Recently, Terminus CMO and Co-Founder Sangram Vajre appeared on DisrupTV to discuss account-based marketing, building a business, and what it means to give your employees the “keys to the Ferrari.”
DisrupTV is a weekly web series with hosts R “Ray” Wang and Vala Afshar. The show airs live at 11:00 a.m. PT / 2:00 p.m. ET every Friday. The audience can expect A-list guests, the latest enterprise news, hot startups, insight from influencers, and much more.
Watch the 20-minute ABM conversation between Sangram, Ray, and Vala:
Can’t watch the video right now? No worries! You can read the full transcript below.
Vala Afshar: Our next guest is Sangram Vajre, Co-Founder and CMO of Terminus. Sangram has quickly built a reputation as one of the leading minds in B2B marketing, especially account-based marketing. Before co-founding Terminus, a SaaS platform for account-based marketing, Sangram led the marketing team at Pardot through its acquisition of ExactTarget, and then Salesforce. So, he has a heritage of working with some of the largest, most successful marketing companies in the world.
Since the Terminus platform launch in 2015, the company’s experienced, as I said, white-hot growth, winning accolades such as Atlanta’s Startup of the Year, #1 Best Place to Work from the Atlanta Business Chronicle, and the #1 Employee Appreciation from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Sangram and I talked recently, and I think the milestone of having 100 employees in this short time brings joy to him. I can sense it when I talk to him. He was named the DM News 40 Under 40 List for 2016, author of Account-Based Marketing [for Dummies], I believe the first book on that topic. And the mind behind the #FlipMyFunnel. All of you, I’m sure, have heard of #FlipMyFunnel.
You can follow Sangram, a must-follow on Twitter, at @sangramvajre. Welcome, Sangram, to DisrupTV.
Sangram Vajre: Thank you so much, Vala. That was quite an intro. I love it. This is pretty cool. And especially it’s going to be really hard to follow Rob [Bernshteyn, CEO of Coupa Software]. Oh my goodness. That’s a really, really cool story. I like it.
Ray Wang: Hey. You’ve got the official DisrupTV intro from Vala. That’s like getting that recording on NPR from that Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! show on your answering machine, when you win the prize. This is it, man.
But, hey, more importantly, I just wanted to remind folks that you are actually giving away the book Account-Based Marketing for Dummies if you tweet with @sangramvajre @Terminus #ABM.
So let’s talk about ABM for those who don’t know about it. We’ve been talking about it. It is a hot topic in the Constellation AstroChart. Cindy Zhou, one of our analysts, covers it, has been talking about account-based marketing. Let’s talk about it from the source. What is ABM?
Sangram Vajre: I think in very simple terms, ABM is a mindset. It’s not… The marketing automation space… I cannot… Let me go back real quick, like 15 years. Right? So email marketing was the hottest thing. Remember the days when everybody got like 70, 80, 90% open rate, and you were like, “Wow. Email is really cool.” Right? And then you fast forward to like 2005, marketers said, “You know. We can capture leads from that thing.” And that’s where marketing automation was born.
Ray Wang: Channel fatigue!
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, right? And marketers ruin everything, once they get a hang of it. So they did that, and then five years later predictive came on board, and they said, “You know what? We can actually solve the problem that sales is having” because sales had been starting to tell marketers that, “Your leads are crap.” Right? And that was the death thing, because marketers were like, “Wait a minute. I have this amazing Game of Thrones infographic e-book, and there are 1,000 people downloading it.” But guess what? Nobody cares about your product. They care about Game of Thrones, so they’re crap. And I think that’s where marketing kind of failed and recognized that there was a much bigger play that they have to have in the whole process.
You fast forward that to 2015, you realize that in the last 15 years, we’re still using one channel, which is email. That hasn’t really changed for B2B marketers. And we’re still focused on one lead, or cont fact. Unless somebody gives you your mother’s maiden name, they’re dead to you. Right?
So outside of a lead and an email, it truly hasn’t been a ton of innovation in a way of engaging people on their terms, and how marketing and sales really work together. And I think that’s really what account-based marketing is all about. It’s like at the end of the day, we all know there are five, seven, if not ten people part of the decision-making process. How is it lead-based? It has to be account-based. It just makes sense.
Every time you hire a salesperson, you hire an account executive. You never hire a lead executive. So marketing has to get behind the idea that they need to more than focused on leads. And that’s really what account-based marketing’s all about.
Ray Wang: So wait. I like having a million likes and only one percent left. It’s awesome!
Sangram Vajre: It just doesn’t add to the bottom line, you know. And that’s where it goes crazy.
Vala Afshar: You’re telling me all those mentions and retweets don’t amount to business? Come on. No, so, give us an example of how companies can take advantage of account-based marketing to jumpstart growth. Clearly, going from a three-person co-founder company in less than two years to a hundred, the results are there. Your customers have this unquenchable thirst to learn from you and use your technology in solutions to grow their businesses. Give us an example.
Sangram Vajre: I’ll give you a perfect example, where the majority of our customers are using today, which is pipeline velocity. You think about when somebody is an opportunity that is sitting in your pipeline, and most times marketers will say, “Well it’s a sales responsibility. I’ve given them the lead and the demo has been done. Now it’s in sales’ hand.”
But if you think about it, you knew so much about that opportunity. One, they are going to buy from you or your competitor. Right? So you better be on top of them.
The second thing is that you know what your typical sales cycle is, and how much ACV or whatever you can take from that account based on the previous customers and patterns that you have. So you know so much about that pipeline. And most marketers and most organization say, “No. Let the salesperson talk to that one person, and let them figure out the deal.” I think that’s where account-based marketing is really driving value. A lot of our customers are saying, “This is where we’re going to be all hands on deck. Executives are going to be part of it. We’re gonna do direct mail. We’re gonna do display advertising. We’re gonna find ways to engage these accounts in a meaningful way, in a very personalized way.”
And they are seeing a faster win rate. They’re seeing a velocity on 10, 15 days sometimes, which may not seem a lot, but when you aggregate with all the number of deals that you’re gonna have, that could mean millions of dollars.
Ray Wang: Yep. Yep. No, definitely.
So, we’re starting a category from scratch. It’s very different. People have to say, “What? You want sales and marketing aligned. How does this happen?” And you get to create new words. You get to create a whole story around it. You’ve got to create a cult of folks that actually believe in it. Right? What’s different about doing this from scratch? Because when you were doing Pardot, Pardot’s easy. It’s like, “Okay. Everyone gets it, email marketing. Let’s go do it.” This is a sea change. You’ve got to convince folks that don’t even understand that it’s a category.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, that’s a really important question, Ray, because a lot of people, we’re challenging people’s jobs. A lot of people have made a career in being in their job description saying that they are a lead-based marketer. And we’re saying that, “Well, that’s not good enough.” Right? So it is challenging.
But I think what has helped us with the #FlipMyFunnel as a philosophy is that we just didn’t say that, “Hey, here’s the problem: less than 1% of leads are turning into customers, so whatever you’re doing is not driving the bottom line of the company.” What we said was, “Here’s a philosophy, which is, you can rely on this philosophy, and think about this as the way to do your next generation B2B sales and marketing.” And that #FlipMyFunnel, the identify, expanding, engage, advocate, those four stages really made a lot of sense to a lot of people, and that’s really what helped the category grow.
Ray Wang: That makes a lot of sense.
Vala Afshar: It’s so critically important to have that alignment with sales and marketing. And so my question to you is where do you see the intersection of digital marketing and sales effectiveness? And also talk to us a little bit about the complexity of digital marketing.
I mean, Scott Brinker‘s super infographic is north of 4000 martech companies. I don’t even know how CMOs can wrap their head around where to invest next. But if you’re thinking about outcomes and sales effectiveness, hopefully, there’s a strong intersection, at least a North Star that can guide their investment pieces.
Sangram Vajre: You know, that’s a really good point. The funny story about bringing up Scott Brinker is, that’s really when I got the inspiration for #FlipMyFunnel. A very quick story.
Two years ago, or three years ago, right before when I started Terminus, or co-founded Terminus, I went to MarTech and attended Scott Brinker’s conference with no agenda but to just learn. So I met him and Jill [Rowley] and everybody over there at that time. And I was coming back to Atlanta. It’s a five hour flight. I was sitting in between two incredibly drunk people. Ray may have some ideas of how to get through an airport. And those two drunk people would care less. They were just drinking. They were having shots. I don’t know what they were doing. And I had to get my head in the game, in the zone, because I was like, “Man. This is insane. Five hours in the middle is not good.”
So I put my headsets on. On a piece of napkin, I started jotting down the funnel, and I said, “We’re starting a company, and as a CMO, I need to able to figure out what are my martech decisions, because my head was exploding from the MarTech Conference. So I flipped the funnel and that’s how the #FlipMyFunnel was born.
And that’s how, really, we’ll identify. In order to find the right companies I want to identify, I want to identify the companies. I want to expand the people within those companies. Now I want to engage people on their terms, and then I want to turn [them into] advocates. It’s really a way to build your [technology] stack. It doesn’t have to be an account-based marketing stack. It’s just a business stack. It’s really what’s exiting about ABM.
I feel like the digital transformation is also very interesting. As I said, email marketing has been the bread and butter for B2B marketers for the last 15 years. Advertising and direct mail was like, “Well, no, no, no. That’s not what we do. That’s like B2C.” But that’s really what’s driving a lot of what our existing customers are seeing success with because they’re now able to layer on email, and direct mail, and advertising, and really surround their target list of accounts with their message. They’re looking like a big fish in a small pond, and that really makes them feel like, “Oh, I know that company. I’ve heard about them. Let’s look at them.” It creates that grand perception that B2C companies are really, really good at. Right?
When you think about shoes, immediately Nike and some of these companies come to mind, because they have been in our brain for the last ten, 15 years. B2B companies need to have the same emotional intelligence built with their target audience, and that does require a layering of multiple different things, not just email and phone calls, but all the other visual assets that you need to get in place.
Ray Wang: Hey, we’ve got a question that’s come in, direct message to me, from a senior sales executive. They said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if… you know, #FlipMyFunnel’s a good movement that could be used if they reached across the aisle to quota-carrying sales people. It feels like at these conferences, it’s only the marketing folks talking about it, and there’s only one party at the table.” What do you say to that?
Sangram Vajre: Now, that’s a great question. I love the online interaction on that one. We recently did a Revenue Summit conference in San Francisco. This was March, I think March 7th or 8th, this year, and it was sales and marketing together. Account-based marketing is kind of a misnomer. It’s not about just marketing. But the reason it’s hot is because marketing has been behind the eight ball. I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m a marketer, and I feel like I haven’t done a good job as a marketer to support sales in B2B.
As I said, sales always understood selling into accounts. They never closed Joe, or Jim, or anybody. They closed Coke, and whatever different big—Disney, and big companies. Marketers always felt like, I think, they have been behind the eight ball.
So it’s the movement to bring marketers to the table. But if you think about #FlipMyFunnel, it includes marketing. It includes sales. And ultimately, it include advocacy, so it includes customer success. And our vision with #FlipMyFunnel is to bring sales, marketing, but also customer success together.
Vala Afshar: That makes a lot of sense. We heard Rob talk about having a journey that started 32 quarters ago for his company Coupa, where he brought a mindset of running the startup like a public company, and delivering on promises in a consistent manner in a point where the board trusted his vision, his company’s execution capabilities, and obviously their demonstrated success, as Ray said, north of a billion dollar market cap.
You’re a co-founder of a startup that has white-hot growth, and receiving a ton of accolades as being a good place to work, and employees love the company, customers, and so on and so forth. What is your point of view in term in terms of what it takes to go IPO these days?
Sangram Vajre: I think we have not been even able to think about next quarter, per se. To think about the growth that we’ve been having, we were like, “Wait a minute…” We just moved from, as you said, three co-founders in a basement, if you will, to like 100 people. I had a moment last week when I met somebody in the elevator, and they said, “Hey, Sangram, good to meet you.” I didn’t know that person’s name. I was like, “Oh, my goodness. How’s that possible that I don’t know somebody who works here, their name.” And this has happened, and we’re realizing that we are growing faster than what we all envisioned. Just a moment of truth.
What we’re really doing is, and I think what Rob said, we’re hiring. We just hired a Chief Product Officer. We just hired a Chief Revenue Officer. We’re looking to hire a CFO right now, very actively. We’re just surrounding ourselves with people who have been there, done that, because I’m not that smart. I’m very passionate about this problem. I care to solve this big problem, and I know there’s market for it.
But beyond that, I think, there’s this rigor from an operational perspective and a cadence of company perspective that is something that other people have done. Our goal is, literally in the next two quarters, surround ourselves with a great management team, and really start having that operational rigor that Rob was talking about.
Ray Wang: Now, that makes a lot of sense. One of the things that we think about is when you scale up, you’re basically trying to give the keys to the Ferrari to everybody by saying, “Hey, go. I’m gonna empower you. I’m gonna make you do this.” The reason I bring this up is one of the companies that’s growing really, really fast is a company called Ultimate Software. I don’t know if you’ve seen them.
There’s a rumor, and I’ve been trying to confirm this, and I think I confirmed it yesterday. I was at their event. There’s a rumor that the Google founders came to visit the Ultimate Software founders because they’ve won the Best Place to Work for a very long time at a national level. And they wanted to learn what was it to build a culture and sustain that culture. And one of the things I heard is that they deliberately do not grow their company more than 25% a quarter. Right? Or a year, I think. I think it was probably a year. Right? Because they want to make sure that you still have time for everyone to digest that kind of growth, which is an interesting thing to think about, now that they are public. They’ve been public for a while and are kind of rocketing in terms of their market cap.
But for you, culture, keeping that culture alive, what are you doing? What are you doing to make sure? You’re in Atlanta with lots of young people, right? You’re one of the… If you think about the startups from AirWatch all the way down. People are looking for that kind of influence and energy.
Sangram Vajre: I think, as you pointed out, keys to the Ferrari is our internal cultural pride. If you walk around and ask anybody, “What’s our culture like?” They would say, “Yeah. It’s all about challenging the status quo, and keys to Ferrari, which means that you everyday come in here, not thinking about what’s right. You just come in here thinking that, “I’m gonna drive this somewhere.”
You’ll have ultimate autonomy. We don’t have an HR today. We don’t have an operations person today. We don’t track travel, or time-off, or anything like that. None of … We have taken away all management-like things that actually take away from it.
We actually celebrate people on vacation. What we realized is people don’t take vacation, so in the monthly blast-off meetings we will highlight people going on vacation. We have to push people to go for a vacation. It’s just the opposite problem. I think we just feel like that hiring the right people, as everybody knows, is the most important thing any co-founder, any executive, can do and spend time on. And we spend a good amount of time on that.
For every executive, they will not only meet and talk to people on the team, but also on other teams, so that we understand that they are really good cultural fit. They will come and present to a broader organization so people get a feel for what is the next level up look like. So people start to level up really, really fast.
I think one thing I’ve realized for myself and my co-founders, Eric [Vass] and Eric [Spett], all three of us, we feel like we have this mental check that we talk through. Are we leveling up? Because if you’re asking other people to level up, we have to be leveling up big-time, and it’s a constant process of just thinking about it. Instead of just having two day off-sites, we would do four hours, four hours almost every week. Of an executive team, it will tighten up. There will be a couple of topics that we talk about, and culture is always one of the main topics we talk about. But that’s something that we’re just continuing to build in the organization. So no silver bullet. We’re just trying to do a whole bunch of things.
Vala Afshar: That’s very cool. Well, giving where I see both you and Ray in terms of events, and social presence, and writing, and interviews, I doubt either of you have had a vacation in two years. But having said that, my final question to you is who inspires you? I mean, you’re full of passion and energy. You’re literally everywhere. What motivates you? Who inspires you? Where do you learn? Who do you collaborate with to develop your vision of Terminus, and #FlipMyFunnel, and the overall future of your company?
Ray Wang: I think we may have lost him, on the signal or the feed.
Vala Afshar: Me too. I told you he doesn’t go on vacation. He probably had to run to a staff meeting.
Ray Wang: No problem. That was Sangram Vajre, co-founder and CMO at Terminus. You can follow him at @sangramvajre and, of course, if you’re tweeting out at @Terminus #ABM with Sangram’s Twitter handle, he’ll be giving away one of his books, ABM for Dummies.
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