Every SAM dreams of having customized insights that identify, eliminate, and replace flaws in the delivery process with in-depth solutions. Finding the bandwidth to make that a reality — that’s a different story. However, that’s exactly what Prajwal Gadtaula, founder of Business Brainz, promises to deliver — a bespoke market research firm that does all the deep-dive analysis that your sales and marketing team wished they had time for. Join host Harvey Dunham as he speaks with “Praj” about his journey, his vision, and the future of account-based marketing.
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Getting Into The Head Of Decision Makers With Business Brainz
HD: Allow me to introduce you to Prajwal Gadtaula, the Founder and CEO of Business Brainz. Welcome, Praj.
PG: Thank you for having me in your show.
HD: It’s a pleasure. You have such an interesting background. I can’t wait to have you share with the audience what you already shared with me. Let’s jump right into it and get into the conversation. Can you please share your personal and professional journey that has led you to found and create a business like Business Brainz?
PG: That’s an interesting question, trying to merge the personal and professional. I was brought up in a tiny country called Nepal. I went to school and did my twelve years of schooling over here in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Over the last couple of years, I was fortunate to be able to work with a couple of large companies around the globe. I have been primarily working in the sales marketing space.
For the last fifteen years, I got to work with a company called BT Global Services. I got to work for another big one, AON. I have also worked in the hospitality industry that I have had other short-term associations as well. That’s a personal-professional intro around me. I’m trying to link to your audience that in the last fifteen years what I have been doing is primarily sitting in between the marketing guys and sales guys, and a lot of times account management, key account managers, key account marketing, and so many other classifications that we have within them.
Broadly, what I have been doing is a lot of intel and insight work, going through a lot of information, distilling that into insight, and then passing on to the right works about the target industry, target account, ongoing customer, key decision maker, personas, or competitive intel within the same space. That’s the exact space where I add value. Brainz, the company that I founded, does exactly that as a service to companies that sell into relatively larger enterprise-size organizations.
HD: I feel like we found a new friend. That’s so important. Insights for strategic account management is everything. That’s where it all begins. That’s where you take a relationship from a transactional relationship to a strategic partnership or relationship. It’s so great to talk to someone who focuses on that area. Before we get into this strategic account management more, one more question because I think you are the first person I have ever spoken with from Nepal. You returned to Nepal to found your business. You have some professional and some personal reasons for doing it. I wonder if you could share a little bit about what made you go home.
PG: Before I decided to come back to Nepal, in most cases, including mine, there’s always a woman involved. I will keep that in mind for now. That was not a major cause, but one of them. Before I decided to come back, I was on the other side of the lake that you could see from your window being in Chicago. I used to work predominantly on competitive insight, competitive intel, and some large customer insight.
By then, I had already been out and about for about a decade or so. What I realized was that I could clearly see the path ahead of me for the next 5, 10, or 15 years. That’s how most people tend to live in very urban settings. I’m from Nepal so I would obviously be an immigrant over there, and the immigrant hostility and everything.
I would have probably bought a house in the suburbs, paid a mortgage for 30 years, and changed a car from Toyota to Honda. You know it. For the next 10 to 15 years, I would have lived a very predictable life. I could say on a Wednesday morning at 7:35 after seven years that I will be taking this train too here. I then thought to myself that life has to have little more than that.
I decided to come back to Nepal. The personal woman side of it is that I was already engaged. I was due to get married in a couple of months. I then had to take a call on whether I get married and go to the US and decide to stay there in the foreseeable future. Do I give it a shot and try to take my skills, scale it, and take it to international markets? That was what triggered and that’s where it is. Long story short, it has been almost nine years now that I have been back.
We can dive into that later, but then in the last nine years on a personal front, I have been able to mentor a couple of startups. I Angel invested into 2 or 3. There’s something called Impact Hub Kathmandu. I sit on the board of that. I sit on the mentoring board of 2, 3, or 4 entrepreneurship-based organizations. I get to chat with great people like you sitting in Nepal. All thanks to technology and the internet, it’s a connected world now. Post-COVID, all of us are comfortable working remotely as well.All thanks to technology and the internet, it's a connected world now. Post-COVID, all of us are comfortable working remotely as well. Click To Tweet
HD: Getting down to the business end of things, how do you help companies execute? I would say with the art and science of strategic account management, you clearly understand the topic and the challenges. I was wondering what you are finding that strategic account managers need and what gaps you can fill for them.
PG: Let me try to give you a very simple answer first and then try to dive deeper in there. A lot of times, what happens is all these strategic account managers or people in the same organization within companies, do not necessarily know the accounts to the extent that they wished they knew. All of them do not necessarily have the kind of support that they always wished they had.
What we do is if all these strategic account managers had access to someone who is a business school graduate who has some industry experience, but who could only sit inside a meeting room with a powerful internet and a laptop. That person could significantly help the account managers, what would that look like or what would that kind of support look like?
That’s the model or the way we would help. Getting to the slightly more details, usually strategy account managers are responsible for maintaining and growing accounts that are pretty large but have significant value to the business. Somehow because of the glory that marketing and sales carry, strategic account management as a function doesn’t get as much of a budget and gets a little shadowed as compared to the verified new business acquisition and everything.
On the buying side, what happens is, at least in this time and age, most of the companies want to first test. Once they trust, they slowly want to continue to buy more from the same company. There’s clearly a slight disequilibrium so to say. What we do is with the right insight, we try to bridge that gap. All these strategic account managers are in the background to enable them to understand what the strategic priorities are of the large customers that they are managing the relationship. What are the projects by which this is what they are doing in North America versus in Europe versus in APAC?
We try to give them their own meaning of a technology company. We try to also keep them abreast of what’s happening. What is the broader IT strategy that your account is going through? We also do a lot of research on what are the pain points that the key decision-makers are collectively and individually facing.
A lot of times, they do not necessarily know the entire buying organization or decision-makers and influencers. We help them gain an overview of them as well. Broadly, that would be at an account level. In addition to that, whenever needed, we also educate them about what’s happening in the industry from their lens and what happening in the competitive landscape from their lens. Everything that we do is bespoke. We’re trying to cater to that particular account manager who was looking at a handful of accounts they need to grow within.
HD: I wish I had met you about 25 years ago. It made life a whole lot easier. We didn’t have that capability and it would have helped a lot. Many of the companies that we see here at SAMA and being the strategic account management association, we see quite a few expect the SAMs to do this work, finding the insights. I’m curious about what your experience has been. Can the SAMs find their own insights? Do they have the time, patience, and skills to do the work? Is it so specialized that you are better off going with someone who has been trained and that’s what you do?
PG: We are not trying to send a rocket to Mars. We have left that to Musk to do it. When it comes to account managers, more than 50% to 60%, probably the account managers can do it themselves. If the account managers were doing the same thing that we do, would that be the best use of their time? That’s one.
Another, are the account managers going to be measured by their ability to do research? Would the account managers be better off if there was someone else who could do the research and who has the expertise of doing research? Going through the entire information that’s available, turning that into insight that’s actionable for the account managers. With that insight, the account managers are now empowered with the right insight. Now, they will be measured against their ability to maintain and grow the accounts. That would be what they are going to be measured to do.
In this context, in most large organizations, it’s not about access to what they have. If you talk about technology companies and the size that SAMA works with, all of them probably would have access to the gardeners and the foresters and the resources of the world, but so does your competition A, B, and C.
In all possibilities, they would be targeting other players if not the one that you have already won, but their competition at the same time. They are clearly selling in the same industry or vertical and geography. What’s going to make a difference is how your people can leverage what you already have access to versus what your competition has access to. How can you contextualize that to your business scenario and your proposition? Map it with the accounts that you need to and you are already working it, whether you want to grow and manage, and then take it from there. Make your customers feel like that you know their priorities and challenges, and you have done the background research.
Talk about personalization or customization and all this jargon that we can go after, but fundamentally it boils down to making your customer understand that you know their priorities. You know their challenges. You are bringing the right solution to the table. Your intention is to solve their problem and start that from the crust which is the crux of most of the business I would say.
Coming to the business side of things, we do it far better because we have the experience. We are a research and insight company and way more efficient. We have the experience and the expertise to cater to the account managers so that they can spend their energy on what they are going to be measured to do.
HD: I wish I would have met you 25 years ago when I was first beginning. I was young at the time. I can tell you it took me a long time to learn what was right and what good looked like.
PG: With the impact you are creating now, I’m pretty intrigued and excited by the impact that you and I could potentially work on together. Had you met with me 25 years earlier, even if I had the capability, I would have probably been able to help you with one organization but look at the impact that we can create now in the next couple of years.
HD: Something I was interested in when you first introduced yourself, you stated that you sit at the intersection of account management or strategic account management, key account management, or whatever the company calls it. It made me think about something that has been very public in the last year or two. I would say it’s the emergence of account-based marketing.
I noticed that on your website you mentioned account-based marketers as being customers as well as SAMs. In my mind, an account-based marketer is a developing area it seems to me at least. I wasn’t sure if account-based marketers were the ones to get the insights themselves or if they are working with you to get the insights, and then helping the strategic account manager put those insights into practice.
PG: Account-based marketing is not something very near. Fundamentally, it has always been common sense. If these ten customers are going to give you a humongous amount of revenue, and even if you win 2 out of those 10 or 3 out of those 10, which is a logical number that your sales marketing team has been churning, it then makes sense to pay special attention and maintain a special focus on these ten accounts for the rest of the quarter or the next 2, 3, or 4 quarters.
With the emergence of technology and our ability to track and measure right from email opens to now far more sophisticated tools, that have given marketers the tools and technology to be laser-focused and maintain that focus, and measure the progress right up until the scale closes or reach a level where you can conclude if it’s happening or not. That’s what it is and that’s what account-based marketing is.
Whenever the stakes are high, it makes very much natural sense for marketing and sales guys to work together closely on. The intersection would be that most of the companies right now do not necessarily go and sign up for a multi-multimillion dollar deal, but then many of the companies that I know have a conscious land and expand as a strategic focus. That becomes an account that you need to manage and continue to grow.
From that reel and primarily as a team that enables or empowers the marketing and sales and account managers with bespoke insight that they need or the list of questions that they ideally had answers to, we try to find answers so that they can become better. Their likelihood to win in however they measure their win, that’s how we tend to function.
That’s where the intersection of marketing and sales would lie. Let’s take a typical example of a very large account. Let’s say Amazon for example. Everyone would want to sell into that or Unilever would want to sell into the back. If you have landed a Unilever and you are selling a technology solution to Amazon, you would want to know what their priorities are. What does that priority translate for your particular solution or the solutions that you want to focus on in the next 1, 2, to 3 years? How does that translate within that organization by division? These are very large organizations. That is going to be very handy for marketing and sales, as well as account manager guys.
We add insight into the industry and competition. The marketing guys, we are armed them with the right insight to make sure that they create content that has the highest likelihood of resonating with the exact person who is going to influence or make the decision. You can meet the multitude of decision influencers where they are.
Meaning if you know that they are facing a challenger or they have a growth agenda in APAC, that means your marketing guide now knows. If I’m sending some sort of content targeting the procurement guys, I need to connect what procurement guys face challenges with, what challenges and priorities this company has, and how can we solve those problems for the procurement guy.
Whereas if you are going to send specifically targeted content for the finance team, you will have a different approach similar to the IT, network security, and the CFO who is going to look at the numbers from the lens of numbers and efficiency. Right up until the CEO who is going to look at it from a strategic focus, and then you might want to connect your solutions at that strategic level.
Meeting the decision influencers where they are with your solution and about their knowledge. That’s how we would function, but that’s how we connect the dots between the account managers and marketing and sales guys. I’m sorry I went round and round. I wanted to make sure that I’m connecting all the dots.Meeting the decision influencers where they are with your solution and about their knowledge – that's how you connect the dots between the account managers and marketing and sales guys. Click To Tweet
HD: It makes sense. I’m sitting here. A picture is coming to my mind of totally focusing on the customer first and knowing where the customer is going, and that would be your team. You then pass that to marketing, and what marketing needs to do is figure out how we can as a company along with the SAM do something about it.
The customer is going to have many things on their agenda. Many priorities, tactics, and things that they need to do. We as a company then need to figure out how we can bring value to the customer. I can see, especially in the way companies are evolving these days and many new things, goods, and features, and all are coming onto the market. Marketing has got a critical role there. They know what’s coming out of the product pipeline.
They know what new products are going to be introduced. They know where the SAM’s company is going. The SAM probably doesn’t know that. At least in the companies that I have been involved with, usually, SAMs don’t get to talk to the research and development people too much. Marketing is that interface. They have to marry where the customer is going, and what’s coming out of our product pipeline, and help the SAM then read the story. From there, the SAM takes over and says, “This is who we need to meet with.” You are also doing it by persona and the different people. Giving them insight into the key people you need to talk to, and what they care about. I can see the picture. It all makes sense to me.
PG: What we have been seeing is that more and more of the ABM folks want three things. They want what’s happening in the industry merged with what’s happening at the personal level. Meaning, what’s happening in the automobile industry? What’s happening if you sell into the CIO organization, most of the insight that we find ourselves working on would be a combination of 2 or 3. Meaning, the first deep dive into the industry, but from the lens or geographic lens. Meaning, if I’m going to target the European or North American automobile industry, I want to know what’s happening in the automobile industry globally, but more so in North America from the lens of the solution that I’m trying to sell.
Combine that with the role of the CIO and CTO because the automobile industry is where the CIO and CTO, both roles are heavily influenced because the product itself, which is the car, is heavily tech integrated now. That’s what they want. That would be picking up on the same line in the same example. If you are going to target Ford as an example, you would want to know what’s happening in the automobile industry. At the same time, you would want to know what’s happening with the role of a CIO and CTO in the automobile industry by and large.
Once that would be, most of the ABM folks and the marketing and sales folks are going to target Ford as an account. They would want us to do a very deep dive account intel on Ford as well. That would be more so leveraged by the marketing and the sales guys. Once you have won the account, then with the account managers, what they do is they want a miniature version. Let’s say a one-pager from us that we would constantly monitor Ford from their lens, and send them a fortnightly one-pager about, “This is what’s happening. This is what’s happening at Ford among the people within the industry and so forth, among the competition.”
Also, among the people that matter to you. This is what’s happening and we send that to the account managers. That’s how from the initial phase with the account-based marketers or the marketing and the sales guys, they will trickle all the way down until the account managers. That’s where and when we could give consistent focus.
HD: It’s not just where they are headed this next year. It’s not just what they are telling the investors, the ultimate customer. You are also watching to watch developments that are going to be relevant to the SAM and the account-based marketeer, and giving them this briefing document every couple of weeks too. I say that for the folks that don’t know fortnightly that I throw in every two weeks.
PG: We tried that. Every week is a bit too frequent. Every month turned out to be a bit too late. In the same example, if something has happened at Ford on the 1st of April, at least your account manager needs to know by the second week of April so that there’s something that’s got enough thrust to it. You want your account manager to pick up the phone and call and say, “This is what Daimler is doing. This is what General Motors are doing. We could absolutely help you guys with this. Next month, we are doing this event where we are going to talk about this. This guy from your organization should be the right guy to attend.” You want your account managers to do it.
HD: It would require them to be everywhere all the time 24/7. They clearly don’t have the capacity to do that. I was thinking about this, the account-based marketers and the SAMs face the same problem. These are huge companies typically to your point. It’s $500 million companies and up. It doesn’t have to be, but very often that’s the case. They are large companies.
There are a lot of things going on inside these companies and the employees, SAMs, and account-based managers have to pay attention to all of that too. There’s a lot of noise. They are getting tremendous amounts of information and trying to process everything and make it all fit. It’s nice to have a friend out there watching them while you are focused internally trying to make things happen for your customer. It’s nice to have someone who’s focused externally, doesn’t necessarily get too distracted by what’s happening internally, and you are keeping an eye on what’s important.
PG: We keep on joking within the team sometimes that we’re the extra pair of eyes and ears for our customers.
HD: It totally makes sense. As a final question, I’m curious about best practices. What is the best way that you have seen companies generate these insights, and how do you structure that? Who does what? What’s the most cost-effective way or the smartest way to be able to get the insights to the right people when they need it and where they need it? How does that work from your perspective?
PG: We have been around for a while now. Before that, I used to lead the inside function entirely. This might sound a little more like selling, but that’s not my intention, it’s just to get to the mechanics of it. We have solved that equation for quite a few. We work with companies and we say we deliver insight as a service.
What we do is we have to understand the insight that the marketing and sales guys need, which is going to be a deep dive into the industry, a deep dive into the target accounts, and deep dive into the persona. Sometimes or not very many times, but once usually at the beginning of the year, they want competitive intel as well drawn on their competition from their lens. That’s what we would do. All these things that we do, we take the very bespoke model to it. Meaning with any and every new customer that we start working with, we work with them, identify them, and ask for ideal questions that they want answers to for them to be successful.
From that, we create a bespoke template that answers their questions that fits their bills. Once that’s done, we scale that across all the top 20, 50, and 75 accounts that they want a deep dive drawn on. We take a similar approach. Because we already have the experience, once we have the ideal questions, we can figure out, “These are the insight that they want.” We are a desk research company. We have our own limitations as well.
Do we take our approach in terms of whether we can answer that question directly? In many cases, we can. In those cases that we cannot, we try to find secondary insight that can help them gauge what it could be like. That would be when we are working with the marketing guys and the sales guys. Once things have moved a little further, the sales guys a lot of times either want a further deep dive only in a particular segment meaning, “We have this guy from this particular division who heads this innovation unit. Can you find anything and everything around that?”
We do a very laser-focused deep dive. They also want, “I’m meeting this one particular person who is the decision maker,” and things have already moved. There has been some level of traction within and then they want us to deep dive into that particular executive. We look at everything from that person’s lens and figure out what his priorities and challenges are.
What are the projects that he has been running? What are his pet projects? What has his previous experience been? In the last 2 or 3 roads, if he has been an SAP guy, chances are that he might not be very comfortable going into an Oracle environment or something like that. That’s just a very generic example. That would be the marketing guys, sales guys, and the account-based marketing guys.
Once you call it relationship managers or account managers, even account managers and all, what we have seen is that all these insights that we deliver, once that reaches the account managers, the alignment between what marketing knows and new to close that account, attract that account, or gain visibility, and what sales need to move the needle further. The account managers now have access to that, and we work with account managers to deliver them some. We monitor those accounts and we consistently would then transfer the knowledge over to them.
Even in that case, we will create a bespoke one-pager. We will do a couple of back and forth unless we have nailed it with them. Initially, it’s more of a partnership. Once that’s done, it’s like you training us first and then we deliver value based upon the training that we have got because you have upskilled us to empower you. That’s how it works. Did I mention that it’s like the aging of wine? The first batch might not be there yet, but from the second onwards, we will do a pretty good job at it.
HD: What you are describing is you and your company are practicing strategic account management for your customers. You are trying to find out where they are trying to go and what value they are trying to add to their customers. Putting together, isn’t that necessarily a formula approach? It’s a customer-by-customer. What do you need? How can we help you? When do you need it? What kind of information? Where are you focused? Over time, it gets even more and more refined and goes from a global point of view of what a huge multinational company is doing, down to a conversation with a specific employee at a specific time, and everything in between.
PG: In our experience, we have seen a huge difference between how the technology companies leverage versus companies that are not in the tech space. We have even helped a lubricant manufacturer get into a large manufacturing account. We have been an inside partner to a supply chain and logistics company. We take such a bespoke view, meaning we do research from their land. We then are able to figure out, what is Unilever doing in its supply chain and logistics space versus what is Unilever doing from a cloud standpoint versus a network security standpoint. It could be the same account at the end of the day.There is a huge difference between how the technology companies leverage versus companies that are not in the tech space. Click To Tweet
HD: We would have to go back 40 years now. I wish I had met you 40 years ago so it keeps going. You are right from the very first day. Thank you so much. This has been fantastic to know that you are there and what you do and what help you can give the strategic account management and account base marketing community. It’s a great thing. It’s amazing that you can do it from Nepal. You can work from anywhere these days, and that’s a miracle in and of itself.
PG: You will find me traveling through the world meeting with customers. It’s just that I anchored myself in Nepal. Whenever you guys are coming down here, just let me know. I will make sure you see places where you’ll experience Nepal better.
HD: Thank you. I’m intrigued.
PG: To your audience as well and anyone from SAMA for that.
HD: Thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey, your learnings, and your entrepreneurial spirit with our audience. As a final question, is there a good way for people to contact you directly?
PG: My contact details are pretty public. It’s Prajwal@BusinessBrainz.com. There are a lot of example reports that are available on our website as well on the report section of BusinessBrainz.com. Just shoot me an email. If someone can refer to this conversation, I would love to learn more and interact. Thank you so much for having me on your show. I have had a very interesting conversation with you.
HD: Thanks for your time and best wishes for your continued success and your ongoing journey.
PG: Thank you.