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How to take a healthy 'not-so-start-up' company to the next level - a challenge for 6sense's Chief Product Officer Jerome Levadoux

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 19, 2024
Summary:
Jerome Levadoux is 6sense's first CPO. He explains the challenges ahead and how he plans to deal with them.

Jerome Levadoux
Jerome Levadoux

As one of the first companies in the account-based marketing space, 6sense has been a driver of account-based strategies and one of the first to dive deep into leveraging AI for sales and marketing. They typically sit at the top of analysts and review site lists. But getting to the top and staying there (and continuing to grow) are different things. 

To help the company ensure it is on the right path, the company has hired Jerome Levadoux as Chief Product Officer (CPO). That rather begs the question, why did it not have a Chief Product Officer before? And what does Levadoux bring to the table? Let’s find out! 

The challenges of building great products

Ask any CPO about the challenges of building great products, and you'll likely get a list that is a mile long. It isn't easy. But the challenges a company faces tend to relate to its size, the number of products it sells, and its growth. 

Levadoux believes that it's easier to get organized when you are a small company. Having fewer product managers and engineers means they can sit in a room and quickly change plans. There's little to no history or legacy technology and fewer customers. And, importantly, the impact of doing something is not so enormous on your customers. 

But as you grow, it’s a different story. First, says Levadoux, you need a lot more processes to operate at a higher scale. You are also impacting more customers and dealing with much larger teams. Now, you’re heading into challenging territory, especially if you want to get things working effectively.

Another challenge comes with being a multi-product company. Levadoux feels that creating and being successful in multi-product capabilities is very difficult. Many companies fail at it, hindering their growth as they try to expand.

And then there's the size of your customers. Bigger customers have more requirements, especially around security, compliance, and international support. Your product might not have changed much, Levadoux notes, but selling to larger companies is very different.

Why does 6sense need a Chief Product Officer now? 

So back to the main question - 6sense did not have a Chief Product Officer to date, so why now? What has changed for the company to move in this direction?

Last year, 6sense launched Revenue AI for Sales and is now in the process of launching Revenue AI for Operations. That's three different products, as well as its Marketing product. Levadoux argues that operationalizing the organization to support these multiple products is challenging, and it's what the main focus is on now. 

Sales of the new Sales product are strong, he adds,  but it’s just the start:

It's one thing to launch something in your first year; you kind of hit it off, right? But then you need to continue to grow with these customers. The first year, you start from zero. So, it's easy to look good when you launch a new product, and you start from zero. But then, year two, year three, or four, you need to continue that growth curve and really confirm the initial impression. And so, yeah, that's why in the middle of that right now.

Levadoux's initial read on the company was highly positive, but when he spoke with customers  - he spoke with over 50 over the past five weeks - he really bought in. The customer feedback was good; they love the company and the product, so he's not looking at this work as crisis management. Instead, it's an opportunity to simplify things.

For example, pricing. Levadoux admits that 6sense’s pricing is too complex and hard to explain, not only to customers, but also to the sales team. He also wants to improve how customers go from one product to another and make it easier to adopt additional products:

No-one wants to have friction. If you're a consumer of many products. If you use something and you want to expand, you want it to be easy, right? And so I think there's an opportunity for us to kind of make it easier so that our customers have an easier time discovering things.

Levadoux also feels that as 6sense has grown tremendously fast in the last five years, it shows. In some areas, pprocesses are lacking or more appropriate to a start-up:

It creates noise, creates distractions. Sometimes it makes it harder; people feel a bit overwhelmed because there's too much going on. And so just really clearly defining focus areas, organising a little bit better, having a bit more process will make our life a lot easier as we as we gear up for the next wave of growth.

But for someone like Levadoux, these are good problems for a healthy, fast-growing company to have. Harder problems are when there's a wrong product-market fit or your customers don't like your product. He's not seeing these problems with 6sense.

Why join 6sense?

Levadoux has quite a work history. He spent six years at Docusign before taking a one-year sabbatical. He also worked for Recommind (now OpenText), HP, and SAP. What drew him to 6sense was a desire to work with a great team that was energizing. He also wanted to find a space where he saw a lot of growth and marketing opportunity. His connections pointed him to 6sense:

Between 2013 and 16, I worked in an AI company called Recommind. We were using AI to help lawyers do investigations. So lawyers have millions of documents, like emails, and they are trying to find evidence of misconduct. And so I had experience in AI, right, it's solving a real life problem and making a big difference. Now, lawyers was the persona I was serving back then. But I was really thinking, look, if I can find a place where the use case and the value proposition of using AI is really clear, and we can build a big business around that, that will be very exciting. And I think that's the case with 6sense, for sure. 

On that inevitable AI topic, Levadoux reckons it's hard to figure out what is hype and what's reality today. Plenty of companies say they have AI capabilities when they really don't have anything transformative. If it's not, he suggests: 

In three years, they'll have moved on to something else.

But then there are the companies where the heart of their value proposition is centered around AI, he notes: 

In the case of 6sense, the idea is to process a lot of signals coming from your customers, and from your customer data, and try to identify intent and who is ready to purchase, so you can create a personalized experience and hit them at the right time and, and help your salespeople focus, right. It's something that no human can do without the use of AI, because we are all overloaded with so much information that no salesperson is going to climb up in the morning and know exactly what to do, because they have too many customers, too many prospects, etc. And so I think there are companies like this where the value of AI is really central to transforming something into or transforming a process.”

Three things to do

The list of work to do for a Chief Product Officer is long, but when he starts with a new company, Levadoux has a plan. His process starts with these three activities.

First, get a sense of the customers buying the product. Where are they at? What do they need? What do they want from us, and what are they getting today? Levadoux says it’s important to have open conversations with customers to try and understand them so you can learn how to help them and the kinds of products they need: 

I talk to customers every day. It's one of my favorite things to do. And I come back with lots of notes and lots of thoughts in my head around what could we do for them? And sometimes, it's we could build a new feature. Sometimes it's your pricing is too complex, right? Sometimes your product's too hard to adopt. And so it's not necessarily just like the next widget I'm going to build for them. It's really about what's the experience working with us? And how can we help them be successful?

The second thing is to ensure that the right people in place. Is your business organized to succeed? Do people know what they have to do? Are they set up to execute the mission effectively? Levadoux has made some changes inside 6sense, including filling some open positions. 

The third is something Levadoux is just starting now - developing a clear forward strategy. Companies need to understand how they're going to grow and what markets they are after. Get crystal clear on how to do that, not just in the next six months, he says, but over the next couple of years. 

My take

6sense is one of those companies that never seems to stop introducing new things. It might be a product or a new approach to account-based marketing and revenue operations. The company is continually redefining what it takes to succeed in business today. But you can see how all the forward movement might get tricky if you aren’t putting the right process and operations in place. 

Levadoux pointed out that for 6sense, there is no crisis. Rather, it Is a healthy not-so-startup company with happy customers and a solid product line, even if like many other companies in a similar state, it may be working through some growing pains. I’m very interested to see how 6sense evolves moving forward, where they take AI next, and how it can help companies bridge the gap between all their departments to support customers. 

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