Ralf VonSosen of Lucid Design – Making Buildings Intelligent, Social Selling and The New Darkness

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode Ralf VonSosen of Lucid Design talks about their SaaS building intelligence platform and:

  • The Email and Content Marketing Playbook
  • Rants on the state of LinkedIn and Account Based Selling
  • Emoji Subject Lines
  • Changes he’s seen as a founder of Social Selling

Read the Transcript

Sales and Marketing Automation Tools mentioned in this episode of Stack and Flow:

Marketo, Eloqua, Salesforce.com, Pardot, Asana, Trello

John: Hello, and welcome to Stack and Flow. I’m John Wall.

Sean: And I’m Sean Zinsmeister.

John: Today’s guest is Ralf VonSosen. He’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Lucid. He’ll be able to tell us more about what they’ve got going on. To get started, Sean, what’s going on in the news?

Sean: This was an article written by a professor of history and science technology over in Berkeley, really talking about the algorithmic life and the way that algorithms play in our everyday life. Asking some really interesting questions around, do algorithms do too much? What does the sort of over-mechanized life look like? Particularly, I really like his analogy, he goes back to the clock, actually, and where the clock was invented to really be a measurement of time. Now that we have increments of time, it’s really helped structure society and there’s certainly amount of predictive behavior where we have seasons and places that we need to be and things like that. But what does it mean when things become overly mechanized, if you will? It’s a question that I always ask folks, Ralf, when we have them on this show, which is as it pertains to what we’re seeing in sales and marketing today, where do you think we’re at with automation today? Are we coming out of the darkness a little bit or are we finding our way? What sort of things are you seeing on that side?

Ralf: That’s a really interesting question. Having been in this for quite some time, the first knee-jerk answer I wanna give you is we’ve entered a new darkness. The reason I say that is because I think we were in a certain darkness about there was a lot of magic and lot of trying things. A lot of, “I waste 50% of my marketing budget but I don’t know which 50%,” out there. Then we had the era of the Marketos and the Eloquas and some of the marketing automation people did a lot for marketing and for shedding light on the different metrics that we wanna keep track of. I think companies like Sirius Decisions did a great job in getting generic-izing kind of, “Okay, this what we’re calling a lead. This is what we’re calling a qualified lead. This is an SQL. This is an SQO.” Kind of getting a language together.

Then we’ve got all this glut of algorithms and math, and all this good stuff about trying to put a formula around, what are successful campaigns? What are not? How do we reach individuals? A lot of that, I find, is very helpful and it’s all very positive, especially in areas where it’s a established product and established product market fit, but I think what it’s unfortunately done, I think it’s unfortunately taken a lot of the creativity and a lot of the fun and a lot of the reaching people out of the equation. Too much of marketing now, I think, starts being driven and run by numbers purely, rather than thinking about what is some of the creativity and some of the value behind those numbers.

Sean: I agree 100% and it’s a couple of things, too. Where on one hand, I think that a lot of people have gotten behind these marketing automation engines and just found a new easier way to spam people. I think that now we see that going on the sales side. It is spam, because you’re right, I think it is void of that creativity. The other piece is that it also becomes data for data’s sake. The other thing that this article, I thought was really interesting, it talks about is the quantified self movement, which is like knowing thyself through numbers. Self-realization through numbers, if you will. Where we’re doing such a good job in collecting all this data, and I use this analogy around Strava writing all these internet of things apps. We’re really collecting this data but what is it really doing for us? Aside from it being advanced counting, what’s it really doing? Is that the same kind of idea that you’re seeing on the marketing side, too?

Ralf: I think it’s driven, something that I’m always pushing with my team here, is, “Okay, great. Now, how is that gonna influence a decision that we make?” It’s like, “Okay, it’s great that we have this data or that we’re exploring this and getting this analyzed, but what is it really going to impact in terms of changing our actions and changing our activities?” I think it’s really important to keep that at the forefront, rather than just doing analysis for the analysis’ sake. As well as, quite frankly, putting in tools just for the sake of putting in tools. Because one of the things that I’ve seen is that sometimes we’re starting to over-complicate the technology stack or the process, just because we feel like we need to check all these boxes, or even worse, people just put that in because it’s a CYA thing.

It’s like, “Well, if I have all these things in place, I have all these numbers I can rattle off, and then I have complete visibility.” Well, that’s great, but I think there’s a lot of money potentially spent and a lot of effort and resources and time spent on creating things that maybe are great, if you have a big team and you’ve got people that do nothing but this one thing, but if you’ve got a smaller team and you’ve got to be a decathlete in doing a bunch of stuff, I think you need to go back and think about, “Okay, what’s the simplest way that I can do this?”

John: I love that decathlete analogy. I’ve never heard that before. That’s perfect, because it’s not just the many hats, it’s like you need to be a world-class performer in 10 things across the board. That’s great.

Ralf: I think that’s one of the big things about smaller companies. If you’re in a larger company, a lot of times you’ll have one person that does nothing but set up new campaigns and kick them off for various business units, and so forth. That’s great, and quite frankly I don’t think that those are not fun a jobs to have, but I think in a small company you’re definitely looking for people who need to be able to creatively think about campaigns, you need people that can create a project plan the campaigns, that can execute on creating assets for the campaigns, can target a campaigns, can set up the different waves, can interpret the results, and all these things. What you can’t do is, you can’t create a technology stack that’s gonna require that person to have had a one month certification on five different technology stacks. You’ve gotta just keep it simple.

John: That’s great. Before we get in too much deeper, too, tell us about Lucid. What do you guys do and what’s your role there?

Ralf: Our focus here is, we want to be the fastest way to turn building operations data into action and into savings. What we focus on is working with companies that have a portfolio of buildings and we help them to centralize all the information from those buildings. Analogy, think 360 degree view of the customer, this is the 360 view of your buildings. The energy, the gas, the water, and so forth, bringing that all into place and having one view of that. Then with that one view, looking for opportunities, where you can turn on, turn off buildings, where you can shave peak demand, where you can enhance the performance and savings in buildings and identify those.

The third thing is how do you take that information and start sharing it with people inside the company for financing new projects? The other thing that’s really cool that we do is sharing that information with occupants. A part of our offering is real-time information in lobbies, where you have big displays, or in schools, in places where you have big displays that show you the real-time performance of the building to engage occupants in conservation and sustainability efforts.

Sean: Ralf, one question that I had is that, it sounds like you’re showing a lot of transparency around the data and making it easier to digest it. Is there any sort of automation that you guys then look at too? Since you guys, you know about when to shave off peak demand and how to run energy efficiency, is that the forward view of the company or something you guys are looking at now?

Ralf: Yeah. At this point, what we are doing is really wanting to visualize that information. The average building portfolio produces millions of data points, when you think about all the air handlers and all the things that you need turned on and off, all the people that are plugging things in, unplugging things, and so forth. What we’re doing is, how do we visualize that information for somebody who wants to look at the overarching picture? This actually is an interesting thing when it comes to what we’re talking about too, in terms of algorithms and automation, because there’s been a lot of work and a lot of effort over the years in terms of how do I better automate a very specific machine, so it’s very focused around my heating system or cooling system or my lighting?

What there really hasn’t been is, because of all this focus on these very specific systems, looking at the over arching picture. What’s the holistic picture look like across my portfolio when I look at all these different systems together? That’s where we’re trying to bring a narrative. Trying to bring a story to individuals that potentially have never really looked at this information before because it’s always been in the basement. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to take these facility and energy and operations management things that have been in the basement and bring them up to the boardroom.

John: How about as far as this being an internet of things play, or existing infrastructure? When you guys go into a customer, do they already have a lot of this stuff all set up and it’s just a matter that they’ve never been able to piece it all together? Or do you have to go in and actually set up sensors on things and build some infrastructure before they can even see the data?

Ralf: It’s a combination of both. We have customers that have super intelligent buildings, but are just looking to connect the different pieces together. An example would be LinkedIn, for example, who they’ve got a net zero building down in Sunnyvale. They’ve got super high technology stuff. They’ve got photogenics, solar generation. What we’re doing is, we’re stitching all the pieces together, all the different systems, and exposing that for the occupants of the building as well as for their reporting and their overarching look of that. Other companies, Avery Dennison’s a good example, where they’ve got a lot of manufacturing units where we’re stitching existing pieces together but we’re also working closely with them as they’re putting in a whole new set of different sensors around their manufacturing and around their factories and bringing the pieces together.

We work also with a lot of universities and states. The State of Nevada, the State of Utah, are customers. As you can imagine, in some of these buildings it’s definitely part of our work is working with them to get the sensors and the real-time meters and things in place so they can gather this information. It kind of goes along a spectrum of maturity, in terms of are they just getting bills and paying bills, and literally manually typing in an Excel spreadsheet how much people are spending per month and that’s the “analysis,” to people who are looking at 15-minute increment data or real-time data and analyzing that and needing to bring it together.

Sean: Ralf, how are people finding out about Lucid? Because it sounds like there’s probably gotta be a mixture of some inbound but probably a lot of outbound as you have a good understanding about who you guys wanna sell into. What does the demand waterfall look like for you guys?

Ralf: That’s been a kind of a interesting learning curve for me, so coming from InsideView and LinkedIn, where we were selling to the sales and marketing group. The sales and marketing group is rather easily reached through social media and through a couple of very standard channels or big associations. Whereas, what we’re finding here is in the buildings and infrastructure market, where we’re targeting energy managers, sustainability managers, building operators and so forth, it’s still more of an old-school type of old, old guard, all of our target audience. It goes back more to a lot of associations and a lot of different associations. Events, and having presence there. A lot of direct email with content marketing. That playbook works very well to this audience, where it’s working everywhere. It’s definitely a lot more of that, rather than some of the social marketing and selling. Actually, on the sales side, the social selling is working really well, but I think the social channels definitely don’t work as well on the marketing side.

Sean: You teased the social selling stuff, ’cause I know that you were one of the founders of the social selling movement. One of the questions that I really wanted to ask you was, when you guys really got the social selling movement really started and rolling, I think it was during your time at Inside View, from where you were then and to what you’re seeing now, what have been the big changes with that?

Ralf: I think the biggest change is just the fact that it’s everyone’s doing it. I think, like everything else, it’s gotten a little bit harder to do, because the low-hanging fruit of, “I’m just gonna mention something in an email that is on your LinkedIn profile,” doesn’t really work that well anymore. People are getting more sophisticated. Quite frankly, emails, I think they’ve had their day, quite honestly, in terms of an outreach tool. I get so many these days that it’s kind of like, I don’t look really look at them at all anymore. I think there’s definitely … people need to be looking at, “Okay, how do I make this a more meaningful conversation?” An interaction with a little more research behind it than maybe it was just only two, three, four years ago. Where it was like, “Oh, wow. They know that I went to the University of Utah, so I’m gonna answer this email.” You don’t really get that anymore, these days. The standards are a little higher.

Sean: I think the other thing that I’m starting to see is an awful lot of what now has become LinkedIn trolling. I see people who set up these posts and then just tag a billion people in it, just to get it written, or they’re just jumping in one, right and center. I know that you were mentioning that social selling isn’t huge at Lucid, but some of the sales guys are doing it. When you talk to people who are still in the marketing and sales leadership positions, how are you talking about how they should be expressing value? You’re right, the audience has gotten more sophisticated, but where do you avoid just the jumping in with a vapid response and this trolling that you see going on now?

Ralf: I think what we’re focusing in on is definitely firsthand research that we can do. So that’s one thing. We’re doing something right now with a sustainability survey. It’s Sustainability in the Age of Donald Trump, What Say You? A good question, so that’s gonna be an interesting one. We found that research stuff to be really interesting. The other part is success stories. We’re getting ready to launch a campaign around what we’re calling Energy Management Heroes, so we’re trying to focus in on individual people, individual’s careers and accomplishments, to be able to get interest of individuals out there. I think it goes back to trying to provide a lot of value for individuals.

One thing that I wanted to jump back to is, we were talking about some of the email and some of the selling, before. I think one of the things that’s been an interesting trend right now, and being on a lot of the receiving end of this, is the email tools that have been put in the hands of sales people. Which can very useful and handy, but I think also have created a whole new wave of spam that is, from a receiving end, irritating to no end. Now I’m getting waves of email from individuals and there’s no unsubscribe.

Sean: There’s no governance of it yet, and a lot of emoji subject lines. I don’t know what blog post came out but…

John: We gotta be careful, Sean has been ready to explode on this one for about three weeks.

Sean: You know that there’s always that blog post that comes out there that’s saying, “Top five things to get responses in email subject lines,” and all of a sudden-

Ralf: You won’t believe number three.

Sean: Yeah, (laughing) you won’t believe number three. All of a sudden, I’m the same way. It’s like, “Oh, I get all these emails. All right, I’ve gotta go track down the blog post that says that we gotta start putting emojis in the subject line in order to get more clicks.” But no, I’m completely there with you, Ralf, where it’s just the spam has moved over from marketing to the sales side, and now that it’s just so easy to set up cadences and things like that with these tools, it’s like, yeah, it’s from a sales guy, but you’re just getting blasted with communication.

Ralf: And from a marketing perspective, I can’t manage that in terms of governance, because the sales reps are just doing what they’re doing. It actually starts interfering quite a bit, too, with the cadence that we have on the marketing side where we’re trying to do nurture campaigns and things like that.

John: How about jumping over, then? We’ll use this as an opportunity to talk more about tools, though. What have you guys got set up in the sales and marketing stack as far as CRM, and both email on the marketing side and the sales side?

Ralf: We keep it pretty simple. We actually moved over from … We had Salesforce and Marketo, and right now we’ve moved over to Pardot, just to simplify. Right now, that’s what we’re focused on and using for our email campaigns and our nurture programs. It’s working pretty well, in terms of having to simplify.

John: So the main reason for Pardot was because all the sales integration’s already there, you’re actually taking work out of the cycle?

Ralf: Yeah. Marketo was set up by the previous team. It was set up more … To me, there was nothing bad about it. It was just, it was set up, I needed to have one or two full-time people doing nothing but running Marketo. Like I said before, I can’t really afford that, of where we are.

Sean: This is something that I’ve been a big proponent of, is that I think that there is something really effective about … and this is actually harkening back to what you were talking about, Ralf, where it’s like sometimes less is more with the stack. Where it’s like you have a few high performing pieces of technology in the stack that have clear ownership versus a bunch of scattered applications that just end up becoming shelf-ware that nobody ends up owning. What’s the team layout for you right now? What does the team that reports to you look like and what kind of pieces do they own?

Ralf: I’ve got a Director of Demand Gen and Marketing Ops, and she runs that piece. I have a woman that does all the customer marketing, and some marketing programs that we do, like competition programs around different universities, and things like that. I’ve got a designer here in-house. I’ve got a company in Utah that does all our SEO and digital marketing. I’ve got another company in Utah that does our web dev for us. I also have a partner here that does all the marcom work for me, so I’ve got a group out. I’ve got a fair amount of stuff outsourced, which has worked really well for me in terms of having that flexibility again, being in more of a startup environment.

Sean: That was gonna be something interesting, because in a previous episode we had Wade Foster over, a CEO, co-founder of Zapier, on. That team is entirely distributed. The thing that I was gonna ask is, I think that that’s a great model, especially for high-growth startups. How do you keep everybody on the same page? Do you have project management, or do you have everybody in an Asana or Trello type system? What do you do to make sure everybody’s orchestrated together?

Ralf: I use a very simple Google Docs, Google Sheets, for their quarterly objectives. Every group has their quarterly objectives in there. Then my marketing ops manager person, she’s part of the Asana religious movement (laughing). Everybody is sort of in on that. In addition, what I do is I have weekly sprints, if you will. Where Monday morning I send out to the team, “These are the five to seven things we need to accomplish this week,” and those are the things that we then focus on with their group. We’ve got a team meeting Monday morning and kick that off. That seems to be working really well. I think having this combination of we’ve got our quarterly goals that we’re pushing for but then we have our weekly sprints. Everybody can check those off and we get them done by the time we leave on Friday. That seems to be working really well with the distributed team.

John: How about you? I have to jump in. We talked social selling, ’cause that’s obviously hot and has gotten a lot of traffic, but the other big one is, of course, account-based management, too. It sounds like you guys are obviously looking at groups of buildings, so you’re looking at these targets strategically as companies. Is there anything on that front that you’ve seen recently or has changed for you as far as approaching things on the account-based level?

Ralf: That could be a longer conversation, my gosh. Can I please get no more emails about account-based selling and account-based marketing? What is this? The latest dance craze? Nobody ever thought before of isolating individual companies and targeting them and marketing to everybody at Oracle, or doing a campaign targeted at Apple, or targeting PG&E? I mean, really? This is new?

John: This is peak heat right now. The froth is hot.

Ralf: It’s like, “Are you kidding me?” Anyway, that’s where I am on that. What we we do is, like we have for a long time, we work closely with our sales team, that have key accounts, their targeted accounts, that they’re assigned to. Then we work with those individuals to target specific accounts and then track how we’re doing for those. I think it’s more of a reporting thing than anything else, but the concept of account-based marketing is like, “Okay.” I don’t think I need the top five reasons to do account-based marketing. It’s like the top five reasons to do marketing.

Sean: I think you’re preaching to the choir. I’ve gotten the chance to just really look at some of this stuff, and as somebody who’s devoured a lot of this literature, a lot of it is very much a recycled and rehashed inbound marketing stuff that we were talking about six, seven years ago. It’s interesting to see it come-

Ralf: I’m a big fan of John (Miller) and what he did with Marketo and engaging with what’s happening, but I think it’s just like so many people jumping on the bandwagon of this. This is like … I think again, it’s sort of, “Do you have a process in place? Do you have a goal in place?” I think again, it’s another reason for you to throw more technology at it. I just don’t think that’s the right answer. I think the right answer is less technology added, and have more exactly what you’re looking for and where you’re going.

John: That’s great. That’ll do it for us this week. Sean, how about with what you’ve got going on? Anything interesting happening, or other stuff you want people to check out?

Sean: You can check out all the good stuff that we’re working on over at infer.com. You can also find my latest stuff over at LinkedIn, or just Google Sean Zinsmeister and you’ll be able to catch up with me there.

John: Great. That’ll do it for this week. To find out more about me you can visit marketingovercoffee.com. You can find out more over at stackandflow2.wpengine.com and feel free to leave us a review over on iTunes, but until next time, we’ll you see in the stacks.


John Wall

John Wall

John J. Wall speaks, writes and practices at the intersection of marketing, sales, and technology. He is the producer of Marketing Over Coffee, a weekly audio program that discusses marketing and technology with his co-host Christopher S. Penn, and has been featured on iTunes.

Stay Up to Date