Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 210: Q & A with Karen Leland @Karenleland


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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 Brand Management in Uncertain Times“.  Our guest, Karen Leland, is the President at Sterling Marketing Group.

Listen and/or read below for a lot of really great advice on brand framework, brand development, and even care and feeding of your brand, whether it’s your personal brand, your team brand, your corporate brand. A lot of what we’re talking about today is in her book, The Brand Mapping Strategy.  Check it out, for sure.

We talk about building stronger personal, business, and team brands. I ask Karen to talk about those and how those are different and why it’s important to differentiate between them.

Everyone has a personal brand and in the world we’re in today, I mean, think about it, there are eyeballs than ever looking at people online. I mean, especially, with where we are now.

When we’re working with teams to build better alignment between sales and marketing teams, we’re very clear with people upfront that the cultural impact of that, the cultural requirements for change are critical.
we have to be able to clarify very articulately and in language, for ourselves and for other people, what exactly is our brand.  And my sense is, there’s a level of regular disciplined, care and maintenance that goes along with this. I ask Karen, “What does that typically look like?” “What are the ways that people, day to day, week to week, need to think about managing their brand?”

This and a lot more!

Matt:  Well, thank you everyone for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio, excited to have you with us as always. We’re coming up on… I know we’ve had at least 200 episodes, I think we’re getting close to 225 now. In terms of longevity, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you for joining us. If you hit this live on the Funnel Media Radio network, thanks for making us part of your, probably still work from home work day. I know some people are looking at getting back to the office now. We’re certainly doing that ourselves. Ironically, Paul in February, we reconfigured our office space and put people closer together and created a bunch of pods.

Paul:  There you go, see. Nobody says, you’re not ahead of the curve here. You’re ahead of the next curve.

Matt:  We are way behind now. So, we got to figure that out, but whether you’re home or the office, if you’re listening live, thank you. If you’re listening to the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing. We are well past a 100,000 listeners, pretty incredible and humbling to see how many people we’ve been able to reach with the show. And if you’re new to Sales Pipeline Radio, you want to check out what we’ve been up to. You can catch all past episodes on demand, past, present, future episodes at Each week, we’re featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing, today is absolutely no different. Very excited to have with us today, she is with Sterling marketing group, a lifelong branding marketing strategist, columnist for Entrepreneur magazine. Just done a ton of amazing things. Karen Leland, thank you so much, Karen, for joining us today.

Karen:  Oh, it is always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for having me.

Matt:  Of course. Now, are you work from home? Are you work from office? Do you do a little bit of both? How are things out there?

Karen:  I’m really lucky. I live in New York and actually, I work from home. So, we’ve been locked in, which just opened up, but for about 90 days. And since I work from home, I was used to that. And what I was doing was, obviously flying to see clients. So, the only part that’s really been different for me in terms of the work-wise is, I haven’t been getting on an airplane. I think this is the longest I have not gotten on an airplane in 20 years.

Matt:  How are you feeling about that? Is that good? Is it bad? Is it mixed?

Karen:  Well, I am ready to go somewhere. But I have to say, that I’ve really found this time incredibly useful to stay home and go for long walks in Central Park and do some rebranding and some reinvention. So from that perspective, not having to get on a plane all the time, has actually turned out to be a blessing in the crisis.

Matt:  Yeah. Someone asked me on a podcast recording this morning for another podcast. What I thought events would look like in five years. I said, I expect it two to three years, we’ll be back up and rolling. I think, between getting a handle on the health situation, as well as I think, we’re seeing a lot of people that had the pull back from business travel, pull back from events and conferences. There’s a lot of benefits to that. And I think we’re seeing a lot of virtual, necessarily continue now, but we also are recognizing just the lack of integration and engagement, sometimes we see with that. I want to spend a fair amount of time talking about just brand development and professional personal brands as well. But I mean, it seems like, where we’ve lost a little bit of opportunities to engage and build relationships by not being able to get together face to face right now.

Karen:  Well, it’s funny because, yes, I mean, on one hand, that’s true. But on the other hand, there’s something else that’s happened, I have a client and they do a conference every year in Spain. And they get about 7 to 8,000 people to come for the week to the conference. It’s a pretty high-end conference. I mean, you get major CMOs from around the world, you get major leaders. And of course, they couldn’t do the conference this year in June, in Spain. So, they had to really quickly learn how to get up on doing virtual. And they did not know anything about it, by the way. They knew nothing about how to do that kind of virtual. So, they got up on the virtual and now they have three or four times a week, they do a summit, a virtual summit.

And instead of getting 7,000 people for a week, they have about 7 to 9,000 people a day, attending their virtual program. And I was speaking to the CEO the other day and he said, “We will go back to having live programs. The difference is, is that we will now always have a component of it, that’s virtual.” And one of the things that I’ve been talking to my clients about, is I think one of the big sea changes from COVID in branding and marketing, is that we’re going to go from virtual being an or to virtual being an and. I think in the past, virtual was the stepchild of life. And I think what we’re going to see moving forward, is you’re going to have live. Of course, live is going to come back, because there’s nothing like sitting down with someone face to face and seeing them. But I think, we’re going to have a component of virtual to probably almost everything we do even live.

Matt:  I think that is such a smart observation. And I’ve heard versions of that, not nearly as articulately stated as you do, whereas they’re virtual or versus, and that… I think, when you do a user conference, when you do, an industry conference or association conference, by definition, you only get a percent of the people that actually show up. You get those that are either the most passionate, the most active or sometimes those that actually have some travel ban. When you only focus on that in-person opportunity, you miss an engagement opportunity with everybody else that is clearly going to be different, but you’re already spending money creating the content, you’re already spending money and time and effort. It’s not that much more effort, to all of a sudden, exponentially increase the reach in the impact that has. It’s going to be really fascinating to see how that happens over time.

My other observation, that I’d be curious to get your feedback on this, is I think, our interest in getting on a plane and hanging out with people in a hotel, in a conference room from all over the country is going to take a little longer than our openness to getting in a car. So, I think that the local and regional opportunities for networking for events, for in-person events, might come back a little faster. Curious to get your thoughts on that.

Karen:  I absolutely agree. I mean, I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve traveled, the way I used to travel. And they’ve all said to me, “I’ve started liking being home a little bit more.” I definitely didn’t think you’re going to see the appetite for distance travel being greatly reduced. I think you’re still going to have it, but I think you’re going to see the appetite for it reduced. And I think you’re going to see a lot more localization of those kinds of conferences. If something’s going to be international or it’s going to be cross country, I think it’s going to be more virtual.

You’ll still have conferences where people get together and they go fly cross country. But I think you’re just going to see much more of a balancing out of this whole thing. But there’s something else that I think has happened that I’ve noticed. There are people that I’ve connected with during this time via video, via zoom, that I will tell you, I would have had a hard time finding and connecting with before this. In a funny way, there’s been an openness to be able to reach out to people and connect with people, because we’re doing so much by video. I have found that fascinating.

Matt:  I think you’re right. I think that we thought that connect rates were going to plummet for salespeople, because we weren’t in our office, but now we’re seeing connect rates actually increase a little bit, because people are, in some cases, people are just hungry for some kind of connection outside of their family every once in a while for today. I think also, we’re seeing people more open to new ideas, because there’s so much in the world has changed that we’re open to a change to our status quo elsewhere as well. It’ll be interesting to see, has that opportunity grows and manifests and matures, what that looks like.

But I want to pivot us over to talking about brand. I my self-proclaimed math marketer. We spend a lot of time here, focused on talking about demand and talking about sales pipelines, but I don’t think companies in B2B to build sustainable businesses, without investing just as much in their brand. And I know, you put a lot of focus on brand development, brand management, you work with CEOs on their brand. And on your LinkedIn profile, you talk about building stronger personal business and team brands. Can you talk a little bit about what those are? How those are different and why it’s important to differentiate between the three?

Karen:  Absolutely. Obviously, a personal brand is just the brand that every individual has. You could be a CEO or you could be a secretary. You could be an entrepreneur. You could be a vice president of sales. Everyone has a personal brand and in the world we’re in today, I mean, think about it, there are eyeballs than ever looking at people online. I mean, especially, with where we are now. Just the statistics alone say that, if someone’s going to do business with you, 77% of the people, one of the first things they’re going to do is, they’re going to look up your LinkedIn. Whether you are, again, a secretary or a CEO, everybody has a personal brand. And if you’re not managing your personal brand deliberately, then by default, you’re having one anyway, you’re just not having any management over it. I think that’s what a personal brand is.

A CEO brand is a really interesting animal, because there is just a ton of research now that we have, that tells us, that having a CEO brand, being a social CEO, managing your reputation online, absolutely, undoubtedly, unqualifiedly has an impact on the business. It has an impact on employees who want to come work for you. It has an impact on employee retention. It has an impact on capital raise. It has an impact on valuation. So, a CEO brand is really… And I call this a parallel brand. It’s really a brand that gets created in parallel with the business brand, where the CEO is really managing their brand and representing the brand. Their brand personally as a thought leader, but obviously it coordinates with the business. And then, the last one is the team brand. And part of this for me is because I came from, running a management consulting firm, and years of management consulting and executive development, teams within larger organizations also have a brand.

For example, your human resources department has a brand. Your product group has a brand. Your marketing department has a brand. You’re a CIO, that group has a brand. And often people don’t think about leaders, don’t think about what is the brand of my team and how does that brand internally, impact the way we do our work in the organization. So, there really are these team brands as well. And then there’s one more, which is related to the CEO brand, which is the executive brand, which is all executives today, also, need to think about how are they managing their executive brand, so that within the organization, they’re able to get the opportunities they want, get done what they want. And also, create opportunities for themselves outside of the organization should they decide they want to go somewhere else.

Matt:  And I know we’re going to have to take a break here in a second, but I’m curious for you to talk a little more about the internal brand. That is something people don’t think about. And when we’re working with teams to build better alignment between sales and marketing teams, we’re very clear with people upfront that the cultural impact of that, the cultural requirements for change are critical. And oftentimes, those are impacted by the way those groups are perceived. If you have a marketing team that is perceived as the glorified arts and crafts department, or a marketing team that is perceived as only caring about lead volume and not caring about driving qualified leads that a sales team could actually do something with. Those internal brands, can be significant impediments to generating any kind of change or lasting impact.

Karen:  Absolutely.

Matt:  We are going take a quick break, pay some bills, we’d be back with more, with our guest today, Karen Leland, talking about the importance of brand and B2B, and some, maybe surprising ways that she’s thinking about brand that can impact your business as well. Be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Paul:  Okay. Let’s drift back to our conversation with Matt and his guest.

Matt:  Look at that segue. Also, speaking of segues, Paul. How much do you think about your personal brand? And if you do, what would you describe it as, and what do you do to manage it and maintain it?

Paul:  That is really an interest, I can give you a funny answer. I can give you a fast answer, but I don’t know that I can give you a full answer. Today, we all have to come up with a personal brand. It’s not just, I’m working for a company with a brand. I got to have my own brand, internally and maybe externally, so that I’m always attractive to that next potential job holder. That’s a whole another thing. I’m still trying to figure out all my other personal characteristics I’m supposed to have. Now I got to describe them and put them into a package and be my own personal marketer.

Matt:  I wasn’t sure how you’re going to answer that, but I’m glad you answered it that way, because now my question to Karen is, okay, I’ve got a lot of people as they think about, okay, I got to manage my company brand. I got to think about, what my brand is here, internally, externally. My team, how are they perceived? It almost, now, exhausting to think about what that looks like, for someone like Paul, who is a phenomenal producer, who has his own brand, who works for another company. How would someone like that get started with, not necessarily managing their brand, but at least even just understanding what their brand is whether they’d like it.

Karen:  Well, that’s a great question. And I think there’s really three parts to this. And one is, there’s how you articulate your brand. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve gone to a cocktail party or when we used to go to cocktail parties, and we will, again, hopefully one day. And said to somebody, “Hey, what do you do?” And they demo their way through the answer to that. They really just can’t articulate it. Then, we’ve also been at a cocktail party and said, “Hey, what do you do?” And an hour and a half later, the person still talking about it. So, somewhere between brand confusion and that weird brand explanation is this clarity. So I think, one part of it is, we have to be able to clarify very articulately and in language, for ourselves and for other people, what exactly is our brand? And that’s the whole… In my model, that’s a combination of seven things, but it’s not just an elevator pitch.

It’s really, what is the history that brought you to why you do what you do? What’s unique about what you do? What is your particular brand energy? I mean, one of the things I’ve definitely noticed, I’m sure you have too, is with chief marketing officers, they’re in charge of marketing for the company, but I can’t tell you how many CMOs call me up and they go, “Oh my God, I’ve got to do something about my own brand.” Because they don’t really stop to spend the time to think about and work on how to build their own brands as a path to their own career. For CMOs, that’s just as important. I know you’re not a CMO, but just because we’re talking about chief marketing officers, that’s a really important piece of their brand. So, one part is the articulation.

And it’s really… I just want to say, it’s super hard to do this for yourself. No matter how much you know about marketing or branding. And the highest example of that is, one time I got hired, years ago by a vice president at LinkedIn in marketing. This guy was a VP of marketing for LinkedIn. He doesn’t work there anymore, but this was years ago and he hired me to help him redo his LinkedIn profile. So, that should tell you how hard it is to do this stuff for yourself. It’s just not easy to see, because you can’t see through the inside of your own eyelids. So, I think one part of it is the articulation of what the brand acts, the personal or the business brand actually. CEO brand or the executive brand actually is. Then the next part of it is, okay, well, how does that get translated into collateral? What other people see?

For example, what is your LinkedIn look like? Most people who call me up, even CEOs, have LinkedIn that are really, really not up to par, not where they should be. And I can tell you from dealing with producers and journalists all the time, for media placement for clients, I can’t tell you how many journalists will say to me, “Man, that person’s LinkedIn is terrible. I’m going to have trouble using them because they look so bad online.” Because right now, that’s the world we live in. I mean, I think it’s the translation of all that to collateral is the second piece. Because you don’t know how many opportunities you’re missing or not getting, because you don’t look like you have it together online.

And then, I think the third part of it is the more proactive piece of how you build the brand proactively. What kind of content you’re creating and how are you being interviewed, and there’s over 40 different tactics you could use to build a personal or a CEO or an executive brand or even a business brand. But people don’t often think about that. They don’t think about what are the specific tactics I should be using, because you’re certainly not going to use all 40. All 40 are not appropriate for you. That was probably a much more of an answer than you want it.

Matt:  I don’t know. It seems like a pretty good blueprint for thinking about what you care about, what you want to be represented as. And there’s the upfront framework development, so to speak. And then there’s, what do you do? And my sense is, there’s a level of regular disciplined, care and maintenance that goes along with this. What does that typically look like? I think especially for an individual, for an up and coming marketing leader, who’s listening to this or a CMO who has aspirations to run a company someday. What are the ways that people, day to day, week to week, need to think about managing their brand.

Karen:  And that has to do with those 40 tactics. For a CMO or an up and coming marketing leader. They have to be thinking about, “All right, what is my strategic plan over the next year to build my brand now that I know what it is? Is it that I’m going to podcasts regularly? Am I going to focus on Instagram regularly? Am I going to do LinkedIn outreach and blog creation? Am I going to interview people and write about? Am I going to do a book?” I mean, there’s so many different strategic ways you can do it. And here’s the thing, none of them are better than the other. It isn’t that there’s one that’s better than the other. It’s really determining through research, through actual looking and seeing, given your talents, your objectives, your audience, what the white space is, what you’re good at, what the current market is, all of that, mashed together. What is the best tactic for you?

I’ve had clients where they’ve built their entire CMO brand, just on a podcast. I’ve had other clients that have built their entire CMO brand on a book. I’ve got clients that have built their entire CEO brand on just speaking. So, if there’s no one way to do it, it’s about picking the way or ways. And usually, to be honest, that it’s not more than two or three tactics, because as soon as you try to take on more than two or three tactics, you just don’t have the time, unless you’ve got an unlimited budget and unlimited staff, you don’t have the time.

Matt:  Right. Let’s talk a little bit about… I know we’ve just got a couple more minutes on Sales Pipeline Radio here today with our guest, Karen Leland, clearly a lot of really great advice on brand framework, brand development, and even care and feeding of your brand, whether it’s your personal brand, your team brand, your corporate brand. A lot of what we’re talking about today is in your book. Talk a little bit about your brand mapping strategy and how that resources really helped companies take these ideas and really bring them to life inside the organization.

Karen:  Well, I came from management consulting as you know. And I ran a management consulting firm and in management consulting, we’re always looking at things as a system. And we’re always looking at KPIs and systems. And when I first started doing brand and marketing strategy, it made me insane, because everybody segmented everything, everything was siloed. You had your PR, and then you had your marketing messages, and then you had your collateral, and then you have this. And I thought, “Well, that’s not how it really works in reality. It’s a system.” So, I took about a year off. I mean, I still did work, but I basically cut my client load in half. And I took about a year off and I did a ton of research. And what I found out was that, if you really want a brand to be wholly completely represented, again, whether it’s a personal brand, a business brand, a CEO brand, an executive brand, team brand, CMO brand, doesn’t matter, same thing, you really have to articulate and get that brand identified in seven different areas.

And it’s a little bit like going to the eye doctor when they put that weird metal thing on your face, and they click the lenses back and forth, and they say, “Does it make it clearer or fuzzier?” There’s about seven of those lenses. You have to really articulate to make your personal or business or team brand clear. And so in doing that research, I created the brand mapping strategy, which is a way to help businesses and teams and individuals and CEOs get clear, on what that is for them, what those seven lenses are for them. And then, the rest of the process is, how do you translate it into a tactical strategic branding and marketing strategy for your brand, personal or business?

Matt:  Love it. Well, we are, unfortunately, out of time here on Sales Pipeline Radio. Real quick Karen, where can people learn more about you? Where can they learn?Obviously, you get a copy of brand mapping strategy on Amazon or where great books are sold, but if we want to learn more from you, where else should they go?

Karen:  They could just go to, K-A-R-E-N, Leland, And everything’s there.

Matt:  Love it. Well, thank you so much. I know you’re super busy. Thank you so much for taking time with us today. This has been awesome. Hopefully, Paul, you learned a little sentence too, manage your own brand.

Paul:  I am. I’m going to have to go home and think about this here. I’ve got this giant beard going here. It’s the Abraham Lincoln look here. I don’t know if it’s the right look or the right brand here.

Matt:  I’ve always appreciated your beard.

Well, thank you again, Karen, for joining us today. Thank you everyone for joining us on another episode, we’ll be back next week with more sales and marketing best practices. But today on behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for listening to 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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