On May 5, 2014, I joined Ambition as its Head of Marketing. The charge: Run all marketing operations for the most highly-touted SaaS startup to graduate Y Combinator in Spring 2014.
As Ambition's first business team hire, I felt the pressure. At the time of my hire, Ambition was comprised purely of Co-Founders, Engineers and Data Scientists. The company was committed to maintaining incredibly lean sales and marketing operations, a philosophy we maintain to this day, so that the bulk of our financial war chest could be poured into building the most powerful enterprise platform possible.
After 2 years, that direction is paying off. Ambition's performance management and goal-tracking platform has been endorsed by the Harvard Business Review, American Association of Inside Sales Professionals and, most importantly, our clients as an incredibly effective, easy-to-use solution for recognizing and driving sales, marketing and account management performance, especially amongst millennial workers.
And yet, as my brother (a long-time SaaS Account Executive) warned me early in my tenure with Ambition, the best product doesn't always win in SaaS. For a SaaS company to scale quickly and reach its full potential, sales, marketing and customer success have to operate with the same quality, efficiency and ruthless commitment to winning as engineering.
After 2 years, countless long nights, setbacks and leaps forwards, here are my quick reflections. They apply most directly to my peers in SaaS marketing, but I think that they'll also offer value to anyone in a young, growing B2B company.
3 Important Survival Strategies for SaaS Marketers
There's nothing like working at a young SaaS company. You're in the jungle with a small team of peers, working feverishly to build a company while your competitors are trying to kill you. It's awesome, but it's not for the faint of heart.
Entering Year 3 at Ambition, here are 3 survival strategies that have served us well in the SaaS startup jungle.
1. Make client success your greatest asset.
Jason Lemkin has a great Quora answer that sets forth the preeminence of customer success and referrals in scaling a SaaS company. In summary, client referrals are the foundation of an early-stage SaaS company's growth. Period.
For a SaaS marketer, though, working to drive customer referrals is just the start of where your customers factor into your growth. A SaaS marketer should know his or her company's client base inside and out. Namely:
- What the typical customer profile is: Industry. Size. Needs. And so forth.
- How clients use the product: The features they like best and use most.
- How they buy: What's their buyer's journey? Who are the decision-makers.
Only once a SaaS marketer has a full, firm grasp of these nuances can he or she most effectively begin marketing his or her product/company to the outside world.
At Ambition, I frequently email our current clients, source reviews, ask for feedback and get to understand how they're using our platform. That's not something I was doing on Day 1 at Ambition. But if I had a time machine, that's the number one thing I would go back and change from my early days with the company.
2. Add value using content and relationships.
Once you have a scientific understand of who your ideal client is, how they think, where to find them and the areas where you and your product can add the most value to their business, then it's time to start crafting content that - by it's very nature - serves as an ambassador for your company.
In the last 2 years, we've published over 250 pieces of content on the Ambition Blog. We don't outsource; everything is created internally. Articles, videos, interviews, product updates, you name it.
Moreover, we focus primarily on crafting content that is relevant, helpful and enjoyable to our clients. We don't publish book reports, we publish in-depth reports on key issues, create curated lists of helpful sites, videos and articles business leaders can use to train, motivate and enlighten their teams and - going back to the customer-centric approach - feature our own users and how they're getting value out of Ambition.
In creating this content, we're deepening our own understanding of user base, industry and market. We're collaborating with relevant industry leaders, building important relationships and spreading awareness about Ambition. But most importantly, we're adding value and creating a powerful, positive impression of Ambition.
Adding value and building relationships is how we got featured in the Harvard Business Review, got invited to St. Louis' largest annual Leadership Conference as the featured vendor earlier this month and earned the coveted designation as an AA-ISP Top Service Provider for 2016. These are massive coups for a young SaaS company. And they're paid for not in dollars, but in time, sweat and most importantly, an authentic commitment to your clients, peers and professional community.
3. Methodically build and master your marketing machine.
Just as the Clash were "the only band that mattered," Unbounce's Noob Guide to Digital Marketing is the only infographic that matters to a SaaS digital marketer. By building out each section of this wheel, along with a few other key marketing initiatives like events, client referrals and channel partnerships, in a scalable, results-driving fashion, you can construct a marketing machine to take your SaaS company into the stratosphere.
Doing so takes time, effort and a gradual mastery of each cog in the machine. At Ambition, we started off by creating blog content, sourcing case studies, events, email marketing, partner webinars and even an annual March SaaSness Tournament.
The whole time, we've exhaustively measured the results of our efforts. Where our leads are coming from, how qualified they are and how much overall ROI we're getting from our respective channels. We use Pardot to capture inbounds, track links and prospect activities and do targeted marketing outreach. We use SumoMe ($60/month) to drive blog subscribers, increase social sharing and see how visitors are interacting with our website.
That software aside, we operate pretty much organically from a marketing standpoint. Google Analytics, Pardot and SumoMe come with great analytics for tracking ROI, and Salesforce shows us which inbound prospects make it all the way through our funnel into becoming customers.
With all that said, manually tracking and analyzing all our marketing data is a huge, huge chore. In the SaaS industry, sales and marketing operations are both full-time jobs in and of themselves. These processes are at once tedious, painstaking and headache-inducing, but you can't effectively build a scalable SaaS marketing machine on gut feel. The only way to assess how your efforts are performing is via accurate, thorough raw data. There's no way around it.
I would argue that, for young SaaS companies with limited resources, this aspect of building a marketing machine is the most taxing and challenging part of the job. But you must do it, or else run the risk of making a foolish website redesign, wasting valuable time on activities that don't drive results or making a number of other mistakes that the you can't afford to in the unforgiving jungle of SaaS.
How We're Navigating the Jungle
Entering Year 3, our marketing machine is far from finished. We're still a lean crew with no full-time designer, website specialist or PR/social media team. We can and must improve in so many ways, and I still lose sleep over areas where I see a dramatic, immediate need for improvement.
Most importantly, I see the primal need for SaaS companies to develop a committed, proven philosophy to using marketing effectively within their sales operations. My recent Sales Influencer Series interview with Outreach VP of Sales Mark Kosoglow is incredibly illuminating in discussing the limitations and pitfalls associated with inbound.
I'm fortunate to work with a team of incredibly sophisticated, multi-talented sales and marketing leaders at Ambition. Jared Houghton, Brian Trautschold and Dan Nice are highly attuned to how marketing should factor into our sales strategy, where it's working and how it can improve. Our CEO, Travis Truett, is a design expert with a LeBron-esque bandwith. He works directly with our clients, runs all the design on our website and is the visionary direction for Ambition.
Working within this team in a transparent, collaborative and coordinated fashion is what's enabled me, as a marketing leader, to succeed. So if you haven't already burned down the silo between sales and marketing in your organization, do it now.
Last but not least, I highly recommend following a few SaaS marketing leaders who have done and are doing spectacular, innovative things to lead their company to success. My top 5 favorite early-stage SaaS marketing leaders:
- Matt Epstein. Zenefits. The guru. Find his YouTube videos.
- Sam Laber. Datanyze. Created Datanyze's Market Share Library.
- Brandon Redlinger. PersistIQ. Wunderkind. Cold Email Generator.
- Megan Tonzi. QuotaFactory. Clever partner. Always adding value.
There are tons of excellent SaaS marketers out there, but these are 5 people that I'll personally vouch for. And an important launching pad for my final note: SaaS marketing is not a one-size-fits-all model.
The coolest, most important thing about this list? Each person has blazed / is blazing a unique trail to success. They've succeeded by figuring out what works best for their company and finding new, innovative ways to create public appeal.
The moral of the story: Do not mindlessly copy what your competitors or other hot names in your industry are doing.
Do what's right for your company. Start by thinking about your clients. Add value. Keep building and refining your machine. We'll be doing likewise here at Ambition as we continue navigating the SaaS jungle in my 3rd year.
Thanks to everyone who's helped us along the way so far. Onward and upward.
Ambition: Drive Sales Performance and Accountability
Ambition is a sales management platform that syncs business teams, data sources, and performance metrics on one system.
Modern sales leaders use Ambition to enhance sales performance insights and run supercharged sales reports, scorecards, contests, and TVs via drag-and-drop interface.
Ambition is endorsed by Harvard Business Review and AA-ISP (the Global Inside Sales Organization). Hear more from business leaders who use Ambition in their organization.
- FiveStars: Adam Wall. Sr. Manager of Sales Operations .
- Filemaker: Brad Freitag. Vice-President of Worldwide Sales.
- Outreach: Mark Kosoglow. Vice-President of Sales.
- Cell Marque: Lauren Hopson. Director of Sales & Marketing.
- Access America Transport: Ted Alling. Chief Executive Officer.
Watch Product Walkthroughs:
- ChowNow. Led by Vice-President of Sales, Drew Woodcock.
- Outreach. Led by Sales Development Manager, Alex Lynn.
- AMX Logistics. Led by Executive Vice-President ,Jared Moore.
Read Case Studies:
- Clayton Homes: HBR finds triple-digit growth in 3 sales efficiency metrics.
- Coyote Logistics: Monthly revenue per broker grew $525 in 6 months.
- Peek: Monthly sales activity volume grew 142% in 6 months.
- Vorsight: Monthly sales conversations grew 300% in 6 months.
Contact us to learn how Ambition can impact your sales organization today.