Welcome back. I'm your host Maia Morgan Wells. And today we've got a very esteemed guest, Kathleen Booth, currently the senior VP of marketing at Tradeswell and a sought after business mentor, who has advised agencies, startups, and e-commerce companies, in addition to a packed speaking and interview schedule. And if that doesn't give us enough to be impressed with, Kathleen was also formerly senior VP of marketing at HubSpot diamond partner agency Impact after having run her own marketing agency for over a decade.
So we've got a lot to dive into on this episode of the Marketing Hero. Join me for a conversation about high growth leadership with Kathleen Booth. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the show, Kathleen.
Thanks for having me, Maia. I'm so excited to be here.
Well, we got to start off with a question that we ask all of our guests. What is your favorite part of your career, and how did you figure that out?
I think I'd have to say when I owned my agency. I spent 11 years as an agency owner, and they were the hardest 11 years of my career, but they were also some of the best, and for a few reasons maybe that might seem surprising. I think one is that I grew a lot, just as a person and as a professional. Because owning a business is such a challenge, and I needed to learn about managing people and PnLs, and just so much learning happened in that time period.
Also, my business partner was my husband. And so getting to work side by side with him for 11 years and somehow still be married at the end of it was amazing. So I just met some incredible people. The team that we hired was amazing. I'm still friends with all of them to this day, even though it's been five years since I had that company. And just an incredible growth experience.
That sounds like you really dove in and learned all aspects of the business. How did you get into where you are now, specializing in on really this brand of high growth leadership and helping to mentor others, advising startup companies, how did you realize that you liked doing that stuff?
I think it's because I did spend 11 years as a business owner. And during the time I owned my agency, I actually had a second startup that failed. And we all have those war stories. And so I have this really strong entrepreneurial DNA. And in fact, both of my parents were business owners, and I didn't really think about this until somebody had asked me this question about where did I get this entrepreneurship from, and I realized I grew up with it.
I then had my own business. And then in 2017, when my husband and I decided to sell our business, it was the right choice for us. I still feel that it was the right choice and is the right choice for us to be doing what we're doing, but you still feel that sense of entrepreneurship. And I think advising startups and working in startups, even if I'm not the owner or the founder, it gives me that opportunity to exercise that entrepreneurial muscle and really be involved in growing something and figuring out really hairy problems. That's what I love. And so helping the companies I work for to solve those problems and also advising other startup founders to solve those problems is something I'm very passionate about.
And I would just say, I also feel a strong degree of empathy for founders, having been one myself. It can be a very lonely journey. And so if there's some way that today, even though I'm no longer a founder, if I can help someone else feel a little bit less alone and help them through that journey, it makes me really happy to be able to do that.
What are some of the things that help SaaS founders to get over that loneliness, to get over that feeling of me against the world? What are some of the things that you've found has really helped those types of people with those feelings?
Yeah. I think the hardest thing is, it's easy to talk to everybody else when things are going well. It's when things are not going well that it can feel very lonely. Oftentimes founders struggle with not wanting to admit in any way that's public that they're not fully successful, or that they're dealing with challenges. You can't often confide in your employees.
And so, being somebody who has no skin in the game, who's totally outside of it, who can serve as an impartial sounding board, I think just having that kind of a person to go to helps so much. And often, founders don't need for you to solve their problems. They just need to be able to talk about them. And sometimes they do that with mentors. Other times, it's with advisors. Some people have boards of directors, and for some it's their spouses. But it's that old having a shoulder to cry on thing is helpful.
But I also think it's that, and I experienced this myself, founders are very in the weeds. They're in the business day to day, very often 24 hours a day, thinking about it. And a lot of times to be able to really have those breakthroughs, you need to talk to somebody who's not as deeply embedded in your own business as you are. And that's where having an outside voice can be very helpful.
Kathleen, where are some of the places that you have found really helpful to look for mentorship like that? Are there certain organizations you can look for? Do you want to just keep your mind open when you're at the grocery store? Where do you find someone to be that sounding board as a SaaS founder?
It's interesting. I think the world has changed a lot in the last five years. COVID really accelerated the growth of communities, and prior to COVID my answer probably would've been very different. And I was really lucky because when I had my business, I was a HubSpot partner agency founder, and that community of HubSpot partner agencies is very tightly knit, even though they're competitors. A lot of the founders are friends. And in fact, I sold my business to somebody who was another founder. That's not common in most industries.
And so I think what's very nice today is that there's been the emergence of so many different communities and support networks. And so for me, I'm extremely active in Pavilion, which started out as a community for marketing and sales leaders. But today there's an executive Pavilion where there's a place for CEOs to talk with other CEOs. There are certainly other organizations like EO, Vistage, et cetera, that you can join. Some of those are more expensive than others. It really just depends on what you're looking for, but I do think having those communities of your peers is so, so powerful.
Definitely sounds like it. Having somebody to talk to is always an important thing. I want to transition a little bit into where you went after that founder experience, because you said that you sold to a fellow founder of a HubSpot partner agency. Will you talk to us a little bit about that transition out of that business ownership and into what you're doing now? Because I think there's a lot of really exciting changes happening that really reflect what is going on out there in the larger market as well.
Yeah. So in 2017, my husband and I decided that it was the right time for us to exit our agency business. And we had different choices for how we could have gone about doing that. And it just so happened that we connected with the owner of another HubSpot partner agency Impact. And he was interested in acquiring the business, and we did wind up doing that. And it was great because that company at the time was very similar to ours, in terms of the services it delivered, the culture it had, et cetera. So all of our employees came over to Impact. I actually wasn't planning on going there initially, because I wanted to get out of the agency business. I was just interested in doing something different. But I did wind up actually at Impact for two years.
And the reason is that the founder had this vision to build a media business around the agency and was very passionate about it. He was inspired by Joe Pulizzi's books, Content Inc and Killing Marketing, which are about how businesses should be thinking more like media companies.
So for me, it goes all the way back to what we started with, that entrepreneurial DNA. For me, it was less about I'm going to go to this agency and continue working in agency. And it was more about, I have this opportunity to go to Impact and build a new business within a business. And so it was like being a founder all over again, but inside of another company.
And so for two years there, I worked with him on building this media business. And so it was very woven into the company they already had. We amped up the content production on the site and really changed the site to feel more like a media site. We started a conference, we grew a community. We started a newsletter that was more like a media company newsletter than a company newsletter.
So I really had a sandbox to play in, if you will, to test out what does it mean to build out a media business? And this was very early days, when not a lot of other companies were doing it. It was 2017 to 2019. And I would say we were fairly successful because in the two years I was there, we saw massive growth in website traffic. By the time I left, we had a half a million visitors to the site every month. We started the newsletter the year I joined. And by the time I left, it had over 30,000 subscribers.
So we saw some nice traction, and it really got me excited about media as a strategy for B2B companies. And that's really led me into some of the other things I'm working on now, because I did leave there in 2019. I've been head of marketing for a series of different B2B tech companies since then. And now I'm at Tradeswell, where we are all in on this media strategy, in addition to marketing what is our core business, which is a B2B SaaS product.
So tell me all about this, because I know that we talked a little bit about the Current, and I want to know how are you going all in on this? Are there certain aspects of content that you are thinking about charging for? Are there programs that you guys are starting to put together, and how are those working out so far? I want to know everything about this media strategy for B2B SaaS.
Yeah. It's really exciting for me. And it all started when I was interviewing for this job, because I met with the CEO and I think we talked about a lot of things around Tradeswell and the software we make, which it's an e-commerce software for e-commerce brands to help manage their businesses. And I believed in the platform and I liked him, but one of the things he said was, "What's it going to take for you to say yes and come and work here?" And I said to him, "Well, I need to know that you think about marketing the same way I do." And I shared with him this vision deck I had that incorporated my thoughts around this media strategy and thinking like a media company. And he was like, "Oh my God, let me tell you about this thing that we're working on." And he had already started thinking this and had plans underway to basically begin this media strategy on his own. And so it was kismet that we came together.
And in the first three months of my joining, we were able to launch the Current, which you mentioned. And you can see it online, if you're listening, it's at thecurrent.media. It is a totally separate product, and we treat it as a product. So when I first got here, Tradeswell had one product, which is our Tradeswell platform for e-commerce brands. Now we have a second product, which is the Current, and it is a fully fledged B2B media site for e-commerce practitioners to stay abreast of news, get better at their jobs, et cetera.
What makes it interesting and special is there are a ton of e-commerce news sites out there. And we didn't want to just build another one and go head to head and compete with those sites. It's just more noise and clutter. So what we built is a site that has probably 15 to 20% original content that is written for it. And we hired actually a professional editor/journalist who used to be the editor of Technically Baltimore, which is a startup publication, to come in and be the product owner. And so this is built with a journalism mindset.
So he creates 15 to 20% of the content. And then the rest of the content is actually curated from all of the other e-commerce news sites out there. So if you go to the site and you click on an article that is not one that we've written, it actually takes you to a third party website, which as marketers, we think, "Well, that's not good. You're sending people off your site." But it actually is exactly what we wanted to solve for, because we wanted to basically build a home base, where somebody could come and get all the most important e-commerce news, regardless of where the news came from. So we're aggregating it and giving them one place to come to get it.
So we have the site, there's a ton of news on it. It's literally run by one person, which is what makes it so amazing. And then he produces a daily newsletter five days a week, modeled after CNN's 5 Things, called the Daily Current, and it is the five top e-commerce news articles of every day. So we're really just trying to simplify the news and make it more efficient for e-commerce practitioners to get what they need.
That's what the product is. Where it fits in within our strategy is that we really believe that in creating a solution like this, we're dramatically broadening the audience that we can appeal to. If we were just marketing our platform, that is trying to reach an audience that is in the market for a specific solution. We want to reach everybody in e-commerce, and we want to win their hearts and their minds. We want to become a part of their daily life.
And that was the big thing I learned at Impact, is that the value of the media strategy is in building a habit amongst your audience and giving them a reason to come back to your website every single day. If you're just marketing a software product, nobody's going to come back to your site every day. There's just no reason for them to do that. They don't need information about your product that frequently. If you are truly a media property, where you're educating them and keeping them on top of the news and entertaining them, that gives somebody reason to come back all the time. And that, in the long term, pays tremendous dividends in terms of building audience.
Let me ask a very marketing-esque question of that, though, because I do see tremendous value in everything that you just laid out. I think the next question that comes is how does that relate to your pipeline that you're trying to build? And does that make the top of the funnel just so top heavy that it falls over? Or talk to me a little bit about how that translates into what a lot of people are thinking about, which is pipeline sales goals. So do you have a little bit more that you can share with us about those two things linking together?
Yeah. So that's a really good question, and there's no doubt that the media strategy is a little bit more of a long game. As marketers, we're so accustomed to and trained to focus on a full funnel marketing strategy where the end goal is always to get somebody in pipeline. And I think long term, certainly we see this driving pipeline, and I think there's a flywheel that we're building. And on one end of it is the marketing we're doing for our software product. On the other end of it is the Current. In the middle sits what we're working on launching, which is our community. It's going to be called Anywhere E-commerce.
And so the idea is we build an audience with the Current. They're consuming news, they're getting educated, they're learning stuff they need in order to succeed in their career. We will then invite them to join the community. The community will be where the conversations happen around those things. And the community will then give us an opportunity to engage more closely with people who could be in market for a product like Tradeswell, to introduce some of our content.
But it's a very fine line. You have to be careful because a successful media strategy can't be just a thinly veiled vehicle for marketing your product, because people see through that. And so there's a halo effect that you're building. And it's about really staying top of mind.
The way I like to describe this is B2B buying has changed so dramatically. So when I owned my agency, we used to talk about how, oh, when somebody has a problem, they go to Google and they ask a question, and that's where they find the answer to their problem. And that's how they become aware of you. And that was why we were also focused on content and SEO, et cetera.
That has actually changed quite a bit. And I would say if you're selling to a B2B audience, particularly if they have any level of seniority, they're not going to Google to shop for products. They're going to their peer group. And it goes back to what we said in the beginning about the emergence of communities. As a CMO or an SVP of marketing, if I need some software to solve a problem, if I was looking for intent data or conversational intelligence, I wouldn't go to Google. I would go straight into Pavilion and ask 10 other CMOs what they were using to solve that problem. And I would get a short list of three things. And then I would go to Google, but I wouldn't be searching what's the best tool. I would go right to the websites of those three providers that somebody mentioned to me, to validate that they do what I needed them to do.
And so, the buyer's journey has changed considerably. And to win today, to get at bats today, you can't just be the company with the best SEO. You have to be the company whose name gets mentioned in those private conversations in those walled gardens. How does your name get mentioned? Either with a peer set of your buyer is either a current customer of yours and happy and evangelizing, or there's somebody for whom you are very top of mind.
So how do you become very top of mind with somebody who's not your customer, who may not even be in the markets to buy your product? Well, that's where this media strategy comes into play. Where they say, "Oh gosh, I get that newsletter, the Current, every single day. I'm on that news site all the time. I keep seeing the name Tradeswell. I feel like you should check them out." That's how it translates into pipeline. It's much harder to measure, but it is incredibly powerful if you can get it right.
That does sound very, very powerful. We're hearing a lot lately about attribution and whether it matters as much as it used to, or whether it matters in every aspect of marketing like we want it to. Can you talk a little bit more about attribution? Because I think what you just said really relates to that example. We want to be deeply connected with our audience, even if we don't see it necessarily on this line on our spreadsheet. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Yeah. It's funny that you asked this question, because this past weekend I was on Twitter, and there was this massive battle going on between two other companies in the e-commerce world around attribution and who did it better and this and that. And what it all came down to, and what everybody agreed at the end of the day, was you're never going to get it perfectly right. There is no tool out there that's ever going to truly give you the real answer on attribution. You can get directionally closer. And I think we all would love to think that there's something that can solve this for us. And it feels good to have tools that make us think we know all the answers, but the reality is, like I said, the way buyers buy today does not lend itself well to attribution tools.
And so, what you see a lot of companies doing, and this is what we're doing, is yes, we have some attribution tools that help us better understand the sources of our traffic, but we don't rely on those for decisions around marketing spend. What we rely on is a qualitative question on our forms. How did you hear about us? And people don't always answer that. But when they do, very often it's something completely different than what our attribution tools tell us. And to me, the answers we get are far more valuable.
And so that's really what we're using to try to determine where we should double down on spend, is those qualitative answers. But at the end of the day, you're never going to get it exactly perfectly. And you have to be willing to accept that as a marketer.
Have you ever made strategy shifts based on what you're seeing on attribution in any way? Where does the value lie in understanding those outlines of what people are remembering, where people think they saw something, what they're reporting to you versus what you're seeing on some of your metrics? Has there ever been a time when you can remember shifting something because of that or understanding your strategy differently?
Yeah. I think going back to the qualitative answers, 100% it has changed how I invest. So a great example is the last company I was at. I've only been at this company for five months. The last company I was at, we used HubSpot and other, Google Analytics and other attribution software to look at incoming sources of traffic. And we had a tremendous bucket of direct traffic, and then I think organic was second to that.
If I was just looking at that data, I would be putting all my money into my content strategy. And I did put a lot into that, and it did actually pay a lot of dividends for us, but I really wanted to understand direct better. So we added that question to our forms. And when I started to break it down, what I was able to determine was that podcast guest interviews, actually like what I'm doing right now, were a huge source of incoming traffic leads and ultimately pipeline for us. I could figure out exactly which podcast too, because people would say, "I heard about you on the Unofficial Shopify podcast," or somebody even said, "I heard about you on Kurt's podcast." And I happen to know who Kurt was, he's the host, so I could track it back.
But it's one of the reasons why, to this day, I always hire an agent. And that's not how I wound up on this podcast. This was totally through a different means. But I do have an agent that actually helps me get on industry podcasts because I've seen just how valuable it is in driving pipeline.
And there are other ways to track that. I could sit here and be like, "If you're listening to this and you want a free trial, you could go to tradeswell.com/marketingheroes." Don't go there because that URL does not exist. Yeah. That's how a lot of people try to do podcast attribution, but it's really not perfect because not everybody remembers those URLs, and it's a lot of work involved. It's a lot easier to just be like, "Hey, go to Tradeswell and sign up for a free trial." And oh by the way, when you do that, we have a question saying how'd you hear about us, and somebody will say, "On the Marketing Hero podcast." And you get much better information that way. So that's one example of how it's really profoundly changed my approach to marketing.
Wow. You definitely don't always know what you think you know, so it's great to dive into some of these questions. I'd like to know a little bit more about how you invest in mentorship and what that looks like for you, either here at Tradeswell or in previous roles, and what you do outside of that "day job" life, because you do a lot, and it seems that you place a lot of importance on mentorship and teaching those that are coming up underneath you. Can you tell us more about that?
Yeah. I do. That is so important to me. And it's funny. It happened very organically. It wasn't something I set out to do, necessarily. And I think it stems back to a previous career, honestly.
So I didn't go into marketing until halfway through my career. I started my career out working in international development consulting. And there's a whole story behind how that all happened, which that's for another time. But during my time doing that work, I actually worked in a training institute, and I taught mid-career professionals about communication as part of these international development projects. And there was something about standing up in front of a room of people and seeing the light bulb go off for them and seeing how excited they would get when they understood something.
I also lived in Spain for a year, and I taught English as a second language. And there's that experience of being a teacher and the relationship you build when you're a teacher that is so different than the relationship you build when you are, for example, an agency helping a customer, or when you're selling software to somebody. People have profoundly different relationships with their teachers. And if you're a good teacher and you're able to really help that person, there is a bond there that truly is hard to break.
And I think that that's what it stems from, but since those experiences, I haven't necessarily worked as a teacher or trainer, but I still love that feeling that I get from helping somebody understand, from helping them be successful, et cetera.
And so, yeah. So my LinkedIn strategy, which I've had people ask me a lot, "What are you trying to do with your LinkedIn? Are you going to write a book? Are you going to sell a course?" And my answer's always no. I have no end game, believe it or not. I'm not trying to sell anything. I literally just love sharing what I'm learning, as I'm learning it. And if somebody else can benefit from it, I feel like that's a huge win. And it's the same reason I still do my podcast after five years. I'm on episode 250 something and...
And my husband's like, "Why are you still doing this?" And it's because people will write to me and say, "I really learned a lot from that episode." And I just feel a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction from being able to help anyone. And I am not the world's best expert in anything at all, but I truly believe that any of us can be an expert in something. If there's something we've learned, there are at least 10 other people out there who are trying to learn the same thing. And if we can reach those 10 people and help them, that is such a win, and that's a legacy that we can all leave behind. And so I think that's the spirit for me in which I do this. And never say never. Who knows, maybe someday I will write a book or sell a course, but that is not at all what I'm doing or working on or trying to accomplish today.
It sounds like you're just focused on showing up, doing what's right for the people that are working with you, doing what's right for the people who are buying the software that you're selling. I think the through line here is really showing up and being authentic with what you're offering.
What I'll say is that I'm very inspired by the author, Adam Grant. He has a book called Give and Take. And the book is not a business book on the surface, but it's the best business book I've ever read. And the entire book is about how the more you give selflessly, the more you will get. And it's a very simple principle, and people say it all the time, but he breaks it down in a way that's very factual and very scientific. And he makes a really strong case for in life as in business, we should lead by giving, and we will always receive back 10X what we've given. And that both made a major impact on me. And I just believe it's the right thing to do. And I do believe it's the right thing to do in marketing as it is in life, as it is with friendships.
Well, thank you, Kathleen Booth, for coming and sharing some of your belief with us today. We really appreciate you passing on just a little bit of your legacy here on the Marketing Hero podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me, Maia.