Marketing Hires: The Potential Trap of Big Brands & High Titles, with Mark Donnigan

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Whether you are a SaaS founder looking to make your first marketing hire or a CMO building out your team, the rocky tech economy has created a surplus of marketing talent. VPs and directors from big tech companies are free agents…fantastic hires, right?

According to Mark Donnigan, virtual CMO and consultant, the answer isn’t always yes. In this episode, we tackle choosing the right type of hire (generalist or conductor?) and then dive into how to think more strategically about the top talent available today.

A tale of two marketing paths

According to Mark, initial marketing hires typically fall into two categories: generalists or conductors.

Generalists are usually earlier in their careers. They’re scrappy and probably haven’t led a team before — but what they lack in experience, they make up for in execution. Generalists are ideal for the daily minutiae of marketing, including setting up activations and posting on social media. 

Meanwhile, conductors (or CMOs) are higher-level executives who can orchestrate comprehensive marketing campaigns. Although these hires won’t be running around setting up marketing activations or drafting copy, they will delineate a long-term strategy that ties back to revenue.

“And [the conductor] approach is always more effective. But depending on the positioning of the company, sometimes the generalist path is the quickest way to get started. And it is… I would say the easiest way to start getting your marketing reps in… because the other path is definitely going to have a period of planning, a period of strategy,” said Mark. “[Conductors] may or may not have a team that’s on call…. So, they may have to go out and recruit.”

But that’s OK because there’s a surplus of exceptional CMO talent on the market, and these individuals always make for great hires… right?

Not always.

Hire smarter, not larger

The past 18 months have been challenging for B2B SaaS professionals. Massive reductions in force (RIF) have impacted thousands of generalists and conductors alike. Moreover, remaining marketing teams have been tasked with accomplishing the same results on a much smaller budget.

Mark mentioned that many startup executives may consider hiring newly #OpenToWork, big-name talent to fill their resources gap. However, he advises these leaders tread carefully and assess the candidate’s previous experience — and their former resources.

 The budget will look very different for a Fortune 100 company vs. an early-stage startup. Thus, conductors trading into this environment must be ready to pivot and think big on a small budget.

“It takes some self-awareness — or just some professional awareness — on both sides. I really do believe that the [conductor] also — unless they want to be a part of that churning CMO chair — they need to be very, very aware and cognizant and even have that discussion right up front,” said Mark. “[Say] like, ‘Hey, look, you know my background, you know the resources I had, you know the size of my team. I am very well aware that’s not what I have here. But we’re going to have to work together on this because there is a part of my strategies and my playbook that are going to come out of that.’”

Listen to episode 368 of SaaS Half Full for more of Mark’s insights.

What To Do When Your Best Clients Change Jobs, with Trinity Nguyen

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Most SaaS revenue leaders would agree that former clients (“Gems”) make amazing second clients. But how can you track job changers and operationalize an outreach program at scale? Trinity Nguyen, VP of Marketing at UserGems, joins this episode to discuss how to capitalize on this underutilized revenue stream, walk through how to identify Gems and create a program designed to target this critical group.

Goodbye 😔 for now 😈

When a buyer voluntarily or involuntarily leaves a company, it’s easy to panic, especially if they’re steering decisions for a critical account. But these individuals are about to become Gems — and marketers should re-frame their split as an opportunity, not a setback. Trinity breaks it down like this:

“We define gems as people who already have some type of relationship with your company. The easiest one is your previous buyers,” said Trinity. “But there are also other types of gems. For example, the users of your product. So maybe in PR, it could be a PR manager — [someone who was] not involved in the buying decision, but they used the product and know your brand.”

The tricky part of this equation? Not all Gems should be approached the same. For example, a Gem with decision-making power requires a different level of awareness consideration than one who is passionate about the product but holds less sway in a possible deal.

Despite the particulars, Trinity suggests treating Gems as ongoing colleagues instead of new prospects. “Please do not ask for a sales or meeting in your first email. I cannot emphasize this enough. Just think of them… like a coworker, someone you have a relationship with,” said Trinity. “When they have good news, the first thing you do is be human. Congratulate them, send them some gifts or any kind of helpful content.”

Building this bridge may be the ticket to cinching a more lucrative deal down the line.

More Gems = better deals

According to UserGems research, including alumni customers in new deals results in 54% bigger deal sizes, even in today’s flagging Tech market. That’s because Gems who return to your product are highly motivated. They understand your product’s ROI, so they usually don’t need to “test the water, crawl, walk, run,” according to Trinity.

“When someone already knows you, they trust the product, they know how to use it already. They went through that whole adoption journey with you. So when they land a new company, they’re not going to start out with a startup package… That’s when we see the deal size actually increase upfront,” said Trinity.

In a market defined by shorter CMO tenures and lower average budgets, it’s critical to capitalize on these upfront increases in spending.

Alumni are valuable in more ways than one

Former buyers usually land with new clients in their previous vertical — SaaS Tech buyers will probably find another SaaS Tech gig, and so on. But what about Gems who find homes in new, less relevant industries?

Trinity suggests that marketers and salespeople should view this divergence as another opportunity. This person may act as a referral to land new clients. Alternatively, they can become a “marketing nurture,” someone marketers rely on to lightly evangelize in the future, even if these activations don’t immediately close deals.

The bottom line? Don’t let your Gems slip away from you under any circumstance.

“This concept is pretty intuitive… When you want to operationalize this kind of signal in your go-to-market, there’s a bit of [hesitation] thinking, ‘Okay, when do I do what? Which team do I pull in?’ And it’s very easy to boil the ocean,” said Trinity. “My tip would be start small, crawl, walk, run. Start with one use case, one team. Get some success before you scale it out.”

Listen to episode 367 of SaaS Half Full for more of Trinity’s insights on alumni customers and their value proposition.

Cheers to Season 5: BLASTmedia Kicks Off New SaaS Half Full Podcast Season with Inspiration for B2B SaaS Marketers

INDIANAPOLIS — Feb. 12, 2024 — BLASTmedia, the only PR agency dedicated to B2B SaaS, celebrates the launch of the SaaS Half Full podcast’s fifth season, hosted and bartended by BLASTmedia President Lindsey Groepper. SaaS Half Full is inspired by candid bar conversations after conferences and events, providing insights from SaaS marketers and others charged with growing a SaaS business.

The new season kicked off with positioning expert and author, April Dunford, on category creation and positioning; strategic brand builder and storyteller, Totango CMO Karen Budell, on marketing’s vital role in customer expansion; and martech and customer experience expert, Seismic CMO Paige O’Neill, on surviving a new CEO transition.

“From the very start, our vision for SaaS Half Full was to provide listeners candid access to some of the brightest minds in B2B SaaS marketing and growth. Since then, I’ve shared a drink with a line-up of incredibly inspiring SaaS marketers,” said Groepper. “I’ve had so many amazing conversations that give our listeners a peek into the minds of the industry’s biggest luminaries but stripped of the overly messaged and canned responses.”

Since its launch, SaaS Half Full has seen significant traction on top marketing and SaaS podcast lists and featured experts in SaaS marketing and growth, including former Drift VP of Revenue Marketing Justin Keller, former Atlassian Head of Brand Sarah Emmott, 15Five CMO Julia Stead, G2 Head of Marketing Palmer Houchins and more.

Listen to the SaaS Half Full podcast on all major listening platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. For past episode archives and recaps, visit BLASTmedia.com.

About BLASTmedia

Established in 2005, BLASTmedia is the only PR agency in the US dedicated to B2B SaaS, representing companies from growth-stage to publicly traded. BLASTmedia understands the unique challenges associated with scaling a SaaS business and uses media coverage and thought leadership campaigns to impact four primary pillars: investors, employees, partners, and customers.

Surviving a New CEO Transition with Paige O’Neill

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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

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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

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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

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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 Fireflies.ai, 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.

BLASTmedia’s Top Five SaaS PR Blogs of 2023

As 2023 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect. As such, we’re using this blog post to look at our top five most popular blogs in 2023. From navigating the onboarding process with a new SaaS PR agency to embracing belonging as a critical pillar of DEIB, these blogs tackled a diverse range of challenges and opportunities faced by SaaS businesses today.

So, buckle up and get ready to revisit some of BLASTmedia’s most valuable content from the past year. You might discover a gem that can help you take your SaaS brand to the next level in 2024.

#5. SaaS PR Agency: Onboarding & Expectations

Whether switching SaaS PR agencies or hiring your first one, each has a different onboarding process. What can you expect when you begin a new SaaS PR agency? Our Senior Vice President, Grace Williams, shares the answers in this blog and questions to ask your SaaS PR agency during onboarding.

#4. Why SaaS Brands Should Seek Less Category Competition, More Category Collaboration

You might read the title of our blog coming in the fourth spot and think, “Why would I ever collaborate with my competitor?” We get it, so we put together this blog to explain what category collaboration can do for your company and how to get started.

#3. SaaS PR: Telling a Great Story Through Data

While throwing a bunch of data points into a story can be easy, the real magic happens when a writer combines data and storytelling to provide readers with a more captivating and exciting story. Read how to approach data storytelling from our Content Director, Jodi Ireland. 

#2. What the SVB Collapse Taught Us About Communication in a Crisis

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank had many speculating about who caused it. Some tech comms experts believe the bank’s demise was partly due to communication. Our Executive Vice President Kim Jefferson shares what to do when you need to communicate during a crisis.

#1. Embracing the “B” in DEIB

Coming in at our top spot is a blog from our DEIB committee explaining the importance of adding belonging to diversity, equity and inclusion. Learn why belonging is essential to a DEIB strategy in this blog. 

Have a topic you’d like to see our SaaS PR team cover in 2023? Tweet us, mention us on LinkedIn or drop us a note to let us know.

Top Five Most Downloaded Episodes of SaaS Half Full 2023

This year, SaaS Half Full host Lindsey Groepper sat down for a drink with more than 20 marketers, discussing topics like pricing and packaging to inclusive marketing. 

Whether you listened to every episode of 2023 or grabbed a couple here and there, we’re breaking down our top five most downloaded episodes of the year below. Feel free to grab a drink as we dive in.

#5. Investment Vibe Check: Two VCs Discuss 

In this special edition of SaaS Half Full, Lindsey held a fireside chat with Sara Omohundro, Principal at Elevate Ventures, and David Kerr, Managing Director of Allos Ventures, to discuss the technologies they’re bullish about and the importance of burn efficiency in defining financial health.

#4. The Art & Science Behind Pricing & Packaging with Dan Balcauski

Who is in charge of pricing decisions at your SaaS org? For nearly 60% of companies, it’s the CEO or an opinionated decision-maker in the C-suite. But who should own it? Hear from Product Tranquility Founder Dan Balcauski, who breaks down the art and science of SaaS product pricing and packaging.

#3. What You Can Learn From a B2B Mystery Shopper with Gracey Cantalupo

A B2B mystery shopper? In this episode, Gracey Cantalupo, CMO at MentorcliQ, talks to Lindsey about how hiring someone to walk your virtual storefront and actually being on a software buying committee can be worth its weight in gold.

#2. What Marketers Can Learn from Netflix with Jennifer Griffin Smith

Coming in the second spot is Jennifer Griffin Smith, CMO of Brightcove. She sat down with Lindsey at the start of the year to talk about how marketers can think and act more like a media company. Ready to think more like Netflix? Press play on this episode.

#1. The Subjectivity of SaaS M&A with Thomas Smale

In our top spot, we have Thomas Smale, CEO and Founder of FE International, talking about the benefits and drawbacks of a strong founder brand and the common mistakes he sees companies make when positioning for an exit.

Well, there you have it! Thank you to all our guests and listeners. If you’re interested in any of our guests’ drinks throughout the year, visit Cocktail Couriers

Interested in being on the show? Drop us a line here. If you want to keep up with the latest and greatest for SaaS Half Full, subscribe to our newsletter. Otherwise, watch for the new season of SaaS Half Full, which will drop next month.