As if we needed a reminder…? There’s a constant push to ‘do more’ with less for founders and marketers.

There’s a problem with SaaS startups and marketing

This article is a collaborative effort between Claire Suellentrop and Georgiana Laudi. Claire runs Love Your Customers and was previously Director of Marketing at Calendly. Gia runs A Better CX and was previously VP of Marketing at Unbounce.

“So, I keep seeing my clients go through this over and over.”
“Um, yeah, dude. My clients are struggling with the same thing.”

When we first connected at the top of 2017, we’d just said farewell to our in-house roles at two wonderful SaaS companies.

And only a few months into consulting life, we’d already — independently of each other — spotted the same 2-sided problem:

1. The problem for SaaS companies: Senior marketing talent is hard to find

Most of our clients — most of whom are high-growth SaaS companies — need the following from their head of marketing, all somehow rolled into one magical person:

  • Enough real-world experience to think strategically and feel comfortable making high-level decisions
  • A grasp of how to build demand for a brand new product with no strong brand behind it (because SaaS startups don’t just need blue pens with their logos on them)
  • The hunger, energy, and detail-orientedness necessary to execute on everything
  • …and salary requirements that fit a modest startup budget

It’s impossible to find a marketing leader who checks all four of these boxes. And unfortunately, finding someone who checks even three of them is incredibly rare.

If you can find marketers with lots of relevant SaaS experience, like those who’ve built a marketing team from the ground up, they’re taken, and expensive to lure. Not only that, but the SaaS space is still relatively small. When you inevitably start poaching (and you will), the news will travel.

Because experienced SaaS marketers are rare, those that do exist are busy — often to the point of being unavailable. If you can find one of the rare independent folks to help guide you or your team during those early days, get in line. Since we left our day jobs (two separate and unrelated events), let’s just say, neither of us have exactly had to knock on doors to find gigs — and neither have any of the other talented, independent marketers we know in the SaaS space.

So what’s a founder or CEO to do? The next best thing, which is to hire a more junior — though very hungry — marketer who’s less expensive, more available, and shows tons of potential.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making this choice; many well-known marketers come from nontraditional backgrounds, completely unrelated to SaaS, and thrive in the industry.

But without mentorship or a clear path to career growth, many of these marketers struggle and become frustrated — stuck in the weeds of execution, never quite able to focus on or master the strategy side of the role. This means the CEO must become the micromanager they don’t have time to be, since no dedicated mentor exists to nurture and grow this new marketer.

2. The problem for the first marketer: No time for mentorship, no budget for resources

In a tech startup’s earliest stages, it’s common for founding teams to undervalue marketing.

This may be because of tunnel vision of building out the product, to lack of experience on the leadership team with demand gen, product positioning, and other key early-stage growth activities, or any number of other factors.

But in every case, this puts the marketer at a disadvantage: while their goal is to increase revenue — the lifeblood of the company — the projects they’re running are consistently deprioritized in favor of product development.

And yeah, this marketer is ambitious, excited to work in a “fast-paced environment” with a “culture of learning,” and passionate about the idea of building something from nothing… But the road to burnout is pretty short when you can’t get a second team member, or a more competitive salary (when you know you’re already one of the lowest paid people in the company).

Even those who don’t burn out and quit do struggle to see themselves as equals with other department heads — which can start a negative snowball of lost confidence, then over reliance on HiPPOs, and ultimately a marketing “strategy” that’s really just a list of tactics, prescribed out of context by stakeholders or influencers.

And because a list of tactics is not a solid strategy, growth stalls (or never starts). The founder, in serious need of more customers, has to spend more time, more money, on finding, hiring, and training a senior marketer after all.

And for the first marketer? That negative snowball of lost confidence just keeps growin’.

Why we want to solve this problem

We know these details don’t match every tech company’s early days, but they do match many. We both know plenty of people, be they clients or colleagues, who are struggling on both sides of this problem right now.

So we decided to contribute to the training & mentorship early-stage marketers need by launching Forget the Funnel: a free, weekly series of 30-minute workshops that address the challenges faced by SaaS marketers.

Why the name ‘Forget The Funnel’? Because the traditional marketing funnel has no place in SaaS. Instead, marketing + product + customer success all go hand in hand to create one holistic customer experience.

It’s a serious mistake to think about marketing as something that stops when a new user signs up. This is central to both of our marketing philosophies, and how we built highly successful marketing strategies for 2 high-growth SaaS companies, each from the ground up. In other words, forget what you’ve learned about “the funnel”.

We love the world of SaaS, and genuinely want to help more companies succeed. At the same time, we want to help marketers own their strategy and become respected leaders. So during our workshops, attendees will learn things like:

  • how to hold confident, high-level conversations with company leaders
  • how to start delegating work to tools, team members, or freelancers
  • how to think strategically when you’re also expected to build an audience, engage with influencers, drive loads of traffic, create sticky websites, write best-in-class content, generate leads, then nurture and convert those leads (and sometimes manage product onboarding and customer support, too)

If you’re facing some of these challenges yourself, we hope you’ll join us on August 9, when the first Forget the Funnel workshop happens live. You can save your spot right here.

If you know a marketer who’s struggling to get out of the weeds, share Forget the Funnel with them. Here’s the details they’ll want to know.

We hope to see you (or your favorite SaaS marketer) on August 9.