Who to hire – B2B SaaS Marketing Leader

The five skill groups every B2B SaaS Marketing team needs to fill

Mike Northfield
Aug 4, 2020

As your company grows, your marketing function will require a different set of skills. In the early stages – usually when a company is still building a marketing function – the CEO (or founder) owns a portion of the marketing responsibilities and hires specialists or agencies to fill the gaps.

Once you’ve created the marketing foundation, including a go-to-market strategy, positioning, messaging, design standards, content to support different stages of the funnel, a demand generation machine, marketing automation, and a good sales/marketing cadence – the marketing team (like your other teams) needs structure to scale properly.

At some point, the leadership team needs to graduate from the day-to-day execution and build an in-house marketing function. A question we’re often asked is, “which marketing role should I hire first?”

It’s a difficult question to answer – and, in true consultant fashion, we usually say “it depends”. 

Rather than hire for a certain title, think about equipping your team with the right skill groups. There are five primary skill groups that most B2B SaaS companies should look to fill on their marketing team: marketing leadership, product marketing, content marketing, demand generation / digital, and creative. 

Some teams may need more of one skill group than another – some won’t need any of certain skills. "It depends". Consider this list a starting point for your marketing team recruitment.

For more specifics on the responsibilities for each skill group, read on. If you're trying to shift the marketing burden from your leadership team to your marketing team and hire your first full-time marketing team lead, click here


The five primary B2B SaaS marketing team skill groups

The five B2B SaaS marketing team skill groups

Below is a more detailed breakdown of the skill groups including an outline of responsibilities for each role. Keep in mind that this is not a hard-and-fast list, but a starting point to help you think about the skills you need for each area of the marketing function.

Marketing Management

  • Act as part of the leadership team
  • Align marketing team efforts with sales, product and customer success to increase qualified pipeline, decrease sales cycles, reduce churn and grow ARPU
  • Identify growth opportunities and move toward them with the right balance of long and short term initiatives 
  • Lead “Big M” Marketing, from positioning and brand strategy to spend optimization
  • Create quarterly OKRs supported by a budget that allows the team to reach its goals
  • Hire and manage team members, agencies, and vendors towards OKRs and revenue goals
  • Manage discretionary spend to maximize LTV/CAC ratios
  • Analyze and diagnose the funnel – understand where funnel friction occurs
  • Manage a leadership dashboard and report funnel & growth metrics out to the rest of the leadership team and board 

Product Marketing

  • Conduct competitive analysis, get insights, and build insights into marketing strategy and tactical materials
  • Work with Product Manager to develop pricing strategies and structures
  • Translate product features into prospect benefits and communicate product value to the market
  • Maintain customer personas and build targeting strategies into marketing campaigns
  • Develop a deep understanding of customers and user personas, build campaigns to position the product and introduce new product features
  • Conduct customer interviews and translate value statements into value propositions
  • Use product roadmap to inform future Marketing decisions
  • Train sales and customer success teams on messaging around product features and benefits 

Content Marketing

  • Understand and deliver content to drive marketing/sales goals (i.e. web content for SEO, testimonial PDFs for lead-in/sales enablement, nurture campaigns to move top-of-funnel leads down to sales, etc.)
  • Develop materials for the sales team to move people down the funnel (i.e. case studies, ROI calculator, battle cards, etc.) – headline copywriting should ideally be a core competency, long-form copy and design may be outsourced if needed
  • Interview industry experts within the team (sales, product, customer success) and create educational, thought leadership, and expert content for the market
  • Lead the company in developing and delivering content in your ideal “watering-holes”
  • Write straightforward, simple, succinct, meaningful ad and web copy to connect with target personas

Demand Generation / Digital

  • Manage and execute PPC, paid social, remarketing and other ad spend
  • Manage digital channels, including website, social and online presence
  • Summarize (and report on) data to show levers affecting sales conversion/pipeline
  • Work with product marketing to own product landing page development 
  • Work with other marketing team members to run A/B tests on the website, landing pages and ads
  • Execute tactical marketing decisions based on data (Cost per MQL, OKRs based on funnel projections, efforts based on chance)
  • Understand, design, and execute campaign attribution
  • Manage the marketing data stack including qualified pipeline from marketing, funnel and content metrics, CPC, CAC, and website analytics

Creative

  • Manage and enforce a consistent brand style including maintaining brand guidelines
  • Manage and distribute designed assets
  • Design landing pages, sales assets and brand templates
  • Develop product mockups, wireframes, design systems, UI / UX iterations 
  • Create video, PDF, and illustrative content

Transitioning from CEO-as-CMO to CEO-as-CEO

We often work with highly engaged CEOs or founders who get their hands dirty with the “Big M” (strategic) marketing. Sometimes they take ownership of tactical delivery as well. In early stages, CEO involvement in Big M marketing is a good thing. In many cases, CEOs should play a role in defining and leading a company’s strategic narrative and guiding which big bets are made from a marketing perspective.

The head of product often plays a role in product marketing. And more often than not, the demand generation and creative functions are filled by a collection of SEO/SEM/PPC/designer/developer agencies or freelancers. 

That leaves a lot of early stage SaaS company “marketing teams” looking something like this:

Marketing teams for early stage B2B SaaS companies

The CEO, Head of product, and freelancers can fill some of the roles in the beginning. But the freelancers and agencies don’t usually speak with each other, follow a unified strategy, or move in the same direction. The executive team can’t fulfill the entire marketing function since it’s not their primary focus.

Content marketing is often ignored or outsourced. Many early-stage companies treat real content marketing as an afterthought. People see it as an enigma or a waste of time, and it can be difficult to do without deep industry expertise and discipline. But leaving it on the back burner is a big mistake – but that’s for another article. 

Hiring your first marketing team leader

You can move away from the model above by bringing some of the marketing responsibilities in-house. This also frees up your leadership team to focus on progressing the other business functions as a whole. The main goals of hiring your first full-time marketing team member are to:

  1. Reduce the marketing burden on the CEO and executive team members
  2. Create an in-house industry, product, and vertical expert
  3. Solve the siloed-agency problem – marketing efforts tend to be most successful when the team is integrated and moving toward the same goal

If you've received funding or have a steep growth trajectory, hiring three or four single-discipline marketers is a valid option. But this usually isn't the easiest. In order to properly manage those roles, you usually need someone with at least some hands-on experience in each area.

For most companies, it's realistic to afford one full-time marketer as you start to scale. As a first hire, someone with the following traits will help you achieve the three goals above:

  1. Mid-level experience
    YOE aren’t always a good indicator for this. Look for someone who has worked from the bottom of the marketing ladder and touched both 'sides' of marketing (management and execution). It’s ideal if they have experience with both the “Big M” and tactical aspects of the marketing puzzle. 
  2. Multi-faceted or T-shaped
    It's ideal if this person has hands-on experience with 3–4 of the primary marketing skill groups. They should understand how to report quantitative success metrics from each area. They may have a deeper understanding in one area more than others (i.e. product marketing more than paid search, SEO)
  3. Has domain or industry experience
    Someone with a B2C background may not the best fit in this role – B2C and B2B marketing are very different disciplines. Ideally this person has experience in a SaaS setting, but a strong B2B background is an OK proxy. Bonus points for someone who has worked in the industry you sell into. This can be especially helpful when it comes to content marketing. If you don't have someone on your team that's already an expert in the industry you sell into (this is usually covered by a founder or head of product), you should prioritize finding a marketing leader that is.
  4. Has management/leadership experience (or potential)
    You likely don’t need a VP right now. Instead, look for someone who knows enough to lead a marketing team or someone with the potential to become a team leader in the next 6 months.

With someone like the above, your marketing function might look more like this:

First marketing hire for a B2B SaaS Company

From here, you can hire a more experienced marketing leader to to own the team building and strategic responsibilities. Or – depending on your first marketing hire’s experience (and your timing) – they may be the right person to step into a leadership role and build a team of specialists under them as you scale. 

What's next?

"I'm still not quite sure where to start..."

Even with this framework, you may find it difficult to understand which marketing skill groups your company needs first. It's often challenging for CEOs that don't have deep marketing experience to know what to look for in their first marketing hire. If you're having trouble getting started, it might be worth exploring a short-term fractional marketing leader or coach, who can help asses your situation and make recommendations for next steps based on their experience. Or, here's another in-depth article on how to hire a B2B SaaS CMO.

"I have a full-time marketer, but they're not very experienced on the "Big M" side of marketing and I'm not sure I have the capacity/marketing experience to coach them"

If you already have a marketing team member, but they're not quite ready to step into the leadership role, a 6-month B2B SaaS go to market strategy framework with short-term coaching from a marketing leader might give them the right tools to get up to speed quickly.

"I'm looking for a FT marketing leader... What questions should I ask to make sure they know their stuff?

While this article is aimed at finding a more seasoned marketing leader – these questions will also help you benchmark a mid-level marketing leader as well. 

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