Meg Ugenti (Focus USA) - Big Personalities
Vin: Welcome to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista, probably the most entertaining marketing podcast you're going to put in your ear. I'm Vin, the Associate Producer here at Stirista. The goal of this podcast is to chat with industry leaders and get their take on the current challenges of the market, and we'll have a little fun along the way. In today's episode, Vincent and Ajay chat with Meg Ugenti, Corporate Director of Marketing at Focus USA. She talks about how doing custom work for clients can help make their lives easier with personalized marketing. Vincent enjoys nice cool weather, and Ajay gets tickets to a Yankees game. Give it a listen.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Stirista's The Marketing Stir. I am your happy host, even on a Monday. Yes, really? A Monday, you're this happy? I am, for a variety of reasons. Very special guest for me, today, and Ajay, but we'll get to her in a moment. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening. The Marketing Stir, who am I? If you're first- time listening, I am Vincent Pietrafesa, the Vice President of B2B Products and Partnerships here at Stirista. What is Stirista? What? Tell me about it. I will, just for 30 seconds. We are a marketing technology company. We own our own business- to- business data, our own business- to- consumer data. We work with companies to target that data to get new customers, to enrich current data. We own our own DSP, connected TV, display, OTT. Email me, vincent @ stirista.com, that is how confident I am that we can help. I just gave you, the world, my email address. Also, those emails that you're sending me, thank you for the positive feedback. Thank you for also taking the time to try to sell me from those email addresses, the email that I've given you. That's par for the course, it's okay, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome it, as I welcome this next person. He is the founder of Stirista, my cohost, he gives me permission to act like this all the time on the podcast. He is my commander- in- chief, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ajay Gupta. What's up Ajay?
Ajay Gupta: Hey Vincent. I am excited that I'll be headed to New York City tomorrow. I'm looking forward to that.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Absolutely. You just missed the San Antonio type weather we just had, 90 degrees, it was hot, but you're going to get a nice little breezy 77, 76. You're going to be in good hands. What about those sport coats? Let's hit the town. Let's meet some of our amazing partners, have some fun, some good meals, you're ready to rock.
Ajay Gupta: 77. Wow, I haven't seen that since maybe January.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, exactly. That's why it's better to come up here in New York around this time. August, you'll feel right at home in New York City. But, yeah, it's going to be good to have you, and also you're going to your first... Are you going to your first Yankee game? You're first... Is this your first baseball game?
Ajay Gupta: That's right. One of our colleagues that loves me more than you decided to get me a ticket to the Yankees game.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. Oh, he's new, so he still has to impress you. I've known you for many years, so that's why he's doing that. But that'll be a good time, even though it is the New York Yankees, and I'm a Mets fan out there people, but the Yankees, it's an experience. It's just a fun time regardless, so that'll be good. Then we'll get more of the New York City feel, you'll get that feel with me, a couple places that we have in mind, but it will be a fun time. By the time this airs, let's see, you'll have to listen to future episodes just to see how that trip went. How did his experience go? We'll have to see. But Ajay, I've got an exciting one today, because the people listening to the podcast have heard me say in the past," I don't know this person, but I felt like we were immediate friends." Well, this is an actual friend, in, not only the business, I think in life, we're friends now, it's safe to say. I met our next guest, Meg, about maybe 10 years ago, she was coming to the Direct Marketing Club of New York event and we really hit it off. We like to laugh together, now we have worked together, and she is amazing. I wanted to share her story because she does so much in this industry, and I love her story. So please, ladies and gentlemen, a warm welcome to the Corporate Director of Marketing at Focus USA, Meg Ugenti. What's going on, Meg?
Meg Ugenti: Hello Vincent. Hi AJ. Thanks for having me.
Vincent Pietrafesa: It's so great to have you. Thank you for doing this, you're just ready to go to vacation and so you're like," You know what? Let me just spend some time with two people we know before vacation." We're maybe the vacation before the vacation.
Meg Ugenti: Totally the vacation before the vacation. Vincent did not bribe me, I promise, I'm here of my own free will.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. I love it. Yeah, I know, we're happy to have you because we've known each other a long time. I haven't yet, but my cohost has been on Coffee and Conversions, the thing that you wrote. I'm not bitter about it, I listen to it, but I'm not bitter that he was on before me. But no, I love what you're doing, Meg. I love your story, and I love the Focus USA story. So I was like," Let's get Meg on." When we first started doing this, we're like," Well, all right Meg, let's see, you are a listener to the podcast," and I said," Let's see what happens here. I don't know if we're going to do one episode, three episodes, or 120 episodes." And what took me so long? Shame on me, what took me so long to get you on here, but we're happy you're here now. Meg, let's get right into it, because I want people to learn about Focus USA. I love what you're doing there. So, if you could, right off the bat, we love asking this question, tell us about Focus USA, as well as your role within the organization.
Meg Ugenti: Absolutely. So, Focus USA is a data and analytics company. We've been around since 1994, founded by the wonderful Chicca D'Agostino. So our goal and our mission at Focus USA is to really give people power back in their data. We source a lot of data, we aggregate a lot of data, but the core of what we do is data and analytics, and then helping companies actually reach their ideal target audience through traditional and non- traditional direct marketing services and solutions, which has become so much more prevalent today than you would think. Our business has evolved from a basic list company to a multichannel strategic partner. We're very, very excited about the direction, focus, the trajectory we've been on the past few years.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Talk to us about your role within the organization, you've touched everything.
Meg Ugenti: Yeah.
Vincent Pietrafesa: You've been there, you grew with the company. Talk to us about what you're doing with the company now, and then I'd love to understand your story, how you got into marketing.
Meg Ugenti: Oh boy. All right, so we're getting personal quick. No, I'm just kidding.
Vincent Pietrafesa: When you know us, that's what happens.
Meg Ugenti: Exactly. I started at Focus USA as the receptionist. I was having brunch with a friend, and Chicca was there, and I was kind of talking about," Hey, I'm going to go back to school. I'm really not too into what I'm doing now, not a lot of growth opportunities. What can I do?" She's like," Well, in the meantime, we need to fill the receptionist gig. If you're up for it, come in and interview. If you're a good fit, let's see how it works out." Fast forward, 11 years later, I am now Corporate Director of Marketing at Focus USA, and C- level executive, one of the partners at Focus USA. So, I've really held roles from receptionist, to accounting, to account management, to assistant, and now I'm very much in charge of training and executing a lot of our new business development strategies as well as a lot of our marketing strategies internally at Focus. Yeah, so it's really, it's been a ride. It's one of those situations where I've been at the company for a very long time, I've actually gotten to be a part of the growth, and have my hands really in it and seen the fruits of my labor, so to speak. So it's been a wild ride. How many of us have gotten into marketing by accident though? Just quick show of hands, because I'm pretty sure that's about 50% of the people I talk to.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, most of the people on this podcast that we get into, it's the rarity, is like," Well, I studied marketing and here I am." It's more like," I was a philosophy major and my parents were like,'I don't think you're going to make any money doing that.'" Then they've gone into marketing, yeah. I'm one of those rarities that, I think, I did study marketing, I studied communications and mass media and broadcasting, my minor was theater, so I'm kind of doing, again, all my jobs and hats, if you will, it involved what I went to school for, which is odd. But yeah, it's not the norm, but I love that story. I love that story.
Meg Ugenti: Thank you.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's why I wanted you to tell it.
Meg Ugenti: Fast forward, also funny thing about my story, the friend that I was brunching with is also now my husband and President of Focus USA. I'm just going to throw that one in there. So, yeah.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Nice.
Meg Ugenti: It's been an interesting ride.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Shout out to Michael Ugenti.
Meg Ugenti: Yes, shout out to the man behind the curtain.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. The data, he's the data, anything analytical, that's your guy, shout out to Michael.
Meg Ugenti: For sure.
Ajay Gupta: Vincent, I thought you studied comedy, so this is new stuff for me.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Oh yeah, well it's, no, actually I never studied it, that's a natural gift that I possess, Ajay, so thank you for noticing that. It seems like I studied it.
Ajay Gupta: No, I was hoping you'd ask for your money back on that.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Oh.
Ajay Gupta: Oh.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Now, see, this is what I get, Meg.
Meg Ugenti: I mean, you're a glutton for punishment, my friend.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I know.
Meg Ugenti: What can I say.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I know.
Ajay Gupta: So, Meg, being a marketing company is obviously interesting in itself, but how do you go about marketing yourself? And how do you go about, what's your strategies to find new clients?
Meg Ugenti: Yeah, so marketing, especially for me, I'm looking at it from a couple of different lenses, right? I have my clients who are a lot of B2C type marketers. But for myself, I have to put my B2B lens on. So, for us, and the way that we've barely been marketing Focus is, creating a two way conversation with other marketers in the industry, what's trending, what's not trending, what are the conversations that people are having? So, I started a group called Coffee and Conversions, which you are very familiar with, and we put on that live event, either once a month or once every other month, and we just bring marketing leaders together to have a conversation. What's going on in marketing? What's the topic of the day? The more you know, and the more you have those type of conversations, the more you're then able to coordinate your content around it, coordinate your new product development thoughts around it. So, I think, for us, it's really having a pulse on what do people care about? What are the conversations they're having today? And what impact can that have on tomorrow's conversation? Which is really the core of data and analytics, as we know it, so we follow a lot of our own rules there. We also do a lot of, I think about a lot of the new clients that we're working with, and again, because our business has evolved over the course of the past decade into what it is now, a lot of our new clients are really coming from referrals. They're coming from a lot of us really investing in bringing our clients into the conversation around a lot of our content creation, bringing our clients into some type of loyalty program that incentivizes them to talk about us and refer us to people they think might be a good fit. So that's been a really good way for us to bring in a lot of new clients. And then we practice what we preach, you know what I mean? We do a lot of our own data and analytics, we do a lot of our own direct marketing services, to bring in that ever flowing inbound lead gen flow.
Ajay Gupta: That's awesome, nothing like inbound leads coming in, right?
Meg Ugenti: Absolutely.
Ajay Gupta: So, Meg, one of the things about our industry is the space can get, or feel pretty saturated, and it's hard to distinguish yourself because there's so many companies basically saying they all do the same thing, and we have to reface the same thing, but how do you differentiate yourself from others?
Meg Ugenti: That's a good question, and I get asked this a lot, especially heading up new business development, you have to put your stamp on, well, why do I need to work with you instead of company XYZ? And what it really comes down to is we actually pre- qualify a lot of the clients that we work with. We do a lot of custom work for our clients, and our goal is really, they're going to work with us, how can we as marketers and strategic partners make your life easier? And with marketing personalization, and customization, and timing, and how quickly things change, when you're looking at large projects, especially around brand messaging or around bringing in new clients, or whatever the goal or the KPI of that marketing campaign is, what we really try to do is create a really truly custom turnkey solution to where it's going to be easy to implement, easy to track, measure, optimize. And we're really making sure that we're measuring how we're going to meet those KPIs, or reach those goals that your marketing team is trying to accomplish. And in order to work with somebody like that, on that type of level, we really do become that extension of their own team, which means that we have to have the same type of value set. We have to have the same type of way of thinking, how we're going to reach those goals and be open to that type of two way communication. So because of that, I think that the lifetime value of a lot of the new clients we're bringing in has just got skyrocketed. And that's really our biggest differentiators, we're really positioning ourselves is how can we make your life easier? How can we give you the insights that you need to go in and make actions and figure out what your next campaign then should be?
Vincent Pietrafesa: Meg, you mentioned your founder, Chicca D'Agostino, what a fun name to say. I love that. I've never met her, but you could tell that's a fun person, that is a fun person, Chicca D'Agostino. I feel like I'm related to her, I feel like I want to hang out with her, so talk to us about, what's her story in starting Focus USA?
Meg Ugenti: So, Chicca D'Agostino founded Focus in 1994, with a mission to, again, create an easy way to have accessible data that could be segmented and reached however is needed. So for her, she founded Focus USA with the mission that it's going to be a women- owned company, it's going to be a women- led company, and we're really there to help service the client the best way possible. And it was really just her taking a chance on herself and doubling down on herself and saying," Yep, I can do this, and I'm not going to take no for an answer." So when Chicca first started, I think it was her and one other person, and that was it, grinding it out until she made it. And she had a long history in the industry before that, and I think she just reached a point where she was ready to invest in herself, and it paid off.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's awesome, because I see, when you go to the Focus USA site, I love that you and the company are so proud of that, being a woman- owned business. So what is that significance for you?
Meg Ugenti: Yeah, so Focus USA was certified as a women-owned business in 2011, and our reason behind that was that we're very proud to be a women-owned company. I think that it's something that people should know about and be mindful of, in any industry, right? Supporting women-owned businesses, minority- owned businesses, and it's something that's really important and a value to us. We have our own internal supplier diversity program at Focus USA, we're constantly seeking out minority women- owned companies to help support us and our needs. And so, the certification also opened this whole underground world, at least that's what it seemed like, because up until that point, a lot of our networking, a lot of our marketing was to people in our industry. We kind of sat in this bubble of list brokers and data providers, and all of these funnels. So when we got our certification, it opened up this whole new world of different types of companies to talk to, and talk about our services. And we were, and I believe we might still be to this day, one of the only data and analytics companies that sources their own data, that's a women- owned company, or a certified women-owned company. And what it's done for us is opened a lot of doors, it's created a lot of conversations, and it's really given us a chance to talk to people we might not have been able to talk to otherwise. We are a smaller company, so we're not really known by our name, at least after this podcast, maybe we will be, because you guys have awesome viewers. But it opened up a lot of doors to help us talk to some people and gain new clients that we might not have been able to before.
Ajay Gupta: Meg, kind of taking the question a little bit broader, what's your perspective on the evolution of women in this industry in general? It's obviously very male dominated from the very first DMA, I noticed that went to about 10, 12 years ago.
Meg Ugenti: Yeah. Do you know what's funny? So Focus USA is a women- owned company, and we're also probably, I would say, 90% women- run company as well. We have a lot of females on staff, and a lot of wonderful, big personalities on staff that help push us forward. I think in the industry, what we've seen, and traditionally what I saw when I first entered the industry, was a lot of women in assistant roles, or in support roles. I didn't see a lot of women making the decisions at the table. So when I first, okay, so here's the story, when I first sat down to one of my major first client meetings, huge new client that we had just landed, and I was at the table with a lot of men at the table, which was fine, but I'm coming in as like a junior exec, and it's my first meeting, and I'm basically told like," Let's calm down, let's take notes and watch, but if you have an idea, go for it." And I think that's been what's really been helpful about Focus USA, I've always had somebody telling me, if you feel it, go for it, because they know I had value. And I did, it was an accident, I didn't mean to, but I said something at that meeting that actually got implemented and turned into this wonderful campaign, which was great. But when I think, Ajay, about your overall question about industry, I am seeing a lot of men in leadership positions also opening the door, and now starting to make more seats at the table for the women at their companies that want leadership roles or that are striving for that. And I think we're also seeing a big shift in women just starting their own companies, right? They're owning the tables that they're sitting in. They're the ones saying," Listen, I don't need just two women at the seat, I need five women at the seat. I need five minorities at the seat. I need," whatever it is. So it's one of those situations where I think the conversations of today, especially in marketing, when you're talking to the masses, those are your clients, those are your customers, you want to make sure that their voices are being heard at the head of the table in terms of strategy. So, I think I'm seeing a big shift towards that and it's really exciting to see.
Ajay Gupta: Speaking of tables, what's the Focus USA Coffee and Conversions? I was obviously fortunate enough to be part of it and have watched a few, but would love for viewers to hear about it as well.
Meg Ugenti: For sure, so Coffee and Conversions is a monthly, or a bi- monthly, round table event, built for marketers by marketers. And it's really just to open up the conversation between marketers from different genres, different levels, different backgrounds, to come together and talk about the conversations of today. We just had one around data and technology, and what's really wonderful about those conversations, we do them live. You come to our website, you register, you join the conversation, you can ask the panelists questions directly. It's really just this wonderful two- way street. And the whole goal of it, selfishly for me, was data really bleeds into all of these other different veins of marketing, right? Data is going to bleed into, how does your creative and content need to get developed? What type of technology stacks do we need to incorporate? All of these different things, and I've always been extremely curious about other areas of marketing. So for my own selfish reasons, I started Coffee and Conversions just to find out what other people that I don't talk to every day, that aren't necessarily in my field of marketing, or my niche of marketing, what are they talking about? Do they care about the same things I do? And how does that relate? And what it's turned into is this wonderful community of marketers that are just there to educate each other, there to have conversations about different things in terms of data and privacy, educating the consumer on their privacy rights, from what type of technology stacks you need, to personalization, to out of home marketing content and how that gets talked about, to social media listening. All of these types of conversations for me that just turned out to be fun, but it's actually ended up creating this community of marketers that are now a network for each other, which is really wonderful.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, I know, definitely, and tune into that, if you follow Meg on social media or Focus USA, you'll see those events. I've attended a few of them, Ajay has, of course, recently the one you had with also our mutual friend, Joe Frick, from Oracle, that was a great one.
Meg Ugenti: Shout out to Joe.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Joe Frick, yep, he may be a future guest on this podcast, ladies and gentlemen, we'll see. We'll see. But also, so Meg, I want to talk to you about, you said inaudible that piece, and I know Focus USA, when I first met you, that's how I've always known you, like you really want to go deep into the data, understand your customers, the modeling aspect. Now there's so much more that you're doing there, but that's how I know Focus USA. Talk to us about any trends you're noticing, though, in data and analytics.
Meg Ugenti: Oh, we could talk about trends all day, guys. This is my jam. So for trends in data, what we are seeing is a lot more people paying attention to their data. They're being forced to pay attention to their first party data in way more ways than they ever had to before, right? We're talking about iOS updates, we're talking about the discrepancy of cookies, whatever it is. It's one of those situations where because people are having to pay so much more attention to data, they're also hiring at a much faster rate, those data and analytics, those statisticians on staff, or they're partnering with companies like us, or with Stirista, to enhance their data, to learn more about their data. So we're seeing a big investment in data. We're also seeing a big consolidation in data companies. We're seeing a lot of media companies, or agencies, looking to source or buy data companies because they don't have that built- in muscle, do you know what I mean? In their lineup. So because of that, and I think the way that data is changing and the way that we're collecting data has become so fast, you're also seeing this huge marrying of data and technology, which is something wonderful that Stirista does, where you're able to get those real time insights through that data and technology that you're seeing, and we're seeing a lot more people really invest in that. And I think we're also seeing a big adoption of what I call, kind of that cross channel pollination, as it comes to B2B versus B2C type marketing tactics or trends. We're seeing a big crossover with B2B companies really investing in more traditional, or at least from the thought approach of a B2C tactic. And the reason we're starting to see that is because our audiences are changing, they're working from home. We have another generation entering the workforce, and they want to be spoken to in a different way. As a human, they want that two way communication, so you're starting to see a lot of those type of marketing trends start to take effect, and really a lot more attention paid to the customer journey, from how a lead comes in and it's inbound, to what's happening in those touch points with that lead when they become a customer, to what's happening after. They are not necessarily a customer anymore, how do you bring them back? How do you get them to be another voice, another champion voice, for your brand or your product? One of the biggest things is, if somebody comes in and has a wonderful experience with your brand, what they say about your product is going to count 10 times, 100 times, more than whatever you have to say about your product. It's just going to come with that much more credibility. So we're also seeing a big line, or a big curve, as it comes to full circle customer journey data and analytics than we really ever have before, and it's crossing that bridge from B2C marketers to B2B.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, I know, I agree. There's solutions out there where it's, well, I still need to target that business executive, he or she, at home. Now, how do I get that information? Well, you need something, you need a consumer element there, because they're not home, that the direct mail piece is going to sit there. Also, you're seeing a lot now of being at home, I don't know if you're seeing this, I'm watching something the other day, connected TV, to the business professional at home. It's like a salesforce. com ad that you're getting. I'm like,"Oh yeah, that makes sense, because they're home." That's the new normal, I like that. And I want to stay on something there, about your solutions, how do you make your solutions customizable? That's what I wanted to focus on.
Meg Ugenti: Yes. So it all starts with the data, right? So we do a lot with taking a look at your current data, how it's gone through the route of whatever types of mediums that you're working with that data on, and we really apply a couple of key factors. For Focus USA, we really focus on timing, in addition to, are you a good fit based on your interest? Are you a good fit? Can you afford my product based on your financials? But is it the right time? Is it the right time for you to become a customer for me to invest in that brand? That's the biggest thing. And Vincent, you'll know this from sales, we've been doing this forever, you can cold call all day long, but as soon as you get somebody on the phone and it's the right time for them, then they're willing to have a conversation. So, for us, it's really looking at that additional layer, so we source a lot of our own life event data information, and that really plays a big part in our data and analytics. So what we do is we actually have a product that's launching, or has launched, called our Welcome Home New Mover product. And what we do is we bring your data in, we tell you exactly how far ahead of a move or after a move do you need to reach somebody, or how many times, through which channels, and we make it very easy for you to map out your own media plan because we're asking you a lot of questions, we're taking in a lot of data, and then we're looking at our data in comparison to that, and we're timing it. So one of the things we do, it's like a one, two, three, four step setup process, and then we make it turnkey for you, and then our team manages everything and keeps an eye on everything that you care about. We report to you on a weekly basis with suggestions, not just" Here's the data," but it's also," Here's how we improve next time," or" This is something we might want to watch out when summer hits and the seasonality of the data changes." We really come at it as a strategic partner in that way, and we try and make it as easy as possible to set things up and know exactly where things are at along the process.
Ajay Gupta: Meg, what's something exciting that you guys are doing later this year, or even in the next 12 months?
Meg Ugenti: So, we have a few things. So, for us, we are looking to probably have our first in- person Coffee and Conversions event, so I hope everybody is ready to get out and come out and enjoy that. We're seeking speakers and workshop leaders, so feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, if that's ever something you're interested in. Ajay and Vincent, yes, I will be hitting you up, we have it recorded, the IOU is right here. So we're looking to bring that out probably before the end of the year as an in- person event, which we're really, really excited about. And then we're also launching a series of new turnkey life event programs, Welcome Home being our flagship program, and then a few others to follow, so keep an eye out for that.
Ajay Gupta: That's awesome. It's good to see companies getting back into the regular swing of things, so hopefully we'll end this year better than the last couple of years for everybody's sake.
Meg Ugenti: Let's hope so. Fingers crossed.
Ajay Gupta: So Meg, this is a question we ask all of our guests. I'm sure you get a lot of LinkedIn messages, so what's a message that will get a response from you? And what's one that'll really annoy you?
Meg Ugenti: So, I've been on both sides of this coin, right? A head of sales and development, and then as a leader that's sourcing partners at Focus USA. So, for me, the ones that have worked have been good timing and solving a problem. You understand I have a problem, but you're not calling it out like," Hey, do you know your website needs work?" It's like, no, no, no. It's, what solution do you offer? And if it's the right time, likely I'll reach out. The ones that don't work for me are the automated inaudible and Focus USA, a direct marketing solutions partner, where you clearly see that you have used some type of algorithm to pull in the name of my company and a hundred other people that day are getting the same message. That's an automatic delete, I'm not accepting that friend request, pass, and I actually will add you to a no. For me, it's one of those things that you have to come in with the same solution I have. I'm doing my research, you have to have a really customized, am I solving your problem? And this is how I can solve your problem, and by the way, I have a good personality and I'm not going to be super annoying. If you can somehow convey all of those, and everybody, check out Vincent for tips on this.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Thank you.
Meg Ugenti: Then, you're doing what you need to do. Everybody knows that I have a lot of empathy for the person on the other side that's doing everything they can to try and establish that new relationship. I hear you, I feel your pain. But for me, it's working smarter, not harder, and I know that sounds really trite and oversimplified, and depending on what your sales funnel looks like, maybe those automated messages do work. But for me, it's a non- starter. I'm really looking for that relationship, that business relationship.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Now, I agree. And I knew, Meg, that you weren't going to say," And this is what I hate about LinkedIn." You said," This is what doesn't work for me." I was like," Meg's the nicest person I think I've ever met, there's no way she's going to say,'This is what I hate about it.'" You still kept it like," You know what? This is what doesn't work for me." It's nice, yeah, I agree. I have some questions about that too, because you said, other side of the coin, right? Me, being in a partnership's role myself, I do empathize with those people who reach out, but the automated ones, you get the name wrong, you have to do some customization. And I know, and I urge, I know there's sales leaders listening to this podcast.
Meg Ugenti: Mm- hmm( affirmative).
Vincent Pietrafesa: Just, I know, it shouldn't be numbers, numbers, numbers, as far as the amount of touches, it's just the right ones. If you have the right message, that's what it should be, so we always try to encourage people to do that. But Meg, let's talk about, so sales, variety of different roles that you had at Focus USA, and at new business development. I've always assumed, I was like, sales comes naturally to you because you're friendly, you're focused on the product, the solution, and you're easy to talk to. But, in talking to you and understanding you a little bit more, you were like," I'm an introvert. Sales did not come naturally to me." I find that incredibly hard to believe, even Ajay says that to me sometimes, but talk to me about that because I feel like you have customers that have been with you so long, they love you. Talk to me how that transition happened.
Meg Ugenti: Yeah, so Ajay, does he butter up all the guests like this? Or am I special today?
Ajay Gupta: You're special. You should see him talk to some of the other guests-
Vincent Pietrafesa: Come on, I'm nice to every guest.
Ajay Gupta: I'm kidding.
Vincent Pietrafesa: You should see Ajay talk to me.
Meg Ugenti: So, no, it's true, I was definitely the one in the background, taking notes. Again, I was the receptionist first, so I would be the one screening the calls for Chicca. So, Chicca's name is spelled a little funny, so again, if you called her Chica, you weren't getting through. But it's one of those situations where I really had a really good foundation of the product and the company because I came up through the ranks as an account manager. I was the coordinator, I was working every day with the data team, every day with the digital team, every day with the deployment teams, and I had a real hand in tools and things that needed to happen to make sure a project went forward, or that a project would work, and then you meet goal, and I just had so much ownership over that. And my passion for what I did, and what focused it, was really solidified in that process. And so, I reached the peak, the pinnacle that I could in that department, I headed up the entire Account Manager Coordinator department. I was training, I was implementing new tools, I was coming up with new ideas and programs, and I loved it. And they said," Hey, what do you think about sales?" And I was like," No, no. I'm good. We're going to move on past, I'm good. I'm good here." And they're like," Well, what if you still do kind of what you're doing, because we know you love it, but maybe just talk to some people about it? So we're going to bring you to a couple of conferences, or to a few events, and just slowly, you can explain to all of our clients and partners all the cool stuff we've got going on." I'm like," Oh God, I really don't have time for this, but okay, sure." And I ended up, and again, I'm in the room, I'm not the first one that's going to walk up to you and be like," Hey, what's going on? I'm Meg." Da, da, da, just never was that person. But what I found is that once I started opening my mouth, I really enjoyed it. Do you know what I mean? When you have a passion behind what you're talking about and what you're doing, and you're just being traditionally yourself, because just because you're an introvert, doesn't mean you're not confident. And I think as a sales person, or as somebody who's entering into a partnership or agreement with anybody, you're more likely and you're more comfortable with that person if they have a real confidence and passion in what they're doing. And it just translated for me really well because I was able to generally talk about that. And once I got over the whole, oh God, this room full of all these people I don't know is not scary, it's more, oh, I'm really curious about what they do too, it was a game changer for me. So I think there's probably a lot of introverted sales people out there, or client facing people out there, that you don't have to be, no offense, Vincent, the loudest person in the room.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's true.
Ajay Gupta: This is a fun podcast.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. For who?
Meg Ugenti: See, he's already regretting inviting me on, but as long as you're really confident about what you're talking about and you're genuine, or genuinely curious about what everybody else has going on, it's just the funnest job out there. I really, I couldn't be happier to be doing what I'm doing.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, no, I agree with you on every front, including being the loudest person in the room. We were just in San Antonio and we were doing these exercises to understand about people, and you get these scores back, is this an introvert? An extrovert? Of course, mine came back extrovert, across the board. It's like, well, you didn't need science for that. But everyone was saying, it's like, the loudest person in the room and everyone looked at me. And I was like, yeah, at least I'm something, right? It's got to be something, but yeah.
Meg Ugenti: You own it.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I do own it. I do own it, but that's the thing it's about, I've always talked to people where they could turn on the, if they had to do it, they could. For me, again, it's come naturally for me. But I think sometimes, in partnerships also, you just have to be honest, and if you made a mistake, you admit that you can make a mistake, and it's like, hey, here's some money I want to target 12 churches in Arkansas. No, it's not going to work, this campaign is not going to work, we have to move on. It's just being honest with your customers. And, and that's one of the things I wanted to have you talk about to our listeners is, you said referrals is a way that you get business. That's, I think, the ultimate compliment, but talk to us about, how was that time where you couldn't go in person? Because, again, I met you at in person events.
Meg Ugenti: Yep.
Vincent Pietrafesa: What did you do to build those, have those customer relationships? What did you do to help earn some new business for yourself during that time?
Meg Ugenti: So, COVID came in like a ton of bricks, right? I had, April 2020, I don't know, was ready to grow my business by 30% that month. COVID came, wah wah, flat line, like a lot of companies did. And then you have to really try to adjust your way of thinking or create those new opportunities out of thin air, especially when you have no timeline. You're not saying," Hey, I know this is going to end in two years, here's my game plan." Everybody at the time was like," Two weeks." Okay, no. A month goes by, two months go by, and if you're not doing something then, it was kind of like you started to see the cream rise to the top and then the ones that were just struggling to keep it along. So, similar to what you guys did starting this awesome podcast, The Marketing Stir, I started up Coffee and Conversions. I also was extremely focused on calling all of my clients, all of my partners, just to have a human conversation. Not talking about pitching product, not talking about Focus at all, just human conversations, how are you doing? How are you holding up? And I think, again, just the relationships that I have were already so strong that really, again, solidified a lot of those foundational learnings. So when they started talking to me about what was going on with them, they started talking to me," Oh my gosh, budget cuts for this." And I'm like," Oh, we can help take the lift off of you here. Let me know how we can help." A lot of that kind of stuff really solidified those foundations, and then once we got our clients over certain humps, they were like," Oh, so and so, we had to lay off, but now they're at another company, can he call you?" A lot of that stuff really started to happen. And what we carried along through that entire journey has been Friday phone calls, right? Every Friday, I'm calling all of my people saying," Hey, how are you?," with the human conversation, and just incorporating and creating those places for the conversation, right? Marketing Stir, Coffee and Conversations. Sorry, Coffee and Conversions, I'm not even calling it right myself. And then just really embracing what everybody else is doing as well, showing up as a partner, right? Showing up and going to somebody else's online event, or going to those virtual networking events, which we all were ready to pull our hair out at month six, doing. But I created so many other relationships that maybe I didn't work with them, but they remembered me for some reason and they referred me to somebody. And I think just maintaining that reputation has been a really strong part for us.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, I know, I love it. And I think, we begin to wrap here, Meg, I wanted to get to know, I know a personal side, and I like our conversations, speaking of conversations, you and I feel like this doesn't happen a lot anymore. It's like, we'll pick up the phone, and we'll talk, we'll catch up on life. We'll catch up on the industry, and then of course we'll talk business, but yeah, just having someone to talk to. I recommend the phone call, give people calls out there, if you have colleagues or friends in the industry, give them a call, I encourage that.
Meg Ugenti: Absolutely.
Vincent Pietrafesa: So, personal side, tell us what you'd like to do for fun. You're going on vacation with the family, hopefully that's going to be fun. That's quite the journey, traveling with kids, I know I have to do that, but what do you like to do for fun? Talk to us about it.
Meg Ugenti: Let's hope so. So yeah, I have two little ones, two and four. My four year old is also special needs, so for me, time is just gold. There's never enough time to do all the things that you want to do, especially when running a business. So for me, give me a good audio book any day of the week, I am constantly looking, and I'm a nerd, right? I'm a data geek. I'm just like a marketing nerd at heart, so a lot of the stuff you'll hear me reading aren't traditional fiction or something like that, it's usually something industry related. I really love being a leader in the business, so whatever I can do to self- improve on that front. I also stay away from all sports, and it's not really like a hobby, but I do enjoy the occasional hockey game. Vincent, I know you're a Rangers fan.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah.
Meg Ugenti: And we can stop being friends because I'm a Devils fan. But yeah, just trying to get out to a good hockey game as much as I can, or just hanging out with my kids.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. That's it. That's most of what I do now, Ajay does now. That's life. We all met each other 10, 12 years ago, it's a different story, you're going to the parties, going to the events," Oh, I'll stay in extra two days in New Orleans." Now I'm like," Are you crazy? I can't wait to get home." You know?
Meg Ugenti: Right.
Vincent Pietrafesa: It's all about that. But Meg, some closing thoughts, final, some advice for people out there, women out there, like you said, who maybe, receptionists, and then now look, so love to hear just some final thoughts from you.
Meg Ugenti: For sure. So for women in business, especially in marketing, just create the spaces for other women, or just other young people, to get involved and have more ownership in their day to day. I cannot tell you, some of the advice I've gotten as I've elevated my own position has been from people that have really believed that I could do it, and then their belief became my belief. And then it's one of those situations where, for other marketers out there that are also bridging the gap between marketing, sales, and I do believe that bridge is getting closed more and more and more. It's more marketing to sales, I believe, really invest in that conversation because if your marketing department is saying one thing, your sales department is saying another thing, there's a huge gap there that can cause potential harm. So I think really merging those two as much as possible, at least doing mutual training for your marketing and sales departments is a must moving forward. And then, the next one is keep listening to Marketing Stir, and hanging out with Vincent and Ajay, because these guys are awesome.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Oh, I love it. Love the kind words, I love the advice about marketing and sales, the age old that they're not together, keep continuing to bridge that gap. This has been fun. Ladies and gentlemen, our friend, Meg Ugenti, she's the Corporate Director of Marketing at Focus USA. Reach out to Meg, check out Focus USA, great company, great team as well. We know several people over there, great team. This has been another episode of The Marketing Stir. That's Meg Ugenti, I'm Vincent Pietrafesa, that's Ajay Gupta. Thank you so much for listening. Talk to you soon.
Vin: Thanks for listening to The Marketing Stir podcast by Stirista. Please like, rate and subscribe. If you're interested in being a guest on the podcast, please email us at themarketingstir@ stirista. com. And thanks for listening.
Vincent and Ajay chat with Meg Ugenti, Corporate Director of Marketing at Focus USA. She talks about how doing custom work for clients can help make their lives easier with personalized marketing. Vincent enjoys nice cool weather, and Ajay gets tickets to a Yankees game.