Do you need a survival guide to market in a scale up? In this episode, Tom Lloyd, VP of Marketing at SEDNA, breaks down
- The paradox of marketing at a scale up – having to do more with less
- Why many decisions aren’t as ‘either/or’ as they seem, but can be ‘both/and’
- Why you need to balance proactive strategies with reactive tactics to be effective
This episode is for any marketers who feel like they’re trying to do the impossible with the resources they have
Predicting Failure Before it Happens
Balancing Proactive and Reactive Strategies
Nick: And welcome to Mind the Gap, Enablix’s only podcast on sales and marketing Alignment. I’m your host, Nick Ziech-Lopez. And today I’m joined by Tom Lloyd. Tom, how’s it going?
Tom: Yeah, not bad. How about you?
Nick: Uh, I am, I’m doing well. Um, now I know we’ve got a lot to, to cover today. We had talked a little bit about what we had wanted to discuss.
Uh, to kick it off, could you start with a little bit about your background, um, and, and how you got to where you are?
Tom: Sure, yeah. I’m Tom, VP Marketing at sma. I spent time at several B2B SAS startups scale up, uh, from the seed stage through to series E, uh, VC backed, PE backed, UK based, US based. Um, I think, uh, how I got into it, it was actually kind of my, my mistake.
You know, I. Quit my previous job. I was, you know, you know, in a kind of period of like, Okay, what should I do next? I was actually in a job center in the uk that’s where you go when you’re, you know, in between jobs and you, you need to find the next step. And a lady came up to me and said, Okay, we’re doing courses, but you know, people in your situation, I saw like, you know, plumbing, carpentry, and it was one.
Graphic designer marketing. Is that okay? I’ll give that a shot. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Few months later that my first marketing job, uh, happened to be a startup backed by the Birch Brothers. So, uh, they were the founders of bbo, of the social network. They sold AOL and kind of. First experience of just that kind of, that world.
I was like, from that day on, I was hooked. I’m like, okay, this is, uh, the thing for me. So yeah, here I am today leading a team of, I think 13. We are now, uh, building that up, said net. I, I, I,
Nick: by the way, the job center is maybe the most aptly named thing in the world, uh,
Tom: for what it does .
Nick: Uh, but no, that’s, that’s, that’s amazing.
Either plumbing or graphic design. And, um, I, I wonder if there weren’t any, uh, uh, uh, PE backed, uh, plumbing ventures that you missed out on there.
Tom: from plumbing tech.
Nick: Um, okay. So, You know, I’m glad you gave that background because what I want to touch on a little bit today that we talked about is, is your experience in specifically in marketing at a lot of these startups.
Mm-hmm. . Um, now you had made the comment to me prior to, to us turning on that, like a lot of times you’re asked to do impossible things. Uh, can you give a little bit more context to these or, or conflicting things? Can you talk a little bit about this, this paradox? Yeah,
Tom: I think, you know, a core tension in uh, startup scale apps is you got to kind of build for long term growth and scale at the same time.
There’s a lot of immediate fires you gotta put out, right? It’s, uh, building the rocket ship while it’s flying. That kind, classic analogy. And I think in, uh, marketing in particular, there’s this need to be both, uh, proactive, which is okay, you need a vision for the future, you gotta help. Plan predictably, you gotta build pipeline for the future, but you’ve also gotta be reactive.
That’s, you know, adapting to the market. You gotta stay relevant, you gotta respond to customer needs. And it’s kind of having a both and mindset versus an either or mindset. You’ve got to be both reactive and proactive. So you know, it’s a paradox. It’s gotta be managed, not a problem to be solved. Uh, and you just got to understand when you’re going too far in one direction.
But it’s, it is tough from a leadership position to say, Right, we need to be proactive. We’ve got our plan, we gotta have, you know, these things in place to be predictable, create revenue. But also sometimes, uh, you get a curve ball. Last minute, Actually this happened. We get a shift of this strategy. Or we gotta quickly change our tactics.
I mean, most of us probably experienced this across, you know, the last few years if you had to, quite an events having a schedule. if that gets, you know, pivoted and, you know, events suddenly go away, it’s like, well, how are we gonna suddenly fill up this next nine months of pipeline that we thought, you know, 50% would come from events.
So I think it’s, it, it’s a, a healthy mindset to be able to, b you know, both be proactive when you need to, but also react to the market and, you know, be responsive and agile as a marketing.
Nick: Sure. Uh, and, and I, I think you called out a, a good example there be because, well, that really applies to everyone. I, I, I think, right?
Like, like unless you were Zoom, Right? Like you were probably pretty negatively affected in, in that, in that respect. Uh, so a question I have is like, so if you’re not trying. You know, it’s almost like an optimization then, Like how, how are you spending enough time being reactive and enough time being proactive and not, I, I think a lot of people try to be totally proactive and, and just saying, Hey, we will, we will, we will find that line.
Are there any, Let’s stick a little bit deeper. So you are starting, let’s call it yearly planning. Quarterly planning, right. You’re looking ahead at some point. Yeah. How do you get ready to be reactive? Like, like I, I know that, that, that, maybe that’s the paradox, but what are things you can do to think about, All right, here’s how we’ll be flexible.
Is it a percent of budget, a percent? Like what is that like?
Tom: I think it, it starts from, uh, I like to run a pre-mortem a quarter, a project, which is you get the team in a room, you say, Right, we fast forward three months in the future. We failed, we missed our target, we missed our goal, what went wrong? And that like upfronts.
Kind of working as a team, going through the possible challenges that could happen. It really surfaces the stuff that people already know, but don’t kind of say. So you’ve probably been there before. You’re at the kickoff of a project like, Right, we love this big target for q4. We’re gonna do this, this, and this.
Everyone’s really confident. Everyone’s like, Yeah, we’re gonna smash the target. You get to the end of it, and there are probably some things that happened that you knew were gonna happen. Everyone on the team, cuz they’re experienced because they’re. Knew would happen, but didn’t kind of say at the beginning.
So I think step one, get those things out in the open at the beginning and actually you get really good, uh, insights from people like, Yeah, this, you know, so and so could do this, or events could get shut down or this, this, and this. And then you can come up with proactive solutions that say, Okay, do we have a contingency plan?
If that happens, how do we build that into the plan? So I think to your question, it’s kind of thinking up front. What the reaction could be and that helps you kind of be fore or for prepared for that thing happening. Cuz most of the things we can. Uh, I guess intuit are things that are more likely to happen.
Obviously if that’s a complete different curve ball, like an asteroid hits the earth, we’re in a different ball game completely. But yeah, I think that that helps just, uh, surface those, uh, potentialities.
Nick: I, I, I will say I’d never heard the term Premortem before, but I, I like that of, because what you’re, what you’re really doing is you’re creating a, a, you’re creating, as a leader, you’re creating a blameless space where people can kind of be open and there’s no insecurities.
It’s, it’s like, Hey, let’s get this out. Because I, I think that’s what’s so hard is, is if you’re, when you’re a performer, even if you’re yourself is or a leader, It’s hard in a lot of times to be open about why this might fail and why that’s okay. Yeah. Because if it does, what are the things we can do about it?
What is the risk we’re taking on? I, I think that’s good to, to get ahead of that. You can really do that at any timeframe too, right? Like that can, Yeah, that can go, like you had said quarterly, you can go big with it yearly, or you can go like, like, Hey, why, why might we not hit our goals this week?
Exactly, and you nailed it. Is that blameless space? I think when you kind of frame it as the future things, as it hasn’t actually happened, but it could happen. People start thinking, you know, I encourage people like think of the craziest thing that can happen. Like I said, The internet blows up, right? I mean, someone said that, you know, the internet dies world wari da da da.
But that kind of freeness of expression helps people get to this, you know, next layer down, which is the more feasible stuff that could happen. You know, even for, you could say, what, what can go wrong with this podcast? You know? Wifi is bad in the office. , you know, things get choppy. This, this doesn’t get uploaded or, you know, Right.
If you know, you know all these things, and most of these, you know from experience, but if you think about my front, you can say, Actually what would happen if we did this the way I have? An alternative platform I could use what’s like plan B? What’s the contingency? And that kind of helps you just get ahead of the problem.
Nick: Yeah. That, that entire, uh, that, that, it’s not a failure mindset, but it’s almost like, like you could almost talk about it as such of like, Hey, How do we get more okay with how this could fail and get better at not doing that? Because it, because once you’re in that mindset that that’s, uh, that’s, that’s a lot different.
Let me ask you, let me, let me take the conversation in a different way. Um mm-hmm. , we said you’re trying to optimize. You don’t wanna be too reactive. You don’t wanna be too proactive. Yeah. You know, for, for people that don’t have a number on their head, Right. Whether, you know, depending on the size of the startup, you, you might not have a, a revenue number that’s tied to you.
How, what are signs that you’re, you’re doing okay, right? Like how do you, how do you know if you’re balancing this right, or how do you know if you’re too reactive and you’re getting lucky, right? Like, like is there any any way to think that or is it a feel?
Tom: I think it’s a bit of both. So I think you see like polarity, you got one extreme, which is super proactive, one extreme that’s super reactive.
What are the, I guess, characteristics or attributes of a team or a person who. Displaying that too much. So, you know, a team that’s always reactive, probably stressed over time, getting the stuff incoming, they don’t finish stuff, you know, because there’s so much going on. They don’t have time for planning, they don’t have a plan.
If you can see those signs, then, you know, you know what, we probably veered too much, uh, towards one polarity. And then to your point, previously, it’s a okay, we’re a hundred percent. Uh, being reactive right now and we’re in reactive mode, what’s the kind of rough percentage that will draw us away from that?
And you can use like, simple stuff like time or you know, the effort that you’re putting into certain things. So, you know, what, one day a week is taken away from this kind of stuff. We’re gonna have strategy or planning meetings. So I think just that, you know, qualitative view on what does it feel like or what does it look like, uh, to be in one of these mode.
It is super interesting and I think if the team or an individual is aware of that, you can actually almost have a chat that’s like, Hey, too far here. Here are the like three warning signs and two far here. Here are three other warning. You can kind of keep balancing it and, and managing that paradox. Let, let me throw
Nick: an idea at you that I’ve, I’ve never considered, but it’s starting to feel good.
I, I think that the idea is, and, and maybe I’m off base here, is that we’re too reactive. I think, I think that’s the mistake that teams would make. They’re not proactive enough, they’re too reactive. I would say where I’ve seen a lot of teams go wrong is they’re too proactive and not reacting to the very real I.
Things that just spr out of the blue, right? The opportunities that are put that are popped up in the middle that we didn’t plan for. Let me, let me get your thoughts on what If you had a proactive side of the marketing team and a reactive side like, Hey, this quarter one, one part of the team is only going to work on this part of the team is only going to work on things that aren’t going to deliver for more than three weeks, and this part of the team, you have to make something happen in the next three weeks.
Right now, what is it? And you almost say, These are different kinds of marketing and exposure and communication. Mm-hmm. , let me get your take on that. What do you, what do you think of that as an idea?
Tom: First off, super interesting. So I think. I guess to how you framed it, I think, um, you said most teams are too proactive.
I think it’s, it’s the nuances. People are reactive to the wrong things sometimes. So, you know, if you’re missing the important reactions like, uh, customer feedback or, you know, competitor change or the market has shifted. I think then you are too proactive in that sense. And often for marketing team is you can get reactive because as someone shouted loudly for a, you know, a one pager on something or a slide in a deck, I think.
So, I think that’s the first kind of part of that response is knowing what to react to versus what to be, you know, proactive about. Mm-hmm. , do your, do your second part on this kind. You all track team, right? You’ve got this proactive team, a reactive team. That’s super interesting and I’m wondering how it would work across specific functions.
For example, let’s, let’s think of, uh, product marketing. So that’s a. It’s part of the org that needs to be quite strategic, right? You need to look at, uh, your buyers, you need to look at the market, You need to see what’s going on in with your competitors. But there’s also more faster moving stuff like go to market, uh, product releases and developments on that side, and, you know, changes to both.
I think it could actually be a good experiment. I, I was actually, when you first said it, I’m like, That’s crazy. Those two sides need to be connected. Right. You can’t have a team. It’s like, I’m planning a thing and there’s one team reacting to something else. Well, and but yeah, go ahead.
Nick: Well, because you had, you had even mentioned like product marketing because as you were talking, I’m, I’m thinking now, right?
How much great. Potential work gets dropped because people are too afraid of a bad V one. Right. This is something we talk about all the time. Right, Right. Like, like you’re, you’re not actually making a minimum viable product. You’re waiting too long. Well, if one team has to ship now that almost brings that convers, How many, uh, case studies could you get out?
Like, let’s think. Okay, so, so every product marketing team, right? We need more case studies. Yeah. Right. I posted a meme about it on LinkedIn the other day, right? We all want more case studies. Well, if you don’t have time to plan and think about a case study, what if you just did a. Version one as an example, without the client’s logo, how much more often would that then get their buy in to do a full case study?
As it as one example in product marketing, right? Like, hey, that’s a good example because someone had to do something quickly. Not poorly, but
Tom: quickly. Yeah, I think, I mean, look, case studies the ultimate, uh, vaporware, right? You know, you, you, you kind say, Right, we’ve got this client, they really love us ceo, We’ve gotta be a great case study.
Two years later it’s like, yeah, we’re waiting on legal, sign up and marketing, sign up and da, da da. I think, um, That kind of call it like growth kind of mindset of, you know, rapid iteration and you know, just kind of plugging through versions. That’s something you can build into any team. I think re regardless of if you call it the proactive team, reactive team, you know, For example, in my team we’ve got, uh, a kind of biweekly cadence of what call the marketing learning session, which is what have we learned over the past two weeks, uh, from a small experiment that we did towards a bigger thing.
So to your point, it could be, okay, how do we make case study, uh, collection or the process quicker? Maybe it is kickoff with the anonymous study you. Fortune 500 global pharmaceutical company does this, and then presenting it back to a client and saying, Okay, this is an example of what we could do. So I think you can build that, uh, test and learn cadence into a team without necessarily splitting out the two, if that makes sense.
But on a side note, what you just suggested for case studies is actually really good idea. So I’m not sure if you actually, if you’ve done that before, but I’m probably gonna be borrowing that . Yeah. .
Nick: Yeah, that’s, uh, uh, if you go to, you know, enabling.com/enablement recipes, I do have a, a six part series on that.
That, but, but, uh, I didn’t want to bury the lead there. That’s a, that’s a thing we’ve done in the past. . No, but, but I, I think it comes from the mentality. Go, go beyond product market. Go to demand gen. Right. How often have we spent weeks getting the perfect conversion page, landing page? for something like that.
Mm-hmm. when, hey, maybe if you had just gotten a V one, it could’ve given you a lot of data. Right. I, I, I, I like this idea of, you know, I wouldn’t tell any marketing team to be more reactive, but to your point mm-hmm. , be more reactive to the right triggers. Be more reactive. Yeah. And short term thinking to getting stuff out there and create a proactive plan that that falls into.
Tom: And also just like, uh, reacting to the right things. It’s about testing the right things. How often have you run an experiment or you’ve, you know, had an experiment your team has run? It’s like, okay, we AB tested. Two subject lines, one outta, you know, 10.1%, click through one outta 10.2. So our conclusion is we don’t really have a conclusion.
Right. And I think so many experiments, Yeah. The easiest experiments to do are all this stuff like that. We tweet, we tweak the subject line, not much of a difference. So we didn’t actually take action. And I think to your point, are there bigger stake things that we can kind of test or more radical test and give us a direction.
just like, you know, there are certain things that are good to react to that will have an impact on moving the needle. I think that’s, uh, another thing to, to look at when you’re looking at that kind of test and. Uh, mentality.
Nick: Sure, sure. As we, as we, uh, as we kind of close out here, I, I did want to ask, um, you know, from your seat you’ve been, like, you had said you’ve been at startups for a while, right?
Back to not back, all that. Uh, what’s one consistent. I, I would say, what do you think is the biggest agent of like, change? Like what do you think is the thing that will, that is most likely to rapidly change in the next few years? Whether it be on the sales or the marketing side? Like, like maybe something that’s bugging you that you think there’s gonna be a radical solution for, or something that you see and you’re like, this, this is not gonna be the way it is in five years.
Tom: Yeah, so Im guess the point where everyone talks about, you know, web three and you know, blockchain and stuff, I think. I feel like as businesses we’ve over complicated the buying process and I think, you know, there’s obviously, if you can talk about this across the industry, you know, you’re aligning with the customer more.
I think, you know, it’s probably a further breaking down of that, um, customer journey across these silos of, you know, sales, marketing, you got bdr, SDRs, you know, sales engineering. You got enablement helping you all and the different kind of areas within. You know, I think it’s more an organizational shift towards how revenue is generated and better aligning with, you know, how people want to buy.
I mean, how often have we, I mean, look, we’re, we’re in the business, right? When you want to go and buy software. You know, okay, I’m gonna get an outreach of an SDR who’s gonna do a quick kind of discovery call and pass me on to an AE and, you know, go through all that. But, you know, particularly in, in the business that, you know, s’s in, we, we sell a lot into, uh, the shipping industry.
They’re not used to buying software in that way or buying things in that way. And, you know, On our side, we’re like, Okay, how do we better kind of educate the market on how to purchase software? But the other side of it is, how can we adapt our own system to better suit how they want to buy? And you know, oftentimes I think, you know, SaaS companies are not always set up with the customer in mind.
So I guess, you know, coming back to your original question, I think the shift has been towards that more kind of customer centric view. Uh, the buying process and how people want to, uh, interact with companies. And, you know, there’s probably a range of technologies and other pieces that come into this.
Obviously, uh, throughout different stages of the buying cycle. It enables being one, but I think, you know, companies themselves need to kind of shift out the ace and market to, to customers to optimize that cycle.
Nick: One thing I’ll add onto that, because I think that’s a good point, that’s gonna look different for every company.
The way that shipping companies want to buy is gonna be different than how analytics companies want to buy. And like maybe some of these companies, like that traditional qualification discoveries see for Right? For, but many won’t. And I think it’ll be that shift is which companies are gonna copy what other companies are doing, and which companies are going to find how their buyer wants to buy and figure it out.
Tom: Yeah, I agree. Agree. And you know that that one size fits all, doesn’t fit all. And to your point, you know, Perhaps summer, you know, actually I really like buying this way. It helps me, you know, go through a cycle. It’s predictable, but you know, other customers are like, What the hell is this? I just wanna buy a thing.
I mean, put through all these different stages with different people and you know, there’s friction. .
Nick: Yeah. And I listen, I know, I know too. A lot of people that buy software hate how they’re buying software. They hate their procurement departments. They hate that it has to go through these checks and backgrounds.
But let’s, that’s, that’s how enterprise selling has been. And, and we’ll see if, if businesses, sellers, and buyers can change. .
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. It’d be an interesting thing to look at. All right.
Nick: We’ve had a great conversation here. Uh, and then right before we wrap up, anything you’d like to point to people to either here or something you’d like us to feature on the podcast page?
The floor is yours.
Tom: Yeah. No, I think, um, I guess bringing awareness to what’s said I was trying to do, because it probably. All of us. So, you know, I talk about, uh, the paradox of, uh, you know, marketing of scale up and startups. You know, we’re kind of balancing a paradox ourselves, which is the fact that email is this business critical system.
It’s the center of a lot of what businesses do. It’s a universal medium from communication. It’s got a ton of data and insight within. And yet, you know, if you ask people, Hey, do you like email? Everyone says, Hell no, I hate email. It’s, you know, a beast I have to feed. But the, the, the tension is, you know, if I, if I went to a business, said, Hey, do you wanna turn off your email system tomorrow bit?
No, that would be ridiculous. So, you know, said no. Kind of sits in that middle of that tension. Uh, You know, email is potentially, you know, the most valuable, uh, resources in your company, but it’s just not fit for purpose for how we work today. So, you know, I think. In this kind of current climate, we’ve got, you know, geopolitical tension, potential, you know, pandemic stuff going on, you know, recession, economic crisis.
It’s just take a look at, you know, the system that’s right in front of your face that is, uh, a critical operational piece of your business. And ask yourself, you know, are we working for email or is email working for us? And I think, you know, it is easy to look at. Your business and look for efficiencies, look for effectiveness.
Speaking from the marketing side. Marketing budgets can often get cut as a, you know, uh, first wave of, of, you know, making those efficiencies. But also I’d say look to different systems that you’ve lived with, uh, a kind of dull pain in the background. And, and ask yourself is, More immediate pain that you’re actually experiencing you don’t know about.
So yeah, small, uh, little plug certain, but more about
Nick: the navigating, navigating conflicting, uh, uh, what it was it. Right note, listen, navigating, conflicting, um, uh, uh, requests at a startup, being reactive to the right things and and solving email. Uh, I feel like we covered a lot of ground here today. Uh, uh, no.
Thank you so much for, for coming on the episode. Uh, uh, Tom, it’s been, it’s
Tom: been fun. You’re welcome. Been a great conversation and I gotta take away that case study thing and that reactive, proactive team, uh, idea. I’ll have a think on that. Cause there could be legs to
Nick: it. Someone’s gonna try it. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Lloyd.
Tom: Thank you. Thank you very much. Cheers, Nick. This
Nick: has been Mind The Gap, a podcast about sales and marketing alignment put on by neighbors. My name is Nick Lopez. Thanks for