‘How I Work’ Ep 15 with Ryan Truax

Episode 15 of ‘How I Work’ features Josh Becerra talking SaaS marketing with Ryan Truax, Director of Marketing over at Sportsdigita – a cloud based sales enablement program for the sports and enterprise industry. Ryan explains the differences he has experienced working in both B2B and B2C organizations, goes into depth on his leadership approach styles, and gives insight into Sportsdigita’s 90 day goal setting cadence.

Truax explained how he has been in the SaaS industry for the last 8 years, in which he has experienced B2C, B to B to C, and now B2B commerce, providing him with a diverse understanding of the environments and their marketing tendencies. “B2C marketing tends to do an incredible job of intersecting where one’s passion lies. And I think that’s where I learned early on, that the B2C model could have application to the B2B sector.” The attention he pays to the consumers’ wants and needs is again voiced when he said, “it’s just meeting people where they’re at when they want to be met there and then giving them things that exceed their expectations. And if not, create a way in which you can have an open discussion about the needs that they have.”

When asked about his approach to managing the relationship between sales and marketing, Ryan responded with, “if we’re all walking and talking the same line, we’re better together than we are individually. So try to get together and collaborate as much as you can.” He went on further to explain how “cooler talk” and “hallway conversations” are critical aspects to healthy collaboration not solely between these two departments, but within an entire organization.

This idea of collaboration and communication between departments is a hot topic these days. We heard from Eva Dixon in a previous episode, how her company has removed the two teams entirely and created what they call a “customer partnership team.”

Regardless of what we’re calling it, in order for effective marketing and sales alike to be happening, there must be open communication. Ryan explained it as follows, “we get a little assumptive in what we think the sales team knows, that marketing is doing, and that’s where I think there’s the gaps that fall off,  this lack of perception of value. What are you doing? How does it apply to my world?” Again touching back to this point of all of us being people and needing to be heard, in order to be effective.

As anyone is the SaaS industry is probably aware of, success is elusive. Ryan explains his way of handling this issue in a way that makes success easier to measure and track. “We look at 90 day kind of cycles and what we can accomplish inside of that. How do those goals align with the business needs, and then use more of a rock and pebble based mentality. What can we do to move that pebble closer to the finish line? And that supports the boulders or the rocks that are sitting in front of it.”

“Our wins are small, but they amount to something large at the end of the day.”

Watch more episodes from the ‘How I Work’ series here.

For more insight on SaaS specifically, check out SaaS Scoop: https://augurian.com/saas-scoop/

TRANSCRIPTION

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Josh: Hi everyone, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. I’m here with Ryan Truax, director of marketing at Sportsdigita. Thanks for being here.

Ryan: It’s my pleasure, Josh.

Josh: Yeah. So Ryan and I we’ve known each other for a little while. We have been talking digital marketing had some lunches and dinners and you have an amazing brain for this stuff. So I’m super excited to have this conversation.

I’ve got a little bio, you have done a lot in your career. So from building an internal TV network for the U.S largest fitness retailer, building brands or up and coming brands for SaaS companies. You have a ton of knowledge surrounding marketing. And with your affinity for all things creative and your newfound love for data, we’re going to get into all of this stuff. I know that you are an awesome leader too, in your company lead by example is definitely all about empowering your teams and helping them become their best selves.

Ryan: It’s always the goal.

Josh: Yeah, for sure. So we’re definitely aligned on those things here. Let’s talk a little bit about that career. So you’ve been in digital here in the twin cities started at lifetime. So tell the viewers a little bit about your past and how you ended up at Sportsdigita.

Ryan: Yeah, I’d say it’s, so starting, my career was at lifetime fitness, obviously, one of the biggest box retailers in the country, a preeminent brand in the healthcare and health and fitness wellness space and through it, it taught me a lot about the interactivity between the business and the consumer at the end of it, because it was all about an experience, experiential marketing alongside of the digital obviously, and all tangible goods associated with brick and mortar related. So that was an incredible experience because we were able to take something that didn’t exist and bring it to life, that being a TV network that was broadcast to over a million people. Through it, a lot of different tactics were applied, spent a lot of time with advertisers, understanding media buys and some of the strategies that surround it, and then also content creation, which we all have an affinity for in the digital marketing age.

Josh: Oh yeah, for sure.

Ryan: That led me to get into SaaS. A number of people came knocking at my door a few different times and I’ve been in SaaS now for the last eight years, B2C, B2B to C and now B2B as well. Kind of a diverse offering of experience, which is a benefit to me I guess.

Josh: Yeah, I’m sure. And that difference between kind of the big corporate and then like smaller startups. I know some of the SaaS you’ve been in on the ground floor or early anyway. So what do you think you’ve learned about if you compare and contrast those two environments? What have you learned or learned about yourself along the way?

Ryan: Yeah, I’ll start from a professional standpoint from a business that I think I’ve learned that B2B marketing, B2C marketing are more similar than their job gives them credit for. I think that B2B we often get a little stuffy, we spend a lot of time analyzing ourselves as opposed to trying to meet people where their passion is. What we forget sometimes in a B2B market standpoint is that a lot of people are very passionate about the work they do. B2C marketing tends to do an incredible job of intersecting where one’s passion lies. And I think that’s what I learned early on is the B2C model could have applicability to or application excuse me, to the B2B sector. So I started cultivating those thoughts early on, and that’s really carried over to my SaaS career I spent a lot of B2B, B to C and try to unpack, kind of the things that a consumer is always expecting. I don’t care if it’s the other side of the Bcoin could be a consumer as well.

Josh: It is a human.

Ryan: It is a human often. So I think I’m just a lot of that kind of cultivation knowledge throughout the years that has been really applicable to businesses that are starting to mature and then work through. Where do we go from here? Kind of moments. So it was nice to work and start in a career that allowed me to look at something that’s been built upon. That was mature. It was all about kind of irritant growth, taking that back, reverse engineering that back to its infancy, and then applying it to a business that needed that from the ground up.

Josh: Yeah, I think it’s amazing how you’re able to, take some of those learnings and then reapply. And bring it forward into the companies that you’re in today. When we prepped for this over lunch, we were talking about the different pros and cons between ABM and spending dollars to drive volume right, and awareness. And I thought you had some really interesting ideas in your thinking about that. So can you share that a little bit here too?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. ABM it’s organizational fit, right? Everybody can throw those letters around, it’s buzzy these days. It has been for some time that you really have to be ready as an organization. It’s not just a marketing led initiative and it is an organizational shift. And it’s wise of an organization that sees that in their future to start teasing it.

So what have I been doing to a Sportsdigita recently? I’d be kidding myself into a second role. Full ABM strategy with the staff I have in place, but I can see in the near distance or in future, excuse me, but that will be an option. But you have to start seeding that methodology, the thoughts around it and aligning sales and marketing in a way that maybe previously weren’t.

Josh: Sure.

Ryan: And looking at the account level, what can marketing do to truly move an account forward based upon a variety of tactics and digital trends, as well. And I think that if I was to kid myself and say that my team was ready to do so I would lose the traction. We built more of a volume based model right now. You’re out there, you’re looking at a wide prospect list., you’re trying to whittle it down to an ICP. But to try to insert ABM tactics along that journey would be fractured right now. It’s all about meeting the prospect of the customer, where they’re at in their buyer life cycle. And as you get later stages, obviously ABM becomes incredibly powerful. But if I employ the tactics where our organization is at today, early. I’d have some misses, right? I wouldn’t be meeting them where they’re at, I wouldn’t be delivering the value they’d expect of me.

So right now, although I could take money that I have available in my budget to go buy the best ABM tech in class, drop it in, and build a team around it, organizationally, we’re not quite ready yet. And that’s okay to accept. Sometimes that’s a harsh truth that punches you in the gut and says, boy, I wish we were there today, but it’s not quite there. That’s okay. Because again, it’s all about organizational fit. If you are there and your company is mature enough, dive all in on it. Specifically groups spend a lot of time in the enterprise that are mid-market sectors. If you’re SMB or B to C, obviously it’s something that’s not gonna come as applicable to you, but if you find yourself trying to go upstream, as many SaaS businesses are, if you’re not entertaining it to do more research around it, and then really look at the tactical level, what works for your business for that ICP as well? Certain things that work for others and ICP is or, excuse me ABM is not a one size fits all. It’s very custom. It’s very tailored to the individuals inside of that kind of account.

So I think it’s more of a budget management and not getting out over your skis, right? Because again, it’s the sexy terminology it’s been around for some time. People think it’s kind of a silver bullet. We all know there’s no silver bullet, or we’d all be using it. So it’s protecting the budget and getting the best usage out of a current day along the business needs and objectives. And that. Is it more of a demand by volume right now? Because we have a lot of AEs and our team right now that we need to feed and based upon my team’s fit right now, we just have to be more of a volume model than a kind of down the funnel sippin’ alongside ABM to run parallel to the sales team.

Josh: Yeah. It’s interesting, a couple of things. So I think there is like organizational readiness is a real thing. I think there has to be alignment around philosophically, what are we trying to accomplish? There’s a mindset that needs to exist. And if you don’t have those things, then it’s really hard to just, like you said, you can’t just drop something in and make it go.

So you brought up sales and how you work with sales. You have a lot of account managers compared to your marketing headcount, managing those relationships with sales is super important. So what have you done or what have you found effective or helpful when approaching sales?

Ryan: Yeah, one of the things my team is probably sick of me saying is the absolute attention to the internal selling that is required. It’s just education. It’s informative at times, but we get a little assumptive and what we think the sales team knows that marketing is doing. And that’s where I think there’s the gaps that fall off is that there’s this lack of perception of value. What are you doing? How does it apply to the kind my world? So I think in a world in which we move so fast in SaaS, we have to over-communicate and to the point of nauseum, but in fact, when you’re moving that fast, things are often left in the wake of the conversation. So I think there’s a time for redundancy and conversation, but really what we do is we have a lot of different touch points.

So we have three pods that are led by directors, and we have different settings in which we had talked to different kind of internal clients, and that’s directly to the AEs and a study that’s led by their director. So that’s a weekly touch point. Then we also have a secondary touch point, which is the directors and myself and then my senior campaign manager, in which we’re talking about a little more high level strategy, we take that strategy and we walk it back to the AEs on more of a one-to-one basis. Let them know that they’re being cared for and looked at and that their voices are heard from this as well. And it’s that back and forth where they start to see the reciprocation of them, their voices being heard, the tactics, and then they’re asks to the team are being met.

So I think communication, although often talked about, and all those things that are just, table stakes, is essential. And it’s not just the head of marketing, the head of sales talking it’s at the individual contributor level. You have to empower your team and encourage them and to ask them to get uncomfortable. Not everybody is as a marketer, who might be a little introverted perhaps, which isn’t always the case, but you go to an AE who is certainly not going to be that could be an intimidation barrier, but you, as a leader must find a way to empower that individual to overcome that barrier so that we’re truly communicating in level setting between the two. So I think it’s a lot that leaders can do of course. But when you empower those throughout the boots on the ground, kind of level, to have that conversation, you don’t have to run it by me. There’s something that you think you can do to move the needle for them. At this point in time, bring that to their attention. It doesn’t have to be a formalized meeting, cooler talk, down the hallway talk, meet them at their stand-up desk in their office, wherever it might be and take that opportunity to show the value that we can bring. And then have a discussion around it.

So I think individual contributors up to the leaders who have to just have a frequency of meetings that continually take place and do your damnedest to not cancel those meetings as well, to try to maintain them and say, Hey, we don’t have a lot to talk about this week. Use that platform for more ideated discussions.

Josh: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a great call-out and honestly, again, it hearkens back to the fact that we’re just we’re people, account managers are people and they just want to feel like they’re empowered. They want to feel like they’re being heard. And listened to. And on the marketing side, we want to understand what they need. And we want to, we’re all on the same team. And I think that many times, like it becomes very kind of adversarial or confrontational and it is all comes down like that lack of communication or just treating each other like people, right?

Ryan: Yes. That shared empathy. You want another, and like to Josh’s point here, we are human first. If we lead with an empathetic edge. We understand each other better. We level set and see the challenges that party is dealing with at that point in time. So how do we solve those challenges? And acknowledge them and not ignore them and just say that’s not a sales problem. That’s marketing’s problem. No, if we’re all walking and talking the same line, we’re better together than we are individually. So try to get together and collaborate as much as you can.

Josh: Yeah, happy hour!

Ryan: Happy hour! Yeah, whatever it might take.

Josh: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So let’s shift gears a little bit. We talked about people in relationships and things. Let’s talk a little bit more about KPIs, goal setting and all of those things. So you operate on this 90 day goal setting cadence, right? You’ve got sprints, etc.. So tell us a little bit about that cadence, the value in it. I know we’ve talked about OKRs and things like that.

Ryan: Yeah. I think when you talk about SaaS specifically, you’re inherently in a fluid environment. If you’re making, if you’re a hundred ARR, if you’re five ARR, it’s a fluidity, you have to embrace and acknowledge. I, as much as would any other leader to, look 12 months out, nine months out, six months out. But sometimes what you find is that time could be wasted because the business shifts so quickly, as does your consumer base.

So we look at 90 day kind of cycles and what can we accomplish inside of that? How do those goals align with the business needs and then use more of a rock and pebble based mentality. What can we do to move that pebble closer to the finish line? And that supports the boulders or the rocks that are sitting in front of it. I think it also keeps a very clear path for leadership to understand what are they doing? Are they meeting their goals, it’s measurable. And it’s all set up in the data points they commonly refer to in marketing. And the sprints that sit inside of that help people feel fulfilled when you have objectives that take 6, 8, 12 weeks.

Success is elusive. That lack of completion is a grind. It wears on someone. So you could look at smaller bites of the apple and show that to the team like in a five day sprint to the 10 day business cycle we can accomplish. You watch the satisfaction and the individuals that are doing the work, it’s incredibly empowering. So when we take that sprint and we started over again, there’s enthusiasm, there’s momentum behind it. And there’s a freshness to the initiative that we know is 12 week long, 12 weeks long, excuse me. But our wins are small and they amount to something large at the end of the day. And it helps us become a little more stay in the moment as opposed to, “I see the finish line.” I’m just going to do whatever I need to do. And I may take some steps to get there quicker than I should just because, who doesn’t want to finish the race a little early if they can?

Josh: Yeah. I also feel like it offers or provides an opportunity for leadership even, because you have to manage expectations up as well. To kind of, take those bite-sized chunks as well because otherwise leaders can get way out ahead of their skis., and they’re thinking about these big initiatives, these 12 to 18 month things. And if we can break that down into little bite sized chunks, it helps them as leaders stay on track and us as marketers, remind them that, Hey, like this is, we said, this is our next best step. This is what we’re going to do.

Ryan: And I think it’s important to do, as it brings leadership closer to the tactics now, not every organization has the time in which to unpack the tactics. They typically look at the outcomes and say, I don’t care how you got there. You got to the outcomes I was expecting or hoping for. But when you bring them closer to the tactics and have real time discussions around the things that you’re doing to drive the business forward, at that kind of again, tactical level. They feel very close to you and it’s empowering and you’re building equity in a relationship.

So when you do go out on a ledge, the next time I’m going to try something a little radical, you have equity now to do it, it’s not like you’re always having to prove oneself worth because they see the continued multiplicity of the work that you’re doing from a tactical level so much so that you’re going to get runway in the future. When you want to take that kind of radical, progressive step.

And I think a lot of marketers want to take those steps and they struggle with, they say “leadership will never give me the allowance to do that.” Did you get the buy in and build the equity reliance upon that big ask that you just made? Question yourself. And you’ve really got to look yourself in the mirror because people think that they have, but if leadership looks at you sideways, either there was a miscommunication or you didn’t build the equity that you thought, so now when that ask comes up, you’re probably gonna get shot down, especially if there’s a budget line tied to it as well.

So it’s about equity building, in my opinion. And again, just transparency and candor always works with leadership.

Josh: So let’s again, I’m just like, feel like I’m a broken record on this video, but leaders are people too, right? Invest in a relationship, bring them into the work you’re trying to accomplish, help them understand it, educate them up. Like it’s our job to do all of those things, that’s where you build that equity.

Ryan: 100%. I feel like you said, leaders are people they want to be informed. And when they feel misled is when you have these gaps. And even if you’re communicating effectively, you’re not going to have gaps. And the challenging conversations become less confrontational and they become more of a discussion about the actions that you’re currently taking. It’s just a better way of going about it, in my opinion.

Josh: Of course, yeah, no, I think you’re right. We share the opinion. And since we’re making the video, we get to say it. All right. A couple more questions. So let’s talk customer journey. That’s super important. We talk a lot about it in these videos. Explain kind of what you’re doing at Sportsdigita. What’s working for you with the customer journey.

Ryan: Yeah. Down to two quick things right away it’s about exchange of value. My team constantly hears me talk about if we’re not providing value at every touch point, we’re not doing our job because these days, this day and age, we’re inundated with information in a way we never have been before. So people’s time is the commodity in which we truly trade in. So if I’m going to ask for your time, I damn well better be giving you the value you expect of us.

Josh: Exactly.

Ryan: The customer journey that we’ve been able to build is obviously around automation. If that logic, if you choose to do this, you get this bit of information, but it’s really the content that supports that kind of if-then logic, and then based upon your interactivity with it, what’s conserved you next. And again, we provide value at every touch point, despite your inactivity or activity, there’s going to be this really fluid relationship of “they get me, they understand the things that I’m seeking out.”

We’re addressing pain and we’re exchanging value and we’re selling on the outcomes that we can achieve together. And those ingredients all mixed together. But again, I look at the customer journey. It’s about nurture. If you got here mid-market to enterprise your customer journey is probably quite robust and goes on for months and months, but B2C, that customer journey is likely quite short because of the very competitive nature of that sector. And you’re going to have to be everywhere in front of them.

Josh:  I’m putting it in a shopping cart and I’m buying it.

Ryan: Yeah. So I had to work on user experience and UI just in milliseconds, you get that first person. But when I look at customer journey mid-market and enterprise. I start to think about more of a nurtured sequence, that again, finding them at the time that they’re seeking up the solutions that you can provide them. So it’s, so that’s half of how do you write your automation rules? When did they, when are they not too busy to take that email or to download that piece of content or engage in a presentation, or to watch that video, trying to dissect your buyer persona, in which way you understand where those pockets of time are in which they can interact with you. And then that exchange of value becomes a great, again, just an exchange that it is. I think it’s, again, it’s just meeting people where they’re at when they want to be met there and then giving them things that exceed their expectations. And if not create a way in which you can have an open discussion about the needs that they have.

Josh: Yeah. No, I think you’re completely right. Time is a currency. My email is a currency and it costs, for me to put an email on a forum, I really need to feel like I’m going to get value from it.

Ryan: Exactly.

Josh: So I think you’re right there. I think we’re smart.

Ryan: That’s one thing I talked about too is imagine yourself, what does it take you to get you to fill up four or five fields in a form? It’s a bigger and bigger ask because if you’re an enterprise and mid-market sales, you understand what that form submission means. BDRs SDRs hit me up on LinkedIn. I’m getting calls and getting texts, and I know that’s happening because I clicked submit. So from my willingness to receive that, I better deem it to be extremely valuable and important. And then I’m excited about the engagement, and stuff coming to me.

Josh: Yeah, exactly. So that’s why we create awesome content so that people can consume it.

Ryan: That is the goal.

Josh: Okay. So last question I always ask this of every guest is basically what are you reading now? Podcasts? What’s influencing your thinking? Who’s out there that you think is really smart.

Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s probably, I’m not a prolific literary, admittedly. I do a lot of absorption from seeing things as things around me, just pulling in things that I think are valuable and discarding.

Josh: Well it could be a company that you’re seeing like, man, they’re doing an awesome job.

Ryan: Yeah. And I actually, I would take that and quickly parlay into DRMG, it is currently a SaaS consultancy here. Not necessarily in the Twin Cities, it’s a national organization. Dustin Robinson is a CMO I previously worked for at LeadPages and drip back in the day. And he’s, in my mind, one of the more prolific, progressive CMOs I’ve ever seen. He and a colleague of his, started a consulting business called DRMG. They have a podcast out right now and they just do prolific things all day long.

Josh: Just dropping knowledge bombs.

Ryan: just knowledge and Dustin taught me one thing long ago, and this is that the greatest marketing lives on the edge of controversy. Just knowing that you need to tow the line. If you fit in with the masses, you’re not going to stand up from the competition. How do you disrupt a category? If you’re going to go in to fit in, if you’re just going to say, oh, I’ll just look like the other competitors, success is going to be elusive, but disrupting that category is where it’s all at.

So DRMG and their podcast hosted by Ryan copper, who’s another prolific SaaS leader and has been for many years. What they do and what they unpack in a short amount of time is really, it’s how I think people should be thinking about their business and long-term thoughts. And how does, how do you find the message and product market fit in ways that haven’t been purely normalized? So I love those guys and you can find them anywhere and listen to them.

I, like many others. The LinkedIn feed is now a repository of all kinds of information. There’s thought leadership everywhere. And if you just cherry pick headlines that stick out to you, it in itself in three to four to five minutes, you can find some really good applicable stuff. And I’m actually one of those guys that doesn’t mind a webinar these days too. If it has a lot of value, people are throwing some incredible virtual brands around very virtual events, excuse me, on very specific topics. So it’s no longer just sitting up in the clouds at 30,000 feet and you’re like, I’ve heard it all, nothing new here. I think people are getting better about providing actionable content so that you can apply to your business tomorrow.

As we talked about ABM earlier, I’m looking at solutions like a Terminus or a demand base, they throw out some pretty good content. I’m gonna engage with it as well. So I look at more bite size content as opposed to someone who may read a 300 page book, but I’m looking to pull little nuggets every day.

Josh: Awesome. Thanks. I haven’t heard of those guys, so I’m going to go check that out and I appreciate you coming in and doing this with us. This has been great. You’ve also been dropping some knowledge bombs, so I hope all of you, take a little bit of value from what we’ve done here today. So thanks Ryan. And we’re just going to say goodbye for now.

Ryan: It’s my pleasure. Cheers. Bye.

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