CMO at a fast-growing BtoB start-up: Adding boosters to the rocket
I am not a spaceship project manager nor a rocket engineer, not even an engineer, but some days I like to think I am dealing a bit with the same concepts. I joined GitGuardian a year ago as CMO and it has been quite an exciting and fulfilling experience. As I regularly meet and talk to my peers I find that there are recurring questions on how to scale an organization. So here is my take on the subject.
First some elements on the company and its specificities. I joined GitGuardian post series A and the company had reached the product-market fit stage for 2 products already. To give you some numbers, GitGuardian was about 30 employees at the time and the marketing team 3 (Versus 60 and 8 end of 2021), the ARR growth objective was a x4 (and we made it!) and we had the ambition to raise the Series B before the end of the year (which happened end of November 2021).
The market GitGuardian addresses, Code Security, is growing fast as demand rises and new vendors emerge. Funding is massively flowing and accelerates the pace vendors need to sustain to build market shares.
On the other hand, the cybersecurity market is still young and as it is very technical it requires a lot of education. The last element that will set the scene properly is the characteristic of GitGuardian’s customer base.
GitGuardian solutions are adopted through two very different buyer’s journeys. The first one, representing the larger volume of users, is acquired in a bottom-up manner and is constituted by individual developers and small development teams. This user base is using the product for free and is fueling the adoption and virality engine.
On the other side of the scope are the subscription customers, large to very large organizations choosing the solutions for their enterprise-grade capabilities. The enterprise customer journey is quite long and is multi-touch by nature.
These two very opposite acquisition funnels demand different but also complementary marketing approaches to be successful.
Choosing the crew
Building a team to deploy this challenging and complex but exciting marketing strategy is crucial. You need to select the proper profiles that will enable you to address the needs for agility, data-driven approaches, technical knowledge and content development.
Based on my experience the commonality of your team members must be the appetite for technical products, the taste for experimentation but also the capacity to project manage very rigorously.
Building my team I found this presentation of Mkt1 quite well done. And here is a slightly revised version of the structure based on my marketing strategy constraints.
Of course, when you start building your team you need to prioritize your hires based on your budget. Here are some priorities in my point of view:
- The growth team focused on-demand generation. If you face both a Sales led and Product led funnel, you need to staff your growth team with profiles able to both address acquisition and conversion. They need to be able to execute the whole set of marketing tactics including inbound, paid, nurturing and ABM but also field events. Your growth managers need to be tech-savvy as they need to fully understand the product and its value proposition, data-driven to conduct successful experimentations and very well organized to be able to execute multiple tactics at the same time.
- The content team. With a very technical audience and a market needing education, you need to invest heavily in content. Your content writer(s) and developer advocate if you sell developer-oriented products must have technical/development experience and real writing and content development skills. These types of profiles are maybe the hardest to find but they exist more than you imagine.
- Product Marketing. The value of product marketing is not always well understood but it is a critical component to success. Product marketing understands competition, articulates the value proposition, the messaging and enables sales. Your product marketer needs to be technical enough to fully understand your product. It is easier to teach someone about marketing than to get them technical.
- Brand & Creative. You can always subcontract the web design and the brand design but having even a part-time resource dedicated to marketing makes a huge difference when building your brand consistency.
Where you will benefit from agencies:
- Press relations
- Analyst relations
These elements are critical for your strategy and cannot be only internalized. You will really benefit from specialized agencies’ savoir-faire and I recommend you find partners for the long run.
Due to the size of your organization, you probably will need to be a player-manager. Depending on your profile as a CMO you may own one or the other subject as an individual contributor. On my part, I have kept Coms/PR/social media and employer’s brand under my responsibility.
And the most important part is the balance between your content production and content usage teams. I think this article about Fuel and Engine summarizes this subject well.
The interesting thing about building the marketing strategy of a pre-series B organization is that you have to think about scalability. Because what you build will be the foundation of your growth.
Choosing the right marketing stack
Tools… Even if tools are a mean and not a solution to a problem, choosing the right tools will be crucial to your agility. Here is a basic list of what you need:
A CRM. I have experienced salesforce and Hubspot among others and they both have their strengths and weaknesses
A MAP. You can of course use your CRM capabilities but a best-of-breed MAP is often more efficient. We have chosen Customer.io
A project/task management system. I have used Jira in the past but it is not fully adapted to marketing and I find Asana really flexible and pertinent. It allows templating activities, processes, onboarding and more. I even use it to present the marketing master plan with all key actions executed and planned.
A CMS. My recommendation when it comes to choosing your CMS is autonomy. I have experienced complex websites with awful backend dependencies and I really think the simpler the better. We use Webflow and so far it fits the need.
An automation tool. Zapier and N8N are complementary.
A social media and web monitoring/publishing tool. There are many solutions on the market for this and we found Mention to deliver the right value for our investment.
A webinar platform. Webinars and virtual events are quite an important tactic. We looked at different solutions and chose Crowdcast for its community-building capabilities among other things.
A knowledge management platform. You’ll gather experience as a team and will need to document a good number of items to gain efficiency. We have chosen Notion for this purpose and document things like our KPIs, our plan, our vendors, our tools, our best practices… this is a goldmine for new team members but also to advertise what marketing does in the organization.
Depending on your market and experience you can find solutions more adapted to your needs but in any case, you always need to choose a solution that will last a bit as changing a tool is always a disruption and takes a lot of energy that you could spend on production.
Putting the right processes in place
I have always thought that team efficiency is maximized when you have the proper processes. Processes could seem in opposition to agility and speed but in fact, they are the actual foundation you build on. As your team will grow quickly, having processes is like having a GPS when you drive. Even if you know the road it gives you a sense of security and someone can very quickly take it from where you left it in case it is needed.
A few examples:
Using templates to allow flawless repetition of execution is actually accelerating execution. You can create templates for content production, content dissemination, video production, events management, webinars but also for repetitive checks for your paid ads or your SEO. The important thing about templates is to get back to them regularly assessing their usage, improving them and sometimes removing some steps that are systematically not used.
Alongside templates, you should implement documented approval processes and a RACI matrix. This framework diminishes the risk of mistakes but more importantly gives the sense of ownership. The person accountable is not the one doing it all but is definitely the one who should make sure things happen and happen correctly to serve the defined objectives.
The expression “Happy if” was used by one of my managers and I like this terminology because it sets the scene for a given action. An objective is not always a number or an execution check box but can be more subtle as long as it expresses the sense of achievement. All activities should have a “happy if” checkpoint and for the most critical ones a post mortem analysis.
Proper budget hygiene is critical to your agility. At any given moment you need to be able to tell what contracts you signed, what invoices were paid or are to be received, what buckets of money are still to be invested or are care committed. Budget building and management would require a full article but one thing is that you don’t need a specific tool to do proper budget management at this stage. A good spreadsheet is sufficient. Align with your finance department to group your budget lines under proper labels to allow analysis (demand gen costs, versus outsourcing, vs content, vs tools…). Record accurately the status of your spending and record the dates of each item with both a cash and a P&L view. It will help greatly when you’ll need to add or remove allocations.
Having the right number of meetings so they are productive. Here is our schedule and it has evolved along the year to adapt to the growing team and to remote work increase and decrease.
- Daily stand-up with Monday to set objectives for the week and Friday to make a wrap-up.
- Tuesday and Thursday we only cover questions of blocking points and on Wednesday we try to have everyone in the office and do an informal stand-up around a cup of coffee or tea :-)
- A weekly team meeting to address specific subjects, and a monthly reporting meeting. For this one, we recently changed the pattern to have the deck ready the day before so everyone can read and comment on it and have the meeting to address the questions and comments so it is not just a present and listen type of meeting.
We also borrowed from the agile methodology with a monthly marketing demo during which we present 1 or 2 key projects to the entire company. This meeting has multiple objectives: promote and educate other teams on what marketing is and does, get feedback, highlight team members’ successes.
I have repeated it quite a bit. I guess in this article scaling the team is a major element of the growth. Therefore preparing the onboarding of new team members is critical. It needs to be documented, to have a clear timeline and to be checkbox-able (don’t know if this word even exists…). In parallel with the onboarding task list, you need a clear trial period ramp-up document stating the different elements to learn and the deliverables expected at each stage to demonstrate the ramp-up. Having this clear visibility is usually very much appreciated by the newcomers and allows an objective assessment of the performance.
Building the brand
Moving away from the structure towards the actual activities, I will start with the brand. Evolving in both a BtoB enterprise market and a very immature technological market, we need to build a brand and educate the market on the niche we address. We also need to build an attractive employer’s brand as recruitment is key to our growth.
This requires a consistent and qualitative production of content.
In a way, we have set up our production as would a magazine:
We have our writers, from the marketing team but also from the tech teams and we have also sourced external writers (experts on our subjects and willing to do guest blogging).
Extending your pool of writers really helps you scale. And you should always look internally first. Technical teams have writing skills and they can benefit from promoting their expertise.
We have our editorial meeting to identify the subjects we could cover and a publication calendar to plan each week and get a good balance of topics and frequency.
And we have our dissemination plan to make sure our content is properly promoted and used.
We tried to have an editorial framework with “this day for that type of subject” and so on, but we found it too much of a constraint. We prefer to balance the content during our weekly meeting depending on what is ready to be published.
And of course, there is no brand-building without proper press relations and analyst relations. For these subjects as mentioned earlier, we selected agencies to extend the team.
Building a brand is a marathon and you better start early and have regularity. On top of your regular flow of publication and dissemination, it is good to have virality or high exposure contents (such as reports and cheat sheets for ex) creating momentum of attention. These assets will help on getting influencers’ attention but also on expanding your audience. The graal is to be perceived as a reference on a given subject and be mentioned in an earned fashion by various media and authors.
Deploying all tactics and testing
When you join an early-stage start-up there is a chance that the marketing mix is limited and adding boosters to the rocket means adding channels of acquisition and conversion.
Depending on the persona you address you need to choose the different tactics you will activate in your campaigns. My recommendation is to build a listing of all tactics available to you and assess your readiness and their adequation with your audience. Then you need to have a plan of activation of the different tactics depending on your team skillset, budget and time of the year. You can for example push the nurture flows to later in the year once you have sufficient data to nurture or invest in proprietary webinars when you have a large enough database to promote them.
Whatever you choose to select there are a couple of important elements:
- Set objectives — as explained earlier.
- Plan and document the execution — back to the template idea. You’ll gain time for the next iteration
- Test before signing up for a series
- Experiment and assess. You should embrace a growth marketing mindset and try a lot of different things. One thing that could be difficult is that when navigating an Enterprise market, the complexity of the sales cycle and the buyer’s journey does not allow immediate effect measurement. Therefore you need to find intermediate points of measure to validate or invalidate your experiments. Be inspired by the growth marketing approaches and methods, use them to keep your agility, but don’t be lured by all the fashionable growth publications which often advertise crazy numbers and massive traction. If you are in an Enterprise market the rules are different. Compare yourself with similar product types.
As the CMO, your role is to provide a strategic view to your team who are much more focused on operational topics. Ask the right questions so they can articulate their tactics in campaigns, help them prioritize and challenge their proposals.
Of course, this is obvious that you need to measure your results but it won’t be done in a day. Finding the right KPIs, building the historical data that gives you enough data points and testing different metrics is an on-going activity.
If you are not a data professional yourself, it is great to have a data person in your team, you’ll benefit at many levels:
- Building the right data set
- Getting the right integrations and automation in place
- Analyzing the data in different ways and with different methods
- Getting a second opinion on the analysis
You’ll have a set of measures and KPIs and the list can be long but you should definitely have one North Star Metric. My recommendation is that it is aligned with your sales team. It is a bit of the glue between marketing and sales. In our case, it is a number/value of new deals in the pipeline. Not leads, not MQL, not SAL, actual pipeline. It avoids a lot of useless conversations and biases on what marketing produces. And one thing you should definitely not do is look at marketing vs sales sourced pipeline. You’ll have a good summary of why not in this article from Forrester.
But to build the objective of this North Star metric you’ll need to iterate and find the right dimensions that will allow you to accurately measure success. As marketing works for future revenue, and this future can be months away, you need to evaluate success with ever-changing data if you grow fast (average deal size, close rate…). Go back to your numbers as often as needed.
The next frontier
I hope you did not find this article too long but summarizing a year at a fast-growing start-up was maybe mission impossible… Writing it I thought some of the subjects would in fact need a deeper dive. I would be very happy to hear what you think and which subject could be the next to tackle! And now my team and I are focusing on acceleration and this will mean doubling the team size… An interesting experience I am sure, that I will be happy to tell you about soon!