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! 

Listen to the podcast here

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 3 | Aryaka CMO

B2B 3 | Aryaka CMO

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

Listen to the podcast here

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

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

Thank you for having me, Vijay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Any names that you want to share?

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

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

Important Links

About Shashi Kiran

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

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