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SaaS Marketing Perspectives: Matthew Harper, VP of Marketing at Nylas

The next guest in our series of SaaS marketers is a friend of our agency – Matt Harper. He’s a two-time client contact and consistent San Francisco dive bar drinking buddy, but more importantly, he’s one of the smartest marketers in the business — having spent time at Sony, Glassdoor, Moogsoft and now Nylas. Read below for Matt’s thoughts on using data to justify decisions, seeing prospects as real people and how PR can fit into the marketing puzzle.

KIM: Briefly explain Nylas.

MATT: Nylas is the only platform that allows developers to quickly and securely connect their applications to any email, calendar, or address book in the world.

Our platform of universal APIs allows developers to access complex, unstructured data from your customers’ inboxes, calendars, and contacts and integrate it into your application, without having to build and maintain integrations between Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, and all the rest.

We make accessing this data simple, with a basic integration requiring just a few lines of code.  For instance, Dialpad – a VoIP platform – built a complete contacts integration with just one engineer in two days using Nylas.

KIM: How does Nylas currently market itself?

MATT: Nylas is part of the broader developer API revolution. The secular trend that is driving this revolution is the shift from building solutions in-house to developers utilizing a supply chain that enables them to quickly bring to market new features and applications. 

Examples of the software supply chain are available at all levels of the technology stack, starting with infrastructure (AWS) and extending upwards into critical functionality like payments (Stripe), authorization and security (Auth0), and communications (Nylas). 

Our audience is developers. We market to them and sell through them. This is a critical distinction vs. traditional enterprise software marketing and sales. 

With developer-focused marketing, it’s important to focus marketing efforts on driving direct install and evaluation of your technology. It’s B2B SaaS in terms of business model, but the customer acquisition motion closely resembles what you see in consumer marketing. By that, I mean: we tune our channels, offers, and campaigns to support a product-led growth model where we first goal ourselves by generating installs of our free trial and growing an active user base of developers building on top of our platform. 

A large portion of our business is developers coming through our website with a technical problem that they need to solve. Our strongest assets are things like technical documentation and how-to content that helps developers address common challenges. This is what attracts their initial interest and drives engagement.

Pricing and packaging is simple and transparent. This audience has no tolerance for chicanery.  In fact, I’d say they are actively hostile towards traditional marketing and sales tactics. The value has to be proven within the free trial of the product. That’s why we focus on nurturing these cohorts of developers to a moment of “product success.” When we do that, they convert into customers at the highest velocity I’ve seen in SaaS. It’s highly transactional: low friction, high velocity, high volume, and land-and-expand. This is true across all segments, even enterprise. 

KIM: What’s your SaaS marketing philosophy?

MATT: First, don’t limit yourself just to SaaS marketing practices. There are principles that apply, but many marketers find themselves checking the proverbial boxes and yet fail to generate results. That’s why the average tenure of VPs and CMOs in the Valley is less than a year. There are no hard and fast rules because every company and every customer is unique. There’s no better way to fail than to come in with your “at my last company” playbook. 

Start with listening to the customer, through conducting both quant and qual research, to generate customer insights and then apply the fundamental practice of aligning those insights into a positioning framework and nailing your messaging before turning on growth. Take the time to get this right – it’s super expensive and disruptive to fix this mid-stream.

Second, just because you sell to businesses doesn’t mean you aren’t communicating with people. People buy from brands and people they trust – this is well understood in consumer marketing but woefully neglected in B2B. We need to be mindful of that. That’s one of the reasons, in my not so humble opinion, so many B2B brands are boring and same-y. They are focusing on talking to the Economic Buyer or the Technical Decision Maker. Their names are Vicky and Eddie, by the way, and they don’t live in some weird alternate dimension where everyone watches corporate webinars all day long or waits for an email from a junior rep asking for 15 minutes of their time. They live in New Jersey and are trying to get the kids in bed at a decent hour so they can catch up on episodes of Ozark.

Third, if you aren’t good at data – meaning: capturing it, understanding it, using it to model scenarios and plans, and presenting it to other leaders to make and justify decisions, you’ll never truly have a seat at the executive table. There’s probably no better set of skills to teach yourself as a modern marketer. Not only will this earn you respect and credibility, but it will also help save you cycles of useless religious debate over this thing called marketing that so many people mistake for art and crafts when it is really the science of how people buy.

KIM: Would you consider yourself a demand-focused VP of marketing or a brand-focused one or both? Why? 

MATT: Every VP of marketing has a center of gravity, and SaaS CEOs tend to go for either someone deep in the category because they need to sort product>market fit, or are strong in growth marketing because they want to scale up the business. My strengths are more rooted in the growth marketing side of the house than in product marketing. Brand marketing, in my view, is independent of those practices and is important regardless of whether you are in a go-to-market phase or a go-to-scale phase. Ultimately, it’s brand + demand together that drives breakout growth. 

The biggest reason “why” is that I have actively avoided being a “category marketer” throughout my career. That’s been 100% intentional. I never wanted to be a pure-play IT marketer, or an entertainment marketer, or a developer marketer. That always felt unnecessarily restrictive, and frankly, I bore too easily. Instead, I studied and practiced the marketing discipline across industries and segments – from working for leading consumer brands like PlayStation to dual-sided consumer and business marketplaces like Glassdoor to enterprise software like Moogsoft to developer APIs like Nylas.

Going broad across the marketing discipline vs deep in any one category has allowed me to build muscle groups that many other marketers don’t ever get a chance to use. It definitely boxes me out of certain opportunities though. And that’s fine. It’s important to take a strong position and not be for something vs. trying to be everything to everyone all the time. 

KIM: How does PR fit into the SaaS marketing mix?

MATT: First off, people that say that PR, or any channel for that matter, isn’t right for their company are basically admitting that they just don’t know how it works well enough to get a result out of it. There’s nothing that I hate more than hearing “we tried PR but it didn’t work” or “email doesn’t make sense for our audience.” Granted, there will be channels and tactics that get you to your number this quarter faster, or are better suited for your budget. But the long-term limiting factor is more your understanding of how to best communicate best with your audience through a specific channel, not the inherent value of the channel itself.

That said, I view PR as a critical practice for driving share of voice and increasing mindshare but I measure it through a performance marketing methodology where we track uplifts in branded and direct traffic during a communications flight, as well the number of referral links that are built to our domain, and then forecast a forward result using blended conversion rates to generate a ROAS calculation. Lastly, we look at frequency and sentiment of media coverage – these are the squishiest metrics, but nevertheless important to track.

KIM: How is your success measured at Nylas?

MATT: Market share. I own new logo acquisition as my primary KPI. But I track and manage everything from traffic to sign-up rates to sales qualified lead conversion to opportunities by company count and pipeline by ARR to make sure we get where we need to be. My compensation is set at 35% on this variable, so you could say I’m highly accountable to the business. I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

KIM: If you could market any other business, what would it be?

MATT: I often imagine a future where there is early retirement and I can spend my voluminous spare time running a winery and marketing said product. It would need to be accounted for as a loss leader though because I can envision myself disrupting the supply chain. Frequently.

Want to contribute to our SaaS Marketing Perspectives series? Drop us a note and let us know!

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About Kim Jefferson

As a VP at BLAST, Kim’s decade of media relations experience guides strategic direction for account teams and clients. The intersection of her genuine passion for news media and tech allows her to find the hook in clients’ stories. She’s a mother to one angelic human child and one devilish canine child, and she spends her free time wrangling the two of them and watching TV dramas with her husband once they’ve gone to sleep.

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