B2B 26 | Moments That Matter

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter

 

How do you catch your clients’ attention then give them value fast? Write down the moments that matter! Vijay Damojipurapu’s guest today is Anthony Cessario, the VP, Industries & GTM Solutions at Clari. Anthony talks with Vijay about how you need to identify the moments you want your clients to experience. Do you want them to walk away feeling good? Do you want them to come back? After you identify the moments that matter, you can proceed to build your entire strategy around that objective. If you want tips on how to build that strategy, this episode’s for you. Tune in! 

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Moments That Matter: How To Deliver Value To Your Clients Fast With Anthony Cessario

I have Anthony Cessario, who is the VP, Industries and Go-To-Market Solutions at Clari. Without further ado, welcome to the show, Anthony.

Great to be here. Thanks, Vijay.

I’m super excited. I’ve been following you not a whole lot but somewhat. What caught my attention on LinkedIn is when you mentioned or responded to one of your colleagues, LinkedIn post around the importance of having curiosity. Curiosity as a differentiate or are a key factor when it comes to go-to-market execution? That post or that one comment caught my attention and I said, “I need to get Anthony on my show,” but it doesn’t stop there.

I go to your LinkedIn post. What gets me even more excited is when I read your LinkedIn summary. It talks about how you plan or how you have bucketized your time across the week. We’ll hold up on that question. I want to get your thoughts on that but let’s start off with my signature question in which my audience is eager, excited and curious to read to go-to-market leaders around this topic, which is how do you define go-to-market?

Again, thanks for having me. I keep things maybe overly simple sometimes but for me, go-to-market is that end-to-end business process of creating the desired outcome usually, revenue from a product or service offering. That’s really it and there’s a lot that goes into that but I try to keep how I think about go-to-market simple in that regard.

That’s a very simplistic definition and view. If you up-level, it that’s what it gets down to but here’s the thing. Everything that we know as a concept, we know it but execute it is super hard. That’s where the real go-to market leaders stand out. Talk to us about how you approach the execution piece around go-to-market.

At Clari, there’s a concept we talk a lot about called operationalizing growth. We think about how do you operationalize growth and that’s a lot to do with go to market. For us, it always starts with what we would call SGIs, the Strategic Growth Initiatives of the business. What is it that we need to accomplish over whatever period of time to take the company wherever we were trying to take it?

From there, when you have clear SGIs, that’s when the go-to-market starts to come in. Where now we decide, one, what are the targets that we would need to set in order to go deliver on those SGIs? What are the types of execution insights and instrumentation that we would need to either run the business in a way that we can go deliver on those targets?

You then get into the cadences and communication that needed to happen and these types of things. You get down to enabling folks on the go-to-market. That whole part, a lot of times people jump right into, “What do we need to build? What’s this LCD need to look like,” and all these things. The program management of go-to-market is important.

That starting with, what are we trying to accomplish? What are the guiding principles? What are the constraints we’re operating within? Who were the players and who were the workstream leads? All of that and making sure you have the instrumentation everyone executes against it. At the companies that I get to work with that are great, go to market organizations get all that well. They do that well and then they go execute within those workstreams across product, in sales, strategy, enablement, CS and all the teams that are contributors to the process.

When I asked you the question, you started off with those 1 or 2 lines, but then when you doubled click, there’s a whole bunch of processes. There’s a whole bunch of systems approaches, the tools and the players, the people that have to be taken into account to eventually connect the dots between, the strategy, the execution, the measurement, and how is it all lining up to what you were ever to ask the SGI at Clari. Of course, you need to build clarity around all those things and you’re doing that at Clari for sure. Switching gears slightly over here on a lighter note, how would your parents or kids describe what you do at work?

You mentioned that you might ask me this question. I wouldn’t ask my kids. I have two boys. Dominic is going to be seven soon. Daniel is four. Dominic’s answer was great. He got probably group them well. He said, “You help people solve tough problems or hard problems, and you do it over your computer.” That was cool. I try to talk to him when I’m spending a lot of time and energy on something. I want him to know that it’s important and what I’m doing is helping other people, and making their lives easier and that makes me feel better about it. How would I explain it that way? That was great that he’s been listening. My four-year-old only said, “Computers.” I said, “Danny, what’s daddy’s work?” “Puters.”

Tell your story to other human beings in a way that's going to resonate with them. Click To Tweet

 

He’s on the computer, always.

My parents, a little different. My mom’s been working in a hospital for many years. She would say something about Salesforce.com maybe and that I’m doing an important job. She’d brag a little bit. My dad was a business leader. He had a great journey. He came up through HR. He became a VP of HR and was business-minded at MBA. He ended up becoming the President of his business by way of the HR channel, which is not something you see very often. He’d probably tell you that I’m helping grow a business now if you ask him.

Especially most of the folks within the go-to-market organization, we are all about helping to grow the business but how we do that is by serving and understanding our customers. That’s a good segue into, what prompted you to go down this path? What was your career like? How did you start and how did you eventually get to what you’re doing at Clari now?

I’ve been fortunate. I never wanted to go into sales. I thought I was going to be working in marketing. In college, I interned advertising at over in Mather in Shanghai. I loved it so much that I anticipated, I’d go down that marketing route. My brother was in advertising and things like that. I was lucky. I had a friend who was doing some sales training right when I got into college.

The trainer, the Sandler coach, was from Philadelphia like me and so my friend said, “We got to network with, you should come to meet him.” You’re looking for your first job and all that. What they were working on that day in their sales training when I went and showed up were the Pain Funnel and sales. I didn’t know anything about sales at the time.

When I went and sat in, I was super curious at the end of that because it would sound so much fun. By taking a business problem and peeling it back three layers to understand what’s going on, why and help people make decisions, I was fascinated by it. That’s where it sparked me to go into sales, even though I wasn’t planning on it. I worked for a little startup. I met a guy in that actual class who was a CEO of a company working on his sales because he kicked off the company.

I did wear a few hats for him and his little four-person consulting startup. That was my first job. Sales and marketing and a little bit of everything like you do in a company that’s small. I then went to a great company called Taleo, which at the time I was like the number two SaaS company in the world behind Salesforce.

We had HR software, recruiting software, talent management software. That’s where I got my real start in sales as a BDR. I got to learn a lot there about how sales and marketing work together. We brought a new product line to the market right when I started. It was cool to see that unfold. How do you start selling a new product to your customer base? I was on a team that was doing that job of going and selling something completely new that our customers didn’t know anything about into our customers, which was pretty cool. We’re then bought by Oracle. I got folded into this big company and probably the best decision I made back then was to know. I wasn’t smart enough to know to make a decision.

A lot of people left Taleo after the acquisition. I wanted to stay and see what it was all about and I wanted this big company. At the time, Oracle had bought Taleo as part of their go-to-market to scale into the SaaS business, going from on-premise software and the cloud software. It was cool to see that on the front lines and how you have to think about talent differently. Do you have the right people to sell these new products? Do we keep this standalone or do we integrate the code into the platform we’ve been building for years? I got to watch all that decision-making as a sales rep.

We’re selling this new platform and I had a lot of great learning successes and failures throughout that journey. That’s when I found some success and it had some leaders that were starting to tap me to help with decision-making at a higher level on, “How should we be thinking about where we go next and what things does the product need to go into new markets?” I was fortunate to get pulled into a lot of go-to-market discussions. I learned that was what I enjoyed most.

The sales part was becoming blocking and tackling. It was more the working with product marketing, product development, doing territory planning and headcount planning, and all that stuff. That was all pretty cool and fun. I thought I decided to go into the high-growth world and leave Oracle. I learned at a big company, the higher you go, the less you might get the impact in go-to-market. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in the high-growth space and help to grow a business.

I got incredibly lucky that Clari had reached out. At Clari, literally, what we do as the company is going work with the top, go-to-market teams across the globe and help them instrument their go-to-market. I knew I was going to be an MBA on got-to-market. At the very least, that was enough for me. There you go. That’s the journey. That was a lot but that’s how we got to now.

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: Peel back the layers to understand what’s going on and help people make decisions.

 

As you’re saying that, a lot of light bulbs went in my mind and something that I’m curious about as you are evolving your career, Anthony, is you started off as an intern in the advertising world. Clearly, when you’re working at a tier-one advertising company, O&M and from there, you went into a startup in sales. Of course, not only sales, when you’re like a four-person company, you are wearing multiple hats. Eventually, that led you down to the path of a BDR and growing up the ranks at Taleo and Oracle.

I’m curious how your internship the startup’s first job to the BDR, and the growth in sales and sales leadership panned out. What I want to really get your thoughts on is when you are in the advertising world, you are looking to develop a copy. As any top-notch advertisers will know, you have only a few seconds or less to get someone’s attention. I’m sure even when you go into a BDR and even enjoy a sales role, that skill is important. I’m curious. I want to get your thoughts on that.

To your question, I would say probably, even higher level, what Ogilvy did for me and especially in China, and getting to work in Shanghai, what I realized was one, that it was fun helping companies solve business problems and I can make an impact on them. When I was a sophomore in college, that lit a fire. I wanted to do more of that. I couldn’t get done school fast enough at that point because I wanted to go like, “I can do this now. Let’s go do it.” That was the biggest thing I would say.

I didn’t care where I was doing it. I wanted to go as fine. That’s what intrigued me about the startup when I went to work for Starr with Darren Starr, he was a smart guy. He came from the VC world and AEye from Kleiner Perkins. He was standing up this Salesforce Consulting Firm. I realized that I was going to get to wear a lot of hats and create marketing copy.

Write your own call scripts.

Also, product summaries. I knew I didn’t know what I was going to learn but I was going to learn a lot, that was interesting to me. Again, back to curiosity, I was curious on like, “What I was going to learn and what it’s like to be out of business at that stage.” When it comes back to the copy and the marketing stuff, I always joke, “I’m a marketer in a sales guy’s body who thinks he’s a product guy and wants to be a strategy guy.” That marketing experience, I had played a profound role in shaping how I think about communicating with anybody but, especially with businesses.

My brother was a successful Creative Director before he became a wanted entrepreneur. You can look him up online. I’ve learned a lot from him as well and how to communicate with people and how do you keep it human and how do you keep things simple. That stuck with me certainly from Ogilvy, going into sales and thinking about how do we tell our story to other human beings in a way that’s going to resonate with them. It’s been something that’s helped me a lot.

I’m always curious. I always look to read up and also follow a lot of these practitioners around how to communicate in different formats, in different channels and how do you get someone’s attention in the shortest possible time span? That’s one, but once you get that attention, once you get a follow-up meeting, you got 30, 60, 90 minutes or even half a day. How do you then deliver value because they have carved out time?

There’s a concept that my sales teams put the work a lot that we call moments that matter. For every meeting that we have, for every pursuit that we’re going after, we’ll write down, “What are the moments that matter?” What that means is, what do we want the people that we’re interacting with the walk away saying, thinking or feeling after our interaction about Clari as a company, our product, us as individuals. We write it down. In this case, it might be, my moment that matters for this would be Vijay walk away saying, “I enjoy that time with Anthony. It’s going to be helpful for the audience. I hope to have him back again someday.” Those might be the moments that matter, and we’ll build the entire strategy for the meeting around that.

That’s something that, again, I learned from advertising where you back into the experience that you’re trying to create. Similarly, for companies, it’s an important thing to think about, “What is the experience we’re trying to create for our users, for our customers? What is the perception we want them to have of us?” That dictates a lot. That dictates how you build a product. What is the type of insights you want to surface in your product and things like this? It dictates how you communicate, the type of salespeople you hire, the marketers you hire, all of that, you can stand back from, what is the experience that you’re looking to create for your customers?

I’m sure because you’re in sales and you’re a lot in the customer-facing roles and interactions but eventually, you need to get those insights and learnings inward to the product teams. You are clearly communicating and working very closely with the product marketing organization and even the tech support and others. How do you bring that, as you said, moments that matter, MTM? That’s what I’m going to call it now MTM. How do you work with the product marketing team and the product management team in building or incorporating those insights into the product?

In my opinion, it’s so crucial to have product management and product marketing very closely interwoven to the front lines. There’s a great body of research out there around something called ONA, Organizational Network Analysis. Back in my HR days, it was a trendy hot topic in HR. How does work get done within companies? With all the technology out there now, Zoom, Slack and email, you could imagine if you were to look at the patterns of data on who people spend the most time with over Slack, over Zoom, over email, you would see an interesting web that has nothing to do with the org structure of the company.

Help your clients understand how you’ll help them. Click To Tweet

I would argue that with great go-to-market teams, you would see a tight-knit connection between product marketing, product, growth marketing and sales. There’s an important feedback loop that has to be happening there in a machine-like way or machine actual way. That’s how we think about it. Different companies take different approaches. Product marketing can be the glue to help connect a few of these pieces. Sometimes it’s hard to translate directly from sales to the product development team. Product marketing can maybe play that intermediary a little bit. That’s not always the role that they play in companies.

Sometimes product marketing might be more content-focused and things like that. For me, that’s the formula, keep a close cadence. At Clari, we build programs around this stuff. For my business, I’m building our market expansion into new verticals. We have an entire program around it where, as I mentioned, we have our program charter. What are we trying to accomplish, guiding principles, how we make decisions, all that stuff but then we have a roster and we have, who owns the product marketing workstream, who from the product, we have engineering involved? All the way down to HR and talent.

We have all the stakeholders. We all are putting in our program updates on a regular basis. Everyone’s invited to our weekly meeting and a lot of people come and participate. When you keep everybody narrowly focused on this business outcome that we’re trying to accomplish together regularly, it’s cool. The information naturally flows well.

I love that concept of again, MTM, moments that matter, and incorporating that into each and every function. It’s not just about the customer-facing functions but even within HR. HR and talent team has a big role in figuring out and hiring the right talent, who can get that concept. Not only get the concept but put it into practice on a daily basis.

It’s massive. I always remind my HR business partner that the B should be extra capitalized. That’s what this is. You’re my business partner. She comes to our team meetings, our QBR. It’s not only an HR function. It’s a business function, especially in the tech world where talent now is such a scarce resource across engineering and sales. It can be your biggest differentiator or incompetence as a company. If you’re not factoring the talent piece into your go-to-market, you’re probably in trouble.

Two questions come to my mind. One is I would like you to share a GTM success story. You and I talked earlier about how you helped increase the ACV in the whole enterprise sales motion. Perhaps you can shed more light into what is the challenge, what are the hurdles, and how you and the team overcame the entire go-to-market sequence to increase the ACV? Let us start off with that question first.

Again, I think it goes back to SGIs. When I came into Clari, one of the things our CRO brought me in here to do was to go further upmarket. We started getting into some larger enterprise pursuits and felt like the value that Clari provides is so massive. For those who don’t know what Clari is, we help companies predict revenue. We make the revenue process more connected, efficient, predictable. When you get into large enterprise companies, driving more forecast accuracy, week 2, week 3 in the quarter for publicly traded companies is a massive and value add.

For me, that’s where we started when we looked at this SGI and how do we go further upmarket. We wanted to think about what is the value story there? How are we going to communicate the impact that we can help make at that level? What we saw how massive the opportunity was, especially in large software companies and things like this. That was the first thing we did. We validated. Is there a valuable story to tell? We can’t ask for more money from our product if there’s not a value story there.

How did he do the validation? That’s a very important piece within the go-to-market machine, when you said that it’s a big market and there is potential.

This is an important thing that a lot of companies get wrong. The very first thing we did was a prioritization exercise. There’s a concept that we talked about a lot at Clari called focus capacity. How do you focus the capacity of the go-to-market teams on the right motions? For us, that can mean different things for different teams.

If you’re looking to go upmarket, you need to prioritize your accounts by way of ICP, Ideal Customer Profile. Are they ICP? Are they adjacent ICP? Are they secondary? Priority 1, priority 2, priority 3 type approach. You have to start with that baseline to understand, what is the TAM and SAM of accounts that we can go after if we want to go further upmarket?

In our case, if you’re trying to drive more revenue incrementally, you also need to understand, what the maybe addressable revenue is for that account? Come up with some of the formulas. For us, it’s not too hard. If you’re selling to go-to-market teams, you can get a sense from LinkedIn and things like that. How many sellers, how many marketers, that do they have in the company. We broke our business down by ARR bands, priorities and said, “There’s this many companies worth this much revenue to us. Call it $1 million plus, $500,000 plus, $250,000 plus, and so forth.”

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: Operationalizing growth always starts with strategic growth initiatives.

 

Once we had that segmentation, then we could validate that there’s a worthwhile market to go after there. Two, it helped us drive everything from territory planning and coaching the reps on where to focus their time, building equitable territories by way of those revenue bands. Everybody gets these many million dollars plus accounts, $500,000 plus accounts.

That first piece of getting the planning right allowed us to have a more predictable execution because we knew that everyone had similar books, focused on similar size accounts. That changed not only the size of the deals that we were doing but the efficiency at which we were selling. We needed our pipeline. Our conversion rates went way up with more focus. That was an example for us. As you mentioned, we went from, let’s say for number’s sake, average enterprise deals of $100,000 to $300,000 or $400,000 quickly by way of focusing the team further upmarket.

I liked the way how you called out around double-clicking and doing the homework, the due diligence. One is, you can say it’s a huge addressable market but what does it mean? The way you guys did the exercise of breaking it down by segments, you can do your homework and due diligence on the number of seeds or potential seeds. Of course, you know your pricing. You count with the different bands. After that, it’s all going in. It’s almost like ABM account-based marketing, but then very targeted into maybe a top 50 or top 100 in different regions or bands.

For sure, startups and later-stage startups with VC funding are often working within models that their VCs hand them or strongly recommend that they within. A lot of times, those models are very top-down and that’s important. It’s important to go top-down and start with the TAM, SAM, SOM and all that, especially in the enterprise motion to go bottoms up. That’s what you do there when you get to that prioritization exercise.

You can do a bottoms-up analysis and start to look at we’ll map out things like we call it path the plan like, “What would it look like to do X million in revenue? How many accounts of which size revenue bands do we have to close to get to this number?” That focuses on all the go-to-market teams.

If we need to go way up, if we’re going to do twenty deals over a million dollars or something like that, we have to sit down with the product team and say, “What do we need to deliver in the next couple of cycles to go service accounts of this size?” We’re going to go down-market to SMB. That might change something. We’ll say, “Do we have the product cycles to deliver what we need to do and go after this revenue?” That prioritization exercise becomes a great foundation, like a bottoms-up foundation, to get all teams on the same page on what their responsibility will be if they’ll execute.

I think a couple of points, one is when you’re doing or growing mid-market or upmarket. Mid-market or enterprise is one but when you’re going into more of the SMBs, potentially it can be like a self-serve. Product-led growth, which means is a product ready and do you have the right like the free trial? Was this the conversion of the whole journey mapped out? Not from the internal company point of view, not from Clari’s point of view but for that end-user that you’re targeting versus if you go into an enterprise, it’s more of an ABM play, a targeted account play.

Now you’re talking about having the right content. It all comes about having the right experiences to be delivered. It can be maybe a half a day or one-day event at those specific company’s enterprises. You also have the community. Anthony, there’s something that I’m grappling with and I’m testing broadly with the go-to-market leaders is the concept of what I call it as three pillars. Three pillars of a go-to-market engine, which is one, it’s content. Two, are the experiences, and three is the community. Broadly speaking, we are talking about content, experiences and community.

Have these three pieces in your go-to-market? That’s the Holy Grail. What role did specifically content play when you are looking or going to increase the ACV from 100 to 340? Can you talk to us about that the role of content? What does that versus what needed to be created maybe by the product marketing team, the brand or the content marketing team?

There were several roles. One is, we had to take a deep dive into the side. Again, back to moments that matter, who is the audience that we’re trying to serve and what do we want them to think about Clari? One of Clari’s superpowers is that we’re loved at the board CEO, CRO type level, you can imagine. Revenue predictability is important to these folks.

That’s something we think is special and we take seriously. One of the things that we started thinking a lot about from a content perspective is, is our content ready for that audience? Is it ready for the CROs, presidents and CEOs of the top companies in the world and is our voice coming across that way? This is a busy space that we’re in sales technology and things like this.

A lot of people have different voices. I would argue most of them aren’t tailored for an executive audience. They’re more operationally driven and things like this are for the functions themselves. That was one thing we thought a lot about from a content perspective and made sure that we had Polish. Good guiding principles around was that we were communicating in the voice of our most special customers, which are the executive teams and things like that. That was one piece.

Keep your focus and accelerate your velocity. Click To Tweet

We built content around things that mattered. You think about it, it’d be easy for us to build content around forecasting but that’s not a CEO-level topic. We would build content around things like transitioning from hardware to software or going from SaaS to product-led growth or these are the topics that these folks are thinking about and how they think about go-to-market.

The more we can speak up there, build content in the world that they’re living in, the more relevant we were. That was helpful. That whole value story, I’d say that was the other one. Building out a valuable service, not only content. We built out a whole business unit around it and building the content that needed to serve that. Again, it’s your value engineering or value services, and you think ROI. “I need an ROI calculator show.” We would argue that. There’s a lot of content that comes with that.

Having someone believe that you’re going to help them run their go-to-market better. A lot of that comes in the form for us of content around SGIs, helping them understand that we’re going to help them accelerate their go-to-market. The product-led growth or their go-to-market into SaaS revenue streams for the first time from on-premise or something like that. We built a lot of content in that regard. That gave us credibility to go command higher prices in some of those enterprise cycles.

I love the bear you emphasize and touch the point of content pedagogy role. In that whole go-to-market execution and up-leveling your ACV for you or for your target audience, which is the executives, the CEO, and the board to connect with the value of what Clari can do, it starts with, how is it going to help them as they’re evolving their business model? Be it an on-prem to SaaS or a PLG Product Led Growth. First of all, understanding that and then building content around it. Would you agree that content, community and experience are key pieces between the go to market machine?

One Hundred percent. If I had to pick, if you were to talk to Clari’s customers about what makes our company so special, I would argue that you’d probably hear 1, 2 or 3 of those things about what makes us special. Whether it’s the content that we provide that is valuable at the highest levels of the business or the experiences that we obsess over and think deeply about, and hopefully deliver on for our customers or if it’s the community that we’ve created.

This community is across our portfolio of people. We have CROs call us and tell us that, “I interviewed for my next job and I told them, I won’t take it unless I have Clari.” That’s a community. These are raving fans that when you build a community like that for us, we talk about the double moat at Clari. That’s the second moat. That community is that moat. When you build, it gets wider.

It all starts with the content and the experiences of once people get attracted towards those components, that’s what will grow that whole, the second moat, which is the community piece. Let’s switch gears and go more into the forward-looking. What are your big initiatives or focus areas for 2021 and 2022?

That’s what I’m doing now. To your point earlier, I’ve run sales teams for a bit now. This 2021, I stepped a little bit more into go to market strategy role to kick off 2021. As Clari sets our sights on IPO here, we had a big SGI as a company of what we call it expanding strike zone, which is, how do we go with a great TAM opportunity? How do we create more SAM and SOM we can serve as our platform gets used by more go-to-market teams? We started off having sales teams use us a lot.

Marketing teams started coming in, customer success teams and now finance teams and product marketers. As we look at expanding our strike zone, there’s a couple of key motions that we think about and how do we serve more vertical markets? Where are markets out there that are looking for visibility, rigor and predictability across their go-to-market motions? We think there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. We think about personas. Who are the people that are stakeholders in the go-to-market process? How do we create experiences for them that would delight and add value inside of our platform?

Business models, you mentioned a big one. We’re a big believer in the move to product-led growth. We think that’s a major shift that’s happening in the market. We want to be able to serve our customers that are making those transitions. As you can imagine, it becomes much harder to predict growth in a PLG, Product Line Growth landscape. We’re thinking deeply about that. What I’ve been doing is helping us build to go-to-market and in those motions. Now as we get into the second half of 2021, we’re now double-clicking and I’m building out the vertical selling teams and things like this that are going to go serve the strategy that we set up in the first half of 2021.

I will be looking forward to maybe having more conversations with you. I’ll be studying and tracking you guys on how we are executing the go-to-market and growing into more territories, personalized, verticals. In that regard, obviously, you got a big chapter for 2021 and 2022. What do you think are the 1 or 2 barriers that might affect your plans?

It’s whether or not we can keep our focus narrow but while still looking, seeing the forest and the trees and all of that. Can we keep our focus and accelerate velocity? It’s a good problem to have, a big TAM to go after but you have to be focused to do it. Any executive team at a high-growth startup will tell you, the number one thing the board asks about is hiring. “Can you hire fast enough?” In a company like ours, we have a cool company. We have AI machine learning that works and solves real important business problems. That helps while you’re still battling for engineering talent with the who’s who of Silicon Valley and things like this.

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: There’s a tight-knit connection between product marketing, growth, and sales.

 

That’s one thing. “Can we continue to hit our hiring targets?” which we’ve been doing. As you grow and scale, we passed for the 400-employee mark as you get to 500, 700 and 800 employees. Can you continue to hire world-class talent at scale? That’s probably the one we’ve been executing on for sure. You want to like, “Can we keep doing it? Can we keep bringing in world-class people?” That’s one thing. If you were to talk to people in our company, they would tell you what they love about clarity is the culture.

We have this special culture. It helps that we’re still founders run and you want to keep scaling that. You don’t want to lose that over the next stages of growth. That’s one of the things that help us keep high retention rates on our talent. I would say that some of that stuff, can we continue to hire in a world-class way across product, go-to-market and can we retain the talent that we have? I know we can execute it. It’s less on the execution side. I know we’ve got the strategy right. It’s more about, can we keep the resources we need to go to deliver on the strategy that we’ve built?

That’s one of the biggest challenges, especially in a high-growth world. It’s all about talent and then culture. It’s not just about getting the right talent but will they fit in within our culture? You also mentioned maintaining focus while not losing the big picture. Those two are big areas. Besides that, let’s say if you were given a 5, 6 or 7-figure budget, where would you invest besides people?

Again, I’ll double down. I’d invest in engineers. I don’t think we could ever have enough great engineers. One of the things, one of the skillsets that I’ve had to learn here and it’s been great, and we’ve talked about a little bit is world-class program management. I can’t speak enough for what that’s done for our business.

In a startup, things like program management, it might be someone like me wearing that hat. If I had a lot of budgets, I’d probably put some into program manager across each of the functions and be a dedicated program manager within the revenue team or something like that, tooling and instrumentation to help serve this stuff.

I know big companies do that and have that. Have a budget to do that stuff. Whereas there are trade-offs, you have to make at our stage of growth. I’d probably put some investment in program management and making that machine actual. We’re getting machine-like now as a company. A little bit more human level, I’d like to get people together more in this environment. I think there’s a lot of barriers to that.

I feel like if we had a couple of cobbles of budget, we could probably come up with some creative ways to get folks together in a safe environment. I miss that. It’s this remote world that is awesome but we need to find ways to get everyone together. Again, with an unlimited checkbook, maybe we could design something where everything gets folks together more often in a safe environment.

Again, you talk about experiences but in this case, we’re talking about employee experiences. It’s tough. Let’s search and transition more into the closing section. Who are the 2 or 3 people that if you look back played a pivotal role in your career growth?

There’s a lot. If I had to pick 2 or 3, the first would be Kevin Knieriem, our CRO at Clari. We met at Oracle. As a rep, he put me on a formal leadership development plan and it always told me I was a leader. Told me that to manage people to be a leader and gave me the opportunity to lean into that. Kevin’s the guy who brought me into the high-growth world. He had left and did a company after Oracle on a high-growth company. Kevin, for sure. I’ve learned a ton from him.

My CEO at Clari, Andy Byrne. Andy is a phenomenal leader, phenomenal human, phenomenal entrepreneur. I’d say what I’ve learned from Andy is how to think about the big picture. More importantly, than not even is becoming a more human leader. I’ve always been pretty execution-focused and Andy’s helped me think about the human side of leadership and what we’re doing and the impact that has on people’s lives and things like that. He’s been remarkable in that regard.

That’s definitely the two. There’s a guy named Mike Hogan at Oracle that had started bringing me into a lot of the go-to-market stuff, which was great. Letting me get exposure to that and contribute to that. That, again, helped me realize how much I enjoy that stuff. My kids probably be the last one. My kids keep balanced and humble and forced me to think about what’s important. They played a big role in it, too.

I love the way you included and mentioned kids. It only clearly shows the human side. Let’s say, if you were to turn back time, the clock and go back to day one, if you go-to-market journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Become a more human leader. Click To Tweet

Maybe it’s me building off our human chat here but it would be that. I would tell my younger self to be more human and practice mindfulness and be more aware of the present in your surroundings. Early in your career, you can get execution-focused and hard-charging. I was definitely in that bucket. I probably missed a lot of great experiences being narrowly focused on executing and not realizing all the great humans around me and how I can help play a role in their lives and the role they were playing in my life.

Mindfulness is something that Andy brought to my life as well, which has been helpful, meditating and things like that. If I would’ve done that, have been more human, being more mindful earlier, the journey may have been the same but I may have been a little bit more peaceful and helpful than others along the way.

Be more human and you’re using tactics, specifically meditation. That brings me to my last question but a very important question. My question leads to the topic of why I wanted to have you on the show, which is going back to the LinkedIn summary. You mentioned how you break down your time or a week. Talk to me and the audience about the importance, what is the motivation behind doing that and what does it remind you of or how does it help you become more human and mindful?

First, I always tell my sales team, “Unless you’re applying for a job, your LinkedIn is your resume for your customers.” That’s who’s looking at you when you’re going to the meetings and we’re going to look you up. I try to be pretty transparent on who I am, what I think about and what I care about from a business and a personal perspective so when people meet me, they know what they’re getting, good, bad or indifferent. You can go check it out.

First, that whole exercise is it’s as much of an exercise in thinking through planning what you’d like your week or your time to look like. My week doesn’t look like that every single week but that’s certainly my intention. When you write down a plan, write it, it makes it a plan. Not just like a thought. That’s where it started was, “If I write this down, maybe I’ll live it more weeks than not.” It then comes down to me to thinking about, “You only have so many calories and hours in the day. Where do you want to invest those calories?” When I write it down and I realized like, “I’m a big Fred Kofman fan.” If you haven’t read Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business book, it’s the best book on leadership there is.

Fred talks about, there’s no such thing as work-life balance because if you’re saying it’s balanced, that means when you’re working, you’re not living or when you’re living, you’re not working. That’s not true. When you write it down, I’m spending maybe 50 plus hours a week doing work. When I write it down on paper, I’m spending maybe 40 or 50 hours a week with my family.

Thinking about that, it allows you to put sufficient calories into both of those buckets that you should. It’s a realization moment. Some of the other things like health and mindfulness and fun night doing things that you enjoy. Realizing how little time you get to put into some of that stuff, it’s a helpful exercise to go through and think about.

I got exposed to that concept. I think from Brian Tracy. This whole book and concept around manage your time, manage your life. If you manage your time, you’re going to manage your life. When I dug deeper into that, if you look at the table of contents over there, he breaks down the time categories into 7 or 8. Things like relaxation, reflection, family, work, income improvement, strategic it’s all of those.

I had that book. It was on my desk, and then I looked up your LinkedIn summary, you practically broke down your time in those several buckets. I wish more people do that. That’s the best way to manage your life, after all. Manage your time, that’s how you’re going to manage your life. That’s how you become more human and that will translate to being more mindful.

It’s something that from early in my career I’ve done is set goals in each of those areas and it changes. When you start the year, you think about, “What are the roles I’m going to play this year?” I remember early in my career it was boyfriend, coworker and peer. Now, it’s father and son. I have to think about, as my parents get older, the role I play there, financial stability and health and all these things.

Being intentional, setting goals around those things and checking in on them regularly helps. It’s not like it’s not that I don’t want to call my parents and say, “Hi,” but if I don’t put intentionality around that, it might not happen for a couple of weeks. If you set goals around it, put them on the calendar. Like you said, manage your time. Even if you only get 60% of it done, it’s probably way more than you would have got done if you didn’t write anything down.

Wonderful conversation, Anthony. Where can people find more about you and learn more about Clari?

B2B 26 | Moments That Matter
Moments That Matter: The prioritization exercise is a great foundation to get all teams on the same page on what their responsibilities are.

 

You mentioned LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s a good place. I keep on top of LinkedIn. I think it’s a great social network. Clari, get us on Clari.com. You can follow us on LinkedIn. We’re hiring like crazy across every department and go-to-market. Come check us out. As I said, I’m building out a verticals business now. If you know anybody that comes from professional services, financial services, healthcare and things like this, that they want to come to join a good go-to-market team, give me a shout where we’re hiring.

Good luck and good stuff. I’ll be cheering from the sideline for your team and Clari also. Wonderful conversation and good luck once again.

Thanks, Vijay. This is great.

Important links

About Anthony Cessario

There are 168 hours in a week. Here’s what mine looks like on a regular basis.

For 50+hrs each week, I get to create/problem solve/strategize with, and learn from, some of the most truly amazing people you could ever want to meet. Together we’re helping companies of all shapes and sizes grow and predict revenue in remarkable ways. It’s fun, challenging, exciting, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

45-50hrs of my week is spent sharing the most quality of my time with the loves of my life, my wife Anna and perhaps the two most incredible little boys in the world, our sons Dominic and Daniel. We split our weekends fairly evenly between relaxing at our home in Walnut Creek, visiting family, traveling, wine tasting in Napa and enjoying the quiet life in the town of Truckee (Just outside of Tahoe).

4-6hrs weekly goes to exercise; mainly Brazilian jiu jitsu, but also some boxing, lifting, running and muay thai from time to time.

2-3hrs goes to reading.

10-20min daily goes in to meditation/focus on mindfulness (arguably my 2nd most quality time all week)

In the spring, 2hrs weekly goes to helping middle school students better prepare for their futures through the Junior Achievement program.

If I can carve out a few days every few months for fly fishing, I am a very happy man. In football season, a few hours each Sunday goes to watching my beloved Philadelphia Eagles.

The last 40-50 hours weekly goes to the rest needed to manage all of these other commitments day in and day out.

Life is great and I am very fortunate.

Specialties:
Go-To-Market (GTM) Strategy
Predictable Growth
Market Expansion (Going Up-Market, Industries/Verticals, Point Solution to Platform)
Customer Led Growth (Driving Net Dollar Retention)
Business Model Expansion (TCV to ACV/ARR; ARR to Usage Based/Pay-As-You-Go)
Revenue Operations (RevOps)
Sales Enablement / Sales Innovation
Product Marketing
Talent Management
Building High Output, Diverse & Inclusive Teams

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

The Go-To-Market Goes Serverless With Anshu Agarwal 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

How would your kids describe what you do at work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You still have your marketing brains there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Vijay.

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About Anshu Agarwal

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

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

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

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B2B 8 | Go-To-Market

B2B 8 | Go-To-Market

 

 

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

Listen to the podcast here

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

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

Welcome to the show, Ajit.

Thanks, Vijay, for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Simple concept but hard to execute.

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

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

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

Yes.

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

Customer centricity always makes a difference. Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you report those on your weekly/monthly dashboard?

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

 

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

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

How does it align with your quarterly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same to you, Vijay.

Important Links: 

About Ajit Deshpande

Vice President of Demand Generation at Marqeta, Inc

 

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO

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

Listen to the podcast here

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

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

Thank you for having me, Vijay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Any names that you want to share?

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

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

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About Shashi Kiran

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

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