Interview with Anthony Kennada, Chief Marketing Officer, Gainsight

Anthony Kennada

“Too many sales and marketing organizations are focused on building a sales process that is disconnected from how prospects like to buy.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What made you join Gainsight?

I started my career as a high tech recruiter in 2008, placing software engineers with exciting startups in Silicon Valley. As it turned out, 2008 was not a good economic climate for hiring anyone. Our boutique agency folded after six months or so and I was out looking for a new job. I emailed my hiring manager at a small file sharing startup in Palo Alto called asking if they have any openings on their sales floor. He connected me with Box’s head of sales, I interviewed on a Friday, got an offer, and drove back up to the Bay Area to start work on Monday as the 37th employee of Box.

At Box, I fell in love with startup culture. I eventually left to join Nick Mehta (now the CEO at Gainsight) at our previous company called LiveOffice in a Business Development capacity. We sold LiveOffice to Symantec, and after a short stint at the security giant, Nick called to tell me about the company that would become Gainsight and asked if I would join him. Nick is the type of leader I would follow blindly into the dark, and fortunately for me, the opportunity would develop into building a category-defining company in Gainsight.

What makes the current Customer Success market so exciting?

What makes the Customer Success market so exciting is that for the first time in the modern economy, a company’s financial success is inextricably linked to the success their customers achieve through their products and services. Why? The subscription business model has shifted power away from vendors, and towards the customer. With more options than ever, customers now have more choice to stay or go based on the value they’re realizing (or not) with any one vendor.

Today more than ever before, brand truly matters in B2B. Companies need to care about the individuals behind the logos they are selling to, or risk going out of business. Gainsight and the broader Customer Success industry are at the heart of this transition and are helping companies operate on a more human first basis, unlocking sustainable growth in the subscription economy.

As compared to B2C, how does a CMO’s role differ in the B2B tech industry?

Funny, I always say that I’m a B2C marketer trapped in a B2B body.

Historically the roles were quite different — those of us in B2B marketing were maniacally focused on scaling logo acquisition via automation while our friends in B2C were building brands that deeply resonated with the market at large. The practice of demand generation gave CMOs a more strategic role in B2B companies, connecting us closer to revenue and giving us a seat at the executive table. However, any program that had the potential to interfere with growth — especially brand or corporate marketing — would be deprioritized or cut from the budget.

What we are realizing now, perhaps as a result of the power shift I referred to earlier, is that CMOs from B2B and B2C companies are not that different after all. Brand is not a distraction from B2B growth, but rather, a multiplier. Our job as CMOs, whether B2B or B2C, is to build a brand that delivers value to customers, prospects, partners, and the marke at large, and to monetize that brand by selling products and services into that community.

At the end of the day, it turns out that the people behind the logos we are selling to in B2B are in fact, people. It’s time the CMO community sees them as such.

How do you prepare for the challenges and opportunities in the SaaS and cloud ecosystems?

It’s getting harder to answer the inverse of this question as SaaS/cloud has become inevitable and, in many industries, the way work gets done. What this tells us is that customers have a ton of choice — if you’ve seen any of the latest graphics depicting market maps for just marketing tools, you’ll know what I mean. In a world of so much choice, our job as marketers is to build a brand that is so much bigger than just the products we ship. We need to get prescriptive with our customers and give them a blueprint for outcome realization. Doubling down on thought leadership initiatives like content marketing, community and events can help build that competitive moat as products race to commoditization.

What is Customer 360-Degree for you? How does Gainsight deliver these insights to customers?

Customer 360 is a single, holistic window into the entire health context of the customer. Holistic means any data signals that can be leveraged as an early or lagging indicator of customer health needs to be pulled in. How are they using your product? How did they fill out our latest survey? Are they paying their bills on time? Are they logging support tickets? All of these components must be compiled into a single, easy to understand interface that gives companies the confidence to make better business decisions.

At the heart of the Gainsight platform is a Customer 360 product that solves this elusive challenge on behalf of our customers. Our unique point-of-view is that a read-only view into Customer 360 is an incomplete solution — Customer Success teams need the capability to take action on the data and insights presented. That’s what Gainsight enables you to do through powerful workflow capabilities that empower your entire company to rally around the customer.

What goes into creating a frictionless experience for tech buyers through automation and data analytics?

The ideal end state for a frictionless experience is a sales process that mirrors the buyer’s journey. Too many sales and marketing organizations are focused on building a sales process that is disconnected from how prospects like to buy. A thorough understanding of who your personas are, what their emotional drivers consist of, and the stages they walk throughout the buyer’s journey are great starting points.

Automation and analytics are critical strategies to then operationalize the buyer’s journey, identify which personas are represented by each contact, and interpret the signals of when an individual contact is moving from one stage to the next. It’s important to then trigger the workflow to ensure SDRs or AEs are following up within the appropriate time frame.

In Customer Success, we believe that automation and analytics have a place after the initial sale is completed. Renewals and upsell/cross-sell motions can be triggered within Gainsight (or other CSM tools) when buyers exhibit certain patterns, and the workflow within the platform can help teams take action.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

I think the folks at Drift are doing some very interesting things in terms of leaning heavily into branding to build and monetize the Conversational Marketing category. Terminus is another example who has done a particularly good job using communities and conferences to get Account Based Marketing into the mainstream. There are also a few companies that I’m connected to who are reinventing some of the traditional systems and workflow that many of us have taken for granted. An example is Ironclad who is helping redefine Contract Management for in house counsel/legal operations teams.

What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

At Gainsight we use Salesforce, Marketo, Salesloft, Zapier, LeanData, Brightedge, Bizzabo, and LeadIQ.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

Gainsight invests a ton of time and resources into scaling our annual industry conference for the Customer Success profession called Pulse. Over the last six years, we’ve grown the event from 300 to 5000 attendees and have spun out programs in Europe and Australia. The conference is a massive value driver for Gainsight, but very difficult to scale.

We came up with an idea called PulseCheck several years ago which served as a digital follow up to the annual conference. The concept was that conferences are stellar for content, but with the breadth of sessions to cover, it’s increasingly difficult to go deep on any one topic. PulseCheck would serve as a digital workshop for Customer Success professionals, where we go deep into the top seven best rated sessions from the conference.

Over the years we were able to get more efficient with the production of PulseCheck, which is streamed live to our global audience. This year we registered 3600 attendees (+47% YoY) at a zero dollar net investment for the company. While our audience from a brand point of view was anyone interested in learning about advanced Customer Success best practice, our Go-To-Market teams were interested in getting prospects and customers to tune in.

We measure success in many different ways — number of registrants, prospect mix, viewership, NPS, etc. — but the GTM team was interested in how many sales qualified meetings we were able to drive as a result of the program. The answer — a lot.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?

We need to remember that the future of enterprise software is not this dystopian Blade Runner-esque world where the machines have taken over. I’m a big believer that the future is human, and AI will play a key role in empowering human productivity and creativity unlike never before. From a product point of view, this means taking a lot of the friction points out of the day-to-day work effort that knowledge workers face today and unlocking more time for proactivity with our customers.

To prepare, marketers should double down on differentiated strategies that no machine can ever displace, such as content and community campaigns that serve customers and empower them to be great.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Cautiously. In martech especially, there are an abundance of shiny objects that all claim to help grow revenue. I would rather we double down on the tools that we are working with today, leaning on those vendors to help us become better marketers. With that being said, if the team has a desire to evaluate something new, it’s important to stay up to speed with any innovation that can help us get better.

One word that best describes how you work.

Human-First. Does a hyphen make that one word?

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

I’m pretty sure Slack has become oxygen at this point for distributed teams.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

I’m an email filer (vs. searcher). I try to get to inbox zero every day/week by filing things as needed to keep only the messages that require my attention and response in front of me.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin. It’s amazing how much of startups is about mentality. I tend to get excited about books and buy them on Amazon, have them sit on my desk, then download on Audible to actually consume them on my commute to/from work.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

On career planning: always be thinking two jobs ahead.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I think I tend to think about really big ideas — the difference (8 of 10 times) is that we actually figure out how to make those dreams become realities. The secret is building a culture of imagineering on the team, where there’s an expectation on the team of thinking big, but also finding a way to make it happen.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Dan Rogers from ServiceNow.

Thank you, Anthony! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Anthony Kennada is the CMO of Gainsight, #1 Leader in Customer Success, where he manages the company’s global marketing strategy, from demand generation to brand marketing. Anthony spent the last five years creating a new market category in Customer Success by focusing on community building, content marketing, and live events that both build the brand and fuel it’s incredible growth. He is credited with creating the “Pulse” community of Customer Success leaders. Today, over 11,000 executives attend our Pulse conferences and the 50+ chapters of PulseLocal communities across the globe. Prior to Gainsight, Anthony worked at Box, LiveOffice, and Symantec.

Gainsight LogoGainsight™ is a venture-backed, fast growing tech company revolutionizing Customer Success for businesses. The Customer Success company helps businesses grow faster by reducing churn, increasing upsell, and driving customer advocacy. Gainsight provides a complete, end-to-end Customer Success solution through its services and technology. The industry-leading platform helps companies manage customers relationships effectively, track customer health and transform the way organizations orient around the customer. Gainsight is the platform of choice for many leading companies like Box, Adobe and Workday.

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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