Sangram Vajre, Chief Evangelist & Co-Founder of Terminus at the Flip My Funnel ABM Roadshow
If you’re going to create a category that solves someone’s pain, you have to actually feel that pain. That’s straight from a true category creator, Sangram Vajre. He quite literally wrote the book on an entire category called Account-Based Marketing, solving the pain sales teams and marketers face every day. As the co-founder and Chief Evangelist for Terminus, Sangram is on the front lines of category creation. We sat down to talk about this journey and how category creation has come down to putting the community interests before his company interests.
Dave Knox: Terminus is the leader in account based marketing and it’s a category that you quite literally wrote the book on back in 2016 and now you just wrote the second book on it. From the outside looking in, it appears you had a very intentional approach around category design when you launched Terminus. Was it that straightforward?
Sangram Vajre: I wish I could say we were so smart and we did everything by the book but we really didn’t. Honestly, it came out of a real pain. And I think that’s how categories in many ways form. The pain has to be felt very seriously because you truly then become the evangelist regardless of your title. You actually keep talking about the problem. And for us it really came down to the idea that we cared so much about the problem that we weren’t talking about our product first. And as crazy as that sounds, that really helped us create the momentum around Terminus. So for example, I wanted to launch with an event. That’s what I’d learned at Salesforce, that companies announce to the world that we have arrived. The problem was nobody wanted to sponsor a Terminus event. So I ended up buying a domain called FlipMyFunnel for $8 with the idea of challenging the status quo of marketing and sales.
I kid you not and the very next day I sent an email to all these same people who said no to me on sponsoring a Terminus event and they all said, “Oh yeah, why not?” And they all sponsored the first five events that we did around Flip My Funnel where we were going city to city, spreading the gospel of ABM to build the whole thing. We even put our competitors onstage because we realized that we can’t create a category on our own and build the momentum. We continued this for the next year and half across the country where we had no pitch whatsoever about Terminus. We were just a booth like everybody else, even though we spearheaded the whole idea. And that really created the first year of momentum in the idea as we pulled together customers, competitors, and media around this name. That’s when I realized what really drives a category.
Knox: After three years as the Chief Marketing Officer of Terminus, you switched to the title of Chief Evangelist. That’s still relatively rare title in the world of business. Is it that role mostly about building on the momentum you built around Flip My Funnel?
Vajre: That is a journey in itself. As a founder, you’re kind of are wearing multiple hats for the first two or three years. At one point I had marketing, sales, and customer success, all reporting to me and I was traveling non-stop. Talking about the pain we were solving with ABM drove me into a lot more activities than I ever imagined. It started to burn me out with the time away from my family. So I sat down with my co-founder to have a conversation on what is the best thing I can do to drive value for Terminus but still have some sanity in the process. It just became very apparent that I was the best person to be the spokesperson for the pain of the category and I double down on that. That led to doing a lot more Flip My Funnel partnership events, launching our daily Flip My Funnel podcast, creating a LinkedIn course and writing a second book on ABM. As Chief Evangelist, I view my job as creating future advocates for account-based marketing. The bigger the market, the more people are aware of it and embracing the strategy will only benefit our company. I still don’t talk about products. I talk about frameworks. I talk about customer stories that talk about strategies. And that pretty much is my role at Terminus. To create the future ambassadors and to advocate continuously about the world of ABM.
Knox: Related to that, one of the things that you’ve always championed is a saying that “without a community you’re simply a commodity.” How do you balance that community aspect with the need to continue to grow?
Vajre: It is a tough problem. One of the biggest challenges that I’m constantly faced with is straddling that balance. Externally it is probably the best thing we could have done. If I only spoke about Terminus, there’s no way people would actually ask me to come speak and even be a keynote at their event.
But internally, there’s a tension there. There are opportunities where people are saying, why am I not combining these two things? Why are we not addressing why we bought? Why don’t we just get access to entire Flip My Funnel email list that we’ve kept separate from day one. I tell our team that if the market is bigger, if there are more people involved in this thing and there’s more people in the community that are talking about ABM, then we should be supportive of. But it’s a constant struggle with no really clear answer. So we focus on what our customers expect of us. They say one of the best things we do is advocacy for ABM. They love the fact that we invest so much in the community to help them be better at marketing and sales. It makes them part of the community. I felt that Hubspot did the same thing in keeping inbound separate and their founders said it was their greatest strategic moat. Anybody that wanted to compete with HubSpot would have to build a 20,000 plus community that attends a yearly event like Inbound where they get to set the narrative for the marketplace. So that is what we hope to do. Imagine if we get to continue to set the narrative for the marketplace. Wouldn’t that be a better place than us sponsoring somebody else’s conference? And when you put it in that context, I feel like people get a good idea on why we should continue on that path. But not every day is rosy and shiny. There are internal challenges and we are constantly trying to learn as we grow.
Knox: In your role as Chief Evangelist, has their been an instance that really showed you the power of connecting with this community in the channels you just talked about?
Vajre: Jillian Gartner is one of our customers in her role as Director of ABM at Thomson Reuters. I asked her to join me on the Flip My Funnel podcast to talk Account Based Marketing at such a big company. In the middle of that conversation, she said, “Did you know that our win rate because of you guys is about 95% with expansion deals?” I’m like, “Hold on for a second. What?” Being a podcast, we talked about it, it’s all recorded, and there’s no legal approvals. While that was a start of a great case study on its own, it’s just a conversation starter. We had her come to her office and interviewed her at an all hands meetings to share her journey, story, and struggles around ABM. And then we took everything she shared at the all hands meeting and created a case study around it that was even incorporated into our new book, ABM Is B2B. I wrote a whole chapter on their story and Jillian was also a keynote speaker at the B2B Sales & Marketing Exchange in Boston. All of that came out of a single off-hand comment on the podcast. That podcast was a flywheel because of the authentic, real and raw conversation that the format allows.