B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment


Building successful go-to-market strategies is all about collaboration, respect, and a culture of betterment. It’s a journey of breaking down silos and embracing the path to profitability, where every team member’s value is celebrated. For today’s episode, we will explore the heart and soul of a thriving go-to-market strategy. Meet our guest, Gianna Scorsone, CEO of Champion, who shares the secrets to successful product marketing, and how collaboration with sales and customer success can be the key to winning in the market. Gianna shares her five pillars of empowerment, shedding light on building a culture of betterment and respect within your team. Her journey from profit-focused startups to multi-million-dollar enterprises gave her plenty of lessons on how to build a thriving go-to-market strategy, and today, she shares it with you. Join us in discovering the insights, mentorship, and leadership that drive business success.

Listen to the podcast here


Go-To-Market Success: Pillars Of Empowerment, Mentorship, And The Customer Voice With Gianna Scorsone

In this episode, I have the pleasure of hosting another great and exciting guest. Her name is Gianna Scorsone. She is the COO of Champion. Prior to this, she was the GM Head of North America at a hot and fast-scaling startup Aircall. Welcome to the show, Gianna.

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Let’s dive right into all this conversation with this topic and question, which the readers love as well as the guests love. How do you view and define go-to-market?

I love how we are starting with a very big, bold, and broad question, but I would have to say go-to-market, at its core or boiling it down, is how an organization or a company shows up in the face of the customer. It’s the convergence between marketing, sales, product, or services depending on what your business line is, as well as customer success. I’d say that customer success in the product has traditionally been left out of that equation when you think of go-to-market, but that’s something services do well in thinking about that post-sale customer interaction.

On the product side, there’s customer success in your traditional way, but we are talking about the go-to-market function and driving revenue from it. It focuses on identifying the market, the IPC, and the need, and how a company will position the value prop and show up for the customer wherever they are in that journey. That’s what I meant by product typically leaving out that customer in that post-sale as it relates to generating more revenue. That’s what everyone’s trying to scramble and figure out now.

We will get into that because you are living this day in and day out at Champion. It always starts with the customer and the problem that you are trying to solve, and how your product is solving that, and then you internally align your product, your marketing, your sales, and your customer success around that problem and persona you are pursuing.

You said it better than I did. You got it.

Let’s backtrack here. Let’s zoom out. Why don’t you share with the readers your career story as to what led you to what you are and who you are serving?

Thank you for that opportunity. It’s fun to be able to reflect and think about that journey and how much changed or grown over the years. I have had twenty-plus years as a go-to-market leader. I started in retail and I am so thankful that I got my start there. That is the foundation of who I am as a leader. I’d love to share a little bit more about that. I worked in a very high-volume store. What that meant was that I had anywhere up to 40 staff members working who were not on commission, and I had to learn how to communicate a common goal and how to tap into intrinsically motivating them to want to contribute to that big picture even though they weren’t compensated for it.

Retail has done an amazing job for decades in communicating the right metrics at the right time to inform the employees and the leadership how they need to move forward to beat targets, and at the same time, how you manage running that store, managing all of the customers, and giving that optimal customer experience in a way that feels very personalized but at scale because of the high volume. That was the precipice to understanding the inner workings but doing it live that translates to B2B sales.

Is this a time at Express or somewhere else?

It sure was. That was my time at Express. I got to give them a lot of kudos. Robin Summas was my regional manager and she was powerful in helping me understand what business meant. Likewise, I had a district manager, Liz Hughes, who was a coach and taught me how to coach a team to empowerment and success. That translates so strongly into the B2B tech world. From Express, I went to tech services. I worked for a company called Bluewolf. They were the first and premier partner of Salesforce and developed that blueprint of what partnerships meant within the ecosystem.

It was incredible to learn how to focus on the power of network and how to utilize your customers to be your catalyst to growth and success. We spun off from there. Another tech services firm was Mondo. I helped scale that business as an executive from $0 to $100 million and helped both Bluewolf and Mondo go-to-market. We sold respectively to IBM and the Addison Group. I then hopped over to Aircall moving on the product side for the first time.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: Focus on the power of network, in how to utilize your customers to be your catalyst to growth and success.


You did mention Bluewolf in the services industry around Salesforce implementation.

Salesforce implementation and customization, and then it brought into the full ecosystem HubSpot partnership and Marketo. We were early and fast movers around this idea of building a best-in-class tech stack within the SaaS arena.

Mondo, was it your first entry into tech products?

Mondo was also in services. That was tech and digital marketing staffing, which was a natural result of Bluewolf. They were sister companies for a long time, but we had superfluous infrastructure. To propel growth on both sides, we decided to split both companies, but first in the product was Aircall.

In between, you had a little stunt Women for Biden. That’s pretty interesting.

I felt like I needed to contribute to society. Tech has done me very well in the world. I feel very fortunate about what it has afforded me. I felt like I was able to take some time off. I wanted to give back to the community and to my beliefs in impacting society. I helped run the digital campaign, which was a grassroots effort.

A lot of powerful women from tech and media came together. We formed a group called Women for Biden. My role was part of this strategic group to help operationalize and help activate the hand raisers. I created a blueprint and all of the training to get all of these wonderful women across America, who wanted to contribute to this cause. We enabled them to become advocates and gain more votership. It was a cool experience.

I can see that excitement on your face. After that, you got a break into the tech world Aircall. How did you get that break? Your career journey until that point was in the services world.

It was services, but it was tech services. What I did within Mondo was build our best-in-class tech stack. I was using products all of the time. I ran RevOps. It’s this philosophy of how you use tools, how a user uses them, and what they need to gain from it. From there, honestly, services and products, it’s not that different.

I was able to grow the territory 2.5X or 3X in the year and a half that I was there in partnership with Jeff, my Cofounder of Champion. We were wildly successful. For my Bluewolf days, there was also a strong partnership play, and that was something that I brought to Aircall. That was our fastest-growing growth channel as well. We had a great team leading that front, but I had lived and breathed that ideology for a long time and was able to strengthen and gain more focus and budget around those efforts as well.

Talk to us about Champion. Why did you do that? You were one of the cofounders along with Jeff and your CTO. Tell us about what prompted the three of you to start this.

What prompted me to start with Jeff was I love Jeff as a human being and he’s amazing. Let’s say that. We have partnered with a third Cofounder, Courtney Crispin, who’s the CTO. She is the one who’s powering our ability to bring this to the market, which is exciting. She comes from the Salesforce world and has brought an engineering team that is just true geniuses. They come from the Einstein team and marketing cloud. It’s amazing to see that level of talent at such an early-stage company building that AI moat that’s going to power Champion.

Why we built it? Jeff and I are great partners at Aircall. He was the Global CMO. I ran North America’s go-to-market. What had traditionally worked in our demand gen funnel and our sales funnel was that mix between outbound and inbound, that traditional funnel, but we had this amazing customer base. There was always that thought that we should be doing more with our customers.

As I mentioned, I come from the services world where everything was about your network and harboring your customers to do more with them. That didn’t exist in the product world as much. Marketing traditionally does such an amazing job of focusing on pre-sales of generating leads and demand gen. The focus started to shift a few years ago into customer marketing and how customer marketing can impact revenue channels, but there was still that question mark of how. Honestly, it was a little bit fluffy because it’s so complex and there weren’t great tools to help facilitate that.

We are the first platform to focus on post-sale marketing programs to generate profitable growth through your customer base. As everyone’s talking about efficient growth, the huge part of that equation is driving more revenue and retention within your customer base, and now this is an easy way to execute regular repeatable programs to drive consistency and fill that gap where outbounds are not as effective anymore.

We are hearing from a lot of our customers that traditional demand gen efforts aren’t working the way that they used to, and they need to fill that data with a new revenue source. That’s your customers. I’m passionate about this because it’s a no-brainer. Everyone has talked about it for years and it’s known that it’s cheaper to sell within your customer base. It’s more efficient to do so. It’s easier to do so, and yet that focus hasn’t been there because we have all been hyper-focused in the SaaS world on net new. Now, the market is primed. That shift has come of the understanding that retention is what North Star metric expansion is and generating more hot leads that will convert faster to continue to prime net new as well.

At the surface level, I completely agree and align with what you guys are doing with Champion. I have two questions. I’m curious about how you went about validating the problem and the market size of this. That’s one. The related question is, there’s been this growing movement around customer marketing. There are tech startups that have been funded and raised a good amount of VC money in customer marketing. Let’s start with the first one. How did it go about validating the problem in the space?

How you go about validating the problem is by talking to as many people or your buyer as humanly possible. At this point, I want to say we have spoken to at least 1,000 leaders, and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s where it starts. Also, I or Jeff was this person. We are operators who have both respectively have scaled multiple organizations to the $100 million to $250 million mark, and we experienced these challenges firsthand.

The second related question was whether this falls in the AI domain of customer marketing. There’s been a growing movement in customer marketing. In your interviews with the prospective buyers, how are you focusing on that gap that customer marketing tech companies are not addressing?

That differentiator is we follow the whole customer journey. That’s vastly important because a lot of tech consolidation is also happening now. Part of why there’s a lot of tech consolidation aside from cost is that there’s confusion and complexity to getting all of these data points from all of these disparate tools impacting that one main initiative, which is how we continue to drive revenue and understand the stickiness of our customers.

When you have data all over the place for multiple teams or even the same team, it becomes complex to utilize them in a meaningful way. Where we are coming with our approach and philosophy is that we need to break down silos and understand that the byproduct of what customer marketing is doing impacts the sales team and the customer success team.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: When you have data all over the place for multiple teams or even the same team, it becomes really complex to utilize them in a meaningful way.


We view ourselves as this control center. I didn’t coin that. The head of customer marketing at Slack had said that, and I was like, “You nailed it, Bridget. That’s exactly what it is.” We are this control center for customer marketing to be able to do these plays that are going to impact sales like reference programs and referral programs. First of all, identify who the champions are. That’s where it all starts. That’s through our AI moat.

You get them activated and then you put them into these plays that are going to generate revenue, so references and referrals that will help sales. It’s looking at the user-level aggregate to help power customer success because their tools don’t have user-level visibility. We do. Also, it’s looking at job changes. We track job changes because that’s part of the life cycle of the customer journey. They are going to move on.

That’s your champion. You don’t want to lose them and you don’t need to lose them. Bring them back through the new company that they are with, and at the same time, start getting new champions within that logo that they left. That’s where we have differed from those customer marketing orgs that are out there, as you mentioned.

It’s up to your comfort level and space. Do you mind sharing where you are in terms of business growth, number of customers, funds raised, and revenue?

We are excited. We started our company in April 2023 and we launched our beta in early August 2023. We are very excited about what we brought about, and we have got our first cohort of clients, which is around ten, I believe. Now, we are securing our second cohort of customers. For all of the product people reading, you will be very happy to know all of the engineers out there.

We are doing a great job, Jeff and myself, curating the right list of customers who narrowly fit into the vision of our product. They are early adopters. They are helping us influence our continued roadmap. As you asked, how are we validating this? We are going to continue to validate by getting the right customers on board. We also don’t want to distract our engineering team. We are focused and we have a very acute understanding of the problem that we solve, and we want to make sure that we keep them hyper-focused without taking these peripheral or fringe deals out there.

Did I hear this right that you said you founded the company or you raised the seed down in April 2023 and the first beta went out in August?

We are a studio brand out of High Alpha, and so we had some initial funding from them and we are raising our seed round now.

The reason why I want to highlight that is it is pretty impressive in a short timeframe like April to August and having data customers. That’s very impressive.

They are enterprise-level as well, which is also part of our strategy. We are an enterprise platform. We wanted to go about the market in a way that was sustainable for us and where we wanted to go from the start. It’s incredible that our engineering team produced something powerful enough so that enterprise clients feel comfortable using a beta and are believing in this vision to grow the product with us.

My guess and hypothesis is it’s not that you started doing the market research and lining up the betas in April. That groundwork must have been done way before.

Jeff started in January 2023 doing a lot of this groundwork of talking to very many people. I came on board a little bit afterward, and that was my initiative in the first couple of months that I joined. We formally formed the company in April of 2023. You are right that there were a lot of months of legwork before then. Jeff and I are very successful operators who experience this problem. It’s years of culminating many conversations with people within our networks and peers as we were learning to do and excel in our jobs. This is something that peer-to-peer we have heard for very many years.

January is when Jeff and you guys must have incorporated Champion. In April, you were accepted in the studio, and then August is when you lined up.

January with the studio and April incorporated, but January to April was all about market research.

The reason why I’m asking is there are quite a few aspiring founders of this show, so this is good advice to them as to how to pursue the validation piece.

If anyone reading wants to ask more direct questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. We are happy to have conversations with new founders as well.

Thank you for sharing the tactical piece as to how you guys founded, incorporated, and went to market for Champion. Switching gears a bit over here, you had a very storied and long career when it comes to go-to-market and go-to-market failures. You have seen enough of those, so why don’t you share it with us? It’s up to you if you want to start with a failure or a success, but we love to know both success and failure stories. It can be from Mondo or Aircall.

This is a silly example but it sticks with me because part of my experience and part of what I have done is build sales training. I have enabled thousands of reps over the years to have best-in-class practices. It’s so strange to now be back in the sales arena on the floor doing the sales myself. I feel like I’m rewinding to the beginnings of my career. You would think that I have all of the best practices down the path and that I’m holding myself accountable to all of them. My founder’s life was slammed, having to change hats from investor call to board call, to new client call, to internal meeting, and to writing content for the website, and I had a meeting. Honestly, I simply didn’t prepare for the meeting.

I realized, halfway in when they brought it up to me that we knew someone in common. Their boss was someone that I had previously worked with. Had I brought that up or had I used that network opportunity, it would have driven my credibility way up and it would have made for a much warmer conversation in the beginning. On top of that, it showed that I didn’t do my homework. If you are not putting the effort in for your customer or for your prospect ahead of time, why on earth would they think that you’d put the effort in for them afterward? It’s treating them transactionally.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: If you’re not putting the effort in for your customer or for your prospect ahead of time, why on Earth would they think that you’d put the effort in for them afterward?


It’s treating them like a number as opposed to an individual with real needs, real pain, and a real story. It was embarrassing, quite frankly. I was embarrassed with myself and I have not made that mistake again. It’s about that balance and making sure that I’m maximizing every opportunity because, at this stage of the game, you have to and, at any stage, it’s the right thing to do. That’s how you build a thoughtful organization.

I can see why it led to an embarrassing moment, but I’m assuming it wouldn’t have been that expensive failure or that the cost was not that bad an option. Is that fair?

It wasn’t that bad. That’s fair.

Let’s switch gears. Go-to-market success story from your time at Aircall.

We worked very prominently in our partnership strategy. That was part of our major growth strategy for North America. We put a lot of focus and attention and had a world-class team running the efforts. We wanted to build something very thoughtful and we had a very strong integration with HubSpot. We knew that creating that opportunity and stickiness for our common customers or using that as the right demand gen channel of people who use HubSpot, and then use Aircall would be stickier.

It was how we continue to gain that market share, how we dominate within their marketplace, and how we get their attention so that HubSpot is seeing the value that Aircall brings to the table with them in that better-together story. Louis Dumortier ran the efforts and still does on the HubSpot relationship and the whole strategy.

He did an incredible job of that multi-pronged approach of thinking about rep to wrap, on how we are enabling an easier time for our sales reps to get to know their reps to get those leads. From an executive level, I was having regular monthly calls with their executive teams to get that buy-in as well and understand what some of the pain points were from their perspective.

We then had the whole ecosystem play within that as well. It was a multi-pronged approach. We got word that they were going to come out with this best-in-class tech stock report. They said to one of their executives, “I’m going to make it irresponsible for you guys not to put us on that list.” She was like, “We will see.” Unfortunately, it happened after my time at Aircall, but efforts were so there that they did name us their best-in-class tech stack. Must have, I believe, is how they named it. Also, that easy go-to-market strategy. As we mentioned before, it’s not just marketing and sales, but it’s partnerships and how you position to gain more market share.

B2B 59 | Pillars Of Empowerment
Pillars Of Empowerment: A go-to-market strategy is not just marketing and sales, but it’s really partnerships and how you position to gain more market share.


Leaning on your partners and partner ecosystem is a big lever in the go-to-market strategy. A lead-up question to that is what are 1 or 2 areas within go-to-market that people lean on you for? Maybe it’s sales, go-to-market, sales enablement, SDR, or BDR.

My passion and what I bring to the table is helping to empower emerging leaders to develop their ability to lead in a very meaningful way. It’s this cross between creating a feedback-first culture of betterment paired with arming emerging leaders to drive more success and helping them grow. These two things married together create this community of drivers and a community where every level of your players or teammates realizes the value that they drive to the overall big picture. This is what I do well. How this translates now is I mentor a heck of a lot of people that I have managed or have been in my teams throughout the years.

How do you do that? It’s not that you are doing something. It comes automatically and naturally for you.

It’s a playbook. It does come naturally to me, but you have to systematize it. When you are stressed out, it’s easy to lose sight of what works well. It’s like any process. I will share with you my five pillars, but there’s so much more to this. The five pillars of empowerment are this, and this is to the individual player. One, make their financial standings, like their salary, make it a non-issue. Make sure they are being paid market value. It doesn’t have to be top of market value, but there shouldn’t be a question of, “Am I being taken advantage of?” Pay them fairly, number one.

You have to systematize playbooks because it's really easy to lose sight of what works really well. Click To Tweet

Number two is to help break silos and help them see and respect the people around them. They have to feel like they respect the other teams and the people around them. That’s holding other teams accountable, that’s holding each person accountable, and that’s holding themselves accountable, but it’s also to break silos and drive mutual respect.

Next is to make sure they feel valued. How are you communicating to them that you see that they contribute to the big picture? That is constant every day that needs to happen. Number four is they have to feel they are doing valuable work. One is that, “I have to make them feel valued,” and the other is they have to feel that they are doing valuable work. They have to be stimulated in what they are doing. That also means making sure that they are in the right role and doing work that contributes to the big picture.

Number five, learning and growing. That’s the most important one. The minute people feel like they are not learning and growing anymore, this generational workforce, the Gen Zs, will move or they will leave. They love to learn and grow, and that’s what I love about them. There needs to be a feedback-first culture. They need to get constant feedback and how they can improve because then they feel like, “My time here is worth it.” I mentioned the five, but outside of the salary, if you have the other four, the salary becomes even less important. It has to be paid fairly. Where it starts is these five pillars, and then thinking about how you build programs, how you build communication, and how you build feedback to fill these five pillars.

This is great advice for people who are managing, mentoring, and growing. Thank you for sharing that.

You heard it here first.

That’s your expert and secret sauce. Switching gears once again. You did work on so many of the go-to-market teams. You led so many of the go-to-market teams. I’m 100% sure that you worked with product marketing functions in all of these in your various domains. What are the top 1, 2, or 3 things that you saw product marketing do very well that helped in your go-to-market?

The number one thing is to work with sales and work with customer success. The customer voice should power product marketing. How you get to that customer’s voice is sure products and different tools, but make sales and customer success feel a part of the product marketing function, building that roadmap, and being that voice for the customers.

The customer voice should really power product marketing. Click To Tweet

What I’m hearing if I had to articulate it is to work very closely with and involve folks from sales and customer success in the initiatives. Be it a product launch, be it building new product content, or even driving product adoption in various segments.

I love how you have broken it down into the different ways that product marketing needs to focus on different areas within that lifecycle as well. That’s exactly right.

Coming to the last couple of questions here, if you were to go back in time, who are the influencers, mentors, coaches, or managers that played a big role in your career?

I love this moment. There have been so many at different points. What’s so beautiful about this idea of a mentor is that they can come and go, and you will have different people influence you at different times, that readiness. The universe magically finds you those right people within your scope and space for what you need at that moment in time.

What's so beautiful about this idea of mentors is they can come and go and you'll have different people influence you at different times. Click To Tweet

I mentioned Robin Summas and Liz Hughes. Those were my early days at Express. They certainly impacted my ability to understand how to drive a machine in a very inspiring and motivating way. From there, I would say Bluewolf and Mondo days, Mike Kirven and Eric Berridge were the CEOs, two cofounders. Mike Kirven instilled in me the path to profitability.

He made us do things cheap because he was cheap. I loved the man to death. We built a $100 million business with 14% EBITDA, and it forced us to be extremely creative and understand how to create the right operational efficiencies to drive profitability. It made me think outside of the box, and it made me think about how to best support and enable the path to productivity for all sales reps in marketing. That was a valuable lesson and helped fuel my know-how in Champion.

Eric Berridge brought to the table to dream big and have great vision, see the opportunity, and not be afraid to be that market breaker who’s going to bring something influential, and that’s what we did at Bluewolf. We created that blueprint of what it meant to be a partnership ecosystem company. No other company and no big consultant firm did what Bluewolf did. That was Eric Berridge, Corinne Sklar, and Jolene Chan. They were truly amazing to learn from them. Also, Jeff Reekers, my Cofounder. He heavily influenced and it’s why I’m here now as well. I would like to believe he’d say the same about me. We complement each other well and we have had this approach of let’s play on each other’s strengths. We complement each other so well because of that.

Kudos to you for recognizing and calling out all those folks who played a big role in shaping your career.

There were so many.

That’s why I don’t like asking these questions. It puts you on the spot.

It’s a limit. We have to limit it so that we don’t bore people. During my time at Aircall, my entire team, the North America team, and also the people who were not traditionally in my org, we treated North America as one whole. The marketing team of North America and the sales ops team enablement support, we created this environment where we broke down silos and drove and respected each other. We all looked at what is the one goal we want North America to dominate and how we are going to get there together.

We did these workshops. Madelyn DePrey, who’s now VP of Customer Success at Aircall, led a workshop on the customer journey and looked at the experience through their lens at each stage of the customer journey. We grouped the entire North American team into that, and then we ideated and solved pain points and problems we saw along the way to improve our performance and therefore our results.

Everyone in North America at Aircall heavily influenced my growth as a leader because I was able to become that leader I’d always wanted to be and create a culture of betterment but of respect where everyone wanted the team to win, not just self. That was one of the most inspiring moments of my career. I thank them.

The list goes on and on. Something that caught my attention and this is big on my mind nowadays is how you build that financial muscle, the discipline around profitability. I don’t know if that person or the leader was from Bluewolf or Mondo, but you did mention building a discipline around thinking out of the box and around the metrics. Walk us through that playbook. Are there any rituals that you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Maybe you work with the head of finance.

We work with the head of finance. I like having budgets upfront like, “Let’s do some quick dirty modeling. What’s our budget? What are we trying to achieve?” Let’s go bottom up and build to how we get there. If you do that, it’s quite simple. If you don’t hit your revenue targets, then the next quarter, you have to decrease the cost and figure out a way to get there. In a services firm, that’s a little bit easier.

From the product perspective, it’s acutely looking at it. We have got our metrics LTV to CAC. It shows thinking about, especially at our stage, even all those little extra costs like booking travel. Do it smartly so that you have that extra little wiggle room. Don’t spend superfluously. Every dollar adds up. It is being that scrutinous, but it is looking at and making sure that you have got the right metrics in place and it’s holding yourself to that standard. From the product perspective, what everyone is trying to do within SaaS now is readdressing what those expectations are. Resetting those benchmarks of what the ROI should be.

How often would you look at these numbers, the budget, as well as the spending and the pipeline?

I am looking at them monthly. You can’t go too crazy, and that’s what you need your finance team for. You don’t want to get too nuts. You also do need to invest to see a return as well. It’s having some trust also in what you are doing so that you don’t go too off course. Invest in events that are the right go-to-market strategy for you, or if demand gen isn’t working traditional outbound, what is working and how can you lean into that? That’s a little bit of how you can think about it. If your revenue figures aren’t there, then figure out what is working and lean into that. That’s a way to get to profitability in a more manageable way.

People can go crazy and look at a daily oracle. Weekly, I have seen people do that, but what you are recommending is monthly.

Finance is looking at it weekly.

The final question for you 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?

I would say trust yourself. You got this. A wonderful career is ahead of you. Take the opportunities. Know that you belong. Trust that every decision you make is going to lead to a path forward. Continue to take risks and adjust along the way. To be honest with you, I love my career. I’m so proud of myself. I don’t know that I want to change anything. Could I have done better? Sure, but maybe not at the same time. I’m incredibly grateful. To my former self, I would say trust yourself and enjoy the journey along the way.

Trust yourself. You've got this. A wonderful career is ahead of you. Take the opportunities and know that you belong. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for sharing those insights and the journey. Good luck to you and the team at Champion.

Thank you so very much.


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B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage


Selling is always challenging, but it only takes a great marketing strategy to help you sell successfully. In this episode, Sandeep John, the Head of Marketing at Outplay, dives into the go-to-market Strategy to achieve a competitive advantage in marketing and maximize your chances for success. Repositioning yourself as the product of SMBs changes everything and that’s what he shows in Outplay. Touching on building the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for the Sales Development Representatives (SDR) team in marketing, Sandeep also explains how Outplay assists sales representatives to make their jobs easier. Let’s dive into this episode and learn from the success story Sandeep shares today!

Listen to the podcast here


Go-To-Market: Achieve Competitive Advantage In Marketing With Sandeep John

I sincerely thank you, the audience, who’s taking all the time from your busy day or evening and up your game when it comes to go-to-market. Be it marketing, sales, product management, or even the revenue-generating aspects of go-to-market. With that as a context, thank you once again. Now I’m excited to announce my newest guest. His name is Sandeep John. He is the Head of Marketing at Outplay. That’s a startup based in India. Welcome to the show, Sandeep.

Thanks, Vijay. Welcome to all of the audience as well. Pleasure being on the show.

Without too much interest or any barriers, let’s get right into the meat of the conversation. How do you view and define go-to-market?

To me, go-to-market essentially outlines how a product will be launched, marketed, and sold to your target audience. If I have to further simplify this. It’s about introducing your product to the right audience in the right way at the right time to maximize your chance of success. That’s how I would define go-to-market.

That’s the ideal scenario. As you and I know, the ideal is not how it plays out in the real world or in the practical world. Clearly, a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to, as you said, the right buyer, the right time. How do you identify it? That’s a big challenge, especially when it comes to go-to-market. Overall, I completely am in line with how you view go-to-market but then when it comes to practicalities, that’s where we need to double-click. I’m sure that conversation will double-click it to a lot of those areas. That’s a good start for sure. Let’s switch context. Why don’t you share your overall career story and journey leading up to the point of what you’re doing now?

I essentially started off my career in tech sales. If you’re an SDR out there, I was doing your role. I’m picking up the phone, calling people, and trying to sell. In fact, originally, I was selling services. For folks out there, services selling is hard compared to products because with services selling, there’s only a proof of concept that you’re trying to achieve for a product. It’s a free trial or an equivalent of such.

I went through the grind of being an SDR and grew up in sales. At some point, I pivoted in my career where I found, “I’m probably a creative by nature. Do I move and navigate to another part?” As with most folks in India who are based out of India as well will do a strong engineering degree but never end up doing engineering after that. I worked in an engineering company in my earlier career, then transitioned. I did a course in Australia, came back into town, and started off working in a so-called FinTech services/future, becoming a product company for almost five years. It’s a company called Data Tracks. That’s a great company and it’s doing well now.

From there, I moved on to start something on my own. I started doing the whole entrepreneurship journey. I was super excited. I wanted to do something, but back then, GTM probably as a word wasn’t well defined. I had probably the worst GTM strategy in the world. I wasn’t sure who my target market was like you earlier mentioned as well. I completely failed. It bombed and I jumped into getting back into the corporate world. I took up a role in a company where I did both sales and marketing. That was the first real instance of my glimpse of what the world of marketing could hold.

I then joined a famous company called FreshWorks, which went IPO. That company gave me the opportunity. My journey there was building the SDR team and then I moved fully into marketing at some point. I did everything from campaign marketing to field marketing. I was taking care of a couple of regions, and then the opportunity at Outplay presented itself, which was a few years ago. Now I cover all bases in terms of what I do in marketing from product marketing to marketing operations, whether it’s content, campaigns, and whatnot.

That’s how I transitioned, but my unique opportunity or the viewpoint I’ve always had is that I empathize with our sales folks a lot more because I have been there. I have done the grind, to say the least, within being an SDR or sales rep as well. I always try and wear that hat when I think of marketing as well. Am I doing things that are doing activities that can help my sales counterpart? More often than not, all of this is one unit and one team.

Fantastic journey. I don’t think I’ve seen too many of the marketing leaders coming from the sales world. Definitely, I’ve seen a lot of marketing leaders coming from the product side of the house, and then coming and growing into product marketing, and then leading marketing teams. I think you are one of the rare reads. You have started your career in sales as an SDR, picking up phones, cold-calling, emailing, and everything.

Your way up from SDR and individual contributor to building an SDR team and function, building field marketing organizations, running campaigns, and eventually leading marketing teams. Kudos to you. Good track record in there, I’m sure. Why don’t we jump into a couple of areas? You mentioned something unique early on, which is very critical, selling services versus selling products. What are the challenges that you saw when you were trying to sell services early in your career?

Honestly, when I moved into the product world, I was transitioning into a particular company. The company is called DataTracks. We were initially selling service, and then we built a product and the whole world changed. If I’m selling a service, I’m more often than not to be absolutely blunt. You’re probably selling air. There is nothing tangible that you can show to someone like, “This is how it works.” The least I can do is have a presentation deck that can walk someone through. The meat of it lies in the proof of concept. If I’m doing a small pilot project of whatever I’m doing, whether it’s a paid or a free project, that’s what I got to show.

The meat of selling services essentially lies in the proof of concept. Click To Tweet

Even to get somebody to get to that stage is much harder than. Let’s say, I am selling a product. More often than not, even if I don’t have a free trial, which most products now have some version of a free trial or a free version of the product, I can at least showcase something to them. Normally, people get enamored by, “There is a visual. I can see moving parts. If you’re a tangible person, you can see some of these things work.”

That’s where I believe lies the big difference because if you’re showing something and you’re selling, you’re more often than not likely to get a better response versus when I’m selling services, it’s so much harder because there’s nothing to sell. I’m vouching for the kind of clientele that I’ve had and similar companies that I’ve worked with in the past. Case studies become my go-to there, so I think for me personally, when I moved into the world, I was like, “It’s such a different. It’s a revelation almost for somebody coming in from that world.” I believe that’s how I would look at it.

I’m completely on board with you on that. In product, you see something that is tangible, especially with a free trial. It’s a no-brainer. Within 1 week, 2 weeks, or 1 month, you either make a decision, yes or no, versus services. It’s nothing tangible. That’s one thing. The output would be a tangible thing. Something like either an implementation of a system or a software, or it can be in the world of marketing, it would be like a pitch deck or blog articles and things like that. Something else that I noticed is services typically are higher priced compared to a product. On product, you can start as low as $5 to $10 a month per user, but services, a decent, high quality, good service would start anywhere from $500 and can go all the way from $10,000, $50,000 and so on.

Something else that caught my attention is you grew in the world of SDR. In between, you did your own entrepreneurial journey and stint, which is a big learning curve in itself. Somehow you got transitioned into the marketing side of things. What is that transition like? What made you feel that you’ll be good at marketing?

I was fortunate enough in previous organizations where I had worked. DataTracks was the company I was working for I was hired to do business development sales or SDR role. It was a small company back then. Now it’s a much larger organization. I got to work with the CEO hand in hand. There, everything that I was doing was partly marketing. We were building the website. I was writing content and working on positioning. I was doing all of that without knowing what it was.

For me, the journey opened up when I came to FreshWorks. I was helping build the SDR team when I joined in, and it reached a certain stage. I was always doing a little bit of marketing or looking into sales enablement because I was trying to, “How can I enable my SDR team to be successful?” We didn’t have sales enablement back then, so I said, “Let me pick that up and do it.” Somewhere, all of this was tying in.

This was during my time at FreshWorks. At that time, there was no better company for me to learn, understand, and grow in marketing than FreshWorks because they were taking some great strides in terms of how they were positioning a product. I was like, “I got to find a way to get into the marketing space here, but I don’t know how. Luckily, FreshWorks, at that point, was building a mid-market org. Up until that point, FreshWorks was very assembly-focused. Everything was built around that and that juncture was a very new space that they were entering as well. They had local teams on the ground doing stuff. The opportunity presented itself because the SDR team was built to cater to the mid-market industry potentially. That was my first opening. Once I got in, I never wanted to get back.

Once the opportunity came, I powered my way through, whether it was campaigns or field marketing, and then grew into different roles. When I kept growing, curiosity was always there. I’m always constantly challenging myself to learn newer things. If there’s something new that’s exciting and I want to get into it. That’s how it’s always been for me up until this point.

Talking about SDRs and building an SDR function from scratch, there are different ways to go about that. You can start hiring junior folks, train them, and ramp them up, or you can hire somewhat senior and then ramp them up, or hire agencies. Maybe there was some other combination, I don’t know, but what is your approach?

At that time, we did everything from hiring an agency. When I say agency, I mean local agency. When I say local agency, back then, we were based out of India. We’ve done everything from hiring a US-based agency, an India-based agency, your own team with inexperienced reps, and your own team with experienced reps. All formulations and combinations back then. I’ll restructure what the thing should eventually be the SDR function. I think the SDR you need now has changed. I don’t fully believe that you can hire junior reps working in SDR. You can take them for an early BDR kind of role because now if you’re a buyer, the way they look at stuff and think is they want an intelligent seller.

They don’t want somebody blasting emails to them, picking up the phone, and narrating something that’s written on a script. They want a seller who empathizes with what they’re looking for, who understands their problem, and who’s taking those steps to solve their problem as well. I don’t know. This is my opinion because I’ve been away from the larger setup of the deep day. We have a smaller team here, but I think you need to have the right mix of folks within the team. You can have structures and layers.

This is not truly my idea. I picked it up from another peer in the industry, Saad Khan, who’s one of the top SDR/sales leaders that exist in the market. In a conversation with him, he had a very great tiering system where he would have experienced reps and inexperienced reps working on certain kinds of accounts. Over time, the inexperienced reps could move. A tier-based approach in terms of how the reps were there. I’m not saying that juniors can’t have a role. Of course, they can have if they have the right base skillset and can be trainable. You want someone like that.

What you also want to have are reps who understand it. If you’re selling in the SaaS world, you want someone who understands the SaaS world and selling a particular kind of tech that understands that as well. The role of SDR has changed. There’s no more basic entry role. You have to think of an SDR like the way you’re thinking of an account executive. You can’t just stop. You won’t expect them to close deals, but do they have the potential to be able to show a full-on demo if required? I would build a very tiered system if I’m rebuilding this or starting again from scratch, or something like that.

Agency, I don’t know. I personally do not have great experiences, so I can’t. This is an experience from the FreshWorks side of the world when I tried it out as well. I think if a company does not have the wherewithal to hire immediately, it’s going to take time and you don’t get something going, or the outbound motion is something that’s going to work for you, there is no harm in trying it out. You can work with a good agency that can help you scale.

If a company does not have the wherewithal to hire immediately, you can work with a good agency to help you scale. Click To Tweet

If you’ve got a smaller team and you think, “I don’t want to have too many more reps sitting and being on the payroll. I would rather have an agency that I can switch on and switch off whenever I require based on specific business needs,” you can do that as well. I’ve seen both models work in different companies. For me, it has not worked before, but that doesn’t mean it’ll not work for everyone.

I’ve seen that as well. Agencies are definitely a hit or a miss. Same with the hiring, but if you have the right hiring formula and the timeline with the patients, I think that pays off in the long run, but then there are outstanding agencies. I did have a guest early on in my show, his name is Tito Bohrt. He’s a world-class SDR leader and SDR agency company builder as well.

I follow Tito as well. He’s one of those folks I’m looking at and watching what he’s posting on LinkedIn as well. He’s well-known in this space. He knows his stuff.

Something else that is critical for the success of the SDR is the ICP, like target accounts and definitions as to who the potential buyers are. How did you build that ICP? A lot of times, you do expect things coming from marketing, but more often than not, marketing teams, when they deliver, lack the level of detail that’s needed for the SDR to be successful.

That’s spot on. That’s the most important thing now. You can leave everything out on the table. If you don’t get your ICP right, everything should fall around that. If you get your ICP right, marketing, sales, and product, everything is going around that. Whatever you’re building for that ICP, whatever you are positioning and message for that ICP, whatever you’re selling, you selling to that ICP. We’ve had our own versions of that as well. I remember when I joined the company Outplay, my first role was trying to understand our ICP. What is our ICP now? I always initially classify ICP as like, “Who are we winning with?”

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: You can leave everything out of the table if you don’t get your ICP right. Everything should fall around getting your ICP right.


Who are the kinds of customers we have? Everything from the size of the organization and kind of organization. Is there any industry vertical we are winning in persona? Who are we winning inside the company? Are these sales leaders? Are these SDR leaders? All of those nuances were important to me. My initial goal was, can we have those conversations and understand that? Also, try to understand if there is an aspirational because we were still very young as an organization when I joined in. We were still trying to figure it out. The product market fit hadn’t yet happened. The case was we still try to move that needle to try to identify what is the right ICP for us where we are getting a lot more wins.

The first initial phase was around customer interviews. To talk to the folks who we are winning with and who are open to having those conversations. We also drew parallels in terms of, “I know who I am. I know who my competition as well is. Can I get an understanding of what their world looks like? Can I draw parallels in terms of understanding my customer based on what’s happening there as well if they are the right fit in those terms as well?”

The third one was very hard because it is more trying to go out in the cold and getting folks who you think are your ICP to walk into conversations with you with a deal of trying not to sell something. To be very clear here, I’m not trying to sell. I just want to try to understand. That was very hard because most people know if you want to come under the conversation, more often than not, you’ll be trying to sell them something.

I could only get a very few of those conversations through some network, but it was enough to give us an understanding of, “This is what our ICP looks like now.” This is where you want to go aspirational. We’re still trying to achieve PMF at that point in time. That’s the journey that I do, and then, of course, map out what pricing looks like based on this ICP once we agree that this is whom we should go for.

For the audience who are not aware of what Outplay does or who you serve, can you give a quick 30-second intro?

We are a sales engagement platform built to help sales reps make their job a lot more easier. It automates, semi-automates, and helps you personalize at scale to make sure you’re removing all those mundane tasks and getting sales folks to sell. We typically target SMBs. Our tool is a plug-and-play. You buy it, you use it. There’s a free trial as well as a full free version with limited features that you can use if you’re not sure about what the journey is. If you’re looking for your reps to get better at selling, whether it’s reps, SDRs, or multi-channel across different channels, Outplay is something for you to give a shot.

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: Outplay is a sales engagement platform built to help sales reps make their job much easier. It automates to help you personalize at scale, to ensure you’re moving all those mundane tasks, and to get sales folks to sell with typically target SMBs.


The reason why I asked is I’m tying it back to our conversation around ICP. With Outplay, what you defined, you did touch upon it earlier, is you got SDR leaders or sales leaders. How did you go about a double-click of how you built the ICP for Outplay?

We took a change. When we started off, what we assumed was who our ICP was. We always thought we were an SMB company aspiring to be a mid-market company or targeting a mid-market organization. For every campaign that we would run, our initial positioning was very much around the pipeline. Any position like building a better off. Understanding that a mid-market company might have a team of 20 to 30 plus SDRs. What’s important to them is in terms of pipeline and all of that. That initial narrative for us, a lot of it was around that ecosystem.

It is only later in the journey that we realize that this is not exactly the ICP that we should be going after. In fact, we were winning a lot more with the SMB base than we were winning with the mid-market base, although we aspired to be mid-market. When we were on the table for an SMB discussion, more often than not, we were winning against the competition. Mid-market was always hard. We would win here and there. You’d still get the big players coming in and going.

That’s when we tweaked down our messaging and understood that this is the tool that is for SMBs and helping SMBs scale. We took that narrative. We changed that ICP document. We changed the way we looked at ICP almost like 3 to 6 months. Within that period, we realized it was not the way we thought it was, and then we went back and said, “Let’s re-look at our ICP again.”

This is something I’d always echo with folks out there. An ICP is not a static document. It’s a dynamic or a living document. You have to have a phase. You can do a quarter. I would say a quarter is a good roadmap or timeline to go and re-look at whatever. If you’re not winning customers on the base and you think you’re supposed to be winning it, maybe that’s not even your ICP. We went one quarter and then to the second quarter, and we were like, “Something is off here. Let’s go back to the basis and figure it out.”

We are the product for SMBs and we’re super clear about that. When we did that and repositioned ourselves, that’s when things changed because the marketing, sales, and whatever we were building in the product also focused on that base. We weren’t building from mid-market and enterprise. We’re building for SMB and we did a good job of it. When we decided on that, we changed everything around that narrative and things changed. We would see a lot more business, lesser churn happening, and several other positives that came over.

It also goes back to a discussion which you are defining as to how you go-to-market. You talked about the right buyer and this is exactly what it means. Having a clear understanding of your ICP and evolving your ICP equals the right buyer. Let’s switch gears again. I can take the conversation in so many directions over here. I’m trying to figure out which one to take it into. Can you share a bit about your go-to-market success story, and then following that, we’ll cover a go-to-market failure story as well?

This is 2 to 3 campaigns tied into this narrative. The story here is we are a small brand. Outplay, in the early days, at least when I got into the business, is in a saturated market. There are multiple players who do exactly what we do or do different versions of what we do, but all sales engagement platforms are very similar in terms of how they operate. The challenge there for that initial stage for me is, “How do we draw awareness to the brand and as a result, drive demand?” I’m a true believer that if you’re not looking at awareness, demand is never going to be able to create, you’ll never get more signups, and you’ll never get more traffic.

If you're not looking at awareness, demand is never going to be able to create more sign-ups and traffic. Click To Tweet

Brand plays a vital role in all of this. I’m in fact doing another session somewhere where I’m talking about the actual narrative of how brand drives demand because I have use cases and examples of how that works. When we started off, that was the narrative. Nobody knows who we are. We took a call and said, “Can we build campaigns?” I’ll also define my ICP here. My ICP is exactly my sales/SDR leader. To be more specific, it’s an SDR manager. That’s my ICP. In some companies that are small, it might be the CEO, but that’s okay. For practical purposes, we’ll say an SDR manager.

Any specific regions or is it worldwide?

Worldwide. We were 60% favored towards the US, 30% towards the European UK region, and the remaining percentage towards India and APAC. Typically, we were built in terms of what we were doing. We launched 2 to 3 campaigns in almost quick succession in terms of what we were doing. The goal of these campaigns very clearly is, I’ll call it out again, not to drive signups. The goal of these campaigns was purely to put the brand out there, drive people to come to the website, and educate themselves about the brand.

How we did it was slightly different. We still do it. It’s a campaign called SDR 30 UNDER 30. It’s almost like a nomination thing where we put it out on social, get people to say and submit something in terms of their best calling scripts and best email scripts. We ask them a bunch of 4 or 5 questions. It’s not an easy form. They have to fill out a few details, and then we get a jury that evaluates who the best SDRs are. The 30 SDRs, we announce to the world and we give them a prize as a result of what happens.

That took off in a big way when we did it the first time because, until that point, nobody was given the role of SDR being such a difficult role in picking up the phone, calling, emailing, and whatnot. Nobody was truly recognizing them in the open. There were other companies that had versions of this. There was a company that had a BDR Appreciation Week, but no calling out because everyone else was getting called.

Even if you look at a typical sales environment, you’ll have the AEs getting recognized. Your SDRs are not often getting recognized. We did this campaign and it blew up. What happened is because we were targeting SDRs, SDRs got excited about it. SDRs started sharing, “There’s this competition. I’ve nominated myself.” It took off. I remember the first edition. We didn’t expect too much to happen. We were like, “We’ll do this and we’ll see what happens.”

In fact, I had a discussion saying, “How is it going to take off? I’m not sure.” 300 to 400 applications came in that first lock when we pushed it out. People were doing it. When we crushed it down and came up, we announced the 30 winners. For almost 1 month, 3 to 4-week period, it was 30 under 30 all over our social because it was not us sharing it. These 30 SDRs shared it. Their managers shared it. Their companies on their handle started sharing it. Suddenly, this cascading effect where the SDR now got the manager involved and the managers feeling proud of the SDR, they’re like, “Who is this Outplay?” That’s the conversation.

On the second one we did, we also realized that one thing that was missing in all of this, in the cold-calling world, because calling is an essential part of what the product also does, is there were calling scripts online, but what about real call recordings? We put the word out there and told people, “Can you submit your call recordings? If you’re publishing and want to use it, we’ll give you a $50 Amazon voucher to do that.”

Suddenly, we built this entire library of call recordings that never existed in the world. Salespeople, sales reps, sales managers, and SDR managers could use that as a repository to train their reps and not just call their ecosystem. It’s called Call of Fame. It still runs. We have more than 3,000 subscribers to that now. In fact, I said, “To hell with the subscribers, let’s put it on Spotify.” I made it accessible to everyone. We took the entire Call of Fame and dumped it on Spotify, so anyone anywhere can have access to the entire library and they can listen to it on their walks or in their car drive wherever they want to. You don’t have to subscribe to the product as well. The intention being you’ll know the brand because of this. They will come to us. Traffic went up.

The third thing in this whole stuff that we were doing is something called Cold Call Battle. James Corden has a show called The Late Late Show. On The Late Late Show, he’s got something called the Rap Battle where he’s got two celebrities, or it’s him and a celebrity who are going out to each other. I said, “What if we had a cold call version of this? What if I put one caller against another caller? Each one playing the prospect and the seller and then each one switches down. I have a moderator right down the middle who will take a call between who’s the best and let’s make it LinkedIn Live.”

The reason for LinkedIn Live is we get more people engaging. What we did was we asked people to nominate the winners on the call. It would end up like two people going head-on. We position it like that. Two people going after each other. One person here. That was a hit. We get easily around 200 to 300 people showing up for a live show for that. We don’t do it as often. We do it once a quarter to get that whole excitement going and then we moderate. All we do is moderate it. We give them 3 to 4 different scenarios and they’re at each other. It’s a lot of fun. Everyone was looking at it and people were saying, “This call could have been better.” These three big initiatives drove people to the brand suddenly from a, “I don’t know who you are.”

There was a fourth one, I forgot to mention as well. Early on in January 2022 when we started a few of these experiments, we have a podcast and we do seasons. Season one was very interesting because the objective of season one was, “Can we get billion-dollar valued CEOs coming onto this podcast and talking to us about their 0 to 10 or 0 to first 100 customers? How do they get it?” The podcast called is The Hype is Real. It was done in collaboration with Outplay and Revgenius. We did this together.

We got 4 or 5 of the big-name CEOs. I’ll call them out. CEO from Gong, Clary, Gainsight, and the CMO of 6Sense coming and talking to us. It was very intentional. The idea there was suddenly you have a brand like Gong, Clary, 6Sense, or Gainsight. In a podcast with Outplay, who is Outplay? That was the response we wanted. We wanted people to question like, “Who are these guys? What do they do?” When they land on the website, “You guys do this.”

You’ll see these programs still running. All these will constantly run and these are our own properties and we keep these properties running apart from any webinar or anything else happening. This is what gives us the largest surges in traffic whenever we need them to achieve that larger goal. I think this is one of the biggest. These 3 or 4 narratives all towards the same purpose of driving that brand awareness piece.

Driving that brand awareness will give the largest surges in traffic whenever we need to achieve that larger goal. Click To Tweet

These are all great success stories, so thank you for sharing all of them. I would love to double-take into each of those 3 or 4 initiatives that you did, but we are definitely short on time, so let’s pick one. For example, you did mention podcast and the goal of getting billion-dollar company CEOs talking about how they build from 0 to maybe the first 50 or 100 customers. How did you pitch that? What is your process like?

It was the easiest hack in the book. The question for us is how we want to get that first person. For all context, Outplay is a Sequoia-funded company or a Series A-funded company. Our first catch was to acquire a network. We knew who we wanted. We tried through our connects. We get through Gong. What we would do is, at the end of every podcast, we would ask the guest, “Is there somebody else you think might be a good guest for this podcast, who would that be?”

Each of them provided the other name. Of course, we didn’t know the other person. We didn’t have a direct connection, but imagine the CEO of Gong emailing the CEO of Clary and saying, “I did a podcast with these guys. It’ll be great if you can join. Have a word with them.” That’s all. The person is of course going to respond because it’s the C-level person talking. Literally, that’s the chain effect that we got. Every single guest we’ve had on the podcast has literally come because of that.

It’s all about getting that first guest. Definitely big thing that went your way is having the Sequoia brand. It’s absolutely a big thing. That builds credibility right away. Otherwise, it’s not easy getting those big names.

It’s not easy for sure.

Fantastic GTM success stories that you shared starting with the SDR 30 UNDER 30. You also mentioned the SDR playoff or face-off and then the podcast getting the billion-dollar CEOs to your network. As you and I know, especially since you have seen this from day one, it’s not always up and to the right. Clearly, it’s not successful all the time. You also have failures. What is a GTM failure story and the lessons that you learned that you’re applying now?

One thing that we later realized in our journey was that while we were talking to customers, were we listening to them. I’ll rephrase that in a better way. For example, one of the things we were trying to do and one of the exercises was, “Why was churn happening?” We were trying to say, “What is the majority cause of churn?” If it’s a product thing, of course, we can fix it. There were a lot of complaints of, “This is not working for me.” We’re like, “Did they sign up for the wrong thing? Was it a wrong sell?” We were trying to understand that because the goal there was how to reduce the churn rate.

At times, you would see customers who would say, “My product is not working.” It would be very trivial. They were like, “This is not what the product does.” We would try to understand and we understood later on it was not a product problem. The product was working fine. It did everything that it had to do. All that was fine, but when I say we weren’t listening, it was the fact that what they were not trying to solve was the product was not working or didn’t do that. What they were trying to solve for is outbound. I’ll put it in a simpler way. Outbound in itself is not easy. It’s complicated. They typically come and buy a tool like Outplay to help them with outbound and that whole multi-channel process.

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: Outbound calling is not easy. It’s complicated. A tool like Outplay helps sales reps with outbound to help that whole multi-channel process.


How does one do outbound? We’re understanding the nuances. As you mentioned earlier on, hiring the right kind of folks, building the right kind of scripts, all of that. A lot of the folks who came to us at that point in time were trying to build their outbound. In fact, the ones who were churning at least were trying to build it. They had some inbound narrative going on. They wanted to scale and do something in outbound. They were starting up all together and they wanted to get the outbound piece going. They got a tool, meetings were not happening, and nothing else was happening. They’re like, “The tool is not working for me. I don’t want this tool. I’ll go away.” That’s what I meant by not listening.

When we were seeing them, they’re like, “What are we doing wrong here? Everything seems to be ticking the right boxes.” We never got it up until the point that we realized they are trying to solve for outbound. Although we are a tool that can help them do this, we also need to enable them to succeed in outbound as much as we can. The amount of insight, whether it’s providing them with content assets that can help them draft better cold emails, calls, and whatnot. Because we had all these assets with us, it all existed. We were doing it to drive demand but we are not doing it back into our customers and saying, “You can use this to do this part of outbound. You can do this and that.” That was not happening. We are going on one track.

It was like we knew everything and were doing everything. Everything was working in silos and we were not listening to our customers. It’s a big mistake on our part. The moment we changed the narrative and told customers, “Do you know we have this with outbound?” In fact, we are running a series right now called Outbound for Dummies.

It’s literally to break down every nuance of the outbound function as simple as possible with real practitioners. The people I’m interviewing there in that series are people who are doing it, who built their SDR team, either from that first ten hires or trying to scale. They are talking about what they have done. All those lessons, again, why it create demand for me in general. The purpose of that is to feed into my customer base to tell them, “This is another thing you can do too.”

One of the check-ins that we do with our customers is we don’t even ask them how the tool is performing anymore. That is one part. You set up the tool. We’re like, “How is your outbound working? What success are you seeing in outbound? What is working for you?” Even to reposition ourselves as outbound consultants in that larger sense. this goes for anyone. The big learning for all of us is, generally, to listen to your customers and listen to what they’re trying to solve. Your tool is only one part of that solution. It may not be the entire thing. Most tools cannot solve everything. It might give you only one part.

For us, the lesson was to get down to understand what they’re trying to solve. Try to fix or at least enable them to solve that problem. You are going to have a lot more loyal customers and these people are going to become advocates at some point in your journey. The mistake was not listening. As a result, we’re going on a tangent. Once we realized it, we said, “This is what they want.” Everything that we have done from there on has been keeping that in mind. Even if you’re building an asset, we’re like, “Are we thinking about what we might need from this?” I think all of that helped.

What I liked about this realization and the failure turning into success is you, when I say you, the team including yourself, dug deeper into this outbound feature within your product, but the users are trying to build an outbound system using this feature, but the outcome is, “Is the outbound system working or not?” The feature can only get them to some point. Something else that caught my attention and I enjoyed listening to your eventual success story is the content that you build to drive brand awareness. The cataloging and the resources that you provided for these users to be successful in outbound. How did that come about? Who’s brainchild idea was that? It’s not like you designed it with that in mind though.

Are you talking about the demand gen or the realization?

It’s both. You’re talking about outbound, the feature failure, and then the content from the demand gen can be used for your users.

Honestly, I don’t know if it was designed in such a way. It was designed by accident. When we are thinking of all, it wasn’t thought like that. It was like, “How can I drive demand? I know my audience. Can I build something for my audience?” Eventually, it tied back together, but in my world now, with every piece of content from my blog, my social, and my webinar, the only underlying rule I have for my team is that no content will be in isolation.

We know who we are building it for. We know what we are building it for. Every piece ties into some other piece. If you’re putting a social post, what is that post for? Is it tying into a blog, a webinar, a customer point, a pain point, or something? I built one narrative. I have one diagram somewhere because I love things when they’re black and white. I don’t like ambiguity in terms. For me, that’s the same thing I expect of my team. The least I can do as a leader is to give them clarity. I built one convoluted-looking diagram. I’ll probably share it on social someday.

You should.

To explain, this is the narrative of how you should build content. If anything is outside of this, it’s not worth your time so don’t bother. Build it only for this. If it’s ticking all the boxes there, we’re sorted. We’re pushing stuff back into the realm. We are keeping that flywheel motion. It can’t remain in isolation. To the first point, I don’t think it was planned. It was by accident. We came to the realization, “We already have this. There’s a gap here. Can we push it back?” It was more of an afterthought, but that’s how it came.

That’s a great point. Thank you for being so honest over there. It was not done by design, but then your team and you, yourself as a leader, had that inkling of thought, “This is a resource we can put to reuse.” To the uber point that you mentioned, which is every piece of content that you’re designing, can it be repurposed? That’s the basics of content marketing. It’s not content creation, but how do you get the flywheel effect with one piece?

One podcast can turn into one blog, plus a bunch of social media posts. One podcast can turn into a blog, social media posts, and videos, especially if it’s all serving not your target audience, but even your existing customers and users. That’s a holy grail. What resources do you lean on, whether it’s podcasts, communities, or blogs to up your game? Is it SDR, marketing, or marketing sales?

Do you mean personally?


For me, in terms of resources, not as many books because I can’t sit and read. For example, my biggest cheat code for books is I have Blink. I use Blink to catch up on my non-fiction book. If any book on management or on marketing. Anything that I want, Blink will tell me in fifteen minutes what the entire book is. I don’t have the patience to honestly read a whole book. I read fiction. I can spend an average amount of time reading fiction, but I struggle reading nonfiction. These are the two things I do well. If you go to my LinkedIn and if you look at the number of posts that have been saved, I see a bunch of countless stuff. I’ll be screenshotting stuff that I’m seeing. I’ll be reading stuff.

For me, it’s always something that will trigger some narrative. There are 4 or 5 people who I adore on LinkedIn that to me are my biggest influences. Some of them I know, some of them I don’t. I’m following their content and keenly watching stuff that they’re putting. I’ll call out few of their names, Anthony Perri and Robert Kaminsky are my all-time favorite in terms of product marketing.

If you’re a product marketing person ever getting into this or even if you’re a leader, follow these guys. If you want to hire them, hire them as well. I think they do help startups and help them scale. It’s the most brilliant, clean, and the most clarity I’ve ever seen. Anything that they’ve put is so well-designed. Everything about what they do is unbelievable. I’ve spoken to Anthony in some chat conversation once but these two guys work in tandem. They’re phenomenal.

Another good friend who I’ve worked with in the past is Adam Goyette. He’s a phenomenal marketer. He used to work in G2 as well. There’s David Fallarme. He used to be the VP of Asia for Hubspot. He runs his own community, which is a great community as well for APAC marketers. Of course, there’s the brilliant, there’s a guy called Kyle Poyar of P&G. I love his stuff. I love everything about that company. If anyone puts something out there, I’m always digesting that.

A lot of the learning for me comes from these things. Podcasts, not as much. There are very few podcasts I listen to that are specific to the industry or whatever, but folks that are posting stuff. There are a bunch of communities I am in. I block two hours of my calendar every week to go into the community and look at what’s happening. I’ll try to find something I can help with someone or whatever. I will always go.

There are a few communities I’m active in. There’s something called Revenue Circle started by Justin from Demand Base. There is APAC Marketers, which is run by David Fallarme from what used to be at Hubspot. There is Genius, which is a great community run by Jared. There are probably 6 or 7 of them, but these are the 3 or 4 that I’m constantly looking at in the sales enablement community. There’s a Revenue Marketing Alliance or RMA. For me, it’s the community and the individual LinkedIn folks. These are super important.

I appreciate you calling out the names of both the people that you look up to and follow as well as the communities. Switching gears once again. What are the 1 or 2 GTM relevant skills that people look up to you and they come, “Sandeep is cool and created it. I’m struggling with this. Let me go and ask Sandeep.”

Given my past of SDR and sales, more often than not, I get called into conversations for outbound. This is everything from setting up your SDR scaling outbound. In general, how does one think of outbound? When do we need to go outbound? This comes a lot within the realm of wherever I am. I also get into conversations with folks trying to figure out how to sell to SMBs in terms of how they scale. I’m getting customers that I’m running page channels or running organic channels as well. I want to double-click on this. Where should I put my money? How should I invest? What should I look at?

I get the second part based on my activity because a lot of what I do at Outplays is that, but I get the outbound conversations because of my past as well as helping build scale and what that world looks like. I get into conversations. Essentially, if people are looking at outbound or scaling what their SMB looks like, I will more often than not end up in a conversation.

The last question before you sign off. I know it’s pretty late for you in India. If you were to turn back the time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Talk to more people. That’s all. I’m not kidding. When I started interacting with peers, mentors, future mentors, or people I aspired to, it changed the world for me. It opened up something that was not there in books, in LinkedIn posts, or in articles. These were real people talking about real problems and real ways that they were solving stuff. The best of my knowledge comes from practitioners who’ve done this before. I do an equal spirit. I also tell them like, “I’m not getting in this. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. We keep this whole discussion mutual.”

I wasn’t doing it up until the Outplay journey. For me, the Outplay journey was when that world changed because as a leader, I needed to be able to talk to peers and understand how they were trying to solve things. Up until that point, it’s a small team. I was managing a few people and a big company. It’s a lesser opportunity or even the need was less. The need was higher here. I needed to figure this out. It wasn’t like going to be a small company.

You have to get stuff done. I started talking to people either through the network, some other network, community, and all that. It changed. At that point, I was like, “I could have done this five years earlier as well. I didn’t know.” The reason I think most people also don’t realize it’s there and they don’t do it is because people are scared to reach out to people to have conversations in general.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody is not going to respond to you. The reason people will not do it is because they’ll think you’re going to sell it to you. If you’re super clear about that, then I don’t think people will refuse. What if you get a few rejections? That’s perfectly fine. As long as you can have those few great conversations that honestly will change your life forever. Talk to peers, mentors, and people you aspire to be, it’ll make a world of difference. That’s the only advice I have for myself.

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage
Achieve Competitive Advantage: Talk to peers, talk to mentors, talk to people you aspire to be. It will make a world of difference.


It’s been a great conversation, Sandeep. Good luck to you and your team. I’m sure people find you on LinkedIn. Is there any other ways than LinkedIn?

I think LinkedIn is the best place for me.

I was wondering, we left out so many topics. I think we need to do a round two. For example, we didn’t dive at all into how you grow SMB. We didn’t talk about the different channels and so on. At some point in time, I would love to have you back on the show, but it’s been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much, Sandeep.

Thanks. I enjoyed it as well. Some great questions got me thinking. I had to do my homework on this, but it was a good refresher to get back in all this stuff. I appreciate you. Thank you.


Important Links



B2B 31 | New Market

B2B 31 | New Market


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

Listen to the podcast here


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. You too. Take care.


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B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies


We are approaching a cloud-based world where everything is turning digital. How does the go-to-market strategy change? How do companies like Cisco adapt to new and different business strategies? Learn more about the process of GTM with the Head of GTM Strategies at Cisco, Sree Chadalavada. Before working with Cisco, Sree has worked with Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, in various roles for over 14 years. Now with Cisco, Sree is leading the GTM for their DNS Center. Catch Sree in this interview with your host, Vijay Damojipurapu, about how to market a subscription-based model and other business strategies. Discover why customer experience should come first when it comes to product strategy. Learn everything you need to know about GTM today!

Listen to the podcast here


A Closer Look Into Cisco’s GTM Strategies With Sree Chadalavada

I have with me, Sree, from Cisco and I’ll let him introduce himself. Sree, welcome to the show.

Thank you for inviting me. A little bit of introduction about myself. I have around twenty-plus years of experience in the industry. A lot of my experience comes from B2B space and mostly in high tech. I had roles anywhere from engineering to product management to GTM. Because of my several years of experience, I am now leading the GTM for DNA Center, which is one of the marquee software products that Cisco is selling to its customers. I’m looking forward to talking to you.

You are based in the Bay Area. We have almost subcontinental tropical weather. We are hitting 90 degrees here but both you and I grew up in India so we are very familiar. It’s not too much to complain about but we’re used to this weather.

I need to fix my cooling. I came from India in a tropical climate. The variation, how quickly we can go from cold to hot is something to get used to and I definitely need some home improvement going.

How would you define go-to-market?

In my mind, the go-to-market is a loaded term. In a simplistic view, I think about go-to-market as we have a business strategy. Oftentimes, I am taking more of a B2B large organizations viewpoint. If you have a large organization with a portfolio of products and services that you’re selling in the market, you start with a business strategy and then there is a product strategy. Those are two ends of the spectrum. GTM is what binds those two together and the whole purpose of GTM is to drive monetization and profitability within a particular organization.

Whenever you look at a business strategy of a long-term, sustainable company versus a product that generates revenue, you have a number of elements that need to work together. In addition to linking product strategy to business strategy, you need to look at sales, partner and customer success. All of those strategies need to come together and they all need to be driven with one beat. That’s what the GTM brings to the table. In my mind, the way I think about GTM is it’s a loaded term but the way I conduct it is it’s all about focus on revenues and profitability. It’s all about bringing disparate sets of functions together to work together to drive these revenue and profitability goals.

I would agree with almost all of what you mentioned. It does include working fruitfully and collaboratively across these functions such as product, marketing and sales, customer success and support teams as well. There is an end goal of driving revenue and profitability goals but there is one element, which I didn’t hear a lot from you and I want to push you on that. What is in it for the customer? Why should customers care? That’s a key point. A lot of the go-to-market teams are missing that. They’re internal-focused. This is something that I’ve seen often and to the detriment of the go-to-market execution capability. It is internal-driven but the emphasis should be on the market and the customers.

Whenever we think about a product strategy, the sustainability of a customer is driving value to the world and to the community at large. Maybe the reason why the customer was not included in my narrative is that I always believe in the fundamental nature of how you decompose a business strategy into a product strategy. Product strategy is all about the customer. We talk about product-market fit a lot. If you are developing a product that generates revenue then everything about that product should be about a customer. To your point, product, customer success, sales, partners, all of the people need to be talking to multiple sets of stakeholders but it all starts with customers. Definitely, that’s an omission that I’m glad that you corrected because it was built into the narrative.

A go-to-market has to link product strategy with business strategy. Click To Tweet

All of the GTM functions are more like skin in my opinion. For every organization, everything happens. Business strategy is the brain that drives everything and all of these GTM functions drive everything but all the sensors need to be externally motivated to a particular customer. If you do not then there is so much of either productivity loss or you will not be sustainable. In the next five years, you will not have a place. Customer is always front and center. My boss always talks about customer excellence and customer-centricity. The way we share that across all of this is it starts with a product, the way we define a product and we continually iterate on the product-market fit. Everything in the GTM follows the product and the end product leads the way. All the GTM continually amplifies that particular aspect of it.

On a lighter note, how would your kids describe what you do at work?

I’m sure that many of us in the GTM has some identity crisis but I have a nonlinear career path. I’ll give a little bit of background and then I’ll explain what my kids talk about. I am a computer scientist. I was an engineer. I did graduate with a Computer Science major. I was a product manager and then moved to GTM consulting and then now I’m an operator of a product company. You’re going to look at my kids and it’s always interesting the way they think about it. When you ask those questions, it comes out.

My son feels like I am a consultant, an engineer or both. He’s confused. On one hand, I talk about the rigor, the hypothesis-driven problem solving and how you look at systems and decompose the problems is the consultant that I talk about. From an engineer’s standpoint, it’s all about the operation. What is the new value that we’re creating for the community and the world at large? There are both aspects. He’s confused, “Are you a consultant or engineer? You keep saying all those things. I don’t know.”

My daughter has this interesting way. I come from a consulting background. In a company like Cisco and I’m sure that any large company and even small companies, that happens. She talks about me having meetings about meetings because when you go to the executives, you first talk about, “Let’s develop a point of view,” and then you go to another person. It’s one of those things wherein a blue-collar to white-collar, everything that we do is communicating with people and driving change.

That’s what she thinks. She’s like, “You’re an advisor. I get it. From the nuts and bolts of it, everything that you do is meetings about meetings.” Hopefully, she will appreciate it one day. What she is looking at is anything that we do in consulting or GTM is about driving change, accountabilities and responsibilities. When you’re working with a lot of organizations, you’re working with a lot of people. It’s funny when you look at the kid’s views. One day, I go from a consultant to an engineer to developing slides. All those things go together.

That’s funny you say that. I can relate to a lot of those. I’ve also had several guests mentioned either the parents or the kids. Some of them correctly articulate what that guest was doing. It’s all about how do you articulate and tell about, “What do you do?” Whether you’re in a marketing role or a sales role or a product role, that’s a fun thing. It always brings out the lighter, the humor, the more personal and the humane side of things when it comes to a job.

At the end of the day, the core of it is we are all humans connecting to other humans. We miss that. We don’t think about it that way. When you talk to kids, that’s how they can think about it. The interactions that they are exposed to defines how they think about it.

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: Make your product strategy all about the customer. The sustainability of a customer drives value to the world at large.


Let’s switch gears. You talked about being in the consulting world and now you’re more in an organization like Cisco where you’re more responsible for the execution of the strategy, which you would typically build and then pass it over to your clients. Talk to us about your career evolution starting from your time at Gartner and then what you’re doing at Cisco now.

I did my MBA at Emory University. In around 2007, I graduated and then I joined Gartner as a senior consultant. The practice that I was part of was the GTM practice. A lot of people know that in Gartner, we have a lot of data. The reason Gartner exists is it senses the life of the customer. They track customer and market movements. We have all this data. Our GTM practice is all about taking the data and helping customers develop GTM strategies. It can be a GM who’s saying, “I need a product strategy. Can you help me build the next billion-dollar product on a market that I need to go after?” There are those problems.

There are engagements where, “We are going through this DevOps evolution. Can you help us? As a large $5 billion company, can you migrate to this?” Those are the things that I tried. I started with a senior consultant all the way to a managing partner. I also worked in a lot of the companies in the technology space and a lot of my clients are in the Bay Area. These are the people who created markets and it’s difficult to tell them what to do. They always feel like, “I know what I’m doing. I created the market so don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me.”

We went through this evolution as a managing partner. I ran a lot of these engagements, product strategies, market strategies and sales strategies for that matter. I got this rich experience of working with a lot of leaders that I’m sure are part of your show and you see them on a lot of these big stages. I had the privilege to be looking at them, working with them and helping them at Gartner. At some point, I said, “I have been giving a lot of advice. That’s great,” but then I said, “I need to do something. I need to execute what I’m telling.” It’s like eating your own dog food.

In consulting world, what you do is you give them good recommendations. Hopefully, those are the ones that you can bet on but you do not own the execution part of it. For fourteen years, I said, “I need to use a lot of what I did and need to be an operator,” as they call it in the industry. One of my clients said, “Sree, it looks like you have a lot of what I am looking for. I need somebody strong to drive GTM strategy for my organization.” That’s how I got into Cisco. In Cisco, what I do is taking all of that experience. I helped Cisco in developing a GTM strategy for this particular product and drive objectives.

One of the things that’s fascinating with Cisco is we’re phenomenal in terms of everything that we do in sales, marketing and partners from a hardware-centric standpoint. There’s nobody else who can do better than Cisco because we’re partner-centric and customer-centric. When we get to the subscription world, the rules of the game are different. This is a significant intent for every one of us to move forward. The privilege is good and bad. Everybody says it takes a village to move but in my role, I work with a lot of people like me in developing what the future view looks like.

I’m sure that you have all this news coming from Cisco saying that we’re at a $14 billion run rate from the software revenue standpoint. That is the promotion we’re doing. I’m helping with that transformation for the product DNA Center, which is within the wired and wireless networks on the campus. That is the product that I lead. I have been there for eight months. I built a lot of great relationships. There are a lot of things that I can learn and a lot of things that I can execute because, for several years, I’ve been talking a lot but now I know the things that make sense and don’t make sense.

That’s a fascinating career you had at Gartner joining as a senior consultant and growing up the ranks to a managing partner. Kudos and congratulations to you. That’s a fascinating rise in itself. It’s interesting that you switched and you intentionally wanted to go and move more into an operator role. Cisco itself is in a transformational phase because they’re switching or at least making the effort to move from a hardware-centric to more of a SaaS, revenue and subscription-based business.

Cisco has been doing this for a long time. If you look at the best in class SaaS companies, we want to be the best in class. When we look at a company that has been successful in the hardware-centric model, we have made a lot of progress but the progress continues to be there because we want to drive revenues and expand the scope of what we do. This role gives me a scope to help in that journey.

Go-to-market is more like the skin, while business strategies are the brains that drive everything. Click To Tweet

I’ve not had so many guests on my podcast where we had to dive in and talk about the shift from a one-time hardware sale to a software subscription model. Enlighten us and talk to us about the challenges. I can put myself in the shoe of an account executive selling routers and switches. It’s a long sales cycle. As an account executive, I hit my quota. Most often, I move on to other deals or other customers versus for subscription, it’s an entirely different mindset. How are you working with account teams and go-to-market teams at Cisco to make this transition happen?

It’s changing the way we do stuff. You need to have different kinds of relationships as you approach your customer. Let me take a step back. It is even a transformation from a customer standpoint. If you think about infrastructure, they have always bought appliances with a perpetual license. They would say, “Don’t come to me until five years is over.” Even the way they budget, it is for five-year subscription. That is how they budget CapEx dollars. Now, we’re looking at transformation at multiple stages. We’re saying, “How do we help the customer tell them that they cannot wait for five years?” That is the starting point for us.

We are going into a multi-cloud world. The pace of innovation is changing. We are educating our customers to say, “If you want to take on this multi-cloud world that the velocity of innovation is changing, you need to get the value incrementally quickly.” That is the reason we’re working with customers to enable them with the transformation. That is number one. We work with the salespeople and the way the salespeople do it is we have always said that selling an appliance is where our journey stops. Usually in a hardware mindset, you sell and you move on to the next deal.

We tell them they need to work with the customer success. If you think about the deal is over, the next step is, “Don’t go away because you have these long relationships. Please work with customer success to enable them.” We make a lot of promises during the sale cycle and oftentimes in a hardware-centric mindset, the partners will execute to get to some of those outcomes. Cisco is owning some of those outcomes. That is a big change for us.

If you go to a typical salesperson and if you say, “Did you sell?” “Yes. Amazing. I have done my job.” Now what we’re telling them is, “You’re not done. Please help us. Don’t go anywhere. We want you to work with the customers, your partners, customer success and drive outcomes.” There is a big difference between selling goods and services to selling outcomes. That’s what we’re working with account teams to slowly migrate to this mindset. A lot of account executives get it because they want customers to be successful. They have always relied on partners before and now they have to rely on partners but also Cisco to take that leap. That is the biggest change that we see. We made a lot of progress and we’re going to continue to make progress.

Change is hard, even though mentally I would like to create a new habit and sustain that new habit. I’m putting myself in the shoes of an account executive. There is an intent and a want versus making it happen over the course of days, months and years. It’s entirely two different things. There’s a combination of executive sponsorship and executive enforcement if you will but enforcement only gets you to so much. Is there a combination of that plus enablement piece, there is also the incentive-driven piece?

I come from the strategy world. I always think that there’s a mandate. The mandate is these greenfield initiatives cannot succeed. You need to have a mandate on a problem but the mandate needs to translate to what can be done in the next quarter. Oftentimes, you can think about it and say, “We want to be a subscription company.” For a large organization, it takes time. We need to take the mandate and chunk it down on what can you do in a quarter. When you think of quarter, there are three things that we’re always looking at. As an organization, is our operating model set up for success? That is number one. Are we having those relationships built between sales, customer success and partners? Can we continually iterate on the operating model?

The second is incentives. Are we making incentives and KPIs that integrate on a collective customer outcomes mindset? The third is we take feedback oftentimes and the mandate only goes so far because there is reality, the ground. The last thing that you want is to disenfranchise anybody who was significantly successful and lose them in this transformation. We are taking enormous amounts of feedback from the field and continually iterating this particular model. We have three different processes. One is a mandate. The second is the operating model. Three is the incentive structure.

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: Technology is always changing and innovating. You need to help and enable your customer in the transformation.


Finally, it’s feedback. Always focus on the feedback. Always build the change because if you have the influencers, you need to be looking at the influences who are working with you and enabling transformation. I come from a lot of change management and that enables me to talk about it. I always look at the culture as a complex entity. We talk about culture as a nebulous term. For me, it’s the incentives, rituals and those kinds of things. I look at it systematically and say, “What can we do without breaking ourselves?” We are disciplined in the way we execute the techniques.

You mentioned how you measure and there’s also the feedback aspect. Let’s talk about if you can to the extent that you can share in a public forum, can you talk about the KPIs and how you set goals into ensuring that the change is happening?

I don’t think some of the frameworks are any different from a strategy standpoint. The viewers need to think, “What does the future state look like?” You always need to have a clear view of where we want to be from a metric standpoint. Almost always, we know this. We want better revenues, a better renewal rate and a customer experience. Those are the three. At the end of the day, any business will know about those three for me.

We look at what the future state is. We cannot get there unless we cut it down to every quarter. This is what we need to achieve and then cross those three terms. We talk about revenue goals, renewal rates and customer experience. Every quarter, we’re iterating through those goals and building new initiatives. We have a governing model that says, “We’re all going to work together for this transformation. We have partnerships.” I’m part of the product organization. There is a product, relationships, there’s sales, customer success and partners as well as marketing, product and technical marketing.

All of us work together to say, “Can we achieve that target and continually grow?” It’s like a flywheel analogy in Good to Great. There is this notion that coming from consulting it is this one big wave that carries everything. It’s never that. It’s like in every small incremental thing that you do and continually build the momentum and kill the initiatives that are not working. Amplify and double down what is working and keep moving. This operator role is interesting but the most important place where the operator role falls apart is when you don’t have a clear future state. If you do not have a clear future state of what I want to be when I grow up, that is when the operator role can be nebulous. I am going to do all kinds of things that don’t matter but if I have a clear view of where we are headed, it’s about execution. You’re continually working at it, spreading it and making progress at the business.

Let’s get even more detailed and specific here. When it comes to the second half a year and you’re managing the go-to-market evolution and the change for Cisco DNA products, services, software modules and subscription services as well. What are your focus areas for the second half for Cisco DNA?

For us, there are three things. Engagement from the field is the most important thing for us. I’m part of a central organization and Cisco is massive. What we’re trying to do for us is execution happens in a decentralized fashion in large organizations because you can only develop strategy and you can only have the central organizations that can enable the strategy. There are three waves of work that we’re looking at for the next job. We feel like we have a decent strategy. The next wave is working with the field to get feedback and improve the strategy. That is what we are focused on. These three are concentric circles. They keep moving. We have a strategy and now we are working in the middle field to make sure that they know the strategy that is help coming and we are seeking their help on how to transform.

The third element of it is at the end of the day, it’s accounts. It is this filed down list. You need to look at what is happening with this account versus with that account. There are three concentric circles that are happening for us. The second half is all about getting the field and getting to the part of the marquee accounts where we can ring-fence and do cohort analysis. Can we take small set customers and continually build these practices? That’s where we’re going to be.

Do you own a budget for your role specifically?

You need to find humane things when it comes to your job. At the end of the day, we are all just humans connecting to other humans. Click To Tweet

My boss owns a budget but he’s pretty flexible with the budget because it’s one of the key parts of the business.

If you or your boss were to get an additional 5-figure, 6-figure or maybe in the case of Cisco it’s an additional seven-figure number for the year going or even going into the following year. What are the key areas that you would invest in?

Data is everything for us. The way we are operating and every company is becoming a digital company for us. There are a number of initiatives going on but I can always ask more to accelerate these initiatives. That’s the way I think of it. You should not take it as we’re not doing it. Maybe others feel like, “If I want to go faster, I want something that gets me there. It’s about having the tools that can help us.” There are two aspects of the way I think about it. In GTM, everything is as good as your data, the systems and the GTM processes that you have.

For me, data is the most important thing. How do I build it on the fingertips? For me and the people who are executing these strategies, do they have the dashboards? Not a single dashboard but it should be where they are looking at data. For example, if you are on Salesforce, do I have the right metrics and the right data for a sales executive to take action? Those are the places where I would be spending a lot of time. For me, I need to have the data and the dashboards to be able to say, “Are we going in the right direction? Can I course-correct very quickly?” In the same vein, there are so many people like me who are trying to write and improve their business performance. Can I help them with those kinds of systems so they can make those decisions? We are blessed in this way.

I come from a strategy background. I don’t need somebody else telling me what the strategy should be because, at the end of the day, many people have those ideas. For me, the biggest thing is if I’m operating faster, I do not want systems to be a bottleneck. I need to move away from systems being a bottleneck to the change management and getting to the customer outcomes. That’s where I would be focusing if I have more budget.

You mentioned data and tech stack. One element of the tech stack, which is CRM, in this case, Salesforce. Is it more of how do you refine and fine-tune your Salesforce to create the right dashboards or is it more of an additional market or sales tech stack and making those work? Is it something like a BI, a Tableau?

We start with BI Tableau. That’s where I think about it. These systems have been there for a long time. You know how a lot of these organizations are. You start with a Tableau. You figure out if it’s helping you to make the decisions and I’m sure that data is not always perfect so you learn a lot and you shift to continually improving the data. That’s how I always think about it. If you have all of these dashboards and they don’t mean anything and the data is not complete, I cannot make decisions. The way I want to do it is, it’s always that there is this Deming’s quality improvement cycle. You need to know what you’re measuring. I have the visibility to what I’m measuring and can I take the data to continually improve the process but also improve my data hygiene across the board and the processes that build the data. In my mind, if we’re on a journey but I want to start with the dashboards but then I go back to how to improve the data consistency and reliability.

What are the top couple of topics or areas that are top of mind for you? How do you learn or keep up to date on those topics? You mentioned go-to-market and strategy. Are there topics underneath or something else?

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: In business, you want better revenues, better renewal rates, and a good customer experience.


I read this only a couple of years back the way Amazon does it right. I’m looking at that. Usually, there is a view that I have seen and a lot of that is real with many of the companies. There is a product strategy and there is a GTM strategy. Those are two separate strategies and usually they are decoupled because we have the legacy and heritage of how we have done. What I’m seeing is a convergence of GTM and not convergence. It’s tighter alignment and convergence. What I mean by that is let us take a scenario where your video is in your own dashboard using the product. Can I manage my licenses in it? Can I make my purchases? It’s those things there are significant ways that we can improve the customer experience and integrate the GTM motions into the product motions. That is fascinating for me and that is where I’m spending a lot of time trying to understand how do I continually build digital assets to try with GTM.

Second, how do we continually push GTM and convert GTM with the product? If I can let the customer do all the purchases here, let the customer do the free trials on the product and push it to this. There are so many ways you can get to simplify the customer experience and not having to go through this, “Go to this system to do the sales.” “Go to this system to do the partner.” “Go to this system to do all of those things.” Rather than that, if you are going to keep the customer in view, then telling the customer to say, “I am simplifying everything.” That is where I’m spending a lot of time. We are all going to do our own research. There are some companies that are doing a better job than we are and it’s always a fascinating aspect for me to learn from those companies.

Something that I want to highlight and this is what I advise my clients. A bit about me, my company, Stratyve. We advise B2B SaaS companies small, medium and large, around go-to-market clarity and execution. One of the pieces that I’m enforcing into whenever I meet either a marketing leader, a product leader or even a revenue leader. I always enforce and emphasize this aspect of content being the currency. You mentioned digital assets on how I see it and what I refer to it as content. Think of it this way. When you talk about a software product, your code is your currency for a software product. Similarly, for go-to-market, I would say its content. Content is the key.

From there, you go into, “What does it mean when I’m educating or enabling my salespeople? What does it mean when I’m talking about the customer moving him or her along this journey or the path, the transformation?” That’s what I keep coming back to is content. I’m also enforcing and building what I call the Content To Revenue Manifesto. It is because similar to software code as a software engineer, I can write code but that may or may not create an impact. Similarly, I can create the digital assets and the content but that may or may not tie very well to driving revenue, renewals, a better experience and a subscription model. I’m enforcing and talking about this Content To Revenue Manifesto. I want to get your thoughts. You mentioned digital assets but I’d be happy to sit down with you or your team around how you can create, invest and get better returns when it comes to creating these digital assets.

I’d be happy to do that. We are all about video and digital assets to your client. You started with, “Why did you not talk about the customer?” For me, it’s about a 360-degree view of the customer, anywhere from awareness to loyalty and the whole thing. We had this framework when I was in Gartner called Content and Context. Look at the customer and say, “At what context, does the customer look for what?” “If he’s looking at what, are we going to the right water coolers?” “Where are they going? Where do we need to present our content so customers do not have to look for the content?” With all the SEOs and everything, we can do it. You’re absolutely right. I will be happy to have a conversation and see how we can collaborate.

If you were to look at your peers or your bosses from either your current role or even previous roles, who would you call out, give a shout out to when it comes to them having an influence and how they shape your thinking as well your career growth path?

There are two classes. You have two specific questions. One is who is the biggest influence on how I live and how I conducted my professional life? Who are the co-workers that you want to emulate? This changes every year. You’re always learning and you’re always looking at what it is. A lot of my influences come from the counterculture. They are the people that really helped me. The three people I can say and I’m sure that many of your audience knows them. Nassim Taleb is one of the guys.

The quote he had and maybe the reason I moved from consulting to the operating role is a lot of what we learned from either consulting, theory or even in education. All that we do is tell the birds how to fly. He has this piece that says, “The real knowledge that you learn doesn’t come from books. The real knowledge comes from tinkering, experimenting, learning and getting feedback loop.” That was phenomenal. Nassim Taleb had a significant impact. Antifragile and Skin in the Game is another book. These are thought-provoking books that ask you to change and say, “As a person, what impact can you create?”

The second person, this is a cop-out as everybody would say it but Steve Jobs is another influence. I read and study a lot about strategy and what companies are. If you look at Peter Drucker as being the Father of Modern Philosophy, I would consider Steve Jobs as the Father of Technology Management Philosophy. Also, customer experience and he talks about how to say no. When you’re developing a strategy, do not ask for everything.

If anybody says that they know better than what you know, they don't know. Click To Tweet

After many years, we are starting to get that into the mainstream. He has been far ahead and I always go back to his videos and say, “What am I doing right or wrong?” The third one is Phil Knight. I was fortunate I read the book. It was not something that I would read from the get-go. For a lot of people who don’t know, Phil Knight is the Founder of Nike. One of the one thing that I realized and oftentimes I come from India and there has always been this quintessential view of the leader. This is charismatic, they go and they can rile up all the audience.

These are the kinds of people and you always look at them and say, “I can never be that way.” You always have this perspective. When you read Phil Knight and the way they build the company, it is about a lot of people who had so many problems and he says, “We would never be successful if we all went our own way but if we will focus on a mission and with a level of conviction, you can create a company that is long sustainable.” I can go out and say these are the people that change everything.

At least in my career, Charles Chun who lives in Japan, in Gartner Consulting. He always told me that with critical thinking, you always need to wear your customers’ shoes. You need to really solve the problem. He never gave up until the last minute of an executive conversation. He’s like, “I’m getting the slide of it.” The more you think about the problem, the more you live there, that rigor, I got it from Charles. My manager is similar in that way because these are the people who never give up. These are the people who call themselves academic operatives. They have a mission to continually improve and create a framework on it but they are rigorous in the execution. Those are the people that have had a lot of influence. We live in a world that’s continually changing. Come back in a few years and I will say it’s Elon Musk. We get better.

You would add Elon Musk maybe at some point in time once you know his sticking philosophy. Going back to your point, I agree with Steve Jobs and others. I also want to call out specifically, Phil Knight. I’m reading his book, Shoe Dog. I’m in the early section where he talks about where he tells father, “I want to go on a world trip. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my career after graduating from Stanford with an MBA degree. I don’t know what I want to do.” Somehow, he wants to do something around bringing better shoes and selling better shows in America.

He goes to Japan and even then, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do but he’s clear on the mission. Going back to your point, it’s very mission-centric and there’s almost a fake it until you make it but in a good way. It’s not in a false ego-sense. It’s about, “I’m mission-centric. I need to partner with these Japanese shoemakers and manufacturers. It’s all about telling how I bring those shoes and help them increase their sales. At the end of the day, how am I getting better shoes for the American consumer?”

That is the counterculture. That’s what I keep talking about. We say the counterculture is the attitude that they take is, everybody who says that they know better than what you know, they don’t know. That is the fundamental way that a lot of these people think. It’s like, “If somebody keeps telling me that I’m on the wrong path or I’m not doing the right things,” but very quickly, you’ll realize that if you’re going steadfast, all the people and everything that people tell you that you don’t know and don’t do it, they don’t know. It’s interesting the way they came to solve the problems.

It comes back to the mission-centric and that’s what keeps them going. Along the way, they figure out the path and the solution it comes. It’s not that they don’t from the get-go.

They gravitate towards building the team that is around them and that is complementing. That’s the fascinating part of this.

One final question to you, Sree. If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market careers, maybe it’s that time when you joined Gartner as a senior consultant or something else. If you were to turn back time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

B2B 22 | Go To Market Strategies
Go To Market Strategies: Data is the most important thing in go-to-market strategy. Everything is turning digital, so you need the right tools or data for GTM.


Let me start with the first and foremost, while you are uncomfortable, always try to surround yourself with the best people, the people that you can learn from. The people who are motivating you to do your best and you can learn from it even if it’s painful. That is the first thing that I would say. The second thing that I would say is any endeavor that you are doing, you need to be humble to take the feedback and learn from the circumstances.

Any belief system that you develop, you need to work with people and how to change people. Those are the two things that I would say. One, always surround yourself with smart people. Whenever you’re trying to impact a change, be patient, understand why people don’t agree with you or don’t believe you and see what you can change in their belief system. It is not because they don’t like you. It is not because they hate you. It is because their belief system is completely different than your belief system. Be patient to start with what their belief system is and work backward to your belief system. If you don’t do that, you will not be successful. Those are the two things that I would like to say. Be patient with people who are impatient and learn but be patient with people who do not want to change and be patient to bring them along. Those are the two things that I would say to myself.

To your second point, talking about understanding people, learning and helping them see or change their belief system. It comes down to this one line, which really stuck with me, “Don’t try to change the other person but try to change your perspective of the other person.”

That’s what I keep telling myself. Oftentimes that goes back to your mission and where they come. When you think about what your mission is, you will find a way and that is where if you want to be a change agent, to that point. The perspectives, you need to be a lot more human-centric than say, “Everybody else did it. I’m going to do it and you need to follow it.” Nobody follows at this point. You need to convince them to follow. You need to be around the people who can follow.

Where can people learn more about you? If you want to share any final words with the readers, what would that be?

I’m always on LinkedIn. If you want to learn and collaborate, I’m always learning so I can tell you what I know but I’m sure that in the conversation, I’m going to learn from you. You can always find me on LinkedIn. If you want to reach out, please reach out. A lot of what I do at my work, you’ll see on my LinkedIn page. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing from you and working with you, Vijay, as well as hearing from your audience.

Thank you so much. To all the readers, do drop me a note on LinkedIn and mention that one takeaway that you got from our conversation. Post it on LinkedIn and let me and Sree know what that is. Thank you for your time, Sree. It’s been a wonderful conversation and I’ll be always cheering for you and your team.

Thanks a lot, Vijay. I’m looking forward to working with you again. Bye.


Important Links


About Sree Chadalavada

B2B 22 | Go To Market StrategiesProduct strategy & marketing technology executive with over 20+ years of technology experience in infrastructure software and hardware technology markets. Cross-cultural experience in the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and India. Thought leadership endeavors include published Gartner Research.
-Execute product strategy, product management lifecycle, engagements for GMs, VP of Strategy and CMO
-Extensive experience working with global ISV market leaders and GMs with $1B+ product portfolios and driving top-line revenue growth by executing product strategy, product management lifecycle support and marketing strategy development and execution.
-Deep understanding of enterprise customer buyer/persona mission-critical priorities, buying behaviors and digital investment strategies; Deep specialization in AI, DevSecOps, AIOps & Edge Computing domains
-Worked extensively with clients and managed delivery teams across multiple geos – United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and India
-Office lead for San Francisco Bay Area office with ~80 associates reporting to this office

Prior to Gartner, Sree worked in various leadership roles in telecom, technology consulting and start-up-related companies. At DXC and MCI, Sree held various leadership roles focused on Product Management, Corporate Strategy and Innovation and Solutions Marketing.

Sree is currently working with 3 – 5 startups in advisory capacity in fine-tuning the product strategy to achieve product/market fit. In addition, he is an advisor and co-chair for TiE Young Entrepreneurs program focused on fostering future generations of entrepreneurs by teaching high school students and mentoring college students the rewards and challenges of becoming an entrepreneur.

Sree earned his MBA with Outstanding Academic Achievement Award in Decision Information Analysis from the Goizeuta Business School, Emory University.

Functional specialties include: Product management, Product Strategy & Execution, Business Strategy & Execution, Enterprise Customer adoption, Sales Operations

Market focus include: AI, DevSecOps, AIOps & Edge Computing domains


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B2B 6 | Lead Scoring

B2B 6 | Lead Scoring


Lead scoring is a vital element that sits at the intersection between marketing and sales. It’s something that companies need to think about from an early stage. It is a simple idea but it is often so poorly implemented that it doesn’t produce a lot of the results it is designed to produce. Breadcrumbs attempts to address the fundamental flaws of this process through a simple interface where people can design their own lead-scoring model within a matter of minutes. The company is the latest among several startups founded by Armando Biondi, the former COO of the digital marketing platform, AdEspresso. An active member of the startup ecosystem since 2009, Armando has a depth of knowledge and experience when it comes to go-to-market challenges and strategies. He articulates some of these in this conversation with Vijay Damojipurapu, where he also shares the story of AdEspresso and the recent work he and his team are doing at Breadcrumbs.

Listen to the podcast here


Breadcrumbs: Scoring Leads The Way It Should Be Done With Armando Biondi

I have with me, Armando Biondi. I’m super excited. I’ll run through the background of you and all the great startup journey that you had. Welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me.

I looked at your bio. The reason I was excited and looking forward to having you on the show is a couple of reasons. One is around the breadth and depth of experience, having done either the C-Suite roles, the founder roles or even a board member role in six or even more startups. You have the depth that is needed for the go-to-market and the breadth. The second reason is you have been, and you continue to be, an active member in the whole startup community and startup ecosystem. You are an Angel investor, so that’s a big deal. You are also a mentor and a board member. You’re not seeing the go-to-market challenges from the companies that you’re working at, but you’re seeing it across the entire startup ecosystem, maybe tens or even hundreds of startups. I’m excited about that. Let’s start off with the most obvious and the signature question for the show, which is, what is your definition of go-to-market?

The way I think about go-to-market is the all-encompassing definition. Meaning, everything that has to deal with how you bring to market a product or service or the combination of the two. There are marketing, price, and packaging element around it. There is a service or a support element around it to some degree as well like how you fulfill the promise of it, how you commit to that promise and the mechanics behind it, so there is an element to it. Those are the main categories that come to mind when I think about the go-to-market.

Double-clicking or diving in from a go-to-market perspective for an early-stage company or a product will be different from the go-to-market for a more mature product. The flavor of go-to-market for a product line versus go-to-market for a company, it’s entirely different. I’m curious about your thoughts on those.

This is already a potentially big topic meaning that if you want to summarize it relatively quickly and up to you how much time you want to spend.

We have plenty of time. No worries about that.

If I think about the go-to-market from a startup perspective or at least stage company, the reality is that the vast majority of people tend to overthink things. If you think about successful companies out there at an early stage or successful exits up to $5 million to $10 million ARR or revenue if you’re thinking about the SaaS world, the idea is that most of those companies need to nail one go-to-market strategy/back. They don’t need too many on top of that. If you accept that thought, one of the things that you see over and over again is founders being constantly in search mode.

Not realizing per se that they stumbled upon something that is working so continuing to look for other things without doubling down on the stuff that’s working now and that can continue to work up to a certain point. These can come in flavors. It can come through an inbound, content, outbound or paid even for the B2C company that we’re talking about. The reality is that most of the budget and funding that any B2C company would raise through pay. You have to nail one go-to-market strategy to be successful or even lead to many more.

Being your first customer helps a lot because you gain a lot of insights into what's working, what's not, and what people like you need. Click To Tweet

That will progressively change as the company matures and grows because at some point if there is one thing, which is always true about go-to-market strategies, is that there is a ceiling. They start to work less effectively or not as well as they were before. You exhaust that potential and you need to look for additional sources of growth. That is when you start expanding into multiple go-to-market strategies that you keep executing on in parallel and you have working in concert with each other and to drive growth.

Usually, what happens as well is that companies tend to move from high-performing, highly measurable type of tactics/strategies. If we’re talking about advertising DR, direct response-type of motion and as they evolve and they start topping out that channel, they start migrating towards the less performing and less DR type of channels. It’s more brand-related and intangible and then layer all the different strategies on top of each other. That’s very common when you’re thinking about these types of companies in motion.

That’s a good summary. That’s the last topic. We can pick and do an entire episode on that one question, but we have a lot of ground to cover over here. Switching gears a bit, I did a quick research and looked at your profile in how you grew up the ranks. You started out as an employee first and then went up to the VP of the C-Suite level and then somewhere along the way, the whole startup bug caught you. You’re done Pick1 and then the Batch 5 & 7 then, of course, AdEspresso, but now we’re talking about big names. AdEspresso got acquired by Hootsuite and then now you’re at MailUp. I’ll also let you share the new thing that you have on your mind. Walk me and the audience on how you grew from the ranks of “employee” to switching on going into the inside.

That realization is that I generally have always been a very bad employee. I’m not an employable person. The reason for that is I tend to get excited about hard stuff or hard things. I constantly challenge myself. As a consequence, I tend to ask a lot of the people around me as well. I am the most excited when I can participate in the upside of the value that I’m contributing and creating. The reality is that the employee world is not built for that. What you’re trading off when being an employee or when you’re making the decision, consciously or unconsciously, is creating security for the upside.

When you’re an employee, you have a series of guarantees, stability, paycheck, benefits and all that good stuff. To some degree, that takes away a little bit of the upside that you can get. You’re accepting that the upside is going to be captured by your employer. When I started realizing those things inside my head, I said, “It’s time to try this entrepreneurial thing.” I started my first company which was Pick1. I started my second one, which was social market research for enterprise companies based on Facebook. Based on that experience, they don’t go super far. We ended up selling that. It was a good outcome. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s great learning. As a consequence of that, I started AdEspresso realizing that Facebook cared more about the advertising side as opposed to the research side and was willing to produce data, but not keep data away.

AdEspresso is essentially Facebook advertising and split testing for medium businesses as medium enterprises. At the time, Facebook split testing wasn’t the thing. They ended up taking “inspiration” from many of the ideas that we had implemented in the product. As a company, we ended up growing very aggressively in three years from 0 to 50 people for about $6 million in ARR and about $300 million in Facebook advertising budget process through the platform on a yearly basis.

AdEspresso is one of the top five ad tech partners for Facebook globally and the number one by a number of advertisers because every ad partner was focusing on a small number of big advertisers while we were doing the opposite number of small ones. That led us to the relationship with Hootsuite and we ended up selling it to Hootsuite, which was an acquisition that made a lot of sense back in the days because social media management solutions out there on one side were the biggest mid-market, Facebook advertising partner on the other side. Through that experience and then stayed on with Hootsuite as a global head of growth operations, overseeing ads products within the portfolio as well as the ads that we showed up growing about 3X since then.

There are a couple of realizations. One, the laws for speed and growth to the obsession of not only growth but also efficient growth. You can spend a lot of money to buy a lot of growth, but that only lasts up to a certain point. Only a number of companies can do that because it’s a functional market that you have available. One of the things that are very interesting about the times we live in is that we live in a world where we have the biggest markets available in terms of the number of customers and companies in those. We live in a world with the biggest markets ever and the most accessible ever because everyone has a smartphone in their pocket and a credit card attached to that. It’s a lot of new dynamics that are different compared to many years ago where getting in front of customers was a very expensive endeavor. Nowadays, not so much anymore. That unlocks a whole city’s off new dynamics and behaviors, which are very interesting to observe.

B2B 6 | Lead Scoring
Lead Scoring: Go-to-market strategies have a ceiling. Eventually, they start to work less effectively than they did before.


You mentioned about AdEspresso when you started it. There was a Facebook audience and Facebook usage taking off on a daily basis. On the other side of the Facebook platform, you have the advertisers and into the edge, Facebook was investing a whole lot because, at some point in time, they need to monetize. How did you run to the idea of creating this platform for advertisers and what were the steps you took to test and get traction with the initial set of advertisers? After you land 5, 10, 15, 20, you see a blueprint laying out but learning was 5 to 10 is a key.

It’s a combination of two things. On one side, AdEspresso was born out of a need that we have as a concept. We were the first customer of the product to some degree and we are very clear. My cofounder, Massimo, had an agency back in the days when he was building products for bigger organizations on one side, on the other managing small Facebook advertising budgets on it. That’s one insight. Being the first customer always helps a lot because you have a lot of expertise, knowledge, as well as insights into what’s working, what’s not working and what the need of other people like you. The other piece of insight is tied to the realization that because Facebook back in the days was this new and upcoming ad channel that was trying to compete with Google.

They had stolen Sheryl Sandberg from Google to go and replicate the Google Ad infrastructure inside Facebook. The special insight that we had was realizing that there was a mid-market study that other companies were not necessarily paying attention to. If you looked at the Google history, you could clearly see that they started from enterprise big brand type of spenders and then bought down-market to the mid-market, and then smaller guy type of them. You can imagine that Facebook would follow a similar path. If you cared more or were particularly intrigued and interested in that mid-market space if you squinted, you could see that these people or this new wave of advertisers would be having money to spend but not much knowledge in how to do it. There was the opportunity in enabling them to tell that story through content, which is what we did and how we ended up winning the market and being a big household name when it comes to Facebook advertising.

Having that key insight was very smart of you. You say your cofounder, Massimo, who had that insight into, “As our customers, we are running into the same challenge that other advertising partners and customers would have.” The takeaway for me from all of this is where the big company like Facebook and Google are going after the bigger brands and the bigger budgets but then there’s a runway of, which is exactly what you tapped into, “No one is addressing the mid-market or even the SMBs or how do you tap into that pocket.” It’s a great learning experience for me as firsthand from all the experiences or insights that you have there. Switching gears over here. You did touch upon this, Armando, which is if you have to say the 2 to 3 paradigms into your common thread across the startups that you have gravitated towards from an investor or even startup that you founded. What are the common threads, if you will?

In terms of things that are different/have changed.

If you give an example of what you mentioned about AdEspresso.

There are a bunch of things that are significantly different. In particular, when it comes to go-to-market, the most fascinating thing that I observed over and over again is that if you think about now versus 10 to 15 years ago, it’s interesting because we tend not to think about it, but the internet is more than 25 years old, which is nothing if you think about it. We are the last generation that is going to remember a time before the internet. You think about the new generation, it’s like, “They thought it was there already. It was already a thing.” There was no ICQ or like that weird stuff. If you think about that and years ago, there was a significantly smaller number of people online.

An order of magnitude. If not, almost two. It was significantly more expensive to reach those people and was inefficient in building a business relationship that would lead to the transaction. Those are all things that are fundamentally different days compared to then. There is an order of magnitude and more people online that it’s significantly more efficient and faster to be able to establish that relationship with them and to turn that into business or relationship to get to the point where you execute the transaction. It costs almost nothing. It’s not nothing but comparably, it’s cheaper, faster and efficient to be relevant. I thought whenever there is an order of magnitude more of simplicity, there is also another magnitude more of competition.

It’s easier but also more crowded. It’s easier to reach them out, but how it stands out. It’s a different game in that sense because it’s not about being efficient as possible in reaching those customers out. It’s how do you stand out compared to everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing and reaching them out with the same level of efficiency. It comes down to that content adamant that I was mentioning before like, “What’s your story? What’s your brand? What’s your unfair advantage in terms of better perception or telling the story that’s closer to the segment or the cohort or the vertical of customers you’re trying to attract?” In that sense, going back to the other element around markets being the biggest ever, one of the things that are very interesting to me is that years ago, you will have niches of verticals of needs and problems that would be very small because many people are having those problems.

Brand has power. It talks about the story and the story is everything to people. Click To Tweet

Now, those issues are tens, if not hundreds of millions of people or companies. You see these companies that are very super niche, very specific, and deep in how they define themselves and speak to an Ideal Customer Profile, an ICP. How they define that, they are specific in that as well. Because those niches are as big as ever, they end up being companies that are $10 million, $15 million, $20 million, $25 million, $30 million, $50 million companies a year. That is the single most fascinating thing that I can think of when it comes to go-to-market. The companies that end up winning now are better at this new game of standing out and how you do that in this new playground where everyone can be efficient as everyone else is a new compelling problem to address.

You have few thoughts and few comments over there but starting off on a lighter note, you mentioned something very relevant. By the way, we are disclosing our ages over here which I have no qualms around is we are the last generation and after our generation, everyone we’re born with the internet. On that, I took my kid to one of the safest local cities over here. He went and looked at one of the vending machines. By default, he was touching the screen and expecting that screen to be a touch screen. I thought that was funny and that’s something the audience would love. A couple of points, you mentioned about companies that are vertical and niche-focused and that itself is a very large space.

I’m sure there are several but one of the names that come to my mind is Veeva. The CRM for the healthcare industry. You’ve got big elephant or their Salesforce. When you talk about CRM, it’s Salesforce, but then you got the other players who are also making it big, which is Veeva and Surado. Your point is well-taken and well-noted which is you can pick a niche or niches depending on which part of the geography you’re from and you can create a big play for yourself because that’s a big market. Another example that comes to my mind and I was at the startup earlier in my career before I started my company. I was at Greenbits. Bits are essentially doing point of sale and compliance software for the legal cannabis industry.

It does a huge and growing market. You talked about point of sale, you’ve got Square and several others, but then you focus on the cannabis industry, you’ve got all these big players. Small players but aiming to be big. One other point that caught my attention in your narrative is the emphasis that you invest a lot in the story and the brand from the very early days of your startup. Not many founders do that. That’s a flaw in my mind.

We live in a world that’s extremely DR-oriented. You can measure anything and everything. It’s a very analytical and direct response. You put $1, you want to get $1.2 out. That’s good. The fact that you can do that is mind-blowing. If you think about it, it was never the case before. That as a consequence, thus take away a little bit of attention from this idea of a brand and brands have power. Brands talk about affinity and stories are everything to people. You use brands up there like Nike, Apple and Disney, there’s nothing more powerful than that.

This is where you are having that go-to-market DNA within yourself, that’s given you an unfair advantage compared to other founders who typically come from a very technical background. They don’t think about brand and storytelling from day one. Hats off to you and your team for investing in that from day one. That’s a good segue into what you’re doing with your latest startup. Do you want to share some story and background around that as well as how you’re investing in the brand? I looked at your website, it’s amazing. I can imagine those visuals and associate them with your company. I let you share those details with our audience.

The name of the company is Breadcrumbs. It’s a simple idea. We talked about this idea of efficiency and efficiency growth. The idea of marketing being a core of every company is a growth engine. The reality is that’s necessary but that’s not enough particularly in a world where you can attract a lot of attention. At some point, the vast majority of the companies that can do a good enough job will attract some attention. One of the elements that are always forgotten or thought about too late, or not truly understood. As a consequence, you dump a lot of resources and a lot of time to get an okay result if not crappy result is this idea of the scoring and fortification or how an MQL or Marketing Qualified Lead, becomes a high performing SQL or Sales Qualified Lead.

If you think about this element of the intersection between marketing and sales as functions within organizations, it speaks about lead scoring. The way this happens from a mechanical perspective is lead scoring. Lead scoring is an unsatisfying concept. It’s a simple idea but poorly implemented. You get a lead, you score this lead, you assign a body to this lead based on a series of criteria like how big is the company, how much revenue and funding, how many customers, geography and which industry. You then pass it over to your CRM and you put in the date. Every operator knows that following up on promising lead tomorrow versus three weeks from now is fundamentally different. The time element, there is a decay of that value. There is a shelf life that’s not yet accounted for in this system.

B2B 6 | Lead Scoring
Lead Scoring: In this environment where everyone can be as efficient as everyone else in reaching the market, the companies that end up winning are the ones who are better at standing out.


What we believe is that it should be a more sophisticated way of thinking, talking, measuring and acting on these leads more programmatically at scale, more dynamically including this time element. Not only the time element, but there is also conversation around lead scoring being most of the time a BlackBox. No one ever in the history of the human species ever trusted the BlackBox. It’s your company, you want to know what is going on. You want to see what’s inside. That’s another fundamental flaw of how lead scoring has been thought off so far. What we are doing with Breadcrumbs is we want to give people more freedom and a simple easy-to-use interface to create and design their own lead scoring model in minutes instead of weeks of work. It’s not only faster but it’s also better because it does take into account that timeliness element that no one has considered. That’s the idea around it. We’re building a product. Hopefully, it’s going to be useful for other people out there.

I personally have seen having run marketing teams in different companies earlier. I’ve seen initially early on, there’s no lead scoring. There’s this constant fight between marketing and sales. The quality of leads you pass, you are just meeting a quota, but I’m not meeting my sales quota. That constant tussle is there. If you go to the next level, which is, “Now we start assigning a score to each lead, it’s more of a personal opinion and bias versus taking the data out there.”

The relationship between marketing and sales is flawed all the way through from the very early stage to the very later stage. If you think about it at the core, that type of antagonism is due to the fact that marketing measures in a very quantitative way. How many leads are you getting on a monthly basis and sales measures leads in a very qualitative way? How many of them are closing and how fast? There’s a fundamental disconnect between those two things. There is a need for something that translates one language into the other from your marketing stack to your sales stack or from your marketing teams to your sales team.

There is more general awareness and acknowledgment that’s happening. At least, I’m seeing based on the marketing and sales leaders I’m speaking with which they do realize the friction and they’re consciously looking to address that now. If I hear or speak with any of the VP marketing or even the CMOs, back in the days, it was the top KPIs or MQL are traffic coming in. Now, there’s a lot of awareness and alignment on, “That’s good to have metric but the real metric is how many leads am I giving for the sales to close this quarter or this year or the next quarter?” There’s that element which is marketing celebrating that they hit their MQL quota versus marketing is celebrating their sales hits, their number for the quarter. That shift is happening now. I’m seeing that.

Everything is crazy if you think about it. We can talk about this however you want. Now, information is still very siloed. If someone visits the pricing page of your website five times, we don’t know about that. If someone starts and is very engaged with the product, someone else from the same company signs up for a trial, and someone else visited your pricing page, you want to know about that. There’s traffic around not only timeliness but also frequency, recency and the costing of that activity in time. There are activities happening very close to each other disproportionality amplifies value. That also is not captured or represented in any way.

People talk about intent to purchase and all of these are key attributes. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of technology out there to build and incur with that intent. The aspect that you are mentioning, I’m eager to see how it takes off. I’m cheering for you guys. This is a core problem in the go-to-market space and I’m looking forward to the success story of that.

It’s mind-blowing to me thinking about this. One of the reasons why we started Breadcrumbs in the first place is that even the most sophisticated people, the ones that do it like it should be done, spend six months and several hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement iteration one. Because it’s so time-consuming and energy-intensive, they never touch it again. Meanwhile, their social organization or their marketing organization changes. Their strategic priorities as a company and pricing structure change. The idea of having something that’s significantly more flexible and not only you can implement it in minutes instead of weeks, but you can iterate on it as quickly.

It’s extremely powerful. The most sophisticated people not only have one lead scoring model, but they have multiple ones. They have one for acquisition, attention, upselling or sale. Not only they have one for each and every one of these things, but they test multiple models in parallel to see which one performs the best based on which assumption. The more you can enable that, the more you can enable companies to be successful in accelerating their growth trajectory because if you can identify programmatically higher-value opportunities for you as a company and boost them up to the sales team, everyone’s going to benefit from that.

Based on what you’re saying here, there’s some sense of a machine learning aspect that’s going on. The machine has to do the job which people are either not capable of doing or it’s time-consuming that they ignore to do that.

The most sophisticated operators think about growth as something that can be designed through a combination of strategy and tactics. Click To Tweet

I saw a counter-intuitive thought there. If you talk with a lot of people in the industry, they will speak about ML for a long time and they will use this in their pitch as well. We think that machine learning is valuable. We also think it shouldn’t be the whole story, meaning that what machine learning can do is essentially digest a whole lot of data and find others there and surface things that will be hard to see or hard to compute otherwise. That’s by and large. What that doesn’t include in the conversation is what about the strategic direction that the company wants to go after for the next 6 to 18 months. Even if you are an enterprise company or your customers have been $50,000 ACB but either shape wants to go downmarket. Optimizing for and prioritizing $25,000 to $15,000 ACB, machine learning is not going to know that. How do you balance those two things out?

Data model and data modeling is a vast topic in itself. At some point in time, I would love to get a data scientist to talk about the impact in the go-to-market but that’s a topic for a different conversation though. I’m sure you’re spending a lot of time there but in the next 6, 12, 18 months, what do you see are the key go-to-market challenges are broadly the challenges for Breadcrumbs.io?

For us specifically, but you can generalize this to every company. Going back to the two things that I mentioned. On one side, how do you stand out in a world where everyone can reach anyone very effectively and how do you do it better. It’s a very interesting question. We can talk about tactics there.

The story, brand, colors, and visuals that you have on the website is pretty cool. It’s one part you need to scale it out and see everything.

I appreciate that. I love it. The other thing is how do you tie things back to growth? You can do a great job at all levels and then struggle anyway to generate revenue and/or to grow. One of the fundamental ideas that I’ve been thinking about for a lot and partially led to this Breadcrumbs initiative or, in general, it’s a very powerful idea is engineering growth. Meaning when the word engineering usually refers to technology and product, how you build stuff and that’s usually coding. If I think back to AdEspresso experience or the companies I’ve been involved with, what I see is the most sophisticated operators. Thinking about growth in terms of some things that you can design and the way you do that is a combination of strategy and tactic. Tactic for the short-term and strategy for the long-term.

You always have these three timeframes in front and center, short-term stuff, mid-term stuff and long-term stuff. If you think back to the most successful companies out there like Facebook, Google, Uber or Slack, you look at their growth trajectories, you notice, most of the time, inflection points. It’s breaking points where they were going in one direction and at some point, they tipped up and afterward, they’re going in another direction. What happens there? That was sometimes happen by chance. Other times, it was intentional. It was researched and experimented on for a while and implemented the right way or they had been implementing this for six months and waited for the right moment to deploy that. If there was something that was interesting to you at some point, but I think the most sophisticated operators or go-to-market growth revenue people out there, they most of the time, think about growth in this sense.

They’re the usual set of tactics, milestones and goals that you need to hit when you are in a very early-stage company. That’s a playbook that you’ve done over and over. That’s the least of the challenges for you and the team and then there’s the market aspect. You can control the market only so much. There’s not much but you are investing in the story, the brand and your milestones that you want to hit over the next 6, 12, 18 months. It’s a good initiative there. If you were to look at and share some of your investment areas if you were to hire 2 or 3 hires in the next 6 to 12 months, who would they be and why?

We’ve been covering the bases. Strengthening the engineering team, marketing, sales and support. Now, we are looking at the sales function. That would be the structure for and at this point with the company, we are about fifteen people involved. With that specific addition, we are going to have our base covered. For the next 3 to 6 months, it’s going to be a function of growth and market validation. Engineering, product and design would be a topic. You can never get enough of those. One thing in operations, we didn’t strengthen too much operations just yet. It’s going to be a topic very soon.

If you are to extrapolate, you’re going to invest in the product side, engineering side, sales of course, and the revenue. In Breadcrumbs.io, who is your target market for the next 6 to 12 months? Is it the small, medium size, similar to what you did with AdEspresso? Is it the enterprises or a mix and why?

B2B 6 | Lead Scoring
Lead Scoring: There is a need of something that translates one language into the other from your marketing stack to your sales stack.


It’s mid-markets. One of the other thing behind Breadcrumbs is people or companies think about lead scoring too late in the game, they should start earlier. We want to start early with them and grow with them. We want to help them grow and we want something that’s easy to set up and implement at first. It grows in sophistication as the complexity and maturity of the company grow as well. It was more of that growth, but we do want to start simple, easy early. In that sense, the companies we are optimizing or focusing on for now are generating $1 million to $5 million or $2 million to $10 million types of annual revenue. They have a marketing engine that works that’s generating a few hundred leads per month or more. They have a system motion, so they have an initial sales spot off and a couple of people that they hire. It’s the initial adversarial relationship, marketing and sales and things that are not picking up yet.

At least, from a hypothesis point of view and even from a validation point of view, that’s a good sweet spot to start off. That’s where the most pain is felt initially. Coming back to my Greenbits days where I was the head of marketing there, I see that we were in the single-digit like the $4 million or $5 million range, and that’s where the whole marketing and sales friction as the CEO and the CROs say, “Get me the leads.”

That’s the sweet spot when this topic becomes when we get paid.

We are heading towards the closing. I know you need to get back to other more important things for Breadcrumbs.io. One final question for you is if you were to do a shout out to 2 to 3 professionals or peers in the industry who are doing go-to-market very well, who would you look up to for inspiration, advice or brainstorming?

The company that I very much admire, which is HubSpot. They’re doing an extremely good job at go-to-market. They have been for a long time now.

Can you speak names there?

No, but they are doing a great job. For younger companies, no specific name comes to mind. The golden standard for me is absolute when it comes to go-to-market both because they have a lot of the elements that do contribute to a healthy growth trajectory. You can see that in their revenue. They have an inbound first. Atlassian is another one. They have an inbound first type of go-to-market like a bottom-up. You should list up very cheap and they end up being very expensive. They have a cross-sell, upsell type of mechanics that they built in the product. They not only have self-service of great paths but also commercial enterprise ones. It’s the most sophisticated go-to-market that I can think of right now.

I can see where your inspiration for your go-to-market is coming from. It’s the bottom-up approach. It’s clearly there. It’s a wonderful conversation, Armando. Thank you for your time and good luck to the Breadcrumbs team and to you as well. I’m looking forward and I’ll be sharing from the side.

Thank you so much and best of luck to you too.



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About Armando Biondi

B2B 6 | Lead ScoringAs part of Hootsuite’s Senior Leadership, he oversees all things Ads from a GTM/strategy perspective. He also oversees all things Inbound on a series of properties generating more than 2M unique visits monthly, as well as other high-potential special projects.

-Co-founder @BreadcrumbsIO (previously Co-founder & COO @AdEspresso, acquired by @Hootsuite). Angel investor in 150+ startups. Board Member @MailUpGroup.

He also served as a Mentor/Advisor for more than 15 startups and currently serves as an Independent Board Member. He likes to pay forward and have fun doing some angel investing (75+ startups so far). He love to learn new things, he accepts to suck until he becomes good, and doesn’t stop until I’m awesome.


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