Regardless of whether or not the volatility of small business is something I’d ultimately like to pursue, my time as a marketing automation intern at the boutique fitness chain Fit Tribe was filled with personal and professional growth. Due to working with a branch of marketing that was completely foreign to me, I was faced with navigating complex technical concepts and honing my logical reasoning. My internship at Fit Tribe took place during a time of volatile leadership, which I was thankfully able to analyze and respond to due to my leadership studies coursework. Such workplace circumstances forced me to address personal obstacles including my aversion towards high-stress problem solving, an underdeveloped sense of empathy, and learning to balance preparation and action. My newfound understanding of marketing automation and the sales process is complemented well by my ability to adapt, learn, and lead that I began developing during my internship.
I had started my internship with the goal of not only learning the basics of marketing automation, but to be able to implement them in a way that made a tangible impact on the health of the business. In beginning my work with Fit Tribe’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, Infusionsoft, I quickly began to realize why it had earned the nickname “Confusionsoft” among online marketing automation circles. What seemed like a relatively user-friendly sequence-building platform upon first glance quickly morphed into a software that was difficult to troubleshoot and was laced with technicalities. My learning curve was further impacted by Infusionsoft rebranding and introducing a new core product, reducing software support for their original program on which we relied. However, these are the types of obstacles my time at Fit Tribe forced me to learn how to work around. Software issues could not keep daily work from getting completed, meaning quick-thinking and back-up plans were often a necessity until overseas developers remedied system-wide issues.
Troubleshooting led me to develop a solid foundation of knowledge about marketing automation programs, how they communicate with each other through application programming interface (API), and how to protect oneself as best as possible from individual system failures. This was not an area of understanding I was intending to focus on when writing my introductory papers, but it led to various important lessons nonetheless. Firstly, I learned that software that has a myriad of powerful functions and a lot of processing power is typically worth the headaches from technical hiccups. It is valuable to understand the work a program is completing behind-the-scenes to avoid greed and petulance; it only takes a day without such software to understand how much it supports the business. Secondly, it contributed to my lessons in personal responsibility, a theme that carried throughout my internship, as a software failure does not excuse a business from providing great service. Thus, it is safest to expect even the most reliable systems will suddenly stop working and research solutions ahead of time for the most vital activities.
Though periods of anxious troubleshooting were most memorable, the majority of my work with Infusionsoft successfully taught me marketing automation construction and reporting. Sparing the software-specific details, my logical thinking was improved dramatically by sorting out dozens of “if-then” scenarios based on customer profiles and consumer behavior. In building a complete promotion launch sequence, I was able to grasp what email subject lines are most clickable, how many sales offers you can make to your list before they get “burnt out,” and what days of the week people are most likely to make a purchase. When building abandoned cart sequences, I learned how a well-placed automated text or tailored e-mail could re-spark a consumer’s interest through urgency and personal connection. Perhaps most importantly, I quickly learned that testing and retesting work is a necessity despite the difficulty, because it is much harder to scale backwards and repair mistakes once processes are customer-facing.
Such communications with clients and potential leads walk a fine line between needing to be scalable yet personal. The overarching idea behind marketing automation is it should not appear computer-generated to the consumer. Despite the sender’s intentions, poorly executed automated messages, and by extension the brand, are easily seen as insincere, unprofessional, and untrustworthy. This is especially true in an industry as personal as weight-loss. Timing, message content, and incorporating human-generated communication is vital for preventing damaging interpretations.
Accomplishing successful automation required organization and consistency to keep track of where the 4,000+ contacts in Fit Tribe’s marketing database were in their customer journeys. I learned how to create labeling conventions to ensure consumer groups got appropriate messages in-line with their historical interactions with the company. This included making sure current members were marked as such so they were excluded from sales offers and ensuring past members who wanted to rejoin were not treated as completely new leads. Additionally, organizing naming conventions taught me the importance of making information about prospects we already had accessible and actionable for employees. I was able to build a time-line based narrative behind each customer; when it came time to have a phone conversation with a prospect, small bits of information like each video or recipe they clicked came together to create a story an employee could use to demonstrate goodwill and incite action. My ability to not only derive insights from customer behaviors but translate them into systems that operate on Fit Tribe’s behalf to help more community members get healthy was incredibly rewarding.
Prior to my internship, I recognized that having effective content could make or break successful automation. As I learned while building automation sequences, writing content that is personalized and respects a customer’s individual journey is typically the secret ingredient to building trusting sales relationships in fitness. Copywriting can take on different tones, from a cheeky joke, to informative tips and emotional essays, all of which can result in sales. These styles are all just a vehicle for delivering the primary message that other people have/are currently/will go through the same fitness journey as the prospect and Fit Tribe can help them navigate to where they would like to be. Other details such as content length, visual media, calls to action, and the communication medium are all also extremely relevant factors I learned about. When it comes to content creation, details and statistics are important for creating a competitive edge, but fall short in effectiveness when compared to being transparent and keeping our genuine intentions to help others clear.
My leadership studies courses helped me analyze the cultural environment at Fit Tribe and its impact on my internship experience during a unique time in the business’ personnel history. As I noted in my SDPC paper, the business’ operational success is very dependent on the trainers’ moods and perspectives which, whether positive or negative, are powerful in dictating group energy and service level. Since I had worked for Fit Tribe in a different capacity before my internship, I was thankfully aware of the context behind the conditions in which I was working. About a year ago, longtime managers and coaches left due to personal events in Jesse’s life impacting business growth. This required the new hires from that period to step into leadership roles not perfectly suited for their abilities. At the time of my internship this summer, the manager of Fit Tribe’s main Havertown facility, who had been prematurely promoted soon after 2018’s personnel shifts, had just quit. This exacerbated feelings of uncertainty in staff members that remained, including myself. I was able to see how Jesse and Fit Tribe navigated upholding a culture that simultaneously prized personal responsibility and empathy in an unsettling time.
Since my internship took place at a time where Fit Tribe’s leadership structure was breaking down, my leadership studies courses encouraged me to think about the situational context and contingencies that were impacting employee behavior. In this crisis of faith, Fit Tribe employees were desperate for a transformational personality and clear courses of action to quell their fears, both of which were symptoms of uncertainty I recognized from Jepson coursework. This helped me understand Jesse’s strategy of instituting a “war-time” environment where employees could expect specific, systemized directives, stringent feedback loops, and meticulous attention to detail. There was less employee freedom in terms of ability to manage time and make decisions, which I sometimes interpreted as an authoritarian leadership style. However, when I incorporated context I could see that Jesse was trying his best to find a leadership style that suited the employee resources he had; a mix of new and old hires with different experience, technical knowledge, potential for competency, and levels of willingness to fail and learn. Though Jesse maintained a strict leadership style for everyone in these circumstances, he still put effort into incorporating more personal aspects of leadership theory into his relationships with employees.
Jesse understood the importance of his time and attention in building relationships with employees to help them develop personally and subsequently help the business. I had seen high-potential employees fail or flourish based on his level of personal investment in their abilities and mindset, which I tied to the importance of leader member relations on a dyadic level. This aided me in understanding Jesse’s motivations behind prioritizing spending time individually developing each coach over other traditional business activities. I recognized he was trying to build authority and trust through idealized influence, so he would be able to motivate employees with the transformational vision of returning Fit Tribe to its former glory. Leadership studies courses allowed me to categorize his actions as providing varying levels of individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, and inspirational motivation based on the employee. Though this seemed like an effective model, under the circumstances, Jesse had to build rapport quickly, which made it difficult to retain employees who had higher emotional needs.
My leadership studies insights helped me combine the strategies I saw Jesse utilizing with how I approached the employees on whom I was dependent for executing my work. I knew I had to be clear in not only what I was asking of employees, but exactly who was responsible for which objective. This necessitated using feedback loops of my own to ensure both myself and other employees were able to take personal responsibility over tasks, maintaining its importance as a tenet of the organizational culture. Though this sometimes felt overly-aggressive for me as an intern, I focused on the importance of reducing confusion, especially since many coaches had no interest in marketing technology. Following Jesse’s lead, I tried to incorporate some transformational properties in my daily interactions. I found it was helpful to explain how the systems I was asking coaches to implement would help them reduce stress, manage their time, and make more money. I also learned, albeit slowly, how to delegate based on each employee’s strengths and weaknesses and incorporate what I knew about their preferences and attitudes. I ultimately realized that the lesson underlying managing Fit Tribe employees was very similar to that of copywriting: the details do matter, but clearly communicating your positive intentions and ability to help is the basis of any relationship.
My internship at Fit Tribe taught me an expansive amount about the capabilities of marketing automation and buyer behavior, though I found the most important lessons I learned to be related to self-development. In managing my own learning curve and troubleshooting software, my limits of resilience in problem solving were tested. However, I can confidently say I came away from this position with more belief in my abilities to adapt and find solutions than I had when I started. The importance of understanding and making people feel supported was repeatedly demonstrated to me when interacting with consumers and other employees, alike. My leadership studies training allowed me to incorporate these values while bringing clarity to an organizational culture rocked by crisis. My prior knowledge helped me find meaning in the actions Fit Tribe’s leadership took and tailor my own actions based on that information to leverage teamwork and build successful automation systems. My internship at Fit Tribe taught me the skills I was expecting to learn, though I am most grateful for the lesson I wasn’t expecting: despite the circumstances, empathy should act as a leader’s north star.