B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting

 

The biggest skill you need to learn when entering the market is sales forecasting. Knowing and hitting your numbers is an important ability to possess, especially as a sales leader. You need to have the right methodologies and processes in place to achieve the highest levels of market success. This is where the company Clari excels at. They help go-to-market orgs overhaul and run their ultimate revenue processes.

 

Join Vijay Damojipurapu as he talks to the SVP – Global Head of Sales at Clari, Holly Procter. Learn more about her career journey before she got into this company and what she is doing now to support go-to-market orgs across the country.

Listen to the podcast here


 

Sales Forecasting As A Go-To-Market Org With Holly Procter

In this episode, I have with me Holly Procter, who is the SVP and Global Sales Leader at Clari. For those who have been avid readers of the show, this is the 2nd or even 3rd speaker from Clari. Again, no affiliation or anything. It happens somehow by luck, faith or whatever you call it. We do have a series of speakers coming in from Clari but all in all, you will be in for a treat. Welcome to the show, Holly.

Thank you so much for having me. We appreciate your bias for Clarians. I will try to do my best even though you’ve had some good nuggets from other Clarians too.

As with every guest, I start my show with the key question that’s top of mind for all the readers, which is, how do you define go-to-market?

When everyone thinks about go-to-market, they start with the basics of how you sell your product. You sell your product through generally a handful of channels. That would be inclusive of both partners and also your direct sales team. Over the years, we’ve certainly expanded our view of go-to-market to include pretty much anyone that might touch revenue.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: Go-to-market is not just how to sell a product. It’s anyone that might touch revenue. It includes everyone from your revenue development teams to your content teams.

 

At Clari, I think about our go-to-market teams in our tip of the spear, what we call revenue development, which is our SDR function. Even before you get to RevDev, we think about the funnel. You are thinking about all marketers. You are thinking about content teams and people that might engage with your audience, even if that audience is not an active prospect or customer success. We have a deep sales engineering team and even post-sales, so people are responsible for implementation services. Anyone that touches revenue, which is any pre-customer and post-customer experience, we define as part of our core go-to-market team.

That’s more expansive than what I’ve heard from others. Not from my show guest specifically but from others in the industry. Again, you can clearly make out the provision that they like by asking this question. What I’ve seen is that folks who are in sales think go-to-market is sales and nothing else. Folks who are in marketing, and especially those who are in product marketing, think they own go-to-market but lo and behold, sorry, you are in for a rude shock. You clearly don’t own product marketing. Customer success, I’ve seen off late the connotation shifting to include customer success, which is good. One gap that I saw in your definition or your perspective, Holly, is how come you left out the product.

It’s a great point. I love our product leaders. If they are reading, I hope that they will take my apology. The product is massive. What I would say, and part of the reason why I didn’t include them, is that we probably haven’t yet figured out how to crack the code on incorporating them as a close loop in our process and how they play a role in touching the customer experience outside of building a great product but no question. That informs everything we do. I will give you an active example.

We are now going through planning for 2023, as most companies are. A big part of our planning process is figuring out what product features we are going to announce and launch in 2023. That will deeply inform how much and how many accounts I can assign based on what new open accounts we might unlock in line with the product roadmap functionality. It’s such a core part of the way that we build the business and product go-to-market.

That’s the thought process. That’s what I’m seeing. That’s a shift happening in the industry, which is product also becoming a core part of the go-to-market. Even within the product or outside of the product, there is a design that has a big impact on user experience that translates to the sales and how quickly you can go close and customer acquisition costs, and so on.

Anyway, enough rant on the go-to-market piece. I would love to hear your story. What has been your journey? I’ve looked at your LinkedIn profile. You had a very blessed career and a very interesting career path. You started off as an employee at the university you graduated from, then now you are the Global Sales Leader at Clari. Walk us and our readers through that journey.

I’m from Nebraska, originally. I got both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Nebraska and then decided to work for the university under the guides that we had an asset that was a facility. We were trying to figure out how to monetize this facility. It was this huge rec facility, and we were trying to figure out if there was a path to monetizing both access to the asset and the building. Also, what else did we have?

We had access to a population of people, and that population of people was a student body that made purchasing decisions on a regular. We created this event called Get REC. It was called Get REC because it was held at the Rec Center and basically allowed every business in the town to come in and put up a booth that wanted to sell to college students.

They ended up paying us several thousand dollars to come in and do that. Figuring out a healthy way to monetize our assets and get additional funding for the university was awesome. A great first job, and then I moved to San Francisco. I was tech robust and eager to move West. My first job in San Francisco was at Gallup, the Gallup World Poll. The thing that I was so excited about with Gallup, I don’t know if you follow any of their research but they are an academic company. It’s stewards of research.

A big part of what Gallup does is sell both employee engagement research and customer engagement research. I fell in love with the company for many reasons. One of the big things that they talk about with their leadership development is that the employees join companies and leave managers. It was this big, huge part of the thing we were consulting around. It was where I grew fond of leadership, education and development, the process of being a student, and becoming a great leader. I got some deep education on how to be a good boss. This was before I became a boss. I then was eager to go into tech, so I joined LinkedIn.

At Gallup, you were leading what BizDev or was its sales?

It was biz, and I was a seller. Our motto was fewer larger relationships. At the time, McKesson was one of my biggest customers. I’m spending a lot of time with them on leadership development and employee engagement. Incredible experience in consulting because you get to go wide. Not necessarily deep. Lots of exposure to different business processes across tons of different business types and unique companies. It was an incredible experience there over years. Living in San Francisco and not in tech, which felt like a misnomer, so I decided to move to LinkedIn. I started with LinkedIn right before we went public, and then I left LinkedIn, and we were owned by Microsoft.

A lot of things happened over that six-year window. My role inside LinkedIn changed almost every year. I led pretty much every customer segment, so from our smallest customer all the way up to our largest key accounts and in a couple of different lines of business. Both our talent solutions business and the sales navigator product when we launched that product, which is now over a billion in revenue.

It was incredible to be able to build something from the ground up based on an amazing asset, which is the LinkedIn network. I learned a million things from LinkedIn but one of the things that fueled the next phase of my career was selling into sales leadership, which is what a selling sales navigator did. As go-to-market professionals, there’s something meta about selling to sales leaders. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As go-to-market professionals, there's something sort of meta about selling to sales leaders. Click To Tweet

I get to talk to my peers all the time. It’s probably how you feel getting to talk to other experts. I learned from my customers regularly, which is incredible. I fell in love with sales leadership. Not just being a sales leader but working with sales leaders at LinkedIn. As I mentioned, I led all different customer types and in a couple of different lines of business. I felt like I had deep exposure to lots of different parts of go-to-market orgs.

The other thing I will say about LinkedIn, outside of it being a phenomenal company, is that it demonstrated to me how it should be done, how a business should be run, how to take care of your people, how to build a sustainable business, how to build a moat around your product and how to inspire a huge audience of a global talent pool. Best in class across many vectors that matter when building a sustainable business, so forever grateful for my time at LinkedIn.

I took all those learnings, decided to gamble a little bit of in the startup world, and went to WeWork, where we could spend the entire episode on that. Maybe we should grab a beer to do that. It was quite the run. I spent a few years at WeWork leading up to our at Ben failed IPO attempt and just wild run. I was running our mid-market business across the US and hired over 70 people.

My last job was to eliminate them all. It was a wild experience but if LinkedIn taught me how to lead in peacetime, WeWork taught me how to lead in more time and a major benefit to both. I learned a lot and worked with some incredible people at WeWork. I was there in the Adam Neumann era but I would say one of the things that I learned the most about WeWork was how to pressure test growth and ask yourself the question if something could be done faster, bigger or at a lower expense.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: Learn how to pressure test growth. Always ask yourself whether or not something can be done faster or bigger. If you can accomplish a task in six weeks, challenge yourself to do it in two days.

 

Challenging the status quo of, “If we can do that in six weeks, what would it take to do in two days?” It’s asking the question of pushing the boundaries of what you think is possible. Whenever I got a question from WeWork that was like, “I need you to do X, Y, and Z.” I always thought it was insane. Most of the time, we delivered.

There was something to that, which is that if you can apply enough pressure and enough resourcing, what you are able to accomplish is pretty incredible. I learned a lot there too. The next up on the rung for me was that I was eager to get back into the software. I was eager to get back into the ecosystem. I mentioned selling into sales leadership and so moved to Clari. Clari was, at the time, mostly an enterprise product. They were overhauling forecasting. It was their bread and butter.

Over the last few years, it has been incredible to be a part of a team that I deeply admire and respect. Our leadership team is phenomenal, led by Kevin Knieriem and Andy Byrne, which is so strong. Working in a space that has blown up when you think about revenue and sales tech is exploded, which is awesome to be a part of for lots of reasons.

First and foremost, as a seller, our function is last to evolve. Almost every other function had innovated and supplied its employee base with new technology to become more efficient and smarter in their work, except for sellers. We are finally getting our moment. Our moment is here, and we’ve invested, and you are seeing a huge amount of not just venture capital but excitement from investors.

A seller's first and foremost function is to last and evolve. Click To Tweet

Analysts are all over the space. It’s blowing up. If you look at sales tech similarly to the way that you looked at MarTech of the 2000s, it is hopefully going to follow a similar thread, which is lots of investment, tons of companies, and ultimately consolidation. It will be interesting to follow the space over the next ten years or so to see what happens.

Clair has expanded from being a forecasting platform that could help people overhaul a process to going into tons of different workflows. How do a company and a go-to-market org run their ultimate revenue process? How do you inform a rep to a manager one-on-one? How do you inspect opportunities? How do you spot risk? How do you ensure that your pipeline has enough coverage? Ultimately, how does a CRO define to the board and the leadership team if they are going to meet, miss or beat their number? It’s a very exciting time for us to be a part of.

Two things stood out for me. One thing you talk about is being meta, going back to LinkedIn, and selling to sellers. It reminds me of my time at SugarCRM, where we are selling to sellers and marketers. We need to be great at doing marketing and selling. That was a big eye-opening experience for me. You are preaching but are you doing the right things where you can lead by example?

I always say to my sales team, “We are demonstrating a sales process to the sensei, to the people.” Their inspection of our sales process, you can imagine, is going to be diligent. The way we show up in these moments is so critical. I would say that one of the things that are so incredible for me as a sales leader is the number of outreaches that I get from a head of sales or CRO complementing my sales team and asking if they can hire them. It is the best compliment because I know they are a tough critic.

There’s something that I want to pick your brains about clearly, you are an expert. You have been in sales, from a sales rep to leading a sales team, to now you are technically a business leader representing sales at the board level. How did you master or how are you continuing to master forecasting and prediction? That’s the biggest skill to learn.

From my personal experience, I have been at startups and worked with sales leaders. More recently, when talking about forecasting and missing the forecasting, here is a big miss where we forecasted $800,000 in a quarter, and eventually, sales closed at $30,000. I don’t want to go in there but clearly forecasting and being able to hit the number is a huge skill. What advice would you give to our readers on that?

It’s massive, especially as you move into sales leadership. As a sales rep, you are generally responsible for calling a number but very few orgs hold a rep accountable for their accuracy around that number. Part of that is because they don’t have a lot of diversification. If they miss one deal, it could throw their number off by several hundred percent, and that’s tough. Not a lot of accountability at the rep level. A little bit more so once you move into frontline leadership.

Naturally, when you get into executive leadership and sales leadership at the highest levels, the forecast is the thing that you are expected to get right. It’s table stakes to be effective in the role. If you don’t have a good methodology for how you get there and you have to put a good process in place, you are screwed. When you go into a board meeting, you are going to get eaten alive, and you need to be able to defend your call.

All that to say that there’s so much that is unpredictable in our environment that there’s no amount of machine learning, AI or fancy software that’s going to call COVID or the current downturn. Even the rise of PLG businesses is much harder to forecast in that environment because you are responding to market factors that you may or may not be able to predict. Velocity is all over the place. To get to the root of your question, there’s a handful of things that are core to getting this right. I’m going to walk through some very specific examples here, so forgive the granularity.

That will be the most useful for our readers, for sure.

One of the first things that you have to get right to get a good and predictable forecast process is sales stages and forecast categories. The terminology that you use inside of your sales org to call the way a deal is represented is critical to getting the overall process right. What that means is that you need defined stage criteria. This is what must be present inside of your deal for this to be considered a stage 2 or 3 deal however you have laid out your stages. Most companies have 4 or 5.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: The terminology you use inside of sales org to call how a deal is represented is critical to getting the overall process right. You need defined stage criteria inside your deals.

 

Within those stages, from qualifying to pricing and negotiations, however, that is enabled for you that it is crystal clear to a rep and impossible to argue when something has moved into or out of a stage. For example, in my world, we might say, “To move to stage three, we have to have been named vendor of choice.” This means we have to have gotten from the customer, the prospect, an indication that we are the partner that they want to partner with.

We might still need to get through security. We might still have an outstanding MSA but they have said, “We would like to move forward with Clari,” and now we know we have to move towards our paper process in getting a deal done but we have been named vendor of choice. That is a requirement to move into stage three. The requirements associated with stages and forecast categories are critical, and ensure that you’ve defined them. All of your leaders are managing to it is so important.

Now when you look across every single deal, you know that you are looking at the same set of requirements. You don’t have one deal that’s being represented differently than another deal with a different set of requirements. It’s foundational to getting a forecasting process in place. Second, there is no silver bullet inside the forecast. Therefore, you need to have a set of data that you can triangulate against.

For me, what that is, first, I have a rep roll-up. The rep roll-up is inclusive of all of the outstanding inventory. A lot of companies will do a bottoms-up view, which is deal by deal. They will say, “This deal is either in or out, or this deal has X amount of probability.” You have this bottoms-up view to informing one point of your triangulation process.

The next is you have a manager override or a manager commit. You have your leaders pressure test the rep-level forecast to see where they would agree or disagree based on how they might be called a deal. For me, the third layer is using AI. Specifically, inside a Clari, there’s a module called Pulse. Pulse is looking at historical data, and it’s making a prediction on how that quarter or a next quarter might shake out, looking at conversion rates and the amount of pipeline that we have to see how we might land. That means every single time I’m calling a number, every week, I’m triangulating between what the actual inventory says at the rep level, how my leadership team thinks we are going to shake out and what the machine says. Between those three, I’m landing somewhere in the range.

The first point you made is supercritical, which is my takeaway from that is defining very clear entry and exit criteria for each stage, where there’s no argument. There’s no ambiguity. Seller A can argue, “This is how I see it,” versus seller B will see it completely differently.

It’s black and white.

You use Clari, obviously in-house, and shout out to Clari. For those of you who are reading, if you are curious, check out Clari. Going back, if you have to go back in time and pick either a GTM success or a failure story, can you share one from your most recent time? That will be a great eye-opener for us.

I’ve got lots of both. Do you want me to share one of each?

Yes, absolutely.

There’s obviously recency bias here but I will share a failure. I will use one at Clari, which is we initially set up our go-to-market org to be geo-specific. We were going to have these little hubs. The hubs would be like if you owned Minneapolis, you were the CEO of Minneapolis Clari. Your job was to map out all the businesses that resided in Minneapolis, to get in with the Chamber of Commerce, to set up local events, and to create a community across companies that might sit in Minneapolis. You owned that geo. That’s how we structured it. This is pre-COVID.

You moved to a world where geo is almost completely irrelevant. I remember the moment when I knew this was a failure. I had an incredible rep who I very well love and still with us, who sold our first logo in Toronto. He said, “I planted a flag in Toronto, and it happened to be a relatively small deal.” You love getting a deal. A deal is a deal. I will never not celebrate a win but the win was that we landed in Toronto.

I was like, “This is one of our best reps. He is trying to crack into getting a small deal in Toronto. Why do I care if we are in Toronto? Do you know what I care about? Revenue. Why do I have him focused on these geos when there’s much bigger fruit if I were to distribute, let’s say, the market of New York?” We made this decision to move from a geo-based model to an account-based model a few years ago and never look back.

It was such a better distribution of our opportunity. Also, it allows us to hire pretty much anywhere and so we can get better talent without needing to focus on the geo. That was one, and I learned that way. A success, I will say, is that we were a pretty enterprise-focused company when I started. Most of our customers were enterprise customers.

There was a lot of trepidation to go down-market. People were fearful of the impact on ASPs. People were fearful of not having the support resources to support the velocity business. It took a lot for us to go down-market. One of the things that we did was pilot it with a handful of apps and gave them our smallest potential customers to see what they could do. This small team, we call it emerging. They exploded. It was all the fish that were jumping into our boat.

We decided to take that as a signal and say, “If these are a bunch of leads that are coming our way, what if we put capacity against it?” It did something with it instead of letting them come to us. It started with a small team and let them run wild for a quarter before we knew that this was a no-brainer place to invest based on the interest that we got and the success of that team. My regret there is that we should have done it sooner.

One question for each of the scenarios there. For the failure scenario, you mentioned you moved from geo to account level. I’m going to take a hypothetical example over here. Let’s say it’s Home Depot. That’s the account you are trying to break into. Were you assigning a rep to break into, let’s say, Home Depot in Michigan State versus Home Depot at any location? Is that the shift they are talking about?

We organize the account by HQ location. If Home Depot were headquartered in Minneapolis, then it would be owned by the Minneapolis rep but wherever the HQ location is would dictate ownership.

I had a question regarding your success scenario, which as you can clearly relate to this moving upmarket. Our down-market is super hard for any organization. What is the thought process for you and the leadership team at Clari on how you define the success criteria? Was it verticalized or how did you think about framing the team? Can you share some more insights about that?

It is a tough and big strategic decision. We operated more as an enterprise-grade company. We had enterprise customers. Most of our market position was geared toward the enterprise. That start there, which is how do you tailor your messaging and your market position to be attractive to different segment? Something we had to face in something we still deal with a little bit is you will see the SMB customer ask us, “Are we big enough for Clari or is it too soon for us to find value and benefit out of Clari?” If they are a former user, they never ask that question because they know what the value is to them.

For the general population, that’s where you need to start. Reeducate the new population of people that you are going after and why you are right for them. That was the one. One of the big changes that we went through as well is that naturally, at the market, you see enormous complexity. Both in the buying persona and the number of people involved in a purchasing decision and also for us technically. You are integrating with data.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: As you go upmarket, you’ll have more diversified personas buying from you. Be sure to reeducate the people you’re going after so that they know you’re the right one for them.

 

The way that data is structured can be very complex. Nuance for that unique customer. How do we simplify our process so that we could move through complexity at a different speed when we go down-market? We had this internal hashtag that we talked about. There’s a guy in my team named Adam Wainwright, who I will credit with this.

He labeled it supersonic. Supersonic was the charter for that team, which is, how can they move through a process quickly? If somebody said, “The average sales cycle time was 45 days, how could we get it to 30?” Everything we did was through the lens of supersonic. Taking what was a cumbersome process upmarket for a complex cycle and trying to figure out how we remove friction to get to a supersonic process.

I got some more follow-up questions for you on that. When someone goes to your website, you get the messaging, everything directed at the person who relates to like an enterprise customer, the ICP, versus when you are looking to go midmarket or down-market in your scenario. There’s the messaging, pricing, also other different aspects which we won’t get into. I’m sure you will share. Again, how did you think about that or how did you attract the initial set of your target midmarket customers?

Specifically, do you mean in the messaging that would be attractive to that?

It might be outbound because, obviously, you won’t be driving a lot of inbound or maybe you already have those in your pipeline, in your list somewhere, and then you segment that as the potential midmarket. What strategy did you use for those?

Firstly, we had to make a decision on what we would use to define segmentation. What was the best marker to signal that this type of company was indeed different from this other type of company? We ended up using just employee count. There’s a good debate on whether or not we should use sales employee count. The reason why we didn’t use sales employee count is that it’s harder to get that information and also different by industry.

Employee count is generally representative of the size of a go-to-market org that would be attractive to Clari. That was the first thing we aligned on. Not revenue, and that was by design. Employee size is the place that we started, and then we drew a line in the sand for us around a thousand employees. The other exercise you had to go through was, where does a cycle become differentiated? What is the line in the sand that says, “When you are below a thousand, you operate like this. When you are above a thousand, you operate like this?”

Those two things require a different sales motion, a different set of resources, a different market message, and a different price. Therefore, we are going to treat them differently. That is an intellectual exercise that should be run with product marketing. Hopefully, you have an ops function that can help support the data around that suggests, “You should stand up a motion that looks fundamentally different for this customer than that customer.”

After we went through the academic exercise to come up with an answer, then you go to trial and see if that’s, in fact, right. I will say that as our product and our go-to-market org have evolved, we have made some type of change to our segments most years. We collapse and expand. As we add more skews to the product, the way that we think about supporting them is different.

I will give one other example, which is in the presales side of the business. When we sell to a prospect, we segment by employee size, as I referenced. As soon as we sell that and it passes to the customer side of the house, and it’s going to be run by an account management team. They segment by revenue. Not by the revenue of the company but by the size of the deal that we did with that prospect. For them, the way that it makes sense to organize is how big of a deal it needs to be serviced and, ultimately, ensure that we can make that customer successful in a different way for different needs to segment.

Especially for customer success, it’s more of an expansion opportunity. Clearly, that makes sense. That is super helpful. Did you allocate six months or a year for this “experiment”?

We had prepared for six months and ended up making a decision after three. The reason why we decided after three is because it was so obvious that it was successful. We had done twenty new logos or something in a month. It was clear to us that applying resourcing there made sense. The other thing is that you get feedback anecdotally from your prospect base.

The number of customers that we had spoken to that appreciated got onboard with our supersonic approach and appreciated that they could move fast but it didn’t feel like a clunky, stodgy enterprise process. The feedback I got from many CROs in that space was aligned with the process we had put in place. It was very clear that we were going to make the investment. If you know that you are going to make the investment, why not move fast?

Let’s switch gears. We are coming to the final segment over here. What are 1 or 2 or 3 things within the go-to-market arena that you are curious about? What’s causing you to go deeper into research and shift your thinking from a go-to-market perspective?

There’s a ton. In no particular order, I will say the things that have been top of mind to me here. One is around intent. There are so many amazing new signals that we can incorporate into our sales process to try to find intent which means that we are going to use so much better at attaching the right accounts to the right resources. If we know the accounts that are warm and we put them with our bestsellers, we should be able to do all kinds of things. Not least of which is increase our revenue.

Lots of exciting companies. We happen to partner with 6sense. They are phenomenal on this front. Lots of intent resourcing here that changes the game for us. That’s number one. The other is around business models. The other thing you are seeing a lot more of is consumption use cases and usage-based models, and PLG motions. There are all these new ways outside your standard license-based model to structure the way you capture revenue from a customer. That’s super interesting to me. We will only see more advancements in the way that pricing in packaging is structured, especially in software. Those are two that are hot for me now.

There are so many ways outside of standard license-based models to structure the way you capture revenue from customers. Click To Tweet

The first one is intent, clearly. There’s a lot of talk in the industry about how you define intent. It has always been there in good market teams. You need to identify the intent signals but there has been no clear black-and-white way to identify them within the sales stack and marketing stack. That has been the biggest gap. Of late, I’m seeing more companies like 6sense.

There are others as well who are helping. They are also adjacent solutions that can say, “Plug this. Stick stack into your solution, and you can see the intent signals.” That’s from a tech perspective. I would like to get your thoughts on within the go-to-market team. How will you define whether this is a high-intent versus a low-intent account?

We use the signal that we are getting from 6sense primarily for us. We also use some G2 data, so we layer those on. The other thing for us is diversifying the leads. Not all leads are created equal. How do you ensure that you’ve got the right lead scoring so that it gets the right urgency that’s required? Naturally, a demo request or referral for us is high intent. We want to ensure that the speed to lead is short and that we can get connected to the buyer as soon as possible.

For us, that meant we instituted. I will give you an example. A product called Caddy. We are new to using it. It is the ability to book. If you book a request for a demo on Clari’s website, you would be directly connected to the AE that owns the account instead of bifurcating and moving away, going through all the other channels like being to an SDR or someone to do a qualification step. If it’s a named account, we already know that that’s somebody that’s already qualified by default, and we want to ensure that there’s as little drop-off as possible. That’s some of the mechanics that you have to optimize in the go-to-market.

One other topic, I have been coming across this topic also, and I speak to other go-to-market leaders. There has been a constant debate as to who owns the SDR team. Is it sales or marketing? What is your thought process around that?

I’ve seen it in both different departments. It obviously works in both places. At Clari, Kyle Coleman owns our SDR org. He is like LinkedIn famous.

He’s an SDR champ. I see him on LinkedIn. He is a true champ.

Deep expertise in the function, and so we are lucky to have him for lots of different reasons but that’s one of them. For me, he’s probably one of my biggest partners. There’s nobody I spend as much time with as Kyle in orchestrating a sales motion for us. Where it lives is much less important than the alignment between the two orgs.

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting: Where the SDR teams lives are much less important than the alignment between sales and marketing.

 

Even if it lived in sales, naturally, so much of the lead flow you would hope your SDRs are responding to is generated by marketing. If it lives in marketing, it must be responsible and accountable to sales. This is why there’s no obvious answer to this. Either way, there are tradeoffs. It’s not a perfect answer, no matter what. The alignment between the 2 orgs and, arguably, the 2 leaders is the most important thing.

Moving to the last couple of questions here, who would you credit if you were to go back in time? Who have been your code mentors and sponsors? Who have been the role models that helped you get to this point in your career?

I’m so lucky because I have many. You said 2 or 3. I will start maybe in logical order. The first time I ever went on a sales call like as an adult with a full-time job and going out to see a customer. I was with a guy named Aaron Nadolza. He and I both worked together at Gallup. We were going to our first big sales meeting.

It was his meeting, and I was just shadowing. He took me under his wing and taught me how to sell. Everything from how to set up a good meeting, how to follow up on the meeting, and the real basics of customer engagement. That’s like the least exciting thing he’s taught me over the years. I have now worked with him at three different companies. I followed him on LinkedIn. When I went to WeWork, I brought him over to be my boss.

I’ve worked with him for many years. I’ve learned a million things from him. The big thing outside of sponsorship, as you mentioned, is that he certainly sponsored me but he just deeply invested in me to teach me everything he knew. I was afforded his life experiences. I didn’t have to go through them myself, which was so incredible. Aaron has made a massive impact on my life.

When I went to LinkedIn, I worked for a leader that didn’t just change my professional trajectory but changed me as a human. His name is Peter Kim. Pete was the best boss that I have ever had. I remember specifically a one-on-one we had where I was asking him for some career advice. He basically said like, “Holly, I am yours. Use me however you want to use me but I believe in you. I’m here to develop you.”

What changed in the course of our interaction was that I did start to use him. A mistake that people make is that most people want to invest in high-potential talent. Where there’s often a mismatch is that the talent also has to go and engage and make good use of their resource. I took Pete up on his offer. I used him for everything, and honestly, I still do. We got to a place where he could give me advice about my whole life, everything from how to structure my mortgage to which job to consider or not.

Ultimately, it’s still your decision. It’s still your life but to have people that care deeply about you and therefore are interested in you making the right decision is so important. The last one is my current boss, Kevin Knieriem. He’s the CEO at Clari. He has invested in me in lots of different ways. One of which is to empower me to make my own decisions, build out an org, and be able to stand up for something that I knew was right.

I feel so empowered in my role now. Having limitless belief changes the way you operate. When you know that the person above you is in your corner and rooting for you in every way changes the way that you show up at work every day. Back to the comment, I made earlier about Gallup and that people join companies and lead managers.

For all the leaders reading, it’s a deep responsibility that we have as people leaders at any level. Whether you are leading leaders, managers or reps, someone’s happiness depends on the way that you approach them. You, as their boss, get to empower them. You get to ensure that they are going to have a good day or a bad day. That’s something that we shouldn’t take lightly. I have been lucky.

As a leader, someone's happiness depends on how you approach them. You have to empower your people and ensure they will always have a good day. Click To Tweet

That’s a great piece of advice there. For all readers, it doesn’t matter if you are a people leader or someone who’s reporting to a boss. You will have both up and down for most of you there. Hopefully, someone will take this as an inspiration to sponsor and grow someone’s career and vice versa. Ask and take, go full advantage of your manager because they sincerely care for your growth. That’s the message. Last question here, Holly, which is, if you were to turn back the clock and go back to your day one within the go-to-market career journey of yours, an amazing career journey for sure. What advice would you give your younger self?

One of the biggest things I have learned, which is so critical, is that much of the career decisions that we make can be convoluted when you start to add in title and comp and roll scope. You can get attracted to those things but one of the things that probably has the biggest impact on your return is the quality of the company. You are picking the right horse to bet on.

If you pick to be the assistant at the right company versus the CRO at the crappy company that goes nowhere, the fact that you have a big title, a big comp or whatever but the company doesn’t succeed. It ruins the whole game. Picking the right horse is 90% of the battle. If you take what is perceived to be a lateral move or even a step back in title and comp is so insignificant in the grand scheme of life and a long career. It’s so much more important to pick the right company and invest in the right company that you believe in over the long haul. It’s a big learning for me.

I have nothing to add to that. That’s a great piece of advice, for sure. Thank you so much, Holly. It has been wonderful speaking with you. Thank you for sharing all the wisdom and insights. Good luck to you, your sales team, and the folks at Clari.

Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on the show. It’s great to spend some time together.

 

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Maintaining customer focus should always be one of your top priorities in B2B. You must know the people you are serving to no matter what business you are in. In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu is joined by Ravi Pendekanti, the SVP of Product Management and Marketing at Western Digital. Ravi shares how they achieved B2B success with customer-centric tactics focused on listening to the needs of the market. He also breaks down how businesses should craft customer-focused strategies and the amazing benefits of doing so. Plus, Ravi shares the exciting projects they’re working on at Western Digital and the role of big data in the upcoming years. Tune in for an insightful and informative discussion about managing and improving your go-to-market strategies!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Ravi Pendekanti On Why Customer Focus Is Vital In B2B Go-To-Markets

Welcome to yet another episode of the show. I’m excited to have Ravi Pendekanti, who is the SVP of Product Management and Marketing at Western Digital. Welcome to the show, Ravi. I’m excited to have you.

Thanks, Vijay. It’s great to be here.

I’m super excited. I’ve known you over the years, both on the professional side for a couple of years. Our careers overlapped at Juniper. More than that, I’ve known you as a person on a personal basis for many years. What stands out for me is as an educator on the professional side, you had a very awesome skyrocketing career, which I always look up to for inspiration, but at the same time, on the personal side, I enjoy your company, sense of humor, being yourself, and bringing everyone into the fold. I see based on what I’ve studied and researched on you, it’s the same qualities that you bring at work as well.

We do. You have to. Otherwise, you can’t enjoy your day-to-day life. The more we are who we are, the easier it becomes to go get our things done.

Let me start off with the signature question, which I always ask all my guests. How do you define go-to-market?

For me, go-to-market truly is four major pillars. You can’t do any go-to-market strategy, planning, or execution without addressing these four fundamental elements. 1) You have to understand the market. Understanding the market landscape is crucial, which means you need to know what’s going on in the market and who the competition is. 2) One has to do segmentation of the market. 3) You have to go out and get the right messaging. As a marketer myself, it’s never lost on me that without proper messaging, you probably are not going to reach your target audience.

Finally, you have to work on the right distribution strategy. How are you going to get your product to where it should be? Are you going to use the direct sales force or partner community to get there? Even if you look at the partner community, you are going to have resellers or go with their distribution staff. There’s a whole rhythm of other things that one has to work through, which becomes important. It’s those four elements that, for me, constitute a good go-to-market strategy/execution policy.

You covered the key aspects, which start from the first and foremost, which are the external deal and the market understanding. You talked about the segmentation and the classic STP, Targeting and Positioning, but you also added on the more important and critical piece. You’ve done the research, segmentation, positioning, and messaging. Now, how do you get that message out to the relevant audience and right segments at the right place? It’s end-to-end.

I completely agree. I’m obviously aligned on that, but let me put you and drill you into some more aspects. That’s an external view and then there’s an internal view within the company, which is top and foremost the alignment across product, marketing, and sales. Depending on the type of business, if you are SaaS, you’ll have support but customer success as well. How do you work on those elements? Once you’ve done the external study, how do you align internally?

The more we are who we are, the easier it becomes to go get our things done. Click To Tweet

You do them in parallel. You cannot afford to look at the external elements without working on things that you need to align with the various functional organizations within your own company. You’ve got to run a parallel effort. The other way I also look at this is to do all this as much as we might think we are in the technology space. First and foremost, we are in the P2P business, which is a people-to-people business. None of this gets done if you don’t get people excited internally as well to believe in what you’re trying to do.

What that might mean is you have to go ahead and build your bridges with the engineering team so that the product can build in time, making sure that you’ve got the right feature functionality. You probably have to work with making sure that you’ve got all the sales elements in motion and the training elements to be looked at. There’s a whole rhythm of other things that one has to do.

As you do this, the benefit is not just making sure that everything is well-oiled machinery or becomes one, but more importantly, as you do this, people are going to be more open to leaning in and giving you ideas and suggestions so that this can is in the game now, which will help you get to market better and faster maybe too. I would encourage everyone to do that both the external things we talked about, whether it’s gathering the market data and competitive data, but not forgetting to do all the things you got to do as you’ve been called out internally in a parallel fashion.

That perspective is lost on a lot of marketers. Not just marketers, even for a lot of folks within the go-to-market functions across the board. Especially in the B2B world, it’s business-to-business, but a lot of folks, not intentionally, but it’s just that this one that they have a narrower perspective out of various reasons.

The part that you mentioned is lost. At the end of the day, even if it’s business-to-business, it’s still person-to-person. It doesn’t matter. Something that I’m seeing, especially the leading B2B organizations and B2B marketing teams are doing very well, the names that come to my mind are Drift and Gong. There are quite a few others that are doing extremely well and they have had unicorn valuations a lot more.

What they’re doing is they’re bringing in the B2C, business-to-consumer go-to-market motions, which is a deep understanding of the consumer and then delivering those messages. It’s almost shifting their mindset into, “Look at us or understand us because of who we are and more importantly, less of us, but it’s more of what you are and who you are.” It’s bringing that element. B2C elements into the B2B world, I’m seeing a lot of that being done.

It’s important for us to go and make sure that we do that too because some of the attributes of B2B play out at B2C. As we’ve already accentuated the point, at the end of the day, we are a people-to-people business. That means that you’ve got to go take care of that as well. We should only help you go meet some of the other elements of your goals as an organization.

I would love to drill into more aspects as we go along in this conversation. Shifting onto the lighter side of things, how do your kids view, tell, or describe what you do at work?

B2B 27 | Customer Focus
Customer Focus: Some of the attributes of B2B play out at B2C. At the end of the day, we are a people-to-people business.

 

This is interesting because my dad, frankly, for a number of years, always thought I was a sales guy. In some ways, he still thinks I’m selling, though I keep telling him, “Dad, my job is not sales. My job is to try and understand where the market is headed and then try to come up with the right product ideas and then help create the right messaging and help our sales guys to do what they’re supposed to do, but not necessarily as a salesperson.” That’s always been a constant education to my own dad. He seems to understand, but then he falls back and says, “No, it’s more like a sales job,” but I’ll keep trying.

I’ll credit your dad, though. The main thing is he is right because we are in the business of selling. It doesn’t matter, but you are selling your ideas, your vision, and the direction that you want others to go to. You may not have the formal title of a salesman, but he is right.

It’s interesting you say that. In fact, his pet peeve is that each one of us is a salesperson and I would ask him, “Why do you say that?” He said, “Think about it.” I went, “Let’s say when my kids were young, they didn’t want to take their glass of milk in the morning or eat their veggies. I was selling to them and enticing them with something, whether it was an extra hour of TV time or getting them some candy.”

His no-hold emotion is, “You are a sales guy.” In fact, he would say, “All of us are selling. Whether it is trying to get your family to go out with you and they probably have other ideas, you’re selling.” He is a wise man. No wonder he was one of my mentors for sure and continues to be doing so, but in a way, we’re all selling every single day.

I can see your wife jumping up and down when you called out and told, “I incentive your kids with extra TV time and candies.” I’ve been impressed and inspired by your amazing career growth. Can you share with our readers and talk to us about your transition all the way from early days, but more importantly, the inflection points, how do you transition, who do you serve now, and what got you here now?

There are a couple of things. I still recall I started off my career as a hardcore engineer. As the saying goes, I had a choice given by my parents, “You could choose to be an engineer or a doctor. It’s fantastic set of choices.” Most people from the Indian subcontinent could relate to it and the choices would be those two typically. Of course, I would sign up and I said, “I’ll go be an engineer.”

I was a hardcore engineer for the first few years of my career, but then I realized that there was one situation that occurred wherein one of the companies I was working for happened to be Compuware. They had a customer who had an issue. At that point in time, the GM then decided to send me to go see if I could figure out what the issue was and fix it. That was my first interaction with a customer directly because I was in the back end all the time before that.

It turned out that I enjoyed the interaction with a customer because I was sitting down and trying to figure out what exactly transpired and what kind of data had been collected to try and understand what the issue was and then subsequently try and see how it can be fixed. During that process, I realized that I enjoyed what that interaction was. Due to the interaction, I also got to understand that there are some features that we didn’t have, which I took back to the engineering team and said, “Here are the things that need to be done and this is what I learned.”

If somebody else has learned and they can help propel your learning that much faster and further, why not leverage it? There's no reason to reinvent the wheel. Click To Tweet

At that point in time, I recall the engineering guys telling me, “This is great feedback, but it’s not us you should give the feedback to. You should send it to product management.” I still recall I said, “Product management, what the heck was that?” I never knew the existence of a team called product management until that point in time. I spoke to the product management folks. The more I talked to them, the more I felt interested in this whole notion of an organization or this specialized group, which was helping define products and laying out the roadmaps.

It was that particular attraction that gave a sense of excitement in me to go on and venture out and try product management. That’s how I moved from being a hardcore engineer into product management. Since we already talked about my wife, at that point in time, my wife was not too sure if it was a step forward or backward. She is a hardcore engineer. We still have the debate and she normally always wins. As the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.”

The whole notion of product management for me has been an exciting journey from that point on. It then set me on a path where I felt just understanding the hardware side was not important and that I also needed to understand the software side. I started making shifts in my career all through to move into the software side and then started off on the silver side.

I moved to the software side of the house with systems management. I moved into networking. That’s where you and I met, if you recall, in Juniper Networks and then moved into storage. My whole journey has been about trying to learn and move to the adjacencies to help me understand and also give me that excitement of getting up every day and doing something which I completely have not had my fingers in before but gives me a chance to learn and grow.

When I look at your LinkedIn profile and background, you’re talking about big brands like Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Overland Storage, Juniper Networks, Oracle, Dell, and Western Digital. They’re all big brands and big names for sure. There’s always a playbook that has to be in play, which is, when folks are making their career transition, there is the technology side of things. You moved from hardware to expand your scope and moved on to the system side and the software side.

That’s more on the technology or technical side of things, but there are also the other aspects that are critical to one’s career growth, which are self-awareness, knowing the strengths and weaknesses, and bent to rely on others. There’s also the other element of looking up to mentors and the right folks who will “pull you at the right time.” These are all critical elements as well. Share with our readers the playbook along those lines as well.

For me, the inquisitiveness that one has to have has to be in the head. You got to go out and be inquisitive to learn and grow. That is something that each of us has to own, but then beyond that, it’s interesting you talk about mentors. It’s absolutely true. I have had some fantastic mentors in my life that I’ve always depended on to help me bounce ideas and give me thoughts and suggestions on what else I could do.

In fact, I’m scheduled to meet one of my mentors for many years, somebody by the name of John Shoemaker, who is the Chairman of Extreme Networks and who was a fantastic leader back in my days at Sun. He is somebody I still count on as a fantastic mentor who helps me bounce ideas and gives me the wisdom of all of his learnings too. As the saying goes, if somebody else has learned and they can help propel your learning that much faster and further, why not leverage it? There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The best part of talking to the mentors is also that when they share some of the lessons they’ve learned and the mistakes they’ve made, I don’t have to make the same set of mistakes. I’m bound to make new ones and I’m okay with that. We have to be aware that we’ll always make mistakes. You will inherently have to go back and probably will fall, but you’ll have to learn to get up and move on. That’s the power of the mentors.

There’s something else that is not typically well-articulated and talked about, but I also think it’s important to have sponsors in your life. Sponsors are people who will be ready to also pitch for you when you’re not allowed. Something else that I’ve learned that’s crucial is to also have some sponsors in life who will be big believers in you, not just to give you advice but also to talk on your behalf and position you for maybe the right opportunity or the right role. That’s something else I would encourage everyone to think about.

B2B 27 | Customer Focus
Customer Focus: You have to be data-driven. You can’t be emotionally attached to ideas and concepts.

 

I’m switching gears a bit. Talking about your role, you lead product management and product marketing with a fairly large-sized business. You mentioned it’s $9 billion-plus and then you also talked about the team size, which is 100-plus people in that organization of yours. Talk to us about who you serve. When I say who you serve, I’m talking about your customers, partners, teams, peers, and executives. More importantly, how do you prioritize and ensure that all the stakeholders are aligned?

There are multiple facets to your question. Let me try and unpack it one at a time. For the fundamental question of who do I serve, the answer always has to be for each of us is customers. There’s no other way of looking at it because, ultimately, whether you are a business that’s a few million dollars in the making to multi-billion dollars in the making, you are out there to go ahead and serve your customers and help solve some of their business problems, which is where you come in with a solution.

That’s never lost on me that it is our customers that we have to serve. All through across my journey for decades, that has been a fundamental building block for everything that I’ve aspired to do is to sit down and show that we address the customer issues and problems, wherein you have with your big ears, listening to what could be the challenges that the customers are going through. With that said, once you have that covered, then you have to go rework whatever needs to be done internally to address that.

I partner with our city organization, engineering organization, sales organization, and the support organization to ensure that we have what it takes to go out and provide the necessary product resolution for our customers. They become my partners in crime per se to enable us to get to where we should be. Those are the mechanics that I go through along with the team of my colleagues, who are all propelled by the same set of ideas and cause to make sure that we meet those objectives that we are setting out to.

That’s one piece of it, but then there are the adjacencies that I don’t want to forget. This is where you have to work with other partner organizations. This is where I look at organizations that probably provide our PCBs and SoCs. There are a whole plethora of things. We depend on the ecosystem of partners and that cannot be lost out as well. If you extend on the whole distribution stuff I talked about, you have your resellers and channel partners and others.

There are partners that you bring into the fold to help you build the right product/solution and then there’s the other piece. We talked about the fourth leg of the go-to-market, which is the whole channel to go help in the distribution of the end product. That’s something else too that needs to be done and who are part and parcel of the whole planning and execution process for the whole product introduction.

I completely and holistically agree with you because I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with founders, investors, and go-to-market leaders across the spectrum. Small, large, or mid-sized businesses, it doesn’t matter, but the common thread that connects all of them is the customer outcome focus, first and foremost.

If you talk about the early days of a company, if you speak with the founder, it’s the primary research, the customer discovery and the lean startup model, which is all about going and studying the problems and then coming back and testing out the different hypotheses around the solution, how you position and package the pricing, and then your go-to-market aspects as well.

The same applies even to a more mature and larger organization. It doesn’t matter if you’re a $50,000, $100,000, $100 million, $1 billion, or even $10 billion or $50 billion. It’s the same principle and mantra, which is customer outcome focus. That’s great to know. It’s good reinforcement. For all the readers, if you’re not spending your time on customer outcome focus, please do that. That’s the primary focus.

I get that part. You’re leading an organization. You’re clearly out there studying the market, but how do you reinforce to your team across product management and product marketing that whole customer outcome focus? Do you encourage or do you have any programs around, “Go out there. Do your primary research and secondary research?” How do you build those muscles in your organization?

Whoever said life is only about ups, they have plenty of downs to deal with. Click To Tweet

Across my times in various organizations, one of the things that’s something that I’ve learned quite a bit is I use the word big ears to keep listening. You listen to what is being said and then you bring that back into what it means. There’s a distinction between what is being said and what it means because they’re not probably all the same at the same time, not because of anything else but each of the customers, if you think about it, are looking through a different lens.

For example, if you talk to a financial organization, they’re looking at how do they make the financial transactions safe and secure. They’re not thinking about the various elements in the backend technology as to how that happens. That’s our job. They might be focused on one element and be speaking to something, but then it’s our job to build a bridge between how they’re trying to look at the issue and the challenge and bring it back home as to how we can build the resolution of the right product to help enable that.

With that, it’s important that we get those inputs from various forums. The reason I say that is you probably are well-off by sending a survey. It has a set of questions with choices to make or you get a very high-level of rudimentary view, but that is not sufficient, but it gets you started. We also do what we call blind studies wherein they don’t know who is asking for this study because, at times, who is asking for that study can also skew the responses.

We have done the practice of doing blind studies, so they don’t know which organization is asking for this and then they’re more apt at giving you some candid feedback. As much as we all ask for feedback, usually, human beings don’t like to give you negative feedback, but if it is masked with some level of not knowing who that is, they’re more open to giving feedback. That’s the nature of the beast and how we work through it. Those blind studies are something else we have used to go get some more double-click, getting people in the room and having them talk through it. You get a little more depth in that.

The other thing we have done very successfully is we spend hours and days with some of the customers to ensure that we can unpack a lot of things that can’t be done by a round table conversation or survey. My point being is that you have to use multiple tools in your tool bag to go ahead, try, and make sure that you truly understand what it is that you have to solve for. This becomes more important when the time-to-market is becoming crucial and needs are shrinking.

When I started, there would be a time when you need to get a new product or a feature, it could take you two years, but now, some of the product’s spins that we got to do is probably coming down into multiple quarters. When there’s time-to-market pressure, our TCO pressure is coming in because the customers do care about the total cost of ownership.

Let’s say, if I take a server, it’s just not about, “What kind of processing capability it has?” There are other things too that goes behind it, “What is the power consumption? Does it need more cooling? Are we able to do a better analysis from a remote location without having somebody go in there in case there are any issues?”

That’s how companies are beginning to have more finite and granular TCO measurement tools, which have evolved over the period of time. You got to think through all those different elements to make sure that we are not just asking the customers, but we are able to unpack what it is they’re saying and bring it back to our roadmap design.

You mentioned quite a few things over there. It comes down to using the different tools and mechanisms for understanding your customers for customer outcomes. That’s a key message. Let’s shift gears a bit. I do want to come back into how you’re looking into 2021 and 2022 goals, but before that, as you and I know, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Others can learn from someone else when they make mistakes, our success story. In that spirit, can you share a go-to-market success story either from your days at Western Digital or from a previous one?

In terms of a good success story, I would take the example of at least my time at Dell. One of the things I still recall at that point in time when I joined the company, the company was shipping servers for over two decades, but we were never number one. We had the task and we took the goal upon to go out and see how we could change that to become the number one server provider in the industry.

As a team, we bonded together. I was very proud of my team for how we came down to relooking at the roadmap, looking at where the market was headed, and listening to what the customers needed, whether it was about systems management or was it important for GPUs as the advent of AI machine learning became important?

B2B 27 | Customer Focus
Customer Focus: Make sure that you have an ear on the ground, always looking to and getting the polls from the market so that we can go ahead and do what is right for not just the customers but ourselves too.

 

The questions of whether it is 1 or 2 GPUs they need, working with the right partners to ensure that we have the right technology brought in, and working with the CPU vendors that were out there looking at, “Where could this market be trending? Do we expect this to move ahead and continue to grow? Were there going to be adjacent markets that were going to take growth? Was there edge computing coming into play?” Those were the kinds of things that we looked back and said, “Here is what makes sense.”

We try to lay all the data we had completely, and I deliberately use the word data because you have to be data-driven. You can’t be emotionally attached to ideas and concepts. I brought the whole concept of customer-centric innovation. We’re looking at it from the lens of the customer, making sure that we’re able to go back in and plan a portfolio, and looking at the various elements that I mentioned to have the most robust roadmap in the industry and with the highest quality. We’re working with our colleagues in engineering and making sure that we’re able to bring the right products to the partner ecosystem, as I talked about.

When that came through, it did make a difference because we weren’t listening to our customers as they said here into our ecosystem partners. It helped us go back and take the number one slot or should I say if we had the opportunity to go back, relook at this stuff, and build the right portfolio, get to number one. It does help when we as a team sit down and do what we need to do in terms of listening, collecting the data, making the right calls and the roadmap, and working with our partners because this is a team sport.

It comes back to the customer outcome focus, which you and I talked about. You built that muscle at Dell and you had big numbers. If I got the numbers right, during your time there, you were part of the success story where you grew the server and the related business from $11 billion to $19 billion. Those are big numbers. It’s a testament to building that muscle around customer outcome focus. On the flip side, can you share a go-to-market failure story? I’m sure there will be plenty. It’s about picking out the most relevant for now in our conversation.

Whoever said life is only about ups, they have plenty of downs to deal with. This is in a subtle way, but it means there are ups and downs. One of the examples I could talk about is during my days at Sun Microsystems. If you recall, this is a company that gave the world Java. It gave the world some of the best possible workstations based on Unix. It was a company that could never do wrong.

I’m very proud of my association with Sun, though talking about some of the lessons learned and things that we could have done better, there are a few things. Number one, this was when Linux was still in its infancy. We had an operating system called Solaris, which our customers loved, especially the financial industry and the telco space. When you think about it in this particular market, it was all about having the most trustworthy hardware that was based on SPARC, that was our processor, and the operating system in the form of Solaris.

What we did not do was to not lead the trends moving towards open source. We could have easily gone ahead of them and looked at an OpenSolaris model where Linux would have then taken off, or on the flip side, installed SPARC used, let’s say an x86 platform, or we could have done OpenSolaris. My point being is that we continued to believe in a proprietary stack rather than moving towards an OpenStack.

Why this is relevant even now is, if we look at the industry, look at the number of things that depend on an OpenStack portfolio. We were at the forefront. We should have and could have, but we did not. That’s at least one man’s opinion as to how I think we should have learned. Likewise, where we have Java, I don’t necessarily think we monetized this as much as we should.

There’s progress in going to open source, but then the monetization.

It’s a nice way of looking at the entire portfolio but also looking at the trends. Make sure that you have an ear on the ground, always looking to and getting the polls from the market so that we can go ahead and do what is right for not just the customers but for ourselves too. That’s probably some good lessons learned.

Coming back to the question where I put up, which is, how are you looking at your 2021? Now that we are in Q4 of 2021, let’s talk about the 2022 goals. Not to share any confidential information, but broadly, how are you looking at 2022 goals for you and your team in Western Digital? More importantly, how are you thinking about the execution pieces if you can share that?

Customer focus is making sure that we learn from what's going on in the industry. Click To Tweet

There are a couple of things when I look at where we’re headed. Customer focus is making sure that we learn from what’s going on in the industry. It’s not lost on us that the amount of data being stored continues to grow. It is said that each one of us is probably storing 2 to 2.5 times more data this year than last year and you’re going to do it next year. My point is, that’s happening in our personal lives, which is why you probably have smartphones now with more memory than you ever had in the past because it’s pictures, videos, and whatnot.

If you look at the fact that most organizations now want to do more analytics on how the customers are buying or interacting with them, that means they need more data to be collected and analyzed. People talk about AI machine learning. Machine learning or deep learning, what is it based on? It’s based on data. Deep learning means you’re going to go back and analyze a lot more data than what you would do as it gives you money.

My point is, if you look at any of these trends, IoT or edge computing where there’s more data, it’s said that 75% of the data approximately is going to be generated outside of the data center, which means that there’s more data being created. For us, it means we got to provide our customers with more ways and better technologies to store the data. The way I look at this in every way I see it, data is going to be created more in the next few years than the last couple of decades.

What that means is we, as Western Digital, have to provide the right mechanisms to store the data, which is where we have a unique proposition unlike anybody else in the industry where we have the best of both flash and hard drives, which gives us the unique opportunity to be the first choice for any of our customers looking at storing data for their own business purposes.

Having said that, we at Western Digital are focused on making sure that we provide the right set of choices for our customers. Look at the hard drives. We’ve got everything from 1-terabyte hard drives all the way to 20-terabyte drives. We’ll continue to grow it because, when more data is needed, you got to go provide better technologies that our customers can depend on and we’re going to focus.

It’s interesting you asked because we introduced something called OptiNAND. OptiNAND Technology focuses on three things. It’s helping grow the capacity, performance, and reliability of our drives. We do that by vertically integrating both our flash technology with our hard drives. That’s the best part of what we’re trying to do and we’ve got to continue to do that. You’ll see all are coming to traction of some of the cool products we’re going to introduce.

It’s an exciting time, especially if you’re in the world of compute, storage, or networking. For consumers and a lot of folks outside, they may not see it, but everything that’s driving and facilitating these experiences that they use both at the business side as well as on the personal side, we’re taking a photo and storing it, making those conversations, or using your favorite communication tool. It comes down to these three, compute, storage, and networking. You said it right. Storage is critical. You can have the compute and networking, but at the end of the day, it’s still storage. You got to start somewhere. I’m excited by what’s in store with the big picture and the vision. If you narrow down your focus to 2022, what do you see are the barriers for executing against that big picture vision?

Honestly, we are dealing with some of the component shortages. It’s not just in our industry. It’s across various industries. I’ve read an article about $230 billion worth of cars that have been affected the shipping issues that we have. They said they’re going to have the Los Angeles Port open 24/7. It’s those kinds of things that we didn’t foresee in the past that we have got to work through in ensuring that we have the right components and making sure that we’re able to move parts from Point A to Point B. Those are the things that are ways and challenges that we have to overcome.

As I said, it’s not unique to our own industry, but this is something that we across on a global scale see this for all kinds of organizations. That’s the thing that I pay attention to. There are some talented members that are working through these, making sure that we come up with unique and alternative ways of dealing with that. That’s something that I would be amiss if I didn’t say it’s something that we’re going to keep a close eye on because if I look at the opportunity to where the market is headed in terms of storage, it’s a huge opportunity. The regulatory needs in each of the countries that are asking for more data to be stored and stuff essentially drive more need for storage.

I was looking back and I still recall when I was starting off. I remember looking at a 75-megabyte hard drive and you got platters. It seems to be sitting in a washing machine with huge platters and you would plop them out. Now, on a 1-inch drive, you have the ability to store 10 to 20 terabytes. That’s fascinating by itself. The innovation and market need are there, but now, some of these other elements that I don’t think most industries saw earlier are upon us.

You could come up with the best messaging possible, but if you don't know where the market is headed, you may not come up with the right messaging for that particular situation. Click To Tweet

I was talking to somebody who has been in the whole supply chain management for the last few decades. The person was talking about the fact that they had never seen this kind of supply chain challenge in their entire career. That’s something that we would obviously get out of it, but there are going to be a lot of learnings for everyone.

Supply chain issues are hitting different and various industries across the board. Especially in the hardware industry and hardware manufacturing setup where you’re relying on supply chains on the chips, memory modules, and different pieces being produced outside of the US, those have to come in. Those are big challenges that are going to take maybe a year or two for things to settle down or come back to “normal.” Those are things that are technically speaking outside your control, but talking about things that are more in your control. Looking at 2022, if you were to invest a 5, 6, or 7-figure budget or team, where would you put that focus or energy to?

The most important place is always making sure that we know where the market is headed. The focus will always be to understand the market. In anything else you do, you could come up with the best messaging possible, but if you don’t know where the market is headed, you may not come up with the right messaging for that particular situation. That’s what I would do.

My focus is making sure that we focus on where the market is headed. In this case, if I think about it, as we talk about data, more people store data. People are also looking at archiving the data. How do we come up with the right archiving methodologies so that it’s not just cost-efficient for our customers but also faster to retrieve? That is an exciting place and we call it cold storage, for example. Those are some of the things that are going to become very crucial for us.

To reiterate, are you saying that you’re going to put more time, money, or people into those areas, specifically the customer advisory board, which I’m sure you must be doing already? In addition to that, it’s about going back to the primary research and secondary research tools. That’s how you stay close to the different market trends.

It’s about, “How do you store more data? How do you make sure it’s secure and reliable?” You get it at a faster pace because you would have the data, but if you don’t get it back in a timely fashion, it’s no value. We want to be sure that we’ll be able to go build the right tools and technologies and we’ll be able to retrieve the data quickly too. Those are the kinds of things we want to answer and that’s where we’re going to focus on. That’s where the excitement is and that’s where we at WD are excited.

If you were to turn back the clock and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, going back to your computer days, but then you transitioned from being an engineer into product management, what advice would you give to your younger self?

You don’t know a lot. I honestly don’t think I knew as much as I thought I knew. My point is it becomes fascinating and interesting when you look back and think that you knew exactly what the product is and what feature functionality should be brought out. I was pretty naive thinking that I had the answers. As you grow and mature, you realize there are so many facets to how you build a successful product and how you sustain it because the question is, it can be a flash in the pan.

You’ve got to sustain it for a period of time. There are lessons that I’ve learned and I continue to be a student for life. I’m sure there will be a lot of lessons to be learned. Don’t ever underestimate the needs of the market and think and become comfortable believing that you know everything there is to it because you simply won’t.

That’s what I call and refer to as being intellectually honest. That’s the first step and then you complement that and add on the curiosity element to it.

This is where I would say continue to stay humble.

On that note, thank you so much, Ravi. It has been a fun, great, and insightful conversation. Good luck to you and your team. We’ll cheer you from the sidelines.

Thank you, Vijay. I much appreciate it.

 

Important Links

 

About Ravi Pendekanti

Ravi is a seasoned executive in product management/marketing, developing a roadmap and driving GTM and sales enablement with a solutions view focused on customer outcomes while managing key partner relationships. Responsible to address a range of workloads including AI/ML, OLTP, HPC, Edge, IoT, Big Data and Analytics.

Areas of expertise include Servers, Storage, HCI, Networking, Systems Management, Virtualization and Cloud.

Focus is to win “Together” by building successful teams that work as a “Team” inside and across other functions in an organization and with applicable partners in the ecosystem.

 

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B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market

 

When we think of go-to-market, we rarely see it as a long-term journey. Timescales are often quicker, thinking in terms of weeks, days, months, or even quarters. However, Pradeep Nair, the VP at Microsoft Azure, looks at the go-to-market as a multiyear journey. In this episode, he joins Vijay Damojipurapu to talk about why he believes this is so. Pradeep discusses how you can learn from almost every go-to-market opportunity, using it to inform you when you are about to do something new. He takes us deep into the go-to-market strategy for Azure—from the new markets to enter to the existing markets they grow in—and the enterprise privacy compliance and security. Plus, Pradeep also shares his thoughts on high-performance cultures, building that into his team, and applying the growth mindset.

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Go-To-Market As A Multiyear Journey With Pradeep Nair

I have the pleasure of hosting Pradeep Nair, who is the VP at Microsoft Azure. He will tell more about the role. Pradeep has a very storied and diverse background. He has been with Microsoft for many years. He has grown and risen to the ranks. Think of it as he has risen to the ranks as Azure grew, Pradeep’s career also grew and its responsibilities and impact overall. It’s my pleasure. Welcome to the show, Pradeep.

Thank you. It’s nice to be on the show.

I always start the show with this question to all my guests. How do you define go-to-market?

Go-to-market is a big aspect of any product you launch, especially in the software industry, anything we take to the market. For me, go-to-market is probably in some of the big activities that we do. This might be an activity that includes engineering, marketing, sales, or outfield. It’s starting with planning, knowing your customers, having a clear understanding of what are the customers you want to target, what is your product strategy, and what is the completion of a product. A lot of us call that MBB. What should be there for a preview? We call it general availability. That’s the concept that we use when we launch. How is it there? What is your entry to the market? How do you sustain that? How do you start growing it?

You will break this into multi milestones and then work around that. I will do a preview. I get good customer feedback. If I feel the product is right, then I start expanding, which also includes identifying the pilot customers and having a deep relationship with them. Also, when we go from a preview to GA, the go-to-market becomes a broad scale motion. This is where having the field-ready material or having the sales team ready to go and do this massive broad adoption thing is super important. That’s how I look at go-to-market. It’s probably a multiyear journey broken down into multiple milestones. Once you go through a milestone, you look back and understand, “What did we learn? Do we need to change anything here?” It’s an evolution as we go through the milestones.

You touched upon several key points there. One is you look at go-to-market as a multiyear journey. That is key. For me, I was off late. Often, I speak to go-to-market leaders or even founders at startups. Their timescale is a lot quicker. It’s more in terms of weeks, days, months, or even quarters. Having a conversation with you took me back to my days at Microsoft. It’s a multiyear journey completely. I also liked the emphasis that you placed on preview versus GA. As you’re building out, going from preview to GA, you need to have the entire sales enablement piece in place. You need to work with the field sales regions and the marketing organization. Those are all the key elements there.

You can almost learn from every go-to-market opportunity. Click To Tweet

One of the interesting things we have also done is learning with each go-to-market opportunity as key. What we’ve also seen is doing the data analysis to see. For example, you’re launching in Europe or the Middle East, “What has been our experience launching in one of the countries?” If there’s enough data to show that, “It took six months to get the product adoption going. Here are the key customers, banking customers, or retail customers,” analyzing those data points is super important because that has to feed into some of your go-to-market motions.

For example, we launched in Europe in multiple countries like, “What did I learn after this internal launch? What did I learn with the general launch?” Each country or region has its own charters, but there is still a set of common learnings, analysis, and data points you could use. An interesting option is also looking at the competition to see what they’re doing or what is their go-to-market plan be. That’s all interesting things to do.

We look at it from different viewpoints. One is the overall go-to-market, which is broad and common across the geographies, verticals, customers, and use cases. There are the nuances, which is, “I’m entering this new market or maybe it’s an existing market like Switzerland. What was our launch experience and GA cycle in that case?” Given your charter, because Microsoft Azure is so broad in terms of use cases, services, products, verticals, and customers, clearly, there will be a lot of variations across that once a year.

You can almost learn from every go-to-market opportunity. We look at a process called RCA, Root Cause Analysis, in laying out the good things and the bad things to assess the learnings for the tremendous or across customer feedback like our field team. For me, that was super interesting because my career with Azure was Azure is smart and growing. We had each of these learning across. Every time we had to do something new, we learn from there and then we think about, “How do you do the scale motion of it?” That’s how we always start our mornings.

That’s a good segue into the next topic. Can you share, for the benefit of the readers, around your broad career journey? Who do you serve? What’s your role at Microsoft?

A little bit about my career, I started my career in India for a firm called Ernst & Young. I used to do consulting travel across Africa and in multiple countries in Asia and then I shifted to the US. It has been every immigrant’s journey, starting with a little bit of a tough time because I came in 2008 when we had all the housing crises. It was fascinating to see suddenly the projects, especially in the consulting space, because clients wanted to spend less money. I went through that journey. I worked at Microsoft as a consulting partner and that’s when Azure was starting to go into preview and GA or our initial offering. That’s when I joined Azure.

In Azure, for over ten years, I completed the tenth in February 2021. Interestingly, I did so many different roles. I started with doing security compliance. I did privacy for a little bit and then ventured into Azure worldwide expansion. That has been every two years. I will either try to build a new skillset or try to take on a new role. That has been my career journey. Now, what I do is I lead a team, which is now the Azure Global Infrastructure. I’m primarily responsible for two things.

One, the Azure worldwide expansion, which country Azure would we go next for Azure or what’s the architecture and then also launching those. Plus, the other portion is what we call enterprise promises. This is our privacy compliance and some of the security promises we need to meet to unblock new countries, markets, and industries. That’s what my role is, leading a relatively large team of both program managers, product managers, and developers.

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Go-to-market is starting with planning, knowing your customers, having a clear understanding of what are the customers you want to target, what is your product strategy, and what is the completion of a product.

 

That’s a very impressive career that you had. It goes back to one of the career growth principles, which is, if you are in a product on a team that’s on a fast-track road, you always latch on and do a coattail along that. Clearly, you played that playbook very well. Kudos and congratulations to you there.

The other thing is I also felt that the work helped me. I always looked good at work and start over. I said, “Every two years, I would think about a job change.” In this case, I didn’t have to do a job change outside of Microsoft or even Azure. I could do different roles. When it accumulated for over ten years, it gave me a breadth of experience, which I wouldn’t have normally had if I had from a single road. That startup helped me to look at things from a bigger picture, stepping back like the way you say it. You can start to see it fall from the trees.

On a lighter note, what would your parents say that you do for a career?

It’s too hard to make them understand. My parents are a little bit older from that perspective to understand and explain about the cloud. It’s easier for my kids. For them, they were explaining and asking me, “What do you do?” Two interesting concepts. They play Minecraft. I was like, “I can work on building these big factories with Minecraft,” so they start doing this in there. Interestingly, the last was Teams. They used Teams for their school. Now, I say like, “I build the data center factories, which are on these Teams of what you’re using for your class.” Those are the easy ways to do it. Xbox, Minecraft, and Teams that are on Azure. I enabled that. That’s how the way I explained it to them. Their parents are tied up.

I love the use of the word factories. That’s a very neat terminology that you used in explaining to your twins. That’s fantastic. Coming back to the go-to-market strategy for Azure, you mentioned a couple of things. One is which new markets to enter. You’re also looking at which markets you grow in, in the existing markets. You also mentioned about the second point around enterprise privacy compliance and security is also a big part. Talk to us about overall Azure’s approach and how do you think through those two areas.

If you’ve read about what we call Azure as the World’s Computer, that’s our mission and vision for the whole product. Our goal is, if we take Azure as the World’s Computer, then some of my goals, like OKR in my leadership score has been to go, “I want to get Azure available in our markets and be able to serve all industries.” That has been our kind of model. If I have the worst computer, then I need to have the computer in every country. Also, the computer is ready to serve every industry. It doesn’t matter what regulatory or compliance requirements they have. That’s our go-to-market strategy to be fair.

Going back to Bill Gates’ principle, how do we have a PC in every household? It’s the same philosophy, which is, how do we have Azure? Now, which we see that as a computer. It’s not a PC anymore. How do you have that in every geography?

In a cloud-first, mobile-first world, data is super important, but computing being closest is important. Click To Tweet

It’s an evolution of what Bill Gates said. To his point also, in a cloud-first, mobile-first world, data is super important, but computing being closest is important. That’s where we are looking at, “The computer needs to be closer to every user who is doing a lot of computing/internet activity on mobile, laptops, or systems.” That’s how we look at that.

From that viewpoint, Azure has had many successes rolling out to different geographies. You’re competing with the big names that include AWS and GCP. Talk to us about how you think about a go-to-market for a new region. What’s your playbook like?

When we look at go-to-market, I will take Europe as an example. It’s very interesting because Europe is some place where new regulations keep happening and new things come out. We are constantly growing our Azure business in Europe and also launching in new countries in between Europe. What we have taken some of the learnings in the go-to-market is when we know there’s a new requirement coming out of a region or a broader geography like for example, Europe, we’ve taken that to be understanding the requirements and look to apply it globally so that it’s much easier to scale. GDPR was one of the things which came in in 2018. A lot of companies took an approach of like, “I will do GDPR only for European customers. We will offer it.”

What we took the decision was, “Let’s go. This is a very important requirement. Let’s do it for every customer in the world.” That made sure that it was much easier for us to scale. We also got a lot of positive feedback from customers because they saw that as Microsoft being the leader and changing the game here rather than saying, “Only if you’re in Europe, you get this.” We said that, “We will offer this consistently globally across for our customers.” That’s some of the go-to-market approaches we started taking. This is where I said, “Learn from your global stuff and then apply that globally so it’s consistently you can scale.” We would still meet local requirements in a market like, “If I have to be operating in France and serve the telecom industry, I need to get a particular telecom regulatory certification.” We will do that, but there’s a set of common global things we will do consistently.

That’s the way we became some of the global leaders and thought leaders in many of these places. That started being our go-to-market opportunity, “Learn from your global thing.” Anytime there is a big global thing happening, it could be coming out of a particular region, but understand it and think about applying that globally because, in many cases, it overall improves the product. Look at the specific market and say, “If I have to do operate in this place, I got to do something specifically, then we would still do that.” Try to learn from the global thing and apply it globally.

That approach and mindset has put you in the forefront when it comes to privacy. Especially when it comes to RFPs that have a big privacy checklist, I can imagine now Azure is being or even acing out other big players, including AWS and GCP. The reason why I like this approach is it’s multifold. The bond is privacy. For enterprises and governments, it’s more of a checklist, but for a consumer, it’s top of mind.

Europe has taken the lead when it comes to GDPR and enforcing it. If you look at any of these verticals or the companies that you serve, it includes banks, telecoms, or even hospitality for that matter. Eventually, they all cater to an individual or a consumer. Given that you have taken the leap and say that, “Privacy is important. We’re going to take a lead in that,” that’s putting you guys front and center in that.

The other interesting aspect we did is the compliance stuff, too. We have over 100 plus compliance certifications. At any point of time, my team is working with some regulator in Korea, some auditor in Japan, or somebody in Australia. We did a similar framework like each of the country had their own thing. We took that and understood into how we globally market. We have our big global standard. If you do that global standard, then everything is a subset of it. That’s another approach we took. We have over 200 plus external-facing services. We are taking all of these services to a consistent product scale.

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: As a leader, when you have a large team, the best thing is to enable everybody to do their best, bring their A-game, and operate in a trusted environment.

 

There’s also minimum expectation of customer meet. When I’m launching a service in this thing, they expect us to be compliant on X, Y, Z and meeting these privacy laws. How do we do that for 200 plus services, which maps back to so many services internally within my services concept? Taking that global approach, I said, “I would do this as a superset. We would meet consistently all of these and that helps us scale.” We ship new services almost every 90 days. There’s a new service coming in various places with AI and IoT. We’re constantly innovating. That’s our USP, “Why would a company come to us?” The pace of innovation we are doing is so fast that they don’t need to invest there in that. Rather, they could focus on their core business. I would use the latest technology of what Azure is providing.

I love the fact that you have baked in privacy and compliance checklists at a global level as part of the go-to-market. That’s fundamental and a big shift in how you guide your go-to-market teams. If I’m a sales leader, let’s say, in France. For me, I have stringent laws and compliance and regulatory laws that I need to meet. It makes my life as a leader in France easy.

You don’t need to worry about that. The customer doesn’t know if you meet that. That’s not our point of discussion. It’s already done. You already talked about, “What’s my business opportunity? What’s the digital transformation?” What we want is the sales team to enable the transformation of the applications rather than worry about this, “Do you meet this and that?” It’s like, “When you get the product, it’s already compliant and certified. It meets all of this. Let’s spend our energy on focusing on the transformation because, in many cases, some of their customer apps have to be rewritten or they have to use the newer stack. Let’s focus the sales team and the service architects on that rather than worrying about these things.”

I’m shifting gears a bit over here. In your go-to-market when it comes to Azure and doing the rollout in different geographies, I’m sure there will be a lot more successes than failures. Can you walk us through how you assess? It’s a multiyear play. That’s one. At the end of the day, to your CFO, you need to show, “Here’s the ROI and here’s how I’ve been going to see returns by keeping the customer success and the business transformation in play.” How do you do that assessment and pitch it internally?

When we are planning for go-to-market, there is financial/CapEx investments are totally looked at to say, “What’s the revenue opportunity?” In terms of the engineering effort, we would also look at to say that, “If we do this, what unblocks or what customers do we bring in you?” It’s also important to keep hearing the customer feedback. We have our big customers who could be big banks or big manufacturing companies. We normally look at their requirements when we build all our programs. If I’m launching in a new region, I know who are going to be my top five customers there. I’m thinking ahead to make sure that their regulatory requirements are met and we know what services they need.

If I’m going to Germany, I need to make sure that the IoT services are present because it’s a manufacturing hub. You want to have that. If I go there to sell, I want to make sure that I’m meeting all the regulatory requirements from a banking perspective. Looking at that and early identifying that is super important. That’s why I said when you said, “When we look at it, it’s a multiyear journey.” We got to start now. While we build a data center, I’m doing all of this planning to make sure that when we launch the product, it’s ready for the sales team to sell. We also do the concept of inviting specific customers for the preview process so that we know you don’t have to wait long to know the product feedback. They are already there.

We also have those global partners who come with us everywhere in the world. We have a strong tie-up there as well. These are the ways we look at them. We have built a standard playbook when we launch in a region like, “Does this meet X, Y, Z? What’s the service’s scope? What capacity do we want to launch with?” Doing this for many years, we have a standard playbook. The playbook gets updated if you learn something new. In that playbook, what we build is tying it back with the sales motion as well. They know, “Here is the timing of what it comes.” They need to start planning towards that side of things. That’s how we have done. Initially, there were a lot more learnings. Now, it becomes a standard playbook for us. Still, we had gained some new learnings when we go to new markets, but then we reflect that back onto our global playbook.

If you're able to provide a trusted environment and encourage the team to bring their best game, they become a high-performing team. Click To Tweet

I can totally relate to that for several reasons. One is, back in the days when I was at Microsoft, I was leading product marketing for the IPD platform video room, which was part of Microsoft back then. In that role, I was responsible for, first of all, creating a sales playbook for the entire IPD portfolio. When I put myself in your shoes or in the shoes of your go-to-market leaders, I can see what front and center is. First of all, you need to capture the several years of learnings into one playbook, but there’s also an ongoing effort that needs to happen. For example, whenever we make a new acquisition, we need to update, change, and re-evaluate the positioning and the messaging, as well as what message I’m leading with when it comes to marketing and sales campaigns.

It’s also super interesting for us. When we go look at regions, there are Microsoft regional leaders. Their inputs are key because they are in the market and they know the customers. Being very closely aligned with them and getting the plans aligned with them is super important. If you think about it, they are the local ambassadors selling the product there. That’s another interesting aspect here. While we can have the global playbook, we will make sure the local team is part of the launches, understand the go-to-market plan, take their inputs, and modify it to meet that thing. They have a strong sense of feedback in, “What are the first set of customers we want to bring to them when we are launching?” Those are key things for us.

Shifting gears a bit over here, I know a couple of things. Besides go-to-market, another area that is big on your mind is around high-performing teams. It also bakes into the whole culture. I believe you’re also part of the Azure Culture Council and you’re one of the executive sponsors. Let’s dive into that area. We talked about go-to-market. Now, let’s dive into more of the high-performance cultures. What does it mean? What are you doing in that effort?

This reflection of my journey started where my team is spread across in roughly twelve countries in different time zones. The projects we’re doing are big and massive projects, which are making a big impact for society in general and driving the Microsoft Azure revenue. I started looking at, “As a leader, when you have a large team, the best thing is to make sure to enable everybody in the team to do their best, bring their A-game, and operate in a trusted environment.” That started off there because if you’re able to provide a trusted environment and encourage all of them to bring their best game, they challenge each other and it becomes a high-performing team.

I’ve been following one of the worldwide explorers called Mike Horn, who had trained the German soccer team and the Indian cricket team for World Cup wins. He is known as a high-performance coach. I’ve been following some of his documentations and journey. This is where I said, “We need to start replicating some of these.” I started inviting people to come talk about it. In fact, we had Mike talk through a session. It was fascinating. People then started openly talking about like, “What does it mean to be there?” In many cases, we are in between both professional and personal things. Sometimes you got to get a control of your personal situation to manage the professional the other way.

What I started doing was to bring those things and have a lot of discussion in the team. We have been having a lot of discussion about, “What does high-performance mean, being disciplined, and there’s a trust environment?” Another thing that I told is being able to publish RCAs. At the end of each program or a project when we launch something, that is super important. People have to do it such that it is seen published to the growth mindset like, “I don’t want to write an RCA and thinking that if I’m sharing with everybody, everybody looks at it as, ‘These are the drawbacks.'” No, it’s a growth-mindset thing. I learned, “These are the things I felt went well and these are the things that didn’t go well.”

Being able to openly publish it within the team, that’s where I felt like the trust is important because if somebody thinks somebody is going to misuse that information, then that trust is not there. When you publish that, one of the biggest things I realized with this is when one portion of my team does something and publish as an RCA, I want to share with the rest of the org because there’s always something I can read. My strong belief is you don’t need to be always in the driver’s seat to learn the driving. You can be on the passenger seat with a bunch of experiences. When I read something in RCA, “This is what happened.” That’s flexible for me. When I’m going through a similar experience or when I’m in similar project, I may be able to connect the dots.

A lot of my career has been built on connecting the dots. I wanted to make sure that, “How do I translate it to the team?” My vision is, “Learn and grow together as a team.” Initially, it used to be I would go for training or somebody else in the team would go for training. They would come and try to apply it, but sometimes their core system doesn’t let them do that because their core system is not ready for that or they don’t understand your perspective. When we did these group trainings, we do trainings with 200 to 300 people online. We had to do this all in COVID time. Suddenly, what happens is when I’m trying to build an environment with a trust or when I’m trying to do this, the people are able to understand where I’m coming from because we took the same training or the concepts are starting to be seen.

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

That’s where we started translating it into our vision and mission culture to create a safe space and growth mindset. That’s super important. As a leader, I tell the team, “Don’t worry. There are some learnings. If there’s a failure, come back and tell me first. Don’t think of it as a failure. I want to know that first to see what we can do to help fix that because it’s not people failure. It’s more of a process or a program failure, so we need to fix that.” Now, in some of my team reviews, I was doing one. The team was calling on, “Here’s what we learned. Here are the things we are looking at.”

For me, as a leader, all I’m providing is asking questions or providing insights with my broader team, but the team is self-reflecting on what they learned and how they think they should change the program. They are coming in with the recommendations. I was telling my chief-of-staff, “This has been fascinating to see them coming and providing recommendations. I feel like then they are pushing themselves and looking at their program.”

A couple of things caught my mind over there. One is the fact that you see high-performance teams as a top priority for several reasons. Distributed teams is one thing, but there’s also the intent which you’re driving, not just for yourself but for the team. How do you help connect the dots for the team? That’s one. The other piece is, how do you create that environment of trust? As you’re talking to that, there’s an anecdote and story from Satya Nadella’s book, Hit Refresh, which is I believe they were involved off-sites early on.

One of the exercises involved is where each of them share a story and be vulnerable. I believe they were also asked to stand on top of a chair by talking about that. I’m not 100% sure about that, but that’s not the main point here. The main point over here is being vulnerable and showing the human side to your colleagues. Often, especially in the leadership roles, people think from the title point of view versus, “You’re a human first and then a leader helping drive the team.”

One interesting thing when we left off in my conversation was, he said, “Asking for help to your colleagues, leaders, and managers is super important.” You should not see that as a vulnerability. It’s rather, “I have a trusted space where I can ask for help.” Creating that is something super important because it’s creating the environment and each of the person is feeling that, “When I ask for help, I’m not seen as I failed. It’s seen as I’m thinking about it from a growth-mindset perspective.”

I’ve been a big believer of the growth mindset like, “Everything there is hard, but I’m trying to engage that.” That means to your point, it’s like, “When I have a growth mindset, I will not hesitate to ask for help because I know this is a way for me to get better on the team and the program.” For me to do that, then I need to create a trusted environment. I should not feel like, “If I make a help, I’m going to be not considered a good writer.” If you mix three of these things, creating the trusted environment, like people having the growth mindset, then it becomes a high-performance team across everywhere.

As you pointed out, it’s about creating that environment that it’s okay to fail because that’s fundamental. Also, it’s okay to share and say that you’re vulnerable and you’re asking for help. I’ve it seen personally where I’m helping guide my consulting clients is, how do you shift the mindset from, “It’s not about you, but it’s about helping and doing the right thing for the team or the customer eventually?” If you shift that perspective from, “I’m not in a position or I feel awkward or belittled when I ask for help,” that’s a very me-mindset versus the mindset, “What is needed for that customer to succeed? Now, let me go and tap into the sphere who has worked on that or tap into someone else.”

When you have a growth mindset, you will not hesitate to ask for help because you know this is a way to get better. Click To Tweet

The way we say we succeed and fail together as a team is like, “If we fail, it’s all the learning stuff for the team. What did I miss?” This is all the way up. Even having the team talk to each other, it’s like your point of being vulnerable and asking for help is, “I’m facing through this issue.” You’re asking your colleagues saying, “Have you faced this? Do you have any suggestions?” That’s important. I said the whole publishing of RCA. I’m very passionate about that.

Sometimes if you read those, some of the failures remain in your memory more than the success, to be fair. You will read that failure and then you see this. Maybe there’s one a-ha moment when you’re going through this dark connection like, “I saw this somewhere up there. How do I look at this?” That’s my thinking in that direction. I’ve been spending a lot of my leadership in that. It’s fascinating to see the discussions and the teams are starting to come together and proposing changes.

I’ll be on the lookout for your LinkedIn posts. As I know, that’s one of the areas where you share linked posts and articles around those. I’ll be on the lookout for how you’re helping the team become more of a growth mindset, leader, and high-performance team. Good for you on that. I’m shifting gears to the next section. We broadly covered different areas about your role, the Azure rollout, as well as your emphasis on culture and high-performance teams. I know for Microsoft, the financial year is from July 1st to June 30th. That’s a fiscal year. What are your big goals that you can share around 20, 21, 22, and 23?

For us, the important role is to continue expanding into more countries. That’s one big role of what I have. These are publicly announced. We have Azure regions coming up in fifteen plus countries. Delivering in those regions is our one broader goal. We also have some interesting more regulations happening in Europe. There was a post from Brad Smith, who is part of the SLT. We took a decision to be a taught leader and being ahead of the game there. Some of those happened to be my big thing. We continued to help grow the Azure business by expanding into more regions and then meeting some of the additional privacy regulations, which are coming up in parts of Europe.

Looking at all of those, where do you think are the most areas where either you need to bring in outside help or when you need to invest a budget around those areas?

What is happening is, as we expand in places, we are also adding a new team. The COVID situation is very interesting. We’re supposed to be going back to office. Now, it’s going back to be hybrid. A lot of my budget and energy focus is to help grow the people. We’re in a remote culture. We have a lot of learnings and success to be fair going into the COVID state of everybody has to be remote, being inclusive, and being able to participate irrespective of the time zone. Continuing that is my big thing because we are a global team. We are adding more regions globally, so how do we sustain this growth? I feel like if I had extra budget, I would keep spending on people with these additional trainings.

The other one I brought in was Greg McKeown. He has written a book on Essentialism and Effortless, two books. I’m a big fan of Essentialism because, as my responsibilities grew, I cannot figure out, “How do I focus on the most important thing?” That’s a session we did and a lot of people found it useful. In a work-from-home thing, people are still always battling between the professional priorities and the personal priorities. How do you focus on the essential things by saying no? We’re continuing to invest in the people. Growing them is going to be important while we continue to grow our business around the world.

You mentioned about high-performance culture and Essentialism. Besides those, what are the topics you are most curious about, especially when it comes to go-to-market? Who do you or what do you lean on when you want to ramp up on these areas or figure out what’s the best practice of what’s working or what’s not?

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Keep learning and applying the growth mindset. It’s okay to fail, but at the end of the day, what do we learn from it?

 

I typically get a chance to talk to my different Microsoft people around the world. I hear it on the sales calls or multiple calls. I’m curious to learn multiple things of what’s happening in a country. I happened to be in one of the meetings where some of the European Microsoft sales team meet. I can get it here and there so they can tell what’s happening in this market. A lot of things are happening locally in the market. I’m curious to step back, sit there, and listen. That helps in forming some strategy for me as I’m looking at things, “What’s happening in Spain and UK? What’s the digital transformation journey for customers is happening?”

You as being some of the key technology providers, some of the global companies are taking their offerings into each of the region. Reading through those strategies also inform. Things like Tesla opening up a factory in India, that’s different. It’s an art. I’ve been following some of the articles about, “What happened then? How much it took hard for them to open a factory? When does the production come?” If you look at that as that’s like a go-to-market, having the Slack apps that are made in India, they’re going through an up and down.

Every article is interesting, too. Since you already closed to the go-to-market, you could look at each of this business and see what’s happening. It could also be Amazon entering into a different industry like healthcare. There are a lot of these things happening. You could sit there and learn the experiences from there. That probably also helped me formulate, “If I have to go to X, Y, Z place or if I have to grow, what are the things I see others are pointing out?”

There are two things that you called out. One is you’re leaning on the resources in people and the learnings from and within Microsoft. That’s one key area. Second is it’s not Microsoft only. You’re keeping mind open and even looking at “competitors” but it’s not from a competitor point of view. It’s more from a learner’s perspective. It’s not a competitive analysis perspective. That’s why when you mentioned about Amazon and taking a new market like Tesla, it’s all about, “What are their pitfalls or learnings, but more importantly, how can I bring those into then back to my team?” I love that approach. If you look back at your career, you’ve had a series of stints in India and then it was Ernst & Young and then Microsoft. If you look back the entire span, who are those 1, 2, or 3 people that you think played a big role in your career?

Personally, my father has been a big role model because he had a tough financial situation. He had to probably almost drop out of high school because of health and then financial conditions. He struggled his way through, but he never gave up. He was constantly fighting it and made sure that we all got the education where I could take on what I wanted to do. That’s an inspiration. Every time I see him, I always saw him as hardworking. He used to work 12 to 13 hours. I would never see him complain in the woodshop and office, even on Sundays. I would never be able to match that. It was fascinating. Until the day he did that, he was 100% dedicated wherever he worked. He is also tenured in many places he worked.

Within Microsoft, I’ve seen and felt Satya Nadella’s culture changes and how he is as a leader. It has been fascinating when I get to hear or when I get to present to him. What I’ve seen is he applies the growth mindset and curiosity. He is constantly asking questions. He is reading and learning. That inspired me to go and modify my leadership style to be more curious and have the insights. You’ll find about me going and reading these multiple articles about what it is. When I do my own team reviews, I’m looking at all of these data and providing more insights or be curious and ask questions.

That’s something which I saw fascinating with him in terms of him learning. Whenever you’ve got to talk about any topic, he is asking 5 or 6 questions. These questions are coming from either his reading or him talking to different leaders and understanding the business. He would say, “I spoke to X, Y, Z. This is their business strategy and this is what they’re thinking about. How does this align with us? How do we think about partnering?” Partnering is one of the big things he brought as a culture change to Microsoft. You could see now Microsoft as one of the biggest partners everywhere. That leadership style, I felt that change is happening.

That inspired me to be curious, keep learning, keep reading, ask curious questions, try to connect the dots, and see how this is going to help the business. That has been a big inspiration. Every time I get the chance to have a meeting in one of the reviews with him, I’m like, “Wow.” With so many dark connections that are happening and then asking more questions, it frames the biggest strategy for what we want to do.

Growing people is going to be important while we continue to grow our business around the world. Click To Tweet

That’s an inspiration for many. For me, it’s that one line, which is permanently edged. He is also the reason which helps shift Microsoft culture and thinking from, “Do it all to learn it all.” That is fundamental.

One other interesting thing is, normally, the Asian leaders are seen as more of a CTO or some technical people. He brought a change to look at, “They can be the business leaders or more of the CEO.” That’s a very interesting paradigm shift, which started with him as well. Now, you see a lot more. That’s interesting if you think about the mindset change of the shift which happened how you brand a set of leaders.

A final question for you is, if you were to turn back time and go back to your younger self, maybe it’s the day one of your go-to-market journey when you were leading the program management and other areas within Azure or maybe sometime earlier. If you were to turn back the clock and time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Enjoy the journey because, in some cases where I felt I could have properly stepped back and enjoyed the journey. That’s my reflection. I was more curious or how I expect this to be successful. When things are not going well, I was not super excited about that. If you go back, look at it in your career, your go-to-market, sometimes it’s more than six months journey. You will have success and failures. It’s super important to enjoy the journey. Also, keep learning and applying the growth mindset. It’s okay to fail, but at the end of the day, what we do learn from it? That will help you when you get the next job if you’re going to do it. Be a part of it because every learning is an opportunity for you next time when you get to do something similar.

Thank you so much for your time. On that note, I enjoyed our conversation and that’s advice to all, which is enjoy the journey. Any parting words?

This is great. It’s different from the business that it takes. It was great having you with day-to-day. I’m looking forward to reading your blog more as well. I like hearing from other people. That’s another way to listen and learn. That’s another way I look at shows.

Thank you so much. Do hit subscribe. It’s a big help if you can spread the word. I’m happy to host other go-to-market leaders within Microsoft and Azure as well. Thank you so much.

 

Important Links

 

About Pradeep Nair

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-MarketPradeep is an Executive Leader in Azure leading several Products across Data Center and Enterprise Promises areas. Pradeep as a Vice President in Azure currently leads a very diverse Product team of 400+ comprised of Product Managers, Technical Program Managers and Software Developers. Pradeep has built a team that develops great products that focuses on designing and building a comprehensive, efficient and market leading cloud infra that enables faster time to market and meets customer expectations. He has experience defining product strategy, building cloud infra products from the ground up and driving multibillion-dollar growth and profitability

Pradeep has a successful track record of leading complex, high-profile multibillion-dollar products spanning multiple geographies, requiring collaboration with multiple teams and under aggressive timelines. Strong technical background, effective communicator and experience working with Senior Leadership. He holds multiple patents covering hyperscale computing, infrastructure operations, and security.

Significant strengths in areas of :
• Exec Leadership Management
• Building and Managing Strong Leaders and Diverse Teams
• Product Management
• Cloud Services Deployment and Delivery
• Cloud Security and Privacy
• Compliance Certifications, Standards and Frameworks
• Team Management

Certifications:

• Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) – (ISC)2
• Project Management Professional (PMP) – PMI
• ITIL Foundation Certification in I.T Service Management
• Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) – ISACA

Pradeep graduated with Bachelors in Computer Science and with Masters in Information Technology.

 

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B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

Thank you. How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For him, it did not change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for your time, Karim Zuhri.

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

 

Important Links

 

About Karim Zuhri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re giving you the budget. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

 

Important links

 

About Sangram Vajre

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

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

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

 

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B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

Driving Customer Adoption Through Sales And Marketing With Roger Beharry Lall

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

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

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

I’m happy to share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Was that your first job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a pretty well-rounded team.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Do you guys use something like a Gong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misery loves company. I’m onto something.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales are your greatest opportunity for success as a marketer. Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

 

Important Links

 

About Roger Beharry Lall

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

VP Marketing

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

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

 

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B2B 11 | Go-To-Market

 

The go-to-market is not a one-off strategy with a single end-point. It is an ongoing journey. The best companies take this to heart and continually get guided by this strategy. In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu interviews the founder and CEO of  Nimbella, Anshu Agarwal, about applying the go-to-market to their business, sharing what their actionable plan looks like and how they use it to reach their targets. Anshu also takes us to her career journey and how it later evolved to starting Nimbella. She goes further into cloud computing and why companies are moving to serverless. Inspiring budding entrepreneurs out there, she then gives some wisdom on why you should start a company that is built to stand on its own legs.

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Go-To-Market Goes Serverless With Anshu Agarwal 

This time I have with me, Anshu Agarwal, who is the Founder and CEO of Nimbella. Anshu, you and I met a few years ago, back in the day when I was a product manager at Juniper, you are part of Ankeena and Juniper acquired Ankeena. It’s been a long time since we connected, then we spoke that I wanted to have you on the show, it was almost like we never lost contact and we never lost touch with each other. We knew and we just picked up. I’m super excited. Welcome to the show, Anshu.

Thank you, Vijay. It’s truly exciting to be here. With the help of social media whether it’s LinkedIn or Facebook, you stay so connected that it doesn’t feel like that you haven’t talked or met a person for many years. That’s how I felt when you had reached out.

I always start my show and the talk with my guest with my signature question which my audience always looks forward to as well is, how do you define go-to-market?

I’ve been in marketing for quite a long time now and my definition of go-to-market has evolved as my thinking has evolved. At the core, go-to-market is an actionable plan that tells me and my team how we will reach our target customers and how we will reach our targets. It helps me clarify why we are launching our product, understand what the Ideal Customer Profile, ICP is, and what is my buyer persona. I can create a plan to engage with the ICP and convince them to buy my product, try my product, or whatever I need them to do. That is my definition of go-to-market. It used to be different before but now, it evolved into this thinking.

At the core, the go-to-market is an actionable plan that informs a company how they will reach their target customers. Click To Tweet

This is something that I shared with my other guests as well. Go-to-market and how you viewed it as an individual and how you bring that thinking and thought process to your company evolves with time and with wisdom. Back in the days when I was a product marketer, I used to think of the go-to-market as this one upcoming launch and that’s it, which is a very short-sighted view. I’m happy to admit that flaw and I’m glad that I admitted that flaw. After listening to a lot of the experts, reading books, and listening to podcasts, it’s very clear that go-to-market is an ongoing journey. It doesn’t stop. As you said, it starts with the ideal customer profile. It’s all about how you align your team internally to deliver on the promise on your products and features to that ideal customer profile. I have several other questions I can double-click on. The first one that comes to my mind is, how do you define an ideal customer profile, especially for a founding company on day zero? How do you define that and how does it evolve?

Let’s take an example because it’s easier to do with an example, an ideal customer profile for Nimbella. Nimbella is a serverless application development platform. You can imagine the user of Nimbella’s platform would be developers. The ideal customer profile is the developer. That’s the buyer persona. Where does this developer live in? This developer could be an indie developer or in a small, medium or large company. We figured out where our platform is most suited for. It is suited for the development of modern cloud-native applications. For those developers who are in these organizations that are developing cloud-native applications, our platform is ideal for them. That is my ideal customer profile. We took a step back from saying, “I’m going to define ICP first and then figure out who to sell to.” I define where the buyer persona is and then came to the ideal customer profile.

You had a vast amount of go-to-market experience in all your previous roles and that’s brought to fruition. It’s helping you in your role at your company now. Let’s talk a bit about your journey. How has your journey been like to date, your evolution of roles, and what has influenced you the way you’re sourcing companies? What brought you to where you are now?

I’m an engineer by background like most of us are here but I’ve been running the business side of the companies for many years. Only in tech companies because there’s a part of me that is so attached to tech. I did my business school in marketing and most of my friends from business school went to Pepsi-Cola, Sara Lee and all those brand companies. I came to the Bay Area and I said, “I only wanted to work for a tech company,” so here I am. In tech also, I particularly only worked with cloud infrastructure. I’ve not deviated in the domain, although cloud infrastructure has had an evolution. I’ve been in four startups, all acquired by large companies, Akamai, Juniper, HPE and Citrix was the last ones. The story was that I go an acquisition every five years. After the last one, I decided I need to do something different, which is starting my own company. I’m not getting any younger. I got together with two amazing entrepreneurs and started Nimbella. That’s where we are now.

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: If you can reduce the development cost and go-to-market faster, you’re not only reducing the cost, but you are accelerating revenue.

 

That’s a great experience in itself, especially for those who are in Silicon Valley. There will come a time where you had the entrepreneurial itch that will force you to take action into starting something on your own. I congratulate you and I’m excited for you on that.

Having worked with startups, I always thought, “I know startups,” but starting your own is a completely different ball game.

How would your kids describe what you do at work?

As I mentioned, I’ve been through so many companies and my kids think that this is the norm. Everybody does that. When something doesn’t change in five years, they’re like, “What’s going on?” My kids think I’m still cool even though I’m outdated on a lot of things for them. Somehow, I am able to work on cool technology. That’s how they will describe. They both are technical kids but they still think I work on cool tech, which is impressive.

Talk to us about Nimbella. When we chatted, you shared a very profound insight into why you started your own company. I want you to share that with our audience.

First of all, when you meet the right team, you feel that it’s starting something up here on so the team came together. Let’s talk about why we picked what we are doing, which is serverless. I started working in content delivery for many years. Content delivery was the first cloud computing service if you define it. After thirteen years in CDN in various companies, all we were trying to do was take more content from the content owners and make it available easily to a wider audience with the lowest latency. What we were seeing was we were moving more compute to the edge. The edge is changing. It keeps on moving closer to the end-user.

When we were looking at what technologies we’re using, what we should be looking at and how cloud computing is evolving, serverless was a domain that was something nascent and proprietary. We looked at it from that angle and said, “We’ve been doing content delivery. We’ve been moving a little bit of compute, and now let’s take the full compute and see how you can offer that easily to serverless compute but in a non-proprietary fashion, where there are no operational challenges for the end-user to users to the developer.” That’s when we started a Nimbella where we looked at serverless technical challenges that only support stateless workloads and the state is still managed by the developer. There are other technical challenges of proprietary nature and lots of tools to put together. Operational challenges are how do you make it available on a scale to all developers. Not just developers who are experts, but also developers who are getting to start developing but are developing a cloud-native environment. That’s the reason of what we are doing now.

You get to see how cloud-native as well as how Nimbella takes off. This is nascent. I completely agree with you on that.

It is nascent but it is the number one initiative within enterprises. Many enterprises are moving towards a serverless computing paradigm and more applications are being written in this paradigm. There’s a lot of work to be done but that’s the beauty of it and the excitement that there’s so much growth possible.

What do you see as the drivers? Why are enterprise companies moving to serverless?

Enterprise companies are moving to serverless because it is rapid development and deployment. What is the biggest cost in a company? There are many serverless advantages and I can tell you one is you don’t have to manage any servers. You’re relieving a big headache which isn’t maintaining servers and several applications. There is no idle time. You pay as you go. Even if you are managing it yourself, you can grow financially within your infrastructure and it will grow as your user-base grows. You’re never allocating any kind of it. The biggest advantage is time to market. The reason it is the biggest advantage is because of the development cost, which is the biggest cost for a company. If you can reduce the development cost and go-to-market faster, you’re not only reducing the cost but you are accelerating your revenue. You’re hitting both sides of your net income. That’s why I feel that this is the space where if you adopt this paradigm, any enterprise has so many gains for the development organization that is incomparable.

Companies are moving to serverless because it is rapid development and deployment. Click To Tweet

The parallels that I see and I would like to get your thoughts because you are the expert in this. Years ago when this whole CI/CD movement took off, that was a big thing. It was all about time to market. How do you make it easy for developers to release new features or bug fixes quicker?

This augments your CI/CD pipeline but what it does is it helps on the development side and the deployment side because you are able to develop in the cloud and deploy to the cloud very easily. You don’t need to be a cloud expert. That’s the beauty of it. You can be a cloud novice and still do it.

You also talked about something else that motivated you to start your own company. You were part of four acquisitions earlier. Did I get that right?

Yes.

You saw both from the inside and outside. Both from the acquired as well as the acquirer on how you thought or data that the value is being created. Over time, the value is being almost mitigated or even destroyed in some cases. That led you to start or that was one of the motivating factors. I want you to hit on this because I want this message to be clear to all, either the current founders or the to-be founders on why it’s one of the motivations for why they should start a company.

As I mentioned, I was going through this startup large company exercise and having been acquired by four large companies. The company’s direction changes. When you are in a startup, you are so laser-focused on that little one product that you have to take to market and make it successful. You are dropped in this ocean where there are many products. Now, you’re trying to swim in that ocean saying, “Sales guy, please sell my product, this and that.” Now you’re like a tiny little portfolio product and you feel either you get attention or you don’t. You survive or you die. I am a product person. I have been in this domain for long enough and I’ve worked with products that I believe in.

Sometimes, those products are lost. You are in a $20 billion company and they acquired a product line of $30 million. What is $30 million when you compare it to billion-dollar product lines? It’s nothing. When the times are rough, what happens? You kill the little guy in there. That little product could have been the future of that company but that’s how large companies are. They go from quarter-to-quarter and they’re trying to find efficiencies when times are rough. When times are good, you can do a lot of things but when times are rough, that’s what happens. I being a product person at the core, it really kills me.

One of the reasons I started the company is we built a company that stands on its own legs. It’s not a component in any large company. It can be and it can run on its own. Acquisition can happen. If it is worthwhile, we should always consider it. A small product in a large company is lost. When you are trying to build something from scratch, it is going to be a small product initially. It’s going to grow over time. Grow that and build it so that you have a large vision. You can grow your product portfolio yourself. You don’t have to be part of somebody else’s product portfolio. You can become a part of somebody’s portfolio but it’s an important part of the portfolio and that’s what I’m focused on.

Back in the days when I was doing my MBA, this used to be one of my case studies. It’s a classical thing. When you are at this school, you always talk about acquisitions, M&As. There’s research out there. More often than not, the post-acquisition value dilutes and hurts both the acquired and the acquirer because there are many factors here. There’s technology, teams, processes and the cultural aspect. To get it right, it’s not easy. One company that’s done well is Cisco in terms of acquisition and making it work. Otherwise, it is a pain. It’s not easy.

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: When you are in a startup, you are so laser-focused on that little one product that you have to take to market and make it successful.

 

Most acquisitions do okay for 2 to 3 years but then it’s a cyclical business. Times are rough. They are looking at all angles. It’s not just your product. I may be married to my product but there are many other products that get impacted. Either the product should be a very critical part of the portfolio or you lost into large companies.

You did mention and talk about who your ideal customer profile is for Nimbella. You talk about the developers, both indie as well as someone who is within a mid or large size company. What is Nimbella’s go-to-market strategy? How are you thinking about it? How did it evolve from day one?

Nimbella’s go-to-market strategy is quite different from what I have done with other B2B companies in my past. We are serving the B2B space. The space is the same but the user of our product is developer and developers are a different breed of buyers. The reason is you can’t sell to them by direct marketing effort. More show, don’t tell. If I was to sum up our GTM strategy in one phrase, it is the bottom of evangelization with some top-down commercialization because in the end, we have to generate revenue to sustain. What we do is we are in a product-led business. It’s not a sales-led business. Therefore, we have to be focused on evangelization first.

We started our effort on top-down because the buyer is typically an enterprise leader who is not necessarily going to swipe the credit card and buy the product without knowing more about it. They are a developer also but they are a developer leader, CTO, cloud architect, you name it. Those people are making a decision for an organization and not just for themselves. We do evangelization through developer advocates either from the open-source community or they are considered experts in their domain of expertise. What developers do is follow them and their advice. No matter how many marketing material you throw at them, it doesn’t matter. It’s what they consume on their own. They have to find things on their own. The content has to be educational and not sales-oriented or marketing-oriented because that content should be influencing the developer users without crossing that boundary between education and selling.

That is truly important and it’s different from what I had done in the past. I’ve done outright blatant marketing. We also use gamification. As I mentioned, my buyer persona is developer. Whether they are developer leaders or not, but they are developers. They could be CTO, cloud architects, or whatever they may be. Gamification is of interest. The campaign that we are running, which is a three-month-long campaign is called FaaS Wars. It’s a play on Star Wars. It is themed after Star Wars and FaaS is Function as a Service which is another word for serverless.

A small product in a large company is lost. Click To Tweet

You still have your marketing brains there.

I have a very good marketing person on the team, much better than I am. This is their creation. Every engineer I know is a fan of Star Wars. There may be few but every engineer. In this game, you go and create your starfighter using our platform and you battle. There are many things happening. You are learning about serverless. It teaches you serverless. You’re learning about a platform, you are playing a game, and you are winning a prize. That campaign is running. We have wonderful traction with that. We have many registrations for this and there are constantly building robots to fight. We declared our first winner on January 30th.

For your next campaign, you should think of something around the lines of Wonder Woman.

Thank you for that great idea. I would love to pass it down to my marketing person.

You hit all the right points there. Clearly, it’s a big shift for those who were doing the classical traditional B2B marketing, selling to the business buyers, or positioning their products against business buyers versus you’re not selling but educating the developers. It’s a whole different ball game. You cannot create fluffy marketing content stuff. That’s for sure. It’s all about them getting their hands dirty and experiencing SDK, API, documentation, sandbox environment, and all of those. It’s all about that. Once they do that, that’s when they get or build some affinity towards, “This is something cool and this is something that I should share with other developers.”

One thing I did forget, things have changed from the last time. There is a concept of free service, not just free time trial and freemium offering. That is very important in our line of business. You’ve got to give developers their time to play around with your product not just for hobby projects but real projects. That too, is free so they can adapt it for enterprise use cases.

I liked the way you phrased it which is bottom-up evangelization and top-down commercialization.

This is a very understanding of mine because I’m trying to figure out how do I influence and also sustain.

We talked about bottom-up evangelization which is educating or getting to the developers. How are you approaching your top-down because that’s always a component of your go-to-market?

Even the top-down approach has been different from traditional enterprises and companies I’ve worked for. The reason is we are a small company. I can’t afford a full-blown sales team, if you may. Also, my buyer persona is a little different. A B2B salesperson may not know how to sell to a developer buyer. We sell through developer advocacy. I do have a very strong developer advocate but I would say, he’s a hybrid developer advocate because he does wear a little bit of a salesy hat. His objective is to help the developers from the enterprises to use our platform but also figure out how to monetize the platform that we are offering. It’s a hybrid approach but it is through developer advocacy.

I have a great developer advocate in Italy and he is not only able to influence the indie developers but also the enterprise buyers. He’s able to speak their language and to the needs of the domestic market. This is important for us to make a top-down impact because you need to be able to understand their use cases, their needs, and position the product correctly for them to be able to try and buy. That’s the difference, I would say. As we grow, we’ll become more traditional B2B as every company evolves, but then you will see critical masses evolve. You would see 10 to 15 developers in a company are using it independently of each other. You approach the company and say, “Fifteen developers in your company are using one-to-one an enterprise license for this.” That’s the typical bottom-up evangelization leading to bottom-up commercialization. We will evolve to that. Until then, we have to take a hybrid approach. We are influencing both sides of the equation, the developer persona as well as the developer buyer persona.

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: You’ve got to give developers their time to play around with your product. Not for hobby projects, but real projects and free.

 

One of the role models for who’s taking those approaches or who has taken this approach and being successful is Slack. Slack comes to mind, bottom-up and top-down. I’m waiting for that day when you and Nimbella are up there with those big names.

I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can make it.

You have a plan for 2021. What are your big goals and challenges? Let’s start with the goals? What are the big things that you see from a go-to-market perspective for 2021?

Let’s talk about 2020 because it was an odd year. Everybody will go down in history as the odd year. It was difficult but it was not that difficult for tech. Tech did pretty okay but there were several months in 2020 that a lot of companies put brakes on new technology and new exploration, which impacts startups and new technology like us. Some of that effect was positive that you don’t have to travel. People are signing million-dollar deals on web conferences.

It’s easier to get the decision-maker because he or she is not complaining about the flight schedule or travel anymore. “Let’s jump on a call.”

There is an advantage of that but there are other disadvantages. You are not making a connection with your customer. If they are such a big customer and you want to land and expand there, it is hard because you haven’t formed that connection. You wouldn’t understand them as well as you would have understood if there was a team meeting with their team. You don’t have a captive audience, for instance. If you look at any conference and I have attended several online conferences because you can attend as many as you want. You’re not traveling anywhere. Everybody is doing ten different things. I’m getting a message in Slack. My phone is ringing. There’s absolutely no captive audience. You think that since it will be a recorded session, you’ll come back and listen to it. That is a challenge now.

These are the challenges that we are faced with because we are in the business of influencing developers and the buyer. That influence becomes harder when there is no captive audience anywhere. My challenges are the same. I want to make that impact. We are going to keep on trying those same things. It’s easier to get people in the meeting but it is harder to repeat those meetings because you have met them once and you’re going to show them a similar thing next time. There are no other venues to meet. For instance, you had a phone call, you met them at a conference, and you followed up from the conference. Those avenues are all gone. These are my challenges that I’m still working with. We have a line of sight to our 2021 goals but there’s a lot of work to be done. We are always limited by resources.

Something that I’ve seen other companies do well and something that I articulate in what I call the content-to-revenue manifesto which is the companies that get it right are those that are investing in content, almost creating a brand or a self PR machine. It is not PR in the negative sense. It’s about how do you drive awareness, how do you get people to know what you do, and have them see you as an expert.

You can grow your product portfolio yourself. You don't have to be part of somebody else's. Click To Tweet

There’s so much material nowadays, many conferences you can attend, and many events you can attend because there’s no travel. There are a lot of podcasts and blogs. How do you stay top of mind in the midst of so much information and how do you produce the right content? Those are the challenges. Everybody is on one platform now. That is your virtual platform. You are competing for the mind space on that platform. That’s the challenge.

I’ll make a mental note. I’ll follow up with you and your head of marketing later, and we can run you and the team through that content-to-revenue manifesto. One of the paddlers and something that I’ve seen is how writing code is to developers. Content is the same thing. It’s the same currency for your marketing and sales. The better your code, the better your product. It’s the same thing for content. Unfortunately, for companies like us or what I do is we help people and companies to get better at developing content because that’s the currency for marketing and sales and even customer success. It’s about how do you create content where you are seen as delivering value first and the people are extracted towards your channels, your expertise and your mindshare.

You’ll have to stand out. I’ll say, “How do you look for your zebra in the field of ponies?”

Let’s dive more into the last couple of questions. For every leader and every go-to-market leader are every person staying on top of your game, staying in touch with what’s the reality out there, and staying in touch with the community is key. Learning is a big process. What are the big things that you’re curious about from a go-to-market perspective and how do you stay on top?

I’m looking for engaging my ICP all the time. How do I engage with my ICP in a way that I am not blatantly marketing to them? That’s the big thing. I find ways through hackathons, gamification and content. We publish blogs all the time. I personally read a lot but not books. There are many good books but I don’t have time to read books. I consume it in bite-size and curate it in medium blogs even corporate blogs. Some corporate blogs are so good. I also look at Hacker News and Reddit forums because these are the places where my buyer persona hangs out. They’re not comprehensive but they are the talk of the town. I need to know what’s going on there.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and they have been helpful during this pandemic. There’s a wealth of knowledge. There have been many events that I have liked. There are a lot of online events but majority of them are either I say put it off that I’ll watch it later or on-demand. Some of the live events from the VCs have been very helpful like the Foundation Capital and Redpoint. They’ve hosted wonderful events in the area that I am interested in like product-led growth and developer growth, all of these. I have learned a ton from them because they were leaders who have taken their company through motions and they have the battle scars but they overcame the challenges that they’ve faced. I’m not reinventing the wheel. I’m learning from their experiences.

My knowledge is constantly being added on and it’s evolving. Some things work and some things don’t work, but the beauty of nowadays world is you can fail fast and move on. It is not very expensive and difficult to try both from the infrastructure perspective and also from a production perspective. Any content production can be done economically, whereas that wasn’t the case before. Those are the things that I keep on trying, learning and experimenting. Experiment is the game. Hopefully, there is a formula that clicks like repeatable. I found a couple of things, as I said, gamification, hackathons and content. Also, what kind of content is useful? That is always changing because there are new frameworks that have come up and then there are people who are trying different things. You’re all constantly in learning mode.

That’s a key. It’s about having that discipline and the mindset to figure it out bit specific content or resource that you can apply now. That’s the framework that I’ve applied and seen in myself. That’s a ton of content, be it books, communities, forums, their webinars, and their podcasts but one framework that I’ve seen play out well. I think that’s what you’re alluding to is, what is that one thing that is top of mind for me this week, this month, or this quarter and what resources can I lean into? One time question for you. If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, the time when you’ve transitioned from a hardcore PR coding developer engineer to your product management job, what advice would you give her?

The advice that I would give her twenty years prior that whatever you learned in school, apply it right then because it’s not going to be the same. When I started my go-to-market journey, I was looking at 4Ps and 3Cs. You understand the business school jargon and it is helpful. We may not call it jargon now but it’s helpful because it frames and puts a structure and that evolves. I would advise myself at that time, “Apply it right now but keep an open mind that this is not going to be the norm. This is one single step that you’re taking in your go-to-market journey. Always be open to new ideas and keep on experimenting.” One other thing I would say is don’t wait too long. This is more of startup wisdom rather than large company wisdom.

If you haven’t even released the product and you want to test the market, go out and test the market. Talk to your prospective customers or prospective users. Not because you want to sell to them at that time but to understand more because as you are developing it, your thinking may evolve. I am not a believer of stealth. Go out and pitch. Don’t be shy to pitch unless you are doing super-secret stuff. That’s the first advice. Second, don’t wait too long to hire your best marketing person. Go for it right away.

I am in the same belief and mindset which is stealth unless you’re super secretive and hard-to-get IP. It’s a whole different ball game but I’m a believer and practitioner of this whole agile startup mindset. We apply agile developers to experience, go, test it out and get feedback. It’s the same thing for the go-to-market. Thanks to Eric Ries and Steve Blank. They have preached and promoted this whole Lean Startup and agile startup mindset. I think that is key, especially from getting feedback to even testing the content on your go-to-market messaging, that is key. It’s not for the product but even for product-led companies, it’s about getting that feedback as to what resonates, what sticks, and what doesn’t?

We all have to figure out either you are disrupting or you’re creating a new category. Once you figure that out, go full steam.

It’s great speaking with you, Anshu. I greatly appreciated the time that you’ve taken and all the nuggets that you shared. If the audience wants to learn more about you and Nimbella, how do they find you? How do they get to learn more about Nimbella and what you do?

Just go to Nimbella.com. You’ll find everything about Nimbella. A website is not always perfect. It’s always changing as I said but there is enough information there. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter. Search for Anshu Agarwal and you will find me.

Thank you. I’m wishing you and the team the very best, Anshu.

Thank you, Vijay.

 

Important Links

 

About Anshu Agarwal

B2B 11 | Go-To-MarketAnshu is an experienced senior-level executive with extensive experience at startups and Fortune 500 companies in Marketing and Product Management. She has strong expertise in positioning, marketing communications, new product launches, business planning and go-to-market strategy and execution. Anshu has a reputation for successfully building and leading high-performance startup teams. She has experience with both hardware and software products including SaaS.

Specialties: Go-to-market strategy, Product strategy, Pre-revenue and Pre-IPO startup experience, Corporate experience, sales strategy, channel management, market share acquisition, B2B/Enterprise marketing – branding, campaign management, demand generation

Industry experience: Network Infrastructure and Management, Software Defined Networking, Content Delivery & Streaming, Application Delivery, Virtualization, Cloud Computing, Storage, Security, and Analytics.

 

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B2B 8 | Go-To-Market

B2B 8 | Go-To-Market

 

Businesses go from one level to the next. The further you are along, the more complex your business strategy will become. In terms of the go-to-market, startups and mature businesses also differ in their approach. Taking us through these stages, Vijay Damojipurapu invites Ajit Deshpande, the Vice President of Demand Generation at Marqeta, Inc. Here, Ajit shares his thoughts and observations between startups and businesses that are further along in the game and reveals some of the best practices of go-to-market leaders. He gives pieces of advice to leaders on building traction and scaling up—from marketing to leading a team with experimentation—and then reveals how they are working towards their goals in the company as a FinTech startup. 

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Go-To-Market For Scaling Startups With Ajit Deshpande 

I have with me Ajit Deshpande, the Vice President of Demand Generation at Marqeta, who is based out of Silicon Valley. Ajit has a unique profile and track record in the sense that he has grown in the ranks and in the roles of go-to-market oral function all the way from marketing planning, business operations, marketing leader role, now in Demand Gen. At the same time, he’s been active in the whole startup ecosystem. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Welcome to the show, Ajit.

Thanks, Vijay, for having me.

I always like to start off with the real key question around the whole theme of this show which is around go-to-market. How do you define a go-to-market?

When you think of a corporate entity in any company, there are two main roles that exist in the company. One is the role of making something, whether it’s a product, service, software, or whatever and then there is the role of selling it. When you boil it down into those two things, go-to-market is the second half. For something that exists, how do you find the right customer for that product, service, or the solution that’s been made? Finding the right customer, reaching out, selling, retaining the customer in the long-term, and then hoping that the customer becomes an evangelist. That whole process or gamut is go-to-market. When you think of it in terms of corporate functions that will then contain marketing, sale, customer success, deployment, and it will include support operations. A lot of these teams work together to get the go-to-marketing going. That, to me, is a go-to-market.

I like the broad perspective that you bring to the table. This is a common theme that I’ve seen occurring with the go-to-market leaders I’ve been speaking with. It’s always a very holistic and broad perspective. The reason why I share this is I myself have been guilty of this whole process years ago when I started in product management or even a product marketing role. For me, back then, go-to-market is all about how to get this thing out of the launch door. It’s all about the launch process but over the years, my perspectives and insights have evolved.

It’s in line with what you shared and the various guests have been saying as well. It’s an inside view but at the same time, and more importantly, an outside view of, what is happening outside the company and how we tie those two things together? As you said, you build and innovate but how you take it to market. It’s an ongoing process. Share with the audience about your journey, how you started specifically go-to-market role? If you go back in time, how did you evolve your journey and how did you land at the role that you’re in now?

I’m an engineer by education and training. I studied mechanical engineering in India. I did my undergrad there then I came to the US.

You did your undergrad from one of the top Institutes in India.

At the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay is where I finished. I immediately came after my undergrad to Stanford to do Master’s in Mechanical Engineering. I’m a hardware engineer by education. After that point, I did another eight years of engineering work all in the Bay Area in Semiconductors and then in Cleantech. I was a robotics engineer. I designed robots for these industries and it was all great. It’s quantitative, solid work, and satisfying in its own silo, so to speak. Part of it, for me, was I didn’t understand what happened after my work was done.

Marketing is just making the right offer to the right person at the right time. Click To Tweet

These robots then got integrated into other systems. That system then would get sold to a customer. The customer would make chips and then those chips would come back to me through our laptops and then phones. It was a little bit of a roundabout existence to connect what I was doing, the end outcome for the consumer. I was always curious as to what being closer to the customer’s need and customer validation might feel like. I did go to business school with that intent, which was to transition out of engineering and into more of a business role. I didn’t know what I would do in business. I wanted to explore it. I went to Berkeley towards the end of the last decade and did my MBA there. During this time, I originally explored finance as a function.

I looked into multiple different streams within finance, investment banking, I did some Hedge Fund work, venture capital work, and I was doing all of this pro-bono exploration during business school. I realized that it was the technology piece of it that was still exciting to me. I tried my hand in venture capital and recruited into it heavily. I was able to get into the VC world at a firm called Opus Capital back in 2012. As it turned out, none of my hardware experience mattered because Opus focused on software investing for the most part even though it was B2B enterprise. They hired me partly for my drive and my perceived potential to figure things out.

When I went to Opus with all the hardware experience that I had, I had to learn everything from scratch. I had to learn about databases, networking, mobile SaaS, etc. In that process, what was logical for me was to look at all of these early-stage investment opportunities that the Opus came across. I came across from the lens of how these ideas would scale and get taken to market because I was not necessarily a technical architect that would get into the weeds of the product based on my previous experiences. The go-to-marketing came second nature to me as I was looking at startup. As I was doing that, I had a lot of these notions that are developed on how marketing, sales, and customer success might behave.

After two years of doing it, I started questioning whether I had the right notion in the first place. I decided to move from venture capital and try to get into the business side in a functional role. As I was recruiting, I was hired by Salesforce back in early 2014 onto their marketing team to lead business planning. I would never have expected myself to be a marketer at that time. For me, marketing was like any other aspect in go-to-market. It’s big in many ways, unsolved problems. You could think of it as a challenge and with first principles, you could solve all of that.

I thought it was an excellent opportunity for me. I went to Salesforce and marketing and then I spent five and a half years there learning about various facets within marketing whether it was the business planning piece that I started with or over time I scaled into various other aspects, mostly on the marketing operations, analytics, and strategy side but then in the process, I got exposed to marketing quite a bit. More so, I got exposed to a lot of top-notch people at Salesforce that is at the forefront of B2B marketing.

I learned a lot from them. I understood their psyche and my own psyche, so to speak, and I got more and more interested in that piece of it. Later on, I went from Salesforce to Stripe. A lot of it was driven by a couple of objectives. Number one, as I understood Saas to be an excellent go-to-market business model, I also had this notion that with all the consumption-based aspects that were happening in the FinTech world, that things might be different and interesting to understand. Stripe was one of the key companies that have been driving that thought process forward. I was at Stripe for a year where I was more in the finance team that supporting sales and marketing.

In that sense, I involved in go-to-market strategy but from the financial angle. After a year of doing that, I transitioned to marketer which is also in the FinTech space, smaller startup than Stripe but a leader in card issuing as the category. With that transition and back into the marketing role where I’m now responsible for Demand Gen, I go from high touch events to account-based marketing, inbound online paid, Demand Gen, SEO, and to marketing ops. A much broader scope across Demand Gen and it’s a way for me to contribute to this company’s success.

That’s a great journey there. I can go into several of those areas and we can have a deep dive discussion around those for the value and benefit of the audience. You clearly being very closely associated with the go-to-market when it comes to early-stage startups. When you were at Opus, you are seeing that and evaluating businesses from that point of view but at the same time, at the other end of the spectrum, you have been very closely involved with go-to-market for the more mature businesses at Salesforce and Stripe, and now at Marqeta. What are your broad thoughts, paradigms, or observations that you see on early-stage versus more mature?

One way to boil it down is that when you’re on early-stage or a small company, it’s pretty much hand-to-hand combat. You are going after that next customer, next small business, and next small vertical that used-case that you’re willing to put a lot of energy into winning. That’s the focus for a smaller company. What that also means is that the objectives are simple and the alignment across the go-to-market chain. When you think of marketing, sales, and customer success, everyone is extremely aligned on that objective. Once you go past a certain scale and you go into the large company more, you’re looking at aggregate sophistication.

B2B 8 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: When you think of marketing, sales, and customer success as a startup, everyone is extremely aligned on their objective. Once you go past a certain scale and go into a large company, you will start looking at aggregate sophistication.

 

Before we go into more of the larger scale, it’s easy to get the alignment between go-to-market functions like marketing sales, success, or support but the challenge is there’s no playbook into how, which market segment? Who is my customer, who within the customer, how will I engage them, who is the buyer, what is the buying cycle look like, it might hit my revenues, and forecast? It’s all topsy-turvy at least for the first couple of years until we hit scale. Any thoughts on that?

That’s the beauty of innovation and being in a startup because you’re trying to do something that is brand new. The existence of the lack of playbook being in place is a logical outcome of your own pursuit. It is in some ways a competitive advantage to come up with the thought process and a playbook to create that winning combination for yourself. With that said, the absence of a playbook is somewhat compensated by the simplicity of the objective, which is I need to figure out which customers might like my product. How do you find that out? You interview five prospects and you find the one that resonates on your thought process. There is a lot of manual needs to the work and a lot of ingenuity that has to be brought in but at the end of the day, because the goal is a relatively simpler goal to go for, the efforts can still bear fruit.

That’s broadly my thought process. Number two, when you think of go-to-market, matter product, user experience, or any aspect associated with the business, the logical first principles-based approach to looking at any of these situations typically will be a winning approach more often than not. Marketing is making the right offer to the right person at the right time. If you could find the right person, you could make the right offer when they are ready, you will succeed. The question is, how do you get it done?

Simple concept but hard to execute.

It is very hard to execute but you can use first principles and say, “This is how I can plan my work to get the best of what resources I have.”

Clearly, you’ve been very closely involved in startups, not just from an operational but even as an investor and advisor. If you look back and step back, what do you see the common 2 or 3 top recurring themes as best practices and something that you would share with founders and go to market leaders for the early-stage startup? I’m talking about seed or even Series A.

Is it from the standpoint of go-to-market?

Yes.

The few principles are objectives that any founders should have. I’m getting into a little bit of a philosophical thought process but hopefully, it’ll all connect together. Number one, one has to be extremely unbiased in their thought process. A lot of entrepreneurs and corporate individuals, entities are biased in terms of the potential for their product to succeed for what the customer may or may not want, etc. and that bias affects a lot of the decision-making. Can someone be unbiased in their thought process? Number two, always customer-centricity makes a difference. What does that mean? Any startup for success as to monetize what they are building. If what they’re building is not used by anyone then it makes no difference to the world that is a product.

Customer centricity always makes a difference. Click To Tweet

They have bigger problems in the sense of entity will collapse.

That could be but more so, every action for individual and founder has an opportunity cost. That opportunity cost is they could be doing something else. If they’re putting their time into solving a problem then that problem is something that the customer needs. Being customer-centric and unbiased, those would be your starting points. Again, going back to first principles. How can someone envision the future? Can you imagine where you’d be five years from now? Can you slowly peel the onion back from five years later? What does that mean for next year? What does that mean for three years from now?

What is my five-year goal? If my five-year thought process is to be the dominant CRM company in the world, then how do I create the CRM market? How do I get ready to sell into it? What products do I need? What will the technology landscape be in five years? To be imagining it, boiling it down, and bring it back to the eventual tactical outcome, that’s the third aspect of it. The fourth piece of it, which is personal for me but in the startup world, this is something that a lot of successful founders to practice in the first place. It’s always to be doing something, iterating, getting to the next step, not be thinking about something, big strategic objective, and rather small wins will combine together to get to the final outcome.

Going back your first point, it’s all about having that intellectual curiosity. That’s how I term it. When you say unbiased, you need to be sincerely and seriously honest with yourself and led data. Sometimes, not always data will dictate but you need to be intellectually curious and honest with yourself. To your last point, it’s all about the market pull you in that direction. Switching back and going down to the more scaling part of the business which are being closely involved on a day-to-day operational basis over the last few years. Continuing on your thought process there, we are moving the needle from go-to-market for early stage, which is all about building traction to now, you’re talking about go-to-market for scale up. What are your thoughts, lessons, and advice for the audience?

As a company matures and scales up, it’s filled by the nature of its evolution. It will start becoming a combination of a lot of specialized functions, so to speak. For example, at market, we have sales and BD team that exactly understands what our product-market fit is. At a very early stage, they can gauge pretty well whether a prospect is right for us to pursue or not and it saves us a lot of time from their perspective. We are not engaging with prospects, which will lead us to a dead-end because FinTech is a rapidly evolving business. Time is of the essence as far as getting product-market fit at scale. Our BD team is smart. Our marketing team on what we are doing is as full-scale as it can be for the resources that we have. What that means is we could do many different ways of getting to market.

We could have the website be extremely sophisticated. We could have big Demand Gen and scale. We could do SEO and account-based marketing. There are all these things which we do to some extent. For us, a lot of the goal is to try to create the right mix of effort from our side in order to match up with our sales goals. That’s the other piece. For me, as we look at marketing, the scale of the company makes a massive amount of difference. In a small scale startup, you could use one channel, one tactic, and that may be enough for you to feed your entire sales objective.

As you get to a marketer style thing, you are looking at more of a full-scale marketing effort that has elements of almost anything that you can think of within marketing but with prioritization and a mix of objectives or channels based on the skill that we are looking for. As you go further into a large company such as Salesforce, you’re doing everything at massive scale. You are doing everything from 60,000 people dream force down to an end event portfolio of hundreds of events, lots of digital marketing, a pretty sophisticated website, and so on. At that point, every single channel is a necessity. For a marketer, it is a question of prioritization.

You shared about the different go-to-market channels and Demand Gen avenues. You mentioned about ABM pieces including events, inbound, and outbound from a combination of email to SDRs and BDRs, and then the account executives closing the deal. What is your broader approach or what is the guidance to the team? When I asked this question, I think about you are given the charter for the next 3 to 6 months. How do you guide your team and what experiments you need to experiment, at the same time, you need to deliver on those across this channel? How do you approach and give guidance to your team?

Let’s start from the last part first and then I’ll get to the first part of the question. Experimentation is a cultural thing more than anything. What that means is at any given skill, you’ve got to be experimenting all the time. One utopian goal that we have, at least for myself, my team, and the product organization, is we would like to experiment with 10% of our resources all the time. What that means is if I have $100 to spend on digital advertising, we should be trying to invest ten of those dollars on things that we don’t know much about. We know for the future whether these things work out or not. On the fringes, there is value to having some investment in experimentation, always, in the perspective of what it is that you’re doing.

Do you report those on your weekly/monthly dashboard?

B2B 8 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: The beauty of innovation and being in a startup is how you’re doing something that is brand new. The existence of the lack of a playbook paves the way for a logical outcome of your own pursuit.

 

In B2B marketing, it’s very hard to break out the impact of one piece against all the other things that are happening. The end goal is still an end goal which is we need to deliver leads and pipeline to the sales team. To the extent that we are doing it with the resources that we have, you’re okay. To the extent we are not doing it, there’s a problem. The point here is experimentation is more of execution on the scientific method. What that means is you have a hypothesis that something might be interesting and you put in some investment and some resources into it. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t work out, you move on and go back to what is the basics and what works for you. That’s one piece.

There’s two levels of experimentation. One is within a given tactic and then there is the experimentation around tactic mix. Should I be doing more online and less events or vice versa? It’s an experiment. It’s all the same money that is being invested across these things. There is a significant amount of art form to try to figure out what decisions will result in that mix shifting more time. That is part of the challenge and part of the opportunity for a role like mine. That’s number one. Your second piece was more around how Demand Gen, whether it’s events, ABM, or inbound, etc.

How does it align with your quarterly?

How to think of it in the context of the company’s objective so to speak? At least from my personal perspective, that part is more of a top-down thought process. The way that I personally look at it is in Demand Gen, sales have certain goals. That certain goal that is downstream on revenue translates to a certain goal upstream at leads, traffic, or conversion rates, etc. That’s the starting point. The next question is, what is the mix I’m going to use to achieve, what are goals that I need to deliver? That would be based on what has worked in the past and, correspondingly, where is it that I need to grow? There is always that eventual plug, which is the rest of it has to come organically.

You could call it a miracle, product-market fit, or some vitality in our scale or brand and all that. There is always an organic component to all that we do. Once we’ve figured out what it is that we are looking to shoot for, then the next thing is for us to make sure that there is resourcing across each of these key initiatives. To make sure that we all measure ourselves back with the understanding that at the end of the day, whatever it is that we are projecting is not going to happen. That will be some variant of what we think is going to happen.

However, the total of all of our mistakes will still end up to be zero. That’s what we are looking for. We are pretty much looking to, again, have that point of view to make sure that we are invested to feed or achieve the objectives associated there. For us, whether it’s the experimentation culture or the delivered results culture is to be this passionate. It’s to evaluate whether we achieved or underachieved because of intent and how much of that was luck. How much of the market is turning in our favor or against us is what matter. Look, evaluate, trade, fix more.

One thing is very clear based on what you’re saying, Ajit, it’s very clear in your mindset as to how you’re applying a financial portfolio management thinking into this. You mentioned about you win some and you lose some but the net game should be zero. It is the same mindset that you’d use when you’re building a financial portfolio. You’ll have some stocks or some investments where you’ll hit it right out of the park and others which can go downhill. At the end of the day, are you net positive? It’s the same mindset that you are applying.

I would extend that a little bit further. Every leader for every function thinks the same way or at least should be thinking the same way. Whether it’s the CFO of the company saying, “Should I invest in sales, marketing, or product?” They might same think, “Where is the biggest bang for the buck for what I have?” It’s the same thing with the salesperson saying, “Which deals should I put my energy into?” The product person is saying, “What features are important?” Every one of those things has that logic. I want to also say that every function has its own complexity and nuances.

Marketing also has those nuances. At the level of making decisions on what to do in marketing, such thought process make sense. At the end of the day, marketing is a very massive art form. Marketing needs the intuitive feel, brain, and gut feel of the marketer to be the right intuition and the winning field. That is very much driven by the marketers themselves being smart and more right than wrong and all that. The right people in the team make this difference happen. That skill, intuition, and thought process comes with experience and time. If a team has great people in it, it will be very fun.

FinTech is a rapidly evolving business. Time is of the essence as far as getting a product-market fit at scale. Click To Tweet

How big is your team? Can you also share some details around your MarTech stack?

The marketing guard at Marqeta is around twenty people. Demand Gen is 1/4 of 1/3 of it. The company overall is 500 people. As the whole entity scales, so with marketing, Demand Gen, and every that function within. As far as the MarTech stack, it is robust from the standpoint of addressing all the automation needs that we have but we still have some ways to connect all of the elements of the stack together. Our MarTech stack at its core is represented by three nodes. Node number one being the Salesforce, which is where sales puts all of that information. The question is, how do you break it down? Node number two is HubSpot, which we have data from all of our campaigns. This is how we have done all of our campaigns, whether it’s our email campaign or outbound campaign. All of that goes through HubSpot.

The third mode for us is Engagio, which is the entity that helps us consolidate the work that is happening on both sales and marketing from the standpoint of the end account. With Engagio, we can look at what meetings are happening, who’s coming to our website, who’s responding to our campaigns, who are we sending emails to, and all of that. Those are the three core nodes. Around those nodes, we have a lot of different MarTech elements. We have content delivery, project management, ad service team, and lead enrichment, and all sorts of things that would be required for a typical effective ABM program. The last piece for us, as I said, is continue to connect all of these together so we can have a more holistic view on an ongoing basis.

That’s an art form. How are you thinking about your goals or objectives? Can you share a bit about that?

From the standpoint of where we are as a company or FinTech startup, that comes a lot of companies with lots of transaction volumes as our key customers and also prospects for us to go after. As we look at our ecosystem of prospects, we are focused on high touch marketing as an ongoing thing. We are not as focused on super small business marketing. That is not the right product-market fit for us at this stage. Our goal is to keep figuring out better and more effective ways to convert our prospects into customers for these high volume type account. That’s our goal.

I don’t think that is going to change for the period of time. Within marketing as we evolve, we have a pretty solid MarTech stack that allows us to in silo be effective at any given tactic or approach. One of the big goals for us is to go from there into a true influence approach in marketing. Now, we can track success at every step but our goal is to look at the big picture in a one-click automated manner. That’s one of the big goal for us, number one. Number two, the goal to be a good partner to sales. That goal was a 2020 goal, it will be a 2021 goal, and it’ll always be a goal for us.

In FinTech, the beauty of the evolution is new use cases would come up every single day and every single week. A lot of inbound interest comes to us with use cases even we don’t think of. The goal for marketing is to help discover those use cases, help figure out what the potential and possibility is with those use cases, work with sales to close the loop, and make sure that we are ready and defining the category around all of these use cases. Startups innovate and companies are building out all of these use cases. In fact, ranging from the largest banks all the way to the smallest FinTechs, everyone is thinking in a unique way. As someone that provides the infrastructure for a lot of this evolution, our goal is to be ready for it. As we go forward, the goal for marketing is to become better at evaluating and anticipating, and then be a partner that is more true at the top of the funnel than who we are now. That’s an ongoing pursuit as well.

Is it your team or is it in combination with product marketing or some of the functions that you identify all these use cases?

It’s all of us together. Partly it is because we only have so many people and we don’t have the luxury of having 50% of agencies that can do the research for us. We are this crappy organization. There are some other aspects to it. Sales team gets the most exposure to all these upcoming teams. We have to leverage them and they have to leverage us for making sure that all the execution and positioning is in place. That exploration within sales and marketing at the top of the funnel, those two pieces are very important. Beyond that, it happened at every single level. For a marketer who is a startup at this point in time, our exec team will come up with referrals and use cases. Our board will send things done our way and say, “I have this portfolio company that is trying something.” We get exposed to this innovation from many different angles and our goal is to be effective at responding to it.

I’m extrapolating and continuing the discussion on the 2021 piece. If you were given an X-number of dollars, where would you channel that? Would it be more on the OPIC side or more than a headcount, or is it a combination of those?

B2B 8 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Don’t think about something as a big strategic objective; rather, think of small wins and how, when combined together, they get to the final outcome.

 

Headcount would likely have much more impact than necessarily OPIC’s. That is also because we don’t have a very massive universe of decision-makers that we are going after. We are looking to engage with payments professionals that are working on transaction volumes at scale. These professionals are becoming more and more common across many different companies. Even your classic tech company now is starting to have payments professionals to automate, whether it’s their internal corporate expenses or any of the use case within. First of all, payment is becoming more common but broadly speaking, the universe of decision-makers that they’re going after is not that massive. There’s not so much for us a money game in the outside online paid work. What it is for us is, do we have the right content that we can put in front of these prospects as they’re exploring?

Content is a big objective, especially in FinTech, the better the content can be in terms of quality in terms of its ability to explain our business to our prospects, the better suited we are. Content is a big priority if we’re given more resources. The other piece, as we think of customer-centricity, if I were to look at scaling up, I would look at ways and means to get insights out of customer product use, scale, retention levels to get that intelligence to be a feeder into the marketing thought process. That would be the second objective. Beyond that, marketers are scaling across all facets. The more we keep doing what we are doing, we’ll still continue to get returns. It’s not like we are anywhere close to getting diminishing returns for anything. The more we invest, the better we are going to do with marketing.

It’s not surprising you say that content is a big challenge. Who I spoken with like the different CMOS and even the VP of Marketing at different organizations so far continue to say, it’s content. If I have to bubble it down, especially around the notion of, “Am I understanding my buyer and the user well enough?” Again, it goes back to not having the bias. Going back to a startup world where you don’t have the internal bias but then truly and out of curiosity, you’re trying to understand the problems of your buyer and the user. If you package all of that into content, that’s the key.

That mindset and skillset is extremely hard in the tech industry. That’s a recurring and resonating theme that I’m seeing across in the tech space. I have some pointers and guidelines as to what I’ll be sharing with my clients. That’s something that I can do offline. We’re coming up on time, so going into closing section over here, if you were to look outside in the industry across the B2B SaaS space, Salesforce, or other industries are hurting in the Startup world, who would you give a shout out to those 2 or 3 whoever leaders from go-to-market perspective who are thinking and executing very well?

Generally, I’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of Salesforce for such a long time. To be extremely honest, marketing is a first-class citizen in a large company. There are lots of large companies in the B2B world where overtime, marketing gets relegated into second-class citizenship a little bit. In many situations, sales become more and more powerful and then it starts becoming a one-way path a little bit more. The innovation died away but at Salesforce, that’s not the case. Lots of execs at Salesforce and everyone that I’ve had a chance to engage with have been accomplished and impactful on their own. I was lucky in that as someone that initially started their time at marketing doing business planning. I was a little bit on the buy-side.

I was able to ask questions to every single entity within marketing at Salesforce, if not to understand then to probe. Over time, there’s been a lot of friendships that have been built. A number of them are CMOs. CMO at Marqeta, Vidya Peters is from MuleSoft but now that’s a part of Salesforce. She’s been a highly impactful leader at Marqeta. I wouldn’t want to not name anyone but if you think of any exec Salesforce now, a number of them have been there for a long period of time. They’ve been inspiring on their own right. For me, it’s more of a shout out to that ecosystem. I’d say more of a shout out to the fact that they have been able to be so impactful for such a period of time. It’s helping out the entire tech ecosystem with all that they’re doing there.

Well said, Ajit. I completely agree with you. Salesforce is one of the few large organizations where marketing is a first-class citizen in your own words. It’s part of the DNA and it comes from the founder. If you look at Marc Benioff, he’s completely a marketing and a sales visionary and that trickled stone. Salesforce overall has been fortunate to have that whole thing and is still embedded in the DNA. The final question that I have for you is, if you were to rewind time and go back to the early days when you started in a go-to-market function, what advice would you have or what advice would you give to that person?

Let me make a couple of comments and then I’ll get to that piece. When I started at Salesforce back from my time at Opus Capital then I transitioned from venture capital into marketing, my whole thought process was someone that is smart can come in into marketing, look at the entire landscape, use hopefully, first principles driven approach, can understand the problem, solve the problem, and optimize the situation. That was the thought process that I came up with. Years later, when I left, I was nowhere close to having a solution to any of this. There’s one learning here which is to understand that go-to-market broadly, even something that is as black and white as sales is still an art form.

It is as good as what you make of it. It is as good as the effort that each individual in that organization puts in. The goal for a go-to-market lead or even a contributor needs to augment their strengths in pursuit of product-market fit for their company. That’s one advice. The other advice that I would give to myself, which I aligned to that shortly after was simplicity wins as complex as you can think, marketing, sales, or any of these things might be. The simplicity piece is what rules every day. Do you believe in your product?

As complex as you can think marketing might be, simplicity wins. Click To Tweet

Do you think your product is a winner? If it is, then figure out how best to showcase it in the right way. Keep it simple, keep it to the point, and think of it from the perspective of the other party. The other party understands less about your product than you do by default then bring it down to the level that they will understand it. If there is a need with your thought process, they will become customers. To the extent that they are customers and you continue to keep them happy, they will become your evangelists. That’s what it boils down to.

I think of those two words. The words that summarize everything are simplicity and empathy. That’s what I would say as well. Well said, Ajit. Thank you for a wonderful conversation. It was a pleasure to have you on the B2B Go-To-Market Leaders Podcast and good luck to you, Ajit, and to your team at Marqeta.

Same to you, Vijay.

 

Important Links

 

About Ajit Deshpande

Vice President of Demand Generation at Marqeta, Inc

 

 

 

 

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B2B 7 | Building Empathy

B2B 7 | Building Empathy

 

Allowing your customers to understand where you are coming from and how they can personally relate to what you have to offer is the best way to build the go-to-market. By building empathy with your audience, you’re on the right track towards starting a successful connection. Joining Vijay Damojipurapu is Charlie Wilson, Chief Revenue Officer of cannabis provider Greenbits. Together, they discuss how to maximize human interaction to achieve an unparalleled customer experience, as well as the importance of well-targeted product manager-marketer collaboration. Charlie also talks about the most crucial marketing points every start-up business must know, especially in this time of pandemic and with the go-to-market gradually becoming an independent function.

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Power Of Building Empathy In The Go-To-Market With Charlie Wilson

I have my friend and someone I look up to from a go-to-market perspective. His name is Charlie Wilson. He is the Chief Revenue Officer at an upcoming and high-profile startup in the legal cannabis space named Greenbits. Charlie, I’m turning it over to you. Welcome. How are you doing?

Thanks, Vijay. I appreciate the kind words and it’s great to connect.

As always, I start off with asking the first question. My significant question is what the show is all about, which is how do you define go-to-market?

At the end of the day, it’s about putting together a bundle in an approach to create brands, both perceived and real. Making sure that you’ve got the right audience and you’re ultimately delivering an experience that’s well-coordinated from the internal perspective so that it’s experienced and perceived that way from the external perspective. At the core, that’s what it’s all about.

There are a lot of moving pieces below that to make it happen. It’s not about what we in the company see from either a product or a services perspective, but how all of this ties back to the customer, the buyer and the user.

Your success in go-to-market is going to be a function of having to find those things well and coordinated those things well internally, which is why I really orient around that, as opposed to more an outward-looking perspective than an inward-looking perspective.

I’ve been speaking with my clients as well as several other guests. It’s always a combination. It’s not easy where you always constantly need to have your eye on the market on the external perspective. At the same time, you need to be grounded in reality and grounded in perspective as to what can we deliver and still be sincere as a company and a brand when we’re looking to deliver value to the customer in the market. Let’s dive a bit back, let’s rewind a bit. Let’s talk about your evolution as a Chief Revenue Officer. How did you start your career and what led you to actually take this role and go down this path?

Never allow yourself to be stuck in just a single role or field forever. Click To Tweet

It’s a story journey. I was an engineer as an undergraduate and graduate student. I had a focus on technical skills but early in my career, I never practiced pure engineering. I was in management consulting, so I had a broad base of experience. I joined the strategy group at Visa and a large organization. I had an opportunity to see a diversity of things. Through those experiences, I got interested in sales and marketing side of the equation. I never would have considered myself a salesperson or marketer in my early days.

I came to value and appreciate obviously the importance of those parts of the business and the relevance of those parts of the business. I started to cut my teeth in some sales roles, increasingly marketing roles and have evolved down that journey for the last several years. Most of my career has also been industry-wise and FinTech. My journey to Greenbits in particular wasn’t so much cannabis-driven, it was more of a business model-driven in terms of understanding that SaaS and FinTech intersection and seeing the opportunity within this particular vertical, which as you can imagine firsthand, it’s unique and evolutionary or evolving continuously.

Quite a few things that I want to double click in what you shared. It’s definitely a good journey. This is something that I keep reminding to several folks that I meet with as well as to the audience. Nuggets and lessons for the audience is you don’t need to be feeling stuck in a specific role or a specific field. You mentioned about you started off as an engineer but never saw yourself growing in that role and that’s where you start exploring and going down the path of more on the business side but more on the marketing and imagery to the sales and not the revenue ownership piece. I think that’s one piece. I am curious if I double click on that. What really attracted you or pulled you away from engineering towards more on the business side, starting with the marketing piece?

One, it’s a general interest and fascination with characterizing the business world. I think the technical background provides some important underpinnings that in this day and age are table stakes that many years ago were probably perceived as luxury. I don’t think sales and marketing disciplines historically were as data-driven as analytically focused. Clearly, for the last several years, they have become that way. Having that foundation and leveraging that foundation in the area where candidly I’d probably had more interest in the marketing side and the sales side. Being able to break down the market, segment that market, understand where you can set yourself apart, differentiate yourself, ultimately bring somebody through a buying journey and to a close sale. Seeing the enjoyment of that dynamic with both enterprise customers, which are a different beast, as well as small businesses and tailoring the go-to-market experience based on some of those customer profile dynamics.

I was looking forward to and wanting to push you on that piece, which is, I know you’re big on the small customer piece or the small customer segment. Early on in your career, you started off with customers and markets that are more enterprise-focused but somewhere along the line, you got pulled towards serving the small to medium businesses and the retailer. Tell that story. I want the audience to take away from that as well.

I was at Visa in my early days. Visa’s client-based are banks. Many of those banks are large. Those types of conversations and deals are more enterprise. In subsequent roles, I was still in an enterprise context. Probably the biggest thing that attracted me to small businesses was when I met my wife who happens to be a retail small business owner. I didn’t grow up in a family of small business owners but upon meeting my wife, I saw some of the trials and tribulations that a small business owner goes through. Small businesses in particular, they usually get into their business because of their craft and their passion, not because they like to do payroll or taxes or all the other things that are associated with running a small business.

It was also synonymous as my own career progressed, you had the opportunity to serve small businesses. They’re incredibly on and underserved. They’re incredibly difficult to serve. It’s a fun challenge from this side of the table. It’s what led me for probably the last few years to have a focus and an emphasis on delivering great products and experiences and getting those into the hands of small businesses, particularly a mom and pop-like stores. That’s true in our industry. We work with a lot of characterized enterprise, probably a stretch to mid-market like businesses in a traditional context but also a lot of new to retail, single-store operators. Pursuing a passion, a dream in cannabis and chasing that opportunity. We get the opportunity to bring them a suite of services that makes their lives hum a little bit easier.

B2B 7 | Building Empathy
Building Empathy: Small businesses usually start with the owner’s passion and not because they love to pay their taxes or do payroll.

 

First of all, from your personal experience, you actually can connect with that target persona or the buyer. I think that’s key for anyone in product marketing, sales and even to that extent of customer success. You need to have that empathy piece. From your story, it was clear that in your case, your wife, as a small business owner, you could see the tribulation that she is going through and she went through. You’re bringing that empathy piece to your current role, which is essentially helping Greenbits build a point of sale or compliance and the various other technologies. As you’re selling to the legal cannabis retailers, who are mostly small to mid-market as of now, that’s the majority of the market. That’s the key. The point I want to hit is the empathy piece and nothing like building empathy from your own personal experience.

It’s understood but I think it’s still often missed. You’ve got a lot of smart people who have good ideas, they can build great technology, can analyze and break down a market but I think a lot of times, businesses and groups miss the mark in terms of that true empathy and true understanding of the experience that the recipient on the other side is experiencing. We still struggle with this and work to improve this. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side. When you think about a small business owner in particular, the breadth of things they have to deal with, in many cases, they are the sales organization, the CEO and the human resources departments. They play a lot of hats.

A lot of times they’re in that situation because they have a passion for baking cupcakes, for instance, or mountain biking and selling retail mountain bike parts in a retail environment. Not because they like to do those other things and often, they’re underwater and those other things. If you understand that, you appreciate that and you incorporate all those other distractions and stresses that are on those businesses, you can be more effective in positioning and getting your product or service to that audience that’s very underserved because they’ve typically been difficult to serve, historically.

Building on that point of empathy, which is very crucial in the whole go-to-market piece. Personally, from my own experience, I’ve had the good fortune and been grateful for all the several product marketing or even head of marketing roles. In that capacity, as a head of marketing, my responsibility and you have the company-wide customer, which is the market segment but the internal customer is sales. Sales is the number one customer for the marketing team and something that I’ve realized after I’ve started the company that I’m running, Stratyve, which is serving or helping essentially the B2B SaaS companies build go-to-market either clarity or go-to-market efficiency.

I’m playing and wearing multiple hats or roles and at the same time, I’m actually wearing the role of a salesperson. Ever since I’ve embarked on this journey, where I need to do the outbound or I need to do prospecting. I need to help understand the buyer from their pain points and their challenges was this internal from me, “How do I close the sale?” That’s an entirely different mindset. Personally, again, going back to the meta point that we’ve been talking about, which is building empathy and nothing like having a personal experience to build that empathy piece.

I think something that has impressed upon me, the more I’ve progressed through my career, that domain experience and that firsthand experience is critical. I think of myself and lots of people can go into an environment that they’re unfamiliar with and be successful, but I will tell you to have that domain experience to have the firsthand experience is valuable. Not to say that it can’t be overcome but it goes a long way in establishing that empathy and unlocking or uncovering, or at least being aware of some of those intangible elements to be successful in serving a particular segment or audience or individual.

In your role as a Chief Revenue Officer, you have the complete visibility into what the marketing team is and should be doing as well as the sales team is and should be doing. You got that end-to-end perspective. I want to hear from you as to how you create that alignment and empathy piece, not between the two or across those two functions but even with the whole buyers in the market.

There is nothing like building empathy from your personal experiences. Click To Tweet

It’s not rocket science but data-driven, clear and concise communication. Those things allow you to make sound decisions around where you put your energy and they allow you to execute effectively. Much of the working world is about the human interaction and to the degree that you’ve got sound communication between those organizations, you’ve got a common understanding between those organizations and others. You can be at a heck of a lot more effective. I think where things break down or where they succeed, it’s less about the specific disciplines of marketing or sales per se. It’s more about common sense and foundational things like structured communication and effectiveness there. There’s always going to be a good tension between sales and marketing in terms of where one ends and the other begins.

We try to impress upon our team and our organizations that there’s not a black and white line or a clear line. There’s a very healthy overlap. You used the term empathy. The more that the marketing team is empathetic to the experience and what the sales organization is going through, the more effective they can be in assisting or helping in that respect. Conversely, the more empathetic the sales organization get to the things that the marketing organization is trying to take on. You see some companies, particularly startups, there’s a notion like, “Everybody in the company does a role in customer support,” because you build empathy for the customer. The more the sales organization can spend time and live the life, so to speak, and the day of the marketing organization and vice versa, the more the marketing organization can live a day in the life of the sales organization. I think the more effective they can be individually and certainly collectively. It’s never easy to get that quite right but that’s what we strive for.

I want to get your thoughts. There is a growing notion around the whole revenue team which comprises both the marketing and the sales, but there’s also the whole new field of revenue ops. I want to get your thoughts on those.

We actually have a role open for a revenue ops individual. Historically, I think we probably looked a little bit more like other businesses are certainly where the trend or the precedent was before we had sales ops and marketing ops. I talked about the empathy and the communications but the other piece I talked about was the analytics and the data. The degree that you have somebody in the revenue opposite role, you’ve got somebody in the interstitial space between sales, marketing and arguably customer success. The by-product of that is you get data and analysis and insights in an unbiased and independent fashion. You’re not getting the skew or the biases that maybe the marketing organization or marketing ops person might put on a situation or conversely the sales ops.

You’ve got somebody who is sitting in that interstitial space to make sure that the organization at large is getting the most relevant information and guiding and the most appropriate sound direction. You remove some of the silos. You remove some of the biases and some of the potential areas of tension by looking at that across those functions, as opposed to within those individual functions. We’ve embraced that and have adopted that end of the process of continuing to expand that.

This is something that’s been playing on my mind especially when it comes to the go-to-market. This show is all about go-to-market. Even the work that I do of Stratyve is all about go-to-market. If I tie it back to the experiences that I’ve had previously when I was working at other companies, it was mostly around product marketing, “owning go-to-market.” If you’d be in the shoes of a product marketer, it’s extremely challenging. Product marketing can come up with a good market strategy but to execute and make things happen both within the broader marketing organization, as well as with the sales organization is extremely tough. It’s not within the scope of that role. That’s something that’s been playing on my mind and seeing the trend playing out in the industry, which is the go-to-market piece is slowly beginning to come out of product marketing. It’s more of an independent function, more of an independent team on a role that’s sitting across and outside of marketing sales or even customer success to that matter.

I would extend that and in my mind, two of them are the most influential individuals in the organization, depending on your designer and depending on obviously the industry and who you’re serving are the product manager and the product marketer. Those two individuals and those two roles are at the center of the universe. To your point, they’ve got to drive, coordinate and organize a lot of different individuals and functions in order to be successful. We look at it the same way. That product marketing role is critical, particularly in our industry where finite universe of operators and a lot of word of mouth. The ability to clearly convey the benefits and the products and create great experiences within the product and the service is critical to our overall sales and marketing success. In our particular industry, I would say those roles are even more amplified than they may be elsewhere.

Going back to the whole rev ops role, I’ve also seen the rev ops role reporting possibly into the CFO organization as well. The CRO/ CFO is a dotted line because at the end of the day, it’s about alignment but at the same time, that role has to stay true to, “I’ll be hitting the numbers. I’ll be hitting the metrics that we need to hit as an organization.”

That’s fairly similar within our organization. Particularly on the analytics side, you want the finance organization to be close and then again, very consistent in terms of understanding the data, the sources of data and what the data is explaining or telling us. My organization, which is not a finance organization but there are a very close collaboration and a very keen interest from the finance organization in terms of those insights, knowledge and those experiences.

Switching gears a bit over here. Essentially, we highlighted or talked about how you as a Chief Revenue Officer of Greenbits, come up with maybe the 2 to 3 key go-to-market programs. How do you think about it from an annual goals perspective as well as break it down into quarterly goals to a functional individual? Sharing that piece will be insightful for the readers here.

I’m a big believer in usually fewer is better and simplicity is better.

B2B 7 | Building Empathy
Building Empathy: Being data-driven and having clear communication allow you to make sound decisions on where you should put your energy.

 

It’s extremely hard to do it. The reason being is the shiny thing syndrome, as well as they say the fear of missing out. This whole matrix is playing out there.

In a startup, oftentimes you have to do many things. I think you have to be incredibly focused on what’s critical. If I go from the long horizon to increasingly shorter horizons, when we map out the annual priorities, we try to focus on a small number of critical initiatives and basically, work your way back. I personally like to break things down into 90-day periods. It’s enough time where you can make tangible progress and have the freedom to be able to demonstrate and make that progress but it’s also not so long that you run the risk of getting too far off course. Backing down from those 90-day periods of those three-month periods, you’re starting to further decompose the objectives and meeting that annual target or goal by the individuals or the groups themselves.

I think that the criticality you get what you measure and what you had said, it’s important that you’re measuring things that don’t create a red herring. An MQL is only as good as the quality and the integrity of the definition of that MQL, for example. Making sure that you’ve got not only the right metrics but the right definitions behind those metrics to make sure they’re unfortunate drive in the right behaviors to ultimately hit those annual and multi-year objectives.

If I have to extrapolate on what you mentioned here, you’ve got their annual objectives around the revenue numbers, the sales booking numbers, the pipeline metrics. When it comes to marketing, you got MQL piece but then there’s also the inbound traffic, outbound campaigns and so on. Tying all of these into the various initiatives that marketing and sales have to do for the next 3, 6, 9 months. I think that’s critical.

We generate deals from both outbound activity as well as inbound activity. Making sure that we get the right mix and the right balance there for our business and where we can be uniquely differentiated and competitive.

In doing all these things, how are you thinking about the big initiatives for 2021? I have a follow-up question after that, but let me stop here. How are you seeing 2021 for your organization?

We socialize this with our board. We’ve gone through a planning exercise for the year ahead. As a company, we’ve got four priority initiatives over the course of the next year. Two of them are initiatives that are new to us. There will be a big element of go-to-market relevance in the year ahead and our ability to execute effectively will be critical to our success but again try to maintain a finite number. We make sure that we were focusing on the things that we can get the greatest leverage from that can most substantially move the needle, advance our business forward, advance our customer’s success in the most profound ways over the course of 2021. Some of them pertain to new geographies, new products and services that we want to attach and introduce to our customer base.

The follow-up question I had is what do you see are the big challenges? You did mention about go-to-market as a big piece for 2021. What do you see are the key challenges?

It’s the coordination across the organization. I’m fairly confident that we’ve got the segmentation right. We can figure out where to identify these people, get the right messages in front of these individuals. It’s ultimately bringing those things together in unison where the messages get to the right people the right times, the execution of the product development hits the market the right point in time and lines up nicely with all of that. It’s not too dissimilar than what I think people experience in any other business or service offering a product or a service offering.

I was actually in conversations with a couple of my clients as well as with some of the guests who are CMOs and VPs of marketing and to share with you, Charlie, a couple of things that are top of mind. One thing is around, 2020 has been a challenging year from a COVID perspective but at the same time, all of these marketing leaders have been and are still very proud in how they have had the team pull together and still execute. Maintain that focus and still execute from an operational perspective, a mental health perspective and being dialed in perspective. One challenge that comes up is, “Now that I’ve done that for 2020, how do we do that with 2021 without being too diluted or being fatigued by this whole notion?”

I am proud and I applaud our team for 2020 now. I would say 2020 has had its challenges. For our particular industry, we’ve been fortunate. Our businesses thrived. I think our customers’ businesses have thrived and have been in a position where they’ve been able to operate and they’ve been able to continue to grow and expand. There have been hiccups, nonetheless. 2020, looking back, was a successful year. I think the team did a great job with lots of fluidity, uncertainty and challenges. An interaction like this where everything has gone to remote. I think technology companies and our teams are generally well-suited to make that natural transition to a fully remote work environment but there was transition and change and adjustment nonetheless. The ability to have the in-person interactions, collaboration, that’s been null and void which has made things difficult.

The go-to-market piece is slowly beginning to come out of product marketing and become more of an independent function. Click To Tweet

The part that’s been most challenging is the ability to have those interactions with customers, whether it be in the sales and marketing experience or with existing customers. That’s been the part that’s probably most challenging. I’d say going into 2021, we feel good. There’s some momentum that we need to maintain. There’s fatigue but I’d characterize our fatigue is the fatigue of the startup, not so much 2020 derived. Personally and myself, I’m very optimistic about 2021. I feel very fortunate around 2020 and take that we’ve actually got momentum behind us as we go into 2021 where I recognize some businesses are probably feeling like they’re having to dig themselves out. Fortunately, we’re not as subject to that as some.

Double-clicking on that. Your customers and the market use of the legal cannabis retailers. From an outsider perspective, I’m assuming that clearly their businesses would have been hit but at the same time, not getting too much into detail of why cannabis sales would take off. I want to get your thoughts on and your view on how the industry overall has been affected or not been affected. I want to get your perspective on that.

When COVID showed up in mid-March 2020, most of the United States and businesses in the United States had a tremendous amount of uncertainty and that was true with our industry. Fortunately, cannabis is not a federally illegal market, it’s a state legal market. You have a very fragmented market state by state rules and regulations. In our industry, for all intents and purposes, nearly every state with the exception of one deemed dispensary and deemed the cannabis industry as an essential business. They were able to stay open during those March, April, May months. The other dynamic is when you had a lot of people home probably stressed out, to some degree bored, anxious and a lot of real and understandable reasons.

Our operators not only remained open, they actually thrived in a lot of respect. Our customers, we’re fortunate through that process. There were lots of regulatory adjustments and emergency regulatory rules that people had to accommodate with curbside. Imagine our industry has cannabis plant involved and it’s a heavily cash-intensive industry. A by-product of that, as you think about, “Curbside pickup.” There are a lot of logistical challenges that come along with that dynamic when you’ve got a lot of cash and cannabis products outside the four walls of the store. Our operators had to accommodate and adjust to certain things for our customers. Fortunately, they were in a position where at least they had the opportunity to make those accommodations where a lot of other industries were purely shut down.

There were some things that were delayed. New businesses that were going through final inspections. Some of that got delayed. States and industries like Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, very tourism-driven segment of geography. Not a lot of tourism happening in Las Vegas. We saw operators there struggle certainly for a period but by and large, our industry has been fortunate. Our customers have had to deal with the fluidity that COVID has presented but fortunately, they’ve been open for business. In fact, we’ve seen record numbers during the balance of 2020. We’re hopeful and optimistic that that carries forward into 2021. In fact, you see the election, the general industry, our particular industry, we had five more states legalize through this latest election. We feel excited and confident.

Definitely exciting times for the industry as well as the players in the industry. I can see that happening. As we wind down a bit last couple of questions here, Charlie. You did mention about some of the goals for the big initiatives for 2021, as well as some of the challenges that you foresee. You mentioned about rev ops as being one of the key hires or somewhere you’re going to channel some more budget into. Can you expand a bit upon that aspect based on the go-to-market initiatives, what do you see as the key hires? If you had the extra budget, where would you put that extra money into?

B2B 7 | Building Empathy
Building Empathy: If the marketing team is empathetic to the experiences of the sales organization, they can be more effective in assisting them.

 

Prudent capital allocation is critical. We have much more opportunity than we do. Resources are at our disposal. There are a few different areas. I think the ability to expand our available market a little bit more quickly. It’s fragmented in the United States state-by-state and there are some nuances to the way that our industry, product and service works, where we have to be a little bit more methodical. We can’t blanket all states at once. There’s a vibrant federal illegal opportunity up in Canada. There are always areas where we could expand geographically faster. The product we’re a relatively new industry in a relatively new company.

In the grand scheme, your product and service offerings are still relatively immature. We’re in the early innings, we got a long way to go, so we can accelerate some of those capabilities that allow us to deliver more functionality to our customers. Drive price points and average revenue per account higher would be areas that we would look at. I think one that we’ve had in the back of our mind that if I could carve out a big piece would be on data and insights. There’s not a lot of knowledge around this industry. We have visibility and sit on a ton of data that I think we can package up in service to our customers with new insights and capabilities. That’s probably an area where if I had some additional resource and budget would carve out a new and distinct and separate initiative to go after that.

Expand on the data and insights piece.

You have emerging brands. You have CPG companies around various form factors. Infused beverages and edible products and bulk flour and pre-rolled joints, oils and tinctures. You’ve got form factors that manufacturers are trying to understand where consumer preferences. You’ve got a lot of new to the industry consumers. Either people that may be coming back to the industry, people that have never experienced the industry. There’s a ton of education on the consumer side. You can imagine the brand and the product companies are trying to figure out like, “What are the consumer trends and buying behaviors and patterns that inform their own product developments?” You’ve got dispensaries and retailers that are trying to establish their brand, build their own awareness, drive foot traffic into their stores and properties. Given that we sit on a large body of data that looks across that continuum, we think we can provide a lot of valuable services to our retail customers, as well as the brand companies, many of which are our retail customers as their vertically integrated businesses.

Data and insights and data signs and the whole notion. I think that’s a big thing from a go-to-market perspective especially. There’s going to be a continuous demand for the whole data science personnel and people with that skills. At the same time, the key is not the ability to run the data models but teasing out the insights and then channeling and coming up with the key go-to-market initiatives for marketing sales or even customer success. I think that’s key.

Leveraging that to inform where we go as well.

It’s great conversation, Charlie. I think you shared a lot of nuggets and advice for the readers as well as for your peers in the industry.

I appreciate it.

Last two questions. The first one in that bucket is if you were to look outside and across your shoulder in the industry overall, who would you call out or who do you give a shout-out to as someone who’s doing a great job from go-to-market perspective?

Our model is similar to some of the commerce models. The world of companies like Shopify and Square are two companies that have done a phenomenal job around understanding their market and communicating effectively to their target audiences. Building their product and service often and creating a comprehensive experience that is meeting the needs of their particular audiences, which both happened to be generally small business segments as well. We’re doing it in a vertical context but I have a ton of respect for the individuals within those businesses. The way that those businesses have generally operated from their early days to where they’re at now are incredibly prosperous and market-leading businesses.

In order to grow, soak up information anywhere and everywhere you can find it. Click To Tweet

One final question before I let you go. If you have to rewind the time and go back to not your eighteen-year-old self but if you have to go back to your first day of venue to go-to-market role within marketing, most likely it looks like out of your engineering into the marketing team. If you have to go back, what advice would you give to that younger self?

I would say soak up information from anywhere and everywhere that you can get it. There are lots of nuggets of good ideas and new and different ways of doing things and a lot of unexpected places. The other thing and these are things that I embraced through that period, but I would reinforce it and probably try to amplify it. These things we talked about, understanding of empathy, a broader understanding that you can then dry in and create more narrow and targeted focus, breadth of reading. There are some people who read a lot of business books and there are some people who may read no business books.

I like to have a diversity of reading and try to consume as much as I possibly can. I would say too as much of that as you can because I think as you draw in these various pieces of knowledge that we’re in a world, that’s soundbite driven, very Apple news-driven. I try to abstain and I would encourage people to abstain from those little short snippets and actually read books. That’s where you get more complete thoughts. You get more diverse and interesting insights that make you a more complete person and that more complete person can deliver a better experience of whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re doing whether it be a marketing or go-to-market role or any other role. I think some of that is lost on society at large and certainly is lost on the younger generation because candidly of what they’ve been fed. I think that’s important. I’m reading Thinking, Fast and Slow as my latest book and next I’ll probably pick up a novel, whatever that might look like.

That’s a great piece of advice and a great note to end on. Reading and carving out the time to read every day or at least a couple of times a week. I think that’s important. I personally experienced a lot of growth. From that growth and insights, I’m seeing that on how it’s helping me shape my thinking and how I can help my customers better. That’s a key point there. Thank you for your time, Charlie. You’ve done a great service. Sharing your insights, advice and nuggets to the readers. Thank you for being on the show.

It’s my pleasure. Same to you, I appreciate what you’re doing and great service. It’s great to connect. Thank you.

 

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About Charlie Wilson

B2B 7 | Building EmpathyProven leader with a mind for the big picture and an eye for the details. Twenty years of executive experience with pioneering technology, payments, and commerce companies. A natural networker, a quick study, and strong advocate of payment solutions for cannabis retail. Earned two engineering degrees: B.S., Arizona State University; M.s., Stanford University.

 

 

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