Welcome to episode twenty-one of the SaaS Backwards podcast, where we interview CEOs and CMOs of fast-growing SaaS firms to reveal what they are doing that's working, and lessons learned from things that didn't work as planned.
You can listen to the full episode directly below via Spotify, or visit SaaS Backwards on Buzzsprout or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Gaining CEO Alignment for the Turnaround: PathFactory COO on Being a Change Agent in the Number Two Role.
With Helen Baptist, COO of PathFactory
Edited for clarity and readability
Helen, you're our first COO on the podcast, and I want to say welcome, and please tell us a little bit about yourself and PathFactory before we get into it.
I'm excited to be chatting with you today. I own the entire customer experience for PathFactory and I carry the complete bag for the company. That allows me to ensure that we're offering as seamless and as frictionless a customer experience as possible, while maximizing topline growth and managing for bottom-line and expenses.
Part of it is making sure that there are operational efficiencies in that, but it’s also making sure that we are building the right products with the voice of the customer infused in them and representing that throughout the customer life cycle.
I've been with PathFactory for about 2.5 years, and we've just completed a fundraise. We are growing, so if anybody's looking for a job we're always hiring! I've got a ton of positions open on my team and in our R& D team as well.
PathFactory has been around for over 10 years, originally starting out as LookBookHQ (for those of you who are old timers) and in 2018 rebranded to PathFactory, which was more about content activation in terms of serving up as much content as a consumer or B2B buyer might want in the purchase cycle.
Since then, we've added some functionality in terms of the fact that we have all this content and marketers are strapped for time, and so we wanted to be able to enable them to really understand what content they had for their content strategy, and we wanted to help them activate it as quickly as possible.
We’re using AI and machine learning with recommended content based on who you are, where you come from, what account you're with, what you last engaged with, so that people can deliver on the Forrester or Gartner number of 11 pieces of content consumed before reaching out to a salesperson.
Some of our customers are big, well-known brands in the Fortune 100 (i.e. Oracle, Adobe, and Cisco) But there are also a lot of fast growth startups using us as well, so we cover the gamut from small marketing teams to very deep demand generation or ABM players, as well as digital teams.
I want to dig in a little bit more later into the why, what, and how of PathFactory, but let's talk a little bit about where you come into an organization. I know you're typically brought in for a turnaround situation, at least the last few things you've done, and you've partnered with the same CEO three times in a row. What is it about this person and how can a CMO or a marketing leader find someone to follow or maybe what should we look for when we're working for someone for the first time?
Yeah, it's an interesting concept because when I met the CEO Dev Ganesan of PathFactory, I was at a company and had been brought to help stand up a new product service business unit. He was brought in by the private equity firm that was the primary investor, and he pulled me aside and asked me to work on special projects because he had noticed that I was doing some entrepreneurial things in that business.
That was seven or eight years ago, it's not that long ago that the education of my experiences in SaaS has been as profound as it is. For me, it's about continual learning, and that's one of my growth aspirations as well. But with Dev, I had somebody who really believed in me and wanted to teach as well.
I think the other part of it for me with him is that there's an inherent trust. I always try to stay one step ahead of where his head is at in terms of the business, so that he can focus on the outside world that the CEO typically must do, the investors, the board, those kinds of things. It’s not where I want to spend my time, I don't want to be the CEO—ever. I'm quite happy being in the number two or three seat, but my job is really to anticipate what he might be thinking about what the market signals are to him and to our company and stay ahead of those.
And there's a movement from Latané Conant at 6Sense who talks about the “Chief Market Officer” and this idea of really understanding the market and the impact that it has on you, and to me. It's not just about your business, it's about your people too.
The great resignation is happening, and so my personal mantra is that PathFactory is about “creating resume making moments” so that people want to work with you again, or that they get the job that they really aspire to. And so Dev has permitted me to get the job that I really wanted by allowing me to try new things.
We acquired a company within six weeks of him to joining at the first company that I was at, and he said, “you're going to write the due diligence memo.” I didn't know what that meant. So, I looked it up and I figured out what that due diligence memo was and circulated that to some of the other people in the process.
That really gave me exposure. He trusted me enough to allow me to try things, but let me go so far and then brought me back in. And that's it, the way that I help my team grow as well is people need to try new things and experiment, but they need sometimes a little bit of guidance along the way to make themselves more successful.
So that's making a little more real, the idea of hiring for aptitude and attitude, and then allow the mentoring and training and experience to fill in the knowledge gaps, right?
Yeah. And I think you also have to understand where that person's strengths and weaknesses are. Part of it for me is he is very strong on product and financially. He's an accountant by trade and understands messaging and positioning, but he lets me do that because that's the area that I need to operate the company against, I need to align against that, and so I have to own it.
I think the other part, if you're a CMO and you're looking to be the next COO, you better have good handle on financials and ARR (your contribution to it), what the average contract value is, what the customer acquisition costs are, the long term value of customers, etc. Those are all things that I look at, and those are the ones that I present, and not necessarily how many leads we generated or what campaign we’re going to run. At the end of the day, Chief Market Officer is about impacting the market and how much share of the market you have.
Yeah. I don't think the CEO cares about the creative, the CEO cares about the impact on the KPIs.
Some CEOs do care about the creative--and if they do, I say that they're the wrong CEO for you to grow into the next role. If your CEO is changing taglines or it doesn't like the color purple bit but likes the color blue, it's the wrong person to grow with.
I had that instance where somebody had asked me to be the CMO of the company and I was working with them and they walked in and they said, give me your marketing plan, and he crossed out everything except for social media, and he said he was going to be doing everything except for the social media, and I said, “then I'm not your person.”
I can't do social media without understanding positioning, and demand generation, and the impact on customer marketing and customer lifecycle, I just can't do that. And we agreed to part ways, which it was the right thing at the right time.
Yeah. I think that it's hard at the senior level--it's sometimes hard to get the gig, right? The next job can be hard to find unless you have a relationship like you do with your CEO, and maybe we're not interviewing hard enough, the CEOs we'd work for in fact, our most recent podcast episode, right before this is a woman who's had a number of runs with us doing marketing work together, and she's had the CEO that doesn't have the understanding of what marketing can do.
And I agree with Latané’s idea of the Chief Market Officer. We have to have more of a functional role and less of an in role, we're not doing things, we're running a function for the business.
Yeah. And I think the other part I would say is that many marketers are terrible marketers for themselves. It's the shoemaker's son. And so I've done a lot of coaching in the last year through different communities that I'm a part of people have asked me, so how do I get my next job? Would you mind looking at my resume?
And when I look at them, they're documenting results that are not relevant to the market officer, and one of the exercises is that I like to put people through is to take them through a positioning workshop: What is your position? What's your total addressable audience (TAM)? Who's your sellable, addressable audience?
Think like a marketer for the position that you want to go after.Who's the aspirational CEO or CMOs position that you want? Then go chase it.
I think many people to your point, we take the position when we're looking for new jobs and thinking that they need us, but at the end of the day, you need them as much as they need you, and it has to be in a state where you are as desired in the position and function that what you bring to the table as much as think you can bring to the table.
Yeah. I think nowhere is the mutually beneficial relationship more important than in the workplace, and I just think a lot of marketing leaders get themselves behind the eight ball right away, not having that mindset. You then become the marketing concierge when it's like, what would you like? How would you like it? What flavor would you like it? And you just serving up stuff instead of driving the business.
What swag do you want me to order for you? That's not a marketing job that's a coordinator job, but not a CMO job, so...
Totally. Just one little bit about this also—you’re the COO, but you own marketing in this organization, let's just spend like a minute or two on that dynamic and why that's important to your success.
Yeah. I own sales, marketing, and customer experience, so the whole backend and revenue operations reports to me. And the reason I think its opportunistic is because the go-to-market positioning statement has to be infused in the experience that you want to deliver.
You must have a team that understands that expressly from a marketing perspective—outward facing but also inward facing.
I'm not talking about employer branding--that's different.
Culturally, what do we stand for and how do we want to be represented?
And what do we want to be known for?
When we do scores of advocacy in our group, and our NPS numbers are through the roof, it's about, we want to be human first and that's the way we treat our folks, is with compassion. But we push hard, we hold people accountable, and that's the balancing act. It’s the same with our customers, we want people to feel like they're part of PathFactory, and we want people to really experience the brand in the way that we want to deliver it.
In their world, do the platinum rule, not the golden rule. “Do unto others as you want them done to you,” is the golden rule as opposed to “do to them the way that they want to receive it” is the way that we think about the world.
So I'd love to turn our conversation to you're starting in a new organization, and you've mentioned that you have a process for figuring out what needs attention now versus a few months from now, and the things that are further down the road.
And a lot of our audience are relatively new CMOs, either new in the company or they've been promoted, there's a vacancy above them, they get the job because not everything is as it should be. So how do you go about figuring that out?
First and foremost, it is the listening tour, right? So fortunately, when I walked into PathFactory, I had bought PathFactory as a customer at a prior company where my marketing budget was only $300K per year and PathFactory costs, $75,000. That's ridiculous, right? That was not product market fit.
And so I had some preconceived notions and fortunately it was my third ride with the same CEO with the same private equity firm, so I actually got to see some of the due diligence memos that were done for the latest round of funding. B2B buyers will go and look at Glassdoor, and G2 Crowd, and TrustRadius, and all those review sites.
The voice of the customer is right there in front of you. So that was part of my homework before the actual start date, I went and read reviews, and reviews, and reviews so that I could really get a handle on it.
And then the next thing to do is really listen to the team and say, what's working, what's not working, and asking profound questions like, “If you were me, what would you do differently?” And you'll be surprised at the things that people will come up with because they'll say, "Oh, we were told we couldn't do that because we didn't have the budget."
Well, why didn't you have the budget? Because we were spending it on this thing. Why were you spending the budget on? You just have to keep probing in terms of understanding what's actually happening. And sometimes it's political and that's where you really need to get to know what's happening behind the scenes, when politics is involved in trying to turn things around or ramp up an organization, it will fail.
I just want to unpack a few things there. First of all, the why question?
Yeah. And it's almost like you're doing discovery on a sales call, but it's also getting to understand whether they understand why or whether they understand why, and there's another barrier to it. And that's the dichotomy of asking why is twofold is to test people, to know whether they know it or not is to know what the story is behind why you're asking.
Yeah. And politics and sacred cows. So, these are two things that are important to get a grip on.
And to squash quickly, because invariably, when I walk in there is a culture that has been successful to where it needs to get to. Management changes are for a reason--to take it to the next level. Let's call a spade a spade. And that means that you have to get the culture changed from where it was to where it needs to be.
Everything that the CEO and I work from is based on two fundamentals: level five leadership from the book Good to Great, which is about leading with humility. Put the customer first, the company second, and yourself third. Check your ego at the door. It’s customer-centric--outward in.
The second part is moving at intelligence speed. That’s being 80% confident that the decisions that you are going to make have no risk to the customer, the company, and yourself. That’s hard for people who haven't had the autonomy in the past to make decisions.
That’s part of culture change and change management to your point around when I walk in, what do we do? I mean, that is the first statement that we make is here's the intelligence speed memo, here's Good to Great for everybody to read, you won't be in every meeting going forward, you'll be in the meetings that you need to be in, you'll be in your swim lane, we need to figure out the relay race between the swim lanes. And then, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because change is persistent and it will always be uncomfortable.
Yeah. A lot of people hate change.
Yeah. And anytime you get funding or new leadership comes into the organization, there's a dynamic of change and it needs to be evaluated. I'm just going through this with my team in terms of 2022 planning, I don't own the operating plan, I'm the A on it and our RACI model accountable for it.
The best ideas come from everybody. So it could be a shared Google document where everybody dumps ideas, even if it's not their swim lane, and then we discuss it and say, "Is this something we need to do? And who owns it in that swim lane, that's responsible for that?"
For me, it's about crowdsourcing the best ideas, and that's part of the first start of any job is who's good at what? And how can I get more out of them? Who doesn't do what they're supposed to do? Are they coachable? And if not get them off the bus, like that's all Good to Great stuff. But those are hard decisions and change is really hard when you're making those decisions rapidly.
I think one of the things I've seen frequently and I'm willing to repeat it, because it was a very early episode of the podcast, was that the new CMO needs to understand who's going to obstruct progress, and if you have someone who's obstructionist or who's not going to have your back, that person needs to see the door really quickly. You have to be, I have no blood lust, but that person has to go. Everybody else maybe can stay.
Yeah. Toxicity is not a good thing and it spreads, I'm not going to say like a virus because you know where we are today, but it spreads and it's not healthy, and so you need to deal with it rapidly.
Yeah. And my experience is often it's the person that didn't get the job. So start there, the person who didn't get the promotion into the job you're walking into, just make sure that person's cool with the transformation that you're trying to pull off, especially when there's new money, not just new people, but new money means more opportunity for everybody as the organization grows.
Yeah, or maybe you've brought somebody in over top of them because they have a different skillset that the organization needs in a new go to market motion or something like that, and that becomes a barrier. But I think it's about allowing people the time to adjust if they're willing to adjust, if they're not, you need to move fast to get them out.
Yeah. Cool. Let's talk about one of your favorite topics, the relationship and really the interrelationship of sales, marketing, and success. In our prep session, we talked about silos that need to be broken down, and I had this image of my head a view with a sledge hammer going out of silo itself. So let's talk about what that really means.
Yeah. So as you can imagine, everything that we do is with the lens of the customer. And so how do you make it such that the customer or the prospect doesn't have to repeat themselves 10 times in the customer life cycle? And what I found was that we would sell somebody and we'd do all that discovery and what their strategic use case was and what we were going to achieve, and then it would hand over to implementation and they would ask the same questions, and then it would get handed over to customer service managers, and they would ask the same question.
And I responded, "This is ridiculous." I would be really upset if I was spending all my time telling you what my strategic objectives were, as opposed to doing my strategic objectives. And part of it is making sure that people understand what their role is--where it starts and where it ends, and how they can help their teammate in the handoff to the next person, and that's people, process, and technology, right?
So, I always frame everything around people, process, and technology, making notes in Salesforce of what the strategic objectives of that customer are, giving a link to the custom demo that you've created so that the implementation person can pick that up and say, "Is this what you're trying to do? Because we've got this--this is a starting place, let me just switch that on in the instance."
That is how we've accelerated our pipeline, and our growth is by making sure that we have a very simplified product market fit, price, packaging, et cetera. But then the swim lanes are really clear, and the handoff, and then transitions are such that the customer doesn't do the work, we do the work on behalf of the customer because they are our customer at the end of the day.
I really like that idea of building on your knowledge so that all of the discovery you're doing informs this continuous process of discovery, buying, contracting, onboarding, and using it. We're onboarding with a healthcare provider and the onslaught of paper is just unmanageable, and there's a lot of that saying the same thing over and over again and filling out the same kind of form over and over again, and it is maddening, so...
Yeah. I think the other part of it is that it's also about understanding the maturity of that customer and understanding where they are in the crawl, walk, run capabilities of our product and our platform, and then inspiring them to do more. So we talk about pre-sales, solutions, architects as the art of marketing and our post sales team as the engineering of the platform.
But we've just added somebody to the team who was a presale and put them back into CSM so that we could inspire the continued growth and utilization of the product because marketers like to be inspired by other marketers--If you are selling a marketing SaaS, you better have people who are inspiring other people to achieve.
I had that strong response to it because our tagline, oh, about 10 years ago was the art and science of business marketing. I just think there is a need, especially if you're selling to marketing people.
I think it goes back to the CMO role, right? The role there is the art and science of marketing. And the art is the creative side, the right brain side, the science of it is the analytical side, and the ability to see that the work that you're doing is influencing impacting revenue. And that to me is where your tagline is beautiful for CMO position, because it really is the art and science of marketing.
Yeah. Hey, have you ever done secret shopping on your own stuff at PathFactory?
We have--we just finished due diligence, so I've just got that report, it's like 55 pages long. It's a mandate for us in 2022 to get more in tune with our own experience as well as then with our competitors as well. Have you mystery shopped? And do you have something to say about it?
Yeah, for our clients we will mystery shop as part of our own onboarding process. So we'll put one or two people through the paces of becoming a client. When we do competitor intelligence it's a great place to gather publicly available information.
For those who are unclear of what the competitive offer really is, hire somebody to try and buy it. Nothing wrong with that, it's completely above board, unless you have to sign an NDA to go through the sales process of course, but I it’s a great way to get the sense of your own areas of improvement and what competitors are doing.
Yeah. And I think the other part about it is I have repeat customers and some of them have been very fiercely loyal advocates and a couple of them have slacked me lately and said, "Something's wrong." And so that trusted relationship amongst your advocates when they move positions is also another way to get great feedback when things have changed and aren't as well-oiled as you think they might be.
Yeah. Hey, so let's talk about PathFactory itself. It'd be great for our listeners to hear what the company does in some detail so they can understand if it might be a value to them.
Yeah. So PathFactory, like I said earlier, is a content experience platform where you could serve up content tracks that would allow our visitor to consume as much as they wanted to, as much as you as the marketer wanted to curate for them, and tell the story that you wanted to tell, that is a big portion of our business is our campaign tools, legacy product.
In 2020, as a result of the pandemic and being customer driven, we launched a virtual event solution that allows people to bring in their own Zoom, Brightcove, or YouTube videos, and surround that experience with a wrapper, additional supplemental content, chat, and track the customer engagement across that.
And then the third piece where we've spent two, three years developing AI and machine learning, we now serve up recommended content based on a variety of attributes, the content, the topics, the taxonomy, and then whether you're known, or unknown marketers have an aversion to forms now.
And so a lot of consumption is done blind, but we can track that down to an IP address, and cookies, and things like that. And when you convert to known, we know what your history of content consumption is. Forrester says that the average B2B buyer consumes 11 pieces of content before calling or touching a human.
We’re expediting that consumption in terms of self-education, self-edutainment, whichever words you want to use, to learn about it. And so you can create content experiences for middle of funnel, top of funnel, bottom of funnel, and even for customer marketing and partner marketing, we have lots of customers using it for that, and they're using it across all channels.
Here's a statistic for you: 20% of visitors to content in PathFactory across all of our customers will binge an average of six pieces of content in a session versus bouncers who are one and done.
And so if you want to find that 20% of people and want to be able to target those people on a go forward basis, you know who they are, you can start to identify accounts because we have OEM data that allows us to look at account and firmographic data, regions, cetera. And then if they’re known, you know exactly who to target as well.
So if you want to do ABM, demand generation nurture, if you want to do web conversion, if you want to enable your sales people to really understand what content is being consumed by that visitor or by that account lead or contact, we serve that information back to Salesforce.
And then finally, the last one is content strategy. I've talked to a couple of CMOs and they've said, "Well, I spend five million on content creation, I don't even know what I have, and I don't know what I should keep, and I don't know how it's working." That's pretty scary when you walk in, and so understanding what you have and how it's working is really what's solving from a content strategy perspective for our customers.
I always like to go back kind of process for listeners what I've heard. And certainly, a fair amount of what we're recommending our clients do is provide ungated content. But that has a perceived cost, right? Because I don't get the lead. But if we can replace that marketing motion; if we can replace that instinct to gate the content with the idea of threading people through the journey, either the one we define or the one the AI comes up with, I think we might say that our ROI might be better if we're really addressing the needs of real buyers, that 20%, the pre-do principle, if we can find those people and get them really engaged and truly binging on our content, we're probably going to get a better return from that content than the one, two, or three percent who are going to fill the form.
Yeah. And I think there are places and times for forms, but how you use them strategically is also a factor. And so things like progressive form fills where you might want to capture an additional piece of information about that person is important, but to your point, accelerating the self-education through content binging as we call it.
And so if you can find the 20% that are somewhat interested in you and be laser focused with your next motion with them, that's the key for us is accelerating that buyer journey and the partner journey.
Yeah. Do you have insight into the relationship between content consumption and pipeline impact?
Yeah. And that's about having customers who want to share their CRM data. We do it ourselves obviously. And we know what content attracts different segments into our pipeline, so for example, we have a series called “The Website of the Future”, which is a top-of-funnel piece, that is really targeted at digital marketers, and it has accelerated our website tools product in enterprise, as opposed to some of the bottom of funnel stuff really addresses our SMB customers because their teams are so lean, they just need to know how to do it and what to do.
And I can point to what specific pieces of content do we need to create or sunset even to make sure that we are serving up the different segments, and the motions, and the stage of the funnel as well. We also use it for customer marketing and renewals. So I know which pieces of content in stage of relationship of the contract lifecycle that I need to send as well. So our onboarding and implementation content, I know what's working, what's not working, and whether we need to adjust that as well.
Wow. I love the idea of the future. If you can credibly describe anything of the future, you're going to get people who are looking to innovate, that's a great start for thought leadership.
Yeah. Everybody's talking about digital transformation in their website, in terms of what should it be given that face-to-face meetings have basically gone away, the way that I think about the website, it's a flea market and you're going in any door you want to go in. You may be looking for treasure but you don't know if there's treasure in there.
PathFactory has the opportunity to identify that treasure based on your content consumption and what topics you’re interested in? Is it product knowledge? Is it product sell sheets? Is it thought leadership? And we can serve up those recommendations.
So we have eight types of recommendations of content, the marketer can curate the experience, but then point the API for those recommendations into it. Sometimes you go to a flea market and you come home empty-handed and that it's okay. But more often than not, we're trying to send you home with the piece that you were looking for, whether that's grandma's sofa or a diamond ring.
I want to shift to the future, but maybe a little more near term. What do you think is 2022's mandate for CMOs? What do they have to do?
I think retention is the big winner. Your net retention revenue needs to be good. Sometimes we focus marketing so much on top-line growth that we forget about net rate of return. And I think for me that has been a pivotal moment.
At PathFactory, when I walked in, we had a churn problem, and so the first two months I spent on pricing and packaging to make sure we had the right price point, but then looked at the customer experience on how we were going to deliver that from a content or a marketing perspective and how you really can help those teams that are back of house delivering for you.
In the restaurant business, they talk about throughput--through the kitchen and restaurants, how quickly can you make the blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse?
But to me, this is about enabling your customers to stay stickier to your product, to continue to learn, and that's a marketing function as much as it is a CSM function. And I don't think that marketers really put as much emphasis on customer marketing as they should.
Well, yeah, I mean the new logo gets the village chief's attention, right? So that everybody sees the new logo and it's really exciting, but if you can arrive at negative churn, maybe that's more exciting.
Yeah. And head towards best in class net retention around 120% for enterprise, that's way easier to grow that way than the leaky bucket at the bottom.
Absolutely. Well, this has been really wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining us. If listeners want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that and to learn more about your company?
Wonderful. And if you like this episode, please subscribe, and tell your friends, and until next time, thanks so very much.
Thanks for listening to the SaaS Backwards podcast brought to you by Austin Lawrence Group. We are a growth marketing agency that helps SaaS firms reduce churn, accelerate sales, and generate demand. Learn more about us at www.austinlawrence.com. You can email Ken Lempit at firstname.lastname@example.org about any SaaS marketing or customer retention subject. We hope you'll subscribe, and thanks again for listening.