Gaidar Magdanurov, CMO and Chief Strategy Officer at Acronis discusses their go to market strategy
Gaidar Magdanurov CMO at Acronis answers the TechMarketers Q&A. Acoronis deliver on-premises and cloud software for backup, disaster recovery, and secure file sharing and data access and is headquartered in Switzerland. To date Acronis has 500,000 corporate customers and 5.5 million consumers.
How did you get involved in technology marketing and what attracted you to the role?
For five years I was the Editor-in-Chief of a website for developers while I simultaneously built software with a small team of developers. I would always advocate for learning and trying new technologies, which is how I became the first one in our group to start using Microsoft .NET platform. When I began to promote .NET, Microsoft recruited me as a developer evangelist and I spent nearly six fun, fantastic years at Microsoft.
Being an evangelist at Microsoft was the finest form of technology marketing - you learn new technology, then you educate developers on how to apply it to problems they face. At the end of the day, it was all about helping people do their job better and create new exciting solutions.
So after a few more turns in my career - running a Seed Fund, supporting a local software ecosystem, serving as an investment director in a global venture capital fund - I got the chance to run a global marketing organization. Once again, I'm helping customers and partners solve their problems! For me, marketing is about cutting through the noise, defining problems, and sharing information about the solutions that will make people happy.
What is the most exciting aspect of the role?
Constant change. IT is evolving rapidly. In the digital world, we have to solve problems we never had before. There are so many different offerings for all aspects of IT infrastructure. Marketing departments have to constantly look for the best ways to get attention and convey the most amount of useful information in the shortest possible time. Marketing people must continually change to keep pace with customers, partners, competitors, and the market. We're constantly learning and adjusting ... and that makes the job exciting.
And what are the greatest challenges and opportunities to market an organization like Acronis?
Acronis is currently at an exciting point in the company's lifecycle. We created a new category of solutions - Cyber Protection - which marries data protection, cybersecurity, data authenticity, and privacy together. This unique vision is now being adopted by other players in the market, but Acronis is still leading the way. But, honestly, that can be both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, if customers learn about our vision and understand it, they get excited and are willing to adopt a solution. On the other hand, it is a new and complex concept - and in the modern world, everybody is in a rush and overloaded with information. It is challenging to get their attention and explain this vision.
However, the opportunity is extremely exciting, because now everything in the world depends on data and all that data needs to be protected; but backup only is no longer enough. Indeed, anyone can now become a hacker by downloading a hacking kit from the Dark Web. Everybody is constantly at risk of being attacked, losing data or having their data modified in a way, so they make bad decisions.
Therefore, cyber protection is not a fancy name, but rather a necessity for everybody. Everyone needs a copy of their data, but everybody also needs security and the ability to trust their data, so they need to be able to certify and verify that the data is original.
Telling such a complex story is not easy in a world of information overload and attention deficit, which is why Acronis is looking for unique ways to differentiate itself. One way we do this is through our sports partnerships. We have hundreds of sports customers and 12 major partnerships that we use to promote cyber protection, with our partner teams serving as case studies. Sports help us build an emotional connection to the audience, as well as allow us to educate users on the needs of data-driven sports.
What is the greatest budgetary challenge you face? Are budgets increasing or decreasing?
The primary challenge is cutting through the noise. Everybody competes for attention and companies paying more and more to get their messages delivered to customers. We must keep up to be seen. It is not worth having the best solution in the world if nobody knows about it - we have to promote it aggressively.
We prefer to invest more in product development and customer service, so keeping up can be a challenge. Our sports partnerships help here, because our partners are also customers, so these partnerships mutually beneficial. We gain marketing benefits on top of business deals that drive additional business.
Tell me about the team, how big is your team and how have gone about building the team?
As of today, we have 99 people in the marketing organization. About a third of them creates content for our customers and partners - including product collateral, educational pieces, newsletters, blogs, videos, articles, etc. Another third ensures we are in front of customers and partners through media relationships, events, and sports partnerships. The remaining third drives day-to-day operations - designing and executing campaigns, supporting co-marketing activities with partners, and organizing events.
Are you finding that the role requires a greater focus on data and therefore data skills?
Today's marketing is based on data. Decisions are only as good as the data you have for analysis. Data allows for the proper segmentation of the audience receiving your messages, and data helps tailor the message and determine the most effective means of communications. At Acronis, we obviously, have a lot of data - with more than 500,000 corporate customers and 5.5 million consumer customers, we constantly collect information about purchase behavior, feature requests, information about important product capabilities, mentions of our products in communities and social media - all of which creates an enormous amount of useful information that helps us better understand our customers and their needs.
In our work, we rely on tests as a primary source of data. Data analysis skills are essential for marketing professionals. Early in my tenure as a Chief Marketing Officer, I bought a dozen of books about data analysis like Data Smart by John Foreman and gave it to the people in our campaigns and digital marketing units. It is incredible what insights a person can gain from an extensive data set in Excel.
What is your view of social selling and would you consider it?
Social selling is one of the ways to get attention from a potential customer or a partner. Using the proper technique, being respectful of people's time, and being useful for them is an easy way to start a conversation. Sadly, social media is drowning under tons of poorly prepared sales pitches and auto-generated content that people turn a deaf ear to.
If the proper research is done around the interests and needs of the person being contacted, however, it still works well. The offer must be useful and presented in a short, easy-to-digest form. Efficient social selling today is either an art mastered by salespeople who are genuinely interested in solving customer problems, or AI-based automation that pulls profile data, segments contacts, and uses previous learnings to adjust the content to match a particular person - all to generate initial interest before a lead is passed to a salesperson.
I see more and more activities being automated in the future but, so far, experienced salespeople manage to get better results.
Which marketing technology or other tools do you rely on in your job?
We have a wide variety of tools and systems, and one of the activities I drive in the organization is to simplify and standardize our infrastructure. In everything we do, we rely on SalesForce as a primary database for customer and partner information, and the marketing automation platform Marketo for tracking all communications and customer interactions. Last year we implemented an account-based marketing tool called 6sense that helps us serve relevant content to prospects and helps our sales team prioritize incoming leads for faster follow-up. We can't survive without Google Analytics for our websites and products. And we extensively use Optimizely for A/B tests of everything from messaging and design to pricing.
Will AI and ML become key technologies for you in your role?
It is already one of the critical technologies for our organization. Machine learning is used to segment our customer and partner database, serving relevant content to each. It is used to identify prospects who have an interest in our solutions or are already in the market for a solution. ML helps us to prioritize pipeline for our sales team so they call those customers who would like to proceed with the purchase now first. This dramatically reduces the sales cycle, and, most importantly, reduces the wait time for customers. Implementing machine learning allowed us to get up to 20% higher efficiency for lead conversion - with better targeting and better messaging for the end customers.
Is there an over-reliance on metrics and KPIs in the job today?
Metrics and KPIs are the lifeblood of marketing. They can be overwhelming if not structured properly, but they are absolutely necessary to track the key aspects of the business. At Acronis, we have multiple levels of KPIs. Everything starts with an executive scorecard that reflects the current state of the business, then we drill down into business-segment level KPIs that provide a dynamic view of how each business unit or product is doing. Then we have process metrics that contribute to the higher-level KPIs. That way, at any point in time, we can get a snapshot of where we are and drill down to discover the primary contributing factors.
Let's say we see that the conversion rate from opportunities to closed-won deals within the same quarter drops below our standard rate of 30%. We then investigate all stages of the sales funnel to validate lead conversions and lead volume to identify bottlenecks or misfits in the process. But you don't have to wait for something to happen and drill down on all key metrics to look for ways to increase efficiency. By simply improving processes we gain up to 10% higher conversions from the same lead flow.
It is imperative that all departments in the company use the same data sources and the same reports, and are comfortable with data analysis. Otherwise, aligning priorities and executing cross-functional projects becomes unduly tricky.
What is the most frustrating aspect of working in marketing in the tech sector?
IT professionals are generally dismissive of marketers. It is challenging for a marketing person to get attention from a technical person, and technical people expect marketing people to sell to them - and no marketing organization can be efficient without constant communication with customers and partners. Therefore, it is essential for the marketing organization in a technology company to be proficient in technology and have an in-depth knowledge of the company's solutions. That way you can maintain an intelligent conversation in customer interactions.
Which companies do you admire for their marketing prowess?
I would give one example. Palo Alto Networks implemented the marketing technologies that are trending now years ago. They were using data science and machine learning back when many top marketing organizations were still making decisions based on intuition. And if you watch what they do now, they are still ahead in marketing, continually experimenting and changing, adapting the way they communicate to customers.
You came from the venture sector. How has that helped in your role as a CMO at Acronis?
Having a venture capital background helps in a few ways. It helps to evaluate marketing vendors and tools - the same way investors do due diligence on the investment opportunities. VC experience motivates you to run lean experiments, to try unusual solutions, and never be afraid of disrupting things. It is nearly impossible to become better than others by doing the same thing everybody else is doing. Venture with early-stage startups quickly teaches you to find, create, and embrace opportunities.
If you have any time, how do you relax away from the role?
As with any job in tech, work takes most of the time, as business never stops. When I do have time, I spend it with my family, and when I have time for myself, I fly small airplanes.