B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach

 

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would your parents describe what you do, Jeff?

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

 

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

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

“Jeff works in technology or with computers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you come to Aircall right after?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth is always ambitious. Click To Tweet

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

How many product marketers do you have?

We have six on that team.

How did you structure the product marketing automation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

 

There is bigger machinery behind enabling sales. In a B2B SaaS world, it doesn’t stop at building your customer and the buyer. It starts after the fact, which is about customer success, user adoption, and then retention. That is why the go-to-market is vital for any company, and Vijay Damojipurapu has the guest to speak to us about taking this strategy to his company. He sits down with Roger Beharry Lall, the VP of Marketing at Traction Guest. Here, he talks about his go-to-market journey, how he is going beyond the product launch, and thinking of the product roadmap, scaling, and building a community. He shares how they are working on sales and marketing to drive customer adoption rather than treat them like oil and water. On his own career journey, Roger brings in his rich insights and global cultural experience from studying in Singapore, working in Korea, and big companies. Join in on this jam-packed episode to learn more. 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Driving Customer Adoption Through Sales And Marketing With Roger Beharry Lall

I have the pleasure of hosting Roger from Traction Guest. Roger is the VP of Marketing at Traction Guest. Welcome to the show, Roger.

Thanks very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

When I looked up your background, my intent is to bring up diverse, accomplished leaders in the whole go-to-market space. That’s my promise to my audience. When I looked up your profile, a few things caught my eyes. One is you’ve got a global cultural experience both from the studying days to even the working days. You studied in Singapore. You’ve worked in Korea. You worked for companies like TELUS and some leading brands in Canada. You worked for Research In Motion, BlackBerry. For those of you who have been around, you would know what we are talking about. Now, you’re at Traction Guest. I’m looking forward to teasing out all those nuggets and insights from your diverse experience.

I’m happy to share.

My first question to you and what you can share with our readers is, how do you define go-to-market?

To some extent, the argument is what isn’t a go-to-market? In my mind, especially coming from a product marketing background, it’s about everything you could think of. From a marketing and strategy perspective, that can be fed into the notion of go-to-market. For me, it’s a little bit old school. I almost go back to the proverbial 4 Ps, 5 Ps, 7 Ps of marketing. Originally it was Product, Price, Place and Positioning. There are a hundred variations around. I might be oversimplifying but that does speak to the notion of, what is go-to-market?

Go-to-market is something bigger than a product launch, but maybe smaller than a company strategy. It fits right in the middle. It’s Product, Place, Price, Promotion, Positioning, etc. It’s diving deep into each of those areas. If we think about a product, it’s not just the product you sell but, what are the partners that layer on to that? What are the services that add on? What’s the whole product? What’s the value proposition around that? Pricing strategy, that’s fairly self-explanatory. Place, I think of that not physically but channel-wise. Are we placing this directly? Do we go indirect? Do we have partnerships? Do we layer on top of them? Do they sell on our behalf? Do they take a cut?

The go-to-market is something bigger than a product launch but maybe smaller than a company strategy. Click To Tweet

Finally, I think about positioning. This is a core one for me coming from a product marketing background. How are we positioning? How are we going to go-to-market? How are we positioning ourselves there? There’s so much that goes into that. What is the audience? What is the vertical? What are the personas? What is our story? What value proper are we bringing to market? All that feeds into that final notion of positioning the ladders into what you might think of as a go-to-market. That’s probably oversimplifying it but there is some notion of the 4 Ps.

It probably starts early on in the cycle with a lot of research and analysis. It ends up in the middle with a lot of execution work, a lot of cooperative work with sales and marketing counterparts. Especially in the modern era, there is a lot of post-work to be done in terms of analyzing the success and failures, win-loss analysis, and things of that ilk. Getting the data to prove, correct, iterate, and then cycle back through that process.

Back in the days when I was fairly young and new in my go-to-market journey, especially when I was in my first product marketing role, that’s what I used to take, which is go-to-market is the launch. That’s a base notion. That’s how a lot of folks in marketing associate go-to-market with.

I’ve experienced this a few times where it’s not even the product launch. I’m not going to say that the product launch is easy, but that’s one element. It’s all the before, during and after. How do I control, nudge and manage the change within the organization? How do I temper expectations from sales? How do I provide enablement to sales if they’re at the right time to align to the right level of product readiness that might hit for the appropriate market awareness? It’s not as simple as, “We have this product and it’s ripe and it’s good to go.” You’re constantly turning these dials up and down and that is the challenge.

Continuing our discussion over here, it starts with a product launch. Over time, something that I’ve gained insight into and realization is it’s a lot more than just a product launch. It starts with that, but then there’s the whole notion of how are you thinking about your product roadmap? There’s a whole notion of how are you evolving and staying in touch with your customers and building a community? There’s a whole notion about that. There’s bigger machinery behind enabling sales. In a B2B SaaS world, it doesn’t stop at building your customer and the buyer. A bigger game starts after the fact, which is about customer success, user adoption, and then retention. If you do your job well, you will gain advocates for your company and products.

That is the hope. I’m planning our virtual customer advisory board meeting. We’ve got a dozen or so Fortune 500 class companies that we bring in. We used to bring in physically but now we’ll bring into a virtual call. That’s part of that iterative. Getting feedback and, are we on the right track? We’re looking at launching these things. How should we launch them? Where should we position? That feedback is invaluable.

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing
Sales And Marketing: Customers are invaluable. Customer advisory boards and focus groups are invaluable. It’s important to connect to non-customers.

 

That’s a key component, customer advisory board and community. Share with us your journey in how you grew. What are the milestones or transitions? What did you feel had took you to the next level in your whole go-to-market journey?

It’s funny as I think back on the career. I don’t know that product marketing or even go-to-market were coined terms back in the day. It was just good marketing. That was part and parcel. We knew there were B2B, B2C, and that was about it. I started my career as a subsidiary of IBM and TELUS, working in Korea of all places. It was field marketing and a little bit of channel marketing partnerships.

Was that your first job?

That was my first job out of university. It was advertised as a European software company. I had visions of working in Amsterdam or living in Paris. It was a software package called BON, which no longer exists. They were a competitor to SAP. We were deploying BON software in the Asian market. It was a European software deployed by a Canadian company in the Asian market. It’s incredibly a complicated or complex reality but fascinating. It’s a great learning experience. I started there, international exposure, and a little bit of consulting exposure. It gave me a good sense of the business process and re-engineering.

From that field of marketing, I came back to Toronto. I did a number of different roles. A general marketing manager would be what you would call it now. You might call it demand gen. You might call it event management. I did things of that ilk. I spent a good stint in Research In Motion, BlackBerry. It started to become more and more focused on what we call now product marketing. Back then, I looked at channels for a while. I looked at verticals or industry solutions for quite some time. I was instrumental in a small team that launched a Wi-Fi-only device, which sounds utterly trivial. At the time, putting Wi-Fi in a phone was completely unheard of. I got a sense of some of that product marketing and channel field type experience. I did a bit of secondment in RIM, which I love doing market research and industry analyst relations. It was a lovely opportunity to get some academic aside. It’s a little bit more strategic. It’s a little bit once removed to some extent. It’s a great opportunity and the thing that oftentimes can be hard to do unless you’re at a larger organization.

From there, I spent several years at Series-A style companies, scale-ups in a health tech, content marketing space, cannabis data analytics space. It’s a startup in that area. I’m at a company called Traction Guest that is focused on physical security, visitor management, and what we describe as a workforce security platform. A number of different areas, but all the time B2B enterprise moving from field marketing or marketing at large to a little bit more a vertical segment product marketing type role to more marketing leadership roles taking over ownership of the entire team. Combining that demand, field, channel, product marketing, and go-to-market all into one mindset, and increasingly having greater responsibility for managing the team more so than delivering the particular asset.

All of these experiences must have given you different perspectives and growth levers looking at it from the field marketing, the local markets outside of your core geography where the company may be based out of, that’s one. Also, looking at the sales piece because you’re looking at driving demand gen, which means you have to be collaborating closely with the sales teams and understanding the friction points as well as a healthy tension discussion between marketing and sales. That’s a constant battle, which I’m sure you can relate to and you have managed it all along. Talk to us about that. How do you manage that?

It's not that sales work for marketing or marketing work for sales. We’re all working to drive customer adoption. Click To Tweet

It’s part and parcel. In sales and marketing, the joke is always that we’re like oil and water. The reality is that doesn’t have to be the case. At Traction Guest, I’m blessed. Culturally, we’ve done a good job of making sure that sales and marketing are well aligned, there’s good camaraderie, and there’s good support. Frankly, that’s how it should be. We’re all driving to the same goal. The key anchor point is to make sure that everybody is on the same page. We’re all trying to drive revenue. We have different levers that we might pull. Marketing, you can call it top of the funnel. It might be awareness. It might be sales material, content, and assets that enable the sales. It might be persona definition so we know who to target. Those are tools that feed into the sales cycle. They’re not detached. They’re not things that are academic, esoteric, or done in a vacuum for their own sake. It’s critical to be able to connect the dots and to constantly be reinforcing that story. We’re working together. It’s not that sales work for marketing or marketing work for sales. We’re all working to drive customer adoption.

Let’s talk about what you do at Traction Guest. You did touch upon that. What is your role at Traction Guest? What is your marketing team? How do you build your marketing team?

I started here at the midpoint of the pandemic. It’s a lovely time to join an organization. I was onboard and met some of the team. The team has been in a bit of a growth mode. We’ve had some people come and go over the last while and whatnot. I’ve been rebuilding the team a little bit. I’m the VP of Product Marketing by title. I’m also acting as Head of Marketing overall. It’s a dual role. I’m individually responsible for the product marketing deliverables, that mindset and thought process around personas and competitive analysis, and things of that ilk.

As an executive, I’m responsible for the marketing team at large. I think of it as almost three areas. There’s a content area, which is a content marketer, graphic designer, and web person. They’re building the materials and the assets. In the middle, you can think of it as demand gen group that is digital as well as events, different tools and different ways to get the message out to take that content and either use it as a magnet or pushing it out as nurture. The final group is more on the operation side. I’ve got a couple of folks that work on salesforce administration and marketing operations. They live somewhere between marketing, sales, finance, and connecting all the dots.

You talked about the evolution of careers. When I was starting in marketing, the budget spent for technology was in Excel sheet. That was about it. Maybe you had a CRM tool. Nowadays, you’ve got 20, 30 different tools in the MarTech stack. It can be easily a third or half of your budget, depending on the nature of the organization. Having folks to manage that becomes increasingly critical and part of a modern marketing capacity. We’ve got some content folks. I’ve got myself doing product marketing. We’ve got the demand group driving home with the customers. We’ve got the operations as tying it all together.

It’s a pretty well-rounded team.

I’m blessed. We’ve hit the point where we’ve got all the roles filled. We’re in a good place where we’re able to start delivering, executing, and moving much faster and driving much more growth, especially as we shift from SMB and increasing it into the enterprise towards account-based marketing. It’s a great team. I’m thrilled to be working with them and glad to be able to drive this growth for the company.

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing
Sales And Marketing: Content should be less about the material that is necessarily found online or whatever, and more about the material that once the prospect is in the journey, they become a lead of sorts.

 

You briefly mentioned how you’re thinking about your marketing team and the structure. Traction Guest is a Series-A funded company. The executives and the board had their eyes on the next round of funding, Series-B and growth and scale targets. From what I’ve seen for Series-A, the marketing budget is roughly about 10%-ish of your overall revenue. Would you agree with that?

I will neither confirm nor deny. You’re certainly well within the right range.

It’s fair enough. You also mentioned moving upmarket from mid-market to enterprise. You talked about ABM. Talk to us about how you’re thinking about ABM. Also, who do you serve? Who are your customers?

It’s been an intentional and strategic shift across the company to move and to build this market. Historically, Traction Guest was in a place called visitor management. It’s the type of software that we sell. That was originally a replacement for a guest book or a logbook or receptionist at an organization. As people come in, they can check-in and be known to the company. If I do a Gartnerian 2×2, there’s a whole lot of players in that bottom left type area. They make excellent software, they do good work, but it’s not what we want to be delivering. It’s not what we built.

We built something and we’re in upper right of that framework. It is much more complex and much more robust. It gets into workflows and deep integrations with other systems. It no longer is about a logbook replacement or a simple receptionist check-in. It is about what we’re describing as workforce security. That puts us into a different mindset. It starts to talk less about, “Can I register somebody as a guest?” It starts to say, “What if I need to do an emergency evacuation? What if I need to maintain compliance with certain international standards? What if I need to monitor the certifications or training of contractors coming into my building? What if I need to check a visitor against a global watchlist for criminal activity?” Those are the things that the enterprise organizations care about. We’ve been intentionally moving in that direction.

We’ve done a great job of shifting our marketing and our messaging, and driving growth in terms of the customers that we serve. It is very much large enterprise organizations, multisite security-focused type companies. In terms of who we serve, it’s a tool that can be used and applied in several different areas. We look primarily at the global security leader. That could be several different things. It might be the director of physical security or a VP of Risk. Title-wise, it could be somebody at the operations group or in facilities. There is somebody who has responsibility at a global level for the physical security. This is different from cybersecurity, which is a little bit tricky. Sometimes, we might report into the same area. They’re looking at the physicality of those facilities.

I think of office buildings because that’s where my career is. It’s not just office buildings. It’s your manufacturing plants, distribution warehouses, large stadiums or campus environments for film productions. All these different complex environments, that’s where our software excels. We’re bringing this work for security platforms to these global security leaders to try and address a myriad of different industry concerns. Visitor management is part of it, but increasingly we see ourselves providing solutions through the platform in and around emergency alerts and outreach, being able to help support health and safety controls. Especially as we move into the enterprise, being able to support auditing and analytics functionality, which is different from what an SMB customer would be looking for. It becomes a much more robust, fulsome platform for that enterprise-type organization.

Having a good content marketer and a good content strategist is critical to success. Click To Tweet

When I initially talked about what Traction Guest does and when I thought about visitor management, you nailed it. For me, it’s the image. For those of us who are not in the industry, it’s all about guest registration. You go to the front desk, you say who you’re meeting, you write down your name, the meeting time, the meeting purpose, and you’re done. You show your driver’s license and you’re done. Based on what you mentioned, I can visualize how you and your team are thinking about the shift in the positioning and the messaging. You guys are not guests or visitor management anymore. You’re more about workforce security. That’s a big shift.

To your previous point about product launch versus go-to-market, this is a repositioning exercise. You don’t do this overnight. These are the things that if they’re done properly, we’re building out a category. Those things take time. It’s easy enough to flip throughPlay Bigger or any of those books related to the salesforce category and you think, “It’s done. It’s easy.” That takes years and years of work to progress to that level. We’re at the beginning of that journey.

What is most rewarding and inspiring to me is that we’re hearing it from our customers. This was not a repositioning exercise done in a vacuum with a consultant and hours and hours of backroom thinking or boardroom thinking. This was a progression that was driven by what customers were telling us. We looked at all the G2 reviews and comments. We looked at the Capterra comments. We listened carefully to what customers were saying. SEO-wise, they came for visitor management and they would buy our solution. They then would say somewhere in the cycle, “You guys aren’t visitor management.” We think, “Tell us what we are.” Clients weren’t quite able to put their finger on it, but they could tell us that we were more than visitor management. We were something beyond.

We were filling a need in different areas where we’re helping their security personnel and security staff connect into HR or employee health and safety. We were helping them drive analytics and reporting. We were helping solve bigger problems. We were helping create a complex workflow and detailed integrations to all these systems. They’re like, “That’s not VMS but we don’t know what to call you. We’re happy to pay you.” We took that feedback to heart. We’ve been working to figure out what do we describe ourselves? What does that look like? The result of that customer feedback is this new direction into workforce security and becoming a platform or a category.

You touched upon quite a few good nuggets there for the readers, especially those who are looking to embark on a positioning and messaging exercise or those who are thinking about, “Is my messaging how I’m positioning on my website as well as my marketing and sales collateral and assets? Is it resonating?” A key point you mentioned is about listening to your customers. Observing and teasing out the exact words that they’re using in their reviews on G2 or Capterra.

I’m old-school. I started this conversation talking about the four Ps. I’ve already dated myself. I made a little word cloud out of the Capterra and G2 stuff just to get a sense of what was going on. It’s not scientific but it gave a strong perspective to myself and to the executive to show that customers were describing us as workforce, platform, security, integration, and this and that, words that weren’t about visitor management. It’s critical to connect to your customers. I mentioned that we’re going to have our customer advisory board. We’ll be getting their feedback on this. Are we going in the right direction? Is there more? How do we message this? How do we tweak a few words here and there? It’s a journey. Customers are invaluable. Customer advisory boards and focus groups are invaluable. I’d also say that it’s important to connect to non-customers, and this can be difficult.

In the old days, pre-COVID, you might have a tradeshow or a conference. You can start listening in and hear from other people. I’ve been able to work with a number of great analysts and market research teams, folks from my industry. There are some boutique industry analyst firms that we work with as well as some of the larger Forresters of the world. They can give you insight beyond what you’re hearing from a customer. You do need to balance that out. You’re getting some customer information. You’re getting some market information. The challenge or maybe the art of product marketing and go-to-market strategists is that ability to tease out some truth. Understand what they are driving. What’s the underlying problem they’re trying to solve? They may not say it in specific terms. They may not have the right words. If you listen with intention, you’ll be able to tease out what that storyline is, and then project it back to them.

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing
Sales And Marketing: It’s important for leaders to not just be experts in their craft but start to look outside that concentric circle to pick up on things that can help broaden their perspective.

 

Good marketing is all about saying the words that the customers are using. It’s a simple task, but not many people do that. Maybe the barrier is around, “Can I reach out to my customers? Why will they take a meeting with me?” These are the mental blocks that happen within the marketing team. Your point is valid. The exercise that you guys have come up with is a testament to the fact to always be out there and listen to your customers. The word cloud exercise is simple.

It worked. To your previous point about working with sales, at Traction Guests, we’ve got some great practices in place that I’ll share quickly. All of our sales calls are recorded so that we can internally listen to them for coaching purposes. As a product marketer, I can listen to that and I can quickly add some analytics on that. That’s one tool.

Do you guys use something like a Gong?

We have Chorus. It’s the same idea. We also have something called Altify, another tool that we use as a test and improve the process. Every week, we have a rep walk through a particular account. Where are they at? How can we collectively brainstorm? How can they move it forward? In telling those stories, you start to pick up on things. You start to hear, “They use such and such a message. They didn’t use such and such a presentation. They talked about this particular aspect of the product, but they didn’t focus on this.” You start to hear from reps what they’re saying, what’s working, and how they’re feeling. You start to tease out some truths. Over time, you can build into that story and playback for the reps to help fuel their success.

That’s a good point there. These are what the sales reps are hearing on their sales calls. Test that messaging and the next batch of sales calls and see if it’s resonating or not. You did mention your big goals for 2021, which is around shifting and pivoting from mid-market to enterprise. There’s a whole slew of activities and exercise behind that. That is going to consume you and your marketing teams’ bandwidth for 2021. As you’re doing that, what do you see are some of the barriers or the challenges going in executing those go-to-market pieces?

In terms of challenges, it comes right down to execution. You need a good strategy. There’s no question. You need a good go-to-market plan. The execution is infinitely more challenging. That’s where the rubber hits the road. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but given my product marketing background and my bias, I’m going to say in my head, “We’re going after the manufacturing sector and our persona is security. Now what?”

Now, you’ve got to come up with, “What are all the manufacturing events? Do we have a webinar or a PowerPoint slide?” “We don’t.” “Once you’ve got that webinar done up, can we get a blog post related to that? It’s great that we’ve got a blog post for manufacturing and security, but now we need it for manufacturing security in Europe and we need to add on a layer about a specific partner.” Those are the complexities that make marketing challenging and also maybe make marketing exciting. It’s that execution level that gets tricky. There are lots of great tools out there. I mentioned the whole MarTech stack to help you along that way. That doesn’t solve the problem.

Listen to sales. Don't be scared of them. Don't be intimidated by them. Befriend them. Work closely with them. Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, somebody still has to put pen to paper to write the email. Somebody still has to produce the webinars. Somebody still has to make the call to the customer to set up a case study interview. Not to be overly simple but that’s hard work. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes energy. It’s not always fun. Over time, you’ll do something and maybe it has to be thrown away, and then you start again. You repeat, you iterate and you improve. It’s hard work.

To be clear, it’s not that we finished the repositioning exercise. We’re at the beginning of that journey. Let’s say 3 to 6 months from now, I will be “done” with the strategic elements and the base level positioning. Now it’s 101 iterations of how do you go-to-market? How do you get into that market? What does your marketing mix look like to drive success with that set of messaging and that set of personas to the audience, to the verticals? You need to now go through and deliver on the trade show, the webinar, whatever, with a whole lot of additional support material around it. That’s difficult work.

I’m grateful that I’ve got an amazing team to work on that and help me through that and to lend their expertise in those areas. It’s a lot of work, and that is oftentimes what marketers, CMOs and CEOs forget. They gloss over the challenge that can be to say, “We’re going to go and do account-based marketing. We’re going to go and target the manufacturing sector. We’re going to go and do whatever.” Now you’ve got to put all those pieces in play. Executing on the playbook is time-consuming and that is the biggest challenge, especially as a Series-A type company. We’ve got a great team. We’ve got some solid resources. Certainly, we don’t have a lot of Slack and Buffer on the edge to provide for those extra ideations.

I spoke with the CMO of a different B2B software company. He highlighted the same concern that you highlighted. You’re in good company.

Misery loves company. I’m onto something.

One CMO shared his entire strategy. It’s similar to what you did. He said, “I don’t care if my company doesn’t get the strategy. It all boils down to execution.” That is the hardest piece. If I double click on what you mentioned, which is the webinars, the eBooks or the other events, the fundamental currency across all of these activities is content.

I didn’t have the words back then. Having been in the product marketing area for several years, I’ve done a lot of work in and around content. I’ve had direct responsibility and ownership for content marketing. I’ve been blessed to work with some great content marketers over the years. They’re worth their weight in gold. From an SEO perspective, the content is going to become the magnet. From a content-based marketing perspective, it’s the content and the personalization of that content that’s going to drive engagement. From a nurture perspective, it’s what’s going to fuel your emails, click-throughs, and your call to action. Without that content, you’re in a lot of trouble. Having a good content marketer and a good content strategist is critical to success.

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing
Sales And Marketing: There’s a lot that B2B can learn from B2C in terms of both the emotional and empathetic approach, but also the creativity.

 

It’s not about that lightweight, short-term content SEO. This is not about, “Can we write a blog and use the keyword and get it up on Google?” You need to do that and that’s part and parcel of the modern marketing stack. When I say content, what I think is less about the material that is necessarily found online or whatever. It’s more about the material that once the prospect is in the journey, they’re working with you, they’re thinking this through, they are a lead of sorts. Now they’re exploring. That’s where a lot of this depth content becomes critical. Having a lot of that information helps them understand different perspectives about your product, different use cases, different value propositions, how it might be useful for different departments, how it can help their career trajectory. All those pieces of the puzzle need to be visible and available. They all require a lot of work.

You and I had a brief meeting on the same topic, which is what I’m working on and what I call the content to revenue manifesto. It goes back to the fundamental belief, which you attested to, which is content. Content is the currency. It’s easier said than done. It’s a lot of work. It’s not about commodity content that any agency or any of the lower-level teams or people can do. That’s not going to cut it for people, especially for a Series-A company like Traction Guest who is looking to hit the mark, go and scale, and reach the target for a Series-B milestone and fundraising. It’s all about the content that resonates. If I, as the buyer, is in the process of evaluating the different solutions, what are the different evaluation criteria? Maybe I’m not thinking about A, B, C. My site is more on the X, Y, Z. That’s a blind spot for me. How will you and your content marketing team create that effective content budge on that piece?

Traction Guest has been intentional in our move towards the enterprise. We are blessed to have some subject matter experts working at the company that would be former buyers. They come from the industry. They would have bought at Traction Guest. In some cases, they did buy at Traction Guest. They know the sales cycle from the other side. They are the subject expert. They offer so much depth of knowledge and understanding, but also so much empathy. They helped to fuel content and materials that are not marketing fluff but drive home detailed points that would be relevant to that buyer because they are or they were that buyer. It’s a wonderful partnership when you can get subject experts. Sometimes you have to purchase them through agencies. Sometimes you have to purchase them directly or indirectly through industry analysts. Sometimes you purchase them through working with customers. We have some in-house that are amazing individuals that are taking us to the next level in terms of the caliber of content and caliber material that we’re able to produce.

What are 1 or 2 areas that you’re curious about when it comes to go-to-market and your role? How do you stay on top?

There’s so much information out there. Especially at senior levels, you need to stay on top, not just your area but the breadth of different areas, different aspects, different functional areas, etc. I’ve got a couple of things that I’m looking at. Because we’re in the midst of this reposition and category creation, I’ve been rereading and reviewing a lot of work in that space. Play Bigger is the holy grail in that area. Even in and around those things like The Innovators Dilemma have a lot to do with branching out and repositioning yourself onto a new growth factor. Those category-related materials have been top of mind.

The second area that has been top of mind, because I have a holistic responsibility for marketing overall, is brushing up some of the newer techniques and technologies in and around account-based marketing and demand generation. Things like intent-based data, retargeting, some of the complex uses of AI. We happen to have an AI within the salesforce. Those things around, “How can I become more efficient or more effective as we become more and more targeted?” Those are the two areas that I’m obsessed with on a day-to-day basis.

In terms of where I find this information, the beauty is information is plentiful and it’s everywhere. I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn and I get the world to curate things for me, any number of different articles and a variety of different articles that are posted there. I also read a lot of business books, but also several industry blogs, both from vendors as well as from different thought leaders. As a professional marketer, I almost don’t spend a lot of time or spend as much time learning about product marketing. I’ll brush up here and there. I’ll look at product marketing associations. I’ll look at pragmatic marketing stuff. I’ll look at content marketing institutes. I spent a lot more time looking adjacent. Maybe not completely outside my purview but adjacent.

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There’s a Canadian podcast that talks about consumer advertising and radio advertising in particular. I enjoy hearing that. It’s a different perspective. Oftentimes, there are some lessons you can pick out from that. I enjoy reading in and around design thinking. It’s a little bit more creative. It’s a little bit more artistic and novel. It’s something adjacent to my core that helps me broaden my understanding. It’s important for leaders to not just be experts in their craft but start to look outside that concentric circle to be able to pick up on things that can help broaden your perspective or your purview on things.

To echo your second point and something that I have been noticing even with my client base and the other folks that I am closely in touch with, even though we are in the B2B marketing world, B2B marketing is adopting some of the best practices from direct marketing and consumer marketing, so B2C. At the end of the day, even though it’s B2B marketing, you’re selling to organizations but your buyers and influencers are consumers. They’re people, they’re humans. Understanding them at an individual level and not just at the entity level is critical.

One of my favorites when I was at RIM in market research is analyzing the emotional aspects of our enterprise buyers. These were your high-level CIOs, director of security, VP operation type profiles. We had lots of functional data, but analyzing their emotional drivers. It was fascinating to see how much of a purchase decision was attributed to non-functional aspects. It had to do with things like job security, career progression, the notion of safety and protection, and risk aversion. Things of that ilk are emotional drivers that oftentimes you miss when you get into the speeds and feeds of how fast does this goes, how many kilowatts does it take, how many megabytes it is, etc. There’s a lot that B2B can learn from B2C in terms of both the emotional and empathetic approach, but also the creativity. There are some brilliant campaigns out there.

If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Coming out of this pandemic, I probably mentioned the fact that 2020 might not be the best year for you. I’d probably stack up on toilet paper and be much better prepared. In terms of career progression, I’ve enjoyed my career. I’ve worked overseas. I’ve worked for large companies. I’ve worked for small companies. I’m happy with how things have turned out. I would have reminded myself about some of the excitement and joy that I had from some of those smaller mid-sized companies. I don’t think I knew that going into this. Coming out of school, I thought it was all about working for Fortune 500. Now, I would be working for a FANG-type company. I don’t think that’s necessary for everyone. It certainly has turned out that’s not necessarily something that I value or that I derive great joy from. Letting myself know that the path in that Series-A, Series-B funded type company can be exciting. I’ll remind myself to give them a second chance.

The other thing that I’d probably remind myself or tell myself is to listen to sales. Don’t be scared of them. Don’t be intimidated by them. Befriend them. Work closely with them. Become an ally for them. Connect quickly and strongly with the sales leader and the sales team because they’re your best route to market. They’re your best way to learn about the customer. They’re your greatest opportunity for success as a marketer. They do crave that connection, but I don’t think they’re often offered the opportunity to work more closely with marketing. I’d probably remind myself to connect quickly and deeply with your sales counterparts.

That’s a great piece of advice to wrap up this episode. Thank you for your time, Roger. Good luck to you and your team at Traction Guest. I’ll be cheering you guys from the sideline.

Thanks very much. I appreciate your time. It was a pleasure. We’ll be looking forward to getting the workforce security platform in the market and see how things go as we create a category. I appreciate the opportunity to talk a little bit about that journey.

Thank you.

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About Roger Beharry Lall

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

VP Marketing

Leader of high-growth, disruptive marketing strategy. Over 20 years in leadership roles at Adlib, Think Research, BlackBerry, ISM-BC (IBM Subsidiary) and Lift&Co. Frequent commentator on issues of business, innovation and growth.

A passionate marketing leader, Roger helps high growth organizations (primarily B2B technology companies) grow, pivot, or expand by:
• Leading high-performing teams: onboarding staff, defining cross-functional processes, managing KPIs, and coaching/inspiring daily.
• Optimizing product positioning: exploring and refining market opportunities, aligning messaging, executing launch plans, enabling sales, and communicating to customers and influencers.
• Delivering winning campaigns: collaborating with sales and product teams, delivering pipe-line results, creating novel digital, content, and in-person programs.
• Driving organizational change: delivering new capacities/capabilities, providing actionable research, facilitating collaborative change management.

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