Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More! I have a super, super special guest today – Ruth Stevens.
Ruth is a president of eMarketing Strategy, B2B marketing consultant, author, keynote speaker, and educator. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU Stern School of Business, outside director at HIMSS. She helps mid to large B2B companies improve their marketing strategies and tactics for a stronger pipeline.
Today we talk about must-have marketing skills for modern marketers.
In this episode:
- Essential advice for marketing students.
- Why is it important for marketers to build a personal brand?
- What are the steps and specific actions to consider when building a personal brand?
- What are the most common challenges that students tend to encounter in their first jobs?
- How should students deal with those challenges?
- What is considered the communication in marketing and with other people?
- How can marketers improve their communication?
- How can marketers keep up with all the new technologies?
- Pros and cons of different marketing careers, and how can marketers decide which career path to pursue?
Quotes from the episode:
“I suggest that they get their LinkedIn profiles tightened up and active. One of the most important tips is to focus on their headlines with more deliberation than most people do today by packing many keywords in there. Most people just put their title and company names. That wastes the opportunity to be found for various capabilities that you have.”
“Those who have their eyes open as they enter the workforce should remember that performance on the job, doing great work and delivering value is just the table stakes minimum. To really get to where they want to go career-wise is to remember that they should strive to be well-liked. They should be helpful, friendly, thoughtful, and perceived as someone we want to work with.”
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Hello from Portland, Oregon. My guest today is Ruth Stevens. She and I met in Hong Kong probably four or five years ago in a hotel. That’s the first time we met, and we had a great conversation, and the friendship carried forward. She is a consultant in B2B marketing, specializing in lead gen, and taught marketing at business schools.
Currently, she is an instructor for NYU Stern Business School, and she taught in Columbia and many schools abroad. And she will talk to us about that. She also has written four books on B2B marketing. Hi Ruth!
Ruth Stevens: Pam, I am so happy to be with you today. Thank you.
Pam Didner: Yeah, it’s wonderful to have you.
Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about yourself?
I mean, giving that, I was like talking about you having experience in B2B marketing and also teaching at universities. So talk to us a little bit about your teaching experience.
Ruth Stevens: Sure. I started teaching around 20 years ago in the evenings when I was working at IBM in the daytime. And one evening a week, I would go to NYU’s Continuing and Professional Studies organization and teach in the master’s degree program in direct and interactive marketing. And I enjoyed it. So when I went out on my own in 2000, I called up the school and said, “can you give me more work?” Cause, you know, I had to make a living. And I’ve been teaching part-time ever since. I went to Columbia for about eight years. I’ve been at Stern for about five or six years now. Enjoying it.
Pam Didner: Love it, love it. So you’ve been teaching at multiple universities for many, many years. If you have to give the students one piece of advice, what would that be?–especially marketing students.
Ruth Stevens: I do one sneaky thing in all of my courses, Pam,
Pam Didner: Alright. Enlighten us!
Ruth Stevens: I hope you’re. Yeah, the audience does not include administrators.
Pam Didner: (laughs) Who cares!
Ruth Stevens: (laughs) What I do is I sneak into the curriculum a segment on personal branding, where I explain how important it is for undergrads and grad students to establish themselves as experts in their fields and become known for something and pay attention to deliberately deciding how, how you want to be known what you want to be known for and taking steps.
It doesn’t take much effort, but it requires some thought and strategy and positioning yourself as an expert in something.
Pam Didner: I think that’s fantastic advice, and then nobody taught me that or shared that advice with me when I was in college or even when I was at work. Right for 20 years, just like you, I work in the corporate world, and I was head down and tried to do all my job. And if I’m not head down, I was looking internally and see how I can climb that corporate ladder. So I did not do anything to build my brand until 2014. The year I left Intel, I started to pay attention and do that full time.
And I’m not saying it’s like, “Oh my God, late, late,” but like I could have started a little earlier. So that was fantastic advice. So with that being said, let me ask you specifically, you know, to build a personal brand, that sounds very abstract. What are some of the, you know, specific action items that you advise the students to take?
Ruth Stevens: Well, the first thing that they need to do is decide what they want to be known for.
So there’s some strategic thinking there. It’s like Marketing 101. You want to have a unique selling proposition, or you want to be differentiated in the marketplace. And the idea is that then your name will come up when somebody says “I need X,” and you’ll be among the consideration set as a go-to person on X., So that’s the kind of background work that needs to be done.
But then, tactically, I tell them a couple of things first. They should go out and buy their name as a domain.
Pam Didner: Oh, great. I love that idea. I love it. Love it. I did that – pamdidner. Not many people have Didner as a last name, so getting that domain name is not hard. Yep.
Ruth Stevens: It, and even if your name is John Smith, there are ways that you can differentiate. Like add your speciality in there or your city or the word “call” or something,
Pam Didner: —something you just add something to it and make that unique.
Ruth Stevens: Initial is a common way to do it too. And then, of course, I suggest that they get their LinkedIn profiles tightened up and active.
One of the secret tips. I mean, it’s no secret at all, but one of the most important tips is that they should focus on their headlines with more deliberation than most people do today. You can use as many as, uh, I think it’s 1200 characters in the headline. So you should be packing a lot of keywords in there for students who are just beginning their careers. These would be about skills they have.
Most people just put their title and company names. So that’s sort of boring, but mostly it wastes the opportunity to be found for various capabilities you have. And then the other thing I had advised them is to use a professional headshot because it’s social media.
Pam Didner: That is very, very, I 100% agree with you, especially if you want to be perceived as a business professional, then you need to make sure you convey that image.
Right, right. Discretely and also directly.
Ruth Stevens: And then the third thing – there’s more, but these are things the three most important – is to go out and get at least 500 connections so that when people visit your profile. You don’t look lame, right?
Pam Didner: You’re like, “I have no friends. No one is coming to my party!”
Ruth Stevens: You’re connected. And 500 is all you need. And you know, any student today among classmates, childhood friends, family members, teachers.
Pam Didner: It’s easy to get 500 connections. I 100% agree with that. That’s not too hard. Yeah. So those are great, great advice. And I think, uh, the one I truly, truly agree with you 100% present. Well, the one is to get your domain name and purchase that. Yeah, it was kind of like your phone number, right? The phone number you have, chances are it will stay with you for the rest of your life, is almost like your social security number and getting a domain name is very important.
I am updating the LinkedIn profile that I have. Another thought I would like to add on top of it. I 100% agree with that, Ruth, but I also come to realize that when you are trying to build your skillset or, and we will talk a little bit about that later. Also, what you want to be known for, I have discovered that I change my LinkedIn headline and the description in my profile regularly.
Ruth Stevens: Huh!
Pam Didner: Way back, you know, in 2014, I had a book about global content marketing. So my speciality is about how to scale content across the region. Once I wrote my second book, which is Effective Sales Enablement, you know, like now all of a sudden I was looking to how to build alignment between your
Ruth Stevens: Right. You’re repositioning yourself!
Pam Didner: Exactly, Ruth, you are repositioning yourself. What I want to just expand you, uh, you share with the students, uh, in terms of like updating your LinkedIn profile. From my perspective, it’s not something that you check it off, and you got it done, and you move on.
Ruth Stevens: That’s right. It’s organic. It needs to reflect–
Pam Didner: Yeah, if you build your experience, you add skillset. You have to go back and change that and reflect that. So. I updated my LinkedIn profile, uh, the headline, and the description in the past, uh, seven years, probably 20, 30 times.
Ruth Stevens: Wow.
Pam Didner: I’m not kidding because I will keep thinking, how can I make myself, or how can I share with others in terms of what I do and make them crisper. And that’s not something that you can do a one-shot and then say, “okay, I’m done, you know, and check it off.”
Ruth Stevens: I love that. I’m going to add that to my little module. Thank you.
Pam Didner: (laughs) Thank you! So now that switch the gear a little bit. Um, so we talk about the marketing students in terms of the advice that you share with them. Now they are in their first job. All right. So they got a job. What are some of the two or three challenges that students tend to encounter in their first jobs and, uh, you know, from your perspective, how should they deal with it?
Ruth Stevens: Oh, there’s so much to say!
Pam Didner: (laughs) You’re like, “that’s a loaded question, Pam!”
Ruth Stevens: But I’ll just pick two. One is something that goes on in the head of a newly graduated, newly minted young person who’s entering the workforce.
At least people I encountered tend to be graduates of top business schools, and they’re ambitious, which is great. They’re self-confident, which is great, but sometimes they have a higher expectation of the speed their career will develop than is realistic. Like I
Pam Didner: Like they feel they can reach a certain position.
Ruth Stevens: Like CEO in five years.
Pam Didner: Yes. I got it. You know I encounter many of the students like that, “I should be able to just be a CMO, you know, of a startup within five years.” I was like,” Okay, well, do as much as you can. We’ll see how that works out.” But I love that.
Ruth Stevens: So it’s a kind of mental shift that I think they need to consider.
And those who have their eyes open as they enter the workforce can pretty much see what the career trajectory is likely to be at any given company. But the other thing that I would advise these newly minted, um, um, workers is that they should remember that performance on the job and doing great work and delivering value is just the table stakes minimum. To get to where they want to go career-wise, they should remember that they should strive to be well-liked. And I don’t mean in terms of high school popularity contests. I mean that they should be nice to everybody.
Pam Didner: Yep!
Ruth Stevens: They should be helpful. They should be friendly.
They should be thoughtful and be perceived as someone that we want to work with. And those personal characteristics and behaviors are the frosting on that cake of performance that is more likely to get you the promotions and opportunities you’re hoping for.
Pam Didner: You know, you bought a very good point and, I’m just going to say something. So, uh, listeners, if you are young aspirational marketers, I’m not trying to like saying that generation has, you know, attitude problem. I have encountered, um, some of the, uh, younger generation that, you all right. They have a certain expectation in terms of what the work environment should be like. Also, they have a certain expectation in terms of what the workers should be. They also have a certain expectation in terms of what the manager should do.
And I, I remember when I started, um, you know, you probably can speak about your own experience when you joined the workforce way back then. I have no expectation of that. The only thing I had, I had an expectation, is to do a good job. And by the way, if my manager tells me to do something. Okay. If it makes sense to do it, I do it.
But I think that the generation, the current generation, they have the ability to question, why do I want to do it?
And sometimes you should question that, but at some point, you know…
Ruth Stevens: Just shut up and do it.
Pam Didner: I agree. Shut up and do it. Right. So, but how do you walk that balance in terms of what you know, when to question, and why and when to just shut up and do it. I cannot give you that advice. I don’t think Ruth can either, somehow you have to make the, you know, kind of judgment call. But you don’t have to question everything like, okay, well, You know, “why are we doing this?” Sometimes it’s just part of the process, part of the job.
And I also, uh, agree with your comment is not when you say to be well, like, it’s not like, “Oh my God, you have to cave and you have to please people.” I see it from the perspective is kind of common courtesy. Maybe that sounds a little harsh. It’s just how you treat people. It doesn’t matter as manager, the janitor or your administrative assistant. Yeah. Right. And, um, it’s,
Ruth Stevens: It’s about character
Pam Didner: They character and with, and the, with respect and the sense of consideration. Um, yeah. I love that feedback. I love, love that advice. It’s wonderful. And now it’s so that you are talking about, you know, communication, right?
You need to communicate better, not just verbal communication and also a sense of working with others.
What about technologies? Marketing technology or MarTech has advanced so much. I mean, I don’t know about you, Ruth. I have a hard time keeping up with the new technology out there.
Ruth Stevens: Me too.
Pam Didner: And I feel like a digital or even modern marketer, one of the key requirements is to keep up with technologies.
Ruth Stevens: It’s a challenge. If you’re not technically inclined, it requires you to get out of your comfort zone. Fortunately, there are some wonderful ways to learn about new technologies online. There are trainings; LinkedIn learning, for example, is such a wonderful source, very low cost.
You can also volunteer on the job for projects that involve technologies you’d like to learn.
And the other thing you can do is read. So it’s more a question of the initiative. And for people for whom this is a source of anxiety, maybe you can get away with less knowledge, but in the world of marketing today, more technical knowledge is really important.
Pam Didner: So, with that being said, that leads to my next question. And, uh, you know, marketing technology, obviously there is a complexity of the technology in a different marketing field. Then the marketing fields have developed so much in the past, like, okay, print, pay media, and copywriting and design. Right. It’s very specific. But now you have SEO and a MarTech stack, which is people working on the back end. And then you have a video producer instead of just copywriting. You also have demand gen specialists, and pay media has expanded from traditional to social media.
Ruth Stevens: Right.
Pam Didner: Many marketers are struggling, you know, in terms of their career path.
Should they be a generalist, they know a bit of everything or a specialist, which has focused on a very specific marketing discipline. And I know many marketers are struggling with that, and they go back and forth and back and forth. And obviously, there are pros and cons on both paths, right?
Ruth Stevens: Right. Yeah.
Pam Didner: So how should they decide what to do and how to make that decision?
Ruth Stevens: I do have some advice on this subject. Thank you. I suggest that everyone should be known for something like I was discussing earlier in the personal branding angle. So you have to have some expertise that you can call your own. But I also urge marketers and business people of all sorts to go about their expertise from a mindset that keeps the big picture front and center. So, for example, that would be, “okay, I’m an SEO expert, but why am I doing SEO? What, what’s the goal here? What’s the strategy? What, are my competitors doing? Do I know my unique advantage in the marketplace?
What are my customers’ needs? What insights do I have about my customers? Those are the kinds of questions that a marketing generalist would be addressing.
Right. So I’m saying I have the expertise but have the mindset that puts it into a generalist perspective. That way, you’ll be able to speak to your colleagues and your seniors in the company in a language outside of pure SEO, for example, in this case.
We often say you should dress for the jobs you’re looking for versus the job you currently have. In the same way, you should be talking about the subjects of interest to people who are in the job you aspire to or the company that you would like to be on a peer level with. So, that’s why I think that a big picture mindset can be an advantage.
Pam Didner: Yeah. I love it. So. If I can paraphrase you for a little bit, you still need to develop your specific skillset and expertise. Try to strive to go deep on specific fields, but understand the benefit of that specific field that you are in. For example, if you are an SEO expert, but SEO works so well as a part of content marketing; SEO works very well as website development, SEO works very well, you know, in terms of writing social media post.
So you need to understand the “why” and the benefit of your specific field and think a broader picture in terms of how, what you do concerning other marketing functionalities, a lot of groups, and how they can benefit. If you can explain that, you can talk to your senior management in terms of, you know, what SEO will do well, other marketing disciplines, and they’ll also feel within your company.
And at the same time, you can also educate others in terms of all your expertise.
Ruth Stevens: Hear, hear!
Pam Didner: Cool. Cool. Yay! (both laugh) These are great, great answers. I love them. So to wrap it up, I want to ask you one silly question. Okay. What is your most useless talent?
Ruth Stevens: That is a hilarious question! I love it.
Pam Didner: Nothing to society!
Ruth Stevens: Society? Well, um, Hmm. I harken back to my high school days when I was an enthusiastic synchronized swimmer.
Pam Didner: (gasps!) Oh, my God.
Ruth Stevens: Also known as water ballet. Did you ever try water ballet when you were a kid?
Pam Didner: No. Are you kidding me? You know how hard that is? Oh my God. The only thing I remember is you have to put, uh, something too, actually on your nose. Um, is it…
Ruth Stevens: I never did that, the skill, the skill I learned there, which does have some utility in a swimming pool sometimes, but the fundamental skill is the ability to move your hands, like little paddles.
Pam Didner: Oh, wow.
Ruth Stevens: To keep yourself in the position and the water that you want to hold, whether it’s,
Pam Didner: So you don’t drown?
Ruth Stevens: Or if you want to move, move forward without, uh, flailing your arms around, like in a, in backstroke or using your arms in an obvious way.
You can have little discreet paddles right next to your hips so that your arms are at the water level, and you can move forward and back without the viewer knowing how you did that. So that’s sort of pretty useless talent, but.
Pam Didner: But it’s very graceful. I mean, if you can do that viewing nicely, I’m like, well, people can see it because I can see you, Ruth. I’m like moving my hand, like very, very nicely imagined myself in a water.
Ruth Stevens: You’re so graceful and lovely! (both laugh)
Pam Didner: I can’t do any of that. I’m not elegant at all.
Ruth Stevens: To pull this off requires a lot of strength. So that’s why synchronized swimming keeps you in pretty good shape because it’s yeah. Uh, it requires a lot of muscle tone and
Pam Didner: And also core. You’ve got to have a very strong core too! Wow. That’s lovely. I would not consider that useless talent. I think that’s a wonderful talent to have seriously. (both laugh) Excellent. Excellent. So thank you so much, Ruth, for joining us well, this, uh, episode of the podcast. So happy, so happy to have you on my show.
Ruth Stevens: Thank you.