Welcome to What's the Problem, the podcast where we dive deep into the most pressing issues facing cyber and data security leaders today. Each episode we're joined by a guest expert who will share their insights and their experiences on the challenges that they're currently facing or seen in the world of security. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or a new leader to the field, this podcast provides valuable info and some strategies to get your organization to the next level. So join us as we explore the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity and discover new ways to tackle problems that keep us up. This is What's The Problem. I am your host, Mike Krass. Let's get started.
Mike Krass: Today we are joined by Salah Nassar. Salah, say hello to everybody.
Salah Nassar: Hello, everybody. And hello, Mike. Thank you for having me on today.
Mike Krass: Awesome. Well, we always know the first question and that is why are you qualified to talk about security?
Salah Nassar: I'm gonna humble myself here a little bit. I'm probably not qualified. But I'll give you my background anyway. I'm not your typical product leader or marketing leader. My background is very heavily technical. I cut my teeth early on in my career at a very large networking company that rhymes with San Francisco. So over there, I actually had the fortune of working with incredibly intelligent people, specifically around security. I ended up playing with just about every box that that company had created and figured out how to interconnect them. We did tons of security testing between the two. I specifically focused on how do we… do our IDS and intrusion prevention systems work? And how do they work? My biggest claim to fame over there is I actually helped on architecting, configuring, and deploying security for the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. So I've been on the back end of the vendor side. I've been hands on. I rolled up my sleeves, deployed and configured stuff. And funny enough, I actually even have a security related patent from that time as well. And again, that being around incredibly smart people and just brainstorming some vulnerabilities we knew about and how we can solve for them.
Mike Krass: What’s the patent?
Salah Nassar: The patent is actually a networking patent. And I'll tell you. This is when we're sitting in the cafeteria having a coffee and going Hey, did you know that you can send an ICMP kill packet to a router and it won't even question you? It will just accept it, and it will shut down that link. And then we started exploring that idea a little more. And we realized, hey, some of our equipment, at that time from a switching perspective, had those vulnerabilities. So very simple. ICMP is a ping function. You just ping an IP address to see if it's alive. What most people don't know, unless you're in the networking world, is you can actually do a lot of communication with ICMP. And one of them is the way switches used to talk to each other is they can actually tell each other Hey, this port is dead. And the way to communicate is…One of the ways is to send a ICMP packet and say this link is down. So we just make sure that that doesn't happen.
Mike Krass: Very cool. Very cool. Well, so I know there's a topic that you want to dive into with our listeners. And in my words, we’re really talking about the role of Product Marketing as a Sherpa within a security organization or a networking organization. And so here's a couple of questions just to get us started. What role does Product Marketing play in orchestrating connections between customers? And say, a vendor or a product based company? How do you, as a product marketer, how do you connect with customers? And last but not least, how do you get…How do you connect with your fellow colleagues? You're probably working with engineering, product, demand and customer side, customer support, customer service. So a lot of questions there. Why don't we just start the first one, which is, in your opinion, in your experience, what role does Product Marketing play in orchestrating connections with customers?
Salah Nassar: Yeah. That's a fantastic question. I'm gonna back up a little bit and just explain. Product marketing is a function of product management. So early in my career, and this is the reason I got into product marketing, is in smaller companies in many companies today, not even smaller companies see the function of hey, you're a product manager. Your job is to, for example, understand what are the industry trends and create the features, functions, product, package it up, and get it to that customer to solve those pain points based on these trends. And make us a profit and make us competitive, etc. Now what does that entail once you break it down? Well, that entails 1:I need to understand what is that feature function. Then write a PRD, some sort of a product requirement document that spells out what we need to create. Then you operationalize engineering. Most of the time engineering will tell you they have a solution. And you figure out how to get the best product out, based on whatever your goal is. Maybe it's timing, maybe it's price, maybe it's function. Now, that's one half of the product. The other half of the product is hey, I need to get this out into the market. Well my marketing team needs to be aligned on the importance and the need for this. What is the importance of the needs? So someone has to work with marketing and fine tune, turn that into customer language, put that on websites, turn it into marketing campaigns. From a sales perspective, well, your sales team needs to know how to have this conversation with their customer. Is this pain point that you're solving for actually keeping your customer up at night? And when I say sales, man that gets complex fast. Because what is sales? Is sales your inside sales guy? Is sales your customer support guy? Is it the account manager who's knocking at the door? Is it your systems engineer thats solving problems? And the reality is it's all of them. We all, as a company, need to know what we're helping solve for our customer. And regardless of who you're talking to at your customer site, which is another complexity, how do you connect with them and give them that value that your company is solving for? So product marketing, depending on the complexity, sometimes that role is split in two. The inbound product manager you hear and the outbound product manager. Well, product marketing and outbound product management are sometimes synonymous.
Mike Krass: Interesting. So tell me about… I just heard a few different roles that you're interacting with: sales, marketing, engineering, who's building products or testing products. How do you? It seems like as a product marketer or product manager, you would be involved in the positioning of how you're going to go to market and sell this. How are we going to present this to the world? What are we going to use in terms of words? What are we going to use in terms of collateral for our campaigns? Whether it's a solutions brief, or a video, or something like that. Am I on track here?
Salah Nassar: You are 100% on track. I've been in product marketing. My transition to product marketing from product management is because I realized I enjoy more of the outbound conversation, the customer base conversation. And over time, I've been lucky enough to be in the right place, right time, right companies, and my role has expanded. And over time, I realized finding that right type of a product marketer is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Funny enough, I was talking to a friend of mine who has a startup that has just took its first round of funding. And now they're saying, hey, Salah, I want to expand my marketing team, my product marketing team. And he said, Give me some names. I’m like, well, what are you trying to accomplish? Because product marketing, to your point, touches so many things. Do you need product marketing right now to help you understand or help you kind of evangelize your product in the industry? Do you need to get in front of industry analysts and ensure that they understand your value? So you can increase your industry posture there. Do you need to talk to sales? Do you need to write a lot of content? Do you need to create presentations? Do you write? Do you need white papers? Do you need demos? And all those things I just mentioned kind of require a different background. One might require the background of hey, I come from the background of Product Management. And I know the details of how the product works. I can get into the technical aspect of the product. I can translate that technical language into usable customer language or relatable customer language. This is good, but I might not know anything about creating PowerPoint. I'm good at it. It's one of my weak points. Or maybe my presentation skills are incredibly weak. I'm afraid. I get nervous when I get in front of people. So you don't want to put me on the webinar or in front of a customer. But I'm great in the backend of this. I can write the content and turn it into white papers. Then you have the guy who may have come from a background of marketing and he said hey, you know what, I'm good at messaging. I want to get into product marketing. And he's really good at creating the videos and the presentations, but you have to spoon feed them sometimes the technical translation of what this product does, you know, the background of this product, how it works in the back end, and then translate it into PowerPoint presentations. And then you've got the writers. I think some of the best product marketers I've worked with have zero technical background, zero marketing background. And they've come from the writing industry, either technical writing or even out from the industry as a reporter, as an example.
Mike Krass: Tell me if I'm… I’m going to play dumb here. We're working for ABC Switches Corp, a very fast growing company, great market cap, everyone loves us. We're on the rise here at ABC Switches Corp. And if I am not a product person, whether product marketing or in the act of or the responsibilities of product management, how would you recommend I work with…Say I'm in engineering or finance, how would I work with like an inbound product management type person? What are different tips you might give me?
Salah Nassar: That's a great question. Because that relationship between product management and product marketing needs to be tied at the hip. A lot of times, again, it depends on the organization’s size. I've always learned about product management as though you're the CEO of that product. You need to ensure that every aspect of that product is successful. You get that product developed at the lowest cost with the highest function to return for your customer. You ensure that your market is ready for that, ensure the pricing and packaging is ready, ensure that the marketing is executed, etc. So as that role splits in a larger organization, Product Manager is inbound and outbound. The product marketer and the product manager have to both be 100% focused on the goal of the company and how we're going to execute. And you know, that plays out sometimes. I can give you a couple of examples and I'll tie this into the security market very quickly. Because the security market right now is an incredibly noisy and incredibly challenging world to be in. Truly every day, every year we see a new type of a threat. And sometimes that threat requires more than a feature or an enhancement of some feature. And what happens is that spurs up a startup community. And then you have these intelligent people worldwide that come up with a great way to solve for this specific problem. Now that's fantastic. That's development. That's moving forward. That's staying one step ahead of the threats. Now, why is that a problem for the security industry? Because imagine I'm a CISO. I'm a CISO and my job is to enable my business, whether it’s the CEO objectives or the CIO objectives. And they need to operationalize something, let's just call it cloud migration. I have to figure out what vendors are going to make sure I'm secure. I go to an event such as a large industry event like the RSAs of the world, a Gartner event, analyst event, whatever it may be. I want to hear about what's the best way to secure. Well, over there, you're gonna see 1000 vendors telling you that they're the best thing since sliced bread. And how do you, as a CISO, understand this is how I need to put this all together. From a product marketing perspective, you need to know that your CISO, that your buyer, that your customer is hearing 100 other conversations. And you need to be incredibly succinct and very specific, not only in what your product does, but how it fits into their organization, how it fits into their existing portfolio. And you need to ensure that your sales teams understand that complexity that your buyer is going through to solve for this, and how to navigate an organization to ensure that you land this product with the right buyer.
Mike Krass: Right. It's interesting you mentioned that. We haven't released this episode yet, but we've got one in the can. We were talking to a CISO and they mentioned. It was like Tuesday or Wednesday when we had recorded and they said, I think that I've already had five vendor meetings this week. And it's not even halfway through the week. And that's not an uncommon occurrence where even for all the work that I do to keep my calendar clean, I still probably talk to, I think they said something like five to 10 vendors a week. Some in the same category of products, some in completely different categories. But ultimately, that is something that they just have to deal with. Like we do want to talk to these folks. But I don't actually get compensated by this company to just take meetings with you. I actually have to do some other things. And because of that, I can't have every single meeting. I've got a job that doesn't involve just booking meetings.
Salah Nassar: It’s funny you say that. Literally, just yesterday I was chatting with a CISO about that exact thing. So he is a CISO of a very large worldwide clothing company. And his problem is they have migrated to the cloud. All their applications, like we all do on a daily basis whether it's Google, or Microsoft, or slack, or Salesforce, whatever it is. Their entire operations in every line of business that he has from human resources, to HR, to engineering, etc. They're all cloud based or SAAS based. And his head was spinning and he says, look, our company is moving towards a centralized vendor. We want a single vendor or the fewest amount of vendors that we can because I want one neck to choke. I need to understand one vision. The complexity of it and not even to get into the fact that he doesn't even have the resources to spend. To your point, he has a job to do. And the company's job is clothing, not security, so he can't hire 200 people to operationalize all his security vendors. So his problem was very specific. He understood what the solution was that we were chatting about. He understood what the problem was that we were solving for. He just simply did not know where to begin. He said, yes, this looks great. How do I get this going? It reminded me of back in my networking days. And this is a slight tangent. But back then we convinced a lot of our customers, hey, you need this latest switch, this latest router to scale up for IP telephony, which was the big thing back then. And some of the customers bought in and acquired a bunch of this equipment. And sometimes I'd go visit them. And they would have our boxes, still unpacked in closets, from ground to the ceiling. And part of the problem was operationalizing it within their company. And the beauty of security these days is operationalizing it is a lot easier. Because most, especially as a cloud based security solution, you literally start using it more and more as you need it versus having to acquire a bunch of boxes to turn it on. So I have that conversation with him on how to operationalize that. But again, I'm product marketing having this conversation with a CISO on how do you operationalize your business? And then it got me thinking about our conversation today. It's like, what is product marketing? I mean, on one hand, I'm talking to an industry analyst. On the other hand, I just got off a call with my campaigns manager. Who do we need to focus on? How do we get to the right buyer? What's the right message for them? And then I switch and we have to talk about pricing packaging. And then I switch and we have to rebuild our website to make sure that we're talking to the right buyer. It's an interesting place to be. It's a very exciting place to be in any company, is product marketing. But it's an incredibly crucial role for organizations.
Mike Krass: Yeah, one last question before we wrap up for the day. And it just came to me as you were speaking. You're in Product Marketing. You're talking to a CISO one moment, a campaigns manager the next, etc. How do you build trust with these different stakeholders? Especially if you're representing a security vendor or product company, how do you build trust? Is there any takeaway you could share with our listeners on how they can develop that?
Salah Nassar: That's a fantastic question. And I was starting to touch on that earlier. It depends on your background. And it depends on your level of expertise. Now, for me, I've been in security for a long time. I do consider myself a subject matter expert in specific aspects of security. And the best way to gain trust is don't get ahead of your skis. Always do what you do best. I've been in situations where I've been in front of customers, especially early in my career, where I've explained, from where I was at that point, what does my product do for you? And the customer bought into the conversation and they were interested. And of course, because I had done a good job setting up what the product does, the next natural step is, well, how does this fit into XYZ that I have? And I didn't know. I just figured out how my product works. I don't know how it fits. So to maintain that credibility, I said, you know, this is outside my scope of expertise. Let me bring in my product manager or my technical marketer, or whoever it is. Do not overextend yourself. Do what you do incredibly well. I'm not saying don't put yourself out in front of customers until you're ready because part of it is being baptized by fire and seeing those questions come back. And it's incredibly important for a product marketer to get baptized by fire. Immediately jump in front of your customer because how else are you going to know what that customer pain point is? If you're not putting yourself out there and talking to your customer? But don't overextend yourself. Don't answer a question because you think it's the right question. Bring in the subject matter experts, take a backseat and learn from them.
Mike Krass: Quick follow up question. Well, okay, I'm busy CISO or whomever this person is and you finally got this meeting on my calendar. And now you're telling me like you don't even know the answers? Why did I even take this meeting? Is that a response that comes back?
Salah Nassar: Yeah, look, I'll tell you. Now I'll take conversations with CISOs. Early in my career, I would never get myself in front of a CISO. I would never put myself in front of a CISO. Product marketers typically are tied at the hip with their product managers, and they shadow product managers. Depending on if you were a product manager or not, depending on your background. Chatter your product manager. Sit in front of customer meetings. And whether you are internally talking to your sales rep and trying to convince that sales rep, hey, I know what I'm talking about. This is your customer problem. It comes down to the facts. It comes down to trial and error. If they trust you, and they say, Hey, okay, this is the conversation I'm going to have with my customer. They go have that conversation and it embarrasses your sales rep, they're never gonna listen to you again. You go to your campaign manager and you say, hey, the way we're going to execute this campaign is we're going to focus with this topic on this type of a market, and then they get very little return on investment from that campaign, you're gonna lose credibility really fast. So know your stuff. Again, I think you have to make sure you're 100% aligned with your product management, with your company objectives. At the same time, balance that with knowing who you can get in front of. And put yourself out there and talk to customers and learn from customers.
Mike Krass: Got it. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a real honor to have this discussion. Any final words of wisdom or takeaways that we didn’t touch on that you want to make sure our listeners hear from?
Salah Nassar: Marketing changes. Don't sit on your laurels. For example, who you talked to, who you sold to five years ago in security is no longer the buyer today. So continue to sharpen that pencil and continue to to really hone in on your customer pain points and challenge yourself.
Well, listeners, that is a wrap on this episode of What's the Problem. We hope you found our conversation with Salah to be insightful and informative. We tried to pack in a bunch of takeaways. So take those away. Take those into your work life. And remember to tune in next time for more discussions on different challenges and topics in the world of cybersecurity. Also, just want to give a quick shout out to our host MKG Marketing. MKG is focused on helping security companies get found, drive leads, and close deals. So if your cybersecurity firm is struggling to generate leads or close deals, let us help you. To learn more, visit our website at mkgmarketinginc.com
Salah Nassar is a product marketing leader and patent holder in the cybersecurity space