Why You Should Have a Personal Board of Directors (with FullStory's Kirsten Newbold-Knipp)
Tricia Gellman: Hey, everyone. This is Tricia Gellman, the CMO of Drift. And I'm here with another episode of CMO Conversations. Today, I'm going to bring you the second part of my interview with Kirsten Newbold- Knipp, the CMO of FullStory. In my first conversation with Kirsten, we had so much to talk about that we decided we needed to break the episode into two parts. If you haven't already listened to the first part, I encourage you to go back and listen to that episode first. That said, here we are. One of the things that Kirsten is extremely passionate about is mentorship. And we're going to talk about how to be a good mentor, how to find a mentor and why mentorship matters. So let's get into it. This is a very relevant topic to me because we have a younger marketer on the team and all about how do you reach out, how do you connect to people? She reached out to me and she said," Hey, I love your podcast. I'm a young marketer. I like to listen to the podcast series. I learn things from it. You have a newsletter. And it's great that you're teaching people all of these things, but it makes me realize that there's so much I can learn. And I feel like I need a mentor. Did you ever have a mentor? Did you ever work with somebody? And can you suggest to me how I might do this?" And I think this is something you express that you're very passionate about. And so I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about why are you passionate about helping either mentor people or help them introduce to the idea of mentoring?
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny. I even, when it comes to the topic of mentoring, it was very top- of- mind years ago, so much so that at my, I won't say how many years, grad school reunion, at my many years grad school reunion, there was a group of us. We have a Sloan women's group that gets together every year and some number of us travel and see each other and hang out. And it's pretty amazing. But during our reunion, when everyone was back on campus, we actually put together a set of lightening talks that were seven minutes on different topics. And as we sourced topics from folks, ask them," Hey, what do you want to learn about?" The topic of mentorship kept coming up and then of course we asked each other," Okay, who can talk about this?" And we all look at each other blank stares. We're like," I don't know, are you doing it well? I don't know. Are you doing it? Do you have a great mentor?" What we came to realize was that the idea of the mentor of old, the I'm going to take you under my wing and I'm going to bring you along with me in my career and you're going to learn all of the 27 things that you need to know to be successful at insert job X, that almost doesn't exist at all anymore. And rather what we all concluded and eventually two of us joined up and did this talk. And we said," Here's what we've learned from talking to all of you and from thinking about what's worked in our careers is that now I talk about my personal board of directors, which comprises many mentors and there are mentors that I look to for different things." I would say my dad is still on that personal board of directors, although increasingly less so. He retired a long time ago now and then it's like, he's less connected to what I'm up to, but still there for great advice. But former bosses, sometimes peers, sometimes people who have worked for me who are just better than me at something, friends and the like are part of that personal board of directors. And the way that you should think about building your board of directors is thinking about for that moment in your career, based on where you're at, what do you think your weaknesses are? What do you not know? What is the unknown unknown? Sometimes you don't know what it is. So sometimes it's find someone who's in the role that you aspire to. Sometimes it's understand what your two or three biggest weaknesses are. One of mine I neither like nor am good at internal politics, but I recognize that they exist. That took me a while, the acceptance and acknowledgement that they exist. And then using maybe in my case, clarity and empathy, I am very direct, I address it head- on, I will talk to people about it, but even learning to tone down some of my instincts to be too direct or things I learned from other colleagues and classmates. I have a good classmate. She's a CHRO. So she's a people person at a tech company. And when I have a really tricky one, I'll be like," Cindy, I want to tell this person this. I know I can't tell them this. What can I tell them? How can I talk? Let's workshop this because I know what I'm about to say is not the right thing."
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. That's awesome.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: And that's been hugely helpful. So I don't know if that resonates with you, but it's definitely, as I talk about it to people on my team or even to peers, certainly the way that I've been finding it to work well.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, that's something I learned along the way is when I was early in my career, I thought I had a list of things I had to accomplish and I needed to go get them done. I didn't realize that in order to be successful, what I needed to do is I needed to not go get these things done myself, but I needed to gather other people, get their opinions, make the ideas even better and then bring everybody forward to go and get them done. And so that would really help me build my career even more. So I think this idea of the personal board is great because it does bring you that diversity of opinion as well beyond just how am I going to do what I need to do. If we go back to mentoring itself though, I think you told me that you really noticed in your teams that people had challenges and that you wanted to give them the opportunity to understand that they had to build their own brands and they had to identify and own who they were. Can you talk more about that?
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Yeah. Yeah. I think the way I think about it is that they had to advocate for themselves and be willing to negotiate. And for me, I think maybe some of it's building your own brand, but some of it's also believing in yourself and asking for what you need, want, deserve, whether that's in work or at home. And personally, I probably got to a comfort level with that early in my career than some other folks have for some happy and sad reasons. My mom passed away when I was really young, I was 13. And that thrust me into this place of I was the lady of the house. There were things that I had to go do, figure out, learn that just you had to do it. But on the happy side, I also had a dad who was not very mom- like at all. And he's a businessman. And it didn't matter whether you were a son or a daughter, he was a negotiator. And he was going to show you that was how life was done. So whether it was negotiating the rate to a rental car or your job title or your pay rate, those were things that were underlying assumptions in the fabric of my family. So I came away from this, both having been thrust into things young with a dad who's just like," No, it's assumed everything's negotiable. And unless you ask for it, you won't get it. So you should advocate for yourself." It took me a few years being post- college even before I realized that was not the norm. And I would encounter friends or my husband even in some cases, we've talked about anecdotes where, you and I even talked about, he didn't know you could ever go back and be like," You gave me a B + on this. But I think I deserve an A because I did this and this and this, and I want to show you my work." Or whatever the thing is, his family just negotiating wasn't a thing. And I think women in particular tend not to negotiate for ourselves. So I spend a good bit of time with my teams. If there is someone that I don't think is negotiating for themselves, sometimes it works out not in my favor because they will come and ask me for more money.
Tricia Gellman: Of course.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: But it's great because I'll also be like," Well, let's really talk about this. Let's talk about the KPIs. Let's talk about the results." If you come to me with a proposal that's credible and we're on the right path, I'm super going to advocate for you. If you come to me with a I want, I need and that's it, no. I'm going to teach you how to go have that argument so three months from now, we can have a conversation again, and it's going to be much more compelling. And that someday down the road, when I'm not your leader, you feel confident having that dialogue.
Tricia Gellman: That's an interesting component because we recently had Krista who's on our board talk to our internal women's group. And one of the things that she said, which really plays into what you just said is it's important to ask. But what you should ask for is the responsibility of the job you want, not for the title of the job that you want. And if you can go and have the conversation to say," Hey, I see this strategic thing that I think I could add a perspective to. And I'd like to own a project, which maybe I know you think is bigger than my capability. Can you take the risk and allow me to own this project, which then proves out that you're a director or you're that next level?" That is a better way than to say," Oh, I've been told that I need to ask. So I'm going to ask you to make me a director." There's not a lot that people can do with that.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: No, they can't. And that resonates with me so much. And sometimes it's what you're asking for should be both aligned to your personal needs, but also your business's personal needs. Sometimes it's as simple as negotiating for flex time. But sometimes it is, it's I want to be in this role next. If I look at what I'm doing right now, and it's not yet there, I should negotiate to say," Can I be part of this meeting? Can I lead this project? Can I get to training and test out this thing?" And that then gives you the opportunity to say," Look, do you agree that I've proven out this capability? I'd like to take the next step."
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, totally.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: She makes a great point.
Tricia Gellman: So we're running out of time. We've had such a great chat. Two things. One is to wrap up this concept of mentoring. One of the questions that I think is hard to answer is, where do people go to find a mentor?
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Yes, it is a great question. And I'll probably give a laundry list of places that you can look. Most of them are in your backyard in a sense. One is look inside your company, but it doesn't have to be inside your team. Is there someone you respect? Is there someone that you've observed that has a different skillset than you do? That's a great place to look. Second is look at any company you have worked for with in the past. If you're early in your career, maybe you don't have that many work experiences. Think about professors. Think about this is going to sound weird, but friends of your parents. I actually have someone that I call on that's a friend of my dad's that I learned some of his, back when I was in hospitality, my dad introduced me, the guy seemed smart. We jived. And he was in my career path aspirations. We still stay in touch. People that you've met through school. And people that you meet at conferences, events and the like. Even digital networking can turn into things. I recently attended, essentially, there's an annual event for my undergrad. I'm no longer in that industry, but I attend this event and it was run by students. And afterwards, two of them were like," Hey, I'd really love to pick your brain on something." And I'm like," I'm totally game. It can't be this month because I have a board meeting right now, but let's talk in April and we have time on the calendar." And I think it goes back to the advocacy piece. Sometimes it's people are too shy to ask. And again, if you don't ask, you don't know, and most people are flattered. They may not have time to give you an hour a week. But if you could call them once a quarter or call them ad hoc, that is something that many people are open to and are often happy to share their wisdom. So I definitely think folks should look in their backyard and in inaudible circles beyond.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. And one of the things I think that's important there is just that network. And how do you build your network? One of the things I was pointing out is that we have these employee resource groups and they're cross- functional and they introduce you to different people. And so really, I think the first thing about finding mentors is building your network and figuring out how can you build that network. How can you get outside of just your direct manager? For earlier people in their career, they maybe don't have a big business network. I love the idea of your parents' friends and things like that is awesome too.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Oh, all of it. I will say one other thing that I've done and I would encourage people again, ask your peers or your leaders. At my last organization, I had the selling team under me. I am not for a sales engineer, I've never done that job. I'm a fine leader, but I can't mentor you on certain parts of your job. And we only had one. And he was growing into it, building a team of three. I'm like," Here's the deal. I know some great sales engineers from other companies. They're from 10 years ago. I think they like me enough that they're willing to talk to you. Do you want an intro?" Made the intro. And he talked to three, one of them he really gelled with. They now have a mentoring relationship. So definitely different ways to tap that network and ask, to your point.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, that's excellent. Okay. So finally, here we are at the end of our podcast and I have one closing question that I always ask everybody. And so my closing question for you is what is the one marketing lesson that you learned in your career that you feel would be beneficial for people to work through right now by listening to what you learned early in your career?
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Yeah, absolutely. It's very simple. And it goes back to my core as a product marketer and it's deeply know your audience and your customer. It sounds so basic, but what is really true is that a lot of folks don't. They get to know them on the surface only. They build a persona, but never actually talk to them. They do it based on some assumptions. There's so many reasons. You build better products, you build better messaging, you have better demos and sales enablement, all of it. It is not for the faint of heart. How do you do it? As I mentioned, I'm not there yet for FullStory. I haven't spent enough time yet, but it's spending time with your customers, going on sales calls, going on customer success calls, hearing the bad calls, listen to gone calls or sales lost recordings. Maybe you have the opportunity if you're big enough to build a customer advisory board and actually somehow participate or listen to the recordings of those things. And probably the hardest is experiencing a day in the life of, but sometimes you can get some networking done where you might find a friendly and be like," Hey, talk me through what happens. How is that going?" And understand what it is that they're really about. And if you're in a position to hire, if you can hire someone who was a customer, that is also an amazing way to build your entire team's knowledge around it. But ultimately it's deeply deeply get to know your customer and your audience, and it will make everything 1, 000 times better and easier.
Tricia Gellman: I couldn't agree more with getting to know your customer. And I also am a big advocate that product marketers are the best foundational roles and skills to grow up into leadership and marketing into CMOs. I think we're seeing that a lot now that I think in the last five years has been an awakening at the CEO founder level in terms of the importance of product marketing as a skillset. And I love putting the customer at the center of everything. You really cannot go wrong when you put the customer at the center of everything. And if you look at B2C brands who empower their frontline individuals, like you came from hospitality. If you're in hospitality, you put the frontline in the place where they know the customer and they're able to make decisions and act right away. You see those brands just rise to the top in terms of their value, what they're able to charge, everything. So great insight. Thank you so much. This has been such a great chat and I just want to remind the listeners that every two weeks we have wonderful conversations with CMOs with amazing insights. I love the fact that people are so willing to come on the podcast and really share nuggets of information that they've learned along the way. I love that you have such a passion for mentoring. You can connect with Kirsten on LinkedIn, on Twitter, anywhere else?
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: LinkedIn and Twitter are the primary. I'm not a super Insta gal. crosstalk
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. What about Clubhouse? Are you a Clubhouse hanger?
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Ooh, I am a Clubhouse hanger. I've done a few. I'm not convinced yet. I'm not convinced.
Tricia Gellman: Okay. We're starting to do more Clubhouse. We're hanging out. We started a revenue group in Clubhouse. Maybe you should join us.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: I'll try it. I'll try it.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Check it out. If you've liked this episode, please like the episode. Go to your favorite podcast distribution area and give us hands- up, stars, likes, whatever it is on your platform so that we can reach other people and also reach out to me, not just Kirsten, but let us know who should we bring onto the show? Who should we talk to? Why? What are the things that are challenging you as you are in your career and trying to do the best marketing of your life? And I'm happy to talk about it. I'm happy to bring those lessons out to you through other people that are in our network or that we can just pound the doors down to get onto the show. So thank you so much Kirsten, and thank you to my listeners. We'll be back.
Kirsten Newbold-Knipp: Thank you so much. It's been great being here, Tricia, and I look forward to listening to your next episode.
Tricia Gellman: Thanks.
People talk a lot about the importance of mentors. But they don't just magically appear in the moment you need them. So how do you find a mentor? For Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, it's not about finding one unicorn of a person to fill that role. Instead, you need to build your own personal board of directors. In this episode, Kirsten shares what her personal board of directors looks like, the happy and sad reasons why she learned to advocate for herself at a young age, and how she's paying it forward by being a mentor to others.
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with Tricia and Kirsten on Twitter @triciagellman @kirstenpetra @DriftPodcasts