In the INAP Executive Spotlight series, we interview senior leaders across the organization, hearing candid reflections about their careers, the mentors who shaped them and big lessons learned along the way.
Next in the series is TJ Waldorf, CMO and Head of Inside Sales and Customer Success. Prior to this role, he served as Vice President of Global Marketing at INAP and Vice President of Inside Sales and Marketing at SingleHop, which was acquired by INAP in 2018.
In our conversation, Waldorf discussed what excites him about the INAP brand, how he got to where he is today after initially pursuing an early career in graphic design and the importance of mentorship. Read on to learn about these topics and more.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
It’s funny when I think on this, because I distinctly remember telling myself that I’d never be a salesperson. Back when I was a teen, I viewed sales as the proverbial snake oil salesman tricking people into buying things they didn’t need. I originally aspired to be a graphic designer and earned a degree in design and visual communications. I always loved drawing and creating. I got that from my mom. But as I progressed into my early 20s and my first real job, I realized sales (and marketing) are about service. We are serving the needs of people and businesses. That was something I could really get behind.
In November, we’ll celebrate the one-year anniversary of our refreshed brand identity and direction: Performance for Your Purpose. At the most basic level, we’re in the data center and cloud services space, yet what we’re doing is providing the foundation for our customers to deliver their services to their customers and deliver on their purpose and mission.
If we’re not operating optimally, there’s a very distinct domino effect. Have you ever tried accessing a website or an application and found it was unavailable or moving very slowly? We all have. In some cases, that’s because the underlying infrastructure is not working properly, or there are issues at the application level. At INAP, we promise high performance, reliable service and an exceptional customer experience. When we deliver on these promises, our customers get to deliver on their promises. That’s what gets me fired up and excited about the INAP brand. The impact we have on the services that power aspects of our everyday lives is incredibly exciting.
I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to oversee these three teams and to view them through a singular lens of how we approach the end-to-end customer life cycle and experience. The addition of the Customer Success org makes logical sense given some of the similarities in the work they do relative to inside sales, and the significant marketing impact they have on overall customer experience. After all, the best marketing comes from word of mouth, so if we (marketing) can enable the customer success org to accelerate the chatter, we’re in a great spot.
As far as challenges go—and this is not unique to INAP—we work in a very competitive space and must constantly prove our value to our customers. They have choices in the market, so it’s our job, collectively, to reinforce why they chose us to begin with and why it’s in their best interest to stay with us for the long term. It’s certainly not an easy job, but I think we have an opportunity keep improving on the great work these teams have done so far.
Without a doubt, the first is my drive for lifelong learning. I’ve never operated in any role where I thought I knew everything there is to know, and I enjoy the process of learning and growing my knowledge about a topic. I’m never afraid to ask the potentially dumb question, because nine times out of ten, lots of others in the room have the same question.
The other quality is finding great people to surround myself with, be it people I report to, people who report to me or mentors I’ve had over the years. There’s a saying that goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, to together.” I think about my career in that way. I have a great team here at INAP and see the momentum we’re building together.
How much time do we have? I cannot stress the importance of having a mentor or multiple mentors. You can learn things so much faster than without them. This has been critical for me, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without these very important people in my life.
My parents are truly are the foundation of who I am today. I’m trying to pass the values they shared down to my son. I’ve also had many great mentors throughout my career and find myself bringing new ones into the mix when new challenges or opportunities pop up. I have mentors that run the gamut from CEOs to CMOs, VCs to what usually gets referred to as ‘reverse mentors’—folks younger than me that can keep me plugged into what’s important for the next generation. I even find myself learning from my nine-year-old. Maybe he’s a mini-mentor.
Remember that your job is to be in service of your customers and their objectives. This is something I learned from my dad. You’re helping them make educated decisions on how the services, tools or platforms you provide will best help them achieve their goals. For sales and marketing, especially in tech, it’s far too easy to get bogged down in features and functionality and forget why a solution was built to begin with. Stay focused on the problem you’re helping the customer solve and you’ll be miles ahead of your peers.
Being exceptional at hiring and retaining great people probably tops my list. When I first started as a manager, I thought I had to have all the answers and tell people exactly what to do. But I learned that hiring great people and enabling them to do what they do best makes work, and life, 10x more productive and easier. This lesson came the hard way through lots of trial and error. This points back to the old adage of work smarter not harder.
I once heard Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, refer to this as “work-life-harmony.” That stuck with me. It’s about harmonizing the work and life to achieve your personal objectives in both areas. I do think, however, that there is a time and place to completely unplug. I ebb and flow in this area. My wife and I are both working parents and we try to make sure we’re helping one another find that harmony. Work is such a large part of our life but it’s good to keep its purpose in perspective.