Transcript: The Importance of Leading With The Relationship Instead of The Ask with Jeanne Talbot

On this episode, we were joined by Jeanne Talbot, a customer marketing and communications leader that has worked at companies like CloudBees, Lexmark International and Intel. She has a unique perspective due to her background in PR and customer marketing and came on the show to share some creative ways to build relationships that can take advocacy professionals higher into their customer organizations. We talk about how she was able to engage with companies like Fidelity and FedEx, leading with the relationship instead of the ask, and the power of listening to learn instead of listening to respond. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Jeanne. 

Margot Leong: Jeanne, I am so excited to have you join us on the podcast today. Thank you so much for coming on. 

Jeanne Talbot: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. All my friends and family call me Jeanie, so feel free to call me Jeanie. 

Margot Leong: So Jeanie, I’d love for us to get started with talking about your background and a little bit about your journey into customer marketing and the roles that you’re in now.

Jeanne Talbot: My background is in journalism and growing up, I always thought I was going to be a reporter. Until I got in the newsroom, and I hated it. I hated the newsroom. I loved to write. I loved interviewing people and telling stories, but the newsroom was not a good place for me.

And so a professor said, Hey, why don’t you try PR? Why don’t you pursue PR? And I got an internship and then started my career after graduation in the PR space, first for agencies and then on the corporate side. So I did PR for Microsoft for several years. I led PR for Microsoft Office and then in-house at Intel for their network products division, which no longer exists actually.

And then after that, I went on to Lexmark, which at the time was a Fortune 500 company and led PR for their B2B division. Many people are familiar with Lexmark as an inkjet printer company, but some don’t know that Lexmark sells to enterprises as well. I did PR for many years working with reporters and other PR professionals telling the story, building corporate messaging, and several years later, through my PR experience, realized that one of the things missing from our PR strategy was the customer voice and the customer story. 

We continually banged our head against the wall looking for customers to talk to reporters, to have interviews. I said to the general manager one day, Bruce, we need to build a customer advocacy, customer marketing program.

And he said, Go build it, Jeanie. And so I did. I built that program, grew it, scaled it, and managed it for about 12 years at Lexmark, and then went on to CloudBees and did the same thing. And then beyond that, for the last two years, I’ve been leading corporate communications at CloudBees. And so that intersection between corporate communications and customer marketing really lends itself well to a cohesive storytelling approach.

Margot Leong: You said earlier on that you realized that one of the things missing from that PR strategy was the customer voice and the customer story. In your previous experience before you were like, maybe we should think about doing this. How did you as a PR professional think about including customers into stories? Was that a given that we must think this way? Or was it more it was a little early, like it wasn’t as common to think about integrating customers in to that sort of narrative storytelling via comms. 

Jeanne Talbot: You’re exactly right. It was really early and nobody thought it was their job. It was in no one’s job description. And so there was this who, who should be doing that? We know we need it, but who’s gonna go do that? And I think there was also this line in the sand where marketing doesn’t cross the line into sales or into customer success, or into the customer. And that is something that has truly been transformed in the last few years as customer marketing has really come into its own and becoming seen as a strategic part of B2B software companies go to market strategy.

This was 2004, 2005. Customer marketing didn’t exist as a word, as a profession, as a career, and it was more about customer references, and so I really just started building stories, right? Started connecting through sales, building relationships, and then getting introductions to customers directly. And I had a real advantage because I had already been at Lexmark for a really long time. I had built a trusting relationship with many folks across the company, and they trusted me to have conversations with their customers.

And what ended up happening is that trust that I’m sure many of your listeners know very well, is that as you build those trusting relationships, sales and customer success quickly learn what an advantage having customer marketing engaged can truly be. 

Margot Leong: One thing that I’d love to get your thoughts on is the core of customer marketing, right, is, at the end of the day, still around the long term building of trusted customer relationships. Basically there’s you on one end and then there’s the customer at the other end. Part of your job is to close the gap between them thinking about you as I pay them money, they are my vendor, or something like that. And moving into trusted friend, partner. 

Do you feel as though the core ingredients of getting on the phone, understanding what the customer needs and how can we constantly think about utilizing our resources to turn this into a win-win for whatever they’re trying to achieve? Professional, personal life, whatever. Do you feel as though that’s still very core? Or have you also noticed that evolve over time over the years?

Jeanne Talbot: I like to think of it as a triangle with the customer in the middle in that you’ve got sales, marketing and customer marketing around the edges of that triangle. And what is so exciting is that the customer is in the middle, and I try every single day to make sure that I remember always that I am not in the center of that triangle. The customer is in the center of that triangle. 

And if you can come to everything you do with that point of view, the conversation with the customer is organic and natural, because you’re talking about what’s in it for them, what’s valuable to them versus what’s in it for us. And that’s something that I see a lot of folks coming into the customer marketing profession that think of it as favors or a checklist or tasks to ask of the customer. 

And if you’re defaulting to that, you’re missing the goldmine, if you will, of the relationship. Because we know many of our companies and the research bears this out, that most of company revenue is going to come from existing customers, not from acquiring new ones. And so if we stay focused on what’s in it for that individual customer, that’s when we win, that’s when it is a mutual engagement. 

Let me give you an example. So at CloudBees, one of our major customers is Fidelity. And Fidelity is known in our industry for not engaging in these types of activities with companies. They’re very protective of their brand and they’re much more conservative than perhaps a lot of companies. But over time, what I learned by asking questions is that the very biggest challenge that the company was having from a software perspective, an engineering point of view, was hiring and recruiting engineering talent.

And so once I learned that, I was able to convert that into the conversation that I was having with the Fidelity executive team and ask them for an introduction to their PR organization. And so suddenly I’m talking to PR, not to an engineering manager or developer or whoever your client or customer might be, but having a peer-to-peer conversation with PR about what are your corporate goals and how can I help you achieve those?

What was in it for Fidelity was getting their brand front and center for driving and recruiting engineering talent. And by us helping them and delivering or bringing to them very strategic media interview opportunities, they were getting visibility they couldn’t get on their own, and we were going up the ladder in terms of seniority and leadership within Fidelity to strengthen our overall relationship with Fidelity.

When we looked at the data, I can’t share specifics, but revenue was increasing dramatically with that account. And they were renewing more consistently with us, buying more new products and actually serving as design partners on a new product that has yet to be announced. So you can see that the engagement, when you ask sincere, authentic questions, that relationship can be mutually valuable, and extend well beyond any task that you might ask or a favor. 

Margot Leong: That brings hope to everybody’s ears where you look at all the different logos and you’re often hearing, Okay, this company never does anything, right? These companies are off limits. Don’t even try. And so, you’re proof, right? This is possible if you try to approach it in a way that is truly a win-win. And so of course some companies are just never open at all, like ever and so understanding that the reality of the situation, but also thinking about what is the value, not only for, the champion but also the value for the company, I think is a really interesting conversation. 

Jeanne Talbot: I was gonna say, when that happens, start small. FedEx is another company that is really tough to engage with. I know some of my peers probably listening to this call have cracked that, and I’ll learn from them someday. 

But with FedEx I had to start really small and it perhaps wasn’t small, but I started internal. So I invited FedEx to speak at our sales kickoff, internal only. No recording, no outside individuals there to listen, but what was in it for them was they felt they would get, and they did, access to our leadership in one place at one time to talk about some of the challenges they were having, some of the product roadmap things that they wanted to see down the road, and an opportunity actually to celebrate the FedEx account team at CloudBees. They really wanted to say thank you to that group on stage in front of them. And so those things were really meaningful to them. 

Margot Leong: It’s interesting, right? Obviously not all companies are the same in terms of their motivations, right? There are so many factors to consider around size of company, how they’re being perceived in the media, if they’re having issues recruiting, all these things. 

One of the questions I have is, number one is how do you get the intelligence on what the company would like, right? How you can work those levers. And number two, is it also a matter of doing your own sort of general research of, okay, I can understand why, for example, Fidelity is having a hard time recruiting. You have at a certain level of company or type of company, there are ones that are very sexy and trendy for millennial types, Gen Z or whatever to want to work at. And there are ones that are maybe less so at this current stage.

So I’m also wondering what level of it is also hunch as to you know, what would resonate, right? So how do you kind of do that fact finding, that intelligence gathering?

Jeanne Talbot: I’ve seen articles and memes about this, but we often listen to talk or listen to respond versus listen to learn. And when we think about the customer at the center, when we’re having conversations with our customers, ask ourselves, are we listening to respond or are we listening to learn? And if we’re listening to learn, we really are gonna learn a lot. So when you’re talking to your customers, what are you hearing from them?

Also, your account teams. Ask them authentic deep questions. Don’t just be asking them, how do I get into your account? What can I ask them to do? Embed yourself in the account team and in the account plan, in the account strategy. Attend the QBRs where you’re hearing what the challenges and opportunities are in those accounts. That’s really gonna give you insight. 

When I got into the PR organization at Fidelity, I had a bit of an advantage because I speak PR, , I speak that very unique language. So not everybody does, but I was able to have the conversation with her. And the thing that I said to her that she actually told me recently that she’ll never forget was, I will protect your brand as if it’s my own.

And there was something about me saying that to her that dropped her guard and she had to trust that was the case. And then I proved it again and again because oftentimes as customer marketers, we’re thinking about again, what’s in it for us and what’s in it for our brand, but what’s in it for their brand and why would they say no?

The reason they would say no to something is risk. Not because they’re jerks or they don’t wanna be helpful, but it’s risk. So how can you reduce the risk for them by making it safe to truly engage with you in a way that’s going to bring mutual value. 

Margot Leong: I’m curious, what are recommendations that you have for us in terms of speaking PR? 

Jeanne Talbot: If you don’t already speak PR, don’t fake it. I’ll just say that. A PR person, especially at a major brand, will see right through that. But what you can do is most customer marketers will have a corresponding PR person in their company. Bring that person along and teach them how to speak customer marketing and and then put together your PR person with their PR person.

So in terms of speaking PR, there’s a common pitfall that I see customer marketers fall into sometimes when there’s a media opportunity. Some customer marketers haven’t had exposure to PR and they may not see this trip up coming. 

So when a customer does a media interview with a reporter, you don’t know for sure that the customer is gonna be quoted or profiled in that story. A reporter may collect multiple interviews to really shape out their story, but there’s no guarantee that your customer is going to get profiled. So a key responsibility as customer marketers is to prep our customers really well when there’s a media interview.

So bring your PR person or your PR agency on board to help you do that and make sure your customer knows you might not be included. That could happen. So that if that does happen, no one is surprised on the other side. 

Margot Leong: The report is trying to get sort of the validation that they need to run a specific story. They’re trying to talk to a lot of sources, right? And they unfortunately cannot shoehorn in every source, just for the validation of said customer, right? To have their name in the paper. So I think understanding the reality of the situation.

You and I talked about this in our pre-call is not just thinking about it as, Hey, this is like a one off opportunity, more thinking about it as, okay, the long term roadmap for how we want to think about this partnership together from a company perspective, PR people to PR people. And so then it’s a lot more understandable and easy, right, when you know, maybe there’s a PR opportunity, but it doesn’t necessarily come to fruition. And you all understand that’s just sort of part of the larger roadmap. And there will be more things that will come in the future where we will promote each other. 

If you had suggestions on getting tactical with it, you talked about, okay once I get the opportunity to connect with their PR person, then how do you go into that first conversation? How do you prepare for that first call when they’re like, maybe they have no idea who you are, , and you want to win them over to your side and really showcase what the power is that we can sort of do together. 

Jeanne Talbot: So one trick is get introduced to the PR person before there’s an opportunity so that you can establish that rapport and that trust with them, such that when an opportunity comes, you can respond that much faster because you’ve already established that trust and you’ve already established that PR person is open to hearing from you.

So that isn’t always time available to you, but if you maybe take your top 10 advocates, their companies, maybe even top five or top three, and see if you can get introduced to their PR organization or look at a press release from that company and give a phone call, introduce yourself and explain how their company is using your software or your product. Now, you might get a cold response, but keep trying. Try other people and then see if you can build that relationship first before you have that opportunity. Again, lead with the relationship, not with the task or the ask. I think you’ll find that the conversation might go a little more easily or again, have your PR person have that conversation, make that introduction. 

Margot Leong: Did you ever have the experience where you were on that comms side and then you had someone reach out to you from another company to do the same thing. Did you have that experience as well? 

Jeanne Talbot: All the time and the difference between yes and no goes back to something I said earlier, which is opportunity and risk. So what is the scope of the opportunity? What’s in it for my company and how high is the risk? And you know sometimes the deadline, how quickly does this have to be turned around? So a couple of factors there to think about as you’re approaching another company’s PR organization. 

Margot Leong: Maybe there’s a framework for how to think about this too, right? So for example, if you are a smaller startup, right, trying to work with more of a larger enterprise type customer, a larger name. What are the things that you have at your disposal to try and get them excited about potentially working with them? 

Jeanne Talbot: If you’re a smaller startup, you might not wanna pick up the phone necessarily and call Bank of America right off the bat. You might want to have some practice, right? And so maybe you pick a company that’s of equal size or one that’s in a a smaller industry of yours, maybe there’s a segment that you’re trying to grow in. So sometimes practice makes perfect, right? So you can start small, start with a smaller brand, and get a little swagger and then work your way. 

Margot Leong: You can think about it as like equal and then a level up and then like another level up, another level up, right? The thing is as you start to accumulate more logos, more stories from companies that keep going a level up, right? It’s easier then for them to look at who you’ve worked with in the past Keep moving up a level from there versus just trying to go only after the big fish. 

Jeanne Talbot: That’s right. And I also think it depends on the opportunity that’s coming from your PR organization. If your PR team comes and they hand you on your desk an opportunity with CIO Magazine, go for it. If it’s a fit for one of your customers, why not? Why not reach out to your top three companies and try to work an angle through the PR organization. If it’s a smaller publication, maybe you do the same, but maybe you tier your approach based on industry or product or company size, segment.

But always think about your personas, right? Your advocate personas. Laura Ramos did a piece when at SiriusDecisions, now Forrester, that talked about the personas of advocates and if you haven’t seen that, take a look at her blog about that. But think about advocates who you think have career aspirations around their name and themselves as thought leaders or someone who you have a sense wants to get promoted or jump to a new company. Those are typically the types of professionals who are going to want to be in the public spotlight. 

You know, I learned an interesting fact recently. I was talking to a customer who was now a distinguished architect at his company. I never realized this, but in the engineering world, there are very defined levels. Things that you have to accomplish and achieve in order to get to the next level and they’re very well documented. He was explaining to me that to be a distinguished architect, he had to do certain things in terms of publishing blogs, speaking engagements, media interviews, and it really surprised me that these were things that engineering leaders needed to be able to do. And that the company, this particular company was Fortune 20, that they not only encouraged it, it was required. 

So if some of your advocates are in the engineering space, keep that in mind. If you’ve got very technical engineering talent, they may be actually seeking these kind of opportunities out as part of their career growth. 

Margot Leong: This is really a game of understanding motivations and incentives at the end of the day. 

But I do think that a lot of times from my understanding is that, customer marketing, we are under the gun a lot or that we have last minute timelines, right? It’s like, hey, in a week I need this speaker. So can you go make this one off ask and I need it now and it sort of runs counter to this idea of build that relationship first. Then of course you’re forced into this more shorter term mentality. 

Jeanne Talbot: We could talk another whole hour about your question about short turnaround timeline, I need a speaker in a week. That is an opportunity to say no and I really want to encourage those listening to really focus on alignment across your organization and priorities and set your SLAs, your turnaround times, very clearly and collaboratively, and document those. Asking for a speaker in one week is absolutely unreasonable. 

And if you deliver on it, they’re going to keep asking you to jump hurdles that are unreasonable and your program is gonna continue to become more and more reactive and transactional. Rewind, align and set your priorities together with your stakeholders and agree on those SLAs. 

Also around the incentives, my experience is, yeah, there are some folks that want stuff. They want swag, they want a bottle of wine. They want points for this or points for that. There is a market for that in customer marketing. What I found more at very senior levels in engaging with advocates, that’s not what they. They want access. They want influence of the product roadmap, and if you want to give them something, give them a non-profit donation to an organization that is meaningful to them, not the organization that’s meaningful to your company.

Again, listening and asking questions. What organization is important to you? This happened with an executive that I had been working with and he had a family member who died, but from suicide. And that was very meaningful to him and was very important to him personally, and that’s where the donation went. And he will never forget that. He will never forget that. 

Margot Leong: It’s that whole thing you talked about in the beginning, which is listen to learn versus listening to respond. The kinds of people that customer marketing tends to attract are just naturally extremely empathetic. That can be a superpower, right? People will do so much for you if you take the time to truly understand where they’re coming from.

I really like what you said about protecting your customers at the end of the day, right? Protecting those relationships by not succumbing to short term asks. We’ve all been in those situations, I certainly have. Where you want to please people and you wanna set the reputation that you can deliver. And it feels really good to deliver like a customer last minute, it’s also digging away at that existing relationship when really you’re trying to always think about that win-win.

Jeanne Talbot: Many people listening to this call will have to manage up and get that support from your leadership. But it’s also quality. So remind people that, I could get you a speaker probably. But are we gonna execute well? Is that experience for the customer and for us at that event going to be a good one? Will it reflect well? Will it be aligned with exactly what we want to talk about? Probably not. Probably not. And could we burn that bridge for another opportunity?

Maybe. Probably. And what else falls off the list? If I prioritize this now, there’s four other things that the business has told me are priorities. And those need to come first. 

Margot Leong: There’s a way to get ahead of some of these things as well. For example if we’re talking about securing customers for events, right? Usually events are mapped out quite a bit in advance. 

 Sometimes the person running the event or the growth marketer in charge of handling that may not remember to pull you in closer, but usually these things are mapped out pretty far in advance because you have to secure the contracts and the payments and all that stuff. So they’ve started thinking about it. 

If you’re able to start looking six months out, a year out as to what do we have coming up, if we need a speaker for this, what would be ideal for you guys, right? . Framing in that way as well, so that you become more of a partner versus I secure customers for you. 

Jeanne Talbot: Another suggestion is if you have to say no to something, what can you suggest to them instead? Now, a speaker. What I have said in the past is No, I can’t get you a customer speaker in a week. But what I can do is work with our analyst relations person to see if we can get you an analyst.

Now there’s a fee attached to that, however, that may be an opportunity there. Or a similar approach could be a book author, someone in the region that is based where that event is happening. Again, these have price tags to them, but they’re important things for event marketers in this example to understand that if you’re gonna wait till a week before the event, there are cost implications.

Margot Leong: We covered a lot of really good stuff here. I’m curious if there’s anything else that we have not touched upon that you wanted to cover for this conversation.

Jeanne Talbot: The thing I’ll say in closing is, as customer marketers, sometimes we think we’re alone in our own little worlds and that other people don’t understand what we do, how we do it, and I think that our counterparts in other departments often feel the same way. PR folks, analyst relations. So reach out to them and learn about what it is that they do, why they do it, and why they need customer references and advocates for their programs to be successful. So learn about them and in return, they’ll learn about you. 

Margot Leong: It’s the same exercise as you talking to a customer, really, to just try and understand more about how they think, what their motivations are, how you can help them. You’re just applying that internally and cross-functional influence, cross-functional bridge building is such a big part of this role, and it sounds like a lot of it just starts with something very simple, which is let me reach across departments to really just understand what you’re working on and maybe how we can collaborate in the future. So setting that we’re equal partners on this and that we can help each other out. 

Jeanne Talbot: This is a great conversation. Thanks for the opportunity. 

Margot Leong: Thank you so much for coming on, Jeanie. If people wanna connect with you, pick your brain on some things, what’s the best place for them to reach you?

Jeanne Talbot: Definitely through LinkedIn. Start there. DM me and I would love to connect with everyone listening. 

Margot Leong: 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, 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 Take care, everybody. 



Related Posts