In this episode, join Josh Becerra and Steph Alles, the Director of Demand Generation at Uponor, as they dive into topics like demand generation, content marketing, and navigating challenges in the B2B manufacturing space. Steph shares insights on building a marketing function from the ground up, managing global teams, and the importance of relationships in agency partnerships
How I Work, Episode 54 with Stephanie Alles
Discover thought-provoking discussions on leadership, marketing in uncertain times, and the role of AI in the industry. Steph states, “I fall very firmly in the camp that AI is not going to replace all of us” but goes on to explain why she still thinks it is crucial for marketers to add it to their MarTech. Plus:
- Twin Cities networking: participating in Social Media Breakfast
- Acknowledging the global context of economic uncertainty, wars, and political dysfunction within marketing
- Marketing challenges: Proving the marketing department’s contribution to revenue
To learn more about Steph Alles and Uponor visit: https://www.uponor.com/en-us/about-uponor
Transcription: How I Work, Episode 54 (Stephanie Alles)
Josh Becerra (00:02.53)
Hi everybody, welcome to this next episode of How I Work. I’m super excited to have Steph Alles with me today. Thanks for being here, Steph.
Steph Alles (00:12.695)
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Josh Becerra (00:14.326)
Yeah, I’ll tell you a little bit about Steph. So Steph is the current director of demand generation for Uponor, North America, based in Apple Valley, Minnesota. She spent most of her career in the B2B manufacturing space in the last seven years, leading integrating marketing teams focused on content marketing and social media. Super excited to have this conversation.
You know, I love starting these conversations off by asking my guests to tell the audience a bit about themselves. So why don’t you go ahead and tell us a bit about when you first got interested in marketing, what your career path has looked like, where else you’ve worked before Uponor and what you’re kind of currently doing in your role today.
Steph Alles (00:56.76)
Yeah, absolutely. So I think it started really young for me. Funny enough, my room was plastered in absolute ads when I was a teenager. I swear I was not drinking vodka at the time. But I promise, not yet, at least. So I was really into photography as early as I can remember. And there was just something about the simplicity and creativity of that medium that I just thought was so cool.
And I love writing equally, frankly. So I ended up studying English lit at the University of Michigan. And I graduated, right as Michigan was one of the first states, frankly, to get kind of close to the great recession. So there was an opportunity with a manufacturing company that I had interned with during college out here in Minnesota. I had one friend and he was like, you’ll love the music scene in the twin cities and he was not wrong. I still do frankly.
Josh Becerra (01:52.106)
Yeah, there you go.
Steph Alles (01:55.72)
So I headed out to Minnesota with that manufacturing company. I managed to hold onto the job throughout the Great Recession, which was a win at that point. And then once we really came out of that, I was ready to chase my marketing dreams. So I started with a small manufacturing company. We sold hobby farm products, I have wanted chickens ever since that job and I finally got them this year.
Josh Becerra (02:16.485)
Steph Alles (02:21.588)
So thanks Miller manufacturing for my obsession with my chickens. They’re fantastic. Everyone should get some, and from there, I really branched out to the CPG space. So I worked at a natural food startup for just shy of two years. And it is where I cut my marketing teeth. I was incredibly lucky to work for a VP of marketing that let me fail really fast and pivot and figure out what worked.
So I took that back to the manufacturing space at Deichen Applied first. These are really innovative companies in their own right, but not necessarily as prepared to dive into the digital space. So I took what I’ve learned in CPG and then really brought it to these more traditional spaces. And then four and a half years ago, I came to Uponor and I’ve really had a unique opportunity to build this function and the team from the ground up. So now we’re really out there proving that we’re revenue generating marketing org and can make some cool stuff happen in this space.
Josh Becerra (03:28.854)
Yeah, I think it’s awesome. And I love this. What you said, like we’re proving that we’re a revenue generating marketing department within the organization. You’re not just seen as some cost center that everybody’s looking at, like, all right, this is the first thing we need to cut. Um, and I think that’s just outstanding. So, you know, open or is a pretty big global company based in Finland I think I read you have 4,000 employees, 26 different countries. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits or challenges of working for this global company, particularly in the marketing function?
Steph Alles (04:06.912)
Yeah, absolutely. I would say especially in the last couple of years, we’ve built stronger relationships with our colleagues in Finland and Germany. We hold really regular touch bases and we’ve learned best practices from one another. They try things, we can learn from that. There’s differences in product, differences slightly in customer bases, but at the end of the day, we’re selling super similar products to super similar customers. And so…
Frankly, it was a miss for a long time that we weren’t learning more from one another. So that’s definitely the upside. It’s not all rainbows though, right? I mean, the bigger your team gets and the more spread out they become, the harder decisions are to be made too. There needs to be a lot of alignment globally to really push some of those changes through and digital marketing moves fast. And so we need to be able to make some of those decisions really quickly.
So I would say that’s one of our challenges, absolutely.
Josh Becerra (05:08.607)
Yeah. Well, I do think it’s really cool to be talking to you about this kind of global perspective. I think sometimes in the US, we think we’ve got it all. Like we’re advanced. Like, hey, this is where Google’s headquarters is. We should know more about this than anybody else, right? And I don’t necessarily think that’s always true. So it is cool that you guys are kind of learning from one another. You know, one of the things that I think we’re talking about learning that I know you’re responsible for is kind of hiring and firing agency partners. And I’m sure that you here in the US have your set of partners in Finland and other places, maybe they have a different set of partners. So I’d be curious to hear what you’ve learned along the way about choosing the right partner. What are some of the red flags that you’ve experienced that other kinds of in-house marketing leaders should be paying attention to if they see what their current partner or what they should be trying to avoid?
Steph Alles (06:09.996)
Yeah, you’ll hear me talk a lot about people, which is ironic given that I work mostly remote and stare at a computer all day, but the agency has to be an extension of your team. And when you’re interviewing agencies, they’re gonna send their best people to you. They are really gonna put on their best show. And so it’s really up to you as the client to say, okay, who in this room is actually gonna be on our team? Let me get to know them. Let me have those conversations with people that are going to be managing our account every day.
Because those are the relationships, frankly, that are the most important with your agency partner. And we’ve seen that go both ways. There’s been a lot of turnover in some agencies that we’ve had, and it’s made for really unstable relationships. And then there are other agency partners like Augurian that have really stayed on and then that extension of our team that we really appreciate and makes the biggest impact. I would also say that there’s complacency sometimes in long-term relationships with agencies and clients and you can’t be afraid to call that out. I mean, yes, we’re Midwesterners, but we need to figure out that directness and really be upfront about what’s happening client side and I’d expect that from the agency as well. I think it’s just about that openness and transparency to figure out how we all work best together.
Josh Becerra (07:42.336)
Yeah, you hit on two of my favorite topics. One, relationships, right? And it’s funny, we’re in this digital marketing space and everybody has the same tools. Like agency A is using Google ads, agency B is using, like it’s not about the tools in the end. It is really about the people, the communication and the relationships. And then the second thing is radical candor, right? Which we preach of course, which is like this idea that if you care really deeply about something, you’re willing to have divergent thinking and willing to share that and feel like that you have the psychological safety to do that. And that needs to go both ways, right?
It’s not just clients telling agencies, hey, I got some candor for you. It’s also agencies being able to say, hey, if you really want to achieve these things, I think we got to shift our focus into these areas. So anyway, I love that you’re talking about relationships and radical candor. So like shifting gears a little bit, 2023 it’s been a crazy year. Of course we’re out of the pandemic but there’s still economic uncertainty, we have wars raging in Ukraine, the Israel Hamas thing that’s happening, it’s like horrific you know dysfunction within the government, not just in the U.S. but other parts of the world. So all of this has like a ton of implications for businesses and for marketers. So I’m curious from your perspective, especially working in a global company, in this unstable context in which we’re living, like, what advice would you have for marketers? Like, what should we be thinking about or paying attention to in all the chaos?
Steph Alles (09:35.18)
Yeah, it’s tough, right? I mean, there’s no way to answer that question without being just human first. Like I have had colleagues that I’m working with in Ukraine and watching what is happening to Palestinians is just truly devastating. But we do have to turn and think about it as marketers and think about how our content is showing up on these platforms too. We live and breathe in TikTok, on Instagram, in PR spaces. And so it’s really balancing, A, should we be promoting our products right now? I think that’s a super valid question in any time of civil unrest. There have absolutely been times where we’ve gone to our teams and say, we need to pause everything, everything needs to stop. And I think those are important conversations that more businesses need to be having.
Also, the world is always under unrest in some way. And so we have to persevere as marketers and think about how we can ethically move forward and think about our customers that are still in the field too. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re working for tradespeople. Um, our products don’t exist without really highly skilled tradespeople in the field using our products day in and day out, and they still need products that are high quality, available, and making their jobs easier and more productive. And so at the end of the day, I think we really need to keep that customer hat on and think about what’s most important to them.
Josh Becerra (11:14.206)
Yeah, yeah, I would agree. Like economies don’t come to a screeching halt. There’s still buildings being built and, you know, plumbing that needs to get installed. And so there’s a truth to that, but you don’t want to come off as tone deaf either, right? You don’t want to just be showing up, you know, with roses and rainbows in spaces that maybe don’t merit that. So I love those call outs that you’re making there for sure.
Steph Alles (11:25.559)
Steph Alles (11:30.6)
Josh Becerra (11:46.27)
So the topic that everybody talks about, my question for you, is about AI. So, what’s your take on AI and the marketing function and maybe how are you approaching AI even at Uponor?
Steph Alles (12:00.48)
I fall very firmly in the camp that AI is not going to replace all of us. We’ve talked enough about humans and relationships and how important they are to marketers and businesses. But I think marketers who know AI will replace marketers who refuse to use AI. I think that’s where I fall. I think it can be an efficient tool. I think it can be a brain starting tool. I saw a really interesting article that was like, do everything opposite that AI tells you to do, and then you’re going to have a great piece. I thought that was incredibly interesting content advice. So I think it’s knowing these tools. Put them in your martech stack, right? You need to know how to use it. You need to know how to use it effectively. But also know when not to use it and when to think more about why you’re doing what you’re doing, where it would go, and again, think about the people on the other side of this conversation. We do have an AI Teams chat that a handful of cross-functional folks are in. We share webinars that we’ve been a part of, interesting articles, we’ve found ways that we’ve used it in interesting ways. One of my team members plugged in a par.html email template and said, hey, can you make this but make it better? And sure enough, it pushed out usable HTML. Have we implemented it? No, but it was an interesting test to see kind of where those capabilities lie.
Josh Becerra (13:36.234)
Yeah, just how those things are evolving. I love what you said, which was that marketers won’t be replaced by AI, but marketers that don’t use AI will be replaced by marketers who do. And like that’s gold right there. I’m using that on LinkedIn. So anyway, yeah, I think it’s awesome. You know, at Augurian, we’ve kind of got two buckets, right? We’ve got our kind of team that’s focused on just kind of tool utilization and how we can become more efficient and more effective and use these tools appropriately, you know, with the consent of our clients and all of those things. And then we have kind of a, another group of people that’s a little bit more kind of reaching five years into their crystal ball and saying like, well, what does this actually mean for an agency like ours? What does it mean for clients of ours? And that’s a little bit more kind of theoretical and far reaching, but, uh, I do think it’s helpful to try to understand where things are going because you know, I, I see like one of the jobs of our agency is to help clients understand how they should even be approaching it and how they should be using it kind of consultatively if we can understand that we should be able to relay that and provide recommendations and insights to our clients. So yeah, AI is it’s not going away. So we got to figure out how to use it.
Steph Alles (15:05.057)
Yeah, absolutely. Watch out for those deep fakes.
Josh Becerra (15:13.962)
Yeah, right. Well, thankfully, nobody’s done that for me yet. My podcast isn’t that big yet, but who knows? Yeah, right. There we go.
Steph Alles (15:21.877)
Josh Becerra (15:26.226)
So the way that I always love to kind of end these interviews, you know, start by asking your story and I love your story and end with like, okay, you’ve been doing this for a while. You’re super smart. So, who is it that you turn to for thought leadership? Are there books you’re reading, podcasts besides mine that command your attention? What is it that is kind of getting the wheels turning for you today?
Steph Alles (15:53.632)
I will admit that given how crazy 2023 has been, a lot of my free reading and podcast time is very much leisure. Everyone should listen to the handsome pod. It just brings the levity that I need in a day. But I love to talk. Let’s be honest, there is a radical pander, if you will, on that platform. And it knows your algorithm so well that there are tips and tricks and tools that I share with my team that I find on my TikTok feed all the time.
I read Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufour when I was a new mom. And that’s still one of my favorite books and one that I reference a lot in conversations of how do you balance it all? Right. I have, I have two young kids. I have a big job and I’ve got a family that I love to spend time with. And so it’s really about prioritizing how to get that all done.
And that it’s okay to drop the ball in some of these spaces once you prioritize. There’s also local sources. I mean, Eric Hansen is a friend of Uponor and a friend of mine. I love social media breakfast. That might be a plug. I will be on the panel at social media breakfast next month, but I’ve been going to those for 10 years. And the case studies that they bring and the sense of community that it brings is just really special.
Josh Becerra (16:56.805)
Amen. Yeah, man, I have so memories of social media breakfasts when it was like at they were hosting it above Stanley’s that bar in Northeast Michael Roveteen, I mean that was like maybe 30 of us or something and it’s just like been Impressive how they’ve been able to just keep it going and I know there were some kind of up-and-down years but it seems like it’s really like coming back and maybe it’s because they’re getting awesome people like you to about interesting things. So thank you for being committed to the community locally here in the Twin Cities and thanks for some of those tips. Well cool, well that’s it. That’s all the time we have for today. I’ve really appreciated it. It’s been a fun conversation. So thanks for being with me today, Steph.
Steph Alles (18:02.644)
Steph Alles (18:16.224)
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Josh.