B2B 29 | Go To Market

B2B 29 | Go To Market

 

How can you focus on key aspects in your business for growth and organizational effectiveness? Listen to today’s episode as Jamie Cleghorn shares his experience in go-to-market. Raised by a data-driven marketer dad, he believes that marketing is in his DNA. He is part of Bain & Company which focuses on driving transformational change with clients, primarily in growth strategy, go-to-market effectiveness, and organizational alignment. He researched companies doing well, trying to isolate variables and discover the elements that drive above-market growth and share gain. This study found the pieces that he believes will define the future of the go-to-market.

Listen to the podcast here:

Customer Engagement Success Through The Go-to-Market Strategy With Jamie Cleghorn

I am super excited to welcome Jamie Cleghorn. Thank you for being on the show.

I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

With that, I always start with this question, which my audience love which is, how do you define go-to-market?

It’s everything that’s between a value proposition and a happy customer. The precondition for go-to-market is strategy. It’s having a clear sense of what are we building, who are we building it for and why would they give you perfectly good US currency in exchange for it? Once you have that, it immediately devolves into go-to-market like product management, marketing, sales, post-sales success and all of those things.

In some camps, it might be a bit controversial to put a product into the go-to-market. In my experience, when you don’t have a product in the go-to-market consideration set, in that value stream, it usually breaks down. Getting a product in there and building a straight line from that value prop to the customer is what you’re trying to do.

This is super crisp and helpful. I’m so glad that you highlighted the role of the product in the whole go-to-market sequence. When I speak with quite a few folks in the go-to-market world or even a couple of guests on the show, there are times where I need to remind them that it’s not just about marketing, sales or post-sales. Product plays a very important role, especially if your go-to-market is around product-led growth. You better have product front and center in those things.

We could all sit here and say that a good product manager is going to be customer-centric and they’re going to be needs-based. I cannot tell you the number of organizations we walk into where we say, “Show us the one piece of paper where you’ve written down crisply what the value proposition of this product is?” It’s not there in many cases. Sometimes they ran out of time. They were too busy getting the development sprint done or whatever it was.

Without that Dick Tracy decoder ring of why would a customer want this, marketing and sales mix it up. Customer success gets shipped to a new deal and the first question they say is, “What were you promised?” Pulling that thread back to square one around, “What is the promise we’re making here? What is the value we’re exchanging? What is it that we’re doing in a need-based way?” That is the bedrock and it’s hard to do well. It’s hard to raise a simple short letter.

It does remind me of a practice that is promoted or emphasized at Amazon. I’m sure it’s emphasized pretty much anywhere where go-to-market is a central focus area, which is when you’re embarking on a new initiative, a new product or a new product release, start with a press release as to why someone should care about it. Why there should be so much buzz and excitement in the market and then let’s work backwards.

B2B 29 | Go To Market
Go To Market: The strategy is the 1% and the go-to-market defined as product on down is the 99%.

 

We will do something similar, which is like, “I’m your first customer. Sell me your product.” Why should I care? The answer is usually in there. It’s not like they haven’t thought about it. They just haven’t translated it from feature to benefit or they haven’t put their selves in the shoes of a buyer or different members of the buying committee and thinking through the different pieces of it.

Switching gears a little bit over here, going big picture and on the personal side of things. You are a successful partner at Bain, a leading strategic consulting company. It’s a known global brand. Tell us about your journey. What led you to the path of management consulting and what do you do at Bain now?

I’m a born, raised and trained data-driven marketer. My dad was a data-driven marketer. I was aware of it from the youngest ages. In some ways, it’s in my DNA. His dad was an advertising and newspaper publisher. On the other side, I’ve got technologists and psychologists. This whole intersection of go-to-market using words to stimulate action and communicate has always been there. It’s always captivated me. I grew up wanting to do that and did that professionally until my late twenties and then I got bored with it. I no longer wanted to have the go-to-market seat at the table largely because I found it too constraint, honestly. It was too much on the order-taking end of things.

I went to Bain to be a strategist and to open the aperture, think bigger and do that work. It was great. I loved all of that. In fact, strategy, however, got boring again because you can only do so many market studies. You can only do so many plan briefs before it has to immediately devolve into the hard work of bringing it to market and building that innovation for real and all of those things. I ended up back in go-to-market land. It’s that Einstein quote of, “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” The strategy is 1% and the go-to-market defined as a product on down is 99%.

Most strategies aren’t bad. Most companies and executives won’t sit around and greenlight a bad strategy. They greenlight good strategies. It then dies a death of a thousand paper cuts on its way from product to marketing to sales and to success. I spend a lot of my time working with organizations to clear out the pipes between strategy and success, realigning, accelerating and redesigning go-to-markets. I lead that product and IP for Bain globally, which is a lot of fun. I work in lots of industries, primarily technology. You name it, I’ve probably worked on it. I bring a lot of the lens of why do people change.

Every consulting engagement ends with things people need to do differently. Whether or not they do them is the difference between a book report and a result in the business. That’s not very much fun to work on book reports. I spend a lot of time making sure that everything we do is dialed in to what’s going to work with our clients, what they’re excited about, what they believe in and harnessing the energy that’s existed inside their company to make the right next change and the next step on their journey as opposed to a corrective if you will.

I love the quote that you mentioned. To be honest, I can relate to a lot of the things and the conflicts that you lived through and have been through for several reasons. One is when I was doing my MBA at Cornell University. As you very well know, MBA grads are flooded with consulting job offers. Being me and being like many other people at Ivy League schools, I was contemplating whether I should pursue a consulting career.

A part of me went, “Consulting is nice. It looks cool and sexy but for me, what gets going and why I’m excited is more of being in the weeds, that execution piece, which you mentioned.” Fast-forward post my MBA days, I have been in the industry in an execution capacity. Over the last few years, I flipped where I started my own boutique go-to-market consulting company. I did that for a few years. Again, that bug bit me, which is, “Consulting is fine, but again, it’s all about execution.” Now, I’m back full-time at a Series B startup leading strategic growth function, which encompasses product-led growth and mid-market enterprise growth.

Go-to-market is everything that connects or has everything that's between a value proposition and a happy customer. Click To Tweet

Going back to what you mentioned and you can come up with all the research and the strategy, but the fun part is putting that into effect and seeing, as you mentioned, towards the end of your little story and journey is a lot of it has to do with change management. Change is hard and that’s where good, strong and a good amount of leaders come into play where they recognize that and they are empathetic. They are vulnerable and they come across like that. They coach the different functions and stakeholders in pursuing that change.

One of the most powerful tools in that is co-creation from square one. We can often tell if a consulting engagement is going to end in results are not measured by how engaged the team is on the client-side. If they want to be executives and get the book report every month and say, “Thank you,” that’s not a great sign. If they’ve got people at all levels of the organization and we’re doing workshops every other day, we are trying things on and we’re discarding them. We’re trying a new thing. I did one of those in 2021 and we ended up in November 2021. They rolled out a new price packaging architecture in December 2021 and January 2022 as a pilot. It drove immediate success. I was talking to the leader. Their win rates were accelerated and are higher.

Everything about it mixes up. It’s a great story and that was before the full rollout. That was a picture-perfect example of co-creation with a client. We’re bringing the best of our science, our tools, our experts, their domain expertise and their knowledge of how their company works. What organs are going to get rejected and which organs are going to get accepted and crafting something that’s slotted right in. The one trump card in all change management is success. If you can figure out how to show success early, you’ll get people to change their minds quickly.

This is something that I am focusing on and telling my team here in my new role is focused on the quick wins. Do little experimentations around customer acquisition, experimentations around onboarding, first user touchpoints and experiences and even pricing. Do those little experiences, get the data and then that data, yes, they might be “failures” but it’s more of a feedback loop. Once you see that early quick wins, that will give the juice, the boost and the morale to the team to change.

What I’d add to that is for any company, go-to-market is a system. It’s hundreds of people. It’s lots of different sales and marketing technology. It’s like a house with 100 additions. As the manager of that, and you’re like, “What should we add on next? What room should we renovate?” The art of being a good go-to-market leader is exactly what you said, which is I’m always running a bunch of experiments. When I see something that works, I go and remodel that kitchen or I remodel that bedroom or whatever it is. You never want to tear down the whole house or you won’t have anywhere to live. You got to make a quarter. If you’re always constantly optimizing continuous improvement, it’s a fun way to run a business.

I know you alluded to this a little bit. It looks like you and your team have been doing some research around how to improve the overall B2B sales and B2B go-to-market. Now is a good time for us to deep dive into that. Do you want to walk the readers and us to the research that you’ve been focusing on so far?

I would love to. It started with an insight that we had a number of years ago, which was that there’s this thing called a sales play that a lot of companies were running. Those work because what they did was they were the transversal. They broke down the functional silos and instead of saying, “Product throw it over the wall to marketing, marketing throw it over the wall to sales and sales throw it over the wall to success.” Sales plays the transversal that cuts across and is that direct line from the value props to the customer. We also had run into clients and companies that were running sales plays, but to no great effect. We had this thesis that the play was valuable, but it was really the system around it.

It’s somewhat similar to the work we had done with NPS. Bain created the NPS score in the ’90s. We said, “It’s not the score, it’s the system.” You can have the score. It’s like getting the credit score, “I have a score,” but like, “What are you going to do about it?” How are you going to build the feedback loops around that? The research we did was to look at companies that were doing it well, try to isolate those variables and say, “What are the elements that drive above-market growth and share gain?” We boiled it down to five things and that’s what the research said.

What we found empirically through our research is that the companies that did all five of these things were almost three times as likely to outgrow the market as the companies that didn’t. It was very intuitive to us in how we got there and it was great to see that the data bear it out. We think that these are the five things that are going to define the future of go-to-market, in part, because the companies that are winning and taking shares are the ones that are doing it. They’re the ones that are going to be left at the end.

B2B 29 | Go To Market
Go To Market: If you can figure out how to show success early, you’ll get people to change their minds pretty quickly.

 

It all starts with a very data-driven view of where the dollars are in the market space. Most companies can tell you, “We’ve got a 20% market share.” What they can’t tell you is, at client X or at prospect Y, what’s my share in this product category? When we build that for customers, it’s like turning on the lights in a dark room. You’re like, “Here’s where the money is in the market. I now have a map of where all the dollars are both in my retention, new logo accounts and my expansion accounts.”

Building that and building a robust view of that at a customer prospect and by-product level. We had a theory that you could build that process at scale and at speed. We’ve done that. We do that for clients now and we call it the money map. It’s a map of where all the money is in the market. Companies have different potential models, but having some data-driven view of that is critical because, without that, you’re only guessing.

I’m all for believing in the instincts of the front line, but their instincts on what the dollars are not always spot on. The second part is a factory that builds the play and the insight there is it’s cross-functional. Sometimes I call it the iron triangle of product sales and marketing. You need to get all three of those constituents together and if the three of them together architect to the play and say, “Here’s the messaging. Here’s the cadence of marketing actions. Here are the clothes,” and make that a group effort on building that as opposed to what we often see in companies of sales saying, “I haven’t gotten the marketing yet.” Marketing is saying, “I’m waiting for the product brief.” Putting them together, embracing that agile mentality and building that play in the factory brings it to the next level.

The next piece is an advanced command center that uses that data on customers and uses that library of sales plays and does the matching. You can call it the next best offer or it could be a place where you have a lot of opt-in. We’ve done this with a big technology company. They had a portfolio of sort 10 legacy products and 5 new strategic products. This is a way to say to the reps, “Pick three and pick two. You can sell three of the old thing and you can sell two of the new thing, but that becomes your account plan or those five plays you’re going to run there.”

That’s empowering for the reps and it’s a way to shift the mix in a very constructive way for the company faster than they would just by waiting for the salesforce to adapt to the new thing. That is that win room, which also then is your test and learning center. That’s where you talked about those experiments. It’s monitoring, tracking and it’s making micro-adjustments. At the frontline of the execution, because the plays are articulated, you’ve got marketing and sales working in tandem a lot better. The swing factor there and what we found is coaching. Two-thirds of reps wouldn’t pay $1 for an hour of their manager’s time but some reps would pay $500 for an hour over their manager’s time. That’s because their managers are giving them really good coaching and they’re helping them hit their number, exceed their quota and all of those things.

Really zeroing in on the coaching element there, for us, is the swing factor. The fifth is technology. It’s getting that RevOps Tech Stack engineered. We found that the winning companies that were three times more likely, they had eleven pieces of sales and marketing technology. They’ve architected a system, but the ones that were losing share and undergrowing the market, they had nine pieces. It wasn’t about buying the tech, it was about integrating the tech, marrying it to your business process and then getting it in the workflows. All those five things together, that’s what it takes to outgrow the market.

If I reflect on what I captured and this is where you can correct me if I got all the right elements. The first is all around data. Making sure that you’re capturing the right data and even looking at the existing data that you have around which of your products and customer segments are performing better and why. How much more room is there to grow within those customer segments or customers?

On a customer level but add a named customer or a named prospect level.

Life's too short to work on things where the intention isn't there. Click To Tweet

It’s to add an account level. The second is having that magic triangle is what I would call, which is the product, marketing and sales. If I can chime in, I would even add customer success if you are a B2B SaaS. It’s a triangle/rectangle, depending on whichever business model you have. I get the essence. It’s not operating in silos, as you said, but all of these functions working hand in hand. That’s critical.

The third is around looking at your entire product portfolio set, both the new offers that you have, the existing or the legacy. Whatever you have right now, you can package it well again. I’m going to give you an example. It’s not to promote Samsung, but this is the example that I came to where I was purchasing or pre-ordering the Samsung S22 Ultra phone.

The way Samsung packaged is, “Yes, we will give you a free upgrade on the memory, but at the same time, we are giving you $250 of instant credit in the Samsung store,” which means now I’m buying not just the S22 Ultra by also got the Samsung watch, which I was not planning to. It’s an existing product and a new product packaged together and sold. That’s an example right there.

The fourth one is around coaching. This is where a lot of go-to-market leaders have to invest in themselves, even if it means getting a coach for themselves. Because the way I look at it is, a role of a leader or a manager is to ensure that their team is successful. For that to happen, you need to coach. For you to coach, you need to know how to identify the growth areas and how to teach. Yes, you may be the expert in a specific subject matter, be it pricing, packaging, selling or qualification but if you can’t, you’re doing half the job and not the full thing.

Specifically, in sales, most sales managers were last year’s really good rep and this year’s mediocre sales manager. That’s a pretty high turnover industry. Teaching people constantly how to coach, particularly in sales, but also throughout the go-to-market value chain is so important.

The fifth one is having the systems and the right technology to tie all these pieces.

CRM, marketing automation, AI overlays, Cadence softwares and all the bells and whistles you see. All the things that all your readers get called on every day for a demo of this or a demo of that. There are 10,000 sales tech and MarTech companies out there. There’s no lack of things to buy there. There’s no integrated suite out there.

It takes a sophisticated RevOps or commercial ops person to say, “Here’s our value flow. Here’s our CRM. Here’s our marketing. Here’s where we’re going to tie it together. Here’s what we’re going to add in a Clari or Kong or Chorus or an Outreach.” It’s all the things like that. Getting that dialed in is tough. That’s why RevOps leaders are in such demand right now.

Tying back to what I’ve seen at the times when I was doing my own consulting plus what I’m doing in my current role is, there is a tendency where a lot of people buy technology because they have the budget and they need to spend or because their peers are doing that. They’re not flipping and asking the question, “What are the insights that I need? What are the gaps that I’m not aware of that I need to know of so that I can make the right decisions for the team, the executive leadership and for the business overall to serve the customers?” Ask those questions first and see if you have the right toolset, be it your MarTech, sales tech or whatever. Even your BI like a Tableau or something and then go for that tool.

B2B 29 | Go To Market
Go To Market: If you’re always constantly optimizing continuous improvement, it’s a fun way to run a business.

 

I love BI. BI is not intelligent. BI is visualization. You have to ask it intelligent questions and it can give you intelligent answers, but there’s no native intelligence in BI. Go-to-market used to be pretty simple. “Here’s your product catalog, your patch and your quota. Good luck.” What we’ve seen with COVID and everyone being at home, we’ve started this massive specialization of labor. You’ve got top of funnel demand gen, SDRs, BDRs, handoffs to the AEs and then expansion reps. We’ve microparsed it.

It’s like Adam Smith’s pin factory. Everyone’s down to their very technical thing, but if they’re not operating in a system, it’s like a random walk. What we believe is that the modern revenue leader needs to be a systems engineer or designer. It’s usually not about spending more money. You talk to a CEO and they’ll say, “I’m spending 10%, 20% of revenue on go-to-market. Isn’t that enough?” The answer is, yes. In fact, you probably already have all the technology you need, you probably have the right headcount. You might not have the right skill profile, but they’re not knit together in a way that they all work.

That’s what we need to get companies to do is to figure out how do you bring all those elements together and make them work in an orchestrated harmonized way. It is the system that we talk about, the five elements of the system. Those are the five elements to get to that orchestrated and harmonized high-performance machine.

I’m glad that your team did the research and reinforced the five key foundational elements. If you step out, a lot of these insights are common sense. Not to downplay the research or the clients out there, but somehow along the way, people lose sight of this. That’s why I’m glad that you did the research and you’re reinforcing this message of all these five pillars being in place.

It’s hard to see the forest when you’ve got to chop down trees every day. That’s one of the luxuries we have as consultants is we get to come in with fresh eyes and a good sense of what good looks like and say, “Here’s how you might want to lay it out.” That can be powerful for companies.

I’m super excited. Congratulations to you and your team, Jamie.

Thank you. It’s a fun piece of work and it’s fun to talk to clients about it.

Let’s switch gears. You’re at a very strong and good vantage point where you can step out and see all the different client scenarios and different industries where things are working or not working when it comes to go-to-market. From your broad breadth of experiences, it’ll be ideal if you can share two stories. One go-to-market success story and another go-to-market failure story because behind every success, there have been a ton of failure stories, which people don’t realize. If you can share a success story and then a failure story or vice versa. It’s up to you.

I’m going to have to change the names to protect the innocent here. We maintain our client confidentiality. The successes come in two flavors. One, I like to call them steroid shots. They are for businesses that are doing well and just need a little bit of an injection. Oftentimes, they’re a victim of their own growth. They’ve posted 30%, 40% year-over-year growth. They’ve added product complexity and segments. Complexity is multiplicative. It’s pretty easy. The product, sales and customer but as soon as you start to match, there are lots of failures to fall down.

Culture eats strategy. All of this will succeed if you can do it in a way that resonates with people. Click To Tweet

We do a lot of work around packaging and pricing, which almost gets back to market-led product strategy, coverage models, handoffs or capacity planning and all of those things. It’s building the next generation of the growth machine. Those are fun projects and those are with good companies with good products that just need a roadmap for the next leg of the growth. Those are great and fun to come back to a year later and find out that they were successful and how they did those.

The other flavor of success is these epic journeys. In my own personal business, we do a lot of work with private equity. Private equity has a saying, “No bad assets, just bad prices.” There are plenty of companies that have good bones in place but have lost their way in the market. Oftentimes, there’s a technology transition that happens. We worked with one that missed the pivot to the cloud.

They were public. They started shrinking. Their top-lines started going backwards, negative 5% year over year and their private equity bottomed. We worked with them and we got them back to growth, but it was a multi-year journey to retool that whole go-to-market. How do you call on cloud infrastructure providers and not enterprise data center providers? That was a big example, and that was product, sales motion, marketing, success and services. It’s everything around those.

Those are high risk, by the way. A lot of things need to go right over a long sustained period of time, but the particular one I’m thinking of right now is a very successful publicly traded company that’s posting sequential growth and is out there acquiring. We are using that business we worked on as the cornerstone of something that is working. I’ve alluded to failure early on. It’s when those conditions for change aren’t there. My least favorite consulting engagement was a few years ago. We went in and built a growth strategy.

We were going to do all these cool things and everyone was getting excited. We got done and they are like, “This is great.” We checked back and they’re like, “We haven’t made any progress.” We found out that they did that exact same project years prior with a different consulting company and they did that exact same project years prior to that with a different consulting company. We should not have taken the engagement and we didn’t know that. Had we known, we wouldn’t have.

Life’s too short to work on things where the intention isn’t there. Maybe that’s not a failure in a failure story for you. There are other failures where the mind’s willing and the body’s weak. The change is there, the change gets started and it stalls out. We’ve got a lot of tools to get ahead of that, but you can’t always do it. Sometimes the urgency of the quarter or the other thing or cost reductions or whatever it is means that you can’t see your way through to bright. Those are tough ones.

Thank you for sharing those stories. Going back to the failure story that you mentioned, it’s almost like you have the intent and in your case, a client had the intent to figure out and do research and understand what went wrong or what is going wrong and how to fix it, which is the first part. That’s where they engaged your team. There’s the bigger piece, which is, “Here are the set of recommendations. Do we have the appetite and hunger to execute?” That’s a big piece. It’s almost like they took the first step, but then they forgot to take the next five steps.

That’s why I like working in private equity because no is not an option. It doesn’t take too much for somebody to say, “This is risky. We might risk next quarter.” The reality is, if you don’t change, you’re on a slow slide to irrelevance. Tech companies, you’re either growing or dying and it takes courage. Courageous leadership is important here.

Let’s move on to another topic, but still, stay in the realm of 2022 and what you’re seeing across in the various industries and clients. It’s up to you how you want to frame it or share, Jamie. What is top of mind for you and your team for 2022 or what do you see as the top of mind for your set of clients and what are your recommendations when it comes to go-to-market?

B2B 29 | Go To Market
Go To Market: Teaching people constantly how to coach, particularly in sales, but also throughout the go-to-market value chain, is so important.

 

What’s top of mind for us is this research we did because we can get on point for what everyone needs. A couple of things are top of mind. One is this idea of technology. “We’ve invested in the technology. We bought all the toys. We bought all the things and it’s not working. We’re not getting the lift we want.” That resonates with everyone we talked to. Alignment resonates with everyone we talked to. Part of it is this work-from-home dynamic. We talked about handing it off from product to marketing to sales. That is not working anymore.

It’s not working when people aren’t in the same office and don’t go to meetings together and can’t get on the whiteboard and solve it or brute force their way through it. I was on with a COO yesterday of a big $20 billion technology company talking about marketing. The whole conversation was with marketing and sales alignment. Is the MQL dead? Sales would say, “I don’t care about MQLs. That’s marketing grading their own homework.”

SQLs are what I care about.

I think everyone’s tired. I think the world’s tired. With the Great Resignation, everyone’s short-staffed, working hard, dealing with personal sickness or extended family, which has been utterly tragic. Figuring out how to get up tomorrow and go to work, much less go to work and make it better and how to do it in a new environment.

This is where the coaching element comes into play, going back to your study and research.

Failing’s okay, but failing over and over for the same reason and not getting coached that’s a frustrating place to be. Those are the things that are top of mind. We all saw the world didn’t stop for COVID. There’s so much capital pouring in right now, whether it’s LBOs, growth equity or what have you. Sitting still, jogging and running are not an option. Everyone must be sprinting to keep up with the pace of change and expectations of the investment community. There’s still a lot. It’s a dynamic situation out there.

There are two points that come to my mind. The one I’ll share is almost like an approach or a solution or a mindset thing. It’s going back to your point of there’s a lot of capital that’s flowing in. This means the intent is there, but it’s almost like, “I’ve got all this money. Let’s put it to use,” versus what I emphasize in my team and broadly is, “Let’s operate with the mindset of we have a very limited budget. Let’s do the experiments.”

We’ll take two or three months to figure out what scales, which channel and what efficiency is being very diligent when it comes to the targeting, the messaging, the call to action or the offer. Focus on the basics. Once we have that, we can then pour money and scale that. It’s almost like a founder’s mindset. If you go back to the early days, the founder has this mindset. Unfortunately, when the founder has to hire and expand the team to tens, hundreds and thousands of people, that mindset is lost. It’s gone.

I was reading something. I can’t remember, but it was a founder or somebody who worked in startups and they said, “Doing go-to-market and a startup is drilling for oil. You’re going to drill a lot of dry holes and you’re going to try a lot of things that fail.” When you hit, put in a pump and pump, pump, pump. You can scale that thing up. It’s all about having a fast feedback loop, failing quickly, testing quickly, and iterating.

You don't win with good strategy. You win with a good enough strategy and great execution. Click To Tweet

It’s all about operating in two weeks sprint cycles, “For the next two weeks, let’s test the segment.” “For the next two weeks, let’s test this messaging.” It’s not that you need to go sequential. You can run multiple expert experiments in the same two-week window.

When I started consulting many years ago, everything was a three-month project with three check-ins. It’s steering committee number one, two and three at the end of the month, one, two and three. Now, everything’s in sprint mode. Everything’s tests, everything’s minimum viable increment. How do you move it on and adapt? I think it’s better and healthier because there’s a lot of time between a four-week readout and the next four-week readout and readouts the wrong mentality in and of itself.

It’s very similar to what the whole software development world went through, which is it used to be the whole waterfall model if you go back to the software world. It’s 3, 6, 12 months development cycle and then release a product. Your g business is going to die if you are operating in that mindset. That’s why the whole DevOps phenomenon came into play. The same thing has to happen in the go-to-market space.

It reminds me too of a study I read about pricing models. What they found is that the highest corporate valuations are tied with consumption-based pricing. It’s because you’re winning your customer every time they click a button. You can’t be asleep with a switch. There’s no hiding behind a three-year contract.

Going back to the whole product-led growth, you have to invest so much so that the user and the buyer see value in the product. That’s one. The second is switching from a monthly or annual to usage-based where you have skin in the game to ensure that the user is seeing value. Otherwise, they just pull the plug.

The head of our utility practice told me that we’ve already solved consumption-based pricing. It’s called your electric company. You get charged per kilowatt.

It’s been a fun conversation here, Jamie. Let me bring it to the finish line with a couple of questions here. What resources do you lean on to improve your skill? Is it community? Is it podcasts or books? Is it all of the above?

It’s going to sound bad, but I can’t read business books, books that should be pamphlets. I’ll read the abstracts and that’s fine. I come back to this human issue of business is not that hard. I had a CFO explain it to me once. He said it’s pretty simple. “In Zs need to be bigger than out Zs. You have profit leftover and everything’s happy.” I’m being a little bit tongue in cheek and certainly, I’m out there studying. I have the privilege of talking to so many companies and seeing so many models and have so many great peers that are out there seeing it.

For me, it’s about separating signal from noise and there are too many things to learn. The one that is the great unifier is people. “Why do people do what they do? How do you get them out of the bed every morning? How do you get them to change?” Culture eats strategy. All of this will succeed or fail quickly if you can do it in a way that resonates with people. That is where most of my study and my learning come from outside of the normal business channels.

B2B 29 | Go To Market
Go To Market: One of the luxuries we have as consultants is we get to come in with fresh eyes and a really good sense of what good looks like. We could say here’s how you might want to lay it out.

 

You can come up with all sorts of strategies, but if you can’t empower and motivate the people, it’s only going to take you so much. Again, it goes back to the two or three things that I reinforce and which I’ve seen play well is, first of all, having that intellectual humility and it’s critical. It’s not that you have answers for everything. That’s one. Second is having that curiosity.

You can conclude that your person on this team is thinking this way, but go and ask the question and the response will shock you. The third is going back to the other pillar in your study, which is coaching. If you have intellectual humility, if you have curiosity, which is gloved with empathy, that should drive you to become a better coach.

My mind was blown. I was talking to some friends and saying, “Here’s a situation. Here’s how I experienced it.” I said, “I read it in a totally different way.” I was like, “That is fascinating.” It reminded me that as humans, we’re always making up stories to make sense of the data around us. Those stories might be wrong or might be right and if you’re not curious, you won’t know.

One final question to you, Jamie, is if you were to roll back the clock and time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journeys, what advice would you give to the younger Jamie?

It’s exactly what you alluded to on this sprint mentality. The last living 3 months in the future, 6 months or 9 months in the future is more like, “What can we do tomorrow? What can we learn from that?” I started by telling you I went to Bain to do strategy and I thought about strategy as these big ornate edifices of intellectuals and they are but you don’t win with good strategy, you win with a good enough strategy and great execution. Tempering that short and long-term is so powerful.

Thank you so much for your time, Jamie. It was insightful. I got a lot of insightful actions. I told you that oftentimes, I pause the show episode and someone out there reads to it and comes back to me like a couple of months later saying, “This one piece is gold and this is what I applied.” Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom and stories.

Hopefully, there is a nugget in there for somebody. Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.

Important Links:

 

About Jamie Cleghorn

B2B 29 | Go To MarketJamie Cleghorn is a partner in the Chicago office of Bain & Company. He is a member of Bain’s Technology and Customer practices. Jamie leads Bain’s B2B Commercial Excellence practice in the Americas, leads Bain’s GTM Transformation and Sales Play System℠ solutions globally and is one of the developers of the Elements of Value℠.

Jamie works with CEOs and executive teams during periods of transformational change, with a focus on strategy, growth and organizational effectiveness to achieve results. He has worked extensively with corporations and PE sponsors across technology, telecoms, industrials, healthcare and business services.

 

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration

 

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration

Collaboration inside your team is expected in any thriving business. But what if you can extend that collaboration to your customers? When it comes to go-to-market sales, having a transparent collaboration with the buyer and the seller is a lifesaver. That is what Accord is doing. Vijay Damojipurapu talks about this with the CEO and co-founder of Accord, Ross Rich. Learn how Ross built a go-to-market playbook for his team and how he started Accord. Learn the challenges of building something new in the market and how to get market validation. Discover more about go-to-market sales and Accord today!

Listen to the podcast here:

Accord And The Power Of Customer Collaboration With Ross Rich

I have with me Ross Rich, who is the Founder and CEO of Accord, Y Combinator Alum and in the go-to-market, MarTech, sales tech, customer support, customer success tech, and tech stack, depending on which lens you want to put on. That’s one of my favorite areas, which is the whole GTM tech stack. I’m super excited about your story, Ross. I’m sure we’ll dive a lot more, first of all, a very warm welcome to the show.

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: Combining the challenge of building a repeatable sales process and working with customers transparently birthed a customer-facing collaboration platform for sales and onboarding.

 

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to dive in.

Again, I always start off with the signature question with all my guests because I want to deliver value to my audience first, which is how do you define go-to-market?

I was thinking about this before and it’s a tough question because it’s so much of a company now, especially if you have the product by growth. I think there are two answers. If you have your sales and marketing team and they sell someone, then they go into the product. I’d define it as the sales and marketing side.

As soon as you bridge both of those in and you think about retention and NRR and all of those great things, it’s the whole company outside of the R&D side of things. It’s a startup. It’s your entire company. If you have part of your product, that’s driving growth, which almost is true with any company now. It has to do with your retention and customer success. That’s how I like to think about it.

Especially for the PLG-focused companies like yours, you think about the product first, but then very quickly and importantly, you need to pivot to the customer and the user. Even for PLG strategy-focused companies, it depends. You need to focus on how do you quickly deliver value to your user first up. It’s user-focused. Buyer focused as well and how do you deliver. Hopefully, you get to a vitality effect and I repeat usability. All of this, again, comes back to that buyer and the user, knowing that person, he or her very well.

That’s part of your go-to-market. It’s the product of building everything.

It’s a huge part of the go-to-market. That is one core component. Again, I’ve listened to quite a few podcasts. I was listening to another podcast where it was the Founder and CEO of I think the company was Intellimize. His focus was all balling down to customer focus. The go-to-market strategy is sales lead but in your case, it’s a product lead go-to-market strategy. Would you agree with that?

The process is a bit of a mix. For Accord, in particular, it’s not self-serve freemium in terms of like, “You can go on. You get to set up and we’ll ring you up if you get past a certain limit like a Loom, Figma or something like that.” You get a free trial. You can play around. You can use the product before you decide to buy, which feels about right.

In 2021, the new company was starting out but you’re guided, assisted by an expert in the space that’s like, hopefully, a consultant and giving you best practices and what we’ve been learning to make you even more successful. It’s a mix of salespeople. It’s super helpful but that’s not how buyers want to buy. They don’t want to be led by a salesperson alone. They want to be assisted. How do you bridge both the need for people to play around with the product and validate themselves but also get that expertise and advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about?

It’s almost like it’s a salesperson but with a very customer success mindset and customer success-oriented. I’m sure we’ll dive a lot more during this interview. Next step, can you tell our audience and share with all of us your personal, professional journey, your story and what led you to what you do now and who do you serve?

I’m originally from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I was born and raised in Canada. I went to school on the Westcoast on Vancouver Island and I studied business. My dream job after starting school there was to be in the music industry. I was managing artists. My brother and I started our first company together that was putting on events and bringing in artists that were touring across Canada in the US, hosting fundraisers. We’re very involved in the music and entertainment industry. Somehow got my dream job after school at Columbia Records. Working with artists like Calvin Harris, Snoop Dogg, Omi, Pharrell, etc., on album releases and songs and tours and all this stuff. That was the dream.

I quickly learned that wasn’t for me, long-term. I found the culture of the industry, but sadly, I didn’t see myself working in this industry for more years after the first year. It’s a lot of egos and the way of working. It was very bureaucratic. Surprisingly for such a creative industry. I ended up finding a job in San Francisco. I moved there before I had the job.

I did about 40 interviews with recruiters, screenings, looked up as the top early-stage companies and wanted to be at a company where I was going to be one of the first salespeople. I was like looking at sub 25-50 people companies exclusively and somehow, I ended up at Stripe. I don’t know how luck, etc. It was 2015 and they started to hire business and salespeople.

The first years were purely self-serve, selling to tiny startups, founders, SMBs, etc., adding on a sales team and luckily ended up being one of those first hires. That’s what drew me into tech sales and this whole idea of building repeatable go-to-market engines and the love of the deal. I did that for about five years then founded Accord with my brother a few years ago. That’s what brought me here. A secure, very random path from Canadian University and putting on events and concerts there to Columbia Records in LA and New York to Stripe, APIs, payments, and FinTech to a sales technology platform with Accord. That’s been my personal journey so far.

Find a group of smart people and learn and optimize from them. Money will follow. Click To Tweet

First of all, you’ve done a pretty good job summarizing your entire career in 2 or 3 minutes, so kudos to you on that but it’s amazing. You start off with something in the music industry, which is very creative. Of course, you can draw the lines and connect the dots from the music industry to sales. I get that part but then, what led you to sales in tech?

You don’t have many options when you’re a few years at a school and the only experience was music and you want to be in the professional space. I was like, “I’m good at working with people,” all that stuff even before the company that I had in university and at Columbia Records. I was like, “Maybe a junior sales role would be a good foot in the door.” For what I wanted, the opposite, I wanted a fast-moving company in the early stage to be able to be part of the strategy, which seemed to be the tech world. That’s what led me to focus on tech. The real reason I joined Stripe over the 39 other companies I had interviewed with was the team that I met there.

I was like, “This group of people seem insanely overqualified.” They’re incredible senior people and super talented folks from Google, Twitter, and all these other earliest stage companies. I was like, “You guys are joining this small startup that I never heard of before and all that stuff and selling APIs and FinTech?” It wasn’t proven out at that time yet. I was like, “I need to be around this group of people.

I’m going to learn so much and it seems like a great time and opportunity to do this.” Within a few weeks, a couple of months, I was hooked. I’m like, “This is what I’m going to do for the next X number of years.” That’s what led me to join Stripe. It wasn’t as thoughtful as you think, I looked at the market, what’s going to be growing and fitting in tech, whatever APIs and the decentralization of all this stuff, I was like, “This is the most amazing group of people that I’ve spoken with and met with. This is the right shift to be on.”

For all our audience, I think the key takeaway, don’t overthink. There are 1 or 2 points that Ross mentioned. One is the group of people, team, smart people, a top tier, and the cream. Look at the opportunity of working with them, being with them, and learning as a team.

Optimized for learning. That’s what I optimized for and led me in the right direction.

Once you optimize for these tools, money will follow and that’s what led you to study your own. Prior to that, I think you applied for the Y Combinator.

We got into YC then we started the Accord.

Tell me a story around what got you into thinking around the pain point? You’ve been doing sales. You’ve done fantastically well for yourself but what was the transition and shift from being an employee, nothing wrong with that, in sales to, “There is a bigger problem I want to solve. I want to start a company around this?”

Honestly, it’s pretty organic starting Accord from my time at Stripe. There are two main things that I had on the top of my mind that I was very passionate about at Stripe. One was, going from being one of the first sales and business hires to a massive 400 global sit person sales team and doing the deals myself. From the team perspective, the challenge was always we’d break into a new market, new product, etc., how do you get everyone else that we’re going to bring on to understand what that motion looks like? We went through all the repetitions, all the loss deals, the learnings, the million conversations. How do you get that in that process to the rest of the folks? That was a big challenge.

I was one of the leading reps there and we’d work on the new segment or the new product. I found it so challenging. There was never a great solution. Testing out Google Docs, Confluence sheets, bringing in trainers or the classic old-school laminates and bringing in all that stuff. It’s never been an effective way for other folks to understand what the process should look like, what meetings you should have, what resources you should share when, what stakeholders you should loop in at different parts of the team, and what expectations you should be setting. These details make a difference that every new rap has to learn. That was one side of it. These building of go-to-market playbooks and how to effectively work with customers throughout the buyer journey.

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: Accord is a collaboration platform for B2B sales. It’s a shared plan of steps and milestones that make it really easy for everyone involved to understand what the deal is, in a very transparent setting.

 

The second one was the collaboration with customers. I’d hacked together this system that I built. This operating system of like shared slack channels and Google Docs and sheets and presentations and templates and emails. It was an effective way of being very transparent. I collaborated with my customers through all these shared workspaces, but it felt very like a one-off and across a lot of different things. It felt like there should be a solution, software for this, whether there is JIRA internally for a lot of the product teams.

There’s Figma for design and GitHub for engineering. Why is there something for such a collaborative organization which has sales? There’s nothing for that internally as well as externally with the customer. We’re combining both of those. The challenge of building this repeatable sales process as well as working with customers transparently birth the idea of Accord, which is a customer-facing collaboration platform for sales and onboarding.

There should be something that is templatized that everyone can use and customize from there. There should be something that is collaborative with customers. Again, it wasn’t like sitting in and how do I think it started ideas. I was like, “What am I doing? What are the challenges that I’ve run into? What do I think would be helpful for the next person in my position?”

I think the key point for all the audience is as much as you want to create your own company but that will not and should not be the driving force. You can have that in the back of your mind but unwind and let the problem percolate. Let that see thought grow into something bigger. That’s what I see in yours. It’s not that, “I’m at Stripe. I’m doing well.”

It’s not about arrogance that, “I’m the best in the world. I’m going to create a company.” It’s not that attitude at all versus there’s a playbook. There’s a bigger gap in the space, specifically around the sales organization and the buyers. Now, why is that more of a vendor buyer relationship versus a partner relationship?

That’s a good point. I think, similarly, I’d add like, what is your passion? That’s the thing you’re going to be most successful at. Say you do want to start a company and that’s the thing that you want to do next. It’s not going to be looking at the market. As an investor, I don’t think it’s going to be looking at it as a human and what you are most passionate about.

That’s the thing that you’re going to be most curious about and have a unique perspective on to solve problems for people than necessarily like, “This space is hot now. I could make a lot of money off this type of business model.” Everyone is thinking like that. That’s not going to be the unique next insight that you have as a person. It’s going to be from what you’re passionate about.

Look at your market not as an investor, but as a human. Your insight as a person is going to be from what you're passionate about. Click To Tweet

Let’s switch gears and more on the lighter side of things. You guys are unique in the sense. It’s you and your brother who started this company. It’s not that often and not that a common theme. How do your parents deal with that or tell others as to what you guys do?

I think my dad deeply understands this because he was an entrepreneur but a salesperson at heart. He made sales for fifteen years before starting his company. He works with clients every day and understands, although they didn’t have collaborative workspaces but the importance of building those relationships, collaboration, and transparency to create the best partnerships. How would they describe it? To most of their friends, they’d be like, “Our kids are doing some tech thing. A technology company that’s helping salespeople do stuff.”

I’m thinking of different ways we can go here. One is, how did you decide between you and your brother as to who will be the CEO and the CTO? Let’s go down that path. How did you guys figure that out?

It was pretty organic. When we were making music back in the day, I felt the natural roles. My brother is, I would say, much more creative than me. He was always doing the music production, the recording stuff, all those pieces and had more of a product and engineering mind than myself. I was more of the external marketing and all that stuff. When it came to starting Accord and we started working on it together, he naturally started to think about it like, “What is this thing going to look like?”

He’s designing it and thinking more about the product side. I feel like I was more of the like, “We have a hundred conversations with sales reps, CEOs, CROs, VPs of sales, etc., what their feedback is going to be?” It’s an organic partnership. He was starting to build out the wireframes, the mock-ups and prototypes. I was out there trying to understand the market. That developed pretty organically into I was the external Rich brother and he was the internal Rich brother in terms of working with the R&D team. I was out there talking to the first customers and recruiting. That’s how it pretty organically happened.

It is only you as the cofounders or did you have anyone else?

We have another cofounder. We wouldn’t be here without him, Wayne Pan. He’s our CTO. My brother is CPO. He is a multi-time founder, amazing engineer leader, led teams of up 30 to 40 engineer people. Also led product design engineering orgs. It’s like the whole R&D org, a very holistic perspective on that. Similar to what we were talking about, the go-to-market side on sales and marketing. He’s started a couple of other companies before. One that was invested in by Sequoia that sold to LinkedIn.

He’s been in a lot of ways the shepherd for us on our first founding journey, loves to build teams and the operating system of a company and that foundation, which I feel like a lot of times with younger, early first time CEOs like myself and my brother is some of the biggest complaints from employees and other stuff is like, “How do you do this? What is the foundation? What does the start of the week look like and the wrap-ups and the quarterly kickoffs and retros?” He’s super thoughtful about all of those pieces of the company, culture and team building, which has been super awesome to have.

I think that’s a core component, especially when you are building the team and doing fundraising early on. With one founder, it’s super tough. It’s not that it can’t be done. If you go onto the other extreme, which is 4, 5, cofounders, that’s a big no. Kudos to you and your brother for identifying someone who’s stronger on the product and the engineering side. Now, did you guys and Wayne work together earlier or how did you guys come to know each other?

It was crazy. It was an intro from one of our first pre-seed investors. He’s one of the first people that say, “Commit money to their crazy idea that was Accord.” Bob Ross was leading Stripe’s partnerships team when I met him. Both of their companies, at some point, were acquired by LinkedIn and happened to overlap there. When I asked Bob, “Whom do you know?” It was like, “I happened to catch up with Wayne. It was super random. We were having caught up in years and it was perfect timing.”

From the first conversation to decide to work together, it must have been single-digit business days for such a huge decision. It felt super right. I think personalities melded well and the vision of the culture and type of company we want to build. One of the first things that Wayne said when I was talking to him. I’m asking how he thought about the company building, etc. It was the quote from Steve Jobs around, “Hire smart people, get out of their way and empowering people.” It was like that. I feel like a few people live that and that’s the type of team we try to build.

Have you heard of this book or read this book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill?

Of course.

I would be surprised if you said, “I don’t know that.” It’s almost like that but then something is strong. The universe conspires to make it happen. It’s exactly that. Enough of the loosey-goosey and gooey stuff.

We were talking about manifesting the company. It’s funny that you bring that up. We manifested it.

Let’s talk about Accord. Tell me about your product. Whom do you serve, how you build the business, where you guys are at now?

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: When starting a startup, you can be an expert in this space for years. But if you’re launching a new type of product, you’re not going to know if you’re successful until it comes back from the market.

 

It’s super high-level to summarize. First, it was a customer-facing collaboration platform for B2B sales, onboarding and success. The core of it is if you’ve heard of mutual action plans before in sales, a shared plan of next steps, timelines, and milestones. We add in resources, team members, a summary of the deal to make it easy for everyone involved in both the buying and the selling side to understand what the deal is, very transparently setting the right expectations across the board. That’s the idea. We mainly work with high-growth startups.

We’re working with some seed and series a company all the way to the likes of Figma. We work with their enterprise sales team closely. Across the gamut, I would say that where we help companies most are in the high touch, multi-stakeholder, project management side of the deal when you have a lot of people coming in. Maybe it’s a product, engineering, design, and finance decision-makers. You need to keep everyone in the loop around pre-sales with maybe it’s risk or compliance or legal and all that stuff.

Post-sales is like, “What does it look like to roll this out across the company successfully? How do you build a repeatable motion around both of that pre-sales and onboarding?” Make sure there are smooth handoffs and setting the right expectation for your customer. That’s the area that we play in to start focusing on technology companies who are the early adopters of new tech like Accord.

I’m super excited about what you guys are doing. Think of it this way. You got collaborative platforms internally. Now, we are doing that for an external audience that’s specifically for sales and buyers.

Everyone knows how helpful Asana is and Monday.com and Click. All of these things have been wildly successful notions for years but there’s nothing that’s built to work externally with partners, customers, buyers, and all that stuff.

Talk to us about the go-to-market. You did mention high-growth scale-up startups. Are you looking at geographies? Are you looking at what tickles and what is the go-to-market motion like?

It’s been evolving. The thing that I was familiar with was more of a top-down, mid-market, and upper mid-market enterprise deal from my time at Stripe. I know at the end of it, I was working on 1 or 2 deals across months. I knew that motion and made sense for something like Stripe because you’re ripping out your entire revenue engine and you’re putting in Stripes.

For deals like that, it’s not like you’re going to do 5% of your payments. All the work gets done and you shift over, which is very different from something like Accord, where you could have a sales rep or a manager bring this in a small part of the organization and test out on one deal or one segment and all that stuff.

I’ve had to learn a lot about product-led growth and understanding how our buyers want to buy. It’s been super organic in terms of how we’ve thought about and matured our go-to-market motion. To start, it was me talking to anyone in my network about this idea and the curious conversations turn into your first users. That’s how it started with the first 5 to 10 users. It’s talking to people and asking for friends of friends who would be interested in this.

It is similar to fundraising. It’s the same thing with the customers, friends, and family first, then go wider.

It started there and when we started getting into the public and beyond that network was February 2020. It’s when we did our seed raise announcement, which went on TechCrunch and got a great reach there. It was interesting because we first moved from us going to certain people and our assumptions to what is going to come back from the market. You send it out into the world.

Who are the people that this is going to resonate with? It was interesting because it wasn’t only the people, sales leaders, VPs of sales, and CEOs. It was a lot of sales reps, managers, and even smaller seed series A-company mainly selling to a series of B2C above. It was like, “There is this interest from not necessarily would be a top-down sell,” but some people that want to click around more on the product.

What we did is we shifted in the next few months to a free trial motion and messaging more for these earlier stages like series A, high growth. When you’re going from your first 3 to 5 reps to 10, 20 to 50, how do you make sure you have the right motion to scale? That seemed to be a great point. Before you had all these systems in place, harder to rip out something than to start with something like Accord, that’s where we shifted to, had way more interest in terms of the click-through rate of the website from request to demo to starting with the free trial and giving someone the custom workspace.

The curious conversations turn into your first users. Click To Tweet

We’re even looking to double down on that thing about what’s an individual plan that people can start with. It’s been from the full top-down to the free trial sale to even looking at other ways of getting the product in people’s hands with less friction and thinking about how does this specific type of person in this market at the stage company in this role want to evaluate and thinking through that lens.

That is exciting. I think it goes back to when you got your earlier hypotheses or experiences you went to top-down and thanks to the seed round, the press coverage, and everything else. You’ve got good publicity, good coverage, and that led to outreach from the market to you guys.

When people ask my biggest learning, that’s been my biggest learning of starting a company. Startups are you can have your hypothesis. You can be an expert in this space for years. If it’s a new type of product and a new category, you’re not going to know until it comes back from the market to go to your assumptions. Having opportunities like that and for our GA launch and through product time, we got another set of that and refined it. You’re only going to be successful. If you think about it in terms of the market first, not product first or the sales process first, that’s the biggest learning from this experience so far.

It’s amazing. It’s all first principles and foundation, but unless you go through it, you won’t know how to apply it and you’ll make the early mistakes.

That is one thing. That’s why they say, “Launch quick.” It’s not like, “Get the product out there and start selling quickly.” It’s getting into the market and start to get those data points back to you as early as possible. You’re going to go down, building the wrong thing or a muscle around certain processes that aren’t going to be the things that get you to success.

You might get that initial traction but how do you know that this is your time? It is for the next 1 to 2 years.

You don’t know. I think that’s the answer to all this stuff and why it’s so challenging. It’s so much instinct. You need to be able to be wrong and be nimble. That’s also one of the biggest learnings. You went out and it was this growth. You were focused on these later-stage growth companies. You were getting this feedback back with a ton of interest.

They’re doing evaluations. These are the blockers and we do this a lot and go, “This seems a lot easier. Maybe it’s not right. Let’s test it out. We did both of them for a quarter.” It was like, “This is where we’re winning. This is we’re getting the most usage. We have to double down at some point. Let’s make another big bet on this.”

If in 3 to 6 months, that’s wrong, let’s make sure we’re thinking holistically but that’s the stop and start. You need to be doing things a lot and heads down but then you need to come in. That balance is the right way because we could have been wrong about the adjustment. It could have been like, “Only because it’s TechCrunch.” That was the readership you saw along from there. It could have been wrong and you should have continued going after this other market, but you don’t know.

Let’s double down. I’ll put you in a somewhat uncomfortable spot over here, which is, based on this initial data, you need to make hiring decisions. For example, let’s say you’re building out a marketing team. You say, “This is the segment I’m going to go after. This is a go-to-market and this is the 1 to 3-person marketing team. Now, are you going down that path? How are you thinking about building your marketing, which is a core component of go-to-market?

We took a different approach there. We spent so much time the first year plus building out the product. We’re working super closely with customers instead of going out there and building up the team and spending. We had my brother, who was our CPO shift to for the first X number of months to marketing because he was the expert and the salesperson. Of doing that, it was like, “Someone with more intuition on this to figure that out.” That was super key to us getting those data points back and being able to do it super quickly. It didn’t have to go out and put together a JD, interview all the candidates, and get them to ramp up on everything that we’ve done.

That would have been the time that it took us to run those experiments. It confirmed that market. You need to be sure about that before you start scaling. We took a very similar approach to the sales team. I wish we had one person but when we did the launch in February 2020 with the seed announcement, we were inundated with these conversations.

It was myself and my colleague, Danny, who was doing everything at the time, CS operations, sales, etc. Everyone needed to jump on calls. We had our engineers, Wayne and Ryan. Everyone is jumping on these calls. I’m glad that we could get those early learnings in first before we understood who’s the right marketing team and sales team to start building, then we doubled down.

We hired our first two folks that were more experienced generalists who could also help figure it out. We didn’t look at like, “Let’s bring on five people to do this.” It’s like, “Let’s bring on two other people to help us continue to figure this out, and then two other people can sell them, then you bring on the next 5 to 10 people.” That’s how we’ve approached the team-building side of go-to-market.

That makes total sense, especially in that high growth early stage where you guys are at. It’s all hands on deck. You need to shift across roles. You might be engineered formally but you need to jump in marketing, sales or even customer success. It doesn’t matter once you’ve seen that play out in 3 to 6 months. Now, “This is a time when we need to hire someone full-time for that role.”

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: When it comes to budgeting, make sure you’re nailing your positioning and messaging. Experiment around that before accelerating the spend. Focus on the right things that matter first.

 

I think that’s the right way because people discount how much work it is to go out and hire properly. First, understand the role. That’s something that I’ve learned too. We probably spend the first month, 2 to 3 weeks at least to understanding the role. Having 10 to 20 conversations with people that are experts there like, “What level they should be? What background should they be? What’s the interview loop look like?”

You’re not going to get the best person in there unless you can speak their language or you understand what you’re looking for and what they would do then. It’s the hiring, the great loop, making sure you’re not cutting corners and it’s onboarding them. As you said, having someone do that for a few months and making sure you understand what you need to do next prevents you from making a lot of mistakes down the road.

How do you think about the budget? I don’t want you to reveal exact numbers but ballpark percentages, especially bare yard in terms of growth. We all know benchmarks. They typically say like 10% to 20%, especially for marketing. In sales, it’s more mostly headcount. How are you thinking around those for the marketing budget?

Our thoughts on early marketing have been very similar to all the same framework that we’ve used for every other piece of the business. It has been making sure we nail the positioning, messaging and experiment around that before accelerating the spend. That’s playing to a lot of the organic stuff. You can tell from what you post on LinkedIn, go to your newsletter or later test on persona. Even outbound is a great way to get the feedback back quickly. Make sure you’re focusing on the right stuff, so when you spend $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 a month, you’re sure that’s the approach that we’ve taken. We’re starting to ramp our first ad spend.

We spent a lot more time on thinking about what is exactly the problem we’re solving, how do they think about it now, what are the keywords, the percent, all of that stuff. Again, taking that approach to things, then hopefully we feel very comfortable putting in a ton of money and it’s efficient coming back. When are you ever going to catch up on that? You can see it as a business. As soon as you start hiring multiple people and have them spend and start getting those leads in, you’re never going to go back and foundationally fix things. You start growing too fast and there are more people and more processes. Taking that extra 20% to 30% time pays off in terms of building a very efficient go-to-market.

Again, it goes back to reinforcement, which is, first of all, you do things that won’t scale. It’s called counter-intuitive. You need to do things that won’t scale. First, you get your formula right, then you can pump in the money.

You’re never going to start doing things that scale to figure it out to experiment.

Another controversial topic in the industry, which is around SDRs. Whom do they report to and why? Is it marketing or sales?

Market first, not product first. Click To Tweet

Foundationally, I don’t know. I haven’t spent much time thinking about it because I didn’t have to. One of the first salespeople we brought in had been building out for many years, full-cycle sales, SDR teams from outbound to close. We brought in a demand generation marketing lead who has never run SDR teams. Maybe longer term at Accord that changes but for this small team that we have now, it’s very clear you gave that function to the person that’s done it successfully for many years and you figure it out later. If I had to say, honestly, philosophically, it feels closer to marketing than sales because it’s tough and stay. It depends on how you think about the SDR role.

If an SDR role is slowly generating demand, I think this has to do with a lot of the average contract value of the company. If it’s very big business, you’re trying to break into accounts. You’re maybe pairing them up with an account executive. That feels like more of marketing. You’re starting the conversation, whereas if it’s maybe a lower HCV and they can help close the deal or get it further because that’s the type of product and sales motion, it feels like more sales. It depends on the type of product and sale it is.

Again, I would say if they can contribute more to the deal and can have that conversation and it’s like less of an enterprise, like a twelve-month thing. I hate handoffs. I hate as a buyer. As a seller, I hate handed off, the missing context, all that stuff. I’d rather have them go full cycle but you can’t do that if you’re trying to get into a $500,000 to $1 million deal. You can’t afford to have SDRs make that motion. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that, though.

I think being pragmatic is one thing. It also depends on the personnel that you have on your team. In your case, you have the sales leader who’s run the SDR team. You give it to that person compared with imagining who has minimal experience. I get that practical, pragmatic piece. There is the other piece, which is more of a mindset starting with the leadership, which is how are you seeing SDRs or BDRs? Again, it all goes back to how are you serving your buyer the best way? Are SDRs or the BDRs? First of all, is it outbound or inbound? We start with that. That’s the first thing. Do they handle outbound?

I’m assuming this is all outbound SDR.

That’s one thing. The second is, are they more into an appointment setting mindset, which means, “I need to give so many meetings, many leads, SQLs even MQLs. It doesn’t matter.” That’s a whole different discussion but how many meetings do I need to give it to my account executive team? That’s very short-term thinking. Again, it’s more of. It’s me versus what’s right for the buyer.

I would say, of course, there are a lot of variables around contract and sales cycle. Honestly and sincerely for me, especially that I’ve run marketing teams, I believe that it should be within marketing where that handoff is happening and only then, it’s almost vetted out to a discovery phase, then you pass it to a context. Get us to take it forward through, is there a good fit for getting into a contract discussion then the close? That’s only me.

My only issue with that is I’m picturing myself as a customer. If it’s outbound, I have that conversation. I do discover then I’m talking to someone. It’s like, “What about that context?” It’s less efficient to have maybe a join and to jump in there or even to tag-team it. If I’m the customer, I want to make sure that the context is carried forward. Maybe you can solve that with a very smooth handoff somehow. I haven’t experienced that as a buyer ever, but that’s my personal perspective.

My philosophy and how I approach marketing are in absolute alignment with sales. Again, it goes back to the buyer experience. If we do have SDR supporting into marketing, SDR is responsible for the buyer experience. He or she has to work with the account executive. It’s not like, “I’m done now. It’s your job. Throw it across the wall.” That should not be the mindset at all.

I agree. I guess we haven’t worked together. Maybe if we had worked together, I’d feel differently.

Folks have worked great, let’s say the sales leaders. They all attest to the fact that I am someone who gets and who believes in the alignment piece versus typically marketing sales is at loggerheads.

That was one of the biggest things when we were hiring our first marketer. That was one of the biggest things we’re testing for and the first conversation with after my screen with our sales leader because it was so important to find someone. Especially so early on, it’s not like you’re building your thing. It’s like there’s nothing that exists. You can build it together. I’m proud of how I’m seeing. The closest partnership is between them now. I’m seeing on the go-to-market market team, which is great.

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: One thing that’s really important from the sales go-to-market motion, is the efficiency of enabling individual reps and managers to start using your product before you sell to a team.

 

One final question within this whole 2021-2022, then we’ll go into the last section, which is, you want to create a category. Pretty much talk to any founder. They want to create a category but it’s not in our hands. Again, it goes back to what is the market saying? If you were to talk to your marketing and sales, what would you say? Tell them that, “This is working.”

What will be the 1, 2, 3 objectives for 2022? How will you approach your whole category creation playbook? By the way, I’ve seen the resources that you have put together. For me, I’ve done research around the winning CMOs. I think I mentioned this to you, which is around content. It’s around the community and experiences/events. It’s these three things. The winning good market leaders do this extremely well in sequence. Not that they’re spreading themselves thin. How will you apply or how are you thinking broadly? I gave you some pointers and some time to think about that answer.

One thing that’s important from the sales go-to-market motion, I think, is the efficiency around having both this way of enabling individual reps and managers and earlier stage founders to start using Accord. Before, we necessarily like to have a sale to a team combining that with efficiency and selling into those companies and making that bet super early on in 2022. As a company to pay off, not even maybe in 2022 but the following year and the year after, you’ve seen a number of companies do this super well. That’s a key part of the strategy. Moving forward is that big bet in terms of mixing that bottoms up and figuring out what the top-down is for larger companies.

Both how do we go even lower and have that motion, which is going to be more marketing product-led as well as build our muscle around that more larger growth deal and selling into those multi-stakeholders? It’s sales enablement, ops, managers, executive sponsors, the reps that are saying, “Okay.” Those are two big pieces.

The other piece is what you’re referring to, which is how we are seen as the thought leader when it comes to building repeatable sales and onboarding processes for early-stage companies? How is Accord the answer for when you think about other companies like Stripes, FinTech and API but they’re thought of as the best practices in terms of the engine is the most developer-friendly tool?

Again, Accord is a collaborative workspace between buyers and sellers, but how are we seen as the people that best understand how to solve this? That’s why the CEOs, VPs of Sales or other people come to us is like, “They’re going to help me solve this problem.” This is the solution but they’re thinking from the problem first. That core problem is ubiquitous across every B2B company. Those are some of the key things that I think about overall for 2022. How do we do that? Probably a variety of different ways.

Again, it goes back to there are things that you can measure and you cannot measure. This is one of those things. You want the market to perceive you in such a way. You can do surveys, brand recall experiments, statement, recall experiments or problem statement recall experiments and who do they associate, bet around those things. It’s a great area. That’s something that I’m trying to wrap my head around as well, which is category creation. Every founder wants that but how do you know that you’re creating a category?

It’s an interesting question. I love the book Play Bigger. That’s about category creation, if you’ve read that.

I’m reading that. That’s my nighttime reading book. We can go again multiple ways but I did tell you and mentioned that we’re going to close. You have been pretty patient over here and I’m also respectful of your time, Ross. The last couple of questions to you is, whom do you lean on or what resources do you lean on? Is it community? Is it maybe investors or PR founders? You’ve got the Y Combinator community, for sure. Is it podcasts? Is it books? What do you lean on to get ideas?

I would probably say that first and foremost is my intense routine. I’m a very routine-driven person and make sure I can sometimes get out of whack with that, but I think I’m functioning best when I’m getting up and going to bed at the same time. When I’m going to bed, I’m putting away my phone a couple of hours before, reading, journaling, getting up and doing a run with my dog and a workout and yoga and all that stuff. That’s the number one support system and routine that I built-in. Again sometimes, life and things get busy. It’s like, “This week is going to be a tough one and I have to put it down for a second,” but I always regret that.

You need to be able to be wrong and be nimble. Click To Tweet

Outside of that, I’ve tried to build a community of folks that have been in my shoes before. I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything but it’s a unique pressure more than I thought it would be to feel responsible for the success of a company, employees, investors and chatting. I have a handful of folks that have started companies and now advise or invest and all that stuff. I meet a lot of them on a bi-weekly basis to feel heard, feel supported and understood. It helps with that perspective of, “This is where you’ve been, this is where you’re going, and these are the things that are going well.” To bring that perspective when all you’re thinking about is this one thing and the most important thing that day or the week. That’s been hugely helpful, and my dog.

I love the fact that you call out routines and having that very strongly, again, to share my personal and what I do on a personal basis. That’s almost like me. I’m a very routine-driven person to the fact or to the extent that my family and my wife will say, “You’re very rigid, not being flexible.” There is a reason why I’m being rigid so that everything else can work. The same thing with running, again, as you said. It’s getting those things done first. Take care of yourself, so you can start taking care of the bigger things and take care of others. Do you listen to any podcasts during your run or is you and your dog?

I try not to bring the phone with me or anything. It’s the morning silence.

One final question to you is, if you were to turn back the clock, in your case, it would be day one at Stripe when you were in the GTM role, which is as a sales rep. What advice would you give the younger Ross?

I feel like I’m a very serious person and very focused. I think, enjoy it more with others and sometimes take that break. I had some good friends that helped me do that sometimes but doing that a bit more is probably the advice I’d give to myself.

On that note, thank you so much, Ross. It’s been a pleasure. I’m going to root it and I’m sure our community is going to root for your team. I call it a success and wish you the very best.

I appreciate that.

Thank you.

 Important Links:

 

About Ross Rich

B2B 28 | Customer CollaborationCurrently building inAccord.com to move B2B sales from Vendorship -> Partnership 🤗

SF based, Canada raised 🇨🇦

Outside of work, I love to:
– Ski Tahoe, hike Marin, & play/coach soccer
– Explore meditation, yoga & mindfulness
– Adventure through new countries & cultures

Inspiring Reads:
– The Alchemist
– The Book of Joy
– A Short History of Nearly Everything
– Abundance
– The Making of the Atomic Bomb
– Siddhartha
– Creativity Inc.
– Losing My Virginity
– Man’s Search for Meaning
– Napoleon (Andrew Roberts)

 

 

 

Maintaining customer focus should always be one of your top priorities in B2B. You must know the people you are serving to no matter what business you are in. In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu is joined by Ravi Pendekanti, the SVP of Product Management and Marketing at Western Digital. Ravi shares how they achieved B2B success customer-centric tactics focused on listening to the needs of the market. He also breaks down how businesses should craft customer-focused strategies and the amazing benefits of doing so. Plus, Ravi shares the exciting projects they’re working on at Western Digital and the role of big data in the upcoming years. Tune in for an insightful and informative discussion about managing and improving your go-to-market strategies!

Listen to the podcast here:

Ravi Pendekanti On Why Customer Focus Is Vital In B2B Go-To-Markets

Welcome to yet another episode of the show. I’m excited to have Ravi Pendekanti, who is the SVP of Product Management and Marketing at Western Digital. Welcome to the show, Ravi. I’m excited to have you.

Thanks, Vijay. It’s great to be here.

I’m super excited. I’ve known you over the years, both on the professional side for a couple of years. Our careers overlapped at Juniper. More than that, I’ve known you as a person on a personal basis for many years. What stands out for me is as an educator on the professional side, you had a very awesome skyrocketing career, which I always look up to for inspiration, but at the same time, on the personal side, I enjoy your company, sense of humor, being yourself, and bringing everyone into the fold. I see based on what I’ve studied and researched on you, it’s the same qualities that you bring at work as well.

We do. You have to. Otherwise, you can’t enjoy your day-to-day life. The more we are who we are, the easier it becomes to go get our things done.

Let me start off with the signature question, which I always ask all my guests. How do you define go-to-market?

For me, go-to-market truly is four major pillars. You can’t do any go-to-market strategy, planning, or execution without addressing these four fundamental elements. 1) You have to understand the market. Understanding the market landscape is crucial, which means you need to know what’s going on in the market and who the competition is. 2) One has to do segmentation of the market. 3) You have to go out and get the right messaging. As a marketer myself, it’s never lost on me that without proper messaging, you probably are not going to reach your target audience.

Finally, you have to work on the right distribution strategy. How are you going to get your product to where it should be? Are you going to use the direct sales force or partner community to get there? Even if you look at the partner community, you are going to have resellers or go with their distribution staff. There’s a whole rhythm of other things that one has to work through, which becomes important. It’s those four elements that, for me, constitute a good go-to-market strategy/execution policy.

You covered the key aspects, which start from the first and foremost, which are the external deal and the market understanding. You talked about the segmentation and the classic STP, Targeting and Positioning, but you also added on the more important and critical piece. You’ve done the research, segmentation, positioning, and messaging. Now, how do you get that message out to the relevant audience and right segments at the right place? It’s end-to-end.

I completely agree. I’m obviously aligned on that, but let me put you and drill you into some more aspects. That’s an external view and then there’s an internal view within the company, which is top and foremost the alignment across product, marketing, and sales. Depending on the type of business, if you are SaaS, you’ll have support but customer success as well. How do you work on those elements? Once you’ve done the external study, how do you align internally?

The more we are who we are, the easier it becomes to go get our things done. Click To Tweet

You do them in parallel. You cannot afford to look at the external elements without working on things that you need to align with the various functional organizations within your own company. You’ve got to run a parallel effort. The other way I also look at this is to do all this as much as we might think we are in the technology space. First and foremost, we are in the P2P business, which is a people-to-people business. None of this gets done if you don’t get people excited internally as well to believe in what you’re trying to do.

What that might mean is you have to go ahead and build your bridges with the engineering team so that the product can build in time, making sure that you’ve got the right feature functionality. You probably have to work with making sure that you’ve got all the sales elements in motion and the training elements to be looked at. There’s a whole rhythm of other things that one has to do.

As you do this, the benefit is not just making sure that everything is well-oiled machinery or becomes one, but more importantly, as you do this, people are going to be more open to leaning in and giving you ideas and suggestions so that this can is in the game now, which will help you get to market better and faster maybe too. I would encourage everyone to do that both the external things we talked about, whether it’s gathering the market data and competitive data, but not forgetting to do all the things you got to do as you’ve been called out internally in a parallel fashion.

That perspective is lost on a lot of marketers. Not just marketers, even for a lot of folks within the go-to-market functions across the board. Especially in the B2B world, it’s business-to-business, but a lot of folks, not intentionally, but it’s just that this one that they have a narrower perspective out of various reasons.

The part that you mentioned is lost. At the end of the day, even if it’s business-to-business, it’s still person-to-person. It doesn’t matter. Something that I’m seeing, especially the leading B2B organizations and B2B marketing teams are doing very well, the names that come to my mind are Drift and Gong. There are quite a few others that are doing extremely well and they have had unicorn valuations a lot more.

What they’re doing is they’re bringing in the B2C, business-to-consumer go-to-market motions, which is a deep understanding of the consumer and then delivering those messages. It’s almost shifting their mindset into, “Look at us or understand us because of who we are and more importantly, less of us, but it’s more of what you are and who you are.” It’s bringing that element. B2C elements into the B2B world, I’m seeing a lot of that being done.

It’s important for us to go and make sure that we do that too because some of the attributes of B2B play out at B2C. As we’ve already accentuated the point, at the end of the day, we are a people-to-people business. That means that you’ve got to go take care of that as well. We should only help you go meet some of the other elements of your goals as an organization.

I would love to drill into more aspects as we go along in this conversation. Shifting onto the lighter side of things, how do your kids view, tell, or describe what you do at work?

B2B 27 | Customer Focus
Customer Focus: Some of the attributes of B2B play out at B2C. At the end of the day, we are a people-to-people business.

 

This is interesting because my dad, frankly, for a number of years, always thought I was a sales guy. In some ways, he still thinks I’m selling, though I keep telling him, “Dad, my job is not sales. My job is to try and understand where the market is headed and then try to come up with the right product ideas and then help create the right messaging and help our sales guys to do what they’re supposed to do, but not necessarily as a salesperson.” That’s always been a constant education to my own dad. He seems to understand, but then he falls back and says, “No, it’s more like a sales job,” but I’ll keep trying.

I’ll credit your dad, though. The main thing is he is right because we are in the business of selling. It doesn’t matter, but you are selling your ideas, your vision, and the direction that you want others to go to. You may not have the formal title of a salesman, but he is right.

It’s interesting you say that. In fact, his pet peeve is that each one of us is a salesperson and I would ask him, “Why do you say that?” He said, “Think about it.” I went, “Let’s say when my kids were young, they didn’t want to take their glass of milk in the morning or eat their veggies. I was selling to them and enticing them with something, whether it was an extra hour of TV time or getting them some candy.”

His no-hold emotion is, “You are a sales guy.” In fact, he would say, “All of us are selling. Whether it is trying to get your family to go out with you and they probably have other ideas, you’re selling.” He is a wise man. No wonder he was one of my mentors for sure and continues to be doing so, but in a way, we’re all selling every single day.

I can see your wife jumping up and down when you called out and told, “I incentive your kids with extra TV time and candies.” I’ve been impressed and inspired by your amazing career growth. Can you share with our readers and talk to us about your transition all the way from early days, but more importantly, the inflection points, how do you transition, who do you serve now, and what got you here now?

There are a couple of things. I still recall I started off my career as a hardcore engineer. As the saying goes, I had a choice given by my parents, “You could choose to be an engineer or a doctor. It’s fantastic set of choices.” Most people from the Indian subcontinent could relate to it and the choices would be those two typically. Of course, I would sign up and I said, “I’ll go be an engineer.”

I was a hardcore engineer for the first few years of my career, but then I realized that there was one situation that occurred wherein one of the companies I was working for happened to be Compuware. They had a customer who had an issue. At that point in time, the GM then decided to send me to go see if I could figure out what the issue was and fix it. That was my first interaction with a customer directly because I was in the back end all the time before that.

It turned out that I enjoyed the interaction with a customer because I was sitting down and trying to figure out what exactly transpired and what kind of data had been collected to try and understand what the issue was and then subsequently try and see how it can be fixed. During that process, I realized that I enjoyed what that interaction was. Due to the interaction, I also got to understand that there are some features that we didn’t have, which I took back to the engineering team and said, “Here are the things that need to be done and this is what I learned.”

If somebody else has learned and they can help propel your learning that much faster and further, why not leverage it? There's no reason to reinvent the wheel. Click To Tweet

At that point in time, I recall the engineering guys telling me, “This is great feedback, but it’s not us you should give the feedback to. You should send it to product management.” I still recall I said, “Product management, what the heck was that?” I never knew the existence of a team called product management until that point in time. I spoke to the product management folks. The more I talked to them, the more I felt interested in this whole notion of an organization or this specialized group, which was helping define products and laying out the roadmaps.

It was that particular attraction that gave a sense of excitement in me to go on and venture out and try product management. That’s how I moved from being a hardcore engineer into product management. Since we already talked about my wife, at that point in time, my wife was not too sure if it was a step forward or backward. She is a hardcore engineer. We still have the debate and she normally always wins. As the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.”

The whole notion of product management for me has been an exciting journey from that point on. It then set me on a path where I felt just understanding the hardware side was not important and that I also needed to understand the software side. I started making shifts in my career all through to move into the software side and then started off on the silver side.

I moved to the software side of the house with systems management. I moved into networking. That’s where you and I met, if you recall, in Juniper Networks and then moved into storage. My whole journey has been about trying to learn and move to the adjacencies to help me understand and also give me that excitement of getting up every day and doing something which I completely have not had my fingers in before but gives me a chance to learn and grow.

When I look at your LinkedIn profile and background, you’re talking about big brands like Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Overland Storage, Juniper Networks, Oracle, Dell, and Western Digital. They’re all big brands and big names for sure. There’s always a playbook that has to be in play, which is, when folks are making their career transition, there is the technology side of things. You moved from hardware to expand your scope and moved on to the system side and the software side.

That’s more on the technology or technical side of things, but there are also the other aspects that are critical to one’s career growth, which are self-awareness, knowing the strengths and weaknesses, and bent to rely on others. There’s also the other element of looking up to mentors and the right folks who will “pull you at the right time.” These are all critical elements as well. Share with our readers the playbook along those lines as well.

For me, the inquisitiveness that one has to have has to be in the head. You got to go out and be inquisitive to learn and grow. That is something that each of us has to own, but then beyond that, it’s interesting you talk about mentors. It’s absolutely true. I have had some fantastic mentors in my life that I’ve always depended on to help me bounce ideas and give me thoughts and suggestions on what else I could do.

In fact, I’m scheduled to meet one of my mentors for many years, somebody by the name of John Shoemaker, who is the Chairman of Extreme Networks and who was a fantastic leader back in my days at Sun. He is somebody I still count on as a fantastic mentor who helps me bounce ideas and gives me the wisdom of all of his learnings too. As the saying goes, if somebody else has learned and they can help propel your learning that much faster and further, why not leverage it? There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The best part of talking to the mentors is also that when they share some of the lessons they’ve learned and the mistakes they’ve made, I don’t have to make the same set of mistakes. I’m bound to make new ones and I’m okay with that. We have to be aware that we’ll always make mistakes. You will inherently have to go back and probably will fall, but you’ll have to learn to get up and move on. That’s the power of the mentors.

There’s something else that is not typically well-articulated and talked about, but I also think it’s important to have sponsors in your life. Sponsors are people who will be ready to also pitch for you when you’re not allowed. Something else that I’ve learned that’s crucial is to also have some sponsors in life who will be big believers in you, not just to give you advice but also to talk on your behalf and position you for maybe the right opportunity or the right role. That’s something else I would encourage everyone to think about.

B2B 27 | Customer Focus
Customer Focus: You have to be data-driven. You can’t be emotionally attached to ideas and concepts.

 

I’m switching gears a bit. Talking about your role, you lead product management and product marketing with a fairly large-sized business. You mentioned it’s $9 billion-plus and then you also talked about the team size, which is 100-plus people in that organization of yours. Talk to us about who you serve. When I say who you serve, I’m talking about your customers, partners, teams, peers, and executives. More importantly, how do you prioritize and ensure that all the stakeholders are aligned?

There are multiple facets to your question. Let me try and unpack it one at a time. For the fundamental question of who do I serve, the answer always has to be for each of us is customers. There’s no other way of looking at it because, ultimately, whether you are a business that’s a few million dollars in the making to multi-billion dollars in the making, you are out there to go ahead and serve your customers and help solve some of their business problems, which is where you come in with a solution.

That’s never lost on me that it is our customers that we have to serve. All through across my journey for decades, that has been a fundamental building block for everything that I’ve aspired to do is to sit down and show that we address the customer issues and problems, wherein you have with your big ears, listening to what could be the challenges that the customers are going through. With that said, once you have that covered, then you have to go rework whatever needs to be done internally to address that.

I partner with our city organization, engineering organization, sales organization, and the support organization to ensure that we have what it takes to go out and provide the necessary product resolution for our customers. They become my partners in crime per se to enable us to get to where we should be. Those are the mechanics that I go through along with the team of my colleagues, who are all propelled by the same set of ideas and cause to make sure that we meet those objectives that we are setting out to.

That’s one piece of it, but then there are the adjacencies that I don’t want to forget. This is where you have to work with other partner organizations. This is where I look at organizations that probably provide our PCBs and SoCs. There are a whole plethora of things. We depend on the ecosystem of partners and that cannot be lost out as well. If you extend on the whole distribution stuff I talked about, you have your resellers and channel partners and others.

There are partners that you bring into the fold to help you build the right product/solution and then there’s the other piece. We talked about the fourth leg of the go-to-market, which is the whole channel to go help in the distribution of the end product. That’s something else too that needs to be done and who are part and parcel of the whole planning and execution process for the whole product introduction.

I completely and holistically agree with you because I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with founders, investors, and go-to-market leaders across the spectrum. Small, large, or mid-sized businesses, it doesn’t matter, but the common thread that connects all of them is the customer outcome focus, first and foremost.

If you talk about the early days of a company, if you speak with the founder, it’s the primary research, the customer discovery and the lean startup model, which is all about going and studying the problems and then coming back and testing out the different hypotheses around the solution, how you position and package the pricing, and then your go-to-market aspects as well.

The same applies even to a more mature and larger organization. It doesn’t matter if you’re a $50,000, $100,000, $100 million, $1 billion, or even $10 billion or $50 billion. It’s the same principle and mantra, which is customer outcome focus. That’s great to know. It’s good reinforcement. For all the readers, if you’re not spending your time on customer outcome focus, please do that. That’s the primary focus.

I get that part. You’re leading an organization. You’re clearly out there studying the market, but how do you reinforce to your team across product management and product marketing that whole customer outcome focus? Do you encourage or do you have any programs around, “Go out there. Do your primary research and secondary research?” How do you build those muscles in your organization?

Whoever said life is only about ups, they have plenty of downs to deal with. Click To Tweet

Across my times in various organizations, one of the things that’s something that I’ve learned quite a bit is I use the word big ears to keep listening. You listen to what is being said and then you bring that back into what it means. There’s a distinction between what is being said and what it means because they’re not probably all the same at the same time, not because of anything else but each of the customers, if you think about it, are looking through a different lens.

For example, if you talk to a financial organization, they’re looking at how do they make the financial transactions safe and secure. They’re not thinking about the various elements in the backend technology as to how that happens. That’s our job. They might be focused on one element and be speaking to something, but then it’s our job to build a bridge between how they’re trying to look at the issue and the challenge and bring it back home as to how we can build the resolution of the right product to help enable that.

With that, it’s important that we get those inputs from various forums. The reason I say that is you probably are well-off by sending a survey. It has a set of questions with choices to make or you get a very high-level of rudimentary view, but that is not sufficient, but it gets you started. We also do what we call blind studies wherein they don’t know who is asking for this study because, at times, who is asking for that study can also skew the responses.

We have done the practice of doing blind studies, so they don’t know which organization is asking for this and then they’re more apt at giving you some candid feedback. As much as we all ask for feedback, usually, human beings don’t like to give you negative feedback, but if it is masked with some level of not knowing who that is, they’re more open to giving feedback. That’s the nature of the beast and how we work through it. Those blind studies are something else we have used to go get some more double-click, getting people in the room and having them talk through it. You get a little more depth in that.

The other thing we have done very successfully is we spend hours and days with some of the customers to ensure that we can unpack a lot of things that can’t be done by a round table conversation or survey. My point being is that you have to use multiple tools in your tool bag to go ahead, try, and make sure that you truly understand what it is that you have to solve for. This becomes more important when the time-to-market is becoming crucial and needs are shrinking.

When I started, there would be a time when you need to get a new product or a feature, it could take you two years, but now, some of the product’s spins that we got to do is probably coming down into multiple quarters. When there’s time-to-market pressure, our TCO pressure is coming in because the customers do care about the total cost of ownership.

Let’s say, if I take a server, it’s just not about, “What kind of processing capability it has?” There are other things too that goes behind it, “What is the power consumption? Does it need more cooling? Are we able to do a better analysis from a remote location without having somebody go in there in case there are any issues?”

That’s how companies are beginning to have more finite and granular TCO measurement tools, which have evolved over the period of time. You got to think through all those different elements to make sure that we are not just asking the customers, but we are able to unpack what it is they’re saying and bring it back to our roadmap design.

You mentioned quite a few things over there. It comes down to using the different tools and mechanisms for understanding your customers for customer outcomes. That’s a key message. Let’s shift gears a bit. I do want to come back into how you’re looking into 2021 and 2022 goals, but before that, as you and I know, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Others can learn from someone else when they make mistakes, our success story. In that spirit, can you share a go-to-market success story either from your days at Western Digital or from a previous one?

In terms of a good success story, I would take the example of at least my time at Dell. One of the things I still recall at that point in time when I joined the company, the company was shipping servers for over two decades, but we were never number one. We had the task and we took the goal upon to go out and see how we could change that to become the number one server provider in the industry.

As a team, we bonded together. I was very proud of my team for how we came down to relooking at the roadmap, looking at where the market was headed, and listening to what the customers needed, whether it was about systems management or was it important for GPUs as the advent of AI machine learning became important?

B2B 27 | Customer Focus
Customer Focus: Make sure that you have an ear on the ground, always looking to and getting the polls from the market so that we can go ahead and do what is right for not just the customers but ourselves too.

 

The questions of whether it is 1 or 2 GPUs they need, working with the right partners to ensure that we have the right technology brought in, and working with the CPU vendors that were out there looking at, “Where could this market be trending? Do we expect this to move ahead and continue to grow? Were there going to be adjacent markets that were going to take growth? Was there edge computing coming into play?” Those were the kinds of things that we looked back and said, “Here is what makes sense.”

We try to lay all the data we had completely, and I deliberately use the word data because you have to be data-driven. You can’t be emotionally attached to ideas and concepts. I brought the whole concept of customer-centric innovation. We’re looking at it from the lens of the customer, making sure that we’re able to go back in and plan a portfolio, and looking at the various elements that I mentioned to have the most robust roadmap in the industry and with the highest quality. We’re working with our colleagues in engineering and making sure that we’re able to bring the right products to the partner ecosystem, as I talked about.

When that came through, it did make a difference because we weren’t listening to our customers as they said here into our ecosystem partners. It helped us go back and take the number one slot or should I say if we had the opportunity to go back, relook at this stuff, and build the right portfolio, get to number one. It does help when we as a team sit down and do what we need to do in terms of listening, collecting the data, making the right calls and the roadmap, and working with our partners because this is a team sport.

It comes back to the customer outcome focus, which you and I talked about. You built that muscle at Dell and you had big numbers. If I got the numbers right, during your time there, you were part of the success story where you grew the server and the related business from $11 billion to $19 billion. Those are big numbers. It’s a testament to building that muscle around customer outcome focus. On the flip side, can you share a go-to-market failure story? I’m sure there will be plenty. It’s about picking out the most relevant for now in our conversation.

Whoever said life is only about ups, they have plenty of downs to deal with. This is in a subtle way, but it means there are ups and downs. One of the examples I could talk about is during my days at Sun Microsystems. If you recall, this is a company that gave the world Java. It gave the world some of the best possible workstations based on Unix. It was a company that could never do wrong.

I’m very proud of my association with Sun, though talking about some of the lessons learned and things that we could have done better, there are a few things. Number one, this was when Linux was still in its infancy. We had an operating system called Solaris, which our customers loved, especially the financial industry and the telco space. When you think about it in this particular market, it was all about having the most trustworthy hardware that was based on SPARC, that was our processor, and the operating system in the form of Solaris.

What we did not do was to not lead the trends moving towards open source. We could have easily gone ahead of them and looked at an OpenSolaris model where Linux would have then taken off, or on the flip side, installed SPARC used, let’s say an x86 platform, or we could have done OpenSolaris. My point being is that we continued to believe in a proprietary stack rather than moving towards an OpenStack.

Why this is relevant even now is, if we look at the industry, look at the number of things that depend on an OpenStack portfolio. We were at the forefront. We should have and could have, but we did not. That’s at least one man’s opinion as to how I think we should have learned. Likewise, where we have Java, I don’t necessarily think we monetized this as much as we should.

There’s progress in going to open source, but then the monetization.

It’s a nice way of looking at the entire portfolio but also looking at the trends. Make sure that you have an ear on the ground, always looking to and getting the polls from the market so that we can go ahead and do what is right for not just the customers but for ourselves too. That’s probably some good lessons learned.

Coming back to the question where I put up, which is, how are you looking at your 2021? Now that we are in Q4 of 2021, let’s talk about the 2022 goals. Not to share any confidential information, but broadly, how are you looking at 2022 goals for you and your team in Western Digital? More importantly, how are you thinking about the execution pieces if you can share that?

Customer focus is making sure that we learn from what's going on in the industry. Click To Tweet

There are a couple of things when I look at where we’re headed. Customer focus is making sure that we learn from what’s going on in the industry. It’s not lost on us that the amount of data being stored continues to grow. It is said that each one of us is probably storing 2 to 2.5 times more data this year than last year and you’re going to do it next year. My point is, that’s happening in our personal lives, which is why you probably have smartphones now with more memory than you ever had in the past because it’s pictures, videos, and whatnot.

If you look at the fact that most organizations now want to do more analytics on how the customers are buying or interacting with them, that means they need more data to be collected and analyzed. People talk about AI machine learning. Machine learning or deep learning, what is it based on? It’s based on data. Deep learning means you’re going to go back and analyze a lot more data than what you would do as it gives you money.

My point is, if you look at any of these trends, IoT or edge computing where there’s more data, it’s said that 75% of the data approximately is going to be generated outside of the data center, which means that there’s more data being created. For us, it means we got to provide our customers with more ways and better technologies to store the data. The way I look at this in every way I see it, data is going to be created more in the next few years than the last couple of decades.

What that means is we, as Western Digital, have to provide the right mechanisms to store the data, which is where we have a unique proposition unlike anybody else in the industry where we have the best of both flash and hard drives, which gives us the unique opportunity to be the first choice for any of our customers looking at storing data for their own business purposes.

Having said that, we at Western Digital are focused on making sure that we provide the right set of choices for our customers. Look at the hard drives. We’ve got everything from 1-terabyte hard drives all the way to 20-terabyte drives. We’ll continue to grow it because, when more data is needed, you got to go provide better technologies that our customers can depend on and we’re going to focus.

It’s interesting you asked because we introduced something called OptiNAND. OptiNAND Technology focuses on three things. It’s helping grow the capacity, performance, and reliability of our drives. We do that by vertically integrating both our flash technology with our hard drives. That’s the best part of what we’re trying to do and we’ve got to continue to do that. You’ll see all are coming to traction of some of the cool products we’re going to introduce.

It’s an exciting time, especially if you’re in the world of compute, storage, or networking. For consumers and a lot of folks outside, they may not see it, but everything that’s driving and facilitating these experiences that they use both at the business side as well as on the personal side, we’re taking a photo and storing it, making those conversations, or using your favorite communication tool. It comes down to these three, compute, storage, and networking. You said it right. Storage is critical. You can have the compute and networking, but at the end of the day, it’s still storage. You got to start somewhere. I’m excited by what’s in store with the big picture and the vision. If you narrow down your focus to 2022, what do you see are the barriers for executing against that big picture vision?

Honestly, we are dealing with some of the component shortages. It’s not just in our industry. It’s across various industries. I’ve read an article about $230 billion worth of cars that have been affected the shipping issues that we have. They said they’re going to have the Los Angeles Port open 24/7. It’s those kinds of things that we didn’t foresee in the past that we have got to work through in ensuring that we have the right components and making sure that we’re able to move parts from Point A to Point B. Those are the things that are ways and challenges that we have to overcome.

As I said, it’s not unique to our own industry, but this is something that we across on a global scale see this for all kinds of organizations. That’s the thing that I pay attention to. There are some talented members that are working through these, making sure that we come up with unique and alternative ways of dealing with that. That’s something that I would be amiss if I didn’t say it’s something that we’re going to keep a close eye on because if I look at the opportunity to where the market is headed in terms of storage, it’s a huge opportunity. The regulatory needs in each of the countries that are asking for more data to be stored and stuff essentially drive more need for storage.

I was looking back and I still recall when I was starting off. I remember looking at a 75-megabyte hard drive and you got platters. It seems to be sitting in a washing machine with huge platters and you would plop them out. Now, on a 1-inch drive, you have the ability to store 10 to 20 terabytes. That’s fascinating by itself. The innovation and market need are there, but now, some of these other elements that I don’t think most industries saw earlier are upon us.

You could come up with the best messaging possible, but if you don't know where the market is headed, you may not come up with the right messaging for that particular situation. Click To Tweet

I was talking to somebody who has been in the whole supply chain management for the last few decades. The person was talking about the fact that they had never seen this kind of supply chain challenge in their entire career. That’s something that we would obviously get out of it, but there are going to be a lot of learnings for everyone.

Supply chain issues are hitting different and various industries across the board. Especially in the hardware industry and hardware manufacturing setup where you’re relying on supply chains on the chips, memory modules, and different pieces being produced outside of the US, those have to come in. Those are big challenges that are going to take maybe a year or two for things to settle down or come back to “normal.” Those are things that are technically speaking outside your control, but talking about things that are more in your control. Looking at 2022, if you were to invest a 5, 6, or 7-figure budget or team, where would you put that focus or energy to?

The most important place is always making sure that we know where the market is headed. The focus will always be to understand the market. In anything else you do, you could come up with the best messaging possible, but if you don’t know where the market is headed, you may not come up with the right messaging for that particular situation. That’s what I would do.

My focus is making sure that we focus on where the market is headed. In this case, if I think about it, as we talk about data, more people store data. People are also looking at archiving the data. How do we come up with the right archiving methodologies so that it’s not just cost-efficient for our customers but also faster to retrieve? That is an exciting place and we call it cold storage, for example. Those are some of the things that are going to become very crucial for us.

To reiterate, are you saying that you’re going to put more time, money, or people into those areas, specifically the customer advisory board, which I’m sure you must be doing already? In addition to that, it’s about going back to the primary research and secondary research tools. That’s how you stay close to the different market trends.

It’s about, “How do you store more data? How do you make sure it’s secure and reliable?” You get it at a faster pace because you would have the data, but if you don’t get it back in a timely fashion, it’s no value. We want to be sure that we’ll be able to go build the right tools and technologies and we’ll be able to retrieve the data quickly too. Those are the kinds of things we want to answer and that’s where we’re going to focus on. That’s where the excitement is and that’s where we at WD are excited.

If you were to turn back the clock and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, going back to your computer days, but then you transitioned from being an engineer into product management, what advice would you give to your younger self?

You don’t know a lot. I honestly don’t think I knew as much as I thought I knew. My point is it becomes fascinating and interesting when you look back and think that you knew exactly what the product is and what feature functionality should be brought out. I was pretty naive thinking that I had the answers. As you grow and mature, you realize there are so many facets to how you build a successful product and how you sustain it because the question is, it can be a flash in the pan.

You’ve got to sustain it for a period of time. There are lessons that I’ve learned and I continue to be a student for life. I’m sure there will be a lot of lessons to be learned. Don’t ever underestimate the needs of the market and think and become comfortable believing that you know everything there is to it because you simply won’t.

That’s what I call and refer to as being intellectually honest. That’s the first step and then you complement that and add on the curiosity element to it.

This is where I would say continue to stay humble.

On that note, thank you so much, Ravi. It has been a fun, great, and insightful conversation. Good luck to you and your team. We’ll cheer you from the sidelines.

Thank you, Vijay. I much appreciate it.

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About Ravi Pendekanti

Ravi is a seasoned executive in product management/marketing, developing roadmap and driving GTM and sales enablement with a solutions view focused on customer outcomes while managing key partner relationships. Responsible to address a range of workloads including AI/ML, OLTP, HPC, Edge, IoT, Big Data and Analytics.

Areas of expertise include Servers, Storage, HCI, Networking, Systems Management, Virtualization and Cloud.

Focus is to win “Together” by building successful teams that work as a “Team” inside and across other functions in an organization and with applicable partners in the eco system.

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter

 

How do you catch your clients’ attention then give them value fast? Write down the moments that matter! Vijay Damojipurapu’s guest today is Anthony Cessario, the VP, Industries & GTM Solutions at Clari. Anthony talks with Vijay about how you need to identify the moments you want your clients to experience. Do you want them to walk away feeling good? Do you want them to come back? After you identify the moments that matter, you can proceed to build your entire strategy around that objective. If you want tips on how to build that strategy, this episode’s for you. Tune in! 

Listen to the podcast here

Moments That Matter: How To Deliver Value To Your Clients Fast With Anthony Cessario

I have Anthony Cessario, who is the VP, Industries and Go-To-Market Solutions at Clari. Without further ado, welcome to the show, Anthony.

Great to be here. Thanks, Vijay.

I’m super excited. I’ve been following you not a whole lot but somewhat. What caught my attention on LinkedIn is when you mentioned or responded to one of your colleagues, LinkedIn post around the importance of having curiosity. Curiosity as a differentiate or are a key factor when it comes to go-to-market execution? That post or that one comment caught my attention and I said, “I need to get Anthony on my show,” but it doesn’t stop there.

I go to your LinkedIn post. What gets me even more excited is when I read your LinkedIn summary. It talks about how you plan or how you have bucketized your time across the week. We’ll hold up on that question. I want to get your thoughts on that but let’s start off with my signature question in which my audience is eager, excited and curious to read to go-to-market leaders around this topic, which is how do you define go-to-market?

Again, thanks for having me. I keep things maybe overly simple sometimes but for me, go-to-market is that end-to-end business process of creating the desired outcome usually, revenue from a product or service offering. That’s really it and there’s a lot that goes into that but I try to keep how I think about go-to-market simple in that regard.

That’s a very simplistic definition and view. If you up-level, it that’s what it gets down to but here’s the thing. Everything that we know as a concept, we know it but execute it is super hard. That’s where the real go-to market leaders stand out. Talk to us about how you approach the execution piece around go-to-market.

At Clari, there’s a concept we talk a lot about called operationalizing growth. We think about how do you operationalize growth and that’s a lot to do with go to market. For us, it always starts with what we would call SGIs, the Strategic Growth Initiatives of the business. What is it that we need to accomplish over whatever period of time to take the company wherever we were trying to take it?

From there, when you have clear SGIs, that’s when the go-to-market starts to come in. Where now we decide, one, what are the targets that we would need to set in order to go deliver on those SGIs? What are the types of execution insights and instrumentation that we would need to either run the business in a way that we can go deliver on those targets?

You then get into the cadences and communication that needed to happen and these types of things. You get down to enabling folks on the go-to-market. That whole part, a lot of times people jump right into, “What do we need to build? What’s this LCD need to look like,” and all these things. The program management of go-to-market is important.

That starting with, what are we trying to accomplish? What are the guiding principles? What are the constraints we’re operating within? Who were the players and who were the workstream leads? All of that and making sure you have the instrumentation everyone executes against it. At the companies that I get to work with that are great, go to market organizations get all that well. They do that well and then they go execute within those workstreams across product, in sales, strategy, enablement, CS and all the teams that are contributors to the process.

When I asked you the question, you started off with those 1 or 2 lines, but then when you doubled click, there’s a whole bunch of processes. There’s a whole bunch of systems approaches, the tools and the players, the people that have to be taken into account to eventually connect the dots between, the strategy, the execution, the measurement, and how is it all lining up to what you were ever to ask the SGI at Clari. Of course, you need to build clarity around all those things and you’re doing that at Clari for sure. Switching gears slightly over here on a lighter note, how would your parents or kids describe what you do at work?

You mentioned that you might ask me this question. I wouldn’t ask my kids. I have two boys. Dominic is going to be seven soon. Daniel is four. Dominic’s answer was great. He got probably group them well. He said, “You help people solve tough problems or hard problems, and you do it over your computer.” That was cool. I try to talk to him when I’m spending a lot of time and energy on something. I want him to know that it’s important and what I’m doing is helping other people, and making their lives easier and that makes me feel better about it. How would I explain it that way? That was great that he’s been listening. My four-year-old only said, “Computers.” I said, “Danny, what’s daddy’s work?” “Puters.”

Tell your story to other human beings in a way that's going to resonate with them. Click To Tweet

 

He’s on the computer, always.

My parents, a little different. My mom’s been working in a hospital for many years. She would say something about Salesforce.com maybe and that I’m doing an important job. She’d brag a little bit. My dad was a business leader. He had a great journey. He came up through HR. He became a VP of HR and was business-minded at MBA. He ended up becoming the President of his business by way of the HR channel, which is not something you see very often. He’d probably tell you that I’m helping grow a business now if you ask him.

Especially most of the folks within the go-to-market organization, we are all about helping to grow the business but how we do that is by serving and understanding our customers. That’s a good segue into, what prompted you to go down this path? What was your career like? How did you start and how did you eventually get to what you’re doing at Clari now?

I’ve been fortunate. I never wanted to go into sales. I thought I was going to be working in marketing. In college, I interned advertising at over in Mather in Shanghai. I loved it so much that I anticipated, I’d go down that marketing route. My brother was in advertising and things like that. I was lucky. I had a friend who was doing some sales training right when I got into college.

The trainer, the Sandler coach, was from Philadelphia like me and so my friend said, “We got to network with, you should come to meet him.” You’re looking for your first job and all that. What they were working on that day in their sales training when I went and showed up were the Pain Funnel and sales. I didn’t know anything about sales at the time.

When I went and sat in, I was super curious at the end of that because it would sound so much fun. By taking a business problem and peeling it back three layers to understand what’s going on, why and help people make decisions, I was fascinated by it. That’s where it sparked me to go into sales, even though I wasn’t planning on it. I worked for a little startup. I met a guy in that actual class who was a CEO of a company working on his sales because he kicked off the company.

I did wear a few hats for him and his little four-person consulting startup. That was my first job. Sales and marketing and a little bit of everything like you do in a company that’s small. I then went to a great company called Taleo, which at the time I was like the number two SaaS company in the world behind Salesforce.

We had HR software, recruiting software, talent management software. That’s where I got my real start in sales as a BDR. I got to learn a lot there about how sales and marketing work together. We brought a new product line to the market right when I started. It was cool to see that unfold. How do you start selling a new product to your customer base? I was on a team that was doing that job of going and selling something completely new that our customers didn’t know anything about into our customers, which was pretty cool. We’re then bought by Oracle. I got folded into this big company and probably the best decision I made back then was to know. I wasn’t smart enough to know to make a decision.

A lot of people left Taleo after the acquisition. I wanted to stay and see what it was all about and I wanted this big company. At the time, Oracle had bought Taleo as part of their go-to-market to scale into the SaaS business, going from on-premise software and the cloud software. It was cool to see that on the front lines and how you have to think about talent differently. Do you have the right people to sell these new products? Do we keep this standalone or do we integrate the code into the platform we’ve been building for years? I got to watch all that decision-making as a sales rep.

We’re selling this new platform and I had a lot of great learning successes and failures throughout that journey. That’s when I found some success and it had some leaders that were starting to tap me to help with decision-making at a higher level on, “How should we be thinking about where we go next and what things does the product need to go into new markets?” I was fortunate to get pulled into a lot of go-to-market discussions. I learned that was what I enjoyed most.

The sales part was becoming blocking and tackling. It was more the working with product marketing, product development, doing territory planning and headcount planning, and all that stuff. That was all pretty cool and fun. I thought I decided to go into the high-growth world and leave Oracle. I learned at a big company, the higher you go, the less you might get the impact in go-to-market. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in the high-growth space and help to grow a business.

I got incredibly lucky that Clari had reached out. At Clari, literally, what we do as the company is going work with the top, go-to-market teams across the globe and help them instrument their go-to-market. I knew I was going to be an MBA on got-to-market. At the very least, that was enough for me. There you go. That’s the journey. That was a lot but that’s how we got to now.

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: Peel back the layers to understand what’s going on and help people make decisions.

 

As you’re saying that, a lot of light bulbs went in my mind and something that I’m curious about as you are evolving your career, Anthony, is you started off as an intern in the advertising world. Clearly, when you’re working at a tier-one advertising company, O&M and from there, you went into a startup in sales. Of course, not only sales, when you’re like a four-person company, you are wearing multiple hats. Eventually, that led you down to the path of a BDR and growing up the ranks at Taleo and Oracle.

I’m curious how your internship the startup’s first job to the BDR, and the growth in sales and sales leadership panned out. What I want to really get your thoughts on is when you are in the advertising world, you are looking to develop a copy. As any top-notch advertisers will know, you have only a few seconds or less to get someone’s attention. I’m sure even when you go into a BDR and even enjoy a sales role, that skill is important. I’m curious. I want to get your thoughts on that.

To your question, I would say probably, even higher level, what Ogilvy did for me and especially in China, and getting to work in Shanghai, what I realized was one, that it was fun helping companies solve business problems and I can make an impact on them. When I was a sophomore in college, that lit a fire. I wanted to do more of that. I couldn’t get done school fast enough at that point because I wanted to go like, “I can do this now. Let’s go do it.” That was the biggest thing I would say.

I didn’t care where I was doing it. I wanted to go as fine. That’s what intrigued me about the startup when I went to work for Starr with Darren Starr, he was a smart guy. He came from the VC world and AEye from Kleiner Perkins. He was standing up this Salesforce Consulting Firm. I realized that I was going to get to wear a lot of hats and create marketing copy.

Write your own call scripts.

Also, product summaries. I knew I didn’t know what I was going to learn but I was going to learn a lot, that was interesting to me. Again, back to curiosity, I was curious on like, “What I was going to learn and what it’s like to be out of business at that stage.” When it comes back to the copy and the marketing stuff, I always joke, “I’m a marketer in a sales guy’s body who thinks he’s a product guy and wants to be a strategy guy.” That marketing experience, I had played a profound role in shaping how I think about communicating with anybody but, especially with businesses.

My brother was a successful Creative Director before he became a wanted entrepreneur. You can look him up online. I’ve learned a lot from him as well and how to communicate with people and how do you keep it human and how do you keep things simple. That stuck with me certainly from Ogilvy, going into sales and thinking about how do we tell our story to other human beings in a way that’s going to resonate with them. It’s been something that’s helped me a lot.

I’m always curious. I always look to read up and also follow a lot of these practitioners around how to communicate in different formats, in different channels and how do you get someone’s attention in the shortest possible time span? That’s one, but once you get that attention, once you get a follow-up meeting, you got 30, 60, 90 minutes or even half a day. How do you then deliver value because they have carved out time?

There’s a concept that my sales teams put the work a lot that we call moments that matter. For every meeting that we have, for every pursuit that we’re going after, we’ll write down, “What are the moments that matter?” What that means is, what do we want the people that we’re interacting with the walk away saying, thinking or feeling after our interaction about Clari as a company, our product, us as individuals. We write it down. In this case, it might be, my moment that matters for this would be Vijay walk away saying, “I enjoy that time with Anthony. It’s going to be helpful for the audience. I hope to have him back again someday.” Those might be the moments that matter, and we’ll build the entire strategy for the meeting around that.

That’s something that, again, I learned from advertising where you back into the experience that you’re trying to create. Similarly, for companies, it’s an important thing to think about, “What is the experience we’re trying to create for our users, for our customers? What is the perception we want them to have of us?” That dictates a lot. That dictates how you build a product. What is the type of insights you want to surface in your product and things like this? It dictates how you communicate, the type of salespeople you hire, the marketers you hire, all of that, you can stand back from, what is the experience that you’re looking to create for your customers?

I’m sure because you’re in sales and you’re a lot in the customer-facing roles and interactions but eventually, you need to get those insights and learnings inward to the product teams. You are clearly communicating and working very closely with the product marketing organization and even the tech support and others. How do you bring that, as you said, moments that matter, MTM? That’s what I’m going to call it now MTM. How do you work with the product marketing team and the product management team in building or incorporating those insights into the product?

In my opinion, it’s so crucial to have product management and product marketing very closely interwoven to the front lines. There’s a great body of research out there around something called ONA, Organizational Network Analysis. Back in my HR days, it was a trendy hot topic in HR. How does work get done within companies? With all the technology out there now, Zoom, Slack and email, you could imagine if you were to look at the patterns of data on who people spend the most time with over Slack, over Zoom, over email, you would see an interesting web that has nothing to do with the org structure of the company.

Help your clients understand how you’ll help them. Click To Tweet

I would argue that with great go-to-market teams, you would see a tight-knit connection between product marketing, product, growth marketing and sales. There’s an important feedback loop that has to be happening there in a machine-like way or machine actual way. That’s how we think about it. Different companies take different approaches. Product marketing can be the glue to help connect a few of these pieces. Sometimes it’s hard to translate directly from sales to the product development team. Product marketing can maybe play that intermediary a little bit. That’s not always the role that they play in companies.

Sometimes product marketing might be more content-focused and things like that. For me, that’s the formula, keep a close cadence. At Clari, we build programs around this stuff. For my business, I’m building our market expansion into new verticals. We have an entire program around it where, as I mentioned, we have our program charter. What are we trying to accomplish, guiding principles, how we make decisions, all that stuff but then we have a roster and we have, who owns the product marketing workstream, who from the product, we have engineering involved? All the way down to HR and talent.

We have all the stakeholders. We all are putting in our program updates on a regular basis. Everyone’s invited to our weekly meeting and a lot of people come and participate. When you keep everybody narrowly focused on this business outcome that we’re trying to accomplish together regularly, it’s cool. The information naturally flows well.

I love that concept of again, MTM, moments that matter, and incorporating that into each and every function. It’s not just about the customer-facing functions but even within HR. HR and talent team has a big role in figuring out and hiring the right talent, who can get that concept. Not only get the concept but put it into practice on a daily basis.

It’s massive. I always remind my HR business partner that the B should be extra capitalized. That’s what this is. You’re my business partner. She comes to our team meetings, our QBR. It’s not only an HR function. It’s a business function, especially in the tech world where talent now is such a scarce resource across engineering and sales. It can be your biggest differentiator or incompetence as a company. If you’re not factoring the talent piece into your go-to-market, you’re probably in trouble.

Two questions come to my mind. One is I would like you to share a GTM success story. You and I talked earlier about how you helped increase the ACV in the whole enterprise sales motion. Perhaps you can shed more light into what is the challenge, what are the hurdles, and how you and the team overcame the entire go-to-market sequence to increase the ACV? Let us start off with that question first.

Again, I think it goes back to SGIs. When I came into Clari, one of the things our CRO brought me in here to do was to go further upmarket. We started getting into some larger enterprise pursuits and felt like the value that Clari provides is so massive. For those who don’t know what Clari is, we help companies predict revenue. We make the revenue process more connected, efficient, predictable. When you get into large enterprise companies, driving more forecast accuracy, week 2, week 3 in the quarter for publicly traded companies is a massive and value add.

For me, that’s where we started when we looked at this SGI and how do we go further upmarket. We wanted to think about what is the value story there? How are we going to communicate the impact that we can help make at that level? What we saw how massive the opportunity was, especially in large software companies and things like this. That was the first thing we did. We validated. Is there a valuable story to tell? We can’t ask for more money from our product if there’s not a value story there.

How did he do the validation? That’s a very important piece within the go-to-market machine, when you said that it’s a big market and there is potential.

This is an important thing that a lot of companies get wrong. The very first thing we did was a prioritization exercise. There’s a concept that we talked about a lot at Clari called focus capacity. How do you focus the capacity of the go-to-market teams on the right motions? For us, that can mean different things for different teams.

If you’re looking to go upmarket, you need to prioritize your accounts by way of ICP, Ideal Customer Profile. Are they ICP? Are they adjacent ICP? Are they secondary? Priority 1, priority 2, priority 3 type approach. You have to start with that baseline to understand, what is the TAM and SAM of accounts that we can go after if we want to go further upmarket?

In our case, if you’re trying to drive more revenue incrementally, you also need to understand, what the maybe addressable revenue is for that account? Come up with some of the formulas. For us, it’s not too hard. If you’re selling to go-to-market teams, you can get a sense from LinkedIn and things like that. How many sellers, how many marketers, that do they have in the company. We broke our business down by ARR bands, priorities and said, “There’s this many companies worth this much revenue to us. Call it $1 million plus, $500,000 plus, $250,000 plus, and so forth.”

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: Operationalizing growth always starts with strategic growth initiatives.

 

Once we had that segmentation, then we could validate that there’s a worthwhile market to go after there. Two, it helped us drive everything from territory planning and coaching the reps on where to focus their time, building equitable territories by way of those revenue bands. Everybody gets these many million dollars plus accounts, $500,000 plus accounts.

That first piece of getting the planning right allowed us to have a more predictable execution because we knew that everyone had similar books, focused on similar size accounts. That changed not only the size of the deals that we were doing but the efficiency at which we were selling. We needed our pipeline. Our conversion rates went way up with more focus. That was an example for us. As you mentioned, we went from, let’s say for number’s sake, average enterprise deals of $100,000 to $300,000 or $400,000 quickly by way of focusing the team further upmarket.

I liked the way how you called out around double-clicking and doing the homework, the due diligence. One is, you can say it’s a huge addressable market but what does it mean? The way you guys did the exercise of breaking it down by segments, you can do your homework and due diligence on the number of seeds or potential seeds. Of course, you know your pricing. You count with the different bands. After that, it’s all going in. It’s almost like ABM account-based marketing, but then very targeted into maybe a top 50 or top 100 in different regions or bands.

For sure, startups and later-stage startups with VC funding are often working within models that their VCs hand them or strongly recommend that they within. A lot of times, those models are very top-down and that’s important. It’s important to go top-down and start with the TAM, SAM, SOM and all that, especially in the enterprise motion to go bottoms up. That’s what you do there when you get to that prioritization exercise.

You can do a bottoms-up analysis and start to look at we’ll map out things like we call it path the plan like, “What would it look like to do X million in revenue? How many accounts of which size revenue bands do we have to close to get to this number?” That focuses on all the go-to-market teams.

If we need to go way up, if we’re going to do twenty deals over a million dollars or something like that, we have to sit down with the product team and say, “What do we need to deliver in the next couple of cycles to go service accounts of this size?” We’re going to go down-market to SMB. That might change something. We’ll say, “Do we have the product cycles to deliver what we need to do and go after this revenue?” That prioritization exercise becomes a great foundation, like a bottoms-up foundation, to get all teams on the same page on what their responsibility will be if they’ll execute.

I think a couple of points, one is when you’re doing or growing mid-market or upmarket. Mid-market or enterprise is one but when you’re going into more of the SMBs, potentially it can be like a self-serve. Product-led growth, which means is a product ready and do you have the right like the free trial? Was this the conversion of the whole journey mapped out? Not from the internal company point of view, not from Clari’s point of view but for that end-user that you’re targeting versus if you go into an enterprise, it’s more of an ABM play, a targeted account play.

Now you’re talking about having the right content. It all comes about having the right experiences to be delivered. It can be maybe a half a day or one-day event at those specific company’s enterprises. You also have the community. Anthony, there’s something that I’m grappling with and I’m testing broadly with the go-to-market leaders is the concept of what I call it as three pillars. Three pillars of a go-to-market engine, which is one, it’s content. Two, are the experiences, and three is the community. Broadly speaking, we are talking about content, experiences and community.

Have these three pieces in your go-to-market? That’s the Holy Grail. What role did specifically content play when you are looking or going to increase the ACV from 100 to 340? Can you talk to us about that the role of content? What does that versus what needed to be created maybe by the product marketing team, the brand or the content marketing team?

There were several roles. One is, we had to take a deep dive into the side. Again, back to moments that matter, who is the audience that we’re trying to serve and what do we want them to think about Clari? One of Clari’s superpowers is that we’re loved at the board CEO, CRO type level, you can imagine. Revenue predictability is important to these folks.

That’s something we think is special and we take seriously. One of the things that we started thinking a lot about from a content perspective is, is our content ready for that audience? Is it ready for the CROs, presidents and CEOs of the top companies in the world and is our voice coming across that way? This is a busy space that we’re in sales technology and things like this.

A lot of people have different voices. I would argue most of them aren’t tailored for an executive audience. They’re more operationally driven and things like this are for the functions themselves. That was one thing we thought a lot about from a content perspective and made sure that we had Polish. Good guiding principles around was that we were communicating in the voice of our most special customers, which are the executive teams and things like that. That was one piece.

Keep your focus and accelerate your velocity. Click To Tweet

We built content around things that mattered. You think about it, it’d be easy for us to build content around forecasting but that’s not a CEO-level topic. We would build content around things like transitioning from hardware to software or going from SaaS to product-led growth or these are the topics that these folks are thinking about and how they think about go-to-market.

The more we can speak up there, build content in the world that they’re living in, the more relevant we were. That was helpful. That whole value story, I’d say that was the other one. Building out a valuable service, not only content. We built out a whole business unit around it and building the content that needed to serve that. Again, it’s your value engineering or value services, and you think ROI. “I need an ROI calculator show.” We would argue that. There’s a lot of content that comes with that.

Having someone believe that you’re going to help them run their go-to-market better. A lot of that comes in the form for us of content around SGIs, helping them understand that we’re going to help them accelerate their go-to-market. The product-led growth or their go-to-market into SaaS revenue streams for the first time from on-premise or something like that. We built a lot of content in that regard. That gave us credibility to go command higher prices in some of those enterprise cycles.

I love the bear you emphasize and touch the point of content pedagogy role. In that whole go-to-market execution and up-leveling your ACV for you or for your target audience, which is the executives, the CEO, and the board to connect with the value of what Clari can do, it starts with, how is it going to help them as they’re evolving their business model? Be it an on-prem to SaaS or a PLG Product Led Growth. First of all, understanding that and then building content around it. Would you agree that content, community and experience are key pieces between the go to market machine?

One Hundred percent. If I had to pick, if you were to talk to Clari’s customers about what makes our company so special, I would argue that you’d probably hear 1, 2 or 3 of those things about what makes us special. Whether it’s the content that we provide that is valuable at the highest levels of the business or the experiences that we obsess over and think deeply about, and hopefully deliver on for our customers or if it’s the community that we’ve created.

This community is across our portfolio of people. We have CROs call us and tell us that, “I interviewed for my next job and I told them, I won’t take it unless I have Clari.” That’s a community. These are raving fans that when you build a community like that for us, we talk about the double moat at Clari. That’s the second moat. That community is that moat. When you build, it gets wider.

It all starts with the content and the experiences of once people get attracted towards those components, that’s what will grow that whole, the second moat, which is the community piece. Let’s switch gears and go more into the forward-looking. What are your big initiatives or focus areas for 2021 and 2022?

That’s what I’m doing now. To your point earlier, I’ve run sales teams for a bit now. This 2021, I stepped a little bit more into go to market strategy role to kick off 2021. As Clari sets our sights on IPO here, we had a big SGI as a company of what we call it expanding strike zone, which is, how do we go with a great TAM opportunity? How do we create more SAM and SOM we can serve as our platform gets used by more go-to-market teams? We started off having sales teams use us a lot.

Marketing teams started coming in, customer success teams and now finance teams and product marketers. As we look at expanding our strike zone, there’s a couple of key motions that we think about and how do we serve more vertical markets? Where are markets out there that are looking for visibility, rigor and predictability across their go-to-market motions? We think there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. We think about personas. Who are the people that are stakeholders in the go-to-market process? How do we create experiences for them that would delight and add value inside of our platform?

Business models, you mentioned a big one. We’re a big believer in the move to product-led growth. We think that’s a major shift that’s happening in the market. We want to be able to serve our customers that are making those transitions. As you can imagine, it becomes much harder to predict growth in a PLG, Product Line Growth landscape. We’re thinking deeply about that. What I’ve been doing is helping us build to go-to-market and in those motions. Now as we get into the second half of 2021, we’re now double-clicking and I’m building out the vertical selling teams and things like this that are going to go serve the strategy that we set up in the first half of 2021.

I will be looking forward to maybe having more conversations with you. I’ll be studying and tracking you guys on how we are executing the go-to-market and growing into more territories, personalized, verticals. In that regard, obviously, you got a big chapter for 2021 and 2022. What do you think are the 1 or 2 barriers that might affect your plans?

It’s whether or not we can keep our focus narrow but while still looking, seeing the forest and the trees and all of that. Can we keep our focus and accelerate velocity? It’s a good problem to have, a big TAM to go after but you have to be focused to do it. Any executive team at a high-growth startup will tell you, the number one thing the board asks about is hiring. “Can you hire fast enough?” In a company like ours, we have a cool company. We have AI machine learning that works and solves real important business problems. That helps while you’re still battling for engineering talent with the who’s who of Silicon Valley and things like this.

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: There’s a tight-knit connection between product marketing, growth, and sales.

 

That’s one thing. “Can we continue to hit our hiring targets?” which we’ve been doing. As you grow and scale, we passed for the 400-employee mark as you get to 500, 700 and 800 employees. Can you continue to hire world-class talent at scale? That’s probably the one we’ve been executing on for sure. You want to like, “Can we keep doing it? Can we keep bringing in world-class people?” That’s one thing. If you were to talk to people in our company, they would tell you what they love about clarity is the culture.

We have this special culture. It helps that we’re still founders run and you want to keep scaling that. You don’t want to lose that over the next stages of growth. That’s one of the things that help us keep high retention rates on our talent. I would say that some of that stuff, can we continue to hire in a world-class way across product, go-to-market and can we retain the talent that we have? I know we can execute it. It’s less on the execution side. I know we’ve got the strategy right. It’s more about, can we keep the resources we need to go to deliver on the strategy that we’ve built?

That’s one of the biggest challenges, especially in a high-growth world. It’s all about talent and then culture. It’s not just about getting the right talent but will they fit in within our culture? You also mentioned maintaining focus while not losing the big picture. Those two are big areas. Besides that, let’s say if you were given a 5, 6 or 7-figure budget, where would you invest besides people?

Again, I’ll double down. I’d invest in engineers. I don’t think we could ever have enough great engineers. One of the things, one of the skillsets that I’ve had to learn here and it’s been great, and we’ve talked about a little bit is world-class program management. I can’t speak enough for what that’s done for our business.

In a startup, things like program management, it might be someone like me wearing that hat. If I had a lot of budgets, I’d probably put some into program manager across each of the functions and be a dedicated program manager within the revenue team or something like that, tooling and instrumentation to help serve this stuff.

I know big companies do that and have that. Have a budget to do that stuff. Whereas there are trade-offs, you have to make at our stage of growth. I’d probably put some investment in program management and making that machine actual. We’re getting machine-like now as a company. A little bit more human level, I’d like to get people together more in this environment. I think there’s a lot of barriers to that.

I feel like if we had a couple of cobbles of budget, we could probably come up with some creative ways to get folks together in a safe environment. I miss that. It’s this remote world that is awesome but we need to find ways to get everyone together. Again, with an unlimited checkbook, maybe we could design something where everything gets folks together more often in a safe environment.

Again, you talk about experiences but in this case, we’re talking about employee experiences. It’s tough. Let’s search and transition more into the closing section. Who are the 2 or 3 people that if you look back played a pivotal role in your career growth?

There’s a lot. If I had to pick 2 or 3, the first would be Kevin Knieriem, our CRO at Clari. We met at Oracle. As a rep, he put me on a formal leadership development plan and it always told me I was a leader. Told me that to manage people to be a leader and gave me the opportunity to lean into that. Kevin’s the guy who brought me into the high-growth world. He had left and did a company after Oracle on a high-growth company. Kevin, for sure. I’ve learned a ton from him.

My CEO at Clari, Andy Byrne. Andy is a phenomenal leader, phenomenal human, phenomenal entrepreneur. I’d say what I’ve learned from Andy is how to think about the big picture. More importantly, than not even is becoming a more human leader. I’ve always been pretty execution-focused and Andy’s helped me think about the human side of leadership and what we’re doing and the impact that has on people’s lives and things like that. He’s been remarkable in that regard.

That’s definitely the two. There’s a guy named Mike Hogan at Oracle that had started bringing me into a lot of the go-to-market stuff, which was great. Letting me get exposure to that and contribute to that. That, again, helped me realize how much I enjoy that stuff. My kids probably be the last one. My kids keep balanced and humble and forced me to think about what’s important. They played a big role in it, too.

I love the way you included and mentioned kids. It only clearly shows the human side. Let’s say, if you were to turn back time, the clock and go back to day one, if you go-to-market journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Become a more human leader. Click To Tweet

Maybe it’s me building off our human chat here but it would be that. I would tell my younger self to be more human and practice mindfulness and be more aware of the present in your surroundings. Early in your career, you can get execution-focused and hard-charging. I was definitely in that bucket. I probably missed a lot of great experiences being narrowly focused on executing and not realizing all the great humans around me and how I can help play a role in their lives and the role they were playing in my life.

Mindfulness is something that Andy brought to my life as well, which has been helpful, meditating and things like that. If I would’ve done that, have been more human, being more mindful earlier, the journey may have been the same but I may have been a little bit more peaceful and helpful than others along the way.

Be more human and you’re using tactics, specifically meditation. That brings me to my last question but a very important question. My question leads to the topic of why I wanted to have you on the show, which is going back to the LinkedIn summary. You mentioned how you break down your time or a week. Talk to me and the audience about the importance, what is the motivation behind doing that and what does it remind you of or how does it help you become more human and mindful?

First, I always tell my sales team, “Unless you’re applying for a job, your LinkedIn is your resume for your customers.” That’s who’s looking at you when you’re going to the meetings and we’re going to look you up. I try to be pretty transparent on who I am, what I think about and what I care about from a business and a personal perspective so when people meet me, they know what they’re getting, good, bad or indifferent. You can go check it out.

First, that whole exercise is it’s as much of an exercise in thinking through planning what you’d like your week or your time to look like. My week doesn’t look like that every single week but that’s certainly my intention. When you write down a plan, write it, it makes it a plan. Not just like a thought. That’s where it started was, “If I write this down, maybe I’ll live it more weeks than not.” It then comes down to me to thinking about, “You only have so many calories and hours in the day. Where do you want to invest those calories?” When I write it down and I realized like, “I’m a big Fred Kofman fan.” If you haven’t read Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business book, it’s the best book on leadership there is.

Fred talks about, there’s no such thing as work-life balance because if you’re saying it’s balanced, that means when you’re working, you’re not living or when you’re living, you’re not working. That’s not true. When you write it down, I’m spending maybe 50 plus hours a week doing work. When I write it down on paper, I’m spending maybe 40 or 50 hours a week with my family.

Thinking about that, it allows you to put sufficient calories into both of those buckets that you should. It’s a realization moment. Some of the other things like health and mindfulness and fun night doing things that you enjoy. Realizing how little time you get to put into some of that stuff, it’s a helpful exercise to go through and think about.

I got exposed to that concept. I think from Brian Tracy. This whole book and concept around manage your time, manage your life. If you manage your time, you’re going to manage your life. When I dug deeper into that, if you look at the table of contents over there, he breaks down the time categories into 7 or 8. Things like relaxation, reflection, family, work, income improvement, strategic it’s all of those.

I had that book. It was on my desk, and then I looked up your LinkedIn summary, you practically broke down your time in those several buckets. I wish more people do that. That’s the best way to manage your life, after all. Manage your time, that’s how you’re going to manage your life. That’s how you become more human and that will translate to being more mindful.

It’s something that from early in my career I’ve done is set goals in each of those areas and it changes. When you start the year, you think about, “What are the roles I’m going to play this year?” I remember early in my career it was boyfriend, coworker and peer. Now, it’s father and son. I have to think about, as my parents get older, the role I play there, financial stability and health and all these things.

Being intentional, setting goals around those things and checking in on them regularly helps. It’s not like it’s not that I don’t want to call my parents and say, “Hi,” but if I don’t put intentionality around that, it might not happen for a couple of weeks. If you set goals around it, put them on the calendar. Like you said, manage your time. Even if you only get 60% of it done, it’s probably way more than you would have got done if you didn’t write anything down.

Wonderful conversation, Anthony. Where can people find more about you and learn more about Clari?

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: The prioritization exercise is a great foundation to get all teams on the same page on what their responsibilities are.

 

You mentioned LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s a good place. I keep on top of LinkedIn. I think it’s a great social network. Clari, get us on Clari.com. You can follow us on LinkedIn. We’re hiring like crazy across every department and go-to-market. Come check us out. As I said, I’m building out a verticals business now. If you know anybody that comes from professional services, financial services, healthcare and things like this, that they want to come to join a good go-to-market team, give me a shout where we’re hiring.

Good luck and good stuff. I’ll be cheering from the sideline for your team and Clari also. Wonderful conversation and good luck once again.

Thanks, Vijay. This is great.

Important links

About Anthony Cessario

There are 168 hours in a week. Here’s what mine looks like on a regular basis.

For 50+hrs each week, I get to create/problem solve/strategize with, and learn from, some of the most truly amazing people you could ever want to meet. Together we’re helping companies of all shapes and sizes grow and predict revenue in remarkable ways. It’s fun, challenging, exciting, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

45-50hrs of my week is spent sharing the most quality of my time with the loves of my life, my wife Anna and perhaps the two most incredible little boys in the world, our sons Dominic and Daniel. We split our weekends fairly evenly between relaxing at our home in Walnut Creek, visiting family, traveling, wine tasting in Napa and enjoying the quiet life in the town of Truckee (Just outside of Tahoe).

4-6hrs weekly goes to exercise; mainly Brazilian jiu jitsu, but also some boxing, lifting, running and muay thai from time to time.

2-3hrs goes to reading.

10-20min daily goes in to meditation/focus on mindfulness (arguably my 2nd most quality time all week)

In the spring, 2hrs weekly goes to helping middle school students better prepare for their futures through the Junior Achievement program.

If I can carve out a few days every few months for fly fishing, I am a very happy man. In football season, a few hours each Sunday goes to watching my beloved Philadelphia Eagles.

The last 40-50 hours weekly goes to the rest needed to manage all of these other commitments day in and day out.

Life is great and I am very fortunate.

Specialties:
Go-To-Market (GTM) Strategy
Predictable Growth
Market Expansion (Going Up-Market, Industries/Verticals, Point Solution to Platform)
Customer Led Growth (Driving Net Dollar Retention)
Business Model Expansion (TCV to ACV/ARR; ARR to Usage Based/Pay-As-You-Go)
Revenue Operations (RevOps)
Sales Enablement / Sales Innovation
Product Marketing
Talent Management
Building High Output, Diverse & Inclusive Teams

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market

 

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market

 

When we think of go-to-market, we rarely see it as a long-term journey. Timescales are often quicker, thinking in terms of weeks, days, months, or even quarters. However, Pradeep Nair, the VP at Microsoft Azure, looks at the go-to-market as a multiyear journey. In this episode, he joins Vijay Damojipurapu to talk about why he believes this is so. Pradeep discusses how you can learn from almost every go-to-market opportunity, using it to inform you when you are about to do something new. He takes us deep into the go-to-market strategy for Azure—from the new markets to enter to the existing markets they grow in—and the enterprise privacy compliance and security. Plus, Pradeep also shares his thoughts on high-performance cultures, building that into his team, and applying the growth mindset.

Listen to the podcast here:

 

The Go-To-Market As A Multiyear Journey With Pradeep Nair

I have the pleasure of hosting Pradeep Nair, who is the VP at Microsoft Azure. He will tell more about the role. Pradeep has a very storied and diverse background. He has been with Microsoft for many years. He has grown and risen to the ranks. Think of it as he has risen to the ranks as Azure grew, Pradeep’s career also grew and its responsibilities and impact overall. It’s my pleasure. Welcome to the show, Pradeep.

Thank you. It’s nice to be on the show.

I always start the show with this question to all my guests. How do you define go-to-market?

Go-to-market is a big aspect of any product you launch, especially in the software industry, anything we take to the market. For me, go-to-market is probably in some of the big activities that we do. This might be an activity that includes engineering, marketing, sales, or outfield. It’s starting with planning, knowing your customers, having a clear understanding of what are the customers you want to target, what is your product strategy, and what is the completion of a product. A lot of us call that MBB. What should be there for a preview? We call it general availability. That’s the concept that we use when we launch. How is it there? What is your entry to the market? How do you sustain that? How do you start growing it?

You will break this into multi milestones and then work around that. I will do a preview. I get good customer feedback. If I feel the product is right, then I start expanding, which also includes identifying the pilot customers and having a deep relationship with them. Also, when we go from a preview to GA, the go-to-market becomes a broad scale motion. This is where having the field-ready material or having the sales team ready to go and do this massive broad adoption thing is super important. That’s how I look at go-to-market. It’s probably a multiyear journey broken down into multiple milestones. Once you go through a milestone, you look back and understand, “What did we learn? Do we need to change anything here?” It’s an evolution as we go through the milestones.

You touched upon several key points there. One is you look at go-to-market as a multiyear journey. That is key. For me, I was off late. Often, I speak to go-to-market leaders or even founders at startups. Their timescale is a lot quicker. It’s more in terms of weeks, days, months, or even quarters. Having a conversation with you took me back to my days at Microsoft. It’s a multiyear journey completely. I also liked the emphasis that you placed on preview versus GA. As you’re building out, going from preview to GA, you need to have the entire sales enablement piece in place. You need to work with the field sales regions and the marketing organization. Those are all the key elements there.

You can almost learn from every go-to-market opportunity. Click To Tweet

One of the interesting things we have also done is learning with each go-to-market opportunity as key. What we’ve also seen is doing the data analysis to see. For example, you’re launching in Europe or the Middle East, “What has been our experience launching in one of the countries?” If there’s enough data to show that, “It took six months to get the product adoption going. Here are the key customers, banking customers, or retail customers,” analyzing those data points is super important because that has to feed into some of your go-to-market motions.

For example, we launched in Europe in multiple countries like, “What did I learn after this internal launch? What did I learn with the general launch?” Each country or region has its own charters, but there is still a set of common learnings, analysis, and data points you could use. An interesting option is also looking at the competition to see what they’re doing or what is their go-to-market plan be. That’s all interesting things to do.

We look at it from different viewpoints. One is the overall go-to-market, which is broad and common across the geographies, verticals, customers, and use cases. There are the nuances, which is, “I’m entering this new market or maybe it’s an existing market like Switzerland. What was our launch experience and GA cycle in that case?” Given your charter, because Microsoft Azure is so broad in terms of use cases, services, products, verticals, and customers, clearly, there will be a lot of variations across that once a year.

You can almost learn from every go-to-market opportunity. We look at a process called RCA, Root Cause Analysis, in laying out the good things and the bad things to assess the learnings for the tremendous or across customer feedback like our field team. For me, that was super interesting because my career with Azure was Azure is smart and growing. We had each of these learning across. Every time we had to do something new, we learn from there and then we think about, “How do you do the scale motion of it?” That’s how we always start our mornings.

That’s a good segue into the next topic. Can you share, for the benefit of the readers, around your broad career journey? Who do you serve? What’s your role at Microsoft?

A little bit about my career, I started my career in India for a firm called Ernst & Young. I used to do consulting travel across Africa and in multiple countries in Asia and then I shifted to the US. It has been every immigrant’s journey, starting with a little bit of a tough time because I came in 2008 when we had all the housing crises. It was fascinating to see suddenly the projects, especially in the consulting space, because clients wanted to spend less money. I went through that journey. I worked at Microsoft as a consulting partner and that’s when Azure was starting to go into preview and GA or our initial offering. That’s when I joined Azure.

In Azure, for over ten years, I completed the tenth in February 2021. Interestingly, I did so many different roles. I started with doing security compliance. I did privacy for a little bit and then ventured into Azure worldwide expansion. That has been every two years. I will either try to build a new skillset or try to take on a new role. That has been my career journey. Now, what I do is I lead a team, which is now the Azure Global Infrastructure. I’m primarily responsible for two things.

One, the Azure worldwide expansion, which country Azure would we go next for Azure or what’s the architecture and then also launching those. Plus, the other portion is what we call enterprise promises. This is our privacy compliance and some of the security promises we need to meet to unblock new countries, markets, and industries. That’s what my role is, leading a relatively large team of both program managers, product managers, and developers.

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Go-to-market is starting with planning, knowing your customers, having a clear understanding of what are the customers you want to target, what is your product strategy, and what is the completion of a product.

 

That’s a very impressive career that you had. It goes back to one of the career growth principles, which is, if you are in a product on a team that’s on a fast-track road, you always latch on and do a coattail along that. Clearly, you played that playbook very well. Kudos and congratulations to you there.

The other thing is I also felt that the work helped me. I always looked good at work and start over. I said, “Every two years, I would think about a job change.” In this case, I didn’t have to do a job change outside of Microsoft or even Azure. I could do different roles. When it accumulated for over ten years, it gave me a breadth of experience, which I wouldn’t have normally had if I had from a single road. That startup helped me to look at things from a bigger picture, stepping back like the way you say it. You can start to see it fall from the trees.

On a lighter note, what would your parents say that you do for a career?

It’s too hard to make them understand. My parents are a little bit older from that perspective to understand and explain about the cloud. It’s easier for my kids. For them, they were explaining and asking me, “What do you do?” Two interesting concepts. They play Minecraft. I was like, “I can work on building these big factories with Minecraft,” so they start doing this in there. Interestingly, the last was Teams. They used Teams for their school. Now, I say like, “I build the data center factories, which are on these Teams of what you’re using for your class.” Those are the easy ways to do it. Xbox, Minecraft, and Teams that are on Azure. I enabled that. That’s how the way I explained it to them. Their parents are tied up.

I love the use of the word factories. That’s a very neat terminology that you used in explaining to your twins. That’s fantastic. Coming back to the go-to-market strategy for Azure, you mentioned a couple of things. One is which new markets to enter. You’re also looking at which markets you grow in, in the existing markets. You also mentioned about the second point around enterprise privacy compliance and security is also a big part. Talk to us about overall Azure’s approach and how do you think through those two areas.

If you’ve read about what we call Azure as the World’s Computer, that’s our mission and vision for the whole product. Our goal is, if we take Azure as the World’s Computer, then some of my goals, like OKR in my leadership score has been to go, “I want to get Azure available in our markets and be able to serve all industries.” That has been our kind of model. If I have the worst computer, then I need to have the computer in every country. Also, the computer is ready to serve every industry. It doesn’t matter what regulatory or compliance requirements they have. That’s our go-to-market strategy to be fair.

Going back to Bill Gates’ principle, how do we have a PC in every household? It’s the same philosophy, which is, how do we have Azure? Now, which we see that as a computer. It’s not a PC anymore. How do you have that in every geography?

In a cloud-first, mobile-first world, data is super important, but computing being closest is important. Click To Tweet

It’s an evolution of what Bill Gates said. To his point also, in a cloud-first, mobile-first world, data is super important, but computing being closest is important. That’s where we are looking at, “The computer needs to be closer to every user who is doing a lot of computing/internet activity on mobile, laptops, or systems.” That’s how we look at that.

From that viewpoint, Azure has had many successes rolling out to different geographies. You’re competing with the big names that include AWS and GCP. Talk to us about how you think about a go-to-market for a new region. What’s your playbook like?

When we look at go-to-market, I will take Europe as an example. It’s very interesting because Europe is some place where new regulations keep happening and new things come out. We are constantly growing our Azure business in Europe and also launching in new countries in between Europe. What we have taken some of the learnings in the go-to-market is when we know there’s a new requirement coming out of a region or a broader geography like for example, Europe, we’ve taken that to be understanding the requirements and look to apply it globally so that it’s much easier to scale. GDPR was one of the things which came in in 2018. A lot of companies took an approach of like, “I will do GDPR only for European customers. We will offer it.”

What we took the decision was, “Let’s go. This is a very important requirement. Let’s do it for every customer in the world.” That made sure that it was much easier for us to scale. We also got a lot of positive feedback from customers because they saw that as Microsoft being the leader and changing the game here rather than saying, “Only if you’re in Europe, you get this.” We said that, “We will offer this consistently globally across for our customers.” That’s some of the go-to-market approaches we started taking. This is where I said, “Learn from your global stuff and then apply that globally so it’s consistently you can scale.” We would still meet local requirements in a market like, “If I have to be operating in France and serve the telecom industry, I need to get a particular telecom regulatory certification.” We will do that, but there’s a set of common global things we will do consistently.

That’s the way we became some of the global leaders and thought leaders in many of these places. That started being our go-to-market opportunity, “Learn from your global thing.” Anytime there is a big global thing happening, it could be coming out of a particular region, but understand it and think about applying that globally because, in many cases, it overall improves the product. Look at the specific market and say, “If I have to do operate in this place, I got to do something specifically, then we would still do that.” Try to learn from the global thing and apply it globally.

That approach and mindset has put you in the forefront when it comes to privacy. Especially when it comes to RFPs that have a big privacy checklist, I can imagine now Azure is being or even acing out other big players, including AWS and GCP. The reason why I like this approach is it’s multifold. The bond is privacy. For enterprises and governments, it’s more of a checklist, but for a consumer, it’s top of mind.

Europe has taken the lead when it comes to GDPR and enforcing it. If you look at any of these verticals or the companies that you serve, it includes banks, telecoms, or even hospitality for that matter. Eventually, they all cater to an individual or a consumer. Given that you have taken the leap and say that, “Privacy is important. We’re going to take a lead in that,” that’s putting you guys front and center in that.

The other interesting aspect we did is the compliance stuff, too. We have over 100 plus compliance certifications. At any point of time, my team is working with some regulator in Korea, some auditor in Japan, or somebody in Australia. We did a similar framework like each of the country had their own thing. We took that and understood into how we globally market. We have our big global standard. If you do that global standard, then everything is a subset of it. That’s another approach we took. We have over 200 plus external-facing services. We are taking all of these services to a consistent product scale.

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: As a leader, when you have a large team, the best thing is to enable everybody to do their best, bring their A-game, and operate in a trusted environment.

 

There’s also minimum expectation of customer meet. When I’m launching a service in this thing, they expect us to be compliant on X, Y, Z and meeting these privacy laws. How do we do that for 200 plus services, which maps back to so many services internally within my services concept? Taking that global approach, I said, “I would do this as a superset. We would meet consistently all of these and that helps us scale.” We ship new services almost every 90 days. There’s a new service coming in various places with AI and IoT. We’re constantly innovating. That’s our USP, “Why would a company come to us?” The pace of innovation we are doing is so fast that they don’t need to invest there in that. Rather, they could focus on their core business. I would use the latest technology of what Azure is providing.

I love the fact that you have baked in privacy and compliance checklists at a global level as part of the go-to-market. That’s fundamental and a big shift in how you guide your go-to-market teams. If I’m a sales leader, let’s say, in France. For me, I have stringent laws and compliance and regulatory laws that I need to meet. It makes my life as a leader in France easy.

You don’t need to worry about that. The customer doesn’t know if you meet that. That’s not our point of discussion. It’s already done. You already talked about, “What’s my business opportunity? What’s the digital transformation?” What we want is the sales team to enable the transformation of the applications rather than worry about this, “Do you meet this and that?” It’s like, “When you get the product, it’s already compliant and certified. It meets all of this. Let’s spend our energy on focusing on the transformation because, in many cases, some of their customer apps have to be rewritten or they have to use the newer stack. Let’s focus the sales team and the service architects on that rather than worrying about these things.”

I’m shifting gears a bit over here. In your go-to-market when it comes to Azure and doing the rollout in different geographies, I’m sure there will be a lot more successes than failures. Can you walk us through how you assess? It’s a multiyear play. That’s one. At the end of the day, to your CFO, you need to show, “Here’s the ROI and here’s how I’ve been going to see returns by keeping the customer success and the business transformation in play.” How do you do that assessment and pitch it internally?

When we are planning for go-to-market, there is financial/CapEx investments are totally looked at to say, “What’s the revenue opportunity?” In terms of the engineering effort, we would also look at to say that, “If we do this, what unblocks or what customers do we bring in you?” It’s also important to keep hearing the customer feedback. We have our big customers who could be big banks or big manufacturing companies. We normally look at their requirements when we build all our programs. If I’m launching in a new region, I know who are going to be my top five customers there. I’m thinking ahead to make sure that their regulatory requirements are met and we know what services they need.

If I’m going to Germany, I need to make sure that the IoT services are present because it’s a manufacturing hub. You want to have that. If I go there to sell, I want to make sure that I’m meeting all the regulatory requirements from a banking perspective. Looking at that and early identifying that is super important. That’s why I said when you said, “When we look at it, it’s a multiyear journey.” We got to start now. While we build a data center, I’m doing all of this planning to make sure that when we launch the product, it’s ready for the sales team to sell. We also do the concept of inviting specific customers for the preview process so that we know you don’t have to wait long to know the product feedback. They are already there.

We also have those global partners who come with us everywhere in the world. We have a strong tie-up there as well. These are the ways we look at them. We have built a standard playbook when we launch in a region like, “Does this meet X, Y, Z? What’s the service’s scope? What capacity do we want to launch with?” Doing this for many years, we have a standard playbook. The playbook gets updated if you learn something new. In that playbook, what we build is tying it back with the sales motion as well. They know, “Here is the timing of what it comes.” They need to start planning towards that side of things. That’s how we have done. Initially, there were a lot more learnings. Now, it becomes a standard playbook for us. Still, we had gained some new learnings when we go to new markets, but then we reflect that back onto our global playbook.

If you're able to provide a trusted environment and encourage the team to bring their best game, they become a high-performing team. Click To Tweet

I can totally relate to that for several reasons. One is, back in the days when I was at Microsoft, I was leading product marketing for the IPD platform video room, which was part of Microsoft back then. In that role, I was responsible for, first of all, creating a sales playbook for the entire IPD portfolio. When I put myself in your shoes or in the shoes of your go-to-market leaders, I can see what front and center is. First of all, you need to capture the several years of learnings into one playbook, but there’s also an ongoing effort that needs to happen. For example, whenever we make a new acquisition, we need to update, change, and re-evaluate the positioning and the messaging, as well as what message I’m leading with when it comes to marketing and sales campaigns.

It’s also super interesting for us. When we go look at regions, there are Microsoft regional leaders. Their inputs are key because they are in the market and they know the customers. Being very closely aligned with them and getting the plans aligned with them is super important. If you think about it, they are the local ambassadors selling the product there. That’s another interesting aspect here. While we can have the global playbook, we will make sure the local team is part of the launches, understand the go-to-market plan, take their inputs, and modify it to meet that thing. They have a strong sense of feedback in, “What are the first set of customers we want to bring to them when we are launching?” Those are key things for us.

Shifting gears a bit over here, I know a couple of things. Besides go-to-market, another area that is big on your mind is around high-performing teams. It also bakes into the whole culture. I believe you’re also part of the Azure Culture Council and you’re one of the executive sponsors. Let’s dive into that area. We talked about go-to-market. Now, let’s dive into more of the high-performance cultures. What does it mean? What are you doing in that effort?

This reflection of my journey started where my team is spread across in roughly twelve countries in different time zones. The projects we’re doing are big and massive projects, which are making a big impact for society in general and driving the Microsoft Azure revenue. I started looking at, “As a leader, when you have a large team, the best thing is to make sure to enable everybody in the team to do their best, bring their A-game, and operate in a trusted environment.” That started off there because if you’re able to provide a trusted environment and encourage all of them to bring their best game, they challenge each other and it becomes a high-performing team.

I’ve been following one of the worldwide explorers called Mike Horn, who had trained the German soccer team and the Indian cricket team for World Cup wins. He is known as a high-performance coach. I’ve been following some of his documentations and journey. This is where I said, “We need to start replicating some of these.” I started inviting people to come talk about it. In fact, we had Mike talk through a session. It was fascinating. People then started openly talking about like, “What does it mean to be there?” In many cases, we are in between both professional and personal things. Sometimes you got to get a control of your personal situation to manage the professional the other way.

What I started doing was to bring those things and have a lot of discussion in the team. We have been having a lot of discussion about, “What does high-performance mean, being disciplined, and there’s a trust environment?” Another thing that I told is being able to publish RCAs. At the end of each program or a project when we launch something, that is super important. People have to do it such that it is seen published to the growth mindset like, “I don’t want to write an RCA and thinking that if I’m sharing with everybody, everybody looks at it as, ‘These are the drawbacks.'” No, it’s a growth-mindset thing. I learned, “These are the things I felt went well and these are the things that didn’t go well.”

Being able to openly publish it within the team, that’s where I felt like the trust is important because if somebody thinks somebody is going to misuse that information, then that trust is not there. When you publish that, one of the biggest things I realized with this is when one portion of my team does something and publish as an RCA, I want to share with the rest of the org because there’s always something I can read. My strong belief is you don’t need to be always in the driver’s seat to learn the driving. You can be on the passenger seat with a bunch of experiences. When I read something in RCA, “This is what happened.” That’s flexible for me. When I’m going through a similar experience or when I’m in similar project, I may be able to connect the dots.

A lot of my career has been built on connecting the dots. I wanted to make sure that, “How do I translate it to the team?” My vision is, “Learn and grow together as a team.” Initially, it used to be I would go for training or somebody else in the team would go for training. They would come and try to apply it, but sometimes their core system doesn’t let them do that because their core system is not ready for that or they don’t understand your perspective. When we did these group trainings, we do trainings with 200 to 300 people online. We had to do this all in COVID time. Suddenly, what happens is when I’m trying to build an environment with a trust or when I’m trying to do this, the people are able to understand where I’m coming from because we took the same training or the concepts are starting to be seen.

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

That’s where we started translating it into our vision and mission culture to create a safe space and growth mindset. That’s super important. As a leader, I tell the team, “Don’t worry. There are some learnings. If there’s a failure, come back and tell me first. Don’t think of it as a failure. I want to know that first to see what we can do to help fix that because it’s not people failure. It’s more of a process or a program failure, so we need to fix that.” Now, in some of my team reviews, I was doing one. The team was calling on, “Here’s what we learned. Here are the things we are looking at.”

For me, as a leader, all I’m providing is asking questions or providing insights with my broader team, but the team is self-reflecting on what they learned and how they think they should change the program. They are coming in with the recommendations. I was telling my chief-of-staff, “This has been fascinating to see them coming and providing recommendations. I feel like then they are pushing themselves and looking at their program.”

A couple of things caught my mind over there. One is the fact that you see high-performance teams as a top priority for several reasons. Distributed teams is one thing, but there’s also the intent which you’re driving, not just for yourself but for the team. How do you help connect the dots for the team? That’s one. The other piece is, how do you create that environment of trust? As you’re talking to that, there’s an anecdote and story from Satya Nadella’s book, Hit Refresh, which is I believe they were involved off-sites early on.

One of the exercises involved is where each of them share a story and be vulnerable. I believe they were also asked to stand on top of a chair by talking about that. I’m not 100% sure about that, but that’s not the main point here. The main point over here is being vulnerable and showing the human side to your colleagues. Often, especially in the leadership roles, people think from the title point of view versus, “You’re a human first and then a leader helping drive the team.”

One interesting thing when we left off in my conversation was, he said, “Asking for help to your colleagues, leaders, and managers is super important.” You should not see that as a vulnerability. It’s rather, “I have a trusted space where I can ask for help.” Creating that is something super important because it’s creating the environment and each of the person is feeling that, “When I ask for help, I’m not seen as I failed. It’s seen as I’m thinking about it from a growth-mindset perspective.”

I’ve been a big believer of the growth mindset like, “Everything there is hard, but I’m trying to engage that.” That means to your point, it’s like, “When I have a growth mindset, I will not hesitate to ask for help because I know this is a way for me to get better on the team and the program.” For me to do that, then I need to create a trusted environment. I should not feel like, “If I make a help, I’m going to be not considered a good writer.” If you mix three of these things, creating the trusted environment, like people having the growth mindset, then it becomes a high-performance team across everywhere.

As you pointed out, it’s about creating that environment that it’s okay to fail because that’s fundamental. Also, it’s okay to share and say that you’re vulnerable and you’re asking for help. I’ve it seen personally where I’m helping guide my consulting clients is, how do you shift the mindset from, “It’s not about you, but it’s about helping and doing the right thing for the team or the customer eventually?” If you shift that perspective from, “I’m not in a position or I feel awkward or belittled when I ask for help,” that’s a very me-mindset versus the mindset, “What is needed for that customer to succeed? Now, let me go and tap into the sphere who has worked on that or tap into someone else.”

When you have a growth mindset, you will not hesitate to ask for help because you know this is a way to get better. Click To Tweet

The way we say we succeed and fail together as a team is like, “If we fail, it’s all the learning stuff for the team. What did I miss?” This is all the way up. Even having the team talk to each other, it’s like your point of being vulnerable and asking for help is, “I’m facing through this issue.” You’re asking your colleagues saying, “Have you faced this? Do you have any suggestions?” That’s important. I said the whole publishing of RCA. I’m very passionate about that.

Sometimes if you read those, some of the failures remain in your memory more than the success, to be fair. You will read that failure and then you see this. Maybe there’s one a-ha moment when you’re going through this dark connection like, “I saw this somewhere up there. How do I look at this?” That’s my thinking in that direction. I’ve been spending a lot of my leadership in that. It’s fascinating to see the discussions and the teams are starting to come together and proposing changes.

I’ll be on the lookout for your LinkedIn posts. As I know, that’s one of the areas where you share linked posts and articles around those. I’ll be on the lookout for how you’re helping the team become more of a growth mindset, leader, and high-performance team. Good for you on that. I’m shifting gears to the next section. We broadly covered different areas about your role, the Azure rollout, as well as your emphasis on culture and high-performance teams. I know for Microsoft, the financial year is from July 1st to June 30th. That’s a fiscal year. What are your big goals that you can share around 20, 21, 22, and 23?

For us, the important role is to continue expanding into more countries. That’s one big role of what I have. These are publicly announced. We have Azure regions coming up in fifteen plus countries. Delivering in those regions is our one broader goal. We also have some interesting more regulations happening in Europe. There was a post from Brad Smith, who is part of the SLT. We took a decision to be a taught leader and being ahead of the game there. Some of those happened to be my big thing. We continued to help grow the Azure business by expanding into more regions and then meeting some of the additional privacy regulations, which are coming up in parts of Europe.

Looking at all of those, where do you think are the most areas where either you need to bring in outside help or when you need to invest a budget around those areas?

What is happening is, as we expand in places, we are also adding a new team. The COVID situation is very interesting. We’re supposed to be going back to office. Now, it’s going back to be hybrid. A lot of my budget and energy focus is to help grow the people. We’re in a remote culture. We have a lot of learnings and success to be fair going into the COVID state of everybody has to be remote, being inclusive, and being able to participate irrespective of the time zone. Continuing that is my big thing because we are a global team. We are adding more regions globally, so how do we sustain this growth? I feel like if I had extra budget, I would keep spending on people with these additional trainings.

The other one I brought in was Greg McKeown. He has written a book on Essentialism and Effortless, two books. I’m a big fan of Essentialism because, as my responsibilities grew, I cannot figure out, “How do I focus on the most important thing?” That’s a session we did and a lot of people found it useful. In a work-from-home thing, people are still always battling between the professional priorities and the personal priorities. How do you focus on the essential things by saying no? We’re continuing to invest in the people. Growing them is going to be important while we continue to grow our business around the world.

You mentioned about high-performance culture and Essentialism. Besides those, what are the topics you are most curious about, especially when it comes to go-to-market? Who do you or what do you lean on when you want to ramp up on these areas or figure out what’s the best practice of what’s working or what’s not?

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Keep learning and applying the growth mindset. It’s okay to fail, but at the end of the day, what do we learn from it?

 

I typically get a chance to talk to my different Microsoft people around the world. I hear it on the sales calls or multiple calls. I’m curious to learn multiple things of what’s happening in a country. I happened to be in one of the meetings where some of the European Microsoft sales team meet. I can get it here and there so they can tell what’s happening in this market. A lot of things are happening locally in the market. I’m curious to step back, sit there, and listen. That helps in forming some strategy for me as I’m looking at things, “What’s happening in Spain and UK? What’s the digital transformation journey for customers is happening?”

You as being some of the key technology providers, some of the global companies are taking their offerings into each of the region. Reading through those strategies also inform. Things like Tesla opening up a factory in India, that’s different. It’s an art. I’ve been following some of the articles about, “What happened then? How much it took hard for them to open a factory? When does the production come?” If you look at that as that’s like a go-to-market, having the Slack apps that are made in India, they’re going through an up and down.

Every article is interesting, too. Since you already closed to the go-to-market, you could look at each of this business and see what’s happening. It could also be Amazon entering into a different industry like healthcare. There are a lot of these things happening. You could sit there and learn the experiences from there. That probably also helped me formulate, “If I have to go to X, Y, Z place or if I have to grow, what are the things I see others are pointing out?”

There are two things that you called out. One is you’re leaning on the resources in people and the learnings from and within Microsoft. That’s one key area. Second is it’s not Microsoft only. You’re keeping mind open and even looking at “competitors” but it’s not from a competitor point of view. It’s more from a learner’s perspective. It’s not a competitive analysis perspective. That’s why when you mentioned about Amazon and taking a new market like Tesla, it’s all about, “What are their pitfalls or learnings, but more importantly, how can I bring those into then back to my team?” I love that approach. If you look back at your career, you’ve had a series of stints in India and then it was Ernst & Young and then Microsoft. If you look back the entire span, who are those 1, 2, or 3 people that you think played a big role in your career?

Personally, my father has been a big role model because he had a tough financial situation. He had to probably almost drop out of high school because of health and then financial conditions. He struggled his way through, but he never gave up. He was constantly fighting it and made sure that we all got the education where I could take on what I wanted to do. That’s an inspiration. Every time I see him, I always saw him as hardworking. He used to work 12 to 13 hours. I would never see him complain in the woodshop and office, even on Sundays. I would never be able to match that. It was fascinating. Until the day he did that, he was 100% dedicated wherever he worked. He is also tenured in many places he worked.

Within Microsoft, I’ve seen and felt Satya Nadella’s culture changes and how he is as a leader. It has been fascinating when I get to hear or when I get to present to him. What I’ve seen is he applies the growth mindset and curiosity. He is constantly asking questions. He is reading and learning. That inspired me to go and modify my leadership style to be more curious and have the insights. You’ll find about me going and reading these multiple articles about what it is. When I do my own team reviews, I’m looking at all of these data and providing more insights or be curious and ask questions.

That’s something which I saw fascinating with him in terms of him learning. Whenever you’ve got to talk about any topic, he is asking 5 or 6 questions. These questions are coming from either his reading or him talking to different leaders and understanding the business. He would say, “I spoke to X, Y, Z. This is their business strategy and this is what they’re thinking about. How does this align with us? How do we think about partnering?” Partnering is one of the big things he brought as a culture change to Microsoft. You could see now Microsoft as one of the biggest partners everywhere. That leadership style, I felt that change is happening.

That inspired me to be curious, keep learning, keep reading, ask curious questions, try to connect the dots, and see how this is going to help the business. That has been a big inspiration. Every time I get the chance to have a meeting in one of the reviews with him, I’m like, “Wow.” With so many dark connections that are happening and then asking more questions, it frames the biggest strategy for what we want to do.

Growing people is going to be important while we continue to grow our business around the world. Click To Tweet

That’s an inspiration for many. For me, it’s that one line, which is permanently edged. He is also the reason which helps shift Microsoft culture and thinking from, “Do it all to learn it all.” That is fundamental.

One other interesting thing is, normally, the Asian leaders are seen as more of a CTO or some technical people. He brought a change to look at, “They can be the business leaders or more of the CEO.” That’s a very interesting paradigm shift, which started with him as well. Now, you see a lot more. That’s interesting if you think about the mindset change of the shift which happened how you brand a set of leaders.

A final question for you is, if you were to turn back time and go back to your younger self, maybe it’s the day one of your go-to-market journey when you were leading the program management and other areas within Azure or maybe sometime earlier. If you were to turn back the clock and time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Enjoy the journey because, in some cases where I felt I could have properly stepped back and enjoyed the journey. That’s my reflection. I was more curious or how I expect this to be successful. When things are not going well, I was not super excited about that. If you go back, look at it in your career, your go-to-market, sometimes it’s more than six months journey. You will have success and failures. It’s super important to enjoy the journey. Also, keep learning and applying the growth mindset. It’s okay to fail, but at the end of the day, what we do learn from it? That will help you when you get the next job if you’re going to do it. Be a part of it because every learning is an opportunity for you next time when you get to do something similar.

Thank you so much for your time. On that note, I enjoyed our conversation and that’s advice to all, which is enjoy the journey. Any parting words?

This is great. It’s different from the business that it takes. It was great having you with day-to-day. I’m looking forward to reading your blog more as well. I like hearing from other people. That’s another way to listen and learn. That’s another way I look at shows.

Thank you so much. Do hit subscribe. It’s a big help if you can spread the word. I’m happy to host other go-to-market leaders within Microsoft and Azure as well. Thank you so much.

Important Links:

About Pradeep Nair

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-MarketPradeep is an Executive Leader in Azure leading several Products across Data Center and Enterprise Promises areas. Pradeep as a Vice President in Azure currently leads a very diverse Product team of 400+ comprised of Product Managers, Technical Program Managers and Software Developers. Pradeep has built a team that develops great products that focuses on designing and building a comprehensive, efficient and market leading cloud infra that enables faster time to market and meets customer expectations. He has experience defining product strategy, building cloud infra products from the ground up and driving multibillion-dollar growth and profitability

Pradeep has a successful track record of leading complex, high-profile multibillion-dollar products spanning multiple geographies, requiring collaboration with multiple teams and under aggressive timelines. Strong technical background, effective communicator and experience working with Senior Leadership. He holds multiple patents covering hyperscale computing, infrastructure operations, and security.

Significant strengths in areas of :
• Exec Leadership Management
• Building and Managing Strong Leaders and Diverse Teams
• Product Management
• Cloud Services Deployment and Delivery
• Cloud Security and Privacy
• Compliance Certifications, Standards and Frameworks
• Team Management

Certifications:

• Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) – (ISC)2
• Project Management Professional (PMP) – PMI
• ITIL Foundation Certification in I.T Service Management
• Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) – ISACA

Pradeep graduated with Bachelors in Computer Science and with Masters in Information Technology.

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B2B 24 | Marketing Courage

 

B2B 24 | Marketing Courage

 

Marketing is always about finding your ideal customer. You need to really study their problems so that you can find a way to solve them. You have to have a unique and creative insight into your product to compete with the competition. This all requires a little bit of courage. Join your host, Vijay Damojipurapu and his guest Aditya Kothadiya on how to be a marketing leader. Aditya is the founder and CEO of Avoma Inc. He is well-versed in go-to marketing and product-led marketing. Learn how to find the courage as a leader to push through all the uncertainties in the business industry. Find what makes your business unique today!

Listen to the podcast here:

Finding Courage In Marketing With Aditya Kothadiya

I have with me Aditya Kothadiya, who is the Founder and CEO of Avoma. Welcome, Aditya, to the show.

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

We have a common connection, Yarg, who made the intro and as you know for sure, hopefully, the readers also know is that he is a profound podcast geek and host as well. He had great things to talk and share about you. I’m excited and glad that we are connecting.

Same here and he talked highly about you as well and all the go-to-market-related initiatives and expertise that you have. I’m so excited to geek out on this topic.

Let’s start our conversation with my signature topic and question that I ask each and every guest which is, how do you define go-to-market?

I don’t want to give a very theoretical answer. To me, it’s simply a strategy and execution plan to take your product into the hands of your customers. The way about it is that, where are you going to reach out to your customers? How are you going to reach out to them? What is your unique and fair advantage that you are going to reach out to them? The core competitive advantage that you are going to do uniquely that others are not able to do it. That’s also a part of the go-to-market strategy. It’s to find out what is the uniqueness of that strategy. That simply, to me, a go-to-market and a lot of elements that go into it. You have to define what market it is that you are going after. Within that market, who’s the buyer persona that you are going or the decision-maker personas? You have to have that crystal clear definition of that.

Once you reach out to them, you are also trying to figure out how do we reach out to them. Is it through cold email, cold call, paid ads? Where do they live? What are those channels through, which you are going to make them aware about you exist? Once they are aware of your product or service, then the next question also comes around is, “What is the buyer experience that you want to provide to them? Do they need to talk to you? Can they go and try the product themselves? What is that experience going to be?” You talk about that as well.

Last but not the least, what is the pricing experience? What is the pricing packaging that you are going to do based on who are the personas that you are targeting? What happens when they want to expand, start and how are you thinking about the pricing in general? Those are the areas. To me, there are a lot of different areas that you have to talk about but a combination of all this is a go-to-market strategy or plan that I would say.

Have unique advantages that only you can do and others are not able to do. Click To Tweet

You started off and you hit it on the head, which is it starts with what are you providing to your market and your buyer? It all starts with that. As you and I know, it’s always a shifting goalpost. There’s no one point in time where you can say, “I just completely nailed my go-to-market.” It’s never going to be that way because early on, you also mentioned defining your ideal customer profile and nailing it but there’s no way you can say that you are 100% confident. It’s going to be iterative and we also talked about going from defining to how you get it into the hands of your buyer, creating awareness and pricing.

I would even say if I had heard this term and we had done this at a milestone, you know what’s your ideal customer profile as well but the difference between the staging and how you think about different go-to-market strategies for different go-to-market stages or your startup stage is. What is the initial customer profile within that ideal customer profile? You might still have an ideal customer profile that’s a little bit broad enough but eventually, your vision should be broader, ambitious and all of that great stuff. You are trying to take another stab of fruitlessly prioritizing within that ideal customer profile. Who do I go initially? In our world, we had that remote knowledge professional where we talk of more solutions and give you a one-liner. What Avoma does is it’s an AI meeting assistant, which records, transcribes this meeting, summarizes the notes for you and analyzes conversations to give you actionable insights.

When you think about it, the market was huge. All knowledge professionals who are doing meetings over Zoom technically could be our target customer base but we knew that you can’t go that horizontal early on as an early straight startup. That’s why we had to figure it out within that market, who has this pain the highest? Who is willing to pay the most? Who depends on this information? Who uses this solution or who needs a solution more frequently than other people?

Marketing Courage: You need to know your initial customer profile within that ideal customer profile. Your vision should be broad and ambitious, but at the same time, prioritizing that ideal customer profile.

The more customer development interviews we did, we identified sales or customer-facing teams like customer success. These were the people who needed the stronger. That’s where I said, “We will build a product so that it can scale to these other people in the future but not now.” We cut the corner on a lot of things and we ended up prioritizing things that only were relevant to the customer-facing folks. That was what we defined as our initial customer profile from a go-to-market strategy point of view. That’s why, to your point, it is not a destination. It’s a moving target as you continue to get mature in your stage, your product and all that offering but that’s a great point.

One of your LinkedIn polls that come to my mind, which is very relevant is that woodpecker allergy. A woodpecker can go and peck on thousands or even hundreds of trees but it can only go far and so much versus pecking one tree for 2,000 times and over, then it gets the food and everything that it needs. Here’s the thing, the catch is it has to peck maybe a few tens of trees before it can find that one tree to go deep into.

I use that analogy to inform everyone of the value of focus or obsession about certain domains and things. I have talked to a lot of founders and people reach out to me. Early on in our journey in Avoma when I started telling people that this is what we are doing. I used to hate this question when people were asking me, “Is this what you want to do or are you testing it out, throwing it on the wall and seeing if it’s sticking or not?” I hated that question partly because I didn’t like trying to throw it on the wall because nothing will stick if you are that shallow of an understanding of the customer. You’ve got to get obsessed about the problem or obsessed about the domain and the solution may not work whatever the solution that you are building as an early version. Eventually, the more iterations that you do, you will find a way where the solution is serving the specific needs of the customer and you can do it better than anyone else in the industry as well.

That’s why that obsession mattered and rather than if you try to do too many things in parallel without going deep into any one of the areas, you are never going to have that unique insight to really say that this is why we understand this market or segment the best. These are still unsolved problems from this market that other competitors have not still solved. That’s where we come across a better solution compared to other ones. That’s why I felt the woodpecker analogy as and it was also related to when you tell someone about what you are trying to do and immediately they will say, “You can solve this other problem and you can also go after that market as well.”

It’s very tempting to go after many markets, many verticals and try to do whatever you are doing. For example, we do transcriptions. A lot of the time, people will tell, “Why don’t you go after medical professionals? Doctors have this huge problem.” I don’t deny that they do have a huge problem but I need to pick my battle. People who were telling me, “Can we deploy this to cohorts and legal industry where there are transcribers who are transcribing these legal conversations and disputes. This would be hugely valuable?” It would but I would want somebody else to go and solve that problem, not me because I have picked up the problem and space. This was a conversation I had and it was on top of my mind to talk about it.

We can deep dive into so many of those go-to-markets and we dove very quickly into this early on in this show. Let’s step back a bit and look at the bigger picture. I definitely want to come back to some of the topics that you mentioned but let’s step back and talk to us about your career journey. When I looked up your profile, you have an Electrical Engineering background and then you went into more of a Systems and Design Engineer at Altera and Emerson. That’s a whole different world versus what you are doing at Avoma, and even before that, what you did at Shopalize is completely different. Talk to us about evolution and I will pick more of those things.

It is a great journey when I look back and does feel good about where I landed and what I had but I will tell you one thing. I do believe that I always had a dream to start a company. Growing up, I used to look at the factories that you would see driving around. I always wanted to build something like that. I used to always wonder what happens inside that factory or inside that building, what people are doing and how they create stuff. Creating something from scratch or manufacturing was always on top of my mind.

I did not go into the manufacturing route, fortunately, or unfortunately. I ended up learning more about Electrical Engineering. Even Electrical Engineering, you also learn Computer Science there. Programming is part of the thing that we also learned there as well. Right after my Master’s, I joined Altera in a chip design role where I was designing chips like a real hardcore Electrical Engineer. I had the dream of starting a company. I realized that starting a company in the hardware industry is going to be a lot more difficult. That industry is more about how many years of knowledge, science and experience you have under your belt and there were a lot less scope for creativity. I do believe that a very creative mind but at the same time, obviously an analytical mind as well. It’s a combination of both and I had both strengths. I felt in the hardware industry, you cannot apply creativity as much.

I was looking at all my software industry counterparts like my colleagues and my friends. If you have an idea, think about the problem and solve that problem. Very quickly, I realized that I don’t want to stay in this industry if I want to start a startup. That’s one of the reasons I started learning about web development and all the other things like iPhone development part-time while I was working full-time. I built a few apps part-time, started picking my own problems, build some little web apps on iPhone apps based on some small problems. That was the beauty of it. You observe a problem, think about a solution, build a solution and see the solution in the working.

B2B 24 | Marketing Courage
Marketing Courage: Throwing ideas at a wall and hoping it sticks is not a good plan. Nothing will stick if you have a shallow understanding of the customer.

When you talk about the hardware industry, you have a chip that you want to manufacture and you can’t do that. I realized that if I want to let my creative energy as an outlet, I would rather switch to the software industry. There was a rough period where I did not have a green card and I could not switch to the software industry even though I wanted to do that but that’s fine. I stayed there and continued to build these things part-time, and the day I’ve got my Green Card where I was able to officially work on something that I truly loved, I left my job in hardware, jumped full-time and started my first company which was Shopalize. It was into the social commerce and marketing space. It was also a SaaS company so then I ran that company for 2 to 3 years.

You were doing chip design at Altera and then I completely see where you are going. Of course, if you want to start something in hardware space, it’s a lot more expensive. It’s CapEx intensive and it’s heavily based on the expertise, experience and team that you can build around those aspects. I get that part but then, what made you shift to Shopalize, which is completely not related to what you have been doing? Is it related to a problem that you were experiencing or what is the genesis like for that?

That genesis also happened serendipitously. I started solving problems that I had. At that time, Twitter and Facebook were very popular and I’m not an avid shopper wherever I would go and shop my own things. One of the interesting observations I had was I started discovering whenever people were recommending products on Twitter and based on those social recommendations, I would go and take a look at it and would probably purchase those things. There was this discovery serendipity from your network and I have discovered that.

The initial version of that was that all the tweets that people are sharing, could we analyze those tweets, identify the shopping-related tweets, and help people discover what the popular products are that everyone is talking about. Are there any popular deals or coupons that people are sharing? It was more of a discovery engine early on. Back then, I didn’t have an experience with what the SaaS product was and all of that, I was just building an app and it was more like a social app. We started growing that consumer app. We had, at a point, almost 30,000 visitors using the product every single month but it was not monetizing well.

Was it just you or did you have cofounders back then?

No. It was single-handedly. I was managing it and I learned the web development from the ground up and made tons of mistakes, learned the UI, and all of that stuff single-handedly early on but then it was not making money. We realized that the way to make that money was that whenever somebody had the shopping affiliate link, you would get some affiliate commission. We were making like few hundred bucks here and there. It was not great money with the amount of time I was spending. Through that process, one of the things I realized when I was talking to one of the eCommerce retailers that this is what I’m doing and he suggested to me that, “We love getting traffic from this website. Is there anything that you can help us get more traffic and promoters or do something about this? We would want to have more customers from our site to share these and all of that.”

At this point, did you go full-time into this?

Finding your ideal customer is not a destination. It's a moving target. Click To Tweet

This was still the part-time thing I was building. It was not at all monetized well. It was a side project, I was completely learning, doing something and it worked. Some things started working and then I kept working on it as customers or consumers were giving feedback but it was still not a real business. As I mentioned, we were making some ad revenue and affiliate revenue here and there. When I had this conversation with the retailer, he gave me some insight that this is something that they want from a marketing point of view and they would want to buy it. I realized that there’s probably more opportunity to sell this as a solution to retailers rather than trying to make money from consumers and their engagement.

I had that a-ha moment that this has a business model and had business potential. Back then, I used to follow a company like 37signals and all of these other companies. I felt SaaS was becoming popular back then also and that was my first attempt to build something from scratch so I took what learning I had from the early version of Shopalize as a consumer app but converted it into a B2B SaaS app. I shut down everything that I hadn’t started a lot of things from scratch as well but that was the moment I said, “Now I can leave my job,” because I had a clear path to revenue. I knew how much I can charge and these customers that all the eCommerce retailers were out there and to part of your go-to-market strategy also.

One of the earliest a-ha moments was that Shopify, which is huge now, was still a nascent startup back then. There were all these Magento, Big Commerce and all these eCommerce retailers were there. Everyone was coming up with this eCommerce extension or apps model. My a-ha moment was that, “Why don’t we build an app on these platforms and then through these all the eCommerce retailers who are only using Magento? I can directly reach out to those and say that, ‘Here’s your Magento store. I will build this app to get more social sharing from your application and get more customers from your customers and referral customers. Would you buy it?’” I had that clarity and that’s when I said, “I can now leave the job, build this startup, then you eventually start selling.” That’s when I jumped full-time on the early version of Shopalize.

You hit a very important point, which is you can do a side project based on your hobbies, but then very quickly, you pivoted to, “How do I build a business around it? What is the business model like?” It comes down to who are my potential buyers, and then going and speaking with them. It’s that whole lean startup, Agile Steve Blank model. Nothing gets built if you are sitting in the building. You need to go out of the building and talk.

That is so right because, in the first version, I had not talked to anybody. That was my own problem. I was building in my dorm room or whatever the room in and just launching something that I know. I also realized very quickly what were my weakness and strengths. I was not a great consumer social user. Consumer apps also are popular. You have to have the DNA to think about that marketing in a unique, different way. I didn’t understand a lot of cultural things here when I landed in the US and I was trying to build this company at the time. I lacked the DNA to grow the consumer app but I knew that from a B2B perspective, I can go and talk to customers individually. I can sell to them and convince them of the value that they would get.

I realized that rather than trying to get to the millions of users and make some money, you can reach out to a hundred customers and still make the same amount of money. That was my personal realization. What are my strengths? What do I feel comfortable with? Having that clarity to make revenue was a lot better for me. That’s one of the reasons I ended up focusing on switching gears from consumer apps to converting that into a B2B SaaS app.

That reminds me of one of my earlier clients when I was offering my go-to-market services, the Founder came to me saying, “We built something targeted at consumers but we want to pivot to B2B.” Doing and building something for a business, our app around the consumer, especially if you are looking to get the initial traction and then go and pitch to investors, it’s an entirely different scale. You need to hit hundreds and thousands or even millions before you can get that funding versus with the B2B, it’s a handful. You get the validation. My advice and expertise around that were, “How do we pivot from a B2C exactly as what you went through in this ride? How do we pivot from B2B to know who the potential partners are or customers we need to go out and set up a meeting with and then get that feedback? You also hit a very important point, especially for the readers who are to be our aspiring founders, which is to figure out your DNA, limitations and strengths. You may or may not be that consumer app founder mindset, someone with that mindset versus maybe your strength is more on the B2B side.

It’s natural. You are fresh out of school. You have not worked in any industry. You don’t know what problems businesses have so it’s very likely that people don’t think about business ideas at their first ideas. They think about consumer ideas as their first ideas because they are consumers, they can see all the problems around them and think, “I can solve this problem and I can build something there.” Once you start building it, that’s when you realize that to get to that scale and then from the scale to get to the revenue of what you are trying to do is a different ball game. At that time, while social was popular, paid advertising was also equally popular, which is still there and I somehow didn’t feel that comfortable going and putting a lot of money to grow this with the paid channels without having the confidence that it is growing organically on its own and there’s enough need there.

That’s the reason I realize that it’s a lot easier for me to convince somebody, one individual business, to buy a solution. The whole SaaS promise was humongous. You can sleep and it still makes money. The advantage of recurring revenue, which adds up, was amazing. That definitely, I fell in love with that whole industry and never looked back. I still don’t think of myself as a great consumer or user as well and I don’t think I can build a consumer app but my mind is geared towards thinking SaaS and everything to do with SaaS.

Let’s come back to your early days of Shopalize. You talked to a couple of eCommerce retailers, either Magenta, Big Commerce or other customers and you were able to get that initial traction handful of customers. Did you bootstrap or how did you go about building that business after you saw the initial validation?

B2B 24 | Marketing Courage
Marketing Courage: Nothing will be sure or set in stone. It’s the job of the founders to find certainty in all the uncertainties presented in front of them.

We bootstrapped it. Shopalize is on a bootstrap journey and I worked almost six months full-time on it, left a job and was not making any money. Nothing is coming in so I was completely building it out of my savings. There was a reason. I was nobody. I didn’t know investors back then. You asked me the question, “Did you have a Cofounder?” It was not that I did not want to have a Cofounder, I struggled to get Cofounders because every Computer Science smart person that I would know when I will reach out to them would look at it and would say, “I can build it myself. Why do I need you and why do I need to partner with you?” I was coming from a hardware background so I was not bringing anything great on the table as my own assets to say, “I know this best and then you can partner with me.” I did not have a lot of Cofounders early on so then that’s when I said, “Screw it. Let’s take things into our own hands and started building and learning stuff.”

Once I launched the app and I initially had the traction, now I was having some credibility, then people started taking me seriously to some extent. Even with this, the second iteration of Shopalize, when I did that first version, I’m still with myself, we had few customers, then I again went back to one of my friends and convinced him that, “I have done this so far. This is what the progress has been. This is the first prototype and we also have some paying customers but it’s still early in the journey. Would you want to join?” At that time, a friend of mine joined the journey as a Cofounder.

You shared quite a lot of insights as part of your whole Shopalize founding days. Back then, you also mentioned the story about how you went about and the struggles that you had to go through to eventually find your Cofounder. Talk to us about how did you go about finding complementary skills or strengths in your Cofounder because that’s again, a key part of the go-to-market, especially in the early days. It’s about how do you find that complementary Cofounder for yours?

You ask about this from Shopalize days. At that time, obviously, I was naive. I didn’t know enough and even with Avoma’s journey, when I was looking for a Cofounder, I also probably made a few mistakes early on and I will share where I’ve got that clarity to find a Cofounder that I currently have. You asked about complementary skills and that is exactly how I was looking at it. It’s a wrong way to go about it. Skills are not what you should go after and I will tell you, early on again, my Shopalize Cofounder, I went with the skillset of having a software engineer or developer and that worked out great. He was a great Cofounder. We had a great outcome even in Shopalize days as well and we are friends so that’s not an issue as such.

In Avoma journey, also when I looked back when I left the job and wanted to start the Avoma journey, I was trying to reach a lot of Cofounders trying to find who can help me to build this whole machine learning, AI­-based advanced solution. My natural instinct was to look for all the PhDs and the people who have had worked at these awesome companies like Google, Facebook, and have built something in machine learning and whatnot. I overoptimized that skillset and their background. For almost six months, I did not find a great Cofounder because everyone was getting excited about the ideas. I almost talked like I was making a spreadsheet. I had 26 different people that I had reached out to in those six months. You talk to them multiple times and then they say that they have Visa issues, planning to buy a home or have a baby. Nobody was ready to jump to do this full-time.

I think this was after your acquisition.

Shopalize was acquired, then I was at a larger company, [24]7.ai, for a few years. That’s when I had another idea about starting Avoma based on some of the problems I experienced there. I said, “Now, I’m going to jump full-time to start Avoma.” I don’t believe in running too many things part-time as well. I left my previous job, went full-time on Avoma and was looking for a Cofounder while I was doing customer development as well. I could not find a Cofounder. I struggled for six months to have somebody willing to do this full-time.

This was while you were doing the customer development process and working full-time on the Avoma idea.

I had already left the job. I believed in the problem, I thought we need to go deeper into this and continue to do the research. The way I realize in the process of searching, I found two people. He’s the one person I met who is my Cofounder and he changed my perspective of how I should think about this. When I met him, he had all the same issues that everyone else had. He did not have a Visa. He had just purchased a home and a newborn baby. Every single thing was there but the one thing characteristic I felt unique about him was he was bold and courageous. Nothing else mattered to me. He said, “I believe in this idea.” He had done a startup also in the past so I could see that level of maturity in thinking compared to everyone else who was the first-timer, who didn’t have that level of courage and this Cofounder of mine, he said, “Don’t worry about the Visa. I will figure it out. Don’t worry about the machine-learning domain, I will learn it and figure it out.”

That courage was important to me, the skills and all the other issues and that is exactly the holy grail of startup. Nothing will be sure and certain. It’s the job of the founders to find certainty through all these uncertainties that are presented in front of you. That’s why I decided to go found a company with one of my Cofounders, and then he knew a third Cofounder of ours, he also had a very similar background and that’s basically what the three of us decided to join the company.

I’m glad you hit up on that point when I asked you the question about skills and how to go about finding a Cofounder. I’m glad you corrected me because in my mind and even with what I’m doing, I’m also exploring startup ideas with a friend of mine. You pointed out correctly, which is it’s not about skills but also about the mindset match, the tenacity, the grit that’s required, and the persistence. Especially in the early days of founding, it’s going to be super hard even after you raise your angel and a seed funding, it’s not glory at all. There are going to be hard days for a while.

Nothing gets built if you're just sitting in the building. You need to get out and talk. Click To Tweet

Trust me, every week, there is a new battle, literally. No day or week goes by where it’s all rosy but it has been a few years that we have been together. We knew each other. I knew one of the Cofounders. At that time, I did not reach out to him first. We had some history but I understood the characteristics were so clear to me that all the search I was doing all a lot wrong because, in your journey, you are going to have these moments where things are not going to go right. That’s when that mindset, tenacity, boldness and courage because your competitors are going to raise capital. Somebody else is going to do something else and then you are going to get discouraged. Rejections are going to be part of your life. That’s when the courage comes in. The courage to continue to push forward is what mattered. I recommend that skill to anything else. That’s what I would recommend to everyone.

I’m glad we are touching upon this topic. Many of the readers may or may not be actually a bearer or interested in this, especially given that this show is all about go-to-market but a key aspect and I want to emphasize this for the readers, which is when you are founding or looking to start up a company, having that right Cofounder is a key essential attribute of go-to-market. That is super important, especially when you are even further down along the line. When you are looking to expand, build your team and hire the right leadership, it goes back into what are the traits? What are the skillsets? What is the experience? What are the strengths that your partner or the leader he or she may bring to the table? It’s all part of the go-to-market again.

I know we digress but for a good reason, all great topics over here. Coming back to Avoma and you also emphasize something around customer development, how did you go about finding that problem space for Avoma and it goes back to early on where you kept hearing from others, which is, “We need to solve the problem for lawyers or doctors?” Clearly, you went, you’ve got out of the building, you spoke with prospective buyers, but then how did you narrow down your focus and say, “This is the market and problem I want to go after?”

First of all, there was an element of scratching your own itch thing and I had this problem myself. The way I had this problem and also the knowledge of the domain was that my previous company, Shopalize, which we were into social marketing and social customer support space, got acquired by another larger company, [24]7.ai, which historically were primarily a chat-based support solution. During my tenure at [24]7.ai, I launched a couple of other products, which are purely about self-service-based solutions for customer support like chatbots or what you can call virtual assistants and all of that.

B2B 24 | Marketing Courage
Marketing Courage: You’re going to have moments of uncertainty. This is where the mindset, tenacity, and courage come in.

In that process, I was also exposed to this whole voice-based domain because we were also doing customer support for calling. We were selling to enterprises and as a product person who was launching this new product initiative, I used to be in front of customers all the time. We would have a new idea. We wanted to share the new idea with our existing customers and see if they will be willing to buy this new product line.

Once we find some early customers, I would understand the needs and problems, go back, build the MVP solution, deploy the MVP solution with few customers, and then once we see the success and metrics, then start scaling the solution and hand it over to our go-to-market team. That was the product guy. I was in the larger company while I was doing that. When we used to hand over the product to the go-to-market team, I would stop learning as a product person. I would not know what’s going on in their meetings but when I was in front of customers, I would learn a ton. I would exactly know what’s working, what’s not working and what are the key issues that they have. We were able to build products really fast based on their feedback.

I remember every new product initiative I launched within like 90 to 120 days, we would have a solution from idea to launch in a production client or production customer in the 90 to 120 days period. That was the realization I had because I have this access to customer information, and then I started thinking of how we are serving these B2B customers. It is very broken. We have all these salespeople, customer success, account managers and so many handoffs happen. I never learned anything from these because I have to chase 4 or 5 different people. There was not a single place where I can go back and refer to this information. People used to tell me, “Go look in Salesforce, we will have notes and all I would have in Salesforce would be customer said the product is expensive.” I’m like, “That is not useful insight.”

That’s what the realization that I felt. On the other hand, I was a diligent notetaker myself and I would capture these notes, share different notes with my engineering team, executive and customer. I realized that I was spending way too much time capturing the insights of these different customer conversations and sharing these insights with different teams so that they have a proper understanding. That was a combination of these two ideas that I felt that note-taking and sharing information is important but at the same time, we are not able to get those insights from the customer conversation. How can we solve this problem?

That was the genesis and one of the solutions was that, could we record these conversations, transcribed them and then do all the post-analysis using AI to extract these notes, identify key topics from the customer’s calls and help the collaboration so that other people in the company can have access to that information? That’s what I told you, when I shared this, the way I’m going to solve this problem people are like, “Transcription, that’s so awesome. We could do this and that,” but then you’ve got to still say no to all those variations and distractions. I picked up the problem that I continued to still work on because I wanted to use the product every single day.

While working in the customer support industry, I was not an agent who is doing the customer support thing. I would not know the nuances or the product issues that we would have there. It would be a lot easier to build a product that you use and identify the pains that you go through every single day. That’s how you can build a better solution. The reason I still have a combination of the validation from my own issues that I had seen then taking that problem, talking to other leaders, other people, and then validating that, it definitely helped me to believe that we need to solve this problem and can continue to focus on this domain.

Another important point when you talk about go-to-market for early-stage startups and founders, which is feeling the pain of the problem almost like firsthand. You need to have that burn. The problem is serious but at the same time, you want to solve it. It’s the problem and the solution piece, both hand-in-hand.

You have to have a unique insight about a solution as well like what is it that you are going to solve that has to be there but as you rightly said, the problem definitely comes is the most important. It’s the combination of both. Sometimes, people say, “Don’t get obsessed with the solution. Only get obsessed with the problem.” I don’t completely agree with that as well. If you are not obsessed with the solution, you are going to build a mediocre solution. You’ve got to optimize every single little detail. You need to know what’s going on in your solution as well. That’s how you are going to be proud of your solution so that your customers are going to get a delighted experience. If you are not obsessed, they are not going to get a delighted experience and you are building yet another me-too product. That doesn’t mean that you should not be obsessed with the problem. That is the primary step and foundation but this is why a combination of both is important.

Let’s switch gears a bit over here and take a step back. Where is Avoma now? Where are you at in terms of either funding? What can you share on the show in terms of funding, employees, revenues, or customers? Let’s start with that first.

We are a seed-stage company. We raised $3 million, have been in business since 2017 and a team of thirteen people. We have 200 customers using our solution, growing 15% to 20% month over month, every day.

Are the 200 customers mostly in the SMB space?

SMB/early mid-market customers.

What do you see are the big goals for the rest of 2021 going into 2022 for Avoma?

The internal revenue goals that we have are something that we continue to think growing the team and that’s the leadership position in the marketplace. We have our unique point of view that we are building the solution. Our goal ultimately will be the number one provider in the SMB space. That’s the goal that we have and everything else basically is around that. How do we raise capital, building the team, making sure our customers are getting the value that we promised to them, investing in the product, technology, scaling and the organization itself to support that? Those are the mini-goals start spreading from there.

How do you describe the go-to-market for Avoma now versus how do you see transitioning, especially around the goals that you stated?

We historically started with a lot more sales-driven where we were going after our customers.

Is it outbound?

A combination of outbound and we were also getting some inbound as well through referrals and marketplace integrations that we had done. We also applied the same strategy where we integrate with a few CRMs like HubSpot, Salesforce, Zoho, and all of that so people discover us from there. In the last few iterations, the way it’s working, we are investing more in self-service now. As the product is getting more mature, the product is useful for even an individual. You don’t need the entire team to use Avoma. Individuals are discovering the product. We have a free trial. People sign up on their own and even we have a freemium offering where they can use the limited functionality without paying anything.

Through that, we are shifting gears. I wouldn’t say that we are going completely product-led. I also believe that product-led is also this mythical term where they believe that you don’t need awareness of marketing or sales. That’s not true. The way I think about product lead is that there are a lot of customers who will continue to find value through Avoma, continue to distribute Avoma and grow Avoma on its own. At the same time, initial marketing awareness is required.

We also call it product-led and sales-assisted because once somebody signs up and starts using it, a lot of the time they have a very unique way of looking at what Avoma is doing. It’s our job to educate them, understand the needs better and explain to them you are looking for purely a meeting transcription or meeting assistant solution, but have you thought about coaching use case and collaboration use case? When you educate them through sales-assisted conversations, that’s when people realize, “I did not think about it.” That’s how we are able to expand our average contract value. We are growing and scaling in the same account we ended up expanding. That’s another reason why we believe that product-led is how the way the product is built. The pricing is transparent on the website but at the same time, having the sales-assisted model, customer success model is useful to expand the account.

I’m glad that you are doing it because it’s something that I’m seeing across the industry, which is even though product-led growth is a big push in the industry for SaaS but at the same time, it’s almost like a hybrid model. It’s not fully product-led and product-led growth, I would say and argue, is more geared towards consumer-ish products like a Box or Dropbox more aptly, and then Zoom versus if you are going after the B2B customers. It should be a combination of product-led, which is you’ve got the freemium and the initial users but then if you want to expand, you don’t go with the purely outbound salesy mindset but it’s more of a customer success mindset, which is, “Let me come and understand your use cases first and then guide you.”

Skills are not what you should be looking out for. It's courage. Click To Tweet

Ultimately, I also think about here is what your buyer is looking for. I will give an example. A lot of the companies do not have a pricing page published on the website and you have to book a demo with them, fill a form, go through the discovery process to get some pricing information. It’s a very frustrating experience. On the other hand, people have paid directly to sign up for the trial. Here’s the pricing page. You go and figure it out. Both the approaches are also wrong if you only take those two operations. What we do is we give options to our customers. Some people like to buy on their own, try on their own so they can sign up for the trial. Go ahead and do it.

Some people still book demos with us. You will not believe that having that option, even individual, smaller users and smaller businesses want to book a demo with us to understand the product because there are so many other products. Nobody wants to also learn everything on their own. By giving that option to buyers is why people love Avoma. We had a customer who bought Avoma and he was looking at one of our competitors. They don’t have a booking a demo option on their website. He said, “I was comparing you with them and I saw Avoma had an option to book a demo. I loved it. I wanted to talk to them. They didn’t have any way to talk to me.” That’s it. It’s not just the product-led is also enough but it’s a combination based on each buyer are different. If you give them the experience that they want, you would be in a much better position.

B2B 24 | Marketing Courage
Marketing Courage: Product-led is this mythical term where people believe that you don’t need awareness, marketing, or sales.

I don’t know if it’s deliberate experimentation that you do but it’s figuring out when you put the options out there, and then in hindsight, when you look at your entire marketing, sales funnel metrics, conversion ratios, and all those parameters, that’s when you realize, “These buttons or these leavers are helping us grow versus these are giving us that awareness or interest that’s being gendered in this entire funnel.”

A lot of the time, this starts with the simple, common-sense philosophy that treats your buyers the way you like to be treated. I would hate somebody to ask me to go through the process of filling the forms only or only giving an option and not giving me an option to talk to somebody. When I felt that that’s how I would like to do business, I thought we should basically be fair and flexible and give these options to our buyers as well.

We are coming up towards the end of the show here. Last a few questions for you. What is the big topic, maybe 1 or 2 topics, that you are curious about, especially in the whole go-to-market world where you go out and seek that knowledge or test out your concepts?

There are a couple of topics I have been thinking about this. In general, the way I think about the whole go-to-market is not a function of just a marketing team, sales team or someone like that. It’s a very cross-functional, collaborative function. It has so much dependency on the product team, marketing team and sales team, the pricing, what features we should allow, what is possible in this pricing and not. It’s an extremely cross-functional team and the way the industry positioned it as it’s a pure marketing job. I feel that the needs to change in general or, to me, more of all these revenue functions that we talk about so much of it is now product and revenue teams working together as a combination of it. That’s why I feel that that is one topic that doesn’t get the level of attention. To do that, what you are trying to do is, historically, people used to tell me, “Go and look at the notes in Salesforce.” As a product person, I wouldn’t have a license to Salesforce. Nobody gives me a license to Salesforce. Now you have information siloed, I cannot learn from your different systems, and that’s a bigger issue to me.

What we believe is the next evolution is going to be a system of collaboration. You had a system of records like a Salesforce, then you had a system of engagements like tools to send emails and then the system of intelligence to learn analytics. The bigger advantage is going to be if your organization is hyper collaborative. If they are agile to communicate, collaborate and understand what is happening on the customer-facing side and what is happening on the product side. Those teams need to come together. That’s why one of the topics I’m passionate about is, how can we remove the barriers? How can we reduce the friction and help people to collaborate faster to get the job done whether sell, build better products and whatnot?

That’s a whole different show topic in and of itself because I believe that it should be the role and responsibility of either a CEO or a COO who is overlooking the entire good market functions and who the executives. After all, you’ve got the tools and the tech stack but you also need to ensure that the processes, right people and right skillset are in place. We will come back and do another show on this. That’s a huge topic in itself. One final question to you is if you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journeys, I know you shared a lot of nuggets, what is that one advice that you would share with your younger self?

If I want to go back on the go-to-market, I would say it’s coming from the pain that we have is Avoma’s product and our sales process is great, where we had struggle where we realize that it’s the brand awareness, not many people knowing us. To me, if I want to fix one problem in our go-to-market, I would invest in our brand and marketing, in general. Talk about us and get more out there before we had any other product built or trying to sell actively. That would be the mistake probably I have made where I did not invest in these things early on. It could be content and positioning ourselves, we were building product instead and not being out there actively promoting us. That would be the thing I would probably say.

I wish you and the Avoma team the very best. Going back to the exact point that you shared, which is a lot of founders make those mistakes for valid reasons, it’s not intentional that they are not investing in the brand building and the marketing side. It’s just that, they are so consumed in understanding the buyer and building of the product. You correctly said it and this is something that I’m talking to when I speak with other founders is I keep emphasizing that you’ve got the right pieces in place around products and other pieces but also ensure that you are building the brand. That’s going to position you. You need to think about how you are going to see yourself and be known in the next 2 or 3 years while you have your heads down in the next 1, 2 or 3 months in closing your pipeline. Thank you so much for your time, Aditya. A lot of nuggets and insights were shared and I’m sure you brought a lot of wisdom to our readers. Thank you once again and I will be cheering you from the sidelines.

Thank you, Vijay. This was fun chatting and bringing old memories back. It’s always fun to share those journeys. Thanks again.

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B2B 23 | Content Strategy

 

B2B 23 | Content Strategy

 

Content is king, as Bill Gates once said. But how can organizations truly optimize their content strategy? In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu is joined by  Sarah Allen-Short, Vice President of Marketing for Give And Take, Inc. Also known as the Marketing Doula, Sarah sheds some light on how content is fundamental not only in driving sales but in optimizing internal processes as well. She explains how businesses should incorporate content strategy into the sales process and create alignment within an organization. She also explains how she advises clients by providing support, information, and assistance as they “birth” their product. Tune in for some useful tips on how you can advance your business with content strategy.

Listen to the podcast here:

How Content Strategy Leads To Better Results With Sarah Allen-Short

I have with me Sarah Allen-Short who is the VP of Marketing at Give and Take. She’s got a very interesting and varied background all the way from corporate communications to being part of a PR agency to running marketing for small companies and startups. She’s also part of the Peak Community. Sarah, welcome. I look forward to an engaging conversation with you.

Thank you so much for having me.

The question that I always start off the show with is, how do you define a go-to-market?

I define it with the simplest possible definition which is the way that a company brings any new product or service to the market. Whether that’s a new product in an existing market or a new market for an existing product or service, it’s just the way that you do that.

Do you see it as a one-time activity or is this ongoing?

Definitely not. It’s ongoing. If you’re growing your company, you’re always going to be introducing new products, new features, new services, or you’re going to be taking the ones you already have into new markets. I suppose if you sold one widget, you only sold it to retailers, and you did that for 30 years, you might not be thinking about it as a go-to-market strategy the whole time. Even then, honestly, the way the marketplace changes, I think you still would be.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m excited to have you on the show because that content is a key piece within the whole go-to-market engine. The way I look at this is content is the currency for sales, marketing, and go-to-market functions. It’s similar to how code is to a software engineer or software engineering product that are code-based.

I think often B2B companies overlook content, especially thought leadership content because they think they can’t afford it. They think it’s a luxury. When you’re doing it right, it can be very cost-effective and efficient. It can be the engine that drives every single other thing you do. I was in a meeting with one of my clients. I have a full-time day job but I also do some consulting. I was in a meeting where they’re hiring a new designer and a new content writer. They’re asking me to onboard and help train them. I told them, “What you guys do drives every single other thing that this team of twenty does. All the people working in social media, regional marketing, demand gen, everything that every product marketing and everyone else is doing on this team starts the seed of what they do. It starts with what you two are going to create as the actual content writer and the designer. I totally agree with you.

I know you have been in and out and completely in it within the whole content, content strategy, and content marketing world. On a lighter note, when you ask your kids this question, how do your kids describe what you do for a living or what do you do at work?

They say that I worked for Adam Grant because he’s the cofounder of our company. They know that I do marketing. It’s interesting. I might ask them. I have teenagers. I would be curious to hear what they say. I think they probably would say, “You make things sound good so that people want to buy them.” Beyond that, they would have no idea what I do. My very first job out of college was in PR so my parents still think I do PR even though I have not focused on PR in at least nine years. I do a little bit of everything but as a core part of my job function, my dad still regularly asks me, “When was the last time you talked to this journalist or that journalist?” I don’t do that anymore.

Content has the power to be an engine that drives everything else. Click To Tweet

It’s funny, especially with parents. I think it’s imprinted in their brains. They somehow tend to recall the first job that you do. That is your career for the rest of your life.

I put myself through college as a telemarketer. I’m glad they didn’t land on that one. They updated it a little bit after that.

Talk to us about your overall career journey. I know you’ve done work at an ad agency. You also worked on the other side, in-house. Talk to us about your career journey as well as what you do at Adam Grant’s company.

Very early in my career towards the end of college, I was working in advertising. I did that because what I wanted to do was to be a journalist. I thought that if I started working in advertising at a magazine, I could get into journalism because I did not understand that is the worst way to get into journalism. Any reputable magazine has a strict separation between advertising and the editorial side. I didn’t know that, but I got into marketing. I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, which is a town that I was desperate to get out of in my teenage years. When I graduated from college, I wanted to go to DC and started looking for a job.

The first time I got to DC, I was 25. I was on the PR side after being in advertising for a few years. I don’t know how I got the job. What we did was we did stakeholder relations and communications for universities, NGOs, and it was a lot of fun. It was really interesting. I started to learn some fundamental principles. I had a great mentor there. We did some cool projects. I think when you work at an agency, you get exposed to so many different kinds of companies. I was working on a project with Madeleine Albright at the University of Michigan. I was working with the US Forest Service on a project to teach and attract Urban Americans into the forest. I’m trying to get people who live in urban centers interested in the forest. I was teaching low-income people energy-saving skills. It was just a lot of fun. It was fun to live in DC at that time.

I’ll never forget, the very first article that I ever got was in the South Florida Laundry News. I didn’t even know there were magazines for that. This was in the early 2000s but we still did all PR with an actual book called The Yellow Book. Some of your readers will remember. Anyway, one of my clients was a startup that had come out of the University of Michigan that was doing web analytics or customer satisfaction analytics called ForeSee. They were one of my biggest clients and they eventually brought me on full-time. At that point, they were in Michigan, I was in DC. I decided to move back to Richmond because it’s half the price to live in Richmond than it is to live in DC. I had been working with them since they were founded as a consultant. When I came on staff in 2007, I worked with them for about seven more years until they were acquired. That was a huge learning process for me because it was a lucrative acquisition but not an emotionally easy acquisition.

One of the things that we don’t talk about enough in the startup tech world, in the B2B SaaS tech world is the emotions behind an acquisition. After that, I did consulting for 3 or 4 years where I served as a Fractional CMO. My background is all technology, startups, SaaS, B2B, all in that space. I worked for a payroll company, a biotech startup, a marketing services firm, all sorts of things like that. The CEO from ForeSee came to me and said, “Adam Grant is starting a company and we want you as the head of marketing.” Where I work now, Give and Take, we have two solutions. One is an exercise that helps increase generosity in the workplace. The other is a knowledge-sharing platform. Those of you who are familiar with Adam Grant’s work, he studies generosity, particularly in the workplace. His partner in the startup, Wayne Baker, studies asking for help. We help companies teach their employees how to ask for help, exchange knowledge, generously share, how to practice it, and then how to scale it at an organization. That’s where I am now. I’ve been there since 2017.

It’s a very varied and colorful journey. As a context for the readers, I first saw your quality of work and thought process when you and I are part of the Peak Community started by Sangram Vajre and a couple of others. I still recall that you presented the content strategy framework or a template. That was one of the meeting points where I got an insight into how you think about content. If I connect the dots to your all career journey, because you’ve worked at both at an ad agency across diverse projects for NGOs, government and corporate. You’ve seen that spectrum. Clearly, you know how to tell stories. That’s a key part of a content brand.

I know you’re going to ask me about some specific examples. When I was at ForeSee, I had an opportunity to run a pretty large original research team. I saw the power that content could have as an engine to drive everything else that was happening. When our company got acquired, the CEO said that the content strategy was one of the top three reasons that he thought we had gotten the valuation that we had gotten. It can impact much. It’s not just a loosey-goosey write an eBook and see what happens. It can impact market valuation.

I think this is something that’s not well understood by founders and CEOs, let alone marketing leaders. Content plays a key role. As you say, it’s not about just putting out a blog post, a social media post or a white paper on an eBook. It’s a lot more than that. The key point is, how do you tie in? In your mind, you’re a visionary when it comes to storytelling across channels on a given timeline. How do you tell that? If done right, it increases the revenue and growth but it increases the valuation of the company. I want you to reiterate that point.

B2B 23 | Content Strategy
Content Strategy: Everything the product marketing is doing starts with the seed of what writers and designers create – the content.

 

At the very fundamental level, you’re looking at things like MQLs and SQLs. You’re going to increase leads. If that’s where you want to stop, that’s great. What our CEO said to me when we were acquired was the way that we positioned the company in our thought leadership and content strategy, the way that we used our content and thought leadership to get covered in the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, CNN and Bloomberg, the way that we used it to drive leads and expand deals, we had land and expand strategy, and we’d be in with a company and use content strategy to spread our tentacles within that company, he felt like it was a critical part of our success. He put the budget behind it too. We had not an insignificant amount of budget behind that effort. We had a team of 5 out of 15 or 20 marketing people just working on content and thought leadership, and a budget of a few million dollars for that, not including salaries.

I’m working with the same CEO. It’s a lot of fun because he does understand that. If you have a visionary CEO that understands that, honestly, he taught me that. Now that I’m looking back on it, I’m the marketing expert but he believed in it before I did. I think of him as a real mentor of mine. I saw it work so well at that company. Even if you don’t have a visionary CEO who doesn’t understand that content can affect and impact market valuation, that’s hard to quantify. You can at least be talking about SQLs, MQLs or website traffic. There are definite ways to measure content that you can show the value of.

You mentioned that you had a team of five within the content marketing team. You also mentioned a budget of a few million dollars. What percentage of the revenue was that few million dollars? Is it like 5% or 10% less?

I am not sure, honestly. It’s been a few years now. I would say it was probably 30% or 40% of the marketing budget and 30% of the marketing staff. I’m not sure about it relative to the entire revenue of the entire company by the time we were sold. I just don’t remember those details. I should go look because that’s a good thing to know.

The reason why I’m poking you on this is I’ve seen various studies. I was running my marketing teams as well. A big chunk of it was called out for content. I’m talking about a few years ago but right now, with the stack and the tech stack that we have, it’s a lot easier. There is this whole gray area of there are certain things you can measure but not everything. For example, you can keep putting your posts. You can post great content on LinkedIn and social media like Twitter and all those. It’s very hard for you to tie it back to metrics but someone comes and says, “The reason I reached out to you is that I can relate to what you’re saying. I can see the expertise that you wrote on LinkedIn or Twitter.” Let’s dive deeper into that whole content strategy and the execution piece that you did at ForeSee. Talk to us about the situation. What were some of the calls that you’re looking at when you’re talking about and thinking about the whole PR strategy, as well as the thought leadership content?

The situation at ForeSee was that we were a relatively unknown company in a relatively new market that wasn’t defined, which was web analytics at that time. It grew and evolved to be more like customer experience analytics. This was before Qualtrics and any of those big companies were in the game. This was 2001 when it started. We had an academic methodology that we knew could measure online customer satisfaction in a way that predicted the future. What we needed to do was convince everybody of that. This is a little different from some of the things I’ve done at other places. We can talk about that too.

The strategy we took was to do original research and use that to get media coverage. We did a few different studies. We worked with a retail trade publication and we did a survey of retailers and said, “What do you think customers think about all this stuff?” We then surveyed customers and we went out to the media and said, “Retailers don’t know what customers want. They’re dead wrong.” That gave us the idea to start doing research just among customers. What we started doing is what we call the Satisfaction Index. It became the ForeSee Experience Index over time, the FXI. What we did was we went out in a number of industries and channels. We would pay a panel company to measure customer satisfaction. At one point, we did the top 100 retailers, the top 10 mobile sites, the top 20 banks, and the top 10 utilities, depending on the market. We did a number of these studies and that was the bulk of our external budget.

We would release these reports saying that Amazon is number one and Apple is number two. What we did was we leveraged it for all it was worth. We got regular coverage in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times for this study, which is a little harder to do now. We’re not using Survey Monkey to ask people, “What do you think is the best retailer?” We had a methodology we could depend on. We got a ton of PR coverage but then we also went and we marketed to those companies. We said, “Amazon, did you know you’re number one? You should tell all your users.” For a long time, Amazon would put up a landing page on their homepage, “Amazon rated number one in the FXI,” so we started to get known for this.

This was in the early 2000s.

It started in the early 2000s and went all the way through. A few times, they were acquired by Verint. It’s now the VXI. They still do it.

The real magic of content strategy is connecting it to the sales process. Click To Tweet

Going back to when you reached out to Amazon, this was in the early 2000s or mid-2000s.

I would say 2008, 2009 probably in Amazon. The real magic though of this content strategy was connecting it to sales. Once we start to arm sales with, here’s a list of the top 100 retailers, here’s how to go use this to get meetings with all 100 of those retailers, and here’s how to use it to get meetings with the other 9,000 retailers that aren’t on the list and say, “We know what the best of the best we’re doing. We can show you how to do it. We can show you how to keep up.” What we did is a little bit of ABM. It was the early days of ABM. I don’t even think ABM was a term then. What we started to do was we would do a template of a briefing deck and the salespeople could customize it. I’ve worked at so many places where sales and marketing butt heads.

Every place I’ve ever worked at, sales loves marketing. When your sales and you can walk into the room and throw the Wall Street Journal down on the table and say, “Look at our company in the Wall Street Journal,” or you can put down a real eBook or white paper that looks legit, it gives you so much credibility. When you’re a salesperson and you have to email somebody every week for six months saying, “Do you have time yet?” When we are giving them a dribble of content, instead of just saying, “Do you have time yet?” They’re saying, “Did you see our blog post on this? Did you see our eBook on this? Did you see our infographic on this? By the way, do you have time yet?” It makes it so much easier for them. They should look at marketing as making their jobs so much easier. Not as so many sales teams do, the weak link that if only marketing was working well, we would be able to do our jobs well. The real magic is connecting the content to the sales process.

On that point, I want to emphasize this for our readers and for folks who are looking to seriously connect the dots between content to revenue. I think what you highlighted there is marketing doing its job. When it comes to putting out a good blog post and good insights on the website, that’s just the beginning. Additionally, on top, you’re also highlighting the kind of press coverage you’re getting at tier-one publications.

In terms of measurement, you can measure how many what we used to call IPMs, Initial Prospect Meetings, come as a result of one of these emails. You can measure up marketing attribution. When you do a big formal campaign like, “We did this index. We’re doing customized decks for different companies,” you can measure how many deals came in that were initiated by that effort. You can start to say, “You’re giving me $1 million to do this retail study. It brought in $6 million in sales. We should try this again with utilities and banks.” It’s hard in early startup days to worry too much about metrics. It takes a lot of time, energy, and it takes away from doing. In early startup days, you have to try stuff. I think that marketers are not honest enough about proving their own worth. There’s a lot of C-suite executives that are skeptical that marketing can help. If you can’t show them how it does, you shouldn’t expect more budget.

I think the other part that was going well for you was a CEO who knew the value of marketing.

Absolutely. I was someone who believes strongly in content. I hear a lot of people on Peak talking about, “How do I convince my CEO of this and how do I convince my CEO of that? How do I teach them that marketing is important?” I wouldn’t go work for a CEO who didn’t think it was important. It’s just too heavy of a lift. There are CEOs who are raising an A-round and their board is like, “You need to get a CMO now. You need to get somebody on board.” They do it reluctantly and they’re product people. They want all their time and effort into the product. There are a lot of startup founders like that. I wouldn’t go work for somebody like that. It’s too hard to convince them. There are plenty of CEOs out there that get it.

To be arguing from the founder’s side, it’s hard for them. They don’t know what kind of a marketing leader they should hire. Take the example of a seed-stage or a pre-Series A startup. Typically, I’ve seen founders hire someone from a product marketing background and less of demand gen. Here are the pros and cons. With demand gen, it’s mostly about someone coming with that mindset but it’s all about cranking the marketing engine and generating leads. That’s fair enough. If you look at someone coming from a product marketing background, they start thinking about how we position this in the long term. How do we think about the messaging and how does it tie back to the product pieces, the feature? It also goes back to the customer research angle. There’s that debate that’s happening.

In my experience, the biggest challenge in bringing in marketing leadership in a seed or even Series A is finding that balance between strategic and tactical. What I have observed is you’re a $50 million company and the CEOs bring in somebody who’s worked at a $1 billion company. They’re like, “We want to be a $1 billion company and we’re going to bring somebody in from a $1 billion company.” They come into a $50 million company and everything they do takes a year. They want to talk about everything and strategy forever, and they can’t do anything. On the flip side, if you bring somebody in who’s only ever done demand gen type stuff to come in and lead a marketing organization, if they don’t have that strategic piece, they’re not going to grow the company from $50 million to $100 million. I think in that stage of growth, I would say maybe $10 to $100 million, that is the hardest thing. It’s finding somebody who can roll up their sleeves and do work, but also take a step back and think about the big picture.

There’s one set of marketing leader backgrounds or personal characteristics that will be valuable for growing a company from maybe $2 million to about $7 million, $8 million or so. I’ve seen that typically, it’s like a concord product marketing. It should not be someone from a large company. The pitfalls of that are if someone is coming from a large company, he or she cannot roll up the sleeves and do the work. It’s mostly about guiding, but then they don’t have the budget to have a good start. As you said, I think the big challenge is, “Once we get to the $10 million mark, how do we go to the $100 million?” You have been doing brand work to some extent before, but then the brand has to go up a few notches higher than you talk about like going from $10 million to $100 million. That’s where it comes down to what you’re doing around the whole customer experience index and highlighting that book.

B2B 23 | Content Strategy
Content Strategy: The biggest challenge in bringing in marketing leadership in a seed is finding that balance between strategic and tactical.

 

The content strategy can scale for those different sizes as well. If you’re under $10 million, you’re not going to be spending $2 million on research. That’s just not practical. At that point, you’re talking about bootstrapping content. I have a whole process for that to walk people through. If anybody wants to find me on LinkedIn or wherever, I’m happy to share that, but there’s a process that you go through to identify what the topics are, come up with themes and create content that doesn’t cost anything externally. There are no external costs. Assuming you have a designer and a writer on your staff and you don’t have to hire those out. If you have to hire them out, then those would be the only expenses. You don’t have to spend a lot on content. Here’s another tip for convincing your CEO. If you use that content to make the CEO the thought leader, they like it a little better. You can also use that to elevate other expert voices or other SMEs in your company. You can use the content to do that.

When I was the head of marketing at a company named Green Bits, my job back then was to work with a PR agency to figure out how we can position the founder and the CEO as a thought leader, and get on the coverage of maybe a Wall Street Journal or it can be a Forbes publication and things like that. It’s all about that. Think of it this way. It’s rational because the founder knows the industry, problems, customers, product and there’s a reason why they’re a founder. They should be highlighted and promoted as a thought leader.

Here’s a little hack for your readers who maybe don’t know this. Maybe everybody knows this by now but Forbes has these Expert Councils and they are paid to play. I don’t think everybody knows that and they’re not expensive. They’re between $2,000 and $4,000 a year to be on the Forbes HR Leadership Expert Council. Once you get on the Council, you can publish one article per month but it’s somewhat flexible on Forbes. There’s SEO value and legitimacy value for that. When you start having a bunch of Forbes clips on your website and your salespeople can send out Forbes. Honestly, in my opinion, Forbes is not really up to snuff anymore, but the business community still holds it in pretty high regard overall. You can just buy your way in. There’s a little hack for making your CEO a thought leader. Get them on the Expert Council.

Closing off on that, ever since we started that and we started publishing content from our CEO on the Forbes Council, it was a Forbes Leadership Council or something, the website traffic just skyrocketed right after that. When you have funding news to go along, nothing could beat that combination. Switching gears here, I noticed that you have a website known as The Marketing Doula. You have a little story around why and how you came up with that name. Do you want to share a bit about that?

I was a doula. I was a birth doula for about five years as a hobby. It’s funny because I’ve been in startup technology my whole life. A doula is a birth assistant. It’s a person who goes in with the birthing person and helps them while they’re in labor. You can also have a postpartum doula. You can do it in hospitals, home birth or birth centers. It’s just a person. It’s a support that is there for the birthing person to help them. What a doula does is during pregnancy, they provide options and choices. They say, “Here are the decisions you’re going to have to make. Here are the pros and cons of different decisions. I’m an expert on birth. Your partner is the expert on you. Together, we can help you have the kind of birth that you’re hoping to have. We can at least make it better than it otherwise would have been.” That was a total hobby for me.

When people think of doulas, they think of Birkenstocks, crystals and witchy stuff. I’m in startup marketing but I loved it. I attended maybe 50 births. I have a few philosophies of life. One is to help people generously. That’s the Adam Grant philosophy. One is if you catch a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day. If you teach a person to fish, they’ll eat for a week. What I’ve always wanted to do and what I did a lot of when I was consulting was teaching. I always liked to work myself out of a job. If you bring me in to be a fractional CMO or you bring me in to do content strategy, I’m going to teach you how to do it and set your team up so that they can do it themselves. I started to think I just want to have a place where I can share some of the stuff I’ve learned.

Despite the fact that it is 2021 and not like 2003, I didn’t have the guts to try a podcast like you. I thought it was too much work, so I started a blog. I was talking with a couple of friends about the name. I said, “What I do is I doula people through the marketing process. I give them their options and choices. I help them birth their product. Go-to-market as a birth of a product or a service. I’m the one that knows about marketing. They’re the ones that know about their company. Together, we partner to make it a beautiful experience. I can’t use that name.” She said, “Why not?” I said, “Because nobody knows what a doula is. Startup tech is very male-dominated” She said, “Not everybody needs to understand you. I think you should go for it.” That’s the name that I use and who knows. A lot of people don’t like it but it fits so perfectly. When people do get it, they really get it.

For me, I had to do some digging around. You got a good website with a lot of resources. Again, going back to your whole doula philosophy and mindset, which is about helping. I would say to the readers to go check out the website.

That’s what I like to do. I’m giving people real templates that they can use, templates, resources, ideas and lists. I’d love to turn it all into a book at some point. It’s broader than content strategy. It’s marketing in general. You asked me on to talk about content strategy and that’s my passion but because I’ve been a VP of marketing and a Fractional CMO, I have a lot wider experience than just that. I just like sharing it with people that need it.

I am on your blog now. For example, one article talks about 11 Ways to Increase Visibility on LinkedIn.

Content is a great way to get everybody aligned around one message. Click To Tweet

That was an article I wrote with help from Peak Community members. I was trying to help my sales team connect more authentically on LinkedIn and I didn’t know how to do it. I asked on Peak, I got all these answers and I collected them. That’s an example of me getting the credit for being an expert but this is not my expertise, which I tried to make clear in the article. It’s other people’s ideas.

To the readers, go check out those because Sarah has put together a great list of resources, including how to increase visibility on LinkedIn. I’m looking at it. There’s also one other which talks about free media list template and how to track other stuff, how to write a creative brief, how to set goals, and how to name a startup.

I don’t write on it often enough. I use a Q&A format. If you have a question about marketing, you can send it to me. It’s linked on the website and I’ll try to write a post to answer it.

One topic that I’ve seen personally and I’ve heard from others on the podcast is there’s always this challenge of how you work with other teams, including product and other functions within marketing, as well as how do you work with sales, customer support and success. What are your philosophy and approach? You shared a bit about as a market leader, how you help the sales team. Besides and beyond that, anything that you take or want to share?

Not everybody in marketing likes this approach. I like to come at it like how can I be of service to the other teams rather than I’m running the show and they all need to fit in my paradigm. How can I be of service to them? For a product team, what they care about is the product. Specifically related to your question about content, you can create tons of content about the product. Product content is probably going to be lower in the funnel than brand content, but you can do all sorts of content about the product. Once you are helping them out, promoting them as the thought leader or the subject matter expert, they’re going to get on board, especially if you’re doing the work for them. If you’re bringing them in, advise you, give you the ideas, and you’re doing the execution, they absolutely love it. I think that there’s also a way to elevate some customer success leaders. This is more internal politics but you can put their names on things.

Any of your customer success people are going to be the experts on what’s happening with your customers. If you’re doing a case study, put the name of the customer success person who worked with them in the case study. Use the customer success team as a resource for your content, probably lower in the funnel content. When you can partner with the customer success leadership and start to get some internal recognition for the people that are helping you, that helps a lot. You do a program where people from any department can write a blog post for you. You just have to make sure that their leadership is on board with it because if they’re not, it seems like you’re trying to steal bandwidth. It’s so great for employee engagement when you let other teams and then you have everybody brought into what you’re doing. I also think it’s important to market your own work internally.

If you are having success in content strategy or you put out an eBook, let everybody know. Tell everybody. Let them know what you’re doing and that you’re doing these cool things. Content is a great way to get everybody aligned around one message. I worked with another consulting client in the last couple of years that was trying to create a new category. I was having a hard time getting their own customer success, sales and product teams aligned around the definitions around this new category. Creating content that goes out in the world is a great way to do that. It’s so much harder when you get at a big company and you have big silos, but whenever possible, the more integrated and the less silo, the better.

I would add one more to that list. It is what I call customer marketing. This is especially important in a SaaS world, which most of the companies are, especially in the software world. Software as a service is all about recurring revenue and so on. Products adoption and creating ongoing fans and advocates of your product are key. What I do is also partner with someone on the customer success team who is an expert on the account side as well as on the product side. We do a mini-campaign around some specific features.

That’s a great idea. When you have success at the end, you’ve got to give credit to those people when you’re promoting it internally at the company, especially if you’re a marketing leader, but even if you’re on the team, if you’re an individual contributor, everybody always feels like they have to take credit for everything. It makes you look so much stronger if you give credit to other people. Unless you have a really toxic culture, you should always try to give credit to as many people as possible that helped you out.

That ties into what you’re doing at Give and Take. It’s all about generosity, asking for help, and at the same time giving help. We are running out of time here but last couple of questions for you, Sarah. One is, if you were to look back at your career, who would you give a shout-out to? You did mention the CEO and founder of ForeSee. Give 2 or 3 people.

B2B 23 | Content Strategy
Content Strategy: You can create content that doesn’t cost anything externally assuming you have a designer and a writer on your staff.

 

His name is Larry Freed. I’ve been working with him since 2001. For most of my professional life, he has been a mentor to me and a huge supporter of my career. He’s pushed me to develop. I had two mentors early days. One was named Anne Gunning, who was at a company called Kearns and West. She was a model for me of what a woman in leadership looked like. I would say that Shannon Latta, who was at ForeSee and Verint and is now at Nextiva is another mentor of mine for what it looks like to be a woman in power in technology. It is very common that you’re the only woman in the room and there are different ways of handling that. All of them are legitimate and all of them are worthwhile. Something about her leadership style clicked for me. She taught me less about marketing. She knew about marketing but what she taught me was more about leadership and management.

I think this is key, especially for women who are looking to break the glass ceiling. As much as we would like to admit that it is not there, it is there. The first thing is about tackling your own internal imposter syndrome. That’s one. Having these kinds of mentors that you mentioned is critical.

It’s important. I’ll do a plug for Peak here because Peak is the first time I’ve really found a marketing community. I’m a generous person. I give my time and my energy. I get that same time and energy back from other people who were willing to do favors for me, give me information, give me ideas or thoughts. It’s a phenomenal committee.

I want to echo that as well. I joined Peak Community and I’ve seen a lot of value. I get advice on the value that you give without expectations and it’s amazing. Putting out the content or meeting people like you and I met others as well. For the readers, go check out Peak Community.

Neither of us works for Peak. We’re not getting paid to say this. We just like it.

One final question for you. If you had to turn back time and then go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I’m going to get in trouble for this. I think it would be that product is way more important than I thought it was. I overemphasized. I was a marketing person. I thought that the world turned on marketing and that good marketing could turn anything successful, and that marketing should be the most important thing. This sounds so obvious but the product is really important. Having a lot more emphasis on product, I do think marketing should come in very early, but I used to think it should come in earlier than I think now. Now, the product has to be in better shape than I thought earlier in my career before you start go-to-market.

The product has to be good. That’s a key part. Without that, you won’t have a solid growing business, but then there should always be that synergy. It’s a cliche and overused on my head. Let’s see synergy. There should be ongoing activities between the marketing team and product team around how do you highlight and showcase the product features that will be more in the middle or bottom of the funnel content pieces? If you go upstream, it’s all about understanding the buyers and the users of the product. If you understand the product features and who is it built for? You start to develop and create that empathy piece between the product organization as well as your market, the buyers and the users. That’s the role marketing should play and will play.

The other piece of advice I would give my younger self is that your goal is always to scale and get to a big company. I don’t like working at huge companies. I don’t like red tape, roadblocks and silos. The single focus on blowing a company up to the detriment of culture and everything else, I might think twice about that, or maybe just take my paycheck and my cut and leave when the company gets too big. That works too.

With that message, if I had to summarize it in one line, it’s about knowing the size of the company where you will thrive. That’s really important. On that note, thank you so much, Sarah. It’s been a pleasure. Good luck to you and your team. We’ll cheer you from the sidelines.

It makes you look so much stronger if you give credit to other people. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for having me. If anybody wants to connect on LinkedIn, I’m happy to do that. If you need any help, let me know.

For all the readers, do leave a note or do a quick note on LinkedIn saying the one takeaway that you got between the conversation between myself and Sarah. That would be of great help for both of us.

Thank you so much for having me. This has been a great conversation. I really enjoyed it.

Thank you.

Important Links:

About Sarah Allen-Short

As Vice President of Sales and Marketing at a technology startup called Give and Take, Inc. (2017-present), I oversee everything related to brand, content, and prospecting.

I was founder and president of Thrive Communications from 2014-2017, where I served as a fractional CMO, consultant, and advisor for organizations including Livefyre, Amplifinity, Biovigil, Quikly, the Innerwork Institute, Second Stage Partners, Life in 10 Minutes, Richmond Young Writers, Sabot at Stony Point, and more.

As Senior Director of Communications for ForeSee from 2007 to 2104, I built and oversaw the communications strategy that helped establish ForeSee at the top of its industry and supported its fast, cost-efficient growth and a successful exit in 2014.

From 2001-2007, I was a Senior Consultant with Kearns & West, where I developed and executed marketing and communications strategies for startups, universities, public companies, NGOs, nonprofits, and federal agencies. I had a special focus on stakeholder-driven communications that achieved organizational goals and demonstrated meaningful results.

During my tenure at Kearns & West, I worked with organizations like ForeSee, AT&T, the Aspen Institute, Duke Energy, the Edison Electric Institute, the USDA Forest Service, the University of Michigan, the William Davidson Institute, and dozens of others.

Private consulting engagements have included marketing and public relations work with Verint, BryterCX, the Univerisity of Colorado Leeds School of Business, MoveOn.org, the Brookings Institution, toLabor, Birth Matters, Second Stage Partners, the Acuity Project, Life in 10 Minutes, Richmond Young Writers, Sabot at Stony Point, and more.

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B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies

 

We are approaching a cloud-based world where everything is turning digital. How does the go-to-market strategy change? How do companies like Cisco adapt to new and different business strategies? Learn more about the process of GTM with the Head of GTM Strategies at Cisco, Sree Chadalavada. Before working with Cisco, Sree has worked with Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, in various roles for over 14 years. Now with Cisco, Sree is leading the GTM for their DNS Center. Catch Sree in this interview with your host, Vijay Damojipurapu, about how to market a subscription-based model and other business strategies. Discover why customer experience should come first when it comes to product strategy. Learn everything you need to know about GTM today!

Listen to the podcast here:

A Closer Look Into Cisco’s GTM Strategies With Sree Chadalavada

I have with me, Sree, from Cisco and I’ll let him introduce himself. Sree, welcome to the show.

Thank you for inviting me. A little bit of introduction about myself. I have around twenty-plus years of experience in the industry. A lot of my experience comes from B2B space and mostly in high tech. I had roles anywhere from engineering to product management to GTM. Because of my several years of experience, I am now leading the GTM for DNA Center, which is one of the marquee software products that Cisco is selling to its customers. I’m looking forward to talking to you.

You are based in the Bay Area. We have almost subcontinental tropical weather. We are hitting 90 degrees here but both you and I grew up in India so we are very familiar. It’s not too much to complain about but we’re used to this weather.

I need to fix my cooling. I came from India in a tropical climate. The variation, how quickly we can go from cold to hot is something to get used to and I definitely need some home improvement going.

How would you define go-to-market?

In my mind, the go-to-market is a loaded term. In a simplistic view, I think about go-to-market as we have a business strategy. Oftentimes, I am taking more of a B2B large organizations viewpoint. If you have a large organization with a portfolio of products and services that you’re selling in the market, you start with a business strategy and then there is a product strategy. Those are two ends of the spectrum. GTM is what binds those two together and the whole purpose of GTM is to drive monetization and profitability within a particular organization.

Whenever you look at a business strategy of a long-term, sustainable company versus a product that generates revenue, you have a number of elements that need to work together. In addition to linking product strategy to business strategy, you need to look at sales, partner and customer success. All of those strategies need to come together and they all need to be driven with one beat. That’s what the GTM brings to the table. In my mind, the way I think about GTM is it’s a loaded term but the way I conduct it is it’s all about focus on revenues and profitability. It’s all about bringing disparate sets of functions together to work together to drive these revenue and profitability goals.

I would agree with almost all of what you mentioned. It does include working fruitfully and collaboratively across these functions such as product, marketing and sales, customer success and support teams as well. There is an end goal of driving revenue and profitability goals but there is one element, which I didn’t hear a lot from you and I want to push you on that. What is in it for the customer? Why should customers care? That’s a key point. A lot of the go-to-market teams are missing that. They’re internal-focused. This is something that I’ve seen often and to the detriment of the go-to-market execution capability. It is internal-driven but the emphasis should be on the market and the customers.

Whenever we think about a product strategy, the sustainability of a customer is driving value to the world and to the community at large. Maybe the reason why the customer was not included in my narrative is that I always believe in the fundamental nature of how you decompose a business strategy into a product strategy. Product strategy is all about the customer. We talk about product-market fit a lot. If you are developing a product that generates revenue then everything about that product should be about a customer. To your point, product, customer success, sales, partners, all of the people need to be talking to multiple sets of stakeholders but it all starts with customers. Definitely, that’s an omission that I’m glad that you corrected because it was built into the narrative.

A go-to-market has to link product strategy with business strategy. Click To Tweet

All of the GTM functions are more like skin in my opinion. For every organization, everything happens. Business strategy is the brain that drives everything and all of these GTM functions drive everything but all the sensors need to be externally motivated to a particular customer. If you do not then there is so much of either productivity loss or you will not be sustainable. In the next five years, you will not have a place. Customer is always front and center. My boss always talks about customer excellence and customer-centricity. The way we share that across all of this is it starts with a product, the way we define a product and we continually iterate on the product-market fit. Everything in the GTM follows the product and the end product leads the way. All the GTM continually amplifies that particular aspect of it.

On a lighter note, how would your kids describe what you do at work?

I’m sure that many of us in the GTM has some identity crisis but I have a nonlinear career path. I’ll give a little bit of background and then I’ll explain what my kids talk about. I am a computer scientist. I was an engineer. I did graduate with a Computer Science major. I was a product manager and then moved to GTM consulting and then now I’m an operator of a product company. You’re going to look at my kids and it’s always interesting the way they think about it. When you ask those questions, it comes out.

My son feels like I am a consultant, an engineer or both. He’s confused. On one hand, I talk about the rigor, the hypothesis-driven problem solving and how you look at systems and decompose the problems is the consultant that I talk about. From an engineer’s standpoint, it’s all about the operation. What is the new value that we’re creating for the community and the world at large? There are both aspects. He’s confused, “Are you a consultant or engineer? You keep saying all those things. I don’t know.”

My daughter has this interesting way. I come from a consulting background. In a company like Cisco and I’m sure that any large company and even small companies, that happens. She talks about me having meetings about meetings because when you go to the executives, you first talk about, “Let’s develop a point of view,” and then you go to another person. It’s one of those things wherein a blue-collar to white-collar, everything that we do is communicating with people and driving change.

That’s what she thinks. She’s like, “You’re an advisor. I get it. From the nuts and bolts of it, everything that you do is meetings about meetings.” Hopefully, she will appreciate it one day. What she is looking at is anything that we do in consulting or GTM is about driving change, accountabilities and responsibilities. When you’re working with a lot of organizations, you’re working with a lot of people. It’s funny when you look at the kid’s views. One day, I go from a consultant to an engineer to developing slides. All those things go together.

That’s funny you say that. I can relate to a lot of those. I’ve also had several guests mentioned either the parents or the kids. Some of them correctly articulate what that guest was doing. It’s all about how do you articulate and tell about, “What do you do?” Whether you’re in a marketing role or a sales role or a product role, that’s a fun thing. It always brings out the lighter, the humor, the more personal and the humane side of things when it comes to a job.

At the end of the day, the core of it is we are all humans connecting to other humans. We miss that. We don’t think about it that way. When you talk to kids, that’s how they can think about it. The interactions that they are exposed to defines how they think about it.

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: Make your product strategy all about the customer. The sustainability of a customer drives value to the world at large.

 

Let’s switch gears. You talked about being in the consulting world and now you’re more in an organization like Cisco where you’re more responsible for the execution of the strategy, which you would typically build and then pass it over to your clients. Talk to us about your career evolution starting from your time at Gartner and then what you’re doing at Cisco now.

I did my MBA at Emory University. In around 2007, I graduated and then I joined Gartner as a senior consultant. The practice that I was part of was the GTM practice. A lot of people know that in Gartner, we have a lot of data. The reason Gartner exists is it senses the life of the customer. They track customer and market movements. We have all this data. Our GTM practice is all about taking the data and helping customers develop GTM strategies. It can be a GM who’s saying, “I need a product strategy. Can you help me build the next billion-dollar product on a market that I need to go after?” There are those problems.

There are engagements where, “We are going through this DevOps evolution. Can you help us? As a large $5 billion company, can you migrate to this?” Those are the things that I tried. I started with a senior consultant all the way to a managing partner. I also worked in a lot of the companies in the technology space and a lot of my clients are in the Bay Area. These are the people who created markets and it’s difficult to tell them what to do. They always feel like, “I know what I’m doing. I created the market so don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me.”

We went through this evolution as a managing partner. I ran a lot of these engagements, product strategies, market strategies and sales strategies for that matter. I got this rich experience of working with a lot of leaders that I’m sure are part of your show and you see them on a lot of these big stages. I had the privilege to be looking at them, working with them and helping them at Gartner. At some point, I said, “I have been giving a lot of advice. That’s great,” but then I said, “I need to do something. I need to execute what I’m telling.” It’s like eating your own dog food.

In consulting world, what you do is you give them good recommendations. Hopefully, those are the ones that you can bet on but you do not own the execution part of it. For fourteen years, I said, “I need to use a lot of what I did and need to be an operator,” as they call it in the industry. One of my clients said, “Sree, it looks like you have a lot of what I am looking for. I need somebody strong to drive GTM strategy for my organization.” That’s how I got into Cisco. In Cisco, what I do is taking all of that experience. I helped Cisco in developing a GTM strategy for this particular product and drive objectives.

One of the things that’s fascinating with Cisco is we’re phenomenal in terms of everything that we do in sales, marketing and partners from a hardware-centric standpoint. There’s nobody else who can do better than Cisco because we’re partner-centric and customer-centric. When we get to the subscription world, the rules of the game are different. This is a significant intent for every one of us to move forward. The privilege is good and bad. Everybody says it takes a village to move but in my role, I work with a lot of people like me in developing what the future view looks like.

I’m sure that you have all this news coming from Cisco saying that we’re at a $14 billion run rate from the software revenue standpoint. That is the promotion we’re doing. I’m helping with that transformation for the product DNA Center, which is within the wired and wireless networks on the campus. That is the product that I lead. I have been there for eight months. I built a lot of great relationships. There are a lot of things that I can learn and a lot of things that I can execute because, for several years, I’ve been talking a lot but now I know the things that make sense and don’t make sense.

That’s a fascinating career you had at Gartner joining as a senior consultant and growing up the ranks to a managing partner. Kudos and congratulations to you. That’s a fascinating rise in itself. It’s interesting that you switched and you intentionally wanted to go and move more into an operator role. Cisco itself is in a transformational phase because they’re switching or at least making the effort to move from a hardware-centric to more of a SaaS, revenue and subscription-based business.

Cisco has been doing this for a long time. If you look at the best in class SaaS companies, we want to be the best in class. When we look at a company that has been successful in the hardware-centric model, we have made a lot of progress but the progress continues to be there because we want to drive revenues and expand the scope of what we do. This role gives me a scope to help in that journey.

Go-to-market is more like the skin, while business strategies are the brains that drive everything. Click To Tweet

I’ve not had so many guests on my podcast where we had to dive in and talk about the shift from a one-time hardware sale to a software subscription model. Enlighten us and talk to us about the challenges. I can put myself in the shoe of an account executive selling routers and switches. It’s a long sales cycle. As an account executive, I hit my quota. Most often, I move on to other deals or other customers versus for subscription, it’s an entirely different mindset. How are you working with account teams and go-to-market teams at Cisco to make this transition happen?

It’s changing the way we do stuff. You need to have different kinds of relationships as you approach your customer. Let me take a step back. It is even a transformation from a customer standpoint. If you think about infrastructure, they have always bought appliances with a perpetual license. They would say, “Don’t come to me until five years is over.” Even the way they budget, it is for five-year subscription. That is how they budget CapEx dollars. Now, we’re looking at transformation at multiple stages. We’re saying, “How do we help the customer tell them that they cannot wait for five years?” That is the starting point for us.

We are going into a multi-cloud world. The pace of innovation is changing. We are educating our customers to say, “If you want to take on this multi-cloud world that the velocity of innovation is changing, you need to get the value incrementally quickly.” That is the reason we’re working with customers to enable them with the transformation. That is number one. We work with the salespeople and the way the salespeople do it is we have always said that selling an appliance is where our journey stops. Usually in a hardware mindset, you sell and you move on to the next deal.

We tell them they need to work with the customer success. If you think about the deal is over, the next step is, “Don’t go away because you have these long relationships. Please work with customer success to enable them.” We make a lot of promises during the sale cycle and oftentimes in a hardware-centric mindset, the partners will execute to get to some of those outcomes. Cisco is owning some of those outcomes. That is a big change for us.

If you go to a typical salesperson and if you say, “Did you sell?” “Yes. Amazing. I have done my job.” Now what we’re telling them is, “You’re not done. Please help us. Don’t go anywhere. We want you to work with the customers, your partners, customer success and drive outcomes.” There is a big difference between selling goods and services to selling outcomes. That’s what we’re working with account teams to slowly migrate to this mindset. A lot of account executives get it because they want customers to be successful. They have always relied on partners before and now they have to rely on partners but also Cisco to take that leap. That is the biggest change that we see. We made a lot of progress and we’re going to continue to make progress.

Change is hard, even though mentally I would like to create a new habit and sustain that new habit. I’m putting myself in the shoes of an account executive. There is an intent and a want versus making it happen over the course of days, months and years. It’s entirely two different things. There’s a combination of executive sponsorship and executive enforcement if you will but enforcement only gets you to so much. Is there a combination of that plus enablement piece, there is also the incentive-driven piece?

I come from the strategy world. I always think that there’s a mandate. The mandate is these greenfield initiatives cannot succeed. You need to have a mandate on a problem but the mandate needs to translate to what can be done in the next quarter. Oftentimes, you can think about it and say, “We want to be a subscription company.” For a large organization, it takes time. We need to take the mandate and chunk it down on what can you do in a quarter. When you think of quarter, there are three things that we’re always looking at. As an organization, is our operating model set up for success? That is number one. Are we having those relationships built between sales, customer success and partners? Can we continually iterate on the operating model?

The second is incentives. Are we making incentives and KPIs that integrate on a collective customer outcomes mindset? The third is we take feedback oftentimes and the mandate only goes so far because there is reality, the ground. The last thing that you want is to disenfranchise anybody who was significantly successful and lose them in this transformation. We are taking enormous amounts of feedback from the field and continually iterating this particular model. We have three different processes. One is a mandate. The second is the operating model. Three is the incentive structure.

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: Technology is always changing and innovating. You need to help and enable your customer in the transformation.

 

Finally, it’s feedback. Always focus on the feedback. Always build the change because if you have the influencers, you need to be looking at the influences who are working with you and enabling transformation. I come from a lot of change management and that enables me to talk about it. I always look at the culture as a complex entity. We talk about culture as a nebulous term. For me, it’s the incentives, rituals and those kinds of things. I look at it systematically and say, “What can we do without breaking ourselves?” We are disciplined in the way we execute the techniques.

You mentioned how you measure and there’s also the feedback aspect. Let’s talk about if you can to the extent that you can share in a public forum, can you talk about the KPIs and how you set goals into ensuring that the change is happening?

I don’t think some of the frameworks are any different from a strategy standpoint. The viewers need to think, “What does the future state look like?” You always need to have a clear view of where we want to be from a metric standpoint. Almost always, we know this. We want better revenues, a better renewal rate and a customer experience. Those are the three. At the end of the day, any business will know about those three for me.

We look at what the future state is. We cannot get there unless we cut it down to every quarter. This is what we need to achieve and then cross those three terms. We talk about revenue goals, renewal rates and customer experience. Every quarter, we’re iterating through those goals and building new initiatives. We have a governing model that says, “We’re all going to work together for this transformation. We have partnerships.” I’m part of the product organization. There is a product, relationships, there’s sales, customer success and partners as well as marketing, product and technical marketing.

All of us work together to say, “Can we achieve that target and continually grow?” It’s like a flywheel analogy in Good to Great. There is this notion that coming from consulting it is this one big wave that carries everything. It’s never that. It’s like in every small incremental thing that you do and continually build the momentum and kill the initiatives that are not working. Amplify and double down what is working and keep moving. This operator role is interesting but the most important place where the operator role falls apart is when you don’t have a clear future state. If you do not have a clear future state of what I want to be when I grow up, that is when the operator role can be nebulous. I am going to do all kinds of things that don’t matter but if I have a clear view of where we are headed, it’s about execution. You’re continually working at it, spreading it and making progress at the business.

Let’s get even more detailed and specific here. When it comes to the second half a year and you’re managing the go-to-market evolution and the change for Cisco DNA products, services, software modules and subscription services as well. What are your focus areas for the second half for Cisco DNA?

For us, there are three things. Engagement from the field is the most important thing for us. I’m part of a central organization and Cisco is massive. What we’re trying to do for us is execution happens in a decentralized fashion in large organizations because you can only develop strategy and you can only have the central organizations that can enable the strategy. There are three waves of work that we’re looking at for the next job. We feel like we have a decent strategy. The next wave is working with the field to get feedback and improve the strategy. That is what we are focused on. These three are concentric circles. They keep moving. We have a strategy and now we are working in the middle field to make sure that they know the strategy that is help coming and we are seeking their help on how to transform.

The third element of it is at the end of the day, it’s accounts. It is this filed down list. You need to look at what is happening with this account versus with that account. There are three concentric circles that are happening for us. The second half is all about getting the field and getting to the part of the marquee accounts where we can ring-fence and do cohort analysis. Can we take small set customers and continually build these practices? That’s where we’re going to be.

Do you own a budget for your role specifically?

You need to find humane things when it comes to your job. At the end of the day, we are all just humans connecting to other humans. Click To Tweet

My boss owns a budget but he’s pretty flexible with the budget because it’s one of the key parts of the business.

If you or your boss were to get an additional 5-figure, 6-figure or maybe in the case of Cisco it’s an additional seven-figure number for the year going or even going into the following year. What are the key areas that you would invest in?

Data is everything for us. The way we are operating and every company is becoming a digital company for us. There are a number of initiatives going on but I can always ask more to accelerate these initiatives. That’s the way I think of it. You should not take it as we’re not doing it. Maybe others feel like, “If I want to go faster, I want something that gets me there. It’s about having the tools that can help us.” There are two aspects of the way I think about it. In GTM, everything is as good as your data, the systems and the GTM processes that you have.

For me, data is the most important thing. How do I build it on the fingertips? For me and the people who are executing these strategies, do they have the dashboards? Not a single dashboard but it should be where they are looking at data. For example, if you are on Salesforce, do I have the right metrics and the right data for a sales executive to take action? Those are the places where I would be spending a lot of time. For me, I need to have the data and the dashboards to be able to say, “Are we going in the right direction? Can I course-correct very quickly?” In the same vein, there are so many people like me who are trying to write and improve their business performance. Can I help them with those kinds of systems so they can make those decisions? We are blessed in this way.

I come from a strategy background. I don’t need somebody else telling me what the strategy should be because, at the end of the day, many people have those ideas. For me, the biggest thing is if I’m operating faster, I do not want systems to be a bottleneck. I need to move away from systems being a bottleneck to the change management and getting to the customer outcomes. That’s where I would be focusing if I have more budget.

You mentioned data and tech stack. One element of the tech stack, which is CRM, in this case, Salesforce. Is it more of how do you refine and fine-tune your Salesforce to create the right dashboards or is it more of an additional market or sales tech stack and making those work? Is it something like a BI, a Tableau?

We start with BI Tableau. That’s where I think about it. These systems have been there for a long time. You know how a lot of these organizations are. You start with a Tableau. You figure out if it’s helping you to make the decisions and I’m sure that data is not always perfect so you learn a lot and you shift to continually improving the data. That’s how I always think about it. If you have all of these dashboards and they don’t mean anything and the data is not complete, I cannot make decisions. The way I want to do it is, it’s always that there is this Deming’s quality improvement cycle. You need to know what you’re measuring. I have the visibility to what I’m measuring and can I take the data to continually improve the process but also improve my data hygiene across the board and the processes that build the data. In my mind, if we’re on a journey but I want to start with the dashboards but then I go back to how to improve the data consistency and reliability.

What are the top couple of topics or areas that are top of mind for you? How do you learn or keep up to date on those topics? You mentioned go-to-market and strategy. Are there topics underneath or something else?

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: In business, you want better revenues, better renewal rates, and a good customer experience.

 

I read this only a couple of years back the way Amazon does it right. I’m looking at that. Usually, there is a view that I have seen and a lot of that is real with many of the companies. There is a product strategy and there is a GTM strategy. Those are two separate strategies and usually they are decoupled because we have the legacy and heritage of how we have done. What I’m seeing is a convergence of GTM and not convergence. It’s tighter alignment and convergence. What I mean by that is let us take a scenario where your video is in your own dashboard using the product. Can I manage my licenses in it? Can I make my purchases? It’s those things there are significant ways that we can improve the customer experience and integrate the GTM motions into the product motions. That is fascinating for me and that is where I’m spending a lot of time trying to understand how do I continually build digital assets to try with GTM.

Second, how do we continually push GTM and convert GTM with the product? If I can let the customer do all the purchases here, let the customer do the free trials on the product and push it to this. There are so many ways you can get to simplify the customer experience and not having to go through this, “Go to this system to do the sales.” “Go to this system to do the partner.” “Go to this system to do all of those things.” Rather than that, if you are going to keep the customer in view, then telling the customer to say, “I am simplifying everything.” That is where I’m spending a lot of time. We are all going to do our own research. There are some companies that are doing a better job than we are and it’s always a fascinating aspect for me to learn from those companies.

Something that I want to highlight and this is what I advise my clients. A bit about me, my company, Stratyve. We advise B2B SaaS companies small, medium and large, around go-to-market clarity and execution. One of the pieces that I’m enforcing into whenever I meet either a marketing leader, a product leader or even a revenue leader. I always enforce and emphasize this aspect of content being the currency. You mentioned digital assets on how I see it and what I refer to it as content. Think of it this way. When you talk about a software product, your code is your currency for a software product. Similarly, for go-to-market, I would say its content. Content is the key.

From there, you go into, “What does it mean when I’m educating or enabling my salespeople? What does it mean when I’m talking about the customer moving him or her along this journey or the path, the transformation?” That’s what I keep coming back to is content. I’m also enforcing and building what I call the Content To Revenue Manifesto. It is because similar to software code as a software engineer, I can write code but that may or may not create an impact. Similarly, I can create the digital assets and the content but that may or may not tie very well to driving revenue, renewals, a better experience and a subscription model. I’m enforcing and talking about this Content To Revenue Manifesto. I want to get your thoughts. You mentioned digital assets but I’d be happy to sit down with you or your team around how you can create, invest and get better returns when it comes to creating these digital assets.

I’d be happy to do that. We are all about video and digital assets to your client. You started with, “Why did you not talk about the customer?” For me, it’s about a 360-degree view of the customer, anywhere from awareness to loyalty and the whole thing. We had this framework when I was in Gartner called Content and Context. Look at the customer and say, “At what context, does the customer look for what?” “If he’s looking at what, are we going to the right water coolers?” “Where are they going? Where do we need to present our content so customers do not have to look for the content?” With all the SEOs and everything, we can do it. You’re absolutely right. I will be happy to have a conversation and see how we can collaborate.

If you were to look at your peers or your bosses from either your current role or even previous roles, who would you call out, give a shout out to when it comes to them having an influence and how they shape your thinking as well your career growth path?

There are two classes. You have two specific questions. One is who is the biggest influence on how I live and how I conducted my professional life? Who are the co-workers that you want to emulate? This changes every year. You’re always learning and you’re always looking at what it is. A lot of my influences come from the counterculture. They are the people that really helped me. The three people I can say and I’m sure that many of your audience knows them. Nassim Taleb is one of the guys.

The quote he had and maybe the reason I moved from consulting to the operating role is a lot of what we learned from either consulting, theory or even in education. All that we do is tell the birds how to fly. He has this piece that says, “The real knowledge that you learn doesn’t come from books. The real knowledge comes from tinkering, experimenting, learning and getting feedback loop.” That was phenomenal. Nassim Taleb had a significant impact. Antifragile and Skin in the Game is another book. These are thought-provoking books that ask you to change and say, “As a person, what impact can you create?”

The second person, this is a cop-out as everybody would say it but Steve Jobs is another influence. I read and study a lot about strategy and what companies are. If you look at Peter Drucker as being the Father of Modern Philosophy, I would consider Steve Jobs as the Father of Technology Management Philosophy. Also, customer experience and he talks about how to say no. When you’re developing a strategy, do not ask for everything.

If anybody says that they know better than what you know, they don't know. Click To Tweet

After many years, we are starting to get that into the mainstream. He has been far ahead and I always go back to his videos and say, “What am I doing right or wrong?” The third one is Phil Knight. I was fortunate I read the book. It was not something that I would read from the get-go. For a lot of people who don’t know, Phil Knight is the Founder of Nike. One of the one thing that I realized and oftentimes I come from India and there has always been this quintessential view of the leader. This is charismatic, they go and they can rile up all the audience.

These are the kinds of people and you always look at them and say, “I can never be that way.” You always have this perspective. When you read Phil Knight and the way they build the company, it is about a lot of people who had so many problems and he says, “We would never be successful if we all went our own way but if we will focus on a mission and with a level of conviction, you can create a company that is long sustainable.” I can go out and say these are the people that change everything.

At least in my career, Charles Chun who lives in Japan, in Gartner Consulting. He always told me that with critical thinking, you always need to wear your customers’ shoes. You need to really solve the problem. He never gave up until the last minute of an executive conversation. He’s like, “I’m getting the slide of it.” The more you think about the problem, the more you live there, that rigor, I got it from Charles. My manager is similar in that way because these are the people who never give up. These are the people who call themselves academic operatives. They have a mission to continually improve and create a framework on it but they are rigorous in the execution. Those are the people that have had a lot of influence. We live in a world that’s continually changing. Come back in a few years and I will say it’s Elon Musk. We get better.

You would add Elon Musk maybe at some point in time once you know his sticking philosophy. Going back to your point, I agree with Steve Jobs and others. I also want to call out specifically, Phil Knight. I’m reading his book, Shoe Dog. I’m in the early section where he talks about where he tells father, “I want to go on a world trip. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my career after graduating from Stanford with an MBA degree. I don’t know what I want to do.” Somehow, he wants to do something around bringing better shoes and selling better shows in America.

He goes to Japan and even then, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do but he’s clear on the mission. Going back to your point, it’s very mission-centric and there’s almost a fake it until you make it but in a good way. It’s not in a false ego-sense. It’s about, “I’m mission-centric. I need to partner with these Japanese shoemakers and manufacturers. It’s all about telling how I bring those shoes and help them increase their sales. At the end of the day, how am I getting better shoes for the American consumer?”

That is the counterculture. That’s what I keep talking about. We say the counterculture is the attitude that they take is, everybody who says that they know better than what you know, they don’t know. That is the fundamental way that a lot of these people think. It’s like, “If somebody keeps telling me that I’m on the wrong path or I’m not doing the right things,” but very quickly, you’ll realize that if you’re going steadfast, all the people and everything that people tell you that you don’t know and don’t do it, they don’t know. It’s interesting the way they came to solve the problems.

It comes back to the mission-centric and that’s what keeps them going. Along the way, they figure out the path and the solution it comes. It’s not that they don’t from the get-go.

They gravitate towards building the team that is around them and that is complementing. That’s the fascinating part of this.

One final question to you, Sree. If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market careers, maybe it’s that time when you joined Gartner as a senior consultant or something else. If you were to turn back time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: Data is the most important thing in go-to-market strategy. Everything is turning digital, so you need the right tools or data for GTM.

 

Let me start with the first and foremost, while you are uncomfortable, always try to surround yourself with the best people, the people that you can learn from. The people who are motivating you to do your best and you can learn from it even if it’s painful. That is the first thing that I would say. The second thing that I would say is any endeavor that you are doing, you need to be humble to take the feedback and learn from the circumstances.

Any belief system that you develop, you need to work with people and how to change people. Those are the two things that I would say. One, always surround yourself with smart people. Whenever you’re trying to impact a change, be patient, understand why people don’t agree with you or don’t believe you and see what you can change in their belief system. It is not because they don’t like you. It is not because they hate you. It is because their belief system is completely different than your belief system. Be patient to start with what their belief system is and work backward to your belief system. If you don’t do that, you will not be successful. Those are the two things that I would like to say. Be patient with people who are impatient and learn but be patient with people who do not want to change and be patient to bring them along. Those are the two things that I would say to myself.

To your second point, talking about understanding people, learning and helping them see or change their belief system. It comes down to this one line, which really stuck with me, “Don’t try to change the other person but try to change your perspective of the other person.”

That’s what I keep telling myself. Oftentimes that goes back to your mission and where they come. When you think about what your mission is, you will find a way and that is where if you want to be a change agent, to that point. The perspectives, you need to be a lot more human-centric than say, “Everybody else did it. I’m going to do it and you need to follow it.” Nobody follows at this point. You need to convince them to follow. You need to be around the people who can follow.

Where can people learn more about you? If you want to share any final words with the readers, what would that be?

I’m always on LinkedIn. If you want to learn and collaborate, I’m always learning so I can tell you what I know but I’m sure that in the conversation, I’m going to learn from you. You can always find me on LinkedIn. If you want to reach out, please reach out. A lot of what I do at my work, you’ll see on my LinkedIn page. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing from you and working with you, Vijay, as well as hearing from your audience.

Thank you so much. To all the readers, do drop me a note on LinkedIn and mention that one takeaway that you got from our conversation. Post it on LinkedIn and let me and Sree know what that is. Thank you for your time, Sree. It’s been a wonderful conversation and I’ll be always cheering for you and your team.

Thanks a lot, Vijay. I’m looking forward to working with you again. Bye.

Important Links:

About Sree Chadalavada

B2B 22 | Go To Market StrategiesProduct strategy & marketing technology executive with over 20+ years of technology experience in infrastructure software and hardware technology markets. Cross-cultural experience in the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and India. Thought leadership endeavors include published Gartner Research.
-Execute product strategy, product management lifecycle, engagements for GMs, VP of Strategy and CMO
-Extensive experience working with global ISV market leaders and GMs with $1B+ product portfolios and driving top-line revenue growth by executing product strategy, product management lifecycle support and marketing strategy development and execution.
-Deep understanding of enterprise customer buyer/persona mission-critical priorities, buying behaviors and digital investment strategies; Deep specialization in AI, DevSecOps, AIOps & Edge Computing domains
-Worked extensively with clients and managed delivery teams across multiple geos – United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and India
-Office lead for San Francisco Bay Area office with ~80 associates reporting to this office

Prior to Gartner, Sree worked in various leadership roles in telecom, technology consulting and start-up-related companies. At DXC and MCI, Sree held various leadership roles focused on Product Management, Corporate Strategy and Innovation and Solutions Marketing.

Sree is currently working with 3 – 5 startups in advisory capacity in fine-tuning the product strategy to achieve product/market fit. In addition, he is an advisor and co-chair for TiE Young Entrepreneurs program focused on fostering future generations of entrepreneurs by teaching high school students and mentoring college students the rewards and challenges of becoming an entrepreneur.

Sree earned his MBA with Outstanding Academic Achievement Award in Decision Information Analysis from the Goizeuta Business School, Emory University.

Functional specialties include: Product management, Product Strategy & Execution, Business Strategy & Execution, Enterprise Customer adoption, Sales Operations

Market focus include: AI, DevSecOps, AIOps & Edge Computing domains

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

 

There is no one recipe for success when it comes to go-to-market strategies. Each business is unique, and you need to be ready to adapt. In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu interviews Karim Zuhri, the COO of Cascade. Karim builds a people culture, guides with data, and leads for impact. He discusses his previous experiences with product marketing and what it takes to drive customer success. Listen and learn from his experience in streamlining and focusing your business.

Listen to the podcast here:

Go-To-Market Strategies: Driving Customer Success With Karim Zuhri

I have with me Karim Zuhri from Australia, who is also the Chief Operating Officer of Cascade. Karim, welcome to the show.

Thank you. How are you?

I’m doing wonderful. I always like to start my show by asking this specific question to all my guests, and you are no different. How do you define go-to-market?

Go-to-market is one of the broadest terms in B2B SaaS especially. The way I would define it is like the plan that you as a company use to take out to the market product, services and offers. It could be how you organize your sales team, how you do marketing, what does your even model of a product looks like? Is it with a freemium on top, book a demo or acquisition channels through reports, content, social media, videos, brand? It’s all of these aspects or tactics that come together to define your plan of taking your offer to the markets.

We covered quite a few areas and functions within that. That includes the product piece, marketing and sales but you not mentioned about customer success or even customer support explicitly. How do you view that critical function within B2B SaaS especially?

It’s one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle. When you decide if you are in sales that are marketing lead or product lead, there are different functions that form. For me, customer success is one of the most important and crucial pieces of the puzzle with the customer experience or customer support, depending on how we call it. It’s a continuity of this offer. The go-to-market is not only at the acquisition level but it’s also at the retention level and expansion level. Cascade works in a way where we have land and expense. Our customer success teams are the people that are helping the account or the customers grow using Cascade. They are extremely important in go-to-market because they are extending the brand and they are a huge monetization source for our job.

Let’s switch gears a little bit over here more onto the lighter side of things. How do your parents/kids, if you have them, describe what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I do not have kids. It’s funny because my parents would say and have been saying something for many years that I’m a director and I do stuff that makes businesses successful. Did they ever understand what I do? Never. They just throw some names and words. They say, “He works in software. He’s a director. He’s involved in strategy and data. He helps companies.” That’s how my parents would define me.

They nailed the definition very well. It’s a combination of you help companies, strategy and you help them succeed. What else do you want?

When you are delivering results and always leaving on good terms, you can find the next shop easier. Click To Tweet

It has been the same definition for many years. Even though my job has changed so many times, that’s how my dad is always saying. He’s Lebanese. He always starts with the word, “He’s a director. If you don’t know he’s a director, you have to know that he’s a director.” Even when I wasn’t a director, in his eyes, I was a director which is funny.

If you are a chief operating officer, which you are now but you’re still a director to him?

For him, it did not change.

Let’s talk about the journey or your career evolution. You’ve done multiple roles, all the way from risk analyst to product marketing and you are responsible end to end for all the go-to-market functions at Cascade. Walk us through the journey. Also if you can, touch on the inflection points. What led you to that next level of growth?

Starting a long time ago, I always wanted to be a filmmaker but I ended up being a software and energy engineer. I graduated. I did not want to be a software engineer but I wanted to be always in technology. The fancy fast at that point was the strategy consultant role that I took. At the end of my university, I worked in management and strategy consulting for two years. I was lucky enough that all my projects were digital transformations. All of it was about moving to the cloud, building a new infrastructure and information systems for the core business of the businesses I worked with, retail banking, insurance, government, administration and also energy. That ended with me asking myself the question, “What do I like? I’m exposed to all of these industries and businesses. I like the strategy piece but what do I want to be doing from now on?”

The answer was that the digital piece, the software piece. I moved to Amadeus, which is one of the largest companies in the world that enables airlines to connect with travel agencies. Travel is a very common word we hear. I used to work there as VP of product, helping them with all the strategy presentations, roadmap, business planning. From that, I moved to Seattle from Paris and worked for Expedia. I was working on almost the same concepts, but this time, I’m working for a SaaS business. We call it strategy product marketing.

It is interesting because it’s almost like the intersection of the go-to-market piece, which is taking this offer to the market but also talking to the product managers and engineers about what is the right product that we want to build, who are we building it for, how can we help build a product in a child mode and build layers on top of each other rather than building a sequence of things? I worked in product marketing at Expedia for three years. Then I received a message online from a very nice guy who called me. He said, “Would you like to call Bondi Beach home?” Bondi Beach is the largest beach in Sydney and the most known one. I was like, “Why not? I could explore this. I’ve been in Seattle. It’s been rainy. I love the city, but I could use some sun. What is the company that you’re working for?” That was SafetyCulture.

Before we dive into your role at SafetyCulture, there’s something unique which I’ve not seen in a lot of people that I’ve met. It’s your ability and openness to move across geographies. You started out in Seattle, moved to France or Paris and all the way to Australia. There are two pieces. One is your willingness and wantingness to shift. How do recruiters or hiring managers reach out to you? How do you let them know that you are open to moving across geographies?

I was born in Lebanon, half of my life in France, studied in Spain, did some internship in the UK and lived a bit in Berlin. I’m trying to help a startup. I stayed there five months before Amadeus. I never talk about it, but that was a very good experience for me to try to do something. I moved from Paris to Seattle and Seattle to Sydney. Hopefully, I’m going to call Sydney home. For me, the curiosity about exploring new cultures and exchanging ideas with different people from different backgrounds has always helped me learn, evolve in my mindset and look at things from a very different perspective. I worked with very large organizations in Europe and the Middle East. One of the first projects I worked on was for BNP Paribas. It’s one of the largest banks in Europe.

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies
Go-To-Market Strategies: Any framework can work. It’s all about the content of your strategy.

 

I used to work with five entities. The Turkish, Italian, Belgian, Moroccan and French ones. That was almost one of the first exposure to culture and how different countries work. I learned from every single piece of it a massive experience. I decided that the more I get exposed to culture, talk to different backgrounds and people from different countries, the more and faster I would evolve. My commitment to myself is every three years I’m going to move a country until I settled down somewhere that I find myself very happy in but also driving myself into the career level that I wanted to be at.

There are two pieces to my question. One is what you seek and what you want to do? There’s also the other piece of the pool. Companies, recruiters and hiring managers need to know that you are available. Is it more of you pushing and approaching them or are they pulling you like in SafetyCulture? It looks like they pulled you or reached out to you.

I have never applied for a job aside from the first one out of university. I feel lucky that I had this path to jobs where I was working hard and trying to be almost referred all the time. In Amadeus, I knew people in there before I joined. I got posted from Amadeus by the customer, Expedia and then I got the outreach from LinkedIn to move to SafetyCulture. It’s the same thing with Cascade. When you are active, delivering results, helping companies and always living on good terms, you can find the next shop easier. That was something that happened to me, luckily enough for in my career.

I want to reiterate for the readers, especially those who are more earlier on in their career. The key point that you emphasize there is to do a good job no matter what your role is. At some point in time, you will be recognized. When you leave a company or team on good terms, it will be a ripple effect.

The confidence you build comes from your determination to achieve stuff but also from a mindset that you set for yourself, which is the one I always said, “Always chase two jobs ahead. If you always look for two jobs ahead, you perform in your job in a very different way that you become excellent at the scope that you’re doing but way more than what you are supposed to be doing. Very quickly, it will be very noticed that you are bigger than the job so you get the job faster. The next job that comes in is too level faster than what you were aiming for with the same company where you are at.”

Let’s take the example of you are at SafetyCulture and when you were joining SafetyCulture, let’s apply your principle, which is you’re thinking about two jobs ahead. How did you approach that when you landed at SafetyCulture?

I have a strategy when I come to a new business which is my six first months are the hardest work I ever do in a business. I work extremely hard. I meet and help every person, whether it’s a small or big thing. I try to bring all my experience. I read so much. I become obsessed by the business model, industry and the problem that the company is solving. In my first six months, I arrived and did that same way. I connected with everyone. I learned everything. After six months, you become almost the go-to that people come to, ask questions and recommendations. That’s what I have done at SafetyCulture and what I’m doing as well is helping everyone trying to understand.

There’s a concept that could be a bit controversial but I don’t try to listen too much. When you come to a new business, it’s the best opportunity for not listening too much and bringing something different. That’s something I always do. “This is what you have been doing. I would suggest this.” I listened to it but then I also try to push them for new things that they haven’t been exploring. I’m getting this idea of saying, “For the next three months when you start a job, just listen. You become part of what you have listened to then you are not able to change.” If I summarize what I said before, I work hard. I understand everything but at the same time, I’m pushing for change and bringing new stuff as soon as I can, not just listening.

Talk about what you’ve done at SafetyCulture that led you to what you’re doing at Cascade.

The confidence you build comes from your determination to achieve stuff, but also from a mindset that you set for yourself. Click To Tweet

SafetyCulture is the newest unicorn of Australia. I joined them when they were at a $440 million evaluation. They are sitting at $2.1 billion. We had two funding raise series in my time there. The main thing that I have done with them is driving focus, shifting almost the entire strategy of the business through narrative, trying to find what is the best narrative that we should be designing and then start building towards this narrative. It was the continuation of what Luke Anear, the CEO has done. I tried to lift up a lot of our concepts and stories to meet the next level of the story, which is this platform for operations that helps businesses perform better through quality checks, safety checks and operation checks. This is my biggest addition to SafetyCulture during my time with them.

You were at SafetyCulture and leading product marketing, includes the life cycle marketing and customer marketing also. Not just at the prospect or the buyer stage but even after. I clearly recall from our conversation maybe what it was. One thing that stood out was your love and passion for segmentation, as well as hitting the right customer journey points, delivering value throughout. That was a key. That’s what I saw in you.

Let’s talk segmentation. That was the biggest outcome but narrative comes from a lot of research, analysis, discussions with customers, talking to existing customers, people online, prospects and businesses in general. You come to a decision around your customer segmentation. Also, I did customer profiles and target audiences. As soon as they arrived to SafetyCulture, I took what I did at Expedia, which is customer segmentation. Customer segmentation has always been the driver of this narrative that I talked about but has also been the biggest thing that helps businesses restructure their teams to be focusing on what matters, ideal customer profile and building all the narrative around the target audience that you are looking at.

When you are talking about improving operations, increasing the quality and safety, you’re targeting almost a larger organization because this is where the silos start happening and distributed teams are across different departments and locations. The segmentation was a foundational work that helped the whole business streamline, focus, build a better narrative, design all our marketing campaigns as well as our product roadmap, help us build the right product, offer and narrative. Thanks for reminding me of this. I’m almost doing the same thing with Cascade.

That leads to your role, which is what you’re doing at Cascade. That’s a big jump when you are earlier responsible for product marketing pieces. Now as a COO, you’re responsible for different aspects, not just within marketing but even within sales and other pieces. Talk to us about how you’re making that mental shift. Let’s start off with that first.

One of my biggest weaknesses is that I have always been able to build on top of something but I’m never a starter. I don’t start things. I finished them well. The other thing is I have always been in theoretical jobs where I tell people what we should be doing, “This is a strategy, plan, the best way to get there, how I would structure teams, build the product and talk to the customer.” It has always been my job to be advising, recommending and showing how we should be doing it. At the end of SafetyCulture, I was getting frustrated by myself because I’m never executing. I’m never on the operational side of the business and see if what I say makes sense on the ground. When I met with Tom, the Founder and CEO of Cascade he said, “Do you want to co-manage the business with me?” I was like, “What does that include?” He said, “Everything, from the theory and the strategy to the execution.”

This was the best next step for me because I was thinking, “What do I do next?” That was the best outcome because this is the first time I’m exposed to the execution. I’m also accountable for the results. Not only for the theory. It’s always easier for me to say, “I told you so,” when it didn’t work. How do you execute it sometimes was the hardest part. I’m figuring this out because a lot of my concepts, principles and theories are being exposed to the execution and getting concretized.

Are all of them working? Absolutely not, but executing them that I’m realizing where I was failing and falling short. I’m managing all the customer-facing teams. The marketing, customer success, account executive and customer experience. I’m also managing the operational side of the business with the finance, people and performance with the operation. Moving offices are included. At the same time as this feeding as much as they can into our PLG model that we’re building into our freemium, structure overall, into our organizational strategy and the product that we are shaping up to the next level. That was the main rationale for me moving. This is how I did the move so far.

This was one of those inbound like Tom or someone approached you for a role similar to your previous roles?

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies
Go-To-Market Strategies: Strategies are techniques to hit the goal. They should change as you learn what is working and what is not.

 

I had a Headhunter calling me. He said, “Would you like to work for a company that is disrupting the world of strategy and redefining how the execution of strategy is the key to success?” That reminds me of something. I always have done beautiful PowerPoint in my management consulting experience. We would sometimes leave even earlier than the strategy is presented or even committed. It was a beautiful PowerPoint slide. I was very good at design. These strategies sit on a shelf for 6 or 7 months. Seven months later, they will do another strategy. The other one would have never been executed because it’s too late but it’s always this cycle. In January, you want to go to the gym. February, you have 2 or 3 birthdays and never go to the gym again, then in May, you pick it up. It’s the same with strategy. That’s why I got excited for this topic of strategy getting executed. When the Headhunter called me, I was like, “I want to do this. Let’s talk about it.”

What you’re doing at Cascade is you’re building products that help other teams execute their strategy better but at the same time, you are responsible for the execution of your strategy. When I was at SugarCRM, I was doing product marketing there and responsible for one of the products that we were looking to launch there. I’m telling others how they should do the job better but it also applies to me where I should be doing the jobs. It’s almost duckfooting.

It’s funny when we are in product marketing how we see the world from a very different perspective. Because product marketing becomes a coach in some ways, we all listen to each other. We agree on things. I call it anonymous. We go into a room and talk about it. No one understands us. No one wants to listen to us. We go out of the room even more empowered and feeling that we were absolutely right but that was painful when you execute it. Cascade is about strategy execution and acceleration. Ourselves, we use Cascade to hit every next milestone we have. It’s a simple concept where you put your plans in one place and assign goals, not just projects.

You assign the strategic focus areas of the business to people and hold them accountable. You’ll have them define the projects, leading, lagging KPIs and then start seeing how they are working on a daily basis towards the strategic goals that they have set with the business. It’s an immersion of bottom-up and top-down meetings together because that leadership team is sharing a vision, direction and context. The teams are building their own strategy with the energy, buy-in and adoption that you always need in a business to make a strategy happen.

Explain to us as to what is a need for a product that will help the execution of strategy? What are the gaps that are out there? You have big brands as your customers. How are they using your product Cascade in executing their strategy? What kind of results are they seeing?

Every business needs to put a strategy together then execute it. The problem that Tom has found when he started Cascade and built the platform around 2016, 2017 was that people want to plan and keep planning for 2, 3 or 6 months sometimes. They never get the opportunity to execute because they think that the plan is not ready. It’s all about the perfect and communicating the plan but the reality is one month after you started the plan is where you start needing to change some of the plan. You are looking at a specific goal that you want to hit at the end of the year and you start building strategies to get there. Strategies are tactics to hit the goal. Strategies should be changing as you learn what is working and not working.

When he started discovering the pain of customers, all we’re saying is that we have a strategy but it never gets executed. When COVID hits, strategy took a backseat. I try to do one hour of strategy per week but the rest is BAU, Business As Usual. This is where we figured out the biggest problem of customers, which is, “How do we help customers execute on amazing strategies and plans that they start the year with and they never get realized at the end of the year?” The platform was built this way, saying, “Let’s plan and manage the execution but at the same time, let’s tracked in real-time what is happening. The tracking helps you feedback to the plan, change the plan over time. PowerPoint and Excel file does not let you do this.”

The other side of the world is task management and project management. The challenge with task management and project management is that it does not look at the context and the big picture. You can do ten projects and those are extremely well executed. All of them finished on time but the combination of the project does not drive the results of businesses. The biggest thing that I would say when you execute strategy and start with the biggest focus areas is this alignment where you align people towards bigger goals rather than cited in into projects that sometimes don’t connect to each other.

That’s a big topic. We can spend hours and hours diving into that strategy piece, definition and execution. The challenge with that is a lot of things. When you talk to a lot of the people within industry, the sea strategy is a buzzword. They see that more as a very shiny object versus what many people don’t realize, especially when they look at the mid, the lower management or even the individual contributors. It’s a vehicle for everyone to align.

If you always look for two jobs ahead, you perform your job in a very different way. Click To Tweet

Two things happen. The first one is people focus on the framework and they say, “We are moving to OKRs.” What does that mean? You’re moving to OKRs, but what is your strategy? What are you trying to achieve? How do you break it down into smaller pieces is what matters. It’s not the problem of the framework. Any framework can work. It’s all about the content of your strategy. The second one is how do you fix this messy middle? You have your executive that understands the vision. They are trying to communicate. It’s very often to the teams that are attending them that this is what we want to be. They tend to speak about goals all the time. They say, “This is a strategy but this is just the goal.” The strategy is the definition of how to get there. You got the people on the ground very busy with tasks, doing stuff. They are doing what they were told, but then there’s this messy middle that sometimes it’s not able to translate this vision into tasks from this direction, feeding back from the bottom up the feedback and the results in a structured way that is feeding into the vision and the direction of the business.

Let’s bring it back to the core topic of this show which is go-to-market. How would you describe explain the go-to-market of Cascade? What do you see are our big goals for the remainder of 2021?

We are a SaaS business. We have a free trial that gives you access to the product to see the value that you can get. As soon as possible, we try to communicate with our ideal customer profiles to help them when strategy becomes a very complex topic, where there are many departments and many teams trying to align and fix a strategy. This trial is converting to PLG freemium model. Our biggest focus in terms of go-to-market is to address this breadth, try to open and make strategy available to everyone through this freemium concept where they can use Cascade to a certain level with higher level and high-value features that can help them achieve everything they want to a certain extent.

You talked about product-led growth, freemium and free trial, which means it is a bottom-up strategy in this case where the end-user has some challenge or pain. They feel the pain in understanding and executing the strategy. In your case, who is that persona? Let’s speak an example of a marketing team or even a sales leader. Who’s a person who feels the pain, reaches out to Cascade and downloads Cascade?

Every time we speak about PLG, a lot of businesses immediately think about the end-user as a very low level in the organization but it’s not always true. In our situation, our first users are sometimes head of the operation, head of supply chain, head of strategy, head of finance, feeling that pain based on their KPIs that they are not hitting. They believe that there is an efficiency and effectiveness problem within their company. They reached out and tried to do it themselves. Are we 100% self-serve? We are not yet there. Our account executives get in contact with them, the ICP, Ideal Customer Profile and try to help them go faster on the journey. This approach is the proactive approach to some of the customers that land into Cascade. We take them on the journey faster through human interactions and communications.

We have them build a plan and then identify who is involved in the strategy, who are the departments that need to be on to execute the strategy? It’s almost like a London Expand for this cohort of customers. We jumped into calls and conversations with them as soon as possible. Then you got the self-serve side, which is the other type of customers, which are small companies, which would be a place where they can build a plan and execute it with 5 to 10 people. It’s very often the CEO of the business. They are a small company. It’s still top-down from that perspective if you take examples off like Johnson & Johnson, one of our largest customers.

They use the platform to roll out the COVID vaccine. That’s their biggest project. It’s led by the supply chain team. They are bringing on boards all the distribution teams, their relationship with their customers and how do they roll out the vaccine in the most effective way. They start almost figuring out who is involved in these strategies and bring them onboard through an expansion of the use case every day. We enable these conversations from a strategy perspective. We enable them with support, whether it’s at a product level or organizational level as well.

That gives us a better sense of who your personas are as well as when you talk about the Freemium. I have a much better sense now as to how they reach out to you and experience the free pod. It’s a combination. It’s not entirely productive growth. For me, when I think about productive growth, Freemium and bottom up, it’s like products are like Zoom, where I can go download and run it on my own. Once I feel good about it, I can go talk to my team and upper management then we adopt Zoom. That’s just an example. Not that I’m promoting Zoom over here. That’s the model that comes to my mind.

The next level is when we get Freemium, you will be able to build a bottom-up plan and then involve your team. You can be the first user. The concept of the strategy involves someone that is thinking strategically about the team. Cascade is made for teams. It could be a team leader coming and bringing 2 or 3 people into the team or a team member bringing the team leader because they’ve heard of it. This is where the PLG would be almost 100% self-serve and driving our Freemium model.

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies
Go-To-Market Strategies: Customer success is one of the most important and crucial pieces of the puzzle with the customer experience or support.

 

What do you see are the top goals or the biggest goals for your team for the second half of 2021?

I’m not going to go into the details, but we are on a journey to double the business in 2021, double 0.5 in 2022 and hopefully be a unicorn towards the end of 2023, 2024. It’s all about two things. The first one is the breadth, bringing more organizations on board. The second one is the depth which is extending use cases within our existing customers. We are focusing on monetization for retention and engagement at the same time, as well as acquisition like every company does. The two North Star metrics for the business are monthly active users and ARR or what I would call NRR, which is the Net Revenue Retention of our existing customers.

You and your team pulled off the world’s first strategy festival. Talk to us about how you did that planning. We are talking about 10,000 registrations. That’s a big number and you pulled it off.

I met this crazy guy. He said, “I want to work for you.” I was like, “Lucas, what do you want to do?” He said, “Give me something and I would do it.” Lucas is Argentinian. He’s first is in his MBA at the university. He’s like, “I’m passionate about your topic. Give me a big thing and I would do it.” I was like, “Let’s throw the world’s first festival of strategy. Let’s make strategy fun and accessible for everyone.” He said, “Give me a week. Let’s build the plan.” After presenting some good concept he said, “We need comedy, live music and top-line speakers. I can commit to 2,500 registrations.” I was like, “It seems reasonable. What about we get a goal of 5,000?”

Almost two weeks of outreach, we were able to convince incredible speakers from large organizations like ex-CMO and CSO of Starbucks and Disney, General Manager at Heineken, General Manager of Cloud Azure, Microsoft, Head of Strategy at Google. With the names coming in to speak about strategy and why strategy is broken, we started seeing an incredible registration number going up then we hit the 5,000. I was like, “I never said 5,000. I said 10,000.” We hit the 10,000 through variety. That’s a lot of hustle. It’s lean execution with delivering the message that is right to our customers on social media. We did some paid marketing and email communication to our existing customers. We were able to make it.

You pulled out something that any big companies and even startups would wish for. I’m happy for you in what you did. It looks like you found a superstar in your event management and event person.

Thank you.

Even if you look across your shoulders to your peers in the industry, who played a big role in influencing and inspiring to what you are doing?

There were a lot of people on the journey that I was extremely inspired by. I learned from so many people a bit of things. To be very fair, the person that inspired me the most in my entire career was Luke Anear, the Founder and CEO of SafetyCulture. He inspired me the most because of his determination and thinking about the future with his teams while he’s talking about the present. It’s almost an incredible energy to show you the future as part of the present all the time and drive your motivation as if you were in the future, but you are in the present. I don’t know how to speak about this, but it was one of the game-changing moments of my life when you inspire people and giving context rather than control what they are doing but also give them the vision that did not happen and make them make it happen that same day. It’s something that I learned forever. His obsession for the customer and for the mission that has been driving the team has been outstanding for me. He influenced me a lot in my life.

Testing early is the best concept that applies to any business, industry, or job. Learn fast, fail fast, and improve fast. Click To Tweet

Clearly, strategy is a big topic for you but besides strategy, what topics are top of mind for you? How do you keep yourself up-to-date? Is it the combination of books, community, podcasts or even other forums? What are your vehicles for you to come up to speed and ramp up on those?

I haven’t been reading as much as I wish. I try to read a lot of blogs online. Reforge is one of my favorites when it comes to product-led growth, along with an open view. For me, what I also look at is a lot of inspirational leaders that can help me also speak better and communicate better what we’re trying to do with a team. It’s a heavyweight. We have grown the team from 30 people to 60. Am I doing everything right? I’m learning a lot. This leadership role needs a lot of communication skills and work on how to address problems that are company-wide but also how to communicate a vision every day without being too pushy but also without forcing some ideas on extremely incredible people around you in the team. I’m trying to talk to my mentors. Most of my knowledge comes from the mentors that I tried to connect with as well as the experience itself, reading about the business from Reforge, often to you and other companies, had been very useful for me.

The last question for you is if you were to wind back time and go back to day one of your first go-to-market roles, what advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s testing faster. I used to read too much online. Sometimes reading is not as good as we think because we read too much. We stopped at the theory and try to align to make that plan perfect. From a theoretical perspective, we do all the analysis, research and move testing to a bit far in the journey. Testing early is the best concept that applies to any business, industry and job. Learn fast, fail fast and improve fast is something that I didn’t use to do very well in the past.

How can people learn and find more about you? What is your final message to the audience?

First of all, thank you so much for reading. I’m talking about so much stuff. Thank you for this opportunity. I’m trying to be very active on LinkedIn. Anyone that needs any recommendation or advice on anything let me know on there. I answer very practically and quickly as well.

Thank you so much for your time, Karim Zuhri.

Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it, so thank you so much.

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About Karim Zuhri

B2B 21 | Go To Market StrategiesI help companies scale up and grow into unicorns. I build teams of teams.

My mantra: build a people culture, guide with data and lead for impact.

Passionate for technology, product and growth strategy formulation, polyglot B2B Product and Growth senior leader with a multi-cultural, engineering and management consulting background.

Demonstrated track record of strategic led growth through building, delivering and servicing SaaS products and operations excellence.

In 2018 – 2020, I helped building and growing one of Australia’s newest unicorns, SafetyCulture, valued at $1.3 billion (in the middle of a pandemic, April 2020). A fast-growing operations & safety PLG platform with 400+ employees globally with 100% YOY revenue growth.

In 2018, I managed 2019 USD 15M+ growth and marketing plan including strategy, company-wide programs, budget, financial models, investment scenarios and digital marketing platforms.

In 2018, I managed a global segmentation & customer insights team (12 people, 7 departments), which helped shape and redefine the company go-to-market approach and customer strategy (product priorities for ICP, customer success, marketing and sales structure). This resulted in significant QoQ growth quickly after implementation.

In 2016 – 2017, I managed and launched a new pricing model for customer service generating over 4M€ of company additional revenues at European level.

“I could either watch it happen, or be part of it.” – Elon Musk

“Every person I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn from them.” – Emerson

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