044 | Building Synergy in Your HealthTech Organization with Sarah Acton of Athos | Studio CMO

Podcast by | March 24, 2021 HealthTech, Interviews, Marketing Strategy

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The Episode in 60 Seconds

How do you build a company that always puts the customer first? Sarah Acton, VP of Sales and Marketing for Athos, has done so by building a synergistic organization that shares customer stories, digs into customer needs, and listens to each other.

On this episode of Studio CMO, Sarah discusses:

  • How to Listen to Your Customer and Each Other
  • How to Build Internal Synergy for the Benefit of the Customer
  • How to Cultivate a Company’s Culture and Values
  • Tips for Hiring the Best HealthTech Talent
  • What it Takes to be a Good Client for an Agency

About Our Guest

Sarah ActonSarah Acton VP Sales Marketing Athos Woman green top slicked back hair is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Athos, a wearable technology company focused on ensuring all types of athletes, from professionals to military tactical athletes, are prepared and ready to perform. With roots in consumer products at Coca-Cola, retail at Home Depot, her own business, and consumer tech at Yahoo! and LinkedIn, Sarah learned early the power of storytelling and how using data can transform and personalize a brand experience.

Athos is a patented system that enables the world’s first smart clothing to measure how hard your muscles are working using the science of EMG (Electromyography). This is combined with powerful AI and a mobile app gives you insights to truly understand how your body performs. The system has helped athletes at all levels train better and smarter, whatever your goal.

Show Notes

“Our job as sales and marketing professionals is to take what we know about our product and service and find the intersection that resonates with the customer’s own problem.” — Sarah Acton

How to Listen to Your Customer and Each Other

Listening has been a core part of Sarah’s life. She can point to many defining, salient moments where something changed as a result of listening.

If you want to be a better listener, practice these habits:

  • Meet face-to-face (or on the phone or video conference) with customers.
  • Be curious. Dig in to ideas you haven’t heard before.
  • Have the mindset, “There’s always something new to learn.”
  • Record sales calls as often as you can.
  • Share a few sales calls with the entire company from time to time (provide a mix of good and bad).
  • Seek to understand the day-to-day lives of your customers.
  • Identify themes that arise from different sources.
  • Become a copious notetaker.

“The more we, as a business, can understand our customers, understand their day-to-day lives, the better we can deliver on our promises to them. And the better we can create solutions that really meet—and surpass—their needs.” — Sarah Acton

How to Build Internal Synergy for the Benefit of the Customer

When we work together, everything gets better.” —Sarah Acton

In order to get any two (or more) departments to work together, they must spend time together around customer problems.


  • Product Development Invites Marketing and Sales to Product Discovery sessions.
  • All parties listen in on live customer service calls.
  • Managers can build a shared desire to win and then share the wins together.
  • All parties hold frequent check in meetings.

How to Cultivate a Company’s Culture and Values

Do you know and reflect often on your company’s culture and values?

For reference:

Athos’ Mission

Golden Spiral Values

Sarah shared a powerful story of how Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, leaned on his CTO, Kevin Scott. Find out more about this powerful relationship.

“I would share my problem with Kevin because then Kevin could start thinking about the solution to the problem, too.” — Reid Hoffman

Tips for Hiring the Best HealthTech Talent

  • Look for people who show a pattern of being intrigued by problems.
  • Ask how they solved difficult problems.
  • Discover how they push themselves out of the comfort zone.
  • Foster interviews that are times for stories and not just facts.
  • Find indicators that your candidates have a drive to solve the problems of tomorrow.

What it Takes to be a Good Client for an Agency

Sarah spent many years working for agencies serving clients and has hired agencies as a marketing executive within companies. She’s seen both sides of the relationship. She and John Farkas shared a number of tips.

As a company:

  • Do find an agency sees the client relationships the way you do.
  • Don’t lob a problem over the fence to your agency and expect them to solve it.
  • Do become a partner with your agency.
  • Don’t hide and obfuscate information.
  • Do “open the kimono” and be vulnerable about the problems you are facing.
  • Don’t build an adversarial relationship with the idea of squeezing every dime out of the agency.
  • Do be open and honest about your real budget and listen carefully to the agency’s capacity to supply solutions within that budget.
  • Do share the wins with your agency partner.
  • Do work together to optimize your resources and those of the agency.

“I always strive to make my agency partners feel just as much a part of our wins as my internal team.” — Sarah Acton

The Nature of Change

John shared this quote often used at our Foundation Workshops. Can you identify the author?

“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

Listen at 25:35 to discover who.

Golden Spiral’s Foundation Experience

gs-icon-positioning-v2-largeDo you feel your company is invisible in your marketplace? The right agency can help you stand out in the middle of your competition and be seen for all the right reasons.

Our Foundations Workshop is the perfect methodology to shape your story. Our proven process unpacks, then crystalizes, who you are, what your solution does, why you exist, and who needs to know.

The workshop assembles all your stakeholders in the same place at the same time. You will build consensus and gain clarity in amazing ways. (And we’ve had great success with virtual workshops as well.)

And it’s guaranteed!

Our Foundation Guarantee: If you qualify for and engage in the foundation experience, we guarantee you will be convinced of the value of our approach after the Foundation Workshop. If not, let us know within 48 hours, we’ll stop, and you won’t owe us a thing.

LinkedIn’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration

LinkedIn Logo Black WhiteSarah talked about her work on LinkedIn’s 10th anniversary. Find the product of their branding work here.

She mentioned the power of A Beautiful Constraint, the concept (and the book) of time and budget limitations can sometimes foster the best work. Find out more about the book here.


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John Farkas (00:04):

The speed of change in our world is remarkable now. Technology is fueling the advance of solutions and our ability to address problems at a remarkable rate. And in our organizations, making sure that our marketing functions, our sales functions on our product development functions are aligned, are synergistic, are really working together is critical. And that’s a lot about what we’re going to be talking about today on Studio CMO.

Mark Whitlock (00:52):

Welcome to Studio CMO. You’re listening to the podcast, designed for health tech, marketers to dig deeper into market positioning, and demand generation, and the rest of the things in the marketing ecosystem that we have to master in order to make our companies thrive in their marketplaces. Our host is the CEO of Golden Spiral, the agency, which brings you Studio CMO, John Farkas, John, uh, how many, uh, athletic wearables do you have on today?

John Farkas (01:21):

You know, I’ve got, I’ve got one solid, quasi-athletic wearable on my wrist. I hear you. And that’s great. Uh, Anna Grimes is with us today, Anna, thanks for coming on back and joining us on Studio CMO.

Anna Grimes (01:35):

Delighted to be here, and I am not wearing any wearables.

John Farkas (01:41):

Athletic wearables. Let’s just clarify

Mark Whitlock (01:42):

This is why this is an audio podcast.

Anna Grimes (01:48):


Mark Whitlock (01:51):

My Apple Watch is over on his charger right now, but that’s the, uh, the only wearable that I have, but today we’re going to be talking to, uh, someone from a wearables company and talk about their dynamic marriage of hardware, and data, and AI. It’s going to be an exciting day to talk about marketing to multiple verticals. Anna, who’s on the podcast with us today.

Anna Grimes (02:11):

Today we have Sarah Acton. She is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Athos. It’s a wearable technology company focused on ensuring all types of athletes from professionals to military tactical athletes and making sure they’re prepared and ready to perform. She has a deep background in work with companies like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, her own business, and a consumer tech at Yahoo and LinkedIn. She learned early on the power of storytelling, so that really resonated with us, the storytellers over here, and how using data can transform and personalize a brand experience. So welcome to Studio CMO.

Sarah Acton (02:56):

Thank you so much. I’m super excited to here and talk about what I get to do for a job that I love. So thanks for having me.

Mark Whitlock (03:05):

Sarah, thank you so much for being on Studio CMO today and do tell us a little bit more about Athos. What makes Athos tick and what are you trying to accomplish?

Sarah Acton (03:13):

Athos has merged surface electromyography with human performance software to enable athletes of all shapes and sizes to understand how their bodies are moving, how their muscles are moving, and really advance their ability to get more out of their bodies and keep them free from injury.

John Farkas (03:35):

Yeah, Sarah, I’m really interested in, as we jump in knowing that the bulk of our listeners are in B2B HealthTech universe. You have a storied backdrop in consumer marketing. \And are in a scenario now where you’re doing a lot of work in targeting B2B verticals, you know, looking at the, in particular, the government sector, which is certainly a, uh, an interesting place to sell into. I would love to know some of your perspective on what you’ve learned and what you’re applying from your backdrop and familiarity in the B2C world and how that’s informing, how you’re engaging on the B2B.

Sarah Acton (04:16):

One of the things that I really got the opportunity to learn early on by watching other people around me who were exceptional storytellers is, you know, stories resonate with everybody. And whether you’re a consumer that is purchasing for yourself, or you are a customer purchasing on behalf of your organization, there are still problems you’re trying to solve. And there are solutions you’re looking for. And there are motivations that you have that inspire you to, to make a purchase or solve a problem. And really the power of storytelling cuts across that. And I think there is sometimes, and, um, I don’t want to say artificial, but I think sometimes there’s this forced distinction between a B2B consumer and a B2C consumer, but at times is appropriate. But at times you’re just a human selling to a human and a human telling a story to another human. And so I think, for me, learning how to craft a story and the sort of ingredients, that’s been a great thing I’ve been able to take with me and apply it in a B2B setting.

John Farkas (05:35):

There’s no doubt that when we’re looking at the factors that influence a sale, the factors influenced the journey so much of that ends up being emotional. There’s a lot of subjective. There’s a lot of emotions. There’s a lot of that pull that we have in that conversation. And when we’re looking at stories, that’s certainly a piece of it. So how does, how does that flow out? How do you apply that, uh, in the context of your work, when you’re looking at your B2B verticals?

Sarah Acton (06:03):

The first step is always trying to understand what, where are your customers coming from? What problems do they have? What challenges are facing them. And then looking for the intersection where your product or solution can help them solve that problem and listening to the way that they articulate, how that problem manifests for them, listening to their language about other ways they’ve tried to solve that problem. And then our job as sales and marketing professionals is to take what we know about our product and service and find the intersection that resonates with their own problem. And so I think spending a lot of time, much like in the consumer world, you do lots of consumer research, you do consumer discovery. Um, same thing on the B2B side, you listened to your customers. Like a lot of when I started at Athos, a lot of what we needed to do was craft our pitch, craft our story. And it, it took a lot of evolution, but the, the biggest gains that we made were when we listened to our customers and we listened to how they articulated their challenges and in our own heads, we said, Oh, we can help them with that. But we just had to figure out how to tell that story in a way that made sense to them and built trust and gain their confidence, like all the same things you need to do with the consumer you need to do with a B2B customer sometimes even more so,

John Farkas (07:42):

Oh, you said the word, listen, multiple times in that last little segment, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing to listen. What are some of the active measures you’re taking to tune into that frequency and how do you get that information?

Sarah Acton (07:57):

There’s a thread throughout my career. I think about moments—salient and powerful moments—where something has changed as a result of listening. And so it is something I think about a lot. And at Athos, we do a lot of the same things. A lot of companies do. We have our meetings with customers, we do a lot of discovery. We are curious, you know, when someone presents something that we hadn’t heard before we dig in, because there’s something there for us to learn. We record sales calls as often as we can. And we share those with the whole company. We share those with engineering and product, because there are insights there that help the business holistically. The more we as a business can understand our customers, understand their day to day, the better we can deliver on our promise to them. And the better we can create a solution that really meets and surpasses their needs.

John Farkas (09:05):

Absolutely. Are there tools like, as you are assimilating where you compile that information, how do you record it? How do you make it part of the canon that you’re carrying forward from a knowledge base as you’re informing your marketing efforts and how that filters through,

Sarah Acton (09:22):

Try and look at key themes that are coming through our customers, where we hear them more than once, right? So we’re copious note takers. Uh, we, we are listening for themes that they may not be articulated exactly the same way, but there’s something they’re like, “Oh, I heard this from this coach at the University of Texas. And I heard this from this coach at Duke, and I heard this from this commander in the Air Force.” And we try and take those themes and figure out there’s something there that’s an opportunity for us in terms of tools were pretty scrappy right now, but we listened for them. Sure.

John Farkas (10:03):

I, and I think that that’s important because it’s certainly easy to hear something and say, Oh, okay. I think that that might be interesting and move on to something else, but it really is important. I mean, we, we work with this with our clients all the time, you know, “How are we taking what we learn in the field?” “How are we taking what we learn from customer interactions?” Uh, in customer success interactions, a lot of the different elements that feed into that canon and how do we capture that and make it operational? I think it’s a really important element because it’s easy to overlook and what we see happen very frequently. And I’m, I’m guessing this is a pull in what you guys face because a technology is available because you can do something because a feature can exist. It doesn’t mean it should. And often ones that should exist aren’t necessarily there because we’re not doing a good job listening.

John Farkas (10:59):

You know, we’re not understanding what the actual needs are, the shape of the needs are. And so things get overlooked or pushed down the bottom of the development corridor, because somebody is really excited about a new horizon they just opened up with this one little capability that might be pretty esoteric and not market applicable. And so it is important to develop well-framed channels where you can assimilate that and operationalize it, you know, put it in and say, we need to address X because if we address X, it will open up Y.

Mark Whitlock (11:35):

Sarah, you talked about how your team is curious and you hear something new and you, you kind of dig in you, you ask good questions and you draw that out of, of your, your customers is that curiosity is something that was already there, or is it something you’ve had to foster in your marketing team? And if, if you’ve been training it, tell us how do you, how do you train marketers to be curious?

Sarah Acton (11:56):

I got a little bit of both. I have an amazing bunch of humans who are just learners. They’re curious, they’re interested in the world, around them. They’re interested in people. And so I did get lucky on one dimension, but also it’s part of our culture. One of the core values at Athos is “start with why.” You have to, if you’re going to solve a problem, if you’re going to make a change, if you’re going to make a decision, you have to understand why. And so I think that start with why breeds, curiosity. And I think in terms of one of the ways that we foster it is everybody’s accountable for being able to answer the question, why, so a customer wants to do X, Y, Z, okay. Why you want to make this change? Great buy. And so I think that muscle around being able to answer the why I think in a positively reinforcing sort of way, breeds curiosity.

Mark Whitlock (12:56):

That’s great. I had a mentor who taught me to ask why three times to get down to that, that deeper layer. And that’s been an important lesson I’ve tried to use in all that I do. Why,

John Farkas (13:08):

Why Mark?

Anna Grimes (13:08):

Why Mark?

Mark Whitlock (13:12):

Good question. John it’s to get at the root is to get down below the surface and find out what’s really going on.

Anna Grimes (13:18):

So Sarah, when we’re teaching our teams to be curious, and when we’re teaching folks to listen to our customers and to help find that intersection of problem and solution, when have you encountered a situation where the tuning fork broke? Where what was being said, and then what was listened to and what was processed was not actually, what was the problem solution that was actually happening? And then how did you correct that or improve upon it?

Sarah Acton (13:53):

Couple of times that I can think about where we, the tuning fork broke into your point is when, for whatever reason, we were really internally focused at the time. So it could have been, we were about to launch something new and we were so internally focused that our ability to process what folks were telling us there was static, or it got cloudy, or what have you, you know, that’s been one of the times, or, or even when we’re listening to customers and they’re having problems. And we realize that the solution requires a big change. Sometimes there can be resistance to accepting that. And one of the functions that sits within my team is also customer support. Okay. And so having that channel of gosh things aren’t working, there are times when, when that can be hard and, and how we work through it was just probably a bit of perseverance, a bit of reminding ourselves why we’re doing what we do. And just trying to quiet some of the noise to really focus on, like, here’s what they’re saying. This is important. There’s something here for us to really listen to. We don’t have a secret bullet, but that’s sort of how we get through it.

John Farkas (15:21):

Right. So let’s talk about that. Cause that’s, that’s a pretty interesting angle and I’m guessing you have a very active product development cycle in your organization just by nature of what you do and the nature of the quick evolution of that technology. What does the line look like between marketing and product development? And how are you informing that? What steps are are going on there? You know, you talked about some of the initial resistance that can be there because there’s some inertia that needs to be overcome sometimes with that. How has that relationship looked? And how is it, you know, what’s effective in what you’re doing and what are you wishing was maybe different?

Sarah Acton (16:04):

At Athos product development and sales and marketing are really joined at the hip. We invite product to our customer calls. They invite us to product discovery sessions. Like there is a, a very deep understanding that when we work together, everything gets better. We develop a better product. We can do better in the market. We better solve problems for customers the first time around. All of those things that we each, you know, traditionally our gold on get better when we work together. And by no means, is it perfect? You know, no organization is perfect, but we, I think this really shared desire to win as a company and the acknowledgement that we all win when we work together, when we solve problems for customers, I think is at the root of how we’re able to do things a little differently.

Sarah Acton (17:10):

And in terms of maybe what I wish were different or things that we’re still working on, there are moments where we get out of step, you know, where we are really aligned. Um, and then people get working and sometimes when you get working, you can drift. And so we have to pull people back together. Um, and that’s a natural thing, especially in a company that’s small and, and John, to your question, like we do move fast and sometimes you can get out of step when you’re running pretty fast. So we, we try and build into our process, um, check points and moments to check and make sure that we’re still aligned so that we can catch those things before something gets launched to a customer. And we’re like, wait, you know, that, that, wasn’t where we started. So we check in a lot.

John Farkas (18:01):

Did you come into the organization and it was that way, or is that something that you’ve had to cultivate?

Sarah Acton (18:08):

That has been cultivation and not just, not just myself. Um, you know, I am fortunate to have amazing partners on the product side and fortunate to have a set of culture and values that encourage that kind of way of operating, but it has been something that we’ve worked on and that we’ve built over the four years that I’ve been there and we get better and better.

John Farkas (18:36):

Sarah, what are some of the things that you did to cultivate that? What are some things that, that have been important building blocks on that journey to build that synergy,

Sarah Acton (18:45):

Product engineering folks, they are problem solvers, right? They get excited by solving problems and they’re creative and they’re tinkerers. And they, you know, they, they work problems. And I think one of the things that we did early on was brought them in to our problems. And you can’t get a team to solve a problem if there isn’t visibility about what it is. And so in going back to the, the conversation we had about being curious, like the first thing we had to do was really understand the problem. We had to get the information, to get a really good understanding of what is the actual problem. And then you invite people in.

Sarah Acton (19:27):

And Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn, he told this story once about he was working on this really complex machine learning problem. And Kevin Scott, our CTO at the time (brilliantly, they’re both just brilliant,) but Reid talked about, “I would share my problem with Kevin because then Kevin could start thinking about the solution to the problem, too.” And there’s a lot of power in that. And I think organizationally, when you can share problems and a deep understanding of the problems, then you can get other folks to help you solve.

John Farkas (20:06):

And I’ve heard that multiple times in different scenarios, and it’s really great to hear you echo it. I mean, I think that when you understand the desire that your team has to tinker to solve, to, to jump over hurdles that they’re presented with, and you do a good job of communicating the essence of what the problem is to your team and say, “We need to make it our mission to figure out how to solve for X”—that does create some gravity in, in the organization. And, and for some reason, in some organizations, that line is cut. And I’ve seen that a lot of times where, where it’s just this silo, you know, the, this really fairly well-established silo that doesn’t get a whole lot of crosstalk and they miss really significant opportunities to inform the creation of a solution. That’s better tailored to meet a specific market need.

John Farkas (21:01):

And if you can create that culture where you do what you said, bring people into those conversations where it’s really clear what is the problem that is gonna sell? You know, if we build this, they will come. That is a real opportunity and an important dynamic to feature. It’s. You know, we talk about this often, in an agile marketplace where we’re stuff is moving as fast as technology is right now, and capabilities are, are logarithmically. Increasing. That dynamic is really an important part of the culture to figure out. And we talk about, in our context, often marketing as being the translation layer. And that’s really an interesting idea when you pull that out a step to look at how can we really be the connective tissue and helping the organization evolve into a truly solution oriented machine where we’re really actively endeavoring to solve for specific problems.

John Farkas (22:05):

And it really, it has to involve very deliberate, very intentional alignment between sales marketing, and product development, where you dissolve the walls of those silos and form them into one dynamic organization that is aiming to solve real market problems and talk about how you’re solving it. You know, and that’s marketing’s job is to say, okay, to help inform, you know, sales and marketing, they’re there on that, that edge. They’re trying to understand the trends. You know, marketing is looking at what people are searching for. Uh, sales is having real-world conversations. Customer success is in there saying our, our users are bumping up against this particular wall and all of that has to funnel into that dynamic process of development. And if you have any walls in that process at all, you’re going to impede progress. So that’s fun to hear how you guys are pulling that together.

Sarah Acton (23:03):

John there’s part of it. That’s the organization. I think there’s part of it. That’s the people, everyone across the company is anxious to hear, “What did the customer say? What do they love? What did they hate?” And that’s such a gift that everyone in every function has that kind of desire to want to learn about the customer. It’s a real advantage, I think.

John Farkas (23:29):

Is there anything in that process as you’re identifying talent, are there questions that you’re asking, are there things that you’re looking for and aptitudes that, that help ensure that you’re getting, what, what you need in that regard,

Sarah Acton (23:42):

As we think about hiring and the of talent that will help us achieve our mission, we look for people who are show a pattern of being intrigued by problems. People who have a track record of solving interesting problems. And we don’t look for have they solved our problem because that there are very few people who have, but have they solved other really hard problems?

John Farkas (24:14):

Do they know how to attack a problem?

Sarah Acton (24:15):

Yes, yet. And, and how did they do that? Like tell us, you know, interviews are our times for stories, right? Like, “Tell us what was the hardest problem you solve.” “When did you have to learn something that really pushed you out of your comfort zone?” Like those kinds of questions and the stories behind them are, are really good indicators for us about the types of people who will help us solve the problems of tomorrow that we haven’t even identified yet.

John Farkas (24:43):

That’s an aptitude that as we, again, we are just not in a predictable environment in our world. I mean, if anything that the last year has shown us is that because of the, the fluid nature of, of change. And, you know, there’s always been change in the workshops we lead with our clients is about just what we’re talking about here. And it’s a fairly interesting quote, especially because of when it was authored the quotes, this, “It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.” It’s an interesting quote.

John Farkas (25:35):

And what’s even more interesting is that was penned by Niccolo Machiavelli in 1513. So there’s nothing new under the sun. These are problems that are typical of us and have been for quite some time.

Mark Whitlock (25:49):

Are you sure Steve Jobs didn’t say that?

John Farkas (25:52):

And that’s when I ask in our workshops who that was penned by, Steve Jobs is the most frequently guest author of that particular quote,

Anna Grimes (26:02):

Steve Jobs and Ben Franklin.

John Farkas (26:04):

We get Henry Ford, nobody quite goes back to 1513 to scoop that one up though, what technology is affording the speed of change that as, as AI continues to mature and develop into this remarkable force that is transforming every aspect of how we think function and assimilate information, remarkable change, remarkable pace of change. And so a critical piece of who we are as organizations needs to be, how do we facilitate movement?

John Farkas (26:39):

You know, what, what does that look like? And how adept are we at navigating solving for X? Because new equations are presented every day that in some form or fashion that we get the chance to figure our way through. So Sarah agility and adaptability are really critically important. And you know, there’s a lot of moving parts and pieces. Is there an example of something that you’ve been involved with where you were presented with a challenge that you had to meet and had to mobilized things around quickly and just how you, how your team moved into the space to make something happen?

Sarah Acton (27:18):

Uh, when I was at LinkedIn, uh, the company was getting ready to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. And at the time we hadn’t really formalized any sort of brand function, but we were getting closer and closer to wanting to tell the story of LinkedIn and celebrate that. And we decided that doing that for our ten-year anniversary would be opportunistic and a great moment to celebrate the challenge was we were 30 days away and we decided, well, 30 days, um, let’s see what we can do. And we looked to our values and one of our values was “members first.” And we said, okay, we don’t want this story to be about us. We want this story, this celebration to be about our members and what they can do in the next decade, uh, and what their aspirations are. And so we recruited members, actual members on LinkedIn.

Sarah Acton (28:27):

We pulled them all together. They told amazing stories about their dreams for their careers for tomorrow. Um, we pulled that all together. And when you have 30 days, you’re forced to make some quick decisions. You can’t deliberate, Oh, you can’t lament over things. And that was actually a really good forcing function for us. It allowed us to move quickly because we had to, it allowed us to make decisions and not overthink things. And we ended up with an amazing campaign that got incredible internal response. We heard from countries around the globe. Uh, we’d done it in the U S and it was only in English, but we had countries around the globe saying we want to share that with our members here. And so we ended up then launching it in 10 or 12 other countries. We did translations. And it was really a lightning rod for what would become a brand marketing function at LinkedIn. And for me, that was a super proud moment to hear from members and employees that this is it, this you captured it, you captured what we’re about.

John Farkas (29:37):

That’s an interesting component I’ve thought about often the, the tendency, the potential of overthinking of working too hard to perfect over cooking. Talk about that and what your experience is, uh, around that, because I’ve definitely served up some pretty dry loaves of bread in my tenure, just because it’s easy to, to leave it in the oven too long. What has been your experience there?

Sarah Acton (30:03):

John? I’m a “Top Chef” fan and often they get criticized for too many ingredients and just sort of torturing a meal. Uh, so I, I love the analogy, you know, there’s this fine line between wanting something to be polished, to be precise, but also making sure that it stays authentic and real. And I think the, the tendency to want to overproduce, or, or just sort of overwork something, um, there it’s, it’s very real. And I think having, having a, a strong, um, perspective going in about, you know, what we’re solving for and, um, and really a deep understanding of, uh, your goals and your brand, I think those are our, um, guiding principles and, and candidly, some of the best campaigns that I’ve done had tight timing. And it, it, it, they really did. And, and sometimes the constraint, the, the beautiful constraint, there’s a great book called The Beautiful Constraint. Like sometimes that produces the best outcomes because you don’t get too much in, you can get in your head a little bit, but you don’t get so in your head that you sort of torture the story or the idea.

John Farkas (31:33):

Sarah, the other interesting thing about you is you are a double agent. You’ve lived on both sides. You’ve been on our side of the fence in the agency world. You’ve been on the client side. And, uh, and I am interested in any thoughts you might have as somebody that seen the world from both sides, understands the critical nature of objective input understands what it means to be on the inside, struggling to make things happen. What kind of perspective do you have to offer in that regard?

Sarah Acton (32:05):

I have been so incredibly fortunate over the course of my career to really learn how to be a good client. When I was at Home Depot, um, we had to meet an amazing agency, The Richards Group, and I learned so much about what it takes to be a good client. And I think, I think having been on both sides of the fence, I, I know better what, what I need to do to get the best out my agency partners. And there’s a work. I think sometimes clients can, um, lob something over the fence and expect the agency to solve it. It’s a false sort of, uh, construct because the best agency client relationships I’ve had is when clients have truly been partners. You open the kimono a little bit and get vulnerable about what problems you’re facing, whether those are internal problems or external problems. And I, I learned that early on that when I can much like our earlier conversation, when I can bring someone into my problem and give them all the information they need to help me solve it, amazing results that happen.

John Farkas (33:24):

I couldn’t agree with you more, Sarah. It is one of those things that we, we work to cultivate what, from, from an agency perspective, it’s really interesting for me when we encounter scenarios, where people come at it as some sort of adversarial relationship, like how do we get the most out of these people or whatever that looks like? You know, I I’m in business, we’re in business. We have to provide a service. Our service is predicated. Our ability to continue as an entity is predicated on being successful, you know, and, and us being successful means we win for our clients. Us winning for our clients means we have, uh, a seamless relationship, right? Where, where there’s, there’s really good back and forth understanding and, and transparency. That is the best case scenario. And I think when we have that, we see great results. And when we struggled to kind of get it when we are in more adversarial scenarios, everything about it suffers.

John Farkas (34:21):

And so, you know, understanding that, uh, from a, a client side, from a company perspective, getting to the point where you, well, first of all, finding an agency that sees the world that way, I think is really important and who is willing to be equally transparent with you. I think that that’s important because not everybody is. And then being willing to, like you said, open the kimono a little bit, say, okay, here’s, what’s really happening here. You know, here’s what this budget really looks like. You know, how do we, how do we really optimize these resources we have to get from here to here in the best way possible. And here’s what we really got. That’s huge. And it can transform a relationship and make it really dynamic and beneficial because you need that kind of objectivity. You need the outside perspective sometimes, or the help, and to be able to optimize that and mitigate line loss. And, and it’s a great point.

Sarah Acton (35:18):

Absolutely. And I always strive to make my agency partners feel just as much a part of our wins as people in the company. And when you can do that, then, I mean, that’s how you motivate teams and you get the best out of them, like share the wins, the

John Farkas (35:38):

Losses too, but share the wins because that’s how you build great teams. That’s right.

Mark Whitlock (35:45):

Sarah Acton from Athos. Thank you so much for being on studio CMO today. I’ll have

Sarah Acton (35:49):

An absolute blast. Thank you guys so much.

Mark Whitlock (35:51):

I think we could talk to you for a couple more hours and would not even begin to scratch the surface of, uh, your wisdom and your experience. This has been great. If you want to know more about Sarah and Athos, come on over to studiocmo.com, click on the Sarah Acton interview. And we’ll link out to several things. We’ll link out to the book that she mentioned, The Beautiful Constraint. We’ll link out to the Reid Hoffman story from LinkedIn and many other things that you want to dig into, uh, about this interview from today. We’ll also connect you to information about our workshops. John mentioned what we try to accomplish when we first get together with a new client. It is a transformative time, a transformative couple of days that not only cast a North star for marketing, but help you as an organization, align yourselves more deeply and come out with a greater sense of understanding and love for your brand.

Mark Whitlock (36:47):

So there’ll be information about our workshop available on the show notes as well. While you’re there, do yourself a favor, subscribe to this podcast. We have more great guests like Sarah coming down the pike, and we would love for you to be the first, to know about the great interviews coming from studio CMO. And secondly, leave a comment. What sparked you today? What made you sit up? What do you want to comment on? If you scroll down to the bottom of any pages, did you have cmo.com? You can click on, send a message and record a message directly from your phone or your desktop or laptop computer. And we might use that in a future episode of studio CMO, we started out this great episode, talking about listening and the importance of understanding your customer and that dovetails so perfectly with the three core tenets of this podcast and Golden Spiral, the agency which brings it to you. And that is that we must understand our buyers problems.

Anna Grimes (37:43):

lead with an empathetic understanding.

John Farkas (37:46):

and always work to make your buyer the hero.

Mark Whitlock (37:50):

We’ll see you next time on Studio CMO.

Mark Whitlock (37:58):

Studio CMO is shaped by Golden Spiral, an agency providing market positioning and demand generation for HealthTech. We help healthcare technology companies establish and communicate their unique message to the right decision-makers. Realize your market potential. Contact Golden Spiral.

Mark Whitlock (38:15):

Our music is provided by some of Nashville’s hottest studio musicians who make up Human Music, BMG production music company. Find out more at humanmusic.com.


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