B2B 48 | Proof Analytics

B2B 48 | Proof Analytics

 

Proof isn’t just about data – it’s about unlocking the potential within every decision. Harness the power of data-driven navigation and make your go-to-market journey a triumph of strategy and success. In this illuminating discussion, we sit down with Mark Stouse, the visionary founder of Proof Analytics, a groundbreaking analytics solution that’s revolutionizing the way businesses approach marketing performance. Mark shares the trials and triumphs of building Proof, detailing the meticulous process of finding the right market fit and fine-tuning its offerings. He also highlights the power of iteration and feedback loops to the success of the product’s direction. From identifying the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), embracing the feedback wave, and predicting the future of analytics, Mark reveals plenty of wisdom and strategies in the episode. Tune in now to explore the wonders of Proof and understand how to navigate success!

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Proof Analytics: The GPS For Data-Driven Go-To-Market Excellence With Mark Stouse

Thank you for taking the time to tune into yet another and the newest episode of the show. I have the pleasure of hosting Mark Stouse who is the CEO of ProofAnalytics.ai. I’m excited and I look forward to the conversation. Welcome, Mark, to the show.

I’m glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Let’s get right into the meat of the conversation. How do you view and define go-to-market?

I had that question in a customer demo call. It’s a highly situational thing but a definition that works for almost every situation is this. Any part of your business that is customer-facing that has a provable substantiated role in whether or not someone does business with you and continues to do business with you is go-to-market. For example, we have a couple of customers like this that include customer experience with accounts receivable, contracting, and things like that.

In go-to-market, that’s a pretty rational decision because both of those areas can piss off somebody. It has nothing to do with product sales and marketing. The only way you find out about it is if someone says something to a customer success person but that presumes that you have a customer success team that’s engaged and has relationships with your customers. That’s the way I would answer that. I don’t think it’s the classic or the big four in sales, marketing, customer success, and products but I do think that we don’t get to define it. Our customers define it. It’s like a brand in that sense.

You are probably one of the fewest or the first guests on this show who has expanded the scope of go-to-market beyond the big four within a company. Something that caught my attention is when you mentioned a team or a function like accounts receivable that can have an impact on go-to-market. Do you know of any stories where a customer stopped buying a product or a service because of a bad account receivable experience?

I can share one firsthand inverted. Some years ago, we had a very large multinational that treated us as though we were a bank for them. They were paying our invoices somewhere between net 120 and net 150 no matter what the conversations were. They had an outsourced relationship with their accounts payable team. It was outsourced. In their contract with our mutual customer, they were incented in various ways to hold onto cash. They went way beyond, and because we couldn’t get any satisfactory resolution, we fired our customer. We said, “Under these circumstances, we can’t do business with you. We’re not going to renew the software contract.”

I like how we got started on this conversation and the definition of go-to-market. Let’s expand and then shift gears here. Why don’t you tell our audiences about your career story and your journey without spending too much time? You had an expansive career. What led you to what you’re doing now and who you serve?

The most important thing that I could say about myself or the most relevant thing is I have been an operational executive for a long time for big companies where I was either in the C-Suite or one down or reported to someone in the C-Suite. As a marketer, I was like everybody else. I was always under the gun for proof of impact, ROI, and all this stuff. Years ago, at HP working for Mark Hurd, it got intense both for me and my peers because Mark was not going to have it.

I had to make a choice between whether I was going to remain at HP maybe even as a marketer or do something to fix it. I had a conversation with him and the CFO of HP at that time. I came away with some very clear expectations and then started getting reacquainted with a lot of the principles that we all study in high school and university math. Regression is a big one.

I started on that journey. By the time 2008 to 2010 rolled around, my teams more importantly than me had gotten to a place of strong maturity on this journey. Ultimately, I was recruited into Honeywell Aerospace pretty much on the basis of that work being able to tie the non-linear marketing multiplier into impact on linear sales productivity, net of time lag, and net of multi-variable type of stuff. Honeywell was the ultimate large-scale POC but the problem was because we were very successful in terms of the mission.

People always say, “How do you define success?” Does the business believe you? Does the board believe you? Do they make business decisions based on your analytics? That’s success. Transforming a functional marketing conversation into a business strategy conversation is what it’s all about. By that measure, we’re very successful but it was still a brute-force solution. We were having to spend $8 million or $9 million a year hiring loads of data scientists because the key part was we had to get the latency on the calculation down so that it was relevant. This whole deal of recalculating big models twice a year or once a year is ridiculous. There are not a lot of companies that are willing to spend that kind of money. It was obvious that automation was going to be a big next step.

A bunch of things came together for me personally, and I stepped out of Honeywell and did an interim privatization role at BMC where the analytics was super important not only to the company but to the PE firms that we were taking as private. Based on all that, I then formed Proof, and we started building the platform. It’s part of a rapidly expanding category that includes companies like Google and Meta. There are a lot of different variations on a common theme here.

COVID and the ramifications of COVID poured a lot of gasoline on it. The deterioration of the macro environment poured a lot of gas on it. Nothing makes people want to look further down the road and around corners like bad situations. Real forecasting, marketing, impact on sales, sales velocity, recruiting and retention, or whatever is important to the business has spiked.

Nothing makes people want to look further down the road and around corners like bad situations. Click To Tweet

One of the huge ironies seen in the analytics is that if you wanted to depict a common corporate function marketing, that should not ever be in doubt about its ROI. Marketing is it because the same dollars drive so much value in so many different directions and aspects of the business that you cannot lose. At any given time, 20% of your marketing spend is some speculative thing that you’re testing. A lot of times, it doesn’t work. You lose that money but if everything else is performing so well typically in so many different areas of the business, you can’t lose.

That’s pretty impressive, especially the anecdote that you shared where the great late Mark Hurd pushed you on talking about the numbers and whether it’s working or not in whatever you’re doing in the marketing or corporate communication space. That’s a great eye-opener. If I were in your shoes, my first reaction would be, “Am I screwing it up big time?” We get over it and then let’s figure out how to make this happen.

It also shows you how much has changed in the workplace. Mark was a very intense physical person, and he did not acknowledge the idea of personal space. When you say, “Pushed,” he didn’t put his hand on me and pushed me but he got so close to my face that I had no option but to step back and then hit the wall behind me. I was trapped. He did not care how I felt about that. That would not fly in a lot of companies, even at HP. No one thought anything about it.

That’s connecting the dots on your career journey. What led you to what you’re doing with Proof Analytics? I’m looking at your website. You have big names pretty much throughout. You’ve got Dell. You mentioned AWS, Google, and Salesforce. What is a common driving factor as to why they’re buying your product?

That has changed in 2022. As probably most marketers have already experienced to their chagrin and pain, finance is in charge. There are large budget cuts and large people cuts, even the money that’s left behind as a budget. There are a lot of finance oversights and approvals on spend. There’s a lot of lost autonomy over people’s money. The third leg of this is that cheap money is gone. The money that they do have to spend is prized even more than it ever was because it’s so hard to replace. The opportunity cost of the money is more significant.

It’s happening now and it is accelerating rapidly. FP&A or Financial Planning and Analytics teams are taking over accountability and optimization for go-to-market and a lot of other functions that have nothing to do with go-to-market. The general feeling is that marketing in particular has had lots of time to get a handle on this. For a variety of reasons like lack of capability, lack of capacity, lack of desire, and some combination of the three, they’re not doing it. We have seen that.

Historically, with Proof, we cater to true believers who know that it’s real and want to go on that journey or hyper-mature companies and marketing teams that have been doing this for a long time the old-fashioned way and want a better, faster, and cheaper alternative to doing it. More and more what we’re seeing is the pipe is dominated by finance.

The deals and the increasing number of economic buyers are finance. Even if the name on the contract is the CMO, it’s dictated by finance. It is run by finance. The proof is increasingly run as a piece of software by finance teams in collaboration with marketing, sales, and other stuff but it’s not peer-to-peer or equal-to-equal. It’s first among equals. That’s a big change. I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon. For example, I’m not trying to say that it’s all one reason but money would have to get a lot cheaper and a lot more accessible for that to be relaxed.

That’s going to be some time. What we experienced cheap money at 2% or even less for the last almost decade is going to be some time away. There’s going to be a driving need for you.

An optimistic projection on that is 5 to 10 years. Depending on stuff that no one can forecast, it could easily be 10 to 20.

We’re switching gears here. I was not planning to ask this but based on your story and your background, I wanted to dig a little bit into what led you to build a founding team and the early days of Proof. Can you share about the early days of Proof? How do you test the concept and your co-founder, if you have co-founders or not? How do you do that?

This is not something that you can do by yourself. Number one, we were very averse to hard-won experiences earlier in our careers and VC money. We went after a limited amount of family office money plus bootstrapping. That fundamental parameter dictated some other things that go to your question. We needed people who were experienced, who preferably had already made a lot of money in their careers one way or another, and who at least in the early days did not require any cash compensation for full-time effort.

This was before it all became fashionable and then controversial. We were remote from day one. We prioritized talent, meaning the people, over the location. That was pivotal in retrospect to being able to do this. Particularly when you consider the fact that, unlike a lot of SaaS where you can get away with a true MVP and then scale it, in analytics, you’re either complete or you’re incomplete. If you’re incomplete, no one cares.

We had to build a back end. In a sense, our MVP was our back end, which had complete analytical capability because there weren’t a whole lot of surprises there. It is what it is. The wildcard was the UX and not the UI although that was super critical too. We raised money off the back-end capability or the technical capability and then started to do focus groups and a lot of other things to figure out what the UI and the UX needed to be.

Interestingly enough, it was supported by a lot of other things but the in-the-moment big epiphany was with a large retail customer. They were using daily data in the models and on some models, hourly data. The automatic recalculation of the models was now so fast. The latency was so low that you could see it operating. What jumped off the page or the screen was a GPS. It was working exactly like the GPS on your phone.

That took us into a certain perspective, and now I’m even more convinced of it years later. Almost every question you have in business, and you could even say it about life, is a navigation question. It’s a GPS question, “How am I doing against what I think is my goal? What are the things that are screwing me up or speeding me up? If something changes, what do I do? Do I turn right or left?”

B2B 48 | Proof Analytics
Proof Analytics: Almost every question you have in business, you could even say it about life, is a navigation question: How am I doing? What is my goal? What are the things that are screwing me up or speeding me up? If something really changes, what should I do? Do I turn right or left?

 

In the movie Lincoln, there’s a great scene where one of his political opponents is saying that the moral compass regarding slavery had ossified in White American men and women. It’s a very powerful and undeniably true statement. Lincoln said, “I agree but as a former surveyor, I can tell you that as important as it is to know True North. The compass tells you nothing about all the swamps, barriers, and mountain ranges in your path.” If all you’ve got is True North, what’s the value of knowing True North? You have to know the rest of it too.

In many ways, that is Proof. That’s what a GPS does for you. It’s tracking your progress along a particular forecasted route. It’s also tracking all these other factors that you can’t see. You may know that they’re important but you can’t see them until it’s too late. It’s saying, “There are lots of traffic ahead. This was a good way to go. Now it’s not a good way to go so let’s reroute you over here.” That’s exactly what Proof does. It lets you know the most important factors.

Going back to that retail customer, it sounded like that was your first pilot and proof that there are legs to what you are working on.

It wasn’t our first pilot in the overall sense but it was the one that gave us the epiphany on how to think about the UI because one of the problems is that business and marketing people specifically seem to have an allergy to math in general and graphs in particular. If all you’re doing is giving them a beautiful visualization of data science output, you’re not going to get what you want. It’s not going to help them. It needs to help them. We had to interpret the analytics through the lens of a GPS, and that made a huge difference. That’s where UI and UX fused and became one and the same.

B2B 48 | Proof Analytics
Proof Analytics: One of the problems is that business people in general and marketing people specifically seem to have an allergy to math in general and graphs in particular.

 

Did you have a strong UI-UX person in your co-founding team? Did you have to bring in someone from outside?

We had some pretty strong players but everybody agreed that we wanted somebody so good that we could not afford to hire them as an employee or even as a permanent contractor. We could just hire them on a project basis. That’s what we did. It was fantastic. It was great. It’s hard to say personally whether I’ve learned more about go-to-market than I ever knew before as a result of running Proof, or I learned more about business decisions as a result of running Proof.

Especially in the early days, you need to figure out your own go-to-market. It’s almost like Meta. If you are serving go-to-market teams, you need to figure out your go-to-market while you’re helping them figure out their go-to-market better.

Fortunately, if you’re sitting in our position, you can learn a lot of lessons from your customers. In our particular case, we can’t see their analytics or their data unless they click a magic button to give us that ability. Most of the time, they don’t, and that’s fine but invariably, we get into conversations where even if they don’t give us permanent access, they give us a few days of access because they need our opinion on something. You learn a ton. It’s like being in a giant focus group.

Proof was founded in 2015 and here we are in 2023. What financial details can you share in terms of number of customers, employees, and revenue ballpark?

We were not in the market that long. We have only been in the market for a few years because all the rest of it was development. You only know this in retrospect but the marketplace wasn’t ready for it yet. The timing wasn’t right, looking back on it. That worked in our favor because it gave us the time to build. No one else was being encouraged by demand signals from the marketplace to build something competitive for us at the time.

When we entered the market, we had a pretty significant advantage. That category has now been validated by Meta, Google, and Apple. There are a lot of offerings in the space now. They’re beautiful products but they tend to be far more technical or data sciencey. Ours is a bridge between those two. We will probably finish this fiscal year in excess of $3 million ARR. All the normal caveats apply to that. That is probably 30 or 40 customers but that’s the other wild card on this thing.

What we have seen in 2022 is significantly different than any other year before. Doing a year-over-year comparison without a lot of explanatory information is not even possible. Our pipe is probably in the vicinity of $15 million to $20 million. We have two different products. We have the analytics product and we also have the only MRM tool that’s native to Salesforce.

That’s very popular but they have two completely different sales motions, ACVs, and all that stuff. We run them effectively as two licensed trading companies, which some might call subsidiaries. In this case, it’s not but it’s the same idea. You have to take that all. Lord-willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say in Texas, and from my lips to God’s ears, we could be substantially higher.

Thank you for sharing the founding story. That’s something intriguing and interesting to a lot of the audiences. The idea of founding a company is as exciting as it may sound and be but building a company is a whole different ballgame. That’s why I was pushing you and trying to extract those points around that.

I’ll add one more thing that is so important. Defining your ICP correctly is huge. Its impact is huge. One of the reasons why we have grown more slowly than some people might have expected is that we defined our ICP so tightly. We did not want to have a lot of churn. We were aiming for no churn. We were very picky for the past few years about who became a customer. Everything is cause and effect-related. You make that choice. You are probably going to grow more slowly at least for a period but that has been great for us because the learnings are not achieved without customer input. We were able to do it in a more methodical way and a less freaked-out way. That has been super valuable.

B2B 48 | Proof Analytics
Proof Analytics: The learnings are not achieved without customer input.

 

It’s interesting you say that ICP is supercritical. I was talking to another member of my team about how we had to evolve our ICP. It’s all ICP. I was talking to another guest who was leading marketing at a fastgrowing Series A funded by Sequoia. He was talking about the importance of ICP. ICP is super critical for sure. You did touch upon that earlier about how you have evolved the ICP or how your ICP has evolved due to the market conditions. Earlier, it was mostly the CMOs but now, it’s more on the CFO’s side of the house.

It’s mainly finance as opposed to ops but it can be both. There’s a level of urgency in the business around accountability and optimization that is driving these changes. The revolution that we’re seeing is being generated from the top, not from the bottom. Like every revolution in history, it’s going to have its excesses. There are going to have to be course corrections. As sure as God made little green apples, people are going to overcut. They’re going to cut too deep and do crazy stuff that then will have to be walked back. That’s the way it goes.

One of the ways though that we are trying to help people is to say, “If you use Proof or for that matter something similar to Proof, you will break less glass, or you will break pretty much only the glass that makes sense to break.” That is something that we see resonating with everyone, not just finance or the functions. They are both concerned about that but probably for very different reasons. That’s where it is.

For example, a great subset of this is MarTech stacks or tech stacks in general. The MarTech stacks are being winnowed at a tremendous rate. Being able to figure out what you can dispense without breaking the whole thing is super key. It’s not a new criteria. It’s just that people have suddenly become switched on about it. If you have bought technology and you don’t have the team in place to extract a lot of value from the technology, they will whack it. No questions asked. That’s new. Historically, when money was a lot cheaper, you would buy the tech and then get the recs approved to hire the team to run the tech but that would take you a year all in. Your first year on the tech was valueless. They’re not prepared to entertain that anymore.

There are two things that are of real interest to the audiences of the show. One is a go-to-market success story, and on the flip side, a go-to-market failure story. Pick yours. You can go with either one first, and you can either talk about Proofs success or failure or a client of yours.

I’ll talk about it in terms of a failure, specifically my failure. A lot of founders go through this but I’m going to say that I went through it. I tended to think at the very beginning that I was not an outlier and that I was more representative than not of the ICP. I was so wrong. In the beginning, we had some great customers who didn’t pay us much in money but paid us a lot in feedback and all that stuff. What you kept on hearing again and again on real sales calls was, “This is the future,” which in the beginning, you take as extreme validation until a sales guy one time reinterpreted that for me and said, “What that means is not now.”

It’s in the future, not now.

Technically, it took a while to get it all straight because it took a while for all of us to get the go-to-market. What I will say to audiences who are in the middle of a similar experience is this. The temptation is to believe that somehow you got something structurally wrong and that you need to shut it down. The odds are very low that’s true. You just haven’t found the point or the use case at which enough people to make the business viable can see the value.

The temptation is to believe that somehow you got something structurally wrong and then you just basically need to shut it down; the odds are very low that that's true. Click To Tweet

You wanted X to be a use case. You need to be willing to let go of that and let customers and prospects tell you what the use case might be. Classically speaking with customers that use the software, the failures are almost always not about execution. They are about something far more fundamental. Your perspective was off. It’s not dissimilar to my problem. What you thought was important isn’t. You forget that it’s a maxim in analytics and data science. Two-thirds of every model should be stuff you don’t control.

Our bias in the most fundamental sense is what we do matters. I have a news flash for you. You are trying to surf a wave that is every bit of 60% to 65% of the equation. You will never control the wave, whether you wipe out or finish with a flourish on the beach is related to your skill. That would be execution, the feedback loops that you build between yourself, and your board in the wave that allow you to anticipate what’s going on to react more appropriately to what’s going on in the wave and not wipe out. That’s it, but if you don’t have the feedback loops and you, for whatever reason, aren’t acknowledging the importance and the centrality of the wave, you’re going to have a big problem.

We had a customer who had an uber-creative marketing team that was creating campaigns that were cool but fundamentally irrelevant to the business and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to do so. If you’re the CFO, you’re like, “What could I have used that money for? Even if I had let that money fall to my bottom line and give it to the street as EPS, that would have been huge.”

This is the inextricable relationship between success and failure because when you recognize the failure and the wrong direction, you move in the right direction. Over time, it’s a huge success. You’re wiping out the negative and embracing, obtaining, and earning a whole level of positivity. A classic is we go in and sell the software. They implement the software. The first 1 or 2 cranks on the models typically show that 20% to 25% of marketing spend is performing suboptimally or not at all.

A lot of people tend to see that purely from a position of ego and thus judge in black robes saying, “You screwed up.” It’s a coach that says, “I’m coming in. I’ve seen this many times before. I’m going to save you a lot of time here and whack this stuff.” You go from 28% suboptimized spend to realistically 2% to 3% suboptimized spend. You do that very quickly and reallocate that money into areas that are winning.

Since you’re running an S-curve or an optimization curve, you know that you’re also not past the point of diminishing returns. It’s a net plus. That’s a huge win. That’s the way I would describe this. Going back to the GPS thing. By using the GPS, you cannot be an hour late for your business dinner but only be eight minutes late with an explanation for that. How is that not a win? That’s a huge win.

We are coming up against time over here. Our final question for you is this. If you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self?

How far back? How young?

Day one of your go-to-market journey. How about that?

It’s almost like a Law of Nature. The thing that scares you the most or that you dislike the most is very likely to be super important to your life and your success. I had the opportunity to go back to my high school not too long ago. She was super close to retirement now and all that stuff. I ran into my Math teacher. When I told her what I was doing now, you could tell that she didn’t know what to do with that because I was not a Math guy in high school. I was an English guy, a Literature guy, and a creative writing guy. I was all that. I made no secret of my distaste but it was fear of looking stupid in Math class.

When I went on this journey with Mark Hurd for a while, I got ahold of a Math tutor. Every single Math teacher anywhere should teach Math like this guy taught Math. He changed me. It was like going to psychotherapy as much as it was Math class. I would encourage you to confront your fears, your dislikes, or whatever word you want to put on them. Confront them transparently, voluntarily, and openly.

Confront your fears, your dislikes, or whatever word you want to put on them. Confront them transparently, voluntarily, and openly. Click To Tweet

In another different area, I had a fear of heights when I was younger. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was dating a girl. She was a nurse who did pararescue. She would jump out of airplanes and things like that. I wasn’t about to look like an idiot. When she asked me to do a tandem jump with her, I did what probably 99% of all males would do. I jumped and discovered that I liked it a lot. I continued to do it for a period but what’s interesting, and I was never able to get past this one, is that if you asked me to do the same thing from a stationary platform or a cliff for what’s called base jumping, I cannot do it. I have not ever been successful in getting past it. I share that as well because I have the same limitations.

Those are great conversations and great insights. Thank you for your time, Mark. I wish you and the Proof team the very best.

Thanks so much.

 

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B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage

 

Selling is always challenging, but it only takes a great marketing strategy to help you sell successfully. In this episode, Sandeep John, the Head of Marketing at Outplay, dives into the go-to-market Strategy to achieve a competitive advantage in marketing and maximize your chances for success. Repositioning yourself as the product of SMBs changes everything and that’s what he shows in Outplay. Touching on building the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for the Sales Development Representatives (SDR) team in marketing, Sandeep also explains how Outplay assists sales representatives to make their jobs easier. Let’s dive into this episode and learn from the success story Sandeep shares today!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Go-To-Market: Achieve Competitive Advantage In Marketing With Sandeep John

I sincerely thank you, the audience, who’s taking all the time from your busy day or evening and up your game when it comes to go-to-market. Be it marketing, sales, product management, or even the revenue-generating aspects of go-to-market. With that as a context, thank you once again. Now I’m excited to announce my newest guest. His name is Sandeep John. He is the Head of Marketing at Outplay. That’s a startup based in India. Welcome to the show, Sandeep.

Thanks, Vijay. Welcome to all of the audience as well. Pleasure being on the show.

Without too much interest or any barriers, let’s get right into the meat of the conversation. How do you view and define go-to-market?

To me, go-to-market essentially outlines how a product will be launched, marketed, and sold to your target audience. If I have to further simplify this. It’s about introducing your product to the right audience in the right way at the right time to maximize your chance of success. That’s how I would define go-to-market.

That’s the ideal scenario. As you and I know, the ideal is not how it plays out in the real world or in the practical world. Clearly, a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to, as you said, the right buyer, the right time. How do you identify it? That’s a big challenge, especially when it comes to go-to-market. Overall, I completely am in line with how you view go-to-market but then when it comes to practicalities, that’s where we need to double-click. I’m sure that conversation will double-click it to a lot of those areas. That’s a good start for sure. Let’s switch context. Why don’t you share your overall career story and journey leading up to the point of what you’re doing now?

I essentially started off my career in tech sales. If you’re an SDR out there, I was doing your role. I’m picking up the phone, calling people, and trying to sell. In fact, originally, I was selling services. For folks out there, services selling is hard compared to products because with services selling, there’s only a proof of concept that you’re trying to achieve for a product. It’s a free trial or an equivalent of such.

I went through the grind of being an SDR and grew up in sales. At some point, I pivoted in my career where I found, “I’m probably a creative by nature. Do I move and navigate to another part?” As with most folks in India who are based out of India as well will do a strong engineering degree but never end up doing engineering after that. I worked in an engineering company in my earlier career, then transitioned. I did a course in Australia, came back into town, and started off working in a so-called FinTech services/future, becoming a product company for almost five years. It’s a company called Data Tracks. That’s a great company and it’s doing well now.

From there, I moved on to start something on my own. I started doing the whole entrepreneurship journey. I was super excited. I wanted to do something, but back then, GTM probably as a word wasn’t well defined. I had probably the worst GTM strategy in the world. I wasn’t sure who my target market was like you earlier mentioned as well. I completely failed. It bombed and I jumped into getting back into the corporate world. I took up a role in a company where I did both sales and marketing. That was the first real instance of my glimpse of what the world of marketing could hold.

I then joined a famous company called FreshWorks, which went IPO. That company gave me the opportunity. My journey there was building the SDR team and then I moved fully into marketing at some point. I did everything from campaign marketing to field marketing. I was taking care of a couple of regions, and then the opportunity at Outplay presented itself, which was a few years ago. Now I cover all bases in terms of what I do in marketing from product marketing to marketing operations, whether it’s content, campaigns, and whatnot.

That’s how I transitioned, but my unique opportunity or the viewpoint I’ve always had is that I empathize with our sales folks a lot more because I have been there. I have done the grind, to say the least, within being an SDR or sales rep as well. I always try and wear that hat when I think of marketing as well. Am I doing things that are doing activities that can help my sales counterpart? More often than not, all of this is one unit and one team.

Fantastic journey. I don’t think I’ve seen too many of the marketing leaders coming from the sales world. Definitely, I’ve seen a lot of marketing leaders coming from the product side of the house, and then coming and growing into product marketing, and then leading marketing teams. I think you are one of the rare reads. You have started your career in sales as an SDR, picking up phones, cold-calling, emailing, and everything.

Your way up from SDR and individual contributor to building an SDR team and function, building field marketing organizations, running campaigns, and eventually leading marketing teams. Kudos to you. Good track record in there, I’m sure. Why don’t we jump into a couple of areas? You mentioned something unique early on, which is very critical, selling services versus selling products. What are the challenges that you saw when you were trying to sell services early in your career?

Honestly, when I moved into the product world, I was transitioning into a particular company. The company is called DataTracks. We were initially selling service, and then we built a product and the whole world changed. If I’m selling a service, I’m more often than not to be absolutely blunt. You’re probably selling air. There is nothing tangible that you can show to someone like, “This is how it works.” The least I can do is have a presentation deck that can walk someone through. The meat of it lies in the proof of concept. If I’m doing a small pilot project of whatever I’m doing, whether it’s a paid or a free project, that’s what I got to show.

The meat of selling services essentially lies in the proof of concept. Click To Tweet

Even to get somebody to get to that stage is much harder than. Let’s say, I am selling a product. More often than not, even if I don’t have a free trial, which most products now have some version of a free trial or a free version of the product, I can at least showcase something to them. Normally, people get enamored by, “There is a visual. I can see moving parts. If you’re a tangible person, you can see some of these things work.”

That’s where I believe lies the big difference because if you’re showing something and you’re selling, you’re more often than not likely to get a better response versus when I’m selling services, it’s so much harder because there’s nothing to sell. I’m vouching for the kind of clientele that I’ve had and similar companies that I’ve worked with in the past. Case studies become my go-to there, so I think for me personally, when I moved into the world, I was like, “It’s such a different. It’s a revelation almost for somebody coming in from that world.” I believe that’s how I would look at it.

I’m completely on board with you on that. In product, you see something that is tangible, especially with a free trial. It’s a no-brainer. Within 1 week, 2 weeks, or 1 month, you either make a decision, yes or no, versus services. It’s nothing tangible. That’s one thing. The output would be a tangible thing. Something like either an implementation of a system or a software, or it can be in the world of marketing, it would be like a pitch deck or blog articles and things like that. Something else that I noticed is services typically are higher priced compared to a product. On product, you can start as low as $5 to $10 a month per user, but services, a decent, high quality, good service would start anywhere from $500 and can go all the way from $10,000, $50,000 and so on.

Something else that caught my attention is you grew in the world of SDR. In between, you did your own entrepreneurial journey and stint, which is a big learning curve in itself. Somehow you got transitioned into the marketing side of things. What is that transition like? What made you feel that you’ll be good at marketing?

I was fortunate enough in previous organizations where I had worked. DataTracks was the company I was working for I was hired to do business development sales or SDR role. It was a small company back then. Now it’s a much larger organization. I got to work with the CEO hand in hand. There, everything that I was doing was partly marketing. We were building the website. I was writing content and working on positioning. I was doing all of that without knowing what it was.

For me, the journey opened up when I came to FreshWorks. I was helping build the SDR team when I joined in, and it reached a certain stage. I was always doing a little bit of marketing or looking into sales enablement because I was trying to, “How can I enable my SDR team to be successful?” We didn’t have sales enablement back then, so I said, “Let me pick that up and do it.” Somewhere, all of this was tying in.

This was during my time at FreshWorks. At that time, there was no better company for me to learn, understand, and grow in marketing than FreshWorks because they were taking some great strides in terms of how they were positioning a product. I was like, “I got to find a way to get into the marketing space here, but I don’t know how. Luckily, FreshWorks, at that point, was building a mid-market org. Up until that point, FreshWorks was very assembly-focused. Everything was built around that and that juncture was a very new space that they were entering as well. They had local teams on the ground doing stuff. The opportunity presented itself because the SDR team was built to cater to the mid-market industry potentially. That was my first opening. Once I got in, I never wanted to get back.

Once the opportunity came, I powered my way through, whether it was campaigns or field marketing, and then grew into different roles. When I kept growing, curiosity was always there. I’m always constantly challenging myself to learn newer things. If there’s something new that’s exciting and I want to get into it. That’s how it’s always been for me up until this point.

Talking about SDRs and building an SDR function from scratch, there are different ways to go about that. You can start hiring junior folks, train them, and ramp them up, or you can hire somewhat senior and then ramp them up, or hire agencies. Maybe there was some other combination, I don’t know, but what is your approach?

At that time, we did everything from hiring an agency. When I say agency, I mean local agency. When I say local agency, back then, we were based out of India. We’ve done everything from hiring a US-based agency, an India-based agency, your own team with inexperienced reps, and your own team with experienced reps. All formulations and combinations back then. I’ll restructure what the thing should eventually be the SDR function. I think the SDR you need now has changed. I don’t fully believe that you can hire junior reps working in SDR. You can take them for an early BDR kind of role because now if you’re a buyer, the way they look at stuff and think is they want an intelligent seller.

They don’t want somebody blasting emails to them, picking up the phone, and narrating something that’s written on a script. They want a seller who empathizes with what they’re looking for, who understands their problem, and who’s taking those steps to solve their problem as well. I don’t know. This is my opinion because I’ve been away from the larger setup of the deep day. We have a smaller team here, but I think you need to have the right mix of folks within the team. You can have structures and layers.

This is not truly my idea. I picked it up from another peer in the industry, Saad Khan, who’s one of the top SDR/sales leaders that exist in the market. In a conversation with him, he had a very great tiering system where he would have experienced reps and inexperienced reps working on certain kinds of accounts. Over time, the inexperienced reps could move. A tier-based approach in terms of how the reps were there. I’m not saying that juniors can’t have a role. Of course, they can have if they have the right base skillset and can be trainable. You want someone like that.

What you also want to have are reps who understand it. If you’re selling in the SaaS world, you want someone who understands the SaaS world and selling a particular kind of tech that understands that as well. The role of SDR has changed. There’s no more basic entry role. You have to think of an SDR like the way you’re thinking of an account executive. You can’t just stop. You won’t expect them to close deals, but do they have the potential to be able to show a full-on demo if required? I would build a very tiered system if I’m rebuilding this or starting again from scratch, or something like that.

Agency, I don’t know. I personally do not have great experiences, so I can’t. This is an experience from the FreshWorks side of the world when I tried it out as well. I think if a company does not have the wherewithal to hire immediately, it’s going to take time and you don’t get something going, or the outbound motion is something that’s going to work for you, there is no harm in trying it out. You can work with a good agency that can help you scale.

If a company does not have the wherewithal to hire immediately, you can work with a good agency to help you scale. Click To Tweet

If you’ve got a smaller team and you think, “I don’t want to have too many more reps sitting and being on the payroll. I would rather have an agency that I can switch on and switch off whenever I require based on specific business needs,” you can do that as well. I’ve seen both models work in different companies. For me, it has not worked before, but that doesn’t mean it’ll not work for everyone.

I’ve seen that as well. Agencies are definitely a hit or a miss. Same with the hiring, but if you have the right hiring formula and the timeline with the patients, I think that pays off in the long run, but then there are outstanding agencies. I did have a guest early on in my show, his name is Tito Bohrt. He’s a world-class SDR leader and SDR agency company builder as well.

I follow Tito as well. He’s one of those folks I’m looking at and watching what he’s posting on LinkedIn as well. He’s well-known in this space. He knows his stuff.

Something else that is critical for the success of the SDR is the ICP, like target accounts and definitions as to who the potential buyers are. How did you build that ICP? A lot of times, you do expect things coming from marketing, but more often than not, marketing teams, when they deliver, lack the level of detail that’s needed for the SDR to be successful.

That’s spot on. That’s the most important thing now. You can leave everything out on the table. If you don’t get your ICP right, everything should fall around that. If you get your ICP right, marketing, sales, and product, everything is going around that. Whatever you’re building for that ICP, whatever you are positioning and message for that ICP, whatever you’re selling, you selling to that ICP. We’ve had our own versions of that as well. I remember when I joined the company Outplay, my first role was trying to understand our ICP. What is our ICP now? I always initially classify ICP as like, “Who are we winning with?”

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: You can leave everything out of the table if you don’t get your ICP right. Everything should fall around getting your ICP right.

 

Who are the kinds of customers we have? Everything from the size of the organization and kind of organization. Is there any industry vertical we are winning in persona? Who are we winning inside the company? Are these sales leaders? Are these SDR leaders? All of those nuances were important to me. My initial goal was, can we have those conversations and understand that? Also, try to understand if there is an aspirational because we were still very young as an organization when I joined in. We were still trying to figure it out. The product market fit hadn’t yet happened. The case was we still try to move that needle to try to identify what is the right ICP for us where we are getting a lot more wins.

The first initial phase was around customer interviews. To talk to the folks who we are winning with and who are open to having those conversations. We also drew parallels in terms of, “I know who I am. I know who my competition as well is. Can I get an understanding of what their world looks like? Can I draw parallels in terms of understanding my customer based on what’s happening there as well if they are the right fit in those terms as well?”

The third one was very hard because it is more trying to go out in the cold and getting folks who you think are your ICP to walk into conversations with you with a deal of trying not to sell something. To be very clear here, I’m not trying to sell. I just want to try to understand. That was very hard because most people know if you want to come under the conversation, more often than not, you’ll be trying to sell them something.

I could only get a very few of those conversations through some network, but it was enough to give us an understanding of, “This is what our ICP looks like now.” This is where you want to go aspirational. We’re still trying to achieve PMF at that point in time. That’s the journey that I do, and then, of course, map out what pricing looks like based on this ICP once we agree that this is whom we should go for.

For the audience who are not aware of what Outplay does or who you serve, can you give a quick 30-second intro?

We are a sales engagement platform built to help sales reps make their job a lot more easier. It automates, semi-automates, and helps you personalize at scale to make sure you’re removing all those mundane tasks and getting sales folks to sell. We typically target SMBs. Our tool is a plug-and-play. You buy it, you use it. There’s a free trial as well as a full free version with limited features that you can use if you’re not sure about what the journey is. If you’re looking for your reps to get better at selling, whether it’s reps, SDRs, or multi-channel across different channels, Outplay is something for you to give a shot.

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: Outplay is a sales engagement platform built to help sales reps make their job much easier. It automates to help you personalize at scale, to ensure you’re moving all those mundane tasks, and to get sales folks to sell with typically target SMBs.

 

The reason why I asked is I’m tying it back to our conversation around ICP. With Outplay, what you defined, you did touch upon it earlier, is you got SDR leaders or sales leaders. How did you go about a double-click of how you built the ICP for Outplay?

We took a change. When we started off, what we assumed was who our ICP was. We always thought we were an SMB company aspiring to be a mid-market company or targeting a mid-market organization. For every campaign that we would run, our initial positioning was very much around the pipeline. Any position like building a better off. Understanding that a mid-market company might have a team of 20 to 30 plus SDRs. What’s important to them is in terms of pipeline and all of that. That initial narrative for us, a lot of it was around that ecosystem.

It is only later in the journey that we realize that this is not exactly the ICP that we should be going after. In fact, we were winning a lot more with the SMB base than we were winning with the mid-market base, although we aspired to be mid-market. When we were on the table for an SMB discussion, more often than not, we were winning against the competition. Mid-market was always hard. We would win here and there. You’d still get the big players coming in and going.

That’s when we tweaked down our messaging and understood that this is the tool that is for SMBs and helping SMBs scale. We took that narrative. We changed that ICP document. We changed the way we looked at ICP almost like 3 to 6 months. Within that period, we realized it was not the way we thought it was, and then we went back and said, “Let’s re-look at our ICP again.”

This is something I’d always echo with folks out there. An ICP is not a static document. It’s a dynamic or a living document. You have to have a phase. You can do a quarter. I would say a quarter is a good roadmap or timeline to go and re-look at whatever. If you’re not winning customers on the base and you think you’re supposed to be winning it, maybe that’s not even your ICP. We went one quarter and then to the second quarter, and we were like, “Something is off here. Let’s go back to the basis and figure it out.”

We are the product for SMBs and we’re super clear about that. When we did that and repositioned ourselves, that’s when things changed because the marketing, sales, and whatever we were building in the product also focused on that base. We weren’t building from mid-market and enterprise. We’re building for SMB and we did a good job of it. When we decided on that, we changed everything around that narrative and things changed. We would see a lot more business, lesser churn happening, and several other positives that came over.

It also goes back to a discussion which you are defining as to how you go-to-market. You talked about the right buyer and this is exactly what it means. Having a clear understanding of your ICP and evolving your ICP equals the right buyer. Let’s switch gears again. I can take the conversation in so many directions over here. I’m trying to figure out which one to take it into. Can you share a bit about your go-to-market success story, and then following that, we’ll cover a go-to-market failure story as well?

This is 2 to 3 campaigns tied into this narrative. The story here is we are a small brand. Outplay, in the early days, at least when I got into the business, is in a saturated market. There are multiple players who do exactly what we do or do different versions of what we do, but all sales engagement platforms are very similar in terms of how they operate. The challenge there for that initial stage for me is, “How do we draw awareness to the brand and as a result, drive demand?” I’m a true believer that if you’re not looking at awareness, demand is never going to be able to create, you’ll never get more signups, and you’ll never get more traffic.

If you're not looking at awareness, demand is never going to be able to create more sign-ups and traffic. Click To Tweet

Brand plays a vital role in all of this. I’m in fact doing another session somewhere where I’m talking about the actual narrative of how brand drives demand because I have use cases and examples of how that works. When we started off, that was the narrative. Nobody knows who we are. We took a call and said, “Can we build campaigns?” I’ll also define my ICP here. My ICP is exactly my sales/SDR leader. To be more specific, it’s an SDR manager. That’s my ICP. In some companies that are small, it might be the CEO, but that’s okay. For practical purposes, we’ll say an SDR manager.

Any specific regions or is it worldwide?

Worldwide. We were 60% favored towards the US, 30% towards the European UK region, and the remaining percentage towards India and APAC. Typically, we were built in terms of what we were doing. We launched 2 to 3 campaigns in almost quick succession in terms of what we were doing. The goal of these campaigns very clearly is, I’ll call it out again, not to drive signups. The goal of these campaigns was purely to put the brand out there, drive people to come to the website, and educate themselves about the brand.

How we did it was slightly different. We still do it. It’s a campaign called SDR 30 UNDER 30. It’s almost like a nomination thing where we put it out on social, get people to say and submit something in terms of their best calling scripts and best email scripts. We ask them a bunch of 4 or 5 questions. It’s not an easy form. They have to fill out a few details, and then we get a jury that evaluates who the best SDRs are. The 30 SDRs, we announce to the world and we give them a prize as a result of what happens.

That took off in a big way when we did it the first time because, until that point, nobody was given the role of SDR being such a difficult role in picking up the phone, calling, emailing, and whatnot. Nobody was truly recognizing them in the open. There were other companies that had versions of this. There was a company that had a BDR Appreciation Week, but no calling out because everyone else was getting called.

Even if you look at a typical sales environment, you’ll have the AEs getting recognized. Your SDRs are not often getting recognized. We did this campaign and it blew up. What happened is because we were targeting SDRs, SDRs got excited about it. SDRs started sharing, “There’s this competition. I’ve nominated myself.” It took off. I remember the first edition. We didn’t expect too much to happen. We were like, “We’ll do this and we’ll see what happens.”

In fact, I had a discussion saying, “How is it going to take off? I’m not sure.” 300 to 400 applications came in that first lock when we pushed it out. People were doing it. When we crushed it down and came up, we announced the 30 winners. For almost 1 month, 3 to 4-week period, it was 30 under 30 all over our social because it was not us sharing it. These 30 SDRs shared it. Their managers shared it. Their companies on their handle started sharing it. Suddenly, this cascading effect where the SDR now got the manager involved and the managers feeling proud of the SDR, they’re like, “Who is this Outplay?” That’s the conversation.

On the second one we did, we also realized that one thing that was missing in all of this, in the cold-calling world, because calling is an essential part of what the product also does, is there were calling scripts online, but what about real call recordings? We put the word out there and told people, “Can you submit your call recordings? If you’re publishing and want to use it, we’ll give you a $50 Amazon voucher to do that.”

Suddenly, we built this entire library of call recordings that never existed in the world. Salespeople, sales reps, sales managers, and SDR managers could use that as a repository to train their reps and not just call their ecosystem. It’s called Call of Fame. It still runs. We have more than 3,000 subscribers to that now. In fact, I said, “To hell with the subscribers, let’s put it on Spotify.” I made it accessible to everyone. We took the entire Call of Fame and dumped it on Spotify, so anyone anywhere can have access to the entire library and they can listen to it on their walks or in their car drive wherever they want to. You don’t have to subscribe to the product as well. The intention being you’ll know the brand because of this. They will come to us. Traffic went up.

The third thing in this whole stuff that we were doing is something called Cold Call Battle. James Corden has a show called The Late Late Show. On The Late Late Show, he’s got something called the Rap Battle where he’s got two celebrities, or it’s him and a celebrity who are going out to each other. I said, “What if we had a cold call version of this? What if I put one caller against another caller? Each one playing the prospect and the seller and then each one switches down. I have a moderator right down the middle who will take a call between who’s the best and let’s make it LinkedIn Live.”

The reason for LinkedIn Live is we get more people engaging. What we did was we asked people to nominate the winners on the call. It would end up like two people going head-on. We position it like that. Two people going after each other. One person here. That was a hit. We get easily around 200 to 300 people showing up for a live show for that. We don’t do it as often. We do it once a quarter to get that whole excitement going and then we moderate. All we do is moderate it. We give them 3 to 4 different scenarios and they’re at each other. It’s a lot of fun. Everyone was looking at it and people were saying, “This call could have been better.” These three big initiatives drove people to the brand suddenly from a, “I don’t know who you are.”

There was a fourth one, I forgot to mention as well. Early on in January 2022 when we started a few of these experiments, we have a podcast and we do seasons. Season one was very interesting because the objective of season one was, “Can we get billion-dollar valued CEOs coming onto this podcast and talking to us about their 0 to 10 or 0 to first 100 customers? How do they get it?” The podcast called is The Hype is Real. It was done in collaboration with Outplay and Revgenius. We did this together.

We got 4 or 5 of the big-name CEOs. I’ll call them out. CEO from Gong, Clary, Gainsight, and the CMO of 6Sense coming and talking to us. It was very intentional. The idea there was suddenly you have a brand like Gong, Clary, 6Sense, or Gainsight. In a podcast with Outplay, who is Outplay? That was the response we wanted. We wanted people to question like, “Who are these guys? What do they do?” When they land on the website, “You guys do this.”

You’ll see these programs still running. All these will constantly run and these are our own properties and we keep these properties running apart from any webinar or anything else happening. This is what gives us the largest surges in traffic whenever we need them to achieve that larger goal. I think this is one of the biggest. These 3 or 4 narratives all towards the same purpose of driving that brand awareness piece.

Driving that brand awareness will give the largest surges in traffic whenever we need to achieve that larger goal. Click To Tweet

These are all great success stories, so thank you for sharing all of them. I would love to double-take into each of those 3 or 4 initiatives that you did, but we are definitely short on time, so let’s pick one. For example, you did mention podcast and the goal of getting billion-dollar company CEOs talking about how they build from 0 to maybe the first 50 or 100 customers. How did you pitch that? What is your process like?

It was the easiest hack in the book. The question for us is how we want to get that first person. For all context, Outplay is a Sequoia-funded company or a Series A-funded company. Our first catch was to acquire a network. We knew who we wanted. We tried through our connects. We get through Gong. What we would do is, at the end of every podcast, we would ask the guest, “Is there somebody else you think might be a good guest for this podcast, who would that be?”

Each of them provided the other name. Of course, we didn’t know the other person. We didn’t have a direct connection, but imagine the CEO of Gong emailing the CEO of Clary and saying, “I did a podcast with these guys. It’ll be great if you can join. Have a word with them.” That’s all. The person is of course going to respond because it’s the C-level person talking. Literally, that’s the chain effect that we got. Every single guest we’ve had on the podcast has literally come because of that.

It’s all about getting that first guest. Definitely big thing that went your way is having the Sequoia brand. It’s absolutely a big thing. That builds credibility right away. Otherwise, it’s not easy getting those big names.

It’s not easy for sure.

Fantastic GTM success stories that you shared starting with the SDR 30 UNDER 30. You also mentioned the SDR playoff or face-off and then the podcast getting the billion-dollar CEOs to your network. As you and I know, especially since you have seen this from day one, it’s not always up and to the right. Clearly, it’s not successful all the time. You also have failures. What is a GTM failure story and the lessons that you learned that you’re applying now?

One thing that we later realized in our journey was that while we were talking to customers, were we listening to them. I’ll rephrase that in a better way. For example, one of the things we were trying to do and one of the exercises was, “Why was churn happening?” We were trying to say, “What is the majority cause of churn?” If it’s a product thing, of course, we can fix it. There were a lot of complaints of, “This is not working for me.” We’re like, “Did they sign up for the wrong thing? Was it a wrong sell?” We were trying to understand that because the goal there was how to reduce the churn rate.

At times, you would see customers who would say, “My product is not working.” It would be very trivial. They were like, “This is not what the product does.” We would try to understand and we understood later on it was not a product problem. The product was working fine. It did everything that it had to do. All that was fine, but when I say we weren’t listening, it was the fact that what they were not trying to solve was the product was not working or didn’t do that. What they were trying to solve for is outbound. I’ll put it in a simpler way. Outbound in itself is not easy. It’s complicated. They typically come and buy a tool like Outplay to help them with outbound and that whole multi-channel process.

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: Outbound calling is not easy. It’s complicated. A tool like Outplay helps sales reps with outbound to help that whole multi-channel process.

 

How does one do outbound? We’re understanding the nuances. As you mentioned earlier on, hiring the right kind of folks, building the right kind of scripts, all of that. A lot of the folks who came to us at that point in time were trying to build their outbound. In fact, the ones who were churning at least were trying to build it. They had some inbound narrative going on. They wanted to scale and do something in outbound. They were starting up all together and they wanted to get the outbound piece going. They got a tool, meetings were not happening, and nothing else was happening. They’re like, “The tool is not working for me. I don’t want this tool. I’ll go away.” That’s what I meant by not listening.

When we were seeing them, they’re like, “What are we doing wrong here? Everything seems to be ticking the right boxes.” We never got it up until the point that we realized they are trying to solve for outbound. Although we are a tool that can help them do this, we also need to enable them to succeed in outbound as much as we can. The amount of insight, whether it’s providing them with content assets that can help them draft better cold emails, calls, and whatnot. Because we had all these assets with us, it all existed. We were doing it to drive demand but we are not doing it back into our customers and saying, “You can use this to do this part of outbound. You can do this and that.” That was not happening. We are going on one track.

It was like we knew everything and were doing everything. Everything was working in silos and we were not listening to our customers. It’s a big mistake on our part. The moment we changed the narrative and told customers, “Do you know we have this with outbound?” In fact, we are running a series right now called Outbound for Dummies.

It’s literally to break down every nuance of the outbound function as simple as possible with real practitioners. The people I’m interviewing there in that series are people who are doing it, who built their SDR team, either from that first ten hires or trying to scale. They are talking about what they have done. All those lessons, again, why it create demand for me in general. The purpose of that is to feed into my customer base to tell them, “This is another thing you can do too.”

One of the check-ins that we do with our customers is we don’t even ask them how the tool is performing anymore. That is one part. You set up the tool. We’re like, “How is your outbound working? What success are you seeing in outbound? What is working for you?” Even to reposition ourselves as outbound consultants in that larger sense. this goes for anyone. The big learning for all of us is, generally, to listen to your customers and listen to what they’re trying to solve. Your tool is only one part of that solution. It may not be the entire thing. Most tools cannot solve everything. It might give you only one part.

For us, the lesson was to get down to understand what they’re trying to solve. Try to fix or at least enable them to solve that problem. You are going to have a lot more loyal customers and these people are going to become advocates at some point in your journey. The mistake was not listening. As a result, we’re going on a tangent. Once we realized it, we said, “This is what they want.” Everything that we have done from there on has been keeping that in mind. Even if you’re building an asset, we’re like, “Are we thinking about what we might need from this?” I think all of that helped.

What I liked about this realization and the failure turning into success is you, when I say you, the team including yourself, dug deeper into this outbound feature within your product, but the users are trying to build an outbound system using this feature, but the outcome is, “Is the outbound system working or not?” The feature can only get them to some point. Something else that caught my attention and I enjoyed listening to your eventual success story is the content that you build to drive brand awareness. The cataloging and the resources that you provided for these users to be successful in outbound. How did that come about? Who’s brainchild idea was that? It’s not like you designed it with that in mind though.

Are you talking about the demand gen or the realization?

It’s both. You’re talking about outbound, the feature failure, and then the content from the demand gen can be used for your users.

Honestly, I don’t know if it was designed in such a way. It was designed by accident. When we are thinking of all, it wasn’t thought like that. It was like, “How can I drive demand? I know my audience. Can I build something for my audience?” Eventually, it tied back together, but in my world now, with every piece of content from my blog, my social, and my webinar, the only underlying rule I have for my team is that no content will be in isolation.

We know who we are building it for. We know what we are building it for. Every piece ties into some other piece. If you’re putting a social post, what is that post for? Is it tying into a blog, a webinar, a customer point, a pain point, or something? I built one narrative. I have one diagram somewhere because I love things when they’re black and white. I don’t like ambiguity in terms. For me, that’s the same thing I expect of my team. The least I can do as a leader is to give them clarity. I built one convoluted-looking diagram. I’ll probably share it on social someday.

You should.

To explain, this is the narrative of how you should build content. If anything is outside of this, it’s not worth your time so don’t bother. Build it only for this. If it’s ticking all the boxes there, we’re sorted. We’re pushing stuff back into the realm. We are keeping that flywheel motion. It can’t remain in isolation. To the first point, I don’t think it was planned. It was by accident. We came to the realization, “We already have this. There’s a gap here. Can we push it back?” It was more of an afterthought, but that’s how it came.

That’s a great point. Thank you for being so honest over there. It was not done by design, but then your team and you, yourself as a leader, had that inkling of thought, “This is a resource we can put to reuse.” To the uber point that you mentioned, which is every piece of content that you’re designing, can it be repurposed? That’s the basics of content marketing. It’s not content creation, but how do you get the flywheel effect with one piece?

One podcast can turn into one blog, plus a bunch of social media posts. One podcast can turn into a blog, social media posts, and videos, especially if it’s all serving not your target audience, but even your existing customers and users. That’s a holy grail. What resources do you lean on, whether it’s podcasts, communities, or blogs to up your game? Is it SDR, marketing, or marketing sales?

Do you mean personally?

Yeah.

For me, in terms of resources, not as many books because I can’t sit and read. For example, my biggest cheat code for books is I have Blink. I use Blink to catch up on my non-fiction book. If any book on management or on marketing. Anything that I want, Blink will tell me in fifteen minutes what the entire book is. I don’t have the patience to honestly read a whole book. I read fiction. I can spend an average amount of time reading fiction, but I struggle reading nonfiction. These are the two things I do well. If you go to my LinkedIn and if you look at the number of posts that have been saved, I see a bunch of countless stuff. I’ll be screenshotting stuff that I’m seeing. I’ll be reading stuff.

For me, it’s always something that will trigger some narrative. There are 4 or 5 people who I adore on LinkedIn that to me are my biggest influences. Some of them I know, some of them I don’t. I’m following their content and keenly watching stuff that they’re putting. I’ll call out few of their names, Anthony Perri and Robert Kaminsky are my all-time favorite in terms of product marketing.

If you’re a product marketing person ever getting into this or even if you’re a leader, follow these guys. If you want to hire them, hire them as well. I think they do help startups and help them scale. It’s the most brilliant, clean, and the most clarity I’ve ever seen. Anything that they’ve put is so well-designed. Everything about what they do is unbelievable. I’ve spoken to Anthony in some chat conversation once but these two guys work in tandem. They’re phenomenal.

Another good friend who I’ve worked with in the past is Adam Goyette. He’s a phenomenal marketer. He used to work in G2 as well. There’s David Fallarme. He used to be the VP of Asia for Hubspot. He runs his own community, which is a great community as well for APAC marketers. Of course, there’s the brilliant, there’s a guy called Kyle Poyar of P&G. I love his stuff. I love everything about that company. If anyone puts something out there, I’m always digesting that.

A lot of the learning for me comes from these things. Podcasts, not as much. There are very few podcasts I listen to that are specific to the industry or whatever, but folks that are posting stuff. There are a bunch of communities I am in. I block two hours of my calendar every week to go into the community and look at what’s happening. I’ll try to find something I can help with someone or whatever. I will always go.

There are a few communities I’m active in. There’s something called Revenue Circle started by Justin from Demand Base. There is APAC Marketers, which is run by David Fallarme from what used to be at Hubspot. There is Genius, which is a great community run by Jared. There are probably 6 or 7 of them, but these are the 3 or 4 that I’m constantly looking at in the sales enablement community. There’s a Revenue Marketing Alliance or RMA. For me, it’s the community and the individual LinkedIn folks. These are super important.

I appreciate you calling out the names of both the people that you look up to and follow as well as the communities. Switching gears once again. What are the 1 or 2 GTM relevant skills that people look up to you and they come, “Sandeep is cool and created it. I’m struggling with this. Let me go and ask Sandeep.”

Given my past of SDR and sales, more often than not, I get called into conversations for outbound. This is everything from setting up your SDR scaling outbound. In general, how does one think of outbound? When do we need to go outbound? This comes a lot within the realm of wherever I am. I also get into conversations with folks trying to figure out how to sell to SMBs in terms of how they scale. I’m getting customers that I’m running page channels or running organic channels as well. I want to double-click on this. Where should I put my money? How should I invest? What should I look at?

I get the second part based on my activity because a lot of what I do at Outplays is that, but I get the outbound conversations because of my past as well as helping build scale and what that world looks like. I get into conversations. Essentially, if people are looking at outbound or scaling what their SMB looks like, I will more often than not end up in a conversation.

The last question before you sign off. I know it’s pretty late for you in India. If you were to turn back the time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Talk to more people. That’s all. I’m not kidding. When I started interacting with peers, mentors, future mentors, or people I aspired to, it changed the world for me. It opened up something that was not there in books, in LinkedIn posts, or in articles. These were real people talking about real problems and real ways that they were solving stuff. The best of my knowledge comes from practitioners who’ve done this before. I do an equal spirit. I also tell them like, “I’m not getting in this. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. We keep this whole discussion mutual.”

I wasn’t doing it up until the Outplay journey. For me, the Outplay journey was when that world changed because as a leader, I needed to be able to talk to peers and understand how they were trying to solve things. Up until that point, it’s a small team. I was managing a few people and a big company. It’s a lesser opportunity or even the need was less. The need was higher here. I needed to figure this out. It wasn’t like going to be a small company.

You have to get stuff done. I started talking to people either through the network, some other network, community, and all that. It changed. At that point, I was like, “I could have done this five years earlier as well. I didn’t know.” The reason I think most people also don’t realize it’s there and they don’t do it is because people are scared to reach out to people to have conversations in general.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody is not going to respond to you. The reason people will not do it is because they’ll think you’re going to sell it to you. If you’re super clear about that, then I don’t think people will refuse. What if you get a few rejections? That’s perfectly fine. As long as you can have those few great conversations that honestly will change your life forever. Talk to peers, mentors, and people you aspire to be, it’ll make a world of difference. That’s the only advice I have for myself.

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: Talk to peers, talk to mentors, talk to people you aspire to be. It will make a world of difference.

 

It’s been a great conversation, Sandeep. Good luck to you and your team. I’m sure people find you on LinkedIn. Is there any other ways than LinkedIn?

I think LinkedIn is the best place for me.

I was wondering, we left out so many topics. I think we need to do a round two. For example, we didn’t dive at all into how you grow SMB. We didn’t talk about the different channels and so on. At some point in time, I would love to have you back on the show, but it’s been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much, Sandeep.

Thanks. I enjoyed it as well. Some great questions got me thinking. I had to do my homework on this, but it was a good refresher to get back in all this stuff. I appreciate you. Thank you.

 

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