The Era of Disruption: EP57 W/ Debbie Schwake

debbie schwake headshot and augurian cover


Debbie Schwake, a marketing expert with over 25 years of experience, sits down with Josh Becerra to discuss the challenges of leadership in the era of disruption. She identifies four pillars of chaos: generations, leadership, consumer behavior, and the team dynamic that she recently dove into at a leadership networking event on the topic of “Mastering Chaos.”

How I Work, Episode 57 with Debbie Schwake

Throughout the conversation Debbie emphasizes the need for leaders to understand and adapt to the different behaviors and expectations of each generation. She suggests a strategic approach for marketing teams that aligns with the organization’s vision and strategy and recommends several books and podcasts for marketers to expand their knowledge and skills. Some key takeaways:

  • Adapting to different generational behaviors and expectations is crucial for effective leadership.
  • Resource planning for small marketing teams should closely align with the organization’s vision and strategy to optimize productivity.
  • Focusing on problem avoidance and transparency can significantly enhance customer retention rates.


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Transcription: How I Work, Episode 57 (Debbie Schwake)

Josh Becerra (00:00.396)
Hey, everybody, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. This is the next episode of How I Work. I’m here with Debbie Schwake. Debbie, thanks for being here.

Debbie Schwake (00:09.325)
Thanks, Josh. I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.

Josh Becerra (00:11.884)
I am excited to do this with you. So Debbie, you have 25 plus years of marketing experience, many of which as VP of marketing or CMO. Most recently, though, I attended a marketers community event where you spoke to the audience about mastering chaos, navigating leadership in the era of disruption, which was super cool. One of the topics that I want to just jump right into. So – should we get rolling?

Debbie Schwake (00:42.817)
Absolutely, I’m in.

Josh Becerra (00:44.256)
All right, let’s go. So it was an amazing event. I know that this is kind of unfair of me, but I’m going to ask you to distill your 30 minute message about why it’s so chaotic for leaders these days into kind of a five minute answer for the audience on the podcast. So where are you seeing the disruption and what do leaders need to do about it?

Debbie Schwake (01:06.061)
That’s a great question, Josh. And what’s funny is I said mastering chaos, which is a tall order, right? But the way that I described chaos and my sort of, you know, distilled down version of it is really, there’s so much disruption going on in the marketplace right now. And I myself needed some clarity on what exactly was going on and why. And so I distilled it down to four pillars and those four pillars are leadership, team dynamic, consumer behavior, and the generations. And if you think about these as like a roundabout, where there are four exits, they’re all interconnected, but each of them is very unique on its own or takes you to a different place. So first one, let’s talk about generations. We’re in this just massive, this massive chaos of the different.

generations right now, Gen X who doesn’t understand the millennials who don’t understand Gen Z. And in fact, millennials are 75 % of our workforce right now, right? So you have a lot of Gen X leadership. You have a lot of millennials who are, you know, taking back their work life balance and you have Gen Z’s who are like, well, we don’t even really know if we want to work a traditional job and what does that mean anyway, right? So.

Josh Becerra (02:24.972)
Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Debbie Schwake (02:26.093)
So it’s understanding across the generations the different behaviors that are driving some of this chaos in our workplace and in our leadership and in consumers and that sort of thing. And the second one I’ll touch on is leadership. And leadership itself, right now leaders are very nervous. They’re under a lot of pressure and they have no patience and no tenure in any organization. Leadership changes happen so frequently that we don’t end up having any long -term kind of effect in our organization. So there’s this constant wave of change.

Josh Becerra (03:04.788)
especially in marketing.

Debbie Schwake (03:07.381)
Amen to that. Absolutely. Especially in marketing and marketing as we know, we’re trying to move humans here, right? So we need some time. We need some time to do that. The third pillar is consumer behavior. And need I say more, the dynamic that Amazon has brought to consumers is just beyond all of us. That we have access to 10 million products in less than two days and anything beyond that. We just forget it. Everything’s a commodity.

Even on Amazon, I talked about this with someone yesterday, even on Amazon, they’re using the same stock photography for the products across products. So everything’s a commodity. So I thought you were going to say something, Josh, go.

Josh Becerra (03:50.124)
No, what’s the fourth one? I want to hear about the fourth one.

Debbie Schwake (03:53.102)
The fourth one is the team dynamic. And I talked about this a little bit, but really you’ve got these generations coming up saying, why nine to five? And Gen X is kind of mad about that. They’re like, because it’s nine to five, but, but really the question is why nine to five? And, and I equip, is it the same reason we have three months off in the summer from school because we have to help harvest the crop? These are just these standards and norms that we’ve always lived, we’ve never questioned, and now we’ve got these generations coming in that are questioning that. So we’re having trouble finding teams, we’re having trouble finding people to work these traditional roles. And like I said before, millennials are taking back their work -life balance. And we don’t want to work in offices anymore. We want to work sometimes in offices, but we don’t always do so.

So there’s a lot of disruption going on right now. And the point of the chaos talk, the mastering part was this, is to say, these are just some examples of the disruption that’s going on. And be careful when you’re making decisions or when you’re trying to solve problems around them, because typically we’re solving problems out in this chaos. I can’t find anybody to work. I need to find more people to work. But in reality,

I’m suggesting that you master it. Make sure that you’re considering everything. We don’t have anyone to work. I need to figure out how to get the work done differently. So that was.

Josh Becerra (05:25.964)
Right. How to make the work kind of palatable or like exciting to like a different generation or like at least more coherent to how that generation or that group of people wants to work.

Debbie Schwake (05:42.19)
Absolutely. And sometimes it’s never a good idea to go completely 180, right? We’re not going to go from eight to five to, well, work whenever you want, however you want. That’s just not going to work. But there’s a meat in the middle there somewhere that looks like, let’s take a look at why, let’s answer the question. Why eight to five? Do we really need to work that? And if we do, then we have to be able to kind of understand what does that mean to how we’re going to get our work done.

Josh Becerra (06:11.436)
Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I do think it’s challenging for leaders to manage all these different dynamics. And like you said, you’ve highlighted four. There’s a lot of other stuff that throws chaos in the leadership and organizations. But yeah, kind of taking a more broad approach and thinking through some of the decision making and looking at it from different lenses, I think, is what you’re recommending. Yeah.

Debbie Schwake (06:13.196)
Mm -hmm.

Debbie Schwake (06:39.67)
Mm -hmm. I just suggest shine a light on the whole thing and take a bigger step back. Like let’s not try to make these because we’re making chaotic decisions in chaos and it’s not doing anyone any good. So That’s my suggestion

Josh Becerra (06:45.708)
Yeah, love that. Yeah, so, well, I love that talk. It was awesome. And one of the things that we talked about prepping for this is I was sharing with you that Agurian is really focused on small and mighty marketing teams. So companies that are like tens of millions to hundreds of millions in revenue, but with maybe two or three total marketers in their organization, are pretty big organizations.

And I know you’ve been in that role a little bit in your history. And one of the things we talked about was resource planning and how important it is, especially for small and mighty teams. So do you have some thoughts you could share with the audience about resource planning, how you think about it?

Debbie Schwake (07:45.518)
Yeah, I love this question, Josh, and we had such a great, you and I had such a great conversation about it. Typically people start from the wrong place. When you’re thinking about resource planning, you have to back up to say, what process are we solving for? And the process has to be supported by what strategy we are trying to achieve? And the strategy has to be supported by what’s the vision of the organization? Like, what are we actually trying to do?

And so when, when we simply come in and, and this is where, you know, a lot of companies has, have made their bank is, you know, we have this flashy fun thing that’s going to help you do this and that, and you buy it and it’s supposed to create a process. And all of a sudden, you know, there’s, there’s this disillusionment of, Oh, that didn’t work at all. Like that didn’t work at all. We needed an admin to support that. And we needed a process in order to install it that needs to be connected. So really making sure that.

Your strategy supports the vision for the organization. Where are you trying to go and what strategies are you going to get there? That’s the car that you’re driving in. Right. And then the next part is what processes do you have in place and what support do you need for that strategy? So I always look at resource planning as taking the budget piece aside, although that’s not really fair. There’s a big budget aspect to it. So I didn’t mean to just toss it out, but.

Essentially, you’re thinking about staffing your team stack, for example. You could have full time, you could have contractors, you could have agency support. And what you need to do is be honest with yourself and map out what do I need, how much of it do I need, how important is it to the strategy, and what time commitment do I need from that. And so for example,

A content person is a great example for most people because a lot, a lot of people do content. Do we need a content writer or content strategist? Well, what’s your, what’s your actual strategy? Are you trying to have that person do something with the content and move people along? Or do you already have that strategy in place and you just need to plug someone into right. Right. So, and, and, and one of the other things that this catches people all the time.

Josh Becerra (10:01.036)
Yeah. I love that.

Debbie Schwake (10:08.703)
SEO is important to everybody, important to everybody, I would argue. And often we want to hire that person internally, but the cost of keeping that person up skilled in Google’s ever changing algorithm is heavy. And did you plan for that? So is that somewhere maybe where you could, you could plug in an agency, you get the power, excuse me, you get the power of the agency behind you without having to carry tha heavy weight of training and development and all of that sort of thing.

Josh Becerra (10:42.156)
Yeah. Well, first of all, I love that you’re saying agencies could be a good solve for SEO, of course. Love that. But the other thing that I remember from our conversation was when you’re thinking about, yeah, is this something we want to do in -house? Is this something we want a contractor, a freelancer to do? Do we need an agency to do this? The other thing that I thought was really good was you said, how about technology? Can we solve this need through technology?

Debbie Schwake (10:46.607)
Yeah, of course, of course.

Josh Becerra (11:10.572)
And of course that in and of itself may require a different set of resources, but in this kind of day and age, there are those opportunities to like get some quick wins for a small team just through technology alone.

Debbie Schwake (11:28.079)
Yeah. And again, supported by process, right? So it doesn’t create the process. It supports a process. The one that I really lean into right now, because it’s on everybody’s mind is AI. And I often say, I wish AI for productivity had come out as strongly as AI for production. Right. Because I think we’re using AI to produce a bunch of stuff.

But then we, now we have a bunch of stuff in silos and no way to get it from point A to point B because we haven’t thought about it for productivity, for using to scale, for using to do those things that take people a long time. And that has more to do with process than it has to do with writing mediocre content. Right? Right.

Josh Becerra (12:15.596)
Right. Yeah. Yeah, no. I think that’s super astute because I do see people with, oh, look at how I can make these quick videos or these images or I can write this LinkedIn post. But it’s really efficient, at least, where I’m finding the best result is like, can it speed something up for me? So anyway, I thought that was super astute.

Debbie Schwake (12:45.327)
Well, marketing automation, sorry. I was going to say, Josh, because marketing automation is a similar kind of thing. Like, you know, marketing can’t really be automated. There still has to be a process and a strategy behind it. But once you have that process and strategy and you know how to get at your customers or your future customers, that tool is awesome in terms of helping you move more through your funnel with a small and mighty team. So.

Josh Becerra (13:16.492)
Yeah, there you go. Love that. So another thing you said for small and mighty teams that you’re a big believer in is the scorecard. So like what makes for a good scorecard? Why do you think scorecards are important for even small teams?

Debbie Schwake (13:32.609)
I answer that sort of in this facetious way. How do we know if we’re winning the game if we can’t see the score? Right? And so I think in so many cases, this is where marketing gets themselves in trouble, is the leaning on scores that aren’t meaningful or leaning on things that actually are not moving things along. And so I kind of look at it again, more holistically.

I need to know what things need to happen at the beginning of this campaign, of this process, of this strategy that’s going to lead it to an outcome at the end. But we often get this, this idea that something happened here. We had a good email open rate. Oh shoot. We didn’t have, you know, we didn’t have any revenue come out of the back of it. There are 12 steps in between that that we forgot to look at.

And so drawing that out, so what makes a good scorecard partially is drawing that out and making sure that you see at every touch point within your entire process, what’s happening and where something may be falling off. If it’s our close rate with sales, that’s a different fix than if it’s our email open rate or our click through rate or our conversion rate or things like that.

Josh Becerra (14:51.852)
I love that you’re talking about revenue and close rate and things, which sometimes marketers, on this idea of a scorecard, the only thing that’s on the scorecard are things like the key KPIs. It could be as simple as, well, how many impressions did we get to? How many click -throughs did we get to? How many form fills or conversions did we get? But then it kind of ends.

there. And I think it’s smart to think as a marketer about how it is that we can actually connect all of our activities to what the business owners and leaders really care about. Like they don’t care about click through rate. What they care about is revenue. Right. So I love that you’re incorporating those things into how you think about a marketing scorecard.

Debbie Schwake (15:46.48)
My mission in life, Dash, is to bring credibility to this marketing leadership role. That is my mission in life. And if you think about from a consumer perspective, the consumer’s behavior, there’s so little distinction between what they’re doing with sales or what they’re doing with marketing anymore. It’s very blended. It’s not a straight line journey. There are all these things that we contribute, that sales contribute, that we contribute together.

You have to be partnered on that revenue number. It’s just not even a question anymore.

Josh Becerra (16:20.908)
Yeah, and I know in one of your recent videos, you talked about not only marketing and sales, but it’s customer service. There’s other parts of the business that also need to be working together. And so I think you said in the video that 2024 is going to be all about the customer and kind of suggesting that leaders need to put them at the center of their business. So.

What do you see that kind of led you to that conclusion, like that this is very, we need to become more customer centric. And then how do you do this?

Debbie Schwake (16:58.768)
So I love this prediction. This is a, I don’t do predictions often, but this is a prediction. Here’s why, right? Right? Yeah. We all have that. But here’s why. Because as I said before, millennials are 75 % of the workforce right now, which means they also have a lot of decision power. They have a lot of purchase power and they are also,

Josh Becerra (17:03.884)
You got a crystal ball over there?

Debbie Schwake (17:24.88)
way more likely to recommend a product or service to their peers or colleagues. And even if you think about it, I’m not a millennial surprise, but even if you think about where I sit, where are you likely to find out if you should, you know, I need a designer, who should I talk to? I need this product A, what should I do? I’m looking for a car, you drove this one. You’re gonna ask your friends and your peers and your colleagues. And I get that.

online reviews and for some reason Amazon is kind of the outlier to this because we believe the reviews that are there even though we don’t know the people. But for most especially B2B it’s going to be that reliance on the discussion with your peer group. And so you want to make sure this is an often mess. You want to make sure that you equip your customer to talk well of you. So serve them.

Right? Make sure that you’re doing what you said you’re going to do with them. Keep your promise, serve them, do all those things and give them a reason to recommend you. It’s just, and in fact, they know your next customers. We just keep proving this over and over. We all know each other. I can tell you, Josh, you and I probably know every marketer in our community.

Josh Becerra (18:33.866)

Josh Becerra (18:43.372)
Yeah, a lot of them anyway.

Debbie Schwake (18:45.392)
A lot of them, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, so.

Josh Becerra (18:48.364)
So one of the things that you talked about when you were talking about kind of focus on the customer was also on the retention side. So it’s not just like, how do we get new ones? And how do we get word of mouth and get referrals and all that? That’s very front end. But it’s also on the retention side. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Debbie Schwake (19:09.553)
I just love the customer topic because there’s a couple things. One is on the retention side, I always pose the question, is your customer service department, are they about problem solving or problem avoidance? And that’s meant to be a provocative question. And here’s why I say that. You know generally where your customers get hung up with your product or service. You know this.

So instead of letting them fumble their way through it and have to make a call and have to resolve it and do all this problem solving thing, you may do that super well, but why not help them avoid it? Hey, customer X, we know at this point, people get hung up right here. Let us, let us give you this help through it before it even happens to you. Maybe it’s not going to happen, but whatever. Right. And, and the second, the second point is people will stew quietly.

if they’re unhappy with your service or if they’re thinking there’s something better or if suddenly your product or service doesn’t meet their needs anymore. And that’s when your competitors are going to encroach. That’s when the grass is greener will happen. And so if you’re not talking to your customer during that time period, you can guarantee your competitors are. I take the calls. I’m sure you do too. Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Josh Becerra (20:26.156)
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, for sure. I think it’s really curious. Just today, we had kind of as part of an onboarding process, right? We need to get access to certain tools that our clients who not always like. How do I give you Google Search Console access at the right level? And it was brilliant because like our manager just had a video that they’d already made, right? And so it’s like, here are some step -by -step directions that you can walk through. Here’s a video that I made that you can do, that you can look at, and you can watch how to do this. Otherwise, we can get on like a joint screen share and I can walk you through it. So yeah, that acknowledgement that there’s some tricky aspects to like our onboarding or just generally like.

business hat there are maybe some parts that there’s always fumbling around and so if you can identify those and try to grease the rails a little bit I love that as advice.

Debbie Schwake (21:34.417)
Well, and it’s transparency too. Like no one, I’ve always said this, no one expects a perfect experience. They’d like it, but they don’t really expect a perfect experience, but they definitely want you to be transparent with them. Hey, listen, at this point in our journey, this gets hard. So let’s just, you know, here I am to walk through with you or, you know, gosh, we, we really mess this up. Here’s what we know. Here’s how we’re going to fix that. Right? I mean, yeah. Yeah.

Josh Becerra (22:03.788)
Because it’s that simple statement that like, hey, we know this is complicated. It kind of takes the pressure off that person where they might think, am I like an idiot because I can’t do this myself? Like, no, actually, it’s really hard to do it. And we created like some helpful tools because you’re not an idiot. It’s just a silly process that we just have to get through. So anyway, I love that you can take kind of that.

Debbie Schwake (22:27.121)
Yeah, that’s such a great point. Yeah.

Josh Becerra (22:31.82)
It can take that pressure off and not make people feel like they’re somehow missing the boat. Well, this has been awesome. I’ve loved having this conversation with you. And I’m sure we could talk for hours on customers and focusing on customers and how that’s going to benefit businesses. But we’re running out of time. So one of the questions that I always kind of leave with, though, is, you know,

Do you have some great books or podcasts, recommendations, anything you’re reading or listening to, or any favorites that you’d like to recommend?

Debbie Schwake (23:07.889)
Everybody that knows me knows I’m a voracious consumer of books and content. So yes, I do have how long, how much longer do we have Josh? Yeah. So, so I get it. I get it. So this podcast, your podcast is awesome, Josh. And I love that you’re bringing these topics in a very, in a very comfortable way to people. I love that it’s a conversation. So obviously this is my, one of my recommendations. Um, I love the marketing book podcast.

Josh Becerra (23:16.396)
No, no, like you gotta distill it down to a couple.

Debbie Schwake:
Douglas Burdette does a fantastic job. I think he’s a literal genius. He can read a whole book every week and interview the author. That’s amazing. I always think that marketers should learn sales. And my favorite sales podcast is Jeb Blunt’s sales gravy podcast. I think that one is excellent. I recommend, yeah, yeah, that’s a good one.

Josh Becerra (23:54.732)
Okay. I’ll have to check that one out. That one I don’t know.

Debbie Schwake (24:00.881)
And then I have a couple of books that I recommend. I’m a big fan of Tiffany Bova, but the experience mindset is her newest book. A lot of what we talked about, about how, especially how millennials are, are preferring experience over, you know, other preferences. That’s, that’s a big one. And she also goes into kind of the culture of your team dynamic, which is an important one. And then I do think Paul Ratzers, um,

Marketing artificial intelligence is a good way to kind of think about this power of AI in marketing versus just AI for production. So those would be my immediate recommendations.

Josh Becerra (24:40.972)
Hang on. Those are two books I have not read. So this is why I asked this question. The Knight’s Stand book pile increases. Well, cool. Well, thanks so much, Debbie. This has been a lot of fun. I really appreciate it. We’re going to say bye for now.

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