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! 

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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.

Important Links:

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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B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

 

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

 

One of your main goals as an entrepreneur is to grow your business. While there are many ways you can go about that, Sangram Vajreco-founder at Terminusbelieves that the most important thing is for you to truly understand the go-to-market and what a good market isHe tells Vijay Damojipurapu that go-to-market is a process of transforming your business consistently and there are different stages that can help you with it. There’s the ideation stage, transition stage and the execution stage. All these stages combined with a great understanding of the platform market fit and product market fit will create path to your business’ success. 

Listen to the podcast here

Grow Your Business Exponentially By Identifying Your Go-To-Market Strategy With Sangram Vajre

I have with me theone and only Sangram Vajre. Sangram, welcome to theshow. I’m super excited to have you here.

Vijay, I am looking forward to this. We’re going for it. Let’s see what comes out of it.

This is the first time that I’m doing an ad hoc show and let’s go with the flow. I know it’ll be super valuable and insightful for the audience as well. Let’s start with the signature question that I always ask all my guests which is, how do you define go-to-market

Creating market is something that most people don’t think about. Click To Tweet

It’s an important question as I’m sure everybody’s talking about it. As you know, I’m writing a book on go-to-market, so this is very near and dear to me. I’m going to give you two. One is a simplistic one based on my interview with Brian Halligan, who is the CEO of HubSpot. I think he nailed it. One is more of a holistic one where you connect the dots when you pull everything together. One of the interviews that I did for the book was with Brian. They just crossed that public company with 100,000 customers. When I asked him about go-to-market, his response was, “It’s like a product.” That’s his view on it. It’s not something that you go on an offside and draw a bunch of different things, get your team together, kumbaya and then you’re done. No, it’s a product so it’s iterative. It is bug fixing all the time. It goes off the rails and then you have to pull it back in. You have to continue to change, edit and keep moving. He looks at go-to-market as a product. I felt like that nailed it in a sense.

Now, taking a more bookish definition of this thing, what I’m writing down is that go-to-market is a transformational process. It’s a process of transforming your business consistently. It’s a transformation process of accelerating your path to market. That path to market could be many different forms, but it’s a path to market with high-performing revenue teams. That’s where a lot of people mix it up.A lot of people think it’s marketing and sales, but it’s marketing, sales and customer success. What all of this does is creating a connected customer experience out there. Putting it all together,go-to-market is a transformational process for accelerating your path to market with high-performing revenue teams, delivering connected customer experiences.

I love both those definitions and views. I love what Brian mentioned there, which is having the perspective and lens of go-to-market as a product. It’s evolving. There’s a V1 version and a V2 version. It’s always evolving. There’ll be bugs that you need to fix. The only thing that I would add Sangram is absolutely for sales and marketing-led organizations is those companies and the teams, which is the marketing sales and customer success. When it comes to the product-led growth teams, you got the product. You also have the user experience and the design teams. 

It’s definitely a big part of it and quite frankly, when I was researching if I should write another book, this will be my third book as part of this journey, I’m like, “I’m not writing into the ABM book. I’m done. I’ve written two of them.” What came about as part of the research was most people forget customer success. They completely missed out on that. You and I both know that retention in many ways is the best way to grow your company. If you can retain your customers and more importantly, if you can upsell and cross-sell or as we like to call it upserving our existing customers, you’re going to have an outsized impact and valuation on your business, but most businesses are not thinking about it that way.

It’s interesting but you bring in a great perspective. When I was researching, the only types of books I found on go-to-market were either channel-based like channel sales-oriented or product launch. The go-to-market product launch in a new region, go-to-market launch of a product in the same region or new product. Itbifurcated either into sales or product launches. It missed it. You’re right, the product is a big part of it and without that, it won’t work. There are other elements to it, which is the team or what team looks like, the RevOps, how the operations of the company look like. We can talk about that. Ultimately, the ownership like who owns it. I think that also becomes a mystery for a lot of people. I had so much fun researching and working on this thing.

We can go on this topic for hours together especially the RevOps who owns it, but we’ll save that for a later time in the show.Let’s switch gears a bit over here. Walk us through your journey. What brought you to this stage from maybe your grad days. Why did you go down this path? Enlighten us on that. 

My master’s is in Computer Science.Most people think master’s is amazing and you have to do a lot more work. For me, it was party time. By the time, I got into master’s program, everybody would ask me to go and present the stuff they create. It was all project-based. I thought, “I’m a great presenter. That’s why they’re asking me to present my team. They will always want me on the team so that I can go and present. Years later, they told me the truth which is, “You know what? You’re just a bad coder. We didn’t want you to code, so we pushed you on the stage.” It gave me a kick into the idea that I love communicating. I love the a-ha moment that people would get when you can take a problem and put it out there in a way that people can consume it and people can repeat it and relate to it. It made me think like, “That’s something interesting.”

Over the period of the first few years after graduation, I got a taste of marketing. I even had a couple of start-ups that failed miserably and those were moonlighting it. I love the fact that I can launch a website overnight. I can launch a product. I can see what happens. I can see from messaging if it’s going to work or not going to work and change it on the fly. I think that those dopamine shots of what marketing gives you was amazing. Iwent from being a program manager at a pretty good-size company to finding a marketing analyst role in a start-up because Iwanted to learn the art of marketing. I didn’t have a marketing background. Long story short, I feel like that has given me the edge because I’m not looking at it from a marketing perspective. I’m looking at it from a people perspective. I don’t even have a marketing way of looking at it. It’s like, “What would I like? What would people want to go? How would people want to engage? How do we bring things together?” That has helped me get to where I am now.

Back in the 20152016 timeframe, you decided to co-found your own company. Why did you go down that path? A lot of people call the founders crazy folks like, “Are you out of your mind or what? Why did you go down that path and how did that help you grow in terms of go-to-market?

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business
Grow Your Business: Retention is the best way to grow your company. You can retain your customers and more importantly, you can upsell and cross-sell.

 

I shared some of this sometime back in one video that we raised in the last round. We’re having our second baby, my daughter Kiara. I was at Salesforceso I was doing fine. My wife, Manmeet had quit her job and she was at home. We wanted to have that time with our kids and then I meet these two co-founders of Terminus. It’s classic. We meet at a bar and we’re like, “We need to do this thing.” I get super excited, come back home and tell my wife. I was like, “I want to do this thing called Terminus. It’s a brand-new thing. Nobody knows about it,” which is pretty much what everybody says in the start-up world“It’s going to be big. It’s going to be massive.”

We just had our second baby. After a week of back and forth, my wife said to me, which was the most powerful thing in my life and something that most people don’t think about and overlook what you need in a partner. She looked at me and said, “Sangram, I know you want to do this and if you don’t do it, you’re going to regret it.” I’m like, “You’re absolutely right.” She did something that every partner should do. She said, “Fine. I’m going to go get a job,” and she got a job in a couple of weeks. We put our baby in a daycare, which we didn’t plan to at that time so early on like six weeks into the process. She said, “Here’s the thing.” This is the most powerful thing of all. She said, “You have one year. In one year, show me this thing has legs. Otherwise, you’ve got to find a real job.”

You can think about the silence at that momentI got this opportunity for whatever but the timeline was incredible. From a go-to-market perspective, I feel like there was a clock on me and I wish everybody would think like they have a clock on them. I had one year to prove this. Otherwise, I’ll have to do something else. We did the Flip My Funnel movement. We launched and we did four events in the first year to build this ABM movement around that. We brought in even our competitors to speak at our events. We can talk about that.

It was our go-to-market strategy. It was to build an industry event, an industry conference, an industry movement so people would look at us. Otherwise, who would look at the first-time co-founders out of Atlanta? Nobody. We wanted to create a movement so that the industry will look at it and I only had one year to prove it. We hit $1 million in revenue in the first year. I remember walking in every day, looking at her. We have two kids. She’s doing a job and everything else that a mom does and I’m trying to do all this stuff. If she wouldn’t have put that timer on me, I don’t think we would have done some of the crazy things we did.

Kudos to your wife. It’s wonderful to have such a great partner and I’m sure you are exuding gratitude every day. I can sense that between the two of you there.

Honestly, as you raised, I shared this openly. I took some chips off the table and I went back and said, “Here’s the money. You don’t have to now go get a job or do the job,” because she’s been doing that for the last six years. It’s a choice that you have if you want to work or not. In a way, it opened up doors for her and she could just get back to the way she wanted to go. It’s a long journeylike six years. I didn’t think either one of us thought it will take me six years to go or do anything, but I think we’re finally back in a position where she has a choice as opposed toshe has to do it.

You mentioned about in year one, you brought in $1 million in revenue. I’m assuming you were bootstrapping omaybe some amount of Angel investment back then. 

We hit it early, about $300,000 from David Cummingswho was the CEO of Pardot to kickstart. In the first year, we hit $1 million, the second we hit $5 million, and the third we hit $15 million. That was our first three years of trajectory.

It goes back to your core principle and core value as well, which you executed in year one which is without a community, you’re a commodity.

I learned that. I was at Salesforce so I saw what Marc Benioff did with Dreamforce. When you think about HubSpot, the reason we know Brian and he had invested in Terminus is because he looked at this and said, “You remind us of us because HubSpot started inbound. That’s why I feel like in many ways, Terminus is doing like if you talk about category leadership or category creation, you’re not trying to create a market fit company. You’re creating the market. It’s a different idea. At some point, you need to go back to the product fit and we can talk about the three stages of the business. Ultimately, we were in a position where we have to create the market because the market did not know, care about and did not see ABM. There was no analyst talking about it. There was nothing.

There is a bigger vacuum. Talking about crossing the chasm, there was just chasm. There was nothing. There was no crossing going on. It was a whole chasm that we had to put a bridge on for people to move from one side of lead-based funnels that has been from the beginning of time of sales and marketing to flipping the funnel and saying, “No, you don’t have to do that.” It was creating the market. I feel very fortunate to be part of that.

As part of what I do at my company, the go-to-market consulting company named Stratyve, I get to work with founders and interact with founders. One piece of advice that I give them is how they can get and find and earn their first set of early buyers. When you’re going from zero to one, that’s the fundamental challenge. When I advise them around doing outbound initially, but with the end goal to drive inbound. It’s not just outbound cold calling and that’s about it, but you actually are building affinity towards your product, company and brand. One thing that they struggled with is and they adopt the principles of is, “Let’s just go and sign up the first beta customers, the first pilot customers,” Whereas you do the other approach, which is to build a community, a following, and then they’ll come to you for your product. 

If you think about it, going back to the timer, I had one year. One year is too short of a time to create a product and product-market fit and all this stuff. Even the Flip My Funnel was by accident. I don’t want to take full credit for it saying that it was so brilliant that we came up with that. It was an accident. When we launched Terminus, we said, “We need to do an event and let people know.” I reached out to all the people I knew who could sponsor it and nobody wanted to sponsor it. I asked them why. They said, “We don’t know Terminus. We don’t want to back your product. We don’t even know what you guys do.” I’m like, “That’s crazy.” I’m like, “Fine.”

For marketers who are in the ideation stage, don’t try to look at segment and cohorts. It won’t make sense to you. Click To Tweet

This idea of Flip My Funnel came about on a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, where I was stuck in the middle seat between two drunk people. I was flipping on a piece of paper, the funnelI’m like, “What if it was Flip My Funnel?” By the time I landed, the Flip My Funnel thing was born. It was just a crazy flight but I reached out to the same peopleI hope people lean into this one. When I reached out to the same people again after a month saying, “We scrapped that idea. I just bought a domain for $8 called Flip My Funnel and I want you to sponsor the Flip My Funnel Conference, which is all about challenging the status quo of marketing and sales. There’s no need for you to do anything other than talk about how marketing and sales can challenge the status quo.”

Idid videos for people like Meagen Eisenberg and all these people who are influencers of that time saying, “I would love for you to come and speak at this event. I’m not asking you anything other than you speak. You get the keynote. We are reaching out to our competitors and said, “You can come in and do a keynote.” We will be in a booth like everybody else. What’s interesting is 300 people showed up at the first event. What I learned in that very thing is that people don’t want to be behind a product. They want to be behind a movement, a problem that they want to be solved.

You go back and hindsight is 20/20. Salesforce could have created Salesforce but they created Dreamforce. HubSpot has created HubSpot, but they call it inbound. Gainsight created Pulse. Growth created hypergrowth.Terminus created Flip My Funnel. Now you can start seeing the groundwork of that’s the way to build newer birth almost in that new category. That wasn’t something we did. We did that out of because we didn’t have funding and nobody wanted to sponsor our event. It came out of complete necessity.

Creating a market is something that most people don’t think about. That is part of the early stage go-to-market. You can be either a product feature company immediately and if the problem is there, it makes sense. If you want to build a billion-dollar business, you have to go beyond the product in the early days. We could have called ourselves account-based advertising because that’s all we did in the beginning, but we didn’t call that because it would have been limiting for us to call over sales and advertising, and then we’ll have to rebrand ourselves and reimagine. We wanted to call it bigger. That’s the vision of trying to build a category. It’s a journey between in many ways, what I look at and what I’ve written in the book around problem-market fit to product-market fit to platform-market fit. We can dive into it if you want.

 

 

We are still working on our product but guess what? Salesforce is still working on its product. It’s a never-ending thing. There’s always one more feature that will change the world, but it never does. You’re absolutely right. We obsess too much about the product. People don’t want to get behind the product. They want to get behind the problem so it’s a bigger story.

Let’s dive into your new upcoming book. You mentioned the three phases. I think you walked us through maybe phase 1. Walk us through the phase 2 and 3 that you talked about in the book and how you see Terminus where it is now versus in the next couple of years.

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business
Grow Your Business: If you want to build a billion-dollar business, you have to go beyond the product early on.

 

The book has a framework that I’ll get into in a minute, but at the highest level, at the stage level, it talks about the three stages, which is ideation, transition and execution. Let’s imagine those as the three stages. An ideation stage is the problemmarket fit. Is there a real problem? Is the market big enough? That’s a classic challenge that every early-stage founderwould face and have to figure out and test everything they can. At some point, they go in and they find like, “We are able to sell this thing.” They go into this product market phase, which we all know in SaaStr and Jason Lemkin, all of them have evangelized that, which is you are able to sell it and you’re able to sell more of it. Now, you know what the market is. When you can sell it, you can increase the price of your product and you can go into multiple different segments.

At some point, even that stops or plateaus, if not dips because there’s only so much you can do and at that time, the market is vacant so more competitors are going to come in the market. Now if you are a product company, then you will have to start doing pricing war and territory war, and all these things that don’t help. All of a sudden, you’re growing and you plateau or go down. The reason might be that this is the time that you need to go to the execution stage which I call the platformmarket fit. This is why every company at some point have more than one product. At the same time, even their market changes to go to more than one persona.

Let’s take our classic example like Salesforce. Salesforce stage was a sales CRM for ten years before they started to become a platform company by adding marketing and success and all the dev stuff that they have put in Chatter. All those things came up later and they turned them into platformmarket fit that allowed the existing customers to upsell, cross-sell and upserve. That’s why the retention is so much higher and the value of each customer is so much higher. It’s the journey of companies from problem market fit to product-market fit to platformmarket fit, and then the framework that we can go in a second, but I wanted to see your reaction to that. Those are the three business stages that have been outlined in the book. 

I see that as problemmarket fit, product-market fit, and then the platformmarket fit. I’ve seen variations as well. I also want to get your thoughts around where you see the productchannel fit within these three stages.

Without the product or without a good product, all of this would fail. At some point, you need to have a good product. People say that Salesforce has the best CRM in the entire world. Can nobody build a better CRM? Of course not. There are better CRM than Salesforce, but they created an ecosystem around it in such a stronger way that it’s hard for anybody to penetrate that and own it. They know it. I was at Salesforce. They are like, “We need to change this,” but they haven’t changed much of it and/or trying to because they’re adding different things and that still doesn’t become the main line of business. The product is at the core of it. It’s got to work but I would submit to you that it doesn’t have to be the best.

That is the part that is hard for people to listen to and almost feel like, “We’re popping out.” I’m like, “No, it doesn’t have to be the best.” Just like Excel spreadsheet, most people don’t use all the features of Excel spreadsheets. Somebody created these 90,000 features in it. It could be done with 25 features that we all need for the most part, but it still has 90,000 features. You don’t need that. You need the main thing. The product is very important but over-rotating on the product and feature is where people start saying the heavy investment in R&D and at the same time, you’re not paying enough attention to the market. You get competitors who can do what you do and maybe sleeker, faster or cheaper and then you get into another issue. Now the cost of your dev team becomes the issue. That should never happen. You should never be overspending on that unless you’re never going to have marketing and sales.

I think especially founders coming from a very product-intensive background. They over-rotate and overinvest in product features, especially when it comes to marketing and sales. You can invest in those in R&D, but when you go out and speak with your prospects, market and customers, and even partners, focus on those hero features. That’s what I call them. The hero features like 1 or 2 where your product kicks ass and does exceedingly well compared to alternatives.

I’m curious about your view on this because you’re working with so many different companies. It’s okay to realize that you’re not trying a new category. You’re trying to be in an existing category. Not everybody has to go and try to build a new category. As a matter of fact, everyone says, “We want to do what you did.” I said, “Don’t do it. It’s hard and painful. You don’t know if you’re going to make it.” We could have created a red carpet for ten other companies. We don’t know but it’s hard. We have to build a movement and a product on top of that, build the team. It just exponentially gets harder. Starting a company is not hard, so don’t do it. Not every company has to do it, but if you’re going to do it, you have to do it very authentically. You have to have a long-term view of it. It cannot be another marketing campaign. 

You hit that point very well, Sangram, which I want to emphasize and I’d say that to the folks I speak with as well, which is we all wish and dream that we are creating a category and doing the entire blue ocean strategy. That’s the Holy Grail. You don’t go with that on day one, only with that selfish intent versus go out in the mindset of, who are my buyers and how do I serve them in the best possible manner? In the process, if the category happens, you earned it. All of the forces aligned for it to happen. You cannot go out and create a category on day one.

I would have a different point of view on that. Either you go for it where you have that long leg. Can you imagine Marc Benioff not doing what he did in the early days? He wanted to go and create a new category. You think about Brian and Dharmesh, they wanted to go and do something. I remember this conversation. I asked Brian and Dharmesh with HubSpot when we’re talking about investments and all that. They’re like, “We are going to invest in it for the next ten years and we’re going to continue to invest in it.”

The valuation of your business and the ease of your business changes as your gross retention rate starts to get better. Click To Tweet

You look at the consistent pattern. It’s all the founders. Marc Benioff is the founder, I’m a founder, Brian and Dharmesh are founders, David Cancel for Drift is a founder, Nick Mehta is a founder. It is not a marketing campaign. It’s not a sales campaign. It’s not a tactical thing. It is the DNA of your company where you have to champion it. In many ways, you have the opportunity to lead when you decide to go do that, but when you are on it, if you don’t do it authentically, people are going to see through it and it’s going to be more harmful than not.

The way you can do it authentically and how you map that issincerely understanding your buyer. That’s where and what it boils down to. How do you go out and sincerely understand? You may have those bunch of meetings. You may not get that a-ha insight right away but stay curious. That’s what I always tell folks. If you look at Terminus now versus a couple of years downstream, where would you map Terminus to in the go-to-market phases?

We are right in the middle of product-market fit and platformmarket fit if you are in that phase because we acquired four different companies. We have multiple different products and we are creating. We definitely are from a product to platform, but we haven’t nailed the full market yet. We are 1,000 customers. We aregoing in the right direction, but we’re not there yet. It starts all over again. It’s an ongoing thing. The four questions that the book and regardless of what stage we are, you have to answer. I call it the MOVE framework, which is Market, Operations, Velocityand Expansion. That’s how you know where you are. Anybody who’s listening to it, you just have to keep asking the same question, but the answer is going to be different based on the stage of the business.

For example, in the ideation stage for the question of like, “Who should you market?” I don’t know. This one, I’m going to look at every heartbeat in this region. I know it’s customer success. I know it’s the market. You’re going to keep going at it and you’re going to figure out and market. In a product-market fit section in the second stage, you’re still asking the same question, but now you know where the product works and what your market looks like. The answer becomes how are we going to create segments? In the third one, think about the execution, the platformmarket fit, the same question, who should we market? Now you’re looking at customer cohorts and seeing which customer cohorts we can jump in. You can see the same question but in a different focus.

It’s the same thing for operations. The question is the same as, “What do you want or what do you need to operate effectively?” Not efficiently but effectively. In the early days in the ideation stage, you might have an ad hoc system to report and operate your business. It makes sense in your spreadsheet later on in the transition. Now you’re going to be aligned. You’re going to do account-based maybe and you get marketing and sales at a minimum aligned on it. If you go to the execution stage, for the most part, you’re probably going to have a RevOps team. Almost every organization is going to start having a RevOps team that no longer you’re going to walk into a meeting saying marketing has a different number and sales has a different number. You don’t need to do that. You can look at the maturity of your organization and jump into that.

The third one is a velocity question, the when question. When can we scale our business? I’m sure you get that question a lot. When can we scale that business? When we get to the problemmarket fit, that’s maybe because everything is reactive for you. At this point, you’re reacting to whatever comes through. The velocity hasn’t jumped in. In a product-market fit, now you’re becoming proactive. Everything is working and you’re trying to be proactive and get ahead of the sales quotas and making sure things are happening. In the execution stage, now you’re prioritizing. Now you’re pulling things together. You’re not looking for the next fire. You’re being opportunistic about it.

The last one is the expansion phase, which is the where question. Where can we grow? That’s the fourth question. The market is who, the operation is what, the velocity is when, and the expansion is where. Where can we grow the most? The answer lies in the same, in the ideation stage. Maybe it’s in the outbound sales team like you‘re talking about earlier, but in the transition stage, you may actually have a channel sales partnership like HubSpot. They have a 40% revenue coming from the agency, which is a completely new way of expanding without having all the people. As you grow, in the execution stage, it might be even further than that, different locations, EMEA, geographies, verticals, all that stuff. Using these four questions is almost the navigation for you across the three stages of the business. This is where a lot of my pieces lies off. 

That aligns very well with a conversation that I’m having with a founder of a CSD company. They found success in the enterprise market. Now, the founder and I were speaking and he wanted me to come up with a down-market scenario. A lot of people do the SMBs and then go upmarket. In this case, he wants to go down-market and go tackle the SMBs and the mid-market. During that phase, the founder was approaching with the mindset of, “I’ll have the SDR doing the cold calling and just building up all the pipeline, and a product marketer for all the demos. Eventually and hopefully, we close some sales. I go, “That’s not going to cut it. You can but a couple of years downstream, you’re going to get tired. It’s going to be exhausting.You’re essentially applying a scaled-down version of your enterprise, go-to-market motion to SMB, which may not fly. You want the efficiency.” 

also emphasize the path of you need to go back to basics. SMBs and mid-market is an entirely different category. They don’t know you. Find those early buyers. Going back to your three phases. That’s what I was telling this founder, you need to go back to basics and then once you attain that product-market fit, that’s when you apply scaling. Coming back to your MOVE, it’s the velocity and the execution phase.

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business
Grow Your Business: The product is every important but over-rotating on the product and feature is where people start saying the heavy investment in R&D.

 

It’s a game-changer. I love the pushback and I’m glad you brought that up. It’s important to recognize that companies can go upmarket, which is a normal thing that we would see, but also going down-market, which is like freemiums and products that they want to offer because they want to figure out the scale in it. That’s a completely different sales motion. That’s a completely different go-to-market motion. You can’t mix them because the cost of acquisition goes rapidly high on it. It’s a sales motion. Where you can grow, trying to answer the expansion questions, it’s very possible that companies would try a new boat with the same team, which sounded like what this team is planning to do. It might completely backfire because it’s not going to make sense from the ratio of that new to actual customers.The pricing won’t make any sense to have a full-time SGR working on all of those. You have to completely change your go-to-market motions.

That’s what I’m emphasizing on. You need to change your go-to-market motion in terms of it’s going to be a freemium or a free trial. You need to also focus on what I call a hero feature. What is that 1 or 2 features that will blow the mind of your buyers, such that it will increase that option and not just that, it’ll increase the virality effect. They are going to be your word-of-mouth referral machine if they love your product. That’s what I was pushing back on and emphasizing with this founder. 

It’s not easy. I think going down-market is way harder than going up-market for sure.

Let’s go into some of the things that I want to touch base with you, which is when it comes to 2021 and even 2022, what do you see are the major goals and challenges for Terminus? 

I think we are hitting a point because we’re right in the middle of the transition and execution, which is product market and platform market, we’re seeing what we should expect to see and going quickly back to that. The biggest challenge I see is people don’t know where they are. When they don’t know where they are, they’re measuring the wrong metrics and trying to emulate somebody else who they are not there yet. I hope that is important for the audience to know. If you’re in the ideation already stage, don’t try to look at segments and cohorts. It won’t make any sense to you. The metrics that you measure and talk about are very different. 

For us, we are moving forward from, how do we get the biggest $100,000-plus deals? How many more deals can we do just like that? How do we become in the magic quadrant? Not the Forrester Wave but also in Gartner Magic because that opens up the enterprise deals for us. How do we get there and stay there? How does our vision align with the analyst? After six years, analysts are finally saying ABM was a real thing. I’m like, “Great. Thank you. Put that magic quadrant again. We were looking forward to that. If you’re going to enterprise and that is the goal, we want some of these things to happen. We’re looking at our gross retention rates and stuff because as I said, the valuation of your business and the ease of your business changes as your gross retention rate starts to get better. Something that in the early days’ ideation stage, we don’t even care about it. We don’t even think about it. The churn was so crazy in the early days. Now our return, you don’t have as much churn anymore.

These are the areas that we are now trying to fine-tune because now our business is all about we can grow this much organically. We can acquire a company and then we can add to it. That’s how we can have immediately another $10 million to $20 million in revenue, and then connect those two and try to see where other markets can we open up. Part of platformmarket fit is having more products so your platform is growing, but also your market is growing. This is the part where many companiesfeel like they’re still going after the same market. We used to sell to CMOs. Now we’re also selling to CROs and CEOs. Our market has grown in that sense, different verticals, different regions have grown. It requires a different level of a set of people that can do those things as opposed to what we had before.

Something that struck my mind when you were talking about your market is growing, which is the entire notion of the total addressable market. It’s very misunderstood in the start-up community and even beyond. People think of the total addressable market as the whole world. That’s the extreme scenario versus in your case when you talk about the buyers, you’re targeting included the CMOs initially, and now you’re talking about the CROs and the COOs potentially. The initial definition of your TRM would be who are those CMOs that I can capture. It’s your niche. Focus on that one buyer and the user. That’s super important and then you can expand your TRM.

Identify whatever gift you have and double down on it. Click To Tweet

We call it something. I’m glad you touched on this because we now call TRM the total relevant market. It’s still a total market as you start to think about it, but you can go after the entire market at the same time with that precision and targeted marketing or anything like that. What’s your total relevant market? That should go from everybody in the SaaS industry in North America to everybody in the technology sector within North America that has $50 million or more in revenue and with 500 employees. You started going into squishing your total market down to the relevant market. This is where we shine. This is where our use case delivers. That’s where I think it will work at some point very quickly. As you hit $5 million, $10 million or $15 million in revenue, it breaks. You start over again. That’s what I’ve learned in the last years is that every $5 million or $15 million, everything breaks and you start over. It’s interesting.

I was listening to a podcast during my run. It was the founder and the CEO of WhiteHat Jr who started the startup. They have experienced super crazy growth. They went from 0 to 1 crorebecause their market is in India. We’re talking about the currency which is 1 crore to 100 crores in 12 to 18 months. I might be butchering the metrics and the growth rate, but it comes back to how he visualizes the various stages. It maps to your journey or what you’re talking about, which is the stage from when you grow from 0 to 100 employees or 10 employees initially. You go from 10 to 100 and 100 to 1,000 and beyond. Those are three different stages. It also maps to your three phases somewhat.

That’s why I wanted to write this book because it’s almost opposite to who I am in many ways. I wanted to be super inspiring. I want to go and speak at events and get people excited about it. The book is almost a definitive guide to how to go off and go-to-market based on all these interviews. This book is a how-to book. If you’re looking for a vision book, this is not it. If you’re looking for how to connect the dots with your vision and mission or how to put your team, this is not it. This is about regardless of what size of business and what stage you are, this will help you find where you are and more importantly help you get your next move. What your next move should be, which relates to the MOVE framework. It’s helping you to figure out the next move.

We’re coming more towards a closing section over here and somewhat of fun but different topic from GTM. Talk to us about this whole PEAK Community movement that you started. What is the genesis, the driving factor, and what you’re doing with that and who should be part of the PEAK Community?

I’m an extrovert. I like to be out there and be in the community, andCOVID didn’t help with that. Where do I go nerd out? I couldn’t find a spot where marketers get to nerd out and talk about marketing stuff,lot of things at marketing and sales. I’m like, “Great. That’s awesome but I want to nerd out as a marketer on top of branding. Talk about positioning, talk about ABM stuff, talk about all these things and I couldn’t find one.” In mid-2020, I started PEAK Community with a buddy of mine who also was like, “I’m helping a lot of people get jobs, but they don’t know what it takes to be a CMO.” We started this community called PEAK Community, which is for emerging CMOs and CMOs only.

This is not for anybody who’s just sitting around. If you want to do your thing, great. If you want to become a CMO one day or if you are a CMO, that’s what this group is about. We created a course for emerging CMOs. We bring in CEOs and CMOs to the emerging CMO group so they can get to ask them questions like,“How do you talk about equity? How do you talk about compensation? I’m a graphic designer. I want to be a CMO. What do I need to do? I will bring in a CFO and be like, “Have you ever talked to the CFO?” It’s so funny that most marketers have no idea how and what will it take to become a CMO. They would get stuck and frustrated because of their silo specialization. The whole PEAK Community is really for marketers who either want to be on a path of emerging CMOs or are CMOs and just get better. 

I think you’ve got a great community growing in PEAK. I joined out of curiosity and there are so many learnings. One thing that I took away and that I keep sharing with so many of the folks is as a marketer, it’s very easy for you to get so bogged down into the marketing and sales and product, maybe customer success. You need to go about that and start interacting and building the relationship with the CFO and HR.

Nobody talks about that. That’s the funniest thing. I asked marketers, “When was the last time you talked to your CFO?” “I don’t know. Why do I talk to them?” That’s a problem.

They’re giving you the budget. 

If you don’t know your CFO, you’re not getting budgets. Thanks for being in the community. It’s fun. It’s all run by marketers. I do one event a month in that, but every week there is somebody else running the marketing events, non-sales. This allows marketers to get a microphone and not feel like they’re judged. Every other Friday, expert or something where somebody’s like, “I run ops, graphics, design, product marketing and here’s how I put my dashboard together.” It’s a lot of fun learning.

The final question for you, Sangram, is if you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market career, what advice would you give your younger self?What is your first real go-to-market job?

I’m still looking for it by the way. The idea will be to not look for a job or not think about it as a job. If you find yourself like this is a job, you’ve already lost. What keeps me going or have kept me going has been the fact that I absolutely love what I do. As I said, we raised money. I could stop working now and be okay. That would totally make me go crazy because I love what I do. I love demystifying, making the complex simple, the ability to connect with people like what we’re doing right now, to come up with frameworks I love. I created the Flip My Funnel framework, the team framework in the last book, now the MOVE framework. I feel like that’s a gift that I have. I look at complex things and I try to make them simple.

Identify whatever gift you have and double down, triple down on it. There are a hundred million negative things with me. If you ask my wife, she will note every one of them very clearly, but this is a gift and it took me a long time to figure out. If I were to go back, I would have looked at and asked people around me much earlier to say, “What is the gift that I have that you see in me? Pinpoint me.” Maybe you can send an email to them. Maybe you can pick up the phone and call them. People around you know your gift already. It takes you a long time to dust off and figure that part out. If you know your gift and if you don’t, ask somebody near you and they will be able to tell you what your gift is. Just go for it. It took me a while to figure that out.

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business
Grow Your Business: A strength is something that you become good at when you put in time and effort. A gift is something so natural to you that it’s effortless.

 

I made that mistake too. First is getting past the barrier of asking for help. That’s hard. The next thing is you may know your strengths, but get that validated. Ask, go out and reach out to your peers, ex-bosses, ex-managers, CEOs that you worked with and your friends as well. Ask what did they see your number one or top 2 or 3 gifts areThat’s a very key point.

You mentioned something that I want to create a distinction for people. The strength and gift in my view could be the same but could also be different. A strength is something that when you put time and effort in there, you’re good at it. In most people, they can put enough effort and they get good at it. A gift is something so natural to you that it’s effortless. Some people will look at me like, “How do you run a daily podcast, how are you running a company, and how you’re creating a community?” I’m not trying to say that I can do all things, but it’s effortless for me because that’s my gift.

If you ask me to change the toilet cover, I’ll be looking at it for five minutes not knowing where to start. If you asked me to go and do coding again, I would be flabbergasted. Can I figure it out and learn? Yeah, I could turn thatA gift is something so effortless. It’s God’s gift. It’s so effortless for you and everybody around you thinks,I have no idea how Vijay does that. To you, it’s like, “That’s nothing.” That’s the gift. It took me a while to know that that’s the gift. You can come up and do something so effortlessly that everybody will be like, “How does he do that?”

I’ll add one more. I appreciate you clarifying that. That’s a great point, Sangram. It’s important to call out and know the difference between gift versus strength. As you were saying that, it struck me because one of my key strengths is I’m a learner. I love to learn.When I look back and when people say, “You’re good at doing a podcast,” which you might call a gift in your terms. If I connect the dots, it’s that learning ability that I soak in and I seek more and more, that’s translating to that gift of hosting and doing it. 

I love that you connected those dots. You’re absolutely right. The end product could be different but the underlying is the learning that you get. You can learn anything. 

Thank you so much, Sangram, for taking the time and where can people learn more about you and any final message that you want to share with our readers? 

Connect with me and Vijay and let us know what is the one thing you took away from this. That will make our day because this is a time commitment and hopefully, you’re pouring into it. I appreciate it, Vijay, that you’re bringing me on, but it only is valuable if somebody takes something and say, “I’m going to take that one idea and go do something about it.” Share with us and connect with us on LinkedIn. Let us know what is the one thing you took away from this episode.

Thank you once again, Sangram, and good luck with your upcoming book launch.

Thanks.

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About Sangram Vajre

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your BusinessSangram Vajre led marketing at Pardot (acquired by ExactTarget and then Salesforce for $2.7B). Soon after, he co-founded Terminus which hit $1M in the first year. Within 6 years, Terminus hit $120M, growing to over 200 employees and ranking No. 21 on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 list and best places to work. Sangram now serves as Terminus’ official “Chief Evangelist.”

Author of two books on Marketing, including ABM is B2B: Why B2B Marketing and Sales is Broken and How to Fix it and Account-Based Marketing for Dummies.

Sangram is the host of the top 50 business podcast called FlipMyFunnel with over 100K subscribers and was named as one of the top 21 B2B Influencers in the world by DMN network. Sangram has spoken globally both live and virtually for platforms such as Leadercast, Linkedin, INBOUND, Entrepreneur and INC.

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B2B 18 Shaun Allen | Sales Operations

B2B 18 Shaun Allen | Sales Operations

 

No matter which sales operations department you belong to, it’s important to point out that everybody’s rowing together. Vijay Damojipurapu’s guest today is Shaun P. Allen, sales director at Citrix. Here, Shaun discusses his journey into sales and how he defines the go-to-market and applies it to his company. Extending the framework he teaches his sales team, he then shares what he calls the D.A.L.I. model. He talks about how he uses it to direct sales operations, how they measure the metrics or KPIs, and how they overcome big barriers when it comes to executing their goals this 2021. Follow Shaun and Vijay in this conversation as you learn more about these sales strategies.

Listen to the podcast here

Strategies For Directing Sales Operations With Shaun P. Allen

I have with me Shaun Allen who’s a Sales Director at Citrix. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Shaun a couple of times. We had insightful conversations and lots of wisdom. I’m excited to be speaking with you, Shaun. Welcome. 

Thank you so much, Vijay. It is always an honor to join forces with you. We have had great conversations in the past. I am pumped. This is right in my lane. I enjoy the company. 

I always start up my show with this question to my guests. How do you describe and view go-tomarket? 

Get the right people in the right seats. Click To Tweet

It’s been something I have been knee-deep in for the last several years in terms of how you are going to reach a specific target customer. More than that, we achieved a competitive advantage. We are not looking for to go-to-market to just exist. It’s not only how do we reach the right people at the right time with the right product but also how do we do that competitively. We want to win. There are two kinds of aspects to my definition as I think through them. It’s never enough just to roll it out. 

In your go-to-market lens, how often and how deep do you think about not just the sales, which is your primary responsibility but the products, the product portfolio, the marketing functions and maybe even customer success if it’s a SaaS product? 

There is a little bit there, but in general, what I’m doing is we are in an environment where we are constantly rebranding. There are additional products. We had a huge acquisition. We will be working that into the product portfolio. We are already going to market with that. My stop, and probably the last couple of stops, have kept us busy and on our toes. We don’t do a lot of revisiting on go-to-market strategy but we were always kept on our toes with those new things coming down the pipe. We are very rich in having to do this set of actions. It’s almost become, I don’t want to say machine-like, but I often refer to vehicles. In the vehicle we are riding in, you can sub out any driver. We have that set process and things that we consider as our go-to-market. 

When we are starting off, we are handed typically a product. I’m not in product development. There are a bunch of dev and things that are done whether youre prod zero or prod one beta. When they usually reach the sales level, I’m in on some earlier prior to launch meetings but we are seeing it as quite a mature product that is ready for consumption. What’s big to point out is depending on who you are and what your role is where you are going to be seated in the continuum. I’m a little more to the latter, which I prefer because I’m not a dev guy. It has been great getting those products ready to launch. Typically, we were about a quarter out when it hits my radar. We are talking SaaS or whether it’s a networking product. That’s a pretty good leeway and runway to get everything set up to go-to-market. 

That’s a good segue into what you do at Citrix now. Talk to us about your career path and why did even get into sales? Why sales and what do you do at Citrix? 

B2B 18 Shaun Allen | Sales Operations
Sales Operations: We’re not looking to go-to-market to just exist. It’s not only how do we reach the right people at the right time with the right product, but also how do we do that competitively.

 

Originally, I got into sales. I was a Psychology major. I was still finishing up my Bachelor’s Degree. I was in a pretty dirty, smelly role. Spreading fertilizers and helping in beautification. I used to see the sales guys come in with clean white shirts. I desired to be someone with a clean white shirt rather than a dirty smelly green one. I edged my way in. I started clover leafing my accounts. I did a good job with my accounts. I slid my way into sales because I was selling a lot as a service individual. From there, I’m a big goal-oriented guy. I started to look at, what do I want to do in sales now that I have committed to sales? As an aside, it was to sell software or be a pharma rep at the time. This was probably the early 2000s. 

Those were two very highly sought-after things. Fast forward, I did get into the software and I ended up selling software. Pharma became less cool of a gig. You couldn’t do a lot of the things that you used to be able to do in there to make it a sought-after role. I started selling. What I did was I paid attention to some of the processes. I honestly said to myself, “There has to be a better way to do this.” Broadly, I started focusing on how I was approaching my customers and giving it more thought and process orientation. It worked for me. What happened was I got into leadership because they said, “If you can do that well, I will let you teach others to do that.” There were many enablement tools and such that we use to get there. I fell into a position in my last role of building, this was B2C but it was going to market in a way that had never been done before in 100-plus-year-old industry orthodontics. We were tasked with building out a large program to reach consumers in a state-of-the-art current way. We were building salesforce out of the box, hiring not only product folks, marketing folks and sales folks. 

I was a little bit in the deep end at the time. It was vast learning. I wasn’t minded that way already as a salesperson so it was a pretty good fit. I took to it naturally. It then became this more all-inclusive job of designing these go-to-market programs rather than selling an end product that came to sales. It has been a good ride. It was a natural progression to build teams. With Citrix being busy and so many products in the portfolio and a lot of new things happening, it was a joy to be matched up that way and have that experience behind me. I’m always learning but be with an active product portfolio as well. It all tied together. I have come up through the ranks. They gave me SB, Small Business, “Here you go, kids. See what you can do with this.” 

This is at Citrix where you are now, right? 

Yeah. When I first came to Citrix, they threw me the bone of SB, which had never been penetrated well or they never did well at those lower line sizes, and we did well. A lot of that was the structure that I had brought with me in my digital briefcase powered with a lot of the oomph that Citrix had. I went to medium business and then mid-market and skipped over commercial, then I got to the enterprise. We were out there, mostly Greenfield-focused or white space-focused in the enterprise out in the Western US. That is my focus now. I’m leading ERMs but more deeply embedded in the marketing focus and the product focus. It hagot me down in the trenches. We are launching new things in the workspace all the time. We had a big acquisition of Wrike. It’s a very active time to be in the seat. I love working with enterprise customers. I have been up and down the stack. This is where they are in tune with our whole solution stack. It’s all viable where that wasn’t the case necessarily in lower line sizes both here and throughout my career. 

That’s an interesting journey and a funny way of how you ended up in sales. That was a great story in itself. I’m curious along those lines, you shifted from, did you say farming? Was that the initial one? 

I worked for a lawn, shrub and tree beautification company. It was a few big ones out there. I won’t name any names. I was climbing palm trees and killing bugs. It was a way to put myself through school. It was a pretty good living. I didn’t have the traditional dorm setup. I already was engaged and bought our first home. I needed to make more money while I was going through school. I was fullblown with a mortgage. It was a dirty and smelly job. I was loading fertilizer in the morning. People ask me and they chuckle, “You wanted to wear a cleaner shirt?” That was it at the time. There are a lot of reasons why I love it now. That was what pushed me in that direction. 

It also shows the sales skills, the expert that you are in sales, it’s transferable. Earlier on, you were more in the “farming” or shrubs. It is the more non-traditional or no-tech to now you are selling software products and desktops. You are talking about the new portfolio from the Wrike acquisition. That is a big shift in itself and by zone to how you adapt and bring that same sales mindset into understanding your buyers and the barriers, then interacting and helping them solve their problems. That is what it comes down to. 

Sales and marketing are people businesses. Always try to learn about how you can resonate with people.  Click To Tweet

What we are finding is there are times when you are more end-userfocused and in an IT silo. We wrestle with a lot of that. I won’t say we struggle because Citrix had a ton of acquisitions along the way. This one is a little bit of a shift in that. You would find most of the seller’s hometown is that IT funnel. We look up to the CIO and this is a throwback to a brief stint I had when I first joined Citrix. I didn’t mention this but I was in the ShareFile org for about a quarter and then they threw me into Core. I had experience in dealing with the end-user and going to market to the end-user, which is a lot more context. You are approaching that differently. Getting back to my roots has been a positive experience thus far. We have only been live for a few weeks. We are building it out as we speak here. 

On the other side or more on the lighter, funnier side, how would your kids describe what you do at work? What do you do for a living? 

It usually ends with a little bit of the eyes glazing over. If I asked my son that, he would know I’m in sales. He knows that I help people work remotely under any circumstances. That is about as far as it goes. He could name the company I work for. When people ask me, I usually get to about the eight-second mark and their eyes glaze over. What was even funnier is I would typically hold my wife to a higher account to know what I do but I’m not sure if she could explain it any better than my son. In fact, together, they probably wouldn’t know but only a portion of it. They know I’m in tech and sales. They know what accounts I work with, Western US, enterprise-focused. That is about the end of it. When you had prepped me with that question, I chuckled because it doesn’t matter to my wife or my son. None of them know exactly what I do but they know that I lead people and we do important work. That is the most important thing to me. 

Let’s talk more about what you are focusing on for 2021. You and I spoke about this briefly, which is you are focusing on Greenfield enterprises. Even before talking about the 2021 goals, how did you land this role within Citrix? That is a story in itself. 

That is one of my prouder moments or stories. I always say when a door closes, another one opens. This is probably a great example of that. They had tapped me because I had been involved in the Greenfield motion here. I had built almost a two-decade sales career in purely Greenfield. I had that reputation. We went through SB, SMB and mid-market well, so I had the reputation. Some of the enablement folks had tapped me for the sales kickoff session on new customers and the new norm. I had a fun session where I got to throw an easy button up in the air. I got to talk about a lot of the fun things about Greenfield sales. At the same time, I was interviewing for a commercial role and I didn’t get that role. I thought it was the most natural fit. I don’t get too discouraged. It’s a door that closed. We’ve got to figure out another way in. 

My boss who is a vice-president was in the audience for that virtual session. I don’t think two hours went by after the session was over where he called me and said, “You’ve got something kid. I have a spot opening up. As you may know, we were making some investments. I would like to talk with you.” Long story short, I won the role in the enterprise, skipping over commercial. I have had such a long career where there were some repeatable things I could depend on. I had built a system around that. That was the story. He saw me in a session. I knew I had gotten a no. I was thinking, “Where is this going next?” All of a sudden, the phone call came. It was a cool story. I appreciate you bringing that up. Very quickly, I was in that seat in a matter of days. I’m elated. Sometimes you have the right people in the audience. 

You said it right. If one door closes, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a sense from above that there isomething bigger in store. That was what it turned out to be for you. I’m excited for you, Shaun. You also mention your sales kickoff. You had an acronym there. Talk to the audience about what that framework is and how do you teach your sales team around that? 

I will trust some of the audience has seen the movie, Moneyball. Billy Beane was an unconventional guy that came to baseball as a GM and started looking at analytics because he did not have the budget. He had to get smarter. I have always been minded like Billy. It’s a story and a movie but it’s based on a true story. He was able to almost get to the world series base with no budget just looking at analytics. I started to think about that. Marketing is a little more trackable but I would ask salespeople, “Why do you do what you do? Why did you turn left? Why did you turn right? Why did you decide on this messaging?” Largely, they couldn’t tell me. 

That was a profound series of moments. I set out to know that when I walk into a room, I have to be a people person first. That is table stakes. I would walk in with this briefcase and say, “Here are the analytics on all of it.” It doesn’t tell the story that is in line with the direction you are having the department go. This was years ago. I developed an acronym called DALI. It’s funny when I say DALI, people chuckle and say, Dolly Parton. I said, “No, Salvador Dali,” because he was very abstract. That was where the root of it came but it had to fit the lettering. It stands for Define, Act, Learn and Iterate. That’s important, whether you are marketing, product and in sales, we all should be operating as one. Sometimes we don’t do a good job at a number of those or all of them or one of them that might be critical. The first is define. It’s pretty simple, it’s the go-to-market acronym, TAM. What’s your Total Addressable Market. Have you developed personas? Who is going to be buying? Who is going to be your champions? 

Inherent with that, it’s important to point out is that everybody’s rowing together. You’ve got product, marketing, sales, enablement. That might be in line there. That was the acronym. I don’t know if you want me to dive into each one. We have to define the mission. We have to act pretty early on. Even if that was an A/B test or you are going to run a pilot, we’ve got to learn while we were going. Some companies have a good accumulation of data that they can draw from. Some have to build that data. They have to build that history, and then iterate is just double down on those areas that are working and abandoned or retest in a different way under a different scope those things that didn’t work. I’m happy to dive in further because DALI is near and dear to my heart. 

Let’s dive into that. D stands for Define, A is for Act, L is for Learn and I is for Iterate. A couple of questions that come to my mind is, do you do this as a cross-functional exercise with marketing, sales and maybe other teams including finance? How do you do this? 

It’s in the language that I’m interacting with them on. I have had a few curious people and say, “Do you have that on a slide?” We have done some of that in my past but typically I’m using it as my beacon or my lighthouse. I don’t get too far from there because then I get into unchartered waters but I’m always looking for, “Are we hitting those marks? Are we defining well in a thorough way? Are we talking about it too long? We are running low on the timeline. We’ve got to go act. Are we doing those things, whether it’s testing the messaging or building brand awareness and demand gen?” It has always been in the language. I don’t teach it as a course. It’s not my role. I could very easily but people take to track to run on typically, whether it’s something that is central to their being in their work or you are just bringing it as a track to run on in a particular interaction. They have always reacted well and taken to it. It’s now out in the open because I have done it in a few larger scopes of sessions. They nicknamed me the DALI guy. It’s always inherent in the messaging and I use it as my guidepost. 

Let’s get into more specifics over here. Walk us through the DALI exercise that you might have done, either maybe as part of your small business, mid-market or commercial. Walk us through your thought process and how you applied it. 

It’s table stakes to know that the definition is first. It can’t come 2nd and 3rd. These are all in chronological order as well. The main thing you are trying to address in the define part of the model is who is your target? 

Do you want to take a specific example? Maybe it’s a small business for a specific product portfolio? 

We talked a little bit about the acquisition here and the shift there. With some of the portfolio, you are going to be native to the IT funnel or networking, generally. If you are selling networking, you are probably not going to go to HR with that. For example, there are some use cases that downstream will affect HR and how quickly they can provision apps for a new hire. With another workspace product, we were able to go to the end-user. We were able to say, “You are going to get gains and productivity.” The use cases would change in this example. That is the best down-home example. It’s thinking of, “Is it general use? Is it in that IT funnel? Is it HR-focused? Is it a marketing product?” It’s amazing how many times people miss that. They will see the sales director of enterprise sales. Maybe they are a spray and pray there but they will come to me with a marketing-focused product, and they have just missed. I’m not the persona for that. Maybe they see a director of sales. Citrix being global, I’m one of the dozens of Directors of Sales here in America. You’ve got to hit your mark there. 

The first one is persona. That’s the who. The TAM, The Addressable Market, is there even a place for the product? When you are thinking, for example, project management, everybody can pretty much use that. It’s good for IT in terms of if they are using a ticketing system but its overall visibility to projects across departments. It’s a general use thing. I love it because I can go to anyone and I can match up a use case. I don’t have to think about, “Where do I need to be?” We can train the group, marketing, sales, product on that general use case. That is a big one. One of the things that get lost as we roll this thing out like, “Here is the product, the marketing material and the sales play.” You should have some visuals for everyone. I don’t know if that is a product matrix. Everybody has that central reminder of, “This is why we are doing this. This is who we are going to and this is the benefit.” That is almost like your cover page on any slide deck or any interaction across the organization. 

B2B 18 Shaun Allen | Sales Operations
Sales Operations: Whether you’re marketing, whether you’re in product or sales, we all should be operating as one.

 

That is an important one for the define. It’s goalsetting 101. What do we want to do? We want to sell to X. We want to make this many sales. In marketing, we want to get good ROI here as well. Who do we want to target? If they are targeting the general UC level and I’m going in the IT funnel, we are going to have some misses there. It’s important that the whole team is involved in that definition and that one is not handing it to the other. It’s a great brainstorming session I found to kick off. You come up with that value statement but it’s getting into the TAM and the target market in terms of persona. Those are the two big things to be defined, persona and TAM, so then you know what you are working towards. 

Both of those belong to the D, which is the Define, and then there’s the Act, Learning and Iterate. What happens after you define those? 

You now have those things, now you have to act. There are two camps you could be in. Citrix has been around for a while. We are not short on data. We can go pull that data for another general use product. We can say, “Here is where we normally resonate.” We walk in with some learnings. There are verticals we do well in. We have customer stories and white papers. We are loaded up. We know that that’s a pretty good place to go Act on, it’s the A in DALI. Let’s say you are not there. You are a new company may be and you have a new product. You have to go accumulate that history. It’s important that you get on the horse and you start A/B testing and testing your messaging. Is it resonating? One thing I loved in sales is when we would do this and we didn’t have a lot of history, we would go to the customer who inevitably would give us an objection and swat the fly. 

A good thing to lead with is to ask them their opinion on your messaging. They will tend to hang in because people like to help people. That is a little harder to craft and walk the line in marketing because it’s hard to spend marketing dollars and go, “We are getting opinions.” You can send out pulse surveys but in sales, it was always, “How do we know we are resonating?” Marketing is pretty easy but sales, we don’t know. If you are getting an objection and they are going to push you off the phone with a no, turn that note on maybe by asking for some help and saying, “I have reached out to 100 people who are in your role. I’m not sure I have nailed this messaging. What do you think?” The target customer can help you in crafting that value statement or your go-to-market generally. 

It’s getting on the horse and acting and getting in there, accumulating that data, “We did these 100 times and it worked 18% of the time. Now let’s B test over here and see for any better.” I have been fortunate in this stop in my career to already have some good data. We have been working in verticals very strongly. It’s breaking into those verticals that we might not be as strong or might not compete as well with. That is the challenge. It all requires action. You are building brand awareness. What’s interesting about that is I’m on customer calls and because we have been so IT-focused, some of them, that is where their concerns and questions are. They don’t have those broader workspace questions for us. We have to bring that to the table. One question I will ask is, “Are there any larger initiatives coming down the pipe here from above that are our goals are in motion?” Usually, what you will get is an amazing opening up of the use case. They will say, “We are in an RFP for X or Y.” I’m like, “I’m glad I asked that question because now I open up my product suite or the capabilities within one product.” 

This is a good segue into what you are tasked within your role, which is the Greenfield. Talk to us about the size of the team and the charter for you and your team for 2021. 

I had larger organizations than I have now. My last stop was 60. A couple of the stops here at Citrix are 35. I have a smaller team now but we do have more accounts than what your standard ERM has. I have a small team of four in the West. This was an opportunity for me to get back to basics. I had been a level removed from the strategy, which meant I was in more planning and I was in more meetings but I was detached from the ground game, which getting back there, I realized how much I missed it. Working with those more experienced sales reps at higher line sizes with well-known companies has been tenfold the joy that I thought it would be thus far. Smaller team and larger quota, it all resonates at the enterprise level. The reason it’s interesting now is that, if you think about an account stack and a seller, it could be even marketing too, marketing knows to get a great ROI going here. 

It’s hard to pry their fingertips off that or get sidecar budget to go after the unknown. It’s super tough. They want to go where they make money. We are dialed in a bit there, but these were accounts that salespeople typically we are not spending a ton of time with. They would slap them through the old cadence machine every once in a while. The interesting thing is that they were underrepresented. While it is a known company in a known product stack that we hold dear and love, it’s an opportunity to get into accounts that maybe haven’t been worked with ferociousness that our current accounts have. It’s interesting because we get to tell the whole story. It’s wonderful to be able to do that especially for almost every account I have heard of or use their products. It’s an interesting line of work in that it’s so new but Citrix is so established. It’s interesting for sure. 

Talk to us about some of the metrics or the KPIs that you and your team are being measured against. I’m sure the new logo is one of those. Imagine that the day is December 31, 2021 and you look back, what did you and your team do ride in hitting those metrics and how did you measure or have those indicators? 

I love that question because there is some nuance in going from an SMB or mid-market to an enterprise because the sales cycles are long. We almost call the inherent in the role as the working relationship. In 2020, I had 100,000 accounts. There is a different way of going about that different KPIs but essentially, I focus a little more on some of the non-revenue linear KPIs. We still look at the things that standard sales organizations and our marketing look at the same things. We are focused on, “Do we have the right contacts?” You can have a sea of context in a particular account. Do we have the right people? 

I tend to try to comp a little bit on those ground floor activities. We can look at something like making sure we have the right contacts, meetings, who are those meetings with, are they targeted to upper-level buyers. Marketing would be the same thing. Getting a lead is not the same as getting a C-level lead in the enterprise world. Those are some of the non-traditional, some call them MBOs, that we might focus on but also the household ones. We want our salespeople to create pipeline. Are they creating leads for the new products? My folks can sell the whole stack. They are not just a content collab or this or that seller. We look at those traditional things. 

There are the all-important ones of sales, bookings or deals as you are looking at those. I don’t think there are too much that you haven’t heard of, but we do look at those specifics. With Wrike, we are a big push there. We might measure KPI within that realm. Ultimately, we need them to plant the seed. I’m compensating on everything from the right person having the right conversation forward with most of that weight coming from pipeline building bookings. 

How do you typically incentivize your team members? What kind of ratio do you use? Is it 70/30 or 60/40? 

A good thing to lead with is to ask people their opinion on your messaging. They'll tend to hang in because people like to help people. Click To Tweet

Most of my career has been either a 50/50 or 60/40. However, in my experience in the past when you get to the enterprise level, that’s when you introduce a little non-revenue-based compensation. That would be what often referred to as the MBO. The sales cycle being so long, they can bleed into the next year. Most are on annual plans. Those are things that we look at typically on a 50/50, 60/40. If you build in the MBOs, they are made to be achievable. You almost are moving to a 70/30 or 80/20 in year one. Once you are established, you can maybe back that down for a little less risky for the sales comp. In year one, especially enterprise, you can’t pay on commission because it might not get there. They joined you in June, September, you have got to have a way to compensate them in the meantime. 

What are your big barriers when it comes to executing against your 2021 goals for Greenfield and enterprise? 

I don’t want to get too deep into the details here. Building a new team, I need to staff that. That takes time. It’s not something that you want to do lightly. If you have 40 SB reps, there is less risk per hire. When you’ve got a smaller enterprise team, the stakes are high. That was number one, staff the team. We are pretty much there. I didn’t get my start until March 2021. We are looking at 6, 7, 8 weeks now going on. That is a pretty good timetable. Some of the challenges are, there are so much quality out there in terms of candidates. You would find this in marketing products, just the remote work world. It’s a competitive landscape. I don’t have any problems staffing with the right people. It’s launching them, getting them up and running, understanding the mission and how they fit into the go-to-market. 

Navigating an acquisition is going to be a challenge. It does fit nicely into our product set and how do we transition to take advantage of that. This 2021, as far as my target, I call it soft. We are here to plant those seeds. If you asked me that question in 2022, I would be looking at a big number but in our inaugural year, we want to get the groundwork and the go-to-market right before we worry about putting a good target in there. Probably the rest of the organization bears the brunt of the revenue when we are in year one trying to launch these efforts. That is another important point. I’m glad you asked because you have some good assumptions in line and not place too much weight there because you want people free to be creative and to test and not feel the pressure of, “I have this huge responsibility of revenue year one.” Get the plane off the ground and then start to worry about getting those dialed into the rest of the org. I have operated Greenfield teams in the red. They were winning teams. We get to year two and then we get dialed in a little better. 

Plant the seeds in year one, then now you know which message resonates, what should be the pricing, of which portfolio to pitch. You also get a good hang of which reps are more motivated and which are the ones who are selling well. That is a good frame of how you are approaching year one there. 

The profile is important. I don’t care if you are product, marketing, sales, you’ve got to nail the profile in terms of hiring the right person. You might have an established product person but is that person well-versed in launching and developing new product? Don’t look back and kick yourself there. Get the right people in the right seats. It should go without saying. 

Not all are cut out for taking a product from 0 to 1, which is the Greenfield, our version one product in the product domain. Similarly, not all are cut out for keeping the engine rolling and then continuing to make those deals day in and day out. It’s two different mindsets. 

I build the profile for hiring for every role that I have ever been hired into. It’s surprising how many of my peers don’t have one. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone that out or were given that to them because you got to have the right people. You think it’s obvious but how many times have we walked into a role and we do an assessment of our staff and you are like, “This person is probably better over here.” You’ve got to have those Greenfield-minded folks regardless of where you exist in the go-to-market. 

Let’s head into the closing section. Maybe you are looking at or leaning on mentors, you are leveraging some forums, podcasts or reading books. What are the top 2 or 3 topics that you are curious about for 2021? 

Professionally, I’m a bit of a data geek. I have been fortunate enough to have a psych background so I have been able to connect with people first. I’m a communicator, Sociology minor so I have always been into the people end of it. I’m fascinated with some of the AI and machine learning tools. I’m reading on a lot of that, making sense of data in realtime. One of the most fascinating existences I ever had was with a BI product that told me where I was to go running on multiple monitors. We had 5 or 6 of them around the floor. It could tell us whether we were above or below water at any given minute. I was like, “If you can do that, you can pretty much figure out anything.” It’s doing a lot of reading on those types of things. I do enjoy marketing, it’s my background. I’m always interested in how we resonate with the consumer and target or persona. Those are the things that are always keeping me busy. 

When I’m reading, I’m trying to read how to be a better leader. Sales and marketing are people businesses. I’m always trying to learn about how I can resonate with people. I have always been a hacker. Remember the Billy Beane reference, he was hacking baseball. That was all he was doing. I want to try to get an edge over my competitors. Those are usually the subject matters. If I look at purely the go-to-market, I’m a big fan of Apple and what they do. I don’t think there are a lot of people that are, but they do it probably better than any. I was talking to somebody about the euphoria that you get when a new Apple product arrives in the mail and you are unpackaging that. Those endorphins start firing.  

I’m a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, out of New York. He’s probably the bestknown one. He started the Wine Library and went from $1 million to $50 million. I’m always interested in how he taps into new markets and able to test them, and his thinking around that. He is a people-first guy too. I’m from New York originally, probably a generation ago and a lot of his content I could point to. There are some other folks that are good in the industry, SalesLoft has some good people. They are an engagement platform if you’re not aware of them. They’ve got some good ways of putting content out there. I enjoy that in little snippets as well but I try not to read long books because I try to be nimble, little video clips, posts on LinkedIn. More is better for me. Rather than reading a 300-page book and taking a week or two to do it, I can consume twenty different pieces of content from twenty different directions. I’m into social selling now. 

B2B 18 Shaun Allen | Sales Operations
Sales Operations: Write down your journey, what worked and what didn’t, because if you do well at that thing, they’re going to ask you to do the next thing.

 

One final question for you, Shaun. Let’s rewind the clock and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey. What advice would you give to your younger self? 

I have gotten into so many situations where we have won tremendously and then a person turns around and says, “How did you do that?” You notice that, “I’ve got bits and pieces of that.” Now at this point in my career, I have a good track to run on and there are various learning here or there. Write down your journey, what worked and what didn’t because if you do well at that thing, they are going to ask you to do the next thing. If you don’t have any memory of what worked, what didn’t, typically it’s at the same company. This is the fourth role they have given me because I have won it the first three. Write it down would be the biggest piece of advice if I had to rewind. Who knows? I might be a lot richer than I am now. 

Thank you so much, Shaun. Good luck to you and your team. We will cheer you from the sidelines over here. 

Thank you so much, Vijay. I had a great time. I can’t wait until the next time. 

Important Links: 

 

About Shaun Allen

B2B 18 Shaun Allen | Sales OperationsA growth-minded builder, in a few words. More specifically, leading large growth-minded Sales Organizations to win. Well-versed in building robust Digital Sales efforts, currently in SaaS Software sales for an industry leader (hint: workspace for everyone). Lucky enough to have worked with 50,000 + businesses and partners in their Digital Transformation journey. Just getting started though!

Style:
Data-driven & results-focused, I aim to lead accountable quota exceeding efforts, while remaining empathetic and humble. Self-driven & accountable. A pacesetter. A go-to senior leader in the org.

Scale:
Global & domestic experience, not afraid to travel. You can typically find me near the Company’s toughest revenue-based challenges. The bigger the challenge, the better!

Journey:
My professional ride has been highlighted by several high profile Sales Org projects. New and re-org/scale, climbing to new heights with each team. Currently at Citrix (a global IT tech Corporation), I lead Greenfield Digital Sales efforts for the entire US. Large team, big mountains to climb, competitive tech landscape. Tip of the rocket-ship, as they say.

Mentorship:
Authored widely adopted coaching models, simplifying a tough skillset. I lead leaders, helping them develop further leadership competencies, so they can add value long in to the future. I am demanding but fair, and lead with vision. Leading teams to set high goals, row together, and win!!

Interests:
You can find me in my spare time coaching my son’s travel soccer team (occasionally reminding the referees of the rules), sampling unique coffees, cursing my golf game, burying my feet in the sand on the Atlantic’s beaches (US) with family, and most important of all – being the best human I can be.

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B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach

 

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach

What does the go-to-market strategy look like for a company that has seen rocket ship growth over the last couple of years? What did they do differently? Vijay Damojipurapu is with someone who has the answers to that. In this episode, he sits down with Jeff Reekers, the CMO of Aircall, to talk about the tremendous growth of the company and their overall go-to-market approach. Moving away from the America-first approach, Jeff talks about how they went to Europe and then expanded into India and other regions. He discusses doing content marketing across different markets, structuring a team and budgeting, investing in the end-to-end customer experience journey, and preparing for the market demand challenges this 2021. Jeff offers so many helpful nuggets in today’s show that you won’t want to miss. Listen in and get inside their secrets to growth.

Listen to the podcast here

The Go-To-Market Approach For Rocket Ship Growth With Jeff Reekers

I have with me, Jeff Reekers, who is the CMO of Aircall. I was excited, eager, and curious to know the story of Aircall’s tremendous growth over a couple of years. Welcome to the show, Jeff.

Thank you, Vijay. Happy to be here and excited to be able to speak with you and to the audience.

Let’s start off with the signature question. How do you define a go-to-market?

The go-to-market strategy is the executional equities behind some other higher layers on the brand pyramid. Click To Tweet

I’m not sure I have anything that’s different from others here. Thinking about how do we take a product to the market successfully that maximizes growth and customer experience, there are a few elements to that. First, understanding the market analysis and what your market looks like. Within that market, what are the different players, competitive landscape, and all these types of things? Thinking about your marketing selection. Whom do you go after? How are you going to target? What are your key differentiators going to be and your value propositions? How are you going to segment that market for success? Thinking about all the different ways you’re going to distribute and sell the product. What’s the pricing going to look like? What are your promotion advertising strategies going to look like? All these types of things have to come together. We do the more specific, so the customer experience and customer acquisition strategy.

That covers the end-to-end gamut of all the way from the product. Of course, it starts with the market, who are your buyers are, what are the pain points, and so on. Once you have that clarity and understanding, you frame your value prop, how are you different, and why people should care, and then you identify the different channels.

One more area we’re trying to think of even before you get to the go-to-market strategy, which you commonly see folks or teams or companies skip and go straight into the go-to-market strategy. I like to think more that this is the marketing person coming out. It’s more like a brand pyramid. The go-to-market strategy is the executional equities behind some other higher layers on the brand pyramid. When we think of our brand equity pyramid, I dare call we’re thinking first at the high end, “What is our purpose? Why do we even exist as a company?” This is like that typical Simon Sinek’s why, how, what statement, whatever that clarifies. Secondly is our brand personality, who we are, and what our voice sounds like.

These two things come first, then we’re thinking from a product competitive landscape side. This is quite critical. I didn’t mention it on the go-to-market side. Specifically, what are your points of differentiation and points of competitiveness? Also, what are you not going to focus on at all as a company? Relevant indifference is what we call it. If you can get those things clarified, your purpose, personality, differentiators, and the things that you’re going to ignore, then you’ve got a good foundation for setting the strategy on the go-to-market side. There are a few layers above that we stress and think about a lot at Aircall, even before we think about the go-to-market side.

You hit upon an important point, which unfortunately a lot of the global market folks don’t pay attention to, which is starting off with the fundamental why. “Why does your company exist?” It starts with that. After that is the what and the how.

I’m sure we’ll get into this. As you grow a company, the why also is going to make customers want to stay with you and it’s going to make employees motivated, engaged, and encouraged. In the early stage, you’re going to get employees that want to grow, excited about the growth. That can be your early-stage mission, but later on, you have to define the why, “Why you exist,” and the true value that you bring into the world, and the unique vantage that you have as a company towards that.

How would your parents describe what you do, Jeff?

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach
Go-To-Market Approach: The go-to-market is thinking about how to take a product to the market successfully that maximizes growth and customer experience.

 

They’re probably going to be more technical and spot-on because my father was a business executive for a long period of time and has a solid understanding of marketing. They may describe it as creates go-to-market strategies for software brands. They might be more on point than your typical parent.

Let’s say maybe even your grandparents. How would they describe it?

“Jeff works in technology or with computers.”

It has nothing to do with marketing. They don’t know that you’re the CMO.

They think generally works in technology is where that would be.

You and I talked about this a bit. Share your story around your personal and professional journey and why and how you took this path to becoming the CMO.

Be good with starting something, but then giving it to somebody else as you formalize and mature your company as well. Click To Tweet

I did my undergrad studies at the University of California, Davis. I played baseball there as well, and then I played baseball for a little bit after college. I did that for about a year or so. I knew that was winding down and I got tired of driving around the country getting cut from one team to the next. I saw the United States as a result of that to my car. At some point, I knew that was winding down and decided to make the journey to move out to New York City. I drove back to California without a strong understanding of what I wanted to do, though I always had marketing in the back of my mind.

I had taken one class at Davis that was in marketing. I don’t know why this was attractive to me, but I heard some stat that among the Fortune 500, the CMO had the highest turnover rates and the general tenure was somewhere around 12 to 18 months for CMO. I thought, “That’s a unique challenge. There’s interesting demand. There’s something that’s not being met there or something that’s not being well communicated or translated between what the expectations of marketing were and what was being delivered.” I thought that was an interesting, high-risk area. That fit my mindset, both combining the analytical and the qualitative portions of marketing.

I moved out to New York and I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time. I was doing door-to-door sales for a short amount of time to make some rent as I first moved out there. Eventually, I got a job at Forbes in the marketing department there, which was a fantastic experience to be a part of that brand truly. Still to this day, even in my role, I’ll never have the response rate on the email that I had at Forbes. Having that Forbes email address, you can reach out to anybody on the planet and they’ll immediately reply to you.

I then got into the more corporate marketing scene and it still wasn’t certain. I went to grad school at NYU doing night school there and was still exploring. I eventually got into the startup scene with a company called Lawline, which was a legal tech organization that was starting up. That defined my career. I left Forbes to join this company. We had a couple of people starting out and we grew that company aggressively over the next four years. I took a sealable role there early in my career as we grew quite well. That was my path into marketing, I would say. At that point, I was focused narrowed down on marketing and knew that. Plus, the startup scene was where I was meant to be.

What employee number were you at the startup where you joined?

I’m not certain. I started in the customer support team and I was doing part-time work. I was doing a little bit of extra work on top of Forbes. I don’t remember. It might have been the first couple. We got a lot of contracting employees, so I might have been the first few there.

By the time you were entrusted with the CXO role, how many employees that the company has?

We were around them 50, 60, or somewhere around there at that point.

Did you come to Aircall right after?

No. That got me started. I was still early in my career there. We were a smaller organization. We’re a bootstrap company. We stayed around 50 to 100 employees, but I wanted to grow further than that and take the company to $100 million-plus. I did some consulting for a little bit. I started a marketing agency for a bit. I joined a company called Handshake, which was acquired by Shopify in 2017. I was there as VP of demand for about three years, and then I joined Aircall back in 2017.

Some things that stand out for me in your career journey, Jeff, are that you’re not afraid to experiment and accept where and what you’re good at and what you’re not. From early on, you had those blinders on for that CMO role, but you can’t get that on day one. You started off in door-to-door sales, and then switched to tech support and eventually, that got you to marketing and CMO now.

I’ve had a lot of different experiences in sales. I love customer support. Specifically, I love talking to frustrated customers and turning them into raving fans at the end of the phone call. It’s such a powerful part of the brand to be able to do that. I went to school and I studied information systems and more of a technical background there. The unique thing within marketing was being able to combine different disciplines to come up with unique vantage points in the marketing area.

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach
Go-To-Market Approach: If you can get those things your purpose, personality, and differentiators clarified, then you’ve got a good foundation for setting the strategy on the go-to-market side.

 

Let’s talk about what you do. You are the CMO of Aircall. You mentioned about the rocket ship growth over the last couple of years. Talk to us about what Aircall does, who do you guys serve, and what is your overall go-to-market approach.

Aircall is a center software for small and medium-sized companies. We distribute internationally and have a carrier network that can service companies all across the globe. We focus on that small and medium segment making an extremely great customer experience. This is a technical area. We’re talking about phone systems and call center software. You usually think IT set up. There are lots of infrastructures. We make this insanely simple, so somebody could get set up in three minutes with the phone line, integrations, IVR, routing, and all these sorts of things to set up a robust call center software.

Would you say that the customers that you serve are mostly founders of all these small-size companies or even the customer support?

We’re talking anywhere between a team size of three users and upwards of 100 users. Your ACV is close to $10,000 or so. It’s not typically founders. There’s likely some in the mix there. We’re more typically working with the head of sales, head of support, or head of IT.

Head of IT and head of support, I get it, but the head of sales that’s unique.

B2B marketing has gone heavily demand-focused. Click To Tweet

For outbound dialing, many of our teams come to us with the need for sales development or inside sales team, high volume outbound calling, and wanting to know their customers and prospects that are getting inside. Leverage the integrations into whatever CRM system they’re using to automate the workflows and all those types of things.

You also mentioned a unique approach that you guys took from a go-to-market perspective. You didn’t take an America-first approach but more from Europe, and then expanded into India and other regions. Talk to us about why and how that played a key role in your growth.

I’d say there are seeds that were placed immediately by the founding team and our CEO level, which was we wanted to be a global company from day one. That’s our ambition and still is our ambition. An important consideration when you want to be a global company is that you can’t let strategic geography start too late. Let’s say you raise your first $50 million in revenue come from purely Europe, APAC or Australia, or North America specifically, then you launch a new region suddenly, it’s never going to be a top priority for you.

It’s tough to say, “Let’s get that $50 million.” That’s a lot of resources. It’s hard to get started somewhere in, say North America when the core business is somewhere else and it’ll be a harder decision later. We had the mindset from the earliest days that we wanted to be an international company and service customers worldwide. We brought that more towards a more tangible strategy later on. We can then talk strategically about what we can make. Our carrier networks are differentiated and our call quality internationally is differentiated, then we can use that to our advantage. We can break down the differences and nuance the go-to-market strategies per region. I’d say the ceiling for we wanted to be an international company from day one and we have to get these started quickly in order to do that was fundamental, foundational and theoretical.

You mentioned the different go-to-market channels for each of these geographies that varied and it tied to what works. How did you go about figuring out, “Do I need to do SEO inbound in this geography versus should it be more like a partnership?” What is the thought process like?

I’ll say first from international strategies is localization in knowing the markets is key. Maybe if you’re starting with a US-focused company or something like that, try to launch, go-to-market strategy in Europe without being there and understanding the markets in-depth, it’d be impossible to do it. Each market has nuances to it. You have to take each one individually and come up with a go-to-market strategy as though that’s the only region you’re working with. It can’t be side topics. It can’t be a part of the strategy. It has to be focused.

If we’re talking about Germany, “What is the German strategy?” If we’re talking France, “What is the strategy in France?” Organizationally, chart-wise, you have to set up an infrastructure to maximize that success. Set it up and maximize it. Naturally, you’re going to have nuances that are different market to market. This is going to change per product. I certainly can’t make generalizations across the board. In certain markets competitively, it’s easier for us to rank on SEO and organic search, so we’re going to focus on localizing for SEO in that region.

We definitely have a global strategy for that, but in certain regions, that might be 60% to 70% of our revenue. In other regions, it might be more expensive to do that and more competitive. In the US, there are tons of competitors in our space. Keywords are difficult. AdWords is an extremely expensive strategy here. It’s not the same in other regions. We can tailor our approach in ways that are maximized local success and we want to have a global strategy, but then optimize locally as well.

We have certain regions heavily inbound-focused. That’s SEO, organic search, a lot of digital marketing, and traditional customer acquisition-focused. In global, we have that, but then it’s more prevalent in other areas. In some regions, we need to think about our distribution strategy more strategically. How are we going to have a differentiated approach from competitors who maybe have more to invest in that particular region? The US is particularly competitive.

From there we need to think through what is our partnership strategy? How are we going to distribute the product intelligently with those partners and co-marketing? Also, setting up channel sales strategies that we can distribute the product through those with a lot of authority in spaces that maybe we’re not as familiar with and verticals we don’t know as well. We’re going on there but each region is nuanced. We have to come up with a strong approach to each one and do a lot of research to understand those local markets as well.

You invested a lot into SEO and custom keyword research and things like that. What was the role and how much did you invest when it came from a wellness content, education content, and evaluation point of view, and then how you help these guys make the decision?

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach
Go-To-Market Approach: As you grow a company, the why is going to make customers want to stay with you and make employees motivated, engaged, and encouraged.

 

We’ve been doing content marketing since day one. I joined on as the second marketing individual at the company, and then with one marketing generalist at Aircall at the time, and then from there, our first hire was content marketing. The second hire was more content marketing. That was early on a foundational part of what we want to do. We’ve always thought of SEO but through a specific lens. We want to be creating extremely relevant, engaging materials for a few core audiences and that’s where we focused our content.

Our content strategy is having a unique voice and creating relevant materials for a few key audiences. We started with sales leaders and support leaders, and then we also focused heavily on partners. The partners are going to distribute the content through the same persona. The partners were a key part of this as well. We wanted to create a content strategy, engaging unique content, but also make it valuable that partners wanted to jump on there, put their logo on it, and then we could get the brand established through those partners. If we could partner with Intercom or HubSpot to produce content at a level, take the lead on that content, and also produce at a level where they want to put their logo on it and distribute it with us.

That’s what we thought early on with our content strategy. How can we create engaging content for a couple of audiences, but then how do we amplify that message? It’s because we don’t have a brand quite yet. How do we amplify that message? We thought of the partnership strategy as being core and fundamental to that. SEO was the framework within that. That was the overarching strategy, and then SEO and how do we maximize SEO within that overall strategy and making sure we had a solid keyword strategy and such as a part of that. It started with the question, how do we create great content for key audiences?

I’m glad to know that and it’s a validation, so let me share some context over here. I’m working on this manifesto, what I call as Content to Revenue Manifesto. Essentially, how bidding CMOs are driving revenue. What you said validates my thought process, which is the bidding CMOs create the hardest kind of content. It sounds like you guys put a lot of emphasis on that upfront. You may not see the results right away, but then it grows many folds over time.

We’re trying to do that in local markets as well and that’s a great way to build a brand.

Were you doing a lot of primary research where you’re co-creating the content with your sales leaders and supporting IT? Was it more of, “I found those and you had that internal knowledge and what resonates?”

I’d say a mixture of all things. Early on, it was a lot of webinars. We did localized events quite a bit in person with great speakers associated with them. We did our own research. We were still doing annually, for example, an eCommerce support survey where we’re leveraging both our customers and also general market research do whatever tools. We use SurveyMonkey in the past. We’ve used Qualtrics as well. It’s a mixture of things, whether it’s research from our customers, research on the general market, great thought leaders we can bring in, unique vantage points we might have internally.

We leverage our own insights and we use our product. We are our customer and we can leverage that quite a bit as well, which we have in the past. We’ve developed great relationships with our partners. We can create unique content with them based off of what they’re also saying. We tried to be agile with it. Early on, it was more quarterly strategies and monthly strategies about what we’re hearing, what problems are in the market, what seasonality impacts are happening, what’s going on in the world, and trying to be as aware of the path as possible and leverage that in our efforts.

Talk to us about how your marketing team is structured, how many people, what budget and how you think about the big rocks for 2021.

We have a few main teams, 42 members total on the marketing team. For anybody who’s going through a lot of stages in a startup, one thing you want to be mentally prepared for but willingly accept and want is that you probably take on less roles over time because you do a lot of things early on. Be good with starting something, but then giving it to somebody else as you formalize and mature your company as well. Anyways, it’s a business side note.

Our team has 42 individuals on it, so about 10% or so is our total headcount that goes between brand and content. Within brand and content, we have our head of global content who does localization and has content writers both in Europe in the US. We have our studio team and studio is design and development. We have a brand engagement manager who puts together events, podcasts, and other activities for the market. It’s a heavily creative role, and then our PR team as well is there.

We have a demand organization, so we have a VP of demand generation. Her org has fueled marketing within it. A unique way that we’re structured is we have local field marketers in all of our core regions. It includes North America, France, Germany, UK, and Spain. We’re starting to grow in the Netherlands and Australia as well. We have local field marketers for each one of those regions. As well on that team are a partner/channel marketing and our digital team. Our digital team operates as a center of excellence for the local region.

Growth is always ambitious. Click To Tweet

We have one global digital team that is insanely strong, and then they take the needs from all the different teams and create the strategies for all the localized digital assets that we have. Product marketing is heavily a strategic role in our organization, always thinking about 3 to 5-year product roadmap. They’re trying to drive the product roadmap and are focused on A, that research component, buyer research, market research, and competitive research. B, revenue enablement and all the materials our sales team needs to be successful. C, the go-to-market strategy for a specific product or feature launches. The team is quite lean and takes on a large breadth of work. It’s the ultimate of being heavily operational but also highly strategic.

How many product marketers do you have?

We have six on that team.

How did you structure the product marketing automation?

Gabrielle is our Director of Product Marketing. We discuss through that quite frequently. There are a few different ways you can structure product marketing. One is focused on specific activities. More compartmentalized and specialized market research, buyer research, go-to-market, and split those. We’re focused more on having product marketers focus on full service, doing partial market analysis, and owning different parts of the product, and also owning go-to-market strategy for certain products. You can do them both ways and we discuss through that a lot.

We do that full cycle or full emphasis. There’s a lot of positive flywheel effects to that because then you have a team. Each individual in the team is thinking ahead strategically on a roadmap, then you have them also focused on how we’re going to launch a product working closely with product management. They then already know that area, they know the customer well, they know the product area, and then they know how to do the revenue on the employment also. That’s how we’re set up.

Additionally, we have the head of customer experience. We call this the voice of the customer. He thinks more in large organizations who might see this. It should be in all marketing organizations. Internally, we have a concept of the eleven-star customer journey. We put everybody through this exercise of how you can create an eleven-star customer experience from the first touch through the entire customer lifecycle. The first time they hear about us through the end. That team is responsible for analyzing every single touchpoint a customer has with us and making sure it’s a fantastic experience and it’s a smooth transition to the next step.

It’s critical and quite a fun, exciting role, and heavily analytical as well. We also have an ecosystem team, a little bit less common, I would say. Ecosystem oversees our app marketplace, engaging with net new partners, and creating our partner programs. Essentially, they’re creating a flywheel so that we can create free applications on our marketplace, looping them to our customers, and also create a marketing effect that with co-marketing and so on. Last is marketing operations, which we add from a director standpoint. We had marketing ops since the earliest days with a talented woman on our team who did way more than you would ever ask of somebody for a long time. She held the marketing operations done globally for us for a long time. We’re investing more in that and growing our marketing operations for scale.

One thing that caught my attention is the voice of the customer team, which is unique. You mentioned the eleven-star experience. We talked about it, which is inspired by Airbnb’s founding team approach and how they pursued and built an overall experience. Can you talk about the motivation behind that and why you did it?

I heard a podcast a few years back and it stuck with me. There are many great stories in that podcast. It was done on Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman. He has many great lessons between Obama and McCain in that whole story, and then he gave this eleven-star customer journey. The point was they were getting started and they were getting a lot of five-star reviews, but the consumer mind is trained that a five-star review is this and a hotel was a five, so they can give five-star. For them to create something fantastic, they had to think beyond a five-star.

They did this exercise of thinking 6-star, 7-star all the way up to eleven-star experience. Somewhere in the middle there, you can accomplish that. It’s the mindset that we’ve had since day one at Aircall across all endeavors, but then we also think from a customer experience standpoint, in a crowded market, there are lots of SaaS applications out there and lots of options for the consumer. How do we create something that’s radically differentiated on the market, not through product, but through experience? Product is involved, but there’s a longer journey there as well. That’s where that stemmed from.

I’ve not heard of a lot of CMOs in marketing organizations investing a whole lot and people take more time and energy investing in this end-to-end customer experience journey.

B2B marketing has gone heavily demand-focused. Demand is a critical part of the overall marketing. They think that’s coming at the sacrifice of a few things, long-term strategy, market analysis, brand work, and the why. We talked about how critical that is. Also, you own every customer touchpoint as the marketing leader and it goes back to, if you have a C-level team, everyone’s focused on different parts of the company. You can have sales org you, customer org, post-sale org, and so on, but who’s tying it all together? As marketing leaders, “If not you, then who?” It’s the thought there. There has to be one role that owns the journey from beginning to end.

I have seen parts of customer success organizations and leaders do that, but I firmly believe that marketing should be owning that because they had that end-to-end funnel. Not just funnel but even beyond. It’s the entire customer lifecycle touchpoints. Switching gears. Can you share a bit about where you guys are at when it comes to revenue? How do you think about your marketing budget? How do you split it?

I can’t give all of the specifics here. I’ll say that we’re going fast towards our next big milestone being $100 million ARR, fast and ambitiously towards that target.

Is it 5%, 10%, 15% of your revenue? What is the marketing budget like? How do you split that marketing budget across these functions entity?

Budget-wise, as a general rule, we’re coming in somewhere around this. We try to keep the marketing budget about 50% of the total ARR growth that we have. That’s a decent benchmark. I can’t say that we follow it exactly, but for a scaling company that’s maybe doubling or tripling in size and trying to grow aggressively, that’s a decent benchmark to use. I’ll give more advice on budgeting as a whole here. That’s going to one benchmark. Look at that and look at efficiency year over year. You want to know that our marketing dollar is better spent this year than it was last year.

We try to get a little bit more efficient every year with our capital, as well as we look at a few different measurements across the payback period. LTV/CAC, which can be measured in many different ways. It’s decent you’re using it at the same time, but it’d be harder to express externally in the org. We also use the magic number prior month. For us month because our sales cycle is around 30 days. Prior month sales marketing expenses against current month new ARR growth and try to keep that number between 1% and 2%. If it’s getting closer to two, we’ll be agile. We’ll spend a little bit more. If it’s getting closer to one, we try to think about how their marketing spend can be a bit more efficient.

These are some guidelines there for the budget. For how we place it throughout the team, most is focused on a wide is focused on ads and promotion. I’ll say greater than 50% is on ads and promotion, and then we’ve got headcount and professional services. It winds down from there. We’re heavily ads and promotion-focused as a cost to doing business within ads and promotion. On top of that, acquisition focused, making sure our cost per lead stays consistent, and those types of things. I go into more details on that, but about high level, that’s how we thought of the budget.

That’s a good overall summary and you’re covered a good amount of detail as well.

Another note I’ll make on our nuance in the organization is to think about the originalities also. The marketing owns a budget. Of course, we’ve got ads and promotions that we can spend, but we have a strong regional focus. We want the regional head’s P&L statements. If you had France or Germany or APAC, we want you to own that budget. Also, there’s a tight-knit between the local head of the region and the marketing organization. Ultimately, that head of the region wants to invest more budget and say, “Channel, which might exist outside of the marketing budget.” Great. We’re going to shift that budget over and put it into the channel that’ll be agile.

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach
Go-To-Market Approach: Each market has nuances to it. You have to take each one individually and come up with a go-to-market strategy as though that’s the only region you’re working with.

 

Talking about 2021. You guys are growing real fast 2x or 3x every year. What are your biggest challenges? Is it more of the execution challenges? Is it more of the market demand challenges? What are your big challenges when it comes to hitting your 2021 objectives?

Certainly, growth is always ambitious. I suppose the main challenges are A, purely executional and no different than would be in any other organization, then B, a unique challenge perhaps is such a vibrant market that we’re in. This goes back to this CMO being a strategic driver of the business. You can’t just focus on this quarter’s pipeline and revenue. It’s critical. I think of our market and what our ambitions are. We’re not anywhere near done. We continue to 10x this company.

The second big question is, “What are the moves that we have to do now to accelerate in three years?” We need to know that we have a vibrant market. We live in the call center space and the underlying technology being VoIP. Underlying that is a technology like Twilio, for example, that’s putting together carrier networks and setting the API’s infrastructures to this soft switch. Maybe to the side, you’ve got players like Zoom, which started off as a more traditional collaborative video-based software that we’re using.

There’s the underlying technology of VoIP still that sits there. There’s then into the telephony space, and then into the call center space. You’ve got similar technologies in a company like Slack. There’s VoIP infrastructure there. This is true for any market. Thinking big about where the market is. You don’t get that from even Gartner’s report. Gartner’s not telling us what these moves way over here. Somebody could be entering the market in 5 or 10 years.

We spend a lot of time and a big challenge is trying to understand what the landscape is going to look like in five years. What are the trends happening and consolidation going on? What are the customer trends happening? We want to be ahead of that and we need to make decisions now against that. The bigger challenge is making the right decisions and making the right forecasts of what we’re going to see in five years, what we have to do right now and act with urgency against those types of things in a similar way that we would act against them, this quarter’s ARR or something.

I love the way you articulated it. That clearly calls and shows how you guys are able to achieve that astronomical growth. Good companies who scale that fast cannot wait to see what’s coming up in the next one year, then you think about 3 to 5 years downstream. It fires downstream, but you need to lay those building blocks now.

Understand that some of your biggest competitors in five years might not be your competitors now. They might know they might be your competitor in five years. Trying to understand what’s happening there in the broader market is where we put a lot of focus. There’s always the challenge.

I wish we had a lot more time and we can double click into each of these topics, but maybe do an episode at a different time here. When it comes to go-to-market peers in the industry, who do you look up to?

There’s an individual that’s been instrumental in my career as a marketer. His name is Jan Huckfeldt. He’s a former CMO of Motorola. I was lucky enough to be able to work with him for a decent amount of time. I look up to him tremendously when it comes to brand, the voice of the customer, thinking differently about creating a marketing organization, and thinking from the customer’s mindset with a lot of empathy. I’ve learned a ton from him. I would say that’s number one. I’ve learned from many other individuals as well as great people in the revenue collective. Andrew Kail is somebody that has great points of wisdom.

Kyle Lacy, a mutual contact of ours, is another marketing leader that pushes the envelope I aspire to be more like. I’ve learned from a lot of non-marketers as well as I see them building their companies or careers or lives. David Schnurman was the Founder of Lawline. I learned so much from him. Organically, he’s got a great marketing mindset and his father as well. Alan Schnurman is a fantastic entrepreneur. As I’m watching entrepreneurs operate in their element, I learned a ton about marketing. They intuitively know marketing. There’s a lot of lessons learned there as well.

I like the last line that you mentioned. If you want to up your marketing game, don’t focus on the marketing side of things or don’t stop your thing at talking to marketing peers but to entrepreneurs because early on, it’s all the fundamentals. If you look at entrepreneurs, it’s all about the ideal customer profile. They had to iterate the business model quickly. They had to iterate the brand, messaging, and demand quickly. All of these are fundamental building blocks for an entrepreneur.

If there’s one particular learning that I see from entrepreneurs is risk tolerance. Marketing is a game of being tolerant towards risks, taking big bets, and being strategic about that over time. That’s the community where I’ve learned a lot as a side of risk as well.

Understand that some of your biggest competitors in five years might not be your competitors now. Click To Tweet

Let’s bring it home now. The final question is, if you were to go back in time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, which in your case would be maybe a door-to-door salesman position, what advice would you give him?

Have fun and you’ll figure it out. Be kind to people. Figuring things out and learning is the best part of the journey and making sure that you treat everybody well along that path. It’s the most important. It is more important than one’s personal success or the things that you’ve lived a life where you have strong values, you’ve treated others well, you care, and you’re empathetic. Maybe if there’s one point of advice is among one’s personal ambition, don’t forget about what’s important in life.

Thank you for your time, Jeff. I enjoyed the conversation. Good luck to you and the team at Aircall. Best wishes.

Thank you, Vijay. I appreciate it being on. It was a pleasure and I love these interviews. Thank you for inviting me on.

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