Reimagine Marketing By Lessening The Burden Of Repetitive Tasks With Natasha Sekkat
Before Natasha Sekkat became the VP of Demand Creation at Acoustic, she has had a long history of sales. She observed that by lessening manually doing repetitive tasks, marketing would be much more efficient. At Acoustic, she is responsible for crafting and implementing the vision and strategy for the global Demand Creation team. In this episode, she sits down with host Chad Burmeister to discuss the role of AI in Marketing and how artificial intelligence can help bring sales and marketing together. She talks about how companies use intelligence to allow marketers to get back to marketing, so they aren’t just caught up in analyzing data. Natasha also shares the threat of AI to marketing jobs, including reducing the need for IT support to focus on higher-value work.
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Reimagine Marketing By Lessening The Burden Of Repetitive Tasks With Natasha Sekkat
I have a special guest with me, Natasha Sekkat, VP of Demand Creation at Acoustic. It's not one of these crazy sites like Acoustic.io or anything like that. It's just Acoustic.com as it should be. I’m excited to have you here. When I look at your website on the front page, it grabs you from the beginning. Getting back to, not the basics, but thinking bigger. The tagline says, “We're reimagining marketing technology by lessening the burden of repetitive tasks by connecting it all in a single view and by giving you more time to do what matters, thinking bigger, and putting yourself back into the work.” I've been in AI For Sales for a few years and that's been what you have on the website. There is exactly the vision of AI for sales and AI for marketing. Who doesn't want to work at a higher value level of work and who wants to continue in those repetitive tasks like pulling data and doing analyst research? I'm excited to dig into this with you, Natasha.
It's been exciting to make the transition over to Acoustic. It’s an older company, but a newer company. All of the Watson Marketing assets were spun out with Centerbridge to form Acoustic so it's an interesting use case, too, that we have going on even just from an organizational standpoint.
Watson can play chess and do all kinds of interesting things. It was only a matter of time that Watson could be under the surface of building marketing, strategy, and planning. I am interested in digging in because it looks like digital marketing, analytics, personalization is an important aspect, automation, mobile, and digital. There's a lot of pieces of what it is you do. Let's go to a 30,000 feet view before we get there. Think about marketing operations and sales operations, they've always been siloed. Now there are revenue operations in the CRO role. How do you envision the advent of AI for marketing? Does that bring sales and marketing closer or does that put a further wedge between the departments?
It's an interesting topic. This is a hot one, too. As you look at the technology landscape for marketing and sales, there are hundreds, if not thousands of different vendors that all have these point solutions and they're looking at, “I'm going to solve this one specific thing.” It is a good point because maybe that's the way of thinking about it. If you don't have strong executive alignment where there's a handshake between the chief marketing officer or chief revenue officer, the CEO is looking at the whole thing as revenue, you start to place these bets. You start to think about, what does my marketing lead flow look like versus what does my prospecting and BDR organization look like? You can get these divergent paths.
As I'm looking at it, my whole background has been sales, but with the taste of marketing and then marketing with a strong taste of sales, so I've been bouncing back and forth between the two functional areas. It's a choice that each company makes, are we going to look at this as one system or am I going to just let it go and everyone can do their own thing? This is an opportunity to pull the groups together. A lot of conversations we're having, too, has to be from brand awareness all the way through the closing of opportunities. That's one flow. That's one customer experience with Acoustic, not the internal handoffs of who's on point for them all the way through customer support, in fact. There's an opportunity for us to be more planful and be more mindful so that our clients ultimately are experiencing one thing with us as a vendor versus multiple things.
Having run a large, almost 100-person team at RingCentral a couple of years ago, I had 30 or 40 BDRs that were doing outbound. I had another 50 or 60 reps doing inbound lead calls. The challenging part for me is that we would bring in tools like Salesloft and then Outreach eventually and the rep ends up trying to become the marketing department is what I find out. Entry-level college grad, we build out all the good messaging. Not just marketing features and functions, but good empathy powered messaging, and then you give it to the rep and you say, “Here's what I need you to do. Go research and do the first two sentences that are personalized,” and then you'll get an A+, Goldstar. What do they end up doing? They end up going in and hitting the Send All button.
What I realized after doing that for 2.5 to 3 years is that, if you can't beat them, join them. I don't need you to send those emails anymore. Full stop. Maybe a few one-offs here and there but marketing now should own the lane of marketing messages and sales messages. To me, that's a big shift because if you think of it, it's a combination of 0s and 1s. If you put something in writing, do I want to have an entry-level college grad who has no idea how to write yet? Do I want someone like Natasha and her team who knows exactly? By the way, powered by AI because the AI can know specifically beyond reasonable doubt what gets the most clicks, who gets the most replies, and those kinds of things.
It is interesting because I feel like, depending on how you frame, that there's scope creep on both sides, too. One of my big a-ha moments in joining was around ABM and around, we need to identify who are some top targets that we're going to go after. Sales clearly have their toolkit. You can use LinkedIn Sales Nav and you can use ZoomInfo. You can get names and you can do the Outreach. In order to unlock the value there, there has to be some level of marketing touch, whether it's in direct mail or nurturing. Drip campaigns or getting broader across the organization to different buying groups.
That's the other interesting piece where in my head, it has to all be one system that you're building, which means there has to be a handshake because you are going to have marketing feeding the Outreach and Salesloft systems for your sales reps to send stuff. You also should have sales involved in some of these marketing decisions relative to targeted ABM campaigns. You can't have one without the other. There's a definite convergence that's happening. The companies that figure out how to do them as one activity, not disparate, those are the companies that are going to win.
We've started working with a gentleman named Rich Blakeman, who is the former SVP of sales from Miller Heiman. When we first met with him, he saw exactly that going on the market. He said, “What you're doing with AI for sales and marketing can help to pull that together,” so this is interesting. Let's go a little more ground level. If I look at the different quadrants, digital marketing, analytics, that's something that when you started going through the onboarding and the training. It'll be 7 or 8 weeks, but who’s counting?
Before we know it, I'll know everything about everything.
In those first three weeks, what were a couple of amazing a-ha moments where you said, “I had no idea AI could do this.”?
For me, it comes back to the platform. When you think about marketing automation systems, so much of it is about, “I have this point solution that does this and this point solution that does that.” There are these natural ties between, “Hold on. If I'm building an email campaign, how do I want content to play in? Do I even have the statistics on good content versus less good content?” We talked about personalization. You think about, how do I personalize this message to this specific buyer based on their persona or based off of their industry?
There are these pieces that historically, we've had to ask sales reps to figure out or we've had to ask marketing people. It's easy to get caught in this analysis paralysis of, what should I do? You're checking all your disparate systems. The vision that Acoustic has as a company is, how do we use intelligence and how do we build this platform where we allow marketers to get back to marketing, back to being brilliant, creative, and that human nature? Otherwise, you're just caught up in the data, which is important. Can we leverage AI? Can we leverage technology to do those pieces so that marketers can be marketers?
I'm playing around with a two-week free trial that does some personalization stuff on the website. I met with the web designer, in fact, and we're rolling out a new website here. What this tech does is it'll look at the person's name, title, and the company they work for. Right on the first page, it can say, “ScaleX and company ABC.” I can put their logo in. This was an offshore company because they used a YouTube video with Donald Trump. I was like, “You don't know. There's a good pretty big debate.”
“You’re poking the bear on that one.”
It had this cool YouTube video of the president, holding this image and it had the ScaleX website on half the page, and then it said, “Chad, this is cool.” It had the ScaleX in writing and it pointed back to the website. He’s moving it around, and it wasn't jerky. It looked like it was written on this thing he was holding.
You're hooked at this point. You’re like, “I want it.”
That's $99 a month and for an agency model, it's $299 a month for as many customers as I wanted to play this to. I’m doing the math going, “Holy cow.” Think of the level of AI-powered content management. What does that mean? I have another customer called Motiva.ai. I have another customer who does SEO. We're putting an HBR article that I'd like to definitely have you featured in. If you think about it, there's an analytics team and the reporting team that typically does this thing. There's a CMO, VP of demand creation, and all these different resources. I have to imagine and companies that you work with, they may look at it like, “I've got this team of 24 marketers. Maybe I can go down to twelve but that's scary.” How should they look at it in terms of leveraging AI effectively? Does it have an impact on people in your company?
I'm definitely not going to be an expert opinion on this because I'm still ramping. A lot of the work that we are doing, we're thinking through our go-to-market and we're thinking about how we are going to approach the buying group. This was an active discussion with one of our consultants. When you think analytics, typically, that's owned by IT. Whether it's a smaller organization, maybe it's a little bit different, but on average, that's an IT function because it's analytics and you might have data scientists that are involved with it. It's a robust platform or discussion that's happening.
On the other side, in a completely different silo, you've got your marketers who are coming up with these big ideas and these campaigns they want to run or things they want to do with the website. There's this natural organizational chasm between what is good for IT and what is good for marketing where sometimes they align but often, they don't align or at least don't align perfectly. Part of what we're looking at, too, is are we selling to the IT department? Are we selling to the marketing department? Are we selling to both? How do you tell the story? How do you weave this vision that you can have both?
Marketers can get the data that they need to make the right decisions. IT can have the tools that are sophisticated and do the work that they need to be done in the way that they need to do it. I do think that this AI, the investments that are made. In the platforms, that's the answer. One of our flagship products, Experience Analytics, which was known historically as Tealeaf is one of the best of the breed. It's known for its analytics capabilities and it's IT-focused. How do you unlock that value for the marketing teams as well? That's a hot topic that we're looking into.
What's cool about this technology is that it can be funded by growth and revenue and it's not a do more with less. That happens to be a side benefit but at the end of the day, you don't have to say, “IT department, we're going to need fewer resources to free up the $200,000 to buy the system.” It's more of a, “We're going to increase sales by $3 million.” If it's a cost of $50,000, $200,000, or whatever it is, you're paying for it with the growth. It's an easier conversation with IT. “We're 90 days into the program and it looks like we're going to see the $3 million increase. We don't need as much of your time. Therefore, good news, I'm sure you've got 87 other projects that are from the company.”
There's plenty of things for them to keep busy with. A good point, too, which is when you're selling, having come from more of the storage background and hardware systems, they're important and there's uptime and there's a clear value that comes into play. Having made the switch into this new industry in this new segment, by definition, the reason you mark it is because you're trying to increase your revenue.
There are direct ties that we're talking about on that funnel, so it does make some of these IT investments that conversation look and feel a little bit different because it's not so much about resiliency and disaster recovery. Are we going to invest in outreach to the market? Are we going to grow our customer base? Do we want to accelerate the funnel, pipeline, and deals that we have in the funnel? How can we partner with marketing to get those things done? A lot of that comes back to more tech and this stack that we've been talking about.
Before we wrap, I want to get into maybe 1 or 2 more topics. As I go through your LinkedIn profile, sales, program manager, global director of inside sales centers of excellence at EMC. Twelve years at EMC and mainly sales roles. Sales development at Turbonomic, VP of demand generation at ClickSoftware, and VP of sales at Panera Bread. I saw you at the Women in Sales with Lori Richardson in Boston. Now you’re VP of Demand Creation. We did a little of this exercise when we're at the Women in Sales conference. Think back to college, what was your passion there? How did that take you to where you are? After that, we'll peel back the onion one more level.
I didn't at all because in college, I went to UPenn in Wharton and you either were an investment banker or you were a management consultant. Those were your two options and if you did anything except for those two, people thought you were weird. There was something wrong with you and you weren't smart enough or driven enough for something. I went to the management consultant path. Straight out of school, that was my role.
Through it though, I was lucky that my projects were primarily working with venture capital-backed companies, startup companies, looking at their go-to markets and product feasibility, but it was all more sales and marketing-related projects. It's cool because I got this taste early on, what is sales? What is marketing? How can you use these to grow your business? It's not just about the process, procedures, and everything, but it's how do you grow? I'm one of those stories of someone who fell into it.
I upsold a second consulting engagement to the CEO and didn't even realize what I was doing, and then ended up getting recruited by one of my clients in a marketing role. I was like, “I'm going to be a marketer for the rest of my career.” We'd go to events and come back with stacks of business cards of all of the different things that people wanted to buy from us. Finally, the vice president of sales pulled me aside and said, “Natasha, you should be in sales. Let me walk you through what that even means.” It was through mentorship. That was how I ended up on the path that I ended up.
If you would bring those leads in and I can see the other side of that pancake, which is, “Here, sellers. These are deals. I guarantee you, I was at the booth. This guy said he's buying next week.” One year later, you look in your CRM, there’s one phone call and no deal. The frustration there said, “I need to take this all the way down the funnel.” That's where you've had this line between sales and marketing. What's interesting about your move is that you're passionate about the marketing side and you were forced to go down the sales funnel because of those problems that you talked about. This is where I want to go back to one level. There's probably money and other things that drove that, like the rest of us.
Those minor, small things.
What you're seeing with what's going on with Acoustic, IBM Watson, Motiva.ai, ScaleX, and all these AI things, is they can now hold accountability further down the funnel to where you can knowingly, “When it goes into that engine, I've got this tool called Balto Software that we're toying around with. I can push out a talk track to all the reps in my organization so that they go by the right discovery and the right opener.” Just like you A/B test in a marketing role, now you can A/B test with human dialogue and you can play the strategy that you've always liked to play and you don't have to play on the other side of the sandbox.
I enjoy playing on the other side of the sandbox, too. There's something about the thrill of the kill that's exciting, too, and revenue attainment. The way that I envisioned it is it's one system. It's everything from how do you position yourself in the market? How do you get your name out? How do you educate people? Also, it's not just about pushing, which in marketing in the past, there was a lot of, “We're just going to throw spaghetti against the wall because any impression is a good impression.” I was like, “Not so much because by the time leads come over to sales, they now are having to pivot and having to figure out what is the use case? What is the problem we're trying to solve? Based on our industry, what insights do you have that are the reasons why someone would make a decision to do anything? Never mind. Go with your solution.”
As I've danced back into these marketing roles and even to a certain extent in some of the selling roles, it's having one combined strategy. You have to go all the way back to the beginning around your messaging. Are you thinking about things in a way that's going to be compelling not just to get click-throughs, but to form opportunities for people to buy from you? Which is different. It's not exactly the same.
An example there, I do The Sales Experts Channel. Two hundred to one thousand people will see this. Of those, how many will be potential buyers of AI For Sales? So far, it's small. My CMO is going out and writing content on Facebook that is specific to the business pain, the emotion of solving the problem. The pipeline is the problem that sales leaders need to solve, especially in the world we live in because you've had a balloon pop and you've got to solve for the trade show business and all the problems.
He writes it up in a meaningful way and uses language such as, “What surprised me the most is,” fill in the blank. There's a script for this that marketers and salespeople can use. We've gotten 33 signups and by the way, he mapped it to the audience on Facebook. He goes, “Don't worry about the customers, your whole ICP concept. We're going IC persona, not ideal customer profile.” Ages 40 to 64-year-old follow Elon Musk and also follow Salesforce.com and there are 3 or 4 other filters. I'm like, “I'm going to trust you Nick on this. I don't know if I buy it. The 33, when we go down the list, if you didn’t look at who the companies they work for, it's eye-opening.” Of those 33, I suspect we’ll sign 2, 3, 4 deals, where of the 1,000, we may sign 0 or 1 deal. That’s the beauty of this whole thing.
Think about that because that would have been you as the head of sales thinking through like, “Who do I want to sell to? Who do I want to get my message out? I'm going to try to drum up phone numbers and email addresses. I'm going to spend all day cold calling and prospecting to try to get in touch with these people that don't know why they want to talk to me.”
They’re going to be pissed off because I ended up with their day versus the pull. It's easier to pull a rope than it is to push it.
Arguably, the work that he was doing for you is, historically, sales would have done some portion of that through targeting and prospecting. Those people probably feel better about this experience because they were pulled into it versus you pushing them into it in a different way.
The last question, Natasha. You've had an interesting and awesome career. A lot of people would go, “I wish.” It's funny, as the person living in that body, you're like, “What I do?” Thinking back to when you were younger, you don't have any parents. There's your pastor, teacher, and all these people who influenced you. When you went to college, you either did this or this. That drives you in a direction. If you take all the world filters that were put on overtime, what is it that when you were younger where you said, “That's what I love to do.” When you connect those dots to what you're doing now, you're like, “That makes a lot of sense.”
Early on, I was told I was bossy and I stood up businesses at the swimming pool of people making friendship bracelets and selling them. I had my network of sellers and the whole lockdown on our pool. I've grown out of the bossy a little bit, at least. I hope so.
I was sitting by one of the Panera reps on the team in Boston and she may have used that word.
They’re like, “I can't believe her.” I was destined to do what I'm doing. I always had that natural inclination with having a vision and how do you get people aligned and people assembled to execute on the vision. Without even knowing what the words were, I was always passionate about selling and marketing. It feels good.
I've been thinking about that. I'm going to give you a challenge. People started telling me years ago, “Chad, you could be the CEO of that company.” I was always like, “Hold the line. What do you mean? The responsibilities of being the top, thinking on money and growing, people's livelihoods, and all of that.” I have a feeling that if you fast forward the tape, if you like to do that, because I do, too, we have kids over to the house and we'd watch the Holyfield fight and I'm good at directing traffic, ultimately, the title CEO is the ultimate traffic director.
It'll be interesting to see. That's the question that I haven't enjoyed as much as, where do you see yourself in 2 to 5 years? I feel like my career has been fluid and I've been blessed with good mentors and good employers. A lot of it, too, is seeing problems that you have the skills or you have the desire to solve and how do you advocate for yourself to take on more. That was my career at EMC. It was a lot of building new roles for myself and moving into things. We'll see, Chad.
There was a guy, Jesse Feldman. He has the same birthday as my son, 10/17, but not in the same year. He was a rep on my team and he sat across from me and he's like, “I noticed your son has the same birthday as me.” I don't know how he found that out. Maybe on Facebook or whatever. He said, “I want you to know, someday, my goal is to be sitting in that chair. I want your job.” He worked hard and he ended up not getting the job at that company but he did get the job as director and then VP of inside sales. Mentors matter. All you have to do is have the vision of what you want to do in the future, and then just do it.
That's such a good story. It is about visualizing. I'm super passionate about women in sales and how do we break through some of the misperceptions. I know you're a huge champion as well but that's the other element, too. Being in the role that I'm in, it also can't just be about me and my path. It also has to be I have an obligation to pull others with me, too. It's always nice to know those types of stories because it is true. People helped us to get where we are, so how can we help others and how can we find opportunities or even just be sounding boards for them as they're going through their career? That’s the other piece of it, too.
You need to be more human. As a male in America, men are for Mars, women for Venus, it's taken me time to learn what EQ means and to learn that kind of stuff. If the world has turned the advantage, the advantages to people with high EQ, not high IQ, where IQ used to matter more in the past, it's an interesting time for women in sales. You do the same thing you've always been doing. The world changes 1or 2 degrees and all of a sudden, things change. I’m happy to see people like yourself. Women in revenue is the new one coming out. Natasha, it's been a fabulous talk with you. I appreciate your perspectives. I wish you the best in your new role at Acoustic. Remember, Acoustic.com just like it sounds, check it out. This stuff is for real. If you're not using AI in marketing, you probably should be talking to Natasha.
Thank you. I appreciate it.