What if you only had one account to sell to? One with a $100-million budget and a quarter of a million employees? Rahul Maniktala, Microsoft’s Strategic Account Director of Semi/Hi-Tech Manufacturing has that very job. He’s today’s guest on Market Dominance Guys, and Chris Beall and Corey Frank are curious about how Rahul goes about dominating his market of one. “Behind me is the might of Microsoft,” he explains, and the culture there lends itself very well to support for their customers. In addition, Rahul’s background in technical expertise and an understanding of high-tech products, which is the basis of his customer’s business, helps him gain an understanding of what his customer wants to accomplish. After that, “[t]here are a lot of people you have to align,” Rahul explains to Chris and Corey. He always starts with the customer, employing empathy in order to understand their goals, and then works with the people at Microsoft to create an alignment of purpose between the goals of this company he works for and the goals of the customer he serves. It’s a balancing act, and one that Rahul is very adept at, as you’ll learn in today’s Market Dominance Guys’ episode, “Empathy, Goals, and an Alignment of Purpose.”
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Here is the full transcript from this episode:
Corey Frank (01:48):
Welcome to another episode of The Market Dominance Guys with Corey Frank and Chris Beal, Chris it's been a while, hasn't it? I think we've had our vacations, right. All points north, east, west European and otherwise. And we finally get together. You've had a couple of solo episodes. I've had a solo episode. They're not the same, just I love Susan, but there's nothing like having Johnny Carson in his seat. You can't have the Joan Rivers and those replayed to John Davidson and the replacement homes. So it's good to have you back in the seat as always. And we have guests, which is always some of our favorite episodes as we approach the hundredth episode of The Market Dominance Guys, Chris, we're leading up to that milestone and today, right? We're raising the bar from an interesting perspective and the topic Chris, when you hit me up on this, right, is dominating a market of one.
Corey Frank (02:37):
And so we're pleased to bring on and I'll let you introduce some Chris, his background, a little bit Rahul Maniktala from Microsoft and Rahul. I apologize if I butchered your last name, but we'll just go by Rahul for now. And Rahul’s a friendly, and we're fascinated because as we talked about in the previous 95 episodes, or so the different machinations of how you dominate a market and the moving pieces and how many different variables in a closed system and an open system. And sometimes it can be probably equally challenging if you're in Rahul’s situation here, can it not Chris, where you have a market of one, you have concentration risk as the private equity folks like to call it. And how do you turn that to an advantage and how do you not screw it up? So with that, Chris, I'm going to let you introduce Rahul and how you guys started chatting about market dominance.
Chris Beall (03:29):
Yeah. So, Rahul, it's great to have you on thanks so much, Corey. Rahul And I met through my fiance, Helen Fernutchi at a bourbon tasting event online. So it was how many of us were there Rahul, like six or something like that. And we were being introduced to Kentucky bourbons by a real master. And then afterward we had a private conversation in which we didn't say anything during the event, but here's the McKellen 18. This is more along our lines.
Corey Frank (04:03):
When you switched from bourbon, to you went immediately up into the scotch realm.
Chris Beall (04:06):
Well, we went back to our native habitat, so to speak and had a nice chat about some other things. And we have talked to each other a few times since. And what fascinates me is, we've been talking about dominating markets or addressing market needs, getting into markets, not failing all sorts of stuff in the world where there are many, many, many potential folks to sell to. So the flip of that is of course, where you have a single account that's yours, but it's so big, so complex, so changing and so embedded in not just what they're doing, but in society is large. So there's a lot of things going on and being the person for that is a completely different game.
Chris Beall (04:49):
It's like being the CEO of a company who has adopted a market that happens to consist of in a way hyper verticalized. It's one company after all, it can't get much more vertical than that, but incredibly complex on the inside. And I just thought it would be really fascinating to have Rahul take us on that magical mystery tour. And first thing is Rahul, thanks so much for being on. And secondly, how the hell did you get into the business of a market of one,? What's been your life trajectory that would lead you to such a strange and wonderful place?
Well Chris and Corey, thank you for having me. I think you summed it up well, right? Going from bourbons to scotch right. So that's what things are. So the way I ended up in this is having that deep technical expertise and having an understanding of high-tech, which is totally steadily getting very workable verticalized, as you said on hyper verticalized. Right? So when we look at companies, or accounts that we talk about, there's a certain specific secret sauce, as we all know how they go about approaching the market, right? So that's, that's been a passion all along. Focusing on complexity and some kind of secret sauce that these companies have and understanding how they go to market. So that's what kind of led me to looking at this single customer who in itself, as you said, dominates the market.
Chris Beall (06:15):
Well, it's interesting, isn't it? I mean, you must have started out as a regular person, just like the rest of us doing regular human things. It be us going out and knocking on doors and doing all the crap we do in order cold calling people or whatever. I don't know if you had to do any of that. Did you ever have to do any of that stuff? Do you ever have to, were you ever at that end of the world or did you go right from the technology side, the deep technical expertise right into, okay, so here, you've got your multi bazillion dollar account, Rahul, it's all yours go for it and try not to screw it up.
I think it's technology helps, but I still do cold calling. It always starts there. So technology helps ease the conversations based on what the customer wants to accomplish, but it's a mixed bag. That's how I would put it, that there are multiple variables, technology if you are operating in a high-tech type of an environment, eases the conversations, but it's not very different from what you do.
Chris Beall (07:10):
Did you start out as a technologist? Like I started out, I'm a physics math guy who fell into programming because I followed the Willie Sutton theory of business and life, which is where the money is. Right? So you Rob banks because that's where the money is. I couldn't find a lot of dollars over in physics and it appeared by my predilections and nature has likely to have children, although nowhere near as many of them as Mr. Frank has had that, not everybody can be that prolifically prodigious and prodigiously prolific, but I figured they would probably need food in their mouths and living in Denver.
Chris Beall (07:46):
So it gets a little cold there, somebody, a roof over their heads. And I went into software and finally ended up in business somewhere along the way. Cause I got sick of people not selling my stuff, frankly, I just get sick. I'd sit there and listen to that sales guy and he'd do everything wrong. And I finally just turned around and close the deal myself and go, wait, why am I paying him for what's that all about? So how about you, you, where did your path start? And then what was that moment where you went, huh? Actually selling stuff or helping customers buy stuff or whatever it is is part of the portfolio or should be part of the portfolio.
So very much started as a technologist. But then when I saw all this, I was doing contact centers back in the day, selling to application owners and largely selling, but more consulting. And then I was just like you, I was like, I'm making money for so many people. Why can't I make it for myself, right. So that's how I ended up letting myself take control of these things and just strung with it myself. There has been no looking back since then.
Chris Beall (08:45):
Hmm. Interesting, interesting. Corey, what are your thoughts about this strange path that some of these technologists go on you would think we would all stay in our swim lanes and be good little boys and girls writing code and stuff like that. But I mean, you've seen this once or twice.
Corey Frank (09:02):
Yeah. Especially as you look at Rahul your background, you like to stay with the small companies I noticed, right. Cisco and Microsoft. Right? So just to step above the traditional market dominance companies that Chris and I work in and consult within that journey, that career journey of yours going from product to a little bit of sales. Do you miss out on having a smaller startup kind of experience or looking at the rules that you've done knowing your background? Is it really an essence having a small company within a bigger company and that's the way that you've approached it and why you've been so successful?
I think it's a combination. There is no doubt about missing the agility in smaller companies. I've been in smaller companies and things get turned around very quickly. But I think that is the beauty of working in the big machine where you, when you have large customers that you're operating with the demands are very silo so you can tap into, on your end, you can tap into those smaller operations and bring the best out for your customer. So there are elements that I do not like on days. Like today's one of them, but for the most part there's a lot of resources. If you know how to navigate on both sides, the customer side, and your side.
Corey Frank (11:06):
So let's talk about that concentration risk, right? I mean, if you're, if we're an investor, right, Chris, you and I and private equity and the venture side, and we look at an organization and you say, wait a minute, you're spending all of your time, all of your resources, a lot of your capital at the risk of having one client of yours say, Hey, I want to go a different direction or the leverage they have over, Hey, listen, you got to do better on your prices or the leverage they have on Rahul and you're not as handsome as you once was. I prefer a more handsome person to take over our, whatever the whim of the prospect. How do you deal with that when there is one client and there are certain multiple constituencies yourself, but that's what I'm curious about. Never having a situation like that from a market dominance perspective of just one client that you serve.
So that's an interesting question and that in the past, I've had experience with managing a territory where you have multiple customers and then you come to a single customer, it's a territory of its own. Right? So yeah, I mean, I can't change the reasoning if they need a more handsome guy, but then if there are areas, so I would always start with the customer and work backward, right? That's the logic. So when I gave you the example of, Hey, there are many operational silos that I'm dealing with on both sides. I'm trying to bring the best from everywhere to my customer. It could be one customer. It could be multiple customers. The beauty of one customer is that I know things inside out and I'm operating with that sense of urgency where I'm delivering to various needs.
There could be an invoicing issue in the modeling and executive meeting in the afternoon, and then doing a deal in the evening. So it's like juggling multiple balls, but you know, compare that to multiple customers. I had when I came to Microsoft, I had about 65 customers that you, just from the whole off Bay Area, but that time you got to pick and choose, right? Where am I going to focus on this common knowledge? So it's the same, it's the same, there are so many things going on at every given time.
Corey Frank (13:15):
Sure. And the level of intimacy you must have in that operation to know how the stock price is going and how everybody's feeling about their options to that with the latest super of the day is on Tuesday in the cafeteria, in Santa Clara versus Oregon, I would imagine. So there is a level of familiarity that you have to be beyond just a traditional vendor. When you have one client,
You have to have that sixth sense. That's the key, right? Common sense is not common. So the intimacy piece is critical. You are absolutely right. You got to know. You got to know it inside out and to your earlier point or question when you are approaching those areas in a single customer, you have to keep in mind all that impacts on the broader relationship or the intimacy piece.
Chris Beall (14:08):
Well, there's one thing that strikes me. I've been around big companies, little companies, I worked for a couple of big ones and I've sold to some big ones since not exactly like you do Rahul and that it was a single product being sold into a big company, maybe in an OEM setting or something like that. You don't have a single product. You've got a wide range of offerings. They're evolving over time. Each one has its own set of resources back inside of Microsoft that can help you or could choose not to help you, right. I get the sense you have to sell to them in order to get their attention on something. And you have to be careful not to cry Wolf too often, or you will be ignored. So the false positive problem is they're on both sides of the business.
Chris Beall (14:56):
Whereas like I remember when I was telling to SAP and it was an OEM deal, I didn't have any real complexity other than what's going on inside of SAP. And what was their go-to market that was around the internet at the time. So it was really very simple. I found it simplifying. I didn't have to pick and choose. All I had to do was be real intimate. The way I did it, by the way, was I sat at their headquarters for 37 consecutive days in the lunchroom until I found somebody who would talk to me about something interesting and kind of move from there. But you have this thing that's really complex. And what's interesting to me is I've thought about like, I always think what if I had that job, right? So if somebody threw me into Rahul's job, I know what I would do.
Chris Beall (15:37):
I'd quit and I'd quit immediately because I know I don't have a chance. Cause here I am, I've got this big customer with all this internal complexity and personalities and all that. Then I've got my own company with all of its products and they're trying to get me to sell some things more than other things that I might be able to understand that then I have all these people, they got to help me by be six or 700 of them floating around somewhere and I get to know them. And then I got a number in front of me. So I got to go make the numbers somehow and still serve the customer. So my thing would have been, I just go, okay. That was really great. I'm so glad that I know how to eat bugs because I'm going to sit in a cave and eat bugs for the rest of my life.
Chris Beall (16:16):
Cause that's all, that's all I can afford to do. But you did this. So I imagine I can almost imagine doing your job. I can't imagine learning to do your job because I don't imagine you were given a lot of slack in the learning part that was specific to the customer and specific to all of the stuff that's going on behind the scenes, on your side, all those people you have to sell to and Marshall and get to do things.
Chris Beall (16:45):
And then this is something I don't know. If all of our listeners know about big companies, but here's a fact, a big company, life, big markets, never reorganized. They never do. They do not undergo cataclysmic changes. If you have a big market, it behaves as a big statistical entity. And even when something like COVID comes along, it might change a bunch like, Hey, I sell into the airlines. Look what happened last year. Right? But they don't reorganize. Big companies always reorganize. And those reorganizations can be fraught with peril for the sales guy. How did you get started? Like you walk in the door, why didn't you quit? Like a rational person would have done. I mean, I would have left. I'm a brave guy. Why didn't you?
I spend quite a bit of time at Microsoft. And I think the culture lends itself really well to support and align with working with such a large customer. Now the customer story is very much in line with what you were saying, but I think the time I came to Microsoft and how things got realigned and readjusted from a budget shift standpoint. It Was very helpful. And it's a bunch of collaboration simply put, yes, there is always competing priorities. There are a lot of people you have to align and all that stuff. But like I said to Cody earlier, always start with the customer and have that goal. And then people start aligning.
Now you will, absolutely. Right. When I came in and did the sole customer side, however, was very different from where it is today. It's definitely in a better shape. It can be better. It's getting better. But at that point I was one one-man-band man. And I had to be like, how do I turn this out? But I knew that behind me is the might of Microsoft. So I just had to use my ADHD skills, how to best align people towards a common objective that the customer had, which kind of took me about 18, 19 months to get there. It's a function of time.
Chris Beall (18:49):
Okay. So, during those 18 or 19 months, this is like a startup going out and trying to find product-market fit. Now you're the product, right? And here's your market. And you got to find out where you fit in there to be helpful to them? So what was the very first thing that you did, was it to study them and understand them? Was it to just start interacting and following the breadcrumbs? What did you actually do on day one, day two, day three that allowed you not to have to turn around and go, there's got to be easier work than this with a higher probability of success.
It was hard to work for starters that's what I would say. So I did my homework prior to signing up for the rules. A lot of research, lot of external research, lot of internal research on where things were. But then I started interacting with this from day one. Like not necessarily looking for the breadcrumbs, but looking for what is the expectation of the relationship between the two big corporations, right. At least my piece of business. So once I started to get an understanding of what the outcomes were. Started alining the team accordingly and started working on some key negotiations that were going to get us where we needed to get.
Chris Beall (20:06):
That is one thing you had, which is you have the momentum of the relationship itself. I mean, after all your customer, it's kind of obliged in a way to buy some stuff from Microsoft as are we all, I'm looking at my Surface Pro right here while I have Microsoft software all over this thing. Probably some of it, I know some of it, I don't know. So there's momentum at least. And there's-
I wouldn't call it momentum. The relationship is one of the oldest in the industry. But it wasn't necessarily at a pretty point. It wasn't where things were automatically propelled and things would start falling in place. That wasn't the case. It was the other way around. Right. So you had to literally build stuff from the ground up.
Chris Beall (20:46):
Oh wow, I surely would have left. Corey what do you think about this? [crosstalk 00:20:51]
It's really something from the ground up is a lot more fun than inheriting something and running with it. I've been there, but this has always been fun. I mean, repair is one aspect, but the joy that you get when things come too close, it's very different.
Corey Frank (21:10):
I was just saying that Chris would have left. I would have hidden and then they find out and then they escort me out the building that's generally when I go through it's an ugly scene. But talk about that another episode. So when you look at the basic tenants, the building blocks, we have these episodes Rahul. We often talk about kind of the key tenants. If you're a sales rep and you're approaching the beginnings of a new market, right? You need a script and you need tenacity and empathy. You need timing. You need a list. You need these things. If you were to train a big, dumb farm animal like me to come in and apprentice under you to what are the two tablets coming down the mountain that according to Rahul, that I need to have in order to at least have a semblance of hope of success to do what you're doing.
I think the two things would be empathy and goals. Empathy from a customer standpoint where the relationship has been, what they are experiencing, where they want to go and goals are yours, which goes back to my point, that I mentioned to Chris, that before I took the role, I identified my goal based on my research, internal and external. And when I came to the customer, I leaned in with empathy to understand what they want to accomplish. And then it was just an alignment exercise.
Chris Beall (22:30):
So simple, an alignment exercise. I'm in now.
Corey Frank (22:38):
But the identity that you have Rahul do you see yourself as a I'm sure there's elements that every day you probably have pieces of this, but are you a project manager? Are you a politician? Are you a sales guy? Are you a product marketer all day? Probably depends on the day, but again, how do you qualify what you do and where you need to spend a little bit more time that maybe people don't assume that you need that more. For instance, the empathy side of it. It's not just about pushing a bunch of Gantt charts or project management plans down to the appropriate folks as a traffic cop, correct?
No, it's not, it's not, it's what I call active listening or aggressive listening. That's where things open up when you're sitting down with the customer. But I think of all the four or five things that you described, you have to, you really have to be a politician, right? You have to be able to connect the dots, right? And then you have to do it on both sides. You have to, like I said, the understanding of customer goals is key, but in a bigger relationship, what it is, is what drives everything, right? On both sides, you have to budget time that you're your own one-on-one time. But you're thinking about the customer, thinking about what you're saying and how you're landing, that's where most of the time is spent.
Corey Frank (23:55):
Do you see yourself as this politician or someone who maybe the mothership Microsoft says, you know, Rahul, we need to reign you in. We think that you're a little too sympathetic to the client as opposed to being empathetic to their needs. And remember who signs the front of your check in certain situations, cause I'd fall in love. I would just be sucked in by my clients so much and right. Probably forget whose buttering my bread and a lot of degrees, but hey, do you want this feature, this feature, this feature let's, we can do that and then realize that I got to be a politician in my own house here too.
I mean, it's an interesting question, but it's a balancing act. Sometimes I do get there, right? Instead of empathy, it gets very sympathetic, right? And then you have to pull yourself out because of the relationship and the overall responsibility and to your point, who writes my paycheck, right? So that's all it's there. But I think as long as you're doing right by the customer things work out, things fall in place, that's been my experience.
Corey Frank (24:57):
So Chris, from a market dominance perspective, probably two and a half bourbons and one Macallan as you and Rahul were speaking and knowing is what you do about market dominance. What was so intriguing that you think a lot of our other listeners on more of a traditional market dominance who have multiple clients, multiple prospects, large Tams can learn from Rahul that surprised you.
Chris Beall (25:20):
I think it's always one of those, What's the same and what's different? kind of things. So in a traditional market tech market, especially. The key is to first of all, to know your market, which is at the very least a list, much more of a list than a description, but it's a list of folks that have no moving parts between them there. That is their relationship is essentially independent except for one thing. And that is each company on that list is if you sell to them, going to reduce the cost and the risk of selling to every other company on that list, that's the kind of the definition of a classic market. And so what I'm curious about that, what stays the same and what's different. That is what is the importance in having a market of one where you can make a list, right?
Chris Beall (26:09):
You can make a list of all the different parts of the business and who services them because they have their own internal service capabilities. They have a CIO and that person’s taking care of all sorts of things and so forth. So you can certainly map it out and make a list of people, but they actually have functional relationships to each other, which I think is fascinating because there are no functional relationships between the entities you're trying to sell to in a traditional market. Other than this weird one, which is they each have some confidence in the other guy, if other guy go first. It's like, all the lemmings are standing at the edge of the cliff. If one of them is just brave enough to jump into the ocean. So you kind of keep flicking them, right. And you get one of them to go.
Chris Beall (26:52):
But then that second lemon kind of goes, Hey, this ain't bad. I'll go to, and that's your job is to get all the lemmings into the water. So you can, I don't know what you do with lemmings in the water. You follow them in and have lemming stew or something like that. Rahul's world is both the same and different. I'm guessing. So here's what I think might be the same. I'm going to throw a hypothesis out there, your big client. How big are they by the way, how many people and how many, how many people do you care about in there that you have to interact with them, then how many dollars are involved in their business?
I mean, it's close to about a quarter of a million people and close to about a hundred million dollars.
Chris Beall (27:31):
So you need to identify, I think this part's the same. You've got to identify the people who count to you. And I bet you have a list. Right. You know, everybody at any given point that you're sure counts.
I know most of them, but I have a big team, right. So I got to, like I said, to go to and prioritize and yes, for the most part.
Chris Beall (27:54):
Yeah, you got to, I mean, you can't say, oh, I just come in every day and start randomly interacting with people at that doesn't work. So you kind of know who's who you, you know something else which is, I think interesting. I think there's an analog. So when, when we make a sale into a market, like I was talking to a gentleman today, CEO, founder of a company that's just made a big pivot and they need to get 20 customers by the end of the year in order to get funding. Right? So their market has actually got two elements to it. One is the market of customers and the other is the market of VCs. And in order to make the market of VCs comfortable enough to go to the next level with them, they need to get themselves some more customers. That's what they think.
Chris Beall (28:39):
And they've just done this pivot. So they've got to go through this process of looking at the whole market and talking to maybe 500 people and getting it down to these 10 additional that are going to buy from them. So they know that functional relationship is pretty much if I sell to you, this one's more likely to buy. And then the relationship with the VC is if I sell the 10, then this one's more likely to write me a check, right? You, it seems to me, you face it additional dimension beyond internal reference ability. And that is, I bet that I'm going to take a guess. Sometimes you've got to decide, I want this to happen next. So that this person over here will be appropriately influenced by the fact that this happened over here into somewhat independently or connected to your customer's business they're trying to run and having something to do with knowledge that you have of the functional or trust connections or whatever, among the people inside. It's almost like the people or the companies. That's what it kind of feels like to me. It that kind of close.
That's yeah. I mean, that's, that's what it is. People are the company. I mean, I'm not interacting with the entire 250,000 people. I got a few and there are to your point about the functional relationship there are many. And there are times where I need certain things to happen. And I just have to the point earlier about making those connections and to some extent influencing them or getting information that helps and then just ride.
Chris Beall (30:21):
So do you often know something that one person in that big company would like to know that they don't know that you know, from somewhere else in there and you have to decide what to do with that information.
Once in a while. [crosstalk 00:30:37] The more time you put in the more frequent that gets.
Chris Beall (30:45):
It's like getting lucky because you, the harder I work, the luckier I get, right.
Corey Frank (30:51):
By the way, for the audience, before we started recording, we asked Rahul. So there's going to be some questions we're going to ask. And based off of the nature of the sensitivity of the relationship, right? He can politely differ or politely obfuscate. So putting them on the spot and he's very elegantly deflecting here and there, I would imagine. So to Chris's point Rahul, if you had, take the antithesis that if you wanted to really boost production value delivery results, how do you go about doing that? If you said, listen, we need a 40-yard pass, right? This is, this is Corey. The small mid-sized guy speaking, right? The naivete of the larger organization, particularly two large organizations, but I'm sure there are certain times where you got to think where's the 40-yard pass downfield here. That if all of the moons were in alignment, if you could really get everything in place could really make more than a couple of basis points. Difference. Talk a little about some of those processes maybe that you would go through or those project plans, ideas, collaborations that maybe you've done in the past.
I call it rules of engagement. You have to follow all of them. There is no exception. Once you're following the rules of engagement and the relationships are in place. Not a lot of them are very specific to the question you asked, I think all the chips fall in place and that's were we have seen success. I would say a few times now in the last, maybe three years, that's how things have been. So I never, like I said, you know the political piece. So I never tried to mess things up there, but I stayed focused on the guardrails and align the team in that manner. So we're not breaking any rules. And as long as you're doing that, and then you're connecting the dots from a relationship standpoint, big things happen.
Corey Frank (32:51):
That's generally not such a large relationship where you're working with a pharma customer in the past, and it was like a pharmaceutical distribution. It was very similar. It was a distributed environment where they work in now is a very centralized environment where, but the rules of engagements, we're still kind of defining how you go back.
Chris Beall (33:18):
Oh, that's really interesting. I would make the distinction between physics and chemistry so we can all learn physics, right? Cause it's simple. It's only four forces in nature and you throw in a little geometry and you're pretty much there, but in the world of chemistry, you have to know what goes with what, in what environments and under what conditions. And you have to respect that it's going to do what it's going to do.
Chris Beall (33:40):
And if you don't know, you can have bad experiences. Right. I think the phrase blow up in your face, came out of the chem lab, not out of physics lab. I'm pretty sure. So that's what it sounds like a big part of this kind of market work is knowing what those rules are, what goes with what, what you can rely on, I suppose, is that, I mean, there must be some things that would freak me out, but you'd just go, no, no, no, no, no. This is going to be kind of what happens next, because in a way it's kind of like this bonds to that, and that happens next and you dumb physicist. You'll just think they're bouncing around, but actually they hook up and these things happen next is that kind of what it's like?
It is. So what goes with what is the rules of engagement, right. And then you are connecting the dots, which is more of the relationship piece. And then you go in with conviction that I know this is what's going to happen next. As long as we have done these things, right? Things would fall in place.
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