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In conversation with Mary Sauer-Games - Episode 4 - Inspiring the Next CMO series

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Join Lou in a conversation with Mary Sauer-Games, an industry VP of Product Management. Discover all about:

  • the podcasts Mary has been enjoying on daily walks during lockdown

  • the inspirational healthcare frontlines – especially their determination and providing hope to us all

  • progressive change in attitudes and working practices over the years

  • Michelle Obama’s amazing balancing skills and hatred of public speaking

  • Mary's passion for problem-solving and the importance of understanding your customers’ needs

  • and Jane Goodall and the power of persuasion.


Transcription (contains Amazon affiliate links):

Lou: Hello hello!

Right. This is our Inspiring the Next CMO podcast series for Behind the Fluff podcast from The International Bunch. It’s specifically for those in marketing, those interested in marketing, those in academic publishing, scholarly comms and libraries.

Who are we going to be talking with today? Mary Sauer-Games. Mary is a VP of Product Management. Mary talks with us about:

  • Enjoying podcasts on daily walks during lockdown

  • Being inspired by those on the frontlines of healthcare – their determination and hope

  • Progressive change in attitudes and working practices over the years

  • Michelle Obama’s amazing balancing skills and hatred of public speaking

  • Mary’s passion for problem-solving and the importance of understanding your customer needs

  • Jane Goodall and the power of persuasion

So why don’t we just jump straight in? Let’s go.

Lou: Welcome everybody to our Behind the Fluff, Inspiring the next CMO podcast series. Now, you can find lots of great resources to help inspire you to raise your game in marketing at I am delighted to have Mary Sauer-Games with me today. Mary is Vice President of product management in the industry, and Mary and I used to work together I think some eight years ago. So hello, Mary.

Mary: Hi. It’s so good seeing you again. Thank you for inviting me to participate. It sounds like a lot of fun, I’m looking forward to it.

Lou: Thank you so much. So what we're going to do first is we're going to start with a very simple question. Everyone does this, we have a campaign that goes out on #IntBunchWordOfTheDay and we always want to find inspiring words to include in this campaign, because poor Yasmin has to pull together about 365 words for the whole year, so we're kind of going sneaky in these interviews to say, let’s get some words out of here. So what is your favourite word, and what does it mean?

Mary: My favourite word to use, and I get teased about it all the time, I like to say ‘awesome’, like really loud – ‘awesome!’ And particularly for my colleagues on your side of the pond, they're always kind of very scared when I do that because it is - what does it mean? For me, it's like saying great. It's like saying good job, but just something a little bit more special. So when I say it, it means like I really think this is a great idea and it's meant to be inspiring and more than just a pat on the back. It's just like: this is really awesome, or this is a great thing that we've done. So, ‘awesome’. That would be the word.

Lou: Absolutely. I love it. I use awesome as well. I think it's a brilliant word and it's definitely a very positive one too. I think on our side of the pond, the reason that people are like that is because we hear it a lot on the American side, but I just think why not adopt it? It's brilliant.

So, first things first, we want to know a little bit more about you: so what's the best thing that you have discovered in the last year?

Mary: It's funny you should ask. I’ve been thinking about this, and it is podcasts. I know podcasts have been around for a long time, and it was just a medium that I did not use it all for whatever reason. I don't really know. But since the pandemic, and we have actually been sitting in front of Zooms every day for like literally eight or nine hours straight. I have been setting aside like a half hour every day, sometimes 45 minutes so that I can just get away and actually walk, and so as I go out and walk, since I can't go out and walk with other people and have conversations, I started listening to podcasts and I really, really enjoy it. So for me, that was the big discovery this year.

Lou: Yes. I'm completely there with you. I love things like Audible, listening to audiobooks now. It's just stuff that we did not do before. Now we are actually taking a bit more time, and it's great to be able to take some time out and listen to some, there are some excellent podcasts out there. Very funny ones as well that I find myself chuckling to as I'm walking along or running.

So, who inspires you?

Mary: Usually, when I think about people who inspire me, they are people who are going above and beyond. In particular, I am inspired by women who are in leadership positions and really kind of pushing the boundaries. More recently though, if I think back again about this year, where I've been really inspired is thinking about all the people who are on the front lines literally every day. I think about people who are working, particularly in healthcare, and having to deal with just incredibly difficult situations. They're really the lifelines to the families of the COVID patients that are in their hospitals, and the fact that they come back every day and keep doing the same thing, which has got to be so disheartening for them and sad, I just find inspiration that they keep coming back and keep moving forward and provide hope to their patients and they provide hope to their families. So to me, that's been a shift in my thinking about who inspires me.

Lou: Yes, I completely agree. Incredibly special people. I honestly don't know how they do it and I don't think they probably know how they've continued and done it, because you can see all the imagery of some of them and how much they've suffered. I mean, what a year?

So, on a more positive note, well, I don't know if it's going to be positive or not; we'll have to wait and find out, but when you were young, what did you want to be?

Mary: Exactly what I'm doing right now. It's hard to believe but yes, when I was little, and I think back on this and it's just kind of funny; I had two sisters who are younger than I am. We would always kind of play house, and my two sisters were always Mums and they were always carrying their baby dolls around and I was always the one in the house who was like: ‘I'm going to work today.’ And I would pack up my stuff and I was going to be a business person. I'm not really sure I do exactly what I'm doing now, but it was like I'm always going places. I was always just working in a business, and always the professional woman. I never had any kids. I actually ended up having kids in real life. It's really funny that you end up kind of following your dreams in some ways.

Lou: Absolutely. I mean, I think you're the first person who is actually doing what they thought they were going to do when they're young. Did you have a little briefcase as well?

Mary: Well, I don't think I knew what a briefcase was back then so, but if I knew I'm sure I would have.

Lou: Oh, yes. So if you were to have dinner tonight with anybody in the world from any time, whether they're alive or dead, who would it be?

Mary: Well, it would be Michelle Obama, and it goes back to my comment about who is it that I admire? And generally it's very strong women who have made an impact. I find her to be absolutely amazing. She's intelligent, well-educated, extremely professional, she takes the high road. She has been able to balance a very public and very professional life, and still, you know she appears to maintain a very good balance with her children, her mother and in being able to promote her own interests regarding children's nutrition and exercise. And just lots of things that I think are very, very inspiring. So I would love to talk to her and just find out how she is able to kind of balance all of that because I think that that's amazing. She continues to be her own person when she's married to someone who is such a strong personality and recognized worldwide, and still be able to maintain her identity and strength. I think that's amazing.

Lou: Yes, absolutely. I’m listening to her audiobook at the moment and about her growing up and her life. She's fascinating. She is an incredibly fascinating and inspirational individual.

Mary: Yes, I read her book too and I had no idea that she really hates public speaking. You would never guess that, or you know, she had no intention of really helping with a political career and then just kind of get swept into it and then again, coming into her own and being able to be able to really have a presence, and I just found it inspirational.

Lou: Yes, absolutely. I completely agree with that. That would be an incredibly interesting conversation as well. That would be a fantastic conversation to have at dinner I'm starting to think about it now. I don't want my brain to go off that way, I’ll have to pull myself back in. So, tell me about your career and how you got to where you are today.

Mary: When I think back on my career, it has been kind of interesting. I think it's combined probably three different things. One is just a real desire to be and work with people. So that's been consistent. Loving solving problems and figuring things out, and then as I'm figuring those, taking those things back out into the marketplace and getting people really excited about them. And also to see their excitement when they say: this was exactly what I was talking about way back when.

When I graduated from college, I had a Degree in Economics, and I went to work for an economic forecasting firm in the auto industry. I actually started my career in automobiles and it was a very different time to today, and it's a very different industry than the publishing and information industry. But I was always sort of in that information side of it. I started out in a sales position, but a lot of it was also working with economic models, modelling and statistics and online services.

From there, I moved to another organization, this was in the Detroit area. And again it was automotive related, and we again, it was more of a sales position, creating studies for customers in the large automotive companies. And as I started to work in sales, I started seeing things that people needed, and I came back with some product ideas and the next thing I know I'm working in the product department and then starting to create new products for, actually, automobile dealers. It was very interesting and then it turned into kind of marketing. So like, how do we sell this back to them?

That whole process was really exciting to me and a lot of that was, again, online. I got to a point where, as much as I liked what I was doing, the industry probably was not as kind to women overall, and it was a very challenging environment, being a female and being one of the few females in a non- secretarial kind of role, both within my own organization as well as the customers that we served. I really wanted to be in a different kind of environment, and so an opportunity opened up with a publishing company in the Detroit area so I made the change and I have never looked back as far as you know, moving into the publishing world.

I think it was much more inclusive and it was - I hate to say this – this is going to date me so badly, but at the time I started working for them, we were doing reference publishing, and so you can think about those hard books that were behind the shelf in the library where you say, no, nobody can touch those. They would watch who took those books off the shelf very carefully. And we were actually moving those into CD-ROMs.

Lou: Love it!

Mary: Because I had worked so much with online databases and online services, I really had a good understanding of the electronic medium, and it wasn't too many years after that we actually started moving into the web. So that was a very short stint with CD-ROMs. But in the creation of these services, it really became apparent that you needed to have a much greater understanding of how users use things. Before it was all about the content, you just put it in a book format and you published it. As we moved into this electronic medium, it’s now starting to think differently: how do people want to use it? What's changed? So from there, we started doing a lot of a user observation. And again, just as I continued to move up throughout my career, it's just been building products, working with end users and then relating the value of that to them.

I think at each step along the way I just continued to kind of grow and build teams and motivate teams to learn to follow some of the practices that we used early on to reach out to end users and make sure we understood what those needs were.

Lou: I love that. I started in sales too in my early career, and I think it's because, for me, Michigan is for many of us, known to be as really the heart in the US of the automotive industry, and I can imagine how incredibly chauvinistic that industry probably was, certainly at that time. I was just thinking about what you were saying about Michelle Obama, you for me are one of the women in my life that have inspired me, and I find you incredibly inspirational, and I absolutely loved working with you when we worked together. I just think you're awesome, and it's just really interesting to hear how you've done in your career and what you've done. We've all done the old CD-ROMs!

Mary: I do sometimes say CD-ROMs, and I see my son look at me like: what are you talking about?

Lou: Absolutely. Yes, it’s just like a DVD, darling. I hope he knows what DVD’s are!

Mary: He does. We've got some friends who have very small children, and they have no idea; they think they're like nice coasters to put things on.

Lou: Oh, brilliant. So what have you been most proud of in your career?

Mary: I think it's been the ability to build teams that really want to collaborate, work together and focus on solving end-user needs. I've worked with a lot of really, really smart people over the years. I feel blessed. They have their own academic achievements and a lot of times they come to solving problems based on what they know in their head space, and what they think their customers want and they start building requirements.

It's been inspiring for me to give them some of the tools and tell them, ‘Hey, let's go out, let's go on-site and let's watch customers actually do what they do and how they use our products today.’ The more and more that you can do that and share with people, hey, just because you think it's easy to do, it doesn't mean that everybody else can figure that out. I think that helping people see how people use services and understand what those real needs are and understanding what those problems are, it really creates a kind of new awareness for them and they come back and they're really inspired. It’s like: we can really solve this problem, and then they do it and then they get the gratification from the customers, that we've made this change and this really meets what they're trying to do and accomplish. Helping my teams move forward and create those ‘aha’ kind of moments has been, for me, very, very rewarding.

Lou: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So talking about your most proud moments of your career, what have you found the most challenging?

Mary: When I go back into my early days in my career and talking about those environments where things like, let's just say they were chauvinistic environments, and feeling like I couldn't be the person that I wanted to be, or couldn't perform as well as I would want to. I'm not proud of the fact that I probably should have been more confident in stating how I really felt, but I internalized a lot of it and just said, ‘Okay, Mary. This is the way it is. Let's just plug ahead and just kind of keep going and things will somehow magically correct themselves.’ And I think I should have been probably more open and more forthright about some of those things. And been more effective.

Lou: It's hard to progress change though, isn't it, in those environments? Because you're often facing a brick wall anyway, and so actually, even if you did do that, you probably may not have made an impact, and it still would have resulted in you shifting to a different industry. Maybe you might have done it sooner?

Mary: There's probably some real truth to that, or I would have been forced to do it sooner because I certainly stayed for a good 10 years in that industry. I kept thinking things would change but it's just that change takes a long time.

Lou: I wonder, if you ever went back to that industry, how different it would be now, which I'm sure it would be. I would hope that it would be significantly different, but you don't know really until you are back in it and immersed in it.

Mary: No, I have no idea and I really have not kept up with some of the colleagues that I knew at that point in time, so it would be very difficult to say. I would hope that they have changed as well.

Lou: Exactly. Fingers crossed that they're not in the same place that they were. That would be pretty awful. And so what's ultimately your career goal?

Mary: This is going to sound kind of cheesy, but I feel like I’m where I want to be. I feel like I'm in the right spot for me. I have an amazing team that I am proud to be leading. The leadership team at my organization, we all collaborate amazingly well and there's not any kind of internal issues or struggles between the groups. We have a very positive environment. We have a great leader in our organization who really values our culture and values inclusiveness and working collaboratively together. I’m building products for a community that I am inspired to work in every day. I mean, how can you not want to work with libraries? And really being able to make a difference, and the end users, whether they’re patrons coming into a public library or students and faculty in an academic library, I just feel extremely blessed and I can't really imagine anything that would be better than this right now.

Lou: I love libraries too, and the people that are in it as well, and the community that's behind libraries are just incredible. I don't know any other industry like it, or I don't know any people like it. They are incredibly special people.

So if you weren't doing your role now and money was absolutely no object, what would you be?

Mary: So, thinking back to that little girl who always wanted to be a business person, if I had all the money in the world, one other element I would add here is a really great, awesome, a really awesome idea - using my word of the day - I think what I would do is start my own company in the garage someplace, and try to be a start-up, and really test and see if I could really start from scratch and build something on my own.

Lou: Oh, you could do it! From someone that's done it, you can do it. You just have to wear a lot of hats: payroll, accounts, finance, sales, business development, marketing, senior management, torture yourself, you know. But it has its perks and everything you do you feel is a great accomplishment because you know how hard you've worked to get there. And you’ve got no one to answer to but yourself, so you can make your own decisions, which is great.

Mary: Right, and there's no one else to blame but yourself too.

Lou: Exactly. I think you'd be awesome at it. Absolutely. The question actually is, what are your three inspiring or your must-read professional books? But some of the people that have been doing this have said, actually I don't really read professional books. So they could be professional, they could not be, they could just be your must-read book. So what are your three must-read books, and why?

Mary: So, because you gave me a couple of these questions in advance, this one was a tougher one, and I had to think about it. I did stick with the professional books because I do read an awful lot of professional books. I'm always trying to get new ideas. I have three and they're all quite different, but one of the first ones I would recommend is Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. She talks a lot about her days, I think both at McKinsey and Google. For those who don't know her, she's now COO at Facebook. She really talks about this lean in and has worked through these male-dominated organizations, and talks very openly about her experiences being a Mum, trying to juggle family life, and her reflections back on how you need to lean into these organizations, and how you need to lean into your male counterparts. Not in a confrontational way, but just having more of a presence. I really enjoyed reading that. It helps give you more confidence and I think that it's an important read for any woman who is in any kind of business really, to read that and kind of take that in and see how they can continue to improve and grow.

My second book that I would recommend is Simon Sinek, who has ‘Start with Why.’

Lou: Love it. Yes.

Mary: Anybody who is in marketing, communication, product marketing: it's all about understanding problems and really understanding what's the root cause, and why this is the problem it is and how do you overcome it? How do you talk about it? How do you create ideas that resonate with people and communicate. So to me, that's great. And he has a wonderful TED Talk, if people haven't seen that.

Then the last book I would recommend, and I have just finished reading it in the last two months is called Zconomy. It's all about Generation Z. So for any of us who are communicating with Generation Z, any of us who are building things, it’s so important to really understand the perspective that they're coming into. The Generation Z is just beginning really to enter higher education now. If you think about it, they have only been on a mobile device for their whole lives. So if you can't do whatever it is that you want to do on a mobile device, you're going to lose them. This is the TikTok generation so they're used to short video clips. I was amazed to read that they love coming into organizations where they're not getting a manual with all of this stuff that tells you all the policies and procedures and everything you need to know about the company and the history and this big binder and be expected to read it - they don't want that.

Lou: We’ve all been there.

Mary: Yes, but they want it in a short video and to have it organised well so that when I have this question I can go back and watch and see. So it's just really helping you reframe how you think about this generation. And rather than saying, ‘Oh, they're so difficult to work with because they want everything handed to them.’ Well, not necessarily. I think they just want the same kind of information you've been providing but in a different way that they can consume. They want to learn. I would recommend that, just because it helps you understand where this new generation is coming from.

Lou: I love that. I did some research recently for one of our webinars that we did. It was about email marketing and we were looking at segmentation in terms of the different kind of generations and what they want, and you know, the generation, as you say Zee and I say Zed - absolutely fascinating.

Simon Sinek - I love him. In fact, I am finding my why on Monday with my business coach. And actually I went on their website the other day and the courses that they have are very accessible in terms of cost, they're not Simon. They're like his expert coaches. But I do find the Golden Circle approach fascinating, and I’m also finding that a lot of marketers, or a lot of publishers and service providers and those in the publishing and information industry are really starting to use that storytelling language.

We do training on it because there's a real need for it, and it's quite an adjustment for people to think about, what's the pain point that we're trying to address? And I've got to start with the ‘why’ first, then the ‘how’ and then the ‘what’, but it's a fascinating way of thinking.

It's how to think about Apple, I mean, I'm an Android person, but they do an amazing job. That's definitely somewhere where I point to people as a great example and then look for inspiration.

So, do you have any favourite books, podcasts or blogs that you like?

Mary: So, in my new journey to listen to podcasts as I’m walking around outside, usually I listen to a couple of news ones just to catch up on what's going on. I have started to listen to one called Sway, by Kara Swisher, who is a technology writer for the New York Times. She talks about everything in Silicon Valley, but this podcast is more about swaying opinion and using personal power. She does interview some people from the industry, that’s interesting, but she also just interviews people, like the first one I listened to, and this is how she got me actually listening to the podcast, it was with Jane Goodall, and you think about this woman who back how many ever years ago when she started her career studying chimpanzees and going into Africa and just talking about, first of all a woman, doing this at that point in time was just inconceivable, and then having to come back and then talk to her colleagues who were white males and get them to listen to her way. And again, this is all observational, so again, there's a really nice tie-in to observing what's happening with the chimpanzees and then just using her own personal power to move her views forward and finally get the scientific community to understand what was happening, and also just start adopting some of her techniques and observation. I just found it very inspirational.

I listen to all of her podcast and she brings in some really interesting people that are just a little bit off the spectrum, and it's nice to listen to people who are not necessarily in our space have challenges they need to overcome.

Lou: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. I think that people shouldn't be so insular in terms of just looking in their industry; it's about being inspired by people who are outside the industry as well. I think it's quite interesting on the publishing information side, when the skillset isn't quite there, or there aren't the people that these organizations now want, they're going outside the industry to bring specific skillsets in. I know our industry is complicated. We all know how complicated it is. But a lot of them, they get it. It takes them a little bit of learning, like with any industry, and they get it, but they can bring a lot to the table.

So, anything that you mention we will put in the description and in the blog post so that people can link through to it; so any of these podcasts and books and things.

But if you could travel back in time, in a time machine, what would you tell your early career self?

Mary: Oh, I think I would say, ‘Mary, have more confidence in yourself and speak out more.’ I think maybe not so much now, but certainly earlier in my career. I think I would have - be a bit more bold.

Lou: Perfect. What is the best piece of advice that you have ever had or ever come across?

Mary: I think it's just, hey, don't give up. Keep going. A lot of what we do is by trial and error; you are going to do some things and sometimes you'll fail fast, I guess, but try it, and if it doesn't work, okay, readjust and go back again, but don't give up. Also recognize sometimes: okay, we got to start back at ground zero and rethink this too. Because I sometimes see people keep going; I'm going to keep forcing this square peg through this round hole and it's like, no, it's not going to get through there. We got to step back and take a look at this. But don't give up.

Lou: Absolutely, and I think, like you said at the beginning, people on the front line, when we look at them as inspiration, they haven't given up. They have kept on going and they've had to adjust, adapt and change. So they're great role models for that. So, what's your number one tip for someone who's working in marketing right now?

Mary: I think the number one tip is that people need to be really adaptable and really looking for the next opportunity. We have seen our whole lives and how we interact with people and our expectations around how we receive information - everything that we do is completely different than it was 12 months ago. The fact that we’re having this Zoom conversation, that I can't be with you in the same room. I don’t know if that’s going to go back 100% to how it was, in fact, I know it's not going to go back 100% the same. So I think that we as marketers have to get much better at social marketing and media and being comfortable with delivering information in shorter bits, and just in new ways of delivering. I think for some people that's going to be a really hard shift, but for people who are creative and like change, this is a very, very exciting. time because it's still going to be a big area of change for some years to come.

Lou: Absolutely. I mean digital transformation; we have to keep on top of it. It's just so rapidly changing. And the marketing that we did, like you said, 12 months ago is different to what we do now. So, what do you miss most since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mary: It’s the actual face-to-face interactions. I love, well I shouldn't say love, but I don't mind, having the video conferences. I think they work out amazingly well, and I think, at least the team that I work with, they have adapted really well and haven't really missed a beat. I'm really proud of my team for being that adaptable and changeable and still keeping things on track. But I do worry that we're missing, at least within an office, you're missing the interchanges between going to another meeting, in the hallway conversations, or when you first sit down, or the conversations that you have at conferences, and it's not in the session it’s the hallway chatter. It's the, hey, let's go and have a coffee and just kind of that little bit of additional personal contact, but also you just get a deeper understanding and greater connection, and that is missing and that's probably what I miss the most.

Lou: I completely agree with that. It's just that physical interaction, isn’t it? So before we finish up our session, I should have asked you what this is going to be, but I never know what you're going to throw at me. So is there anything you want to ask me?

Mary: I would ask this last question: what have you missed the most?

Lou: What have I missed the most this last year? My mental health? Good mental health. What have I missed the most? I think I have missed conferences. I think it’s the same as you: it's just physically being able to talk to someone and go for a drink with someone and just socialize. I just miss that because digital fatigue is very much there. We work from home anyway, all of us here at the International Bunch, so that hasn't changed, but for me, leaving was such a release, and going to conferences. I think that’s what I missed the most, and seeing my family, but that’s the same for everyone.

So Mary, thank you so, so much for taking the time to talk to us today. You have been absolutely brilliant. And I know that people will have a lot of takeaways from this. And also seeing how you progressed through your career and where you started and where you've ended up. So, I just want to say a huge thank you so much to you for this.

Mary: You're absolutely welcome. This has been a lot of fun, and I've enjoyed it. And let's keep in touch.

Lou: Absolutely.

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