Hiring a new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is an exciting time for a SaaS Startup as it usually signifies that Product-Market fit has been established and that either cash flows are strong enough to support a senior hire, or you’ve raised cash to support growth ambitions.
So as a CEO or Founder, what should you expect from this CMO in their first 100 days? This blog outlines some of the key areas a CMO should focus on while recognising that they can’t fit everything in so some of these areas will get deprioritized.
This last point is key. The marketing function is typically resource constrained in many European companies while the demands on the function continue to grow. A key skill is thus time management/prioritisation.
Finally, the context for this article is writing from the perspective of a B2B SaaS company (rather than B2C/FMCG/FTSE 100 level companies). Some of the lessons may apply, but others will not.
1. Start building relationships
Firstly they need to start building relationships (both internally and externally) so as to establish clarity as to who does what, to communicate what they plan to do, and how the marketing function will work with other areas.
- Meet with Senior Management and agree on the key goals and deliverables.
- Meet with all Stakeholders (multiple times) incl:
- The Board (in some instances)
- Head of Sales
- Head of Operations
- Head of Product
- Head of IT/ CTO
- Head of Finance/ CFO
The CMO should then agree a “plan” with these various stakeholders in terms of working together, communication (regular meetings or not), and key deliverables.
The CMO should also spend time with the customer support team (learning what language the customer’s use and the nature of their calls), as well as sales (to learn what benefits customers are interested in, and which objections they have). This first-hand data will help shape how the company markets its services to the target market.
They should also meet a number of existing customers (ideally, face to face) incl the newest, and also the most active again to obtain clarity in terms of product use, features and the jobs users are hiring [your SaaS application] to do for them.
Finally, they also need to meet with direct reports as these will be vital to ensure their is a strong internal execution capability. A lot of work will be created — it is important to have colleagues who have a bias for action, and can ‘get stuff done’.
2. Undertake an audit
The CMO should undertake an audit of existing processes looking for opportunities to improve. This can range from an assessment of the quality of leads being generated through the various marketing channels to an analysis the tech stack in place, as well as what data is being tracked and measured (KPI’s). A deep dive on tools like Google Analytics, the CRM and Google Search Console can provide some indicators as to how the function is performing.
When SaaS applications exist they should create accounts, on board themselves, and use key features (if possible) feeding back any issues they encounter.
They should use this audit to then inform their plans as to what areas to focus on (assuming resource constraints).
For example, if a site has modest traffic levels then the focus might need to be more on acquisition than conversion initially.
Unlike traditional marketing (which was focused primarily on brand awareness and lead generation), SaaS/ tech marketing needs to deliver on three areas:
- Acquisition / Lead Generation
- Conversion (with Sales and Product)
- Retention (with Customer Success and Product)
Ensuring a robust process is then in place to manage/ and to prioritise tasks is vital — otherwise, they will struggle with the sheer volume of ‘things to do’.
3. Agree on a marketing budget
It is important to have clarity as to the available budget and expectations about growth ambitions. This will impact team size, as well as how aggressive marketing spend should be. Some companies want careful growth, others want to pursue a land grab where managing customer acquisition costs are secondary and profitability is not an objective.
Having clarity as to where the company sits in terms of immediate requirements is important in shaping how and where they will concentrate their efforts.
For example, SEO/inbound marketing (content led) revolves around the creation of content pieces i.e. blogs and articles which bring a number of benefits (many of them medium/long term). While not free (someone has to write it), inbound marketing does bring down the cost of customer acquisition and is extremely effective in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO) but the payoff is not instantaneous. Similarly, a site refresh/revamp married to visual identity and brand improvements is usually an important focus for those SaaS companies looking to scale but it is not going to move the needle in the short term especially if site traffic is low (often the case for B2B SaaS companies).
Faster growth can be more easily achieved by focusing on paid acquisition methods like pay per click, and paid Linkedin campaigns. It is also easier to achieve when there is no pressure on unit economics or the need to grow in a sustainable manner.
In practice, a blend is likely, but discussions still need to happen to ensure that marketing remains aligned with corporate goals. For some companies, a £50K outlay for an event stand at a key industry exhibition could be important for brand building and wider awareness, whereas when viewed through an ROI driven lens attendance would not be even entertained at other companies.
4. Set KPIs
With any SaaS business, the amount of data created is significant. Legacy datasheets can exist, but it is preferable that the CMO builds their own so that they can ensure they are managing the KPI’s and agreeing on them in advance with senior management.
Ideally, the key data points are easily accessible from applications being used internally, and reports are not time-consuming to produce. Again it is preferable if someone from finance produces the reports, so as to help ensure its accuracy, and that it is easy to then access via the likes of Geckoboard , Data Studio and Chartmogul.
It is easy to fall into a number of traps here:
- Avoid vanity metrics (metrics that are not key drivers of growth).
- Focus on a small few metrics that are key to each function rather than reporting too many.
- Recognise data will also need to be tweaked i.e. in Google Analytics it is important to set filters removing internal traffic but also removing traffic that spends less than 5 seconds on the site (as an example).
- Use UTM tags to track which sources of data are bringing the most qualified leads.
- Ensure you have data on acquisition, conversion and retention.
In most instances, it is appropriate to assign one metric to different elements and to use this as the focal point. Finally, these data points need to generate actionable insights and help shape ‘jobs to be done’.
See the Digital Marketing and Measurement Model by Avinash Kaushik
5. Create a strategic marketing plan and share it
Marketing represents one of the most visible functions in any business, as the output is invariably public facing. The CMO needs to set a plan as to how they plan to allocate resources, what their goals are, and then they need to communicate this to management and the wider team. They must also be confident to push back, as they are often the key focal point for growth ambitions, and need to avoid knee jerk reactions sticking to their initial plan. Marketing can be very tactical and reactive, and the CMO needs to step back and have a clear plan.
The plan needs to be SMART with a focus on clear goals and a loop of :
Planning / Executing/ Measuring
Creating some buyer persona’s is also important as these represent ideal customer segments based on segmentation of existing users. The more detailed these personas are the better as they help everyone have clarity as to who they are building for and how these personas can be accessed.
Finally, when it comes to marketing plans the days of 30 page decks are long gone. Managers are too time-pressed to consume such content. I’m a great believer in 2 pagers.
6. Manage their team
Initially, there needs to be a strong focus on the delivery arm, so assessing the skill set of existing members and their respective strengths and weaknesses is paramount. Delivery must not be output based, but performance-based where possible, so activity aligns with the target KPI’s.
For example, a traditional approach for a content marketing manager may measure it as crudely as simply producing 1 blog a week. In a data rich B2B marketing environment, the performance measurement for content should include everything from; unique visitor numbers, to conversions from the article, through to session time (how long the user *read* the content).
Amplification is *more important* than content production i.e. marketing the article, and again this element is often neglected in an output orientated approach.
Recommended Reading: Ten Tips to Make Sure You Are Not Wasting Your Time Creating Content
It is also important for the CMO to manage head count carefully, and to leverage external expertise on an as needs basis as invariably agencies will need to support some of the diverse activities a marketing team need to action. Invariably they will often have inherited a team and thus need to ensure that the respective members contain the right skill-set and attitude to support the company’s growth ambitions.
[Learn More: Building Marketing Capability at your B2B SaaS Startup]
7. Influence product
Given marketings remit needs to include the retention of customers, they need to have an ability to ensure the customer’s voice is heard at the top table when it comes to the product roadmap. Marketing can often bring in a wide range of insights from knowledge of the competitive landscape, to in depth customer knowledge, through to design experience (UI & UX) and thus need to actively contribute to not only the strategic direction of the solution but also discussions as to the more immediate product roadmap.
8. Act as a domain expert/authority
In a fast moving world, that is changing quickly the CMO also has an important external role to play. Ideally, they will aspire to be a domain authority in their space and will be able to communicate the company’s vision and capability externally. This can range from; the creation of thought leadership white papers, through to speaking at events, or blogging for the site.
In terms of content, they definitely need to position themselves as an authoritative source and thus content needs to be pitched at a more senior strategic level than may be the case when it comes to blog content pitched at core personas.
There is no doubt that a CMO role is a demanding one. However, for those with a passion for marketing the sheer breadth of challenges is extremely attractive. The data rich nature of the work also helps ensure that decisions can be made, based on an interpretation of data and tests can be run which help to move the company forward.
Finally, the following are other issues that need to be dealt with in the First 100 days (as if you did not have enough on your plate already):
- Learn the ropes of the new business
- Deal with legacy issues from your predecessor
- Manage the team you have inherited versus build an ideal team from scratch
- Focus on leading not managing: Set clear direction, bring people with you & deliver results.
Are you up for the challenge?