“Control everything that’s within your control.” With Chaya Weiner & Drew Fortin

Human interaction is the ultimate experience. Tonie Hsei made this famous at Zappos. Footwear is a commodity. Ecommerce is well established. They became known for having amazing customer service. There are stories of service reps ordering pizzas upon request or sending a sympathy gift to a customer after learning that someone close to them passed […]

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Human interaction is the ultimate experience. Tonie Hsei made this famous at Zappos. Footwear is a commodity. Ecommerce is well established. They became known for having amazing customer service. There are stories of service reps ordering pizzas upon request or sending a sympathy gift to a customer after learning that someone close to them passed away. These experiences turned into stories that are widely known and shared — further solidifying Zappos brand.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Drew Fortin, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing at The Predictive Index (PI). He has over 15 years of general management, marketing, and sales experience. At PI Drew adopted a team of two and now leads a Sales & Marketing unit that is fifty strong and growing Prior to PI, Drew spent over a decade focused on selling and marketing products, services, and software to businesses big and small. Drew’s built a versatile skill-set including business strategy, customer acquisition/retention, management, operations, and team leadership. He’s worked primarily in B2B across e-commerce, HR technology/SaaS, marketing technology/SaaS, and local media and advertising services. Drew holds an MBA from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a BA in Music Business Management from Berklee College of Music. Drew’s passion for managing and leading others aligns perfectly with PI’s science-based approach to hiring the best and keeping them inspired and engaged.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve had the good fortune to work in a few different industries — eCommerce, marketing technology, local media & advertising, and now talent optimization — for companies of all sizes and focused on B2C and B2B audiences. The common thread throughout it all has always been marketing and sales. I’ve always been more creative versus analytical — I did my undergrad at Berklee College of Music. Fixing broken or outdated business models and developing growth strategies has always been a fascination and passion of mine.

I truly have my dream job at The Predictive Index where I’ve been afforded an amazing opportunity to help lead the company’s transformation from a behavioral assessment company into the world’s first talent optimization platform. I lead all Sales & Marketing efforts and have helped define our positioning and go-to-market strategy. We’ve been very deliberate in our approach to use the science-backed power of our products and our networking of talent optimization consultants to differentiate ourselves into a completely different company and solution. Crafting a strategy, build well-aligned teams, and motivating and inspiring people to really push themselves — these are all things that bring me happiness and that I get to do every day.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The Predictive Index has been around for a while — it was founded in 1955. We could have easily decided to continue down the company’s current path within the talent assessment space and execute on a strategy to grow our client base and product catalog by harvesting the current market through M&A. We instead decided to listen intently to our clients and partner companies to truly understand why and how they were using our product. We soon realized that the tactical things talent assessments are known for — hiring and personal development — were not the most important things our best clients said they were using it for.

It became clear that these clients were using PI in their business strategy discussions. They were using PI to understand how poised their teams were, from a behavioral standpoint, to execute on their strategies. Leaders at these companies had learned that they could understand so much about what drives and motivates their workforce by using our products. In fact, many will say that they will not engage with an employee or address a team without understanding their PI behavioral assessment results.

This strategic use-case is what led us to define a new discipline in talent optimization, drafting up a category creation strategy for it and raising $50 million in growth equity to bring this new market category life. We officially launched the talent optimization category earlier this year and it’s had an amazing impact on our business and team.

Our top-line revenue has grown 300% since 2015 supported by all other business metrics. We launched a talent optimization certification on talentoptimization.org in February and over 1,000 people thus far have taken the 60+ minutes to complete a certification. Our team is awfully engaged as well — winning GlassDoor’s Employees Choice Awards and best places to work from the Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, and Best Places to Work. This is all feeding our better work, better world mission and helping us realize our dream of every company one day having a head of talent optimization.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?.

Our strategy to create the talent optimization category has dramatically expanded the scope of our product vision. Imagine a team seeing how aligned they are on what strategic activities they should conquer over the next 12–18 months. Then imagine that team understanding how naturally poised they are to execute on that strategy. Any gaps or differences open the conversation to what leadership abilities and culture are needed for the strategy to strive. It also opens the door to conversations about whether a strategy should be built for the team or the built team for the strategy. Turns out, there is no right or wrong answer. All of this is possible with the new PI Design product.

In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

What you see, how you feel, why you decide to use it, who else is using it, what keeps you coming back to it. These are all part of the experience. The brand is synonymous with experience. It’s creating, maintaining, and evolving your unique experience as needed to stay aligned with the market and mission of the company. Advertising is leveraging brand elements and messaging to target an audience, run campaigns (experiences) and generate product demand — ultimately creating customer relationships.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Without a brand, you are a commodity. This essentially limits differentiation ability to features and price. Since a brand is an experience, and as humans, we naturally seek to feel and belong, the more unique and satisfying your experience, the more incremental value you can create. What’s awesome about the brand building is that there are no limits to the incremental value it can generate.

Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

Human interaction is the ultimate experience. Tonie Hsei made this famous at Zappos. Footwear is a commodity. Ecommerce is well established. They became known for having amazing customer service. There are stories of service reps ordering pizzas upon request or sending a sympathy gift to a customer after learning that someone close to them passed away. These experiences turned into stories that are widely known and shared — further solidifying Zappos brand.

Focus on the brand first. Advertise second. Small businesses often struggle to realize that using advertising to build their businesses is not sustainable. Generating a positive return on advertising usually requires more sales volume, repeat purchases, and happy customers than are usually estimated for when deciding to spend money on advertising.

Leverage bad press. Whether you’re a business that receives a negative customer review on a website, from an influencer or negative candidate/employee reviews on GlassDoor, these are always moments of truth for your brand. How you respond that you respond, etc. Everyone’s watching. Trust is built by admitting mistakes and taking corrective actions.

Be real. If you are in a highly commoditized industry, chances are your core product is not that much better than your competitors. Customers don’t want to have to sift through any noise created by over-hyped or over-promising messaging. True value and differentiation are likely to come from your brand. Focus on the things that truly make you different.

If you’re all things to everyone, your nothing. I often see brands that make mistakes by trying to appeal to too broad of an audience or whose brand archetype is not well defined. Putting some real-time and thought into who exactly your product is made for and what they would appreciate from a brand, will give you data needed to craft a well-aligned and differentiated brand.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Recent advertising withstanding, I love Peloton. I own a bike. Everything about their experience, from purchasing it online, to them dropping it off at my house, to starting on the app, following others, and them following me back. They’ve nailed a seamless blend of product, community, and empowerment. You can tell they focus on the things that would make people fall in love with exercising regularly like metrics to show improvement and a constantly refreshing catalog of classes and workouts. It’s awfully addicting and I can’t help but tell people about it.

I think the lesson learned here is that community (or bringing together your users, customers, network, etc.) is often an afterthought. I think that there is much to be said for product experiences that seamlessly integrate human connection to fuel purpose and belonging. Any product being built, especially software or anything in digital, consider the community or network-effects from the start. This becomes an amazing way to realize the value of your brand.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

A rising tide lifts all boats. I think increased sales can absolutely be an indicator of successful brand building. Although that’s likely a lagging indicator for a brand. A brand can really be the catalyst for exposure, increase word of mouth, and if a department in your company, a commitment to focusing on how your company engages and is presented to the market — prospects, clients, analysts, local community, user groups, and networks. Measuring brand success is likely to come from leading indicators like increased exposure (press mentions are pretty fundamental), increased brand affinity (volume and quality of reviews and public praise), lead gen and sales attributed to activation experiences (events, conferences, expos).

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

As a B2B organization, we’ve realized it’s less about the PI brand being active on social media and more about the personalities who speak on PI’s behalf — this could be team members, folks in our certified partner network, or influencers who have adopted our product or the talent optimization discipline. We have tights processes in place to keep the flow of all of our new marketing content being pushed out to these groups and encourage them to post to their social networks. We spend more time making sure that our associated hashtags, like #talentoptimization or #optima2019, are being used and trending.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

On a personal note, time is your most important asset. Be diligent about taking the time you need to get stuff done. It’s easy to get sucked into the meeting vortex. If all you do all day is attend meetings and then try to get work done in the morning and at night, that’s no good at all. Be deliberate about how you plan your day and make a conscious effort to decline invites to things that you can delegate or simply be ok with decisions being made without you.

On the business side of things, I don’t think you can spend too much time crafting and communicating vision. The better you get at it, the less you have to worry about what your team members are doing because they are all working toward the same thing.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I think the movement we are starting with talent optimization can be wildly impactful to the health of individuals and impacting the world’s GDP. Companies and leaders who use talent optimization will naturally build workforces that are well suited to help them crush their goals. This leads to more engaged and happier employees. There’s a big difference between someone who leaves work thinking “I don’t get paid enough for this!” and someone who thinks “wow, that was a busy day, but I love what I’m doing.” What each of those people takes home to their loved ones is very different.

And, if businesses are crushing their goals, they are creating value and helping the economy thrive!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Control everything that’s within your control.” — when I played music early on we had a manager named George Stein. A lot of who “makes it” in the music business people think comes down to luck when in fact the ones that do have it all together. They have thought about everything and left absolutely nothing to chance. So, that one day, when success and fame do come knocking, they are ready to pounce on it.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast?

Warren Buffett. As with most incredibly wealthy people, it often isn’t a desire to be rich which got them to where they are, but more a mindset or philosophy on life that gave them happiness and pleasure. Their wealth is a lagging indicator of that. That is Buffett. I’ve read a lot on him and have had the pleasure of attending the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting. His philosophies on business, leadership, life, and investing, are so simple and fundamental, yet so hard for most to copy. That’s because he is disciplined and has learned to focus on the things he’s really good at. Even if it was a quick coffee, I think that interaction would be so valuable.

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