B2B 54 | Category Design

B2B 54 | Category Design

 

If you want to specialize your business, this space will provide you with that path. Today’s guest is John Rougeux, an executive member at Pavilion and a partner at Category Design Advisors. From the failures to their success story, John brings us into the domain of category design and what they do in the market to help others become a dominant player. He also explains why CD matters and why its go-to market relies on word of mouth and referrals. Get to see how category design evolves in their space when you tune in to this episode. Don’t miss it!

Listen to the podcast here

 

A Marketing Leader’s Journey In Category Design With John Rougeux

In this episode, I have another great guest and a conversation that’s coming up. I have with me John Rougeux who is the Partner at Category Design Advisors. Welcome to the show, John.

Thanks for having me, Vijay.

This is a go-to-market show and this is what it is all about so let’s start with that topic. How do you view and define the go-to-market?

I’ve always used a pretty simple definition. It’s the set of activities that you’re doing to get customers aware and excited about what you’re doing and turn that excitement into revenue.

That’s already a straightforward definition and view. I’m looking at your LinkedIn. You have been a marketing practitioner. You led and built marketing teams. In your capacity, you are working with various companies of all sizes. How do your clients perceive the go-to-market?

For some context, the types of clients that we work with tend to be ambitious startups. They’re companies that are either defining a new space for building a new category of themselves or participating in an emerging category where there’s no clear leader yet. They’re trying to improve their odds of dominating that space and being the go-to solution.

With that context in mind, a lot of what our customers have to do is educate the market on what they are doing, what problem they’re solving, why that problem needs to be solved, and what happens if it’s not solved. Use that as a wedge to then talk about their solution, why that matters, and why it’s categorically different from other things that buyers might have encountered already. It’s much different from a straight comparison type of situation where you stack up a bunch of features next to each other, specifications, or even pricing models. We’re talking about going deeper than that and talking about fundamental differences.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m super excited about this conversation. More often than not, especially when we talk about the go-to-market, the guests that I’ve had so far are like, “The founders are the go-to-market practitioners.” It’s typically around the go-to-market execution engine versus where you and I will be taking this conversation. We’re out to lean on you for your expertise and perspective is how to think about a category and how these go-to-market themes and go-to-market leaders can start thinking about category creation and enhancing their position in the category.

One of the myths that we try to bust is category design always means creating a brand-new category and being the first company to do that. Categories have a life cycle. They evolve. We’ve leaned on a lot of work by an author called Paul Geroski, who wrote a book happily titled The Evolution of New Markets, where he goes in-depth about this idea of categories evolving.

B2B 54 | Category Design
The Evolution of New Markets

I want to explain that and that’ll provide a good lens for thinking about how companies should compete in a category and what their category strategy should be. The research that Paul Geroski did follows as such. Before the category exists, what you have is an unsolved problem that exists in the world. Problems have to be experienced by people for them to be a real thing. You’ve got a group of people who are dealing with some problems and there’s no good solution for that.

Sometimes, this situation persists indefinitely. There’s a solution to these problems where we’ll never have a solution. That doesn’t constitute a category. It’s just a market opportunity if you like. What typically happens, though, is something will change. Maybe a new technology comes about or the problem gets worse enough to where people identify that it’s worth solving. Someone has an insight. They say, “I can build a solution that addresses this issue.” That’s when a startup is born or maybe a new venture within an existing company.

If that inside is valid, then you’ll typically see other companies latch onto that idea. They’ll come up with their attempt to develop a solution for that problem and group of people. In the early days, those solutions may look very different. One company solution might be viable and another company solution might not but they’re trying to experiment and get to a place where they’ve landed on the right solution for that issue.

As that process progresses, typically, what happens, as Geroski taught us, is one company has convinced the market that its design is the best suited for that problem. It’s what he calls the dominant design. When that happens, two interesting things happen next. One is that when customers see that there’s a go-to solution for this thing. They feel a lot more comfortable buying. You start to move from early adopters to more mainstream audiences because people don’t want to risk buying something that’s going to be obsolete, incompatible, or doesn’t work right. When they see that there’s a standardized solution, those barriers come down and the purchase becomes a lot less risky.

When that happens, the company that’s established that dominant design tends to dominate that space. The other players in that market have to either come along with that or exit the category. When that dominant player comes into play, the market cap of the category grows and the number of competitors decreases. I’m trying to condense a couple of hundred pages of that idea into a few minutes. We would like to understand where your category is in its evolution. It’s important for you to figure out what kind of strategy you need to set for yourself.

The company that has established that dominant design dominates that space and the other players in that market. Click To Tweet

Thank you for setting the context and the thought process behind the whole concept of category in the first place. Before we dive deeper into this topic, let’s unwind a bit over here. For me, it’s all about understanding why did you decide to go into this space. What motivated you? In that context, if you can share your career story? What led you to what you’re doing?

The quickest way I can describe it is if you’re a marketer and you’re trying to bring a radically new idea to life using the traditional playbook of capturing market share, your life is hard. That was the journey that I experienced. I spent some time at some early-stage startups early in my career. I was a cofounder of one of them. We were solving problems that didn’t exist before and had some different ideas about how to solve them.

We had some initial traction but everything I’d been taught to that point was how you compete against competitors and differentiate yourself but it’s always in the context of other companies. I started to explore other ways of going about marketing. That led me to business strategy and then discover category design as the framework for bringing new things out to the market.

You did leave an equally exciting part of your journey, which is your backpacker way back. What is that like?

My wife and I decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail together. We had our first anniversary while we were backpacking. It was that early on. It’s about six months of backpacking solid. It was a lot of fun. It’s much more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

You didn’t go into the tech industry right away but eventually, after a couple of roles, you did move and take the industry and marketing function. You were a CMO. You were a host on the B2B Growth Show. I was not aware of this. I’m an avid listener. That’s fantastic. You went into a marketing leadership role and also were building a marketing strategy at BombBomb, which is similar to video marketing or video sales tools. It falls somewhere in that category.

The broad space is like video messaging. You put a label on it.

Here you are at Category Design Advisors. You did share that journey. What prompted you to make that radical shift? You did touch upon that. In a nutshell, you did mention what you’re doing and how we were taught what you need to do as a marketing leader. It was not paying off or did not die in the right way. Expand on that. That’s a very critical insight that we should dive into.

To go into that a little bit deeper, I didn’t find any good framework for taking something that people aren’t familiar with at all and don’t have any context for. We’re talking to them about that in a way that matters to them and shows why this new business needs to exist. A lot of what I was learning at the time was very tactical, like how to get more traffic to your blog, how you optimize an ad campaign or conversion rate on a landing page, or what the best practices for marketing automation are, tactics that are good but can only move the needle so far if you don’t have the fundamentals correct.

In one of the businesses that I worked for, we were developing a way for local businesses to generate word of mouth on social media. This is in the early 2010s when social media was in a different state than it is in the present. Looking back, I realized that a lot of our customers came through word of mouth and opportunities where we could be on the stage or a show and share the narrative and the story behind what we were trying to do.

One of my cofounders built a product for himself. He was addressing an issue that he faced. Other businesses latched on to that because they were going through a similar situation. When we removed that ability to tell that story and convey that narrative, it was very difficult for us to drive business. That puts a cap on our growth because all those tactics I describe like the conversion rate, optimization, this and that, and the other, don’t address the real issue. I was curious. I said, “How did people go about building businesses before digital marketing?” You couldn’t use paid social and things like that.

When we remove our ability to tell that story and convey that narrative, it's difficult for us to drive business and it puts a cap on our growth. Click To Tweet

One of the books I encountered in the process was The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Jack Trout and Positioning by the same authors. Law number one is to be first in the category. Number two is if you can’t be first, set up a new category that you can be first in. That idea was foreign to me. I was talking to a friend of mine, James Carbary. He runs Sweet Fish Media, the company that runs B2B Growth. He said, “If you like that idea, you should check out this book. It’s called Play Bigger.”

B2B 54 | Category Design
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!

This is about 2017 or so. The book was only about a year old at that point. When I read that book, I immediately knew that if I had this framework a few years ago, it would have dramatically changed our trajectory and our ability to grow the business. From there, I started to apply this thinking within the companies where I was working. I did some things that worked. I learned some things that didn’t work and made some mistakes because this was a very new discipline at the time.

What I realized though was I enjoyed the discipline. I started doing some consulting on the side and helping some early-stage founders through the process and found that I was adding some value and wanted to work towards doing this work full-time. I developed a relationship with Christopher Lochhead. He’s been a great mentor of mine. I ended up getting to know my partners at CDA and we started working together full-time.

Play Bigger is one of those books especially for founders and go-to-market leaders who are thinking about building big markets and number one position in the industry. Play Bigger is a must-read for those people. You read the book. Essentially, you connected with that mindset and the principles that are stated in that book. You were a mentor and in touch with Christopher Lochhead, who is one of the co-authors.

When I started the B2B Growth Show, it was my friend James. He challenged me. He said, “John, I know you know very little about category design. Go start a series on my show about it.” He was the first person to interview Christopher Lochhead.

What is the hook? How did you manage to get Christopher on the show?

I asked him just like you asked me.

Let’s get deeper into what is CDA. What do you folks do? What is your go-to-market?

Our go-to-market is pretty reliant on word of mouth and referrals. Frankly, it’s different than probably how our customers operate but we’re pretty selective on the number of clients that we work with in a given year. We’ve done closing on 45 engagements with companies over the years. We’ll do 6 or 8 a year around networks and the content we’re producing. Kevin, the co-author of Play Bigger, brings a lot of credibility and interest to what we’re doing. It’s not super complicated. Build relationships with good people, produce content that adds value to people, and the rest pretty much follow suit.

I’m on the website. I was looking at projects and engagements that you do with these companies. It’s very impressive. You folks work from early-stage startups to pre-IPO and even companies that are public enterprises. As a startup, it’s a big panda. That’s one of the case studies that you have in there. Your pre-IPO is Sprinklr, and then companies that are big and large like LinkedIn. It’s a very impressive roster. For each of those stages, what is the need? What is driving them to engage you folks in their go-to-market?

I mentioned the word ambitious and that’s a good word to capture how our clients are acting. If you think about athletes in the Olympics and they’re 4th or 5th in the world, their goal is to be that gold medalist. They will invest every resource they have to make that happen. That’s how our clients are thinking there. They have their ambitions set on not just bringing something new to life and establishing a new space but dominating that space and emerging as the equivalent of the Salesforce as that space matures. That’s why they’re bringing us in to help them realize that goal and improve the odds of being that dominant player.

When you talk about category design and when I start reading more into the concepts on Play Bigger, the first story that all of us, including the readers can relate to is, what Marc Benioff did with Salesforce. That was a huge eye-opener. For the benefit of those readers who are not aware of the story, which should be the minority of this, Marc Benioff came out from Oracle and Sable in the CRM space. He realized, “All of those were perpetual licenses versus why should anyone even own a license. Kill the software concept and have software releases and improvements daily word. You don’t have to worry about the maintenance of the software as such.

We take it for granted that that’s the normal way of doing things. At the time, I remember the Wall Street analysts didn’t even know how to value their revenue because it was all this recurring revenue model, which was foreign to them.

He’s shifted how all the software companies have to think about and go-to-market with this new concept and business model. That’s a classic example. For the readers who are not aware of category design, connect with the story of what Marc Benioff did with Salesforce. That’s the entry point. Thank you for sharing that context.

It was super helpful to why category matters and coming back to the keyword that you mentioned, how the ambitious founders and go-to-market leaders should think about and why they should pursue category design or category creation. With that as a context, it’ll be helpful if you can share with our readers a go-to-market success story and failure story around the category.

The way that I’ll describe it won’t be around the go-to-market mechanics and the things that a CRO or a CMO might cover. The way we look at it is if you get your fundamentals around your category straight as you write, then whatever go-to-market engine you build has a much greater chance of being successful. Whereas if you have some misses on your category strategy, then you might have the most finely tuned GTM engine in the world but it’s not going to get you where you need to go.

Why don’t I start with a failure first because that makes success a little easier to describe? One of the things that we try to look at when we help a client develop their category strategy is focusing on the problem that they’re solving and making sure that it’s a valid problem, the problem causes enough pain, and enough people are experiencing it. In other words, it needs to be a problem worth solving.

That sounds obvious. Why would you build a company around a problem that you hadn’t validated? This happens all the time. I’ll share a pretty high-profile example. There was a company called Quibi. They made a valid observation initially. It was that people were consuming more media on their phones while they were on the go. That’s a valid insight. They took that idea and built a whole company around this notion, like a mobile-first video platform.

In case you’re not familiar with them, the idea was that they would create original content. The content would be very suited to this on-the-go-on-my-phone type of behavior. Episodes were about ten minutes long. They had this interesting technology where you could rotate the phone and the video would look good in portrait or landscape mode.

They have some smart people. Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman were two of their big investors or board members. They raised $3,750,000,000. They had a huge marketing campaign. Retrospect is so easy to see but the miss was that there was already a pretty good solution to the problem identified and it’s called TikTok and YouTube. They weren’t providing enough of an incremental benefit to be worth paying a whole other subscription to. On top of that, I’ve heard their content was pretty bad so that didn’t help but even if their content was decent, they would have run into all the same issues.

The company folded within a year and a half of being launched. This is a great example of a company not understanding that this category of mobile or first video platforms was already pretty well established. There were already some pretty good options there. They’re trying to come in, redefine that, and dominate in a way that didn’t provide orders of magnitude of benefits. It’s a losing proposition. No amount of money, advertising, or marketing could save them.

That’s a failure. I can share a success. It’s one I didn’t work on myself. I don’t want to take credit for it but my partners Dampen and Kevin did. They work with a company called Sprinklr. For some background, Sprinklr broadly plays in the customer experience space. There are already some established players there. Call tricks are one. The way they are perceived in the market was they were another me-too customer experience tool, of which there were dozens.

At the same time, their CEO knew that they had something different and they were building something special but the market couldn’t see that. We have a term for that. We call it Category Jail. It’s when the market misses mentally and miscategorizes what you do. What they did was use the category design process to build a narrative that captured what they were doing as categorically different and set the stage for them to build on a different trajectory going forward.

They call it unified Customer Experience Management or unified CXM. It was more than just a label, though. It was a way to identify all the problems that happen when you use a hodgepodge of point solutions and try to cobble them together. There are all sorts of gaps that still happen in the customer experience when you do that. That was an aspect of the problem they honed in on.

They went through that exercise right before their IPO. When they did that, it changed the way that investors perceived them. It went from a me-too solution to, “This is something different.” They not only have a different take on what they’re doing but the opportunity is much greater because this isn’t just another set of point tools. Their IPO is successful.

They’re a multibillion-dollar company. Making that IPO successful for them was key. That’s an example of the end stage. That same process still unfolds whether you’re at series C or even if you’re very early on. If investors don’t see why you matter, they miscategorize what you’re doing. They’re either not going to invest or undervalue you, and you want to get the valuation you deserve.

That’s a great story, for sure, especially the term. Customer experience management is so overly used. A lot of the CRM companies are positioning themselves as CXMs. The cool story about Sprinklr positions itself as CXM but it looks like a niche within a unified CXM. That’s what sets them apart. Once the market and the investors see the story and see them as a player in a much bigger or different category than the existing players, the valuation will go up, and that will show up in their stock price.

The takeaway is that when you do category design well, you are controlling the narrative. You’re not using a narrative set by somebody else or building your narrative around points of comparison to other tools.

Two questions that come to my mind from that success story. At what point in time is it right for the founders and the leadership team to think about category creation and category design?

The answer is day zero. What the process looks like for a very early-stage company, a couple of guys in a credit card versus pre-IPO, is different. We did an interview with Craig Rosenberg on Scale Venture Partners on our show. This is one of the things we were talking about. When you’re in the formation stages of the company, picking a problem that no one else has addressed or a radically different approach to a problem that is far different from the status quo is very powerful in terms of creating a business that can do something meaningful and can get people excited about them.

When I say the process looks different, there’s a lot more conviction you have toward the tail end around what that solution looks like and what partnerships and the whole ecosystem might look like. You’re putting those thoughts into stone at that point and pushing hard into the market about specific language you’ve built and specific aspects of what this category needs to look like.

When you’re early on, you have some hypotheses around this problem. You’re trying to validate your ideas as quickly as possible. You might have a good handle on the problem. Your solution might be wrong and you’ve got to iterate on that. You’re more like writing in pencil but still going through the process and thinking about the problem first and the solution second is something every early-stage company should be doing in my mind.

It’s easier said than done. In the early days, the founders and investors were all like, “How quickly can we get from problem validation to product market fit?” The path that they take to get to that point may not necessarily be thinking about category creation or educating a market about a new category or product that they should invest in and buy at this point.

If you do it right and you can show people that there’s a problem that hasn’t been sold, that’s a very powerful way to gain traction. The other path you have to take is you’re competing in a space that’s already established. You’re trying to come up with a better, cheaper, or faster solution or maybe have a niche that you can serve better than someone else. I’m not saying you can’t do that but that’s not an easy path either.

If you do what you're doing right and show people there's a problem that hasn't been sold, that's a powerful way to gain traction. Click To Tweet

The second question that came to my mind when you were sharing the GTM success story is slightly controversial but interesting. I’m sure it must have been debated a whole lot. There were mobile phones even before Apple came out with their iPhones. It was an established market and category. What did they do? Everyone knows what they did. They didn’t have to create a new category but they’re leaders by a far distance in the smartphone category.

Do you remember when we were talking about the evolution of categories and had played over time? At that point in time, the dominant design was the Blackberry. The Blackberry was more geared toward business users. It wasn’t something that your grandma would buy. There was still this unmet need of people wanting to browse the internet and people wanting to listen to music on their mobile devices to make phone calls and texts on a single device. The Blackberry wasn’t suited for that for the market at large. It was a good dominant design for that niche business user space but it didn’t address what the broader world needed.

B2B 54 | Category Design
Category Design: The Blackberry wasn’t suited for the market at large. It was a good dominant design for that niche business user space.

 

Apple was a genius at understanding the problems that people had with the way Blackberry worked and traditional mobile phones or things they couldn’t do. They use that to inform what this new design or this new take on a smartphone should look like. As you know, that is established as the dominant design. Even if you have an Android phone, it still has a similar industrial design. It still has an app store, which is a key component of that dominant design. It still works and feels the same way as an iPhone.

The main takeaway is the point that you mentioned early on, which is the category evolution. Apple was the first player in that category evolution like step zero. They created a whole new bump in the category. It’s just not the business users of the Blackberry users. Now, it’s a much larger market. They’ve expanded the market a whole lot and they are one leader.

They didn’t create this smartphone category but they designed it in their favor and expanded what that category represented into something much larger.

I appreciate the insights and the thought process around category design, category creation, and category evolution. Switching gears, coming back to more of the story behind John. What are 1 or 2 skills you are known for in the industry of the market? When someone thinks, “I’m struggling with design. I need somebody to talk about this so I should reach out to John,” what are those 1 or 2 topics that people reach out to you for?

As category designers, what we tend to be good at is critical thinking and assessing things more objectively. I’ve run into this challenge myself. It’s very easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when you’re in a startup or even any company. When you’re so close to it, you can’t see things objectively. Our ability to look at things dispassionately and assess what needs to happen from a business perspective is something that we find tuned pretty well over time.

It's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when you're in a startup. Click To Tweet

Instead of talking about me, let me talk about one of my partners, Kevin Maney. He’s arguably one of the best people in the world at articulating difficult-to-explain technology in a way that everybody can understand. Jeff Bezos used to even call on Kevin to help him unpack some ideas he was thinking about. I’m lucky to work with someone like him.

It’s not very often that many people get a chance to work with such industry thought leaders or category creators in this case. I’m sure you must be excited and grateful to be working with Kevin and others at CDA.

It’s a good group. There’s a lot of fun.

The other question that keeps coming up is, what are the resources or the exciting topics that you research or lean on? You mentioned the fact that you host a podcast. You must be listening to other podcasts and reading books, I’m sure. What are the other resources that you lean on or people you lean on?

I read a lot of things that are not pure marketing or pure business books because I like to get inspiration from unexpected places. One of the books that I’ve read a couple of times is called The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. It’s pretty dense. It’s not like a bedtime story or anything. He uses a lot of historical examples to talk about how different countries or militaries have engaged with each other. Many times, he explores the dynamics of different competitions, which is useful when you think about businesses and how they interact. That’s one.

We have a community that we started called Category Thinkers. It’s about 600 folks in there who are all thinking about or working on category design in one capacity or another. That’s a great place for us to fuel our thinking as a group. I’d like to share what I’ve learned. I learned things from other people from other corners who are thought of as something I haven’t discovered. That group dynamic and community have been valuable too.

I recall you saying about that community. I did join. If I did not, I’d be part of that. It’s cool to understand. More than coolness but it’s about how other people are thinking about category when it comes to that go-to-market. That’s my perspective and what I’m curious about. We’re going to be part of that. Shout-out to that group. For the readers, join that group.

If you’re not there, let me know when you join. I’ll make sure I say hello to you when you pop in.

The final question I have for you, John, is if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey?

Look for input from others more readily. One of the mistakes I made was thinking I knew more than I did and not knowing what I didn’t know. You can only discover that by getting perspective and feedback from other people. I would have been even more proactive about reaching out and finding people who were ahead of me or came from different disciplines who could share a perspective that I didn’t have.

B2B 54 | Category Design
Category Design: Reach out and find people ahead of you or from different disciplines who could share a perspective you don’t have.

 

Thanks for sharing that. That’s something that I grew up with as well, almost on a daily basis. More often than not, we think that we know and we have to be sure. We are confident. We believe that this is what it is, what my stands are, and what I will be doing. I wish I started earlier in building that personal board of advisors and having them as a sounding board or even giving them the comfort and the luxury of saying, “Vijay, you’re wrong. You’re going to screw up on this.” Creating that space is important. Thank you so much for a wonderful conversation, John. Good luck to you and the team at CDA. We’ll be rooting for your successes.

Thanks for having me, Vijay. It was a real pleasure.

 

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B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

I have with me the one and only Sangram Vajre. Sangram, welcome to the show. I’m super excited to have you here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re giving you the budget. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

 

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About Sangram Vajre

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

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

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

 

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