Named To Top 25 All-Time SaaStr Podcast, Twice

I’m revising this post because I learned today that I’ve been named not once (as I thought yesterday) but twice to the SaaStr All-Time Top 25 List of podcast episodes (see Top 1-12 and Top 13-25).  Apologies for the confusion, but wow, what an honor.  This puts me in the company of legends like David Skok, Mark Suster, Nick Mehta, and Tomasz Tunguz — and dare I say that by my quick tally only two people made the list twice:  David Skok and me.

Thank you to everyone who listened and helped drive my episodes to the top of the charts!

Here are the two episodes that made the list:

In both episodes the interviewer was the ever-dynamic Harry Stebbings of 20VC fame.

How To Build a Marketing Machine, Presentation from a Balderton Capital Meetup

I hopped over to London a few weeks back to visit my friends at Balderton Capital (where I’m now working as an EIR) and during the visit we decided to host a meetup for portfolio company founders, CEOs, and CMOs to discuss the question of how to build a marketing machine.

We based the meetup on the presentation I recently delivered at SaaStock EMEA of the same title, but in a pretty compressed twenty-minute format.  This time, we took closer to 40 minutes and had some fun conversation and Q&A thereafter.

This is a hot topic today because in this era of high growth, flush funding, and rapid scaling, just about everyone I know is trying to turn their marketing into a machine so they can push the levers forward and grow, grow, grow.  This presentation talks about how to do that.

The slides from the presentation are embedded below.  You can find a video of a private recording of the presentation on the Balderton website.

Should Your Website Drive Prospects to a Demo?

TLDR:  Think twice before you do and three times about how you do it.  While it’s a very common practice, I think it’s often a lazy one, done by default, and without regard for either the buyer or seller downstream.

When I visit enterprise SaaS websites these days, I see two primary calls-to-action (CTAs) in widespread use:

  • Try it:  used by the product-led growth (PLG) crowd, and a great CTA — provided the company is actually executing a PLG strategy [1].  While we won’t drill into this large topic today, know that I am working on a PLG post to go up soon.
  • Get a demo:  in use by most others and typically promising a personal demo, but sometimes offering to watch a video or join a weekly live webinar.

See below for three clipped examples of both demo and trial CTAs from enterprise SaaS websites (read across) [2].

The question:  while it’s certainly a common practice, is it a good one?

My answer:  often, not.  Using a demo as your primary CTA, whether weasel-worded (e.g., “request demo”) or not (e.g., “get demo”), can frequently lead to problems:

  • Double qualification.  Typically, the prospect first speaks to an SDR who does preliminary qualification (e.g., BANT) and then passes the prospect to a seller to deliver the demo.  The buyer thinks:  I didn’t click a button labeled, “speak to two people,” I clicked one labeled, “get demo” [3].
  • Raising expectations.  The SDR often justifies their call by saying, “I’m here to gather some information to ensure we personalize the demo to your needs.”  That’s great if the ensuing demo is actually tailored in some way; it’s criminally bad expectation-setting if it’s not.
  • Horrific second-calls, reminding me of a quote from Fail Safe: “what you’re telling me, I’ve been specifically ordered not to do.”  We tell sellers to do qualification and discovery, understand and solve business problems, and under any circumstances never to spew features — then we walk them in front of a largely unqualified prospect with whom we have set an expectation that they’re going to see a feature demo [4].  It’s a wonder they don’t revolt.
  • Hampering sellers from doing their jobs, which at this point in the sales cycle should be discovery and qualification — i.e., asking a series of open-ended questions to determine if this is a real sales opportunity with a qualified buyer who has a business problem that our product can solve.
  • Super-awkward situations, where the seller thinks they’re having a basic 1-1 demo and the entire buying committee shows up for “the demo” of your product, which will be delivered unprepared and without context.  I’ve seen that happen; it’s cringeworthy.
  • Wasting sellers’ time.  Doing a standardized demo is arguably not selling, but marketing — and your marketing team can likely do it as well as your sellers [5].  If sellers are doing lots of 1-1 demos for lots of semi-qualified prospects, marketing might be generating a lot of activity for sales, but don’t forget the old saying about processionary caterpillars confusing activity with progress.

The root problem here is not that get-demo is somehow inherently an evil CTA [6], but that this may reveal a deeper problem in sales and marketing alignment.  In a siloed company, where sales and marketing are not working together, the above problems can and do develop because marketing is trying to maximize clicks on get-demo without thinking enough about either the seller or the buyer downstream after they do.  Think:  we passed 47 get-demo oppties this month, we’re not the problem.  Buzz off.

There’s an easy way to determine if this is a problem at your company:

  • Listen to Gong recordings of the first-calls with sellers (where they are notionally delivering this demo) and do so from the perspective of both the buyer (e.g., are they getting a demo?  is it good one?) and the seller (e.g., are they doing qualification and discovery?  are they spewing features?)
  • Talk to sales leadership.  Bring your knowledge of the generic problems along with your learnings from the Gong recordings and have a discussion about how you can work together to improve the early sales cycle process for both seller and buyer.

Note that win/loss reporting will likely not catch these problems because this activity typically occurs upstream of opportunity creation, so there are definitionally no lost opportunities due to a bad initial demo [7].

Improvement Ideas for Get-Demo Calls To Action
Here are some ideas on how to mitigate these problems, all offered in the spirit reducing friction in the buyer journey while maximizing efficiency for the seller:

  • Always have an ungated 30-60 second explainer video that explains what your product does so curious people can quickly understand what it is.
  • Publish a 2-3 minute ungated short demo video of what your product does for those who want more information.
  • Publish an as-long-as-necessary deep demo video both on your website (possibly gated) and on your YouTube channel [8].  Remember David Ogilvy:  “long copy sells!”  If you solve an important problem to which I’m seeking a solution, I’ll have plenty of time for a long, well-executed demo.  Just make sure it’s well-executed.
  • Hold a weekly live demo which (1) gets the buyer block time on their calendar to see the solution, (2) gets us the buyer’s contact information, (3) offers the buyer the opportunity to ask live questions during the event, (4) gives us the chance to spot target accounts expressing interest and the chance to engage with them about that, (5) provides SDRs with an alternative CTA to “do you want to speak to a seller?”, (6) provides a broad indicator of interest over time (i.e., weekly demo attendance), and (7) gives us a platform we can easily build upon — think:  on Tuesdays, it’s the product overview; on Wednesdays, it’s the demo for retailers; and on Thursdays it’s the demo for use-case X.

Basically, I’m trying to let the buyer decide what they mean by get demo, potentially let them get that right away, and provide a way to drive interested prospects who don’t want to speak to a seller to a periodic live event where I can deliver a high-quality, in-depth demo while driving scale economies in so doing.

After the weekly live demo, the SDR calls and says, “how did you like the demo?” and “did you see anything relevant to the challenges you’re facing?”  If those answers are positive, then they can pass it to a seller for discovery and qualification.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a huge believer in also having a clear call to action that says, “have a seller contact me.”  I understand that it won’t get pressed very often, but oh, when it does — it’s likely to be a pretty interested prospect [9].

My Three-Point CTA
I’m aware that many marketers today don’t want to paralyze buyers with choice, so there is a general preference for the fewest possible options in a CTA, but that notwithstanding, if I had to solve the problem myself, I’d use this as my default CTA [10]:

When is Get-Demo a Great CTA?
The first revision of this post prompted some questions along the lines of, “I understand you don’t like get-demo as a CTA, but when is it appropriate?” to which my answer is:

  • I’m not against get-demo as a CTA.  I just think we need to put more thought into what it means, the options we offer, and what happens to both the buyer and the seller when someone presses it.
  • For most companies, the vast majority of people who press get-demo are not worth investing in a personalized demo.  If you want them to self-demo, adopt a PLG strategy and let them use the product.  If that’s not possible, then they’ll need to see a demo somehow and my ideas above provide numerous options for doing that.  I like the weekly live demo because it’s cost-effective way to let everyone see the demo while allowing sales to focus on the handful of attendees who are most interesting.
  • If, somehow, you’re in a model where you think it is worth doing a live, personalized demo for everyone who wants one, I’d first remind you about processionary caterpillars, and second say to set up a call center and drive people live into that call center.  The key to velocity sales is friction elimination, so if someone wants a live demo, and you’re willing to give them one without any real qualification, then get ‘er done — don’t let any time lapse in scheduling.

(Revised 11/22/21)

# # #

Notes

[1] And if it’s not, marketing trying to do PLG on their own (because they want to, the investors want to, or the company would like to be PLG but isn’t), with a product that’s not designed to be easily adopted and sell itself, is a bad idea.  In this “PLG is the new black” era, the only thing worse than not doing PLG is trying PLG tactics when you don’t have a PLG company or PLG product.  To mix metaphors, you could likely end up putting your best foot forward into your mouth.

[2]  Note the wasted space by having login in this zone of the page.  I’d put login buttons or icons somewhere else completely (e.g., top right, page footer) so as to make room to have 3 calls to action as presented below.

[3] Sometimes, it’s actually triple qualification:  the SDR does worth-passing qualification, the seller does worth-accepting qualification, and then the seller and a sales engineer do a deeper discovery call — all before the buyer gets their demo.

[4] The results in sellers spinning plates — doing qualification with one hand, demoing with the other, and doing a bad job at both.

[5]  I’d argue generally that doing standardized things is definitionally marketing while doing personalized things is sales.  Think:  given what you’ve told me about your unique situation, here is how our product can help you meet your goals.  That’s selling.  If you just want the White House Tour, then that’s marketing.

[6]  To which many website types were quick to object in my first revision of the post — but it gets clicked all the time.  Well, perhaps that’s because people actually do want demos and also because we give them no real alternative CTA!

[7]  That is, the bad initial demo resulted in no opportunity being created.  That said, you might get wind of it in your win/loss reporting from opportunities that made it into the pipeline if you ask customers about their high-funnel experience through both ratings (e.g., “what was your impression after the initial demo”) and qualitative questioning (e.g., “how was your experience from when you first contacted us until you were put in touch with your seller?” or “how did your first meeting with your seller go?”)

[8]  Which I know makes it semi-gated, but it also enables people to find and watch it directly via Google/YouTube search.  Have some faith that if they like what they see, they’re not going to forget to find our contact-us form and fill it in.  (And you’re going to remind them to do so at the end of the video, of course!)

[9]  When you’ve truly internalized that marketing is about generating sales via the creation of valid sales opportunities you stop caring only about how often something gets clicked (or how many leads we got) and start caring about how fast we can get qualified hand-raisers through the process and off to sales.

[10]  Perhaps more interestingly, if you forced me to drop one, it would be stay-in-touch, not contact-us.  I’d make stay-in-touch a backup offer on the get-demo page.

How to Know if You Have the Right Executives on Your Leadership Team

Is your leadership team world-class?  Are some of your executives holding your company back?  Could you grow faster if you replaced your head of sales?

Does your board think you have the right leadership team?  Heck, does your leadership team think you have the right leadership team?  Do your rank-and-file employees?

When you stick with a VP who helped build the company but who seems to be past their sell-by date, are you demonstrating loyalty as a strength or conflict-aversion as a weakness?

These are some of the questions that keep founder/CEOs up at night.  While founders who’ve spent time at larger companies have some experience with SVPs and CXOs at different scale, for many founders this is entirely greenfield territory.  Think:  I’ve built this great $10M ARR company but I have never run (or been a C-level executive at) a $50M ARR company, ergo I really have no idea what the proverbial “next-level” team looks like.

Or, simply put, how do you know if you have the right people around executive staff table?  To determine the answer, do these 5 things:

  • Evaluate performance.  An obvious sign that someone is in over their head is a lack of performance, missing targets (e.g., new ARR), OKRs, or hiring goals — either in terms of number or quality (particularly when staffing their own leadership team).  Someone who’s not performing is definitionally already in over their head today; we don’t need to wonder about tomorrow.
  • Get 360 degree feedback.  From your team’s leadership coach (if you have one), from the e-staff peer group, from a formal 360 degree feedback program, from employee satisfaction surveys (e.g., CultureAmp), and from the board.  This informs you with a holistic view of how the executive is seen within the organization.
  • Do calibration meetings.  Always be calibrating — always seek out next-level or next-next-level executives and have a coffee with them.  The only way I know to develop your own sense of “seniority” is to meet lots of senior people.  Use your board and your network to get access.  Ask questions about current issues you’re facing and the road ahead.  You’ll build your network, have people you can rely on for future advice, and — who knows — maybe one day you’ll come back and hire some of them.  The next time one of your board members says, “your CXO isn’t world-class,” ask them for three introductions to people who are.
  • Listen to your gutDo you look forward to meeting with them?  Do they bring or take energy?  Are meetings more productive when they come or when don’t?  Do they suck the air out of the room?  Are they Eeyore or Pooh?  If you consistently don’t look forward to meeting with one of your direct reports, it’s an important tell of a major problem.  The e-staff is helping you build your company; you should be excited to meet with each and every one of them, every time.  If you’re not, you need to ask yourself why.
  • Ask.  Sit down and ask the executive how they’re doing, how they feel about the organization and the road ahead, if they’re still having fun and enjoying their job, and if they feel like they are up to (and up for) the challenges ahead.  Sometimes, they’ll share their concerns and you can build a program to support them.  Sometimes, they won’t be candid, effectively denying themselves help or redeployment.  Sometimes, as once happened to me, they’ll say they’ve been thinking about going into real estate with their brother.  You won’t find out if you don’t ask.

The most important part of this process is realizing that you have options and using them.  Unless you want to create an up-or-out culture of disposable people, you need to consider all your options for an executive who has run out of runway:

  • Redeployment.  Moving them to a different, senior post (e.g., taking your old VP of Marketing and having them go to London to help open Europe).
  • Layering up.  Restructuring so as to add an additional layer above the executive.  People generally don’t like this but will try and/or tolerate it if they understand why you’re making the change and believe that they can potentially learn something.  (Unvested in-the-money options don’t hurt, either.)
  • Benching.  Given them an important job but one below their capabilities until such time as you find something you really need them to do.  Think:  you’re still on the team but not playing this period while I figure out what to do with you.  Too few executives do this because it’s nominally expensive, but the cost of not doing it is a loss of talent and organizational knowledge.
  • Leave of absence.  In some cases, rather than carry the player on the bench, both the company and the executive could benefit from a leave of absence for a few months where, in a good scenario, the executive returns into a needed role, refreshed and ready for a new challenge.

The more fluid and flexible your culture — e.g., defining jobs more as tours of duty while building the company than as functional empire building — the more options you will have.  But it all starts with answering the question:  do I have the right executives around the table?

Do the 5 actions above to figure it out.

My Perspectives on Growth (Presentation)

In my new capacity as an EIR at Balderton Capital, I recently gave a presentation to a leadership meeting at a high-growth, Balderton-backed startup offering my perspectives on growth and the challenges that come with it.

I discussed these five challenges:

  1. Next-levelitis, an obsessive focus on scaling everything to the next level.  (Which is great if not overdone.)
  2. Absorbing new leaders, (aka, “FBI guys”) and the challenges that come when hiring the wrong next-level people and they blow themselves up at the start.
  3. Conflation of regional culture and opinion, a common problem in international expansion.  (What’s a bona fide regional difference vs. a difference of opinion masked as one?)
  4. Missing an opportunity that you want (aka, getting “passed over” for a promotion) and what to do about it.
  5. Getting things wrong to get other things right.  Startups are 100% about getting what matters right.  Which begs the question, what matters?

The slide deck is below.

 

By the way, you have to watch the referenced Die Hard videos; they do a superb job of portraying what it feels like in these situations:

“I’m Dwayne Robinson … and I’m in charge here.”

“Not any more.”