everybody. And I, I think agencies lose sight of that and get so obsessed with the work that they forget the rapport.

[00:32:33] It's also one of the weird business relationships where you have such a positive experience, you go in happy-go-lucky, 10 other people are involved after that. If your account manager sucks, if the CFO is being a dick when billing you, you know, like, there's so many people who can tarnish even the best work in the world.

[00:32:50] I think agencies overall, that would be my, uh, my blanket statement to them as, like, remember all of these touch-points matter just as much as delivery and the actual work, more so a lot of the times I hear consistently from folks in your role, like, just the stuff that pisses them off, and we will get to it.

[00:33:07] I am probably gonna set you up 'cause no one has answered, uh, in the way that I wouldn't want them to, but whenever I ask people about their negative agency experiences, uh, no one mentions the work, ever.

[00:33:17] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I think that's, I've never really thought about it that way. I, I think about it from a, a SaaS perspective 'cause I've been in SaaS in a while. I, I'm not saying our product isn't important, of course, it is, and that is, that is the primary of what we sell, but I, as a marketer, am really confident that I would stick with a tool, even if it's features and functionality were subpart of something else,

[00:33:41] if I had a better experience, if I had better service, it gave me a better strategy, if they were not a dick about sending me my billing, right? Like, that's a huge difference maker, and we think about it from an agency perspective. If I trust you and I have a positive relationship, I can easily give you good feedback on the work and, and I trust we'll get there because I, I know how hard it is to make really good work and to understand someone's definition of good work, right?

[00:34:07] To your point, it's subjective. If we can get there together, that's fine. If I don't feel like you hear my feedback, if it feel like you are defensive about your work, or we don't have a positive relationship, I've already started looking for your replacement.

[00:34:20] Daniel Weiner: Yeah, the common narrative I was selling, too, at my old agency was, like, you're not necessarily, like, don't judge us on the results, uh, at the beginning at least, because, like, results can get there, you know, like, you're often paying, I think, an agency for not what they're doing on day one, but more so how they're doing stuff on, you know, at month three and month six and how they're adjusting and stuff

[00:34:41] like, it's just, uh, I think unrealistic to think you hire an agency and your problems are solved, and results just automatically happen 'cause you've, you know, decided we're gonna invest in an agency. So, it sounds like you're, uh, you're there as well.

[00:34:53] Natalie Cunningham: I can't imagine people thinking that about hiring an in-house person, right? Like, there is an assumption when I hire an employee that I'm gonna have to onboard them and that it's gonna take time for them to learn and that we're gonna have to get lined on expectations, and why would you think it's any different with a group of humans that are external in your business? They're just humans.

[00:35:12] Daniel Weiner: Because they don't treat 'em, like, to your point, they don't treat 'em like, they should treat 'em like in-house people with that mentality, I think they think you're this service, not necessarily, I mean, that's a whole other conversation of agencies that say like, "Oh, we're not in, we're not a, you know, an agency or a vendor, we're your partner."

[00:35:27] Which, of course, is the goal for everybody. BSE and Kumbaya. But again, to the other side, I see a lot of marketers, like, lock their agencies out and, like, treat them just not the right way, you know, to get the good work from them. So, it's not surprising to me at least. I presume you're getting hit up 7,000 times a day by agencies and vendors just because of your title. Is that, uh, somewhat the case?

[00:35:53] Natalie Cunningham: Oh, it's so bad, it's so bad right now. I, specific example, last night at 6:00 PM, I looked at my phone when I was stepping away from my back-to-back meetings all day, uh, noticed I had received five phone calls, five of them from the exact same phone number, in a day, no voicemail. So, I called it back, and it was a vendor, it was a BDR at a vendor trying to get my attention, five calls in a day. I respect the hustle, but not, not the way, in

[00:36:21] I, that is, yeah, that is not what I'm gonna coach my ADRs to do, and it, you know, and then my LinkedIn inbox, is it mile long? My request, our, you know, salesperson, salesperson, BDR, salesperson, BDR, I'd like to partner with you. Uh, and, and again, I appreciate the hustle, and I'm telling my teams to do those things, too. But my goodness, it is a lot right now.

[00:36:44] Daniel Weiner: Is there anything in those scenarios that somebody can say to stand out or, you know, the next question's gonna be in general, what are you looking for from an agency or vendor? But like, if you're not on the hunt for something, is there anything? I hear from most people no, truthfully, it's timeliness, and if you actually need, so it's like lock.

[00:37:01] Natalie Cunningham: Like, for agencies, it's different, yes. From, like, other types of vendors, there are things I think that they can say that might get me to make, pay attention in something that I hadn't planned to invest to if it's a transition of investment, if it's, "Hey, stop paying for this, you can pay for this and get more out of it," fine agencies almost always feel like a net new investment,

[00:37:21] unless I am extremely unhappy with mine and looking for a solution, to your point. So, maybe not, I'm in a unique situation where, uh, we also partner with agencies, and so because we sell into B2B marketing organizations as a, a primary audience, I will pay attention to an agency outreach if I think that they are a good fit for our partner program, but I'm not necessarily giving them money directly.

[00:37:47] I'm thinking about them for something else. Other than that, no, I don't know that there's anything they could say to that would get me to pay attention if I don't have budget or need.

[00:38:00] Daniel Weiner: Well, it's happened. I think you're the 19th episode that I've recorded, uh, virtually every single person has said, after recording this podcast, people use this as the thing like, "Hey, heard you on the YouShouldTalkTo podcast. So, if that happens, apologies in advance if that gives more ammunition to reach out. So, uh, yeah, I didn't tell you that on the front end. I didn't want you to say no, of course, uh.

[00:38:20] Natalie Cunningham: That's okay, I already got a filter for all that spam that comes 

[00:38:23] Daniel Weiner: Oh, perfect. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh, in general, say you are looking, what is the overall stuff you were looking for? We just talked about how you kind of agree that, like, you know, the work is the price of admission, but what are you looking for from an agency or vendor, or how can they stand out when you were in that process of actually needing something or actually looking?

[00:38:39] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah. I think you and I talked about this when we first met each other, but, uh, to me, it's all about honesty, I, no matter what type of vendor I'm looking for, and I, I do put them in different categories, there are strategic vendors, and then there are sometimes that I, I have the strategy, I have the right people internally,

[00:38:55] I literally just don't have enough hands or heads, I need you to be an extension of my team and to execute the plan we already have in place that I feel confident in. That's less so the case for me, I don't do a ton of that, but if it's, let's assume it's a strategic agency partnership, I, I need you to be honest with me about what you're good at and what you're not.

[00:39:15] I know that you are not good at everything on your list of services, like, just go into it knowing that I know that. Tell me what you're great at, tell me why you're great at it, and gimme some examples, like, what makes you great, not just 'cause you think you're great, and what do you really struggle with that you maybe offer, and we could choose to do with you if we wanted to consolidate into one vendor, but we'd really have to lean in on the strategy 'cause your team is not as good at that.

[00:39:41] I would be more willing to do that with you if you tell me that on the front end. And part of this comes from, like, coming from the agency side, I have been in that position, I have been in that room, or I've had to pitch to a client, and they have asked about a thing, and I had to tell them that we could do it, knowing maybe I was the only person that had ever done it, or no one had really done it in that scenario before.

[00:40:09] Daniel Weiner: It's a sick feeling, you're, you're giving me PTSD now. 

[00:40:10] Natalie Cunningham: It's a, figure it out, uh, it's horrible, it's horrible, and I, I just, I don't want that. Tell me what you're good at, and you're not, and then we will figure it out, and you're gonna build my trust on the front end. And also don't, don't condescend to me like I don't know what I'm talking about. Assume I know what I'm talking about.

[00:40:26] Daniel Weiner: I know the answer to this one, I think, my theory on this is because in not just agencies, but most stuff, uh, unless you're the figurehead of the agency, it's just really difficult to think long term, truthfully, uh, you know the value of someone like you, I talk about all the time, doing right by you, even if it involves no money.

[00:40:44] The lifetime value of, of a being a, a strategic person that somebody thinks about who's in your role when they need something is infinite, and if somebody says they can do something and they don't do a good job, zero, you will never reach out to them ever again, and I think agencies and business in general

[00:41:01] just think short term versus long term in terms of, like, if you say, "Hey, you know, can you do that?" "No, we, I wouldn't work with us for that." And I was in the same position at my old agency, towards the end, I was good at winning stuff that we could not do well and got us into weird situations and ultimately made me sick to my stomach, truthfully, of like, selling bullshit and thinking, "How the hell are we gonna do this? This is insane. Who would trust us to do?" You know, like, it was, yeah, not a good feeling by any means.

[00:41:29] Natalie Cunningham: It's not, it's not, and I, you make a great point, I think, I have an awesome example of a vendor that, uh, it's a, a web vendor that I saw a post on LinkedIn from a CMO that I respect, this is years ago, uh, just praising these two agencies that she'd worked with, that she had an excellent experience and she was like, "If you need somebody for either of these things, I would highly recommend them."

[00:41:51] And like, kudos to her for doing that for agencies, I saw that, I respect her, I saved it. And six months, eight months later, I remembered that post when I needed to do a web project. And so, I went back to it on LinkedIn, I looked at it, I sent her a message, "Tell me a little bit about your project, can you connect me?"

[00:42:11] She connected me to them and come to find out pretty quickly with them, this was not something that made sense for them because of our stack, this, our tech just was not their expertise and they just didn't feel comfortable that it was gonna be the right fit. So, we went through the whole process, gave 'em all the details, did some high level discovery, and they came back and were like, "Honestly, we are not going to be as successful with you with this as we would be happy with the work.

[00:42:36] We may know some people we could recommend if you don't have others." And thankfully I had other options at the time and I was so appreciative, but I also understood what they were great at from that process, and when about 12 months later I was in a position in a different stack and I needed them, I called them and we were up and running in a project, they closed a deal with me within a week.

[00:42:54] Daniel Weiner: That's awesome. That's how it should be.

[00:42:56] Natalie Cunningham: That works.

[00:42:57] Daniel Weiner: Uh, it's good to hear you talk about specialization. My entire business is, I work with full-service agencies, but again, I'm almost never, uh, recommending somebody for everything. However, I've seen a big shift, especially since Covid and a little before, since I worked at a boutique agency.

[00:43:13] Bigger brands or just brands with name recognition that are theoretically, you know, apprised for agencies to win, moving towards smaller, independent, uh, specialized agencies, one to two services and stuff. What's your overall opinion of that? I'm, I'm guessing at, uh, you know, depends, but I'm curious, like, do you think the AOR model is, uh, done for, I take the opinion,

[00:43:36] Daniel Weiner: yeah, kind of, uh, like, I would rather be an independent agency good at a couple things than trying to win AOR business at this point, just from what I see. But curious your opinion.

[00:43:46] Natalie Cunningham: I think that's probably true on the B2B side. I'm not sure that that's true in B2C as much as I've seen, but I do have less, you know, I, I have less connections on that side of the house, uh, than I do in B2B. In short, I would say yes, I think the, the AOR model is, is a dinosaur at this point. And to me, the, what I'm seeing from some of our customers that I talk to and the, the partners that we work with is people are really to, to your point about work, maybe the work isn't the most important thing, but they were focusing on quality, like, trying to do less tactics better with a bigger impact.

[00:44:24] And you can't do that if you have an agency that says, "We do everything well," and you've maybe saved some money, quote-unquote, maybe, on the front end of hiring this larger agency and consolidating everything in, you've certainly saved yourself some procurement headache of having this single vendor. But if it's not high-quality work, if you're not able to have the relationship with them to get to the high-quality work, then you're just shooting yourself in the foot

[00:44:49] at this point, I think marketers are refocusing on less activity, more high quality, and I think that's probably a symptom of it. We've been burned too many times.

[00:44:59] Daniel Weiner: Yeah, I think it's also probably a symptom of economy, I would say, like, even with agencies, I hear it more with, like, technologies, I mean, if you're not absolutely mission critical at this moment, like, you are, you know, getting put on the back burner or cut or, you know, phased out. And I think, with agencies, it's how do you position yourself as a true partner in these, like, economic downturns and stuff like that.

[00:45:21] Especially, you know, if somebody, I tell it all the time, like, to me the biggest thing with agencies right now, I see a lot of people on LinkedIn, and it bothers me a ton saying like, "Oh, now's the time for agencies to, to grow." You know, and like, "More millionaires are made during recession." I get it, but I'm like, it's so much easier for you to say that without being in the trenches.

[00:45:40] Like, if I'm at the, like, what I'm advising all the agencies is retention at all costs and also acquisition at all costs within reason, I'm not telling you to lose money, but like, for certain companies, like, you know, someone like yourself, if you're able to help them through, if you have to budget cut and stuff like that, who are they going to when things become more normal, it's, it's you. So, uh, you know, I think that's the biggest thing I've seen.

[00:46:02] Natalie Cunningham: It's interesting, I, I was having a conversation with an analyst recently, and we were talking about this idea of budgets getting cut in marketing orgs, and, and we know that some of that is program spend, right? And, and we're hopeful that CMOs have some, uh, control over how they're cutting their spend within their orgs.

[00:46:21] But we also know that that's headcount, we also know they're losing resources that either they were hoping to add or they have had before. And so, there is a play for what, what I think at the time we were talking about was manage, services, which, you know, you can do that through your software partners, or you can do that more strategically, potentially through an agency partner that understands your world, you can do either.

[00:46:44] But his point was, it's, it's a great time to lean into that very much like what you're seeing on LinkedIn. And I do think I agree in theory, but I think this is the part where the difference in the strategic agency and the execution agency, like, right now, I need my team to be, my internal team to be strategic experts.

[00:47:01] I need them to be thinking about strategy and own it top to bottom, and I need them to have the resources to execute it effectively. I, I don't have a lot of confidence in having an external partner drive our strategy when I have such a small team, it makes it so much more difficult for them to understand and own it, which is what I need.

[00:47:23] So, I, I do need potentially more partnerships, but I need them to be deep experts in things that my team aren't, or that I don't have the resources for.

[00:47:32] Daniel Weiner: That's fair. You, you talked about your positive agency experience, we'll, we'll get to the negative in a second. To that, to take that one step further, in general, how do you think you get the best out of an agency partner? Do you want, I hear this split, truthfully, it's roughly 50/50 between, I talked to VPs and CMOs mostly, or who I help, uh, split on both sides between roles of, I'm hiring an agency for what they do, and I want them to tell me, you know, what I need and what to do and stuff like that.

[00:47:58] And I hear from the other side, like, I want a true thought partner, I, I want a collaborative experience. I have differing opinions based on the company and the service probably and approach it from a different lens 'cause I want to make, to your point of knowing your audience, if that's what somebody wants, I can give my opinion, but I want to help them find what they're looking for within the large group of agencies I work with.

[00:48:18] I'm curious to you, in general, how do you get the best out of an agency partner outside of economic downturn or good times, bad times? Just in general, how do you get the best out of them?

[00:48:30] Natalie Cunningham: That's a tough one. , I think it is so different dependent upon the type of agency. So, an example, if you've got, like, a paid media agency, right? So, to me, what I, what I'm looking for in those is I'm not looking for you to tell me about my audience, not looking for you to tell me about my overarching marketing strategy or even my demand gen or digital strategy,

[00:48:51] I should be clearly executing or articulating that on the front end to you. My team should be doing that and getting down into the weeds of why we're doing it this way, and, and they should ask questions if they just take everything we say as accurate without asking questions and understanding it, I don't think they're making a lot of investment and making sure it's successful.

[00:49:09] So, ask questions, but I expect us to articulate that on the front end. What I expect for them is deep, deep channel expertise to say the best way to accomplish that might be what you laid out, but here's another way that we could do that, and I would suggest we try this for X number of days with a metric attached to it of this is what the, the definition of success would be, and then to hold themself accountable to that recommendation and go execute it, that's what I need.

[00:49:36] On a strategic partnership, I do need a little bit, like, I'm, I'm open to a little bit more of them telling me what I need to do to be successful as long as they are telling me what I need to do to be successful with some sort of background on why. What I don't enjoy is the relationships where I say, "Hey, here's my business outcome

[00:49:58] I need to accomplish, I don't have the expertise in this area, or I don't have a person, or honestly, I don't have the brainwaves to think about it. Please come back and tell me what you recommend, I'd love to hear what's working for your other clients, please let me know." When they come back and say, "We should do X, Y, Z, and there's no background to, we should do this for this reason, connected in this way,

[00:50:20] the only way it works is if we do this." I, I don't get that most of the time from agencies without being very, very explicit about my expectations on that, it is just, here's what you do.

[00:50:32] Daniel Weiner: It's funny you bring it up about paid media, uh, it's more fun when we disagree, but unfortunately, I agree with you, uh, on that. I get so much, again, I, I agree, it depends on the service, uh, where people want, at the end of every call, I'm like, "Do you, do you want somebody who's, you know, works in this exact type of scenario?"

[00:50:48] And oftentimes it's so specific and niche, I'm like, I care less, and it's funny for performance, oftentimes I'm getting like, "Oh, we want somebody who's done this." And I'm like, "I don't think you should care, you, like, have you been in the back end of Google or Facebook lately? Like, it's terrifying, like, you want somebody who knows the exact buttons to push where the bodies are buried, all of those things."

[00:51:08] And I tell people, which is again, a whole we-could-do-a-10-hour-podcast-on-this, they get into like, "Oh, well, like, the creative," I'm like, "If the thing looks like crap, but it converts, that's what matters. Also, you're not your own target, like, are you your target? You're not selling you." They're like, "Oh, yeah."

[00:51:22] So, like, I take the opinion channel expertise is so much more important, they ask me all, I'm like, "Have you been," I say that, truthfully, I'm like, "Have you been in the back end of LinkedIn to place an ad?" Like, "Oh, no, none, like, two or three years." I'm like, "I couldn't even tell you where to log in these days. It's different than where it was three years ago." You know? So, yeah, channel expertise I think an undervalued, uh, thing people look for.

[00:51:43] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah. We had, we recently brought on a freelancer to support some of our paid search chefs because my internal digital team is more focused on leveraging our own platform and doing account-based advertising and that stuff. So, we brought on a freelancer and I asked my senior manager of digital marketing, I was like, "Hey, I, I found this one,

[00:52:01] we, we used a, uh, a group to help us find him, but he doesn't have any B2B experience, how do you feel about that?" And she was like, "I don't care, I 0% care, let me see his background and let me talk to him. He deeply understands how this works, and he deeply understands what buttons to push and what levers to turn,

[00:52:19] and that's when I need, I can tell him how it's different in B2B, that's my job. Don't worry about paying somebody else for that, that's my job." And she was exactly right, he's been fantastic.

[00:52:28] Daniel Weiner: That's great. You talked about the positive, let's get, uh, let's get dark for a moment. Fill me in on a negative agency experience and what made it negative.

[00:52:38] Natalie Cunningham: Oh, my, my, my, I have had a few.

[00:52:40] Daniel Weiner: Everybody has. It'd be weird if you didn't, truthfully.

[00:52:43] Natalie Cunningham: Yep. Yep. I, you know, I, I might say 60/40 on the negative versus positive experiences, unfortunately.

[00:52:51] Daniel Weiner: Never again, never again. Now that you know me, a hundred percent, uh, positivity, you know?

[00:52:56] Natalie Cunningham: Solved, solved. I, I think the biggest thing across the board is communication. I just, I, if you want to hit a pet peeve with me quickly, don't tell me that you are not gonna hit a deadline,

[00:53:17] like, just miss it entirely without communicating anything, and then show up for the next meeting and, uh, tell me you're still working on it, I will lose my ever-loving mind. The type of communication I expect from an account manager, like, I've done it, I've done the job, I've had to run the programs and be the account manager,

[00:53:37] I've run the teams of people, I understand it's hard, but the most important thing is setting expectations and being very clear and accountable to those expectations you set, and we have had over and over and over again, I, I've had experiences with, with agencies that have told me X date or they didn't wanna give me a date,

[00:53:56] and I said, "No, no, that's not how this works here. I am accountable to dates within my organization, the rest of my team is dependent upon what you're doing. When are you gonna do the thing by?" I don't even care what the date is, I just need to know when you're gonna do it by, you give me a date, you pass it, and you don't communicate,

[00:54:13] you've lost my trust, and it's really difficult to get it back, especially when you don't think you've done anything wrong, when you say, "Oh, well, sorry about that." And then you keep moving forward instead of "Hey, you know what? That, that was a mistake, we shouldn't have done that, and we will get on top of it, and here's how we're fixing it."

[00:54:28] Daniel Weiner: I have so many just scenarios of talking to account people of them saying, or like, even at my old agency of us sending something at 5:02, and me saying "Unacceptable." And then they're like, what do you mean? I'm like, "We said by end of day at five," and I can guarantee you for important things, they're sitting at their computer, looking at their email pressing refresh, and even if we're a minute late, it puts the seed of doubt

[00:54:51] in their mind, it doesn't necessarily ruin the relationship in that scenario, but to your point, I could, we could do a whole other one about this of just sending the word received, when you get a long email, people just want to know it was, it was, it was, it made it to the inbox, and you can say, "Received, we are triaging this,

[00:55:08] we will send you an update as soon as humanly possible, but need to ingest and digest all of this." Just send the word received, it takes four seconds. So, I'm you there.

[00:55:19] Natalie Cunningham: I feel that so deeply, and that's one of the things when going in-house that I think has been an interesting transition is trying to get people on board with, think of everybody you work with here as your stakeholder in the same way I would think of a client of, if it's due at five o'clock and you're not gonna get it until after five o'clock, let's, you know, let's say it's 5:30, let's say it's 6:00 PM.

[00:55:39] Somebody's sitting there in front of their computer. My expectation is that you send them a note at 4:30 when you knew you weren't gonna have it on time, and you say, "Hey, I'm getting this to you tonight, I promise it's coming over, but it is gonna be a little bit after five." That took you ten seconds away from working on it.

[00:55:55] But you have given them a big sigh of relief that they know that you feel the urgency that they do.

[00:56:01] Daniel Weiner: Better yet, a phone call so they can hear it in your voice, God forbid. 

[00:56:03] Natalie Cunningham: A phone call, yes, yes. It's really just not that hard.

[00:56:07] Daniel Weiner: There's so few things that I think are not teachable, but I think good account management, especially at the agency level, is really hard to teach because I think you either have one quality or you don't, and you're kind of born with it, and it's like the sixth

[00:56:21] sense for when somebody is pissed off that you haven't heard from in two weeks and you just have, like, this weird feeling, which I would, like, unfortunately, get in the middle of the night where I'd be like, "Oh shit, we're gonna get an angry email from that person tomorrow."

[00:56:33] And you can't teach that to somebody. You have that or you don't, you, you feel it, and yeah, getting in front of that will retain clients for life. Uh, do you think a negative situation can be salvaged once it has been put in your mind that the lack of trust or even missing something, like, by a couple minutes, truthfully?

[00:56:53] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah, I, yes, and I have done that before. I have had relationships where if they are willing to have an honest conversation and if I am willing to have an honest conversation, which I always am, we can, I think, I think oftentimes it is just a reset of expectations, and maybe there is a VP over that department or over that team that wasn't paying that much attention because they hadn't gotten frustrations from us,

[00:57:19] and now we bring this back in, and I say, "Listen, do you know that your team member doesn't communicate, doesn't send us status reports, do you know that we have to ask for it, do you know that consistently it's behind deadline? And they often won't know those things, and when I can get them to focus on it and say, "Listen, I, I know you got a lot going on, but like, I need these things, or this doesn't work for me, and you tell me what you need from us."

[00:57:41] That's my other thing is, "I can guarantee you that my team is also messing something up, we probably missed your deadline too, we probably gave you less information than you asked for because somebody on my team was trying to be careful with a vendor, right? Tell me what your problems are instead of just keeping that quiet, have an honest conversation with me, and we can turn it around."

[00:58:02] Daniel Weiner: That's

[00:58:03] Natalie Cunningham: If they do that and they don't follow through, right, then, then we're done.

[00:58:06] Daniel Weiner: That's a whole other fun thing when clients miss deadlines of communicating that this now affects stuff and clients not getting pissed off. So, even having the self-awareness to bring that up, I would say, is an upper echelon, uh, thing that not, I, I tell marketers too, truthfully, like, all the time, I do think a lot of the, I don't even say blame, it's just, like, if you don't communicate something, at the beginning at least, it's as much on you

[00:58:27] 'cause then they don't know, like, if they're doing something, they may think everything is great, and they're doing an insanely good job. If you bring something up, they can change 'cause, again, know your audience, you, your process doesn't match to everybody, but they have to bring it up, and I oftentimes hear from marketers, like, "Oh, it's not that big a deal."

[00:58:43] I'm like, "I can tell you're pissed off, just bring it up, bring it up for two seconds, see what they say, like, they're gonna be happy that you gave them the answer to the test." Which is the best thing for me, I would've loved in every negative agency situation of hearing, "Hey, Danny, don't do this," or "We want this." Great. I can make that happen, like, it's just when you don't know, you can't read their mind.

[00:59:01] Natalie Cunningham: Yes, a hundred percent.

[00:59:03] Daniel Weiner: A couple more here, and then we'll wrap up, I know we've gone over an hour now, uh, what are you most bullish on in the marketing space, ChatGPT, we've got Metaverses, we've got AI, we've got robots taking over the planet, what are you, uh, we've got events back, hopefully, uh, what are you most pumped about?

[00:59:19] Natalie Cunningham: Okay. I don't think you're gonna like this answer.

[00:59:22] Daniel Weiner: You're gonna say not podcasts, or something, I hope not. Not this

[00:59:25] Natalie Cunningham: No. I'm gonna say none of the above. I, I am not a, you know, I 

[00:59:31] Daniel Weiner: I just nam, I just named all the cool shit. I, I

[00:59:33] Natalie Cunningham: You named all the cool shit. I, well, I think my point is, uh, I sort of cringe when I hear a ChatGPT at this point, and I brought it up to my team, and they're like, "Oh, my God." It, it's a, it feels like a flash in the pan to me, it feels like yet another shining object.

[00:59:49] And back to my point earlier, what I'm bullish on is marketers getting back to the freaking basic, basics of, like, do your job well and stop choosing technology over strategy, and I literally work for a MarTech company. So, let me be very clear, I want you to buy our software, but I don't want you to buy it if you don't have a strategy and you don't know how to be successful with it.

[01:00:10] And I think we have gotten into this space where so many marketers get excited about the new shiny object and, and maybe somebody within their orgs said it was a good idea, and the CEO's excited about it, so now they're doing it, I get that. But honestly, what I'm bullish about is marketers focusing on business results and just doing the work and not getting spun up by the shiny object of this quarter.

[01:00:34] And if it makes sense in the future, and it's been proven out, like, great, test it, but don't let it spin you out from the stuff you need to accomplish that you know is gonna work.

[01:00:44] Daniel Weiner: Yeah, I think it's the, uh, the notion that you have to be everywhere and do everything as a brand, or you miss the boat. I equate it more to, like, the Metaverse stuff, like, when that was becoming more of a conversation of, "Oh, you have to do this," and I'm usually, I mean, I try to drink my own Kool-Aid of not being everywhere,

[01:01:01] it's exhausting to try to do social media as a solopreneur, but when I hear stuff like that, I even think just with, like, ChatGPT, it's another tool, like, maybe it ends up taking over the world, but the thing just became, like, quote-unquote, commonplace, and I already see, uh, it's funny, I always see with new tools, I see, like, how to use X, how to use ChatGPT, how to enter the Metaverse.

[01:01:22] And then, like, two weeks after, I'll see all these things that are, like, how to actually use ChatGPT, how to actually do, and like, I'm like, "Oh, these are the, the actual experts out, the first group." Like, you know, it's, uh, maybe I'll come out with how to really, really use ChatGPT. So, no, I'm with you, uh, what keeps you up at night from a business and marketing standpoint?

[01:01:44] Natalie Cunningham: So, I, I think of myself as a leader first and a marketer second, although I probably bleed marketing more than the average bear, uh, I'm super passionate about it. But to me, what, what keeps me up at night is my people. It is the reality of the velocity at which we need to move. It is the reality of the amount of change in this market and in the world around them, not just at work that they are experiencing and how difficult it is to just be a human these days,

[01:02:17] much less be a high performing professional. I am changing expectations for them, again, I'm in my first year, I am changing the way we do things, and they are having to manage all of that on top of their experience in the world being a bit more difficult than it ever has been. I'm like, I need to help balance what my business needs and what my people need because I can't get to what my business needs without my people being on board.

[01:02:43] And it is constantly keeping me up at night of how do I make this a positive experience for them, and how do I achieve that business goal when often they're at odds timeline-wise.

[01:02:53] Daniel Weiner: That's a good answer. Sounds like somebody that people should aspire to work for. We'll rapid-fire the last few, and then I'll let you go. Uh, what was your very, very, very first job?

[01:03:03] Natalie Cunningham: I worked at a movie rental store in my small town, it was called The Movie Center.

[01:03:08] Daniel Weiner: I love it. Not a blockbuster.

[01:03:10] Natalie Cunningham: Not a blockbuster. We, I don't even know that we were big enough to have a blockbuster.

[01:03:15] Daniel Weiner: I love it. Do you think anything from that role translates into what you do now?

[01:03:19] Natalie Cunningham: I mean, you learn a lot about people when your first role is in sort of a, a customer service role where I had to help them find movies and deal 

[01:03:26] Daniel Weiner: Favorite movie? Favorite movie? You got one?

[01:03:28] Natalie Cunningham: Oh, gosh, uh, no, I don't, I, there's too many. I love movies, I have too many in too many different categories, I, we'd have to have a different podcast.

[01:03:39] Daniel Weiner: Okay, we'll do that. We'll do a full hour on your movie thoughts next time. Uh, what is your death row meal? Don't be on death row, but what's your final meal?

[01:03:46] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah. Uh, let's hope that that's not happening. Is super boring, but like, you can't really get a lot better than a really wonderful steak to me.

[01:03:54] Daniel Weiner: What kind of steak? I'm a ribeye person.

[01:03:56] Natalie Cunningham: I'm going filet all, all day long, I'm going filet, I like a ribeye, too, but I'm going filet.

[01:04:01] Daniel Weiner: I want the fat if I'm gonna be

[01:04:02] Natalie Cunningham: I want, I, I want medium rare, like, little bloody in there, right? And

[01:04:07] Daniel Weiner: What's your side, what's your side??

[01:04:08] Mac and cheese 'cause I'm from the south.

[01:04:10] Daniel Weiner: Okay.

[01:04:11] Natalie Cunningham: Mm-hmm. And then probably, I know this is boring, but mashed potatoes and gravy, I just, I love it, it is a comfort food, and if I was gonna die soon, I would wanna be comforted, maybe with some bacon on there.

[01:04:27] Daniel Weiner: One of my unpopular food opinions is, uh, I think mashed potatoes are a waste of a potato, I want a crispy potato, so I wanna fry or a, uh, like, an oven-roasted crunchy situation, but neither here nor there.

[01:04:38] Natalie Cunningham: Okay. All right. We can argue about that later.

[01:04:40] Daniel Weiner: My final question, who is somebody who inspires you personally or professionally?

[01:04:46] Natalie Cunningham: Uh, yeah. So, I have a team member that I work with that has been a good friend for a long time, and she is one of the most compassionate, yet also strong female leaders that I know, and I as a person that has spent a lot of her personal life and career being told that she is, uh, too direct or aggressive with her tone, uh, watching her be able to be successful in her personal relationships, in her professional relationships,

[01:05:22] and still be deeply empathetic and deeply compassionate, and have people want to go to bat for her, I, I have learned so much from her about her leadership and I, and I, she really inspires me as a human.

[01:05:34] Daniel Weiner: That's awesome.

[01:05:35] Natalie Cunningham: Her name is Stephanie Capouch, by the way, just for the, for the broader 

[01:05:39] Daniel Weiner: Shout out, shout out, Stephanie.

[01:05:40] Natalie Cunningham: Yes.

[01:05:41] Daniel Weiner: This was awesome. Thank you so much for joining, uh, I'd say to everybody, go check out Natalie on, uh, LinkedIn, don't slide in her DMs for, uh, for now.

[01:05:49] Natalie Cunningham: Yeah, please.

[01:05:50] Daniel Weiner: All right. Thank you.

[01:05:51] Natalie Cunningham: All right. Thanks, Daniel.