Selling is always challenging, but it only takes a great marketing strategy to help you sell successfully. In this episode, Sandeep John, the Head of Marketing at Outplay, dives into the go-to-market Strategy to achieve a competitive advantage in marketing and maximize your chances for success. Repositioning yourself as the product of SMBs changes everything and that’s what he shows in Outplay. Touching on building the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for the Sales Development Representatives (SDR) team in marketing, Sandeep also explains how Outplay assists sales representatives to make their jobs easier. Let’s dive into this episode and learn from the success story Sandeep shares today!
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Go-To-Market: Achieve Competitive Advantage In Marketing With Sandeep John
I sincerely thank you, the audience, who’s taking all the time from your busy day or evening and up your game when it comes to go-to-market. Be it marketing, sales, product management, or even the revenue-generating aspects of go-to-market. With that as a context, thank you once again. Now I’m excited to announce my newest guest. His name is Sandeep John. He is the Head of Marketing at Outplay. That’s a startup based in India. Welcome to the show, Sandeep.
Thanks, Vijay. Welcome to all of the audience as well. Pleasure being on the show.
Without too much interest or any barriers, let’s get right into the meat of the conversation. How do you view and define go-to-market?
To me, go-to-market essentially outlines how a product will be launched, marketed, and sold to your target audience. If I have to further simplify this. It’s about introducing your product to the right audience in the right way at the right time to maximize your chance of success. That’s how I would define go-to-market.
That’s the ideal scenario. As you and I know, the ideal is not how it plays out in the real world or in the practical world. Clearly, a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to, as you said, the right buyer, the right time. How do you identify it? That’s a big challenge, especially when it comes to go-to-market. Overall, I completely am in line with how you view go-to-market but then when it comes to practicalities, that’s where we need to double-click. I’m sure that conversation will double-click it to a lot of those areas. That’s a good start for sure. Let’s switch context. Why don’t you share your overall career story and journey leading up to the point of what you’re doing now?
I essentially started off my career in tech sales. If you’re an SDR out there, I was doing your role. I’m picking up the phone, calling people, and trying to sell. In fact, originally, I was selling services. For folks out there, services selling is hard compared to products because with services selling, there’s only a proof of concept that you’re trying to achieve for a product. It’s a free trial or an equivalent of such.
I went through the grind of being an SDR and grew up in sales. At some point, I pivoted in my career where I found, “I’m probably a creative by nature. Do I move and navigate to another part?” As with most folks in India who are based out of India as well will do a strong engineering degree but never end up doing engineering after that. I worked in an engineering company in my earlier career, then transitioned. I did a course in Australia, came back into town, and started off working in a so-called FinTech services/future, becoming a product company for almost five years. It’s a company called Data Tracks. That’s a great company and it’s doing well now.
From there, I moved on to start something on my own. I started doing the whole entrepreneurship journey. I was super excited. I wanted to do something, but back then, GTM probably as a word wasn’t well defined. I had probably the worst GTM strategy in the world. I wasn’t sure who my target market was like you earlier mentioned as well. I completely failed. It bombed and I jumped into getting back into the corporate world. I took up a role in a company where I did both sales and marketing. That was the first real instance of my glimpse of what the world of marketing could hold.
I then joined a famous company called FreshWorks, which went IPO. That company gave me the opportunity. My journey there was building the SDR team and then I moved fully into marketing at some point. I did everything from campaign marketing to field marketing. I was taking care of a couple of regions, and then the opportunity at Outplay presented itself, which was a few years ago. Now I cover all bases in terms of what I do in marketing from product marketing to marketing operations, whether it’s content, campaigns, and whatnot.
That’s how I transitioned, but my unique opportunity or the viewpoint I’ve always had is that I empathize with our sales folks a lot more because I have been there. I have done the grind, to say the least, within being an SDR or sales rep as well. I always try and wear that hat when I think of marketing as well. Am I doing things that are doing activities that can help my sales counterpart? More often than not, all of this is one unit and one team.
Fantastic journey. I don’t think I’ve seen too many of the marketing leaders coming from the sales world. Definitely, I’ve seen a lot of marketing leaders coming from the product side of the house, and then coming and growing into product marketing, and then leading marketing teams. I think you are one of the rare reads. You have started your career in sales as an SDR, picking up phones, cold-calling, emailing, and everything.
Your way up from SDR and individual contributor to building an SDR team and function, building field marketing organizations, running campaigns, and eventually leading marketing teams. Kudos to you. Good track record in there, I’m sure. Why don’t we jump into a couple of areas? You mentioned something unique early on, which is very critical, selling services versus selling products. What are the challenges that you saw when you were trying to sell services early in your career?
Honestly, when I moved into the product world, I was transitioning into a particular company. The company is called DataTracks. We were initially selling service, and then we built a product and the whole world changed. If I’m selling a service, I’m more often than not to be absolutely blunt. You’re probably selling air. There is nothing tangible that you can show to someone like, “This is how it works.” The least I can do is have a presentation deck that can walk someone through. The meat of it lies in the proof of concept. If I’m doing a small pilot project of whatever I’m doing, whether it’s a paid or a free project, that’s what I got to show.
Even to get somebody to get to that stage is much harder than. Let’s say, I am selling a product. More often than not, even if I don’t have a free trial, which most products now have some version of a free trial or a free version of the product, I can at least showcase something to them. Normally, people get enamored by, “There is a visual. I can see moving parts. If you’re a tangible person, you can see some of these things work.”
That’s where I believe lies the big difference because if you’re showing something and you’re selling, you’re more often than not likely to get a better response versus when I’m selling services, it’s so much harder because there’s nothing to sell. I’m vouching for the kind of clientele that I’ve had and similar companies that I’ve worked with in the past. Case studies become my go-to there, so I think for me personally, when I moved into the world, I was like, “It’s such a different. It’s a revelation almost for somebody coming in from that world.” I believe that’s how I would look at it.
I’m completely on board with you on that. In product, you see something that is tangible, especially with a free trial. It’s a no-brainer. Within 1 week, 2 weeks, or 1 month, you either make a decision, yes or no, versus services. It’s nothing tangible. That’s one thing. The output would be a tangible thing. Something like either an implementation of a system or a software, or it can be in the world of marketing, it would be like a pitch deck or blog articles and things like that. Something else that I noticed is services typically are higher priced compared to a product. On product, you can start as low as $5 to $10 a month per user, but services, a decent, high quality, good service would start anywhere from $500 and can go all the way from $10,000, $50,000 and so on.
Something else that caught my attention is you grew in the world of SDR. In between, you did your own entrepreneurial journey and stint, which is a big learning curve in itself. Somehow you got transitioned into the marketing side of things. What is that transition like? What made you feel that you’ll be good at marketing?
I was fortunate enough in previous organizations where I had worked. DataTracks was the company I was working for I was hired to do business development sales or SDR role. It was a small company back then. Now it’s a much larger organization. I got to work with the CEO hand in hand. There, everything that I was doing was partly marketing. We were building the website. I was writing content and working on positioning. I was doing all of that without knowing what it was.
For me, the journey opened up when I came to FreshWorks. I was helping build the SDR team when I joined in, and it reached a certain stage. I was always doing a little bit of marketing or looking into sales enablement because I was trying to, “How can I enable my SDR team to be successful?” We didn’t have sales enablement back then, so I said, “Let me pick that up and do it.” Somewhere, all of this was tying in.
This was during my time at FreshWorks. At that time, there was no better company for me to learn, understand, and grow in marketing than FreshWorks because they were taking some great strides in terms of how they were positioning a product. I was like, “I got to find a way to get into the marketing space here, but I don’t know how. Luckily, FreshWorks, at that point, was building a mid-market org. Up until that point, FreshWorks was very assembly-focused. Everything was built around that and that juncture was a very new space that they were entering as well. They had local teams on the ground doing stuff. The opportunity presented itself because the SDR team was built to cater to the mid-market industry potentially. That was my first opening. Once I got in, I never wanted to get back.
Once the opportunity came, I powered my way through, whether it was campaigns or field marketing, and then grew into different roles. When I kept growing, curiosity was always there. I’m always constantly challenging myself to learn newer things. If there’s something new that’s exciting and I want to get into it. That’s how it’s always been for me up until this point.
Talking about SDRs and building an SDR function from scratch, there are different ways to go about that. You can start hiring junior folks, train them, and ramp them up, or you can hire somewhat senior and then ramp them up, or hire agencies. Maybe there was some other combination, I don’t know, but what is your approach?
At that time, we did everything from hiring an agency. When I say agency, I mean local agency. When I say local agency, back then, we were based out of India. We’ve done everything from hiring a US-based agency, an India-based agency, your own team with inexperienced reps, and your own team with experienced reps. All formulations and combinations back then. I’ll restructure what the thing should eventually be the SDR function. I think the SDR you need now has changed. I don’t fully believe that you can hire junior reps working in SDR. You can take them for an early BDR kind of role because now if you’re a buyer, the way they look at stuff and think is they want an intelligent seller.
They don’t want somebody blasting emails to them, picking up the phone, and narrating something that’s written on a script. They want a seller who empathizes with what they’re looking for, who understands their problem, and who’s taking those steps to solve their problem as well. I don’t know. This is my opinion because I’ve been away from the larger setup of the deep day. We have a smaller team here, but I think you need to have the right mix of folks within the team. You can have structures and layers.
This is not truly my idea. I picked it up from another peer in the industry, Saad Khan, who’s one of the top SDR/sales leaders that exist in the market. In a conversation with him, he had a very great tiering system where he would have experienced reps and inexperienced reps working on certain kinds of accounts. Over time, the inexperienced reps could move. A tier-based approach in terms of how the reps were there. I’m not saying that juniors can’t have a role. Of course, they can have if they have the right base skillset and can be trainable. You want someone like that.
What you also want to have are reps who understand it. If you’re selling in the SaaS world, you want someone who understands the SaaS world and selling a particular kind of tech that understands that as well. The role of SDR has changed. There’s no more basic entry role. You have to think of an SDR like the way you’re thinking of an account executive. You can’t just stop. You won’t expect them to close deals, but do they have the potential to be able to show a full-on demo if required? I would build a very tiered system if I’m rebuilding this or starting again from scratch, or something like that.
Agency, I don’t know. I personally do not have great experiences, so I can’t. This is an experience from the FreshWorks side of the world when I tried it out as well. I think if a company does not have the wherewithal to hire immediately, it’s going to take time and you don’t get something going, or the outbound motion is something that’s going to work for you, there is no harm in trying it out. You can work with a good agency that can help you scale.
If you’ve got a smaller team and you think, “I don’t want to have too many more reps sitting and being on the payroll. I would rather have an agency that I can switch on and switch off whenever I require based on specific business needs,” you can do that as well. I’ve seen both models work in different companies. For me, it has not worked before, but that doesn’t mean it’ll not work for everyone.
I’ve seen that as well. Agencies are definitely a hit or a miss. Same with the hiring, but if you have the right hiring formula and the timeline with the patients, I think that pays off in the long run, but then there are outstanding agencies. I did have a guest early on in my show, his name is Tito Bohrt. He’s a world-class SDR leader and SDR agency company builder as well.
I follow Tito as well. He’s one of those folks I’m looking at and watching what he’s posting on LinkedIn as well. He’s well-known in this space. He knows his stuff.
Something else that is critical for the success of the SDR is the ICP, like target accounts and definitions as to who the potential buyers are. How did you build that ICP? A lot of times, you do expect things coming from marketing, but more often than not, marketing teams, when they deliver, lack the level of detail that’s needed for the SDR to be successful.
That’s spot on. That’s the most important thing now. You can leave everything out on the table. If you don’t get your ICP right, everything should fall around that. If you get your ICP right, marketing, sales, and product, everything is going around that. Whatever you’re building for that ICP, whatever you are positioning and message for that ICP, whatever you’re selling, you selling to that ICP. We’ve had our own versions of that as well. I remember when I joined the company Outplay, my first role was trying to understand our ICP. What is our ICP now? I always initially classify ICP as like, “Who are we winning with?”
Who are the kinds of customers we have? Everything from the size of the organization and kind of organization. Is there any industry vertical we are winning in persona? Who are we winning inside the company? Are these sales leaders? Are these SDR leaders? All of those nuances were important to me. My initial goal was, can we have those conversations and understand that? Also, try to understand if there is an aspirational because we were still very young as an organization when I joined in. We were still trying to figure it out. The product market fit hadn’t yet happened. The case was we still try to move that needle to try to identify what is the right ICP for us where we are getting a lot more wins.
The first initial phase was around customer interviews. To talk to the folks who we are winning with and who are open to having those conversations. We also drew parallels in terms of, “I know who I am. I know who my competition as well is. Can I get an understanding of what their world looks like? Can I draw parallels in terms of understanding my customer based on what’s happening there as well if they are the right fit in those terms as well?”
The third one was very hard because it is more trying to go out in the cold and getting folks who you think are your ICP to walk into conversations with you with a deal of trying not to sell something. To be very clear here, I’m not trying to sell. I just want to try to understand. That was very hard because most people know if you want to come under the conversation, more often than not, you’ll be trying to sell them something.
I could only get a very few of those conversations through some network, but it was enough to give us an understanding of, “This is what our ICP looks like now.” This is where you want to go aspirational. We’re still trying to achieve PMF at that point in time. That’s the journey that I do, and then, of course, map out what pricing looks like based on this ICP once we agree that this is whom we should go for.
For the audience who are not aware of what Outplay does or who you serve, can you give a quick 30-second intro?
We are a sales engagement platform built to help sales reps make their job a lot more easier. It automates, semi-automates, and helps you personalize at scale to make sure you’re removing all those mundane tasks and getting sales folks to sell. We typically target SMBs. Our tool is a plug-and-play. You buy it, you use it. There’s a free trial as well as a full free version with limited features that you can use if you’re not sure about what the journey is. If you’re looking for your reps to get better at selling, whether it’s reps, SDRs, or multi-channel across different channels, Outplay is something for you to give a shot.
The reason why I asked is I’m tying it back to our conversation around ICP. With Outplay, what you defined, you did touch upon it earlier, is you got SDR leaders or sales leaders. How did you go about a double-click of how you built the ICP for Outplay?
We took a change. When we started off, what we assumed was who our ICP was. We always thought we were an SMB company aspiring to be a mid-market company or targeting a mid-market organization. For every campaign that we would run, our initial positioning was very much around the pipeline. Any position like building a better off. Understanding that a mid-market company might have a team of 20 to 30 plus SDRs. What’s important to them is in terms of pipeline and all of that. That initial narrative for us, a lot of it was around that ecosystem.
It is only later in the journey that we realize that this is not exactly the ICP that we should be going after. In fact, we were winning a lot more with the SMB base than we were winning with the mid-market base, although we aspired to be mid-market. When we were on the table for an SMB discussion, more often than not, we were winning against the competition. Mid-market was always hard. We would win here and there. You’d still get the big players coming in and going.
That’s when we tweaked down our messaging and understood that this is the tool that is for SMBs and helping SMBs scale. We took that narrative. We changed that ICP document. We changed the way we looked at ICP almost like 3 to 6 months. Within that period, we realized it was not the way we thought it was, and then we went back and said, “Let’s re-look at our ICP again.”
This is something I’d always echo with folks out there. An ICP is not a static document. It’s a dynamic or a living document. You have to have a phase. You can do a quarter. I would say a quarter is a good roadmap or timeline to go and re-look at whatever. If you’re not winning customers on the base and you think you’re supposed to be winning it, maybe that’s not even your ICP. We went one quarter and then to the second quarter, and we were like, “Something is off here. Let’s go back to the basis and figure it out.”
We are the product for SMBs and we’re super clear about that. When we did that and repositioned ourselves, that’s when things changed because the marketing, sales, and whatever we were building in the product also focused on that base. We weren’t building from mid-market and enterprise. We’re building for SMB and we did a good job of it. When we decided on that, we changed everything around that narrative and things changed. We would see a lot more business, lesser churn happening, and several other positives that came over.
It also goes back to a discussion which you are defining as to how you go-to-market. You talked about the right buyer and this is exactly what it means. Having a clear understanding of your ICP and evolving your ICP equals the right buyer. Let’s switch gears again. I can take the conversation in so many directions over here. I’m trying to figure out which one to take it into. Can you share a bit about your go-to-market success story, and then following that, we’ll cover a go-to-market failure story as well?
This is 2 to 3 campaigns tied into this narrative. The story here is we are a small brand. Outplay, in the early days, at least when I got into the business, is in a saturated market. There are multiple players who do exactly what we do or do different versions of what we do, but all sales engagement platforms are very similar in terms of how they operate. The challenge there for that initial stage for me is, “How do we draw awareness to the brand and as a result, drive demand?” I’m a true believer that if you’re not looking at awareness, demand is never going to be able to create, you’ll never get more signups, and you’ll never get more traffic.
Brand plays a vital role in all of this. I’m in fact doing another session somewhere where I’m talking about the actual narrative of how brand drives demand because I have use cases and examples of how that works. When we started off, that was the narrative. Nobody knows who we are. We took a call and said, “Can we build campaigns?” I’ll also define my ICP here. My ICP is exactly my sales/SDR leader. To be more specific, it’s an SDR manager. That’s my ICP. In some companies that are small, it might be the CEO, but that’s okay. For practical purposes, we’ll say an SDR manager.
Any specific regions or is it worldwide?
Worldwide. We were 60% favored towards the US, 30% towards the European UK region, and the remaining percentage towards India and APAC. Typically, we were built in terms of what we were doing. We launched 2 to 3 campaigns in almost quick succession in terms of what we were doing. The goal of these campaigns very clearly is, I’ll call it out again, not to drive signups. The goal of these campaigns was purely to put the brand out there, drive people to come to the website, and educate themselves about the brand.
How we did it was slightly different. We still do it. It’s a campaign called SDR 30 UNDER 30. It’s almost like a nomination thing where we put it out on social, get people to say and submit something in terms of their best calling scripts and best email scripts. We ask them a bunch of 4 or 5 questions. It’s not an easy form. They have to fill out a few details, and then we get a jury that evaluates who the best SDRs are. The 30 SDRs, we announce to the world and we give them a prize as a result of what happens.
That took off in a big way when we did it the first time because, until that point, nobody was given the role of SDR being such a difficult role in picking up the phone, calling, emailing, and whatnot. Nobody was truly recognizing them in the open. There were other companies that had versions of this. There was a company that had a BDR Appreciation Week, but no calling out because everyone else was getting called.
Even if you look at a typical sales environment, you’ll have the AEs getting recognized. Your SDRs are not often getting recognized. We did this campaign and it blew up. What happened is because we were targeting SDRs, SDRs got excited about it. SDRs started sharing, “There’s this competition. I’ve nominated myself.” It took off. I remember the first edition. We didn’t expect too much to happen. We were like, “We’ll do this and we’ll see what happens.”
In fact, I had a discussion saying, “How is it going to take off? I’m not sure.” 300 to 400 applications came in that first lock when we pushed it out. People were doing it. When we crushed it down and came up, we announced the 30 winners. For almost 1 month, 3 to 4-week period, it was 30 under 30 all over our social because it was not us sharing it. These 30 SDRs shared it. Their managers shared it. Their companies on their handle started sharing it. Suddenly, this cascading effect where the SDR now got the manager involved and the managers feeling proud of the SDR, they’re like, “Who is this Outplay?” That’s the conversation.
On the second one we did, we also realized that one thing that was missing in all of this, in the cold-calling world, because calling is an essential part of what the product also does, is there were calling scripts online, but what about real call recordings? We put the word out there and told people, “Can you submit your call recordings? If you’re publishing and want to use it, we’ll give you a $50 Amazon voucher to do that.”
Suddenly, we built this entire library of call recordings that never existed in the world. Salespeople, sales reps, sales managers, and SDR managers could use that as a repository to train their reps and not just call their ecosystem. It’s called Call of Fame. It still runs. We have more than 3,000 subscribers to that now. In fact, I said, “To hell with the subscribers, let’s put it on Spotify.” I made it accessible to everyone. We took the entire Call of Fame and dumped it on Spotify, so anyone anywhere can have access to the entire library and they can listen to it on their walks or in their car drive wherever they want to. You don’t have to subscribe to the product as well. The intention being you’ll know the brand because of this. They will come to us. Traffic went up.
The third thing in this whole stuff that we were doing is something called Cold Call Battle. James Corden has a show called The Late Late Show. On The Late Late Show, he’s got something called the Rap Battle where he’s got two celebrities, or it’s him and a celebrity who are going out to each other. I said, “What if we had a cold call version of this? What if I put one caller against another caller? Each one playing the prospect and the seller and then each one switches down. I have a moderator right down the middle who will take a call between who’s the best and let’s make it LinkedIn Live.”
The reason for LinkedIn Live is we get more people engaging. What we did was we asked people to nominate the winners on the call. It would end up like two people going head-on. We position it like that. Two people going after each other. One person here. That was a hit. We get easily around 200 to 300 people showing up for a live show for that. We don’t do it as often. We do it once a quarter to get that whole excitement going and then we moderate. All we do is moderate it. We give them 3 to 4 different scenarios and they’re at each other. It’s a lot of fun. Everyone was looking at it and people were saying, “This call could have been better.” These three big initiatives drove people to the brand suddenly from a, “I don’t know who you are.”
There was a fourth one, I forgot to mention as well. Early on in January 2022 when we started a few of these experiments, we have a podcast and we do seasons. Season one was very interesting because the objective of season one was, “Can we get billion-dollar valued CEOs coming onto this podcast and talking to us about their 0 to 10 or 0 to first 100 customers? How do they get it?” The podcast called is The Hype is Real. It was done in collaboration with Outplay and Revgenius. We did this together.
We got 4 or 5 of the big-name CEOs. I’ll call them out. CEO from Gong, Clary, Gainsight, and the CMO of 6Sense coming and talking to us. It was very intentional. The idea there was suddenly you have a brand like Gong, Clary, 6Sense, or Gainsight. In a podcast with Outplay, who is Outplay? That was the response we wanted. We wanted people to question like, “Who are these guys? What do they do?” When they land on the website, “You guys do this.”
You’ll see these programs still running. All these will constantly run and these are our own properties and we keep these properties running apart from any webinar or anything else happening. This is what gives us the largest surges in traffic whenever we need them to achieve that larger goal. I think this is one of the biggest. These 3 or 4 narratives all towards the same purpose of driving that brand awareness piece.
These are all great success stories, so thank you for sharing all of them. I would love to double-take into each of those 3 or 4 initiatives that you did, but we are definitely short on time, so let’s pick one. For example, you did mention podcast and the goal of getting billion-dollar company CEOs talking about how they build from 0 to maybe the first 50 or 100 customers. How did you pitch that? What is your process like?
It was the easiest hack in the book. The question for us is how we want to get that first person. For all context, Outplay is a Sequoia-funded company or a Series A-funded company. Our first catch was to acquire a network. We knew who we wanted. We tried through our connects. We get through Gong. What we would do is, at the end of every podcast, we would ask the guest, “Is there somebody else you think might be a good guest for this podcast, who would that be?”
Each of them provided the other name. Of course, we didn’t know the other person. We didn’t have a direct connection, but imagine the CEO of Gong emailing the CEO of Clary and saying, “I did a podcast with these guys. It’ll be great if you can join. Have a word with them.” That’s all. The person is of course going to respond because it’s the C-level person talking. Literally, that’s the chain effect that we got. Every single guest we’ve had on the podcast has literally come because of that.
It’s all about getting that first guest. Definitely big thing that went your way is having the Sequoia brand. It’s absolutely a big thing. That builds credibility right away. Otherwise, it’s not easy getting those big names.
It’s not easy for sure.
Fantastic GTM success stories that you shared starting with the SDR 30 UNDER 30. You also mentioned the SDR playoff or face-off and then the podcast getting the billion-dollar CEOs to your network. As you and I know, especially since you have seen this from day one, it’s not always up and to the right. Clearly, it’s not successful all the time. You also have failures. What is a GTM failure story and the lessons that you learned that you’re applying now?
One thing that we later realized in our journey was that while we were talking to customers, were we listening to them. I’ll rephrase that in a better way. For example, one of the things we were trying to do and one of the exercises was, “Why was churn happening?” We were trying to say, “What is the majority cause of churn?” If it’s a product thing, of course, we can fix it. There were a lot of complaints of, “This is not working for me.” We’re like, “Did they sign up for the wrong thing? Was it a wrong sell?” We were trying to understand that because the goal there was how to reduce the churn rate.
At times, you would see customers who would say, “My product is not working.” It would be very trivial. They were like, “This is not what the product does.” We would try to understand and we understood later on it was not a product problem. The product was working fine. It did everything that it had to do. All that was fine, but when I say we weren’t listening, it was the fact that what they were not trying to solve was the product was not working or didn’t do that. What they were trying to solve for is outbound. I’ll put it in a simpler way. Outbound in itself is not easy. It’s complicated. They typically come and buy a tool like Outplay to help them with outbound and that whole multi-channel process.
How does one do outbound? We’re understanding the nuances. As you mentioned earlier on, hiring the right kind of folks, building the right kind of scripts, all of that. A lot of the folks who came to us at that point in time were trying to build their outbound. In fact, the ones who were churning at least were trying to build it. They had some inbound narrative going on. They wanted to scale and do something in outbound. They were starting up all together and they wanted to get the outbound piece going. They got a tool, meetings were not happening, and nothing else was happening. They’re like, “The tool is not working for me. I don’t want this tool. I’ll go away.” That’s what I meant by not listening.
When we were seeing them, they’re like, “What are we doing wrong here? Everything seems to be ticking the right boxes.” We never got it up until the point that we realized they are trying to solve for outbound. Although we are a tool that can help them do this, we also need to enable them to succeed in outbound as much as we can. The amount of insight, whether it’s providing them with content assets that can help them draft better cold emails, calls, and whatnot. Because we had all these assets with us, it all existed. We were doing it to drive demand but we are not doing it back into our customers and saying, “You can use this to do this part of outbound. You can do this and that.” That was not happening. We are going on one track.
It was like we knew everything and were doing everything. Everything was working in silos and we were not listening to our customers. It’s a big mistake on our part. The moment we changed the narrative and told customers, “Do you know we have this with outbound?” In fact, we are running a series right now called Outbound for Dummies.
It’s literally to break down every nuance of the outbound function as simple as possible with real practitioners. The people I’m interviewing there in that series are people who are doing it, who built their SDR team, either from that first ten hires or trying to scale. They are talking about what they have done. All those lessons, again, why it create demand for me in general. The purpose of that is to feed into my customer base to tell them, “This is another thing you can do too.”
One of the check-ins that we do with our customers is we don’t even ask them how the tool is performing anymore. That is one part. You set up the tool. We’re like, “How is your outbound working? What success are you seeing in outbound? What is working for you?” Even to reposition ourselves as outbound consultants in that larger sense. this goes for anyone. The big learning for all of us is, generally, to listen to your customers and listen to what they’re trying to solve. Your tool is only one part of that solution. It may not be the entire thing. Most tools cannot solve everything. It might give you only one part.
For us, the lesson was to get down to understand what they’re trying to solve. Try to fix or at least enable them to solve that problem. You are going to have a lot more loyal customers and these people are going to become advocates at some point in your journey. The mistake was not listening. As a result, we’re going on a tangent. Once we realized it, we said, “This is what they want.” Everything that we have done from there on has been keeping that in mind. Even if you’re building an asset, we’re like, “Are we thinking about what we might need from this?” I think all of that helped.
What I liked about this realization and the failure turning into success is you, when I say you, the team including yourself, dug deeper into this outbound feature within your product, but the users are trying to build an outbound system using this feature, but the outcome is, “Is the outbound system working or not?” The feature can only get them to some point. Something else that caught my attention and I enjoyed listening to your eventual success story is the content that you build to drive brand awareness. The cataloging and the resources that you provided for these users to be successful in outbound. How did that come about? Who’s brainchild idea was that? It’s not like you designed it with that in mind though.
Are you talking about the demand gen or the realization?
It’s both. You’re talking about outbound, the feature failure, and then the content from the demand gen can be used for your users.
Honestly, I don’t know if it was designed in such a way. It was designed by accident. When we are thinking of all, it wasn’t thought like that. It was like, “How can I drive demand? I know my audience. Can I build something for my audience?” Eventually, it tied back together, but in my world now, with every piece of content from my blog, my social, and my webinar, the only underlying rule I have for my team is that no content will be in isolation.
We know who we are building it for. We know what we are building it for. Every piece ties into some other piece. If you’re putting a social post, what is that post for? Is it tying into a blog, a webinar, a customer point, a pain point, or something? I built one narrative. I have one diagram somewhere because I love things when they’re black and white. I don’t like ambiguity in terms. For me, that’s the same thing I expect of my team. The least I can do as a leader is to give them clarity. I built one convoluted-looking diagram. I’ll probably share it on social someday.
To explain, this is the narrative of how you should build content. If anything is outside of this, it’s not worth your time so don’t bother. Build it only for this. If it’s ticking all the boxes there, we’re sorted. We’re pushing stuff back into the realm. We are keeping that flywheel motion. It can’t remain in isolation. To the first point, I don’t think it was planned. It was by accident. We came to the realization, “We already have this. There’s a gap here. Can we push it back?” It was more of an afterthought, but that’s how it came.
That’s a great point. Thank you for being so honest over there. It was not done by design, but then your team and you, yourself as a leader, had that inkling of thought, “This is a resource we can put to reuse.” To the uber point that you mentioned, which is every piece of content that you’re designing, can it be repurposed? That’s the basics of content marketing. It’s not content creation, but how do you get the flywheel effect with one piece?
One podcast can turn into one blog, plus a bunch of social media posts. One podcast can turn into a blog, social media posts, and videos, especially if it’s all serving not your target audience, but even your existing customers and users. That’s a holy grail. What resources do you lean on, whether it’s podcasts, communities, or blogs to up your game? Is it SDR, marketing, or marketing sales?
Do you mean personally?
For me, in terms of resources, not as many books because I can’t sit and read. For example, my biggest cheat code for books is I have Blink. I use Blink to catch up on my non-fiction book. If any book on management or on marketing. Anything that I want, Blink will tell me in fifteen minutes what the entire book is. I don’t have the patience to honestly read a whole book. I read fiction. I can spend an average amount of time reading fiction, but I struggle reading nonfiction. These are the two things I do well. If you go to my LinkedIn and if you look at the number of posts that have been saved, I see a bunch of countless stuff. I’ll be screenshotting stuff that I’m seeing. I’ll be reading stuff.
For me, it’s always something that will trigger some narrative. There are 4 or 5 people who I adore on LinkedIn that to me are my biggest influences. Some of them I know, some of them I don’t. I’m following their content and keenly watching stuff that they’re putting. I’ll call out few of their names, Anthony Perri and Robert Kaminsky are my all-time favorite in terms of product marketing.
If you’re a product marketing person ever getting into this or even if you’re a leader, follow these guys. If you want to hire them, hire them as well. I think they do help startups and help them scale. It’s the most brilliant, clean, and the most clarity I’ve ever seen. Anything that they’ve put is so well-designed. Everything about what they do is unbelievable. I’ve spoken to Anthony in some chat conversation once but these two guys work in tandem. They’re phenomenal.
Another good friend who I’ve worked with in the past is Adam Goyette. He’s a phenomenal marketer. He used to work in G2 as well. There’s David Fallarme. He used to be the VP of Asia for Hubspot. He runs his own community, which is a great community as well for APAC marketers. Of course, there’s the brilliant, there’s a guy called Kyle Poyar of P&G. I love his stuff. I love everything about that company. If anyone puts something out there, I’m always digesting that.
A lot of the learning for me comes from these things. Podcasts, not as much. There are very few podcasts I listen to that are specific to the industry or whatever, but folks that are posting stuff. There are a bunch of communities I am in. I block two hours of my calendar every week to go into the community and look at what’s happening. I’ll try to find something I can help with someone or whatever. I will always go.
There are a few communities I’m active in. There’s something called Revenue Circle started by Justin from Demand Base. There is APAC Marketers, which is run by David Fallarme from what used to be at Hubspot. There is Genius, which is a great community run by Jared. There are probably 6 or 7 of them, but these are the 3 or 4 that I’m constantly looking at in the sales enablement community. There’s a Revenue Marketing Alliance or RMA. For me, it’s the community and the individual LinkedIn folks. These are super important.
I appreciate you calling out the names of both the people that you look up to and follow as well as the communities. Switching gears once again. What are the 1 or 2 GTM relevant skills that people look up to you and they come, “Sandeep is cool and created it. I’m struggling with this. Let me go and ask Sandeep.”
Given my past of SDR and sales, more often than not, I get called into conversations for outbound. This is everything from setting up your SDR scaling outbound. In general, how does one think of outbound? When do we need to go outbound? This comes a lot within the realm of wherever I am. I also get into conversations with folks trying to figure out how to sell to SMBs in terms of how they scale. I’m getting customers that I’m running page channels or running organic channels as well. I want to double-click on this. Where should I put my money? How should I invest? What should I look at?
I get the second part based on my activity because a lot of what I do at Outplays is that, but I get the outbound conversations because of my past as well as helping build scale and what that world looks like. I get into conversations. Essentially, if people are looking at outbound or scaling what their SMB looks like, I will more often than not end up in a conversation.
The last question before you sign off. I know it’s pretty late for you in India. If you were to turn back the time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Talk to more people. That’s all. I’m not kidding. When I started interacting with peers, mentors, future mentors, or people I aspired to, it changed the world for me. It opened up something that was not there in books, in LinkedIn posts, or in articles. These were real people talking about real problems and real ways that they were solving stuff. The best of my knowledge comes from practitioners who’ve done this before. I do an equal spirit. I also tell them like, “I’m not getting in this. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. We keep this whole discussion mutual.”
I wasn’t doing it up until the Outplay journey. For me, the Outplay journey was when that world changed because as a leader, I needed to be able to talk to peers and understand how they were trying to solve things. Up until that point, it’s a small team. I was managing a few people and a big company. It’s a lesser opportunity or even the need was less. The need was higher here. I needed to figure this out. It wasn’t like going to be a small company.
You have to get stuff done. I started talking to people either through the network, some other network, community, and all that. It changed. At that point, I was like, “I could have done this five years earlier as well. I didn’t know.” The reason I think most people also don’t realize it’s there and they don’t do it is because people are scared to reach out to people to have conversations in general.
What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody is not going to respond to you. The reason people will not do it is because they’ll think you’re going to sell it to you. If you’re super clear about that, then I don’t think people will refuse. What if you get a few rejections? That’s perfectly fine. As long as you can have those few great conversations that honestly will change your life forever. Talk to peers, mentors, and people you aspire to be, it’ll make a world of difference. That’s the only advice I have for myself.
It’s been a great conversation, Sandeep. Good luck to you and your team. I’m sure people find you on LinkedIn. Is there any other ways than LinkedIn?
I think LinkedIn is the best place for me.
I was wondering, we left out so many topics. I think we need to do a round two. For example, we didn’t dive at all into how you grow SMB. We didn’t talk about the different channels and so on. At some point in time, I would love to have you back on the show, but it’s been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much, Sandeep.
Thanks. I enjoyed it as well. Some great questions got me thinking. I had to do my homework on this, but it was a good refresher to get back in all this stuff. I appreciate you. Thank you.
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