IAM668- CEO Helps Healthcare Companies Market Qualified Leads

Podcast Interview with Amanda Cecconi

Amanda Cecconi is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Punching Nun Group, an outsourced marketing department provider located in Nashville, Tennessee. Amanda has more than 25 years of experience working with start-up and growth-stage venture-backed companies building brands, supporting sales teams with marketing qualified leads and creating awareness primarily in the healthcare technology space. During the past 10 years, PNG has worked with more than 70 companies across a wide range of healthcare segments including; behavioral health, addiction management, specialty pharmacy services, revenue cycle management, Telehealth services, clinical decision support and more. A frequent speaker and blogger, Amanda has quite a few opinions about getting the most out of a robust marketing program and addressing a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

  • CEO Hack: Empathy
  • CEO Nugget: Don't forget your family while you're on your own business
  • CEO Defined: Stepping into your purpose and helping other people find their purpose



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Intro 0:02

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I AM CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 0:30

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Amanda Cecconi of The Punching Nine Group Amanda it's awesome to have you on the show.

Amanda Cecconi 0:39

Thank you. It's great to be here.

Gresham Harkless 0:43

Definitely excited to have you on and before we jumped in I wanted to read a little bit more about Amanda so you can hear about all the awesome things that she's doing. And Amanda is the founder and chief executive officer of The Punching Nun Group an outsourced marketing department provider located in Nashville, Tennessee, a man who has more than 25 years of experience working with startup and growth stage venture-backed companies building brands supporting sales teams with marketing qualified leads, and creating awareness primarily in the healthcare technology space.

During the past 10 years, PNG has worked with more than 70 companies across a wide range of healthcare segments, including behavioural health, addiction management, speciality pharmacy services, revenue cycle management, telehealth services, clinical decision support, and many more. A frequent speaker and blogger Amanda has quite a few opinions about getting the most out of a robust marketing programme and addressing a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Amanda, are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

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Amanda Cecconi 1:36

I am, I'm.

Gresham Harkless 1:38

Awesome. Let's do it. So to kick everything off, I wanted to go back to I guess kind of the beginning of here a little bit more about your story and what led you to get started with your business.

Amanda Cecconi 1:46

Sure. So about 11 years ago, I always jokingly say my last job, a real job was with a company called Change Healthcare here in Nashville that was acquired by MDR. And there is now a big change in healthcare, which partnered with McKesson so it's quite a big thing in town. But I had done about 15 startups at that point and was tired. And I saw an opportunity in that growth stage, companies who were kind of redeveloping themselves had gotten some venture cash, were short in terms of marketing expertise, but could not afford to bring in a chief marketing officer, really a VP-level person. And so what they desperately needed was a deep set of resources and people with strategic backgrounds in an affordable format.

And the agency model, even now doesn't fit for that kind of strata of business. And so we wanted to develop something unique, I call it an outsourced marketing department. Because really, we plug in and do everything. We also obviously can work with internal resources, most of our clients might have a junior-level person or nothing. And so we created something that would fit a particular type of company with zero revenue up to 50 million. Some healthcare companies are bigger than that and actually don't have marketing support. But it's worked out really well. And I think it fits that niche nicely.

Gresham Harkless 3:17

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I remember so you know, when we first connected, talking a lot more about the, the way you approach kind of like supporting these agencies and not having like the agency model, but being able to kind of integrate and be, for lack of a better term, I guess, kind of plug and play and the relationship and being able to integrate directly to what they're doing.

Amanda Cecconi 3:35

Exactly. They need somebody to be in that senior role for them. And it's, it's just a big mess. And I thought 11 years ago that venture capital folks would be all into that. But it took them a while because people were still like, No, we have to hire, and then you started seeing fractional CFOs and fractional HR people. And finally, they got comfortable with outsourcing some of this understanding that really what they could hire and afford to hire was just too junior to do the job that needed to be done.

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Gresham Harkless 4:07

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And do you think that it was just something that happened with the time or was there some seismic shift that pushed these venture capital firms into saying that?

Amanda Cecconi 4:16

Well, that's that's a really good point. I think what happened was the market wasn't great back then. I mean, we raised a seed of change in healthcare in the middle of a recession, in the middle of a tsunami from a Japanese venture company, really, that happened. But I think that when the economy got better, and a lot more capital started flowing into, you know, the startup markets again, there just became so many that the problem they had the luxury of sort of identifying this issue, and so I think it was a scale problem and go to market problem. And so, and I do think that the whole virtual economy thing really was a function of the fact that you You know, it's a buyers market?

Well, we say all this at this moment in history, when that could all shift very quickly. But for the last, let's call it five years, it's been hard to find good people. And so anytime there is a scenario like that, I think that the idea of outsourcing becomes more palatable. And then I think once it happened, people got comfortable with it. And also the idea of having virtual folks that are not all sitting in an office somewhere. And you're seeing that certainly during this pandemic, as even companies that weren't comfortable before having to get comfortable just to keep the lights on, so to speak.

Gresham Harkless 5:36

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I was wondering, you know, especially the way that technology has evolved, and even marketing, you know, as a whole has become a lot more, I guess, robust, where you need to have those people that have that expertise, it's probably becoming even more difficult to try to hire as you say, those junior level people to do, and replicate the experience that you guys have. So I definitely appreciate you for talking more about that. And I wanted to drill down a little bit deeper. I know it touched on a little bit when I read your bio, but can you take us through exactly like how you work with clients and how that process goes?

Amanda Cecconi 6:07

Sure. We generally have a retainer relationship, I call it a core relationship. And for that, you basically get a VP of marketing. And you work with one of the nones as I like to say, so we've got a few months, but they're mostly none. And that person literally becomes part of the company. And then we've got a whole team of folks, my team is virtual, we've got about 20 people that are located from San Antonio to Iowa, to Jacksonville, Florida, all over the place. And they provide all of the support and services. And so rather than having to kind of put together a whole group, you kind of have that with us with one point of contact. And so that core relationship, then there are modular services, we add on top of it like social media management, or turnkey lead generation where we actually build lead gen systems with HubSpot, and Salesforce and manage lists and really create everything.

But that anchor relationship really gets our clients a whole lot. And, you know, my pitch is always it's a faster, better, cheaper kind of thing. So for the price of a really mid-level manager, you're getting a whole department of skilled people that already know what to do. And we start off with a strategic review of the market that they're in most of them we've worked in about 80 85% of our clients are healthcare tech or healthcare service. So we've got experience and background, but we do a very robust kind of assessment, we like to call it and come back with recommendations so that we can deliver kind of strategic support right off the bat versus just continuing on with whatever the client might have been doing in the past.

Gresham Harkless 7:48

Yeah, then that makes so much sense. And it's so important to be able to kind of take an evaluation of the current kind of state of everything and know the industry as well, too. But I think you brought up a really great point where I think so many times when you're trying to put together a dream team, so to speak, you know, you have to go and search for each of these people, some people work out, some people don't work out, but to be able to just make that one phone call, and be able to have that connection to be able to lean on what it is that you guys are doing is huge.

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Amanda Cecconi 8:14

It saves a lot of money. And I really try to impress upon folks, you know, often if we talked to a group in Houston the other day, they're global. I mean, these guys are doing tremendous work, but they've never had any marketing support. And so anything seems expensive. But you know, I really try to break it down for him. Like if you hired a PR firm, and you hired somebody to build, you know, out your Salesforce setup and connected to HubSpot, and then generate content and then do pay-per-click advertising. Once you did all that the amount of just retainer fees would be astronomical, they couldn't afford it anyway. And so working with us saves a lot just in terms of both identifying and bringing on affordable resources.

And I try to build relationships for the long term instead of, you know, trying to kind of get it all from a project upfront, which is why consultants can be expensive because you're not bringing them in for a long period of time. So just to do the assessment piece, generally. And we benchmark this against even other firms in Nashville, even though we work across the country. But we're like 10% of the cost of that. In other words, it's kind of a loss leader for me, but it's incredibly valuable for a company, especially a company that's kind of shifting into a growth stage.

Gresham Harkless 9:29

Yeah, absolutely. And then, you know, a lot of things that you mentioned as well, too, we're talking about the resources as far as money but I think the resources as far as time and the frustration of being able to try to put those things in because it's not just turnkey. So to be able to have that experience and you guys have already built that. I think that's an incredible value add as well, to say the least so yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to ask you now for what I call your secret sauce and it could be for yourself or for your business but what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?

Amanda Cecconi 9:59

You know That's an interesting thing. I think that we all say that I was raised Catholic, I went to Catholic schools, I'm one of seven kids, and I grew up in a very regimented environment. And I learned how to study and I learned how to take good notes and how to listen. So we're old school in the sense that we do business the right way. I mean, you know, I spent time teaching college-level marketing classes, and none of that has changed, the tools have changed. And certainly, the tools do not market or sell for you, Salesforce doesn't sell for you. But without Salesforce today, with the amount of turnover and so forth, you can really hurt yourself. So we've stayed on top of all the latest technology.

But we also really bring people back to the fact that the blocking and tackling of marketing is a truism that we can't lose. So even though a kid may know how to post stuff on social media, understand messaging and content and what the market needs to hear, and speak from the buyer's perspective, those things are absolutely critical. So I think our secret sauce is really a marriage of the latest tools and technology, with the old school kind of fundamentals of marketing, that most of us learned a long time ago, that really haven't changed. It's like, you know, accounting changes, but the fundamentals of it do not, we just can do it faster and better and more accurately with technology. So we've kind of taken that same approach to marketing.

Gresham Harkless 11:28

I wanted to switch gears a little bit, and I want to ask you for what I call a CEO. Heck, so that could be like an app or book or habit that you have. But what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Amanda Cecconi 11:37

I really feel like for us, it's empathy, honestly. I mean, that's really, I think our strong suit is that we're very empathetic to our clients, and we're empathetic to their clients.

Gresham Harkless 11:49

Yeah, absolutely. No, I love that. I love that hack. And, so now I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO nugget. So that could be like a word of wisdom or piece of advice around marketing or more general, but it might even be something you would tell your younger business self.

Amanda Cecconi 12:03

Probably not to transfer colleges and to work on my jump shot more. But anyway. I, you know, it's funny, I've got a lot of younger folks in the convent now. And I've attracted a bunch of people over my career who are just amazing. But what I try to tell them is, you know, one, don't forget your family, when you own your own business, and all my folks because they work for me and a, some of them work for me full time, but a lot of them are 1099. And they're really running their own businesses. Finding that balance is tough, because you know, saying no to work is always hard. But when you work with good people, no matter what the work is, that generally will result in something positive for both sides.

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Gresham Harkless 12:50

I appreciate you for reminding us of that. And so now I want to ask you my absolute favourite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. And we're hoping to have different, quote-unquote, CEOs on this show. So Amanda, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Amanda Cecconi 13:02

Years ago, after again, working for a lot of other people for a long time. I was scared, I went through a divorce and had three kids. And I kept running into people who said to me that I was unemployable. And I got really offended by that. And I'm like, What do you mean, I'm a team player. And this gal said to me, like when you're the captain, you're a team player. And I'm like, Oh, I'll get through. But the point was, she was absolutely right. And but I was scared. And I just didn't want to take that leap, because I was worried about benefits and all this other stuff. But when I finally did it, and I kind of stepped into my purpose, it really all came together. I've been very lucky, very blessed. I wouldn't change a thing. And I've been able to kind of help other people to kind of find their purpose. I always tell younger folks to get skills, get experience, and figure out not only what they're supposed to do, but what environment they thrive in. I worked at Ford Motor Company for seven years, and God loved Ford. I was not a company person, it was just not the right place.

When I did my first startup, I was like, wow, this is it. This is the kind of environment I want to work in. But the truth was the politics and all that so I'm not good at that. I'm good at working. And so, unplugging myself, instead of trying to change every organisation, I just listened to like, okay, what are you good at? And how can you take a step back so that you're not so invested in a single organisation, it's worked out really well for me. But I think knowing yourself is key to being successful in this kind of role. But get skills first and really make sure that it's not about wanting to be in charge. Honestly, I'm the least in charge person in this company. I mean, I am mostly a servant to keeping the families that are employed by me going and also to helping my clients stay in business. So I don't view leadership as Leaving as much as serving and I do think for me, that's what being a CEO is about.

Gresham Harkless 15:07

But that's definitely a great reminder. So truly appreciate that that perspective and amended appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do was passionate, the mic so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional, you want to let our readers and listeners know. And then of course, how best they can get a hold of you and find out about all the awesome things you guys are working on.

Amanda Cecconi 15:21

Perfect. Yeah. So we are headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville and have been here about 25 years. It's an awesome place. People need to stop moving here though. It's overwhelming, but you can find us at Punching like boxing group dot com. And there's lots of good information and examples of the work we've done. And we're always happy to chat with anybody and just kind of brainstorm and see if it's a fit. So we mostly work in healthcare technology, although we've done a lot of healthcare service work and really enjoy just meeting new folks and learning about new business opportunities and kind of sharing our wisdom after about Geez almost 30 years in in in the marketing world.

Gresham Harkless 16:10

Awesome. Well, I definitely appreciate that Amanda. We will have the links and information in the show notes so that everybody can follow up with you as well. But appreciate your time. Appreciate the reminders you gave us today and I hope you have a phenomenal rest today.

Outro 16:22

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO Podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes Google Play and everywhere you listen to podcasts, SUBSCRIBE, and leave us a five-star rating grab CEO gear at This has been the I AM CEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.

[fusebox transcript]


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