When your plans fall apart, how rapidly can you shift gears without losing your mind? It’s a question we’ve all pondered over the past few years as marketers. That’s why we knew it was time to talk with someone who could teach us a thing or two about pivoting gracefully.
Meet Mac McConnell. He survived the dot-com boom — and bust — in the late 1990s. He bounced from banking to e-commerce to agency life to facilities management without missing a beat. Then, two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mac found himself facing a brand-new challenge: How do you learn about what your buyers want now when everything you knew about them before just flew out the window?
In a rockin’-and-rollin’ Episode #8 of the Marketing Gets Real podcast, Mac told us the in-the-trenches insights he learned while navigating The Great Pivot as VP of Marketing for ServiceChannel. Get ready to hear some genius ideas, some genuine regrets, and a memorable tale from the start of the dot-com bust.
“Sometimes you just send out a Zoom invite and say, ‘Who wants to get on the phone at 10 a.m. on a Thursday?’.”
ServiceChannel’s facility management software is used by some of the world’s largest retail and restaurant brands — two of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. So, in mid-2020, ServiceChannel’s clients began asking the company for help. They wanted to talk with other customers and learn more about how they were navigating the pandemic.
That gave Mac and ServiceChannel CEO Tom Buiocchi an idea that Mac says was “almost dumb-@ss simple.” They set up two weekly Zoom calls, one for facility managers, the other for leaders. Then, they listened. They recorded the calls with the understanding they’d only share the recordings internally. “[That way] our Sales team, Marketers, everybody within the organization could pick up on the words being used and the challenges these organizations were facing for the benefit of both those organizations and our future customers,” Mac says.
In this clip, Mac explains how that experience changed his thoughts about building communities in Marketing:
“I should’ve challenged the thinking that Marketing was a place to cut as heavily as we did.”
Not all of Mac’s pandemic pivots were pretty. In mid-2020, he got the call every Chief Marketing Officer dreads: He was asked to reduce his budget, including headcount. “I thought I was being a good corporate citizen to make sure we could weather this storm,” Mac says. So, he did what he was asked to do and cut the budget.
He thought his colleagues on the sales side were in agreement. On paper. Then he learned the truth: “My Sales colleagues wanted me to go to bat for my Marketing budget [because] they knew our programs were working,” he says. The entire incident cost Mac some credibility he says he could never get back. Next time, he vows to fight harder for his team and his budget.
“I saw the writing on the wall.”
Early in his career, Mac made one of the best pivots of all: He saw the dot-com bust coming fast and got out. At the time, he was working for Bay Area online banking startups. “There was this website getting very popular called Snowball.com,” he recalls. It was an early online platform for tweens. Mac learned they were planning to go public using the ticker symbol SNOW. Cue the warning bells!
“So, this was a company going public that had no monthly average users, no revenue stream whatsoever, and they spent $1 million to buy a ticker symbol … that could be related to an illicit narcotic for a website for 12-year-olds!” he says. At that point, Mac knew he’d be leaving San Francisco. So, he bought a German car and embarked on a cross-country road trip before starting his next career.
How often did Mac get pulled over on that transcontinental trip? You’ll have to listen to the entire recording of Episode #8 to find out! You’ll also learn a little bit about fly fishing, a lot about achieving the ideal balance between product and content marketing, and you’ll discover the two things from Mac’s MBA pursuit that he still uses every day. Listen now, and then make your own pivot: choose to subscribe today on your favorite podcast app!