B2B 36 | Customer-Centric Approach

B2B 36 | Customer-Centric Approach


If you cannot deliver genuine value to your target market, you can never address their needs and convert them into loyal clients. For your business to succeed, implementing a customer-centric approach flawlessly is a must. Vijay Damojipurapu sits down with Amy Borsetti of Asana to share how defining their ideal customer profile and spending more time with them leads to better business strategies. She explains how they achieved go-to=market success by optimizing the customer value piece. Amy also talks about setting business goals around the needs and interests of your target audience to consistently deliver the right level of impact.

Listen to the podcast here


Achieving Business Success Using A Customer-Centric Approach With Amy Borsetti

I have the pleasure of hosting Amy Borsetti who is the GM of Americas at Asana. I’m pretty sure you must have heard of Asana, and we’ll talk a lot more in detail. I’m super excited to have you. Welcome to the show, Amy.

Thank you. It’s great to be here. I appreciate it.

Let’s get started with the signature question, which is how do you define and view go-to-market?

When I think about go-to-market, there are probably three lenses that I tend to look through. For any given organization, it’s how can you collectively drive as much customer value as possible based on your ICP or your Individualized Customer Profile? What you are here to put value in the hands of customers and how do you do that most effectively? There are certainly multiple teams that hold different roles in doing so.

At the center of that is the team itself. How do you rally a group of connected or disconnected individuals to be able to deliver that value? Ultimately, if you do that well, your outcome is going to be business results. Ideally, you’re looking at growth and the path to profitability, depending on where you are as an organization. You can invest more in your vision and mission, and you create that incredible virtue of cycle.

I like the way how you “simplified it.” You covered all the key aspects there, which is it always begins and ends and starts everything in the middle with the customer and what problems they’re dealing with. You also touched upon the second very important ingredient, which is the team. You have a good understanding of the customer, the ICP, but how do you bake that in, groom, guide, and nurture your team toward that ICP problem? The third is if the first two are done well, the business outcomes.

A lot of folks put the business outcomes first, but I would argue that while that can generate short-term revenue and growth, if the customer isn’t put at the center, that just has a short lifespan.

I’ve hosted over 30 guests on my show, ranging from Y Combinator founders, investors, CMO, CROs, and CPOs. Across the board, that’s a common theme. It always starts with the customer and the customer’s problems.

That’s great progress.

Let’s transition a bit. Why don’t you brief our audience about your career journey and your growth path? Clearly, you’re a sales leader, but you started not as a sales leader on day one. What was your journey like? How did you end up where you are and what you are doing now?

Thanks for asking. I have a background in human behavior. That’s where my starting point is. I got my Master’s in Behavioral Psychology many moons ago, and used to work with kids with severe behavior problems. Thinking about crossing the chasm to sales might feel a little strange, and there was certainly a lot in between. At the end of the day, I am a student and a little nerdy about why humans do what they do. That could be why they invest and buy as well as how we show up for one another.

With that, I would call it an obsession that has led me through a lot of different paths. One of which that has been helpful for the role that I am in now and even the roles I’ve been in for the last few years is after working with kids and crossing into the corporate arena, I was out there building learning programs for customers and clients in the old high-tech world, FinServe, and stuff like. That felt very similar to working with kids with different deficits that needed help. That experience of building programs to help people get better has been a transferable skillset that has pulled through even in my role now.

I spent quite a bit of time in sales. That was during my time at LinkedIn for many years, growing and building that team there. At the end of the day, my team was accountable to help the sales team be better. Going back to how we started, it was all about being able to deliver more value for our customers. Having spent quite a bit of time trying to understand how you motivate salespeople, how you ensure that you are making the right investments for them to even be able to execute your go-to-market strategy and failing a whole lot, winning some.

It was helpful as I made the move into sales itself. Usually, you find quite a few sales folks that run the path, maybe go into sales leadership, and move into sales enablement. This is perhaps different than what you might see in the market. I have found that experience and that obsession helpful to keep me grounded in what will matter most, which is if I don’t help my team be as successful as possible.

I came off a call before this one to talk about how we do this differently in 2023. I ultimately can’t deliver on the go-to-market. That journey has been a fascinating one. Here, I find myself now after spending some cycles as a formal sales leader prior to joining Asana, and now at Asana as the GM of Americas, and I formally look over our revenue teams while also spending quite a bit of my time rallying the entire AMER region. That means that I’m working very closely with customer success, marketing, certainly our sales engineering team, and many others to be able to bring a connected go-to-market strategy, including product and BDR. You name the team, we’re together trying to do the best thing for our customers. That’s a bit on the journey if that’s helpful.

You validated some of my thought processes in terms of for anyone to serve a human being. It’s funny, we had to call them out as human beings. Not many people see them as people or individuals. You need to understand the psychological aspect and what drives them, what motivates them or why they don’t act in a certain way and you happen to be the second guest on my show who majored in Psychology. The other is Ali Wendroff. I interviewed her, and she is running global sales solutions. It’s a similar path.

At the heart of it is how we create the conditions for which people can thrive ultimately. You can roll that up to how we create the conditions to be able to also help our customers thrive. With that in mind, you end up having some principles to do the right things.

I’m sure my readers want to know how you made these transitions because making the transition is not easy on what you’ve done there. Earlier, you are helping or teaching kids, and you moved into a corporate role. Before you were at Convergys, Deloitte, SweetRush, and LinkedIn, each role was different. What is your advice for people who are in a job search scenario and situation now? How to make that lateral or complete shift compared to what they were doing in their previous role?

I’m going to get a bit cerebral for a moment but it was the past few years. It wasn’t in the midst of it that I knew what I was doing with intention. At the heart of that, it is getting clarity on what’s important in your life and what you are trying to manifest, so start there every time. Sometimes you don’t know the answer, you don’t have all the answers and you don’t know perhaps what you want to do right in front of you, let alone in 5 years or 10 years.

B2B 36 | Customer-Centric Approach
Customer-Centric Approach: When shifting professional roles, start by getting clarity on what’s important in your life and what you’re trying to manifest.


Pushing yourself to examine this and its life first, work is a part of life. It’s no longer over here. When you take that layer and if you begin to get clarity on, perhaps it’s like, “What is the next company type? What is the next role? What is important when I think about mission and vision or whatever the list is in stack-ranked order? It’s a big forcing function. It’s wildly helpful.” When you look at your existing role, there are skillsets that you have gained that you’ve mastered or you’ve become fluent at that will serve you or not. Generally, they will, but how well will they serve you in a variety of different paths as an important reflection exercise?

For example, when I was running a sales enablement team, I knew that I was a good people leader, and I had built a set of skills that would serve me when I was leading any team. It didn’t matter if they were in sales or they were in some other type of function. I used some of my mentors and my sponsors to get critical of how well am I. How well do I do with the skillset? Where do I need improvement? How transferable is it?

People leadership is one thing. Within the realm of sales enablement, as you can imagine, I have built a set of competencies in sales but I hadn’t led a sales team. What it came down to was, “Do I understand the core metrics, the process, and the tools to be able to run the team effectively?” I knew I had some gaps and they would be overcome. I had some confidence there because I had done this other assessment on these other core skillsets. When I made the move to sales, this was a real turning point, I moved into a business where I had competency with my customer and it was differentiating.

What I mean by that is I moved into LinkedIn learning, and I had been in the world of learning, corporate learning, sales enablement, and human behavior for fifteen years prior. I had been a buyer of technology. I was learning technology for enough years to know what it meant to be on that side of the table. When I started looking for this sales role, I identified areas where I could begin adding value to my future team right away. I set up these minds of the buyer sessions with the sales team to begin to explore how I could add value before ever being in the role itself. It’s doing the job before you get the job.

You have to have a deep understanding of your competence to take that type of lead. Ran these sessions and started to get engaged in some projects because I had my eyes set on this role. When it came to the interviews and things, I already had stories about the business so I felt different. It was the first time I’d done anything like that. Reflective exercise and not only holding up the mirror yourself but having other folks holding up the mirror. For you to understand where you’re good, where you’re great, and where you have the opportunity is such a critical part of that process.

We digressed a bit but this is critical, especially given the market conditions and the situation now. Thanks for sharing your reflective exercise and how you transitioned. Coming back to the role at Asana, you are the GM of Americas. How would you define your customers? Who do you serve and how do you define the go-to-market overall?

Asana is an incredible platform and we are very fortunate to serve all types of customers across all types of industries. We’ve been successful in those areas. We have an incredible product-led growth engine where the product itself has a lot of virality to it. With that said, when we look at 2023 in particular, we’ve made some predictions, and I’m pretty bullish on this, given the market conditions, many companies beyond tech are facing new challenges and having to look at business a bit differently. Look at a way to be more profitable, efficient, scalable, and repeatable.

This year we have a material focus on elevating the role and investing in operators. We think about the role of the operator a few years ago at organizations. It feels different than the role of the operator now. These are folks that like to wake up thinking about efficiency. I have been in this mindset that all business leaders arguably need to be in for a while. We’re finding a ton of traction to help operators, help their executives and their collective teams do things better, and help their teams thrive along the way. We’re here to change the way the world works and help humanity thrive. It’s an incredible vision and we are making wild traction across the board, which is great.

Operators are people like content marketers, for example, who are trying to put the content editorial and help the executor around content strategy and execution.

That’s certainly a bullseye of ours. If you think about marketing operators that are right there with the CMO looking for ways to where we’re getting the right content, customer and time out, that’s one example. You can think about PMOs that are global and centralized ops that are working with the C-Suite or senior leadership team on establishing your annual strategy, goals, and OKRs, and helping them ensure that the work gets done. There are certainly more functional operators. Marketing ops is one example. Rev ops, product ops, and IT would be another.

Your role at Asana as GM of Americas is there. That includes the SDRs and AEs. Is that the majority of your team or do you have other supporting teams? Of course, you’ll have the ops and admins supporting those.

The way that the team is structured in 2023 is I have all of our sales segments, AEs, and AE managers as well as sales engineers in our channel function. We have globalized certain areas. I still work very closely and have a dotted-line connection to these teams in those ranges from customer success to your point to BDR, etc.

Shifting gears a bit over here. GTM or Go-To-Market is not always up and to the right. There are success stories and failure stories. If you can, share one GTM success, either from a current or previous role, and one GTM failure story.

I think that the from-to is important here. I can look at my current role. When we think about a truly integrated aligned go-to-market, we had this tremendous product-led growth and we still do. It almost created conditions where we didn’t have to be as integrated as we would aspire to be. I’m trying to ensure that you have a product-led growth engine, you overlay a sales-led growth engine, and these things are working in concert with marketing and product. We have opportunities and in 2023, we made a bold move to ensure that we like to lock ourselves in the room, figuratively and literally, to put our customers at the center and one Asana customer journey.

B2B 36 | Customer-Centric Approach
Customer-Centric Approach: Ensure you have a product-led growth engine and overlay sales-led growth engine in concert with marketing and product.


How the ideal experience for our customers is they begin to invest with us and invest more in the value that they should receive, the outcomes they should experience, and what it means for all of us to come together and deliver on each of those stages. We’re doing this in a very material way and it has been a tremendous way to look at how we optimize the customer value piece that I talked about at the top.

To get clarity on what the handoffs look like, how do we do this better, what is the role of our product-led growth engine, our product team, customer success, and every single team along the way? We have work to do to continue to improve this, but it’s fundamentally different than the way we were looking at go-to-market before. I’m excited to see how some of this turns out mostly in our eyes of ours.

In a nutshell, you did a deep dive into your operator journey because you’re targeting the operators. Do you have the operators for Asana? Did you dive into the operator journey across maybe the PMO, the marketing sales, and even other functions as an example?

What’s interesting about the operators, they are both buyers as they carry the purse of their executive and they’re also great mobilizers. We looked at what outcomes would we need to serve the operators as a conduit to the business. What does it look like when we do this well and don’t do it well? Being able to hold the mirror up and have some real authentic conversation, which was had on how well have we been delivering thus far. We have tremendous examples where we have been delivering off-the-charts value. There are other areas where we certainly have room for improvement. The next steps become a prioritization exercise and how we do this well.

That’s your GTM success story and obviously, that’s being played out. It’s something that gives you and your team the confidence that this will lead to success and the metrics that you’re doing.

We’ve done quite a bit of work on assessing our addressable market where we can drive even more value. How quickly from a velocity standpoint, customers have transitioned through this customer journey. We’ve already pointed out where we believe from a hypothesis perspective on where we can deliver value faster. We’ve stood up even pilot teams to start to unpack some of this. A different level of rigor around measuring whether or not we are making traction. We’re implementing an agile testing ground to ensure that our hypotheses are either tested and they’re working or they’re not and we do something different about them quickly.

That reminds me of my time when I was leading PLG at a Series B startup before. Now I’m running my GTM constantly company-serving founders and GTM leaders. Prior, while doing the PLG motion, the key there is to ensure that we have the ability to record the data and the conversions across each and every touchpoint of a free trial.

That’s number one. While we are doing that, we see where are the drop-offs happening in terms of the free trial. Is that in onboarding the different questions that we are asking? Are we asking the right questions or not? In the activation, we see them going to that product dashboard, but they’re not clicking because technically if you don’t engage the user on day 1 or day 2, you lose them.

That new user experience is critical.

On top of this, the PLG is the self-serve motion. To your point, you also have the sales-led motion. I was looking at with the head of sales in terms of how we define and map and identify the PQL and the PQA on how we do the handoffs.

It’s like the people in our meetings.

I lived there. I’ve done ELD, sales-led and marketing-led. It’s as good as living through your meetings daily. Switching gears here. What is a GTM failure story that comes to your mind?

Failure is a funny thing. Every time I hear failure, I hear feedback when done well. You can take this exact story and have to go back 2 or 3 years. Imagine what would have been possible if our go-to-market strategy was wildly connected. Asana has been making incredible progress, especially upmarket. In the enterprise, there are many wins. This exercise of identifying what we need to do to be integrated, the from that that came from is the failure. We weren’t doing it perfectly before.

We are trying to make sure that we superpower our sales-led motion by doing the right things on the product-led side and getting visibility into exactly what you’re saying with lead drop-off. Making sure our lead funnel is there and that we’re unearthing the intelligence of our platform, which is incredible. It’s to ensure that our outbound motion is meaningful to our customers and it’s through intelligence that is going to get us there. I would argue you can look at what was a failure in part, although we are successful despite ourselves. Now we’re aligning in this new way. I’m excited about where that ultimately will take us and the feedback that we have received along the way with what was to what will be.

That’s the story at Asana. How about in your previous roles, maybe at LinkedIn, something that you can share, or even other roles for that matter?

I can share a couple more broadly with prior organizations but there have been instances where the ideal customer profile has not been clearly defined. You get to a place where at the center of the go-to-market, you need to know whose problems are you solving and how specifically are you solving them. Where have you solved them in the past and how do you talk about them? We’re talking about that quite a bit here at Asana as well. I have been a part of organizations where that is not clear.

You have lots of motions. The sales team is reaching out to a number of different customer types and is broader and less specific. The narrative isn’t quite tight and aligned to an ICP and ends up being less meaningful to the masses in a market that we have where we got to get focused on profitability, efficiency, and repeatability. Our customers want that level of ROI. If the narrative isn’t there to get down to value, it’s tough for the sales team to be able to drive the type of value that we want. There have been instances in other organizations that I’ve been a part of where that clarity is not there. You end up wasting a bunch of time from a sales perspective because you’re going after anything you see versus being very targeted in your approach.

That was a great context setting there where you shared both a success story and a couple of principles or approaches of why there are GTM failures and how to rectify that. Coming back to a point that you mentioned, I was looking at your 23 predictions video. One of the things that it called out is around goal setting and how to set meaningful goals. Would you call that one of your friends?

I’m trying two different things over here, like goal setting. What are your critical GTM skills that you feel have been successful or helped you realize the success in your GTM journey? At the same time, you hit on a very important point, which is relevant to a lot of folks, GTM or not, which is goal setting and pointing down the goals.

I would say skills first at the heart of who I am as a human. I’m a deep collaborator and the heartbeat of a great go-to-market strategy is collaboration. You can’t get there without it. The concept of being able to build relationships, bring people together, get alignment on what matters most, and create a psychologically safe environment for folks to be humble, critical and have enough respect for themselves to inspect themselves.

The heartbeat of a great go-to-market strategy is collaboration. Create a psychologically safe environment for everyone to be humble, critical, and have enough self-respect to inspect themselves. Click To Tweet

That probably is at the heart of one of my superpowers that have been meaningful here and at other organizations as well. Now when it comes to goals, to your point, this is broad, but it’s also very specific to go-to-market. As we came together as a group and we aligned on how we were going to move forward together, at the crux of that is what are our shared objectives going to be.

Where do we have dependencies and how are we going to ensure that we are making traction? It means we need to be clearer and smart about what the goals are and have a process platform insert Asana in a very deep way to be able to, in real-time, assess progress and take action quickly. The beautiful part about being at Asana is we get to leverage our platform for this stuff and we are on top of the GTM list in terms of a goals platform. That helps serve our go-to-market team in achieving the goals that we want to achieve.

The other piece of this that I imagine you’ve experienced is you have an offsite, you have something, and you set a bunch of goals or you come out of there and you set goals and everyone’s got OKRs. They then sit in some deck on some platform and they are revisited every quarter maybe. The operators are out there trying to get and gather status reporting multiple hours a week to try to roll up the right level of progress to pick your favorite executives. The whole process is manual. It’s probably not the type of work that operators even like doing. I say probably but I know this deeply with talking to our customers.

The real intelligence that allows decision-makers and business leaders to make faster decisions is making sure that your goals are intelligent. The only way you can do that is you connect the goals to the work that’s being done. There’s never been a platform to do that until Asana. There are a lot of goals and platforms and it’s the goals. You make them more automated. Maybe you make that chasing a bit easier, but they only become intelligent when they’re connected to the work.

Having a tool like Asana helps but something else that I’ve seen helps in at least making sure that you’re tracking toward a quarterly goal is to visit weekly and even on a daily basis. How do you plan your bi-weekly sprints and how do you split that into? What is my priority? That’s one exercise I did literally before I jumped on this interview with you. I did my two-week sprint planning. What are my priorities? 1, 2, 3 or 4, sequence them, and even allocate the time. A lot of people overlook the aspect of assigning time and maybe they think writing the sales forecasting report will take maybe about an hour. In reality, it takes about 2 or 3 hours and that’s a big miss.

When you think about it, you’ve got the foundational layer. You have tasks that you need to get done that are aligned to set goals. There are projects that those tasks are aligned with. There are portfolios and multiple projects of work that would ladder up to the goals of the company. If there is a disconnect there, there’s a problem with prioritization. You can get to a place where you can take the highest strategic goal of a company and you should be able to zoom it down to a task of an individual on a specific team. It should all be connected in an ideal state and that’s what we’re trying to do.

I was not planning to deep dive into goal setting to look at a video there. I thought that this is a good topic for all. Zooming out a bit, who would you give credit to and who are you grateful for in your career journey when it comes to sponsors and mentors? Who are those 1, 2, or 3 people who played a big role in your career success far?

I’ve got a couple of big standouts. I was very fortunate to work with a gentleman by the name of Mike Derezin. He’s now the COO over at Chainlink, but he was at LinkedIn with me. He’s the one that took a chance on me to bring me from sales enablement to leading enterprise, large enterprise, and strategic accounts within LinkedIn learning. How I would describe him is he’s tough, wildly analytical, and a very smart business person. He’s a true operator but what he would do in practice to help me get ramped up was profound. He would be tough in a forecast meeting, for example. Tough in that like he’s asking the questions you know you should be asking yourself before you ever get to that room or maybe you’re not.

He wouldn’t ask the question and put pressure on you in the meeting. He would certainly do. What he did after was the most profound part, which was to pull me aside and go like, “Do you understand why I’m asking you these questions?” We would be able to do quick huddles so I could learn. It wasn’t about getting pushed and trying to scramble. I was pushed and scrambling and he would teach me. He was very intentional about that process. We had a few years together, which was profound and he’s a master of change. I got to see what it looks like to have a leader that follows through, holds people accountable, and arguably not sets the standard himself but demonstrates the standard.

B2B 36 | Customer-Centric Approach
Customer-Centric Approach: Get a mentor that follows through and holds people accountable. They must not set the standard but demonstrate the standard themselves.


There were a lot of different ways that he was paramount in my learning as a leader and that never stopped. We continue to have a strong relationship. He was an incredible sponsor as I was trying to assess my next play after spending nine years at LinkedIn. He’s the guy I call when I’m working through issues now or I have thoughts or questions that I’m trying to unpack a go-to-market approach. He’s my person. He’s certainly one and there are a couple of others. I’ll let you lead the way on how deep do you want me to go in.

I love the way how you called out, where the mentor or the sponsor was tough. At the same time, ensuring that he created room for you to learn and understand the context. It’s not just pushed, but, “Go figure it out. I’m not going to give you support.” That is not the approach. That’s a critical balance. Very few leaders have that and work on that skill.

I’d never experienced it in that way until him. He’s very special and it’s been interesting to also try to emulate that. I don’t have it nailed yet in myself. It’s a story that I’ve shared with my team, myself, and others like you many times. When you can figure out that balance and carve out the time, you get so much more value out of your team, but also put value into your team, which is a thoughtful process.

Going a few years back or a decade-plus in your career journey, clearly, it didn’t come naturally to you that you’ll be successful in a sales role. You are an educator. We are working with children and something outside of you or someone gave you confidence. Is that a safe assumption?

Yes, it is safe. There was a gentleman by the name of Peter Kim, also an incredible friend of mine who I was chatting with him years ago. We were early friends about having spent much time with kids with severe behavior problems. I’m like, “I want to get into the corporate arena.” I didn’t even know what that meant. I had my Master’s in Behavioral Science, so I had done a bunch of organizational behavioral management work but it was academic.

He introduced me to a woman, Amy Haggarty, who was over at Convergys. She was in a performance consulting role working with organizations on essentially elevating their workforce that came in a variety of ways. He was like, “I’ve got this friend of mine who’s over at this company. Let me introduce you.” He was truly the conduit for me to get into the corporate arena. I did not get the job initially. I interviewed and she hooked me up with it with a number of people. I entered with getting a job in instructional design. There are people formally trained in instructional design, and I was not.

I could tell a story and connect the dots between what I was doing with kids and what I could do with adults, essentially high-functioning adults, generally speaking. Amy teased it out of me and connected me with folks at Convergys and it was about maybe three months after that when they had given me a call and said, “We’ve got headcount and it’s not specific to a specific account that they were working with. Will you come over?”

I was like, “Absolutely.” It’s my birthday too so that was memorable. It was only through relationships that I ever would’ve got in. A lot of people, to your point, are trying to get in or break through into some other industry or whatnot, the power of relationships and creating them if you don’t have them. Fortunately, you have platforms like LinkedIn where the world is much more connected professionally than it ever has been and it has in some ways leveled the playing ground. Now there’s still a privilege and all things packed into it depending on what family we were born in and how connected are they. There are certain variables to consider, it is a lot easier than it ever has been to make that.

Building relationships is much easier thanks to platforms like LinkedIn. The world is much more connected professionally than it ever has been. Click To Tweet

One final question. I know you need to wrap up and jump to our stuff at work here. What advice would you give to your younger self if you were to remind and go back to your day one of the GTM journeys?

I didn’t always have this perspective of putting the customer value first. If I could rewind myself to the early 2000s, it was there when I was working with kids. It’s very obvious who’s most important. This transitioned to the corporate arena and all the different various jobs and companies I’ve worked at. It wasn’t until this moment where not the COO at LinkedIn, Dan Shapero, had this keynote, and he was talking about the definition of customer value. It was all about value in the eyes of the customer, not in the eyes of the business.

It was profound, and it made me rethink how I thought about go-to-market and how I thought about business in general. This paved the way for my thinking and what I get re-grounded in every time. In any decision that I make, I’m always looking at it through three lenses, team, customer, and business upside, downside, in both directions or all three directions. If I could go back and give any advice to my prior self, it would’ve been, “Put that at the center of everything you do and the good will come.” It might have put me in a different place quicker. I’m also not one to live in a ton of regret. Every moment is a moment of learning. That would be the one thing tied to go-to-market.

You touched upon a very important point there, which is when you are working with the kids, the kid is a customer. You are in touch with the customer day in and day out every single minute, every single day versus when you shift the corporate role, there’s a gap. You’re not in touch with a customer as regularly as you should be or need to be.

The more time you spend with customers, the better you become every single time. Click To Tweet

It’s like when something is in your face. You’re deliberately working one-on-one with a child or parent so clear. In a sales role or a role like mine, if we can bring that principle to play, how much time am I spending with my customers? The more time I spend with customers, the better off I am every single time. It never fails. There’s a reason for that because they get closer to how they define value, which means I begin to get closer to how I can deliver it.

We shared a lot of insights, so thank you for your time. Good luck to you and your team.

Thank you so much, Vijay. It’s been great to spend time with you. Take care.


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B2B 35 | TripleLift

B2B 35 | TripleLift


Our guest today defines go-to-market as a strategic iterative process of delivering a solution based on an opportunity in the market. To her, everything comes down to positioning. It’s all about understanding the goals of your clients so your product suits their needs. This is how Ali Wendroff approaches go-to-market strategy in her position as Senior Director of Global Engagement at TripleLift. In this conversation, she shares her journey from her first job in an ad tech company to her present leadership position in a global leader in the programmatic industry. Join in and learn about the ins and outs of go-to-market strategy in this fast-paced core industry!

Listen to the podcast here


Delivering Customer-Centric Go-To-Market Solutions In Programmatic Advertising With Ali Wendroff, TripleLift

In this episode, I have with me Ali Wendroff, who is the Senior Director of Global Engagement at TripleLift. I am excited to have you on the show.

No worries. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

This is what I always start off the show with, and this is a very intriguing and interesting question. It takes the conversation in a lot of directions with the speakers and even the readers enjoy. Ali, how do you define go-to-market?

I put a lot of thought into this, but I would define go-to-market as a strategic iterative process of delivering a solution that’s based on a need or an opportunity that has presented itself in the market. I think what’s most important in terms of the go-to-market process is positioning. It’s all about your audience. It’s fully understanding the goals of your clients to ensure that the product or solution suits their needs and identified gaps.

I think it’s far from a one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s rather entirely about the voice of the customer, which varies even within an organization with whom you might be engaging with. If you can’t answer the why, why it matters, why your clients should care, why it solves a problem, why should they want it, and why it speaks their language not yours, then I don’t think you have done enough legwork or homework to fulfill and validate the journey that you are planning to take them on.

I love the fact that you are emphasizing so much the customer and the whys of the customer. This is something that I keep pushing both at the places where I worked as well as with the clients that I consult with, which is the whys of the customer. Simple things like taking the time to go and interview the customer. This is the easy trick, and unfortunately, a lot of folks in marketing and sales miss out, especially in marketing and maybe even product.

When you interview the customer and ask questions like, “What are the objections like or what are your fears when you were looking to buy a product or service?” Another question can be, “How would you explain and define or talk about our product and services to appear in your industry?” Those are something we can use in the copy as well.

Though you might be the company bringing a product to market, it’s not about you. It’s about whom you are bringing it to and making sure that you understand them and speak their language in order for it to make it out of the go-to-market funnel and hit, in my opinion, with the most intentional impact.

Though you might be the company bringing a product to market, it's not about you. It's about who you're bringing it to. Click To Tweet

I love the way how this show got started. A great description and opening. Why don’t you tell a bit about yourself, your journey, both personal and more professional, and what made you arrive at where you are now?

I’m a born and raised native New Yorker. I went to the University of Maryland, and I was a Psychology major. I love people and I love networking and relationships. I was pursuing the path toward child psychology and relationship based. I graduated and what we like to say is I was birthed into programmatic. I remember my first job and I showed up in a suit. I still won’t live that down to this day. It was a site for sore eyes walking into a very casual ad tech company and I was fully professional. As they always say, you can never be overdressed.

I started actually at an ESP-ish-like place CPXi, where I was fresh out of college. I was ready to learn a new industry. I was surrounded by folks that seemed to be hustling and I worked for three account executives covering basically all of North America learning the weeds and getting my feet wet. Following that, I made my way over to PubMatic where I worked with key leaders who all through the years remained mentors and friends. I think this was where I feel I was seen. I learned to grow wings here.

I was given a runway with the sky seemingly as the limit. I came in as an account executive, more junior, and a good portion of the team was out either on maternity or for other reasons. I ended up inheriting a massive book of business very early on and was empowered by those around me to learn, embrace, and succeed.

There were a lot of diverse skillsets teachers. We were like a family back then and I was on the DSP side managing roughly 25% of the entirety of the DSP business. Here, I also learned the balance between the publisher side and the ad solutions team. I started to spearhead the PMP growth and what I call my PMP love story, but the joy of being at the epicenter.

What is PMP?

It’s the Private Marketplace. It is a form of the transaction by the deal, which back then was only hitting the forefront versus where it’s now, which is booming but where I was at the time, I was still sitting on the DSP ad solution side and being able to develop these PMPs, you had to sit in between supply and demand. This is where I think my love of being at the epicenter of that intersection began. From there, I moved to Kargo, a mobile-first SSP at the time that was largely managed when I got there. I was brought there to build their programmatic stack on the business development team.

Here, I got to know the agency and the direct sales teams. I worked alongside their business as a consultant almost and what have you because the goal was to start to transition some managed brands, agencies, and advertisers to programmatic, which was quite a unique experience. It’s hard to get a managed team to want to move dollars to programmatics. That was a learning experience and a challenge, but ultimately, we were able to scale the programmatic business nearly 100% and integrate the programmatic team into the sales org.

Kargo at the time was really a dominant PMP business as well. I was still staying in the line of the private marketplace deals-based transactions. From here, I was brought to TripleLift, and I was brought on to the supply side as the PMP market maker. This was a huge moment for me. I wanted the role so badly. I knew it would be a challenge. I have also never been on supply directly. I was so curious as to how to translate all of my buy side work and working with advertisers and the demand side into a supply strategy.

I spent over a year or so in this position and I wore a bunch of different hats, but I drove the majority of the success for TripleLift PMPs by hustling between supply and demand to build that market and drive revenue. Also, developing custom go-to-market plans for each publisher based on their business models that would suit their commercial teams. You probably are seeing a little bit of a theme here. After some time the epicenter was calling me back and I love TripleLift.

I realized that the buy side was tugging at me and my current boss now, I’m Sonja Kristiansen, the Chief Business Officer of TripleLift, floated the idea of this DSP engagement team in my head. I had approached her to think about what my next path within the company would be, and bells and whistles went off. Now, there was no roadmap. It was, “Here’s what we are thinking, build it. Build something completely new.” I enjoy living in ambiguity. At the time, I had spent and now I moved over and ultimately developed what is now the DSP Global Engagement team. It was born back then and a few years later, it’s a global team of ten supporting big tech teams and additional service model DSPs as consultants.

I love the way you are from an individual contributor in the sales and then moved from demand to supply to being in the epicenter of the marketplace. I love the fact that your psychology background played a big role in all of these things. Would you call that your magic skill or is that the powerful skill that you bring to the table?

What everyone likes to think is so automated, but I always would say I’m old school. What I have learned along the way is relationship-building and being respectful of those that you work with and that a team of teams approaches and collaborating takes a village. I think from my early days in psychology, I love people. I’m very curious. I enjoy learning, asking a lot of questions, and listening to some of the pain points, the gaps, or successes and understanding what’s behind that.

I think that it empowered me to lean on experts around me, and also understand the core functionality of go-to-market, which is what are the needs of the clients? What do they need and how can I help deliver solutions in a way that best suits them, which therefore transactionally would suit us as well as tier-one service partners?

B2B 35 | TripleLift
TripleLift: What are the needs of the clients? What do they need and how can I help deliver solutions in a way that best suits them?


You also mentioned, and this word kept coming up in your overview, which is programmatic. For those of us who are not in the industry, can you give us a quick primer? What is programmatic?

This is always a tough one of what you are going to get. I like to think of programmatic as all of the tech and behind-the-scenes of powering online advertising. To boil an ocean into a really simple phrase, all of the online ads that you might engage with on your phones, on your tablets, or any form of media at this point or channels out of home. In order to get that and deliver that experience to you, the programmatic industry is what powers that. Also, the tech that is involved in doing that and making sure that the right ads are delivered at the right time in more of an automated kind of behind-the-scenes way that you wouldn’t think as second nature shall we say. It’s all the behind-the-scenes work of what it takes to put an ad in front of you as a consumer.

For me, when I’m a marketer or when I’m trying to build an additional marketing campaign, in my mind, I’m an individual and I go directly to LinkedIn or Google or Facebook versus your clients. What you are streamlining is not for this one individual who’s looking for maybe 5 or 10 ads, but we are looking for thousands or even millions and millions of budgets as well.

There is certainly a one-to-one type of relationship between programmatic and reaching those key consumers, but there are larger audiences, one to many. I think that we see that a lot in how media gets transacted these days as well with so many different buying methodologies and even the evolution of how to reach consumers appropriately, how to do it right, but also how to make sure it’s sending the right message from brands to the right people.

I know we can go deeper into this one topic, programmatic, especially with everything that’s going on in the search world, plus the ChatGPT and AI and everything that’s happening. Search is going to evolve for sure, but that’s a huge topic in itself. If you have an opinion, we can spend 5 to 10 seconds or whatever.

I think this is an interesting time for the tech industry. I would say it’s the first time in all of my years in the industry that I think I could say I’m even overwhelmed. It’s so fair to be self-aware. There are so many new players and new media streams. You have retail media that’s now surpassing CTV and new narratives coming out and search and then the deprecation of the cookie, and what have you.

However, what it comes down to is where I was and where things started. You were expected to learn everything and be the expert on all things. I think where we are now, it’s about not only understanding how each of these different modes of media or channels or programs impact your business but also, how are consumers interacting with each of these. Are they overwhelmed?

What does it mean to have a package that hits on all the points of what a consumer is looking for and how can we as programmatic experts or what have you simplify this? How can we digest this when we could barely digest it ourselves? I think it’s so important to stick to the core competencies and principles of what our audiences and what brands are trying to do to reach those consumers and understand those pathways in order to not boil the ocean of the Lumascape these days. Also, make it easier, more seamless, and more efficient for our clients.

This is a huge overhaul and upheaval that’s happening in the industry. Many touchpoints are affecting so many areas across the business models of different tech companies. Not only that, for me as a marketer, I’m challenged to come up with the content and what channels to use for my content now.

We are seeing that, and that’s something that is super important for my team but I always say being nimble. Be flexible. Everyone always wants the same outcome, which is whatever success means to you but the journey to getting there is much more important because you can’t be afraid of delivering a solution that might fail. You can’t be afraid of having something underperform. Instead, you have to do the legwork to understand the goals and what work.

You have to be able to invent and reinvent your own wheel, your own narratives because they are going to change because the ecosystem is changing. Also, new partners are being introduced and it’s exciting, but it’s a consistent hustle where being able to balance that is so important with clear messaging, clarity of goals, and defining the needs in a way that doesn’t feel like they could go in 800 different directions.

With that as a background and context, what I always ask and this will be useful and enlightening for the readers is if you can share a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. You can pick your choice.

I would say a go-to-market success story is about a few years ago when I launched this team, it was about a year in and social platforms was are booming between TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and what have you. There are many others. What we were looking at is native at the time. TripleLift is naturally an omnichannel SSP. Native was our core business and we have since evolved it to CTV, OLV, you name it.

Back then, we were working with our key DSP partners to understand how to make natives seem a lot easier. When you say what is native advertising, even when I joined TripleLift, I was like, “What is native?” What am I doing? For people that aren’t familiar with it, it’s ads that match the look and feel of the publisher’s page. That’s what native means to us. However, when you don’t know what it is, you think that there are so many different creatives and overhauls that have to happen.

Instead, what I started to see is the majority of the brands have a social strategy in the market. They have social assets. They are working to generate greater followings on those platforms and they should keep doing that. What I did build was social to native extension. Repurpose your social assets and extend them to native and the programmatic ecosystem.

What this did was it made native easy. It made it efficient. It made it seamless so that anyone in our DSP platform that had buyers that were transacting on social and were working with various teams within an agency could very easily say, “You don’t need to reinvent assets or go through a new creative process.” Instead, here are spec sheets specific to each DSP as to how to take that social video and run native video. Run instream or how to take that standard unit that runs on Facebook or Instagram like a more standard asset and run a beautiful native image ad seamlessly.

The goals prove to be far more successful in a programmatic space than they were in social. Naturally, there are different goals. It’s not discrediting any platforms, but realizing that brands could not reinvent their wheel but extend and grow their share of voice across the programmatic ecosystems and their consumers. It balanced their social strategy well. This was where we got native on the map of an evergreen strategy. The way in which people look at social is the way in which they should look at native and build that without having to do anything all too different than they were already doing.

B2B 35 | TripleLift
TripleLift: The way in which people look at social is the way in which they should look at native and build that without having to do anything all too different than they were already doing.


This was a big success across our book of business. A lot of our key partners looked at us as thought leaders. What was the most impactful for me was I felt like I was able to educate our consumers and our clients. Our clients are not clients that most view as clients. Our clients are DSP internal account teams. Some might say they are a little bit forgotten along the way or the activators, but being able to educate them about what they could do and how they can extend their partnership reach with existing buyers. We saw a tremendous increase as it relates to native adoption, our partnership with each of our key partners, and that they felt supported in this narrative too.

Going back to the early part of the discussion, which is keeping the voice of the customer and understanding that. Also, educating them and bringing them along in the journey. I can see all of those elements or ingredients being played out in this story. Kudos to you.

At least they could say, “I’m tried and true.” I know you had asked about a failure. Along the way, it’s so important to have failures. It’s so important to realize what doesn’t work. I would say that the go-to-market failure that I would address here is when I was back in my first role at TripleLift as the Private Marketplace Market Maker. I tried to develop what I called a prestige PMP package.

The idea here was how can I scale one-to-one PMP to one to many packages for premium publishers. Back then a lot of asks were, “How can I get more premium publishers in one deal with a fixed rate?” I had built this idea of, “Let’s package them together by vertical.” This wasn’t necessarily about performance. This was much more about branding and reach because measuring a lot of publishers at the same time is harder to do back then.

I built these tent-pole and vertical packages. I was so excited about it. I felt that as a one-woman show driving one-to-one PMPs one by one was not going to scale eventually. This I thought was great. This is going to be an easier way to do this. It went to the market and I will never forget it. I was troubleshooting all night with one of our previous co-founders like, “Why isn’t this working” Some publisher is working and one is not. We have the highest win rates but I realized at that moment that I didn’t do enough homework.

It lacked the depth and the research to understand what wrappers are these publishers on and what are agreements we have in place. How do they operate their marketplaces? How is our tech built to support this on behalf of buyers that have different buying strategies? My idea was a little shortsighted and I realized then that I need to take a step back. I’m not done with them yet. They will come back around, but instead, I transitioned it into a commercial piece of, “Tent-poles and vertical alignment for publishers is appealing to our buyers.”

It was the mechanisms of the way in which we were building these deals that I didn’t do enough exploration on. It taught me to say, “What worked,” which was buyers were interested. It was the execution piece that didn’t play out. I shifted that in terms of working with our product marketing team to make it more of a sales enablement play and change the structure of how these deals are constructed.

I will tell you that I’m still not done with them and I hope to come back around to reinvent that vision but I learned from it. You got to go deeper. You have to ask more questions, “What did I miss?” It’s still on my mind and I hope to solve it one day, but at least we were able to become a much more impactful player in the curated deal space in audiences, tent-poles, and vertical but I have yet to crack that code and I will have to go back to it.

I’m sure you must be getting called out for that persistency of yours.

I am persistent. I will give it that. I’m willing to go the distance. I don’t take no very well, but not because I don’t like a no, but because I think a no is one step closer to a yes. Even if I have to burn it down and rebuild it, I am all about finding it. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

This is where I can see your sales mindset coming, which is no, is fine, but no, doesn’t mean never. It just means not right now.

I will come back around and let you know when it works.

It was a great story there. I love the way where you never ever gave up. Again, bringing your sales mindset and thinking to the fore here. Also, something that caught my attention, and again, it goes back to how we define go-to-market, which is yes, you are in a hurry to get that product out. You could see that, but at the same time, you have admitted it after the fact. It happens to all of us, which is we are in a rush and get it done more but then in hindsight, we realized that we missed a critical research piece, especially on sales enablement or how to package or how to portion it for our customers.

Even back then, I was so used to running like a chicken with my head cut off a little bit, but in a singular mindset that when you do bring something to market, there are so many different skillsets and experts that are involved between the product and the deals team for that specific initiative that didn’t go as planned. It taught me to go deeper. Go the distance because you might not have all the answers, but bare minimum, scoping things out and really making sure you do put the time in. Legwork to me is 90% plus of a successful go-to-market.

Legwork is 90% plus of a successful go-to-market. Click To Tweet

With that, as the context and backdrop, how would you define TripleLift’s go-to-market strategy specifically you and your team’s role and function within that?

I will speak to TripleLift first. TripleLift is an omnichannel essential marketplace for better ads that can drive better results. Ultimately, we are an organization that has always cared deeply about consumer experience, client trust, and efficiency. We develop products based on solutions that clients, whether it be advertisers or publishers are looking for or a market need. We deliver them with education and end-to-end support across native display video and CTV.

What it takes for us to typically bring something to market are four phases. There’s the pre-alpha, which is about discovery, understanding competitors, and what the minimum viable product would be to capture market opportunity. It’s a lot of gathering feedback and research inputs. From there, it moves to alpha, which is when product and engineering build the pipes and want to test and test again and verify. Also, understand what’s going on in the environment as it relates to performance, reporting, and basic functionality.

Once it passes that stage, it gets into beta, which is, “Check. We know how it works, but now we want to understand what will drive our customers to buy.” This phase may include a focused beta group of clients, a value test for a hypothesis, scaling out and understanding the audience fit, and understanding the bugs or performance levers that are important to our consumers. Lastly, it moves to GA, which is the official launch where there are training materials, demos, and more. This is when all audiences that are meant to take this to market are enabled and we are ready to sell it at scale.

Where my team comes into play is typically in the beta stage, I would say. To speak about my team, the DSP engagement teams’ services are DSP internal account teams. The account executives, account managers, and biz dev strategists. There are a lot of different titles depending on the organization at large and different divisions. We function as commercial consultants. It’s a layer that very few SSPs if any have because we provide direct service to the hands-on key folks or those that are working with brands and agencies on media planning and the like.

Many forget about these teams at DSPs or look at them as the activators or the pipes, but expect them to handle all the heavy lifting and execution. Whereas, we choose to educate these partners of ours on what our partnership is like with that DSP and TripleLift. What’s enabled, what can they do, and how can we bring them custom materials or custom opportunities solutions that fit the voice of their persona and support them in the market however they need?

Each DSP structure and persona differ. There are a lot of different playbooks and narratives even per product or channel, but we sit almost at the front end of the sales cycle and are typically one of the first teams to bring new solutions to market in that beta stage. What we do is we partner with product marketing to construct or shift narratives that are going to market that best suit our various DSP personas and establish proper positioning.

We understand how this answers the why. Why would this product validate a need in the market for our DSP partners? It allows us to gain feedback on the product, the brand, and the vertical and agency levels depending on the DSP structure through our channel partners. That’s where we sit and how we work with and collaborate so intensely with our internal teams as well as on behalf of our clients in the market.

It sounds like it’s a pretty complex product, and the annual contract value would be in 6, 7, or even 8 figures. That’s a sense I’m getting. Obviously, it’s a complex sales model with a heavy touch and high relationship involved.

I think what’s most important to us is making sure that it’s not about us. Go-to-market is not about you. It’s about whom you are bringing the products to and what matters to them, how that suits their models or possibly solves any gaps, and how that slides in so that it becomes easy and seamless. We are able to then prescribe and walk through end-to-end how to implement a solution in that way.

B2B 35 | TripleLift
TripleLift: Go-to-market is not about you. It’s about who you’re bringing the products to and what matters to them.


Switching gears a bit over here. You did talk about one of your superpowers, which is psychology and sales. Would you give a lot of credit to those in terms of your career growth? How would others or what do others call or tell about you? What is your magic or superpower?

I asked a couple of key mentors and colleagues this question. I figured it was the fairest way to answer it and also where I could get some humor in some responses. Some of the responses were, “Bringing straightforward energy and clarity.” It means speaking the customer’s language and knowing their business as well or better than them. I think this goes back to what we have talked about as legwork. I try to embody those that I’m speaking with, their needs and understand as much as I possibly can about their individual role when taking something to market.

That ties into genuine relationship-building. As I mentioned, I love people. To put it in a quote, “You are incapable of acting or pretending as if you care. You care and you care deeply.” I appreciate that. What was also shared with me is humble confidence and persistent curiosity. I try to be as active as a listener and ask a lot of questions and I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know to learn more.

It’s being a little bit shameless in nature but those are all core to building proper strategies. This is another good one. “Ali, the bulldog.” Tenacity with charm. The former only works with the latter, but I feel as though the way I would put this is a relentless drive to succeed and empower those around me. I love the hustle. To reference Radical Candor by Kim Scott, move the couches.

I don’t take no very well and I will be ruthless in terms of fixing something that isn’t working or rearranging the furniture, reconstructing a narrative, understanding the why, or burning it down and rebuilding it. I get joy in empowering those around me and succeeding. I love the hustle and that’s so important when you can go the distance and deliver. I’m fortunate enough to be passionate about what I do and work with people that I adore that are mentors and have a great team with me as well.

When you are answering that, I could sense your leadership, your vision, and how you operate. Kudos to you and I am going that extra step to ask that feedback from your mentors and peers and then articulating that so nicely. Talking about mentors, peers, and role models, whom would you credit or whom would you say played a major role in your career success?

It started with my parents. My mom has been a career woman. She was a glass-ceiling girl back in the day in the music industry. She’s always been a mentor to me and as she puts it, walk your walk and talk your talk. My parents have been very supportive of me, even though they can’t quite describe what I do. My mom will pull up my contact card in her phone and read out what I write for her, but she said it’s not updated but they consistently support me and keep me going as well as my fiancé to fuel my drive.

With previous managers and leadership, I have been fortunate enough to work with fantastic people in the space that have also become friends or remain mentors that saw me early on and saw something that I didn’t know I could see at the time. They fed the beast, is the best way to put it. I’m so appreciative of them as a network now and as I continue to learn.

One thing I’m also fortunate with is working for a difficult manager. Someone in my life was in a very difficult situation. I think it’s important to have that because I learned so much. I learned how I would want to manage very differently from them. I learned to be resilient. I learned to speak up and I think that it’s as important. You have to have fumbles along the way, but those that empower you, but also those that maybe want to do the opposite of that and how you can rise above that is as important to me for getting to where you need to be.

A great point about working with difficult managers. When you work with them and it depends on how you define difficult. It’s more that they are not the right or a good manager versus a difficult manager can also be where they push you and don’t take your first solution as the solution.

I would say that I would look at a difficult manager in the way that you described and don’t take the first answer as a great manager. I think that the worst manager is someone that is worried that you would outshine them or as a blocker. That was at a pivotal time in my career where I was fortunate that I had had confidence, experience, and support that allowed me to leverage the previous managers and leadership of I believe you always have to treat people with respect and build people up.

There’s no better thing than recognizing other people for their hard work. Being able to do that and have that support along the way, whether it be personal or work-wise is so valuable. I love to work. I have a work family. I’m fortunate to have a family, family, but it’s all about building relationships and keeping them intact. We are all in this together. It’s the object of this.

There's no better thing than recognizing other people for their hard work. Always treat people with respect and build them up. Click To Tweet

A lot of the variety of topics that we covered so far, started off with how you defined go-to-market and then your career journey so far. We talked about the success and failure stories. We talked about your challenges as well as your superpowers or your magic powers, which is great. One final question for you and the audience love this question. They take a lot of wisdom from this, which is, if you were to turn back the clock and go back to day one of your go-to-market journeys, what advice would you give your younger self?

I support this question. If I could look back, I would say to myself back then, “Keep asking questions. Keep listening. Stay fearless and be curious. The journey has only just begun, but it’s your story to keep telling.” One thing that drives home for me on this is I was in an interview once and I was asked one of those out-of-the-box questions. “If you were part of a car, what would you be?” My response was, “I would be the sunroof.” They said, “Why?” I said, “I feel the sky is the limit.”

Keep asking questions. Keep listening. Stay fearless and be curious. The journey has only just begun, but it's your story to keep telling. Click To Tweet

I was thinking you’d go for the engine or a wheel, but you went for the sunroof.

It was a quick-thinking moment, but it stuck with me. It came out and I was like, “That hits.” I still think, “Keep going. Be curious. Stay on top of what makes you happy.” As I said, be fearless and if there’s a failure, if there’s a misstep, it’s only a failure if you didn’t learn from it.

Thank you for a wonderful conversation. For all your readers, the big takeaway is to be the sunroof and do share. Thank you so much and have a great day.

Thank you so much.


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