B2B 35 | TripleLift

B2B 35 | TripleLift

 

Our guest today defines go-to-market as a strategic iterative process of delivering a solution based on an opportunity in the market. To her, everything comes down to positioning. It’s all about understanding the goals of your clients so your product suits their needs. This is how Ali Wendroff approaches go-to-market strategy in her position as Senior Director of Global Engagement at TripleLift. In this conversation, she shares her journey from her first job in an ad tech company to her present leadership position in a global leader in the programmatic industry. Join in and learn about the ins and outs of go-to-market strategy in this fast-paced core industry!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Delivering Customer-Centric Go-To-Market Solutions In Programmatic Advertising With Ali Wendroff, TripleLift

In this episode, I have with me Ali Wendroff, who is the Senior Director of Global Engagement at TripleLift. I am excited to have you on the show.

No worries. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

This is what I always start off the show with, and this is a very intriguing and interesting question. It takes the conversation in a lot of directions with the speakers and even the readers enjoy. Ali, how do you define go-to-market?

I put a lot of thought into this, but I would define go-to-market as a strategic iterative process of delivering a solution that’s based on a need or an opportunity that has presented itself in the market. I think what’s most important in terms of the go-to-market process is positioning. It’s all about your audience. It’s fully understanding the goals of your clients to ensure that the product or solution suits their needs and identified gaps.

I think it’s far from a one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s rather entirely about the voice of the customer, which varies even within an organization with whom you might be engaging with. If you can’t answer the why, why it matters, why your clients should care, why it solves a problem, why should they want it, and why it speaks their language not yours, then I don’t think you have done enough legwork or homework to fulfill and validate the journey that you are planning to take them on.

I love the fact that you are emphasizing so much the customer and the whys of the customer. This is something that I keep pushing both at the places where I worked as well as with the clients that I consult with, which is the whys of the customer. Simple things like taking the time to go and interview the customer. This is the easy trick, and unfortunately, a lot of folks in marketing and sales miss out, especially in marketing and maybe even product.

When you interview the customer and ask questions like, “What are the objections like or what are your fears when you were looking to buy a product or service?” Another question can be, “How would you explain and define or talk about our product and services to appear in your industry?” Those are something we can use in the copy as well.

Though you might be the company bringing a product to market, it’s not about you. It’s about whom you are bringing it to and making sure that you understand them and speak their language in order for it to make it out of the go-to-market funnel and hit, in my opinion, with the most intentional impact.

Though you might be the company bringing a product to market, it's not about you. It's about who you're bringing it to. Click To Tweet

I love the way how this show got started. A great description and opening. Why don’t you tell a bit about yourself, your journey, both personal and more professional, and what made you arrive at where you are now?

I’m a born and raised native New Yorker. I went to the University of Maryland, and I was a Psychology major. I love people and I love networking and relationships. I was pursuing the path toward child psychology and relationship based. I graduated and what we like to say is I was birthed into programmatic. I remember my first job and I showed up in a suit. I still won’t live that down to this day. It was a site for sore eyes walking into a very casual ad tech company and I was fully professional. As they always say, you can never be overdressed.

I started actually at an ESP-ish-like place CPXi, where I was fresh out of college. I was ready to learn a new industry. I was surrounded by folks that seemed to be hustling and I worked for three account executives covering basically all of North America learning the weeds and getting my feet wet. Following that, I made my way over to PubMatic where I worked with key leaders who all through the years remained mentors and friends. I think this was where I feel I was seen. I learned to grow wings here.

I was given a runway with the sky seemingly as the limit. I came in as an account executive, more junior, and a good portion of the team was out either on maternity or for other reasons. I ended up inheriting a massive book of business very early on and was empowered by those around me to learn, embrace, and succeed.

There were a lot of diverse skillsets teachers. We were like a family back then and I was on the DSP side managing roughly 25% of the entirety of the DSP business. Here, I also learned the balance between the publisher side and the ad solutions team. I started to spearhead the PMP growth and what I call my PMP love story, but the joy of being at the epicenter.

What is PMP?

It’s the Private Marketplace. It is a form of the transaction by the deal, which back then was only hitting the forefront versus where it’s now, which is booming but where I was at the time, I was still sitting on the DSP ad solution side and being able to develop these PMPs, you had to sit in between supply and demand. This is where I think my love of being at the epicenter of that intersection began. From there, I moved to Kargo, a mobile-first SSP at the time that was largely managed when I got there. I was brought there to build their programmatic stack on the business development team.

Here, I got to know the agency and the direct sales teams. I worked alongside their business as a consultant almost and what have you because the goal was to start to transition some managed brands, agencies, and advertisers to programmatic, which was quite a unique experience. It’s hard to get a managed team to want to move dollars to programmatics. That was a learning experience and a challenge, but ultimately, we were able to scale the programmatic business nearly 100% and integrate the programmatic team into the sales org.

Kargo at the time was really a dominant PMP business as well. I was still staying in the line of the private marketplace deals-based transactions. From here, I was brought to TripleLift, and I was brought on to the supply side as the PMP market maker. This was a huge moment for me. I wanted the role so badly. I knew it would be a challenge. I have also never been on supply directly. I was so curious as to how to translate all of my buy side work and working with advertisers and the demand side into a supply strategy.

I spent over a year or so in this position and I wore a bunch of different hats, but I drove the majority of the success for TripleLift PMPs by hustling between supply and demand to build that market and drive revenue. Also, developing custom go-to-market plans for each publisher based on their business models that would suit their commercial teams. You probably are seeing a little bit of a theme here. After some time the epicenter was calling me back and I love TripleLift.

I realized that the buy side was tugging at me and my current boss now, I’m Sonja Kristiansen, the Chief Business Officer of TripleLift, floated the idea of this DSP engagement team in my head. I had approached her to think about what my next path within the company would be, and bells and whistles went off. Now, there was no roadmap. It was, “Here’s what we are thinking, build it. Build something completely new.” I enjoy living in ambiguity. At the time, I had spent and now I moved over and ultimately developed what is now the DSP Global Engagement team. It was born back then and a few years later, it’s a global team of ten supporting big tech teams and additional service model DSPs as consultants.

I love the way you are from an individual contributor in the sales and then moved from demand to supply to being in the epicenter of the marketplace. I love the fact that your psychology background played a big role in all of these things. Would you call that your magic skill or is that the powerful skill that you bring to the table?

What everyone likes to think is so automated, but I always would say I’m old school. What I have learned along the way is relationship-building and being respectful of those that you work with and that a team of teams approaches and collaborating takes a village. I think from my early days in psychology, I love people. I’m very curious. I enjoy learning, asking a lot of questions, and listening to some of the pain points, the gaps, or successes and understanding what’s behind that.

I think that it empowered me to lean on experts around me, and also understand the core functionality of go-to-market, which is what are the needs of the clients? What do they need and how can I help deliver solutions in a way that best suits them, which therefore transactionally would suit us as well as tier-one service partners?

B2B 35 | TripleLift
TripleLift: What are the needs of the clients? What do they need and how can I help deliver solutions in a way that best suits them?

 

You also mentioned, and this word kept coming up in your overview, which is programmatic. For those of us who are not in the industry, can you give us a quick primer? What is programmatic?

This is always a tough one of what you are going to get. I like to think of programmatic as all of the tech and behind-the-scenes of powering online advertising. To boil an ocean into a really simple phrase, all of the online ads that you might engage with on your phones, on your tablets, or any form of media at this point or channels out of home. In order to get that and deliver that experience to you, the programmatic industry is what powers that. Also, the tech that is involved in doing that and making sure that the right ads are delivered at the right time in more of an automated kind of behind-the-scenes way that you wouldn’t think as second nature shall we say. It’s all the behind-the-scenes work of what it takes to put an ad in front of you as a consumer.

For me, when I’m a marketer or when I’m trying to build an additional marketing campaign, in my mind, I’m an individual and I go directly to LinkedIn or Google or Facebook versus your clients. What you are streamlining is not for this one individual who’s looking for maybe 5 or 10 ads, but we are looking for thousands or even millions and millions of budgets as well.

There is certainly a one-to-one type of relationship between programmatic and reaching those key consumers, but there are larger audiences, one to many. I think that we see that a lot in how media gets transacted these days as well with so many different buying methodologies and even the evolution of how to reach consumers appropriately, how to do it right, but also how to make sure it’s sending the right message from brands to the right people.

I know we can go deeper into this one topic, programmatic, especially with everything that’s going on in the search world, plus the ChatGPT and AI and everything that’s happening. Search is going to evolve for sure, but that’s a huge topic in itself. If you have an opinion, we can spend 5 to 10 seconds or whatever.

I think this is an interesting time for the tech industry. I would say it’s the first time in all of my years in the industry that I think I could say I’m even overwhelmed. It’s so fair to be self-aware. There are so many new players and new media streams. You have retail media that’s now surpassing CTV and new narratives coming out and search and then the deprecation of the cookie, and what have you.

However, what it comes down to is where I was and where things started. You were expected to learn everything and be the expert on all things. I think where we are now, it’s about not only understanding how each of these different modes of media or channels or programs impact your business but also, how are consumers interacting with each of these. Are they overwhelmed?

What does it mean to have a package that hits on all the points of what a consumer is looking for and how can we as programmatic experts or what have you simplify this? How can we digest this when we could barely digest it ourselves? I think it’s so important to stick to the core competencies and principles of what our audiences and what brands are trying to do to reach those consumers and understand those pathways in order to not boil the ocean of the Lumascape these days. Also, make it easier, more seamless, and more efficient for our clients.

This is a huge overhaul and upheaval that’s happening in the industry. Many touchpoints are affecting so many areas across the business models of different tech companies. Not only that, for me as a marketer, I’m challenged to come up with the content and what channels to use for my content now.

We are seeing that, and that’s something that is super important for my team but I always say being nimble. Be flexible. Everyone always wants the same outcome, which is whatever success means to you but the journey to getting there is much more important because you can’t be afraid of delivering a solution that might fail. You can’t be afraid of having something underperform. Instead, you have to do the legwork to understand the goals and what work.

You have to be able to invent and reinvent your own wheel, your own narratives because they are going to change because the ecosystem is changing. Also, new partners are being introduced and it’s exciting, but it’s a consistent hustle where being able to balance that is so important with clear messaging, clarity of goals, and defining the needs in a way that doesn’t feel like they could go in 800 different directions.

With that as a background and context, what I always ask and this will be useful and enlightening for the readers is if you can share a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. You can pick your choice.

I would say a go-to-market success story is about a few years ago when I launched this team, it was about a year in and social platforms was are booming between TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and what have you. There are many others. What we were looking at is native at the time. TripleLift is naturally an omnichannel SSP. Native was our core business and we have since evolved it to CTV, OLV, you name it.

Back then, we were working with our key DSP partners to understand how to make natives seem a lot easier. When you say what is native advertising, even when I joined TripleLift, I was like, “What is native?” What am I doing? For people that aren’t familiar with it, it’s ads that match the look and feel of the publisher’s page. That’s what native means to us. However, when you don’t know what it is, you think that there are so many different creatives and overhauls that have to happen.

Instead, what I started to see is the majority of the brands have a social strategy in the market. They have social assets. They are working to generate greater followings on those platforms and they should keep doing that. What I did build was social to native extension. Repurpose your social assets and extend them to native and the programmatic ecosystem.

What this did was it made native easy. It made it efficient. It made it seamless so that anyone in our DSP platform that had buyers that were transacting on social and were working with various teams within an agency could very easily say, “You don’t need to reinvent assets or go through a new creative process.” Instead, here are spec sheets specific to each DSP as to how to take that social video and run native video. Run instream or how to take that standard unit that runs on Facebook or Instagram like a more standard asset and run a beautiful native image ad seamlessly.

The goals prove to be far more successful in a programmatic space than they were in social. Naturally, there are different goals. It’s not discrediting any platforms, but realizing that brands could not reinvent their wheel but extend and grow their share of voice across the programmatic ecosystems and their consumers. It balanced their social strategy well. This was where we got native on the map of an evergreen strategy. The way in which people look at social is the way in which they should look at native and build that without having to do anything all too different than they were already doing.

B2B 35 | TripleLift
TripleLift: The way in which people look at social is the way in which they should look at native and build that without having to do anything all too different than they were already doing.

 

This was a big success across our book of business. A lot of our key partners looked at us as thought leaders. What was the most impactful for me was I felt like I was able to educate our consumers and our clients. Our clients are not clients that most view as clients. Our clients are DSP internal account teams. Some might say they are a little bit forgotten along the way or the activators, but being able to educate them about what they could do and how they can extend their partnership reach with existing buyers. We saw a tremendous increase as it relates to native adoption, our partnership with each of our key partners, and that they felt supported in this narrative too.

Going back to the early part of the discussion, which is keeping the voice of the customer and understanding that. Also, educating them and bringing them along in the journey. I can see all of those elements or ingredients being played out in this story. Kudos to you.

At least they could say, “I’m tried and true.” I know you had asked about a failure. Along the way, it’s so important to have failures. It’s so important to realize what doesn’t work. I would say that the go-to-market failure that I would address here is when I was back in my first role at TripleLift as the Private Marketplace Market Maker. I tried to develop what I called a prestige PMP package.

The idea here was how can I scale one-to-one PMP to one to many packages for premium publishers. Back then a lot of asks were, “How can I get more premium publishers in one deal with a fixed rate?” I had built this idea of, “Let’s package them together by vertical.” This wasn’t necessarily about performance. This was much more about branding and reach because measuring a lot of publishers at the same time is harder to do back then.

I built these tent-pole and vertical packages. I was so excited about it. I felt that as a one-woman show driving one-to-one PMPs one by one was not going to scale eventually. This I thought was great. This is going to be an easier way to do this. It went to the market and I will never forget it. I was troubleshooting all night with one of our previous co-founders like, “Why isn’t this working” Some publisher is working and one is not. We have the highest win rates but I realized at that moment that I didn’t do enough homework.

It lacked the depth and the research to understand what wrappers are these publishers on and what are agreements we have in place. How do they operate their marketplaces? How is our tech built to support this on behalf of buyers that have different buying strategies? My idea was a little shortsighted and I realized then that I need to take a step back. I’m not done with them yet. They will come back around, but instead, I transitioned it into a commercial piece of, “Tent-poles and vertical alignment for publishers is appealing to our buyers.”

It was the mechanisms of the way in which we were building these deals that I didn’t do enough exploration on. It taught me to say, “What worked,” which was buyers were interested. It was the execution piece that didn’t play out. I shifted that in terms of working with our product marketing team to make it more of a sales enablement play and change the structure of how these deals are constructed.

I will tell you that I’m still not done with them and I hope to come back around to reinvent that vision but I learned from it. You got to go deeper. You have to ask more questions, “What did I miss?” It’s still on my mind and I hope to solve it one day, but at least we were able to become a much more impactful player in the curated deal space in audiences, tent-poles, and vertical but I have yet to crack that code and I will have to go back to it.

I’m sure you must be getting called out for that persistency of yours.

I am persistent. I will give it that. I’m willing to go the distance. I don’t take no very well, but not because I don’t like a no, but because I think a no is one step closer to a yes. Even if I have to burn it down and rebuild it, I am all about finding it. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

This is where I can see your sales mindset coming, which is no, is fine, but no, doesn’t mean never. It just means not right now.

I will come back around and let you know when it works.

It was a great story there. I love the way where you never ever gave up. Again, bringing your sales mindset and thinking to the fore here. Also, something that caught my attention, and again, it goes back to how we define go-to-market, which is yes, you are in a hurry to get that product out. You could see that, but at the same time, you have admitted it after the fact. It happens to all of us, which is we are in a rush and get it done more but then in hindsight, we realized that we missed a critical research piece, especially on sales enablement or how to package or how to portion it for our customers.

Even back then, I was so used to running like a chicken with my head cut off a little bit, but in a singular mindset that when you do bring something to market, there are so many different skillsets and experts that are involved between the product and the deals team for that specific initiative that didn’t go as planned. It taught me to go deeper. Go the distance because you might not have all the answers, but bare minimum, scoping things out and really making sure you do put the time in. Legwork to me is 90% plus of a successful go-to-market.

Legwork is 90% plus of a successful go-to-market. Click To Tweet

With that, as the context and backdrop, how would you define TripleLift’s go-to-market strategy specifically you and your team’s role and function within that?

I will speak to TripleLift first. TripleLift is an omnichannel essential marketplace for better ads that can drive better results. Ultimately, we are an organization that has always cared deeply about consumer experience, client trust, and efficiency. We develop products based on solutions that clients, whether it be advertisers or publishers are looking for or a market need. We deliver them with education and end-to-end support across native display video and CTV.

What it takes for us to typically bring something to market are four phases. There’s the pre-alpha, which is about discovery, understanding competitors, and what the minimum viable product would be to capture market opportunity. It’s a lot of gathering feedback and research inputs. From there, it moves to alpha, which is when product and engineering build the pipes and want to test and test again and verify. Also, understand what’s going on in the environment as it relates to performance, reporting, and basic functionality.

Once it passes that stage, it gets into beta, which is, “Check. We know how it works, but now we want to understand what will drive our customers to buy.” This phase may include a focused beta group of clients, a value test for a hypothesis, scaling out and understanding the audience fit, and understanding the bugs or performance levers that are important to our consumers. Lastly, it moves to GA, which is the official launch where there are training materials, demos, and more. This is when all audiences that are meant to take this to market are enabled and we are ready to sell it at scale.

Where my team comes into play is typically in the beta stage, I would say. To speak about my team, the DSP engagement teams’ services are DSP internal account teams. The account executives, account managers, and biz dev strategists. There are a lot of different titles depending on the organization at large and different divisions. We function as commercial consultants. It’s a layer that very few SSPs if any have because we provide direct service to the hands-on key folks or those that are working with brands and agencies on media planning and the like.

Many forget about these teams at DSPs or look at them as the activators or the pipes, but expect them to handle all the heavy lifting and execution. Whereas, we choose to educate these partners of ours on what our partnership is like with that DSP and TripleLift. What’s enabled, what can they do, and how can we bring them custom materials or custom opportunities solutions that fit the voice of their persona and support them in the market however they need?

Each DSP structure and persona differ. There are a lot of different playbooks and narratives even per product or channel, but we sit almost at the front end of the sales cycle and are typically one of the first teams to bring new solutions to market in that beta stage. What we do is we partner with product marketing to construct or shift narratives that are going to market that best suit our various DSP personas and establish proper positioning.

We understand how this answers the why. Why would this product validate a need in the market for our DSP partners? It allows us to gain feedback on the product, the brand, and the vertical and agency levels depending on the DSP structure through our channel partners. That’s where we sit and how we work with and collaborate so intensely with our internal teams as well as on behalf of our clients in the market.

It sounds like it’s a pretty complex product, and the annual contract value would be in 6, 7, or even 8 figures. That’s a sense I’m getting. Obviously, it’s a complex sales model with a heavy touch and high relationship involved.

I think what’s most important to us is making sure that it’s not about us. Go-to-market is not about you. It’s about whom you are bringing the products to and what matters to them, how that suits their models or possibly solves any gaps, and how that slides in so that it becomes easy and seamless. We are able to then prescribe and walk through end-to-end how to implement a solution in that way.

B2B 35 | TripleLift
TripleLift: Go-to-market is not about you. It’s about who you’re bringing the products to and what matters to them.

 

Switching gears a bit over here. You did talk about one of your superpowers, which is psychology and sales. Would you give a lot of credit to those in terms of your career growth? How would others or what do others call or tell about you? What is your magic or superpower?

I asked a couple of key mentors and colleagues this question. I figured it was the fairest way to answer it and also where I could get some humor in some responses. Some of the responses were, “Bringing straightforward energy and clarity.” It means speaking the customer’s language and knowing their business as well or better than them. I think this goes back to what we have talked about as legwork. I try to embody those that I’m speaking with, their needs and understand as much as I possibly can about their individual role when taking something to market.

That ties into genuine relationship-building. As I mentioned, I love people. To put it in a quote, “You are incapable of acting or pretending as if you care. You care and you care deeply.” I appreciate that. What was also shared with me is humble confidence and persistent curiosity. I try to be as active as a listener and ask a lot of questions and I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know to learn more.

It’s being a little bit shameless in nature but those are all core to building proper strategies. This is another good one. “Ali, the bulldog.” Tenacity with charm. The former only works with the latter, but I feel as though the way I would put this is a relentless drive to succeed and empower those around me. I love the hustle. To reference Radical Candor by Kim Scott, move the couches.

I don’t take no very well and I will be ruthless in terms of fixing something that isn’t working or rearranging the furniture, reconstructing a narrative, understanding the why, or burning it down and rebuilding it. I get joy in empowering those around me and succeeding. I love the hustle and that’s so important when you can go the distance and deliver. I’m fortunate enough to be passionate about what I do and work with people that I adore that are mentors and have a great team with me as well.

When you are answering that, I could sense your leadership, your vision, and how you operate. Kudos to you and I am going that extra step to ask that feedback from your mentors and peers and then articulating that so nicely. Talking about mentors, peers, and role models, whom would you credit or whom would you say played a major role in your career success?

It started with my parents. My mom has been a career woman. She was a glass-ceiling girl back in the day in the music industry. She’s always been a mentor to me and as she puts it, walk your walk and talk your talk. My parents have been very supportive of me, even though they can’t quite describe what I do. My mom will pull up my contact card in her phone and read out what I write for her, but she said it’s not updated but they consistently support me and keep me going as well as my fiancé to fuel my drive.

With previous managers and leadership, I have been fortunate enough to work with fantastic people in the space that have also become friends or remain mentors that saw me early on and saw something that I didn’t know I could see at the time. They fed the beast, is the best way to put it. I’m so appreciative of them as a network now and as I continue to learn.

One thing I’m also fortunate with is working for a difficult manager. Someone in my life was in a very difficult situation. I think it’s important to have that because I learned so much. I learned how I would want to manage very differently from them. I learned to be resilient. I learned to speak up and I think that it’s as important. You have to have fumbles along the way, but those that empower you, but also those that maybe want to do the opposite of that and how you can rise above that is as important to me for getting to where you need to be.

A great point about working with difficult managers. When you work with them and it depends on how you define difficult. It’s more that they are not the right or a good manager versus a difficult manager can also be where they push you and don’t take your first solution as the solution.

I would say that I would look at a difficult manager in the way that you described and don’t take the first answer as a great manager. I think that the worst manager is someone that is worried that you would outshine them or as a blocker. That was at a pivotal time in my career where I was fortunate that I had had confidence, experience, and support that allowed me to leverage the previous managers and leadership of I believe you always have to treat people with respect and build people up.

There’s no better thing than recognizing other people for their hard work. Being able to do that and have that support along the way, whether it be personal or work-wise is so valuable. I love to work. I have a work family. I’m fortunate to have a family, family, but it’s all about building relationships and keeping them intact. We are all in this together. It’s the object of this.

There's no better thing than recognizing other people for their hard work. Always treat people with respect and build them up. Click To Tweet

A lot of the variety of topics that we covered so far, started off with how you defined go-to-market and then your career journey so far. We talked about the success and failure stories. We talked about your challenges as well as your superpowers or your magic powers, which is great. One final question for you and the audience love this question. They take a lot of wisdom from this, which is, if you were to turn back the clock and go back to day one of your go-to-market journeys, what advice would you give your younger self?

I support this question. If I could look back, I would say to myself back then, “Keep asking questions. Keep listening. Stay fearless and be curious. The journey has only just begun, but it’s your story to keep telling.” One thing that drives home for me on this is I was in an interview once and I was asked one of those out-of-the-box questions. “If you were part of a car, what would you be?” My response was, “I would be the sunroof.” They said, “Why?” I said, “I feel the sky is the limit.”

Keep asking questions. Keep listening. Stay fearless and be curious. The journey has only just begun, but it's your story to keep telling. Click To Tweet

I was thinking you’d go for the engine or a wheel, but you went for the sunroof.

It was a quick-thinking moment, but it stuck with me. It came out and I was like, “That hits.” I still think, “Keep going. Be curious. Stay on top of what makes you happy.” As I said, be fearless and if there’s a failure, if there’s a misstep, it’s only a failure if you didn’t learn from it.

Thank you for a wonderful conversation. For all your readers, the big takeaway is to be the sunroof and do share. Thank you so much and have a great day.

Thank you so much.

 

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B2B 34 | Criteo

B2B 34 | Criteo

 

What does it take to bring a rich experience to consumers as a leading commerce media platform? How does a global technology company help marketers and media owners reach their goal? Get ready to tune in and join Vijay Damojipurapu on today’s show. In this episode, Nola Solomon, The SVP of Go-to-Market at Criteo, shares the value Criteo brings to consumers in the marketplace and how she empowers the sales team and channels. Vijay and Nola also touch on how the business has evolved. Hear more insights as Nola shares more about Criteo. Tune in to this episode now!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Criteo: Bringing A Richer Experience Through Impactful Advertising With Nola Solomon

Happy 2023 to all of you. This is the first episode in 2023. Here I am. I‘m super excited to receive, welcome, and host yet another go-to-market leader. Welcome to the show, Nola Solomon.

It’s exciting to be here. Thanks for having me.

Im super excited. I‘m sure our audience is excited to hear what you have to share, as well as your journey and story. Your official title is you are the SVP of GotoMarket at Criteo. We will dive into a lot more of your journey and what you do at Criteo. Before we get there, I always have the signature question I ask all my guests. I open the show with this, which our audience love. How do you define go-to-market?

I define go-to-market as thinking about how you bring what is coming out of products into the marketplace so that it starts to bring value to the customers that it’s meant to be for and for the business that is producing it. There’s a lot that goes into bringing something from products out into the market where it becomes usable and revenue-generating. Fundamentally, that’s what go-to-market is structured to do. With all of that comes continuing to have a client-centric mindset with everything so that you can help make sure that the products are the ones that the clients need to solve their problems. It’s informing the product strategy that way.

I love that definition. I love the fact that you start with the product. More often than not, a lot of the go-to-market leaders and people I speak with omit the product. They have the notion that it’s mostly the go-to-market teams, which is mostly sales depending on who you speak with. I love the fact that you started with the product, and then you also mentioned describing the value and what it means to the clients and the customers in the marketplace. The key to it all is how you bring it all together, then enable and empower the sales team and the channels.

That’s a key thing because ultimately, you want to be producing products that a customer wants and needs rather than what you think they want to need. You’re out there in the market trying to sell something that nobody cares about. There is an element of having to always have that client-centric mindset of understanding who your customers are, and what their challenges are, and making sure that the product roadmap is reflective of solving those needs. That makes the job of go-to-market a ton easier when you know that you’re bringing something out that’s much needed. It’s about making sure that the value proposition, the messaging, and the enablement of it are clear. It’s a virtuous cycle when it’s working well.

Your title is the SVP of Go-to-Market. I‘ve not seen this a whole lot. I would also predict that we will start seeing more and more of the official function of the title as go-to-market. How do you describe and why did you push on this title of go-to-market?

It’s funny because my name Nola is also not very common. It’s after Woody Allen’s Match Point movie where Scarlett Johansson’s character is named Nola. I met a lot of Nolas but they’re all very young like kids. I expect a new generation of go-to-market leaders to come up in the industries. The funny thing is that it’s a term that is not well understood by industries. Different companies have different definitions of what go-to-market is and what it means to them.

Go-to-market is thematically the essence of everything that is sales-facing. It’s an actual function to “Isn’t that product marketing,” and a component of product management. What was exciting about my role at Criteo was to come on and create the go-to-market function as a center of excellence and as a bridge between the client solutions organization and the product organization. I’m sitting at the epicenter there to be that layer of both communication but also activation and execution for everything that’s coming out of products and everything that’s coming in from the field.

Similarly, there are a lot of close partnerships with marketing, corporate development, and all of the back-office teams as well at the company. It’s an exciting place to be. Originally, there were pockets of this function at Criteo. There were different teams that lived in different places that were doing pieces of go-to-market. When I started talking to Todd Parsons who was our Chief Product Officer at the time about this role, he was like, “We need someone to come in and think about how we do go-to-market as a function at this company.”

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Criteo: At Criteo, different teams lived in many places and were doing pieces of go-to-market.

 

That was exciting to me, especially with the fact that with my background, I’ve held a lot of different types of roles that have allowed me to have a 360 view of not only our industry advertising technology but also the different types of functions and roles within a company. I had a clear view of how I would create this.

That’s interesting. The CPO asking you to explicitly build a go-to-market function is cool. I have a lot of other questions specifically on this but let’s backtrack a bit over here. There’s a reason why I want to bring up this question later on. Why don’t you share with our audience about your career journey? You will see where I’m going with this.

I’ll start at the beginning of the AdTech career journey and work my way up. I fell into this industry completely by accident. Anyone who is in AdTech probably has a similar story. It’s a newer industry as well. It’s not something to be learned in school when I was in school. Now, there are classes, and I’m very jealous of those people. After a former life in book publishing, I went on to get my Master’s in London in Child Developmental Psychology. I started working as an ad trafficker at an ad network at the time before programmatic.

It was interesting because I got opened up to the world of AdTech, but I wasn’t super keen on trafficking ads. I was like, “There got to be more fun things to do.” Throughout my career, I was in London for many years. I ended up moving companies from where I was doing the ad operations types roles into doing more business development and account management for publishers throughout the Southern European region and France. I’m half French, so I have the advantage of being able to speak French fluently and sink my teeth on the more publisher sales-facing side and the whole supply side of the industry. In addition to that, programmatic was just starting to blossom.

I was learning what a supply-side platform was as that was becoming something in the space. It was an interesting advantage because it allowed me to understand quite technically how everything works in this very complex ecosystem that we call AdTech. My career then brought me out to Singapore where I spent a couple of years leading the supply team for my company at the time, Millennial Media. We got acquired by AOL. Anyone in the industry who has been in the industry for a while has probably had a stint at AOL.

That was interesting too because it expanded my view beyond Europe to all of APAC. I was traveling around to all the different markets and understanding the different nuances of not just customs but also how businesses operated. That allowed me to think about things from an international perspective, and not a US-centric perspective of “Everything will apply globally.” I ended up coming back to the US after some time in Singapore. I moved into a demand-side platform or a DSP, The Trade Desk, for a role that I was excited about and dig my teeth into the data world.

Everything was becoming clear to me that it was no longer about the ad format itself and only about the content itself. It was also about the audience. The audience is tied in with the data, who are you looking for, and the right user at the right time. It’s that old adage. I got to learn about the data space and all of the different ways that data interconnects in the back end to find the audiences and optimize your campaign so you’re targeting the right moment. You’re able to then measure the impact of your campaign and the ROI.

Learn about the data space and all the different kinds of ways that data interconnects in the backend to find the audiences to optimize your campaign so you're targeting the right moment. Click To Tweet

After that, I ended up running a programmatic revenue team at a hybrid publisher and AdTech company called Dailymotion. That was an interesting role because I had the revenue P&L. We were driving the entire business for the company and about 80% of the revenue. That was a lot of fun in terms of partnerships and thinking about how we keep growing this business.

That brought me eventually to NBCUniversal to lead their programmatic product and strategy under their advanced advertising umbrella, which is moving into broadcast and the CTV world just as streaming was coming up. They were just starting to develop Peacock. I was working on how we enable programmatic advertising there. It was exciting. That was what I was doing when Criteo came knocking.

That’s super interesting and adventurous on your side. You started your career in London and Southern Europe, moved to Singapore, and then came to the US. You‘ve got a very global perspective. I do have a novice question. I‘m more in the B2B world. A lot of the sales happen through sales teams or maybe partnerships and channel members. How does the “sales and revenue gen” happen in the AdTech world?

It’s very similar because it is B2B. A company like Criteo is an advertising technology platform. It’s a SaaS play. It’s selling our technology stack to advertisers and agencies to leverage it to run their media campaigns and do their media buying. We’re dealing with businesses and selling our products to businesses. They’re using our products to then reach consumers to buy their products.

If you go back to your time at NBCUniversal, you were on the other side. Is it the demand side? Is that what you would call it for the ads?

I would call that the supply side. I am now focused on the advertisers and the agencies or those who have the medium or dollars to spend. At NBC and in other parts of my career before, I was on the supply side. I was working with the publishers who have the media inventory to sell. When you go on a website and see an ad, that’s an ad space they’re selling.

I was a novice in the space. Supply and demand are the whole thing now.

It’s the most ubiquitous yet complex thing at the same time.

My exposure is to the OTT world and cord-cutting world. I was at Microsoft as a marketing manager back then for IPTV platforms. One of our big customers back then was AT&T U-verse and others across the world like Deutsche Telekom, Singtel, and Bell Canada. I got to see more on the tech but also to some extent, the content side and how things were changing from cable and satellite to more of IPTV and eventually the cord-cutting.

Now, cord-cutting is mainstream. Five to ten years ago, that was not. It was still early days. It sounds like because of the shift in the business model, all these content producers had to rely on a different revenue stream, which is now the ad space, the programmatic, and the datadriven. If you can talk about that and how the business model has evolved for NBCUniversal and Peacock would be a great example there.

NBCUniversal has always been pretty innovative. They are thinking first and foremost, “How do we continue to be first in all the spaces?” It is an exciting place to be. What was fun about the role there is that they were leaning into programmatic in a way that some of their peer sets weren’t. For instance, there was a great understanding that this was a growing part of the space. At the same time, it was also balancing the reality of this giant broadcasting business.

This is what all of these broadcasters deal with and also publishers in general. They have had a big direct sales business and are used to transacting directly with the advertisers themselves. They were handling IOs and running campaigns on their own in their stacks, and outsourcing this to AI and technology to do it for them with some inputs here and there. Because of the efficiencies that programmatic brought to the space especially for the advertisers, it allowed for a lot of abilities to do things quickly and activate quickly, to measure and create real tactical ROI that could be seen.

That has continued to improve. It’s still a little behind on the CTV side but it’s making huge strides even from a couple of years ago. CTV continues to be a growing space. It became obvious that you have to follow where the money is, but you can’t blindly go there. For somebody as large as NBC and their peer sets, they have to be balancing all of the different ways that they interact with their buyers.

That’s pretty cool given that you’ve had such a diverse set of roles and responsibilities even across geographies. I don’t know if you have kids or not, but on the personal side, how would your parents describe what you do and what your role is?

My dad in particular is funny about it. My parents pretty much get it in the sense that they’re like, “We get that you are helping facilitate the serving of ads to me.” Sometimes I’m like, “That’s an interesting ad. It’s relevant for me.” Other times, I’m like, “I don’t care about that ad. Get it out of my face.” My dad is an author and a writer and was a former journalist. Ultimately, what they both appreciate is that advertising helped keep the internet free. It helps fund editorial publishing.

That’s something he inherently understands from having been a writer in the space but also because he had a digital publishing company in Italy a long time ago. He gets that. I’ll still get emails from them where they’re seeing the news about Meta’s fine in the EU or anything related to Google. They will be like, “Did you see this? This must be important for you.” I’m like, “I saw this last week when it first came out but you’re on the right track.”

I’m sure you must be excited to have a parent like that, and a dad who understands your space and who you can speak with and connect with on several bases. That’s exciting for sure.

It’s nice to be able to have some deeper conversations about what’s happening sometimes.

Coming back to your role at Criteo, can you expand on what your function and responsibilities are, how you are measured, and how you and your team are measured against?

The scope of the function of go-to-market sits as the centralized organization bridging between the client solutions group, which is the sales and revenue-generating group with some support functions, and the product organization. I have four teams within go-to-market that are operating as a unified go-to-market group but each has specialized functions and roles. Let’s call it the product-facing side of my go-to-market group.

I have my product solutions organization. They’re working hand-in-hand with the product managers to make sure that all of the feedback from the field has made its way into the product manager’s ear, and is being considered as part of the development of the product manager’s product strategy. They’re also deeply understanding what’s coming out of the product, what’s being built, how it’s going to get activated, and the value that it’s going to bring in terms of solving the customer’s challenges, and the value it’s going to bring for Criteo as a business.

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Criteo: All of the feedback from the field has made its way into the product manager’s ear as part of the development of the manager’s product strategy.

 

They’re in charge of building the go-to-market plan, being the experts on that product set, solution set, feature update, or whatever the case may be. Also, being able to articulate, “This is how we’re going to bring this to market. If it’s something brand new, here’s how we’re going to run the POC, the alpha, the beta, and all the way through GA and beyond.” If it’s a feature update and something is in GA but it requires a change of behavior on the sales side or at a customer who’s using a self-service, there’s a go-to-market plan associated there.

How is that different from traditional product marketing? In my mind, that’s typically product marketing and product managers, to some extent, depending on the organization. How is your product solution team different from traditional product marketing?

At a company that’s the scale of Criteo of about 3,000 people, we have a very complex product suite within our commerce media platform. We have four main solutions and then we have these core assets that power them. It’s specialized to get into the nitty-gritty of something. Even as simple as our machine learning algorithms for campaign optimization.

The AI behind that and the number of different tweaks and things that need to be done that bring in the different data, audiences, and all of these things are all product work. Understanding what those are and being able to articulate it into a plan for how it then needs to be activated is where the product solutions team goes.

They’re not focused on, “How do I tell the story? How do I write all of the collateral materials and sales pitch materials?” That’s product marketing. They work very closely with product marketing, which is also within my organization. They’re focused on the storytelling and the narrative, making sure the documentation is there, and also the right type of materials that a salesperson is going to need to be successful in the fields.

It sounds like your product solutions team is a blend of the sales engineer and solutions architect.

I feel the need sometimes to attach other titles to it because it’s not exactly something that’s well-known as a scope. When you’re at a smaller company, you would have either a product manager and a product marketer doing some of that function, or a product marketer doing a lot of it. When you have the scope of the technology detail you have to get into and the amount of planning, organization, and project management that comes with some of these things, they are not necessarily always standing alone. They are intricately involved in some of the other things that are also ongoing.

It’s being able to think about the go-to-market holistically, “What’s our business strategy with this product? What is our goal for this product in terms of what we expect to get out of it?” It’s working with the sales teams or the sales leaders to make sure that we have that business plan and that business strategy attached. That’s where they shine. That’s where I see them being quite differentiated between product management and product marketing. They very much work as a tight trio.

Your first team is the product solutions. Thank you for going and explaining all the nuances and details there.

I do it on a daily basis. The product marketing team is the second group within my team. It’s focused on who are the personas that we are bringing, how we need to show up for them in terms of the narrative, the storytelling, and the materials, what’s the actual documentation on some of the more client-facing collateral on the product itself, and all of those pieces that you would think anybody would need.

They also own, “How do we name our products? How do we keep a centralized repository where everything is accessible and easily findable by a salesperson, and make sure that’s being used and being updated accordingly based upon whether the narrative is resonating or not with customers?” We’re tweaking that. We keep constantly improving. It’s not one-and-done. They’re closely focused on that.

They work a lot with our marketing organization because the marketing team uses a lot of that persona work and the messaging work for growth marketing activation. It’s used for the website. It’s used for the planning that we do between the product solutions group, product marketing, and marketing on press releases. We might want to bring out certain products. Those are tightly working together and understanding both the technical product side of it but more so, “How do you articulate this to this particular customer? How is that different from this customer over here?”

That’s product marketing. You have product solutions and product marketing.

I have a group called Solutions Consultants. This is the group that’s enabling and bringing it out to the market in terms of the actual rolling out. They train the sales teams. They are out there in the field supporting the sales teams and getting pulled into client meetings to help talk about the story and connect the dots with product experts or solution experts. Because of the complexity of our suite, we’re not selling one thing. We’re selling a suite of solutions.

Oftentimes we want to be there on-hand to help support the sales teams post-enablement even. There’s a lot to do in terms of planning the rollout, and getting that rollout and training done of “This is how we could think about bringing these types of products together for this particular customer because of their unique challenge and need,” or what they have told us in meetings. This is largely focused on newer solutions that a salesperson isn’t already well-versed in. The goal is to get everyone well-versed in everything. By that time, we got some new stuff. It’s constantly going on.

The fourth team is my strategic planning and operations group. That’s the group that makes sure that it’s all flowing, and that it’s not a big game where the pieces of the puzzle are connected to roll something out. That’s strategic planning, operations, and project management. That group also works closely with our business stakeholders and all of the other organizations outside go-to-market. We had inputs and outputs for the annual planning for finance, legal, and all the back office teams that need to be alerted and understand how everything is flowing from go-to-market. It impacts their roles in their day-to-day and some of their systems even. It’s making sure the ship is running tightly and we’re not missing the beat on anything.

Thank you for explaining and walking us through the four teams that you have under go-to-market. I would like to shift gears. As you and I and everyone on the audience side know, there are always successes and failures in go-to-market. It’s not just up and up. There will be downs several times. Going back to your time at NBC or at a time that you want to pick, if you can share both a success story on the GTM side as well as a failure, that would be good.

I’ll take both of them for Criteo examples. One of the big successes that we saw and that I’m proud of is the launch of our Commerce Max platform in 2022. It’s our agency DSP. For those who don’t know the terminology, DSP is Demand-Side Platform. It’s the buying technology platform for an agency or a brand to run their media dollars across the open internet.

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Criteo: Demand Side Platform is the buying technology platform for an agency or a brand to run their media dollars across the open internet.

 

This was a huge accomplishment for Criteo because one of the big areas that have been growing in the space that Criteo has been playing in quite a bit is retail media. Retail media is the monetization of retailers’ inventory on their retail sites, similar to what they have always done in stores with shelves. We’re turning all of that digital with things like sponsored products on display. That has been going on for a few years.

Criteo has built technology to service retailers to be able to monetize their inventories and for agencies to be able to buy these inventories. What hasn’t existed before and something that is deeply needed by the buying side of the industry is the ability to do this while also leveraging a retailer’s unique audiences to find those audiences when they’re not on the retailer’s site. They’re on any website here and there consuming their content. They’re on their phones consuming content. It’s being able to reach them in the right moment to bring them back to the retailer for point of purchase, and then being able to report on that in closed-loop measurement so you can see that drove that point of sale.

That was a huge accomplishment because it helps manage a lot of the fragmentation in this space already that clients need to otherwise use multiple different tools to spend that money in that way. We have brought it into one place for them. That was everything from a go-to-market standpoint. It’s in the market because there was a lot of education and listening to the customers, especially our early partners, in terms of what they need and what are their main pain points and building toward that.

It was an amazing collaboration of all teams at Criteo in products and go-to-market, sales groups, and the customers in terms of building this to what it is now, and then continuing to work with them as they have been hands-on keyboard to be able to continue to iterate and bring that out. I’m proud of what the team accomplished there. That was a huge win for the industry to be able to close the gap on some of these fragmentation challenges.

It sounds like a big win. Congratulations to you and the team there. I’m curious more about the strategic side, plus the tactical side of how you and your team think about the launch. I‘ve seen highperforming teams that define, “Here are the launch goals in terms of PR, customer rollout, wins, sales, pipeline, and so on.What do you and your team think about that?

You always want to start with, “What are we trying to achieve? What does great look like?” That means putting some metrics against it. What are the right KPIs to measure? That depends too on what stage you are in the product life-cycle. It may not even be a revenue KPI yet. At some point, it becomes one. It’s having that established from the very beginning and knowing what you’re working toward. Especially when you’re building something new, you need a test and you’re doing some POCs. You need to know what you’re testing for. What does success look like?

You have to have that defined. Everyone needs to agree on that, including in this case the customer. If we and the client have different definitions of what success looks like for this POC, that’s not going to get us very far. It’s identifying, “Here are all the things we would want. What is the most important 1 or maybe 2 or max 3 that we can work toward, assuming that they’re all manageable in the same breath?”

We start there, and then it’s about making sure that we have the right processes put in place to make sure that all of the different steps along the phasing for all the different teams that are involved are happening. There’s a giant project management component there and regular roll-ups to steer the folks that need to be updated and keep track of whether we’re pacing on track here, and to roll that out.

Do you have a specific launch program management team? Is it the product marketing who is running that?

I do have an enablement function within the go-to-market group. It’s not run and operated by product marketing but they are giant collaborators in all of this because much of the materials are needed there.

That’s a super cool story. Coming back to my earlier discussion and topic, what is the GTM failure story? What are the key lessons from that for you?

Criteo is in its antiquity. It has been around for many years. First and foremost, it was a retargeting company, which was a company that focused on finding you again and again for you to purchase a product. That was enormously successful. They were the first ones to do it. To do that well, you need to be quick, you need a lot of data, and you need to know exactly who you’re targeting and target them with the right thing so that they are more likely to convert. It’s a performance play. That made Criteo extremely successful. You could consider that one product or a point solution.

You need a lot of data to know who you're targeting and target them with the right thing so that they are more likely to convert. So it's a performance play, and that made Criteo extremely successful. Click To Tweet

As Criteo evolved because the space evolved, there was a need to create more solutions. You needed to have more things to sell than just retargeting. Even though we continued to be the best at retargeting in terms of a performance standpoint, other companies also have retargeting products and then other products too. To capture the bigger TAM, there was a need to do that.

We did that but one of the challenges that we faced as we rolled out other products is that we started to have not only what we would call a whole bucket of point solutions like, “Here’s the pitch for when you’re doing retargeting. Here’s the pitch when you’re selling an app campaign, a CTV campaign, or an online video campaign.” All of those were individualized as their sales strategies.

First of all, I created a ton of fragmentation within what we were doing from a go-to-market and sales standpoint. Secondly, as we started to bring those stories together, it also made it difficult for a salesperson to understand “What is the plan when I activate across all of those things?” If we are bringing the point solutions together, you’re not selling videos, retargeting, and CTV separately. You’re selling acquisition or retention to a performance marketer.

They’re either looking to acquire new customers or retain and grow their existing customer base and lifetime value. They can do that through a myriad of different targeting options, inventory assets, channels, and devices. We can offer them all of that through one buying tool. Being able to articulate the fact that we are doing acquisition and retention versus these point solutions was step one. The sales team’s challenge thereafter which became the go-to-market challenge was how we understand how to map all of the different opportunities into the bigger pitch.

That’s where go-to-market sets down and goes, “Here’s how we do these types of plays. Here’s the documentation for these step-by-step,” and how you would think about all of the different types of creatives, whether this creative is more conducive to an acquisition campaign, a retargeting campaign, or a consideration campaign because of the performance and the data that we have in our partnership with products. We were creating a lot of this mapping for the sales teams that then allowed them to be able to bring these stories together holistically. We have seen incredible success and adoption of these materials as well with over 40% growth in our acquisition products. It’s working.

Its funny how this theme continues to happen. It doesn’t matter which industry or what stage of the company you’re in. This is more common in mid to largersized companies where things become siloed. Sales teams do their own pitching. The product teams are doing their own thing. Its like horses pulling in all different directions, which are all targeted and going in one path. It’s cool. Going back to what you shared in your failures and challenges, and coming back to your launch in 2022, that’s a big shift that has happened at Criteo. Kudos to you and your team for making this happen.

Thank you. It’s a lot of hard work from a lot of different folks. It’s an incredible effort.

Doubleclicking on that, what were the friction points or challenges? There had to be an alignment at the leadership level and executive team that needs to happen. It’s not good enough that the alignment happens only at that level. It has to trickle down at all employee stages. How did you work through those challenges?

A lot of what I jumped right into when I started at Criteo was the education piece about shifting away from the point solution mindset to this acquisition retention loop. It’s the virtuous cycle of how that helps form and grow a marketer’s business. First and foremost was how we effectively educate. It’s not because it’s a difficult concept but that’s not how historically we have been selling, and the story they were used to telling or the fact even that there were multiple products to bring together into a holistic story.

We launched what we called the Trailblazer event, which was this huge go-to-market undertaking with tons of content and materials for follow-ups that helped set the stage for what we were doing. It was all about repetition. It was about getting into the markets and having the team sit down, do office hours, go through the materials, and be available for questions until it became ubiquitously part of the everyday language. I joked with my go-to-market team, “The terms acquisition and retention weren’t even being mentioned at all. Now, everyone is saying it all around us.” They’re telling it to us, which is great. You know you’ve succeeded when someone is telling what you said to them back to you.

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Criteo: Criteo launched a trailblazer event, a huge go-to-market undertaking with tons of content and materials for follow-ups that helped set the stage for what we were doing.

 

Did you have to bring in external thought leaders, influencers, consultants, and experts? Was it just the internal team who was doing all this education? A lot of that weight is typically given to a neutral or third party.

We largely did all of it in-house and leaned on the huge effort of the go-to-market team. There were a lot of collaborations with other organizations as well, and a lot of collaboration with the sales leadership team to make sure that they were also very involved and bought into having their leaders and their leaders’ leaders sit in and make sure that was getting digested and disseminated down to the teams. We even did competitions, pitch contests, and all sorts of things to make sure that it continued to land all through the chain.

We’re shifting more to the final segment and the last few questions for you, Nola. What are the key patterns or trends that are on your radar for go-to-market? What’s on your mind? How are you tackling that? Are you tapping into the communities? Do you have peers? How are you tackling all those issues and challenges?

There are a few things. First and foremost, it’s with the scope of the role. Are we achieving and doing everything we need to do to make our sales team successful? That’s critical. We’re continuing to analyze that and improve on that. My partnership with the sales leadership team is incredibly important as well as my leader’s partnership with their peer sets. That continues to be an area that we can always tweak and improve. That’s a big focus for me.

I like to do a lot of research on how other organizations do it, ask around, and listen in because it’s done differently by different companies all over the space. What might work this year may not work next year as our product evolves and as the market evolves. We have to be agile and flexible. One of my favorite things to say to my team is, “We have to create clarity out of ambiguity. That’s our job as go-to-market.” That means being comfortable with ambiguity and constant change.

As the market evolves, we have to be agile and flexible. Click To Tweet

Specifically and personally, do you rely on communities, books, or podcasts? What do you turn to?

All of the above. I’m a huge nerd. I love reading all sorts of things, books, and articles. I love podcasts. I love this show. I have also a lot of business podcasts and writing podcasts I listen to. I find them all very relevant for go-to-market. At the end of the day, go-to-market is a lot of storytelling. It’s a lot about how you position things and how you think about what’s happening in the marketplace, apply it to your business and think about, “What does this mean now? What does this mean in a year? What does this mean in three years?”

I find all of those relevant even if they’re not directly related to go-to-market activities per se. Go-to-market always has to have a pulse on what’s going on in the industry and the space, macro and specific to the industry. There are client meetings and events where you get to sit down and talk with people, whether that’s more informally like this or over dinner or listening to some more formal content that can be educational.

If you were to look back at your career, who are 1, 2, or 3 people that played a key role in your career growth?

It’s more than three people. There are three groups of people. My parents have always been unconditionally supportive and allowed me to galavant all over the world and never told me once to be careful. Secondly, I have had the incredible fortune of having some fantastic managers who have become mentors and friends even both while and after I’ve been working for them. They have helped guide me in my career both in terms of the opportunities I’ve been afforded and also in terms of the thought leadership guidance and partnership of exchanging ideas and debates, which I find so healthy for growth. That’s huge. My husband is also in the industry. He’s more on the technical side. He has been incredibly helpful in continuing to help me dig deep and learn exactly how things work so that I can more effectively talk to people that I don’t know about how they work.

You did it very well in terms of how you covered the three main stakeholders, parents, folks at work, managers, peers, and then at home, husband. The final question for you is this. If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your GTM careers, what advice would you give to your younger self?

The number one advice I would give myself is to carve out more time to think. I’m hyperproductive. I tend to feel like if I’m not for some reason being as productive as I feel I should be, then I’m not doing anything. Sometimes sitting, thinking, and reflecting is not something earlier in my career that I valued as an actual activity that was moving something forward for me in terms of what I needed to do for my job or my development. Now, I very much understand the importance of taking time to think, absorb, digest, analyze, and then put it to some analytical use toward the job you’re doing or the problem you’re trying to solve.

That could be as simple as reading an article and then taking ten minutes to think about it, having a conversation, and then thinking that through after you’ve finished having the conversation or maybe jotting some notes down. I try to carve that time out now more regularly, which is hard. In some weeks, it’s easier to find some time to do that or not. That’s important because you’re in a constantly evolving space, so you have to be constantly on top of it. That doesn’t mean just reading it and being like, “I knew that happened.” It’s like, “What do you think about what that means?”

Thank you so much for taking the time. It was a wonderful conversation. Good luck to you and your team at Criteo, Nola.

Thank you so much. It’s a lot of fun.

 

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B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting

B2B 32 | Sales Forecasting

 

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

 

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

Listen to the podcast here


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s black and white.

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

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

Yes, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

Thanks, Vijay. It’s great to be here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I would say continue to stay humble.

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

Thank you, Vijay. I much appreciate it.

 

Important Links

 

About Ravi Pendekanti

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

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

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

 

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B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market

B2B 25 Pradeep Nair | Go-To-Market

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Important Links

 

About Pradeep Nair

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

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

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

Certifications:

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

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

 

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B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

B2B 21 | Go To Market Strategies

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

Thank you. How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For him, it did not change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for your time, Karim Zuhri.

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

 

Important Links

 

About Karim Zuhri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

B2B 20 Sangram Vajre | Grow Your Business

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

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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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re giving you the budget. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

 

Important links

 

About Sangram Vajre

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

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

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

 

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B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

Driving Customer Adoption Through Sales And Marketing With Roger Beharry Lall

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

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

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

I’m happy to share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Was that your first job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a pretty well-rounded team.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Do you guys use something like a Gong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misery loves company. I’m onto something.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

 

Important Links

 

About Roger Beharry Lall

B2B 13 | Sales And Marketing

VP Marketing

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

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

 

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B2B 11 | Go-To-Market

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Go-To-Market Goes Serverless With Anshu Agarwal 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

How would your kids describe what you do at work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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, and Analytics.

 

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