Transcript: How to Partner With Sales for Mutual Success With Allyson Stinchfield

On this episode, I was joined by Allyson Stinchfield, Chief Customer Officer at Needle Space Labs, a marketing agency in Berkeley, California. Prior to that, she was the Customer Marketing Director at Splunk, an enterprise software company. We spoke about how her comms background influenced her overall approach, how to build trust with sales, and how she structured and built out her team. Ally also has an improv comedy background, so she’s hilarious to be around, and I had so much fun chatting with her. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Ally. 

Margot Leong:  Hey Ally. Welcome to Beating The Drum. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Hi Margot. Thank you so much for having me. I’m very happy to be here. 

Margot Leong: I would love if you could start off by introducing yourself. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and also touch upon the work that you’ve done within customer marketing and advocacy? 

Allyson Stinchfield: Sure. I’m currently Chief Customer Officer with Needle Space Labs. We’re a marketing agency in Berkeley, California. And before I was with Needle Space Labs, I was at a company called Splunk, an enterprise software company in Silicon Valley and I got to build the customer marketing team there. And before Splunk, I spent 15 years in public relations, working in house at tech companies, and then also for a handful of PR agencies in my twenties and thirties.   

Margot Leong: I’m curious, what is it about customer marketing that gives you energy? What do you enjoy the most about it?

 Allyson Stinchfield: The most I enjoy about customer marketing is, well, the storytelling aspect, the time spent with customers that use different technologies. I’ve always worked in the technology world . So just meeting with customers that are doing really innovative things inside their companies, and when they’re using the technology of the company you work for to do it, it’s just fun to tell their stories and also to get to know them on human levels and learn about the kind of work that they’re doing inside their organizations. I’ve learned a lot from customers I’ve had the fortune to work with over the years.  

Margot Leong: So I think what’s really interesting about what you said there is, when I was at Rubrik, it’s the exact same thing, we’re working with CIOs, CISOs, you know, a lot of IT people. I think sometimes the technology side can often be viewed as a bit drier, but I think that the relationships and the human connections that you build with people are so energizing to me. And it sounds like it is for you as well. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Yeah, absolutely. Tech can be so dry and so boring. And frankly, big data is just boring. It’s all pretty boring until you bring it down to earth, until you can really explain like how it’s impacting all of our lives and all of humanity, that’s when it gets interesting. 

And relationships, yeah, are still so totally important. Despite the fact that sometimes, you know, we’re living in such a digital world,   but human relationships still truly matter.

Margot Leong: You also mentioned that prior to Splunk, you had actually worked for many years at a few different PR agencies. So how did you get into the customer marketing space? How did you end up joining Splunk? 

Allyson Stinchfield: So, I worked at a company called Atomic  PR and they got acquired by Grayling many years ago now. And I had a client at Atomic PR that I worked really closely with. I just formed an excellent relationship with her. We work really well together. So she ended up hiring me at Splunk. 

All my years doing PR, a lot of my work was getting to know the customers of my clients, and that would help us break into the press because the media , they want to hear from the customers and they like hearing innovative customer stories, sometimes more than they like hearing from the companies themselves.

So I was already doing a lot of customer PR work. And then after I was at Splunk for a few years, doing just customer PR, working for a guy that ran PR, the leader of the corporate marketing team promoted me to Director and said, go and build a customer marketing team. So that’s what I did and she fully empowered me to do that and I had a really good run for a few years. 

Margot Leong: I love that. I had a brief stint in PR as well, and I was definitely not cut out for the PR agency world, but what I did enjoy a lot was connecting with the customers and also thinking about how to get those stories to resonate with journalists. And I really enjoyed what you said about the fact that journalists are often not that interested in hearing about your pitch as a company. At the very least, they want customers attached to it and then on top of that, if it can be tied to a specific trend, right.   

I’m curious about how your comms background, if that played a part in how you ultimately ended up building out this customer marketing team.   

Allyson Stinchfield: Yeah. My comms background certainly helped when we partnered with the, well, obviously with the PR team. I always thought of PR is like, you’re in sales, you’re selling story ideas and story narratives to the media, and you have to really pay attention to what the media is writing about and what they care about to get in the door and get any ink for your clients. If you aren’t truly listening to and care about the media you’re pitching, you’re not going to break into the press for your clients. 

So, applying that part of it to customer marketing is you’re pitching the customers on working with you and you have to sell them on the win.  

What’s in it for them? Why do they even want to bother spending time with you? Well, because it helps their career and it helps them have a new speaking platform and honestly, yeah, I could go on and on, but we just did so many good things for the customers and we helped ultimately  amplify their own voice within their own companies and hopefully helped them grow their careers. 

And not even hopefully, like I saw it happen. I saw my customers getting promoted after they would work with us on camera or speak at different conferences. Some customers would start getting invited from outside organizations to do more speaking engagements. It’s almost like we open the doors for lots of people. 

It all ends up closing more deals as well at our company. You’ll hear from salespeople that said that customer press release that you put on the wire, I’m bringing that to the deal meetings right now, it’s helping, helped us get in the door at XYZ company or yeah, like the content that you put out there.

When I was first at Splunk, we did a Domino’s pizza video that kind of became viral with our customers and it was, it was being shared widely and we were so proud of it and it was like, we got the video with this big brand. We got two of their guys on camera. We also entered them into an award. I got extra budget to bring them out to California, so they flew from Detroit out to California. We took them to dinner. They went to the award ceremony. Unfortunately they did not win the award, but they still were finalists. So we honored that, of course. And we had a pizza party when the video was created. I mean, it was just, those were such beautiful fun days.

Also we were blessed at that particular company because our customers absolutely truly did love the technology. It wasn’t hard to get him to get in front of the camera. You still had to certainly build trust and let them know that you’re organized and you’re gonna take care of them and whatnot, but yeah. 

Margot Leong: I think what you touched upon there is really interesting is in order to even create advocates in the first place – I think sometimes this can get lost in the shuffle – is that the company itself has to have the foundations to build those happy customers, right? You can’t come in at a company with low NPS and a lot of detractors and try your best to sort of scrabble for advocates . You know, I have been in that situation before and it’s incredibly demoralizing. 

We’ve both had the opportunity to work at companies where the product walks the walk and the support also is known for being really, really good. The product has to do what it advertises, right? What sales says they can do for the most part, but support also is what makes them loyal. I’ve been on so many customer calls where the customers will say, yeah, I love the product, but your support is really what I want to keep raving about and that just makes our jobs so much easier. 

I’m super passionate about that and I think that it’s something to be very cognizant about when you are looking for your next role is to ask these questions about the company. Everything can seem very rosy online, but you have to dig in to understand what is your current NPS, what does support look like? Because you’re responsible for filling a pipeline of happy customers. And it’s very hard when there’s actually not that many happy customers to work with.

Allyson Stinchfield: Yeah. That would be impossible. That would be a soul sucking day job to go to. If I were ever to build a customer marketing team again for a company, I would definitely talk to the customers of that brand first and make sure that the product is as advertised and working and that they’re happy. 

Margot Leong: So I think customer marketing is such a cross functional role. At Splunk, I know that you worked with probably every team under the sun, but you’re particularly enthusiastic about collaborating with sales. So I’d love to hear about how you worked with them and how you saw mutual success.

Allyson Stinchfield: Sure. So I loved working with salespeople at Splunk. I was so blessed -when I first got there, the leadership were really good at getting the Splunk salespeople to get reference agreements in the contracts and the deals. 

Margot Leong: That is the dream. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Yes. And they were doing it. And the salespeople in the early days, I’m sure it’s still like that because I think it was embedded in the culture, but they got the importance of getting the reference and getting the customers to tell their stories through us. So we were very fortunate with that. 

And in terms of sales, like my father was a salesman, I was born because my dad went to my mother’s doorstep, selling pots and pans.

Margot Leong: Is that how they met? 

Allyson Stinchfield: That’s how they met. Unfortunately my father is no longer here, but my mother still has the pots and pans that he sold her when they first met. He then went into real estate sales and he was also a builder. And he was such a passionate, charismatic salesman, and he had lots of integrity and he would talk about the importance of sales and how sales makes the world go round. And then just when I got to work with salespeople, it was just like a heartstring thing, I guess, because I love my dad so much. 

At Splunk, the salespeople were just great to work with as well.   I mean, it’s really letting the salespeople know that they can trust you because they own the accounts. They’re not going to give you, they’re not going to get you in the door unless they trust the customer marketers. So I think just over time, we proved that they could trust us, obviously with their customers. And then they usually would make the introductions. And then I was just really good and I was always fairly adamant with my team that we needed to always keep the salespeople in the loop. 

You would check in with them if you hadn’t talked to one of their customers in a while and you wanted to go and get a new kind of reference from them. I would make sure that my team and that I would always run it by sales first, just to make sure there wasn’t anything going on with the account that we should be aware of before we would contact the customer. And then we would keep the salespeople always in the loop and cc’d on all communications moving forward. And most of the time, the salespeople just fully empowered us because we got the stories done and I was working with such a great group of professional marketing people. So, you know, they trusted us.

That really helped the ball move forward a lot. I think there were very few salespeople that were overly protective of their accounts. That was like one in a hundred at Splunk anyway. And that’s just an amateur. 

Margot Leong: Where I’ve heard it be the most successful from a customer advocacy standpoint is where the company has a really top down mentality. Every company encourages reps to build references into their deals, however, I think if that is not constantly espoused by the executive team, then it’s not something that’s going to happen because salespeople, they have so many things in their mind that they’re taking care of and so I don’t blame them for not automatically thinking about how to get references from their customers.  I love that you already had that culture at Splunk and that sales was already bought in.

And I think what you spoke about when it came to trust is super important. What I found in my experience as well is that once I think the top salespeople started working with me, then other reps would hear about what they were doing and how we were partnering together. And so they would start reaching out to me a little bit more often with opportunities. I actually got some of the top reps to do little mini video testimonials on me and my team’s behalf. And then I would play those testimonials at sales bootcamps when I would present. I think that also helped new recruits on the sales side understand the power of it too. 

If you could speak to, what is the success that the sales people that you’ve worked with can speak to around working with you, right? What is the value that they saw in connecting you to their customers? 

Allyson Stinchfield: So, one example is, we were working with the sales rep, his name was Dan and he had the Coca-Cola account. He helped me get in the door with the head of digital marketing at Coca-Cola. His name was Michael at the time. So I pitched Michael on being a part of a video for one of our conferences and he agreed to do it. I flew out to Atlanta and got a great video with Coca-Cola and that was still when we were a younger brand. 

Margot Leong: That’s incredible. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Over time, I entered them into an award as well, and we just did like one-off projects with them. And I interviewed the CIO of a certain digital marketing group at Coca-Cola and so we enter them into an award and they won it. I think it was an Information Week award and they went to the award ceremony, and Dan and some of the other account managers went with the whole team to get their award and they were all sitting around the table. 

And while there, they also met a C-level executive at FedEx. So it was like winning the award and sending our customer there was an incredible thing and incredible for the customer and Coca-Cola got to share how much, I mean, they were doing some extraordinarily innovative things within digital marketing from the onset and then, but then they’re sitting at, so then the sales, the account managers are, they’re sitting at the table with other people that they want to know and share the technology with. 

So they met, I think it was the CIO of FedEx, and anyway that helped push the FedEx deal forward.  Flash forward a few months later and then there was a big FedEx deal and our team was thanked for being a player and just helping to build that relationship with yet another brand while helping another brand next to it win an award. 

Margot Leong: That’s amazing. That’s the network effects that we’re talking about, right. I think there’s just so many things that we don’t even see as a result of the work that we do where leads come in, new logos, or upsells, expansion. I love stories like that. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Those are the stories that make you excited to go to work every day. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. I love to get a little bit more deep into what happened with Coca-Cola and so let’s go into where you were introduced to the head of digital marketing and you were pitching them on doing this video. Talk to me about how you conveyed the value of doing this video in the first place. How did you sell it? 

Allyson Stinchfield: Gosh, so I’m remembering, I put this really super duper thoughtful email together and Michael, the person I worked with at Coca-Cola, he had spoken for us a few years earlier, but it wasn’t really recorded. I can’t remember how it all exactly went down, but I went to the sales rep, Dan, and I kind of pitched him on, Hey, would you introduce me to Michael, he clearly is having a lot of success with our technology.

And so Dan said, yeah, put something together for me and I’ll help you get in the door. So I put together a super thoughtful pitch to Michael. I can’t remember exactly what it said now but I certainly pitched, this is how you guys can win. And I might’ve even kicked it off with the award that I wanted to enter them for because our PR agency was keeping track of the different awards. And I think that might’ve been my kind of way to get in the door. And it was genuine. Like I knew they were doing incredibly innovative things and that if we entered them, they had a chance at winning and they did win. 

We never got a written case study with them, I don’t think, but we got a video with them and they won the award and he would always do one-off references for us or talk to industry analysts. I think he spoke to a few media here and there. 

So, I put thoughtful pitches together for the customers, just like I did the media I used to pitch in PR. To me, it’s – you’re in service to the customer. You’re in service to the media. Like your job is to give them stuff that will help them and make it worth it for them.

Margot Leong: Yeah, I think putting in the extra time and effort to be really thoughtful about it and to know that you were very strategic about how you approached it, obviously it paid dividends, right. I think it is super important and that’s part of what I really enjoy about this is the angle that you approach with whoever can get you in the door. And how do you think about consistently providing them value as a thank you for being a part of something like this. 

So you have worked with some incredible brands during your time at Splunk. We had touched upon this a little bit , but I was wondering if you have any other tips to share about working with these enterprise brand names.

Allyson Stinchfield: Sure. This kind of ties back to that question too, about how my comms background served me in customer marketing. And it is that you have to get the communications approval at all of these companies as well, especially if you’re doing PR stuff and having them talk to the media, but usually it’s their comms teams that also have to approve case studies, any communications that’s going to be shared publicly, your comms team has to approve. 

So it’s not just building relationships with your customers through your salespeople, it’s also building strong relationships with the communications teams and you get in that door through your customer. And some of your customers are gonna know the drill and know how it works and know how to get things through comms and some are going to have not a clue. So you’re going to have to educate them, but no matter what, the end goal is to get in the door with the comms person and then again, just build trust with them that , I think I would just always reiterate that nothing would ever be published. We’re not a newsroom. Like nothing would be published without them getting a chance to review everything and just letting them know they could trust us. 

If you are fortunate enough to work for brands, like I was when I worked at Splunk, that is known as a true innovator and kind of a revolutionary technology that truly did change things for a lot of IT people and now business people, you could talk to the communications teams and say, hey, you know, like companies wanted to work with us and they wanted to be in the press with us. 

An example of that was I got to work with Arnold Donald, he’s the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. Arnold spoke at one of our conferences and I remember the day that I pitched Carnival to work with us. We had a new VP of corporate marketing at the time that fully supported the pitch. She was on the call as well. We pitched his communications person on working with us and speaking at our conference, we wanted to do videos with them. 

And speaking of human element videos, Andy’s media studio, a woman that works in that studio came up with a campaign called “Million Data Points,” and that was about getting to know that human side of our customers. It was a diversity and inclusion campaign. I think Splunk is still running it, it’s a beautiful campaign. 

And so Arnold Donald is an African American leader who’s got an incredible story and he’s my favorite kind of leader because he’s a very inspiring leader. Anyway, I pitched the communications person that day on why it would be a win-win to work with us. And I think they wanted to work with us because they wanted their stakeholders, their people that take cruises, their customers, their investors, everyone to know like they are using innovative technology, so they were willing to work and partner with us. We did so many fun things with that whole campaign. 

Margot Leong: What’s really interesting is that you think about a brand like Carnival Cruise Lines –  they’re probably not someone that you would think is using a lot of these innovative technologies and that’s what I found to be a hook to get the comms team to be excited is that you pitch it as to be seen as using such innovative technologies coming out of Silicon Valley really gives you a leg up, especially on the IT side.   I always found that to be a very compelling angle when working with larger brands.

Allyson Stinchfield: Yeah, absolutely. 

Margot Leong: One of the questions that I wanted to talk to you about was building out a customer marketing team. I was curious about how you thought about structuring your team and building that out at Splunk and what were different people on the team responsible for. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Sure. So when it started, it was just me. And then I was overwhelmed at a certain point because we were just growing so fast and I needed help. So my first hire was I hired someone who had a lot of customer marketing in her background. She had more than I did, actually. And I remember when I interviewed her, her name’s Amy Perry. I said, are you sure you want to work for me? Because this is the first customer marketing team I’ve ever built and you have more experience than me.  I’ll be technically your boss, even though at the end of the day, she just ended up being like my co-partner. And she was amazing. She was like, no, that’s fine. I’ll share everything I know about customer marketing and you share everything you know about comms with me. So it was super win-win. We learned a lot from each other. We worked really well together. 

So Amy was my first hire. And then we kind of split up the work based on like the different product lines or product divisions, if you will. I think we had like IT Ops, Security, Business Analytics, and IoT.   I was responsible for IT and maybe Security, and Amy had BA and IoT or vice versa, and then there was often times crossover. So we’d end up working on things together or saying, you take that one, you take that one.

Then we kept growing so much, Amy and I couldn’t handle the work. So then we hired another person to just help take over one of those buckets. And she came from Oracle. So I hire people that did have significant customer marketing experience and that truly got how to do it and that were go-getters and would really push through on getting the references that we needed and love to tell stories. And her name was Kayla Sullivan. 

And then I hired a woman named Abby who did not have a background in technology, but, we hired her to help us roll out ReferenceEdge. It’s a tool that was created by Point of Reference and it’s a native Salesforce app that helps you completely centralize all of your references in one place, all of your content in one place and it also helps make reference calling more efficient. Abby managed the rollout of that and the day to day of that program, and then Amy, Kayla, myself, and then we ended up hiring another person named Joey. Most of us were storytellers and on the front lines, just having to get references for different analyst reports or different events we were going to, speakers for shows. So many reference needs all the time on top of just creating all those stories. 

I found it very effective to organize it and align yourself with product marketing as much as possible. Just because that alignment is critical. Because your product marketers help you so much as well.  

Margot Leong: When I was at Rubrik, I actually reported into product marketing and that was so crucial  because it allowed me to be on the front lines with the product marketing team, understanding a lot more about the product, especially because it’s so technical. Splunk is technical, Rubrik is really technical, and so we had to be comfortable translating the technical into business results and business value. I think that was incredibly helpful to be really aligned with product marketing. 

Allyson Stinchfield: They’re also on the hook to get references for all of the materials that they’re putting together for their stakeholders. You’re going in the same direction with them, everybody’s on the same page, working towards the same goal. We have to get the references. So I thought it always made sense to align with product marketing. If you don’t, it’s just going to get chaotic. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. Did you have a specific policy at Splunk where it was no public feature launch or announcement without also having customers attached to it?

Allyson Stinchfield: They weren’t like written policies, but there were some norms created. It was like a best policy around no press release would go out the door unless we could get a couple quotes from customers in it. So even like on product launch day, we would do our very best to get customers that had been parts of the beta programs to be quoted in our releases, because it’s just validated to anyone reading the release and learning about the new product and the news. When you have customers in there, it just validates even more like, this works, it works, and here’s how it works, and here’s the value that it’s going to add to your business. Spoken from our customers, not our ad sales guy. 

Margot Leong: And so your team you said was essentially how big did it end up becoming at the point that you left the company? 

Allyson Stinchfield: There were five of us. And then we had ReferenceEdge. We had a contractor from, we had like Professional Services help as well. 

And my team didn’t – I know a lot of customer marketing teams also are responsible for the customer content, but I did not have content. We just partnered with our content team.   They were under corporate marketing. We were still responsible for interviewing the customers and getting all the content and then we’d hand it off to a writer and then it would come back to us and we would edit all the content.

Margot Leong:  I think that’s great and provides a little bit more of a solid backbone to what’s getting produced as well. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Totally. And there’s just only so much time in the day as well. It was the same with the media studio. Like we would go through and edit and cut, like the initial, we cut out soundbites and stuff that we found that we thought should absolutely be in the video. If it was, you know, a really great sound bite from the customer that truly showed the value.  

I’m a believer in putting someone in front of the camera and getting their authentic story. And sometimes marketing will be like, get them to say this, and I don’t like that because I feel like the best kind of PR and customer marketing is more authentic. These aren’t like paid actors, but you know, I’m so torn on that because then you can, sometimes you do get them to align on your messaging and say some of the things that you’re hoping they’ll say that aligns with your latest messaging. And if they believe in it as the customer, they will say it for you, but it’s a really fine line to walk. You want them to tell their story in their way, not your way – that makes it a more authentic validating story in my mind. But there are exceptions to that rule, like I said. 

In terms of organizing teams, I just had a thought that sometimes I wish that under the whole customer marketing umbrella, you had your references team and those could maybe be like the more junior people that are still learning the ropes of customer marketing and business in general and get them on the front lines. Getting those, like we have to have these references now, we need four speakers for this show, we need 10 customers to agree to speak to a Gartner analyst. We’re doing some website updates, we need to talk to 50 customers. Like all of those reference requests that are constantly coming in from all over the company?

I wish I could just put a certain like, okay, these three people, they just work on that for the time being in their career. And then the other people, you just get to work on building out customer campaigns and the customer stories. Telling stories, putting those customer campaigns together and then also being on the hook for all of those reference requests that were constantly coming in the door, that’s where the job gets really hard and challenging. That’s where you start feeling the pressure. That’s where the bandwidth issues become real. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. 

Allyson Stinchfield: And the time it takes to get references, it is not a joke. Even if it’s at a company like Splunk, where the customers are often willing to talk, because they love your technology so much. Even there, you still have to do the actual time it takes just to reach out to sometimes hundreds of customers to get one to do it because they are doing a ton of other things in their worlds. So you have to be so considerate of that as well, and just the actual time it takes. 

That’s something in PR too, that a lot of people don’t get. It’s kind of like working in restaurants – unless you work in a restaurant and you’ve waited tables like I did all through college. You don’t know that it’s really hard waiting and servicing people. Unless you’ve done the job, you don’t understand the actual time it takes to get the results that really move the needle.

Margot Leong: Oh, yeah. I one hundred percent agree. I think that’s a trap that customer marketing can fall into sometimes is that I think it tends to attract people that are storytellers, that also like, you wouldn’t be in this role if you didn’t like to help people. But then I think that’s a double edged sword because you can just be seen as like a references robot  and there’s so much work that is involved. I think that’s the hard part too is that relationship building is not scalable.

 We are both really passionate about the value of advocacy and hopefully getting more of a seat at the executive table, right? 

Yeah. 

Allyson Stinchfield: And so just two points to what you’re saying first on the tactical nature of what we do. It is so true. And it is because of how tactical, what we do, yeah, sometimes it makes it harder to get a seat at table with the executives. And all the peers I’ve talked to and all the conferences I’ve gone to in the customer marketing and advocacy space, time and time again, leaders are talking about how hard it is to get your C-levels to understand the strategic value of a customer marketing team.

Customer marketing is fairly new. It’s been maybe 15 years. It’s like a silo that is critical and these technology companies, but not all C-level executives quite get how yet. 

Like for one part of my program, I was trying so hard to roll this tool, ReferenceEdge out more and more to all of our sales teams, and I was facing so many obstacles to get that rock up the hill. It was very challenging and I kept trying to get literally on the calendar of a specific person at the company that could have helped me push it through, but I never got time with that person.

But you do have to learn how to truly share and show the value of different aspects of your program or they will fail. And that’s just what you have to learn to do as a leader. And getting a seat at the table with the executives is critical because they’re with customers all the time, so they could help pitch our program. They could help bring customers into the fold as well. 

And they did do that actually, but it was also so challenging when you don’t have a seat at the table because all of it comes down from them. Especially the bigger customers that they want you to get stories from or whatever it is.

If you’re not there, they’re making requests of your customers sometimes. And then like your head of comms, your head of corporate marketing, whatever, they’re signing you up to do things that the customer can’t even do. So then they come back to you, and you’re like, the customer can’t do that because they’re about to release their earnings or something, and there’s just no way they can go on camera right now or whatever the obstacle is. You know that because you know the customer is like how they got to work today, like what they had for breakfast. Like you are the ones that have the relationship – you have as close of a relationship with the customers at a certain point with many of them, if you’ve told their story, as  account managers do, it’s just a different kind of relationship. 

That used to frustrate me so much because it was like spinning cycles where if I would have just been there, I could have communicated on behalf of the customer. Right then and there. That would have been 20, less emails, 14 less frantic calls, you know, stuff like that used to drive me crazy.

Margot Leong: I can only imagine, I’m well-aware. Outside of your career, I know that you have a really strong creative side. You have written a few one woman shows – one that I’ve seen that you sent me the video to that I really enjoyed and found hilarious. 

 Allyson Stinchfield: Thanks for giving my creative side a plug as well. And my show, Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts, I’m going to be updating my website soon to show two of the onstage shows that I did. I had a lot of fun with Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts and I had a lot of people that work in tech come to the shows and tell me their stories afterwards about the different challenges and tribulations they’ve been through in their workplace. Sometimes things can get toxic. And so that’s what my show is about, but it’s also about equality, gender politics, bullying and just things I’ve seen in my career here and there. Fortunately, not a lot, but when you do see it, it definitely leaves an imprint.

I was in comedy for four years and I cannot tell you how much my comedy and improvisational training helped me survive what can sometimes be tougher days. Because using humor when you’re under so much pressure is a godsend.

I like working for empowering, inspiring leaders and psychologically safe workplaces – that really matters to me. And so my shows are about that and to try to get people to just be kinder to each other in the workplace. 

Margot Leong: And I never thought about that before, that your improv training could have such a massive effect on how you interact interpersonally in the workplace. I’ve always been envious of people that have the ability to diffuse situations by using humor in just the right way. And I’m always so thankful that for the people that are able to do that because it lightens everything up and it sort of brings everybody back to a more productive and like kinder center.   

Allyson Stinchfield: My improv training has helped me in so many areas in business. If you watch the master improvisers, there is trust and they get people’s backs like you can not believe. So nobody is going to sabotage other players on the stage, the moment anyone sabotages someone, or doesn’t agree to an idea, or tries to make it all about them or tries to steal the show and become the center of attention. The moment that stuff like that starts happening, it is the worst show ever. 

And so what improv can teach people is just how to get each other’s backs and just basic general respect and kindness. And then also truly listening and hearing each other and then building together the narrative. And if employees at companies all learned improvisation, I think it definitely helps. And a lot of companies do hire like Second City Works and there’s a company in San Francisco called Leela, they have a corporate division. So improvisors are going into companies and training people here and there. I wish every company had like their own little Second City Works inside their company. That would be amazing. 

Margot Leong: Yeah. I can imagine that within the context of doing this with people at work, you just get to see each other in a very different light. And it breaks down barriers. It allows you to work together in a more compassionate way. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Absolutely. And that is so so, so, so needed in our world right now, across all corporations. So yeah. It’s like you work with the same people    8, 10, 12 hours a day. You see them more than your family. And people are working out their stuff from their core family stuff and then put pressure on top of it. It’s not really that hard to see why there’s so many reports of difficult, toxic workplaces. So improv and other well-being techniques can truly help with that.  I think every company also needs a Chief Well-Being Officer, but anyway, I know that’s a little bit off the topic of customer marketing.  

Margot Leong: That’s totally fine. And I completely agree about the Chief Well-Being Officer. I think this is a perfect place for us to wrap up actually. Ally, I had such a wonderful time chatting today. Last question – where can our listeners find you? 

Allyson Stinchfield: Oh, goodness. They can find me at, well, first and foremost, where I’m spending most of my time right now, working on some creative projects at Needle Space Labs. My email is ally@theneedle.space. Or they can find me on LinkedIn, under my full name, Allyson Stinchfield. 

Margot Leong: Perfect. I think we could just talk all day long about this stuff because we just love it so much. Thank you so much for taking the time and really appreciate it. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Thank you so much, Margot. It’s so nice to talk to you again. And I never thought I would love customer storytelling and marketing and be talking about it so passionately at any point in my life. 

Margot Leong: It really comes out. So you must be doing something right. 

Allyson Stinchfield: Yeah. Well, thank you. 

Margot Leong: Absolutely. All right. Take care. 

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