Key Trends in Category Creation

At Dynamic Signal, we created the employee engagement platform category with the help of Zoom Marketing. Through a research based approach including interviews and focus groups, Zoom Marketing has worked with many leading technology and biotechnology brands. Below, I outline some of the pros and cons to creating a category rather than disrupting one. At Bloomreach, we started with Category Creation, but the company thrived when it pivoted to Category Disruption. Adify, Firefly, Dynamic Signal and WorkBoard are all category creators. Unquestionably, every company needs a clear and differentiated positioning statement. Zoom Marketing shared the trends and leading companies they’ve seen in 2022 and it’s worth the quick read.

StrategyProCon
Category Creation– Defined to your differentiated strengths
– Category winners capture most of the value
– Narrative is one you control
– Buyers don’t know what budget to use to buy you
– Slower sales cycles (unless a disruptive GTM)
– Very evangelical – lots of teaching
Category Disruption– Existing buyer
– Existing budget
– Press & analysts are “familiar”
– There are RFPs and purchase cycles already

– Existing vendors define capabilities
– Need an innovator’s dilemma disruptive offering (underserved market segment)

Focus On Your “wallet Share”, Not Your Product

Building a product is not the challenge – building a business is. Silicon Valley investors often lead entrepreneurs astray according to two-time unicorn founder, Ashutosh Garg. During our conversation about founder wisdom, he rejected the conventional wisdom to do one thing, stay focused, then be super successful. His experience is that the truth is the opposite of that – you need to “get married to the market, not the product.” You have to identify a big market, maximize your “wallet share” in that market and then build products that will capture that share. Focus on your wallet share, not your product.

Understand who is the buyer; what motivates the buyer; and how much they spend. Music to a marketer’s ears!

crop man getting dollars from wallet
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Per this world-class engineer, now CEO, it is sales processes (consumer or B2B) that are the most effective way of testing demand. It’s way cheaper to test demand and value proposition than it is to build the product.

  • Hire an SDR;
  • Give them a pitch;
  • Call 100 companies to see how many will take the meeting

If those meetings don’t convert into sales opportunities, then you have your answer – there is no market for what you want to build.

At the end of the day, it’s not about building the product; it’s about building a successful business. Ashutosh suggests that often, Silicon Valley investors push founders to rapidly prototype product focused on one problem as the route to super success. This is not necessarily the best advice. The best approach is to focus on the market first, test demand and then build a product around the demand that resonated. This approach to product-last has been the foundation of Ashutosh’s success. By listening to the customer, understanding the market and testing demand through sales, entrepreneurs can increase their chances of product-market fit. In Ashutosh’s words, focus on the wallet share competition – not just getting a share of the pie but having more than your fair share.

This approach transcends initial offerings into expansion products. When Ashutosh founded Eightfold.ai, he focused on leveraging massive data in applicant tracking systems to better identify potential talent and minimize bias. Then, Ashu met a leader at Tata India. They said you promised us that in addition to identifying ideal talent from large data sets, we will be able to search across our employees as well as applicants.  In serving the market, Ashutosh realized that talent acquisition makes sense but talent mobility was new – and with Covid, internal mobility became crucial. As Eightfold.ai continues to focus on wallet share, offering solutions for managing and developing flexible talent have been introduced. Eightfold.ai created new products to capture more wallet share from their motivated customers. But each new product was market demand tested through sales before anything was built.

With his contrarian approach to maximize wallet share for his core buyer, he has built two unicorns – Eightfold.ai and Bloomreach. Most people give up too soon – it’s not about the product, it’s about the market and wallet share.

5 Tips for Making the Most Out of Getting Fired

It’s happened to the best of us. We go into work one day, and are called into a meeting with our boss. They tell us that we’ve been fired – it’s over, we’re done. For many people, this experience is devastating. It can leave them feeling ashamed, anxious and lost. Getting fired is an eventuality for sales and marketing leaders in high-growth companies. In fact, one should plan on it. The average tenure of a venture-backed CMO is 18 months. Personally, my CMO tenures were 3 – 4 – 5 – 3 years with 6-9 month interludes between them when I was fired. Firing doesn’t have to be the worst thing that happens to you professionally. In fact, there are multiple steps to making the most out of getting fired.

woman organizing her belongings
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

In this post, we will give you five tips for making the most out of getting fired. We will help you reframe the experience and alleviate some of the pain you may be feeling. Plus, we’ll give you some actions you can take throughout your career to make yourself more resilient and marketable!

Tip 1 – Begin with the end in mind (thanks Stephen Covey)

You need to think about your exit before you join a company. The best time to negotiate fair terms upon your departure is when the company wants you most. Normal severance terms can include 3-12 months of salary and COBRA (US Healthcare coverage is insane). 

If you didn’t negotiate in advance, don’t despair, negotiation is still an option. If you have a strong relationship with your boss, you may be able to negotiate for an extension of your health insurance and/or a role on an advisory board. If you remain as an advisor, you don’t need to signal that you’ve left your job on LinkedIn (but you can set yourself as open to new opportunities). And if the company wants you to sign a release in order to receive your separation offer, that’s another negotiation opportunity.

If you can afford an employment attorney, engaging one while negotiating your offer is a very effective way to ensure your exit is fair and unemotional.

Tip 2 – Get fired with grace and smarts

The way you respond when you get fired says a lot about you as a leader and sets the tone for how you will be perceived in the market. It’s important to be professional and graceful when you’re fired. You never know when you’ll run into your former boss or colleagues. Plus, the way you handle getting fired says a lot about your character. Spend time thinking about the best way to communicate internally that creates stability for the company and dignity for you. Do not take any intellectual property from the company.

If you are asked to sign a release in order to receive your severance package, consider having an employment attorney in your state review the document. Do not sign without reading it carefully.

Tip 3 – Always keep LinkedIn and your resume current

LinkedIn and your resume (or CV) should always be up to date and full of quantifiable impact. Set notifications so that your network is NOT alerted when you update your profile. You don’t want to tip anyone off that you might be looking for a new opportunity. Make a quarterly appointment with yourself to update your LinkedIn and CV. You won’t be caught flat-footed when you are fired.

Tip 4 – Don’t take it personally

Getting fired is not personal, it’s business. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or that you’re not good at your job. In most cases, it has nothing to do with you. Companies are constantly evolving and changing direction. As a result, the team that was brought in to achieve one set of objectives is often different from the team that’s needed to achieve the next set of objectives. If you take it personally, it will be harder for you to move on and find your next opportunity. The vast majority of hiring managers in high growth industries have themselves been fired for reasons they could not control.

Tip 5 – Compose your narrative

The way you tell your story about getting fired leaving a company matters. When you’re interviewing for your next role, you’ll be asked about what happened at your last company. For the most part, companies cannot and won’t disclose the circumstances under which you left the company (unless you broke the law or are accused of doing so – then you should engage legal counsel ASAP). Prior employers will confirm your dates of employment and often nothing else. You can frame the story to reflect what you learned, why you want a new challenge and what you will bring to a new venture. Be sure to focus on the positive and highlight the impact you delivered. Expect people to do “back-door” references so be precise and accurate about your contribution and don’t embellish. You did enough!

Getting fired is not the end of the world. It is a new beginning.

No one is satisfied working at a job where they aren’t succeeding. No one is secure if their company is struggling to survive. You have a chance to reframe your story and start writing the next chapter. Be sure to keep these tips in mind as you move forward in your career!

4 Founder Insights That Will Change Your Company’s Future

Ashutosh Garg talks and thinks remarkably fast. He understands complexity with ease and his drive to create is unstoppable. I had the pleasure of meeting Ashutosh when I interviewed to be the first Head of Marketing for Bloomreach – one of two unicorns Ashutosh has founded (Eightfold.ai, where he is the CEO, is the second one). He and his co-founder, Raj DeDatta, were meticulous about nurturing the culture of Bloomreach and maintaining high standards for hiring. They spent over a year seeking to fill my role and I was honored to partner with them. Ashutosh and I come from completely different pedagogical orientations – he’s a data scientist to whom engineers clamor to collaborate.  I’m an MBA with a penchant for group psychology and how to recognize, nurture and capture energy to drive companies and people forward.  Ashutosh drew upon data to share with me his founder insights. We share a deep respect for each other and Ashutosh’s unique, clear view of what a successful founder must do was unexpectedly unique and compelling. I hope you enjoy Ashutosh’s four insights.

Ashutosh Garg, Founder & CEO, Eightfold.ai

Founder Insight 1:

Be patient when hiring initial talent – optimize for great DNA for the company

Per Ashutosh, not having enough patience when it comes to hiring initial talent can be a huge mistake for any founder. When it comes to building a successful startup, there are a lot of things that need to fall into place. However, one of the most important things is having the right team in place. This can be a challenge, especially for founders who are moving quickly to bring their vision to market.

One of the biggest mistakes that Ashutosh sees founders make is that they try to hire too quickly. They see a problem that needs to be solved and they want to solve it immediately. However, this often leads to them hiring the wrong people.

Instead of rushing into hiring, he recommends you take the time to think about the type of people you need on your team. What kind of skills do they need to have? What kind of personality do you want them to have? Once you have a good understanding of the type of people you need, you can start to slowly build your team.

It may take a little longer to get things off the ground this way, but it will be worth it in the long run. Hiring the right people is critical, but so is building the right culture.

Founder Insight 2:

Do whatever job is most important at the time

As a startup founder, you will likely wear many hats during the early days of your company. You may be responsible for sales, marketing, product development, customer support, and a whole host of other things.

This can be tough for many people, especially those who are used to having a more specialized role. However, it’s important to be comfortable doing whatever job is required to succeed at the time.

The reality is that, in the early days of a startup, the most important thing is to get things off the ground. This means that you need to be willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

So, if you need to spend a few months doing sales or customer support, do it. If you need to spend a year working on product development, do it. The most important thing is that you get the company off the ground and to a point where it can start to scale.

Founder Insight 3:

Appearances can be deceiving – in both directions

Remember – the outside view looks rosier than it is.  The inside view looks worse than it is.

One of the things that Ashutosh learned from his experience as a startup founder is that appearances can be deceiving. This is true in both directions.

From the outside, it can often look like a startup is doing much better than it is. This is because people only see the successes and they don’t see all of the failures that happen behind the scenes.

However, it’s also important to remember that the inside view often looks worse than it is. This is because founders are much closer to the business and they see all of the problems that need to be fixed.

It’s important to keep this in mind when you are comparing your startup to others. Just because a startup looks like it is doing well from the outside, doesn’t mean that it is. Likewise, just because your startup doesn’t look like it is doing well from the inside, doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

The most important thing is to focus on your own business, progress to the milestones that matter to your growth and learn from the inevitable setbacks that will occur.

Founder Insight 4:

Focus on continuously increasing your total available market (TAM)

As a startup founder, it’s important to focus on continuously increasing your total available market (TAM). This is the number of potential customers that you have for your product or service.

It’s the key to sustaining long-term growth.

Identify the buyer – that’s a function of what you start with – be focused and precise in the definition of that customer profile.

Understand every dollar your motivated, target buyer spends and identify which dollars you can compete for – maximizing the wallet share of your company. 

To do this, you need to have a good understanding of your product or service and what problem it solves. You also need to understand your target market and what motivates them. Additionally, you need to be always looking for new ways to reach more potential customers and expand your penetration within existing ones.

These four insights do not guarantee the success of your venture. A good idea in a large market developed by the right team with healthy doses of luck and grit increases the odds of that success.

Content Marketing from the Pulitzer Perspective

Content marketing is often the only truly unique, differentiated marketing deliverable. Marketing changes fast – as soon as a marketer figures out a channel, a message or an audience, technology has made it effortless for competitors to replicate it. While imitation is flattery, it also makes the job of breaking through the noise harder and harder.

Except with great content. Not good content. Not above average content. I’m talking about great content. The type of content that you want to immediately copy the link and share with people (not because they asked you to but because it’s that good). The type of content that teaches you something without you realizing you were learning. And I’ve had the honor of working with multiple Pulitzer Prize winning and nominated journalists who became content marketers. Mark Emmons is one of those gems and his medium post of what every content marketer should know is the latest addition to my required reading list for new team members.

The Accidental Content Marketer

The Growth Puzzle – Your company is missing its forecasts

Is your B2B company missing its forecasts? Is that derailing strategic planning, board meetings and fundraising? My colleague, Philippe Bouissou, applied his 4 alignment axis model to the question of forecast accuracy, marketing attribution and the role of revops.

His answer is misunderstanding of revops, false specificity in attribution and misalignment. The misalignment is between the levers that drive the forecast and the forecast itself. I recommend reading his detailed article.

Want to know why most B2B companies are not making their numbers?

It was a pleasure to be a thought partner, editor and provacateur for this blog (originally posted on BlueDotsPartners.com).

5 Steps to make your Executive Sponsorship Program Soar

Clarify the purpose of the program

Clarify the purpose of the program

Executive Sponsors should:

  • Build sustaining relationships with prospects & customers
  • Help buyers and customers solve problems
  • Represent the buyer’s perspective in strategic planning

Executive Sponsors should NOT:

  • Lean on executive sponsors to hit quota or bonus numbers
  • Burn relationships for short-term results (i.e. hard sell)
  • Swoop in as a hero to “rescue a deal” by undermining pricing or terms

Establish customer candidate criteria

Establish candidate customer criteria

Which accounts and executives should you invest in?  Sales, Marketing and Customer Success teams can recommend an account and individual for executive sponsorship. Each candidate should be assessed using a known, objective criteria.

Create and continuously improve a sponsee brief about the individual and the account.  The brief should include:

  • Why sponsor this person and account,
  • Unique interests,
  • Potential things in common,
  • Account business conditions and strategic considerations
  • ideal outcome of the executive relationship.

Briefs should be updated quarterly by the account team to ensure the executive is always current and insightful on their sponsee.

Establish criteria such as:

  • Potential lifetime account value
  • Account influence or impact on market
  • Individual influence or impact on market
  • Interest or commitment to you
  • Near term capacity for growth

Create a weighted scoring system to assess candidates

  • Create bands of “hard data” to inform scores for consistent scoring
  • Marketing program manager can score candidates and existing sponsorees – some sponsorees may need to transitioned out of the program
  • Every quarter, the GTM Leadership team should assess candidates, score and outcomes
  • Evaluate the list – is the weighting of the criteria generating a list of candidates that matches intuitive priority? Don’t be afraid to re-weight the criteria and re-score if not. It’s an iterative process.
  • Eliminate candidates that do not qualify at this time – your executive cannot only serve a few executive sponsorees

Understand who makes a good executive sponsor

Understand who could be a good sponsor

Executive sponsors should be:

  • Comfortable building relationships with strangers
  • Willing to work hard, both internally (going to bat for customers) and externally (through difficult customer conversations)
  • Willing to spend 20% of their time on buyer enablement and sponsee engagement – at least 8 hours per week.

Create a executive sponsorship capacity plan

  • Number of sponsee (individuals) per executive
  • Number of executives who would be good sponsors
  • Multiply the two and that’s the maximum number of customer sponsee

Match sponsees to executives

  • Cut off at the number of candidates that equal the capacity number
  • Review the score of the candidates
  • Try to match personalities and interests

Templetize!

Create templates

Not only do templates make engaging as an executive sponsor much easier for your busy executives, but using templates provides better data to improve upon your program and sponsorship communications.  Additionally, templates allow marketing to provide very high-quality, polished communications and events to create an on-brand executive experience.

Create templates for:

  • Introducing the executive to the sponsee
  • Creating interest in meeting or talking
  • Sharing thought leadership materials such as slides or videos
  • Establishing a regular opportunity to talk about their business and challenges
  • Inviting the sponsee to a private event

Create a cadence and playbook

  • Create a playbook for the cadence of executive sponsor relationships and events (dinners, luncheons, meetings at major industry events) to create consistency
  • Consider using a sales cadence management system such as Salesloft or Outreach.io to ensure regular contact, visibility into contact, metrics for the program
  • Assign a sales or business development representative to partner with the executive on starting, stopping and improving the sequence through personalization
  • The executive can and should engage outside of the sequence as needed but ensure that such communications are noted in the CRM so that the account and customer success teams are informed.

Report and Review – generate monthly and quarterly reports on the executive sponsorship program – filtered by executive, region, account team, industry, customer size or other segmentation criteria in use.

  • Number of executives and sponsees
  • Number of engagements
  • Duration of sponsee relationships
  • Growth or change in accounts during relationship
  • NPS for sponsees and their accounts
  • Direct or influenced revenue from executive sponsorship program

Enable executives to be excellent sponsors

Enable executives to be excellent sponsors

The Account Executive is the quarterback of the account. Working with Marketing (see Templetize), the AE can either using an automated outreach system or create a cadence of ticklers for the executive to touch base.  Make it easy for them to do so:

  • Provide detailed updates on the state of the sale/account prior to executive outreach
  • Shortcut executives from having to remember key actions – keep it on your calendar, don’t expect it on theirs.
  • Facilitate executives’ action with draft emails and personal touches for the relationship
  • Correlate directly to activity on an account – make the timing make sense and not be self-serving.
  • Measure and monitor so you can iterate from experience to improve your future processes

Four Things the Best Marketing Leaders Know about Sales

The most important partnership driving growth for B2B enterprises is the one between sales and marketing. Partnerships with Customer Success and Product are critical as well for a subscription business (SAAS for example).  But if sales and marketing do not align, the friction can torpedo a company’s growth trajectory.

Part two of this series, I’m focused on what marketers need to understand about sales to better align and execute. Part one was for sales leaders to understand common misconceptions about marketing.

#1 – Sales is laser focused on closing business. Speak their language.

Sales speaks pipeline and forecast

Marketing creates and manages many  programs, campaigns, and details. The shared questions for sales and marketing are:

#2 – Closing deals is challenging. Be empathetic and helpful.

Buyers drive the process. Help sellers help buyers.

  • You need buyer attention around an urgent need without aggravating them.
  • You need to navigate their legal and security processes.
  • Sellers need to help their customers make the case, internally, to buy your offering.

The future of buying is the empathetic sell. Marketers are experts in emotional language and can support sellers with useful resources for buyers to synthesize information and solve the problems the buyers face in the buying process.

#3 – Territory and comp plans are complicated and emotionally charged:

 

  • It’s not enough to understand the math.
  • You need to know the sellers and strategy to effectively navigate people puzzles.
  • Provide objective data and clear analysis to inform sales operations, revops and sales leaders

#4 – Titles don’t equal alignment

Head of sales + head of marketing = Chief Revenue Officer (“CRO”).  Or maybe Head of sales + head of customer success = Chief Revenue Officer.  Or sometimes Head of sales = Chief Revenue Officer.

  • Currently 85% of “CROs” are heads of sales with bigger titles.
  • It’s not enough. A good CRO should understand both areas.
  • As most companies will have a Head of Sales and a Head of Marketing, prioritizing communication and alignment is paramount. These two leaders need a weekly 1:1 reviewing people, data and trends.

After sales & marketing achieve initial alignment, it will take at least a month before you start to see go-to-market flow. Do the work to ensure sales, marketing and customer success are focused on the same customers and goals.

Check out what Sales Leaders need to know about Marketing.

 

Six Things the Best Sales Leaders Know about Marketing

There is no more important partnership for a B2B company than the one between sales and marketing. These two functions drive much of the growth of the company in tandem with the product team. Their alignment must be exact and often, it just isn’t. The friction from misaligned sales and marketing slows the company, frustrates everyone and wastes precious resources.

Having spent 25 years as both a sales and marketing executive, I’ve noticed a few common causes of misalignment and in this two part series, I hope to make it easier for Sales Leaders to understand their Marketing counterparts and then for Marketing Leaders to understand their Sales partners.

#1 – Single-point attribution is nonsense for enterprise B2B

Single point attribution is nonsense

  • Unless you’re selling something cheap, people don’t buy the first time they hear about it.
  • It’s impossible to measure the impact of each marketing touchpoint.
  • Single-point attribution makes you undervalue key campaign elements.
  • INSTEAD OF ATTRIBUTION, marketers should correlate experiments with increases in win rates, sales velocity, and prices.

#2 – Attribution is used best for making directional adjustments

Measure impact of marketing content and programs on wins and revenue over time

In B2B enterprise software, attribution is not for pinpointing precise strategies. To use attribution properly:

  1. Learn whether we acquired the customers we wanted
  2. A/B test each variable (target, offer, form, timing) to see how much the desired market engages
  3. Double down on the strategies that improve customer acquisition costs and acquisition rate with acceptable spend

#3 – Creating simple and compelling content takes time

  • Long or short? Pictures or not? These choices require experimentation.
  • Each audience has its own preferences.
  • Expect research, analysis, and iteration.

#4 – “Marketing” is really more than a half-dozen functions with different skills

  1. Demand Gen (or Growth Marketing) uses analytical tools to increase sales qualified opportunities by iterating on campaigns, technologies, and ads.
  2. Product Marketing informs your sales stories and audience-facing content through messaging, packaging, pricing and differentiation.
  3. Content Managers ensure the right content in the right form reaches the right audience.
  4. Marketing Communications pushes your messaging and stories to the press.
  5. Customer Marketing keeps customers aware of innovation and momentum in ways that provide them value.
  6. Event coordinators juggle thousands of details (from shipping and logistics to team appearance) to ensure an experience is exciting, professional, and on-brand.
  7. RevOps (the merger of Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, CS Ops) – the masters of the data and systems ensuring that you use automation effectively, your data is accurate and useful, and that you leverage your people for work only they can do.

#5 – Modern Marketers are data masters

  • Their insights and trends can help sales close.
  • But they need a “ closed loop” – all the information must be in the CRM.
  • My rule: if it’s not in the CRM, it doesn’t exist.  Marketing leverages technology to understand the customer.

#6 – Marketing data is for direction, not determination

When you hear a statistic, always understand what was asked:

  • Was that the right target, offer, and time?
  • Was the content compelling to customers?
  • Does it help clients with their purchasing decision?

If all the answers are YES and they still didn’t engage, you’re deluding yourself. There’s a product market-fit problem, a lack of differentiation or you are off in your targeting. Fix those problems in partnership with marketing and product – and your marketing will produce.

Next up – what do MARKETERS need to know about SALES!