The Sales Hacker Podcast
The Sales Hacker Podcast

Episode 0 · 1 month ago

207. The Journey of a New CEO Part 1


In this special two-part episode, we've got Jen Spencer with us. Jen is the new CEO of SmartBug Media, and is joining us to share her journey to becoming the CEO and how she is leading the organization. Join us for a raw conversation about leadership, organizational alignment, and how the marketing landscape is continually evolving.

What You’ll Learn

  1. How Jen became the CEO of SmartBug Media
  2. The balance of keeping things the way they are with instituting new direction
  3. What marketing tactics are and aren’t working anymore 

Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. About Jen’s journey to CEO [2:45]
  2. What it’s like being a CEO [06:52]
  3. Organizational realignment [11:21]
  4. Strategies for talent acquisition, retention, and inclusivity [14:50]
  5. New marketing innovations [19:14]
  6. Sam’s Corner [23:31]

One, two, one, three, hey, everybody has Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the sales hacker podcast. Today we've got a special show. We are recording this from Los Angeles where we just hosted the pavilion elevate road show, and as part of that road show I interviewed Jen Spencer, the new CEO of Smart Bug media, and so this week we're going to do the interview in two parts. You're going to hear today, which is Tuesday, and then you'll hear the second part of the interview on Friday. For friend instead of Friday fundamentals, it'll be a two parter, which will be my conversation with Jen. Jen's incredible executive. She started at smart bug as VP of sales and marketing, was promoted to chief revenue officer and then was promoted to chief executive officer, and we talked about that journey. So I think it's a great episode, I think it's a great conversation and she's really an inspiration for a lot of executives that want to make the leap from operator to CEO. So we talked about that entire transition. Now, before we get there, let's listen to a word from our sponsors. This episode of the Sales Hacker podcast is brought to you by outreach. outreaches the first and only engagement and intelligence platform built by revenue innovators for revenue innovators. Outreach allows you to commit to accurate sales forecasting, replace manual process with realtime guidance and unlock actionable customer intelligence that guides you and your team to win. More often, traditional tools don't work in a hybrid sales world. Find out why outreaches the right solution at click dot outreach dot io forward slash thirty MPC. That is, click dot outreach dot IO forwards thirty MPC. This episode of the Sales Hacker podcast is brought to you by ambition. Every revenue leader feels the pressure to keep sales high and REP attrition low. Take Control with ambitions revenue performance platform, a suite of tools that combine performance intelligence with Sales Gimmification and coaching orchestration to drive accountability and encouragement across your entire Revenue Org. See why top companies like Fedex, ATP and the Atlanta Braves rely on ambition to keep morale high and Rep attrition low. Check them out at ambitioncom. This episode of the Sales Hacker podcast is sponsored by pavilion. Pavilion is the key to getting more out of your career. Our private membership connects you with a network of thousands of like minded peers and resources where you can tap into dozens of classes and training through Pavilion University. Make sure you take advantage of the pavilion for teams corporate membership and enroll your entire go to market team in one of our industry leading schools and courses, including marketing school, Sales School, Sales Development School and Revenue Operation School. Unlock your professional potential and your team's professional potential with a pavilion membership. Gets started today at join Pavilioncom once again. That's joined pavilioncom. With me is my friend Jen Spencer. Jen is the newly appointed, I say relatively newly appointed, Theeo of smart bug media, a career marketer. Right, yes, and Jenna Jen's been a member for a little while and her journey, you know, this is what we're going to be talking about, is her journey, because it's pretty. It's pretty, it's pretty incredible. She I first got to know her. I think your title is VP of marketing. Is that right? Marketing? So vp of sales and marketing. She then and our very first zero school, which was the fall of twenty nine, was at the fall of two thousand and twenty, was the fall of two thousand and twenty, and Jen was one of the first ten people that took that program because she had just been promoted to chief revenue officer and she wanted to make sure that she knew what she was doing. A year later, she's now been promoted to chief executive officer. So so let's let's just let's start by setting the stage a little bit. Give us a context, Jen, on what is smart bug media and then talk to us a little bit about that journey that I just described. In your words were so smart bug media is an intelligent inbound marketing agency, so full service all things digital agency. We are a hub spot elite partner,...

...partner of the year. We sell and service more hub spot than anyone really in the world. And then we actually acquired an agency last year that's a clavio partner, so they're more direct to consumer. So we're starting to provide those ECOMMERCE services around Klavio. So most, most of the time it's a company between like five million and five hundred million who's like we need more pipeline from marketing. We need marketing. Drug were pipeline uts. We were kind of coming in and supporting and working with our client fund retainer. And how big is the company? From numbers that you're willing to disclose, our employs or where are you in the your in your growth trajectory? We're close to two hundred employees. We're all fully remote. We've always been fully remote. About twenty five million in revenue. For over twenty five million and revenue. And and when I I first met Smart Bug, I hire smart bug. I was as a client in two thousand and thirteen working running marketing at assass company. There were ten employees. When I joined a VP of sales and marketing. In two thousand and seventeeen, I was employing number twenty eight. So been some fast grow recently. And your private equity owned. Is that right? We are. Yeah, we were acquired in January of two thousand and twenty. So talk to us about the journey to CEO. Specifically, you're promoted to crow. How did that happen? And then, of course, the biggest question is. You know what's different? What's surprised you about being a CEO? What's not surprised you? How do you like it? Give us some context and some background. So my journey to being CEO is interesting because there was, I later learned there was sort of a master plan that I was just not part of. So when we were acquired by private equity and we were going through do diligence in the fall of two thousand and nineteen, those investors were meeting with of key people in the organization. I was one of them. They were looking for who is the future leader, because our founder and a that WHO's now he's the Tramman of our board, but he knew he was not. He recognized he was not the person to leave the organization through the next day of growth. So because of that they were looking and there were a lot of questions that were asked of me about, well, what's my career path like? Where do I want to be? Do I want to get back into SASS and technology, but I want to go into consulting? Don't want to do my own you know, you know what that was and what I appreciate about my my former CEO is we constantly talked about that. So were, you know, keeping keeping track of what was going on, and it was. It was before it became Crro. He actually started to talk to me about potential succession planning, and so I said great, I'm so glad we're talking about this. I would like to be our our first chief revenue officer, and this is why. And let me kind of pay this picture for you. So so he's like, wow, that's the first. I can't believe you just converted and offered to be later, at some point in the future, become CEO. You converted that into a promotion for yourself right now. Like yes, what's toff? So to what's it like being CEO? What's different? What surprised you? What's given you anxiety, if anything at all? Oh, I mean I felt very prepared to step into the role. We moved me into president, so I started taking over more standard operations, but I think the biggest thing it surprised me is that I'm in charge like I get to me. I have to make the decisions right and make decisions quickly and, you know, can of trust my gut and gather data like that. That was just that was a little bit shell shocking to kind of look around like it's really my call. Okay, this is my call. The thing that was probably be most shocking and like upsetting or frustrating for me was that not everyone's going to like me right like, and I'm used to being a fairly well liked kind of person among my team, I group, but inspirational leader of sorts, and so when you start getting into like the employee pulse kind of surveys and stuff and you scroll through, Oh, there's some nasty grams in there and Dang, are you gonna blame me for? I'm being blamed for whether it's whether it's the the cost of gas or the war in Ukraine or whatever,... all of the things that people are feeling are kind of like. I'm, in a very accountable person, so it's very easy for me to accept that as that's my responsibility. So I've had to try to adjust to me like hey, this isn't my I'm responsible for helping ensure I have a positive, safe, healthy growth environment from my team. I cannot be responsible for everything in their lives, and so that's been something I'm learning. What's been the on boarding process like is, did you put together a three thousand six hundred and ninety. I have to imagine. I mean maybe you had full visibility into the entire PNL, the cash balance and the balance sheet, but how do you think about on boarding yourself? Because again, you're the person making the calls. You have to design your own training program essentially. So I come it's a we're very visible organization, very transparent, especially at at the executive level, and there were a lot of conversations with our board who they're actually located here and say a Monica, which is great, and and and so they really wanted to make sure I understood the business, you know, mechanisms. When they presented me with offer to be to move into the CEO position, it also came with a couple of support supportive kind of items. One was that our founder would stay on board in a consulting type of capacity. So I meet with him if I it's my call, but I meet with him for an hour every Monday morning and we're focused on kind of how things moving strategically. I asked advice of him right. He's there for me. If I need to not take that call because something else in the business is more pressing, then I can cancel the call right, but I have him, you know, accessible and he's helping us with MNA work, you know, and so I don't have to worry about the Ma stuff until we get into due diligence. So that's one. The other thing and a meeting you as an acquirers, as an acquire yeah, because that I have again, probably, given that you have a private equity backer, probably rolling up other similar companies might be part of the strategy. Exactly, exactly. And the other thing that the board presented me with was an opportunity to attend an executive development program at Wharton, at you pen, and it's a program that's a two week very intense program that will remind you of your age. You are not no longer in your tent S, and but it was it's geared specifically for executives who are making a transition in their career years. So everyone they are either just recently moved into a new role or they're preparing for that new role, and that was so helpful in giving me like a clean slate break, like I became CEO officially February first and then left for two weeks and went to this program which you think, oh my gosh, I can't believe you did this, but it was really beneficial because it allowed me to come in and like reset. This is now I'm in charge. This as my vision for the company and I I would not have thought to ask for I would out have known that existed, I would not have thought to ask for it. So something that was presented a sort of part of my overall compensation package. And so let's talk about the vision. You know, how do you? I'm you know you you talked to the founder every every Monday. They have a way of doing things, he or she, whoever they are. You probably have. You know, you probably are completely aligned in many ways, but in other ways you might not be. How do you think about beginning to shift the trajectory, the culture, whatever the things are that you for a long time probably had a strong point of view on? How do you think about balancing that transition? Well, we are really aligned and that's important, and so we have. I've always subscribed to his ten year be Hag right, and then I was part of the the team that put together, well, what does five years look like? What is three years look like, etc. Etc. So I've always been part of that so it's with working in lockstep. There are a couple of times where we have disagreed on the way to actually do, you know, do something,...

...but you know, he's been very, very generous in like allowing me to really step in and do what I think is best, because he's identified like well, I think you're the best person for us, you know, to get to that kind of next level. So I don't think the vision of the organ the vision of the organization hasn't chained really and it won't. But the tactics, the things that we do in a dated basis, the operations of the organization are evolving a bed. But it's also it's with our our growth. It's when you think about how we're growing so quickly, we cannot continue to do things the way we've always done them, and everyone's on the same page about this. Even meeting with our board and talking about some organizational realignment, I can present that business case, what I'm seeing why and they trust me. So organizational realignment means new ORG chart, means new business units. What does it mean for you in this context, without revealing anything sensitive, yeah, it's well, we've, if you're familiar with hub spot, they've really grown up market and we've grown up market with them and it's been exciting to see so. As an example, when I started at smart bug, we were selling retainers, marketing retainers, for around fifty five hundred six thousand dollars a month, and now our average is fourteen thousand. So we are we're providing more services at a higher premium to a larger, larger customer. And so once when you do that, you maybe have to start to think about will who's delivering those services, because our product is our people and we recognize that by doing conducting some listening sessions with our team in the fall, listening to them and understanding, well, what's their career path, what are they looking for, what do they love about their job? What would they rather not do? We started to identify, Hey, there might be a better way, of smarter way for us to organize ourselves. So that's what we're in the process of looking at now. It's you know, I came back from this Warton program and I'm like, all right, well, everyone should just be like southwest, because southwestern figured out, like every case study, every professor did, a matter for it was finance offs, like marketing everything came back to a southwest case study and it's but it's it is kind of fun when you step aside and you look at a completely different business model and go all right, well, what did they do? What is the one or two little things that they switched and how did it propel them forward? And so that's what we're in the process of doing right now. That makes that's that's exciting. Yeah, how do you think about? You know, we were talking, we had a penal about talent acquisition, right, and I gave some stats. That are forty seven thousand that. Those numbers, by the way, are true for every function. You are an agency, right, and so you are selling. I'm always curious about firms that sell XYZ as a service or XYZ capability, because you got to hire people too. So how do you think about talent acquisition? What are your strategies for acquisition? Retention? You know, inclusivity, how to smart bug approach that? So retention, talent retention and growth is or is really a really important part of our of our strategy, and being able to grow people and create those career paths is something that we're we were investing quite a bit in so things like when you once you hit a director level and our organization you are now eligible for a fully funded pavilion membership. Oh, Nice, nice, yeah, it's a value addn't know she was going to say right, but it's it is. I'm looking at how do we create these like value drivers for people that are going to make them like want to stay and want to grow within ourt within our company, because the truth is there's there's a SASS company in Silicon Valley that would pay my team so much more money to go work there. Right, but what's the trade up and what are we what is it that we're providing? And so we've always been a fully remote organization for, you know, the beginning of the history of the company, for fifteen years. There's work life integration, true flex time.

There's other factors that are that are really important to us. Talent acquisition is the hardest part of what we do and capacity planning on alignment is like one of the up like the hardest part of what we do. So we want to be able to grow people internally as best as best we can and we also want to use our people as cultural ambassadors for organization to attract others. So you know, we you know we were posting the roles on indeed and last or and all we're doing all of those things. But really, where we get our people? From? Our word of mouth, referrals from other smart bugs. So if you ensure that you're creating a really positive environment for people to grow and and and fulfill their their own dreams, I mean even let's go backwards and B think about but my founder was talking to me about my goals. He wanted to understand what was important to me as a human. There were things like, Hey, my twin boys are about to go to college. I wouldn't be able to pay for college and not have a heart attack. Right. I want to I want to write a book, I want to teach workshops. There were like things that didn't necessarily have a hundred percent to do with smart bug, but his investment in me and what I wanted to become was sort of I sort of associate those two. Write like that's my career and my personal life, and so I've been trying to do that for, you know, all the other smart bugs to but it's a tough market out there right now. Do you you're based in Phoenix right am is that part of the strategy? Is it geographic diversity, hiring people from all over the country as opposed to just concentrating in the major centers. That's always been part of the strategy. We have people. We've had people in Bismarck, North Dakota and Manhattan canvas. I didn't know there was a Manhattan Kansas. Oh Yeah, in Kansas state there. Yes, yes, there's, you know there's, there's. We have people that do that, are exceptional talents and they just don't happen to live in New York's and Francisco. La. Love you, La, but you know, they're so and the cost of living is also higher, obviously, and we're services company. We don't have margins like fass companies do. Yeah, so, so we've had to do that. HOUSE SASS companies don't have those margins. Eire, sadly, I spend like maybe, yeah, exactly, it's all on the out ears. Yeah, but so it's so, it's it. That's been a big part of our strategy and and there are a lot of really good people who live on farms and live places where, Hey, as long as you've got you've got, you've got the the smarts and you've guy, Internet connection your Golden Right. Absolutely. So we're starting to expand now and we have. We had hired our first team member in El Salvador and she just was amazing, and so we sort of been exploring a little bit more and in South America and really wanting to stay aligned on us time zones, but hire hiring outside when we see like hey, it's a really competitive market. Role. Okay, well, let's go. Let's go fish in a different pond, like why are we being in the same place? But yeah, I mean, especially again with compensation rising the way it is. Let's shift to your subject matter expertise a little bit, just because it's we're all sales and marketers here and it's interesting. What have you seen change over the last you know, you've been doing this for a little while and there's constantly innovation happening on the marketing front. What things are working for your clients now that weren't working before? What things have stopped working that used to work? What do you see across the broadly define d you know, demand gen kind of content marketing landscape? So in Mount Marketing has changed as evolved. But what's fun is we, I feel like we've been a part of that story of helping kind of evolve that and we branded ourselves as intelligent inbound because for us, for in bound to be successful, it's more than just exactly what hub spot said to do. You know, I love them, but sometimes it's like, well, you can't just that. Doesn't you get just blog any books, and then just money falls from the guy. So there's there's other things and and and and getting into like revenue operations, before it was called...

...revenue operations. Layering different kinds of paid media public relations is something that will kind of loop in. So it's it's there's not just like a like one play. We were talking about plays and running the old play. I can't run the same play I ran at that time. Solutions Back in two thousand and thirteen. That was crazy successful. If I did that now, I would have diminishing returns on those, you know, on that effort. So I think that's that the market is obviously that. That's really that's really evolving and changing. But I think one of the biggest things that's change, honestly, is the pressure cooker that revenue leaders, at marketers in particular, are in to get instant results is one of the most frustrating things I think about. That's different than it used to be. It's very different. Yeah, it's it's and it we're to blame a little bit for it. Right, like as marketers, but but as we have more responsibility, more of like kind of a seat of the executive table, which is great giant, more more of a piece of up high. There's obviously more like kind of you know, shown on us and and so we talked about like sales leaders having that shorter time frame. I'm worried about marketing leaders. I see clients come in and they're in like he'll marry mode and thinking like oh well, we're just going to like throw some content together and like the world's going to everything's going to change and pipeline and that just not the case. So I think there are unrealistic expectations more and more being put on marketing and part of that's also there's so much technology, which is great, it's really cool, but it also comes at a cost, and so you're constantly looking at will. When am I going to get the Roi of this bend? What are there specific categories that you have, either that you're bullish or bearish on. You know recently. You know, if I'd said recently, your ago would have our two years ago to would a minute count face marketing. But the the evolution of that is intent data and intent data platforms. And there was a conversation within pavilion, within the CMO channel about if everybody's using the same intent data, is it really proprietary or useful to that specific the what do you think about those categories? Are there specific strategies or tactics that you're that you think are particularly useful right now? Yes and no. Like it's even if you think back to like early days of like Seo, it was always just do the right thing. Right if you if you know who your customer is, you know who your buyer is and you understand what their pains are and you create value for them. However, you create value, whether it's like through content, those conversations, going to events, what have you, that's where you're going to find success. Anything else that seems like a quick win. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. But I mean we use intent data, we use it for ourselves and I we have we have examples of success we have examples of total failure. It depends on what you put into it in like kind of what surrounds it. So same thing with accountbase marketing. Right now my team saying we can't do a BM without intent. Doll wave it will. We used used to say we can't do we can't do anything without ABM. Now we can't. You know. So it's there's always going to be kind of something else that's layer. So I'm still like staying the course on know your people, take a psychological approach to who you're trying to attract and engage and be a human to them and try to do it at scale. And if that means you're leveraging certain technology to do that at skill and great, but none of this is a magic wand if there's no pullerable at it right. So that was part one. Part one of my conversation with Jen Spencer, CEO Smart Bug Media, recorded live from Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Proper where we held the pavilion elevate road show. You'll hear part two this coming Friday. One quick takeaway. Luck is when opportunity meets preparation, and you can tell that Jen prepared herself. I want to add a modifier to that common phrase. Preparation creates opportunity, which creates luck. Jen invested in herself,...

...she made sure that she was ready and she advocated for herself to take that leap from Croro to Seeo. Initially the advocacy was just to go from VP of sales and marketing to Croro, but the board and the founder of the company saw that she had invested in herself and prepared and that created the opportunity. So thanks so much for listening. We're going to do take part two of this conversation this coming Friday. If you want to reach me, you can. You can email me. Sama Join PAVILIONCOM. If you have enjoined the sales hacker community yet, please give it a try. It's an incredible place and you'll get a ton of value out of it. There's over twenty five thousand sales professionals conversating all at sales hackercom. If you haven't given us five stars you have please do that. Otherwise, let's listen to part two of our conversation this coming Friday, after a word from our sponsors right now. Thanks so much for listening and I'll see you on Friday. Thanks so much for listening to the Sales Hacker podcast. Today's episode was brought to you by outreach. Remember, outreach allows you to commit to accurate sales forecasting, replace manual process with realtime guidance and unlock actionable customer intelligence guiding you and your team to win more often. Go to click dot outreach, dot io forwards lash thirty MPC. We were also brought to you by pavilion. Pavilion is the key to getting more out of your career. In Roll in sales school, Sales Development School, marketing school and many, many more for yourself or for your entire team. Learn more at join PAVILIONCOM. And finally, ambition, the revenue performance pharm a sweet of tools combining performance intelligence with sales gamification and coaching orchestration. See why top companies like Fedex ATP in the Atlanta braves rely on ambition to keep morale high and wrap attrition low. At ambitioncom. Thanks so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time.

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