You can’t outsmart the process with Cat Edmonds

When building a business, knowing where you’re headed is key. In this episode, Tiffany sits down with Cat Edmonds, Sales & Marketing Executive at Blackink IT, to share her thoughts on building the strategy side of a business.

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When you're not clear on what you want the business to be you can't understand how to create momentum in the organization.” -Tiffany

When building a business, knowing where you’re headed is key. In this episode, Tiffany sits down with Cat Edmonds, Sales & Marketing Executive at Blackink IT, to share her thoughts on building the strategy side of a business.

Listen in to hear how human capital, process, and commitment play a huge role.

why really wanted to reach out and chat with you is understanding more about the strategy piece. You started element three at a young age and built it up to be something where now you're able to bring in and empower more young professionals to grow their career. But with that you're growing it and building it at the same time.

Cat: How did you manage having strategy also? Not knowing. Where you're going to go

Tiffany: I'm your host, Tiffany Sauder. And this is Scared Confident. So today we're doing another coffee over microphones, and these are always prompted when somebody reaches out to me kind of saying like, Hey, I've got some questions for you, Tiffany.

And one of my reasons for doing this podcast is that I, as a young woman, young professional, trying to imagine what my life was going to look like. Long to reach out to people who are at a different stage of my life. And so to share these conversations with others, because our questions are not unique ever.

Is there something in your own life that like triggered the strategy question?

Cat: Yeah. So right now I sit in a unique position where I was brought onto our team in June of 2020 as the first person in sales and marketing, no sales or marketing experience. And now we're at a place where we're starting to grow this team.

So I brought on another individual And then starting June, 2022, I'll add two more members to the team. So now there'll be four of us focused on building out our sales and marketing But with that, there needs to be strategy in the way we're going. And we're not just like, all right, let's try everything.

How do you build

Tiffany: that strategy? So there's a couple of different layers of strategy. One is, do you feel like you're clear on what the business strategy is? I would say

Cat: that's what we're working.

So it's really about when we turn the page to 10 years from now because we can all accept that.

Tiffany: The only thing constant in life has changed as like, what is the thing that we want to be. And that is the most critical question to answer because every time we do something, In any discipline, but in particular sales and marketing, we are a moving the brand, the company, the customer towards or away from where we're going.

I think about the downstream effect of bringing on a wrong fit customer, bringing in a wrong fit customer. Guess what all the team has to learn a bunch of stuff that they're never going to use. Again, you start putting pressure on systems to operate in a way that they weren't intended to be built. You then have a case study that you don't actually need because you never want to do that kind of work again, like when you're not clear on what you want the business to be, we can't even totally picture all of the tension that it creates in the organization.

Because it has to work in misalignment all the time. So I started element three 17 years ago at 25 years old to say, I knew what I wanted it to be, would be a lie. Right. Like, I didn't know, but I had some hypotheses. That I needed to prove or disprove to myself. I don't know everything about bucking, but I know that it's the service business like mine and at face value.

There's a lot of people who do what we do. Like it's not in and of itself a unique business. I'll never have a proprietary product, but I had like vantage points that I. Believed were unique to what we could bring to the marketplace. One of the things somebody told me really early, one of my mentors, Marcia stone, about brand as it relates sort of a universal truth is if you sell an intangible like we do as services, your job as a marketer and a brand strategist is to make it tangible.

And I'll give examples of this. If you sell something tangible your job as a brand marketer, Is to make it intangible. So for instance, let's take the example of our phones, right? When apple shows us an commercial about a phone, they show us all the intangible ways that it helps our lives look how fast this is.

You can take a picture at night, you can like, and they start to show like here's how life. Interacts with your phone or how your phone interacts with your life. That's an intangible. They are not selling you actually the dimensions of the phone. They aren't selling you. The processing speed. They aren't, they are not selling you anything tangible about this tangible product.

You and I we're selling ideas. We're selling solutions. We're selling. People's brainwaves. And so the way that we make those tangible to the outside world is we say like, let me show you a framework. Let me show you a process. Let me show you the steps that we go through. Let me show you what happens so that it feels safe to say, can I take these humans who have no names or personality you and put them on an unknown problem with the hopes that they come up with a solution that you don't have yet, that feels like very high risk.

But when you can show a prospect or show the marketplace or train them of like, here's what happens. Here's what happens in discovery. Here's what a roadmap looks like. Here's how, our recommendations confidently give you a starting point and you begin to show them like, yeah, I realize you have a problem that we need to solve, but how do I practically show you the steps we're going to walk through so that you can begin to build some trust?

So that's kind of a truth. So it is critical. That you figure out, who do you want to service? What do you guys want to do more of in the, who you service can look a lot of different ways. It could be an industry, which I think sometimes is the easiest thing for consulting companies to land. I think it can be psychographically.

It can be growth stage, or it could be a work style. Like we specialize in companies who are in a remote first work environment. Like there's so many different ways that you can specialize, but beginning to look at again, your hypothesis. Of where do we think we have the ability to win, but as marketers, we cannot create market velocity until the business has first answered some of those questions.

Sometimes what we are handed is hypotheses about the market and we need to go test those through campaign. Can I get this persona to connect to a belief that we can do this? Can I work with a sales person, ABM campaign to see if we can take our automotive experience and stretch into electric vehicles?

Like, can we see that there's evidence we can feasibly make this happen for ourselves and being thoughtful about the way that you test into your strategy can also be. I think a helpful part of a marketer's toolbox of like, I don't know, but before we bet the whole farm on this, maybe we should put some effort into testing this, going back to Jim Collins.

He says bullets than cannons. How do I launch a bullet at this idea? And calibrate, calibrate, calibrate. If you think about you have this like big, I think about this big satchel of gunpowder. And if I only have enough gunpowder for one Canon, but I have enough gunpowder for a hundred bullets, how do you allow yourself to calibrate into the marketplace by taking some real calculated shots to see like what's connecting and what are people believing?

Our brand can step in.

Cat: You know, probably similar as you guys are a service business, one of your core pieces of how you operate and how you are successful differentiator is your people, how do you sell your people? You know, I think this speaks kinda to that in tangible to tangible, but, you know, I think we can all God and say, We can find marketing companies.

We can find it companies, et cetera. But if our people are, who are, do the great work and make that change, it's really difficult to show that sometimes I think in the sales process or in the discussions, how do you do that?

Tiffany: I don't actually, I truly think brands can claim that their people are their pointed differentiation.

I think it's a really easy. Like hold a fall into. And the reason is as employers and brands, we don't own our people. We don't own them and they can go work for somebody else. And so if you are hooking your value proposition onto a resource that can leave you, you don't actually own anything. And I think that's the thing that most brands are terrified to admit to themselves is that they don't know.

And they're expecting these smart people, these unicorns, this recruiting process to show up at the door and just solve things. And I think the thing that we can do. This is what we do at element three. And we're working on even productizing. This more is the environment we create for smart people to become better humans, better marketers, better problem solvers, better contributors to community is better than anybody else in the planet.

That process I can. Our leadership development, our ability to, you know, do conflict and fierce conversations, training our ability to help people understand how to work with people who aren't exactly like them, our ability to have discipline and accountability and have crucial conversations around those types of things.

That is what makes otherwise good people with great raw material. Exceptional in our environment because I can add those tools to those people and I can own those tools, but I have to have the confidence that I can bring another person in, put them in that process and get another great person. So the people are fantastic and they're part of it.

But the process, the tools, the principles, the disciplines, those I own. As a company and I can get those better and better and better, and I can put good people into it, but I'll never own the people. So

Cat: when you started on that three and as you've grown, how did you start building that process to build your human capital and develop that?

Tiffany: We're at 50 people on our way to a hundred. And so we think about scale differently than we were at when we were at like eight people on our way to 20. But the thing that I cared a lot about, and it was a real point of differentiation in the early days for us was, was my background was as a financial person and not as a creative writer or as a designer.

And so my ability to be able to go in and talk business language first and marketing language second. It was an absolute point of differentiation. And the way I scaled that was that none of my consultants or account executives came from the marketing business. They were all econ grads, business people.

And a lot of them I found had the same background I did. They had like parents that had them do business crap as like middle school. And so somehow at like 27 years old, you knew way more than you should, you know, but really that was like the model. And so they had this like scrappy intuition and this business acumen that was very uncanny and that.

Uh, part of what made me unique in the business. And I had to scale that while I didn't have the time or the tools to teach them. I had to find people who already had a natural propensity towards business and I could teach them the marketing part. So that, that was definitely what helped us get. Inertia early and be different because it really was different.

And what was going on in the marketplace around us at the time. email marketing and the idea of like brand published content at all. Like, you know, a company writing a blog post or doing a newsletter. All of that was very early. And so you had these business-minded people who are coming in and saying like, Hey, you're S you're like paying these salespeople hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What if we could recreate the lead generation of a sales person through a couple of hundred thousand dollars of marketing and then you own it? What if we could do that? And so we started bringing. Those business scenarios to companies and brands, and we've like we've grown and expand and figure some things out since then.

But that was really the Genesis of our point of differentiation at the. It's

Cat: funny when you say, you know, you grew up figuring out business, whether your parents are like, go sell wrapping paper, which was one thing that we did at our school. So I always joke that I was an entrepreneur since I was nine, because I started a camp called camp fun, but it's those little things, you know, and it's like, I started to.

Selling, I think a camper could come to camp for $15 a week. I think I was making like 5 cents an hour. So the financing was not there, but you learned a lot

Tiffany: from it. And you see these kids who have this propensity for that thinking. My second one is the same way. Like, man, she'll monetize anybody who walks in our house and I like incredible.

But beginning to practice that and realize like, okay, I didn't charge enough. I'm going to try to charge more. And how do I get my value prop? Right. And all that of. I believe you guys are

Cat: on EOS, correct? Yeah. Okay. So tell me more about that. I read traction in March of last year, and I think, What I read through that makes so much sense in setting direction for a company. And so I'd love to hear, you know, how you've seen it evolve at elementary and what are some core pieces.

You're like, if you're going to do any part of traction, focus on.

I think doing a part of EOS is about the same as deciding which single muscle group on your body you're going to work out to be healthy. Like let's say I'm just going to work on my bicep.

Tiffany: It's not that it doesn't help, but it does not have. The exponential impact of deciding I'm going to go to the gym and work out every muscle group. And I see the EOS toolbox in a very similar way. It is helpful to just pick a couple and do them, but you will not be able to create the full scale cultural impact that running us can create.

And the velocity that. Brand promise of the system without selling out to the whole dang thing. We tried to self implement EOS for about three years where we read the books and we, uh, we actually thought we were doing a pretty good job. We would have given ourselves really high marks, which is, uh, probably a me thing.

I think most of the things I do is probably good, but it's not always, and, and looking back, we were probably like a solid C minus. And I probably would have given us an a minus with the context that I had. And then three years ago, we had a pivotal moment in the business where it was very clear that our ability to be able to create clarity, shared communication, shared language.

Ability for my mid-level leaders to be able to lead with the conviction and our ability to get the financial return and the business that frankly, everyone deserved our ability to be able to quickly onboard employees, clients, and to not have that be just a disruptive disaster. Like everything that EOS says that it helps business owners with.

I have all those problems. And so yeah, we jumped head first into EOS. We hired an implementer to be able to lead us through that process.

They talk about EOS pure. Like basically you go whole hog on it. And I, I was like, we are going to do it exactly the way you say. And I think what a lot of times people think is like that they know a little better than the system. Like, well, that doesn't work for us. I don't really like that. We've got somebody on the leadership team that doesn't really like that word.

Like we don't really think L 10 is like a very elegant way to call it, like who ha who cares get over it everybody. And so I would say I led the charge, but it was very clear. I was not giving up the mission. And if people needed to decide if they were going to like align and get behind it or not, in some people, it took them like two years to believe that I wasn't sure.

Get off of this thing, others, you know, started to see the impact earlier and say like, okay, I see where this is going. I'm going to get on board, but we're three years in. And the, everything that it promised we have experienced the result of that, I would say probably at a three X intensity of what I expected.

Absolutely incredible. And it's not like the system works, but we worked the system and we just didn't try to pretend like we were smarter than. And we did it. We do all the things and in a service business that takes capacity to take people offline. Those are really expensive. You people aren't, you know, utilized on those days.

And all of that is like a scary calculation. When you look at it in isolation, like, wow, we're going to spend, I don't know what the number is. It's probably 70 or $80,000 with the capacity is my guests easy that we spend each year running those meetings and that's. Most people would take that back, but I think we get it back every, you know, in so many other places in the business.

And I would bet if you pulled anybody from my executive or director team and asked them like a question off of our VTO, like named three things on a three-year picture, or what are your three uniques or what's your 10 year target? What are your six core values? I think that without exception, they would be able to tell you the answer and I'm so proud of.

and it's not really about what it says about me. It's just like, it's a commitment to just selling out to the stupid

Cat: thing. Like one thing I remember when I read that book that became so clear to me, I dunno, it's always stuck with me is the three uniques it's how do you have those three unique things that no other company can say?

And that's where I started to realize you can't say your people are your differentiator because everyone can say it. And it was like, wow. Like you really have to think through what makes. Working at element three, so unique. What makes working with you so unique and all the other company?

Tiffany: Well, and you have to prove it to yourself and to the market. So it's one thing to say, like X, Y, Z is our unique thing, but how do you prove it to yourself? How are you going to get better at that? What's the process around it? What's the investment in it? What's the innovation around it. What's the thought leadership in it.

How do you know that it's important to your customer, that you're putting so much energy into it? Does it have relevance to the marketplace in the current environment? So you start to realize. Over time of dealing with these tools, the strategic consequences of like each answer and how it starts to fit together and your brain doesn't get it all at the jump.

Like maybe some people's do mine didn't, but as you start working with it and just trusting the immersion process, you start to like really connect the dots and see how powerful.

Cat: You mentioned change is hard for everyone and getting that buy-in what was like that turning point or tipping point where you felt like, okay, we have momentum around this.

People are ready and there's buy-in to,

Tiffany: well, we did not wait for buy-in to start. My thing was like, look right now sucks. So nobody can like sort of claim that this current reality is worth preserving. So how did

Cat: you recognize that that's hard when it's your. I mean,

Tiffany: it was evident. It was like, the work was too hard.

People were working too long. Like we were doing good enough work, but like, it was spotty. Like we had a team and C team and you kind of knew that it was like, if your friend was here, you'd give them the eight. Like, it was just like, you just didn't feel good about it. It's like, we're better than this, but there's a certain level of energy that comes from like, just saying it like this sucks.

I'm tired. You guys are tired. It's like kind of better than everybody else, but not totally. It's gotta be better than this. It's got to be. And if it's not, then we should stop because this has bananas. I think it got unsustainable for me personally, in some ways I think I started to see that people were getting really burnt out.

You know, my kids were getting busier as like, I couldn't pretend like I could work 65, 70 hour weeks anymore. I couldn't be the unicorn that like came in and saved stuff. I didn't want to burn people out that I loved, you know, like all that kind of stuff. And so I was like, It might not work because I didn't know if EOS would work, but I knew what we were doing.

Wasn't going to. And so I was like, well, that path is certain failure. I'm being a little extreme to make the point, but it was not going to be a culture, a company and environment, a work product that I was like really proud to put my name to. And so it was like, well, I don't have any better ideas. We should try this.

And then we just did it. We totally did it. And there's a lot of hard conversations, a lot of hard decisions to make along the way.

Cat: You talked a bit about your mid level leadership and growing that. I think that's as companies scale, it's one of the more painful things, because it's that you have to empower young talent at the same time.

Look within, maybe look outside. How did you grow that mid-level leadership tier?

Tiffany: Well, we took a step back from growing the business. Two years, really to get the organization plumbed in a way that it could support the scale that we wanted to put on it. we were growing like crazy and all of that, like looked really great from the outside, but it was like the foundation wasn't deep enough, you know, the plumbing didn't have enough pipe in it to get water to the fringes.

And, and so it just wasn't built for scale. And, and so we intentionally took. We scale back our growth goals. We got rid of some bad fit clients. We made ourselves about 70% of the size that we were when we started the journey, knowing that if it was smaller, it would be more manageable and really recruiting those.

Soldiers with us to say, like, you're going to be part of this. And when we hire the next 25 people, they're not gonna report to me. They're gonna report to all of you. And so we need to have a shared, not just words that we've memorized, but like understanding of what this means, like in its DNA. So the, on the ground, when you're making decisions, when you're.

When you're role playing with, you know, new talent when you're training them, when you're helping to bring the life, our core values, when you're helping them understand what it is that we do for a living and white matters in the world, that you know how to keep that vision alive. And so we spent a lot of time with them and I totally underestimated the importance of that.

Team and their visibility into the work and their ability when they have a safe environment to elevate problems to the leadership team or to solve things. Because I don't see that stuff there. So. An army of like eyes and ears. And then also they implement in a lot of the directives and the initiatives and stuff that we say as to at the leadership team.

And they're such an important conduit kind of up and down the organization. So it takes time. You have to invest it. And you have to get to a place where they don't feel like you're changing your mind every single time they talked to you. And I was guilty of that because I'm an inventor, I'm a creator.

Inventor is extremely,

Cat: how do you do that? I feel like that's just like your nap. You know? It's like, oh, Hey, what if we did this? What if we, and then it feels like, they're probably think, do you have a strategy? Are you just trying to try new things? Like, how do you do.

Tiffany: Well, you have to surround yourself with people who tell you now, the other thing that was very helpful for me was having these quarterly offsites was like a quarterly binge session for me, where it was a moment where I could puke, like all the things I see and here's every parking lot note and let like all the things in my head.

And then with the team, we could parse through that and say like, well, which ones are, these are actually good ideas. Like which ones fit our strategy. Do we think isn't just a flash in the pan, like try to get another a hundred grand in the door. Like what is actually a good idea? And so I felt like I had a time to do that.

I felt like I had partners and thinking through it and it wasn't always that they were telling me no, you know what I mean? And so that cadence made so much sense to my brain. I was like, okay. So. Like six days a year. I get to say every idea in my brain and then the other, whatever, three hundred and forty nine, sixty five, fifty nine days in a year, we're going to execute what we decided to be great at, but we were constantly pivoting.

It doesn't work. You'll never be excellent. And as I matured, I started to see my compulsion for creating, definitely serves a purpose. And it will make it so that we never die on the vine because we stopped innovating. But my compulsion for creating also creates this harried sense that nothing gets a chance to mature.

And so I had to recognize that inside myself and honestly, I think that we had to get to a place where at times the organization was shielded from me and I began to have more discipline in knowing there were these days where. Let my brain go hog wild, or I could bring all my little scraps of paper, all this stuff that I sorta draw into my notebook, you know, and we could decide together about what we served the cause.

And even now, you know, in my true visionary seat that I play today, I spend 60% of my time probably on element three and like serving it and the rest of the other 40% of. Kind of titled like whatever Tiffany wants to do. I don't know what I'm going to like, see or find or uncover or run into. And I kind of like, I feel like I like kind of bring back like the dead squirrel and like drop it off at the front door.

And sometimes they're like, yeah, this one tastes great. We totally need wine. And sometimes they're like, no, and they close the door in my face. I'm like, no problem. I'll just go back out. And it was like unnerving at first to be like, I don't know how to explain what I do. Learn and explore and create content, do that.

And then I learned stuff and I put the world together in that way, but I don't know that it's a job description, you know, but that's, I would say that's my highest and best use right now for the agency. And it brings me a ton of energy, but there was a season when my job needed to be, to run it and to create stability.

And that was a real stress. this year for 2022, I focus for me is discipline. Because similar to you, I like to just go do whatever, you know, whatever that day brings me, but for us to figure out what our sales numbers going to be and what activities we have, you have to be disciplined.

Cat: And I feel like some of the. You know, leaders out there, like they get up, they do this, they have like a whole schedule every day. I want to do that.

Tiffany: I will tell you my 41 year old self has that more than it doesn't, but it's it's it was a battle for me is the same way. The busier I get the more. I actually think it creates productive time traps for me, meaning like, if you're going to work out today, the only time to do it is five 30 to six, 15 in the morning.

And so when I have these like time traps, it makes me be disciplined. Cause it's like, I just have to chug through it. You know, another choice I just have to, yeah.

Cat: Last question. You know, as a young woman in the business world, what would be your key pieces of advice to staying consistent and growing within a company?

Tiffany: Be great where you're planted. I think too often people are looking to the next step. And when you're an environment with great leadership and opportunities, let your work talk. That doesn't mean you shouldn't look for opportunities or ways to help.

Be great where you're planted. That's what I would say. Just be great where you're planted. And the other thing I would say is like, have, like you're doing now, like resources outside your environment, especially you're in a department that's, that's new and you don't have a lot of peers or a leader who has your direct scope of responsibility.

So finding people outside that, I mean at 25 was running elementary. And had I not had people outside to anchor to, I wouldn't have understood what my growth path should be. So that will be important for you to be really successful because you don't have a lot of internal infrastructure to ladder up.

So what else is on your mind? Text me 3, 1 7. 3 5 0 8 9 2 1 3 1 7 3 5 0 8 9 2 1. And be sure to follow along on your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening today. .

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