On this episode, I was joined by Alison Bukowski, Senior Director, Customer and Product Marketing at PeerSpot. So I’ve been getting a lot more questions lately on topics that are more around long-term career paths and managing and structuring your customer marketing team. Alison is one of the customer marketing leaders I’ll be bringing on to focus on these areas and she shares some really solid tactical advice on how to launch a new program from scratch, get buy in and secure the necessary resources. And if you happen to be interviewing for a new role, we’ve got a ton of questions for you to ask so you can suss out whether you’ll be set up for success. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Alison.
Margot Leong: Hey, Alison, thank you so much for coming on the show. I’m really excited to have you.
Alison Bukowski: The pleasure is all mine. Thanks for having me. This is great.
Margot Leong: I know you’ve had a pretty fantastic career and have a lot of wisdom to share. So, first off is just to get the listeners to understand a little bit more about you. Can you tell us about your background and a bit about your journey to your current role and where you are at PeerSpot.
Alison Bukowski: Sure. It might be a bit of a winding road, if you don’t mind, Margot, to get from Point A to Point B. I don’t know if my story is particularly interesting, but it’s a big part of how I got here and what we’re here to talk about, because it’s really leaning on innate skills is how I ended up where I am.
And as a kid, I figured out that my childhood dreams of being a children’s book author, or being Dr. Dolittle, either was an option. Those kind of fell through. So I did what a lot of graduates holding a BA degree in English do, which is trying to find their place in the world while dodging the question from everyone. So what does one do with an English degree?
Margot Leong: You’ll be a teacher, obviously.
Alison Bukowski: Obviously that is the natural and shout out to the teachers because I have the utmost respect for you. It wasn’t where I was going to land. I knew that. So it wasn’t too big of a leap to start out as a writer. Oh you have an English degree. You must read, therefore you must write. And I actually started as a technical writer of all things. I did research and technical writing for my alma mater, University of Minnesota. Go gophers.
And I learned very quickly that academia wasn’t my place. And I wasn’t going to survive as a technical writer because my creativity was just squashed. Every day I came ready to go. But it’s very black and white.
So I decided that I probably needed to pivot a little. And I needed to go somewhere obviously where I could be creative and do fabulous creative things, which is actually what brought me to marketing.
However, as in my early twenties, I thought I’ll do marketing and fundraising. I can plan parties and I will get to use my creativity every single day. And that must be what it’s all about. So I actually started working with a couple of nonprofit organizations within animal welfare, and that was as close as I’ve gotten to Dr. Dolittle. So that was exciting for me. But then I found out that I love being creative, but boy did I thrive on process and logic and that wasn’t happening. So nonprofit wasn’t the place for me.
So I spent a few years figuring out what I needed and learning some of my strengths. That’s probably true for a lot of people.
Then, now that okay, I told everybody I like to be creative. I crave problem solving opportunities. And I like to apply process to business problems, which I don’t know why that would shock anyone. My parents could certainly say, oh yeah, you have control issues. So I’m creative, but I like to put some structure around things and oh yes. I like to put pen to paper, but actually that wasn’t what impressed my managers along the way. I wasn’t a one trick pony, and what I mean by that is I had people skills, so I could work with customers. I’m good at dealing with people. And that actually was the launchpad into customer marketing and advocacy for me.
And of course that was before customer marketing, it wasn’t really a thing. I moved into marketing and ended up leading a marketing department for several years, but it was more at that time, great, we write a newsletter. And that’s where customer marketing started and where it ended. And I guess we could all argue, maybe it still today hasn’t been fully defined.
But for me, and for so many of us, I think that start the journey without really knowing the destination, but there’s a certain set of soft skills that certainly served me well. So when people ask about, what makes a good customer marketer, a good customer advocacy professional is people first and foremost.
It’s not a throwaway answer. The ability to relate to people. Being able to articulate the thoughts and the messages or the sentiments of people and craft that into something is hugely important, along with this desire to make the abstract more concrete.
We’ve seen that, especially over the last few years, we’re not the warm and fuzzy industry anymore. There’s some really strong structure around it, but of course, along with that, being empathetic and being able to translate human into technical sometimes is incredibly important. And I know I’ve certainly leaned on my skills with writing, but then those people skills you’re able to really harness something pretty magical.
And then last, but certainly not least, I am fiercely committed to customer service.
I am the person who, when you email me a survey, I fill it out. I take my role as a consumer very seriously. I was that way even before coming into this particular field and I don’t care if it’s McDonald’s or if it’s Chewy.com, I just think it’s important. I think we share that. We all want to see customer service survive and thrive. So that’s another piece of it.
Margot Leong: How did you get into what we would call customer marketing? What was that journey like?
Alison Bukowski: So that journey started within proposals. I led a marketing department for a while. I took a little bit of a step back in my career and joined a proposal organization. And that’s when references came into play, I was writing content and I was helping respond to these RFPs.
So of course I was getting to know sales. I was starting to understand sales operations, working with customer success. I was peripherally touching all of these departments that were going to become my greatest assets really, as I moved into customer advocacy and I realized, oh, this is really interesting.
This concept of a customer reference, a peer-to-peer conversation. And I’ve talked before about how I’d really like to see the word reference, leave our lexicon, but that’s another topic for another day. But these conversations and connecting people with each other, and there was an opening for a reference manager, and that is my entree into the world, really, of customer advocacy.
It was amazing. It was as if I landed home. I just talked about these skills, whether they’re innate or some of the things I learned along the way, putting that into customer reference management. I saw there was so much more that could be done with that.
And I was very fortunate to have a wonderful mentor, Melissa, that took me under her wing and that’s really where the advocacy piece took off. And we started building formal programs, finding ways for customers to engage, getting that stickiness, the relationship piece that we all know and love. Then I was just off to the races from there.
Margot Leong: You took what you considered a meandering path. And I think a lot of our listeners especially I think people who don’t maybe yet know that customer marketing would be right for them, or are considering maybe customer marketing. Maybe they’re coming from success or something else, especially being in the tech industry, you can look at people’s trajectories and oftentimes they can seem very linear. Along your journey, were you ever worried about not figuring it out? Where was your level of anxiety when I came to this question?
Alison Bukowski: Every single day of my twenties, I think, is the answer to that question. Yes, I was very much worried about where do I land? What does home look like? And I’ve been very fortunate to have this building block experience with my career.
And actually it was in the latter half of my twenties when I was leading this marketing department. And I was concerned about where I was going to land.
And even to the point where I wondered if marketing was the place for me, because customer marketing and certainly customer advocacy was not defined and it wasn’t happening with any regularity and it was more demand gen focused within marketing. And that was fine. I spent a lot of time working on content and delivering content for that half of the marketing world, but I knew that wasn’t quite right.
You said something, Margot, about how a lot of us get on this trajectory and we climb and we don’t necessarily pay attention to the skills that we have and how well they could lend themselves to another area that might be of interest.
So I always picture a tree. Those branches go off in all different directions, it’s not a ladder and you can keep going up. But you don’t have to stay on the same branch. So I think your point about those who are in customer success is a great example, where it’s not too far of a leap to take a look at something like customer marketing and advocacy.
Margot Leong: A piece of advice that I have given in the past to people that are a bit earlier in their careers and are in that midst of trying to figure it out. Everything, in my opinion should be optimized for learning more about yourself, right? If I decide to take something on or to do something different or to try something, at the end of the day, right? It’ll just get me closer to finding what I like and what I don’t like.
For me, happiness comes more from optimizing my time to spend on a majority of things that I enjoy doing and give me energy and to reduce the things that sap me of joy and reduce my creativity and my energy.
An advice I would give to people younger in their careers, being very conscious about taking note of those things. I think most of the time, when you’re working, it can be easy to get tunnel vision. And you’re just not really actively recording how your response to the work is. It’s pretty nice to start compiling this because getting to know this about yourself ultimately will lead you down a better path of making these decisions in the future, getting closer and closer to what you do like.
Alison Bukowski: And I think that it’s also just as important to determine what you don’t like. We’re often faced with well, what is it you like to do? What about what I don’t like to do? Marketing is so broad, we have digital marketing, field marketing and customer marketing and demand gen marketing. There’s so many different facets of it. Hey, if you have it in front of you, try it, do it, but it’s okay to say, you know what? Nope, I don’t like that piece of it, but I loved when I got to interview customers. I got to talk to them. I got to hear their story. That’s great.
But then designing it and making it look amazing. That was not a forte for me. You capture those things along the way.
Margot Leong: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s so right, because it can also be easy to con yourself into thinking you like something. But you only like one shade of it, you don’t like some of the other pieces that go along with it. So being more distinctive about what those are and using your negative sentiment as a barometer or a way to test some of those borders is really valuable because it’s much more easily like emotionally to feel strongly about something negatively than it is to feel about it positively. That’s really good advice.
While we’re still on this topic, any other tips or advice you’d give there?
Alison Bukowski: I know we’re going to probably dig into some of the more specifics around customer marketing and advocacy, but as a general rule, my advice would be similar for anyone in a role actively or you’re looking to get started, tap into resources and communities. It’s huge. Even if you think, oh, don’t know if I have an interest in that or not, we have so much information out there right now.
Obviously this podcast here, there’s lots of other resources out there that tap into it, find something that peaks your interest and then follow it. Also finding a mentor is incredibly important. I’m very big on conversations and having very real feedback from people about different things. And it doesn’t have to be someone in the role that you’re in right now, find somebody that actually isn’t. Somebody that, I didn’t know this person at all until I reached out and said, may I ask you some questions?
And you’d be amazed how many people are willing to share very candid feedback. You can have lots of one-on-one conversations if you just ask. That’s my biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to ask because nine times outta 10, someone will be thrilled to share it with you.
Margot Leong: I would say that an important thing as well is don’t just reach out once and have that one time conversation with them. Make sure to keep checking in with them, following up, because nurturing that relationship over time is also super valuable.
Like you just never know in this world what keeping up what these relationships can do. And that’s something that I’ve been really lucky to have in my own career by keeping up with some of the mentors that I’ve had or some of the relationships I’ve had in the past. And something I actually wish I did a lot earlier was to basically be more thoughtful or active about maintaining those relationships.
Alison Bukowski: It is. It’s all about networking. Had you told me at one point in my life, and I know we’ll move on to another topic, but just for maybe a smile, keep good relationships with your exes. My segue into customer marketing and advocacy came from a recommendation from an ex from several years earlier and stayed connected, and that gave me the inroads. And then for the next decade, I got to spend time learning, fine tuning and growing within customer marketing and advocacy.
So you just never know.
Margot Leong: It always amazes me the power of developing relationships, but I think it really applies for just being at a company and building as many relationships internally as you can, because that in a sense like greases the wheels for getting to what you want faster within a company. A lot of what we perceive to be politics is just honestly like a lot of relationship building. I mean, it’s so interesting. We could talk about this all day.
Alison Bukowski: Don’t burn bridges. Network. Be nice to your exes. All of this .
Margot Leong: Okay. So I wanna transition into a topic, more focused on the sort of customer experience, customer marketing piece overall. Defining the parameters of what we believe to be customer marketing, because there are so many terms flying around now. You’ve had experience where you’ve led all marketing, you’ve also sat within the success function on the customer marketing side. Like you have experienced this whole gamut of ways to be within this function. And so I’m curious, how do you define and delineate between some of these terms that people use? So customer experience, customer marketing, customer advocacy.
Alison Bukowski: So I think you could line up 20 CMA professionals and you’d probably get a slightly different answer to this question. If we start the umbrella, I’m big on thinking about things that way. So customer experience, I hope most of us can agree. It’s all things that contribute to perception. That is ultimately the customer experience.
If you come down a level, customer marketing, and there’s so many different facets of marketing. And as you alluded to, doesn’t even have to sit in marketing, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. But customer marketing is all about awareness and retention. That’s my perspective. It’s the communication channels. It’s the tactics that we’re using to make sure that we’re relevant and we’re remembered by customers, specifically remembering products and solutions and how they solved a problem and they delivered value. I think one of the differentiators is it can, and it should touch all customers. Customer marketing. It’s in the name, right? This is all customers. And it’s about maintaining and retaining. Short and sweet.
On the other hand, when you look at customer advocacy, which a lot of people I think will agree that it’s probably a subset underneath customer marketing. So customer advocacy is really about creating the experience, which don’t confuse that with customer experience, but it’s creating something special and in this experience that’s created for a subset of the customer base. That’s another way that I look at it.
Customer marketing, everything. Customer advocacy, not necessarily everyone. It’s unique, it’s highly customized. I probably lean maybe more than even my peers on the side of it being a more concierge like experience because it is highly customized and therefore it doesn’t make sense for it to touch all customers. There’s a lot of debate about should they be called advocates and I won’t get into that, but I will say that advocacy is very closely aligned with eliciting an emotional response from customers.
That’s when really deeper relationships are formed. It’s that sweet spot when there’s a transition between a satisfied customer and somebody who advocates for your brand. Not just products and services, but you as an organization. So it goes beyond just the product ABC and it’s really about a partnership. It is very much rooted in the relationship and the emotional connection that somebody has with your organization.
Margot Leong: I love this sort of umbrella structure and I pretty much agree with all of this. I think this all makes sense. Where I’m seeing a lot of this going and it’s already starting to become part of the conversation with customer marketing is that it’s customer marketing and advocacy are becoming much more intertwined in the sense that I think advocacy used to be thought of as you have the post sales journey, once a customer signs up, that’s like customer marketing and then advocacy is way at the end of that journey. Basically, you rinse and repeat.
And so now what I’m seeing, especially as you think about customer marketing bringing in elements of life cycle, really thinking about that entire experience, borrowing from B2C and taking that inspiration, can advocacy happen earlier in that journey and can people be advocates at different times throughout the journey, versus they all have to go through the exact same steps in order to become advocates. And so I think the nuances now, in terms of what does advocacy mean at different points in the journey? So it’s like that granularity now that I think is starting to come out.
Alison Bukowski: Yeah. And the answer to your questions. Yes. Yes. And no. If I think I captured them correctly, where yes, it can happen. It doesn’t have to just oh well, you know, somebody who advocates for us has to have been a customer for three years. They’ve had to go through a renewal cycle, they’ve had to purchase additional licenses or more of our widgets.
That’s not true. But you also bring up a good point about the customer journey and customer journey mapping exercises. When I talk to people, a lot of folks are working on it. What does that journey look like?
I’m certainly here to argue that advocacy is a part of that entire journey and it has to be, right? Because an advocate could be developed at any point. Now is it usually further down the line? Sure. But if you go with what I was saying about a relationship based emotional connection, that can certainly happen earlier in the journey. So I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice maybe as a field, but then also some organizations, by pigeonholing it into one particular place.
Margot Leong: It’s starting to evolve. But I think it’s still relatively nascent that advocacy can be created instantly depending on the moment of delight and that can come at any part in the journey. There’s so many ways that it can happen, but I really like this idea of being sort of at a bird’s eye view at the macro level of the whole entire journey and being like, okay, like here’s spots where it could happen. Can we optimize for these spots?
I mean, there’s so much more we could talk about here, but I think an interesting area to then move onto is we have defined what we believe to be these umbrella terms. How do you think the sort of current notion from the executive level is when it comes to understanding customer marketing and what they believe that it is at this moment in time?
Alison Bukowski: This disconnect has existed, at least for as long as I’ve been doing this, and I also want to say that there certainly are executives that understand the importance, right? Of customer marketing and customer advocacy. And I think a lot of that understanding depends on the people, but also on the organization. Size and structure and goals and things like that.
But I will also say many executives understand that it’s important, but perhaps don’t truly understand the value that it can deliver. And I think that focus, it’s been more so for the last maybe decade or so on customer centricity, there was this great movement of, we all need to get more customer centric and executives all over agreed that yes, we need to be more customer centric.
Look at NPS, and how that hit the scene. And then now look at how many organizations have adopted that. And this customer centricity has done great things for marketing, because I do believe that it has helped marketing be viewed as an investment in business growth rather than a business expense.
The focus though on customer centric, maybe also it’s a double edge sword, right? Perhaps done a bit of a disservice when it comes to talking about customer marketing and advocacy. There’s people obviously that are first smarter than me that have done studies executives, they say that they know how important the customer experience is, but there isn’t budget that goes behind it.
And I probably won’t be very popular right now to say this, but I think a lot of it is on us as well. Because we haven’t necessarily had the confidence or we’ve allowed the disconnect to remain, so it doesn’t get raised to the top. So there’s stuff coming top down and we’re not meeting it in the middle to have really good discussions around, what are the goals of the organization? What is the C-suite focused on? What can we do to support those goals?
Because you have to do that. I’m not gonna get in a meeting with my CEO and say that’s all wrong because that would be career suicide. But also there’s more to it that contributes to the business goals.
And we are so well positioned right now with the work that we do to support those goals. But we have to take advantage also of the opportunity to have a conversation about yes, but this is also what we can provide. And there has to be a dialogue so that we can start to erase the disconnect. I feel pretty strongly about that.
This is something that I have had the privilege now of doing it two, three times. Building out a new program. And it’s not one size fits all. But I will say this. I usually go in with a couple of things in mind. Budget, resources, data, and what you wanna report on, the tools and technology that you’re going to use. How is the work environment structured and I’ll use silos. I don’t like that corporate term. Having a non-collaborative work environment is a problem. And then another one, which I think is six. Is there training and education on the value of customer marketing and advocacy part of the org today?
Those are really nice launchpads. Now have those alongside, starting with the goals. That’s one of my first questions out of the gate. Can I see the KPIs, the OKRs, the MBOs, whatever term you wanna use? May I see them from the org level? And then all the way down?
And most organizations you’ll see that, right. Here’s our organizational goals. Here’s what sales is focused on. Here’s what marketing’s focused on. And you kinda have to look at all of it. It’s exhausting and overwhelming at first, but before you even have any other conversations, get a very clear vision of all of those goals, because you are going to be supporting or collaborating at a bare minimum with obviously meeting the C-suite goals, but then sales and marketing and customer success and probably product’s gonna be in the mix there.
Find your overlap and your synergies. I actually do this and I chart it out. I’m not joking. And I have a bunch of lines and there’s highlighters involved and figure out, okay, what are they? Where do they overlap? Look at those other things that I mentioned, how are you going about achieving your goals? And then write your own goals.
Actually, I would encourage you to write them before you even look at the ones that somebody else is going to dictate for you. Because if you didn’t have a hand, if nobody asked you, that’s a problem and you have to be confident in having that discussion and making sure you have a part in that discussion.
But if you do your homework ahead of time, you really come out of the gates sounding, wow. Even when I had that, when I’m not as confident as I want to be, you can always be a lot more confident when you have something concrete to back it up and that’s where all of that homework is well worth it.
And then you can come in and say based on these organizational goals, and here’s what I think we should be focused on. It’s compromise. It’s relationships. Where do you have something that works? And then, oh, by the way, here’s what I’m gonna need for budget resources if you wanna see this kind of output, so you have to put those two together. Otherwise, you set yourself up either for being a doormat which is never good, or you set yourself up with goals, but then you don’t really have the resources in order to support them.
Margot Leong: So basically I do get some different advice about this, right? I think some people say, okay in the beginning, get early wins under your belt, see how you can be helpful to different teams. And then let’s say six months into it, then you can come in and be like, okay, I got these wins. In order for me to keep achieving or to scale or whatever, I need more budget, I need these resources.
I’ve also heard it the other way, which is coming in with a clear point of view and saying, I’ve mapped this out and in order to be able to do these things, I would need this budget and resources.
So the budget thing for a lot of people can be pretty scary to bring up. I’m curious how you think about it is coming in out of the gate with this immediately or waiting some time to prove your wins.
Alison Bukowski: I think about it both ways to be honest. And I think that you have to do both, but let me try to give some actual tactical advice on that particular topic. I think it’s okay to ask some questions upfront and you don’t even have to necessarily do it before you’re in the role.
Let’s say you’re in the role, but if you have the luxury of asking upfront about budget, what will I be allocated? It can help ease that a little bit rather than come in guns blazing with a particular number. But specifically to the budget question, if you know the things you’re going to focus on, for example, a CAB. I don’t know why, CAB and case studies. It’s always, this is what we need. Right away. We needed it yesterday. So you are gonna be tasked with doing this within your first 30 days, which is ridiculous.
Nobody can do that from the ground up, but I will say that if there’s anything customer event or customer engagement like that, you just got a green light to ask for budget that cannot be done without dollars behind it. So I look for some key things when they’re talking about goals.
But to the second part of your question, as far as, how do you come in very rigid and say, no, this is a best practice. This is what I’m going to do. I still say yes. Be more rigid than not, but you have to be like al dente pasta. Be al dente, I guess, is my best advice. You’re not a limp noodle because then you won’t get budget and you’re going to get trampled because once people find out your, Hey, I’m here and here’s all these amazing things I can do and will do. You just get overrun, which is why you need those goals, right? If for no other reason, you need a way to push back and to kind of, sorry, this is really what I’m focused on.
So that’s why those goals are so mission critical, but you do have to find your low hanging fruit. Once you know what you’re after and what the pain points are, and again, CAB. Case studies. They always seem to come to the top. So maybe it’s around, Hey, I’m gonna quickly partner with CS. I’m gonna find one or two rock stars that we know we’re gonna bring in.
This is a new advocacy program and I’ll do a couple of interviews. It’s really painless for customers, but I’m gonna get great feedback. And look at me, I’m turning this into something amazing. Look what I did.
Usually that appeases the masses and you get a couple of wins under your belt, especially if you’ve been doing this for a little while, you kind of know how to play that game, but then really where your attention is being focused is on being very thoughtful and process oriented. You need to. Otherwise, you’re going to become a victim of what I call scope creep. And it’s very real.
Margot Leong: Scope creep can happen, basically tops down, like from your direct manager or the executive level. It can also happen cross functionally when, as you said, people find out all the amazing stuff you’re capable of doing and then, the swarm threatens to overwhelm you.
But both ways that can happen. How do you typically respond to the potential of scope creep cross functionally or at that executive level? Is it typically just saying Hey these are the goals that I am held to, or that I’m focused on for this quarter. How do you tactically have those conversations because it can be tough.
Alison Bukowski: It can be very tough. And I also know it is additionally excruciating when you’re newer, not only to a role, but you’re newer maybe to customer marketing. So first it’s confidence. It’s leaning on things that are real and that are tangible and it’s also about setting expectations.
I have no problem now going in and saying, it’s six months until you’re going to see something real come out of this because we have to set the process. We have to figure out the goals. We have to do all of this. A lot of CMA professionals will tell you if you’re building a program, it’s a year. Now that doesn’t mean you’re not winning along the way, but it is about a year to really have an advocacy program up and running. Now you’re doing stuff along the way, like I said, but I also will lean on other people, like reputable resources, right? This is industry standard. This is how long that it takes. This is the data that I’m going to need and put it forth like that. I need the time and I need the data. And that onus is usually on the customer success organization and make sure that you’re establishing help me, help you.
I’m being very candid obviously right now. And you’ll put a very customer centric spin on it, of course. A lot of that first six months is educating and setting expectations and you have to stick to your guns and the goals are gonna help you with that.
Don’t toss away creating a strategy or creating a process as one of your goals. That should be one of the goals. It’s a very real lift. Usually within Q1 of starting anything new, my goals are built around meeting my stakeholders, understanding the organizational goals, aligning those goals with how we’re gonna be able to leverage customer marketing and customer advocacy. It’s process documentation and it’s data gathering. No joke. That’s enough to consume one month worth of time.
And maybe there’s some that are listening and thinking, oh, that’s fantastic. You know, Allison, good for you. That’s some sort of fantasy land, but it’s not. And I think you’ll find that you won’t get too much pushback if you just go ahead and put it forth.
So many young customer marketers today, when they talk about their role and responsibilities, my brain hurts. It hurts. I need an Advil after they talk to me because the list is first of all, too long. And there are things on that list that do not belong there at all. And that’s where having, going back to what we were saying earlier, having a mentor or having somebody that you can just casually reach out via LinkedIn or a text or something. Hey, I’m being asked to be in charge of product enhancement updates, and I’m a customer advocacy manager. And you might need someone to just tell you, nope. To give you that extra confidence. It’s good to have that relationship to lean on as well.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. When you first joined a company, there’s some things that you can ask when you’re even going through the interview process to gauge whether or not this might be the right place for you as well. What are some of the questions that you can ask to suss out whether or not this will be a place that will set you up for success, because that is actually really important. We are interviewing these companies as much as they’re interviewing us. And so asking the right questions is really important.
Any sort of thoughts there? You mentioned already, how much budget are you thinking about allocating for this? I think is already a really good one to ask.
Alison Bukowski: Find out about not just the job description, but take that job description, have it in front of you and poke holes all over it. As long as those questions are thoughtful, they’re actually going to come across as impressive. You want clarity. You want to know exactly what the day to day is going to look like, which is usually one of the questions.
Ask about the culture. Is it a good fit for you culturally? That’s something that was not a focus when I started in marketing, it’s very much a focus now.
But specifically to the role, where do you sit within the organization? Because there are different places depending, is it a customer marketing role? Is it a customer advocacy role? Where will you sit within the organization? And that should give you some really nice Intel as far as where your goals might be. And I think it’s okay to ask about goals during the interview process as well.
What is the strategy? Do you have a customer marketing strategy in place? Do you have a customer advocacy strategy in place? Is this brand new? Are you looking for that strategy to be built out by me? What is the budget that will be allocated?
Ask questions about buy-in. Do you have executive buy-in for this particular effort? Who is leading the charge? Asking questions along the lines of would the organization support a governance council, meaning I can come in and have key personnel from the different departments and these would be VP and above participating in something to make sure that we are moving forward with goal alignment. That we’re meeting the goals that we’ve established and you are getting them to top down communicate, because you’re gonna need that. Big part of getting started is education, evangelizing your mission and what you are going to be doing.
And then the age old, how is success measured? Both qualitatively and quantitatively. I would make sure you dive into the data. Not only how will I be measured, but what do you want me to measure? Because you might get six different answers. So I think it’s good to know that upfront.
Margot Leong: As you mentioned, poking holes in the job description, as long as the questions are thoughtful, I think questioning of why. So for example, if starting a customer advisory board is part of the job description, I would totally ask what’s the catalyst for this? Why do you feel that this is important to the organization now, versus at a later time? Those are some questions you could ask for literally any of these. I think it, number one, helps you, of course get better clarity as to what they’re actually looking for.
But at number two, it helps you actually understand whether or not your hiring manager has a lot of clarity themselves, honestly, on why they put some of these in there. Was it that they were copying other job descriptions? Was it that they were told by the executive team, you have to have a CAB and you need one immediately so go hire someone. Like I’ve literally been roles where that has happened to me.
Alison Bukowski: The power of why. And you sound intelligent when you ask simply a three letter word . do you need this? I’m so glad that you mentioned that because I was going to also say, if you get a number, I talked about how will success be measured? Something like reviews. Okay. Is that gonna be part of this and, oh yes. And we want 100 peer reviews coming in. Why? If you hear a number that’s going to be directly tied to you, ask and negotiate would be my follow up to that once you get the role.
But to your point, it’s why, and then be prepared to use your expertise to say, actually, that’s a ridiculous number because you can’t justify it. And here’s the reasons why I think we should look at it this way.
Margot Leong: And to be honest, it’s totally arbitrary the numbers that get picked. Oftentimes there’s no rhyme or reason as to the underlying logic here.
One more question I would ask too, is how is marketing perceived across the entire organization? That’s always a really interesting one to ask because it can elicit really strong or interesting responses, you can also gauge how marketing is perceived based off of how someone doesn’t answer. Yeah. And in technology, marketing can be perceived as the catchall for any problems the company has.
And you wanna make sure that as well, if you’re coming in, for example, to a marketing function, it’s helpful if the marketing team is respected within the company, you don’t have to fight as much. Gauging some of these things will give you a better sense of what you’re gonna be up against if you’re gonna be in such a crossfunctional role as customer marketing is.
Alison Bukowski: 100% agree with that. And way back at the top of our conversation, Margot when I said marketing is viewed more so now as an investment in growth, like I’m listening for key phrases. Oh, they’re a growth engine. They’re our partner, that kind of stuff. Versus they make things look pretty and give case studies to sales. They already perceive the value, find out what it’s gonna be and decide.
Margot Leong: That brings me to another one around value, right?
Because we always talk about on this podcast is customer marketing, if you’re doing it correctly, it should be a win-win for both us as a company and also for the customer inherently. And so there’s some things that you can pick up when you’re talking to people within the organization as to just how much they actually value their own customers. The function that you have, literally building relationships with customers and trying to become the voice of the customer to solicit feedback, to become more customer centric, there’s things that you can just pick up on whether they are already care deeply about providing that value to the customer, or if they think this is more a box that you check.
And so I think that there’s language that you can start to hear around how much we value things like success, like support, right? How much we think about embedding that within the product, how often they care about talking to customers. Even getting that appetite from product is important because there’s all different types of product managers and visions around product. When you have product people that are focused less on soliciting feedback as an important part of informing the vision or understanding the problem set, then you’re gonna be in a real pickle if you are running a customer advisory board.
So that deep intentionality around always seeking to serve the customer, which you would be surprised a lot of companies, that may not always be the case.
Alison Bukowski: It’s always good to go in with eyes open as much as you can. If you have the ability to do that, you should definitely take advantage of it. And again, another opportunity to tap into a mentor or a network.
Margot Leong: This has been such an awesome conversation and I love that it’s been so like candid and transparent and honest. I think there’s some really good stuff here. And honestly, things that I wish that I had known earlier in my career as well. Are there any resources that you found helpful on anything from, career path to customer marketing, anything that you would recommend?
Alison Bukowski: Thank you so much for having me. It’s something I’m so passionate about and helping those that are starting out in their career, because I agree with you. Hindsight’s always 2020, right? But that’s why it’s so exciting to be able to share. So I think tapping into communities and resources, obviously a plug for Beating The Drum, because this is an amazing resource.
But also find your favorites. Connect with people on LinkedIn. There are groups, there are resources, but even beyond that, just a person, somebody who’s posting some information that makes you pause or makes you say, yeah, nod the head, follow them, connect with them because chances are, one thing I’ve learned about this community, is it’s amazing. I would be nowhere without my peers that constantly inspire me. So follow your favorites.
Conferences, attending conferences, and now that we’re getting back in person, do it for a variety of reasons. One, it will energize you. I assure you, it will make you feel excited about your job. It will also make you feel not alone if you’re feeling overwhelmed, because there are so many others out there and you can find solutions and you can just have really nice candid conversations with people. And that’s one of the best places to do it.
And then finally, again as hokey as this sounds, you’re all rock stars and you bring so much to an organization. That’s why I think this is home for me because I don’t feel important, but I feel the work I’m doing is important every single day. And it’s all about confidence.
I’m happy to connect with anyone on LinkedIn who’s listening if we aren’t already connected. And I’m always happy to be that quick message away to say, they’re asking me to do this, but I’m already doing these 50 things. It’s okay. Feel free to do that and go forth and continue to conquer because this industry is not going anywhere.
Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.