Martech Interview Series – A Q&A with Rob Käll
An interview with Rob Käll, CEO and Co-Founder, Cien as part of the Martech Interview Series.
On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us a little bit about Cien.ai. What inspired you to start a sales productivity platform?
I am the CEO and co-founder of Cien Inc. We came up with the idea for Cien after scaling several previous startups. We would quickly grow sales teams from 1 to 100 reps and noticed that sales productivity would decline as you added more sales executives. It didn’t matter what caliber of sales rep you hired, or how you onboarded them or what tools they’d use: it’s as if sales teams were governed by an invisible law of diseconomies of scale. We wanted to figure out if the problem of declining sales productivity was a People, Lead, or Macro issue. It turns out that it is all three. Artificial Intelligence can help you pinpoint the low hanging fruit in your sales processes and address them. My business partner Ben Strum had a background in Machine Learning and we were keen on creating an “AI-first” company. Our 3rd cofounder Margot Carter has taken several companies public and sits on multiple corporate boards. She validated that these problems are frequent topics in the boardroom, since sales productivity is directly correlated to cost-effective growth and profitability.
MTS: What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
AI of course! Just like the PC, the Web and Mobile, Artificial Intelligence is a massive technology wave. I’m convinced that in 5 years all business software will have AI components and people will use AI to make better decisions. This will have a massive impact on productivity, but will also cause some rapid changes in the work force. The people who will be most successful are the ones that work well with AI and offer complimentary skills such as creativity, EQ, and quantitative thinking.
MTS: What’s the biggest challenge for startups to integrate AI/ML into their marketing/sales stack?
Specifically for startups, the challenge may be a lack of prior data. This is what’s called the “cold start” problem. At its core, AI is a pattern recognition technology. If you don’t have a lot of historical data, some patterns may be harder to detect. Cien is solving that problem, since in our models, we can match your current situation to similar situations experienced by similar companies and give you the benefit of their experience. Anonymously! of course!
MTS: Salesforce recently named Cien as a customer hero. Could you tell us how this came about and what this means for Cien as a company?
I have used Salesforce.com in several of my previous startups and we made a decision early on to focus our product and go-to-market strategy on Salesforce users. We have been fortunate to get a lot of support from Salesforce and we hope to return the favor by showcasing how fast-growing startups like Cien can run a big part of their businesses on Salesforce.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
When I am in the early stages of a new startup I have found that your best move is to be “heads down” and work on your product and how it solves your customers’ problems. That said, I really like the online survey company Typeform.com here in Barcelona. They are doing something really cool and useful that we use almost every day at Cien.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
We are running most of our business on Salesforce, so we use Pardot for marketing automation. The sales team uses Sales Cloud and we also use Service Cloud to manage onboarding and support of our customers. We use a number of customer intelligence and data enrichment tools that make it easier for us to build relationships with other companies. Of course, we use the Cien App to guide our marketing and sales efforts to determine our playbooks and guide our activities.
MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success)
I can’t tell you all the details but suffice it to say that at Cien we’re always on the lookout for leads with great fit. We figured out a way to automatically detect who those were, what was top of mind for them and how to engage them in a way that helped us break through the martech noise using the Cien App and various marketing automation tools.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a sales and marketing leader?
Start with the end in mind. What is it that really matters to win in your market. What is it that your customers look for in you? What does your team need to succeed? And then ask yourself: is data my company’s core competency? If it isn’t, then work with your legal team to figure out what your data policy is. Then develop your hypothesis around how you think your sales and marketing environment works. Now you can start testing those hypotheses. Some of them will be right and some may be wrong. What you need to figure out at any given time is where your changes have the most impact. An app like Cien can help you with that.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Boring alert: I use Outlook, Word and Excel all day. And I use Salesforce and Cien to make sure our sales & marketing team are performing at an optimal level.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I read the book “Losing my Virginity” by Richard Branson where he talks about always making lists of what you want to get done, and adopted that habit many years ago. It has served me well. Thanks Richard!
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I have always loved reading, but after running startups for the last 15 years and raising a family, I found that I was unable to sit down and read books at home. Five years ago I started developing the habit of listening to audiobooks when I commute or exercise. I am able to read around 30 non-fiction books a year as a consequence. Three of my recent favorites are: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Juval Harari, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Learning by Robert Pool & Anders Ericsson and Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler.
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t always follow other people’s advice… Advice is only useful if the person giving it truly understands the details of your situation and have relevant experience from a very similar scenario. Learning from people’s experiences through reading and conversation can be super helpful though.
MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I set my mind on something and stick to it… Also because I have had a lot of different roles in tech companies I can often see things from multiple angles. That has helped me a lot while doing deals.
MTS: Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
MTS: Thank you Rob! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
About Rob Käll
Rob is an accomplished entrepreneur with 3 Successful MM exits in 10 Years. He is a versatile leader that has served as Startup CEO, Corporate Exec and Technical Founder, who is able to solve Technical, Business & Operational Problems at both Macro and Micro Level.
Cien gives sales leaders an immediate edge by using the power of artificial intelligence to increase the productivity of their teams. The mobile app automatically detects problems, predicts outcomes and recommends the shortest path to success. Contact us if you are interested in joining an A+ team, want to improve your current sales productivity, or partner with a next generation enterprise software company.
You can find the original version of this article on The Martech Interview Series Blog.