Sara Pion's interview tips for marketers to avoid working in a toxic environment

Sara Pion's interview tips for marketers to avoid working in a toxic environment

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Sara Pion, Head of Web Experience at Dandy, digs into 6 interview tips for marketers to avoid working in a toxic work environment.

According to an MIT study, a toxic work culture is the number one reason why people say they’ve left their jobs.

Whether it’s a micro-managing boss or an uncooperative team, a toxic work environment can make it dreadful to go to work on Mondays and prevent you from doing your best work.

Marketers have it worst.

Everyone has an opinion on what the marketing team should be doing, which means people could become over-critical and (sometimes) abusive to marketers.

So how do you avoid working in a toxic environment?

One way is to nip it early by asking smart interview questions. Remember—you’re interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you.

Enter Sara Pion, Head of Web Experience at Dandy. She has worked as a marketing leader at some of the fastest-growing tech startups, including Dandy, Voiceflow, Alyce, and Drift. Sara has seen way too many marketers get burned by a toxic environment.

Here’s why:

There are a lot of leaders out there who think that they have a concept and a grasp of what marketing is. And then, if a leader comes in and their ideas do not align with their ideas, there's going to be a lot of friction. Ultimately the CEO in that situation usually believes that they are correct. And that's why the average tenure for marketing leaders is under two years.

Today, Sara shares 5 interview questions every marketer should ask to avoid working in a toxic environment.

In this Marketing Powerups episode, you’ll learn:

  1. Red flags to watch out for during the interview process.
  2. Questions to ask interviewers about work culture.
  3. How to get out of a toxic work environment.
  4. One power-up that’s helped accelerate Sara’s career.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcast and Spotify now, or watch it on YouTube.

I want to thank the sponsor of this episode, 42/Agency.

When you're in scale-up mode, and you have KPIs to hit, the pressure is on to deliver demos and signups.

And it's a lot to handle: demand gen, email sequences, revenue ops, and more! That’s where 42/Agency, founded by my friend Kamil Rextin, can help you.

They’re a strategic partner that’s helped B2B SaaS companies like ProfitWell, Teamwork, Sprout Social and Hubdoc build a predictable revenue engine.

If you’re looking for performance experts and creatives to solve your marketing problems at a fraction of the cost of in-house, look no further.

Go to to talk to a strategist to learn how you can build a high-efficiency revenue engine now.

⭐️ 6 questions marketers should ask interviewers

Sara Pion shares a list of six of her favorite interview questions to help marketers suss out if potential employers can potentially be a toxic company. You can better understand the company's priorities, leadership style, and overall health by asking these questions.

Let's jump in:

1. What measurement process do you have right now to track the performance of marketing?

Understanding a company's approach to tracking marketing performance is essential. A transparent and established measurement process indicates that the company values marketing and respects its employees' expertise.

"If they have not prioritized looking into marketing and understanding what those goals are, they're going to lean on you to tell them and then whatever you say that they don't like, they're not going to agree with if they're a toxic CEO."

2. What's an example of how leadership implemented employee feedback?

A positive work environment promotes trust, autonomy, and respect. Pion suggests this question to determine if the company's leadership is open to employees disagreeing and pushing back on ideas. After all, you're being hired for your expertise, and your input should be valued.

"You want to join a company where you get trust, autonomy, and respect. This question can help you suss out if the company's leadership is comfortable with employees disagreeing with them and pushing back on their ideas. They're hiring you because you're an expert at what you do!"

3. How will you measure success in this role?

Pion emphasizes the importance of knowing how the company's leadership will measure your success. Having clear expectations from the start ensures you can work towards common goals and avoid misunderstandings or misaligned priorities.

4. What marketing channels do you think the company should focus on?

Pion believes that "80% of your marketing should really be focused on building the foundations like your SEO and content distribution, not just promoting or writing content, but making sure it's distributed to places that you want it to."

Asking this question can reveal whether the company has a strategic marketing approach or needs to pay attention to essential channels.

5. What's your runway and burn rate right now?

Knowing the financial health of the company you're joining is vital. Pion warns, "You don't want to join the company and then find out they're burning through $10 million a month with only 30 employees!" This question can help you avoid unstable or financially irresponsible companies.

6. What is your demo-to-close rate?

Pion advises paying close attention to the company's demo-to-close rate, which could indicate poor product-market fit.

"If it's single digits and they're not an enterprise SaaS company, that could be an indication that there isn't a lot of product market fit there. If you're coming in as a marketer trying to convince someone to buy something they're not in the market for and will not be in the market for, that's setting yourself up to be a scapegoat."

As a marketer, you don't want to be a scapegoat for a company trying to sell a product that simply doesn't have demand.

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    🎉 About Sara Pion

    Before joining Dandy as Head of Web Experience, Sara Pion led marketing teams at brands like VoiceFlow, Drift, Alice and more. She was even part of an experimental marketing team at Drift. She’s spent her career fine-tuning the way companies serve their customer base through innovative strategies and a customer-forward mindset. When she’s not leading the industry in community growth and support, she’s either admiring the oxford comma, boxing or co-hosting her professional growth and development podcast “Self Control & Cheese.”

    🕰️ Timestamps and transcript

    • [00:00] Introduction
    • [01:54] Spotting red flags during marketing interviews
    • [08:21] Marketing red flags: Tips to avoid toxic companies
    • [12:05] The importance of trust in marketing and leadership
    • [13:19] What to ask during a marketing interview
    • [15:53] Setting expectations for marketers in the workplace
    • [17:17] Implementing employee feedback at a business level
    • [19:14] 42 agency - my number one recommended demand Gen agency
    • [20:02] Questions to ask before joining a company during layoffs
    • [26:31] How to survive in a toxic marketing environment
    • [32:38] Tips on career growth: How to structure one on ones
    • [36:22] Tips for career growth in marketing

    Episode transcript

    A toxic culture is the number one reason why people say they've left their jobs according to an MIT study. Whether it's a micromanaging boss or an unhelpful team, a toxic work environment can make it dreadful to go to work on Mondays and prevent you from doing your best works. And marketers have it worse. Everyone has an opinion on what the marketing team should be doing, which means people could become over critical and sometimes abusive to marketers. How do you avoid working in a toxic environment? One way is to nip it in the bud early by asking smart interview questions. Remember, you are interviewing the company as much as they're interviewing you. That's where 

    SARA PION: comes in. She's worked as a marketing leader at some of the fastest growing tech startups, including Dandy, Voiceflow, ALICE and Drift. And she's seen way too many marketers get burned by toxic environment. Here's why.

    SARA PION: Yeah, I unfortunately think this is a very common occurrence, especially because there are a lot of leaders out there who think that they have a concept and a grasp of what marketing is. And then, if a leader comes in and their ideas do not align with their ideas, there's going to be a lot of friction. And ultimately the CEO in that situation usually believes that they are correct. And that's why the average tenure for marketing leaders is under two years.

    RAMLI JOHN: Today, Sara shares her five interview questions that every marketer should ask to avoid working at a toxic work environment. This Marketing Powerups episode, you learn first red flags to watch out or during the interview process. Second, questions to ask interviewers about work culture. Third how to get out of a toxic work environment. And number four, one power up that's helped Sara accelerate her career. Before we get started, I created a free Powerups cheat sheet that you can download, fill in and use, Sara Peons five interview questions. You can go to marketingpowerups. com now to get it or find the link in the description and show notes. Are you ready? Let's go.

    ANNOUNCER: Marketing Powerups. Ready? Go. Here's your host, Ramli John.

    RAMLI JOHN: Well, our chat's going to be around really about how marketers can spot red flags, especially during interviews. Early in my career I've had situations where I missed that red flag, joined a startup, had a CEO. Ended up screaming at everybody in the company including marketing, and I lasted only six months. And I left just because I felt like I was not treated like a human at all. And I'm just talking with other marketers, it seems like this is not an isolated incident where marketing is treated that way. I'm curious if you heard the same thing with other marketers you've talked to have similar experience like this?

    SARA PION: : Yeah, I unfortunately think this is a very common occurrence, especially because there are a lot of leaders out there who think that they have a concept and a grasp of what marketing is. And then if a leader comes in and their ideas do not align with their ideas, there's going to be a lot of friction. Ultimately, the CEO in that situation usually believes that they are correct. And that's why the average tenure for marketing leaders is under two years. But I think also, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in startups where CEOs will say a lot to get people to join their company and then true colors are revealed after the fact. And you'll usually know by three months in, if not before, " Oh, this isn't the place I thought it was." And I call it the ick. Similar to how people get the ick in dating, of once you get the ick for the company that you work for you, it's really hard to reverse it. It's really hard for the company as a whole to reverse their behavior. And usually, you have maximum a quarter once you get the ick before you head on out.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's exactly what happened to me. Three months in, I felt the ick. Within three months, I essentially left that situation just because once again, it was not a good situation to be in. Mental health was definitely damaged. That I'm curious why you think that it's marketing. It's once again talking to other marketers who joined startups, this is not an isolated incident. Why is that? It seems like it's engineering and support. I'm entirely sure. I've never worked in that field, but it seems like it's not as usual of an occurrence as it is with marketers who are taken advantage of, more often than not.

    SARA PION: : Yeah, I think there's a level of, there are different levels of respect for those functions within an organization that also coincides with how much the founders or CEOs or leadership in general cares. And so unfortunately, I think support is lower on the leadership caring list for them to pay so much attention to every single process and every single macro and every single experience that you have with a customer. They just want to see CSAP customer support ratings. Having worked in support, it is the most important role in an organization and often overlooked by a lot. Engineering on the other hand, there's a ton of respect. Most of non- technical leadership has no idea how to do an engineer's job. They're like, " Do it. We're going to leave you alone. Do it. Here's a ton of money. Here's all of the shares of our company. We trust you so much, love you so much. Goodbye." And it is visible in a sense. But if you're a backend engineer, you're building systems and databases, they don't see that, but they know it's necessary to run. Marketing is incredibly visible at every single point, an inflection point of a company and a customer's journey. And it's very simple. Marketing as a concept is simple, but it's not easy. And so, there's a level of trust of a CEO or leadership who doesn't understand marketing that is essentially, " I could do this better than them." As well as they care a lot about how the market perceives them and sometimes that care and how a leader perceives the importance of their business is not aligned with how the market sees their business. And bad CEOs don't like being told no or that they're wrong. Or that they don't see the market in a way that is aligned with actual data. I've worked with companies where the CEO has an inflated sense of importance of the product and the company had a really hard time closing deals because the price of the product didn't represent the functionality you got. But that was somehow a marketing problem because we couldn't position it correctly. When it was really an engineering product marketing, product market fit problem. But it's really easy to point a finger at the people who own the website and at the people who own the ads and at the people who own community engagement. And say, " You're doing a bad job." Because then you don't have to be introspective and be like, " Did I start a company that might not be necessary in the market?" Because that's a harder question than why is our close rate 2%?

    RAMLI JOHN: That's so true. I mean I think it's the people's desire to be more like Steve Jobs where he has this field of distortion. Where there's reality and here's the perception of the founder and they just have to distort the field enough to make people believe it. And if it doesn't happen, who's the first one to get blamed? It's usually the one who is who's front and center. Usually marketing and sales is the who they're going to blame for that.

    SARA PION: : It's easy. It's easy to blame marketing and sales.

    RAMLI JOHN: What I'm hearing is that it's a big part of the problem is it's on the leaders, on the founders who have this unexpected, who have a perception of what marketing can and can't do. And it's sometimes incorrect. Before somebody, a marketer can come in. I hear some of your tips and advice, especially first of all around red flags on mar what marketers should be looking out for so that they can avoid situations where they see, they enjoy a toxic company. And then ending up having to stay for two years just so that they can have it on their resume and move on to the next one. Or in my situation leaving after just six months. What are some red flags that you would advise marketers to look out for specifically within the leadership or even within anything within the company to make sure that they don't join a toxic company?

    SARA PION: : Yeah. I would say there's, having worked at really early stage startups before, post- series A, pre- series B startups, there's a really common occurrence of technical founders who have career pathing and visions and goals for their engineering and product teams. And simply cannot and will not prioritize that same thing for the marketing team. And you can't necessarily ask, " Will you prioritize my career growth?" Because people will say yes, but you can ask, " What measurement processes do you have in place today, right now, not for when I come in, but right now this very second to understand the success of and evolution of this body of work?" Because if they have not prioritized looking into marketing and understanding what those goals are, they're going to lean on you to tell them. And then whatever you say that they don't like, they're not going to agree with if they're a toxic CEO. If they haven't even put the thought in place of how you'll be measured and goaled and how they will view your success, and it's going to be up to you to define that, that's going to be an easy way for a CEO to disagree with the way that you've decided to measure the function that you have been given. Which is not great. I would also say having a vision for your team that aligns with the state of your team right now. If you are a post- series A company expecting the output of a Series D company, you are crazy. That is just not realistic. And that's a great way for your team to burn themselves out incredibly fast. And you can't say, and again, you can't ask the question of like, " Hey, are you going to treat us like a post- series D team? Yes or no?" That's not great. But you can always ask, " Who are your company role models and how do you expect your team today to emulate that work?" Because if you're expecting the same output from a content team of 10 to a content team of 100, that's not realistic. But if you're expecting X percent growth that's aligned with the previous growth of that team when they went from one to 10, that's realistic. That's based off of data. And not just based off of some arbitrary number in your head that sounds great. And then you get to say it to the board and then you have to hold a marketing team to it and they're going to look at you like you're speaking tongues.

    RAMLI JOHN: That makes sense. Yeah. You got, the first one you mentioned is around making a career path for marketers. Second is they make sure that their expectation is set for the level of the company. I believe there's a third one that you have shared before.

    SARA PION: : Yes. Trying to figure out if the CEO or a leadership team actually believes in marketing. And trusts and you'll enter the organization with trust. Because a lot of leadership teams are like, " Yes, we need marketing, but no, not like that. No, not like that either. No, not like that either."

    RAMLI JOHN: That's the wrong kind of marketing.

    SARA PION: : That, yeah, you're doing marketing wrong. I'm just like, " Okay, you do it then." You can ask to get a sense of how flexible and trusting they're with their employees, " Can you give me an example of how employee feedback was implemented at a business level?" Because if you're open to receiving feedback from any level of employee at the full business level, you'll be okay with me coming in and saying, " I cannot promise you pipeline within my first six months here, and here are the reasons why." You won't look at me like, " I should have never hired this person." You'll look at me like, " I trust that you are the expert in this field and I'm going to take your word for it."

    RAMLI JOHN: That makes a ton of sense. Are there any questions that you would ask around, do they understand marketing? Just basic, what does marketing mean? Like I said-

    SARA PION: : What does marketing mean to you? Yeah. I would say, I would similar to the first question of what are the measurement processes that you put in place? How will you measure my success here? Because if it's always going to be pipeline, but it's not going to be share a voice or overall engagement, then you want a demand gen person, you don't want a marketing leader. Because the CMO should not just be responsible for pipeline, but they should also help with brand recognition. I should be able to look in Gong to see how many people mention our organic social channels because that's how they heard of us first. Or they engaged with affiliates or partners or something along those lines where the other marketing initiatives that have been done besides direct response demand gen is still important to you as a founder. And so, asking them what channels do you think your company should focus on? And if they say, " All of them," bad.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's so true.

    SARA PION: : But if they also say, " We want someone who's always on the cutting edge, always the person who's trying every new channel and every new thing," you're never going to build a solid foundation to have space and room and repeatability for experimentation. 80% of your marketing should really be focused on building the foundations, like your SEO, your content distribution, not just promoting or writing content, but making sure it's distributed places that you want it to. You have a marketing innovation platform. You have the right kind of data that helps with sales discovery. You have a brand voice, you have positioning. All that needs to come before you can try out UGC on TikTok.

    RAMLI JOHN: That makes a ton of sense.

    SARA PION: : But if you only want me to focus on TikTok, I'm going to ask a few follow up questions because I don't agree. Especially with earlier stage companies where the foundation has not been set.

    RAMLI JOHN: That makes sense. I love how the questions you've been asking, that you're suggesting marketers ask is around setting expectation. You're setting expectation about the career path, setting expectation about the goals. You're setting expectation about what marketing can and can't do and what marketing should be doing. That's essentially what I'm hearing is when you set the expectation instead of saying yes to everything, you're more likely to be not accepted in a toxic environment. Or you're joining a company that actually understand what marketing can and can't do is what I'm hearing. Is that right?

    SARA PION: : Yeah. I mean if you are interviewing for a company and you see that the CEO is really just looking for a yes person, someone who will agree with them every step and you're okay with that, join that company. Heck yeah. Go for it. Who am I to tell you what to do with your life? But if you want to join a company where you get trust, autonomy, respect, trying to suss out are you looking for someone to agree with you? Or how comfortable are you with disagreements or me pushing back on your ideas? Is that is open communication? That's a question that you can ask of us. When has employee feedback been implemented at a business level? How comfortable are you receiving feedback? Because as a CEO, you are a leader, but you are not an expert in every single area of the business. Do you recognize that? That is why you hire people. You are not just a one- man band. If you're trying to bring in other people you have to trust and respect them.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's true. And I feel like actually pushing back a little bit from my experience, actually it helps other people respect you more.

    SARA PION: : Absolutely.

    RAMLI JOHN: Because then they're hiring the marketer because they have more experience in marketing. And them saying, " Hey, this doesn't make sense."

    SARA PION: : Totally.

    RAMLI JOHN: Then they probably, I would respect that.

    SARA PION: : Yeah. If you're able to set boundaries and expectations in a polite but stern way, people will see you as like, " Oh, this person knows what they're doing." As well as someone comes to you with, " Hey, we need to do this right now at this very second." Being able to say, " These are the priorities of the team right now. I can reprioritize this. What do you think is most appropriate to get bumped?" And then they can see how their request is aligned with what the team is actually working on and they can see for themselves that asking for title case versus sentence case on the headline of a single page may not be most impactful right now at this very second. We'll get to it. We're not going to prioritize it this hour, today. Maybe next week. But yeah, so being able to communicate, " Thank you so much for looking out for us. This is what we're working on right now. It actually may be something that is impacted by the work that we're doing down the line. Here's where we're at in terms of status. Does this need to be finished today, tomorrow, next week, this month?" Et cetera.

    RAMLI JOHN: That makes a ton of sense. Before we continue, I want to thank those who made this video possible, 42 Agency. Now when you are on scale up mode and you have KPIs to hit, the pressure is on to deliver demos and signups. And it's a allow to handle, demand general, email sequences, rev ops, and even more. That's where 42 Agency founded by my good friend, Kamil Rextin, can help you. They're a strategic partner that's helped B2B size companies like ProfitWell, Teamworks, Product Social and Hubdoc build a predictable revenue engine. If you're looking for performance experts and creatives to solve your marketing problems at a fraction of the cost of in- house, look no further. Go to 42 agency. com to talk to a strategist to learn how you can build a high efficiency revenue engine now. You can find that link in the description below. Let's jump back in. Those are great questions. Do you have any other questions that marketer should be asking, especially in light of what's happening in the tech world with layoffs and stuff like that? What are other questions that people should be asking company that they're joining so that they don't join a toxic company once again?

    SARA PION: : Yeah. What's your runway? How much money do you have right now?

    RAMLI JOHN: That's a good question.

    SARA PION: : If they're unwilling to share, then probably not a lot. But that's absolutely a question that you can ask. You can also ask for, especially in startups, how many shares outstanding do you have right now? And then you can assess that with the value, the latest value valuation of the company. And see, " Okay, if I were to get shares, X many shares, I know that they'd be worth this much. And that I'm getting this percentage of the company." You're allowed to ask about things like that. I would say some other questions, yeah, asking for runway is very... Okay. I would say if you want to get a little spicy.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's what I was going to go for. Give me those spicy questions. Gives me the spicy one.

    SARA PION: : If you're really feeling like this place better be the most open and transparent place that I've ever worked, and you get to have a leadership call because it's a smaller company in your interview process, and this company has done layoffs since 2020. You can say since 2020. Because from 2020 to today, the market's been weird to put it simply. My question would be did leadership take a pay cut before they thought about doing layoffs? Were you looking out for your people? Or were you looking out for your bottom line and you were unwilling to sacrifice your way of life for your people? Because at the end of the day, a company is a company. Leaders are going to look out for themselves, but you as an employee also have to look out for yourself. If you're joining a company who they are going to tell you or they might tell you or they're going to be unwilling to tell you how they look out for their people, that's a great indication of how you're going to be treated as an employee. I would say only if you're feeling particularly confident that day, I would definitely ask that question so that you also feel like you are making the right choice for yourself. You are interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing you. Other things that you can ask for is burn rate. How much money are you spending every month?

    RAMLI JOHN: That's a good one too.

    SARA PION: : Are you spending$ 10 million and you have 30 people? That's not awesome.

    RAMLI JOHN: Right. Yeah, true.

    SARA PION: : You can also ask about close rate. Once the demo was requested, what is your close rate? You don't have to tell me how many deals you've closed this year, but what is your close rate from demo to close? If it is single digits and they're not an enterprise SaaS company, that could be an indication that there isn't a lot of product market fit there. And people are trying a little bit too hard to close a deal. Especially if you're coming in as a marketer, trying to convince someone to buy something they're not in the market for.

    RAMLI JOHN: Correct.

    SARA PION: : And they will not be in the market for, that's setting yourself up to be a scapegoat for sure. And then churn rate and retention. Your close rate may be 75%. But if your churn rate is also 50%, then the retention there is not amazing. And again, you don't have to ask for how many customers churned in for how much. But what is your churn rate? Is it 15, 20%? Okay, there's some work that can be done there, but you're not believing customers. But if it's higher than 50%, is the product actually driving value for the customers? Is your sales team just amazing at closing and lying potentially and that value is not being shown in the product? And if a company doesn't want to disclose this information or they aren't tracking this information either, even at an earlier stage level, that's a red flag, I would say.

    RAMLI JOHN: 100%. Yeah. Might even be another red flag if they don't know any of those things. They're close rate, their churn rate. We don't know what our close rate is. That is really, really sketchy. What I'm really hearing here is you mentioned it before we started recording, as an employee, as somebody who's being hired, you also have to be a little selfish. You have to be watching out for yourself and trying to analyze, " Hey, if I get hired, I want to make sure that I'm going to be on in this company for many years. Not just, there will be another round of layoffs," like what's happening in other companies. I think that's what I'm hearing here is you're breaking down their metrics and numbers, their run rate, their burn rate. So that you feel a little bit secure about joining that company, for sure.

    SARA PION: : Yeah, 100%. A company and HR, this is nothing against the HR firms, but HR is not created to look out for the employees. It's created to look out for the company, legally, but also success wise. The company as an entity is always going to look out for the company. If you prioritize the company over yourself, you're not going to get that same prioritization in return in a free market. It would be great, but it's just not really how it works. You have to be looking out for yourself and you have to ask these hard questions and hold companies to the standard that you want to be held to as well. Because usually you don't join a company just to leave three months later because you want to. You join a company because you want to stick around, you want to build something.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's right.

    SARA PION: : You want to get experience doing something, you want to be a part of an exciting business endeavor. Or you just want a job and that's fine too. But you want that job to have a level of stability as well.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's true. That makes a lot of sense. We've been talking a lot about red flags and questions to ask before a marketer joins. Red flags to avoid joining a toxic company. What would your advice be for marketers who are already in that situation, in terms of what they can do or how they can structure their one- on- one with their bosses or any other advice that they can follow along so that they can survive or get out of there?

    SARA PION: : Yeah, I mean I would say, if you're experiencing issues, but they're not giving you the ick, they're not making your day to day and your job harder. You're not getting fought on every single thing that you're trying to do. There are ways that you can set boundaries, have communications with your manager to alleviate those situations and create a better working environment for yourself. However, if your CEO fundamentally doesn't understand marketing, if you're being asked to work hardcore, I'm talking specifically about Twitter.

    RAMLI JOHN: Hardcore.

    SARA PION: : I've had a lot to say about how to treat your employees after seeing the last three weeks of Twitter. But if you're being expected to all of a sudden work three times as hard for the same pay, that's not a great environment to be in. If you're being asked to prioritize everything because" everything is a priority," that's another argument that could feel like there isn't a winner. And if you fundamentally can't learn anything from the people around you, even if it's not a toxic environment, but you feel stagnant and you want to grow, I've had conversations where I've been like, " This is my career goals." And I've had leadership say back to me, " We can't accommodate that." Then I'm like, " Thank you so much for your time. I will continue to work." I'm not going to tell them this, but I'll be like, " Okay, understood." But that's also a clue to me of, okay, this is not a place that's where I can grow and I'm looking to grow right now. And that doesn't mean I didn't have incredible experiences here before, up until this point, but this is now my critical point to leave. But if there are fixable problems where it feels like there's just miscommunication or you feel like you could have a sit down conversation with your manager because a stakeholder from another company's or another department is holding you to a standard that doesn't feel correct. Or you feel as though there are issues that could be mitigated. Bringing those things up in one- on- ones, not just as problems, but also bringing potential solutions as well.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's right.

    SARA PION: : I'm all for giving feedback, managing up to be like, " Hey, next time this is what happened. I would love if next time I could go like this. And I'll also hold you to that and remind you to make sure that it goes like that. But it really was detrimental to how this rolled out when I wasn't included or wasn't involved or was left out of these conversations." I would say bring those conversations up to your manager and don't be afraid to also direct your one- on- ones with your manager. All of my managers, I've had two at Dandy so far. And I'm like, " Hey, by the way, the last one- on- one of every month we're talking career stuff. And once a quarter, we're talking growth planning." So that they can also prepare because managers owe you career pathing. If they say, " I don't have that, hold them to them delivering that to you. It's not up to you as a person also to be 100% responsible for your career path. Your manager literally has to help you. But then on the issue side of things like, " Hey, I've noticed that I'm being asked to do these things by this department. I don't think it's aligned with this. Can you have a conversation with their team leader as well to set expectations throughout the full team?" And if your manager's willing to go at bat for you, which a good manager always should, they're going to be like, " Absolutely, no problem. I'm so sorry that people have been coming to you with that. I'll make sure to set expectations the right way." It is your manager's job to be the filter of what comes down to you and deprioritize things that you should not be prioritizing. That's a sign of a good manager. There aren't as many great managers as we may want, but that's where, when it comes down to you managing up. Of this is my expectation, can you please make sure that this gets done? And then checking in on that in writing via email, in Asana, in a public channel in Slack, not in DMs. Making sure that there is a traceable path to your requests so that it doesn't come down to what we were talking about it in the DMs. And it was a he said, she said kind of situation. But I've set boundaries and expectations for my head of marketing where I'm like, " I need this by this date. If you get it to me after that date, awesome. I will include it in the second or first sprint post- launch, but it will not be included in launch. Because I need for myself, my sanity and for the rest of the people working on this project, we need to adhere to these deadlines." And a good manager or a good leader even will be like, " Understood." A bad leader will be like, " No. You will implement the things when I say to implement them. Everything's a priority."

    RAMLI JOHN: I love what I'm hearing around nearly you are taking ownership of your growth. You're asking for what is the career growth within this company. What I've heard is, I want to make sure I get this right because it's so good. Maybe I should should start doing this. Every month, last one- on- one of the month you have career planning growth. And then every quarter you have a growth discussion. Is that what I heard correctly?

    SARA PION: : Yeah, exactly. Especially, I've started every company in ambiguity. Love me an early stage startup. I've never been onboarded. It's just the nature of startups and honestly, even some larger companies that just aren't organized. But I've been the first person to hold my title at every company that I've worked at, which means that there isn't a set 30, 60, 90. That end of month is like, am I meeting the expectations? Can we talk about core competencies for next month or even next quarter? Because if you have more other quarterly planning initiative, just making sure that what I'm prioritizing day- to- day is aligned with what you're expecting of me. If you're working in ambiguity and your title is head of marketing strategy, which means anything and everything. Which is what my title is. Making sure that I can focus efforts for an extended period of time to make an impact. Because if I'm split thin, then I'm going to be making half an impact on a bunch of different places. Whereas if I can focus, I can be a lot more impactful to this organization. And even as you grow in your career, you're getting less advice from your managers and you are instead telling them why you're prioritizing the things that you are. One day, your one- on- ones just switch vibes. Nobody tells you that. You can't really prepare for it. But you are the owner of your channel, your whatever. It's then up to you to be like, " This is what I'm doing and why." And being prepared with those conversations with data and reasoning and how you've already potentially tested why that's most important. A lot of my job is also experimentation and being statistically significant within my decisions. I can say, " Hey, we ran the small test, hit stats. We're going to move forward with this because I'm 95 to 99% confident that lift was due to what I did."

    RAMLI JOHN: That's pretty awesome.

    SARA PION: : Data. It's your friend.

    RAMLI JOHN: Yeah, I know. And it's a great way to use data to ask for a raises too. I know year- end is coming up, a lot of companies are doing annual reviews. And having that data is like, " Hey, here's what I brought to the table in terms of lifting KPIs."

    SARA PION: : Totally. And even an ambiguity where the CEO may not have defined what success looks like for you. I've had sit down conversations with leadership and CEOs to be like, " What goal can we work towards so that when we hit that we are allocated more money, more resources in the form of headcount, raises? Whatever. Let's all align on the metric and the output you want to see from this team so that we can work towards that. And you know we can send you updates and we can keep you informed and you feel as though we are earning your trust to then receive compensation, headcount, budget, anything along those lines." And if a CEO's like, " I don't know," bit of a red flag.

    RAMLI JOHN: Yeah, definitely. Thank you for sharing all of this. The red flags, the questions, how to structure one- on- ones. I want to shift focus now and shift gears around Powerups for career. For yourself, you've been in the tech industry. You started in support. Now, you marketing for the last five years. Is there any power ups, anything that's helped you accelerate your career growth? We talked about the 101 already, but is there anything else that's helped you, whether that's starting a podcast or having a network or anything at all that's helped you power up your career?

    SARA PION: : Yeah, I think there's a lot of very overarching advice, especially in the marketing world about personal branding and building that, I don't know, initiative for yourself. I don't think it's for everyone, and I don't think it has to be. You don't have to start a podcast. You don't have to post on LinkedIn, you don't have to be on TikTok. You don't have to focus your whole life around the great work that you do. What's been the most helpful for me, especially starting my career in support, learning how to be the most helpful person in the room has been what has gotten me to where I am with the network of people who will vouch for me. It's not because they like my LinkedIn post and they see them. It's because we have worked together and they like the work that I do. You can write LinkedIn posts all day long, but if you're not a fun, good, helpful, strong employee, you're not going to have a backing of people who've actually worked with you who are going to vouch for you. And so, that doesn't come with knowing everything all the time, everywhere. But I am a know- it- all. I do like to stay informed. I'm nosy. I like to gossip, but not in a bad way. I just like to know what's going on. I like to be the main point of contact of, " Hey, when is this launching? Or Hey, who should I talk to about this?" I like to have that overarching context so I can say, " Oh, I know I saw this in the marketing calendar. It's going to be launched Monday of next week. Oh, I don't own that, but I do know who the owner is. Reach out to this person and ask them specifically about this." Just knowing more than your bubble not only makes you better at your job because you have the context of what everyone else is doing, but it also makes you helpful and useful. And even if you do grow in your career and you are at that higher level being a leader that people know, like, and trust internally does amazing things for your" personal brand" or how people perceive you as an employee. That's not something I'll ever stop doing. But earlier on in my career, I was also a yes person. Anything that you asked me to do, I would do so I could get the experience of doing it because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know what I wanted to be. I didn't know what I wanted to focus on. And so, up until probably a year or two ago, I would say yes to almost every opportunity. Whether it was internally at my job or consulting on the side. And then I got really burnt out and really tired. And I was like, "I have to focus on being good at my job." No. But especially when you're early on in your career and you think that you know what you want to do, you're going to have five careers.

    RAMLI JOHN: That's true.

    SARA PION: : In your lifetime, you don't have to be so hyper- focused on, okay, I started in support, but I need to get to marketing. I did not start at Drift in support thinking that in nine months I need to be on the marketing team. I just became the most knowledgeable person about our product. And then the marketing team nine months in was like, " We need someone to run Drift for drift. Sara knows everything. You're up, you're on the marketing team." I was like, " Great. Didn't want to be in support forever. This is a great exit."

    RAMLI JOHN: Love it.

    SARA PION: : Sounds good to me. But having that visibility by being helpful is what keeps you top of mind for those opportunities to expand your day- to- day competencies.

    RAMLI JOHN: I love that. And it's be the most helpful person in the room. I love that. I saw this ad once that said, " Be the smartest marketer in the room." I'm like, that's not always fun. I'm not sure if I want to be in that room. But be the most helpful person in the room just feel so at the core of marketing. I mean, you want to be helpful to customers and you want to be helpful to other people. Thank you. Really thank you for that. In terms of advice for your younger self, if you can give yourself advice. When you were just joining tech, what would be one or two pieces of advice that you would give your younger Sara, the younger version of you, if you could go back in time and do that?

    SARA PION: : The world's not going to end if you don't respond to a support chat within two seconds. What I did in the beginning of my career, which was celebrated at the time, which I think is also a minor red flag. But that was just working at a hyper- growth company, was being celebrated for being a team player because I was always available all the time. And this is another potential red flag. If you're only a team player when you're sacrificing your mental health and your personal time, you're not actually a team player. You're just the best cog in the machine. You do your best work when you are well rested and you have time to step away from your work because you're not thinking about it all the time. But if burnout is celebrated, red flag. But because support is so transactional and so on all the time, especially with chat, I would be on the train going home, responding to support chats.

    RAMLI JOHN: Wow.

    SARA PION: : I would be at home watching TV with my laptop open, answering support chats. I remember talking to someone who was worried about buying Drift. And I was like, " Well, I'm online with you right now at 10:00 PM helping you out." And she didn't even close, so it wasn't even worth it.

    RAMLI JOHN: Oh, no. Shoot, that's good.

    SARA PION: : But you show up as your best self to work when you give yourself time and space away from work. Find hobbies that you don't monetize. I love growing vegetables now. It's so fun. What a blast. Because I can just turn my brain off and water my tomatoes, and water my peppers.

    RAMLI JOHN: And watch them grow.

    SARA PION: : Send pictures. Yeah, send pictures to my parents like they're my children. I'm like, " Look at my peppers." And I have time to reset my brain.

    RAMLI JOHN: I hope you learn a thing or two on how to avoid working at a toxic environment. You can follow Sara on LinkedIn and Twitter to get some of her sweet content. Really love some of her threads and stuff that she posts on LinkedIn. Find those linked in the show notes and description. Thanks to Sara for being on the show. If you enjoyed this episode, you'd love the Marketing Powerups newsletter. Share the actionable takeaways and break down the frameworks of world- class marketers. You can go to marketing powerups. com, subscribe. And you'll instantly unlock the three best frameworks that top marketers use hit their KPIs consistently and wow their colleagues. I want to say thank you to you for listening. And please like and follow Marketing Powerups on YouTube, Apple Podcast and Spotify. If you're feeling extra generous, kindly leave a review on Apple Podcast and Spotify and leave a comment on YouTube. Goes a long way in others finding out about Marketing Powerups. Thanks to Mary Sullivan for creating the artwork and design. And thank you to inaudible for editing the intro video. And of course, thank you for listening. That's all for now. Have a powered up day.SPEAKER 3Marketing Powerups. Until the next episode.


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