It can be difficult (and painful) to hire a marketing team when you have a) never had a marketing team before and b) never worked in marketing before. I’ve come across so many companies and founders who have struggled with hiring marketing teams that can execute to the level required.
Unfortunately this is a common issue and there are a number of reasons why it has become difficult to hire a well versed marketing lead in a SaaS company. But, I've written this short guide to hopefully help you and make your lives a little easier by taking some of the stress out of the equation.
I’ve also designed a little online questionnaire you can use as part of your interview process to gauge how much someone actually knows. This can be useful if you don't have any marketing experience yourself and you want to ask some probing questions beyond personality and culture fit.
Do you need a SaaS CMO?
Companies often default to the state that you need a CMO but what if you don’t? Yes you will need someone to take ownership of the marketing department or function but is a Chief Marketing Officer the right choice?
A CMO is a role typically employed by larger companies because at this stage the role of a CMO is more strategic and usually relates more to brand marketing which is more about messaging than demand generation.
Most SME SaaS companies will benefit more from hiring a hands-on marketing lead who can get their “hands-dirty” as they say and actually some of the work required. Of course as the company grows they can grow the team and grow into a more strategic role overtime.
Don’t make the common mistake of hiring a CMO because you think you should when they are not going to be the right fit for your business.
What is a fractional CMO?
A fractional CMO is another way to describe a part-time CMO. Arguably this is a pointless role as it is essentially just a marketing consultant who doesn't want to work full-time and mostly will be able to advise but never execute.
Again you are advised to hire a less senior role that is full-time than a part-time CMO. Marketing execution is a day-to-day job and requires someone hands-on.
Common mistakes when hiring a SaaS CMO
If you have decided you definitely want to hire a CMO or Head of Marketing then there are a few tips below that you should think about when speaking with prospective candidates. It’s very easy to hire the wrong person when you have no experience in marketing, that means when interviewing somebody it can be easy to be misled by someone.
Working at a big brand doesn’t make you a good marketer
This IMO is one of the biggest problems with hiring a marketing lead and why lots of young companies get burnt when hiring marketing teams.
The logical approach would be to look at a CV, see a well-known SaaS company on it and therefore associate the success of the company with the person, unfortunately it doesn't work like that, yes it’s true to work at the likes of LinkedIn and Google you need to go through a heavy-duty interview process but as we all know, how well you interview does not always correlate to executional talent.
Marketing doesn’t work like a lot of other professions, often the more successful and bigger a company is (revenue wise) the less the marketing team actually does to contribute to growth.
Think of the job of marketing as making the perception of a product or service better than it is. The most challenging marketing roles (where you learn the most) are at companies that do not have a good product or service, a bit like sales really, the best sales people can sell the worst products.
With this in mind, take Apple, Google or Amazon for example. These companies' brands are more than established after decades of brand building and product and service innovation. Unless you were there at the beginning helping define the brand and strategy you are more than likely to be a custodian rather than an innovator.
The issue arises when hiring, CEOs are looking for proof and are risk averse, they often look (like we all do) for well known companies and brands. This has also been fueled by people adding things like "ex Google" to their profiles on platforms like LinkedIn.
Tip: Instead of looking for people who have worked at these big companies you should instead look towards younger talent who have experience in similar size companies and potentially not that well known either.
They don’t understand how to do the groundwork
The second common issue is hiring a marketing lead who jumps to hiring a team straight away, or worse, employs multiple agencies. To be a top class marketing lead you need to understand how all functions work together and be able at the basic level to do every role in your team.
This is a requirement more specific to a start-up company because you will be required to ‘get your hands dirty’ as they often say. If you have no experience of running Ads or doing SEO (successfully) you are always going to have to lean on your team to do the majority of the work.
Not only do you have to lean on the team, you also have no reference on how to judge how good someone is at something. How can you evaluate the performance of your team of specialists if you do not understand what it is they are doing?
There is a balance here to be struck with being a good manager and also being able to execute. For a larger company a marketing lead mainly manages whereas at a B2B SaaS company in the start-up phase they will need to execute.
Modern marketing is mainly digital marketing
There is no escaping the online world anymore as a marketing professional. Most marketing initiatives for a growing B2B company will come online in the form of either inbound marketing or demand generation. True you need a brand and proposition as the foundations but most marketing activity is done online and you need to understand how to do this successfully.
This means whoever you hire should have experience or preferably background in digital marketing and be able to answer some of the basic questions around digital marketing strategy and tactics.
When you are a smaller company and need someone who is hands on they need to be able to do digital marketing. Otherwise they will have to hire someone (who they cannot vet properly as they don't have the knowledge) or they will have to hire an agency which will be expensive, and, again they won’t be able to properly vet that agency.
Questions to ask a SaaS CMO in an interview
So with the above in mind here are some of the questions towould ask a SaaS CMO / Head of Marketing in an interview that would give you a really good idea if they knew what they were talking about or not. Some of the answers are opinions and there isn’t one right answer but having a response is useful enough.
- What is a common mistake made in category creation?
- What’s the difference between demand generation and lead generation?
- What’s one of the main challenges of PPC campaigns for B2B Companies
- What is the meaning of a ‘point of parity’ in the context of positioning
- What attribution model do you prefer to use and why?
- When should you deploy an ABM strategy?
There are differing opinions on the answers to these questions but having an opinion is enough in most cases. If interested though get in touch and we can give you an idea of the answers we would expect to hear.
SaaS Marketing Team Structure
Beside hiring a CMO, what about the marketing team structure as a whole? The structure of a SaaS marketing team obviously depends on the size of the business but for the purpose of this article we will explain from the perspective of building one from scratch for a start-up SaaS business.
At the core, the 3 biggest categories of marketing that you can hire specialists in are Digital, Content & Product. These are the 3 most common roles you will find in a SaaS company just starting to scale its marketing team.
The Lean SaaS Marketing Team Structure
This is the most flexible, common and straightforward SaaS marketing team structure for companies looking to build a SaaS marketing team from scratch. Further down the article we will explain how this team can then be scaled depending on you requirements.
Head of Marketing
The head of the team, before they hire a team they should be able to do a bit of everything but also be able to take a step back and think strategically.
Digital Marketing Manager
A key hire in any SaaS marketing team, the digital marketing manager is usually required to do everything and anything to do with the website, SEO, ads, email etc. This is an essential hire and probably the most important.
Content Marketing Manager
Another key hire is the content marketing lead. The content marketing manager will help define your tone of voice,your messaging and the content that goes on your website. The content marketing manager will work very closely with the digital marketing manager, especially when it comes to SEO.
Product Marketing Manager
Product marketers connect your engineering team to the commercial team. They enable sales and the marketing team to market new features of the product and ensure everything is connected. This is why it is another core role in a SaaS marketing team.
Scaling your team structure and working in agencies
Once you have these 3 pillar roles in place as your company grows you can start to specialise more with the 3 areas. This can be a combination of new employees and agencies to give you more flexibility. As you bring in specialists you can then elevate the managers to ‘head of’ if appropriate.
There are so many specialisms under some of these roles you really need to take the advice of your existing marketing team to tell you where they need specialist support. I’ve listed some examples below.
Head of Digital Marketing
Once the team and company grows you will need a head of digital marketing, hopefully you can promote the existing digital marketing manager into this role. This role is similar to the manager role but will now involve team management. The specialists hired will be selected by this person depending on where they think they need them most.
Paid Media Manager
This is a common digital specialist role. They will typically take charge of all PPC campaigns on search engines and also the paid social campaigns. In bigger companies and in many agencies this will have specialists underneath them in the future, one for SEM (Search Engine Marketing or PPC) and one for Paid Social.
The SEO manager will take ownership of the organic search performance and be in charge of everything related to this. They will potentially manage an agency that can help with even more specialised B2B SEO elements such as link building.
Marketing Automation Specialist
A marketing automation specialist will typically take charge of tools such as HubSpot or Marketo. They will take the lead on ensuring any automated workflows, drip email campaigns and data manipulation is done correctly. This role can develop into Marketing Operations Lead or Marketing Technology Lead as someone who looks after all the B2B Martech tools required.
Head of Content Marketing
The head of content marketing will continue with same responsibilities as the content marketing manager but they will typically have a team to manage and will hire some content specialists to sit within the team.
A copywriter is a straightforward hire in the content team as it scales. They will take much of the actual copywriting off the head of the Head of Content Marketing so they can focus more on strategic elements of the content. The copywriter can also be an SEO copywriter and have a dotted line to the SEO Manager, there is definitely some overlap here.
A digital designer is something often overlooked when scaling a content team. A designer is essential for creating engaging and compelling contain beyond the words on the page. This involves designer creatives for social media posts, ebooks, landing pages and more.
Social Media Manager
Some people see this as something that comes under digital marketing but really it is mainly relating to content publication so should sit within the content marketing team. A social media manager will take ownership of all of your social media channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
Head of Product Marketing
Again as the company scales the Product Marketing Manager will likely grow into a Head of Product Marketing. Now this role is slightly different to the others as it doesnt directly correlate with company size. Product marketing gets busier as the product develops and you add new features. Especially if you start to develop into a multiple product company.
Specialist roles depending on your strategy
Depending on the marketing strategy and audience you will also sometimes see a PR manager, although i recommend to use an agency for this when you are scaling. You may also have someone working as partnership marketing manager if you work in a heavy technology ecosystem
There are also a few common specialist marketing roles that not every common needs but may be relevant when you are a small company depending on your market and your strategy.
Partnership Marketing Manager
If your company integrates with lots of other tools or you can form partnerships with non-competitive companies then this role is worth considering. It can be a lot of work to maintain good working relationships with partners and you need someone taking ownership of the shared marketing campaigns that are required to make it a success.
Event Marketing Manager / Community Marketing Manager
This role has evolved more recently to be being more than events to be about building and managing communities. Building a community and running events is a great way to engage prospects aswell as your existing customers and should be considered.
Need some advice?
Hopefully this article will help you with your plans for your marketing team but if you want some more advice on how to hire and scale a successful SaaS marketing team then feel free to get in touch.