The Art of the Strategic Shortcut
While California went into shelter-in-place in early March, Talend CMO Lauren Vaccarello read an article about a popular bubble tea franchise laying off 400 workers in less than two weeks. With a self-prescribed “healthy sense of paranoia and a very strong desire to grow the business,” Lauren jumped into action. She knew that, if the company wanted to survive the long road ahead, they needed to ditch everything they were working on and start fresh, and they needed to do it fast.
Talend’s new 2020 playbook reflects the power of agility in the face of a crisis. They repositioned their messaging in just ten days with full C-level support, then planned not just one, but three user conferences in under two months. Tune into this tell-all episode to learn why doing things the “wrong” way is sometimes the right one, as well as how fearless leadership and empathy are key to both short- and long-term success.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- The difference between 2020’s recovery playbook and previous playbooks
- How Talend fast-tracked its new brand messaging
- Why empathy needs to be a part of virtual event planning
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 198 on YouTube
- Drew’s newsletter: This is a Different Dog
- Article: “Boba Guys Forced to Lay Off 90% of Staff as COVID Hurts SMBs”
- [0:27] A Brief Consideration of Futurist Roy Amara
- [2:46] Comparing the Current Downturn to 2008’s Global Financial Crisis
- [5:18] Why Your Post-COVID Playbook Might Look Different
- [8:40] Why Talend Ditched Its Old Messaging
- [12:30] How Talend Repositioned in Just 10 Days
- [15:41] Getting Executive Buy-In for a Fast-Tracked Program
- [18:14] The Questions to Help You Nail Your Messaging
- [19:45] How to Activate New Messaging Quickly and Virtually
- [22:48] Talend Planned 3 User Conferences in Just 2 Months
- [24:38] Why Empathy is Key When Building Virtual Events
- [28:24] Talend’s Successful Event Numbers and Feedback
- [31:37] Lauren Vaccarello’s Two Dos and a Don’t
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Lauren Vaccarello
[0:27] A Brief Consideration of Futurist Roy Amara
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers. Futurist Roy Amara stated in 2006: “We tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” I wonder if the same is true for this pandemic. Are we overestimating the short-term impact but underestimating its long-term impact, particularly as marketers? Here’s what I can tell you: every marketer that I’ve spoken to since March has ditched their 2020 plan and many have changed their go-to-market messaging.
That is certainly the case for my guest today. Lauren Vaccarello is the CMO of Talend, a Silicon Valley-based data integration and data integrity company that competes with the likes of IBM, SAP, and Oracle. We’re going to be talking about how they had to make a very quick shift and lots of other good things. Lauren, welcome to the show.
Lauren Vaccarello: Thank you. It’s so great to be here.
[2:46] Comparing the Current Downturn to 2008’s Global Financial Crisis
Drew Neisser: You’ve been in the Valley for 12-15 years and worked for Salesforce, Sysomos, and Box. Does this moment feel like a game-changer for you?
Lauren Vaccarello: It is. I think a lot about pattern recognition and if this is like anything else. The only thing that it starts to remind me of is the global financial crisis. I think about where I was during the global financial crisis—I’m running my own company and I’m doing consulting and I’m self-funding a startup. Global financial crisis hits, everything falls apart.
It was just a really, really trying time for me as a marketer. You have no income coming in, you have to try to sell services and make other businesses money when marketing is being cut. But I look back going, “The reason I’m any good at what I do is because of that,” because in that moment, I had no other choice but to excel at my craft or I couldn’t pay my rent, I didn’t have a place to live. It made me agile and adaptable. I no longer have any emotional ties to anything that I do because it’s about the results. It’s not about how much effort I put in.
I think about where we are now, and this is an incredibly challenging time. I can’t underemphasize how challenging of a time this is for people, but I am the eternal optimist after living in California for 12-15 years. I have to believe we’re going to look back on this and say that so many of us will be become much better versions of ourselves, as marketers and as leaders, because we had to learn and thrive during these times. We had to be really adaptable, really agile, and just throw everything we know out the window and try something else.
Drew Neisser: I agree with you. Initially, I looked for parallels from 2008. I mean, we were in a terrible situation. I had just closed in buying out Renegade from Dentsu on October 31st, and 70% of our business walked out the door. We were about to go into the worst economy for 50 plus years, and one of our clients reneged on paying us $400,000 because of the Madoff scandal. Literally all our capital was wiped out. I looked at that as a testing moment and I know I learned a lot of things.
[5:18] Why Your Post-COVID Playbook Might Look Different
Drew Neisser: I wrote something recently called “This is a Different Dog,” and I was speaking about my dog, but I was also speaking about this situation. It is very different and while I think trial by fire is a great teacher, but I feel like we have to be really careful right now to not say, “Well, this is like 2008, and my playbook for recovery as a marketer was this.”
If you took that same playbook, first of all, things have changed a lot, but second of all, this doesn’t have a finite end. With the pandemic, there are so many unknowns. and now you add pandemic, economic crisis, global economy challenges, and social unrest.
Lauren Vaccarello: You’re 100% right—we cannot use the 2008, 2010 playbook. That doesn’t work anymore. What we need is that core skill set and those soft skills.
You cannot be emotionally attached to anything you’ve ever run. You had this great messaging you worked six months on? Congratulations. Set it on fire, throw it out the door. It does not matter anymore. It’s that lack of emotional attachment to the creation and the time of the work. It’s being tied to outcomes. It’s this agility to move quickly and learn and adapt and learn and adapt.
The thing that’s a little bit different for me on this one is—if this happened in 2008, we didn’t have Zoom and Slack and all of the remote collaboration. I think there were iPhones, maybe in 2008, but not really. I think I had a flip phone, maybe a Blackberry. The communication would have been really different, so there’s this odd underlying framework that’s actually helping enable a very different way of working and operating.
That’s kind of an advantage. What I talk to my team a lot about as we start to figure out how we’re adapting is: Throw out what you used to do. Don’t say, “Well I can’t do my job now because everyone’s working from home.” It’s what’s different about everyone working from home. How do you change the way you’re approaching this from “this is a problem” to “this is an opportunity for us?” What can we do different and better because of it? That mindset is the mindset that I remember having in the financial crisis that I have pushed my entire org to have now.
[8:40] Why Talend Ditched Its Old Messaging
Drew Neisser: Let’s go back. It’s March 2020. You were getting ready to put some new messaging out in the marketplace. What was the first indication to you that made you say, “We’re going to have to ditch this!”?
Lauren Vaccarello: People who know me well now I go on nonsequiturs a lot, so I apologize to all of the listeners. I had seen the movie Contagion and I remembered this movie, I always remembered it. In January, when we first started to hear about this, I remember going, “Huh, I know this. I’ve seen this movie. This is going to get bad.” Everyone’s going, “Lauren, you’re crazy. You’re paranoid.” I was like, “Not untrue, but I remember in this movie they described the perfect virus. This is going to get bad.”
You think I would have taken money out of the stock market but knowing and acting are different stories. In February, we’re working on new branding, we’re working on new messaging and things are starting to get a little funny. Then it’s in China, then it’s in Italy, and I am the canary in the coal mine in the exec team going, “I think this is going to get really bad.”
I could have never pictured that this is where we’d be right now. This is starting to come out and we’re going into shelter-in-place—I think it was March 7th in California. I have people in Europe who are now in shelter-in-place. We’re wrapping up the new brand with new brand messaging. The team’s been working on this new campaign—I’m at home for a couple of days, and it seems so strange that this is what tipped things over in my head, but there is a franchise in California called Boba Guys, which is a bubble tea shop, and I just remember seeing these giant queues out the door for bubble tea.
I remember reading this article that it took them something like 10 or 14 days when they had to lay off 400 employees. I read this and went, “This is the beginning” and I looked at our messaging and went, “This is not going to work anymore.” The whole team went, “But we’ve been working all this time on this new campaign, on everything we’re doing” and I went, “Nope. Start over.” It’s not going to be relevant anymore because right now the thing that terrifies me as a marketer and as a business leader is how that happened to a company that was different, but extremely successful. In less than two weeks, they went from over a dozen locations to laying off all of their employees.
I need to know as a leader exactly what is happening in my business. I need access to all of the data, I need access in real-time, I need to trust that data, and I need it more than ever. The pattern recognition—”Well, this is last month’s lead reports, or this is last week’s pipeline reports”—I don’t care. That is old information and at any moment everything can go sideways, so I need what is happening in real-time and I need to believe that data. I have a healthy sense of paranoia and a very strong desire to grow the business. I’m just sitting here going, “This is how I feel. I’m looking at our messaging and I don’t care anymore. This doesn’t matter to me anymore; this isn’t relevant to me anymore.”
[12:30] How Talend Repositioned in Just 10 Days
Lauren Vaccarello: I talked to the woman on my team who’s the VP of Demand Gen, who’s fantastic, and I went, “Do you mind if I jump in on this? I don’t want to step on your toes.” I told her what was going through my head and she went, “Nope, this has to come from you.”
I was like, “Who’s our team? I need a team on this right now.” I don’t want to do this the right way, which is by saying, “Let’s get everybody and it’s really cross-functional and it’s really collaborative and let’s sanity check what we’re doing with the sales team and let’s go through the normal 12-week process.”
I didn’t want that. I was like, “Give me one of our best product marketers, give me the campaigns person, give me a small, really focused group, and put them in a room or a virtual room.”
I got everyone together and said, “I’m killing our campaign. Our messaging doesn’t work anymore.” There was that initial emotional push back: “Oh, but no, I’ve been working on this.” I went, “It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re doing a three-hour working session every single day virtually early next week. In ten days, I want a completely new global integrated marketing campaign. I want completely new messaging. We’re redoing it.”
They were like, “But we’re redoing our brand and it’s not done yet.” I went, “Great! It’s getting finished right now. It’s not in the old brand, it’s in the new brand. We need everything done.” They thought I was completely insane, and I walked them through why this wasn’t going to work. In ten days, we had new messaging that was relevant to the market. It had that sense of urgency where I am deeply afraid of not knowing what’s going on. I went, “If I’m feeling this way, I can guarantee that every single company is feeling this way. This is actually a really good time for our business because we can help solve that. That’s the story we need to tell.”
[Break: To learn more about possibly the best marketing agency in NYC and get your free ½ hour consulting session with our CEO, visit http://renegade.com]
[15:41] Getting Executive Buy-In for a Fast-Tracked Program
Drew Neisser: In ten days, you completely redo your messaging. You just went through this elaborate process where you had all sorts of checks and balances to make sure that there was buy-in and you did all the right things that you would normally. How did you get C-level buy-in on this with the executive team in order to pivot like this?
Lauren Vaccarello: I ended up going to our exec team and said, “This is what we’re doing. I know we’ve had our RVPs looking at this, I know we’ve had SDRs. I’m going to tell you…this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to tell you I’m doing this the wrong way. I know how to do this. It takes 12 to 14 weeks to build this. I’m doing it in two. These are the shortcuts we’re going to take, what am I missing?”
Our CRO said, “Can you take someone from the sales enablement team? Can they sit in on this process so that they’re part of this, and they’ll help you focus on making sure we enable the field?” I went, “You know what? That’s a great addition. I missed that. If we have someone from sales enablement here, I have to trust this person to represent the whole sales org. Instead of having someone from inside sales and an RVP from different territories and an international, I need this one person to represent everybody. If you’re good with that. I’m good with that.”
I talked to our Chief Customer Officer who came out and said, “What are we doing with customers? We have to make sure the CSR is enabled” and I said, “Totally agree. That’s phase two. I cannot do this now; I have to push this. Are we all okay with me doing this?” The whole time I was really transparent with “This is what I’m doing. I’m choosing to do the wrong thing in these areas. We have to all be okay with me choosing to do the wrong thing.”
Drew Neisser: For the right reason.
Lauren Vaccarello: Exactly.
Drew Neisser: What I like about the way you phrase that is “We’re going to do it, are you with me on this, and what am I missing?” which is a great way of bringing folks in and opening the door to say, “Hey, this is an imperfect process.”
[18:14] The Questions to Help You Nail Your Messaging
Drew Neisser: You have this team, you quickly get to a new message, new positioning, new story. You’re really fundamentally changing what you’re saying about the brand on the website. That’s part of it, but there’s probably more to it than that if you had sales enablement. You go, “This is the new story.” Then what?
Lauren Vaccarello: The first few days was all about the new story. If you think about marketing, there’s the “market” part and there’s the “aim” part. Most marketers talk about the aim, which is all of the execution: Here are the tactics. This is what we’re doing on the web. Here are the webinars. Here are the social campaigns. Here are the field programs. Then the market part is the part that we talk about less, at least as demand gen marketers: What’s the message? What’s the positioning? What’s the go-to-market? What’s the guts and strategy piece of market development, competitive analysis, market landscape?
We split the teams into two groups. This Zoom breakout room is all my messaging development. “Who am I talking to? Why am I talking to them? Build that.” The other group, in parallel: “Without your target audience, without anything, think about all the ways we should be activating this, and we’ll keep coming back together.” We ended up nailing the messaging part. After the first few days we had a good draft that the execution teams could work with.
[19:45] How to Activate New Messaging Quickly and Virtually
Lauren Vaccarello: By the end of the first week the messaging was locked, and then it was, well, how do we extract activating this? What do we need to do? Everyone said, “Well we can put this in our events.” Stop. Assume there are no more events. “But in these territories, maybe…” Stop. We have to believe there are no more events. I need new plans for everything. “How do we do this virtually?” The easiest things to start activating were—we’ll make changes to the webpage; we’ll make a campaign hub. Great.
“What about our outreach sequences that the SDR team is going to use, our sales emails? What are our sales team going to talk about? How are we updating our pitch deck? What about all of the ads we show on the internet? What kind of content do we have?” We can’t write a ton of new content, so do we have things that are close that we can adapt and rewrite?
We did everything in a very imperfect way and said, “We need a webinar series.” Great. “Well, it’s going to take all of this time to write content for webinars.” Webinars on for another month. All I need is a title and an abstract. Build me titles and abstracts, we can write the actual content later. Let’s get minimum viable out the door, across everything.
We did webinars. We came up with a virtual roundtable series and said, “For field marketing, you do roundtables.” Great. “How do you do them virtually?” Figure out how to do them virtually. “Well, what are the topics?” They’re not going to be tomorrow. Give me titles and abstracts, give me landing pages. We can fill the rest in over time, we need to start getting things out the door.
We also need to put that in the hands of our salespeople so they can call their customers and say, “We know there are a lot of business challenges right now. Would you like to hear our VP of Cloud talk about ways that resilient businesses are thriving in this environment, surviving?” “Yes, this is what we want to talk about.” Great. “We have a webinar in two weeks on this” or “We’re doing the virtual roundtable in three weeks.”
In the background, we’re going, “We’ll figure out the actual content later. We know we can do that. Right now, we just need to start building that funnel because I’m not willing to let my team sit and wait.” If we sit and wait to see where the market is going to be, I don’t know where the world’s going to be, and I am not running that risk. I’m not risking my team on that, so we moved insanely fast.
[22:48] Talend Planned 3 User Conferences in Just 2 Months
Lauren Vaccarello: We ended up pulling our user conference up from November to the end of May.
Drew Neisser: Perfect, so you gave yourself exactly two months to plan something you normally would have spent an entire year on. I know that just recently happened. Let’s talk about how that worked.
Lauren Vaccarello: Honestly, we did the user conference the exact same way that we ran the campaign, which was, “We know the right way to do this. We are choosing to take shortcuts and to do it this way.” I don’t know who suggested this—we could have done one user conference, but we decided to do three. Why not? Why not plan, in 10 weeks, three user conferences?
We had one in North America, one for APAC, one for Europe. We’d never done a virtual event like this before. The good thing about having some experience in virtual events but not like this is you don’t know what you can’t do. You don’t know what’s not possible, so you have a lot of people just saying, “Well, when I do a user conference, I have a keynote with customers coming in and customer stories and then you’re doing a demo during the keynote. Why can’t I do that virtually?”
So, that’s what we planned. We planned three different events. It started at 4 am Pacific Time and ended at 11 pm Pacific Time, so it was a long day.
[24:38] Why Empathy is Key When Building Virtual Events
Lauren Vaccarello: I will say that what’s worked well for us during the whole pandemic is to approach everything with empathy. You can’t operate the way the world used to be. We are all going through this right now. We know how we are feeling and empathize with the other person even though we are talking to IT business decision-makers and IT leaders. We are all struggling with our own work-from-home challenges, whether you have kids at home, are not leaving the house, and dealing with homeschooling and the nonstop Zoom meetings, we’re all going through this and if we treat our customers and our prospects like robots, like everything is business as usual, we’re missing the point.
A lot of how we did this was by asking, “Would this work for me?” How do I understand not just an IT leader at a financial services company trying to figure out my application integration and data integration challenge? Now add the degree of difficulty of, “My team is remote, I’m working from home, I’m in nonstop meetings to try to keep in touch with everyone. I’m trying to homeschool my kids; I’m trying to keep my head above water. And by the way, I can’t leave my house and I’m going insane and I’m not working out.”
Take that into consideration when you build an event. A user conference is usually a day, two days. No one has the mental bandwidth for this. I cannot expect anyone to sit down for that long, so what can I do in three to four hours? Let’s do something like that. When I put myself into the situation, I was like, “What are the things that I would really want to have that makes this interesting and different?” When I’ve run live events before it’s been, ‘What’s the pre-keynote? What’s the thing to get people there?”
We looked at what people are missing right now. Honestly, people are not working out as much, we need a little bit of health and entertainment, so we did a health and wellness track. We also thought a lot about the people that are there right now. What are they going through? Everyone could use a little bit of entertainment, everyone could use a break, so we ended up getting John Rzeznik from the Goo Dolls to do a “live” show for everybody. Between all of the different events, I sat and listened to Johnny Rzeznik play. He was fantastic and it was one of those moments that you just sat down going, “I really needed this. I needed 25 minutes of ‘take a breath and breathe’ because we’re all working so hard.”
Everything we did with this event was to approach this from this place of empathy. It was, “What are people going through right now, and how do we deliver based on what they’re going through and what their needs are?” versus “I’m going to try to fit this event in the box that all events have sat in” because that isn’t reality anymore.
[28:24] Talend’s Successful Event Numbers and Feedback
Drew Neisser: How did the entire event work out?
Lauren Vaccarello: It was more successful than we could have expected. We had customers and people who visited—the biggest piece of feedback we got was: “We didn’t feel like this was virtual. This felt like we were there.”
All of our sessions had transitions from the presenter to a customer speaker. We had demos. It felt real and we really focused on the little details of how transitions work and how to make this feel continuous. It’s not a kludgy webinar. You were sitting there and part of it, which meant we recorded in advance. We did a bunch of editing.
We also thought a lot about the international side, and in 10 weeks I couldn’t get international speakers in international tracks, so after we recorded all of the sessions, we did a lot of editing to put everything together, reviewed every single transcript to make sure that it reflected what people actually said because the auto transcripts weren’t 100% right. Then we took those, sent them for localization, had them localized, reviewed everything. We had all of these sessions and we also had it with French, German, Italian, Japanese subtitles that were the right subtitles, not the Google Translate subtitles. It’s just the little details, that little extra that we did.
We also put together an executive track, which we’ve never done before. We got Ray Wang from Constellation Research, a couple of customers, and one of our board members to do this really great panel on basically working in this environment, and then we had small private sessions with customers and the exec team that were really geared toward “Tell us what you’re doing right now. This is meant to be an intimate experience, so how can I get the leadership team and ten customers to sit together?
The feedback we kept getting was, “We feel like you care. We feel like you want to be a part of this.” Even from a number’s perspective, we had targeted 2500 registrants for the event and thought that was a good number. We had 5300 people register for the event and the cost of the entire virtual summit was less than we’d spent on one, small 250-person regional user conference.
Drew Neisser: You had 5500 registrants, what kind of yield did you get in terms of attendees?
Lauren Vaccarello: About 3200.
Drew Neisser: That’s above what I’ve been hearing. Amazing story in terms of what you were able to do in an incredibly short period of time, taking shortcuts, and so forth. It really speaks to “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and adaptability and agility.
[31:37] Lauren Vaccarello’s Two Pivoting Dos and a Don’t
Drew Neisser: If you were talking to a bunch of Chief Marketing Officers as we are here today, give them two dos and a don’t.
Lauren Vaccarello: Start with why. The biggest thing, the most important thing, is to start with why. I’ll give you an example. I’m slightly impatient as a person and I want to jump to the end. I know that’s where I lean; I just want to jump to the answer. But when you do something like this, the worst thing to do is jump to the answer and just redo the messaging.
When we broke into the groups for the campaign and we were just starting to work on messaging, I got so much pushback: “But we worked on this and we worked on this and here’s why we don’t think this is the right messaging.” I went, “Let me take a step back. Let me explain to you what’s in my head. Let me explain why this is so important.” I walked through the Boba Guys story. I walked through is as a business leader: “This is what I care about.” I walked through it as an IT leader: “This is what’s happening. This is why we need to do this. This is why the global context is more important than ever.” Something clicked in everyone’s head and they went, “Oh my gosh, I get this. We have to change right now.” Anytime I do something and push people to do something at an unnatural pace, you have to start with why. Why is this important? Why do we need to do this? Then you’ll get that emotional buy-in.
The other thing is not to have emotional attachment to the work that you’ve done historically. It is so easy to say, “But I worked on this for six months and I have to.” When a new solution comes in going, “This is how I can do this better and faster,” you get tied into, “But I’ve been doing this for too long and I have to keep going.” In this time, more than ever, we have to cut and run. It doesn’t matter how much time you have been working on this or how much you might love it. The world has changed. If you are not relevant, you have to be willing to cut and run even if it’s your most favorite thing you’ve ever worked on.