Going “All-In” on Your Marketing Team

Episode 291

June 11, 2024

This week The Kula Ring is featuring Thomas Lewis, a marketing expert with 28 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. Thomas chats with Jeff and Carman about his philosophy on what makes an effective, well-aligned marketing team, making sure that transparent communication and cross-organizational buy-in are achieved and fostered. We get into the nitty-gritty of how he creates this atmosphere and the things to avoid when actioning this plan for your organization.

Going “All-In” on Your Marketing Team Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by 

Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I’m doing well and happy to be here once again.

Jeff White: Me too. I’m interested in chatting with our guest today.

Carman Pirie: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, anytime that we can get a benefit, we can get the benefit. Frankly, let’s just be selfish for a minute. Anytime that we get the benefit of having somebody with 28 years of experience in the semiconductor space on the show, we want to take advantage of that. And frankly, it’s nice that our listeners get to take advantage of it as well.

Jeff White: Yeah, know, certainly when your career spans that many years and you know, it’s not, you know, world too. So, you know, it’s cool.

Carman Pirie: That’s good. We should note that 28 years well, it sounds like it’s a good chunk of experience. It is not that long. And our guest is still incredibly young.

Jeff White: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, probably, you know, and certainly very good-looking and all of that, too. So we can throw all the accolades.

Carman Pirie: And my guess is better looking and younger than both of us.

Jeff White: Yeah. Not normally how we do an intro, but joining us today is Thomas Lewis, and Thomas has been a marketing executive, as you mentioned, you know, 28 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. And really looking forward to what you have to say to our guests today. Thomas, welcome to The Kula Ring.

Thomas Lewis: Thank you, Jeff. Thank you, Carman. And wow, what a wonderful introduction that was. I need to take you guys everywhere with me.

Carman Pirie: Yes. Which is exactly the kind of thing somebody says when they haven’t taken us anywhere! It’s awesome to have you on the show. And I want to kind of just start by introducing our listeners a little bit more fully to you and your background kind of where you’ve worked, etc.. Just give us a bit of texture there.

Thomas Lewis: Sure. So as you said, I’ve been in the semiconductor industry my entire career post-education. I’ve spent the majority of my time at Texas Instruments. That was 26 years. And I’ve also had some time with analog devices. And in both of those companies, I was really blessed to have lots of different experiences all inside of marketing and sales. The majority is directly in marketing and it’s been a really wonderful ride. I think it was Jeff who said in the introduction, being able to see the world. That certainly was a big part of my career. I spent a two-year plus expat position in Germany, which was definitely a highlight of not just my career but of my life. That was a wonderful experience and I’ve been exposed to, to be cliche, the four P’s of marketing. I’ve had roles that had to do with every element of marketing I can possibly think of and enjoyed every minute of it.

Carman Pirie: That’s fantastic. And that must be an incredible experience to get a chance to hone your craft with colleagues. And, you know, in Germany, like you’re in another continent and getting exposed to a different kind of business climate, even though it’s within the same company. Of course, that’s fine, how long did you say that you were in Germany? Was it two years?

Thomas Lewis: Yes. In total, it was roughly two and a half, as they also included as the precursor to that official assignment, what they call a long-term assignment, which let’s be honest, and to even no matter what time frame you’re talking about, whether the because this was back in 2003, 2005 time frame, a long term assignment is a quarter. Right. Every company thinks in quarter cycles. So I had a long-term assignment there for a quarter came back and reported some things that could use work and that resulted in the expat assignment that lasted a little bit short of two years.

Carman Pirie: That’s very cool. Really cool. Thomas. I mean, as we were talking about today’s show and you’re varied background and like you say, really working across the four P’s, you know, there was a kind of a nugget or a thread, if you will, that seemed like it just weaved throughout the way that you approach thinking about marketing and working within the field, this notion of being all in. And I would really love to spend some time unpacking that.

Thomas Lewis: I love to. So all in is a phrase that, you know, many people use, you know, I’m all in when you’re talking about getting alignment. Recently I have been reflecting as one might do about the entire length of my career and the teams that really excelled who not only performed well but achieved things that a lot of folks didn’t think were possible including sometimes maybe even those those teams themselves. And I uncovered when looking back on those teams and the teams that didn’t fare so well, there were three things that when they’re all present and they all come together, result in extraordinary performance and results. And it’s an acronym “all” in my use of the word here, the first A stands for accountability. And we can we can unpack that because there’s a lot there. You know, your best teams to summarize that. Hold themselves accountable. They don’t even necessarily need someone else doing it. There’s a natural inclination, and especially in marketing this course sometimes gets tricky Measuring the impact of marketing activities. A marketing ROI, if you will, is not a simple exercise, and the ones that do it and do it well learn from that and continue to improve are the ones that excel. So that’s what the first A stands for.

Carman Pirie: I want to kind of pick on that just a little bit, you know because I don’t know if I’m forming the thought as I’m saying. So this may make no sense but it seems like there are almost two types of ways that marketers think about accountability or two different types of accountable marketers maybe. One seems like they are looking for information or looking for data to prove that what they’ve been doing is actually working. So we’re not necessarily interested in changing what they’re doing. They’re interested in finding a way to prove that that was a good idea. And then there are others who are more genuinely humble about it and open about the notion that not everything I do is going to work, and even though it worked last week, doesn’t mean it’s going to work this week. And they approach that notion of accountability or ROI calculation, etc., with a more I don’t know, a bit more of an honest lens. Have you, is that a distinction that you’ve encountered or am I just making it up?

Thomas Lewis: You are not making it up and you nailed it. Yeah. There is an old saying that you can have data backing you up, by the way, you create the data. You know, you can find data to prove any decision really that you want to. We have an abundance of data in today’s world. So typically, if you really want to, you can manipulate data to show anything you want it to. The best marketers and really the best employees don’t do that. They do it the opposite way. Instead of looking at data after they’ve done something and searching for data that proves what they’ve done was effective, you start upstream and you say before the project, the activity, the campaign starts, this is what we want to achieve and you set the goal. And the goal, of course, should be tied to a higher level of objective. An expression sometimes used as cascaded goals. So the corporation at the highest levels to their stakeholders have goals, earnings per share. You know, what are our earnings reports going to be? What’s the breakdown by industry? All of that should ultimately cascade all the way down to how many impressions do I want this ad to have and how many contacts do I want that to generate? How many of those do I want to result in an actual lead that we follow through and earn the business? And all of that ties together and, you know, to your notion of which way to go about it, that ultimately results in the most success. It’s being honest and transparent and setting the goals of front reporting on it. And the most important part of this is learning from it. So it didn’t get what we wanted. Why not? And did we maybe get something unexpected? That’s really good. That’s another thing that sometimes happens is you set your goals and you look back on them. You’re like, Well, that didn’t happen, but this did. And let’s learn from the extraordinary on either side. Something really amazing happened. Let’s keep doing that on the next thing we do. And this didn’t quite work out the way we thought it would. Where was our thinking flawed and what will we do differently next time? So what you said to start off this part of the conversation is exactly the way I feel about it.

Carman Pirie: And I don’t really want to beat up on marketers too much because, of course, I feel like the organizations almost set them up to be in a defensive position. Like, you know, if marketers were actually being truthful about the likelihood of the success of any particular single initiative, and they’re being transparent about that. You know, they may feel that they may not even get the green light to be, you know, to happen and that there’s a sense, I think in a lot of organizations, particularly engineering-heavy organizations, as, of course, is often where we play that they desire a level of certainty that may not always exist in the realm of marketing and sales, as much as it is a more data-driven game these days, it’s not fully data predictable. You know?

Thomas Lewis: Thanks for bringing it up, because that brings up two things. One is I like when I’m setting goals and making commitments to what we’re going to try to deliver. I like to use an Excel spreadsheet approach and it can be any tool, just using that as one where the variables can be changed. So imagine a goal spreadsheet that says, okay, I’m going to assume ABCD and then tell you what those assumptions are. And if you disagree, like if you think that’s not going to happen, the variables are right there and you can change it and see the outcome, how it would be different. And that is one of the ways that I feel brings more integrity, more accountability into the process because you allow others to say, you know, I don’t agree with the assumption that you made there maybe as a, for example, that 10% of all contacts will result in an identified project we can go with. You don’t agree with that number? No problem. Change it in a spreadsheet and here’s the outcome. Another thing you mentioned I think is really important is if you’re working in an engineering-driven industry like semiconductors. I’ve found that even when the data or the results aren’t what everyone would want, they welcome the data. That’s the world they live in, right? True engineers are constantly driven by data. And if you walk into a room and you’re asking for money to be invested in a marketing project of some type, and if you don’t have that data, both backward-looking, so what data can we collect and we’ve already done that might give us some runway on what could happen here and then get regular updates. You actually quickly lose your support from the business units, from upper executives. They need and crave that data. And without it, it becomes a lot of opinions and a lot of speculation on what’s going to happen.

Jeff White: But man, like, there’s an awful lot of situations where you really need to have the humility both in marketing, I guess, and in life to say, we’re going to do these things, we’re going to pull these levers, but we’re not 100% sure what’s going to happen. You know, like we’ve seen success like this in the past or, you know, I’ve run campaigns like this at other organizations or I’ve done this in other ways. And this was the result. But it’s almost like in a lot of ways the kind of the marketing, the marketing marketing machine, you know, the SaaS companies and all of those that are kind of like pushing the power of their tools and all of that are almost setting us up for failure in some ways, not for failure, but to look like we have more information than maybe we do, especially when we’re starting out.

Carman Pirie: Or that it’s more predictable than it actually is.

Jeff White: Yeah, you know, like, there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. And in all honesty, we’d probably do well to sometimes say, you know, we’re not 100% sure where this is going to go, but this is what our models are telling us, and we’ll see once we run it. But, you know, as you said, you do have to have that confidence walking into the C-suite to say like we think that’s going to do this, but not 100% sure.

Carman Pirie: But I like what Thomas said there about the dispassionate nature of the spreadsheet approach. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: You don’t agree with this assumption that’s baked in, it’s one of five that’s baked into this hypothesis of where we might go. Well, we can adjust that and we can see the output of it, at least it provides a nice basis for the conversation and one that isn’t exclusively predicated just on somebody’s opinion or feelings that day.

Thomas Lewis: And Jeff, your point is a nice bridge into what the first ‘L’ stands for as well, which, we’ll that out of the bag, is loyalty. It’s loyalty on multiple different levels and sure at a person-to-person level, but also around the project and to get another word that people like uses buy-in. And what you’re describing is the process of getting that buy-in. It’s easier, to your point, it’s easier to walk in and put a lot of projections down and to do a sell, if you will, to sell your marketing campaign short term. That is an easier road to go. You hope which is never a good strategy, but you hope it’s successful and then that gives you the runway to get the next project out, or the next campaign. The issue with that approach is if it doesn’t work out and you didn’t get buy-in and now everyone’s pointing at you, you being the marketing arm that’s, you know, proposing these. And something I found that’s useful is all of the business units in the semiconductor business. They all have ROIs. They make bets too, right? They bet on their next project. They work with customers, they define the next semiconductor they want to do. And they make a ton of assumptions. How many of those will go into each end equipment? The customers I’m working with, what will their market share be? It’s all kinds of assumptions are also baked into their ROIs and they invest millions of dollars per semiconductor they release. And so I found that that plays well when you’re in a meeting and you’re getting questions about, for lack of a better term, the risk that you’re doing, you know, you want to invest a million, 2 million, those are big marketing campaigns, right? You get to that kind of level. And I like to level set it when I can feel that tension in the room and say, well, remember our last single semiconductor product? We invested whatever the number is, 5 million. And we also had the same level of uncertainty. You know, our lead customer, their idea, what they want, it doesn’t always work out. I mean, that is part of the business is taking, I tend to call it educated risk, balanced risk that is knowledgeable going into it. On what is the likelihood in back to those variables that we’re talking about that also allows people to play with the levers and say, well, what do you think are the minimums a maximum again, engineers expect the data sheets, What is the minimum that we’ve ever seen in terms of impressions or contacts? What’s the maximum? What’s the most likely? You can play with all those variables and you can make, at the end of the day, an educated guesstimation on what that pipeline is that you’re going to uncover for your sales team that could result in design wins and revenue. And you can do it with confidence. If you take your time, you can say the minimum we should get out of this campaign is this, the maximum is this, and the most likely is this. And that process is not easy. It can take months to get everyone bought in. However, without it, you can have accountability and no loyalty to the program, or to what you’re doing, and you will still not have a winning team. You need both working together.

Carman Pirie: I really, so you’re talking about loyalty to the process.

Thomas Lewis: Yes. And to each other, that’s a that’s a second part of it. But yes, loyal to the process.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. But man, there was a, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned them on this podcast before because I’ve mentioned them a fair bit. But there’s, there’s an old salesperson I used to work with that, you know, sales leader, He was, there were a lot of annoying things about him in a lot of ways. But you’re always, you know, the organization worked large deals like it wasn’t uncommon for it to be, you know, $1,000,000 deal or $2 million deal or what have you and strong relationship sales, etc. So, you know, there are times when people feel like they’re getting a bit of a shortcut, you know, like, oh, I know I’m in with John or Joe over here and I’ve got so the sales or somebody on the sales team would try to short you know, would try to skip a couple of steps in the process. Right. And he was always a stickler like, no, no, no. You follow every step along this process because we know what comes out the other end of it. We’re loyal to the process regardless of what we’re encountering in this individual situation. And it was just, it took a remarkable level of discipline. But it was also remarkable the number of times I saw that payoff, that loyalty to the process of the program at hand and that stick-to-itiveness is really just what ended up making the difference. So it’s interesting to hear you kind of talk about that through the lens of a marketing team, a marketing organization.

Thomas Lewis: Loyalty to the process can also result in loyalty to each other. And, you know, it’s the subject of many a Dilbert cartoon. This tension, if you will, between sales, engineering and marketing, those three functions. And when you’re in the semiconductor business, those are the three teams you need to be bought in. And the only way that you will get sustained loyalty is by having integrity in what you’re talking about and being honest about, hey, this is the investment. If nothing goes right, this is the downside. This is the lowest return we’re likely to get. This is the highest end to be accurate in that because when you do that over and over and over again. When you get to the fourth time you do it management, everyone else has faith in what you’re saying. You know, we’ve seen this process, we’ve seen the commitment, we’ve seen the pre-work done upstream. And we’re confident they’re asking for a million and they’re saying it’s going to return at a minimum five, at a maximum 20. And we’re confident that that’s true because they’ve used the same process and already done that three or four times.

Jeff White: Let’s talk a bit about that relationship, because, you know, in an industry like semiconductors or any highly technical industry, that relationship between marketing, sales and engineering is paramount and not just with your internal engineers, but also your salespeople’s discussions with your customer’s engineers. And, you know, it’s almost like it goes beyond the organization itself and spreads to the, you know, getting buy-in from, you know, every level of engineering in both firms. So how do you as a marketer or working with sales and working with engineering help to bridge that divide and make sure that everybody is working together and that they are all in together on that?

Thomas Lewis: I believe the answer to your question starts with listening before you say anything, really understanding, especially if you’ve never worked in either one of those. Meaning if you’re a true blood marketing person, you’ve never been in sales and you’ve never been in an engineering role, and I’ve been blessed that I have been in both. You have to take the time to understand their language, their care abouts and their goals before you ever approach them with the sell of what you want to do. It’s super critical because it allows you to be able to well, it’s actually very similar to the sales process itself, right? With a customer, you can’t just go in and say, well, you could, but your success rates lower to go in and say, Oh my products ABCD, well, they might not care about B and you’ll lose them when you talk about B for 20 minutes. The important part is to know what they really care about and focus on that. And so my answer to your question would be to start by listening. Really understand their long-term and short-term goals. Make sure whatever you’re proposing has a logical progression from what you’re doing, your to-use product language, and your features to their benefits. Your campaign and your marketing project have features, it has things you’re going to be doing, whether that’s a webcast, a webinar or an event you want to go to. Those are the things you’re doing, but what are the benefits to your community, and the sales team? What is it they care about? So that would be my short answer to what you were asking.

Carman Pirie: I want to know what the last L is, in this all-in.

Thomas Lewis: Oh the last L…  The last L stands for love. And I said it that way on purpose to be a little cheeky. However, most people would call that passion right in a business professional setting, we don’t use the word love. We use the word passion. Are you passionate about what you do? The reason I don’t use the word passion other than it would mess up the acronym, I don’t think ALP sounds quite as good as…

Carman Pirie: Yeah, ALP-in does not work nearly as well.

Jeff White: Certainly not in North America.

Thomas Lewis: Yeah, right. Maybe it’s something else somewhere else, right? The reason that I do it other than that is love also indicates things like empathy, inclusivity, and respect for personal boundaries. I’ve been on teams that had the first two. They had the accountability down, they had a process, they were maniacally honest and they had loyalty. But what was missing was that last L And what happens is in the short term, those teams do really well. The accountability-loyal checkmark teams that have no love do well for 2 to 3 years. But then something starts to happen, things like burnout, right? If you have no respect for personal boundaries, people will work incredibly long hours and they burn out. And that’s one of the ways that teams long term don’t succeed. Empathy is another because if you don’t have empathy for the other functions, you know, you’re in marketing back to that conversation and you don’t have empathy for what it’s like to have a sales goal, what it’s like to have your personal paycheck tied to whether or not you win that business, right? That’s a very different mindset that marketers can lose if they’ve never been in it. There you can quickly lose empathy for why it matters so much is not just a number, a goal that seems important to hit. It’s impacting their families. And the last is inclusivity. Most people, talk about inclusivity, typically in very textbook ways, meaning do we have people from varied races? Do we have a good mix of men, women, and people who identify as trans? Like, do we have, you know, diversity that way? Of course, that’s important. I’m going broader than that. And I learned this from my time in Germany. Inclusivity of thought, not shutting down someone who approaches a problem or a situation differently. As a matter of fact, when you sense that’s happening, love it, sit in it, even if it’s uncomfortable, you know, let the other person air what it is. Because sometimes and I’d say frequently, right when you get to those moments, you don’t actually incorporate what they’re saying. If they’re really a fringe opinion. However, what I have seen is when you let it get aired, it does one of two things. One, it points out a very low probability, but an outlier situation that could occur. And it brainstorms something else. Or two, it cements the original idea. And if you shut down that idea, it actually runs counter to what you’re trying to do, right? You’re trying to get your agenda through. You’re trying to and somebody interrupts your meeting like, Oh, what about this? If you let them talk it out, a lot of times it’s only helping you because everyone else in the room is hearing what you’re hearing. And they’re like this doesn’t make any sense, so let them air it out because they’re helping you by pointing out the opposite side that really cements what you want to do. So it’s love for freedom of expression. It’s love for allowing people space to get their opinions out. And it’s really important to the long-term health of teams that can have sustained runs of five, to ten years of amazing results.

Carman Pirie: I was really taken with the notion, the way you described inclusivity of thought, I must say I thought that it was that the all-in in the end was just going to be like an add-on. I didn’t know the ‘in’ was going to also stand for inclusivity. So it made the all-in thing even tighter. What I guess I like about that is that it feels to me that it really asks the marketing leader to say, you need to design in advance for inclusivity of thought and how you even build out those meetings and how you think about how you interact with those teams. The structure of the meetings that you create, etc. will determine the extent to which to experience said inclusivity of thought or not, you can almost by mistake, shut it down because you hold things too tightly or what have you, or just design those engagements in certain ways. So that’s really something interesting to ponder to me. That to your point, Thomas really does push beyond the more common notions of simply that, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion that we often think of.

Thomas Lewis: You know, it also extends to recruiting and developing and retaining your employees. When you’re going out and you’re looking for folks, I think it’s important to when you’re interviewing, when someone clearly is standing out and is different than the rest of the team that you have today. And look, this is not easy interviewing, is certainly an art. It’s not a science. And you don’t have much time to try to figure out who the person is sitting across from you. However, I always become interested in someone when they say something I haven’t thought of, or especially if they run up against me, if they have some counter thoughts to what I have. Because again, it’s um, oh what’s the saying? It’s iron strengthens iron, right? I think I’ve got that right. I might have messed that up a little bit. But this concept. Sharpens! Iron sharpens iron, right? It’s this idea that being pushed, good ideas pushed up against other good ideas, only makes both better and to welcome that. And so I think it’s important from the very jump who you hire and you can develop it too. It’s a misnomer that you cannot, in my opinion, that you cannot develop an approach to problem-solving that is around different modes of thought. I have found that one of the most effective things I can do in any meeting I’m in is to leave time at the end. This is hard sometimes to do, especially if you’re presenting an idea you want to do, But in team meetings is very easy to do, your staff meetings are to leave enough time at the end to literally just go around, say, is there anything, Jeff, that you want to share with the team? Anything that’s a problem, an obstacle, an opportunity you’re seeing? And if you don’t leave time for that to happen, as the manager, frequently two things happen. A great idea is missed out on, a problem that everyone’s dealing with and no one’s talking about is swept under the rug and your team doesn’t feel important. You know, it’s like you took up all the air time and there’s no time at the end for people to air whatever’s going on in their world and their experience. So I’ve always left time at the end of my staff meeting for sure, to allow for that just kind of open, Hey, is there anything what do you got?

Jeff White: Well, since you brought it up, Thomas.

Thomas Lewis: Yes Jeff, What do you got? 

Jeff White: At the end of Kula’s monthly all-hands meetings, we have a slide at the very end of the deck. We recently moved it a little sooner so that we can end on a more positive note. So we have the airing of the grievances and, you know, you never know what could come out of that. But it’s almost if something is said, it’s almost always better to have it out in the open and to deal with it.

Thomas Lewis: Suggestion, maybe change it to airing of the grievances and opening of the opportunities. You know, like it’s both you know, frequently people have ideas. They have, you know, just like me, you know, you’re walking your dog and an idea hits you. And if you don’t have someone instigate a conversation and we all forget them, we’ll have these great ideas. And then if someone doesn’t say, Hey, Thomas, what have you been thinking about lately? Well, another idea rolls in or I get very tactical and get into all I’ve got to get this deadline done. And by leaving those doors open, you not only get the grievances, the process, it’s usually a process thing, Jeff, that you need to improve, but it also opens up. Wow. I think the thought that if we did that, we could get this.

Carman Pirie: Well, it is in my nature to have a lot of grievances. But I can tell you I do not have any grievances about this podcast. It’s been great to have you on the show, Thomas. Thank you for joining.

Thomas Lewis: It’s genuinely been a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

Jeff White: Great to chat with you.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White, Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash the kula ring.

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Thomas Lewis

Thomas Lewis is a seasoned marketing leader with over 28 years working in the semiconductor industry. He has a unique background which has afforded him first-hand experience in sales, business unit leadership, and marketing. Thomas believes in the power of data-directed marketing with a proven track record to support his “ALL IN” approach to creating, developing, and sustaining highly successful campaigns and teams.
His background includes impactful roles at Texas Instruments and Analog Devices and career opportunities such as launching a global pricing process, living abroad as an expatriate, leading engineering teams and directing multi-channel marketing campaigns.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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