I’ve re-learned something about marketing every year working on the SaaStr Annual this year. 5 years IRL, and 1 year (and 4 other large events) digitally since Covid.
And that thing I’ve learned is that you can take two brutally competitive products, that are very similar, give each a booth at SaaStr Annual or at one of our digital events… and one can walk away with more leads than you can follow up on. And the other can walk away thinking they have no real leads at all.
How is this possible?
Well, the learning is to focus your marketing efforts primarily on what your VP of Marketing is good at.
What I’ve learned from sponsors at the Annual is that folks that know how to do field marketing well — crush it with 10,000+ SaaS CEOs, founders, VPs, etc. in attendance. Brex, Looker, Pendo, Intercom, and many other established and up-and-coming SaaS leaders told us it performed as well or better than anything else they’ve done. And yet … seemingly very similar companies told us the event last year didn’t perform that well.
We’ve seen the same thing with our digital events. Most marketers we’ve talked to don’t really believe in the ROI. But then a few that have done ours have told us it was the highest ROI event they’ve done since Covid.
The difference? Their VP of Marketing. If you haven’t done trade shows, steak dinners, driven prospects to a booth, figured out how to connect with customers at an event. If you just “show up” and sit and wait. Events don’t perform.
But if you know how to do them … they are magic.
And by “you,” I mean your VP of Marketing.
What does a VP of Marketing really do? Well … a lot of things:
- Brand and Corporate Marketing. You need very little of this in the early days, but much more important when you cross $50m ARR or so. Gets the color of the logo right. Does stuff for the brand. Manages press. Manages inbound (vs outbound) PR. Big companies have a lot of these folks. Do you even need that today? A little, yes. (But not 40+ hours a week). More on this here:
- Product Marketing. In big companies, product marketing is closely tied to brand and market positioning, so is part of “marketing”. It’s not always even clear this should be part of “marketing” in a start-up. A Director of Product Marketing often reports to your VP of Product and isn’t even directly part of the marketing team in many organizations. But in some cases, it can be more tightly tied to generating leads and prospects.
- Field Marketing. Events, steak dinners, supporting a field sales team. This is a specialized and important skill set. But if you don’t do bigger deals, you won’t actually do a ton of this in the early days — unless you are good at it (the point above). Good field marketers do demand gen, in the sense that their events are responsible for a pipeline commitment out of the events.
- Content Marketing. This historically fit into either of the first two categories, but in the past years, has become a dedicated hire much earlier on many marketing teams.
- Demand Generation. This is something that many marketers have never done, believe it or not. This means two things. It means getting you leads. And it means managing the leads you do get through the funnel. But most importantly, what it really means is holding a true lead commit. (Or at least, a commit somewhere on the funnel — pipeline, opportunity, etc.). 95%+ of “VPs of Marketing” have never held a lead/pipeline/opportunity commit. More on this here:
Anyhow, as you know, at SaaStr, we’re pretty biased in having Demand Gen DNA in your VP of Marketing.
But whoever you hire, know that Job #1 out of these 5+ functional areas of responsibility should be what they are good at. If they are good at brand marketing, well, that’s what you’ll get lots of. If they are good at events, then you’ll do well with events (at least, the top few in your industry). If they are good at top-of-the funnel inbound, they’ll do that. Content wiz? Then they’ll get that SEO-to-lead engine going first. Etc. etc.
Your VP of Marketing will try to do it all. Almost always.
But if you figure out what they are really good at it. And sort of measure your expectations first against that. You’ll end up with more success, and less frustration.
And if you expect him or her to primarily focus on something she’s less experienced at, then best case, you get mediocre results. She can own it. Hold her accountable for everything — of course. She’s your VP. But stuff she isn’t good at … shouldn’t be your #1 KPI for her.
No one is great at or passionate about all of this.
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)