B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing

 B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing

 

Are you exploring product marketing? How should you break into the product marketing roles? In this episode, Saranya Ramamurthy, the Product Marketing Director of inFeedo, explains why she shifted from consultant work to product marketing. Saranya also shared her efforts in structuring her product marketing team and the role of the designer in marketing. Her magic touch in her position made an amazing impact on her leadership team. Let’s join Saranya Ramamurthy today and learn how she made a difference as a product marketing director of inFeedo.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Product Marketing: Saranya Ramamurthy’s Journey Into Her Role, Efforts To Build A Product Marketing Team, And The Role Of A Designer In Marketing

Thank you once again for taking the time to tune into the show. I hope you’re enjoying it. I sincerely request that if you love it, please refer to your peers and your friends. If you can take a minute or even less to rate on whatever platform that use, that’ll be great. The more important thing, and what I’m excited about right now, is I’m getting to host another B2B go-to-market leader. This time it is Saranya Ramamurthy, who is the Director Head of Product Marketing at inFeedo. Welcome to the show, Saranya.

Vijay, thank you so much for hosting me.

I’m excited to have you. I know you’re based out of India. You are the fifth guest, so we are starting to see more guests coming from India, which is a great thing. Something that I’ve started noticing and observing is the go-to-market maturity in Indian organizations is definitely on the rise, which is exciting. I’m sure we’ll dive more into this as we talk.

There’s a lot of advocacy going on, so definitely on the rise.

The standard question that I always taught and ask the guests on my show is how do you view and define go-to-market?

If you simply ask this to anyone, there’s a textbook definition. If you ask a product marketing manager, they would say product market managers are the ones who are building the product and taking the product to the market. I would like to add a little nuance here. I would probably approach it like this. It’s about educating your ICP, which is your ideal customer persona, about the solution you crafted for their pain point. It’s pure, clean 100% education, in my opinion. It’s about knowing your ICP, knowing their problems, knowing which channels they’re active on, and delivering that message with an educational note. Once you’ve educated them, and if the persona is confident that it’ll solve one of their pressing problems, and it is also one of their priorities, they buy it. For me, education is everything.

This is an interesting perspective. I’ve not spoken or had a lot of product marketing folks on the show. It’s funny I say that because I started my marketing journey and career in product marketing. I’ve seen that evolution. When I started back in the day at Microsoft, I was super excited, and enthusiastic, because my job title said Go-to-market. I was eager to find out what that was.

As I learned over the last decade or so, working at large and small companies, something that I’ve noticed is go-to-market, first of all, the definition so varied. Also, something that started percolating and became more and more clear to me is that go-to-market is not just within the realm of product marketing, even though that’s part of the job responsibility. If you see the job spec, they say go-to-market aspects and activities.

What I would like us to deep dive into is first of all, the role of product marketing in go-to-market, but then also the gaps. I have a few thoughts, but I want to pause and get your thoughts because I’m sure you must have seen this in different organizations. You are at leading brands. What are your thoughts on go-to-market specifically when it comes to product marketing?

Go-to-market is product marketing. That’s how we are seeing it in India. It’s part of what we do, and maybe what we do here is define the messaging and the ICPs and tighten them for the market. Taking it to the market or doing the ads is something that an integrated marketing team or segment marketing team would do. PMN scope is validating the ICPs problem which is the first part of PMF in itself. If you have a new product that you want to launch in the existing market, or you want to launch an existing product in the new market, for example, you start with a problem validation. That is an important GTM exercise. It’s a pre-GTM exercise, I would say.

Once you’ve validated your ICP’s priorities, for example, your ICP could have this unmet need that you have defined, but they might probably have ten-plus unmet needs. Where do you stand? What is their priority and how is their willingness to pay a price for a solution like yours? This is the PMF stage, and during the GTM stage, we take all the learnings and craft the messaging for it. That’s a very important step. That is your delivery, educating.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: Take all the learnings and craft the messaging for it. That’s a very important step.

 

For me, it is education, because I’ve done most of my job in TMF. Right now what I’m doing is educating that I know you have a problem like this, and I have this solution for you. This is what we do in a product marketing function related to GTM. After defining the channels and what communication goes on each of these channels, there’s a different team that takes it over.

What you touched upon is an important, but one piece of the go-to-market. The first step is product marketing, and typically what I’ve seen is product marketing in conjunction with product management peers would do the problem discovery, validation, and come up with a hypothesis for the product market fit. The product marketing function would then run with, “Now that we believe this is our hypothesis, this is the problem we are going to solve for this persona, in this market and for these channels, now we start creating content.” There is also the sales enablement piece that has to happen and a lot of other things.

Beyond product marketing, that’s the initial step for go-to-market, and then it goes to sales. You got SDRs. You have other aspects, and then there’s customer success. Once a product is sold or bought by the customer, based on the product problem hypothesis. Now, are we ensuring that the customer is seeing value? First of all, are we onboarding them in the right way so that they can see the value? For me, go-to-market is a more expanded view. It starts with product management and product marketing, but then there’s a much bigger view that spans across product, marketing, sales, and customer success as well.

A lot of alignment is required in there. This is just one part of it that you’ve covered in the first bit. Imagine you are doing an ad and somebody’s landing on your website and becoming a lead, you put in a message, and the sales talks about something different. There’s a total missing. That’s why this has to be extremely connected. From the messaging that they see on the ads to the website landing page to what the SDR talks about, and what the AE gives as a demo. Onboarding them on a pilot program or onboarding them on a trial package, whatever it is since they should see the benefit that we have promised in the messaging.

I’m sure we’ll cover a lot more of these nuggets in detail. Let’s step back, zoom out, and then tell our audience who Saranya is. What is your journey like, and how did you end up in what you’re doing now?

I’ve been a marketer for decades now. I’ve worked with both SaaS companies and agencies, a good blend of both B2B and B2C. I worked on social media marketing, regional marketing, GTM, and product marketing for a combination of both B2B and B2C companies. If you look at SaaS companies that I work for, it includes Freshworks, Zoho, and Airmeet. From an agency experience, I’ve worked with brands like Facebook, Vodafone, and Lenovo. Regionally, these companies were focusing on markets like APAC, the UK and the EU. At Zoho, the predominant focus was the UK and EU. At Freshworks, I was looking at both APAC and North American markets.

During my agency experience, I’ve got a good market until about the Middle East and Africa market. This is predominantly it. I joined as a consultant for a software reseller. That’s where my foundation came from. I slightly moved away to an agency environment to get the skills of all the things that a marketer should do, all the creative skills, and then dive back into the SaaS space. That’s my journey overall.

Get the skills of all the creative things that a marketer should do. Click To Tweet

This is something that I’ve started seeing. Founders in India, when they think about a software company, they’re not just talking about the Indian footprint or the Asian footprint, but it’s more about how we go global. That vision or that pursuit is translating to different functions as well, including product marketing. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen over the years. It’s cool that you got to work in agencies and got firsthand experience in how the different parts of the regions worldwide, like marketing in the Middle East, are entirely different from how you market in APAC versus how you would market in North America.

A lot of regional nuances to note here.

You started your work as a consultant, and then you shifted to the agency. What specifically were you doing in an agency?

At an agency, I was predominantly doing marketing strategy and social media strategy. This is for all B2C companies. With Vodafone, we worked on their social media, and at Lenovo, we looked at their video marketing. With Facebook, it was more of a strategic partnership. We helped them with all their top 50 customers, ad creators, ad copies, strategic narrators, etc. It’s a mix of all things with agencies. It is just for you to dive into or explore all the creative possibilities, and all that you could do as a marketer. All things operations did all things creatives at agencies.

It is for you to die or explore all the creative possibilities you could do as a marketer. Click To Tweet

You shifted to product marketing. Was that like a natural transition? How was the shift and why did you choose product marketing?

Since I already had a software foundation, it wasn’t hard for me to move into product marketing. The role that I entered right after my agency experience is the role of a first marketer in the UK and EU team. The company wanted to explore a new market, and they wanted a full-stack marketer. They don’t want anybody that is doing ads. They don’t want anyone who’s looking at copies, messaging, or just an events person doing events for them. Even one of their primary demand-generation channels. They wanted a full-stack marketer with a primary focus on copy messaging and positioning. It was a right fit for me because I gathered all of that from agencies and the software foundational experience. It was a very smooth transition in my opinion.

Now you are the Director of Product Market at inFeedo. Are you the head of product marketing over there?

Yes.

What is your charter? What is your responsibility at inFeedo?

Multiple things. I’m the first product marketer, and I’ve set up a team of five product marketers doing different things. inFeedo has two products. 1 looks at employee engagement, the other 1 is an employee support platform. We are looking at all things GTM, messaging, positioning, pricing, and sales enablement. Sales enablement is a very crucial piece because it’s a sales-led organization. We wanted a dedicated person to look at enabling the SDRs and AEs.

There is a product too which is a 0 to 1 product. It’s a very new product in the market. We are supporting the launch of the product, getting and exploring new markets, and how we launch this in the existing market. Launching also interesting sales plays like cross-selling, how do we capitalize from the existing customers that we already have? These are some things that we are doing away from the usual charter, like enablement of customer advocacy, AR and VR, etc. That’s the usual pillar, but these are some things that we’ve been touching about.

When I work with my clients, I help them either build or execute and accelerate any of these 6 to 8 product marketing programs. Starts with positioning and messaging. We have the customer insights. Do you have a good customer insights program in place? There is the sales enablement, as you mentioned, especially for sales lead organizations, you need sales enablement. You have a new product launch, a new market launch, and two related but entirely different concepts and approaches.

We then have how you build and do you have a good product content program in place? Adding onto that is how are you tracking and evolving product adoption within your customer base. The final piece is customer expansion, which you mentioned about cross-selling and upselling. Would you agree with these or would you expand with all these categories?

They are good. The important piece that we might probably have to add here is customer advocacy as a piece as well. More than intelligence, PMMs usually do advocacy as well. Go and ask them how they do their products. This is a building customer proof for your product. This is also a part of product marketing responsibility. That’s something that I observe as a trend in India. I don’t know how is it in the US, but that is one thing. The other one is AR and VR. That’s also one of the biggest pillars, talking to analysts and constantly keeping in touch with them, having a relationship with them, and informing them about what’s coming in the product. Keeping them posted about what’s coming in the product, and if there are any features that we could do with them.

That’s also one of the important things that we would cover under PMM. That’s predominantly it. You’ve covered it all. If you work in a very scaled-up organization, you will have timelines for these, like launching the new products in the market, exploring a new market in itself. Right now, we are doing all of these things. All you said, we are doing all of those things because inFeedo is in that stage, so we are a new product marketing team, so we have different spots taking care of different things at the moment.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: If you work in a scaled-up organization, you will have timelines for launching new products in the markets and exploring a new market.

 

How did you structure your product marketing team? You said you have five product marketers. What is your thought process in how you structured? What is your research methodology how do you build the product marketing organization, and then how do you structure the organization?

If you ask me, my usual way of looking at it is there should be one person who takes care of all things product launches and feature launches. There is one person who is dedicated to enablement and for customer advocacy and customer proof, anything customer intel, market intel, or intelligence comes from this third person. The fourth person takes care of AR and VR. That’s how I would probably segregate. Looking at the budgets that we have and the areas that we want to invest in this is how I’ve done it now.

I have a couple of people under engagement as a product, one person is closely aligning with the product and doing all things that the product wants, the product marketing to do, and the other person closely aligning with sales and customer success and the GTM organizations to enable them to grow and sell. That’s something this person’s doing. It’s an in-and-out enablement role. There is this third role, a little mature role. It’s an all-in-one end-to-end PMM role for a new product. This person does anything around product enablement, sales enablement, and customer enablement. Once we launch this particular customer and implement the solution in the customer please, how do we increase our options for that organization until then?

Starting from launching the product to going to the customer please and increasing adoption of the product usage. That’s something that we do on that part. We also have a generalist who does all things PMM for both products. There’s a designer to look at the design needs of the PMM organization, that’s how you’ve structured it now. There are some gaps. At inFeedo the interesting part is customer advocacy is handled by the content marketing team. Unlike the organizations that I’ve worked with in the past, Freshworks, Zoho, or Airmeet, here, customer advocacy is handled by content marketing. That’s one thing less for us to worry about at this point. That’s how I’m looking at it because there are a lot of things going on. AR and VR are something that I’m doing myself.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: At inFeedo, the interesting part is handling customer advocacy by the content marketing team.

 

Can you reiterate the customer advocacy? Who is responsible for customer advocacy at, inFeedo?

It’s content marketing.

Content marketing is fair enough. It’s primarily around case studies and success stories. That’s the angle that you’re taking for customer advocacy at inFeedo.

It’s a history and that person is very comfortable, very senior enough. I don’t think I can get somebody that senior enough to look at customer advocacy and the PMM team at this point. I’m super comfortable that she’s handling this for us.

You also mentioned about designer. Does a designer report to you within product marketing, or it’s adjacent?

The designer reports to me.

That’s unique. That’s a very interesting setup. For me, when I speak with other go-to-market leaders, I also peek into how they’re thinking about building their organizations and teams. Something that stood out for me, and that has to be called out, especially for product marketing, you need to have someone in design closely working with you. A good thing you’re already starting in that direction from the get-go.

That’s very important. That’s been a major miss in my previous organizations. I made sure that the designer came under the PMM purview so that everybody was comfortable getting the work done from them. It’s very important to have a designer in the house.

Something that I’ve seen, and this is a constant I keep getting from the audience and other folks I speak with, especially when it comes to design. What is your guidance and playbook? Just pick an example. Maybe it’s a product launch or a customer expansion program. How are you guiding your team in interacting with the designer on your team?

One thing that I’ve taken as an added responsibility is rebranding. inFeedo needs a little bit of rebranding in terms of how we present ourselves to the world. This is something that we have taken up with a consultant. The consultant will define a playbook for us. Right now we don’t have a playbook. We only have the colors and the font for now. We don’t have any styles on what photographs or illustrations to use, what style do we use. Every time, it’s me and the VP of marketing sitting and defining this process. Why it is very important that every time a designer starts a design work, they always start from scratch. There is no reference for them to go back. No playbooks or no brand guidelines for them to refer to.

They always start from scratch, which in turn takes a lot of time. For example, if they need to do a deck, they would take 2 or 3 days, unlike if they had brand guidelines, they would only take half a day. We invested in this effort rebranding that’s happening in this quarter in OND, October, November, December. It’s expected that the consultant will give us the brand guidelines with all the prerequisites that we already discussed, and that will act as a guide for the design. That’s something that we are looking at. All intel and insights from the CXOs would be passed on to the consultant and then we would arrive at something together. That’s a project that I’ve taken up. I don’t think this is under product marketing purview, it’s branding. We don’t have a branding person internally. I’ve taken that as a side gig.

Typically it’s under Marcom or brand who would typically do this, but sounds like you just mentioned it because no one’s taking that responsibility, just brand with that. You’re working with your VP of marketing around brand and design as well.

We’re looking at it as product branding because of the product brand. We are the ones who are naming these products. We are the ones who are naming these bots and naming any new products that we are launching in the market. If that’s the case, then we could also probably be a key contributor with branding until we have the senior branding person in-house.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: inFeedo could be a key contributor to branding until you find a senior branding person in-house.

 

What is the whole that the branding consultant is doing? Is it around the style guide, the content writing style guide, or is it something beyond and more than that?

It’s the design style guide. Messaging, positioning, and all of it will be done by us. All the content guides will be made by the content marketing and product marketing together. He would be looking at all things design. It will have that essential kit. It has a brand guideline like this of your website should look like, this sales skill should look like, and this of the social post should look like so it gives you all the guidelines possible.

For consistency across all channels, which is good. Saranya, that’s a great insight. Thank you for sharing how you thought about how you built your product marketing team and organization as well as the role of the designer in your marketing overall. Something else related to that is how you track and measure the impact of product marketing, like KPIs. You mentioned your quarterly offset and things like that. Talk to us about how you think about KPIs and how you show impact to the leadership team.

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago, my definition would probably be different but now my ideology changed a little bit. inFeedo gave a little bit of change in my thought process. To define it simply, product marketing wouldn’t have one universal KPI to chase because we are intersecting with multiple cross-functional teams. We are intersecting with sales and impacting revenue. We are intersecting with products and impacting adoption. Awareness, adoption, activation, and all of these KPIs. We are also doing a lot of awareness-related stuff. We are building pipe with growth marketing. We are helping with messaging for new advertisements or any change in the messaging pillars, etc. It’s about the goals that we own in that particular quarter, along with the cross-functional stakeholders.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: Product marketing wouldn’t have one universal KPI to chase because we intersect with multiple cross-functional teams.

 

For example, if the product’s focus is to drive activation for a particular feature at the end of this quarter, so many customers should be activated for this new feature. That means a product marketers, one of the KPIs would be around activating. We take a shared goal so that there is no alignment mismatch. You go to a cross-functional stakeholder. There’s been a lot of times in the past that I go to a cross-functional stakeholder and ask for something that I want to do, and it’s not even there in their KPIs. It’s not their job. They need not do this.

Right now it’s very easy because we all do shared KPIs, we all take shared KPIs. From a sales enablement perspective, we take KPIs on win rate conversions. It could be MQL to SAL conversions, any improvements there. It could also be a number like I need to do DLSs for so many deals so that we help the sales sell faster and smarter. That’s predominantly it. It’s multiple KPIs and each board will take multiple KPIs basis their alignment with product sales or growth marketing teams.

How do you track the two angles to this, which is you are giving your priorities to your product marketing reports and the designer to ensure that the KPIs are being tracked and you’re making progress? At the same time, you need to report progress to the cross-functional peers and the leadership team.

I should do that. For example, if I have a launch person in the team and they take a launch or activation. The bloated KPI is also my KPI. What does the launch help? It helps customer expansion and customer enablement. I’ll take a bloated KPI and the team takes an operational KPI or tactical KPI. Whatever the product wants to. There is part two, which is the enablement KPI, whatever the enablement per person has as a goal, building pipe, helping the SDRs to have a better MQL-SAL conversion and having a better win rate in the mid-market and enterprise segment or whatever it is. I’ll have a bloated or a combined KPI, all things covered, that will be my KPI two. Product will be my KPI 1, sales will be my KPI 2, I thought would be any strategic projects that we are doing, launching a new product in the new market, launching an existing product in the new market, or anything of that. All of it aligns with the company’s goals.

How you’re spending a budget? Do you have a budget or is most of the budget typically with the demand and the media side of things?

Product marketing here doesn’t have an exclusive budget. We have a shared budget as a marketing team. Basis priority, for example, how we got a branding consultant this quarter. That’s because two other stakeholders from demand had to let go of their priority projects. It’s us discussing and debating which is more important to the organization now. It’s just the overall marketing budget that we shared.

Talking about KPIs is something that I’ve seen, and obviously, you can relate to this. Product marketing plays a key role in go-to-market, but then the KPIs or the needle that they move, it takes 1 or even 2 quarters for them to see the impact that plays out. How are you beating the drum rightly so that your team is doing the right things and working on the right priorities, and how are you ensuring that the budget or the people are not taken away while people are waiting to see the results of product marketing activities?

This is how my VP of marketing puts it. Every other activity has a leading indicator and a lagging indicator. A lagging indicator could have multiple leading indicators to it. There are phases of this project that we need to define. At the end of phase one, I should operationally complete this task. At the end of phase two, I should have completed this task. At the end of the project itself, that’s when we start implementing this or rolling this out entirely and then start creeping the benefit of lagging indicators. This is how my VP of marketing puts it.

I would probably say that it’s not that difficult to have a metric-centric KPI for a quarter. It’s not all things are lagging. For example, if you say my sales lifecycle is huge, and that’s why I feel like all the things that I’m doing in DLSS will not probably help. Most of the deals like in the early stages and it not convert in this quarter. If I have a win rate conversion KPI, I would not need it. It’s impossible because we’re built on a pipe and there are a lot of deals in the closing stages in this quarter tool.

We can frame a KPI in such a way that we could put a metric that could also be achievable, and we can go back to the leadership and tell them that so far it’s worked that way. We’ve taken KPIs for two quarters and it’s worked well for us to date except for the branding project, which is not the product marketing project. It’s something that we are doing for awareness and better branding purposes.

Not everything is a success or a failure when it comes to go-to-market. Why don’t you share with the audience 1 go-to-market success story and 1 go-to-market failure story either inFeedo, Airmeet, Zoho or whichever brands that you are part of?

I’ll go a little confidential here. This company that I worked with had a couple of products. Imagine product A is our flagship product. Product B is the one that is new, very young, and isn’t giving much revenue to the company. It’s easy to call it the least favorite product. I was the PMM for this least favorite product, unfortunately, but I’m happy. We were able to do a lot of experiments there. We were running multiple validations in existing markets, and we were also running PMFs to enter into new markets.

While doing the research around the market on the competition, looking at our product sales in the last two years, we figured that 50% of the accounts that are using product B are also product A users. They are using this product together. We also spoke to a few of these customers and validated multiple things on the problems that Product A solves for Product B solves for. Also, we’ve validated this beautiful narrative that ties both product A and product B USPs. This is something that we’ve not done because the data gave us this, and then we started getting on calls with these customers and started validating this narrative, and it was all successful.

We figured out that with the help of product A, they were able to solve a functional pain point. At a functional level, there is a pain point, and the product A was able to solve for it. With both products, they were able to expand it a little further and create more visibility cross-functionally. It had some org-level impact. With Product A, there was a functional-level impact, and with Product B, there was an org-level impact. This was a huge narrative for us. That gave us a good reason for us to go behind the product A install base.

In weeks, we launched a cross-sell play. That’s a sales motion that we launched with a very lean effort we were a three-member PMM team and only one head of marketing and I focusing on this initiative. The sales members were already busy selling the flagship product. How do we motivate and train them? We launched this cross-sell like we launched all the training, we launched co-laterals, content pieces, and everything around it. We had a brand list that we went behind and we created a pipe of $1.5 million in just one quarter. All with the existing resources.

We even ask for extra budgets, everything organic. We even ask for extra team members, focus team members. The beauty here is that we have built this enterprise and mid-market pipe in the future with converts. It’s less likely to churn according to the data that we had as well. The learnings here are the sales motion that we are looking to create, the narrative that we are trying to craft, and the PMF that we are trying to find, everything is right in front of us. We need not start with a clean slate or a narrative, open an empty document, and start putting down data. There is something that you can get from your customer conversations or prospect conversations. You need not start a playbook without having an idea of what is making an impact and what’s not because there is already a lot of data in front of you, a lot of intel that is in front of you. That has been an eye-opener for me to rely on data.

That was a success story. The insight that he got was Product B elevated Product A functional impact, and Product B elevated it to a cross-functional and organizational impact. How did you arrive at that insight? What places were you looking at for the data?

We never combined product A and product B in the first place. We were looking at this as a product separately. At inFeedo as well, we are trying too hard to bring a story together for engagement and support as a product, but it’s not blending. Now, we never looked at a blended use case, but we knew that some benefits could happen, so we strengthened the integrations a little bit. Even during the validation stage and after validating, we came back, strengthened the use cases a little bit, and then it became a little more effective. Still, we were able to see the narrative through. It just has to happen. You need to discover, sit with data, understand, and see if there is a story behind every number that you’re seeing.

What were the data sources? Where were you looking for this?

These are our internal sources because it’s just our products.

Was it CRM or was it product adoption metrics?

It’s our internal analytics tool.

Switching gears a bit over here. What about the go-to-market failure story and the lessons that you learned from there?

A lot of interesting things there as well. We all have our successes and failures. A lot of failures. When you start, you fail the most. For me, also, it’s the same. When I switched to the SaaS company, that’s when I understood this is not how SaaS companies work. Agencies could probably work this way. That is the trend. I’m not a big fan of riding behind trends. From your agency experience, you could probably rely too much on trends, but in a SaaS company, it wouldn’t work that way. It failed me in a lot of places, I’m saying this because right now I’m working for an AI company, which is a trend these days.

Both the products are powered by AI at inFeedo, and I also used to work for a company called Airmeet, which was into virtual events during the pandemic, which was the trend then. I will tell you why I hate trends right now because trends could come and go but the product should already have a larger purpose, and it has to look at the larger problem that it should solve. For example, during the pandemic, the trend was virtual events. We use virtual events, we abused the term virtual events, literally. It evolved into a hybrid, once things started opening up a little bit. Everybody was talking about, “Let’s chuck virtual events. Let’s go into a hybrid.” Now it has completely changed, and I’m sure like every other virtual event looking at a different route altogether.

The trend is not here to stay. The flip side of the trend is also like, what if my current ICP is the HR leader, what if they don’t get this trend? They don’t know this, they need a masterclass. Or what if their staff are not trained to use an AI? What if it scares them? Everybody’s talking like, “What if it’s complex?” There are also multiple platforms like Lyndon and all of these learning sources and communities that talk about these trends, both positively and negatively. What if when they’re talking about the negative things about AI or virtual events, it would impact my ICP’s decision-making as well?

When somebody talks about the flip side of AI in an HR community, I would get more questions during my calls with the customers. The most important part here is if you’re looking at enterprise and mid-market as your customer segment, you clearly shouldn’t go behind trend because they would not rely on a fleeting trend. They know that it’s going to change. Now is AI, and next is something else. They always go behind a trustworthy product and trustworthy founding team. That’s why I’m totally against it.

The second thing that has failed me is the timing, both of these. We launched a focused team effort with the proper dedicated budgets. I told you about the cross-sell motion, which was a clean effort, with no budgets, but we still did it. This was dedicated. We got the budgets, we got the focus team as well dedicated to selling into a vertical, but this is when the companies were heavily downsizing, restructuring, and cost-cutting.

Cost cutting was an advantage for us because we wanted to replace a costly alternative. Still, now, nobody was evaluating all our bonds were not answered. Nobody was in the mindset ready to spend that time to replace a solution, give that implementation time extra. That’s also something that failed me. Trend timing, both are my villains at this point.

Timing and trend for sure. You mentioned something that caught my attention. A really important factor in how to become a better marketer. How often do you meet with customers and in what format or what context?

After the pandemic meeting them in a physical event has reduced. We are meeting them more virtually now. It could be every week we get on sales calls. We get validation interviews with customers to validate an idea or a solution. It’s not just you going on a call with them to understand them. It is also in the communities. You can go and be a part of the communities that they are most active in, especially HR communities. There are plenty of communities. There is a channel called Slack channel called People. There are a lot of HR communities on LinkedIn where they put their day-to-day problems. That’s where you consume this content.

It’s also important for you to consume raw content. When you’re going on a call, maybe you’re posting like, “Do you like this? Are you okay with this? Is this your problem?” We ask a lot of pointed questions, but when you go to communities, you tend to get raw data on how their day-to-day is looking. That’s also one of the avenues that I usually go on. The third could be any recorded calls. Even if I’m not able to catch up with customers in person, I go on customer calls, listen to them, understand their pain points, and admit their needs. Come back to my drawing board and make changes or tweaks in the messaging, if any.

Do you have any specific cadence or frequency for each of these weekly?

I do this daily. My 10:00 to 11:00 is blocked to know the customer.

That’s what I was hoping to hear. I’m glad that you said it’s daily. I want to give guidance to the audience as to how they should be planning the day and week when it comes to knowing the customers.

My 10:00 to 11:00 is to prepare and know the customer. It has links to all the communities that I follow. I can pick, go, and check if there are any new messages in there. Read anything or listen to a new chorus call. That’s all I do.

Based on what you shared, you’ve got a very good product marketing DNA and a product marketing muscle based on how you structure the organization, the right people in the right seats, and their prioritizing customer knowledge or insights. Given all these things, what would you put as the top 1, 2, 3 challenges for product marketing? Where is the biggest shot for gaps?

The biggest shortfall is you might tend to phase a lot of delays in decision-making because there are a lot of stakeholders involved in making a product marketing decision. For example, if you’re exploring a new market, it is not just you, but you are a part. There are CXOs in the team, LT members, leadership in the team, product leadership, sales leadership, and multiple people. It’s effective to get all their point of view, but curating all those points of view and having a proper plan of action could probably be delayed. That is something that we need to be extremely patient on. It is going to delay. This is something that I’ve been trying to solve for a long time. That is one of the biggest disadvantages.

It's effective to get everyone's point of view, but curating those views and having a proper plan of action could be different. Click To Tweet

The second would probably be not all your ideas will be approved. Getting a buy-in is difficult. Until an analyst backs it with data, you back it with all the intelligence that is available in the market. Getting buy-ins is not a joke. You cannot probably have an idea now and toss it to your cross-functional leaders the next day. If you have an idea now, you do your research the next day and then invest a little more time in talking to cross-functional leaders and understanding their perspectives on this on day three. Going to them with that. We always need to spend that time doing that research. Buy-ins and delays in launching something or delays in crafting a plan of action is something that’s a disadvantage.

Those are all valid. It can apply to any other function as well. Since stakeholders are part of the decision-making process, that’s a given. When it comes to those 8 or 10 product marketing programs that we talked about earlier, where would you put your finger and say, “That’s a challenge that I want to invest in going forward?” The positioning and messaging, customer expansion, new product launch, new market launch, AR, VR, product content, and customer insights.

If you look at it inside every other part that you’re talking about, there is a challenge. There is one challenge or the other. For example, in sales enablement, you might probably craft a narrative. You might think that is this the best thing that you could probably do. While taking it to sales, there are a lot of objections that you might probably want to handle. They will not implement it. They would say we are comfortable with the older narrator. Why are we changing this now? What are the reasons we are changing it now? Even after training, they would still be very comfortable with old change management and getting that adoption for all the sales that you’re creating. You might create ten of such usual collaterals.

Everybody will be reacting fire on it whenever you put it on Slack, but still there is no usage then you can’t show any metrics to the leadership team as well. That is one of the challenges in sales anymore. There are multiple things under each of these parts. It’s part of our job to tackle all of these challenges. I’m so used to sailing within these challenges that I don’t even look at this as a challenge anymore. It’s a part and parcel of life. That’s why I said something irrelevant to product marketing.

If you’re open to it, I can share some advice as to how I tackle that specific sales enablement challenge. This is for my clients as well. One thing that I do is I typically get a champion within the sales team and ideally should be the top seller. Get his or her buy-in, and pilot the program with them. If you’re trying to do a new sales narrative, pilot it with that seller, and then maybe she or he would do that pitch and then show to the sales team, or in the annual or quarterly sales kickoff, they’ll say, “By the way, with this new narrative, I’m seeing so much more pipeline growth and traction. This is cool. You guys should take this on.” Let your salesperson be the champion on your behalf.

This is something that we did as well. We had a closed loop of sales leadership that was ready to try it for at least 2 calls a week and we gave 1 month. We got perspectives from all those four core leaders, curated all of them, got them on a call, and let them launch it. This is exactly what we did as well. Having a champion is valid in a proper deal scenario we should have a person inside that deal and also in this case as well.

Brace yourself. It's completely normal to lose a battle. There are multiple battles that you'd be facing daily. But you'll only get stronger with time. So, product marketing grows on you. Click To Tweet

The last question to you is if you were to turn back the clock and look back at your career journey so far, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey? This is more advice you can’t turn backlog and change anything, but then advice that you would want the audience to take away.

I don’t think I could save my angry self from any of the battles that I’ve faced. Maybe I would tell her to brace herself and it’s completely normal to lose a battle because there are multiple battles that you’d be facing on a day-to-day basis. We would be talking to sales or products, multiple battles, multiple buy-ins, and multiple decisions to be made. You would have battles and disagreements you will not probably have leadership sign-off or anything but you’ll only get stronger with time. Product marketing grows on you. You don’t get it, but you will get it someday. On day one, it’s not possible. As you grow, like PMM grows on you you will get stronger with time. That’s something I would tell my younger self and the audience as well.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing all those insights, Saranya. Good luck to you and your team.

Thanks so much, Vijay.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment

 

Building successful go-to-market strategies is all about collaboration, respect, and a culture of betterment. It’s a journey of breaking down silos and embracing the path to profitability, where every team member’s value is celebrated. For today’s episode, we will explore the heart and soul of a thriving go-to-market strategy. Meet our guest, Gianna Scorsone, CEO of Champion, who shares the secrets to successful product marketing, and how collaboration with sales and customer success can be the key to winning in the market. Gianna shares her five pillars of empowerment, shedding light on building a culture of betterment and respect within your team. Her journey from profit-focused startups to multi-million-dollar enterprises gave her plenty of lessons on how to build a thriving go-to-market strategy, and today, she shares it with you. Join us in discovering the insights, mentorship, and leadership that drive business success.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Go-To-Market Success: Pillars Of Empowerment, Mentorship, And The Customer Voice With Gianna Scorsone

In this episode, I have the pleasure of hosting another great and exciting guest. Her name is Gianna Scorsone. She is the COO of Champion. Prior to this, she was the GM Head of North America at a hot and fast-scaling startup Aircall. Welcome to the show, Gianna.

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Let’s dive right into all this conversation with this topic and question, which the readers love as well as the guests love. How do you view and define go-to-market?

I love how we are starting with a very big, bold, and broad question, but I would have to say go-to-market, at its core or boiling it down, is how an organization or a company shows up in the face of the customer. It’s the convergence between marketing, sales, product, or services depending on what your business line is, as well as customer success. I’d say that customer success in the product has traditionally been left out of that equation when you think of go-to-market, but that’s something services do well in thinking about that post-sale customer interaction.

On the product side, there’s customer success in your traditional way, but we are talking about the go-to-market function and driving revenue from it. It focuses on identifying the market, the IPC, and the need, and how a company will position the value prop and show up for the customer wherever they are in that journey. That’s what I meant by product typically leaving out that customer in that post-sale as it relates to generating more revenue. That’s what everyone’s trying to scramble and figure out now.

We will get into that because you are living this day in and day out at Champion. It always starts with the customer and the problem that you are trying to solve, and how your product is solving that, and then you internally align your product, your marketing, your sales, and your customer success around that problem and persona you are pursuing.

You said it better than I did. You got it.

Let’s backtrack here. Let’s zoom out. Why don’t you share with the readers your career story as to what led you to what you are and who you are serving?

Thank you for that opportunity. It’s fun to be able to reflect and think about that journey and how much changed or grown over the years. I have had twenty-plus years as a go-to-market leader. I started in retail and I am so thankful that I got my start there. That is the foundation of who I am as a leader. I’d love to share a little bit more about that. I worked in a very high-volume store. What that meant was that I had anywhere up to 40 staff members working who were not on commission, and I had to learn how to communicate a common goal and how to tap into intrinsically motivating them to want to contribute to that big picture even though they weren’t compensated for it.

Retail has done an amazing job for decades in communicating the right metrics at the right time to inform the employees and the leadership how they need to move forward to beat targets, and at the same time, how you manage running that store, managing all of the customers, and giving that optimal customer experience in a way that feels very personalized but at scale because of the high volume. That was the precipice to understanding the inner workings but doing it live that translates to B2B sales.

Is this a time at Express or somewhere else?

It sure was. That was my time at Express. I got to give them a lot of kudos. Robin Summas was my regional manager and she was powerful in helping me understand what business meant. Likewise, I had a district manager, Liz Hughes, who was a coach and taught me how to coach a team to empowerment and success. That translates so strongly into the B2B tech world. From Express, I went to tech services. I worked for a company called Bluewolf. They were the first and premier partner of Salesforce and developed that blueprint of what partnerships meant within the ecosystem.

It was incredible to learn how to focus on the power of network and how to utilize your customers to be your catalyst to growth and success. We spun off from there. Another tech services firm was Mondo. I helped scale that business as an executive from $0 to $100 million and helped both Bluewolf and Mondo go-to-market. We sold respectively to IBM and the Addison Group. I then hopped over to Aircall moving on the product side for the first time.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: Focus on the power of network, in how to utilize your customers to be your catalyst to growth and success.

 

You did mention Bluewolf in the services industry around Salesforce implementation.

Salesforce implementation and customization, and then it brought into the full ecosystem HubSpot partnership and Marketo. We were early and fast movers around this idea of building a best-in-class tech stack within the SaaS arena.

Mondo, was it your first entry into tech products?

Mondo was also in services. That was tech and digital marketing staffing, which was a natural result of Bluewolf. They were sister companies for a long time, but we had superfluous infrastructure. To propel growth on both sides, we decided to split both companies, but first in the product was Aircall.

In between, you had a little stunt Women for Biden. That’s pretty interesting.

I felt like I needed to contribute to society. Tech has done me very well in the world. I feel very fortunate about what it has afforded me. I felt like I was able to take some time off. I wanted to give back to the community and to my beliefs in impacting society. I helped run the digital campaign, which was a grassroots effort.

A lot of powerful women from tech and media came together. We formed a group called Women for Biden. My role was part of this strategic group to help operationalize and help activate the hand raisers. I created a blueprint and all of the training to get all of these wonderful women across America, who wanted to contribute to this cause. We enabled them to become advocates and gain more votership. It was a cool experience.

I can see that excitement on your face. After that, you got a break into the tech world Aircall. How did you get that break? Your career journey until that point was in the services world.

It was services, but it was tech services. What I did within Mondo was build our best-in-class tech stack. I was using products all of the time. I ran RevOps. It’s this philosophy of how you use tools, how a user uses them, and what they need to gain from it. From there, honestly, services and products, it’s not that different.

I was able to grow the territory 2.5X or 3X in the year and a half that I was there in partnership with Jeff, my Cofounder of Champion. We were wildly successful. For my Bluewolf days, there was also a strong partnership play, and that was something that I brought to Aircall. That was our fastest-growing growth channel as well. We had a great team leading that front, but I had lived and breathed that ideology for a long time and was able to strengthen and gain more focus and budget around those efforts as well.

Talk to us about Champion. Why did you do that? You were one of the cofounders along with Jeff and your CTO. Tell us about what prompted the three of you to start this.

What prompted me to start with Jeff was I love Jeff as a human being and he’s amazing. Let’s say that. We have partnered with a third Cofounder, Courtney Crispin, who’s the CTO. She is the one who’s powering our ability to bring this to the market, which is exciting. She comes from the Salesforce world and has brought an engineering team that is just true geniuses. They come from the Einstein team and marketing cloud. It’s amazing to see that level of talent at such an early-stage company building that AI moat that’s going to power Champion.

Why we built it? Jeff and I are great partners at Aircall. He was the Global CMO. I ran North America’s go-to-market. What had traditionally worked in our demand gen funnel and our sales funnel was that mix between outbound and inbound, that traditional funnel, but we had this amazing customer base. There was always that thought that we should be doing more with our customers.

As I mentioned, I come from the services world where everything was about your network and harboring your customers to do more with them. That didn’t exist in the product world as much. Marketing traditionally does such an amazing job of focusing on pre-sales of generating leads and demand gen. The focus started to shift a few years ago into customer marketing and how customer marketing can impact revenue channels, but there was still that question mark of how. Honestly, it was a little bit fluffy because it’s so complex and there weren’t great tools to help facilitate that.

We are the first platform to focus on post-sale marketing programs to generate profitable growth through your customer base. As everyone’s talking about efficient growth, the huge part of that equation is driving more revenue and retention within your customer base, and now this is an easy way to execute regular repeatable programs to drive consistency and fill that gap where outbounds are not as effective anymore.

We are hearing from a lot of our customers that traditional demand gen efforts aren’t working the way that they used to, and they need to fill that data with a new revenue source. That’s your customers. I’m passionate about this because it’s a no-brainer. Everyone has talked about it for years and it’s known that it’s cheaper to sell within your customer base. It’s more efficient to do so. It’s easier to do so, and yet that focus hasn’t been there because we have all been hyper-focused in the SaaS world on net new. Now, the market is primed. That shift has come of the understanding that retention is what North Star metric expansion is and generating more hot leads that will convert faster to continue to prime net new as well.

At the surface level, I completely agree and align with what you guys are doing with Champion. I have two questions. I’m curious about how you went about validating the problem and the market size of this. That’s one. The related question is, there’s been this growing movement around customer marketing. There are tech startups that have been funded and raised a good amount of VC money in customer marketing. Let’s start with the first one. How did it go about validating the problem in the space?

How you go about validating the problem is by talking to as many people or your buyer as humanly possible. At this point, I want to say we have spoken to at least 1,000 leaders, and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s where it starts. Also, I or Jeff was this person. We are operators who have both respectively have scaled multiple organizations to the $100 million to $250 million mark, and we experienced these challenges firsthand.

The second related question was whether this falls in the AI domain of customer marketing. There’s been a growing movement in customer marketing. In your interviews with the prospective buyers, how are you focusing on that gap that customer marketing tech companies are not addressing?

That differentiator is we follow the whole customer journey. That’s vastly important because a lot of tech consolidation is also happening now. Part of why there’s a lot of tech consolidation aside from cost is that there’s confusion and complexity to getting all of these data points from all of these disparate tools impacting that one main initiative, which is how we continue to drive revenue and understand the stickiness of our customers.

When you have data all over the place for multiple teams or even the same team, it becomes complex to utilize them in a meaningful way. Where we are coming with our approach and philosophy is that we need to break down silos and understand that the byproduct of what customer marketing is doing impacts the sales team and the customer success team.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: When you have data all over the place for multiple teams or even the same team, it becomes really complex to utilize them in a meaningful way.

 

We view ourselves as this control center. I didn’t coin that. The head of customer marketing at Slack had said that, and I was like, “You nailed it, Bridget. That’s exactly what it is.” We are this control center for customer marketing to be able to do these plays that are going to impact sales like reference programs and referral programs. First of all, identify who the champions are. That’s where it all starts. That’s through our AI moat.

You get them activated and then you put them into these plays that are going to generate revenue, so references and referrals that will help sales. It’s looking at the user-level aggregate to help power customer success because their tools don’t have user-level visibility. We do. Also, it’s looking at job changes. We track job changes because that’s part of the life cycle of the customer journey. They are going to move on.

That’s your champion. You don’t want to lose them and you don’t need to lose them. Bring them back through the new company that they are with, and at the same time, start getting new champions within that logo that they left. That’s where we have differed from those customer marketing orgs that are out there, as you mentioned.

It’s up to your comfort level and space. Do you mind sharing where you are in terms of business growth, number of customers, funds raised, and revenue?

We are excited. We started our company in April 2023 and we launched our beta in early August 2023. We are very excited about what we brought about, and we have got our first cohort of clients, which is around ten, I believe. Now, we are securing our second cohort of customers. For all of the product people reading, you will be very happy to know all of the engineers out there.

We are doing a great job, Jeff and myself, curating the right list of customers who narrowly fit into the vision of our product. They are early adopters. They are helping us influence our continued roadmap. As you asked, how are we validating this? We are going to continue to validate by getting the right customers on board. We also don’t want to distract our engineering team. We are focused and we have a very acute understanding of the problem that we solve, and we want to make sure that we keep them hyper-focused without taking these peripheral or fringe deals out there.

Did I hear this right that you said you founded the company or you raised the seed down in April 2023 and the first beta went out in August?

We are a studio brand out of High Alpha, and so we had some initial funding from them and we are raising our seed round now.

The reason why I want to highlight that is it is pretty impressive in a short timeframe like April to August and having data customers. That’s very impressive.

They are enterprise-level as well, which is also part of our strategy. We are an enterprise platform. We wanted to go about the market in a way that was sustainable for us and where we wanted to go from the start. It’s incredible that our engineering team produced something powerful enough so that enterprise clients feel comfortable using a beta and are believing in this vision to grow the product with us.

My guess and hypothesis is it’s not that you started doing the market research and lining up the betas in April. That groundwork must have been done way before.

Jeff started in January 2023 doing a lot of this groundwork of talking to very many people. I came on board a little bit afterward, and that was my initiative in the first couple of months that I joined. We formally formed the company in April of 2023. You are right that there were a lot of months of legwork before then. Jeff and I are very successful operators who experience this problem. It’s years of culminating many conversations with people within our networks and peers as we were learning to do and excel in our jobs. This is something that peer-to-peer we have heard for very many years.

January is when Jeff and you guys must have incorporated Champion. In April, you were accepted in the studio, and then August is when you lined up.

January with the studio and April incorporated, but January to April was all about market research.

The reason why I’m asking is there are quite a few aspiring founders of this show, so this is good advice to them as to how to pursue the validation piece.

If anyone reading wants to ask more direct questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. We are happy to have conversations with new founders as well.

Thank you for sharing the tactical piece as to how you guys founded, incorporated, and went to market for Champion. Switching gears a bit over here, you had a very storied and long career when it comes to go-to-market and go-to-market failures. You have seen enough of those, so why don’t you share it with us? It’s up to you if you want to start with a failure or a success, but we love to know both success and failure stories. It can be from Mondo or Aircall.

This is a silly example but it sticks with me because part of my experience and part of what I have done is build sales training. I have enabled thousands of reps over the years to have best-in-class practices. It’s so strange to now be back in the sales arena on the floor doing the sales myself. I feel like I’m rewinding to the beginnings of my career. You would think that I have all of the best practices down the path and that I’m holding myself accountable to all of them. My founder’s life was slammed, having to change hats from investor call to board call, to new client call, to internal meeting, and to writing content for the website, and I had a meeting. Honestly, I simply didn’t prepare for the meeting.

I realized, halfway in when they brought it up to me that we knew someone in common. Their boss was someone that I had previously worked with. Had I brought that up or had I used that network opportunity, it would have driven my credibility way up and it would have made for a much warmer conversation in the beginning. On top of that, it showed that I didn’t do my homework. If you are not putting the effort in for your customer or for your prospect ahead of time, why on earth would they think that you’d put the effort in for them afterward? It’s treating them transactionally.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: If you’re not putting the effort in for your customer or for your prospect ahead of time, why on Earth would they think that you’d put the effort in for them afterward?

 

It’s treating them like a number as opposed to an individual with real needs, real pain, and a real story. It was embarrassing, quite frankly. I was embarrassed with myself and I have not made that mistake again. It’s about that balance and making sure that I’m maximizing every opportunity because, at this stage of the game, you have to and, at any stage, it’s the right thing to do. That’s how you build a thoughtful organization.

I can see why it led to an embarrassing moment, but I’m assuming it wouldn’t have been that expensive failure or that the cost was not that bad an option. Is that fair?

It wasn’t that bad. That’s fair.

Let’s switch gears. Go-to-market success story from your time at Aircall.

We worked very prominently in our partnership strategy. That was part of our major growth strategy for North America. We put a lot of focus and attention and had a world-class team running the efforts. We wanted to build something very thoughtful and we had a very strong integration with HubSpot. We knew that creating that opportunity and stickiness for our common customers or using that as the right demand gen channel of people who use HubSpot, and then use Aircall would be stickier.

It was how we continue to gain that market share, how we dominate within their marketplace, and how we get their attention so that HubSpot is seeing the value that Aircall brings to the table with them in that better-together story. Louis Dumortier ran the efforts and still does on the HubSpot relationship and the whole strategy.

He did an incredible job of that multi-pronged approach of thinking about rep to wrap, on how we are enabling an easier time for our sales reps to get to know their reps to get those leads. From an executive level, I was having regular monthly calls with their executive teams to get that buy-in as well and understand what some of the pain points were from their perspective.

We then had the whole ecosystem play within that as well. It was a multi-pronged approach. We got word that they were going to come out with this best-in-class tech stock report. They said to one of their executives, “I’m going to make it irresponsible for you guys not to put us on that list.” She was like, “We will see.” Unfortunately, it happened after my time at Aircall, but efforts were so there that they did name us their best-in-class tech stack. Must have, I believe, is how they named it. Also, that easy go-to-market strategy. As we mentioned before, it’s not just marketing and sales, but it’s partnerships and how you position to gain more market share.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: A go-to-market strategy is not just marketing and sales, but it’s really partnerships and how you position to gain more market share.

 

Leaning on your partners and partner ecosystem is a big lever in the go-to-market strategy. A lead-up question to that is what are 1 or 2 areas within go-to-market that people lean on you for? Maybe it’s sales, go-to-market, sales enablement, SDR, or BDR.

My passion and what I bring to the table is helping to empower emerging leaders to develop their ability to lead in a very meaningful way. It’s this cross between creating a feedback-first culture of betterment paired with arming emerging leaders to drive more success and helping them grow. These two things married together create this community of drivers and a community where every level of your players or teammates realizes the value that they drive to the overall big picture. This is what I do well. How this translates now is I mentor a heck of a lot of people that I have managed or have been in my teams throughout the years.

How do you do that? It’s not that you are doing something. It comes automatically and naturally for you.

It’s a playbook. It does come naturally to me, but you have to systematize it. When you are stressed out, it’s easy to lose sight of what works well. It’s like any process. I will share with you my five pillars, but there’s so much more to this. The five pillars of empowerment are this, and this is to the individual player. One, make their financial standings, like their salary, make it a non-issue. Make sure they are being paid market value. It doesn’t have to be top of market value, but there shouldn’t be a question of, “Am I being taken advantage of?” Pay them fairly, number one.

You have to systematize playbooks because it's really easy to lose sight of what works really well. Click To Tweet

Number two is to help break silos and help them see and respect the people around them. They have to feel like they respect the other teams and the people around them. That’s holding other teams accountable, that’s holding each person accountable, and that’s holding themselves accountable, but it’s also to break silos and drive mutual respect.

Next is to make sure they feel valued. How are you communicating to them that you see that they contribute to the big picture? That is constant every day that needs to happen. Number four is they have to feel they are doing valuable work. One is that, “I have to make them feel valued,” and the other is they have to feel that they are doing valuable work. They have to be stimulated in what they are doing. That also means making sure that they are in the right role and doing work that contributes to the big picture.

Number five, learning and growing. That’s the most important one. The minute people feel like they are not learning and growing anymore, this generational workforce, the Gen Zs, will move or they will leave. They love to learn and grow, and that’s what I love about them. There needs to be a feedback-first culture. They need to get constant feedback and how they can improve because then they feel like, “My time here is worth it.” I mentioned the five, but outside of the salary, if you have the other four, the salary becomes even less important. It has to be paid fairly. Where it starts is these five pillars, and then thinking about how you build programs, how you build communication, and how you build feedback to fill these five pillars.

This is great advice for people who are managing, mentoring, and growing. Thank you for sharing that.

You heard it here first.

That’s your expert and secret sauce. Switching gears once again. You did work on so many of the go-to-market teams. You led so many of the go-to-market teams. I’m 100% sure that you worked with product marketing functions in all of these in your various domains. What are the top 1, 2, or 3 things that you saw product marketing do very well that helped in your go-to-market?

The number one thing is to work with sales and work with customer success. The customer voice should power product marketing. How you get to that customer’s voice is sure products and different tools, but make sales and customer success feel a part of the product marketing function, building that roadmap, and being that voice for the customers.

The customer voice should really power product marketing. Click To Tweet

What I’m hearing if I had to articulate it is to work very closely with and involve folks from sales and customer success in the initiatives. Be it a product launch, be it building new product content, or even driving product adoption in various segments.

I love how you have broken it down into the different ways that product marketing needs to focus on different areas within that lifecycle as well. That’s exactly right.

Coming to the last couple of questions here, if you were to go back in time, who are the influencers, mentors, coaches, or managers that played a big role in your career?

I love this moment. There have been so many at different points. What’s so beautiful about this idea of a mentor is that they can come and go, and you will have different people influence you at different times, that readiness. The universe magically finds you those right people within your scope and space for what you need at that moment in time.

What's so beautiful about this idea of mentors is they can come and go and you'll have different people influence you at different times. Click To Tweet

I mentioned Robin Summas and Liz Hughes. Those were my early days at Express. They certainly impacted my ability to understand how to drive a machine in a very inspiring and motivating way. From there, I would say Bluewolf and Mondo days, Mike Kirven and Eric Berridge were the CEOs, two cofounders. Mike Kirven instilled in me the path to profitability.

He made us do things cheap because he was cheap. I loved the man to death. We built a $100 million business with 14% EBITDA, and it forced us to be extremely creative and understand how to create the right operational efficiencies to drive profitability. It made me think outside of the box, and it made me think about how to best support and enable the path to productivity for all sales reps in marketing. That was a valuable lesson and helped fuel my know-how in Champion.

Eric Berridge brought to the table to dream big and have great vision, see the opportunity, and not be afraid to be that market breaker who’s going to bring something influential, and that’s what we did at Bluewolf. We created that blueprint of what it meant to be a partnership ecosystem company. No other company and no big consultant firm did what Bluewolf did. That was Eric Berridge, Corinne Sklar, and Jolene Chan. They were truly amazing to learn from them. Also, Jeff Reekers, my Cofounder. He heavily influenced and it’s why I’m here now as well. I would like to believe he’d say the same about me. We complement each other well and we have had this approach of let’s play on each other’s strengths. We complement each other so well because of that.

Kudos to you for recognizing and calling out all those folks who played a big role in shaping your career.

There were so many.

That’s why I don’t like asking these questions. It puts you on the spot.

It’s a limit. We have to limit it so that we don’t bore people. During my time at Aircall, my entire team, the North America team, and also the people who were not traditionally in my org, we treated North America as one whole. The marketing team of North America and the sales ops team enablement support, we created this environment where we broke down silos and drove and respected each other. We all looked at what is the one goal we want North America to dominate and how we are going to get there together.

We did these workshops. Madelyn DePrey, who’s now VP of Customer Success at Aircall, led a workshop on the customer journey and looked at the experience through their lens at each stage of the customer journey. We grouped the entire North American team into that, and then we ideated and solved pain points and problems we saw along the way to improve our performance and therefore our results.

Everyone in North America at Aircall heavily influenced my growth as a leader because I was able to become that leader I’d always wanted to be and create a culture of betterment but of respect where everyone wanted the team to win, not just self. That was one of the most inspiring moments of my career. I thank them.

The list goes on and on. Something that caught my attention and this is big on my mind nowadays is how you build that financial muscle, the discipline around profitability. I don’t know if that person or the leader was from Bluewolf or Mondo, but you did mention building a discipline around thinking out of the box and around the metrics. Walk us through that playbook. Are there any rituals that you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Maybe you work with the head of finance.

We work with the head of finance. I like having budgets upfront like, “Let’s do some quick dirty modeling. What’s our budget? What are we trying to achieve?” Let’s go bottom up and build to how we get there. If you do that, it’s quite simple. If you don’t hit your revenue targets, then the next quarter, you have to decrease the cost and figure out a way to get there. In a services firm, that’s a little bit easier.

From the product perspective, it’s acutely looking at it. We have got our metrics LTV to CAC. It shows thinking about, especially at our stage, even all those little extra costs like booking travel. Do it smartly so that you have that extra little wiggle room. Don’t spend superfluously. Every dollar adds up. It is being that scrutinous, but it is looking at and making sure that you have got the right metrics in place and it’s holding yourself to that standard. From the product perspective, what everyone is trying to do within SaaS now is readdressing what those expectations are. Resetting those benchmarks of what the ROI should be.

How often would you look at these numbers, the budget, as well as the spending and the pipeline?

I am looking at them monthly. You can’t go too crazy, and that’s what you need your finance team for. You don’t want to get too nuts. You also do need to invest to see a return as well. It’s having some trust also in what you are doing so that you don’t go too off course. Invest in events that are the right go-to-market strategy for you, or if demand gen isn’t working traditional outbound, what is working and how can you lean into that? That’s a little bit of how you can think about it. If your revenue figures aren’t there, then figure out what is working and lean into that. That’s a way to get to profitability in a more manageable way.

People can go crazy and look at a daily oracle. Weekly, I have seen people do that, but what you are recommending is monthly.

Finance is looking at it weekly.

The final question for you is, if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey?

I would say trust yourself. You got this. A wonderful career is ahead of you. Take the opportunities. Know that you belong. Trust that every decision you make is going to lead to a path forward. Continue to take risks and adjust along the way. To be honest with you, I love my career. I’m so proud of myself. I don’t know that I want to change anything. Could I have done better? Sure, but maybe not at the same time. I’m incredibly grateful. To my former self, I would say trust yourself and enjoy the journey along the way.

Trust yourself. You've got this. A wonderful career is ahead of you. Take the opportunities and know that you belong. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for sharing those insights and the journey. Good luck to you and the team at Champion.

Thank you so very much.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies

 

How can you bring your cutting-edge products to a larger market, far beyond the walls of your own industry? Cross the chasm that separates us from the marketplace in today’s episode! Helping you navigate is the legend in the go-to-market world, Geoffrey Moore. He is an American organizational theorist, management consultant, and author of Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers. Geoffrey shares the guide to navigate across the chasm of technologies with a game plan for marketing in high-tech industries. He provides insights into a great framework called ‘Target Market Initiatives’ and how it provides the avenue to overcome the challenges in a high-tech industry. Grab onto your seats as Geoffrey takes us across the chasm of technologies and towards a thriving business.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Cross The Chasm Of Technologies: A Game Plan For Marketing In High-Tech Industries With Geoffrey Moore

In this episode, I have the honor and pleasure of hosting and talking to a legend in the go-to-market world, Mr. Geoffrey Moore. I’m sure we don’t need any further introduction. He’s a legend. With that, I’ll welcome him, and we’ll get into the conversation. Geoffrey, thank you so much and welcome.

Thank you for having me with your show. I appreciate it.

I’ll just start my show with this question. How do you view and define go-to-market?

It’s interesting because, like many of the people who read this episode, I work with companies on their go-to-market motions all the time. We all say, “We have an offer at one end. We have a customer on the other end. We want to connect the two of them.” The thing that I see most frequently is most companies tend to think of that from the product to the customer.

Particularly, outsiders can help them do, “No, do it backward,” like from the customer back to the product. Instead of thinking of the customer journey, how do I get this prospect through my funnel? Think about it the other way, which is to say, “How do I take this problem off my customers’ plate? How do I enable this opportunity for them?” It’s the same journey, but you’re looking at it through a different lens.

That’s a fantastic articulation there. That’s what I keep hearing from the founders who have been successful and building the startup as the go-to-market leaders I’ve had on this show. Some of them focus on the product, but they always eventually rotate to who we are solving this problem for and what the problem is in the first place, then tied back to the product, the solution, and aligning the teams internally. Be it product, marketing, revenue, and sales.

The reason why people don’t do it is that it’s not like we’re the two greatest people on the planet, but it’s harder to organize. In other words, it’s much easier to create one playbook starting with the product and send it in many different directions and to say, “I’m going to have many playbooks depending on the target customer and the target customer’s problem.” I have to start at the end and then work back to the center. That’s less efficient, but it’s much more effective.

I’m working with a client around building their product market and go-to-market function. The chief product officer comes back and says, “Do we need to invest in customer insights and customer conversation?” I said, “Yes, of course.” We need to invest in a customer insight program. It’s not like I can talk to someone in sales and get the brains and minds of the customer.

The salesperson wants a good playbook, but at the end of the day, they also want to make the club. They want to maximize their commissions. Being efficient is important to them. They will be as efficient as they can get away with, but the problem with that is as they become more efficient, the channel itself becomes less effective. From the point of view of the enterprise, any dollar spent is getting closer to the customer’s real issues and getting close to the real product market fit as opposed to the alleged product market fit. That’s a dollar very well spent because you’re going to save a lot in wasted effort. It’s coming from there.

That’s what I keep telling her and the team. You have to slow down to accelerate. People get into this mindset of, “I need to hustle.” It’s important to get products or campaigns out with hustle output focus versus, “Let’s slow down and see if we are solving the right problem in the first place.”

Getting a campaign out is like firing a gun as fast as you can. You might hit something, but it’s usually better to aim.

We can go on and on in this one topic alone, but let’s zoom out a bit. Please share with our audience your career journey. What took you down this path in the first place?

My career journey is not typical since I have a PhD in Medieval English Literature, which I don’t think is a normal requirement for a marketing professional. In any way, in my early 30s, we came back to California, and there were no jobs in academia, so I joined a software firm. I initially worked in sales. It turned what I learned in sales was I was good at opening and not as good at closing. That’s not a good quality for a salesperson, but it turns out to be a very good quality for the marketing person.

I ended up at a marketing consultancy called Regis McKenna Inc. Back in the ‘80s, it was iconic at that time. Regis did invent high-tech marketing for all intents and purposes. I was there for a few years, and that’s why I wrote the book, Crossing the Chasm, because it was a petri dish. Every tech company that matters to anybody, sooner or later, came through those doors. That was wonderful. Pattern recognition works if you see enough instances. The problem that most professionals have is in your career, you might only work at 3 or 4 or 5 companies. It’s not enough instances.

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers

Even if you’re a professor at Stanford or Harvard, still you’re doing research on how many companies. It’s not the same as being on the battlefield day in and day out with company after company. The book led me to start my own firm. There were three firms that were created in the process as we went along. The last two things I’ll say about the arc in my career is in the ‘90s, it was very venture-focused. I became a venture partner at the end of the ‘90s, but it’s startup-oriented. How does a startup make this thing work?

Once the tech bubble imploded and we had the dot-bomb, then I spent much more time with established public enterprises. That work only culminated in the last business book I’ve written. Crossing the Chasm is the two that matter the most called Zone to Win, which is how you make that same disruptive journey if you’re the public play-held company, you don’t have venture capital backing, and you need the core business to fund the new business. There’s a bunch of challenges there. My card says Author, Speaker, and Advisor. That pretty much describes what I do.

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies
Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption

I want us to go back in time, especially when you mentioned that you started your career in sales and then figured out that you’re good at opening but not closing. What was that a-ha moment? You did mention that, but what is that experience of a-ha moment that led you to do that?

When you don’t make quota, that’s a signal from the universe. To be fair, it’s always been easy for me to sell myself and my services. When I was representing a product, I knew the product was not quite exactly what the customer needed. I struggled with that a lot. You need at some point to suck it up, and I did, but I wasn’t any good at it. Remember, this is the ‘80s. In the ‘80s, sales were still a Glengarry Glen Ross stuff.

The olden days of car salesman.

It was the sales profession that you think, “I’m not sure I want to do this.” The salesperson now, by contrast, is an incredibly exciting career.

The point you mentioned, Geoffrey, about you not feeling good about the product where you’re working as a salesperson reminds me of some of the concepts of the top-tier salespeople. First and foremost, they’ll have their rituals and the discipline to get through whatever they need to do to build our bond and build a pipeline. The first and foremost is, do they believe in the product or service they are selling?

One of the things that helped me was this concept of the whole product because I didn’t learn that until I got into Regis. No product is going to solve 100% of the problem. Not if it’s a complicated problem. I was doing more B2B complex sales things. Therefore, it’s always a combination of orchestrating resources. The product is a critical resource. The customer turns out to be a resource. You have to help the customer bring their best talent to the table, then there are partners, and there are your own professional services.

No product will solve 100% of the problem, not if it's a complicated problem. Click To Tweet

Nowadays, there’s customer success. There’s all these resources to orchestrate. The subscription economy and a service economy, which is easier to opt out of than the old on-prem license and maintenance, has put vendors more on notice, “If you’re not going to deliver the value, you churn out of your business.” It’s good forces that are creating better practices.

That point in time in your career led you to figure, “Sales is not my thing,” and you move into the marketing side of the house, but then something happened where you’re not just doing pure marketing. Something led you to do research and write a book.

First of all, because I was an English Major and English Professor, I loved to write. They’ll find me dead at some point with a pen in my hand. The writing was there. It’s funny because people say, “How did you do the researcher for your book?” I never ever did research, but what happens when you are consulting? Remember, Regis was consulting primarily on positioning problems. “How could we help us position our company?”

When a big company comes in and gives you that assignment, they’re going to pay you a bunch of money. First of all, they take every study they’ve ever done with McKenzie or Bain or BCG, and they give you all their research right there. It’s like, “I’ll read it.” Basically, I was gifted with probably tens of millions of dollars of research for free because that was the first step of onboarding.

The next thing is all the research is great. Norbert McKenzie’s stuff is great. Somebody once said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” What’s wonderful about when you’re doing this consulting is you get right down in the trenches, and you start seeing what our customers are saying, what our competitors are doing, and what the press is saying about your client. You realize, “That wasn’t what I thought was going to happen.” Interactive learning is valuable.

Maybe it’s possible because of what you started observing, you started writing, and that translated to original research or research material.

The classification was an original. By the way, it’s written in 1990. It’s still actively imprinted now. I’ve had to update it twice with examples. The content has never changed. The examples of change are pretty dramatic. What happened there was Regis had a playbook for PR, but we were being asked to do more strategic marketing.

What I mean by strategic marketing is this. The definition I would use there is marketing as a territory capture game, meaning, where can you stake out a market segment and become the market leader in that segment because markets are organized around leaders? You get all the ecosystem support you need to become a powerful and profitable company.

The leader gets the lion’s share of support and everybody else gets as much as they can get. If you can become a category leader like Apple or Tesla, way to go. Even if you can’t, if you just become a segment leader, you could at least get enough. It became a power discipline. It turned out that there wasn’t a playbook at Regis. There was a lot of tribal knowledge that was in people’s heads.

Regis took some investment money from a company. They said, “We like your practice manuals.” We don’t have a practice manual. I thought, “I’ll write something down,” and I did. I shared it with the partners, but the partners said, “We came here to work for Regis. Not for you.” I said, “No, this is you.” “This is me?” That’s what I did. That’s why I said, moving on, “I’ll take the book and run with it.”

That’s a great transition. I’m always curious, and I’ve heard this from my readers as well. It’s about what are those moments in life that led to that big inflection point of a-ha. Thank you for sharing that story and journey. Translating and coming back to what you do now, we all know what you do, but are you still in active practice advising the board and the CXOs?

I now spend a lot of time with CEOs. People say, “How do you know so many CEOs?” The answer is I haven’t died. We were all in the same cohort. They were product managers. They’ve got promoted, and I’ve followed along. As the demographic of my peers aged and the seniority age, my practice migrated. What I would have called a marketing practice in the ‘90s became a strategy practice in the early part of this century.

In the last couple of years, it’s almost an organizational development practice now because it’s like how you organize a global enterprise to aggressively pursue your current core business even when it’s under attack. Maybe even aging away, at the same time, get your bets in on the next wave of technology. When you’re a publicly held company, that’s a bear of a problem, lifetime employment. The other thing that happened when COVID came was we all started using this medium of Zoom. As a result, you used to say, “I could work with one client a day.” Maybe two, if I was lucky, but not normally. Now, it’s like, “10:00 or 12:00? 12:00 or 2:00?” It’s been much easier.

Your latest book, The Infinite Staircase, doesn’t have much to do with what you’ve done before.

The Infinite Staircase is me going back to my roots and saying, “What does it have in common?” Like every book I’ve ever written, it’s a framework book, but instead of saying, “What’s the framework for selling high-tech products?” this is the framework for understanding the universe and your place in it, which is a slightly larger market. It’s a larger topic. It’s not a smaller market. That book probably has the least readers of any book I’ve ever written, but I’m passionate about it. I love writing, and I care a ton about the topic.

The way I think about this, Geoffrey, is it’s a go-to-market for you as a person.

It’s a legacy book, too. We have grandchildren. It’s like, “Before you leave the planet, did you learn anything? If you did learn something, will you write it down, please, before you leave?” That was the objective.

For me, I would read it and study the Bhagavad-Gita because of life lessons. That’s my go-to-market book for life. That’s what it is.

I was trying to write my own little private notes to market book for life.

Let’s shift gears. You’ve worked at so many companies across the decades. You see the failures and successes of large companies and startups. You’re an active part of the investing community. If you can share with the readers a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story.

What I’m going to do is primarily from the startup world because, first of all, they’re a little bit crisper and clearer. Second of all, large public companies can sometimes get cranky with you if you talk about them behind their backyard. This is from the days with the Wildcat portfolio or the two places. For example, now I’m on the board of a company called WorkFusion.

When they first invested in it, it was human-in-the-loop AI. This is well before generative AI and ChatGPT. The idea was that AI could learn to do complex human activities and supplement human professionals. We did it. We did a project with Disney and one of the pharmaceutical companies. We had interesting stuff, one with a big bank, but it was pre-chasm.

When I became involved with them, it was, “We have to become good at one thing and become that target market segment leader,” because we were spending a bunch of money but we weren’t gaining power. The choice was to work on the regulatory challenges of banks, particularly with respect to anti-money laundering, fraud, and the whole bunch of that dark stuff in the background, which has historically been in adverse media, people only.

We started the crossing the chasm problem, but the team and the sales force were not a natural acronym. We had to go through a significant replacement of leadership almost across the board, but the new team that came in did a wonderful thing. They said, “We’re going to call our products digital workers.” It says we have an artificial intelligence product that works on this problem. You’re going to meet Alex, Isaac, or Elena. Elena presents herself as if she is applying for the job of money laundering or fraud.

At that time, we started going after the HR budget as opposed to the IT budget. They started realizing, “We can’t ask the IT person. This thing’s got to be enabled in the cloud.” Anyway, they use that whole metaphor. As a result, first of all, it’s very easy for the customer to talk about it. Second of all, the customer can start saying, “My colleague Isaac.” They’re getting into it. Whereas before, it was like, “It’s artificial intelligence.” “I don’t know. Is that the terminator?” It had all the wrong distractions. I thought that was an interesting one to do. What’s happened is there’s a company that’s getting traction with the biggest banks in the world because they all have the problem.

They all need to use artificial intelligence to solve this problem eventually. These people are showing up saying, “That’s what we do.” They are guaranteed at that. Do they hit it out of the park? Most of the time, they do, but that’s not guaranteed. What is guaranteed with that go-to-market is you will get at that because you’ve now worked backward from the customer. Not forward from your technology, which is what they were doing before. They were going forward from their technology, saying, “We have a magic wand. What’s your problem?” instead of saying, “How are you handling these challenges in the security fraud area or the funding fraud?” You go, “Let me tell you about what we bring to the table.” That was a success.

Before we get into the failure story, I want to double-click on the story here about WorkFusion. There are two things that I took away from that. One is they changed the ICP. With an ideal customer profile, you have a persona, and they moved from it to the HR budget.

That’s correct. Their economic buyer ended up being the compliance officer who ultimately reports to the audit committee eventually. Instead of going to the IT, people are saying, “We have incredible technology.” They went to the compliance officer, saying, “We have incredibly efficient, essentially artificial people.” It did digital workers.

From your experience, what led to that translation or movement?

What leads to it is, at least in my experience, experiencing what it’s like to be in the chasm. What is it like to be in the chasm? In the chasm, you have cool technology, and people acknowledge that. The group will say you have good technology, and you have customers. The problem is you have no power. This means every customer you have in a different use case and a different industry.

It’s like trying to win the primary with two votes in Connecticut, one in New Jersey, and one in New York. We’re trying to become speaker of the house if you want to try that if you’re a Republican. The point is, what you want to do is to get 4, 5, 6, or 7 customers in the same use case and the same segment. By the way, it’s a use case that they have not had success with before. Now, you do change the game.

They’ve never heard you. It’s like Obama. When Obama gave that speech at the Democratic convention years before, he was nominated. Nobody ever heard about him, but then, all of a sudden, “Who’s this? I don’t know. He’s pretty good.” When you don’t have it, what happens is your sales cycles take forever to close and you don’t get inbound calls. For every deal you get, you had to do outbound to get it. On the other hand, when you do get across the chasm, you do get inbound calls, and the ecosystem does start to organize around you.

That’s what people refer to us as product market fit. You get the pull versus constantly pushing.

The market is not just the end-user customer. Not even just that customer and their economic buyer sponsor. It’s the ecosystem because it’s the partners who also make a living by filling out the rest of the whole problem.

It looks like your work on the team that you guided and advised was around, “Who are those segments of buyers whom we haven’t explored?” and, “Where we’re not getting enough traction. What should we revisit?”

We know that there was a use case in banking, but it was one of many. The problem with making it one of many is that when you go to the R&D people, there’s this list of feature requests to serve this use case and to serve that use case in terms of the other. Once the new team came in and started with the CEO, Adam Famularo, a wonderful Head of Marketing and Head of R&D, like world-class leaders, what they did was they said, “Tighten the aperture.” I was advocating for that on the board, but they did not do it. I’m just an author, speaker, and advisor. It didn’t say doer. You might say gag fly, but you didn’t say, “He’s going to do it for us.” They did it and did a magnificent job with it.

You mentioned about what are the signs that you look for. It’s a long sales cycle.

You get technology kudos. The other thing you realize is, “I’ve used the same reference every single sales cycle for two years because I only have 3 or 4 of them.” By the way, those people also want features to add to their world that are not on your roadmap or hard for you to deliver. You get caught up in these long, expensive products to maintain. They’re not getting traction. Meanwhile, nimbler people are running past you, and the category is doing fine, but you’re not.

That was a great example, Geoffrey, where you talked about the go-to-market challenges or the friction that WorkFusion was having and what the leadership team did to make the transition with different ICPs and different ways to position the products and the company. That’s a great insight and a great a-ha. Coming back to our earlier conversation or prompt where you’re going to share a go-to-market failure story.

This is another company that we invested in, a terrific company up in Seattle. It had to eventually shut down. This was founded by a woman and her team, who were expert consultants to the real estate market for large family dwelling problems. They had a consulting business where they were advising how to get better marketing. It was a marketing consulting thing with a very specific niche focus.

They said, “The systems these people have are horrible. They’re flying blind. We should write a system that would allow these people to get a much clearer understanding of which kinds of marketing programs are creating what kinds of returns.” It was a very straightforward idea. At a time when the whole single-family dwelling marketing thing was very visible, particularly with the COVID thing that came along, what happened was it wasn’t quite compelling enough. At first, everybody thought it was nice to have. That was no question. Almost everybody said, “You should have it,” but it wasn’t quite a must-have because the people who have this job in the real estate industry are somewhat abused.

They’re a little bit lower level. At the end of the day, the idea of investing in their productivity never got high enough on the stack. The truth is their lack of productivity was costing the homeowners a lot of money. The other thing is a little bit of a problem with the agency model in general, but the agencies were still making money.

The agency’s a little slightly counter incentive to have these people become more productive because that might reduce rather than increase it. There was a little bit of inauthenticity in the market, which was disturbing. The same thing happened in the advertising market with digital advertising and trying to make that more efficient at some point. You had the same problem. To be fair to the team, they focused on the market and had a couple of lighthouse customers, but they couldn’t quite get it over the line.

One of the things that I heard from a founder I asked him was, “What are your signs or what do you look for when you do the market research?” A couple of topics came up. First of all, at what level is this a problem? How big is this problem? Is it at a team level, VP level, CXO level, or board level? Subsequent to that is a top 3 or 5 problem at a board level.

The whole thing about the venture and about being an entrepreneur is the motto is to win or learn. You may not even win 50% of the time. There’s a lot of time when you don’t win, but it’s not okay to lose and not learn. You say, “Geoffrey, you didn’t win. What did you learn?” The phrase that came out of that particular exercise and learning was we ended up calling it a trapped value.

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies
Chasm Of Technologies: When you don’t win, it’s okay. But it’s not okay to lose and not learn.

 

It’s the same idea you stated, which is when you’re looking at an investment, two questions. How much trap value is there in the current system? Meaning if your technology can fix the problem, how much value do you release? The rule of thumb I always like to use is if you give the customer back a dollar’s worth of value, they’ll be happy to give you a dime. At $0.15, they think you might be dodging.

What I’m thinking is, if you want to build a billion-dollar company, you better find $10 billion for the trap value. You can build any size company you want and multiply it by ten for the track. That’s number one. The second issue is how urgent it is for them to release this trapped value. The problem they remarkably had was the trap value was very real, but it wasn’t impacting enough of the core business to make it urgent enough to get to the board-level place. Was it a productivity problem for the middle? Yes. Would they want this thing every day of the week? To your point and your colleague’s point, it didn’t quite make the cut when you moved it all the way up to the top.

One of the big topics that is making rounds in the industry is compliance around AI. You open the news, the tech world. This is what it is. A lot of founders and would-be entrepreneurs are doing the research around this, and there’s the White House Bill of Rights, which was released in this spirit. There are other initiatives happening at the State level in California. Gavin Newsom has released or put it as a directive. What do you think that founders in this world of air compliance and regulation and risk mitigation should be looking at?

It’s interesting. Look at where we were with ESG a few years ago and where we are now. You would have said a few years ago, “The European Union is leading this thing.” Now we’re seeing this backlash against it. It’s even more necessary now than ever before with climate change. Watching the regulatory environment, particularly when it’s a highly complex problem to control, the problem with climate control is it’s very hard to bind, unlike financial fraud.

Financial fraud is a very easily bound problem. That’s why that’s very good regulatory compliance. FDA approval, which is a very clearly bound problem, is a good regulatory compliance. In any place, you have clearly bound ones, but when they’re more ephemeral like AI responsibility, that’s not a bound problem. Therefore, to say, “I’m going to go after that market,” no. Maybe eventually, there will be bound subsegments that will come out, but it’s way too early to do that.

If I double-click on the topic of AI compliance, there is algorithmic discrimination that might be happening on data privacy. People know. It’s been beaten to the dead. Other systems then play when the AI model and the machine are taking over other fallback systems for the year.

Let’s take the two you pick, so data privacy. You go after the digital advertising people, you go after the cookies, and you have a problem. If you do AI discrimination, you go after real estate or online lending. That’s a bound problem, but if you said the White House Bill of Rights or Gavin Newsome, God bless you, Gavin, but it’s just evaporating. It was way too unbounded.

The lesson and the advice you’re giving for folks pursuing this is to figure out what is that bound problem and how big the problem is.

If you think about trap value, the analogy would be to the oil industry and their exploration production, but they’re looking for oil wells. What they’re looking for is reservoirs of oil that they can drill a well into and tap. Those create huge amounts of oil return. Now, there is a thing called Shale oil. You can go after it, but it’s a lot more work to get the same amount of oil out of the system. If you have a system that can do it, great, but the bound problem is much more like the oil well than the Shale oil.

Those are two great stories that you shared there, Geoffrey. One is around the success story, and the other is a failure story. Anything else that comes to your mind? You have covered so many of the case studies in your research.

I have a motto, which is whenever you get into trouble, I do think going back to that playbook of picking a high-value use case that’s urgent in a single target segment, even if there’s a little bit of a size mismatch. Maybe you are a big company, and it seems like it’s a small market, but just to get back to winning ways and to get back to establish that you’re the go-to person, if you wanted to get the presidential nomination, winning the New Hampshire primary, there are not that many in New Hampshire.

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies
Chasm Of Technologies: Whenever you get into trouble, pick a high-value use case that’s urgent in a single target segment.

 

Winning the New Hampshire primary makes a difference for the Iowa caucus. The same thing with business. Being number one anywhere is an important road back to health. If you are a startup, being number one somewhere is how you become a going concern. These accountants have this phrase going concern, which is due to what a reasonable person expects you to be in business a year from that. Until you have your first market segment leadership position, I don’t think you’re going to be concerned.

A critical function in the whole go-to-market where you talk about how you identify the problems big enough or not, I do have a bias toward this function because I see myself as a product marketer first, and that’s been my growth. What advice would you give to the product marketing community in identifying the relevant segments if this is a big market that a company should be focusing on?

I’m going to reframe the problem. There are a bunch of good opportunities for most companies with good technology. The problem is when they go to execute it, they lose focus. We had something we ended up calling target market initiatives. My wish is for every product marketing executive would become a world-class expert and what we call the target marketing checklist. It was eight things. I’ll spin them off for you, but they’ll be very familiar to you.

The idea is you want to align your entire enterprise, the field, factory, support people, customer success, marketing, PR, sales team, sales play, the top of the funnel, and the middle of the funnel around the following factors. The first two are who the target customer is and what’s the compelling reason to buy. In other words, that’s true North.

You want to make sure it’s all the things we’ve been talking about. Is it urgent? Is it impactful? Does it get all that good stuff? It got those two. For the next two, we call the whole product and partners analysis. The idea there was, are you bringing the complete solution to this problem to the table? If you don’t, you’re leaving your future to chance. The reality is probably you can’t alone solve 100% of it. Who are the partners and allies that have to show up and interoperate with you in coordination?

If you don’t orchestrate that relationship, you’re leaving your future to chance. That’s a bad idea. A product marketing manager has to get out of the office. Not only do the customers environment, but into the partner ecosystem and say, “If we’re going to solve this problem, by the way, there’s money here for you as well as for us. We’re all going to make money here because there’s a lot of trap value, but we ought to work together. We have to do this in a coordinated way.” Product marketing people don’t normally think about it that way, but you have to.

The next two are called distribution channel and pricing strategy. The idea here is, if you go to that target customer, where do they want to buy from, and how do they want to buy? I know how you want to sell, but I don’t care how you want to sell. It wasn’t a compelling reason to sell. It’s a compelling reason to buy. What’s the channel that they’re going to want to buy from? I like to call it the price of least astonishment.

It’s not a terribly low price. It’s not a terribly high price. By the way, you have to pay off everybody, but it’s your price. You also have to think about what the whole product costs because the customers get a dish out of the whole product. If you don’t get paid or your partner doesn’t get paid, somebody’s going to be very unhappy. You have to have a pricing strategy. It’s not a discounting strategy. People don’t think about heart surgery where there is a coupon for it. They want the right price, but they don’t want a crazy price.

The last two are competition and positioning. The tendency with competition is to think about, “They’re bad, and we’re good.” Don’t do that because if you want to develop this market, your customer needs to see that there’s more than one company that’s investing in this area. The way you position is it’s a clear positioning for tech companies. There are two companies that these customers are going to look at besides the two classes.

One is their current vendor. Why don’t we see if our current vendor can’t solve this problem? What you’re going to say about them is they know you well. They probably know your business, but they don’t have the technology necessary. That’s why you’ve been struggling. You can keep struggling, but you’re just Band-Aiding. The reason you would pick us rather than them is because we have the magic wand.

Conversely, there are other people who have magic wands. Other people do artificial intelligence. Are they good at it? They’re very good at it. What they don’t do is focus on your problem. Basically, the positioning is we live at the intersection of a tough problem where we’ve made ourselves domain experts. They break through technology, which changes the dynamics of that situation, so we can drill the oil well, and that’s why you would pick us. That’s positioning and competition position.

Position yourself to live at the intersection of a tough problem where you've made yourself a domain expert. Click To Tweet

It is amazing the way you broke it down. You probably have a great framework, the target market. I love the way you started with what the problem first is and how big is it. What struck me in the second one is people always think about partner ecosystem as a go-to-market versus the way you help me reframe is you need to bring partners along with you to solve this problem.

As the category of all, once the category gets into what we call Inside the Tornado, once the category takes off, then partners is a distribution strategy because you’re trying to get as much coverage as fast as you can. What we’re talking about prior to that is the market is still forming. One of the things you realize about partners at that stage is that partners will never rescue you. You can never hope that your partner is going to help you.

You have to make a market for the partner. It’s not the partner’s job to make a market for you. Once you’re inside the tornado and the market is made, then the partner will help you extend your distribution capabilities. That will be great, and now you’re copying them for partner-qualified leads and deals, but that’s not what’s going on prior to the tornado.

B2B 58 | Chasm Of Technologies
Chasm Of Technologies: You have to make a market for the partner. It’s not the partner’s job to make a market for you.

 

I completely agree. The a-ha that you brought to me is if I have to turn back in time and go back to the previous roles where I was at, for example, in my previous full-time role where I was hired to bill like a product-led growth go-to-market, the mistakes that we made are becoming even more crystal clear based on what you shared. The emphasis back then to me was, “We made the decision. Figure out any or what way to build a product that grows,” versus understanding who we are targeting. Are they ready for product growth? We’re talking about professional services and home services. Are they the right market for product growth?

No, and that’s one, gamers.

We made the decision to go after this. “Let’s bring partners.”

One of the things you’ll find is if you compensate somebody to recruit partners, you’ll have a lot of partners.

The writing was on the wall. Fast forward 9 or 10 or 12 months, that company couldn’t raise the funds and had to go to a massive round of layoffs.

It’s heartbreaking because, first of all, nobody wakes up in the morning saying, “What stupid decision can I make now?” This is why it’s important to say win or learn. If you do not have a tolerance for losing, then do not be an entrepreneur. You can’t possibly have a perfect record as an entrepreneur. It doesn’t work that way. What you have to be able to do is every time you take one of these hits, they’re painful. This isn’t like, “It’s cool.” This is a real hit. If you ever have to lay somebody off, this is no fun, but don’t lay somebody off and not learn. That’s not okay.

Layoff’s consequences are painful. Not just to that person but even to the family of that person.

Also, leaving customers in the lurch. You certify a partner who invests in your thing, then you leave them in the lurch. There’s a lot of collateral damage in entrepreneurship, and it’s unavoidable. That’s why people don’t like to rush to get on your bandwagon because they’ve seen enough of the carnage to go, “I’d like to see a little more.” This is what creates the chasm. There are a few people who believe in buy-in ahead of the proof points, but most people are saying, “I’ve seen too much carnage. I got to see more success before I play,” which is why this crossing the chasm playbook is a little bit challenging. Also, this playbook has held up for several years. It’s a good playbook.

One final note on this topic is there’s constant pressure, especially coming from the investors and the company, “Keep pushing dolls. Keep pushing your people.” Eventually, the CEO or someone on each team has to say, “I sense your urgency, but we need to pause even if it means like one quarter.” It’s going back to the slowdown to accelerate.

This is a big difference on the way because it’s not just the board now. It’s the financial analyst. It’s everything. Let us talk about the idea. We have a lot of performance metrics for how to evaluate the performance of an enterprise, but we don’t have a lot of good metrics to evaluate the power of an enterprise. What do you mean by power versus performance?

Power is what enables performance. The reason you have success is because you’re more powerful than the competition in the situations that you’re competing in, and you win them. When you win them, and if you win them profitably, you create enough surplus returns. You can invest that performance to fund the next generation of power. People say, “I got it. We have good metrics on the performance side of that wheel. We’ll buy very good metrics.” Did you become more powerful?

Power is what enables performance. You succeed because you're more powerful than the competition in the situations that you're competing in. Click To Tweet

I had an interesting conversation at one point, writing Zone to Win. I wrote it with the team at Microsoft and the team at Salesforce. We’re having a conversation with the team at Microsoft. This was Satyan’s direct report. This is the top of the wheelhouse. I said to him, “First of all, Microsoft’s the most powerful company I’ve ever dealt with, but here’s an important thing. You have lost power every single year of this century.” This was in 2014 when I said this.

They went, “He might be right.” You’re still super powerful, but you’re not more powerful. You’re less powerful. They were in the middle of it already, but that was part of the Azure transition, then it became very clear. Amy Hood, a CFO, said, “We can work with this idea in our annual planning. We can incorporate what Geoffrey said and say we’re still going to be held accountable for performance, but we’re also going to hold you accountable for power. We’ll find ways to do that.” The Azure success is a classic example. That’s the most powerful tool in the toolbox now.

How do you apply or track if a company is building power? Performance is easy.

I have a book called Escape Velocity. In that book, there’s a model we call the hierarchy of powers. The idea was, how do you measure power? There are five powers. The one that was most predictive of long-term success was the next and the next. The most predictive one is what categories you are in. Are you in a category that is growing as a category? The rising tide floats all the boat’s problems. At the time, Microsoft’s example was in PCs, which is a flat category. Their category power was flat and maybe even slightly declining, particularly with respect to mobile. Their company power was ginormous. That was the second one.

Within your category, are you the gorilla or are you the monkey? Markets are organized around leaders, so how powerful are you within your category? That’s a market share play. The next one was market power, which was what we’ve been talking about, which is, “I’m not the gorilla, but in my target market segment, I’m a local gorilla. I’m the gorilla in the niche.” That was market power, but again, it’s share within the target market segment of the use case.

It’s shared because what happens is a little ecosystem organizes around you because you are the local leader, and therefore, they can make money with you. The fourth one is offer power, which is when we stack up your products or your services against your direct competition, who wins? Upper power matters, but only after category power, company power, and market power. The final one is execution power. Do you say what you’re going to do? That’s real, too, but it’s the fifth one.

For now, you think about Oracle Corporation, which has been an iconic corporation in my entire career. Category pair, not really. Company power, yes, but not new. They’re not getting new money. Market power, no. Offer power, no. Execution power is amazing. They have amazing execution power, and that alone is keeping that franchise ahead of their direct competitors.

I know we are almost up against time over here. Thank you. You shared so many frameworks. I need to reread this. I’m sure readers also will reread this so many times. A final question to you is what advice would you give to your younger self if you were to start your career on day one of the go-to-market journey? I know it’s way back in time, but day one. You did share about sales and marketing.

I don’t know if I would tell myself something differently. What I would say is to continue to trust your heart because it was falling apart and be true to your values, then listen to the universe and try to respond. The worst time in my life was when I thought I knew better and I pursued paths that were not successful and not appropriate. I got smacked around a bit, and that was good. You learn.

You had the humility to admit.

As they say in Texas, “When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging.”

When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much, Geoffrey.

My pleasure. I enjoyed it.

I wish you the very best of health and everything.

Thank you very much.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 57 | Sales Potentia

B2B 57 | Sales Potentia

 

Success isn’t just about selling more; it’s about becoming more. In this episode, we tackle all about sales, personal growth, and entrepreneurship with Ian Koniak, CEO and Founder of Unlock Your Sales Potential. Ian generously shares his go-to-market strategy for his coaching program and reveals the three levels of offerings that have driven his business to over two million dollars in just a few years. But as a founder, Ian’s mission goes beyond just boosting sales; he’s all about helping clients become the best versions of themselves. Ian’s approach to business and life can transform not only your sales game but also your overall well-being. As Ian advises in the episode, “Enjoy the ride and make it about other people.” Tune in now and unlock your potential both in sales and personal growth.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Sales, Mindset, And Impact: Unlock Your Sales Potential With Ian Koniak

Thank you once again for taking the time to tune in to this show. It is deeply appreciated. I am deeply grateful for you taking the time and tuning in to this. I have yet another wonderful guest. His name is Ian Koniak. He is the Founder and CEO of Untap Your Sales Potential. As the name implies, he’s a sales guru or sales expert. Without further ado, welcome to the show, Ian.

Thank you. Thanks for having me on. It’s nice to meet you.

Same here. Sales is top of mind for me, for go-to-market practitioners, and for founders, and it’s a critical skill. I’m excited and looking forward to really digging into this topic with you.

I can’t wait. Let’s go.

Let’s get going into the meat of the conversation which is all about how you view and define the go-to-market.

When you think about go-to-market, it’s all of the forces that lead to revenue. When I think about go-to-market, I think about what your distribution channel is. In other words, are you going to sell directly? Are you going to sell through resellers? Are you going to sell online? Are you going to sell in stores? What’s your channel?

I’ll give a brief background. When I started my company, it was several years ago. I was doing a lot of training for companies. I was going to do B2B and I was going to sell training services. I quickly realized that didn’t scale because I was doing the training and I didn’t want to be on the road all the time. There was only so much capacity.

Even if I was doing all the training and potentially hiring other people to help, which they not necessarily give the same level of training that I would having been in the field for twenty years, there was still a cap on growth. That go-to-market strategy was a B2B live training delivery. I shifted. It’s the delivery of the product. It’s the distribution of the product. It’s the marketing of the product. It’s the pricing strategy. It’s all of it.

When I think about go-to-market, it is how you market your products, how you find customers, how you acquire customers, how you serve customers to make sure they renew, how your product specifically meets a unique need in the market, and how you market and position your value proposition so that you are differentiated versus a crowded space in almost any market. That’s how I define go-to-market strategy.

Back to my story, I started with B2B where I was doing live training. I quickly shifted that to delivery online through coaching programs and online courses that scaled at a much greater capacity. I didn’t want a go-to-market strategy that relied on me having to do the work versus being able to build repeatable processes that could attract a lot more people and have them do the work, for example.

You touched upon several key aspects. There is the product piece. In your case, it’s the services and the training, and then how you price it. Who is it really for? What is the value prop, the marketing, the sales, the outreach, and so on? It’s the scaling piece. Something else that you also touched upon is the founder of the entrepreneurial aspect of it. Especially in early-stage companies, it doesn’t matter if it’s a product or service. Those go-to-market principles matter a lot. We’ll dive into those aspects, for sure.

There’s a great book, E-Myth Revisited, that I’m reading. As a founder, you went to a business because you didn’t want to depend on corporate to pay your bills. You didn’t want to have to be beholden to a company or a boss. If you’re a founder and then you’re beholden to your business and your business is controlling you, it’s very easy to repeat the same type of patterns that you had when you were an employee.

B2B 57 | Sales Potential
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

For me, the go-to-market is all about constantly re-evaluating your business, adapting, and changing strategies. I’ve changed strategies in four years since I originally founded my company. I’ve changed strategies 4 or five 5, but it wasn’t like I pivoted completely. I made small pivots that got me towards more of what I wanted. Knowing what you want as the founder, knowing what your goals are, and knowing what you’re trying to deliver to the market is something that constantly needs to be re-evaluated and optimized on an annual basis. That’s important for a founder to think through as well.

For sure. I can relate to it firsthand. I was an employee until about a few years ago. I pivoted into starting my own go-to market. Even within marketing and go-to-market, it was specifically around the product marketing aspect. I had to pivot, so I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying. Early on, it was me wearing multiple hats and I was drowned. This is exactly why I want to escape that whole employee constraint and jailhouse. This time, it’s all about bringing in the right people, even delegating and hiring junior employees for the right things, helping you scale, and addressing the key issue.

That’s exactly right. That’s the point. If you’re the founder who’s doing everything, you are going to do nothing well. Where is your greatness? Delegate and outsource the rest. I have a team of eight people that are supporting me in different capacities. It frees me up to deliver the coaching and deliver the work itself versus having to sell the work and market the work. Even content creation is a huge endeavor for how I attract customers.

If you're the founder who’s doing everything, you're going to do nothing. Click To Tweet

The development of my platform for delivering the actual training itself, all of that’s outsourced. In the beginning, I was doing it. The reason I pivoted is I realized I was creating the invoices for the client. I was creating the content. I was creating the training. I was delivering the training. It was like, “This does not scale at all. It’s not something I want to be in.” I got out of that B2B business a few years ago and pivoted. The business is on track to be an Inc 5000 company by 2024. It has been the best change ever.

As a founder, are you happy? Are you in control? If not, what do you need to change? Who do you need to hire? Maybe you need to take fewer clients. Maybe you need to charge more so that you’re not running ragged. These are all things that I’m thinking about very actively. In January 2024, I’m going to change our entire model again, but it’s not like I’m moving away or abandoning the original vision. The original vision is exactly the same. It’s more about the delivery of that and the scaling and the pricing model. Those things are how I pivot.

I love the fact of how deep we got into that one topic, which is how you view and define go-to-market. It is similar to a product. When you build a product, you need to iterate B1, B2, and so on. It’s the same thing that applies to go-to-market as well. Let’s take a step back here and go bigger picture. Share with the audience as to what brought you to what you’re doing. What is your career story?

I worked at two companies. I sold tech for twenty years. I was an Account Director over at Salesforce, which means I was in charge of growing our largest enterprise accounts. I managed accounts like Activision Blizzard, Experian, Tencent, some pretty large brands for Berkshire Hathaway, and some big brands for Salesforce. I was responsible for selling. I carried my last year with about $20 million in annual revenue. I was managing. I had a team of specialists, engineers, and resources. I was very successful in that space. I made all the clubs and had all the accolades. I made great money.

In 2018, I had a near-death experience. It was a very unique experience. I’ll keep it short. I got stuck on a rollercoaster hanging upside down for 30 minutes. It was pretty gnarly. In that moment of hanging, I thought all of our weight was on this little strap. We were upside down. I thought I was going to tumble. We were about eighteen stories up. We were up 180 feet and I was staring down with one little bar. I was completely stopped. I thought the bar was going to fall or whatever. I didn’t know. It was the scariest moment of my life.

I’m feeling nervous listening to this. I can imagine what you were going through.

It was horrible, but it was also one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. The reason is because in that moment hanging, you have a lot of time to reflect on your life. Your life flashes before you when you think you’re going to die. Those chemicals are rushing through your brain. What I came to was this massive epiphany as I was hanging that my life had been meaningless.

Your life literally flashes before you when you think you're going to die. Click To Tweet

I certainly had worked hard. I certainly had done well at work and had a family. I loved my wife and my son at the time. Now, we have two kids, but at the time, we only had one son. It was like, “If I died now, my entire life would’ve been dedicated to the pursuit of my own ego, my own money, and my own success.” It was all external. It was all about things that I was chasing that were external to me. In other words, there was no legacy, no service, and no impact. It’s like, “What?”

I had all these gifts that I’ve been blessed with. I had the gift of passion, drive, perseverance, resilience, and all these things that made me successful in sales. Yet, I was keeping them to myself solely to make money and sell. It’s that selfish, greedy salesperson. That stereotype, I probably fit that. I didn’t say anything. I started praying. I said, “God, please get me down. I promise I’ll start serving other people. I’m not going to be greedy and selfish. I’m going to use the gifts that You’ve given me to help others.” Nothing happens and I’m like, “God, I’m going to do it right now. Get me down.” At that moment, I kid you not, the ride started going down. When I got down, I was like, “I got to promise to uphold it.”

It was a very spiritual experience for me to have that divine intervention where I realized that my life had been very self-serving and I needed to start giving to others. I got off the rollercoaster and didn’t decide to start Untap Your Sales Potential, but I did decide to start serving other people and share my knowledge, wisdom, and experience with other people. It started with me setting up an Instagram page, then a YouTube channel, then a newsletter, and then some other content. I started speaking at events. I started going on podcasts to give back and help other people.

I was the number one sales rep at Salesforce at the time. A lot of people wanted to know how I could sell millions per year. That was where it all started. It was this desire to help. That evolved into people wanting more than content. They wanted consulting. They wanted coaching. They offered me money. It was like, “Wait a minute.”

One thing led to another and the demand became so high that I eventually left corporate. It made a lot of sense to do something that benefited others and helped society. I could be financially free from depending on other people for my quota, my commission rates, and all the things that salespeople struggle with. When they do well, they raise the quote on you. They lower the commission. They take away your territory. All that was happening while I had this side hustle. I knew that it was time to take the leap. That’s how I got started.

Thank you so much for sharing that story. It’s critical. At some point in time in life, it happens not for all but hopefully, for many. It is that you question whether what you’re doing is “the right thing”. You’re like, “Is it only about me, my family, my money, and my selfish needs?” versus where is that service? Where is the impact? Where is the legacy piece?

I wish everyone would have a near-death experience for this reason because you really think about your life. There are a lot of great books out there that reference this concept. One of them is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In that book, Stephen Covey has you write your own speech at your own funeral. That’s an exercise that’s very eye-opening and powerful because would you have contributed to the world? Would you have followed that dream that you thought about? Did you take a chance or play it safe? These are things that if you’re a founder, you have, at some point, had some of these eye-opening realizations.

B2B 57 | Sales Potential
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Founders are a small percentage of the population. I’d encourage anyone if you have that calling or have that dream to act on it. You don’t need to quit tomorrow. You don’t need to drop everything. Start taking action in serving or helping the person that you once were, in other words, making your message, and helping others like you get past the challenges that you had. When you do that, the world opens up. Opportunities open up and the financial path reveals itself, but you have to take that first step. You can’t keep that as a dormant part of you. I wish that no one gets hurt, but I wish that people come with that type of eye-opening experience that I got to go through a few years ago.

There was something that caught my attention and I want to highlight this for the readers out there. Your approach was not like, “I’m going to quit Salesforce and I’ll figure out what I want to do in terms of legacy and service.” You started putting content out there on Instagram and others around the expertise that you’re known for, which is sales and meeting quota.

Here’s the interesting thing. What I did that first year in 2019, I had no intention of monetizing it. I wanted to start serving people and teaching them what I knew, so it was completely free. I wasn’t doing it out of a selfless go-to-market strategy of promoting my business. This time, it’s very different in terms of my content creation strategy. At the time, it was like, “I’m going to make one video every day.” I said, “I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to make one short video giving a tip of the day.” That’s how I started.

Instagram is not where my ICP lives. My ICP lives on LinkedIn. These are high-performing, high-paid tech sales professionals who use my program or companies that want to train their teams. Fundamentally, I was in the wrong place for clients. Therefore, I didn’t get clients. What I got after a year of posting every day was I got good at being on camera, communicating, and writing.

That translated ultimately when I shifted to LinkedIn. I already had a year of experience doing the strategy that ultimately became one of my go-to-market strategies. It was to create value-added content to bring people into your funnel and attract them to your services. That was the blessing and the gift of giving. I became good at marketing ironically. I make videos for a living. I go on camera and do these newsletters.

By the time I got to LinkedIn, my stuff was blowing up very quickly because I had a year of experience in practicing how to title a video, what to speak to, how to prepare it, and even getting the lighting and the sound right. It works out. Even if you don’t see it, the key is to stay on the path because everything you do in every part of your life is going to serve you in the future even if it doesn’t feel like you know exactly how.

It’s critical that you do it to the best of your ability and embrace where you are because that will come back. Especially as a business owner, all of those skills ended up helping me a lot, even teaching. I was a teacher before I got into sales. I lived in South America and taught English. This time, I’m teaching sales. It all comes back.

It’s all coming back together. What is your routine like? You highlighted that at a very high level. Let’s say you need to prepare a video for LinkedIn, Instagram, or whatever. It’s a 1 to 2-minute video. What is your routine and mindset like?

They’re longer videos. I’m doing a long format. In my first year, I was doing these Instagram Shorts, Reels, or whatever they’re called. This time, I do training videos. That’s one very small part of my go-to-market strategy, but it’s one that’s been consistent and I still do. It’s simple. I’ll give you the routine for preparing the content, and I’ll give you the routine for distributing the content and how it all feeds into the sales growth.

Preparing the content is very simple. It is whenever I have inspiration, whether it’s on a run, whether it’s talking to my wife, or whether I’m talking to a client and they tell me something that I’m like, “This is the third time I’ve heard this. I need to make a video on it.” I’m always tuning into content creation ideas. What I do is on my iPhone, because inspiration can strike anywhere, I have one note. Every time I get an idea, it’s like, “Make a video on this.”

I have one that’s ready and teed up. The title of the note is Sales Trainings. I have, “What Is the Meaning of Life?” It’s powerful. I then have in the notes, “Make the most of what God gave You.” It’s putting your gifts, your stories, and your experience to the service of others. I’m going to talk about how you can do that and give a framework for how other people can do that. That’s the first step. It is to capture the idea.

The second step is before I make the video, I’ll take a sticker and an index card and write the key points in the video. I’m not scripting a video. I’m writing the bullets I want to cover because I want them to be authentic. I want it to be a natural. There’s then the filming of the video in which you have to get the lighting right and you want to get the sound right. That’s pretty standard. You could do it on the iPhone. Get a little tripod, a mic, and a ring light and you have everything you need to make a professional-quality video.

It’s then the distribution. Here’s where the tricky thing comes in. One video can be used multiple times. That’s the beautiful thing. What I’ll do is make this video. I’ll record it typically towards the end of the week. I’ll block off time to make the video. Once it’s made, then I’ll write a blog that accompanies the key pillars that I talk about in the video. I won’t tell them everything. I’ll tell them enough and say, “Watch the video if it resonates with you.” I’ll tease it out.

That blog goes into a content document that my virtual assistant grabs and posts to a newsletter that has over 10,000 subscribers, a YouTube channel that also has almost 5,000 subscribers, LinkedIn, and a blog page. I created it once and it’s distributed in four places. There’s the blog because it drives SEO. If someone types the topic, it will drive the SEO traffic. There’s YouTube because that’s a whole channel where a lot of people live and consume my content. LinkedIn is by far the biggest.

Everything’s pointing them to the YouTube video. In the newsletter, I want them to click and watch the video. On LinkedIn, I want them to click and watch the video. In the blog, it’s the same thing as well as YouTube itself. There’s the blog, YouTube, LinkedIn, and email newsletter. I have four distribution channels that all got hit up. If they’re not on LinkedIn and they don’t see that post, they’re going to see the email. If they don’t see the email, they’ll see the popup on YouTube. You want to publish once and distribute many places, but it doesn’t stop there.

I have a video editor that slices up the long-form video and does two shorts from it. We have two more short videos on my YouTube channel. If they didn’t see the main one, they could see those shorts. Those shorts are also distributed via my Instagram page and my TikTok page, which I’ve never logged into. With all this content, I don’t want to be on social media. I don’t want to be messing around there. I want to be delivering my coaching services.

I have a VA who is setting up the distribution. I have a video editor who’s making these shorts and distributing them to TikTok and Instagram all from about an hour it took to write the video, record it, and then put it into this folder where the VA grabs it. That’s how you scale content creation. What happens naturally is people start watching my video.

There is one more thing. Anyone who requests a connection request from me on LinkedIn, which is my main source of traffic and my main thing, or anybody who connects with me, my VA sends a standard message to them. It says, “Thanks for requesting to connect. If you’re looking to grow sales, there are two ways I can help you. Number one is to subscribe to my newsletter. You get a free training video every single week every Tuesday morning. There’s also my YouTube. If you want to see the past archive, here it is. Subscribe there.”

I have over 50,000 connections on LinkedIn and all of them are also getting this. Maybe 1/10 of them subscribe and my newsletter is 10,000 as well as my video. It’s this constant flywheel that is created from this content strategy. That’s how I’ve gotten most of my clients. It drives them to book a call. When they get the newsletter, they have a welcome series. They get to book a call. They learn about the program. The audience-building has been my dominant strategy for this.

What you shared are the tactics and the mechanics of what you do. Something I want to go big picture and highlight over here is if you rewind and go back a few years, you didn’t have any clue about doing all these things. You didn’t know what you were going to do. What drove you to do the aspiration and the mindset of giving guided you into learning.

It forced me. It was not a decision. Forced is a good word. I was powerless. It was all I could think about in the shower when I woke up. It was a calling. If you’re a founder and you have a calling, if you let that calling guide you, when the why is strong enough, AKA, “I don’t want to die with being selfish and not giving back to the world,” then the how is going to reveal itself. It’s all about keeping that fire burning. That’s why I still do podcasts.

My work has fortunately gone very well where my supply-to-demand ratio, and we can talk about this, is completely off where I have more demand than I can supply because I’m the bottleneck in delivering this stuff. The same problems come to repeat themselves even if you change the strategy. It’s a good problem to have. It’s coming from a place of service.

Every time I’ve come from a place of service and try to make clients successful, the clients have naturally gravitated because they see that heart of intention versus a heart of like, “This is for us, not for you.” If people feel that in sales or they feel that from a founder, they’re going to not want to work with you. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s first and foremost. You have to care about the success of your clients as a core tenant for your business.

You have to care about the success of your clients as a core tenet for your business. Click To Tweet

Let’s maybe come down into more of your services aspect. Who are your ICPs, and what are your offers and services like?

My business is a coaching business. Think about a B2C model. Primarily, that’s the bulk of my revenue. Occasionally, I’ll do B2B, but the bulk is B2C. My ICPs are tech salespeople who are making between $100,000 and $300,000 per year and want to get to the elite level of sales and make between $500,000 and $1 million.

They’re struggling with how to make the leap from a transactional seller to a strategic seller. They’re struggling with time management and how to prioritize and plan their day. Their day tends to overtake them. They’re struggling with mindset, how to stay in the game, and how to stay focused and driven in an industry that can be exhausting, demanding, and stressful. Those are the people that I serve.

I’m curious. The ICP that gravitated towards you and you gravitated towards were the people who made $300,000 to $500,000 and who are looking to graduate and go even higher into the business club and so on. What about those sellers who are very green or founders who are looking to build and improve their sales skills to build in pipeline and revenue?

I don’t serve a lot of founders in general. I can, but it’s more about advisory services. If a founder wants to learn to sell and learn the basics of strategic selling, how to put together a proposal, and how to negotiate, they can take my course. The founder has to run the business. They have to know how to hire, put the right people in place, manage delivery, and manage marketing. They’re wearing so many hats as a founder.

If they want to learn the fundamentals and basics of sales, that’s probably not my program. My program is more geared towards strategic selling. In other words, you’re selling a very large ticket item. You’re selling something that’s transformational in nature. I have a lot of people from Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. That’s the green founder.

If you’re a founder and you don’t have any sales skills, you’re going to have a lot of challenges. Bring in a good salesperson because you can be great. You can look at Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. You can be a great technical founder with great engineering skills and have a sales leader who has those sales skills that offset. That might be something you delegate because learning it all from scratch and being great takes a long time and a lot of effort.

I’ll let you speak to the green salesman. The founder, especially in B2B, needs to close. It’s going to be founder-led sales initially until they’re ready and they have the cash to bring in to the head of sales. What is your thought process around that?

If you’re a founder and you’re selling initially, you’re almost going to have natural conversations with people about them and what they need. It’s going to happen naturally versus setting up a scalable sales playbook. The founder is the best salesperson in the company. If they can’t sell the product to someone who’s very interested or in their network, there’s a bigger problem. Founder-led sales naturally are almost unstructured. They have a conversation. They figure out what the needs are. They work together. They make it happen. It’s like selling to a friend almost.

B2B 57 | Sales Potential
Sales Potential: If you’re a founder and you’re selling initially, you’re almost going to have natural conversations with people about them and what they need. It’s going to happen naturally versus setting up a scalable sales playbook.

 

I used to do founder sales training. I called it advisory services. That’s what I did. I was teaching them how to sell, but it wasn’t just teaching them how to sell. I find that, naturally, a lot of founders know how to sell. It’s more about how to scale sales. That’s the stuff that we worked on. I quit that business. I had three businesses when I started. I had the B2B training, the advisory services for founders, and this B2C coaching online, Untap Your Sales Potential. I closed the advisory and B2B to do Untap Your Sales Potential because my revenue quadrupled.

If founders are looking to improve their sales and learn the fundamentals, that’s fantastic. It’s a great skill to do. Ultimately, you don’t want to be in every deal. You want to be able to have a product that has a great product market fit. You want to have great customer results. You want to let the marketing flywheel do its thing. You want to drive leads to a sales team. You don’t want to be doing the sales as a founder. Even though I’m very skilled at selling, I do not want to be selling because it’s not the best use of my time. I quickly hired a head of sales, and it’s been one of the best things that could ever happen. I could focus on working on the business versus in the business.

If you’re early on and you need those sales skills, I would say to take a course and maybe get some coaching. If you’re interested in my coaching, working one-on-one is probably the best way to do it. Here’s where founders suck at sales. They talk about their product. They show demos. It’s all about features. It’s awful. I’ve seen it over and over again. They talk. Selling is all about listening. Selling is all about understanding where the client’s problems lie, where their challenges are, what their goals are, and what they’re trying to accomplish.

The founder who comes in shows up, shows demos, and goes deep is going to fail because they don’t understand what the client even cares about or why they care. The key is to understand the problems you solve. The key is to understand what your unique way of solving is. What’s the impact of these problems on a business? What does your persona want as far as their desired outcomes? Where are they struggling? What’s happening in the market? You’re way better off spending more time with that and speaking to the customers as to whether they face those problems or challenges or if they have these issues that your company solves versus demoing your stuff. It’s all backward. You don’t do the demo.

B2B 57 | Sales Potential
Sales Potential: The key is to understand the problems you solve.

 

You covered the point early on where you said typically, in founder-led sales, they are naturally having those conversations. It’s almost like friends talking to each other. They’ll be good at it. Once they hit that early product market fit, that’s when they’ll be bringing in the head of sales to build a sales playbook and structure that sales.

That’s exactly what I was trying to say. The founder doesn’t need sales training. They can work on the whole business and then bring salespeople. That’s why I don’t necessarily work with founders because when I started that advisory, I found out they needed so much more. They needed the email talk tracks. They needed the web forms. They needed the whole go-to-market playbook. It wasn’t the selling skill. They knew how to talk to customers. That’s exactly what you’re saying. We’re saying the same thing. If you’re a founder who wants to improve your sales, go to UntapYourSalesPotential.com and book a call. A few one-on-one coaching sessions would be very helpful in helping you develop, but that’s really not my core.

For those founders that are maybe already reading, is that yearly or custom-built?

When I say early, I mean probably you’re over $1 million dollars trying to get to $5 million, somewhere in that range. If you are brand new, it’s too early. It depends on their product, too. If it’s a tech founder in tech sales, I’m going to be a great fit. If you’re selling a company that makes tables, I’m not. I know how to sell technology and software. I don’t know how to sell real estate. I don’t know how to sell mortgages. I don’t know how to sell T-shirts.

For any founder who wants to accelerate quickly, you want to find an advisor who has done exactly what you did or that you want to do and pay them good money for advisory services. Have someone on your board. Have someone coaching you. Spend at least, if you can, $5,000 a month or $10,000 and get good advisory help.

That’s what I did. I had advisors that helped me build a brand. I was following somebody else’s playbook that did this long before me. I did what they said and it worked. That’s my highest recommendation for anyone reading. Find an expert and invest your time and money in getting their advice. It accelerates everything because they’ll give you all the blind spots that you don’t even know about.

Find an expert and invest your time and money in getting their advice. It just accelerates everything because they'll give you all the blind spots that you don't even know about. Click To Tweet

Coming back to your ICP, which is that sales leader or salesperson who’s doing maybe $200,000, $300,000, or $500,000 and who’s looking to up their game and be more strategic, can you share a success story of someone who was in your program and what were they like before and then after?

There are so many of them, but there is one that comes to mind. His name is David. He and I spoke not long ago. He had made more money in his first 6 months working with me, and he signed up in January 2023, than he did in any 1 year prior. That was through the first six months. He’s over his quota. He is over his plan. He bought a farm. He has a side business.

It’s a few sets of skills. I can’t go to every single skill on one call, but it’s about knowing how to talk to and connect with senior executives. That’s a big blind spot for salespeople. What we focused on was getting higher up. He sold shipping software. He was talking to shipping managers, but shipping managers weren’t the main folks that he needed to talk to. We pivoted towards the CFO conversation. He talked about how shipping costs were out of control and that there was a better way to go about it to standardize. Once he started getting with the finance and the CFOs, his deals moved a lot quicker and they got a lot bigger. That’s one example. He’s had tremendous success.

Another guy I talked to, Sean O’Kane, he and I worked together. He ended up moving from a small startup to Google Cloud. He had an incredible offer, the best of his career. He used a lot of the skills that I taught him about how to engage with executives and sell. He shared that during his interview process and outlasted 30 applicants for the same role. He ended up getting it. He said, “I wouldn’t have done it without you.” A lot of my coaching is one-on-one where I’m helping them with their environment.

You asked me about my go-to-market strategy for my offering. The way that I’ve scaled my business to over $2 million annually in a couple of years is that I have 3 levels of offerings. I have what’s called Bronze Offering, which is an online course. That online course is $3,000 a year. It is the most comprehensive sales training course that exists globally in terms of the breadth and depth of content.

It took me over a year to record that. You’ll see it is 28 hours of training and content. If you go to UntapYourSalesPotential.com/Bronze, it goes through every single part of how to be a strategic seller from the mindset to the habits to territory planning, account planning, messaging, prospecting, video creation, email creation, and research. It has everything. It didn’t exist before. I wanted to get an MBA for strategic selling.

I built that, and that comes in every day. I get a notification like, “Someone bought Bronze.” Once it’s built, it’s done. That’s like writing a book, but it’s not a $20 book. It’s a $3,000 course that promises to deliver complete and unmatched selling skills as well as general living skills. The mindset and habit things apply to more than sales. It’s how you manage your day. It’s how you can be the best husband, father, or partner.

If you’re a founder and you’re working eight hours a week, everything else is going to implode. You might have a business, but you’ll have nothing else. You won’t have your health. You won’t have your family. I cover a lot of that in the program including how to manage your day, how to set boundaries, and prioritizing what’s most important. I have two young kids and a wife. I am very healthy. I ran two marathons. How do you do all of it? That’s what this course is all about. It’s very comprehensive.

My go-to-market strategy was I wasn’t going to teach one skill. I was going to teach the entire set of skills that people need to be successful. I know it’s one of your questions. It’s the combination of mindset, habits, and strategic selling skills. That is my unique differentiator. That’s one offering called self-service. You do it.

The middle offering is called Silver. You do it with me. That’s a group of people that we meet every single week. We go through the content and apply it together. They also have accountability pods where they do the workbooks with their peers. We have guest speakers and guest trainers come on. We are together every single week for live training, every other week for office hours, and once a month for a guest trainer. All they need to do is show up and they can do it together with me. They can ask questions. They have access to me. They have office hours. That goes to $9,000 a year. It goes from $3,000 to triple.

$9,000 a year, for a lot of people, they may be like, “That’s a lot.” It’s not when you’re thinking about your on-target earnings being $250,000 and you’ve only been making $200,000. Even if you get to your plan, you 5X the revenue of what you paid for it. This guy has made way more than he has ever made. He’s tracking $300,000. He made $150,000 any other year. He paid my gold level, $18,000, and made back $150,000. That’s how you have to look at these offerings. It’s how much value.

If someone told you you paid $18,000 and you’ll get $100,000 back, you’re going to say, “That makes a lot of sense.” I can’t guarantee that because they have to do the work. They have to apply it. At the end of the day, I know that if they go through it, show up, and do what I tell them, it’s going to work because it has worked for my clients. It worked for me and it continues to work. That’s the mid-level. We do it together.

The highest level is the gold level where it’s $18,000 a year. I do it for you. This is one-on-one. They give me their product and I help them with the messaging. I help them write the emails. I help them do the research. I show them how to plan their day, schedule their time, and how to prioritize. I’m doing one-on-one sessions with my clients. That’s the one that has been the most taxing on me, frankly, because I have so much demand for that gold level that I can’t fulfill so I’m thinking about hiring other coaches.

The waitlist is over 90 days. It’s a great problem to have, but I’m trading time for money. I’m giving my own one-on-one time. That’s a bottleneck. You could only have so many coaches. What I’m thinking of doing is taking my methodology in what I do in these one-on-ones and making it a program where other coaches who’ve gone through my program could learn how to be a coach and follow this training. That’s a whole big investment of time, energy, and empowering other people. That’s the next level of how you scale. You train coaches in your unique approach and methodology to be able to do that. That’s one idea of how to scale. Those are the three levels.

The gold level has one-on-one access. They also do live events. We have retreats that we go to with all the gold members. We do masterminds. We get everyone together for 2 or 3 days and we learn from each other. We bring in guests and have fun. We go on hikes and do all kinds of cool activities to break the pattern or do some pattern interruption and get them creatively thinking about what they can do differently once they leave that event. That’s more of a personal development or personal transformation for the highest level of gold. That’s my go-to-market strategy.

It sounds fun, especially for the highest level. If you’re reading and you’re committed and serious about upping your sales game and becoming more strategic, check out Untap Your Sales Potential. I don’t get any commissions in saying this, but it’s more for purely seeing your passion, the impact that you had, and your career track record. That’s what it is all about.

If you invest in your job, you make a living. If you invest in yourself, you make a fortune. If you’re always getting better, you’re always improving yourself. If you’re always aware of your blind spots, working on them, and surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, that’s the secret. That is the way. I continue to do this to this day. I’ve been investing in myself for over seven years and it gets better because I get better. You’re building your capacity to grow versus being in the business, delivering, not growing, and honestly feeling like you’re underwater half the time.

We’re switching gears a bit over here. It’s super helpful for all the audience who are looking up their sales game. If I were to peek in and try to understand the business owner mindset, how are you approaching your day-to-day or week? How are you thinking about business and business building?

My general philosophy is do not build the infrastructure before you have the demand. If I think about my business, I don’t use a lot of fancy technology for a CRM, for example, an ERP, or financial. This is a great question. It’s a deep question. Let me break it down. When I think about myself as a business owner, the first question I’m asking is, “What do I want my clients to achieve? Is it that I want them to sell more?” It’s not. That’s an outcome that they’ll get if they join the program.

A big part of the marketing is to make $500,000 to $1 million selling software. That’s not what I want for them. What I want for them is to become the person they’re capable of becoming. I want them to be their best self. Success is the joy you feel in the pursuit of your full potential. My program is called Untap Your Sales Potential, but it’s really about untapping your full potential.

In fact, something that I do with a lot of clients is going through a moral inventory. We go through and look at areas that they don’t feel good about, the things that they’re doing in their life. Maybe they’re spending too much time on their phones when they get home and they’re not present with their children. Maybe they are drinking too much at night. Maybe they’re doing things that they’re not proud of and they don’t feel good about. Part of what I do is the first thing is we remove a lot of those things, which creates more space to let the creative juices flow. Principle number one is about what you stand for. What do you want as your core deliverable? What I want is for everybody to pursue and to be all-in in being the best they can be.

Do you have KPIs and metrics? I completely agree and see where you’re going with this. It is not just changing your sales game, but growing you as a person. That’s what you’re trying to do. When it comes to you, the business owner, do you have metrics in the transformation? How do you approach this?

I’ve started doing surveys when they join. I capture where they’re at, what they are making, where their challenges are, and what their pain points are. I do a midpoint survey, and then I do an end-of-program survey. I want to see whether they made more money. I get it, but you’re not making more money unless you’re changing what you’re doing. That is the metric. It’s not what I want.

It is to make more money as an outcome of the change.

That is the KPI. KPIs are measurable. You can’t say, “Do you feel happier?” but I do ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you with your life right now?” If they went from a 3 to an 8 and they told me why, I’m like, “This is the deal.” There are a lot of metrics that I’m measuring as a business owner that I want to see. One is income. The second is adoption. I know if they go to the Zoom calls, attend the events, participate in the pod, and show up every week, they’re going to get results. If they’re not logging into the program, they’re not taking the course, and they’re not showing up, they’re not going to get the results.

I have automation set up to remind them to come in, to join, and to log in because they’re not going to renew if they don’t participate. If they do participate, they’re going to renew. That’s how it goes. It’s not that they invested with me for a year. It’s that they had so much success that they want to continue because they don’t want to lose what got them there.

For a coaching program that charges what I charge, that is almost impossible. To have people say, “I’m going to pay $18,000,” and then do it again is rare, especially when it’s a 12-month program, but that’s what’s happening. It’s happening over and over again because they see such significant results in not only sales but also their life.

The second metric is renewal percentage. What percent of people renew? My goal is to get half the people to renew. If I get half my people to renew, that is recurring revenue. It’s not like they’re using the software to run their business. This is them having to show up and go to Zoom and having to work on themselves. It’s not going to be the same metrics you see in a SaaS company, but having a 50% renewal for a coaching program is unheard of in the industry that I’m in. It’s 10% or 15%. For me to be at 50%, that is the second most important metric. Did they improve their income? Are they happier? Did they renew with me?

The third is did they tell their friends? It’s the CSAT. A lot of them have had such a great experience that they can become affiliates. That’s part of my go-to about market distribution. If they become an affiliate, then I’ll pay them 10% of anyone they refer over in addition to the commissions I pay my salesperson. It’s a lower margin for me, but I want them to have a side hustle. I want them to be able to make money if they’re sharing referrals. That’s another one. Are they referring people? Did they give a testimonial that’s public? If you go to UntapYourSalesPotential.com/Testimonials, we have nearly all of our students give testimonials because they’ve had a great experience. If they’re not willing to give a testimonial, something happened. That’s another one.

I have my sales rep. I’m going to hire a customer success manager. They’re going to do onboarding to make sure they all get them with the program. They’re going to do surveys to make sure they go. They’re going to make sure the accountability pods are set up. I do want to make sure. My goal is adoption. In driving adoption, I know the outcome of renewal and outcome of the revenue growth is going to come and they’re going to make more money. People get busy. They sign up and don’t utilize it. How do we nudge them and get them to use what they bought? That, to me, is the next level of client success. It’s having somebody handhold them to make sure they get the full value of the program.

I love the way you’re thinking and building your go-to-market. It’s very similar to a SaaS product company. Are your products effective? Are they useful? Are the customers happy? You’re measuring more than the satisfaction. The first is adoption. Once the adoption metrics are good, then you look at the renewals and then the referrals.

Each person has a comprehensive profile. You have to remember. I came from Salesforce. I spent nine years at a SaaS company at the highest level. I know what product-led growth is. I know what adoption does. I’m not coming to this entrepreneurial journey with a blind idea. I know firsthand that when customers use the products the way that they’re supposed to, they’re going to get value as long as you have a good product and as long as it works. My product works.

For me, getting the product right, in other words, building the actual content, the videos, and the training that was effective and giving templates, workbooks, and guidelines was foundational. I had to get the right product. It is then about how you drive adoption. That was more about onboarding, giving welcome series emails, and even some intelligence built into the product. If they don’t log in, for example, in a period of 30 days to the portal, they get a notification and a nudge saying, “We haven’t seen you in a while. Make sure you do it.”

I had a customer experience designer who helped me build out the welcome series, the journeys, and the notifications. It was very much built with customer success as the foundation and as the core pillar of the business, which is crucial for success long-term in a business. I still operate that way. That guides me every day. That’s why I do what I do. It’s back to the rollercoaster story.

We talked about go-to-market in so many variations and so many flavors. It all boils down to the customer problem and then the success of the customer. I know you have a hard stop here. The final question for you is if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I started at Ricoh. It’s hard. Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in regret. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to. My core belief is that the mistakes you make and the failures you make are teachings. You don’t want to do that again because you know how it feels. When I go back and give myself advice, I might say, “Don’t make it all about the money. Make it about your customers.”

It took me making it all about the money to realize that this wasn’t the way that I was going to find fulfillment and inner peace. I would say to myself, “Enjoy the ride. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself where you’re always chasing and always going and you can’t enjoy where you are because you’re forcing everything. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy your twenties. Have fun. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I put so much pressure on myself. To some extent, I still do, but it’s not the same level. It’s more about I know that the business can always do better and I want to make sure my clients are getting the full value. It’s a pressure that’s driven towards helping versus a pressure that’s driven towards succeeding and making money. I would tell myself, “Enjoy the ride. Make it about other people. Stop beating yourself up every day.”

Enjoy the ride, make it about other people, and stop beating yourself up every day. Click To Tweet

This was a great conversation. I love the energy, the passion, and your mindset of pure impact and helping others. Good luck to you and your team. Have a great year ahead.

Thank you. It was great talking to you. Take care.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success

 B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success

 

Gong is a revenue intelligence platform enabling revenue teams to realize their full potential by unveiling customer reality. Today, Gong’s Chief Evangelist, Udi Ledergor, shares his secret to leading others to success. As a B2B marketing executive, Udi has showcased his expertise in leading the Super Bowl ad success. He delves into product marketing, and the product marketing’s role is to tell the company story. Join Udi in this insightful episode and see how he and Gong will help pave the path for your success.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Leading Others To Success: Building And Scaling Your Marketing Operations With Udi Ledergor

I have the pleasure of hosting Udi Ledergor, who is the Chief Evangelist at Gong. I’m sure that if you are in the B2B go-to-market and marketing world, you have come across and heard of Udi. Without any elaborate introductions, let’s get right in. Welcome to the show, Udi.

Thanks, Vijay. I’m excited to be here.

This is how I always open the show with a guest, and everyone likes to get right to the topic, which is, how do you view and define go-to-market?

Go-to-market is the process by which a company identifies its target audience. They understand the value that they’re bringing that target audience and how to deliver that value to the target audience. In other words, who are we selling to? What are we selling them? How are we going to sell this?

I like the way and how we emphasize that it all starts with the audience. You didn’t talk about any of the internals or the intricacies that have to happen on the company side, which is the product, marketing, sales, and customer success. You left it out, although it’s understood you are referring to those functions.

Form follows function. If you start with who’s going to report to whom and what we are doing internally, we might miss the bigger questions of who are we selling to, what we are selling them, and how they want to buy from us. If we figure that out, we can build the right org structure, hire the right people, and build the right product to deliver that value.

It all starts with the persona, the people, the segments, and the problems. It all starts and ends there. Everything else is helping the persona to address their problems.

That’s where the elusive product-market fit happens. Many companies fail to find product market fit there. There are multiple reasons that this can happen. One of them is that they were obsessed with building a solution. They’re searching for a problem that that solution solves. Sometimes, they’ll find it, but often they won’t. The other way around, where companies obsess about a problem and look for the best way to solve that problem is usually a more direct line into product market fit and a product you can sell.

I would love to get into that specific topic. Before this call, I was with another founder who built a successful company. They’re still in the early days for several years. They grew from 0 to 400 customers. They raised $18 million in funding. It comes back to what you mentioned, which is the focus on the problems and the people and continuous focus on that. Let’s go to the big picture. Let’s go broad enough. How about you share your career story and journey with our readers and what got you to what you’re doing now?

The first relevant memory would be, as a teenager, I was doing a summer internship in my father’s office, who was working at a big tech/IT company in Israel where I grew up. I saw a bunch of people slouching over their computers, typing away. I thought, “What a boring job. I’m never going to go into tech.” Those are famous last words.

I always loved the performing arts. I dabbled in magic, music, lighting, sound, and everything you can imagine in between. Marketing is the perfect grownup job for someone like me who loves putting on a show, creating an experience, and experiencing that bridge between all the sometimes complicated, messy stuff that goes on in the back to create this clean, simple-looking experience on the outside.

Magicians and musicians do that. When the best of them do it, it sounds and looks effortless. That’s what great marketing looks like. It is when you create a beautiful, simplified experience for your audience where you can simplify complex technology into a simple use case of “Why should I care about this?” You make it seem easy and obvious that, “How did not someone think of this earlier?” That’s how I got into tech or what pulled me in.

Great marketing is creating a beautiful, simplified experience for your audience where you can simplify complex technology. Click To Tweet

In practice, I served in the Israeli military for several years, as most Israelis do, at least back in my day. Towards the end of my service, I was contacted by a company that had won an RFP with the Israeli military to build a simulator for a rocket system that I was an expert on at the time. They were looking for a product manager to be the domain expert and help them build a simulator that closely resembles the operational system. I happened to be the right person in the right place. I interviewed and got the job. That was my first job in tech.

From there, I started exploring all the different things and functions. I taught myself programming. I went along to meetings with the sales manager. I sat around the engineers to see what they were up to. I built prototypes and dabbled with everything. While doing the engineering stuff was fun, challenging, and interesting, I found myself enjoying customer interactions more than anything else.

Fast forward a couple of positions later, I continued in product management for several years. While I was doing that at a company that did not have a fully-fledged marketing function, I proposed building the marketing function myself. I went to my CEO at the time after several years of being a product manager, and I said, “It’s time we build a complete marketing function, and I have the guy for you. I want to take on that job.” He agreed.

After I had hired and trained someone to replace me as the product manager, who happens to be the CEO of that company now, I moved on and became the first VP of Marketing. From there, I did rinse and repeat. I found myself at five different companies as the first marketer. I always sub twenty employees. That’s my sweet spot. I want to come in when there are a lot of things to figure out. I like scaling things that I build myself in those early stages.

I was fortunate to join five startups based in Israel selling globally. We took a couple of them public, got a couple of them acquired, and for the last several years, I’ve been with Gong, which is the third time I’ve worked with my CEO, Amit Bendov. I’ve worked with him at two previous companies over the last several years. When people ask me how I got this dream job, I say, “He called me and asked me if I’m able to help. I said yes. That’s how I got the job.” There are no heroic stories there. I’m building a good relationship and hopefully proving I was valuable in previous roles.

In the last several months, I’ve been the Chief Evangelist. I’ve passed the baton of managing the marketing team to an awesome new CMO that we hired, Brian. I am now focusing on lots of thought leadership and speaking opportunities like what we’re doing here. I’m running an influencer program. I’m taking executive alignment calls to show other executives how I use Gong as an executive myself and enjoying this new phase of my journey at Gong.

Thanks for that CliffNotes version. I’m sure there are lots of ups and downs in there, but something that caught my attention when I was looking up your LinkedIn profile is this interesting and intriguing title, which is Simulator Specialist. That’s what you’re referring to in building simulators for rocket technology.

That was what I was doing. I’m not a rocket scientist, but I am a rocket specialist. I couldn’t find a better title than simulator specialist. In hindsight, everything I was doing was a product management role. I was bringing the user knowledge and preferences to the engineering team and telling them what they should create. It looks to be like the real rocket system that they were simulating. I might go back and change that to product manager at some point, although simulator specialist is a little more intriguing.

It is a conversation starter. You’re simplifying and not giving yourself too much credit, but something that stands out if I or anyone else were to look at your career is how you pick and choose the right startups because that’s where the real formula is. What was your formula in picking those 3, 4, and 5 startups?

I’m happy to go into that. I had a few successes and less exciting choices that I made that I learned something from. The number one thing that I look for that has usually guided me in the right direction is the right leadership. If I had prior knowledge with the leader, like I did when I joined Gong, that would’ve been enough because this is the third time working with Amit. I’ve been working with him on and off for several years. I have well over several years of directly reporting to him. He’s the best leader and manager I’ve ever worked for. If tomorrow he went and started some not-for-profit social impact NGO, I’d probably join him there.

Leadership is where you can’t go wrong. The first time I went to work for him, I asked a mutual friend about him. He said, “You should go work for him because everyone who’s ever worked for him says wonderful things about him.” That was helpful. Do your due diligence on the leaders you’re going to work for. As a reminder, even if you’re in an early stage, fear the later stage in your career. You should be interviewing the company no less than they are interviewing you. If you’re going to commit most of your waking hours for the next several years to the company, it’d better be somewhere with people and a problem you enjoy working on. Hopefully, you are doing some good for the world.

B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success
Leading Others To Success: Leadership is where you can go wrong. So, do your due diligence on the leaders you will work for.

 

Leadership is number one by far. To generalize that a little bit, I’ve seen more success working with second-time founders or executives who’ve done some meaningful roles before the role that I worked for them. I’ve had some of my more questionable experiences with first-time founders who were young, never had a meaningful position, and what they thought was a great idea and wanted to build a company around it.

Sometimes, the idea was great. Sometimes, it was not great, but their people skills were green. They could be challenging to work with. You can expect that from a lot of first-time founders who have never built an organization and think that having great ideas is enough, but it turns out that the day-to-day job is a lot about motivating people, giving them a sense of purpose, hiring great people and continuing to build the company that way. That’s a little bit about leadership.

Two is looking for product market fit. This is a big one. As a marketer, I excel by having something to work with where there’s an initial product-market fit, and I can go scale that. As soon as we have a product that a certain group of people think is valuable, it solves a painful problem, and they have the budget and authority to buy that solution, I can bring lots more people like that. I’ll find the ways and build an image strategy, brand, and category if I need to. I’ll bring those people to buy the product. If we don’t have that minimum of initial product market fit, we don’t know who we’re selling to, and we don’t know what value we’re bringing them, how can marketing succeed?

I have seen failure both personally and with many talented marketers around me who come into a company without doing their diligence on product-market fit or maybe had a misleading picture of what that product-market fit looks like. We’re all bound to fail. Marketing cannot fix product market fit unless there’s a strong basis there. It’s clearly in marketing’s mandate. If you’re not a product person and you’re not looking to create the right product for the market, but you want to do the core marketing of creating demand gen and bringing people to buy that product, you’ve got to ensure that there’s early product market fit.

There are ways of getting hints of that. If it’s already a product with some sales and not an early stage, there should be reviews up on G2. There should be customer testimonials. You can ask to speak to a couple of customers and see how crucial the product is to their day-to-day, how they use it, and how happy they are with it.

If the product is terrible, people are probably writing bad reviews about it. If they love it, they are writing great reviews about it. You can ask to speak with investors of the company and see what got them excited about investing in that company. Speak to other employees and see what got them excited and what they were surprised about after they started working. Was it better, worse, or the same as what they thought it would be?

Do your diligence and make sure you know where you’re coming from because nothing is worse than leaving a job or celebrating a new job. Several months later, you are discovering things are not as you thought, not as you were told, and you wish you’d done that due diligence. It’s way easier to do it before than be surprised after. I talked about leadership and product market fit. I would also look, especially at times like this, at things like runway. Assuming this is an early-stage startup, it’s early to discuss profitability but understand what the sales trajectory is. If they haven’t started yet, yes, this may be a huge opportunity, but it’s also a huge risk.

If sales have started, what have they been? What’s the trend in the last several quarters? How much money have we raised? When do we need to raise more? How inclined are existing investors to give us more money? If we need new investors, what metrics are we coming up with that are going to get them excited about joining the company? All these are valid questions for anyone joining a startup. If you’re going to risk your best years, reputation, and livelihood for a company, they should be upfront with you about all these things.

Thank you so much for enlisting those. The three things, if I have to echo, first is around leadership, second is around product-market fit, and third is around the runway. I wish I had reached out to you earlier in my career because I didn’t do the due diligence. I know many others in my network who haven’t done that. That was one of the reasons why I prompted this topic, especially in this hard or even improving economic situation. People are still looking out there for new jobs. I want to give this piece of advice to you. Thank you for sharing that. On a lighter note, how do your family members, or even your friends, describe or view what you do in your corporate role?

I was looking at the question, and I was smiling because my husband would explain well what I did. My children, who are ages 8 and 10, would struggle a little bit. That says something about how difficult it is to explain marketing. It’s way easier to explain sales because even as children, they go and buy an ice cream. They understand what sales is, but marketing is a little bit more subtle and indirect. I’ve got eight-year-old twins and a ten-year-old. I heard one of my eight-year-olds being asked, “What does your dad do?” She said, “He works for a company.” That was her explanation. I thought that was sweet, but it also clearly indicates a failure on my part to articulate better what I would do.

This is something that brings me a lot of laughter, even for the guests. A lot of times, unknowingly, we get way serious and head down into our day-to-day jobs. It is those lighter moments, especially when we are with our family members. Quick pulse check and see how they view us and perceive us.

On a more serious note, beyond the nuances of the day-to-day work and explaining that to the children, I hope I’m modeling hard work as an ethic that I’m trying to instill in my children that no good things come easily in life. If they do come easy, they’re probably taken away easily. Working hard, but also setting boundaries for work time and family time, and knowing when to log off, put the phone aside, and enjoy family time, especially now that many of us are working from home. There’s more of an opportunity to practice that and model that for our children.

No good things come easily in life. If they do come easy, they will probably take away easily. Click To Tweet

I’m switching gears. I want to dive into two different aspects of your time at Gong. One is the early days when Amit reached out to you. You happily jumped and joined his team. That was the first phase, which is the early company-building phase and your role, what you are doing as a chief evangelist. Let’s talk about the first and walk us through. What is the thought process? How did you, Amit, and others go about finding the product market fit?

The product market fit was initially there. When Amit called me several years ago, he said, “Remember the crazy idea I told you several months ago?” I had coffee with him when we were working at two different companies. He left one company and said, “I’m going to start a company to solve this big problem that I had as a CEO where we had a quarter from hell. I didn’t understand what was happening. Looking at the dashboards, I could see what was happening but not why it was happening. I listened to a few calls, but I didn’t find anything systematic. I thought there must be a better way.”

He joined with a technical Cofounder, Eilon Reshef, our Chief Product Officer. They sat down to think about how they could solve this problem and provide more visibility to business leaders and revenue leaders on what’s happening. They thought that by collecting all these customer interactions, using AI way before it was cool several years ago, and analyzing them, they could surface insights that are actionable that would allow revenue teams to see what’s working, what’s not working, and change their behavior accordingly.

They build something basic. Nowadays, there are dozens of these call recorders. That’s how Gong started. We always had this big vision of how we’re going to help revenue teams. They rolled that out to twelve beta customers in late 2015 and early 2016. Several months later, they thought it was going well. They decided to check how serious these customers were.

They told them, “We’re going to shut off the beta in a few days. If you want to continue using this, you need to write us a check.” Eleven out of the twelve beta customers wrote a check. They didn’t want to shut it off. That’s when they knew that they had hit early product market fit. That’s when Amit called me, and he told me what I told you. He said, “I think we’re ready to market this outside of the friends and family. Can you come to help us?” That’s when I joined.

Did it take about six months from the idea to getting those early?

They started in mid-2015. By early 2016, they were in the markets. In several months, they had the first prototype out there.

We all know once we see the success story, 2020 is hindsight, but that’s typically the blueprint for successful high-growth startups. It’s all about customer validation and not hearsay but what you emphasize there. If I pull the plug on beta, are they ready to shell out money? Are they happy and okay with going away?

B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success
Leading Others To Success: The blueprint for successful high-growth startups is all about customer validation.

 

That goes back to what I said earlier about being obsessed with a problem and gradually building a solution to address it. We came out with the first solution that we thought would provide some relief from that problem. Once we got that validation, we kept building on top of it. Looking at some other companies where they tinker with the product and they build this whole house of cards over something that they don’t know how stable it is because they haven’t validated with the market, that can lead you down the wrong path.

We do something less drastic because the product is already out there. We’re not giving anything for free anymore. We’re not switching customers off when they can’t pay us. What we do now for new products and new capabilities is we survey customers and ask them on a scale of 1 to 5, how disappointed would you be if we took this away?

We’re not seriously taking it away, even though we do get some angry responses like, “Don’t you dare take this away because I need it.” It is always a good sign, but we want to see at least 40% of our users saying they would be disappointed or very disappointed if we took this away to know that we’ve hit product market fit. That’s a softer way of doing it rather than shutting it off unless they write a check.

You’re the Chief Evangelist at Gong. What does that entail?

Chief Evangelist is a unique role that I was able to put together with the help and support of Amit, my CEO. He used a great analogy when we started this process of adding new executives to Gong. In the last several months, we’ve hired a new chief revenue officer, a new chief marketing officer, and a new chief customer officer, and we’re on the hunt for a chief people officer.

The way Amit explained it to the company was when NASA sends a rocket to the moon, it’s not one rocket like that cute emoji that goes from Earth to the moon. It’s a multi-step rocket that the one piece gets us out to the edge of the atmosphere and falls off. Another piece ignites, and that gets us into the moon’s orbit. When that falls off, the final piece does a gentle landing on the moon. To get back, you’d need a different system.

There are few executives that have taken a company from zero to IPO, not in the CEO seat, but in the CMO and CRO seats, because you do need different people for different stages. I’m an early-stage marketer. I’ve joined five companies with sub twenty employees. I was always marketer number one. I’ve never inherited a team or a marketing operation. That’s where I thrive.

Speaking with other CMOs, I’ve realized that even going as far as I have. I’ve done the zero to tens of millions multiple times, but zero to $250 million as Gong, that’s rare. Most marketers are capped at zero to 50, 50 to 100, or 100 to 500, but zero to 250 ish is a long journey. It was time to bring in folks who have seen the hundreds of millions to billions part of the journey. Those are the people who joined Gong.

I carved out a new, fun role that takes on a lot of the things that I make the most impact with and also happen to enjoy. I mentioned speaking opportunities, thought leadership, running an influencer program, and executive alignment calls. I made that the core of my new role. I’m still making an impact without running a 60-person team. I don’t have an executive assistant anymore. I miss them all. I’m running my own calendar. I’m booking my own flights. I’m getting back to getting my hands dirty and doing work I enjoy without a lot of the red tape that comes with running a large team at a pretty large company.

You’ve shared a lot of insights over there. The most important thing that I took away, especially in the early days of the validation, plus your role as a VP of marketing and the CMO. What is the rationale for you and Amit to switch your role from being a CMO to a chief evangelist? The next segment is more around go-to-market success and a go-to-market failure story.

Before we jump into that, I was listening in and understanding your thought process. How did you build Gong? Even that famous show and talk of yours where you share the secrets around getting 4,000 plus leads from industry trade show. Something that I caught is first principles thinking. That’s the key if I were to convey your formula to others. Would you agree with that?

You’re putting it even more succinctly than I would, but many times, the success of go-to-market motions and marketing campaigns specifically is not about spending millions of dollars. I had a call with a CMO of a large company who wanted to learn about my experience with Super Bowl advertising. He told me, “It’s time for my company to build a larger brand. I saw what a great job you did with the Super Bowl. I want to learn more about that because I’m thinking of doing that.” I said, “I can tell you everything you want to know. I’ve done a couple of Super Bowl ads. I don’t think that’s what’s going to build your brand. It’s going back to the basics. It’s this ‘boring’ day-to-day demand gen stuff.”

It’s not boring, but it’s the stuff that doesn’t get headlines. People love to talk to me about the Super Bowl, and it was a nice cherry on top because 90% of what we were doing in demand gen at the time was working well. I could swing that budget and do an experiment that nobody knew if I was going to succeed or not.

In hindsight, it was fun. I’m glad we did it and elevated the brand a bit, but it was not a pivotal moment, at least not the way I see it in Gong’s brand building. It’s the day-to-day stuff. If you’re going to send an email campaign, and every marketer sends out an email campaign, and you don’t get the performance you want, you’re sitting there wondering what’s wrong, and you start throwing money at the problem. Let’s hire writers and do paid advertising. That’s not what’s going to save you. It’s looking at that email campaign hard and saying, “Would I want to consume this content? If not, why am I sending this out? Why do I expect anyone to read this if I wouldn’t read it? If this is pretended content that’s a thinly veiled sales pitch for my product, why would anyone want to read this?”

Thinking about, “How do you create content that is so good that you would want to consume it? If you want an even higher bar, how do you create such amazing content that people would want to pay you for it?” I know some people laugh and think that’s theoretical. Who would pay you for B2B content? When we created the Gong Labs articles, we would get, every few months, an email from an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, where they have sales courses. She would ask in the name of her professor, “How much would you charge us to license this material because we want to teach it in our university course?”

Another sales and enablement manager is excited about our content. She’s been passing it around internally. She wrote us asking how much it would cost her to license our material because she wants to use it in her official onboarding courses. We love hearing that because we know that we’ve hit that standard of creating content that is good. People are willing to pay for it. To avoid any doubt, we never charged a dime for it. We tell them, “Give us some credit from Gong, but use it as freely as you like because we’re not a content company. We’re a software company. We use content as a marketing investment.”

If your content is not hitting that bar, thinking that you can throw money at the problem is not going to fix it. It’s going back to basics. I like how you put it, Vijay. First principles, why would they open this email? Stop right there. Look at the subject line and look at the sender. Tell me why they would open an email that comes from Info@Acme.com or DoNotReply@SomeCompany.com. Why would anyone open that?

Think about all these little basic things. They don’t cost you money. They need you to switch your brain on and think as a consumer, not as a marketer because you have to rush a campaign out the door. As a consumer, why would I open it? Once you open it, why would I keep reading it? <Once you keep reading it, what would make me take action and click here to watch the webinar, download the white paper, or ask for a demo? If you can’t tell yourself a convincing story about why someone would be persuaded to do that, it’s not going to work. Don’t send it. Stop until you figure it out.

I can hear a lot of audience who go, and their main complaint would be, “You got things working for you, and that’s where you could invest that.” For them, it’ll be either the CEO, the marketing leader, or the sales leader saying, “Spin that next campaign and get those damn leads in.” On your behalf, I would go back and say, “Did you do your due diligence?” Going back to why you picked this job and why you picked this role, leadership, and product market fit. Have they worked on understanding the person and the problem?

Sometimes, multitasking leads to a lack of attention. If you’re trying to do five things at the same time, you’re not giving any of them the right attention to succeed, especially if you’re the first and only marketer or if you’ve got a small team. If you’re asking yourself and them to do many things, you’re not giving yourself a chance to succeed.

If you've got a small and ask them to do too many things, you're not giving yourself a chance to succeed. Click To Tweet

Cut down the number of things you’re doing and do a few things, and they will give you all the pipeline that you need rather than trying to spend money and do twenty half-baked things. None of them are going to work well enough. Focus on fewer things and get them right. Once you’ve got one right, you can scale that. It runs on almost autopilot. You can go figure out the second thing and the third thing. If you are trying to do 5 or 10 things at the same time, there’s almost no likelihood that you’ll get them right.

I’ve been studying similar to the NBA. We have 30 teams, but there’s something magical about those 1, 2, or 3 teams who make it to the playoffs consistently. It’s the same analogy that applies to marketers and CMOs. There’s something magical about those CMOs who’ve been on an ongoing basis. I’ve done research. It boils down to these three things. You can correct me and add to that, but it boils down to content, experiences/events, and community. If you layer one on top of another versus trying to do all 3 or 2 at the same time, that’s a magic formula.

There are variations on that. Some companies have succeeded without building a community. In hindsight, it took me time to realize that we had built a community, even though we never had that as a stated gold when we were putting out all this Gong Labs content. They have started forming a lot of conversation and discussion around it. The same people were commenting on the posts, sharing our articles, and showing up at our events. We created a community without calling it that and without labeling it as an effort to build a community.

We built such a huge following that not only is an audience for what we’re saying, but they’re also becoming ambassadors for what we do, speaking amongst them and arguing about what we’re doing, which is wonderful. The worst thing that can happen is that people ignore what you’re doing. If people are arguing and some of them hate it, that is a wonderful thing because that creates a conversation, and that’s what you want. If nobody’s commenting about your content or about what you’re doing, it’s boring. If nobody hates it, probably no one is excited about it either.

Let’s dive into a go-to-market success story and a failure story. You can pick outside of Gong Labs and the Super Bowl ad because people have heard that story so many times.

I’ve got many to pick from. I’ll pick a random one. A great story was when COVID started several years ago, and we were a few weeks ahead of going out for a road roadshow. We were going to hit 5 or 6 cities because we did a similar one six months earlier. It was a great success. We had everything lined up, booked, and dates, and the world shut down. We needed to decide what to do.

Many companies at the time decided to sit and wait. I don’t blame anyone. Sometimes, you don’t know what to do. You sit and wait because nobody knows how long this is going to happen. Are we going to be home for two weeks or two months? I don’t think anyone imagined it was going to be a few years. Nobody knew. We decided that being biased for action is almost always better than sitting and waiting. There are times when you need to sit and wait, but I’m personally not good at sitting and waiting. Ask my family. I’m much more biased toward action. Sometimes, I’ll take the wrong action, but I’ll take action. Most of the time, it works out well.

Here’s one way that our chief product officer puts it in other contexts. You can think of life as a series of decisions. Most of the decisions are a revolving door. If you realize you took the wrong turn, you can turn around, go back, and take another turn. Most of the life decisions are. There are few decisions that are past a point of no return. You make a decision, and you can never go back from it. There are few of those in life. Jumping off a cliff might be one of those, but we don’t often have to jump off cliffs. Deciding which marketing campaign to run is not one of those decisions.

B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success
Leading Others To Success: Think of life as a series of decisions. Most decisions are like a revolving door. If you realize you took the wrong turn, you can turn around, go back, and take another turn.

 

When everyone was sitting and waiting to decide what to do and see what happens, we decided, “We’re not going to skip a beat. If we said, in two weeks, we’re doing a roadshow, we’re going to do a roadshow, but we’re not going to do it in person because we can’t, the world is shut down. We’re going to switch to a virtual roadshow.”

I gave my team two weeks to figure out which platform we were going to use and how to run a virtual event. We’d never done that before. Let’s figure this out. We did it. For the first virtual event that we decided on two weeks before it happened, we had a thousand RSVPs, and a few hundred showed up for the live event. We went, “That’s more people that would’ve shown up to the combined road show that we were going to run. Let’s keep doing these and get better at them.” We did.

We got good at virtual events. The numbers eventually went up to multiple thousands of people joining an event and being amazed by the experience that we were able to provide them. We got to a point where we had an average attendee time at the event of over two and a half hours. We had some crazies who stayed for 6 and 7 hours because we were running a full day of events. Even during the lunch and bathroom breaks, we had live musicians, DJs, and magicians. It was like a three-ring circus to keep people excited. I could see them dancing and commenting nonstop in the chat. They were having the time of their life. It didn’t feel like a conference. It was like a party in their bedroom.

That was one of the many things that my team did well when we had to pivot very quickly and adapt to what was happening. The easiest thing to do, but the laziest thing, was to sit back, wait and see what happens. We decided, “No, we’re going to take bold action.” We might get it wrong. We spend a few thousand dollars on a virtual event that maybe won’t work, but if we get it right, we’re going to pioneer virtual events for our space. We’re going to get people excited before they get fatigued out of it, which happened a couple of years later. That was a story. I’m proud of what my team did there.

On the flip side, you’ve got type one decisions and type two. That is irreversible but always optimized for the reversible. Most of them it is reversible. On that note, what was a failure story and the lessons that you and your team took?

There are many failures to choose from. Anybody who only tells you about success stories, I would doubt their sincerity. We have lots of failures, but here’s one that I personally learned a lesson from, and this was also during COVID. This was in June or July of 2020. This is after the horrendous murder of George Floyd. It was in the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

We had a quarterly campaign to run to collect reviews for a review site. We had done those campaigns a dozen times before, and we found that we could increase the participation rates if we offered folks a $25 gift card for Amazon or Target. Nothing ever went wrong with those campaigns. We have the idea of what if we try and do something good and we tell people, “We’d like you to write a review for us. We will gladly donate $25 to the Black Lives Matter organization for every review that you write us.”

We didn’t think this through. We felt intuitively that there was a little bit of sensitivity there, but we didn’t realize how much. We sent out the campaign to 6,000 people that we wanted to get their reviews from. Within an hour, I got half a dozen responses. It’s negative. People are writing to me personally, saying, “Udi, this does not look like a Gong campaign. I don’t know what you were thinking. If you want to donate money for a good cause, donate it. Don’t tie it in with something beneficial that you’re asking me to do for your company.”

I got a handful of those in the first hour. I had to make a decision, “What are we doing next?” You could make an argument that if I only got six responses. I pissed off six people, but I sent it out to 6,000 people. That’s one-tenth of a percent. It’s not a big deal, but I decided it is a big deal because my assumption was that for every person who took five minutes to write me an angry email, there are twenty people who are angry. They’re either too angry to write me because they don’t, they don’t care about improving me. They’re angry at me, or they couldn’t find the words or time to take the time. My assumption is if you’re getting a handful of bad feedback, there’s a lot more. They’re not writing.

Within an hour, I decided, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to send an apology email to all the 6,000 people that got the first email. It’s going to come from my name, owning the mistake and explaining what we’re going to do about it.” We immediately took all the budget that we had allocated for donating to Black Lives Matter. It was $5,000. We immediately donated it without waiting for a single review and letting people know that we’ve donated it. We apologize for the wording of the campaign that went out. It was insensitive on our part.

I sent out that campaign. Within an hour, I got 40 responses. All of them were positive, saying, “Thank you for owning up to that mistake. When we got your previous email, we knew something didn’t quite feel right, but we didn’t have the words to put a finger on it and tell you what was wrong with it. We’re glad that you figured it out and made it right.” That was an important lesson learned.

The two lessons, if to break it down, are one, be hypersensitive to social issues like that and do not do anything that could even be perceived through any lens as taking advantage of a painful situation to benefit your company. That’s one lesson learned. Two, if you do F up as we did, be quick to take ownership, make it right, and apologize. You’re going to get a lot more fans out of doing that than letting it drag out and see, “Let’s see how many people pissed off. If it was only six, it’s not a big deal.” We did the right thing. We got a lot of good karma points for doing that.

B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success
Leading Others To Success: If you make a mistake, be very quick to take ownership, make it right, and apologize.

 

It also talks to your leadership and as a person where you are being vulnerable in admitting your mistakes. That goes a long way where you’re creating that convenient or comfortable space for your team. It also shows that you’ve got a good pulse on your customers and audience.

That’s the way to do it. This story was a serious one, but we had other cases where we sent out an ugly typo in a subject line that went out to thousands of people. We also send out an apology email with a little joke in it, owning up to the spelling mistake. It was silly, and we’re all human. Why not admit it? People love doing business with other people who are real human beings and not just shiny brands that pretend that everything is always perfect because it’s not.

Something that comes across during our conversation is, as a marketing leader, a CMO, and a chief evangelist, you emphasize and focus a lot on content, demand, and brand. Something I’ve not heard a lot of is about product marketing. If I speak with a lot of founders and marketing leaders, it goes to 6 to 8 categories. You have the positioning and messaging, competitive intelligence, and sales enablement, especially if you’ve got a sales-led organization. You also have new market launch, new product launch, product adoption, and product content. There are more. What are your thoughts on the role of product marketing and go-to-market? What do you think are the challenge areas for Gong or others that you see in the industry?

Product marketing is the area that I’ve messed up more than any other area. At Gong, we did well with brand, creative, demand gen, comms, events, and content. We built some amazing things in ops. We did a lot of amazing things. In product marketing, I messed up multiple times. I got away with it for a long time because we had that early product market fit. Initially, it was easy to explain the value that we bring, to whom, what it does, why you need it, and why you should care. I didn’t have to build a strong product-market function.

When I did have to, I scrambled and made a few mishires that were good people who did not succeed for multiple reasons at Gong. That team is being rebuilt for a third time. I’m crossing my fingers. They get it in ways that I did not. With that disclaimer aside, the biggest role of product marketing is to tell the company story. You can break that down into company, platform, product, and competitive differentiation.

The biggest role of product marketing is to tell the company story, and you can break that down into company and platform and products and competitive differentiation. Click To Tweet

Gong went from being in a mostly non-competitive space for a long time, and we were the only player people were talking about, to a competitive space because the category that we envisioned all those years ago, we helped usher in as a reality. Everyone agrees that revenue intelligence is a must-have. It’s here to stay, and it’s not a question anymore. We have to shift our product marketing message from explaining why there’s a need for a category like that or what problem it solves. That’s been established. The needs are how we are different and better and why should you care about it compared to all the other solutions in the market. That’s the journey the product marketing is going through.

Product content has a role to play in positioning and messaging. Product adoption is a problem area, given how good the product is in itself.

We’ve been blessed with widespread adoption. Gong has over 4,000 customers and hundreds of thousands of users. The product is being used. That’s why I said it was easy for me to get away without great product marketing, for the most part, because the product did a lot of the work itself. A huge kudos and credit goes to our product and engineering teams that have built something truly incredible. None of my marketing success or my team’s marketing success would’ve been possible without the product that we were supporting.

It’s product content and sales enablement, given this new shift in the messaging. I know you have other things you need to get to in a busy workday. I have a few questions for you, Udi. Who are the 2 or 3 people that played a key role in your career growth?

Amit Bendov was a huge mentor to me in our previous jobs. That made me a candidate for my current job and the CMO job at Gong. I will always be in his debt for helping my career the way he did. Other people that I haven’t necessarily worked closely with, but resources that I keep going back to, are Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. I keep referring to it. Even though it was written in the ‘80s, it is still relevant as ever.

Everything that is happening now on social media and mediums that Robert never imagined in the 1980s is all built on the same principles of human persuasion and psychology. If you dig into those, and I’ve read dozens of books and topics, you’ll create better campaigns. You’ll understand consumer behavior and create better campaigns. That’s another huge resource.

One more is to understand market shifts. It’s a bit of a cliche now, but a good book is Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. It’s another classic from the ‘80s that explains how markets move and how your marketing, go-to-market, and product needs to change as you move from the innovators to the early adopters, to the early majority, and the later majority and the laggards.

B2B 56 | Leading Others To Success
Crossing the Chasm Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

What are the resources that you lean on? You mentioned books and people. I’ve seen your LinkedIn. You’re a big player in Pavilion and other go-to-market communities.

Now that we’re back into in-person meetings and communities, I’m enjoying leaning into some of the communities I belong to. One of them you mentioned is the Pavilion, which holds great events. We have small chapter dinners, larger events, and summits where I enjoy hanging out and meeting people who are friendly and helpful. None of us are pretending that everything is going perfectly. We can sit down and crack problems about team structure or certain parts of marketing that are becoming more difficult and hear how others are dealing with it. I try to go to a lot of those if I can.

I’m also fortunate to be an investor in GTMfund, which is run by Max Altschuler, Scott Barker, and Paul. We had a wonderful weekend offsite a few weeks ago in Napa. Eighty of us came together and had a wonderful weekend together, meeting people who are at similar stages as me in our careers and figuring out what’s next for them and how to balance their full-time jobs with investing and speaking. Doing other things was a huge resource for me.

If you don’t belong to a community that meets in person, that’s ideal. Depending on where you live, it might be hard. If you’re in a small town somewhere, you might have to start with a virtual community and hope they have a couple of in-person events that are even worth flying to. I would highly recommend finding an in-person peer community of like-minded people at similar career stages and functions as you go and share the day-to-day burdens. Even hearing from others about their difficulties and realizing that maybe things are not as bad as you thought for you is also a great relief that you can get from those communities.

Find an in-person peer community of like-minded people. Click To Tweet

I’m part of Peak Community, among other communities. I’ve seen you on the show with Sandra Malders.

I’ve spoken at Peak. That’s another great community there. There are many. There is the Product Marketing Alliance. I’m sure I’m going to offend a bunch of others if I keep going.

My point was not about, “You miss these communities.” It is more about the importance of being part of a community. The final question for you is, if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey?

Become best friends with sales. That was a realization I came to way too late. Become best friends with your sales leader. You’re never going to succeed unless you do that. If you have this adversity or rivalry with sales and the finger-pointing and the blaming, why aren’t they following up on my leads? Why is marketing bringing crap leads? That’s not going to lead to success. You have to work like a two-headed dragon always together. You can’t win alone. If you try pointing fingers, you’re going to lose out. Become best friends with your sales leader. I’ve written an article about it and done some speaking on it. Welcome to Google Sales Marketing Alignment and my name. You’ll find some of my thoughts on that.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing a lot of these insights. Once again, good luck to you and the team at Gong.

Thanks so much for having me, Vijay.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane

 

Success in the world of SaaS requires relentless customer focus, strategic community building, and the courage to pivot when you face go-to-market challenges. In this episode, we sit down with Srikrishnan Ganesan, the founder and CEO of Rocket Lane, to discuss the work behind building a successful go-to-market strategy. Srikrishnan shares his journey from launch to scale, revealing how Rocket Lane became a rising star in the SaaS industry. He shares the power of staying close to your customers, using their feedback to shape product development, and building a brand that resonates across LinkedIn and beyond. Srikrishnan also explains the importance of recognizing and rectifying go-to-market failures. He shares how learning when and how to pivot and adapt has shaped Rocket Lane’s growth. Moreover, Srikrishnan reveals his unique approach to identifying your target audience and creating tailored content, emphasizing the impact of rapid iteration and experimentation in the early stages of growth.  Hear the founder’s journey and learn the art of scaling success.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Customer-Centric SaaS: The Rocket Lane Approach In The Go-To-Market With Srikrishnan Ganesan

I have the great pleasure of hosting another successful founder in a B2B tech startup world. His name is Srikrishnan Ganesan. He is the Founder and CEO of Rocketlane. I’m excited to have you on the show.

Thanks for having me on.

This has been a trend in our show off late, which is you are one of the references from a previous guest who came on the show. I’m grateful and happy about the fact that guests are referring other guests. It also goes to show how well-connected you are within the startup community.

We have a nice community that’s been growing, helping each other out, and learning from each other. I am glad to be part of it and excited to see all the progress many companies are making like a cohort of companies that start around the same time. Everyone is growing, learning, and evolving.

Let’s get right into the meat of the topic, which is how do you view and define go-to-market?

The way I view and define go-to-market is there is a series of motions that need to be in place. Part of it would fall under the marketing side and sales side of things typically, but it’s about how you are creating a presence for yourself in the market and getting your product into the hands of customers. Part of it is audience building, getting people to come in and check out your offering, and outreach you’re doing, like the outbound motions that you may have. How are you even messaging this? How are you crafting the right story for what you’re selling? This can be taken by many marketing channels, and one is to one channel to the right audience to pull them in and convince them to buy. That whole journey is what I view as go-to-market.

You touched upon quite a few things that I want to echo and highlight. You talked about the connection between product marketing and sales. That’s one piece. Second, you talked about audience building and community building. We’ll dive into that pre-flight community that you have been building. That’s a second aspect.

Third is the storytelling aspect. All of these pieces have to come together to connect the dots between what is a pain point? Who is a pain point? Who are you addressing it for? How is your product solving it? Let’s step back, take a bigger picture of your career, and walk us through your career journey and what led you to what you’re doing NOW.

Deep in my heart, I’m a coder. That’s what I enjoyed doing through my undergrad years. I surprised myself and others around me. I went to B-School immediately after my undergrad, but I was still in love with technology and creation. I was like, “I want to be a product manager.” I found a career in product management at Verizon and an Indian company called Rediff.com. Think of it as the Yahoo/AOL from India, an early web property. It’s stuck in between being a media company, a product company, and a tech company in a way.

I joined a startup as the Head of Product in a company called Jigsee, which was acquired by another startup a few years later. That journey gave me a lot of confidence in building not a product but a company because I was one of the first three employees. Three of us joined on the same day. I built the team and company and looked for office space. You need to have a certain false sense of how easy it is. You need to be a little delusional to start. That delusion had happened at that time. I was like, “I did it at Jigsee. I can do it on my own. Let me go and do a startup.”

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: You need to be a little delusional to start up.

 

I pulled in a couple of friends. Three of us were excited to start on a journey. We started with something B2C and pivoted into B2B in the messaging space. We were trying to take on WhatsApp and pivoted to do B2B messaging SDK. That startup was acquired by a company called Freshworks in 2015. The three of us continued to build that business within Freshworks for the next several years. That was going to a SaaS school in a way for us. We learned a lot in that journey. We decided it was time to graduate and try something on our own again. In 2020, we started Rocketlane. That’s been my career.

You got into product management with Verizon and the FiOS TV. As a side note and related notes, I was at Microsoft Media Room, the IPTV platform, doing product marketing. Our worlds crossed back then. We didn’t know each other back then, but I can relate to that world of yours. You switched to Rediff. You also mentioned being an early employee at Jigsee and Konotor. That’s the startup that you co-founded, which was acquired by Freshworks. Now you’re onto your second official startup, which is Rocketlane.

It’s been a fun ride.

Given this varied path, how do your family members describe what you do?

They know I do a ton of things. I’m on customer calls quite often. They know I always, from Jigsee days to Konotor days to now, do a bunch of customer support myself. I’m jumping on not just escalations, but if I have free time and see someone chatting with us, I would try to jump on that. For them, it was like,  “He runs the company. He’s a CEO at a high level.” They know I do that. I am more on the sales side in our startup. That’s how much they know.

You seem to do and come across as everyone or every role for your family. If you are a founder, you need to wear multiple hats, and the fact that you have a supporting family gives you the space, time, and energy, which says a lot about the family support you are having. Coming back to what you were doing at Rocketlane in the early days, walk us through it. What is Rocketlane? What prompted you to go down this path? Who do you serve in this space?

This stems from personal experience. We look back towards the end of our journey in Freshworks. What was a broken experience for us or our customers in the whole seven and a half years we spent building this business? We were thinking, “Are there teams that were underserved? Are there experiences that were playing wrong?”

One thing that stuck out was the implementation journey. You’ve sold an amazing deal, and now you’re worried. We sold all of that. We’re going to transfer that context to the implementation team, but who do we put on that team? You have some heroes in mind from the team. You are like, “If I give it to Sodir, he’s going to do a great job, but he’s already doing these three other big projects. Who’s going to manage this? If I give it to someone else, will they do a sloppy job?”

It’s hero-driven as an experience. It’s the first partnership that the customer is experiencing with you. Post-purchase, the first partnership. A lot of people on the customer side are in the dark about what’s happening. A leader on the customer side only knows, “It’s been several months since I purchased this. We are not yet live.”

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: A lot of people on the customer side are in the dark on what’s actually happening.

 

You may have reasons to say, “No, it was your team. Here is where the problems were. This integration didn’t work.” There are excuses but when you think about it, the ball is always in your court. That’s how you should treat it. That’s where we said, “There is scope for something different.” Instead of using a bunch of ad hoc tools like Slack, Asana, Notion, Google Docs, email, SurveyMonkey, or all of that together in this implementation journey, what if we build one all-in-one experience that is purpose-built for running customer-facing projects?

We didn’t say to just implement it. We said, “Let’s go after customer-facing projects of all kinds where there is an internal team, external team, and potentially a partner team. They’re using a bunch of silo tools. Let’s stitch together those experiences.” If you’re running a services team within a product company or a services business, you also want to learn where people are spending time. You want to tie effort to revenue from that project.

There are the PSA capabilities, time tracking, resource management, rate cards, and project accounting. We brought together all of that as one offering. We play in two key categories. PSA, Professional Services Automation, and client onboarding. That’s what the tool helps with running customer-facing projects and services projects. How do you hold each other accountable? How do you provide a better customer-centric experience? How do you automate a lot? Because it’s purpose-built for these projects, there’s a ton of automation that’s never been dabbled in before that we are able to enable.

That’s what the best founders do, which is to figure out what is the problem that they saw firsthand. They build a hypothesis around it. They go about validating the problem and building a solution for those personas. Coming from Freshwork and even at the early time in your prior startup, you had that hypothesis that onboarding and implementation were potential pain points, but that’s in your mind. How did you go about validating? You need to have that customer validation for the first 5 to 10 early adopters or beta participants. How did you go about doing that?

We didn’t write a single line of code, launch an MVP, or do any of that early on. We said, “Let’s focus on validation. Let’s talk to as many people as we can.” We took two and a half to three months. We spoke to around 60 to 70 companies. We spoke to different roles in these companies. We spoke to the CEO, CCO, implementation leader, and implementation manager. We want to get all the perspectives. Some of them are their investors.

Is this a big problem? Does this problem have visibility? Is there value assigned to or related to solving the problem? Is it one of the top five problems for the company? Is it one of the top five problems for the CCO? We want to know, at each level, where this priority for solving this problem lies. One thing we found was there are enough companies, especially within SaaS, which is what we started with as our beachhead, where people cared a lot about that time to value and launch.

The reason was time to value creates a stickiness. Time to launch is essential for pulling forward revenues. Closed ARR is far ahead of your live ARR because a lot of customers are stuck in implementation. That’s what investors and CEOs cared about. On the other hand, when we talked to the CCO and implementation head, we got a little more perspective on what are their key challenges. They want to hold customers accountable in a better way. They want more automation and streamlined experiences. They want their teams to follow the playbook the right way.

All of those problems came out. We started thinking. How can we solve all of this? What experiences will help? We use an approach called jobs to be done to build a product. Before we build a product, we want to understand the jobs to be done by the people and the software we build. We came up with the right hypothesis of what can help these people. Is it a people problem, a process problem, or a system problem? Where they see it as the problem, there should be elements in the product that can help them with the people problem, process problem, and the system itself.

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: Before we build a product, we want to understand the jobs to be done by the people and the jobs to be done for the software we build so that we come up with the right hypothesis of what can actually help these people.

 

That’s the journey we took in early validation. We spent enough energy on it. We talked beyond what we felt was our ICP because early on, we said series B plus companies is what we want to focus on. Opportunistically, we’ve met an early-stage founder. We’ll also talk to them and understand how they think about this.

It helped because we uncovered that an early-stage company, a seed series A and early series B type company, somehow made things work on time. That’s the only thing they focus on. They have only a few customers. They make things work but then they want to come across as professional. That was their problem. They wanted to look bigger than they were and make an impression. “We said, “That’s also a problem we should try to solve.”

The last point you mentioned boils down to the messaging. Messaging to a persona or ICP that is pre-series B versus messaging to a post-series B would be different. That’s the early validation phase. You said that you spoke to 60 to 70 people in a 2 to 3-month timeframe. At the end of the three months, is that when you had a good idea of the product hypothesis and business model?

We started working on high-fidelity prototypes of what we felt were key experiences that the product needs to enable and key problems that need to be solved. Beyond that first three-month period, we started to build the basic building blocks of the offering. We also started to show people these early prototypes and marked click-through prototypes to say, “We don’t have a product yet. We are not selling to you. You described the problem before. We want to show you how we are thinking about the solution. Let us know if this resonates with you. Let us know if you think this will solve the problem or if there’s something else that could be magical in this experience.”

We started doing that over the next year. We didn’t launch an MVP. We launched a full-featured product. Along the way, we kept showing the product and the prototypes to more people. I had a notion document with 120 companies, the contact, what feedback we were hearing from them, and what stage they were in from the conversations I had in that period where only the conversations that I felt were worth pursuing. I added it to this list. Having a CRM. We had a notion table with all of this data. When we launched, we went out to all of these folks.

This was in April of 2020 when you officially came out, and you incorporated Rocketlane.

That’s when we incorporated. We came out in June 2021.

Something else that caught my attention, and kudos to you and the founding team, is you built a community from the early days, the pre-flight community starting in September of 2020.

That was nine months before we launched our product, which is unique. Most people think about it after some traction.

Many people don’t even think about it.

Two things happened here. One is as we had these conversations with people, I wasn’t focused on what the software does. I was trying to understand the people problems, the process problems, and the system problems. I could see that different kinds of companies were focused on solving different pieces of the problem.

Some of them that were more enterprise were more focused. They were like, “I’m holding customers accountable. I need a steering committee so that the key decisions are made on time.” There were some folks that talked more about how you start the journey matters so much. Start with the right intensity. What do you do at kickoff matters? In every conversation I had, I would ask them about where things were several months ago. How have you evolved? What are you focusing on improving?

There was so much learning for me personally on what people were trying out to solve problems and implementations launch faster, giving a better experience for the customer. If everyone is focused on different things, its implementation feels like one part of the customer journey, but it’s a complex part. If I get these people to talk to each other, there’s so much cross-pollination of ideas that can happen. All of them can benefit.

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: Implementation feels like one part of the customer journey, but it’s actually a very complex part.

 

I invited one of my friends who said, “I used to have a six-month-long implementation. I’ve shortened it to six weeks.” I was like, “Tell me more. I’m open to talking about this to a wider group of founders and practitioners.” He said, “Yes. Organized a session.” We called it an implementation story session where he talked about all of it. There were many questions and engagement.

Was it a Zoom virtual or in-person session?

It was Zoom. This was during the pandemic. The session was very engaging. There were 25 people who joined. There are many questions. I was like, “He’s got to go. We can continue the conversation on Slack. Let me create a Slack group.” That’s what turned into pre-flight the community because I already wanted to do the community.

This became the catalyst for that action to happen. We said, “Every month, we are going to invite two people to talk about how they have evolved their implementations, and let’s all learn together.” It was a great source of content and building an audience because we started reaching out to folks about these events. We said, “Join the community to get access to the events.”

Did you invite that speaker? Did you have that first session after your 60 to 70 conversations or even before?

It was after the first 60 to 70 conversations.

We can deep dive into this topic alone, but we’ll save that for another time. You are several years old now. You are yet in terms of number of customers, revenue, and funding.

We keep the revenue part private. We have over 400 amazing logos that have come on board. It’s companies like Clari, Drift, Mixmax, Vidyard, Unifor, Amelia, and a whole bunch of amazing logos globally. We raised $21 million of funding to date. That’s an $18 million series A and a $3 million seed that we did. Things are on a great track from the momentum perspective, given it’s a few years from launch.

Thank you for sharing your growth story and journey. That’s commendable. I’m excited and happy for you guys and the way you’ve been validating the problem and building your company, Rocketlane. I’m switching gears a bit here. Let’s talk about a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. It can be for you when you are building Rocketlane or any of your customers.

I would say go-to-market success story. I’m going to use the example of what we did on G2. Early in the journey, we said, “We need to get a good presence on G2.” We saw that we had few competitors at the early stage in this category called client onboarding. The highest one had 80 reviews, and it felt beatable. We had 30 customers in the first two months since launch. It shouldn’t be hard if people like the product to get them to review it. That’s something we focused on.

It wasn’t like marketing owns it. It was like all of us owned it between customer success, which drove a lot of sales, marketing, and anyone in the company. If we knew there was a customer who had had a good experience with us, we would pounce on them for a G2 review. We push them to rate us and give that ranking. We are number one on G2 in our category. We are the highest rated and highest number of ratings in the category.

I’m proud of what we accomplished over there. It has a big impact because, in the early days, we focused a lot more on SMB. Now we have a lot of mid-market and above-type customers, but all these folks search for tools and alternative tools. If you come up in the top 2 or top 3 on a platform like G2, you make it into the consideration set. The number one always has a lot more momentum in the sense that people consider that first. They talk to them first, and they ask the others, “How do you differentiate from the number one?”

In that sense, it puts you in a poll position in any competitive evaluation. That’s what you want. That would be a success story. There are a lot of tactics and specific things we did to get that momentum on G2. We are happy to chat one-on-one with people on that, but it was a great investment of our time and energy for that phase of our journey to get up to being number one in that space.

If you can share 1 or 2 tactics, what drove the success that would be helpful for the readers?

If someone has a support issue they came up with, and you delivered a good experience for them, and they say thank you, that’s a moment for you to latch on and say, “We are always happy to help you. We’d also be glad if you’re able to help us and leave a review for us on G2. It means a lot for us as a growing business.” Add that emotional appeal, ask them, and they will do it.

The other thing we did is if you give something, you get something. Sometimes, customers ask for discounts, especially early in the journey. We said, “If you want a discount, we give you this discount, but in return, we need G2 reviews from your team.” We can’t control what they say in the reviews, but we push people to give us those reviews. There are ways to incentivize.

We can't control what customers say in the review, but we can push them to give us those reviews. Click To Tweet

When I was running go-to-market and marketing teams and even product growth in previous companies, that was one of the tactics that we used to do, which is to run an email campaign and a phone LinkedIn campaign and even offer gift cards. Gift cards are more to get attention. I’ve seen the quality of reviews not necessarily tied to the value of the gift card. It’s more of how happy that customer is with that product or service. Gift card is a little cherry on the topic. Now go-to-market failure story because we all know it’s not success all the way. How about a go-to-market failure story?

There’s a big lesson from my previous journey. I don’t know if your show reaches more early stage and late stage. There’s a big lesson for anyone in the early stage, at least from my previous journey. We launched this SDK that went into other people’s apps and enabled rich conversations between customers using apps and businesses.

Is this from your time at Konotor?

This was Konotor. Even inside Freshworks, we first relaunched as Hotline.io. We had the same problem go-to-market problem over there. This was an evangelical product in the sense that people weren’t looking for it yet. They didn’t know that they could deliver a WhatsApp or iMessage-style experience inside their app and why they should do it. We had to educate the market a fair bit.

We were ahead of the game in the journey already because we had to go, educate the market, and tell them about how this would create a better experience for customers and how that would lead to stickiness for their apps. Most apps, back in 2012 and 2013, were still figuring out what their app should do. They weren’t in a frame of mind to say, “I need to improve the support experience inside my app. Who should my app serve, firstly?”

When we showcase this, there are companies of all kinds. There was enough feedback we got saying, “Can you also provide this for the web? We want to use one platform for web and mobile.” We did not listen to the customer and not even to our own sales manager. We said, “The experience for web live chat is different from WhatsApp-style asynchronous communication. That’s what we are focused on. We don’t want to dilute it by trying to serve someone else.”

The reality was no one in this mobile messaging space, and the mobile SDK space grew fast. Everyone was slow and chunky growth. On the other hand, there were companies like Intercom and Drift doing what we did for web apps. They were growing like crazy. We completely missed the bus on that. We could have been there. We could have been growing that fast as a bootstrapped startup, and we missed that completely. The size of the market and a real validation of who will buy, why they will buy, and what the priority is. We missed all of that in our thinking about going to market. That is one weakness.

The reality was no one in this mobile messaging space mobile SDK space grew fast. Click To Tweet

How are you fixing that at Rockelane, where you’re not missing out on those big signals that are coming out?

If we didn’t have the momentum we had in the first two months, we would have pivoted immediately. Optimizing for momentum is the learning over there for us. What that also means is you can’t do anything in a half-hatted way where you’re thinking, “Was it A or B? Was it because I didn’t do enough marketing? Was it because I didn’t have a good brand? Was it because I didn’t have the right message?”
You should test out everything quickly. You shouldn’t be like, “I’ll spend six more months and then I figured out maybe it’s the message or I need to change that.” There needs to be rapid attrition and a lot of early validation of the messages before we even launch the product.

You should test out everything quickly. Click To Tweet

That’s been how we’ve approached things at Rocketlane. When you’re doing something, do it in a way in which there’s no second guessing on why it did not work and extending the timeline of an experiment to say, “It didn’t work. Let me try something else for a longer period of time.” We started doing Google Ads early because we wanted to understand, “Will this be a channel that will scale for us? I didn’t want to wait it out until a certain point in time and a certain number of customers before spending on ads. Let’s do it.”

What also surfaces in my mind when you’re sharing this story is the role of product marketing. Early on, especially in the early days with the founders who are wearing the head of product marketing, and as you scale, it looks like you’re at 80, 85, or 90 employees at Rocketlane. As a founder and CEO, what is your message to your product marketing team? What are the challenges that they’re dealing with?

The big thing that we focus on is people are actively listening to customer conversations every day, whether you’re in marketing, product marketing, or other functions. Even our engineers listen to customer conversations because you build context on what the pain is for the customer, what words resonate with them, and how they describe their problems when you listen to it from the horse’s mouth.

Listen to customer conversations because you build so much context on what is the pain for the customer and what words resonate with them. Click To Tweet

There is nothing better than building context together. From day one, we’ve recorded every single conversation we had, even those first 60 to 70 conversations, before we decided what to do. Every prospect conversation is recorded. We use Avoma. We auto-generate these summaries that get posted on Slack. People read that. That’s a trigger for them to go and watch a conversation.

The biggest thing is how we build a common context. I don’t even have to say anything. People know what’s happening. What does the customer care about? From a direction perspective, we want to set direction by saying, “We want to focus on that mid-market customer. Watch out for more of these calls. We are trying to sell to services companies, not services teams and SaaS companies, or the message needs to change for that audience. Who do you want to talk to? Let me facilitate.”

We had fifteen service leaders do sessions for us. They did it pro bono out of the goodwill of their heart. There’s a promising company that’s taking a certain direction. Let’s spend time with that team. Let’s tell them about our world. If people get curious, they will ask questions. Validate like, “What’s the top priority? How would you describe this problem? What do you think will solve this problem?”

The way I look at product marketing is you can break it down into 6 to 8 categories or programs. You have the positioning, messaging, customer insights, competitor insights, sales enablement, new product launch, new market launch, product content, and product adoption. You have ticked the boxes, especially in the early days, where you have focused on the customer insights program and making sure that every employee, not just marketing or sales, is listening to these customer conversations.

Going forward, something that caught my attention is you mentioned going upmarket. It looks like if you were to pick an area that you want your product marketing leader or marketing leader to focus on for your go-to-market, which would that be? Would it be like a new market, product content, or product adoption?

It is honing in on this new market we’ve landed on and ensuring that we are enabling the sales team to approach that market the right way. We’re doing a lot of enablement sessions internally. We focused on that.

Given that you’ve got a good track record when it comes to early company building and fundraising, what are the 1 or 2 things, especially when it comes to go-to-market, that industry peers or folks from your network reach out to you for? They go, “This is something that Sri is good at. Let’s go reach out to Sri.”

There are a few things I would say. One is marketing. People keep reaching out because we have quite a buzzing social presence like LinkedIn presence. People reach out about that. It’s more brand than demand gen or other stuff. Community and brand are areas where I think people keep reaching out and sales momentum. Early-stage founders reach out about the 0 to 1 journey, which we did within our first year of launch. That was a fun early first year for us. A lot of people have heard about that. They reach out to ask about what are things that you did, mistakes, and learnings from that early journey.

You have all the items in a successful or winning go-to-market. It was around content.

Another area where people reach out is if they have problems with their implementation or onboarding.

It goes without saying I was diving deeper into what other, besides your core offering and core expertise. The point I mentioned earlier is you have all the key ingredients and elements when it comes to winning go-to-market, which is the content. You have community and experience/events. It goes back to doing that early reach out, validating the problem, and building content around it, which is your presence on LinkedIn and others. You have the community, which is a pre-flight community, and experiences and events. You must be running some customer events and having a good presence in industry trade shows.

That’s an area we pride ourselves on in terms of in-event execution. In pre-event planning, we could do better. At the event, we are the hungriest team, and we do some unique things over there.

We’ll save that for another episode. I have the last couple of questions. I know you need to head back to your company building days. The two questions I have for you are, who are the 1, 2, or 3 people who have played and shaped your career growth, and who have played a key role in your career growth and inflection?

One is Girish Mathrubootham, the Founder of Freshworks. I got to work closely with him. I’m a huge admirer. I learn every time I meet him. I learned something from him. I would say Krish of Chargebee. He is another founder that I have. I get different perspectives from Girish and Krish on a lot of things. I need to figure out what I want to do. It’s good to pick their brains and get that different perspective. There are many founders, like Ashwini from Mad Street Den and Sahil from Rattle. There are a lot of folks who are on similar journeys with us. I’m big on community. The same applies to the founder community. I’m actively learning from a lot of people.

That’s a key ingredient. It doesn’t matter which part of your go-to-market journey you are in, early days, or even the growth and scale phase. It’s important to have a personal board of advisors. You’re building that. Do you carve out an hour a week? Is it one hour a month? What is your focus in this area?

It’s sometimes more reactive, but I have cadences with 3 or 4 founders. We have it on the calendar for one hour a month to go over a bunch of things together.

The final question for you is, if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey?

Hire leaders faster.

Why is that? Why did you come to that realization, and when?

We hired a sales leader who’s been impactful. It’s given me more time and energy to focus on other things. It tells me, “If we make the right hires earlier in the journey, it makes it easier for everyone, including the teams you’re building.” You can do more justice to your team if you get them to work with a great leader.

If we make the right hires earlier in the journey, it makes it easier for everyone, including the teams you're building. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for your time, Sri. I enjoyed the conversation and the actionable insights that you shared with the readers. Good luck to you and your team at Rocketlane.

Thanks so much, Vijay.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 54 | Category Design

B2B 54 | Category Design

 

If you want to specialize your business, this space will provide you with that path. Today’s guest is John Rougeux, an executive member at Pavilion and a partner at Category Design Advisors. From the failures to their success story, John brings us into the domain of category design and what they do in the market to help others become a dominant player. He also explains why CD matters and why its go-to market relies on word of mouth and referrals. Get to see how category design evolves in their space when you tune in to this episode. Don’t miss it!

Listen to the podcast here

 

A Marketing Leader’s Journey In Category Design With John Rougeux

In this episode, I have another great guest and a conversation that’s coming up. I have with me John Rougeux who is the Partner at Category Design Advisors. Welcome to the show, John.

Thanks for having me, Vijay.

This is a go-to-market show and this is what it is all about so let’s start with that topic. How do you view and define the go-to-market?

I’ve always used a pretty simple definition. It’s the set of activities that you’re doing to get customers aware and excited about what you’re doing and turn that excitement into revenue.

That’s already a straightforward definition and view. I’m looking at your LinkedIn. You have been a marketing practitioner. You led and built marketing teams. In your capacity, you are working with various companies of all sizes. How do your clients perceive the go-to-market?

For some context, the types of clients that we work with tend to be ambitious startups. They’re companies that are either defining a new space for building a new category of themselves or participating in an emerging category where there’s no clear leader yet. They’re trying to improve their odds of dominating that space and being the go-to solution.

With that context in mind, a lot of what our customers have to do is educate the market on what they are doing, what problem they’re solving, why that problem needs to be solved, and what happens if it’s not solved. Use that as a wedge to then talk about their solution, why that matters, and why it’s categorically different from other things that buyers might have encountered already. It’s much different from a straight comparison type of situation where you stack up a bunch of features next to each other, specifications, or even pricing models. We’re talking about going deeper than that and talking about fundamental differences.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m super excited about this conversation. More often than not, especially when we talk about the go-to-market, the guests that I’ve had so far are like, “The founders are the go-to-market practitioners.” It’s typically around the go-to-market execution engine versus where you and I will be taking this conversation. We’re out to lean on you for your expertise and perspective is how to think about a category and how these go-to-market themes and go-to-market leaders can start thinking about category creation and enhancing their position in the category.

One of the myths that we try to bust is category design always means creating a brand-new category and being the first company to do that. Categories have a life cycle. They evolve. We’ve leaned on a lot of work by an author called Paul Geroski, who wrote a book happily titled The Evolution of New Markets, where he goes in-depth about this idea of categories evolving.

B2B 54 | Category Design
The Evolution of New Markets

I want to explain that and that’ll provide a good lens for thinking about how companies should compete in a category and what their category strategy should be. The research that Paul Geroski did follows as such. Before the category exists, what you have is an unsolved problem that exists in the world. Problems have to be experienced by people for them to be a real thing. You’ve got a group of people who are dealing with some problems and there’s no good solution for that.

Sometimes, this situation persists indefinitely. There’s a solution to these problems where we’ll never have a solution. That doesn’t constitute a category. It’s just a market opportunity if you like. What typically happens, though, is something will change. Maybe a new technology comes about or the problem gets worse enough to where people identify that it’s worth solving. Someone has an insight. They say, “I can build a solution that addresses this issue.” That’s when a startup is born or maybe a new venture within an existing company.

If that inside is valid, then you’ll typically see other companies latch onto that idea. They’ll come up with their attempt to develop a solution for that problem and group of people. In the early days, those solutions may look very different. One company solution might be viable and another company solution might not but they’re trying to experiment and get to a place where they’ve landed on the right solution for that issue.

As that process progresses, typically, what happens, as Geroski taught us, is one company has convinced the market that its design is the best suited for that problem. It’s what he calls the dominant design. When that happens, two interesting things happen next. One is that when customers see that there’s a go-to solution for this thing. They feel a lot more comfortable buying. You start to move from early adopters to more mainstream audiences because people don’t want to risk buying something that’s going to be obsolete, incompatible, or doesn’t work right. When they see that there’s a standardized solution, those barriers come down and the purchase becomes a lot less risky.

When that happens, the company that’s established that dominant design tends to dominate that space. The other players in that market have to either come along with that or exit the category. When that dominant player comes into play, the market cap of the category grows and the number of competitors decreases. I’m trying to condense a couple of hundred pages of that idea into a few minutes. We would like to understand where your category is in its evolution. It’s important for you to figure out what kind of strategy you need to set for yourself.

The company that has established that dominant design dominates that space and the other players in that market. Click To Tweet

Thank you for setting the context and the thought process behind the whole concept of category in the first place. Before we dive deeper into this topic, let’s unwind a bit over here. For me, it’s all about understanding why did you decide to go into this space. What motivated you? In that context, if you can share your career story? What led you to what you’re doing?

The quickest way I can describe it is if you’re a marketer and you’re trying to bring a radically new idea to life using the traditional playbook of capturing market share, your life is hard. That was the journey that I experienced. I spent some time at some early-stage startups early in my career. I was a cofounder of one of them. We were solving problems that didn’t exist before and had some different ideas about how to solve them.

We had some initial traction but everything I’d been taught to that point was how you compete against competitors and differentiate yourself but it’s always in the context of other companies. I started to explore other ways of going about marketing. That led me to business strategy and then discover category design as the framework for bringing new things out to the market.

You did leave an equally exciting part of your journey, which is your backpacker way back. What is that like?

My wife and I decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail together. We had our first anniversary while we were backpacking. It was that early on. It’s about six months of backpacking solid. It was a lot of fun. It’s much more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

You didn’t go into the tech industry right away but eventually, after a couple of roles, you did move and take the industry and marketing function. You were a CMO. You were a host on the B2B Growth Show. I was not aware of this. I’m an avid listener. That’s fantastic. You went into a marketing leadership role and also were building a marketing strategy at BombBomb, which is similar to video marketing or video sales tools. It falls somewhere in that category.

The broad space is like video messaging. You put a label on it.

Here you are at Category Design Advisors. You did share that journey. What prompted you to make that radical shift? You did touch upon that. In a nutshell, you did mention what you’re doing and how we were taught what you need to do as a marketing leader. It was not paying off or did not die in the right way. Expand on that. That’s a very critical insight that we should dive into.

To go into that a little bit deeper, I didn’t find any good framework for taking something that people aren’t familiar with at all and don’t have any context for. We’re talking to them about that in a way that matters to them and shows why this new business needs to exist. A lot of what I was learning at the time was very tactical, like how to get more traffic to your blog, how you optimize an ad campaign or conversion rate on a landing page, or what the best practices for marketing automation are, tactics that are good but can only move the needle so far if you don’t have the fundamentals correct.

In one of the businesses that I worked for, we were developing a way for local businesses to generate word of mouth on social media. This is in the early 2010s when social media was in a different state than it is in the present. Looking back, I realized that a lot of our customers came through word of mouth and opportunities where we could be on the stage or a show and share the narrative and the story behind what we were trying to do.

One of my cofounders built a product for himself. He was addressing an issue that he faced. Other businesses latched on to that because they were going through a similar situation. When we removed that ability to tell that story and convey that narrative, it was very difficult for us to drive business. That puts a cap on our growth because all those tactics I describe like the conversion rate, optimization, this and that, and the other, don’t address the real issue. I was curious. I said, “How did people go about building businesses before digital marketing?” You couldn’t use paid social and things like that.

When we remove our ability to tell that story and convey that narrative, it's difficult for us to drive business and it puts a cap on our growth. Click To Tweet

One of the books I encountered in the process was The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Jack Trout and Positioning by the same authors. Law number one is to be first in the category. Number two is if you can’t be first, set up a new category that you can be first in. That idea was foreign to me. I was talking to a friend of mine, James Carbary. He runs Sweet Fish Media, the company that runs B2B Growth. He said, “If you like that idea, you should check out this book. It’s called Play Bigger.”

B2B 54 | Category Design
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!

This is about 2017 or so. The book was only about a year old at that point. When I read that book, I immediately knew that if I had this framework a few years ago, it would have dramatically changed our trajectory and our ability to grow the business. From there, I started to apply this thinking within the companies where I was working. I did some things that worked. I learned some things that didn’t work and made some mistakes because this was a very new discipline at the time.

What I realized though was I enjoyed the discipline. I started doing some consulting on the side and helping some early-stage founders through the process and found that I was adding some value and wanted to work towards doing this work full-time. I developed a relationship with Christopher Lochhead. He’s been a great mentor of mine. I ended up getting to know my partners at CDA and we started working together full-time.

Play Bigger is one of those books especially for founders and go-to-market leaders who are thinking about building big markets and number one position in the industry. Play Bigger is a must-read for those people. You read the book. Essentially, you connected with that mindset and the principles that are stated in that book. You were a mentor and in touch with Christopher Lochhead, who is one of the co-authors.

When I started the B2B Growth Show, it was my friend James. He challenged me. He said, “John, I know you know very little about category design. Go start a series on my show about it.” He was the first person to interview Christopher Lochhead.

What is the hook? How did you manage to get Christopher on the show?

I asked him just like you asked me.

Let’s get deeper into what is CDA. What do you folks do? What is your go-to-market?

Our go-to-market is pretty reliant on word of mouth and referrals. Frankly, it’s different than probably how our customers operate but we’re pretty selective on the number of clients that we work with in a given year. We’ve done closing on 45 engagements with companies over the years. We’ll do 6 or 8 a year around networks and the content we’re producing. Kevin, the co-author of Play Bigger, brings a lot of credibility and interest to what we’re doing. It’s not super complicated. Build relationships with good people, produce content that adds value to people, and the rest pretty much follow suit.

I’m on the website. I was looking at projects and engagements that you do with these companies. It’s very impressive. You folks work from early-stage startups to pre-IPO and even companies that are public enterprises. As a startup, it’s a big panda. That’s one of the case studies that you have in there. Your pre-IPO is Sprinklr, and then companies that are big and large like LinkedIn. It’s a very impressive roster. For each of those stages, what is the need? What is driving them to engage you folks in their go-to-market?

I mentioned the word ambitious and that’s a good word to capture how our clients are acting. If you think about athletes in the Olympics and they’re 4th or 5th in the world, their goal is to be that gold medalist. They will invest every resource they have to make that happen. That’s how our clients are thinking there. They have their ambitions set on not just bringing something new to life and establishing a new space but dominating that space and emerging as the equivalent of the Salesforce as that space matures. That’s why they’re bringing us in to help them realize that goal and improve the odds of being that dominant player.

When you talk about category design and when I start reading more into the concepts on Play Bigger, the first story that all of us, including the readers can relate to is, what Marc Benioff did with Salesforce. That was a huge eye-opener. For the benefit of those readers who are not aware of the story, which should be the minority of this, Marc Benioff came out from Oracle and Sable in the CRM space. He realized, “All of those were perpetual licenses versus why should anyone even own a license. Kill the software concept and have software releases and improvements daily word. You don’t have to worry about the maintenance of the software as such.

We take it for granted that that’s the normal way of doing things. At the time, I remember the Wall Street analysts didn’t even know how to value their revenue because it was all this recurring revenue model, which was foreign to them.

He’s shifted how all the software companies have to think about and go-to-market with this new concept and business model. That’s a classic example. For the readers who are not aware of category design, connect with the story of what Marc Benioff did with Salesforce. That’s the entry point. Thank you for sharing that context.

It was super helpful to why category matters and coming back to the keyword that you mentioned, how the ambitious founders and go-to-market leaders should think about and why they should pursue category design or category creation. With that as a context, it’ll be helpful if you can share with our readers a go-to-market success story and failure story around the category.

The way that I’ll describe it won’t be around the go-to-market mechanics and the things that a CRO or a CMO might cover. The way we look at it is if you get your fundamentals around your category straight as you write, then whatever go-to-market engine you build has a much greater chance of being successful. Whereas if you have some misses on your category strategy, then you might have the most finely tuned GTM engine in the world but it’s not going to get you where you need to go.

Why don’t I start with a failure first because that makes success a little easier to describe? One of the things that we try to look at when we help a client develop their category strategy is focusing on the problem that they’re solving and making sure that it’s a valid problem, the problem causes enough pain, and enough people are experiencing it. In other words, it needs to be a problem worth solving.

That sounds obvious. Why would you build a company around a problem that you hadn’t validated? This happens all the time. I’ll share a pretty high-profile example. There was a company called Quibi. They made a valid observation initially. It was that people were consuming more media on their phones while they were on the go. That’s a valid insight. They took that idea and built a whole company around this notion, like a mobile-first video platform.

In case you’re not familiar with them, the idea was that they would create original content. The content would be very suited to this on-the-go-on-my-phone type of behavior. Episodes were about ten minutes long. They had this interesting technology where you could rotate the phone and the video would look good in portrait or landscape mode.

They have some smart people. Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman were two of their big investors or board members. They raised $3,750,000,000. They had a huge marketing campaign. Retrospect is so easy to see but the miss was that there was already a pretty good solution to the problem identified and it’s called TikTok and YouTube. They weren’t providing enough of an incremental benefit to be worth paying a whole other subscription to. On top of that, I’ve heard their content was pretty bad so that didn’t help but even if their content was decent, they would have run into all the same issues.

The company folded within a year and a half of being launched. This is a great example of a company not understanding that this category of mobile or first video platforms was already pretty well established. There were already some pretty good options there. They’re trying to come in, redefine that, and dominate in a way that didn’t provide orders of magnitude of benefits. It’s a losing proposition. No amount of money, advertising, or marketing could save them.

That’s a failure. I can share a success. It’s one I didn’t work on myself. I don’t want to take credit for it but my partners Dampen and Kevin did. They work with a company called Sprinklr. For some background, Sprinklr broadly plays in the customer experience space. There are already some established players there. Call tricks are one. The way they are perceived in the market was they were another me-too customer experience tool, of which there were dozens.

At the same time, their CEO knew that they had something different and they were building something special but the market couldn’t see that. We have a term for that. We call it Category Jail. It’s when the market misses mentally and miscategorizes what you do. What they did was use the category design process to build a narrative that captured what they were doing as categorically different and set the stage for them to build on a different trajectory going forward.

They call it unified Customer Experience Management or unified CXM. It was more than just a label, though. It was a way to identify all the problems that happen when you use a hodgepodge of point solutions and try to cobble them together. There are all sorts of gaps that still happen in the customer experience when you do that. That was an aspect of the problem they honed in on.

They went through that exercise right before their IPO. When they did that, it changed the way that investors perceived them. It went from a me-too solution to, “This is something different.” They not only have a different take on what they’re doing but the opportunity is much greater because this isn’t just another set of point tools. Their IPO is successful.

They’re a multibillion-dollar company. Making that IPO successful for them was key. That’s an example of the end stage. That same process still unfolds whether you’re at series C or even if you’re very early on. If investors don’t see why you matter, they miscategorize what you’re doing. They’re either not going to invest or undervalue you, and you want to get the valuation you deserve.

That’s a great story, for sure, especially the term. Customer experience management is so overly used. A lot of the CRM companies are positioning themselves as CXMs. The cool story about Sprinklr positions itself as CXM but it looks like a niche within a unified CXM. That’s what sets them apart. Once the market and the investors see the story and see them as a player in a much bigger or different category than the existing players, the valuation will go up, and that will show up in their stock price.

The takeaway is that when you do category design well, you are controlling the narrative. You’re not using a narrative set by somebody else or building your narrative around points of comparison to other tools.

Two questions that come to my mind from that success story. At what point in time is it right for the founders and the leadership team to think about category creation and category design?

The answer is day zero. What the process looks like for a very early-stage company, a couple of guys in a credit card versus pre-IPO, is different. We did an interview with Craig Rosenberg on Scale Venture Partners on our show. This is one of the things we were talking about. When you’re in the formation stages of the company, picking a problem that no one else has addressed or a radically different approach to a problem that is far different from the status quo is very powerful in terms of creating a business that can do something meaningful and can get people excited about them.

When I say the process looks different, there’s a lot more conviction you have toward the tail end around what that solution looks like and what partnerships and the whole ecosystem might look like. You’re putting those thoughts into stone at that point and pushing hard into the market about specific language you’ve built and specific aspects of what this category needs to look like.

When you’re early on, you have some hypotheses around this problem. You’re trying to validate your ideas as quickly as possible. You might have a good handle on the problem. Your solution might be wrong and you’ve got to iterate on that. You’re more like writing in pencil but still going through the process and thinking about the problem first and the solution second is something every early-stage company should be doing in my mind.

It’s easier said than done. In the early days, the founders and investors were all like, “How quickly can we get from problem validation to product market fit?” The path that they take to get to that point may not necessarily be thinking about category creation or educating a market about a new category or product that they should invest in and buy at this point.

If you do it right and you can show people that there’s a problem that hasn’t been sold, that’s a very powerful way to gain traction. The other path you have to take is you’re competing in a space that’s already established. You’re trying to come up with a better, cheaper, or faster solution or maybe have a niche that you can serve better than someone else. I’m not saying you can’t do that but that’s not an easy path either.

If you do what you're doing right and show people there's a problem that hasn't been sold, that's a powerful way to gain traction. Click To Tweet

The second question that came to my mind when you were sharing the GTM success story is slightly controversial but interesting. I’m sure it must have been debated a whole lot. There were mobile phones even before Apple came out with their iPhones. It was an established market and category. What did they do? Everyone knows what they did. They didn’t have to create a new category but they’re leaders by a far distance in the smartphone category.

Do you remember when we were talking about the evolution of categories and had played over time? At that point in time, the dominant design was the Blackberry. The Blackberry was more geared toward business users. It wasn’t something that your grandma would buy. There was still this unmet need of people wanting to browse the internet and people wanting to listen to music on their mobile devices to make phone calls and texts on a single device. The Blackberry wasn’t suited for that for the market at large. It was a good dominant design for that niche business user space but it didn’t address what the broader world needed.

B2B 54 | Category Design
Category Design: The Blackberry wasn’t suited for the market at large. It was a good dominant design for that niche business user space.

 

Apple was a genius at understanding the problems that people had with the way Blackberry worked and traditional mobile phones or things they couldn’t do. They use that to inform what this new design or this new take on a smartphone should look like. As you know, that is established as the dominant design. Even if you have an Android phone, it still has a similar industrial design. It still has an app store, which is a key component of that dominant design. It still works and feels the same way as an iPhone.

The main takeaway is the point that you mentioned early on, which is the category evolution. Apple was the first player in that category evolution like step zero. They created a whole new bump in the category. It’s just not the business users of the Blackberry users. Now, it’s a much larger market. They’ve expanded the market a whole lot and they are one leader.

They didn’t create this smartphone category but they designed it in their favor and expanded what that category represented into something much larger.

I appreciate the insights and the thought process around category design, category creation, and category evolution. Switching gears, coming back to more of the story behind John. What are 1 or 2 skills you are known for in the industry of the market? When someone thinks, “I’m struggling with design. I need somebody to talk about this so I should reach out to John,” what are those 1 or 2 topics that people reach out to you for?

As category designers, what we tend to be good at is critical thinking and assessing things more objectively. I’ve run into this challenge myself. It’s very easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when you’re in a startup or even any company. When you’re so close to it, you can’t see things objectively. Our ability to look at things dispassionately and assess what needs to happen from a business perspective is something that we find tuned pretty well over time.

It's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when you're in a startup. Click To Tweet

Instead of talking about me, let me talk about one of my partners, Kevin Maney. He’s arguably one of the best people in the world at articulating difficult-to-explain technology in a way that everybody can understand. Jeff Bezos used to even call on Kevin to help him unpack some ideas he was thinking about. I’m lucky to work with someone like him.

It’s not very often that many people get a chance to work with such industry thought leaders or category creators in this case. I’m sure you must be excited and grateful to be working with Kevin and others at CDA.

It’s a good group. There’s a lot of fun.

The other question that keeps coming up is, what are the resources or the exciting topics that you research or lean on? You mentioned the fact that you host a podcast. You must be listening to other podcasts and reading books, I’m sure. What are the other resources that you lean on or people you lean on?

I read a lot of things that are not pure marketing or pure business books because I like to get inspiration from unexpected places. One of the books that I’ve read a couple of times is called The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. It’s pretty dense. It’s not like a bedtime story or anything. He uses a lot of historical examples to talk about how different countries or militaries have engaged with each other. Many times, he explores the dynamics of different competitions, which is useful when you think about businesses and how they interact. That’s one.

We have a community that we started called Category Thinkers. It’s about 600 folks in there who are all thinking about or working on category design in one capacity or another. That’s a great place for us to fuel our thinking as a group. I’d like to share what I’ve learned. I learned things from other people from other corners who are thought of as something I haven’t discovered. That group dynamic and community have been valuable too.

I recall you saying about that community. I did join. If I did not, I’d be part of that. It’s cool to understand. More than coolness but it’s about how other people are thinking about category when it comes to that go-to-market. That’s my perspective and what I’m curious about. We’re going to be part of that. Shout-out to that group. For the readers, join that group.

If you’re not there, let me know when you join. I’ll make sure I say hello to you when you pop in.

The final question I have for you, John, is if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey?

Look for input from others more readily. One of the mistakes I made was thinking I knew more than I did and not knowing what I didn’t know. You can only discover that by getting perspective and feedback from other people. I would have been even more proactive about reaching out and finding people who were ahead of me or came from different disciplines who could share a perspective that I didn’t have.

B2B 54 | Category Design
Category Design: Reach out and find people ahead of you or from different disciplines who could share a perspective you don’t have.

 

Thanks for sharing that. That’s something that I grew up with as well, almost on a daily basis. More often than not, we think that we know and we have to be sure. We are confident. We believe that this is what it is, what my stands are, and what I will be doing. I wish I started earlier in building that personal board of advisors and having them as a sounding board or even giving them the comfort and the luxury of saying, “Vijay, you’re wrong. You’re going to screw up on this.” Creating that space is important. Thank you so much for a wonderful conversation, John. Good luck to you and the team at CDA. We’ll be rooting for your successes.

Thanks for having me, Vijay. It was a real pleasure.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 53 | Aligned

B2B 53 | Aligned

 

Success in today’s market isn’t about rigid plans, but the ability to adapt and evolve your go-to-market strategy. Our special guest, Gal Aga, co-founder of Aligned, shares his experiences, challenges, and successes in building effective GTM strategies that adapt to changing markets. Gal emphasizes the importance of understanding your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and why it’s crucial to niche down before expanding. He further explains how this laser-focused approach can unlock doors to previously untapped markets and foster rapid growth. Discover how Gal moved from traditional direct sales to product-led growth (PLG) at Aligned and the transformative power of shifting strategies in response to market dynamics. In this transition, Gal proves how it requires a flexible mindset and the willingness to unlearn and relearn. So, if you’re navigating the turbulent waters of go-to-market strategies or seeking to redefine your approach, this episode is your compass. Tune in now!

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Aligned Approach: Secrets To Navigating Complex Sales Motions With Gal Aga

Welcome to this episode of the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in to yet another episode, or maybe it’s your first episode. My sincere thanks for that. I have the pleasure of hosting another founder. This time, it’s an Israeli-based startup founder. His name is Gal Aga, and he is based in Israel and is the Founder of Aligned. I’m sure we will dive a lot into his go-to-market thinking and go-to-market approach. With that, welcome to the show, Gal.

Thanks so much. I am excited to be here. Go-to-market is one of the most interesting and close-to-heart topics, so I am very excited to discuss it.

I feel the same here. That’s why you are on this show. I am super excited for that. With that, how do you view and define go-to-market?

It’s one of these things that there are a lot of different versions out there. When you go and start building one, a lot of people put a lot of things into the mix. For me, it’s on a high level first. It’s a strategy or blueprint of how you deliver your product or service to your end users. It involves all of the different elements around it. From who is the buyer persona, which targets or which markets are you targeting, the ICP, competition, your sales motion or sales strategy, how you are going to promote the product, whether you are going to market it, and the pricing element. That’s how I have done it in the past.

It involves all of those things. You did mention about the different functions that you need to work with internally. That’s the product you start with, and then there’s marketing and sales. If you are a SaaS business, there’s the customer success element, which is the wholesale aspect as well. I know you are implicitly referring to it, but at the end of the beginning, it always starts with the buyer and the customer in mind in the go-to-market.

The best ones and the clearer ones that I have seen have always started with the buyer persona, defining all these different people. There is more than one. There’s the decision maker. Who’s the potential champion? Who’s the economic buyer? What are they, buyer persona or end users? From there, it’s easier to build the rest of it.

There is a whole ideal customer profile. It goes at the account level as well as the different stakeholders at the account level and so on, which I’m sure we will dive more into our conversation going forward. This is a great start. Let’s take a step back. Why don’t you tell our audience about your career story exactly why and what got you to the point in starting your startup and what you are doing?

I was fortunate to find my passion early on, which was in sales, and then, at some point, building go-to-market teams or revenue teams. It was then more to the wider scope of go-to-market. I have been in SaaS B2B sales for several years. I took the path from AE to sales manager, sales director, head of sales, VP, and CRO.

I have built. I love building. I was typically very involved early on when you need a lot of methodologies and hands-on strategy. I love building playbooks and go-to-market decks. I have done that multiple times. I had the opportunity to be involved in taking the company from the early stage of $1 million to $10 million. At some point, I also did the $20 million to $100 million range. I was very curious to see how that would work. I started in a telco sales, selling telecommunication technology.

That was Orange Telecom?

Yeah. It was a huge school. I started from the basics. It was before SaaS was something that people even were talking about. I fell in love with sales there and started researching and saying, “I want to build a career there.” There were these superstar sellers there that were selling the more strategic telco equipment. I remember seeing how they were selling, how much they were earning, and the potential.

I started researching and found this thing called SaaS. I researched SaaS and started my way there. My company very quickly understood that this is where I want to be, self-learning all of the insight sales methodologies and all of the SaaS methodologies. At that time, the CEO saw the potential and promoted me to head of sales.

I did, at that point, the decision to go back to selling after building. That was very early. I was building a sales organization myself. I went back to selling and did the enterprise AE path. I wanted to learn from experts. I found someone, a mentor. From there, I went from the sales director, VP sales, CRO, and Aligned. What brought me to found my own company is I knew that it was going to come at some point. Leading, finding more challenges, and doing more things have been my big passion. The opportunity came very early on. I had a passion for sales, so everything got connected. That’s where I am.

You are lucky in so many ways that you found your interest and passion to be in sales from day one of your career. Not many are fortunate. Kudos to you for realizing that and then making the bold steps to seek mentors and create self-learning paths inside sales as well as whom you want to work with. You were even going down the ladder so that you could grow up exponentially in a sales career and sales path. You have done that.

There’s always the notion. It’s not so much where sales or a salesman and salesperson has a very negative stigma, especially if you think of a card salesperson. That’s not the case. We all know that, especially for those who are in the industry. I’m curious. How do your family or your friends describe what you do at work?

The first thing that comes to mind is my son. I love Tesla. I am an Elon Musk fan. I was talking with him a lot about Tesla. He is interested in Tesla. He chatted with me a lot about the potential and the idea. At some point, I explained in one of the chats about the stock market. He describes to his friends, “My dad is Gal Musk.” My son already knows how to say it, but I’m far away from it. Hopefully, one day, I will come close.

It’s interesting how the kids perceive and what type of monikers they bring or gives to the parents when they learn what they are doing at work. Coming back to Aligned, you started Aligned clearly because you were motivated by what you have done in sales. There have also been the gaps that you started seeing while growing up in a sales career. What is Aligned about? What are you trying to solve and for whom?

Aligned is a customer collaboration platform that helps revenue teams better manage the complexity of their deals and their customer success projects. Think about a typical sales process or onboarding process where you have more than 1 or 2 calls to close that is not very transactional. Your customers are juggling a lot of different email threads, e-links, attachments, and tools you can get to mutual action plans in a spreadsheet.

B2B 53 | Aligned
Aligned: Align is a customer collaboration platform that helps revenue teams better manage the complexity of their deals and their customer success projects.

 

There are a lot of these different things all in attempts to go and enable a champion to sell for you internally or to enable multiple people to get what you do or get your offer. It brings all of these elements into a single collaborative customer-facing workspace where you can centralize all resources, mutual action plans, and key discussions with the customer.

It is a single link instead of all of that back and forth. Everyone involved in the deal can stay on top of the next steps and timelines. Stakeholders always have everything in front of them. It helps your champions sell free internally when you are not in the room. It helps sellers access more stakeholders. It helps keep onboarding or a sales process on track. It helps your action plans. It helps you sell smarter by also analyzing buying behavior in that workspace. That’s pretty much it. Overall, it reduces churn and closes more deals faster.

What prompted you to come up with or pursue this idea in the first place? Why this?

Specifically in my sales career, I have focused on the complex selling motions more like mid-market sales or getting a new startup off the ground, pioneering into a new category where you need to do a lot of why do anything, why ask stuff, excelling, and challenging. One of the cofounders, also named Gal, used to work together at the same company called Syte. It was a very complex sales motion to the retail tech.

We were hiring AEs. I was seeing all the time in my mind what makes a difference between the top sellers and the rest. It was a huge difference. The top sellers were doing $500,000 deals and $700,000 a quarter. Most of the reps were either 70% of target or some of them hitting $100,000. It was a huge difference. I remember one of the reps was closing a deal. She was doing a lot of things in that deal where she wasn’t selling. That was the a-ha moment. We saw that she was not selling. She was curating a buying experience and making it easy for the champion to sell for her while she was not there.

It was all about educating and bringing success criteria formats, building decks, putting in the decks throughout the process in a lot of the next steps and timelines, and updating the decks. She was summarizing all the time the next steps over email. She was creating a mutual action plan over email. A lot of the time, email summaries that mutual action plan.

We saw that, and a few years later, Gal opened a line together with Yotam, our third cofounder and CTO. He always had that dream to open after Syte. I was a CRO at that time. When they started Aligned or started thinking about the idea, he brought me as an advisor. We look back and remember that we knew we wanted to do something in sales. We looked back at these experiences and said, “That’s it.” We researched it more and saw that buying is getting more complex. Buyers are shifting away more from the seller. Gartner is writing about this all the time. Only 5% of the buying journey is spent with the seller. Meaning, most of the time, sales happen when you are not there in the room during the sale.

When we look at how selling happens, it has not changed for years. The sales stack is bloated, but the actual selling and execution of the deal, not emailing and getting pipeline. The actual deal management is still PDF, PowerPoint, or Excel while you have Miro workspace, Slack, Notion, Figma, and workspaces for collaboration in every other area of this. That is the inspiration and motivation. That’s the long version of the story.

The term that caught my attention and which should resonate, and maybe you should use it in your positioning and messaging if you are not already, is curating a buying experience. That’s key. You revealed the playbook of top sellers. That lady was not selling but made it easy for the internal champion to “sell internally” on her back.

That’s what it’s all about. With the budget scrutiny and especially everything that’s going on, if you are not doing that, it’s so easy to choose the status quo. It is so easy for the CFO to challenge your business case when you, as a champion, go there. If you have not been enabled throughout the process, if you don’t know the answers to everything, and if someone didn’t support you, you are going to get stuck as a buyer.

B2B 53 | Aligned
Aligned: If you don’t know the answers to everything, if someone really doesn’t support you, you’re going to get stuck as a buyer.

 

That’s the origin of Aligned. We all know that developing the product and having a hypothesis is one thing. How was the early days? I believe the company was incorporated in 2021 or 2020, depending on where you look at all the legal aspects and things like that. How were the early days? What is the hypothesis around the ICP? How has that evolved?

In the early days, we made a mistake there. We were thinking already too long-term. We were saying, “This is going to take all over the world. This is CRM level category,” which we still believe it is. We can have CRM level scale, but we were saying a little bit at the beginning, “Anyone that’s selling should be able to use this.” At some point, we understood that the beauty is in going a bit more niche at the beginning and tailoring and doubling down on targeting. We optimized it to not be any B2B, but B2B tech. B2B tech is probably going to have higher complexity in the sale process or early adopters of tools.

Secondly, we were defining what complexity is, so anyone that has more than 1, 2, or 3 touches to close. There has to be either a lot of stakeholders to manage, a deep process like a POC to manage, and a deep onboarding or long onboarding. It could even be a pretty transactional sales process with a lot of content sharing because of a lot of education and enablement. That’s where we narrowed down the ICP.

Your sales team or outbound team is focusing on these in the discovery call and prospecting.

That’s correct.

Let’s go back to our conversation earlier in the show, which is the definition of the ICP and how that has to constantly evolve as you evolve your go-to-market. Thanks for sharing your lessons on how you evolved your ICP for Aligned. Coming back to some of the growth aspects and the growth story around Aligned. Feel comfortable to share only what you can share in a public forum. How has Aligned evolved or grown in terms of funding and fundraising the number of customers, revenue, and even the number of employees?

We closed our seed round in the craziness of 2022. It was July or August 2022. We founded the company in October 2021. We did initially a pre-seed almost a year later. We closed the seed round, and when we closed the seed round, we already had the signed partners and initial revenue. From there, we, a year and a little bit after that, have been growing between 50% to 100% quarter-to-quarter.

I can’t share everything, but we are, at the moment, 17 employees around 10,000 users of the product, and around 150 paying customers. That includes also free users in the freemium. Aligned has actual two go-to-market motions. One is product-led and the other is direct sales. That’s one of the biggest challenges to get off the ground with the product with that go-to-market because you are constantly building both. One is for optimizing. These are the high-level details. Was there anything else that I missed?

You did cover the funding, the number of customers, and the number of both the free trial and the paid user. I appreciate that. You did cover the number of employees as well. That’s fine for a public forum. I understand that. Let’s get into the go-to-market success and the go-to-market failure story. You have seen both. I would like to understand your thought process around how you are managing product-led growth like PQLs, MQLs, SQLs, and so on. That’d be good to dive into as well.

I can start giving a high-level about that first. It’s even three motions. It’s PLG, PLS, and direct sales. I have built three sales go-to markets in the past. The sales part involves the product. It involves a lot of marketing within it. This is the most complex that I have done. When you nail all of them together, they are very powerful. For PLS, a lot of people don’t know that term. It’s Product-Led Sales. That means that it’s not only free users who are converting on their own, but you are using the free pool or free trials. It might be a free trial or a freemium type of model.

The free users involve decision-makers in larger companies that typically might buy a few individual seats. Users will pay out of pocket from small budgets or they will not maximize the potential. You are using that to get to a higher level of authority to build a sales opportunity and do a standard sales process. These are the three things that we are focused on. We have inbound leads and an outbound engine that’s driving demo requests top-down. We have inbound signups that are driving free self-serve deals and the product that sells. We are doing trade shows and driving deals there as well.

We covered both the go-to-market success and the failure story. What can you share from a go-to-market success point of view?

One of the things that come to mind that I can share is around pricing. We realized that we had, in Aligned, only a free and a pro package, and then the enterprise contacted us. We did a big research in the market. We saw that in the entire sales stack industry, there was almost no company that had that initial pricing point for self-service.

We opened $35 on a monthly. We opened that tier, experimented with it, and saw an interesting thing. In the beginning, a lot of people weren’t even buying that. It increased our conversion for the pro, but it created more differentiation. People were safe. They felt safer that there was a smaller one, but they wanted the one with more features. That was a big success.

In terms of failure, it connects a little bit to something that I said earlier. It’s another perspective of it. Our platform helps the entire revenue organization, both sales and CS. There’s even a partnership use cases and some SDR sales development use cases there. We initially looked at and mapped all of these buyer personas and defined them. Think about it. You have AE and VP sales. You have both the end user type of buyer persona and the authority for direct sales. You are looking at AEs, VP sales, CROs, revenue operations, ESMs, and partnership managers. It’s a lot.

We were trying to build it like that initially. It’s very helpful, but then we realized that if we are trying to target all of these in terms of building channels like marketing or sales channels to go to market with, it’s going to be an overkill. In messaging, when you try to better one burdened hand, so you try to get all of them together, you are getting nothing. You are getting messaging that’s too fluffing.

If we're trying to target everyone in terms of building channels, marketing or sales channels, to go-to-market with, it's just going to be an overkill. Click To Tweet

Those were the biggest challenges. It took us a while to figure it out. We are still serving all of them. We are starting in sales. From sales, we are expanding. A lot of times, during the sales process, the sales VP will bring the VP of CS or the CRO will want to buy for sales. That’s the core messaging that we put out there. We do 80/20. We decided to do 80% of sales and 20% of the rest in messaging or effort. The CRO will start up sales. From there, during the sales process, it will expand to others or post-sales, it will expand to others.

This changed everything, both in the simplicity of going to market and in conversion success. Long story short, and it repeats itself, niche down as much as possible and be very accurate with the target market through ICP and then expand over time or find other ways to expand during the sales process or post-sales for expansion.

B2B 53 | Aligned
Aligned: Niche down as much as possible and be very accurate with the target market, your ICP.

 

We keep coming back to that core insight in the go-to-market, which is the ICP. You need to be clear. You can say, “I’m telling to sales organizations,” but that’s such a huge market in itself. You need to hone it down into who within sales. Is it SDRs or AEs? Is it the sales leaders? Is it the inside sales or the SDR leader? Is it the rev ops? There are so many of the personas.

We didn’t even talk about the different segments. We talked about the verticals. You said you are focusing on tech. There are so many industries. Even within tech, there are so many segments in terms of $0 to $1 million, $1 million to $10 million, and $10 million to $50 million or $100 million. There are so many of these segments as well.

I have seen some companies and it’s not my experience but an opinion, narrowing down a bit too much. For example, they are doing something like a specific industry within sales or one very simple and small problem. The challenge is positioning-wise. You might be very accurate, but when trying to do PLG, you want more volume. You want to go to a bigger audience.

Also, positioning-wise, you are, from the get-go, creating positioning of something too small. There’s somewhere in the middle. That’s what we are trying to go after. We are trying to be something that tells a story, tells the vision, talks about the long-term, can move quickly, and is not trying to build all versions at once.

You also mentioned the complexity involved in managing the PLG, the self-serve, versus the PLS, and then the actual direct sales. From a lead gen perspective pipeline and then close, how has that mix evolved for the last couple of months?

It has all been growing. It’s almost impossible to build everything at once. We didn’t try to do the actual at the beginning. We tried to only do and only build the PLG virality to acquire the leads initially and then move quickly to capturing demand, creating demand, and doing thought leadership. We focused a lot on that at the beginning because we wanted to have a very clear funnel. We have people signing up and buying. It is people signing up and us helping them unlock value. It is then getting from there to authority and then building a product-qualified account.

It's almost impossible to build everything at once. Click To Tweet

From there, there is the sales process. That’s going to be a sales process that’s post-value. It has post-value validation or value realization. You have a team already used it for a while, and then you don’t have a trial through the sales process. We were doing that while we were running referrals a little bit. We had a lot of referrals from VCs and a lot of connections and we were still getting inbound. That was already very hard because it’s a different sales process.

You have the people who started top-down. They have already trying and using your product for a long time. You are going through building business cases at a high level where this helps, doing discovery with the leader, and helping with comparisons, and negotiation. Whereas if you are starting top-down, even not the outbound and putting outbound aside, then suddenly, in the lead process, they were telling us, “I want to go and use the free.”

One of the biggest challenges that we had there was figuring out how to separate the two. It was only the point where we felt that we were executing a different sales process well. With top-down, we are executing in a certain way versus bottom-up. If it’s working and things are closing within a few weeks, then we said, “To unlock growth and drive enough pipeline, let’s also start building an outbound machine.” We were having all of these things together that we constantly worked on and optimized.

It’s a big challenge trying to build.

It’s taking the long road a little bit, but it builds a lot of strength for the company. It’s optimizing all of these small pieces. We are going to market in a lot of different directions.

It’s a big challenge. I was responsible for building a PLG, and a product-assisted sales at a Series B startup last year in 2022. The go-to-market motion that the board and the CEO decided to evolve from earlier was inside sales and closing to inside sales. The decision was made to grow the free trial pipeline and then make it self-serve and a close buy to the free trial. In addition to that, it was to move up to mid-market and then do a sales-led.

It was a mess trying to do all of these in 9 to 12 months. We had a whiplash. It was a challenge to figure out what direction we needed to give to the people on the product side, the marketing side, the content side, and the sales side. Who do we hire from a sales point of view? Is it someone who can do product-assisted sales or someone who can do cold outbound and close, or they bring their book of business and close? It was such a huge challenge. That was a massive failure story in the end. The company had to lay off 80% of the employees because they struggled with all these different go-to-market motions.

How big was the company?

When I joined, it was around 150 employees or so, and then we brought it down to 75. Eventually, they went down to 15 to 20 employees. That challenge is always there.

On one hand, it’s harder to do when you are that big because then, it’s product, marketing, and sales. It is so many things together with a lot of processes already in place, so it is hard. At this stage where we are at, it’s a lot of agility. On the other side, I also wouldn’t recommend going and trying to do what we did unless you have one of the founders that have done sales and built go-to markets in the past.

We had the confidence that we were two founders that have done these things in the past. We had the confidence that we could experiment with this quickly and get to conclusions or do this quickly and bring more strength. It is generally a best practice to try only PLG and then go to PLS. Try maybe only outbound and at some point, later on, add the PLG. If you can be a PLG company, it’s better to be a PLG company from the beginning. That’s always true.

The advice I give to my clients as well as folks who I advise in general is to think about how you build and layer on marketing channels. You need to nail 1 or 2 channels, whether it is LinkedIn, email, or something that’s working well. Maybe it’s SEO or content inbound. Something has to be working well, and then you start experimenting and layering on top. The same thing goes with this. If it’s PLG from day one, that’s fine. Figure it out and go all in into PLG. Fireflies.ai, for example, I had the founder here on the show. They were all into PLG. They have PLG motion. Once you have that going, then you can layer on sales. It’s not to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Especially for the early stage, you are doomed to fail if you are going that route.

You need to give it time.

This was a great conversation. There are a lot of insights for the audience. Switching gears a bit over here. What are the 1 or 2 go-to-market skills or strengths that people look to you for? Maybe it’s PLG, sales, or fundraising.

It’s a few things. It’s one in the product-led sales that I have been having more people speak with me about. Secondly, it is specifically around the problems that we solve for our product, which is improving sales effectiveness in complex sales motions and how to standardize sales playbooks. We optimize direct complex or direct sales motion. People go upmarket or they go multi-product. They go into a more competitive space. This is where we typically help the most.

You must have had a lot of helping hands, mentors, or resources along the way. I know that you are a member of Pavilion, as an example. You also mentioned early on that you specifically joined the company to get the mentoring experience from a world-class leader. What resources or who are the 1, 2, or 3 people that have played a pivotal role in your career inflection points?

Professionally, there have been a lot of people. It’s hard to pinpoint one sales guru or go-to-market guru. There’s Aaron Ross with Predictable Revenue in the early days, The Challenger Sale, and Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. There were a lot of these different people. If I can say a few that were the most unique, life-changing, and big dramatic shifts, they are from actual people in the self-improvement space like Tony Robbins and Jim Rohn.

I have been turning personal development into a lifestyle. That’s one of the things that Jim Rohn talks about. Work on yourself more than your job. That’s one of his mantras. That’s a big part of it, following people like that all the time and watching their clips on YouTube. Tony Robbins specifically talks about thinking habits. He talks a lot about thinking. Nothing has any meaning except the meaning you give it, how to control or how you interpret situations, and which labels you are putting on situations.

Work on yourself more than your job. Click To Tweet

Especially as a founder, I had a huge euphoria or huge event and then a few dramatic things going on that take you 180% degrees to the other side. You start telling a story to yourself of, “Everything is going in a bad direction.” You can find how you can flip it and focus on that and how it can turn out for the best. This is one big thing that affected me. The third person is my wife. She is a huge part of my life. She is always listening when I’m down. She knows how to pump me up and just be there.

Family support, for sure, goes a long way. Going to your second point, self-help gurus. As cheesy as they may sound, they play a very critical role. For me, I lean on Tony Robbins and Robin Sharma. There are quite a few. Jay Shetty is the newest one on the block in that relevant space. It goes a long way. Marc Benioff credits Tony Robbins a lot.

For the readers out there, don’t think it’s very cheesy. They play a very important role, all these self-help gurus. It’s more up to you as to what and how you lean and use those resources and coaches. I have a final question for you. If you were to turn back the clock to day one of your go-to-market journey, what advice would you give your younger self?

The answer that I’m going to give applies to a lot of different things in the workplace. It took me time to realize this. I’m very methodological. I like formalized. I like finding the, “This is how it should be done.” What I have learned over time is that any formula that I learned and then swore by, you need to throw it into the trash at some point because there are constant changes.

It is being flexible to unlearn about how go-to-market strategy should look like for a company that does this and that because that changes. I have done public sales and direct sales throughout my entire career. I built a PLG company. People tell me, “Why are you doing PLG? Why are you not doing only direct sales?” It has changed. The world has changed.

I 100% agree with you on that. The ability to question your beliefs when it’s not useful and unlearn and learn new habits is a big secret for personal success. In the early days, I used to focus on being perfect. I was detail-oriented. Being an engineer by tradition in the early days, it was all about that. Especially in the early days, if you are doing early business building, you cannot be detail-oriented, process-oriented, and strive for perfection. That will not work. A great conversation. Thank you for sharing so many of these insights. Good luck to you and the team at Aligned.

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. I enjoyed this conversation.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 52 | Clin.AI

B2B 52 | Clin.AI

 

Start before you’re ready. Entrepreneurship is about embracing uncertainty, trying new things, and learning from every step along the way. In this episode, our guest, Kalyan Obalampalli, discusses the journey of his creation: Clin.AI, a groundbreaking platform for clinical trial vendor selection and management. He reveals the ups and downs, the moments of doubt, and the incredible perseverance it took to build a product from scratch. Kalyan shares how he transitioned from a free pilot to a paid subscription model, scaling Clin.AI to possibly six-figure annual contract values. But entrepreneurship is not all smooth sailing. Kalyan shares his honest go-to-market failure story, where he experimented with marketing agencies and discovered the importance of a founder finding their own voice in messaging. Throughout the episode, Kalyan’s key advice to his younger self resonates: “You don’t know where you can go unless you start.” Tune in now to gain a fresh perspective on entrepreneurship and innovation!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Clin.AI: Pioneering Automation In Clinical Trials With Kalyan Obalampalli

I have the pleasure of hosting a Founder, CEO, and a good friend, Kalyan Obalampalli, who is the Founder and CEO of Clin.AI. With that, welcome to the show, Kalyan.

Thank you, Vijay. It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Same here. We have been in touch over the last couple of years. I’m excited and happy for you to see how we have grown your company from an idea to what you’ve been doing so far. We will unpack all of that in the episode. Welcome once again. As with each and every guest of mine, I always start with the signature question. This show is all about go-to-market, and I would love to get your perspective. How do you view and define go-to-market?

I don’t have any formal knowledge. I didn’t ever delve into understanding what go-to-market is, to start with. I was like a startup founder who found the idea, believed in it, and didn’t figure out how to sell it. The way I have at least thought about go-to-market is, “What am I selling? Who’s my customer? How am I going to sell it?” Those were the questions that I saw in the most basic definition.

Over the years, I identified some gaps in the industry. If you remember, you were kind enough to tell me the most important thing, which was to interview a lot of people and understand, “Is this a problem or not?” Fundamentally, that’s where we started. We understood it was a problem and then believed in it. We gave the clarity after all the interviews that it was an issue because, a lot of times, the question that came to me was, “This is so simple. How can this still be a problem? How come people haven’t thought about a solution?”

Once that was said, we built a product that helps small to mid biotechs with vendor selection. The second thing was we identified who needed it the most. The bigger companies needed it, too, but we identified our ideal client profile to be small to mid biotechs with less than 200 employees in most cases, although we have clients bigger than that.

How do we reach out to them? That’s the part where I struggled quite a bit, but what I identified was our industry is pretty traditional. I identified that the way we are going to find our customers was to go out into the market, go to conferences, speak to people, and make that personal one-to-one relationship, and that’s where I can make them understand the value proposition.

Interestingly, my first client turned out to be one of the first twenty interviews that I did in 2020 after our discussion. One of them picked up the phone. She talked to me for twenty minutes. When I built something, I called her. The funny thing is what I built was not what she needed. She said, “If you build this, I’m going to use it.” As you know the story, I learned how to code. In a month, I built what she wanted. That was how we go-to-market.

The way I summarized and took away from how you view and define go-to-market is it’s very typical with founder-led startups and founder phases or approaches in the early days of a startup, which is based around the basics starting with, “What is a problem? Is anyone out there solving this problem? What is the problem that I saw firsthand? Let me go out and validate if it’s a problem.” That’s one. Second, if it’s a problem, someone is willing to pay money for it. That’s super important as well. That’s the approach you took for your go-to-market, and that’s how you view, approach, and define go-to-market.

In the process, similar to how we touched base, I touched base with the CEO of a small company who had sold his company to somebody else. He was the first one who challenged me. I was telling him about how many contracts we have facilitated through the platform. His question was, “How much did you get paid?” That’s a question that hit hard, but that night was when I wrote my first proposal asking the company to pay me for my services. A month later, they signed the contract.

Let’s zoom out. I’m sure we will unpack and get into a lot of the details around Clin.AI, the go-to-market, the clients, and so on, but let’s zoom out a bit over here. Why don’t you tell and share your career story with our audiences? Who is Kalyan? Why did you choose this space? What were you doing prior to Clin.AI? Let’s take it from there.

I’m in the pharmaceutical industry running clinical trials. That’s what I’ve done. How did I get into it? I’m an engineer by education. Due to many reasons, I fell into this space. I was in preclinical research, and then I got into clinical research. Since then, I’ve been doing this for years and running clinical trials. People are a lot more familiar with what clinical trials are after COVID. That’s what I’ve been doing so far.

Throughout the process, I’ve always wanted to do something for myself and start my own business. In 2016, I started something to do with vending machines. It had nothing to do with my education or anything else, but I wanted to do something fun. I didn’t have kids at that time, so I had a lot of time on my hands. My wife always used to encourage me to do something in my field because she thought that might be the best use of my time.

As I kept thinking about things, there were clinical research and clinical trials. If you talk to anybody, there is no dearth of gaps. There are so many things that we do on paper or Excel files. It’s almost unbelievable we’re that far behind. It’s well-known that the uptake of technology is very slow. That’s where I identified a few gaps. You have to hit upon a challenge that you’re so passionate about that you want to solve it.

In the process of running trials, everything is outsourced. You outsource things to vendors. When you outsource, the contract costs or the contract values are anywhere from $2 million, $3 million, $5 million, $10 million, $15 million, $20 million, $30 million, $40 million, to $50 million. We were negotiating these all the time using Excel files, and that’s how we did it. I felt that the amount of due diligence I was doing was less than what I would do even if I hired someone to remodel my kitchen. That’s how I felt.

In 2020 September, I selected vendors for $100 million, which eventually became $130 million because of changes and change orders. That was it. I decided somebody had to do this. I quit my job and bought a laptop. It was me and a laptop. I remember walking into this building, looking for a shared space, and learning how to code. That kept going on. I kept coding, built something, and pivoted as every other company does. That’s how Clin.AI started.

That’s a very cool story. Kudos to your wife for pushing you into doing a startup and working on a problem that’s close to your main field versus vending machines. I want to get into the vending machine story though. What prompted you to go down the vending machines? What did you learn? I’m sure if you go back and connect the dots, everything plays a role.

First of all, as far as my wife’s advice goes, I give credit to me because I listened to her. The vending machine thing has a critical role because when I started that business, it was about providing healthier products to the customers using vending machines. That’s what I was doing. The machines were state-of-the-art. You could use iPhones, Google Pay, Apple Pay, or whatever you want on these machines. Plus, you get organic and healthier products.

When I started, there were two companies that I finalized that I would probably work with. I ended up working with one of them, and it worked out. The second that I did not choose went bankrupt after nine months. The first thing that I understood was it’s very important to choose partners. It’s about people. It’s not about the amount of money you’re going to pay them. I went with the expensive one, but I knew that this company was not after my money. They were going to give me at least what they said they would provide. That was my first lesson.

It's very important to choose business partners. It's about people, not the amount of money you're going to pay them. Click To Tweet

The other important thing that came to my mind was, “How do you get customers?” You have no idea how to get customers. I remember walking into this college. I knew nobody there. I walked in and talked to this guy who was sitting in the cafeteria. He was managing the cafeteria. We started talking. Initially, I couldn’t strike a chord with a lot of people, but then this is a place where Pepsi was already there. I walked in and talked to this guy. We got Pepsi out of that college, making a case, “This is unhealthy stuff. Maybe you should offer healthier stuff.”

It was not that easy to sell, but eventually, I was able to kick Pepsi out, which is a huge deal in the vending machine area. That gave me confidence that I could possibly walk into a business that I have no idea about and talk to a customer that I have no idea who that is. People give you a chance. People don’t buy the product. They buy you. That was my first lesson in learning that.

That’s a great story and lesson there. How did you manage to get Pepsi out of that cafeteria? I would assume you or the cafeteria person would have gotten some incentives to keep Pepsi in there. How did you work around that?

Pepsi is huge. That’s a good and a bad thing for them. It’s good because they can give a big percentage of their sales to the college. It’s bad because the products are horrible. It’s full of preservatives. You know the story of the snacks that they make. For example, Pepsi snacks won’t go bad for the next year and a half. They sit in the vending machine forever. This stuff can be good for you. If you look at some of the colleges, there have been a lot of movements in the colleges like Ban the Bottle. They don’t want any water bottles and things like that. The colleges or the next generation are moving into that area.

Those were my talking points. I made a case, “Would you want to consider giving something? I’m not saying that this is perfect. This is healthy. Do you want to get to that next step where you are providing products that are healthier than what you have? You can’t go to healthy. You can’t start putting bananas in there because nobody is going to buy.”

That was our step, “Do you want to take this interim step to get slightly closer? We’re never going to have sugary products like Coke or Pepsi. This is what we’re going to have. We’re going to have organic bars and things like that.” That was attractive to them. They felt like they were going to make a move in the positive direction. It’s going to be seen as a positive step by their management. That’s how we were able to sell it. Financially, we tried to make it as attractive for them as possible. It’s a combination of the intent and the monetary side of things, plus making a case that they can sell internally. That’s how the whole vending thing started.

Those are all key points, especially in the B2B space where you have to connect with the buyer or the person who has the buying power. More often than not, especially in B2B, it’s not one buyer, but it’s a team of buyers and influencers.

There’s more than one person who makes the decision. Another big lesson that I learned was how you service the client is another important part. You can get the contract, but then if the customer is not happy, it’s very easy for yourself to get demotivated and also for the business to collapse pretty quickly. That has been the mantra for Clin.AI when I started. The biggest thing was to find customers and then make them extremely happy. That has been how the company has grown so far. We have spent probably zero on marketing in quite a few months, maybe up to a year. We spent nothing on marketing. It was all word of mouth and people talking about us. I didn’t mean to digress there, but that was something I kept to my mind.

You can get the contract. But if the customer is not happy, it's very easy for your to get demotivated and for the business to collapse. Click To Tweet

This is relevant to the next topic that we are going to talk about, which is where is Clin.AI at in terms of customers, pipeline, revenue, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing with. We all know that it’s still early days. No number is small. It’s more about the growth. It will get bigger and better from here.

2022 was a great year for us. 2021 was when we launched, but that was the year when we were testing the system. It takes about 4 months to 5 months for a vendor to be selected because these are anywhere from $15 million to $30 million and $40 million of contracts. In 2022, we had an excellent year. We have ended up with a very strong number of customers.

In terms of how we have grown, we have seen a 500% growth year over year from ’21 to ’22. ’22 to ’23 may not be in terms of customers but in terms of revenue. We’re going to be six figures in terms of signing contracts. We will have to wait and see how everything turns out. It’s not been easy, but fortunately, we have hit upon an area where there is a need because I remember going to a conference. I was late for breakfast. I was kicking myself that I spent all this money and came to the conference, and now I wake up late. I was late for breakfast. I was getting into the elevator, and somebody else was late too. We had breakfast together. They became a customer. I figured out, “I’m walking into customers.”

I felt like this is a need in the industry. That’s where we started in 2021, but now, we have seen significant growth so far in terms of how we have done it. One of our customers has been telling us we have saved them $8.5 million in 2022. The ROI in at least one of the cases is greater than 100 to 1 or something along those lines. That has been our story.

We’re making sure the customers are extremely happy, using their word of mouth, and getting more customers. In 2023, we have invested quite a bit in getting a salesforce on board and also going to a lot more conferences and having a lot more discussions. That’s where we are. Another significant step in this is we took a step back earlier in 2023 to build another product.

Generally, what I kept hearing from the people I was talking to was, “If something is selling, keep selling it.” Although I agreed with that, I felt like vendor selection was one part of it. You have to manage the vendors too. We took a step back for about three months and developed another product for management. We have rolled it out to a few customers. It might become our flagship product in the future.

Back in the days when you and I were talking, you were contemplating building a marketplace on a platform. Think of it. If you are trying to build a one-sided marketplace, let’s say the pain level is 100. If you’re talking about a two-sided marketplace, the pain level is 500. It jumps exponentially. You and I went back and forth. The advice that I gave is, “Which side is willing to pay? Start on that side of things first.”

A marketplace is a very simplistic idea that a lot of people dream about. In the limited research that I did or whatever I could do, I learned that there’s only one marketplace typically that survives the market. Facebook was the last one. Beyond that, maybe there haven’t been too many of a similar kind. It’s a simplistic idea. As we discussed, which side do we go after first? A marketplace is something that people can get to eventually. The main thing is to start on one side, find the pain point, start filling that gap, and deliver the results.

B2B 52 | Clin.AI
Clin.AI: Start on one side, find the pain point, and start filling that gap and deliver the results.

 

I have a lot of vendors reaching out to me, “Can I be on your platform?” There’s no need to be on our platform. If a sponsor wants to reach out to you, we will get you on for free, but a lot of people keep reaching out. That’s a good sign. Will we implement that in the future and make that a main part of our business? It’s something that we can contemplate in the future, but as of now, we have identified an area or a niche of selecting vendors and managing vendors. We want to stick to that. Eventually, will we serve both sides? We potentially may, but as of now, we’re going to park that idea on the sidelines and consider what’s working so far.

Here’s the reason why I wanted to bring it up, especially for the audiences who are aspiring founders or founders in the early stages. You can, you will, and you should go with a hypothesis. In your case, it was building a marketplace. Maybe that’s a pain point, and maybe that’s what you need to pursue, but after you reach out and talk to “the buyers and customers,” that’s where your hypothesis will evolve. It was not the marketplace.

Those interviews were critical. I give a lot of credit to the interviews for this reason. You had forwarded me 3 or 4 articles at that time. They’re very simplistic ones. I probably didn’t read three. I only read one. I asked you this question specifically. You had formed a hypothesis statement, “We do this for,” and then there was a dash and something else. I followed that template and created my hypothesis.

Another important thing you were telling me was, “Don’t prod the answers. Don’t suggest. Let them give the answer.” The hardest part during the interview was to shut up and let the customer or the interviewee talk. Those interviews were the ones that told me that this probably is a good idea, but then there’s another need that people are still waiting for.

Sometimes, the hardest part during an interview is to just shut up and let the customer or the interviewee talk. Click To Tweet

I remember a couple of conversations at least where the last thing that the person I was interviewing said was, “That sounds like a million-dollar idea.” In my mind, I thought, “I hope tens of millions.” That was validation of the fact that people who are in my industry who are in similar roles to me are thinking about the same problems that I have thought about, and they don’t have any solutions for it. Will they pay for it at that time? They did say they would, but you can’t take their word to be the truth at that time because some of them may not even be the decision makers although they’re influencers.

Small companies’ CEOs have to be convinced that this is a good value for the money, but now, we have crossed that path. Sitting here, I can’t tell how we got to this point. It has been on the shoulders of a lot of other people like you who have been CEOs of small companies who have given me 2 to 3 hours of their time without any reason, just believing in my idea, “Tell me what you want.”

I applied to YC. I didn’t make it there, but then people from YC are still in touch with me. One of them, for no reason, reached out to me and gave me a lesson on how to do email marketing. Until then, we were not doing any of that at all. All those things have had a role in how we got here. That’s a thought that came to my mind that was important that I thought I would share.

That’s a good anecdote. That’s a testament and a validation. We all read about these approaches, especially in books like The Lean Startup. Eric Ries and others have promoted this topic and the idea heavily. When Google and other companies want to launch a new product, they always test it. They always go out and see if it’s viable or not. The reason I wanted you to share your story is a validation.

It’s not something that people do only in the big companies. It’s more important for founders to do it in early-stage and smaller companies because there are a lot of stories where founders have invested 3, 6, to 12 months or even 1 to 2 years. At the end of two years, they have nothing to show because they went about building the product based on what they were thinking versus going and talking to the customers and seeing if it’s a valid idea or not.

The process has made me a lot humbler in the sense that when you’re saying that, I’m thinking about all those founders who put their heart and soul into it. You believe the idea. You go after it. You build it. It’s important to make sure that you validate your idea. Plus, some of it has to do with a little bit of luck, timing, and things like that. I have an immense understanding or feeling that those who didn’t make it were not fools. That’s one of the biggest learnings I believe from the process.

There have been so many ups and downs where in the morning, I’m thinking of something. In the evening, I’m thinking something else. Six months down, I’m like, “Maybe I should wrap up.” Suddenly things pick up and happen. This process has taught me that I’m here probably on their shoulders and those who did not make it were not fools.

Those are truly humbling and inspiring words for sure. We’re switching gears here. With every guest of mine and whoever comes on the show, we always go deeper into a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. Specifically in your case, I was thinking it would be a good insight sharing for the audience if you could walk us through how you landed that first customer, all the challenges that you had to go through, and the disbelief, “Is this the right thing? Am I doing the right thing?” You eventually got that first check. Walk us through that process.

When I initially imagined this idea in my mind with no coding experience, my brother-in-law who you know well went through four things. His brother is also into programming and all that stuff. They said, “There’s UX. There’s UI. There’s a back end and a front end. You don’t know any of this stuff. Know that’s where you will start. There are better people who have done it many times.” They were coming from the right place in their heart. It was good advice, and I was going against that.

To start with, there were doubts. I’m trying to code. I would ask everybody who walked into my house, “Are you a back-end guy or a front-end?” That’s all I knew. Some of them would say, “I’m a back end.” I was like, “Let me talk to you later.” That’s where it started. I hired anybody who would walk into my house while I was learning or trying to build the product.

Trespassers would get a demo. That’s how it was. I give a lot of credit to the initial people around me who never discouraged me although they saw a crappy product in the beginning. When I showed it to my brother-in-law, he was like, “I wouldn’t show this to investors,” instead of saying, “This looks like crap,” which is how it looked like. That’s where it started.

You asked a very deep question. On November 27th, 2020, I had this conversation with Dave Hadden who runs a company called Pro-ficiency. He told me, “Free only takes you so far.” I thought that was very condescending. My ego got hurt. I told him that day that by January 2nd, 2021, if I don’t have this ready, I’m going to quit. I closed the doors from December 16th or 14th onwards for about twenty days. I have two young kids. They were two and a half and one and a half at that time. I told my wife, “I’m not coming out. I’m sorry, but this is it.”

By January 2nd, I built it. I texted him and said, “Dave, the MVP is done.” That’s when I reached back out to the people that I interviewed to talk to them, and one of them said, “That’s not what we want. If you build something for vendor selection, that’s where I want to use it. February 15th is when I want to send it out.” That gave me a month and a half. Here I was coding. This is the second round of coding for a month and a half to build a completely new product. I never believed that I would build it. I did not.

I thought that I would probably get somewhere in the middle and get somebody to help me or hire a programmer, but things happened such that I got to that point. Every week, I would show the progress to this first customer of mine. Her name is Audrey. She would say, “This looks great.” For me, it didn’t make any sense. I kept building, and she kept saying, “This is great.” Initially, we had people enter data into the cloud. Now, everything is automated.

Let’s take one step back. How did you find and get Audrey to sign up? That’s a critical point.

Audrey was one of the people that I interviewed in June 2020. I interviewed her. She was one of the nicest people. She answered a lot of questions for me. I had all the questions lined up, and she answered all the questions for me. She was one of the ones who ended up saying, “That sounds like a million-dollar idea.” I had no idea who she was. I opened LinkedIn. I searched for clinical operations professionals. I sent a message to whoever showed up. She had these fireside chats. Once I knew her, I started getting to talk to her a little bit and participate in anything that she would do.

That’s how I found her, and that’s how we kept in touch. I said, “I built something.” From June to December, I don’t think we talked. In December, I talked to her and said, “I might have something ready for you that I want to show you.” When I showed it to her, that’s when she said, “That’s not what I want. I want this.” That’s what I built. I told her, “If I build it, will you use it?” She was like, “I’ll use it if you want to cut down my analysis time by 80%.” That’s what she thought it would do, and I built it. I started building it.

On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, or the day before, I was showing this to my family. Some of them were like, “This doesn’t look very good.” The day before the product release too, they gave me so many improvements that I did overnight. We released it the next day. When I released it, I caught this because the vendors had to put their data in. At 7:00 PST, I released it. At 7:19, I got a call from one of the biggest vendors who was invited through that platform telling me, “What are you doing? Why are you increasing the amount of work? You’re asking me to enter all this on your platform. Why would I do that?”

He gave it to me left and right. He put the phone down. I texted my first customer and told her, “This guy is going to call you. Can you handle it?” When she talked to the vendor who was supposed to enter his data, he said, “This is a lot of work.” She said, “Does it seem like a lot of work? That’s okay. You don’t have to bid.” That’s exactly what she told him.

He called me back, and we figured out a way. We wanted to meet the vendor beyond halfway. We created a method for him where he can upload the data pretty quickly. Another significant lesson was you have to add value to both sides. You can’t add value to one side and ignore the others. That’s how I found my first customer, built the platform for that customer, and released it, the initial feedback that we caught, and learned lessons from it. We immediately identified the big holes in the platform.

B2B 52 | Clin.AI
Clin.AI: You have to add value to both sides. You can’t add value to one side and ignore the others.

 

Was it a paid pilot or a free pilot?

Free pilot. I wasn’t even thinking of money at that time.

At what point in time did Audrey decide to pay?

We did our first one and then had a second one. They immediately had another requirement. That’s why I say timing. They had another requirement, and then they went through the platform again. Once they went through a platform for the second time when they were at the tail end of it, that’s when I had that meeting with another small company’s CEO who was introduced to me by a mutual friend. He was least interested in the presentation. He was like, “Did you get paid?” That was his question. That night, I wrote this thing. I got paid on July 30th, which is a day before my birthday. I thought I had forgotten, but it looks like things are fresh in my mind still.

That was your first customer who cut your check.

It was Audrey. It was the same company. They did another vendor selection. The vendor selections take 3 or 4 months. We did the first one starting in February. In March and April, they had another one come up. They did that one. We got into May. May is when I floated the idea of getting paid. June is when they approved it, and then it takes 30 days to get paid. On July 30th, we got paid.

That was a 3 or 4-figure ACV at that point in time.

4 or 5.

Earlier, you mentioned that you are at possibly a six-figure ACV.

Our Annual Contract Value per customer is more than six figures. What I was alluding to before was getting to a revenue per year of seven figures.

That’s a great go-to-market success story. Thank you for unpacking a lot of actionable insights for the audiences here, but as you and I know, it’s not always up and to the right. I’m sure you must have experimented and tried different ways, going to events, sending emails, or doing cold outreach, and things have not worked. What is a go-to-market failure or a three-month experiment that you tried and didn’t work out?

You look for solutions and talk to people, and people suggest solutions. One of the solutions that came up was, “Why don’t you use these marketing companies that can find vendors?”

They’re outbound agencies and cold-calling agencies.

It’s not cold calling but rather people who can email, use LinkedIn for you, and find those clients for you. One of the suggestions came from the CEO of a huge company. There are a lot of people in the industry, but it’s hard to find who does it, especially in the pharma world. It was a challenge even to find them. I found this person who has been in the industry for twenty-plus years. She worked with some huge labs. I invested in that for three months, and I felt that there was nothing coming out of it.

As a founder, when you start a company, you probably have the messaging the best. When you haven’t done something, it’s about experimenting. When a marketing agency starts this, they have to send some emails, see how it goes, send something else, and tweak it. I don’t know if an outside agency has that commitment, or maybe I found the wrong agency to work with, but I found that after three months, I was not hitting any of the goals.

One of the problems that I had was they wanted to put something out there on LinkedIn. They said, “This looks like a nice image. Let’s put it out there.” I remember she posted it on LinkedIn, and I had to remove it. Maybe some of this is my weakness too. I don’t want anything that doesn’t look good because whatever goes out there is representing my company. You don’t want to put something out there so that people will start looking at it or clicking on it.

My point is I don’t think my mindset and this marketing agency’s mindset were aligned because I didn’t want to put whatever comes to my mind out there. It’s not about the number of clicks for me. It’s about quality and messaging correctly. I don’t think they were getting it, and it’s not their fault because it’s me who should have done that job, which I eventually did.

B2B 52 | Clin.AI
Clin.AI: It’s not about the number of clicks. It’s about quality and it’s about messaging correctly.

 

That’s an example of how the LinkedIn strategy or the email strategy didn’t work. I was in analysis paralysis mode for a long time, “What am I going to post on LinkedIn?” I finally started posting on July 10, 2023. In the few weeks that I’ve posted, I’ve at least had three companies reach out to me telling me that they enjoyed the way I’m using my personal expertise because I’ve worked on the sponsor side, and now I’ve become a vendor. They have enjoyed seeing the push, and they’re very authentic.

It’s early days, but whatever feedback you get is valuable in the early days. I’ve been encouraged by that. What results does it generate? We will have to wait and see. There are a couple of good leads that have come through, but we will have to wait and see if they turn into anything. I feel like at least I’ve found my voice on LinkedIn. Something didn’t work. There are a lot of other things than LinkedIn, but at least I figured out my voice of what I’m going to say on LinkedIn about my company, which I don’t think a marketing agency can do for you.

That’s a critical lesson. Typically, once a founder has found a playbook for a go-to-market, outbound, social media, or SEO, then they can delegate and offload from the data responsibly, but you cannot offload something that you have not figured out and expect an outsider to.

You asked me for one failure, but too many failures are coming to my mind, including salespeople that I’ve hired. Somebody gave me the same advice that you’re saying. When I was hiring the salesperson, they said, “Do you have a repeatable sales process that you can give this salesperson?” Initially, my thought process was, “Salespeople are motivated enough that they will sell because they’re going to make money out of it. That should be motivation enough,” but what I’ve realized is it’s a lot more than that. There are no clear instructions about how to go about the process with eyes closed where you have Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and Step 4 clearly defined. The wheels will be spinning, and they will be in the same place. It’s not their fault. It’s the founder’s fault that they did not put the procedures in place.

Kudos to you. By training, you are an engineer. You were on the technical side of things, but given how passionate you were in this problem space and how passionate you were about solving the clinical trial gap and the automation piece that was missing, you took it upon yourself to learn, first of all, doing customer discovery, validation, and sales. You’re putting yourself out on LinkedIn and finding your voice. The biggest takeaway and message is if you’re committed, passionate, and persistent, there will be challenges, failures, and a lot of areas where you have no experience, no confidence, and no belief, but if you’re out there for a long duration, you will figure it out, and things will align.

That’s one lesson that I’ve learned. My mind always goes back and says, “Why couldn’t you do this one year back? Why couldn’t you start posting on LinkedIn? Maybe you could add a couple of more customers or a few more of whatever it is.” Things happen at a time. That’s one thing, but the other thing is the biggest lesson that I have from that is to try. It may be right, wrong, or whatever it is.

There are so many different channels for identifying your potential customers, and you may try one because you’re comfortable with it. That’s one area that I still feel like I’m behind where I don’t try because of fear of failure or because I don’t know the area well enough, fear of it not working, or fear of what people are going to think if they look at a certain email a certain way.

Something that I have learned is I’m not that important. There’s so much going on out there. I don’t think people care if I put a bad LinkedIn post out there or send an email unless it’s a horrible email, which I’m hoping I don’t send out. If it’s average, you will get a chance to improve. People won’t remember your average email and hold it against you. At least, that’s my belief. If it turns out not to be the case, I’ll learn. At least, that’s what I’m still trying to tell myself every day. I’m still learning. I’m not even close to accepting my weaknesses or faults yet.

Bring it home. We are almost close to the finish line. What advice would you give to your younger self? You did mention that. I’m pretty sure you’re going to echo it and re-emphasize it, but I would love to hear it from your words.

The one thing is you don’t know where you can go unless you start. That’s one. I had never in my life thought that I would build an application. I have a team, but when I started, I was building this application. You never know where you can go. You get your feet wet and then figure it out. If it’s not for you, you will find out. I’m going back to the same theme. Although as daunting as it is, it’s important to give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you will fail. I don’t think it will take that much time for you to realize that this is not working. You have to back yourself to do that.

For example, in go-to-market, there are so many ways to find your customers. At least in my case, I didn’t try a lot of those because I wasn’t comfortable with them. It’s getting comfortable, getting started, not worrying about what the result is going to be, not being afraid of what people are going to think about it, and thinking about whether I’m going to get a customer with this or not.

As long as it’s not hurting somebody and as long as I’m being true to myself and putting a message out there that I believe will resonate, that’s a good start. If it doesn’t resonate, you will find out pretty quickly, and then you can change. If it still doesn’t work, then you will change. If it still doesn’t work, then maybe that’s a bad idea, and you move on to the next one.

As long as it's not hurting somebody and you're being true to yourself and putting out a message out there that you believe will resonate, that's a good start. Click To Tweet

Let’s end this on a high note. I loved the conversation. Good luck to you, Kalyan, and Clin.AI.

I appreciate the time that you took for this episode. I know a lot of work goes into it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Since the time we talked, I kept texting you the updates even when I got the Vice interview and all that stuff. You’ve always been a sounding board for me to run ideas by and also give me advice because I don’t read books. I rely on people like you who read the books and then give the significant points from it. Thanks for your help. I enjoyed this discussion. I’m looking forward to where this company takes me.

Thanks once again and good luck.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/