How to Make Complex Things Simple with Shannon Duffy

When Shannon Duffy was just a girl, her friends wanted to play doctor.

She wanted to play advertising agency.

Since then, Shannon knew that she was destined for a career in marketing.

Flash forward to today and she has been a professional marketer for more than 20 years, and has risen to become the Senior Vice President of Product Marketing at Salesforce.

On a recent episode of Marketing Trends, we had a chance to talk all things marketing with Shannon.

She shared her thoughts on current marketing trends, what it takes to be successful, how to deal with failure, and how to build a great marketing team.

You can find the full episode on Apple, Google Play, or Spotify. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the Marketing Trends newsletter by visiting MarketingTrends.com.

Her Biggest Inspiration as a Marketer

How did Shannon know that she wanted to be a marketer from such a young age? Shannon said that she was drawn to marketing because it combined two of her greatest passions: solving problems and connecting to people.

When Shannon hit her teenage years, she got even more inspiration to pursue a career in marketing. It came from an unexpected place.

“In high school, I loved the show Melrose Place, and they had an ad agency. They would show the meetings with their clients and the clients would tell them their problem. Even though there was other crazy stuff on the show, the cast would come back and try to solve the client’s problem creatively with messaging, words, and emotions.”

Of course, this was just the beginning of her marketing journey. Now Shannon takes inspiration from her colleagues, peers, and mentors. But she still tries to maintain that heart of emotional connection that she learned from Melrose Place.

Marketing Then vs. Now

Over the course of her 20+ year career in marketing, Shannon has seen a lot of change.

In the past, companies developed advertising budgets designed to simply get as much exposure as possible.

Shannon attributes a lot of Salesforce’s success to the fact that their marketing goes above and beyond in showing customers how a product will lead to their success.

“What marketing boils down to is that focusing on your customer’s success leads to your success. You need to take your customers on the journey with the how, and that impacts your content and marketing campaigns.”

Shannon believes that marketing is more than simply showing a product and its features. Instead, it is about finding the emotional core of a product.

“Marketing is how you connect to the emotion of what a product is. And whether it’s a Kodak picture caddie or it’s platform or enterprise software, we’re all looking for that way to make people remember what we’re trying to do.”

A Platform For All

An emotional journey might seem out of place in the world of highly technical B2B sales. And yet Shannon always finds that there is an emotional component to the user experience. She’s doing that right now with the Lightning Platform at Salesforce.

“We view our mission as changing what it means to develop apps and what it means to be a developer. That’s an emotional connection. We want to show anyone regardless of background and education that they can harness technology and build applications.”

Shannon’s approach gets her team excited to come to work every day because they believe in the difference they are making.

How to Fail Well

With all that said, even experienced marketers like Shannon slip up sometimes. What separates great marketers from the rest of the crowd is their ability to learn from their mistakes. Shannon shared her biggest professional failure with us.

“Someone on my team said ‘We need to do a viral campaign. We need to create an online game where people go into an office and kill each other with staplers.’ We created it, but it took months and way too much money. And we finally saw it, and I showed it to our CEO. And he looked at me, and just said ‘What is this? We’re perpetuating violence, people are throwing staplers… Shannon, what is this?’ ”

Shannon knew immediately that she had made the wrong decision to give the initiative a green light. Her gut had told her from the beginning that this was a bad idea.

“For me, it was a learning experience, because one, I should have trusted my gut. And two, as a marketer you have to be conscious of the world around you. So I will say the one good thing about that is he stopped me, but his questioning of me made me know enough to not fight it. He was right.”

Marketing involves taking risks. And when you take risks, things will inevitably fail from time to time. Shannon believes that marketers should get more comfortable with those failures.

“Marketers, in particular, have a hard time with failure. Because our whole job is to tell the positive story about something. I don’t tell that story about my stapler killing video game very often, because it’s not something we’re comfortable doing, but we would be so much better if we were able to embrace those mistakes as an industry.”

Keeping Complex Things Simple

As a tech marketer, Shannon has the daunting task of taking complex products and making them easy for the average person to understand. Shannon has developed a relatively simple exercise to help her do this.

“We have meetings with my team where we pitch new messaging or talk about a new concept, and I’ll say, ‘Stop. If I had no context and I was looking at your slide or reading your blog post or looking at this web page, would I understand?’ ”

Doing this exercise regularly helps Shannon avoid using technical language that won’t mean anything to the reader. This leads to more success in terms of consumer engagement.

Shannon’s Strategy for Building a Marketing Team

Shannon emphasized that being a marketing leader is about more than just doing great work yourself. You have to build a great team around you. Shannon shared some of her secrets to building successful teams.

“When I’m hiring, background is less important to me than looking for people who are collaborative, who are positive, and who are self-starting.”

These inherent traits are much more important to Shannon than specific marketing credentials or technical skills.

“It’s actually better to have more diverse perspectives, people who have lived in different countries, worked in different industries, or maybe don’t even have a traditional marketing background. If they all share that collaborative, positive, self-starting mentality, that’s the best possible thing to do.”

Once you have this team, it is important to enable them to be their authentic selves.

“I’ve never seen someone be their authentic self and not be successful.”

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