Steven Kahan is the Chief Marketing Officer at Thycotic and the author of High-Velocity Digital Marketing helping you apply this secret to growing your business (or career) quickly.
“Oftentimes you don’t lose business to a competitor. You lose business to the status quo, that what they’re doing is good enough.”
Growing Your Business Quickly
Steve Kahan shares insights from his experiences as Chief Marketing Officer and from his newest book, High-Velocity Digital Marketing, to help you change your approach to meet the needs of today’s customers. Whether you are a salesperson, a consultant, or a different career field altogether, you will find value in this conversation about seeing the project from a customer’s perspective. Here are two business growth ideas to consider immediately.
Challenging the Status Quo
“I’ll start with the status quo. Right. And that’s so important because often you don’t lose business to a competitor, you lose business to the status quo. That what they’re doing is good enough and so why change?”
One thing we may find in common with companies and teams that struggle is their adherence to how things have always been done. The resistance to change is both common and what is holding them back.
When it comes to growing your business, your role is to help customers understand the changes they face and how the solutions you offer are the answer.
The Person in Charge May Not Be the Real Customer
We often think that to make a sale, or thrive in our career, we need to serve the person making the final decisions at the top. Sometimes, that may be the case. There are many cases where the person making the behind-the-scenes decision is the person doing the work or most directly impacted by what you do.
The people who do the actual work are the people who may have at the ear of the decision-maker who will either hire you or pass. Steve shares how you can navigate those waters, and what kinds of questions will help you shed light on what needs to happen.
This is Steven Kahan’s story…
Steven Mark Kahan has successfully helped to grow seven startup companies from early-stage development to going public or being sold, resulting in a total value of more than $4.5 billion.
Bringing passion and positive energy, Steve inspires teams and their organizations to take on the impossible and succeed. He is best known for his ability to plan marketing strategy and execute it so that companies can accelerate revenue, grow market share, and consistently deliver superior returns for shareholders.
Steven currently provides marketing advisory services to startup businesses including several Insight Partners portfolio companies. In his previous position as Thycotic’s CMO and Chief of Staff, he has helped guide the company through incredible business growth and development to achieve a successful exit at $1.4B. It’s been a similar story with the other companies where he’s brought his talents over the past three decades, including KnowledgeWare, PentaSafe, Postini, Quest Software, and The Planet.
A previous board member of Target Hunger in Houston, Steve is passionate about making the world a better place by helping those who need it most. He does this by working with companies that help grow your business.
Steve attended college at Illinois State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communication. He’s an avid paddleboarder and taught himself to play the guitar. He and his wife of thirty years live in Texas. They have two children and two grandchildren.
In this episode, you will learn the following:
1. How a change in perspective can lead to exponential growth – by understanding who the real customer is, and what they need, you can tap into a much larger market.
2. The importance of great content in growing your business – to capture attention and interest online, you need compelling content relevant to your ideal buyer.
3. How to launch a successful podcast as part of your strategy in growing your business – by partnering with an organization that already has a large audience.
Other episodes you’ll enjoy:
How to Advance Your Career with ROI – BtR 327
Connect with me:
Loved this episode? Leave us a review and rating on Apple Podcasts.
Introduction to Steven Kahan
I’ll start with the status quo. Right. And that’s so important because oftentimes you don’t lose business to a competitor, you lose business to the status quo. That what they’re doing is good enough and so why change?
Alright. Hey Steven, thanks for joining me from Katy, Texas. You’re like neighbors in a way because I’m up here in Dallas. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. Pleased to be with you, Jerry.
Awesome. Good to have you back on the show. By the way, we had you on a few years back, I think you were maybe a year or two, maybe a few years into your career with psychotic. Did I say that right? Psychotic. I took a note in everything, Steven, to get that right.
Yeah. Well, it is kind of a goofy name, but the company certainly did grow quite well.
Yeah, we look at your whole life story. You went from a broke college student to having a hand in probably the biggest exit in cybersecurity and in the tech industry at $1.4 billion. You all were able to sell the company off for just recently.
Yeah, that’s correct. We grew revenue from when I joined about five years ago from 5 million to 145,000,000 and then exited the company at one $4 billion about this time last year.
Yes. That is nice. And I just released an episode, I guess by the time this episode airs, weeks or months ago, depending on when it airs, about how do you advance your career? By focusing on the return on investment that you bring. And I think something like that definitely shows the return on investment that everybody in that company had. And I’m sure that the marketing piece of that had a hand as well. What would you say was the secret sauce to growing it in that way?
Well, the secret sauce was really several fold, but I would tell you this is that when you sort of look at the way in which we grew the company, when I had started, I guess it was just right away I asked the founders and the management team and this was when the company was 5 million. And I asked them who’s your ideal Target customer? And they said, well, Steven, we’re a cybersecurity company. Of course, it’s the CISO chief information security officer. That’s who we’re after.
And my very first AHA moment was when I was talking to a number of our customers as well as prospective customers. And I found that it wasn’t the CSO at all. It actually was It admins who happened to have It security as part of their job. And so when we started marketing directly to that ideal target buyer, the IT admins and differentiating our company on the basis of the things that they prioritize, that they care about, it was really at that moment that we were able to refocus the company, get focused on the right buyer and then efficiently target them and really begin our growth journey.
What did it take to actually hone in on that specific thing? Because there was some kind of needs assessment, I’m assuming.
Yeah, absolutely. So it starts with starting to get to know your customers. So many people that I speak with, especially now with the work at home, they don’t talk to their customers. And so just in doing that and then it’s about asking the right questions. So when I meet with customers, I have a whole list of questions, but the categories that I ask questions about are I’ll start with the status quo. Right?
And that’s so important because oftentimes you don’t lose business to a competitor. You lose business to the status quo, that what they’re doing is good enough. And so why change? And so asking questions about the status quo, about their challenges, the benefits that they expect should they decide to change, the types of ideal solution they might be looking for. And then the impact of the benefits.
A lot of times people don’t think about that because it’s not just the benefit themselves, it’s what does that benefit actually enable them to do more of, for example, perhaps that’s more time to focus on things more strategically or more time to be at home and spending time with their family. And so when you ask those types of questions and you understand the full context of the buyer’s world, it’s then you can really start to reflect the messages back to them that will resonate and hopefully cause them to act and pursue the solutions that your company offers.
It sounds a lot like there are two different fields of medicine that people may not be aware of, or they notice there’s two different letters at the end of the doctor’s name, MD. Or do we seem to think that for the most part they do the same thing, but fundamentally their philosophies are different? Where the MD is typically trained and thinks about going after the specific symptom, what is the problem? You have? Let me fix that for you.
Whereas the doctor of Osteopathy is philosophically approaching that patient as the whole person. What’s going on in your daily life? What’s your diet like? What’s your daily routine like?
It sounds like a lot of what you did was looking at the bigger picture. How does this get impacted by all these other things and then adjusting from there? And then you’ll find that where you thought the ideal customer was the Chief Security Officer, the CSO is what you call them. The reality is it’s that admin person who’s really thinking about the work, who’s doing the work right.
And what makes it so important is that in both of those cases, the Chief Information Security Officer, they care about employees of their company complying with their policies. They care about regulatory compliance, things of that nature. Whereas the It admin wears multiple hats, and they care about having a good solution with good functionality.
But they’re so busy, they don’t want solutions that slow them down, they want ease of use, they want something that plugs into their environment. They don’t want to hire expensive services or consulting personnel. They’ll do the work themselves. They’re totally cool with that. And they’ll be very interested in what their peers think and not so interested in what, for example, some of the leading analyst firms think.
They probably won’t read those reports. Right? And so the way in which you would talk with them needs to reflect those needs. And so you only would ever find that out by talking to them and then properly reflecting those messages in your elevator pitch, in your positioning, in your messaging, in your sales approach. And when we did that, along with a number of other things as well, that’s when the trajectory of our business completely changed and enabled us to beat bigger, better funded competitors.
Yeah. Now, what kind of changes? I guess you can’t go any proprietary, of course, but I’m assuming you made changes to the product as well as the way you delivered the product.
Yeah, for example, in our product, it was a product that, just to explain it very simply, every part of a company’s infrastructure has passwords. So operating systems, databases, application. And if the bad people get hold of those passwords, they basically have the keys to the kingdom. When you think of these dit admins who manage their environments, these environments are very complex, particularly in larger companies. And so if you asked any of them how many of these privileged passwords do you actually have? 100% of them would say they have no idea. Right.
And so what that means is that if you don’t know about these passwords that are vulnerable, you’ll never be able to manage or secure them. And so we had a discovery function in our paid for product. Part of the solution and what we decided to do early on was take that discovery function and make it available for free so that these It admins can now understand how many privileged passwords they had, the risk associated with them, and if they chose to manually, they could take care of managing and securing them themselves.
But a lot of them wanted that to be automated. And so just when you think about that change making what you typically charge for available for free, which really enabled us to get tons of leads, because these It admins wanted those and then it enabled our salespeople.
Rather than being pushy salespeople, which they probably were anyways, to follow up in a consultative way and say, gee, so what did you learn? How many passwords do you have and what’s the risk associated with that? And would you be interested in learning how we can help you? Which changes the dynamic of the conversation and the way in which those salespeople or our partners were perceived. And all of this enabled us to grow quickly.
Wow. And for those of us who are not in it, just to kind of bring down some of these takeaways that Steven has already given us, the first thing is, wherever you’re working, you got to look at who is your ideal customer. And a lot of us may think it’s our boss or it’s my boss’s boss. And it’s such a narrow thing to look at because if you truly want to serve your boss, what is your boss’s customer, what is the work you do and who is it really helping?
I used to work in leadership development in healthcare, and ultimately the customers we served were nursing managers and helping them serve their teams, nurses, patient care technicians, and so on. And we’re also supporting a corporate entity within that. So people who crunched numbers and people who ran data. And so we understood that you can now look at, well, what is it the manager needs? What is it that a brand new manager needs?
That manager successful in the first twelve months. And so understanding that customer allowed us to shift how we did business, and it made my boss even more successful, which made his boss even more successful. And so that’s kind of the thing here, is, well, yeah, we’re going after CSOs, but really, who is doing the work? Who is it that we need to serve? What are their needs? And so you do this needs assessment to get an idea of the world through the eyes of that customer.
And then you start to shift what you do to meet that need. And what you see is exponential growth. Now doesn’t mean that you’re going to get a payout of $1.4 billion. Not if you’re getting a paycheck a nine to five type of deal. But you are going to place yourself in a position that allows for future growth in your career, because people are going to recognize you as a rainmaker in one way or another, whether you’re in sales or not. Doesn’t matter if you’re going to create results for the real customer, you’re going to see a big, big impact there.
Now, when we had you on the show last season, you had a book out called Be a Start Up Superstar. And you were talking about how the traditional go to college, getting a job and retire in 20 years or even five to ten years is out the window. And we had talked about how to consider and both why to consider startups, but also how to consider startups. And rather than take us down that path again, I’ll just put the episode into the Show Notes so that people can go to this episode’s, show notes, and find that conversation, really powerful conversation about what criteria to look for, what questions to ask, what are the benefits of a start up.
As I was flipping through your newest book, High-Velocity Digital Marketing Steven, Steven’s, not in the title case, just to clarify, I mean, that was a very specific book about business to business marketing in the digital age. There’s a theme in that that was really popping out, and it was something you had just said earlier. We’re losing to the status quo. And what we’re seeing because of changes in the market, because of COVID-19, the techniques that are being used and the strategies being used are, in a sense, outdated. So tell us more about that. In what ways are we holding on to outdated modalities and strategies?
Yeah, so if you look at a lot of companies today, they market and sell in much of the same way that they’ve always marketed and sell, because that status quo. It’s comfortable, it’s more predictable, and so it’s quite powerful. But when you think about buyers today buyers, there’s an advisory from Gartner Group that has done a study that said that B to B, buyers spend only 17% of their buyers journey in meetings with potential suppliers.
And then there’s further research that says 62% of buyers develop selection criteria for determining who they might purchase from solely based on digital content. And 67% of buyers say that they prefer not to interact, actually with a sales rep as their primary source of information. Doesn’t mean that they won’t talk to sales reps. It just means that, think about it, if you’re going to buy a car today, you’re probably not going to ten dealerships because you want to go talk to ten different sales representatives at those dealerships. Not that they can’t help you, but it’s not exactly the most fun process for a lot of people. Right. And so what do you do?
You get online, you start doing some research. You might build your own car on some of the cool websites. And so this new level of information parity just because of the fact that people could do so much of their research online, has totally changed the way marketers need to interact with potential buyers to influence them to their products and services. And so this really changes the way in which companies need to market.
And as a result, I wrote the book High Velocity Digital Marketing to focus on the blueprint that I’ve used to help organizations grow very rapidly and achieve great outcomes, like Psychotic has done, to share with readers in very much a HowTo fashion. So this is not a theoretical book. This is a stuff that you read and you could actually go do the very same day. And so that’s really the basis for the book.
Nice. Yes. And it sounds like, again, the shift is going from being that sage who has all the information and really just taking on that consultative role of helping somebody sift through that information and just being at the ready in case there is a question, but not right in there driving home the sale or driving home that decision.
Yeah. And think about it, even online and here’s really the key to it. How many of your listeners or do you or I’ll tell you, I don’t actually like to give up their name, address, phone number, and email address online. I mean, if you’re like me, it’s like almost never, right? Basically what that means is that you’ve got to have content that is so compelling that it actually gets people, it intrigues them, it attracts them, it captures their imagination so that you’re able to capture that information. And then you could start working through the process.
And it’s the process of putting together that killer content and making sure that it totally focuses on your ideal target buyer. No matter where they are, whether they’re just trying to be educated or maybe they’re late in the buying process or anywhere in between, you’ve got to have great content across the full buyer’s journey in order to effectively market online. And in the book, for example, I give examples of how do you figure that out? What are some examples that people could then think about how that might relate to their businesses and then begin that process of growing their business by better marketing online.
And what would be an example of having great content when it comes to marketing? Because I always hear that phrase, you gotta have great content. Now in the podcasting space, when you ask a podcaster, well, what is great content? Most of them just kind of fold and they can’t give a good answer. And so I’m kind of hoping, Steven, being outside of podcasting, you can help us answer that question.
I’m going to answer that in two ways. So first of all, how did we go from I’m going to answer it just on the basis of podcast first, and then I’ll go into some of the content. So we at Psychotic Cybersecurity, we wanted to launch a podcast, and we had sort of a famous person, if you will. I mean, not that famous, but we wanted him to become famous and we wanted to launch this podcast. Well, I mentioned that our ideal target buyers were the It Edmunds. Now, if we were going to launch that podcast on our own, it would have been slow rolling, that’s for sure.
But we wanted to have tons of listeners and build it into one of the biggest cybersecurity podcasts around the world. And so we partnered with an organization by the name of Cyberi, who is one of the leading online providers of education to It Edmunds. Right. So they already had the audiences, they already did some podcasts. We partnered with them to do a cybersecurity-focused podcast. And in short order, we had one of the largest cybersecurity podcasts in the world, right? So that’s one way of being creative, to grow a podcast quickly, that piece of content.
But another way, just using the example, is by understanding your target buyers. We knew that a lot of them needed to be able to better assess the risk associated with those privileged passwords. And so we created a free tool called the privileged Password Risk assessment. And what we did was we knew that people wanted to know how they were doing, to understand their risk better. And they would come to our site, they would answer some questions, and we would give them a grade like they’re in university A through F oh, wow. Which everybody wants. They want it like a grade. Then we would give them a report where they were doing well or where they weren’t doing well. And everybody wants immediate gratification. We did that immediately.
And because we collected information like the size of the company, the geography, the industry that you’re in, we were able then to give you the very next day to get people in the habit of opening our emails a report of how your results compared to your industry peers. Right, so it’s all automated. We didn’t need people to build it. Right, so here was some incredible content that totally resonated with an ideal target buyer in which they got a grade.
They learned how they were doing, they learned how they were doing compared to their peers. And then all of this enabled us to then feed other content because we had proprietary information that no one in the world had to feed our webcasts, to feed our blogs, to feed our social media, to produce reports. Like on the state of privileged access management globally, or because we could slice and dice the data.
The state of Privileged Access Management, for example, for financial services in the UK. Right. So by understanding that buyer and understanding that they really didn’t know how to assess that risk, we were then able to come up with ideas very specifically for content in which you got grades, you saw how you compare to your peers, and a lot of organizations use that to justify a purchase. Right? And that idea, quite frankly, could apply to a lot of businesses, not just psychotics, just at a high level, giving people grades, showing them how they compare to their peers, that sort of thing.
Yeah, it sounds very similar to what’s his name. Gary Vaynerchuk had a book out years ago called Jab Jab jab, right hook, I think I’ll have to double check that title. But the idea is that, I mean, you’re coming in with an abundance mindset as a company. You’re coming in with an abundance mindset where your great content was. We know who our audience is. We’ve done a lot of the communication and the conversations needed to know what they really need.
So let’s give them stuff that’s a value that whether or not they sign up with us, they’ve got this. So that evaluation, that risk assessment and getting that immediate score that is valuable to people, even if that’s all they did, and then try to figure out on their own, how do we fix things. It plants that seed in their minds that if there is somebody I need to go to, it’s psychotic. They start building that relationship. They start seeing the webcasts. And it sounds like you removed the pushy salesperson part of it and you became the trusted advisor before you became the trusted advisor who is getting paid.
And so I’m trying to kind of like the dots for those of us again, who are not in It or in cybersecurity, these are valuable lessons to think about. Your great content is what can I give to my organization? What can I give to my ideal customer that shows value and gives them as quick of an impact in transformation as possible. That’s what people are going to remember your name.
They’re going to remember your team’s name. And you do this in a way that it sounds like you also do this in a way that doesn’t spread you thin. Like you stay focused because it wasn’t like you’re trying to solve every It problem. It was a very specific thing. What is your cyber security risk? And why is it important to not try to be the jack of all trades and capture all the money that’s out there in the It world?
Because it slows growth, right? And so think about if you’re trying to market efficiently online, if you spread yourself too thin to focus on. For example, a lot of companies think that their products should apply to companies of all sizes, right? Because everyone has this problem or they think that there are multiple buyers where really one buyer is far more important than others.
And think about then if you’re trying to market online efficiently at reasonable cost, you can’t do it, right? You can’t target everybody with everything. And so if you’re able to laser focus and do an A plus job as a result of the focus that you’ve chosen to prioritize rather than a C job across a bunch of different areas, that is really the key to making sure that you’re able to market online and do it where you’re not breaking the bank.
Yeah, that makes total sense. In the podcasting space I was here, a guy named Pat Flynn say the riches are in the niches. And then he’s like, okay, I know it’s a niches, but the rhyme is better. The riches are in the niches. And when you look at people’s careers, even as they specialize, it’s got a double-edged sword. If you’re looking for employability in your local area, being a generalist probably the quote, safest way to go, but it’s probably also not going to be the highest income-producing way to go.
Whereas if you’re specialized, you may have to move around the country. In today’s world, you get to work remotely. In a lot of cases. There might be fewer jobs out there, but those fewer jobs are going to be paying more and they may be fighting for you to join their organization. So that’s something to keep in mind. If you do something that’s narrow, do it very well. Yeah, you might find yourself from one company to the next every few years, but the income is going to be great.
I know quite a few people who do that. They work in an organization. They had a very specific thing for that organization, like, maybe it’s creating job competencies and behavior competencies for that company. In another case, it might be creating a coaching program for that company. Whatever it is, it’s very niche and they know it, and they’re ready to move on to the next thing and where it gets out, like, hey, you just turn that company around. Come do that for us.
100%. The world pays for specialization. And then once you have that specialization, at least I found that then you can start spreading out a little wider, building more, for example, general management skills that could then come into play. But if you really become great at one area, that’s where you’re going to maximize your income.
And it seems that’s applicable everywhere. In your case, it was an entire company that was very specific and niche in a career, being niche is also helpful. Let’s see here now. Let’s see. So we got the new book. It’s high Velocity Digital marketing. And who would be the ideal person to pick up that book?
Chief marketing officers, really anyone who’s in a marketing organization. Sales as well. Because in order to really have the type of growth most companies want, it’s sales and marketing as well as executives. Right. And so if you want to have a plain language approach to, for example, if you want to improve your results on Google and you don’t want a three hour dissertation on a bunch of gobbledy Goop, then this is the book for you.
Awesome. I’ll tell you, from flipping through it myself, as somebody who just left his full time job to build a business in the training and development space, I’m looking at this. It gives me a lens from a different lens, the perspective of marketing and NPR that I hadn’t thought about before. And I’m like, oh, wow, here I am previewing a book to have a conversation with Steven, but I find myself inadvertently getting some benefit from it that I didn’t expect.
So podcasters out there may want to pick up a copy too, though. He geared it towards marketing and sales. Folks, what we do is also marketing and sales. Now, Steven, what’s the best way people can go to contact you as well as get copies of that book?
Sure. So both books be a start-up superstar or high-velocity digital marketing are available online wherever books are sold. So Amazon, for example, and then people can come to my website, which is bahstartupsuperstar.com nice.
And before we go, let’s say we’ve got a 38-year-old male.
He’s got two kids. He’s in a sales position, a business-to-business sales position right now, but he just feels stuck in a rut. He can’t quite put his finger on where he feels stuck, but we’ll just say it’s probably in his career. He doesn’t feel like he’s really growing in it. What kind of words of wisdom would you have for that person? 38, male, married, children feel stuck, and life just seems to be going nowhere.
I would encourage them to try the startup world. Right? And so I speak to a number of folks who have jobs within large corporations who feel stuck right, or not satisfied or not thrilled with some of the bureaucracy or things that are going on, but they perceive startups to be too risky. They’ve never made the move, even though they hear that it could be a thrilling way to go build your career as well as build wealth.
I can tell you that if you select the right startup and separate startup that has a good story versus one that has both a good story as well as a good chance for success, then you might set your career on an incredible trajectory that is satisfying personally, professionally, and financially.
Nice. I love that. And if you want to listen to those tips that Steven gave us, I looked it up really quick. It was episode 227. So if you want to hear that episode, go to beyond therot.com Two Two Seven. You can also find it on Apple podcast Spotify. Wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, it’s there. But in episode 227, you’ll get those tips from Steven. How do you select the right fit for you when it comes to a startup?
Steven, it was great to have you on here again. I love that we’re able to take your book and apply it not just specifically to business, to business sales and marketing people, but to anybody who is feeling stuck in a rut in their career. And man, go enjoy this nice Texas weather we’re having right now.
Absolutely. Will do.