Episode #026: Anna Schott, Director of Marketing at EcSell Institute
Hot take: you haven't really lived as a marketer until you've been on a marketing team of one.
In this episode, we chat with Anna Schott, Director of Marketing at EcSell Institute. She has nearly 10 years of marketing experience and is known for promoting a 3.7 million viewed TEDx Talk and book.
We’re talking about how she transitioned from list buying to creating an inbound machine, the pros and cons of being a marketing army of one, determining when to outsource, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to REAL MARKETERS, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat, and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience, and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola. I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries, share the real truths about marketing, and empower you to become a real marketer. I don't believe you have really lived as a marketer until you've done one of two things, and usually they come together, so bear with me for a second. One, you've been a marketing team, army of one, where you're one person doing everything. Then two, you've marketed with absolutely no budget and still been expected to drive results. That is marketing. That is what's so hard and so fun about marketing. You know what? There are a lot of marketing armies of one out there. I think sometimes we forget that companies do operate with really small marketing teams and they still get a lot of shit done. That's exactly what I'm talking about with today's guest. In this episode, we talk to Anna Schott, Director of Marketing at EcSell Institute. She has nearly 10 years of marketing experience and is known for promoting a 3. 7 million viewed TED Talk and book. We're talking about how she transitioned her company from list buying to creating an inaudible machine, the pros and cons of being in a marketing army of one, determining when and what to outsource, and so much more. First question, tell me something about yourself that few people know.
Anna Schott: I like this. Thinking back to it, I grew up in a town, which is actually considered a village because there's less than a thousand people in the town, and my graduating class had 21 kids in it. I think only like six boys were in my class.
Stephanie Cox: 21?
Anna Schott: Yeah, 21 kids. Our high school was not very big. That's for darn sure. A lot of my family still lives back home and I go visit quite a bit. That is something not a lot of people know about me.
Stephanie Cox: That is crazy. I'm trying to wrap my head around that. My high school graduating class was less than 200 and I thought that was small.
Anna Schott: Oh, no. yeah. That's about the size of the high school and middle school combined, maybe. I always laugh. We had no stoplights in the town, so it was very quaint. You definitely knew everybody. That was-
Stephanie Cox: And everyone's business probably, too, right?
Anna Schott: I was just about to say that. Sometimes that's a good thing or a bad thing. Yes, everybody definitely knows everyone and their business.
Stephanie Cox: Oh, I feel like that's a show that should be on the CW or whatever, free form or whatever it's called today. Some small town and... Anyways, we digress.
Anna Schott: Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: One of the things that I'm really excited to talk to you about, because I think you've dealt with a situation that a lot of marketers are in, and it's this whole idea of how do we get, and I hate this word, but leads. I think there's this philosophy that is so archaic, but also is something that I feel like so many marketers still struggle with. I get probably six emails a day asking me if I'd like to buy a list, because that's what you did back in the day. You used to buy a list and you'd send out all these emails. I tell people when I started my career a long time ago, email marketing wasn't a thing. There wasn't a platform to do it. You sent emails like 500 at a time and BCC in Outlook, and that's how you did email marketing. You've been able to transition the business that you're at from this idea of buying email lists to a more, I would say, 21st century demand gen inbound approach. How did that happen? How do you get a company that's so used to buying lists in a culture that, that's just what you do to think about that totally different, when it has worked for them in the past?
Anna Schott: Yeah, change is hard. When I came into the company I'm at now, EcSell Institute, it was mainly outbound sales and there was no marketing team. There was no marketing person. Outbound was working and that's a really hard time to come in and be like," Okay, I know it's working, but we need to kind of shift some things, especially kind of an inbound marketing approach." That's kind of scary, because like I said, the outbound emails and the calling and all of that got us to a certain point. Especially when I came on board, inbound marketing was hot. It was a huge trend, and so marketers knew what it was. I really kind of taught myself the ins and outs of it and just said like," Let's just do an 80/20 approach. 80% of the time we're going to do outbound sales efforts and just give me a little bit of rope to kind of play with some things." That was kind of how I got to that point of bringing in an inbound marketing approach, but it was slow, but you also have to bring people along for the ride. Just as much as I was educating myself, I tried to bring the team in just much, as well as helping people understand, how do you like to buy? Most of the time, we don't like outbound sales efforts. We don't like being blasted with an email from an email or company that we don't know anything about, nor do we like to be called from random numbers and we don't know these people. To kind of put it in that framework of just like," Hey, how do you like to buy," and if it doesn't match up with what we're doing as a company, then that gets people to say," Uh- oh. What do we do moving forward?" Now, I'm not saying that you should do away with all outbound efforts. That is still very helpful and it works a lot for a lot of companies, and we still do some of those outbound efforts, but it's definitely shifted upside down where a lot more leads are coming in from inbound marketing efforts than outbound.
Stephanie Cox: How do you think about convincing people, like in this situation, like you mentioned, it's a process. Did you get a lot of pushback when you first started talking about it, or did you rip the bandaid off? What was that like when you had the conversation with your boss like," Hey, we're not going to buy email lists anymore."
Anna Schott: Yeah.
Stephanie Cox: We're going to stop.
Anna Schott: Sometimes it's like that feeling... It just feels yucky sometimes to just completely blast emails and feel like you're spam. To kind of come into it with a vulnerable place of like, this just feels kind of gross and it doesn't feel like it's the right thing to do, but also to come in with data. That is your C- suite level, that's their love language. Okay. Data and helping them understand what could be. I think that's a really important part of it as well as coming to the table with small wins and saying like," Hey, when a lead came in from an inbound marketing effort, the sales cycle condensed by half," or whatever that might be. That's what we kept continuously finding was that when these leads were coming in from an inbound marketing approach, they were much warmer. They were ready to work with us a lot quicker than some of those outbound marketing efforts did. You kind of have to use the language of what they're most interested in. A lot of times that's data. A lot of that time is MQL, SQL kind of terminology and just help them understand, this is an approach that's working and it's actually better.
Stephanie Cox: As you think about that transition that you made, what was like your, how'd you know it worked and then how did you also know, I think at the same time, like I assume it wasn't super smooth and you probably had some bumps in the road, so what was it like trying to get people, because I feel like what happens is you make a change like this, that everyone, especially when I've done it this way for a long time. They're all excited about it. Maybe, maybe not. Then as soon as it's not perfectly smooth and there's a little bit of a bump, they're like," Oh, we got to go back to the old way." How did you like prevent that from happening? Can you talk to me about what that transition process was really like?
Anna Schott: Yeah. Like I kind of spoke about before, continuously pulling out those small wins. Early on, I was doing like weekly marketing meetings with the team. For me, it goes back to again, showing the data of look how many inbound leads came in, look at where they're at within the pipeline. Those kinds of updates were really helpful. Now, some of those weeks when inbound leads were really low or some of the things that I was putting into place, maybe weren't working as quickly or just wasn't in the groove quite yet. It is really easy to go back to normal. It is easy to go back to old ways, but thankfully our team is really innovative in a sense of like sometimes we know things aren't going to work and we're okay failing forward. I think that really helps to have a team where you feel psychologically safe to be like," I'm bummed this isn't happening as quickly as I wanted it to, but trust me, this is the way we should go about it. We do not want to be left behind." Just trust me and having a team that does trust you and gives you that space to maybe even mess up a little bit, that's okay. I think having that culture of just like they trust you implicitly is very, very important when you're trying to put in all of these new tactics that you maybe otherwise weren't and that's kind of how I approached it.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think that's really, really helpful. Thinking about you, you are a marketing team of, how many?
Anna Schott: Of one.
Stephanie Cox: I already know the answer, of one. I like to call it like a marketing army of one. I've been in that role before. Talk to me about what that is like, because you just talked about fundamentally changing, really your go- to market, but you're one person. How do you figure out what you're going to do when in reality, let's be honest. If marketing is doing its job, the success of the business solely depends on the work that you do and you're one person. Tell me about what that's like for you, because I think a lot of people can relate to that and they don't realize that there's a lot more of us out there.
Anna Schott: I wish I still had it all figured out. Unfortunately, I don't. I think you get used to the feeling of the pressure that it is. You are the first point of new business and sales. Sales obviously helps in that and marketing and sales need to work together. I have a great sales guy who I get to work with, but there is a lot of pressure. In that though, you have to get very strong in being just loud about what your priorities are and helping the team understand that, because as a marketing person of one, you can get dragged into a lot of things, into a lot of meetings, into a lot of priorities that take you away from what your job is at the end of the day. Time management is huge for marketing people of one and being able to automate things. Making the machine work for you while you're away is very important. Trying to get a lot of those things just wrapped up. The automation is key. Time management is key and then as well as, I have had to advocate for doing some outsourcing now. I have an SEO, SEM specialist. I have a social media ad specialist now and they're freelancers who work for us, but you have to really advocate for yourself because burnout is real and you can't unburn the toast sometimes. Just making sure that you're vulnerable with the team and saying like," Hey, I can do anything, but I can't do everything. Here's what it's going to take for me to continue doing my role well, but also maybe outsourcing some things that I don't necessarily have expertise in." Like I said, I don't have it all figured out. I would love to find someone who does, but yeah. Being a multi- tasker and very disciplined with time is big for me.
Stephanie Cox: Well, it's funny that you mentioned someone who does. I think anyone who says they have it figured out is I just a bold faced liar, because it's impossible to figure it all out. Marketing is hard. I don't know if everyone realizes that. I think sometimes people think," Oh, you do marketing. You create the pretty things." I'm like," Well, I mean, yes, but it's so much more than that." I loved your approach, outsourcing or finding other people that can help you that are experts in areas where maybe you're not, but how do you balance like, you're one person, limited resources, advocating for what's a freelancer versus a full- time hire. How do you have that conversation? How do you know, when does it make sense to have someone just freelance or an agency help you versus actually bringing someone on full- time talk to me about that situation because I think a lot of people struggle with that.
Anna Schott: Yeah. That's important. I figured out early on. I tracked a lot of my time just saying like," Hey, here's how much time I'm spending here. Here's how much time I'm spending here." This could take an expert two hours, which takes me 12 hours. Understanding some of the time that I was spending on some of these tasks and then being able to say," Okay, is this something an agency should do or is this something we can do with a freelancer?" Also, just because we're still a pretty small team and we don't have unlimited resources yet, we really have to know that some of these agencies just outside of our budget, but how can we pull someone maybe from an agency who wants to do some freelancer work? I've had a lot of success with that. I don't have to pay the big bucks for the agency. Maybe someone at that agency likes to do some part- time work and freelance gigs on the side. It really comes down to what am I spending my time on based on kind of our company's goals. Then being able to say like," Okay, I would really like to spend my time over here. I need someone to take this," but it doesn't make sense to bring on quite yet a full- time person. Granted, that's still in the plans soon, but until we kind of get to a point where we're like," Wow. We're spending way more on outsourced help, then we might as well just bring someone on who we can pay a full- time salary and do some of these things we're paying others to do outside of the company." That's kind of how I've tracked it and how I'm kind of building that out and looking to the future as well.
Stephanie Cox: I love that idea of tracking your own time, because I'm assuming that's not something you were asked to do. You just started doing it. To your point earlier, like get the data to prove a point.
Anna Schott: Exactly. You can have all of those logs. I had days and days of logs and I had worked in actually, way back in college, in a student run ad agency. I was a project manager for the ad agency. I was very well- versed in tracking time and understanding that. Again I'm just wired to be very disciplined. I just felt like that was a good use of my time sometimes to track what I was doing. If anything ever came up in the future, I could say," Well, I'm spending half of my time on these types of tasks." Again, yeah, it just feeds back into those conversations about," Here's the data, here's my time. Is this a good use of my time?"
Stephanie Cox: No. That's I think a really great point. I think sometimes people think about this idea of tracking time, almost to your point, agency world as a negative, when they don't realize like," Hey, tracking time when you have to do it kind of sucks. When you're doing it for yourself and creating your own data story to advocate for what you want, it's a really smart idea." I absolutely love that idea. I think I might steal that and have some people on my team start doing that. To your point, data beats opinions, a lot of times.
Anna Schott: It does, because sometimes I think we think we're doing more than we actually are. When you write it down, it's kind of humbling. Like," Oh, I didn't work eight hours today." It's very humbling to look back at where you spent your time during the day and just being able to look at that and say," Okay, there's no excuses." This is what it is. Yeah, try it out. Let me know how it goes, Stephanie.
Stephanie Cox: Kind of playing on that concept around like spending our time, obviously technology can be a big benefit when you're a small team, but obviously you also have a limited budget. How do you think about figuring out what is the right technology to invest in that will help you scale? Whereas, also not investing in too many things and having 60% of your marketing budget eaten up by just technology, which is so easy to do these days with more than 8, 000 MarTech solutions.
Anna Schott: Yeah. Yeah. This is a good question. It is tough for small companies and especially small marketing teams who don't have a huge budget. When I first came on, I had a budget of$ 0. When you're put in that position, you have to get very creative creating stocks.
Stephanie Cox: Who else knows, If you've not gotten a marketing job with a budget of$ 0, you have not lived, you need to do it at one point and it sucks. It is a such a huge one when you get a budget. Let's talk more about that.
Anna Schott: I could talk so long about this. It truly like, I just have a soft spot in my heart for people like us, Stephanie, who started from zero budget, because you have to get so creative and think outside the box. You're almost doing gorilla marketing every day in your role. You're constantly having to think outside the box without spending money. Think about how hard that would be to do today in just your own personal life. You don't even go a day without spending money on a coffee or this or that. Now, try to get new leads in and bring in business with absolutely$ 0. Now, granted, we were spending money on different technology. We have HubSpot and we were using Salesforce as well. We were able to kind of combine those two efforts and we just use HubSpot now. We were able to use that technology. We have been a customer of theirs forever, so we have a little bit of a discount, which thank gosh. We use that, but in terms of really just maximizing the$ 0 that we had, we were kind of on the forefront of influencers. We called them relationships or word of mouth, but you truly had to find some of these folks in your industry who had a large following and build connections with those folks and collaborate with those folks and do things. That's why when influencers came into the space, I'm like," I've been doing this forever. Why are we now finally like bringing this to the edge of marketing? Some of us have had to be doing this forever who didn't have a budget." You really have to think in terms of like," Okay, how can we leverage an audience bigger than ours because we don't have that audience. We want to get in front of other people. If we don't want to spend thousands of dollars on social media ads, how else can we show up in front of people? How can we have events? Yes, events do cost money, but how can we bring people to events or have them sign up for different webinars or have them do meet and greets with our CEO and do something online, do a live video." You have to get super creative in those ways. I would never change it for the world to be put in that position, because like you just said, when you do get a budget, like you're so much more frugal with that budget and you you're so much more thankful. Every year it increases, it's like the more cool stuff you can do. Every time I know I have a budget, I still go back to old ways and say like," Well, how could I do this for less? How could I do this that's a little cheaper, or for free?" There's ways that we can still kind of go back to those things that still really worked, and we didn't have to spend lots and lots of money. It's been an evolution from there, but I, like I said, wouldn't change it.
Stephanie Cox: You know what? You're so right, because I am the same way. Even when I've had multi- million dollar budgets that I've managed. I can't break the scrappiness of me. They're like," Well, we can do this for cheaper or let's do this a hacky way," because part of it is I think marketing budgets a lot of times, and this is maybe where other people outside of marketing get a negative perception of what we do, is you can spend a lot of money on things that don't work. It's very possible. I think when you have that mentality of like," I didn't have a budget or I was a marketing team of one with very limited resources," you learn how to do more with less or nothing and you make it work. Then that is kind of almost like a cultural philosophy inside of you, that goes everywhere you go. Even now, when we spin up my current role, I'm working with some people on my team around our paid ad strategy, and I'm like," We're going to start with$ 200,$ 500, limited budget, because we need to prove out that this works before we put a lot of money behind it." I think there's a lot of marketers that grow up in the school of thought of like," Oh, I'll put$ 10,000 behind it because I have the budget to do so." They don't figure it out. It's not a big deal, but they don't realize like," Hey, when you have to do more with less, you learn how to get good at marketing real fast and how to be really efficient with your spend." If we're being really honest, that's what moves your career faster is when you can do more with less and drive better results. I don't think people realize that.
Anna Schott: Oh, no. I think it's very easy for people to throw money at things. Have an idea and say," Okay, now figure out how much that's going to cost to do that." I do it the complete opposite way. I almost do it a backwards approach, like," Okay, what can we do first that doesn't cost a lot of money." Quite honestly, that's kind of the more organic, fun, authentic types of marketing, where it doesn't feel super forced and it doesn't feel kind of cold. It feels like," Wow, this is a very warm..." They can relate sometimes to those marketing tactics that we've created that are completely free. I totally agree with your sentiments and yeah, I just am never going to be in that camp of have an idea and let's throw money at it. It's going to be," Okay, let's take this in a very tactical approach and what can we do that doesn't cost a lot? Then how can we be as efficient as possible with the money that we are spending and then making sure that we're pivoting quickly after we're spending that money and seeing what the trends are." Something that, especially now that we do have a larger budget, something I really push is buying trends and doing it quickly. Spending some of that money up front quickly and finding out what's works in a very small amount of time, so that you're not wasting money all across the board. If you know that YouTube ads really work well for you, just keep pouring fuel on the fire there and stopped doing some of those other things that you're not getting a huge ROI on. That's a big thing too. When you are then going to spend the money, you need to be efficient and pivot quickly, when you're seeing things that aren't necessarily working. Again, that's kind of nice when you're a small team because you're watching those numbers a lot more closely and you're able to pivot and tweak things as you go without letting things draw out a little too long. Then you're like," Oh, dang, I haven't looked at that. That's not working. Let's pull the plug there." That definitely helps too. When you have a smaller team, you can pivot quicker when you're running some of those paid marketing campaigns.
Stephanie Cox: I got to ask you then, what's your favorite marketing hack? What's the one thing that you feel like is your secret sauce, that you've been able to do with little to no money?
Anna Schott: Well, we had a TEDx talk that my CEO did probably four or five years ago. Leveraging the Ted brand was a really big deal for us. If you can leverage something like a Ted talk or even just leverage your name with another company or brand that people know about that is the biggest trick in the toolbox because a lot of times it's free. It didn't cost us anything to do a Ted talk or build a relationship with someone in your network who has a huge following, and that has paid out dividends for us.
Stephanie Cox: Let's talk more about that. You've marketed a book, you've marketed a Ted talk. I think a lot of times that's a marketer's dream. How do I get a TED talk for someone in my company? What if we write a book? What was that experience like and what have you learned from it?
Anna Schott: The Ted talk came before the book, and that was a really good thing because I learned a lot from some of the marketing efforts we did for the Ted talk. You have to have a good talk and you have to have a good outline to even be asked to give one. We were actually denied in our own city to do the TEDx talk. We applied somewhere else and got in there and too bad for them because the talk is about to 4 million views at this point. Yeah. We ended up going somewhere else, but it was a really cool experience for us because we were able to come together as a team, create the content for the talk, bring a lot of people along for the ride. That was something I really focused in on is making sure other people felt like they were a part of the process. We shared a lot of what our CEO was going through in creating the TEDx talk. Then when it came out, those people felt like, they felt so excited about it, they wanted to share. Being able to have that experience, as well as like I had very strict data points I needed to hit to make sure that the talk had kind of a spider web effect of kind of being shared outward. I think if I remember correctly, it was 10, 000 views we needed to hit in 24 hours to ensure that it had exponential growth after that. I am lucky to say that in five or six hours time, we got 10,000 views. That was kind of the power of our already built in network of people who, we worked with as a company or past clients, just evangelists, even friends and family. People know what a Ted talk is. We didn't have to explain what it was to people. They automatically knew what it was. That was really cool. I will say, we kind of messed up in the sense of a lot of people just swarmed to our website and we didn't necessarily have a ton for them to do. We didn't build out our resources like we do now, for the content that we talk about in the TEDx talk. The Ted talk is called, Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life. We talk about the growth rings. Now, we have tons of content with that, but we didn't necessarily have anything for them to do when they came to our website, like we had a surge of people come and then they obviously bounced because they're like," Okay, well now I don't know what to do. There's nothing for me to do here." That really helped inform me when the book came out. Our CEO and president wrote that together, that I needed to put something in the book that helped people, not only bring them to our website, but also give them something in return, give them something of value. In the book, I have a link at the end of each chapter that we talk about different coaching activities and they can download templates for those activities. It's been kind of cool because now we not only know who bought the book, but now we have their information. We can share more resources with those folks afterward. We found a lot of great success in folks who download the templates of our book. They ended up being customers very quickly. It shrinks our sales cycle almost in half. That's been something that really informed me from what I learned in the TEDx talk, to then how to make sure that I didn't make that same mistake with the book.
Stephanie Cox: I love that idea that you basically say," I got rejected for our city. I said, screw, it let's go somewhere else." I don't think enough marketers realize that just because someone says," No," to you, doesn't mean that everyone else is going to say no, or even in your situation, TEDx in general. How do you think about turning kind of those failures into motivations to try something different? Why did you guys do that, knowing that it could fail again?
Anna Schott: Yeah. We have a very resilient team and we have a team that's very much like, if you don't like us here, we'll try it here. We very much are," Let's just keep going. We know this is the right thing to do. We know we have something to share, so let's not stop here." We've always been that way. Even with the book. I think we reached out to two different publishers and one of them took us up on it. Usually you don't hear that. Usually you don't hear sometimes a, Yes," quite quickly on the first or second try, but even in other aspects of what we do in our business, it has always been this mindset of like," If you tell me no, I'm just going to go try it somewhere else. We know we have a lot of value to share. We know we have good information. A lot of our information is based on research. If you're going to say no to us, we know someone's going to tell us yes down the line." We've always tried to use that framework. It comes again, back to culture. It comes back to sometimes your CEO driving that force of like," Okay, well then if they said, no we're going here." That has really trickled down to kind of our team's mindset of like," If we get to know maybe it's for the right reason and let's move onto something else or let's try it again elsewhere."
Stephanie Cox: Last question for you. What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge that people face today?
Anna Schott: I think in terms of what we do in marketing, we spoke about it a little bit before, but it's just always changing. You sign up for marketing and you have to be adaptable forever. You have to be cool. You got to be hip. You got to be up with the times. You got to know current events. You just have to know a lot of different things and you have to wear a lot of different hats. The fact that you're wearing a lot of different hats, I call myself a generalist. I'm pretty good at a lot of things. I'm not necessarily specifically an expert at one thing, but being able to keep up with that stuff can be pretty tough. Just know I had a consultant one time telling me this," Try not to boil the ocean. If you're able to do a few things very well, you're winning. You are doing a good job." Just continually know you're in the boat with a lot of other marketers who feel overwhelmed all of the time and just know that you can do anything. You just can't do everything at the same time. That's definitely a challenge I've been facing and still working on today.
Stephanie Cox: One of my favorite hacks that Anna shared, I think everyone can learn from, and it's how to get more budget. No, she didn't come up with this really brilliant way of getting more budget that involves a bunch of spreadsheets and calculations and projections and benchmarks. Nope. She started tracking your time. She started tracking how much time she was spending on things that she wasn't an expert on. Then she added up all that time and said," Look how much time I'm spending. We could outsource it for probably cheaper than what it's costing me to do with this." That's how she got more budget. It's brilliant. It's a way that I think all of us could, without a ton of work, be able to actually prove that it's more cost- effective from a time and resource perspective to outsource to an expert in a specific area than to have ourselves do it. I think that's something we can all take away and something super easy for us to do. The next time you need more budget, don't go looking for a benchmark report. Don't go asking your friends," How do I get more budget?" Try actually writing down how much time you or someone on your team spends doing the actual work and then how much it would cost to outsource it to someone that's more experienced at it. He could do it faster and see what happens. You've been listening to real marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. Don't forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing goodness, shouldn't be kept a secret.