marketing growth planning for software companies

B2B SaaS CMO Growth Plan: Five foundational marketing strategies

Brian Graf
Jun 30, 2021

If you’re a part of a small B2B SaaS company, you know all about the need to grow quickly. In the startup world, speed is king, allowing your business to outmaneuver (and out-perform) larger ones, adapt your product to better suit your ideal customers and stake your claim on the market.

What’s more, if you’re seeking funding, you typically have a limited amount of time to showcase your company’s value before you run out of capital (something your board will be sure to remind you of). On the other hand, if you’ve already received funding, you face significant pressure from your investors to grow quickly, so they see a return on their investment.

It’s only natural that you want to grow your company in the same way, quickly attracting prospective buyers to the product you’ve worked so hard to build. So, when the time comes to invest in marketing, you want to scale fast and generate leads quickly.

But this philosophy can be dangerous. Your attempts at speed lead you to cut corners and make costly mistakes that hinder your growth in the long run. This topic has made Kalungi’s list of the biggest early-stage marketing mistakes to avoid.

You should scale your company quickly. But you must do it the right way.

But what is the right way?

In this blog, I will show you a few of the foundational pieces you must put in place before your marketing team can effectively grow your company. With these elements, you will have a solid marketing base that will set you up for long-term growth. Without them, you will waste precious time and resources on a department without learning about your prospects, seeing measurable results, or improving your performance. 

Top five growth planning priorities for a SaaS CMO

Here are the pieces you should put into place before trying to generate leads: 

  1. Develop your Go-to-Market strategy
  2. Ensure consistent communication
  3. Build your marketing attribution system
  4. Implement marketing automation
  5. Establish your SEO strategy

1. Develop your B2B Go-to-Market strategy

First and foremost, you need to build a Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy for your company. You have to figure out:

  • How you’re going to grow your business
  • How you're going to target
  • What makes your company special

This will align sales, marketing, and customer success behind the same goals while ensuring that the growth initiatives you commit to have the highest likelihood of success. With a SaaS GTM strategy, the key (like many other strategies) is focusing your efforts as much as possible. This means saying no to things that aren’t essential, so you can focus (and perform) on the things that are.

It can be easy for your company to skim through or skip some of these elements in your rush to get to market quickly, but each is critical for your success as you communicate with customers. Each one provides essential information, focus, and consistency not only for you but for every client-facing employee that you hire from this point on. It ensures that your team upholds your brand’s high standards into the future and adds value to your GTM strategy, instead of detracting from it. 

Here are the main elements of the GTM strategies I set up for myself and for my clients to ensure top marketing performance:

Develop your growth goals (Ansoff’s Matrix)

As you begin to develop your growth goals, ask the following questions:

  • How are you going to grow your business? 
  • Are you going to pursue a new market? 
  • Are you going to build a new or improved product? 
  • Are you optimizing your existing efforts? 
  • Or are you building something entirely new for a new segment? 

The answer to these high-level questions significantly impacts what strategy your marketing department will use to facilitate your growth. 

Get your executives together to brainstorm the various options available to you and to help you decide which ones are the most viable. We typically use Ansoff’s Matrix to organize this discussion for clients and help them to balance the right level of risk and reward for their companies. 

To learn more about Ansoff’s Matrix and choosing the right marketing strategy for your company, check out this blog.

Establishing your markets (TAM, SAM, SOM)

Now that you know how you want to grow your business, you need to establish what market you’re going to target. It can be tempting to want to stick to your biggest available market. After all, it has the largest revenue amount attached to it, right? But the problem with these large markets is that it’s almost impossible to make your company stand out to the entire market at once. 

Marketing guru Seth Godin often talks about searching for your Minimum Viable Audience. This is exactly what you need to do for your company. Find the smallest audience that can generate enough revenue to hit your immediate growth goals, and focus your product entirely around that market. 

We typically narrow our clients’ markets down by taking their Total Addressable Market (TAM), and then narrowing it down to a Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM), and finally, to a Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM). 

This approach allows us to tailor our marketing efforts around the best prospects to bring in the best leads and have the biggest impact. 

For more information on how to find TAM, SAM, & SOM for your company, take a look at this video.

Build your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Once you’ve decided on your SOM, you need to take one step further and establish what companies in that market segment look like. What unifying attributes do they have? What makes them an excellent fit for your product or service? Talk with executives, marketing, sales, and customer success, to boil down the attributes of the best customers for your company. 

These attributes could be firmographic, technographic, geographic, etc., but they should paint a clear picture of the types of companies you want in your pipeline. Another great way to find your ICP is to list your top 10 best clients and look for common traits amongst them. You can also note non-negotiable criteria (filters) vs. those that could indicate a potentially good fit (signals).

For more information on establishing an ICP for your company, read this blog.

Define your personas

So you know what companies you’re targeting. But how can you tell which people you’re going to be communicating with? After all, the only real difference between B2C marketing and B2B marketing is that you need to convince someone to spend somebody else’s money. 

So who are you trying to convince in your sales cycle? We typically see three personas in B2B SaaS sales cycles: 

  1. P1 - the end-user
  2. P2 - the buyer
  3. P3 - the executive (or blocker)

For each persona in your sales cycle, write down as much information as you can about them. What does their role encompass? What is their “job to be done” that your product or service solves? What are their pain points?

But most importantly, what are their fears and dreams relating to your product or service? The more you learn about each persona, the more effectively you’ll be able to resonate with them and move them down your pipeline.

Here’s more information on the three personas of B2B SaaS.

Position your company 

Why should prospects buy your product? There are usually plenty of solutions for companies to choose from (even if you’re a first mover, you’re battling against the status quo), so why should they pick your service? We like to ask our clients three questions to determine their main points of differentiation: 

  1. What are your product’s best features & benefits?
  2. What does your product do better than your competitors?
  3. What does only your product do?

Answering these questions will allow you to communicate your product effectively to prospects and differentiate your company from your competitors. You can then take things one step further by conducting competitive research and comparing your company with competitors on each point. Where does your product stand out the most? Find these benefits and communicate them to your prospects to break through the noise. 

To learn more about how to position your product, click here.

Establish your marketing budget

How can you generate demand if you don’t know how much money you can spend? Building a budget is critical for your company’s marketing success, making sure you have the budget to hire the right people, use the right agencies, and run the right campaigns without putting your company (and your marketing department) in hot water by overspending. Not only that, but it forces you to make tough decisions on resource planning and resource prioritization. 

Take the time to create a marketing budget covering employees, marketing tech stack, discretionary advertising spend, etc., to ensure that it aligns with your company’s budget. Make sure to also think through your growth goals and how much money will be required to support that growth. Building your budget early will make sure you have the funds you need to effectively scale your marketing function the right way, at the right time for your business. 

To learn more about creating a B2B SaaS marketing budget, click here.

2. Ensure consistent communication

One of marketing’s many goals at a small B2B SaaS business is to make the company look bigger than it is. This means putting a clean, professional foot forward with every piece of communication and material that a prospect sees. This effort is quickly and completely undermined if your company doesn’t use consistent messaging or branding. 

Combine your persona’s fears and dreams with your points of differentiation to create a messaging framework for your product. Here, you can organize your positioning statements, tag lines, etc., to ensure that your messaging will stay consistent as your company grows. You can also add different variations of the same value propositions so your team can quickly build other marketing assets.

For more information on developing a messaging framework, read this blog

You should also create brand voice pillars to establish how you want your brand to sound to customers, what attributes you’d like your brand to have, and how that should come across in your messaging. 

Here’s a blog on how to build your brand voice.

Work with your design team to establish a brand style guide for your company. Create a brand that coordinates with your company’s brand voice. This guide will cover everything including color scheme, logo, font, icons, etc., and will establish both best practices and what not to do. Once this is in place, enforce it! Few things destroy a brand’s credibility as fast as inconsistency. 

Here are a few tips on establishing your first brand style guide.

3. Build your SaaS marketing attribution system

When many startup leaders decide to invest in marketing, they want to make an impact as soon as possible. But moving fast can waste time, effort, and resources, leaving you more confused than ever about how to grow your company. I often recommend that CEOs shouldn’t spend any discretionary funds on marketing until they’ve established baseline marketing attribution. Before you seriously commit to launching demand generation efforts, you need to answer a few simple questions with real accuracy:

  • How many leads did you get last week/month/year? What about subscribers, MQLs, SQLs, Opportunities, etc.?
  • Where did each lead come from? (e.g., direct traffic, organic search, paid search, pay-per-click, etc.)
  • How much website traffic did you get last week/month/year, and from what sources? (see above)
  • What keywords does your website rank for, and how high does each page rank? 

This can seem like a daunting task, and it can be if you try to piecemeal these answers between multiple attribution systems. Although many platforms promise smooth integrations with each other, it can be an excruciating process to ensure that data passes between each system with 100% accuracy (especially if you have a pre-existing CRM that hasn’t been meticulously cared for). 

At Kalungi, we try to simplify our attribution by consolidating marketing systems as much as possible through an all-in-one CRM like Hubspot. Platforms like this can run the entire sales, marketing, and customer success arms of businesses with ARR under $20 million and ensure that there is never any data lost in translation between each division. 

Taking the time to implement a marketing automation system correctly is a critical step towards building your marketing function and can give you complete visibility into your marketing performance throughout the funnel, from website visitors all the way to closed-won. This transparency will also allow you to run messaging experiments, optimize demand generation, and grow your company in a cost-effective, scalable way. Now you can start to move fast.

4. Implement marketing automation

Successfully implementing marketing attribution opens a lot of doors for your marketing department. One of these is using your CRM to automate marketing efforts to prospects based on where they are in the funnel, what pages they’ve visited, or even what assets they’ve downloaded. 

Now that you can see how prospects interact with your marketing efforts, you can develop nurture sequences, drip campaigns, and more to keep prospects engaged with your brand and move them down the marketing and sales funnels. What makes this even better is that once these efforts are set up, they run automatically, so you can scale your team’s impact without growing your team. 

Don’t take this decision lightly, though. Choosing your automation system is a big commitment for your marketing department and your company. Choosing the right one can save you time, automatically bring prospects into the sales pipeline, and market specifically to each of your prospect types and personas, depending on where they fall in the funnel. 

Picking the wrong one could result in countless hours pulling your hair out, digging through spreadsheets to find data discrepancies, apologizing to contacts you’ve mistakenly contacted, and more. For more information on what to look for when choosing a marketing automation system, as well as pricing estimates for each, read this blog.

5. Establish your SEO strategy

The last foundational marketing element you should set up before focusing on leads is your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. You need to know what your ideal prospects are searching for and how you can show up when they’re looking for solutions to their problems. Brainstorm what your prospects would ask Google throughout each stage in the funnel. 

  • What questions do they ask to identify their problems?
  • How do they determine how to solve their problems?
  • What research do they conduct when evaluating solutions?
  • What factors do they look at when considering a purchase?

Take these questions and pose them in the language your prospects would use. Then, submit those questions and keywords into a program like SEMrush or AHrefs to see how many searches they get per month on Google, their competitive density, and their Cost-per-Click (CPC). 

From here, judge your keywords’ intent and segment them by where you think they fall in the marketing & sales funnel and how well they fit your company. Ideally, these two sorting exercises will allow you to give yourself a list of around ten keywords to focus on your content and website. 

Build topic clusters around each of these keywords by finding related phrases that also have good search volume. Having these topic clusters will give your marketing efforts focus, allowing you to coordinate your efforts around highly relevant topics and compounding the effect you can have in each area. 

Use your SEO research to help you create a content calendar that produces content for the SEO topic clusters above, funnel placement, and persona-specific assets. Be sure to build out your content calendar to quickly create an asset for each persona at each stage in the funnel while building out topic clusters for each of your high-priority keywords. 

For more information on how to conduct your SEO research, read this blog.

Test your SaaS demand generation channels

Once you’ve completed the steps listed above, you’ll have a great base to begin generating demand with. You will have done the hard work to decide who you need to target, how to communicate with them, and how to use the right keywords to show up when your ideal prospects want to solve problems related to your service. 

Finally, you’ll have built a system that can measure how prospects engage with your marketing efforts, where they come from, and how high intent each one is. You’ll also have a system that can automatically (and appropriately) follow up with each one to nurture them down the funnel.

This gives you a fantastic base to start testing and optimizing different demand generation channels for your company. Keep in mind that I said testing. It can be easy to expect instant results for each demand generation channel, and it’s also easy to quickly become impatient if you don’t see immediate results. 

But results aren’t guaranteed early in your marketing lifecycle. The best demand generation channels and results vary from company to company, depending on the product’s maturity, the industry maturity, and the competitive density of the market (among other things). So use your first demand generation channels to test the waters, seeing where your customers are most receptive to communications and what messaging they engage with. 

Finally, be sure only to take on as many initiatives as you and your team can do well. Don’t get too carried away in your planning, and sign your team up for too much. I would much rather that a marketing team does fewer things well than do more things less effectively. 

You should launch a marketing initiative if you can not only build it but if you can optimize and scale it, as well. If you can do this, you’ll be in great shape to embark on the right demand generation channels that attract the right leads for your company and grow your company quickly and scalably. 

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