Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 205: Q & A with Kevin Marasco @kmarasco


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By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can subscribe right at Sales Pipeline Radio and/or listen to full recordings of past shows everywhere you listen to podcasts! Spotify,  iTunesBlubrry, Google Play, iHeartRADIO, or Stitcher

This week’s episode is entitled Marketing’s Leadership Moment: Pivots and more with Kevin MarascoKevin is the CEO of Zenefits.

Kevin walks me through the many changes and pivots they have made in recent months.  It’s a lot of change– changing how they communicate with customers, changing their content strategy.  I ask him to talk about managing his team through all of this and as a marketing leader, how does he manage his team through it successfully?
“I think it starts with empathy and understanding the individual and where they are, and even your teams and where they are.”

This and a lot more!  Listen to the full conversation now or read the transcript below.

Paul:  Hey, welcome back, everybody. Time to grab your board, swim out into that sea of ideas and see what’s riding the surf today here with the man who’s always on top of the waves, Matt Heinz.

Matt:  How are we doing Paul?

Paul:  I’m doing good. I always chuckle to myself here. I give people an inside look at when we produce this radio show, but I get a little kind of rough script. We’re sitting in two different places here. And so I have some cues and some direction. And it always says the same thing. The intro, it says Paul banters with Matt who is, and then there’s a blank. So I always ffeel like I should fill in the blank, Matt, who is, blank.

Matt:  Well there are days when, Paul, I am blank. As work from home days kind of run into or over and over again, and sometimes to not do that. But no, as you mentioned the beach and the waves, so are the beaches open again down where you are? I know in some parts of the country, we’re starting to open that up. How are you guys doing?

Paul:  It’s insane. The contradictory signals seem to abound these days here. They of course shut the beaches down because he didn’t want everybody. And then they shamed anybody who might venture out to the beach. And then they last week said, all right, as part of the initial reopening, we’ll let you open the beach but please don’t crowd them. It’s so you can walk. This isn’t for putting out your tent and your blanket and sitting there all day again. And what did people do? They packed at the beach first hot week and we had, and the governor literally came on the air the next day and said, come on, I’m trying to do this sensibly and you guys are acting stupidly. So I don’t know. It’s just human nature I guess. When they give you the all clear, you’re like to little kids, you just run back out there again.

Matt:  It’ll be interesting to see how that continues to evolve. And I’m up here in Washington, they’re slowly starting to open things up. Parks and golf courses are going to open next week. We’ve already got construction that’s restarting. So especially since the weather’s nicer, the days are longer. We just want to get outside. I hope we can do that, but I also hope we can do that safely.

Paul:  Well today you’re going to talk about another pivot we’re going to have to make. Are we just going to go back to the way things were or are we going to pivot in marketing today here? I know you’re talking with Kevin about that, so I’ll let you jump into that. That’s another whole topic.

Matt:  Oh, we got a lot we can talk with our guest today, but very excited to welcome everyone to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Appreciate everyone joining us. The number of people joining us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network continues to increase as people work from home and I appreciate if you’re helping us break up the middle of your workday. For those of you listening to us on the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing. The numbers continue to grow there as well. So very exciting and humbling to see that. And if you like this episode, want to hear more of what we’ve been up to, we’ve got over 200 episodes available on demand. And every episode in the future will be available at We are featuring every week some of the best and brightest minds in sales and marketing. Today is no different. Kevin Marasco is the CMO at Zenefits. Kevin, how are you doing?

Kevin:  Doing fantastic. I appreciate you having me on. If you guys are doing well. How you doing?

Matt:  We’re hanging in there. Homeschool is off the rails, but as I mentioned before, it’s getting a little warmer outside. We’re spending a little more time outside getting the garden up and running, trying to do some things that, or at least around the house to just kind of keep us sane, keep us active, keep us feeling normal. So it’s been good. I know you’re in San Francisco, so you’re in West coast, so very similar rules to what we have. How has shelter in place been for you guys?

Kevin:  It’s been interesting. I think first, big change very quickly. We were one of the first cities to go into shelter in place, so we pretty quickly mobilized. But I think folks are starting to adapt. There’s definitely a bit of a Zoom fatigue. And it’s interesting, I go for a long run every weekend, have done this for years, and I would say in the past month, on my weekend runs, the traffic, people out biking and running and doing things, is probably up two to three than the normal weekend. So it’s having an interesting effect. I think people definitely have a little cabin fever, myself included. But I think people are adapting and starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Matt:  Well I think, and you mentioned sort of you guys were one of the earliest to go shelter in place, and that was a pretty big shift, right? I mean to go from being able to go out and go to the restaurants and all of a sudden we’re asked to stay home unless we’ve got to get food or go to the doctor. And I think on the marketing side, what we saw was kind of somewhat different. I mean beginning of the year Q1 started kind of normal, February’s pretty normal. Then all of a sudden over the course of March, not only did we have different work environments, but a lot of field events shut down, and it sort of created this interesting opportunity within marketing. I hate to use the word opportunity when so many people are sort of being affected adversely by this, both economically and with their health and with everything else, but we were talking before the show about what exponential changes need to happen in marketing and can happen in marketing.

The fact that if you were counting on trade shows and thinking, well, how do we get more people to our booth? Or how do we get more people to, how do we give a better chotchkie, that sort of interesting incremental advantages? If you have to rethink your entire field marketing strategy overall. If you just said, well, what if we just didn’t do those trade shows that we all secretly hate? What would that look like? And we had talked previously about the same thing around MQLs. I mean, what if we just completely changed what we focus on? So I’m curious to hear from you, what are some things that you guys have been doing and some pivots you’ve made that maybe have been precipitated or accelerated by current marketing conditions that are actually going to create a better new normal for you?

Kevin:  Yeah, it’s been really interesting. I have to tell you I’ve been through the past couple downturns. Things change a bit. It’s not the 911 and obviously the financial meltdown, and those all had a big impact. I’ve never seen, however, anything like this. It’s just so unique. I think we’re going through that as a society, certainly as a country and globally. And so there’s just so many unique impacts to this, and it just overnight transformed everything. So I think I kind of thought about it at four layers in terms of pivots we’ve made from a business down into marketing and kind of how we’ve approached this. And for a little context, our organization, we have about half a dozen offices in three countries, so US, Canada, India, and then even within the United States we’re spread out. So our headquarters is here in San Francisco, but we have an office in Scottsdale, Arizona and then in North Carolina.

Kevin:  So immediately the first thing is making sure our employees are safe, healthy, and doing the right thing for them and doing that across a distributed organization. So that’s kind of the first thing. And then I think the second thing was our business plan. We’d just, to your point, come out of Q1 planning, had a plan that’s lock and loaded, all that work that went into it and it’s just thrown out the window. It’s like, okay, whatever the plan was, it is gone. It has to be transformed. I think that’s the second phase. And we’re in more of a marketing driven business where 90 plus percent of the revenue is driven from marketing. So we had to play an active part in pivoting that plan, what should the new plan be in a state that’s very difficult to plan. And then the next I think two layers are one, the customers, doing the right thing for the customers, and then the marketing kind of attached to that, changing basically everything from segmentation to targeting to approaches to channels to even taxonomy and things like that.

But if there was one theme there, I’d say it was we went into what I call help mode. Instead of trying to market and sell, it’s really just all about helping. And a number of things, we’re perhaps a little bit unique, I wouldn’t say on the front lines like many organizations helping, like in healthcare and things like that. But we have over 10,000 small businesses and this is impacting them in a great way. And we impact healthcare benefits, payroll, things like that that overnight had major changes. So we worked with about half a dozen insurance carriers to open up emergency open enrollment periods so that hundreds if not thousands of employees could get coverage when they previously did not. We had to work on all the new payroll tax, time regulations, payroll loans and things like that. So there’s a ton of work to do from a product marketing perspective.

We changed our offering. So for customers, we gave them free product. We have a wellbeing product that helps monitor and measure employee stress, anxiety and wellbeing. And as companies go instantly into remote work, it has all these obvious implications. So we wanted to basically give this product to all of our customers for free. And then we’ve also offered free payroll for small businesses. So those were a few of the things. And then I think from a marketing perspective, in addition to the packages and offering and pricing implications, the main things we try to do is just help these companies. So a piece of this is our content marketing strategy, providing information of how small businesses can access government relief, the PPP loans, et cetera. And then just kind of how to quickly go to a completely digital remote work from home environment. Ton of regulatory changes that have happened over the past 60 days that offer some assistance, tax deferrals and things like that.

And companies are just scrambling to keep up with that. And so our media site, we publish about four times a day, we just stopped our current calendar and went into just covering and helping with everything we could from how to deal with health implications, how to communicate with your workforce, how to access the loans. We were working basically directly with the SBA and in some cases even state governor’s offices, and so just rapid changes really in everything. And then of course all of the obvious impact to our marketing channels and things like that.

Matt:  Talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Kevin Marasco. He’s the chief marketing officer at Zenefits. And that’s a lot of change. I mean you’re changing how you communicate with customers, changing your content strategy. Talk about managing your team through that. You probably have people that are sort of experiencing things in their personal lives that have an increased level of anxiety overall about the world around them and now have to completely reinvent and redo and pivot a lot of the work they’re doing. As a marketing leader, how do you manage your team through that successfully?

Kevin:  I think it starts with empathy and understanding the individual and where they are, and even your teams and where they are. So I kind of found a couple of situations. We have folks, part of our team is highly distributed. They’re used to working from home, albeit in a little bit different circumstances. And the thing with them is kind of helping make sure they’re comfortable and kind of have good balance and are taking some activities besides work. The second, another cohort, and we have some folks in certain roles like all of our SCRs and things like that. And most of them are used to working in an office. So this is their first time doing this. So it’s helping them with just some of the basics. There’s a lot of more constant check-ins with them and their managers, et cetera, and kind of helping them get set up into this new operating rhythm.

And then there’s some folks that are kind of between the two. And so I think the first thing is empathizing, understanding where they are. Being flexible I would say is probably one of the biggest things. So we’ve completely kind of changed, trying to be super flexible and scheduled with… Sounds like you have Heinz homeschool there. I have Marasco daycare going on here. And just being understanding and accommodating of that. Hey, kids are going to pop on calls and you’re going to hear Trolls music playing in the background, and letting people be as flexible as they can with their schedule. So those are a few of the things that we’ve done and regularly checking in at an individual level to see how people are and how we can help.

Matt:  Well I hope that that’s something that continues moving forward. I was monitoring a webinar right before this and we had one of the panelists working from home. His wife teaches in the music department for a local university, was doing finals for her vocalist students. So every once in a while, you would hear people doing scales on the level behind him. And one of the other panelists said, we do things from home occasionally and we would shoo our kids out of the room. Now we’re like, come in, whatever. You’re not going to have full control over that.

But that’s what makes us human. That’s what makes this life. I think there’s a humanization of B2B that I think has happened organically through all of this that I hope sticks around in some form. I think it just makes things more interesting and makes us more engaging overall on both sides. We have to take a quick break, pay some bills, we’ll be back with more with Kevin. We’re going to be talking more about pivots, adjustments and we’re talking about exponential versus incremental change in how we manage marketing moving forward. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Paul:  Okay. Back with Matt and his guest, and I’d love to hear you guys answer quickly the question you just posed as we were headed towards the break here. Is this really permanent, exponential change or was this an incremental change towards more Zoom meetings or whatever? We went through something absolutely mind boggling, once in a lifetime again here, and it feels like exponential change, but I’m wondering the longterm if it really is. What do you guys think?

Kevin:  I think it’s 100% permanent change. There will certainly be, I think things will go back. There’s a lot of things we want to go back very quickly. But I kind of see an analogy between 911 security and flying was never the same. I think we actually improved in some areas. We learned. And then same thing with the financial meltdown. Buying a house wasn’t quite the same afterwards. And I think we’ll come out of this with a lot of lessons and some things that hopefully as a society, et cetera, we get better. And I think we’ve learned a lot of things from a healthcare, et cetera, but also from a business and then certainly from a marketing standpoint. And I think remote work, I think work will totally shift, and a lot of the folks we’re talking with kind of have similar points of view. Just kind of one thing we’re seeing and we’re considering in our go forward strategy is in our office locations, we have a certain amount of burden and overhead, significant with the food and the catering and the real estate and the maintenance, et cetera.

And now with everyone working remote, we’re actually seeing an increase in productivity in tracking all of our metrics. Now we have to balance that productivity with making sure that people are healthy and balanced and taking time to get outside and go for walks. There’s a new operating rhythm that we have and new tools and mindset I think we need, but I think to think that people are going to go just back to in office work in all functions and locations, I think it’s going to be different. There’s some benefits to employees in terms of flexibility. There’s some drawbacks that we need to be able to manage. But I don’t see it going back the same personally. I think there’s going to forever be changes. And I think one thing on the marketing side, I hope that we continue with more of this helping approach and more empathy and not just kind of the old school sales and marketing, but more of a helpful approach to helping our customers and prospects, and I hope that endures.

Paul:  So everybody’s not just headed back to the beach like they did last weekend here in Southern California. What do you think, Matt? Is it exponential or incremental?

Matt:  Probably a little bit of both. I mean, I don’t think anyone wants things to go back to the way they were before because I think everyone I talked to sees part of their lives before as things that they didn’t really love anyway. Yesterday, I was on an event with a bunch of CMOs and we were talking. One of the questions that went around the room was, what’s the one thing that you don’t miss from your old world that you hope could permanently change? And a lot of conversations had to do with commutes. People that say like, I commute an hour and a half from my house into my job every day. Or one person says, I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I get on a 5:30 AM flight every Monday to go to the West coast for a majority of the week. And not that they’re going to not make that trip occasionally, but do you need to do that every week?

Now that you’ve been doing it from home for five weeks, do you realize that you can be just as effective or as Kevin said more effective when you’re at home when you’ve got a little more time, when you’re a little more comfortable, when you’ve got a little less stress, when you feel like you could actually take care of your family a little better, a little more easily, a little more efficiently? So I agree with Kevin. I think there are going to be things that look, I mean after 911, going through security, going through airports became more annoying but we’re safer because. Now it’s just the new normal. It’s just part of how we do things. So I think things will change for sure. I have yet to see sort of the shakeout of what those things are going to be and what work’s going to look like.

But I mean we’re a small office, we’re 12 people. And I really, really enjoy spending time in the office with people. I enjoy leaving my house to go to work. I enjoy having a place where we can get together and do brainstorming and do all hands meetings and do team lunches. But do we all have to be there every day from nine to five? No, that’s an old construct. I mean at least for us as a consulting firm. If you’re a manufacturer, we have clients in manufacturing, they got to go build stuff together. We don’t have to do that. And so I think there are a lot of things that are going to change. One of the things Kevin we talked about beforehand as well is there are things that aren’t necessarily tied to the pandemic and the pandemic related changes we’re making in terms of working from home that are sometimes worth looking at and we’re changing a bunch of other things.

And so the idea of sort of the venerable marketing qualified lead and the fact that demand marketers are often measured by how many people they get to fill out forms and to request white papers. I could argue that that has been either antiquated and/or a vanity metric for quite some time. But is there value in using this moment and this kind of semi pause in business to really sort of rip the bandaid off even further on some of those antiquated practices so we come out of this even more efficient?

Kevin:  Absolutely. And I think there are a lot of things we can take this opportunity to say why are we actually doing this? Is it working, is it not? Is there a better way to do it? And that could be anything from your, to your point earlier about your field marketing strategy to lead taxonomy. And you and I were talking about we actually got rid of MQL. We just call them QLs. And I kind of come back to the, when it first came out, what was the purpose of it? Well it’s to have more of a manufacturing type approach to creating demand. And you definitely need stages, just like you have sales stages. You need a demand funnel with stages, entry, exit criteria and clear definitions. So the thought process behind it was good. I think what I saw happen, I’ve seen this in a few organizations I’ve been in, is it then created some issues with what I call lead discrimination, and that’s behavior either being gamed or discrimination of certain types of leads based on their type.

And it could be, is this an MQL versus an SQL versus a PQL versus an AQL? By the way, the same thing with what channel it came from, perhaps the campaign source, the timing of the age, et cetera, et cetera. We’re in a better place where we have more data and tools and insights where we can see things like intent levels, et cetera, that we should use those signals instead of surfacing the ones that could be easy to discriminate. I think that’s kind of a situation with the MQL. I keep getting some of the stories on some of the challenges it can create in pathwise, but ultimately we got rid of it. So everyone’s kind of focused on the same goals. Yes, there’s double-clicked tracking into attribution, what source, but now the other thing is there’s so many additional ways we’re qualifying. We’re trying to do all of them through automation, through in the product, through sales touches, marketing touches, and I think that’s definitely one that I would consider people to rethink.

Matt:  If you’re going to do that in an organization, and I’m fully onboard with doing that, I think it’s a huge step forward for marketing teams, to do it successfully, you have to do it in concert with sales understanding what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. What did you do with the sales organization to make that transition successful? What are some lessons or implications that other people that may be thinking about ripping that bandaid off and getting rid of sort of foreign fields and MQLs as the primary metric, how do you do that with sales to make it successful?

Kevin:  I think the first thing is aligning with their goals so that you could have a shared set of outcomes, ideally tied to revenue, to bookings and then the double click of metrics behind that, depending on your go to market model, your emotion. That could be pipeline, it could be QLs in our case. And just to put it in perspective, what we’ve done, we kind of have three main channels. We have a self-serve model that marketing owns end to end including the clothes and the number. We have a highly transactional SMB cell for in our case companies that have under 100 employees. And so we create the demand, we qualify it to our SDR team, and then we hand it off to aides for the close of two weeks cycle. And there we’re looking at the SQOs, number of opportunities, demos set and then held and then basically the equivalent of moved in the pipeline.

But it’s transactional, so we’re not looking at dollar pipeline but the opportunities. And that’s kind of the metric we align on with sales in that case. And then the third case we have is a more, in our case, a little bit closer to a more of an enterprise notion. It’s a lightweight solution sell, over 100 employees. And there we’re setting the demos. There’s a little bit more work in supporting that through the sales cycle, but we’re basically looking at both pipeline and then of course the ERR, the conversion. So I think it starts with aligning on those metrics, and then you can kind of back track from there. But in my opinion, I found it’s better to be less about, hey, was this created from marketing, from sales, from product, from automation, et cetera, and do we have the appropriate volume and quality that we actually need?

Matt:  We have just a couple more minutes here before we have to wrap up with our guest today, Kevin Marasco. He’s the chief marketing officer for Zenefits. And I’m curious, in this current time when you’ve got, it sounds like you guys are continuing to sort of see some strong market demand, but I’m sure that there are many customers or maybe prospects that just they’re in a state of transition, they may be interested, may be just as interested and have just as much demand, but to the cash budget not there right now. Are you doing anything differently to manage the interested but not ready crowd from those that are ready to buy from a marketing or from a sales perspective?

Kevin:  Yeah, absolutely. One of the first things we did, while we were completely pivot our content strategy, we pivoted all our outreaches too. So we rewrote all of our sequences, marketing and sales and SDRs in our model to be less, for lack of a better way to describe this, to be more helpful. And then folks that were kind of in the middle of the funnel, kind of the same approach. We tried to go to help, hey, here are some resources that you can use. It wasn’t just about our products and services. It was genuinely to help. You’re dealing with the coronavirus, you may not have an HR staff. Here’s some templates you can use to communicate with your teams, to keep a safe workplace. Many companies are struggling with funding. Here are some options for loan eligibility, even though they were in the middle of the funnel. So if we can use this opportunity to help them and to build some trust and credibility, when there is an opportunity to add value through our products and services, then hopefully we’re top of mind. And we continue to nurture and just continue to try to help them.

Matt:  I love it. Last question for you before we let you go. In this time, I think a lot of sort of just work has been disrupted. We’re clearly not traveling as much, able to spend a little more time at home. Are there any habits or sort of other focus areas that you created for yourself that you hope will be able to continue when we do get back to some version of a new normal?

Kevin:  That’s a great question, Matt. I think like everyone there’s been the pluses and minuses. And one challenge I’ve found, I’ve had to kind of get a schedule. I some days wake up like, what day is it? I feel like I’m either in the middle of some crazy sci fi movie or in the middle of a business case study. The reality is probably a little bit of both. But the other day I was like, what month is it? So I’ve kind of moved to a schedule. We even do themes. I do Mexican Mondays and, or sorry we do, Marinara Monday, so we do Italian night, cook some Italian food, have some red wine. Taco Tuesday, tacos and tequila. And do a different theme, and it just kind of helps to have some type of pattern given all the other patterns that are kind of out the window in terms of things we were mentioning earlier like commuting and all that. And that’s kind of helped with the family and just kind of having a routine and then trying to balance that with blocking off time to help with the kids and their schedules as well.

Matt:  Yeah, no doubt. Well, we’re running out of time now. I want to thank our guest, Kevin Marasco, chief marketing officer for Zenefits. Hopefully you’ve benefited from this conversation. If you’d like to share this discussion with others on your team, you can find this in a couple of days up at And we’ve got a great list of guests who will be joining us broadcasting from home over the next few weeks. And so we sort of figure out how we sort of slowly get back out to the beach, Paul, and get back out to restaurants and do the things that we enjoy. But for today, thank you Kevin for joining us. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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