MarPro - The Marketing Procurement Podcast

Tess Blankenship | Alchemee

April 20, 2022 Rusty Pepper & Dana Small & Tess Blankenship Episode 20
Tess Blankenship | Alchemee
MarPro - The Marketing Procurement Podcast
More Info
MarPro - The Marketing Procurement Podcast
Tess Blankenship | Alchemee
Apr 20, 2022 Episode 20
Rusty Pepper & Dana Small & Tess Blankenship

On this episode of MarPro we sit down with Tess Blankenship the Head of Global Procurement at Alchemee (formerly The Proactiv Company) to discuss her experience and key learnings in setting up high performing marketing procurement teams. We also discussed...

  • How to best structure and incentivize teams
  • Strategies to develop great managers
  • Common traits to look for when hiring Marketing Procurement professionals
  • The importance of being present with your team and peers


Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of MarPro we sit down with Tess Blankenship the Head of Global Procurement at Alchemee (formerly The Proactiv Company) to discuss her experience and key learnings in setting up high performing marketing procurement teams. We also discussed...

  • How to best structure and incentivize teams
  • Strategies to develop great managers
  • Common traits to look for when hiring Marketing Procurement professionals
  • The importance of being present with your team and peers


Dana:

Hey everybody. It's Dana small

Tess:

and rusty

Dana:

pepper and it's another edition of

Rusty:

Marlboro. And

Dana:

today's the day of, Murphy's law. Mr. Pepper. My computer crashed. I, yeah, it's Friday.

Rusty:

You would think maybe from a marketing procurement standpoint or a positioning standpoint, you might be able to source some technical help on your end,

Dana:

you would think but this is my second laptop and I feel like I'm having. Issues with this one in the last.

Rusty:

Hopefully it gets better. We we've got a really good conversation we're going to have with Tess Blankenship. She's the head of global procurement at alchemy. That was formerly the proactive.

Tess:

Yes, we do have a portfolio of proactive brands and other brands now.

Rusty:

welcome to more pro and a way of getting started. Would you mind getting a little bit background on yourself and what you do?

Tess:

Sure. Currently how to prepare and that rest, you mentioned at alchemy. So skincare industry prior to alchemy w let's not quantify years, but Ben in the procurement sourcing space. And I just use those words interchangeably because depending on what company you're at, it might be called procurement. Other companies call it sourcing. But I'll spend time and as a consultant B2B, B2C biotech, Pharma pure pharma all in the procurement space working. And also prior to that spent a long number of years on the litigation as a paralegal side, and then also spent time in marketing. So marketing as a pure marketer. So marketing was super exciting for me. I love being close to that customer. So that's what drove me to stay on the marketing media side of procure. And then I've spent a couple of years in tech, in SAS, which is a whole nother ball of wax entirely.

Rusty:

It's a pretty eclectic background.

Tess:

Is there, there's a common theme going through it. I've procure it. And there's a common theme of like team building transformation. And so a lot of those skills come in handy. And let me tell you like anything legal background, you can throw From a desk and you'll hit anything that I'm doing today. There's a legal component and everything. So that's why I'm happy.

Rusty:

Yeah. I can imagine leaning on that background a little bit. So you've talked about how marketing was, you've been on both sides of that within marketing, and it's really an area that you've enjoyed. What was it about marketing that just resonated with you?

Tess:

For me? Really getting, doing your work and then being able to see some pretty immediate impacts and effects of the work you are doing. I've also spent time on my background, on the R and D and preclinical side. That is a much longer touch point. So it's really exciting when you get to see like the agency you're working with, they've just made a campaign. You help source that agency and do some of the things around it. And then you see it out in the. Or you see an end cap out in the wild and you're like, oh my God, I know how that came about. I know how painful that was to get there. How, like fabulous people thought it was in its early states. And now it looks even a million times better. That for me is exciting.

Rusty:

Yes,

Tess:

exactly.

Rusty:

Yeah, I think I always find it interesting when somebody comes from the marketing and sales side over to what I call the dark side, the procurement side, Dana doesn't. But that's how I see it. Where, what was that draw? What drew you over to the procurement side?

Tess:

For procurement, for me, it was I probably spent less time in pure marketing roles and more time in procurement contracting finance. That combination. And for me, I like that whole, that type of strategy versus the marketing type of strategy. So they're both have strategic parts to it and approach and framework. It's a little bit different depending on what side you're on. But for me that was the fun part for me is putting those parts together on a procurement side, less the dark side, more. Let's just meet in the gray side, in the middle,

Rusty:

bridging the gap. I get it. it's interesting just because there is a lot of, I can see from the strategy side where it could be enticing and interesting. And if it's something that is interesting to you, being able to then also to go source it and create those solutions is great. Now throughout your career, it's a theme of, building up teams. And I think where you are now currently building out a marketing procurement teams that, Morgan, procurement's relatively new to a lot of organizations. It's not like a longstanding space. How long would y'all Dana the sauce for you? How long has mark and Trina, would you say been around as a core function with a lot of organizations.

Tess:

You know

Dana:

what, when you go to the Anais, they make it sound like it's only been like a decade, but I know it's been around for at least a couple of decades. I don't know. I worked with tests back in my days at Amgen. We won't talk about how long ago that was, because at, that makes me older. But we'll just say it was couple of years ago.

Tess:

Yeah. It's been a decade. It's become more common. And it wasn't like me sacred cow, like even a decade ago, it was still like, okay, if we have to go there and we will, but now it's like, all right, we're going there. Everybody's on board. It's not like you need, he needs a couple of secret meetings and then it happens. So I think it's much more. Much more common to talk about it without getting everyone's hackles coming up. And it's not being driven by a consultant expense reduction.

Rusty:

So let's talk about building out market procurement teams. you alluded to it as being part of joining the strategy side of it, but creating a teams and building that out because marketing's are Y and it's getting wider on a daily basis with all the different ways that you can actually reach and engage and activate with customers. What were some of the lessons learned with that when it comes to building out a marketing procurement team? I

Tess:

think there's a couple of lessons at the beginning. And then as you progress through the team building that I've learned along the way, one is like, when you just start rolling a team and I would say no matter what part you're at. It's really about following the money. It's a data-driven exercise when you're building a team, like where's your spend at what's addressable. How has the business aligned around that spend? Like how has the department set up to really understand what categories can you build a team around? Who's going to manage a category and then always reassessing. Oftentimes the other lesson lenders, once you set it up, you're like, great. I see there's a very large opportunity to spend it's addressable. I'm going to have someone own that category of spend. As you progress through the internal organization may change. They may pull out that spend and move it across to some other department or organizational structure. And then you've got a reset reassess is that spend, should that spend, still stay with you? Not only internal organization changes, but industry the market changes like how many acquisitions, mergers holding companies, tech like MarTech right now between even the last five years is insane. You used to have maybe have someone managing social and they might be like social moderation, content building, and some other systems and platforms. And now. That whole landscape has changed. And so they might be doing way more than just your blocking and tackling and you've expanded the category just because of the market and industry has changed. So I would say like one, like always follow the money. Two is like always make sure you're watching the internal organization and the industry to make sure your category alignment matches. And then I would say the third one that I've learned too, is. As you've built your team and now you're hiring cause someone's left, which I'm a big proponent of I want to have the poachable team. I just want to if you leave great, I just want you to be the stellar person that somebody else has picked up because you're the best in the rightest. And I will look for somebody who's able to excited to join the team, but I also don't want to just fit them in the whole year. Cause it's a great time to reshuffle, maybe infuse your existing team members with the new category. That's still in your area, but if you always have the same category and you're never refreshed, it can get pretty stale pretty quickly. And that's how you time to lose people as well. So I like to take that opportunity.

Rusty:

How often do you rotate up through?

Tess:

It's it depends one, it depends on. Kind of like where people are at personally in their maturity of being a procurement. So maybe you have somebody who just two years in, they might not be ready to move to a whole new category. Maybe you can tack on like a piece from someone else that's leaving or maybe you've just expanded your spend data. And you're like, Hey sales, nobody's managing sales. That's a frequent opportunity. I see in the marketing space is I've always tacked on sales because there's some overlaps. So add that on. So like personal maturity, and then I would say when you get to that four to five years, then it's really looking at what's maybe more challenging for them. Like what's the hard categories and I'll say like agency manager. Particularly in digital agencies and how you split that out is probably one of the most challenging areas, both agency production. How can you really drive value for both the marketing teams and procurement? So that's probably. How I change it is there's that junior year, the personal maturity. And then there's also the being a procurement and being in the same category is going to drive when you should refresh, refresh that outlook for someone. And I've even swapped with team members as well. Colleagues that are maybe running a, another service category, like maybe sometimes I've been in organizations where media split for marketing. It might be like, Hey, I really want to do media categories. Great. How can we. Cross-pollinate maybe they do some work. Maybe they take over the category and they bring that person over to my scene.

Dana:

I agree with that. Anything, I think past four or five years, you're like, I'm burnt. You get burnt out on. So I know you need to start either taking on more stuff. Maybe like I've started going into supplier diversity, or like you said, extent expanding, exchanging. But I think he definitely. I feel like after you go through all the

Tess:

agency

Dana:

negotiations and all the big ones, and you're like, okay, everything's in a good place. It's been for, three to four years. Maybe it takes five, but then you're like, all right, I'm done. I don't want to see this stuff again for a while. And you really do need to either change companies or get something new, a new perspective, or train somebody on it. Because otherwise you just get so burned out on agencies. I don't at least I do too. So I have to agree with your perspective on about that time before.

Tess:

Yeah. And I think that's maybe the one thing Danny could probably test this, you or others who are in the procurement role. Like the organism procurement as an organization is very flat. So your room for advancement isn't there. Like it might be in other types of departments because PS were on the expense side of the organization. So really you bought a look at other ways. You can. Keep it fresh and exciting and challenging procurement folks really do to be challenged. And so that's one of the things I'm always like, if I'm like, Hey what is not like the obvious stuff? Like maybe it's events, maybe it's we have a new retail team by the way. It's like kind of messy, but I've seen where it goes. If it's unmanaged. Can we talk promotional items and what that looks like if unmanaged. So I think there's a lot of opportunities. Like sometimes it's you just don't know where a category is going to go because nobody's tapped into it or nobody thought there was anything there. So I think that's what helps you agencies is a lot.

Rusty:

What what are some ways that you incentivize your teams?

Tess:

I think for me, the incentive is, everyone can talk about, it's always great to go to a conference. I think people enjoy being able to try. Not, when there's an opportunity to travel, that's coming back to life. So that's real legit. Being able to travel to a conference and meet some people, really like networking, I think networking just to meet other people in your profession and talking to other suppliers. So I think that's a really valid. Incentive is traveling for a conference. The other one that I think is really great is I I tend to incentivize with if they have a new product idea Hey, I think this has come up a couple of times I want to learn how to manage people, hot topic and perform it. You don't have the opportunity always to manage a team. And everyone says you can manage, but you need experience managing. And it's like the chicken egg, like how you get experience. And I think the one incentive I've found too, is like we've had, I've worked at a couple of places, had big intern programs are not big, but intern programs that have internships within procurement and managing and working with an intern is a really great way for them to build. Managing expertise and it's incentive for them to do something different. A lot of times these are sometimes big research project. Like they're helping them refine a trend. And then we bring that value back to the larger category that they own. And they're giving guidance cause they're doing presentations and they're really digging into You're going to do this. Maybe it's a big RP, but you're like, how does that apply to something broader than this one slice? So they're really stretching their capabilities. So that's another incentive is internship in terms of management. So

Rusty:

you're saying leveraging interns, just like the Guinea pig to be from a management standpoint, not Guinea pig, but being able to say, look, you have, these interns are going to help you with this project scope, how they perform what's.

Tess:

And I've already said that. Yeah, the most ideal is we, when we do have interns for procurement's asked to pitch projects and I always tell people on my team, you've got a project. Do you think is worth pitching? Absolutely. Throw it into the ring and that means you're going to manage it. If someone says yeah, that's a great idea. So it's not only them. They kind of work on their skills of pitching cause whether we like it or not, we are always procurement. sales. We're doing business development every day, the know like trust. Let me tell you about this great value opportunity. Yeah, so I think it's always, that's, it becomes a great opportunity when they can both pitch it and then manage it.

Dana:

I think it's a good way to, cause I know I started by looking at having an intern early on in my career and it definitely helped give me a little bit perspective on, on managing and things of that

Rusty:

sort. So what do y'all think makes a good manager.

Tess:

I consider this an incentive for my team or my people. My team tells me this isn't an incentive, but I think what makes a good manager is allowing them the runway freedom to do it their way. There are 10 different ways to do things. And I would say like when they come back to me and say Hey, here's what I'm going to do. I might not think that. Going to be like the way I do it, but I can tell you like 99% of the time it's going to work, what they've pitched. And it works for their personality. Like I've had some very soft-spoken people. Others outside the team are like, oh, you need to be more forceful. You need to go in and just say it like it is and throw it down. And I'm like, okay, that personality not going to happen. So I'm like, Hey, however you want to pitch it. Great. I think that makes a good manager, if he can recognize not only like what they bring to the table personally, like what works for them. So they can be authentic. I'm going to throw that word in there. Yeah. If you can be authentic and then just bring it to the table that I think is a good manager. And then I think like good feedback, a feedback loop, which is, Hey, you're really good at this and doing, check-ins like, you're really good at this. Or, Hey, got this feedback. Have you tried, it's more of a question session. Hey, have you tried this? Oh, you have great. Let's check the box. Have you tried this thing too? Because I think that might help you. Great. You've tried those things and the last thing, maybe they haven't. So you're just bringing your experience to their toolkit and running them. That makes a good manager. You're not directing the how, but allowing them to figure out what, how it works best in their style. That's my 2 cents.

Rusty:

I don't think it's right or wrong. It's that's how everybody's appeal sees what works for them, because all of us have our own score, internal sport quarter scorecard about how we like to be managed or to manage. And yeah,

Tess:

that was going to

Dana:

be my question to you. Is it what I consider to be a good manager or what I think, The other way around. Cause when I think of think of good managers in the past, it's those who've been able to help Excel me and just be able to do so without taking anything away from themselves. And I think those are the things I try to then do myself as a manager that, if my people are successful, that makes me successful. So that's my number one thing is to make sure We'll work on getting, somebody promoted and our work on them getting the next scale. If I can make them successful, that makes me feel like I'm a successful manager and, getting ahead, I don't need to shine at some point. I want them to, because that in itself is a reflection on you as a good manager

Rusty:

being their champion. Exactly.

Dana:

Yep. A hundred percent.

Rusty:

So I look at also to some of the best leaders or managers I've ever had were the ones that made you better, that really challenged, but were able to challenge you without being confrontational. When it made you, you felt obligated like, oh my gosh, I've got to go to the wall for this person. And they're doing all this for me. And I've got a really standup one. And then the other ones that borate you are breaching you, then you're. Yes, I'm out. And this is not the market. You want to be having people leading you, trying to get them in it and retaining them. Are there certain personality types traits that you look for when hiring a marketing procurement person?

Tess:

I would say for me, it's understanding. Yes. You can learn some bits about the industry, but you have to come in with some awareness of what marketing looks like in the type of organization you're in like marketing. If you're in a farmer company, looks a lot different than marketing. If you're a CPG, there's still some similarities, but you have to understand some foundation. There's some good crossover. I've taken service people, but one, I always look for like that. Hey, I'm a learner. Kind of behavior, like what have you done to continuously learn? And whether that's at work outside work, maybe you're started working on your bachelor's degree and you hadn't had one before, or maybe you're like, Hey, I just learned how to fence or I don't know, whatever it is code that continuous learning. And then I would say the other thing is working in gray. So the other trait I look for. A lot of people like to have very definitive I can do it. If you tell me that it's facts in marketing, there is like 99.9 things that are gray and not black and white. And so I always look for people that can deal with ambiguity and that light change. So I will ask lots of questions about okay, if I told you that change tomorrow, or, tell me about all the times that you've enjoyed. That just becomes like your every day. It is not unusual to be like, yeah, that process is going to change and, oh, we're no longer doing that agency thing anymore. And we've changed our marketing campaign from last week.

Rusty:

So I think,

Tess:

yeah. So I think like that and that, because there are other categories for procure. Where grey is less necessary and where you need more factual data-driven who can talk that way. So I'm always looking for people to who can be comfortable talking with ambiguity, but still drive value. Like they're not talking in just numbers. You got to have. Subjective ability. I don't know. That's my it's hard. I

Dana:

call that my, you got to learn to figure it. Type of, kind of technique or rule, right? Like the number one thing you need to learn, I feel like in marketing procurement is just figure it out. Like I tell my kids all the time I don't know what to do. We'll figure it out. Let's think it through, right? How can we do this? I don't know the answer either, but let's figure it out. And if you can master that skill, I think you can deal with the ambiguity. It doesn't seem as gray. I agree if you can learn how to just figure it out without any help.

Tess:

And I think that if you have some of those traits, if you can do the figure out and you're okay with ambiguity, that means you have a pretty robust team that you can move people from categories that they might not have worked in before, or you can throw them like the curve ball. Hey, we just got this thrown over the fence. We've never done it before. We don't even know if the market's mature in whatever it is. Can you go dig in and I can't even tell you what you're looking for. But just knowing you have people who are willing to do the work and be okay with

Rusty:

the key to any strong relationship and success with market period is because the alignment of the folks who are being supported are asking for all these different surfaces.

Tess:

I'm just gonna peel back the layers and come back with questions as I come across them. That is I think the most flexible skillset as you hire for your team.

Rusty:

So how have you been able to integrate with your marketing counterparts to be able to support the best.

Tess:

I think lots of conversations, I think marketers, the marketing field, if you will, is very in person, very high touch. You have to build that conversation first before you're like, Hey, I got this thing that I think you should think about because we can add value here. Like it's a lot of relationship building before you come in with a plan. And it's a lot of I think that's one build a relationship first. Ask them lots of questions about their, like what they care about. What's not working. What's working really well. They like to tell you, and as most people do like about their world, it's a great intake. I always use that. And then sometimes I'll come back with Hey, here's what I heard you tell me. It's 80% directional because you don't want to say I know everything about your space. So there's intentionally space for them to really give you good feedback. And I found that's the best way of working and I always start with lots of. Quick wins. You've got to build that know like trust early and often with quick value. They can see and quantify. It could be something as simple oh my God, this contract cannot get out to be executed. It's still in negotiation. Can you please help me like, get this done? It's usually a, get it done moment. And that is some of the quickest wins because. For a marketer like speed is like the number one thing they need and they never have.

. Rusty:

What are some ways that you've seen the relationship? Go wrong.

Tess:

I have seen it gone wrong one from a top down approach sometimes for Karen has given authority or. Top-down authority without any awareness from your marketer as to that top down authority or why you're even talking to them. And if you come in from procurement and say I was just told, we have to cut for a million dollars from your next agency, let's figure out how to. Like that will burn, not relationship so fast. Like you never go in with that. I got a big stick. I see that used and fail badly. And then I've had to come back in and say, like the, actually rebuild it because of team. From a leadership perspective was brought in that way to basically drive savings at all costs. We don't care. We don't care if the markers are on board.

Rusty:

Yes,

Tess:

I worked at companies and I'm like, Hey, we have a bottoms up from best because the cut 20%, isn't a great message to come in with when I don't have any line of sight. So I, yes, that had, I have come from marketing departments where we have gotten that message. And then I would say as a mark, as a procurement person, you're like, I can't go in with that. And some people do, they'll be able to just take that as like I've got carte blanche to come in and tell a marketer what to do, or the department, how we're going to save. And by the way, you still have to work with those people for the next five years. So that's been like the worst experience. And I would probably say that I'll just preface that by saying that was back in the what bad market crash days, where everybody had to try and pull find dollars. And sometimes after that were companies are. Basically redoing their whole expense side of the house. But I and I've also seen personality clashes, not work well, and that's usually the other biggest one that comes up. And so I'm pretty sensitive to getting the right personality fit not across the entire marketing department. I think you'd need a different personality for say market research category versus a personality that's supporting agencies and those folks those are just different personalities on the team.

Rusty:

I would think even within each of the different product categories, there's a personality trait as well, because I can, you're saying the agency, person's going to be a little bit different than maybe the print or promotional person or media and all that. They're just totally different traits.

Tess:

I'd say that I do that. And I try and think through that on teams I've been on like the personality, but to make them successful, it makes not only your portfolio successful, but it makes relationships successful. It makes them look really great, which is really like the Dana's point earlier. Like how successful you can make your team is a reflection on you too. And it's a win-win for everybody. So you always try and want to make that better.

Rusty:

I set them up for success because I would imagine too, even on the marketing side or the whoever's sitting on the other side of the table, that there'll be working with. There could also be that rub between, like you said, that clash of personalities. That's just,

Tess:

okay. Rusty,

Dana:

I would say this every time I've been hired, every time I looked at, jobs and changing jobs, every time I've been interviewed or required, they've always been like, we're looking for a person who really understands how to deal with marketing, like those soft skills. And if you've worked with them before you know how they are. And so you know how to tread with them or tread lightly, or at least understand them enough to know you can't be this huge bulletin is China shop, but it is very specific, every single place that had gone for a sourcing job for marketing. It's just, they're like, we're looking for somebody who understands that. To me having the right personality is what they're saying. You can't come in and just, start kicking and screaming and, think you're gonna make friends. Because at the end of the day, you got to get these people to work with you together. And if you don't have somebody who knows how to work together with people and just wants to, tell them what to do, it's just not gonna work. So I would say it's a very specific skill set that most people do look for. And it's sometimes hard to find. People who are knowledgeable of it and then also have the soft skills to manage with it, but it is something I think most people are cognizant when they're hiring for that job.

Tess:

And I, you just remind me of something else and I'm rested. This has probably come up from your background. I would say procurement people who really have strong procurement departments and teams really think about that. Multi-layered touch for. So like your director, your senior director, your VP has already gone into the C-suite level to start the conversation, to tell them what the team's going to bring and tell him, like, where are there going to be a meeting and an asset, open opportunities, questions. And then you have your individual category owners coming in at another level. So you have, if you use that multi-layered approach effective. You really set your team up for success and sight. Each of you as individuals up for success too, on the team so that you can have the support as you move through the chain, which I think is super critical for marketing. Because if you get a C suite leader, who's like, why are you talking to my people? That is, I've heard that that is the worst experience ever. You're saying you want

Dana:

to hear? Yeah. Like, why are you talking last year? And

Tess:

then you're backpedaling and you're spending so much time recovering ground. So it is game planning. Who are you going to talk to? Like people have stakeholder trees for a reason. And it's, I would say it's very similar to people who've been in sales. Like it's that same multilayer. Approach of who's talking to who at what level to get all the buy-in you need, when you actually have a really great project, that's going to be a win and some value for everybody.

Rusty:

Do you ever put one of your folks on site that sits within marketing?

Tess:

I have not been in a team that does that. And only because it's generally driven by other logistics of, Hey, we don't have desk space or space of the premium. What we have done is said, Hey, we're gonna spend a day like kind of office hours. Like we're going to be co located in your, I'm gonna say break area, lounge, area lobby area. On this day dropped by and it also gives procurement the opportunity to also do like the drive-bys and the casual conversations that help build that relationship. We've done that, and we've very formally said on Tuesdays, we're going to be in the space for your team. And it's worked really well, even just seeing just the visual site has really helped build relationships.

Dana:

I like to go over and just sit there sometimes for end up picking up stuff and seeing people you're like, oh, I need to talk to you about this. I need so for me, I, although we've tried to get seats in rusty, exactly it cause I know some of our FPA and it, people do actually do sit with marketing and we've tried to do it. Even if I don't have a seat, I still just go, because there's so much that you can either gain or just see people or just, things you can pick up that are invaluable by just sitting over there. Even if it's just for half day, he, people in the break room, it can make a difference

Tess:

and it jogs their memory. Like it helps with the poll from marketers to pre. Quite honestly, like sometimes, or it's just not top of mine with familiar million other things going on.

Dana:

And then they see, you're like, oh yeah, that's right. I have this project. Hey, do you think you could help me with, and so I think just being there, even just sitting in the break room and it's

Tess:

really useful, the proverbial water cooler, it works, it

Dana:

does,

Rusty:

But that's also marketing too. You gotta be present. You had to be visual. You have to be able to be present in that. That's huge and then a humanizes it right now. That's a big attributes. So anyways, a great conversation. We talked about how to incentivize teams, what makes a good manager key traits for, making those marketing procurement hires, building out a team and the foundational work that goes in with that and yeah, a pretty full conversation.

Tess:

Appreciate the time, how to not burn your bridges.