Ep 272: Dave King is the Head of Marketing at Asana, the work management platform that teams use to stay focused on the goals that grow their business. To date, Asana has raised over $210m from some of the biggest names in tech including Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Marc Andreesen, Ben Horowitz, Sean Parker, Ron Conway, Benchmark, Founders Fund and more incredible names. As for Dave, prior to joining Asana, he led the marketing teams at Percolate, Highfive, and Salesforce Community Cloud.

Pssst 🗣 Loving our podcast content? Listen to the start of the episode for a promo code to our upcoming events!

In Today’s Episode We Discuss:

  • How did Dave make his way into the world of SaaS and startups? When did he realize his love for marketing SaaS companies?
  • What does Dave mean when he says, “We are entering the 3rd wave of marketing”? What were the 1st and 2nd chapters? What does the “3rd wave” of marketing mean for marketers today? How does it change what marketing should be focusing on? How does it change how marketing works with sales and customer success?
  • What does Dave mean when he says, “Off-sites serve as a crutch for 2 core elements of the marketer’s role”? How does Dave advise marketers on crafting their playbook? What are the core questions to ask? Where does Dave see many going wrong here? How does one turn a playbook into a repeatable, measurable process? With channel volatility being so high, is it possible to have a repeatable and predictable process?
  • What are Dave’s biggest observations on what B2B marketers can learn from B2C? How does that change how Dave thinks about new campaigns and community building with Asana today? Who does Dave think has done this particularly well in the world of enterprise? Are there any challenges to trying to carry over B2C into the world of B2B?


Ep 273: David Cummings is the co-founder of the Atlanta Tech Village, Pardot which sold to ExactTarget/Salesforce.com, Hannon Hill, Rigor, SalesLoft (raised over $75M in capital), Terminus (raised over $25M in capital), and several more. Hear his lessons learned over the years from Pardot to Calendly.

This episode is sponsored by Owl Labs.

SaaStr’s Founder’s Favorites Series features one of SaaStr Annual’s best of the best sessions that you might have missed.

This podcast is an excerpt from David’s session at SaaStr Annual 2019.

Missed the session? Here’s what David talks about:

  • How large a role does funding play?
  • Matching pricing to value
  • How to continuously level up talent


If you would like to find out more about the show and the guests presented, you can follow us on Twitter here:

Jason Lemkin
Harry Stebbings
Dave King
David Cummings

Below, we’ve shared the full transcript of Harry’s interview with Dave King.

Harry Stebbings: We are back and this is the official SaaStr podcast with me, Harry Stebbings. For all things behind the scenes,you know where I am on Instagram at HStebbings1996 with two Bs. It’ll be fantastic to see you there. But to our episode today and over the last month, we’ve had some of the best CMOs in the world on the show. From the CMOs at Zoom, G2, Anaplan, and today that theme continues. So I’m thrilled to welcome Asana’s Head of Marketing, Dave King. For those that do not know, Asana is the work management platform that teams use to stay focused on the goals that grow their business. To date, Asana has raised over $210 million from some of the biggest names in tech, including, check this out, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Sean Parker, Ron Conway, Benchmark, Founders Fund, and more incredible names. As for Dave, prior to joining Asana, he led the marketing teams at Percolate, Highfive, and Salesforce Community Cloud.

Harry Stebbings: I do also want to say a huge thank you to Ryan Bonnici at G2 for the fantastic introduction today. I really do so appreciate that. 

Harry Stebbings: However, you’re heard quite enough from me, so now I’m very, very excited to hand over to Dave King, Head of Marketing at Asana.

Harry Stebbings: Dave, it’s absolutely fantastic to have you on the show today. I’ve heard so many great things. Most recently, actually, from Ryan at G2. So thank you so much for joining me today.

Dave King: Oh, thanks so much for having me Harry. And yeah, Ryan is the best. We’re a big customer of his and he’s a customer of ours.

Harry Stebbings: He’s just so cool, I have to say. But I do want to kick off with a little bit about you. So tell me, Dave, how did you make your way into the world of SaaS, but then also come to be head of marketing at the game changer that is Asana?

Dave King: Well, my very first foray into marketing was actually in college. I was a computer science and cognitive psychology major, and got involved with a startup in the very first tech wave doing software ASP, before SaaS was even called SaaS.

Dave King: And little did I know that I had found my life’s work and calling as a marketer. I did a short tour through investment banking where, like I say, I learned math. And then spent many years at Salesforce doing a variety of marketing roles for … ultimately leading all their social and community and collaboration products. And I spent the last decade focused on technologies to help teams work better together at a couple of startups, and now here at Asana. And Asana is a platform that helps teams plan and organize and execute all their work. And we work with just some of the coolest companies around. So Uber and most of the new ride sharing services are all powered by Asana. Art museums like the SF MoMA and the national gallery of London, where you’re based, I’ll plan their exhibits on Asana, and National Geographic and so forth. So it’s just one of the coolest products to work on. And of course I get to use it every day with my team. So I feel super fortunate.

Harry Stebbings: It absolutely is a special product. But I do want to pick up on one element before we dive into the world of marketing. And as you mentioned your time at Salesforce, and I’m really intrigued. I was thinking before this episode, actually, so many incredible generational changing operators actually grew up out of that Salesforce breeding. So my biggest interest here is what were your biggest takeaways from your time with Salesforce, and how do you think that impacted your operating mentality?

Dave King: It was an incredible company and education. And Salesforce is a mission driven, values oriented organization. I think the big thing that I learned there was the importance of marketing your values. So we used to say that marketing at Salesforce, we spelled with a C, because Marc Benioff is such a phenomenal marketer. But for him, kind of two things that I really took away. First was the maniacal focus on customer delight. So in everything they do, it’s focused on the customer and telling the customer’s story and turning them into heroes. And the other thing was, as a marketer, learning how to sell is really critical. Another big takeaway for me and all those other people who have come out of out of Salesforce.

Harry Stebbings: Absolutely, it is indeed. I do want to kind of dig into the different chapters of marketing. Because we chatted a little bit before the show, and when we chatted you said to me that marketing is now in its third chapter. Can I ask, Dave, what did you mean by this? And what were the first and second chapters to you?

Dave King: There’s been three big chapters or waves of marketing focus and innovation. And for me the first was it was marketing was all about content and creative and storytelling. And now there’s been this explosion of new channels, whether it’s YouTube or podcast and social. There’s so many ways to connect with customers, to share a story and to create really amazing, compelling content. So that was sort of the first way.

Dave King: The second was really in the rise of data-driven performance oriented teams. This is the rise of growth teams and channel optimization. This is really about bringing, in my mind, the scientific method into marketing. So a marketing transitioning from a creative art based discipline to marketing as a science. And then I think now we’re entering this third chapter, which is it’s marketing about … it’s streamlining the creative and marketing process.

Dave King: So marketing teams are being asked to drive more and more growth for their companies. And there’s only so much that you can do in optimizing the channel. The former CMO of GE liked to say, when you optimize a channel, you’re moving pennies around. But when you optimize your process, that’s where you’re moving dollars around. And I think right now we have, historically as marketers, been creatives and we’ve been math geeks and we haven’t always been great at looking at our process. And I think that’s the big wave of innovation now.

Dave King: And you’re seeing that from the big global brands bringing agencies in house, to the rise of these more agile teams.

Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, and this may be a really naive question, but in terms of the process, so to speak, what is a marketing process? Is that the execution of the playbook? What is the process and how do we think about it improving with time today?

Dave King: Well, sadly, today I think most of the biggest marketing teams and brands are still powered by email and spreadsheets and status meetings. I was talking to a global B2C brand where they have a standing call every single morning with all of their global regions, to provide a status update so that they can update a master campaign spreadsheet, to just track everything that’s going on. That is not the craft that we as marketers are in. So I think as far as the process, it’s really defining, what is the mission of the team? How do you break that down into a series of objectives? And then with those objectives, what are the initiatives or the plays that you’re running or programs that you’re running? And who’s responsible for doing what by when? There’s so many things that marketing teams can do. It’s very tempting to just respond to the latest opportunity or thing in the inbox versus being really directed on what objectives you’re trying to achieve. I think that’s one of our biggest opportunities as marketers to improve.

Harry Stebbings: Can I ask if, for you personally and for your team, how do you think about striking that right balance between being reactive to certain situations and optimizing for those, but then also proactive and sticking to process and playbook, so to speak. How do you get that balance?

Dave King: You have to be flexible. I mean, I think some of the best marketing right now is being adaptive to what’s happening in the market. But to do that, it means that everybody’s got to be on the same page. And all too often, I think the marketing teams would develop a marketing plan that sits in a PowerPoint deck that gets revisited quarterly or annually. That just is not real time enough. So that playbook or that plan has to get put into a living system that is constantly being updated and iterated. So if there’s a new opportunity or a competitive threat, you can drop a play and add a new one in and everybody’s on the same page with what’s going out when and who’s doing what.

Harry Stebbings: Totally. Can I ask, does this change process optimization within the marketing world? Does that change how they interact and really kind of build their relationship with the sales team?

Dave King: Yeah, I think marketing is more multidisciplinary than ever and it’s more connected to the product process and the sales process than ever before. So every single major initiative that we have on our team–we have a six part strategy and then under each of those strategies that a series of initiatives, every major one has sales and or product involved with it. There’s just no pure play marketing initiatives that aren’t involving those other team members. So it’s critical that they’re part of the process.

Harry Stebbings: I’ve had Joe Chernov on the show and he said that marketing is more and more being integrated with customer success. With so much of the content that marketing produces being pushed down into actually making your customers happy. Do you see that more and more? And how do you see the kind of integration of customer success in marketing?

Dave King: Absolutely. It’s marketing’s becoming full lifecycle. So it used to be, marketing was just responsible for the top of funnel, the communication strategy, the ad strategy, and it was responsible for driving pipeline. And more and more, especially in SaaS businesses, it’s being they’re responsible for net expansion and customer delight. So a good portion of our team is focused after the initial sale. What we find is word of mouth is such a powerful vehicle that a lot of our focus is on how do we deliver that in-product experience that is so delightful.

Dave King: So we track NPS scores maniacally. Also, how do you equip that customer success team? And a lot of our marketing programs now are focused on things like, we have an Asana Academy, which is an online training and curriculum series that we give away for free, it’s just useful for people’s careers. We also run a global community program where we’re hosting a community meetup almost every single business day on five different continents. And that’s all about, if we can create content and programs that serve our customers, make them better at their jobs and connect them with each other, that’s going to be good for business.

Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, you mentioned that most marketing going to full life cycle across the stack. When I spoke to Ryan yesterday, actually, about how to measure the success of marketing and KPI and goal setting, he said that marketing’s got to be held accountable to a number directly tied to revenue. Would you agree with that? And how do you think about effective goal setting, KPI setting, for your marketing team, given it’s so much of a broader purview today than maybe in the demand gen centric world of five to 10 years ago?

Dave King: 100%. Marketing has to co-own the ARR metric. Our regional teams, our teams here, you co-own that with your sales colleagues as a North star metric. There’s a bunch of leading indicators, pipeline creation, every team’s going to have a leading indicator, but ultimately if you don’t hit that ARR objective, the other metrics don’t matter.

Harry Stebbings: Yeah. I do agree with you. I do want to move into a very interesting other observation that we chatted about before, and it’s the trend that we’ve seen over the last few years being the rise of marketers having just so many offsites. So when we talked about this before, I didn’t know how to phrase this politely. So I hope it’s not rude of me, but when we spoke about this before, you said the offsite has served as a crutch for two core elements of marketer’s role. So what two elements to offsite has fundamentally served as a crutch for?

Dave King: I think this was Doug Landis, a sales leader and a long time friend raised this question to me, said, “Why do marketing teams have so many of these offsites? Is it because their events teams just don’t have enough to do?” And I thought it was funny, but there is an element of truth to it. I think marketing is the most multidisciplinary function in a company. There are designers and analytics teams and data science and their campaign managers and their product marketers. There’s an incredible amount of variability.

Dave King: It’s also one of the main functions that doesn’t have an operational system of record. Sales has Salesforce, HR has Workday. Marketing, most of the investment in technology and tooling has been focused on the channel. And so a lot of times these teams, these multidisciplinary teams, just don’t know what everybody’s doing. So the offsite has been a crutch for alignment and for getting teams together. I think there’s a big opportunity for us to do a better job of alignment in our process, and then we can use the offsites to focus on creative ideation rather than pure alignment.

Harry Stebbings: In terms of kind of creating that alignment, often it can be done through having a really solid playbook that everyone really gets to grips with. But a lot of people don’t actually have one in the first place. So say we don’t have a playbook here. How do you advise founders on crafting their marketing playbook? And what are the core questions they should be asking ?

Dave King: Here we’d like to talk about the importance of the pyramid of clarity, not just for marketing teams, but really for any team. Which is first you’ve got to have clarity on your mission and your vision. Second is, that needs to get broken down into a series of objectives that are clear, they’re measurable, they’re time bounded. Those objectives have a series of projects or initiatives that need to ladder up to those. And then every team member needs to know who’s doing what by when, and how is the work that they’re doing, how does it ladder up to those objectives?

Dave King: All too often teams go straight to the tactics and they don’t lay out this, what we would call a playbook or a pyramid of clarity. I think a key thing for founders, and all teams, is to realize you have to create this yourself. You can’t take Asana’s playbook or Salesforce’s playbook or any other company’s. You really have to create it for yourself and what’s right for your team and your audience.

Harry Stebbings: I totally agree with that kind of originality required. So once we have that playbook that we’ve constructed ourselves for our individual company, it’s one step to have it, it’s another to turn it into repeatable and actionable. So how do we turn this playbook into this kind of repeatable, and measurable playbook that we can execute in market? What are the kinds of steps to do so?

Dave King: The first is you’ve got to get it into a process where you can continuously improve. And that means templatizing what you do. So take for example, we launch a lot of products here. So we have a shipping and launches process, which is a series of steps and tasks and roles and responsibilities that all get codified in Asana. When we launch a product, we do it instantaneously in six languages across all of our markets. There’s an incredible amount of complexity across teams that do it, but it’s a templatized process. So every time that we do it, people know their role, know their responsibility, know how we do that.

Dave King: At the end of that, we have a retrospective and we go back and we improve the process. So every single product that we launch, the process gets better every single time. We do that with launching products, we do it with events where we do several hundred a year. So being able to get that into a system and then continuously learn and improve is critical.

Harry Stebbings: One element that I did struggle with more was the repeatable element. When I look at the marketing playbooks and the execution of them, a lot of it is dependent on channel. And with channel volatility being what it is today, is it possible to have repeatable marketing channels with certainty stay?

Dave King: What’s more important than the channel, is the process of experimentation and iteration. So the channels, the one constant is that the channels are going to change, the tactics are going to change, the trends are going to change. But if the team can have a process where they create a hypothesis, they run an experiment, they learn, incorporate that into the next, then they’re constantly iterating and you avoid the risk of being outdated.

Harry Stebbings: Can I ask in terms of having that measurable element, how do you think about and really play out the postmortem situations when analyzing whether a strategy was effective or not? What does that structure for the post mortem look like for you? Who’s involved, and what do you really look to get out of it and ask?

Dave King: I think we’ve seen models from the scientific method, from design thinking, where it’s all about starting with a hypothesis, stating what you think that hypothesis might yield with a concrete number or example, running the experiment and then seeing how it did. And just because you didn’t hit the metric doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. You’ll learn a lot, but the key is to get that group in and say, here’s the results that we saw, what worked well in the task, what we’re calling the process, what worked in the relational element of it. And then you incorporate those learnings into the next experiment.

Dave King: So every product launch, every campaign we’ll do a retrospective where we go through that exercise and then incorporate those learnings back into the next one.

Harry Stebbings: In terms of the next one and executing on that and playbook, it was interesting, I had Maria Pergolino on the show, and she said you fundamentally have to know when to throw the playbook out of the window. How do you think about this and is there ever a danger that one can stay to a playbook even if it’s maybe not the optimal situation?

Dave King: Yeah. This is why you have to have everything in a living dynamic system. You can’t get wedded to the plan that you put in place at the beginning of the year. And there’s lots of processes where you can continually optimize, and then there’s ones that you just have to take a complete flyer on with a totally new program and see if it works. So absolutely you need to be open to changing direction and iterating.

Harry Stebbings: Speaking of kind of changing direction, the final element I do want to discuss before we move into the quickfire round, is the element of what B2B can really learn from consumer companies. I think we’ve definitely seen this in the rise of bottoms up SaaS tools today, but when it comes to marketing and storytelling, Dave, what are your biggest observations on what you think maybe specifically B2B can learn from the B2C sector in terms of brand marketing and the storytelling?

Dave King: Well, humans are humans, whether they’re at home or at work, and most humans make emotional decisions and then justify them rationally. B2Cs do a great job of identifying those customer insights and telling stories that resonate on an emotional level. Whereas I think a lot of times B2B goes straight to the rational reasons. So the other thing B2Cs do really well is they understand the power of customer experience and word of mouth. If you give customers a great experience and you give them a story to tell, they will do the best marketing for you.

Dave King: So that’s been one of our big focuses, has been how do we drive that word of mouth and that community? More of our customers come from word of mouth than they do from any of our top of funnel marketing efforts. And in that regard we’ve had kind of two big areas of focus. One is, the product has to be amazingly great and delightful. So what can you do in the product experience to create unexpected value? For us, we have things like celebrations in the product. If you complete a task you might get a unicorn that flies across the screen or a narwhal. Just a moment of delight in an otherwise busy day.

Dave King: The second is the instrument NPS, and just study it maniacally to make sure that the people are having a great experience. And then on the marketing front, it is how do you get the community together? I think some of the top SaaS companies right now are really focused on building communities, and that is what many of the B2C brands do, is they build a psychographic profile and they give their communities an identity refresh.

Harry Stebbings: Totally, in terms of kind of the importance of building communities there. I’m thinking straight back to your three chapter process that we mentioned earlier, when you said about kind of chapter one being creative and storytelling. When I think back to it, I kind of posit the question, if we self analyze, do we think we actually did well in chapter one. I look at people like CB insights, who I think do incredibly well at human brand marketing, which is very evocative emotional storytelling. But then I compare it to the rest of the kind of enterprise landscape, which in many cases is still very dry. How do you think in terms of self-analyzing, how we did in chapter one, maybe more as an ecosystem?

Dave King: I think we have a lot of room to improve. There are some companies and brands who do it just incredibly well and it’s authentic and it’s a gift to the audience. There’s a lot of companies that have done it as a way to drive SEO hacks or to add lead gates. Those are the ones that have been less effective. But what I think is really great in this third era is that the ones who are creating that really compelling content, that really great, useful storytelling, Joe Chernov is an example of this, those are the ones that are being rewarded today.

Harry Stebbings: Final one, and as you mentioned Joe Chernov, who I often talk about kind of enterprising SMB SaaS events with, and you mentioned bringing that back to your element of the importance of building communities. How do you think about whether an event is the right strategy and method for one’s company in order to build a community? How do you determine and think about whether or not to do an event?

Dave King: We think about events at three levels. There are corporate events, which are really about building the brand and awareness and they have their time and place. There are field events, which can be more about driving and maturing pipeline, which is connecting customers with each other and with the sales organization, and that is really measured all around pipeline maturation. And then there’s a third which often gets discounted, which is community connection. And we’ve invested a lot in making sure that we connect the community.

Dave King: And when we do that, what we see is, we see referrals increase, we see product adoption and usage from those customers increase, and then we actually see them upgrade as well. So we need to instrument all of those things to see the progress that we’re making. But it’s also important to measure it on a long time horizon and not look at every single event as an individual data point.

Harry Stebbings: I’m so glad I asked that one. I love the breakdown there into this three separate types. I do want to move though, Dave, into my favorite, being the quick fire round. So I say a short statement. You hit me with your immediate thoughts. Are you ready to dive in?

Dave King: Okay, let’s do it.

Harry Stebbings: Okay. So no pressure, but the biggest breakdowns in the workings of an efficient funnel?

Dave King: Lack of coordination between functions, marketing, product sales, having different metrics and different dashboards, have to work off of the same dashboard, have the same metrics and have full funnel tests and experiments.

Harry Stebbings: Tell me a moment in your life that served as an inflection point and maybe changed the way you think.

Dave King: When my first daughter was born was probably a life changing moment for me. My wife had a bunch of complications and ended up in the hospital for several months. And so I was the primary caregiver of this new infant. I knew nothing about it. And that for me told me, the importance of never taking the gift of being a husband, being a dad, for granted. So every single morning I ride my kids to school. I travel a bunch internationally, but I make sure that no matter where I am, I come home for the weekend so that I can be there to cook the Saturday morning bluegrass breakfast edition. So I think, for me, making sure that my job as a storyteller is first at home and then second at work. That was a life changing moment for me.

Harry Stebbings: That’s very special. Thank you for sharing that. That’s way better than any professional answer. So I’m really pleased we did that. Tell me who’s killing it in SaaS marketing today, and why do you think?

Dave King: I still think Salesforce sets the gold standard for pipe gen events, customer love. Zendesk, the brand system there, I think does an amazing job. I think while not technically a SaaS company, Peloton has really nailed the community and brand aspects of community. So those are three that I like.

Harry Stebbings: Advice in SaaS that you most commonly hear given that you may disagree with.

Dave King: I’m pretty skeptical of any recipe or growth hack, any five-step guide to produce this result. There’s just no shortcuts. I think it’s all about finding an insight, developing a hypothesis and running a series of tests. There’s just no shortcut. It’s hard work.

Harry Stebbings: What makes a truly special head of marketing?

Dave King: I think it’s the team. Marketing is a team sport. I think my job here is to help create a team where I’m the worst marketer in the room. And so far we’re on the right track there. Just having an amazing team around you. And all the ones that I really respect, and the ones that you mentioned on the show here, have done that.

Harry Stebbings: What do you know now, Dave, that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your time with Asana?

Dave King: I wish I knew to never organize your work in spreadsheets and email and status meetings. There’s a better way. I feel so fortunate that this product is for me, and then it’s my job to get to share it with a bunch of friends and colleagues, and so super grateful for that.

Harry Stebbings: Dave, as I said, I heard so many great things from Ryan and from Dustin, so thank you so much for joining me today. It really has been such a pleasure.

Dave King: Thanks, Harry. Always a pleasure.

Harry Stebbings: Absolutely love that episode with Dave. And if you’d like to see more from Dave, you can find him on Twitter at dbkinger. Likewise, it’d be great to welcome you behind the scenes here at SaaStr. You can do so on Instagram at HSstebbings1996 with two Bs.

Harry Stebbings: I cannot thank you enough for tuning in. And I can’t wait to bring you a fantastic episode next week.


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