Over the last 4 years, Lars Christensen – Vice President, Marketing – Demand Generation at Snowflake, has overseen the construction of one of the industry’s most effective demand generation machines. We had the pleasure of talking with Lars about how he and his team built the machine that contributed to the company’s meteoric rise – and an estimated valuation of $75 billion.
A lot’s happened since you arrived at Snowflake. What changes have you noticed?
Lars Christensen: September 19th, 2016 was my official start date. I was employee number 130. Snowflake now numbers over 1500.
And it was interesting – all new employees were greeted in our Monday all-hands meeting, where you had to stand up and articulate where you came from, how excited you were to join the team, what you’re going to be doing, and all the people you were hoping to meet. And it wasn’t every week that there was a new hire – I think I was the only new hire that week.
Then as the company grew, suddenly it became that everybody was just announced on the all-hands, you know, five or six new hires, so that names were just announced. Eventually, we just completely gave up on announcing new hires, because there were simply too many. But it was kind of interesting to be a part of something where every new hire shared what they were going to do, what value are they going to drive for the company, and how they’re fitting into the immediate strategic objectives that are needed to be met. This was something that every department, every individual was interested in.
The company has scaled massively since then. Do you miss anything from those days?
LC: It’s kind of like being a parent; do you miss the time when your child was a baby? Of course you do. There are some adorable moments you just can’t get back when they become teenagers or early adults, which is probably where we are right now as a company… but you don’t want your child to stay in childhood, right? You want them to grow up – that’s the proof that you’re doing your job.
How do you see your role – and the role of demand gen – in scaling a company like Snowflake?
LC: When you look at my function, which is largely a function that is focused on identifying demand out in the marketplace, it is demand generation, right? When you look at a company like Snowflake, we have an appeal across all verticals, we have appeal across all company sizes from the smallest to the biggest. It’s really up to demand generation to identify where the market is at this moment in time, who’s looking at us, who’s interested in us.
We need to monitor and insert ourselves every time there are conversations going on that relate to what we do. So that becomes my job – to cast a net out there making sure that from an inbound perspective, we will be found on all the different third party sites; on all the different searches out there that relate to what we do. Then, from an outbound point perspective, making sure that we nurture that demand to the point where it’s meaningful for sales to engage in a sales journey.
What are the practical implications of demand gen on business growth?
LC: Our impact on the business is significant, because our total addressable market is just so huge that we really need demand generation to go out and identify the demand and make sure that sales are only working on the people who are currently looking for a solution like us. It just makes the sales cycle so much shorter, and the win rate and the conversion rates through the buyer’s journey so much higher.
What were the specific steps you took to enable sales?
LC: In the early years, we were growing at a clip of 3x, year-over-year. So, you have all these sales support departments that are chronically understaffed. And one of them was our sales engineering team. So we decided that we needed to mass-produce the product for the sales team.
The first thing that we introduced to offset those bottlenecks was a weekly demo that we decided to roll out… so it became marketing that essentially took prospects on a journey.
And then, the second bottleneck we identified was the customer reference call. So we said we need a marketing perspective to mass-produce that also. And that’s where we came up with the concept of office hours, where we, bi-weekly, had a customer that could speak out in a relatively unfiltered, uncensored way about their experience with onboarding Snowflake, and the results they’re getting from it.
And then the third thing we created was, of course, the trial-ability of the software when we opened up for the free trials. And we saw tremendous gravitation to that. People signing up for the free trial. But we saw a low adoption of the free trial.
What did you do to improve those conversion rates?
LC: We could see there was a really strong correlation [between conversion] and the prospect’s adoption of the free trial… did they actually go in and work with the free trial to download their own data then run reports on the trial? So, we created what was called the Virtual Hands-On Lab, which essentially started as a physical event called ‘Zero to Snowflake’.
But then in order to mass-produce it, we created this virtual Zero to Snowflake, which was essentially a quick training session where we showed [prospects] exactly how to get up and running on Snowflake, followed up by a POC type of document where we said, ‘Here are some of the steps you need to go through in order to create a proof of concept for Snowflake.’
Essentially, what we did, and this is over the course of probably a year-and-a-half, was that marketing took ownership of a much bigger part of the buyer’s journey… all the way from the product demo, to the activation of a trial, to get[ting] people engaged with the trial, to mass-produc[ing] the reference call. So then there were mass-produced offers that we could point our prospects to.
Jackie Kiler and her team turned it into a science – how do we take a ‘Dummies’ Guide’ download or a white paper download – and then how do we nurture this person, this account, to the point where they’re watching a demo, engaging with a trial, then wanting their own little proof of concept, taking a reference call – all of those things, frankly, before sales even gets involved.
How do you see the Snowflake demand gen philosophy as different from others?
LC: I think buyers today have a strong preference for self-educating up to a very advanced stage in the buyer’s journey. And I think from a demand perspective, at Snowflake, it’s probably one of the places where we have been able to complete that educational journey to a very, very substantial degree.
Could you see measurable results from these steps?
LC: The free trial kept evolving over time. We removed the credit card requirement, we made the form simpler, we did a lot of things to actually ease access to this free trial, just make it as friction-free as possible to come in and activate a free trial. So we saw an explosion. Back in the day when we started the free trial, we had 80-to-90 free trial signups on a quarterly basis. Last week, without saying numbers, we had, well, let’s just say exponentially more.