“I really believe that the best marketing strategy is to have a high-quality product that adds value. We have that — my job is to make sure that when clients come to us, that we provide them with clear information delineating the value of the solutions we can offer.”
Insightive.tv: Can we begin with how you view the role of CMO? What do you see as your primary responsibilities?
Doug: My real job is taking our vision to the market. The Executive Team, myself included, work together to create that vision. But it is my job to actually implement and innovate the means of attracting the customers that we decide to target. To do this I have to enable our sales and support teams, listen to their feedback and provide them with what they need to effectively communicate the capabilities of our technology and organisation. I also have a real function in internal communications. One of my main focuses, when I took this position, was to truly integrate the sales and marketing teams into a single business unit. I have worked at organisations where these teams were separate and even had a tense relationship. Taking on feedback and making sure we work as a single group is something I see as fundamental to my role.
Insightive.tv: What are the biggest challenges you face when attempting to reach your target audience?
Doug: For the last few years we were essentially in start-up mode, and part of that meant that start-ups were our main client focus. With these clients, the point of contact was often the CTO or even CEO. This is a challenge because these people are very busy and multifaceted in their responsibilities. But those relationships move very quickly once established. Now, the challenge has been the move towards larger enterprise customers and adjusting to the lengthy processes that must be followed to secure those contracts. We have to first get the technology team onboard. But then they often have to go away and convince their boss and procurement teams. It is our responsibility to provide information that suits the perspectives of these different positions and adjust to a contracting process that takes three or six months to be finalised.
Overall, however, we are not in an industry that thrives on traditional old-school marketing. There is a bit of guerrilla marketing involved. You have to be on message, but you also have to be there adding value. The types of people we are selling to are very smart, clever, and capable. You can’t just have a bit of snake-oil. If you aren’t adding value, the market is very quick to call you out on that.
Insightive.tv: Do you seek out targets — what is the process by which you undertake that task?
Doug: We obviously have dream clients — the big technology firms — and we are always thinking about future contracts. We essentially have a list of companies that we would like to do business with, and I think most of those firms know they are on that list. But a lot of our sales are inbound. This is helpful in two ways — we are immediately able to identify the person we should be speaking with at the company and are able to use that information to better inform our other outreach efforts. We look at who finds us — which organisations and which people — and use that information to build a picture of the market as a whole.
If you look at the applications and solutions out there in the marketplace, there are really about five specific use cases for the type of technology we build. One can see quite quickly whether or not a customer should be using our type of tech. But, fundamentally, there aren’t too many large tech companies that don’t have a use case for Apache Cassandra or Spark. In some ways, the World is our oyster, but we do need to make sure we are having the right conversations with the right people.
Insightive.tv: When looking to have these conversations, how much competition is there for the attention of relevant individuals — how do you cut through the noise and differentiate yourselves?
Doug: For many years, we were the only ones doing this. So, there has been an increase in competition. But, this was expected. Honestly, if it hadn’t happened, it would be an indication that we had invested in the wrong technology. However, we are in a good position because of the significant operational experience we acquired before these competitors arrived. These technological solutions are complex and hard to operate. We have worked very hard over the last few years to solve these technical complexities for customers, and that is why they come to us.
I really believe that the best marketing strategy is to have a high-quality product that adds value. We have that — my job is to make sure that when clients come to us, that we provide them with clear information delineating the value of the solutions we can offer. In the early days, we had some very marketeering type documents and white papers in circulation. This is something we have moved away from and towards deep technical articles. The type of clients we want to attract appreciate that value, and this is something that we understand because of our constant evaluation of the market. I think our focus on quality, value, and transparency are what differentiate us in our market.
Insightive.tv: What percentage of your sales are direct sales, as opposed to either a partner channel or network?
Doug: Almost everything, right now, is direct. This is actually another challenge and transition for us. We are working to get better at dealing with AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud. To be honest, most of our concentration, up until the last six months, has been on developing our capability, rather than outbound sales and marketing efforts. Becoming more active and engaged in those kinds of programs is a priority for us moving forward. Throughout the history of our company, most sales have come from inbound offers — people Google searching us and finding us that way. Much of our marketing focus has been on providing searchable content that highlights our capabilities to people looking for solutions. But things are rapidly changing. Obtaining a more diverse distribution and sales mix has been a priority for me in this role.
Insightive.tv: Can you describe an example of a recent successful sales strategy or campaign?
Doug: A recent change for us has been a transition to offering consultancy services. We found, among prospective clients, a consistent demand for this service — companies wanted to experience what they were getting before they would commit. This is something we resisted because we always felt our expertise was best focused on our solutions. But, about four months ago, we decided we would start offering consulting for different customers on a strategic basis. Part of this was an online campaign that focused on our consulting services, but the big change was offering this service. This has resulted in a rapid onboarding process to those enterprise customers. However, this is really just an extension of our long-term marketing strategy of demonstrating value. There is no gimmick in how we approach our clients. It all revolves around added value.
Doug Stuart was an original investor in the company and CEO during the Instaclustr’s foundational year. He stepped down when Instaclustr made the strategic decision of re-headquartering in Redwood City, California. Having overseen the foundational procurement of funding, Doug took up the role of CMO to spearhead the company’s transition to actively market their now developed products. With decades of experience in technical roles, operations and consultancy, Doug is a jack-of-all-trades who brings a holistic focus to marketing. We spoke with Doug to gain insight into how he cuts through the noise and comes to terms with marketing in the era of digital saturation.
Instaclustr designs, deploys, and manages infrastructure solutions for data management. Utilising Apache Cassandra and Apache Spark, along with related technologies, they build solutions capable of immense scalability. Founded in 2013, they have expanded out of Australia to become a truly global company with offices on four Continents. Now headquartered in Silicon Valley, they retain a strong connection to the engineering talent of Australian Universities.