#HowIBuy – Joe Chernov, VP Marketing at InsightSquared

By Steve Woods in #HowIBuy

Originally published on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-i-buy-joe-chernov-vp-marketing-insightsquared-steve-woods/

Last week’s article on “How I Buy” drove a phenomenal response from salespeople, marketers, and executives who enjoyed reading the perspective of a buyer in today’s environment. We talked about it a bit at Nudge and decided that it would make sense to make a small content series out of the idea.

For the first of the “How I Buy” series, I’m thrilled to chat with Joe Chernov, Vice President of Marketing at InsightSquared. Joe is eternally on the cutting edge of marketing thinking and leadership, and one of the most thoughtful and strategic marketing leaders out there. His viewpoint on how he and his team learn about, evaluate, and decide to purchase any new services or technology is valuable for anyone selling to modern leaders and especially valuable for anyone selling into the marketing space.

Here’s Joe on how he buys:

Tell us a bit about your company – what do you provide to the market? 

Joe: I lead the marketing team at InsightSquared. In the simplest terms, we provide all of the reporting and analytics you’d like to get out of Salesforce, but, for whatever reason, can’t. In startup parlance, we’re ‘growth stage’ — 135 people, post-product/market fit, focused on blending growth with efficiency.

What is your role and what kind of things do you spend money on throughout a year?

Joe: As the marketing leader, I spend my programs budget in a few ways. In no particular order, let’s call the first “lead gen” vendors — CPC and CPL networks to help keep the top of our funnel full. Then there are events. Because of the incredible cost and cost-of-distraction, we have a go-big-or-don’t-go mindset when it comes to events. We sponsor Dreamforce (no brainer because we sell to the Salesforce installed base), SaaStr (because we’re particularly steeped in the tech vertical) and host our own event, Ramp by InsightSquared. Next is service providers. I have a strong team, so we don’t outsource very much. But we do use some outside writers, designers, and specialists, like SEO or event planning consultants. Direct mail is another bucket. We run an account-based strategy, which, for us anyway, includes quite a bit of premium direct mail. Lastly, there’s technology. After we stuffed ourselves in 2016, we’ve spent 2017 trying to shed a few pounds.

How do you find out about what’s “out there”? How do you discover the latest solutions and approaches that might have a chance of making your world better?

Joe: I find out what’s “out there” for marketing purchases similar to the way I find out what’s happening in the news — my job is to curate a trusted network, and then I either discover something serendipitously through them or I ask them how they solve a particular problem. I find Slack to be incredibly interruptive for intra-organizational messaging, but invaluable for inter-organizational questions, like those on vendors or service providers. I’d include my team as core to this “trusted network.” At the margins, discoveries occasionally from walking tradeshow floors and, believe it or not, prospecting emails forwarded to me from my CEO. He must read and process much more quickly than I do because he manages to read a generous number of BDR emails, messages I reflexively archive.

What role do you play in the decision process? What role do your front-line leaders play in the decision process?

Joe: We bought way too much software in 2016, so I’ve had to rethink my job, at least as it relates to purchases, from “fight management on behalf of the team” to “be a counterweight.” For example, when we’re evaluating a vendor or solution, I try to challenge the champion on timing (“Why can’t we do this manually for a little bit longer?”) and push for an internal business case (“How will we know it worked, or it didn’t work?”). I’ll also pressure test the solution and compare pricing by asking my trusted network. If we get to the point of negotiation, I’ll serve as “bad cop” in the discussions.

How do you prioritize what initiatives are “now” and what are “later”?

Joe: This is such a crucial question. Sometimes “when” matters more than “what” or even “if.” Our approach is to prototype internally in organizational processes or spreadsheets then automate, accelerate or expand with a tool once we’ve reached the point that we’re leaving value on the table because we lack technology.

How do you evaluate competing solutions? What types of evaluation approaches do you actually leverage in your evaluation?

Joe: I’ve never read a case study, nor have I ever called a vendor-supplied reference. Videos are helpful if I’m trying to get a basic sense of the tool, but once we’ve engaged with sales, we’re long past the point of utility with video. I’ve become insistent on trials. Only by using a product in your own environment can you surface some of the sales reps omissions — it’s the classic, “you don’t know what you don’t know” issue.

We’re talking to a vendor right now, and I have some doubts about the efficacy of the technology. But I do know that my team spends a lot of time recreating manually what this vendor can automate. So there is a use case for us, but I want to make sure it works — and I refuse to accept the vendor’s internal case studies as proof. I’ve insisted on a paid trial. But they won’t budge, which is exacerbating my doubts. I won’t buy without the trial. As far as evaluating versus competing solutions, I ask my CMO Slack groups for alternative options — sometimes because I want to see what else is out there, other times because it provides pricing leverage.

What is different about buying today than buying a decade ago?

Joe: Because so much more data is available and because each new product you add affects the other solutions in your stack, finance’s expectations have justifiably skyrocketed. We don’t make a purchase of any size without a comprehensive business case that details what we tried to do manually, when / why we hit diminishing returns, what other solutions we evaluated, what “unintended consequences” the purchase may have on our tech stack, how and when we plan to measure, what other stakeholders have signed off, and how we landed on the price.

Where do salespeople play a role in your overall buying process? What is the most valuable thing a salesperson can do in selling to you?

Joe: The danger for salespeople today is that they get relegated to contract jockeys. But reps can still add value by investing the time in understanding what we are trying to achieve with the product, suggesting use cases, and aiding in the business plan by sharing how successful customers have measured impact. They can also be our internal advocate. For example, I talked about the company that refused to do a paid trial. That rep never took our request “upstairs.” He just said, “We don’t do that.” If he’s not our advocate pre-sale, then there’s no chance he’ll go to bat for us post-sale.

What is the biggest mismatch between what you need and how salespeople try to sell to you?

Joe: Figuratively, they dump their entire product feature set on my desk and ask me to tell them what’s most important to me. In other words, they never take the time to understand what I’m trying to solve, and then apply their expertise to convey how their solution can help me achieve that objective. Instead, they talk about features.

How do you leverage your network in understanding the landscape or individual vendor offerings?

Joe: My network is my most precious asset. I trust their opinion more so than any review site or analyst firm, though review sites and analyst firms are helpful in rounding out an internal business case. I ask questions in my various CMO-type Slack groups and private message marketers that I admire. We’re a tight group. If you sell to us, you should think hard about customer marketing. Because the backchannel is noisy!

 

Thanks, Joe for some great insights on your thinking as a buyer!

 

 

Steve Woods
CTO and Co-Founder