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 had Mark Evans and you're listeningto marketing spark. When a company begins to see hypergrowth, it's exciting butalso arguably daunting. The pace accelerates, your organization dramatically changes literally overnight.Bruce I'the has enjoyed a front row seat for Ada. Since joining the Torontobased company nearly three years ago. Ada has raised a hundred and seventy fivemillion dollars and established itself as one of the leading chatbots for automating customer experiences. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here. As Iset off the top, you've been at Ada for nearly three years. Whathas been your journey as a marketer as the company has grown and changed?You came into Ada after spending four years as ahead of marketing at another enterprisesoftware company, so you had experience with large organizations. It's a great question. I moved to Ada very much mindful of the fact that I was enteringa fast moving, super congested, confused competitive market. I consciously wanted tobe in that space and to flex my marketing muscles in a way that Ihadn't in the past, and my prior role the company was growing. Itwas very exciting. I learned a lot, but the market was a little bitsleepier and I kind of felt like I had done what I could doas a marketer to capture more market share, and so I came to Aida,you know, very aware of what was in front of me and it'sabsolutely been a wild ride. And I think what's changed over the last threeyears? To your question, like, obviously we're bigger in terms of employeesand customers and budgets and revenue, but I think, you know, atthe beginning we were very scrappy and opportunistic. We were kind of reacting to alot of what an individual customer would say to us or what we wereseeing with select competitors. And here we are three years later. Market isstill very crowded, but I think, you know, we've got a lead. We've kind of emerged as one of the leaders in the space. We'vegot wind in our sales were well capitalized and so we can now take abreath and be a lot more thoughtful and strategic about the future, if youknow what I mean. Like in the in the past, we would makedecisions, you know, from month to month. Now we are very deliberatelyplanning for one or two years out, and I think that's because we've donea good job building some foundational systems and processes that have rigger and they're dependableand predictable at this point. So we can now turn our attention to netnew initiatives that really will power our growth further down the line in a morestrategic way. So I think that's the shift that I'm most anxious of asa marketer. What's interesting to me is that when you came to Aida,it wasn't like the market had a few competitors. It was extremely competitive.There are chat bots all over the place. There are dotyourself chat bots, pluginsenterprise grade chat bots. Did you, I mean, did you revel inthat challenge, that you were renting a fiercely competitive market place with adaunting it all, or was it something at this point your career, waslike bring it on, you know, I want to see how I canleverage my experience and expertise to really establish a marketing engine and position Nada asthe market leader. You know, I would say all of the above,and I'm also not sure what I was thinking. Like I had this awarenessthat, like I remember, even before I was hired, talking to Mike, our CEO, and saying man like, there are a lot of chat botsout there. Mike just always had this conviction in our product and ourpoint of view that we were different and better, and he convinced me,and so I was a little bit blind by his enthusiasm and optimism. Ithink Gartner says, by the way, that they're over twozero chatbot vendors onthe market. So, you know,...

...really, really noisy. I thinkfor sure the challenge was appealing to me. I knew that there was going tobe some consolidation, that the cream was going to rise to the top. I also very quickly in my tenure at eight, to realize that weare so much more than a chat bought. The word chat bought is very likeemotionally charged and people have this idea of what it is and I thinkeven in the last three years that's changed. You know, Aida is really anautomation layer that underpins all interactions between a brand and the people who careabout that brand. That's sort of that was always our vision and that's reallyhow we're being used by our clients today. That idea of an f a qbotthat you download from a website and stick on your website in order toanswer questions at that's just not that's not the path forward, and I thinkad to realize that a long time ago, and we're really leading that charge today. One of the things that I want to ask you about is therelationship between the CEO and the CMO. The lifespan of a CMO is slowlyshrinking and my position is that one of the keys to success is establishing apartnership with the CEO, that you know exactly what the rules of engagement are, you know how marketing will evolve and you will make mistakes along the wayalong with being successful. was that something that you and Mike talked about beforeyou made the move into Ada, that you were going to enter this fastgrowing, high potential company but understand and that there was things you were goingto do and there were ways that you were going to work together to makeit happen? Yeah, I don't know if we had that conversation in thatway. It was really important to me that the CEO of the company whereI worked was bought into the importance of marketing, and so we talked aboutbudget and head count because to me that's very a very practical reflection of themeasure of importance. Like if, if the CEO wasn't willing to make investmentsin marketing, that's, I think, a pretty good sign that they don'tsee it as a priority or, you know, as a critical growth vector. And Mike absolutely he was very clear that when I joined I had alot of latitude to build a team and to build the programs that were necessary. So that was a check. You know, I think we were verymuch aligned in that regard. You know, Mike is a an extremely passionate CEOand so he feels invested in all parts of the organization and he's opinionatedabout certain aspects of marketing and I think we have healthy debate along those linesand I think that every CMO and CEO should have that that the CEO ifhe or she cares, which they should. You know, it's inevitable that therewill be debates and disagreements about the way things should work. But onthe flip side, you also don't want to be micromanaged and and I,like I said, I had a lot of freedom and autonomy to make thedecisions to build out the marketing team. I felt a great deal of supportfrom Mike along those lines. He's definitely a sounding board. There are certainlyparts of the marketing strategy where I feel I want him more involved and Ipull him in in those cases. There are sometimes where he feels he shouldbe more involved and I respect that, but I don't feel micromanaged. SoI think it's that balance that's really important between us, especially in a fastgrowing company. What I did know, and we did talk about, isthat I wasn't going to crowdsource or marketing strategy. In a marketing is oneof those parts of the business where everybody tends to have an opinion. Weneeded to move fast and I couldn't. There was no way I was goingto cry out crowdsource every graphic on the...

...website or the you know, thewriting of every blog post. Like. We needed to have some freedom toto move fast, and might gave me that freedom. Earlier this year,a to raise a hundred and thirty million dollars US, which turned it intoa Unicorn. Tough question, but what does that mean for you and marketinga data how does it change the rules of engagement and the type of marketingthat Aida can do. Similar to your first question, I think that,like on the other side of this raise, we feel an enormous amount of responsibilityto use these resources to build a generational company that fundamentally changes the waythat people and brands interact. Like are, it's no longer just about how dowe get to that next revenue number, you know, how do I hitmy pipeline target? Don't get me wrong, like that's always in myhead, but we're now thinking one, two, three years out. Whatis it to look like? What are we doing for our clients? Whatproblems are we solving in the market? We haven't had the luxury of beingable to do that in the past and now we do and I feel theweight of that responsibility. I'm excited to, you know, to move forward withthat responsibility in mind. By you know, I'm thinking, whereas ayear ago I was thinking about like how do I optimize my seo and howmuch more money should I spend on paper click and what events do we wantto be doing to hit the pipeline number, now I'm more so thinking about,like what is the what brand equity do I have and what is thebrand that are I'm building and how much of the market have we penetrated andhow do we take on more and how do we differentiate in a more strategicway? and Are we leaving money on the table with our pricing and packaging? Like I feel like it's a level up now the stuff that I'm thinkingabout. Thankfully, having raised that money, were now well capitalized to make investmentsaccordingly. So my marketing leadership team is very much focus now on howdo we build the team that we need and invest in the programs that weneed to take on those longer term initiatives that are really going to secure Ada'splace in this market as the leader. When it comes to how you allocateand invest your marketing dollars, one of the big questions is how do youscale a BDB SASS marketing team? How do you determine the roles that areneeded? You know, what is your approach to hiring? Do you lookfor all stars and or people with a lot of potential, and what's therole of experience and expertise and personality play when putting together an effective and cohesivemarketing team? I recognize that's a lot of questions. That's a lot tounpack. There but I am really curious about how you are growing your teamso that you can be effect of successful, cohesive, collaborative and really support thegrowth of the company and and we're going. Yeah, it's a greatquestion, a big question. I feel like you know. People Management andbuilding the team is at least half of my job at Aida. It's apart of my job that I love the most. It depends a lot onthe company and the nature of the market and the product that you're selling.ARE YOU SM BE ORIENTED OR ENTERPRISE ORIENTED? But in an in a be tobSASS, market assass marketing or going to Azation? There are four functionsas I see it. The first is product marketing. They do market analysisand then take the product to market. They share their point of view aboutthe product and the market with the next group and marketing, which is brand. Those are usually writers designers and they're creating all of your public facing assets. They share those assets with the next group in marketing, which is yourdemand team. They own your distribution channels like email, social paper, click, SEO events. Demand surfaces demand in...

...the form of leads. Those gethanded over to the last group and marketing, which is the BEDR team. Theseare Business Development Reps, chasing the leads and also outbounding accounts to tryto get qualified meetings book for sales. Sometimes BEDR sit in the sales organization, but I have a strong opinion they should sit in marketing. I thinkit forces better alignment between marketing and sales. So I think of all of thatalong a continuum and depending on the nature of your company and the challengesat hand, I would hire in a particular order. At Aida demand wasmy first priority, so how do I surface demand as quickly as possible?And I would hire a couple of generalists who really understand how channels work.I would say that the next priority would be Bedr, especially if you're moreof a mid market or enterprise facing organization. Him then I would hire product marketingand I actually would leave brand to the end. That that would bemy hiring sequence and that's what I did at Ada. There was real urgencyto grow our pipeline coverage in the first year or two that I joined,and demand and Bedr was going to do that most swiftly. I also thinkthat you can outsource a little bit, especially for brand, and that kindof can fill that gap in the short term. To the second part ofyour question around skill versus personality, experience versus potential. You're always hiring forskill and attitude or skill and style. You might say you need a certainfoundational measure of skill in all of those four buckets when you hire. ButI will hire attitude over skill every day of the week. especially for afast growing, SASS startup environment. You need somebody that's curious and coachable andhungry to prove something and you know, can move fast at like those thosesoft skills, those softer qualities, are so much more important in my opinion. Skill foundate. You need to, like I said, certain foundational elementsof skill, but I think attitude and style is much more important in yourhiring. One more thing I'll say. As you grow beyond like, onceyou've got your kind a baseline core team, it's less so about the individuals youhire and more so about the system that you're building. So are youreally creating an infrastructure that if somebody leaves, which they always will in a fastgrowing startup environment like there's always some degree of turnover, do you stillhave that system in place that things won't fall apart if somebody leaves. Theother thing that you mentioned that is interesting is the role of third parties,freelancers and contractors within larger companies like Aida. From a marking perspective, when andwhere do you leverage external resources and what are the what are the processto identify and vet the right partners? Yeah, it's hard because I thinkthat 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 freelancingand consultants, consulting, I had a marketing agency and I think that there'sreal value in working 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 interests focused in tire. Youcan't, like a freelancer isn't going to have just you in mind when they'redoing their work or scheduling their day, because they're likely working with multiple brands. That said, you know, I've outsourced writing design in Web Development,PR I've outsourced SEO and paper click. I've even outsource bead work and Ithink it's a great risk mitigation strategy to fill gaps as you grow. Ialways maintain a bunch of writers and designers...

...because the work is going to it'snot going to be as it's lumpy sometimes, so it's a great way to smoothout some of those lumps. I think that once a function becomes importantenough that you're thinking about it every day that you're throwing, you know,enough money at it that it represents a salary, there's value in bringing thetalent in house. So at the beginning we outsourced. We had one internalwriter and we outsourced a lat and one internal designer and we outsourced a lotof the brand stuff. Now I'm very focused on building out my brand team. It's an interesting ecosystem for a lot of bbbs ass companies because there isa lot of talk around teams being very strategic and then using exert eternal resourcesfor tact to execution, and I've it feels like a bit of a balancingact about how much tactical expertise you need in house versus what you can outsource, and I think a lot of companies, especially as they look to restaff afterretrenching last year from a marketing perspective, are going to have some hard choices, or some interesting choices to make about how they structure their marketing teams. Yeah, I agree with that. I you know, I, likeI said, I think that outside resources, especially on the front line executing,can help to smooth some of those lumps. But you know, nobodyat there are a lot of great writers out there. They're not going toreally understand Aida the way that somebody internal to Aida understands Aida. They're notgoing to be able to write a blog post on the fly inside of afew hours in an afternoon. Nor would it be appropriate for me to askthem to do that. Even as a freelancer, you know, I can'thave an expectation that they'll be able to deliver against those tight timeline. SoI see advantages to both scenarios and I try to I try to establish asense of balance where I always have a bench of freelancers available should I needthem. But slowly I'm bringing more and more of the talent in house.Here's another big question. What it's what does it like to create a marketingbudget within a fast growing company? I can only imagine that raising a lotof money can make budgetting more complex and multifaceted. Yeah, we have agreat finance team at Aida and they hold us accountable and we meet with themweekly and really scrutinize the impact of our spend. So everything on my marketingteam tracks back to revenue, to pipeline, to acquisition costs, and we holdourselves accountable to that. Now some of the investments are maybe not asdirectly connected. You Invest in brand, you can't necessarily see, you know, with a dotted line, exactly how that spend has resulted in revenue growthby it. If the revenue isn't growing alongside of that spend, there's aproblem and I try to establish measures that, at a minimum, are leading indicatorsof revenue or pipeline growth. So for brand, for instance, thisyear we're tracking branded keyword clicks, which I feel are a leading indicator ofgrowing brand equity. Growing brand equity, I believe, has a massive influenceon pipeline growth. So we track those things and hold ourselves accountable and Ithink that managing budgets at scale require that level of measurable scrutiny and there hasto be a rhythm with the finance team between marketing often is the biggest nonheadcount spend inside of a BBS ass organization and there has to be a realaccountability there and I think everybody on my team understands that and, like Isaid, we take time almost every week to go through it, review itreally understand operationally the impact of what we're spending. Understand when it comes tobudgeting, quantifying the performance of marketing. But there's been a lot of talkrecently about the balance between quantifying marketing and things that you can't quantify, theimpact of brand or the impact of positioning,...

...for example, and I'm wondering whereyou stand and in terms of just because everything can be measured, shouldwe should it be measured and the role of everything has attribution for everything.I mean as a marketer, you accept the fact that there's things that youcan't measure and quantify. Yeah, I struggle with this because I you know, I people talk about marketing being part art part science and I am muchmore comfortable on the science side of marketing. I love that digital marketing is someasurable, but I absolutely recognize and except that there's a lot about marketingthat is more art. I don't agree, though, that it's necessarily not measurable. I think that there's a fine line between like measure and account accountability, and you know, you have to always be measuring something to gage whetheror not the investment is delivering what you expected it to deliver. So whilesomething like positioning or brand or competitive Intel may not be measurable in terms ofthe mqls that it delivers or the clicks that it's, you know, getsfor you or the amount of pipeline that it generates in a very linear directway, there are things that you can measure to gage the impact of thoseinvestments and if those measures are growing alongside of pipeline and Revenue Growth, thenI feel good about making, continuing to make or even grow those investments.You know, the branded keyword clicks is a good example. Competitive Intel,we invest a lot in research of our competitive landscape. We try to measurewhat is our win rate inside of competitive deals, to what extent of productmarketing resource has been pulled into those deals? Are they using the competitive assets thatwe created? So we try to create measures or introduce measures that areat least indirectly related to our pipeline and revenue growth. So I think everythingis measurable to some extent. One final question on the quantified part of marketing. There's a lot of talk these days about gated versus ungated content. Formany years, bb s ass marketers have used emails as a key metric formqls. The fact that if I put an ebook out there or an infigraphicor some kind of worksheet and I collect an email address, that counts asmarketing success. And I'm wondering which side of the fence do you fall onwhen it comes to gated versus ungated content, and what is the balance between tryingto gate some content and allowing some cont to essentially be free? Yeah, I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle on that one. Firstof all, I don't think that MQL's are a measure of success and ql'sare a leading indicator. But you know, you could have a thousand mqls ina week that convert at an abysmal rate to pipeline or to closed onebusiness. Is that success? No, you could have a hundred mqls thatclose at a rate of forty percent, converted a rate of forty percent topipeline, with a close rate of forty percent, and that's, you know, incredible. So I had a marketing mentor, who once said to methe perfect marketing business is the one that generates a hundred mqls, that cana hundred percent convert to pipeline and a hundred percent go closed one right,like wouldn't that be wonderful? So I don't think that you know putting allof your eggs in the mql basket is a mistake. You have to understandthe full funnel, right down to closed one and a B testing gated versusungated at different points of the sales cycle is really how you optimize that funnel. You have to know, like, what are customers looking for it eachstage? How do you open up those...

...conversations more effectively? How do youevaluate multitouch attribution, not just first touch or last touch? You have toreally especially if you're selling into a large organization. We have an Aida.The average sales cycle has a dozen touch points, at least on average withmarketing assets. So does that mean that the original email that we captured througha paper click ad is really what resulted in the win? Probably not.Like all of the touch points matter, we try to offer both gated andungated. I think deeper down the funnel, the more important ungated is case thingslike case studies or demos or you know, to make those more available. But you know there's still I would never on gate everything. Well,thank you so much for having me. I always love talking about marketing,especially with somebody that's, you know, been in the trenches with me fora while. Aida. CHECK US out at Aida Dot CX and look forme on Linkedin. Ruth's I've maybe you can put my url. I'm alwayshappy to connect with folks and pick up conversations there and really appreciate the opportunityto chat with you. Thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark.If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review, subscribe by Itunes, spotifyor your favorite podcast APP, and share via social media if you'd like tolearn more about how I help you to be SASS companies as a fractional CMOSfor cheating advisory coach. So I didn't email to mark at marketing sparkedcom.I'll talk to you next.

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