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Managing your B2B SaaS Marketing Organization
Three areas to focus on when managing your B2B SaaS marketing organization. Learn what to hire for, how to develop your team and build for scale.
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To manage a B2B SaaS Marketing Team I’ve found the following three focus areas can help a marketing leader to manage their marketing (and sometimes sales) team:
- Leading the marketing function, so that your team and shareholders trust you as setting the strategy.
- Driving ROI by achieving the right outcomes at the right cost, balancing long- and short-term growth priorities
- Managing the day-to-day marketing function, with all its complex moving pieces.
This blog covers some ideas regarding the latter, the management of the marketing function. I’ll also add some notes regarding sales management since marketing and sales are so integrated at this stage of growth. If you’re looking for thoughts on a B2B SaaS marketing team structure please check out this article.
Your team should include specific roles. Learn what they are and what to look for in your first marketing team.
Manage the “Marketing Rhythm”
It's best practice to split the management “rhythm” by the common time intervals used. Daily standups, weekly team meetings, monthly strategic check-ins, and quarterly planning meetings.
I think you need to provide some form reporting at the same cadences, and of course management tools like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) or something similar. A weekly report can be a simple email to your leadership team with key developments, insights, and challenges. The daily standup is a great channel to invite others if they want to see what’s happening in the marketing team.
The annual plan is relatively straightforward. While we need a marketing and sales plan that supports the revenue goals, it will be mostly based on broad assumptions re: funnel growth, ACV, CAC and conversion dynamics. Big ticket items like entering a new market, or a product launch can add specific budget or resource trade-offs. The core of marketing planning however is done at the Quarterly cadence, as marketing changes too fast for it to yield to a static annual plan.
Team performance reviews can have a more significant impact if the company has an annual bonus or equity grant cycle. I like to provide performance feedback however at least Quarterly, and sometimes more often. While OKRs are not meant to be used for performance reviews, they are a great tool to discuss opportunities for development, align focus of talent and make resource changes to the team as needed.
From a marketing strategy perspective, I do like to review positioning and go-to-market strategies at least once per year with the complete leadership team, and the board of directors if appropriate. If significant hiring is needed, that’s also part of the annual planning and budget cycle and can be adjusted as the year progresses.
During annual planning, I also believe a CMO, CEO and Chief Product Officer need to align on the growth strategy where the sum of product and marketing can create magic. Now called product led growth, I’ve always believed that the CMO needs to spend at least 10% of their time devising ways to let the SaaS product drive growth through the user experience, user nurturing, product usage scenarios and of course turning all the captured data into value.
By using your OKRs you set quarterly priorities. I like to do this in a day-long marketing strategy meeting, where we spend about half the day learning and reflecting on the past quarter, and the other half to plan, and lock our new OKRs.
I believe a set of great OKRs answers the questions “What are you going to do?”, “Why are you going to do those things?” and “How you will know if it was successful?”. In that sense, good OKRs can replace a traditional marketing plan, and be more specific, easier to communicate and manage against. No more multi page marketing plans that end up on a shelf.
In addition to reviewing, and setting our OKRs, we do a deep dive into our overall Marketing KPIs that don’t change from one quarter to the next and get looked at weekly and monthly as well.
To support the OKR execution, we update the Marketing budget quarterly as well, and use our learnings regarding CAC, any new strategic priorities or previous budget windfalls/overages to update the budget going forward.
Once a month I like to hold a meeting of about half a day to review progress against OKRs and manage discretionary spend (i.e., paid search, events). It allows for in-flight optimizations to reach our goals and to maximize LTV/CAC ratios. While we spend a couple hours every week looking at all the KPIs and adjust tactics, this monthly review allows for a more focused effort to understand trends, discuss alternative strategies and potential resource needs. I like to focus on a few key metrics for each marketing function versus too many.
The weekly cadence is the most important of them all in my opinion. Laser focus on tactical execution and short term KPIs is the only thing that can lead to marketing success in my opinion. Focus on lead generation, funnel friction, hand-off to sales, content optimization, vendor management and focus on completion of projects every week.
I like to use a tool like Trello with a Kanban board for a weekly team meeting. The board has all the important activities the team works on (and that support the OKRs) so we can discuss anything that is falling behind, blocked or is no longer relevant. I like the “cards” on the board to represent about a week’s worth of work, so we can manage progress, and not waste time talking about activities that are too small.
In my weekly 1-1s with team members I like to check-in on any blockers, and what they are learning. I want to make sure they are always leveling up. Of course the OKRs are part of the 1-1 conversation at least monthly. Doing weekly 20-30 min check-ins can be a lot, so if a team member is on top of everything they can opt-out. I like to have a check-in at least bi-weekly though.
At Kalungi, the company I helped found to provide B2B SaaS outsourced marketing services, we have instituted a Friday without meetings, to provide team members with the important time to dive into the KPI performance, learn from the A/B test that are running, focus energy on the OKRs and make sure all the content, online presence, campaigns, and data are in pristine condition. For the CMO, the Friday meeting free day allows to focus on more strategic work like content marketing, a product launch or new pricing strategy.
Now that most teams are used to working remote, it’s unlikely that all your team members are in the same physical space daily. To keep everyone in sync on urgent activities, emergencies or just to share interesting insights and events, I like to have my team meet daily in a virtual standup. You don’t even need to do this all at the same time, as long as it happens relatively early in the day.
We like to use slack or an equivalent team messaging platform and ask all team members to post their daily top priorities, and any insights, blockers, or anything else that’s worth sharing with the rest of the team.
Hiring is a major focus of my quarterly planning and execution cycle. I like to make sure we still have the right team architecture for our marketing mission and make changes to the roles and responsibilities where needed. Then we update the hiring focus as needed.
Finally, as either CEO or CMO, you need to set time aside to create actual content. Thought leadership, relevant customer insights, new answers to old questions. You must be a domain expert, and to be seen as an authority you will have to publish your ideas. I like to block at least a couple of hours every day for this part of my job.
No news is bad news.
As the CEO or CMO, I like to provide comfort when team members are stressed, and apply pressure when things seem to be a bit too comfortable and “under control”. When you’ve not heard much about the performance of a campaign, a product launch, or the SEO of your website, it’s time to look.
Inspect what you expect. The weekly team meeting is a great moment to ask casual questions about the accuracy of a number, the state of an initiative or what someone is worried about. Ask why? Why a certain activity, a piece of content, a campaign? What’s the job-to-be-done for the work?
Direct, coach and delegate.
Because a typical marketing team will have members of many different experience levels, it’s critical that you have an ability to apply different leadership styles when you coach your team. Situational Leadership is very applicable. You typically have many different levels of task seniority in your team. Most of your team members will be doing things they are very experienced in, while also always learning something new where they can benefit from a more hands on leadership style.
The buck stops with the CMO
A very important part of managing marketing is that the CMO is ultimately responsible for how a company shows up online, and in the real world. What is the quality of the brand, the brand voice, the visuals, the text on the website, the quality of a press release? Check all the work your team does and have a google alert or other monitoring service so you always know when your company is in the news, before someone else tells you.
For all these things, the buck stops with the CMO. So, you need someone who has attention to detail, and wants things to look perfect. They need to always double check things.
Finally…you need to know, understand and be able to confidently present all the key numbers. At least weekly, make sure to dive into both the macro metrics (leads, channel performance, cost per KPIs) and detailed leading micro metrics like search rankings, visitors, email open rates etc.)
Weekly activities for a SaaS Marketing Leader
This is how all the above typically ends up filling my weekly calendar when I run marketing for a small B2B SaaS venture:
- Weekly Team meeting (including prep and follow up) – 2-3 hours
- Reporting to the CEO (1-1, based on Core KPIs) – 1-2 hour
- Updating and acting on Marketing Dashboard and Performance – 1-2 hour
- 1-1s with the team members (planning, coaching, follow up) – 4-6 hours
- Managing vendors, subcontractors, agencies – 3-5 hours
- Individual work on strategy, competition, positioning, partnerships, hiring – 4-6 hours
- Working as part of the company executive team (meetings, 1-1s, offsites, alignment) – 4-6 hours
- Daily focus on creating content and be(come) an authority in the solutions we provide for our customers – 8-10 hours
- Customer, Partners and Board interaction (meetings and reporting – 4-8 hours
The above can range from 20 to 60 hours per week based on the size, maturity, complexity and growth stage of a B2B SaaS company. The quality of the people on the marketing team will improve over time and help reduce the investment needed as the engagement progresses.