About the guest

Sarah is an innovative marketing leader with 18+ years of high tech marketing and management experience in hiring & growing teams and exceeding business goals.

She is currently the Head of Field Marketing at Autodesk Construction Solutions. In her previous roles, she held leadership positions at Moz, Plangrid, Datahero & Adobe.

Her specialties are in press relations, analyst relations, budget management, integrated marketing strategy, go-to-market planning/ execution/ metrics, marketing campaigns, demand generation, event marketing, field marketing, customer marketing, program marketing, product marketing & partner marketing.

Building a Robust 2021 Field Marketing Strategy

33:13 | 11.11.2020
In this interesting episode of the Goldcast Radio, we take you through an enjoyable conversation between Kishore Kothandaraman, co-founder, Goldcast and Sarah Rohlfing. Sarah has worked with several companies and is an influencer in the world of marketing. She currently heads marketing at Autodesk Construction Solutions. Kishore and Sarah discuss her journey, her evolution as a Field Marketer, the contribution of Field Marketing in leading to better business outcomes and success metrics. Listen to the full episode to unlock interesting insights.

Welcome to Goldcast Radio - a brand new podcast that gives you a sneak peek inside the mind of modern field marketers, demand generation folks & CMOs.

Every week, Kishore Kothandaraman (Co-founder, Goldcast.io) interviews the thought leaders in event marketing and delves deep into their experience.

What’s broken about events & how could it be made better? What advice do they have for up-and-coming field marketers? What are the institutional/ operational challenges that are associated with being an event marketer?

Goldcast Radio is made up of real-life stories that help you navigate the challenges of the role that is extremely important in creating great digital experiences.

Sarah Rohlfing  0:00  

Talk about all the great things that you've done. You’re just on to the next event. 

Kishore Kothandaraman  0:05  

Yeah,  But the reason why I sort of picked you is because, I think at Goldcast, we are trying to build Events platform purposeful for field marketers and Demand Gen teams. But one conclusion that I sort of came to, after speaking to a lot of field marketers, is that, Field marketing is an important function in B2B companies, and for Go to market. But at the same time, it's also one of the most overlooked communities, I would say. 

I think it's because field marketing teams have to be a lot more data savvy in terms of understanding how these programs impact a pipeline. And when I spoke to a couple of months back, you were like, really cool, on analytics and dashboards to actually measure how each and every program per person contributes to the pipeline. 

So I want to pick your thoughts really on what happened in 2020.  We will probably dissect 2020, what worked, what didn't work. And we'll spend some time on how you guys are thinking about 2021 field marketing programs, and also some indication of what you think the future will look like. Does that sound fine tune?

Sarah Rohlfing

That's perfect. I'll answer when I can.

Kishore Kothandaraman  1:17  

Good. So if there's any confidential information that you can't reveal, tell our friends that you can't say it. And we can just go it from there.

Cool. In the first 5 to 10 minutes, I want to spend some time understanding your 2020 plans, and sort of what worked and what didn't work.  And I have a few questions in mind. So the first  one is, What percentage of the marketing budget is spent on field marketing at Autodesk?

Sarah Rohlfing 1:46  

I can't give you those exact numbers.Every company is different. So let me tell you, it wouldn't be the same for every company. So I work in construction technology, and events are super important to marketing.

Next, we have to be face to face. So when I talk to other colleagues and my industry, I would say that, overall, we've about  15 to 20% overall budget for the complete marketing mix and it went down a little bit in 2012. 

Kishore Kothandaraman

Got it. And at this time, obviously, you know, people think field marketing is just events. And it's not true, as you know, So what kinds of programs you guys had in mind, Pre-COVID?

Sarah Rohlfing  2:33  

I think before we talk about the programs, we need to talk about the definition of field marketing. So I want to get that out there. And also talk to the customers, because we like to build our programs for the sales organization, every good field game organization should.  But to me, Field marketing has been kind of a funny nut to crack. 

Because it can take shape, it can take a different shape based on the company that you're in. So I think from a higher level, I want to define my group, at least from a two pronged approach. They are the liaison between the Sales team and the Marketing team. So they’re doing an amazing job at bringing back what our customer says, what our prospects are saying about our sales, people having troubles. And they're helping to inform the Product marketing team and the Demand Gen team, what is it like to be on the ground because you don't want to get too far away from the customer?

 I think the other part is the liaison between the buyers and the sellers. So for us, our buyers are our construction people, that's General Contractors, Subcontractors, Owners, Bid Managers, sometimes Architects.  That's a lot of people, you know, to try to figure out how to go about all of that. And we really have to build programs Pre-Covid, face to face, because in the construction industry, it's kind of a handshake business. So that's why, Field marketing is so important because we needed to build this face to face. Yeah, we do that. We talked about two categories. And so one category would be the third party industry events. 

So in construction technology, there are a million associations which are really important to the General contractors and subs. And so we will help to figure out where our audiences are, in person and build not just the trade shows, but also the dinners, the wrapper events, anything that will drive pipe. 

The other portion that we do, which I'm really proud of, is our Autodesk hosted events. And I think not later but mostly that's you know, in person, we were doing beers for builders, taco trucks and roundtables.We were doing a kind of meetup style event. What's the most important thing is that, once we took that list, we figured out what's going on.   

We put it into our system Marcado. And then we followed it from the closed one. So, we know what works in person. I would say at any given time, Pre COVID, we were doing around 200 events. And that's obviously one down. What Yeah, all different sizes. You know, one of the stories I can tell you is Conexpo, which is a large trade show that happens about every three years in our industry.  It happened in March in Las Vegas, and my entire team was there, including myself. And there were about 130,000 people, and when we heard this word COVID, And we were like, okay, what are we doing?  

What's happening and roll? The show did in a day early, we got back to California, and I haven't seen my team since. So things have changed. 

Kishore Kothandaraman  5:58  

But did your budget change Post-COVID? Or did you guys keep the same budget for the rest of the year? 

Sarah Rohlfing

Our budget did change. And, obviously, you lose. So think about it, you lose the shipping, the transportation,the problem, all the logistics expenses. Yeah. I'm not sure every event went virtual this year.   

So this is a different year, I don't want to use the word weird, as it feels negative. But this is a different year for everybody. Okay, My mark is, learning all these platforms trying to figure out, I think that event companies are trying to figure out what is success for virtual. So some of the smaller shows didn't feel like it was worth it. They were like, I'm going to wait and see what's going on. 

I will say that we are putting a lot of money into virtual. And we are starting to understand what to look for, when it comes to engagement, and successes. And because we've struggled with it the first year, we're not trying to learn all these platforms, but we were like, why isn't it working? how it used to work in person? And I think a lot of people in the industry.

Kishore Kothandaraman

Yeah. So one point on that. So, even though the budget is various, you guys still would have a lot of money to experiment on a few programs. And also, the important point is that you guys are ultimately selling to construction sort of workers and stuff like that, right? And they won't be used to zoom or platforms like this, for example. 

So, what kinds of programs did you guys actually experiment with? Like, this year? Did you guys run different styles of programs? What are the kinds of things that you guys experimented with? Let's talk about that first, and then I have some questions on that particular aspect as well. 

Sarah Rohlfing  7:48  

Okay perfect. So it was interesting. And when you focus on construction, you know, women and men out in the field, you don't think of them as coming in to zoom.Companies have learned a lot. And I think a couple of programs I'm most proud of is that my team really put together a lunch and learn program with Uber Eats.   

So the sales team has started to move towards accounts. And so what was happening when the sales team moved towards accounts and kind of owning an account, and we couldn't travel, they couldn't get in front of their accounts. So I acted up a little bit and said, okay, what is your problem, and we heard time and time again, from sales people.  My problem is that I have no way to get in front of my accounts. So it's little things of engagement that has made the biggest difference to our customers, which is the sales team. 


And it's, you know, using the Uber Eats program, kind of helping them set all of that through Marketo. And, inviting their top clients to, meet with us, learn your account rep, figure out, if there's any other products that you need, and also, let us send you a code.  And it's on us and the success metric. As easy as that sounds, it has been so amazing. We've got over 600 meetings, and, just started it like a quarter or so ago,  individually. Yeah.  So it's been really successful. The other thing that we're doing is, we believe in regional events. And so, if you look at this, it's not the same as the West. 

You know, for instance, some of the events that we build are specifically for those regions, whether it's like a barbecue for builders and region and kind of take, you know, a local chef, and for the first 15 minutes, talk about Autodesk construction solutions, what it is, what's going on, and it's about to be Fourth of July. Let's figure out that brisket in the backyard. And let's give you some tips.

Right now ,In my construction, men and women love to cook and love to barbecue. And knowing your customer is important. Also, if they're going to be on zoom,please give them something that they care about. And not just,15 minutes of a PowerPoint presentation.  

I think from a national level, we did the exact same thing with some big celebrities, Jerry Rice comes to my mind, that's coming up December 10. And we're basically having the conversation about how football has changed, the world has changed, construction has changed. For the first 20 minutes, let's talk about the world, how it's changing, let's intertwine those two things together. 

So it doesn't look like we're just inviting a celebrity, while they're on there, and bring some consistency to the meeting. But also, my men and women love football. So let's talk, let's bring them something that they like, we've gotten a great turnout. I think as of today, I've heard that there are 850 people registered with one email. 

So, family is important to construction people, it's completely important. You don't want to rip them away from family, we're like, we hear that time and time again. So building events that engage families, for instance, the field marketing woman in the West built a pumpkin and power tools. So she had, invited all the families. So this is something that you can bring your kids to. And building or carving pumpkins with power tools, again, that construction message, but having something fun and engaging with it, and also not pulling you away from your family. I mean, it's a knockout and I’m loving it. 

Kishore Kothandaraman  11:55  

I have a couple of interesting points that came to my mind. One is, so you were saying that you guys have shifted from going to these large trade shows and conferences to having these smaller events of sorts. Is that a fair assumption to make?

Sarah Rohlfing 12:10  

I would say it's a fair assumption that we're doing less large trade shows.

But yes, it's a fair assumption that my team is really trying to focus on those high accounts. We're trying to focus more now. So a lot of us are close to sales. And the need now is to actually build those relationships. And so, I think that we do a lot of big trade shows, we just need to understand what success looks like for us to make sure it's with our version of success. 

Kishore Kothandaraman

So to a couple of points, actually, So you guys, obviously track success, you would have track success pre-COVID and post- COVID, right with these larger trade shows on the smaller events that you guys contact. Right. My first question is, Was there any significant difference in the success that you guys got, by having these smaller regional events, compared to the bigger trade shows and events? Like, were there any metrics that you can share our successes that you observed? Or are these two different programs? 

Sarah Rohlfing

Yeah, so let me let you, I think I'm understanding your question. So let me answer it how I want to, and then you tell me if I'm way off base. So I feel like, you know, you're asking me what worked and what didn't. And I think that, not every physical event translates into a really good virtual event. And I believe that what we were trying to do is make sure that we influenced enough pipe from, like what we had last year to this year, and how we go about that. And so, in a lot of events, people are saying virtual booths aren't working. They're not. 

Kishore Kothandaraman

Actually yeah, that's a good point, I want to pick. 

Sarah Rohlfing

Yeah. And I'd like to switch that on its head and say, I completely agree with you. Because what, you know, some of the data that I found is that we're building these virtual events on all of these large trade shows, it's taking us sometimes two days, because we can't figure out how to do that. But a company just recently called me and said, “Hey, we build virtual events. So you can have one standing virtual event and then you can just upload it every time”. I'm like, Okay, now that's starting to feel like a success. 

You know, I have all these other booths sitting in a warehouse, waiting, but why wouldn't I build a virtual booth that makes so much sense to me now, and I'm understanding that we need to figure out what success is with these virtual events. Another thing is swag. And I'm not taking any credit for this because I've an amazing team.  

But You know, we are really looking for engagement. And a lot of those times, people would come up and talk to us at a trade show and like, get a T shirt or whatever. And we turn that into positivity. Now that we don't have that ability, and one of the women on my team was like, hey, let's build a way that they can go to our virtual booth and also go to our virtual swag store. And so that's happening. And we're actually starting to get engagement, and she's asking for more information when they pick up those swag. And that's how we're moving them through the funnel.

Kishore Kothandaraman  15:43  

So the point I had, is my observation. At least in the virtual side, the own hosted events are a lot more successful than third party events. Is that a fair assumption? 

Sarah Rohlfing  16:00  

I, again, want to say it depends on the show. Yes, for me currently, but that's not fair to say in the industry. You know, I actually want to stick up for the trade show industry a little bit here. They also had to flip it on their heads, and, they're also like, how are we doing this? What's going on? How do we move forward? I don't think that some of these teams were prepared for a global pandemic, I have never had a throat glucan. I always think about that. This is, you know, my writer for me. 

So I think that there are successful shows, I think the successful shows that are happening are the ones that are able to flex with the time. They're also the ones that are able to have a hybrid model? And we can talk about that.

Kishore Kothandaraman  16:58  

Yeah. So now, you guys have looked at what worked and what didn't work. And you gave me some points on it. So how are you guys thinking about 2021? Like, did the insights and data inform you about how you're planning for 2021?

Sarah Rohlfing  17:13  

You know, field marketing shouldn't change, like, you have to continue to support the field. And so if the field changes, and the way they sell changes, then we change. But, honestly, I believe that Pre-COVID and Post-COVID, the tactics may change, but the reality is, we're still going to connect with buyers, tell those stories, and we're still going to do it.  It's just the same thing, but a different way.

Kishore Kothandaraman  17:48  

Did the budget change compared to 2020? Or is it the same budget that you can think in Field marketing? 

Sarah Rohlfing 17:59  

Well I’m fair. It's being worked on. I want you to know, just from a program perspective, I am looking more at ABSN programs and targeted count programs and smaller, intimate roundtables in March and April. We're running 18, different smaller round tables. So we're fast, kind of round tables in a box. But we're hitting a much smaller group. So, we are trying it all, we're going to measure the success, and figure out again, what works.

Kishore Kothandaraman

 And all these are regional programs and roundtables targeted for a particular region. 

Sarah Rohlfing

Correct, Yeah.

Kishore Kothandaraman  18:44  

Okay. Okay. So then,

What is your suggestion for companies to structure field marketing in a regional way? Is that how you would imagine like an ideal team would be?

Sarah Rohlfing  18:57  

I feel very strongly. And that's how I structure my team. So the reason why is again, I've talked about this. I have a woman in the south whose programs look a little bit different, and how they reach people is a little bit different than the west or Canada, they are ready out there, doing live events. What does that mean for us? What does that look like? We're shut down. In California, and in the north, I have a woman who sits in the north. Her team has a very, very strong opinion about what works in New York. And what works in New York is not going to work for what works in Louisiana. That is not scalable. 

And it is because what happens is we pick some really great objectives. We build some very scalable programs across, North America.And then we sprinkle in what works in the region. And it's been a successful model for me for doing this for a long time. 

Kishore Kothandaraman

So this is probably a dumb question to ask, but can you give me a tactical example of how a program in Louisiana would be different from our program in say, New york?

Sarah Rohlfing  20:21  

Well, they just don't like the same thing. So, you go back to your customer, it's not about me.  It's about how the customer buys. You know, it's just different. And we're trying to figure out what they like. And so again, it's more like, Hey, I know that I'm sitting in the field, and my customer is here. Why wouldn't I surround that particular place with my program, I'm not gonna use Louisiana, and I know, they love craft beer, and we just  did a craft beer program here. We are not in other places. And it works in swimming. 

Kishore Kothandaraman

Yeah. So on that point, I think you've touched upon this point before, where you talked about engagement, right. And recently, I heard this sentence called, “Zoom fatigue is real, But Netflix fatigue is not”, you are hooked on to sort of Netflix, but not zoom, right? Is it because the programs that are being done today are more around “Hey, this is the presentation go through the slides”, and they don't focus too much on what the end customers want? Is that the missing link as to why people say zoom fatigue is there? Like, I'm trying to understand why people are saying that. Netflix, I just watch all day, but I'm not used to these zoom round tables of sources, because people are missing out on something.

Sarah Rohlfing 21:57  

So, I'm gonna give you my opinion. Yeah, I have worked from home before the pandemic. So, working from home was not a new thing for me. But I've been experiencing zoom fatigue, where my eyes are burning, and all of that. And I think what's going on in these back to back to back meetings is that I have to engage more, pay attention more, beyond more, I feel it in my back a little bit that I'm worse. And I think all of that has this influence on how fatigue works.Chill in my bed, watching the great. I feel like it's natural.I don't know. Now, I could just be old.

Kishore Kothandaraman  23:01  

But that's a good point, I agree with you. Since we have five more minutes, I have one important point that I want to touch upon which you sort of mentioned before, there is a lot of buzz about hybrid events, even I don't understand what is gonna happen in the hybrid world. Right, like people say it's gonna be hybrid, but I don't know what exactly it means. Can you touch up on that a little bit in terms of what you envision? How this model is going to be like, yeah.

Sarah Rohlfing  23:27  

Yeah. So I don't know, it's just an independent study of 5000 people. And they kind of laid out what was happening in the events world, this study, then actually, for the next, you know, now and beyond, and they said in Fall 2020, to spring 2021, they will be digitally focused. So, they're aiming to engage a ton and try to figure out how owning your customer and how they like it, what are they like, at home?  Are they family oriented? What are they doing, find creative ways to get to them. Spring 2021 to fall 2021, there was a cop there, the results came back that there was a combination between digital and small in- person events. So we're not saying the big person events yet. 

And so, what I saw in the results is that they're capping these events for social distancing. And so, the event organizers have to figure out the top 20. Like, who do you want there? If you can only have 20% of your audience, we've got to think who are those top 20 highly valued, audience more like a VIP situation. It can be virtual and then fall 2021 , and beyond, they're saying that Tam for both, and this is when you're talking about like the hybrid. Back in the day that the live events, and this is my opinion, the live events were key, right. 

And so now what they're saying, and I believe this to be true, that you need to treat virtual events and live events equally, because we're hitting a group of people that still want to be there in person, but for whatever reason, family, children, they can't get away from work. They're still important. And they should be treated equally, but they couldn't make it to the five day Vegas trip. So I think, if I had to make a prediction, it would be that we, as event marketers need to figure out how to make two things equal with the same experience.

Kishore Kothandaraman

 And can we get the survey published live? Is it a confidential survey? 

Sarah Rohlfing

I don't know.

Kishore Kothandaraman  26:05  

But I'm very, very keen to look at the results of a survey. But in case you guys publish it, let us know. We'd love to look at it. 

Sarah Rohlfing

Yeah. I love these questions. They will, they might be not.

Kishore Kothandaraman  26:19  

So there's one question that somebody is asking, there is a video question of sorts.

Palash Soni 26:26  

Can you guys hear me? Okay, great. Hi, Sarah, I have a question. So given that this, this will be seen by many paid marketers, who would look for inspiration, as they are planning for next year. I wanted to understand is there a way, Is there a difference in the 2021 strategy for companies which are heavy on inbound marketing, versus who are heavy on say, more outbound sales? Will the field marketing strategy differ in some key ways for both of them, given the world will largely be virtual next year as well.

Sarah Rohlfing  27:00  

Well, Field marketing, the definition that I have is, really supportive of the outbound sales teams. So in my mind, when you drive the inbound, you're really talking about Demand Gen team which is equally as important. But you know, I really focus my whole strategy on sales in the field. Now, what that means, there are BDRS, inside sales reps, all of that, one little piece of field marketing every once in a while, and that is, we are trying to figure out, we did a lunch and learns for the BDRS, what does this look like. But at the end of the day, with the resources that we have, we focus on the field.

Kishore Kothandaraman  27:52  

So, there's one more question that is coming up. Sorry, I just want to pick that up.There's a person called Sam. Hi, Sam. 

Samuel Sunderaraj

Hey, Kishore. Hey, Sara. Yeah, one question I had was, going back to the kind of regional differences that you brought up, do you see virtual events, not having just a template, but you're gonna have to adjust right? For some you may have like, curious to know, if you're integrated to systems like Sendo. So where you're going to ship like a bottle of wine and right before the event, and then post it? Right. So getting kind of the experience that we would have had, if we all had met up at a fancy Hyatt, right.

Sarah Rohlfing  28:39  

Absolutely. We’re currently doing that, in fact, we call them event wrappers. So a lot of the team has been sending out, when we'll go to a trade show, like women in construction. We'll swap the wine night, or the speaker wine night, because that's been a really big deal for us. And so we actually build these event wrappers where we ship, a flight of wine, or we do things and then we bring in a Somalia and kind of talk about the wines that they've gotten. So, absolutely. 

And when I talk about ABSN, that's also what we're doing with those ABSN boxes, we're actually shipping some boxes and things like that to high targeted accounts that have also joined some of these events. So it's a hybrid model of that as well, that we haven't done before.

Samuel Sunderaraj 29:26  

Got it. And just a quick follow up. So in terms of tracking all of this, is this going to happen like in Salesforce? I mean, how do you put all this together, right for events, spend that ROI.

Sarah Rohlfing

It's a lot. So track, obviously Marketo to Salesforce. So that's our bread and butter. We build our programs in Marketo. And we trap those one in Salesforce. 

Samuel Sunderaraj

Got it. Great. Thank you.

Kishore Kothandaraman

Good. I don't want to keep you long for this. I think we are out of time.  Thank you so much for coming to the session. I think there are  few things that I learned I would probably put it out as a LinkedIn post of sorts. But I really liked the discussion that you had. So thanks a lot for sort of discussing your thoughts on it.

Sarah Rohlfing  

Oh perfect. Me and nothing more than I'm here. I promise. I'll do more on LinkedIn.

Kishore Kothandaraman  30:24  

Awesome. Thanks a lot, guys for coming to the session. It was all lovely meeting you. I hope you learned a bit. And in case you have any questions, feel free to connect with Sarah over LinkedIn. And I hope she responds to your messages. Yeah , Thanks a lot.

Sarah Rohlfing  30:39  

Thank you. Bye.