February 1, 2024

Leadership Strategies in Turbulent Times

When economic pressures hit, the pressure on CMOs intensifies. The decisions you make as CMO can significantly impact your marketing team’s ability to weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side. But fear not! 

In this episode, we’ll be speaking with three bright minds and marketing leaders who have successfully navigated through storms: CMOs Marca Armstrong of Sensera Systems, Katrina Klier of Sage Strategy Group, and Gabi Zijderveld of Smart Eye.

Tune in explore how to captain your team when external factors are pushing in, how to be nimble when the unexpected happens, and how to get ahead of employee burnout while inspiring productivity. We’re about to gain some serious altitude in our conversation today, so fasten your seat belts and get ready for a ride filled with insights!

What You’ll Learn 

  • The key steps in helping employees adapt in turbulent times 
  • How to get ahead of employee burnout  
  • How to maintain a good work/life balance 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 382 on YouTube 

Resources Mentioned 


  • [3:54] Marca Armstrong: Keep it in small chunks 
  • [11:47] Gauging stress remotely  
  • [14:07] Katrina Klier: Transparency and empathy 
  • [18:21] When you’re not hitting sales goals   
  • [23:23] Gabi Zijderveld: Personal lives and career goals 
  • [31:17] Adjusting in a nimble environment  
  • [37:23] On CMO Huddles: Turn hype into help  
  • [39:41] Employees on the brink of burnout 
  • [41:17] Maintaining your own life balance 
  • [45:25] Favorite thought leaders 
  • [47:26] Final words of wisdom: Leading your team in turbulent times

Highlighted Quotes  

“Don’t assume you know how other people are doing and how they’re feeling. Take the time to understand what your team is, and then lead them from there.” —Marca Armstrong, Head of Marketing & Customer Success at Sensera Systems

“You can’t take care of others if you haven’t taken care of yourself, at least not very well, so make sure you’ve got a community of support for yourself.” —Katrina Klier, Senior Managing Partner at Sage Strategy Group

“Give your team members an opportunity to grow and learn, but above all, give them opportunities to shine and showcase the work that they’re doing.” —Gabi Zijderveld, Chief Marketing Officer of Smart Eye 

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Marca Armstrong, Katrina Klier, & Gabi Zijderveld


Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness, and that donates 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. Wait, what? Well, it turns out that B2B CMOs and penguins have more in common than you think. Both are highly curious and remarkable problem solvers. Both prevail in harsh environments by working together with peers. And just as a group of penguins is called a Huddle. Over 352 B2B CMOs come together and support each other via CMO Huddles. If you’re a B2B marketer who could share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and dive into CMO Huddles. We even have a free starter program and of course, our robust Leader Program, neither of which requires penguins hat. Thank goodness, join us. And before we get to the episode, let me do a quick shout-out to the professionals at Share Your Genius. We started working with them over a year ago to make this show even better and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing renegade Drew Neisser.

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. You’re about to listen to a recording of CMO Huddles Studio, our live show featuring the CMOs of CMO Huddles a community that’s sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness every day of the week. This time we’ve got a conversation on Leading Your Team in Turbulent Times with Huddlers Gabi Zijderveld of Smart Eye, Katrina Klier of Sage Strategy Group, and Marca Armstrong of Sensera Systems. Let’s dive in. This is your captain Drew Neisser. Speaking Live from Silicon Valley today and it appears we’re experiencing a little bit of turbulence. The landscape is constantly shifting and when economic pressures hit the pressure on CMOs intensifies, the decisions you make as CMO can significantly impact your organization’s ability to weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side. But fear not. Today we’ll be speaking with three bright minds in marketing leadership who have successfully navigated through storms. We’re about to gain some serious altitude in our conversation today. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for a ride filled with insights. And with that, let’s bring on Marca Armstrong, CMO of Passport, who previously joined us on the show to shed light on the intricacies of Event Marketing and Customer Advocacy. Hello, Marco, welcome back. Where are you and how are you? 

Marca: Thanks, Drew. I am in beautiful Colorado, about 20 miles north of Denver. It’s a gorgeous day here. And I’m doing well. I’m thrilled to be on the show again.

Drew: That’s awesome. Let’s just jump in. It’s funny, I saw this Gartner report. And it’s a little gloomy out there. And the pressures on CMOs to deliver speedy results, regardless of the economy, are enormous. So I’m wondering how do you share this mandate with your team? It’s like we need to hit new targets. Without putting so much stress on them that they go “Okay, forget it.”

Marca: Yeah, so I think the key when we are in this turbulent environment, is to keep it in small chunks. I mean, at the beginning of the year, last year, we set out our KPIs for 2023. Those KPIs haven’t changed and to your point, if anything, they’ve gotten more intensified. But if you continue to go after the team on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and say, Where are we with the big number, like you said, people are going to just lose sight of the horizon and the goal. So what we’ve done is really focused on what do we have to do this week. What do we have to do next week? And then how does that ladder up to the month and then let’s go celebrate that win. And as an example, just the other day we had done a webinar with a partner we had repurpose some content from our largest trade show, and our marketing operations manager put a note into the revenue Slack channel to said, listen, just want everybody to be aware of the results of that event that we just did. We had a record number of attendees, our partner helped get us thank you all for participating and joining, and making sure that everybody just understands, it’s important to look at the little things in front of you and not try and boil the ocean all at once. Because that’s when people do get overwhelmed.

Drew: Yeah, and I love that. And it reminds me of a particular difficult time at my company, we just had to do happy Fridays in like 2008 when it was particularly grim. So I love that find the little moments try to gain perspective. I’m also reminded of a situation that I saw at a large company where a new CEO came in business was tanking because of the recession. And the CEO insisted a meeting with a direct reports every single day to see what they were doing to drive sales. And it was demoralizing. It crushed the spirit of these folks, it did have an impact on sales, and it was horrible. So let’s keep going down this route of it’s an imperfect world right now. And so you’ve talked a little bit about it, of breaking it down. But can we get into anything more that one can do to sort of keep your team? Yeah, it’s hard out there. But there’s something.

Marca: So one point that you just said, keep the team. And I’ve reflected a lot on this in preparing for this conversation, because when I started at Passport, it was the 10th of March 2020. And I came into a high-growth SaaS business. And then guess what happened on the 13th of March that year, right? And so since then, we’ve not only had a pandemic, then we had the great resignation, then we had the scary like is the recession coming. And now there’s the guess what we got to hold everything together here. What I’ve learned through that process is there’s one thing about keeping it real for your team specifically. But you cannot lose sight of the people that you need to get your work done. And what I mean by that is, it’s very easy to hunker down, and say to your team, listen, I know this is hard. And I will just probably like everybody else share a Slack message, text, somebody just randomly send an email, we will do the happy hours on Friday, we actually had the proposal operations team recently that just said, “Hey, we just need to pull up on a Thursday afternoon, because we’re all fried, we need to do that.” But what we also need to do is do that with folks in products, with folks in sales, with folks in client success, because they’re feeling it too. And at the end of the day, if we all come together in an environment where there’s fewer resources, and we just came up with conversation, we’re starting to think about budgets, there’s less budget, you’re starting to have to reduce your spend in places, you’re gonna be relying more heavily on other people. And you need to understand what those other people are. And that’s one thing I’ve learned over this trajectory over the past three and a half, four years where we’ve gone through these cycles is, first, you have to put on your own oxygen mask, then put on that of your team. But then make sure your ancillary folks are there, too.

Drew: Yeah, all of those things are great reminders, as you were talking, I was thinking about the need to take stuff off the list. Because we all make lists, we can do another thing and we could do this too and that would be cool. And eventually, all of those ideas were good. But the next thing you know is that the boat takes over.

Marca: Right. So we love to boil the ocean, I mean, Passports, no exception, right? We started the year with strategic priorities that probably went 25 slides deep. And so now it’s down to what is the core go-to-market, right? Where is the revenue going to come from? Who are the customers we need to go after? Where’s that whitespace within our customer base, let’s focus our programs and our marketing and our sales efforts there. And just keep it simple. I think there’s something to be said for keeping things simple and not trying to overcomplicate and, again, I was encouraged by the conversation we just had in the last Huddle around. We all like shiny objects, because marketers are creative people, and we want to make sure that we’re using the tools. But sometimes having all the tools doesn’t mean you’re going to be more successful. 

Drew: Yeah, it was interesting. Thanks for referencing that conversation. So we had a Huddle today, and the conversation was both about Mar tech and what you could trim and AI. And it was interesting because a lot of folks are looking at tools that they were excited about three years ago and saying, you know, I don’t know if there’s an ROI there. And the other part of that is the time suck that it takes for employees to learn it, to use it and so forth. And I have to comment on the fact that you had 25 pages of strategic initiatives, which if you can’t get it to one page, and everybody knows that they’re on that same one page, you can’t get everybody on 25 pages. 

Marca: Well, what happens is everybody has their own. Marketing has one, government relations had one, client success had a couple, sales had a couple. At the end of the day, it’s what do we have to do to meet the revenue number without beating a stick over everybody’s head that says we have to meet the revenue number because to your point, that’s just demoralizing to a group of people. And I’ve been in those calls, too. It’s what are the activities and the things that we’re committing to do, and let’s chunk those out. So that then we can come back and report in on a revenue call and where we are, and making sure that you’re working together. And so that’s where I think we see success. And we started to see really some great examples of this. When we went to our largest trade show in June of this year, which is the first time we’d all get back together in our space. It was the largest gathering since the pandemic, and you just saw the cross-functional collaboration between product, marketing, sales, and it was just brilliant. It was just wonderful to sit back and watch it. Because you knew that fundamental relationships were there and whatever turbulent times we’re going to go through, that’s what’s going to help us get through to the other side.

Drew: Yeah. And I’m curious about that, because you mentioned there you are face to face. So much of leadership involves brief face-to-face encounters, it’s like the review process is clearly broken, often are these confrontational, very painful, scary moments for employees, and not necessarily a moment. Whereas the notion of a quick interaction, “Hey, you did a great job on that thing,” or a casual attaboy, or what we used to call it for soccer when you’re coaching little kids is the compliment sandwich, “Hey, that was good. Maybe fix this. And that was good, right?” But all of those happen in quick one-on-ones where you drop by the person’s office. “Hey, Hi, are you you know, having coffee” that doesn’t exist in the virtual world? So I’m curious what adjustments you’ve made to being a virtual leader. And again, in the context of people are stressed, how do you notice that anymore?

Marca: I can notice it in people’s tones of voice, whether it’s through a Slack or through email, I have this love-hate relationship with instant messenger, my slack will go off every day, all day, constantly, you can hear it in other parts of the house. But what it’s good for, especially nowadays, is you can see who’s stressed because they’re constantly sending you things. And that’s the time where you pick up the phone and say, “Okay, what’s going on.” And let’s have a phone call, when I had a call with a manager yesterday, and she indicated that members of her team were stressed and I said, “With your permission, I’d like to reach out and just let them know that I’m here.” And not that I’m going to do your job for you. But they just need to know that they’ve got support at a leadership level. So I think from an adjustment perspective, you really have to listen, I had a boss once who said “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You need to spend more time listening than you do talking.” And so you really need to listen for those cues. And then when you see somebody’s off, just say, “Hey, you okay, let’s have a conversation.” And usually when you open up, you kind of get a fountain of response of dialogue. So rather than like back to the beginning of just sitting there with my head down, I’ve had to pick my head up and just listen more, and see where people need some encouragement, and then take that time. And I usually try and do that at the end of the day to just kind of scan where people are.

Drew: I love it. It’s literally monitoring intense signals or discontent signals in your team and maybe one of them is they’re messaging you all the time. Okay, now we’re gonna bring on Katrina Klier, who is the Senior Managing Partner at Sage Strategy Group and an industry expert, who has graced our stage before to delve into the topic of Growth Strategy Evaluation. Hello, Katrina. Nice to see you again. How are you? And where are you?  

Katrina: Hi Drew. It’s great to be with you all again. Thanks for having me. I’m coming to you from this beautiful sunny, clear crest today in Metro New York City. And so it’s a good one.

Drew: All right. So I know that you went through some roller coaster periods, both at Accenture and at PROS. Talk about how you guide your teams when the going gets tough.

Katrina: I think since I’ve always taken these drive growth at scale jobs, I feel like I’ve bumped into this every job I’ve had, including this one. We have a lot of clients in the tech sector and that’s been interesting lately. I would say two things as a leader are kind of your best friend in really turbulent times and that’s transparency and empathy. You kind of have to mix the doses of those based on what’s going on but from a transparency perspective with your team and with your stakeholders, really just being clear, in fact base about what’s going on, how things may or may not be changing, and what that may or may not mean to them and the company. It’s just really important because people are anxious. Everybody catastrophizes when they don’t have information. Just be transparent about what you know. And also be transparent about how when and where you’re going to communicate with people. So they don’t ever worry that they’re going to be left out of the loop or they’re going to miss something, whether that’s we’re going to have a virtual standup meeting every morning for 15 minutes to give you an update and let you know what’s going on. Or if it’s, we’re going to spend the first X amount of time of every team meeting we have once a week going through the status, whatever it is, just so people don’t worry, or think that they’re going to be left out of a loop. And then context is helpful. I’ve always found people work better with context. You can be transparent about why something is changing or not, is just helpful for people. So it takes the guessing game of how things happen out of their head. And then with empathy, these situations are always so fluid inevitably, and having empathy, it’s going to hit every person a little bit differently, whatever was going on, and you’re not going to necessarily be able to predict how it’s going to hit everyone, including yourself. But don’t assume that you know what it’s going to mean to them and try and provide that space and grace for them to ask for what they need. Reach out and ask them how things could be more helpful for them and those kinds of things. But have some empathy, you never really know what’s going on in someone’s life. And don’t assume that, you know,

Drew: Yeah, that’s so important. And I think this is so hard again, in the virtual space, at small level, I was looking forward to speaking and seeing a CMO at a Huddle. And at the last minute, they said they couldn’t go. And then I found out that their four-year-old dog had died. And you know, as a dog owner, and I know, as a dog owner, that is a horrible thing for a family. It’s just such a sad, gut-wrenching moment. But you don’t know because they might not want to tell you what’s going on in their life. So yeah, being empathetic, don’t just assume that they’re screwing up because you don’t know what’s going on in their life. I wanted to ask a question, though. It’s difficult sometimes, particularly when it’s really rough in companies not hitting their sales targets, the CMO doesn’t always know. And you don’t know what’s going on, as you said, sometimes. And so how do you handle the stuff that you don’t know? I mean, are you transparent about that as well?  

Katrina: I try to be I’ve always told my teams, I will answer any question that you asked me to the degree that I know the answer. And I’m able to share that information. Because sometimes there’s legal reasons where you can’t say things just yet. I think just be clear, it may or may not give people comfort, that you don’t know the answer. But if you don’t know, then you can commit to go and find out and loop back to people or say, “You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I think we’ve had a lot of discussion about it. I don’t think a decision has been made but let me go check and see if there’s been any momentum and come back to people.” But usually, it’s helpful just to remind people that we all really want the same things. At the end of the day, I found, we all want the company to do well, we want our customers to be happy. And we want our employees to be happy and engaged. And it’s that easy ad that hard at the end of the day, that reminding people that we all really do want the same things, I think can sometimes take some of the tension out of the air for people, we actually have more that we’re doing together than things that might be pulling us apart. 

Drew: Let’s explore that. An interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed in Huddles. So, three years ago, two years ago, even though once this sort of COVID mode, and we all went virtual, a lot of companies were doing okay, in B2B. And in 2020, there was a period where there was no business. And then things were pretty good in 21 and 22. What I’ve noticed more lately, is CMOs saying the sales guys aren’t making the target or they’re not using the tool or they’re not doing this. And so there’s this finger-pointing that’s going on and a search for scapegoats that you see, particularly when, again, we’re not hitting our sales goals. So I’m curious, obviously, that’s an issue that CMOs have to grapple with. But with his finger pointing, is there a way to shield your team but at the same time to encourage them to find solutions like “Oh, don’t listen to sales, but oh, better get on this and solve this problem.”

Katrina: I wish forever has the magic bullet to that situation, I think would be able to retire very early. But missed revenue targets are every CMO in theory, worst nightmare. It’s just awful, and demoralizing, and upsetting. reminding everybody again, that we all want the same things that I think is important. And I don’t have a lot of tolerance for finger-pointing personally because the causes of a revenue miss out rarely a single thing or a single person or a single team or a single campaign, or any of those kinds of things. It’s always a combination of stuff. And so I come back to data is your friend. It takes the emotion and tension out of the conversation and if you’re like okay, I hear you you’re upset, we’re all upset. So let’s get back to the root cause let’s get into the day then figure out where we can actually affect change, because none of us want to be in the situation one second longer than we have to be. So that can help people redirect. This is just me, not everybody operates this way. There are other stakeholders in the company, the other parts of the executive team, sales teams, and more detail, whoever I’m like, “Look, if you’re angry or upset about something that the marketing function is doing, you can come talk to me about that directly, one-on-one.” And you know, you get some people that can be kind of ugly and nasty and yell, and it’s like, alright, well, dump your bucket, get it out of your system. But you only get to do that with me, you don’t get to do that with my leadership team, or the rest of my function. Because you know what, I need those people in the game with their head every day, moving us forward, and making this better. So you don’t get to go disrupt their world, you can come talk to me, I will listen to your feedback, I will try to take the constructive pieces out of it. And then I will share that in a way that my team can action it faster, but you don’t get to go cause a bunch of chaos in my leadership team or organization. If it’s really good news, and I let them go right to them. But when it’s so stressful, and not so great, new situation. I’m like, no, no, I need their eyes on the balls, and you can come talk to me happy to have that conversation with you. But you don’t get to go cause chaos, because that just pulls all of us down.

Drew: I love it. I’m curious, have you run into a head of sales that said, Yeah, whatever, I’m still gonna do it. Does that work?

Katrina: It does work. But sometimes, you know, I’ve had to empower my leadership team to push back. Because when they get this phone call, or someone’s blowing up their mobile phone with a million text messages and other things, I tell them, “Look, I have your back on this. You tell that person that Katrina has said she would rather have this conversation with you and just send them to me and do not engage. Just don’t feed the beast. It’s not gonna go anywhere positive if you do.” But I have found that you need to let your leadership team know that because you want them to feel empowered, and you have their back. If they do a redirect to some of these people, you know, they’re more senior, usually in the organization. And sometimes they can be not having their best day. 

Drew: What makes sense is, to me is also going back to the conversation we had with Mark, a lot of issues happen where sales folks are under stress, they think, “Oh, I know a micro campaign against this target would be great. Let me go to someone junior in the marketing department.” And then suddenly that marketing person has to either say no, their default is saying yes, but that’s not on the strategic plan. That’s another thing and so they need to know that you are behind them. Right? 

Katrina: Absolutely. 

Drew: Awesome. Thank you for that. Now, let’s welcome Gabi Zijderveld, CMO of Smart Eye, and a returning guest who has appeared on two previous shows to discuss rebranding and category creation. Hello, Gabi, how are you, and where are you?  

Gabi: Hey, Drew, nice to see you again. I’m in lovely Somerville, Massachusetts right across the river from Boston.

Drew: There we are. We are spanning that continent today with East Coast mid-central time and the West Coast. Very cool. Okay. So you’ve listened both what Marca and Katrina had to say. I’m curious sort of, in hearing what they all had to say it must have sparked some thoughts, or builds, in terms of engaging and motivating your team during this sort of unpredictable period.

Gabi: Yeah, absolutely. And the conversation just now with Katrina, you know, showing empathy, I think is really important, but also understanding and being open-minded as to what people might have going on personally, I think that’s really important. Often, we’re in a position to build hopefully long-term relationships with our team members, and connect with them and have conversations also, at a personal level, I think it’s just really important to try and understand best you can what they have going on in their lives. And also understand that could be very different than the things that you yourself have going on in your life. So that is key. But another thing that I think is super important to do when you’re trying to keep your team motivated and engaged in tough times, is to also understand what are their individual career goals. What do they want out of their career? Where do they want to end up? Not maybe that proverbial five or 10 years from now, but maybe a year from now, two years from now? Do they even want to stay in marketing? Or would they love to hop over to another domain? Do they love just being an event manager? And do that really well and manage all the events or do they want to have my job at some point in time in the future, so understand what their goals are, and then figure out ways to help get them there. So with all my direct reports, I work on professional development plans, we set goals, we set and agreed together on opportunities where they can learn and get exposure to new things. They haven’t done that either in the marketing domain or to build further business acumen or to develop as a leader. So I think that’s also super important.

Drew: One of the interesting things is to say, short term, it’s kind of grueling right now, but I’m thinking long term for you. I love that sort of switch of perspective, let’s get out of the short term and think about long term. But there’s also something that a we haven’t really talked about yet on the show. And it wasn’t even in the show plan. But I’m thinking about, if you were thinking about on your career, the times when you learned the most, the times where you really rose to the occasion, were the most stressful times. And I’m thinking about that Billie Jean King, quote that players see as they’re going out onto center court, something I stress as a privilege is something very close to that. And I’m wondering, and this is me being the optimist that I have, because it’s so difficult when you’re in the midst of battle, say, “Hey, this is really great. I’m stressed out, and I’m gonna learn more.”  

Gabi: Yeah, I don’t think I would ever word it that way. But it’s so true. One thing related to that, that I certainly do is, once I understand a bit better, where team members want to develop or should develop, I sometimes just throw them in the deep. If there’s a type of project going on, and they’ve never done it before, you know what, you’re the project leader. And it doesn’t mean you swim solo, right, I make very clear that I’m there as a sounding board, I can help guide them, I can help coach them, if they’re not quite sure how to do it, I’ll help them with it, as will other team members who’ve maybe done this before. But if you throw someone in the deep and let them run as solo as they can, that’s a real opportunity there and then for them to learn, for them to take ownership, to have responsibility. And I love doing that. I will say, I also do remind my team members in situations like that, don’t overthink it, chill a little bit. We’re not doing brain surgery here. If you make a mistake, or if something gets delayed, it’s not like the patient is going to die on the operating table. Right? It’s not that mission-critical. Sure, a lot of our customer-facing activity, we have to get it right. But there’s wiggle room there, rarely are things super urgent that it has to happen that minute. Perfection is sometimes the devil of 

Drew: The enemy of good. 

Gabi: Yeah, sometimes good enough is good enough. That’s the thing I say as well, right? Don’t overthink it, just go go go. We’re here to help you. So don’t overthink it.  

Drew: While you were talking about empathy and really understanding what’s going on in people’s lives. I’m aware of situations where an employee in a group is not pulling their weight, they have lots of things going on in their personal life. But whatever reason, they’re phoning it in, and they’re like, they’re 50%, as productive as they are supposed to be. And there’s that moment of “Gee, I’m sorry, things are bad in your life.” But the rest of the team is carrying the weight of that. And I know this a very particular scenario, but it happens more often than you think. And so I’m just curious if you’ve encountered that, and what do you do?  

Gabi: Yeah, I have encountered it a few times. Thankfully, not too recently. But I think, again, leading with empathy is understanding what is truly going on there. And is it a moment in time, is it maybe a child’s got very sick, and they need to have surgery, but after the surgery and recovery period, the child is projected to be fine, going back to school, everything will be normal, right? That’s one of the most stressful things a parent employee can go through. And of course, as thankfully, I work at a company now too, where it’s always family first. And that’s my ethos as well. But it’s a discrete moment in time, you have to support your employees through that as best as possible. And in as far as an employee wants to talk about the situation with other team members, you can explain it to the team and just rally. We’ve even with short-term emergencies people have, right? Oh my god COVID at the daycares closed, I have two toddlers at home. Don’t you worry, we got your back. And that’s what our team Slack channel is all about. Like, sorry, your daycare is closed again. But don’t worry about it. Let me know what I can do for you. We got your back. So if you create a culture like that helps, I think those are manageable. time-limited situations. If this is consistent and perpetual, that is really difficult. And I think this is also where in my experience, you sometimes have to get in there and micromanage and really make very clear plans as to these are the goals of the job. These are the things you need to do. This is the timeline we’re creating for your deliverables for your projects. And we’re going to be checking in on that and seeing how it’s progressing. And if whatever the reason might be the employee consistently cannot perform to what the requirements of the job are. Then at the right point in time, I will have conversations with HR and see about what we can do. Because of course, depending on where in the world you are, there’s just legal limitations. And aside from the moral and ethical aspects of it all, but sometimes you’re in a situation where you need to have the conversation like, is this a line of business that you want to be in? Like, is this even the kind of job you want to have? You have to understand the situation?  

Drew: No, it’s funny, I have to remember there was an employee that worked for me years and years ago, this was when I was at J. Walter Thompson. We noticed and it was hilarious that this individual was a slow walker. And in advertising, everybody’s a fast walker. It was a metaphor for this person was right. They went on to have a fabulous career as a food critic. It worked out great for them. This was the wrong place. And that’s possible. 

Gabi: Yeah. Sometimes it’s just the wrong fit, or the type of company is just not how personality-wise you work effectively.

Drew: All right. I have one more question before we go to our CMO Huddles break. But this is an interesting one. And maybe we get the opinions of everybody else afterwards. But you’re a startup but a smallish company. Small companies often think of themselves as nimble and being able to change direction. And so for them, when we talked with Marca, at the very beginning of this conversation, you want to set a strategy and you want to follow it. But we want to be nimble, but nimble can stress out your teams, and maybe you could share a time where you had to change direction quickly, and how you brought your team along with you.

Gabi: Yeah, actually, recently, or at least I would say this year, we have come to market with a new product. So essentially, it’s our driver monitoring software, but now bundled with hardware, so that we have a complete end-to-end system that can be deployed in vehicles on the road already today, like let’s say fleets of trucks and whatnot. However, supply chain disruption, we just couldn’t get the parts to build the hardware. So we had quite a bit of backlog of demand. We just physically couldn’t deliver the systems. So we had a very deliberate conversation with the business area leader saying like, listen, we really got to dial back marketing here. Because if we keep promoting this product and generating demand, but we can deliver, it’s going to be damaging to our brand. So even at the CEO level, everyone agreed, let’s just put it a bit on the back burner, not completely stopped, but slow, roll it. And then at that point in time, when we can actually build and deliver to systems, we’re gonna dial open that marketing spigot, and that moment that we could turn it on came quite subtly. Questions about, could we have planned better? And could we have communicated better internally? Sure, a little bit of that, but it was also serendipitous, and that suddenly, certain parts came to market, and we didn’t see it coming. So now we can build these systems. And we got to go all in on our marketing, we had already drafted a plan. And we had already created some content, we had already assigned a person on the team who was going to be the lead on that marketing campaign. For that person. By the way, it was the first time they ever did something like that. So that was their growth opportunity. But it came so sudden that everyone was wrapped up in other things. So we had to have meetings on where we could dial back. And again, you talked about it earlier, it’s all about prioritization, right? And something’s got to drop sometimes. So we dialed other areas back, and then had a lot of conversations with the team. Okay, these are the things we need to do for this particular product launch. This is the prioritization for that. All hands on deck, who is going to help with what, and it was really just a divide and conquer. We had one person overseeing the whole project, doing hands-on work, but it was all hands on deck, myself included, I wrote plenty of website content and customer emails, you name it. That’s how we did it. But everyone understood what the opportunity was. I also explained to them why this was happening. And I made very clear that if you’re working on this, something else is going to come off your plate, and I’ll help you decide what that is.

Drew: Yeah, and I think that’s the key summary in all of this is if someone’s got five priorities, and then you suddenly say, you’ve got to add another one. Something has to come off. 

All right. It’s time for me to talk about and actually for you all to talk about, CMO Huddles, we launched in 2020. CMO Huddles is a close-knit community of over 200 highly effective B2B marketing leaders who share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Given the extraordinary time constraints on CMOs these days, everything about CMO Huddles is designed to help leaders save time and empower them to make faster, better decisions. If you’re a senior B2B marketer, and need a shortcut to B2B greatness, take a second to sign up for our free starter program at CMOHuddles.com. 

Okay, we happen to have three veteran Huddlers with us. Gabi, Katrina, Marca, you’re incredibly busy marketing leaders. I’m wondering if you could share an example of how CMO Huddles maybe has helped you save time in a critical decision moment or in another way. Let’s start with Marca.

Marca: This has been a consistent theme Drew. But what I find with CMO Huddles is that if you are questioning anything around a tech stack, or way of getting something done, and doing it efficiently, participating in the Huddler program is a great way to pick the brain of your peers and say, “Hey, what have you tried? How have you done this?” The conversations that we’ve been having about AI and what people are doing there, I mean, that has been fantastic, I think for everybody in terms of the learning curve, and some people have gone full force into it, and others are crawling, walking and running. But the knowledge-sharing and knowing that, hey, you’re not alone, in trying to figure this out has been super helpful. And the ability that I reached out to people offline, which people have reached out to me on certain occasions for whether it’s a job description, or help with how they manage the situation, and I’ve reached out to others around like tech stack requests for feedback.  

Drew: I love it. Okay, great. Thank you for that. And Gabi, how about you?

Gabi: Yeah, I think Marca, you put it really well, but definitely vendor referrals. So if you’re trying to outsource to an agency or hire a vendor for a specific project, or some new technology you want to buy, get referrals, learn best practices, how I’ve others done it, there’s rarely a need to reinvent the wheel, what we’re doing others have most likely done it before. So I lean into that heavily just to get ideas and expedite the work I’m doing. The reason the AI conversations are just awesome, right? Because we’re all inundated with generative AI tools. And you can’t see the forest from the trees anymore. But also, I don’t have time to experiment with all. And even in recent conversations Drew, when we met in Cambridge in person, people are mentioning these tools and how they’re using them. And I’m diligently taking notes and sharing that with my team. Because now out of all this stuff out there, we can hone in on that and give it a shot.  

Drew: And that’s exactly right. I mean, this is where we’re trying to help you all save time. That reminds me, I have to review that transcript and make sure that I get the list of tools that were shared. Katrina, anything you want throw in here.  

Katrina: I agree with what everyone else has said. I would say one of the other benefits of CMO Huddles is really it is the community aspect of it. I mean, people are incredibly gracious and helpful with things and I view it as my mastermind group, if you will, that can turn hype into help. Gabi mentioned AI, so much hype, so much going on. It’s like, okay, how am I gonna get my head around this. And you can ask this community and they will actually turn that hype into help like start with this or try that or don’t worry about these are going to waste a lot of time. And that’s the same thing with any kind of martech stack situation, or just try to figure out how to communicate something that’s going to be complicated to my executive team or my board. Almost always, someone’s had to tackle that challenge before. And this group is just really gracious with offering those lessons learned.   

Drew:  Love it. Thank you for that. 

Gabi: Mind if I add one more thing because that’s actually important because many of us will come across this at some point in our career. I am currently not in transition. So I don’t have the hands-on experience. But I have a lot of CMO friends out of CMO Huddles that are looking to either leave their current gig or they’re in transitional ready. And there’s a lot of emphasis on supporting those CMOs as well. I know you have a special Huddle for them. But also what I love and we see this on the Slack channel is many of us get approached by recruiters for roles they’re looking to fill and it might not be the right role for us. But sure as heck going to share that at CMO Huddles because it might be the right role for another CMO. Right? So supporting those of us that want to make career transitions. I think that’s super awesome as well because we’re all going to be there at some point.

Drew: Thank you for that. You know, I could do this all day, but we’re gonna get back to the show. But if you’re a B2B CMO who can share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and check out CMOHuddles.com. 

Okay, so let’s get back to this leadership thing, and let’s do a quick speed round. We’ve talked a lot about empathy and so forth, but most important leadership qualities when navigating through uncertainty changes? Just one from you Marca.

Marca: Patience. 

Drew: Gabi. 

Gabi: Clarity.

Drew: And Katrina. 

Katrina: Transparency. There we go. Okay, so those are three really good ones. And Gabi, you mentioned a story about employee on the brink of burnout. I’m wondering if any of you have found a moment where you were able to save an employee who was burning out and Gabiyou just shaked your head so go for it.  

Gabi: The learning came from a situation where I couldn’t help the person because it happened so unexpectedly and no one ever thought this person could burn out, they just imploded. This was earlier in my management career, it gave me a lot of time to reflect on that. So what I do these days is, as I get to know, team members, I make very clear that yes, the nature of our work is stressful, the nature of our industry is stressful at times, we’ll work really hard, and at times, it’ll be less chaotic. But if you’re consistently overloaded and consistently stressed, that is not good. And if you’re beginning to notice that, let me know as soon as possible. And actually, that did happen. I think it was about a year and a half ago, where an employee came to me and they were getting super stressed out and beginning to notice things physically. And we really unpacked what was it that was stressing out this person, what was happening. And it were certain types of projects they had gotten dragged into, I was able to reallocate resources and get that off that person’s plate, have someone else who wanted to take it on. I got HR looped in, right, people and culture so that we could make sure that our Head of People and Culture could chat with them as well. And we kept monitoring it and because we acted right away, and we asked the employee to give input in fixing the situation themselves, it ended up working out really well. And I was happy with that, but monitoring still.  

Drew: Okay, so what about your own mental health? I do coaching, some of it is shrinkage. But that’s a part of it. But what are you doing to maintain your work-life balance, because 10 years ago, we might have woke up in the middle of night and sent an email at three in the morning. And hopefully, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re saying, hey, well, arrives in their inbox at eight in the morning. But what do you do? And how do you monitor to make sure that you are not so stressed out? Marca any thoughts there?  

Marca: I’m smirking, Drew, because I send emails in the middle of the night, but actually send them to myself. I don’t send them to other people. Because I fearful that I’m going to forget whatever was in my brain. And to that point, I had a good friend of mine turn me on to the CLM app, which is a meditation app. For anybody who wants to try meditation, I have always spent my life exercising and participating in athletics all through college, and even graduate school. But I got to a point where even going for a walk or a bike ride, my mind was still worrying. And so I needed to find another way to start to tune it off. The comm app was great, because it checks in with you. It’s like, let’s go 15 minutes in the corner. And here are the exercises that you’re gonna go to, it’s actually done wonders for me to just take a break.

Drew: Yeah, all head-on calm, both personally, and no others that have gotten value out of it. Try very hard to set a limit for myself, when I look at email, whatever it is nine o’clock in the evening, I’m not going to check that device again, even though I know that endorphin rush awaits me if I did. But I think the key here on this, and we talked about this in Huddles is you have to lead by example. And if you’re somehow demonstrating your work-life balance, and you’re finding a way to stay calm, it rubs off. And they see it Katina, any thoughts in this area of work-life balance? 

Katrina: Yeah, I mean, I think you need you need to lead by example. And you do have to take care of yourself and somebody that thinks better when I’m walking or doing something. So I like to walk many miles every morning. And some of that I might be listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Or sometimes I’ll hold my phone and make voice notes to myself. And there’s a lovely stretch of where I walk where I’m walking through the woods in the trees. And by river it. It’s just super lovely. And so I make sure no device is going to make noise. So I can do the walking meditation there, which is wonderful for me. I think we have to also tell people sometimes even though it’s a little weird, I’m not somebody that would usually tell a bunch of people that but saying to my team, I’m not going to take that meeting at eight, because doesn’t really have to be at eight in the morning. Let’s do it at 10 flacking get back from my walk at 8:30 and be here and present for you all. It’s just letting them know that I do those things. So they’re like, Oh, well, she moves some things around sometimes or she goes and takes time every morning to do this. And that means I can do it too.  

Drew: They all know that you’re putting in the hours. There’s not an issue there. But it’s 4:30 on a Thursday, and I have it on my calendar nature walk and so I’m curious Marca in the interest of transparency. Everybody can see your calendar. Do you put personal time things on that so people can see it?

Marca: I put work blocks. And our executive admin knows I’m working mountain time. So I try and get online by 7 am mountain. So I’m working with the East Coast. But there are some mornings I just can’t do that for whatever reason. So I just clock out. And she works around my calendar and my team knows Marca will be on it. Eight Mountain 10 Eastern, for the most part, I try and keep the Eastern hours. But the thing is I make sure I log off by four o’clock because it’s six o’clock on the East Coast. And by the end, I hope you all are spending time with your families and not need to read my email. So yeah, I block it off. I’m not bashful about doing that.  

Drew: And that’s a perfect lead into, we always quote Ben Franklin on the show. And what would Ben say about being a leader and leading by example? And here’s what he says, “He that can compose himself is wiser than he or her that composes books.” So there you go. And it was funny, because I was gonna ask you, who are the thought leaders or specific books or resources that have influenced your leadership approach. So that will be a good segue for that any thoughts.  

Katrina: I’m a big fan of Adam Grant’s work. I mean, he’s got a lot of articles as well as longer things. And I like how he’s very balanced in what he talks about and can give you some brain food to stop and think for a minute and usually figure things out. 

Drew: Awesome, Adam Grant.

Gabi: Yeah, plus one on Adam Grant. But also, frankly, on a more pragmatic level, I don’t want to be too cheesy, plugging CMO Huddles too much, but I have, over the years built up this group of CMOs that I go to for advice and ask them how they do things. And I just find it pragmatic and helpful to connect with my CMO peers and learn how they handle certain situations or address certain challenges.  

Drew: I love it. Marca, before we go on to final words of wisdom, were there any thought leaders that you follow that you find particularly helpful? 

Marca: Yeah, I thought Gabi was gonna say Brene Brown. That’s where I thought you were going with your comments. And I’m a fan of hers. But there is a great book, if you haven’t read it called “The Energy Bus” While we’re talking about how do you manage through turbulent times, it just gives you tips about how you take negative energy and turn it into positive energy in your life in your work with your teams. And the PR agency that I worked with, the principal, had given it to me during COVID. It’s a quick read. It’s by John Gordon. And it’s just super helpful. I was gonna pull it off my shelf, but I must have left it upstairs.

Drew: Awesome. All right, those are great. Maybe some of those will end up being the best-selling authors that we feature in a Career Huddle in 2024. Okay, so now it is time, final words of wisdom for other CMOs when it comes to leading your team in turbulent times. And we’ll do this in reverse order of where we started. So I think that’s Marca first.  

Marca: So what I would say, and I think this has been a common theme is don’t assume you know, how other people are doing and how they’re feeling. I think that was the theme of empathy, the theme of clarity, and then the theme of patience. So take the time to understand where your team is, and then lead them from there.

Drew: Love it. Okay, Katrina, final words of wisdom.  

Katrina: You can’t take care of others, if you haven’t taken care of yourself, at least not very well. And so I would say, really make sure you’ve got a community of support for yourself. And that can be other CMOs. I think the three of us here are big fans, and they will talk to each other in various capacities, too. So those kinds of things in your family, other friends, professional mentors, and community people that you’ve bumped into in your career, just have your people that you can go to whether it’s 10 o’clock at night, or 10 o’clock in the morning, when you need help with something that they’ll help or they’ll at least listen. 

Drew: I’m going to add to that because all of you have made deposits in the goodwill bank and that’s part of this is that if some another person who’s in a stressful moment, reach out help them. Karma is a boomerang and you put some deposits in and it will come back. Okay, Gabi, take us home for final words of wisdom, leading your team in turbulent times.

Gabi: Yeah, give your team members an opportunity to grow and learn but above all, give them opportunities to shine and showcase the work that they’re doing.  

Drew: Give them opportunities to shine. I love it. All right. Thank you, Gabi, Katrina, Marca, you’re all amazing sports. And thank you, audience for staying with us. 

To hear more conversations like this one and submit your own questions while we’re live. Join us on the next CMO Huddle studio, we stream to my LinkedIn profile that’s Drew Neisser, every other week.  

Show Credits

For more interviews with innovative marketers, visit Renegade.com/podcasts and hit that subscribe button! Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, Ishar Cuevas, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!