Gregg Johnson
Oct 25, 2017 · 4 min read

(Originally Published in Inc.)

Throughout my career, recruiting has been one of my favorite parts of a leadership role. I enjoy meeting new people, learning about their backgrounds, and hearing about what they want to accomplish — and then seeing how that fits into where we as a company are going, and trying to find a great match. We’re hiring in a number of different roles at Invoca — from product marketing and enterprise sales to software development — and I am generally the last interview in the recruiting process. As I’ve told several candidates, when you “get to me” the purpose of the discussion is not about ensuring you are the right fit for Invoca, but rather being confident that Invoca is the right fit for you.

And that got me thinking about what is unique about the career opportunity at Invoca and other startup companies like us. I often talk to my old colleagues from Salesforce, and they ask about the biggest differences between my time there and my experience at a startup. The two worlds are pretty far apart, but more of that is due to the nature and stage of the company’s development than anything truly company-specific. In fact, I often get the question — “what excites you about being in a new category like call intelligence?”

So I wanted to share my perspective for those looking at opportunities in the wide variety of emerging categories in B2B SaaS:

Riding momentum versus creating urgency. There are subtle but important differences between disrupting an existing market, with known buyers and fixed budgets, and attacking a completely new category. In an existing category, the buying motion has momentum of its own — independent of how you as a seller perform, the buyer typically has a budget cycle or contract renewal date that will drive their timing. In contrast, selling in an emerging category is primarily a function of the momentum and urgency you create. There is a higher bar for crisply articulating the value your solution brings, and quantifying those benefits.

This is a pretty hard shot for most humans (photo credit: Ezra Shaw, GQ)

If you’re a basketball fan, I equate it to Stephen Curry making a pull-up 25 foot three pointer in transition — versus doing it coming off a pick, with a hand in his face. They’re both pretty hard (for most humans) — but one has a higher degree of difficulty.

But this is a whole different degree of difficulty (photo credit: HuffPost)

Explaining concepts and drawing parallels. Using the “familiar” to explain the “unknown” is a well established rhetorical method, and it works equally well in an emerging category sales process. You have to describe your product in a way that a buyer can understand, and ideally with benefits the buyer has already experienced firsthand. When we launched the Invoca Voice Marketing Cloud at our customer summit last year, I thought one of the most effective keynote slides drew a parallel between Invoca and more widely known digital marketing platforms like Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle.

Every modern marketer understands that these products help personalize interactions, track data that is used to optimize campaigns, and expand overall reach. By using familiar concepts and applying them to a new product, the pitch effectively became “Invoca does for voice interactions what those platforms do for digital interactions.” Much, much easier to grok…

Being in the market, day in and day out. In mature categories, there is sufficient market data and competitive insight that you can largely run a product or business from “behind the desk.” While it might not be a wise approach, you always have the option of relying on analyst reports and third party resources to guide your decision making. However, in an emerging category, you have to immerse yourself in the world of your buyer / customer firsthand. There is no reliable source to tell you what is going on, no expert to validate or counter what you are seeing, and often no quantitative data on which to base your decisions. In this type of world, there is no substitute for the hard work of getting on a plane, visiting customers, and using your own firsthand observations to reach a conclusion.

Ultimately, it is really important for everyone to find a career opportunity that aligns with their skills, experience, and goals. Emerging categories offer a very unique opportunity — the question is whether that opportunity fits what you want to achieve and how you want to grow. If so, feel free to reach out to us at Invoca — and if not, I have lots of great ex-colleagues at Salesforce in established markets that would love to talk as well!

Into the Deep End

Reflections from a first-time tech CEO

Gregg Johnson

Written by

Technology enthusiast, software executive, and father / husband

Into the Deep End

Reflections from a first-time tech CEO

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