By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

Late in 2015 we started a podcast called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific.  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg.  Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise.  Recent Guests: Jim KeenanJoanne BlackAaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.

We were thrilled this last time to be able to talk to Marilyn Cox, Vice President of Marketing and CRM at The Second City.

In this episode, Practical MarTech: How to Make Marketing Technology Work for You (Not against You) Marilyn gives us some great lessons from improv for B2B sales and marketing as well as active listening.

The biggest thing, one of the core principles of improvisation is the idea of yes-and. So it is the idea of recognizing and building on the ideas of others. And a lot of us don’t want to admit it, but we do have a knee-jerk reaction to shoot down an idea when somebody brings something up. And so the idea of yes-and is really at the root of everything we teach, and work on.

Many other improv principles are built into this. So the idea of bring a brick and not a cathedral– that you are not having to do this by yourself. Rely on the team and the ensemble you have around you… there are just so many really fantastic ideas that help you engage and interact with not just those people internal to your organization, but also people that you are trying to reach, you’re trying to communicate to, and those you are trying to better understand.

I also ask Marilyn how she built her marketing technology stack at Second City.  How do we build what we need to manage our business? and to build our own scalable predictable sales pipeline for that?–What were your priorities? When you’ve been given a blank slate, how do you approach that?

Listen in and/or read the full interview below:

Matt:  Thank you very much, everyone, for joining us on another episode of the Sales Pipeline Radio. If you’re joining us on the Live Radio Funnel Media Radio Network, thanks so much for joining us. If you’re listening on the podcast, thank you for subscribing. You can always find our future episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio on the iTunes Store, on Google Play, and everywhere that fine podcasts are found. And every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio can be found — past, present, and future — on salespipelineradio.com. We are regularly featuring some of the best and brightest minds in sales and marketing, and B2B, and today is no different. And, I think, Paul, we’ve talked about having a college football show, and as we record this is, we are a week before Labor Day weekend. Labor Day weekend is traditionally sort of the official start of college football season. There are a handful of games this coming weekend. I believe, on Saturday, we’ve got a couple that are coming up.

And I know that our guest today, who is also a huge college football fan. We’ve got Marilyn Cox, she’s the Vice-President of Marketing and CRM at The Second City. Marilyn, thanks so much for joining us.

Marilyn:  Thanks, Matt, how are you?

Matt:  I am doing great. I’m really, really excited that you were able to join us this week, for a variety of reasons. But we are on the precipice of another college football season. I know you are a proud alumni and diehard fan of Ohio State University. So maybe start out a little bit with you know? They have a bit of a tough schedule this year, but a really strong roster, a bunch of returning guys. A young team that’s starting to learn how to play together. What do you think?

Marilyn:  I’m psyched. I mean, I think if we can rise above the little bit of the upheaval that we’ve had, leading into the season, it should be really, really good for us. And if you know anything about Urban Meyer, and the teams he coaches, whether it’s at Ohio State, or Florida, or anywhere else, he’s amazing. So I think it’s going to be a great year for us.

Paul:  Now, Matt, I have to tell you that I may not make that into the podcast, because I’m a loyal U of M alumni, from the University of Michigan.

Marilyn: Oh, ow!

Matt:  Well I was hoping not to bring that up, because I didn’t want this to digress into just you guys picking on each other.

Paul:  A mud bowl, a fight to the finish, yeah.

Matt:  We’re going to keep this above-board. This is a family show. But yeah, I think I am super-excited about this season this year. I think, as we record this the day after Urban Meyer got a three-game suspension for some not good stuff going on behind the scenes in the athletic department, but I guess the silver lining for Ohio State this year is those first three games are non-conference games against not very good teams. So highly likely that Ohio State emerges 3-0 into conference season, and it’ll be a lot of fun.

We are definitely going to talk about professional wrestling before we get to the end of the show as well, but let’s get to the topic at hand, because Paul’s very excited to hear what the heck MarTech is. And Marilyn, talk a little bit about your background. You’ve spanned from MarCom into campaigns, into a pretty deep role on the marketing technology in CRM side, your current role. Talk a little bit about the evolution of marketing technology as you’ve seen it, and as you’ve experienced and managed it as well over the last few years.

Marilyn:  Yeah, I would say, I’m one of those fortunate marketers that really came into the space and practice at a time where marketing was really making a shift. So, as I tell people, I remember one of the first projects I worked on was deploying this thing called Marketing Automation, and it was a long time ago. So it’s really amazing to see how the space has grown and evolved from being able to send out multi-touch communications and to see the behavior attached to it, to now predictive analytics, and AI. And it’s just fascinating to how this is grown, and to what you said earlier. When I got started, I was in the tech space. And so technology companies adopting technology made pretty decent sense. So I think it’s really been fascinating to watch how other industries now have started to take practices that have been around for a while and really make it their own, and make it work for their business.

Matt:  Yeah, for sure. And I think that you were at Oracle for a while. And now, you were, in the last couple of years, at The Second City. And for those that may not be familiar with The Second City, it is improv comedy out of Chicago. Some of your favorite comics, I guarantee, come from Second City. Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray back in the day. And so my question to you is, your career spans B2B marketing, and B2B marketing technology. What the heck does that have to do with improv comedy?

Marilyn:  I know, it’s fascinating. So I always tell people the story of Viola Spolin. So it’s very important for people to understand that, while comedy is a fantastic output of improv, it actually has its foundation in communication. So Viola Spolin was a social worker who worked with immigrant children. And she created a series of games to help them to communicate. A lot of them didn’t speak the same language, and so these games helped them work together, and again, just assimilate into this new culture and experience that they were a part of.

Her son, Paul Sills, went on to the University of Chicago, where he was a part of a group called the Compass Players. The Compass Players eventually became the founding ensemble members of what is now known as The Second City. So while, again, comedy is a great output of it, it really has its practices in communication. And we have taken these practices and these fundamental games and exercises, and we bring them into organizations. So we do anything from working with companies to help them develop leadership and teamwork skills, to helping companies work with their customer base to identify what their comedic voice is.

Matt:  And I’ve seen them in action doing this. Clearly, they had come up from the improv side and they’re working with B2B companies, trying to impart improv lessons. I saw them in action at a conference a couple years ago, and it was phenomenal. It was obviously very entertaining. They were very funny. But also had a bunch of lessons. So talk a little more about the lessons that you see from improv into B2B sales and marketing. I know we talk about active listening. You talk about building on what someone else says, or some of the things I remember. What are the things that’ve really stood out to you in the training and coaching, that the improv team does.’

Marilyn:  I think, for me, the biggest thing is be one of the core principles of improvisation, which is the idea of yes-and. So it is the idea recognizing and building on the idea of others. And a lot of us don’t want to admit it, but we do have a knee-jerk reaction to shoot down an idea when somebody brings something up. And so the idea of yes-and is really at the root of everything that we teach, and that we work on. Many other improv principles are built into this. So the idea of bring a brick and not a cathedral, that you are not having to do this by yourself. Rely on the team and the ensemble that you have around you. And so, there are just so many really fantastic ideas that help with how you engage and interact with not just those people internal to your organization, but also people that you are trying to reach, you’re trying to communicate, you are trying to better understand.

Matt:  Spending a little time today on Pipeline Radio with Marilyn Cox. She is the Vice President, excuse me, of Marketing and CRM at The Second City. Talking a little bit about the impact of improv on sales and marketing. And I don’t know if you know, Ally McKee, she’s a startup founder and CEO out of LA. And she also is a student at improv. She has taken improv classes, and I asked her once, what the heck those had to do with each other. And she gave very similar answers. She said, in improv, you learn how to listen. In improv, relationships are incredibly important. In improv, conversations are more successful than monologues. Humility is critical. So she talked about a number of things that are lessons, to make you better at improv, but also better at relationships overall.

I want to pivot a little bit, before we have to take a break, here, in a couple minutes, and talk about how you have built your marketing technology stack there at Second City. I know that, when you came on, you were pretty much given the keys. Is that okay? Build what we need to manage our business, and to build our own scalable predictable sales pipeline for that, sort of that coaching and business, that B2B side. What were your priorities as you did that? You mentioned, in the beginning, about the evolution of MarTech, but when you’ve been given a blank slate, how do you approach that?

Marilyn:  I think, the biggest thing, of course, is relying on the internal experts that you work with. So coming into a world that I was very unfamiliar with, it was really imperative that I relied on those people that I worked with day-to-day, to better understand the business and identify those opportunities. And I think, for us, what we found was we have an amazing fan base. We have a very strong brand that people know and love. But they don’t know, and are not aware, of all of the aspects of our brand. So like you said, people are very aware of our alums. And they know the content that we put on the stages. But they don’t know that we had 10,000+ people that go through our training centers every year that are not looking to be on Saturday Night Live, and that we do have this professional services arm of what we do.

So what we decided to do is really focus on that fan base. Start with our customers, and figure out how we could leverage the insight that we had about them, and the information they already had about our brand, to drive greater awareness. And that’s been really what our main focus has been these last few years.

Matt:  And talk about, as you’ve evolved over the last couple of years, and as you’ve built that infrastructure, talk about the relationship you have with your sales counterparts at Second City Works. How does that relationship work? And how have you evolved the sales and marketing relationship and output based on that?

Marilyn:  Yeah, I would say I am so fortunate that I work with such amazing people. So when I came into the organization, those initial people that I was speaking with were the sales leaders. And they are still the people that I am consulting and speaking with on a day-to-day basis. So we work very, very closely. Any campaign that we are contacting, they are a part of that. We find that we’re constantly having to pivot message, or pivot how we define even something as fundamental as our marketing funnel, or our sales funnel, and relying on them to help drive some of that direction. And because we have that close-knit relationship, I really feel like it’s helped us identify opportunities that we probably haven’t taken advantage of to the extent that we could’ve in years past. So we have a better understanding of what types of practices and offerings better serve different industries and different roles within companies. And that’s really helped us become more successful.

Matt:  Love it. We’re going to have to take quick break here, pay some bills. We’re going to be back. We got a lot more with Marilyn Cox, the Vice President of Marketing and CRM at The Second City. We’re going to talk about some of the bright shiny objects in B2B marketing, and how she’s either embraced or ignored some of those trends. We’re going to definitely get into professional wrestling as well. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

*Break*

Paul:  Let’s pick it back up with Matt and his very impressive guest. She’s won her way back into my heart. Her Second City is like the holy temple of improvisational comedy. And as somebody who’s studied that many, many years ago, my hat’s off to anybody who’s willing to go through this and try this. It really is. That whole idea of yes-and is life-changing.

Matt:  Yeah, yeah. I agree with you. And I have never studied improv. I am a huge fan of improv. I still remember the Whose Line Is It Anyway? The old version, the Drew Carey version, is super-fun to watch. But yeah, the idea of yes-and. Honestly, in the exact same words you would use with “but”, you could say “and”, and you completely change the premise.

Paul:  Yeah, exactly.

Matt:  You could change the nature of the conversation.

Paul:  Set the scene, I show up, and my customer’s naked. Yes, and what am I going to do now, yeah.

Matt:  Yeah, no, it’s pretty awesome. Well, thank you, everyone, again, for joining us here at Sales Pipeline Radio. If you’re enjoying this episode so far, in our already diverse conversation with Marilyn Cox, you can get it an on-demand replay of this at salespipelineradio.com in just a couple days.

Coming up, over the next few weeks as we round out the summer, and head into September and the heart of college football season. We’ve got some great guests coming up.

We’ve got Elay Cohen next week. He is the founder of SalesHood. We’re going to be talking about the importance of sales process, the importance of enablement across the entire sales and marketing and revenue organizations. Very excited for him.

Coming up, a little later, we’ve got Tiffani Bova. She is an evangelist and former distinguished analyst at Gartner, and she is the author of the new book, Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business. Very excited to have her joining us in here in a couple weeks.

Today, we have more time with Marilyn Cox. She is the Vice President of Marketing and CRM at The Second City. And before we get back to talking about some trends in marketing technology, I don’t think I’ve ever really asked you this question despite the fact that we’ve known each other for a long time. How, exactly, did you become a professional wrestling super-fan?

Marilyn:  I started watching when I was five. I came of age in the Hulk Hogan, “Say your prayers and eat your vitamins” years. And I don’t know, I just fell in love with the story and the athleticism. And honestly, as I got older, especially as I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve become a huge fan of them as a business. I think that it’s really amazing to watch what they’ve done. They’ve always been very cutting-edge. They were one of the first organizations that had an app that was interactive, and the audience had a say in who was going to compete in what match. They were one of the first to have a network. And everybody thought Vince McMahon was a moron, and all of this money he was going to lose on pay-per-views. And now he’s laughing his way to the bank. So, yeah, I just think they’re a really interesting business.

Matt:  I agree with you. Clearly, I don’t watch as much as you do, but I think of WWE as kind of a successor to Barnum & Bailey. It’s become the circus. Where, look, there’s clearly an awful lot of talent in what those guys are doing. But the stories, the entertainment value, the fact that, quite frankly, it appeals to a widely diverse audience. It is fascinating to talk about. I’m sure there’s a Harvard Business case study on the WWE out there, somewhere.

But I want to get back. We got a few more minutes to cover here today on Sales Pipeline Radio, and I want to make sure we talk a little more on marketing technology. And you, I’m sure, get pitched dozens of times a day, by the thousands of marketing technology vendors out there. As a recipient of those pitches, and I know there’s a handful of us, and you’re included, where we share some of the worst punts with each other in email every once in a while. What stands out to you from those that actually do a good job? When you get those unsolicited messages, or when you get pitches from vendors, what are some elements of things that actually stand out that get you to take notice?

Marilyn:  I think it’s what most people will say, which is those reps who have done a good job researching our business. So when they reach out, and they understand what we do, that, to me, is certainly what stands out. And then, quite honestly, there’s a lot to be said for right time. I have just had some people who have reached out at a point where I had just come out of a meeting going, “We need something that solves this problem.” So I think that, again, it’s right time, and really understanding who you’re speaking to.

Matt:  So on the other side of that, then, as someone who’s reviewing technology options on a regular basis. As you well know, the technology is not your strategy; it’s the implementer of your strategy. Are there trends in sales and marketing technology that you think are worth watching, things that you think have started to break out from the clutter and are going to become a bigger deal moving forward?

Marilyn:  Maybe. I will always be the first person to say, I am a technology skeptic. There is, certainly, plenty of tech that I have implemented over my years, and stuff that I rely on, and I know I couldn’t do my job without. I would never classify myself as an early adopter. So I tend to sit back and watch, and see what’s really going to stick around. When I go to events, and it’s Content Marketing World’s coming up here, in a week and a half. And it is sometimes amusing for me to walk the trade show floor, the expo floor, and see how companies pivot their product and message year to year, based on what the new trend is.

So those types of things, I do watch out for. I would say, quite honestly, stuff that I’m really intrigued by is anything having to do with experiential marketing. I really think, in my opinion, that is going to be a trend that will continue to increase. We are seeing aspects of it with virtual reality, and what people are trying to do. But I think that VR type of technology is going to push traditional demos and that type of experience to a new level. It’s going to force organizations to think a little bit more about how they drive interaction, whether it’s face-to-face, at an event, or it is something that occurs online. And it’s allowing people to be more a part of the organization, and the brand. So that is what I’m really interested in, in exploring and seeing what happens.

Matt:  Yeah, I agree with you. I think that, you mentioned Content Marketing World coming up. More and more companies doing content, which ultimately means, if you look at it, a lot of companies doing it poorly. People that are doing thinly-veiled sales pitches in their white papers and their blog posts. And so I think that even the customer-centric content is out there, and if it’s in the same old formats, it can get caught in the clutter as well. So something that is personalized, something that’s experiential, something that is a two-way communication versus a one-way communication, it starts to stand out a little bit more.

What are some other things that you’re looking forward to as we go into next year? Things that you’re looking at across sales and marketing. Without thinking about this just as from a technology standpoint, how much are you guys thinking about? I’ve noticed a lot of people thinking about full customer lifestyle versus just acquisition. What are some thematic areas that are becoming more important for you as you start to look into the New Year?

Marilyn:  Yeah, for us, it really is continuing to grow that relationship and that customer experience. And we are in, what I would classify as a pretty unique situation, because we are B2B, and we are brick and mortar, and we are online. I’m a big fan of watching what companies like the Golden State Warriors have done. And so we’re really focusing on how we can do more with driveway to driveway experiences. And so what does that look like from that first touch that you have with a customer, all the way through any type of face-to-face interaction, and then afterwards. And then how do we make sure that it’s something that’s very unique and special to that individual, and very authentic. So I would say that that, for us, is what we’re going to continue to focus on, here, in the coming year, in creating more of that driveway to driveway experience.

Matt:  It’s really interesting, and I’ve never heard it described that way, driveway to driveway. But I think it’s becoming clear that the organizations that blur the lines between channels and create a really immersive, and a really integrated experience for their customers, are those that are going to win. I liked what you talked about earlier, too, in terms of leveraging some of the relationships and brand you have with The Second City on the consumer side. It’s a really sort of drive leverage on the B2B side as well, even though you’re selling to a business, there’s people within that business that are making purchase decisions and you might as well leverage the assets that you have.

Yeah, go ahead, Paul.

Paul:  I’m just wondering, because they’re such good communicators, have they ever thought about doing a business podcast about improvisation? There’s a million comedy podcasts, and they could easily do that with all the talent they have. But a podcast that shows and demonstrates, on a week-to-week basis, how to use improvisational skills to transform your team, your sales team and your marketing team.

Marilyn:  Well, that’s a lovely setup, Paul.

Paul:  See?

Marilyn:  As a matter of fact, we do have a podcast. It’s called “Getting to Yes, And” , and it is hosted by Kelly Leonard, who was, for a number of decades, our executive producer at The Second City. He’s responsible for the careers of folks like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert and Amy Poehler. And he now works a lot on our B2B side, and really paying attention to the role of improvisation. And so he’s had guests on Simon Sinek, and he’s had Alan Alda on, and he’s had Rene Brown. And so 100%, it’s a really fascinating podcast because there are so many people out there, and so many thought leaders, that are using these practices. And to hear them all talk about it together and how they are implementing it into not just their thought leadership, but a lot of their day-to-day interactions with the people that they work with. It’s a great podcast. So I would encourage everyone to tune in and listen.

Matt:  Well, that couldn’t have been planned any better. My goodness, that’s fantastic, yeah. And we’ll definitely, we will make sure we’ve got a link to that podcast in our show notes when we publish this up on Sales Pipeline Radio. We just have a couple more minutes with Marilyn Cox. She’s the Vice President of Marketing and CRM at The Second City. And Marilyn, I’m curious. If I were to ask you who are some of the people that you’ve learned the most from that you’ve been the most inspired by that have helped you learn and grow in your career, professionally, that they could be alive or dead.

Marilyn:  Oh, goodness. So I have to point to some of the people that played a huge role in my evolution and what I learned. So folks like Joe Chernov, who I know you guys had on just a couple weeks ago.

Paul:  Yes, we did.

Marilyn:  I still, like anything Joe writes, I’m going to read and try to figure out how to emulate. Steve Woods and Paul Teshima, who were responsible for Eloqua, and now have Nudge.ai. I think they’re constantly looking to push the boundaries on behavior and understanding human behavior and decision making. So I certainly love and really appreciate anything they have to share, and that they’re talking about, and what they’re building. Not just because I’m on his podcast, but Matt is great. I have known Matt now for probably close to 10 years.

Paul:  Wow.

Marilyn:  Yeah, I know. And it’s fascinating to see what he has done, and what he’s done with his business, and where he has taken it. So Matt, and of course, Brian Hansford, the stuff that they write and publish, I think is great. And I really appreciate how they look at very practical applications. And I think a lot of times, when you look at analysts, and while there are some really excellent models that can be adopted and stuff from those types of organizations, I’ve always appreciated the stuff that Matt and Brian have put out, because it is very practical, how-to type of work.

Matt:  Thank you very much, I appreciate that, and yes-and I am so appreciative that you joined us. I know that we had a last-minute cancellation, and I have wanted to get you on this show for a long time. I really appreciate you clearing up schedule a little bit and joining us today. Thank you to our guest, Marilyn Cox, Vice President of Marketing and CRM at The Second City. If you want to replay this episode and share it with some of the folks on your team, you’ll find it on salespipelineradio.com in just a couple days, and we will have an edited transcript and highlights blog post from this episode, including a link to the Getting to Yes, And podcast from The Second City on heinzmarketing.com in a few days.

Thanks very much, again, for joining us. From my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. We’ll see you next time on Sales Pipeline Radio.