Influencing Tech: Q&A With Tech Industry CMOs and Execs

It's the love/hate relationship for the ages - marketing and sales. Marketing needs sales to clearly explain what they need to draw in customers and sales needs marketing to help fill the pipeline with prospects. Let's face it, sometimes things get ugly in the process - in the tech industry, it's so critical for marketing and sales to operate seamlessly.


Allan Thompson, Chief Operating Officer at NSFOCUS, a global provider of intelligent hybrid security solutions, has seen the marketing/sales relationship from all sides. NSFOCUS is a cybersecurity company that focuses on network security - a hot space, with a lot of heavyweight competition. The company was founded in 2000, in China - and Allan's job is to lead global expansion. Although he's currently COO, Allan's background is in sales, business development and marketing - basically he's seen it all, and has some great advice on marketing/sales alignment and what it takes to build a strong team.

What is your background and current role at NSFOCUS?

I am Chief Operating Officer with the charter to expand NSFOCUS to all parts of the world outside China. I have been in the cybersecurity market for 20 years now, building leading companies like Trend Micro, IntruVert Networks (acquired by McAfee), Reconnex (acquired by McAfee), RedSeal and now NSFOCUS. My knowledge and expertise is in marketing to the enterprise, service provider and federal markets via global channel and direct sales. I have spent most of my career in executive roles leading global marketing, sales and business development - that experience gave me the background that I need to run NSFOCUS IB.

What's your proudest 'marketing moment' at NSFOCUS?
The company had been in the global market place for 9 years with nominal success and awareness. I knew that in order to be competitive it was critical to reinvent our messaging - to really communicate our breadth of services and value in a competitive market. I'm most proud of creating our unique Intelligent Hybrid Security positioning. We've backed up our new messaging with customer success stories and data that supports our leadership in the market - and it's really helped to support and drive global sales.

As a member of the c-suite, when it comes to marketing and communication activities - what does success mean to you?
Success is measured in short term and long term impact to the global pipeline - it means driving a global PR message so that prospects and partners can very clearly understand our value and advantages over the 1000+ security vendors that are currently in market.

What types of metrics are most valuable to demonstrating impact to execs?
We track increases in volume of hits to our website and how many documents are downloaded per month. We also track the increase of subscribers to our webinar series program, attendance at global events, monthly PR achievements - but most importantly we look for a 25% contribution to the global pipeline on a monthly basis.

In your opinion, what are the 3 biggest challenges that marketers face in the cybersecurity space?
1. The Competition: It's so important that prospects understand how your solutions solve their specific problems - and how your technology is valuable and different from other vendors.
2. Sales Messaging: Global channel partners and the sales team must be able to communicate value in its simplest form to ensure that prospects understand, "why NSFOCUS?".
3. Marketing and Public Relations: You need to make sure that your technology is seen in multiple press and PR settings to build reputation and awareness, so that prospects and decision making teams are clear on the company's market position and solution set.

In the tech industry - what does sales need from marketing?
Sales needs simple and effective sales tools and programs to convey value. All prospects review hundreds of data sheets, presentations, white papers, channel hot sheets etc. What they want is simple and clear materials - so they can quickly understand the value of your solutions. The more complicated they are the less likely the vendor will be selected. Marketing materials should be professionally designed - but they also must effectively convey who you are, why you are different and the 3 key value propositions of your solution set.

How can marketing/sales alignment be improved?
It's the job of marketing and sales to work together to create consistent and clear messaging - at a global scale. It is critical that a brand's value and solutions can be easily conveyed, internally and externally. If a prospect on the IT decision making team can't explain what the security vendor does and why - then you are unlikely to be selected or remembered.

What are the qualities of a strong marketing department?
Marketers must be great listeners; they must adhere to the advice from analysts, press, PR agencies, prospects, customers, sales people, product management etc. Great teams understand how to listen, and then return the message worldwide so all parties understand the company and its solutions. If a company's value is understood by all relevant audiences, then the marketing team is doing a great job.

What are the most important traits that you look for when you're hiring marketing and comms professionals, internally and externally (e.g. agencies)?
Passion, creativity, the ability to listen to all parties, flexibility to alter or change effectively to ensure the message stays crisp and fresh and alignment with business and sales objectives.

What's on the horizon for NSFOCUS?
NSFOCUS will be launching global case studies on the value of deploying our Intelligent Hybrid Security solutions and our global Threat Intelligence platform, which includes the first and only view of attacks to and from China representing 40% of global attacks. We'll also be making some key announcements prior to RSA 2017 in San Francisco, CA.

Disclosure: NSFOCUS is an Affect client.