Transcript: Boosting Community Engagement and Moving From Sales to Customer Marketing with Sepideh Pairawan

On this episode, I was joined by Pida Pairawan, Customer Marketing Manager at Prior to that, she was the Customer Marketing and Community Manager at Rubrik for several years. We talked about how she was able to increase annual engagement in their customer community to 65%, hitting the ground running in customer advocacy as a former SDR with no marketing background, and her advice for newcomers to the profession. If you’re someone who’s interested in switching into customer marketing or just getting started in the role, this episode is for you. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Pida. 

Margot Leong: Hey Pida, thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Pida Pairawan: Thanks for having me on. I’m really appreciative and I’m really excited actually to have this conversation with you. 

Margot Leong: First off, of course we always ask if you could start off by introducing yourself, would love to know a little bit about your background and how you ended up in customer marketing and advocacy.

A little bit of context for the listeners and part of the reason I’m really excited to have Pida on is that you actually were part of my team at Rubrik when I was leading customer marketing there. And yeah, so it’s like a fun colliding of the two worlds.

Pida Pairawan: Sure. I’m Pida, as Margot mentioned. I’ve been now with Rubrik for four years and I literally just left my job a week ago. A little bit about my background and how I ended up in customer marketing, I was actually a STEM major back in college that fell in love with business through an internship that I ended up doing really well in. And that kind of paved my path into the corporate tech world where I found my love essentially. 

I started off as an SDR in tech sales. I got to know that world really well until I was introduced to customer marketing by Margot and actually by another contact, someone in my network. And so that’s how I ended up being in that department and in that industry of customer marketing. I had no idea what the role entailed or what that industry even looked like before that, so that was my first exposure. Now it’s been four years and here we are. 

Margot Leong: You and I were together for about six months and then I ended up moving to another company. I can’t believe that you’ve been in this space for four years already. What’s really interesting right, is that you’d never heard about customer marketing until you heard about this role. So I’m curious what was interesting or intriguing to you about it coming from your role as an SDR, why were you also interested in making that jump? 

Pida Pairawan: I had previously just known customers and prospects from the side that customer marketing does not know. So I’ve always been in a position where I always had some sort of pressure behind having to build the relationship, whether that was to set a meeting or whether that was to solve a problem with these people that I interacted with. 

But I remember being really fascinated by the fact that customer marketing just dealt with the other side of customers than I was used to, and that was the happy side of the customers.

When I learned about customer marketing, it looked like a shiny beacon of light in the land of happiness. And the more I just explored about the industry and the more I learned about the type of work we do and there’s no pressure behind having to do something specifically in order to have that relationship with the customer, the more intrigued I became with it and then, just being in the space and after taking that leap, it just ended up being essentially a really good fit for me specifically. I think it tailored really to my personality and my social battery too. 

It ended up being a really good fit, but I know it’s like a little incognito industry out there that’s becoming more popular over the years, so happy to see other people also explore this industry as they continue to grow in their careers. 

Margot Leong: That’s a really interesting point that you bring up, right, is that it doesn’t feel quite so transactional. On the sales side, being an SDR, the reason you’re interfacing with customers in the first place is usually to chase them down to talk to you. And that’s the basis. Naturally already there’s a little bit of tension there, right? There’s naturally something there.

If you’re in sales, right? We did have some amazing reps at Rubrik that really tried to take over the mantle of customer success because we didn’t really have customer success in a traditional sense. They tried to take both sides, but I think a lot of reps also did the thing where they did not check in with the customer until three months prior. 

It gives you this ability, you’re able to build this pretty deep relationship with customers because you are also showcasing them. It’s kind of a win-win for both parties, but I felt like the relationships that we built were really deep with some of these users. 

Pida Pairawan: And I think that the whole point about us even being able to build this relationship, like with the nature of our job, since we specifically dealt a lot with customer advocacy, which isn’t driving renewals. It’s more about Hey, let’s amplify your story. Let’s get you in the limelight.

Let’s just give you the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. And oftentimes we just become relationship managers. We become the customers, their POC essentially, into, say for example, Rubrik here. It’s nice to be on that side where the customer feels comfortable with you to say yes or no to these opportunities and where we don’t feel like we need to pressure them to do something like that.

So if they say no, it’s okay. Maybe we’ll touch back on this conversation later, but no pressure at the end of the day. And that’s the thing, as customer marketers, I know it’s our job to be that relationship manager and we can’t have that with every single customer out there. But with the few that we are able to make this relationship with, it’s going to be strong and authentic and you essentially become more friends than marketers for them at the end of the day.

Margot Leong: That was definitely my favorite part of the role is that element of human connection that you develop with these customers. If we can back up a little bit, if you could share about some of the main projects or initiatives that you worked on during your time at Rubrik, I’d love to hear about that and if there’s also any projects that you are the most proud of and why. 

Pida Pairawan: I think I wore a ton of different hats. I started off as a specialist running the sales reference program and doing a lot of general admin tasks to keep the upkeep of our department going. But it eventually evolved into writing a ton of case studies and expanding the global reach that we had with our case studies, so developing them into native languages in different regions. 

I also had the opportunity, like I mentioned, just getting customers into the limelight through speaking opportunities. That was really cool. As well as just driving any brand recognition for the company through third party reviews. And what I eventually ended up settling down on, which was the full-time management of our customer community, the Guardians. 

There’s a lot of larger projects I’m really proud of. But I think it all boils down for me to my need and want to basically improve the processes that we have. And that’s the common theme amongst all the projects that I’ve done is that I want to improve them. I want to make it easier for the rest of the company to interact with our programs that we set for them. I think I’m just most proud of my ability to be able to creatively, technically connect the dots in places that previously weren’t connected and being able to just work cross-functionally with a lot of teams to make these things happen in the name of doing things more efficiently and not being afraid to get my hands dirty to do the work that needs to be done at the end of the day. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely, which I think is a really important skill to have. We had the Influitive community, the Rubrik Guardians community, as we called it, which you also ended up taking over eventually as well.

And it would be really interesting to actually understand a bit more about how you thought about some of those processes or made some of those things more efficient. Because running a community in and of itself is a lot of work. And then of course to also think on top of it, how do I nurture and develop this community in addition to how to actually make things overall better, streamline things, save more time. 

Pida Pairawan: Besides just the community and being in the moment and learning and just applying myself and again, like getting my hands dirty, I do find that actually going to industry specific conferences and being in an environment where you’re learning about these different topics from other people doing it, that’s one of the best tools that I’ve been able to adopt into my community. So I’ve learned a lot by going to our vendor and learning from them specifically. 

But a little bit about my experience with the Guardians, had a great time with them for starters. Some of my best times at Rubrik has just genuinely been working and developing the relationships with the Guardians.

I actually took over this customer community at the end of 2020, I believe, and I became the full-time manager in 2022. It has, by all means, been a journey of learning. I didn’t come into this space with any background or knowledge on how to run a community. I was very green. 

And I was basically only armed with my ability to build relationships. I had those soft skills in my back pockets. So being able to just drive engagement, do all those tactical different aspects, it was through a lot of trial and error. So a lot of working with my CSMs and learning on the fly, but I’m proud of what I’ve developed it into, what it is today.

And for me, the engagement really came down to three things that I really tried to be very intentional about. And one of those tactical pieces was to consistently just provide value through any relevant and needed content that these users wanted to see. If they’re not consuming what they want from your hub, then they’re probably not going to come back. They’re coming in there for a reason. If they’re not finding it, they’re not gonna come back, because it’s not tailored to them.

So for some people that could be anything from educational pieces. For others, it’s industry news or for the last group, it’s usually fun material that gives them a coffee break, but just making sure that you’re consistent and habitually providing that value to them creates a pattern and people lean into patterns. It’s comfortable for them. 

 The second thing I really try to make sure I honed in on was to give these customers an area to really network and get to know each other. They’re not in this hub specifically for me as much as I’d like to say. They’re definitely there to hear from other users of the product to learn essentially what they’re doing and seeing if they can take what they’re doing and applying it to their own environment, so their own work streams or whatever the case is. 

Specifically for Rubrik, we’re dealing a lot with IT professionals. Sometimes these folks need to be encouraged a little bit to have these interactions and discussions with other customers. But the end result is always a positive one and a helpful one and people always enjoy that networking aspect that we really try to provide within our community. 

And then the last thing that I live and die by, it’s to keep a clean house. And this is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. But what I mean by this is essentially keeping your user list and your hub active with current members. No community manager likes to see their total number go down, but this essentially entails running those campaigns where you actively try to reengage folks that have been inactive for X amount of years or X amount of time, and very directly just ask them if they want to delete or keep their account.

Some people might be like, Ooh, I don’t wanna do that. I might not feel really good about that approach, but if they’re not gonna come back in there anyways, what’s the point of keeping them around? You’ll see that also by doing a campaign like this, a ton of people have already left the company they’re with. So they’re just dud numbers. They’re never gonna come in, they’re just gonna inflate your total number in a sense. 

But on the flip side, by nudging someone or by reminding someone that you exist, you could actually be really successful and see a ton of people log in and engage with you just because of that.

And so for me, some of the results that I ended up seeing from these reengagement campaigns is I actually saw our annual engagement jump somewhere from around about 25 percentish to. 60 plus percent overall annual engagement for our community, just from doing a single re-engagement campaign.

Margot Leong: For people that are unfamiliar, right? Let’s say that you have a community of advocates. How we calculate the engagement rate is you have x amount of people in the community and the engagement rate is how many people “engage” in that community, let’s say, per week. And it’s by X amount of activities that they do in order to qualify to hit that rate. 

We were hitting, as you said, 25 to 30% around the time that, that I was there. And I was already hearing that that was crazy good. You’re saying that it jumped to 60%. That’s massive. Was that a result of also culling some of the members that were no longer at those jobs, right, were dead accounts? Would also love to hear about what was the re-engagement campaign that you did to get people back in and re-engaged. 

Pida Pairawan: You’re totally right. It was a combination of the two. So it was a combination of removing people that one, had left their company, and two, people that directly told me, no, I don’t wanna keep my account with your community. I’m gonna respect their wishes. I’m gonna take them out. 

But again, I’m not sending the message of keep your account or delete your account to current and existing members or people that are active. I sent that message to folks that had been inactive for one plus years so it could be people that were inactive for one to five years. So at that point, their engagement number or their activity wasn’t even counted in my number. So it wasn’t like I’m gonna miss something by removing them in that sense. 

The only number they really did impact was the total number of users. Reengaging them and deleting their number and culling it definitely helped increase our engagement number, but that’s just because now it’s accurate, essentially.

So if we previously had 2000 members and we brought it down to 1000 members, like yes, that’s gonna look drastically different in your engagement number, but that’s 1000 members that have expressed yes, they’re going to stay in your community and also have been active within the last year.

To click down into the reengagement campaign, I divided it into three buckets. I created my own little marketing campaign and messaging, I put most of the people in the third bucket, which was, you’ve been inactive for one to five years. And so I did that approach where I was like, thank you so much for being a member.

I’m reaching out in terms of tailoring more towards our current and engaged members. And I wanted to give you the opportunity within the next 30 days to let me know if you would like to keep or delete your account within the Guardians since you’ve already been inactive for so long. And then going down with a little quick benefits statement in case they’d forgotten about the Guardians. And then the CTA was like, if you join today or if you come back, we’ll give you a hundred extra points, or whatever the case was. Just like a smaller incentive to come back. 

The second bucket was folks that had been inactive for less than a year that had previously engaged, but then somehow just dropped off the face of the earth, quite honestly, and I wanted to make sure I got them back in. So the messaging was similar, but just a little kinder like, hey, you’ve been inactive for a little while. What’s going on? Is there anything I can help you with? If you would like to delete your account, just let me know, but would like for you to keep your account.

And then the first bucket was just the folks that had been inactive for a short while, and it was just, Hey, how are you? Hope to see you back in the community soon. Hope everything is okay. That was super simple, super straightforward, and I mass emailed this actually to people and I put everyone on BCC. I found so many people had left the company and they were just sitting there, inactive users in my community hub, just doing nothing essentially. 

So it’s only in the community manager’s best interest to make sure that their hub is hosting active members. 

Margot Leong: A general theme here is you coming in, from sales, you didn’t have any marketing experience really, joining the company. I think you’ve done a lot of different things from writing case studies to sort of figuring out how to manage the community. There’s a lot of skills that you had from your previous experience that could apply. And then there’s other things that you had to learn while at the company, learning on the job, right?

 Some of this audience is probably interested. Maybe they’re in another type of role, whether it is sales or whether it is customer success. They’re interested in maybe transitioning into customer marketing. They like what this job sounds like. 

What were the skills that you felt really helped you hit the ground running, and what skills did you find a bit more challenging or that you had to develop over time? 

Pida Pairawan: I think the conversation really boils down to soft versus hard skills. I think a lot of people pick up the soft skills and the hard skills from any role they take, but the only skill that’s really transferable when you’re moving between industries are the soft skills. So coming in from a background in sales, you become just really good at developing really strong soft skills. 

The whole role is based on soft skills. That’s anything from communication to listening to learning how to build proper relationships from the beginning. The skills I had to develop over time as a customer marketer though were the hard skills to be essentially successful, and those were things like writing, managing an agency, anything from community management. Those are all the examples that I had to essentially pick up on the role. 

I know it’s daunting coming into a new role, but you’re hired for a reason: to solve a problem. You know that you’re coming into this role because it’s the next step of your evolution. It’s the next step for you to learn. So regardless of if you have the hard skills or not, when you’re coming into the space completely green, just lean back on your soft skills and just know it’s gonna be a journey. You’re just gonna go from there and you will pick up whatever hard skills you need to as you go.

But yeah, no, I came in with the soft skills and that’s what I lean back on and things just fell in place, the more I kept chipping at it. 

Margot Leong: I remember, specifically, right is that when you came in, you had to start writing, working on case studies, putting together a story outline. I remember working with you on that. Some of these things are not easy to do if you have never done them before. Was there anything in particular that helped you with some of these elements, whether it was talking to other customer marketers or reading books or resources? Anything else that sort of helped you in the development of some of these more technical things that you had to learn in order to be better at the job?

Pida Pairawan: My advice for anyone listening who is going to be new in this space and just being in situations where you’re gonna have to be challenged, it’s just to be in a learning mindset. For me, I knew the skillsets I had and I also understood very quickly what I had to develop.

And you are right. I was humbled so many times when I started my role because you as my manager, you just had to make sure that my skills were up to par at our company’s level and my writing levels had to reflect the voice that Rubrik already had in their case studies. And so yeah, it wasn’t fun to see all the edit suggestions in a Google doc. I absolutely knew though that those edits had to happen to help me be a better professional. So anyone coming into this, I think there’s no proper way to prepare yourself for this besides just being in a learning mindset.

Just know that this space is going to be new. You’re going to have to learn, observe, and you’re starting fresh. It’s okay to get bombarded. You’re gonna feel like you have imposter syndrome. But just know that at the end of the day, good skills are essentially just good habits that have been formed.

And if you keep doing the same thing over and over again with even the tiniest bit of improvement, at the end of day, it’s just gonna become a good skill. It’s gonna be something that’s a good muscle that you can flex. 

Margot Leong: The growth that I saw as well, even in the time that we worked together from the beginning to six months later was pretty impressive. I think a lot of that is related to that learning mindset. That growth mindset is also just being open to taking feedback. And that’s something that me, as a manager, I was so proud of. 

Pida Pairawan: Thanks. I think it’s also down to attitude. I think You can have the best mindset, but if your attitude’s crap, then it’s just gonna make it harder for yourself. So while you are being bombarded with new information and like you are doubting your own skillsets, practicing what Ted Lasso always says, and he says, be a goldfish.

So learning how to have the right attitude and just not necessarily forgetting what just happened, but understanding that it needed to happen for you to grow. And at the end of the day, like having a right attitude, that’s just gonna be your job. And that advice is always gonna be there just to be able to help you.

So if you have a positive attitude, if you want to learn the work that’s ahead of you, just get your hands dirty, get into it. Be a mechanic. Do what you need to do to learn the skills so that later on you can stand on your own stable foundation when you’re moving forward.

Margot Leong: Something that I was particularly interested in when we brought you onto the team was that ability to connect with people at all levels, whether it’s in Rubrik, right? It’s a very specific audience that we work with. A lot of it is directly with backup admins in IT or security people on the IT side. They have certain types of personalities. And learning how to be able to get along with all types of people is really important. 

 I just remember that we were at one of our earliest events when you had joined. There was an event that Elena had put together for some members of the Guardians. I was looking over and I was like, wow. Pida’s able to just talk to everyone and really have engaging conversations with them. And I think I was very impressed by that and that you were able to do that so early, and yeah, it was just that ability to talk to anyone. I was just like, whoa. 

Pida Pairawan: Yeah, I was, what I like to say, kicking it with two fellows from a specific government agency that I’m not allowed to mention. I found that we had things in common and I think I’m naturally very curious. And when I speak to people that are from a different industry than I’m used to or that deal with different products, I show genuine interest because I want to know what that world is like. And it always helps to be able to know how to have these conversation and build that rapport and go from there with these folks. But yeah, those were a lot of fun. I do remember that interaction.

Margot Leong: Something else that I was curious about as well is that you have also been working on developing your personal brand as a customer marketer. You’ve been nominated for the CMA awards. You’ve spoken at events like Influitive Live and the Customer Marketing Summit.

It’s a conscious choice to decide to do that. It’s not something that I think I invested a lot of time in basically prior to starting the podcast, and I’ve shared a little bit of my struggles with that on the show.

I’m curious, especially being a little bit more early in your career, why you decided to make that decision to do this and a little bit about how you were able to get on the radar, secure those opportunities, for people that are interested.

Pida Pairawan: Yeah, I can’t tell you exactly why I say yes to all these daunting opportunities that come at me to speak in front of strangers. But I can definitely tell you that every time I do it, it feels extremely validating to me in the sense that, hey, maybe I know a thing or two now about the stuff that I’m doing that I can share with these people.

So I’ve just learned that when an opportunity comes knocking, I’m gonna just go with it because it’s there for a reason. I do know that also the topic of personal brand can go in so many directions. People care about it. People don’t care about it. All I know is that my personal brand is how my coworkers and this industry will know me by.

And what I put out in the world is what people are going to consume about me specifically so ignoring or shying away from your personal brand is only really gonna affect yourself. If you are someone that’s incognito, under the radar when an opportunity comes, chances are you’re probably not gonna get it, because people don’t know you exist or people don’t know your work exists.

And so this is just putting my work and my effort into the world and I’m not doing it very proactively, it’s usually pretty reactive because opportunities come to me, so I just go with the flow. Otherwise, I’d like to stay in my shell too. I don’t always wanna go up on stage.

But I’d say the way I’ve been able to secure these opportunities is I just have a philosophy of always try to keep friendly and involved relationships with any vendor I work with and any of my CSMs. By doing so, I think you’re naturally just gonna be thought of as an option for topics since they know you and the value that you could bring on that topic and it has worked out so far. 

Margot Leong: I’m probably guilty in the past of basically not going above and beyond or out of my way to work with them all the time. That’s a very thoughtful way of doing that. These vendors, they see the space, they have an idea of the trends, they see a ton of instances of the same type of thing that you’re trying to do. They have a lot of knowledge that you can pick their brains, and I think that’s a really good point. 

But I also think that’s something that you can do, right, is if you are specifically interested in obtaining more of these types of opportunities, building these relationships, but also like proactively raising your hand, to be like, oh, hey, just FYI I know you guys have conferences and events coming up. Basically, if you can let your team know that I’m actively interested in doing these things and to reach out to me, I have lots of things I’d be interested in speaking on, so put bugs in people’s ears as well, I think is really important too. 

Pida Pairawan: Yeah, you plant the seed. It’s like the movie, Inception. You plant the seed about something and then you just watch it grow. A little bit of effort in that way will always come back to you.

Margot Leong: As we’re wrapping up here, I know that you just recently left Rubrik at the time that we’re talking. You are going to be starting a new role, so first off, congratulations. And you will be actually building out the customer marketing program, which is pretty cool to think about. What are you most excited about?

Pida Pairawan: I will say that I’m going through my Pokemon evolution right now. And since I haven’t started the job just yet, I think one, I’m just really excited about some of the general experiences of starting a new job and all of that. I think I’m most excited though about taking on new challenges and learning some new skills in this space as a sole practitioner.

Margot Leong: And are there any trends that you’re seeing in the advocacy space that you’re excited about? 

Pida Pairawan: I will say over the past couple of years, I have noticed that the tones and the feel of the storytelling that we’re doing in terms of case studies have become a lot more fun, a lot more like humanizing and moving. So no more those five page case studies with all professional talk.

And these are just things I’ve seen over the past couple of years, but I’m just very excited to see this trend and also contribute to this trend of reaching new creative heights, of how to story tell for a customer or how to make this content engaging enough for anyone to engage with.

But this industry is extremely talented. I think that’s sometimes underrated, like customer marketers are talented writers, talented strategists, they’re just extremely talented. I know that we’ll reach new creative heights in my lifetime, so I’m excited to see that. 

Margot Leong: Where can listeners find you if they would like to connect?

Pida Pairawan: If you can find me in any way on the internet, whether that’s Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, wherever, reach out to me in that way. 

Margot Leong: Really appreciate you taking the time to come on. It’s always nice to be able to have a chat with you as well. 

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. 



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