Mike Kaplan, CMO of CloudCheckr, on Leveraging Data to Inform Go-to-Market Strategy and Drive Revenue

In this episode, our guest is Michael Kaplan, CMO of CloudCheckra comprehensive cloud management solution that helping businesses manage and automate costs, as well as security, for their public cloud environments.

Mike is a B2B tech marketing executive with a passion for helping companies grow. His focus areas include demand generation via account-based and inbound marketing, product marketing, go-to-market strategy, awareness/influencer campaigns, and more. 
 
Mike was also named one of Intricately's 75 Cloud Revenue Influencers to Follow in 2021 – check out the full list here!
 
 

Full Transcript

Michael Pollack [00:00:09] Hello, everyone, and welcome to Selling in the Cloud, a podcast about the business of cloud sales and marketing, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. I'm Michael Pollack and I'm here with Sarah E. Brown. And we are your co-hosts.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:39] Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Pollack [00:00:41] Sarah, it's great to be here.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:43] In this episode, we're speaking with Michael Kaplan, CMO at CloudCheckr. Shall we get to it?

Michael Pollack [00:00:47] Let's do it. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Kaplan [00:00:49] Really excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:52] Can you give a brief introduction and share who you are and how you got to be where you are today at CloudCheckr?

Michael Kaplan [00:00:58] Sure. So I've spent about two decades – which is scary to say – almost entirely in tech marketing roles. Early on before moving into more of a marketing leadership role, early part of my career, I had different roles in both PR and strategy consulting. So that kind of helped shape who I am today as a CMO, left brain, right brain, to try and bring that thinking to my job every day, the team and company. So that's me in a nutshell.

Michael Pollack [00:01:26] I noticed in your background with an MBA, getting that at MIT... with probably more organizational theory approach or perhaps a more quantitative approach. I guess all MBA programs generally have that common. But I'd love to ask, do you find that as a marketer today and in your evolution as a marketer over the past two decades, is it more quantitative today? Is it more not that the art has gone away, but is the science an even bigger part of it?

Michael Kaplan [00:01:50] Yeah, for sure it's trending that way. Both are still critical. And a part of my own personal decision to go to MIT, specifically in strategic consulting, which was extended business school with was building out kind of those analytical frameworks. And that thinking, right, I think that certainly hopefully helps when I'm thinking about the market and segments and data. In addition, obviously, the creative side, which certainly cannot get lost in the crowded marketplace that everybody's competing in.

Michael Pollack [00:02:21] And maybe to take a step back for a second before we take a step forward, for a lot of our audience, I'm sure they already know who CloudCheckr is, but it'd be great to hear from you – how would you characterize or what's your elevator pitch for CloudCheckr, or the impact you have on your customers?

Michael Kaplan [00:02:37] Sure. So CloudCheckr, I'd say we have a software platform that helps organizations really better manage their cloud environments. We solve a big problem either IT organizations or manage service providers (MSPs) have as they adopt and really grow and AWS, Azure, GCP, and that really adds to me for all of its benefits. Now, it's incredibly difficult to control and govern cost security and resources – and do that at scale. And so fundamentally we provide visibility and intelligence that makes it easy to understand how to reduce spend, identifying revenue, security and compliance issues and ensure your assets in the cloud are appropriately utilized. So I'm doing that across those clouds, in that single pane of glass if you will.

Michael Pollack [00:03:28] And just to follow up on that, for our audience, who is in the cloud ecosystem, right – cloud sellers, cloud marketers. I'm curious for CloudCheckr predominantly... your ideal customer, they're using a range of cloud infrastructure, and so CloudCheckr is the embryonic or the piece that's tying it all together and solving some of these, let's call them horizontal problems across a bunch of different vertical solutions. Is that the right way that many customers are kind of getting the benefit of the CloudCheckr suite?

Michael Kaplan [00:03:55] You know, I think multi-cloud usage is certainly a trend that is a great use case for CloudCheckr. But we also go very deep within single clouds. And so I think just as organizations scale, right, and they have lots of users touching lots of different services of those clouds, the complexity, even just using a single cloud and trying to optimize it can be just as daunting as using multiple clouds. And so it's really kind of that mixture of cloud environments being in one or multiple and then really that organization and how you want to manage your cloud or your customers cloud, right, because service providers are a huge part of CloudCheckr's go-to-market partner base, and certainly make a lot of specific to help them power that businesses .

Sarah E. Brown [00:04:48] Would love to hear about how you're using data to inform your go-to-market strategy and how it's impacted revenue. And any advice you have on how other cloud marketing leaders should think about using data in their go to market programs?

Michael Kaplan [00:05:01] Yeah, so for us, data is fundamental to helping us drive our go-to-market strategy because we need to especially, and I mentioned in the marketplace is crowded, it's noisy – so we need to identify the very specific organizations that we can drive the most value to. And of course, that can drive the most value back to our own business. And so data is what helped us take a more nuanced view of the market in terms of first understanding segments and verticals and looking at segment. The different ways and grouping that and then really being able to understand where we can be successful in targeting the right customers, right. And those do great things for us, like increase our average deal size, our conversion rates. But in the end, it's all about that lifetime partnership with that customer because if we sell to the right customers in the first place that we can drive value to, they're going to be very, very happy for a long time. And so that's what we're looking to do. In terms of what other cloud leaders need to do, I would just say there's lots of data out there, but it's hard to get data from different providers. What is harder is to actually figure out what is going to have a discernible impact on your business. And so you really need to understand what that is, what data points are going to drive your business and also have a plan to act on it so you can get flooded with data very quickly and not really have a plan. So those are kind of the two things that I'd say to other cloud leaders generally.

Michael Kaplan [00:06:43] You've touched on what is a recurring theme on this show of the double edged sword that is data, right. That inherently data is great, but data when used incorrectly or data in the wrong hands or the wrong data is catastrophic in some ways. And so maybe you could share a little bit about how, at CloudCheckr, sales and marketing work together, right – where the data meets the road or how those two teams align. We'd love to hear from you in any context you can provide on how you guys have structured that for maximum success.

Michael Kaplan [00:07:10] Yeah, I think for us, marketing sales and getting alignment right, again, data very important to our go-to-market strategy as a company. And I think for sales and marketing and getting aligned, you need to first and foremost co-create that go-to-market plan that you both believe in. So that exercise can't be done in silos. And then obviously you're looking to build a plan around that, and how you prioritize certain elements of that plan – be it going after certain verticals or personas, needs to be embedded both in data, either from third parties and then your own first party data, because there's a mixture of topic or segments versus where we have the strongest right to win, both historically and based on certain things we might be developing and perhaps the market.

Sarah E. Brown [00:08:04] When you're aligning with sales around data, how do you define what data matters most

Michael Kaplan [00:08:10] It's just a process of going through that exercise of, here are the key metrics, right? Let's look at the funnel. Let's try and make it as simple as possible, especially if you're just starting out, again, more of a "less is more". How can you simplify your funnel metrics and then constantly track those with sales and have each team be accountable for the entire funnel? I would say that's another key thing that gets lost on me as a marketing leader at the end of the day. From a sales perspective, we're trying obviously drive growth, and so myself and sales leadership and my team, we need to be responsible together for all the various aspects of what impacts. And that's not just driving marketing qualified leads, which is important, it's about driving actual real deals of the right value and then, of course, winning those deals.

Sarah E. Brown [00:09:03] I really appreciate you tying it back to revenue. And I'm wondering, what advice would you give to marketers at cloud companies who are looking to increase the ROI of their marketing program in order to drive revenue?

Michael Kaplan [00:09:16] So I think for me, one starting off with where is your company's biggest strengths? Right. From a product perspective, where can you win a disproportionate amount of opportunity because you are well positioned in that segment, you add a certain value to your customers, you have the right go-to-market motion, maybe certain partnerships that you can leverage past customers you can leverage to showcase that value. So understand where you're most likely to be successful on the go-to-market side. And then I'd just say that marketing organizations that come in all different shapes and sizes, maturity levels. So I would work to identify the things that you feel like you've been successful with in the past or you feel like you could be successful within the future based on both how the market responds and buys and then your own team strengths and then double, triple, quadruple down on those things first and foremost, and really prioritize those things where you can be successful versus feeling like you have to do everything, right – every single piece of marketing, marketing strategy across everything – that might be the case if you're a certain scale or all of those things are driving. But don't feel that marketing peer pressure, if you will, to feel like you need to do everything to figure out what you do really well and just drive that and optimize it and then think about moving on to the next set of activities.

Sarah E. Brown [00:10:57] In that vain, what role does ABM play in your strategy?

Michael Kaplan [00:11:01] ABM is huge for us. Again, it goes back to that first point. We feel as a company, our product is very well suited for certain segments. So companies that have scale cloud environments are spending a lot in the cloud. They have complex cloud infrastructure. They're a managed service provider trying to deliver cloud services, public sector, another big segment for us, federal, state, local, higher education. So that's the starting point. But that is a, and I learned this when I first joined from Intricately, like you look at the market in terms of the number of accounts, think you guys track one point two million accounts – that might be a little bit dated – but only a very small portion of accounts are the ones that benefit most from CloudCheckr's platform. So we need to identify those. We need to understand what personas within those accounts and who we need to reach. And so ABM, ABS, whatever you might call it, is a critical part of how we will continue to grow. In addition to other channels, of course, we get lots of interest from inbound producing thought leadership. Those are critical and help, obviously, on the ABM side as well. But it's definitely when we think about how are we going to stand out, ABM really dovetails closely to that.

Michael Kaplan [00:12:39] You know, I'd love to ask, given your experience on the marketing side, on the management consulting side, is your point of view that ABM is truly something novel or maybe is just something that's been done obviously for quite some time and it's just under a different name? I'm really curious to get at – have you radically changed how you're doing business on the marketing side? Does the data enable you to do something different or if anything, the data enables you to do what you've always wanted to do, you're just able to do it better.

Michael Kaplan [00:13:07] So ABM in various incarnations has been around – any old-time marketer will tell you that if given the chance. And so it has been around. I think, you know a few things – one, yeah, there's data, right, that can really help scale those programs. There's new tools that can really help scale ABM in a meaningful way so you can reach accounts, I would say, with targeted message in a meaningful way, more so than you could have in the past. So that's changing. And then I think the other thing that's changing goes back to the general noise in the marketplace. Cloud's a great example. Around the time that inbound marketing was invented, [inaudible] became much more of a focus area in 2007, 2008, etc., then accelerated much, much more rapidly, right. So you had this point in time where inbound was huge, continues to be huge, but as everybody starts doing something, you always reach diminishing returns. So you start to just naturally see that broadly speaking, across, I would say across all need to be marketing disciplines. And so, again, you know, for certain types of companies like us, ABM is critical to reaching the right buyers, right. With a very targeted message.

Sarah E. Brown [00:14:39] Appreciate you sharing that background. And I'm wondering in that vein, what's something you wish your prospects knew about CloudChecker that maybe you'd like to tell them if they're listening to this?

Michael Kaplan [00:14:49] Well, there's lots of things I could tell you about CloudCheckr, I would be happy to give you a demo. But I guess what I would say more generally is if you are working in an organization that scales their clouds to the point of spending tens of thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands of dollars) a month; if you have lots of teams, individuals accessing provision in cloud services; maybe to Michael's point, you're using multiple clouds and you are still using either free tools from public cloud providers; you're managing it in spreadsheets; maybe you've built a home grown tool... I would just say you are probably at the point where you should really consider software like CloudChecker to improve your visibility and optimize your spend, because it's something that is going to drive a lot of ROI for you. And as you scale your cloud, it's going to be ever more important. So, yes, I would love for you to consider CloudChecker as part of that process. But at a minimum, I would say please consider doing something, because I think you're leaving a lot of our ROI on the table.

Michael Kaplan [00:16:02] I appreciate that comment. I think it's increasingly clear that obviously the cloud is not going anywhere. And for companies today, and we see it even in our own business, that the complexity of managing all this infrastructure, which is sold to you up front, as easier, which it is in an incremental fashion – but becomes much more burdensome over time is a real challenge and something I think businesses are at times drowning in. So we intimately understand the problem. We get it. And yeah, for those who can't see me right now, emphatically nodding my head in agreement.

Michael Kaplan [00:16:36] Yes, I love what you just said there, because I really believe that very same thing, the very things that make cloud so great, right, the flexibility, the ease of access, the growing threat of intimidation of services, you can tap into pricing models from all the different ways and options to chop it up as you scale. Those are the things that make it that much harder to control. So at that point,.

Michael Kaplan [00:17:02] Michael, for people who are listening, you want to learn more about you and your work, where should we direct them to?

Michael Kaplan [00:17:08] Well, for me personally, LinkedIn is always a great tool. So you can check me out. I would love to be able to tell you what my actual address is, but I don't know off the top of my head, in all honesty. But Michael Kaplan at CloudChecker and then, yeah, CloudCheckr, check out our website at cloudcheckr dot com. I would love for you to come see what we're doing, of course, reach out, would love to hear any feedback and look forward to talking more.

Sarah E. Brown [00:17:38] Fantastic. And we'll be sure to link in our show notes to what you just mentioned. Make sure people can find you and learn more about your work and what you're doing at CloudChecker to help people get total visibility into cloud management. Thank you so much, Michael.

Michael Kaplan [00:17:50] Thanks again for having me, Michael and Sarah. It was great.

Sarah E. Brown [00:17:53] That's it for us. This episode may be over, but we can continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag selling in the cloud on Twitter. I'm @SEBMarketing.

Michael Kaplan [00:18:02] And I'm at @MRPollack.

Sarah E. Brown [00:18:04] Thank you to everyone for joining us for this episode of Selling in the Cloud, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. If you like the show, head on over to iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts, and please give us a review. We appreciate it. Until next time.

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