Anthony Kennada on Category Creation and Early Stage Marketing

This week’s interview and AMA for SaaS Founders on Chalk

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One thing I see time and time again through each Acceleprise cohort is the value of SaaS founders connecting with other SaaS founders — to share learnings, best practices, and meet peers as they go through both difficulties and excitements of starting a company. And so when I heard about Chalk, I knew I wanted to start a community for SaaS Founders, to create more opportunities for connection and sharing amongst this group that I so closely identify with.

Yesterday I hosted my first guest interview with Anthony Kennada, CMO of Front and ex-CMO of Gainsight. I’m so excited about all of the great advice he had for SaaS Founders around category creation and early stage marketing. And so I’d like to share the top three takeaways from the chat.

1. Watch for signals that you might be sitting on an opportunity for category creation.

When Anthony started at Gainsight, Customer Success as a concept and title barely existed. Not only did they do an incredible job building CS as a category alongside Gainsight, but it became the de facto in that space. Here are the signals Anthony advises founders pay attention to in order to figure out if they’re in a position to become a category creator:

  • There should be little to no competitors doing exactly what you’re doing
  • When you look up what your product or service is solving for, search volume should be incredibly low
  • There should be little to no digital footprint already established, and no press or analyst coverage
  • Your buyer may potentially be marginalized — as in, no business is thinking about them and their challenges yet
  • There are small communities forming around your niche, but the larger population has no idea what you are talking about

2. When it comes to category creation and KPIs, things look a little bit different.

At Gainsight, Anthony and his team put in a lot of effort to catalyze a community around a new thought process and business strategy. In turn, it helped them build the business and sell products. While that’s not universally the case, the data does show that companies that create a category and then go on to dominate will see larger revenue and shareholder value.

In terms of KPIs, Anthony explained that when you’re one of the first ones in a new category, there aren’t a lot of existing benchmarks that you can measure against, so founders will need patience from their boards on this. Especially because category creation can be expensive, since you need a budget to build momentum. Essentially, you’re playing the long game. So your board will need to ease up on metrics that map directly back to short term revenue.

At Gainsight, in the early days, Anthony and his team looked at fairly untraditional markers to determine that they were on the right track — things like the increase of social media mentions of the term ‘customer success’, and the growth of the profession itself via number of new job titles added to LinkedIn monthly. As the Customer Success job grew, so did Gainsight, showcasing a pretty impressive correlation between the two.

3. Focus on the people in your market, not your product.

The Gainsight team decided to focus on the Customer Success career, how to excel in the role, and best practices. They created a ton of content, webinars and events around this — they even created the first dedicated CS industry event! — and if people engaged with it, it was a strong signal they were interested in what Gainsight was talking about.

Anthony advised our new Chalk community of SaaS founders to take time to think about the why behind what your building, how your product helps solve a problem for people, and then help them solve that problem through a blog, podcast, webinars, and videos way before they become a customer. He also recommends founders build a community — a chance for people to get together around an idea and help each other — which will in turn create a relationship between your brand and the market. And lastly, to create ambassadors out of your customers, which will validate the space you’re trying to create.

“Spend the time you need early to define your Ideal Customer, and figure out what market segments you think you’re best fit for”, Anthony explained. “Spending too much time focused on just marketing the product and not enough storytelling around the brand can come back and haunt you over time — you’ll have to play catchup later. Telling the bigger story and creating a halo effect around the brand can go a long way.”

Anthony went on to talk about demand gen and how to fill your pipeline, incorporating education into your marketing, when and what profile to hire as your first marketer, and how to get to your first 20 customers.

With so much value packed into one hour, I definitely recommend you join the community where I’ll be hosting weekly interviews and AMA sessions filled with tactical advice for early stage SaaS founders.

Mark your calendars for next Thursday, August 27th at 3pm ET where I’ll be interviewing and hosting an AMA with Bocar Dia. Bocar was one of the first sales hires at Hootsuite and became their Head of Sales for North America East, helping to lead them to $150M+ in ARR. He is now the CEO of a new startup in stealth. Apply to join!

Written by

CEO & Managing Partner @Acceleprise, Early BD @BoxHQ, Investor & advisor to #SaaS #Startups. @SyracuseU & @ColumbiaMBA

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