B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

 

There is no one recipe for success when it comes to go-to-market strategies. Each business is unique, and you need to be ready to adapt. In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu interviews Karim Zuhri, the COO of Cascade. Karim builds a people culture, guides with data, and leads for impact. He discusses his previous experiences with product marketing and what it takes to drive customer success. Listen and learn from his experience in streamlining and focusing your business.

Listen to the podcast here:

Go-To-Market Strategies: Driving Customer Success With Karim Zuhri

I have with me Karim Zuhri from Australia, who is also the Chief Operating Officer of Cascade. Karim, welcome to the show.

Thank you. How are you?

I’m doing wonderful. I always like to start my show by asking this specific question to all my guests, and you are no different. How do you define go-to-market?

Go-to-market is one of the broadest terms in B2B SaaS especially. The way I would define it is like the plan that you as a company use to take out to the market product, services and offers. It could be how you organize your sales team, how you do marketing, what does your even model of a product looks like? Is it with a freemium on top, book a demo or acquisition channels through reports, content, social media, videos, brand? It’s all of these aspects or tactics that come together to define your plan of taking your offer to the markets.

We covered quite a few areas and functions within that. That includes the product piece, marketing and sales but you not mentioned about customer success or even customer support explicitly. How do you view that critical function within B2B SaaS especially?

It’s one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle. When you decide if you are in sales that are marketing lead or product lead, there are different functions that form. For me, customer success is one of the most important and crucial pieces of the puzzle with the customer experience or customer support, depending on how we call it. It’s a continuity of this offer. The go-to-market is not only at the acquisition level but it’s also at the retention level and expansion level. Cascade works in a way where we have land and expense. Our customer success teams are the people that are helping the account or the customers grow using Cascade. They are extremely important in go-to-market because they are extending the brand and they are a huge monetization source for our job.

Let’s switch gears a little bit over here more onto the lighter side of things. How do your parents/kids, if you have them, describe what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I do not have kids. It’s funny because my parents would say and have been saying something for many years that I’m a director and I do stuff that makes businesses successful. Did they ever understand what I do? Never. They just throw some names and words. They say, “He works in software. He’s a director. He’s involved in strategy and data. He helps companies.” That’s how my parents would define me.

They nailed the definition very well. It’s a combination of you help companies, strategy and you help them succeed. What else do you want?

When you are delivering results and always leaving on good terms, you can find the next shop easier. Click To Tweet

It has been the same definition for many years. Even though my job has changed so many times, that’s how my dad is always saying. He’s Lebanese. He always starts with the word, “He’s a director. If you don’t know he’s a director, you have to know that he’s a director.” Even when I wasn’t a director, in his eyes, I was a director which is funny.

If you are a chief operating officer, which you are now but you’re still a director to him?

For him, it did not change.

Let’s talk about the journey or your career evolution. You’ve done multiple roles, all the way from risk analyst to product marketing and you are responsible end to end for all the go-to-market functions at Cascade. Walk us through the journey. Also if you can, touch on the inflection points. What led you to that next level of growth?

Starting a long time ago, I always wanted to be a filmmaker but I ended up being a software and energy engineer. I graduated. I did not want to be a software engineer but I wanted to be always in technology. The fancy fast at that point was the strategy consultant role that I took. At the end of my university, I worked in management and strategy consulting for two years. I was lucky enough that all my projects were digital transformations. All of it was about moving to the cloud, building a new infrastructure and information systems for the core business of the businesses I worked with, retail banking, insurance, government, administration and also energy. That ended with me asking myself the question, “What do I like? I’m exposed to all of these industries and businesses. I like the strategy piece but what do I want to be doing from now on?”

The answer was that the digital piece, the software piece. I moved to Amadeus, which is one of the largest companies in the world that enables airlines to connect with travel agencies. Travel is a very common word we hear. I used to work there as VP of product, helping them with all the strategy presentations, roadmap, business planning. From that, I moved to Seattle from Paris and worked for Expedia. I was working on almost the same concepts, but this time, I’m working for a SaaS business. We call it strategy product marketing.

It is interesting because it’s almost like the intersection of the go-to-market piece, which is taking this offer to the market but also talking to the product managers and engineers about what is the right product that we want to build, who are we building it for, how can we help build a product in a child mode and build layers on top of each other rather than building a sequence of things? I worked in product marketing at Expedia for three years. Then I received a message online from a very nice guy who called me. He said, “Would you like to call Bondi Beach home?” Bondi Beach is the largest beach in Sydney and the most known one. I was like, “Why not? I could explore this. I’ve been in Seattle. It’s been rainy. I love the city, but I could use some sun. What is the company that you’re working for?” That was SafetyCulture.

Before we dive into your role at SafetyCulture, there’s something unique which I’ve not seen in a lot of people that I’ve met. It’s your ability and openness to move across geographies. You started out in Seattle, moved to France or Paris and all the way to Australia. There are two pieces. One is your willingness and wantingness to shift. How do recruiters or hiring managers reach out to you? How do you let them know that you are open to moving across geographies?

I was born in Lebanon, half of my life in France, studied in Spain, did some internship in the UK and lived a bit in Berlin. I’m trying to help a startup. I stayed there five months before Amadeus. I never talk about it, but that was a very good experience for me to try to do something. I moved from Paris to Seattle and Seattle to Sydney. Hopefully, I’m going to call Sydney home. For me, the curiosity about exploring new cultures and exchanging ideas with different people from different backgrounds has always helped me learn, evolve in my mindset and look at things from a very different perspective. I worked with very large organizations in Europe and the Middle East. One of the first projects I worked on was for BNP Paribas. It’s one of the largest banks in Europe.

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies
Go-To-Market Strategies: Any framework can work. It’s all about the content of your strategy.

 

I used to work with five entities. The Turkish, Italian, Belgian, Moroccan and French ones. That was almost one of the first exposure to culture and how different countries work. I learned from every single piece of it a massive experience. I decided that the more I get exposed to culture, talk to different backgrounds and people from different countries, the more and faster I would evolve. My commitment to myself is every three years I’m going to move a country until I settled down somewhere that I find myself very happy in but also driving myself into the career level that I wanted to be at.

There are two pieces to my question. One is what you seek and what you want to do? There’s also the other piece of the pool. Companies, recruiters and hiring managers need to know that you are available. Is it more of you pushing and approaching them or are they pulling you like in SafetyCulture? It looks like they pulled you or reached out to you.

I have never applied for a job aside from the first one out of university. I feel lucky that I had this path to jobs where I was working hard and trying to be almost referred all the time. In Amadeus, I knew people in there before I joined. I got posted from Amadeus by the customer, Expedia and then I got the outreach from LinkedIn to move to SafetyCulture. It’s the same thing with Cascade. When you are active, delivering results, helping companies and always living on good terms, you can find the next shop easier. That was something that happened to me, luckily enough for in my career.

I want to reiterate for the readers, especially those who are more earlier on in their career. The key point that you emphasize there is to do a good job no matter what your role is. At some point in time, you will be recognized. When you leave a company or team on good terms, it will be a ripple effect.

The confidence you build comes from your determination to achieve stuff but also from a mindset that you set for yourself, which is the one I always said, “Always chase two jobs ahead. If you always look for two jobs ahead, you perform in your job in a very different way that you become excellent at the scope that you’re doing but way more than what you are supposed to be doing. Very quickly, it will be very noticed that you are bigger than the job so you get the job faster. The next job that comes in is too level faster than what you were aiming for with the same company where you are at.”

Let’s take the example of you are at SafetyCulture and when you were joining SafetyCulture, let’s apply your principle, which is you’re thinking about two jobs ahead. How did you approach that when you landed at SafetyCulture?

I have a strategy when I come to a new business which is my six first months are the hardest work I ever do in a business. I work extremely hard. I meet and help every person, whether it’s a small or big thing. I try to bring all my experience. I read so much. I become obsessed by the business model, industry and the problem that the company is solving. In my first six months, I arrived and did that same way. I connected with everyone. I learned everything. After six months, you become almost the go-to that people come to, ask questions and recommendations. That’s what I have done at SafetyCulture and what I’m doing as well is helping everyone trying to understand.

There’s a concept that could be a bit controversial but I don’t try to listen too much. When you come to a new business, it’s the best opportunity for not listening too much and bringing something different. That’s something I always do. “This is what you have been doing. I would suggest this.” I listened to it but then I also try to push them for new things that they haven’t been exploring. I’m getting this idea of saying, “For the next three months when you start a job, just listen. You become part of what you have listened to then you are not able to change.” If I summarize what I said before, I work hard. I understand everything but at the same time, I’m pushing for change and bringing new stuff as soon as I can, not just listening.

Talk about what you’ve done at SafetyCulture that led you to what you’re doing at Cascade.

The confidence you build comes from your determination to achieve stuff, but also from a mindset that you set for yourself. Click To Tweet

SafetyCulture is the newest unicorn of Australia. I joined them when they were at a $440 million evaluation. They are sitting at $2.1 billion. We had two funding raise series in my time there. The main thing that I have done with them is driving focus, shifting almost the entire strategy of the business through narrative, trying to find what is the best narrative that we should be designing and then start building towards this narrative. It was the continuation of what Luke Anear, the CEO has done. I tried to lift up a lot of our concepts and stories to meet the next level of the story, which is this platform for operations that helps businesses perform better through quality checks, safety checks and operation checks. This is my biggest addition to SafetyCulture during my time with them.

You were at SafetyCulture and leading product marketing, includes the life cycle marketing and customer marketing also. Not just at the prospect or the buyer stage but even after. I clearly recall from our conversation maybe what it was. One thing that stood out was your love and passion for segmentation, as well as hitting the right customer journey points, delivering value throughout. That was a key. That’s what I saw in you.

Let’s talk segmentation. That was the biggest outcome but narrative comes from a lot of research, analysis, discussions with customers, talking to existing customers, people online, prospects and businesses in general. You come to a decision around your customer segmentation. Also, I did customer profiles and target audiences. As soon as they arrived to SafetyCulture, I took what I did at Expedia, which is customer segmentation. Customer segmentation has always been the driver of this narrative that I talked about but has also been the biggest thing that helps businesses restructure their teams to be focusing on what matters, ideal customer profile and building all the narrative around the target audience that you are looking at.

When you are talking about improving operations, increasing the quality and safety, you’re targeting almost a larger organization because this is where the silos start happening and distributed teams are across different departments and locations. The segmentation was a foundational work that helped the whole business streamline, focus, build a better narrative, design all our marketing campaigns as well as our product roadmap, help us build the right product, offer and narrative. Thanks for reminding me of this. I’m almost doing the same thing with Cascade.

That leads to your role, which is what you’re doing at Cascade. That’s a big jump when you are earlier responsible for product marketing pieces. Now as a COO, you’re responsible for different aspects, not just within marketing but even within sales and other pieces. Talk to us about how you’re making that mental shift. Let’s start off with that first.

One of my biggest weaknesses is that I have always been able to build on top of something but I’m never a starter. I don’t start things. I finished them well. The other thing is I have always been in theoretical jobs where I tell people what we should be doing, “This is a strategy, plan, the best way to get there, how I would structure teams, build the product and talk to the customer.” It has always been my job to be advising, recommending and showing how we should be doing it. At the end of SafetyCulture, I was getting frustrated by myself because I’m never executing. I’m never on the operational side of the business and see if what I say makes sense on the ground. When I met with Tom, the Founder and CEO of Cascade he said, “Do you want to co-manage the business with me?” I was like, “What does that include?” He said, “Everything, from the theory and the strategy to the execution.”

This was the best next step for me because I was thinking, “What do I do next?” That was the best outcome because this is the first time I’m exposed to the execution. I’m also accountable for the results. Not only for the theory. It’s always easier for me to say, “I told you so,” when it didn’t work. How do you execute it sometimes was the hardest part. I’m figuring this out because a lot of my concepts, principles and theories are being exposed to the execution and getting concretized.

Are all of them working? Absolutely not, but executing them that I’m realizing where I was failing and falling short. I’m managing all the customer-facing teams. The marketing, customer success, account executive and customer experience. I’m also managing the operational side of the business with the finance, people and performance with the operation. Moving offices are included. At the same time as this feeding as much as they can into our PLG model that we’re building into our freemium, structure overall, into our organizational strategy and the product that we are shaping up to the next level. That was the main rationale for me moving. This is how I did the move so far.

This was one of those inbound like Tom or someone approached you for a role similar to your previous roles?

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies
Go-To-Market Strategies: Strategies are techniques to hit the goal. They should change as you learn what is working and what is not.

 

I had a Headhunter calling me. He said, “Would you like to work for a company that is disrupting the world of strategy and redefining how the execution of strategy is the key to success?” That reminds me of something. I always have done beautiful PowerPoint in my management consulting experience. We would sometimes leave even earlier than the strategy is presented or even committed. It was a beautiful PowerPoint slide. I was very good at design. These strategies sit on a shelf for 6 or 7 months. Seven months later, they will do another strategy. The other one would have never been executed because it’s too late but it’s always this cycle. In January, you want to go to the gym. February, you have 2 or 3 birthdays and never go to the gym again, then in May, you pick it up. It’s the same with strategy. That’s why I got excited for this topic of strategy getting executed. When the Headhunter called me, I was like, “I want to do this. Let’s talk about it.”

What you’re doing at Cascade is you’re building products that help other teams execute their strategy better but at the same time, you are responsible for the execution of your strategy. When I was at SugarCRM, I was doing product marketing there and responsible for one of the products that we were looking to launch there. I’m telling others how they should do the job better but it also applies to me where I should be doing the jobs. It’s almost duckfooting.

It’s funny when we are in product marketing how we see the world from a very different perspective. Because product marketing becomes a coach in some ways, we all listen to each other. We agree on things. I call it anonymous. We go into a room and talk about it. No one understands us. No one wants to listen to us. We go out of the room even more empowered and feeling that we were absolutely right but that was painful when you execute it. Cascade is about strategy execution and acceleration. Ourselves, we use Cascade to hit every next milestone we have. It’s a simple concept where you put your plans in one place and assign goals, not just projects.

You assign the strategic focus areas of the business to people and hold them accountable. You’ll have them define the projects, leading, lagging KPIs and then start seeing how they are working on a daily basis towards the strategic goals that they have set with the business. It’s an immersion of bottom-up and top-down meetings together because that leadership team is sharing a vision, direction and context. The teams are building their own strategy with the energy, buy-in and adoption that you always need in a business to make a strategy happen.

Explain to us as to what is a need for a product that will help the execution of strategy? What are the gaps that are out there? You have big brands as your customers. How are they using your product Cascade in executing their strategy? What kind of results are they seeing?

Every business needs to put a strategy together then execute it. The problem that Tom has found when he started Cascade and built the platform around 2016, 2017 was that people want to plan and keep planning for 2, 3 or 6 months sometimes. They never get the opportunity to execute because they think that the plan is not ready. It’s all about the perfect and communicating the plan but the reality is one month after you started the plan is where you start needing to change some of the plan. You are looking at a specific goal that you want to hit at the end of the year and you start building strategies to get there. Strategies are tactics to hit the goal. Strategies should be changing as you learn what is working and not working.

When he started discovering the pain of customers, all we’re saying is that we have a strategy but it never gets executed. When COVID hits, strategy took a backseat. I try to do one hour of strategy per week but the rest is BAU, Business As Usual. This is where we figured out the biggest problem of customers, which is, “How do we help customers execute on amazing strategies and plans that they start the year with and they never get realized at the end of the year?” The platform was built this way, saying, “Let’s plan and manage the execution but at the same time, let’s tracked in real-time what is happening. The tracking helps you feedback to the plan, change the plan over time. PowerPoint and Excel file does not let you do this.”

The other side of the world is task management and project management. The challenge with task management and project management is that it does not look at the context and the big picture. You can do ten projects and those are extremely well executed. All of them finished on time but the combination of the project does not drive the results of businesses. The biggest thing that I would say when you execute strategy and start with the biggest focus areas is this alignment where you align people towards bigger goals rather than cited in into projects that sometimes don’t connect to each other.

That’s a big topic. We can spend hours and hours diving into that strategy piece, definition and execution. The challenge with that is a lot of things. When you talk to a lot of the people within industry, the sea strategy is a buzzword. They see that more as a very shiny object versus what many people don’t realize, especially when they look at the mid, the lower management or even the individual contributors. It’s a vehicle for everyone to align.

If you always look for two jobs ahead, you perform your job in a very different way. Click To Tweet

Two things happen. The first one is people focus on the framework and they say, “We are moving to OKRs.” What does that mean? You’re moving to OKRs, but what is your strategy? What are you trying to achieve? How do you break it down into smaller pieces is what matters. It’s not the problem of the framework. Any framework can work. It’s all about the content of your strategy. The second one is how do you fix this messy middle? You have your executive that understands the vision. They are trying to communicate. It’s very often to the teams that are attending them that this is what we want to be. They tend to speak about goals all the time. They say, “This is a strategy but this is just the goal.” The strategy is the definition of how to get there. You got the people on the ground very busy with tasks, doing stuff. They are doing what they were told, but then there’s this messy middle that sometimes it’s not able to translate this vision into tasks from this direction, feeding back from the bottom up the feedback and the results in a structured way that is feeding into the vision and the direction of the business.

Let’s bring it back to the core topic of this show which is go-to-market. How would you describe explain the go-to-market of Cascade? What do you see are our big goals for the remainder of 2021?

We are a SaaS business. We have a free trial that gives you access to the product to see the value that you can get. As soon as possible, we try to communicate with our ideal customer profiles to help them when strategy becomes a very complex topic, where there are many departments and many teams trying to align and fix a strategy. This trial is converting to PLG freemium model. Our biggest focus in terms of go-to-market is to address this breadth, try to open and make strategy available to everyone through this freemium concept where they can use Cascade to a certain level with higher level and high-value features that can help them achieve everything they want to a certain extent.

You talked about product-led growth, freemium and free trial, which means it is a bottom-up strategy in this case where the end-user has some challenge or pain. They feel the pain in understanding and executing the strategy. In your case, who is that persona? Let’s speak an example of a marketing team or even a sales leader. Who’s a person who feels the pain, reaches out to Cascade and downloads Cascade?

Every time we speak about PLG, a lot of businesses immediately think about the end-user as a very low level in the organization but it’s not always true. In our situation, our first users are sometimes head of the operation, head of supply chain, head of strategy, head of finance, feeling that pain based on their KPIs that they are not hitting. They believe that there is an efficiency and effectiveness problem within their company. They reached out and tried to do it themselves. Are we 100% self-serve? We are not yet there. Our account executives get in contact with them, the ICP, Ideal Customer Profile and try to help them go faster on the journey. This approach is the proactive approach to some of the customers that land into Cascade. We take them on the journey faster through human interactions and communications.

We have them build a plan and then identify who is involved in the strategy, who are the departments that need to be on to execute the strategy? It’s almost like a London Expand for this cohort of customers. We jumped into calls and conversations with them as soon as possible. Then you got the self-serve side, which is the other type of customers, which are small companies, which would be a place where they can build a plan and execute it with 5 to 10 people. It’s very often the CEO of the business. They are a small company. It’s still top-down from that perspective if you take examples off like Johnson & Johnson, one of our largest customers.

They use the platform to roll out the COVID vaccine. That’s their biggest project. It’s led by the supply chain team. They are bringing on boards all the distribution teams, their relationship with their customers and how do they roll out the vaccine in the most effective way. They start almost figuring out who is involved in these strategies and bring them onboard through an expansion of the use case every day. We enable these conversations from a strategy perspective. We enable them with support, whether it’s at a product level or organizational level as well.

That gives us a better sense of who your personas are as well as when you talk about the Freemium. I have a much better sense now as to how they reach out to you and experience the free pod. It’s a combination. It’s not entirely productive growth. For me, when I think about productive growth, Freemium and bottom up, it’s like products are like Zoom, where I can go download and run it on my own. Once I feel good about it, I can go talk to my team and upper management then we adopt Zoom. That’s just an example. Not that I’m promoting Zoom over here. That’s the model that comes to my mind.

The next level is when we get Freemium, you will be able to build a bottom-up plan and then involve your team. You can be the first user. The concept of the strategy involves someone that is thinking strategically about the team. Cascade is made for teams. It could be a team leader coming and bringing 2 or 3 people into the team or a team member bringing the team leader because they’ve heard of it. This is where the PLG would be almost 100% self-serve and driving our Freemium model.

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies
Go-To-Market Strategies: Customer success is one of the most important and crucial pieces of the puzzle with the customer experience or support.

 

What do you see are the top goals or the biggest goals for your team for the second half of 2021?

I’m not going to go into the details, but we are on a journey to double the business in 2021, double 0.5 in 2022 and hopefully be a unicorn towards the end of 2023, 2024. It’s all about two things. The first one is the breadth, bringing more organizations on board. The second one is the depth which is extending use cases within our existing customers. We are focusing on monetization for retention and engagement at the same time, as well as acquisition like every company does. The two North Star metrics for the business are monthly active users and ARR or what I would call NRR, which is the Net Revenue Retention of our existing customers.

You and your team pulled off the world’s first strategy festival. Talk to us about how you did that planning. We are talking about 10,000 registrations. That’s a big number and you pulled it off.

I met this crazy guy. He said, “I want to work for you.” I was like, “Lucas, what do you want to do?” He said, “Give me something and I would do it.” Lucas is Argentinian. He’s first is in his MBA at the university. He’s like, “I’m passionate about your topic. Give me a big thing and I would do it.” I was like, “Let’s throw the world’s first festival of strategy. Let’s make strategy fun and accessible for everyone.” He said, “Give me a week. Let’s build the plan.” After presenting some good concept he said, “We need comedy, live music and top-line speakers. I can commit to 2,500 registrations.” I was like, “It seems reasonable. What about we get a goal of 5,000?”

Almost two weeks of outreach, we were able to convince incredible speakers from large organizations like ex-CMO and CSO of Starbucks and Disney, General Manager at Heineken, General Manager of Cloud Azure, Microsoft, Head of Strategy at Google. With the names coming in to speak about strategy and why strategy is broken, we started seeing an incredible registration number going up then we hit the 5,000. I was like, “I never said 5,000. I said 10,000.” We hit the 10,000 through variety. That’s a lot of hustle. It’s lean execution with delivering the message that is right to our customers on social media. We did some paid marketing and email communication to our existing customers. We were able to make it.

You pulled out something that any big companies and even startups would wish for. I’m happy for you in what you did. It looks like you found a superstar in your event management and event person.

Thank you.

Even if you look across your shoulders to your peers in the industry, who played a big role in influencing and inspiring to what you are doing?

There were a lot of people on the journey that I was extremely inspired by. I learned from so many people a bit of things. To be very fair, the person that inspired me the most in my entire career was Luke Anear, the Founder and CEO of SafetyCulture. He inspired me the most because of his determination and thinking about the future with his teams while he’s talking about the present. It’s almost an incredible energy to show you the future as part of the present all the time and drive your motivation as if you were in the future, but you are in the present. I don’t know how to speak about this, but it was one of the game-changing moments of my life when you inspire people and giving context rather than control what they are doing but also give them the vision that did not happen and make them make it happen that same day. It’s something that I learned forever. His obsession for the customer and for the mission that has been driving the team has been outstanding for me. He influenced me a lot in my life.

Testing early is the best concept that applies to any business, industry, or job. Learn fast, fail fast, and improve fast. Click To Tweet

Clearly, strategy is a big topic for you but besides strategy, what topics are top of mind for you? How do you keep yourself up-to-date? Is it the combination of books, community, podcasts or even other forums? What are your vehicles for you to come up to speed and ramp up on those?

I haven’t been reading as much as I wish. I try to read a lot of blogs online. Reforge is one of my favorites when it comes to product-led growth, along with an open view. For me, what I also look at is a lot of inspirational leaders that can help me also speak better and communicate better what we’re trying to do with a team. It’s a heavyweight. We have grown the team from 30 people to 60. Am I doing everything right? I’m learning a lot. This leadership role needs a lot of communication skills and work on how to address problems that are company-wide but also how to communicate a vision every day without being too pushy but also without forcing some ideas on extremely incredible people around you in the team. I’m trying to talk to my mentors. Most of my knowledge comes from the mentors that I tried to connect with as well as the experience itself, reading about the business from Reforge, often to you and other companies, had been very useful for me.

The last question for you is if you were to wind back time and go back to day one of your first go-to-market roles, what advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s testing faster. I used to read too much online. Sometimes reading is not as good as we think because we read too much. We stopped at the theory and try to align to make that plan perfect. From a theoretical perspective, we do all the analysis, research and move testing to a bit far in the journey. Testing early is the best concept that applies to any business, industry and job. Learn fast, fail fast and improve fast is something that I didn’t use to do very well in the past.

How can people learn and find more about you? What is your final message to the audience?

First of all, thank you so much for reading. I’m talking about so much stuff. Thank you for this opportunity. I’m trying to be very active on LinkedIn. Anyone that needs any recommendation or advice on anything let me know on there. I answer very practically and quickly as well.

Thank you so much for your time, Karim Zuhri.

Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it, so thank you so much.

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About Karim Zuhri

B2B 21 | Go To Market StrategiesI help companies scale up and grow into unicorns. I build teams of teams.

My mantra: build a people culture, guide with data and lead for impact.

Passionate for technology, product and growth strategy formulation, polyglot B2B Product and Growth senior leader with a multi-cultural, engineering and management consulting background.

Demonstrated track record of strategic led growth through building, delivering and servicing SaaS products and operations excellence.

In 2018 – 2020, I helped building and growing one of Australia’s newest unicorns, SafetyCulture, valued at $1.3 billion (in the middle of a pandemic, April 2020). A fast-growing operations & safety PLG platform with 400+ employees globally with 100% YOY revenue growth.

In 2018, I managed 2019 USD 15M+ growth and marketing plan including strategy, company-wide programs, budget, financial models, investment scenarios and digital marketing platforms.

In 2018, I managed a global segmentation & customer insights team (12 people, 7 departments), which helped shape and redefine the company go-to-market approach and customer strategy (product priorities for ICP, customer success, marketing and sales structure). This resulted in significant QoQ growth quickly after implementation.

In 2016 – 2017, I managed and launched a new pricing model for customer service generating over 4M€ of company additional revenues at European level.

“I could either watch it happen, or be part of it.” – Elon Musk

“Every person I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn from them.” – Emerson

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B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach

 

B2B 17 | Go-To-Market Approach

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

Listen to the podcast here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would your parents describe what you do, Jeff?

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

 

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

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

“Jeff works in technology or with computers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you come to Aircall right after?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth is always ambitious. Click To Tweet

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

How many product marketers do you have?

We have six on that team.

How did you structure the product marketing automation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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