Kathy English on the Marketing Career Path

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Kathy English from Vocera about the Marketing career path.

Today I'm talking with Kathy English, the Vice President of Enterprise Marketing at Vocera.

Kathy, you didn't take the normal career path to get to where you are today, but before we get to that can you tell us about Vocera?
I am the Vice President of Enterprise Marketing at Vocera and we're a company that eases the work of nurses, doctors, and everyone who delivers care with our solutions.

In other words, we make it easier to communicate with less effort and make informed decisions within the hospital.
We smooth the flow of information among people in clinical care delivery systems including key aspects of the electronic health record, which is something that every hospital has to implement these days given the regulatory mandates.

With that connection, our customers are able to get an unmatched clinical experience from us, proven security compliance, and flexibility with communication.  
So what makes your career path a little bit different than most VP’s?
I actually worked in the business that our buyers are working in as a registered nurse. I was a critical-care registered nurse and an oncology registered nurse. I worked in a hospital and I took care of the sickest of the sick.
What that enabled me to do as I moved into marketing was better understand the persona of the buyer that we were targeting.

So, it's a very different career path as you might have guessed.
Did you have any marketing or even business experience prior to your initial start in nursing?
No marketing experience other than marketing myself. I have a bachelor's of science in nursing so I did go to school where you could learn business. However, a nurse at the bedside doesn't necessarily learn traditional business, the primary focus is on the patient.
The short answer is no.
I'm interested in hearing how the opportunity came up for you to go from your position in nursing to the world of marketing.
I had my own tipping point when I was a nurse. I had an experience where I had a patient that was very sick and I could not get ahold of the care team. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments where I thought, "I love taking care of patients, but the patient experience needs to be better."
Communication can't be delayed by twelve hours between a doctor and a nurse or else the patient suffers. If you're a person that's dedicated to care and you can't deliver the right care because you don't have an order from a physician, it compromises your ability to do your job. I wanted to fix this.
As I looked at my career, the only way to fix communication was going to be through a role or offer from a vendor or a company that was thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, because I didn't have the marketing or business experience, I needed to get it.

I found Hill-Rom—a hospital bed company—that would hire nurses and teach them how to sell, market, and manage a business or sales territory. That was the first step… to learn the business.
The next step was then to figure out how to apply that to an innovative technology that would help with the communication problem. So I went to work for a company that offered critical care automation. My passion was critical care because that's where I worked for a lot of my nursing career. So, by automating the clinical record and the orders that doctors and nurses need in order to execute allowed me to be able to impact care in a different way.
During that time, I was in product marketing and essentially built my own skill-set through self-learning. Then I started to get into marketing and realized that the core of my passion was telling the story of the customer in a meaningful way.  
That's an quite the journey you took!

"Effective product marketing comes from having somebody that truly understands the business."

Being a former nurse, it gave you a unique perspective and advantage in your roles in marketing for the healthcare business. Do you think that idea would translate well into other industries, say a construction software company going out and trying to find another Kathy English, but that has a construction background?
Where I see having that industry experience like in construction, or retail, or any industry is in the product marketing. Those are the folks that are the subject-matter experts that can help you with core positioning. Then marketing communications can build a program, but they don't necessarily need to have that experience.
To be effective, you've got to have somebody that has truly lived and understands the business to do effective product marketing.
The healthcare industry has changed quite significantly since you were last a nurse. How do you stay in touch with what the current wants and needs of the industry are?
To this day, I actually go to hospitals and shadow both the doctors and the nurses. I'll watch them using our technology and—equally as valuable—I'll watch them not using our technology.
I also have advisory boards where we bring in doctors and nurses and have them talk to us about what a typical day is like. I bring them into my team and have my team hear the pain points. At the same time we’ll do a lot of message validation. I actually take ideas to the end users and validate that our messaging is going to resonate with them.So overall, I stay in touch with the industry though user groups and actually visiting hospitals.

"As marketing gets more personalized, it's important to visit customers regularly." 

How often would you say you do that?
I try to get to one customer every month.
It’s important to have it occur regularly especially as marketing gets more personalized because there are really different types of hospitals out there that we segment around. When you have a conversation with somebody that's in a university-type hospital, it's a very different conversation than a small community hospital.

When we look at segmenting our business and talking to the Chief Nursing Executive at a university's health system versus a community hospital, we tailor the messaging.
How do you use that information in Vocera's marketing efforts, and does that information get used past the marketing department?
I document my findings and share it with my entire team, but I also share it with the product management team and engineering.
Oftentimes I will ask if I could do a video of the customer and have them tell me their story. That becomes a nice piece of communication for sales enablement and engineering to see what the solutions are doing out there in the world.

"Throughout my career, the most important thing I've done is listen."

So you've worked your way up the career ladder to where you are today. How have you found learning to operate at different levels of your career?
One thing that I am very proud of is that I'm known to be the kind of person that makes everybody feel that I am interested in what they have to say.

As I've moved through my career, the most important thing to do is to listen to what others are saying to you. Then, ask those hard questions and truly listen to the answers and take action to make it happen.
If you're doing the tactics:

  • listen to what the direction is you're being given
  • validate it with those who are going to receive the results
  • deliver on commitments early

I’ve heard that your MQL targets are very high at Vocera. How do you even start the process of planning to hit those targets?
I follow a recipe, and the recipe is a process that follows the SiriusDecisions Waterfall. I’ve found it to be a good foundation. Getting my team trained on what it is so that they can follow the methodology and use that to bring the prospect through the funnel is fundamental.
For my buyers, the absolute most important thing is that we identify who our target is. Asking questions like:

  • how do they consume information?
  • where do they go to consume information?
  • how do I reach them? 

It's basic marketing principle, but when you start getting into an industry, there's a real refinement that you have to have. If you don't understand where your buyers are and you create a generic message for a CIO that you think is going to cross all industries, you will fail.
You can take on a very high target as long as you understand the buying behaviors of that individual buyer within that space. If I'm going to go after a Chief Nursing Executive in a hospital, the conversation is going to be very different than it would be with the nursing leader in a doctor's office because their business is different… they care about different things. The way patients come into their system and get cared for are different, so personalization is really critical.

"A lead does not get passed unless it meets all agreed upon criteria."

How do you assure that it's a quality lead getting passed along and not ones that are just a marketing team trying to squeeze in to make sure that they hit that MQL target?
The simple answer is that we score them.
As a lead is coming in we look at how many touches we have and what types of content they're consuming. We use Marketo, so once we have that numeric quantification score, we handoff the lead to what we call our Lead Development Reps to qualify further. They actually reach out and call that customer and qualify them with BANT questions to see if they are interested, and if so, how far.
My counterparts in the Lead Development team and I are in full agreement that we do not hand off something unless it’s one that meets all our specified criteria.

In fact, one of the largest deals that we had booked in our company history came from an MQL, and that was a digital engagement, which was really awesome.
That kind of trust with the sales team—with the set definitions of what an MQL is, what gets passed along, etc.—isn’t common. A lot of time marketing will have one definition and sales with have another, and that’s why problems occur during the handoff.
Yeah. It took a while to get there.
In the beginning, our sales leader wasn’t too confident that marketing could generate leads, but then that large deal came through. He changed his mind pretty quickly.

Now I’m curious to head some of your favorite resources.
Must-follow on Twitter:
I really love Padmasree Warrior.
She always has really interesting, innovative things to say with regard to technology and innovation and healthcare is one of those areas that is known to be a laggard when it comes to technology adoption.
Favorite blog:
I couldn’t name a specific blog, but I have a favorite type of blog. I enjoy blog stories about people and what led them to become who they are today, especially as you look at some of the executives.
A good example of that is one of the blogs that my Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bridget Duffy, wrote on understanding the human side of these executives.
Favorite Book:
My favorite business book is Co-Opetition because I think that works well in the industry
From a leadership perspective my favorite book is Emotional Intelligence because I think an effective leader needs to be able to connect with people and lead with compassion and empathy.
What is your favorite 90’s dance song?
I'm a little older than a lot of folks you must interview, because I had to think, "Okay, what was popular in the nineties?" but when I think back to what I was doing at that time in my life, I was having a lot of fun and going out and hanging with lots of friends and very social.
One that comes to mind is Love Shack.
Nice! That’s a 90’s classic. Great Answer.