2nd Base - Reach Product Market Fit

Hiring for your first B2B SaaS Marketing Team Structure

Your B2B SaaS market team structure has to include specific roles. Here’s how to hire those.


Okay, you want to build a team. It could be a stable of freelancers. An agency. Or in-house. Now that you have worked through the strategic parts of building your marketing plan, you have options. You have enough knowledge to hire A-player talent or outsource and hold a third party accountable. 

The question is: Who to hire first?

What marketing roles do you need?

You need a certain set of basic capabilities to get going. Writing is always my priority. Next are basic digital skills such as web front end, analytics, and automation. It is important that all your early hires be “T-shaped” marketers. That is, having a broad knowledge in several marketing areas (the crossbar of the T) and having in-depth expertise in a few (the base of the T).

For instance, broad skills might be email, research, branding, and data and analytics. In-depth knowledge might be in content development and social media. Your staff needs to be versatile and willing to learn a broad set of skills. That being said, I do have my ideal sequence of competencies to optimize for:

 Copywriter: Understand your audience. Quality over quantity. Positioning. Supports your sales team with the first materials. Website content. Emails. SEO.

 Growth hacker: Tools, data, analytics. Web developer and marketing automation. A competitive edge is a plus.

Product evangelist: Product training and content. Demos and Webinars. Trade shows and sales calls.

Product-marketing: Research and insights. Voice of the customer. Product roadmap. Competitive research and pricing. Promotions, campaigns, product launches. Your first MBA hire?

Full-time team lead: Manage the team and 3rd party resources like agencies. Drive ROI, manage a dashboard, budget, have a plan and deliver on the strategy. Has done two of the other roles.

Marketing intern: Consider hiring one as soon as you have a person on the team who can mentor him or her. Good performers in a Marketing team often leave your team. It’s hard for a small startup to compete with the Amazon, Google, and series C funded ventures. So you always need to be recruiting and developing junior talent.

Depending on your needs, you can also add a versatile campaign manager (events, channel marketing, trade shows, user conferences). If you have a mandate to drive brand awareness and market share quickly, you should consider a PR/influencer marketing role next. If you are building for scale, I would prioritize an “editor-in-chief” to get your content marketing from good to great.

Chances are that you want to hire your Marketing Leader first. While there are many options to start with Fractional CMO these days, getting a dedicated leader is something you will need at some point.

Your Chief Marketing Officer

The ROI of a small to medium size Software Company gets impacted more than anything by one factor. Hiring the right Marketing Leader. The reason is not even their ability to spend your money responsibly. It’s mostly about you spending money on the right hire and making sure that person will survive their first 12 months with your company.

“Chief Marketing Officers”, have a scary reputation of crippling some startups. As a startup gets funded or has decided to invest in growth, they urgently need someone to lead this work. Fast. While speed is not optional, it can come at a cost. You have alternatives like hiring a Fractional CMO. Here, let’s focus on helping you hire your first Full time, W2, Marketing Leader.

Challenges hiring your first CMO

Average CMO retention across industries in 2019 is at an all-time low of 43 months. For B2B SaaS Companies it’s safe to cut that number in half...This is not a great outlook for a strategic hire you are going to spend a lot of time, and potentially equity and growth capital on. And...

  1. While you need someone, who has done it before, maybe you cannot afford that seasoned veteran.
  2. You are in a hurry, but you cannot rush this strategic hire.
  3. This is the position your Board, Peers and Leadership team have most opinions on.
  4. Your company is changing fast. If you hire now, you may need a different leader in 12 months.

Do you know what you want?

Marketing has changed dramatically in the past 15 years. At some companies, the marketing leader is considered a business partner. And sometimes the role is partly outsourced and has vendor status. Both versions, and many variations, can work, if you are deliberate about it.

Do you want your CMO to strategize short-term marketing initiatives to prove their worth? And how much time should they spend on building a foundation to benefit a company’s longer-term growth plans? Data-driven Marketing for example, is hard and takes time. Having someone built a foundation that can last, while also plucking the low hanging fruit to show results can be critical.

“Today’s customer-centric CMO role is exceptionally complex and requires the right balance of left as well as right-brain skills, and very importantly, a differentiated set of leadership competencies,” says Caren Fleit, senior client partner and leader of Korn Ferry’s Marketing Center of Expertise. “Chief Marketing Officers with this unique profile are in high demand and are often recruited to lead the next transformation.”

Can you get it all?

Some CMO’s tell the CEO who’s hiring them that they’re not going to develop any new marketing strategy or create any new campaigns until the company has done the necessary groundwork on its positioning and its brand. I don’t believe you can wait doing tactical execution, while I also agree that you need to build a solid foundation to scale.

What to expect from your CMO?

“If one more CEO tells me he or she is looking for a "unicorn," I might scream. Today, the remit from the C-suite and board isn't doable. The job brief might be: "Disruptors with 20 years of mobile, five years of blockchain—and if they can tell a story, great." And oftentimes the jobs turn out to be vastly different than promised.” - Anonymous Executive Recruiter

Has the job scope of the CMO role become too broad? Some companies are splitting the role into a “Chief Commercial Officer” who also is responsible for Sales, and a “Chief Brand Officer”, or VP of Communication. This split between what is sometimes called “Growth Marketing” or Demand Generation, and “Corporate Marketing” (Brand, PR, Positioning) is not new. More and more organizations are splitting the role at the C-Suite level now.

A small to midsize B2B SaaS company does not have the luxury to split the marketing role. Many can barely afford one VP of Marketing of the right caliber. You will have to optimize for one of these two. You have to pick between the art and the science and hire what’s most critical for you. Trying to get a mix usually leads to neither of those expectations being met.

Write up the job’s mission

What’s the essence of the job? You need an executive summary of the job's purpose. Why does the role exist? Here is an example for a small, B2B SaaS company:

Own Marketing to drive demand for the company's products and services through brand awareness, conversion to qualified leads and helping loyal customers refer others.”

Define the success of the role

What outcomes do you expect the role to deliver? Ideally, pick your top 3-8. 

Example Marketing Outcomes to define success for the role:

  • # of MQLs (New Leads delivered to Sales by Marketing)
  • Reach 50%+ of the Serviceable, Obtainable Market (SOM) that fits our Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) through effective Account-Based Marketing
  • Drive brand awareness to get our company on stage at “XYZ” event (without paying)
  • Obtain a mention in the Gartner Magic Quadrant/Forrester Wave for ABC Category
  • Get the Marketing part of Customer Acquisition Cost below $2,500
  • Create and implement a holistic marketing plan with OKRs within 90 days of start-date
  •  Get 1.5x people to attend our annual user- and partner conference (YoY)
  • # of “Meetings Happened” by BDRs/SDRs, driven by Marketing Leads, are up 50% YoY
  • New Website with new branding and positioning life within 9 months after the start date
  • Hire 3 new Marketing Team Members who achieve their OKRs in the first year
  • Create and launch a Channel Marketing Program with at least 50 Certified Partners
  • Improve Organic Search Marketing to drive 50%+ of leads generated (vs. Paid)
  • Reduce Customer Churn in Year 1 of service by 10% using onboarding nurture
  •  Improve conversions from Subscribers to our content, to MQLs from 5% to 8%
  • Grow ARPU (Average Revenue per Unit, i.e., Users or Customers) from $50k to $60k through upselling campaigns and account expansion campaigns.

What to look for?

Just like using an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) when doing marketing to clients, I suggest that you do something similar for your team development and create an ICP.

Strengths and competencies of the ideal candidate

Using the ICP approach, focus on creating your hiring criteria at two levels: Filters and Signals. Filters are the requirements that you will use to remove anyone from your hiring pipeline who is just not going to fit. Signals are the indicators for more than fit. These are predictors of success and can help you prioritize candidates if you have multiple options. Below examples can be used as either Filters or Signals, across multiple functional marketing areas. 

Personal leadership & culture

  • Efficient - Gets a lot done with minimal effort.
  • Honest - Does not cut corners ethically. Communicates plain and truthfully.
  • Organization - Able to focus. She plans her work and delivers the plan.
  • Aggressive - Moves quickly and forceful, with appropriate persistence.
  • Commitments - Follows up. Owns the work. Does what he says he will do.
  • Intelligence - Considers other points of view while also being “right” a lot.
  • Curious - Learns quickly and often. Always trying to improve and optimize.
  • Analytical - Balances the right abstraction level and attention to detail.
  • Proactive - Acts without being told what to do. Brings new ideas.

Marketing Management

  • Be part of the leadership team and Lead “Big M” Marketing, from Positioning and Brand Strategy, to Demand Generation and Marketing Spend Optimization.
  • Create Quarterly OKRs, supported by a budget that allows the team to its goals
  • Hire and Manage team members and vendors towards OKRs and high ROI marketing
  • Manage discretionary spend (i.e., paid search, events) to maximize LTV/CAC ratios

How to evaluate candidates

Consider asking for references early in the process. Since we recommend you always check references, you might as well prepare the candidate for this and save both of you a lot of time in case the candidate is now able/willing to provide.

Perform an interview. This can be a phone screen initially and be followed by multiple interviews pending the complexity of the role, how much time you need to get through your areas of interest, and how many people are involved in the decision. I recommend only letting people do interviews who are actual decision-makers or will have a major influence into your hiring decision.

Ask your top candidates to do some work in the form of a case study or mini project. You can decide to pay for this work if you can also use the results (we believe an assessment that is as “real” as possible is most valuable for you and your candidate). There is no better assessment than an actual example of a candidate doing the job.

Interview Questions

Here are some examples to get you started:

  1. Why did you apply? Why is that important to you?
  2. Why should we hire you? What are your superpowers?
  3. How would you segment our customers? How would you find more customers? (understanding of the market, product, the business you're in and growth strategy)
  4. What are the key KPIs on your Marketing Dashboard? What does marketing success look like to you? (accountability and impact) 
  5. Knowing what you know so far about our company, what strategies and tactics would you put in place to help drive revenue? This question allows the candidate to show off their knowledge of your company so far, and gives them the chance to ask questions. Ultimately, this is an opportunity to see how innovative they can be.
  6. What would your 30-60-90 day plan look like? How do you think about that? (what does she prioritize? Does she/he understand your needs/opportunities? Can your candidate hit the ground running?)
  7. If you could start your last role over again, what would you do differently? This gives us insight into the candidate's ability to be self-aware, their appetite for growth, and their willingness to share things that may not have gone well.
  8. Have you had a bad boss? How did you deal with that?
  9. Who are your last three bosses? How do I spell that? Where would they rank you when I speak with them? Can you set up the interview?
  10. What are your compensation expectations?

Optional areas to probe

  • What would you change about our website? Look for concrete, specific answers (this gets to positioning, messaging, audience engagement, demand gen and PR)
  • How do you approach content marketing? (content marketing is both the most undervalued, overhyped, misunderstood, and over-complicated part of modern marketing, and this question should yield at least an interesting perspective)
  • How do you balance inbound and outbound marketing? - What we learn: Great marketing teams strike the right balance between many different marketing levers. The Inbound vs. Outbound debate is a great test that doesn't really have a right answer but provides good insight into how much your candidate will count on “pay-to-play,” or noise-making marketing efforts, vs. harder to build, longer term inbound marketing.
  •  What is your approach to market research, both customer and competitor focused? - What we learn: This will tell us how innovative the candidate is at using new forms of research in the digital space (A/B testing, social network inquiries, online data) vs. traditional research and higher-priced external research. This is also a great opportunity to hear what they know and think about your current competition.
  •  How do you approach branding a company, its products and services? What we learn: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The problem that branding and marketing suffer from is that everyone has an opinion about it.  How does the CMO balance the opinions of the executive team, the CEO, and board members with the ability to test and use data? It can be tricky for a marketing leader to effectively manage the branding process, without burning a lot of team bandwidth.
  • What do you consider the biggest challenges for a CMO these days? How do you work with your executive team to get the most out of the marketing function? What we learn: This question will allow the candidate to showcase their leadership skills and style, while revealing challenges they may struggle with. It's also key in determining how they communicate with executive leadership, and hold their marketing team accountable. Marketing is challenging because it's multifaceted: it's math, art, branding, sales, event management, digital execution, project management - a good marketing leader can connect those and build the right working contracts among their peers.
  • What pricing frameworks do you prefer to use? What we learn: Pricing is very complex these days, from usage- or volume-based pricing, value- vs. market-based pricing, paying for access or ownership of a product or a subscription, etc.  It's a complex discipline; how versed is the CMO in dealing with all the pieces of the marketing pricing puzzle? Have they used frameworks like this one?
  • Share some tools and techniques you've learned in the past year, and what your takeaway was? What we learn: This is a question to determine how current they are, and how much they are "learners" versus "doers." In an industry where being relevant is key, is your potential new CMO willing to learn and grow?  In the field of marketing, if they don't innovate, they're going backwards.
  • What do you think of the art and science of marketing, and where do your strengths lie within that? What we learn: Marketing is a delicate blend of art and science. A good marketing leader can use the science of data and analytics to be effective in optimization, while mastering the art of design (finding great slogans and a voice for your brand). It's extremely rare, if not impossible, to find a CMO who can do both. This question will help you decide if their strengths are complementary to the other executive members and the marketing team.

Always be hiring

I believe that a Marketing team leader can never stop recruiting. The reality of the marketing profession is that great talent will always be in short supply, so you constantly must develop new interns, junior- and senior hires. Team members who become very good at what they do will leave your team to larger software companies or might not be able to keep up with your needs and have to be replaced. I like to always have interns in my team, to develop and constantly bring in creative energy.

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