"I like the strategy and seeing the big picture"
Position: Co-founder and chief analyst of research and advisory firm TOPO and editor of The Funnelholic website
Home: San Mateo, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA
Family: Wife, Wendy and three sons, twins Pono and Kai (4) and Kekoa (14 months)
Career: Varied career with Silicon Valley companies includes five years as vice president of marketing at B2B media company Tippit and more than four years as a senior program manager at Sales Ramp, where he implemented inside sales and demand generations systems at 23 companies.
Favorite movie: “I should say ‘Citizen Kane,’” Rosenberg said. “But the movie I’ll watch over and over every time it’s on TV is ‘Die Hard.’ I guess the choice of movie should make you look good, but I think it’s more important to be honest.”
Influential books: Rosenberg had trouble narrowing his list to three. He often re-reads the business classic “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy. John Feinstein’s “A Season on the Brink” about an Indiana basketball season under controversial Coach Bobby Knight made a big impression on him when he was growing up. The third is a novel called “Sales Mastery” by Barry Trailer. “It’s about a sales rep who is down on his luck and desperate,” Rosenberg said. “He gets a new boss who helps him figure out how to sell. It’s fiction. But it’s a really good sales book.”
Fun Fact: His mother is a Japanese-American from Hawaii and his father is from New Jersey. “So I’m kind of the ultimate melting pot,” he said.
Interests: College football, running, yoga. But Rosenberg said any free time usually is spent with his family. “The hours of the day where I’m not working, I’m basically with my kids,” he said. “I try to get home at 5:30 at night and be with them until they go to bed. Then I’m working again. I have lots of friends express regrets about not spending more time with their kids. They say, ‘You’ll wake up one day and they’re 12.’ But it’s a challenge to make time for them and run a business.”
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Every memorable brand has an origin story. And Craig Rosenberg has a good one.
He was the vice president of marketing at a B2B media company called Tippit when, in 2008, his CEO Scott Albro had a suggestion. You should start a blog and share what you know about sales and marketing. Sure, Rosenberg said. But there was a small problem. He couldn’t get the blog name that he wanted.
We’ll let Rosenberg pick up the story.
“I needed something that sounded official, like Funnelnomics,” he said. “I went back to Scott and said that the name already was taken. And he told me, ‘You are not a Funnelnomics kind of guy. You’re edgy and a little bit crazy. You need something like. . . Funnelholic.”
That one was available. A brand was born.
“The Funnelholic,” Rosenberg concluded, “was the real game-changer.”
There’s a good chance that you know Rosenberg more by that moniker than his real name. The Funnelholic has become synonymous with everything pertaining to sales and marketing. That image has become an integral part of the research firm TOPO, which Rosenberg and Albro co-founded two years ago. It also captures the essence of Rosenberg – a hard-working regular guy who never stops thinking about how to improve business.
“There are a lot of analysts out there who are not easy to relate to,” said Albro, the CEO at TOPO. “But Craig has a very approachable personality. When he says something, people really listen and trust him. He doesn’t put on any airs. There’s no ivory towers stuff. He just rolls up his sleeves and delivers.”
And over the years, Rosenberg has gained a reputation in the tech community for reveling in the big challenges of building – or fixing – inside sales teams and demand generation operations. He excels at designing what essentially could be described as “the process.” Rosenberg helps companies create efficient, scalable, repeatable systems that produce results that can be clearly measured.
“I like the strategy and seeing the big picture,” he said. “If I’m in a place where things are going really well, I might not like it as much because I’m not the kind of person who just wants to keep everything running. I like broken glass and gunshots firing everywhere. I love having to figure out the tough questions. That gets me pretty excited.”
But helping tech companies is not what Rosenberg initially thought he would be doing with his life. He attended UCLA and had taken all the right steps to work somewhere in the film and television industry by doing internships at Disney, ABC and an entertainment agency.
It has been said of Hollywood that nobody knows anything. For his part, Rosenberg eventually decided that nobody seemed particularly happy, either. Tinseltown wasn’t nearly as glamorous as he had expected.
“I knew that I wasn’t Quentin Tarantino, but I thought I could be a studio guy, producer guy or agent guy,” Rosenberg said. “But I found that it’s a pretty vicious culture.”
So he came home to the Bay Area and became a high school teacher and water polo coach. But when teaching didn’t ignite his inner passion, Rosenberg turned to tech sales and worked at a startup called Pure Atria, which was Reed Hastings’ pre-Netflix company. Then he turned to sports as the director of marketing for USA Water Polo.
Meanwhile, Rosenberg also was coaching kids at the Stanford Water Polo Club. John Tanner, the head of the organization who also coaches the Stanford women’s collegiate team, said he was struck not only by how much Rosenberg’s teams always improved over the course of a season, but the way he became a mentor figure.
“He had just an incredibly loyal group of players and parents,” said Tanner, whose college teams have won five national titles. “Everyone just found him to be a compelling leader who they wanted to be around. Years later, whenever we had athletes return, they always were looking for Craig to ask his advice. He was just seen as a person who really cared about people.”
Professionally, though, Rosenberg said his career was “like pots and pans.” A little of this, a little of that, and not much to show for any of it. But that changed when Rosenberg met the man who would be the turning point in his life. Stu Silverman was known for helping build sales operations at Silicon Valley giants like Sun Microsystems, Cisco and Oracle. In 2001, he brought on Rosenberg as a program manager at his consulting firm Sales Ramp, which set up inside sales teams.
“It was like getting an MBA in tech sales and sales development,” Rosenberg recalled. “We were going into companies and spending six months building out their teams. So I was working with lots of companies, trying to figure out how to make it happen during some of the lowest years in the Valley. It was an invaluable experience. But more importantly, I got to work with Stu. He taught me to love business.”
Silverman had a folksy, old-school way of stressing fundamentals. Really understand the client’s needs. Embrace hard work. Oh, and take short lunches.
“He was always talking about figuring out the ‘nut of a job,’” Rosenberg said. “ He would describe business as having a shell consisting of all of these other things. But he said the key to life is figuring out what the nut is inside. What’s the thing that everyone will measure you on? And then you maniacally focus on that.”
In a nutshell, so to speak, Rosenberg maniacally focuses on helping clients.
“Craig has an ability to get really specific,” Albro said. “There’s a lot of 30,000-foot pontification and thought-leadership out there on the Internet. If you know how to use Google, you can go find it. The difference is how you translate those high-level concepts into operational reality. That sets Craig apart. He has a great way of working with sales teams to get them to adopt what he thinks will really help them.”
A big part of that is The Funnelholic blog, which has given Rosenberg a platform to share his ideas. In its early days, the blog focused on the thirst for information around the growing field of marketing automation. Then it became more known as digital clubhouse for sales pros. Today, Rosenberg thinks of his audience more in terms of a combined, revenue-generation team of marketers and salespeople.
In a lot of ways, Rosenberg is doing the same thing now as he once did when he roamed the pool deck at water polo workouts. He coaches.
“Bill Walsh was the guy who bridged that gap and changed the idea of a ‘coach’ being just about sports, practice and wearing a whistle,” Tanner said of the legendary 49ers and Stanford football coach. “He turned the idea of a coach into a visionary. Now everyone wants to think of themselves as a coach. But Craig really has been a coach his entire life in understanding the bigger picture and the concept of building a team. And he does it by being sincerely interested in his team.”
James Crane, an account executive with LeanData, is one example. He worked with Rosenberg at TOPO for a year and remembers listening to Rosenberg’s hands-on advice. Stick to the process. Focus on the most important things. Build relationships.
“At the time, a lot of it didn’t seem particularly helpful,” Crane said. “But now I can see how it made me a much better salesperson. There are so many things that I learned from Craig that help me do my job better every day.”
Rosenberg, by the way, marvels that others put that kind of common-sense wisdom into action the same way he has over the years.
“I really learned to embrace the hard work,” he said. “Salespeople and marketers are always trying to figure out because they’re so pressed to grow the business. You never feel like you’re really sitting pretty. Every day, every week and every quarter is a new challenge. I like having to figure it out. I like the action."
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