Tanium has made a significant splash within security and systems management since launching in 2012, having since been named in Fortune’s top 25 most important private companies. Just rewards for the company often dubbed ‘Google, for your IT data’, which has claimed customers that include eight of the world’s top ten banks, Nasdaq, Amazon, and the US Department of Defence.
As part of Hot Topics’ series focused on the world’s leading practitioners of B2B marketing, we sat down with the company’s CMO, Jennifer Johnson, and Senior Director of Global Field Marketing, Tony Larks, to discuss the evolving role of the CMO and the role of B2B marketing in relation to other areas of the organization.
HT: What are the main challenges that you face in B2B marketing today?
Jennifer Johnson (JJ): The challenge for us, from an enterprise perspective, is that B2B marketing has different challenges than B2C marketing. Tanium is doing something so different from everybody else, and as such we have to spend a lot of time educating the market on what we’re doing. We span across multiple markets, so people naturally want to put us in a box. Analysts wants to put us in one box, while customers might want to put us in another, dependent on how they budget projects. The trouble is, we don’t fit neatly into a box.
People we speak to call us ‘the Swiss Army Knife’. It’s a good analogy, because we do a lot of things, but how do we distill our message down to something that people can make sense of, but not do it in a way that de-positions us, and ultimately does us a disservice? ‘How do we tell our whole story, without confusing the heck out of everybody?’ is the biggest challenge that I have.
Tony Larks (TL): That challenge is amplified, because we’re trying to deal with the biggest 2,000 companies in the world. Our proposition is around speed and scale. The bigger the network, the bigger the organization. The more complex it is, the better we operate. Because we’re so transformative, we’re trying to sell to someone who has built a career around a tool set, an experience set, the team around them, but we’re completely going to disrupt their way of thinking. That’s the challenge; how do we break through [that mentality]?
HT: It sounds like you’re trying to define a new category. Presumably that, therefore, makes B2B marketing more difficult?
JJ: It does. Category design is something that we actually talked about at our recent management offsite. We’re at a point where we’ve started going into the security market because that’s where the market dragged us. It was a good thing to do, for a lot of reasons. Now there is an amazing curve within security. I recently read a book called ‘Play Bigger’ on category design. I used to work with the two authors [Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson] and they show category design in a very clear way. They overlaid it with companies that have gone public and where the most value post-IPO is captured. What they found was that when you’re in the early category definition phase, the curve goes steadily upwards, meaning more vendors in the market. Then you hit this inflection point, where you start to get into the development of the category.
At that point, the number of vendors starts to decline and the dominant players start to emerge. That’s where that sweet spot is, where most of the value is captured. The companies that have gone public and have had amazing post-IPO evaluations are those that dominated a category, like a Facebook. We’re almost at the top of that first definition phase. We’re almost at the top of that curve, where there’s a lot of vendors in our spaces. We haven’t yet hit that point of, “What is that category we’re going to go and dominate?” I think we’re still trying to figure it out, but we’re almost there.
Category definition is not solely a marketing problem though. Everyone thinks the category is the CMO’s job, but the category is the company. It brings together your company, your product, and your market. It’s got to be the CEO’s job, and B2B marketing is a piece of it. I think that CMOs are put in a very unfair situation, a lot of times, because CEOs expect them to be category designers. They expect them to be demand generation gurus. They expect them to have domain knowledge, and to be able to sit with engineering too. You’re never going to find one person that has all of those things. People call it the unicorn CMO. They don’t exist.
HT: You sell to Fortune 1,000 companies which is clearly very competitive to get the attention of the CIO. How does your strategy distinguish yourself from the competition?
JJ: I think of the B2B marketing world as split into ‘air cover’ and ‘ground work’. Air cover is PR, winning the media war and getting our story out there. When I came in there was no marketing. I was the first marketer in the company, but we did have a PR agency already in place. So I just let them get the air cover going, while I focused on building the machine. The ground war is about building the pipeline, and getting a funnel going. With effective air cover you distinguish yourself, and get the buzz going. Then of course, the challenge is how do you cut above the noise? How do you talk through the fact that you’re doing things differently?
A big part of our platform story is you actually don’t need to invest over time, in a 100 different point solutions. [With Tanium] you can just have a single platform that allows you to do all these things. That’s a big cultural shift that you’re asking people to do. In some cases, it’s like a religious association to the tools they’ve been using for the last 20 years, and people often don’t want to get rid of them. I don’t think our problem is differentiation of the message, I think it’s actually getting people to move off of the status quo.
TL: I think part of it is finding who the transformational CIO or CISOs are, depending on the market or the sector. Who’s the one that everybody else looks to in this sector? I can’t go into specifics, but in one territory we are close to one particular CIO who is effectively driving a transformational agenda across that whole business.
Literally, every other company in that territory is looking to what he’s doing. We recently held a briefing with another company in the same field and referenced that this CIO was our first customer. Their response was along the lines of, “Wow. Okay, then we need to check this out.” It’s about finding those individuals through our ground war, and once we convert them trying to bring some of these leaders in to talk for us.
HT: Have you found that some sectors tend to be slower to adopt new tech than others?
JJ: That’s true. Financial services is really quick. But retail, not so much which is not surprising. Some of our biggest customers are retail, and a lot of them come after they’ve been breached. It’s a reactive thing; they’ve been breached, they get a new CISO in to fix things, and they build us in as part of their new arsenal. Retail has actually become a laggard industry. They have so many legacy systems, that no one wants to go in there and rip anything out, because they’re just afraid to touch anything. No CISO, politically, wants to deal with that. I’m probably putting words in the industry’s mouth a little bit on this one, but it’s almost like they’d rather get breached. Then they’ll have to do it as ripping a band-aid off after they’ve been breached, rather than to rip everything out. Which sounds very counter-intuitive, but it’s how it is.
Then, you look at healthcare. Also, another highly-regulated, data-sensitive industry, but often they have a single security operation center. Their security team is essentially one person. We’re dealing with banks that have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, and millions and millions of dollars to put towards this transformation. Then, you have hospitals that have one person in all of their IT. We’re trying to sell to all of them.
HT: A theme we continually hear about is B2B marketing becoming more lead-generation focused in recent times. How do you ensure a harmonious relationship between sales and marketing at Tanium?
JJ: You have to be able to ‘say no without saying no’. That is what the sales relationship is about. You’re not their admin. I say support sales, but you’re not their support staff. You’re their partner.
TL: I’ve got two rules. One; if a salesperson wants something, always say ‘no’ the first time. Then, try and find out what the root cause of the problem is. What are they trying to achieve? The other one is if somebody’s trying to sell you something, that’s also going to be a ‘no’. If it was part of my plan, I would’ve gone out to research it, and I would’ve found it. Sometimes, one in ten maybe, there’s something you’ve missed. Once you get to the root cause of your own salesperson, what they’re trying to achieve, usually there’s a program we’ve got that we can align them to that they just weren’t aware of. That relationship is all about good communication.
I wouldn’t approach a salesperson and tell them how to sell, or how to close. It’s not my skill. If I could close, I wouldn’t be in marketing. I ask the salespeople to do the same thing for us; respect that we are doing what we do, and that we’ll work on what they’re trying to achieve. We’ll do the right things for them.
JJ: This is not a knock on enterprise marketers at all, because there are a lot of very, very smart people in B2B marketing out there. Tony mentioned it earlier; it’s a natural personality tendency of a lot of people in marketing to be a people-pleaser. To be the cheerleader. It can be a double-edged sword, because those who are the closest friends of sales are very nice people, but they’re usually also the people that just say yes to everything, too. That’s where you get a lot of bad decisions being made, and bad B2B marketing.
It’s been a fairly painful process to get here, but we’re finally at a point with the sales team where they understand. They may not always like it, but they do understand why we’re saying ‘no’. We never say ‘no’, and don’t replace it with something. It’s always, “This isn’t the right thing, but let’s do this instead.” That’s the key.
HT: How do you try to understand where a CISO, or a CIO, exists online?
TL: That’s the big challenge. Again, a lot of people will say, “We don’t see you advertize on Google.” We notice it’s really hard on Google to cut through. One initiative we’re working on at the moment is an intent based platform that looks at where people are consuming data and what media sites they are going to, and then being in their watering hole, essentially. It’s really clever technology that enables us to be very, very targeted in that approach.