Doug Winter started his career as an engineer. Eventually, he made the switch to the executive side of business when he started his company, Seismic. Seismic provides a sales enablement tool that helps businesses with optimizing the way that they market and sell to prospective customers. Further than that, Doug and his company pride themselves in a company culture that goes above and beyond.
How was Seismic born?
If you think about what had happened in enterprise software, a company like Salesforce comes along and they took an established base like CRM (customer relationship management) that was a well-solved problem. But then they ‘consumerized’ it, they made it easier to use, they put it onto the cloud, made it a SaaS offering, started selling it as a subscription, so a different business model.
We also had been involved heavily in sales cycle as executives. We felt that the existing solutions that were out there were really the worst fit for sales and marketing teams in terms of aligning them around commons goals and ensuring that they could work together on the important assets of a sales cycle. We had the vision of: let’s build a solution like that for sales and marketing, and from there, we can expand into all kinds of different areas. That was really the vision of Seismic.
When we started, honestly, I hadn’t heard the term sales enablement. It wasn’t until a little ways into the journey that we realized that it’s a great description for what we’re doing. We were going to jump aboard that bus and lead the way.
When was that? When did you start?
We were officially founded in 2010. We started building the product in 2011 and started selling it in the 2012 time frame. We didn’t raise any money, actually, until the very end of 2013. We decided we had a great product and should start to tell the story a little bit more loudly to get some sales and marketing efforts going, and then raise funds.
In simple words, what do you do? How do you help people, sales people in particular?
At Seismic, we enable marketing teams to support sellers throughout the sales cycle. We provide marketers a way to understand what content is working and how it’s being used, and then allow them to turn the dials and the knobs to deliver the perfect message for a seller to use as they sit down to have that conversation with a prospective customer.
It takes a lot of different forms. For one, obviously, data comes into play. It’s about collecting everything that happens with content throughout sales cycles. All that data then comes pouring back to marketing to help them have a better understanding of what’s working. If buyers received content in the sales cycle, was that sales cycle ultimately successful or not? If it was successful, maybe the content was a part of the reason why it was successful. If it wasn’t successful, maybe we need to try to improve it.
We also allow the content to be customized. If you know that you’re talking to someone in a certain industry, and you know that you’re talking to someone with a certain role, we can allow the content to actually be customized so that it matches that point in the selling conversation where the other party is.
What was the biggest technological breakthrough that has enabled you?
Analytics is a great example. The data that flows into our system is an incredibly valuable part of what we’re doing. We’re not building our own technology to present that data in fancy dashboards. We leverage other companies’ technologies to help us build that.
Second, we’ve made great breakthroughs in the management of content itself–the ability to handle large volumes of content and keep them organized. We’re really good at helping marketers to that by giving them insight into where content currently resides and how it’s being used, while also keeping track of when content should be expired or refreshed.
The third major technological innovation that we have which is really unique and powerful is our personalization engine. The ability to assemble content dynamically in real time, pulling in data, and automatically build charts and have them show up in a PowerPoint presentation or PDF that’s being shared with buyers.
The fourth piece would be our predictive capabilities. As our platform monitors what’s happening with all the content and data, it also feeds that back into an engine that says what content would be best for each unique seller’s situation and place in the sales cycle in order to beat your competitor.
That predictive engine and capability, it’s something that will never be finished. It’s something we continue to work on and invest in. I would say that’s one of the areas that we view ourselves as differentiated in.
Talking about data analysis, do you want to add anything about how you’re doing it and how it’s servicing B2B marketing?
First, you have to have as much data as possible. You can’t train the machines if you don’t have data to train them with.
We’ve built a big infrastructure around collecting that data. We’re now collecting millions, literally millions, of data events every single day. It has to be a very big and scalable warehouse, so we architected a capability that can handle that type of volume.
Then, you start to look at correlating content data with data about the sales cycles. Sales cycle data is generally kept in CRM like Salesforce, and everybody customizes their CRM. What a sales cycle looks like for your firm is different than what it looks for someone else’s firm. So you have to put some work into how you wire this thing up so that it can understand your particular CRM instance.
Then you start to put the pieces together. That’s where our system comes into play.
I would say that ourselves and everyone in the industry is chasing that. It’s still in a fairly early stage, but it’s a very rapidly evolving field and one that’s pretty exciting to be right in the middle of.
Can you describe a bit about your career? How did you grow from engineering to building this sales enablement tool? Was it intentional?
I would say it has been little bit intentional and a bit serendipitous. Out of school, I started out taking a job for a very old-school, traditional company: Westinghouse. It was a good experience. I was very proud of being an engineer. I had great leadership experience. I was helping train nuclear engineers and was part of a team that, at the age of 23, I was leading. Ultimately I was in charge of a nuclear power plant.
I realized, however, that it wasn’t a space that offered a lot of growth, so I settled on business school to make a little bit of a change in direction in my career. When I graduated, it was the very beginning of the dot-com days, and I really wanted to start a company. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the courage to jump and do it on my own, and I wasn’t effective at recruiting anyone else to jump with me. So I ended up taking a job out here in San Diego at CalCon, which was great because it wasn’t quite a startup anymore, but it was still in very early days and a high growth, high excitement environment.
From there I joined a true startup in the services business. Part of that jump included moving from being an engineer and operations person to being an executive and a leader, and trying to learn those things on the fly. That was 2000 and I’ve never really looked back.
The last time I interviewed for a job was 1996. I don’t have a resume anymore. Entrepreneurship is not for everybody, but I certainly encourage people to have confidence in themselves and go for it if they really feel like they have an idea and an opportunity.
One characteristic of being an entrepreneur is you can’t be too smart, because if you’re smart, you’ll see all the reasons why it’s not going to work. I qualify for not being too smart.
What were some of the important skills that you had to develop in order to be successful as a leader?
To be a leader, it’s really much more about how you can get the best out of a team.
One thing I’ve found is that listening skills are so important. The way I think of it is if you’ve got a team, some of them have lots of experience and big job titles, some of them don’t. But you don’t really know where the good idea is going to come from. As a leader, if you’re not encouraging conversation, you’re not encouraging the ideas to flow, and everyone is going to miss out on a great idea.
That also leads to something else, which is building lasting relationships. It’s so important to treat people with respect and having an understanding of what they bring to the table. That kind of loyalty and working relationship, it goes past individual companies.
You explained that, in the beginning, you weren’t so great at recruiting people. Now, you’re in a place where around you, people are empowered and enabled to really share what’s on their mind. How did that happen?
Like most things in life, there’s an amount of your early upbringing that sets the stage for who you are as a person, but then, just like every other skill, it’s recognizing that it’s important and trying to actively work on it.
I observed early in my career when I was working for Westinghouse that one of the leaders there was very much despised by his team. However, it was a military environment, so your power comes from the stripes on your shoulder. He was in charge and he told everyone what to do, and they did. What I realized, though, was that his whole team was rooting for him—and in turn themselves–to fail. I saw another leader who was the complete opposite. His team would have run through a wall for him. They were rooting for him to succeed. That made a huge impression on me.
It’s about being aware of little experiences like that, where you see things that work and you see things that don’t work. I’ve made millions of mistakes along the way, but being self-aware, and being willing to change and work on things that you think are important, that’s the long-term success.
In what way are you incorporating innovation and new IT tools in your environment?
I was in a meeting with our finance team, and we’ve added a lot to our finance team recently with an eye towards potentially being a public company somewhere down the road. They came in with all the tools that they currently use and all the tools that they want to use. I thought, “Wow, there’s like eight tools that we’re using just in our finance team alone.”
We’re constantly evaluating and upgrading in different areas. We’ll explore any way we can use technology to free people up to do more interesting things and be more efficient at their jobs. It frees the dollars for us to go do something else as a company. That’s an important part of being successful.
You are known to have a great work culture. How did you establish that? How do you achieve that?
It goes back to the earlier conversation about treating people with respect and acknowledging the fact that they’re here because they choose to be. I tell new hires in our orientation program, Seismic Acceleration, “You could work anywhere. I know you could work anywhere. Thank you for working here. We want to provide an environment that you want to work at, and by the way, it’s now part of your responsibility to make that environment happen.”
People have to feel good about what they’re doing. We have a great product and we want to have the best product. People feel pride in that. They feel pride of helping create it and being associated with it.
Upward mobility is another thing. One of the great things about a company that’s growing really fast is there’s lots of opportunities. I look at our sales team, for example, where two of the three top reps started life with Seismic making cold calls. We’ve been able to consistently provide upward mobility for folks and that is something that’s really exciting for them, too.
Also, people celebrate each other’s success in a way that is pretty unique and really cool. It started happening organically, and now we actively encourage it. For example, we have something we call pushpin. Every time we win a deal, the sales rep sends out an email explaining who the new customer is and why they chose Seismic.
The best part about it, is that they include all the other people that made the deal happen. It’s not about the sales rep or any single person, it’s about all the people that helped and all the people who went out of their way to assist a teammate. Even further than that initial email, people will reply to them throughout the company saying “that-a-boy” or “way to go”, that kind of stuff. I love that. I think this whole process and mindset is a huge piece of our culture and it’s something that we try to encourage.
If your employees are happy and encouraged, they’re also going to do well with customers, right?
Customer-first focus is another huge part of our success. I think you just have to be that way. Customers, especially in the SaaS model, can pick up and move across the street very easily. We’re asking you as a customer to put your faith in us again and again during each renewal. In order for that to happen, we’ve got to give you a better product. We’ve got to give you a good experience. We’ve got to do all of these things to show the value we provide so that you’re going to choose to stay with us, and hopefully grow with us.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Happy customers buy more stuff.” It’s just true and we put a lot of effort into that. I’m very proud of our customer success team, but also the way our product team listens to customers and incorporates their feedback into the product. Even in the selling situation, we’re trying to sell a solution that’s a perfect fit for each customer, not just to get a deal done. We work hard at that, and I think that it pays off.
What is next after Seismic?
It’s kind of hard to think about. I’m having so much fun right now, and I firmly believe this is a huge space. It’s a huge opportunity. We have a big company with the resources to continue to build. I love the fact that we’re building it with headquarters in San Diego, which hasn’t historically been a big software destination. That’s changing, and I like the fact that we’re being a part of it.
I love the way that we’re helping our customers be more effective sellers and more efficient at how they market. You always keep an eye on the horizon, but try not to trip over the step that’s in front of you. We have eyes on building something much bigger over the next few years. Then, I don’t know after that. I’ll hop on a rocket ship and fly to Mars, maybe.
Is this road also challenging? Does anything scare you about how fast you’re growing?
I’m no math whiz but, 100% growth at the size we are now is a lot different than 100% growth a few years ago. The bets that we make, and the number of people that we need to onboard, and the number of initiatives that we’re doing, they all just get bigger and more risky in a lot of ways.
I wouldn’t say anything scares me, and I would also say everything scares me. It’s, where in the organization is the place that’s going to break if we don’t make some changes? Try to be aware of that and get in front of it instead of waiting until after the fact. That’s the game, and that’s how I see my role in order to stay ahead.