It’s been an exhilarating four years for American marketing software firm Marketo.
Started in 2008 by Phil Fernandez, Jon Miller and David Morandi, Marketo has listed on the Nasdaq and made massive inroads into Australia, Ireland and America.
Last financial year it turned over revenues of $US22 million, up 62% on the year before. That came on massive growth in previous years. From 2008 to 2010, Marketo grew 1486%, leading Forbes to name it one of the 30 most promising companies in America.
Fernandez, who is now the company’s CEO and president, was recently on a two-day visit to the Australian office and says it’s been fantastic, but very tricky.
Marketo’s been on a hiring spree, now employing 500 people worldwide, and has plans to double that next year. He says as a growing company it’s important to important to have everyone with the same vision.
A year ago, the company’s managers wrote down their core values. “We talked about being one team, aspiring to be great, speaking the truth to customers and ourselves. Those are the central values we thought we had. We made them explicit. And we’ve hired a sales training professional – her job is to travel the world and teach our salespeople to be productive.”
It’s not just people management that’s become more difficult. Asked what he wishes he had three years ago to make growth easier today, Fernandez says he wishes he’d invested more in IT systems.
“We’ve been investing like crazy on systems infrastructure in the business, which is amazing. Companies can grow faster than IT departments can grow software.”
Growth was always Fernandez’s goal, and given what Marketo sells, that growth has been its own marketing. Fernandez says the company is a “laboratory” for the sales and marketing software it sells, and can point to its own growth as evidence that it works.
But timing helps too. “The market is absolutely ready for what we offer. The web, search, social media, mobile devices – all of these have created a world where marketers need tools. The market is hungry and ready, and needs what we sell.”
This means Marketo’s salespeople aren’t focused on closing sales. Instead, they use ‘lead nurturing’, which Fernandez says makes his team “wildly productive”.
Asked what advice he’d give to other businesses keen on growing fast, Fernandez says to make selling easy.
“Create a great website with lots of information, your pricing, what it takes to use the software… when we created the product, we wanted people to be able to use it to get results from the very first day.
“It’s amazing to me how many companies worry about doing everything by the book instead of making it easy for customers. You need to empower your salespeople to say ‘yes’, not ‘no’.
“And then, be relentless about going out and finding customers. Some of the best advice I got was that if you’re growing and customers like what you’re doing, just keep hiring. Have the confidence that if customers are buying, you should keep going. In my view, companies fail to grow because they get scared.”
“And finally, make your first and best customers successful. Don’t ever skimp on helping them, and harvest their stories. Have them speak on your behalf. The single best asset in growing a business is customers who are promoters. So spend every dollar you can on ensuring that. If you get a virtuous cycle going, well, you’re set.”