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How (And Why) This Founder of a Buyer <> Vendor Matching Software Built a Product from Deep Cybersecurity Market Research | Victoria Germanova

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“I think everything that we've built has come directly from CISOs asking for it. That's been our guideline always and it's taken us to some directions that I never expected.“

Episode Summary:

Listening deeply to the market before you even put pen to paper and draw your first paper prototype is very important.

In terms of the buying process, in order to be more productive and efficient as an industry you have to build relationship capital with your customers. 

Don’t treat your buyer as a potential target, an account, or as a number; treat them as a person.

Not every big name vendor fits every single buyer out there. “One size fits all” doesn't work in the cyberspace anymore. 

We should all be more gutsy about changing the script and changing how things are done.

Brutally honest insights from Victoria Germanova, Founder & CEO of Callity. 

In this episode, Dani Woolf had a conversation with Victoria about:

  • Tactics and strategies to successfully reach buyers and get them to open up.
  • Why buyers are feeling like things are rushed from renewals or an expansion standpoint. 
  • Challenges that vendors are experiencing in terms of the buying process with cybersecurity buyers.
  • How  both buyers and vendors can be more productive and efficient as an industry in terms of the buying process.
  • What Callity is and what solutions they are providing to the industry.
  • How to bridge the gap that occurs between the human element and automation when trying to build relationship capital.
  • Feedback points from buyers that are helping Victoria formulate next steps for Callity and the cybersecurity industry.

Guest at a Glance

💡 Name: Victoria Germanova

💡 What she does: Victoria is currently the Founder & CEO at Callity

💡 Where to find Victoria: LinkedIn 

Episode Insights:

We had a very special guest with us during this episode and at a very special time – live at CyberTech for Audience 1st’s first face-to-face in-person podcast, with Victoria, Founder & CEO of Callity. 

A while ago she got really interested in how and why companies seem to slow down in terms of innovation as they get bigger. 

“So much leaks away, so much disappears as a company grows.

Folks were saying that it's really tough to find leads. It's tough to qualify buyers.

What marketing hands over to sales hurts and doesn't solve for who they're looking to meet and how they're looking to spend their time as account executives

So, the problem really seemed to sit on both sides - the buyers and the vendors.” 

There is an imbalance between what vendors are out there, how many vendors are out there, what they actually do and who could actually benefit from those products and solutions.

And those were some really big challenges Victoria decided she had to try and solve.

As a founder, how does Victoria successfully connect with cybersecurity buyers?

“This goes back to sales 101, right? Ask questions, look for pain. As a salesperson, you do not pitch until you have got the person on the side to start talking about something that hurts. Because if your product doesn't solve the pain, then you are not, so you shouldn't be in that business because it's not going to succeed. 

In that initial wave of research that we did, I had the kind of, “hey, we're researching an answer. We're not selling a product.” 

So it was easier to open some doors as obviously things developed and it became more we're like thinking about a solution here. We're building a product.”

It becomes even more important now that you don't have your little “I'm a student hat on”. You have your, “I'm trying to talk to you about commercial opportunity” hat on to really focus on what hurts and what pains them.”

3 challenges Victoria has heard from cybersecurity buyers in her research:

  1. The pain of cold outbound and inbound
  2. Having to justify and defend their budget. Having to fight really hard for budget from the board or from the CEO of the CIO and then having to also justify where it's going. The fact that so much of it goes on renewals that end up kind of rushed. 
  3. Products and solutions that are bought for a reason and then as things evolve, don't necessarily fit (and get renewed automatically).

“Once we started hearing such a high volume of these points being told to us by so many different buyers, we realized those were the things we needed to fix.”

Why are buyers feeling like things are rushed from renewals or an expansion standpoint? 

“What we've heard from CISOs: when there's a new bit of budget allocated to a problem that needs solving for the first time, that tends to be treated a little differently. You fought for that budget so you're really paying attention to where it's going next. It sits more with your security team to find the solution and test it, procure it then it does with any other team in your organization. Procurement comes in at the last hurdle, right?”

With renewals, it's different due to various reasons:

  1. There's a lot of temptation to stick to existing solutions because of the pain of bringing something in new. So that tends to play a factor in wanting to actually go to market again and figure out whether buyers have the right tool. 
  2. Once the deal has been signed, the vendor is not as motivated to continue to exceed buyer expectations, unlock every single feature and to give them good reporting that tells them exactly where the tool is working or not.
  3. The procurement side of things is actually looking at that renewal as it's coming up and evaluating. It tends to slip to the procurement team who are dealing with every single purchase in the organization. 

“So it's just a different set of people with a different set of resources and amount of energy to dedicate to it. We heard from the buyers that the easiest money that they can bring in is a renewal. Because that's just the same percentage, the same vendor, no extra effort. So that's a bad influence as well.”

What are some of the challenges that vendors are experiencing in terms of the buying process with security buyers?

COVID drastically changed the situation for sales so much. What used to be a world where you could reach out to someone online, you could call their office number, you could show up at an event, you could meet them in all these different ways became very quickly a world where everyone's at the computer full up. A lot of people didn't go back to work so reaching out to an office number doesn't work anywhere as much as it used to either. 

There’s another problem that's been true throughout all time: marketing and sales don't like each other, there’s a silos between departments, between the heads. There's a lot of misfire, miscommunication and frustration both ways. 

What are some ways both buyers and vendors can be more productive and efficient as an industry in terms of the buying process? 

Both sides need to improve communication and build relationship capital. 

“I can see why things have evolved. It's not like it's anyone's fault. It's not like you come into a marketing organization or sales organization and say, “today I'm gonna piss off some buyers.” That's not what you come in thinking or wanting but that's how the system works right now. 

You are not treating every buyer who is a potential target as a person, you are treating them as a number.

So with vendors, my biggest bit of advice is get smarter about how you treat the top of that funnel because CISO's talk. They're gonna go out and trash you if you're really choosing them like a number. So get smarter about that.” 

Think about where your spend is going because those channels have really changed. We should all be more-gutsy about changing the script. And the more you stand out in those ways with a buyer, the better you're going to do with a buyer. 

“The market has really, really, really changed and grown crazy amounts - there are around 4,000 vendors out there and if you add services providers into that, we haven't even done the math.

Now, not every big name vendor fits every single buyer out there. One size fits all doesn't work in cyberspace anymore. And if you give vendors who might be less familiar names a chance, what you're doing is helping change the market for the better.” 

What is Callity?

Callity’s tagline is: We reduce the pain of vendor sourcing to zero.

“In a way we're taking the principles of building relationship capital and we're turning them into the rules of the game. Plain and simple like that. 

We are a Silicon Valley company born and bred. We are building and will be launching this month the MVP for a platform that lets buyers shop for vendors and find these up and comers. We are replicating the innovation showcase at a conference virtually without exposing buyers to all of the toxic sales and marketing behavior out there. We want to basically consumerize what that experience feels like to buyers.

We want to create a system where buyers can log in, see who the right handful of vendors are for either their most urgent needs or general kind of education of the space that they're interested in, meet them and have that sort of connection enabled by Callity.” 

We’re not bringing in leads. What we’re doing is building an experience that also feels consumerized more along the kind of Tinder framework: 

  • Vendors can apply to the network, Callity
  • Then they go through a verification process to confirm that they in fact are a cyber security vendor
  • After verification, the vendor's products become a card, a “Tinder-like profile”, on the platform and then that's it. 
  • If you are picked as a top three recommendation for a given buyer, you get to see the buyer profile but anonymized.

“You can't go and search for buyers unfortunately. To change the rules of the game, we have to change some of the ways that things have been done in the past. But you can sit back and you can wait for your profile to be presented to buyers. 

The buyer will be able to see the information we got from the vendor when they’ve onboarded, which is everything that you would again, share on one of these early calls.

At that point, Callity recommends the vendor that is the best in the market potentially for those buyer’s needs. If the vendor has said, yes, they would want to meet this buyer because they think they can serve them and if the buyer said, yes, they accept this match, then the introduction occurs. It literally looks like a little dating app presentation.” 

3 key principles of Callity:

  1. Quality. The data we're collecting is not the stuff you get from a data sheet or the stuff you get from my website. It's from vendors articulating the task of differentiation, not in order to sell to a particular buyer but in order to get the right matches to their doorstep because they only pay for meetings that they opt into so they are basically motivated to tell us the truth about what they do. And we have this feedback loop where we're constantly checking the information, verifying it, curating, vetting, giving vendors internal scores on how good they are and how honest they are and how good their product is. 
  2. Integrity. We work with any vendor. Not a lot of people who are providing recommendations to buyers can say that. The only way that you can get preferred status is by having a good product that buyers love and treating buyers well on the first call. That's it. You can't pay. You can't buy us and our findings by paying extra. You just have to give us a specific description of what you do and your buyer profile/ICP.
  3. Confidentiality. We want to protect buyers from shady marketing outreach. So, when we go shopping for a buyer, we keep that profile secret. When a buyer’s profile goes to a vendor, they have to agree not to put that buyer on the marketing outreach list. It means that buyers that we bring to vendors cannot be treated as a number. We're protecting them against that treatment. And if vendors don't stick to those rules, then they're off the platform.

How to bridge the gap that occurs between the human element and automation when trying to build relationship capital.

Callity is automating a part of the process that used to be or is still human to human and sometimes in complex buying processes that human to human touch is very, very beneficial. But they frequently discuss it especially with buyers:

Number one, we are not replacing the wine and dine. What we're doing is we're optimizing how people spend their time just at the top of the funnel. We’re making sure that buyers are introduced to the right vendors.

We're not removing the human-to-human component so much as fostering the right humans being in the room together at the right time.

The other element of it is, unlike resellers, unlike integrators, we don’t hold the hand of the vendor through the sales cycle. We actually don't even attend the first call. We are just focused on improving the part that is the most frustrating for this entire journey, which is the top of the funnel. 

We're giving vendors the opportunity to sell directly. We're not taking ARR from them. We take a finder’s fee for the meeting and that's it. So you can do your human-to-human magic touch.”

For the buyer, this is a repository where they can connect with the right products given their current requirements. And then for the vendor side, Callity is a repository and a product where they could connect with high intent buyers based on the fit of the product and the requirements of the buyer.

What are the feedback points that Victoria has gotten from buyers that are helping her formulate next steps for Callity?

“As we continue to yell from the rooftops, no two buyers are alike, no two need profiles are alike, but it also means that what we've learned is how buyers engage with vendors is different as well. 

Some buyers actually have time to meet vendors, they will accept decent cold outreach and fill that calendar with those vendors. That's very kind and it's a chunk of the market that we really want to help.

So for buyers who maybe don't have that many purchases yet but do understand that part of their job is to meet vendors and to know what's happening in the market, they’re more looking to explore and educate themselves. 

We have an option at Callity, which is completely free for buyers where you just tell us what you're interested in, the themes you're interested in and we send you 3 recommendations every three weeks where they can just look at these vendors and see if they want a conversation.

We also work with urgent cases and solutions on how we can accelerate that path to POC and take it down to days rather than weeks or months.

Another interesting thing we're hearing from buyers, due to many different things they need to be dealing with is sometimes the timeline has to be moved. This actually tends to happen more at the larger organizations. We're working with Fortune 10 and a public company in the Valley who are expressing this need. 

Ideally, people don't get cold on you. Ideally, you hear this is cold for now but we're going come back to it next month. So many deals get lost because of that and that's a problem with the CRM. 

But what we've devised and what's going to be really the focus of our build is a procurement manager tool and always on retainer that let's buyers see the entire suite of things that they're buying or renewing in a given year, move those things around and we handle all of the comms on that. 

So the vendors get the notification saying, “buyer X has moved the timeline to this date” and they are incentivized to stay on the platform and keep connecting with other buyers.

Transferring Cybersecurity Industry Frustration to Positive Action

“Things aren't going to change unless you stop complaining and start actually doing the thing. I do think that there's a lot of anger around this problem. This is why we're building here because we see all your anger, we see your frustration. 

It's a really hard market right now and things just can't continue as they are. And I would love to see some of that energy, that frustration, that fear, that really negative affect attached to these issues transformed into actual action. 

This doesn't mean everyone has to go and start a company immediately. But think about what tools exist out there, what initiatives you can support, who's doing a good job? What vendor can you uplift and say, “Hey, I've seen them do something great!” We can turn a lot of this negativity into positive affirmation. Positive action. Spread love, spread positivity, not hate.”

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