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Middle-Market CMO Interview: Atri Chatterjee of Act-On Software

As the CMO of a firm whose software offerings are designed to help medium and small businesses market online, Atri Chatterjee of Act-On Software’s leadership team has many opinions on the marketing priorities of lower middle-market firms. MME asked Chatterjee to share a few of them.

Atri Chatterjee imageMME: Where is this growth coming from? Who are your customers?

Chatterjee: We really started by selling to customers in and around Silicon Valley, but it turns out that only about 30 percent of our customers are in the software space and over 25 percent are in business services. These are companies like accounting firms, consulting firms, and law firms. They may have a couple hundred employees, only one or two people dedicated to marketing, and a small sales group.

MME: What type of value are customers looking for your software to deliver?

Chatterjee: If you think about the sales funnel, where you have prospects coming along the top, the question is, How do you make that more efficient and use things like social media, email, and content to bring people in so that they would be interested in your solution and the whole opportunity pipeline? Using the Act-On system allows people to draw more in. For example, when you think about it, every company has a website the they have spent the time and effort to create, so what Act-On does is start tracking the people who are visiting your website. The Act-On system can tell you what company they are coming from because it reads the IP address and informs you who owns that domain. It opens up a whole new view of the Web by telling you where they went and how much time they spent, so you have information that will allow you to create a better marketing experience.

MME: After tripling sales for multiple quarters, how do you still execute planning?

Chatterjee: What happens is that you are constantly adjusting for growth. We do annual planning — we set objectives on a quarterly basis and calibrate and readjust every quarter. From a planning and strategy standpoint, we have a time horizon that appears long, but the calibration is very short and you are constantly changing things. What we find is that while what we did last quarter in terms of tactics was great, now we’re introducing a whole new mix of things in this quarter. For example, there are some new vertical opportunities that we have uncovered, and now we’re going to put some new vertical resources behind them. Because of the growth and the youngness of the company, we have to constantly adjust as we see new things. This would be the one big difference — we have a very short cycle time for planning, and I’m constantly tweaking. It’s a little bit like being a jazz musician — you sort of know what direction you are going to go in, but you are going to have to make things up along the way.

MME: There must be this ongoing outreach to find new people. How do manage hiring?

Chatterjee: We’re constantly looking for new people. I’m very much involved in interviewing and sourcing the talent. Everyone in my group is an individual contributor and, if they’re in a management role, they are also doing the work alongside me. It’s very hands-on — because it’s a smaller company. If someone is sick, I actually feel as though in 9 out of 10 cases, I can do part of their job — maybe not as well as they can — but I can at least keep things going, so the role is very hands-on, and you’ll find that this permeates everything we do.

MME: How does the CMO role inside a lower-middle-market firm differ from that in larger firms?

Chatterjee: In a larger company, establishing consensus is very important, so you spend a lot of time on internal communications. I would say that 30 percent of my time was spent in doing that kind of thing when I was a CMO at a $300 million company. I would spend my time communicating the direction and keeping the machinery working. Here in a company this size, it’s quite different. It is almost like you huddle to figure things out before you scrimmage.

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