Amrita is the Director of Demand Marketing at Canadian SaaS company Vision Critical. With the sensibility of an entrepreneur and a passion for making a difference, Amrita is a true marketing technologist and a heavy-weight in the software marketing space. She has been with Vision Critical for nearly 3 years where she is focused on leading and managing sustainable growth.
A self proclaimed T-shaped marketer, Amrita is a curious person and taco lover. She has also recently produced a feature length film. We sat down with Amrita for a conversation on all things marketing and startups.
Tell us about what you do at Vision Critical
I run what we call demand marketing at Vision Critical, which is sort of like classical, traditional demand generation but it is also about figuring out ways in which we can actually go to market in certain new vertical or new emerging markets.
For example, we might say that there is an interesting play in the automotive space, do we want to do something here? I am usually the first line of attack and based on what we find, we decide to either go ahead or move in another direction.
Tell us more about Vision Critical
Vision Critical is a Canadian B2B SaaS company based out of Vancouver. We have a big office in Toronto, a bunch of offices throughout the U.S. and other parts of the globe. We allow big brands like Coca-Colas of the world get closer to their customers by helping them figure out what their customers are thinking, what they are feeling and where their head is at.
You could be a big brand and have tons of transactional data, lots of big data and social media analytics but you may not know why people think the way they do and why they feel the way they do. Vision Critical’s value proposition is that we allow for brands to get the context that they are missing.
We invented this technology over 10 years ago and it has sort of become the go to insight product in the market, especially for big brands and we have seen success there. We are starting to go a little bit downstream and starting to sell to companies that traditionally would not have access to something like this – companies that are perhaps in the 100 – 500 million dollar revenue range who are now starting to realize the value of something like this.
What was your path to marketing and where you are today?
My story is not that dissimilar from other tech marketers – a lot of us have ended up in marketing by chance.
I went to school for computer science and never thought I would ever be in marketing. I used to think that marketing was advertising and never really saw it for what it was back then. Once I started to have a bit of exposure to it, I realized how much of a role technology plays in marketing.
If I think about all of the technology that Vision Critical has purchased over the years, the marketing department here is one of the biggest purchasers of technology in general. And that seems to be the case across the board. When I realized that, earlier on in my career, I figured that this is the place to be and this is where I can make my mark.
Also, I over the course of past 5 years, there has been such a huge amount of innovation in the marketing space even just in ad tech alone, there are maybe 300 odd companies that have come up in the last 5 years that it is a marketer’s dream. We can literally solve any problem, we just need to have the time, patience and budget to figure it out.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
It is two fold.
At least at Vision Critical, but hopefully wherever I have gone, we have been able to build a very solid, talented, full stack team. I really value the full stack team part of it. You can hire specialists all you want and you will always find people who are really good at specific things but the real talent is connecting all of that.
If you ask anyone in Toronto, we have a super solid team – every single person gets poached every single day. We have cultivated a very strong culture that nobody really wants to leave and that has been super important to me.
Apart from having a great team, seeing the variety of problems that we can solve is extremely rewarding. We just had our annual customer summit that we do every year in Chicago and there were the likes of Elizabeth Arden, ESPN, Discovery and more in attendance! The diversity of our customers is so incredible and they all have their own interesting, unique challenges that they have solved using our product. Stuff that we didn’t even know they could solve using our products had been done by these companies!
How do you define success in your role?
This is fairly easy. A lot of what we do is results based and there are specific KPIs. I kind of see myself and my whole team as being responsible for moving the needle. If we don’t actually move the needle on pipeline and revenue then we are not successful.
It doesn’t matter how much PR we have, how much buzz we have created in the market, how much content we have put out or how many leads we have got, if we can’t actually move the needle on pipeline and revenue.
Fortunately, we have been able to do that and for me that’s success. If we are actually able to sign up for a crazy goal, deliver on that goal, which is actually tangible and we are in no way, shape or form a cost centre then marketing has done it’s job.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
The challenge has always been kind of the same, it’s been building alignment in different parts of the organization.
I find that alignment is sort of that dirty word that no one really talks about. You can have a strategy, an amazing team, structure, process, product e.t.c in place but if you don’t have alignment across the board, stuff starts to slip through the cracks.
You often hear about sales and marketing alignment but it shouldn’t just be that; everything – sales, marketing, customer success and all the other market facing functions need to be super aligned, on the same page. I like to use the analogy of a relay race where you have to pass the baton. An organization is just like that, you are passing the baton, and if you are not in alignment, you might have reached your individual goal but if the guy who is supposed to take the baton from you is not there, you might still fail overall.
No single person in a company is solely in charge of alignment. You can argue that it is the executive team’s job but I find that it can be challenging to implement it. You have to be a broken record and be relentless in pushing for it. If companies can solve this problem, they can achieve success much more quickly.
How has the definition of marketing transformed in recent years?
I guess it depends on who you ask. In recent years, depending on the market that you are in, marketing’s job often tends to be more of an acquisition role. Most marketers tend to be really good at acquisition – top of the funnel lead gen – and that is almost what is expected of them. This behaviour is further cultivated by Facebooks of the world where marketers are generating user interest.
What I find in the B2B side is that when you are trying to sell to an enterprise, it is really easy to get to that first acquisition but it is almost hard to do the rest of it really well. That is where a lot of our tech innovation and process innovation needs to come from. Some companies and people have cracked it. They know what works for their company and market extremely well but it is definitely not a well taught, well defined kind of area.
If you do a general google search on marketing best practices or anything like that, you’ll see that a lot of the articles are concentrated on top of the funnel and there is hardly anything for middle – how do you actually convert these people into a sale and close that sale? How do you boost the value of the deal or the win rate? There is very little material about that and I find that slowly there has been a bit of a resurgence around that but it is still kind of lagging.
Overall, in the last 5 years it has all been about acquisition and I think, hopefully, the next 5 years are going to be more full funnel and full stack.
How do you stay up to date with trends in marketing?
I read a lot. I consume tons of content on a daily basis but I feel like I am generally pretty self taught.
I also tend to ask a lot of open questions when I meet fellow marketers and I don’t assume that I know the answers.
What are your best sources for reading about marketing?
Quora – I love Quora! There is a daily digest that you can subscribe to and they also cater that digest to you based on what you subscribe to and topic areas you have contributed to.
Growth Hackers Website – They have done a great job and I love their website. They have tackled a lot of stuff ranging from how you raise awareness to how to optimize your website.
I read a lot of stuff from fellow marketers that I know in Toronto and from the Valley. I find that even though we talk about similar concepts, the way that people think about those things is very different and I am just generally curious about that.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have ever received?
“It is all about the product, people and process.”
I don’t know who gave this advice to me but they were talking about how to scale companies, specifically startups and they said, “There are only really 3 things and they can be summarized simply by saying it is all about the product, people and process.”
A lot of people think that process is a bad word but it is not. They explained to me that these three things live almost as a connected circle and they are all equally important. To scale any type of team, company or community, you need product, people and process.
What are your top 3 applications and tools?
Marketo – For every demand gen person, marketing automation is a staple and I love Marketo for that
Optimizely – Amazing for A/B testing
Kissmetrics – Allows you to perform cohort analysis
Best Time Saving Skill
I guard my time very carefully. At a high level, it is really just about knowing what to say no to and being relentless about it.
On a day to day basis, for my personal time, I don’t think about it in terms of time slots but rather in terms of energy. Sometimes you don’t have the mental capacity or energy at that particular point in time and other times you can work for 18 hours straight and be on a roll.
I do a lot of my best thinking and work late at night and that time is really precious for me. That is not necessarily time management but knowing your vibe and energy and optimizing on that can do wonders for productivity.
What does your team look like and how has it evolved?
Our marketing team is fairly sizeable, overall we are about 20 people and we have 3 main teams. My team specifically deals with demand generation, we touch all channels, all digital assets and work really closely with the content production team.
A lot of the stuff on what content is working, what’s not working, what sorts of events to plan to move it along, comes from our team as well. The way that we are structured is very simple, we have somebody who looks at automation and operations, someone who looks at conversion rate optimization – where is the traffic coming from, what does it mean, how can we optimize all of our landing pages – someone who helps with analytics, KPI reporting and program analytics and a person who deals with inbound leads and gets them to understand what Vision Critical is and what we do fairly quickly before passing them on to sales.
What are some of the things you look for when you hire someone for your team?
There are a lot of people trying to get into marketing but people’s notion of what marketing is and can do is always different. The way I hire is that I let people know that they don’t need to know everything, they don’t need to have deep expertise in everything to be applying to a marketing automation job. What I really care about is how people think, what is their cognitive ability and critical thinking skills. Can they ask the right questions and do they know where to dig?
You can’t really do that in a traditional interview, so I often give all the candidates the same assignment and bring them in to present that to the team and to elaborate on how they would solve that problem. It is interesting to see how people walk you through it, some do a whiteboard session and others present with slides – all of that is indicative of how people think. It is a good chance for us to jump in and ask them questions as well.
Trait #1: critical thinking. If they can think critically that can solve almost all of your problems.
Trait #2: are they someone who works really well on an individual basis or do they sit well in that team dynamic. Because not every role fits into one or the other.
How do you define the value of a product and how do you deliver or communicate that value?
It really depends on the kind of market that you are going in to.
The 3 categories are;
- Solving a well known problem – you have an exciting, new and sexy way of solving the problem.
- It is a known-ish problem but it is solved in a different way.
- There is no market and people are not even aware that they have a problem.
The best way to define the value is to be super clear about what problem you are solving and based on which category you fall into, the first 10 seconds of your pitch have to define that problem clearly.
Secondly, is this a problem worth solving and is it worth solving now. The timeliness of the solution is almost as important as is it worth solving or not.
Often people don’t necessarily care about directly solving a problem, they want to know what they will get out of it if they solve the problem and the emotional benefits of it. If you can communicate that, then you have a winner.
How do you suggest that others find their way through the field of marketing?
Figure out what you are passionate about and map that onto an established area of marketing. Talk to relevant people, don’t talk about social media marketing with someone who deals with SEO, they will be able to give you friendly advice but probably not something you can use specifically.