B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration

 

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration

Collaboration inside your team is expected in any thriving business. But what if you can extend that collaboration to your customers? When it comes to go-to-market sales, having a transparent collaboration with the buyer and the seller is a lifesaver. That is what Accord is doing. Vijay Damojipurapu talks about this with the CEO and co-founder of Accord, Ross Rich. Learn how Ross built a go-to-market playbook for his team and how he started Accord. Learn the challenges of building something new in the market and how to get market validation. Discover more about go-to-market sales and Accord today!

Listen to the podcast here:

Accord And The Power Of Customer Collaboration With Ross Rich

I have with me Ross Rich, who is the Founder and CEO of Accord, Y Combinator Alum and in the go-to-market, MarTech, sales tech, customer support, customer success tech, and tech stack, depending on which lens you want to put on. That’s one of my favorite areas, which is the whole GTM tech stack. I’m super excited about your story, Ross. I’m sure we’ll dive a lot more, first of all, a very warm welcome to the show.

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: Combining the challenge of building a repeatable sales process and working with customers transparently birthed a customer-facing collaboration platform for sales and onboarding.

 

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to dive in.

Again, I always start off with the signature question with all my guests because I want to deliver value to my audience first, which is how do you define go-to-market?

I was thinking about this before and it’s a tough question because it’s so much of a company now, especially if you have the product by growth. I think there are two answers. If you have your sales and marketing team and they sell someone, then they go into the product. I’d define it as the sales and marketing side.

As soon as you bridge both of those in and you think about retention and NRR and all of those great things, it’s the whole company outside of the R&D side of things. It’s a startup. It’s your entire company. If you have part of your product, that’s driving growth, which almost is true with any company now. It has to do with your retention and customer success. That’s how I like to think about it.

Especially for the PLG-focused companies like yours, you think about the product first, but then very quickly and importantly, you need to pivot to the customer and the user. Even for PLG strategy-focused companies, it depends. You need to focus on how do you quickly deliver value to your user first up. It’s user-focused. Buyer focused as well and how do you deliver. Hopefully, you get to a vitality effect and I repeat usability. All of this, again, comes back to that buyer and the user, knowing that person, he or her very well.

That’s part of your go-to-market. It’s the product of building everything.

It’s a huge part of the go-to-market. That is one core component. Again, I’ve listened to quite a few podcasts. I was listening to another podcast where it was the Founder and CEO of I think the company was Intellimize. His focus was all balling down to customer focus. The go-to-market strategy is sales lead but in your case, it’s a product lead go-to-market strategy. Would you agree with that?

The process is a bit of a mix. For Accord, in particular, it’s not self-serve freemium in terms of like, “You can go on. You get to set up and we’ll ring you up if you get past a certain limit like a Loom, Figma or something like that.” You get a free trial. You can play around. You can use the product before you decide to buy, which feels about right.

In 2021, the new company was starting out but you’re guided, assisted by an expert in the space that’s like, hopefully, a consultant and giving you best practices and what we’ve been learning to make you even more successful. It’s a mix of salespeople. It’s super helpful but that’s not how buyers want to buy. They don’t want to be led by a salesperson alone. They want to be assisted. How do you bridge both the need for people to play around with the product and validate themselves but also get that expertise and advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about?

It’s almost like it’s a salesperson but with a very customer success mindset and customer success-oriented. I’m sure we’ll dive a lot more during this interview. Next step, can you tell our audience and share with all of us your personal, professional journey, your story and what led you to what you do now and who do you serve?

I’m originally from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I was born and raised in Canada. I went to school on the Westcoast on Vancouver Island and I studied business. My dream job after starting school there was to be in the music industry. I was managing artists. My brother and I started our first company together that was putting on events and bringing in artists that were touring across Canada in the US, hosting fundraisers. We’re very involved in the music and entertainment industry. Somehow got my dream job after school at Columbia Records. Working with artists like Calvin Harris, Snoop Dogg, Omi, Pharrell, etc., on album releases and songs and tours and all this stuff. That was the dream.

I quickly learned that wasn’t for me, long-term. I found the culture of the industry, but sadly, I didn’t see myself working in this industry for more years after the first year. It’s a lot of egos and the way of working. It was very bureaucratic. Surprisingly for such a creative industry. I ended up finding a job in San Francisco. I moved there before I had the job.

I did about 40 interviews with recruiters, screenings, looked up as the top early-stage companies and wanted to be at a company where I was going to be one of the first salespeople. I was like looking at sub 25-50 people companies exclusively and somehow, I ended up at Stripe. I don’t know how luck, etc. It was 2015 and they started to hire business and salespeople.

The first years were purely self-serve, selling to tiny startups, founders, SMBs, etc., adding on a sales team and luckily ended up being one of those first hires. That’s what drew me into tech sales and this whole idea of building repeatable go-to-market engines and the love of the deal. I did that for about five years then founded Accord with my brother a few years ago. That’s what brought me here. A secure, very random path from Canadian University and putting on events and concerts there to Columbia Records in LA and New York to Stripe, APIs, payments, and FinTech to a sales technology platform with Accord. That’s been my personal journey so far.

Find a group of smart people and learn and optimize from them. Money will follow. Click To Tweet

First of all, you’ve done a pretty good job summarizing your entire career in 2 or 3 minutes, so kudos to you on that but it’s amazing. You start off with something in the music industry, which is very creative. Of course, you can draw the lines and connect the dots from the music industry to sales. I get that part but then, what led you to sales in tech?

You don’t have many options when you’re a few years at a school and the only experience was music and you want to be in the professional space. I was like, “I’m good at working with people,” all that stuff even before the company that I had in university and at Columbia Records. I was like, “Maybe a junior sales role would be a good foot in the door.” For what I wanted, the opposite, I wanted a fast-moving company in the early stage to be able to be part of the strategy, which seemed to be the tech world. That’s what led me to focus on tech. The real reason I joined Stripe over the 39 other companies I had interviewed with was the team that I met there.

I was like, “This group of people seem insanely overqualified.” They’re incredible senior people and super talented folks from Google, Twitter, and all these other earliest stage companies. I was like, “You guys are joining this small startup that I never heard of before and all that stuff and selling APIs and FinTech?” It wasn’t proven out at that time yet. I was like, “I need to be around this group of people.

I’m going to learn so much and it seems like a great time and opportunity to do this.” Within a few weeks, a couple of months, I was hooked. I’m like, “This is what I’m going to do for the next X number of years.” That’s what led me to join Stripe. It wasn’t as thoughtful as you think, I looked at the market, what’s going to be growing and fitting in tech, whatever APIs and the decentralization of all this stuff, I was like, “This is the most amazing group of people that I’ve spoken with and met with. This is the right shift to be on.”

For all our audience, I think the key takeaway, don’t overthink. There are 1 or 2 points that Ross mentioned. One is the group of people, team, smart people, a top tier, and the cream. Look at the opportunity of working with them, being with them, and learning as a team.

Optimized for learning. That’s what I optimized for and led me in the right direction.

Once you optimize for these tools, money will follow and that’s what led you to study your own. Prior to that, I think you applied for the Y Combinator.

We got into YC then we started the Accord.

Tell me a story around what got you into thinking around the pain point? You’ve been doing sales. You’ve done fantastically well for yourself but what was the transition and shift from being an employee, nothing wrong with that, in sales to, “There is a bigger problem I want to solve. I want to start a company around this?”

Honestly, it’s pretty organic starting Accord from my time at Stripe. There are two main things that I had on the top of my mind that I was very passionate about at Stripe. One was, going from being one of the first sales and business hires to a massive 400 global sit person sales team and doing the deals myself. From the team perspective, the challenge was always we’d break into a new market, new product, etc., how do you get everyone else that we’re going to bring on to understand what that motion looks like? We went through all the repetitions, all the loss deals, the learnings, the million conversations. How do you get that in that process to the rest of the folks? That was a big challenge.

I was one of the leading reps there and we’d work on the new segment or the new product. I found it so challenging. There was never a great solution. Testing out Google Docs, Confluence sheets, bringing in trainers or the classic old-school laminates and bringing in all that stuff. It’s never been an effective way for other folks to understand what the process should look like, what meetings you should have, what resources you should share when, what stakeholders you should loop in at different parts of the team, and what expectations you should be setting. These details make a difference that every new rap has to learn. That was one side of it. These building of go-to-market playbooks and how to effectively work with customers throughout the buyer journey.

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: Accord is a collaboration platform for B2B sales. It’s a shared plan of steps and milestones that make it really easy for everyone involved to understand what the deal is, in a very transparent setting.

 

The second one was the collaboration with customers. I’d hacked together this system that I built. This operating system of like shared slack channels and Google Docs and sheets and presentations and templates and emails. It was an effective way of being very transparent. I collaborated with my customers through all these shared workspaces, but it felt very like a one-off and across a lot of different things. It felt like there should be a solution, software for this, whether there is JIRA internally for a lot of the product teams.

There’s Figma for design and GitHub for engineering. Why is there something for such a collaborative organization which has sales? There’s nothing for that internally as well as externally with the customer. We’re combining both of those. The challenge of building this repeatable sales process as well as working with customers transparently birth the idea of Accord, which is a customer-facing collaboration platform for sales and onboarding.

There should be something that is templatized that everyone can use and customize from there. There should be something that is collaborative with customers. Again, it wasn’t like sitting in and how do I think it started ideas. I was like, “What am I doing? What are the challenges that I’ve run into? What do I think would be helpful for the next person in my position?”

I think the key point for all the audience is as much as you want to create your own company but that will not and should not be the driving force. You can have that in the back of your mind but unwind and let the problem percolate. Let that see thought grow into something bigger. That’s what I see in yours. It’s not that, “I’m at Stripe. I’m doing well.”

It’s not about arrogance that, “I’m the best in the world. I’m going to create a company.” It’s not that attitude at all versus there’s a playbook. There’s a bigger gap in the space, specifically around the sales organization and the buyers. Now, why is that more of a vendor buyer relationship versus a partner relationship?

That’s a good point. I think, similarly, I’d add like, what is your passion? That’s the thing you’re going to be most successful at. Say you do want to start a company and that’s the thing that you want to do next. It’s not going to be looking at the market. As an investor, I don’t think it’s going to be looking at it as a human and what you are most passionate about.

That’s the thing that you’re going to be most curious about and have a unique perspective on to solve problems for people than necessarily like, “This space is hot now. I could make a lot of money off this type of business model.” Everyone is thinking like that. That’s not going to be the unique next insight that you have as a person. It’s going to be from what you’re passionate about.

Look at your market not as an investor, but as a human. Your insight as a person is going to be from what you're passionate about. Click To Tweet

Let’s switch gears and more on the lighter side of things. You guys are unique in the sense. It’s you and your brother who started this company. It’s not that often and not that a common theme. How do your parents deal with that or tell others as to what you guys do?

I think my dad deeply understands this because he was an entrepreneur but a salesperson at heart. He made sales for fifteen years before starting his company. He works with clients every day and understands, although they didn’t have collaborative workspaces but the importance of building those relationships, collaboration, and transparency to create the best partnerships. How would they describe it? To most of their friends, they’d be like, “Our kids are doing some tech thing. A technology company that’s helping salespeople do stuff.”

I’m thinking of different ways we can go here. One is, how did you decide between you and your brother as to who will be the CEO and the CTO? Let’s go down that path. How did you guys figure that out?

It was pretty organic. When we were making music back in the day, I felt the natural roles. My brother is, I would say, much more creative than me. He was always doing the music production, the recording stuff, all those pieces and had more of a product and engineering mind than myself. I was more of the external marketing and all that stuff. When it came to starting Accord and we started working on it together, he naturally started to think about it like, “What is this thing going to look like?”

He’s designing it and thinking more about the product side. I feel like I was more of the like, “We have a hundred conversations with sales reps, CEOs, CROs, VPs of sales, etc., what their feedback is going to be?” It’s an organic partnership. He was starting to build out the wireframes, the mock-ups and prototypes. I was out there trying to understand the market. That developed pretty organically into I was the external Rich brother and he was the internal Rich brother in terms of working with the R&D team. I was out there talking to the first customers and recruiting. That’s how it pretty organically happened.

It is only you as the cofounders or did you have anyone else?

We have another cofounder. We wouldn’t be here without him, Wayne Pan. He’s our CTO. My brother is CPO. He is a multi-time founder, amazing engineer leader, led teams of up 30 to 40 engineer people. Also led product design engineering orgs. It’s like the whole R&D org, a very holistic perspective on that. Similar to what we were talking about, the go-to-market side on sales and marketing. He’s started a couple of other companies before. One that was invested in by Sequoia that sold to LinkedIn.

He’s been in a lot of ways the shepherd for us on our first founding journey, loves to build teams and the operating system of a company and that foundation, which I feel like a lot of times with younger, early first time CEOs like myself and my brother is some of the biggest complaints from employees and other stuff is like, “How do you do this? What is the foundation? What does the start of the week look like and the wrap-ups and the quarterly kickoffs and retros?” He’s super thoughtful about all of those pieces of the company, culture and team building, which has been super awesome to have.

I think that’s a core component, especially when you are building the team and doing fundraising early on. With one founder, it’s super tough. It’s not that it can’t be done. If you go onto the other extreme, which is 4, 5, cofounders, that’s a big no. Kudos to you and your brother for identifying someone who’s stronger on the product and the engineering side. Now, did you guys and Wayne work together earlier or how did you guys come to know each other?

It was crazy. It was an intro from one of our first pre-seed investors. He’s one of the first people that say, “Commit money to their crazy idea that was Accord.” Bob Ross was leading Stripe’s partnerships team when I met him. Both of their companies, at some point, were acquired by LinkedIn and happened to overlap there. When I asked Bob, “Whom do you know?” It was like, “I happened to catch up with Wayne. It was super random. We were having caught up in years and it was perfect timing.”

From the first conversation to decide to work together, it must have been single-digit business days for such a huge decision. It felt super right. I think personalities melded well and the vision of the culture and type of company we want to build. One of the first things that Wayne said when I was talking to him. I’m asking how he thought about the company building, etc. It was the quote from Steve Jobs around, “Hire smart people, get out of their way and empowering people.” It was like that. I feel like a few people live that and that’s the type of team we try to build.

Have you heard of this book or read this book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill?

Of course.

I would be surprised if you said, “I don’t know that.” It’s almost like that but then something is strong. The universe conspires to make it happen. It’s exactly that. Enough of the loosey-goosey and gooey stuff.

We were talking about manifesting the company. It’s funny that you bring that up. We manifested it.

Let’s talk about Accord. Tell me about your product. Whom do you serve, how you build the business, where you guys are at now?

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: When starting a startup, you can be an expert in this space for years. But if you’re launching a new type of product, you’re not going to know if you’re successful until it comes back from the market.

 

It’s super high-level to summarize. First, it was a customer-facing collaboration platform for B2B sales, onboarding and success. The core of it is if you’ve heard of mutual action plans before in sales, a shared plan of next steps, timelines, and milestones. We add in resources, team members, a summary of the deal to make it easy for everyone involved in both the buying and the selling side to understand what the deal is, very transparently setting the right expectations across the board. That’s the idea. We mainly work with high-growth startups.

We’re working with some seed and series a company all the way to the likes of Figma. We work with their enterprise sales team closely. Across the gamut, I would say that where we help companies most are in the high touch, multi-stakeholder, project management side of the deal when you have a lot of people coming in. Maybe it’s a product, engineering, design, and finance decision-makers. You need to keep everyone in the loop around pre-sales with maybe it’s risk or compliance or legal and all that stuff.

Post-sales is like, “What does it look like to roll this out across the company successfully? How do you build a repeatable motion around both of that pre-sales and onboarding?” Make sure there are smooth handoffs and setting the right expectation for your customer. That’s the area that we play in to start focusing on technology companies who are the early adopters of new tech like Accord.

I’m super excited about what you guys are doing. Think of it this way. You got collaborative platforms internally. Now, we are doing that for an external audience that’s specifically for sales and buyers.

Everyone knows how helpful Asana is and Monday.com and Click. All of these things have been wildly successful notions for years but there’s nothing that’s built to work externally with partners, customers, buyers, and all that stuff.

Talk to us about the go-to-market. You did mention high-growth scale-up startups. Are you looking at geographies? Are you looking at what tickles and what is the go-to-market motion like?

It’s been evolving. The thing that I was familiar with was more of a top-down, mid-market, and upper mid-market enterprise deal from my time at Stripe. I know at the end of it, I was working on 1 or 2 deals across months. I knew that motion and made sense for something like Stripe because you’re ripping out your entire revenue engine and you’re putting in Stripes.

For deals like that, it’s not like you’re going to do 5% of your payments. All the work gets done and you shift over, which is very different from something like Accord, where you could have a sales rep or a manager bring this in a small part of the organization and test out on one deal or one segment and all that stuff.

I’ve had to learn a lot about product-led growth and understanding how our buyers want to buy. It’s been super organic in terms of how we’ve thought about and matured our go-to-market motion. To start, it was me talking to anyone in my network about this idea and the curious conversations turn into your first users. That’s how it started with the first 5 to 10 users. It’s talking to people and asking for friends of friends who would be interested in this.

It is similar to fundraising. It’s the same thing with the customers, friends, and family first, then go wider.

It started there and when we started getting into the public and beyond that network was February 2020. It’s when we did our seed raise announcement, which went on TechCrunch and got a great reach there. It was interesting because we first moved from us going to certain people and our assumptions to what is going to come back from the market. You send it out into the world.

Who are the people that this is going to resonate with? It was interesting because it wasn’t only the people, sales leaders, VPs of sales, and CEOs. It was a lot of sales reps, managers, and even smaller seed series A-company mainly selling to a series of B2C above. It was like, “There is this interest from not necessarily would be a top-down sell,” but some people that want to click around more on the product.

What we did is we shifted in the next few months to a free trial motion and messaging more for these earlier stages like series A, high growth. When you’re going from your first 3 to 5 reps to 10, 20 to 50, how do you make sure you have the right motion to scale? That seemed to be a great point. Before you had all these systems in place, harder to rip out something than to start with something like Accord, that’s where we shifted to, had way more interest in terms of the click-through rate of the website from request to demo to starting with the free trial and giving someone the custom workspace.

The curious conversations turn into your first users. Click To Tweet

We’re even looking to double down on that thing about what’s an individual plan that people can start with. It’s been from the full top-down to the free trial sale to even looking at other ways of getting the product in people’s hands with less friction and thinking about how does this specific type of person in this market at the stage company in this role want to evaluate and thinking through that lens.

That is exciting. I think it goes back to when you got your earlier hypotheses or experiences you went to top-down and thanks to the seed round, the press coverage, and everything else. You’ve got good publicity, good coverage, and that led to outreach from the market to you guys.

When people ask my biggest learning, that’s been my biggest learning of starting a company. Startups are you can have your hypothesis. You can be an expert in this space for years. If it’s a new type of product and a new category, you’re not going to know until it comes back from the market to go to your assumptions. Having opportunities like that and for our GA launch and through product time, we got another set of that and refined it. You’re only going to be successful. If you think about it in terms of the market first, not product first or the sales process first, that’s the biggest learning from this experience so far.

It’s amazing. It’s all first principles and foundation, but unless you go through it, you won’t know how to apply it and you’ll make the early mistakes.

That is one thing. That’s why they say, “Launch quick.” It’s not like, “Get the product out there and start selling quickly.” It’s getting into the market and start to get those data points back to you as early as possible. You’re going to go down, building the wrong thing or a muscle around certain processes that aren’t going to be the things that get you to success.

You might get that initial traction but how do you know that this is your time? It is for the next 1 to 2 years.

You don’t know. I think that’s the answer to all this stuff and why it’s so challenging. It’s so much instinct. You need to be able to be wrong and be nimble. That’s also one of the biggest learnings. You went out and it was this growth. You were focused on these later-stage growth companies. You were getting this feedback back with a ton of interest.

They’re doing evaluations. These are the blockers and we do this a lot and go, “This seems a lot easier. Maybe it’s not right. Let’s test it out. We did both of them for a quarter.” It was like, “This is where we’re winning. This is we’re getting the most usage. We have to double down at some point. Let’s make another big bet on this.”

If in 3 to 6 months, that’s wrong, let’s make sure we’re thinking holistically but that’s the stop and start. You need to be doing things a lot and heads down but then you need to come in. That balance is the right way because we could have been wrong about the adjustment. It could have been like, “Only because it’s TechCrunch.” That was the readership you saw along from there. It could have been wrong and you should have continued going after this other market, but you don’t know.

Let’s double down. I’ll put you in a somewhat uncomfortable spot over here, which is, based on this initial data, you need to make hiring decisions. For example, let’s say you’re building out a marketing team. You say, “This is the segment I’m going to go after. This is a go-to-market and this is the 1 to 3-person marketing team. Now, are you going down that path? How are you thinking about building your marketing, which is a core component of go-to-market?

We took a different approach there. We spent so much time the first year plus building out the product. We’re working super closely with customers instead of going out there and building up the team and spending. We had my brother, who was our CPO shift to for the first X number of months to marketing because he was the expert and the salesperson. Of doing that, it was like, “Someone with more intuition on this to figure that out.” That was super key to us getting those data points back and being able to do it super quickly. It didn’t have to go out and put together a JD, interview all the candidates, and get them to ramp up on everything that we’ve done.

That would have been the time that it took us to run those experiments. It confirmed that market. You need to be sure about that before you start scaling. We took a very similar approach to the sales team. I wish we had one person but when we did the launch in February 2020 with the seed announcement, we were inundated with these conversations.

It was myself and my colleague, Danny, who was doing everything at the time, CS operations, sales, etc. Everyone needed to jump on calls. We had our engineers, Wayne and Ryan. Everyone is jumping on these calls. I’m glad that we could get those early learnings in first before we understood who’s the right marketing team and sales team to start building, then we doubled down.

We hired our first two folks that were more experienced generalists who could also help figure it out. We didn’t look at like, “Let’s bring on five people to do this.” It’s like, “Let’s bring on two other people to help us continue to figure this out, and then two other people can sell them, then you bring on the next 5 to 10 people.” That’s how we’ve approached the team-building side of go-to-market.

That makes total sense, especially in that high growth early stage where you guys are at. It’s all hands on deck. You need to shift across roles. You might be engineered formally but you need to jump in marketing, sales or even customer success. It doesn’t matter once you’ve seen that play out in 3 to 6 months. Now, “This is a time when we need to hire someone full-time for that role.”

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: When it comes to budgeting, make sure you’re nailing your positioning and messaging. Experiment around that before accelerating the spend. Focus on the right things that matter first.

 

I think that’s the right way because people discount how much work it is to go out and hire properly. First, understand the role. That’s something that I’ve learned too. We probably spend the first month, 2 to 3 weeks at least to understanding the role. Having 10 to 20 conversations with people that are experts there like, “What level they should be? What background should they be? What’s the interview loop look like?”

You’re not going to get the best person in there unless you can speak their language or you understand what you’re looking for and what they would do then. It’s the hiring, the great loop, making sure you’re not cutting corners and it’s onboarding them. As you said, having someone do that for a few months and making sure you understand what you need to do next prevents you from making a lot of mistakes down the road.

How do you think about the budget? I don’t want you to reveal exact numbers but ballpark percentages, especially bare yard in terms of growth. We all know benchmarks. They typically say like 10% to 20%, especially for marketing. In sales, it’s more mostly headcount. How are you thinking around those for the marketing budget?

Our thoughts on early marketing have been very similar to all the same framework that we’ve used for every other piece of the business. It has been making sure we nail the positioning, messaging and experiment around that before accelerating the spend. That’s playing to a lot of the organic stuff. You can tell from what you post on LinkedIn, go to your newsletter or later test on persona. Even outbound is a great way to get the feedback back quickly. Make sure you’re focusing on the right stuff, so when you spend $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 a month, you’re sure that’s the approach that we’ve taken. We’re starting to ramp our first ad spend.

We spent a lot more time on thinking about what is exactly the problem we’re solving, how do they think about it now, what are the keywords, the percent, all of that stuff. Again, taking that approach to things, then hopefully we feel very comfortable putting in a ton of money and it’s efficient coming back. When are you ever going to catch up on that? You can see it as a business. As soon as you start hiring multiple people and have them spend and start getting those leads in, you’re never going to go back and foundationally fix things. You start growing too fast and there are more people and more processes. Taking that extra 20% to 30% time pays off in terms of building a very efficient go-to-market.

Again, it goes back to reinforcement, which is, first of all, you do things that won’t scale. It’s called counter-intuitive. You need to do things that won’t scale. First, you get your formula right, then you can pump in the money.

You’re never going to start doing things that scale to figure it out to experiment.

Another controversial topic in the industry, which is around SDRs. Whom do they report to and why? Is it marketing or sales?

Market first, not product first. Click To Tweet

Foundationally, I don’t know. I haven’t spent much time thinking about it because I didn’t have to. One of the first salespeople we brought in had been building out for many years, full-cycle sales, SDR teams from outbound to close. We brought in a demand generation marketing lead who has never run SDR teams. Maybe longer term at Accord that changes but for this small team that we have now, it’s very clear you gave that function to the person that’s done it successfully for many years and you figure it out later. If I had to say, honestly, philosophically, it feels closer to marketing than sales because it’s tough and stay. It depends on how you think about the SDR role.

If an SDR role is slowly generating demand, I think this has to do with a lot of the average contract value of the company. If it’s very big business, you’re trying to break into accounts. You’re maybe pairing them up with an account executive. That feels like more of marketing. You’re starting the conversation, whereas if it’s maybe a lower HCV and they can help close the deal or get it further because that’s the type of product and sales motion, it feels like more sales. It depends on the type of product and sale it is.

Again, I would say if they can contribute more to the deal and can have that conversation and it’s like less of an enterprise, like a twelve-month thing. I hate handoffs. I hate as a buyer. As a seller, I hate handed off, the missing context, all that stuff. I’d rather have them go full cycle but you can’t do that if you’re trying to get into a $500,000 to $1 million deal. You can’t afford to have SDRs make that motion. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that, though.

I think being pragmatic is one thing. It also depends on the personnel that you have on your team. In your case, you have the sales leader who’s run the SDR team. You give it to that person compared with imagining who has minimal experience. I get that practical, pragmatic piece. There is the other piece, which is more of a mindset starting with the leadership, which is how are you seeing SDRs or BDRs? Again, it all goes back to how are you serving your buyer the best way? Are SDRs or the BDRs? First of all, is it outbound or inbound? We start with that. That’s the first thing. Do they handle outbound?

I’m assuming this is all outbound SDR.

That’s one thing. The second is, are they more into an appointment setting mindset, which means, “I need to give so many meetings, many leads, SQLs even MQLs. It doesn’t matter.” That’s a whole different discussion but how many meetings do I need to give it to my account executive team? That’s very short-term thinking. Again, it’s more of. It’s me versus what’s right for the buyer.

I would say, of course, there are a lot of variables around contract and sales cycle. Honestly and sincerely for me, especially that I’ve run marketing teams, I believe that it should be within marketing where that handoff is happening and only then, it’s almost vetted out to a discovery phase, then you pass it to a context. Get us to take it forward through, is there a good fit for getting into a contract discussion then the close? That’s only me.

My only issue with that is I’m picturing myself as a customer. If it’s outbound, I have that conversation. I do discover then I’m talking to someone. It’s like, “What about that context?” It’s less efficient to have maybe a join and to jump in there or even to tag-team it. If I’m the customer, I want to make sure that the context is carried forward. Maybe you can solve that with a very smooth handoff somehow. I haven’t experienced that as a buyer ever, but that’s my personal perspective.

My philosophy and how I approach marketing are in absolute alignment with sales. Again, it goes back to the buyer experience. If we do have SDR supporting into marketing, SDR is responsible for the buyer experience. He or she has to work with the account executive. It’s not like, “I’m done now. It’s your job. Throw it across the wall.” That should not be the mindset at all.

I agree. I guess we haven’t worked together. Maybe if we had worked together, I’d feel differently.

Folks have worked great, let’s say the sales leaders. They all attest to the fact that I am someone who gets and who believes in the alignment piece versus typically marketing sales is at loggerheads.

That was one of the biggest things when we were hiring our first marketer. That was one of the biggest things we’re testing for and the first conversation with after my screen with our sales leader because it was so important to find someone. Especially so early on, it’s not like you’re building your thing. It’s like there’s nothing that exists. You can build it together. I’m proud of how I’m seeing. The closest partnership is between them now. I’m seeing on the go-to-market market team, which is great.

B2B 28 | Customer Collaboration
Customer Collaboration: One thing that’s really important from the sales go-to-market motion, is the efficiency of enabling individual reps and managers to start using your product before you sell to a team.

 

One final question within this whole 2021-2022, then we’ll go into the last section, which is, you want to create a category. Pretty much talk to any founder. They want to create a category but it’s not in our hands. Again, it goes back to what is the market saying? If you were to talk to your marketing and sales, what would you say? Tell them that, “This is working.”

What will be the 1, 2, 3 objectives for 2022? How will you approach your whole category creation playbook? By the way, I’ve seen the resources that you have put together. For me, I’ve done research around the winning CMOs. I think I mentioned this to you, which is around content. It’s around the community and experiences/events. It’s these three things. The winning good market leaders do this extremely well in sequence. Not that they’re spreading themselves thin. How will you apply or how are you thinking broadly? I gave you some pointers and some time to think about that answer.

One thing that’s important from the sales go-to-market motion, I think, is the efficiency around having both this way of enabling individual reps and managers and earlier stage founders to start using Accord. Before, we necessarily like to have a sale to a team combining that with efficiency and selling into those companies and making that bet super early on in 2022. As a company to pay off, not even maybe in 2022 but the following year and the year after, you’ve seen a number of companies do this super well. That’s a key part of the strategy. Moving forward is that big bet in terms of mixing that bottoms up and figuring out what the top-down is for larger companies.

Both how do we go even lower and have that motion, which is going to be more marketing product-led as well as build our muscle around that more larger growth deal and selling into those multi-stakeholders? It’s sales enablement, ops, managers, executive sponsors, the reps that are saying, “Okay.” Those are two big pieces.

The other piece is what you’re referring to, which is how we are seen as the thought leader when it comes to building repeatable sales and onboarding processes for early-stage companies? How is Accord the answer for when you think about other companies like Stripes, FinTech and API but they’re thought of as the best practices in terms of the engine is the most developer-friendly tool?

Again, Accord is a collaborative workspace between buyers and sellers, but how are we seen as the people that best understand how to solve this? That’s why the CEOs, VPs of Sales or other people come to us is like, “They’re going to help me solve this problem.” This is the solution but they’re thinking from the problem first. That core problem is ubiquitous across every B2B company. Those are some of the key things that I think about overall for 2022. How do we do that? Probably a variety of different ways.

Again, it goes back to there are things that you can measure and you cannot measure. This is one of those things. You want the market to perceive you in such a way. You can do surveys, brand recall experiments, statement, recall experiments or problem statement recall experiments and who do they associate, bet around those things. It’s a great area. That’s something that I’m trying to wrap my head around as well, which is category creation. Every founder wants that but how do you know that you’re creating a category?

It’s an interesting question. I love the book Play Bigger. That’s about category creation, if you’ve read that.

I’m reading that. That’s my nighttime reading book. We can go again multiple ways but I did tell you and mentioned that we’re going to close. You have been pretty patient over here and I’m also respectful of your time, Ross. The last couple of questions to you is, whom do you lean on or what resources do you lean on? Is it community? Is it maybe investors or PR founders? You’ve got the Y Combinator community, for sure. Is it podcasts? Is it books? What do you lean on to get ideas?

I would probably say that first and foremost is my intense routine. I’m a very routine-driven person and make sure I can sometimes get out of whack with that, but I think I’m functioning best when I’m getting up and going to bed at the same time. When I’m going to bed, I’m putting away my phone a couple of hours before, reading, journaling, getting up and doing a run with my dog and a workout and yoga and all that stuff. That’s the number one support system and routine that I built-in. Again sometimes, life and things get busy. It’s like, “This week is going to be a tough one and I have to put it down for a second,” but I always regret that.

You need to be able to be wrong and be nimble. Click To Tweet

Outside of that, I’ve tried to build a community of folks that have been in my shoes before. I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything but it’s a unique pressure more than I thought it would be to feel responsible for the success of a company, employees, investors and chatting. I have a handful of folks that have started companies and now advise or invest and all that stuff. I meet a lot of them on a bi-weekly basis to feel heard, feel supported and understood. It helps with that perspective of, “This is where you’ve been, this is where you’re going, and these are the things that are going well.” To bring that perspective when all you’re thinking about is this one thing and the most important thing that day or the week. That’s been hugely helpful, and my dog.

I love the fact that you call out routines and having that very strongly, again, to share my personal and what I do on a personal basis. That’s almost like me. I’m a very routine-driven person to the fact or to the extent that my family and my wife will say, “You’re very rigid, not being flexible.” There is a reason why I’m being rigid so that everything else can work. The same thing with running, again, as you said. It’s getting those things done first. Take care of yourself, so you can start taking care of the bigger things and take care of others. Do you listen to any podcasts during your run or is you and your dog?

I try not to bring the phone with me or anything. It’s the morning silence.

One final question to you is, if you were to turn back the clock, in your case, it would be day one at Stripe when you were in the GTM role, which is as a sales rep. What advice would you give the younger Ross?

I feel like I’m a very serious person and very focused. I think, enjoy it more with others and sometimes take that break. I had some good friends that helped me do that sometimes but doing that a bit more is probably the advice I’d give to myself.

On that note, thank you so much, Ross. It’s been a pleasure. I’m going to root it and I’m sure our community is going to root for your team. I call it a success and wish you the very best.

I appreciate that.

Thank you.

 Important Links:

 

About Ross Rich

B2B 28 | Customer CollaborationCurrently building inAccord.com to move B2B sales from Vendorship -> Partnership 🤗

SF based, Canada raised 🇨🇦

Outside of work, I love to:
– Ski Tahoe, hike Marin, & play/coach soccer
– Explore meditation, yoga & mindfulness
– Adventure through new countries & cultures

Inspiring Reads:
– The Alchemist
– The Book of Joy
– A Short History of Nearly Everything
– Abundance
– The Making of the Atomic Bomb
– Siddhartha
– Creativity Inc.
– Losing My Virginity
– Man’s Search for Meaning
– Napoleon (Andrew Roberts)

 

B2B 12 | Strategy Execution

B2B 12 | Entrepreneurial Mindset

 

Nothing can come out of an excellent business strategy if the people behind it lack consistency and focus. Therefore, everything on the marketing side boils down to proper strategy execution, which involves communication and collaboration. Vijay Damojipurapu sits down with Jeremy Epstein to talk about how every CEO must learn the ins and outs of marketing or risk becoming ineffective business leaders. They discuss how well-targeted implementation of strategies can successfully transform marketing from a cost center to a revenue driver. Jeremy also dives deep into his work in the world of crypto and OKR as the CMO of Gtmhub, helping business leaders fully embrace the full potential of their plans and work on it before it’s too late.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Starting A Consistent Business Strategy Execution With Jeremy Epstein

I have with me Jeremy Epstein, who is the CMO of Gtmhub. Jeremy, welcome to the show. I’m super excited to have you on the show because of your varied and colorful background. I say that with good intent.

There’s no person involved?

No. You are big on crypto. I’m eager to pick your brains on how you end up there and what you’re doing there. That’s interesting.

We could do that all day also. 

Besides that, you’ve grown a marketing career. I’m eager to peek or tap into your head and wisdom and get all those nuggets out for our readers. We can go on and on. We see Neeraj Agrawal who called you as one of the top go-to-market experts and who gets growth marketing. Kudos to that. I want to get the story as well from you.

Thank you. It’s an honor to be here.

There are only two responsibilities that an organization has: innovation and marketing. Everything else is a cost center. Click To Tweet

Welcome, Jeremy. I start my show with this question. I pose this to everyone and I’d like to get your take on this. How do you define a good market?

It’s the combination of strategies and a series of activities that you’re going to do in order to help your intended customers and prospects understand your value proposition.

As simple as that.

At the end of the day, if I want to get even simpler, it’s, “How am I going to tell our story?”

There are a lot of pieces below that. Is that a top-level?

You did ask me how I define it so that’s how I define it.

B2B 12 | Strategy Execution
Strategy Execution: A good market is the combination of strategies and a series of activities that can help your intended customers understand your value proposition.

 

That’s a good start, Jeremy. That is exactly what we want. If you need to unravel it and make it more consumable or actionable for our readers, what is your thought process around that? 

Especially when you get to the CMO and VP of marketing level, the fun part is coming up with the strategy. That’s what everyone is paying you, the theoretical big bucks. You get to do all the whiteboarding and come up with the game plan. If you’re a reasonably good marketer and you made it to that level, you probably have a decent strategy. Good for you. Where things start to fall apart, though, is in the execution of the strategy. How effectively are you building a team? Most importantly, how effectively are you communicating what your strategy is? If you talk to people in the marketing function, the number one thing that they’ll tell you that they don’t like about marketing leaders is an inability to effectively communicate. It’s ironic because marketing is all about communication. Here we are, we come up with these grand strategies and then we start to fumble the actual explanation of, “How is this going to work? What are your responsibilities?”

I get super passionate about this sometimes. When I think about the go-to-market, it’s my job as a leader and any marketing leader to say, “Here’s our game plan. Here’s the audience we’re going to go after. Here’s the series of activities I want to do.” More importantly in saying, “Vijay, you’re responsible for this. If you do this, I’m going to carry you off the field and dump Gatorade on you and my hero. If you don’t do this, I’m going to take you out back and shoot you.” That’s how it works. It’s very clear roles and responsibilities. That’s how I think about the go-to-market. It’s the measurement of, “I made some assumptions about what we were going to do. Was I right? What were the experiments that I ran along the way? What was the hypothesis that I have? What do I now know that I didn’t know then?” I’m continually iterating about that, but it’s alignment. Go-to-market is about aligning your team behind the strategy and giving them clarity across teams and the various functions and roles so that everybody can understand, “Here as an organization, this is what we’re going to do to drive our marketing objectives for the quarter of the year, the decade or whatever you’re doing.”

You articulated that very well as always, which is a series of activities. In short, it starts with that. Where a lot of marketing teams fumble is more than the execution pieces and it can be across communication within the marketing team where the leader is not clear or the team members are not clear. Even if that individual, let’s say it’s the growth, demand gen or content person is clear, but there are a lot of gaps and what I call as the multiplier effect, which is, “If we are marching towards a launch, what is growth and demand gen doing? What is content doing? What is field marketing doing? What is the brand marketing doing?” All of those pieces have to line up to that one consequential event.

You’re 100% right and I’ll throw, “What is sales doing? What is the product doing? What is the support team doing?” I like to say we’re all in marketing. It’s just that some of us know it. My all-time favorite marketing teacher is Peter Drucker. He said, “There are only two responsibilities that an organization has, innovation and marketing. Everything else is a cost center.” Our job is to make it clear, especially if you’re working with global teams. I have people in six different countries that are on my team. Communication is even more important because I have to be mindful of not using, say, American football analogies or using a movie analogy because it’s not obvious to a lot of people, especially people for whom English is their second language. I need to be mindful. As leaders in a global world, we all are. That’s where we have to be thoughtful in how we drive the execution. It’s great. Everyone’s strategy is fantastic but at a certain point, it’s like the Mike Tyson thing, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” As soon as you launched the campaign, you’ve gotten punched in the face.

You also mentioned something that Peter Drucker called out. You’ve got product or innovation. You’ve got marketing and everything else is a cost center. Peter Drucker mentioned it in the ’60s or ’70s. I don’t recall the exact timeline. It was early. Somehow, somewhere along the line, things got muddled. The reason why I say that is, if you look at marketing at most organizations now, they are seen as a cost center. The number one reason is because marketing is not carrying the revenue burden that the sales team is carrying. I’ve looked at your track record and background. You’ve got a very accomplished track record. Somewhere along those lines, your thinking must have shifted. Can you share your journey when you started your go-to-market journey, but emphasizing how the thought process has evolved from, “Marketing is not just a cost center, but I should be a revenue driver?”

At a certain point, every business has a plan until they get punched in the face. Click To Tweet

I’ve been very fortunate along the way to work for forward-thinking leaders. Too many marketers, especially when they’re starting out their career, they’re not reporting to other marketers. They’re reporting to CEOs, founders or COOs who don’t necessarily understand. They think marketing is a trade show booth, T-shirt and bumper sticker. That’s part of it, but that’s not what it’s all about. Marketing comes down to awareness, perception and leads. Everyone thinks about the leads, but they don’t think about awareness and perception.

In my journey, I didn’t study marketing. I studied history in college. I like to say that history and marketing are the same disciplines. It’s just storytelling, combining facts and stories. I started my career during the dot-com era first in Tokyo for a marketing agency there where I read my first marketing book, which was The One to One Future by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. That set me on the path and formed my thinking. I moved into sales for a couple of years. In New York, I had my own startup company, which was TaskRabbit but a decade too early. We missed that one. I worked at Microsoft in some marketing roles and a lot of channel development roles. Microsoft is where I learned about the operationalization and scale of marketing. That’s where you start to understand, “It’s great that you do all this cool stuff, but if it doesn’t have an impact in some meaningful, measurable way, then you’re wasting everybody’s time and money.”

The big thing for me happened when I started to play around with social media. I’ve been an early adopter going all the way back to my first Mac in 1984. I was blogging since 2000. I was number 186,000 on LinkedIn or some point in that, and Twitter in 2007. I started to understand that the arrival of social media would change the nature of marketing from this broadcast one-to-many mass discipline to everything that became a conversation. It became about relationships and understanding that there’s a person on the other side of the conversation. You want to monetize it, but you have to think about the value. What is the value of this relationship to them? The marketer’s job is to think from the other perspective.

I had the good fortune to be the Head of Marketing at Sprinklr for four years, from our Series A financing round when we had about 30 people at a $20 million valuation until we were hit unicorn with a $1.8 billion valuation and 1,400 people. That was a crazy ride. Again, I was blessed with a phenomenal CEO who said, “Yes, I want you to drive the revenue.” I understand that revenue is going to come when you do things that make other people feel valued in a relationship, conversation and community. That’s what helped me see the whole thing. I started to understand, “You have to think about your activities in terms of outcomes, but the way you achieve those outcomes is by treating people right.” Treating them well, doing the right thing and having confidence that you may not be able to attribute every activity to every single thing. That doesn’t matter. If your strategy says, “I’m going to do the right thing, treat people well and give them reasons to talk about us in this social media empowered world,” the value is going to show up. That’s been my philosophy. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for me.

You’ve given a good formula out there. You are the living proof of that mindset. The thinking shift has fairly driven your career growth. Kudos to that. There are quite a few points that caught my mind when you were talking about your journey. One is having the good fortune to work with a CEO who gets marketing. Unfortunately, not many CEOs get marketing. You did call a few points under that, which is, marketing is not just about swag or stickers. It’s a lot more than that. You also emphasized the point of, “The ability to create a community and drive value, you’re doing it one-to-many, but keeping that one person in mind.” That’s when the actual transaction happens. These are great points. Especially for those who are looking to grow in their career, my advice which you validated yet again from another accomplished marketer, is to look for that leader or the CEO who gets marketing.

If you’re in a situation where you’re with a leader who may not get marketing, you have a responsibility to yourself. If you care about marketing, even though it’s scary as all can be, that’s where you go. You have to have that come-to-Jesus moment as it were and say to the CEO, “I can do all these things, but that’s not marketing in its truest sense.” The way that I explain it to non-marketers, I said, “Marketing is like a wedding cake.” They were like, “What do you mean?” I said, “Look at a wedding cake. Everyone pays attention, ‘Look at the decorations and the flowers. It’s beautiful,’ but that’s 6% of the cake and 94% of the cake is a boring batter. If you don’t know how to make the batter, put it in the oven and have a cake that’s not going to collapse when you stack it on one level on top, it doesn’t matter how much icing you put on afterwards. It’s going to look like garbage.” Everyone else is like, “Look at all the icing.” I was like, “Forget the icing. You want people who know how to bake cakes. If you know how to bake cakes, you can learn how to put on the icing. If all you know how to do is the icing and you can’t bake a cake, you’re just going to have a big pile of junk and your marketing is not going to work. Which do you want at your wedding, Mr. or Ms. CEO?”

Strategy Execution: Go-to-market is about aligning your team behind the strategy and giving them clarity across teams and the various functions and roles.

 

As you are describing that wedding cake, this visual came to my mind. If you look at the stacked wedding cake and flip it, it’s your funnel. There are a lot of activities in those behind-the-scenes, that ugly batter that you were talking about, but once it’s done well, that’s when you get that sweet-looking funnel.

That’s the best build on the marketing wedding cake analogy I’ve ever had. It’s nicely done. No one’s ever come up with that before.

Continuing our fun-filled but insightful discussion here, how would your parents or kids, depending on who you want to choose, describe what you do on a daily basis?

My kids are baffled. They don’t even know what I do on a daily basis. If I had to be all kidding aside, my wife might say, “My husband tells stories about the near future.” What are the things going to look like? I try to say, “There are all these trends going on now. Remote work.” Now, it’s obvious to everybody. These things were happening before COVID hit us, but now they’ve been accelerated. It’s not so much, “What are we doing now?” It’s, “What are some of the likely outcomes as a result of the arrival of social media, COVID, mobile phone, blockchain technology? Pick your thing and then try to tell people. It’s that overused cliché, but it works well, which is Wayne Gretzky’s, “Skating to where the puck is going.” I try to tell stories like, “Here’s what it might look like in the near future.” All I’m suggesting is, “Here’s what we can do now so that it’s less painful to adjust than it would be otherwise. It’s a lot easier to make the one-degree shift now or two years from now than the 90-degree shift in two years.” I try to tell stories and paint pictures of the near future for people. They might say that or say, “My dad is crazy. I have no idea what he’s doing every day, but he seems to like it.”

How do you do your job? How do you tell stories? What do you do at Gtmhub? Explain that to our audience.

I’d be a pretty bad marketer if I didn’t at least explain what Gtmhub is. We are an enterprise-grade system that’s based on the objectives and key results methodology that helps companies of any size orchestrate consistent strategy execution across their teams, divisions, business units and geographies. We talked about strategy execution before. We have come up with the strategy, but OKR has given you that approach. It’s proven. This is a methodology. We talked about Peter Drucker. It has its origins in Peter Drucker’s work, goes to Andy Grove in Intel in the ’70s and popularized by Google in the early 2000s. With OKRs, I am 100% convinced. Do I have skin in this game? Yes, I do.

If you're in a situation where you're with a leader who may not get marketing, you have a responsibility to yourself. Click To Tweet

Once you read this Seminole book on OKRs, which is Measure What Matters by John Doerr, I tell people, “If by page fifteen you’re not convinced this is the methodology that every company is going to use by the end of this decade, I’ll personally refund the cost of the book.” I’m not willing to do that for every single reader, but I probably am because it’s that convincing. What I try to do are two things. For people who have already decided that OKR is there for them, what I like to call they have OK Religion, I help them understand why we are in fact the most flexible and most enterprise-grade system from among all the competitive sets. There are some very worthy competitors out there. I personally think that they’re overly rigid and designed for a different era. Ours is designed for a much more multilateral, multi-axis world. That’s number one.

The second is for people who are maybe not as familiar with OKRs. We don’t talk about it. What we say is, “You have a challenge around horizontal alignment. Everybody knows that. You have a challenge where you might have a lofty vision or mission statement, but day to day there’s an inconsistency between your execution and what your stated objectives and goals are. We have a way that if you commit to it, you’ll be able to achieve your objectives consistently, which is to be inspired. It’s based on this methodology known as OKRs, which we can teach you. It’s easy to learn. You just have to commit to it.” I’ve put together the strategy. I recruited the team, which I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to get some phenomenal world-class players. I try to support them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be and then get out of their way.

What every top CMO does is show the path and let the team do the work.

The hardest part of my job is coming up with my own OKRs. Once I set my OKRs, I can communicate to the team and then we collaborate on everyone else’s. If I do a decent job and set the strategy, objectives and key results well, then the team flows in. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. It was almost like there were days where I thought, “I don’t have enough to do because my team is executing. I’ll go for a walk.” I’m so fortunate to be in this environment. That’s what I try and do. We have a lot of work to do. That’s some called kidding aside.

I did a quick bit of research on Gtmhub. Something that you guys do from a go-to-market for Gtmhub is you have a podcast. That’s one piece. You also have the social media pieces going. Of course, you have the field marketing and enabling the sales because you serve a lot of enterprise-grade companies, which is a complex enterprise buying cycle. Talk to me about the podcast. The reason why I asked this is when I speak with the VPs of Marketing in either my client’s or someone who’s interested in knowing what I do and how I can help them, a constant topic that comes up is content. Content is currency, but a lot of people do not know how to do content well.

Our philosophy when it comes to pretty much everything but certainly content is that no one cares what we say. They only care what other people say about us. What we try to do is create platforms to give other people a voice. Our podcast, which Jenny, our VP of Marketing, hosts, is called Dreams with Deadlines, which I think is one of the greatest names of all times. It’s been growing like gangbusters. It’s the number one podcast in the OKR space. She brings on leading practitioners, leading partners and thought leaders who are pushing the envelope in terms of what OKR is and gives them an opportunity to educate. We just want to educate. That’s all we’re doing.

B2B 12 | Strategy Execution
The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time

We have a series on our blog called Voices of OKR where we give other people and practitioners, “Here’s how we do it. Here are the mistakes we learned.” We have something we call the OKR Champions Roundtable where we invite our OKR champions. We’re blessed with some of the largest companies in the world like Adobe, CNN and Red Hat. Many phenomenal names like Société Générale and many others. We have over 800 customers and 100,000 users in 75 countries. We bring them together and give them an opportunity to talk with each other about the challenges that they’re facing. For me, content comes down to allowing your customers, prospects and community. I’ve even given a platform to people who use competitive products. I don’t care. I’m here to educate. I’m here to help because that builds trust. If you build trust and you say, “I’m just here to help.” Do you know what my real goal is? It’s to get every one of my clients promoted. That’s what I want. If I get you promoted, we’re going to be in good shape.

How can I help you be smarter, better, more informed, make an easier sale to your boss? That’s what the content is. We put out a buyer’s guide. We call it the 51-step Guide to Avoiding OKR Career Suicide. It’s all the things you should think about. We talked about, “Here’s what you need if you’re buying an enterprise OKR system. Here’s why we think you need it. If you don’t agree with us, throw it out the window.” At the beginning of the introduction, the first page is, “We’re an OKR enterprise software company. Do we want you to buy our software? You bet we do.” We know that. We don’t want to run into that issue so we’re going to tell you, “Here’s how we’re thinking about this. If you don’t like it, burn this thing. We don’t care. We’re just here to help because we’ve been doing this for several years with all these companies.” I guess the caffeine is kicking in. I’m super jazzed up. It’s you. You’re asking me great questions, Vijay.

It’s all about the serving mindset. That’s what it comes down to which is serving mindset and helping. You nailed it, Jeremy. I was going to say that it was you. “The venn is essentially helping you, Mr. Buyer, get that promotion.” That’s it.

It couldn’t be easier than that.

Shifting gears a bit, talk to us about your big goals for 2021.

From an internal perspective, I’m trying to operationalize our marketing. We raised our Series B. We closed it on December 31st. We raised $30 million, which was the largest Series B in the history of the space, which was great.

No one cares what you say as a business. Customers only care what other people say about you. Click To Tweet

Congratulations.

I didn’t do much, but we’ll take some of the credit. Now, I’m focused on building out the marketing team and building out our operational capabilities so we can have more process and rhythm. From a marketing overall perspective, I think our awareness in the space is not where I want it to be. We’re perceived as one of the top 3 or 4 players in this space. I’d like us to be across the board and perceived as the number one player. I have a little bit of work to do there. I don’t like to call it a funnel so much. I call it the journey. We get a lot of people who are still very early on in the education process. We do have a probably lower than I personally would like conversion rate from MQL to SQL to opportunity.

It’s respectable. I would like to do a better job of finding more middle and high-intent buyers and then also figuring out for the early or low-intent buyers. What can I do to educate them programmatically at scale without spending the time on the sales? If we can accomplish those things, that will put us in a good position. The product team needs to do what they do because we’re a product company. The sales team needs to do what they do. There’s only so much I can do. From a marketing perspective, I like where our story and messaging are. The visuals are strong. It’s getting better at telling the story and some of the mechanics. It’s to operationalize this and prepare us for that next level of growth as we start looking towards a Series C down the road.

It sounds like you have primarily or heavily a top-down go-to-market, which you tackled the buyers and influencers. What is your thought process around a bottoms-up? It may not be fruitful in this scenario because OKRs itself have to come from top-down and trickle down. Have you seen that maybe it pulls from the bottom-up phase as well?

I wouldn’t call it bottom-up. I call it middle-up. I’m giving away the strategy here, but it doesn’t matter because it all comes down to execution. I can leave my strategy on the front step of my house and someone can come to take it. It won’t matter because they don’t have the Gtmhub OKR platform. Unless they buy it, in which case they would, but they’d still have to do it. The senior executives are horizontally-minded executives, people who are looking across and realize there’s a problem with horizontal alignment. That’s one thing that we look at from an executive perspective. The second thing we do are the OKR champions, the people who are tasked with implementing. It’s helping them go out, be better prepared and more informed. Most importantly, above all, it’s to feel they can trust us. That’s all it comes down to.

You’re going to pick the software company with the people and brand that you trust. That’s what a brand is. A brand is about trust. It’s about establishing trust at those various levels. We need to build relationships with both of those. The economic buyer is going to sign off, but the implementer alone has to deal with the decision. The fact that we are the most flexible platform and we do have the largest number of customers and the most amount of experience, we believe we’ll help them. Fortunately, we have many customers who agree with us. Every now and then, we screw it up. For the most part, we won’t. We’re not perfect. No one would believe me if I said we were. I might as well get that out there. I’m just here for my competition to read this, they go, “This is what this guy is doing.” Bring it. May the best OKR platform win.

B2B 12 | Strategy Execution
Strategy Execution: Many think marketing is a trade show booth, T-shirt, and bumper sticker. In reality, it all comes down to awareness, perception, and leads.

 

Talking about problems and all good market machinery, it doesn’t matter what size or stage of the company you’re in. You’ll always have problems and challenges that you need to deal with. In 2021, you did mention a couple, which is more around from the awareness and even to the MQL down to the conversions. Those are the pieces that you want to tackle. When you encounter such problem areas in your go-to-market execution, do you typically bring in outside experts? When I say experts, I don’t mean agencies. Of course, you have your SEO agencies or demand gen agencies. Besides that, do you typically tap into experts, and for which areas do you do that?

It’s probably too early for me to answer that. Before we got our Series B, I didn’t have a lot of money. We do. We have a relationship with a highly regarded analyst firm to help us with some of our go-to-market thinking, especially positioning around some of the executive C-Suite that we think is relevant or irrelevant. Now that we’re maturing as an organization, we are doing that both in terms of consultants as well as getting the right tools. We’re not afraid to spend on those types of things because there are plenty of things we don’t do well. You might as well find someone who’s good at it and let them do it so you can focus. That’s what OKRs are about. It’s focusing on the thing that you do well and letting everything else go to someone else who does that better. That’s certainly part of our game plan going forward.

Do you mind sharing a bit about your MarTech stack and how it looks like? That’s a mess. I’ve spoken to CMOs and VPs of marketing. People talk a lot and praise the MarTech stack, but they also have the burden of, “That’s way too many tools. I’ve been burdened with the predecessor who built this, but we don’t have any need for it right now.” What does your MarTech stack look like?

I fit into that category. I love it and hate it at the same time because there are a lot of tools out there. My predecessor did a great job, so I’m not in that particular boat. We’re based on HubSpot and then everything flows. From there, our sales team uses Salesforce. We have a nice integration there. It’s a bunch of tools that go on and connect around there. If I said everything moved perfectly, I would also be lying. There are definitely some hiccups, but there are always things that you could be doing better. There are a lot of tools, keeping track of the data and keeping the data clean. These are not new problems. It’s the same problem, but with more tools, APIs and bills coming in.

How do you track or measure signal or intent? That’s a big challenge across the board.

I don’t think we’re particularly good at it. I should have added that in. That goes to our MQL, SQL and the conversation before. It’s doing a better job in terms of differentiating buyers or visitors in terms of intent and based on activity either on-site or off-site. It’s very immature. That’s one of our focus areas. One of my team member’s OKR for Q2 in fact is around that. We’ve already written that down. She’s already off and running. She’s a little bit ahead of the game. We need to do a much better job. What we’ve done a good job on is, I wouldn’t say we solved the problem, but we have a good top-of-funnel in terms of getting those MQLs. It’s that middle of the funnel, middle of the journey that we need to improve on. How we instrument that is, like I said, a big part of our focus. That’s why writing OKR is so important. I say, “Here’s the OKR. We come up with it,” and then people are clear on what they need to do. It comes back to our clarity conversation from before.

If you deliver outcomes, no one cares how much time you spend. It's about the outcome. Click To Tweet

That’s a problem that I see when I speak with my clients or even others in the space. There’s a lot of noise out there. Buyers are inundated because of the slew of virtual events and phone calls. Phone calls have reduced a bit because a lot of people are working at home now so you don’t do the switchboard problem. At the same time, the emails, SMS marketing, all of these are inundating the buyers. One of the CMOs I was speaking with, he was saying, “One of the challenges is how to measure signal and intent correctly and help distill the signal from the noise. Not for my team, but for the buyer.” 

I’m very sympathetic. I do struggle sometimes because when I don’t have my CMO hat on, I’m like everybody else, like unsubscribe, take me off the list, blocking and what have you. I’m thinking, “Why is it that when I put on my CMO hat, I think it’s okay?” I’ve been working hard with the team to say, “If you’re not going to read this, if you’re not proud of this and don’t think this adds value, don’t you dare send it. I would rather you miss a deadline than send something that’s crap because it’s going to hurt the brand.” Nobody thinks about, “What about all the people who unsubscribed as a result of this bad mailing or the people who now think one notch lower of you in terms of perception?” Ideally, you hit the deadline and you have quality. If it comes down to it, I’d rather you go another day. I can’t sacrifice the brand just because I said, “We’re launching on March 18.”

We can go on and on. We talked about OKR, marketing conversion problem and signal and intent. Before I ask the questions, there is also another unique aspect to your colorful background, which is crypto. Tell us about what triggered you or what got you into crypto? What are you doing now about that?

I’ve been deep in the world of crypto for the last five years. I joined Gtmhub back in June. For the 4.5 years before that, I was working in the space as an advisor to some of the leading startups. I was the Co-Chief Investment Officer of a crypto hedge fund. I’ve written three books on it. I’ve had the opportunity to brief three-star generals at the Pentagon about crypto, given keynotes and what have you. I fundamentally believe that it’s a foundational transformative technology. It’s a key passion. I think cryptoeconomics is one of the most incredible things that’s ever been invented. I am fortunate that Gtmhub and my team are extremely supportive. It’s my 20% time.

I spend 20% of my week on my crypto-related activities, including managing the fund for my investors. We returned 92% in 2020 so that was good. Advising some of the startups in that space and continuing the blog. I probably had 657 blog posts and another 100 articles on it and evangelizing, studying and understanding it. To me, this feels like the arrival of the internet, but for value. It’s significantly bigger. The part I’m excited about is when I get the opportunity to merge these two worlds. When I can start bringing in cryptoeconomics, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens, decentralized autonomous organizations and all of these concepts that I’ve been playing around with, bring them into Gtmhub to further differentiate our marketing and add value for our customers, that’s going to be epic.

The good news is I have a CEO who is fully supportive and a team that’s excited about it. Until they take me out back and shoot me, I’m going to continue to pursue these two paths. It seems weird like, “How do you have a CMO who does both of these?” Our belief is that, especially when you’re in marketing, you have to get out of the business. You have to be able to look at it from a different perspective. By forcing myself to go to a totally orthogonal industry, I’m able to let my brain rest in a working capacity and then look at the market for OKRs. In fact, I’ve sold Gtmhub to 6 or 7 different crypto projects because they need OKR. Everybody is going to use them so I was like, “You might as well use the one that I work for. Here you go.” It’s a nice opportunity to work on the cutting-edge of two big transformations. Blockchain and crypto are a huge transformation and OKRs, which are going to be the foundational methodology for business and digital transformation this decade. To work in both of these, it’s like nirvana.

B2B 12 | Strategy Execution
Strategy Execution: The arrival of social media changed the nature of marketing from a broadcast one-to-many mass discipline to every thing becoming a conversation.

 

You hit on a very important point. Especially for marketers and even marketing leaders, it’s important to detach yourself from the day-to-day. It goes back to what Google has been doing from day one, which is 20% of the time just dedicated to non-work stuff. It keeps you fresh and creative. It keeps your energy going and you bring them back into work.

In fact, we talked about Drucker right over there. I have his book, The Effective Executive. He talks about being aware of where your time is spent, the danger that executives have from being too caught up in their own business and the need to take that step back and look at the market from the perspective of the market. That’s your job as a marketer. I wouldn’t have taken the role if I couldn’t do it, but I’m very blessed to have that kind of support. As an organization, what we represent is the kind of organization that everybody is going to work in, which is if you deliver outcomes, no one cares how much time you spend. It’s about the outcome. It’s not about five days a week. You don’t work on an assembly line in the knowledge economy. Your job is to deliver an outcome. Not output but outcome. If you deliver the outcome, we’re happy. If you don’t deliver the outcome, we’re not happy. It’s very simple.

Especially in this remote and hybrid work environment that the industry is shifting into, it’s very critical. It’s not like the managers and leaders have complete insight into our visibility to what people are doing. Again, it goes back to marketing 101 which is stressed. If you were to give a shout-out to 2 or 3 folks out there in the industry who are executing well on the GTM front, someone who’s inspiring you, giving you new ideas and you look up to, who would they be?

I think the team at Drift does a nice job. They’re sharp. There’s a crypto project called the Helium Network. They do a nice job also with their marketing and storytelling. As far as the third one who does a great job with marketing, I don’t know. I’d have to think about that. Can I get 2 out of 3? It will come to me and I’ll be like, “Why didn’t I say something?” I don’t want to say clichés like Apple or Netflix. That’s lame and capped out. I’ve got to come up with something stronger. It will come to me.

A couple of others, Gong does a good job, Gong.io. Even Clari, they are into revenue intelligence and also doing their own marketing. There are a few others. Drift, I completely agree.

Drift is tight. I’m envious of Drift.

That is the beauty. If your marketing is right, you add so much of the premium halo effect around your product. If you take that out, the product is nothing wow.

It’s Intercom. With all due respect to Intercom, I love Intercom. We use Intercom. I’m just saying, it’s Intercom. I’m going to get in trouble for this one. I hope no one reads this episode. It’s going to kill my career, but I wanted to read for you. For me, I want no one to read because my career is over now. It was nice knowing you, Vijay.

One final question for you, Jeremy. If you were to go back to day one of your GTM career, what advice would you give to your younger self?

That’s an easy one. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I ran so hard when I was young. I realized, especially with great marketing, it’s like coming back to our cake analogy. You can’t rush the cake. 

It goes back to our Buddhist monk mindset.

I’m a wannabe Buddhist monk. That’s my problem is I want. I’m already failing at my Buddhism there. I’ve got a long way to go on the path of enlightenment, it sounds like.

Jeremy, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. Good luck to you and the team at Gtmhub and of course, your crypto initiatives as well. We’ll cheer you from the sidelines.

Thank you for the opportunity to join your excellent show. Much success to you this year.

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About Jeremy Epstein

B2B 12 | Entrepreneurial Mindset

Chief Marketing Officer, Gtmhub

Epstein spent 6 years at Microsoft and brings a global perspective with stints in Frankfurt and Tokyo. Jeremy served as the first marketing leader at Sprinklr, navigating efforts from Series A through $1.8 billion “Unicorn” status, as the company grew from 30 people to nearly 1400 over the course of 4 years.

Known for his orthogonal approach to marketing, Epstein has written 5 books on marketing, over 200 articles, more than 1000 blog posts and is a sought-after keynote speaker, with presentations in more than 20 countries.

In addition to his significant marketing experience in both enterprises and start-ups, Epstein is a well-regarded and passionate technologist who is a leading authority on blockchain and cryptoeconomics, having briefed 3-star generals at the Pentagon and worked with some of the most cutting-edge teams in the world such as Dapper Labs and Zcash.

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