While there is no single playbook for building out the marketing org of a B2B SaaS startup, at RevelOne, we’ve seen some key patterns and considerations in our work hiring for hundreds of high-growth, successful SaaS clients.
This guide covers how to prioritize key marketing functions in a B2B SaaS startup with a predominantly “marketing-led” motion and not a “sales-led” motion. Software products that can be sold either “self-serve” or with very light sales support given their low price or simple entry point. In these models, marketing plays a primary role across the entire motion from lead acquisition through nurture and conversion. This is in contrast to a B2B Enterprise business, where five to six-figure deals and long, complex sales cycles require that new client acquisition is driven by a sales organization targeting large prospects, with marketing in more of a supporting role. (See our article on The First Marketing Hires for Early-Stage B2B Enterprise Companies for advice on developing an enterprise org.)
These SaaS businesses can range from mid-market and small business products that may require lightweight sales support to engage and close clients, to lower cost, simple-to-onboard, higher-velocity products (think Slack, Zoom, Twilio) that behave almost more like B2C using a direct, or un-assisted self-service sales model.
The key is to understand the nuances of your target customer and how they adopt your product adoption, and then design the marketing organization and talent to match.
Before Your First Hire
While B2B Enterprise companies usually build their sales teams first, a SaaS product often finds early momentum “selling itself” through optimized marketing funnels and organic/viral growth. That said, some sales capability on the team can be important. While we don’t recommend building out a sales team in a SaaS organization ahead of your first marketers, it’s important to have at least one person who can close “big deals” as they come along. This might be the CEO or another leadership team member who can sell the product effectively and close more complex, large-scale deals for big-ticket clients.
The First Hire – A Director of Acquisition/Growth
You’ve determined your business model calls for a more lightweight or no-sales approach, and you’ve got your ‘big deal’ closer on standby for any huge clients that may come your way. Now, it’s time to start driving new prospects at scale. Because this SaaS business model targets more mid-market or small business clients at a lower price point, a structured program to drive new leads at meaningful volume is key.
Hiring an Acquisition Lead first to build the foundation for this volume can bring early wins and a steady flow of customers and revenue. An Acquisition lead will launch initial marketing acquisition programs focused on finding your target clients via relevant marketing channels, and driving them to your site at scale to iterate on converting them. These efforts should drive an initial pool of your most relevant clients, allowing you to quickly learn more about who they are (and who they are not), and what motivates their behavior.
Their key metric will be Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) or Cost per Lead (CPL) as they optimize by channel, segment, and program. Your Acquisition Lead should at least be at the director level, with a strong grasp on conversion so they can help direct product development and engineering on how best to convert the leads they bring in through an intuitive website experience and effective conversion funnel.
The Second Hire – A Product Marketing Pro
This hire’s role is to develop (or refine) how you position your product and bring it to market. They will work closely with product, sales, customer success, and others to connect the value of the product to its customers by identifying key target segments and personas, knowing their pain points, how your product solves them, and how it compares to alternatives and your competition. They will use these insights to identify competitive advantages, develop effective product packaging (even pricing), and craft clear and effective messaging that every department can use in their role to help close the sale.
We recommend someone at the director level as they need to be strategic enough to develop the above insights and strategies autonomously. (As the product marketing team grows, there’s more room for doers who will need more direction). This role complements the Acquisition Lead by using customer and market insights to help them refine and optimize their efforts. In turn, the initial volume of new clients the acquisition lead drives can garner data and learnings for your product marketing pro to then build on. Together these two roles can turbocharge your sales funnel.
The Third Hire – an Engagement Lead
As your company begins to rev its acquisition engine and sharpen its positioning, the next key competence is understanding the value of your customers and how to retain and grow them.
An engagement lead (sometimes called “retention” or “lifecycle”) is responsible for the customer lifetime value (LTV) metric. Understanding retention dynamics is critical as no company wants to have a “leaky bucket” in which dollars and effort are spent to acquire customers who churn out quickly.
Given that almost all light SaaS businesses today have subscription pricing models, the engagement lead needs to develop monthly/annual lifecycle and cohort analyses to connect customer activity to ongoing economic value. It’s their job to develop metrics and understanding around the customer lifecycle and cohorts (e.g., what behaviors in month 1 or 2 are good/bad signals for customer retention, what signals in month 6 are warning lights for churn). This person typically works closely with product and engineering teams to connect customer lifecycle and churn learnings to product use and metrics. In products with free trials or freemium pricing models, they work closely with acquisition teams to develop a full-funnel from initial conversion to the next purchase or acquisition step.
The Fourth Hire – An Ops/Analytics Expert
With a steady stream of incoming leads, a streamlined product offering, and a SaaS funnel firing on all cylinders, the business will be hungry for metrics, data, and insights. As programs, data sources, and components of your MarTech stack proliferate, there will be operational challenges to pulling together your data as well.
This is where a Marketing Operations expert can help provide key metrics and iron out kinks to ensure your marketing operations are running effectively. This person will focus on providing insight into the impact each marketing channel and program is having. This may include identifying and implementing data and analytics tools and developing reporting dashboards, or providing regular reporting and insights based on the data they are seeing. This person may also be responsible for adding to the overall marketing tech stack as well as adding tools to help streamline various workflows.
Later on, as the business grows, robust Marketing Operations, Analytics, and even Data Science will be developed, but early on, a more tactical jack-of-all-trades player can provide the foundation for what marketing needs. This person’s background will differ from a similar role at a sales-driven Enterprise business in that this ops hire should know how to effectively measure the funnel all the way through to an onsite purchase or product registration. In addition, the lower price point means that there will be a higher volume of traffic and more granularity to your metrics and more expertise in website analytics and attribution comes into play. For these reasons, someone from B2C or ecommerce experience can be a fit given the volume and complexity they will have encountered.
The Fifth Hire – A Content Marketing Lead
With the marketing machine churning, you’ll find that the company’s appetite for content will grow continuously. In a low touch, self-service motion, prospects are doing more of their own research and your touchpoints with them are mostly “digital” (emails, website copy, case studies, videos). So as your product marketing becomes more sophisticated, and you’ve scaled and proliferated the segments and programs you are running, you’ll have a greater need for content than the existing team can supply.
Your content marketing person will take pressure off your product marketer so they focus on staying close to the market and developing customer insights rather than writing docs and content. The Content Lead will double down on developing better marketing ads, white papers, customer success stories, website content, and better support the rest of the organization with an extended and diversified content library.
Bonus: Next Hires
It’s after the first 5-6 hires where we see the hiring patterns for B2B SaaS companies really start to diverge. For example, if you haven’t brought in any sales headcount yet or your founders can no longer play the role as “Chief Sales Officer” as the scope of their responsibilities grows, bringing in a salesperson or two can be critical in supporting larger ticket sales. Even low touch, low price SaaS products will have an enterprise sales-motion alongside their marketing-driven core as larger organizations seek to buy hundreds or thousands of units at a time.
If your acquisition engine is driving a tidal wave of leads to your website and conversion funnel with strong CAC economics and headspace to grow, then a Digital Marketing hire can help effectively manage this increased volume. While your Acquisition, Conversion, and Content leads can take some of these increased responsibilities on, a Digital Marketing hire is someone who can serve as a generalist across all three areas, adding value and expertise to the overall marketing engine. This person will take on management of key digital channels, ensure accurate targeting and optimization, and live and breathe your website and landing pages to make sure no conversion or optimization opportunity is missed.
Alongside traction and volume in your acquisition program, you may want to invest in a specialist to manage the onsite conversion. This person specializes in “conversion rate optimization” (CRO) and can experiment, iterate, and optimize at a granular level by segment and program. They can tune copy, landing pages, and enhance the lower funnel metrics stack.
Within the above patterns, candidates for each role can vary with regards to their mix of skill sets. For example, one Director of Growth candidate may bring with them a skillset of finding growth opportunities through partnerships and SEO, while another may focus solely on paid marketing efforts to drive lead volume. For each role, it’s critical to align your hire’s experience to the business model, product vertical, and stage of growth of your own company. It’s also critical to align their core strengths with what you believe to be your company’s biggest growth opportunities. The various skill sets of your first hires can then influence the sequencing and priority to follow.
At RevelOne, we do hundreds of marketing searches from CMO down to manager level every year, and we have developed our own role scoping frameworks to make sure each candidate and role is aligned to the needs of the business. If you are looking for help in this area or to gut-check your own instincts on the type of marketer you are looking for, you can review our Frameworks for Scoping Marketing Roles in the resource section of our site.
Want to see what we think a SaaS Marketing team looks like from top to bottom? Head over to our B2B SaaS organization chart now.
If you have any questions or want RevelOne to help you find the right talent to fill out your own team structure, reach out to us here.
RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm. We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.