What Exactly Do You Mean by Anal? Thoughts on Leadership and Self-Awareness

I remember one time having an argument that went like this:

Dave:  I don’t think you’ve thought through the details on this one.

Joe:  I think there’s enough detail in there.

Dave:  No, there’s not.  There’s no underpinnings, there’s no rigor in the thought process.  Remember, David Ogilvy always said “good writing is slavery” and ergo you need to dive deep and —

Joe:  Oh, you can be so anal.

Dave:  I don’t think I’m being anal.  I’m just being rigorous.

Joe:  Yes, you are.

Dave:  Well, what exactly do you mean by anal?

I always try to listen to myself talk and once in a while I have a did-I-just-say-that moment.  Did I just say, “what exactly do you mean by anal?”  Oh shit, I did.  Isn’t that kind of the definition of being anal.  Oh shit, it is.  Heck Dave, you may as well just have replied:  what I really want to know is — is there a hyphen in anal-retentive?

The actual issue here is one of leadership:  being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, trying to avoid over-doing your strengths and working to compensate for your weaknesses.  It’s critical that all leaders focus on this because, by default, most folks will over-play to their strengths (to a fault, effectively turning them into weaknesses) and ignore their weaknesses.

It’s not hard to be self-aware when it comes to most strengths and weaknesses.  Most folks know, for example, if they’re great at public speaking and bad at financial analysis, or great at individual problem-solving but bad in groups.  Or high on IQ but low on EQ.  People usually know.

Sometimes we euphemize with ourselves.  For example, while others might say I’m:

  • Detail-oriented, I prefer “rigorous”
  • Blunt, I prefer “direct”
  • Contrarian, I prefer “critical-thinking”
  • And so on

But at least you’re circling the same pond.  You have awareness of the area –though you might soften how you think about it to protect the old ego, relative to how others might more bluntly, or should I say directly, describe it.

But some weaknesses are harder to self-assess.  For example, I’ve taken assessments that basically prove I’m low on flexibility.  But I never knew it.  In fact, I thought I was supremely flexible because I was capable of moving.  Think:  OK, we’ll move a bit in your direction.  You see, I’m flexible!  Voila, QED.  Bravo Chef!  I was, however, blind to the fact that one person’s mile is another’s inch.  When you’re inflexible you risk self-congratulation for a tidbit of demonstrated movement when the other party thinks you haven’t moved at all.

As another example, because communication is one of my strengths, I always thought I did better in groups, when in fact I do better with people one-to-one — which was a key strength of which I wasn’t even aware.  Some of these things are just hard to see.

My advice on this front is three-fold:

  • Be aware of your strengths and beware your natural tendency to overplay to them.  If one of your strengths has become a running joke (e.g., at one point one of my staff handed out “Captain Anal” pins), it could be time to think about it.
  • Be aware of your weaknesses and, while you can work on them if you want, use building a complementary team as your primary way to compensate.
  • Attend programs like LDP (managers, directors) or LAP (C-levels) to build a deep understanding of both.  These programs aren’t cheap, but they will give you self-awareness, in a kind of data-driven and ergo virtually undeniable way, that few other programs will.

(And can somebody please spell-check this thing to make sure there aren’t any errors.)

Foreword to The Next CMO: A Guide to Marketing Operational Excellence

The folks at Plannuh, specifically Peter Mahoney, Scott Todaro, and Dan Faulkner, asked me to write the foreword for their new book, The Next CMO:  A Guide to Marketing Operational Excellence.  (Free download here.)

Here’s what I wrote for them.

CMO is a hard job. Early in my career I worked for CMOs, in sort of an endless revolving-door progression, at one point having 7 bosses in 5 years. I have been a CMO, for over 12 years at three different companies. I have managed CMOs, working as CEO for over a decade at two different companies. And I have guided CMOs, serving as an independent director on the board of five different companies.  Let’s just say I’ve spent a lot of time in and around the CMO role.

In the past two decades, no executive suite role has changed more and more quickly than the CMO. Marketers of yesteryear could focus on strategic positioning and branding, leaving such banalities as lead generation to sales-aligned field marketing teams, managing scraps of paper in cardboard boxes.

Sales and marketing automation systems changed everything. Concepts like pipeline, conversion rates, and velocity were born. From lead generation sprung lead nurturing. Attribution emerged to solve one of the world’s oldest marketing problems.

Artificial intelligence (AI) arrived at the scene, helping with areas like lead scoring and prioritization. The demand for analytics followed suit. Marketing ops arose as the cousin of sales ops.

Digital marketing changed everything again. Spend became even more accountable. Pay-per-click replaced pay-per-view which replaced just-pay. Targeting became more precise both via search and the rise of social media. Content marketing emerged to supplement declining traditional public relations. If yesterday’s marketing was leaflets dropped from airplanes, today’s is A/B-tested, laser-guided, call-to-action missiles.

Technology came at CMOs faster than they could keep up. Software could power your website, run your resource center, generate your landing pages, test your messaging, drive repeatable SDR processes, identify your ideal customer, drive account-based marketing, and even record and analyze prospect conversations.

What’s more, as CEOs and boards knew that entirely new classes of questions were becoming answerable, they started asking them.

  • What percent of the pipeline are prospects within our ideal customer profile?
  • What’s the stage-weighted expected value of the pipeline?
    Forecast-category weighted?
  • What’s our week 3 pipeline conversion rate for new logo vs upsell opportunities?
  • What’s our cost per opportunity and how does it vary by channel and geography?
  • What’s marketing’s contribution to our customer acquisition cost (CAC) ratio and how are we improving it?

And dozens and dozens more.

The hardest job in the C-suite got harder. Today’s CMOs need to be visionary strategists by day and operational tacticians by night. Operational marketing has become the sine qua non of modern marketing. If the website is optimized, if the demand generation machine is running effectively, if marketing events are executed flawlessly, if quality pipeline is being generated efficiently, if that pipeline is converting in line with industry benchmarks, and if and only if all that is being done within the constraints of the marketing budget — spending neither too little nor too much — then and only then does the CMO get the chance to be “strategic.”

Operational excellence is thus a necessary but not sufficient condition for CMO success. So it’s well worth mastering and this book is the ideal guide to building and managing your own integrated marketing machine.

There’s no one better to write this book than the leadership team at Plannuh, Peter, Scott, and Dan. With their experience running marketing teams from startups through multi-billion dollar public companies, teaching and mentoring generations of marketers, and now building a platform that codifies their thinking into a scalable SaaS platform, this guide is certain to raise the IQ of your marketing function.

– Dave Kellogg

Video of My SaaStr 2020 Presentation: Churn is Dead, Long Live Net Dollar Retention

Thanks to everyone who attended my SaaStr 2020 presentation and thanks to those who provided me with great feedback and questions on the content of the session.  The slides from the presentation are available here.  The purpose of this post is to share the video of the session, courtesy of the folks at SaaStr.  Enjoy!

 

Churn is Dead, Long Live Net Dollar Retention! Slides from my SaaStr 2020 Presentation

I just finished delivering my presentation at SaaStr Annual 2020, dubbed Churn Is Dead, Long Live Net Dollar Retention.  The presentation is about understanding SaaS businesses:  how to think about them, how to value them, how to use unit economics like CAC and churn to measure them, all with a particular focus on measuring the health of the annuity portion of a SaaS business, the installed base.

While the session is title is perhaps dramatized, if churn isn’t dead I think it’s at least wounded because there are too many ways to calculate it — and the downstream metrics based on it.  That, in turn, lends itself to gaming.  As I said in the presentation:  “there’s a reason PE firms recalculate all your metrics!”

While I generally think public company SaaS metrics are inferior to private company ones, I think the public company way of measuring churn/retention — i.e., net dollar retention (NDR) rate — is superior to LTV/CAC and similar metrics, and thus that private companies should start tracking NDR, too.

If NDR is going to be measured, it can be managed and I suggest both a good and a bad way to think about that.  I wrap up with a quick introduction to RPO (remaining performance obligation), another public company SaaS metric that I believe should and will catch on with private SaaS companies.

Appearance on the CFO Bookshelf Podcast with Mark Gandy

Just a quick post to highlight a recent interview I did on the CFO Bookshelf podcast with Mark Gandy.  The podcast episode, entitled Dave Kellogg Address The Rule of 40, EPM, SaaS Metrics and More, reflects the fun and somewhat wandering romp we had through a bunch of interesting topics.

Among other things, we talked about:

  • Why marketing is a great perch from which to become a CEO
  • Some reasons CEOs might not want to blog (and the dangers of so doing)
  • A discussion of the EPM market today
  • A discussion of BI and visualization, particularly as it relates to EPM
  • The Rule of 40 and small businesses
  • Some of my favorite SaaS operating metrics
  • My thoughts on NPS (net promoter score)
  • Why I like driver-based modeling (and what it has in common with prime factorization)
  • Why I still believe in the “CFO as business partner” trope

You can find the episode here on the web, here on Apple Podcasts, and here on Google Podcasts.

Mark was a great host, and thanks for having me.

SaaStr 2020 Session Preview: Churn is Dead, Long Live Net Dollar Retention!

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Reunited with old friend Tracy Eiler on the speaker page

The SaaStr Annual conference was delayed this year, but Jason & crew know that the show must go on.  So this year’s event has been rechristened SaaStr Annual @ Home and is being held in virtual, online format on September 2nd and 3rd.  The team at SaaStr have assembled a strong, diverse line-up of speakers to provide what should be another simply amazing program.

The purpose of this post is to provide a teaser to entice you to attend my session, Churn is Dead, Long Live Net Dollar Retention Rate, bright and early on Wednesday, September 2nd at 8:00 AM.

“I eat SaaS metrics for breakfast,” he thinks.  Or at least, “with.”

In this session, we’ll cover:

  • Separating a SaaS business into its two component parts
  • What makes SaaS companies so interesting for PE buyers
  • The SaaS leaky bucket of ARR
  • SaaS unit economics 101:  CAC, LTV, LTV/CAC, and CAC payback period
  • The three, fairly lethal problems with churn rates
  • Why “ARR is a fact and churn is an opinion”
  • Cohort analysis basics and survivor bias
  • Net dollar retention (NDR) rate definition and benchmarks
  • Explanatory power of NDR vs. ARR growth and the Rule of 40 in determining valuation multiples
  • The NDR implications of Goodhart’s Law
  • Applying Goodhart’s Law to NDR
  • The next frontier:  remaining performance obligation (RPO)

While the topic might seem a little dry, the content is critically important to any SaaS executive, and I can assure you the presentation will be fast-paced, fun, and anything but dry.

I hope you can attend and I look forward to seeing you there.

How To Get Sales and Marketing Working Together (Presentation)

I spoke this morning to a private equity (PE) firm’s gathering of portfolio company CEOs, CROs, and CMOs.  Our topic, one of my favorites, was how to get sales and marketing working together to drive business results.  While I talked about the predictable subject of alignment, I covered it with an interesting three-level angle (philosophical, strategic, operational).  I prefaced the alignment discussion with examples of what typically goes wrong in the sales/marketing relationship, later revealing that I believe most of the commonly-observed “problems” between sales and marketing are, in fact, symptoms of four underlying problems:

  • Unrealistic plans
  • Function-led mentality
  • Blame culture
  • Non-alignment

I’ve embedded the presentation below and it’s also available on Slideshare.