Anyone embarking on an international assignment should pack plenty of humility in their tool kit. This is one piece of advice Lisa Quinn offers to product professionals, and she knows of what she speaks. As director of global product marketing for project information management provider inRiver, she has divided her career between her native United States and Sweden, and she’s learned from experience.
“Approach the market with humbleness,” Quinn said from inRiver’s headquarters in Malmö, Sweden. “Be open to hearing and working with other POVs (points of view). Blend what you know with what you are learning from other cultures. Take the best parts of the culture you are working with and capitalize on it.
“It’s about listening, not speaking, and seeking to understand first.”
Quinn, who’s been with inRiver since September 2018, admits she could have used that advice when she moved to Sweden 12 years ago after two decades in marketing stateside. “When I came over here, I felt pretty confident, but was humbled by the experience,” said Quinn, who now has dual U.S. and Swedish citizenships.
It’s obvious Quinn is at home in Sweden as she talked with The Pragmatic about a variety of topics, including her move to the country, the importance of strategy and tactics in the profession, the future of product managing and marketing, and life in Europe.
The Pragmatic: The first question is obvious. How did a person who grew up and worked in Atlanta wind up in Sweden?
Quinn: Like many expats in any foreign country—love! In my case, it was love of an Irishman who lives In Sweden. I met Kevin in Atlanta when I was doing freelancing for his company. I was planning to do an MBA overseas in Australia, to get a different perspective, but he brought me back to Sweden to live with him and his two daughters. I am an expensive souvenir from his trip to America and I am still costing him a lot! (Author’s note: Lisa ended this last response laughing.)
The Pragmatic: What is one thing Americans, whose only knowledge of Sweden may be watching The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, know about Sweden?
Quinn: The tradition of having a “Fika”—a moment to relax and reflect, connect with family, friends or colleagues, nature, or even with oneself. It started in the mid-1600s when coffee was introduced to Sweden. At work, it is kind of expected. Usually, it’s daily around 10 a.m., but there is no set time or length. Usually, it’s around 15 minutes. But the other day I went to see a colleague on maternity leave, and we talked for an hour and a half. Fika plays well into the Swedish concept of work-life balance. We have the longest maternity leaves in Europe. Everyone has 20-30 days of paid vacation. Twenty days are mandated when you start a full-time job.
The Pragmatic: What do you like to do when you are away from work?
Quinn: I love learning and helping others win. I am focusing on living a healthy life. For the past 18 months I’ve been learning to practice yoga and meditation. I’ve been a golfer since I was 12 and, for a creative outlet, I have been into photography since my dad bought me my first Nikon when I was 13. Plus, we have a 3-year-old chocolate Labrador, Indie, who keeps us busy.
The Pragmatic: You describe yourself as a “citizen of the world.” What does that worldview entail?
Quinn: It’s having the capacity to understand different cultures and perspectives and being open to working from and with different perspectives. You strive to find similarities rather than differences. Being a citizen of the world means being humble. In our house, we say there is no utopia, so we try to focus on the good qualities and learn from the bad ones. Cherry-pick the things you like the most and focus on blending them into your life.
The Pragmatic: Describe inRiver and your main duties as director of global product marketing.
Quinn: inRiver was founded in 2007 and has more than 140 employees with sales offices in Amsterdam and Chicago. Our mission is to make our customers the best in the world at selling and marketing their products. We help organizations be contextually relevant. For example, we help organizations with creating the best product description they can. If your description isn’t tip-top, you won’t sell online. I provide product marketing, sales materials, including tools and training, and analyst relations.
The Pragmatic: You’ve described the roles of strategy vs. tactics as a ying-yang relationship. What tools and techniques do you employ to ensure you’re spending the right amount of time on each responsibility?
Quinn: I am a strong believer in the quote from Sun Tzu in The Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
If you don’t have a plan, tactics are meaningless. That planning includes a strike plan for the campaign with objectives clearly outlined, project and creative briefs, classic campaigning planning tools, and team collaboration. Never underestimate its (collaboration’s) power. To achieve my goals as a product marketer, I need a strong product manager. You can’t say strategy/tactics is always, say, 80/20. That relationship needs to be fluid depending on the project. Sometimes it’s 50/50 or 70/30. That’s where the ying-yang comes in.
The Pragmatic: What’s one piece of advice would you give to emerging product professionals?
Quinn: Remember the power of listening. Listen first. Seek to understand, not be heard. Think of the customer’s POV first. Always think from the outside. No one cares about your company. They care about how you understand their pain and how you can help them.
The Pragmatic: What challenges do you see product managers/marketers facing in the next five years?
Quinn: We will need focus and clarity. We are all being inundated with a lot of information. There is a lot of noise. Listen to the needs of the market and customer, not the trendy marketing fads. We will all need to become data scientists who are able to harness the power of data and know how best to leverage It.