By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
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As a marketing leader, not only in travel, but in B2B travel, this has been an interesting year. I ask Wendy to share a little bit about what it was like mid-March as the you-know-what started hitting the fan and what that was like internally for her.
As business leaders, we’re going to have to figure out how to lead through this. I ask Wendy how she helped the team learn how to lead the customer, lead prospects, really be a voice of leadership and thought leadership to help figure out how to get through this together.
“…bring your empathy to the fore and start putting yourself in the shoes of those customers.
We asked ourselves what message is changing right now?
What do clients and prospects need to hear?
And we decided for us the best thing we could do was be a source of information and education.”
We also talk about how resiliency is super important in a leader. This AND A LOT MORE. Listen in now and/or read the full transcript below.
Matt: Thank you everyone for joining us today. If you were joining us on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thank you for joining us live in the middle of your workday. We are here every week at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. If you’re joining us on the podcast and you’ve subscribed or downloaded this episode, thank you so much. As a lot of podcasts have grown this year, our numbers have just continued to sky rocket and very, very honored and humbled that all of you have made us a part of your rotation. And every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio always available, past present and future on salespipelineradio.com, but I want to get right into it. We’ve got a lot of cool things to talk about with our guest today. She is the chief marketing officer for Egencia, Wendy White, just down the hill from me here in sunny, Seattle. Wendy, how you doing?
Wendy: Oh, I’m doing great. I’m sitting here in beautiful Issaquah, Washington, checking out the Issaquah Alps, which are the mountains just east of Seattle, and glad to be with you today.
Matt: Well, thank you for joining us. You are so close to some of the best hiking in the Seattle area, I think, between Rattlesnake Ridge, Mailbox Peak. You got the Big Si, Little Si. It’s an amazing area, especially we’re into our short Seattle summer. We are in this… It’s high seventies all week, blue skies. We go through the big dark to get to this time. I don’t know about you, it’s one of the advantages of working from home more often now is that I feel like I’m not traveling. I’m not commuting. So, I have more time to enjoy being outside in this short Seattle summer.
Wendy: You picked one of my favorite things to do outside work, which is to get out with my two dogs and hike, and you named a bunch of my favorites. You left off Poopoo Point, which is right outside my window. I can see it, where the paragliders jump off and sail right by my window often while I’m in a meeting. But yes, I do love our Seattle summers and feels like it’s coming to an end. I’m already starting to feel the chill in the air.
Matt: So, fall is usually my favorite season and it still is. I think I might be missing college football this year, but I’m looking out the window of my sort of basement here and I can see a country that usually is all green is starting to get just a little bit red. And I’m just hoping that holds up for a little bit longer, but let’s talk shop a little bit. You have been a chief marketing officer for Egencia, which is part of the Expedia group for almost three years now. And we’ve talked in the past, I think, on the show about just the amazing transformation you’ve done in the organization, the global marketing sort of unity you’ve created. You’re creating a lot more focus, transparency, and alignment across the team, which is all great until people stopped traveling for business. So, was excited to have you on today just to talk about the last few months. I mean, as a marketing leader, not only in travel, but in B2B travel, this has been an interesting year. Share a little bit about like what it was like mid-March as the you know what started hitting the fan? What was that like internally for you?
Wendy: Well, you can imagine when almost a hundred percent of your customers over a course of two to three weeks have to stop traveling completely, cancel a hundred percent of their upcoming trips, and for many, when the borders first closed down, figure out where their employees were around the globe and figure out how to get them home safely. That was what I would really consider probably one of the most intense periods of my career. As an organization, Egencia is incredibly customer focused. So, you can probably imagine all of us jumped right in. There were a lot of 12 on, 12 off handoffs. Everybody was stepping in to man the phones with our travel consultants who were working around the clock, answering calls, rerouting people, getting folks home, but also just communicating. There was so much unknown about what was happening.
It’s clear in retrospect, none of us had faced anything like what we went through in that period. Just the sheer number of border changes, sheer number of changes coming from the airlines, the car rental agencies, the rail stopping and starting. We had to really just shift into crisis comms overdrive right in that first period. And I think in retrospect, I look back and I think, wow, that is a time when you really know what kind of people you have around you. You start to see the shining lights of dedication and passion and commitment from the folks around you. And of course, everybody went through that and faced a little burnout mode coming out of it, but it really brought the group together as a team. There’s no doubt.
Matt: Yeah, it is interesting as we talked to a lot of CMOs, many of them are in quite the same industry you’re in where you guys have really sort of faced a ton of adversity, but it is a bit of a crucible for bringing teams together, bringing marketing teams together towards a common purpose, bringing executive teams closer together, because you’re kind of forced to sort of put aside sort of the more tactical, maybe petty differences and really fight for the soul and the future of the company. Did you find that that existed not only within your team, but with your peers on the leadership team as well?
Wendy: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, again, we put the customer at the center, and then frankly, also put the employees at the center, right? People are going through some big transformational experiences in their life. So, the working from home, the dealing with their kids being home, trying to support their family, be it elder care, whatever it might be. So, employees and customers became front and center and everything else just falls away. And what I would say also is the frontline salespeople and the SDRs. They had to go through a big transformational period, right then as well. Really trying to understand, what should I be saying? Should I be dialing a prospect? Should I not be dialing prospect? How do I back off? What’s relevant during this period? So, everybody had a little stress in their job, no matter what their job was inside the company.
Matt: Well, we certainly went through a period. I’ll never forget that mid to late March where you’re literally, just as the world shuts down saying, “Is it ethical to sell right now?” I mean, I sell things that I think people still need, but we’re all just in shell shock. What’s going on? And I feel like we then kind of went into this era of, okay, starting to realize this is going to be around for awhile. And then as B2B sellers, we often saw a little bit of a compassionate urgency to get back to saying, listen, we’re going to not be able to just hunker down and hope this all happens without our help. As business leaders, we’re going to have to figure out how to lead through this. How would transition like that look like inside of Egencia, and how did you help the team learn how to lead your customer, lead your prospects, really be sort of a voice of leadership and thought leadership to help us all figure out how to get through this together?
Wendy: I would say in retrospect it seems really obvious what we should have done, and I think almost what we did, but at the time, you did really feel like you were feeling your way through it. I mean, I hate to say it, but it kind of reminded me a little bit of what happened after 9/11, when all of us were taking a pause on how do we market and talk to our clients and our customers during that period? Having lived and through that era, maybe I applied some of that, which is really bring your empathy to the fore and start putting yourself in the shoes of those customers. So, we absolutely did pause. We paused a lot of our outbound. We took a real, hard look and said, “Anything that doesn’t feel relevant right now, let’s pause.” And so, that went all the way from early prospect comms all the way through day to day comms to our kind of B2B2C audience, which is for us, our travelers. we put pause on everything.
And then, we slowly started to evaluate and say, okay, what message is changing right now? What do clients and prospects need to hear? And we decided for us that the best thing that we could do was be a source of information and education during that kind of March through, I’d probably say May even beginning of June period. We decided we were going to dramatically ramp up the information we were putting into the marketplace. So, the client training sessions, webinars, new kind of white papers or safety checklists. Whatever we could do to package information that we thought our key buying audience and then our key engagement audience needed to hear. And I’m going to say, I talked to a few B2B marketing councils, including the one you’ve set up, Matt. And what I heard from many other B2B leaders is they did the same, right? They really focused on that engagement and education. And for us, it really paid off in terms of being a credible voice during that period, and it paid off in terms of engagement. A webinar that might’ve gotten 250 or 300 folks in January would easily get 1700 or 2000 during that March through June period, because the thirst for information and sense of normalcy and understanding what their peers were going through, what the best practices was, was really out there, navigating through uncertainty.
Matt: Yeah, and I appreciate that. We’re talking to Wendy White today. She’s the chief marketing officer for Egencia within the Expedia group. And I think certainly what you mentioned we’ve heard echoed through a lot of B2B companies that have really doubled down on creating great content, creating engagement, and really creating community with their customers. And that may not convert into immediate business, but we’ve already seen many brands sort of be able to convert that community and that loyalty into brand preference into sort of shorter sales cycles, even, when people are saying, “Listen, you’re already a company and a brand that I trust and believe in, and you’re someone that I want to spend more time with.” We got to take a quick break, pay some bills here. We’ll be back with more with Wendy White, the chief marketing officer for Egencia, talking about the future of B2B travel and the B2B travel industry. We’re going to talk about some surprising exponential changes and talk a little about military intelligence. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.
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Paul: And now back to Matt and his guest, and before you do, I’m old enough to remember George Carlin’s famous line, “Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.”
Matt: I appreciate the joke, but you probably don’t know this Paul, our guests today spent 12 years in the Army. She was a military intelligence offer. She speaks Russian, and so two things for you, Wendy, on that one. I mean, obviously thank you for your service for doing that for us, and also, I’m curious as you go through moments of adversity, as an individual, as a leader, as a business, are there things you can pull from your military training experience that sort of help you, help guide you through years like this?
Wendy: Oh, yeah. In the military, as an officer, you really do focus on the people, the mission first, people first. And so, I think that kind of servant leadership style that we hear so much about, it really is actually rooted in the military. And so, yeah, that actually comes to the fore. And then, I would say the other thing that I mentioned earlier, the empathy, right? Really having a sense of true caring for your staff and understanding what they’re going through. Somebody who was an A player yesterday is going to be an A player tomorrow, but right now, they might need to take care of their three year old a little bit more than being in that 6:00 AM call. And so, just that empathy, servant leadership really does pull through in a crisis.
Matt: Yeah. One thing I’ve also noticed this year, especially this year, I guess in this time of crisis and adversity, I’ve noticed that those with a military background, especially those with a military leadership background have been really calm and cool under pressure and have been great at leading with that as an attribute. I think both in terms of our jobs and the economy and our health situation, there’s lots of things that could freak us out. There’s lots of things that could just make us worried about the world. And I think a level of clear mindedness, a level of calm to be objective in how we work through this is important. And I don’t have a military background, but I assume that that is part of the training and the experience is to be able to sort of maintain that level of calm and focus in crazy situations.
Wendy: Yeah. I would have to agree with that. Resiliency is super important in a leader, and here we are, August, still going through what we all thought March, April, May would be a few months. So, right now in particular, resiliency for a lot of people is probably at its lowest, so it’s even more important today that we’re still thinking about those same issues of empathy and understanding, especially as we go into the fall and the light turns and the shadows come into our world. And it’ll be a lot harder, I think, for people to get outside as much. We need to just continue to bring that empathy to the fore.
Matt: I agree with that. We’ve got just a few more minutes here with our guest today on Sales Pipeline, Radio, Wendy white. She is the chief marketing officer for Egencia, the B2B arm within the Expedia group. And I would imagine that there are some things, Wendy, that you guys have pivoted towards and done in the last few months that clearly weren’t things you would plan on doing in January and February. And I think we’ve all got examples of exponential change we’ve been forced into, some of which are going to be with us for awhile, some of which are helping to rewrite the long term playbook of how we do business. You mentioned earlier some of the things you’ve been doing around education and sort of engagement with your audience, with your market, with your customers in general, sort of a go to market community. Are there other examples of things that within the company, as well as outside the company, that you would say are surprising, exponential changes that have benefited the company and that’ll be part of your playbook moving forward?
Wendy: Yeah. Well, you’re going to guess that companies around the globe, when this crisis started, probably discovered all kinds of gaps in their execution ability. Maybe it was automation. Maybe it was video conferencing. One of the ones that might not come to mind right away is business travel, but I will guarantee, there are companies all over the world that were not prepared for how they manage business travel, and have discovered sense that they need to rethink about it. It went from, I think, being a cost line on the CFO’s radar, how do I manage costs and ensure ROI of my business travel? To being a risk management and employee wellness point of view right at the executive level, the C suite with the CEO and the chief people officer. So, we’re, of course, thinking about that differently as well, because we need to pivot our sales motion to talk to those audiences about whole new value in whole new ways.
We think we’re uniquely positioned in the business travel world to really sell those needs of these companies as they look forward and think about risk mitigation through things like travel policy management or through duty of care capabilities in our software platforms, but also just that great unified experience, and so they always know where their employees are. They can trust that they are getting the right information to their employees as they’re booking about things like hotel hygiene or border control information, right at the moment when they’re planning and thinking of travel. And then, obviously, they can do the approvals that they need to do to ensure that they feel like they’re having essential travel. So, with that, we have pivoted and we’re going harder, I think, against our competitive base that may not be as ready as us to help companies through this transformative period.
Matt: Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see where we go. I think there’s going to be a lot written about leadership, I think, out of this period. There’s going to be a lot of things we learn or new ways of doing work and sort of accelerating paths and accelerating trends that may have taken longer. But I think it will be interesting, especially in some of the more affected industries, the winners and losers. I think, Paul, you probably heard me say this in the past. With life sometimes and businesses sometimes, you can use a race car analogy. It’s great when we’re on a straightaway and you can just hit the gas pedal and go as fast as possible. This year has been a curve, right? And you have to slow down going into a curve. You have to be careful about how you manage your instruments through the curve, but the most successful companies accelerate at the end of that curve. They identify when the curve is ending and they look for opportunities to accelerate. And that’s where competitive differentiation is often created.
And look, business travel is going to bounce back. And there are a lot of companies that are not only counting on that, investing in that, but are going to benefit from that in a variety of different industries. I think how you position yourself for that, and as you look for opportunities to grow, is a significant part of the long term game and the long term success story.
Wendy: Business travel is absolutely going to bounce back, and Harvard just released a study last week about the important role of business travel on a nation’s GDP, and we’ve known. I think we all know intuitively that business travel is critical. And we did a study about 18 months ago, actually also with Harvard, where we looked at companies who had very strong business travel programs relative to those who didn’t, and not a surprise, companies that invested in business travel as a lever for growth had higher client retention. They had better supply chains, and they had much higher employee satisfaction and retention. So, not a surprise it’s an important lever for business. Not a surprise it’s an important lever for GDP. It will come back. People have an innate human to human need to get out and see each other.
Matt: We’re got to wrap up here in just a couple of minutes. My last question for you before we have to do that, Wendy White, the CMO chief marketing officer for Egencia, is eventually we’re going to get to some kind of new normal. We’re going to get to go to restaurants again. Things are going to… We’re going to get through to the office again. When we get to that point, what’s something that you miss that you can’t wait to go back to? And what’s maybe something that you don’t miss that you’re excited to leave in the past and not make part of your new normal?
Wendy: I know it sounds silly, but I just miss hopping on a plane. It’s the silliest thing. I didn’t know I loved being on the plane much. So, I do miss that in particular. I’ve got a big group of my team in Paris and London. So, just walking out of the London office, down the street to my favorite Lebanese restaurant and having a long lunch with my team. I really miss that, and I can’t wait to do that again. What I don’t miss probably daily commute. Who misses that, sitting in traffic? So, I will rethink how I approach my work life balance going forward and probably little bit more time from home than I did in the past.
Matt: Oh, yeah. No, those are great answers. I miss being able to go places. I miss seeing people out and about in the industry that I now get to see sometimes in Zoom and occasionally in sources like this, and I do miss going to the office. I could go more often than I do today, but I don’t know that I need to go at the same time every day that everyone else is and face the same commute. So, certainly, I think there’s a lot of change coming for us and change for the better.
But thank you so much to our guest today, Wendy White, the chief marketing officer for Egencia, part of Expedia group. Thank you for your insight, your candor. Thank you for your service. And if you liked this episode and you want to hear it again, this will be up on salespipelineradio.com in just a couple of days. We’ve got a great set of guests coming up over the next few weeks as we wrap up August, get into September. And that tree eventually is going to get a little more red on it, Paul, and I’m okay with that. But for today, thank you very much for joining us. My name is Matt Heinz. On behalf of our great producer, Paul, thank you for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.
Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel. I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing. If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.