How to Get Started with B2B SaaS Marketing

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Many B2B SaaS companies are started by engineers with no marketing expertise.

They build the product but struggle to spread the word so people can discover and use it.

In this episode of Marketing Spark, Verb Data's Dave Hurt talks about the steps he and his co-founder took to dip their toes in the marketing waters and some of the experiments they conducted along the way.

It's great insight into how, in many respects, marketing involves taking a deep dive into what your customers want and how they articulate their needs.

It's Mark Evans and you're listening to market. It's park. Many entrepreneurs who start BDB SASS companies are tech savvy. Their software developers or engineers who embrace an idea and then focus on building of product. But what happens when they need to do marketing? How do they establish a brand? How do they even get started with market today I'm talking with Dave hurt, who co founded verb data, which develops dashboards for BDB SASS companies. Welcome to marketing spark day. Hey, thanks for having me. Why don't we start by having you tell me the story of verb data? How did it come to be and can you provide some color about what it does and the problems that itselves? So I've been working with my cofounder and business partner, Olig Freedman, for about ten years now and we've always worked in the BDB SASS space, so building ecommerce applications for restaurants, sports teams. Then every time we needed to build a new application, customers would ask for a dashboard to share with their boss or to see performance makes trips of our software, and that was always always kind of a difficult challenge to to build right as the product manager, I would be talking about customers and I would understand the value that they would get from these dashboards. Then I would talk to our sales reps, who would really want these dashboards for demos us, right, to help sell the software. Then then I go talk to Oleg, who is the VP of engineering, and he would say, well, there's so many other features we can build. It's going to take six months to this dashboard. How about we do all these other things instead? Right. So we came up with this problem. Of It's way, it takes way too long to build a dashboard into your application and the Roi rarely pays off. But there's got to be a better way, essentially. So you know, when we first kind of came up with this idea, we actually would not we talks to you about a hundred people at the beginning of two thousand and twenty in the SAS space and really took it from a typical product perspective of right, what's your problem? And we really started that conversation with understanding how other people are addressing this problem. How do they see this customer analytics problem? And that's really the foundation of verb data. So we we provide developers with the tools to manage their data, but also build the dashboards into their software so that their end users can view their analytics within their own platform. As a marketer who is very much customer centric, I love the idea that you actually reach out to customers to get their feed back to see if there is actually demand and need for this product. A lot of entrepreneurs have a good idea and they embrace the idea that if we build it, they will come, and then they're disappointed when doesn't take off, when no one really needs but they're selling, even if they have good sales and good marketing. So so I love the idea that you actually went out and did some some real research, as opposed to simply scouring their web. When you reached out to me, one of the things that resonated was how you're developing, or how you had an interest in developing, a minimum biable brand as a founder who, admittedly, had limited marketing experience, and I'm curious about how you define minimal viable brand. Yeah, you know, as my background, like I mentioned, is in product and the very popular startup idea of minimally viable product right, thinking about what do you need to put together to test your assumption in the product world, how low the fidelity of a product can you build and get feedback and so right, when I think about I try to approach a lot of things like that. And so brand is one. Right. How do we build something where we can get feedback on a brand to see if it resonates with our our potential buyers? Right, so I think about what can I get in front of people in those early conversations, not just about what's your problem, but how do you buy things? How do you think about...

...the companies that you buy from, the brands that you buy from? I think about it as hypothesis testing, just in the marketing and brand space and not in the product space. Okay, in theory it sounds like a very solid approach. The press and I would have is how do you find those subjects? How do you how do you do the testing? How do you get feedback on your hypothesis? Because one of the challenges facing all to be BB SASS companies is they've got a product but they have a hard time connecting with prospects. Part of the reason is that, a, they don't have marketing budgets and being there's so much competitions, so much competition for people's attention. So what was your approach? How did you actually talk to prospect to see if what you were saying, what you thought, resonated? Yeah, so the couple different ways. One, in those initial product like problem focused interviews, I actually was doing brand focused interviews along with thomse. So if we had thirty minutes, right, fifteen might be talking about the product. In fifteen minutes might be talking about brands that they like, words that they use around this this problem set. Right. So when they're talking about DASHBOARDS, are they talking about data analytics? Are they talking about data dashboards? Right, even as simple as what are the words that they're using to describe the problem for the cells themselves? Right, because that's those are the words that you need to be using in your branding, your messaging that you know your competitors might not be understanding or might not be using. Right. So that was one thing that I definitely did early on as part of these product and problem interviews. The other thing is we just got something out there right, and and that's kind of the kind of prototyping side of things, from building a landing page, even testing digital ads. So you know, before we had a product, we spent a couple hundred dollars a month just on a couple different types of digitalis on Google's search linked in those types of things and said, okay, this word makes gets a little bit better traffic, that word doesn't work very well, and that was a lot of good hypotheesis testing just in that alone. That's an interesting idea. I'm curious about what you learned in terms of the feedback that you receive, the reactions that you got and and, as important, how did that affect the product roadmap? When you're you're getting a sense of what people are looking for or the problems that they you think they have, or the problems that they that they rally around. Like how did that all come together in terms of helping you go from concept, which you had, to product? I mean, I would say our early ads sucked right, so it wasn't like it wasn't like we had some magic out of the box, but it was almost like process of elimination. We it was it was what not to do more than what to do. I think was really what that helped us focus on and so thinking about in the in the world of our product. We did some ads around like the the the front end user experience side of things, like building beautiful dashboards, bitl beautiful bar charts, those types of things. We also did some ads more on the like data management integration side of things, and what we really found was people we're searching and struggling more with the data infrastructure, the data management side, then they cared about the the presentation right. So that means that we really optimized and spent a lot more time and resources in making sure that our data management side of the the product was more robust and could really solve the problems of the SASS market that we were going after. So that really kind of helped us hone in on a solution that was very different than the competition out there, because most of them focus on that pretty dashboard and not so much the data, and we're saying we're going to help you with the data and, Oh, by the way, there's a dashboard to so doing some down and dirty market research by leveraging advertising. That's that's really smart. I really like that idea. You recently hired ahead of marketing,...

...something that I want to explore in a few minutes. But how did verb data get started with marketing, like after you've done the Google ads and the facebook ads to test or hypothesis, what were the next steps that you took to actually start doing marketing? Did you develop his trategic plan or was it simply a matter of getting started tactically? Yeah, so we did a couple things early on. We did kind of define our buyer personas, because that's something that you know, it sounds fancy but it's really something that anybody can do. And the way we did it was just we took those hundred conversations that we did early on and we just segment to them into two or three buckets, right of who who we talked to, how they talked. They kind of try to organize it really have fell into how people work in the company, right. So engineers were very specific kind of set, then we had product managers in a set, then we had like more of the sales and CEO leadership roles. So it was a kind of executive side of things. So we took those three buckets and that's that helped us kind of with that segmentation and not that we did like some amazing stuff off the segmentation, but it's really important so that when you do go after cold emails or you start looking for prospects, it's like got to fit into one of these buckets or I'm not going to spend my time and maybe that email looks a little different. So that was one thing that we did. The thing we did is we actually brought on a low level PR firm, and I don't mean low level in a derogatory way, but just like they have they help you with, you know, smaller projects. So it's not like tenzero a month. It was, you know, under a thousand dollars a month for us and they helped, you know, get some guest articles going, help with some blog posts and really the way I thought about that was laying the foundation right. So, you know, you don't have to be on day one. It doesn't have to be the most elegant blog post, so the most elegant guest article, but you need a foundation so that when you do start building your team and you do start trying to kind of put fuel on the fire and spend more resources, you you have kind of some experience, right, so start spending a little bit of money to build up that foundation, and that's what we did over the last twelve months, and so that really helped us. We announced some funding at the end of a to be a beginning of two thousand and twenty two here, but we had twelve months prior to that of guest articles, podcasts, things that we could point to when we wanted to get into wellknown publications and say, look at all this stuff we've done over the last twelve months. We have a name for ourselves, and so that really helped when we wanted to kind of have a bigger bang. Let's take a step back, because you've mentioned some really interesting vehicles. One is by our personas, and now I'm a big believer in the power of buy our personas because I think of many BB SASS companies really don't know their customers well enough and you could argue that many of them don't talk to their customers enough or at all. So how in depth were your buy our personas? Are we simply talking engineer like to do this, spends a lot of time on Linkedin, or was it far more detail so that you could have a real granular view of who you're trying to market and sell to? The the main focus of our by our personas was the problem we solve for that persona so with the engineer it was very focused on I have I have core fund, I have a lot of different stuff I have to build, right, and the opportunity cost of dashboards is far greater than all these other things. Right, there's so many other things that I could be doing while building a dashboard. Right. So that's how we thought about it. And on the engineering side, on the product side, it was like, well, the problem we're solving is there's a feature you want to build for your customers but you can't get it past the gatekeepers of the engineers, right. So how do we give you the tools to be able to do more...

...without the technical resources? And so that's and then we thought about it really from that side of things. Is We're solving what type of problem for what type of person? And and I think like we didn't go as far as, okay, we're going to go target engineers on Linkedin and product people here and things like that. You know, that's kind of evolved and that's where that minimally viable brand comes in. Is Like we didn't know those things and I don't know if we felt like we were going to utilize a lot of that information on day one. So we said, look, let's get the problem identified, we will evolve this, dig into it as we go and add to those by personas over the next six, twelve months, and so now we're starting to add those things as we bring on more people to help with that. A couple questions about the PR agency that you brought on board. Were they local or did you outsource them, because a thousand dollars a month sounds pretty and expensive all things considered. Yeah, it's outsource. It's I will say. You know, they're really good at relationships, so they know all the publications, they have writers, their relationships of writers a lot of the publications that we would want to be in, and that's really where their value add was. We have a very complex product, so writing blog posts about datatalytics for somebody who's never worked in datatalytics is quite difficult. So it took a lot of work for us to get them kind of comfortable with writing about it. So we really felt that their value was that kind of connection to the publications and kind of that thought like they had been through the motions, which I'm not a marketer, I hadn't been through those kind of steps before. Yeah, it's interesting because, you know, one of the biggest challenges facing bbsass companies when it comes to marketing, especially content, is trying to take complex technology and make it user friendly, to make it accessible to tell stories, and many, even good writers, will have a hard time really understanding the nuance of a product. I think it frustrates a lot of entrepreneurs because they think they can simply outsource it, and what inevitably happens? They got to spend a lot of time with a writer to get them up to speed, to make sure they understand the language, the buyer persona, the key points and come across as thoughtful, insightful and and the real deal. How did you get those writers up to speak? How much time did you spend with them, and did you get ever get to a point where you could let them write an article and you didn't have to worry about it other than giving it a check mark at the end of the day? No, definitely, we're not there yet, to be honest. There's a couple couple things that we did. One is, and I don't know if this is necessarily the best advice, but I would say what we did, and you can you can correct us, mark, but we found topics that were more approachable, right. So our strategy of these early blog posts in the first six months was not creating the world's best content, it was to create content, and I think that's really where I struggle a lot, is I wanted to be the best all every single time, and to do that plus doing all the other things you need to do as a cofounder of a startup is very difficult, and so I felt like creating the content, getting it out there so that we could get feedback so we can see what did resonate what didn't resonate, was actually how you're going to then eventually create the best content. Right. So we really focused on more thought leadership type things that weren't so specific into how data analytics works, because that's what they could help me with. So I identify the types of articles they could help me with more than trying to force them into writing some sophisticated article. I think the conundrum facing many PDB SAS entrepreneurs is that they're super smart, they know their product inside out and they want to communicate that to the world, but it takes time and effort to do that in a really good way. So what they need to do in the short term, and I think the approach...

...that you embrace was that. People are going to hate me because there's so much emphasis on high quality content these days. It's content that's good enough, it's content that gets your story out there, their message out there without being perfect, because if you're waiting for perfection, if you're if you're trying to make that happen, it's going to take forever to do and then you've got no traction, you've got nothing in the bank, there's nothing you can leverage to attract prospects and customers. So I like your approach. It's a little unorthodox to the marketers in the crowd. It's probably sacrilegious the fact that you've put a content that you admit wasn't very good, but that's marketing. Sometimes marketing has to be down and dirty, because if you don't do marketing then then you're sort of you're sitting still on the water and that's not a good place to be. You've hired a recently hired ahead of marketing. I really would like to get your view, and this is a big hire for a lot of companies. I mean they're very product base, then they hire salesperson and then they finally get around to hiring a marketer and it's it's almost a seen as a necessary evil. At what point did you finally realize or accept that you had to hire ahead of marketing, and how did you start that process? How did you take step one in terms of making sure that you hired the right person, because if you hired the wrong person, then you've wasted a lot of time and effort and then you guys start all over again. Yeah, it's that is very tough and hiring has taken us a long time and we haven't gotten it right every single time. And and this this new head of marketing is is fairly new and so far we're really, you know, happy with with his progress and what he's been helping us do. And I think really like you know, I thought about marketing a couple stages. Maybe right the first was foundational, and that meant are getting that content out there. That might not be perfect, but it was getting content out there. It was starting to build the muscle of marketing inside the company, getting some traction sheet, seeing what work, that kind of stuff. So as I started, as we started, you know, getting that muscle building and flex or whatever you want to call it. Said well, okay, now we've got this going, we've got this kind of figured out, like the process of a couple blog posts a month. This is working, that's not working, ads this. Then it was like, well, now we need somebody to refine this, and that's where I really thought about the head of marketing. It's not necessarily somebody who starts from scratch, but then somebody who helps us refine what we have, because I think if you say you have somebody come in with with absolutely nothing, with no foundation, I personally think that's that's very difficult for somebody to come into startup that's only a few people and there's been no marketing done before and then say hey, go do this, because there's no no standard set, there's no kind of there's nothing to measure you off of, there's no baseline. Well, once we got to a point where we I felt like we had enough to begin refining and kind of chiseling it, that's when I started feeling like, okay, this makes sense to bring in somebody. That's that's kind of how I thought about it, and he really is is his role. Early on is really to help shore up that foundation and then we'll, you know, kind of leverage and kind of put fuel on that fire. But right now is first couple of months, is really making sure the things that we did were that we said we're good enough at the time, are truly good enough. And maybe that might be a couple new tools, you know, revisiting some comber customer conversations, things like that to make sure that we're on the right path with that brand messaging and things like that. I like that approach. Many of the clients, BDB SASS clients that I work with are doing no or a little marketing. They've got product, they've got sales and my job is to come in and establish that foundation. So for me it's position in a messaging and getting a marketing strategy in place and actually getting some marketing started. So when you have a full time resource, they're not starting from scratch, because that's a big job starting from scratch. They they can come in, they...

...can leverage their specific skills and then enhance or amplify what's going on. I am interested in the process you'd set. It took a long time, perhaps some fall starts along the way, so what were the steps that you took? Did you just put an ad on indeed and ask people to comply? Did you go at probably not. Did you about to your network? What were you like? What were the different ways that you found prospect interview prospects? And how do you do eventually decide on the person that you hired? The first thing is is, you know, identify, trying to identify the role as as well as you can and define it. I guess so, because it's you know, you it's hard to go write a job description without having a good definition of what you think you need and what you don't need. And so we're I actually started with some advisors who have strong marketing backgrounds, or at least hired strong marketers, and really just asked, you know, at that's at the stage that we're at in their experience, what are those skill sets that we need right? And so I think it overall, it kind of came around. If focused on some of it was as simple as like familiar with getting the tools up and running and really getting some of that tactical stuff going right. So there's definitely a baseline of tactical work that this person needs to do. Then the other thing that was helping define the acquisition funnel and the things that are a little more strategic. Right. So is the brand positioning resonating or not resonating? Somebody that can answer those types of questions. So that's where I started, was advisors, clear definition, and then it was, you know, going to the network first, trying to work that angle this we started looking in August of twenty twenty one, but we didn't make the higher until the very end November, so that was three months later, which is all in that's not too bad of a time frame to find somebody. But we ended up finding somebody through Linkedin, like a Linkedin Post, you know, work in the network, trying to work linkedin. That kind of stuff. was was really how we did that and we felt like he had the right level of tactical experience but also clearly show that he could think at the strategic level at where we are today. Maybe not I have fortune five hundred company, but you know where we at, where we need our strategy to be. He had kind of done that before. A lot of BB SASS companies higher marketer. It's very exciting to get somebody with marketing expertise and experience on board, because as an entrepreneur, you say to yourself, this is awesome, they're going to do amazing things and they're going to take us to the next level. The reality is it's it's another person that you've got on board and make sure that they do the job. What were those initial couple months like like? What were the first steps that you had to do with them and and what were the steps that they had to do to make sure that they knew the product and that you were actually forming a partnership in which one plus one equals three? What were those first months like to really get the ball rolling? Yeah, we I'm a big fan of writing up a three thousand and sixty ninety day plan as the this person that role starts, no matter what rule it is, it's, you know, after the first thirty days, what are those milestones we want to hit? Sixty days milestone, ninety days milestone. So that's something that I might outline when we when the person first starts, but it's a mutually agreed upon kind of this is what we're working towards each of the first three months, and the first month was with his marketer. was get familiar with the product, get familiar with the foundation that we've set. So that's the blog post, that's the PR company. You know, really understand what we've been doing less twelve plus months and then also go validate what our positioning is today a little bit. Talk to our customers. So we introduced him to five or six of our customers and he did interviews with each one of them. They say, you know, to to hear from them specifically what pain...

...points we're solving, how they think of us, what are the words they're using when they talk about us, so that we like, like I said, we are, we have our brand and our position that we kind of worked on before he joined, and that could be wrong, it could be bad, but it's kind of it's where it is today and I want to get his input and him do the research and get to where he wants to get with that position compared to what we have today right. So really kind of testing our initial hypothesis. So that's that was the first kind of month of his time. We're actually in his second month right now ish, and so now it's really starting to lay down the foundation for some new content, some improved content. Is really what we're working on. So working through like a brand guide and some of those pieces we didn't have anything other than those initial buyer persona. So turning that into some more of a brand guides that he can kind of we can agree on that and he can then use that and and go off and kind of work for it. So that's where month two is. Month three is more kind of going to be like off to the races, get going, let's see what you can do. But that's how we've been thinking about it. I don't know if that's necessarily how you've done it or how you think about it but in our in our non marketing simpleton minds, that's how we've approached it. It's pragmatic and it's it's the way that I work with clients. Messaging and positioning is important and talking to customers. I love the idea that they went up and talked to five or sect customers because they'll tell you the truth. Entrepreneurs are really good at telling a story, but it's completely biased and subjective and from their own personal experience. But customers will tell you the truth and no often tell you things that you that you don't know or things that are surprising, and then giving a marketer time to put together a plan, to get some of the processes and frameworks together. That's great, and then they can do tactical execution, because a lot of companies want to do tactical execution out of the gate. And if a market doesn't know the product or the customers of the landscape, but they're operating with one hand, time to behind their back and I like your approach. Seems like you've hired the right person, so that that's very encouraging. Curious about what marketing looks like for the rest of two thousand and twenty two. I don't know whether you're planning on going to conferences or whether that's off the table given what's going on. What are some of the things that you'd like to see marketing do for you and or for for data this year? Yeah, some of this that that that he's our new marketing is he's really digging in on is more partnerships. Right. More partnership marketing is a big one for him. So that might be working with like industry groups in B TOB SASS or for product managers or engineers or product marketers. So partnership marketing is one that he's really interested in kind of doing some initial leg work on and the other stuff is really right. Now we're like the foundation that we're working on is optimizing things like our web kind of property, so our websites, how we're managing our ads so that we can do much faster iteration and work through those more. So we've set up our ads. It's not something that we previously touched so frequently. Right, we would track them, but we wouldn't necessarily optimize high performing and drop off low performing things and maybe play with landing pages as much as we should. So that's really what we're looking at. is building a nicer front door to verb data, which is verbatacom right. Build a nice doormat and build a content around that and kind of give the experience to people before they're buying and joining verbs. So that's really where we're focused, is that partnership side and building the kind of welcome at to verb out a lot more that my through content, through shared publications, that kind of stuff as well. That's great. This has been a really interesting conversation. I think a lot of entrepreneurs need more insight into how marketing happens, how you get started with marketing, how you build a marketing foundation and eventually how you hire a marketing person, because it's a journey that...

...you're on. It comminates with hiring the marketing person and eventually hiring a marketing team, which is a huge step for a lot of companies. So I hope they've got some firsthand insight into how that happens. Final question is where can people learn more about you and verb data? Our website is our our welcome at. It's Verb Datacom. You can also see us on social at verb data, and that's on twitter, facebook and Linkedin, and so those there are our main properties. Well, thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave reviview, subscribe by Apple Podcast, spotify or your favorite podcast APP and share via social media. To learn more about how I help BDB sads companies as a fractional CMO strategic advisor and coach, send an email to mark at mark everage Dotca or connect with me on Linkedin. I'll talk to you next.

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