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381: Having Integrity When Marketing to Small Businesses with Sarah Acton, CMO at BILL

Sarah Acton, CMO at BILL

Sarah Acton is the Chief Marketing Officer at BILL and brings more than 25 years of experience in marketing and brand-building work in both consumer and business markets. She had an interest in marketing early on and started her career in media buying, then went back to business school, moved into consumer packaged goods, spent some time on the agency side, and eventually opened her own small business. After that, she returned to technology, where she was responsible for global brand oversight during pivotal periods of growth at LinkedIn and consumer marketing leadership at Yahoo!, then led both marketing and sales at Athos, a wearables company in the athletic performance space. She has now been with BILL for the past 18 months. Sarah believes one of the roles of marketing is to build and reinforce trust with your customers and the market at large, and she is grateful to be immersed in a culture of people who have a shared respect for small businesses as well as a shared connection to the mission and values that matter to her.

In this episode, Alan and Sarah discuss what her marketing department is doing to help drive discovery, connection, and trust with BILL’s customers and how the integrity she learned when she was running her own small business helps inform the way she operates with BILL today. BILL is an all-in-one financial operations platform serving small businesses with all the “messy back office financial things”. They recently underwent a rebrand to satiate an appetite to bring more humanity into the operation. Despite being a tech company, at the end of the day, it is just a group of humans serving another group of humans in the deeply personal space of operating a small business. Marketing to small businesses falls somewhere between B2B and B2C, making it complex to message and connect with their diverse range of scope and scale. BILL’s role is not only about managing the day-to-day operations but also helping its customers fuel growth and understand cash flow. Sarah tells us BILL saves their customers between 50% to 75% of their time spent on financial operations, allowing them to invest more in the things that align with their mission and passion.

“Brand strategy is not independent of company strategy. It is in service of company strategy.”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How being a small business owner impacted Sarah’s marketing career
  • The importance of your team having a shared connection to the mission and values
  • Why marketing to small businesses is so complex and diverse

Key Highlights:

  • [01:45] Early childhood apprenticeship in IP Law
  • [03:15] Sarah’s path to BILL
  • [08:30] Pattern recognition and pulling levers
  • [10:15] What does BILL do?
  • [13:30] Why rebrand now?
  • [15:50] What is next for Bill?
  • [19:15] Small businesses are complex and unique. How do you market to all of them?
  • [23:00] What is the role of marketing?
  • [26:30] Culture and team building at BILL
  • [30:30] The impact of owning her own business
  • [34:15] Advice to her younger self
  • [35:30] Be obsessed with your customers.
  • [37:50] The shift in how we reach, teach, and influence
  • [40:50] The opportunity to experiment endlessly 

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