B2B 53 | Aligned

B2B 53 | Aligned

 

Success in today’s market isn’t about rigid plans, but the ability to adapt and evolve your go-to-market strategy. Our special guest, Gal Aga, co-founder of Aligned, shares his experiences, challenges, and successes in building effective GTM strategies that adapt to changing markets. Gal emphasizes the importance of understanding your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and why it’s crucial to niche down before expanding. He further explains how this laser-focused approach can unlock doors to previously untapped markets and foster rapid growth. Discover how Gal moved from traditional direct sales to product-led growth (PLG) at Aligned and the transformative power of shifting strategies in response to market dynamics. In this transition, Gal proves how it requires a flexible mindset and the willingness to unlearn and relearn. So, if you’re navigating the turbulent waters of go-to-market strategies or seeking to redefine your approach, this episode is your compass. Tune in now!

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Aligned Approach: Secrets To Navigating Complex Sales Motions With Gal Aga

Welcome to this episode of the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in to yet another episode, or maybe it’s your first episode. My sincere thanks for that. I have the pleasure of hosting another founder. This time, it’s an Israeli-based startup founder. His name is Gal Aga, and he is based in Israel and is the Founder of Aligned. I’m sure we will dive a lot into his go-to-market thinking and go-to-market approach. With that, welcome to the show, Gal.

Thanks so much. I am excited to be here. Go-to-market is one of the most interesting and close-to-heart topics, so I am very excited to discuss it.

I feel the same here. That’s why you are on this show. I am super excited for that. With that, how do you view and define go-to-market?

It’s one of these things that there are a lot of different versions out there. When you go and start building one, a lot of people put a lot of things into the mix. For me, it’s on a high level first. It’s a strategy or blueprint of how you deliver your product or service to your end users. It involves all of the different elements around it. From who is the buyer persona, which targets or which markets are you targeting, the ICP, competition, your sales motion or sales strategy, how you are going to promote the product, whether you are going to market it, and the pricing element. That’s how I have done it in the past.

It involves all of those things. You did mention about the different functions that you need to work with internally. That’s the product you start with, and then there’s marketing and sales. If you are a SaaS business, there’s the customer success element, which is the wholesale aspect as well. I know you are implicitly referring to it, but at the end of the beginning, it always starts with the buyer and the customer in mind in the go-to-market.

The best ones and the clearer ones that I have seen have always started with the buyer persona, defining all these different people. There is more than one. There’s the decision maker. Who’s the potential champion? Who’s the economic buyer? What are they, buyer persona or end users? From there, it’s easier to build the rest of it.

There is a whole ideal customer profile. It goes at the account level as well as the different stakeholders at the account level and so on, which I’m sure we will dive more into our conversation going forward. This is a great start. Let’s take a step back. Why don’t you tell our audience about your career story exactly why and what got you to the point in starting your startup and what you are doing?

I was fortunate to find my passion early on, which was in sales, and then, at some point, building go-to-market teams or revenue teams. It was then more to the wider scope of go-to-market. I have been in SaaS B2B sales for several years. I took the path from AE to sales manager, sales director, head of sales, VP, and CRO.

I have built. I love building. I was typically very involved early on when you need a lot of methodologies and hands-on strategy. I love building playbooks and go-to-market decks. I have done that multiple times. I had the opportunity to be involved in taking the company from the early stage of $1 million to $10 million. At some point, I also did the $20 million to $100 million range. I was very curious to see how that would work. I started in a telco sales, selling telecommunication technology.

That was Orange Telecom?

Yeah. It was a huge school. I started from the basics. It was before SaaS was something that people even were talking about. I fell in love with sales there and started researching and saying, “I want to build a career there.” There were these superstar sellers there that were selling the more strategic telco equipment. I remember seeing how they were selling, how much they were earning, and the potential.

I started researching and found this thing called SaaS. I researched SaaS and started my way there. My company very quickly understood that this is where I want to be, self-learning all of the insight sales methodologies and all of the SaaS methodologies. At that time, the CEO saw the potential and promoted me to head of sales.

I did, at that point, the decision to go back to selling after building. That was very early. I was building a sales organization myself. I went back to selling and did the enterprise AE path. I wanted to learn from experts. I found someone, a mentor. From there, I went from the sales director, VP sales, CRO, and Aligned. What brought me to found my own company is I knew that it was going to come at some point. Leading, finding more challenges, and doing more things have been my big passion. The opportunity came very early on. I had a passion for sales, so everything got connected. That’s where I am.

You are lucky in so many ways that you found your interest and passion to be in sales from day one of your career. Not many are fortunate. Kudos to you for realizing that and then making the bold steps to seek mentors and create self-learning paths inside sales as well as whom you want to work with. You were even going down the ladder so that you could grow up exponentially in a sales career and sales path. You have done that.

There’s always the notion. It’s not so much where sales or a salesman and salesperson has a very negative stigma, especially if you think of a card salesperson. That’s not the case. We all know that, especially for those who are in the industry. I’m curious. How do your family or your friends describe what you do at work?

The first thing that comes to mind is my son. I love Tesla. I am an Elon Musk fan. I was talking with him a lot about Tesla. He is interested in Tesla. He chatted with me a lot about the potential and the idea. At some point, I explained in one of the chats about the stock market. He describes to his friends, “My dad is Gal Musk.” My son already knows how to say it, but I’m far away from it. Hopefully, one day, I will come close.

It’s interesting how the kids perceive and what type of monikers they bring or gives to the parents when they learn what they are doing at work. Coming back to Aligned, you started Aligned clearly because you were motivated by what you have done in sales. There have also been the gaps that you started seeing while growing up in a sales career. What is Aligned about? What are you trying to solve and for whom?

Aligned is a customer collaboration platform that helps revenue teams better manage the complexity of their deals and their customer success projects. Think about a typical sales process or onboarding process where you have more than 1 or 2 calls to close that is not very transactional. Your customers are juggling a lot of different email threads, e-links, attachments, and tools you can get to mutual action plans in a spreadsheet.

B2B 53 | Aligned
Aligned: Align is a customer collaboration platform that helps revenue teams better manage the complexity of their deals and their customer success projects.

 

There are a lot of these different things all in attempts to go and enable a champion to sell for you internally or to enable multiple people to get what you do or get your offer. It brings all of these elements into a single collaborative customer-facing workspace where you can centralize all resources, mutual action plans, and key discussions with the customer.

It is a single link instead of all of that back and forth. Everyone involved in the deal can stay on top of the next steps and timelines. Stakeholders always have everything in front of them. It helps your champions sell free internally when you are not in the room. It helps sellers access more stakeholders. It helps keep onboarding or a sales process on track. It helps your action plans. It helps you sell smarter by also analyzing buying behavior in that workspace. That’s pretty much it. Overall, it reduces churn and closes more deals faster.

What prompted you to come up with or pursue this idea in the first place? Why this?

Specifically in my sales career, I have focused on the complex selling motions more like mid-market sales or getting a new startup off the ground, pioneering into a new category where you need to do a lot of why do anything, why ask stuff, excelling, and challenging. One of the cofounders, also named Gal, used to work together at the same company called Syte. It was a very complex sales motion to the retail tech.

We were hiring AEs. I was seeing all the time in my mind what makes a difference between the top sellers and the rest. It was a huge difference. The top sellers were doing $500,000 deals and $700,000 a quarter. Most of the reps were either 70% of target or some of them hitting $100,000. It was a huge difference. I remember one of the reps was closing a deal. She was doing a lot of things in that deal where she wasn’t selling. That was the a-ha moment. We saw that she was not selling. She was curating a buying experience and making it easy for the champion to sell for her while she was not there.

It was all about educating and bringing success criteria formats, building decks, putting in the decks throughout the process in a lot of the next steps and timelines, and updating the decks. She was summarizing all the time the next steps over email. She was creating a mutual action plan over email. A lot of the time, email summaries that mutual action plan.

We saw that, and a few years later, Gal opened a line together with Yotam, our third cofounder and CTO. He always had that dream to open after Syte. I was a CRO at that time. When they started Aligned or started thinking about the idea, he brought me as an advisor. We look back and remember that we knew we wanted to do something in sales. We looked back at these experiences and said, “That’s it.” We researched it more and saw that buying is getting more complex. Buyers are shifting away more from the seller. Gartner is writing about this all the time. Only 5% of the buying journey is spent with the seller. Meaning, most of the time, sales happen when you are not there in the room during the sale.

When we look at how selling happens, it has not changed for years. The sales stack is bloated, but the actual selling and execution of the deal, not emailing and getting pipeline. The actual deal management is still PDF, PowerPoint, or Excel while you have Miro workspace, Slack, Notion, Figma, and workspaces for collaboration in every other area of this. That is the inspiration and motivation. That’s the long version of the story.

The term that caught my attention and which should resonate, and maybe you should use it in your positioning and messaging if you are not already, is curating a buying experience. That’s key. You revealed the playbook of top sellers. That lady was not selling but made it easy for the internal champion to “sell internally” on her back.

That’s what it’s all about. With the budget scrutiny and especially everything that’s going on, if you are not doing that, it’s so easy to choose the status quo. It is so easy for the CFO to challenge your business case when you, as a champion, go there. If you have not been enabled throughout the process, if you don’t know the answers to everything, and if someone didn’t support you, you are going to get stuck as a buyer.

B2B 53 | Aligned
Aligned: If you don’t know the answers to everything, if someone really doesn’t support you, you’re going to get stuck as a buyer.

 

That’s the origin of Aligned. We all know that developing the product and having a hypothesis is one thing. How was the early days? I believe the company was incorporated in 2021 or 2020, depending on where you look at all the legal aspects and things like that. How were the early days? What is the hypothesis around the ICP? How has that evolved?

In the early days, we made a mistake there. We were thinking already too long-term. We were saying, “This is going to take all over the world. This is CRM level category,” which we still believe it is. We can have CRM level scale, but we were saying a little bit at the beginning, “Anyone that’s selling should be able to use this.” At some point, we understood that the beauty is in going a bit more niche at the beginning and tailoring and doubling down on targeting. We optimized it to not be any B2B, but B2B tech. B2B tech is probably going to have higher complexity in the sale process or early adopters of tools.

Secondly, we were defining what complexity is, so anyone that has more than 1, 2, or 3 touches to close. There has to be either a lot of stakeholders to manage, a deep process like a POC to manage, and a deep onboarding or long onboarding. It could even be a pretty transactional sales process with a lot of content sharing because of a lot of education and enablement. That’s where we narrowed down the ICP.

Your sales team or outbound team is focusing on these in the discovery call and prospecting.

That’s correct.

Let’s go back to our conversation earlier in the show, which is the definition of the ICP and how that has to constantly evolve as you evolve your go-to-market. Thanks for sharing your lessons on how you evolved your ICP for Aligned. Coming back to some of the growth aspects and the growth story around Aligned. Feel comfortable to share only what you can share in a public forum. How has Aligned evolved or grown in terms of funding and fundraising the number of customers, revenue, and even the number of employees?

We closed our seed round in the craziness of 2022. It was July or August 2022. We founded the company in October 2021. We did initially a pre-seed almost a year later. We closed the seed round, and when we closed the seed round, we already had the signed partners and initial revenue. From there, we, a year and a little bit after that, have been growing between 50% to 100% quarter-to-quarter.

I can’t share everything, but we are, at the moment, 17 employees around 10,000 users of the product, and around 150 paying customers. That includes also free users in the freemium. Aligned has actual two go-to-market motions. One is product-led and the other is direct sales. That’s one of the biggest challenges to get off the ground with the product with that go-to-market because you are constantly building both. One is for optimizing. These are the high-level details. Was there anything else that I missed?

You did cover the funding, the number of customers, and the number of both the free trial and the paid user. I appreciate that. You did cover the number of employees as well. That’s fine for a public forum. I understand that. Let’s get into the go-to-market success and the go-to-market failure story. You have seen both. I would like to understand your thought process around how you are managing product-led growth like PQLs, MQLs, SQLs, and so on. That’d be good to dive into as well.

I can start giving a high-level about that first. It’s even three motions. It’s PLG, PLS, and direct sales. I have built three sales go-to markets in the past. The sales part involves the product. It involves a lot of marketing within it. This is the most complex that I have done. When you nail all of them together, they are very powerful. For PLS, a lot of people don’t know that term. It’s Product-Led Sales. That means that it’s not only free users who are converting on their own, but you are using the free pool or free trials. It might be a free trial or a freemium type of model.

The free users involve decision-makers in larger companies that typically might buy a few individual seats. Users will pay out of pocket from small budgets or they will not maximize the potential. You are using that to get to a higher level of authority to build a sales opportunity and do a standard sales process. These are the three things that we are focused on. We have inbound leads and an outbound engine that’s driving demo requests top-down. We have inbound signups that are driving free self-serve deals and the product that sells. We are doing trade shows and driving deals there as well.

We covered both the go-to-market success and the failure story. What can you share from a go-to-market success point of view?

One of the things that come to mind that I can share is around pricing. We realized that we had, in Aligned, only a free and a pro package, and then the enterprise contacted us. We did a big research in the market. We saw that in the entire sales stack industry, there was almost no company that had that initial pricing point for self-service.

We opened $35 on a monthly. We opened that tier, experimented with it, and saw an interesting thing. In the beginning, a lot of people weren’t even buying that. It increased our conversion for the pro, but it created more differentiation. People were safe. They felt safer that there was a smaller one, but they wanted the one with more features. That was a big success.

In terms of failure, it connects a little bit to something that I said earlier. It’s another perspective of it. Our platform helps the entire revenue organization, both sales and CS. There’s even a partnership use cases and some SDR sales development use cases there. We initially looked at and mapped all of these buyer personas and defined them. Think about it. You have AE and VP sales. You have both the end user type of buyer persona and the authority for direct sales. You are looking at AEs, VP sales, CROs, revenue operations, ESMs, and partnership managers. It’s a lot.

We were trying to build it like that initially. It’s very helpful, but then we realized that if we are trying to target all of these in terms of building channels like marketing or sales channels to go to market with, it’s going to be an overkill. In messaging, when you try to better one burdened hand, so you try to get all of them together, you are getting nothing. You are getting messaging that’s too fluffing.

If we're trying to target everyone in terms of building channels, marketing or sales channels, to go-to-market with, it's just going to be an overkill. Click To Tweet

Those were the biggest challenges. It took us a while to figure it out. We are still serving all of them. We are starting in sales. From sales, we are expanding. A lot of times, during the sales process, the sales VP will bring the VP of CS or the CRO will want to buy for sales. That’s the core messaging that we put out there. We do 80/20. We decided to do 80% of sales and 20% of the rest in messaging or effort. The CRO will start up sales. From there, during the sales process, it will expand to others or post-sales, it will expand to others.

This changed everything, both in the simplicity of going to market and in conversion success. Long story short, and it repeats itself, niche down as much as possible and be very accurate with the target market through ICP and then expand over time or find other ways to expand during the sales process or post-sales for expansion.

B2B 53 | Aligned
Aligned: Niche down as much as possible and be very accurate with the target market, your ICP.

 

We keep coming back to that core insight in the go-to-market, which is the ICP. You need to be clear. You can say, “I’m telling to sales organizations,” but that’s such a huge market in itself. You need to hone it down into who within sales. Is it SDRs or AEs? Is it the sales leaders? Is it the inside sales or the SDR leader? Is it the rev ops? There are so many of the personas.

We didn’t even talk about the different segments. We talked about the verticals. You said you are focusing on tech. There are so many industries. Even within tech, there are so many segments in terms of $0 to $1 million, $1 million to $10 million, and $10 million to $50 million or $100 million. There are so many of these segments as well.

I have seen some companies and it’s not my experience but an opinion, narrowing down a bit too much. For example, they are doing something like a specific industry within sales or one very simple and small problem. The challenge is positioning-wise. You might be very accurate, but when trying to do PLG, you want more volume. You want to go to a bigger audience.

Also, positioning-wise, you are, from the get-go, creating positioning of something too small. There’s somewhere in the middle. That’s what we are trying to go after. We are trying to be something that tells a story, tells the vision, talks about the long-term, can move quickly, and is not trying to build all versions at once.

You also mentioned the complexity involved in managing the PLG, the self-serve, versus the PLS, and then the actual direct sales. From a lead gen perspective pipeline and then close, how has that mix evolved for the last couple of months?

It has all been growing. It’s almost impossible to build everything at once. We didn’t try to do the actual at the beginning. We tried to only do and only build the PLG virality to acquire the leads initially and then move quickly to capturing demand, creating demand, and doing thought leadership. We focused a lot on that at the beginning because we wanted to have a very clear funnel. We have people signing up and buying. It is people signing up and us helping them unlock value. It is then getting from there to authority and then building a product-qualified account.

It's almost impossible to build everything at once. Click To Tweet

From there, there is the sales process. That’s going to be a sales process that’s post-value. It has post-value validation or value realization. You have a team already used it for a while, and then you don’t have a trial through the sales process. We were doing that while we were running referrals a little bit. We had a lot of referrals from VCs and a lot of connections and we were still getting inbound. That was already very hard because it’s a different sales process.

You have the people who started top-down. They have already trying and using your product for a long time. You are going through building business cases at a high level where this helps, doing discovery with the leader, and helping with comparisons, and negotiation. Whereas if you are starting top-down, even not the outbound and putting outbound aside, then suddenly, in the lead process, they were telling us, “I want to go and use the free.”

One of the biggest challenges that we had there was figuring out how to separate the two. It was only the point where we felt that we were executing a different sales process well. With top-down, we are executing in a certain way versus bottom-up. If it’s working and things are closing within a few weeks, then we said, “To unlock growth and drive enough pipeline, let’s also start building an outbound machine.” We were having all of these things together that we constantly worked on and optimized.

It’s a big challenge trying to build.

It’s taking the long road a little bit, but it builds a lot of strength for the company. It’s optimizing all of these small pieces. We are going to market in a lot of different directions.

It’s a big challenge. I was responsible for building a PLG, and a product-assisted sales at a Series B startup last year in 2022. The go-to-market motion that the board and the CEO decided to evolve from earlier was inside sales and closing to inside sales. The decision was made to grow the free trial pipeline and then make it self-serve and a close buy to the free trial. In addition to that, it was to move up to mid-market and then do a sales-led.

It was a mess trying to do all of these in 9 to 12 months. We had a whiplash. It was a challenge to figure out what direction we needed to give to the people on the product side, the marketing side, the content side, and the sales side. Who do we hire from a sales point of view? Is it someone who can do product-assisted sales or someone who can do cold outbound and close, or they bring their book of business and close? It was such a huge challenge. That was a massive failure story in the end. The company had to lay off 80% of the employees because they struggled with all these different go-to-market motions.

How big was the company?

When I joined, it was around 150 employees or so, and then we brought it down to 75. Eventually, they went down to 15 to 20 employees. That challenge is always there.

On one hand, it’s harder to do when you are that big because then, it’s product, marketing, and sales. It is so many things together with a lot of processes already in place, so it is hard. At this stage where we are at, it’s a lot of agility. On the other side, I also wouldn’t recommend going and trying to do what we did unless you have one of the founders that have done sales and built go-to markets in the past.

We had the confidence that we were two founders that have done these things in the past. We had the confidence that we could experiment with this quickly and get to conclusions or do this quickly and bring more strength. It is generally a best practice to try only PLG and then go to PLS. Try maybe only outbound and at some point, later on, add the PLG. If you can be a PLG company, it’s better to be a PLG company from the beginning. That’s always true.

The advice I give to my clients as well as folks who I advise in general is to think about how you build and layer on marketing channels. You need to nail 1 or 2 channels, whether it is LinkedIn, email, or something that’s working well. Maybe it’s SEO or content inbound. Something has to be working well, and then you start experimenting and layering on top. The same thing goes with this. If it’s PLG from day one, that’s fine. Figure it out and go all in into PLG. Fireflies.ai, for example, I had the founder here on the show. They were all into PLG. They have PLG motion. Once you have that going, then you can layer on sales. It’s not to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Especially for the early stage, you are doomed to fail if you are going that route.

You need to give it time.

This was a great conversation. There are a lot of insights for the audience. Switching gears a bit over here. What are the 1 or 2 go-to-market skills or strengths that people look to you for? Maybe it’s PLG, sales, or fundraising.

It’s a few things. It’s one in the product-led sales that I have been having more people speak with me about. Secondly, it is specifically around the problems that we solve for our product, which is improving sales effectiveness in complex sales motions and how to standardize sales playbooks. We optimize direct complex or direct sales motion. People go upmarket or they go multi-product. They go into a more competitive space. This is where we typically help the most.

You must have had a lot of helping hands, mentors, or resources along the way. I know that you are a member of Pavilion, as an example. You also mentioned early on that you specifically joined the company to get the mentoring experience from a world-class leader. What resources or who are the 1, 2, or 3 people that have played a pivotal role in your career inflection points?

Professionally, there have been a lot of people. It’s hard to pinpoint one sales guru or go-to-market guru. There’s Aaron Ross with Predictable Revenue in the early days, The Challenger Sale, and Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. There were a lot of these different people. If I can say a few that were the most unique, life-changing, and big dramatic shifts, they are from actual people in the self-improvement space like Tony Robbins and Jim Rohn.

I have been turning personal development into a lifestyle. That’s one of the things that Jim Rohn talks about. Work on yourself more than your job. That’s one of his mantras. That’s a big part of it, following people like that all the time and watching their clips on YouTube. Tony Robbins specifically talks about thinking habits. He talks a lot about thinking. Nothing has any meaning except the meaning you give it, how to control or how you interpret situations, and which labels you are putting on situations.

Work on yourself more than your job. Click To Tweet

Especially as a founder, I had a huge euphoria or huge event and then a few dramatic things going on that take you 180% degrees to the other side. You start telling a story to yourself of, “Everything is going in a bad direction.” You can find how you can flip it and focus on that and how it can turn out for the best. This is one big thing that affected me. The third person is my wife. She is a huge part of my life. She is always listening when I’m down. She knows how to pump me up and just be there.

Family support, for sure, goes a long way. Going to your second point, self-help gurus. As cheesy as they may sound, they play a very critical role. For me, I lean on Tony Robbins and Robin Sharma. There are quite a few. Jay Shetty is the newest one on the block in that relevant space. It goes a long way. Marc Benioff credits Tony Robbins a lot.

For the readers out there, don’t think it’s very cheesy. They play a very important role, all these self-help gurus. It’s more up to you as to what and how you lean and use those resources and coaches. I have a final question for you. If you were to turn back the clock to day one of your go-to-market journey, what advice would you give your younger self?

The answer that I’m going to give applies to a lot of different things in the workplace. It took me time to realize this. I’m very methodological. I like formalized. I like finding the, “This is how it should be done.” What I have learned over time is that any formula that I learned and then swore by, you need to throw it into the trash at some point because there are constant changes.

It is being flexible to unlearn about how go-to-market strategy should look like for a company that does this and that because that changes. I have done public sales and direct sales throughout my entire career. I built a PLG company. People tell me, “Why are you doing PLG? Why are you not doing only direct sales?” It has changed. The world has changed.

I 100% agree with you on that. The ability to question your beliefs when it’s not useful and unlearn and learn new habits is a big secret for personal success. In the early days, I used to focus on being perfect. I was detail-oriented. Being an engineer by tradition in the early days, it was all about that. Especially in the early days, if you are doing early business building, you cannot be detail-oriented, process-oriented, and strive for perfection. That will not work. A great conversation. Thank you for sharing so many of these insights. Good luck to you and the team at Aligned.

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. I enjoyed this conversation.

 

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B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage

B2B 47 | Achieve Competitive Advantage

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any specific regions or is it worldwide?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not easy for sure.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you talking about the demand gen or the realization?

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

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

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

You should.

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

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

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

Do you mean personally?

Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I think LinkedIn is the best place for me.

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

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

 

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