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Why Experimentation is More Important than Scale in Early Stage Marketing with Sara Croft

What do you think is the best marketing strategy and tactics to grow and scale a startup? You probably aren't going to like this, but the hard truth is don't look for the perfect solution. 

 

Everything can change, and to be able to grow, we need to experiment and change for the better.

 

In today's episode, we have Sara Croft of Innovatemap, a digital product agency that helps companies of all sizes dream and delivers valuable digital products and services to the market. Sara was the first marketing hire of the startup and paved her way to becoming one of the marketing leaders as the company's Principal of Growth Marketing.

 

With no marketing background, Sara started as a marketing intern at a non-profit. She fell in love with the idea of blending art and solving client problems through marketing and pursued it as a long-term career.

 

During the conversation, Sara shares her unusual journey to marketing, how she uses art and creativity to uplevel her marketing career, and how aspiring leaders can find marketing strategies and tactics to grow the business and their leadership careers.

Episode Highlights:

 

01:04       Sara's internship in art and marketing

05:57       Being a marketing generalist

09:21       Honing her writing and content marketing skills

11:29       Sara's biggest lesson and win in her marketing leadership career

18:40       Stop focusing on the perfect solution and start experimenting

21:55       Innovatemap background and how Sara got involved

31:45       The LinkedIn post that sparked the podcast

37:12       How to use data to impact the marketing success of the startup 

44:49       The strategies and tactics that work for Innovatemap

51:57       Using feedback loops in marketing

57:58       What skills early stage leaders need to uplevel their leadership career

01:05:31  Sara's restaurant and book recommendations

Sara Croft:  18:54 

I'm gonna give answers, people probably aren't going to like this question. Yeah, so I say that because it doesn't matter as much as you think it does. This whole attribution conversation. And I don't know if you're seeing the same thing I'm seeing on LinkedIn right now. And I get it, okay. We're in a recession oriented environment. You've got people saying, Hey, we gotta cut sales and marketing, right? 

So how do I prove my value and show my worth because of that? There is always going to be somewhat of a disconnect between what we do in marketing and how it's going to impact the business. And I'm not saying you shouldn't measure because you should. I'm just saying don't look for the perfect solution. So this is interesting, because this is what I think you and I first talked about doing this podcast about was like, what should you be doing for your company at different stages? Because early on, you should be experimenting. 

And if you're thinking, oh, great, I found this exact thing. And if I just do this 100 times, this is going to make my business thrive. Right? And you don't have product market fit yet. You can't answer that question. You can't do that. Now you're going to have winds, and you should probably do more of those things. 

And you should do less of the things that don't work. But you should constantly be experimenting and thinking about how you infuse that creativity into your brand and into your business, and therefore through your marketing. So I don't really like to sit and say it needs to be these exact things. But that's really hard as a leader with a team, especially a junior team, who wants to say, How do I know when I'm successful? How do I know when I've done my job, right? And you can't just say, cross your fingers and have faith that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. But I do believe that marketers should love what they do. Because if you don't really love what you do, and you get too hung up on it, I need to figure out how this social media post turned into a lead. 

You're looking at it wrong, right? Because that's not the environment that we should be creating and generating as marketers, in my opinion. So sorry, to everybody who's listening to some of those things, saying like, hey, I want to hear these specific data points. There are specific data points. And that's a hard question to answer unless you actually know the business that you're talking about right and analyzing at that point, but it is a little bit of vibes. And I'm okay with that in certain areas.

Grayson Faircloth:  21:17  

There we go. That's presented to the board immediately.

Sara Croft:  21:22

No metrics, just fives is what they want. I'm going to give you some metrics, but I'm also going to give you a lot of vibes.

Grayson Faircloth:  21:29 

Cool. Yeah, we'll dive a little deeper into that. But the main takeaway, I think, from your answer, was the need to experiment things, both from the marketing and sales perspective in early stage startups, which I totally agree with. So we've caught up to pretty much everything except Innovatemaps. So I'd love to hear some background on how you first got involved, like what the company was like when you started and just set the scene for some questions online. Sure.

Sara Croft:   21:54   

So Innovatemap is a digital product agency. And we were founded in 2014, by Mike Reynolds, who had 20 years of experience in product management at a company called a primo. And he decided to leave a primo and start this agency that he thought was needed in the world. And I'd like to say we're quite unique in what we do. We're not a marketing agency. But we have product marketers. 

We're not a branding agency, but we have brand designers, our core is in the product. So we help founders and entrepreneurs and CEOs, make sure that their product resonates with the user, and resonates with their buyer. And on the user side, there's gonna be product management, and UX experience that will create a client team of really, really smart individuals to help you make sure you're building the right thing for the right people that your product is valuable and usable. 

And then we got a team of product marketers and brand designers who are going to make sure your product is marketable. And when you combine both of them, we'd like to believe a better product is marketable, valuable and usable. So that's kind of why I fit really well here. Because while working at Tech point, I was around 90 startups and scaleups in the state of Indiana on a day to day basis, learning about their business models, learning about their pain points, and talking directly to CEOs and founders. And I knew a lot about what this ecosystem looked like and what it needed. And so when I joined the Innovatemap, I kind of came in feeling like, oh, I know exactly what to do here. I know how to make this company thrive. 

And also, we're building startups here, companies that come to us, they create jobs, they stay here. So you see how that whole like, I live Indie thing comes back in like as a thing throughout my entire career. I feel a bit of that here at Innovate map. And I really, really enjoy that. So I came in as the first full time marketer. And there was someone else who was here who was doing a little bit of marketing and also doing some client work. I think I came in as number 18, the 18th employee here, and now we're at 3536, something like that. 

And my role was to work with Christian Beck, our Executive Partner of Growth Strategy to identify how we're really growing the business. We've done some cool things here. We launched a community for product practitioners called the better product community. We have a satellite office in New York City now and part of my role has been to figure out how we market in New York City? How do we get more clients out there? We have a physical office location because of that to help and tell the world that we are here and do those things. So that's a lot of my job on a day to day basis.

Grayson Faircloth:  24:31

Yeah, cool. So let's talk about being hired number one at a startup. So you come in, you know, the leadership maybe has never had like our actual, you know, full time marketing leader? How do you handle that? How do you lay out a plan of like, what actually do you need to be doing as an organization? And how can marketing help? And then I'm also interested in, did you need to do any convincing? Or were they sort of like on board with okay, Sara, whatever you want, we're gonna try.

Sara Croft:  24:58  

Yeah, luckily, because we do marketing for clients, we do product marketing for clients, I haven't really had a hard sell here. Mike Reynolds is a big believer in marketing. And so he wants us to be good to the town, he wants us to be visible often. And that's where when you start to look at, you know, you compare that conversation with metrics and a little bit, I might have some different metrics and purposes of marketing, beyond generating revenue that are really maybe more important to Innovatemap than they might be at other agencies or companies, let's say, right. 

But the first thing you need to do when you come in is not assume that you know, as a marketing leader, what is needed, and kind of put your toolbox aside for a little bit. It's there, you've got it, you're going to use it. But you know, I guess an analogy would be you know, you hire somebody to come into your house and fix something. And they don't just bring all the tools in and start doing something they ask you questions? Well, what's broken? Why did this happen? How did it happen? How do we go about maybe making a change, right, in a first time marketing leader needs to do the exact same thing. 

You need to be talking consistently with your CEO, and have a really, really good relationship, maybe talk to your product leader, if you have one, or a program leader in a nonprofit, let's say, you need to become a subject matter expert in the business itself. And knowing those things, knowing who the actual buyer is, is going to tell you everything about what your marketing plan should be. But you have to start there. If you start with your toolbox, you're going to generate Well, this is what marketing could look like. But I don't actually know if this is what we should or shouldn't be doing. 

Well, let's just go do it and test it and figure it out. Right, that's not exactly the path that you should take, sit with that leadership team, figure out what it is that the problems are, understand the target market, and then start making some informed decisions on what you need to do next. And it's not going to be hiring people immediately at a startup, you are going to do a lot of things. You're going to have to write a strategy, communicate it to the team, and execute on it by yourself. And that's a lot to balance right to figure that out. Early in career marketers who take that first leadership job are going to be super high on executing, and probably not as strong in strategy and communication. And they'll learn that over time. Right? So you just have to balance all of those things equally. And I find the best way to do that is to jump on it and experience it.

Grayson Faircloth: 27:35

Yeah. So knowing just a little bit of background about Innovatemaps, and you've been employed number 18. They're obviously sales demand before bringing in their first marketing hire, which is good, super helpful. 

But you came into a role where you work solely responsible for creating demand for the business, where a lot of startups that first marketing hire, they're either hoping that they can do a lot of that demand generation or expecting it. 

How do you think your approach might have changed versus what you did with an Innovatemap versus what you would have done had been your couple founders, who are essentially doing the selling and now it's just the three or four views like talking at a very early stage.

Sara Croft:  28:15 

Sure, you know, and you make a good point. Mike Reynolds was founder selling for the first six years of the business. It was a lot of his Rolodex. And we were here in Indianapolis and as a client agency, we worked with clients in person in Indianapolis, and then 2020 COVID hit. So I came on board in August of 2019. And then literally, March of 2020. I had a pretty short runway to figure out the business and impact the business before this major event happened. But we came out learning that we could serve as clients remotely in a way that we maybe weren't fully confirmed about before COVID. 

So all of a sudden Grayson, we went from hey, we have this Indianapolis and Indiana market to work with to we could work with pretty much anybody everywhere. Right? That is with a moment that I believe I was started to be tasked with generating revenue from places where we weren't previously generating revenue from. We might have 85% market share in Indianapolis like a lot of people know about Innovativemap. My role at the time that first like six months ish was to make sure those few well kept knowing about innovate, Matt. But we had events, we had content that I was putting out in front of them on a day to day basis, right? That they could see the work that we were doing for our clients that will change in 2020. Because of this new goal that happened at that time, as well as our growth goals, like we are not a lifestyle business, we hope to have a very, very big Sunday. 

So I have some pretty aggressive goals put in front of me that I'm here to hit, coming in as like a first time marketer in a new startup, let's say let's say like tomorrow, I started working somewhere else, what would I do? I don't know what I would do differently. But I would probably be leaning into sales enablement, far more than I had to innovate, Matt, because I had a CEO and a sales team that was so good at that and knew what they needed to do, they really didn't need a lot of marketing enablement. As our growth goals continue, as we add more salespeople that's starting to become a bigger need of my marketing team is to provide more of that sales enablement support. 

And for us that looks like showcases of our work on our site: clients, stories, outcomes, before and afters, those sorts of things that really help describe, here's who we are and what we do, right. So I'm sure that that would be a lot more important. I would also be for a product company leaning a lot more into the product, what is this product? Who is it for? How does it work? What are the opportunities here and probably take on a little bit more of a product marketer type role and a product strategist role in addition to marketing? Because you can create more impact? And you're going to be able to understand the business a lot more

Grayson Faircloth:  31:05  

because of that. Yeah, no, that's an interesting point around the, you know, the new market as being that same problem. And I agree, I wasn't aware that that was the case. That's actually really cool. Because you are, you've gone from an area where you're capturing demand in Indianapolis, like most people know, you know, it's more like you said, keeping them making sure they continue to know you. 

But when you're trying to market, you know, Midwest Indiana company, in the big city in New York City, it's probably a little bit harder. And you take on more of that, like, how can we get people interested in us in the first place? Versus how can we capture that demand that's already there. So I like that. And then now we get to the question that sparks the podcast. So this question, or posts that you made on LinkedIn, and I'll read it for the audience. It's up to me. Let's see, optimization for scale is problematic in early stage marketing and sales, the strategy that gets you to 1 million is not the strategy that gets you to 5 million. 

Focus on finding strategies that work and grow them. But don't let the perfect scalable solution get in the way of growth. I'm interested because I feel like every LinkedIn post, some ideas sparked it. Or maybe you had a client interaction or something like that, like I'm interested in what sparked the idea. And then what was going through your mind that led you to post this

Sara Croft: 32:26  

I do like sub-tweet my company in the in the way that I'm learning something, and I want to share it with the world, this is what happened there. So here, this kind of comes back to the failure question a little bit, too, with our growth goals. I had pivot strategies at one point. And that was earlier this summer. Because something that I had created the better product community, what in my opinion had been given its time given its runway. And it was not going to keep up with our growth goals here at Innovate map, meaning, it was generating great brand awareness, we were getting wonderful lead conversations through it. But I wasn't sure how to really turn the dial up to get maybe 10x out of it. 

Considering it was also a pretty good amount of work to build a community. I don't know if anybody has built a community, you can look at it through rose colored glasses at first, like, Oh, this is great. This would be just so wonderful for our business to do this. And then you're like, Well, you're not just selling to them, you have to create a community where they feel like there's ownership that they are going towards some greater vision or getting value out of this, right. And that's a lot more than just sales and marketing for your company. And sometimes communities can be really, really great because of that. 

And so we had a better product community. We launched it in January 2020. And then by June of this year, we decided this is not going to scale in the way that we think it can scale. So what I look at is that it worked for us in the very early stages, when we were experimenting, we were kind of trying to get out into a little bit outside of Indiana, find new people to work with and use a different mechanism to be able to do that. And learning through that process. Holy moly. That's a lot of work. 

And I don't know that this can possibly scale and that's okay. That is okay. Even though it was a little painful at the time. It took me a little bit to be like it's just my thing. This is my baby and I've got to kind of like put it aside right now, but that's okay, that that happens. So that's really what was sparking. That post that you referenced was what I knew at that point, I could walk away from that decision and say it might have got us to where we are right now, at this revenue stage, but it's not going to get us to the next revenue stage. And that's okay. And the point isn't to figure out how the community maybe can get there, it's okay to kind of cut your losses and move on. It is okay to do that. Right. 

The other the other half of that question would be, or that LinkedIn post would be your you strategies at 1 million, again, are going to be much more related to finding product market fit, you should be talking to customers, you should always be talking to customers, but you're talking to customers to figure out a lot more about what your marketing strategy is at that time, right. 

And the business you are at 5 million is not the same business, you are at 1 million. It's not that you have grown and changed a lot over that time. So your marketing strategy, your sales strategy, your growth, revenue strategy is going to need to change and adapt with the business as well. And so if you as a marketer, especially inexperienced, early marketing leaders might get too grounded in their own ego and say, Well, this is marketing, these are the tools that are in the marketing toolbox, we need to use these. That's what that's what we're going to do, right? That's what's supposed to work. So that's where I go back to that, what's the problem we're solving? Where are we trying to go? How are we going to get there? 

Adding a market like New York City, well, let me tell you, whatever we're doing in Indy might be very, very different from what we need to do in New York City, right to be able to increase our brand awareness and client potential there. So those are things that I want people to think about far more often. And I don't want them to be stuck, maybe like I was earlier on in the year, like, this is gonna work schoolwork, it's gonna have, it's gonna work, I put all this effort into it, it's really really got to work. And it worked to a certain extent. And then that's okay to be able to move on and leave it behind. And if anything, we should be able to do those things. Right. So that's what was top of mind when I wrote that post.

Grayson Faircloth:  36:45  

And I'm interested because this post, like, obviously grabbed my attention enough to start the podcast episode. And I think the perspective that I was taking was, I believe, having some sort of like, at least way to track success and failures, like I'm interested, like, from the ops perspective, it's great to be testing all these different things. But if you don't have a baseline data layer, that's where you don't know, like, okay, did this experiment actually work? Did that experience actually work? Like I mentioned it? And, like, the need for data? Is that still like, what have you found, like the need to actually track or like, and we've talked about attribution a little bit. 

But in terms of tracking, if something is working versus something is not working? Is that part of like, what your sub point was? Or do you still do some baseline things? It's more of like, okay, here's a specific, like metric that we're looking to influence with this particular strategy. We don't know if it actually is going to do it. But here's our baseline like we've generated, like 500 downloads with this strategy of our ebook. What about this strategy? How many downloads or whatever metric that we're looking at? Like, what do you think from a data perspective, you should be focusing on when you're doing these, like early stage sales, marketing, like testing and experimenting, all that stuff?

Sara Croft:  38:04 

Yeah. So if 2020 was the year of a lot of things for Innovatemap is definitely the year data for sure. Like we learned a lot of things through data this year. So I'm going to put the community aside because I think that's an anomaly. And I'm not suggesting people look at that right now. But that was a lot of where our metrics were. And I'm going to talk to you a little bit more about where we are right now and where we're headed. So we know that when we bring a lead in, it could be about two months of a sales cycle, potentially. 

And sometimes it's way short. Sometimes it's seven days with some entrepreneurs, they're just ready to go. Right? It depends. It just depends. I also know now that Okay, so if it takes up to two months, then the revenue I'm impacting is at least two months ahead. From a marketing team, right? So now all of a sudden, you can start to think about this from a totally different perspective. You can say, Okay, what do I need to be doing now to impact that revenue in two months? What's that going to look like? Or you can look at your leads and say, okay, yeah, maybe we're off and we need to adjust something because we weren't able to hit that particular goal, right, because of that two month time frame that we could look at. We know how many leads we need per month, to be able to hit our revenue goals. 

And to be able to actually have deals closed, right, you could look at like if we're five deals close and we need X amount of these conversations started, then we need X amount of leads and the leads in the box to be able to do that, right? We use Pipedrive as our CRM, so that's why I call it the leads inbox because that's what it is in our sales CRM tool that we use. So those are some of the beginning dates. A plan that we have started to look at here at Innovate map to say, what can marketing do to impact that? 

The interesting thing is, I'm usually more than two months ahead with my marketing strategy, probably more like six months. And I try not to get any further out than that at a startup, because six months is a long time for a startup, a lot can change in that amount of time. So I don't like to build an annual plan, I like to just put some big rocks, some big bets down. And hopefully, we will get to those different things. So let's take an email campaign, because you said like email downloads, if your book ebook downloads, you get 500 of them or something like that, right? So I'm getting to the point where I can say, all right, if we have 500 subscribers to this resource email that we send out, that's going to generate X number of sales conversations based on these engaged subscribers who are opening and opening and opening or choosing to actually reach out to us directly, right, that's something that I can look at. 

Now, the challenge is, when I look at my time and Innovatemap over the past couple of years, because of our strategies being different, I don't have something in the past to look back to, to say, well, here's exactly what that campaign is going to look like for the future, we're kind of on a new path to figure those things out, which I'm really excited about. So we're getting to that point where we would be able to say, this type of campaign should generate these types of results. So we need to go do those types of campaigns, right? That's the hard part, as a marketing leader, where you're constantly thinking about short term impact, what can I do that's going to generate something tomorrow, because that's what the business needs, as well as like, Hey, I have to write the copy for the ebook, I have to design the ebook, I have to get it on the website, I've got to build an email campaign to get you to see our potential after you download the ebook, all that takes time for a marketing team to create that. And so you might look at that and you go, Well, shit, that's not going to impact the business for like six more months. 

Well, that's okay. Because that's something that you need to have leads in June, you're gonna need that you're right. Now, you just might also have to do other things like sales enablement, and working with your sales team, or in the meantime, on that short term revenue need, you might be going to networking events, or doing trade shows, or those sorts of things to be able to get in front of other people. And that's where at some point, when you've been at a company long enough, you'll be able to take an outside view, a 30,000 foot view and go, alright, I see what works. 

I see what short term I see, what's long term? What's the best mix for my business? 6040 7030? What does that look like? And you could maybe split between demand generation and demand capture. That's where you really get to sit and figure that out. But that's a very difficult question to ask yourself within the first year of being a startup marketer, you've got to give it a little bit of time to figure that out. And that's why a lot of people hire experienced marketers, because then you know, they've been through it before. And if you're a startup, time is everything. So you're able to expedite that a lot faster. That's hard for that, like how you get into that first marketing job, when you don't have that experience just yet. It can be challenging.

Grayson Faircloth:  42:52  

So yeah, and then another sub point, the original posts that I want to dive into a little bit more, is the focus on finding strategies that work. And so when you say strategies, are you talking more like tactics? Are you talking more like more big picture ideas? And how do you as an early stage company go about finding those strategies? And do you think there are common things the themes that you can like, look back at what's worked for other companies? Or is it more of like, kind of an experimental approach?

Sara Croft:  43:26  

Yeah, strategies versus tactics is interesting there. Because the tactics become strategies, depending on how far down you want to go with that funnel. When you think about it like that. I think what I really mean is, on the activation side, your go to market activation plan, you're going to, you need to experiment, and you need to pick which tactics of that go to market strategy are going to be most successful for you. And it might not be what you think it is. 

So and that's it's definitely not going to be whatever got you to 1 million of being the same tactics that go to market strategy that are gonna get you to five, right? Because you're going to be completely different. You're taking on new markets, you're taking on new buyer personas, probably, you're selling an enterprise's or something, right, your business changes too much. So your marketing strategy has to change along with that. 

I would suggest that you look at what is your product, what is it that you're selling? Who is it for? How are you going to get in front of them because you know where those buyers are? That's your strategy that you need to be paying attention to. And if that's not already written out in front of you and understood, is it your marketing leader's job to figure that out sounds like somebody has to do it. And the CEO has too much else on his or her plate, it needs to be thinking about the product itself and what it is for and who it's for. So the marketing needs to come in and do that, once you've identified what that is, then you could say, alright, here's all the cool, crazy creative marketing things I'm going to be able to do to capture that audience and get out in front of it. Right? 

I find too often that early in career, marketers skip that very important foundational step, they just assume, or they're too eager and excited to show some particular result, let's say of a campaign, but they're going to lose out all that time that they're going to spend building something is going to be lost, because it's not going to resonate with the right buyer. Because you didn't do that pre-work to figure that out. Right? Or maybe you assumed that you thought you knew what that buyer actually needed and wanted. 

So that's something that I think is really important. And it's worth going back and readjusting those strategies, it's worth questioning them. Is this still true? Is this? Is our product still doing what we think it is? Because sometimes your product strategy can change, hey, we just found this new opportunity. We're gonna go over here, right? And then you need to be able to support that. So I think that's what I mean by that statement that you refer to.

Grayson Faircloth:  45:46  

Yeah, no, that makes sense to me. And kind of diving deeper into those tactics and strategies. At Innovatemap, what have you found works best? And are you still constantly testing new things? Or have you gotten to the point where we know this works, we just need to double down maybe we, we kind of tweak a little bit like maybe we tweaked a copy of this channel. But we're still like doubling on this channel? Like what has worked for Innovatemap?

Sara Croft:  46:12  

Sure. It seems kind of silly. But it took us a little bit to understand how much our website worked for us. And that's because of the agency, it's tricky to not commoditize your work. So when you sell it like a product, or it has a product and like here are all the things you need, right? And then someone kind of what we didn't want was someone to self select and say like, Yes, I need one visual identity, please from Innovatemap, right? Like, that's not what we wanted them to say. And so it took a long time to figure out how to convey ourselves and convey our promise to people in a way that gets them to understand how we can actually help them without saying, we can redo your website? Because yes, we can redo your website. 

But what we really want to do is evaluate your brand and your product marketing strategy. We want to know why prospects aren't converting on your website, not that you just don't have a great user experience on your website, right? Like, yes, we can do that. But really, what's the foundation that is needed here, because that's going to make all the difference, right? So we had to learn that ourselves. And it took us a while to show our client work with the world. We were a little too humble, we weren't sure whether or not we wanted to take credit, quote, unquote, for that amazing work that we really did do on behalf of a client. And so it's been like onion layers that have kind of peeled back with this agency over time. 

So our website now is something where we say, hey, this works, this has a purpose, we've invested a lot of energy into it. And it really tells you who we are and what we do and how we can help you. So I see that as something that is probably not going to change now that we've built that up, and that it is working for us and it does generate lead opportunities. Those are things that we consider content marketing is also extremely important for us because we have so much to educate the market about for them to know why and how they should work with us. Just saying to you, we're a digital product agency, not a marketing agency, what the heck is that? What does that mean? 

There are a few competitors out there of Innovatemap, it's not a note and say we're creating a category unnecessarily. But there's not a lot of competition in this category just yet. And so we're sometimes I hate to say it 510 years ahead and our product knowledge how we think, Well, if we want people to buy that from us, we need to explain that to them, we need to educate, those are things that they need and how they should be thinking content is a really, really wonderful way to be able to do that. It's also two birds with one stone, because my expert principals on my team, and our seniors are writing a lot of that content, because they're the ones doing that work for clients. 

And then they've got thought leadership that they get to go out and share because they're doing those sorts of things. Right. So content is always going to be I don't know that that would ever not be a part of our strategy, given that education is so important. Right? I might not suggest that if that's not true, or what are the most important needs that you have at whatever startup you're working at? In most cases, it probably is. But again, it all comes back to determining that right balance in that right mix for you.

Grayson Faircloth:  49:11  

And how have you seen that maybe change over time? I know at the beginning, a lot of you know said Rolodex referrals from the network. Have you seen and have you tracked in terms of like new lead source or new deal source type things? Have you seen that change and evolve over time and beginning maybe if you had the data It would show all like referrals. Whereas now, it shows a bit more of that like content and how did you hear about us type approach like what? How has that changed and evolved over time,

Sara Croft:  49:44  

we will still always generate a large amount of our revenue from clients. And that's because of how our business model is set up, they come in and they don't buy a year's worth of work with us, they come in for a couple of months, and they see all these wonderful things we can do. And then they eat it up. And they ask for more and more and more, right. So that's always going to be a big part, client referrals are always going to be a big part of our business. So I don't want to ignore that or take away the amazing work of our clients' delivery team, because that's really, really important. 

But yes, you are right, Mike's referrals are decreasing, because marketing, inbound is increasing channel partnerships with venture capital firms are and accelerators are also a really big part of our strategy, our growth strategy, because that's another place where we know our buyer is they're getting funding, they're also getting advice from that investor to say, hey, you should be go doing these things. 

So we create good relationships with them, that in turn provides value to us. That's something we've learned that's a new thing. We didn't do that in the first six years of the business, right? So we simply have more channels now that are working, that we get to use and say, hey, these are now wonderful. And these are successful. It kind of goes back to your question of, you know, marketing attribution. Is it the first touch? Is it the last touch? Is it multi-touch?

I'm always going to be a multi touch cow, of course, like I'm always going to want to give credit to all of those different things that marketing did to support that sale at the end of the day. And right now we're kind of figuring those things out. How do we track that? Is the website last touch? Or was it maybe something else that they saw before they got to the website? Right? Well, of course it was. It's a course, it's an ecosystem of a lot of different things. So I'm not going to go crazy about trying to track all of it. 

But I am going to try to make sure that whatever that last touch sources, and probably a couple of the touches before that are tracked, that the marketing team gets credit for doing those things that we're passing those leads over to sales, and growing the right channels and strategies appropriately because of that. So I'd say that's a lot of how it's changed a little bit more of the direction that we're going in now.

Grayson Faircloth:  51:47  

Yeah. In the attribution, it's not even always just about the credit. It's more like feedback loops as well. And like what is working, what is not working? I'm interested from a feedback loop perspective, are there any like what you would consider important feedback loops, within you know, the marketing the sales part of your organization, or marketing, to customer part of the organization or any, like operational sync meetings that you do with the other departments to innovate back to make sure that feedback loop is, you know, staying up to date staying strong?

Sara Croft: 52:19  

I love this question, when I first started to Innovatemap, so to tell you that I'm the first, you know, marketing leader, there's no real marketing function, really just a sales and our product, and our product is our people and the delivery that we provide, right? So anytime that we maybe had a new way of doing something with our product, maybe we wanted it, we're like, you know what we're gonna do this type of research. 

Now, people are asking for it, we're gonna do that. That information was pretty much passed just between sales, because that's all we had, right? So then we had marketing, and I was like, Well, hey, I'm over here. Like, I kind of need to know that to know these things, right? And explaining the value of that. And so I got to come and work with Christian back and really identify, hey, we have a growth function. Here. We have a flywheel, we have marketing, we have sales, we have client success. And in the middle of that is our product. And that knowledge can't just be shared between product and sales. It has to be shared between all of those particular areas. And so now we have what we call a growth leadership team, which is myself and Christian, who leads client success. 

And we meet every other week to talk about how these things work? How are they not working? How should we impact and change our strategies because of that, right? So that's a really, really important one. The other feedback loop would be with the market and with our customers. So are they getting the right value? Are they getting outcomes from our work? What's something that they are seeing or asking for us to do that maybe we don't do now that we should do. And marketing and growth can play a role in that. And that's where I think we have added value to a company where we could say, Hey, do you know the market wants this and needs this? Is that something that we want to consider with our product? Does that make sense, right? To kind of be able to make those decisions. 

So that's something that I'm pretty proud of here. Innovatemap is like making that function seem to exist, and explaining the value behind it. So I'd say, those are really important feedback loops. On a tactical level. It's this content. We're writing valuable and sales. This is helpful. Are you using it at all? Does anybody use like, are they agreeing with it? Are they disagreeing with this content that works? Getting out there? What are people asking for? That we're not able to answer that you need content to help you with that, right? Those are really, really valuable feedback loops. So the good news is we're in an innovation industry to like, we're not averse to feedback or anything, we seek it out pretty often. And it comes from anybody within the company, which is pretty exciting. So feedback happens a lot. But you're right, those feedback loops might not exist when you get there. And you might have to create them. And you might not know that, and that's okay to do.

Grayson Faircloth:  55:03 

Yeah, and something that we've talked about, or you've mentioned a couple times throughout this conversation, is the customer. And so I'm interested in seeing how customers Innovatemap fit into your marketing plan, obviously, they've been able to generate referrals from customers is great, but also like marketing, to your existing customers, like learning from the customers, like I'm interested to see, like, where the customer fits into your marketing teams strategy.

Sara Croft: 55:29  

You know, it started really simple with, let's peel back the curtain of Innovatemap. And let's show them a little bit more of who we are. And what we do. We have clients who, when they are done working with us, they are like, eager and waiting to work with us again, it's a really wonderful, magical feeling. And I mean, I was a client. So at Tech point, I went through nine months of working with Innovatemap to rebrand us, build two websites, and reposition the company. And it was thrilling to go through that experience. 

So I get it, I see why our clients feel that way. Or they leave and they go to another company. And they're like, I really, really want to work with Innovatemap again. And so my first thought was, well, how do we harness that? That feeling because obviously, they have it like, I want them to feel like they're part of the club now. Like, they're the insiders, because they've been through that experience. So we send them an email once a month that just tells us some cool shit we're doing. Because I think they like to know what John Moore is up to. And if he's not writing on LinkedIn enough, this is a way that I can let you know those things. We have client hospitality events. 

Earlier this year, we flew in clients from all over the US to come to the Indy 500, for a client hospitality experience, and thank them and just have fun with them. And let them know that we care about them, and we care about their business. So client hospitality is always going to be a big part of that. But that fan club that we have, I'm still thinking about other ways to harness that. I know it exists. And I know that there are people just waiting and willing to like to refer more to us and build that fan club out. But we're also humble. So we don't want to really put ourselves on a pedestal, there's a balance there that I'll have to figure out. But those are some of the things we do right now. As well, as you know, often talking with clients, talking with our buyer personas, making sure that we really understand how we can help them in the best way and not assume that is always really, really important. You're never done talking to customers or clients never ever.

Grayson Faircloth:  57:37   

Yeah, no, I love that. Switching gears a little bit into more of the leadership and lesson the tactical. One of the purposes for this podcast is for people who, either at an early stage or future leaders, and kind of learning what it takes to progress to that next level. And you've gone from doing the work to leading teams, and thinking kind of from an executive viewpoint now like, what is our company growth plan? 

And so I'm interested, like, imagine you are back in that individual contributor role wanting to get to those manager levels, what skills, what mindsets should be like, what should you be doing, as an individual contributor or an early stage leader? There's just wanting maybe a bigger seat at the table, or more, more ability or more ability to drive like company strategy? Like, what would you recommend for that early stage leader? 

Sara Croft:  58:33   

Looking back, I'd split it between two different groups, the technical skills and the soft skills needed, or the professional skills needed for that, because I don't want to gloss over that part, on the technical skills, you must be a constant learner. And you have to have your own internal drive for that. And if you don't, you're not going to go far in this role. But you need to constantly be thinking, what do I not know? 

That I should know, and go get that information and take that on and prove to yourself and prove to the leaders that you want to be at that table with them that you can do the same things that they can do in that way that you can think that way? In some ways. It's time. I hate to say it, you know, you accumulate that over time. But you also have to do that work to be able to accumulate it. 

So you really need to start and LinkedIn is a wonderful place. We have all of these influencers and thought leaders that you can learn from, you need to be learning from them far more than you need to be one of them at the early stages. So you can talk the talk right but as long as you are really thinking like, who should I be learning from and paying attention to that is extremely important, it's also important to show that you have an understanding of all of the different areas of marketing. Is that getting to be a really, really big pie? That's a tall order, but you gotta start somewhere. 

So like, if you're a T-shaped marketer, like if you're a Jet, a specialist, and let's go back to social media, right? What are you doing along those other areas along that other tee line, to be able, you don't need to be the T in everything, but you need to have some understanding in business development and lead gen and brand and product market copywriting, a paid ad strategy, SEO, the list goes on and on and on and on for marketers these days, right video, Korea, motion and animation and creative tools like that, like you need to know their purpose, you need to know their value, you don't have to do all them and you don't have to be an expert in them. But if you don't know those things, a founder or a CEO is not going to trust you to hire for that. When you're building out your team, they're not going to trust that you know, maybe what you're talking about, but that is a strategy that should actually be employed. So you have to build up that knowledge to be able to do that. 

So I think those are really, really important things for early in career marketers to do as well as network to be connected and known. That's going to matter when you're a leader because at some point your you are going to need to hire so are you going to be able to do that successfully and quickly in a startup, are you gonna be able to like pull in an audience of people who maybe want to work for you, that's something that you might need to consider? And that's a new thing. We never had to really think about that before. On the professional skill side, the soft skill side? Are you humble? Can you put your ego aside? Can you work with difficult personalities that are often going to be at the table? Can you participate in conflict with love and care and compassion, right? 

Those are things I never thought I would be paying attention to. And I spend a lot more time on that now than I do on the marketing knowledge side, because of where I'm at in my career, right. But those things are extremely important. And often those things have gotten me really, really far in my career to buy, like, I don't wanna say like learning to play the game, but like, knowing what it is and what the roles are, and which kind of levers to pull in tools to use out of the toolbox at different times for those conversations has become really, really important. So paying attention to that, too, is essential.

Grayson Faircloth: 1:02:11 

Yeah, and I'm interested to hear you're having these conversations with your team, you know, they want to maybe they want to kind of advance the manager level, maybe I'm just interested when you're having these types of conversations with your team, whether they're bringing it up, or whether you're kind of bringing it up in terms of hey, where do you want to be in the next couple of years? Something like that? Like, what are you telling them? And what are you looking for? And how are those conversations with your internal team, like the people that look up to you now, how are they going?

Sara Croft:  1:02:39 

You know, it's a great question. In a startup, it's hard because you don't, you don't always know where you're going. I don't know what your role is going to be on a 50 person marketing team, I can't determine that today. And I really shouldn't determine that for you either. This one I've also learned through leading other people, my idea of you is maybe not your idea of you. So what do you want from your career? 

And if you don't know that, I can put a couple of things in front of you. And you can take time to experiment and figure that out. But at some point, you're going to have to make that decision of what it is that you want. I like to lean into what people are interested in. Because if you're interested in it, you're probably going to do it. Well. If you don't like social media, you're not going to do that. Well, like I've learned that lesson over time. And I have not given that as a task to people knowing that, hey, I don't think you're going to be passionate about this. And that has to come through in our brand voice. And if you can't convey that, that's not good. Right. So what are you curious about? Where are you most open minded? Where do you naturally gravitate? What is that for you?

 And then can we build a career path for you around that? Because wouldn't that be remarkable. And if it is Innovatemap, we like to think if you have the skill for it, if it's what the business needs. And this is a decision that we need to make, like if all those things work out really, really well, then you're probably able to go do that thing that you want to go, right. And I'm sure that's different from a lot of other companies. But that's how we grow people here and I subscribe to that methodology. If I ever went somewhere else. 

I would try to do that somewhere else because I think people really, really thrive in that environment. But it's tough because I can't tell you this is what the next six years will look like. This is what the next two years have. I can't say those things I don't know. But if you're at least passionate about something and interested in it, you're probably going to stick with that for a while. So let's lean into that. And let's see what that looks like. And let's grow there. We had a gentleman on my team who really wanted to start a podcast. And he did. And we launched it and it was great. And then he decided, like, he got so interested in venture capital, he wanted to go down that path, we didn't have that opportunity for him. That's totally fair. And my team was like, well, who's going to do the podcast? 

And I was like, Well, that was Austin's podcast, you know, like, we're not here to say, who's just going to do this thing that Austin was doing? That was his thing. And that's okay, there's probably some new thing that you have that you want to go do that's going to be valuable for the business with, of course, some exceptions of, hey, we have to have a website, we have to, we have to be present in certain places, we're going to have events, right. Like, of course, those things are going to happen. But hopefully there's something that you're interested in that you have the skill for, and that the business needs. And when all those things work out. That's a really tremendous opportunity for growth, for sure.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:05:30  

Yeah, no, I love that answer. So switching gears a little bit. We've learned a bunch of great stuff. But a couple of quick fun questions I have for you. What is the best Mexican restaurant in Indianapolis?

Sara Croft: 1:05:44  

I love this question. Okay, so I live on the east side of India. I live near Irvington. I'm in Emerson Heights, and there's this restaurant on East Washington before you get to the shadeland in between Emerson and shaylen. And I call it the circle Mexican restaurant. I don't actually know its name, which is so funny. 

And I was going to look it up because I knew you're gonna ask me. But it's like in an old, rotating diner type building, kind of next to this, like a decrepit strip mall. It doesn't really exist anymore, just like out there on the east side. 

And it's so good. If you don't ever go to the east side, there's a taco truck on every freaking corner in every parking lot. And they have the best food. So just head in that direction. And you're gonna find something that's really good. But a Mexican restaurant in East Washington is my suggestion for that.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:06:31 

Use Washington circle. 

Sara Croft:  1:06:34   

I don't even know if you can Google it. Yeah, but I'll find it and I'll send it to you.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:06:39   

Okay, cool. I was about to say it might take me a while looking across all of Washington Street on a map. There's a lot. Next question, favorite genre of art?

Sara Croft:  1:06:49 

Yeah, it changes depending on the season and who I am right now. And what that is. So, right now, it's abstract expressionism, which everybody knows this, they just might not know it by the name if you know Jackson Pollock, right. It just looked like paint splatters on a canvas. And people were like, oh, my god was this. 

This is the best thing since sliced bread. And that was in the 50s. There's this really good book called Ninth Street women. And it's about the wives of Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning, who were artists themselves first before they met their artists husbands, and Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock's wife, is the reason why we pay so much money for art. 

Today, when he passed away, she was like, no, no, no, these things are extremely valuable. You're gonna buy these for millions of dollars. And she changed the course of the value and the worth of art for probably the rest of time because of that. So it's a phenomenal book. And because of that, I'm like, super interested in that art phase right now.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:07:51 

Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. Abstract Expressionism. You said?

Sara Croft:   1:07:55  

Yes. Hi. I'll send you the book. It's like 1000 pages. It took me like a year to read it. But it's really, really good. I'll send it to you.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:08:03   

Awesome. And the last question, one last fun one. If you couldn't live on the moon, assuming all of your favorite people would join you, would you want to? So

Sara Croft:  1:08:15   

I love new experiences. So I'm kind of like, I mean…,

Grayson Faircloth:  1:08:21  

The only stipulation I have to stay on.

Sara Croft:  1:08:23

I don't get to come back. Well, I don't know. That opens up a whole world of experiences. Like what does music sound like on the moon? I don't know. Like, what does it like to eat on the moon? I don't know. That would be fun to find out. I could probably do it by myself, too. I'm a loner, really at heart. I think I'd want to do it maybe even more by myself. Have you seen the movie? The Martian?

Grayson Faircloth:  1:08:47   

Maybe I love space movies. But I always get the names mixed up.

Sara Croft:  1:08:51  

I think it's got Matt, Matt Damon in it. I can't remember. Yeah, where he's like, he gets left behind on Mars. And he has to build a colony. And so I would totally do that. You could leave it behind on Mars, and I would be cool. So I think the answer is, yes, I would do it. And maybe I would do it by myself and take nobody with me.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:09:11  

I'll let you know that he has a test subject if he wants to get a colony set up there.

Sara Croft:  1:09:18 

Definitely. I will tweet for him, I promise.

Grayson Faircloth:  1:09:22  

Well, I love that. Thank you so much for coming on. I think this was great. And yeah, I'm excited to get this live

.

Sara Croft:  1:09:29  

Well, thanks. Great. So it was a great conversation and I hope people have learned a few things. moments or gotta laugh thanks for having me

Grayson Faircloth:  0:00 

Today I'm joined by art enthusiast, food blogger, and marketing leader, Sarah Croft. Sarah is currently the marketing leader at Innovate map, which is a digital product agency. And Sarah is actually our first marketing guest on the sort of executive podcast. So we get to go down a couple marketing rabbit holes, we talk demand gen for spring building, we talk community building, and we also get into a little bit of customer marketing. So she's got a really interesting background and a lot of great marketing expertise. So I'm looking forward to sharing this one with you guys. Hey, Sara. Thanks for coming on.

Sara Croft:  00:34 

Hi, Grayson. It's great to be here.

Grayson Faircloth:  0:36  

Yeah, I'm excited. I know we've talked before. And I know a little bit of background on you. But I'm excited to get it on the podcast to share it with the rest of the world, and really dive into some more tactical marketing, guerrilla marketing, career type stuff. So I'm looking forward to it.

Sara Croft: 0:52

Let's do it. Oh, cool.

Grayson Faircloth:  0:53   

I want to get started in learning a little bit about your background. So mainly, like what brought you to end? And what kept you here?

Sara Croft:  1:00 

Yeah, so we'll get the interesting stuff out of the way at first, because what brought me to Indy was art, which is an odd thing to talk about in marketing, like, where did that come from? I studied art history. In college, I have a BA in Art History. And when I graduated, I had an internship at the previously called Indianapolis Museum of Art. And that's what brought me from Terre Haute, Indiana, which is where I grew up, went to ISU, here to Indianapolis for that art internship. 

And that was what I thought was going to be the start of an art career for me, until I realized a couple of things through that process about working in art and what I liked, and maybe what I didn't like through that. And at the same time, because my internship was only two days a week, I got another internship in marketing for a nonprofit in Indianapolis. And at the end of the summer, that was the one that turned into a full time job. 

And this was 2009. So still a little bit in a recession, Jobs were hard to find. I had an art history degree and I didn't know what I was going to do. So I took that marketing job. And I've been in marketing ever since. And I absolutely love it. So that's what brought me to Indy and a little bit of why I'm still here.

Grayson Faircloth:  2:12

Yeah, that's awesome. I know, the art to marketing path exists. But it's definitely less common than a lot of the other traditional paths and marketing to that first marketing job that you're talking about. What exactly were you doing in that job? And was that the moment you realized that marketing can be a career? Or are you still a little? Like, I don't know about this marketing idea?

Sara Croft:  2:33  

Oh, yeah, I had no idea. I had no idea. At the time, I did not know what I was doing. I don't know if I would have even called it marketing. At that point. I didn't really know what that was. So the funny thing is, I did blend art and marketing together in that second internship. I was brought on as an intern for Easter Seals Crossroads Disability Services nonprofit. And they put on a big conference every year at the convention center. And for this conference, it was going to be a milestone year, and they wanted to have an art exhibit at their conference. And so somehow, I think earlier in the summer, I had posted myself as like, Hey, open for work available to hire anybody out there on this website called [00:03:42-00:03:47]. I don't I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist anymore. And someone from Easterseals had found me and said, well, I'm actually looking for an intern to build an art exhibit, and you happen to be an art student looking for an internship, maybe this will work out. And so I did. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about working with people with disabilities, how to help people. I care a lot about people. And I don't think I knew that at the time. 

And that was something I was getting out of the internship as well. And I was learning a lot about marketing, and I just loved it. It was fun. I love the people that I worked with. I enjoyed living in Indianapolis, and I'm sure all of those things like collectively were being stirred in the little pot of Sarah Croft. And it said like, hey, you should maybe go after this as a potential career path. And truthfully, I didn't really have anything else at that time to go do if I wasn't going to continue down the art path that I thought I was continuing on. So I did end up taking that full time job. 

And that allowed me to get into social media right at the time in 2009. If you remember when businesses could just get on social for the first time. So that was like you didn't have to have an edu email address to get on Facebook anymore. We've got these pages, what do we do? How do we figure that out? 

And so I was the youngest person at Easter Seals. And they literally raised my hand for me. And I was like, Sarah, you should probably do something with this for us. And so I created their whole social platform, I created a content marketing forum, we did a podcast, believe it or not, like 15 years ago. So it was a lot of fun. And it was kind of like the kickstart of this creativity in marketing that I was realizing existed. And that's probably what I relate to art that I really enjoy. There's a lot of creativity and marketing, and if you learn how to harness that you can do some really wonderful things.

Grayson Faircloth: 5:07 

Yeah, no, I love that. And then this idea of pathing. Let's continue on that. So what happened next? I know you, Indianapolis Museum of Art tech point, just talk a little bit about that journey, catching everybody up.

Sara Croft: 5:22 

Yeah. So I stayed at Easter Seals for quite a while. I was there for a total of six years, which is rare. I think for someone I even early on in their career to stay somewhere that long. It was a great group of people with a fantastic mission that I could get behind. And I was really enjoying the work that I was doing. And I was progressing in my career. So I started in social, then I got into content marketing, building a blog, platform, podcasting, all that great stuff. And then eventually, I took on events and fundraising, I took on PR. 

And I started to create this kind of holistic view of like a generalist in marketing and all these different areas. But I had, if I had a T-shaped, it was definitely social and content, for sure. And something told me, I had this inside feeling that I needed to grow and do more, take on more and learn more. I was hungry for that at that time. And so I did those things. I did leave Easterseals at one point for a quick stint at a PR firm and didn't really care for that experience too much. 

But it gave me some extra tools in my toolbox that I needed at that time. So I used retail for about six years. And then a great friend of mine said to me, hey, I know this organization called Tech point, and they need a marketer. And I really think you should go take this job. And so I talked to Michelangelo here at Tech point. And that was, let's see, 2016 I think, and I ended up taking that job, accepted that job and started really getting into tech at that point. So I'd switched careers from nonprofit to tech, although tech point is still a nonprofit, and really kind of skyrocketed my career from there.

Grayson Faircloth:  6:58  

Yeah, along the way, I believe as well. You began to pick up some freelance writing before tech or was that kind of like during the tech porn era? Little a little.

Sara Croft:  7:06 

A bit of both. Okay, so I grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, if you're not familiar, have you? Have you ever been if you've ever driven through it, maybe like on the way to St. Louis or something

Grayson Faircloth:  7:15  

Maybe driven through? Yeah, I'm not personally familiar with it too much, though.

Sara Croft:  7:20  

So, it's a small town. It's like 60,000 people ISU makes up a big bulk of it. Rose Hulman is in Terre Haute. A lot of people have heard of Rose Hulman. Right. So it's small, and there's not a lot of job opportunities there. If you don't work at ISU or rose, if you don't work in retail, or the hospital. I had an internship at the Slope Art Museum, I worked at the one place I could potentially work in Terre Haute and I knew hey, this isn't the right path for me. So I had to get out. I had to find other job opportunities elsewhere. 

Landing in Indy was amazing for me, because I got to step back and be like, Wow, this feels like a big city. Compared to tariffs. This is like this is something's going on here. And at that time, in 2009-2010, Indy was just because like we were bidding for the Super Bowl, these big giant events that we had here, all of the food, seeming that just like kind of crept up out of nowhere and became this explosion, like, it was really hard not to eat that up as like a 24 or 25 year old in the city, right. 

So I had a lot of fun, like exploring and enjoying Indianapolis in what it is. And I decided I was going to write about it. And I thought I could start my own blog, because I know how to do that now as a marketer, or I could maybe lend my talent somewhere else. And so that's why I started working to visit Indiana. And I said, I'm going to help other people see just how amazing Indy is from my eyes, and got to kind of scratch the itch of riding with visiting Indiana. 

So I did that for a long time. I wrote like their top 25 Restaurant guides, if you ever come across some of those, and it was a total blast, total blast. So I love Indianapolis, I have a lot of credit that I would give it for my career. For sure. I'm interested.

Grayson Faircloth:  9:04  

In so like, obviously, writing is a big part of marketers, just marketing in general. But I'm sure there are quite a few marketers that probably don't do any writing, maybe more on the creative side. I'm interested in how you like doing all that writing to shape who you are as a marketer today?

Sara Croft:  9:22  

This is where I actually get to lean on what I learned in art history, a little bit for marketing because I had to write 30 page research papers throughout my entire three and a half years of college. 

So I didn't know that I was building that skill at that time. But I was in the library doing research with real books at the time trying to write these papers and annotate them and tell the world about art. So I had already been building up that skill, which made content marketing really, really natural for me. But you know, I will say to your point, yes, there are creative marketers out there, we have a marketing designer on your team who's a designer by trade, but he is a marketing designer, everybody still has to write, even if you're not writing long form blog posts, or white papers, or those sorts of things. 

There's copy hidden in just about every single stinking thing that we do, whether it's an email, you're writing to someone, you're preparing for a presentation that you're going to give like, you don't really get the excuse to not have some writing talent, in my opinion, like, you've got to have something there or at least want to try. If you don't feel like you're really, really great at it. So I would encourage anybody who's maybe listening and isn't thinking about writing is something that the skill that they need to pick up on to maybe think twice about that. 

Grayson Faircloth:  10:43  

Yeah, I agree. I'm a big writer myself, so I'm definitely on board with that. I'm interested. This question is about, like, your entire career, so year to date, think about everything, what would you say was your biggest failure as a marketing professional? And what was the moment that felt like the biggest weight and felt like it was super key? Because maybe it was small looking back. But if you thought about how it felt like the biggest one is kind of like where the question is, go in there.

Sara Croft:  11:15  

Yeah, 15 years. And I still feel like I'm pretty early in this game. And you know, when I think about that question of biggest failure, it's a tough one for me to answer. And I feel like that's a very egotistical answer, like I have had failures. That's not true. That's not to mean that I haven't had failure. What I'm noticing right now in my career is that as a marketing leader, my biggest failure really is when I'm not giving opportunities to my team in the way that I should. And maybe I'm either the loudest person at the table. 

And it used to be that I had to be that as an individual contributor. And that's not the role that I need to play anymore. And so I have a fear that sometimes I walk away from a room and maybe we didn't get the best ideas, maybe we didn't get the most creative, open minded, curious conversation to get to the right output. Because I domineer, that or I came in with my own ideas, because I like my ideas, too. And I want to also be exhaustive in some way. And that's hard. That's really hard as a creative person who's also a leader, kind of say, like, you know, you don't push pixels anymore, maybe as a design practice leader, but you do that through your team, right? 

That has been a really hard, hard learning lesson. It's also then frankly, my biggest win, is when I get to really pull back from the table. And I just say, here's the prompt, here's the problem, we need to come up with a solution to fix it right, or to move in the right direction, or grow the company revenue. What are we collectively going to do about that? And how do I make sure that I'm getting everybody's ideas to get to the right outcome. And that's my role now. So when that happens, which is far more often now, those are amazing wins, because they're my team's wins. And they're not so much my wins, but they're my team's wins. And that is like a whole nother bit of joy that I didn't know I was going to get to experience in my marketing career.

Grayson Faircloth:  13:15  

Yeah, I love that. And when would you say you realize like, or that mindset shifted from your individual. So you're in an individual contributor role, you become more of like a marketing leader. But you still have some of those tendencies to share your ideas, like we were talking about. And this is it fits really well with the purpose of this podcast, because I think a lot of like, new leaders in their roles like that still like the mindset that they're in. When would you say that that clicked? Or what changed in your mind that made you see that exact concept that you just talked about?

Sara Croft:  13:48  

Yeah. So for my team listening to this, I kind of apologize in advance because it's a little sooner than I would like to admit probably. They've been through some of those experiences with me here at Innovate map. You know, one of the things you and I talked about Grayson is like what is like being that first marketer to come in at a startup, right? And I've been through that role so many times you are so used to doing everything, you command everything, you control everything you have to. You're constantly balancing your time and figuring that out. You get on this hamster wheel, because you have to, and then you start bringing in team members, you start pulling in these resources, but you're still on the hamster wheel and you got to figure out how to get off it and know when you do need to be on it. And when you don't need to be on that hamster wheel. 

So I wouldn't say that I learned that well, at Tech point, when I was building my team there, I was still trying to figure all of that out. I did finally get to a point here at Innovate map where I feel like I've got the right staff to do the work, that I don't have to do all of the things with them as much anymore. So because of where the business is at and what the business needs of me, all of those things start to make sense, right? Where I'm like, okay, I get to pull back from that point, because it has to align both with the business and my own personal interests of how I want to lead, right? 

So really, only until recently when that happened. And it's kind of funny, because now I'm like, okay, the team, maybe we keep growing, we keep getting bigger, and I'm kind of sitting here with my finger on my chin like, alright, well, what do we do next? What should I do next? As a marketing leader? How do I guide you when I'm not involved in the work as much? So come in from lessonly on Monday and speak to the Innovate math team. And he said, you're always a player coach until I think he said it was maybe I don't know, 250 people at lessonly. Before he was just a coach. Oh, wow. Yeah. So on the one hand, I still have to play, I still write articles, it was published this morning, but the coach needs to take more of a front seat for sure.

Grayson Faircloth:  15:52 

And I'm interested in this concept, because I see it in a couple subsets of business. But marketing is definitely one of the more obvious ones. How do you, as a marketing leader, best serve as a coach, when maybe like, I don't know how good your graphic design background and stuff is. But what I'm trying to get at is, maybe you're not an expert in the field that they're doing or specializing in within marketing. So maybe it's like event marketing, and maybe you sort of know what to do, but you're not like an expert. They're like, how do you coach them, when you yourself? Are you not an expert in that particular subset of marketing?

Sara Croft:  16:32  

Sure. And that's a great question. Because as a leader, you're not going to be an expert everywhere you read, you shouldn't be. So I mean, I was referencing 2009, like, you know, how dated that social media knowledge is now. I mean, it's a completely different world, what we're doing now than what I was doing then. But what's the same is why we're doing this. And for what purpose, to have a conversation to say something to explain a product to sell a product, whatever, right? The reason why we're doing it is still the same to connect with other people, and people who we can't normally get to in our day to day, right. So what I think about is for marketing leaders out there or emerging leaders, you don't need to and shouldn't know the details of exactly what your team needs to be best at. 

But you need to know what problem we are solving? What's our goal? What are we trying to accomplish? How are we really impacting the business? And that's where you get to break apart from all these silos of marketing? Is this an event that a social media campaign is this and you get to be so creative, and say, well, what's going to solve this problem? And that's going to be a smattering of a lot of different things. 

And it might not be that you need to be thinking about why I have to learn to be an expert in paid ads. To do that really well. For an Innovatemap, I actually want you to be an expert in Innovatemaps, and then figure out what about your skills? Can you apply to make this happen? So when I route myself in that and when I route my team in that it doesn't matter? So much is like, yeah, okay, this design could be better. But what are we really trying to accomplish here? And does it meet that objective? And I think that can help people answer that question. Real faster.

Grayson Faircloth:  18:15  

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Another question there. So meeting that objective, I feel like every marketers, half of what they're doing is almost like proving that what they're doing is, you know, meeting that objective, where have you seen is like, the good line as a marketing leader working at a smaller company working with a lot of early stage companies, as your clients and stuff like that, like, how do you balance like that need for attribution, and like being able to prove to the rest of the executive team that hey, this is working, or hey, this is not working? Do we need to invest more money in this other thing? How do you kind of handle that? As a marketing leader?

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