Why Marketers Need To Obsess Over Their Differentiation And Their Story With ThoughtSpot’s Scott Holden (Part 1)
Tricia Gellman: Hi, I'm Tricia Gellman and I am the CMO of Drift, and I'm excited to be here today for a new episode of CMO Conversations. I have with me Scott Holden, who is the CMO of ThoughtSpot, and ThoughtSpot is a leader in search and AI- driven analytics. Now, Scott, that's a short introduction. Maybe you can start by just telling people a little bit about yourself and about ThoughtSpot.
Scott Holden: Sure. Well, thanks for having me, Tricia. I'm excited to be on the show today. I'll start with a little bit of background. So I've been the CMO at ThoughtSpot now for almost six years. So it's been a great journey. I joined, we were about 40 people and now we're a little over 600, so I've seen it through rapid growth. And in terms of background, prior to ThoughtSpot, I was at Salesforce where I met you. For-
Tricia Gellman: And we worked together for many years. It was super fun.
Scott Holden: Yeah. I guess for me it was a little over seven years, so quite a journey, got a crazy education, one of the best marketing educations you can get, at Salesforce where I ran marketing for the sales cloud business. The last couple of years, I ran marketing for the platform business. I did solutions marketing, SMB marketing. There really wasn't anything I didn't do while I was there, and so I got a great feel for things. But in terms of my background, probably what makes me a little bit unique relative to some is that I started my career as an investment banker doing mergers and acquisitions and so super analytically minded. I was a spreadsheet jockey. I worked for Chase and J. P. Morgan. And then I went on to Walmart where I ran logistics for their e- commerce division for a couple of years. And I think the unifying thread there is that I started with this very kind of quantitative mindset and then developed my marketing skills, I was just drawn to marketing. And the opportunity to come work at ThoughtSpot, where I could take my passion around data and analytics and combine it with marketing was sort of my dream job. So it's one of the reasons why I've been at the company for the last six years and why I'm super excited for what lies ahead.
Tricia Gellman: I also think that since you've been there, the category of BI and analytics has really become even more important. I think when we started together, the idea that you would measure all your marketing, people didn't talk about it as much, and I think the idea that marketers, salespeople, everybody need to know their numbers has just increased over the time that you've been at ThoughtSpot.
Scott Holden: Absolutely. I mean, the things that we're able to do now with data, the metrics we're able to track, I tell people I never had the kind of visibility I have today back when we were at Salesforce, and Salesforce even then was a super progressive company. So it's a whole new world. It's exciting because we're taking things that I think were pipe dreams as short as five years ago and we're making them happen now.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I think it's really exciting. It's an exciting time to be a CMO because I think the new requirement for CMOs is that you can do both the creative side and work on how to get your company out into the market in interesting ways, but then at the same time think about the numbers and analytically, why are you doing what you're doing, what's working, what's not working?
Scott Holden: This magic combination of left brain, right brain, you got to come up with the creative ideas and then have the intellectual kind of quantitative skills to be able to measure the impact and adjust, which is kind of the magic combo.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Well, so you have this background in analytics and spreadsheets and being in finance. But I think when I started working with you, you were in product marketing and you demonstrated yourself to be excellent in messaging. I learned a lot working with you. When we spoke earlier, you called yourself a messaging freak. So maybe we could talk about the other side of your brain and what does it mean to you to be a messaging freak? And why are you so proud of your messaging?
Scott Holden: I would consider myself a messaging freak. It's funny, I said that kind of off the cuff, but it's true. It's one of the things that I took away from my experience at Salesforce, and I think we both got world- class educations. Marc Benioff is a fantastic marketer. We both worked for Kraig Swensrud at the time, who was the CMO, and I learned a ton. I'll say this about messaging. In technology, product differentiation, innovation, that's the key to everything. And so messaging is the way to bring that to life, to tease out your differentiation and really help sell your product and help it stand out. And so most people think about that and that's absolutely the most important thing that you can do, especially in the startup world, but as a technology marketer. I think where I was coming from on that messaging freak comment was that I think messaging is much deeper than that and can be applied in places that even most marketers probably don't have as much rigor around as they should. I'll break it down into two parts. One is just messaging around the macro pain and the market that you're in. It's been said often now. Simon Sinek has put out his books and his talks around it's all about the why, people buy the why. And so when you're thinking about messaging, really using it to describe what your customer cares about, their pains, what they're looking for in the world, is probably the biggest thing that you can focus on, as opposed to just messaging your speeds and feeds or messaging the kind of nuances of how your product works. I'd say that that's kind of one big elaborate piece of it. And then the second is that, maybe I'll use an example here that you'll probably remember, is that I think a messaging, it goes much, much deeper than that into every facet of marketing. You'll probably remember at Salesforce we would often be asked the question," What's the message?" And that didn't just apply to the product launch or the new feature. It applied to everything. And I think that's just incredible guidance to give marketers today that even if it's the event, some chotsky, an offer. I was talking with my team about our annual user conference coming up about speakers. The speakers you choose, they send a message and you have to be thinking about every little piece that with every ounce of real estate, every word you're putting out into the universe as a marketer, there's a message behind it. And I think about that a lot. The example I was thinking of from Salesforce is I remember a marketer coming to the CMO and saying," I've got this great idea for Dreamforce. We're going to bring in this Harley chopper and we're going to park it in the campground area of Dreamforce. It's going to be amazing. People are going to love it. They're going to want to sit on it." And I just remember it so vividly thinking, yeah, that's kind of cool, but I was wondering, what's the connection? And I remember our CMO Kraig at the time just saying," What's the message? Why a chopper? Yeah, it's cool. Who doesn't like Harley's, but what's the message?" And so that's just always kind of stuck with me. And even if it's a small, trite thing, a T- shirt, whatever, I'm always asking the team," What's the message?" Because I think whether it's obvious or not, the message matters in every context.
Tricia Gellman: I think that's really interesting, and I think that's something that at Drift we embrace a lot and it's a thing that our CEO cares to the minutia about. He buckets it up and says," Hey, this is our brand." Every single one of these interactions, every person you put as a speaker for the event, that adds up to what is the message we're trying to portray as our brand, versus maybe what's the message of what our product does. And I think the two things, they play together. And back to your point about the why, people don't buy necessarily on the speeds and feeds today, they buy on sort of the overall bigger package because the world is really noisy. And the thing that helps you stand apart, I think, is that message and the why.
Scott Holden: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. The brand connection is a big piece of it. And I think they always say that a brand is the sum of the parts. And so all these little messages add up to the overall brand that you're building as a marketer.
Tricia Gellman: A hundred percent. Now, with the focus on the message, being the people at the conference, as well as sort of how you differentiate and have a good message about what ThoughtSpot is, how do you measure the success of good messaging?
Scott Holden: The first thing you have to do is just nail the differentiation. This kind of gets to my messaging freak thing. I think as a marketer today, you have to obsess over your differentiation and your story, and there's nothing more important than getting that right and making sure that that sticks out in the market relative to your competition. And so I think there's a tendency for marketers to get comfortable. Hey, that worked, let's settle in, and that seems to be working, not change it. And I would encourage people to just always be thinking about how you can make it better and better and better. I'd kind of apply the flip side of it too. The other thing that I notice companies doing that I think is a disservice that they chase trends. And so you'll see some people that may come up with a great differentiated product in a story, and then they're so interested in the next shiny object or the next fad that they want to try and market that they end up confusing their buyers and their prospects by changing the message all the time. And I would encourage people to stay the course. Particularly if you do the good work in the beginning to nail it, you always want to be refining, but don't feel the need to kind of jump on the newest bandwagon and market something, especially if it's not core to who you are, what you're doing as a company. And I think the temptation's always there, but you have to be true to why you're why you're great and why you're different. And so I would just focus on those two pieces. And then in terms of measurement, it's one of those things where measuring whether you're successful is a complete multi- faceted sport. I'll give a couple of examples actually. And I think when you're trying to measure your impact, everything from the anecdotal feedback to how the first meeting is going from your sales reps to bounce rates on your website, to resonance in research notes from analysts, all of these things are out there as ways to measure the effectiveness of your story. PR pickups. I'll give the example of ThoughtSpot. We're a search and AI- driven analytics company. We're trying to make analytics easy for everyday people like you and me, Tricia. If you can use Google, you should be able to ask questions of your data and get an answer. When we first launched back in late 2014, we launched as search- driven analytics and the idea was simple around search. A couple years later, we came out with a new product, which we call SpotIQ, which is an AI engine that automatically answers questions on your behalf and pushes insights to you. And when we came out with that product, it turns out analytics knowing what question to ask is one of the hardest parts. And so if you have a really smart system searching through all your data, finding anomalies that stand out and practically pushing them to you, it can be super valuable. We knew that as a product capability, people would love it. What I found from a measurement perspective is when we changed our category from search- driven analytics to search and AI- driven analytics, the main axis by which the world changed was in PR. Obviously AI has been one of the hottest trends in the world for the last few years now. And we saw a massive shift in the PR perception and the pickup that we got, not to mention it changed little things like the number of resumes we got for any job posting we put out there. When you ride a trend and you can do it credibly, it can totally change the trajectory of your company.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I think that's really interesting. It also touches on another thing that I think is inherent in the CMO's role today, which maybe even wasn't a part of your job when you started. And that is the way that messaging and the brand not only defines the buyer and who you're going after, but also employee engagement and the employee brand for hiring great talent and retaining that talent as well. And I think it's been newer for marketers to own the employee brand and also work on internal comms. So I could see how those things play together. Another angle on the messaging I think is working with third parties to develop a great message. We just talked about how you can sort of pivot the message a little bit to get broader reach. But recently you did a thought leader piece and you partnered with Harvard Business Review. So talk to us about that. Why did you partner with Harvard Business Review and what's the point behind the campaign that you're running?
Scott Holden: This is one of the most exciting campaigns I've ever launched. I've done quite a few. And so I'm particularly proud of this work and I'll give a shout out to Emma Robinson who runs corporate marketing for us. It was her brainchild at ThoughtSpot to come up with this idea. And yeah, it really is the first true big brand thought leadership campaign that we've run. And the idea started with this idea of... I'll just tell you the name of the campaign, it's called Meet the New Decision Makers. And the idea is that as a business person, even if you're on the front lines, if you're frontline hospital worker or you're on the supply chain, or you're a retail associate, or you're a entry level marketer, you need data to do your job. And data historically has been pretty hard for people to access. There's data analysts. They typically work for the executive team. And so Tricia, you and I can command a data analyst whenever we want, but if you're a frontline manager, you're kind of picking up the scraps. We had this idea of Meet the New Decision Makers being something that companies want. They want to empower the front lines. And that's what this campaign's all about. And so we had the idea of including the Harvard Business Review to go do some primary research on our behalf and look into this and ask companies. We surveyed over 500 companies across every industry, every range of size, and we got data back about how big a deal this was. Do companies want it, do they not? And I'll share a couple of findings. 90% of companies want to make more data- driven decisions. They want to do this. They want to empower their workers. 86% of them felt like they didn't have the right tools and technology and process to do it. Only 7% thought they did. And then we saw this huge disconnect between the leaders in the survey and the laggards in the survey. The laggards who are underperforming on all these different metrics, 40% of them said they didn't want to empower the front lines. And so it was just a fascinating study. And of course across every metric, those that empower companies with data do better. This is a massive campaign for us because the third- party influence really kind of helped substantiate the campaign. HBR is a fantastic brand. They do great research. The report itself is fantastic. But we were then able to take that as the grounding sort of cornerstone of the campaign and build a lot around it. And to our prior conversation around marketing the why, and the broader industry challenge, analytics has risen, to your point, over the last few years because as companies have been chasing digital transformation, it's all about collecting more data, mobile phone data, app data, social data. We're collecting all this data now. We now have the ability to do it. How do you actually measure it, all this new data that we're digitizing? And so analytics has become a bit of a cornerstone in this digital transformation story. And while tech has come a long way, there's a whole host of culture, process, leadership, all non- tech things that are really a massive driver behind whether you're going to be successful or not. And so this campaign was all about researching what companies are feeling, and then it gets into a lot of the other parts, the non- techs parts of the story about what do leaders need to be doing? What kind of training do they need to be offering? How can they change culture? And it goes into a lot of great detail around that, and we had the main report, but then we built out a number of different assets around it to get into those non- technology parts of the story, which people are craving these days.
Tricia Gellman: Let's break down this campaign a little bit, because I think it would be really interesting for our listeners. A lot of them are more entry- level or non CMOs. Thinking about the different parts, I think it's really interesting. You had this idea and then you decided you partner with Harvard Business Review in order to do the research, but really the whole campaign isn't just the report from the research. It sounds like there's multiple parts to the campaign.
Scott Holden: Yes, there are.
Tricia Gellman: What are the parts, beyond the report?
Scott Holden: There's a microsite. If you go to thoughtspot.com/ decisionmakers, you actually can see the whole construction of the campaign. We were pretty transparent about it. It's built like a funnel and it's the top level thought leadership at the top, reports right at the top of the page. But then as you work your way down, it's actually a full- blown narrative. And it starts with who are the decision makers, what do they want, what are they doing? What do leaders need to do to empower them? And there's a section around that. There's a section around cultural change. There's a section around modernizing analytics and your data processes. And then we offer some more tactical things like data maturity assessment, business value assessments, real practical hands- on workshops kind of at the end of the funnel, so to speak.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, the bottom of the funnel deliverables.
Scott Holden: Yeah, to help you take action. And so we've laid it out pretty literally for folks, this is how you might engage with us. This is one of the things I think is cool about it, we put in research from McKinsey and articles that have come from different places around the internet that have nothing to do with us, but we think would just be helpful for people trying to make this transformation possible. We've got links to our podcast. We have a podcast called The Data Chief that is another asset for people to think about the cultural changes. There's a lot of content there. And you think about the nurture angle to this, we have this whole flow built out that you can see and bite off whatever you want at your leisure right there from that main website. And that becomes kind of the launching pad for us to keep those messages going off into market. We'll be running this over the next nine months, for sure.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. And it sounds like you're giving people the choice of where to enter into the conversation, but then you also have nurtures on the backend. So if they don't come back to move themselves down, that you're using those assets in email nurture or other activities as well.
Scott Holden: Exactly. Yeah. It's a full- court press. We've put everything we've got into this and like I said, we'll be running it for a long time. And so we want to make sure that all the work that we've put in pays dividends for months ahead.
Tricia Gellman: And then did you work with the sales team too? Do you have an internal sales organization that is following up and also trying to move people through that funnel in terms of moving them down into, let's say, business value assessment at the bottom?
Scott Holden: Absolutely. And so if you go to that website, you'll see that if you ask for business value assessment, we actually engage the sales team. We have this special business value team that they actually get looped in to those lead alerts if that happens, and are brought in right there. Because in analytics, the beauty and the complexity of analytics is that everyone in the world can use it. There are thousands of use cases, all department by industry. So there's lots of different ways you can take it. And so understanding use cases and the business value behind them is a critical part to making it successful. So we put a lot of time behind that. And we've also... Like any good campaign, the key to success is getting the sales team bought in. And so this was one, we just did a really phenomenal job, educating the field, tell them it's coming, remind them it's coming, it's come, it's still here, here's what's happening. Here's how it's performing. Here's the new outreach nurture journey, the new message of the week. So it's a constant drum beat. And particularly for warming up top of the funnel, it's the type of thing, it's about a movement. It's about empowering the front lines. It's not about search and AI, which is what we do. It's about getting people in your company to use data more. And so that's just a great kind of door opener for us into companies that are interested.
Tricia Gellman: You're talking about the multifaceted components of the campaign, which take a lot of time to put together. And clearly you guys have invested a lot of time in the strategy of it, as well as the execution, because there's a lot of pieces. But people say that with time comes quality, with time comes the higher return on investment, and so it sounds like that's also what you're seeing. Do you think that you'll now do this again in terms of investment in bigger campaigns, starting at thought leadership? Are you already brainstorming the next thought leader campaign from ThoughtSpot?
Scott Holden: Yeah, it's actually marketers, good marketers love to talk about the global integrated campaign, and that's the thing that we're all striving for. And I guess I'd heard it so much and it's been a part of my DNA for a while now, that it started to feel a little bit like lip service. This campaign has sort of really reinvigorated for me the importance of it. It's been a home run. Actually next week, we've got a webinar with a thought leader in the space. We've kind of walked through the research and it's being promoted by HBR. And it's one of these webinars that HBR is like," Yeah, well, you should get 500 people. That's kind of our promise to you, that 500 people probably turn out." And they've already got 6, 500 people signed up for it. And so that's usually a pretty good sign that you're onto something when you're sort of 10Xing the benchmark. What I would say is that I'm now kind of reinvigorated around this whole concept of third- party validation. And probably to tie to our prior conversation around messaging, as a messaging guy, I always thought that the story wins. And I think a great story does win, but if you can combine that with third- party validation like HBR in this case, it really is a magic combo because the third- party validation around the broader topic buys you right into the conversation. Whereas, you might not have gotten a chance to tell that great story you've come up with if you didn't have that. We actually are in the process of launching a new campaign right now at banks with The Economist. And so it didn't take us long to build on the idea here. And so, yeah, we're doubling down on this kind of big thought leadership concept. It's something that I... the next campaign we're working on, another campaign where we weren't thinking about third- party leadership and this is last week, I was like," We need it. Let's go find it for this one as well." Because it adds a whole new dimension and we're just seeing the outcomes radically improve when you do it.
Tricia Gellman: Was there one thing, or maybe not, that you had to change in the mentality of your team to also embrace this? Because it seems like you bought in, and then you're also seeing success with the Harvard Business Review partnership. But if you were doing things differently before, I imagine the team kind of felt like, well, why do I have to change?
Scott Holden: I think the big learning from this is that you have to go slow to go fast or to go big. It takes a while to write the survey, to refine the survey. HBR has a whole website that they've done their marketing in, and all the coordination of bringing another third party into the mix, it's like, oh, I just want to go fast. I just want to get this out. Why do I have to do this? Do we really need them? They're just going to bungle our story anyway. There's some temptation around that. What I got from this, and what I think the whole team got from this, is that if you do this right, if you're committed to the macro plan and you slow down, that the outcome on the other side is going to be a lot bigger than if you didn't.
Tricia Gellman: I think that's a good lesson in general for marketers, which is as marketers I think your success is broader if you partner with sales, your success is broader if you partnered with the CS organization for customer success and adoption and cross- sell, upsell. And that's a good lesson that sometimes it takes a little bit longer to understand their goals, to understand how you can work together to get to a bigger goal. But when you do it, you tend to land a sort of bigger, stickier thing.
Scott Holden: Absolutely.
Tricia Gellman: Well, this has been a great conversation. We always end our sessions with the same question. And that question is what is the number one most important lesson that you think that you've learned in your career that you would want to share with the audience?
Scott Holden: This is a tough one. And I feel like the lessons change month to month, year to year. And so the most important one is tricky. I guess one that I've been mulling over a fair bit lately is the importance of getting buy- in. And as marketers, I think we like to think that we can go off and go into this great creative ideation session and build the campaign, whether it's got a third party or not, it's okay. And then launch into the universe and everybody's going to say it's amazing and flock to it. And I think in the early part of my career, I thought that I could just make something great and people would recognize it, and all would be hunky- dory. What I've come to realize more is that as marketers, we need to sell our ideas and to sell them early and to get buy- in from our executive team, from our sales team, from the analyst community, from customers, focus groups. I think there's maybe an impatience that comes early in your career where you may not be as willing to do that, or an insecurity where you don't want to put your ideas out into the world too soon. I think probably in terms of my own growth, that's something that I've had to wrestle with and be willing to share sooner, be willing to do the work of selling an idea before it's maybe fully baked and be confident enough that you'll get there and bring people along on your journey and make it their journey. That's probably every great idea your sales team wants to think they had a hand in it. Your executive team wants to be bought into it. And so that's probably something that the further I've gone in my career, the more important I've seen that be as a key to success for any new initiative you're kicking off.
Tricia Gellman: I think that's great advice. And I think you're right. A lot of times when people are more junior in the career or just like starting out, people don't have the confidence maybe to share their work. And also they maybe think they don't want the feedback. We just had a big conversation about that within Drift. And I think it's good. I mean, it's good to... You learn and grow, right, by putting your work out there, by collaborating. That always ends up at a minimum, you learn. And hopefully it's a positive growth experience and it's not something where you get shot down and then you're afraid after. crosstalk.
Scott Holden: Yeah. If you sell it, when it does come out, everybody has got their pompoms and they're cheering with you, as opposed to like," What is this new thing? I don't really like the orange color over there." People are can be critics. Whereas if you bring them along and then you launched it, we're all in this together. Everybody needs as many cheerleaders in their court as they can get.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I love having cheerleaders in the corner. So I was fortunate enough early on at Salesforce that you were one of my cheerleaders, so that was good. Well, this has been a great conversation about thought leadership and messaging, really this power of the crowd and having people in the corner. Great episode. I really happy to have had you here. And for the listeners, if you love this episode, please share it. Please give us comments in the comments in LinkedIn where we're promoting it, but you can always find CMO Conversations in any podcast platform. It was great to have you, Scott, and thank you listeners. We will come back to you with another episode in the coming weeks.
Scott Holden: Thank you.