Let's Get SaaSy

Esteban Sánchez

Let’s Get SaaSy: A Conversation with Cecilia Olguín

María Cecilia Olguín is a public relations specialist and professional ontology coach, with more than 10 years of experience in the development and implementation of B2C and B2B marketing strategies. After spending several years in companies such as MercadoLibre, Linio, and Facebook, Cecilia now works as the regional marketing director in the technology consultancy firm Xertica, based in Mexico. In a conversation with Esteban Sanchez, strategist at Centrico Digital, she talks about:

  • Her career, from UOL Sinectis, through her stints at Buscapé, MercadoLibre, Linio, and Facebook, and all the way to her current role at Xertica.
  •   The importance of focusing on the people than on B2B or B2C when communicating.
  •   Teamwork and the workflow within the marketing department at Xertica.
  •   The true scope of a digital transformation.
  •   The importance of understanding the close cycles and close rates.
  •   Her recommended marketing readings.

This interview has been edited for length and context.

 

Esteban Sánchez: Hi Ceci, thanks for joining us today. Tell us, what has your professional career been like so far?

María Cecilia Olguín: I am very restless, quite proactive, and passionate about digital marketing. The reason I’m here is, fortunately, because I noticed this quite early. Maybe it’s a bit crazy because I started studying biotechnology which has nothing to do with what I ended up doing!

I started my career at UOL Sinectis, a Brazilian internet company that provided dial-up and ADSL connections. Here I oversaw the company’s blog. There were chat rooms, the predecessors of ICQ Messenger, and I monetized the site; it sold a lot of digital advertising. Then I moved to Buscapé, also a Brazilian site, which was the main price comparison tool at the time.

From there I went to MercadoLibre. I liked that, within such a consolidated company, I was working on a kind of internal startup known as MercadoShops. This was a platform that worked as a CRM for the biggest sellers on MercadoLibre, to whom we offered their own e-commerce platform. During this time went through a great development not only in marketing but in sales as well.

From MercadoLibre I jumped to Linio, as CMO. And then, I ended up at Facebook in a commercial role. I was always pivoting between commercial and marketing. Finally, I got to Xertica where I am now the regional marketing director.

It’s definitely been a great experience to go through all these places and finally being here right now developing all of Xertica’s marketing.

Esteban Sánchez: What did you have to learn to enter the world of B2B SaaS marketing?

María Cecilia Olguín: We talk a lot about “B2C” and “B2B”, that is, marketing to consumers or to companies, but at the end of the day, there are people on the other side. We must think about who that person is, who decides to buy the product or the consulting service we offer.

What we sometimes forget is how to generate those connections with people. It is fundamental to walk in their shoes for a couple of seconds in order to understand the best way to do it. Then, there are a lot of strategies to understand how to do segmentation better, how to reach people better. I could capitalize on all the experience I have had so far in the same way if I had stayed in the B2C world. The people are the most important thing.

Esteban Sánchez: How is your team structured? How are responsibilities distributed? What have you changed since you arrived at Xertica?

María Cecilia Olguín: When I arrived, it was like a tsunami. There were a series of brutal, but positive changes. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and I think we’ve changed the structure three or four times; that is, we’ve managed to set things up quite a bit.

The team I joined was made up of four people from marketing and me. I had come in to lead the department and to understand how to make it more efficient. Now we have a marketing performance team, which is not only digital: we focus on the result, on measuring the ROI that will take us where we want to be. The team has a growth manager who helps us carry out the strategy. We also have three marketing specialists who work directly with him, focusing on the three main products we commercialize. We have someone who does business intelligence, reporting, and following the numbers. And we have Céntrico Digital, which is the main pillar of the performance team and an external contact center that helps us filter the leads and understand the quality of what we, as a marketing team, are generating.

On top of that, we have an area focused on branding and PR, with which we work on Xertica’s brand positioning, mentions, and the appearance of Xertica in tier 1 media and in niche media selected by our team.

We have an inside sales area, which is now undergoing a transformation. We are trying to take it to the next level: we now develop a lot of content based on third-party sources, and we want to give it a much more focused strategy based on original Xertica content.

This year there was a super interesting change for our marketing team, we took all responsibility for the internal communications at Xertica. Internal communications is not an area that is usually handled by a company’s marketing team. In this case, we made it our own because of our needs and context. We wanted to make things flow better within our organization.

Esteban Sánchez: Many SaaS companies begin as startups. In a startup, you have to do everything, you have to wear many hats. How common is this mentality in Xertica? Do you see this level of versatility in your employees?

María Cecilia Olguín: A lot! In fact, we have roles where the official title doesn’t completely represent what the job entails. You see a lot of that diversity in the activities everyone in the marketing team takes on. What I call “performance” – and I’m probably misusing the label – is any activity that generates a return. It is not only digital; it is organizing events, it is making newsletters for our clients, it is keeping us connected with our recurring client base, it is going out to look for prospects, it is making digital campaigns that generate the return we need. Even then, the roles tend to overlap a lot, which has its pros and cons. But it is very typical of the startup methodology to be changing and iterating. In those changes, some things are not always as clean as one would hope.

Esteban Sánchez: How do you create and measure Xertica’s branding strategy within the Latin American context?

María Cecilia Olguín: These days, and in the past few months there has been much talk about digital transformation and there are so many different approaches to it, that sometimes, the term ends up being misused. It is very difficult to position oneself in digital transformation because there is a lot of competition and there is a lot of content out there that is not really about transformation.

What we are looking for is first, to identify what we contribute as a brand, within the digital transformation space. This is a value that is not usually found in Xertica’s competition for the Latin American industry.

I think we did a great job when the pandemic started: Xertica and we, as marketing managers asked, “Who is on the other side and who needs help and support in this context?” We launched a series of activities, we were able to share our experience with remote work, in connecting with people at a distance. I think this represents the continuity of business for many companies in the region.

Now we measure our branding strategy with brand studies. We take advantage of the tools we use daily, such as brand lift measurement studies, and we also do our own media positioning follow-up. Thus, we have an indication of how well we are delivering our message. Today, we particularly rely on digital media to understand how our brand is positioned.

Esteban Sánchez: How do you measure the engagement of your current clients and how important are they within the process of your marketing strategy?

María Cecilia Olguín: We work with more than 4,000 customers in the region. Clients may have joined us for a particular problem and, all along the way, different problems that need constant solutions may arise. You may have joined us because you needed to migrate to collaborative tools and improve productivity, but suddenly you also realize that you need a better CRM for your sales team, and you also need to migrate servers.

The services we offer are built as a joint effort, starting with the current need of a customer. It is about how we can help them continue to solve their pain points and help them reach the next level. Our recurring client base is the core of our current business and it is what allows us to improve our strategies and understand how to go out and find other prospective clients that may have similar problems that we already know how to solve thanks to them.

Esteban Sánchez: What are the most relevant metrics to look at on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?

María Cecilia Olguín: There are lots of metrics that we look at, but maybe we can’t do it on a daily or weekly basis because the sales cycles of our services can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months.

There are metrics that are not going to vary much weekly or monthly, but they are key. In fact, in this last period, we focused on understanding our close cycle and our close rateWe are focused on building a pipeline, understanding how to accelerate the opportunities we currently have in place, and, naturally, how to help our sales team sell more and close more. Those are the metrics we can monitor on a daily and weekly basis.

All the opportunities that we generate from marketing have a series of previous metrics: number of leads generated by us, number of leads that we are able to effectively contact to get them into our pipeline generation workflow, tracking of active opportunities, and closing. When we can measure the last three, six, or nine months, we can understand how much of that pipeline we managed to close. That’s how we are sometimes surprised by certain metrics that get lost on a day-to-day basis.

As a marketing team, we have a KPI focused on improving the close rate. Our goal is to improve it by 25%. This means that the marketing team is not just focused on the tree that is our day-to-day business but can stop and look at the forest and understand what activities we could be doing, or what we could do better to achieve our goal.

Esteban Sánchez: What do you think is the best way to monitor that close cycle?

María Cecilia Olguín: We have a dashboard where we can understand what we are generating each quarter. We look at the current cycle plus three other cycles to understand what we are generating, how it is “cascading” and what percentage of closure we can have that same quarter to improve it in the next. We are seeing how, with this information, we can truly make decisions focused on changing that metric.

We also have a series of automated workflows or touchpoints at the awareness level, at the consideration level, and at the decision level. In each of these stages, we will be delivering different messages depending on the level of knowledge that the decision-maker has on the other side. All this work helps us understand better which are the strongest contact points that we have in each stage. With this, we can continue optimizing and making sure that the cycle and that close rate is improving month by month. It is definitely worthwhile to pay attention to those numbers.

Esteban Sánchez: Speaking of technology and close cycles or even lead capture tools, we see this field evolving every day. There are new tools coming out all the time, such as TikTok. Whether TikTok works in the B2B SaaS world or not is debatable, but new tools and new strategies are coming out constantly. What is Xertica’s philosophy in terms of adopting these new technologies for their marketing processes?

María Cecilia Olguín: For me, the answer is to try. If there is a new tool that we think can bring us closer to our goals, we definitely try it. We all have biases regarding tools like LinkedIn and Facebook. Perhaps you think that consulting companies, software companies, and others should have a presence and positive results on LinkedIn, which is a network for professionals. Regarding Facebook, you might think: “People on Facebook are looking for something different”. If we had never dared to try, we would have missed a lot of opportunities. We try everything there is to try, obviously focusing on the results of our business and what we think can make a real difference. We are 100% open to everything.

Esteban Sánchez: What has been your most successful strategy so far?

María Cecilia Olguín: During my stint on Facebook, I was leading the Financial Services industry. My job was to understand how the financial industry in Argentina could continue to increase and improve its customer acquisition results. More than anything else to place cards and credits.

We had a series of concrete activities that we did daily with our clients as part of our tactics. I had ten accounts, the ten largest investment accounts in Argentina. We focused on the acquisition cost they had, on how to scale up the channel, and then we reviewed the results.

In a tactical sense, we would find activities that were working for another client and we would try them. With these different strategies, we made sure they got the best results to capitalize on more investments from the channel.

But what started to happen at the macro and strategic levels? At the time when I was running the financial industry, we were in the middle of the fintech boom. Since most were startups and they were in their early stages, they were not exactly companies that had unlimited budgets or that could afford the luxury of trying different strategies, as we could do with the big banks.

So what did we do? We were able to identify the most efficient tactics that we had been building with each of our bigger clients and we created a program to bring those tactics to the fintech sector. This sector was going through a moment of expansion and growth and they really had to move the right levers to get the results they needed to be able to continue investing and scaling up their business.

We achieved a 200% growth rate in fintech investment. It had a great impact at the industry level and then we took it to the regional level, which was an even bigger impact.

Esteban Sánchez: Which marketing books have shaped the way you work?

María Cecilia Olguín: Out of the last books I read there are some that had a positive impact on my way of working. The first one is called "Measure What Matters", by John Doerr, which explains a whole system of defining objectives called OKRs – objectives and key results – used by organizations like Google and the Bill Gates Foundation. That book helped me structure Xertica’s OKRs.

I really like what Simon Sinek writes and the punch he has. I think he has some very interesting narratives. One of his books is "Find Your WHY". It had a lot of impact on a personal level, but also on a professional level. I think it goes very well with "Leaders Eat Last". These books narrate how leaders can shape organizations and help them change completely.

Finally, one that is very focused on selling solutions is "The New Solution Selling", by Keith M. Eades. I think it is a book that can make a big difference in the SaaS and tech industries.

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