Mikey Renan, Head of Sales at Sense360 by Medallia, On Making Data Actionable for Customers and Prospects

In this episode, we're joined by Mikey Renan, Head of Sales at Sense360 by Medallia. Mikey shares Sense360's approach to scaling ABM, what it was like selling to restaurants during a pandemic, and how to answer the question of "so what?" when it comes to data.

Show Notes

On making data actionable for customers and prospects

"Data itself is a means to an end. It's not a product. People don't want more data today – they are overwhelmed with it. What they need is the ability to make smarter decisions." (04:12)

"At [Sense360] we definitely fell into the trap of geeking out over our own data... being excited about things we thought were cool. But prospects aren't going to buy cool, they're going to buy smart." (06:25)

On sales and marketing alignment

"Early days, [marketing and sales] should be highly tied together – it doesn't make sense to operate in a silo." (17:01)

"There's too much context that's lost if you just assume that the marketing org will completely figure things out without sales impact." (17:10)

On lessons learned from selling in a pandemic

"We were hyper-flexible and prioritized value creation versus short-term revenue generation. Our philosophy – whenever we talk to a client – we tell them we're looking to build a 30+ year partnership. And this point, we really put our money where our mouth is." (18:18)

"We understood the industry was in need, and we understood we were well situated to support it. Our focus was, OK, let's use this time to help, rather than build new business. If we did that, the rest would take care of itself." (19:55)

Full Transcript

Sarah E. Brown [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 sales and marketing teams. I'm Sarah E. Brown and I'm here with Michael Pollack. And we are your co-hosts.

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

Michael Pollack [00:00:40] Sarah, it's great to be here.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:42] In this episode, we're speaking with Mikey Renan, Head of Sales at Medallia. We're really looking forward to chatting with him about Sense360 and talking about the power of making data actionable for customers. Shall we dive in?

Michael Pollack [00:00:53] I'm psyched. Mikey, thanks for being here.

Mikey Renan [00:00:56] Thanks. Glad to be here.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:57] So tell us a little bit about your background and a brief history of how you got to where you are today as Head of Sales at Sense360.

Mikey Renan [00:01:05] Yeah, so I have a bit of an unconventional background. I studied theater and non-fiction writing at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and immediately after college, I decided to do nothing with that major. So did not really pursue theater or writing in any major way, but really loved learning and building new things. And yeah, just continuous learning, if you will. So over my 10 years in the workforce since college, I've only been in startups and have worn a ton of different hats over that time. I started as an intern and then was a business analyst, product manager, director of ops, business development, and then most recently at Sense360, the Head of Sales. And I think the 20 year old version of myself would probably be a little upset that I'm not a famous actor today, but the education and the verbal and written communication that I learned from theater and writing, it's actually essential in so many of the different roles that I've taken on in the workforce.

Michael Pollack [00:02:08] Just to comment there, first of all, who's 20 year old self wouldn't be frustrated with where they're at today? Currently, I feel like everyone is there. Everyone's twenty year old self is a difficult, stubborn, probably, childlike individual who just... God, that person so dumb, at least in my case, probably not in yours, but definitely in my case.

Mikey Renan [00:02:30] Definitely my case too, and hey, 30 year old me also would not have an issue if I was a famous actor. And I doubt that 40 year old version of me would either. But yeah, didn't go that well.

Michael Pollack [00:02:40] I appreciate that. And just a shout out here, I'm a Chicago guy. I know Northwestern very well, I know Evanston very well. Spent a lot of time there in my youth. So I love that background. I saw that. But I think that's pretty awesome. But I just want to jump into a question for our audience who may not be as familiar with Sense360. And obviously that Sense360 isn't entirely just Sense360 anymore. So we'd love for you just to share a little bit of context as to what Sense360 does, what the shape of that business is today, and just a little bit of context for our audience who may be hearing about the business for the first time.

Mikey Renan [00:03:13] Yeah, absolutely. So Sense360, we are an insights company. And I'll start with a little bit about our mission statement. When we started the organization, there was a ton of fascinating and powerful data that exists today that people are producing in every step of their life. They're producing this digital and data trail that can be used to really inform brand strategy and insights. So our platform, we say that we give you as an organization full visibility into the consumer's customer journey – every single place that they go, how they spend their money, why they do the things that they do. And we use a variety of data sets to accomplish that. So we use location data, we use credit card and debit card data, we use survey data. But a really important distinction in the way that we've always positioned and thought about the value that we provide to our partners, is that although we have a significant amount of data, the data itself is a means to an end. Data is not a product. People don't want more data today. They are overwhelmed with data. What they need is the ability to make smarter decisions quicker with confidence so that they can develop their business or do whatever it is that they are doing in their day job. So we have an entire platform. We have a consulting team that helps our partners extract value from these insights. But it's never a matter of, hey, we want to sell you data. We want to help you be smarter about your business. So to just give you an example, because that can be conceptual and kind of heady. If we're selling into the marketing organization or the consumer insights organization at a restaurant, we could help them understand what are maybe some growth consumer segments that you should be targeting as an organization. If you're seeing softness in Los Angeles, why are you seeing sales softness in Los Angeles? How can we help you reverse that trend? If you have a competitor that you're worried about, where are your strengths and weaknesses against them? Taking the data sets that we have and using it to answer those sorts of business questions so that our partners can improve their business performance and increase their revenue. There's a lot that we do, and I think we could spend an hour getting into it. So if you want me to get deeper into it, I'm happy to. But that might be a good level for today.

Michael Pollack [00:05:29] That's a great level for today. And similar to Sense 360, Intricately collects data about data. And we're in this economy, this data economy, about really empowering people to make better decisions with data. And you said something in there that I want to call out for our audience. And I'm curious to have you expound on just a little bit, which is data for data sake obviously doesn't accomplish much. I don't believe anybody in any job ever said, just get me more data. I just need more data, right. Ultimately, what people are trying to get to is better decisions, right. And so I'm curious for you just to share with our audience in a tangible fashion how Sense360 helps people make better decisions. That's a question I know a lot of our audience is struggling with, just even in a sales or marketing capacity broadly about where and how to think about data. But can you share some examples, specifically about Sense360, about how those insights get materialized or are delivered to customers?

Mikey Renan [00:06:24] Yeah, absolutely. And I will say we definitely in our early days fell into the trap of geeking out over our own data and being excited about it and using it in email outreach and just showing prospects, things that we thought were cool. But they were not going to buy "cool". They were going to buy things that help them make smarter decisions. So I'll give an example that's maybe a little bit more tactical in terms of an actual potential email outreach. So back in the day, we would maybe send an email to – I don't want to use any brand names because I don't want to get anyone in trouble – but let's say a top burger chain that we're trying to get to pick up the phone and get on the line with us. We would send them an email. And this is before we got smarter about things. We would send them an email and say, hey, we saw in our data that your customers, through our proprietary data set, we see that your customers are leaving you and going to burger chain number 2, let's call them. And we'd send that email and say, you want to get on the line and let's talk about it. And that's interesting. It's interesting if I'm brand 1 and I know that brand 2 is stealing my customers. But so what? How do I do anything about that? How does that help me improve my business? So as time went on and we kind of developed our data sources and our approach, that email would change from hey brand 1, one we saw that you're losing customers to brand 2. And instead it would unpack the layers. It would say, we saw in our data that you are losing high household income consumers to your key competitor, burger brand number 2, they're going there at breakfast and through conversations with those consumers, we understand that it's because they have a better kids menu and quicker drive-thru. So our belief is that this is a significant audience segment that you're losing. It's something that you need to reverse.

Mikey Renan [00:08:14] And we already have thoughts about how you can reverse that trend by starting to satisfy the needs those customers have – kids' menu, drive-thru improvements, and so on and so forth. Let's get on the line and let's talk about how we can help you act upon this. And in our head, that original email of hey, you're just losing customers to brand 2 was interesting. It was cool. We thought it was enough, but it wasn't connecting the dots for our customer to how can that actually inform business decisions? And as we started to unpeel the layers of that problem that they were facing, we started to get into more actionable solutions for our partners and highly compelling email outreach that got people on the line with us quite quickly. So that's a real but kind of blinded example of how we were helping our partners make decisions. It's understanding what their customers are doing and then using survey data in many cases to actually understand why those customers are making the decisions that they're making and what you can do to reverse those trends.

Michael Pollack [00:09:06] That's an awesome example. And I have one question and then I want to turn it over to my co-host, because I'm sure she has a lot of questions here. But when you talk about that evolution, just for Sense 360 in terms of messaging maturity and being able to think through, hey, we've got something that we know is valuable to you. But early on, you knew you had something that is valuable, but it took significantly longer to, I'd say, almost productize that into a narrative for our audience, who also oftentimes sells something that is intrinsically valuable to their prospect, but I think sometimes struggles with how to frame and formulate that. And this is a hard question maybe, but can you talk through that journey and how you guys got there? Was it a series of A/B tests? Was it like, "oh, my God" middle-of-the-night-light-bulb type moment? Was it all of the above? Some context there would be really helpful because I feel like our audience is struggling with some version of that every day.

Mikey Renan [00:10:00] Yeah, I mean, the answer is sort of an "all of the above" – and it is really through being reactive to feedback that we got, right. Like we would send someone an email and they'd say we already have data like that. I mean, that's one of the most common responses I think you get when you send data, because there's a lot of data, and a lot of it looks similar to each other. They would say in an email like, I see that you're sending this information, but so what? And we heard that feedback and we realized, you know, we need to be better about connecting the dots for our partners. What it really came down to and the way that we at this point have evolved our thinking about email outreach, and really every single touch point with our partners, is that every single touch point should be about value creation to that end buyer. We need to put ourselves in the mindset of the person that we are selling to. We have to really learn about what's keeping them up at night, what are the challenges that they're facing. And every single time that we reach out to these people who are truly inundated with marketing emails, with content, with just general noise that is going on all the time, we need to get to the point that every time they see an email from Sense360, they're saying, I need to open this because it's probably got something that's going to be valuable to me. And the only way that you can get to that point that it is valuable to them, because if you create the content from their mindset, not what you think is cool, but tie it to the problems that they're facing on a daily basis. And I can tell you that when we get on a line with someone, even if we've been reaching out to them for like six months and they are not picking up a call, not picking up an email, we get on a call with them, 9 times out of 10, they say, hey, I really love the stuff you've been sending me. It just hasn't been the right time. But this one caught my eye. But we got to a point where they're not ignoring 9 out of 10 emails. They're opening them all. And eventually one of them is the right fit for them at that moment. So that's kind of been the evolution.

Sarah E. Brown [00:11:51] You know, I am curious, as we're talking about account-based marketing here, is quite a lot of effort per account, right. And you have to really understand or have someone on your team take the time. How do you think about scaling that or does your approach not require getting out of that? I'm curious how you thought about that evolution.

Mikey Renan [00:12:07] Yeah, it's a really good question and it's absolutely something that we definitely, definitely have thought about a lot. So we are very fortunate position as an organization that we have really great data. We have proprietary data that we can use pre-sale. We don't need you to pay us in order for us to have data that you'd be interested in. And that's a good starting place. And we really lean into the data, the insights approach and our outreach. We are constantly creating pro-bono reports to send to prospects. We have an analyst on our team that is solely dedicated to pre-sales efforts. We constantly are doing free proof of concepts for partners to showcase our capabilities. We have a blog content and on and on in terms of all the ways that we lean into this approach. As it relates to your question of ABM and scaling this so that you're not creating a completely custom project for a hundred different prospects, we try and find themes and questions that are consistent across a large swath of prospects, and we do some light customization so that people truly do feel like they're getting something that's meant for them, not for the masses. So there's some really great softwares out there where you can create email campaigns and plug in variables that are unique to each individual account that you're reaching out to. So it will sometimes do – to give you an example, we know that people care about Amazon's growth during the pandemic and we think all of the top retailers are going to care about that.

Mikey Renan [00:13:43] So rather than just send an email saying, hey, Amazon's seen significant growth, what we can do is we can create one single cell output on our own that shows every single one of the top retailers. We're going to query for that retailer how much their customers have spent on Amazon. So it's highly customized. It's meant for you. And in an email outreach, we can say, hey, Walmart, your customers are spending twenty five percent more on Amazon this month than they were last month. Target, your customers are spending seventy five percent more on Amazon this month than they were last month. And it's real content that is customized to the prospect, but it's done in an efficient way. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel or answer completely custom questions for every single prospect. Once you're qualified, once you get into the funnel and we're having conversations with you, we're more than happy to pull additional insights and answer additional questions that are truly, truly custom. But you can't do that before you ever get on a line with someone or you're not going have enough resources to get that done. So we absolutely think about that ABM approach and come up with scalable solutions to make things feel custom without completely killing our team.

Michael Pollack [00:14:51] When you talk about the role of some of this content, and I listen to your background coming from more of a liberal arts background, but in the business side being more of a sales-oriented person leading the sales organization, can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your marketing counterpart? And maybe Sense360 had a unique configuration where sales might have been driving more of the content. But can you talk about that? Because I feel like this is the perennial challenge many organizations struggle with, which is marketing is kind of creating demand and sales is fulfilling demand. Oftentimes those roles are shared by different people. So bringing that together can be a challenge. Can you talk about how you bridge that divide at Sense360, or how you structured that?

Mikey Renan [00:15:33] Yeah, so at Sense360, we had a single marketer for a very long time, so it was only one person in the marketing organization and we were tied at the hip. It was not operating in silos. We were very much along every step of the way working together. So for the first few years, there was not a single marketing campaign that went out that was not either driven by or approved by the sales organization. And that might not be a realistic approach for some organizations. Every company has its own unique snowflake, and especially as you become a larger organization, that becomes a lot harder to manage. But in the early days, the way we solve for that issue is we didn't really have it. We didn't create these silos. We work together incredibly closely as kind of a founder or sales lead at Sense360. I also had context for basically every single piece of the product and understanding how it all worked together, so was able to orchestrate a lot of campaigns in a way that, again, I think that might be a unique benefit that we had in the early days. But the structure was we were highly, highly co-dependent folks, the marketing org and the sales org. And at the end of the day, we didn't want to drive leads that weren't going to convert. Like we wanted to make sure that the marketing org knew how to create email sequences and campaigns that would lead to highest likelihood of conversion from prospective clients. So I guess my feedback would be early days, you should be highly tied together – it doesn't make sense to operate in a silo, there's too much change that takes place in the early days of an organization and there's too much context that's lost if you just assume that the marketing org will completely figure it out without sales impact.

Sarah E. Brown [00:17:17] So for those who are listening, who are familiar with your story, you were acquired in the midst of the pandemic. Would love to hear anything that you learned and maybe also just any lessons sort of in bringing all that innovation and approach to your parent company.

Mikey Renan [00:17:32] Yeah, absolutely. So the beginning of the pandemic was, as everyone knows and experienced, absolutely insane and terrifying. And it always feels almost silly to talk about our business where it feels so small in the grand scheme of everything that was going on in the beginning of 2020. But our client base at that point was primarily restaurants. We were primarily selling into top QSRs, limited service restaurants, casual dining restaurants, and they were incredibly hard hit obviously by the pandemic, which put us in a a very concerning place where we, realistically speaking, anyone that we were selling to, their budgets were frozen. There was just too much uncertainty for anyone to buy anything at that time unless it was like safety equipment. And so the way that we were able to navigate and come out of this with the acquisition was by being hyper flexible and really prioritizing value creation versus short-term revenue generation. Our philosophy in general, whenever we talk to a client, we tell them we are looking to build a 30 plus year partnership. And therefore, at this point, we really put our money where our mouth is. And we said we're going to prioritize building a long-term relationship. We're not going to prioritize a few bucks in the next few months. So it took truly a village in our organization to react to the circumstances and get through the pandemic in a stronger place than where we started. And there's a few different ways. But but the thing that I'm most proud of, I think that we did as an organization was within basically a week of shit hitting the fan, we created what we call our "daily COVID briefings". And this was a daily Monday through Friday, a daily 30-minute webinar that we hosted, our CEO and our Head of Analytics joined it. It was completely free to the public. And in the event, we would basically rehash the key updates from the day before or from like, a just general news headlines. And then we would use our data sets to answer the questions that we thought we were most suited to answer for the industry. It was completely free and it was also the largest investment that we made as an organization, which is kind of counterintuitive. But we understood that the industry was in need, we understood that we were well situated to support the industry. And our focus again was let's use this time to help and to, rather than build new business, let's just burn ourselves fans and just be a good Samaritan. And our perspective was, if we did that, then the rest would take care of itself. And so we started answering questions like, when an individual market would shut down, so Los Angeles shuts down, New York shuts down, we would do a report that told the industry what's going on and what they should expect as a restaurant or retailer in that market. Or when the stimulus checks came out – what's the expected impact? How are people are going to change their spending when they get their first stimulus check? Instacart and Doordash – they were exploding at the beginning of the pandemic. Is that something that's going to be sustained? How is it going to impact you as a restaurant? And tons of different questions that we would solve. And we kind of just did it from a perspective of, let's just help out. And what ended up happening was really, really incredible. We had hundreds upon hundreds of people who would join this briefing, many of whom would join every single day and basically put aside 30 minutes in their day just to join us and learn what they could about what was going on, which feels like forever ago now. But those days when you were like, I have no idea what is going to happen in the next 24 hours, we wanted to be a source that could give some comfort and some clarity as to what was going on. And we joked that our Head of Analytics became a celebrity to the people who joined that briefing because he is a steady force in that. And we got dozens of press mentions. We got a bunch of inbound leads. We built a ton of goodwill in the industry. And when people would reach out to us again, just going by this idea of building relationships versus short-term revenue goals, we really didn't push towards subscriptions or towards revenue. We pushed to help and do things pro-bono if we could, and only pushed towards dollars and subscriptions if we thought that they could generate ROI in that partnership. And the work that we put in – I know that's a really long winded story there – but it really helped us build these consultative, trustworthy relationships and did result in some commercial partnerships with some of our most marquee clients as time went on. And again, it all comes back to this approach that's focused on value creation versus short-term revenue generation. And the rest took care of itself. And at the end of 2020 – I don't want to say that to the pandemic because we're definitely not through that – but at the end of 2020 we came out with growth rather than contraction that we were really afraid we would experience. And of course in that we were acquired and it wouldn't have happened without the true team effort that it took to get through a crazy, crazy time. Story time with Mikey... that was a long one.

Michael Pollack [00:22:33] That's helpful. And one comment that you made in there that I think stands out for me that I want to asterisk and underline, star, for our audience – as you pointed out, that in uncertain times, hearing from an authoritative source of truth is incredibly valuable, right. Whether you look at what's recently happened in United States politics and you just look at in times of crisis, people want to hear from someone who knows something about something and can present it in a confident fashion. And I think that's an important lesson just for crisis management in general. But I think is a valuable thing and something I think when it comes to data is a huge callout, because one of the challenges our customers struggle with or people struggle with in general when looking at lots of data is, a lot of times there isn't one right answer. There's multiple angles and they're looking for some evaluation of what does this mean to me and how should I act. So I think that's an awesome point and one that I want to make sure our audience hears and is absolutely starred, asterisked, underlined, highlighted.

Mikey Renan [00:23:37] Yeah, I think that's a great point. And I will say also that don't just try and jump on the bandwagon, right? Like provide content if it's going to be helpful. Put yourself in the perspective of the end consumer of that content. People were inundated with COVID-19 briefings and with COVID-19 data that they were getting emailed to them, like hundreds of emails on the topic. I think where we were able to succeed is we really were putting in a ton of effort to actually help. I can tell you I received dozens of emails that were so marketing feeling like they just felt like, OK, nice try. You got the click bait, you got me to click in. I don't care about this data point that you're presenting to me. We truly were thinking about it, as always from the client perspective of what will help them get through this versus how can I get them to open the email. So I'll just call that out as well.

Sarah E. Brown [00:24:26] Fantastic. So before we take us out here, Mikey, is there anything else that you wish your prospects knew about you, that you think maybe they don't know yet if you had a chance to speak directly to them?

Mikey Renan [00:24:36] Yeah, so I really try to be an open book. I think that people that I work with and sell to, what they see is what they get. And that feels like a kind of lame answer to that question. So if I wanted to think a little bit more about it, I would say I have passions beyond consumer insights and beyond what I sell. I truly am a continuous learner and I love problem solving and listening. So if you're listening and you only know me through the lens of me trying to sell, you Sense 360, just know that if you have other challenges, even if I don't have a horse in the race and there's no deal to be won, I'm happy to hear your challenges and your problems and give me a call. Give me an email and we can talk through those challenges because I love problem solving. So that would be it, I guess.

Sarah E. Brown [00:25:21] Wonderful. And for folks who want to learn more about you and your work, where should we direct them to?

Mikey Renan [00:25:25] Yeah, so you can send me an email or Either one of those works. I'd give my phone number, but I'm nervous this podcast is going to be one of the biggest ones on the Apple Store. So I'm nervous.

Sarah E. Brown [00:25:42] You should be nervous. (laughs) This was a fantastic conversation and we're so grateful to you for joining us. Thank you so much, Mikey.

Michael Pollack [00:25:46] Thank you, Mickey.

Mikey Renan [00:25:47] Thank you. It was fun.

Michael Pollack [00:25:48] Well, that's it for us. And while this episode may be over, we can continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #SellingInTheCloud. On Twitter. I'm @MRPollack.

Sarah E. Brown [00:25:59] And I'm @SEBMarketing.

Michael Pollack [00:26:00] Thanks 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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