EPISODE 018
A Means To An End
Listen to this conversation with Matthew Sciannella, a writer turned marketing strategist for B2B industrial companies after obtaining his Master's degree. He finally made the jump after spending many unhappy years in a job that he performed well in, but hated. If you can identify with that, you'll certainly want to listen to this episode. 
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Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[00:00]           I’d put myself like 20 plus thousand dollars in debt to get a marketing management degree with the intention of changing career paths. And my president who willingly paid for me to get this degree looked at what I wanted to do with it and said, “It's not going to work here.”


Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:20]          Welcome to the Unpolished MBA podcast. On this podcast, we have conversations with tech startup founders and entrepreneurs and traditional corporate MBAs. Many say that startups equal the unpolished MBA because those without the formal business education are scrappy and do many things untraditionally to achieve business success. But anyone who has built a business from an idea can attest to the fact that the experience is another level MBA, and there's nothing quite like it. The candid conversations shared here is helpful to both sides of the fence. One is not better than the other, just different. Let's jump in.

                      [01:12]       Hi, I'm your host, Monique Mills, and in my work, I get to have great conversations with a lot of smart and interesting people. Some are tech startup founders and entrepreneurs in various industries, and others are corporate employees. Here I'm sharing a conversation I had with Matthew Sciannella, a writer turned marketing strategist for B2B industrial companies after obtaining his Master's degree. He shares how and why he made the jump from writing to marketing strategy after spending many years unhappy in a job that he performed well in but absolutely hated. If you can identify with that, you'll certainly want to listen to this episode.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[01:59]          So I was 27 years old. I was working in GovCon, government contracting as a proposal writer and technical writer and I can't tell you how much I hated that job. So I was an English major out of college. I didn't know what I wanted to do with an English degree. Writing just kind of was like, “Well, I know how to write.” So I fell into proposal and technical writing. And so I got caught in this trap where I was good enough at it that people would hire me. And I was in a company that paid their employees long enough that I ended up having a certain comfort of living. And I had a wife and I had a one-year-old and so I wasn't willing to take the step down to go do like an entry level marketing job, because that was going to involve taking like a $20,000 pay cut. I was like, “I can't do that.” My wife not working, I have a one-year-old, and we have a mortgage and all this other stuff. Life tends to get in the way of those sorts of things. But I was fortunate in that my company had an advanced education program, they’d pay for half of it. I just had to stay at the company for a year.

                      [03:07]       And so I really, truly went into that program with the hope that I would be able to switch career paths. So I wasn't thinking marketing then, I was thinking business development. That was a role that fit that company. So I was like, “Hire me. I'll get you into new markets outside of GovCon. We'll get more into recreation. We'll get into the gaming industry”, because, in Maryland, where I lived, gambling had just passed legislation and become legal. And we also had a small office out in Las Vegas so that would have fit. Ended up like-- And I could tell the story when we record the podcast. So I wrote this whole proposal and I brought this to my president. And my president looked at it and he looked right back at me and he said, Matthew, as long as you work for me, you will always be my technical writer.” And I remembered I almost cried. I put myself like 20 plus thousand dollars in debt to get a marketing management degree with the intention of changing career paths. And my president who willingly paid for me to get this degree looked at what I wanted to do with it and said, “It's not going to work here.”

                      [04:14]       And so basically, at that point, the timer started on my career shift. I bided my time. I was going to be a man of my word. And I stayed for a year at that company after I finished, and then I ended up trying to go find a marketing job. And so that was difficult in and of itself because I didn't really have a lot of marketing experience. And again, like I said, I wanted to make a certain-- I was willing to take a pay cut but again, I had a certain level of income that I needed to maintain.

                      [04:43]       So I got really, really fortunate in that I applied for a lot of jobs and a lot of them said no to me, or didn't answer me, or I got brought in for an interview and it was kind of a sham. And so I had someone reached out to me on LinkedIn, actually. On LinkedIn, it was a LinkedIn Sponsored InMail from my old boss. And he said, “Hey, I'm hiring for a marketing manager for this company and I saw you're local to the area and you have some marketing experience.” And I had done some little things like I changed my job title to be marketing brand manager at this company I was at because I was doing like 25 to 30% of my job was marketing there and then the other 70% was proposal writing. So I got to manage the website, and I ran our social media accounts, and this is really all this company was looking for at the time.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[05:34]          I could do that.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[05:35]           Yeah, I thought, “I could do that.” And so I said, “Well, first off, where's the job? And is it commission base?” Because that was one of the things that happened a lot. And he’s like, “No, it's our position, and it's in Frederick.” And I looked up where the company was, and I don't know if anyone here listening to the podcast knows the DMV, or the DC, Maryland and, Virginia area, but I was commuting two and a half hours round trip to work every day. And so that sucked. Yeah, I mean, I was 30 miles away from my job and it took me an hour and 10 to get there. And it took me an hour 15 to get back because traffic is insane. So I looked where this company was, and it was five miles away from my house. It was a 10-minute drive.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[06:17]          Whoa! The quality of life completely changed right there.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[06:21]           Yeah. And so I was thinking, like, again I had a one-year-old, and so I'm like, “Oh my God, that's 10 extra hours a week I get to spend with my kid, with my child.” And so that was irresistible. And so I interviewed for the job. And then to me, it gets more interesting. This is definitely more part of my story, but I was so unsure. This wasn't how I saw my career going. I thought I was going to go to a larger company, work under a more experienced marketing team, really cut my teeth and learn the ropes, and then I thought I would be able to go to one of these mid-sized companies and maybe get a marketing manager position where I was a part of a two or three-person team, or maybe I got to be the only marketer in a really small company with a small sales team, right? That's where I envisioned it. That's where I envisioned my career going. But this was not it. This was a $30 million company that had just decided to let their existing marketer go because they weren't getting the job done for them. And they wanted me to come in and own the entire marketing department with a sales staff have 12 and a sales engineering staff of 12 also. And this was to be the only marketing person for the US and Canada.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[07:31]          What? Okay.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[07:33]           Yeah. So it was a big job in reality, although their expectations for it were very low. So I didn't know if I wanted the job but ultimately, I convinced myself like, “I didn't go to school to get this degree to get these interviews to not want this job.” So I spent three weekends, because I had a phone interview and then I had the in-person interview. So I spent three weekends preparing for this interview. I basically audited this company front and back online as much as I humanly could, walked in there with a 12-page marketing plan, handed it to the president and the director, and said, “If you guys hire me, I'll do every single one of these things for you.” So I walked through how I would get them into content marketing, and they'd start doing lead gen, which you know, it was four years ago, and we would do lead gen on Google and on Facebook and on LinkedIn, and we would be more of a digitally marketing-focused outfit. And we were going to go for marketing type revenue because that's where marketing is going.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:37]          That’s right.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[08:38]           That was a completely foreign concept to these people. They were like, “What are you talking about?”


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:43]          Wow, it must feel good to bring in new ideas, though, and really transform an organization.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[08:48]           Yeah. So they played it coy for me, and I mean, we went through a legit interview process, but I remember my boss telling me after I got hired, he was like, “As soon as you handed everyone that marketing plan, we already decided to hire you.”


Host - Monique Mills:   

[09:03]          Of course.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[09:05]           And so I started at that job, and basically, I was shell shocked. I mean, it was a welding equipment manufacturer, you know, custom-configured parts. It was very, very account-based, very enterprise based. They were selling to really large companies. So like John Deere, Caterpillar, General Motors, Tesla, these are the companies we were selling to. And I didn't know anything about welding. So I was like, “How can I do content if I don't know a thing about what I'm talking about?” And so one of the things that got me a certain amount of product knowledge was one, ironically, even though I'm not a big fan of it, doing the trade show because you got to know how to configure this stuff if you're going to do the trade show.

                      [09:51]       And then the other thing is I did my predecessor’s job for like, maybe five months because I just needed to learn how to do her job before I could make it my own. And then once we started doing content, I started learning it a lot faster because I started asking a lot of questions to my subject matter experts, and they started teaching me. And so I started getting a lot of osmosis that way and that's how I learned a lot about welding. So that was really my story about how I kind of cut my teeth. And then from there, we started putting lead gen programs in place. I was not industry-focused. I was more product group focused. And so I looked at it as “What product group do we have that has the most upside for our business?” And so there was a health and safety product group called fume extraction because welding smoke is basically cancerous.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[10:39]          That's right. Yeah.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[10:40]           So we had these devices that you could weld, and it was a vacuum attached to the nozzle, and it would suck smoke up right at the source. It was very environmentally friendly in the plant and for the worker. And insurance companies also really liked it because it lessens liability on the company. I think there's a huge misconception among industrial companies that their audience is not on LinkedIn. And honestly, the biggest channel for welding especially is Instagram.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[11:09]          I would have never thought that.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[11:11]           Oh, my goodness, I cannot tell you how many Instagram profiles of welders-- It's a huge micro-influencer network is really what it is. So there are a ton of welders out there with 30, 40, 50, 60, 70,000 followers, and people just latch on to the work that they do. It's very much a lifestyle for these people. I would compare it to being a tattoo artist. Very interesting people and they're extremely passionate about their work and they're very proud of it. And some of them are very, very good at it. And so very smart brands have latched on to these micro-influencers to lend credence and credibility to their product, and basically help pump content out for them. And so we certainly did that.

                      [11:53]       So we found a YouTube channel called WeldTube, and they had like 150,000 subscribers, and their lead guy who did their videos, loved our welding guns, not the fume guns, but a different product. And so I went to him, his name was Hjalmar, and I said, “Dude, we'll hook you up with guns for as long as you want as long as you do a couple videos for us and make sure you mention the product when you do your videos, and just how much you like them.” And it ended up being really good for us. It got us a ton of awareness and exposure because as a midsize company, we competed. I mean, there are some huge multi-billion-dollar giants in our space, right? We had to compete with that and so when you have someone who has reach and audience and credibility who loves your product, yeah, you're stupid to not work with them, right. So that was a big part of me on kind of the brand awareness sort of angle.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[12:47]          Did anything that you learned in your MBA, your master's program, help you understand the entire business holistically in order to make these kinds of decisions, or was that from just your work experience being out there?


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[13:01]           I think it made me understand-- On a tactical level, no. My marketing master's degree did not teach me about demand gen, it did not teach me about content marketing, it did not teach me about marketing operations, or Salesforce and HubSpot integration.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[13:19]          What did it teach you then? This is why people always ask us about master's degrees for this podcast because it's like, “Well, what am I going to walk away with that I can actually apply?”


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[13:32]           I think something that had taught me was to respect the marking investment on the business level, and how what you do has to have a positive financial impact to the company. And so it taught me to respect that because I recognize there's P&Ls, and there's budgets, and all those things that go together, and so that marketing management. And also, there's some of the statistical stuff I learned in my marketing master's program helped me as well. I just think it gave me a respect going in for those pressures and other departments, and how they have their own deliverables that they're accountable for as well. And so that allowed me I think, to work well with those people and understand where they were coming from. So I was able to approach them a week because marketing is such a-- All business is predicated on collaboration between departments.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[14:22]          That's right.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[14:24]           And marketing sometimes can sit a little bit on an island because there's the feeling that it's arts and crafts, but that marketing management--


Host - Monique Mills:   

[14:30]          Yeah. So not true.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[14:34]           Yeah, and that marketing management program gave me the vantage when I walked in as a marketing manager that I was going to run this program on a business level and I wanted to be treated like I contributed to a business outcome. And so I think it gave me that sort of overarching perspective going in and I knew how to speak that language to command that respect and get everyone behind the programs that I was trying to run.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[15:02]          Matthew, I'm so glad you said that because that is the running theme so far throughout this podcast for other individuals just like you. That exact statement of how it gave them respect, and they understood how it fit into the entire context of the business, how things fit together. So that's excellent.

                      [15:27]       In this next part, I ask Matthew about what he is doing now and how his previous experiences have shaped his career. It's always refreshing to see how making changes to your unhappy situation completely changes your outlook on life and brings back that spark. Keep listening, as you hear the immediate difference in his optimism about his current role and the future ahead.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[15:59]           I stayed at that company, the company is ABICOR BINZEL, for just over four years. They were the most formative professional years of my life. I would not take it back for anything. I got so much space to experiment and test and break things and learn. And I'll shout out my boss there, Larry Casesa, he's one of the best people I've ever worked under in my life. He is the biggest influence in my professional career. I cannot thank him enough for everything he did for me. And yeah, he'll make a great president, or managing director himself, whether that's at BINZEL or somewhere else one day.

                      [16:34]       So I ended up going to a startup company, Gravy, which I'm sure a lot of people who listen to your podcasts are familiar with, and I stayed there for a short time. And then I ended up transitioning from there to an agency called Gorilla76, which is where I work at now. I'm a senior strategist. And so what's great about this company is that I get to work with a bunch of different industrial companies with a bunch of different marketing challenges. And I get to really apply all that formative learning in a really rapid, fast environment with these companies, and really get them to believe in marketing and see how it can impact their business. And so that, to me, has been really exciting because working at an agency is kind of like an MBA all onto itself.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[17:20]          Right?


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[17:22]           And you're working in a bunch of different scenarios, there's a bunch of different sales methodologies, some have distribution channels, some go direct to their customer, some have short sales cycles, some have long sales cycles, some it's a complex sales process, some it's a simple sales process. So you get to kind of problem solve all the time for these companies. And so I think it's made my thinking very acerbic so far, so I just think it's going to prepare me well for whatever the next step of my career is, in terms of where I want to go.

But it's definitely a great experience, and anyone listening to this podcast who maybe is just getting out of school and thinking about what to do, or maybe you have a year or two of experience, and you're looking for the next step, I would highly recommend trying the agency route for even a year. I think you'll learn a lot I'm learning a ton. You'll learn a lot about speed and building the plane while you're flying. And all that stuff happens in startups as well but the thing about agencies that make it cool and special is that you get to apply that same sort of approach across a variety of different companies. So you'll get a bunch of different test cases for it.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[18:36]          So with this experience, do you think in the future, you may consider having your own agency or company at some point in the future as an entrepreneur?


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[18:45]           That's a great question. So I have considered that, for sure. I really have gotten the entrepreneurial bug, I think, in the last year and a half, and I've been thinking about product companies or companies that I could do. I kind of keep going back to my roots in the industrial space and thinking about kind of tech plays that I could do in that space because I think the best company ideas come from problems you experience in your profession. So I think about what Casey Graham did at Gravy and the story of how he formed Gravy was when he was getting ready to sell his company, the investment firm told him that, “You have all these failed payments”, and that's where the whole idea from Gravy spawned, right. And so it's just like recognizing a problem that you experienced in your own professional life and then applying that to a business idea. So I do have some ideas for that.

                      [19:40]       Basically, some versions of other tech companies that are very focused in the industrial space. And then yeah, I mean, consulting is definitely another thing that I thought about. I certainly have friends of mine who have talked to me about doing it down the road - video marketing or just content marketing consulting for industrial companies. It’s definitely been a route that I'm interested in. I've had people tell me they think that that's in my future but right now, I've been at Gorilla for like a month, and I'm really enjoying the ride and the experience so far. And so I'm going to get out of Gorilla what Gorilla gives back to me, which has been a lot so far. And then when I’m ready to make that next step, I'll start laying the groundwork for it.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[20:26]          In this next part, Matthew shares the biggest career decision he made in 2020 that enabled him to land two jobs during a pandemic when many people were being challenged with being laid off and even finding one job. It's one of those things where these opportunities fell into his lap because he made this one major decision. Keep listening to find out what it was.


Guest - Matthew Sciannella:   

[20:56]           Right, so the podcast is actually interesting. That was probably the biggest career decision I made in 2020. So I started the podcast in March with MJ Peters, who I'm sure more people on your podcast know MJ than know me. MJ is just phenomenal. But it's called The Industrial Marketer and so we basically kind of found our niche. And it's like, we're going to talk about strategic and tactical marketing in the industrial space. And so we're going to speak directly to marketers in this space, who, they probably hear a lot in the SaaS space, but don't quite know how to apply it in an industrial context. And so we felt we had enough knowledge and authority to do that and so we did, as well as talking about the things that have been successful for us in our time at industrial companies. So that got me the job of Gravy by and large, and it also got me the opportunity at Gorilla.

                      [21:49]       I mean, branching out and taking the leap with those sorts of content efforts, tend to be the kind of best that pay off big. So I'd recommend for anyone listening here who’s thinking about podcasts as a content medium for a business, yeah, it works. Invite your customers on it, invite your prospects on it, invite your subject matter experts at your company on it. I would even go so far as to say invite your competitors on it, to be honest. I mean, when you want to build community and you want to build a following, don't let your content exist in a silo. Definitely be the authority in the space you want to work in. And so MJ and I, I mean, I’ve brought on people from companies that I competed against when I was at BINZEL. I brought on Joe whose agency has its own podcast. We brought on people who have their own episodic content series because we just recognize it's valuable and useful for our audience. Now I'm really doing the podcast with the intent of selling anybody anything, but people end up wanting to come to us to sell us opportunity. And I just think it's funny how that works when you do content for the sake of providing value, how value ends up coming back to you.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[23:05]          Okay, that's it. Matthew shared his journey from hating the job that he was great at, to making the decision to invest in himself and bet on himself, and also put himself out there. Though it takes courage, he did it, and each time it paid off and continues to. It's hard to leave a place of comfort, especially when you have responsibilities and family responsibilities, just like Matthew has. But if you are indeed miserable in your current role, my hope is that this episode brings you hope. There is opportunity on the other side of your fears. And the saying is true that when one door closes, another one opens.

                      [23:56]       The Unpolished MBA conversation continues, and you can be a part of it by going to unpolishedmba.com. Thank you for listening.


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