It’s probably a good time to recalibrate and reallocate the marketing spend.
It’s hard to read today’s headlines about venture subsidized businesses being directed to finally focus on profits and not think, “it’s about time.” Unprofitable business models, products without demand or differentiation, and imprecise and unfocused marketing can all be glossed over with enough money. This has been going on for some time now, and for those of us with some gray or absent hair, it’s not the first time we’ve been through such a bubble.
What I’m hearing and reading now tells me that the music may have already stopped. While not everyone is rushing to grab a seat, the silly money days may be just about over. There is still a lot of money ready to be put to work, but the headline-grabbing falls from grace and corresponding belt-tightening reality of WeWork, Uber, Lyft and more are being played out less noisily in funded B2B SaaS companies, too.
The “smart money” no longer wants to be stupid.
As it turns out, many of the investors in headline-grabbing unicorns also invest in the B2B space. And the pressures that the unicorns create on fund returns will reverberate to smaller players, too.
So what’s a PE- or VC-funded SaaS CMO to do?
It’s probably a good time to recalibrate and reallocate the marketing spend. Big brand building exercises that aren’t tied to sales outcomes are good candidates to trim, while things that can create funnel for sales should see greater thinking and investment. This doesn’t mean give up entirely on building a valuable brand – it means if you’re going to do it, do brand marketing such that it also generates leads. If you have the runway to think and propose strategy, consider how thought leadership can be monetized for your SaaS brand.
What follows are recommendations for changes you can make and tactics you might consider as you seek to improve the relationship between marketing spend and sales outcome.
Take a look at your marketing automation stack. It’s essential that you be able to attribute revenue to your activities. Do you have analytics in place that can do better than first- or last-touch attribution? Integrating activities from sales and marketing into your attribution model will make your case more effective. While you’re at it, make sure you know your renewal anniversaries for SaaS tools so you can plan for upgrades or changes to better platforms (this might also be a good time to ask these vendors for insight into product roadmaps so you can incorporate this understanding into your plans).
Review website lead generation. Is the site optimized to create opportunities for sales? Are there quick wins you can execute that will enhance lead generation over the next few months? Examples of quick wins include webinars, adding calls-to-action where missing from high traffic pages, gating content that might be free for the taking now, add chat to top traffic pages, add pop-up lead generation forms (no one likes them but people do fill them out) and more.
Align your efforts more closely with sales outcomes and priorities. This one might irk some of you, but when belts get tightened, sales has more juice than any other department (unless sales leadership is not doing the job). Here are two ways to velcro yourself to sales:
Create a podcast that’s designed to fill the pipeline. Instead of a content-first approach, where you’re hoping to build audience to get a message to market, consider having your best prospects as podcast guests. This method of targeting who you want to do business with has been proven out in plenty of B2B podcasts. Of course, you need to do a great job with the content so that guests will want to appear (and your first few need to be “friendlies” so you can prime the pump quickly with a few episodes). Now your salespeople are calling prospects offering something of value to them – burnishing their personal brands – instead of just “buy my stuff.” Your sales management will love it, as will the CEO.
Get in the trenches and listen to some sales calls. Attend product demos. See for yourself what the SDRs and AEs are up against as they counter objections and scramble to put resources together. Armed with this insight, build some content items and engagement resources at the bottom of the funnel where these people live. Sales should accelerate a bit, and certainly the reputation of marketing as sales-focused will improve even more.
Take a deep dive on leads turned over to sales in the last six months and diagnose all the outcomes. Develop insights that you can share with your sales peers and once you’ve worked through it and have an agreed plan of attack, present that plan to the c-suite. Pre-empting any outside review is the idea here. Get in front of any negative perception of marketing by sales and build or renew trust and commitment.
Optimize your advertising spend, focused on what gets you closest to the bottom of the funnel. Consider remarketing if you’re not active with this tactic, because you already “paid” for this traffic and it is likely highly qualified. Next might be like audiences, people who look a lot like your current clients and site visitors (Facebook makes this particularly easy). And if you have a bit of budget to spend (like more than $15k per month), you can add programmatic / intent (actively in-market for what you sell). Lastly, consider ABM advertising – exposing ads to targeted accounts – which can be very effective if your product has a long consideration cycle (then it’s worth the investment to expose a larger number of people at each firm to your message). These tactics all are likely to be more efficient than “colder” approaches linked to keywords or demographics alone. If you find that you’re spending less on ads and generating more results, that’s a win, and if you can move savings to other tactics that’s a win times two!
Go “old school,” and send a direct marketing campaign. You read that right. Snail mail. It’s used so infrequently that it stands out. And there are so many ways to do this that you can actually have some fun and make money for your firm. We always recommend to start with a #10 envelope mailer or two (followed-up with calls). The regular business envelope has always performed well and this remains true today. The #10 also has the benefit of being very quick to implement; you can be in the mail literally a day or two after you finalize your content and list.
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Helping you ideate and evaluate these kinds of options is a core deliverable of our content marketing bootcamp. Want to talk about your situation and how you might respond to greater focus on ROI from marketing? Book a meeting with me at this link.