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 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 theone and only Sangram Vajre. Sangram, welcome to theshow. I’m super excited to have you here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re giving you the budget. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

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.

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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.

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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 on-going 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.

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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, 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 the 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

 

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.

Important Links: 

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.

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO

Marketing is the perfect job for people with co-dominant brains, because it demands both right-brain creativity and left-brain execution. Before becoming the CMO of Aryaka Networks, Shashi Kiran has had more than two decades of experience in business and technology roles across a spectrum of organizations, ranging from early-stage startups to industry leaders. Trained as an engineer but tempered in the industry as a marketer and a leader, Shashi has had the most experience in marketing and product line management, with some roles straddling the two. He joins Vijay Damojipurapu on the show to talk about the nuances of marketing for early-stage startups versus that of more established organizations. They touch upon the importance of getting everyone on the same page as to what marketing means, building a dynamic marketing team and culture, keeping the team focused on set marketing goals, and the biggest challenges and opportunities for marketing in the present day.

Listen to the podcast here

Marketing Across The Spectrum: From Startups To Industry Leaders With Shashi Kiran, CMO Of Aryaka

I have with me Shashi Kiran, the CMO of Aryaka. As a way of introduction, as well as background, the reason why I’m looking forward to this conversation with you, Shashi, is your track record with the various industry leaders including Cisco and Aryaka, as well as your involvement in the whole startup ecosystem. It’s a fascinating and exciting background. Welcome to the show, Shashi.

Thank you for having me, Vijay.

I have a bunch of questions for us to get started. As you know, this is the show around B2B go-to-marketing. How would you define go-to-market?

I look at it as the way to transfer value from the point of creation to point of consumption. B2B is a fairly complicated landscape with different decision-making levels, different target personas, different geographies, regulatory requirements. In this context, to be able to rise above the noise, there’s a degree of brand awareness that you need to bring in. There is a greater degree of messaging clarity that you need to bring in terms of clearly identifying who you are, what you do, differentiation, your value proposition. Being able to feel the resonance of that value through different stakeholders, whether it be your employees, salesforce, channel partners, technology relations, customers. That is all of what is driven by a go-to-market entity. It’s a broad foray, but if you can successfully transfer that value from the intent of the creator to the need of the consumer, then that’s a job well done.

In your last line, you hit it well, which is you shift your focus more into the consumer that you understand. That’s where the empathy and the listening are key not just from a CMO individual perspective, but how do you build that DNA into the outbound go-to-market organization. I think that’s key. A funny story and more of an incident from early in my career. The way I was thinking about go-to-market is typically from a traditional product marketing outbound which is, “We got this launch coming up. How do we line up the various things, including the collateral, positioning, messaging, sales enablement, as far as the pipeline goals we need to hit?” That is go-to-market. It’s a one-time event. That was my notion earlier many years ago, but then my perspective shifted. You validated and explained that well. That’s a great perspective. What will also be valuable for the audience over here is if you can share your journey from a personal as well as from a professional perspective on how you grew in the ranks of marketing and how you became a CMO, that would be great.

I’ve been fortunate in my journey. I’m an engineer by education and a marketer by profession. It was clear to me as I was doing my undergrad that I wanted to go into something that involved people, a balance of creativity and logic. In marketing, you see it as a bit of a right-brain as well as left-brain activity. There is a lot of creativity that you need to apply but to the point that you were making earlier about doing a launch or doing something in a more tactical way, executing against a certain deliverable, that requires a logical approach. Usually, the most successful marketing organizations are the ones that can combine creativity with execution.

I enjoy that. Fortunately, most of the jobs that I had, the responsibility that I was given far outweighed the title I had. That allowed me to learn more, make more mistakes upfront, and establish a good network of people that value you and you value them. Technology becomes a by-product in such environments because technology keeps changing. You have to still perfect your craft of how do you message, position, scale and execute. My career has been a combination of some startups and some larger companies. I’ve had roles in product line management with P&L responsibility. I’ve had marketing roles and roles that straddle the two like in my position. I oversee the product management technology partnerships as well as marketing in all of its forms.

When you reference companies like Cisco, I had more of a product and solutions marketing role there. The portfolio I had was large, tens of billions of dollars. It was one of the largest portfolios that Cisco had in the networking domain. At the same time, we realized that in a lot of things that we do, there are multiple fast through mechanisms whether it be our sales teams or channel partners or other stakeholders. What we create and what we put out goes through a series of filters. Sometimes, it takes a long time for you to realize the impact of what you did. There isn’t an immediate feedback loop. I have worked in such companies where I have scaled a lot of these go-to-market initiatives, helping grow businesses from zero to multibillion-dollars in revenue. We’re taking advantage of ecosystems that are built with a lot of sales teams, large channel partners organizations, direct marketing or direct sales.

The most successful marketing organizations are the ones that can combine creativity with execution. Click To Tweet

That has been one element of my DNA. At the same time, for the last few years, I have been more immersed in startups. After I decided to leave Cisco, I joined an early-stage startup, which was to help determine the new product-market fit and getting an idea off the ground. That ended up getting far fairly quickly at a series of startups in the cloud-native application delivery space. I joined a mid-state startup, which was building routes to market. It had an Israeli engineering team. For me, it was great to work with that culture. We also solidified a lot of routes to market. Part of this journey had also been getting in front of investors to raise funding. We raised the next round of funding.

I was looking to join a later state startup where you can apply these principles of scaling to grow. Amongst the other offers, Aryaka came my way and looking at the opportunity, I felt it was a good combination of a company that had already established a good product-market fit, had solid technology. The problem to solve was in terms of scaling the go-to-market. I grabbed it with both hands and I have been with this company for a few years now. We have the product management team as part of the CMO organization as well as the sales development team. It gives us a greater amount of ability to qualify things at the head end and thereby target people and messaging as well as streamline a lot of things, which is a positive thing.

Startups require more hands-on abilities, more confidence, a propensity to make mistakes, learn from them, and also be able to get feedback and not have a thin skin. You need to be able to absorb the feedback and react quickly in terms of changes that we want to make. A lot of other companies give you the ability to apply yourself at scale and it comes with its own share of complexities. For me, I’ve enjoyed both of these worlds. I frequently look at how do you infuse the startup mentality into a bigger company and how you bring that big company scaling function into a startup. That’s the dynamic that I enjoy solving.

You’ve touched upon several points over there. Initially, you were growing up in the product organization, but at some point in time you felt the urge to move more into the marketing side, the mix of both analytical as well as the creative side. You also touched upon an important point, which the people in Silicon Valley will resonate with this well, which is at some point in time, you want to experience that startup culture, the startup DNA. I felt that as well. I’ve worked at larger companies including Ericsson, Microsoft and Juniper Networks. I felt that urge to grow and go into smaller companies as well as earlier stage companies including seed, series A and several others.

I clearly see that and you have grown in the ranks well. The other question or the thought process that comes to my mind and I would like to chime in on this is, what do you see are the nuances or the variations? How do you think about go-to-market from an early stage, finding a product-market fit position point of view versus scaling and growth? Clearly there’s an overlap but there are also different approaches to both.

Marketing is a bit of a misunderstood profession. What I mean by that is when you talk to ten different people, their view of marketing can be ten different viewpoints depending on the lens you are viewing it from. Some will look at it purely as a branding and advertising activity. Some will look at it as generating collateral, getting your leads ready and a website. Some will look at it as a demand generation, “Where are my leads coming from?”

If we can be more blunt there, you can also get to hear from other teams, “Can you put some lipstick on the pig and make it look pretty.”

I’m sure we have made a lot of pigs look pretty in our careers. The point I’m trying to make is you can’t take one thing and say, “I’m done in the context of marketing.” It’s a nuanced profession. You can go deep in certain areas and you need to be good enough to connect the dots in the other areas. There are some people who come in especially when you get into the level of a CMO. I look at a lot of my peers. Some people come in purely from an advertising or a branding background. They’re good at proliferating the message on a global scale. Some others come in from a product background. They understand how to position message and craft the differentiation. Some others are mostly on a demand gen level.

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO
Aryaka CMO: When you talk to 10 different people, their view of marketing can be 10 different viewpoints, depending on the lens they’re viewing it from.

 

Regardless of which function they come in from, maybe product event or some cross the chasm from engineering to marketing, it is important to see what is the problem that needs to be solved, and apply yourself into taking away that weak link from your marketing value chain. I look at different companies that I have been involved in. In some you hired a good product-market fit. The challenge was how do you let more people know about it.

In other cases, you had a good degree of brand awareness, but when you start to bring something out, how do you ensure that you’re maybe not cannibalizing something that’s already there or do it in a way that is non-disruptive? Those challenges will vary and you have to look at it in terms of the stage of the company, and what fuel do you want to put into the fire and see how can you scale things. It also goes into hiring the DNA in different companies at different stages. To see, is that the right background or DNA that we want to bring in? Those are all that’s going to make that whole journey work better.

Let me put you a bit more into the hot seat position over here. I’m sure you must have encountered this in a couple of startups or even the other areas. I don’t think there’s a problem in the larger companies. I’ve not seen or heard from the other marketing leaders. The question to you is I’m sure he must have dealt with situations where the CEO doesn’t get what marketing is even though they hire a CMO or the head of marketing. How do you tackle that situation?

You have to educate people and you have to get them to your point of view. That means being proactive in terms of sharing your thoughts, getting the buy-in early. It isn’t necessarily just the CEO. It could be a lot of other people, board members, sales leaders or maybe somebody even in the media around those communities. The thing that you’ll encounter is everybody has an opinion about marketing. Part of the challenge as well as the opportunity is how do you rationalize some of these opinions? Everybody wants to get involved in naming a new product or creating a tagline. Everybody feels that the version they’ve come up with is the best. You have to be able to synthesize these things.

On one hand, you have to ensure everybody is participating because you want them to feel a sense of ownership with what you bring out, which is where you create a ripple effect. You’re not going to get that scale, the ripple effect if your own organization, your own CEO, your own sales team doesn’t resonate with what you’re trying to put out. They need to be active stakeholders. For that reason, the participative nature of any engagement is important. The second aspect is once you’ve framed your PCs, once you have taken these opinions, eventually it’s your call to decide on the path you want to go. CEOs understand that well with the consensus builder’s decision-makers. They do understand that, “Yes, I’ve got these ten opinions but there is a reason I’m going to pick one.”

As a CEO or a leader, that is something you are paid to do. You have to make a decision, take a stand, and then comes the aspect of making sure others understand the reason for the stand that you have taken. In an organization that is vibrant and scalable, the best messages are not the ones that the creator is articulating, but what somebody who’s two steps away from the creator is able to articulate without things getting lost in translation. It means they need to absorb it with the same degree of clarity that you do and feel as if it is their own thoughts to carry. If we can make that, there is a bit of education, stakeholder engagement, and then stakeholder buy-in, then you will see a lesser degree of confusion and more involvement. That is the recipe for successful scaling.

You touched upon the messaging and you come up or launched a new product line. I’ve seen that with my several clients, which is each team member be it in sales or be it a GM, or even the founder or the CEO, each of them has an opinion around what the messaging should be as well as what the tagline should be. Taglines are a catchy “sexy” activity and everyone wants to get involved. At the same time, there is that aspect of the point which we discussed and you touched upon earlier, which is it’s not about us, it’s about the resonance with the consumer.

Will it resonate with that customer? That’s key and there’s that whole gray area. You will know when you launch it. You will only know it maybe 3, 6 or 12 months later on. Let’s dive a bit more into how you organize your marketing team. You touched upon that lightly, but you have the product organization as well as the outbond marketing organization. I would presume it’ll include the dimension, brand and creator. Can you share a bit more about how you structure your teams?

he general philosophy of hiring is to take somebody who complements you. Click To Tweet

Each of these organizations brings teams in based on what problem we’re trying to solve. In my role, I have three leaders reporting to me. One is the VP of product management, the other is the VP of product and solutions marketing, and we onboarded a VP of demand gen. We also have a marketing operations team as well. Each of these functions has its own specific mandate. You will find these functions to be fairly common across different organizations. Depending on the size of the organization and the activities that they are undertaking, you will see more or less people being added to it. It’s more important to look at the type of people that we hire in general and this is probably more exacerbated now during the pandemic where everybody’s working from home.

We had to onboard people through Zoom interviews that we have never had a chance to meet in person. For them also, they have to come up to speed on a number of things being home, and without necessarily the luxury of a whiteboarding session or somebody who can walk them through things. Culture becomes important. At the same time, we look at people who don’t require a lot of hand-holding. They should be able to make decisions on their own. There is a degree of empowerment that we need to put in where they feel confident to take decisions, make mistakes. The important thing is to be able to create clear pathways for communication, information sharing, and a feedback loop. These are things that I keep pressing on. Generally, the philosophy of hiring for me is to take somebody who complements you.

I give the analogy of if all of the fingers of our hand were the same lengths, you could never close it into a fist function. The team is your fist. You do need fingers of different sizes that come together with complementary strengths. That in a way goes to form a formidable team. If you are to hire everybody who thinks like you, if you’re to hire a yes-man team, then that fist is never going to get developed. It’s like being in an army where everybody wants to march in sync. You will never get the diversity of opinions and hard processes.

If you double click and you asked your team to work on a major campaign which runs over the next 1, 2, 3 quarters. Do you structure your team in such a way that you have the product marketing, owning the messaging, and then at the same time closely working with the creator, writer, content, social media, and demand gen? That’s one thing I’ve seen with the various clients, as well as the other organizations. There’s a challenge as to how to structure because you are the CMO and you own the entire marketing function, but if one doesn’t pay attention, it’s easy to get logged into silos. Imagine product marketing having their own set of KPIs, content and social having their own set of KPIs around each. How do you overcome that challenge as a CMO in breaking down silos even within a marketing organization?

One of the key things is to make sure that everybody is sharing information. We have to proactively create forums for people to share the work that they’re doing. I view the key aspect of roles such as ourselves is being able to connect the dots. Each dot could represent as a certain function. That function needs to be good on its own merit in a standalone capacity. If you want to drive a multiplicity of outcomes in a powerful way, then we as leaders need to take ownership of connecting the dots. Part of it is the culture that we establish where everybody understands not just their roles and responsibilities but how they function relative to others. Who to reach out to for help? Who do you offer help to and you do something?

There are fleeting problems when any new team getting formed. You can bring some tools in that will help ease the process. In my career, I have never seen a tool substitute genuine human intent and the need to collaborate. We have to foster that and make sure everybody understands that it is for the common good and establish common meetings, common information sharing mechanisms, common goals where the interdependencies are clearly mapped out. You do this for the first few times then it becomes second nature to everybody.

Any new person that you bring on board assimilates into that culture, that workflow. It’s at the formational stage that we need to think of some of these things. Maybe you grow to such an extent where you don’t know all the members of your own team. There have been instances in my career in the past where the team sizes were big that I may not be knowing intimately what every person does. That is a different order where you need to make sure your leaders and the processes at all there to help make that happen.

One of your primary jobs is to break down silos in such a way that there is a constant sharing of information. That sounds like that is a big goal and focus for you and the marketing team. Do you also think about and frame shared KPIs or goals in the context of a campaign?

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO
Aryaka CMO: Leaders need to take ownership of connecting the dots if they want to drive multiplicity of outcomes in a powerful way.

 

We have been self-disciplined about it. At an organization level, we were aligning to things like OKRs, but OKRs are not meant to break down into a lot of execution level information. It’s for common goal setting. If you truly want to have predictable outcomes, then it is better that you have a good line of sight into the execution elements. This helps bring better structure across the different members of the team. It also aligns expectations, if you do execution reviews and if they present their plans, it allows you to connect the dots better. We have been disciplined about setting our goals for each quarter in a way that it aligns to more or less the day-to-day activities of the individuals across the different teams, and then map that to some of the higher-order objectives. If we can create that linkage, then it brings more predictability for us across the entire team.

For the leaders that I’ve spoken with and I’m in touch with, that’s the intent. It’s easier said than done. There is a challenge of what I’ve seen play out. There are quarterly offsites for doing it like a quarterly planning or QPRs. There’s great outcome, great energy during that first couple of days. People lose sight a week or even a month later. We identify the goals, but a week, a month later typically if you’re not conscious, we switched into a firefighting mode and we lose sight of the goals that we set out. When it comes to the end of the quarter, we’re scrambling. I’m sure you can relate to that. How do you handle or how do you try to avoid such situations at Aryaka?

Some of our goals are meant to be through the year. For example, we say, “We will grow at 40%.” That’s a goal at a high level. That number can be taken and a sales team can interpret its action plan for that differently. The marketing team can implement its action plan differently. I’m giving an example of how everybody can take a higher-order organizational goal, then develop plans in a way that allows you to achieve some of those objectives.

If you’re saying, “I’m going to grow 40% or 50%,” or whatever the number is across the year, it means that you need to have a certain set of building blocks in your own daily, monthly, quarterly cadence that will allow you to drive more predictability. We’ve been disciplined about taking something like that and then saying, “What should our quarterly plan be? What new products are we going to introduce? What new launches are we going to do? What agencies are we going to bring onboard? How many opportunities are we going to commit ourselves so finance can model the revenue impact?”

Each of them boils down to certain initiatives, certain projects that become the quarterly big rocks that we track, and then we communicate it. Part of it is not just setting a goal for yourself, but I make it a point to announce our goals to the entire world. We proactively share it with almost the entire company even though they may or may not be interested in the marketing goals. The moment you stand on a rooftop and say, “This is my goal,” that’s your commitment to the universe. It automatically binds you to execute on that. The team has done a good job in terms of saying, “These are the big rocks we are going to commit to each quarter and here is how it fits into the bigger picture,” and then being able to manage, track, and build upon those. It’s always a work in progress but that’s the system that we have this time.

You’ve covered how you break down silos and how you help not just the marketing team, but even the entire organization, how you educate them about the marketing goals and how you execute via marketing sales or even the engineering or finance for that matter. Going into 2021, what do you see as the top 1 and 2 challenges and then the opportunities for marketing from a good market perspective?

We have adapted well. If you were to ask me in the March and April 2020 timeframe, we were all having a sense of trepidation in terms of how the organization is going to deal with this particular situation. How are our customers going to adapt? Are we going to lose business? Are we going to be able to attract employees of the right caliber? Are we going to be able to retain them? Are we going to be able to execute the programs that we said we would? Now, I look back on what has been somewhat of a tumultuous period in the last six months of 2020. We’ve done extremely well. We didn’t lose any customers. We gained a lot more that came our way because they liked the way we were helping them, manage change in their own business, and help them transform their infrastructure.

It’s been a company-wide effort. At the same time from a marketing perspective, we have hired some good talent. We haven’t lost any significant amount due to attrition. The teams are being fairly committed and meeting their timelines. We also try to have fun in the process. Everybody’s working from home and some have gone back to other cities than the cities where they were working globally. I don’t think we’re past this pandemic yet. I would like to say that we’ve all figured out how to adapt, deal with it, and portray a sense of confidence for ourselves, our customers, and it is business as usual. With that in mind, I don’t think we have any other way of saying this than to continue to challenge ourselves.

There is no one recipe for surefire success in this digital world. Rising above the noise is a process of constant experimentation. Click To Tweet

The metrics that we have set for ourselves, we shouldn’t be watering those down. We should be sticking to our growth targets or product delivery timelines, and how we go to market with maybe partners. We’re looking at 2021 as being another year where we will continue to gain market share and increase messaging clarity. One area I’m personally looking to put more effort in is in elevating our brand. In the last 3 to 4 quarters, we have spent a lot of rejiggering our product mix, overhauling our pricing, then we completely refreshed our messaging, positioning websites, and then we started to put in a lot of building blocks for demand generation.

We’ll get more predictability, more intent-based data-driven activities. Now, I’m ready to scale all of those and put more emphasis on elevating the brand globally. That would be an area that I’m going to put more emphasis on even as we harden a lot of the foundations that we have laid across the teams and we won some good, big deals, some of the biggest in the ten-year-old history of Aryaka in the last quarter of 2020. We would want to continue to build upon that and scale our organization.

Kudos to you and the entire Aryaka team on that. You guys had a fascinating and fantastic quarter. I’m wishing you and the team the best so that you can continue to outpace and outshine yourself. This is great stuff, Shashi. Thanks for sharing a lot of details. As we head into wrapping up this show, the last couple of questions for you is, what are the top areas that you’re curious about specifically when it comes to go-to-market? What resources are you leaning on? You mentioned growing the brand awareness globally, that might be one area. I’ve seen leaders leaning on podcasts or even peer networks and rev gen, and a couple of other communities. What do you and your team lean on?

We are constantly experimenting there. I don’t think there is one recipe that is a surefire success all the time. Especially nowadays where a lot of activities have become digital and in-person events have been curtailed. There’s a lot more of an information overload, people are getting invited to more virtual events, a lot of emails, a lot more phone calls. We have to continue to figure out what pathways allow us to rise above the noise. It’s a process of constant experimentation. I wouldn’t say what worked for us two quarters ago is going to work for us this quarter because of the behavior shifts that are happening rapidly. We do multiple things. We have gotten into a place where we can predict certain outcomes, which it is always a hard thing to do for a marketing organization to be able to forecast and predict.

That’s the muzzle that we’re trying to bring about. We are investing in more intent-based tools and more data that has refined applying principles of AI and things like that where we can, and to create greater points of engagement and conversion. I don’t think we have any big challenges in terms of attracting more people to hear what we do, but we are now putting more focus on how many of them can we convert into being active engagers and buyers in taking the next step forward. Those are bringing in some interesting learning.

For Aryaka, your customers are a mix of enterprise and telcos. Can you share a bit more about the customer space?

We call ourselves a cloud-first run company. What we mean by that is we allow enterprises to get the network and security delivered as a service for them. Many of them are used to now consuming applications from the cloud as a service. Our theses are that the network should be no different. Can you make your network as easy to consume as you could any application from the cloud? Can you make it as responsive? Can you make it as agile? Can you make the experience to be overwhelmingly positive that there is no other solution that they would consider? We are a fully-managed solution for advanced wide area networks. We fall into the category of a managed SD WAN provider.

In reality, what we do is make it easy to consume network, as well as security. We’re seeing this convergence of the two happen and deliver that as a service globally to enterprises for any site or user. We have built out a global network. This is a layer two network with built-in application acceleration and optimization capabilities. We have established points of presence globally that allow us to target any knowledge worker with a sub-30-millisecond latency then we have an edge footprint, which is our services edge node. We can host security or remote access on top of that and connect to different cloud providers, SaaS providers or private clouds, essentially delivered multi-cloud networking. The whole construct of WAN including the last mile, we take ownership of getting away the complexity and being able to manage and deliver all of that as a service.

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO
Aryaka CMO: You need to have a certain set of building blocks in your own daily, monthly or quarterly cadence that will allow you to drive more predictability

 

Good luck to you and your team. Brand and growing the brand awareness is one piece, but then there’s also the whole notion of how do you track if you’re growing the brand because you won’t know it until 3, 6 or 12 months later. In addition, you need to continue to do your messaging, the portfolio pricing, as well as the whole dimension. One final question before I let you go, if you were to give a shout out to your peers in the industry, who are those top 2 or 3 good market leaders that you look up to who inspire you and who you learn from?

There are a lot of people that I learned from. Some of the people are not necessarily marketing people, but they do a ton of different ideas. Our CEO, Matt Carter, comes in from a marketing background himself, probably more from B2C marketing. You draw many of your inspirations from people in startup environments. A lot of CEOs are marketing savvy. A lot of my peers have gone through a similar journey as I have. Every time you get together and brainstorm, we try to reach out to each other and say, “What’s working in your role?” I’m also an advisor to a few startups and venture firms. I draw a lot of inspiration and ideas from people who are trying out something new for the first time. They haven’t cracked the go-to-market nut, but there’s bright directional learning that happens there. It’s a combination of these different people. I’ve had some good bosses in the past as well as much as I have right here.

Any names that you want to share?

The thing with that is I’m always going to leave somebody out. I would rather keep it more inclusive than offend somebody that I leave out.

Shashi, thanks for being on the show. Good luck to you and the whole Aryaka team.

Important Links

About Shashi Kiran

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMOProven executive with 20+ years of experience in business and technology roles. I adopt a growth mindset and enjoy driving outcomes that create impact, value and deliver a positive experience. Building trust-based relationships based on integrity, authenticity and avoiding politics are core to my personality. I’ve been involved in marketing, sales, business development and product management at large global companies and smaller startups. Love solutions and connecting the dots to win big! Meritocracy, passion and humility are key ingredients of my team building formula.

Recent focus areas include: Data center, Cloud, Networking, SD-WAN, Software, Automation, DevOps, SaaS, Security, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for service engagement across Enterprise and Service Provider markets

Many marketing leaders and entrepreneurs stumble into the space by sheer discovery. For Reid Genauer, that is from starting a rock band all by himself, which eventually led him to learn the vocabulary and skills to go and transition into the marketing world. In this episode, he joins host, Vijay Damojipurapu, to share with us that colorful and bright career journey and the lessons it taught him that shaped his thinking as a marketing leader. Notably, he dives deep into the go-to-market that companies need to utilize. Reid also answers some key questions that are often faced by many leaders in the industry. How do you manage that debate between product finance and marketing? What are your goals for the next six to twelve months, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic going on? All of this and more in this insightful conversation.

Listen to the podcast here

The Go-To-Market: From Rock Bands To Marketing With Reid Genauer 

I’m super thrilled and excited to have Reid Genauer on the show. As a way of introduction, Reid has a very colorful and bright career that started off in a rock band or music band all by himself, and then transitioned into the marketing world. Reid, welcome.

Thank you. It’s great to be here. My friends and family would describe me as colorful as well.

You have a very distinct bio in the sense that you didn’t start off in the marketing career. You started off doing your own music and rock band, but something triggered you to get into marketing. Can you share your thoughts on what led you to this journey?

As a teenager, I had a passion for music. There was no question in my mind that’s what I was going to do. I was going to go out and play in a rock band. I started writing songs in the seventh grade. My future is like this question mark. If that canvas was painted black waiting for the color, it was like a point of light that I headed towards. There is a whole side story about my musical life that’s interesting in achieving and chasing that certainty. I was supporting myself and then at the age of 22, 24, there was ten of us full-time doing this as bottoms up, DYI, which is the norm these days. This was in late ‘90s. We were a little ahead of the curve. I wouldn’t have called it this then, but looking back we needed strategy, positioning, infrastructure and go-to market.

What was fascinating is we bootstrapped it and learned these things as we went. After nearly ten years of doing that, I went to business school. I was like, “That was called strategy, positioning, product-market fit, go-to market in the forms of direct mail, newsletters and such promotion, etc.” We recorded our own records, produced them, distributed them ourselves. We were vertically integrated. It was a very painful transition for me personally, but in regards to my personal and professional growth, it was transformative in that I had all this raw material and all this real-life experience. All of a sudden, I had the context, the vocabulary and the skillset to not only describe it but replicate it in another setting.

I don’t think of myself as a marketer. I think of myself as an entrepreneur. That go-to market happens to be the piece of the puzzle that I was trying to impart. I have to be honest coming from this life as a songwriter and an entrepreneur. At the time, I did brand marketing, private equity/finance or consulting. Part of the reason I don’t want to be in a band anymore is I played in 48 out of 50 states. I’ve been in transit for the last several years.

For the benefit of the audience, are you talking about your time at Cornell Johnson School while you’re doing your MBA and you’re trying to figure out what next?

Yeah. I was evaluating the three main rounds. Consulting for me was a deal killer that you had to be gone all the time. I wish I knew more about venture capitalism and private equity. What it comes down to was my dad was a commercial banker. He wore a gray suit every day. I was like, “No, check that one off.” I felt closest to the creative process. There’s the behavioral science part of marketing, which is interesting. It’s like being an anthropologist. That was how I landed on that channel. Ultimately, I wanted to get to where I am, be part of a leadership team, and guiding the direction of an organization.

This is something that I’ve seen especially with the various product or even marketing leaders and even entrepreneurs. It’s all about the opportunity or what they need to do to get to the next stage. In your case, when you are trying to build up the rock band and trying to increase awareness, bring the audience, create publicity and get to the channel or the customer segment, you need to figure out all the various pieces, which you refer to as the positioning, the messaging, the marketing strategy, the various channels and so on. I see a single thread running across even with the various entrepreneurs, which is “I’ve got this cool product, but is this product serving the customer segment?” Even if I step back, who is the customer segment? What is the pain point? It’s a constant circle of questions, insights and hypothesis, which leads you to a natural good market state of thinking.

I have two responses to that. One is that tends to be the way that I approach assessing a company, whether or not I want to be a part of it or if I want to create it. Where I extend my energy and where I need to focus as part of the executive team is to look at what the critical path is like, what’s the blocker here? That’s an interesting way because many times throughout a company’s growth, you hit a roadblock. It’s understanding what that roadblock is and what the “medicine” is for that particular pain point. It might be across any one of those. It’s not always in historic marketing definition.

That’s why I like to use the term go-to market because it could be somewhere else in the company’s DNA. What you said is important to focus on. I came to these two roles ago at Magisto, which is an automated video editor. It’s the notion of product-market fit. Part of what drew me to marketing is the behavioral science part, the anthropological part. It’s not a criticism. It’s an observation even of myself. I think there’s an abundance of technology in Silicon Valley and technologists. There’s an abundance of good ideas. There simply is not enough focus on product-market fit and on what that means, that it’s not a destination, it’s a journey.

An overt example of that is oftentimes companies are going, “Why aren’t we growing?” In effect, they’ve met the edge of their addressable market and they have to expand. You have to go through a very aggressive product-market fit cycle. There are other more nuanced ways. I spent a lot of time in video. If you look at all the video applications out there, many of them deliver the same basic gain or solve the same basic problem, which is I need to create a go-to market video. Little things like how you described the benefits, the UI and getting at those features can make all the difference. That’s a nuanced part of product-market fit. It’s like, “Do I have to become a video editor or is it very intuitive on how to kick something out that’s high quality?” If you listen to the customer in almost anything you do and it’s just not enough. Tony Hsieh is like the Dalai Lama of customer-centric go-to market. I aspire to be as one with it as he is. That’s what it comes down to.

It’s all about listening and empathy.

Related to that, the other observation I have is that in the absence of valuing that, holding that as sacred, because everyone says it’s one thing to say it. It’s a spectrum, but it’s another thing to do it as a core competency, as an organization. If you don’t, what you tend to wind up doing is burning valuable cycles on product iteration that may or may not be going down the right path. There’s a bunch of reasons that it happens. It’s somebody’s personal pet project. You’re looking at what competitors do. Sometimes it’s not an apples to apples fit. You do it because they did it, but for your business, it’s not right. I’ve been guilty of this before, sometimes by my own motive and sometimes because there’s pressure to do it. Driving more traffic to a product that doesn’t have fit is like putting a band that stinks in front of a huge audience. It doesn’t matter how big the audience is if the music isn’t any good. It’s a lot of that where it’s like more traffic, better traffic. If the drummer can’t keep it timed, you can put a bigger audience as you want and the lead singer is up, it’s not going to work.

Notionally and in principle, leaders across the company, the C-Suite or even one level below get that. You hit upon a very important point, which is due to the various pressures either from the top leadership or from the board or from the investors, there’s this pressure of, “We don’t care, you need to deliver results.” There’s the irony and circular dependency of in order for you to deliver the results, you need to understand the market. It’s like, “It doesn’t matter. Keep pumping money and deliver the results or drive traffic.” At what point in time would you step up as a leader? I’ve seen that personally. I’ve struggled at various times. I’ve seen others struggle as well.

That’s a complex question because the other reality, it’s easy to sit and pontificate about this stuff generally. It’s harder when you’re in the tag of war. We all make the same mistakes over and over. It’s like a trip around the sun. You learn something each time. For me, either if it’s in a new role or if I’m at a company that you can feel and seeing the numbers is plateauing, that’s often when the realization hits me and I need to take a step back and look at the bigger problem or the bigger opportunity, and why we’re not capturing. We go through an audit almost of how we’re structured, what we’re offering, and what the market trends are.

There are three stools, the company itself, your current, future and past customers in some cases, and the market itself. You should be doing it in a very awake fashion all the time. You get sucked into execution and it’s unavoidable because as a startup, you have to live to fight another day. It’s the George Washington thing. Sometimes you have to compromise on doing things that are short-term and inherently flawed to keep the patient healthy enough to get to the emergency rooms.

Looking back at your journey, after the MBA, you started in brand marketing at Snapple, and then you grew in the ranks. You moved a bit into the consumer and the B2B space. What would you say are the real inflection points or how did that journey shape your thinking as a marketing leader?

Once I made the decision to stop doing music full-time, I was doing a product-market fit evaluation on myself. I realized that part of it was rational and part of it was gut that I wanted to be at the intersection of technology and media. I wanted to be an entrepreneur because all of those things have creative components. I tended to work at companies that deal with mass creativity, eMusic which is independent music, Fox Mobile where I launched over the top television, and Magisto which is social singing.

B2B 2 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Many times throughout a company’s growth, you hit a roadblock. It’s understanding what that roadblock is and what the “medicine” is for that particular pain point.

 

There’s been the literal creative and then there’s the broader definition of creative. Auto mechanics and accountants can be creative in how they approach their jobs. Company building and entrepreneurship is a creative exercise metaphorically and literally. You’re building a company. It’s like building a tree fort. I always loved doing it, but what do you do once the tree fort is built? You sit in it for a day and then you go and build the next one. Larger companies for me were never attractive. It’s equivalent to sitting in the tree fort or making slight improvements to it.

I knew this is where I wanted to be. The tech industry has changed so much since I went to business school in 2000. There was no Google. There was no on-campus recruiting. I had a job offer from Unilever. I chose Snapple over Unilever because it was less traditional and a better fit for me. I looked at it as part of almost like finishing school for my MBA. It’s what you do and I’m glad I did. First of all, even though I took data-driven marketing and entrepreneurship at school, it’s focused on brand management. I went and put the skills that I learned to use.

I acquired other ones. I took that into the tech world. It’s been an interesting journey. The first company I went to work for was eMusic. I knew them because I had been distributed by them when digital music first hit. I forget what the other one was. It’s like Audio Lunchbox or something. There were two of them. I was like, “This is an interesting company. This space is going to grow.” When I went there, digital music was like 6% of the market. I don’t know what the stat was then, but it’s the bulk of them. It was fascinating. What was very clear early on were two things. One was, there was no role for me long-term and no career path without doing data-driven marketing, growth marketing.

That’s where I got my ninja skills for that component of go-to market. I’d say there were three big takeaways. Two is that those companies need strategy positioning and branding like any other company. At the time, they didn’t realize it. Interestingly, they are leading the way in terms of how you deliver that to the consumer because of the digital disruption. When I started working at eMusic, the word brand was almost a four-letter word. I was like, “Don’t even utter it in my presence.” It’s because people didn’t understand what it was.

You turn around and X-teen years later, they’re the ones that are defining it. A lot of consumer-packaged goods and physical products are looking to digitally native companies to understand how to articulate a brand, and how to position a company in a digital world. It’s a different exercise. The last thing I was going to say is that the power dynamic is very different. As a brand manager, you are a GM more or less. You’re a little king in a way. If you could have seen me two years, I’m not sure you would have given me this responsibility.

First of all, the technology, not that they’re holding anybody ransom, it’s just the nature of these businesses. The technologists are the power center. If the band can’t play, then there’s only so much the marketer can do. They tend to have more of the resources depending on the business. If you have a product that has any technological sophistication, you’re going to have more of the employees there. The ways that the functional departments interact is distinctly different than traditional companies. It’s better and leading the way. It’s still flawed within tech companies, but it’s much more integrated than traditional.

You hit up on a couple of key points, one which is very relevant to the audience and to this show is the balance between product, which you refer to as a technologist, and the data that the marketing team, be it brand or product marketing, or even other like data-driven marketing operations. That data which they had to bring to the table and justify budget are investments. This is a constant challenge. I’ve seen that play out at the C-Suite level as well. Do we allocate more budget and resources to engineering, which is incremental or new features, versus dedicate X amount of dollars for investing in a new brand? If not a new brand, what are the campaigns that we need to run? This is a constant struggle. How do you manage that debate that goes on in the C-Suite between product finance and then marketing?

I’d go back to my original answer. It’s imperfect because there are things like personal ego. I’ll talk to some of the forces that often drive us to make the wrong decisions on that front. The core for me is looking at critical path. Let’s say a company is more mature and the basic infrastructure, because the pace of innovation is so rapid, Moore’s Law, it may be that you have such institutional debt in your infrastructure. That’s your critical path. You can’t do the things you know you should do because the code base is either so old or Millennium Falcon-like. In that case, as a marketer, you have to do this balancing act.

I would argue to give up some of my marketing budget to fix that so that we can then take a step back so we can move forward. If we take an honest assessment of saying the onboarding experience, we look at the numbers and we say, “We’re driving tons of traffic.” They seem to be qualified and they’re falling off at this point, then I would argue for a product. If it’s something stupid like the onboarding process and the UI is confusing, I would argue for that. If we have this amazing band that’s been practicing for ten years in the basement has invented a new style of music, the world loves it and it’s just a matter of bringing it to them, then I would fight for more budget on my side.

It’s never that binary because you have to live to fight another day. You tend to focus on your needs and wants as a department head. If it’s truly a technology company and/or product company, the core activity of what you do is invent. Oftentimes, I’m tempted to say an injustice because it sometimes feels that way with me, but it’s not an injustice. It’s a bias. There’s a second reason for this. One is this is what we do. We don’t have to justify the budget. We’re in the business of inventing things so we have to fund that.

The second is true customer or product-market fit is very inter-departmental. It can be fed by mid-level employees, but it has to be driven from the top. It’s uncomfortable. You have to be able to distill all different forms of the quantitative and qualitative information. You need to toggle between TED-like 100,000-foot observations and ground level observations to find it. Either the leadership doesn’t have the time to do it because they’re running the company or they don’t like it because it’s not as binary as some of the other functions.

Lastly, advertising is the most binary at least in the short-term. You spend a dollar and you see the return. What you don’t see is the lifetime value. That is hidden in the product-market fit. It’s hidden in the product execution. It’s hidden in the institutional debt. It’s much harder to read. It’s why we tend to focus on the head of the funnel. In general, my thesis is listen to the customer and focus on the end of the funnel first. What are you truly selling before you dump? It’s not a way of getting out of my job. I look at that as part of my job, as part of our go-to market to say, “We can go out and start spending money, but what are we selling it to who? What is the core value?” It’s often not even in what you’re selling.

Tony Hsieh is a genius. He’s selling happiness. The product happens to be shoes. Most companies are like that. There are some exceptions. Network routing, I’m not sure you would argue. You could say you’re selling stability, but there’s an emotional benefit to most products, B2B and B2C. You have to start with and then say, “What’s the functional benefit after that?” There’s a path to market that starts with, what’s the core of what we’re selling? Do we understand that? Oftentimes when you unpack it, you don’t or the company doesn’t. Maybe 2 out of 5, or 5 out of 5 of the leadership team does, but there isn’t good middleware to communicating that to the rest of the company. They’re not sure why they’re executing every day. They just come in and march.

You touched upon several points in what you covered. One point I’d like us to deep dive into further is the challenge area that you mentioned, which is the go-to market is not owned by one single function. It’s a cross-functional initiative. Most often what happens is the mid-level people would see it like a director of product or sales, or even director of customer sales and marketing would see that. Their views and effort or impact that they can make is very siloed within that one function. It has to boil up to the C-Suite, the top-level leadership, who has a broader view or come from it.

In early-stage companies, it does by definition. As the company grows, it gets harder for the leadership to do it and/or they never loved doing it in the first place.

Everything in motion, it happens. The go-to market motion continues to go on. As long as the results are delivered, it’s not a pain point.

When you hit some plateau or snafu, you start to ask the question of, what is it here? Is it we’re not bringing in enough people or we don’t qualify the leads well enough? The value proposition isn’t strong enough. The pricing structure is wrong. There are all questions you start to ask. It’s a nuanced, but powerfully different answer depending at what stage company you’re in. The question is still the same which is, what is our process for gathering that information, distilling it and executing against it? I don’t think there’s one single answer, but here’s something that I propose. If the leadership team agrees at something critical ideally in the ongoing DNA either in the inception of a company or an inflection point, which is a generous crisis, what’s the process for doing this?

I also think it’s a lot to ask of middle management to do on their own because it takes some pattern recognition or helps to have it, and it’s not so much the seniority as the way the individual’s mind works. What product-market fit is you have to be able to watch seventeen televisions or more like read five articles, watch seven televisions, listen to nine podcasts and talk to 100 people at once. That takes a certain type of brain to be able to find the signal to noise in that. What I would recommend for any company is that there’s a pyramid where there’s an agreement on these are the things we need to know and these are the ways we’re going to gather the information. That information gets packaged and sent to a central owner and even the content itself in a central repository so it all lives in one place.

There can be a hypothesis and observations presented to either senior leadership or presented by senior leadership to a CEO. At some point though, the senior leadership and the CEO has to get their hands dirty at not only in synthesizing the end outcome but listening to at least one radio station, watching 1 or 2 television shows so that you have your own sense of the market and your own touch by which to assess the larger data sets that come in. If you don’t, it lacks context. Not that I’m genius about it or anything, but I’ll see something different than somebody else will.

B2B 2 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: When you have to live to fight another day, you tend to focus on your needs and wants as a department head.

 

There are a couple of thoughts running in my head. One is someone like a GM or a COO, depending on the stage of the company and size of the company. There’s someone central who is viewing all these seventeen television channels, who is reading all these magazines, listening to the podcast and then synthesize it, boiling it down to 3 or 5 insights. Who is that one person and how often does it need to happen?

The hard truth is the CEO should be running it. It depends where many tech companies are challenged that the CEO is not doing the job they should be doing, which is being a CEO. They’re still busy being head of a product or technology. If the company is mature enough that the COO and the various department heads, or if the CEO is being a CEO, he or she should be able to do that, raise money, have a vision, understand the market, translate that vision of the company and hire the right people. That’s your job.

For some reason, we cannot generally say all these things, but will you say that this is an opportunity for an outside person or a consultant to bring in and build that muscle? It’s more of reminding or bringing in that outside perspective for the CEO to make the decision.

I was starting by pointing out what should be, but what you’re saying is that’s not probably the reality and I tend to agree with you. My bias is not to lean on a consultant to do that because it has to be part of the company DNA. Maybe to get you oriented and help you jumpstart, maybe as one of those voices. My experience is a consultant can’t come in and do that work for you because they’re not part of the company. They can come in and maybe hold up some blind spots that you have or be one of those many sources of information.

The 1 or 2 times that I’ve been most successful at it, there have been consultants who have lent various positioning like broad generalists who deliver information, focus groups or survey companies, third-party data, consultants who come in and work with you to sort through it all. There are roles for consultants. To put that in a consultant’s hands would be blasphemy in my opinion. That would be like handing the car over to my fourteen-year-old to drive. That’s not responsible. The short answer is the CEO has to be involved, to what degree is questionable, and in the absence of that, it can be a CMO, a head of product, a chief strategy officer, these relatively new CXO or Chief Experience Officer. That one strikes me as the most obvious CMO or CXO working in tandem with product. That’s how I think of that.

As we move more towards closing, I’ve got last few questions for you. One is what are your big goals for the next 6, 12 months? How are you going about prioritizing from a go-to market perspective? If you had an extra budget, which area or where would you invest your resources, either in key hires or bringing in external experts?

I know the nature of this question is more tactical, but I’m going to answer it with what I call a Bill Clinton answer, a politician’s answer. It’s partly what interests me most right now is that even prior to COVID, there’s a disruption that’s going on globally in more than marketing. What sums it up for me is the medium is the message. Any of us in marketing and media refer to that phrase. I went back and read it because I wasn’t 100% sure I understood it. The notion is that media messages and stories are an extension. It’s an ecosystem and an extension of the human nervous system and human psychology, sociology and market.

It’s deep observations that came from this guy before things like the internet even existed. His point is that there are two ecosystems. One is the nature of the message and the medium. My message might be talking about customer development. If I were to deliver that in a written, scripted pen and quill message on parchment paper, that would be different. It would affect you differently receiving it than if I typed it on a typewriter, than if I telegraphed it to you or if I called you on the phone or if we did a video. The nature of the medium affects the message, the richness of it and the quality of it. With 50% of the world not just on digital but also on social, it means we are connected to each other in a way we never have been.

The medium is social and it is video. It’s not to say there aren’t others, but that’s the central one of our time. The message is the individual new narrative. It’s me. Look at what we spent an hour doing, telling you my individual narratives. That is inherently different than the history of humankind, which has been top down narrative. Here’s the story, consume it. To the extent that you want to debate it, you do it as water cooler chatter that’s perishable. It’s not a body of media. Nowadays, it’s the largest body of media and it’s the largest dataset in the world, personal opinion. When you think about go-to market, you have to think about that. I would call it a crisis for anyone who needs to deliver a message to a large group of people. That’s one.

The perception is that there is not a Unilever, and to some degree there isn’t a Unilever playbook exactly. There is a tool chest. Where it’s interesting as it’s being defined from the bottom up. It’s native digital companies and it’s companies run by Millennials that understand how to do this. It has to be synthesized and adapt it for larger organizations. That’s one. Two, part of that playbook is redefining how we conceptualize knowledge. When I was a kid and you wanted to learn about George Washington from home, you opened the Encyclopedia Britannica and there were four paragraphs, and that was knowledge.

Now there are new findings and new information being added at such a staggering rate that part of the playbook for any go-to market, any company has to be that learning is the new knowing. There are certain static things that we can depend on. Here’s how we deliver brand. First of all, let’s make sure a company understands what the difference between corporate ideas and branding. There are still concrete truths. A large part of it, the tip of the sphere has to be learning what is now and adjusting.

This applies to both the B2B as well as the consumer companies.

I would say as much because companies for the first time in history are competing with consumers for attention. Let’s say you’re a CTO looking for a CRM solution. You’re the CRM provider. You think of all the information that’s bombarding the CTO both directly business related and otherwise. You’re fighting all of that noise to land your signals. How do you do it?

You raised a very important point. People tend to forget that even though you’re doing a B2B marketing and sales program, at the end of the day, the receiving indigent is the customer.

We talk about LTV, retention and users. We should use the word people more and consider them. At some level, there’s still this hangover from the industrial revolution where go-to market was advertising. It’s not. Marketing is more of a sales cycle than it is an advertising exercise.

Have you heard of this book Scientific Advertising?

No. Do you recommend it?

Absolutely. This was written way back in 1920s and I was reading it. It says the exact same principles that we as go-to market organizations try to implement as best practices. It’s 100 years old. It’s the same repeat. They’re still trying to do the same thing.

It’s the same with McLuhan. He said, “The medium is the message.” That was 1917 or something. It’s still relevant now. I appreciate that.

B2B 2 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: Media messages and stories are an extension. It’s an ecosystem and an extension of the human nervous system, psychology, sociology, and market.

 

One final question, any shout out to 2 or 3 go-to market leaders who you see or you look up to as role models or peers that you use them as a sounding board or speak with them?

I don’t know Tony Hsieh well. I’ve met him once or twice but I look up to him. He understands this and the reason I call him the Dalai Lama is because you have to be able to hold some of this woo-woo looser ideology to execute the tactical part. He does. The guy is selling happiness. He’s convicted and he’s succeeding. He’s a great example. Another one is the guy who started SaaStr, Jason Lemkin. He wrote a blog post on how he goes to market. It’s fascinating to read because in it he says, “I honestly can’t tell you what works, but I can tell you what I do.” What’s so interesting is he does what I was pointing to. It’s all bottoms up and it’s almost all him. He goes and participates as an individual in the attention economy, within the tribe that he is speaking to. He’s built a healthy business and the largest community of SaaS-based B2B organizations on the planet by doing exactly what I was describing. That’s how it translates. I got inspired myself by answering that question. It’s a great read if you can find that blog post.

Thank you so much, Reid. It’s a wonderful conversation. You shared a lot of insights into how companies, individuals and leaders should think of a go-to market. As a wrap-up note, if someone wants to reach out to you or learn more about you, where can they find you?

It’s at Reid@ReidGenauer.com or LinkedIn is another decent one. It’s like my fifth inbox of the day to check. I’d start with my email.

Thank you once again. As always, you showed practical insights and thought leadership material for people to think about and up-level their go-to market. Thank you.

Important Links

 

About Reid Genauer

B2B 2 | Go-To-MarketEntrepreneur, Leader & Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) with deep experience in product market fit, data-driven growth, branding. Proven track record of scaling early-stage tech companies. Industry thought leader for mobile, social, video, music & media.

I’m a new bread of marketing executive and support a new definition of marketing that spans disciplines and cross-functional teams. One that marries the power of story with data-driven insights and agile product development. Consumer sentiment is no longer perishable water cooler talk but rather the largest living body of media the world has ever known. Digital culture is defined by a nuanced set of social norms, unfathomable velocity, and oceans of information. My “superpower” is finding the signal amidst the white noise of the Attention Economy and translating that into product-market fit, corporate strategy and high impact execution. I’ve successfully launched and scaled B2C and B2B products by leading with customer needs, hearing their voice and answering it.

LEADERSHIP STYLE:
I’m energized by leading diverse personalities, interdisciplinary teams and inspired digital businesses. I help my teams succeed by fueling a culture of curiosity, passion, and possibility. With a high degree of emotional IQ and interpersonal trust, I help my teams deliver focused strategy, decisive tactical execution, honest analysis and iterative scale. I live at the cross-section of data, technology, and imagination. I love what I do.

COMBINING CRITICAL THINKING AND IMAGINATION:
I value decisive decision-making informed by a combination of analytics and conviction. The entrepreneurial sense of possibility inspires my belief in vision and imagination as a driver of value creation. Business intelligence, data analytics, and insights supports that belief and informs my actions.

MARKETING EXPERTISE:
(B2C, SMB, B2B2C)
-Scaling Start-Ups
-Product Market Fit
-Branding/Positioning
-Go-To-Market
-Customer Acquisition, Retention, and Revenue
-Product Marketing and CRM
-Business Development, Partnerships, and Sales Enablement
-Analytics & Customer Research
-Earned, Owned and Paid Media at Scale
-Paid Media
-Media Relations,
-Content Marketing
-Social Marketing
-SEO/ASO