It’s the rare SaaS CMO who builds a brand while driving revenues. Are they the true unicorns?
Speaking with SaaS CMOs can make you wonder if there really are two different titles that should be awarded these folks: Chief Lead Generation Officer or Chief Brand Builder. It’s the rare B2B SaaS CMO I run into that is working to do both. And it makes me wonder… what’s at the root of this pattern I’m seeing, and is there a reason for a B2B SaaS CMO to be one or the other? Why not both?
Many aspiring unicorns rely upon product-led growth (distribution is usually freemium or open source) to drive adoption at scale. They’re expecting the early adopters to bring the solution in-house and once their initial proof-of-concept proves out, evangelize the solution further in the organization and to a paid tier of service with the product.
This is a really good way to get a lot of growth at relatively low acquisition cost. One thing I’ve noticed is that many of these firms lack thought leadership and a corresponding CxO / enterprise sales strategy. It seems that they get to a certain point and then let the chips fall where they may at larger enterprises. But they sure are focused on lead generation. There’s some brand building happening, but it’s all focused on the early adopters. For many tech products, it’s what I call “bro-branding,” geeks finding, trying and sharing with their colleagues and friends a cool thing they found and put to work.
Other marketing leaders in the leadgen camp practice inbound marketing more broadly, but still miss out on a lot of opportunities made possible by a strong brand. Sure, most of these SaaS firms have nice logos and websites, but there’s so much more to brand than that. Brand content is often self-referential: It’s all I, me, me, my. My news releases, my awards, my events. These CMOs do what I’d call, “incidental brand building.” Since they have a hard time quantifying the value of thought leadership they just wave at it and do what is necessary to keep their CEO happy.
Then there are the marketing leaders who seem to have little sense of urgency on lead generation, which amazes me given the pressures so many marketers feel with respect to ROI. They say, “lead generation just isn’t how I am measuring success,” or variations thereof. Some of these CMOs tell me that their universe is small (e.g., Fortune 1000), so there are only two to three thousand targets they really care about, and they know them all. This sentiment is more likely as the solution becomes more of an enterprise play (very low ARR SaaS CMOs are far less likely to take this stance).
In today’s world of collaborative decision-making, the number of people involved in a decision is at least 5,000, and that’s if there’s only one group of buyers at each entity that might select your product. My bet is that most SaaS companies have three to 10 potential sales at any Fortune 1000 firm, and more at the top 100. Now we’re at something like 25,000 to 50,000 people to influence. If you target entities beneath the F1000, you have multiples of this number of people to reach and influence.
Many of these same CMOs are uninterested in optimizing their websites to capture as leads the people that do want to raise their hands. And while I laud this confidence in their strategies, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a middle road to walk: I just can't see ignoring lead generation as realistic in the intermediate to long term.
I imagine that ABM plays a big role in the go-to-market strategies of these firms who lack lead generation best practices on their sites (a question I will pose in all such conversations going forward). But from what I’ve run into, these folks aren’t building great content resources on their sites, nor updating the blog frequently enough to support full-stack ABM strategies. Sure, they can put the brand in front of company XYZ’s finance department, retarget site visitors, target lookalike audiences, and more. But then where do they go?
My hunch is that the vast majority of these go-to-market strategies look like traditional outbound, strategic sales, and that marketing is seen as less influential and consequential than it could be. But it’s just a hunch. To go from a hunch to more valuable insight on this subject, I’m going to monitor this over the course of the year, maybe mount a quick survey, and revisit the topic later in the year. Stay tuned!
This lead generation or brand building dichotomy represents a false choice in my opinion and experience. Our Content2Revenue Methodology is a proven means to marry lead generation to thought leadership. It’s a purposeful integration of building real brand relevance while creating sales opportunity and supporting the selling process. We’re in essence saying that you can have both brand building and lead generation marketing, supported by an investment thesis in marketing vs a cost-center approach. It’s all about ROI at the end, as we believe marketing investments should be.
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