CMO Talks: How You Can Create A Brand New Category with Sangram Vajre CMO of Terminus

How does a startup help to build an entirely new product category while trying to grow its own business as quickly as possible?

In the world of B2B marketing, there are very few companies that can claim they helped build a category. Salesforce has helped the SaaS world grow by being a backbone product for B2B companies. HubSpot created the inbound marketing category. Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit helps to ensure the leaders in B2B marketing converge together each year. But these are all established companies. So, how does a startup help to build an entirely new product category while trying to grow its own business as quickly as possible?

Marketing startup advice from the CMO of Terminus

About Sangram Vajre + Terminus
Sangram Vajre is the Co-Founder and CMO of Terminus, and one of the leading minds in B2B marketing. Before co-founding Terminus, a SaaS platform for account-based marketing, Sangram led the marketing team at Pardot through its acquisition by ExactTarget and then Salesforce. He has spoken on the topic of #MarTech around the world and is the mastermind behind #FlipMyFunnel. Sangram authored and published the first book ever on Account-Based Marketing.

In addition to Terminus, Sangram serves on the Marketing Boards of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) and the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association (AIMA). Prior to Terminus, Sangram was the Head of Marketing at Pardot, a Salesforce Company. He has also held marketing and sales leadership positions at Internap, CodeReady Solutions, CompuCredit, and Deloitte.

Brian: Tell us a little bit about creating Flip My Funnel, as part of a startup?

Sangram: It’s not something that we planned, like “Hey we’re going to launch a company and create a movement and kind of figure out how we are going to do all these things”. It really was kind of important to think about that we are a startup, we’re trying to build a new category, on top of that we’re based in Atlanta, we’re not in the Silicon Valley.

We don’t have founders or anything like that who have done it three times over, right? So how do you get your voice heard and people know that you actually have a real product?

So, we’ve learned very early on that having a great product is not the most important thing in the very early stages, knowing the problem that we are solving and bringing people together that believe in that problem is way more important. And, really start a movement where people who believe in challenging the status quo come together and talk about it, in away where it’s not a product or vendor centric but it’s more of the problem that we are solving.

And, that really started the movement, and that really got the people saying that, “Hey we have that problem and we want to solve it”. And we were able to say that, “Hey by the way we do have a product that does solve that problem”. But that’s not how we went out, and said hey we have a product come buy from us, it was all about the problem, and Flip My Funnel really allowed us to talk about that problem.

Brian: So tell me a little bit more about what the problem is?

Sangram: The problem is very very scary. The problem for B2B, we talk about content marketing and everything that is happening around the world, especially in the marketing space, is all about how many leads you can generate every single day. And, the scary stat is that less than one percent of the leads that marketers create turn into customers.

So I want to take a pause there and for every marketer who might be listening to this, is almost saying to them that 99% of your efforts, your time, your energy, your researches that you’re doing, that you’re creating, are actually not driving the revenue for the company. So that is a very very scary thought.

And I think this is the evolution that we have been in the last like 20 years or so, really modern marketing as it kind of started to evolve, from email marketing, to content marketing to predictive and now to account this marketing.

People are creating more content, trying to get more leads. People are creating Game of Thrones, and you get thousands of leads downloading it, well they are a Game of Thrones fan. They’re not a fan of your product, so they are not translating into customers. And, I think that’s the problem we are trying to say. By creating great content doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the right customers. And that’s where the shift needs to happen, is that are you going after the right people that care.

Brian: So, you published a book? How’s that going?

Sangram: The book was another way to kind of get out there in the market place and to say, we actually wrote a book on the problem. It has interviews of 50 plus thought leaders in the space. They are way smarter than we are, and we wanted to make sure that this becomes the thesis for where the market need to move in the next 5, 10 years.

But it is going great, we are going through the Flip My Funnel conferences all around the country. We have done five of them, we are doing four more this year and the book is going to be the blueprint that we give away at every single conference, very excited about that.

Brian: How do you get the word out about it? Tell us a little bit about how did you step into the conference, how did you come about?

Sangram: We wanted to find the influencers that really believed in a similar problem. And we found them. And we brought them in at the first conference, and that really brought in the right people in to the first conference. So we’re not going mindlessly, we’re not going trying to go generate tons of leads or anything like that. We are just trying to make sure that the room is packed with people that believe in that problem.

And, the way we know that is because people who have been speaking at the conferences have been talking about that problem. They’ve never necessarily articulated it exactly the way we have been helping them to articulate it, so they’re excited because now they get a platform to talk about it. And, because of that, we are able to get the right people in the conferences, and then we turned that into a live event online, so we have thousands of people attend all over the world, and that has really become the way we are getting the right people in the funnel fuel.

Brian: In terms of your team, do you do everything in house? Do you work with partners outside, how does that work?

Sangram: It’s a combination. We kind of make sure that we are super agile in everything that we do. We are trying to figure out what are the right and most important things to do. Right now there are a lot of things that everybody is saying, well we should be doing paper collect, well we should be doing tons more content that we’re doing, and we’re just not doing that.

Anything and everything that we do has to be super awesome, it’s not about putting too many things out there, it’s about putting the things that actually matter. And, how do we repurpose that and all that stuff. So we are really going after the right people in the right content that we can and we are trying to have a good combination of internal people, who can execute on some of those and strategize it. And then, for everything else we are using external parties.

Brian: Do you have any advice for other startups, who might be thinking about needing to create a movement, or seeing that there is this opportunity? Because we all have big ideas right? Any advice for startups in that space?

Sangram: Building a category is extremely hard. Things that I think people need to get over very early on is that nobody cares about your product. And, it’s hard to say that, hard to feel that, hard to even consider that people would think about it. Because, as founders your product is your life. That is what you’re betting on.

But, nobody really cares about your product. What people care about is the problem you are solving. And, to change that narrative, I think the first couple of years are about building that tribe, that community, that believes in that problem. If you really want to go big, you have to find if there is a community, that this problem is as real as you think

Brian: How do you do a conference on a budget?

Sangram: We have probably spent next to nothing on any of the conferences outside our own time and energy on this thing. And, the way we have done that is by partnering up with people who are in the same space.

So, what we did was one, we first found influencers who can actually talk about this problem so people will actually come and care. Nobody is going to come listen to us and say, “Hey we have the solution”. So influencers was a big part of it.

The second big part was finding all the companies that actually are solving the same problems but in a little bit of a different way. So making frenemies is super super important in the process.

And, all of these people are actually sponsoring this conference, like every time. They are sponsoring the next three conference right now. And, that’s been great for us, because they are one who obviously wants to make sure their name is out there, but it’s hard to put a conference together. And, since we are doing all the leg work for it, we are benefiting from all the relationships and things like that, they’re benefiting from the fact that they just need to show up and kind of do their thing. And everybody wins, right?

But, we are doing the hard work, of making sure it’s done right, the experience is amazing, the people are great, the whole process is really seamless, and these people really start loving the experience part of it. So, because of that I think what we are learning is that it’s not only important to go out, if we just did it by ourselves we probably wouldn’t be as successful, but because we not only brought the right speakers in the community, but also brought in 50 other companies, to come and do this with us, it has really made us an industry leader in this space.

Brian: As a marketer and a co-founder, did you have a role in driving the success with investors?

Sangram: I think investors, especially in an early new category, want to understand and hear the passion, because there is nothing before that, right? They don’t know if there’s movement of some sort, they understand that this is a new category, and they see it, but you don’t have thousands of customers. It wasn’t about how many customers we had it was do you really believe in the problem that you’re solving.

I think a lot of the investment that we got is because they saw the Flip My Funnel Movement, they saw that the entire industry is backing these guys up and they are just a start up in Atlanta; how is that happening? Why are these influencers actually coming and speaking at there conferences, at next to nothing cost? What’s happening and why are they attracting the right people? And I think the investors got attracted to the whole idea that these guys really know how to get their voices heard, and clearly the product that we had was awesome. And we don’t talk about it. In this whole process we didn’t talk about the product because the product is just a part of the puzzle. We are very crystal clear on the problem we are solving and we never take our eyes off that ball.

Brian: Do you have any other advice, any top tips for marketers who might be in a similar situation, who might be growing their organization?

Sangram: I think I need to drill this in to as many people as I can, is that nobody really cares about your product until you kind of make sure that you understand what people really care about is. Do you know the problem that you are solving? And, if people can start talking about the problem as opposed to the product, I think they would get so much many more of the right conversations going, and I think very few people do that, and it’s kind of sad in that sense.

A lot of people are spending time talking about the product and not the problem. And, I think that’s where people can really start seeing success and you can break through the noise.

Brian: So good to have you, I appreciate your time today.So good to have you, I appreciate your time today.

Sangram: Thank you.


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