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My name is Prashanth Shenoy, and I‘m VP of Marketing, Cloud, and Networking at Cisco. In this article, I'm really delighted to share some of my insights, as well as some of the best practices that have led to our success at Cisco.

We’re transforming from a product marketing organization to a customer solutions marketing organization. It's still a work in progress, but we are excited about the journey ahead. I can’t wait to share some of our learnings along the way.

Main aims for this article

Throughout the pandemic, a lot of our customers have really accelerated their digital journey. In this era, I truly believe that the role of product marketing to serve our customers has become more critical than ever before.

My job here is to convince you that we have an obligation and responsibility to change the way we do marketing from being product-focused to customer-focused. I call this 'the shift-left strategy'.

What’s the shift-left strategy? Well, that’s what I’m going to break down for you.

Main talking points

So, without further delay, let’s dive into the main subject of this article.

What does shift left mean?

A presentation slide that says "what does shift left mean" and then a comic next to it of two men standing next to a sign that says shift left and one man is saying "we were so aggressive in our quest to shift left, we now test and find defects before we gather requirements".

Shift left is a term that was first coined in the world of software testing back in 2001. It refers to the act of shifting testing very early on in the development of a product. In other words, you're ‘shifting left’ in the process timeline.

The idea is that you're going to find defects very early on and improve the quality of the product that you're providing to the customers. Since then, this term has been co-opted in various different places, whether it's in the supply chain or in product development.

Here I'm applying this term to marketing. I feel this is super critical for us as a profession, and I'm going to break the concept down into three areas.

Focus on outcomes

Simply put, in product marketing, shifting left means it's moving from focusing on product to moving closer to our customers and their actual needs. And nowhere is this more critical than in the function of creating the most compelling, radically simple message which really focuses on what the customer needs are.

A Venn diagram with three circles describing the shift left messaging focus on customer outcomes. One circle says what you provide, the next says what your competitors provide and the third says what your customer needs. The gap overlapping what you provide and what your customer needs is labelled sweet spot of shift left messaging.

This Venn diagram is basically product marketing 101. So, on the left side, you have our product, with all its bells and whistles and all its beautiful functionality.

And on the right side, you have what your competitors provide. At the bottom is what your customers truly need.

The sweet spot

Shift left really comes into play in that sweet spot on the diagram. This is our unique value proposition that addresses our customers' needs.

You land in the sweet spot when you're truly focused on customer outcomes when you’re truly focused on the unique differentiator that only we can solve for our customers.

Scrabble letters on a pink background spelling out be patient.

It’s not gonna happen all at once

So, I’ve made it sound simple, but it’s not gonna happen all at once. It’s gonna take time, patience, and hard work.

You always have these forces – whether it's the product managers, sales, marketing – who want to talk about the functionality, competitiveness, who want to talk bells and whistles. But it all really boils down to the simple fact that the customer is truly interested in how you can help make their life simpler, faster, better, happier, and more efficient.

That's that sweet spot. It's easier said than done. And we've had challenges executing it at Cisco.

How we got there at Cisco

We recently did a launch called Future Cloud, where we were unveiling our software solutions to help our customers transition faster to this age of the hybrid cloud.

And instead of talking about the products, and all the functionalities and the core differentiators, we truly focused on two things: making it faster, and making it smarter. That's it. And we focused on how our cloud-neutral automation techniques can bring that agility.

Through use cases and demos, we were able to actually explain that faster and smarter concept through automation and observability.

What this achieved

This kept the message extremely simple and extremely focused on the outcome. And we brought in industry folks, like our CIOs, our customers, and our cloud providers, to actually explain the story. We showcased through a demo how to make it real.

That was one simple example that we have repeated several times successfully. We were able to shut out all the noise and focus on what is most important to our customers.

Cisco customer solution marketing center

Title that says Cisco Customer Solutions Marketing Charter, then the first header says "vision" and underneath it says consistently deliver radically simplified messaging and connected experiences to the market, the second header says "mission" and says unify cisco's broad portfolio to enable a cisco connected experience, the last says "strategy" and underneath says transform Cisco into a platform-first and solutions GTM by connecting Engineering, Sales and Marketing to shape strategic corporate initiatives.

Vision and mission

If you need to rally the entire product marketing team to shift left and think customer first, It needs to be baked into our vision, mission, and ultimately, our strategy. Firstly, we changed the name of our organization from being product marketing to customer solutions marketing. That in itself was a big signal that we are here in the service of the most important audience, which is the customers.

Our vision was to consistently deliver a radically simplified message and bring that connected experience to the market. We took our entire complex portfolio at Cisco– around networking, around security, around observability– and focused it back on our customers.


This wasn’t simple or easy. We had to make some really heavy pivots in our strategy to transform from a product to more of a platform. We had to be directors, bringing engineering, sales, marketing, and finance all together to shape our strategic corporate initiative.

This is a work in progress, but it's really helped us bring this together.

Go To Market

The second area of focus for Shift Left is ‘go to market.’ More specifically, it’s digital ‘go to market.’ The fact is, B2B buyers prefer to do research digitally rather than speaking to a seller. In fact, when they're speaking to the seller, they’ve pretty much already made up their mind in terms of what they want, who are the shortlist of vendors, and what exactly they're looking at.

We as marketers have a huge role to play in terms of how we digitally reach our customers in a way they want us to, and how we provide the right information.

GTM focus on digital

Shift left: GTM focus to digital. two columns titled from and to. The from column has four headings called one size fits all, product marketing, sales and channel RTM and traditional audience. The two column says hyper experience, in product marketing, sales, channel, marketplaces, ecommerce, as a service, and the last one says influencer and adjacent market audience.

From one size fits all to hyper-personalized

This was a concept we used to re-build messaging on our website. At one time, it was one size fits all for all industry verticals, for all geographies, for all segments, it was all the same story. That didn't quite work out.

But thanks to the marketing tech stack that we have, when we go to, we truly know who the account team is, what they are looking for, and where they are in the journey of their market. This goes right from buying to adoption, and finally to the usage phase. We’re able to serve up the right content for the right audience at the right time

That's been a big shift in the way we create content in marketing, as well as where we provide the content.

From product marketing to ‘in-product’ marketing

As a company that has a lot of hardware platforms, software, and services all working together, we have to do the shift of moving from product marketing to marketing inside of the product.

We showcase the actual user of that dashboard, to say how you can extract value when you move from this workflow to the next workflow.

Expanding from just sales and marketing

We wanted to expand around markets beyond just the sales and channel route, to areas like marketplaces and e-commerce, and as we transition as a company, how do we explore these new markets and serve up content for these new markets? This is a very different content mix compared to what we provide on our website, what we provide to our sellers, and what we provide to our channel partners.

From traditional to adjacent audience

And as we've been doing this, we had to shift from serving a traditional audience, the direct users of our products, to more of an ‘influencer’ audience, like the Chief People Officer, for example. A great example of this is our smart building initiative. Coming out of COVID, a lot of our customers are focused on the future of hybrid work.

How can we build very smart buildings that can understand office space utilization, that can save energy, and monitor social distancing?

We took our existing products and started serving that to the Chief People Officer and the Chief Company Operating Officer. Also, the facility managers, the workplace resource folks that we had never had built a relationship with so far.

That really helped get that use case to the right audience and expand our audience to the adjacent market. This is pretty exciting for us because we learn new things in terms of how our products are actually being used.

Team structure

Four friends hugging in a field watching a sunset.

You can have all of the strategies put in place, but if you don't create the right culture within your teams, it's going to be very hard to achieve that shift left of moving closer to the customer and away from the product.

This is truly a mindset shift. And we at Cisco did that through this five-prong strategy, which I’m going to share with you below.

From org chart to customer-focused

Number one was breaking silos and moving from an aligned marketing organization to truly a customer-focused organization. That was a big shift, one that you can imagine caused a lot of resistance internally, but we realized that was the right thing to do.

From product marketing to solution marketing

The second one was to move from widgets and individual products to how these products work together as a solution. How do we build a platform on which our customers can develop their own solutions and cater to their own end users and customers? That was this concept of moving from product to platform and solutions.

Horizon one marketing to horizon two and three marketing

The third thing was around the horizon one marketing. This basically amounts to, “sell what you’ve got in the truck and focus on the products that we have.” Horizon two and three marketing is the art of possibility. Where is this market moving towards? Who are market leaders in networking, insecurity, and collaboration?

It’s so critical for us to figure out where these technology transitions are going.

From siloed campaigns to consolidated GTM campaigns

Our GTM organization also had to shift from having siloed campaigns at a regional level to truly a globally consistent campaign that was very aligned to buying centers and personas.

We had to transition our campaigns into C suite campaigns. We had to appeal to network buyers, to security buyers, to collaboration buyers and small businesses. We had to have a segment-based approach to taking this.

From regional/ country model to field PMM model per region

Cisco operates in dozens of countries, and each country has its own unique needs. Instead of completely customizing the content and localizing every piece of content that we had created, we wanted to streamline and build consistency.

We wanted to appear as a single company with a key set of use cases, no matter which country we market to. And that was one of the biggest shifts. We moved our product marketing organization to focus not just at a country level, but to own that solution for that particular region.

They had to be subject matter experts, but they also had to be experts for their specific regions.

Consolidating the team

We had to upgrade the skill sets of our teams, focusing more on digital marketers, audience marketing, solutions marketing, for example, rather than people who came from a technology background.

We built a real diversity of thought from hiring candidates and folks from various different places. We weren’t just hiring from technology companies and B2B companies. We were hiring folks from B2C companies, from journalism, and folks who are working in the media. This has been an exciting journey for us.

Key takeaways

  1. When it comes to Shift Left from a messaging perspective, truly focus on that single most important audience, your customers, and their outcomes. Try not to focus so much on features.
  2. It's not just about the strategy, it’s about the GTM for that content strategy.
  3. No matter what, you can’t do it alone. You’ve got to find your champions for this journey.