In episode 55, Josh Becerra interviews Wendy Sorquist, the Director of Marketing over at Blaine Brothers, Inc who shares her wealth of experience and wisdom with us. Wendy’s journey is a testament to the power of strategic thinking, innovation, and effective leadership in the ever-evolving landscape of marketing – all while valuing relationship building and collaboration along the way.
How I Work, Episode 55 with Wendy Sorquist
Wendy shares her criteria for selecting external partners, highlighting the need for transparency, direct access to technical resources, and a flexible, agile approach. Throughout the interview, she continuously reflects back on this idea of business relationship alignment and how it’s brought her so much success both internally and externally. Plus:
- How to select external partners with transparency and collaboration
- Building a marketing structure and getting technology implementation buy-in from organization leaders
- Streamlining design processes and blogging tasks: How Wendy is using AI
To learn more about Wendy Sorquist and Blaine Brothers, Inc. visit: https://blainebrothers.com/
Transcription: How I Work, Episode 55 (Wendy sorquist)
Josh Becerra (00:01.774)
Hi everybody, this is Josh Becerra. Welcome to this next episode of How I Work. I’m super excited to have Wendy Sorquist with me today. Thanks for being here, Wendy.
Wendy Sorquist: (00:12.857)
Thanks for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Josh Becerra (00:14.506)
Yeah, so your first, the first interview of 2024. Let me give a little bit of background on you, Wendy. So Wendy’s the Director of Marketing at Blaine Brothers Family of Companies. She’s been there just shy of five years. Wendy and her team implement engaging marketing strategies and campaigns across all channels while supporting and continuing to grow the e-commerce site for the company.
Wendy focuses much of her work on implementing new strategies that utilize the latest technology and in her free time enjoys traveling and gardening. Again, thanks for being here.
Wendy Sorquist: (00:50.617)
Thanks for having me.
Josh Becerra (00:55.062)
Yeah, so you and I met for the first time when you were at Woodchuck, USA. And I always love starting conversations by asking guests to tell the audience a little bit about themselves. So, you know, obviously before Blaine Brothers at Woodchuck, but even going back a little bit further, tell us about how you even got into marketing, what interests you about it, what your career path has kind of looked like. So tell us a little of your story.
Wendy Sorquist: (00:58.797)
My first job was at Target headquarters downtown. I was in Target sourcing services. The first half of my career, I was in new product development and design and headed up some design teams, worked with really creative people to kind of take super creative ideas, designs, inspiration, and sometimes operationalize them and put processes around them. I’ve owned my own business before, wore hats in there, did a little freelancing also in between there. At some point I had decided that I wanted to pivot from new product development and design and into marketing. I was a criminal justice and sociology major, so, people really interest me, people’s behavior. And in reality, I was working for lots of smaller entrepreneur companies where you wear lots of hats and ended up doing lots of the marketing and getting super interested in it. Working with technologies, even at Woodchuck USA, like CRMs and HubSpot, always inspired me as well. So kind of pivoted into marketing. I am 100% self-taught technically, never had a business class in my life, business my whole career and marketing the latter half of the career.
Josh Becerra (02:44.651)
Well, you probably don’t know this about me. You and I are much alike. So I was a Latin American studies Spanish double major. And you know, like my story is much like yours. Done my own businesses and kind of all over the place. And I love people. I love marketing. And so yeah, here we are having this conversation today about marketing and marketing teams. So, you know, one of the things that I think’s really cool, you and your job is that you are responsible for a family of brands. It’s, you know, Blaine Brothers has multiple companies, um, that you kind of sit on top of as the, as the marketing, uh, head. Um, so tell us a bit about those brands. Tell us about your team size and how you kind of support all of these different brands.
Wendy Sorquist: (03:29.097)
Yeah, so we have an umbrella of companies, a Blaine Brothers family of companies. There’s four separate business entities. We’ve done lots of acquisitions over the years so that we can really offer more services along the way. But at the end of the day for a marketer, we have three separate websites. We have all different separate social media channels, newsletters, lists. And so it can be kind of cumbersome, especially when you first join the team, like, wait, whoa, we wear a lot of hats.
We have a team, six, seven, including myself.
It has grown a lot over the years. We’ve got a full-time graphic designer. We have a full-time events manager. We do over 150 events in a year. We have a marketing specialist kind of content, you know, driving inbound leads. We have a newly established customer experience team, kind of marketing, and a little bit of new hire there. And then we also work on our e-commerce site. And so we have some operational folks, from order fulfillment to taking pictures with 60 to 80,000 items on the site, that’s kind of never-ending. We have a team of interns that come in a couple times a year, help us take pictures. But yeah, so seven of us total, we divide and conquer, and then we also rely on some agency partners as well.
Josh Becerra (05:05.316)
Yeah, that’s amazing to be charged with, you know, all those different websites, all those different tasks. You know, you’re doing Ecom, you’re doing services. I think it’s pretty amazing. You know, you obviously will have resources that are getting pulled in many directions all the time. So I know that that, you know, presents challenges when you’re executing marketing strategies any stories or times when you kind of felt like those resources were being constrained and then how you may have overcome them or mitigated some of those challenges
Wendy Sorquist: (05:50.761)
Yeah, I think things kind of ebb and flow. Our team in particular, we, you know, the company’s over almost 45 years old, but really didn’t start thinking about marketing until the last five to 10 years. And so, when I joined the team, we had a really unique opportunity to kind of build the marketing, structure and technologies from the ground up. And so our team has been implementing our CRM over the past couple of years PIM.
Our e-commerce site is never ending. We’re always doing feature enhancements. And so I think at times when those projects are peaking, it can really feel like, wow, we’re going a million miles. But one of the things I’m looking forward to is we’ve just finished a lot of our implementations, and now we can kind of maximize them. So they took maybe longer than expected, but we feel like we’ve got all the tools that we, in our toolbox, that we really need to market well.
So really been working on our tech stack and super excited to streamline all of our hard work and come up with, you know, new processes and really utilize the technology like it should be instead of kind of working heavily on the implementation.
Josh Becerra (07:07.499)
Yeah. I mean, it’s amazing. I’ve obviously kind of have some ambient knowledge of when you arrived at Blaine Brothers and how you’ve been able to kind of work with leadership that when you got there was kind of like, Hey, we’re, we don’t do a lot of this to get them like in a place kind of mentally and kind of aligned around the fact that like marketing is not just a cost center, but it can be, um, like,
Growth driver and so kudos to you for like, you know changing that leadership mindset Getting them aligned like growing that team getting that tech stack in place. So, you know from that Experience, can you share with the audience who are other kinds of marketing leaders that are probably grappling with getting leadership on the same page? How you’ve been able to do some of that and how you align your overarching marketing goals and vision with the C-suite.
Wendy Sorquist: (08:12.437)
Yeah, for sure. I do have the luxury that my boss is pretty forward thinking and pretty technology driven. And so I actually joined the company. They had already decided, hey, we’re going to do an e-commerce site. And for our industry, we were really on the front lines of that. And so in a way, I feel very lucky and fortunate that we get lots of leeway on our team. Our senior leadership often puts out revenue goals or some really high level projects.
And then we’ve got a team of peers that we, you know, can kind of come together and say, hey, how are we going to get this done? What, you know, what kind of projects do we need to accomplish said financial goals or such projects? And then obviously those trickle down into our teams super nicely as well. And so, yeah, I hope that answers your question.
Josh Becerra (09:05.482)
Yeah, I mean, I think It’s pretty cool that you have a leader who’s kind of into technology, interested in pushing the envelope a little bit. I think there’s, there are other marketing leaders that find themselves in a place where they actually have to do a lot of that convincing. So I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience in either former jobs or anything like that. And what maybe that if you can like compare and contrast, you know, I was at this place and yeah, that’s how it and this is how it’s different, but I do think that, you know, for small marketing teams, sometimes one of the hardest things to do is gain alignment with leadership and, you know, you’re lucky to have that today.
Wendy Sorquist: (09:48.769)
Yeah. Definitely. I think it’s worth getting buy-in, especially from, you know, your boss. I always call my boss an executive champion. So he and I are aligned going into, you know, kind of pitching our ideas or getting buy-in from other leaders. We’re always super aligned. And I think that has been what’s made us super successful. We’ll when we’re looking to do a large tech implementation that might cost lots of money, you know, I’ve been way more successful going in there, super aligned with my boss, poking holes in our strategy before we even go on to get buy-in from other key stakeholders or senior leadership. One tip that’s been super revolutionary for just our team in general and getting buy-in from other key stakeholders and executives.
Josh Becerra (10:41.164)
Yeah, like finding that, yeah, that executive kind of champion and actually like giving them that title so that they feel like, you know, I have an important role in this and like, I can be influential. And so, yeah, having that person as a strongly aligned partner. Super great tip.
Wendy Sorquist: (11:03.956)
Exactly. I think the other thing that we constantly ask ourselves from the marketing team is are our goals aligned with achieving these revenue targets or these really important projects? And if they’re not, we often aren’t gonna do them. And so I think we do a really good job at stepping back, looking at all of our initiatives from our planning and go, wait, does this really move the needle with the plans of the company? And so I think we’re constantly checking ourselves, checking our tech stack, working for us, is this doing what we want it to do? And is this going to help us meet our goals? And so from a team perspective, I think that constantly asking ourselves that question and checking our goals to make sure that they’re in alignment. And we do that all year long. We’ll get to the end of the year and go, wow, did this move the needle in the way we thought? If not, back to the drawing board. We’re not giving up. We need a second strategy here.
Josh Becerra (12:03.366)
Yeah. So outside of like leaders, obviously being a key stakeholder, another big internal stakeholder is sales. And so I’m just curious, like for you, what does that look like in Blaine Brothers or what are some of your experiences either at Blaine Brothers or at other companies where getting that sales stakeholder like alignment has been effective. And if there’s any tips you may have there.
Wendy Sorquist: (12:11.906)
Yes, at several of my jobs, maybe even all of them, one of the first things I like to do is immerse myself with the sales team. So I’m going to their meetings regularly. I’m very aligned with my peers and the sales director. There’s a certain amount of incremental sales that we’re going to go get and we kind of can divide and conquer and help each other, whether it’s our team helping sign up their customers for EECOM and driving revenue like that.
We are not afraid of our team getting on the field. We do that a lot. Our team is completely empowered to do field work ride-alongs with our sales folks. We are dying for our customers’ feedback. Everything that we do revolves around those key customers and that sales team holds the accounts to those key customers. And so we want their feedback. We want to know their pain points. If they have an idea for a feature enhancement, we’ve done them. You know, it’s as simple as that.
We want to listen to our customers. And so again, our team’s empowered to meet with sales regularly. We’re partnering, trying, you know, to give them tools in our CRM, so that dashboard, so they can easily see, you know, which leads are being driven. Um, you know, which ones are hot, which ones are falling off. And we’re going to partner to kind of keep them on some sort of a journey. And so I think it’s a real close partnership. Um, and, and very grateful for that partnership as well. I don’t know that you know all organizations, sales and marketing teams align.
Josh Becerra (14:10.612)
I will tell you for sure that partnership does not exist in all organizations. And I do think it’s on us as marketers to like, you know, extend the olive branch and really recognize that sales teams do have some of those key client relationships that that’s where we as marketers can really unpack kind of where our points of differentiation are and why people actually use us, our services, our products. And so I think, yeah, marketers more and more need to be the ones who are like kind of getting in the sales process and understanding those customers as best they can.
Wendy Sorquist: (14:54.677)
I think on a different note, we’re newly implemented CRM and we’ve got some revenue goals. And so one of the things that we’re looking forward to this year is really revenue attribution and using all of our new tools to show what the investment payoff is and really have that kind of closed loop analytics. So we’re super excited again with our tech stack to have the tools to be able to do that. Because when I started, we didn’t have the tools that allowed us to do that. And so now it’s kind of hit the ground running. We’re done with our implementation. Let’s make this work. And I think that that’s going to take the partnership even with sales to a whole new level.
Josh Becerra (15:34.302)
Yeah, for sure. And then you move away from like this kind of, well, this is my experience or my gut tells me these things. And you get to like where you’re actually making decisions based on data and a clear understanding of like, where are the good leads coming from? How can we get more of those good leads? Where are we divesting our resources so that we’re making sure that we’re like helping them hit their goals, right? Total partnership.
Josh Becerra (16:04.012)
Very cool. So, you know, the other piece that I think you’ve mentioned is you rely on external partners and vendors. So I know that selection of those partners is super important and you’ve gone through, you know, a number of different partners. So since you’ve had some of those experiences, can you share with listeners a little bit about the kind of key criteria or factors that help you in choosing external partners or vendors.
Wendy Sorquist: (16:36.405)
Yeah, I at a minimum always get three quotes. So, you know, just having options and being able to look at, you know, different quotes and proposals is always helpful. I know everybody says this, but I’m always looking for an agency that’s an extension of my team. And I guess what does that mean? We work agilely, you know, and I value that. There are problems that might arise that are unanticipated that we could never predict. And sometimes, you know, work doesn’t totally align with that. So being kind of flexible to solve problems as they come up or develop technologies in sort of an agile way has been important to have agency buy-in as well. One thing that’s important to me just, you know, through these implementations is always having access to who’s my technical resource. You know, sometimes it doesn’t work well for me to go through somebody else to communicate feedback. And so kind of having direct access developers or, you know, depending on what the project is, is very important to me. I’m trying to think of what else.
Josh Becerra (17:46.738)
Yeah, well, I love that you mentioned like you’re looking for people to be an extension of your team. Like that’s definitely one thing here at Agurian that we try to do, of course, is really figure out, you know, where is it that we fit in our partners kind of skill sets? Where can we really bring thought leadership and help partners like see what’s around the next corner? And and so I think that that’s super important.
The fact that like trust and just knowing that you have somebody who can take this body of work, whatever it is, like, I just know I have a strong partner in this area that when I ask them to do something, it’s gonna get done because you are obviously working on a bunch of different things all at one time. And so just knowing that you can trust and have that partner, I think is also something I’ve heard from a lot of people. Yeah.
Wendy Sorquist: (18:45.782)
Totally. And being able to be transparent with your partners. If you guys are all thinking something on the other end, by all means, communicate it to us, because it only helps the partnership if we can kind of know the good, bad, the ugly, and help make decisions along the way. So being transparent, I think when you’re interviewing agencies or different partners, just asking who your team is going to be, is this going to be the same team, team prior, that’s always smart work as well. But yeah, having a little bit of flexibility on both ends to meet each other’s needs and make it feel like a true partnership has been. Mm-hmm.
Josh Becerra (19:29.058)
Yeah, I love that. All right. So we’ll shift gears a little bit into just like the new year, right? You’re our first How I Work interview of 2024. You know, we’ve got AI that everybody’s talking about. So like, let’s just talk about those two things. You know, what are you excited about in the new year? Where do you think AI is going or how are you maybe approaching it? Do you have thoughts about those things?
Wendy Sorquist: (19:34.174)
Yes. Well, yes, the coolest thing that I’ve seen AI do recently is from a design standpoint. So we’re, we are mocking up, we’re building a new facility, our truck alignment locations are building a new facility and we’re under construction and we’re trying to mock up our showroom. And there’s things that traditionally could take a long time, like, hey, move this ladder out, you know, erase this garbage, you know, because we’re really trying to mock up a clean view. And some of the things that would take a lot of time or traditionally be really time consuming, we tried, our graphic designer tried out the AI tool and gave some simple prompts like remove the ladder, remove the trash, you know, illuminate the back counter and it did it. So that’s the coolest new discovery we have is some of the cumbersome design stuff that can easily be done with AI. We did a little bit of, um, experimenting last year with AI where we’d have our, you know, our blogger write blogs and then we’d kind of prompt, you know, AI to do some blogs, look at both of them. I couldn’t tell the difference. So.
Josh Becerra (20:42.242)
Wow, that’s so cool.
Wendy Sorquist: (21:06.119)
I think the common theme with AI is that just there’s always got to be that human touch. You know, we’re using it. I know we can write emails with it. You know, you can do all kinds of things, but always having that human touch is key.
So yeah, we’re using, you know, HubSpot’s got some new tools, some new AI tools that they were talking about at the conference this year and imaging. And so we are totally dabbling in it and having lots of fun with it and learning new things. I don’t think it’s going away. And I’m excited to see what cool new things we uncover this year about AI. But yeah.
Josh Becerra (21:46.006)
Yeah. Yeah, I feel like right now at Augurian, we have two different teams. One is really focused on you know, where can we just gain efficiency? Where can, like you’re saying, like your design process, remove the ladder, and it’s instantaneous, right? Like that is just gaining efficiency, and the more efficiency we can gain, especially on kind of the tasks that are a little bit more redundant, and you know, then we can take that time savings and put it into strategy, and put it into like the higher value things anyway. So I think that’s super important.
Wendy Sorquist: (22:05.369)
Josh Becerra (22:27.492)
just really continuing to pay attention to like the early innovators and the early adopters of these technologies and seeing like, OK, how is this? What success or failures are they having and what can we learn from it? And then once we’ve learned from the early innovators, early adopters, we can bring some of those new things into our clients that are a little bit further on the adoption curve. So, yeah, it is going to be pretty amazing, I think, for marketers and AI.
Wendy Sorquist: (23:02.505)
Yeah, I’m in the transportation industry too and I just think that we’re going to see a lot from AI in the future. I think in terms of telematics and fleet management, we are largely doing that with some technology and human touch. And I think adding that AI component there is something that I’m excited to watch for in 2024 and beyond, especially in our industry. So really excited to see what it can do.
Josh Becerra (23:30.124)
Yeah, it’s gonna transform every industry. So, oh, this has been a great interview, super fun to chat with you about all these things. So the one last question that I always ask all of my guests is just kind of who you pay attention to, who you see as thought leaders, or you read in some books or listen to podcasts, and what’s taken your interest recently.
Wendy Sorquist: (23:35.99)
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think it kind of depends on what we’re doing. We’ve been, you know, implementing our CRM, so kind of CRM meetup groups. And I love to look at local agencies like yourself. What are they doing? What podcasts are they listening to? Always asking for recommendations, going to, you know, different meetups and such, folks are having guest speakers, we are again, heavy in e-commerce. One of our favorite events is the Irish Titan e-commerce forum. Every year our whole team ends up going.
So yeah, I look to our agency partners and friends to drive some of that and just always trying to connect locally and also get recommendations from you guys too. So yeah.
Josh Becerra (24:35.97)
Sure. Well, very cool. Well, Wendy, thank you so much for taking your time today. I know you’re super busy. This has been a great episode of How I Work. It’s all we have time for today, but thank you.
Wendy Sorquist: (24:53.453)
Thank you, it was my pleasure and so happy to be here. Thanks again. Bye.