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 listening to marketing spark. When a company begins to see hypergrowth, it's exciting but also 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 Toronto based company nearly three years ago. Ada has raised a hundred and seventy five million 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 I set off the top, you've been at Ada for nearly three years. What has 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 enterprise software 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 entering a fast moving, super congested, confused competitive market. I consciously wanted to be in that space and to flex my 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 the market was a little bit sleepier and I kind of felt like I had done what I could do as 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's absolutely been a wild ride. And I think what's changed over the last three years? To your question, like, obviously we're bigger in terms of employees and customers and budgets and revenue, but I think, you know, at the beginning we were very scrappy and opportunistic. We were kind of reacting to a lot of what an individual customer would say to us or what we were seeing with select competitors. And here we are three years later. Market is still 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've got wind in our sales were well capitalized and so we can now take a breath and be a lot more thoughtful and strategic about the future, if you know what I mean. Like in the in the past, we would make decisions, you know, from month to month. Now we are very deliberately planning for one or two years out, and I think that's because we've done a good job building some foundational systems and processes that have rigger and they're dependable and predictable at this point. So we can now turn our attention to net new initiatives that really will power our growth further down the line in a more strategic way. So I think that's the shift that I'm most anxious of as a 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, plugins enterprise grade chat bots. Did you, I mean, did you revel in that challenge, that you were renting a fiercely competitive market place with a daunting it all, or was it something at this point your career, was like bring it on, you know, I want to see how I can leverage my experience and expertise to really establish a marketing engine and position Nada as the 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 awareness that, like I remember, even before I was hired, talking to Mike, our CEO, and saying man like, there are a lot of chat bots out there. Mike just always had this conviction in our product and our point 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. I think Gartner says, by the way, that they're over twozero chatbot vendors on the market. So, you know,...

...really, really noisy. I think for sure the challenge was appealing to me. I knew that there was going to be some consolidation, that the cream was going to rise to the top. I also very quickly in my tenure at eight, to realize that we are so much more than a chat bought. The word chat bought is very like emotionally charged and people have this idea of what it is and I think even in the last three years that's changed. You know, Aida is really an automation layer that underpins all interactions 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're being used by our clients today. That idea of an f a qbot that you download from a website and stick on your website in order to answer questions at that's just not that's not the path forward, and I think ad 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 the relationship between the CEO and the CMO. The lifespan of a CMO is slowly shrinking and my position is that one of the keys to success is establishing a partnership 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 way along with being successful. was that something that you and Mike talked about before you made the move into Ada, that you were going to enter this fast growing, high potential company but understand and that there was things you were going to do and there were ways that you were going to work together to make it happen? Yeah, I don't know if we had that conversation in that way. It was really important to me that the CEO of the company where I worked was bought into the importance of marketing, and so we talked about budget and head count because to me that's very a very practical reflection of the measure of importance. Like if, if the CEO wasn't willing to make investments in marketing, that's, I think, a pretty good sign that they don't see 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 a lot 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 very much aligned in that regard. You know, Mike is a an extremely passionate CEO and so he feels invested in all parts of the organization and he's opinionated about certain aspects of marketing and I think we have healthy debate along those lines and I think that every CMO and CEO should have that that the CEO if he or she cares, which they should. You know, it's inevitable that there will be debates and disagreements about the way things should work. But on the 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 the decisions to build out the marketing team. I felt a great deal of support from Mike along those lines. He's definitely a sounding board. There are certainly parts of the marketing strategy where I feel I want him more involved and I pull him in in those cases. There are sometimes where he feels he should be more involved and I respect that, but I don't feel micromanaged. So I think it's that balance 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 crowdsource or marketing strategy. In a marketing is one of those parts of the business where everybody tends to have an opinion. We needed to move fast and I couldn't. There was no way I was going to cry out crowdsource every graphic on the...

...website or the you know, the writing of every blog post. Like. We needed to have some freedom to to move fast, and might gave me that freedom. Earlier this year, a to raise a hundred and thirty million dollars US, which turned it into a Unicorn. Tough question, but what does that mean for you and marketing a data how does it change the rules of engagement and the type of marketing that 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 responsibility to use these resources to build a generational company that fundamentally changes the way that people and brands interact. Like are, it's no longer just about how do we get to that next revenue number, you know, how do I hit my pipeline target? Don't get me wrong, like that's always in my head, but we're now thinking one, two, three years out. What is it to look like? What are we doing for our clients? What problems are we solving in the market? We haven't had the luxury of being able to do that in the past and now we do and I feel the weight of that responsibility. I'm excited to, you know, to move forward with that responsibility in mind. By you know, I'm thinking, whereas a year ago I was thinking about like how do I optimize my seo and how much more money should I spend 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 brand equity do I have and what is the brand that are I'm building and how much of the market have we penetrated and how do we take on more and how do we differentiate in a more strategic way? 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 thinking about. Thankfully, having raised that money, were now well capitalized to make investments accordingly. So my marketing leadership team is very much focus now on how do we build the team that we need and invest in the programs that we need to take on those longer term initiatives that are really going to secure Ada's place in this market as the leader. When it comes to how you allocate and invest your marketing dollars, one of the big questions is how do you scale a BDB SASS marketing team? How do you determine the roles that are needed? You know, what is your approach to hiring? Do you look for all stars and or people with a lot of potential, and what's the role of experience and expertise and personality play when putting together an effective and cohesive marketing team? I recognize that's a lot of questions. That's a lot to unpack. There but I am really curious about how you are growing your team so that you can be effect of successful, cohesive, collaborative and really support the growth of the company and and we're going. Yeah, it's a great question, a big question. I feel like you know. People Management and building the team is at least half of my job at Aida. It's a part of my job that I love the most. It depends a lot on the 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 tob SASS, market assass marketing or going to Azation? There are four functions as I see it. The first is product marketing. They do market analysis and then take the product to market. They share their point of view about the 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 your demand team. They own your distribution channels like email, social paper, click, SEO events. Demand surfaces demand in...

...the form of leads. Those get handed over to the last group and marketing, which is the BEDR team. These are Business Development Reps, chasing the leads and also outbounding accounts to try to 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 think it forces better alignment between marketing and sales. So I think of all of that along a continuum and depending on the nature of your company and the challenges at hand, I would hire in a particular order. At Aida demand was my 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 more of a mid market or enterprise facing organization. Him then I would hire product marketing and I actually would leave brand to the end. That that would be my hiring sequence and that's what I did at Ada. There was real urgency to 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 think that you can outsource a little bit, especially for brand, and that kind of can fill that gap in the short term. To the second part of your question around skill versus personality, experience versus potential. You're always hiring for skill and attitude or skill and style. You might say you need a certain foundational measure of skill in all of those four buckets when you hire. But I will hire attitude over skill every day of the week. especially for a fast growing, SASS startup environment. You need somebody that's curious and coachable and hungry to prove something and you know, can move fast at like those those soft skills, those softer qualities, are so much more important in my opinion. Skill foundate. You need to, like I said, certain foundational elements of skill, but I think attitude and style is much more important in your hiring. One more thing I'll say. As you grow beyond like, once you've got your kind a baseline core team, it's less so about the individuals you hire and more so about the system that you're building. So are you really creating an infrastructure that if somebody leaves, which they always will in a fast growing startup environment like there's always some degree of turnover, do you still have that system in place that things won't fall apart if somebody leaves. The other 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 and where do you leverage external resources and what are the what are the process to identify and vet the right partners? Yeah, it's hard because I think that and I've you know, you know this and we've known each other longer than six years, by the way. But like I used to do freelancing and consultants, consulting, I had a marketing agency and I think that there's real value in working with those types of professionals. But nobody is going to care 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. You can't, like a freelancer isn't going to have just you in mind when they're doing 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 I think it's a great risk mitigation strategy to fill gaps as you grow. I always maintain a bunch of writers and designers...

...because the work is going to it's not going to be as it's lumpy sometimes, so it's a great way to smooth out some of those lumps. I think that once a function becomes important enough 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 the talent in house. So at the beginning we outsourced. We had one internal writer and we outsourced a lat and one internal designer and we outsourced a lot of 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 is a lot of talk around teams being very strategic and then using exert eternal resources for tact to execution, and I've it feels like a bit of a balancing act 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 after retrenching 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, like I said, I think that outside resources, especially on the front line executing, can help to smooth some of those lumps. But you know, nobody at there are a lot of great writers out there. They're not going to really understand Aida the way that somebody internal to Aida understands Aida. They're not going to be able to write a blog post on the fly inside of a few hours in an afternoon. Nor would it be appropriate for me to ask them to do that. Even as a freelancer, you know, I can't have an expectation that they'll be able to deliver against those tight timeline. So I see advantages to both scenarios and I try to I try to establish a sense of balance where I always have a bench of freelancers available should I need them. 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 marketing budget within a fast growing company? I can only imagine that raising a lot of money can make budgetting more complex and multifaceted. Yeah, we have a great finance team at Aida and they hold us accountable and we meet with them weekly and really scrutinize the impact of our spend. So everything on my marketing team tracks back to revenue, to pipeline, to acquisition costs, and we hold ourselves accountable to that. Now some of the investments are maybe not as directly connected. You Invest in brand, you can't necessarily see, you know, with a dotted line, exactly how that spend has resulted in revenue growth by it. If the revenue isn't growing alongside of that spend, there's a problem and I try to establish measures that, at a minimum, are leading indicators of revenue or pipeline growth. So for brand, for instance, this year we're tracking branded keyword clicks, which I feel are a leading indicator of growing brand equity. Growing brand equity, I believe, has a massive influence on pipeline growth. So we track those things and hold ourselves accountable and I think that managing budgets at scale require that level of measurable scrutiny and there has to be a rhythm with the finance team between marketing often is the biggest nonhead count spend inside of a BBS ass organization and there has to be a real accountability there and I think everybody on my team understands that and, like I said, we take time almost every week to go through it, review it really understand operationally the impact of what we're spending. Understand when it comes to budgeting, quantifying the performance of marketing. But there's been a lot of talk recently about the balance between quantifying marketing and things that you can't quantify, the impact of brand or the impact of positioning,...

...for example, and I'm wondering where you stand and in terms of just because everything can be measured, should we 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 you can'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 much more comfortable on the science side of marketing. I love that digital marketing is so measurable, but I absolutely recognize and except that there's a lot about marketing that 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 whether or not the investment is delivering what you expected it to deliver. So while something like positioning or brand or competitive Intel may not be measurable in terms of the mqls that it delivers or the clicks that it's, you know, gets for you or the amount of pipeline that it generates in a very linear direct way, there are things that you can measure to gage the impact of those investments and if those measures are growing alongside of pipeline and Revenue Growth, then I 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 measure what is our win rate inside of competitive deals, to what extent of product marketing resource has been pulled into those deals? Are they using the competitive assets that we created? So we try to create measures or introduce measures that are at least indirectly related to our pipeline and revenue growth. So I think everything is 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. For many years, bb s ass marketers have used emails as a key metric for mqls. The fact that if I put an ebook out there or an infigraphic or some kind of worksheet and I collect an email address, that counts as marketing success. And I'm wondering which side of the fence do you fall on when it comes to gated versus ungated content, and what is the balance between trying to gate some content and allowing some cont to essentially be free? Yeah, I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle on that one. First of all, I don't think that MQL's are a measure of success and ql's are a leading indicator. But you know, you could have a thousand mqls in a week that convert at an abysmal rate to pipeline or to closed one business. Is that success? No, you could have a hundred mqls that close at a rate of forty percent, converted a rate of forty percent to pipeline, with a close rate of forty percent, and that's, you know, incredible. So I had a marketing mentor, who once said to me the perfect marketing business is the one that generates a hundred mqls, that can a 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 all of your eggs in the mql basket is a mistake. You have to understand the full funnel, right down to closed one and a B testing gated versus ungated 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 each stage? How do you open up those...

...conversations more effectively? How do you evaluate multitouch attribution, not just first touch or last touch? You have to really 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 with marketing assets. So does that mean that the original email that we captured through a 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 and ungated. I think deeper down the funnel, the more important ungated is case things like 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 for a while. Aida. CHECK US out at Aida Dot CX and look for me on Linkedin. Ruth's I've maybe you can put my url. I'm always happy to connect with folks and pick up conversations there and really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. Thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review, subscribe by Itunes, spotify or your favorite podcast APP, and share via social media if you'd like to learn more about how I help you to be SASS companies as a fractional CMOS for cheating advisory coach. So I didn't email to mark at marketing sparkedcom. I'll talk to you next.

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