B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting

 

The biggest skill you need to learn when entering the market is sales forecasting. Knowing and hitting your numbers is an important ability to possess, especially as a sales leader. You need to have the right methodologies and processes in place to achieve the highest levels of market success. This is where the company Clari excels at. They help go-to-market orgs overhaul and run their ultimate revenue processes.

 

Join Vijay Damojipurapu as he talks to the SVP – Global Head of Sales at Clari, Holly Procter. Learn more about her career journey before she got into this company and what she is doing now to support go-to-market orgs across the country.

Listen to the podcast here


 

Sales Forecasting As A Go-To-Market Org With Holly Procter

In this episode, I have with me Holly Procter, who is the SVP and Global Sales Leader at Clari. For those who have been avid readers of the show, this is the 2nd or even 3rd speaker from Clari. Again, no affiliation or anything. It happens somehow by luck, faith or whatever you call it. We do have a series of speakers coming in from Clari but all in all, you will be in for a treat. Welcome to the show, Holly.

Thank you so much for having me. We appreciate your bias for Clarians. I will try to do my best even though you’ve had some good nuggets from other Clarians too.

As with every guest, I start my show with the key question that’s top of mind for all the readers, which is, how do you define go-to-market?

When everyone thinks about go-to-market, they start with the basics of how you sell your product. You sell your product through generally a handful of channels. That would be inclusive of both partners and also your direct sales team. Over the years, we’ve certainly expanded our view of go-to-market to include pretty much anyone that might touch revenue.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: Go-to-market is not just how to sell a product. It’s anyone that might touch revenue. It includes everyone from your revenue development teams to your content teams.

 

At Clari, I think about our go-to-market teams in our tip of the spear, what we call revenue development, which is our SDR function. Even before you get to RevDev, we think about the funnel. You are thinking about all marketers. You are thinking about content teams and people that might engage with your audience, even if that audience is not an active prospect or customer success. We have a deep sales engineering team and even post-sales, so people are responsible for implementation services. Anyone that touches revenue, which is any pre-customer and post-customer experience, we define as part of our core go-to-market team.

That’s more expansive than what I’ve heard from others. Not from my show guest specifically but from others in the industry. Again, you can clearly make out the provision that they like by asking this question. What I’ve seen is that folks who are in sales think go-to-market is sales and nothing else. Folks who are in marketing, and especially those who are in product marketing, think they own go-to-market but lo and behold, sorry, you are in for a rude shock. You clearly don’t own product marketing. Customer success, I’ve seen off late the connotation shifting to include customer success, which is good. One gap that I saw in your definition or your perspective, Holly, is how come you left out the product.

It’s a great point. I love our product leaders. If they are reading, I hope that they will take my apology. The product is massive. What I would say, and part of the reason why I didn’t include them, is that we probably haven’t yet figured out how to crack the code on incorporating them as a close loop in our process and how they play a role in touching the customer experience outside of building a great product but no question. That informs everything we do. I will give you an active example.

We are now going through planning for 2023, as most companies are. A big part of our planning process is figuring out what product features we are going to announce and launch in 2023. That will deeply inform how much and how many accounts I can assign based on what new open accounts we might unlock in line with the product roadmap functionality. It’s such a core part of the way that we build the business and product go-to-market.

That’s the thought process. That’s what I’m seeing. That’s a shift happening in the industry, which is product also becoming a core part of the go-to-market. Even within the product or outside of the product, there is a design that has a big impact on user experience that translates to the sales and how quickly you can go close and customer acquisition costs, and so on.

Anyway, enough rant on the go-to-market piece. I would love to hear your story. What has been your journey? I’ve looked at your LinkedIn profile. You had a very blessed career and a very interesting career path. You started off as an employee at the university you graduated from, then now you are the Global Sales Leader at Clari. Walk us and our readers through that journey.

I’m from Nebraska, originally. I got both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Nebraska and then decided to work for the university under the guides that we had an asset that was a facility. We were trying to figure out how to monetize this facility. It was this huge rec facility, and we were trying to figure out if there was a path to monetizing both access to the asset and the building. Also, what else did we have?

We had access to a population of people, and that population of people was a student body that made purchasing decisions on a regular. We created this event called Get REC. It was called Get REC because it was held at the Rec Center and basically allowed every business in the town to come in and put up a booth that wanted to sell to college students.

They ended up paying us several thousand dollars to come in and do that. Figuring out a healthy way to monetize our assets and get additional funding for the university was awesome. A great first job, and then I moved to San Francisco. I was tech robust and eager to move West. My first job in San Francisco was at Gallup, the Gallup World Poll. The thing that I was so excited about with Gallup, I don’t know if you follow any of their research but they are an academic company. It’s stewards of research.

A big part of what Gallup does is sell both employee engagement research and customer engagement research. I fell in love with the company for many reasons. One of the big things that they talk about with their leadership development is that the employees join companies and leave managers. It was this big, huge part of the thing we were consulting around. It was where I grew fond of leadership, education and development, the process of being a student, and becoming a great leader. I got some deep education on how to be a good boss. This was before I became a boss. I then was eager to go into tech, so I joined LinkedIn.

At Gallup, you were leading what BizDev or was its sales?

It was biz, and I was a seller. Our motto was fewer larger relationships. At the time, McKesson was one of my biggest customers. I’m spending a lot of time with them on leadership development and employee engagement. Incredible experience in consulting because you get to go wide. Not necessarily deep. Lots of exposure to different business processes across tons of different business types and unique companies. It was an incredible experience there over years. Living in San Francisco and not in tech, which felt like a misnomer, so I decided to move to LinkedIn. I started with LinkedIn right before we went public, and then I left LinkedIn, and we were owned by Microsoft.

A lot of things happened over that six-year window. My role inside LinkedIn changed almost every year. I led pretty much every customer segment, so from our smallest customer all the way up to our largest key accounts and in a couple of different lines of business. Both our talent solutions business and the sales navigator product when we launched that product, which is now over a billion in revenue.

It was incredible to be able to build something from the ground up based on an amazing asset, which is the LinkedIn network. I learned a million things from LinkedIn but one of the things that fueled the next phase of my career was selling into sales leadership, which is what a selling sales navigator did. As go-to-market professionals, there’s something meta about selling to sales leaders. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As go-to-market professionals, there's something sort of meta about selling to sales leaders. Click To Tweet

I get to talk to my peers all the time. It’s probably how you feel getting to talk to other experts. I learned from my customers regularly, which is incredible. I fell in love with sales leadership. Not just being a sales leader but working with sales leaders at LinkedIn. As I mentioned, I led all different customer types and in a couple of different lines of business. I felt like I had deep exposure to lots of different parts of go-to-market orgs.

The other thing I will say about LinkedIn, outside of it being a phenomenal company, is that it demonstrated to me how it should be done, how a business should be run, how to take care of your people, how to build a sustainable business, how to build a moat around your product and how to inspire a huge audience of a global talent pool. Best in class across many vectors that matter when building a sustainable business, so forever grateful for my time at LinkedIn.

I took all those learnings, decided to gamble a little bit of in the startup world, and went to WeWork, where we could spend the entire episode on that. Maybe we should grab a beer to do that. It was quite the run. I spent a few years at WeWork leading up to our at Ben failed IPO attempt and just wild run. I was running our mid-market business across the US and hired over 70 people.

My last job was to eliminate them all. It was a wild experience but if LinkedIn taught me how to lead in peacetime, WeWork taught me how to lead in more time and a major benefit to both. I learned a lot and worked with some incredible people at WeWork. I was there in the Adam Neumann era but I would say one of the things that I learned the most about WeWork was how to pressure test growth and ask yourself the question if something could be done faster, bigger or at a lower expense.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: Learn how to pressure test growth. Always ask yourself whether or not something can be done faster or bigger. If you can accomplish a task in six weeks, challenge yourself to do it in two days.

 

Challenging the status quo of, “If we can do that in six weeks, what would it take to do in two days?” It’s asking the question of pushing the boundaries of what you think is possible. Whenever I got a question from WeWork that was like, “I need you to do X, Y, and Z.” I always thought it was insane. Most of the time, we delivered.

There was something to that, which is that if you can apply enough pressure and enough resourcing, what you are able to accomplish is pretty incredible. I learned a lot there too. The next up on the rung for me was that I was eager to get back into the software. I was eager to get back into the ecosystem. I mentioned selling into sales leadership and so moved to Clari. Clari was, at the time, mostly an enterprise product. They were overhauling forecasting. It was their bread and butter.

Over the last few years, it has been incredible to be a part of a team that I deeply admire and respect. Our leadership team is phenomenal, led by Kevin Knieriem and Andy Byrne, which is so strong. Working in a space that has blown up when you think about revenue and sales tech is exploded, which is awesome to be a part of for lots of reasons.

First and foremost, as a seller, our function is last to evolve. Almost every other function had innovated and supplied its employee base with new technology to become more efficient and smarter in their work, except for sellers. We are finally getting our moment. Our moment is here, and we’ve invested, and you are seeing a huge amount of not just venture capital but excitement from investors.

A seller's first and foremost function is to last and evolve. Click To Tweet

Analysts are all over the space. It’s blowing up. If you look at sales tech similarly to the way that you looked at MarTech of the 2000s, it is hopefully going to follow a similar thread, which is lots of investment, tons of companies, and ultimately consolidation. It will be interesting to follow the space over the next ten years or so to see what happens.

Clair has expanded from being a forecasting platform that could help people overhaul a process to going into tons of different workflows. How do a company and a go-to-market org run their ultimate revenue process? How do you inform a rep to a manager one-on-one? How do you inspect opportunities? How do you spot risk? How do you ensure that your pipeline has enough coverage? Ultimately, how does a CRO define to the board and the leadership team if they are going to meet, miss or beat their number? It’s a very exciting time for us to be a part of.

Two things stood out for me. One thing you talk about is being meta, going back to LinkedIn, and selling to sellers. It reminds me of my time at SugarCRM, where we are selling to sellers and marketers. We need to be great at doing marketing and selling. That was a big eye-opening experience for me. You are preaching but are you doing the right things where you can lead by example?

I always say to my sales team, “We are demonstrating a sales process to the sensei, to the people.” Their inspection of our sales process, you can imagine, is going to be diligent. The way we show up in these moments is so critical. I would say that one of the things that are so incredible for me as a sales leader is the number of outreaches that I get from a head of sales or CRO complementing my sales team and asking if they can hire them. It is the best compliment because I know they are a tough critic.

There’s something that I want to pick your brains about clearly, you are an expert. You have been in sales, from a sales rep to leading a sales team, to now you are technically a business leader representing sales at the board level. How did you master or how are you continuing to master forecasting and prediction? That’s the biggest skill to learn.

From my personal experience, I have been at startups and worked with sales leaders. More recently, when talking about forecasting and missing the forecasting, here is a big miss where we forecasted $800,000 in a quarter, and eventually, sales closed at $30,000. I don’t want to go in there but clearly forecasting and being able to hit the number is a huge skill. What advice would you give to our readers on that?

It’s massive, especially as you move into sales leadership. As a sales rep, you are generally responsible for calling a number but very few orgs hold a rep accountable for their accuracy around that number. Part of that is because they don’t have a lot of diversification. If they miss one deal, it could throw their number off by several hundred percent, and that’s tough. Not a lot of accountability at the rep level. A little bit more so once you move into frontline leadership.

Naturally, when you get into executive leadership and sales leadership at the highest levels, the forecast is the thing that you are expected to get right. It’s table stakes to be effective in the role. If you don’t have a good methodology for how you get there and you have to put a good process in place, you are screwed. When you go into a board meeting, you are going to get eaten alive, and you need to be able to defend your call.

All that to say that there’s so much that is unpredictable in our environment that there’s no amount of machine learning, AI or fancy software that’s going to call COVID or the current downturn. Even the rise of PLG businesses is much harder to forecast in that environment because you are responding to market factors that you may or may not be able to predict. Velocity is all over the place. To get to the root of your question, there’s a handful of things that are core to getting this right. I’m going to walk through some very specific examples here, so forgive the granularity.

That will be the most useful for our readers, for sure.

One of the first things that you have to get right to get a good and predictable forecast process is sales stages and forecast categories. The terminology that you use inside of your sales org to call the way a deal is represented is critical to getting the overall process right. What that means is that you need defined stage criteria. This is what must be present inside of your deal for this to be considered a stage 2 or 3 deal however you have laid out your stages. Most companies have 4 or 5.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: The terminology you use inside of sales org to call how a deal is represented is critical to getting the overall process right. You need defined stage criteria inside your deals.

 

Within those stages, from qualifying to pricing and negotiations, however, that is enabled for you that it is crystal clear to a rep and impossible to argue when something has moved into or out of a stage. For example, in my world, we might say, “To move to stage three, we have to have been named vendor of choice.” This means we have to have gotten from the customer, the prospect, an indication that we are the partner that they want to partner with.

We might still need to get through security. We might still have an outstanding MSA but they have said, “We would like to move forward with Clari,” and now we know we have to move towards our paper process in getting a deal done but we have been named vendor of choice. That is a requirement to move into stage three. The requirements associated with stages and forecast categories are critical, and ensure that you’ve defined them. All of your leaders are managing to it is so important.

Now when you look across every single deal, you know that you are looking at the same set of requirements. You don’t have one deal that’s being represented differently than another deal with a different set of requirements. It’s foundational to getting a forecasting process in place. Second, there is no silver bullet inside the forecast. Therefore, you need to have a set of data that you can triangulate against.

For me, what that is, first, I have a rep roll-up. The rep roll-up is inclusive of all of the outstanding inventory. A lot of companies will do a bottoms-up view, which is deal by deal. They will say, “This deal is either in or out, or this deal has X amount of probability.” You have this bottoms-up view to informing one point of your triangulation process.

The next is you have a manager override or a manager commit. You have your leaders pressure test the rep-level forecast to see where they would agree or disagree based on how they might be called a deal. For me, the third layer is using AI. Specifically, inside a Clari, there’s a module called Pulse. Pulse is looking at historical data, and it’s making a prediction on how that quarter or a next quarter might shake out, looking at conversion rates and the amount of pipeline that we have to see how we might land. That means every single time I’m calling a number, every week, I’m triangulating between what the actual inventory says at the rep level, how my leadership team thinks we are going to shake out and what the machine says. Between those three, I’m landing somewhere in the range.

The first point you made is supercritical, which is my takeaway from that is defining very clear entry and exit criteria for each stage, where there’s no argument. There’s no ambiguity. Seller A can argue, “This is how I see it,” versus seller B will see it completely differently.

It’s black and white.

You use Clari, obviously in-house, and shout out to Clari. For those of you who are reading, if you are curious, check out Clari. Going back, if you have to go back in time and pick either a GTM success or a failure story, can you share one from your most recent time? That will be a great eye-opener for us.

I’ve got lots of both. Do you want me to share one of each?

Yes, absolutely.

There’s obviously recency bias here but I will share a failure. I will use one at Clari, which is we initially set up our go-to-market org to be geo-specific. We were going to have these little hubs. The hubs would be like if you owned Minneapolis, you were the CEO of Minneapolis Clari. Your job was to map out all the businesses that resided in Minneapolis, to get in with the Chamber of Commerce, to set up local events, and to create a community across companies that might sit in Minneapolis. You owned that geo. That’s how we structured it. This is pre-COVID.

You moved to a world where geo is almost completely irrelevant. I remember the moment when I knew this was a failure. I had an incredible rep who I very well love and still with us, who sold our first logo in Toronto. He said, “I planted a flag in Toronto, and it happened to be a relatively small deal.” You love getting a deal. A deal is a deal. I will never not celebrate a win but the win was that we landed in Toronto.

I was like, “This is one of our best reps. He is trying to crack into getting a small deal in Toronto. Why do I care if we are in Toronto? Do you know what I care about? Revenue. Why do I have him focused on these geos when there’s much bigger fruit if I were to distribute, let’s say, the market of New York?” We made this decision to move from a geo-based model to an account-based model a few years ago and never look back.

It was such a better distribution of our opportunity. Also, it allows us to hire pretty much anywhere and so we can get better talent without needing to focus on the geo. That was one, and I learned that way. A success, I will say, is that we were a pretty enterprise-focused company when I started. Most of our customers were enterprise customers.

There was a lot of trepidation to go down-market. People were fearful of the impact on ASPs. People were fearful of not having the support resources to support the velocity business. It took a lot for us to go down-market. One of the things that we did was pilot it with a handful of apps and gave them our smallest potential customers to see what they could do. This small team, we call it emerging. They exploded. It was all the fish that were jumping into our boat.

We decided to take that as a signal and say, “If these are a bunch of leads that are coming our way, what if we put capacity against it?” It did something with it instead of letting them come to us. It started with a small team and let them run wild for a quarter before we knew that this was a no-brainer place to invest based on the interest that we got and the success of that team. My regret there is that we should have done it sooner.

One question for each of the scenarios there. For the failure scenario, you mentioned you moved from geo to account level. I’m going to take a hypothetical example over here. Let’s say it’s Home Depot. That’s the account you are trying to break into. Were you assigning a rep to break into, let’s say, Home Depot in Michigan State versus Home Depot at any location? Is that the shift they are talking about?

We organize the account by HQ location. If Home Depot were headquartered in Minneapolis, then it would be owned by the Minneapolis rep but wherever the HQ location is would dictate ownership.

I had a question regarding your success scenario, which as you can clearly relate to this moving upmarket. Our down-market is super hard for any organization. What is the thought process for you and the leadership team at Clari on how you define the success criteria? Was it verticalized or how did you think about framing the team? Can you share some more insights about that?

It is a tough and big strategic decision. We operated more as an enterprise-grade company. We had enterprise customers. Most of our market position was geared toward the enterprise. That start there, which is how do you tailor your messaging and your market position to be attractive to different segment? Something we had to face in something we still deal with a little bit is you will see the SMB customer ask us, “Are we big enough for Clari or is it too soon for us to find value and benefit out of Clari?” If they are a former user, they never ask that question because they know what the value is to them.

For the general population, that’s where you need to start. Reeducate the new population of people that you are going after and why you are right for them. That was the one. One of the big changes that we went through as well is that naturally, at the market, you see enormous complexity. Both in the buying persona and the number of people involved in a purchasing decision and also for us technically. You are integrating with data.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: As you go upmarket, you’ll have more diversified personas buying from you. Be sure to reeducate the people you’re going after so that they know you’re the right one for them.

 

The way that data is structured can be very complex. Nuance for that unique customer. How do we simplify our process so that we could move through complexity at a different speed when we go down-market? We had this internal hashtag that we talked about. There’s a guy in my team named Adam Wainwright, who I will credit with this.

He labeled it supersonic. Supersonic was the charter for that team, which is, how can they move through a process quickly? If somebody said, “The average sales cycle time was 45 days, how could we get it to 30?” Everything we did was through the lens of supersonic. Taking what was a cumbersome process upmarket for a complex cycle and trying to figure out how we remove friction to get to a supersonic process.

I got some more follow-up questions for you on that. When someone goes to your website, you get the messaging, everything directed at the person who relates to like an enterprise customer, the ICP, versus when you are looking to go midmarket or down-market in your scenario. There’s the messaging, pricing, also other different aspects which we won’t get into. I’m sure you will share. Again, how did you think about that or how did you attract the initial set of your target midmarket customers?

Specifically, do you mean in the messaging that would be attractive to that?

It might be outbound because, obviously, you won’t be driving a lot of inbound or maybe you already have those in your pipeline, in your list somewhere, and then you segment that as the potential midmarket. What strategy did you use for those?

Firstly, we had to make a decision on what we would use to define segmentation. What was the best marker to signal that this type of company was indeed different from this other type of company? We ended up using just employee count. There’s a good debate on whether or not we should use sales employee count. The reason why we didn’t use sales employee count is that it’s harder to get that information and also different by industry.

Employee count is generally representative of the size of a go-to-market org that would be attractive to Clari. That was the first thing we aligned on. Not revenue, and that was by design. Employee size is the place that we started, and then we drew a line in the sand for us around a thousand employees. The other exercise you had to go through was, where does a cycle become differentiated? What is the line in the sand that says, “When you are below a thousand, you operate like this. When you are above a thousand, you operate like this?”

Those two things require a different sales motion, a different set of resources, a different market message, and a different price. Therefore, we are going to treat them differently. That is an intellectual exercise that should be run with product marketing. Hopefully, you have an ops function that can help support the data around that suggests, “You should stand up a motion that looks fundamentally different for this customer than that customer.”

After we went through the academic exercise to come up with an answer, then you go to trial and see if that’s, in fact, right. I will say that as our product and our go-to-market org have evolved, we have made some type of change to our segments most years. We collapse and expand. As we add more skews to the product, the way that we think about supporting them is different.

I will give one other example, which is in the presales side of the business. When we sell to a prospect, we segment by employee size, as I referenced. As soon as we sell that and it passes to the customer side of the house, and it’s going to be run by an account management team. They segment by revenue. Not by the revenue of the company but by the size of the deal that we did with that prospect. For them, the way that it makes sense to organize is how big of a deal it needs to be serviced and, ultimately, ensure that we can make that customer successful in a different way for different needs to segment.

Especially for customer success, it’s more of an expansion opportunity. Clearly, that makes sense. That is super helpful. Did you allocate six months or a year for this “experiment”?

We had prepared for six months and ended up making a decision after three. The reason why we decided after three is because it was so obvious that it was successful. We had done twenty new logos or something in a month. It was clear to us that applying resourcing there made sense. The other thing is that you get feedback anecdotally from your prospect base.

The number of customers that we had spoken to that appreciated got onboard with our supersonic approach and appreciated that they could move fast but it didn’t feel like a clunky, stodgy enterprise process. The feedback I got from many CROs in that space was aligned with the process we had put in place. It was very clear that we were going to make the investment. If you know that you are going to make the investment, why not move fast?

Let’s switch gears. We are coming to the final segment over here. What are 1 or 2 or 3 things within the go-to-market arena that you are curious about? What’s causing you to go deeper into research and shift your thinking from a go-to-market perspective?

There’s a ton. In no particular order, I will say the things that have been top of mind to me here. One is around intent. There are so many amazing new signals that we can incorporate into our sales process to try to find intent which means that we are going to use so much better at attaching the right accounts to the right resources. If we know the accounts that are warm and we put them with our bestsellers, we should be able to do all kinds of things. Not least of which is increase our revenue.

Lots of exciting companies. We happen to partner with 6sense. They are phenomenal on this front. Lots of intent resourcing here that changes the game for us. That’s number one. The other is around business models. The other thing you are seeing a lot more of is consumption use cases and usage-based models, and PLG motions. There are all these new ways outside your standard license-based model to structure the way you capture revenue from a customer. That’s super interesting to me. We will only see more advancements in the way that pricing in packaging is structured, especially in software. Those are two that are hot for me now.

There are so many ways outside of standard license-based models to structure the way you capture revenue from customers. Click To Tweet

The first one is intent, clearly. There’s a lot of talk in the industry about how you define intent. It has always been there in good market teams. You need to identify the intent signals but there has been no clear black-and-white way to identify them within the sales stack and marketing stack. That has been the biggest gap. Of late, I’m seeing more companies like 6sense.

There are others as well who are helping. They are also adjacent solutions that can say, “Plug this. Stick stack into your solution, and you can see the intent signals.” That’s from a tech perspective. I would like to get your thoughts on within the go-to-market team. How will you define whether this is a high-intent versus a low-intent account?

We use the signal that we are getting from 6sense primarily for us. We also use some G2 data, so we layer those on. The other thing for us is diversifying the leads. Not all leads are created equal. How do you ensure that you’ve got the right lead scoring so that it gets the right urgency that’s required? Naturally, a demo request or referral for us is high intent. We want to ensure that the speed to lead is short and that we can get connected to the buyer as soon as possible.

For us, that meant we instituted. I will give you an example. A product called Caddy. We are new to using it. It is the ability to book. If you book a request for a demo on Clari’s website, you would be directly connected to the AE that owns the account instead of bifurcating and moving away, going through all the other channels like being to an SDR or someone to do a qualification step. If it’s a named account, we already know that that’s somebody that’s already qualified by default, and we want to ensure that there’s as little drop-off as possible. That’s some of the mechanics that you have to optimize in the go-to-market.

One other topic, I have been coming across this topic also, and I speak to other go-to-market leaders. There has been a constant debate as to who owns the SDR team. Is it sales or marketing? What is your thought process around that?

I’ve seen it in both different departments. It obviously works in both places. At Clari, Kyle Coleman owns our SDR org. He is like LinkedIn famous.

He’s an SDR champ. I see him on LinkedIn. He is a true champ.

Deep expertise in the function, and so we are lucky to have him for lots of different reasons but that’s one of them. For me, he’s probably one of my biggest partners. There’s nobody I spend as much time with as Kyle in orchestrating a sales motion for us. Where it lives is much less important than the alignment between the two orgs.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: Where the SDR teams lives are much less important than the alignment between sales and marketing.

 

Even if it lived in sales, naturally, so much of the lead flow you would hope your SDRs are responding to is generated by marketing. If it lives in marketing, it must be responsible and accountable to sales. This is why there’s no obvious answer to this. Either way, there are tradeoffs. It’s not a perfect answer, no matter what. The alignment between the 2 orgs and, arguably, the 2 leaders is the most important thing.

Moving to the last couple of questions here, who would you credit if you were to go back in time? Who have been your code mentors and sponsors? Who have been the role models that helped you get to this point in your career?

I’m so lucky because I have many. You said 2 or 3. I will start maybe in logical order. The first time I ever went on a sales call like as an adult with a full-time job and going out to see a customer. I was with a guy named Aaron Nadolza. He and I both worked together at Gallup. We were going to our first big sales meeting.

It was his meeting, and I was just shadowing. He took me under his wing and taught me how to sell. Everything from how to set up a good meeting, how to follow up on the meeting, and the real basics of customer engagement. That’s like the least exciting thing he’s taught me over the years. I have now worked with him at three different companies. I followed him on LinkedIn. When I went to WeWork, I brought him over to be my boss.

I’ve worked with him for many years. I’ve learned a million things from him. The big thing outside of sponsorship, as you mentioned, is that he certainly sponsored me but he just deeply invested in me to teach me everything he knew. I was afforded his life experiences. I didn’t have to go through them myself, which was so incredible. Aaron has made a massive impact on my life.

When I went to LinkedIn, I worked for a leader that didn’t just change my professional trajectory but changed me as a human. His name is Peter Kim. Pete was the best boss that I have ever had. I remember specifically a one-on-one we had where I was asking him for some career advice. He basically said like, “Holly, I am yours. Use me however you want to use me but I believe in you. I’m here to develop you.”

What changed in the course of our interaction was that I did start to use him. A mistake that people make is that most people want to invest in high-potential talent. Where there’s often a mismatch is that the talent also has to go and engage and make good use of their resource. I took Pete up on his offer. I used him for everything, and honestly, I still do. We got to a place where he could give me advice about my whole life, everything from how to structure my mortgage to which job to consider or not.

Ultimately, it’s still your decision. It’s still your life but to have people that care deeply about you and therefore are interested in you making the right decision is so important. The last one is my current boss, Kevin Knieriem. He’s the CEO at Clari. He has invested in me in lots of different ways. One of which is to empower me to make my own decisions, build out an org, and be able to stand up for something that I knew was right.

I feel so empowered in my role now. Having limitless belief changes the way you operate. When you know that the person above you is in your corner and rooting for you in every way changes the way that you show up at work every day. Back to the comment, I made earlier about Gallup and that people join companies and lead managers.

For all the leaders reading, it’s a deep responsibility that we have as people leaders at any level. Whether you are leading leaders, managers or reps, someone’s happiness depends on the way that you approach them. You, as their boss, get to empower them. You get to ensure that they are going to have a good day or a bad day. That’s something that we shouldn’t take lightly. I have been lucky.

As a leader, someone's happiness depends on how you approach them. You have to empower your people and ensure they will always have a good day. Click To Tweet

That’s a great piece of advice there. For all readers, it doesn’t matter if you are a people leader or someone who’s reporting to a boss. You will have both up and down for most of you there. Hopefully, someone will take this as an inspiration to sponsor and grow someone’s career and vice versa. Ask and take, go full advantage of your manager because they sincerely care for your growth. That’s the message. Last question here, Holly, which is, if you were to turn back the clock and go back to your day one within the go-to-market career journey of yours, an amazing career journey for sure. What advice would you give your younger self?

One of the biggest things I have learned, which is so critical, is that much of the career decisions that we make can be convoluted when you start to add in title and comp and roll scope. You can get attracted to those things but one of the things that probably has the biggest impact on your return is the quality of the company. You are picking the right horse to bet on.

If you pick to be the assistant at the right company versus the CRO at the crappy company that goes nowhere, the fact that you have a big title, a big comp or whatever but the company doesn’t succeed. It ruins the whole game. Picking the right horse is 90% of the battle. If you take what is perceived to be a lateral move or even a step back in title and comp is so insignificant in the grand scheme of life and a long career. It’s so much more important to pick the right company and invest in the right company that you believe in over the long haul. It’s a big learning for me.

I have nothing to add to that. That’s a great piece of advice, for sure. Thank you so much, Holly. It has been wonderful speaking with you. Thank you for sharing all the wisdom and insights. Good luck to you, your sales team, and the folks at Clari.

Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on the show. It’s great to spend some time together.

 

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B2B 31 | New Market

B2B 31 | New Market

 

Go-to-marketing strategies can differ based on location. If you’re starting a business overseas, you have to look out for certain things if you want the best brand-customer relationship. With Alariss, that won’t be an issue anymore. They help international founders launch their brands in the US. They help build their team, raise revenue, and lead with their product. Join Vijay Damojipurapu as he talks to the CEO and founder of Alariss, Joyce Zhang Gray. Learn why it’s so difficult to enter a new market. Discover how building relationships and partnerships are key to go-to-marketing. Find out some attributes you want in your go-to-market team. Start launching your business with Alariss today!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Launching Your Go-To-Market Business In A New Market With Joyce Zhang Gray From Alariss

I’m super excited to have a fellow San Francisco Bay area member on the show with me, Joyce Zhang Gray, who is the Founder of Alariss Global. She is with me. She has obliged to be part of this show. I got introduced to Joyce by one of my earlier show guests. I looked up Joyce’s profile, and it stood out. It’s a unique profile. Talk about Ivy League. She has checked the mark for the Ivy League background and Harvard undergrad and Stanford MBA. After that, she’s got a very varied offbeat track, but it all laid the right stepping stones to what she’s doing now. With that, let me welcome you formally, Joyce. I’m super excited to speak with you.

Thank you so much, Vijay. Thank you for the kind introduction and for inviting me to your show.

It’s my pleasure. We should talk about this at some point in time in our show. You’re a former employee at Y Combinator. You’re the first business person at Human Interest. I know someone at Human Interest. It’s a great company. They allow what they’re doing in the mission. You did that. After that, you took on roles outside of the US, which is in Asia, and tried to build the go-to-market functions. You also played the role of a UN ambassador. Did I get that right?

The timeline and the titles might be a little bit off. I worked for the World Bank. I also worked for the Federal Reserve, which is the central bank of the US. That was earlier in my career. During that time, I was overseas. I worked in Africa, Latin America, and Asia on behalf of American tech companies launching in Asia. At Human Interest, I was the first employee, not just the first business employee. I started talking to them in the midst of Y Combinator. I joined right after they finished YC, and we could be off to the races. I’ve experienced the depth and breadth of big companies, small companies, government agencies, and the US, as well as many other countries. I’m delighted to share some perspectives on this show.

This is all in a very short time span as well. This is super impressive and inspiring.

Thank you. I don’t know if it’s that short. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I appreciate the compliment.

I’ll start off formally here. I always start this with this question with all my guests. How do you define go-to-market?

I define go-to-market as the core function of a revenue-generating business. It is how you get to and appeal to and deliver value in many ways to your customers. Go-to-market will oftentimes be sales and marketing. Sometimes it’s customer success as well because it also involves upselling. Much of the revenue generated by many companies, especially B2B companies, is through expansion revenue, not through new revenue generations. Go-to-market covers all these functional areas and more.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: Go-to-market is the core function of a revenue-generating business. It is how you deliver value to your customers in many ways.

 

I completely agree with you. I would also expand and add products. This is something that I see a lot of functional leaders at small companies or even startups and large companies. They miss the holistic piece, especially in a technology company, a product-based critical role in go-to-market. The big trend that’s going on in the industry nowadays is the whole product-led growth. If you talk about go-to-market and lead product, that’s a big wide. I completely agree. That’s something I’ve seen play out, which is strong and impressive go-to-market leaders cross-functionally across these functions. It’s marketing, sales, revenue, customer success, and so on.

Having a great product that customers want to use, delights them, and want to share is what one assumes. In many companies or tech companies, you can divide it into two categories. It’s either the people building or the people selling. They’re selling what someone else is built, and the builders will continue to build and iterate based on what can be sold. It’s correct. I would also say even with product-led growth, it would be a misconception that the products can sell itself.

I know a lot of amazing tech founders who assume, “If I build it, they will come.” People need to learn about the product somehow. That’s where I focused on the other functional areas when I described go-to-market because I was assuming that there would be a preexisting product that’s very strong as a baseline for what’s needed to go-to-market.

With that, you mentioned the words sales and selling. Tell and share with our readers the story of what you do now and what led you to start at Alariss Global.

I’m the CEO and Founder of Alariss Global. As a CEO and Founder, you’re the company’s first line of defense for sales and the last line of defense for sales. Most tech founders go into selling or building, but for the person on the business side, especially the CEO, some of the major responsibilities I have and that other CEOs usually have would be customer acquisition/go-to-market. This can include managing marketing, sales, and account management.

As a CEO, you're the first line of defense for sales and the last line of defense for sales. Click To Tweet

The other piece is internal recruiting. That’s incredibly important, building your team, which is also another form of sales. Selling people on your vision and a career with you is highly important. Finally, it’s fundraising, which is another form of getting capital into the company so you can continue to grow. Those are some of the major responsibilities. There are other things, business operations, finance, and everything else that go into the CEO’s role, but those are the ones that are most relevant for this conversation.

You also asked why I started Alariss Global. I started Alariss Global from a place of real need. I, myself, was launching companies in other markets, going overseas, and realizing how inefficient it was and how I was not most equipped to be able to launch as effectively as I wanted to. When you’re in a new market, you have to learn and get up to speed quickly. You might also be operating in a market where you don’t speak the language. You don’t understand the culture. You don’t have connections locally. It’s a long and very manual process of building your brand and credibility, building your networks, figuring out how to partner with the right lawyers, accountants, and recruiters, and finally, building your team. After you build your team, you can start generating revenue and attracting your customers.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: When you’re in a new market, you have to learn and get up to speed quickly. You might speak the language, understand the culture, or have any connections. So building your brand is going to be a long process.

 

I thought that a lot of this could be a leapfrog, especially with modern technology. Why have an ex-pat go into a market they don’t understand and spend a lot of time and money effectively when you could immediately spin up a local GTM team, a Go-To-Market team that is highly specialized, highly professional, and knows exactly what they’re doing, and they can start generating revenue for you from day one? That was a lot of the impetus behind Alariss Global. I wish Alariss existed for me when I was doing this. Because it didn’t exist, I thought I would build the solution for everyone else.

That’s a story of all the successful startups where the founders experienced paying themselves. They did some quick early market research and found that, “There are no viable solutions, so why don’t I solve this problem?” Can you expand on that? I also want to emphasize that because one of the core audiences for this show is the founders and aspiring founders. What led you to that decision point where you felt that this was a pain point and a large business problem with a huge turn and opportunity?

It was clear to me that it was a large pain point that I wasn’t the only one who faced when I had friends who reached out to me. The light bulb moment for me was when I had consistent outreaches from many different types of people and friends who are founders across India, China, and other markets who would ask me for connections or referrals in the US because I was perhaps one of the few or most trusted American friends that they had. I could empathize with and understand them because I had lived and worked with them before in those markets. It was a good reminder to me.

Sometimes as a founder, this is your own form of go-to-market. It’s your personal brand and network. Oftentimes, for founders, who’s going to trust a no-name company out of the blue? It’s usually going to be your friends, your family, and the immediate network that gives you that benefit of the doubt and knows you and your reputation so they can take a risk on you. Once you have those early believers, it does accelerate to something more.

That was when I first thought a hint that this was a large and very strong pain point that many people I knew faced. I did a bit more research as I was helping my friends and found other people who faced the same problem. I started to scale it and began Alariss more as a consultancy with always the belief that I would turn it into a tech company. As a consultancy, it gives you a few benefits as a founder. Some people call it bootstrapping, whatever you want to call it. It does give you revenue right away. When we talk about go-to-market, the single source of truth is following the money or where the money is.

In go-to-market, the single source of truth is to follow the money. Click To Tweet

People can tell you all sorts of things. They can tell you, “Your product is amazing, Vijay. This is so revolutionary. I love it.” They tell you all these nice things, but they’re not willing to pay you for your product. This is great. This feedback is very flattering, but it doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t lead to a viable company. You need more than just people who will tell you what you want to hear. You will need them to tell you what you need to hear. Sometimes what you need to hear could be things like, “I would buy it, but these are the other competitors that I’m looking at or other vendors that are offering something similar.” Maybe the price point isn’t quite there, and then you start to hone in on it.

When you start getting people paying you for that, that’s when you know you’ve hit upon the true hurdles that you need to gravitate towards. Even when building a startup, I started it as a consultancy because I wanted to see what is painful enough that people will part with their hard-earned money and give it to someone else to solve for them. Finally, within that realm of different things that people find painful enough that they’ll pay for it, what is something scalable and repeatable that I can productize? That’s how I came to build GTM teams.

It reminds me of the time when I started my consulting company, which is Stratyve. I was not thinking about starting or doing anything around consulting and offering GTM services. About a couple of years ago, someone reached out to me and called on LinkedIn, and it turns out that the founder had this company based in India. They were looking to do a go-to-market entry in North America. They needed help building what should be the go-to-market plan, the business case, the positioning, the messaging, the target users, and the use cases. That was inbound. I was thinking, “I don’t offer this for free. I have all these skillsets, but you need to pay for it.”

Going back to your question, people will seek advice, but are they willing to part their hard-earned money? In this case, he said yes, and that was a quick validation. I said, “It falls in line with what I’m known for and what I enjoy doing.” People are willing to part their hard-earned money. We’re completely on the same page. As part of market validation, are people willing to spend on your services or products? That’s fundamental, especially in the early days. That was a core piece and the driver. You got the business validation around incorporating and why you started Alariss Global. Let’s expand. Who are your customers? Who do you serve? What products or services should they be coming to you for?

Our customers are some of the most ambitious and globally-minded tech founders as well as executives based all over the world, outside the US predominantly, who want to go-to-market and expand their team into the US. We say we’re a global expansion company, but our main focus is US expansion. It could be a founder based in Bangalore, Tel Aviv, Beijing, Cape Town, or Sydney. We’ve worked with clients on every single continent.

We’re very lucky to have had that opportunity. The pain point we’re solving is they want to grow their revenue. They want to enter new markets because it’s about customer acquisition and growth. Sometimes, you’ve either saturated your local market quickly. Let’s say you’re a Singaporean or an Israeli company. The market is quite small in your domestic market, so you start thinking overseas fairly quickly.

You could be a company that’s based in a very large market. Let’s say you’re based in India, but perhaps you’re a B2B SaaS company. You know that the B2B SaaS market is a bit more limited in India than in the US. It could be that you are already a unicorn, and you have tapped into or exhausted almost all of the markets in your domestic market already. Onwards and upwards, you want to IPO. If you want to IPO and become listed on NASDAQ, then you probably do want to have some presence in the US. Those are usually the types of customers we’re serving, the pain points they’re feeling, and their ambitions and motivations for why they want to work with us.

What is Alariss Global’s go-to-market strategy or plans if you can share that? You need to spread awareness. You also need to talk about, show and display your credibility, expertise, and case studies. What is your go-to-market? What does that look like?

One thing I want to emphasize here is that our go-to-market has dramatically shifted and changed as we’ve learned things and become more aware of our own capabilities and limitations in these markets. We started off with a lot of experiments. That’s something I want to emphasize to every founder. You don’t know what you don’t know, and just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. If anything, if it worked for someone else, it might mean that there are no more opportunities for others who are later joiners to copy what was done previously. That’s something I want to emphasize. It’s important to read all these growth handbooks. It’s important to listen to shows such as Vijay’s, but you have to figure out your own path in this journey.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: You don’t know what you don’t know. Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you. And if it worked for someone else, that might mean that there are no more opportunities there.

 

I looked at a lot of benchmarks, but the difficulty is we’re defining a new category. We’re not helping American companies launch overseas, which is what most of the benchmarks I saw did. We’re helping overseas companies or international companies launch in the US. Still, I tried a lot of the same tricks of the trade. I looked into SEO, Google ads, LinkedIn ads, used social media, some outsourced SDRs, and all the different tools and tricks. The vast majority did not work. Luckily, two things did start to work. One was referrals and word of mouth.

That, as I mentioned early on, is always valuable. I was lucky to have a deep network already in the tech sectors of a lot of major overseas tech hubs. Getting friends to share news about me and offering very big discounts to the first customers so they could test out our products, give us feedback, and work with us, started to work a little bit.

Another is we would ask for referrals from the customers we worked with to new customers. Finally, we started to hit upon looking through channel partnerships. Channel partnerships are very difficult. It’s now become one of our main growth channels, but at the beginning, it was difficult because selling to a channel partner is even harder than selling to a customer. You’re trying to convince someone to open up your Rolodex to me and put your reputation on the line so I can have a shot at your customers. That is a hard sell. You need to first build up credibility. It’s important to go first through some referrals. We found a bottoms-up approach worth quite well for us.

If we had portfolio companies from a particular venture capitalist that liked us, we would ask them to share and promote us to that VC. Later, the VC would come to us and say, “A couple of my portfolio companies mentioned that they liked working with you. Maybe we should have a partnership or a volume discount for my portfolio company.” The channel partnership then starts to make sense because you’re not just a no-name risk that they’re taking that could impair their credibility. You become an augmentation of their brand and their reputation.

If they already know that companies they’re affiliated with or working with like you and trust you, then it’s very easy for them to come in and partner with you, and even better if they can take credit for negotiating a discount. It’s a win-win on all sides. You get the deal flow and save costs on your GTM because referral revenue comes with a much lower cap than a lot of other revenue. They also win because it makes them look good, and this is something their partners, customers, and portfolio companies want anyway.

If I had to summarize your go-to-market, initial traction, an initial set of customers, and leads that came through your own network, how you got started is you tried SEO, outbound, and so on. You would build your traction through word of mouth, your own network, and then referrals. It’s the same playbook. It’s the same thing for the channel partners. I’m a big believer. All the prominent startup advisors say the same thing. If you’re a startup, do not lean on channel partners as your primary go-to market. That should not be the first source.

You validate that thought process once again. For all the founder readers over there, this is the real mantra. Don’t lean on and pitch to your investors that you’re leaning on a channel partner as one of your good market strategies, not initially, at least. In your case, it came through reference. It came inbound. In this case, it was a VC who invested in one of the portfolio companies. That was your customer.

Another thing I would point out here is that it is very challenging. I know how it feels like a chicken and egg problem. If you are trying to build a relationship or a partnership from scratch, but you don’t have those, how do you build it? If you can’t build it because you don’t have preexisting relationships, it feels like an impossible task. Things do evolve. You work with a combination of the tools you have at your disposal and what works.

I know other people who have amazing networks, but their network is irrelevant because they’re building a B2C product. B2C is all about customer acquisition and user acquisition at a massive scale. Just because you know a couple of friends from business school doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly get a million followers on your new social media app. It does depend, and that’s also why I mentioned a lot of go-to-market is highly personalized and individualized.

A lot of go-to-market is highly personalized and highly individualized. Click To Tweet

What I’m sensing, and for all the readers out there, is that this is not your traditional product or service. It’s almost like you are building a platform play here. It’s a two-sided platform. The one set is your customers. The other set is all the salespeople across the different calibers and roles. Share your story about how you’re thinking about this two-sided marketplace. Going back to your chicken and egg analogy, it’s the same thing. How are you managing and maintaining that two-sided marketplace growth?

This is where it’s interesting because a lot of marketplaces have elements of both B2B and B2C. For a B2B marketplace, they still usually make money from the 2B part, but it is still important to have the 2C part. Many people liken this to building two companies at once, which is why marketplaces are incredibly difficult to build, but they are very difficult to unseat once you’ve built it. It’s a hard business model, but once you’ve cracked the code, it is something that is incredibly valuable and hard to copy. For the chicken and egg, I think about who is paying for this.

It goes back to what I said earlier, follow the money and the source of truth. I analyze the market. The job seekers could potentially pay, but most of the time, they won’t. Very good candidates don’t need to pay to get a job. If you ask someone to pay, you might not be getting the best candidates. Secondly, if someone doesn’t have a job and is looking for a job, they inherently have a limited ability to pay. By charging one side of the market, you are limiting and restricting your pool of supply, and you are getting worse supply. It was clear that that wasn’t going to be the angle we would tackle. We then looked at the 2B part, which we always suspected was going to be the better side to charge. The 2B side has high amounts of skepticism.

It’s this concept of how you get someone to part with their hard-earned money, especially if they’re founders and people who have to be frugal and scrappy. What value can you demonstrate to them? What can you show them as value? That is important to understand what value you bring to your customers. For them, the value was something that was difficult for them to get access to themselves. It was revenue generation quickly in a market that was highly important to them, with people that they otherwise didn’t have access to because it wasn’t within their network. We started by thinking about seeding this side of the marketplace as the most important. If you seed the 2B side of the marketplace, if you have great employers and jobs on your platform, the job seekers will come to you and be more likely to trust you. That’s what we did, and it started to play out.

You hit upon key points there, Joyce, especially in a two-sided marketplace. It’s about who will see the value and who will part with their hard-earned money. That’s where you go. That’s a B2B place or the play. The B2C is building your network of salespeople. Do you specialize in a specific industry? How do you build an asset, that sales talent pool?

That’s a great question. That’s more on the product side. To our earlier point, product-led growth or having the products involved in the GTM is highly important. Assessing the sales talent is part of the reason companies use us. Like I said, it’s core to the product that they believe this is a marketplace of competence and trust that we, with our experiences in the US and our networks, know how to both attract the right types of people and screen and filter out those who aren’t so great. We have a combination of online assessments as well as phone screens and interviews that we do.

We usually look for a couple of key things which are incredibly important when founders are looking at building out their go-to-market team. We look for intrinsic motivation and drive. Sometimes some people can call it hustle. Startups love that phrase, so I’ll call it hustle. For a startup, why I say intrinsic motivation drive is because it can’t be as simple as your boss telling you what to do and looking over your shoulder, or you get paid a lot of money, and therefore you are doing it. It has to be something more because sometimes startups don’t have a lot of money, and founders don’t have a lot of time. Management can sometimes fly out the window, and people need to be self-motivated.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: If you’re going to build your go-to-market team, you’ll want people who have intrinsic motivation and drive, the ability to communicate well, and empathy.

 

The second thing we also often look for is the ability to communicate well. I know it sounds so simple, but for someone in a go-to-market function, it’s critical. It can be verbal communication or written communication. Also, it has to be effective asynchronously because the founders we’re working with are usually based overseas. There are many time zones that separate them from their American GTM team. Even in the US, if you live in Hawaii, New York, or Colorado, those are all different time zones. Even for our team, we’re distributed across multiple time zones because most of our team is either on the East Coast or the West Coast of the US. There’s a three-hour time difference.

You want to be respectful of the time. For example, it’s 2:00 PM in San Francisco on a Friday. I know I’m going to stop messaging my US team on the East Coast once I’m done with this show because it’s going to invade their family time and their weekend time. I don’t want to do that. Communication is important. The last piece I said, which also ties into communication, is empathy. Empathy is so incredibly important. Like the example I gave, I don’t want to impose on people on their personal time and family time if I can help it. I’m empathizing with them because I want to know how I would feel in a situation. I also want to know how I want to treat others.

It’s so important for GTM talent to have strong empathy. Also, it goes beyond just working with clients and customers and getting their trust, but also working with diverse and global teams. It is important to be empathetic and patient because there are times zone and cultural differences. Sometimes you have certain situations that pop up that are less than ideal, but you need to empathize. If you always put that thought at the forefront of your mind of, “Everyone’s working hard. Everyone’s trying their best,” then even small things or mistakes can seem very immaterial.

Those are all great points. The more I listen to your story and approach, I’m being reminded of these unicorn companies like HackerRank and HackerEarth, similar to what they’re doing for developers and helping these employers find great developers. You’re doing a similar playbook for sales.

We are, in some ways, like the inverse of a lot of these developer companies.

Let’s switch gears a bit over here. Can you share a success or a failure story? It’s up to you what you want to share. I don’t expect you to share anything confidential and private, but if you can share a go-to-market success, not for Alariss Global, but for one of your customers, like what the situation was. Have you helped them in their go-to-market in a new market?

I’ll do that. I’ll share success. Those are always more fun. I’ll keep names and privacy intact. I’ll make it a bit more anonymous. We have worked with quite a number of different companies all around the world. In one company we work with that’s in the industrial automation and AI space, the team had tried for many months to hire someone in the US but was unable to. They were starting to fall behind because it was a venture-backed company. They were at the seed stage. The problem is the longer you delay being able to deploy that capital, and nowadays, when founders raise money, 90% of it goes towards the headcount. Very little has to go towards other things like where you pay a little bit of your cloud subscription fees to Heroku, your CRM, and G Suite or whatever. You buy everyone laptops.

Beyond that, especially with distributed teams, what else are you spending money on that is on compensation, bonuses, and benefits? They were having a hard time hiring someone, and it was frustrating them because they were starting to miss their revenue targets because it was taking so long to get someone in the market. The founders themselves were already fully at capacity. They couldn’t keep being the only salespeople because sales and go-to-market can accelerate. It can grow exponentially, but it is still going to be limited based on the number of go-to-market people you have on your team, especially for B2B of a certain ACV above $50,000 a year or so. A lot of decision-makers and a lot of your buyer persona expects to be able to talk to someone and have their questions answered.

It was starting to be frustrating. The hero in the story here was that they found Alariss through a referral. They started working with us, and we were able to get them the right person and get that person onboarded within a month’s time. To some companies, it might seem crazy like, “I took six months, and it only took a month.” Keep in mind that the American labor market is incredibly dynamic, and salespeople are good at selling themselves. If they can’t even sell themselves, how can you have confidence they can sell your product? A good salesperson, if they’re on the job market and are actively starting to interview, can get competing offers and other offers within two weeks. It’s important to remember this is dynamic. It moves quickly.

It takes a month from start to finish, starting with sourcing, screening, and attracting the salespeople and all the interviews they have to go through back to back with the different founders to finally offer letter negotiation and then onboarding. That is a lot of work to pack into one month, but it can be done, and it should be done because the longer it drags out, that means perhaps the company wasn’t moving quickly enough and wasn’t making decisions fast enough. They were losing a lot of candidates in their pipeline.

Perhaps they were working with the wrong sourcing partner or strategy for finding candidates. Whatever it is, it could be tough. After the person started working for the company, and it was a great mutual fit, the person had the exact engineering but also sales background that the company needed, and the company offered this person great growth and trajectory for advancement that the person couldn’t otherwise get from staying as a mid-level or mid-market AE or senior AE at a much larger company.

Becoming the head of North America right away for this company was exciting. A few months in that this person was hitting, achieving, and exceeding revenue targets, the company wanted to hire more people, and then they were able to use this momentum, and the revenue that was being generated to close a very sizable series A with an American investor, even though this company was headquartered in another market and the founders because of travel restrictions were unable to come to the US at the time.

That’s a great win-win story there. It’s a win for Alariss, but clearly a win for the salesperson who got hired. He or she’s on a different growth trajectory, and for the founders as well, because that whole approach of working and partnering with Alariss led to them raising series A in the US market from a US investor.

Let’s switch gears again to a different topic. You have a wide network from your undergrad and grad schools, and you work with different organizations and communities. If you were to share some of the best practices and what resources you lean on, be it podcasts, books, communities, or mentors, what resources do you lean on for your personal and professional growth, especially given how stressful, but at the same time, fun the founder journey is?

The founder journey is stressful. You’re right in that. I’m lucky my husband has been such a bedrock of support for me from the beginning. He was my boyfriend at the time when I started Alariss. I quit my job and started Alariss. It was all these highs and lows. It was a bit of a strain on our relationship at first. We had been dating for a little bit, but it was probably a side of me he hadn’t yet seen how high the highs can get and how low the lows can get. I’m so lucky that I have his support. That means the world to me, and it means a lot.

With other people for inspiration, I have a couple of other friends who are founders that I will text or call up. Everyone’s busy, but people make time for each other. I’ve been so touched and floored by how generous people are with their time, even though it’s limited. I remember, in particular, some of my female CEO friends are ones that I found I resonated with even more or others who are minorities and are founders in the US because there is a special shared experience. There are certain elements that are unique. For example, I had my first child while I was running Alariss and while I was fundraising.

That is a different perspective when you ask a friend who’s been through pregnancy, hormones, pitching, and fundraising than if you were to ask a founder friend who had never been pregnant before or was a male and had gone through pregnancy vicariously perhaps through his partner, but hadn’t experienced it himself. It’s incredible to find a community and find either comfort, solace, or advice. Finally, my team has been great. I am so appreciative of how hard they work and how much they care. It makes me want to be a better leader. It makes me want to run a better company because they believe in me.

The founder's journey is a difficult one. Find a community where you can get comfort, solace, and advice. Click To Tweet

I’m so happy and grateful to you and the people supporting you. This is fundamental where you have “the right set of support system.” Things are unique when it comes to women founders and women leaders. They have their own unique set of challenges. As a man, I can “relate” to it, but it’s not the same thing. My wife and I have these conversations as well. She keeps sharing these experiences that she’s seeing at her workplace, and it’s different.

I completely respect that. Kudos to you and all the support systems that you have in place. We’re wrapping up. Coming to the final question here, if you were to go back in time and to the day one of your go-to-market journeys, possibly, maybe it’s that first day at Human Interest if I have to recall your career path and journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?

The beginning of my go-to-market journey was when I was living in China, working for an American tech company. This is right after I graduated from Harvard with degrees in Economics and International Relations. I worked at the Federal Reserve, which is a perfect fit for my degrees because it combines economics and international relations because I was working on a lot of policies that pertain to our international stakeholders and partner central banks around the world. I go from this very ivory tower, high-level policy, intellectual stuff. Most of what I did was memo writing and research, both in school and at work. I show up in China, and I have this glossy notion of what my job would be.

It’s going to be like I’m a diplomat in some ways. I’m coming as an American to China to build offices in China. I had never worked in business before, so I had this conception that it was almost like being a diplomat. You go, spread around the country, meet people, and shake hands. It’s great. I showed up, and they said, “Your title is sales director.” I said, “What?” I had thought at the time, as perhaps a lot of people who go to these types of universities do, I thought sales was a dirty word.

It’s that guy who keeps trying to push the used car sales or random people following you on the streets, trying to hand you flyers, trying to push things on you that you don’t want. That was what I thought sales was. I started off being a little bit apprehensive, and I didn’t even want to say or admit that I was doing sales, but that’s what it was. When you’re growing a business overseas, that is exactly what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to sell the company and the product in a new market.

Later on, over time, I embraced it. Now I have tremendous respect for it. I use the word sales all the time. I own it. The core piece of my responsibility is to sell the company, the vision, and our product. At the time when I was first beginning, I had too many apprehensions. That’s something I would want to share with founders and especially those who find themselves in a GTM role. The only reason people look down on sales is because a lot of people give it a bad name, but like anything in the world, that’s meaningful if you work hard at it and are good at it. This is a crucial function. It’s a crucial skillset to have.

That’s a great piece of advice. For me, I was having the same notion, plus I was also having a fear of selling. I started my consulting company Stratyve, reached out, and spoke to a different set of people because I needed to wear multiple hats as a consultancy service delivery person, but at the same time, marketing and even different functions within sales. You got the outbound, the BDR piece, and then you have the account executive piece who is negotiating and closing. I was also studying top-tier salespeople, and a common theme that surfaces, and I’m sure you would agree with this, is that great salespeople are great listeners. It’s completely contrary to the popular notion that’s being floated out in society, which is salespeople talk and talk. On the contrary, great salespeople listen more than they talk.

I agree. You’re a very good salesperson, Vijay. You’ve been a great listener. Thank you to everyone on this show.

Thank you for your time. I wish you and your team the very best. Thank you so much, Joyce.

Thank you. You too. Take care.

 

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End-users are the best source of feedback on a product you are launching. Giving value to the voice of the customer can help you realize opportunities and provide the best solution. In this episode, Shruti Kapoor, the GM and Founder of Wingman, talks about how validation and differentiation play into making your solution stand out and ensure that your platform doesn’t only analyze data but ultimately affects change or improvement in an organization. Get tips on how you can build a level of trust and leverage your customers’ feedback in getting your business to scale. Also, get insights on when and how to connect to Y Combinator and set yourself up for success. 

Sales in the times of an economic downturn.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Voice Of The Customer For Your Startup Success With Shruti Kapoor

It’s been a good several months since the last episode was released, but my commitment from now on is to be consistent. That’s my promise to my readers. It’s not just you but for my selfish reasons, I look forward to and enjoy speaking with the go-to-market leaders. In this episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with Shruti Kapoor, who is the Founder and CEO of Wingman. It’s Wingman by Clari because of the acquisition. We’ll go into a lot of other details, but I’m super excited to be speaking with you, Shruti. Welcome to the show.

Thanks, Vijay. Let’s get this season started with a bang. It sounds like this is the first one of the season.

I’m curious. What led you to go and live or work in Dubai? I believe you grew up in India. Is that right?

That is true. Yes and no. I did spend the majority of my life in India, but I spent a decade in Singapore somewhere in between. I moved to Dubai in 2022. In many ways, I’m enjoying the change. Being in a new place makes you relook at everything with a new lens. The business reason for this was as part of the acquisition, I wanted to be in some sense closer to the broader action. Given the constraints with visas, there are not as many countries as Indians that you can quickly relocate to. This seemed like a good fit from a time zone perspective, access to Europe and generally, very well connected. Here I am.

Especially the time zone and the access. You talked about the visa situations and all that. I’m glad that you relocated. You look to be that person who always looks for change and to be out of your comfort zone. You mentioned growing up in Singapore and India and relocating to Dubai. I’m super excited about that. With that, I want to transition a bit over here and then go into more of the first question, what I typically ask of my guests, which is how do you define the go-to-market?

There are two things that a company needs to do, build something and then make sure somebody is using it. The t-shirt I’m wearing says, “Make something people want.” This is the Y Combinator motto. I think of go-to-market as anything that helps you get your product into the hands of users.

I would love to get into the story of the whole Y Combinator. I was looking at your About. It was nice and creative as to how you came about and told your story of how you found that pain point and your cofounders, and what made you get into Y Combinator and so on. Let’s get into that. That’s a good transition. It looks like you were leading the go-to-market and sales team. You ran into this problem with your product. Even marketing folks ask you, “Can you get customer feedback?” That was the genesis of this. Tell me more about the story. What did you and the team do to go down this path?

Before I started Wingman, I was working at a company called Payoneer, which by no means can be called a startup. They did an IPO in 2021 or so back. At the time when I was working with them, I was the third employee in India. They were trying to enter this new market. My role was to help them figure out their go-to market. The way the team was structured was there was a central team, which was doing marketing and product. They would have regional teams that were doing more customer-facing roles, partnerships, customer success, sales and a variety of other things that show up.

There's a lot of value in having the voice of the customer for teams outside of sales. Click To Tweet

What that did was it made the distance that exists between customer-facing teams, marketing and product teams much more stock than it is in usual organizations. That gap always exists but in this case, it made it much more stock. We were launching this product into the new market for the first time. There was a lot of stuff that we needed to learn from what the customers were telling us and take back to the rest of the organization.

It wasn’t always easy. I’m sure all of us have had that experience where we tell the product team, “The customer said that,” but it goes in one ear and comes out the other. If they happen to be on a call with the customer, it has a very different impact. They’re suddenly like, “That’s why the customer wants it this way. Let’s see if we can prioritize this on the roadmap.” In that process, what we realized was there’s a lot of value in having that voice of the customer for teams outside of sales as well.

As a person who was on the sales side, everybody faces so you have folks in your team who are doing well and folks who are not doing well. Sometimes everybody seems to be putting in a lot of effort but getting very different results. You’re wondering what you can do to help them. That was my other challenge. Those two things came together. We were like, “Both of these problems can be solved if we could go back and analyze every call that happened between the customer and the salesperson. We could also get broader insights from it because nobody has the time to listen to every call recording.” That was how this started.

When you were doing this, you found that problem. You must have done some market research. Were there alternative solutions back then?

There were a couple of solutions that had started. In our space, two competitors have grown well, Chorus and Gong, which both also started at the time when we were doing our initial research. Maybe they had a year of a head start at that point. We saw that almost as validation. When we look at problems and you don’t find anybody else trying to solve them, it’s almost a question mark. “Is there something that I’m thinking is wrong?”

In this case, the feedback that we got very consistently early on was, “I’m not sure if my sales reps would be okay to record their calls. Forget about it. Even if my sales reps were okay, I’m not sure if my customers would be okay to record those calls.” Honestly, if you were in that ideation phase and five people told you that, you would be like, “That makes sense. That’s why nobody else is doing this.” Some competition is good.

You bring up a very good point, especially for startups. You’re paying with so much risk and many variables. You want that market to be validated. There’s a lot of talk about category creation and all of that but you don’t take that approach with the startup on day one versus the category creation coming later on. A good lesson insight for founders, current CEOs and aspiring founders is to make sure that there is some market validation. I have seen where people go down a path and burn their money, time, motivation, energy and the people in 1 to 2 years but nothing happens. Kudos to you and your team of cofounders to take that as a validation and a hypothesis that’s already been tested out. You don’t need to do that.

The other thing that I learned through that process of early market research was when you have a solution for any problem that you have, there is a way that somebody’s already trying to solve that problem. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a direct competitor or not. There is always competition of some sort. It’s important to find whatever that closest thing is. Go and figure out that even with that closest thing, what are the challenges that people still have?

B2B 30 | Voice Of The Customer
Voice Of The Customer: If you are looking for that co-founder, your best bet is to make sure that you spend time and effort in finding that person who’s complimentary to your skillset because that can make a big difference in how much you can accelerate and how lean you can stay.

 

Early on when you’re trying to make that initial product and do that minimum viable product, you say, “I have to do all of these things, which are going to give me parity with the existing solution. I have to build all these other things that are going to give me differentiation.” If you go and speak to users who are solving that problem with whatever is the closest competitor to your solution, you should go and spend time with those users. Not with the context of, “Will you switch to my solution?” It’s with the context of, “What can I build that will add value to this person without me having to build everything else that exists?” It’s a very easy pitfall that people make. You can easily delude yourself into building products for two years and not having a single dust to it.

It goes back to the whole Steve Blank and others who have promoted this, which is a lean startup philosophy that has done that from the early days, which is good. How did you go about finding the customers of Chorus and Gong and other alternatives?

It’s a little bit of serendipity and the fact that Silicon Valley is a bit of an eco-chamber. If there is a SaaS company and it’s based in the Valley, there’s a pretty good chance that their first hundred customers are also based in the Valley. If you speak to enough Valley companies, you’ll find somebody who’s heard of that company or using that company. That was broadly how it happened.

Switching gears here. With the problem, you found that there is market validation and a need based on this. The next step was you met with your cofounders, who are the CPO and the CTO. There is that problem-finding phase, market validation phase and, “How do you find my cofounders?” That’s key. Tell us and share your experience with the readers as to how you made that happen.

The order was a little bit different. I met my cofounders before we necessarily zeroed in on this idea. The way I met Murali, who’s the CPO, was through a common friend whom he went to college with in engineering and went to college with me in my MBA school. At that point, Murali was moving back to India. He was very clear that he wanted a startup. He had previously worked in a very early-stage startup that had gotten acquired by Google. He had seen that startup life and Google life. He knew where he wanted to spend his time. He moved back to India with the intention of starting up. That’s when we met.

At that point, I still have a full-time job. We started discussing and ideating. We went through multiple ideas before freezing on this one. Srikar and Murali have known each other for a long time, since their first jobs in 2005 in EntreLogy. Broadly speaking, every company probably has different founder-team stories. If somebody’s looking for that cofounder, unless you already have somebody who’s complimentary to your skills, spend time and effort in finding that person who is complementary to your skillset.

That can make a huge difference in how much you can accelerate and how lean you can stay. We were a founding team of three people. We had different specializations in some sense. We could afford to keep a relatively small team. There was so much tech and product work between Murali and Srikar that could cover. It helps to make sure that you stick to what you need to complement yourself and find that person.

Know your strengths, which is self-awareness and know your gaps as well. The key is to find that person who not only will cover your gaps but also from a chemistry and validation point of view, you all click. That’s key. Before we dive or go further into Wingman, your target audience and whom you serve, here’s one final question on the early days of your startup journey. How do you prep for the Y Combinator pitch? What advice would you give to people who are looking to apply for Y Combinator and other incubators?

When we look at problems and we don't find anybody else trying to solve them, it's a question of whether there is something wrong or what we’re thinking is completely wrong. Click To Tweet

You should think about whether or not it’s going to help you, depending on where you are in your stage of the journey. At least with Y Combinator, our experience was that if you were at the point where you were either building that product, doing user research and figuring out what was your value proposition, it was a great, time and phase to be in Y Combinator. There is enough and more advice on what Y Combinator evaluates and how to go through that interview process.

I don’t think there is a real secret sauce. It’s just a lot of clarity in terms of saying, “This is the problem that the startup solves. Why has nobody else tried to solve it before? What does the competition look like? Why do we think we are going to succeed?” As we went through the process of preparing for the Y Combinator interview and the application process, we spend a lot of time answering these questions as three founders sitting in a room and going through them.

A lot of these things became clearer to us to the extent that I was like, “At this point, it doesn’t matter whether or not we get into Y Combinator.” The interview preparation process has helped us so much in thinking clearer and crystal. Some of these external things work as forcing functions. It’s important to make sure that you know the other questions that you need to answer first. It’s easy sometimes to go in the flow of the building, working and hustling, whereas you might not have figured out some of the basics.

I like the fact in how you phrased it, which is irrespective of the outcome of the result when you go through the whole Y Combinator application process. The very fact that the questions are the problem statements that the Y Combinator application is putting forward will force you as a team to realize where you are in the journey, whether this is the right thing and whether you are going in the right direction or not. Switching gears, let’s talk about Wingman. You serve the salespeople but with sales, you got different titles and roles. Whom do you serve? Why did they love Wingman?

One of our early insights as we were doing our market research was when I’m building a product for recording and analyzing sales calls, I can serve anybody. I could be serving product teams and helping them get user insights, for example. What we realized was that the first thing is the team that you choose to serve, your stakeholders, are the people who at least have the ability to influence the adoption of your platform. The natural thing for us was you can’t get this adopted unless the sales leader decides to get this adopted. Therefore, you better make sure that the sales leader is an important stakeholder in your product.

The second thing was we noticed that a lot of times people were looking at this and this happens with a lot of sales tools. It’s a legacy because of the way salesforce operates. No sales rep ever believes that salesforce helps them. They all believe that it helps their manager. They’re only spending time in salesforce because their manager needs them to. What was important to us was to say, “This should be a platform that doesn’t just serve the manager but the sales reps as well.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much insight the manager has like, “This is what happens in the calls at Wingman. These are the things that my reps are doing wrong.” At the end of the day, the reps have to be the people who are taking the action to correct those things. Unless they are the ones directly involved, you are creating additional loops. If those loops don’t close, then no action happens. For us, that was a very early insight so we were like, “We have to build a platform that directly helps the sales reps and ideally, helps the sales managers by making sure that the sales reps can help themselves.”

Going back more into the tactical and doubling down on this thing, how many user research calls you were doing a day or a week during this whole process?

B2B 30 | Voice Of The Customer
Voice Of The Customer: As a founder, you must be the face your customers see. You have to be the person they trust.

 

We did it in maybe 2 or 3 batches. Before we started, we spoke to around 20 to 30 sales leaders who were more directly from our network to validate the problem and understand like, “What would you do? How would you use it?” This was before we wrote a single line of code. Once we started building the product, our priority was to make sure that we could have people who could use it and then give us feedback. That was the tinkering part. At that point, we did a bunch of interviews and maybe that was around 30 or so as well.

The third phase was that once we had figured out the product and we knew that we wanted to do real-time insights and this is what the meat of the product needs to look like, we then went and did two months. This coincided with our time at Y Combinator where we said we will go and speak to hot companies. Specifically, in our ICP, we’ll be very strict about whom we qualify. Three phases happened for us.

My peers in other startups and I struggle with this. We know the concepts of ICP. Defining the ICP, trying to reach out, doing the research and then getting feedback is a challenge. As an example, I can come up with an ICP of, “It has to be a company that has at least 5 employees or 1 location.” That’s a broad profile with multiple markets, industries and use cases. How did you narrow it down? You have a very limited amount of time. You’ve lined up all those people from a validation point of view but how did you lock that ICP?

It’s easy to get greedy and there is always that temptation. You’re trying to tell a bigger story to the market, the investors and everybody where you’re like, “This is a $20 billion market. Everybody in the world can use it.” It’s easy to go into that zone but very early on, make sure that you have something that is useful for somebody and you’re not building for two years, which essentially means that you have to find a small segment. Later on, you can expand your product and segment.

For us, there were a few things. One was we realized, “Is this generally a well-accepted technology?” The answer is no. “Does it influence user behavior?” Call recording is somewhat difficult for people to accept the first time. That’s true. Essentially what that means is you need early adopters. People who are early adopters in our case are specifically other tech companies. That’s broadly true for a lot of people.

The next thing was, “Do I sell to anybody who is in the tech space? Could it be a service provider or a product company?” That was the other distinction. The third distinction was, “What is the size of that sales team?” I could sell to a single founder or a 1,000-person sales team. “Where do I want to play?” What we realized was early on, there’s a sweet spot. We don’t want to build a self-serve product on day one. We want to be able to build a product that delivers more value than just recording calls and transcribing them.

There’s going to be some effort for adoption. That led to us saying, “It has to be at least a 10-member sales team that’s going to get the most value out of this.” With the product maturity, the time and energy that you want to spend on creating something very customizable, the settings and all of that, maybe you don’t want to work with a 1,000-member sales team on day 1. We then narrowed it down further and said, “Maybe it’s 10 to 50-member sales teams that we want to work with.” That was our process.

Thank you for sharing that amount of details. Your user is the salesperson. Maybe it is the BDR or the AE. The buyer is necessarily not them. It’s going to be the sales manager to whom the BDR or AE reports so you need to get both on your side.

The team you choose to serve your stakeholders has to be people who can influence the adoption of your platform. Click To Tweet

From a sales process perspective, it’s a fairly top-down approach. We would engage with the head of sales or the sales manager. When it came to us selling our product, they would then do a top-down on telling their team to adopt it. The ICP has expanded and we work with larger companies. We have the ability to also segment out the complexity of the product and the features by saying, “I could have a very lightweight version for a single user team,” versus, “I can have fairly sophisticated features.” Early on, it’s important to keep that narrow.

You completed or covered the journey from founding to getting your initial set of customers, investing, fundraising and all of that. If we switch gears over here, you were at a point where you are making single-digit million dollar ARR when Clari acquired it but it’s still a big jump from your first 5, 10 and 15 customers to getting to that million ARR. What is your growth trajectory? How did you make those investments as a CEO, plus handling the whole go-to-market? What were you scaling? What are your growth channels? How did you go about doing that?

It was interesting because we were building a product for sales teams. I wanted to be as close to that sales process for as long as possible so that, 1) I was also the user of the product and, 2) I was getting a lot more direct feedback on how every customer or prospect was receiving the product. What that meant was that to a large extent, early on, I was the only salesperson, the only SDR. I was doing my outreaches, cold calls, demos and closing the deals.

We only hired a head of sales close to hitting the $1 million mark. What that allowed us to do was to learn very quickly and make sure that we were also users of the product or at least I was a close user of the product and the rest of the team was as well. How did we think about that investment? We made some mistakes along the way as everybody does. The first was we did try to, in some sense, outsource this early on. We worked with somebody who was going to be a fractional head of sales for us, even before we had the first salesperson. The idea was this person can go set up the playbook and the early meetings and then help us accelerate that process. As a founder, you have one million other things to also take care of.

Our biggest lesson there was that early on, the customers are not buying the product because they trust the brand. There isn’t a brand. The product is likely getting built after you’ve promised it to the customer so they also know that very likely there isn’t a product. The thing that they’re going to trust if they were to make a buying decision is you. Therefore as a founder, you have to be the face that they see. Once we learned that lesson, I then amped it up to say, “If I have to be the person that they trust, let me build my credibility around it.” I then invested a fair amount of time and energy in interacting with that ecosystem and getting to know other folks within sales.

We had zero networks to start with because I had never worked in the US. Ninety percent of our revenue comes from that market. It was essentially being very conscious about saying, “I am the face of the company. People need to be able to trust me. Part of building the brand for the company is also building the brand for me.” I was going through that process. That helped us because a large part of our revenue comes from inbound interest. The flywheel had to kickstart with us putting a lot of these things in place.

Can you double-click on that? You’re getting to the point where a bunch of questions were running in my head. Early days, it’s going to be outbound but at some point in time, that outbound cannot scale, especially with you doing the outbound for the most part. Somewhere along the line, you had to do content, G2, analyst sites and others. You need to broaden your brand presence and awareness. What were the investments you made in the different phrases? Paid would be one I would assume and then content but you need to drive traffic to the content both on paid and organic. What do the growth channel phases and investment look like for you back then?

Firstly, paid was not something we invested in or got a lot out of, at least for the first few years. I think of it as layers of cake. You have to think of it as what can help people build trust. You’re only building trust with me while I’m still trying to build the brand for the company. The second layer of it is once I have those first five customers, can I use them to help build trust with others? You’re not going to show up on the top of G2 when you have five customers but you can still get good testimonials from them and leverage them whether on your website, outreach messaging or working with them. Be very conscious about it to say, “I worked with you. If you like it, then can we use this for building trust?”

B2B 30 | Voice Of The Customer
Voice Of The Customer: When you get good testimonials from five customers, you can leverage those on your website or in your outreach messaging.

 

The third step was you multiply that. If you have 5 customers and hopefully, either through testimonials or references you’re able to get another 5 each, then that makes it 25. That’s a great number. You layer it to say, “Now that I have 25 customers, maybe it is the time to go and hit review sites and other channels.” It eventually also depends on the persona. Salespeople are much more likely to speak to other salespeople to get advice on, “How are you doing something?” A product or an engineering person is very likely to go and do their research on Google and use that to base decisions.

The peer recommendation factor within our industry is much higher. We knew that we had to invest much more in that. It wasn’t just review sites. We spend time and energy being part of communities and their forums, understanding what questions people ask and making sure that our customers could represent us on those forums and discussions. That was a big growth lever for us. All of this is free. It doesn’t cost you money to do this. It just requires you to be thoughtful.

Something interesting happened. One of my customers referred me to a podcast host and said, “I want you to speak to this person.” That triggered a whole set of positive activities of its own. I thought, “Maybe this is rather a good channel where I could get the voice of the brand heard by more people while still being scrappy and not spending a ton of money.” As it turned out with the pandemic hitting and everything, that first year I must have done some 30 podcast interviews with different hosts.

That was also a great time when people were figuring out what they could do in the remote world to stay connected. There was a lot of activity and we were lucky to be in the middle of it. You have to be very aware of where your user hang out so that you can go hang out with them and how you can amplify that trust factor.

You were asking all your customers, “Where do you hang out?” Was it that simple?

To some extent, yes. When you’re building a sales tool, it’s interesting because you’re a user of that product and the people that you’re speaking with are also salespeople so they’re your peers. In a non-COVID world, they’re happy to go grab a beer with you and exchange secrets. It’s about being at the same events and then finding out, “How would you learn that? How did you go hire that person?”

I love the fact that you were not investing blindly in paid. It was all organic and more driven out of curiosity. That’s the sense I’m getting. Curiosity and the sense of intent as to, “Let me learn more about my persona and the people I’m serving. They’re using my product but what else can I be doing and how else can I make sure that while I’m serving them, my brand and my product is getting amplified?”

People often underestimate listening. I’m not just saying this in a sales conversation but even in the broader market conversation. One of the things that I recommend every salesperson to do when they join my team is, “Go find ten social media sales influencers and follow them.” It doesn’t matter whether or not you go on a sales call but you need to know how they think, what language they use, what is troubling them and what is aggravating them.

Build a product that delivers more value than just being able to record calls and transcribe. Click To Tweet

With social media, we have access to those things for free and unlimited. Sometimes, it’s too much. When people say, “How should I be using LinkedIn,” most advice is like, “Build your profile and brand. Post every day.” It’s much more important to post five thoughtful comments a day on other people’s posts than to post something of your own every day.

Coming back to staying curious and serving your person, which is a sales team and the sales managers, it looks like your team has come up with the economic downturn analysis. Do you want to share what that is? What drove you to that? How people can learn more about that?

This quest for me started at the time of COVID when the world seemed to be suddenly going toxic. One thing that I kept hearing from casual conversations that I was having with people on social media or online was, “We are not able to sell because everybody has frozen budgets.” I was like, “Does that hold true?” I got curious. I went and searched all of the call transcripts that we had or at Wingman to see how often is that coming up and whether that dramatically changed because of the pandemic.

What we realized was that it had changed but it hadn’t changed as dramatically. The biggest factor was getting deals to be lost. To our surprise, the biggest factor was timelines. What had happened was that suddenly everybody had this feeling of paralysis because they didn’t know what was going to come next. We’re in a shocking state. That was when we got curious about the data.

In 2022, we are going through a big tectonic shift in some sense. We decided to go back and look at the numbers in 2022’s context to see what happens if people are talking about the economic downturn and sales calls. What are some of the things that then impact win rates for deals? There are lots of interesting things there about what has changed about discussions on discounts, budgets, timelines and everything. One of the interesting things that we’ve learned is if people talk about ROI conversations, their win rates for deals increased by more than 30%. There are lots of nuggets like that. Maybe we should share it with the audience.

That’s key. When I work with my sales team over here in my current role, I’m seeing that they’re trying to find it difficult. The obvious question then comes, “What’s the ROI? Why should I buy or switch now versus not do anything?” Framing the conversation around the value but at the same time, showing clear ROI matters. This has been a great conversation, Shruti. Going more towards the closing stages, I got two questions for you. Who are maybe the top 1, 2 or 3 people that have influenced you and shaped you as a person and mentored you in your career growth and journey?

The biggest influencers as we grow up right early on are our parents. In my case, it’s my father’s fearlessness. He sent me to Singapore to study. I went there alone. In those days, it was probably a little bit more of a leap of faith because you couldn’t communicate as easily. There was no video calling. A call will cost you a bomb. That example showed me the value of being fearless and taking your chances. That’s made a huge difference.

Over the years, there have been many influences. One was a previous manager of mine. His name is Kiran. The one thing that he taught me was, “You don’t have to accept all corporate mumbo jumbo for what it is. You can always stop and question things.” That’s another important thing that we sometimes overlook. Overall, there are lots of books and media that I learned things from but the personal connection would be the main ones.

B2B 30 | Voice Of The Customer
Voice Of The Customer: It doesn’t matter whether or not you go on a sales call, but you need to know how your audience thinks, what language they use, and what is troubling or aggravating them.

 

Switching to the last question here, if you were to go back in time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journeys, what advice would you give to your younger self?

First is always asking the question, “How am I building trust with this person? What is my best lever to build trust?” The second is don’t take what people say at face value. Observe their behavior rather than their words. Not out of maligned intentions but people often behave very differently from what they say or think they do.

Thank you so much for your time, Shruti. It’s been a wonderful conversation. It was enlightening and insightful. I’m sure all our readers will benefit from this. Wishing you at Wingman the very best for the future.

Thanks so much, Vijay. I had fun.

 

Important Links

 

About Shruti Kapoor

B2B 30 | Voice Of The CustomerI have worked across lifesciences research, investment banking, technology investing, commercialization, product development, fin-tech and sales enablement using AI(current). I enjoy working in the interface between technology solutions and business needs and have worked in leadership and business development roles. I am also a trained Life Coach through Erickson Coaching and would love to have a conversation with you if you are feeling lost about your career or relationships or life in general. Also, interested in consulting for innovation and technology scouting & adoption.

 

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

 

B2B 29 | Go To Market

B2B 29 | Go To Market

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

SQLs are what I care about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Important Links

 

About Jamie Cleghorn

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

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

 

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B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

Accord And The Power Of Customer Collaboration With Ross Rich

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We got into YC then we started the Accord.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market first, not product first. Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

I’m assuming this is all outbound SDR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I appreciate that.

Thank you.

 

 Important Links

 

About Ross Rich

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

SF based, Canada raised 🇨🇦

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

Thanks, Vijay. It’s great to be here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I would say continue to stay humble.

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

Thank you, Vijay. I much appreciate it.

 

Important Links

 

About Ravi Pendekanti

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

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

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

 

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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, of Industries & GTM Solutions at Clari. Anthony talks with Vijay about how you need to identify the moments you want your clients to experience. Do you want them to walk away feeling good? Do you want them to come back? After you identify the moments that matter, you can proceed to build your entire strategy around that objective. If you want tips on how to build that strategy, this episode’s for you. Tune in! 

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

Great to be here. Thanks, Vijay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s on the computer, always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Write your own call scripts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your focus and accelerate your velocity. Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become a more human leader. Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Thanks, Vijay. This is great.

 

Important links

 

About Anthony Cessario

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

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

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

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

2-3hrs goes to reading.

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

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

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

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

Life is great and I am very fortunate.

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

 

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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 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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