Marketing Cybersecurity with Don Jeter, CMO of Torq

Vicky Houser28 Nov 2023
PodcastsThe Next CMO Blog


In this episode of the Next CMO Podcast, host Peter Mahoney talks with Don Jeter, CMO of TORQ, a cybersecurity firm specializing in automating security operations. Don emphasizes TORQ’s innovative approach to solving challenges like alert fatigue and talent shortage in cybersecurity through automation while discussing the importance of understanding customer pain points and demonstrating product value in a competitive market.


In this episode of The Next CMO podcast, I speak to Don Jeter, CMO of Torq. Torq delivers the security industry’s first enterprise-grade hyperautomation platform capable of automating the most complex security infrastructures at dramatic scale.

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Peter: The Next CMO Podcast explores topics that are on the minds of forward-thinking marketing executives from leadership and strategy to emerging technologies. And we bring these topics to life by interviewing leading experts in their fields. The Next CMO is sponsored by Planful for Marketing. A leading marketing performance management solution that automates marketing planning, financial management, and ROI optimization.

And hosted by me, Peter Mahoney, an experienced CMO, CEO, board member, and executive advisor.

In this episode of the Next CMO Podcast, I speak to Don Jeter. Don is the CMO of TORQ. TORQ is a leading [00:01:00] provider of solutions that help security professionals automate their operations. You’ll learn from Don how he targets security professionals in a crowded cybersecurity software world, how he’s climbed to the seat as a CMO, early on in his career, and he shares his advice for current and aspiring CMOs.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy the show.

Hey Don, welcome to the Next CMO Podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today. And to get us started, it would be great if you could tell the audience a little bit about DAWN and a little bit about TORQ.

Don: Thanks, Peter. Great to be here. I’m Don Jeter. I’m the CMO at Torque. Torque is a cybersecurity company that has developed a platform to help security teams build and deploy workflows to help them automate more faster.

Peter: Excellent. So tell me a little bit more about what that might mean and [00:02:00] talk a little bit about your target audience, DAWN, because that’ll help us as we start to get into the details of how you think about marketing at TORQ.

Don: Yeah, absolutely. So right now, security teams are facing a handful of pretty existential challenges. workingossa, A ton of events and alerts coming into security teams constantly new threats and evolving landscape. At the same time, there’s a shortage of talent talent shortage. So not enough professionals out there to deal with this, you know, accelerated and evolving landscape, and then a ton of complexity, so to deal with.

All these alerts and potential incidents, there’s more and more tools. And so we believe that the answer to all of this is automation. And we’re working to help CISOs and security professionals address those challenges through automation.

Peter: Great. And I know alert fatigue is a huge issue across a lot of industries. I spend a lot of time [00:03:00] in the… Healthcare industry. And you could imagine that in a healthcare setting, you know, doctors and nurses and other clinical staff getting barraged by all those dinging. and those flashing things could be traumatic to our personal health.

And I could imagine for the security health of a company, the same thing where people are just have so many things. There’s so much data coming in all the time, but tell me a little bit about who you know, What’s the kind of, what’s the size of a company that you’d be working with at Torque, Don?

Don: Predominantly the fortune 500. So enterprise companies companies looking to scale. But really, I mean, every company that’s in, you know, cybersecurity or has, you know, cybersecurity in house. is dealing with this alert fatigue, right? And I think that the talent shortage is compounded with burnout too, right?

So, there’s not enough professionals out there to deal with [00:04:00] this exponential increase in threats. And at the same time, the people that we do have on the front lines are burning out because of so many alerts. So, it’s a unique challenge.

Peter: Yeah, it is. And it I assume when you’re focused on workflow and you’re working focused on automation, there’s a real benefit, of course, to reducing the amount of human labor that is required to manage all of these things. How do you sort of balance the message? As you’re communicating to CISOs, is it, hey, we’re going to automate you with some AI powered thing, or is it we’re going to make your job and your team more productive as we deliver better security solutions to your company?

How do you think about that message around sort of the economic value and how you message that to this audience?

Don: Well, I think as you’re speaking with CISOs, their challenge is… are evolving too, right? They’re expected to do [00:05:00] more with less. Budgets aren’t increasing. At the same time, they’re on the hook if something goes wrong. And so, we have to understand their challenges. I think with marketing, a lot of times teams will jump to want to talk about features and functions and their product, and really we need to understand our audience’s challenge.

More than ever. Like it’s for marketing it’s a lot more about the customer’s problem and pain than your product. And I think. We’re really aware of that. And I think, you know, when you think about cyber security, you look at cyber security marketing, everybody wants to reduce their risk.

Everybody wants to have more efficient teams, save time, save money. How do we tell that story in a new way? And Speak to the pain points of our audience. I mean, that’s really the million dollar question for any marketing team.

Peter: Yeah, it really is. And especially in a market like cybersecurity, of [00:06:00] course, is a hugely important, fast growing market, but there are a lot of participants and there’s a lot of complexity going on in that market. So you have to think about how you stand out. And how do you think about that, Don, about trying to make Torque stand out and be recognized as someone that a CISO should pay attention to.

versus the tens or hundreds of other solutions that they may be looking at any given day.

Don: Yeah, I think that starting with the problem or the challenge is important in marketing and the challenges that our CISOs are facing today and the audience that we’re speaking with. The personas that we are addressing, they’ve been promised a solution for a long time, right? And marketed that, hey, we’re going to fix this thing.

And the truth is that if those solutions had delivered, we wouldn’t be dealing with these same challenges, right? [00:07:00] The alert fatigue would be addressed. We wouldn’t have a problem with, you know, complexity. And so what we like to think about is how are we different than those legacy solutions?

That have made those promises, and we really believe that the legacy security orchestration automation response incumbents, the legacy players, the Splunks, the Palo Altos haven’t delivered in that area and actually are compounding today’s Most existential challenges when you think about complexity and you think about alert fatigue, they’re not solving it.

They’re actually, you know, hindering our CISOs even more. More people are required to work on their solutions are very complex. They’re time consuming and they’re costly. And so we’re thinking about it in a different way. And that’s where we introduce hyper automation.

Peter: So do you think of your opportunity as primarily a replacement market, or is it greenfield? Is it an adjacency? [00:08:00] How do you think about sort of attacking the market for torque, Don as you try to take these solutions to market?

Don: I think that we are targeting takeout, a competitive takeout, with some of those legacy players that I just mentioned. We’re hearing consistently from both customers and analysts that these legacy solutions are not working. And again, that they’re compounding those challenges I mentioned. And so we’re it’s a competitive replacement or displacement.

And. Yeah, that’s how we’re going to market with it.

Peter: Yeah, that, that makes sense. So talk a little bit about your marketing strategy. So how do you think about at the top level, what your strategy is to try to Get the Torque name out there and and differentiate and educate the audience of CISOs out there that it’s time for them to think differently and make a switch.

Don: Well, I think one of the things you [00:09:00] have to think about when you are going to market, especially with a new solution and a new way of thinking is that don’t have any awareness, you know, and there’s no attention. And now, you know, nowadays that we spoke about this. You know, things are changing so fast, the market’s evolving so quickly and nobody really has an attention span, , right?

And if you’re trying to get your story out there, you have to realize as a marketer that you’re competing not just with your competitors, other solutions or existing products that are, you know, that your customers are using. You’re competing with everything. Because, you know, all of us are on our phones.

We have screens on our wrists, we’re getting notifications all day. And you need to figure out how to break through that noise and get people to care. And I think the only really way you can capture attention and actually generate awareness about your product is really knowing the customer and knowing.

Their challenge and their [00:10:00] pain point and being able to communicate that to them, to where they, you know, feel seen and heard like this company, this product really does understand the challenges I’m going through right now. And I want to give this some of my attention, right? I want to learn more.

And that as a, you know, as a marketer is the most important thing is how do you capture attention and generate awareness? That’s before demand, right? There’s no demand. You can’t get to demand if you don’t have attention. And so early on coming into Torque, that was something that I realized is we just don’t have any awareness.

We have no brand. We have no brand built and our customers don’t know us. Yeah, at all.

Peter: Yeah, so how do you think about solving that problem? There, there’s some really great examples of companies who’ve done this and entered a new market. And in a disruptive way one that comes to mind is Salesforce as an example. So Salesforce, believe it or not, they [00:11:00] used to be a young company and they’re not anymore.

Don: software.

Peter: Yeah. They had the big no, no software campaign. Right. And they focused on. A disruptive change. They said that, Hey, everyone’s got, you know, premise installed software, and that’s a bad idea. We’ve got a new innovative way to do it. And they focused everything behind this idea of no software.

Is Torque as a disruptor, do you think about sort of trying to introduce a disruptive new idea into the market, or is it really about sort of just building? Goodwill and awareness for the TORQ brand.

Don: I think you have to do both. And I love that you brought up Salesforce. I think they’re one of the. You know a great case study and kind of the challenger brand Approach to marketing and I think that we are certainly taking that route, And it’s something that I you know as I look to some of my favorite Brands and products.

A lot of them started out as a challenger brand, right. As a [00:12:00] startup you think about Apple and, you know, they were maybe the most iconic, maybe the most iconic brand, one of the most recognizable brands now, but they started in a very similar way where they weren’t telling you about their product.

They were telling you about all the pain points associated with their competition. Right. Their whole first, you know, their super well known 1984, like the best commercial ever made, didn’t show the product. It just said, Hey, we’re not IBM. We’re not some soulless corporation. And that’s always really stuck with me.

And I think that they’ve, you know, I’m sure there’s really smart books on this, right. But like for me in marketing, I’ve just looked at the brands and the products that I’ve loved, and I’ve tried to draw. A little inspiration and kind of, you know, reverse engineer how they did things and why it resonated with me.

And I thought that the Apple, you know, approach was really interesting. They don’t show their product in a lot of marketing, right? Even, you know, you fast forward Mac versus PC. They weren’t telling you about [00:13:00] the features and functions of their product. They were telling you that they’re not a PC. Right.

And that creative people use Macs. So I think that disruptive approach is a way to get attention and generate awareness and also say us versus them. Are you with us? Right. And I think that, you know, as humans, we want an emotional connection to things. And Apple is, you know, incredible at creating an emotional connection to a product, and people want to be a part of something.

And so, you know, not all that applies, of course, to B2B enterprise grade security software, but I think there’s a lot of lessons in that. And I think that we certainly try to emulate some of those challenger brand tactics. that you mentioned there with Salesforce and that, you know, I’m referencing here with Apple.

Peter: Yeah, so how does that come to life inside TORQ? So, let’s talk about how you as a relatively new CMO, to TORQ anyway so you come on board and and you’ve got to get them [00:14:00] thinking differently, you’ve got to, you know, change the way things are happening, make your mark on TORQ etc. So start by telling us, you know, how long approximately have you been at TORQ?

And then and then what has it taken for you as a new leader of this function to, to get the team to think differently the way that Apple wants their consumers to think differently?

Don: Yeah, I think different. I like that reference, Peter. I joined Torque in February of this year, and one of the things, like I mentioned, that we realized when we looked at the data and the engagement is that we had relatively little awareness. Now, we have customers. We have some great logos coming in, and we’ve built an incredible product. And I think part of my job was to be able to capture, you know, the DNA of the company, the culture that I saw with the company and it’s amazing culture that they have built and bring that into the marketing. [00:15:00] I think we had a, you know, we had a really cool office. We have really cool people, really cool product.

And I don’t feel like that was reflected. And the messaging, the positioning, the visual identity of the company itself as we communicated externally to our customers. And so, coming in, it was relatively easy to get everybody excited about a new direction. And all it was is kind of sales and marketing trying to catch up to this amazing product.

The customers that they had already using the product were some really iconic logos and names that you can see on Torque. io. And some incredible security companies. You know, we say that we’re your security product’s favorite security product because These really recognizable security brands are using the Torque product in their day to day operations.

And so, for us, it was just really about coming in and saying, Let’s match the product. The [00:16:00] product’s cool. The company’s really cool. We’ve got a cool office. How do we get that into the story that we’re telling to customers and get customers excited?

Peter: Well, it’s an amazing asset that you have. I mean, if you can start with a really strong product. And get your brand and your marketing approach to match everything that’s there. It can be a really powerful thing. So talk about how you bring that to life. Is there sort of a hero campaign that you’ve launched as an example to try to

Don: Well, I think back to kind of the challenger brand approach. I think when we’re thinking about introducing a new torque and generating that attention and awareness, right, capturing attention it’s important to start with the pain points, like we talked about earlier with the customer. And so it’s not about, Hey, look at us, you know, here’s a new product.

There’s a lot of great products. that never make it because they don’t start with that customer pain point. And for [00:17:00] us introducing the new Torque was really also about referencing and directly attacking some of the challenges and pain points our audience was feeling with the legacy solutions that they were stuck with.

And so, you know, we kind of boldly say that SOAR is dead, right? Security, orchestration, automation and response is dead. To get attention and to get people to say, well, you know, what is torque? How is it different? Why is it better? And, you know, take a little bit more of a. You know, more more bold approach to cybersecurity marketing, which historically in the B2B space is pretty conservative, I would say.

So that’s kind of been the approach so far. And then just digging in and really understand that, that customer pain point related to those challenges, right. Or related to our legacy solutions that we’re competing with.

Peter: So when you joined TORC, I think this is the first time that you [00:18:00] were dedicated to the cyber security space. You were broadly, I think, had a great career in IT products in general. But this, I think, is a renewed focus for you, Don. And as you came, into the industry, what surprised you about the industry or the target audience that you’ve just started to learn a lot more about as you started to dig into the details?

Don: I think what surprised me is. The common challenges that we hear around alert fatigue, truly, like the volume of alerts, the volume of incidents that these teams are facing, and that there hasn’t been a solution. And that a lot of folks a lot of teams are struggling with burnout. I don’t think I was as aware of that challenge and how common it is.

I think Peter, that would be the biggest surprise to me. It’s just that this challenge is [00:19:00] so pronounced and so common and it’s so recurring that CISOs and teams are struggling to hire people. And then the people that they do have on the team. They’re struggling to retain because they’re really stuck in day to day repetitive tasks that become mundane and are not rewarding, and they’re not able to focus on innovation.

They’re not able to do the things oftentimes that they were hired to do because they’re stuck battling this volume of alerts that they can’t escape.

Peter: That seems like it must be a solvable problem. And maybe that’s what TORC has done, right? But, you know, the idea of being able to take a lot of signals and find the signal from the noise and prioritize things, etc. It seems like certainly a attractable problem. It seems like something that can be solved.

Why hasn’t it been solved before? And what’s so special [00:20:00] about the approach that you’ve taken to try to solve it?

Don: I think that we take a different approach because we started with automation. And that’s the foundation of our platform. We’ve bring, we’ve brought together a number of different technologies. API integrations, no code, low code, AI. And we’ve brought all these different technologies together in a single platform. And the analogy I use is a lot of these technologies aren’t necessarily new, we’ve been able to unify them and orchestrate them in a way. That is much easier and delivers a more elegant solution and easier to use solution that enables teams to build more automations faster and get the outcomes that they’ve been looking for elsewhere.

I, you know, you mentioned we talked about Apple there for a second. If you think about it, a lot of the technologies that were in the [00:21:00] iPhone weren’t necessarily new, right? BlackBerry had a keyboard, they had a browser. You could call, you could email on the device. But what Apple did was they brought all these technologies together in a much more elegant package.

and delivered it in a way that was new. And I think that TORC has been able to bring together this approach that helps organizations rapidly identify and automate processes at incredible scale. And that’s not been delivered yet. And I can’t tell you why it hasn’t been delivered yet. But our focus on the automation piece and this philosophy of automating more, this hyper automation philosophy, is different.

I can tell you our obsession with automation and the DNA of the team being cybersecurity is very different. So we’re really excited. The trajectory and the growth we’ve seen has been incredible and I feel very fortunate to have landed here [00:22:00] to tell this story.

Peter: Yeah, it seems like a great place and it seems like you know, you’re dealing with. An amazing industry with an amazing product, which is great. But you brought up something that’s, it’s an interesting challenge for marketers. So the, some of the differentiation that you have at Torque is about a well designed, well integrated solution that drives more automation.

And. Sometimes that can have a huge business impact. The challenge sometimes is getting a market to understand, a sales organization to be able to communicate. What’s the business value of that extra integration, extra automation? Because getting someone a switch is really hard. And it sounds like you’ve been able to do it, which is good.

So what are those magic crystals? How do you think about taking the [00:23:00] value proposition you have of a well integrated, beautifully designed, you know, well automated thing? How do you connect that to enough of a motivating force to get someone to, Move on from the status quo to try something different.

Don: I think you have to show them first. I think that it’s easy to write, you know, long white papers or blog posts about how you’re different, why you’re better. I think that gets them in the door. At the end of the day, you have to prove that you’re better. And I think that we’ve been able to show and have the data to prove it, that we can help you reach business outcomes faster, deliver ROI faster, and help you do more with less.

I think, you know, we’re seeing customers come to Torque who’ve been with a legacy solution for years and only have been able to. Implement four [00:24:00] or five workflows, automate four or five processes. And in the POC, just in the proof of concept, they’re able to build 40 to 50 in a handful of weeks. So we can say it’s easier.

We can say it’s faster, more ROI. Save time, save money. But really at the end of the day, the marketing’s job is to get them in, get them interested, get them engaged, but the product needs to do the work as far as helping you convert. We have a role in that marketing, but you got to show it. And I think with the security audience. Yeah, the proof is in the demo and then in your environment, does it work in your environment? And we’re really confident that if we get you into a POC, you’re going to see the difference and you’re going to feel the difference and you’re going to see those outcomes.

Peter: So is that the key currency that you are focused on, Don? Is the POC? Because if you think about it, you have a real [00:25:00] disruptive kind of opportunity that you’re enabling with Torque because you’re deployable, you’re Proof of conceptible, if I can make up some words faster and more demonstrably than the legacy stuff that’s out there.

So it seems like that the key outcome that the marketing organization can be focused on is really driving these. Is that the key thing you look at, or is it something different? Is it pipe? Is it closed business? Is it something different?

Don: I mean, the ultimate measurement is. Is revenue, right? Like, like working backwards, right? Hey, what’s our number? How did we get there? And there’s a couple, you know, measurements. Pipeline generation, absolutely key. I think when we think about our funnel, the most qualified lead we can deliver is a demo, which leads to a POC.

And for marketing, we got to get, again, just where we started, [00:26:00] the attention and awareness to get you interested in considering Torque. Right? How do we get your consideration? How do we get you to a demo where you’re going to see the difference? How do you, we get you to a POC where you’re going to see the difference in your environment, right?

And so I think that our ultimate measurement is close one opportunities for sure. And we know that the, you know, the route to get there is with a, get a demo and then into a POC. So that’s what we’re working. Really hard for but before you get there long before you get there is how do we even get your attention?

How do we help you understand that you have a problem? How do we get you aware that there’s a better way to do things that you may not be aware of right?

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s spend a minute. I’d love to talk a little bit about your journey to to this job and your career overall, because you had a meteoric rise in a relatively short period of time. So. Give us the story, you know, how did Don Jeter get from not quite [00:27:00] birth, but take us back over the last few years in, in your career and tell us how you got here.

Don: Yeah. Yeah. Thanks peter. I think one thing i’ve learned about myself, in this career path is I really enjoy finding disruptive technology and products and Leadership teams that want to take those products to market that are changing things that are different prior to joining Torque, I was with a company called Pax8.

I joined Pax8 in 2016. Pax8’s a cloud marketplace that makes it easy for people to buy, sell, and manage cloud. And we targeted the MSP and MSSP channel. And in 2016, there was about 25 employees. And when I left, we had over 1, 600 employees. So I got to be a part of this amazing growth. And learned a lot, like learned, you know, how to take a product, you know, and platform to market, how to build a marketing team from three people to close to 40 people [00:28:00] globally.

And the revenue that went along with that, as we grew, we went from 5 million to a billion in revenue in a time that I was there. And like, I’m so fortunate to have been able to be a part of it and meet the people. That I got to meet and work alongside in 2016, you know, we were still trying to get people to understand the benefits of adopting cloud solutions.

And marketplaces weren’t as buzzy as they are today. And so I thought that was a, it was a really unique solution and platform. And so working there, I learned how to kind of figure out how this positioning and messaging to create. You know, new categories. Cloud marketplaces weren’t really a thing in 2016.

So, I learned at Pax8 that’s what I like to be a part of, is startups. Prior to that I was at Symantec and Veritas. So I worked at larger enterprise companies and, you know, I think I just had more fun at startups. [00:29:00] Joining Pax8, joining Torque, it’s just, there’s so much more room to create and to you know, have fun.

Peter: Oh that’s amazing. And it’s a, quite a ride at PAX 8, obviously, and really become a powerhouse in, in that space. So it’s exciting that you’ve been able to have that ride and be able to really understand what it takes to scale. Cause scaling is really hard. And it sounds like you’ve been able to see that.

And it sounds like the folks at TORQ looked at you as an opportunity to help them figure out how to prepare for that kind of scale. And what kind of stage of a company is TORQ at right now?

Don: We’re Series B.

Peter: Oh, great. So a Series B company, which is a lot of fun, that’s really where you start the scale, right? So this is a, you know, a company these days to.

To close a Series B, you have to be like a super capable company that’s growing really fast and has a real clear path to profitability [00:30:00] and in serving a giant market, which it seems like you are. So that’s a really exciting place to be. And as you look at, you know, the next year or two, what do you think the biggest challenges are for Torque that you need to help them solve?

Don: I think we’re very much going to be still in brand building, community building. We have to keep innovating at a pace to stay ahead and to continue to win market share. I think that the biggest challenge is what you mentioned of scale. How do you continue to innovate at the same pace, continue to?

Have a culture that we have as you grow. These are challenges that, you know, I saw at PAX 8 as we scaled really quickly, being able to hire at a rate, keep and contribute and build a culture. Those are challenges with scale. [00:31:00] And yeah, I’m excited about, I think we have an incredible group.

I think we’re about 150 employees now. And, you know, we have all the right people. And again, we’re so confident in the product. And the people, and next it’s about getting the processes in line to be able to scale.

Peter: Excellent. Well, I really look forward to to watching Torque continue the great story and the great path that you’re on. And believe it or not, we’re actually at the end of our time and it’s time for me to ask my last question that I always do, Don, which is… What advice would you give to current or aspiring CMOs?

Don: I’ll say aspiring CMOs because I’m still so new in this role. I think a couple pieces. One, as you grow in your career it’s really about hiring smart people and getting out of their way. So, to me, like the whole leadership thing is just… Getting the right people [00:32:00] around you and building something together.

I think you have to understand how to get people excited. Marketing. A lot of times, you know, we talk about external marketing customers and audience, but you have to inspire your internal audience first to get people really excited about the mission and make people feel a part of a movement. And I think that that’s one of the most important things about marketing is building that momentum internally.

And that just naturally moves outward, right? And your customers feel that. And the last piece is change, just make change as fast as you can. You know, if you’re like for me, early on, like we had a lot of, you know, we had the right product, we had the right people. And how do we connect that to the marketing and create change in the messaging, positioning, and brand?

And so I think for aspiring CMOs, I would just say drive change as fast as you can.

Peter: Well, that’s great. Great advice[00:33:00] Don. And you’re absolutely right that a key unlock code is just putting the right people in the right seats. And as you said, getting out of their way. And it’s something that often people who are earlier in their career struggle with because they feel intimidated and they feel like it’s going to make them not as smart if they hire smart people and the opposite is almost always true.

So I’m glad that you figured that out at this point in your career and it seems like. You and TORC both have a very rosy future in front of you. So excited to watch that continue. Well, Don, I wanted to thank you for spending time with me and the audience today, talking about TORC, talking about your career.

And I wanted to thank you in the audience for listening to the Next CMO podcast. If you have ideas about future guests or topics that we should be covering, send them along to us at thenextcmoatplanful. com. Make sure you follow us on all those social things that we publish on. And [00:34:00] thanks again, Don, and have a great day.

Don: Thanks, Peter.