Strategy & Planning

BSMS 18 - The biggest early-stage marketing mistakes to avoid (Part 2)


Part 2 of Episode 17. Customer (or Contact) Relationship Managers (CRM) are an invaluable resource but can quickly turn into a complex and costly mess if they’re not managed properly or set up to be used by all of your teams (Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, etc). Effective marketing leaders can be hard to find, and as your company and product evolve over time, the things you need from your marketing leader evolve too. Knowing where, when, and how to match skills with your company’s maturity stage can be complicated and daunting. These and other common marketing mistakes are addressed in today's episode.

Episode transcript


Hello and welcome to episode 18 of B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks. I'm Mike. I'm a former associate CMO turned product lead at Kalungi. And as always, I'm with Stijn Hendrikse, one of Kalungi's co-founders and executive CMO here. Today, we're finishing up last week's episode on the biggest marketing mistakes that early stage companies make. This is part two of that series. So if you want the full context on this conversation and the first three mistakes, go check that one out first. It's episode 17 in our library.

In this one, we're going to be talking about the final two mistakes from our list of five. So the two remaining are, I guess, number four is getting your CRM wrong. It's this idea of hacking and patching tools together without really understanding what your CRM needs to be doing for you, the job that it should be doing for you. So we talk about a couple of things that we often see going wrong, and then a couple of best practices that you can employ right now to make sure that your CRM actually is good to scale with you in the long-term.

And then number five, the last one, definitely not the least, is hiring the wrong person to lead your marketing team, which is sometimes a function of mismatching the strategic and tactical skill set of your first marketing leader with the stage that your company and product are in. And Stijn gives a bit of a framework for how you can identify what kind of marketing leader you need depending on the stage that your company is in. But Stijn will go into a couple of examples with some scenarios. And yeah, let's jump in.


Getting in trouble with your marketing technology stack, or marketing and sales technology, because they're so intertwined these days. Most of the listeners will know this picture that was created by one of the HubSpot leadership team members, I think, the Chief MarTech Map, I think it's called. I don't know exactly what the name is. But there's this picture of 8,000 different tools that make up the marketing technology landscape these days. There's 40 different CRM systems on there, 20 different chat tools, 40 different pricing platforms, 80 different AB testing tools. And it goes to that earlier point that it's extremely easy these days, if you're in marketing and sales, to tool up your day with doing free trials and get a bunch of technology to help you be more efficient, more productive, et cetera. And you should do some of those things. But if you do too many, and you don't give it a lot of thought, and it’s so easy to get started, it's really easy for all those things to become a spaghetti that's hard to untangle.

So being very thoughtful early on “Where do we build the foundation for our marketing technology?”, which is really your core CRM infrastructure, that then all these other tools will have to plug into. The CRM being really... When you think of your customer as being an individual, as marketers, we don't really sell and market to a company. We sell a market to individuals who work at those companies, in B2B. So CRM really stands for, it's not Customer Relationship Management, it's really Contact Relationship Management for a marketer. And to fulfill this dream that we, as marketers, have to do real one-to-one marketing to have targeted messaging our content for an individual based on their preferences, the things we know about them, the analytics data we have with other content they visited, they clicked, they interacted with.

To do real one-to-one marketing, you need this one single CRM, Contact Relationship Management system, not Customer Relationship Management system, that's able at that individual level to track through the full journey, the marketing journey, the sales journey, the services journey, when you're helping people use your product and you're still communicating with them, you send them emails, you educate them, et cetera, that all that ideally happens on one CRM system, where there's one object called contact or individual or a people record, whatever you call that, that has their email and their unique identifier, but then all this other data around what this individual does in the digital realm, interacting with your platform, your content, et cetera, that it's all in one system.

And then of course, marketing will do different things for the data. It will all be about content and email marketing and analytics, et cetera. And then sales will use that same CRM system to connect those individuals to the companies they're selling to and turn that into opportunity tracking and deal management, and then customer success will use it to track tickets and “How do you help people get more out of your product as they use it?” All that is absolutely going to require more tools that you connect to that single CRM system. But having that underlying plumbing that is really well-designed, Mike, is really important. 

So being very thoughtful about your architecture of your marketing technology stack and how much you can maybe standardize on a single CRM, there's a couple out there, like HubSpot is one that many people know. We have one CRM system that is really used to underpin both marketing, sales, and actually also customer success, it’s one CRM system out of the box. Also has a lot of limitations, but HubSpot is more meant for companies under, let's say, 50 million I think in revenue... When you get bigger, if you have hundreds of sales people or really large marketing organizations, then HubSpot might not really be complete enough any more. 

But especially for smaller companies that we service, those types of solutions where you have a single CRM to underpin both your marketing sales answer is a phenomenal blessing for a marketer who just needs to get going fast, cannot afford to have to support 20 or 30 different marketing and sales tech stack pieces. Sorry, I'm on a rant a little bit here, Mike, but I've seen this really go wrong, where marketing teams… They start using all this technology, and then a year in, two years in, they have to redo it all because the CRM systems have become unmanageable. The dashboards are not reliable. The data is not correct, and it's costing them a lot of time.


Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. 100%. And you think it's usually just because it's underestimated, it's a hidden thing? Most people aren't thinking about their CRM system and it creeps up on them?


Yeah. And they get, of course, a little bit of education by some of these vendors, Salesforce, Adobe, they'll tell you, "It all works." You buy it from the same party, and it's all the Salesforce Cloud. But it's not. They're different products, and you need to understand that, and you need to understand how you are going to make them work together. 


Mm-hmm (affirmative). 100%. I will say, having a tight knit CRM system, we work with HubSpot, we're HubSpot partners, when you have a well-oiled HubSpot instance, it is a thing of beauty. It is so wonderful. It's very, very hard to get it to that point. And I think it requires a lot of alignment too, between all of the different teams and clear understanding of what people should and shouldn't be doing within the instance, what properties they should and shouldn't be messing with, especially when you have automations in place, someone can accidentally change something and suddenly it triggers a workflow somewhere and it causes issues with a report down the line. But when it is nicely functioning, it is very valuable. You can very quickly start to pull out segmented data and create some really deep reporting, which is really cool. But I would agree. It's hard to get there. We even underestimate it sometimes to say like, "We can connect these things." And then you start to dig into the data and you realize how much you have to untangle just to get it to the point where it's clean to start off with.


Yeah. And I think we are kinda blessed that when we work at Kalungi we work mostly with smaller marketing teams or new marketing teams in smaller B2B SaaS companies where there is a blank slate, where we can start from scratch, and that is amazing. But the reality is that most marketers don't have that luxury. There's all these tools that make integrations easy, like Zapier, all these tools that allow you to connect one system to the next. PieSync is another one, I think, that HubSpot acquired at some point. And those are great, because sometimes you have to use those tools because there's no other way to get two systems to work together, but they also sometimes make it almost too easy to not have the more fundamental discussion about the architecture of your data and the architecture of your marketing technology infrastructure.

But yeah, that will be number four on the list of what can go wrong when you are early in your marketing leadership journey with a new marketing organization or a new B2B SaaS company. 

The last one I think is, I wrote five down when you asked me to think about this, Mike, is the leadership of marketing in a smaller software company will change dramatically in the first couple of years. As a company matures, as a B2B SaaS startup, you go through these phases. One is to get to MVP, right? Minimum viable product, which is usually done by the founders of a company. There's no marketing leader in place. So let's skip that one for a second. But then after you've reached MVP, that's where sometimes seed money comes in and there's the ability to invest, and so a company often thinks, "Hey, should we hire someone to go do marketing?" That's your first marketing leader. Sometimes it's an individual and they don't have a team yet.

But at that part of the journey, you need a certain type of marketing leader. You need someone who's very comfortable doing fast experimentation, a lot of testing, a lot of hands-on work, building some content without overthinking it, from an SEO perspective, just almost asking your audience what they need, what they're looking for, what questions they're asking. Super hands on, very comfortable doing things that are maybe not perfect, right? And be thoughtful about some of the technology choices that are made. That's where a company starts implementing their first website, doing their first email marketing platform. So you want someone there who's relatively pragmatic, quick on their feet, has done some of these things before, but also is not going to overthink it and make it too complex.

But then you get to the next stage, which we call scale, at Kalungi, where you scale from your first product market fit to get to what's called T2D3 growth. The type of marketing leader you need there is very different. Now you have to actually think about broader demand gen efforts, diversifying your demand gen, increase the revenue per unit, for the ARPU, per product. So you need to do product marketing, pricing optimization, et cetera. Very different from that initial phase. And so you hire a different type of marketing leader for that. You hire someone who may have more of a product marketing background or growth hacking, right? And doing automation at scale, doing the larger content marketing programs. Maybe you now go from T2D3, you go to the next stage, which is getting to profitability, focus on CAC, customer acquisition cost. Maybe you need to move to focus on cost to service. How do you optimize the segments that you're focused on?

Maybe you go from building your first direct sales and marketing go-to-market. You're going to innovate with things like channel programs. You have to get your product marketing to the next level. Pricing optimization, rethinking the way you package and present your product, really going deep in conversion optimization. Different skill sets, different types of experience. So what we often see with smaller software companies, they go through this journey through these steps in a couple of years, so the marketing leadership they need is going to change very quick. The first two, three types of marketing leader you need probably don't need to have relationships with analysts or even know how to build a Gartner or Forrester analyst relationship, or build a PR function. But at some point, you'll need that person. So yeah, being very flexible and thoughtful about what type of marketing leadership you need at what time is probably the last thing that can go wrong. We see some marketing leaders get hired at software companies and then not be successful. And then these companies, of course, lose a year and they have to make a change.


Yeah. 100%. so in the beginning, usually somebody who's a little bit more gritty. They have a bigger spread in terms of their skill sets. They can go in and get the work done if they need to. They can maybe take on some of the things. And then as you start to get larger and your marketing function gets more mature, you start to focus on someone who's maybe more familiar with the big M marketing, some of the strategic plays, the analyst relationships, the pricing strategy, the positioning within a market. Is that fair? So it goes from more tactical in the early days to more strategic as you scale out?


Well, that's the tricky... It's not just like you need more and more experience. Early on, you actually need someone who understands things like positioning, and you make some big go-to-market decisions and what's your ideal customer profile? What personas are you going after? Which are going to be fundamental for things like SEO and content marketing success, or a successful account-based marketing strategy. So you need that relatively early. When you build your first marketing function, you're ready to invest, you got your first seed round or series A, you need some of that what we like to call big M marketing experience. After you've gotten off the ground, you have some of those things in place, you have your positioning done, you have good content marketing that's going, you have some account-based marketing that's effectively allowing you to learn and to optimize, now, you almost need more what we call small M marketing, constant funnel optimization, more content, not necessarily more relevant, but just more volume.


It's fine to do that now, because you've gotten off the ground. You need to diversify your demand gen, experiment with maybe Capterra and G2 Crowd, in addition to Google AdWords. So there small M marketing is okay. And those actually people are maybe even cheaper for you to find. It's not necessarily the same profile. So the level of experience you need might go down a little bit in that second stage of growth. And then later it will go up again, but now you need a different type of big M marketing experience. You need someone who's done product marketing before, maybe go global, build a channel program, things that are very different from the earlier big M marketing positioning and branding, et cetera. So it really changes significantly in those different stages of growth.


Cool. I think that's it. I had one more, but maybe it is not as relevant. Maybe you disagree with me on this one. It's the idea that if you just build a sales team and you just focus on hammering the phones, hammering emails, just getting the word out as long as you... It's a volume play. If you talk to more people, eventually you're going to find somebody who wants to buy your product. And I feel like if it's just a spray and pray mentality, and the idea is let's just build a giant sales team with BDRs and STRs and keep this tiny marketing team to support them, I don't know if it's the most effective way of getting sales. And I also think it probably depends on your product. It might be very different if you're in a market where the product is understood and you're competing with a bunch of large players than if you're creating something like a new category.


Yeah, no, I think it's a great point, Mike. I think what happens a lot is that we see many B2B SaaS startups where they tell us how they got to their first couple of million, their first 10 million in ARR. And what I find is that they're either really good at inbound or really good at outbound. One of the two. And when you do either one very focused, I think it can lead to success. And so your example where they go all in on building a great BDR team, doing great prospecting, building their own lists, not recycling data, but really being very thoughtful about “What's our ideal customer profile, where do I find them?” having a phenomenal messaging and outreach playbook and sticking with it for months so they learn and they improve it, you can build a phenomenal outbound sales engine that gets you going.

And I think it can get you to five or 10 million ARR for most B2B SaaS companies. The problem is that it's not very scalable. The amount of growth that you will get out of that over time is directly correlated to how much money or effort you put into it. It's a bandwidth constraint model. And I think if you add inbound to that at some point, you add the part that can scale without you having to add people or add more dollars. And I think that's really the key there, although I'm always very excited when I meet a CEO or a startup or a software company leadership team who have found success in doing an outbound first approach, because it means they've done the hard work to understand their ICP and build content and outreach mechanisms that are relevant for them. But of course, inbound needs to be added to that for it to scale.


If you're looking for more recommendations and tips for hiring your first marketing team members, I would strongly recommend episodes 12 and 13 in our library. We talk a lot about what roles you need on your team and the characteristics that you should be looking for in your first marketing leader. And if you're a CEO or a non-marketing executive doing marketing on the side of your desk, I also have an article on our website that talks through, again, the different roles and how you can start to shift some of the marketing responsibilities off of your plate and onto the plates of agencies or new marketing team members. 

So if you're interested in checking that out, head to our website,, and search for the five skill groups every B2B SaaS marketing team needs to fill on our blog and you will find that there as well. One ask from you, if you're enjoying this content, the podcast, and you want more, it would mean the absolute world to us if you left us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Good reviews help other people find us and also tell us what to do more of and what to do less of. So we'd really appreciate you sharing that feedback with us. And that's it for today, so thank you again for spending your time with us. We will see you soon.


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