Scaling Marketing at a Fast-Growing B2B SaaS Company: Ruth Zive

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

How do you scale a marketing team at a hyper-growth company?

It’s definitely a nice problem to have. Who wouldn’t want to ride a rocket?

Managing growth is a major challenge for Ruth Zive, who has led marketing at Ada for nearly three years.

Earlier this year, the Toronto-based company raised $130 million.

Ruth, who has headed up marketing at Ada for nearly three years, says momentum and capital have allowed her to take a different approach to marketing, 

“We have the wind in our sails and we are well-capitalized. So, now we can take a breath and be a lot more thoughtful and strategic about the future,” Ruth said on my podcast.

“In the past, we would make decisions from month to month. Now, we very deliberately planning for one or two years out.”


 

I have Hark evins you're, listening tomarkets when a company begins to see hype of Ro, it's exciting, but alsobarguay daunting. The pace accelerates the organization dramatically changesliterally overnight, resists joining the Toronto Base Company nearly threeyears ago. It has raised a hundred and seventy five million dollars andestablish itself lead chat box. autometer. Thank you for having me. I'm excited tobe here. As I said off the top, you been at Ada for nearly three years.What has been your journey as a marketer as the company has grown andchanged? You came into Ada after spending four years as a head ofmarketing at another enterprise software company, so you hadexperienced with large organizations it's a great question. I move to Ada very much mindful of the fact that Iwas entering a fast moving super congested, confused,competitive market. I consciously wanted to be in that space and to flexmy marketing muscles in a way that I hadn't in the past and my prior role.The company was growing. It was very exciting. I learned a lot, but themarket was a little bit sleepier and I kind of felt like I had done what Icould do as a marketer to capture more market share, and so I came to Ada. Youknow very aware of what was in front of me and it's absolutely been a white, awild ride and I think, what's changed over thelast three years to your question, like obviously we're bigger in terms ofemployees and customers and budgets and revenue, but I think you know at thebeginning we were very scrappy and opportunistic. We were kind of reactingto a lot of what an individual customer would say to us or what we were seeingwas select competitors, and here we are three years later, a market is stillvery crowded, but I think you know: We've got a lead. We've kind of emergedas one of the leaders in the space we've got wind in our sales were wellcapitalized, and so we can now take a breath and be a lot more thoughtful andstrategic about the future. If you know what I mean like in the in the past, wewould make decisions you know for a month to month now we are verydeliberately planning for one or two years out and I think that's becausewe've done a good job, building some foundational systems and processes thathave rigor and they're, dependable and predictable. At this point, so we cannow turn our attention to net new initiatives that really will power ourgrowth further down the line in a more strategic way. So I think that's theshift that I'm most conscious of as a marketer. What's interesting to me isthat when you came to Ada it wasn't like the market had a few competitors,it was extremely competitive. There are chat bots all over the place. There aredo yourself chat, bots, plug INS, enterprise grade chat pots. Did you Imean? Did you revel in that challenge that you were renting a fiercelycompetitive market place? Was it Dantin at all, or was it something at thispoint in your career was like bring it on? You know. I want to see how I canleverage my experience and expertise to really establish a marketing engine andposition Nata as the market leader. You know, I would say all of the above andI'm also not sure what I was thinking like. I had this awareness that, like Iremember even before I was hired talking to Mike or CEO and saying manlike there are a lot of chat bots out there Mike just always had thisconviction in our product, in our point of view that we were different andbetter and he convinced me- and so I was a little bit blind by hisenthusiasm and optimism. I think Gartner says by the way that they areover two thousand Chap Bob vendors on...

...the market. So you know really reallynoisy. I think for sure the challenge was appealing to me. I knew that therewas going to be some consolidation that the cream was going to rise to the top.I also very quickly in my tenure at Ada realize that we are so much more than achat Bot. The Word Chat, Bot is very like emotionally charged and peoplehave this idea of what it is, and I think, even in the last three years,that's changed. You know. Ada is really an automation layer that underpins allinteractions between a brand and the people who care about that brand.That's sort of that was always our vision and that's really how we'rebeing used by our clients today that idea of an fa q bout that you downloadfrom a website and stick on your website in order to answer questions. That's just not that's notthe path forward, and I think Ada realized that a long time ago and we'rereally leading that charge today. One of the things that I want to ask youabout is the relationship between the CEO and the C Mo the life stand of a cMo is slowly shrinking and my position is that one of the casessuccess is establishing a partnership with the CEO that you know exactly whatthe rules of engagement are. You Know How marketing will evolve and you willmake mistakes along the way, along with being successful. was that somethingthat you and Mike talked about before you made the move into Ada, that youwere going to enter this fast growing high potential company, but understandthat there was things you were going to do and there were ways that you weregoing to work together to make it happen. Yeah, I don't know if we hadthat conversation in that way. It was really important to me that the CEO ofthe company, where I worked, was bought into the importance of marketing, andso we talked about budget and head count because to me, that's very a verypractical reflection of the measure of importance like if, if the CEO wasn'twilling to make investments in marketing, that's I think a pretty goodsign that they don't see it as a priority or you know, is a criticalgrowth vector and Mike Absolutely. He was very clear that when I joined I hada lot of latitude to build a team and to build the programs that werenecessary. So that was a check. You know. I thinkwe were very much aligned in that regard. You know Mike is is a an extremely passionate CEO, and so hefeels invested in all parts of the organization and he's opinionated aboutcertain aspects of marketing, and I think we have healthy debate alongthose lines and I think that every c Mo and CEO should have that the CEO, ifhere she cares which they should. You know it's inevitable- that there willbe debates and disagreements about the way things should work. But on the flipside you also don't want to be micro, managed and- and I, like I said, I hada lot of freedom and autonomy to make the decisions to build out themarketing team. I felt a great deal of support for Mike along those lines,he's definitely a sounding board. There are certainly parts of the marketingstrategy where I feel I want him more involved and I pull him in. In thosecases there are sometimes where he feels he should be more involved, and Irespect that, but I don't feel micro managed. So I think it's that balanced,that's really important between us, especially in a fast growing company.What I did know- and we did talk about- is that I wasn't going to crowd sourceour marketing strategy and a marketing is one of those parts of the businesswhere everybody tends to have an opinion we needed to move fast, and Icouldn't there was no way I was going to crowtown source every graphic on thewebsite or the you know, the writing of...

...every blog post, like we needed to havesome freedom to to move fast and might gave me that freedom earlier this yearat a raised, a hundred and thirty million dollars US which turned it intoa Unicorn tough question. But what does that mean for you and marketing at Ada?How does it change the rules of engagement and the type of marketingthat Ada can do similar to your first question, I thinkthat, like on the other side of this rays, we feel an enormous amount ofresponsibility to use these resources to build a generational company that fundamentally changes the way thatpeople and brands interact like are it's no longer just about? How do weget to that next revenue? Number, you know. How do I hit my pipe line target?Don't get me wrong, like that's always in my head, but we're now thinking onetwo three years out. What is a to look like? What are we doing for our clients?What problems are we solving in the market? We haven't had the luxury ofbeing able to do that in the past, and now we do and I feel the weight of thatresponsibility. I'm excited to you know to move forward with thatresponsibility in mind, but you know I'm thinking, whereas a year ago I wasthinking about like how do I optimize my seo and how much more money should Ispend on paper click and what events do we want to be doing to hit the pipeline number now, I'm more so thinking about like what is the what brandequity do I have and what is the brand that I'm building and how much of themarket have we penetrated, and how do we take on more and how do wedifferentiate in a more strategic way and are we leaving money on the tablewith our pricing and packaging like I feel like it's a level up now the stuffthat I'm thinking about? Thankfully, having raised that money were now wellcapitalized to make investments accordingly, so my marketing leadershipteam is very much focused now on. How do we build the team that we need andinvest in the programs that we need to take on those longer term initiativesthat are really going to secure Ada's place in this market as the leader whenit comes to how you allocate and invest your marketing dollars? One of the bigquestions is: How do you scale a B, SASS marketing team? How do youdetermine the roles that are needed? You know. What is your approach tohiring? Do you look for all stars and or people with a lot of potential andwhat's the role of experience in expertise and personality play whenputting together an effective and cohesive marketing team? I recognizethat's a lot of questions. That's a lot to impact there, but I am reallycurious about how you are growing your team so that you can be effective,successful, cohesive collaborate and really support the growth of thecompany and and where you're going yeah. It's a great question, a big question Ifeel, like you know, people management and building the team is at least halfof my job at Ada. It's a part of my job that I love the most. It depends a loton the company and the nature of the market and the product that you'reselling or you S MB oriented or enterprise oriented, but in a in a BTabas Market assass marketing organization. There are four functions,as I see it. The first is product marketing, they do market analysis andthen take the product to market. They share their point of view about theproduct and the market with the next group of marketing, which is brand,those are usually writers, designers and they're, creating all of yourpublic facing assets. They share those assets with the next group of marketing,which is your demand team. They own your distribution channels like email,social paper, click, so events...

...demand surfaces demand in the form ofleads those get handed over to the last group of marketing, which is the BEDRteam. These are business, development, reps chasing the leads and alsooutbounding accounts to try to get qualified meetings book for sales,sometimes Bedr sit in the sales organization, but I have a strongopinion. They should sit in marketing. I think it forces better alignmentbetween marketing and sales, so I think of all of that, along a continuum anddepending on the nature of your company and the challenges at hand, I wouldhire in a particular order and Ada demand was my first priority. So how doI surface demand as quickly as possible, and I would hire a couple of generalistwho really understand how channels work? I would say that the next prioritywould be Dr, especially if you're more of a mid market or enterprise facingorganization, then I would hire product marketing and I actually would leavebrand to the end that that would be my hiring sequence and that's what I didat Ada. There was real urgency to grow our pipe line coverage in the firstyear or two that I joined and demand and Bdra was going to do that mostswiftly. I also think that you can outsource a little bit, especially forbrand, and that kind of can fill that gap in the short term. To the secondpart of your question, around skill versus personality experience versuspotential you're, always hiring for skill and attitude or skill and style.You might say you need a certain foundational measureof skill in all of those four buckets when you hire, but I will hire attitudeover skill every day of the week, especially for a fast growing, SASS,startup environment. You need somebody, that's curious and coachable and hungryto prove something, and you know can move fast to and like those those softskills, those softer qualities are so much more important. In my opinion,skill found ate you need of, like I said, certain foundational elements ofskill, but I think attitude and style is much more important in your hiringone more thing. I'll say as you grow beyond, like once, you've got your kindof baseline core team, it's less so about the individuals you hire and moreso about the system that you're building. So, are you really creatingan infrastructure that, if somebody leaves which they always will in a fastgrowing startup environment, like e, there's always some degree of turnover?Do you still have that system in place that things won't fall apart? Ifsomebody leaves? The other thing that you mentioned,that is interesting is the role of third parties, freelancers andcontractors within larger companies like Ada, from a marking perspectivewhen an where do you leverage, external or Resourcesm? What are the? What arethe process to identify and VAT? The right partners yeah it's hard, becauseI think that and I've you know you know this and we've known each other longerthan six years by the way, but like I used to do free, Lancing and consultantconsulting, I had a marketing agency and I think that there's real value inworking with those types of professionals, but nobody is going tocare about your brand. The same way as somebody that's internal to your team.I just think it's really hard to keep your interest focused in tire. Youcan't like a freelance er, isn't going to have just you in mind when they'redoing their work or scheduling their day, because they're likely workingwith multiple brands. That said, you know I've out sourcedwriting, design, Web Development, PR I've out sourced so and paper click. Ieven out source speedy work and I think it's a great risk mitigation strategyto fill gaps as you grow. I always...

...maintain a bunch of writers anddesigners because the work is going to it's not going to be it's lumpy,sometimes, so it's a great way to smooth out some of those lumps. I thinkthat once a function becomes important enough, that you're thinking about itevery day that you're throwing you know enough money at it that it represents asalary there's value in bringing the talent in house. So at the beginning,we out sourced we had one internal writer and we out sourced a lot and oneinternal designer and we out sourced a lot of the brand stuff. Now I'm veryfocused on building out my brand team. It's an interesting ecosystem for a lotof BBC companies, because there is a lot of talk around teams being verystrategic and then using e, eternal resources for Cato execution, and itfeels like a bit of a balancing act about how much tactical expertise you need in houseversus what you can outsource and I think a lot of companies, especially asthey look to re staff after retrenching last year from a marking perspectiveare going to have some hard choices or some interesting choices to make abouthow they structure their marketing teams. Yeah. I agree with that. I youknow I like I said. I think that outside resources, especially on thefront line executing, can help to smooth some of those lumps. But youknow nobody, there are a lot of great writers out there they're not going toreally understand Ada the way that somebody internal to Ada understandsAda they're, not going to be able to write a blog post on the fly inside ofa few hours in an afternoon. Nor would it be appropriate for me to ask them todo that, even as a freelancer, you know, I can't have an expectation thatthey'll be able to deliver against those tight time lines. So I seeadvantages to both scenarios and I try to I try to establish a sense ofbalance where I always have a bunch of freelancers available should I needthem, but slowly I'm bringing more and more of the talent in house. Here'sanother big question: What it's? What is it like to create a marketing budgetwithin a fast grown company? I can only imagine that raising a lot of money canmake budgeting more complex and multi facite yeah. We have a great financeteam at Ada and they hold us accountable and we meet with themweekly and really scrutinize the impact of our spend. So everything on mymarketing team tracks back to revenue to pipeline to acquisition costs, andwe hold ourselves accountable to that now. Some of the investments are maybenot as directly connected you invest in brand. You can't necessarily see youknow with the dotted line exactly how that spend has resulted in revenuegrowth, but if the revenue isn't growing. Alongside of that, spendthere's a problem and I try to establish measures that at a minimum,are leading indicators of revenue or pipeline growth, so for brand, forinstance, this year we're tracking branded keyboard clicks, which I feelare a leading indicator of growing brand equity. Growing brand equity, Ibelieve, has a massive influence on pipeline growth. So we track thosethings and hold ourselves accountable, and I think that managing budgets atscale require that level of measurable scrutiny and there has to be a rhythmwith the finance team between and marketing often is the biggest non headcount spend inside of a B to be SASS organization, and there has to be areal accountability there, and I think everybody on my team understands thatand, like I said we take time almost every week to go through it review. It really understand operation ally theimpact of what we're spending understand when it comes to budgeting,quantify the performance of marketing. But there's been a lot of talk recentlyabout the bounce between quantify marketing, andd things that you can'tquantify the impact of brand or the...

...impact of positioning, for example, andI'm wondering where you stand in terms of just because everything can bemeasured, should it should it be measured and the rule of everythinghave attribution for everything I mean as a marketer. You accept the fact thatthere's things that you can't measure and quantify yeah, I struggle with thisbecause I you know, I people talk about marketing being part, art part science,and I am much more comfortable on the science side of marketing. I love thatdigital marketing is so measurable, but I absolutely recognize and accept thatthere's a lot about marketing. That is more art. I don't agree, though, thatit's necessarily not measurable. I think that there's a fine line betweenlike measure and account accountability, and you know you have to always bemeasuring something to gauge whether or not the investment is delivering, whatyou expected it to deliver. So, while something like positioning or brand orcompetitive Intel may not be measurable in terms of the MLS that it delivers orthe clicks that it s, you know, gets for you or the amount of pipe line thatit generates in a very linear direct way. There are things that you canmeasure to gauge the impact of those investments, and if those measures aregrowing alongside of pipe line and Revenue Growth, then then I feel goodabout making continuing to make or even grow those investments. You know thebranded keyword clicks is a good example competitive Intel. We invest alot in research of our competitive landscape. We try to measure what isour wind rate inside of competitive deals to what extent of productmarketing resource has been pulled into those deals. Are they using thecompetitive assets that we created? So we try to create measures or introducemeasures that are at least indirectly related to our pipe line and revenuegrow? So I think everything is measurable to some extent. One finalquestion: On the quantified part of marketing: There's alot of talk these days about gated versus ungated content. For many years,Btbai have used emails as a keymer for MLS. The fact that if I put an e bookout there or an intarior some kind of worksheet and I collect an emailaddress that counts as marketing success and I'm wondering which side ofthe fence do you fall on when it comes to gated versus ungaited content. Andwhat is the balance between trying to gate some content and allowing somekind to essentially be free yeah? I think I probably fall somewhere in themiddle on that one. First of all, I don't think that MLS are a measure ofsuccess. MLS are a leading indicator, but you know you could have a thousandMt Ls in a week that convert at an abysmal rate to pipeline or to closeone business. Is that success? No, you could have a hundred mls that close ata rate of forty percent, converted a rate of forty percent to pie, line witha close rate of forty percent, and that's you know incredible. So I had amarketing mentor who once said to me the perfect marketing business is theone that generates a hundred mls, that a hundred percent convert to pipe lineand a hundred percent go closed. One right like wouldn't that be wonderful,so I don't think that you know putting all of your eggs in the mtl basket is amistake. You have to understand the full funnel right down to closed oneand AB testing gated versus ungated atdifferent points of the sales cycle is really how you optimize that funnel. You have to know like whatare customers looking for at each stage?...

How do you open up those conversationsmore effectively? How do you evaluate multi touch? Attribution? Not justfirst touch our last touch. You have to really, especially if you're selling,into a large organization, we have an ADA. The average sales cycle has adozen touch points, at least on average, with marketing assets. So does thatmean that the original email that we captured through a paper click ad isreally what resulted in the win? Probably not like all of the touchpoints matter. We try to offer both gated and ungated. I think deeper downthe funnel. The more important ungated is case, things like case studies orDemos, or you know, to make those more available, but you know there's still.I would never engage everything well. Thank you so much for having me,I always love talking about marketing, especially with somebody. That's youknow been in the trenches with me for a while ADA check us out at a Dado CX andlook for me on link Dan Ruth Dive. Maybe you can put my Url, I'm alwayshappy to connect with folks and pick up conversations there and reallyappreciate the opportunity to chat with you, thanks for listening to anotherepisode of marketing spark, if you enjoyed the conversation, leave areview subscribed by I tunes Potii or your favorite podcast APP and share viasocial media. If you'd like to hear more about how I help you to be SASScompanies and fractional semo for teaching in biorn coach and an email, aresort.

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