Blog | 15 minutes Read

Sydney Sloan: In her own words

I grew up in Washington state with two older brothers on a working farm. We had cows and chickens; my dad decided when he was 31 that he wanted to move his family to a farm and live off of it. (This was the 70s.) We left the big city in Spokane to wind up in this very small town. There was the general store, the gas station, and the post office - that was it.

We didn't have any experience in farming and all the old people in the town laughed at us, but we made it work. We planted fields where fields weren't supposed to grow. We picked crops. We made our own clothes. My mom and I planted 400 tomato plants. Thank you, Mom, for your tomatoes!

It was hard work. I got up at 4:30 AM, performed my farm duties, went to school, and then basketball practice. Every day. The #1 thing I learned about being on the farm was there were no days off. Everybody had to pitch in, every day. You had your role and knew how to work hard. It was a lot of responsibility, and it took a lot of grit. One of the keys to my success was just learning how to put in the time from a very early age.

One of the keys to my success was just learning how to put in the time from a very early age.

My first paying job was picking sweet corn. We had an acre of sweet corn on the farm and my dad helped me make the sign to sell it. I would get up in the morning, pick sweet corn and raspberries, and put them on the back of a Durbar Chevy pickup truck to drive to the bottom of the hill. I sold sweet corn for $1 on Highway 395 for 13 years. That was my first job in sales! And I loved it.

I sold sweet corn for $1 on Highway 395 for 13 years. That was my first job in sales! And I loved it.

I worked all throughout high school. I worked at a yogurt shop. I worked at a restaurant. Then when I went to college, I worked in the USC associates office. I would call and ask people for money, and coordinate the activities for donors [of the school]. From there, I had an internship on the events team at Nestle, and when I took an entrepreneurship course my senior year and wrote my final business plan on an event planning company. I used my business plan as an opportunity to get in touch with professionals and start to grow my network. I reached out to and met all these super successful event planners in LA, and from there, took my first job at an events magazine, where I did telemarketing. I would use a touch-tone phone, green paper with printed lines, and a highlighter pen. That was my data set! This was pre-Salesforce, and I would have a list of 5,000 people to call and confirm if they would be registering again for the magazine. It was 1993 - crazy. 

I ended up moving onto sponsorships, and eventually running local events, where I was calling advertisers. There was nowhere to “look up” whom to get in touch with, so I would just figure it out! I would call an 800 number, and ask the person who answered that line for the person who could talk to me about sponsorships, et cetera. Just networking my way through.

That was around the time I decided to move to New York City. My best friend from college told me there was an events position open at her company. It was a software platform that sold automation processes to governments. It was my first ‘high growth’ startup - I started out at their events person, and eventually expanded into what today’s field marketing or demand gen role would likely be. You could find me at trade shows, back in the day! That was in 1998 when we launched our website. I have a lot of empathy for people who work the trade shows because I know what it’s like. I worked at the booth. I would pitch. I would demo. It’s tough work.

In 2001 Adobe acquired the company I worked at. That was one of the first big challenges of my professional life. I was going into a situation where our acquirer didn’t understand our market, and the first few years were really hard. It was an enterprise business that was difficult to understand. I remember struggling with my new CMO; I expected her to get what I was working on, and me, right off the bat, instead of trying to see things her way.

What I learned from that was senior people have earned their right to be at the top. It’s your responsibility to respect that person, instead of getting frustrated or upset when you need to slow down a bit to explain or yourself, see a different point of view. I was too young at the time to grasp that it was my job to educate her in a different way or take a different approach so she would see where I was coming from, not the other way around.

Over the course of my career, I’ve marketed to developers, enterprise clients, and industry verticals across different product areas. Adobe is where I really earned my product marketing chops. More so than anything else, though, I’ve worked with sales and sales leadership. I love determining what kind of customers to go after, and what kinds of problems they have that we are trying to solve.

One thing I’m asked by a lot of people is, “How do I get promoted? How do I go from a rockstar individual contributor to a manager or leader?”

Of course, you have to put in the time, so don't expect it tomorrow. One thing I learned the hard way, though, was that I was the person who always got stuff done. People would pile work on me all the time. I had a great boss who told me, “As long as you’re the person who gets things done, people are going to give you things to do, and you’re never going to get out of your role.”

So, how does someone go from heads down, execution to working across an organization?

Look for opportunities to take on projects. Speak up and say, “I want to lead this cross-functional initiative.” You need to take on a different set of problems. And it's not about the task to accomplish, rather the influence that you can have across the organization and motivating other people to align to a common goal.

Then I think there’s a change in your own behavior, and how people view your ability to manage your time, learn skills around delegating, managing, and motivating. If you’re suddenly leading a project, you’re managing the priorities of others and selling your initiative as something that needs to move to the top of the heap. That’s a different skill set than being an individual contributor, and it shows you’re ready for the next step.

My path has been generally a job change every three years. If I’m taking on a new role, I’ll solve it in about three years. Year One, I’m still figuring out what’s going on; getting new ideas, testing them. Year Two is the flywheel; you’re growing what was tested, and scaling it. You’re also growing your name and personal brand. Year Three, I’m ready to take on something new and solve a different problem.

That framework served me through my time at LinkedIn, where I had a new role roughly every three years. I’ve been promoted probably 12 times in my career. It took 12 times. And now I’m a CMO. People want the fast track and that's not how the world works. More than a couple of people had to take a bet on me. I was at a company called Jive when I was promoted from director to CMO. It was the right place and the right time, and the right person wanted to give me an opportunity.

Be ready for the opportunity by staying secure in your own self. Know that you deserve a seat at the table.

Be ready for the opportunity by staying secure in your own self. Know that you deserve a seat at the table. Once you're there, you know.