Sep 2, 2019
One of the most overlooked aspects of marketing for many companies is their own employees' experiences.
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, TINYpulse Senior Director of Marketing Andrew Sumitani talks about why employee experience has such a powerful impact on marketing, how the best companies create great workplaces and channel that into their marketing, and how the hiring process can affect both your culture and your marketing outcomes.
Highlights from my conversation with Alex include:
Resources from this episode:
Listen to the podcast to learn more about the connection between employee experience and marketing.
Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.
I'm your host, Kathleen Booth. And today my guest is Andrew
Sumitani, who is the Senior Director of Marketing at TINYpulse. Welcome, Andrew.
Andrew Sumitani (Guest): Thank you, Kathleen. Happy to be here.
Andrew and Kathleen recording this episode together .
Kathleen: I’m excited to learn more about you and what you do at TINYpulse. Can you tell my listeners a little bit about yourself, and your story, and how you came to be where you are, and also what TINYpulse does?
Andrew: Absolutely. So, I've been in the digital marketing space, got my start in advertising about 10 years ago, and mainly been working in startups. So really, my core competencies have been in demand generation, building traffic, SEO, and a lot of different hats, as folks who are listening maybe in the startup scene maybe, can attest to.
And that brought me here to TINYpulse, working for David Niu. He's been a long-time mentor and steward of my career in the marketing space. So, having worked for him in the past, our paths crossed again at the opportunity to work for TINYpulse. So, I think that was a natural way for me to continue advancing into more of a management career here at TINYpulse, where we do a lot of different things.
But, I think really, that the value proposition of TINYpulse boils down to one thing. And a lot of managers I think, will attest to this, which is that sinking feeling when an employee or a valued team member gives two weeks' completely by surprise. And it's a gut punch. And so, TINYpulse really solves that in a number of different ways. One is, if you ask any leader, "What are your top three competitive advantages in the marketplace?" invariably, if they close their eyes and really think about it, people's going to be on that list.
And that's very, very important, and it's a very valuable philosophy. But when we actually look at the behaviors and tools that enable leaders to check on their people, and they're not checking on their people as much as say, their finances. But finances aren't necessarily going to be in their top three competitive advantages. So, what we've done here at TINYpulse is built technology that's really lightweight, really easy to use in a way that allows managers to get the deal, to get the feedback from employees that they really need to make smart people decisions.
And ultimately, when it comes to understanding, "Am I at risk of employee churn?" Or, "Am I at risk of people leaving as a result of, say, a merger or acquisition?" It can be a positive reason. We give managers the tools to understand that, and make decisions around that.
Kathleen: So, is it a form of employee NPS score?
Andrew: That's one of the aspects of TINYpulse. So, we make sure with our customers, with regularity that they ask the questions quite simply, "How happy are you at work, on a scale of one to 10?" And that yields a lot of different insights, not only from a quantitative standpoint, simply getting a distribution of one to 10 scores, but also qualitative feedback. So, someone may respond to that question with an eight out of 10. And that might seem really good. And I think it is, and it's worth celebrating. But at the same time, that eight out of 10 person may be someone who's very valuable, who has feedback, and constructive feedback at that, that'll help them in a month's time, retain that score of eight out of 10, or even become a nine or a 10 out of 10.
Kathleen: Yeah, I can see where having a tool like that would be so powerful. I manage a team of eight, and I do weekly one-on-ones with them. But there's something to be said for a precursor to your weekly conversation where they're able to sit and with clarity and without the influence of somebody staring them down, record their thoughts and their feelings about how things are going. And then, you can follow it up with a conversation. But yeah-
Andrew: Absolutely. And we've done a lot of ... I've been doing a lot of personal reading too, and research into this as we develop more products, especially on the coaching space. But when we really boils down to it, what is going to help someone learn how to do something better, whether it's management or their job, or learning a new piece of software. Is it going to be reading it out of a book or is it going to be perhaps, a private lesson with an expert?
Generally speaking, it's going to be private lessons with an expert. And if we take those concepts and map them to the one-on-one experience, that's where we find a lot of managers can use some help structuring their one-on-ones. How much time should they be spending on them? What can I do to, again, front load ... to your point, front load those conversations in a way so that we can quantify and understand the trending over time?
So, if you were to have a report one day who rated themselves a two out of five for how they're feeling coming into the week, you might not go into that conversation blasting right into, "Hey, let's talk about your work items. Let's talk about your goals. How are your tracking towards your OKRs?" Someone who answers two out of five may have something going on in their personal life. They may have something going on completely outside of work that is worth talking about. And that's something we've experienced here at TINYpulse as we develop and release more products in the coaching space, which is, as long as it's a five out of five, they're doing great. So yeah, we can challenge that person with more.
But that person who, maybe a two out of five or a three out of five, what are some of those things that are going to help that person get to four or five? And that may be something that, it might be outside of work, it might be quite simply, "I don't feel that I have the tools to succeed in this project." And that's a completely different topic from say, nudging that person to really step on the gas and keep a sense of urgency. That's a completely different conversation. So that's what we've been putting a lot of work into lately.
Kathleen: I'm fascinated by that topic, as somebody who manages people. But it's interesting, this is a podcast about marketing. And my listeners might be sitting here thinking, "This is great, but what does it have to do with marketing?" And one of the reasons I was excited to have you on is that you have a very interesting perspective on the connection between employee experience and marketing. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Andrew: Absolutely. And, I think it's very, very ... it's a point ... it's a very salient point right now, because we are in a time where the employee experience is the brand for an employer. The workplace is more transparent than it has ever been. Culture is becoming more and more top of mind. And as a people try to understand what culture is, I think historically it's been thought of as this touchy-feely look and feel of a place. It used to mean ping pong tables, it used to mean perhaps, having drinks in the office.
And at the beginning of that, that might've been true. It really represented a way of thinking and the way of thinking that that employer valued. But as soon as everyone gets a ping pong table, as soon as everyone gets a a beer tap, then it becomes no longer a differentiator. And as we all know in marketing, I think being able to articulate why your employer brand is different, is paramount to success in the marketplace.
So, that's number one, which is, from our research, only a very, very small percentage. I think Gallup put it as low as 12% of employees strongly agree that the organization does a good job of employer branding. So, they have trouble engaging their employees over the longterm when it comes to that brand. One of our mentors, Scott Dorsey, shout out Scott, he left me with a very, very important piece of advice, which is as marketers, yes, we can worry about MQL's, we can worry about sales pipeline contribution. But it's important for us to think about our roles in the broadest context as possible.
And what he meant by that was not just caring about those metrics, but also caring about, "How can I create an employee experience here at this company that is so good that people simply want to authentically share that?" And we see the effects of that in third-party review sites like Glassdoor. You can bet that anyone looking for those listeners out there, if you are hiring, that anyone who's considering your company, they're looking there for, for social proof.
And that's another marketing concept that we come back to, which is, well, what are people at that company saying about working at this company, and what it's like, what it's really like, to work there. And, that has implications into how quickly teams can grow. How the silent killer I would think is, how much a company turns over their employees. So, how much are they retaining their employees for the longterm? How long is that tenure, and the ultimate, which is, how are they performing and what are they doing over time that contributes to the value of that company.
Kathleen: Yeah, you make a really good point. And I love that advice that you got about looking at marketing in the broadest possible sense. I know that when I interview people for my team, almost to a person, they reference Glassdoor. People are out there looking. And I know I do this when I'm looking at companies. And I used to be in a sales role. And I would actually do this as a salesperson and look at the comments on the CEO because I was selling for an agency, which is a very collaborative relationship-based kind of working arrangement. And you want to know the temperament of the person that you're getting into bed with, if you will, from a business standpoint. And there were definitely a few prospective clients that I decided not to chase because I read their Glassdoor and found out that they had terrible reviews of the CEO.
And I remember thinking, if this is this bad for employees, it's going to not be great for us as an agency-client relationship. So, I do think there's something that's really real there. And I also think you touched on something that most marketers really get wrong, which is that they do tend to focus so myopically in on legion to the exclusion of everything else. Not only to the exclusion of the employee experience, but also things like customer retention. We forget that marketing has a responsibility even after we land a customer. So, there's this vast area of opportunity for marketers, which I think would also place the marketer at a much more strategic role within the organization than most marketers are currently.
Andrew: Yeah, I can't agree more with that. And so if we've, over the course of this episode, we've talked a little bit about the top of the funnel, if you will, which is job seekers using Glassdoor. They're looking at job openings. They're taking that social proof of ratings for what it is. But as for how those companies are fairing once an employee has joined their company, it's, "What are those companies doing to really sharpen the employee experience so that they can maximize the tenure of those talented individuals and maximize the value of their investments that they make in training, in onboarding, in retention, and all those components. And how does that reveal itself on the other side? Glassdoor in that lens, is merely a lagging indicator of what has happened.
But it might not always be the best indicator. And I would argue it's a terrible indicator at times, of what a company should do if they want to grow. If they want to join forces with another company, if they want to change their culture, what are some of the things that they should be doing? And, I think some of those sites are very limited in their capacity. And that's where, with regard to what we do here at TINYpulse, what a lot of organizations are now adopting is more of a real-time feedback model, which is to constantly pulse your employees to understand, hey, with regard to, if it's NPS, it could be simple as something as a company holiday party. For many companies it's not a small investment. So it's important then to understand, well, hey, is that adding to the employee experience or is it not?
And can you quantify that? And that immediately arms, not only marketers but HR professionals. If it's a smaller organization that doesn't have necessarily, the biggest HR team, the CEOs themselves to deploy those resources in a plus ROI manner. And it's no longer squishy, it's no longer about, "Hey was that about perceptions?" It's really about on the broad scheme of things on big data, from a big big data perspective, are the investments that we're making adding to the employee experience, not merely continuing it or not falling behind. It's a way for us to get ahead.
Kathleen: Now, you, yourself have built or actually rebuilt, as I understand it, a marketing team at TINYpulse. So, can you talk to me a little bit about, from your own standpoint, what you've done to build the employee experience on your team, but then also, how you are leveraging that for marketing?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think ... I was in a circumstance in which I was a marketer of one and given an extraordinary opportunity to build the team up. And for me, A, I talked to a number of really smart marketers, but really wanted to take this approach that utilized real-time feedback, but also, some of what the broader industry has indicated about how to manage teams while how to manage teams when it comes to creative work, how to manage teams when it's not routine work.
And for those listeners out there who are readers, I highly encourage you to pick up a book by Daniel Pink. It's called Drive. It's all about motivation, and what helps teams come out with the very best results. And for many organizations, I think the knee jerk response is to point to metrics, point to carrots and sticks and say, "Well, if I find the right carrot, if I find the right sticks, that's going to help me bring you the best results."
Now, that may work to a certain level. But the one step above that is really about A, giving people what is the intrinsic value of working together. And marketing brands, I'd say, are a little bit different, in the sense that it's not routine work. One campaign that may work this month may fizzle out due to ad blindness, due to the Google ad words becoming insanely expensive, or one channel simply not working well anymore.
So, there's a constant creativity that needs to be put into place when it comes to marketing. And when I look at those characteristics in terms of the team, it's not only, "Hey, what is your track record?" but, "Are you a natural producer of content? Are you more analytical, on average, than the average content marketer?" for example, and then finally, are these behaviors a struggle for this person? Or is it something that they're, they're naturally going to bring to the table?
So, I think that that team aspect, that's an area where, in some of our hiring tools, when we look at success criteria, again, we try to quantify those with regression analysis, understand, "Hey, who are the people who can best suss out these qualities in that regard?" that's another area where I think in marketing can play a role. This starts to resemble lead scoring. It starts to resemble how to qualify a candidate. So, for those who are hiring out there, I really recommend looking to the concepts that are the bread and butter of marketing. It's inbound, it's lead scoring, it's, some combined with some great HR best practices to build a really great team.
Kathleen: Yeah, you're so right about kind of the blurry line. I used to own an agency for 11 years, and I hired a lot of marketers. And at the time, I was a HubSpot partner and a customer. And I built out an entire hiring workflow in HubSpot, where you could submit your application through a HubSpot form. There was a workflow follow up. I mean it, it made my whole hiring process much faster. I think it went from three months to three weeks, or something, because it was all automated. It was great. It saved me a ton of time. So, I can definitely see where you're heading with that.
Andrew: Yeah. Amazing. And, what is the SLA with HR and their ability to call down interested job candidates who have expressed interest? We have a very tight SLA with sales. Maybe it's they've downloaded something. Perhaps it's a piece of content, or a white paper, or an ebook. And the SLA might be that person should be getting a call within 30 seconds or our SLA's broken. But when we look on the hiring side to create a delightful candidate experience, what are we doing on the SLA side there? Are those folks getting an immediate call back? Are they getting followup? Are they getting everything that they need to understand what it's like to work at this company? I think that's where a lot of employers are starting to look to their marketing teams for those best practices. And it's amazing.
Mike Volpe himself, Mr. Inbound at HubSpot, gave a talk on this about how to break down people operations in that manner. So, when it comes to a product, talk to the folks who are in sales and who know what is being solved when it comes to hiring in that pipeline. Look to the marketing folks so that you can have those broader conversations you can't reach. When it comes to retention, what are you doing to keep these people happy? That's where real-time feedback, that's where HR best practices, that's where incentive programs, that's where employee recognition becomes a much bigger part of the spectrum.
Kathleen: So, assuming somebody is listening and they're thinking, "I have a really happy team. I have a great culture, my team is really happy," I would think the next natural question that they would be asking themselves is, "How should I leverage that in the marketing that I do? What is the best way for me to capitalize on the fact that I have this great place?" So, can you speak a little bit to that?
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think applying the very same marketing playbook that we all know, and for those that may be still learning, the first thing I would look at is, "How do we create content around this?"
No marketing without content being produced, no communication occurs without some kind of message being created. And so, that's where I would encourage a lot of the marketers out there, if you have a great culture, if you have quantitative scores around how happy your team is, if you have quotes, if you have testimonials, even if you have case studies of how someone may have entered the company as a teacher of English, and becoming a senior product manager, and leaving to go travel the world and become a senior product manager somewhere else.
Those are the case studies. Those are the stories, if you will, that resonate with people. And human nature at its very essence, we respond to those stories.
So, if you have outspoken employees who want to authentically share, give them an opportunity to speak about those.
Keep your social posts updated regularly, social posts on your employee profiles, figure out what are the differentiating factors about working for your company that are the benefits that someone who is a valuable candidate is going to find compelling and want to say, "Well, I want to work in that company. And because those benefits are only found at that company, that's the place that I'm going to accept an offer down the road."
So, ultimately again, just apply that same marketing playbook, create content, promote it, the 80/20 rule, which is, 20% should be on that content production, but 80% should be really on the distribution.
Kathleen: Oh, I'm sorry. I have to interrupt you. I'm so glad you just said that. I literally, just posted a video to LinkedIn today talking about, somewhat ranting about, how I've interviewed like a hundred plus marketers now, for this podcast. And that is one of the most consistent themes of the most successful marketers, is they put more effort into content promotion than they do into content creation.
But what I have noticed is that most average marketers, it's the completely flipped. They put way more effort into content creation than content promotion. So, Amen.
Andrew: Absolutely. And use those same tactics. I mean, if you find, talk to your PR person. Who is the person who is getting stuff written up by other people, never, not just on your blog. If you don't have a huge audience, make use of someone else's.
Use BuzzSumo. Find people who have written about really interesting companies. Use BuzzSumo. Find journalists who have written about other companies in your space, other companies in your geographic location, other people who have profiled people who might be covering the same type of topic. Then reach out to those folks. Find out if they are ... be their friends. Share their stuff.
But, at the end of the day, what's really going to show value for them is giving them a piece of content that is going to be a value to their viewers.
Now, if they've written about the employee experience, if they written about high-performing, high-flying cultures, chances are they're going to want to publish again, so that they can keep getting traffic for their posts.
So, don't be afraid, reach out to those folks. And over time, what you'll find is that it can take a little bit of time to spin up. But generally what I found is that always, always, always has a longterm ROI that is going to work out just right.
Kathleen: Yeah. Now, are there any particular companies that you think do a really excellent job of this?
Andrew: Let's see. So, outside of present company, I think there are a few. Those in the marketing space, such as yourselves over at Impact. I think those over at HubSpot for example, very, very strong in their marketing. They screen for some of the folks who are going to socially post. Again, it's not a struggle for the average candidate to propagate the marketing message, not only on the product marketing side, but also on the employee experience side, which is, "How great is it to work here? What are the benefits that I get from this?" Not the features, but "What is a benefit that I get from this? I'm a happier person. I'm a better husband, I'm a better spouse, I'm a better parent because I work here."
And those companies that do that really well, you're going to see them spouting this out. They're spouting it in their blogs, they're spouting on social. And again, they're finding ways to get employees to authentically share it. And they're doing that by creating such a great employee experience.
So, whenever you find a really great social post by someone who's sharing something, again, really authentic about their employee experience, screenshot that and see if you can replicate that playbook. I see HubSpot doing this, I see IMPACT doing this. Any company that may have a Lifepath hashtag, folks at Zillow are doing that.
These are the companies I think are really putting together campaigns around employee experience that will help build again, that candidate pipeline, and then also nurture the existing employee base so they can grow and have that negative churn.
Kathleen: Yeah. The one that I've always been so impressed by is actually at LinkedIn. A good friend of mine from many years ago works there. And she's in the kind of the HR/culture department. And what I've always been especially impressed by with them, I mean, everything they do, employee-wise seems to be top notch, but the most impressive thing to me has been the way they've built this alumni network. So, they look at the employee experience as something that continues after you stop working there, and they have these reunions for all of their former employees, who come together and still love the company.
And when you consider, as you said in the beginning, talent is so hard to find. When you consider that the people that you've taken the time to train, and who've gone on to other places, could someday come back. What an interesting investment to make, and what an interesting thing to see, and incorporate into their strategy. That's always been really, really cool to me.
Andrew: Absolutely. If the company is the product, then, what are the benefits and what are the benefits that make for the right fit of candidate and the right fit of employee. And maybe it's work life balance, maybe it's career growth, maybe it's a pay and benefits, maybe it's mentorship from senior leaders, or culture and values, or all of the above. These are all those benefits that are worth testing out in your messaging to find out, hey, what's resonating with the right audience so that I can double down on that on what's working, maybe emphasize less what's not working or what's not as important to the candidate company fit. And, that in itself will make the ROI on recruiting, which is a very expensive tool that a lot of companies, I think, can continue to struggle with. It'll make that ROI much, much sharper.
Kathleen: Yeah. Now, shifting gears, there are two questions I always ask all of my guests. And I'm curious to know what your answers are. The first one is, obviously, we talk a lot about inbound marketing on this podcast. Are there any companies or individual people who you think are really knocking it out of the park with their inbound marketing right now?
Andrew: Yeah, so I just think a few folks who have always had an influence on me. Mike Volpe over, I think he's, yeah, he's over at Lola Travel now. He's now the CEO there. He coined "inbound marketing" in the HubSpot days and he's still doing that. He's still practicing what he developed all those years ago at HubSpot.
Another is a Neil Patel. And I've worked with Neil on a number of occasions. I think when it comes to content marketing, he's taken this idea of being just insanely useful to marketers to the extreme, which is, 20,000-word guides on how to break down SEO, versus hiring expensive ... a partner to do it, or bringing in an expert to help them out. This is a way for people and marketers to grasp some concepts that are a minute to learn but a lifetime to master. And I think he's done a really great job with that.
Kathleen: Yeah, he gets mentioned a lot when I ask that question. It's interesting to see the trends over time of whose names come up. And his definitely is one of the ones that I hear a lot.
Second question, one of the biggest kind of complaints I hear from marketers is that digital is changing so quickly that it's trying to keep up. It's like drinking from a fire hose. So, how do you personally stay up to date and keep yourself educated?
Andrew: There are a couple of things. I'm highly-engaged on Twitter. I think that's a great place for marketers in particular, to stay engaged. A, because I think I find that's where a lot of more and more executives tend to to hang out online. LinkedIn is another, that's a close second to where I hang out. Is to go where one's peers are hanging out online. And, I used to be a person who really wasn't into conferences, but I've really changed in that regard.
So if you're ever, I think, reluctant to make that investment is, to really, I think wholeheartedly embrace it. Because what I found over time is that for a lot of conferences I go to, it's not about necessarily, who's speaking. Yes, it's great to have really inspiring speakers, but it's about the networking and meeting with one's peers.
It's just what ... If one wants to be a movie star, you got to go to LA to be in Show Biz. The exact same thing. And creating that who kind of love, which is knowing the right folks who are going to help build your career, and also give you not just learnings. I often come away from networking, not having learned anything, but just coming back to the office really inspired, and really ready to execute, and really ready to keep things tiny and lightweight. That's often what I need to actually progress. And it's not that, it's not about learning the greatest new tactics, it's actually about staying focused and not allowing those things to distract from what we're trying to do.
Kathleen: Any particular marketing conferences that you really are partial to?
Andrew: Yeah, I think Traffic and Conversions Summit is one. I think SaaStr is another one that's growing, and it's a great place to meet other marketers and folks trying to grow their business. If you're not in SaaS, I think growth marketing, I think it's Growth Summit actually that is the title is another one. But generally speaking, I think those have been places where I find the content to be really geared toward people like me. So, if you are in that space, check those out. You should be able to get a lot of value and get ROI by attending those.
Kathleen: Yeah, those are some good suggestions. Well, if somebody is listening, and they want to learn more about TINYpulse, or connect with you and ask a question, what's the best way for them to do that?
Andrew: Sure. Yeah, hit me up on Twitter. Follow me @andrewsumitani. Also visit us at TINYpulse.com. It's a great place to learn. We have the number two HR blog, hopefully number one soon, but the number two HR blog in the space. A lot, when it comes to what we've talked about here today, we have a lot of our stats when it comes to, well, what is it like using real time feedback and what kind of location does it have on Glassdoor? What are some of the latest industries? That's when it comes to employee retention, employee recognition or employee engagement. Check us out there. And yeah, love to hear from you.
Kathleen: Great. And I will put a link to your Twitter and to the TINYpulse website in the show notes. So, head there if you want to click through and check those out.
Kathleen: And if you are listening and you learned something new, or you liked what you heard, leave the podcast a five-star review on Apple podcasts.
And if you know somebody else who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, as always, Tweet me @workmommywork, because they could be my next interview. Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: Thanks very much, Kathleen. Five Stars Only.
Kathleen: Five Stars Only, absolutely.