Guest: Lori Sylvia, Chief Marketing Officer, Smashfly
Air Date: November 13, 2015
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John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. Today we’re coming to you live from beautiful downtown Occidental, California. Happy Friday. Today we’re going to be talking with Lori Sylvia, who is the Head of Global Marketing for SmashFly. Lori is going to tell us about her life, how she got to SmashFly, what SmashFly does and things like that. Good morning, Lori. How are you?
Lori Sylvia: Hi, John. I’m great. Thanks so much for inviting me.
John Sumser: You’re very welcome. It’s great to have you here. Could you please take a moment and introduce yourself to the audience?
Lori Sylvia: Sure. Hi, everyone. I’m Lori Sylvia. I am the Chief Marketing Officer at SmashFly Technologies. We are a company that provides marketing automation software for recruiters, to help them find and attract leads and convert them into qualified applicants.
John Sumser: How did you get there? How did you get to the job?
Lori Sylvia: I joined SmashFly in October of 2014, so I’m just over a year with the company. When I learned about SmashFly and what the company was trying to do in bringing marketing principles to recruiting it was a no-brainer for me. It was an early stage company with a huge potential, some great customers already and an awesome opportunity to bring my expertise to help this company become a leader in the HR technology space.
John Sumser: You’ve been in a lot of different industries over the years. Tell me a little bit about the moves that you’ve made to get into SmashFly.
Lori Sylvia: I don’t want to date myself too much, but I’ve been in marketing and communications for twenty years. I started out as a journalist actually and originally thought that I wanted to go into broadcast journalism. At the wise age of sixteen, I think, I got a job operating the camera for the nightly 6:00 news in my hometown TV station. The only challenge was that it was a Portuguese TV station and I couldn’t understand a word of what they were talking about. Luckily the director was bilingual, so he could me when to pan and zoom in.
After college I got a job in print journalism and did that for a number of years, and eventually landed a job writing a newsletter about a new technology called ISDN, which means absolutely nothing to anybody who is listening to this, but at the ripe age of twenty-three I was one of the world experts on this new technology called ISDN. I eventually decided that I don’t want to just write about these tech companies, I want to work for them. That set me on my path to cross over into marketing and work for a software startup. Now here at SmashFly, I’m on my fifth software startup.
John Sumser: That’s pretty incredible. Five software startups and in all different industries. What’s it like when you come up to one of those learning curves? How do you know when you’re finally stable when you move from one industry to the next?
Lori Sylvia: That’s a good question. I’ve been in different spaces. I’ve been in virtual private networking, VPN reviews, different kinds of network security. I’ve worked in mobile software and in connected cars and internet of things and smart lighting, and now in the world of recruitment marketing platforms and HR technology.
First of all, you have to have a curiosity and you have to be a good listener. One of the things that I really love about HR is that the customers that we have and the talent acquisition leaders that I get an opportunity to speak with, they love to share what’s happening with them, their challenges, their frustrations, their goals, their aspirations. I think it’s trying to have as many conversations as you can have, especially in those early days, and be good listener, ask good questions. That goes back to my journalism background.
I think you start to know that things [inaudible 00:05:08] when you’re able to make some connections and draw some insight. It’s usually within a few months. Always in those first few months I try to take my time and just ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers and give myself an opportunity to learn essentially.
John Sumser: How long does it take you? Is there something you found that’s predictable? It takes eight months to learn how to go from one industry to the next?
Lori Sylvia: I definitely think it depends on the technology. Sometimes I have worked at companies where there is brand new technology, someone has [inaudible 00:06:00] moment and invented an algorithm and is trying to figure out how do I turn this algorithm into an actual product and what can we use this technology for. Sometimes it stresses your brain more because you spend a lot of time trying to figure out the use cases and how you’d go to market with something.
Here at SmashFly, we say that the time frame was shorter than that for me because we’re doing a lot of innovative things, but it is really about a better way to recruit candidates. I can more easily understand the technology that we’ve developed here, which are things like automation around job distribution and career sites and social and mobile recruiting. All of that happens in our platform, but I guess most importantly at the end of the day what we’re doing is providing marketing software, and I know marketing. This is something I know very well. For me, the learning curve was short. It was just within a few months of understanding how the product worked and how this was being applied to the process of talent acquisition.
John Sumser: Let’s dig into SmashFly a little bit. You’ve talked about it as a recruiting marketing platform and you’ve articulated some of the things that it does. What’s the general idea of SmashFly and what does it do?
Lori Sylvia: As I said, we provide marketing automation software for recruiters. One way to think about SmashFly is that most organizations, particularly large organizations, will have an HR IF to manage employees and they’ll have ATF to manage applicants, but they don’t have a system to manage leads. They might not even think about leads as a separate audience all together that they need to manage, but candidates today are really like consumers. They are researching employers the same way they research products that they want to buy and they are expecting a certain level of connectedness and transparency in the experience of engaging with that employer brand.
We provide a system for let’s say the top part of the recruiting funnel to help our customers manage leads, and more than manage leads, to automate all their recruitment marketing strategies and tactics that they use to find and attract leads, and then convert those leads into applicants.
One of the things we say is that recruiting’s job to convert applicants into hires and to manage them through a compliant hiring process, but recruitment marketing’s job comes first, and it’s to help the organization build a community, a network of interested candidates and help convert those pre-applicant leads into applicants so that the recruiters and sourcers have more qualified candidates to source from. If it’s done right, by integrating recruitment marketing and recruiting, an organization cannot only fill jobs faster today, but they can build a pipeline of warm leads that they can source from in the future and really transform the way they do talent acquisition into a more proactive way.
There’s so many parallels between recruiting and marketing. If you look at an organization on the sales marketing side, you wouldn’t ask your sales team to go and create your corporate brand and to do advertising and promotion and social media and to build your website and to do email marketing to your database. That’s marketing’s job and marketing is there for the purpose of not only building awareness, but also creating demand and then passing warm leads, qualified leads off to sales for them to then try to close to customers.
We believe that a modern recruiting organization will follow the same parallel of having recruitment marketing as its own discipline to work in concert with the traditional recruiters.
John Sumser: I have what I think might be a hard question. The thing about marketing is that marketing is a steady state environment, right? You always want as many leads as you can possibly get for the money that you have. That is the number one rule of marketing. There’s not a case in marketing where too many of the wrong leads at the wrong time is something that you need to manage. In recruiting, the demand for applications is largely variable. It isn’t in call centers and it isn’t in high turnover sorts of retail establishments, but in the high value end of the economy how many tech writers you need is the result of a number of variables and the units of need are never massive, right? It’s an erratic low-volume demand environment that you have to provide a supply for.
It seems to me that there’s not that level of sophistication in marketing; that marketing is more of a blunt force tool to apply, and if you want to do a credible job in recruiting you have to have lots of nuance in the system. Do you agree?
Lori Sylvia: I think if I understand you, John, you’re saying that there is a supply and demand that happens in recruiting that is timely or has some kind of limit to what the company is trying to achieve, so there may be times when your throttling back and not always accelerating, whereas in a sales and marketing environment where you’re trying to bring in customers to generate revenue that you’re always accelerating. Am I capturing that right or-
John Sumser: Yeah. I’m saying that it’s very easy to produce too many warm leads and it’s simultaneously really easy to produce too few. There’s a Goldilocks problem that characterizes recruiting that isn’t part of marketing. In marketing, up and to the right is always a good thing. In recruiting, you need to replace Sally when she retires. It’s not always trying to replace Sally. If you’re growing it twenty percent a year, then you need another Sally every five. It’s a very different core calculus and it’s not unusual to see warm leads that are sixty days old because there isn’t really a burning need for them. The discipline that it takes to create the volume of applicants that’s right … The right volume of warm applicants, that’s a really hard problem.
Lori Sylvia: I guess I would think about it in a different way, which is that when it’s time to replace Sally because Sally is retiring, as a recruiter I don’t want to start the process of thinking about that two months before Sally’s retirement date comes up. You could argue that when I need to do recruitment marketing, when I need to build a pipeline, let’s say, of candidates is when I’m going through a big growth spurt and I need to kind of get in front of a bunch of hiring that I’m about to do.
I’d also argue that you need to be constantly building relationships with candidates because even in the downtime, even in times when I’m not hiring as much, I still need to insure that those candidates have me top of mind and I’m building their interest in my organization so that when the time is right for them and the time is right for me it can happen much faster and I have the right people that I have built relationships with so I’m ready when the organization needs the talent acquisition function to step up.
A lot of customers when we first talking with them, they often think that the candidate journey starts from the point of apply. We help them to understand that the candidate journey starts from the point of attraction. It’s so important today for employers to begin building those relationships, sometimes years before you will have an opportunity for them. You always want to have a pipeline of warm leads that you can draw upon.
I hear what you’re saying, but I would challenge us to think about it differently because there is always a need to build those relationships and be ready wherever the organization wants to go. I think part of the role of talent acquisition is helping the organization to achieve that strategy, which sometimes can change on a dime, and you have to be ready.
John Sumser: That’s great. That’s a fantastic answer. Thank you. How is SmashFly different from its competitors?
Lori Sylvia: We’re different in a few different ways. We are completely focused on recruitment marketing. We have a product that’s called the recruiting marketing platform. All it does is find and attract leads and help the talent acquisition team convert them into applicants. We are not an applicant tracking system. We work with any ATS and we complement the ATS, so there is a real synergy between our recruitment marketing platform and an ATS that an organization already has.
At the top of the recruiting funnel a lot of talent acquisition leaders have recognized that the ATSs are really good at processing applicants, but not very good at engagement. What we often find when we begin talking with a customer is that they may have bolted on a few different tools for that top of the funnel, maybe something to manage social. Maybe they added a CRM so they can have separate database for leads. They most certainly have a career site, so they have something or someone that manages their career site. They have maybe a separate tool for job distribution.
We are different because we essentially unify all of that. We will replace, frankly, what they may have already bought with one single integrated platform for every single strategy and tactic that they would use at the front end of their recruiting process. It’s different because it’s one platform, everything works together to automate, manage and measure the process of attracting and converting leads into applicants.
In many ways there’s nothing else like it, and this one of the reasons why we’re getting some great momentum in the space with lots of brands coming onboard this year alone. We’re serving mainly mid- to large-sized enterprises. Just last week we announced our newest customer, which is Great Clips, which is a great brand, thousands of franchise locations. We’ve got many other big name customers like CDW and big multi-nationals like CH2N and Eaton. I could go on and on. That’s how we’re different. We’re helping companies to really unify the top end of their funnel and take a new, more proactive and modern approach to the way they do talent acquisition.
John Sumser: Wow, that’s a hell of a story. Do you think that this requirement exists in economic downturns as well as high-velocity times like we’re having right now?
Lori Sylvia: Yeah. Absolutely. First of all, most organizations are always hiring, especially the companies that we work with. They may hire less in some years and more in others, but they’re typically always hiring. Even in periods if the economy is not doing well, there is a constant need to build those relationships and to build your pipelines for the future, again so that you’re ready when it’s time to accelerate and step on the gas again.
John Sumser: We have plowing along through the universe of recruitment marketing. You’ve done some research about how the career sites and the Fortune 500 work. Tell me a little bit about that.
Lori Sylvia: In the last few months we embarked on a really ambitious project, which was to do our own original research on the 2015 Fortune 500. We studied their career sites, and it was like a major project for us, but we learned so much. We learned that the Fortune 500 are doing a good job with recruitment marketing. We studied their career sites for thirteen recruitment marketing practices, things like whether they were mobile friendly, whether they have messaging by job family, whether they’re doing things like embedding images and videos in job descriptions, a whole host of practices.
We found thirteen companies that earned an A, and twenty-seven percent earned As and Bs. The largest, I would say, organizations that offer talent acquisition teams out there are really adapting marketing practices and how they do recruiting, and there’s lots of great stories that can be found. If you’re looking for ideas, you’re looking for best practices, you’re thinking about 2016 and what you should do next, I think you’ll find a ton of great insight in our recruitment marketing report card.
John Sumser: That’s very interesting. Who’s at the top of the list?
Lori Sylvia: Thirteen companies scored twenty-one or higher. There was a total of twenty-five points that were allotted for the different practices and thirteen of the Fortune 500 scored an A; companies like Express Scripts, Johnson and Johnson, General Mills, Kelly Services; I’ll list them all quickly, AT&T, Comcast, UPS, Allstate, CDW, Hilton, Striker, Xcel Energy and Expedia. All of those nailed it with getting the highest marks for their use of recruitment marketing practices.
John Sumser: I didn’t hear any names on that list that are the regulars that are on the best places to work list. Is that an accident?
Lori Sylvia: I’m not sure. That’s a good question. We need to crosscheck. I can’t imagine some of them aren’t also a best place to work. Probably you’ll find many of those also getting high Glassdoor employer ratings. There are things that those companies do really well. Of the thirteen practices, there are a few that we would call a best practice, so they’re being used most often.
Two of them were around initiatives. They either had a campus or student or intern page and they also had a diversity page. Sixty-seven percent of companies had a campus and sixty-two percent had diversity pages, so they’re doing a good job at supporting those recruitment initiatives with distinct pages and messaging for those audiences.
Another area that we found is around messaging. If you’re a talent acquisition organization and you have defined your candidate personas, do you then go the next step and create messaging for those personas on your career site? Fifty-seven percent of the Fortune 500 feature employee stories on their career site and about half, forty-nine percent message by job family, so there would be an experience or a set area on the site for let’s say engineering and a different area maybe for customer service.
The final best practice was around mobile friendliness. Fifty-nine percent of the Fortune 500 have a mobile friendly career site. The way that was verified is using Google’s mobile friendly tool, which can be easily found by Googling it. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that it was only fifty-nine percent. I would expect and I guess hope that we would see more, and when we do this next year I hope that we will.
John Sumser: That’s interesting. You’re going to make this a regular research project?
Lori Sylvia: Yeah, I think so. Maybe I’m biting off more than we can chew, but we’ve gotten a tremendous response to it. A lot of people are interested in it. A lot of people are sharing the ideas and practices, and that’s really what this was meant to do, was to just bring some awareness and attention to some great examples of recruitment marketing. Yeah, I think based on the response this year we definitely need to take this on again next year.
John Sumser: That’s a great idea, it’s just a great idea. I’m really, really glad you’re doing it. We’ve been at this for almost a half an hour now. What should I have asked you?
Lori Sylvia: What should you have asked me? Boy, maybe what’s next for SmashFly? I’ve been here for just over a year, but the company has been around since 2007. We’ve built this amazing recruitment marketing platform and it’s getting such a tremendous reception in the market. This year we added some new capabilities around employee referrals. Everyone says how referrals are an important source of hires, for some organizations thirty or forty percent of their hires, for some even more. Now there’s the ability to manage all of your employee referrals from within the SmashFly platform.
In going forward, we’re just going to continue to add ways to automate the process of recruitment marketing, especially for those organizations that maybe don’t have a recruitment marketing team or an employer branding team, but they want to get started and they want to help their recruiters be more effective at managing relationships and not spending as much time let’s say managing social channels, so lots more automation capabilities to be brought into the platform to serve talent acquisition teams of different makeups.
John Sumser: Thank you. Thank you. We’re about to wrap this up. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Lori Sylvia: No. I mean thanks so much for inviting me. This has been great. I really enjoyed the opportunity not just to talk about SmashFly, but also a little bit about myself, which doesn’t always happen, so that was great fun. I’d invite anybody to visit our blog. There’s lots and lots of resources there for people that want to learn more about recruitment marketing and how to use it to get better talent acquisition results. Yeah, please come and join us on the SmashFly blog.
John Sumser: Thanks so much, Lori. We’ve been talking with Lori Sylvia, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at SmashFly. They do recruitment marketing. Thanks for listening in. Thanks for being here, Lori, and we hope you have a great afternoon. Thanks for tuning in everybody. Bye-bye.