How To Identify and Effectively Market To Your Ideal Customers With Steve Kahan

Steve Kahan is a serial entrepreneur and a Marketing Advisor at Insight Partners, where he provides marketing advisory services to the firm’s portfolio companies. He has successfully helped grow seven startup companies from the early stages to going public or being sold, resulting in nearly $5 billion in shareholder value. Steve is also the author of Be a Startup Superstar and High-Velocity Digital Marketing. 

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Steve Kahan, a Marketing Advisor at Insight Partners, about how to identify and effectively market to your ideal customers. They also discuss the value of publishing educational content, best practices for following up with leads, and how to create a high-performing website.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [01:46] How Steve Kahan helped grow a company from $5 million to $145 million in revenue
  • [06:00] How to identify and effectively market to your ideal customer
  • [11:55] Steve’s advice for creating an effective sales and marketing model
  • [16:00] How to identify content gaps
  • [18:34] Best practices for following up with leads
  • [23:05] Steve talks about helping a company create a dummies book and why he wrote the book, High-Velocity Digital Marketing
  • [30:20] How to optimize your website
  • [34:07] The peers Steve acknowledges for their support

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Chad Franzen 0:02

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:19

All right, welcome, everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And thanks for joining us. We got another great episode for you here. And if you are new to the program, go check out our archives because we got some great episodes of smart CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, executives of all kinds of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, and many more. And I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business and business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today is Steve Kahan. He successfully helped grow seven startup companies from early stage to going public or being sold resulting in over $5 billion in shareholder value. In this episode, we’re actually going to do a bit of a teardown of a recent acquisition that he went through a company he was instrumental in helping to grow over about seven years or so recently was acquired $1.4 billion dollar valuation. So really incredible result, we’re going to talk about how he grew that business. And Steve is also the author of a number of different books, including Be a Startup Superstar, High Velocity Digital Marketing, his most recent one, and working on an interesting murder mystery thriller, which we’ll have to hear more about in the future when it’s out there. 

This episode, of course, is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn more about what we do at Or email us at [email protected]. Alright, Steve, excited to have you here today. And we were talking beforehand about this, the company that you were with over about a seven year period grew it from 5 million in revenues to $145 million in revenues, was acquired at $1.4 billion transaction. Let’s break this down. What are you know, looking back in the rearview mirror? What are some of the key factors that yielded such a tremendous result?

Steve Kahan 2:17

Yeah, John, good to be with you. It was a hell of a ride. And I remember when I joined this company with the funny name called dichotic. Sounds I know a little bit like psychotic that it was in the cybersecurity space, it actually secured passwords just to provide some context across an organization’s infrastructure, their operating systems, databases, applications, and if bad people get a hold of those passwords, they have the keys to the kingdom. And so when I started on day one, we were just sort of an also ran in that space, we had a good product, we were going against bigger, better funded competitors. Revenue at flatline two quarters in a row when I joined along with one other executive when a VC had put money into the company. And certainly the odds were stacked against us than some of the high hopes that the venture capital folks had, were starting to wane a bit, and we literally restored revenue growth. Within the very first quarter, we hit our revenue targets every quarter for five years where we grew from five to the 140 5 million, we took share away from brutally tough competitors. And what we did to achieve that great success was we created a highly efficient sales and marketing machine that, that and really from a digital marketing perspective, we’re able to, to grow quickly. And getting into what just one example of one of the things we did is that I remember when I started, I was interviewing the founders and the management team, and I asked them who their customers were. And they said, Steve, Well, of course, this is a cybersecurity company, you should know our customers. They’re the VPs of IT security. They’re the CISOs chief information security officers. You know, we hired you your experience guy, you got to know that. And so I shook my head, and then started to meet with a number of those customers and of course, asking them the right questions. And what I came to find out was that although the company was 5 million at the time that the VPs of IT security weren’t the customers at all. In fact, the customers were the IT admins. These were the techies in the trenches, who wore many hats, one of which was security, and they were looking for fast, easy, affordable. some very specific characteristics and solutions that they work for, they were never going to read an analyst report ever, they would read, for example, reviews from their peers, which were very important to them. And so there were very specific places that they hung out online that were very much different than those than those folks who were responsible for IT security. And so imagine if I had put a go to market strategy and a marketing strategy that was focused on the wrong customer, I can assure you that we would never have gotten the return on our investments that we had hoped for. And being able to go at that customer with the right message by understanding the full context of their world that really set the table for us to be able to market very efficiently online, and start to grow revenue very quickly.

John Corcoran 6:00

So to kind of clarify it, it seems like what you discover is that it wasn’t the higher level C suite executive seaso, Chief Information Security Officer. That was it your buyer that was actually making the buying decision, it was it was the person that reported up to them, that was the person that was making these decisions, doing the research about which solution to go with that correct?

Steve Kahan 6:23

Yeah. And what’s what’s interesting is that when I talk with a lot of execs, is that, and if you ask them, and you say, Gee, are you talking to your customers? I mean, even if they’re not doing it enough, though, they probably won’t say it quite like that. Admit

John Corcoran 6:38

They’ll say, oh, yeah, we’re talking to our customers, right.

Steve Kahan 6:41

And so it’s not just that you’re continually talking to your customers, it’s that you’re asking them the right questions. So for example, a lot of organizations they sort of asked questions that lead their customers to answer those questions in way that lo and behold, somehow align with the product that they sell. Right? And so that

John Corcoran 7:04

really loaded questions. Yeah, exactly. Extending that direction.

Steve Kahan 7:08

That doesn’t work. And so for example, let me give some of the listeners a example of some questions that they probably ought to be asking so many companies and do not ask questions around the status quo. And the status quo represents the customer’s current situation, how they conduct business now, and this really matters. Because you often don’t lose business to a competitor, you lose business to the status quo. It’s like when you hear someone saying, Yeah, you know, I’m just not going to go by right now, what I’ve got is good enough, right? And so, So what you’ve got to be able to do is to really understand that where you’re asking questions for what is their current process for insert their particular challenge? What works? What doesn’t? How does your team stay on top of that challenge and not get overwhelmed by it? What are a few of the tools that you currently use? To solve for that challenge? What do you like about them? What don’t you like, right, and simply just understanding the answers to how they are viewing the status quo, and how the status quo might might have certain obstacles or challenges associated with it is really the beginning of starting to understand your customers in ways in which you can market to them effectively. And when you’re asking a lot of these right questions, what I often advise to do is that you pay specific language attention to the language that the customers use. And I always kept a master document populated with the phrases that they use

John Corcoran 8:58

to it every time you talk to someone and putting those in there. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Because

Steve Kahan 9:01

what what I’ve found over the years is that the truth is, is that most buyers, they really don’t care how clever your marketing department is. What they want to do is they want to work with people who understand them who empathize with them, and speaking their language proves that you do exactly that.

John Corcoran 9:23

So like, and it’s great when it’s like some kind of rich language like I understand that you are kept up at night worrying about whether your cybersecurity solution is going to break and you’re not going to have someone you can turn to something like that.

Steve Kahan 9:38

Yeah, let me give you a practical example so that people really could get it and could apply it to their own businesses. So when I was talking to those IT admins who are responsible for security, I would ask them question, which was like, how many of these What were these passwords were known as privileged passwords. So To say, how many privileged passwords do you have in your organization? And most of these companies have complex infrastructures, whether they’re on premise or the cloud. And so when I asked that question, literally 100% of them said, you know, we really don’t know. And so like, if you don’t know how many of these passwords you have, how are you going to manage and secure them? So just by understanding that we had a discovery feature that was in our paid for product, and what I decided to do was to rip out that discovery feature, give it away for free, targeted to specific environments, and we created a free tool that then discover those passwords. It presented them with what they had the risks associated with that and even told them what they would need to do, should they choose to manually go take care of it, right. And so that really was something that offered huge value content that flew off the shelves, and then I trained our sales team and our partners to properly follow up with that content. So they would be able to say like, Well, gee, how did you do? Where did you do? Well, where Didn’t you do? Well? Would you be interested in learning how we might help, which then changed the whole dynamic of our relationship? Because we weren’t just viewed as like pushy salespeople, which of course, our salespeople I’m sure were, but but they were also following up in very much a consultative manner. And that further differentiated us and enable us to create really long lasting relationships in ways that our competitors did not.