Founded in 2015 and headquartered in Oakland, California, Gravitational is a technology company focused on automating operation of complex applications in restricted server environments. Teleport, one of its core products, allows systems engineers and managers to control privileged access to critical server infrastructure. The startup completed the Y Combinator accelerator and raised $4 million in seed funding. Its customers include Nasdaq, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Ticketmaster.
Challenge: Attracting Enterprise Buyers to a Deeply Technical Product
In early 2018, Gravitational’s founders realized they needed help communicating the strengths of Teleport to potential customers. The three-year-old startup had no trouble drawing interest in the product from engineers, but decision-makers at enterprises were harder to attract. The company’s founders had a technical background, and their sales pitches and marketing materials weren’t connecting with the needs of senior executives at larger companies.
The company’s growth strategy required breaking into the enterprise market, so its future depended on attracting and converting enterprise buyers. However, the current messaging—the language the company used in its sales and marketing—wasn’t working. Lead flow was choppy, lacked consistent quality, and was too difficult to convert into sales.
Firstly, the current messaging was not resonating with enterprise decisionmakers. “The culture of the company was very engineering-driven, and there was a sense of marketing to ourselves,” said Taylor Wakefield, Gravitational’s COO. “We’d been fairly successful attracting engineers, but we weren’t getting much traction with more senior executives… We just didn’t have that perspective.”
Secondly, the current messaging gave enterprise buyers the impression that the enterprise version of Teleport was comparable to the open-source version, rather than with the legacy enterprise solutions in the market. Enterprise prospects—the few who got past the technical, feature-focused language—were anchored to the wrong end of the market (free, open-source) and therefore objected to enterprise-level pricing. “We tried superficial things, like calling the product ‘enterprise,’ pricing it accordingly and doing some feature differentiations, but we were still marketing it as a commodity,” Wakefield said.
Having invested heavily in developing Teleport and recently hiring a sales executive, increasing the flow of enterprise leads and positioning Teleport as a high-value solution was a matter of survival.
Despite the importance of this challenge, it wasn’t clear to the founders how to solve it. A previous attempt at finding a full-time marketer who could grasp the company’s deeply technical products and relate to the technical audience had failed.
Solution: An Engineer-Turned-Marketer and the Buyer Fluency Framework™
One of the company’s co-founders came across Greg Kogan’s consulting services after reading one of his blog posts. The team was impressed by Kogan’s technical background and his verified track record of helping software startups break into the enterprise market. Gravitational and Kogan decided to engage, with the goal of acquiring more qualified, high-value sales leads for the Teleport product.
Over the next two months, Kogan applied his Buyer Fluency Framework to identify the exact language that would attract and convert enterprise buyers into qualified leads:
1. Conducting market research to determine where the product should be positioned to maximize buyer interest.
A key finding was a category name that leading research firms and the largest competitors were using: Privileged Access Management (PAM). This meant enterprise decision makers were primed to value, look for, and buy solutions in that category.
“None of us even knew PAM was a thing, but Greg had a different frame of reference,” Wakefield said. “That put us in a category people are used to paying for, compared to a category with a bunch of free open-source tools. It also allowed us to target our buyers better.”
2. Conducting customer interviews to uncover what buyers care about and the language they use.
“Hearing from our customers through an outsider was valuable when thinking about our communication strategy,” Wakefield said. “We learned that some of our differentiating features were around simplicity and ease of management, so that was a good way to focus the messaging. Before, we would just list features to try and convey value.”
3. Mapping the features of Teleport to buyers’ desired outcomes.
Kogan uncovered the top three outcomes that potential enterprise buyers wanted: Securing their infrastructure and meeting compliance requirements; reducing operational overhead; and improving visibility into infrastructure access and behavior. He then mapped the product’s features and benefits onto those desired outcomes.
4. Creating a messaging guide with the exact language to use in sales and marketing.
The guide included the exact messaging to position the product as a high-value and differentiated solution for enterprise buyers’ desired outcomes, in a language those buyers understand. The guide included a new tagline, which went from “Modern SSH for teams managing distributed server clusters” to “Privileged access management for elastic infrastructure that doesn’t get in the way.”
5. Executing go-to-market activities to begin attracting and converting enterprise buyers.
Using the new messaging guide, Kogan rewrote the product’s website in a language that resonates with enterprise buyers and attracts more of them from search engines. He also helped overhaul the sales deck and marketing campaigns, and change the way the founders spoke about the product both inside and outside the company.
“Before, we would call the product different things depending on how we felt that day,” Wakefield said. “Now we have a fundamental framework for talking about it, whether in sales calls, requests from partners or product descriptions. Consistency is important because it gives the buyer a clear framework for evaluating the product, establishes a level of trust with the audience, and helps drive qualified traffic.”
Results: +621% Annual Revenue and Overflow of Enterprise Leads
The new messaging drastically improved both the quantity and quality of Gravitational’s enterprise sales prospects: Qualified leads doubled in the three months following the project, compared to the previous three months; organic search traffic increase by 80 percent; enterprise sales cycles shortened significantly. Annual recurring revenue (ARR) went up 621%, year-over-year.
“We started seeing more interest from senior buyers, and there was a clearer distinction between the open-source and enterprise versions—something they understood they needed to pay for,” Wakefield said.
Abe Ingersoll, VP of Sales & Solutions Engineering, said the improved sales deck made it easier to turn leads into customers. “It feels like it’s faster to go from initial touch to getting the value proposition,” he said.
Ev Kontsevoy, CEO of Gravitational, summed it up: “The Buyer Fluency Framework was transformative for our company.”
Following this success, Gravitational asked Kogan to apply the same framework to their second enterprise product, which is in the fast-growing space of Kubernetes. “We want to differentiate ourselves in an authentic way from other vendors in this space and make clear which desired outcomes and benefits should make you want to buy this product,” Wakefield says. “We enjoyed working with Greg… Now we want to repeat the process.”
Learn more about Greg Kogan’s growth consulting for B2B software startups →