Silicon Valley native Sruthi Kumar has filled several roles in her tenure as a marketing leader. From blogging and supporting demand-gen to staging events and running booths, she’s learned what it takes to be a modern marketer in an ever-changing industry.
Sruthi recently sat down (virtually) with Banzai’s Director of Marketing Corrine Stratton to share some of her insights around events and the changing world of field marketing.
The Evolution of Field Marketing with Sruthi Kumar
How did you get your start in marketing?
SK: My dad is in sales. I think any daughter of a big-personality father can say you try everything to not be like them, then you kind of fall into the same career path.
I grew up in the Silicon Valley so I was always really familiar with the tech industry. When I was in college and I got my first internship, I was talking to the founder and a couple of other people who were doing the same job, and he just mentioned off the cuff, “You should think about marketing.”
In my next role, I supported demand-gen and social media marketing. I did a lot of social media, blogs--a lot of what I think most marketing interns do, which is clean up the data in Salesforce, right? I was there before their busy season of events, so I started learning how to do the booth setup, the drops for the electrical, ordering swag, and all the things you have to do for an in-person event.
I spent the next few years at two companies growing my skills and awareness in all things marketing. Again I was drawn to field marketing.
When I got to Sendoso, I was the first marketing hire and our CEO was looking for someone who would hit the ground running and get their hands dirty.
One of the things I started with was redoing our website. Then we leaned into customer stories because we already had a good customer base. And then events--that was the biggest thing they were already doing without a marketing team. I think our brand is really about human connection. No matter what iteration our messaging is in, it’s focused on bringing the human experience to people. So events fall right into line with what our brand is communicating. I think it was already a strength of mine that I was leaning into, but it was what Sendoso needed at the time as well.
Early on we focused on co-marketing because it was the best and easiest way to get into databases we didn't have yet. While we did not always have the funds to give like some of our earlier partners, we would always ask, “Hey, can we do a send on your behalf?” which a lot of folks were excited about. Direct mail made a lot of our early co-marketers, so we were still solving the pain point for them. It was the quick and easy way to grow our database and brand awareness and thought leadership all in one blow, which was super important.
Now that I have been here for three years, which is also three years of having a marketing team at Sendoso, I can say we’ve grown a lot, matured a lot, and field marketing events are still one of our top-performing channels.
How has field marketing changed with the focus now on virtual events?
SK: I think this is something a lot of us have been thinking about: Is the field marketing role moot now? No. Has the terminology ‘field marketing’ shifted? Yes.
Back in the day, ‘field marketing’ came about because you had your headquarters, your corporate leader, and field teams, like little centers around the United States or the world. That's where it makes sense to have field marketing teams because they’re closest to those sales reps and those geos, but this isn’t applicable to everyone’s business models for a long time.
If you're in a big enterprise company, that makes sense. But if we're talking about a situation like yours and mine, you should be thinking about how to reach the most people in meaningful ways. I think field marketing has shifted in the sense that instead of focusing on particular geos, the segments are focusing on audience type.
That was one of the biggest shifts for me and my team when COVID happened. Now I am a field marketer that cares about retention. Now being able to work on programs targeted towards customers through our partner channels and segmentations of prospects, and open ops--it's been awesome to tackle that. I think that's the direction of the field marketer now.
So instead of having field marketers focused on regions--like you have your field marketer on the West Coast and the East Coast--now it's your field marketer who's focusing on customer programs, or your field marketer who's focusing on mid market and SMB programs, or enterprise programs, or partner activations, etc.
Is the role of sales also changing?
SK: The role of sales is not changing, but I think there is more of a focus now on driving alignment between up-sells, cross-sells, and renewals, versus just net-new.
There's still a lot of value in building community, but as we're talking about influencing pipeline, building revenue, and making sure there's closed-won business, that's where you have field marketing and demand-gen coming in.
Looking ahead, how are you thinking about events in 2021?
SK: We are not planning in-person. We're seeing business work for us virtually right now, but who knows what the world has in store for us?
I think the lesson here is to never focus on one channel. So even if that means that we’ll need to shift our mindset to having in-person in the mix again, we cannot just rely on virtual and we cannot just rely on in-person.
When we are back to in-person events, our process going forward will always have a virtual component. When we sign on for a sponsorship and give a presentation at the event, we will take that same session and have a webinar to follow-up the in-person event with. I think that's the greatest lesson to be learned from all of this: never just focus on one channel. Make sure you're hitting your audience with the same message in different ways so that if one thing sinks or falls or doesn't work, you have all these other things supporting you.
This is why I love talking about field marketing. We’re talking about the audience that we care about and the ways we're delivering our message to that audience. For us, the biggest shift to virtual events was that our team had to become hyper-focused on one message. It helped rally not just our marketing team, but our entire go-to-market team.
What are some of those other channels you're using to get that message out?
SK: For every message or program that we see coming down the line, we treat all our channels as levers. Are we going to pull the event lever? Does that mean a big virtual event? Are we getting partners involved? Are we going to do a smaller event as well to kick it off? Are we doing PR? SEO? That's kind of the direction we're going in.
What's your favorite thing about events? You've been drawn to them since early in your career, what keeps you gravitating back?
SK: I think it must just be my personality. I've always been a natural networker and I think the shift to virtual added some excitement back to it too. It was really scary to have my playbook thrown out the window, but also fun to figure out. Being on the front lines with prospects and customers is always just really fun.