By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.
We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg. Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise. Recent Guests: Jim Keenan; Joanne Black; Aaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.
We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
We were honored this last time to talk to Jeremy Korst. He’s a mentor and the Executive VP and CMO at Avalara. Establishing an effective and actionable brand strategy is no easy task. It takes a dedicated team of strategic and creative experts who have a strong sense of customer empathy. It requires outside-in thinking, so it’s often quite valuable to bring in some external expertise to help facilitate the process. Now, while the strategy takes a tremendous effort to get right, the company-wide implementation and execution is even more important. Some of what they’ll be covering includes:
- Creating a new category. How do you get prospects to be interested in doing something a new way.
- The importance of brand. How a brand strategy is much more than branding. More at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-experiences-brand-jeremy-korst/
About our guest, Jeremy Korst:
Jeremy Korst is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Avalara, a quickly growing Seattle-based SaaS company focused on transactional tax compliance for businesses of all sizes. Before Avalara, Jeremy was general manager of Microsoft’s Windows & Devices marketing group, responsible for the worldwide marketing and sales of Windows, and the highly successful launch of Windows 10. He also serves as a mentor to the University of Washington’s entrepreneurship program. Jeremy has served on various industry boards, as well as past Chair of the Seattle Accelerator YMCA Board of Managers.
Listen in or read our conversation below:
Matt: Thank you very much for finding us, thank you for subscribing. We are available on Google Play, iTunes store, Stitcher and everywhere that Vine podcasts are available. Of course, every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio, every past, present, future episode available on demand download at salespipelineradio.com.
Each week we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is no different. I am super excited. This guy’s crazy busy, doing some amazing stuff and really, really excited to have with us today the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Avalara, Jeremy Korst. Jeremy, thanks so much for joining us today on Sales Pipeline Radio.
Jeremy Korst: Hey Matt, my pleasure.
Matt: So many things we could talk about here. I think, you’ve got an amazing background, spend a ton of time at Microsoft, a lot of time at T-Mobile. Talk a little bit about transitioning from enterprise software and the mobile industry to sales tax software. Talk about your background and how that led you to Avalara.
Jeremy Korst: Yeah, interesting. I have been, yeah, as you can see, most of my career in a big company, often in entrepreneurial roles in the company, I guess intrapreneur, I’d say, and so I’ve had the opportunity to start and grow and restart some businesses in some of those companies. I ultimately worked on one of the largest restarts, which was the Windows business at Microsoft when we completely rethought brand Windows and the product Windows after the launch of Windows 8 to launch what is now Windows 10, so it was pretty fun!
Learned a ton through that but, frankly, always had this yearning to do something even more entrepreneurial and looking for a company that’s on this next phase of growth and trying to take some of my big company skills and apply them in a way that really helps grow a smaller company. For me, although, Avalara’s a very substantial company, a 20,000 plus companies are using us already, a global company with a global presence, for me, it was much smaller. It really is exactly what I was looking for, is getting to take some of the skills I have and learn all kinds of new ones daily here and really feeling like having the hands on the wheel every day and that sense of accountability. It’s been great. Having a lot of fun.
The other thing is that I’ve had about half my career in consumer marketing and product management and the other in B2B product management marketing. Avalara is one of these brands that has all the realness of a B2B solution with a real ROI. For those who know the brand, and hopefully many will over the coming years, it’s got this consumeresque energy in it, so to me, it’s really the best in terms of environment and beginning to be a CMO of a brand like this just the best of both worlds.
Matt: Yeah, I love it. It is a very unique brand, Avalara, founded up here in the Seattle Area, has been founded on Bainbridge Island, across Elliot Bay from downtown Seattle. Now has a large presence downtown Seattle, as well.
What are some of the lessons that you learned in brand management across sales and technology you’ve been able to apply to Avalara today? How has brand management in software and technology changed since you started doing this to where you are today and where Avalara is today?
Jeremy Korst: Yeah, it’s interesting. I sometimes call myself the accidental CMO. I actually started life in finance. Then I ended up in product management, and then general management. It just so happened that those functions in the company I was in, whether it was at T-Mobile or Microsoft, was in the marketing department. I learned a lot of my marketing on the job, frankly. What I learned, one of the key learnings I have is that so many people, particularly outside of marketing but sometimes even within the function, confuse branding with brand.
What I’ve learned over time is brand is really, when used effectively, when built with an outside in approach, looking at the customer feedback, competitive dynamics, looking at the internal company assets and capabilities. All of those strategic things that one would look at is that brand is really the essence of strategy. What is that North Star, the aspiration the company has to deliver value and benefit to whichever set of customers they’re targeting.
I’ve taught that through experience, that just how powerful brand can be, as a tool that’s used across the entire organization. Particularly, in some of my roles like at T-Mobile, and particularly at Windows, is how can that brand aspiration be used starting with the end in mind, before a piece of code is even written. What is the aspiration and experience and that brand perception we want to deliver to that end customer so they know to choose our brand versus another. That just goes throughout the entire organization.
Here at Avalara, we’re refreshing our brand, actually not our branding, our logo’s staying exactly the same, but rather, our new brand position of tax compliance done right we’re actually activating across the entire organization, such that finance knows, “Hey, I better be able to build somewhat accurately and on time, or else what does that mean about the perception that someone may have about our brand delivering an accurate, timely solution as a replaced to tax compliant?”
So in sum, this notion of brand versus branding and just how every function in the organization is critical in delivering that experience to the customers, so that they understand what the company is about and can make the right choice, when it comes to finding a solution.
Matt: I love the distinction you’re making between brand and branding, super helpful. We’re talking to Jeremy Korst who’s the Chief Marketing Officer for Avalara here today on Sales Pipeline Radio.
Curious your reaction to where a lot of startups focus their marketing today. I don’t see as many startups really focused on brand or branding. A lot of B2B marketers and B2B marketing leaders tend to orient themselves towards lead regeneration, sales pipeline contribution, or even just there’s plenty of people that’ll say, “Well, brand marketing traditional marketing’s dead, it’s all about growth hacking now.”
I don’t know that it’s an either or. I don’t know those things are mutually exclusive, but how do you think about the balance between brand/branding and then driving direct sales and revenue performance in the organization?
Jeremy Korst: I think it all has to be related. When I left Microsoft and started on my pursuit of saying, “Hey, what’s next?” I intentionally took some time off and spent quite a bit of time with some West Coast companies, tech companies, in particular of various sizes, as well as venture capital community.
What became clear to me was that a lot of our brethren tech companies start up with this really interesting, unique, often niche technology solution. In some cases, it almost sells itself, just being a niche and being the type of value it drives. As those companies grow, marketers join the company and really it is about, “Hey, how do I just feed that demand engine, make sure that I have an effective way of driving somebody from interest to lead to close deal, whether that’s virtually some type of premium model online, or whether it’s even more traditional B2B inside sales type organization?”
What I found in talking with a lot of those companies, some of which I’m the advisor to or on the board now, is that a company often comes to this growth challenge, and it may be, “Hey, I need to expand into a new channel, maybe I need to add a new product, or perhaps a competitor has entered the space that I now have this challenge.” It often may have not attracted the type of marketing capabilities in the organization that can really step back and address those challenges in a strategic manner.
Segmentation, targeting, positioning. All these frameworks that are really powerful tools in some of the larger brand companies have developed over time. What we find is that with some of these simple models and lessons learned over the years, we can apply those brand strategies to those problems to at least get some clarity about, “Okay, what are the growth opportunities?” Then, “How can I use my brand strategy to then drive that unique position in the marketplace and add a new customer target or add a new channel?”
In brand today, it’s no longer the … I think, Matt, you and I missed out on the two martini lunches and the mad men on Madison Avenue. You can’t spend enough in traditional advertising to truly reposition a bad product. When I think about brand and that unique position in the market and the hearts and minds of customers, it’s how do we build the product to deliver on that promise? How do we ensure that when sales interacts with that first customer experience or via the website that we’re building on that brand perception, such that it can then fuel the growth that the company is looking to do. I don’t see it as inseparable, it’s all part of the same strategy.
Matt: I would agree with you. Just quick before we take a break here in a of couple minutes. I wanted to ask you, you’ve been at Avalera now for almost a year. What are some surprises or opportunities that you maybe didn’t expect when you came in that you’ve recognized that are sort of getting you excited about the years ahead?
Jeremy Korst: Yeah, we’re just getting started. The company has been around for a while, we’re on a really good growth trajectory right now with some of the advents of global commerce and eCommerce, more and more customers are becoming aware of the challenges they have with trying to comply with ever-changing and complicated transactional tax compliance, which is what we do to support companies. We have a cloud-based solution that automates that for them.
One of our biggest challenges is really category awareness. It’s this sales and use tax has been around for in some cases thousands of years, all the way back to Egyptian and Venetian times. Getting somebody to be able to wake up and become aware that they may have a problem that they should seek a solution to address.
Even in other parts of my career, it’s been more around hey we’re in a competitive, existing category, how do I position my thing, or my widget, better than somebody else’s widget, with a different price, position, however I was going to do that. Just this notion now of, okay, how do we actually build a category? How do we challenge the status quo, such that people become interested in solving a problem, and thereby seeking a solution and then doing all the things that traditional marketers do to take that from interest down to choice?
Matt: I love it. We’re gonna have to take a quick break here, pay some bills. We’ll be back in a couple of seconds with more with Jeremy Korst. He’s the CMO at Avalara. We’re gonna talk a little more about his prioritization of mentorship, a little bit of team building. We’re also gonna find out how a Pacific Northwest born and bred guy ends up such a racing fan, auto racing fan. We’ll get there when we get back. Thanks for listening. Sales Pipeline Radio.
Matt: We’re joined today by the CMO of Avalara, Jeremy Korst. Jeremy, I noticed in your Twitter bio that you list a number of interests. It’s a long list of interests and a very diverse list of interests, but you start with NASCAR, NHRA, the National Hot Rod Association, and Formula One. A big question is, how does a Seattle guy, how does a Pacific Northwest guy get this into racing?
Jeremy Korst: Yeah, good question, Matt. That all started back, really, well at Microsoft. I grew up in a small town, and I remember watching Days of Thunder back in the day when it came out, but I never really had that much involvement or interest until I got to Microsoft and I got to be the executive sponsor for a technology partnership with NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports, which is the leading team at NASCAR, historically. I tell you what, I was able to go back, watch a race and was just hooked.
To see a combination of the technology and testosterone all put together and just the team work that it takes and the human element of that sport. It’s one of those things, frankly, it’s really tough to see on TV, but being able now to have lots of friends in that motor sport, as well as several others now and be able to get some [inaudible 00:14:40] behind the scenes look into the sport has just been … just so cool for me. I still spend a lot of time, my wife may say too much time, but still learning and getting involved in those.
Matt: It’s interesting. I think racing is definitely one of those sports that if you don’t really know much about it, you think, “Okay, it’s just a bunch of left hand turns, but my dad’s been a big NASCAR fan forever and he’s gone to a bunch of races and he takes his headset and he listens to the chatter amongst the drivers and their pit crew. It’s just fascinating how much strategy’s involved, how much thinking, I mean it is very much a chess match.
All right, well let’s get a little bit back to our discussion on sales and marketing. When you look at your resume and when folks check you out on LinkedIn, one thing you notice very quickly is just how involved you are in the community and how much time you spend helping other people. You’re a mentor to companies, you spend time at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. Clearly, very generous with your time and ideas. What drives that for you? Why has mentorship been such an important part of your professional picture?
Jeremy Korst: Yeah. I think that probably goes back just to the early parts of my career and life, and just realizing how important it has been that someone took time to talk to me, or to lend me a hand, or to connect me with somebody else. There is definitely the aspect of giving back, but there’s also just the aspect of just how fun it is to be able to interact with a bunch of smart people who are doing great things. Whether it’s in business or whether it’s in philanthropy.
I feel like my life has become just so much more interesting and fulfilled by just being involved with all those interesting people. Also, just applying my brain to the challenges of other situations. It’s kind of fun to use your thinking cap in an entirely different forum.
There’s a variety of things. I definitely enjoy it and anybody who’s not already actively giving of themselves and helping out and getting involved, whether it’s at school, the community, or with another organization trying to get started, I can guarantee you’re going to get more out of it than you give, so I really encourage it.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. I would imagine that your passion and mentorship also applies internally, as well. Avalara’s been on a hiring spree in Seattle for quite a while, especially over the last year as you guys build out brand new buildings and more space in Seattle, in addition to where you found it in Bainbridge Island.
What are some of your team building best practices? You’ve been in there for a year, you’ve gotten a sense for what the culture is, you clearly have been doing a lot of hiring to grow out your team. What are some of the keys you found to building out the right culture within marketing to support your objectives?
Jeremy Korst: Yeah, great question. I have been so lucky throughout my career to work with and be part of some amazing teams. I’ve had the opportunity to try things, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from others. It really is a constant progression. I don’t know if there’s ever a time where you get to the pinnacle of team leadership, or team dynamics, it’s a constant growth objective.
Some of the things I learn and try to apply is that, one, you hear this a lot but it is true, hire people better than you and let them do their job. I often talk with my leadership team and I call them, hey, we’re the Board of Directors for marketing and whether it’s at Windows, or whether it’s here now at Avalara. I really like when I have somebody who’s functionally competent, and expert in their own area. I have the confidence that they’re doing great things and the right things in their area. Then also is be able to have the context of the organization overall, so that we come together as a team, we can sit there and try to problem solve, create vision, strategy and drive the team dynamic as this unified group. I like it has this functional depth, but has the broader context and the expectation of, “Hey when we’re together as a leadership team, we’re all in this together.”
I think, another thing I try to do and I always appreciate it in my career is, of course, pushing people, people like to be pushed. But being able to stand behind that and get the confidence to know that hey, if something does break, when times do get tough that you’ve got somebody here that’s going to be working with you to problem solve, turn this around and learn from it. Take those big swings, take some risk as we need it, but know that we’re all in this together.
Then the last thing I think is just a big vision. The people that we work with, of course, in particularly in technology I would say, have these big hairy goals, so just setting out that vision. For Avalara, it’s enabling every transaction in the world. Our founder who’s been at this for years, gets up every morning with an immense amount of passion that flows throughout the organization with that singular aspiration. Putting that out and then talking about, “Hey, here are the steps it’s going to take and recognizing the milestones, those winds as we go in that direction.” It really mobilizes the team to perform.
Matt: Yeah, I like the way that you describe setting up the team and having that balance between giving people the room to try new things, to fail, to step outside their comfort zone. Pushing them to do that, but also making it clear that you expect them to do that and you make it acceptable to occasionally fail and stumble and learn from that.
How does that apply to when you’re looking for new employees, or when you’re looking for junior candidates? I know we had a lot of people listening to Sales Pipeline right here at the early stages of their career in B2B sales and marketing look at a position like yours and say, “Some day down the road I’d like to get there, as well.”
What are some of the values, what are some of the skillsets, what are some of the attributes that you look for when you’re hiring people early in their career and you recommend people hone as their own skillset, as well?
Jeremy Korst: Yeah, I would have given a longer winded answer, until I had the opportunity to hear a talk by Angela Duckworth from University of Pennsylvania last year. She sums it up as grit. There’s all kinds of aspects behind that, but where have people faced adversity in their life and been able to overcome that through persistence, through learning from failure. Whether somebody straight out of college, I’m on the board of my undergraduate and graduate universities, both, so I get a chance to interact with some of our top applicants. Even at an early stage like that, really trying to identify how people have been able to overcome adversity in whatever form and prevailed or learned from that.
Then that, of course, when you’re talking whether it’s a junior candidate out of college, same type of thing. College, of course, presents all kinds of challenges, whether social, academic or others. But then, of course, when you get into more mature career professionals later in life, be able to take tangible examples of how they’ve had to lead a business, or lead teams through times of adversity and challenge and they’ve been able to prevail and learn.
Matt: Love it. Last question for you that we ask of most of our guests. If there was a Mount Rushmore of sales and marketing. Speaking of learning, speaking of people you’ve learned from, thinking back in your career thus far. The people that are mentors for you, the people that you’ve learned from, whether you knew them personally or whether you spend time reading them their content, or watching them. You mentioned Angela. Who else would be on that Mount Rushmore of sales and marketing for you?
Jeremy Korst: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s probably Raju. Professor Raju’s now Vice Dean at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. When I was getting my MBA, as I mentioned earlier, marketing was not on my list. He had to put up with me, and some of my ideas in my introductory marketing strategy class. The way that he taught really inspired me and I learned a lot. Now, I have the absolute pleasure of serving on a board that he is the chairman of back at the school. I get to be able to interact with him on a regular basis and still learning a lot as we go.
Matt: That’s awesome. Well, I want to thank our guest today, CMO of Avalara, Jeremy Korst. If you liked this conversation today, we have covered a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. If you want to go listen to this again, share this with some of your peers or colleagues, you can definitely find that on demand at salespipelineradio.com here in just a couple of days. We will also put a highlight post featuring some of Jeremy’s top answers and comments up on heinzmarketing.com, as well.
Thanks very much, everyone for joining us. We are here every Thursday 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern, always available on podcast format on Google Play and iTunes Store.
Coming up next couple of weeks, next week we will be hosting Sales Pipeline Radio live from Dreamforce. It’ll be me and about 130,000 of our good friends in the software and service world. Coming up over the next few weeks we’ve got a bunch of great guests, including Guy Weismantle He is the VP of marketing at Marchex.
We talk an awful lot about online and digital marketing here, but we’re going to talk about the offline blind spot for marketing and marketers in an omni channel world. Until then, from my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks very much for listening. Sales Pipeline Radio.