Leeann Berner is serious about her unwavering desire for social media marketing (seriously, y’all, we’ve never been so enamored by someone talking about this topic before). The Georgia Tech grad and longtime Atlanta lover has played a significant role in startup heavyweight Cloud Sherpas, and recently received the freshly minted title of CMO at Insightpool. Hear all about her first steps into Atlanta’s startup scene and her role as a fearless female leader in tech.
You’ve been the CMO at Insightpool now for 3 months. How did your previous experiences help lead you into this role? Why Insightpool?
I’ve been in the B2B technology space for the last 15 years and really fell in love with leading edge technology. So throughout my career, it’s been something I’ve really gravitated toward.
I always knew in my head, ‘I want to join an amazing fast-growing company and I want them to be acquired by somebody my mom had heard of’ – that was the goal for me when I joined Cloud Sherpas. I knew eventually I was going to move onto something else. Not that Accenture’s not an amazing company, it is, but they have 380,000 employees and that’s not the core of who I am. I love entrepreneurial startup environments.
So, I was looking to capture that fast-growth, innovative technology again, but doing it at a product company as a marketing lead. Obviously, I have an affinity toward marketing technology and there is a ton of it in Atlanta, but not very many people are doing something truly innovative.
I reached out to my network, specifically Michael Cohn, who was one of the co-founders of Cloud Sherpas. He had heard really good things about Insightpool and he’s very involved in the tech startup space. As one of my mentors, I trusted his opinion and asked, “What do you think is going on that you find innovative?’ And he introduced me to Chris Hackney who had joined the team about 6 months previously and I knew immediately I wanted to work for someone like Chris. I looked at the people who were here at Insightpool, the product, and the customers and I thought, ‘wow, this is pretty impressive to look at the logos from a customer standpoint and the people from a talent standpoint.’
It also speaks volumes when you look at our customer base and they continue to renew and buy more. That, to me, is a nice place from a marketing standpoint – to have a really great customer base that loves your product.
How have you seen the social media space evolve over time?
I saw that social media was going to be that tipping point, just like digital was over a decade ago. It used to be that you just needed to have a website. Then you needed to have a good website, then an amazing website – and now companies have amazing websites.
Three years ago, it was all about needing to have a presence on social. Then you had to have a good presence, and now innovative brands need to have an amazing presence on social. So for me, I saw that transition. It really resonated with me to look at how much data, how many conversations, authentic conversations, are now going on in the social space. Marketers haven’t had a great way of cutting through all the noise and harnessing all the good stuff to then make business decisions.
When you look in the social space, sure there have been a lot of listening tools. Some of them are amazing, but they are only listening tools. So, what do I do with it? How is it actionable? How then can I take this information and do something with it?
For me, looking at this company and seeing that there’s actually an action path against insights, so I find out the characteristics of people who are engaging with my content or engaging with my brand or are the types of people I want to go after – that’s transformative.
How is it for you as a female leader in tech? How do you manage work/life balance?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Going to school at Georgia Tech, I very quickly became comfortable being one of the only females in the room. And then you stop noticing it. If you get exposed to that, you get desensitized to it pretty early. And being in a startup, it’s all about how good are you at your job, not about getting a promotion over somebody else.
I was given a lot of responsibility at a very young age and I just ran with it. I stopped thinking about myself as a woman in technology. I thought of myself as a marketer in technology. So for me, it’s obviously something I’m aware of, but I don’t think about it all that often. I wanted to be part of an executive team, and yes I’m technically one of the only females on that executive team, but do they treat me any differently? No. Do I see myself any differently? I really don’t.
I’ve also been incredibly transparent and I think that makes it a lot easier. When I interviewed for a position a few years ago, I had just gotten married and knew I wanted a family. So I said, ‘Hey, I know you’re not supposed to ask me this, but I’m going to tell you. ‘I want to be in an environment where when I decide to have a family that it’s going to be supported and that I’m not going to have to worry about it.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s great. We are good with that.’ So then going into it was never this weird, ‘I want to have kids but maybe should wait because I want to get this promotion.’ I put it on the table up front and if that wasn’t going to work, I would have moved on.
Once you get past that, it doesn’t matter. My family situation has worked out. I know how to handle myself, I know how to handle my childcare situation, I know how to navigate all that and I’m pretty comfortable, so when I’m here I’m the CMO and when I leave I’m a wife and mom again. And I’m lucky in the sense that I can compartmentalize my life pretty well.
You are a Georgia Tech alumna. How was it graduating from Tech and how has the Atlanta startup environment evolved since you were a student?
I really thought I wanted to be an engineer. I loved math and science and was looking at schools. I got a scholarship toTech and I thought, ‘I’m going to be an engineer, this is what I want to do.’ And I really loved it but I was looking at jobs for chemical engineers and while you make a lot of money, at the same time it was working in fertilizer plants or working for a consumer goods company to approve the absorbency for diapers, and at 19 I really didn’t care about that.
Then I did a complete 180 and switched to international business with a focus in marketing. I love the engineering side of my education, but also really loved the marketing side of it. I graduated in 2001, during the .COM bust and most of the people in my class were getting deferred, didn’t have a job, or went on to grad school. There was nothing, but I got very lucky because I was interning at a company at the beginning of web conferencing and got in at the right time. At 22, I was the director of marketing, had 2 full-time people and a host of part-time people which was an amazing experience.
It’s interesting because when I first graduated from college there really wasn’t much of a startup community. I moved out to Denver for a few years and there was a thriving startup community there so I got to see what that environment looked like. When I came back to Atlanta there was the beginning of the startup community developing. And over the last eight years, it’s been amazing to see an actual startup culture really evolve. Students are graduating from GA Tech and actually wanting to stay here for technology jobs – not just move out to California. There are legitimate opportunities here now which is great.