Marketing isn’t just about selling a product, it’s about understanding and shaping the mindset of those you serve. Whether they are consumers, retailers, or both. In this episode, Lisa Sharapata, the CMO at Arbinger, shares her incredible career journey from creative design to marketing. She dives into the unique challenges and opportunities of the B2B2C model and how Arbinger is reshaping marketing. Lisa also discusses the importance of performance management and shares other strategies for success that have helped her rise to the top. She also introduces the concept of the inward versus outward mindset and explains how it can transform both individuals and organizations. If you are looking to gain insights from an accomplished marketer with a unique perspective, then tune in now.
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The Holistic Approach To Marketing: How Arbinger Is Changing Approaches To Marketing With Lisa Sharapata
In this episode, I have the pleasure of hosting Lisa Sharapata, who is the CMO at the Arbinger. Lisa and I have been crossing paths and spoken on and off over the last few months. I won’t get too much into the details and spoil the fun here for all of you readers. Welcome to the show, Lisa. I’m super excited to have you on the show.
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
The signature question I always ask my guests and I start the show with this one. This is what the readers love to hear as well from the guests, which is how do you define go-to-market?
It’s a hard thing to define. Also, I’m guessing every guest here said something a little bit differently and if I even asked everyone in my company how they define it, it would be different. For me, it is the holistic approach to how you are going to market. That includes what is your product, what’s your product offerings, how are you pricing and packaging, and positioning them to go to market. It’s your brand and your marketing strategy. What channels are you using? Is it inbound primarily, outbound, and those types of things? How are you looking at customer expansion? How are you looking at lifetime value? All of the different gadgets and things that we have control over for how we are approaching taking our product to market and making revenue.
In the common threads that I’ve seen and heard from the different guests, one thing that stands out is it all starts with the customer, the buyer, and the user persona whom you’re serving with your products and services. It always starts with that. After that, you need to work internally as well as with your partner ecosystem as you are serving your customer base and user base. That’s been a common thread and that’s what you referred to as well.
You also touched upon the different channels. That’s a big factor in the go-to-market, which is what are the different challenges inbound? Is it outbound? What type of motion? Is it product-led sales, product-led growth, sales-led, and so on? Something that you touched upon that not many of the guests have touched upon, Lisa, is it’s not up to the point where a person becomes a buyer or a team becomes a buyer or customer. A lot of heavy lifting happens after or once they become the customer. You also indicated the different metrics around that. I think that’s a very important point we should focus on. That’s a great start for sure. Why don’t you walk us through your career journey? A quick summary of what brought you to the point of where you are now and who you serve.
I started in graphic design and I love telling that story because I didn’t know anything that I know now when I came out of college. I was more focused on the creative aspects like branding. I worked for an agency and what I quickly learned about myself was I want to understand my audience. I want to understand the why behind what I’m creating. This side of things is very subjective. However, if I knew who I was serving with that piece at that moment or what the purpose of it was, it was so much easier for me to do something effective. To get those answers, I ended up becoming more of a strategic player in the marketing world by moving in-house.
I enjoy and prefer to be working for one company instead of a whole bunch of them so that I can be the driving force behind the why we’re doing what we’re doing and how we’re going to do it. Over time, I moved into B2B tech. I was in that space for over a decade. I’m now with a company called The Arbinger Institute, which is a leadership development and culture transformation. We will move into the tech space, but I’ll say for right now it is nice to be more focused on, “We’re trying to get that product market piece down and understand our audience and how we can best serve them before we grow into that new world.” It’s been a breath of fresh air.
Sometimes it’s better to work for one company instead of a bunch of them. It allows you to be the driving force behind why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it. Click To Tweet
I think you are one of the rarest people or the fewest people who have started their career in creative design and worked their way up the marketing chain, all the way up to a CMO. It’s very impressive and very inspiring. I’m looking at your LinkedIn profile. Earlier on, you started in the creative world. You are at Richmond American Homes. It has nothing to do with tech. You are in the retail space, which is Kohl’s and Jockey. You are at Encompass and you are the marketing director serving the retail world. Is that correct?
Yeah. It’s called the B2B2C model. It was very interesting because we were creating a product to sell to retailers, but we also had to help them sell through to the consumer. Again, I learned a ton about understanding my audience and it’s all applicable. It all comes down to the same things. People buy from who they like and trust and you got to create a great experience. It was helpful.
I’m curious. You made the jump from a creative design space to retail and then something happened. You moved to Teradata into the tech world. What were some of the key factors or was it by accident or by design? How did that happen?
The first company that I worked for outside of an agency was called eCollege. They were one of the first IPO tech companies back in the day. One of my old bosses from that company was at Teradata and she was like, “This would be the perfect place for you. You’d be such a good fit here. There’s so much you can do.” She sold me and she brought me in and the rest is history.
Since then, you’ve worked at big brands including 6sense. You’ve worked at Mindtickle and BoostUp.ai. It was a tech startup and then you also ventured and played the role of an advisor. You are currently an advisor with Hushly and now you’re a CMO at The Arbinger Institute. Switching gears here, you did mention at a very high level what you do with Arbinger. For the benefit of our readers and also to set some more context here, do a quick 30 seconds of what Arbinger does, who you serve, what are the different challenges, and how we are looking to reshape the marketing and go-to-market there.
Arbinger started many years ago and it’s based on this concept of mindset being the thing that is going to change outcomes. One of the things that have resonated with me is you can’t change behavior in a meaningful lasting way without changing your mindset first. Think about your New Year’s resolutions and statistics around how many of those behaviors don’t stick because, without a fundamental shift in your mindset, it’s hard to change your behavior. Over time this has become more of a focus on B2B, on corporations and how we help them to achieve their desired results through a change in mindset. The premise comes down to this concept that with an inward mindset, we’re treating people like objects that do not matter.
They’re objects. They are obstacles. They are things in our way basically of getting what we want. For an organization to achieve its results, everyone needs to be collectively working together. If everyone has their own agenda, you will not get the collective group as a whole to achieve those results. You run into silos. You’re going to run into people. Some people will shut down. They’ll quit and resign. You’ve got other people who you are going to have no situational awareness of and be pushing other people who then are not as engaged.
You’ll run into all these different problems when you have that kind of mindset. We’re focusing on leadership development and helping create leaders who can see others as people whose objectives and needs matter as much as theirs do. When you look at things from that perspective and you’re all in it together working towards a common goal and objective, you are four times more likely to achieve those results.
It’s our primary focus. We also have a solution called Performance Management which is more on the performance side of things. One of the things we say is don’t hold people accountable but create accountable people. If I’m sitting over your micromanaging telling you what to do when I walk away, are you going to keep doing it? You want to create a culture of people who are accountable to the bigger goals who want to do what they should be doing.
The third piece is outward inclusion. It’s a DEI product offering, but it’s focused again on inclusion and belonging and putting your biases aside. Seeing people as people who matter as much as you do. It’s amazing how much of a difference having a culture of inclusion and belonging creates. Google did a study quite a while ago now to figure out what creates the most productive teams and what they found was psychological safety was the number one thing. If you don’t feel comfortable coming in and being able to speak your mind and help things go right to say, “I’m seeing this,” or bring new ideas to the table, that psychological safety piece is one of the biggest things that keep companies from achieving their results in performing. It’s all connected and we’re helping companies overcome those problems.
I think you’ve touched upon a very important point, which is the inward versus the outward mindset. A lot of times, especially at workplaces, I personally experienced it myself when I was leading and building a marketing team. There is always this constant pressure of delivering on the pipeline goals, the metrics as well as, “Where are we at in a critical launch that we’re looking at? There’s a major new branding and our website redesign now, where are we at?”
There’s a constant stream of things that are being thrown at the marketing leader. Again, it depends on the environment and the safety net that it’s created by the leadership team overall, more often than not, that pressure for a marketing leader is being pushed into his or her reports. It also goes sideways in terms of the peers and that’s when a lot of the blame game and finger-pointing happens. Generally, it comes down to the inward mindset, which you did point out very aptly, Lisa.
Blaming others instead of taking accountability is one of the biggest red flags.Blaming others instead of taking accountability is one of the biggest red flags. Click To Tweet
Who do you serve and what is your go-to-market like? I’m not expecting you to disclose any competition.
One of the things I’ve done since we got here is tried to narrow down our ICP fit because now it’s become a joke. Something I was saying when I was interviewing here is we should technically be serving anybody who has a soul. The sky is the limit. If you can see the humanity in others, then this work, if you get into it, should make an impact on you and your life. It’s not only in the work environment. It’s holistically. I’d say about 30% of our business is Federal government. Another 20% is in the public sector, state and local, and the rest is corporate. Again, we’re trying to keep that a little more narrow so that we aren’t boiling the ocean with our go-to-market to get started. This product can help anybody.
How would you define your go-to-market at a broad level? Do you have a sales team versus do you heavily rely on inbound versus a channel or partners?
We’re in build mode big time right now. We hired a full sales team to support our go-to-market. It was all referral-based up until probably mid to late-2022 and repeat customers. We’d bring in some new ones here and there, but it wasn’t like this crazy new inbound come there. There wasn’t much going on with the marketing effort there. Now, we’re looking to make it much more holistic. We’re building the account-based marketing revenue engine and we will be going outbound. We will also be trying to pull in more inbound, create more awareness, and start to grow again more holistically using a multiple-channel approach.
Lisa, we dive into what Arbinger does and what you’re doing at Arbinger around the go-to-market, and who you serve. It’s pretty cool stuff there. Something else that I ask my guests that pretty much everyone enjoys and talks about is the scenarios that entail both a go-to-market success story and a failure story. In your case, if you were to go back in time, what would you call out as a go-to-market success story and why? Also, your lessons and learnings from that.
One of my biggest successes was when I was back at Aprimo. At that time, we did not realize the extent of what we were doing, but we made an acquisition. Let me give you a little backstory. Aprimo was a marketing resource management newbie that created that space. It did not exist back in the day. They became the leader on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for thirteen years running in that space. Teradata acquired them for a crazy amount of money back then.
It then sat on the shelf for seven years in Teradata’s portfolio and there weren’t a lot of advancements made to the technology. They were only reaping the return on investment until it got to a point in which the marketing business unit of Teradata got to private equity. They sold the Aprimo entity and a few other small things bundled together and we went back to the name Aprimo, which they had purchased the rights for.
We pull out and basically, time had stood still for seven years with the exception of hundreds of thousands of customizations that were made because our technology was on-prem at that time. We’re in this rat’s nest of a mess and a whole bunch of new competitors came on the market at that time as well. One of those was called Workfront. You may have heard of Adobe acquiring them for $1.5 billion a couple of years ago.
Workfront came in and a few other competitors. They were SaaS. They were cool, UI/UX, slick, and everything for Aprimo was turned on its head. What we did was we acquired a company called DAM. They were a digital asset management company. We created a new platform and a whole new go-to-market strategy and story. We changed the whole space on its head because now we could integrate what you’re doing with your resources with the actual creative that you are producing and everything flowed. We also had a piece that could measure the ROI, even the amount of hours that were spent. Everything that you were doing against it.
The success piece of that was we became the leader again. We changed the whole landscape. If you look at the go-to-market maturity model, we were getting back into this, “What’s our product market fit? Do we even have one anymore,” to becoming the gold platinum standard for a platform in our space? It was amazing. It was pretty cool to be a part of that.
I’m looking at some of the numbers. While you were there, you took the company from $12 million AR to $50 million in three years. Those are some crazy numbers and growth for sure.
With private equity too, I’ll say it. We have a huge budget.
You also mentioned repositioning yourself and finding a new product market fit. How did that thought evolve? Can you dive into some of the details there?
It was a strategic part of the acquisition. When we looked at why would we buy this DAM, there were a few things that did for us. First of all, they were based in EMEA and we did have customers in EMEA, but it opened up that market for us. Second of all, they were more mid-market and we were more enterprise. It helped to bring together those worlds and expand our TAM. The third piece again was nobody else could do this. They had to buy 2, 3, or 4 different things to do what we could do with this integration. We had a platform story and a huge advantage, especially with the analysts. On top of that, part of that strategy was we also hired one of the analysts in the DAM space to come work for us. We went into it with a plan.
You and I know and everyone knows that go-to-market is not always up and to the right. There will be challenges and bumps along the way. If you go back in time, what would you share in terms of a GTM failure story?
From there, I went to 6sense. They’ve gone up to the right for sure. After that, I went to a company called Mindtickle. It was a great company and they’re still trying to figure things out there but the thing I think that was the fail there in the same vein as they were sales enablement, sales-readiness. This a platform that could not only ramp, train and coach your reps and your customer-facing folks but also measure success.
There was a grid. You could see, “Here’s where someone’s strengths and weaknesses are. Let’s give them this training. They’re not as good at objection handling.” They had a sweet spot and a good story and we got $200 million in nine months between two different funding rounds and new investors coming in. They had a different idea of what the go-to-market and what the product should be than the current. That was adding call recording.
I’ll say this was something hard-fought. It’s a huge market but it’s also a space the Gong and Chorus are. “There are established players in this space. Let’s stick to what we’re good at.” There was a vision of how this information would help feed this engine to be able to see someone’s capabilities in how they’re performing but it was like, “Should that be an integration?” It only became this huge distraction. A lot of resources and time went in into trying to figure this out. How do you position it? We took our eye off what we already had established as our product market fit and tried to create this bigger platform and go into this new market. It wasn’t our sweet spot and it hurt.
I can put myself in the shoes of yourself and the team there. It’s a challenge when the go-to-market is “dictated” by the investors. That’s a huge challenge. Yes, it’s a big market. You got big names like Gong and Chorus and going after call recording and sharing. Going after a pie in the bigger market is pretty attractive but the question then becomes, “What is our unique advantage, especially if you’re not in that space already. Why would someone consider us a “new name” or a smaller brand in that market versus more established players?
One of the stories I love is the HubSpot story where they were trying to go into SEO, blogs, and CMS. What they found was where they got the best ratings and where they were doing the best was in emails, forms, and marketing automation. They scaled back, focused on that, and now they have SEO components. They added a CMS. They can build on it, but they went smaller before they could go bigger. Again, when you have limited resources, where’s your sweet spot? Figure that out and build off of that.
Now that you brought up HubSpot, which is a great success story. It’s amazing how they created a new category. They did focus on the specific like marketing, email, and forms that were their sweet spot initially early on but then they started going and telling the bigger narrative around inbound. They created this whole new category, which is amazing. What they’ve done is pretty inspiring, but that also leads to a lot of the “marketing leaders” and executives to start saying, “Why don’t we start doing a category creation model,” which is not the right play for many of the teams.
You and I have talked about that in depth. Most of the time, category creation is not the right answer. It sounds fun and exciting, but it’s a lot easier said than done. It can be a very big distraction and a huge revenue and resource strain. Do you need to do what’s always against it?
I think it’s Nick Mehta of Gainsight who mentioned this. Creation looks very attractive, but keep in mind, if you are going in and you need to go all in, then estimate about $5 million or even $10 million hot cash being put into that, plus all of your team, energy, and resources. Even after all this, even after putting in for so many years, there’s no guarantee you’ll come out fine.
I’ve talked with Nick about that and I’ve done the Play Bigger. I’ve gone through that and the workshop. I even looked back. I think Aprimo was the closest to that. Back then, category creation wasn’t that big of a thing but I look back and I’m like, “That was probably the closest ever I came to doing that.” We talked about it and we spent millions of dollars on the acquisition first just to create the platform and then we had to put everything into making it work.
Coming back closer to home and more towards your inspiring and amazing success story, Lisa, what would you call as 1, 2, or 3 superpowers when it comes to go-to-market?
There are a couple of things. I would say first, I’m very data-driven and it has served me well. Back to even just understanding my audience and what makes them tick. Looking at the data and having intent data, doing A/B testing, seeing what’s working, and what’s not working, but also being able to then convert that into ROI and CAC. Also, present that in a way that’s, “This is the data behind this.” Going to work for Teradata when I did, the CMO I worked for back then, her name was Lisa Arthur. She wrote the book Big Data Marketing and that was what our division was building and it was new. I feel like I’ve always been at the forefront of innovation, new technology, and these types of concepts. It’s served me well.
Building off of what you shared, there have been a few mentors, advisors, and people that have played a big role in your career success. Who do you call out as really pivotal?
Lisa was great. From there, I worked for someone named Ed Breault. He is still the CMO over at Aprimo. He inspired me. Not only is he an amazing leader. He brings out the best in people, but he was always leading edge and he knew how to position things. How to win over the hearts and minds of the entire organization. We made a transformation to account-based marketing using 6sense before it was a thing.
He got everyone on board with it. I’m watching how he did that. We still talk periodically and he’s been a great inspiration to me. Also, being a part of communities. I’ll say the Peak Community has been a life-changing organization for me. It has made the biggest difference. It’s blessed the day-to-day. I would say it’s more the big picture and the relationships I’ve made and people lifting each other up. Always have someone to go to if I have a question. Someone who’s always willing to help. It’s been a game-changer.Always have someone to go to if you have a question. Someone's always willing to help. It will be a game-changer. Click To Tweet
I totally second that. I know you and I first met through Peak, but having said that, Peak has played a very important role even in my own life, especially in terms of who we can lean on. For example, I was looking to build a marketing strategy for a startup and I want a different set of eyes to look at it and give me feedback, an outsider perspective. There are folks in Peak who are ready to jump in on a call and then give the feedback. It’s amazing. Plug for Peak. I think it’s natural and it’s important. Our readers who are interested in and committed to growing your go-to-market and marketing career, definitely look at the Peak Community.
Reach out. We can give you a link.
Reach out to me, reach out to Lisa, or anyone, for sure. The final question to you, Lisa, is if you were to go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?Have faith in yourself and go do what you want. Don’t wait for a time when you’ll wish you had started earlier. Click To Tweet
I think the biggest thing is that I can do it and have faith in myself. I feel like I’ve second-guessed myself a lot and part of it was because of where I came from, but I don’t know that it would’ve mattered. It was not having full confidence. I might put on the game face, but deep down, I was always second-guessing myself. Over the last few years, I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’m like, “I can do this. I see it. I can see the big picture. I know what needs to be done.” I finally feel like I’ve gotten to a groove and a rhythm where I’ve got even the right resources and the people. All the things are in a place where I can enjoy what I’m doing. I wish I would’ve started earlier.
That’s a key piece of advice. Even now, I have been feeling the same, which is, do I have everything within me and myself to do what I’m setting out to do this year in 2023? I’m doing something different and something bigger. There’s that constant “Imposter syndrome,” which we always face. Again, coming back to folks and coming back to your support group, this is where having someone like the Peak Community and even others like your friends and family plays a big role. It’s great chatting with you, Lisa. Good luck to you and your team at Arbinger. Have a wonderful day.
You too. Thanks, again, for having me.
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