Challenging the Definition of CMO, with Sydney Sloan


In this episode, Sydney discusses elevating your role as a CMO, the best strategy for board presentations and advice for aspiring chief market officers. Join us and learn how to get out of the weeds as a marketing leader and start owning your role as a strategic lead. 

Defining the CMO role (no, not that CMO)

Maybe you had to reread the first sentence of this blog. No, we didn’t publish a typo. Sydney is a chief market officer, not a chief marketing officer. And the difference is significant.

Whereas chief marketing officers focus on marketing activations and campaigns, chief market officers take a broader approach to go-to-market strategy, according to Sydney.

“When I joined [Drata], one of the first things that I did was a market segmentation analysis. I led a highly collaborative half-day working session on identifying our approaches,” said Sydney. “We went from 12 good ideas to three focused execution areas. And it’s not that the 12 ideas were wrong — it’s just, and I say this a lot, sorry, but 12 at once is what the problem was.”

TLDR: Regardless of your ARR, portfolio size or product, 12 markets are always too much. Sydney suggested honing your focus on a few specific markets and executing them flawlessly. Only then can you claim the title of chief market officer.

Allocate resources smarter, not harder

So, you’ve narrowed your product’s fit to three ideal markets. That’s great news! The only problem is you’re executing GTM strategies across five additional verticals — at the behest of your CEO.

It can be challenging to advocate for fewer targets when the board expects your team to generate revenue and pipeline. Less is more, but that narrative doesn’t always sell.

Sydney recommended thinking about market activations in terms of ROI. “If you’re asked to execute against six strategies, how efficient can you be? Can you be more efficient if you’re executing against two?” said Sydney. “[I’ve said] a couple of times, ‘Okay, we have five strategies because we couldn’t get to three, but marketing is going to invest 80% of our effort against the top two strategies.’”

By allocating resources smarter, not harder, CMOs can work to capture a greater market share of their most lucrative target verticals.

Sydney also suggested being extremely proactive about communicating ROI timelines to the board. By prioritizing cold, hard metrics, CMOs can assuage board concerns about budget cuts and tightened purse strings.

So, you want to be a CMO?

Sydney provided great advice for young marketers eyeing the CMO title. Her suggestions include:

  1. Prioritize continuous learning. Take CMO courses and get certified in relevant topics. There are plenty of options for continuous learning, including LinkedIn courses.
  1. Follow and learn about companies of interest. Cold applications are great, but informed relationships are better. Sydney suggested that young marketers start following a few companies of interest — get to know their product and structure, then keep an eye out for relevant job openings.
  1. Consider hiring an executive coach. Soft skills are all the rage, and executive coaches are a great way to hone your innate speaking abilities. 

Listen to episode 371 of SaaS Half Full for more of Sydney’s insights.

What’s Tired and Wired in AI Stories Today?

Yes, this is an article on artificial intelligence. Wait, wait: before you close the tab, we understand that AI stories feel inescapable. Open up your newsfeed of choice and there’s a good chance you’ll quickly see a headline that references AI, generative AI, or a new tool like ChatGPT.

If you’re feeling exhausted or disinterested in the latest take, you’re not alone. The deep well of AI continues to bring up bucketfuls of storylines that waterboard editors and consumers alike.

As a B2B SaaS PR agency, many of our clients are vying for attention for their AI offering or point of view (POV) on the technology. To continue securing high-impact media coverage, here’s our take on the tired angles and the fresh and wired ones.

Tired: Fear and “Friend or Foe” Narratives 

The first trope that has run its course is the “friend or foe” debate around AI. To ask questions like this now indicates that your finger isn’t on the pulse of today.

Yes, we understand the existential angst around superintelligent AI. Personally, I tell Gemini and Claude “thank you” after every interaction just in case they remember me when/if they go Terminator. But hyping up a doomsday scenario today is a tired talking point that the media and general population have grown numb to. Yes, your thought leaders can have a perspective on either, but leading with this angle will not secure an opportunity. AI is here and deeply woven, or weaving itself, across the enterprise technology stack, which is the point of this Forbes piece featuring retail technology client Bloomreach, Artificial Intelligence Is Already Taking Over Grocery Stores.

Tired: AI can do “More With Less” 

Efficiency is important. Businesses like to get things done faster, quickly, and more affordably. The promise of AI to speed up X process is positive, but it is not new or novel. As a talking point, this won’t have the media jumping out of their chair to craft a story. 

But that doesn’t mean you should keep quiet about these developments; if this is a new product capability that will excite your customer base, communication around this is likely better suited for a blog and customer email. Valid8, a Verified Financial Intelligence tool, approached this opportunity by crafting a blog that also addresses a sensational topic like high-net-worth divorce, Artificial Intelligence speeds Lifestyle Analysis for Family Law firms

Wired: Optimization & Implementation 

Media and readers are more interested in moving from “if AI can” to “how to.” This shifts the storyline to something practical and replicable on how companies optimize and implement AI to derive meaningful business impact. 

For VentureBeat, PolyAI’s COO contributed an article that dissuades from giving AI all the keys to the kingdom and instead suggests how teams can own the implementation process,  Generative AI is a toddler — don’t let it run your business.

Wired: Data-Driven Vertical Transformation
Today, specificity is an easier sell to media than philosophical musings. And, as so many trade publications today exist to serve a niche community, spokespeople will benefit from verticalized stories.

For example, take customer experience. How is AI solving problems today that benefit businesses and buyers in a B2C industry like retail? Or what about in B2B client success for the pharmaceutical industry? These POVs aren’t as common and therefore may provide the fresh take that media are looking for.

Here’s where we’re really seeing the goldmine of opportunity: InformationWeek quoted Authenticx on Should You Feel Good About Emotion AI?; Bloomreach’s customer case study Sur La Table uses AI to power customer experience was featured on MarTech; Quorum’s AI product was spotlighted in a local business journal D.C. tech firm’s AI tool can summarize complex legislation, regulations in seconds

Wired: Governance & Ethics
I’m going to use this last angle to bring us back full circle. Having already shared how the narrative of “friend or foe” is tired, we want to emphasize that overly optimistic statements on how automation will make lives and jobs easier are disingenuous. AI will absolutely cause people to lose jobs, and people have a right to be concerned.

So, if you’re looking to pursue an angle like this, we recommend wrestling with accountability, governance, and ethics — like PolyAI’s CEO who suggests security processes and infrastructure are critical in CMSWire. If AI is here and capable of harming society, what are you suggesting can be done, and who will handle it?

So what’s next? Here’s the equally fun and challenging part of the media landscape: AI will continue to make headlines, and new innovations, opportunities, and concerns will arise. The suggestions above are what’s working for now, and that’ll change. Media orgs and readers don’t want to engage with something stale, so my team at BLASTmedia will continue to seek out the most impactful opportunities amidst all this change.

Have an AI angle you think is wired? Let’s chat.

How to Manage Search in the AI Era, with Greg Brooks


SaaS marketers know by now that AI has — and will — impact search. But in an ever-changing sea of algorithms, what the heck does Google care about today (and in the future?), and how can marketers make moves now to stay ahead of where search is headed? 

Greg Brooks, partner and CMO at SearchTides, ironically believes we are moving towards the “human era” of search, even though there will be orders of magnitude more AI-generated content on the internet than ever before. Join us as he discusses what Google cares about when making content decisions and details tactical and practical advice on performing (think favicons, schema and all the search-speak).  

Niches are in

According to Greg, experience and expertise are the driving forces behind modern SEO. Consumers want thought leaders with authority over their chosen topic—and Google’s web crawlers are taking note.

“[SEO used to be] about website authority, good content existing… and strong website performance, meaning your webpage couldn’t take 10 seconds to load. That was yesterday,” said Greg. “Today, in addition to all of those things, it is the experience and the expertise, your authorship profile. It’s kind of like, ‘Am I vetted? Am I qualified to talk about this? Am I actually bringing uniqueness to the table so that I’m adding value to the internet?’”

Uniqueness is a key element here. Interesting perspectives will attract more eyes than un-nuanced takes on broad topics.

And strap in because, according to Greg, diverse touchpoints will soon weigh even more on a thought leader’s credibility. For example, if someone publishes a blog on rock climbing, have they edited their Twitter/X profile to reflect that expertise? Are they publishing articles about rock climbing on other reputable sites? Commanding authority over increasingly niche topics is critical.

Authenticity in the AI age

There’s no escaping generative AI (GenAI) as a digital marketer. The highest-performing marketers are currently working to implement GenAI in their workflows to expedite critical tasks like content creation and campaign ideation.

However, Greg mentioned that successful marketers should also acknowledge that we’ve entered a brave new world: the era of information overload. With more content than ever before, consumers may become overwhelmed by their options — and the most authentic content will always win more eyeballs. Greg refers to this trend as the “human era” of search.

“The way to win tomorrow is to be the best because there’s fewer winners — and that’s just the reality,” said Gref. “If you’re not even approaching it from that perspective, I don’t want to say you’re fighting an unwinnable battle, but I can’t imagine how much more difficult it will be.”

Digital marketers must use AI to stay ahead, but relying on AI alone is a recipe for disaster. So, how can content marketers actually operationalize AI?

Greg suggested thinking about AI as your assistant. Possible use cases include:

  • Use GenAI to analyze the perspectives of high-performing results on a search engine results page (SERP). A prompt could look like this: “Analyze the top five links for this search, and tell me what context they’re all missing.”
  • Upload a style guide and a drafted article. Ask GenAI to critique the draft’s adherence to tone, style, etc. A prompt could look like this: “Please review this draft based on the attached style guide. Make suggestions for improvements.”

For more of Greg’s insights, listen to episode 370 of SaaS Half Full.

Surviving a New CEO Transition with Paige O’Neill


You’re a SaaS CMO and have received news that you are getting a new CEO. Super! Super? Super, right?! In this episode, Paige O’Neill, CMO of Seismic, shares her story of transitioning to a new CEO in her previous role.

From what the first meeting should entail to the pressures of balancing old and new, Paige gives an honest account of what she learned in the transition and the two years that followed. Bottom line? A new CEO means starting over, which can simultaneously be extremely positive and challenging for the incumbent CMO.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question.

So you’ve just been hit with the news about your new CEO. More likely than not, your brain is firing on all cylinders. Who is this new CEO? What does this transition mean for the company and my role? Is marketing going to be valued moving forward?

These are fruitful questions. But Paige advises CMOs to reverse the paradigm and ask themselves what their new CEO is thinking, too.

“Spend a fair amount of time thinking… ‘What’s gonna be top of mind for the CEO coming in? What’s the charter that they’re gonna have? What are some of their initial priorities gonna be in the first couple of months that they’re in the business?'” Paige said. “Trying to get in on the ground floor of those priorities as early as possible… is one of the most crucial things you can do.”

Finally, consider what your marketing colleagues and reports are asking each other. They’re probably equally anxious about the new CEO and will look to you for answers. Paige said that providing a professional level of transparency during these uncertain times is the best way to enable a successful transition.

Never stop — evolve.

Most marketing campaigns have significant lead time, with many activations not bearing fruit until nine months to a year down the pipe.

With long-term results at stake, facing a new CEO is nerve-wracking. Paige’s advice? Don’t allow a shakeup in the C-suite to derail your department’s progress. If anything, use the shift to build momentum.

“You’ve gotta really go in and balance and say [to the CEO], ‘Look, I understand that you might have strategic levers that you wanna pull. This is what we’re doing now, and this is what it’s generating from a pipeline perspective,'” said Paige. “‘Let’s make sure that as we make these decisions, we’re making them in a way that’s not going to cut off pipeline in mid-flight.'”

If your new CEO isn’t sold on the utility of current campaigns, Paige suggested using data to your advantage. Every CEO approaches marketing differently, but cold, hard data is difficult to argue with.

Treat every day like your first

You’ve heard of treating every day like it’s your last — but what about the reverse?

“I used to do an exercise with my team. If I’d been there a couple of years, I would pretend like I just started, and I would say, ‘All right, pretend I’m walking in the door as your new CMO.
What would you tell me that you probably aren’t saying to my face right now?’… [Getting a new CEO is] kind of a similar exercise,” said Paige.

With a new CEO, CMOs (and their teams) have the opportunity to re-align around revised objectives and brainstorm new ideas. This degree of change can be scary, sure. But it can also be incredibly freeing and productive.

Listen to episode 365 of SaaS Half Full for more of Paige’s insights.

Marketing’s Vital Role in Customer Expansion, with Karen Budell


For most SaaS organizations, the customer success function has two players: the CS lead and the salesperson. But in this episode, Lindsey speaks with Totango CMO Karen Budell, who suggests that customer success should use a “three-legged stool approach,” with marketing as an equal leg completing the third role. 

Karen believes the three functions should work together to develop and execute customer expansion campaigns to drive more revenue from existing accounts. In a down market, this strategy costs less — and takes less time — than securing new logos.

Evolving Roles

The role of the CMO and marketing teams has evolved to focus more on driving revenue, not just bringing in prospects. These leaders are zeroed in on how marketing impacts the entire revenue pipeline.
Because marketers have always prioritized knowing their customers and audiences, they’re well-positioned to bridge the gap between sales and customer success (CS) leaders.

“Traditionally, we’ve seen tension between sales and CS over unclear handoffs and relationships. And, let’s face it — marketers and sales leaders have navigated their own challenges in this area over the decades, although that relationship has improved tremendously in the last 5-10 years,” said Karen.

“Customer marketing offers a great opportunity to bring unity. It looks at how to leverage your best advocates, understand your ideal customer profile, see what products and services generate success, and replicate all this data to find more customers,” she said. “On the marketing side, customer marketing means finding and targeting more ideal prospects. On the CS side, it means driving growth through advocacy and expansion with existing, happy customers.”

In other words, marketing provides the perfect third leg for a sturdy stool.

The three-legged stool: Better support for everyone

Among those leading customer success today — marketing, CS or sales — who’s responsible for renewal or upselling — or is it a combination? In this economic climate, renewal managers focused specifically on renewals are increasingly important. They need visibility into upcoming renewals and an action plan for each account in forthcoming quarters.

“In a typical CSS handoff, the contract ink dries, the deal’s complete and the account moves to someone else responsible for checking in periodically to see how things are going,” said Karen. “But when you just abruptly throw the handoff over the fence, so to speak, that’s when things go wrong.”

Karen suggests bringing the CSS team into the conversation before closing and onboarding a new customer. Making this shift, having these conversations sooner and getting your customers or buying committee used to this process ensures a smoother, more collaborative handoff. 

“When companies are in that more mature stage of having a post-sale organization built out, there’s more alignment, collaboration and connection,” said Karen. “While we’re seeing that evolution happen with sales and CSS, there’s another department that should be involved in the process: marketing.”

Traditionally, we think of marketing as bringing in the leads, with sales closing the deal and CX renewing and upselling the products or services. Historically, as marketing leaders, CMOs have focused on how marketing drives the revenue pipeline; they’re looking further down the field to see where the next order of revenue comes from.

Marketers, meanwhile, have always focused on knowing their customers — their audience — first. These folks are perfectly positioned to bridge sales and the CSS leader. Marketing can ask the following key questions:

  • How do you identify and tap into your most enthusiastic advocates?
  • Who are your best-fit customers in terms of profile and product usage?
  • What factors make some customers more successful than others?
  • How do you find your best customer advocates?
  • How do you leverage happy customers to drive growth through referrals and advocacy?

Expansion efforts: If you have two systems, you have no systems

Different people are often responsible for internal expansion, but there’s no clear owner. 

“You could say that if everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible,” said Karen.

In an ideal world, who should drive expansion efforts? 

“The classic answer is that it depends on the organizational structure and roles. Totango is passionate about empowering the leader of customer success to drive expansion,” said Karen. 

Regardless of the title — chief customer officer, chief revenue officer, etc. — whoever owns the post-sale customer relationship should look to drive adoption, connect with product to deliver additional value, tap into sales to champion advocacy and referrals, and leverage marketing to support growth. 

Listen to episode 364 of SaaS Half Full for more of Karen’s insights.

It’s a Crapshoot: Category Creation & Positioning, with April Dunford


In this episode, Lindsey speaks with positioning expert and author of Sales Pitch: How to Craft a Story to Stand Out and Win and Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love ItApril Dunford about the realities of creating a category and defining positioning to win in SaaS.

Drawing from years of data and experience consulting for SaaS companies, April surfaces the signals indicative of a positioning problem, pinpoints where product demos go wrong and gets candid about VCs’ and startups’ illusions about category creation.

The red and beige flags of positioning

As a seasoned marketing leader and consultant, April has been around the positioning block. She’s developed a keen eye for the signs indicating a company’s positioning may be in crisis (red flags) and signs that their positioning needs tweaking (beige flags).

According to April, a significant shift in market forces constitutes a red flag. For example, did a top partner get acquired? Then, it’s time to revise your positioning.

Geopolitical events can also impact positioning. “A lot of companies came to me when Covid hit,” said April. “That was obviously a big, big change of affairs… Some companies had sections of their market that were closed basically, and so no business was gonna happen over there, but other sections of their market — [for example,] those that served healthcare or emergency response — [were extremely active].” Leaders should take a page out of Chandler Bing’s book in these situations and pivot.

But less apparent signs may also indicate a positioning pivot is in order. April advises marketing leaders to sit on sales calls to ascertain these potential hiccups. Do customers compare your solution to a market competitor? Do they fail to see the benefits of the solution? Or, equally importantly, do they seem confused by approved sales language? These beige flags suggest it’s time to revise positioning.

Category creation isn’t the end goal.

Many startup leaders have approached April for advice on “creating a category.” But April said category creation is far less glamorous than it may seem.

“I don’t believe that companies create categories. I believe that categories emerge, and some companies are wise to that. They see that problem early. They see this emerging need. Then they build a solution for that — but they didn’t actually create the category,” said April.

But there’s glory in creating a solution for a niche, emerging problem. Finding an emerging category is far more beneficial than attempting to create one from scratch. After all, building a category requires leaders to convince consumers of both (1) the problem and (2) the solution — double the work for the same number of conversions.

Product demos need an overhaul.

Does your company’s sales pitch start with a demo? If so, you’re in good company. But this age-old tactic may be burying the lede for new clients.

According to April, sales pitches walk a dangerous tightrope: They must establish the problem the solution solves, showcase said solution and differentiate from competitors. However, many pitches focus on differentiation too late in the process.

“We need to do a couple of things in the sales pitch first. Instead of jumping directly to features, we should explain the problem. And then, if we think about that, we can then look at all the alternate ways you could solve the problem and say, ‘There’s pluses and minuses to this,’ and then get the customer aligned with our way of looking at the world. And then, when we show the demo… [it showcases] the value we could deliver.”

Listen to episode 363 of SaaS Half Full for more of April’s insights.

The Art & Science of Freemiums & Free Trials, with Krish Ramineni


SaaS marketers know we’ve entered the era of the self-serve buyer, where prospects expect price transparency and free trials. While this might not work for complex enterprise deals, there are lessons to be taken from a PLG motion that most SaaS organizations should employ.

Krish Ramineni, Co-founder and CEO at, dishes on how to execute a free trial successfully, what it takes to offer a freemium product and shares his personal story on ignoring his investors’ advice to stay away from a PLG model.

Go with your gut when starting up.

When Krish and his co-founder were starting out, they knew they wanted to develop their business through product-led growth motion. However, not everyone believed that was the best course of action.

“The advice we got in the beginning was, ‘Hey, this technology is really expensive…so, find a market where you can sell it to the highest bidder, which is salespeople, and charge them up the wazoo,'” said Krish.

Despite his investors’ imploring, Krish stood his ground and moved forward with the PLG model.

“We wanted to build something that was super affordable, super easy to install and get going with. Our value prop was, it should be one-tenth the price of the best product on the market, we need to provide ten times the value and it needs to be used by every person inside an organization, not just salespeople,” said Krish. “It just felt that the best way to go to market was creating something that had a freemium free trial, PLG motion where you can try it before you buy it or you can use the free tier perpetually.”

Be the painkiller, not the vitamin.

One of the most important aspects of attracting customers is having a solid value proposition. If your product provides a solution to customers’ problems, you should be able to get them to pay you…at least in attention.

“The currency in this world — whether it’s SaaS, whether it’s a consumer good, whatever it is — is attention,” said Krish. “Why should a customer give you attention enough that they should pull their wallet out and buy your product?”

Krish likens a valuable product to a painkiller — something fast-acting that addresses specific pain points and has obvious value to customers. Compared to a vitamin you may take daily, it works in the background, not necessarily solving a particular issue.

“If you don’t get that value, if people only see you as a vitamin and not a painkiller, that’s hard,” said Krish.

The key to being a painkiller? Determining how to create that novel, sought-after value that retains customers.

The case for self-service

Most B2B buyers want a self-serve process, but many companies have yet to take steps toward making this model a reality. These businesses are most concerned with what will help their bottom line, and they mistakenly believe salespeople are always the right foot in the door. But in the modern age, many customers want to access product information independently without involving salespeople. Here’s where self-service comes in.

“When you’re self-service, and you have pricing up on the page, you’re being very transparent, and you’re not making special deals or discounting or any of that…..what you see is what you get,” said Krish.

Krish said it’s about putting the customer and their needs first. Sure, you may leave some money on the table, but you’re also creating a frictionless customer buying journey that keeps customers coming back — and makes them more likely to recommend your product.

“The whole point around PLG and self-service is also to help you find more buyers and find different people within the org who can then go up to their, executives and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been using this. I like it. Maybe we should consider it,'” said Krish. “That’s a much more powerful source.”

Listen to episode 362 of SaaS Half Full for more of Krish’s insights.

What Biden’s Order on AI Means for Marketers, with Conor Bronsdon


With Biden’s recent executive order addressing the safe and secure development and use of AI, data privacy is even more mind top of mind for SaaS marketers. In this episode, Conor Bronsdon, Director of Marketing & Communications at LinearB, breaks down the order and discusses the new privacy demands on marketers, plus how to build buyer trust in today’s AI economy.

“Be prepared to win eyeballs.”

Many constituents — of both the political and consumer variety — feel hopeless about modern privacy (or the lack thereof). In 2019, six in ten Americans believed it was “impossible” to protect their data from marketers. Conor suggested that Biden’s executive order on data privacy and AI is a long-awaited band-aid for these concerns.

Remember, policies protecting digital consumer privacy aren’t new. The EU has led the charge on robust privacy protections via GDPR, and even individual companies like Apple have limited consumer trackability. And, in just one year, the death of third-party cookies will further 

transform how digital marketers obtain leads.

According to Conor, yet another significant pivot is on the way. Say goodbye to demand capture and hello to demand generation.

“If you’re a marketer today, you need to be prepared to win eyeballs on a platform and not just redirect them,” said Conor. As part of that process, you must identify your brand’s ‘marketing flywheel,’ or content of interest: “[LinearB’s DevInterrupted] podcast is one of our key flywheel places. It doesn’t have to be the right choice for you. Maybe it’s short-form video you really need to lean into… Then you turn that all into, you know, six, seven snippets every week.”

Trust is tantamount to success.

Omnichannel experiences have improved customer satisfaction, it’s true. But they’ve also flooded the airwaves — and in a deluge of content, sometimes releasing marketing materials feels like yelling into the void.

Conor’s take? Don’t let the noise stop you from producing organic content. If influencers have taught us anything, customers love to consume well-intentioned content and advice. All it takes to get there is a little trust.

“Sales teams may want us to take away pricing on a website so they can, you know, maneuver the pricing more in the background, but that’s not how buyers want to buy today. Buyers want to be able to sign up…. They want to be able to try out the product for free. They want to be able to upgrade easily. And they’re going to do that if they trust you,” said Conor. “And the better way to [gain trust] — instead of trying to over-engineer around some of these privacy issues — is to actually approach this as okay, ‘How can I get people to come to me?‘”

To solicit consumer trust, Conor suggests stepping up your transparency game. For example, when a cybersecurity event inevitably occurs, communicate that information to your constituents. You may be surprised by the positive long-term dividends it’ll pay.

The ultimate data privacy checklist

In closing, Conor provided a checklist for marketers hoping to get ahead of Biden’s executive order. Worried about data privacy regulations? Make sure you’ve completed the following by H1 2024:

  • Obtain SOC 2 compliance, a voluntary standard guiding consumer data use.
  • Create role-based access control (RBAC) protocols within your own operating procedures and in any consumer-facing interface(s).
  • Develop and maintain a strong relationship with your enterprise’s security compliance leaders.
  • Don’t conduct outbound marketing from the same domain as your internal email. Doing so could land your entire sales and marketing team in an import prospect’s spam folder.
  • Understand global privacy regulations like GDPR and enforce privacy standards that allow you to continue operating in critical markets.

Listen to episode 361 of SaaS Half Full for more of Conor’s insights.