Five Things I Learned from BrightTALK CEO Paul Heald
I met Paul Heald when he walked into the small day office on the twenty-fifth floor of a San Francisco skyscraper. He was to be my fourth of five interviews that day for a marketing role at BrightTALK. We shook hands and he swiftly got to work grilling me on my past experiences, goals and aspirations. At one point he paused, “You know, you’re quite interesting, Kathryn.” I smiled and shrugged. I remember appreciating that a CEO had taken the time to get to know me and really consider the role that I might play in the business.
When I started at BrightTALK a few weeks later, Paul was there to greet me. “You know, together we really can build something great,” he told me. Over the past five and a half years of doing just that, he has taught me a lot about building a great business and growing a strong career. Here are five of the many things I learned:
Build something of value
At the heart of BrightTALK is the exchange of value. Thought leaders from around the world share insights and ideas with professionals all over the globe. Professionals use this information to excel in their careers, move projects forward and identify key products to help them get stuff done faster. Companies engage these professionals by providing insightful information. They build trust with those most relevant to their businesses on BrightTALK and grow their revenue.
Paul taught me that generating revenue, or increasing your salary, starts with delivering genuine value. Someday in the distant future, his legacy will be teaching companies to drive revenue through content marketing and teaching young professionals to build their careers based on creating value.
Connect your results to revenue
There is no better way to show your impact on a business than quantifying your contribution to revenue. In sales, this is pretty straightforward, but even the sales team is supported by multiple teams of people working to build the business. As a marketer, I measured the number of people who attended the webinars I produced and the number of those who converted to leads and then customers. I could trace back the amount of revenue my work had influenced. This led to more responsibility and the opportunity to build a team of digital marketers focused on driving audiences to events on BrightTALK.
Paul thinks about each role in the business as having a chart or graph that shows results. The goal is to make them go upwards and to the right at an increasing rate over time. At one point Paul told me, “I made a lot of charts when I was your age.” Charts use numbers to help you win arguments. You can certainly question the data behind the graph, but it inevitably tells a story and creates a visual impact that can sway opinions.
Be able to name what you’ve done for the business at any given time
It’s not enough to get work done; you have to communicate about what you’re accomplishing to be recognized. I used to think it was obvious what I was doing because I was spending so much time doing it, but that’s rarely the case. Being able to talk about it and explain why it matters is equally important. This doesn’t mean bragging about what you’re doing, but it does mean making sure that your manager is informed. Taking a moment each week to reflect on what you’ve accomplished helps you find the right words to say when you have the opportunity to share what you’re working on. It also is a good check for you to make sure that you are working on things that matter. Sending lots of emails doesn’t count. Using email to move a specific project forward that will impact the business in a specific way does matter.
Paul taught me to be prepared to describe what I’m doing for the business in numbers at any given time. He has a habit of focusing on part of the business in detail for a few hours at a time. You don’t know when your time is coming, but then suddenly the spotlight is upon you and it’s time to perform. It felt like having a lighthouse in your midst. At first, I remember being surprised by his questions and not realizing that I would need to know the answers to them. With further reflection, I understood the reasons he would be interested in those questions and how I could provide answers. I got better at anticipating the questions and having the answers. I remember the first time Paul came by my desk unannounced and asked me several questions in rapid succession about the numbers related to the part of the business I ran and I was able to answer all of them off the top of my head. He paused for a moment after I had answered the last one to see if he could think of any others, smiled, and walked away. It was a proud moment, maybe for both of us.
Negotiate to get deals that make sense for your business
It’s common sense to only take a deal if it is going to benefit your business. However, so many vendors approach potential clients with their business in mind instead of that of their clients. I’m often on calls with vendors where they tell me their cost structure, but it doesn’t line up with how I could show return on investment for the expenditure.
I remember being on a call with Paul where he explained to a vendor why their model wouldn’t work for our business. The vendor normally sold to companies using their product for lead generation, but we were looking at the product for audience acquisition. Our return per audience member was much less than a company might expect for return per deal closed; therefore we needed a different cost structure to have a profitable business. In the end, he worked out with the vendor a much lower cost than the initial proposal. He was also prepared to walk away if he didn’t get a deal that made sense for his business. This mentality helped me walk away from a deal that I had worked on for weeks when the terms changed at the last minute. Another time, I used this line of reasoning to reduce the cost of an email service provider by thousands of dollars a month.
Communicate clear thinking to earn seniority
I recently had the opportunity to interview senior marketing professionals for a marketing leadership position open on the team. The experience prompted a conversation about what differentiates effective senior leaders. Paul shared with me his thoughts that effective senior leaders can clearly communicate precise approaches and plans for solving business challenges. Part of this comes from the experience of having tried different approaches and finding the one that works, and part of it is developing the critical thinking skills to know how to apply that experience to new situations. Being able to communicate that thinking clearly will earn you a seat at the table.
One final piece of advice from Paul: look for 10x returns on investment. Paul, I value what you’ve taught me so much and hope that you’ve seen more than a 10x return on your investment in me. And, yes, I’d like at least a 10x return on my stock options.