This past month, I was able to sit down with Calvin Hsu, Vice President of Product Marketing at Citrix. Citrix creatives software that combines productivity and security into one workspace platform. In their own words they “transform the employee experience with the only intelligent workspace that organizes, guides, and automates work.”
Calvin has been with Citrix for 15 years, and is responsible for product strategy, messaging and positioning, launch execution, technical marketing, competitive intelligence, pricing and packaging, automated adoption marketing, technical communities, and market research for both on-premises datacenter solutions and hosted service provider markets.
In this interview, we discussed Calvin’s path as in product marketing at Citrix, some of the strategic decision making his team does, advice for the next generation of product marketers, and of course, analytics and machine learning!
So, Calvin, to start off, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your path to becoming a Vice President of Product Marketing at Citrix?
I actually started at Citrix almost 15 years ago, so I’ve been there for a while. I had a few different roles before that actually. I had started right out of college with management consulting, then a lot of tech writing, proposal writing, things like that. And that got me into technology and explaining what the technology does. I remember before my job at Citrix, I went on this interview with this other software company and they said: “well, what kind of marketing do you want to do?” I was at a startup doing all the marketing at that point; I was doing advertising, copywriting, marcomm (marketing communications), I was doing everything. They asked me if I wanted to do product marketing or marcomm. I had never actually heard the term product marketing up until that point and I kind of figured out what that meant later. But I enjoyed being closer to what the product did, figuring out the value proposition, trying to communicate that, and trying to get it so that salespeople could explain what it was. The way I fell into it actually was going to tradeshows and events and randomly talking to people and explaining to them what we did, and people started noticing that we did that, and it was really at Citrix where I built on that skill.
Primarily it was a writing skill and then it became demonstration and presentation skills and as I progressed through Citrix, I had a lot of opportunities to be part of different product launches and new technology areas. We did a sort of internal startup things where we would offer certain groups of people and tell them to “go investigate this” and then try to have them bring it to market and fight for it. So that’s what brought me along and I would get more exposure to strategy. I would think about how we would present this value proposition to a customer, what did we mean we needed to do feature-wise, competition-wise, pricing-wise and then building. That led to more and more responsibility at Citrix.
What’s been your favorite product launch so far?
I’d say one of my favorite experiences was actually sort of a program and product launch. This was around 2010-ish and it was another internal startup and at that point in time, like the cloud didn’t really exist. Before that, people barely had an idea what software as a service (Saas) meant, and certainly, subscription licensing wasn’t a thing. The way people bought software at the time was by a perpetual contract. Using enterprise software was this big agreement and so it was right around that time we started investigating what we would make a subscription licensing look like. It took about 100 people, some developers started making features, I ran product marketing for that team and that was a lot of fun. We were told by the CEO at the time, “go be pirates; break things, do things differently, try to figure out what to do here.” We had a general manager that took that to heart.
It seems like you guys have that culture that promotes innovation. I think that’s cool and really important. Us as marketers, we have to always be prepared to break things and fix it right after. It’s like fail fast and fail forward.
Alright, now going into more of the product marketing that you and your team do, what processes and methods do you use in making strategic marketing decisions?
At Citrix, it’s very much collaborative work. There are some corporate cultures, where there’s a lot of internal competition where you take your team and you try to go beat another team with your value. Citrix encourages to bring the team along, make sure everyone is alignment, everyone is ready to execute and build that business case with them. And so that is primarily one of the ways we look for making the strategic decisions is interacting very closely with the product team, sales teams, operation teams, finance and them building strategies around that. There’s a formal process we use to get business alignment and efficient signoff across various stakeholders and executives.
What about alignment with your customers? Essentially you are building products for your customers, so how do you make sure your products are aligned between your customers and your business objectives?
A lot of that feedback loop comes through our sales teams and department teams. We operate through a reseller channel, most of our transactions go that way. I would say that one of my team’s primary intellectual primary or corporate currency, is our knowledge of the market, our interaction with customers, survey data that we run, and business analytics that we look at. What’s selling, what’s not? How long are the sales cycles? What use cases are people using it for and supplementing that with direct customer interaction? This kind of understanding what their reasons for why they bought us, why they chose us and just breaking down that process.
Going to your team now. You have a great team that probably keeps you busy and productive. What traits and skills make product marketers successful at Citrix?
So, the product marketing team is actually is pretty diverse. There are what I would call, “classic product marketers”, those are the folks that are involved in core launch activities, they work most closely with the product teams in trying to understand what it does, how to express the feature functionality for messaging. Then there are some folks that are on the product marketing team but are more marketing focused, so they look at how to build out collateral, whitepapers, videos, and the content-building aspect of it. I also have an Adoption Marketing team which looks at once a customer purchases, how do we get them to use it and how do we unblock some of their consumption or utilization barriers? Webinars and end-product guidance, as customers are poking around in the consoles it’ll say, “looks like you’re having trouble here, here’s a tech paper that might explain what it is you’re trying to do.”
It pretty much makes it easier for them to use the product, less frustration and they’re more likely to return and add more products?
We do that primarily for the IT administrators that use our product, but now we’re starting to do more for the end user. So even when they get the solution that the IT department sends out to the end-users there are some messaging and capabilities that we could help them with as well.
You guys are definitely tapping into something new; I’ve been watching a lot of videos lately and now it’s all about the end-user versus the in-between. So how do you guys make it easier for the end-user? I work for a managed service provider and we take care of the end-user. We typically deploy Citrix solutions or other technology solutions and it’s about how the end-user is using it and fast they’re adopting it. That’s a really great initiative.
End-user experience has been the big buzzword or topic now. So is employee experience, employee engagement, their ability to use technology and not be frustrated by it is a big value proposition.
And now Citrix has multiple generations using your products using technology that’s much more robust than it used to be. So how do you teach the older generation to use the product the best way? How do you get the Millennials to adopt the product in their workforce? It’s really interesting.
It’s definitely a big thing now. When you think about the Millennials or Gen-Z coming into the workforce, they’ll know the technology, but they don’t necessarily know the business. And on the other end of the spectrum, you have people that know the business very well and they’re not that comfortable with the technology. So, there is a role that additional technologies like what Citrix does can help the person entering the workforce understand the business process by guiding them through what tasks are supposed to use the technology for and vice versa. If you know the business process let me guide you through how the technology works and make the technology easier to use.
I think your original question was, “what makes a good product marketer?” I think people that have that end-user focus and translate technology into sales-speak, customer-speak, business-speak, that’s a huge part of it. I got a B.S. in economics but my other degree was in English. It’s a lot about communication. Our counterparts are the product manager and they’re primarily the inbound-focused on how to tell engineers what to build and that’s a very different skill than outbound, telling customers or sales why to use it. You need to be technical and know the product, but you don’t need to know the code, but why people want to use it.
How do you go about translating that to your superiors when it comes to reaching business objectives? Going between your counterparts and sales, and making sure that everything aligns?
We look a lot at market opportunity data, that’s one of the big things. Also, sales trends. As a public company we set out targets, we know what we need to hit in order to continue our Wall Street expectations. Then it’s just working backward from those business goals and trying to identify if we have enough growth runway or not if we need to expand or find other use cases or opportunities.
That actually leads me to my next and last question for you. How are you leading the Product Marketing team to success with analytics, machine learning, or even AI?
For us, a lot of that is in the solutions we provide to our customers. We’re building those types of things in as a technology company. In the same process, we get insights about what the customer does, and we need to look back and translate that into things. For example, the analytics are fed by all of our products having telemetry, that feedback, into one big data loop. Assuming the customer gives you permission to aggregate the data, you get that back in and you can apply machine learning to it, apply analytics to it, and start to do things like analyze normal behaviors and identify anomalies. This is the way that credit card detection works, they see that all of a sudden, you’re charging something here in Starbucks but someone in North Dakota is charging something in a Starbucks there, they might flag that behavior. Or all of a sudden you start buying men’s workout clothes and clearing out Dick’s Sporting Goods. That would be an unusual thing for you to purchase so that’s an anomaly and flags it as an issue. We do the same thing, but with technology but more for the purposes of data privacy or compliance or corporate governance.
We can also use it to look at user behaviors and say this person does their expense reports and their time cards every Friday at 4:30 or 5 o’clock. And at that point of time at 4:30, you start pushing them alerts saying “here, this is when you normally do this. Here’s the data for the past week, would you like to file your expense report?” Those are sort of directions that are helping people get work done.
Analytics is necessary, it’s a hot area. Assuming the customer allows you to aggregate their data, but increasingly they’re allowing it. It’s the value of having that data be shared with us. We don’t look at the data, we look at the characteristics of the data. But there’s so much value in that, they have to build compliance around it, build encryptions, but they’re going to allow that to happen. You have to.
It’s kind of a weird thing right now, especially as marketers. People are on the heels of many data privacy and security issues. But if people allow marketers to access that data, then we could formulate better products that better fit them. It’s a give and take, but exactly what data do you need is the question?
Like I’ve talked about the adoption marketing thing, that’s also built on analytics. We collect product information, we understand where people are getting bogged down in a process or we can look at people specifically go a certain way in an interface and we can streamline that if we make it one screen and make it so they aren’t clicking into four different places. So we could apply that to make products better as well.
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