008 | Why SaaS Marketing is a Team Sport With Armen Najarian & Michael Cichon | Studio CMO
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The Episode in 60 Seconds
On this episode of Studio CMO, we sat down with Armen Najarian and Michael Cichon at RSA Conference 2020 — just a few weeks before everything shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Armen is CMO and Chief Identity Officer at Agari, where Michael is the VP of Digital. The pair has known each other for more than a decade and shared stories from their Silicon Valley careers and lessons for gaining market traction and differentiation in the B2B tech space.
The interview delves into:
- How it all started with Armen and Michael
- The value of team chemistry
- Why marketers need to take a stand
- How to achieve internal alignment
- Why telling the same story matters
Armen Najarian is the CMO and Chief Identity Officer, and Michael Cichon is the VP of Digital at Agari. Agari’s mission is to protect digital communications to ensure humanity prevails over evil. Using predictive AI informed by global intelligence from around 2 trillion emails annually, the company protects enterprises against phishing, business email compromise (BEC) scams, and other advanced email threats.
Armen is a 15-year Silicon Valley veteran with deep experience scaling pre- and post-IPO cloud and security companies to successful shareholder outcomes. Before joining Agari, he was the CMO of ThreatMetrix, where he established the company as the category leader in the emerging digital identity space, culminating in acquisition by RELX Group/LexisNexis in February 2018. He also directed the go-to-market strategy for IBM’s SaaS portfolio and prior to that, spent five years with DemandTec, supporting its successful IPO and subsequent acquisition by IBM.
As VP of Digital, Michael leads brand strategy and expression, content marketing, and the digital buyer’s journey across paid, earned, and own channels for Agari. Previously, he was VP of Digital and Content Marketing at ThreatMetrix and Digital Strategy Director at VMWare.
Register for Agari’s Trust Your Inbox webinar series, May 7 at 11:00 a.m. CT.
Attend Trust 2020: The Next-Generation Email Security Conference, a virtual event experience, May 5 – June 6.
Getting the Band Back Together
Armen and Michael go way back. Their relationship started in 2007 when Armen attempted to hire Michael for a product marketing role at DemandTec but couldn’t quite land him. Fast forward eight years and Armen brought Michael on at ThreatMetrix, where they worked together for almost three years before selling the company to IBM.
When Armen made the move to Agari in 2018, it only made sense for him to get the band back together — he hired Michael right away. Their origin story supports Armen’s #1 rule in B2B tech: always be recruiting.
Team Chemistry Is Everything
As evidenced by his persistence in recruiting and holding on to top talent, Armen points to team chemistry as essential for achieving marketing success.
“Having a team that can believe in each other and that inspires each other is table stakes to be able to scale a business.” – Armen Najarian
First, he said it’s important to define the roles you need, at least generally speaking. Then, you need to find people who can wear multiple hats, but still know how to swim in their own lanes, add value, and collaborate effectively.
Michael shared that you want hardworking leaders who can solve problems. Everyone needs to be a marketer, even if they specialize in a certain segment.
Marketers Take a Stand
To be a marketer, you have to be willing to stand for something that might not be clear, something that might have unconnected dots.
Agari is a mission-driven business and Armen makes a point to declare the company’s mission when interviewing candidates. It’s important to find people who will buy into the cause and promote the mission. This is the company’s true North Star and guides all storytelling. But, the way marketers make these stories come alive is an evolving thing.
“Does the world really need another white paper? Does the world really need another blog? And, and the answer is yes. Because there’s not a shortage of content. The shortage is great ideas, inspiring ideas, interesting ideas, solid thought processes.” – Michael Cichon
When the Sales Team Is Your Customer
After you’ve got your team and mission in place, next you need to achieve alignment. At Agari, this means getting the marketing team on the same page as their customers — the sales team. The company uses an OKR framework, which focuses on objectives and key results, to achieve this alignment.
“A rule of thumb is generally no more than four objectives and no more than three key results per objective at a corporate level and at a departmental level for the quarter or year…The OKR process is an exercise in minimizing your goals and then having very measurable results.” – Armen Najarian
Remember, You’re All Telling the Same Story
Michael added that it’s not just about aligning with sales. You also need alignment with your customer success team. He talks with them about how they describe Agari, in addition to getting buy-in from the sales team. Marketers also need to be in sales.
“It’s one story and there’s no one person that can cook it up all by themselves behind their desk.” – Michael Cichon
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Mark Whitlock (00:00): I don’t know about you, but I am missing baseball. I can’t tell you what I would give to watch live. An expertly orchestrated double play. That second baseman in that shortstop working in concert together. And if you’re a baseball fan, you know that it’s not just those two who make that double play happen. As soon as that ball hits the ground, all the other seven players shift. And if it weren’t for the first basement waiting on that rocket to come in, stretching out, no matter where that throw is, you wouldn’t get the second out. And that’s what I’m missing. Of course, John, you’ve been working on tons and tons of projects around the house. Are you done yet? Yeah, Mark. Uh, last night I actually sat down on my sofa and turned on the TV. She did not. I know,
John Farkas (00:49): I know. That doesn’t surprise Mark. He knows I’m not doing much TV watching these days. There’s just a lot going on on all fronts of my life right now. Like I know there is for many of us in this wild season we’re experiencing right now, but I needed a little escape so I went ahead and turned it on and gosh, I, I heard a refrain over and over in the commercials, and I know you’re hearing this a lot, too, right now in response to COVID-19, we’re hearing this idea of we’re going to get through this together. It came through in all sorts of shapes, sizes and iterations and it got me thinking it’s, it’s a natural response and natural human response. When we’re faced with a challenge, we set aside our differences, we focus on the overarching need and we pulled together towards a singular objective and there’s a lot of application here for us. Unity, clarity and consistency are super important when we face the challenges of engaging the market and it’s why it’s so important that you assemble a team and that means both internal and external resources who understand the importance of agility, collaboration and cooperation and they’re ready to play their part to make an effort successful. We’ll get through this together. It takes a team focused together on clear objectives to own your market. And that’s what we’re going to take a look at today on Studio CMO.
Mark Whitlock (02:18): Welcome to Studio CMO. I’m Mark Whitlock, our host is John Farkas, the CEO and chief storyteller at Golden Spiral. My fellow cohost is Angus Nelson, our Director of Development. And the interview you were about to hear was recorded before the great distancing of 2020 began. We sat down with some folks at the RSA conference in San Francisco, but this conversation applies to even what’s going on today. So we’ll start up here with the introductions.
Angus Nelson (03:03): Today we’ve got, Armen Najarian, the CMO and Chief identity Officer from Agari and with him is one of his colleagues and apparently longterm cohorts, Michael Cichon, he is VP of Digital and has spent some time with him with other companies as well.
Armen Najarian: Very, very cool.
John Farkas: So we are really interested in a candidate conversation about what it is to be leading the marketing for an organization in the context of a space like cybersecurity, which isn’t a very quiet space. There’s a lot going on. It’s a competitive environment.
Armen Najarian: It’s a three ring circus. Literally we’re contributing to that. We actually aware of the booth with the pool table. Yes, you are in carnival music literally. So it’s, yeah, we’re contributing to the chaos, but we’re benefiting from it as well.
Mark Whitlock: Would you please tell us who Agari is and what they do?
Armen Najarian: Email as an attack vector? Geeky word, but as an attack vector is the number one exploited channel to initiate a hack or an attack or an account takeover? By far, we are focused exclusively on the enterprise. We don’t sell to consumers. So we sell our solutions exclusively, generally, to the global 2000 level companies. Um, and we help them protect themselves against phishing attacks, spear phishing, vendor email, compromised business, email compromise, these vicious attacks that can’t be detected by legacy controls. Uh, we also help those same companies authenticate their messages that are reaching consumers. So that if you’re a big bank, right, so as a consumer you can have the confidence that the message coming from your bank is in fact a message coming from your bank and not a spoof use to either divert your funds or steal your credentials. So that’s what we do. We’ve been at it for 10 years.
Armen Najarian: It’s a fun space. It’s a, it’s a hot space. And uh, you know, where we’ve become a leader in the category that we’re building.
John Farkas: I’m really interested in hearing, you know, as you guys think about what it means to differentiate in a space like this.
Armen Najarian: I think it would be worthwhile for us to spend some time on building a team because you know, Mike and I have been through a lot of twists and turns at two companies now, in fact, three companies because there’s a story I want to tell, about how I met Mike, but without the team is impossible to scale and do amazing things. So can we talk about that? John Farkas (03:44): I’d love to talk about that.
Armen Najarian (03:46): So let’s start with the story. The story is going back to 2007. I joined, not in the security space, but it was in their retail analytics space, a company called DemandTec. It was one of the first true multitenant SaaS applications and it was solving very specific problems around merchandising and marketing decisions for retailers and consumer goods companies. So it was a very pragmatic decisioning tool, purely cloud-based application that was selling to very large retailers and consumer goods companies. So I joined in a product marketing role and I was part of the team. In fact, the person who hired me was Mark Dietz, the now husband Nadine Dietz, right, who does an amazing job. So as we were building a business later that year, we were hiring more product marketing talent and somehow Mike Cichon came across our radar through our recruiter. So again, this is back in 2007 so we brought Mike in. I think we brought him in twice. Mark and I sat down and talked to him and we loved him.
Armen Najarian (04:40): We just, I guess circumstantially we just couldn’t hire him. I forget. Why. Do you remember why Mike?
Mike Cichon (04:44): I don’t remember what might’ve been pay.
Armen Najarian (04:46): Maybe we were too cheap or we couldn’t afford you, right? Let’s look at it that way.
Mike Cichon (04:51): There you go.
Armen Najarian (04:52): Mike, like I, has a product marketing background, but around that time was transitioning. Mike had a career transition, which we can talk about as well. Later I met Mike then in 2007 and then Mike went his own way. We went on to take DemandTec public. Three years later we sold it to IBM. I stayed at IBM for a number of years. Then in 2015 I was recruited into a company called ThreatMetrix as CMO and the very first person I reached out to was Mike. We hadn’t really talked in the years between 2007 and 2015 um, but we were kind of LinkedIn friends, right?
Armen Najarian (05:27): We would follow each other, but I knew in this business threat metrics was generally in the cybersecurity business and I knew at the time he needed to create a category we needed to show up different. Our brand became important to our digital presence, became important, our storytelling became very important. And Mike was the guy. And so Mike was the very first person I reached out to problem was, Mike had just joined a company called VMware.
Angus Nelson (05:48): little small little company.
Armen Najarian (05:50): at fairly senior digital marketing level. But the ace in the hole that I had was his commute sucked. You had a terrible commute from South San Jose to Palo Alto and so we were able to make it work pretty quickly. Right Mike?
Mike Cichon (06:04): Yeah, yeah. It was really exciting. You know, VMware had the fully-staffed gym. I come into ThreatMetrix and they don’t even have a receptionist there. So it was kind of do I really want to do this? But the commute aside, I kind of fell in love with the product pretty quickly. Angus Nelson (06:18): Coming into that piece, did you have him in your Rolodex, top of mind or did you guys bump into each other somewhere in the way of you making this transition?
Armen Najarian (06:25): So we had not bumped into each other. I would say maybe we digitally virtually did like through LinkedIn, like we would stay in each other’s feeds and streams. But I, I knew I needed someone who could own this body of work because it was, it wasn’t just owning the website, right? It was owning the buyer personas, owning digital, owning social media, owning the storytelling. And it was a big role and Mike was very well suited for it. So lesson number one, right? For B to B tech marketing has always be recruiting like, you know, value your network. Like you never know, like eight years later someone I tried to hire couldn’t make it work out was the first person that I brought on board to a company that we ended up selling for close to a billion dollars that worked out like that lesson of always be recruiting kind of like work.
Mark Whitlock (07:06): So Michael, coming into a big tactical role like that, what was your vantage point? How did you think about the heavy lift that Armen was just talking about?
Mike Cichon (07:14): You know, in that eight years he’s talking about a lot happened. The financial meltdown in 2008 happened. And in October of 2008, I think the month that Lehman Brothers went belly up, I was working for a 12 person startup that ran out of cash, just had gotten married, recently, had a three-year-old, I had a five-year-old and the company ran out of money. So being in product marketing, I pretty much reached the end of that career. Nobody was hiring product marketers. So, um, I retooled, I took the Google training, individual qualification on analytics, uh, the AdWords certification and I started, I hung out a shingle two and a half years and retooled a skillset around digital. So it was kind of interesting because you know, digital, you’re turning knobs, you’re trying to get the clicks, but you can get clicks that are meaningless to the business. So it was beneficial to me to have a product marketing background, combine it with the digital tool set. So I felt pretty well equipped. And you know, I’m a passionate guy. So when I started to learn about the ThreatMetrix technology, the very first thought I had was how could this company possibly do what they did without much marketing tailwind? It was all sales. It was all product engineering. So I thought if we could add marketing to the mix, this thing’s got real potential. And understanding the technology, the more I understood it, the more kind of passionate I got about it.
Angus Nelson (08:36): That was, that was the first iteration. Right. And then how many years from that to this next iteration? That was a short jump.
Armen Najarian (08:44): Less than three years. Yeah. We joined at the right time. Like so ThreatMetrix was, you know, a category creator in the digital identity space ended up becoming a big success. Profitable growth was out of this world. So we didn’t want to sell the business. We ended up having to sell the business because the offers that came in, which you could stand. There’s a whole set of stories I can tell you about that process that, that played out. In fact, I just met with my former boss, the CEO of the longtime CEO of threat metrics. And you know, again, he’s often doing amazing things right now and um, but it was a great outcome and that was less than three years.
Armen Najarian (09:18): And right when that transaction closed, I had been through a transaction like this before where I landed in a bigger company. It was IBM and I ended up staying at IBM for three years, three and a half years. And it was great. Like you know, the, the good outweigh the bad. I learned a lot. I learned how to, you know, market globally and just do things I had never had experience with. But I had done that and so I knew I had done that once and I knew when this ThreatMetrix transaction ended, I wanted to kind of get back into the game. Right. It’s kind of owning the full stack of marketing. So I was the first one on the leadership team believe like within a month and a half of the ink drying on the paycheck and the payout, I was gone. So I joined a company called Agari where I’m at right now with CML just about two years ago.
Armen Najarian (09:55): In fact, my day one at Agari, he was at RSA conference, another anniversary. I tell you what, we had several anniversaries. Mark Whitlock (10:09): just ran past something that I want to pull you back to. You said you were at IBM and I learned global marketing. It was something that I didn’t have a lot of experience with. What does that mean? What is global marketing compared to the marketing you had been doing and what are a couple of lessons that you learned in the process there?
Armen Najarian (10:24): So when a company gets big enough, there’s the need to separate strategy from execution at the regional level. So IBM is a worldwide business that has a brand that, you know, generally goes to market through similar routes to market across geographies, right? That transcends geographies with a very diverse product line. And so after we sold DemandTec to IBM, my first year on the job was to transition that business.
Armen Najarian (10:48): But in years two, three and four I took on an entirely new role. So my new role was to lead the worldwide strategy for the portfolio marketing for all IBM software as a service. Products that were about a hundred products ended up being well over a billion dollars in revenue. But my role was a worldwide role. I had a small team. It was a small strategy team and our goal and our mission in life was to tell the portfolio story, create demand programs that could be scaled globally, understand, you know, different ways to segment the portfolio and get credit for that portfolio. And so to answer your question from a demand gen perspective, I’ve got a small team of maybe seven people plus myself. Um, but from a demand perspective, we would develop demand programs that could be put in a box with the right assets, the right workflows, the right sets of capabilities, the right datasets.
Armen Najarian (11:37): And then we would need to effectively educate the geographies. There was a formal readout process, formal guidance process where you would deliver that to the head of North America marketing for software as a service, the head of AMEA marketing for software as a service, et cetera, and deliver that formally with the guidance. They would then need to come back two weeks later with their affirmation of how they were going to incorporate this guidance into their upcoming quarter plan. So it was a very refined process that I had never really been exposed to. But for a big company like that, it works. And that’s what works like a process like that as a company, our size here were 170 people. We don’t need to be as formal. Right. I have a head of marketing and we talk once a week as a team and we get stuff done and like, you know, we don’t need the formality, but the learning I had in the big company environment about just how it could work and some of the tools of the trade tricks of the trade to apply were very, very valuable.
Mark Whitlock (12:31): How did you get to Agari, Michael?
Mike Cichon (12:34): Well, again, on the tails of the acquisition of ThreatMetrix by Lexus Nexus Threat Solutions, um, I think I tallied on the whiteboard something like 16 or 17 business combination I’d been involved with at that point in my career, I needed to been on the acquiring side. I’d been acquired with one company that’s split into two separate companies. So there’s a lot of different combinations that I’ve seen a lot of them play out. So, um, I kind of watched it play out and then again, I’m passionate person. Um, maybe patience isn’t my strongest virtue, but uh, you know, when I saw a new technology that I thought was interesting, I started to dig into it and again that kind of, that fire, that passion erupted. Angus Nelson (13:15): and then you got the band back together.
Armen Najarian (13:18): So within like three weeks of joining Agari, I called Mike and we were already in discussion I think within a month and a half of me joining a gallery, Mike was on board. So it happened pretty quickly. John Farkas (13:29): Looking at the last couple of years and what you’ve built at a garri and how that is playing out. Talk about, talk about team, talk about how you are putting that together and what it means, why that synergy is so critical in the marketing mix. Armen Najarian (13:44): Having a team that can believe in each other and that inspires each other is table stakes to be able to scale a business. It truly is, and I’ll just speak from a marketing perspective, but I would imagine that point of view applies to any team within the organization. So without that, I’ve seen, I’ve good friends that are CMOs at companies that just couldn’t get the right combination or the right chemistry or the timing wasn’t right to bring in the right members and it’s hard to sustain or it falls apart and bad things happen. So the number one thing I look for is, first of all, let’s define the roles generally speaking. And I say generally because again, at a certain size, we’re only 170 people. When Mike joined, we were 120 people and we’re growing. And so you’ve got to wear multiple hats, right? So you know, in a growing company like that, someone who’s certainly comfortable playing multiple roles, pinch hitting, you know, knows their swim lane, but can also add value and collaborate productively with their peers.
Armen Najarian (14:42): Super important. Then chemistry, like the chemistry is so important. And when you inherit a team, that’s not always the case, right? Like the chemistry might always be, right. Um, people might not be in the right roles. Right. So those are the first two things that I look for. Having worked with Mike once before, having known him for almost 10 years at the time, by the time I brought him into a very, it was, you know, I was very, it was very easy for me to advocate for him to bring him in at a fairly senior level and, you know, let him be one of the anchors on the team that we have today.
Angus Nelson (15:14): What are some of the bases that you’re looking to have covered? What are some of the essential pieces of the puzzle that you’re working to put together as you frame out a team?
Armen Najarian (15:22): Good question. So, um, you know, I think back to, um, you know, our friends at HubSpot, you know, that, you know, a few years ago they started talking about brand and buzz and I think a lot of that still applies. Um, but you know, functionally speaking, I don’t think the functions have fundamentally changed. Like what we call these functions might be different, but ultimately like you’ve got to have good storytelling that storytelling generally sits in Mike’s domain today. So role number one in this case is like the person who owns the story, the core of the storytelling, not product marketing, corporate storytelling, marketing. That dovetails very nicely with the brand that can be expressed interest in interesting ways through digital. So that that kind of defines Mike’s role. Mike also owns our buyer personas. That doesn’t sit in product marketing. It could, but it sits in Mike’s domain. So I think that’s a critical function for a company. Our stays like I could match up those essential functions into one role.
Angus Nelson (16:20): So really somebody that’s owning the narrative both on the story that’s being told and who it’s being told to.
Armen Najarian (16:27): Yes. And then expresses that in different ways, primarily through digital channels. That’s one role. Another role who Jean, who you might have been coordinating with. So Jean is, you know our, I’ll say traditional coms but has a very expansive role. So Jean is head of strategic corporate communications for garri. That includes three parts. Really. It includes the traditional media relations. It includes the internal communications of which we weren’t doing much before. I brought you in on board. And it also includes, um, the analyst relations, the, at least the orchestration of the, of the ARP. So like treating that in some ways, like a cadence like you would media relations. So that’s another core function. And the pillar, I just brought on a new head of product marketing who’s, you know, you’re, you know, like myself, kind of, you know, that’s the path that I came up.
Armen Najarian (17:18): Someone that understands the value proposition at the use case level and can tell that story is great in front of the field, can enable the field, can motivate the field, can be, be responsive to what’s happening out in the marketplace and kind of very quickly come back with the right tool, the right frameworks, the right messages to drive revenue. That’s another role. Um, then from a demand perspective, I have another person, Tim, who is also a repeat hire. I first hired him at the coming back. I did bring them back. And in fact, Jean, my head of comms came from the acquiring of threat metrics. He came from Lexus nexus. That’s three people. So you’re several people’s enemies.
Armen Najarian (17:56): Yes. Well in fact there’s a story there. So when you, when you’re a senior level on the C suite of a company that’s acquired and you leave, there is a no hire policy and you kind of, there’s this delicate dance. Do you see how far you can stretch that before you received the nasty gram? And so I received the FedEx nasty gram after Mike joined while I was in the process of trying to recruit someone else and that was shut down very quickly and I quickly, you know, complied and you know, did not want to get involved in the lawsuit with a much bigger company. So foot Mike’s not going under the radar. They gave me one, it was a kind of a gimme for one, but they said, Nope, that’s it. You’re, you’re, you’re shut off at this point. But once the one you are a bad boy, wrist was more than slap.
Armen Najarian (18:37): I mean was like, you know, you know, one of those dimensional mailers from FedEx that looked, you know, costs some money to send overnight with a hand signed by HR. Like enough that when I got home from work that day, my wife’s like, what? What is this? So we opened it up and like, yes, okay, I, you know, I’ve reached my limit. So to make sure you have the right chemistry of the TV brought in a couple of folks or three folks that you knew. And then how did you adjust the rest of the chemistry? Or theoretically, how would you encourage other CMOs to look at chemistry? Some of it’s intangible, I’ll say that, right? There’s no formula for how you do that. Right? So I’ll just speak to myself and Mike can attest to this. I have high expectations of myself. Therefore I have high expectations of my team.
Armen Najarian (19:19): I empower, we set big goals, we do it collaboratively. And you know, it takes a certain type of athlete, right? To be able to run at that pace. We’re not always running. I think, Mike, you use the analogy right, where at least always jogging. But we sometimes sprint, we rarely walk. Right? And so that’s a pace that you’re in. The Valley feels more familiar if you’re not from the Valley, it’s maybe not as familiar. So Jean, our head of communications moved from Atlanta. She has never had any exposure to a true Silicon Valley company, so I think she could certainly like run with the best of them. But it was, this was a new experience for her, but she had to get in shape. Maybe some conditioning. Yes, yes, yes. But you know, I’d say that, you know, chemistry I say is like work styles. Everyone thinks different and we value that. The diversity of opinion, that’s how you get better outcomes. But being kind of cut from that type of cloth where you’re, you know, accustomed to sprints is super important to at least, again, I’m speaking through the lens of a Silicon Valley kind of growth stage, pre IPO company. Life’s a little bit different. You know, it was different at IBM. I’m sure life was a little bit different, Mike.
Mike Cichon (20:23): Yeah, I mean you gotta like the challenge. You gotta like what you do. I mentioned earlier, I’m a passionate guy. That’s where I derive my energy. You can say you want to climb a mountain and you get halfway up like, damn, this is a hard mountain to climb. It’s not the time to start questioning how passionate you are. If you get more out of it than what you put in, it’s not an issue.
Armen Najarian (20:39): What is it about how Armand is framing things and looking at the team that drew you back in?
Mike Cichon (20:45): I think startups in Silicon are a dime a dozen. They’re all around you. Very selfish perspective is finding the one that you think is going to make it over the top. There’s product, there’s the market and then there’s the team that makes it happen and that intangible the team that makes it happen. It’s not in my mind a clear roadmap how that happens. Just problem solving along the way. He’s personally, the team has to be that problem solver to add value and at the same time you have to create an environment where people feel safe and comfortable. In thinking out of the box because if they think out of the box and they get slammed for a silly idea, it just doesn’t optimize, you know the effort. So you, you want to, you know, a hardworking leader, you want a team with the nuclear pieces. Everybody’s a marketer. Not one person is you know, email. No, no, no, no. That person is a marketer that happens to specialize in email, but you want that problem solving piece. And that’s what I look for. That combination of kind of product and market opportunity and a great team. And then I’m on board.
Armen Najarian (21:43): What does it mean to be a marketer? I think the common thread is, you know, you’ve got to be willing to take a stand for something that might not be clear. The dots might not be connected today. There might be controversy and opposing views even internally that you know you’re making too risky of a decision. But you know there’s a level of conviction. Sometimes you have data to support your thesis, sometimes you don’t. But I think to be a marketer where you’re focused on driving good business outcomes, revenue market share, customer retention, profitability, you’ve got to take a stand so point of view and declaring that clearly point of view and being willing to back up that point of view, but also being willing to change your point of view and you know, Mike can attest to that. I’m certainly not always right. I usually do have a point of view and sometimes it’s a strong point of view.
Armen Najarian (22:28): I’ve certainly been wrong. How does that perspective, how’s that point of view, that North star figure into the team dynamic? One characteristic of our company that we’re building is we’re a mission driven business. We have a mission that effectively says like we protect digital communications to ensure humanity prevails over evil. When I’m interviewing someone, whether it’s someone from the marketing organization or anywhere else in the company within the first two minutes, like I will declare we are a mission driven business. This is why we do what we do. Let’s leave aside what we do for a moment. Let’s talk about the why. You’ve heard that famous point of view that customers buy, why you do what you do, not necessarily what you do. They they first want to buy into the why and I believe the same is true for recruiting and culture building, so it’s important you know that there’s at least that top level litmus test.
Armen Najarian (23:13): Do you believe in the mission that we’re on? Do you want to protect humanity over evil and email happens to be the number one threat vector? Bad things can happen. Let’s just look at presidential election security. Democracy is at stake. If the email infrastructure and controls don’t work, somebody buys into the why. In this case, the mission super important and I treat that very seriously. In fact when we came up with that mission and I didn’t come up with it alone. In fact, Mike brought in an agency that helped us really strengthen our brand in the summer of 2018 that was one of the outputs was a new mission statement that when you step of the 20th floor at our building and foster city and to turn to the right, it’s plastered on the wall in two foot high block letters. The company really buys into this.
Armen Najarian (23:52): So being a mission driven business I’d say is a an important characteristic, at least in our case, to identifying those that really want to be part of the cost. What are some of the other efforts that you’ve done to really integrate that messaging into people so that they can say it off the tip of their tongue? It wasn’t marketing that drove that. We helped to orchestrate that brand session, but first of all, involving the entire executive team so that the fingerprints were on it and that’s the only way to make it stick, right? Everyone got to participate. But as far as like how that gets activated, our quarterly all hands slide number one from Pat Peterson, our CEO is the mission statement, reach and frequency, right? So there I’ve seen a very cool update. So our engineering team, and I don’t know if you see this mic, I don’t know if you’re on the distribution list, but even our engineering managers who are sharing code release notes internally, they’re starting off their email with the mission statement followed by our brand promise, which is Agari gives you the confidence to open, click and trust everything in your inbox.
Armen Najarian (24:45): And then our OKR is literally, it’s like mission brand promise linked to the OKR. Then the update on the upcoming quarter, it’s kind of remarkable. So this, this is not a marketing driven initiative, it’s a corporate driven initiative. It’s a corporate comms thing that we helped to facilitate marketing ultimately owned by the leadership team. When you guys say facilitate, would you say that you’re the prime champion of that consistency in that message or is that really driven above you?
Mike Cichon (25:11): I continue to help act as a guide, um, to help keep us honest as corporately. But that presumes you have buy in from the leadership team and especially the CEO like without Pat Peterson’s buy in that this is the mission we are on. You know, any amount of drum beating that I do I think would eventually kind of fade away. So yes, I do serve that role as you know, to help just keep us aligned and remind us and keep the messages and the words clear. And you know, if someone starts to veer off with a different version of the brand promise, Nope, no, it’s actually this. So that’s the role that I play right now. But now it’s in the wild. Our mission, our brand promise is embedded into a lot of what we do and it’s become top of mind for a lot of people.
Mike Cichon (25:52): So we’re fortunate that we’ve had that advantage or that you know, that play out that way at Agari. I mean the mission statement is, it’s kind of the true North, right? That the storylines, the way that we described the company, the way that we make those stories come alive. From my perspective, that’s an evolving thing. When you look at content marketing, you know there’s no shortage of content. Does the world really need another white paper? Does a world really need a blog? And the answer is I think yes, because the shortage is great ideas, inspiring ideas, interesting ideas, solid thought processes. There’s no shortage of that. So yeah, the world needs another white paper if it’s a thoughtful, interesting white paper, not necessarily about me and my cat, but about the world at large and the dynamics that are happening. So I see this as, you know, again, the mission statements, the guiding light. But these storylines are continually evolving just as you know, everyday life around us.
Armen Najarian (26:41): So you’ve got the team, you’ve got your mission, Angus Nelson (26:44): and now you have to accomplish what’s ahead of you. How do you look at strategy? It came in, we have a mandate in front of you. How do you look at strategy and where did you take that?
Armen Najarian (26:55): Yeah, I think there’s one missing ingredient. So you know, you’ve got the team, you’ve got the mission and you know you got to get alignment then, right? So who are your career customers? Right? So internally you know our customers are clearly sales, right? The other revenue team, the sales development team, the SDR team sits in marketing at Agari and that’s great. It was that way at threat metrics. It gives me and my team the ultimate accountability to produce the highest quality and volume of SQLs possible. That forces alignment in a, in a positive way with our number one customer internally, which is our sales organization. So once you have the alignment, we are a for a company our size, he ferry Mike and it just is a very OKR, you guys familiar with OKR is sure we’re a very OKR driven company like 470 person company but there’s a tax to pay to kind of orchestrate that and sustain it and you know, map back to it across the organization.
Armen Najarian (27:48): But once you do that, like back to your question about the strategy, like it’s crystal clear. If there’s a top down set of corporate OKR for the year that cascades down to, I set up corporate OKR for the quarter. That then cascades out to me and Mike and Lee marketing leadership team developing. Okay. How do we map to the marketing? Okay. Ours for the quarter that again support the corporate objectives. OKR is a big part of what you guys about how you function and accountability. Talk about what that is the acronym. Okay. R stands for objectives and key results. The founder of the OKR was actually John Doerr from one of the big VCs in the Valley and Google I think is credited for initially really embracing the OKR process, but it’s really nothing more than objective setting and clarity, you know, with measurable objectives and outcomes.
Armen Najarian (28:35): Rule of thumb generally is like you want no more than four objectives and no more than three key results per objective at a corporate level and now the department let the level for the year for the quarter, like it should be that simplistic and that streamlined, you know, as we were going through our journey to develop okairose. I mean there were some quarters where we, you know, in the early days when we joined our, we had, you know, six objective seven objectives and four or five, six key results per, it was chaos. Right? And so the, the OKR process is an exercise in minimizing your goals and then having very measurable outcomes.
Angus Nelson (29:10):
How are you bringing the team along? How are you leading against those objectives and, and what is, what are some of the big challenges you have in front of you
Armen Najarian (29:16): developing? Like we just went through the process right now. Like what should the annual marketing objectives be? And we mapped to the corporate ones at the objective level. The key results no differ. But I’d say to answer your question, this is a collaborative process. It’s not at all me dictating Mike money to speak to you. Kind of from your perspective, how do we set our annual goals at a marketing team level? So as a team we think on it and we discussed it at length for me that the OKR, it’s a heartbeat. It keeps me coming back to weekly. What do I have to put on the board? Kind of separate it from the day to day noise that you just have to do to survive, but the LKR is that blinking red light. You have to come back to every week and visit it and make sure that you’re moving the stone. So it just helps focus. We spend good time as a marketing leadership team, so me plus my six direct reports, we spent, I would say a good five or six hours over a few sessions really like being mindful and there has to be a connective tissue between what you’re doing at a departmental level and your corporate goals or else why would you be doing it? What’s the total head count on the marketing team? 21 in inclusive of an SDR team of six.
Speaker 6 (30:41): You said that sales is your number one internal client. What are you doing to actively maintain that alignment internally and how that function on a day to day, week to week, you know as you’re working off the same sheet, how’s that function?
Armen Najarian (30:55): Yeah. I’ll tell you a story about a pivot we made like every Silicon Valley growth company, like we have big ambitions and you know, we want to grow X percent in a year and we want to build pipeline to support that growth this year and leading into next year. So last year, 2019 we had a very big pipeline development objective in the end of the first half. Like we, we nailed it. Like we’re like, Hey, we’re on our way to like just killing it. We’re going to, you know, enter the second half of the year building enough to support the plan so that when we enter 2020 you know, we’re, we’re home free. We did a good job building pipeline in the first half and had a decent second half built. But what we discovered was building that from a top down perspective, you know, with a mathematical number to say, okay, we need to build this, call it a hundred million dollars in pipeline to support the revenue plan can be misleading.
Armen Najarian (31:42): So while there’s alignment between that number in the financial business plan and even your revenue plan that your CRO Owens, what you might be missing is not all pipeline is evenly distributed to all account executives. Right. And so we had in some cases a feast or famine situation that we maybe saw signals of, but we were so focused on that top line number that said, Hey, we are aligned or aligned with the corporate financial plan. We’re aligned with a revenue plan, we’re mapping to a number. What we ended up pivoting on is stepping back to say, Hey, we need to continue to have that top down number and we need controls in place to drive true bottom up success so that every AAE, every account executive has the opportunity to be successful. So what did that mean is at sales kickoff that just just last month in January I introduced, Hey, we are aligning the marketing organization at the rate we’re set up by region.
Armen Najarian (32:38): So we have a regional VP for the Americans, West Americans, Eastern Europe. We still have worldwide functions. Mike still places worldwide role. My head of demand gen still has his worldwide role, but members on his team then now support, they’ll have a regional assignment. So as each of the regional sales VPs has their weekly Hayden’s call, three of the members within my organization show up. They’re part of that virtual team. So it provides that good check and balance where we say, okay, we’ve got the top, top down plan, and we also have the bottoms up alignment by region. And then even more tactically when you look at the SDR team, we’ve put a metric in place to say, Hey, every S, every AAE must have a minimum number of sales qualified leads, effectively accepted meetings within a quarter delivered by the SDR for us to wave the victory flag.
Armen Najarian (33:26): Like in that very tactical thing, just it sends the a, it sends the right message that, you know, from a marketing and sales development perspective, you’re looking out for the success of everybody. And two, it just creates a different conversation, right? It really has helped to, I think, make that alignment more human and more real and frankly more effective. But I don’t think it’s just about alignment with sales. I think it’s alignment with sales and also customer success. I mean, in my role, I’m looking at the customer success team, asking them how they describe, sorry, I’m bouncing ideas off them. I’m talking to the sales guys, getting them to buy into the process. Just as we said before, everybody in the market team is a specialist with the need to be a marketer. I would imagine sales would say the same thing. You can be in marketing, but you gotta be a sales guy too. It’s one story and there’s no one person that can cook it up all by themselves behind the desk. You got to get out of the desk, you got to talk to sales, you got to talk to customer success. You got to get an expense like this and talk to people in the booth.
Mark Whitlock (34:25): Thank you so much. Armen Najarian. Michael Cichon from Agari have joined us today on Studio CMO. Thank you for joining us and come to studiocmo.com. Click on the Agari interview and you can find out more about them. We’ll connect out to their stories, their LinkedIn profiles. You can find out more about what they do, and we’re about us as well. So thank you guys for being on the show today.
Armen Najarian (34:40): Thank you guys. A lot of fun.