Breaking Down Silos Within Your Marketing Team with Airtable's Archana Agrawal

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This is a podcast episode titled, Breaking Down Silos Within Your Marketing Team with Airtable's Archana Agrawal. The summary for this episode is: <p>We've talked a lot about the silos that exist between sales and marketing. But what about the silos within your own marketing team? On this episode, Tricia brought in a guest who knows how to tackle this challenge head-on – Archana Agrawal, the CMO of Airtable. Archana shares her advice for creating more alignment, cutting down on task volume, executing with more agility, and dealing with burnout. </p><p><br></p><p>And one fun fact before you hit play – Archana started at Airtable the day shelter-in-place began due to COVID-19, so she's got some great learnings to share about how she navigated a new role at a new company during a pandemic. </p>
Combating the Rise in Tasks and Overworking Teams
01:16 MIN
Pivoting Into A New Process Quickly, and Keeping Everyone on the Same Page
01:18 MIN
Working Together with Agility
00:38 MIN
Leaning in with Your Strengths
01:02 MIN
Finding Those Who Can Learn From Diverse Skillsets, to Then Improve Their Own
01:25 MIN
Archana's Lesson to Lead with Curiosity and Eagerness to Learn
00:52 MIN

Tricia Gellman: Hey, everyone. I'm Tricia Gellman, and I'm the CMO of Drift. Welcome to another episode of CMO Conversations. I'm excited to have as my guest Archana Agrawal, the CMO of Airtable. We've touched base in other episodes about one of the things that I'm passionate about, which is sales and marketing working together and breaking down silos between teams. I love the fact that Archana is also passionate about this. One of the big things as CMOs that we are challenged with is breaking down the silos between sales and marketing, but the other is breaking down the silos within our own marketing organizations. When I joined Drift a year ago, I actually call that the time that we were doing random acts of marketing. I say this because every team had a different idea of what they wanted to do every day and what it was that we were putting out in the market. It meant that we were measuring every single team differently, and it was contributing to us having our own silos. We moved to an integrated campaign marketing model, and by doing so, we aligned people across teams and were able to unify people so they could see how they were attached to the goals of the company. This is something that I know that Archana is passionate about because it's exactly where Airtable plays in the market, and so I know today we're going to have a lot of interesting conversations and things to get through. Archana, you've been with Airtable for a little over a year now, which means that you started your role, similar to many other people, during COVID, which means you probably haven't met a lot of people on your team. It means that you've probably been working from home and maybe even been hiring people all over the globe. That is a new freedom that we have. So tell me a little bit, what has the last year been like for you?

Archana Agrawal: Thanks for having me here to share. It's remarkable, right? When I think it's been a year already at Airtable, it seems fantastic. But I'll start with a personal story, that my first day at Airtable was the day they announced shelter in place here in my area in California. Boy, when you think I had come from seven years working at the same job in Atlassian, where they had become almost like family, and here I found myself in the middle of things I didn't know, I didn't understand. For what you remember, sometimes March last year, depending on what your family situation is, I have a little girl, and so I think remote schooling became a reality just exactly at that time. If you have elders, you moved into caregiving mode. All the general idea of support structures we have around us that just melted away, and even basic goods that you take for granted were hard to come by at that time. In the middle of all of that, I felt that I was trying to do what you do when you have a new job, which is build a team, build trusting relationships, have a point of view and a plan, so there was a lot going on at that time. When I joined Airtable, there were about four marketers lodged in different parts of the organization contributing to marketing, so effectively I had to go in and build the foundation of the entire marketing function.

Tricia Gellman: Sorry. It's just very curious that you mention how the people were lodged in different parts of the organization, which I think is a new challenge. Every time I've stepped into an organization to build from scratch, from what you're describing, the team is hanging out together wondering who they should take direction from, but not lodged in other organizations, and I think that introduces a new thing of having to build relationships with the current bosses and organizations those people are in, in order to establish your group. Did you find that that's what you had to do?

Archana Agrawal: Yeah, I think a lot of it was building those relationships, but it also came from a place of, I have to learn, because they had obviously taken the company and the function in sort of this distributed fashion in different parts of the company itself. They had taken it together, and when I came in, my functional partners, if you will, just in terms of sheer numbers, sales, product engineering seemed much ahead. And so some part of it was learning why things were the way they were, some part was bringing it into marketing, developing those relationships that have the background and don't make changes that aren't really needed. So certainly a big learning period.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, that's excellent. And how did you go about establishing these relationships with the new people on your team? And obviously, Airtable is very successful and they probably wouldn't have hired you if you were only going to be four people, so I think you had a big task of building out a bigger team as well.

Archana Agrawal: Yes. This is a big task of building out a bigger team. I'll definitely double- click into inaudible for on- boarding practices, but I think that's one thing that's been very intentional at Airtable, and I know this is true for a lot of high- growth companies as well. And so being able to build those relationships is effectively those peers or people who on- boarded me. It was so welcoming, people were waiting for a lot of the changes that I had been planning to make or had thought about. It was an extremely welcoming environment, which is great. But then you're right, I had the privilege, I'd say, to hire a marketing function and bring everyone on board. I think you mentioned earlier that one of the benefits that we unintentionally had was we sort of opened up hiring to a lot of different locations, which means that I could then focus on the actual skills and needs, without having the artificial constraint of where someone lived, or unnecessarily exactly time zones as long as they were overlapping ours. That was certainly a big benefit. And then besides that, there was a lot of intentionality again. Intentionality in who you hire and at what levels you hire so they can actually to some extent self- start and build teams up as well themselves. In on- boarding, how do you build the connective tissue between folks so that we get to know each other as people and enjoy working with each other, but also have the ability to build joint plans. Hiring became a big part of last year, and another big part was then building culture for the team, and as I said, getting to know each other. We've done a whole bunch of fun stuff as a marketing team, we've made certain norms that that's probably another good thing to talk about. Every team has its own life cycle, the sort of forming, storming, norming, and performing stage, but given that we were a new team, we had the luxury to focus on the forming stage and be very intentional about what kind of practices we wanted to put in place. And so ranging from skip levels to marketing all- hands to launch celebrations. And my team has thus far had an Airbnb experience in Paris, we had an escape room that had to do with space and the moon, so we've been having our fun along the way.

Tricia Gellman: So you've done experiences, which I would imagine in Paris is still virtual because they've experienced the same thing that we have with lock- downs and everything else.

Archana Agrawal: Yes.

Tricia Gellman: What about, you mentioned doing skip levels and different cadences. Would you mind sharing what you've landed on in terms of the best practice for you and your team?

Archana Agrawal: For sure. The team still continues to grow while I hire my leaders, they're hiring their own teams, and so being quite deliberate about open communication, but also communication about the plans. At Airtable here we use Airtable, so I'd be very happy to share how we do that, but there's something quite remarkable about having a single source of truth to know where each one of you initiates your slice, and what stage it is in, and if you change plans, everybody gets to know and see it at the same time. So there's a big part about that, but we also use all the other tools that we have at our disposal. Another tradition, if you will, that we started is a weekly blog, a crowdsourced blog from the marketing team, internal, where everybody goes and writes what their department's been working on, the top two, three things. It also comes with a talk of a week from one of the marketing leads, and it also introduces one of the marketing team members in a very personal way.

Tricia Gellman: It's like a little newsletter in a way.

Archana Agrawal: A little newsletter, and we write thank you notes to each other in that newsletter, and so it becomes my weekend place to go to see, all right, what happened this week, what were we working on? Things like that. And so a lot of different traditions. I mentioned the marketing all- hands as a way where we all can get together and talk through plans and hopes and dreams for the next phase too, so it's been part building and experimenting on what's working too.

Tricia Gellman: That's excellent. I love that, and I think that's something that we have looked at as well, is celebrations. We just did this, I'd have to ask the team what the name of the vendor was, but we work with this vendor to do cocktail kits, and it was so cute. It showed up in this little tiny box, and we had options, with alcohol, without alcohol, so that we could be very inclusive with people, whether it's that they're having a clean month or they just don't drink, it's totally fine, nobody has to be called out. It was fun. We had a big lunch in the previous month, and we also had an internal thing that we were doing. We did March Madness where we decided to track our steps, and so the people who had the most steps, especially because we have a lot of our team that's in places where it's very cold, we decided to celebrate the fact that you can get outside now and make it something attractive to bring the team together. And then we had these little cocktail kits to celebrate who won, who was the most active, how did they do it, share their personal story. It was really fun, and I think that's the kind of thing that people miss from being in the office, and it's nice to build into the culture as well.

Archana Agrawal: That's a great idea, I'm going to do the exercise one. I've been getting that hint from several folks that that's a cool one to do. It's going to be hard to win that one, but we'll try it out.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, it was a good incentive for me because I was just being lazy. Living here in California, we don't have bad weather, but I rented this office that's a half mile from my house during COVID, since we have our downtown office closed, and I just wanted to have separation from work, and I was just driving, and so I thought, " Okay, I can walk a half mile each way every day, even if it's raining, it's not that bad." So that's been a good new practice for me, and it came from the team's incentive. The other thing that we did with that, which I think is fun, and if you decide to do something with your team around steps is we added extra points in the calculation of how people were doing based on them sharing pictures of what they were doing. So I would post pictures of interesting things I saw on my way to work, and then I'd get extra points for that. That was cool because you get to see what is going on in people's day to day life.

Archana Agrawal: That's wonderful. Thank you for that.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, so it was cool. One of the things that is also good to have your steps and walk around, because I think people are working too much. It's easy when you're taking four steps from your bedroom to the next room or wherever it might be, to say that you have more time. And so we've seen during COVID there's been a lot of articles about people doing too many things, people taking on too many tasks, and lots of people are experiencing burnout, especially after a year of working from home. I think people thought, " I can do this and it's fine," but now we don't have our old routines anymore, and we have what we thought were ad hoc routines that have now become our new routines. How have you been combating this rise of tasks and overworking and burnout within teams?

Archana Agrawal: Yeah, it's a real, real thing. They say inaudible that's going around, whether you're working from home or sleeping at home, it's hard to tell some days. We did a survey amongst our own customer base, our audiences, and it's actually true. 80 percent of the marketers we surveyed said that they felt that their workloads had increased. They talked about stress. And the other day I was reading a McKinsey article, actually, that said something to the effect that the share of digital interactions that companies had with their customers moved from 36 percent in December 2019, to almost 58 percent by July 2020. So you can imagine, if the companies themselves are going through such a large transition, that the customer interaction and expectation is changing, then marketers are at the forefront of driving growth, it's bound to create a lot of change in the marketing world itself. So for sure happening across the board. The other part that was interesting from the survey is that marketers talked about maybe losing a good day and a half of their work week doing manual tasks, or manual updates and moving things from here to there, and I think there's a lot of operational inefficiency as well in the process as a result of that. A couple of things come to mind, first being, very simply, focus on operational excellence. I mean, tools, rituals, whatever it takes, because the marketing landscape has just changed so much over the last several years, I can imagine it will only keep changing more, and we feel it every time. Every time there's a product launch or a GO is introduced, or a new channel, a new media property. So much work is created in terms of even trying to adapt to take advantage of it, or meet our customers with a new expectation. So I think operational excellence and getting the tools that make it simple for you to really do your best job without wasting time on status updates and verbal communication that's needed to get people on the same page, that's very important. And then the second thing is, give yourself some time, and self- care is absolutely important. In some ways we're all feeling it, so it should actually be easier, even as leaders to acknowledge it, and lean into it, and actually talk about it, give it a name. Here at Airtable the marketing team has taken a couple mental health days together, as a team, so that we're all off- line at the same time.

Tricia Gellman: So helpful when you do that, because then you feel like you don't have accountability to other people and that you're guilty for being off, and I see that all the time when you say, " Okay, as a team we're going to do something." It's just very freeing.

Archana Agrawal: It is. It really is. And then the other thing I've seen so many people be intentional about is, when you want to send that Slack message, is it urgent? If not, inaudible, and you know what? If you can send it later inaudible. Or emails, can you schedule them later? Sure, it's a couple more points and clicks, but just maybe not interrupt someone in what's intentionally meant to be down time. So I think there's a few things we can do as leaders, some part as I mentioned is also just improving our own processes and efficiency in order to be able to do our best work without having to worry about the craft. And then the other is really taking care of ourselves, and each other, and the process.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah. One of the things that I found is the team complained about burnout, but then when you look at the last time they took a day off, there's been months and months and weeks and weeks. Do you find it hard to get people to agree to unplug, and is that one of the reasons you took group mental health days? Or when you tell people, " Hey, this is important," and then you model it, have you found that people follow?

Archana Agrawal: I think if you tell people it's important and modeled it, I'm sure people would learn to follow, but also just forcing it and taking accountability for everyone really taking a step back at the same time, I think has actually helped a lot in that regard as well. So I do believe very deeply in modeling it, because as a team you're probably going to take a day or two off, people need slightly extended breaks, normal vacation, which is hard to do right now, and so definitely fall into the camp of try to model it, encourage people to take time off, when they're off be mindful about that, even if that means changing your own processes a little bit. But also just almost forcing it by saying, " Hey, we're all out," helps a lot.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, exactly. I think the biggest challenge has been that when people are told they should take time off, there's nowhere for them to do, or what are they going to do, which is changing now and it's improving. I think that's been the biggest thing, and I think that's the hardest thing to then say, " Okay, what can I do for self- care? Maybe I take a bath and I take a nap everyday for the next week, because that's a self- care thing that I enjoy and it's fine I didn't leave the house still, but I did a different routine." And I think helping people to see that, and even share and model that across the team is good too.

Archana Agrawal: Yes. Yes. Definitely agree. And when someone does manage to take a vacation, you can literally see the whole team celebrate it when they come back with their stories.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, it's good to live through those people, and I find everybody has some big series that they watched and they can share and talk about that, and that also becomes a unifying factor because a lot of people find the same things to watch, which is good. One of the things that I think also frees up time but people don't think of is creating integration across the teams, and really being able to see what's expected of you and your part of the marketing org, versus me and my part, and how do we work together, and simplifying that, and I know that Airtable really helped you and your team do that, but I wonder if you could talk a little bit more of how are you doing that, how does it help you, and maybe even some examples of other customers, of what they've been doing.

Archana Agrawal: Yeah. My favorite topic, so yes, will definitely share a lot. There's nothing like a campaign or a launch that can get the team together, but in any event marketing is so cross- functional by the very nature of it, and so the platform that Airtable provides, and we actually launched our marketing content operation solution just last month, so I'll speak about that because that's certainly something I use both in the process to launch it, but also in our day to day. It's the ability to connect people, processes, information all in one place. So now, for a second if you can imagine that you go to one place to understand what's happening organization wide, who's driving what initiative, what stage is it in, where are things stuck, give you feedback right there, make your approvals there and then, or send things back and say, " No, re- do."

Tricia Gellman: I see that's your favorite part. You get very excited when you talk about the re- do.

Archana Agrawal: No, no, no. It's just been so incredible working with this team, but the process of marketing feedback cycles is just something we've all got to learn to do. And quite frankly, when you get a new team together it's so beautiful seeing everyone's different styles come together to form one cohesive unit. That itself was such a tremendous experience. But being able to see that all in one place, one source of truth, and I think I mentioned this earlier, when you change plans, which we did along the way on things moving our date slipping, this asset's not ready, this image is not ready, whatever else it might be, but everyone being able to pivot at the same time and not wasting time in terms of trying to figure out, well what's next? How do we manage this change. Just that cohesiveness brought so much clarity into the process, it truly actually decreased the stress of- crosstalk.

Tricia Gellman: I was going to say, part of the stress of tasks and the added volume of tasks is people just taking on so much more, and also the confusion of who's doing what. We just recently hired a program manager, because I'm a true believer that you need to have this visibility, but you also need somebody who helps people see the prioritization and kind of can work across the team, even if you have a great solution, to really highlight and from a people perspective, bring people's focus together on the right things.

Archana Agrawal: Yeah, and it's also very useful as marketing engine inaudible is always launching new types of programs or pivoting new things, and so there's a lot of trial and error simply in getting that to, let's say, production ready, which is just getting the process production ready. We ourselves get inspired when we see what our customers do. One that comes to mind is Equinox group. Their business has changed so much as a result of the pandemic. It was historically, as you know, a business that was almost entirely based on in- person interactions, effectively in gym, you take care of it, and when COVID hit and all of our life patterns changed, they had to move quickly to at home fitness. And Equinox Media, which is a subsidiary of Equinox group was the one that was leading some of the charge there. But that was an important move for them to make, because again, the exercise part that we talked about became super important for people to keep that physical health as well through this period. And so that happened when they launched the Equinox + Platform. It has two components, the Equinox + mobile app, and their SoulCycle At- Home Bike. But when you think about the work flows that require sort of an in- person gym training to content- based, completely different model.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, it is very different. crosstalk I've had to go through as a SaaS marketer for sure.

Archana Agrawal: Yes. And so to be able to make that pivot quickly, because they were an Airtable costumer even before the pandemic, but at that time they sort of took a step back, re- tooled their processes, got everyone and all stakeholders to be able to go through the new processes, but now you can imagine working with partners in developing programming, and then delivering that to someone's mobile app. That entire process all along the way is something that they manages to quickly be able to pivot to. And when you're doing that, that's like what you talked about, keeping everybody on the same page, because they're all in the new process all of a sudden and remote, and so keeping everyone on the same page so that they have the visibility of how things are progressing becomes extremely important. When I think about outcomes, they were obviously able to create their entire sort of production tracking system in Airtable, but they built it out for it to support their publishing APIs, which improved their time to publish by 400 percent, and that's a great business outcome. The other part of that is, when they launched Equinox + in March, and they looked at that through the end of 2020, the Equinox members who were using the app were working out nearly 20 percent more per month than they had in 2019, and so that's a great customer outcome too!

Tricia Gellman: Yes, that's amazing.

Archana Agrawal: And so this is a really really cool story to think about how they were able to make that move, and I think that goes back to saying, just keep everyone on the same time. Digital transformation, the base has accelerated, it's been felt in every company, every industry, and so being able to maintain that agility becomes uber important.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I think we talked about this when we were prepping too. Before you told me this story, I feel like as a marketer we were having to pivot a lot, and now I think, " Oh, okay, I have to pivot from getting people to go from a physical location and that's my success metric versus getting people to just give a crap about what I do," when they can't go to the physical location that is a much heavier lift. But I think that's one of the things that as marketers we've always been able to be agile and move and think. We're really always about problem solving, but this is a new level of flexibility and agility, I think, we've learned through the pandemic. I look back from the past year, and first we had work from home, then we realized, " Oh this is a permanent kind of thing," then we had Black Lives Matter, then we've had something almost every other month come up that is somewhat unanticipated that we have to determine, do we have to re- think our marketing, our go- to market, where we're going to market, how we're going to market, etcetera. This is an extreme example I think with Equinox, but what is your perspective on this sort of adaptability of marketers?

Archana Agrawal: I believe it's honestly maybe fortunately something we should just get used to, and something that we should... Honestly, change is going to be, I truly believe, sort of part and parcel of the way we go to market. Because, I mean, as people are exposed to new ways of doing things, simply customer expectations have also changed along the way.

Tricia Gellman: Dramatically.

Archana Agrawal: Access has changed along the way. When you think about how you consume media yourself, or your own practices, they've probably changed so much. How often do we ask ourselves, " are we going to go back to what was?" And the answer is probably we aren't in a lot of different dimensions of our life. And you're right, when we talked about COVID and the pandemic hitting and last year, it was just the start of a series of different changes, each one of which was unanticipated. There were the fires here that were happening and it was extremely hard, and when you think about it truly as many of us have, not only global companies, but a global client- base as well, global customers, families in different places, each place is having its own sort of moment of feeling like, " All right, we're going to make it through it too. Oh my God, this is harder than we imagined." And I think very positively about our future, I'm very optimistic that things will change and they'll change for the better, but I do believe as our own profession and with the digitalization that we're seeing, it's become part of how marketers should actually think about working together, is with agility. And try to think about how can you constantly innovate, but with that backdrop of knowing that we started this thing with test and experiment, but yes, test and experiment move ahead, but know that you might be required to meet your customer somewhere completely different.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, and I love the fact that you brought the customer into that, because I also think that that's a big thing that we've learned in the past year, is I think a lot of marketers were focused on the brand and how do you think about projecting your brand, and then how do you think about the down effect of that in terms of new business. But one of the things that has become really apparent is this importance of the customer and meeting them where they are, and not just focusing on meeting them to become new customers, but to be customers and to be successful and to thrive within this digital environment and especially through the digital transformation.

Archana Agrawal: Yeah. Enterprise marketing itself has really morphed over the years. A couple things, our marketing technologies, even things like Drift included, give us so much more information, so many more tools, access, and abilities. The fact that we ran the SaaS products, that's a gift because you have so much more information to understand how customers truly use your product. And you have this front- row seat, so you have more visibility and actionability than you actually ever had before, and how do you leverage that to see and understand what success truly means for your customer. And then, frankly, go back and work with your product teams to productionize that, to put those practices into their roadmaps. When I think about the Airtable marketing content absolution, I think about exactly that. It was seeing how customers were able to create success, how their practices were evolving, and being able to make that the default start stage for anyone who starts using the product. I know Drift does this with Blueprints as well and other things where you're trying to show customers, " Hey, we know how this works, but we want to co- create the success with you, and we want to partner with you and see how you make this your own," and I think that's a big part of what marketing has become today.

Tricia Gellman: I love that you're so aware of all of the analytics and the data and everything in the back. You also seem to think of, how can you use this data to be very methodical about how you apply it to your marketing, and I'm not surprised because when we spoke, we talked about how you were a recovering developer, and that you started your career more in computer science, and on the technical side. Can you talk a little bit about how you moved and why you moved from the technical side, which has a lot of fame and glory these days in terms of developing great product, to the marketing side of the house?

Archana Agrawal: It was unscripted and accidental part at best, but I joined inaudible engineering for exactly what inspires most people, is the ability to create. It's so cool, engineers and developers get to create and innovate with all of these new tools and solutions, so that was the reason why I went there. In fact, my first job was at IBM research, and what a privilege to be able to go from ideation to taking a product to market and seeing it in a customer's data center. That was just such an incredibly beautiful experience, but it also gave me the sense that I had seen it from the RND lens, and I wanted to actually understand, how do I take a step back and look at it holistically from the business lens, which took me to business school. And that's where I realized I wanted to get much closer to the customer, and the next step was in a B2C business. But if there's a lesson to be learned at all here, or if I had to repeat, I'd actually go back and do exactly the same way, which is lean in with your strengths. And coming from the developer background, I went into an adjacency where I could sort of use both the technical knowledge and the business education that I had just gotten, and took a role in analytics and the data background, and using data to be able to make these decisions on the business front. There, as I was working I started using Atlassian's tools at my workplace, Collaboration Products, and they materially changed the way I led my teams and did my work. So if there is a second lesson to be learned here it's follow your fashion and your inspiration because then work becomes so meaningful. So I actually called co- wrote an email to the then president of Atlassian and said, " I want to be part of the company," which in itself was-

Tricia Gellman: I think there's another lesson there, which is about not just following your passion, but be bold and ask for what you want.

Archana Agrawal: That is true. There is that too. You have to ask for what you want. And it was, again, an honor to be part of that journey with Atlassian, but we spoke a little bit about that marketing itself is changing so much and this aspect of really being able to create data- driven touch points for the customer and being data- informed in new customer journeys, that's sort of the role that Atlassian group takes to be able to oversee a much inaudible of marketing. And that brings me to my role here at Airtable. Again, maybe following the passion, love the product, but also it's actually going back full circle to my developer roots in that I, at the end of the day, Airtable is trying to give that power of creation into the hands of even non-developers. You're trying to make self- development accessible to everyone. I almost think about it as changing the syntax of software development. Instead of going from structured programming languages, you're giving a visual and intuitive interface for people to actually build the workflows and what they actually need to get the job done. And so it sort of brought together both, my love for the product, and sort of the original reason that I pursued engineering all the way back then, it's to really be able to bring this together now in this role.

Tricia Gellman: That was a great story, and I think it's a great marriage of things, and it's also why I ended up at Drift. Earlier in my career I was at Salesforce and I saw that there was a need to connect sales and marketing better together, and the head of sales was asking the CMO at the time to help fix some challenges that were happening in certain parts of the business for sales, and so I jumped in to solve the problem because I love to solve problems. And I found that if we joined sales and marketing together more efficiently and effectively, we could see much better results. Well then everyone else in the other sales organizations wanted the same thing of course, and so then I ended out building the demand gen function at Salesforce. So then when David Cancel called me and said, " Hey, I have this product and this offering and I could see that it brought sales and marketing together," I thought, well, why wouldn't I go to this company? This is my passion, I get to have my podcast where I talk to marketers all the time about the challenges of sales and marketing and everything else, and it makes it easier, because I am passionate about it. And it makes it easier to think about, well how do we tell other people about it? How do we do the marketing? How do we partner with other people within the organization which are all the roles from the CMO as well. So I totally align with you on that.

Archana Agrawal: I love that. And I think part of our jobs is more, like you talk about cascading goals and getting everyone on the same page, I feel like part of our job is cascading the purpose of the company, that inspiration that you get. And I think it just becomes so natural to do it when you're so deeply inspired by the product and the way of business yourself. I love that story too.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I think it's great. The other thing though, is we've been going down this path as a team in terms of the team building and looking at what does it take to make up the diversity of a team and really looking at the different perspectives. So you're very analytical, you come from this development perspective, probably your demand gen team is highly analytical, but then you have creative people, you have other roles. So I think really where you win is, you were talking about this passion of bringing people together and seeing it all sing. I think this is super unique to CMOs. If you look at a CRO, they may have different sales segments, but they're selling. You look at the customer success organization, they may have different challenges, they maybe have professional services, customer support, but in general, they're all servicing the post- service customer. In marketing we're doing a lot of different things, and I'm wondering how you think about bringing all of these people together and really making it sing.

Archana Agrawal: That's such a great point because I don't know how to describe what a traditional marketing team looks like. There's no single definition that I have been able to articulate on what is a traditional marketer anymore. My own background I think it actually gives me some strengths with being able to say, " All right, it's data- driven, data backed," how do you actually build a lot of method around your positioning, around your campaign, so on and so forth. But also makes it incredibly easy for me to see then the diversity of skills that it actually takes to bring that to life in different ways. And so when I talk about to my leaders and even during the process of interviews that I almost ask anyone entering the marketing team is, " What is your passion? What do you know at the back of your hand? And please tell me the other things that you know you're going to partner with others for," because I'd love to believe we're horizontal, amazing in all possible ways, but the reality is there are things that we gravitate towards. And if you have this self- awareness and a learning mindset and eagerness to learn, it opens yourself up to actually learning from diverse skillsets which I truly believe helps you actually improve your own talent along the way. And so it's about finding those unique combinations that you can create in so many... It's such a magnificent one that you can create within marketing of different skills and different backgrounds to be able to truly create an A plus team that has coverage around getting you the best customer experiences that you want to be able to create.

Tricia Gellman: I love that, and I love those question. I think that's very telling and it's something I'm going to steal for my interviewing because I think it does play out. I think people have their natural place and natural way of working, and then you have the environment that you don't really control of your company. And it's important because people coming in, they don't know what that is, so figuring out for people, in some way, or at least reveling to them, " Hey, this is how our environment is, it's very uncertain, we're in this growth, hyper- growth mode where there's no time to hand- hold people. Is that okay for you? Does it go against the grain of what makes you happy every day and the way that you work?" Or something like that. I love that. Now, we have this diversity of team that's happening today, but what's your perspective on where we're headed as marketers? Do we see added diversity? Do we see consolidation of role? What do you think is happening and even where do you think marketing lives? You inherited a team that was spread out and was diverse. Do you think that's where marketing goes in the future, or do you think it's becoming more codified in terms of a stand- alone organization?

Archana Agrawal: Yeah, that's a great question, because 10 years ago if you asked me whether two CMOs would be exchanging stories over a podcast, I don't know if I would have been able to say, " Yes, that was bound to happen because marketing is changing so much." I think the nature of our audiences and the world that we interact with is changing itself so much. Everyone is becoming a creator. Look at it across all platforms Tik Tok or YouTube, Instagram. The Airbnb experiences, how creative was that for someone to actually do that? Or people trying create and plan CloudKitchens, Etsy. There are so many of these platforms where people get to express, and these are all our audiences. These are audiences that our companies are trying to attract as well, and that's changing the nature of interactions or expectations quite fast. And I'm not talking only about sort of the volume of interactions you have or the format of interactions, but the space between this or the kind of experiences people expect are changing. So previously you had someone who had owned media, versus earned media, versus paid media, and now you can see things are beginning to converge. The skillsets that you're asking for are changing. Your own marketing org structure as a result is changing because of all of that. So yes, I expect these changes to continue. I don't think it's getting codified, in fact I think it's going to change even much more, and what we will be hiring for in the next couple years is also going to be changing as a result of that. So I think that part is here to stay. The other thing I also think there's going to be a lot more intelligence and creativity that has to be built into marketing and data intelligence. And I'm telling you on one hand that, " Hey, we have to be part of so many more conversations and so many more different places." The other hand I'm also going to say, it's hard to do that, because with all of these algorithms that have learned to tailor future behavior based on past. As an example, I use Alexa at home. She knows what I need to re- order when I need to order it, right? What about all of those hundreds of brands that want to get into that list? I don't know how they do it as easily. They're going to require creativity and innovation in terms of being able to do that, and that's some part that I think marketing is also going to change because not only do we have to be on these many surface areas, but even being able to do that in the correct way so that it adds customer value at the end of the day. And we're able to find the right mix is going to change the make- up of our teams as well to be able to bring a lot more of that talent.

Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I've seen over the past 10 years, I would say, just in the marketing that I'm doing myself, 10 years ago we may have led our marketing with a list of features and really highlighted getting people to a feature page on a website. And today, I literally don't know how many people ever go to a feature page on a website because they're making the decision about whether they want to work with you based on the brand and experience and word of mouth or other things that they've heard, way before they would ever get to that page. And I think your Alexa experience and how people are going to break in, it's not going to be because someone buys an ad in some channel that happens in Alexa, it's going to be because you bump into an experience probably that peaks your interest in that brand. And so then you become the curious one that then goes to seek it out, more so than in the past where the brands drove the discussion and they kind of lead with pushing to you and attracting you in. And so it's a totally different way of thinking about things, and I love the fact that you're talking about how everyone needs to be creative. One of my favorite books is The Rise of the Creative Class, which is actually a pretty old book, but it's so relevant to what you were just saying, and really this idea of being creative and the power of creativity to differentiate and build experience, which I think is really much more of what people care about today.

Archana Agrawal: Yeah. That's so true.

Tricia Gellman: So we only have a few minutes left, and I wanted to just ask you two more questions.

Archana Agrawal: Yes.

Tricia Gellman: One thing that I find very interesting is that you are advising other companies, I don't know how you have time but that's a whole separate thing, we won't talk about that, but you sit on the board of Zendesk and MongoDB, both of whom are companies that have been astronomically successful, grown with hyper- growth, and really been, I think, quite purposeful of how they've been doing that. So how did you end up being a part of these boards, and how did that influence, or is it part of how you ended up at Airtable?

Archana Agrawal: They're such incredible companies and it's such a privilege to be part of their journeys. I think there's a similar thread between a lot of these companies. They're very focused on getting people to try their product, deeply experience it, understand value before they even make a purchase decision, so that's one part of it. But the other part is they're so deeply committed to transformation of team productivity, of innovation, of being able to help their customers move quickly, and so there's some many parallels between all of these businesses that it's truly great to see it. This sort of came by my way almost in some part very fortunate that it happened, but also maybe being able to hit the ground running and actually help, because one of the things I realized with Atlassian and prior experiences is that they just exposed me to a lot of how these businesses would operate at scale, and some part of that, and I'll take Atlassian as an example, but when you think about that you think about it serving so many different audience types. You think about it so many different products in different phases of product maturity, and so there were many different lessons that I think I could relate to and sort of take with me and bring to the table when working with Zendesk or MongoDB. And that's certainly a big part of it, but it's also been a tremendous learning experience for me, because when you're working with some of these leaders and seeing them operate these amazing brands at scale, alongside with other board members you get to also truly see leadership in action. You see people giving advice and support, but you also learn about relentless education and execution and also strategic focus and the long- term thinking, and those are all muscles no matter how long we work, we'll always be building and trying to get better at it. So being able to learn from them is also just truly remarkable.

Tricia Gellman: That's excellent, and I think for me personally that's a long- term goal, is that I have the time and then also have the ability to help other companies and be on their boards in official capacity. So I'd love to chat with you more about that and also it's probably more personal of how you actually make the time with children and work from home and being a CMO at a new company, so that's for a whole other conversation. This has been such a great chat and we are out of time which is hard to believe that we've been chatting for almost an hour, but I always end the episode with the same question. And that question is about a lesson. What is the one most important lesson that you believe you've learned along your career that you would love to share with the audience.

Archana Agrawal: Yeah. If I had to choose one it would be to lead with curiosity and eagerness to learn. Two main reasons. When I think about we all start going wanting to become domain experts, and that's really really great, but domains are always changing. And so to truly be a domain expert you must always have that learning mindset and have that curiosity. And then secondly, the eagerness to learn, I think I mentioned this earlier, sort of opens you up to a diversity of ideas, and that truly actually helps improve your own skill, your own learning. And actually the side benefit of that is you get to meet wonderful people and create wonderful relationships, so that people- orientedness I'd certainly say, intellectual curiosity and eagerness to learn is key.

Tricia Gellman: Is there one thing or person that you have interacted with through this intellectual and learning mentality that you feel having this mentality introduced you to that concept or that person and really helped you in your career?

Archana Agrawal: There have been so many tremendous people who have helped me in my career, but it would almost be unfair to choose one person, because I'm actually telling one of my team members that it's almost like every interaction that I have with them I almost think to myself is a learning experience, some part of it is. You hire a lot of folks, or you work or choose to work with peers that bring a completely different dimension, so that, as I said, you pair together and you can make a really powerful combination. And so I'm actually quite mindful in those interactions that I have with folks around thinking about, " what can I learn from this," because it even takes the conversations down a very exciting path.

Tricia Gellman: I love that, and I think it's something that in mentoring leaders on my teams or people outside the company that I work with, I always try and get people to think about how they can hire people who know more than they do. And for early managers, I think it's very scary. They feel like it's their responsibility to know everything, but as marketers, there's so much happening, especially with the pace of growth and change, it's impossible to know everything at the depth that's going to open up true scale for you and your company. And so I think that that's a really interesting way to think about it is, we have these leadership principles at Drift and one of them is to be a content learning machine.

Archana Agrawal: All right.

Tricia Gellman: And I think it fits really well with what you're saying.

Archana Agrawal: Yes.

Tricia Gellman: Because our belief is, if we're a hyper- growth company, then the way we function today is going to be different than the way we function in six months to a year or beyond. And if we want to have people participate in this journey, then they have to learn and grow, because probably the expectations in their job are different even along the way, and that means everybody has to be learning and growing together.

Archana Agrawal: Absolutely. Yes. Learning machine, I love that.

Tricia Gellman: Well, this has been a great conversation, and I would assume that if people have additional questions for you, which maybe they will, that they can connect with you on LinkedIn and then maybe just following you on LinkedIn they would be able to ask you questions about what you're posting and commenting, get to know you a little bit better. Is that true?

Archana Agrawal: Absolutely, yes.

Tricia Gellman: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for participating in this conversation today. I want to thank our listeners for participating in this episode as well. If you enjoyed this conversation, please give us a six star review in whatever platform it is that you go and you find your podcast. If you're looking for more CMO content, then this is one of the things I'm very passionate about is this changing landscape of the role of the CMO, and so I also have a newsletter and you can sign up for the newsletter. And we're starting to pull some added content from the podcast into some of the Q and A of the newsletter as well, so go and check that out. You can find it at drift. com/ chief/ marketing/ officer as well. Thank you so much Archana for being a part of this episode, and thank you to the listeners for going on this journey with us today.

Archana Agrawal: Thank you, I appreciate it. It was so wonderful to get to connect with you today.

Tricia Gellman: Excellent.


We've talked a lot about the silos that exist between sales and marketing. But what about the silos within your own marketing team? On this episode, Tricia brought in a guest who knows how to tackle this challenge head-on – Archana Agrawal, the CMO of Airtable. Archana shares her advice for creating more alignment, cutting down on task volume, executing with more agility, and dealing with burnout.

And one fun fact before you hit play – Archana started at Airtable the day shelter-in-place began due to COVID-19, so she's got some great learnings to share about how she navigated a new role at a new company during a pandemic.

Today's Host

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Tricia Gellman

|CMO, Drift

Today's Guests

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Archana Agrawal

|CMO at Airtable