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PODCAST 87: How to Pitch ‘Category Creation’ to your CFO or CEO with Anthony Kennada

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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Anthony Kennada, CMO at Front.

You probably know Anthony by now — his name started popularizing itself after he helped grow Gainsight from $100K to $100MM in ARR. Anthony’s also the author of Category Creation: How to Build a Brand that Customers, Employees, & Investors Will Loveo. On this episode, Anthony taps into how businesses can transform themselves with category creation.

If you missed episode 86 , check it out here: PODCAST 86: Strategic Vs Tactical Approach in Sales Planning with Mary Rogul

What You’ll Learn

  • How to initiate category creation
  • Anthony’s journey from sales to product to marketing
  • How to leverage lessons from the B2C world

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

Show Introduction

Sam Jacobs: We’ve got Anthony Kennada on the show, who worked with Nick and the team at Gainsight to make customer success a new category;

Gainsight made customer success into a household name, and I think Anthony had a tremendous amount to do with that. Now, he’s the new chief marketing officer at Front, which is another company that feels like it could be the next Slack or the next Gainsight, or something big in the B2B space; they’ve already got 5,000 customers, and they’re growing very, very quickly.

Anthony’s also written a new book called Category Creation. So, I think this is going to be a great interview. We’re going to learn about what they did at Gainsight to help build that category of customer success, and how to take a company that was $100K in ARR and turn it into a $100MM+ ARR company, with a valuation over $1B.

Now, before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. It’s a company that everybody’s heard about — DocuSign. Every sales org feels the pressure to close deals faster. Take control with the DocuSign agreement cloud, a suite of tools that automates sales contracts and quotes ,all right in your CRM. Create custom contracts in a click, sign them digitally, and automatically pull data back into your opportunities. See why more than half a million businesses use DocuSign with a free trial and discount exclusively for Sales Hacker listeners at go.docusign.com/saleshacker.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Anthony Kennada.

About Anthony Kennada / Front

Sam Jacobs: We are honored and excited to have on the show, Anthony Kennada. Anthony is somebody most people in the startup ecosystem have heard of at this point, because he was the person — or 1 of the people on the team — who helped create Gainsight with Nick Mehta and the other folks there, helping take that company from $100K in ARR past $100MM. Now, Anthony’s the CMO at Front.

So, Anthony, you’ve been the CMO at Front for 2 weeks now, as of November 18th, when we’re recording this. Tell us about Front.

Anthony Kennada: At Front, we know that regardless of what business we’re in, email is at the heart of how we communicate. We’ve built all these different solutions that help us be productive, be it different applications that we go to for internal collaboration or different places we store our files, or apps on our phones. But, email is still the heartbeat of how businesses operate.

What Front’s done is sort of beef up email for businesses with the hopes of helping us be more productive and find more meaning in our work, because, with Front, we’re able to focus on work that matters and drives impact.

Sam Jacobs: Tell us a little bit about revenue, whatever you’re allowed to share.

Anthony Kennada: So the company is Sequoia-backed, and, originally, it was a YC startup. We’ve raised, I think, about $80MM total.The last investment was a series B by Sequoia. It’s 1 of those product-led growth stories where we have over 5,000 customers already using the product.

Sam Jacobs: You talked about Front’s mission, and you talked about improving the way people use emails, and then you also referenced making work more meaningful. Tell us what you mean by that.

Anthony Kennada: The first iteration of the company really focused around this use case of a shared inbox. Rather than having sales and support email be a single channel where you email 1 person on the other end, you can bring the dynamic of distribution lists into the entire email world so you’re giving shared visibility into the information that’s happening within an organization. That way, no one’s dropping the ball on being able to respond and take action quickly.

But the other idea is: How do you collaborate around this content without basically forwarding an email around? What if you could add some of that collaboration layer on top of the message to get the answers you need quickly, internally, and then rapidly respond to that customer with the right information? So, that’s the idea of how we’re transforming email from this asynchronous effort into something more collaborative.

Anthony’s journey from sales to Gainsight

Sam Jacobs: Let’s go back to the beginning of your journey. Tell us how you got started in marketing, or even in sales.

Anthony Kennada: I started out of college as a tech recruiter, which, in 2008, was probably one of the worst jobs you could have; getting people jobs in a recession was not great. So, I called my hiring manager at Box to ask them for a shot on their sales floor. They took a chance on me, and I came onto Box as their 37th employee. I was there for a few years, and then I actually met Nick Mehta, weirdly enough, at our last company, Live Office, by replying to a Craigslist ad that he put out for a business development manager.

I was pretty young, but had an opportunity to run an OEM relationship that they had just signed with Symantec. I built that business to about $15MM of ARR, and we ended up selling that company to Symantec. I transitioned from more of the go-to-market function to product, because part of what I really enjoyed was talking to customers and translating those requirements into something engineers can build. So, I ran a product team at Symantec for a couple of years, but as that was happening, Nick finished his 6 months on the other side of that acquisition, and told me about a company he was going to join called Jay Berra Software.

Whatever he was going to do, I wanted to be a part of it, too. We basically rebranded the business and launched Gainsight out of that. So, that was my first gig in marketing.

Category creation is a ‘higher calling’ than short term value creation

Sam Jacobs: Category creation can be a 10 to 15 year journey, and that can be pretty daunting for a CEO who just raised money and needs to hit a revenue target tomorrow. Category creation may feel too long term for their short term needs, right?

Anthony Kennada: Clearly, there is a faster path by just having a disruption mindset, building a better mousetrap, innovating on the business model. Those help you drive success faster. But category creation has a higher calling associated with it, because you’re building a brand that’s serving an underserved persona or a constituency that hasn’t really been catered to in a meaningful way.

Lessons from the book Category Creation

Sam Jacobs: Let’s dive into your book, Category Creation. What are the core principles?

Anthony Kennada: The challenge for us on the operator’s side was: “I believe, I’m bought in,and my team is invested into this journey. BUT, how do I talk to my CFO about this? How do I show up to my pipeline meeting next week and talk about some of these investments? What kind of reps do we hire who are going to be value selling versus selling into an existing line item budget for software?” So, the idea behind the book centers on a lot of these questions, and how to take all the goodness of what category creation could be and operationalize it into a framework that a CEO, CFO, the board, can really appreciate. So, this is sort of like the operator’s manual, how to actually do it, how to create the category.

  • For one, companies that want to build a brand that’s leading that market must inspire folks to follow them. People buy into why you are on this mission.
  • The second: Focus on the people in your market, not just your products.
  • The third thing: Create a lifestyle brand for your category, which is usually considered a “B2C thing.”

With Disney+, I can watch any Disney or Marvel movie anywhere from my iPhone. With Amazon Prime, I can get almost anything delivered within 2 hours. I have all of these amazing, delightful consumer experiences, but then I go to work, and I’m literally just automating email by basically spamming people. It’s insane how as marketers we’ve taken the humanity out of marketing. Let’s actually flip this around and build a brand that’s literally doing life with people in sales.

How to pitch ‘category creation’ to your CEO or CFO

Sam Jacobs: So, what is the way to pitch the CFO or CEO on the investments required for category creation?

Anthony Kennada: (There’s a whole chapter on this in the book!) Let’s say you’re along your journey, and you want to pitch this long term philosophy and say, “Hey, I want to invest in things that may not scale, but really help create momentum.” You need to create a podcast, you need to develop a lot of content on your blog, and you need to have a digital presence for the category. But, you must tie all of that to somewhere on the funnel. So for us, doing something like an event, for example, helps us convert people into our marketable database, where ultimately we would not have had that opportunity beforehand.

You just need some language to have that dialogue with your CEO and CFO. Unless they buy into the vision, it’s going to be really hard.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Loved that interview with Anthony Kennada — there was a lot of knowledge and humility teamed with ambition coming from his story: He started off as a technical recruiter before moving to Box, I think, as an SDR. His first marketing job was at Gainsight. And from Gainsight, when he joined at $100k in ARR, he helped take that company past $100MM. I think he said 80% marketing generated 100% marketing influenced. That’s amazing.

He’s also got a new book out called Category Creation, and what are the things we can learn from it? First of all, brands that create their own categories earn higher multiples; they’re more valuable. Gainsight created customer success, and they’re now more valuable than other companies that are also in the customer success universe.

Second: take lessons from the B2C world. Take those lessons of delight and surprise, and introduce them into your B2B marketing framework. For our white papers and our blogs, it’s over, unfortunately, and you must think fresh and new.

Third thing: You need to find a way to take long term greed, long term brand development, and category creation and tie those to measurable metrics, so you can speak to the CFO and the CEO.

What We Learned

  • How to initiate category creation
  • Anthony’s journey from sales to product to marketing
  • How to leverage lessons from the B2C world

Don’t miss episode 88

I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors.The first is DocuSign. Execute contracts and get to revenue faster with DocuSign, used by employees in 90% of the Fortune 500 businesses. Learn more at go.docusign.com/saleshacker. Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.

This is a sponsored guest post from a Sales Hacker partner.

Sam Jacobs is the Founder of Aqueduct Revenue Advisors and the New York Revenue Collective and regarded as one of the top start-up CROs in the tech community.

He has has over 15 years of experience scaling companies from post-revenue to ~$300M, has helped raise over $400M in institutional capital, and has helped companies of all sizes achieve an average annualized revenue growth rate of 48% over the last 15 years.