The Latest from the Go-to-Market Experts
February 9, 2017
Sangram Vajre: The Account-Based Marketing Evangelist
If you’re paying attention to the emerging account-based marketing sector, you’ve heard this energetic greeting. That’s how the relentlessly upbeat Sangram Vajre often begins his videos, webinars and blog posts. Then he plunges into a passionate pitch about how sales and marketing teams must abandon their lead-centric view of the world and embrace an account-based future.
What makes Vajre unique, though, is that he barely promotes his Atlanta-based targeted advertising company Terminus, where he is the co-founder and chief marketing officer.
As the founder of the #FlipMyFunnel movement, Vajre is selling the entire ABM brand.
“It’s all about challenging the status quo,” said Vajre, 36. “Everything that everybody thinks they know about sales and marketing is wrong. This is a problem that I deeply care about and want to solve. I genuinely believe that if marketers adopt Account-Based Marketing practices, they will drive revenue in their businesses. I want to do everything I can to help make marketers heroes.”
He is the master of ceremonies for the #FlipMyFunnel conference roadshows. His new book, “Account-Based Marketing For Dummies,” was just published. He never stops preaching his vision of personalizing the buyer’s journey.
For Kevin Bobowski, the chief marketing officer at Act-On, Vajre is the epitome of a smart person doing great things at precisely the right time and place as the MarTech space continues to explode.
“It’s not about what Sangram wants you to do,” Bobowski said. “It’s about how he can help you achieve something. For me, that’s a leader and it’s why Sangram is so refreshing. He just doesn’t have an ego. He wants to help people, and that’s why he’s going places.”
And he’s getting there fast.
“One of Sangram’s favorite words is hustle,” said Nikki Nixon, marketing manager at Terminus. “Sangram’s whole vibe is about hustle. He’s always going. He’s always working as hard as he can.”
Vajre has earned everything in his career through sheer effort. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a better example of achieving the quintessential American dream than Vajre.
The son and grandson of professors, he grew up in a family of modest means in Nagpur, located in central India. Vajre already had a computer science degree when his brother returned from the United States, where he was living. His blunt advice: ‘Dude, you have to go to America.”
In 2002, Vajre arrived at the University of Alabama to get a master’s degree. He still laughs about the culture shock. And that was before Vajre attended his first football game.
“I thought every place was the same in the U.S., just like in the movies,” he said. “There had to be fast cars and skyscrapers everywhere. Maybe strip clubs and slot machines, too. But Alabama is not the America that gets shown on TV.”
Oh, and he had a total of $350 in his pocket. Vajre had to figure out how to pay for his education.
So he hustled.
Vajre earned an internship in the computer science department. Then he got creative. Vajre learned that if he taught at least three students a foreign language, that would pay for the rest of his tuition.
“So I found three people – one whose boyfriend was Indian and another whose girlfriend was Indian – and I taught Hindi 101 at the University of Alabama,” he added. “So I guess I’ve always been selling.”
But Vajre discovered that there was something of a language barrier even though he spoke English. He had trouble at first understanding thick Southern accents as well as colloquial expressions. Shortly after arriving on campus, someone told him that he “wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box.” Vajre immediately began looking around for a box of pencils.
“I later told my friends about that,” Vajre recalled. “So they went to the library and got me the whole series of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends.’ I watched every single episode and then I started to get what people really meant when they speak. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s how I learned about America.”
His first job out of college was as an auditor at Deloitte Consulting before he drifted into marketing. He was a natural marketer and rose quickly through a series of companies. He was at Pardot when the platform got acquired by global interactive marketing provider ExactTarget in 2012.
Bobowski, then with ExactTarget, was tasked with finding a new head of marketing for Pardot.
“I must have interviewed 30 different candidates for the role, and Sangram stuck out,” Bobowski recalled. “His personality just drew us in and won us over. You could tell that he had all of the blocking and tackling as a marketer. But his passion for MarTech was amazing. You could just tell that he was a guy with an incredibly high ceiling.”
Vajre would join startup Terminus in early 2015. There, he likes to tell his team that they have the keys to the Ferrari – so now go drive real fast.
“What you see is what you get with Sangram,” Nixon said. “He’s the same guy you see in the videos. He’s super high-energy in everything he does. He just has tons and tons of ideas. He’s always having a light bulb moment. The way he processes his thoughts is to write things down and then say: ‘What do you guys think about this?’”
That happened last spring after he attended the MarTech Conference in San Francisco. A newly minted CMO, he was still trying to figure out how to help put Terminus’ imprint on the larger marketing world. On the long plane flight home, Vajre was stuck in a middle seat between two inebriated passengers. He slipped on his headphones and mulled over a conference presentation from Jill Rowley, the social selling expert who stresses the importance of treating potential customers like human beings, not targets.
“So I’m sitting there and I drew a traditional sales funnel on a paper napkin,” Vajre said. “And then I flipped it.”
#FlipMyFunnel was born.
Essentially, it’s a visual representation of ABM. The beauty of inverting the funnel, he explained, is that you stop thinking about accumulating a huge volume of leads that have questionable value and instead identify your best-fit accounts and go after them with a laser focus. This way, you create a technology stack of ABM-enabling companies that help businesses engage prospects in a personalized fashion.
When he shared his idea in an online post, he was inundated with messages.
“Everyone was saying: ‘This sounds awesome. How do we do it?’” he said.
The upcoming San Francisco event will be his fourth conference where ABM advocates share how it’s done. Here’s the thing about #FlipMyFunnel: Vajre is an advocate for ABM, not Terminus. His belief is that at this early stage, it’s far more important for potential rivals to come together to build the category. And if ABM is successful, Terminus also will thrive. It’s a concept that Influitive CEO Mark Organ described as “co-opetition trumps competition” in a recent blog post.
“We’re all going at ABM in a slightly different way, so maybe that helps us to build a case for collaboration,” Vajre said. “Right now, a customer might use LeanData and Terminus. At some point, there will be competition. But the more important thing is ensuring that there’s a category to play in for all of us.”
Vajre’s schedule doesn’t leave much time for him to pause and reflect on where his career has taken him. After all, every day is another opportunity to announce “Sangram here!” and launch into the benefits of an account-based world.
“Sometimes you don’t think about the stuff that’s happened because you’re going at the speed of light,” Vajre said. “But when you do stop and think about your journey, you can get goosebumps about how far you’ve come.”
Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on LeanData’s blog