Episode 2: Vikram Maram on personalizing experiences for SmartE's PLG motion

April 13, 2024

In this excerpt from our conversation, Vikram Maram, VP of Growth and Strategy shares his approach to marketing and GTM strategies for SMARTe.

"In sales intelligence, workflows are pretty important. There are products where you get to do everything from cadencing to email writing to send out your campaigns and there are workflows where people do it in multiple pieces with separate tools.

As part of our PLG motion, beyond organic demand building around demo experiences, it's critical for us to identify common workflows most of our segments are looking for - sometimes 10 or 15 - and create personalized content and experiences tailored to our top user cohorts."

We found Vikram's insights around crafting targeted, workflow-specific content to activate key customer segments very compelling. Watch to learn more.

Vikram Maram

Vikram has been leading product, growth, partnerships and revenue teams at SMARTe. Vikram has deep go-to-market expertise from his 15+ years in growth leadership roles.


Sham Mahajan: Hi everyone, welcome to the first episode of GTM Spotlight, the podcast shining the spotlight on the best GTM strategies and leaders out there driving growth. I'm your host Sham, co-founder of Hexus. In this episode, I'm excited to welcome Vikram, VP of Growth and Strategy at Smart. Vikram has been leading product growth, partnerships and revenue teams at Smart. Vikram has deep GTM expertise from his 15 years in growth leadership roles. He's here to share his journey at Smart from 0 to 10 million ARR. In this episode, he'll give us an inside look at Smart's initial phases of product life cycle and GTM motion. He'll share his perspectives on PLG, personalized sales, and advice for aspiring leaders. So Vikram, tell us about your journey so far.

Vikram Maram: Hey Sham, thank you for having me here. I'd love to get into the podcast talking about my role at Smart. So I started off as a product manager here and then I moved up to own growth product strategy. Pretty much every piece or every segment that gets built up as you're growing your company towards 10 million ARR and upwards, all those things fold under me and I try to get them together.

Sham: As VP of Growth and Strategy, what are your main responsibilities and objectives at Smart?

Vikram: Yeah, I think if you have to put it in one line, I would say connect the gap between the product strategy and what the market wants or what your customer wants, and everything in between. So it could be our enterprise motion or it could be our PLG motion. In both the motions, how do we ensure that all of our efforts from the product building perspective is being connected to what the customer wants - make it discoverable, make it easy to sell, make it easy to buy, and you know, all those parts in between. That's probably, you know, a sentence in which I could explain what I do.

Sham: So how do you think about product-led growth at Smart?

Vikram: Product-led growth at Smart is... so it's an interesting space for us because Smart is a sales intelligence platform. So in theory, every salesperson can go buy this product by themselves, so it's a great candidate for PLG. But at the same time, our journey has been enterprise-led because of, you know, our past life and things like that. So we are heavily focused on enterprise, that's where majority of our revenue comes from, and then we started PLG. So we are in the early stages of PLG and we are making it easy for, you know, SDRs and sales guys to discover Smart and then be able to learn and use by themselves. So yeah, that's where we are at.

Sham: How are you thinking about your marketing and GTM strategy specifically for PLG? How are you using product collateral, for example, to influence these strategies?

Vikram: So in sales intelligence, I think workflows are pretty important. In the sales tech space, there are products where you get to do everything from cadencing to email writing to, you know, sending out your campaigns, and there are products, there are workflows where people do it in multiple pieces, like they use separate tools. As part of our PLG motion, one of the key factors, other than the organic demand building and stuff like that, which I'm assuming are specific around the demo experiences, it's very critical for us to identify what are the common workflows that most of our segments are looking for. And sometimes it might not be just the top two, but it could be 10-15, and then be able to create content around those workflows and personalize it for the top cohorts of users that are out there in PLG. I think that's the major factor when it comes to building these experiences. And do you think similarly when it comes to sales?

Sales is another story altogether, right? In enterprise sales, you're not typically selling it to one person. I think that's the biggest difference between PLG and enterprise sales - you're selling it to a buying group, and a buying group sometimes could be a bunch of same type of users or different type of users as well. So when it comes to Smart, sales, inside sales, marketing ops, rev ops, these are all different four user types we could have or user personas we serve. And each customer, each enterprise account would have a different workflow because of the tools they use and because of their inherent processes.

So this is where it becomes that for every persona at every account, you would want those little videos made and little experiences built up, or sometimes it could be one-pagers that will help them walk through. And then there's another variation of the influencer, the champion, or the one who is, you know, signing the contract. All of them have different appetite for the kind of content they'll consume and what they're seeking from it. So I strongly believe that the sales guy who understands what content to give out to which person in the buying group are typically very successful in driving the outcome towards their favor, because they're understanding this buying group and they're trying to give them the right pieces to consume.

Sham: Yeah, personalization is key in enterprise sales especially. So do you have any specific examples of how personalization has impacted your overall funnel?

Vikram: I think in terms of the overall funnel, I would say that... so we are a bootstrapped company who is trying to compete with well-funded... like we have a NASDAQ listed company as well in the space. So it becomes very important to be focused and then convert on those accounts, talking in the ABM language, again, on those accounts. And that's where AI, personalization before AI as well, is the key. Because it's sort of an additional power or an advantage you would have, because you're focused on a particular set of accounts and then personalization will allow you to compete with the big brands and then create that mind share for yourself, saying that, okay, these guys, these sellers or these marketers understand me. So they are more likely to look for a solution from these folks.

And that's where, in building content, personalization has been very helpful. And we have a huge set of SDRs who are using personalization as a key to get people interested in conversations about what we do, how we differentiate from other customers. And sometimes it could be just industry-specific - you're talking to an enterprise customer and then you want to add things that are very specific to their industry. And sometimes it could be about an individual based on their LinkedIn posts and stuff like that. You need to understand the personalities.

Sham: Yeah, I also think we're just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personalization. A fully evolved, I don't know, ChatGPT-1 or future versions in LLM would probably have a much, much better personalization than what humans could do. I mean, humans are still the best at personalization, but I think AI can add that scale to them.

Vikram: Yeah, it's been a bit of a bumpy road. We have seen soulless content being created by AI as well when we're trying to scale this, and the last thing you would want is somebody to realize that, okay, this is just an AI talking to me, and they're probably not going to respond as much. I think the balance is that, you know, how do you look at AI? It cannot be an alternative to a whole system or a process. Smart or me personally, with my teams, the way I look at AI is it's a tool each one of the team members should get so that they get the productivity better. So they get better, but not like an alternative process completely taken over by AI. Because it's still a master-slave relationship, probably that's why all the AIs are extremely courteous and extremely nice when you talk to them. I'm sure it's a setting on content moderation, but it could be for a reason, right? And it's probably also to drive it in the users that you need to train it to do what you want. It might be smarter than any other applications or any other systems you have interacted with in the past, but you're still the king of the context, and you need to imbibe the context to it, one prompt at a time, and then make it do what you want.

So we've seen more success on... we've tried in both ways. We've said, okay, these are the accounts, because we are a data company, we have metadata on different accounts and people, and we try to feed it in. And we didn't see success on doing it at scale, where, okay, for all these 10,000 accounts, create emailers or create some content. We didn't see that to be very impressive. But I think our SDRs or campaign team members, when they were given these LLMs or different tools - I think different people use different tools - we saw that the turnaround and the funnel is getting better, and the conversions are getting better when you give it as an assistant to people. And then there's another whole story on training your teams to use these assistants, and how to use them, and what to do with them, and get the output right.

Sham: Yeah, there's a lot of use cases out there, lots of opportunities to maximize efficiency and optimize your productivity with the help of AI. So I'm glad you're experimenting and learning what's working, what's not. I have one last question for you. Do you have any advice for aspiring leaders in growth and strategy, especially in an AI and PLG-driven environment?

Vikram: Yeah, I think they're going to hear this all over the internet, because everybody's talking about AI on the internet and everywhere else. But I would still say that you can't ignore it, and the one who is going to be better in doing what they're doing five years from now, or maybe two years from now, is the one who figured out how to put AI to work. And if you're better than other humans who can, with their ability to put AI to work, is where it comes through.

And it'll be very surprising on how it can be helpful. Because I started doing this - whenever I have to go down and research on some topic while I'm browsing, I'm also opening up a chat in ChatGPT and then trying to understand how much it can walk with me, and the places where I need to go through. So again, we all know hallucinations and factual errors that are happening out there. But if you can walk along, and if you can sort of train it or just groove on how you can use it, it's going to help you as an individual. And if you can bring the same to the team, I think that's going to work.

But I think the key is - I don't know if it's the right term to say in the words I'm saying, but the whole master-slave thing is pretty important. It's not only from the perspective of it doesn't have a will, but more from when you're a master, you would want to take responsibility of the outcome as well, rather than blindly going with what it is suggesting. So yeah, those are my thoughts on what you should be doing if you want to be good at utilizing AI and help it drive your growth.

Sham: Thank you so much for these valuable insights. It was a pleasure having you on the podcast. Good luck with Smart and adoption.

Vikram: Absolutely. Good luck to you guys at Hexus. I hope I was helpful. Thank you so much for having me.

Sham: Thank you.