Let's Get SaaSy

Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo

Let’s Get SaaSy: A Conversation with Ty Lim

After ten years operating as a CMO and head of marketing across multiple SaaS companies, in 2018 Ty Lim founded Averoos, a B2B marketing firm focused on helping SaaS companies develop and execute winning marketing strategies. We spoke with Ty to discuss:

  • The evolving role of the CMO in a B2B SaaS Company.

  • The complementary need for data alongside stories.

  • How to measure the impact of brand-building activities.

  • Marketing’s role in breaking down silos in an organization.

This interview has been edited for length and context.

Matthew:  Hi Ty, thanks for taking the time. Let's go a bit through your journey. I’m interested in knowing about where you started and how you got to where you are.

Ty:  I view myself as an entrepreneur and operator as well as a marketer or CMO. I say that because throughout my entire career I've been a builder. I spent the first half of my career in ad tech with roles at Google, then in various roles at a large ad network called Connexus, where I ended up running one of their business units. Soon after, I started my own digital marketing agency.

There, I learned a ton about how to build high-velocity machines. I learned how to take a revenue-centric approach to build a business, and look at everything analytically. A small lever or percent change in conversion ratio could very well equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. 

In the second half of my journey, which is where I’m at now, I took a rather large pivot and said, "I want to run marketing at a startup." I took on a couple of roles at some VC-backed startups, particularly in B2B SaaS selling into IT, and had some pretty good wins. 

Matthew:  Interestingly we both started in ad tech. At Google, I was on the AdSense side of the business before moving into the work that I do now. I guess because AdTech is so transactional and so tech-driven that, in my case, it didn't feel creative enough.

Ty:  Yeah. 

Matthew:  The cool thing about what we do is in combining the ad side with technology and creativity, which is ultimately a different challenge. I'd be curious to know what you consider to be the CMOs main function and how you conceive of the role?

Ty:  In B2B SaaS specifically, I'd like to see a change. I'm looking for the types of engagements where the CMO is directly tied to the customer and revenue. I

n the traditional sense, marketing at SaaS companies is responsible for top-of-the-funnel, high-level awareness. And then there is a responsibility to convert that into known leads, and then hopefully joint-own the processing of converting those leads into opportunities. The majority of my experience has been in B2B SaaS and selling high-ticket solutions. But what I envision is where the CMO is responsible for all the touchpoints with the prospect from lead to close to renewal. In the past, I’ve found success in aligning marketing with the customer success team. That allows us to pull out and extrapolate fully deployed use cases.

The end goal is to build relationships with customers so we can integrate that voice and that story into everything we do – inside webinars, press articles, connections with analysts, field events, advisory boards, et cetera. 

Marketing's primary responsibility is translation. It's taking what's happening within, for instance, the sales cycle, translating that and rolling it into a message, an emotion that is adaptable or well-received by the market. Because of that translation layer, I'd like to see marketing play a bigger role. Not necessarily to own it, but to have a strong seat at the table.

Matthew:  I like that you're focused on finding the client stories and finding the client’s voice as an external component. But based on what you’re saying, there’s also an internal role, where the CMO and marketing department advocate for the client. The natural gravity of the strategy isn’t to move towards what the CEO thinks but to continually recalibrate the organization towards what the data and clients tell you. Does that make sense?

Ty:  That's our role. Ultimately, our responsibility as marketers is to aggregate, summarize, and analyze. We create a hypothesis of where we believe the market is heading, what the needs and challenges are, and support that with data. I'm not just referring to statistical data, but also customer stories. Anecdotal information like stories from the field, to me, is just as critical. 

In a startup environment, we recalibrate constantly. Startups are founded on the idea that they’re here to disrupt. With that disruption, everything is changing, even the titles of the buyers. We have to continually validate and calibrate the team on that.

Matthew:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. The data doesn't always tell a story in itself, and it needs to be complemented by these anecdotes. If we focus too much on the attribution, we might not be getting the full story. 

Ty:  Exactly. It's not a true analysis if there's no story. Sometimes, we think of analysis as pure data or numbers, when really, it's about either the hypothesis or the conclusion. That's what people are looking for. Hopefully, they trust that you can support the hypothesis with data, but they are looking for conclusions.

Matthew:  Great. I want to ask two questions now. The first is, I'm curious to know about the metrics that you look at every day, every week, every month, in that CMO role. The second question is, how do you set up your team and distribute responsibilities? 

Ty:  Primarily, being a B2B SaaS CMO and focusing on growth companies, demand generation is the number one priority, so, on a daily and weekly basis, we're looking at demand metrics - total pipeline creation and acceleration, the meaning of the pipeline created, in what quarters will deals close. 

For example, if we were to create an opportunity today, is it relevant to the revenue discussion for this quarter? If it’s a SaaS business, then we're going to look at trials and downloads as early success signals. We do this weekly.

We also want to look at web metrics, like visits to your website, engagement, time on site, et cetera, as well as deeper revenue metrics. We look at those quarterly. 

Quarterly, we look at content and brand measurements such as time on blog posts and messaging parity between us and influencers in the space. 

Ultimately, we want to take that and validate, justify, and support our statements as marketers. The data elements need to support that story. We do things like title analysis on customers and opportunities, which tells us very clearly who the decision-makers are. But we also do title analysis earlier in the funnel, such as at the point of content downloads and trial forms which informs us if our researchers are the same as our decision-makers.

We then start to piece together that story and define the customer journey using data to support that. This emerges collectively, over the thousands and thousands of leads and data points, and informs what we do from content and strategy perspective. It feeds what we do on the product marketing side and in sales playbooks. It should feed how we pitch. 

Once we start to develop that playbook, we have more confidence in it. We go through this exercise every quarter just to ensure that nothing has changed dramatically. It keeps us all honest, and ultimately, it's just good practice.

Matthew:  It's almost like there are two stages to the customer journey―one that is very transparent and measurable. Then, there’s everything that happens inside the organization once the client starts taking the proposal seriously. I’m curious if, at that point, you’re relying on feedback from the sales teams to say, “This is what’s been going on as we move these deals through the pipeline.”

Ty:  I would say we rely on a partnership with the entire org. I'm choosing those words carefully because rather than rely on feedback that will inevitably be filtered, we're relying on a partnership that provides transparency so the marketers can be part of that journey – not to slow it down, but to facilitate true transparency. From a cultural standpoint, that's something that needs to be stated and agreed upon at the outset.  

Comms and branding are supercritical, and in general, the obvious measurements around articles, stories, case studies, and reports published are solid metrics to look at. But in new organizations or with new teams, and even in more established ones, we're looking for relationships. How many authentic relationships do we have? I like to see a list of the customers' names and titles, and I would like to know and measure some sort of index that indicates how strong a relationship we have with the customer. 

I look at some of the other brand metrics as great indicators of the work that we've been doing, but I'm a huge fan of early metrics. To me, if those numbers are growing, I feel confident that the end metrics are going to go up. If they don't, then there's something wrong. But we’ll know where to look.

Matthew:  Tell me a little bit about how you set up your teams.

Ty:  The functions that I think about in marketing are demand or growth, product marketing, brand, positioning, content and comms, and then customers. I see those as the functional lines that I want to create within marketing. 

How I set up teams is based on company resources and stage. In a perfect world, I believe in centers of excellence, where we need to have a demand center. We need to have a function that focuses on identifying demand for the product. Then the campaigns come from that—ditto for customer voice and advocacy, product marketing, and content. 

In a perfect world, there'll be a functional head, a director, or VP in each group. But I like the idea of centers because what I'm encouraging is that nothing is done inside a bubble.

Everything in marketing must be cross-functional and done in such a way that everyone who contributes has a strong voice. 

In marketing, overall, I want to partner closely with the sales org, the product org, customer success org, but marketing needs to lead the charge. At the same time, the product team, engineers, and executives are coming along for the ride and influencing where we go. 

I'm not saying things need to be run democratically or by committee―that's why we have functional leads―but ultimately, we can improve the product if there's open and egoless collaboration.   Those are the functional areas, and depending on the team, we can mix-match through that. But we do need someone to oversee each one of those areas.

Matthew:  That's interesting because it's the second time that you've referred to the internal role of the CMO as being the breaker of silos. It sounds like you're saying that the role of the CMO and the marketing team is to break organizational silos and facilitate a cross-functional dialogue so that everyone is influencing the conversation, but also that there's a feedback loop to each silo about what's going on elsewhere in the organization.

Ty:  Yeah, absolutely. Marketing is just as responsible for external marketing as it is for internal communications. Also, it’s important to broaden the entire organization’s awareness and knowledge of how marketing works. Marketing is deeply rooted in listening, translating, communicating. Now, with technology and social media and the Internet, it's also deeply rooted in scale, automation, and analytics – but there is no voodoo behind it. This is basic stuff here. Sometimes, we lose sight of that. It's my responsibility as a marketer to build that awareness and communicate it internally. Ultimately, internal comms should be a responsibility for the entire marketing org. It's a key issue, and it's probably one of the main reasons some CMOs fail. Ninety percent of all CEOs and CTOs are product-led. Almost all of them will say, "I'm not a marketer." Just help them out. It creates a better relationship for everybody.

Matthew:  That's interesting because of all the functions, marketing is the job that everyone else thinks they could do. I guess the collaborative nature of the work, as you describe it, is to make sure that all voices are heard, but also that everybody understands the value of what marketing is doing.

Ty:  Yeah. It solves a lot of problems. 

Matthew:  Let's talk a little bit about branding. When I started, a lot of CMOs had transitioned from the offline world. They understood branding, but they didn't understand conversion. Today, many CMOs understand conversion, but they don't always get things that don't have an immediate or measurable impact on conversion rates. I'm curious as to how you approach and measure the effect of branding on your engagements.

Ty:  It's tough. I come from a very digital-centric background. Part of the reason I wanted to get into B2B marketing was to round myself out. I had to shed a lot of the first-touch conversion baggage, let's just call it that. First of all, there are some principles and philosophical adjustments that you have to agree with. 

I always like to start there, especially when dealing with things that are a little bit subjective and mostly immeasurable. Philosophically, do we agree that in B2B buying, for instance, that we're dealing with teams that buy? Philosophically, do we agree that teams have ulterior motives and ulterior opinions? Factually, do we accept that they use different devices, and they're not sharing a computer? In a lot of cases, they may not even be talking to each other. 

So how do I measure brand? There are some tangible things. I measure brand by the number of website hits or organic growth overall in SEO. I don't care whether we put an SEO manager on it, and they were focused on these three keywords. To me, brand drives a lot of that. 

Then there are the more subjective things. Subjective, as in they're not measurable by an index or number. Analyst perception is one―how do the analysts perceive you? What are they saying about you? And are the positioning statements and the description statements they're making about your company similar to your own positioning statements?

If you build strong relationships with analysts and you're co-building a category together, you will start to share in the same terminology and nomenclature. At Druva, working with multiple analyst firms, we started seeing the terminology we were using to describe what we believed was the next stage—endpoint data protection—become part of the nomenclature in their reports. 

We knew that it was different and that no one else was saying it because we had already gone through those positioning and differentiation exercises. That to me is a much stronger proof point. If I can show you a quote versus the copy on our website and say, "Look how closely these are aligned," that, to me, is a better measurement of how well the brand is doing.

From there, you roll that into everything you do. You think about review sites and the aggregate sentiment of what's happening there. You think about what customers are saying and whether that’s aligned. That'll determine how great your brand is and how well you're servicing them. 

I love to show what percentage of deals we are winning against the competition from a tactical sales sense.

That isn't truly indicative of brand strength, but it starts to tell you, as a group and as an org, how much market share you have. Your gain of market share is 100 percent aligned with your brand.

Matthew:  I’m curious about what you most often see people or marketers getting wrong about SaaS marketing. 

Ty:  Marketers, specifically, right? 

Matthew:  No, it could be the CEO or whoever you're interacting with when you're first getting involved.

Ty:  I'll give a strategic example. In SaaS, the founding teams and the executives I speak to have a pretty strong enterprise sales motion. All roads lead to speaking with a salesperson, and before you can try a product, you go through a POC and evaluation, and then you see a much more traditional sales motion in the enterprise. 

In many cases, these companies have built something that they should be proud of, but I'm starting to see executives and founders become more attracted to the idea of SaaSifying their products. Ultimately, everyone is attracted to the idea of being the next Netflix, Slack, or Dropbox, where you can give away a trial, get the product into the user’s hands, and then hopefully, convert to a sale faster. 

I wouldn't say they're all getting it wrong, but SaaS isn't always the right move. I recommend giving pause. If you have something that works, figure out how to exploit it, and take advantage of it as much as possible rather than chasing the shiny object, which is SaaS. 

Matthew:  That’s all the time we have today. I'm thrilled we had this chance to talk. Hopefully, we can keep the conversation going online.

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