As someone who has transitioned from strategy and product marketing to VP of marketing several times both ways, Chi-Chi Liang, EVP of Marketing for Alloy knows what it takes to navigate the first 100 days.
A typical marketing team consists of demand generation, public relations, content and creatives, product marketing, web and SEO, etc. Each requires different skillsets that are at times contradicting. Some say Marketing is like SAT, comprising of Math and Verbal. Not many of us are equally strong in both, but do we need to be fluent in all marketing skillsets in order to be an effective marketing leader?
What are Chi Chi's learnings and tips for these first 100 days of the transition? What's her advice for those who might be doubting their abilities to make that switch?
1. Ask Core Questions:
“Do we have we as a collective, have a good understanding of who our target audiences who our target buyer is. Do we understand how to express the value that we provide to them? That's where I always start.”
2. Understand Key Relationships
“Where does the SDR/BDR sit and all that? It doesn't really matter in my mind where they sit, but I would want to understand how is that relationship going? What does that partnership look like? Are they actually operating together? Is it like a throw-over-the-wall sort of approach? And if so, that needs to be addressed and tightened up.”
3. Connect The Dots Within Your Team And With The Business
"First-time leaders or newer leaders need to make this shift is that your job then is not to know that function as well as your team does. Your job is to be able to paint a bigger picture, make sure that all those functions - the dots - are connected, that you're aligned to the business and that you're aligned to each other."
"You're not going to find someone who has done the day-to-day job of every single one of those functions as a marketing leader today, in which case I always anchor back on what is the value that I provide, which is really that broader vision of what we're trying to do. Ensure that we're staying connected to all the requisite parts of the business and to each other and that we're operating as effectively."
4. Educate your internal audience
"What most people don't realize is just the depth of complexity and all the work that goes into actually. Operating like a well-oiled marketing organization. And I have found just taking the time to educate internally, really pays off."
In this episode, you’ll learn:
What to listen for:
Chi-Chi is currently the EVP Marketing at Alloy. Prior to Alloy, Chi-Chi was the VP of Marketing at Periscope Data during the period it was acquired by Sisense. She was previously VP of Marketing at Grovo during a phase of rebuilding and repositioning Grovo as the leader in modern workplace learning, resulting in the company’s acquisition by Cornerstone OnDemand.
Earlier, Chi-Chi was VP Product Marketing at Lookout and was responsible for introducing their flagship Mobile Endpoint Security solution to the enterprise market. She has also held senior roles in marketing, strategy & business operations roles at Symantec after it acquired Vontu, where she led practice development and operations functions. She started her career as an Accenture consultant, primarily advising client companies on operational and process improvements.
Chi-Chi Liang: What most people don't realize is just the depth of complexity and all the work that goes into actually. Operating like a well-oiled marketing organization. And I have found just taking the time to educate internally, really pays off.
Trinity: This is The First 100 Day, a show for revenue practitioners, by revenue practitioners, giving you unscripted access and exclusive resources to help you navigate any new initiative and transition.
Our hope is that through these conversations, we don't just cover success stories, but also the failures and the lessons learned so that you can walk away with cheat sheets to maneuver your own transitions so that you can accelerate your career faster. I am your host, Trinity Nguyen from user jams.
Imagine owning the room revenue number for the first time coming from a strategy background or a product marketing background, which tends to focus more on the long-term rather than a quarterly number for Chichi Lang I'll guess for this episode, this is a transition that she's experienced multiple times throughout her career.
She is currently the EVP of marketing for Alloy. Alloy equips consumer goods brands to capture demand and streamlined supply by breaking down silos within and across supply chain sales and marketing teams for product marketers out there aspiring to become VP of marketing and CMOs responsible for the revenue number of your company, Chi-Chi shed some light on the lessons that she learned.
Chi-Chi Liang: So I have had a meandering career starting off in consulting, leaving there, and eventually finding my first startup. And then through the startup experience. Getting exposed to a lot of different things, which included marketing, which is where I found my real passion and fit after, you know, probably halfway through my career and then decided to stay there.
So I had the real benefit of being exposed to a lot of different functions and being able to play a lot of different roles and companies, which I actually think makes me a stronger marketer.
Trinity: So before we get into the first 100 days, I'd like to get to know you as a person behind the impressive resume.
So my question to you is what are the challenges that you overcame or any kind of conditions that you experienced that made you the person you are today?
Chi-Chi Liang: I have to say, I feel like I've led a very privileged life and I haven't really had that many hardships to be perfectly honest. My parents set up a very, they certainly had hardships, but they never let us feel it.
So I was always able to focus on my education on. Really developing myself in all the ways that I, I wanted to and needed to. And, you know, even being encouraged by my parents, you know, while I was in college to go travel because travel is education. And so I don't know that I've necessarily. Encountered that many, what I would consider real challenges, you know, I'd say the biggest challenges are more, the ones that are in my own head and struggling with issues.
Certainly earlier on in my career with confidence, I'd say the biggest thing was just really overcoming my own, you know, your classic, um, imposter syndrome that so many of us feel and, and experience in our lives is just really overcoming that. And. It's certainly never entirely goes away, but I do feel I've made big strides throughout my career to.
You know, to demonstrate to myself that there's a reason for me to feel more confident.
Trinity: So I'm going to switch gear to understand your first 100 days as more and more product marketers, aspire to lead marketing teams in the future. I love to hear from you about these transitions that you went through specifically in 2010 when you were in product marketing at two, which was then got acquired by Symantec then to leading marketing for Symantec's Northern EMCA team in London.
And then again in 2018 from being a VP of product marketing at a lookout to leading marketing at Grovo. So what were your first 100 days’ priorities when you did that kind of switch?
Chi-Chi Liang: I can't imagine it's that different from what other people do, but you know, in the beginning, A lot of it is just listening and understanding the lay of the land, right?
And the lay of the land, meaning everything from your immediate team and how, you know, getting a, getting a read on how they are operating, you know, perhaps where you have strong players, where you have areas, you know, players who actually might need some, some additional help to understanding even the dynamics of how the company operates and makes decisions.
You know, to your hardcore sort of understanding of what's, you know, what are the company priorities and goals is your function and marketing aligned to that? Or where are they not aligned to that too? Especially in the recent, in recent years, like the last three. Jobs that I had, I really been changing industries each time or at least to some degree.
And so there's also the need to really understand, okay, what's this new industry that I'm in and getting at least a cursory understanding of that market, who your target buyers are. And so it's a lot of just, it's a lot of just one-to-one conversations with people in the company across all different functions, just to really be able to form a picture of what's actually happening.
But I usually do even then try to sit with it for a little bit, you know, pressure test those assumptions or those initial impressions and just continue to, to information gather. And then, then I'd say the last thing is, you know, within the first hundred days, certainly there's enough time there to also start implementing.
Perhaps some foundational things are missing. Right? So in each of those examples that you mentioned, there were things that I put in place, whether that might be a framework for how to think about integrated marketing campaigns, too. You know, making sure that we actually had a, um, core product messaging source document, um, that might sound familiar to you to whatever some of those foundational elements are that are really going to be needed for the team to operate as effectively as possible.
Trinity: I feel like running the marketing requires a different skillset completely. So how did you gain the necessary skill sets? Like even if we talked to the stakeholders, understanding the gap, but I feel like you mentioned requires a completely different skillset from product marketing or maybe I'm wrong.
Chi-Chi Liang: I think there's, there's more overlap than what some people would recognize to do demand gen. Well, again, who are you actually trying to generate demand from? Right. It all starts still with. Who is your target audience, right? Who are the personas you're going after? Do you have an understanding of the ideal customer profile?
And you need to know all those things as a demand gen person, to be able to effectively target as well as to generate that to me. Right. And that means you're also working closely with whoever is creating content in your team to make sure that, you know, whatever it is that you're trying to promote.
Makes sense for the audience that you're targeting. So the product marketing background that I, that I brought into those broader roles, I think gave me even, um, a better understanding of like how to, how to get moving with those conversations and just try to make sure that we were even thinking about things that way then beyond that, I mean, I think it's, it's one of the things that I've certainly learned and I think it's always a hard thing for.
First-time managers or newer managers to really wrap their heads around her or make this shift is that your job then is not to know that function as well as your team does. Right. Your job is to be able to paint a bigger picture, make sure that all those functions the dots are connected, that you're aligned to the business that you're aligned to each other.
And you know, if you've gotten to that point, I mean, hopefully, this is not always the case, but. If you've worked in high functioning marketing organizations in the past, even as. Product marketing or maybe one other different functions within marketing. If it is a, if it's a well-run marketing organization, you are integrated, you are working together all the time.
You're not operating just in a silo. In which case you have exposure, you have an understanding of what it is each of those functions is responsible for. And while you may not know the ins and outs and the nuts and bolts of how they do their job, you understand broadly what it is that they're trying to achieve.
And so. I would always just try to bring, I mean, all that I could bring, which was, you know, my perspective on things from a product marketing standpoint and asking those questions, and then you asked a lot of questions. You try to understand. What is happening today? And then if there's something that feels off or you just don't understand, right.
Then you just dig in and you, and you ask more questions. And typically through that process, you're obviously learning about that function, but you're also prompting your team who owns that function to really think about it as well. I feel pretty confident in saying like, you're not going to find someone who has done the day-to-day job of every single one of those functions as a marketing leader today, in which case I always just anchor back on what is the value that I provide, which is really that broader vision of what we're trying to do.
Ensure that we're staying connected to all the requisite parts of the business and to each other and that we're operating as effectively.
Trinity: So was there any, um, maybe doing like these two transitions or any other transitions that you went through where things surprised you? You mentioned about a well-integrated and well, high functioning marketing team. Was there any story of where it wasn't the case and what did you do to elevate the caliber of the team?
Chi-Chi Liang: There were a lot of disconnected functions, but hi, truly high-performing people. Right. And, but it just, wasn't all connected together. And the team wasn't operating kind of as a cohesive organization. And so in that regard, it really, I mean, I recall even just. Thinking at the time. Oh my gosh, how easy is this to get the team activated?
Cause it really almost was just about coming in and providing that air cover and, you know, and stating what I think everybody on the team already felt and want it to happen, but just wasn't in a position to do that. And so that was actually a fairly easy one on the grand scheme of things.
Chi-Chi Liang: A couple of my other experiences, I'd say some of the other surprises or maybe, I don't know if surprise is quite the right word. Um, but things that I certainly learned, number one is the importance of educating the rest of the company on what marketing is there to do. And, and it seems like one of those things like, Oh, well, we're all, you know, everyone's everyone in the company has their own function and there should be an implicit understanding in terms of what they're there to do.
I have found though that, you know, I think marketing is just one of those functions where. Because everyone has had some level of exposure to marketing in their life. Right? We're all consumers. We all watch Madmen, right? Like we all haven't everyone thinks that they understand what that world is because they've had exposure to it.
What most people don't realize is just the depth of complexity and all the work that goes into actually operating like a well-oiled marketing organization. And I have found just taking the time to educate internally, really pays off because what it does is, I mean, selfishly it's a little bit of.
Blocking and tackling, right. Being able to just proactively help people understand all the different things that you're working on, because what they tend to see are the events that you run, or perhaps like the PR sort of hit that you got. Right. But they don't understand all the mechanics of how things fit together.
And it is, of course, a balance. You don't need to inundate people with all the detail, but I have found that actually taking the time to educate the broader company internally is, is worth the effort.
Trinity: So, what are the things that you found most effective and helping you educating the company and the leadership and maybe the board too?
Chi-Chi Liang: Yeah, I'm thinking right now, but where I am, which is Allloy, um, it's a, you know, early-stage SaaS company as probably most of us are working on these days, um, that is in the supply chain space. In any case, you know, I'm reflecting because I actually feel like I still have quite a bit of work to do, you know, to make sure that I'm properly educating, you know, the team at Alloy and with everything going on with COVID and everything remote it's it certainly doesn't make things a little bit harder. However, I think what has, um, since you mentioned the board and those conversations, we meet with the board and on the whole, those have been like, those have been going really smoothly.
And I think the way that I've approached it, and I have a, more like a new peer, someone who was promoted in the company into a different function, like into the leadership level and he attended. Our first board meeting and, um, you know, was looking for advice for me before he joined that first board meeting about like, how do I think about it?
How should I approach it? And. My advice to him, uh, which is what I try to follow myself is like, just know what story you want to tell them, like, you know, the business, you know, you know, the business better than they know the business and don't try to present what you think they want to know. I mean, obviously, you have to think about that to some degree, but I like to think about it.
From the standpoint of what do I want them to know? Because what I want them to know obviously is something that I have deemed a priority. And it's something that is important for, for, or, you know, it's showcasing what work we are doing, you know, from a marketing standpoint in the company. And, and that's probably because I think that's important for us to do so.
I think it really is just taking every possible opportunity, whether it's. You know, a regular sort of all hands update that you might give to the company on occasion to a board meeting, to, you know, um, more formal forums is to just find those little opportunities and helping them understand what it is that we're doing and why.
Trinity: So a lot of conversations these days in revenue, um, communities is just the sales and marketing alignment. As you become like marketing leaders over your career, did you experience any time where it was a misalignment between sales and marketing and what did you do specifically to align the two teams?
Chi-Chi Liang: I think that's the age old sort of friction that's always there, you know, and every company is, is that sort of, is that relationship between sales and marketing and increasingly so with SAS, like sales, marketing, and customer success. And I don't think there's a silver bullet answer to how you address that other than just it's relationship building at the end of the day.
And what I mean by that is. Letting your, your peers and your counterparts know that you, that you have the company's interests at the forefront of everything that you're doing and you assume they do as well. And therefore there should be alignment at that level. And therefore when we start getting down to, um, you know, the nuts and bolts of, okay, what am I responsible for?
What are you responsible for? Really just taking the time again, to educate on, okay, well, here's. Here's what it is that I'm able to bring to the table. Here's why we aren't able to do more unless I get these resources. Right. And just helping them understand a little bit more about your specific function and your part of the business, just to help with that broader understanding of you're not just coming out and saying, no, I can't do that.
You're helping them understand why that's a challenge and how you can collectively work together to address that. Because oftentimes it's just a matter of. Mutual understanding of where are they feeling the most pressure, right? Where am I feeling the most pressure and just talking about it and helping each other figure out, okay.
I understand where you're coming from now. Therefore, why don't we, you know, this is your most important thing. Let's make sure we're working together on that. And then, you know, the other areas of your business that perhaps are still important, but less, less critical. Well then let's tackle that together later on, or, you know, make sure that we have a few, like a smaller percentage of our resources focusing on that.
So it doesn't, so it keeps moving, but let's all align on what the most important thing is.
Trinity: Do you think for someone who is new to the role, a new to the company, and a lot of time, people at bias that you need to build a relationship, trying to be on a good side of your stakeholders, but at the same time, you also need to draw the boundaries.
Like we just mentioned, how do you balance that? I mean, there's no right answer, but I'd love to hear from you.
Chi-Chi Liang: I think just like with any relationship that you have in any facet of your life, there's the given the tape. Right. So going back to, I guess the theme of this conversation, which is the first hundred days in the early days, part of how I like to approach it and establish my own credibility within the organization is to be more of a listener than a than to scurry around and make a lot of changes or implement a lot of things. But in listening, trying to understand what their real challenges are and because I've been working for a long time. And so in many cases, even if it's not in my, you know, squarely within the world of marketing, the right marketing, and because I've done other functions too, I've really had a lot of exposure to all various parts of the business and just offering some thoughts or.
Advice or ideas based on things that I've done in the past or witnessed or experienced in the past, and then helping out with little things where you can just to, to really build up some of that. Early relationship mojo, if you will. And then, yeah. And then from there, I think it is just a matter of to your point, right?
Like we are all here. There's a natural tension that is healthy within functions in businesses. That is, that is how it should be. And so you do have to be firm about where your lines are and communicate that in a way that's, you know, that's understood to other people.
Trinity: I think you've mentioned in the last 30 days of this 100 days, the period is when you start implementing some of the plans. So usually those are like the quick wins because you need to establish your credibility. I'm curious if you found through your career, what are the different quick wins buckets that new marketing leaders should examine when they enter a new company, a new industry?
Chi-Chi Liang: Ooh. Yeah, that's a hard one. I mean, I think my cop-out answer is that every situation is going to be a little bit different, meaning like, what are the, you know, when I said part of what you're doing in the first hundred days is basically a gap assessment or a gap analysis around the business. And depending on what those gaps are, What you decide to tackle as a quick win is going to be different.
But that's how I think about it, which is when you're looking around and you're like, okay, here are some of the things that, that are missing that I see what are ones that truly are like literally quick wins, which are the ones that we can tackle pretty quickly that are pretty straightforward. It just requires a little bit of focus and maybe a little bit of guidance to get that done, then making sure that you're, you're sharing it.
Right. And you're sharing it yeah. With a broader audience within the company so that they understand. Whatever that thing is how and why it matters to the business and how it might impact them directly, depending on what it is.
Trinity: Do you remember any of your favorite quick wins?
Chi-Chi Liang: Yeah, I mean, I'd say a couple of obvious ones are just hiring quickly.
You know, sometimes that's a quick win, like currently at alloy. Right. I knew when I came in already just having gone through the interview process, I knew gap wise where we had serious gaps from a resourcing standpoint because I came into an organization that had one person doing all of the marketing, which is so hard.
And then it was me. And fortunately, by the time I started, there was, I suddenly had a, you know, like a product marketer as well, which was amazing. So I'm like, okay, well I really need someone who can do demand gen. And I knew that before I even accepted the job and I had that teed up, I had her interview before I had even started and she ended up joining.
So that was, that was one certainly quick win. It just depends on each individual company, but yeah, at previous ones at Grovo, it actually was that product messaging sourced off, which I took on by myself because they didn't have a product marketer at the time and just got moving with that. And so we can align on just says, product messaging always goes, it's an evolving thing, but at least we, we could all be on the same page about how we wanted to talk about ourselves in the beginning and then, and then collectively evolve that over time.
So that was something that, you know, I focused on and did in the first. Not even the first hundred days, probably the first, like 45 days.
Trinity: Just kind of curious to hear if you had run into any kind of roadblocks or mistakes, where if you could go back in time now you would have addressed it differently.
Chi-Chi Liang: Oh, certainly there's a lot of this. Um, I'd say the one that stands out is this happened at Grover. This happened in other places. It tends to be.
At least for me, it's this mindset, especially those of us who enjoy the startup environment and, you know, and part of what we enjoy is like, we all have the scrappy attitude and yeah, we'll just make it happen. We'll figure it out right then. That is part of the ethos of working in a startup. But I have certainly learned the hard way that not investing in senior enough resources.
I mean, honestly, even. Especially early on in the company when you're just trying to get some functions up and running. I'm not saying you need like this, you know, Cadillac size team, but I'm saying like for your couple of, you know, one, two critical hires, making sure that you're bringing in people who really do have the right level of experience and seniority is just a must-have surely.
That's the thing that I have learned. Frankly, that was a mistake that I made where we were very constrained given our financial situation. And at the time, you know, cause we were basically rebooting the whole company and eventually, you know, basically preparing ourselves to get sold. That we were really constrained in terms of what we could spend.
And it was just very, very hard, right. I ended up really only being able to hire resources for critical functions that had like three, four years of experience. That is not enough. And what I learned from that I've taken on to other, you know, other companies since and heavily about that in the interview process is to understand what is their appetite really for marketing?
Do they. Quote unquote, get marketing. Right. Do they really understand what it takes or do they think that, Oh, you just come in here and I get a marketing leader and all of a sudden on day one, you know, your demand gen spigot opens and everything's flooded, right? Like it's finding the organization with the CEO and the leadership team who understands.
That there's a lot of complexity involved that it takes time to get things moving that experience and seniority matters and that they're willing to invest in that. Right. And they understand that this is a long game, really, when you're talking about marketing, of course, there are quick wins and there are things that you need to kind of get moving on quickly, but truly to get things really.
Humming it is an investment and you have to be willing to do that. Don't estimate, you know, the value of actually bringing true experience onto your team because you hire smart people. There's nothing even like really smart people who have never made those mistakes and figured out what to do and not do.
They're going to make all those mistakes again. Right. And it just, it shortcuts the whole process. If you're able to bring in some seasoning from the beginning.
Trinity: And I'm really intrigued by, um, your part where you said that you got to vet, uh, the CEO, the board, et cetera, when you do the interviews. And I feel like, I don't know if there are resources out there to help for some leaders to actually challenge and push back in the interviews to the boards and the CEOs based on your experience.
Now, if you were to create a cheat sheet for a first-time VP of marketing coming from. A non-demand gen background, what would be on it? And you answered this throughout the interview, but if you visualize it like a cheat sheet, what would be the top three bullets on that?
Chi-Chi Liang: Well, I would start by, by asking the core questions that any marketer should be able to answer. Right. Which is, do they understand does your team, so I guess it depends on whether you have a team that you're inheriting or you're building a team, but it's it starting with a, do we have we as a collective, have a good understanding of who our target audiences who our target buyer is. Do we understand how to express the value that we provide to them?
That's where I always start. And, you know, regardless of its demand-gen or product marketing or some other function, right? Like you need to have that balance. But then it's, then it's really understanding, I guess, the demand gen strategy and approach, meaning like, depending on who you're going after, right?
Meaning not just audience and buyer, but what segment company are you going after? That's going to be a very different approach to demand. And Jen, if you're going up to a large enterprise and you are going after SMB, right? So really just making sure that you have the right strategy based on. The segmentation and the type of customers that you're going after.
I'd say the third thing is regardless, there are lots of permutations of how demand gen and sales are organized at companies in terms of like, where does the SDR, the BDR set, you know, and all that. It doesn't really matter in my mind where they sit, but I would, I would want to understand how is that relationship going?
What does that partnership look like? Are they actually operating together? Is it like a throw over the wall sort of approach? And if so, like, okay, that needs to be addressed and tightened up. Is there even a mechanism where that is happening? Right. I mean, it's just, I would dig into that. The last point is really just illustrating.
How does the marketing function that you've just stepped into interact with the other functions in the business? I mean, that's the broader thing and just getting a sense of those dynamics. Like how tight is your product marketing function, working with your product management team, those sorts of things.
Trinity: One of the things that I really, really admire you is your ability to remember the details that matter for each of the people that you meet. And it's incredible. It blows my mind, like you're the inspiration that I started a Google sheet manually and typing things. And just so I can like mimic some of that. How do you do that?
Chi-Chi Liang: Oh, wow. It's funny. I appreciate you saying that. I never really thought of that as like, as much, but in terms of, you know, people that I interact with on a regular basis, certainly people that I work with, I, um, I think my, I don't even want to call it like a management style or leadership side.
It's more just like my working style. I'd like to get to know the people I work with. I like to establish a rapport that usually hopefully extends beyond just. The workplace right. Where you get to know them as a person and you form like more of a, um, like more of a friendship really. And I just, maybe this is the extrovert in me.
I just really enjoy people and take a real keen interest in people. And, um, when they tell me things, I tend to remember them. Hi.
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Trinity: While no secret sauce to Chi-Chi’s supernatural ability to remember the details of people that she cares about. Chi-Chi provided great insights into making the role shift. No matter what level your career is in Christian joins me to break down the insights further.
Christian: Her advice was really straightforward and really actionable, and the interesting thing is that it already starts before you take the role. And in a sense, part of your cheat sheet should be that in the interviewing process, usually, the writing makes sure that it's in the interest of the company aligns with your interests and with your strength. And I think your highlights are like, it should be part of the interview too, to already figure out what does your manager have in mind?
What does the CEO have in mind and how does this fit with what you're good at and with what you want to achieve?
Trinity: So essentially an interview for any aspiring VP of marketing and aspiring CMO, the interview process. It's not just the company interviewing you, but also you interviewing the company and the board to make sure that you guys are a good fit for each other.
Christian: Absolutely because it's so much harder to get into the situation and then adapt to the needs that you're facing than it is to already make sure that the company you're joining has the right environment for you
Trinity: regarding the last piece of advice that she gave, um, specifically about the cheat sheet, maybe because of my background in product marketing, but I was stoked when she said that the first thing she did or advise anyone who's taking the marketing leadership role would be to understand that your target audience, what values your product and company brings to that audience and how to message it. I think that's something that a lot of time. Um, marketers don't pay enough attention.
We usually hit the ground running and there's a lot of KPIs to track how much traffic degenerate, how much organic search you can capture, et cetera. But then the fundamental foundation to use her word, a foundation of marketing is understanding who you're selling to and how your product and services can help that audience. Is there anything else that you think our audience should pay attention to?
Christian: I think we talk a lot about when you get promoted, how much more you're interacting with other departments. And I think it's just always important to highlight that this not only means to understand where are the touchpoints but far more.
So understanding what's actually important to them. Because that's really the only thing they care about. So in this interaction between marketing and sales, it's not only the worst interaction but rather like what do they want to get out of this interaction? And the more I understand what's important for them, the better I can create a meaningful relationship with them.