Are you prepared for the changing landscape 2024 will bring? Is your business sustainable, agile, and profitable? Set your business’s foundations for success this year. I brought Luke Holman to the B2B Go To Market Leaders Podcast to learn how. 

Luke is a serial entrepreneur and current Chief Innovation Officer of Applied Frameworks. He shares his expertise on agile business methodologies, pricing and packaging strategies, and the 3 Pillars of Business Sustainability. Gain valuable insights into the art of client outreach, strategic pivots, and the influential role of a profit-first approach in crafting successful go-to-market approaches. Fasten your seatbelts as Luke guides you on making our business more profitable, lasting, and flexible.

Listen to the podcast here

Mastering Software Pricing: Innovation, Agile Business Tactics, and Profit-Driven Pricing with Luke Holman

The signature question: all my listeners love that I start the show, and we dive right into the meat of a topic, which is how do you view and define go-to-market?

Well, go-to-market is a set of comprehensive activities that help the organization take what they’ve created and bring it to their customers through any number of direct or indirect channels, any number of partner relationships, any number of sales team structures. Sometimes we have direct sales; sometimes we have indirect sales. We have sales reps; we have sales engineers. So, there’s a whole set of go-to-market activities that make sure that the organization is prepared to realize the benefit for themselves of what they’ve created for their customers.

Totally. I think you touched upon critical points, right? One is, obviously first and foremost, it starts with the customers whom you’re really targeting and who you’re solving for. That’s one, and then the intern aspect, you got the product team, you got the sales team, making sure that they’re aligned. Of course, you have a product, you have marketing, you have sales, and you have customer success, if it’s a software-as-a-service organization. So there are a lot of these teams that have to be aligned internally while bringing that product and taking it to a customer. 

That’s right. 

That’s a great start. So looking at your career journey and path, clearly, at least in the early phase of your career, you were very deep and very involved in the product development aspect of things. So we’ll dive into Agile practice. But just to expand and bring all our listeners up to speed? And can you share your career story like where you started? Why, what was your first job like what did you become and who you are today?

Well, I have had a long history in the technology field starting working for a very large company called Electronic Data Systems. And EDS had many, many data centers, and I was working in the technical area, literally crawling underneath the floor, cabling computers. I was working in network, networking, and then one thing led to another, and you get promoted; you become a developer. I picked up a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science and computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. I went back to EDS, and I became a vice president of engineering at a subsidiary. 

But there’s this journey in my career of always wanting to learn how to do and create and build the best products for our customers. So that journey led me through user interface design, and usability, but I actually ended up centering on product management, which is really trying to understand the needs of the customers as best you can and then build solutions that meet those needs in a way that creates a profit for the company. 

In that journey, I became associated with the Agile software development movement, and at the very beginning helped form the first Agile conference way back in 2003, served on the board of the Agile Alliance, worked with the Scrum Alliance, have wrote several books, have started and sold companies have acquired companies. But in all of these areas, I’d say there was the foundation of Agile software development practices in Agile product management practices, all associated with creating a profitable solution.


Very cool. Definitely, we will get into the companies that you bought as well as the companies that you had a good exit. So, you did mention why you got fascinated and curious about agile and agile development and the Scrum process. So you did tie that back to how products get built and how they go to market and you’re really curious about the efficiencies and the gaps during the development process.

I wouldn’t equate at all Scrum with Agile. I would say that Agile is, according to the Agile Manifesto. Agile is a set of values and practices. There are many agile methods, Scrum being optimized for small organizations or a couple of teams in the Scaled Agile Framework, being by far the leading technique or method, optimized for large organizations or large numbers of teams. I have been more associated in my career and more aligned with large-scale development initiatives, with dozens of teams to hundreds of teams working on extremely large and complex systems. 

And of course, I am a SAFe fellow, which is the highest distinction you can have in the SAFe community. I was a former SAFe contributor in both agile product management and in Lean portfolio management. So I’m more associated with the challenges of, in terms of a consulting capacity, the challenges of large organizations creating profitable solutions for myself, right? I’m an entrepreneur, and so my organizations are smaller. So I think it’s important to consider which of the two perspectives I’m being asked about.

 One perspective is, how do you help large organizations with globally distributed teams work more efficiently? And also, for your own work? How have you created software companies? And then manage them? Because they’re slightly different forces? And sometimes radically different forces when you’re working with one or two teams versus say, 400 Teams? Right?

Scaling Agile with SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

For sure. And I would like you to share that expertise. I mean, as you well articulated it, look, when you’re building your own companies, you’re obviously small and nimble we’ll be applying one methodology versus when you work with the likes of just not to say that they are the clients, but the likes of large organizations like Google or HP or Cisco, or Microsoft, right? I mean, they have huge dev teams spread across the metrology that they will use for product development and delivery.

That’s right. So let’s go back to where you want to be if all you ever want to be as small and stay small, then a method like Scrum is probably fine. For me, I’ve worked in companies, and even in my own company, every family, every company has to have a way of making a financial decision. That’s portfolio management, whether it’s you and your partner, your pair bond partner, your wife, or your husband. If you were to sit down and make a financial decision of significance, like buying a home, or buying a car, or taking a family vacation or having a child, you would do it together. Similarly, when you’re a small company, you still have a portfolio because you’re still making significant decisions. And when you’re a large company, you’re making significant decisions.

 So when people, when people equate significance with a dolllar amount, they devalue the kind of decision being made. So let’s say I’m Cisco, well, my decisions would be hundreds of millions of dollars. In terms of significance, right? That’s very different than the decision I would make at a small company. But both small and large companies have significant decisions to make about how they invest their money, how they spend their money, and where they put their attention.

No, totally. I think you hit it correctly. The significance does not or does not correlate or equal to the size of the business. But the significance matters, right? For example, my own journey – when I work at startups or for my own consulting company, as we sit today this week, I was figuring out where I should invest my time, energy, and money. Should I pursue a different go-to-market strategy? Should I invest in building a new content portfolio that will be relevant for demand gen and demand creation? Or should I work with a co-founder friend of mine where we know for a fact that I’m blacking out the AI compliance space? A lot is happening in that space. Is that the right investment area? 

Yeah. Absolutely. 

And then the scale of the decision-making and the factors will go many for like 5-10X when you talk about companies like Cisco and Microsoft, right? So, you are the founder and CEO of Conteneo. Was it a consulting practice or a software product company or both? What is that journey like?

Well, most companies are a mix of both. Most companies have some kind of a service component. It’s just the degree. I mean, some absolutely pure software companies don’t. But most companies, as they grow and evolve, have a services component. Conteneo was based on my book “Innovation Games.” What Conteneo provided were software platforms for doing games online and consulting services that would help organizations design and produce both in-person and online innovation games events. So, in the Agile community, there are many well-known games like Sailboat or Speedboat, product box by a feature. All of these games have an in-person expression, and many of them have an online expression. So Conteneo was a bootstrapped company in the B2B software space where we provided to our customers a platform for doing innovation games with distributed teams and in an online setting. We bootstrapped it. So we didn’t have outside VC funding, which is a little rare in Silicon Valley. And then we ended up selling Conteneo to Scaled Agile a few years ago. And that was a great outcome for all stakeholders.

Innovation Games by Luke Hohmann 

And again, as this is a go-to-market podcast, it’d be good if you can, at least at a high level, talk about your go-to-market journey, but continue, like early days to how you scale it and the exit?

Well, there are many aspects. I think the question is, to what degree does a given company consider its marketing strategy a go-to-market strategy? I consider that many times the marketing strategy is intimately related to the go-to-market strategy. So we followed a pattern that’s somewhat successful in business where we wrote a book, we built training. The book creates awareness and interest in the training. The training teaches people how to use the techniques, and it creates demand for consulting services and online platforms. Once we had the online platforms, we were able to serve the demand that we had created. In terms of a go-to-market strategy, that’s where I think you start to see the distinctions between how you intend to go to market and then the feedback from going to market. 

Let me explain one of the pivots that we made at Conteneo. We’ve been talking about innovation games, which is a discrete event of usually between four and eight people; they can come together and work together on a business problem. Well, we thought the right way to price that was per game, because you can think about the unit of value being a game, right? What happened was that it created a variable spend, and our customers didn’t like variable spend, especially when so much of what we do in business now is a monthly fee. You have a fixed monthly fee, but you have variable usage; sometimes you’re using the platform more, and sometimes you’re using the platform less. So we found that in our go-to-market strategy, we were charging the right amount of money, but we weren’t charging the right way for the money. That’s the kind of go-to-market change that people need to be aware of. We call that a value exchange model. In our new book, “Software Profit Streams: A Guide to Designing Sustainably Profitable Businesses,” we talked about, as part of your go-to-market strategy, you have to get your pricing, packaging, and licensing down, and there are choices that you need to make as a product manager, as a product team. How do I trade money for value? The value exchange model needs to be aligned with how the customers both perceive value and how they want to pay for value. Those were some of the changes that we made in our own go-to-market strategy and our own go-to-market journey.

Software Profit Streams by Jason Tanner & Luke Hohmann 

The brilliance that stands out in your go-to-market journey is you touched upon a very key aspect. I’ve studied go-to-market leaders, understanding what sets them apart. Think of the NBA League, with 30 teams. However, something magical happens when you peek under the hood of the operations of the top two or three basketball teams consistently making it to the playoffs and winning titles. It comes down to two or three things.

So, concerning go-to-market teams, it boils down to content, community, and experiences/events. Three crucial elements. One aspect you’ve nailed very well is content, exemplified by the book in your case. The innovation games in your earlier company, and now focusing on software pricing. What led you to that thought process? First, creating and writing a book. Then, deriving training material, followed by consulting and software development. What influenced you to embark on this path?

That’s a no. No one’s ever asked me that before. So, that’s a really interesting question. I learned the power of writing a book when I first moved to Silicon Valley. My first company in Silicon Valley was a company called Origin Systems. Origin Systems was an absolute breakthrough company. It was wildly innovative. What we did was take all of the world’s patent data and put it into a data warehouse for analytics. In terms of the utility of a patent, how does a patent get monetized? What is the patent related to? What are the opportunities for innovation? It was based on the work of a couple of gentlemen, most notably a gentleman named Kevin Rivette. I remember when I joined the company, the head of marketing was a guy named David Polio. That’s where I learned this pattern. David, in one of our leadership meetings, said, ‘Hey, when you’re creating an entirely new industry, an entirely new thing, you have to get the content first. The way you get the content first is you write a book.’ So Kevin Rivette wrote a book called ‘Rembrandt’s in the Attic,’ which was considered a breakthrough and groundbreaking book associated with intellectual property licensing. That book, in combination with our software platform, really drove that company to a successful outcome. I credit David Pulizia with showing the power of content and then building out the community and the software platform. At Origin, we didn’t have a lot of events, but we had a great software platform. I think, Vijay, the notion of the content is partially correlated to the degree of innovation or the degree of novelty about what you’re offering. 

When I wrote ‘Innovation Games,’ it was the first book in the genre of using serious games, serious game techniques, and collaborative games to solve problems. Since then, we’ve had other books like ‘Game Storming’ or ‘Reality is Broken’ from Jane McGonigal. But when you’re the first one, you really need to create that content to cement the industry and the breakthrough. That’s why we did that with ‘Software Profit Streams,’ the new book. There are books about pricing, but the problem with books about pricing is that they’re pricing pens and menu items in restaurants and wine. 

You know, consumer products pricing. 

Even in the business world, pricing gets wrapped up into things like supply chains and Bill of Materials, which are all important. But software is so different that we decided the prior work was no longer sufficient to meet the needs of what’s happening in the world. Andreessen is right; software is eating the world. We need a means by which we can look at pricing, packaging, and licensing for software-enabled solutions because those are unique in the world. We needed something new to really capture that.

Well said, and clearly, you learned your lessons, and you got the playbook. Going back to what you mentioned about Origin Systems, you really learned that system from your head of marketing back then. And you apply that in your own consulting career.

He’s brilliant. And, I think it’s a consistent pattern. We’re not the only firm that applies that pattern. But there’s enough proven success around that pattern that we should look at that.

Absolutely. So, did you take the time to write the book first, launch it, and then start the consulting practice and the training, or what is…

The book was mostly informed by years of consulting experience. We were able to mine the experience of ourselves and our customers, really looking at all the different work we had done over a near 20-year history. Applied Frameworks has been around for more than 20 years, so we had a very rich and deep history to draw from as we were writing the book. Now that the book has been written, we’re working on the software platform called Horizon and have it in the market. Now we’re just following good agile practices, continuing to improve the Horizon platform for solution profitability management.

Fantastic. So one of the questions I typically ask my guests, and I do that more in the latter part of the show, but clearly, when it comes to you. So one of the questions I ask is, what is our special secret sauce? And what should people come to you for advice? Clearly, in your case, it sounds like you’ve mastered the game around go-to-market, in terms of content, sequencing, and applying Agile and Scrum practices. That’s how I see it.

I think I would add that I would be cautious, again, about, for example, we’re not a sales training company. The art of go-to-market is treating your sales team. Our expertise is in pricing, packaging, and licensing. For example, too many organizations try to get to a good, better, best pricing model when sometimes good, better, best pricing isn’t needed. Other problems we see are companies, especially large companies, will create a solution. Then they deliver more value using Agile techniques, but they don’t raise the price, or they don’t have a strategy of how their solution architecture captures value. We see applications just get bigger and bigger. Sometimes the better approach is to keep the main application tight and focused. Then add modules or add-ons that an organization can acquire to enhance their offering. It’s really that strategy that you’re looking for that will help you determine your actual price point and how to make the most amount of money at it.

I’m looking at your book, the Software Profit Streams book. And as with any top-tier books, you would also provide a canvas. Can you walk us through the canvas for the profit stream? Absolutely.

So canvases are powerful tools; we have the business model canvas and the profit-sharing canvas. What a canvas does is it allows us to quickly and effectively capture the main elements of a causal system. I’m an engineer, you’re an engineer; we have an engineering background and think in terms of systems. When I deal with pricing, I have to manage three really related items. First, I have to manage my solution sustainability. What are the needs of my customer? What does my solution provide to my customer? How are they evolving over time? Because customers are not static, and problems in the world aren’t static. I have to have an ongoing evolution, a roadmap, etc. The second kind of sustainability is economic sustainability. Does my customer feel they’re getting good value, which is more value than what they paid? Am I creating a sustainable business? Am I making a profit? Is my revenue greater than my costs? The third element of sustainability is what we call relationship sustainability. There are really three relationships that matter for a software-enabled solution or a company. The first is my suppliers. Everyone is licensed in various technology components. How am I managing my in-licenses and my relationship with my suppliers? The second is my relationship with my customers. Software isn’t sold; software is licensed. There’s a license agreement, terms of service for a website, or a complex agreement for traditional software that defines my use of that software. What are the terms, conditions, and entitlements? How am I managing my relationship with my customers? The third component is compliance, which concerns how am I managing my relationship with regulatory agencies, and with standards? Let’s say that you and I wanted to build a website together, and we wanted to make it accessible to people with disabilities. Well, now I have to honor the WC3 web accessibility standards. It’s not a law, but it’s a choice that I’ve made. When we look at compliance, we’re thinking about laws and regulations ranging from, say, GDPR or the Australian Privacy Rights Act or in California, the CCPA, to standards and agreements. How I manage my relationships determines my relationship sustainability. If I routinely create poor relationships, it’s going to be hard for my business to continue to grow and be successful.

I think that’s a good canvas. I’m definitely going to refer to that, and I’ll highly encourage other listeners to go check out the book ‘Software Profit Streams‘ in terms of pricing and packaging. Perfect. Wonderful. Quick note, this is the end of part one. So if you can just click on the link and join the second one. To my production team, that’s the end of part one. I’ll see you on the other side. Great. So yes, I think you’ve shared a great framework there when it comes to pricing and packaging. Switching gears a bit over here. Obviously, as you and I know, go-to-market, there are so many flavors. You will see successes, you will see failures. It’s not always up and to the right. So if you can share either from your own personal experience or working with the various clients that you have, a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. That’d be great.

Sure, well, for a go-to-market success story, one of my clients is CVS Health. They had an extraordinary go-to-market success story with the introduction of their app for scheduling COVID-19 vaccines. It was created in a time of crisis, so people were stressed. It was rolled out in record time for a large company—a very complex app when you think about scheduling for a vaccine with 1000s of stores across the United States, geolocation, capacity planning, store hours, and a tremendous amount of logistics and data. From a go-to-market standpoint, they were able to create and deliver that app. In this case, pricing and packaging were not relevant because it was free. But in terms of a go-to-market success story, that would be one of them. Another one related to our work in pricing and packaging is a company called Knowify. Knowify creates construction management and billing software. When we started working with them, they hadn’t adjusted their pricing and packaging for a couple of years. They had been successful, but we got involved because they just got a post-seed funding round from a venture capital firm, Companion Ventures. Applied Frameworks works with venture capital firms and private equity firms to improve the pricing and packaging aspects of their portfolio companies. One thing we worked on with Knowify was changing their packaging. Before our work, about 20% of their customers signed up for the annual plan. After adjustments, we got that number up to 60%, improving cash flow and making it easier for their sales team to guide customers through changes. It was an amazing change for their go-to-market process and approach from a pricing change.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cvs_health_logodownload-e1705519283117.pngFantastic, a great story, and great success stories for both. So, I’ll click on each of them. CVS, you mentioned obviously it happened in the time of crisis, the COVID pandemic scenario. So what prompted CVS to reach out to you? I’m assuming they reached out to you, and who from CVS did that? And why?

Sure. So we had a prior relationship, as in so many arenas, with their head of Agile. They reached out to us as part of our normal relationship, doing agile work and scaling agile. In the case of Knowify, the outreach was initially from the venture capital firm that made the investment. Companion Ventures made the investment and then told Knowify, ‘Hey, you should work with Applied Frameworks to improve your pricing and packaging.’ Usually, in this kind of world, you’re going to see word-of-mouth referrals, etc., which is still a significant part of the business.

I think that is a smart move, obviously, on your side to work with influencers. In the first case, it was the head of HR at CVS, a good relationship over the years. In the second case, it was the venture capital that influenced it for sure.

Now, of course, as our software package becomes more prominent, we’re doing more traditional go-to-market strategies, like webinars and podcasts. Also, advertising, blogs, and normal content optimization, content generation. Those are all parts of the go-to-market mix. It’s important for people to remember that when you’re smaller, your go-to-market strategy might be more intimate. When you’re larger, your go-to-market strategy might be more volume-based with less intimacy. Either is probably right; it’s just different. Go-to-market strategies and teams need different techniques and results.

Going back to the case study and success story of Knowify, you mentioned a great result where annual subscriptions increased from 20% to 60%. So what is the process like? Going back to our first question and our discussion, it’s about go-to-market. What is the go-to-market process? I would assume that you guys had to dig into and look at all the CRM records, the pricing, and so on, and the number of customers who did that, and then why people are not switching.

In the case of Knowify, we didn’t spend a lot of time, so I would say that you’re correct. In a normal case, you would be looking at your CRM data, looking at conversions, etc. In the case of Knowify, we were able to determine improvements through what we call a customer benefit analysis. We deconstructed their features into discrete benefits, reverse-engineered market segments, and repackaged the offering to better align with the needs of specific customers. So in the normal case, we would be looking at CRM data, win-loss data, and discount data, but in the case of Knowify, we had a strong signal through customer benefit analysis that we could change the packaging to better align with customer needs.

Fantastic. It’s great timing that you shared the story. I’m working with a client where we’re doing a positioning exercise. The positioning involves identifying target account characteristics, distinct capabilities, and features, and value themes. You got the account segments or characteristics, and features, and then you map them to hone in on the best fit, the 20% or 30% of customer segments that translate to 70-80% of the value stream for you.

We call that a solution benefit map. Once I know the benefits my customers are seeking, I can look at my features and the relationship between features, benefits, and the targeted segment. It’s a rigorous process but doesn’t take as long as it might sound. It can be done quickly when working with existing customers or companies with existing data

And then going to my earlier question, which is, yes, you’ve got go-to-market success stories. But I’m sure we all have go-to-market failure stories. Anything that comes to your mind from a go-to-market failure story?

Although, I think the question becomes if I have a go-to-market failure story, to what degree of failure am I talking about? The ultimate failure is when the company itself fails. So you could argue that it’s not a go-to-market failure; it’s just that it wasn’t a viable company. It’s harder to find go-to-market failures because if the solution is successful or if the company is successful, what that meant was they had a go-to-market experiment, and the explored experiment didn’t work. So they tried something else that did work. If we had persisted in trying to force the market to accept transactional pricing, the company would have failed. But we adapted, took the feedback, and adjusted how we worked. That’s pretty profound because go-to-market is like product-market fit. Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, I have product-market fit, and I’m done.’ But product-market fit is like getting on a highway; it’s the on-ramp. Once you’re on the highway, you have to constantly monitor and adjust your driving. You’re always doing micro-adjustments, and the faster you’re going, the more subtle and frequent the adjustment. Product-market fit and the initial go-to-market strategy get you on the highway, but after that, it’s a very strong repeat process of how am I doing, and how am I adjusting.

I think that’s a very good analogy. In my mind, as you’re speaking to that, it clearly shows that product-market fit is not once and done; beyond product-market fit, it’s scaling, tweaking, and iterating. Going back to your analogy, driving on the freeway, I have to constantly adjust to oncoming traffic, traffic ahead, change lanes, slow down, pivot—all these things apply to the go-to-market world. It reminds me of the conversation I had with Geoffrey Moore, who said exactly along the lines of what you mentioned—that there are not really failures; you either have success or learnings, and there are learnings even if the business fails.

Right, and even if the business fails, there’s learning associated with it. But it’s not clear that it’s a go-to-market failure. It could be just a failure as a business because it’s the right idea, but it’s too early for the market. We’ve seen that in the technology field where ideas get recycled. An example is the original idea for Uber and Lyft, patented about a decade before Uber got started. But the technology just didn’t exist at that time. As technology evolves, things that failed in the past become viable in the future.

Well said. I think that’s a great perspective. Going back to your favorite topics and how you built your businesses around Agile and pricing and packaging, and, of course, my favorite topic, product marketing. Typically, as seen and you can attest to this, it’s a combination of product management and product marketing that has to tackle these two areas. What have you seen, the challenges, as well as things that have really worked when it comes to product management and product marketing in these areas around Agile, thinking about prioritization delivery, and pricing and packaging?

Well, I think, Vijay, that the Agile community is a little better at working on the product marketing side because we do have this idea in Agile that I’m creating a constant flow of value to my customers. This is part of the Agile Manifesto. It’s the set of metrics that we track in SAFe is what we call the flow metrics. We look at things like how frequently are you getting value from your customers. And what’s your batch size? Are you taking on features that are about the right size, so you can continue to deliver value to your customers? The reason we wrote the book is that we’re getting agile organizations who are delivering a flow of value, but they’re not producing a flow of profit. Let’s think about this from the executive standpoint. Let’s pick any size company. Executives aren’t compensated for value. That doesn’t mean anything, especially in a public company. You’re not compensated for value; you’re compensated for creating a profit. And so what we’re seeing is a bit of a backlash in the Agile community, to be honest. And what I mean by a bit of a backlash is that you’re seeing, for example, Capital One firing hundreds of agile coaches and Scrum Masters. You’re seeing different companies say, “Look, we’ve been putting millions of dollars into agile in training, etc. And we need profit, especially with our macro economy. With high inflation, high inflation rates, high cost of capital, people need profit.” So what we’re saying is, let’s evolve. Let’s own proof. Let’s actually move from creating value to creating profit. Now, let me not talk abstractly, let me ask you some really basic questions. If I go to a company that’s doing Agile, I’ll ask them a simple question. They’ll say, “I don’t worry about your Agile process. Like, I don’t care if you’re using Scrum or less or SAFe, whatever, right? Last year, have you consistently delivered value to your customers?” And if they’re an agile organization, the answer is almost always yes, we are consistently delivering. And then I say, when was the last time you explicitly raised your pricing or you explicitly changed your packaging to make sure that the value you’re delivering is resulting in more revenue for your company? And it’s not as easy as answers. Many times, the response is, “Wow, we haven’t raised our pricing in eight months, 12 months, 24 months?” And I’m like, “Okay, you haven’t raised pricing in two years? Have you paid more people in salary and people?” Then I get the response, “Well, you don’t understand. Look, we’re growing as a company. And so we’re fine.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you’re not. No one can grow indefinitely, right? There’s always some limit to the size of the market. And you want to condition your customers that when you’re creating more value for them, you’re gonna get more value back.

So two things come to my mind when you say that. One, it took me back in time to my MBA days, when my marketing professor said one thing, which really stuck in my mind, even to this day, I’m talking like 15 years plus, it’s still very top of mind, which is pricing is the single biggest lever when it comes to revenue and profits. It absolutely isn’t. Right?

You know, pricing, typically, well, there’s two elements to this, Vijay. One is pricing improvements always, almost exclusively fall directly to the bottom line. It’s very, very frictionless. I mean, if I build a new feature for my application, and it’s really significant, well, now I have to do a press release. And I have to update my documentation, I have to update my sales team, I have to educate them on how to talk to the customers, which is great. That’s an expense. But if I simply were to raise my price, I might have some small costs associated with communicating a price increase to existing customers. But that’s a really powerful lever because it’s a low-cost lever. The second is that McKinsey has data that shows that roughly a 1% increase in price creates a five to 8% increase in actual profit and unit margins. So it’s really curious to me that organizations are not investing much more in their pricing and packaging. It’s kind of just curious to me.

And then when you’re making your other case, again, well put in terms of like, how are you measuring value and if you’re delivering the right value? So in my mind, the second point that came to me was pricing is a good test to see if you’re delivering the right value or not. Increase the price and customers are still sticking, not complaining a whole lot, and not churning. That means you’re, first of all, leaving less money on the table. And the second is customers still see a lot of value in what you’re delivering. Right? Right? Yes, for sure. All right, I know we are coming up against the R, L here, we can go on and on in all these topics.

The last two questions for you are, what resources or communities are people you lean on to stay up to date? In terms of go-to-market practices? Agile, you said Agile community. I can imagine that pricing or even understanding your target customers’ problems, like, how do you stay involved?

You know, it’s funny. I’m not as familiar with any specific communities associated only or exclusively with go-to-market. I tend to think of go-to-market as part of what product management and product marketing do. So I tend to associate with both agile and less agile aspects of product management and product marketing like the Product Development and Management Association is a very classic organization about product management. You see also in the SAFe, the Scaled Agile community, we have a lot of agile product managers from the Agile product management course. And so those are some communities that I stay involved with. And then, of course, there’s LinkedIn, there’s a couple of groups on LinkedIn that are useful. I personally don’t use Facebook. So I am sure there are communities on Facebook. I just don’t participate in those communities. Yep.

And then the final question here is if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self, granted, you will be happy, and you’ll be satisfied with where you are and how things shape, but if you were to give advice to someone who’s younger in their career.

Well, yeah, it’s funny. We had a dinner party one time, not too long. A couple of months ago, and one of my friends was over, Danny, and he was just eating dinner with us. Like, he said, “What’s the one thing you would change in your life?” And everyone around the table had something they would change, and I had nothing I would change because my life I’ve lived as how I’ve gotten to here. I wouldn’t change anything, the good or the bad. However, there are useful things that, because I do consult with and coach and mentor some young entrepreneurs, right? And so I enjoy that because I was given advice from people, and I think we should pay it forward. So some of the consistent pieces of advice that I like to give to younger people include the idea that you can constantly be learning, and you can constantly be reading and listening to podcasts. Podcasts are marvelous like this because they really do expand our ability to listen, and when you’re driving in your car, why would you waste your time listening to something that doesn’t give you nutritional value? I’d rather you listen to your podcast, right? So I think it’s always about being hungry, staying humble, learning, and growing as generic advice. And now and then very specific advice. It’s staying tuned to the profound technological changes that continue to shape our society and our world. A few years ago, the most profound change was the introduction of the blockchain. Now, Bitcoin and all of the cryptocurrencies aside, blockchain is an important technology, and understanding what that technology is about and its potential uses is important. Another obvious thing that’s going on right now is AI and large language models. And that’s just I think the generic advice to younger people is we all live in very exciting times. And we get stale when we don’t stay current, so do your best to stay current.



B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing

 B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing


Are you exploring product marketing? How should you break into the product marketing roles? In this episode, Saranya Ramamurthy, the Product Marketing Director of inFeedo, explains why she shifted from consultant work to product marketing. Saranya also shared her efforts in structuring her product marketing team and the role of the designer in marketing. Her magic touch in her position made an amazing impact on her leadership team. Let’s join Saranya Ramamurthy today and learn how she made a difference as a product marketing director of inFeedo.

Listen to the podcast here


Product Marketing: Saranya Ramamurthy’s Journey Into Her Role, Efforts To Build A Product Marketing Team, And The Role Of A Designer In Marketing

Thank you once again for taking the time to tune into the show. I hope you’re enjoying it. I sincerely request that if you love it, please refer to your peers and your friends. If you can take a minute or even less to rate on whatever platform that use, that’ll be great. The more important thing, and what I’m excited about right now, is I’m getting to host another B2B go-to-market leader. This time it is Saranya Ramamurthy, who is the Director Head of Product Marketing at inFeedo. Welcome to the show, Saranya.

Vijay, thank you so much for hosting me.

I’m excited to have you. I know you’re based out of India. You are the fifth guest, so we are starting to see more guests coming from India, which is a great thing. Something that I’ve started noticing and observing is the go-to-market maturity in Indian organizations is definitely on the rise, which is exciting. I’m sure we’ll dive more into this as we talk.

There’s a lot of advocacy going on, so definitely on the rise.

The standard question that I always taught and ask the guests on my show is how do you view and define go-to-market?

If you simply ask this to anyone, there’s a textbook definition. If you ask a product marketing manager, they would say product market managers are the ones who are building the product and taking the product to the market. I would like to add a little nuance here. I would probably approach it like this. It’s about educating your ICP, which is your ideal customer persona, about the solution you crafted for their pain point. It’s pure, clean 100% education, in my opinion. It’s about knowing your ICP, knowing their problems, knowing which channels they’re active on, and delivering that message with an educational note. Once you’ve educated them, and if the persona is confident that it’ll solve one of their pressing problems, and it is also one of their priorities, they buy it. For me, education is everything.

This is an interesting perspective. I’ve not spoken or had a lot of product marketing folks on the show. It’s funny I say that because I started my marketing journey and career in product marketing. I’ve seen that evolution. When I started back in the day at Microsoft, I was super excited, and enthusiastic, because my job title said Go-to-market. I was eager to find out what that was.

As I learned over the last decade or so, working at large and small companies, something that I’ve noticed is go-to-market, first of all, the definition so varied. Also, something that started percolating and became more and more clear to me is that go-to-market is not just within the realm of product marketing, even though that’s part of the job responsibility. If you see the job spec, they say go-to-market aspects and activities.

What I would like us to deep dive into is first of all, the role of product marketing in go-to-market, but then also the gaps. I have a few thoughts, but I want to pause and get your thoughts because I’m sure you must have seen this in different organizations. You are at leading brands. What are your thoughts on go-to-market specifically when it comes to product marketing?

Go-to-market is product marketing. That’s how we are seeing it in India. It’s part of what we do, and maybe what we do here is define the messaging and the ICPs and tighten them for the market. Taking it to the market or doing the ads is something that an integrated marketing team or segment marketing team would do. PMN scope is validating the ICPs problem which is the first part of PMF in itself. If you have a new product that you want to launch in the existing market, or you want to launch an existing product in the new market, for example, you start with a problem validation. That is an important GTM exercise. It’s a pre-GTM exercise, I would say.

Once you’ve validated your ICP’s priorities, for example, your ICP could have this unmet need that you have defined, but they might probably have ten-plus unmet needs. Where do you stand? What is their priority and how is their willingness to pay a price for a solution like yours? This is the PMF stage, and during the GTM stage, we take all the learnings and craft the messaging for it. That’s a very important step. That is your delivery, educating.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: Take all the learnings and craft the messaging for it. That’s a very important step.


For me, it is education, because I’ve done most of my job in TMF. Right now what I’m doing is educating that I know you have a problem like this, and I have this solution for you. This is what we do in a product marketing function related to GTM. After defining the channels and what communication goes on each of these channels, there’s a different team that takes it over.

What you touched upon is an important, but one piece of the go-to-market. The first step is product marketing, and typically what I’ve seen is product marketing in conjunction with product management peers would do the problem discovery, validation, and come up with a hypothesis for the product market fit. The product marketing function would then run with, “Now that we believe this is our hypothesis, this is the problem we are going to solve for this persona, in this market and for these channels, now we start creating content.” There is also the sales enablement piece that has to happen and a lot of other things.

Beyond product marketing, that’s the initial step for go-to-market, and then it goes to sales. You got SDRs. You have other aspects, and then there’s customer success. Once a product is sold or bought by the customer, based on the product problem hypothesis. Now, are we ensuring that the customer is seeing value? First of all, are we onboarding them in the right way so that they can see the value? For me, go-to-market is a more expanded view. It starts with product management and product marketing, but then there’s a much bigger view that spans across product, marketing, sales, and customer success as well.

A lot of alignment is required in there. This is just one part of it that you’ve covered in the first bit. Imagine you are doing an ad and somebody’s landing on your website and becoming a lead, you put in a message, and the sales talks about something different. There’s a total missing. That’s why this has to be extremely connected. From the messaging that they see on the ads to the website landing page to what the SDR talks about, and what the AE gives as a demo. Onboarding them on a pilot program or onboarding them on a trial package, whatever it is since they should see the benefit that we have promised in the messaging.

I’m sure we’ll cover a lot more of these nuggets in detail. Let’s step back, zoom out, and then tell our audience who Saranya is. What is your journey like, and how did you end up in what you’re doing now?

I’ve been a marketer for decades now. I’ve worked with both SaaS companies and agencies, a good blend of both B2B and B2C. I worked on social media marketing, regional marketing, GTM, and product marketing for a combination of both B2B and B2C companies. If you look at SaaS companies that I work for, it includes Freshworks, Zoho, and Airmeet. From an agency experience, I’ve worked with brands like Facebook, Vodafone, and Lenovo. Regionally, these companies were focusing on markets like APAC, the UK and the EU. At Zoho, the predominant focus was the UK and EU. At Freshworks, I was looking at both APAC and North American markets.

During my agency experience, I’ve got a good market until about the Middle East and Africa market. This is predominantly it. I joined as a consultant for a software reseller. That’s where my foundation came from. I slightly moved away to an agency environment to get the skills of all the things that a marketer should do, all the creative skills, and then dive back into the SaaS space. That’s my journey overall.

Get the skills of all the creative things that a marketer should do. Click To Tweet

This is something that I’ve started seeing. Founders in India, when they think about a software company, they’re not just talking about the Indian footprint or the Asian footprint, but it’s more about how we go global. That vision or that pursuit is translating to different functions as well, including product marketing. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen over the years. It’s cool that you got to work in agencies and got firsthand experience in how the different parts of the regions worldwide, like marketing in the Middle East, are entirely different from how you market in APAC versus how you would market in North America.

A lot of regional nuances to note here.

You started your work as a consultant, and then you shifted to the agency. What specifically were you doing in an agency?

At an agency, I was predominantly doing marketing strategy and social media strategy. This is for all B2C companies. With Vodafone, we worked on their social media, and at Lenovo, we looked at their video marketing. With Facebook, it was more of a strategic partnership. We helped them with all their top 50 customers, ad creators, ad copies, strategic narrators, etc. It’s a mix of all things with agencies. It is just for you to dive into or explore all the creative possibilities, and all that you could do as a marketer. All things operations did all things creatives at agencies.

It is for you to die or explore all the creative possibilities you could do as a marketer. Click To Tweet

You shifted to product marketing. Was that like a natural transition? How was the shift and why did you choose product marketing?

Since I already had a software foundation, it wasn’t hard for me to move into product marketing. The role that I entered right after my agency experience is the role of a first marketer in the UK and EU team. The company wanted to explore a new market, and they wanted a full-stack marketer. They don’t want anybody that is doing ads. They don’t want anyone who’s looking at copies, messaging, or just an events person doing events for them. Even one of their primary demand-generation channels. They wanted a full-stack marketer with a primary focus on copy messaging and positioning. It was a right fit for me because I gathered all of that from agencies and the software foundational experience. It was a very smooth transition in my opinion.

Now you are the Director of Product Market at inFeedo. Are you the head of product marketing over there?


What is your charter? What is your responsibility at inFeedo?

Multiple things. I’m the first product marketer, and I’ve set up a team of five product marketers doing different things. inFeedo has two products. 1 looks at employee engagement, the other 1 is an employee support platform. We are looking at all things GTM, messaging, positioning, pricing, and sales enablement. Sales enablement is a very crucial piece because it’s a sales-led organization. We wanted a dedicated person to look at enabling the SDRs and AEs.

There is a product too which is a 0 to 1 product. It’s a very new product in the market. We are supporting the launch of the product, getting and exploring new markets, and how we launch this in the existing market. Launching also interesting sales plays like cross-selling, how do we capitalize from the existing customers that we already have? These are some things that we are doing away from the usual charter, like enablement of customer advocacy, AR and VR, etc. That’s the usual pillar, but these are some things that we’ve been touching about.

When I work with my clients, I help them either build or execute and accelerate any of these 6 to 8 product marketing programs. Starts with positioning and messaging. We have the customer insights. Do you have a good customer insights program in place? There is the sales enablement, as you mentioned, especially for sales lead organizations, you need sales enablement. You have a new product launch, a new market launch, and two related but entirely different concepts and approaches.

We then have how you build and do you have a good product content program in place? Adding onto that is how are you tracking and evolving product adoption within your customer base. The final piece is customer expansion, which you mentioned about cross-selling and upselling. Would you agree with these or would you expand with all these categories?

They are good. The important piece that we might probably have to add here is customer advocacy as a piece as well. More than intelligence, PMMs usually do advocacy as well. Go and ask them how they do their products. This is a building customer proof for your product. This is also a part of product marketing responsibility. That’s something that I observe as a trend in India. I don’t know how is it in the US, but that is one thing. The other one is AR and VR. That’s also one of the biggest pillars, talking to analysts and constantly keeping in touch with them, having a relationship with them, and informing them about what’s coming in the product. Keeping them posted about what’s coming in the product, and if there are any features that we could do with them.

That’s also one of the important things that we would cover under PMM. That’s predominantly it. You’ve covered it all. If you work in a very scaled-up organization, you will have timelines for these, like launching the new products in the market, exploring a new market in itself. Right now, we are doing all of these things. All you said, we are doing all of those things because inFeedo is in that stage, so we are a new product marketing team, so we have different spots taking care of different things at the moment.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: If you work in a scaled-up organization, you will have timelines for launching new products in the markets and exploring a new market.


How did you structure your product marketing team? You said you have five product marketers. What is your thought process in how you structured? What is your research methodology how do you build the product marketing organization, and then how do you structure the organization?

If you ask me, my usual way of looking at it is there should be one person who takes care of all things product launches and feature launches. There is one person who is dedicated to enablement and for customer advocacy and customer proof, anything customer intel, market intel, or intelligence comes from this third person. The fourth person takes care of AR and VR. That’s how I would probably segregate. Looking at the budgets that we have and the areas that we want to invest in this is how I’ve done it now.

I have a couple of people under engagement as a product, one person is closely aligning with the product and doing all things that the product wants, the product marketing to do, and the other person closely aligning with sales and customer success and the GTM organizations to enable them to grow and sell. That’s something this person’s doing. It’s an in-and-out enablement role. There is this third role, a little mature role. It’s an all-in-one end-to-end PMM role for a new product. This person does anything around product enablement, sales enablement, and customer enablement. Once we launch this particular customer and implement the solution in the customer please, how do we increase our options for that organization until then?

Starting from launching the product to going to the customer please and increasing adoption of the product usage. That’s something that we do on that part. We also have a generalist who does all things PMM for both products. There’s a designer to look at the design needs of the PMM organization, that’s how you’ve structured it now. There are some gaps. At inFeedo the interesting part is customer advocacy is handled by the content marketing team. Unlike the organizations that I’ve worked with in the past, Freshworks, Zoho, or Airmeet, here, customer advocacy is handled by content marketing. That’s one thing less for us to worry about at this point. That’s how I’m looking at it because there are a lot of things going on. AR and VR are something that I’m doing myself.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: At inFeedo, the interesting part is handling customer advocacy by the content marketing team.


Can you reiterate the customer advocacy? Who is responsible for customer advocacy at, inFeedo?

It’s content marketing.

Content marketing is fair enough. It’s primarily around case studies and success stories. That’s the angle that you’re taking for customer advocacy at inFeedo.

It’s a history and that person is very comfortable, very senior enough. I don’t think I can get somebody that senior enough to look at customer advocacy and the PMM team at this point. I’m super comfortable that she’s handling this for us.

You also mentioned about designer. Does a designer report to you within product marketing, or it’s adjacent?

The designer reports to me.

That’s unique. That’s a very interesting setup. For me, when I speak with other go-to-market leaders, I also peek into how they’re thinking about building their organizations and teams. Something that stood out for me, and that has to be called out, especially for product marketing, you need to have someone in design closely working with you. A good thing you’re already starting in that direction from the get-go.

That’s very important. That’s been a major miss in my previous organizations. I made sure that the designer came under the PMM purview so that everybody was comfortable getting the work done from them. It’s very important to have a designer in the house.

Something that I’ve seen, and this is a constant I keep getting from the audience and other folks I speak with, especially when it comes to design. What is your guidance and playbook? Just pick an example. Maybe it’s a product launch or a customer expansion program. How are you guiding your team in interacting with the designer on your team?

One thing that I’ve taken as an added responsibility is rebranding. inFeedo needs a little bit of rebranding in terms of how we present ourselves to the world. This is something that we have taken up with a consultant. The consultant will define a playbook for us. Right now we don’t have a playbook. We only have the colors and the font for now. We don’t have any styles on what photographs or illustrations to use, what style do we use. Every time, it’s me and the VP of marketing sitting and defining this process. Why it is very important that every time a designer starts a design work, they always start from scratch. There is no reference for them to go back. No playbooks or no brand guidelines for them to refer to.

They always start from scratch, which in turn takes a lot of time. For example, if they need to do a deck, they would take 2 or 3 days, unlike if they had brand guidelines, they would only take half a day. We invested in this effort rebranding that’s happening in this quarter in OND, October, November, December. It’s expected that the consultant will give us the brand guidelines with all the prerequisites that we already discussed, and that will act as a guide for the design. That’s something that we are looking at. All intel and insights from the CXOs would be passed on to the consultant and then we would arrive at something together. That’s a project that I’ve taken up. I don’t think this is under product marketing purview, it’s branding. We don’t have a branding person internally. I’ve taken that as a side gig.

Typically it’s under Marcom or brand who would typically do this, but sounds like you just mentioned it because no one’s taking that responsibility, just brand with that. You’re working with your VP of marketing around brand and design as well.

We’re looking at it as product branding because of the product brand. We are the ones who are naming these products. We are the ones who are naming these bots and naming any new products that we are launching in the market. If that’s the case, then we could also probably be a key contributor with branding until we have the senior branding person in-house.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: inFeedo could be a key contributor to branding until you find a senior branding person in-house.


What is the whole that the branding consultant is doing? Is it around the style guide, the content writing style guide, or is it something beyond and more than that?

It’s the design style guide. Messaging, positioning, and all of it will be done by us. All the content guides will be made by the content marketing and product marketing together. He would be looking at all things design. It will have that essential kit. It has a brand guideline like this of your website should look like, this sales skill should look like, and this of the social post should look like so it gives you all the guidelines possible.

For consistency across all channels, which is good. Saranya, that’s a great insight. Thank you for sharing how you thought about how you built your product marketing team and organization as well as the role of the designer in your marketing overall. Something else related to that is how you track and measure the impact of product marketing, like KPIs. You mentioned your quarterly offset and things like that. Talk to us about how you think about KPIs and how you show impact to the leadership team.

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago, my definition would probably be different but now my ideology changed a little bit. inFeedo gave a little bit of change in my thought process. To define it simply, product marketing wouldn’t have one universal KPI to chase because we are intersecting with multiple cross-functional teams. We are intersecting with sales and impacting revenue. We are intersecting with products and impacting adoption. Awareness, adoption, activation, and all of these KPIs. We are also doing a lot of awareness-related stuff. We are building pipe with growth marketing. We are helping with messaging for new advertisements or any change in the messaging pillars, etc. It’s about the goals that we own in that particular quarter, along with the cross-functional stakeholders.

B2B Go-To-Market Leaders | Saranya Ramamurthy | Product Marketing
Product Marketing: Product marketing wouldn’t have one universal KPI to chase because we intersect with multiple cross-functional teams.


For example, if the product’s focus is to drive activation for a particular feature at the end of this quarter, so many customers should be activated for this new feature. That means a product marketers, one of the KPIs would be around activating. We take a shared goal so that there is no alignment mismatch. You go to a cross-functional stakeholder. There’s been a lot of times in the past that I go to a cross-functional stakeholder and ask for something that I want to do, and it’s not even there in their KPIs. It’s not their job. They need not do this.

Right now it’s very easy because we all do shared KPIs, we all take shared KPIs. From a sales enablement perspective, we take KPIs on win rate conversions. It could be MQL to SAL conversions, any improvements there. It could also be a number like I need to do DLSs for so many deals so that we help the sales sell faster and smarter. That’s predominantly it. It’s multiple KPIs and each board will take multiple KPIs basis their alignment with product sales or growth marketing teams.

How do you track the two angles to this, which is you are giving your priorities to your product marketing reports and the designer to ensure that the KPIs are being tracked and you’re making progress? At the same time, you need to report progress to the cross-functional peers and the leadership team.

I should do that. For example, if I have a launch person in the team and they take a launch or activation. The bloated KPI is also my KPI. What does the launch help? It helps customer expansion and customer enablement. I’ll take a bloated KPI and the team takes an operational KPI or tactical KPI. Whatever the product wants to. There is part two, which is the enablement KPI, whatever the enablement per person has as a goal, building pipe, helping the SDRs to have a better MQL-SAL conversion and having a better win rate in the mid-market and enterprise segment or whatever it is. I’ll have a bloated or a combined KPI, all things covered, that will be my KPI two. Product will be my KPI 1, sales will be my KPI 2, I thought would be any strategic projects that we are doing, launching a new product in the new market, launching an existing product in the new market, or anything of that. All of it aligns with the company’s goals.

How you’re spending a budget? Do you have a budget or is most of the budget typically with the demand and the media side of things?

Product marketing here doesn’t have an exclusive budget. We have a shared budget as a marketing team. Basis priority, for example, how we got a branding consultant this quarter. That’s because two other stakeholders from demand had to let go of their priority projects. It’s us discussing and debating which is more important to the organization now. It’s just the overall marketing budget that we shared.

Talking about KPIs is something that I’ve seen, and obviously, you can relate to this. Product marketing plays a key role in go-to-market, but then the KPIs or the needle that they move, it takes 1 or even 2 quarters for them to see the impact that plays out. How are you beating the drum rightly so that your team is doing the right things and working on the right priorities, and how are you ensuring that the budget or the people are not taken away while people are waiting to see the results of product marketing activities?

This is how my VP of marketing puts it. Every other activity has a leading indicator and a lagging indicator. A lagging indicator could have multiple leading indicators to it. There are phases of this project that we need to define. At the end of phase one, I should operationally complete this task. At the end of phase two, I should have completed this task. At the end of the project itself, that’s when we start implementing this or rolling this out entirely and then start creeping the benefit of lagging indicators. This is how my VP of marketing puts it.

I would probably say that it’s not that difficult to have a metric-centric KPI for a quarter. It’s not all things are lagging. For example, if you say my sales lifecycle is huge, and that’s why I feel like all the things that I’m doing in DLSS will not probably help. Most of the deals like in the early stages and it not convert in this quarter. If I have a win rate conversion KPI, I would not need it. It’s impossible because we’re built on a pipe and there are a lot of deals in the closing stages in this quarter tool.

We can frame a KPI in such a way that we could put a metric that could also be achievable, and we can go back to the leadership and tell them that so far it’s worked that way. We’ve taken KPIs for two quarters and it’s worked well for us to date except for the branding project, which is not the product marketing project. It’s something that we are doing for awareness and better branding purposes.

Not everything is a success or a failure when it comes to go-to-market. Why don’t you share with the audience 1 go-to-market success story and 1 go-to-market failure story either inFeedo, Airmeet, Zoho or whichever brands that you are part of?

I’ll go a little confidential here. This company that I worked with had a couple of products. Imagine product A is our flagship product. Product B is the one that is new, very young, and isn’t giving much revenue to the company. It’s easy to call it the least favorite product. I was the PMM for this least favorite product, unfortunately, but I’m happy. We were able to do a lot of experiments there. We were running multiple validations in existing markets, and we were also running PMFs to enter into new markets.

While doing the research around the market on the competition, looking at our product sales in the last two years, we figured that 50% of the accounts that are using product B are also product A users. They are using this product together. We also spoke to a few of these customers and validated multiple things on the problems that Product A solves for Product B solves for. Also, we’ve validated this beautiful narrative that ties both product A and product B USPs. This is something that we’ve not done because the data gave us this, and then we started getting on calls with these customers and started validating this narrative, and it was all successful.

We figured out that with the help of product A, they were able to solve a functional pain point. At a functional level, there is a pain point, and the product A was able to solve for it. With both products, they were able to expand it a little further and create more visibility cross-functionally. It had some org-level impact. With Product A, there was a functional-level impact, and with Product B, there was an org-level impact. This was a huge narrative for us. That gave us a good reason for us to go behind the product A install base.

In weeks, we launched a cross-sell play. That’s a sales motion that we launched with a very lean effort we were a three-member PMM team and only one head of marketing and I focusing on this initiative. The sales members were already busy selling the flagship product. How do we motivate and train them? We launched this cross-sell like we launched all the training, we launched co-laterals, content pieces, and everything around it. We had a brand list that we went behind and we created a pipe of $1.5 million in just one quarter. All with the existing resources.

We even ask for extra budgets, everything organic. We even ask for extra team members, focus team members. The beauty here is that we have built this enterprise and mid-market pipe in the future with converts. It’s less likely to churn according to the data that we had as well. The learnings here are the sales motion that we are looking to create, the narrative that we are trying to craft, and the PMF that we are trying to find, everything is right in front of us. We need not start with a clean slate or a narrative, open an empty document, and start putting down data. There is something that you can get from your customer conversations or prospect conversations. You need not start a playbook without having an idea of what is making an impact and what’s not because there is already a lot of data in front of you, a lot of intel that is in front of you. That has been an eye-opener for me to rely on data.

That was a success story. The insight that he got was Product B elevated Product A functional impact, and Product B elevated it to a cross-functional and organizational impact. How did you arrive at that insight? What places were you looking at for the data?

We never combined product A and product B in the first place. We were looking at this as a product separately. At inFeedo as well, we are trying too hard to bring a story together for engagement and support as a product, but it’s not blending. Now, we never looked at a blended use case, but we knew that some benefits could happen, so we strengthened the integrations a little bit. Even during the validation stage and after validating, we came back, strengthened the use cases a little bit, and then it became a little more effective. Still, we were able to see the narrative through. It just has to happen. You need to discover, sit with data, understand, and see if there is a story behind every number that you’re seeing.

What were the data sources? Where were you looking for this?

These are our internal sources because it’s just our products.

Was it CRM or was it product adoption metrics?

It’s our internal analytics tool.

Switching gears a bit over here. What about the go-to-market failure story and the lessons that you learned from there?

A lot of interesting things there as well. We all have our successes and failures. A lot of failures. When you start, you fail the most. For me, also, it’s the same. When I switched to the SaaS company, that’s when I understood this is not how SaaS companies work. Agencies could probably work this way. That is the trend. I’m not a big fan of riding behind trends. From your agency experience, you could probably rely too much on trends, but in a SaaS company, it wouldn’t work that way. It failed me in a lot of places, I’m saying this because right now I’m working for an AI company, which is a trend these days.

Both the products are powered by AI at inFeedo, and I also used to work for a company called Airmeet, which was into virtual events during the pandemic, which was the trend then. I will tell you why I hate trends right now because trends could come and go but the product should already have a larger purpose, and it has to look at the larger problem that it should solve. For example, during the pandemic, the trend was virtual events. We use virtual events, we abused the term virtual events, literally. It evolved into a hybrid, once things started opening up a little bit. Everybody was talking about, “Let’s chuck virtual events. Let’s go into a hybrid.” Now it has completely changed, and I’m sure like every other virtual event looking at a different route altogether.

The trend is not here to stay. The flip side of the trend is also like, what if my current ICP is the HR leader, what if they don’t get this trend? They don’t know this, they need a masterclass. Or what if their staff are not trained to use an AI? What if it scares them? Everybody’s talking like, “What if it’s complex?” There are also multiple platforms like Lyndon and all of these learning sources and communities that talk about these trends, both positively and negatively. What if when they’re talking about the negative things about AI or virtual events, it would impact my ICP’s decision-making as well?

When somebody talks about the flip side of AI in an HR community, I would get more questions during my calls with the customers. The most important part here is if you’re looking at enterprise and mid-market as your customer segment, you clearly shouldn’t go behind trend because they would not rely on a fleeting trend. They know that it’s going to change. Now is AI, and next is something else. They always go behind a trustworthy product and trustworthy founding team. That’s why I’m totally against it.

The second thing that has failed me is the timing, both of these. We launched a focused team effort with the proper dedicated budgets. I told you about the cross-sell motion, which was a clean effort, with no budgets, but we still did it. This was dedicated. We got the budgets, we got the focus team as well dedicated to selling into a vertical, but this is when the companies were heavily downsizing, restructuring, and cost-cutting.

Cost cutting was an advantage for us because we wanted to replace a costly alternative. Still, now, nobody was evaluating all our bonds were not answered. Nobody was in the mindset ready to spend that time to replace a solution, give that implementation time extra. That’s also something that failed me. Trend timing, both are my villains at this point.

Timing and trend for sure. You mentioned something that caught my attention. A really important factor in how to become a better marketer. How often do you meet with customers and in what format or what context?

After the pandemic meeting them in a physical event has reduced. We are meeting them more virtually now. It could be every week we get on sales calls. We get validation interviews with customers to validate an idea or a solution. It’s not just you going on a call with them to understand them. It is also in the communities. You can go and be a part of the communities that they are most active in, especially HR communities. There are plenty of communities. There is a channel called Slack channel called People. There are a lot of HR communities on LinkedIn where they put their day-to-day problems. That’s where you consume this content.

It’s also important for you to consume raw content. When you’re going on a call, maybe you’re posting like, “Do you like this? Are you okay with this? Is this your problem?” We ask a lot of pointed questions, but when you go to communities, you tend to get raw data on how their day-to-day is looking. That’s also one of the avenues that I usually go on. The third could be any recorded calls. Even if I’m not able to catch up with customers in person, I go on customer calls, listen to them, understand their pain points, and admit their needs. Come back to my drawing board and make changes or tweaks in the messaging, if any.

Do you have any specific cadence or frequency for each of these weekly?

I do this daily. My 10:00 to 11:00 is blocked to know the customer.

That’s what I was hoping to hear. I’m glad that you said it’s daily. I want to give guidance to the audience as to how they should be planning the day and week when it comes to knowing the customers.

My 10:00 to 11:00 is to prepare and know the customer. It has links to all the communities that I follow. I can pick, go, and check if there are any new messages in there. Read anything or listen to a new chorus call. That’s all I do.

Based on what you shared, you’ve got a very good product marketing DNA and a product marketing muscle based on how you structure the organization, the right people in the right seats, and their prioritizing customer knowledge or insights. Given all these things, what would you put as the top 1, 2, 3 challenges for product marketing? Where is the biggest shot for gaps?

The biggest shortfall is you might tend to phase a lot of delays in decision-making because there are a lot of stakeholders involved in making a product marketing decision. For example, if you’re exploring a new market, it is not just you, but you are a part. There are CXOs in the team, LT members, leadership in the team, product leadership, sales leadership, and multiple people. It’s effective to get all their point of view, but curating all those points of view and having a proper plan of action could probably be delayed. That is something that we need to be extremely patient on. It is going to delay. This is something that I’ve been trying to solve for a long time. That is one of the biggest disadvantages.

It's effective to get everyone's point of view, but curating those views and having a proper plan of action could be different. Click To Tweet

The second would probably be not all your ideas will be approved. Getting a buy-in is difficult. Until an analyst backs it with data, you back it with all the intelligence that is available in the market. Getting buy-ins is not a joke. You cannot probably have an idea now and toss it to your cross-functional leaders the next day. If you have an idea now, you do your research the next day and then invest a little more time in talking to cross-functional leaders and understanding their perspectives on this on day three. Going to them with that. We always need to spend that time doing that research. Buy-ins and delays in launching something or delays in crafting a plan of action is something that’s a disadvantage.

Those are all valid. It can apply to any other function as well. Since stakeholders are part of the decision-making process, that’s a given. When it comes to those 8 or 10 product marketing programs that we talked about earlier, where would you put your finger and say, “That’s a challenge that I want to invest in going forward?” The positioning and messaging, customer expansion, new product launch, new market launch, AR, VR, product content, and customer insights.

If you look at it inside every other part that you’re talking about, there is a challenge. There is one challenge or the other. For example, in sales enablement, you might probably craft a narrative. You might think that is this the best thing that you could probably do. While taking it to sales, there are a lot of objections that you might probably want to handle. They will not implement it. They would say we are comfortable with the older narrator. Why are we changing this now? What are the reasons we are changing it now? Even after training, they would still be very comfortable with old change management and getting that adoption for all the sales that you’re creating. You might create ten of such usual collaterals.

Everybody will be reacting fire on it whenever you put it on Slack, but still there is no usage then you can’t show any metrics to the leadership team as well. That is one of the challenges in sales anymore. There are multiple things under each of these parts. It’s part of our job to tackle all of these challenges. I’m so used to sailing within these challenges that I don’t even look at this as a challenge anymore. It’s a part and parcel of life. That’s why I said something irrelevant to product marketing.

If you’re open to it, I can share some advice as to how I tackle that specific sales enablement challenge. This is for my clients as well. One thing that I do is I typically get a champion within the sales team and ideally should be the top seller. Get his or her buy-in, and pilot the program with them. If you’re trying to do a new sales narrative, pilot it with that seller, and then maybe she or he would do that pitch and then show to the sales team, or in the annual or quarterly sales kickoff, they’ll say, “By the way, with this new narrative, I’m seeing so much more pipeline growth and traction. This is cool. You guys should take this on.” Let your salesperson be the champion on your behalf.

This is something that we did as well. We had a closed loop of sales leadership that was ready to try it for at least 2 calls a week and we gave 1 month. We got perspectives from all those four core leaders, curated all of them, got them on a call, and let them launch it. This is exactly what we did as well. Having a champion is valid in a proper deal scenario we should have a person inside that deal and also in this case as well.

Brace yourself. It's completely normal to lose a battle. There are multiple battles that you'd be facing daily. But you'll only get stronger with time. So, product marketing grows on you. Click To Tweet

The last question to you is if you were to turn back the clock and look back at your career journey so far, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey? This is more advice you can’t turn backlog and change anything, but then advice that you would want the audience to take away.

I don’t think I could save my angry self from any of the battles that I’ve faced. Maybe I would tell her to brace herself and it’s completely normal to lose a battle because there are multiple battles that you’d be facing on a day-to-day basis. We would be talking to sales or products, multiple battles, multiple buy-ins, and multiple decisions to be made. You would have battles and disagreements you will not probably have leadership sign-off or anything but you’ll only get stronger with time. Product marketing grows on you. You don’t get it, but you will get it someday. On day one, it’s not possible. As you grow, like PMM grows on you you will get stronger with time. That’s something I would tell my younger self and the audience as well.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing all those insights, Saranya. Good luck to you and your team.

Thanks so much, Vijay.


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