Leadership Spotlight: Solving puzzles and building a value-adding team — An interview with Sojourn Managing Partner Emily Bennett

By Chuck Leddy

Emily Bennett is one of four Managing Partners at Sojourn Solutions and its Marketing Automation Guide. Bennett has an impressive background in marketing operations that spans 15 years. But, as she makes clear during our conversation, she not only loves solving marketing ops “puzzles” for Sojourn’s customers but also focuses on building Sojourn’s team into experienced, savvy consultants who deliver consistent value to those customers.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

How do you define your role as managing partner?

Bennett: Success for me is having built and continuing to build a team of experts in the marketing ops space who are capable of delivering exceptional work to our clients, and who love doing it. I really enjoy being around our people, helping them, and building a team that enjoys each other’s company.

I understand what team members go through because I’ve been there, done that, with just about everything we do here at Sojourn. Due to my experience, I can coach and mentor, helping to build consultants into experienced consultants. I also try to lead by example, meaning I’m not afraid of rolling up my sleeves and digging into a project when needed. Another aspect of my role is doing the right thing, even when it’s painful. Sometimes that means telling a customer we’ve made a mistake, and letting them know we’re going to fix it. Then I’ll tell the consultant, “We have to dig into this painful, challenging thing.”

What is it that you like most about your role as a consultant?

Bennett: When we’re talking about marketing operations and how we consult with customers, every organization is so different. They all have unique challenges and I love figuring out those puzzles. It’s so rewarding to see a marketing organization thrive because of the recommendations we’ve made around improving their team, processes, and tools.

Sometimes clients don’t really know how to formulate a team structure and a process. Technology is definitely a piece of the puzzle, but not the only one. If you don’t know how that technology piece fits into the puzzle, it’s really hard to change and refine your team and your processes, because you don’t know what you don’t know. For example, we might have a new CMO who comes into an organization we’re working with, and maybe they’re deploying a marketing automation tool. The CMO says, “We’re going to centralize all campaign execution.” Well, maybe the organization doesn’t currently work that way, so it’s potentially a big change and the roadmap gets formulated based on that. Sometimes it’s an executive decision, and we’ll help by discussing the key elements and making a recommendation. Sometimes the recommendation is not to change much. Sometimes it’s to change almost everything. Every puzzle is different, as is every solution.

What are the major challenges you face day-to-day?

Bennett: In North America, we’re all working remotely, and not all of us live close to each other. Having that remote workforce is something I love because of the flexibility, and don’t love because I don’t get to see my people very often. Whenever I have an opportunity to travel to visit a client, I always try to visit with our consultants who are in that area. Even if it means staying an extra day. As a leader of the organization, I think it’s important to be in-person with your people.

We have team get-togethers in different areas of the country when possible. Having the team work remotely will always be a challenge, but we’ve done a really good job of creating an environment for remote workers, one that makes them feel part of a bigger team. We have weekly team calls, everybody talks to their manager one-to-one every week, over the phone. We’ve got an internal chat application that we use extensively. We also have a program called Walk a Mile, where everybody on the team talks to everybody else.

What are your short and long term goals at Sojourn?

Bennett: In the short term, to continue to optimize delivery for our customers. One way we’re doing that is by documenting services. As we deliver new services, we’re making a template and full documentation on how to deliver, so we’re not re-inventing the wheel every time.

In the long term, the goal is to continue to expand our business with our partners, building those relationships to a point where they see us as the number one, go-to partner for services. There are certain individuals at those partner companies who already see us that way, but we’d like to expand that even further.

Are there any particular customer engagements you’re proudest of?

Bennett: A project that I managed as a consultant back in 2009, which was an enterprise level implementation. It was at a different agency, and that agency was going through lots of challenges. I was assigned a team of five people, and basically me and one other consultant ended up doing the entire project.

The people that were assigned to me didn’t really perform and the client basically asked me to kick them off the project. So me and another marketing automation consultant did the entire thing, delivering the project on time, under budget, with a pretty flawless implementation. That customer is still my customer today here at Sojourn. Looking back it’s pretty amazing what the two of us accomplished!

What have you learned during your career that you didn’t know at the beginning?

Bennett: I didn’t realize how important it is to define and sometimes re-define processes. Most of the projects I worked on in the beginning were extremely small. Over time, I started getting bigger and bigger projects, and I recognized that process is huge. It’s amazing that some very large organizations I’ve worked with don’t have processes defined! If processes aren’t defined or redefined in a marketing ops organization, you’ll probably never reach your goals. If somehow you do, it’s not in a reasonable, cost-effective, efficient, and scalable manner. You’re doing tons of messy cleanup and time-consuming manual and sometimes unnecessary tasks.

I’ve also learned that defining processes is not easy. Sometimes it’s hard to convince the customer that they need to do it. But it’s certainly worth the effort. Sometimes defining processes puts us out of a job, in a way, because customers avoid problems down the road. But usually when we have that big of an impact on an organization, we continue to work with them on other strategic initiatives. We build trust. And there’s always something to do regarding marketing technology, processes, and people, right?

What advice would you have for people wanting to succeed in a career in marketing ops?

Bennett: You need to understand that success in marketing ops can be a moving target. It’s never “done.” Things change, organizations change, technology changes, people leave, you have to hire, all sorts of unexpected stuff happens, so no marketing ops manager or director should ever feel like things are “done.”

You also have to keep up with the latest technology, and the best tools out there. A new one pops up every two seconds. You’ve got to do reading and research, probably every week, or at least monthly, as well as continue expanding your skills and seeing what people are doing in the space. Otherwise, you’ll quickly get left behind. Keep adapting and growing with the space.

You can connect with Emily Bennett on Linkedin or, to learn more about how she and the Sojourn Solutions team can help your marketing organization drive better results, contact us today.