B2B 57 | Sales Potentia

B2B 57 | Sales Potentia

 

Success isn’t just about selling more; it’s about becoming more. In this episode, we tackle all about sales, personal growth, and entrepreneurship with Ian Koniak, CEO and Founder of Unlock Your Sales Potential. Ian generously shares his go-to-market strategy for his coaching program and reveals the three levels of offerings that have driven his business to over two million dollars in just a few years. But as a founder, Ian’s mission goes beyond just boosting sales; he’s all about helping clients become the best versions of themselves. Ian’s approach to business and life can transform not only your sales game but also your overall well-being. As Ian advises in the episode, “Enjoy the ride and make it about other people.” Tune in now and unlock your potential both in sales and personal growth.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Sales, Mindset, And Impact: Unlock Your Sales Potential With Ian Koniak

Thank you once again for taking the time to tune in to this show. It is deeply appreciated. I am deeply grateful for you taking the time and tuning in to this. I have yet another wonderful guest. His name is Ian Koniak. He is the Founder and CEO of Untap Your Sales Potential. As the name implies, he’s a sales guru or sales expert. Without further ado, welcome to the show, Ian.

Thank you. Thanks for having me on. It’s nice to meet you.

Same here. Sales is top of mind for me, for go-to-market practitioners, and for founders, and it’s a critical skill. I’m excited and looking forward to really digging into this topic with you.

I can’t wait. Let’s go.

Let’s get going into the meat of the conversation which is all about how you view and define the go-to-market.

When you think about go-to-market, it’s all of the forces that lead to revenue. When I think about go-to-market, I think about what your distribution channel is. In other words, are you going to sell directly? Are you going to sell through resellers? Are you going to sell online? Are you going to sell in stores? What’s your channel?

I’ll give a brief background. When I started my company, it was several years ago. I was doing a lot of training for companies. I was going to do B2B and I was going to sell training services. I quickly realized that didn’t scale because I was doing the training and I didn’t want to be on the road all the time. There was only so much capacity.

Even if I was doing all the training and potentially hiring other people to help, which they not necessarily give the same level of training that I would having been in the field for twenty years, there was still a cap on growth. That go-to-market strategy was a B2B live training delivery. I shifted. It’s the delivery of the product. It’s the distribution of the product. It’s the marketing of the product. It’s the pricing strategy. It’s all of it.

When I think about go-to-market, it is how you market your products, how you find customers, how you acquire customers, how you serve customers to make sure they renew, how your product specifically meets a unique need in the market, and how you market and position your value proposition so that you are differentiated versus a crowded space in almost any market. That’s how I define go-to-market strategy.

Back to my story, I started with B2B where I was doing live training. I quickly shifted that to delivery online through coaching programs and online courses that scaled at a much greater capacity. I didn’t want a go-to-market strategy that relied on me having to do the work versus being able to build repeatable processes that could attract a lot more people and have them do the work, for example.

You touched upon several key aspects. There is the product piece. In your case, it’s the services and the training, and then how you price it. Who is it really for? What is the value prop, the marketing, the sales, the outreach, and so on? It’s the scaling piece. Something else that you also touched upon is the founder of the entrepreneurial aspect of it. Especially in early-stage companies, it doesn’t matter if it’s a product or service. Those go-to-market principles matter a lot. We’ll dive into those aspects, for sure.

There’s a great book, E-Myth Revisited, that I’m reading. As a founder, you went to a business because you didn’t want to depend on corporate to pay your bills. You didn’t want to have to be beholden to a company or a boss. If you’re a founder and then you’re beholden to your business and your business is controlling you, it’s very easy to repeat the same type of patterns that you had when you were an employee.

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For me, the go-to-market is all about constantly re-evaluating your business, adapting, and changing strategies. I’ve changed strategies in four years since I originally founded my company. I’ve changed strategies 4 or five 5, but it wasn’t like I pivoted completely. I made small pivots that got me towards more of what I wanted. Knowing what you want as the founder, knowing what your goals are, and knowing what you’re trying to deliver to the market is something that constantly needs to be re-evaluated and optimized on an annual basis. That’s important for a founder to think through as well.

For sure. I can relate to it firsthand. I was an employee until about a few years ago. I pivoted into starting my own go-to market. Even within marketing and go-to-market, it was specifically around the product marketing aspect. I had to pivot, so I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying. Early on, it was me wearing multiple hats and I was drowned. This is exactly why I want to escape that whole employee constraint and jailhouse. This time, it’s all about bringing in the right people, even delegating and hiring junior employees for the right things, helping you scale, and addressing the key issue.

That’s exactly right. That’s the point. If you’re the founder who’s doing everything, you are going to do nothing well. Where is your greatness? Delegate and outsource the rest. I have a team of eight people that are supporting me in different capacities. It frees me up to deliver the coaching and deliver the work itself versus having to sell the work and market the work. Even content creation is a huge endeavor for how I attract customers.

If you're the founder who’s doing everything, you're going to do nothing. Click To Tweet

The development of my platform for delivering the actual training itself, all of that’s outsourced. In the beginning, I was doing it. The reason I pivoted is I realized I was creating the invoices for the client. I was creating the content. I was creating the training. I was delivering the training. It was like, “This does not scale at all. It’s not something I want to be in.” I got out of that B2B business a few years ago and pivoted. The business is on track to be an Inc 5000 company by 2024. It has been the best change ever.

As a founder, are you happy? Are you in control? If not, what do you need to change? Who do you need to hire? Maybe you need to take fewer clients. Maybe you need to charge more so that you’re not running ragged. These are all things that I’m thinking about very actively. In January 2024, I’m going to change our entire model again, but it’s not like I’m moving away or abandoning the original vision. The original vision is exactly the same. It’s more about the delivery of that and the scaling and the pricing model. Those things are how I pivot.

I love the fact of how deep we got into that one topic, which is how you view and define go-to-market. It is similar to a product. When you build a product, you need to iterate B1, B2, and so on. It’s the same thing that applies to go-to-market as well. Let’s take a step back here and go bigger picture. Share with the audience as to what brought you to what you’re doing. What is your career story?

I worked at two companies. I sold tech for twenty years. I was an Account Director over at Salesforce, which means I was in charge of growing our largest enterprise accounts. I managed accounts like Activision Blizzard, Experian, Tencent, some pretty large brands for Berkshire Hathaway, and some big brands for Salesforce. I was responsible for selling. I carried my last year with about $20 million in annual revenue. I was managing. I had a team of specialists, engineers, and resources. I was very successful in that space. I made all the clubs and had all the accolades. I made great money.

In 2018, I had a near-death experience. It was a very unique experience. I’ll keep it short. I got stuck on a rollercoaster hanging upside down for 30 minutes. It was pretty gnarly. In that moment of hanging, I thought all of our weight was on this little strap. We were upside down. I thought I was going to tumble. We were about eighteen stories up. We were up 180 feet and I was staring down with one little bar. I was completely stopped. I thought the bar was going to fall or whatever. I didn’t know. It was the scariest moment of my life.

I’m feeling nervous listening to this. I can imagine what you were going through.

It was horrible, but it was also one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. The reason is because in that moment hanging, you have a lot of time to reflect on your life. Your life flashes before you when you think you’re going to die. Those chemicals are rushing through your brain. What I came to was this massive epiphany as I was hanging that my life had been meaningless.

Your life literally flashes before you when you think you're going to die. Click To Tweet

I certainly had worked hard. I certainly had done well at work and had a family. I loved my wife and my son at the time. Now, we have two kids, but at the time, we only had one son. It was like, “If I died now, my entire life would’ve been dedicated to the pursuit of my own ego, my own money, and my own success.” It was all external. It was all about things that I was chasing that were external to me. In other words, there was no legacy, no service, and no impact. It’s like, “What?”

I had all these gifts that I’ve been blessed with. I had the gift of passion, drive, perseverance, resilience, and all these things that made me successful in sales. Yet, I was keeping them to myself solely to make money and sell. It’s that selfish, greedy salesperson. That stereotype, I probably fit that. I didn’t say anything. I started praying. I said, “God, please get me down. I promise I’ll start serving other people. I’m not going to be greedy and selfish. I’m going to use the gifts that You’ve given me to help others.” Nothing happens and I’m like, “God, I’m going to do it right now. Get me down.” At that moment, I kid you not, the ride started going down. When I got down, I was like, “I got to promise to uphold it.”

It was a very spiritual experience for me to have that divine intervention where I realized that my life had been very self-serving and I needed to start giving to others. I got off the rollercoaster and didn’t decide to start Untap Your Sales Potential, but I did decide to start serving other people and share my knowledge, wisdom, and experience with other people. It started with me setting up an Instagram page, then a YouTube channel, then a newsletter, and then some other content. I started speaking at events. I started going on podcasts to give back and help other people.

I was the number one sales rep at Salesforce at the time. A lot of people wanted to know how I could sell millions per year. That was where it all started. It was this desire to help. That evolved into people wanting more than content. They wanted consulting. They wanted coaching. They offered me money. It was like, “Wait a minute.”

One thing led to another and the demand became so high that I eventually left corporate. It made a lot of sense to do something that benefited others and helped society. I could be financially free from depending on other people for my quota, my commission rates, and all the things that salespeople struggle with. When they do well, they raise the quote on you. They lower the commission. They take away your territory. All that was happening while I had this side hustle. I knew that it was time to take the leap. That’s how I got started.

Thank you so much for sharing that story. It’s critical. At some point in time in life, it happens not for all but hopefully, for many. It is that you question whether what you’re doing is “the right thing”. You’re like, “Is it only about me, my family, my money, and my selfish needs?” versus where is that service? Where is the impact? Where is the legacy piece?

I wish everyone would have a near-death experience for this reason because you really think about your life. There are a lot of great books out there that reference this concept. One of them is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In that book, Stephen Covey has you write your own speech at your own funeral. That’s an exercise that’s very eye-opening and powerful because would you have contributed to the world? Would you have followed that dream that you thought about? Did you take a chance or play it safe? These are things that if you’re a founder, you have, at some point, had some of these eye-opening realizations.

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Founders are a small percentage of the population. I’d encourage anyone if you have that calling or have that dream to act on it. You don’t need to quit tomorrow. You don’t need to drop everything. Start taking action in serving or helping the person that you once were, in other words, making your message, and helping others like you get past the challenges that you had. When you do that, the world opens up. Opportunities open up and the financial path reveals itself, but you have to take that first step. You can’t keep that as a dormant part of you. I wish that no one gets hurt, but I wish that people come with that type of eye-opening experience that I got to go through a few years ago.

There was something that caught my attention and I want to highlight this for the readers out there. Your approach was not like, “I’m going to quit Salesforce and I’ll figure out what I want to do in terms of legacy and service.” You started putting content out there on Instagram and others around the expertise that you’re known for, which is sales and meeting quota.

Here’s the interesting thing. What I did that first year in 2019, I had no intention of monetizing it. I wanted to start serving people and teaching them what I knew, so it was completely free. I wasn’t doing it out of a selfless go-to-market strategy of promoting my business. This time, it’s very different in terms of my content creation strategy. At the time, it was like, “I’m going to make one video every day.” I said, “I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to make one short video giving a tip of the day.” That’s how I started.

Instagram is not where my ICP lives. My ICP lives on LinkedIn. These are high-performing, high-paid tech sales professionals who use my program or companies that want to train their teams. Fundamentally, I was in the wrong place for clients. Therefore, I didn’t get clients. What I got after a year of posting every day was I got good at being on camera, communicating, and writing.

That translated ultimately when I shifted to LinkedIn. I already had a year of experience doing the strategy that ultimately became one of my go-to-market strategies. It was to create value-added content to bring people into your funnel and attract them to your services. That was the blessing and the gift of giving. I became good at marketing ironically. I make videos for a living. I go on camera and do these newsletters.

By the time I got to LinkedIn, my stuff was blowing up very quickly because I had a year of experience in practicing how to title a video, what to speak to, how to prepare it, and even getting the lighting and the sound right. It works out. Even if you don’t see it, the key is to stay on the path because everything you do in every part of your life is going to serve you in the future even if it doesn’t feel like you know exactly how.

It’s critical that you do it to the best of your ability and embrace where you are because that will come back. Especially as a business owner, all of those skills ended up helping me a lot, even teaching. I was a teacher before I got into sales. I lived in South America and taught English. This time, I’m teaching sales. It all comes back.

It’s all coming back together. What is your routine like? You highlighted that at a very high level. Let’s say you need to prepare a video for LinkedIn, Instagram, or whatever. It’s a 1 to 2-minute video. What is your routine and mindset like?

They’re longer videos. I’m doing a long format. In my first year, I was doing these Instagram Shorts, Reels, or whatever they’re called. This time, I do training videos. That’s one very small part of my go-to-market strategy, but it’s one that’s been consistent and I still do. It’s simple. I’ll give you the routine for preparing the content, and I’ll give you the routine for distributing the content and how it all feeds into the sales growth.

Preparing the content is very simple. It is whenever I have inspiration, whether it’s on a run, whether it’s talking to my wife, or whether I’m talking to a client and they tell me something that I’m like, “This is the third time I’ve heard this. I need to make a video on it.” I’m always tuning into content creation ideas. What I do is on my iPhone, because inspiration can strike anywhere, I have one note. Every time I get an idea, it’s like, “Make a video on this.”

I have one that’s ready and teed up. The title of the note is Sales Trainings. I have, “What Is the Meaning of Life?” It’s powerful. I then have in the notes, “Make the most of what God gave You.” It’s putting your gifts, your stories, and your experience to the service of others. I’m going to talk about how you can do that and give a framework for how other people can do that. That’s the first step. It is to capture the idea.

The second step is before I make the video, I’ll take a sticker and an index card and write the key points in the video. I’m not scripting a video. I’m writing the bullets I want to cover because I want them to be authentic. I want it to be a natural. There’s then the filming of the video in which you have to get the lighting right and you want to get the sound right. That’s pretty standard. You could do it on the iPhone. Get a little tripod, a mic, and a ring light and you have everything you need to make a professional-quality video.

It’s then the distribution. Here’s where the tricky thing comes in. One video can be used multiple times. That’s the beautiful thing. What I’ll do is make this video. I’ll record it typically towards the end of the week. I’ll block off time to make the video. Once it’s made, then I’ll write a blog that accompanies the key pillars that I talk about in the video. I won’t tell them everything. I’ll tell them enough and say, “Watch the video if it resonates with you.” I’ll tease it out.

That blog goes into a content document that my virtual assistant grabs and posts to a newsletter that has over 10,000 subscribers, a YouTube channel that also has almost 5,000 subscribers, LinkedIn, and a blog page. I created it once and it’s distributed in four places. There’s the blog because it drives SEO. If someone types the topic, it will drive the SEO traffic. There’s YouTube because that’s a whole channel where a lot of people live and consume my content. LinkedIn is by far the biggest.

Everything’s pointing them to the YouTube video. In the newsletter, I want them to click and watch the video. On LinkedIn, I want them to click and watch the video. In the blog, it’s the same thing as well as YouTube itself. There’s the blog, YouTube, LinkedIn, and email newsletter. I have four distribution channels that all got hit up. If they’re not on LinkedIn and they don’t see that post, they’re going to see the email. If they don’t see the email, they’ll see the popup on YouTube. You want to publish once and distribute many places, but it doesn’t stop there.

I have a video editor that slices up the long-form video and does two shorts from it. We have two more short videos on my YouTube channel. If they didn’t see the main one, they could see those shorts. Those shorts are also distributed via my Instagram page and my TikTok page, which I’ve never logged into. With all this content, I don’t want to be on social media. I don’t want to be messing around there. I want to be delivering my coaching services.

I have a VA who is setting up the distribution. I have a video editor who’s making these shorts and distributing them to TikTok and Instagram all from about an hour it took to write the video, record it, and then put it into this folder where the VA grabs it. That’s how you scale content creation. What happens naturally is people start watching my video.

There is one more thing. Anyone who requests a connection request from me on LinkedIn, which is my main source of traffic and my main thing, or anybody who connects with me, my VA sends a standard message to them. It says, “Thanks for requesting to connect. If you’re looking to grow sales, there are two ways I can help you. Number one is to subscribe to my newsletter. You get a free training video every single week every Tuesday morning. There’s also my YouTube. If you want to see the past archive, here it is. Subscribe there.”

I have over 50,000 connections on LinkedIn and all of them are also getting this. Maybe 1/10 of them subscribe and my newsletter is 10,000 as well as my video. It’s this constant flywheel that is created from this content strategy. That’s how I’ve gotten most of my clients. It drives them to book a call. When they get the newsletter, they have a welcome series. They get to book a call. They learn about the program. The audience-building has been my dominant strategy for this.

What you shared are the tactics and the mechanics of what you do. Something I want to go big picture and highlight over here is if you rewind and go back a few years, you didn’t have any clue about doing all these things. You didn’t know what you were going to do. What drove you to do the aspiration and the mindset of giving guided you into learning.

It forced me. It was not a decision. Forced is a good word. I was powerless. It was all I could think about in the shower when I woke up. It was a calling. If you’re a founder and you have a calling, if you let that calling guide you, when the why is strong enough, AKA, “I don’t want to die with being selfish and not giving back to the world,” then the how is going to reveal itself. It’s all about keeping that fire burning. That’s why I still do podcasts.

My work has fortunately gone very well where my supply-to-demand ratio, and we can talk about this, is completely off where I have more demand than I can supply because I’m the bottleneck in delivering this stuff. The same problems come to repeat themselves even if you change the strategy. It’s a good problem to have. It’s coming from a place of service.

Every time I’ve come from a place of service and try to make clients successful, the clients have naturally gravitated because they see that heart of intention versus a heart of like, “This is for us, not for you.” If people feel that in sales or they feel that from a founder, they’re going to not want to work with you. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s first and foremost. You have to care about the success of your clients as a core tenant for your business.

You have to care about the success of your clients as a core tenet for your business. Click To Tweet

Let’s maybe come down into more of your services aspect. Who are your ICPs, and what are your offers and services like?

My business is a coaching business. Think about a B2C model. Primarily, that’s the bulk of my revenue. Occasionally, I’ll do B2B, but the bulk is B2C. My ICPs are tech salespeople who are making between $100,000 and $300,000 per year and want to get to the elite level of sales and make between $500,000 and $1 million.

They’re struggling with how to make the leap from a transactional seller to a strategic seller. They’re struggling with time management and how to prioritize and plan their day. Their day tends to overtake them. They’re struggling with mindset, how to stay in the game, and how to stay focused and driven in an industry that can be exhausting, demanding, and stressful. Those are the people that I serve.

I’m curious. The ICP that gravitated towards you and you gravitated towards were the people who made $300,000 to $500,000 and who are looking to graduate and go even higher into the business club and so on. What about those sellers who are very green or founders who are looking to build and improve their sales skills to build in pipeline and revenue?

I don’t serve a lot of founders in general. I can, but it’s more about advisory services. If a founder wants to learn to sell and learn the basics of strategic selling, how to put together a proposal, and how to negotiate, they can take my course. The founder has to run the business. They have to know how to hire, put the right people in place, manage delivery, and manage marketing. They’re wearing so many hats as a founder.

If they want to learn the fundamentals and basics of sales, that’s probably not my program. My program is more geared towards strategic selling. In other words, you’re selling a very large ticket item. You’re selling something that’s transformational in nature. I have a lot of people from Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. That’s the green founder.

If you’re a founder and you don’t have any sales skills, you’re going to have a lot of challenges. Bring in a good salesperson because you can be great. You can look at Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. You can be a great technical founder with great engineering skills and have a sales leader who has those sales skills that offset. That might be something you delegate because learning it all from scratch and being great takes a long time and a lot of effort.

I’ll let you speak to the green salesman. The founder, especially in B2B, needs to close. It’s going to be founder-led sales initially until they’re ready and they have the cash to bring in to the head of sales. What is your thought process around that?

If you’re a founder and you’re selling initially, you’re almost going to have natural conversations with people about them and what they need. It’s going to happen naturally versus setting up a scalable sales playbook. The founder is the best salesperson in the company. If they can’t sell the product to someone who’s very interested or in their network, there’s a bigger problem. Founder-led sales naturally are almost unstructured. They have a conversation. They figure out what the needs are. They work together. They make it happen. It’s like selling to a friend almost.

B2B 57 | Sales Potential
Sales Potential: If you’re a founder and you’re selling initially, you’re almost going to have natural conversations with people about them and what they need. It’s going to happen naturally versus setting up a scalable sales playbook.

 

I used to do founder sales training. I called it advisory services. That’s what I did. I was teaching them how to sell, but it wasn’t just teaching them how to sell. I find that, naturally, a lot of founders know how to sell. It’s more about how to scale sales. That’s the stuff that we worked on. I quit that business. I had three businesses when I started. I had the B2B training, the advisory services for founders, and this B2C coaching online, Untap Your Sales Potential. I closed the advisory and B2B to do Untap Your Sales Potential because my revenue quadrupled.

If founders are looking to improve their sales and learn the fundamentals, that’s fantastic. It’s a great skill to do. Ultimately, you don’t want to be in every deal. You want to be able to have a product that has a great product market fit. You want to have great customer results. You want to let the marketing flywheel do its thing. You want to drive leads to a sales team. You don’t want to be doing the sales as a founder. Even though I’m very skilled at selling, I do not want to be selling because it’s not the best use of my time. I quickly hired a head of sales, and it’s been one of the best things that could ever happen. I could focus on working on the business versus in the business.

If you’re early on and you need those sales skills, I would say to take a course and maybe get some coaching. If you’re interested in my coaching, working one-on-one is probably the best way to do it. Here’s where founders suck at sales. They talk about their product. They show demos. It’s all about features. It’s awful. I’ve seen it over and over again. They talk. Selling is all about listening. Selling is all about understanding where the client’s problems lie, where their challenges are, what their goals are, and what they’re trying to accomplish.

The founder who comes in shows up, shows demos, and goes deep is going to fail because they don’t understand what the client even cares about or why they care. The key is to understand the problems you solve. The key is to understand what your unique way of solving is. What’s the impact of these problems on a business? What does your persona want as far as their desired outcomes? Where are they struggling? What’s happening in the market? You’re way better off spending more time with that and speaking to the customers as to whether they face those problems or challenges or if they have these issues that your company solves versus demoing your stuff. It’s all backward. You don’t do the demo.

B2B 57 | Sales Potential
Sales Potential: The key is to understand the problems you solve.

 

You covered the point early on where you said typically, in founder-led sales, they are naturally having those conversations. It’s almost like friends talking to each other. They’ll be good at it. Once they hit that early product market fit, that’s when they’ll be bringing in the head of sales to build a sales playbook and structure that sales.

That’s exactly what I was trying to say. The founder doesn’t need sales training. They can work on the whole business and then bring salespeople. That’s why I don’t necessarily work with founders because when I started that advisory, I found out they needed so much more. They needed the email talk tracks. They needed the web forms. They needed the whole go-to-market playbook. It wasn’t the selling skill. They knew how to talk to customers. That’s exactly what you’re saying. We’re saying the same thing. If you’re a founder who wants to improve your sales, go to UntapYourSalesPotential.com and book a call. A few one-on-one coaching sessions would be very helpful in helping you develop, but that’s really not my core.

For those founders that are maybe already reading, is that yearly or custom-built?

When I say early, I mean probably you’re over $1 million dollars trying to get to $5 million, somewhere in that range. If you are brand new, it’s too early. It depends on their product, too. If it’s a tech founder in tech sales, I’m going to be a great fit. If you’re selling a company that makes tables, I’m not. I know how to sell technology and software. I don’t know how to sell real estate. I don’t know how to sell mortgages. I don’t know how to sell T-shirts.

For any founder who wants to accelerate quickly, you want to find an advisor who has done exactly what you did or that you want to do and pay them good money for advisory services. Have someone on your board. Have someone coaching you. Spend at least, if you can, $5,000 a month or $10,000 and get good advisory help.

That’s what I did. I had advisors that helped me build a brand. I was following somebody else’s playbook that did this long before me. I did what they said and it worked. That’s my highest recommendation for anyone reading. Find an expert and invest your time and money in getting their advice. It accelerates everything because they’ll give you all the blind spots that you don’t even know about.

Find an expert and invest your time and money in getting their advice. It just accelerates everything because they'll give you all the blind spots that you don't even know about. Click To Tweet

Coming back to your ICP, which is that sales leader or salesperson who’s doing maybe $200,000, $300,000, or $500,000 and who’s looking to up their game and be more strategic, can you share a success story of someone who was in your program and what were they like before and then after?

There are so many of them, but there is one that comes to mind. His name is David. He and I spoke not long ago. He had made more money in his first 6 months working with me, and he signed up in January 2023, than he did in any 1 year prior. That was through the first six months. He’s over his quota. He is over his plan. He bought a farm. He has a side business.

It’s a few sets of skills. I can’t go to every single skill on one call, but it’s about knowing how to talk to and connect with senior executives. That’s a big blind spot for salespeople. What we focused on was getting higher up. He sold shipping software. He was talking to shipping managers, but shipping managers weren’t the main folks that he needed to talk to. We pivoted towards the CFO conversation. He talked about how shipping costs were out of control and that there was a better way to go about it to standardize. Once he started getting with the finance and the CFOs, his deals moved a lot quicker and they got a lot bigger. That’s one example. He’s had tremendous success.

Another guy I talked to, Sean O’Kane, he and I worked together. He ended up moving from a small startup to Google Cloud. He had an incredible offer, the best of his career. He used a lot of the skills that I taught him about how to engage with executives and sell. He shared that during his interview process and outlasted 30 applicants for the same role. He ended up getting it. He said, “I wouldn’t have done it without you.” A lot of my coaching is one-on-one where I’m helping them with their environment.

You asked me about my go-to-market strategy for my offering. The way that I’ve scaled my business to over $2 million annually in a couple of years is that I have 3 levels of offerings. I have what’s called Bronze Offering, which is an online course. That online course is $3,000 a year. It is the most comprehensive sales training course that exists globally in terms of the breadth and depth of content.

It took me over a year to record that. You’ll see it is 28 hours of training and content. If you go to UntapYourSalesPotential.com/Bronze, it goes through every single part of how to be a strategic seller from the mindset to the habits to territory planning, account planning, messaging, prospecting, video creation, email creation, and research. It has everything. It didn’t exist before. I wanted to get an MBA for strategic selling.

I built that, and that comes in every day. I get a notification like, “Someone bought Bronze.” Once it’s built, it’s done. That’s like writing a book, but it’s not a $20 book. It’s a $3,000 course that promises to deliver complete and unmatched selling skills as well as general living skills. The mindset and habit things apply to more than sales. It’s how you manage your day. It’s how you can be the best husband, father, or partner.

If you’re a founder and you’re working eight hours a week, everything else is going to implode. You might have a business, but you’ll have nothing else. You won’t have your health. You won’t have your family. I cover a lot of that in the program including how to manage your day, how to set boundaries, and prioritizing what’s most important. I have two young kids and a wife. I am very healthy. I ran two marathons. How do you do all of it? That’s what this course is all about. It’s very comprehensive.

My go-to-market strategy was I wasn’t going to teach one skill. I was going to teach the entire set of skills that people need to be successful. I know it’s one of your questions. It’s the combination of mindset, habits, and strategic selling skills. That is my unique differentiator. That’s one offering called self-service. You do it.

The middle offering is called Silver. You do it with me. That’s a group of people that we meet every single week. We go through the content and apply it together. They also have accountability pods where they do the workbooks with their peers. We have guest speakers and guest trainers come on. We are together every single week for live training, every other week for office hours, and once a month for a guest trainer. All they need to do is show up and they can do it together with me. They can ask questions. They have access to me. They have office hours. That goes to $9,000 a year. It goes from $3,000 to triple.

$9,000 a year, for a lot of people, they may be like, “That’s a lot.” It’s not when you’re thinking about your on-target earnings being $250,000 and you’ve only been making $200,000. Even if you get to your plan, you 5X the revenue of what you paid for it. This guy has made way more than he has ever made. He’s tracking $300,000. He made $150,000 any other year. He paid my gold level, $18,000, and made back $150,000. That’s how you have to look at these offerings. It’s how much value.

If someone told you you paid $18,000 and you’ll get $100,000 back, you’re going to say, “That makes a lot of sense.” I can’t guarantee that because they have to do the work. They have to apply it. At the end of the day, I know that if they go through it, show up, and do what I tell them, it’s going to work because it has worked for my clients. It worked for me and it continues to work. That’s the mid-level. We do it together.

The highest level is the gold level where it’s $18,000 a year. I do it for you. This is one-on-one. They give me their product and I help them with the messaging. I help them write the emails. I help them do the research. I show them how to plan their day, schedule their time, and how to prioritize. I’m doing one-on-one sessions with my clients. That’s the one that has been the most taxing on me, frankly, because I have so much demand for that gold level that I can’t fulfill so I’m thinking about hiring other coaches.

The waitlist is over 90 days. It’s a great problem to have, but I’m trading time for money. I’m giving my own one-on-one time. That’s a bottleneck. You could only have so many coaches. What I’m thinking of doing is taking my methodology in what I do in these one-on-ones and making it a program where other coaches who’ve gone through my program could learn how to be a coach and follow this training. That’s a whole big investment of time, energy, and empowering other people. That’s the next level of how you scale. You train coaches in your unique approach and methodology to be able to do that. That’s one idea of how to scale. Those are the three levels.

The gold level has one-on-one access. They also do live events. We have retreats that we go to with all the gold members. We do masterminds. We get everyone together for 2 or 3 days and we learn from each other. We bring in guests and have fun. We go on hikes and do all kinds of cool activities to break the pattern or do some pattern interruption and get them creatively thinking about what they can do differently once they leave that event. That’s more of a personal development or personal transformation for the highest level of gold. That’s my go-to-market strategy.

It sounds fun, especially for the highest level. If you’re reading and you’re committed and serious about upping your sales game and becoming more strategic, check out Untap Your Sales Potential. I don’t get any commissions in saying this, but it’s more for purely seeing your passion, the impact that you had, and your career track record. That’s what it is all about.

If you invest in your job, you make a living. If you invest in yourself, you make a fortune. If you’re always getting better, you’re always improving yourself. If you’re always aware of your blind spots, working on them, and surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, that’s the secret. That is the way. I continue to do this to this day. I’ve been investing in myself for over seven years and it gets better because I get better. You’re building your capacity to grow versus being in the business, delivering, not growing, and honestly feeling like you’re underwater half the time.

We’re switching gears a bit over here. It’s super helpful for all the audience who are looking up their sales game. If I were to peek in and try to understand the business owner mindset, how are you approaching your day-to-day or week? How are you thinking about business and business building?

My general philosophy is do not build the infrastructure before you have the demand. If I think about my business, I don’t use a lot of fancy technology for a CRM, for example, an ERP, or financial. This is a great question. It’s a deep question. Let me break it down. When I think about myself as a business owner, the first question I’m asking is, “What do I want my clients to achieve? Is it that I want them to sell more?” It’s not. That’s an outcome that they’ll get if they join the program.

A big part of the marketing is to make $500,000 to $1 million selling software. That’s not what I want for them. What I want for them is to become the person they’re capable of becoming. I want them to be their best self. Success is the joy you feel in the pursuit of your full potential. My program is called Untap Your Sales Potential, but it’s really about untapping your full potential.

In fact, something that I do with a lot of clients is going through a moral inventory. We go through and look at areas that they don’t feel good about, the things that they’re doing in their life. Maybe they’re spending too much time on their phones when they get home and they’re not present with their children. Maybe they are drinking too much at night. Maybe they’re doing things that they’re not proud of and they don’t feel good about. Part of what I do is the first thing is we remove a lot of those things, which creates more space to let the creative juices flow. Principle number one is about what you stand for. What do you want as your core deliverable? What I want is for everybody to pursue and to be all-in in being the best they can be.

Do you have KPIs and metrics? I completely agree and see where you’re going with this. It is not just changing your sales game, but growing you as a person. That’s what you’re trying to do. When it comes to you, the business owner, do you have metrics in the transformation? How do you approach this?

I’ve started doing surveys when they join. I capture where they’re at, what they are making, where their challenges are, and what their pain points are. I do a midpoint survey, and then I do an end-of-program survey. I want to see whether they made more money. I get it, but you’re not making more money unless you’re changing what you’re doing. That is the metric. It’s not what I want.

It is to make more money as an outcome of the change.

That is the KPI. KPIs are measurable. You can’t say, “Do you feel happier?” but I do ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you with your life right now?” If they went from a 3 to an 8 and they told me why, I’m like, “This is the deal.” There are a lot of metrics that I’m measuring as a business owner that I want to see. One is income. The second is adoption. I know if they go to the Zoom calls, attend the events, participate in the pod, and show up every week, they’re going to get results. If they’re not logging into the program, they’re not taking the course, and they’re not showing up, they’re not going to get the results.

I have automation set up to remind them to come in, to join, and to log in because they’re not going to renew if they don’t participate. If they do participate, they’re going to renew. That’s how it goes. It’s not that they invested with me for a year. It’s that they had so much success that they want to continue because they don’t want to lose what got them there.

For a coaching program that charges what I charge, that is almost impossible. To have people say, “I’m going to pay $18,000,” and then do it again is rare, especially when it’s a 12-month program, but that’s what’s happening. It’s happening over and over again because they see such significant results in not only sales but also their life.

The second metric is renewal percentage. What percent of people renew? My goal is to get half the people to renew. If I get half my people to renew, that is recurring revenue. It’s not like they’re using the software to run their business. This is them having to show up and go to Zoom and having to work on themselves. It’s not going to be the same metrics you see in a SaaS company, but having a 50% renewal for a coaching program is unheard of in the industry that I’m in. It’s 10% or 15%. For me to be at 50%, that is the second most important metric. Did they improve their income? Are they happier? Did they renew with me?

The third is did they tell their friends? It’s the CSAT. A lot of them have had such a great experience that they can become affiliates. That’s part of my go-to about market distribution. If they become an affiliate, then I’ll pay them 10% of anyone they refer over in addition to the commissions I pay my salesperson. It’s a lower margin for me, but I want them to have a side hustle. I want them to be able to make money if they’re sharing referrals. That’s another one. Are they referring people? Did they give a testimonial that’s public? If you go to UntapYourSalesPotential.com/Testimonials, we have nearly all of our students give testimonials because they’ve had a great experience. If they’re not willing to give a testimonial, something happened. That’s another one.

I have my sales rep. I’m going to hire a customer success manager. They’re going to do onboarding to make sure they all get them with the program. They’re going to do surveys to make sure they go. They’re going to make sure the accountability pods are set up. I do want to make sure. My goal is adoption. In driving adoption, I know the outcome of renewal and outcome of the revenue growth is going to come and they’re going to make more money. People get busy. They sign up and don’t utilize it. How do we nudge them and get them to use what they bought? That, to me, is the next level of client success. It’s having somebody handhold them to make sure they get the full value of the program.

I love the way you’re thinking and building your go-to-market. It’s very similar to a SaaS product company. Are your products effective? Are they useful? Are the customers happy? You’re measuring more than the satisfaction. The first is adoption. Once the adoption metrics are good, then you look at the renewals and then the referrals.

Each person has a comprehensive profile. You have to remember. I came from Salesforce. I spent nine years at a SaaS company at the highest level. I know what product-led growth is. I know what adoption does. I’m not coming to this entrepreneurial journey with a blind idea. I know firsthand that when customers use the products the way that they’re supposed to, they’re going to get value as long as you have a good product and as long as it works. My product works.

For me, getting the product right, in other words, building the actual content, the videos, and the training that was effective and giving templates, workbooks, and guidelines was foundational. I had to get the right product. It is then about how you drive adoption. That was more about onboarding, giving welcome series emails, and even some intelligence built into the product. If they don’t log in, for example, in a period of 30 days to the portal, they get a notification and a nudge saying, “We haven’t seen you in a while. Make sure you do it.”

I had a customer experience designer who helped me build out the welcome series, the journeys, and the notifications. It was very much built with customer success as the foundation and as the core pillar of the business, which is crucial for success long-term in a business. I still operate that way. That guides me every day. That’s why I do what I do. It’s back to the rollercoaster story.

We talked about go-to-market in so many variations and so many flavors. It all boils down to the customer problem and then the success of the customer. I know you have a hard stop here. The final question for you is if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I started at Ricoh. It’s hard. Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in regret. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to. My core belief is that the mistakes you make and the failures you make are teachings. You don’t want to do that again because you know how it feels. When I go back and give myself advice, I might say, “Don’t make it all about the money. Make it about your customers.”

It took me making it all about the money to realize that this wasn’t the way that I was going to find fulfillment and inner peace. I would say to myself, “Enjoy the ride. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself where you’re always chasing and always going and you can’t enjoy where you are because you’re forcing everything. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy your twenties. Have fun. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I put so much pressure on myself. To some extent, I still do, but it’s not the same level. It’s more about I know that the business can always do better and I want to make sure my clients are getting the full value. It’s a pressure that’s driven towards helping versus a pressure that’s driven towards succeeding and making money. I would tell myself, “Enjoy the ride. Make it about other people. Stop beating yourself up every day.”

Enjoy the ride, make it about other people, and stop beating yourself up every day. Click To Tweet

This was a great conversation. I love the energy, the passion, and your mindset of pure impact and helping others. Good luck to you and your team. Have a great year ahead.

Thank you. It was great talking to you. Take care.

 

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B2B 50 | Factors.ai

B2B 50 | Factors.ai

 

No one arrives at being a founder without having the experiences that helped shape them. For Srikrishna Swaminathan, being the co-founder and CEO of India-based startup, Factors.ai, is a product of a rich career journey. In this episode, he joins Vijay Damojipurapu to share his story—from starting with FMCG sales to investment banking and eventually landing at InMobi, where he found his entrepreneurial spirit. He shares valuable lessons he learned from each phase, highlighting the importance of understanding customer needs, mastering time management, and gaining financial insights. Srikrishna also reflects on his time at InMobi and how it equipped him to found Factors.ai, a company that specializes in helping B2B marketing teams drive more revenue. He dives deep into Factors.ai’s unique Product-Led Growth (PLG) approach and also shares success stories with mid-market and SMBs and insights into early-stage go-to-market strategies. Srikrishna then rounds out the conversation by emphasizing the importance for founders to have a clear vision, which eventually spreads out to the company and leads them to success.

Listen to the podcast here


 

From FMCG Sales To Factors.ai: Go-To-Market Lessons With Srikrishna Swaminathan

I have the pleasure of having Srikrishna Swaminathan, who is the Founder and CEO of India-based startup, Factors.ai. Welcome to the show, Srikrishna. I’m happy to have you here.

I’m very happy to be here, and thanks a lot for making time to talk to me.

It’s my pleasure. Let’s go right into the meat of the conversation. How do you view and define go-to-market?

Fundamentally, go-to-market is you have to know based on your company, what you are trying to sell, who you are trying to sell, and the stage of your resources. For example, a company with a very large amount of resources, a company that is funded, or a company to bootstrap the go-to-market strategy or how you define go-to-market changes very differently.

At the crux of all those things, how do you approach your customers? How do you interact with them? How do you showcase to them that you exist? This is a value you provide, and how you convert it into the sales funnel is what fundamentally defines go-to-market for us. While this is a broad definition, the nuances and the tweaks around it are based on your segment, who you are selling to, your ACV, your stage of the company, and your resources across the board.

Maturity levels as a company also because a company with a three-year-old life would be very different from a company with a ten-year-old life. How even they approach a go-to-market and how in terms of who does the selling, who doesn’t do the selling, and who activates that. For example, for early-stage startups, it’s founder-led and that is a very different go-to-market than, let’s say, when the team comes in, when people come in, when processes set, and those things. It’s very different from how the company will change it.

I like the aspect where you emphasized a lot about the resource constraints and what stage of the company that you are in. Typically, I hear that characterized or mentioned by founders where I have founders on my show. They’re the ones who would mostly focus on that versus if it’s a guest who is either a marketing leader product or a revenue leader at a more mature company. They would focus more on the alignment between product, marketing, sales, and customer success. I know you are implicitly referring to that alignment as well, but I appreciate you focusing on the stage of the company and where you are or where your mindset comes to making the best use of your resources.

That’s a very good point, what you mentioned. It’s not that we don’t look for alignment. We don’t look for how multiple teams come together from a go-to-market. Once you’re selling a product, once you have something in place, you know who you target. Everything else needs to come together because otherwise, you won’t make yourself aware to the market, which is marketing.

Once you make them aware, you have to bring them into your sales funnel, which is there, which is a part of sales, part of performance, or demand capture, which is there. Once you bring them into the funnel, the customer success, the onboarding, and the product teams, everything also needs to work with a feedback loop running around this. I’m not taking away from that. The key thing here across the board is also that one aspect is very clearly resources.

You might have a $10 million funding versus you are a $3 million funding versus you just started up, etc., all those things. The second aspect is maturity. For example, I have seen the same go-to-market being approached very differently by second-time founders than approached by first-time founders. I have seen this evolve very differently from a company, which is one year old. They might still have the product they would have been selling. They would have 100 customers, etc., compared to a company that is 3 or 4 years old and how they approach that. That is a very soft aspect of things but it makes a huge difference in how things get executed, which people get to play, how people are recruited, and employee satisfaction. Many other things come into play here.

The point you mentioned reminds me of or surfaces for me where there are different nuances even among founders, the type of technology, and the product. There are founders who are very comfortable in building in public right from the early days. There are founders who are so engrossed in “stealth mode” which has been like you need to rewind 5 or 10 years ago for that concept. Building stealth mode for 1 to 3 years and then in year 4, you realize, “I wasted all my resources and I need to shut down my company.” That’s been less of a norm of late.

To your point, building in public versus stealth also depends on the technology, the product, the IP around what you have, and so on. Let’s switch gears. Let’s go to the big picture and focus on your life and career. Why don’t you describe or quickly narrate what has been your career journey so far and what led you to what you’re doing now?

I’ve been very lucky. I was born late. My parents were almost 50 when I was born. I was born in Chennai and spent my schooling in Chennai. I came to Bangalore for higher education, undergrad, and Electrical Engineering. I spent a couple of years coding, but then realized I have a heart for management. I got into one of the B schools in India called IIM in Calcutta. I spent two years there. After that, I jumped into the FMCG world. I spent a good part of two years in almost rural villages and towns across Andhra, Kerala, Orissa, and also Western UP. That’s where I spent a lot of time learning. Being on the field, sales and marketing is a very different experience and that’s something that taught me a lot.

It also gave me a lot more maturity at 23 or 24 years old. I came back to Bangalore, got married, and joined a banking startup, an Eastern banking firm. From there, I moved into another startup then called InMobi. InMobi was one of the first unicorns in India. They had raised the large fundraise from Softbank and Softbank was not a well-known entity at that point in time.

Unicorns were even more rare in India. Companies like startups, 3 or 4 years old, becoming a $1 billion valuation was a very big thing at that point in time. I was a little bored with banking, but I was also thinking, “If I have to make something big, a splash, or have an interesting life, I have to be in a place where action is.”

InMobi was one of the few startups where both from a cultural aspect and a large market aspect, it showed great promise. I started with business development and sales within InMobi. Over a period of time, I started up and built a very large P&L business unit also within InMobi called Affiliate Business, the whole affiliate and exchange business, $100 million P&L. Thankfully, with InMobi, I found my Cofounder, Praveen Das, who was part of the product team. Both of us overlapped for seven years at InMobi.

My third Cofounder is Aravind, who’s my friend from college days. He was my college classmate. He was at Google. Later, he sold his first startup to Freshworks, and we all got together to attack the problem around account intelligence, ABM marketing, and how to identify, activate, and attribute marketing around B2B companies.

That’s from our experiences both at Freshworks and InMobi. This is something which we found as a white space and we jumped in and started up. We were lucky both in terms of funding. It was pre-pandemic so the funding space was also pretty good. We also took another small round of funding and now, we are growing pretty rapidly at 160-plus customers. We are doing pretty well.

In hindsight, will you be able to connect the dots and figure out what are those experiences that led you to what you’re doing now? If I had to dig in maybe from your time when you were at Dabur, right after your MBA, clearly being in the field being the fast-moving consumer goods, that helped. What were your takeaways from that experience being at Dabur?

One thing is it exposes you to the actual on-field sales. If you are in an FMCG sales company and if you are in a beat sales mode, for example, there are multiple geographies as well. You can look at, let’s say, Dubai or any other larger markets or even city-led urban markets and all those things. Most of the sales happen through modern trade where there is bulk buying, discounting, and then you also give pricing features, etc.

When you are on a company like Dabur, which is predominantly a very good rural portfolio in Ayurvedic items, which are there apart from Josephs and a couple of others, it’s a rural-oriented company in terms of what they sell. Second, it’s also more of a poor rural-oriented company, which, compared to India, is pretty widescale.

That is a huge difference between Western India and Southern India in terms of how urbanization hits, how per capita income hits compared to other countries or other states, and all those things. Per capita income is much lower, which is that. When you are thrown into the middle of one rural area and also in terms of how you need to activate your sales items there, how do you need to penetrate those markets? How do you need to price your markets very well? Also, understand the psyche of people on what they are looking for. A ₹10 or ₹1 change would be a huge difference for them. ₹1 is a little more than a cent.

That’s some experience that, at 23 years old, was a very different experience to have. It teaches you how lucky you are and how privileged you are. It teaches you a raw sense of scale in terms of there being so many villages to cater to. You have to be present in every village, but the output quantum from each village would be much smaller.

It teaches you a lot of frugality. It also helps you teach planning. For example, you have eight hours in a day and one of the first things which you are put through as a sales trainee in these companies is you have to take a bus in the morning, go all the way to each and every village, sell at least ₹10,000 of items and then come back.

This means you have to be on time for the bus. Once you are there, you have to be on time when the market opens. You have to finish your job fast, then move to the next village. Many things can go wrong. I’ve seen floods. I’ve seen some political leaders dying and closing down because of that. There are some districts where you can’t go on certain days, where there are black days and other things. All this helps you. Also, you can see something like each and everything for you to make the product work. You have to find the right assortment of goods so that you can make your target.

That is an experience for an early management trainee. You can take that away into each and everything, whether it comes through product-like growth, how you price your product later, how you distribute the product, how you manage your costs and efficiency around it. How do you discipline your own life in terms of how time matters?

For example, you can’t sell for anything beyond 6:00 in certain markets because 1) There won’t be any electricity. 2) The market also shuts down. You have to leave before 6:30 in the morning, and if you don’t get up and do it, the buses will leave. There is only 1 bus every 2 hours. All these things were an amazing experience for me and personally, it transformed me a lot. I’m happy for it.

All the insights and the lessons and learnings that you mentioned, which are humility, working with discipline, and resource constraint, all of these things made you the Founder that you are now at Factors.ai. Switching gears, so you were at Dabur and then you moved into investment banking. What is the driver behind that?

I had interned in an investment bank during my MBDs. When I graduated in 2009, none of the banks were hiring and nobody was doing anything. FMCG companies were the only ones that were hiring a little bit. Thankfully, I entered the FMCG line, but I wanted to get married and my wife was in Bangalore. I had to move back to Bangalore because being in an FMCG role traveling five days a week might not have made sense for her to come and for her to move back. I had to move back to Bangalore. A couple of friends were working at Mission Bank in Bangalore, which was a pretty good firm.

Allegro Capital was there. They used to work with pharma and a lot of healthcare hospital firms. That’s what they were doing. I got into investment banking. It was a two-year experience. I also did one of the first deals with the startup at that point in time over a period of two years. It’s a very different experience both around numbers and in terms of from a financial services perspective. How you look at clients, how you solve client requirements, how you need to be on the toes at each and every point, and how you can make some mistakes, etc. As with any junior associate or someone there, I learned through mistakes and it was a great experience, but one thing I saw there is direct business-to-business pitching.

FMCG sales are very different. You have a product that has a brand. You also know someone would need a toothpaste. It may not be like whether it’s someone who’s going to buy a ₹5 toothpaste or a ₹10 toothpaste, but he’s going to buy something. As long as you can come as somewhat like you have a brand behind you and you have a trustworthy name behind you and you can give credit, you’ll be able to sell it.

B2B 50 | Factors.ai
Factors.ai: As long as you have a brand behind you, a trustworthy name behind you, and you can give credit to it, you’ll be able to sell.

 

A ₹10 item to a ₹100 item, anyone can sell. It’s either now or tomorrow, the item is going to get sold. Investment banking or even B2B sales at a very different level is much different. You have to make the need happen. You have to understand when is the right time to nudge or push them into the conversation.

Everyone, and especially anyone who raise funds or mergers and acquisitions, it’s high stakes. It’s something like that life’s work getting into a certain value. There is a cash payout. There is always a doubt whether it’s an opportunity cost or I’m missing out on something bigger and other things. Managing all these emotions, nudging, and also getting people around multiple stakeholder games where different age groups or sets of priorities, everything comes into place. That was a great experience, which I got from that as well.

One great aspect is I got to work with some of the founders who were college seniors running an eCommerce logistics company at that time, delivery. They were running out of cash and they wanted to raise their Series A. I helped them through that. Around that time, I figured out startup was the place I had to go. I have to be there. Incidentally, that company from a Series A at somewhere around a $20 million valuation. Now they listed and become a public company at almost more than $4.5 billion valuation. Great experiences, but that also made me move to InMobi at that point in time.

I was going to InMobi, and that’s where you found your cofounders as well. It looks like InMobi is a place where you also find what problem to tackle. Why don’t you talk to us about your experience in InMobi that shaped you to be the founder that you are now?

If I had the chance, out of college, I wouldn’t have wasted 2 years of coding, 2 years of MBA, and then a couple of years between banking, and 8 years across multiple places into learning work and getting maturity. I would’ve said that anyone should first go and work in a startup. The quality of the work is amazing. You might be dealing with smaller sizes and different kinds of problems but you can jump into anything and find something to do and shine there and solve or fix problems, then move on to something and learn something from that in a startup.

A mature startup gives you a little more safety. They also will pay you good salaries. At the same time, you also have a team and you have more problems to solve because scale breeds scale. You’re still agile from a mental standpoint. I would advise anyone to work in a startup at any point in time. InMobi was one of the growing startups in India.

There was the pride of being the first unicorn, which was coming out and we have to at least go big into this thing, most importantly, since it was a mobile ad tech company. It was fundamentally a company that used to run mobile ads for customers. There should be advertisers on one side and publishers on the other side. It was like gaming companies, news apps, etc.

Advertisers used to be eCommerce companies. You could see both sides of the ecosystem growing. For example, there were gaming apps, publisher apps, and other apps that were startups on one side. There were also eCommerce startups, which were right from Flipkart, Myntra, and others who are trying to grow their business in terms of app downloads, conversions, and others happening.

You are seeing the whole digital transformation in India as well. The geo moment in 2016 when Rilancio came into the place, and then there was the whole transition in 2013 and 2014 into the Android smartphone era. Also, the rapid growth and scale-up in terms of funding, which is coming into India. Many other new companies starting to grow within this thing. You were able to see business models being made right in front of your eyes. That was the InMobi experience.

In my capacity, I was lucky that I started with sales. During sales, I found a gap and opportunity in the market, saying that affiliate businesses that are growing where it’s not direct advertiser to publish a connection, but that is the intermediary business, which could also be rapidly scalable. This is something that I pitched internally to the InMobi founders. They let me start up the internal group and build that business unit fully.

I started from zero and it went all the way up to a $100 million-plus business. It was one of the most profitable units within InMobi. One that gave me good exposure in terms of management, building your team, and building your own internal startup, but within the umbrella of a company that was there. Also, there is recognition within the company where you can go and meet a lot more people. You can get to talk to a lot of people, etc. That helped in multiple ways. It gave me safety and comfort. It also gave me a good name. It also helped me find my cofounders, etc. Unforgettable experience. InMobi was such a good place for me and I’m always grateful for and obliged for that.

It sounds like even though on the surface, on paper, it sounds like Factors.ai is your first startup, but you’re like a second-time founder. You’re not a first-time founder, given that you started a business in InMobi.

It was more or less like that because, in InMobi, I was given a brief. I have to either do $5 million or I wouldn’t be doing that. I have to do something else. That was an up-and-out situation and it put good pressure and other things. Most importantly, when you work through a situation where it’s a young company, it’s also a startup and you see so many business models built around you, the natural itch towards something like you have to build something on your own comes.

When that comes onwards and you’re also in a company that is growing in agile and a lot of smart people are around you, you also start looking for problems that you see. Two things. 1) You can also solve for it as a company, as InMobi, trying to solve for it and then build a business around it. 2) You would also look for problems like if this thing need not be solved by InMobi, can I build a company to solve it?

If InMobi or Freshwork faces this problem, then can this problem be something that we can extrapolate through induction for thousands of other companies, solve the problem and can we make monetary gains around that? That’s the fundamental itch around any startup game. You identify a problem, you feel that you are personally hurt by it, and try to understand and figure out whether it’s going to be something that is a business or something like a service. Is it going to be a short-term pain, a vitamin, or a painkiller situation? You gather around people to go and solve it if you find it good. That’s what ended up happening with our own journey.

I would like to note we are switching gears a bit over here. You were at Dabur FMCG. You were an investment banker to some extent and then you were at InMobi and now, your own startup founder. How would your family members and friends describe you? Do they know what you’re doing and how would they describe you to others?

As I mentioned, my parents were a little old. As long as I was coming up to college and getting a job, they were pretty happy. They weren’t sure what I was doing at any point in time. They were traditionally asking am I happy? Am I healthy? I remember my father talking about this thing. He’s from a much older generation. What he understood very well was my FMCG world. That’s something that he understood. You make something, sell it, and profit out of it. All the companies that I worked on after that didn’t make any sense to them. Banking was like, “Why should they approach you? Why can’t they talk directly to the investors? What are you doing in the middle?”

InMobi was looking fancy. Also, as he came in, he was saying, “What are you guys doing?” Essentially, he wasn’t able to understand the mobile ads ecosystem, monetization, etc. My startup, he also keeps asking, “Are you guys profitable? When are you guys going to be profitable? When do you have to return your loans, which you have taken from your investors?” He doesn’t understand this thing, but they are confident that I’m working in a team, employing a lot of people around me, and doing something that looks respectable and clean. That’s what they’re happy with.

My wife, on the other hand, is an engineer at Microsoft. She understands a lot of the tech. She sometimes asks, “Is this good? Are you guys bending the limits in terms of engineering?” On her scale, when she’s at the ChatGPT team versus what we do, the scales are very different. It’s also a good perspective that you get at home and can also share it.

What you mentioned as to how your family, especially your father, described and saw you and your transition versus your wife. There’s a generation gap and understanding of the different and evolving business models. It shows how quickly our industry is moving and the different types of monetization in business models. Switching gears here, let’s get into more of Factors.ai, the growth, and the go-to-market. Where are you at? You don’t need to share confidential information, but you mentioned you’re growing rapidly. Where are you at in terms of the number of employees, revenue, and customers with Factors.ai now?

We’re at 45-plus employees. I wouldn’t be able to share the revenue numbers, but we are at 160 customers as we speak. We are adding almost our customers every day, which we are working on. It’s been pretty rapid growth where we moved from 30 customers all the way up to 160 customers now. From 35 customers to 160. We have raised funding as well both at a seed level and a pre-series A level. We have wonderful investors in the form of Elevation Capital, Emergent Ventures, and Stellaris. All Elevation and Emergent are US-based while Stellaris is an India-based fund.

That’s a testament to how good your founding team is, the problem that you’re tackling, and the confidence of the investors. These are top-tier investors who have invested in your company. I’m looking at your website. You’ve gone the PLG route. You have offered a free trial and then your pricing is all the way from $0 to $99, $499, and then the professional. How did you arrive at this? You must have mentioned, gone behind, or talked to a lot of your prospects and customers. Walk us through that process.

To start with, we are never PLG. We never had a free forever plan. We never even had a $99 plan. Our base plans started with $499. We had experimented with something, but at the minimum level, we were selling at $799 on a monthly basis. What changed is one thing. You want to expand your market and there are two ways to expand your market. One is you can go more and more enterprise. You start by saying that $800 a month and become more of a $25,000 or $50,000 annual. Very large enterprises are there, which is one thing or you go on the other side where you see the problem which you’re doing has a huge benefit in the mid-tier to SME market, which is very large.

With the pricing, how you bring in the value props, which you offer, time to value, which you have in terms of the thing, all of these things change. We found a large value in more of the bottom. We were able to take on that use case and for that, we tweaked both the product and the pricing. What you see is the outcome of that.

Now, almost every day, 5 to 10 people sign up for our product. They start immediately with a free trial. At the end of the free trial, we give them options. Either you can go into a paid plan with customer success and other features or you can remain in the free forever plan, which is also there. We have people also constantly ping us through either Intercom or through our Slack channel support saying, “I’ve seen this. This is all good. Can I sign up for a plan? This is what I want to remain here. This is what I want to use.”

People are referring to us customers. A lot of things are happening and that’s where we have found the growth momentum as well for us to say that you start slow and you start with a certain good funnel where you let people experiment with the product. Let people see value in the product. Once they do that, it’s far easier for us to sell and build on top of that.

That is an upsell journey, also. That is a very clear upsell methodology where we say, “You add these things on top, then it becomes easier. If you want to do a lot more, then you have to expand your pricing plan. That’s something that we have built into the product. The most important lesson within this is never to be green. Respect customers’ need for value. These are two different things.

This is something that everyone professes. Look at what value you are driving to them. You have to always pitch for a higher value or if you have spent or if you have done something of so much value, you have to push for a higher rating. I feel the reverse where if you can show value to them by helping them easily enter into your product, see the value, and recognize the value, then you make a customer and have a lot more time to prove to them. That’s one thing.

If you can show people value, then you make a customer and you have a lot more time to prove to them. Click To Tweet

Second is also the ability to see value in terms of ROI. Once that is there and once that confidence is there, they’ll get like, “This is a no-brainer deal for me.” Once a no-brainer deal comes for you, once you add other things on top of it where you say that this extended feature gives you this, you have to pay so much more for this thing, they are far more willing to pay for it. It’s not a question on the mind. They don’t treat you as a salesperson or a vendor who’s asking for this thing. They treat you more as a partner saying, “He has delivered value for me, hence, accepting his recommendations and this thing and adding on top of it is going to be easier for me.

For the benefit of the readers, who is your ICP and what is the problem that you’re solving? How is that problem defined? How did that evolve since day one?

Fundamentally, we serve for B2B and SaaS companies. Any company selling to other businesses or SaaS companies are companies that are fundamentally selling to other business software companies, other manufacturing companies, any healthcare firms, etc., is our direct target. Within these companies, our ideal customer profile is companies that have less than 500 employees.

We look at companies that are more ideally less than $100 million in revenue because, at that stage, a product like ours would make sense. Spending with product market fit or spending early on ads. It’s either ads or they should have a website at least running. It shouldn’t be a company where it’s in stealth mode where the founder is trying to have a dashboard and trying to sell with a service plus a product mode. That doesn’t work.

The product founder has moved beyond the ten design partners and now starting to sell to unknown companies. That’s where a product like ours makes sense to the level where it becomes, let’s say, a $100, $150 million company where there is a certain established marketing team and there is a sales marketing team. A buyer journey needs the ability to identify accounts and convert from marketing to revenue. That’s a use case.

We have exceptions on both sides. We have very early-stage companies also working with that. At the other end, we have multiple listed companies and enterprises that are also working with us. I would say more than the size of companies and ICPs, the use case that you solve for is what makes the difference. The fundamental use case, which we solve for and what we propose to our companies is you work with us, we’d be able to increase your pipeline by 20% to 25% within the first three months.

More than the size of companies and ICPs, the use case that you solve for is what makes the difference. Click To Tweet

How this happens is by providing them with account intelligence. In B2B companies, the unique thing that happens is nobody randomly visits the website. It’s not an entertainment website. It’s not CNN. Anyone who’s coming and visiting your website and reading your blog or your resources is someone who’s keen on the problem you solve or has a problem and he’s looking for a solution based on what he’s looking at.

He doesn’t look for the joy of reading a blog on, let’s say, account-based marketing. That’s one thing. The second thing in B2B and specifically increasingly across the board in B2B, including whether you see legal services, software, or manufacturing, so many things, the website is becoming the most critical point of any buyer’s joint.

Every digital company is not an afterthought like, “I have a website. I also do sales.” Website is the fundamental way where you have the branding, where you pull in customers. Nobody’s going to buy your product without coming to your website. What we do is use this as the fulcrum and bring in data from multiple first-party, second-party, and third-party sources. We bring in data from your CRM.

We bring in data from your marketing automation email systems. We have your website data. We bring in data from your channels or your review sites, etc. We integrate all this data, and build an account score to say, “These are the accounts that are intent on buying your product.” There might be hundreds of visitors or thousands of visitors on your website. These sets of accounts are the ones that have a high intent on buying from you. That’s one thing.

Second, how do you activate them? You can run campaigns for them, send emails to them, send a gift card to them, or send a cold call to them. You can do all these things and then bring them back into the funnel and convert more companies. Why this fundamentally helps generate revenue list, sales, and marketing are both on focus. That is marketing. You want to spend only on things and channels that are converting.

They want to focus on which accounts can immediately convert to a pipeline rather than someone who is just a window shopper. We solve both of these in a single platform to say that I help sales teams go after accounts that matter. I help marketing teams to go after campaigns and channels that bring in these accounts. We bring both of those together.

The problem that you’re trying to solve for the marketers and sales team is about intent and buyer resolution to a large extent. There’s also an overlap with the ABM tech stack, like the 6Sense and Demandbase. How are you different from them?

6Sense, Demandbase, and multiple other ABM platforms are fantastic products in the first place. They were built for a different era. Both of them are more than ten years old. What that fundamental proposition at that point in time is like that is Google display ads. You have a list of accounts. Give me the list of accounts. I will use LiveRamp, Bombora, Intent, and a few other databases, and show ads on the general display, which is there.

The users would eventually see your ad. Let’s say IBM is showing an ad and they have a white paper. Download the white paper and they’ll come to your website. That is a lead generation, which happens, and the sales team goes after the lead generation. This is built for companies that are generally enterprises, very large companies, large deals, and most importantly, where marketing and sales work in silos.

That is where you run display ads and then you have the sales team going after leads and conferences or direct in-person meetings and other things. What we are looking at is the democratizing of ABM. A large ABM platform makes a lot of sense for enterprises. What about mid-market to SMBs, which also want to do the B2B market?

For example, if an ad agency wants to bring in customers, he’s not going to go into the club or go somewhere to a conference and expect customers. He’s going to run ads or run small-scale ads, Google search ads, or a LinkedIn ad. He’s going to do a post. He’s going to do content that is going to be SEO optimized to bring in customers or bring in customers to the page.

It’s the same thing with, let’s say, a small-scale SaaS company or a startup trying to build this business around or even a small IT services company trying to build for mobile app development or something of that sort. All these companies are selling to business. They need an ABM-to-ABM model and they can’t afford to spend on a large platform and an enterprise, only a lead generation model. They want to work on systems which is there. That’s one thing that has changed over a period of time.

The second thing is the whole process of selling and marketing as well. Do you spend on multiple channels? No. The sales and marketing loop is very closely integrated. It’s not something like the marketing teams work on product content material and product marketing material, and the sales team goes and converts the accounts and other things.

Both of them are integrated where the product does search ads, LinkedIn ads, and other things. Immediately, the signup happens. People go through your product or even take a demo of the product, and then they sign up with your system to either use a free trial or talk to your sales guy and then convert immediately.

This close feedback loop is shortening. This is more coming into the way mobile app or B2C customers used to work. That is a B2C verification of B2B in a sense. That is multiple channels are suspended. That is a shorter lifecycle and people want to also test and then improve immediately this thing and there is a constant feedback loop. You need a very different product in terms of how it is built.

For example, in B2C in mobile apps, there used to be companies like Amplitude which used to do attribution. Our vision is to bring that product to the B2B marketing space for a different segment of customers. What we are seeing is the market expanding into a different segment of customers which needs a very different product in terms of the ability to make segments and cohorts of users and then target them, then reach out to them, and then expand revenue. That’s a segment that we play in. We coexist with the likes of larger ABM platforms because every company would also have an enterprise play and a PLG play. We are not set up for an SMB-ish kind of thing. We target the SMB-ish market or a mid-market to SMB market.

B2B 50 | Factors.ai
Factors.ai: The market is expanding into a different set of customers that need a very different kind of product in terms of the ability to make segments and cohorts of users and then target them, reach out to them, and expand revenue.

 

That’s why PLG makes sense for you as a go-to-market motion for sure.

We don’t put our own product.

Switching gears again. Go-to-market has both success and failure stories. You’re seeing both sides of the world, not just for yourself, but even for your customers. If you can share with the readers both a success story and a failure story, that’ll be great.

One is very early in the before PMF was hiring salespeople. We had a good set of youngsters working with us. We set up the email domains, asked them to send email blasts, and worked with them to run emails and those things. It was early before PMF. The product didn’t have the market fit. The market was not fully ready. We were blasting it. People used to come to check out and come into demos. It never used to be a high-intent demo and with the conversion rates, everything falls off the track. That’s one thing. Second, as a mistake, which a lot of people continue to do is cold emails.

There are multiple changes that are happening in the market. One is all email providers are becoming anti-spam and anti-promotion. Most of your emails end up in the promotion tab or in the spam tab, which is there. Second, people themselves don’t read multiple emails. The email open rates, email reply rates, and generally, cold email reply rates and other things are very abysmal.

Still, you have so many people and salespeople swearing by it to send more emails to see whether they’ll get something in the funnel. Earlier, it’s like, “I sent 100 emails. I get two replies. Now I send 500 emails and get maybe 4 replies.” The scale to conversion doesn’t even make sense. With more automation thrown in and more ChatGPT and others, it becomes more like there isn’t any sense in finding together how it’s going to work at all.

On the other hand, the ability to find intent advance and also managing energy. That’s another thing, which is about the same email thing. If a sales guy has to talk to 100 customers or even email 100 customers, he’s never going to personalize. If he’s going to talk to only 20 and knows this 20 can convert better, he’s going to be far more personalized. He has the sense to approach them better. He would also do a LinkedIn connection. He’ll do a messaging. He’ll do a personalized video. He’ll do so many things to make that work.

If these things were in there, people wouldn’t even make that. Hence, knowing who has intent, having a product market fit, and then trying to set up your sales or go-to-market motion to attack this problem is far more energy-efficient and far more remunerative in terms of your growth and other things. The return on effort is amazing. That’s a mistake we made early in our careers. We learned through it. We figured our product fit through our problems in terms of selling.

B2B 50 | Factors.ai
Factors.ai: Knowing who has intent, having a product market fit, and then trying to set up your sales or go-to-market motion to attack this problem is far more energy-efficient and remunerative in terms of growth.

 

We were like, “Why should selling be so difficult for B2B SaaS companies?” Why should it be so difficult for me to do ABM to ABM sell without spending a lot of money on Google display ads or something of that sort? That’s where our product idea also generated. Our GTM mistakes ended up with our product growth.

That’s a classic story of when you are so attached or dialed into a problem, you try to come up with a solution and you are living your problem firsthand and your product became your solution and now, you’re in a better place to market your product to similar personas. That’s a great GTM failure story. How about a success story? It can be either yours or any of your clients.

I remember a second-time cofounder. There are two companies that did this very well. One company, which is Sprinto, which is a SOC-compliance product. Second is RocketLane, which is a customer onboarding software company. Both of these companies were second-time founders. The first one, they thought through. Everyone calls it luck or something, but the ability to time the market is also the founder’s intuition to know what happens.

They were able to come into the market when a lot of software SaaS companies were coming out of India. Data compliance and security compliance became very important. You were having larger trends coming in. They built a similar company and have been able to blitz scale into a growth which was there. That’s something that grew into almost becoming more than $5 million. It’s like a case study that every startup needs to follow. It’s almost in the same time period.

Another company is RocketLane. They started building a community before they had a product. They said, “We are going to solve problems for this set of customers, this profile of customers within this customer onboarding team and customer success team.” They worked backward to say, “Let’s build a community of all the customer success and customer onboarding team.” Once you build a community, bring them together, give them content, talk to them, and have that interactive feedback loop to understand their problems. This fed back into their product.

Once you build the community, bring them together, give them content, talk to them, and have that interactive feedback loop. Click To Tweet

They were able to hit product market fit much faster. Both of these are amazing case studies like, “How do you prepare to get your go-to-market and make this thing work?” That’s good learning for us as well and for the rest of the community. One thing about a startup is to know where you are going to get the direction. Velocity and displacement, everything takes care of it. If you get the direction wrong, a lot of things can go wrong.

The energy that comes to my mind is it’s almost like a golf ball or even a flight path. If you change one degree or there’s an error of one degree early on, that one degree translates to tens of degrees in where you land or where the ball lands. Fantastic. In both cases, it sounds like Factors.ai played a big role in their success.

They are customers of ours. That’s one thing that helps me also understand. I don’t think I would’ve played a role in this thing. They became larger companies when they started using our product. That’s how it worked. Most importantly, we were able to learn from them. Also, we were able to see how the switch to product market fit happens. Once you have PMF, how fast the growth happens is very visible to us.

Two questions for you, Srikrishna. One is, what are your 1 or 2 GTM super skills, superpowers that people wonder about or contemplate and say, “Srikrishna is strong in this. Let me go and chat with him?”

If I look at my personal strengths, I’m very lucky. I tend to get to make good friends. People come around to test this thing. Fundamentally, one thing that I think through my experience of mistakes and my own learnings, which I can share very good inputs on, is about both in terms of early-stage go-to-market and how you start from early stages. Let’s say you have the first five customers. You have the first 10 design partners.

Next, what do you do? Which channels do you advertise on? How do you set up your sales motion? How do you set up your email motion? How do you set up your SDR motion? How do you set up your ad campaigns? How do you set up your marketing top of the funnel to the sync so that you can convert your customer’s past and then go after it?

That’s something I had got a reasonable experience on relative to the market, which is something people do come to me for. The second thing is also understanding the feedback loop in terms of how you identify early team members and early founders. How do you get the early system running and then building on top of that? Once you get the early setup right, a lot of things get solved for the next five years. After five years, it’s a very different problem and there’s a different scale which you have to solve for, but you have to get the early setup.

Thank you for sharing those. The final question I have for you is, if you were to turn back the clock and go back to day one of your GTM journey, maybe it’s Dabur or somewhere else, what advice would you give to your younger self?

As I mentioned earlier, I would’ve joined the startup much earlier. Instead of 2020, I would’ve started up in maybe in 2012.

The key aspect or something to emphasize on and the advice to the readers would be, yes, join the startup, but join a startup that has found a product market fit. There’s also the other aspect as to what is the criteria that you need to look for that have the DNA of a successful startup.

One is like at the fundamental level as founders, you want to work with people who have your confidence and that’s something that you can very clearly seek. Once the founder has clarity in mind, it transpires into a clear vision. It transpires into more clarity like what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. It’ll also help eliminate any cultural issues in terms of people being irritable, not hiring the right people, not over-hiring, etc. All these things these things get solved for. Fundamentally, you need to look for whether you have a founder who’s mature and clear in a set. That can be issues around product market fit, early stage, late stage, or something like that.

That can be so many companies, whether it’s funded or not funded, but fundamentally even with funding-funded companies or late-stage companies, things can always go wrong. What doesn’t go wrong is you having the early founding team being very clear on their heads. If you can identify companies or people you can set with on those lines, and this is a human gut instinct, it’s like you’ll know whether that person is right or not or whether he’s confident or not. Whether he’s someone who can be a leader or not, that’s something which you very clearly know and you jump into the ship with them. Whether it’s a ship, a raft, or a catamaran, whatever it is, you can figure the way out.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Srikrishna. Many nuggets for me personally as well as for the readers on go-to-market, your career journey, and how you made the choices and decisions as to what you’re doing and who you’re serving now. I wish you the very best and I wish the team at Factors.ai the very best as well.

Thanks a lot.

 

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