Tag Archives: MARKETING

Roster cuts

It’s football season (Hallelujah! Go Pats!) and going into the season, every team just finished making the roster cuts necessary to get down to 53 men.

Hmmm…something about that sounds familiar…OH, right!

It’s VMworld and going into Tech Field Day, we just finished making the slide deck cuts necessary to get our presentation down to 53 minutes.

The morning before TFD, we killed a slide.  It wasn’t a bad slide, but there was discussion of how the deck was already long, the speaking slot short, and the slide perhaps a bit redundant. All told, the deck was 24 slides, and I think we created and didn’t use another 24 slides as we crafted and refined our story.

The presentation went great – Peter and Scott did an amazing job talking about our architecture and demonstrating the new features of version 2.0 of our product.  Check it out here.

But the last slide we killed stayed with me.  Not because it was the greatest slide, or the worst slide, but because I think it says something interesting that as the product marketer I didn’t capture compellingly enough to justify its remaining in the deck.

Here’s the original slide:








See?  It’s pretty interesting – it takes six important pieces of the datacenter and provides a factoid about each one.  After that, we focused in on why there is so much pressure on storage, since that is the problem our software solves.








After that, the story continues with a discussion how different vendors are solving the problem of pressure in storage, and how our solution is differentiated from them.  We ended up removing the first slide above and just starting the story with the second slide.

What I didn’t capture right in the deck is the interconnected-ness of these components.  I’m going to take storage out of it for a moment, because that’s the component whose change we want to analyze.  So, if you look at what is enabling Applications and Virtualization to change in these ways, it’s the changes in CPU, Memory, and Networking.  Conversely, the innovation in those areas is being driven by the Application and Virtualization growth.

Kind of like this. (And to get really technical about it, I’d say that 10GbE networking is even more impactful for cloud-based apps than it is for virtualization, we can keep the image simpler.)








Now we can look at what is driving all the pressure on storage.  CPU, Memory, and 10GbE are enabling applications to get faster (and scale out) and virtualization to consolidate more densely.  But the 10GbE network isn’t just enabling applications and virtualization, it’s also the pipe directly to the storage – so it’s a direct factor as well:








And one final touch on that slide – the major disruption in storage itself – flash technologies dropping in price – are causing pressure on storage.  Flash means more I/O able to be processed on the storage, IF the storage processor can handle the uptick in IOPS.  And flash needs special handling for things like garbage collection and wear leveling.  So that’s more pressure storage is putting “on itself.”








So that itself would have been a better first slide – and in fact may have negated the need for the second slide.

Stay tuned for another post early next week on what else is interesting about this slide that didn’t quite make the roster…err…deck.

How is a zebra different from a basketball hoop?

7233868808_75f70d0738_kThree months ago, I wrote about how quickly the storage industry was changing.  I commented on how the fundamental concepts you need to know to be in a conversation about storage are really different than they were just 3 or 5 years ago.

Last week I attended BriForum (great event focused on virtual desktop technology) and was reminded again of how quickly things change.  It came in the form of questions from prospects who came by our tradeshow booth.

Earlier in the year, the questions we got the most were:

“So what do you guys do?”

“Oh, so you’re like ABC?”

Except it’s like we’re selling zebras and ABC is basketball hoops.  Prospects had no sense of our part of the industry and a large part of our interaction with them was around education.

Now – just a few months later – it’s:

“What makes you different from XYZ?”

“Oh, so you’re like ABC?”

It’s a good sign for us, because now ABC is horses.  We’re selling zebras, and someone’s saying, “oh, I know what zebras are, they’re like horses, right?”  XYZ is cows.  We’re being asked how zebras are different from cows.

The technologies we’re being compared to are in our space.  This is good news.  

It means we’re in a maturing part of the industry, one that is sussing out who the players are, and what the right technical solutions are.  A part of the industry that is determining how we talk about value and what category our solutions fall into.  It means our customers are getting better educated before they find us.  A lot of things make Infinio different from our competitors and now that can be a larger part of our discussions with customers.

It’s been really interesting to actually see this happen; previously I had always sold and marketed technologies that were already part of existing industries.  It’s also been challenging to keep up with the marketing as the industry matures.  We have to quickly shift from “this is what server-side caching is” to “this is why our technology is better.”

I’m holding on for the ride.


Last week was an exercise in brainstorming.

Our biggest tradeshow of the year is coming up, and we didn’t have the right story yet.  So Alan, Carrie, and I met to come up with something.  Then we met again.  Then again.

vlcsnap-931788_jpg__853×480_And it was like that episode of the West Wing when the President is deciding whether to kill a known terrorist, and it’s in the situation room, and the joint chiefs of staff are presenting him with all the info, and they’re ready to take this guy out, and the president looks at them and says,

“You haven’t got it.”

And we didn’t have it.  So back to the brainstorming we went.  And eventually, we got it.  But it had me thinking about brainstorming all weekend.

A few months ago, I read an article that indicated that brainstorming in a group is not more effective than just thinking alone. I can’t find the exact article, but a cursory google led to hundreds of pages on “ground rules for brainstorming” “the myth of the brainstorming session” “sometimes it’s better to brainstorm alone” – in short, there are myriad articles on how brainstorming is not all it’s cracked up to be and how to make it more effective.

I’m an old-school brainstormer.  I believe in taking every idea that comes up and putting it up somewhere that everyone can see it.  I think seeing ideas helps generate more ideas.  And the whole point is to generate as many ideas as possible, then weed through them after.

I’ve always found that if you have enough ideas eventually you’ll hit a good one.  Sure, there’s a process of debate and valuation and examination, but getting the raw ideas is the most important part.

You know why this is hard?  And you know why I love doing it?  It’s for the same reason that asking dumb questions is hard.  And the same reason I love asking dumb questions.  You have to put aside your pride, put aside your well-honed ability to self-censor the random thoughts that pop into your head, put aside your carefully cultivated professionalism.

You have to say things out loud that may already sound terrible in your head.  You say things out loud that sound good in your head but terrible out loud.

But, eventually, you get it.

What do I do all day

There’s a hashtag I’ve seen a few times that looks like this: #whatsysadminsdo or #whatdbasdo.  If you’re not fluent in twitter, it’s basically “what <<job title>> do”. (Like #whatlawyersdo or #whatdoctorsdo.)

I think that many of you who read this blog have no idea #whatdoessheryldo.

Some of you in my industry are familiar with technical marketing; also I have gotten some notes on Facebook from people who work in different industries and appreciate this blog. But for every one of those is someone who sees me socially and says “Your blog makes me feel dumb.  I have no idea what you are talking about.”

My sister, drDiva, doesn’t get it either.  When I was a sales engineer, she could understand that I was the technical person who worked with the salesperson to explain the technology during a sale.  (Quite a distillation of SE-ing, but useful for the Thanksgiving table.)  But as a product marketer, I befuddle her. I explain what I do, and she understands the “launch” function (that is, creating documents and noise when we have a new product), but wonders how there enough work to do to keep me employed after launch.

(For the record, I have no idea what drDiva does.  I mean, she’s an anaesthesiologist so I know she administers drugs to put people under, but other than that, no idea.)

Last week was a great week – the kind of week you hope is what your job always feels like.  So, here’s a crack at #whatProductMarketersDo or at least #whatDoesSherylDo

  1. Presented a webcast with one of our founders, sharing the results from a recent lab test of our product.  Our product showed significant performance benefits with typical enterprise environments.  70 people attended.
  2. Met with the sales team to introduce a new framework for how we talk about performance and results.  This involves setting expectations with a customer before they evaluate what the entire spectrum of performance results looks like and where they might fall.
  3. Took the performance/results framework and began to update our evaluation guide to reflect this new model.
  4. Met with our VP of Sales to present the newest version of our “pitch” deck and competitive sales resources.
  5. Wrote a draft of a paper that discusses our product’s architectural advantages.
  6. Wrote my blog post for this week.  (I blog here and on Infinite I/O.)
  7. Participated in a call with an analyst firm who is working on a paper about us. Provided the basic pitch and joined in discussion on structuring the paper.

Whew – what a week!  Good thing it ended in a 3-day weekend.  I love my job these days but that is a lot of brain power.  And now you know #whatdoessheryldo.

Are we marketing a product or a solution?

Rubik's Cube Solution by Patricio Cuscito

One solution to a Rubik’s Cube

At work, we’re overhauling our website, and in a meeting someone asked, “do we call ourselves a product or a solution”?

“Solution – of course!”  part of me answered.  Solutions signify value!

“Really?” said the other part.  I’m not so sure we have a solution.  We have a product.  And it can solve problems.

When I was at Dell, I worked in a team called “Solutions Marketing.”  It’s kind of funny because at Dell there were dozens of teams with that moniker.

  • Some marketed solutions that were Dell products coupled with other vendors’ products.
  • Some marketed solutions that were Dell products angled towards a specific use case.
  • Some marketed solutions that were Dell products angled towards a specific vertical market.
  • Some were doing the technical marketing work in a lab to support these efforts.

It was trendy to be in “Solutions Marketing.”

We talked about what it meant to offer a customer a “solution” versus a “product.”  How it more directly addressed their needs and aligned better with their their requirements.  “People don’t buy products,” we’d say, “people buy solutions.”

Fast forward, and here I am at Infinio.  We have one (awesome) product.  It gets deployed in one way, where it’s either on or off.  It solves (hard) problems.  Are we marketing a product or a solution?

Does it matter?

Let’s look at some examples from my consumer life.

1. Keurig coffee maker.  I’d say this is a solution.  I have a problem – I like coffee and I hate to wash coffee pot parts.  The Keurig solved this for me.

2. Soft corners to babyproof furniture.  This purports to be a solution, but really it’s just a product.  And it doesn’t work too well – given the overhangs and shelves on our furniture, they keep falling off when we open something.  (Thankfully, babyDiva is made of steel.)

3. Donuts.  Every Friday, Alan brings in donuts for the team.  They’re fantastic.  They light up our day.  And they are definitely just a product.

IT people are sharp.  If they have a problem, they’re going to look for a solution, and whether we call it a solution or call it a product, they’ll find it.  It’s not 1999.  People have access to so many more online resources to research technology.  What we call it is probably not too relevant.

Sure, a “product” has more of the reputation of being something the customer has to do more work to implement.  But again, it’s 2014.  IT people are going to read up on what it takes to make something work no matter what we call it.  (And really, are donuts that much work?)

I think we can help people find us by showing them how we can work in their industry (financials), in their environment (e.g., with NFS), with their application (e.g., virtual desktops).

But I don’t know if that means we call it a solution.

Leaving on a jet plane

Two months in, and it’s time for my first business trip for Infinio.

Yesterday was a typical pre-business-trip day: running to Kinko’s, finishing emails, and squeezing cosmetics into 3 oz bottles.  Several calls to mrDiva as we figured out details for the week.  It reminded me of so many other trips I’ve taken and places I’ve been.

Except this time I’m traveling for Infinio.  Is this how baseball players feel?  They get traded from one team to another and then they are doing what they used to do but wearing a new uniform?  Except the big difference is that I chose Infinio because I respected the team and believed in the technology.  Not sure that is what’s happening at the trade deadline.

I am fortunate, because I’ve always been proud of working for my employer.  I loved traveling for Dell – I’d hope people would ask me who I was and why I was traveling so I could say I worked for Dell.  (Or I was in the Austin airport, where everyone worked for Dell.)

But it’s been a long time since I did a tradeshow.  My travel for Dell was either to individual customers, to present to small audiences as part of a roadshow, or part of Dell Storage Forum.

And tradeshows are different.  Customers are seeing all the major players in a part of the industry at once, so having a differentiated message is incredibly important.  It’s not just about the technology, by “why YOUR technology.”  It’s also the epitome of the elevator pitch – you have just a minute or two to get someone’s attention before they hurry off to the next booth.

It’s exhausting. 

But it’s also an amazing opportunity to talk to a large number of customers in a small amount of time.  It’s like a customer boot camp for marketers.  In marketing, we do this thing called “message testing” where we get a panel of customers to read or listen to our language around a product or feature, and we can see if it’s working.  We also do “A/B testing” where we show different groups of customers different versions of the same thing – say a website – and see which one is more resonant.

A tradeshow can be the biggest, fastest set of message testing and realtime A/B testing ever.

Of course, my top priority is to educate customers about Infinio.   After all, they are taking time out of their typical responsibilities to learn and we are a new brand in a new segment of the market.  In some ways, we’re exactly who a lot of customers are here to see.

Secondarily, I’m really interested in seeing how customers react to our message, whether the things we think are differentiated are really differentiated, whether the language we’re using is working.  Finally, lucky me, we’re at the stage of the company where executives are still booth staff.  So I’m also really interested in listening to how they talk about the product and the company.

I’ll write a post-mortem at the end of the week.




The myth of the greenfield opportunity

Attribution: walknboston/FLICKRIt’s baseball season here in Boston – home of the WORLD CHAMPION RED SOX – and Fenway couldn’t look more beautiful. The lights shine, the uniforms are crisp, and the field is a bright, grassy green.

A green field.

Greenfield – also what we in sales and marketing call a completely fresh opportunity – in contrast to “Brownfield” which is an opportunity in an existing environment.

For example – say a customer is deploying a new CRM application into their environment; that is a greenfield opportunity.  If a customer has a CRM application that needs an upgrade, that is a brownfield opportunity.

Wikipedia: “In many disciplines a greenfield is a project that lacks any constraints imposed by prior work. The analogy is to that of construction on greenfield land where there is no need to work within the constrains of existing buildings or infrastructure.”

But in reality, do greenfield IT infrastructure opportunities really exist?

Probably not.

First off, each person involved in the project brings with them constraints from prior work:

  • “I had a bad experience with Vendor X and I’ll never deploy anything mission-critical on them again”
  • “I took a three-week training course on Product Y so we should use them.”
  • “My brother-in-law works for Vendor Z so we should have them in.”

More importantly, as organizations are being tasked with “doing more with less” it’s very rare that any project is going to be deployed on completely new hardware.  More likely, IT departments are being asked:

  • “Don’t you have a VMware farm you can just add this application to?”
  • “Can’t you support a few more users on the existing infrastructure?”
  • “What can we do with some of that hardware you have lying around?”
  • “We already have an investment in Product A and Product B, can’t we use that for this?”
  • “Should we be looking at the cloud for this?”

And pilots and POCs, formerly the opportunity that IT had to try out new hardware to evaluate their applicability to a new project, are often shafted when it comes to hardware.  “It’s just a POC, you can use anything for that” and “Let’s pilot it on the old hardware, we can figure out what we’re really going to use once we deploy for real.”

In short, rare is the IT organization who is building a new datacenter from scratch, deploying a new application on brand new hardware, or unencumbered with legacy investments.

How should this change our sales and marketing?

First, we should always talk to customers about what they currently have and what their plans are to continue using it.  This is not to say that if we have a disruptive technology that we shouldn’t introduce it to displace an incumbent – of course we should.  But knowing the lay of the land with respect to incumbency is necessary to become an extension of the customer’s team.

Next, we should be introducing solutions that enhance a customer’s existing investment.  (Easy for me to say, I work at Infinio, where our solution enables customers to get more performance from their existing storage systems.)  Again, disruption isn’t bad, it’s what make the world move forward.  But it’s not always a revolution, we’ve turned into pretty intelligent beings based on evolution.

Finally, we need to put some meat behind the “do more with less” marketing slogans.  “Do more with less” can’t mean “Buy into my expensive product/architecture and your applications will run better.”  We need to provide proof points and examples of other customers who have leveraged solutions to actually spend less money or get more out of existing infrastructure.

Are you headed inbound or outbound?

I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 15 years, and it took me a while to understand the subtleties behind the subway.  Quincy Market is not in Quincy.  The Silver Line is not a subway.  I *love* public transportation and as such, I’ve ridden the subway in many cities, both in the US and abroad.  None of them are organized the way Boston’s is organized.

In Boston, you don’t take the subway North or South, you either go “Inbound” or “Outbound”, that is, you are either going towards the city center or away from it.  So in the morning, I get on at Park Street and go “Outbound” to Alewife.  At night I get on at Kendall and go “Inbound” to Park Street.

The weird thing about this is that if you are at any terminus, you go “Inbound”.  Both the trains going North and the ones going South are going “Inbound” until they hit the center, then they are both going “Outbound.”

It’s weird.

I bring all of this up, because “Inbound” and “Outbound” are also marketing terms that can be equally confusing, depending on what direction you are facing.

Classically, outbound marketing is what you think of when you think of marketing – sending messages, documents, advertisement OUT to the market.  Inbound marketing was the function that communicated from product management back into engineering; inbound marketers wrote things like marketing requirement documents. They faced IN towards the product developers.

But marketing has changed a lot in the past decade – fueled mostly by the Internet.  We all know this, but to net it out: customers are significantly more educated than they used to be.  In fact, they’re 57% of the way through the buying cycle by the time they reach out to us for information.

So some would say that the traditional outbound marketing is dead.  While rumors of its death may have been exaggerated, there is a new trend emerging – “inbound marketing.”  This inbound marketing isn’t the inbound marketing that communicates with engineering, it’s called inbound marketing because it’s purpose is to generate inbound interest in a product or company.

The idea behind inbound marketing is that today’s customers are educated, Internet-savvy researchers.  (When’s the last time you bought something for more than $50 without reading a review?)  So the types of information customers are looking for is different, the location of that information is not just on one’s website, and the other channels that customers look to for information need to be fed from marketing as well.

Outbound model

Inbound model

Type of information

Product specs, benefits, compatibility guides, technical documentation, whitepaper

Where is the product positioned in the industry?

How are my peers using it?

What’s the user experience like?

Location of information

Vendor website, magazine review, reseller channel

Third party sites, Twitter, blogs, online magazines, user communities

If customers are nearly 60% through their buying process by the time they come to our site, then we need to ensure that when they go to Twitter, or read a third-party review, or participate in a user community, that they are hearing (good things!) about us.  This is what marketing is about today – interacting with influencers, partnering with communities, providing resources for self-education about ourselves.

I think all of this is really good for customers.  It puts a lot more pressure on us to release a good product, if there is a large community component to successful marketing.

And, I don’t think outbound marketing is dead.  We still need solution briefs and whitepapers and tools that help customers understand the packaging, pricing, ROI, and purchasing options around the product.  In fact, content is central to the new inbound marketing model.  There’s just a new additional layer that ensures that the content speaks to the audience the right way and is in the right places for customers to find it.

Oh, and as for the old definition of “inbound marketing” – I have no idea what people call that now.  Maybe it’s just considered part of Product Management.

If you are not from Boston – take yourself for a ride on the subway – the “T” – next time you are here – just don’t go to Jamaica Plain without an extra nickel.

A girl walks into a coffee shop

A girl walks into a coffee shop.  “I’ll have a medium latte.”bla bla bla

“We don’t have medium, we only have large or small.”

A girl walks into a coffee shop.  “I’ll have a medium latte.”

“We don’t have medium, we only have one size.”

A girl walks into a coffee place.  “I’ll have a medium latte.”

“We don’t have medium.”

I learn the most from our customers.  Second to that, I learn a lot from being a customer.  And in the past two weeks, my local coffee places have enabled a lot of learning.

What irked me about the three situations above isn’t that they didn’t have the size I wanted.  What irked me was that they didn’t try to help me solve the problem.

See, it’s 8:15 and I’ve already solved a lot of problems myself.  I got myself up, dressed, and ready for work, then I got a toddler up, dressed, and ready for daycare.  I got the toddler into a stroller, the dog walked alongside the toddler, the dog dropped off back at home, the toddler dropped off at daycare, and then myself on the bus to the train to my stop.  First world problem solving to be sure – but problem solving nonetheless.

And I am at the coffee place because I want someone else to solve my coffee problem.

Frankly, I order a medium because it’s easy.  It’s 12 oz in some places, 16 oz in others.  I just say “medium,” so I don’t have to think about it.

And here’s what I’d like to have happen:

A girl walks into a coffee shop. “I’ll have a medium latte.”

“Here are our two sizes, which one would you like?
“Here is our latte cup, will this work for you?
“How’s this size cup?”

Help me solve the problem.

I think that’s what our customers want too.  I think they want us to help them solve their problem.

Just like I want the cashier to think about what brought me into the store, I think our customers want us to think about their entire data center and business priorities, not just the part that relates to us.

Just like I want the cashier to quickly hone in on what it most important to me (COFFEE!), I think our customers want us to quickly hone in on their biggest challenges and how we can address them.

Just like I want the cashier to offer me options to make it easy to get my problem solved quickly, I think our customers want us to offer them options too.

And I think most of our customers also occasionally want a cup of coffee.


Please stop calling what I do “marketing fluff”

Last week for the umpteenth (umphundredth?) time, someone referred to marketing’s contribution to a particular effort at work with a hand wave and snickering reference to “marketing stuff.”  

Plain Old Fluff In my last job, I’d regularly proofread and edit technical folks’ papers, which they asked me to do and really needed.  They’d be totally thankful for my work and in the next breath they’d ask if I could beef up their intro with my “marketing fluff.”

Also in my last job, I had responsibility for managing the resources and experience for customers visiting our facility.  My opening hour-long presentation on corporate strategy and history was regularly referred to as “the marketing stuff.”

I know the people I work with respect me, don’t think of me as “filler” so why the derision?

Now I have a dirty little secret – I’m offended when other people do this, but I’m just as bad.  I will often mumble the marketing part of my job title.  “I do PRODUCT marketing,” I’ll say.  I’ll say, “I’m the technical part of the marketing team” or “I’m barely allowed to stay in marketing, I’m so technical.”

I don’t really know where this comes from.  I’m not ashamed of my job – in fact I’m proud that I’ve gotten here.  But marketing carries with it a lack of gravitas, a reputation for being lightweight, a part of a company that college students who didn’t know what else to major in end up.  I got news for you – it’s none of those things.

Here are some of the problems I’ve been working on since I started at Infinio three weeks ago:

  • Who will our customers be and how will we find them?
  • If we put a lot of engineering resources into a new feature, does the market exist to justify the decision?
  • What’s the right balance of talking about the benefits of our product vs talking about the technology?
  • What are our competitors doing, how are they talking about it, and how do we differentiate our product?
  • Is the vertical market we’ve chosen to focus on the right one?  How do we know?
  • What resources do our salespeople need to successfully articulate the value of the product to close deals?  (Oh, and we’re a startup – so that list you made? Great, now go make the resources.)
  • What resources do other parts of marketing need to successfully attract new customers? (See above)
  • What is the one-sentence, 50-word, and 100-word summary of our company?

(And if you think that last one is easy, try it.  Then show it to 100 people and see what they think.  Then go back to your previous non-gravitas, lightweight job and thank your lucky stars that messaging isn’t your job.)

This stuff is hard.  It’s the part of the company that decides how we are going to talk to the public about what we do.  It can be really technical if you are the person ensuring that the messaging is technically accurate (blended latency vs. average latency vs. latency – which one of these can we say).  It’s a part of the company that has to be really close to customers (imagine writing a case study without knowing a customer really well).

Also, a lot of it is very analytical. We look at models of the market, the programs we are running, the cost of new leads, the close rate of deals, just about anything you can imagine measuring is measured in marketing.  Fun Fact: my teammates use Excel more than they use PowerPoint.

Sure, marketing is also where pithy advertisement sayings come from and it’s where the people are who decide what the giveaway is at tradeshows.  But the former is really, really hard.  And the latter is a tactical decision made in the context of lots of strategic decisions before it.

So enough with the “fluff” and “stuff” when you refer to marketing.  I promise to do the same.

I’m in product MARKETING.