Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 251: Q & A with Shawn LaVana @shawnlavana


By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

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This week’s show is called Best Practices in Professional Developmentand our guest is Shawn LaVana, VP of Global Marketing at Cloud Academy, Inc.

Join Shawn and I as we discuss professional development and the importance of personalized in-depth skill development, training and development with hybrid work models, why people don’t invest in it, and informal vs. formal training.

Listen in now to hear her great insights and/or read the full transcript below.  To watch the video, here’s the LinkedIn on-demand version.

Matt:     Well, welcome everyone, to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. My name is Matt Heinz. I am very excited to have you here, live. Well, it’s not live from the Heinz Marketing office today. Live from the Heinz Family basement, splitting time with the world headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Today we are in Kirkland, Washington, and excited to have you here. If you’re watching us live on LinkedIn or YouTube or Facebook, thanks so much for joining us. We are here every week, live at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. If you are watching us on demand, thanks for checking us out. If you are listening on demand from the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing and downloading. Our podcast numbers continue to grow, and our audience, just very humbled to see our audience continue to diversify in the video, live, on demand, podcast formats. If you like what you hear today, this is what we do. We do 20-ish minutes with some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. And if you want to check out any of our past episodes, we are getting close to 300 episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio, all available on demand at Very excited to have, joining us today, Shawn LaVana. He is the Vice President of Global Marketing for Cloud Academy, coming to us live from the greater Boston area. Shawn, how you doing?

Shawn: I am good. Thanks, Matt. How you doing?

Matt:     I am doing well. We have passed our heat dome. So, if you probably read, the Pacific Northwest, it was super-hot earlier this week, I happened to be in Las Vegas on Monday where it was cooler than it was here in the Seattle area. Ridiculous. Of course, we are a bunch of wimps out here on the west coast, in general, because I am sure you are like, “Hey, try with our humidity tied to that, and then you’re really talking.”

Shawn:  We do not get it quite… The humidity is always high. We don’t get quite that warm. I’m glad to hear that it’s broken for you guys.

Matt:     Yeah. If it was 116 degrees with east coast or Midwest humidity, that would be pretty rough. So hopefully, that doesn’t hit a lot of people very often. But no, excited to have you on. And as we talked about, there is a lot of topics, obviously, we could cover, just related to marketing, marketing leadership. But I think I wanted to sort of cover professional development today, because I think it’s a really important topic on a lot of fronts. So before we do that, maybe just quick introduction of yourself, sort of a little bit of your background and a little bit about Cloud Academy does.

Shawn: Yeah, sure. So my background real quick, I’ve been a startup marketer for basically, the entirety of my career, so growing companies from about 10 million to a hundred million in that scale up phase. So all the fun stuff that comes with that. Cloud Academy, I’ve been here about seven months now. What Cloud Academy does is, they help you understand the skills and the depth thereof, of your current tech team, and put each one on a personalized path to grow where you need them to be.

Matt:     So, I want to talk about professional development in general, but sort of that concept of skills in depth, I think is really important. Because a lot of companies, you think about just general, professional development, skill-based, “Hey, learn these marketing ops tools.” Mostly, it’s a one size fits all format. And even if you have a marketing team, you’ll have some people that have no experience in marketing ops, little experience with a Salesforce or even Excel skills, in some cases, others that have a lot. And so if you provide a one size fits all, it’s going to be too intimidating for some people, too basic for others. Talk about why that’s so important to have that sort of customized approach.

Shawn: Yeah, well, so specifically with the tech teams, one of the things that we run into is, okay, everybody will claim during an interview that they have a certain amount of experience, say, on certain DevOps tools like, “I know Kubernetes” or “I’ve worked with AWS” or whatever it is. Well, maybe they have, but really, how well did they know that? Have they just done a project on there? Have they been really hands on? Have they implemented at their company? The depth to which they know that is actually incredibly important, as you think about rolling out changes at your company. If you are going to migrate cloud, if you are going to go multi-cloud, if you are going to bring on Docker or Kubernetes. And to your point about marketing, same thing. Previous life, I was a GM and a product that was all about understanding the skills that were at your company. And so if you look on the marketing side, we feel it every day, what skills do you need for product marketing? Right? Everybody’s kind of got a different definition of it and everybody’s going to have a different formula of what they really want for success there. So how can you understand where those employees are at? Or even, we would hear it from hospitality companies. What types of skills are there for a front of house manager?
So I think it is one of those things that, the broad definitions do not apply well anymore, in a lot of different instances. And especially as you start to look for people with very specific skills, you’re going to typically pay more for them. Right? And so if you’re going to go that route, you better know what you’re getting into. And the other challenge that you’ll run into there is, if you can’t find people, if you can’t find that unicorn with that specific set of skills, well, how do you coach somebody up that is probably already on your team or has the ability to do that?

Matt:     I want to reinforce that point. I think it’s really important. We are in a white, hot labor market right now. Just in general, salaries are going crazy, there’s lots of competition for individual people. People with specialized roles, specialized skills, even more expensive, because they’re more unique. So bringing someone on that has the capacity, that has the ability to learn, the price of that employee, plus the price of the training, is often going to be less.

Shawn: Yes.

Matt:     And then there are soft benefits there as well, because that employee sees that you are investing in their professional development. You’re investing in their career, and so there’s loyalty and retention elements that associate with that as well. Right?

Shawn: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of key things that you’re hitting on there, which, one of them is, the easy number, which is that, depending on the survey you look at, about 80 to 90% of employees feel better about and will stay longer with the company, if you give them training. Right?
Just helping somebody advance their skills, is a big win. Right? And I’ve studied a lot, just background of my job, I’ve studied a lot about engagement. A lot of that boils down to relationship with manager and, do I understand my purpose? Can I see the effect of that? And what’s the relationship with my manager? And helping somebody grow in that, is also a huge consideration. Right?
I think one of the things, when you… I know personally, when I reflect on it, I’m going to be speaking a little bit out of my depth here, when you look back, historically. But I think there used to be this bond with employer and employees, which was that, I will bring you on and I will give you the training that you need. When I was graduating from college, I will not say what year, because I do not want to date myself here, a long time ago now, it was pretty common that there were a couple of companies you could go to. I remember Lockheed Martin, at the time. I remember GE had what they called the GE MBA. You would go to those companies and do kind of a rotation. And they would be like, “Listen, we believe that you’re smart enough to come in here and learn what we need you to learn, but we want to put our spin on it for you.” Right? And so you do this rotation, you’d find your spot, and they help continue to educate you from there. There was, like I said, the GE MBA, which was this informal term for just how they educated their employees. I think that got broken somewhere along the way, which is now, as you mentioned, I’m here in the Boston area. You look at Kendall Square, which is in Cambridge, which is where MIT is, and Harvard is not far away. There used to be all these companies that were right next to MIT that were pretty small, startup companies that you’ve probably never heard of. Right? Now, if you go there, it’s Google, it’s Amazon, it’s Facebook, it’s Biogen. It’s all these big companies that want to take that new talent out because that’s the model that they can A, afford to set up and B, kind of acclimated the businesses to.

Matt:     Right.

Shawn: Most companies cannot do that. So we need to think about restoring this bond, which is that, I’m going to hire you on the belief that I believe you will be able to do some part of the job well, based on your previous experience, or just your attitude. And I’m going to help you advance here so that you can be where I need you to be or where I want you to be, or where the company needs to go. Right? I feel like somewhere along the line, that bond has just been broken.
And it is because we’ve… The point that we were just talking about. I need a product marketer. Okay. Well, do you care about somebody that has more sales enablement skills? Do you care about somebody that has more product skills? Do you want somebody that can do collateral, that can do messaging? What are you looking for? Somebody’s going to have different types of skills within that. So, how do you take something that’s there and bring them to where they need to be, as opposed to just saying, “I need a product marketer with all these checklists of experiences so that I can hire them.”? Right? It’s going to be really tough to find.

Matt:     Is this because we are impatient? Is it because we sort of wait too long to bring on someone that has the precise skills that we expect them to be productive on day two? Like, “Hey, as soon as you’re out of orientation…” You’re fully ramped, as opposed to bringing on sort of athletes with potential, people that have certain attributes or values that make them likely to be successful in potentially, a parallel, complimentary environment.

Shawn: Speaking from my startup experience, it is because we do not have the time. Right? Or we don’t think we do, right? It is probably one of the better areas that we can invest our time, but we are like, “Oh man, the day-to-day always gets to it.” Right? I think it’s what… If you can hire somebody that… I saw some… I’m not going to point names, but I saw somebody that had a job description that was like, “I need a product marketer that has to have this big data set of skills, but also at small businesses, at large businesses. They need to be VP level.” Right? It’s all of these different definitions they put around it, and it’s because they want somebody that can come in and plug and play. Right? Would be my understanding of something like that.
So it is not that it is wrong, it is just that, I think we probably shortchange ourselves by basically looking for, to your point, somebody that has a lot of ability to learn that is showcased that, that has a lot of drive. Right? Somebody, who was it? Patrick Lencioni that was like, humble, hungry, and smart. Right?

So, do they have low ego are they hungry about something, they have a chip on their shoulder, they have something to prove, and are they smart? Can they learn? So if we kind of think about that as the base for it, I think there’s a lot of possibilities then, if we open ourselves up to that we might need to coach them. We might need to spend some time there. We might need to bring in some outside resources to help with that, potentially.

Matt:     Yeah. One of my favorite examples of this is, when you are hiring salespeople, I want people with experience, I want people that are proven closers. I remember when I was a startup and we hired someone who had zero sales experience, but was a backup on the Olympic rowing team, USA, Olympic rowing team. And so, you think about sort of the attributes you need as a successful seller and the attributes and habits you need as a successful, Olympic athletes. And no surprise, he killed it. He came in, he crushed his quota, he became one of our best managers. So, he had a lot of those skills that definitely translated into a new role.
Talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Shawn LaVana, he runs global marketing for Cloud Academy. And Shawn, we have a user… an audience question. David [Kirchdoerfer 00:10:24], thank you for… I don’t know why your name doesn’t show up on this here, but thank you for checking in. Question about work from home, checking about hybrid work models. Is it harder now to do this? Is it harder to do training and professional development in a remote, hybrid environment than when we were all in the office together?

Shawn: Yeah, that is a good question, and hey, David. The way I think about that is, if we look at what probably didn’t work well. And I’ll put this in the context that’s probably easier to understand from a marketing and sales standpoint, which is, that, you know how when you go to a really good conference and you get inspired by something. And you’re like, “Oh man, yeah. We should have been doing that, that way the entire time.” And then you go back and the day-to-day takes over, and you don’t take that learning or that knowledge or that ability with you. Right? So, we had this bias towards in-person training before that, you would ship people away for five days. They would go get certified in something and come back and they’re ready to go. The reality is, if they’re not getting the hands-on applications, if you’re not able to, with the example of the marketing and sales side of things, start making small changes, start making progress towards that vision of what you want to change, it’s a lot more difficult for the training to take hold. So, I don’t know that it matters necessarily, physical versus remote, but I do think it matters that somebody can have that hands-on application as soon as possible, if not in real time.

Matt:     I would agree with you. And I think just knowing sort of what are the skill sets you want people to build, knowing it’s not just about skills. But I think, I would argue that it’s even more important, if we’re working remotely, you don’t have the same team-building opportunities. You don’t have the same rapport building. You don’t have the same communication cues that you would have in-person. And I think, for those of us that are… I mean, those of us that are old and have done this for a while, we have had that office training, we have that experience. For new employees in the market, that may be joining a company out of school and have not yet been to an office or do not have that experience in training, I mean that in and of itself becomes an important part.
Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about the reasons why sometimes, people don’t invest in this. My perspective is, listen, people we employ, I would love if they want to work at Heinz Marketing for the next 30 years. But assuming that most of them will not, what do I do to make sure I can make them as successful today, and while their time at the company, but also set them up for the next stage of their career? That should be my… I consider that my responsibility as a leader and as a business owner, as an employer. The other side of that coin is, well, why would I invest in all this training and certification? Why would I spend forever giving time and money getting someone certified as an expert on Marketo, if they’re just going to go take another job? Good points on both sides. What do you think?

Shawn: I think it is a LinkedIn meme. Isn’t it?  The CFOs says that… Yeah, exactly. I think… Look, I think it’s a very altruistic view you have. And I think I would consider myself in that same camp. Right? Which is that, you want to build a great place to be from, I think it was the… maybe that’s a Netflix quote that I’m stealing from there. But you want to make sure that you are developing people that you create this alumni effect that showcases what a great place to work… how great of a place it is to work there, how good of a mentor and coach you are. Because you just never know the effects of that, the network effect there is so great. As opposed to, if you take that alternative approach where it is like, you just used the example of, do I need somebody Marketo certified? Well, I’m going to guess for your business, you probably need them Marketo certified anyway. Right? So, it’s probably a really good practice for you to make sure that they get certified in that. And if that increases their value on the market, well, then it’s a whole bunch of other things, that you need to make sure that it’s a great company culture. That, again, it goes back to the engagement. They understand the purpose, they see the impact. They have a good relationship there. Right? Those kinds of things come into play then, if they are increasing their value to the market under your training.
However, it is okay. If you actually have a really good training program too, it’s okay that you can actually start to program that part into it. Where, if people… if you don’t have that career path that somebody wants and they age out or opt out, that’s okay too, as long as you know exactly what you need to do, what you need to hire in the next one. Right? We tend to view people’s skills as binary. They either have them and they don’t, as opposed to, can they develop them? What does that mean for here?

Matt:     Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, no, I think… And I think over time, you do also get a reputation in the market for caring about employees, for investing in their growth. And obviously, there is a selfish angle to say, “I want you to be better and more productive while you are here.” But yeah, that meme on LinkedIn to say, “Well, what if we do not invest and they stay and they will not leave, then they’re not as useful as they could be. But I think you would make that investment. You also get a reputation in the industry for… in your market, as a company that doesn’t treat people as cogs, is willing to invest in making them better, even if that means they’re going to leave. And I think that helps you with recruiting the right people as well.
Just a few more minutes here on Sales Pipeline Radio with our guest today, Shawn LaVana from Cloud Academy. Obviously, a lot of companies have kind of formal training, especially, if you’re going to get certified on a Salesforce or a platform or learn a certain technical skills, there’s a formal element of that. What about informal training programs? What about the idea that you want to sometimes just have a book club or have… sharing articles on a Slack channel, let’s say, sort of create those lifelong learners. How do you balance those two programs and are they both… do they both have value?

Shawn: Yeah, of course they do. I think when it’s the more structured stuff, it’s, you want them to learn your system or your processes or your company. Right? And the other stuff is just exactly what you’re saying. If you’re hiring the people that… If you hire somebody because they are a learner, you want to continue to nurture that and help them learn articles that are thought provoking or where the business is headed.
I think one of the things we see a lot, on a platform as well, companies will sign on and have a goal. I want to get my team AWS certified by X date, for example. Right? One of the things we see though, is that in really large companies especially, 30, 40, 50% of their employees are going to be what we call…. they’re going to be curious. They’re going to have this curiosity element, where they’re going to go and look at other classes, other courses, take different things that might not be directly applicable to what they’re doing, but they want to learn it. They want to be able to showcase their skills, and when those situations come up. So, I think when you’re talking about those book clubs and those things, it’s incredibly important to setting the tone of the company and helping learners consume stuff that might be in the direction of where you want to head.

Matt:     So, most of this conversation has focused on our teams and the people we are hiring that we need to do things within the role. What about you? What about someone who’s already gotten to the level of CMO, they’re sort of further along in their career? How do you encourage executives and executive leadership to themselves, engage in continual, professional development?

Shawn: Well, personally, I always feel like I am in that trough of despair. Right? You’re like, “Hey, I’ve learned a lot. I know a lot about this. Oh no, wait, I’m in the trough of despair.” And then maybe you start to climb out and actually learn stuff about it. The Dunning-Kruger effect, right?

I think for executives, it can be more challenging. I think one of the things that I find really helpful is things like what you… And let me run where you’re learning from your peers in a CMO type group. I think it can be extremely helpful to have… I always struggle with the… I know other companies that they’ll have their executive team read a book and then talk about the findings of it. Right? For a while there, there were a couple of extremely popular books around that topic. I think that can be helpful, but it’s a little bit more of that academic way of learning too. So, learning from peers really works well for me, seeing what others are doing, just having that network to go out to reach out to of people that are going to be in similar spots, similar roles. Maybe have not been through this before. And then I think also, just the team that is around you. I mean, I learn a lot every day from our CEO, the head of sales, the head of CS, the head of product. Really, if we can have open and honest conversations as a team, I think… And again, hire people with low ego that are learners. You’re going to have more of those types of conversations that you’re going to learn from each other. And I think that’s a pretty strong thing, almost like an insurmountable, competitive advantage to have, if you have a team with those types of skills.

Matt:     Well, you mentioned earlier, I think it was… you mentioned Patrick Lencioni talks about being humble, hungry, and smart. Right? I mean, I think the humble and hungry part, I think, is really… is the most important part, to me. And I think to be a lifelong learner, to assume that, even as you grow in your career and as you accumulate knowledge and insights and experience, that things are always changing. There’s always more to learn from those at your level, from those above you, from those that, maybe earlier in your career, I think having that mentality and thinking.

Matt:     Listen, someone new to the organization, who is fresh out of school, who does not know anything might still have better insights, in some cases, because they have not been staring at the same four walls.

Shawn: For sure.

Matt:     Right? So being open to those insights on a regular basis. Your book club thing was interesting to me too. We did a… Last year, I think maybe last year, or the year before we did something we called the CMO Book Club, No Reading Required. And the whole point was, we’re going to take a book and if you want to read it, great. But most good book club conversations use the book as a starting point, and then you’re off to the races. And then you’re just talking about the topics within it. So, if you want to read the book great, otherwise someone is going to summarize it for you.

Shawn: I think one of the things that I tell my team all the time, because it is obviously, fast-growing in a startup environment, when they are new to the organization, I am like, “Write down every thought that you basically have.” Because it will either get validated or not, but your outsider’s perspective is not going to happen again. And it’s incredibly helpful and important, to the point that you were just making, which is that, you can learn from anywhere. Right? So we might have valid reasons why we do or don’t do something, but we might have also never thought about it that way before. So, write it down and seek to validate it or not, as you’re advancing there.

Matt:     Well, I would take that a step further. Write it down and publish it. Think enough about it and think about it to the point where, it does not have to be a book. It could be a blog post or a LinkedIn profile, or even a tweet, to sort of help you think through it. One of my favorite stories about that is David McCullough, who is one of my favorite, historical, nonfiction writers. He chooses topics to write about, not because he’s an expert in it, but because he’s interested and knows nothing about it. So when he wrote the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he’s like, “I’m fascinated by what actually happened. I don’t know what happened, so I’m going to go learn enough about it, that I can write a definitive book about it.” Right? And so, I think that concept of yes, things you think about, things you observe, things you are curious about, write them down.
I am convinced, over time, the process of writing, the process of actually sort of organizing your thoughts into something even semi coherent, it helps you process it. And then, I mean, the formats for any of us to go and publish things and get reaction and response and other opinions about it from others, that’s… talk about the informal learning process, that’s part of it as well. Well, I feel like we could talk forever, but I know we got to get wrapped up here. Shawn LaVana, VP of Global Marketing at Cloud Academy. Thanks so much for joining us today, sharing your insights. Where can people learn more about you and learn more about Cloud Academy?

Shawn:  You can find me on LinkedIn or in suburban Boston. Cloud Academy is and feel free to reach out with any thoughts, requests. Always happy to connect and exchange ideas.

Matt:       Love it. Love it. Well, thanks, everyone, for watching us today. Thanks David, for your question on a work from home. If you are listening to us on Sales Pipeline Radio, thanks very much for downloading and subscribing. We’ll be here again next week, every week, 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. Until then, my name is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.


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