Roshan: “Hire generalists without any baggage, who are hungry, enthusiastic, and who would roll up their sleeves, figure things out and execute hard. In (early-stage) marketing teams, my first order of business is to make sure the number of iterations  are increasing. (If) I have many campaigns, I’ll have more data, (and I) can focus on MQLs. But without getting those leads, just guessing what campaigns will work, how many leads will convert into opportunities, and how many will close is not going to work.”

We recently spoke to Roshan Cariappa, VP of Marketing at Vymo, a sales engagement platform used by the world’s leading financial institutions. Vymo is backed by Peak XV (formerly Sequoia Capital India), Emergence Capital, and Bertelsmann India Investments. Roshan has been in various leadership roles within the company since mid-2017 and has successfully scaled their enterprise marketing function. 

Before we get into it, it’s useful to describe Vymo’s business context. 

  1. Large Enterprise-focused with ACV of more than USD 500k. 

  2. Verticalized for Banking, Insurance & Financial Services.

  3. Scaling across Asia, the US, and Japan.

His experience is unique as Vymo was one of the early movers into verticalized SaaS-based enterprise play, and hence, his learnings could serve as a playbook for many. 

Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect as you read along:

  • What are the stages of building a marketing function.

  • Why mimicking a big SaaS organization’s marketing structure won’t cut it.

  • How to use Customer Marketing to increase NRR.

  • How can Vertical Enterprise SaaS Companies do Cross-border Marketing.

  • How can SaaS companies achieve sales and marketing alignment?

What are the stages of building a marketing function?

According to Roshan, it is essential to understand a SaaS company's needs from marketing at different stages and accordingly deliver. He says there are three stages a typical SaaS marketing function goes through - Sales enablement, demand generation, and branding. 

When the company is in the 0-to-1 stage, sales introductions usually happen from in-network contacts of founders/founding team or referrals. Hence, marketing’s key role at this stage is sales enablement - getting the sales motion up and running and enabling the sales conversations with the right collateral. 

Roshan: “When I joined, the need was - hey, the salesperson is going to meet the head of the cards business at a large bank, and we need a deck for them. I need to be able to present my solution coherently and provide validation of my solution. We need to make a testimonial video or develop case studies.” 

As the company scales, it has to attract more customers that match its ICP, and stage 2 is all about demand generation. It is now imperative for marketing to put its efforts behind bringing in high-quality leads, as the sales team has already gone through its initial set of first-hand referral customers. There is now a need for predictable lead gen.

Finally, stage 3 is branding, where the idea is to get the brand name across to the broader market without lead gen as the only goal. In fact, the brand improves the quality of leads and the lead conversion rate as more people are familiar with your company. 

Roshan: “In most markets where we operate today, people know us as a sales engagement solution. Now, the next thing is we have to make the case for why Vymo and, more importantly, why not something else! So, who we are, what we do, why you should associate with us hence become super important.”

Momentum before everything else

While Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as saying, ‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal,’ this approach sadly will not cut it for a young SaaS marketing team. Taking something that has worked for another company and trying it will not give the intended results because you cannot copy why it worked for them. Roshan unpacks why this is so.

Roshan: “On day one, you don't know what works, and you don't know what you really need. When I talk to founders and marketing folks at early-stage companies, they say I will look at a successful SaaS startup and just mimic their org structure. On day one, I will have a paid campaigns guy, an SEO guy, a product marketer, and so on. My submission is that this is a wrong way of thinking.”

The trick lies in realizing that at the early stage, you don’t have the data to know if a paid LinkedIn campaign will work for you or are webinars better. If you are going to go with your muscle memory of your previous company or believe something worked for, say, a Zoho or a Chargebee, so it will work for you,  you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Instead of copying what worked for others, building momentum is what counts at this stage. Here’s what this means.

Roshan: “The best way to define momentum is going faster than your competitors. My superpower is that I will run three while my competitor is running one campaign. If they are running three campaigns, I will run nine. For this, you need generalists without any baggage and not SEO or performance marketing specialists. Let them figure things out and execute hard. I need people who can do strategy at the margin in the early stages. Doing a webinar is an experiment, but how to do the webinar well is a strategy. The people I hire at that point think of how they will have to do something?”

Founders should consider everything in early-stage marketing as experiments and track data closely. Over time, you'll have more data and feedback to see what works and what doesn't--what kind of webinar guests work best, what sort of marketing activities bring more success, and what amount of spending gives the maximum ROI. 

Do not ignore Customer Marketing till it is too late

In enterprise SaaS, there is always more money to be made with upsell or cross-sell opportunities, which is why you need customer marketing teams. With a customer marketing team, you can: 

1. Influence NRR. 

2. Impact adoption and client health 

3. Get case studies/ testimonials. 

Vymo has designed a playbook for the three stages of the customer journey: launch, adoption, and success. 

Launch

Aim: Create interest ahead of the deployment. 

Activities: Create teaser mailers, contests, teaser videos, etc.

How: Collaborate with the customer’s marketing team. Vymo sometimes designs flyers, videos, and contests, among other activities. 

What you want: Attitude changes from “Hey, something has been thrust down our throat to, hey, something new and cool is coming that could be helpful for me.

Success metric: Measure the adoption on day zero, trending in month one, etc. 

Adoption

Aim: Increase software adoption in the next few months after launch

How: Monitor the client health sheet. If the scores are falling, diagnose the problem, and then you need to build engagement activities such as automated messaging through WhatsApp when some event is triggered inside the software. 

Success metric: More adoption and usage frequency

Success:

Aim: Since the client is at a mature deployment stage, can Vymo use the goodwill for marketing?

How: Get a case study, testimonial, press release, or warm intros. 

Vymo’s Marketing owns this part of the engagement, whereas, in most companies, this is the KRA of the customer success team. 

The logic behind this decision is that the CS folks are the same ones talking to the client about change requests, bugs, and issues. Hence, it becomes tricky for one person to negotiate with the client on a change request and then ask them for a testimonial. 

Roshan: “I am often asked when is the right time to start customer marketing. My answer is--as soon as you have customers. No two ways about it.  You should start small but start quickly. People think customer marketing is like doing a (Salesforce’s) Dreamforce kind of event once a year. It doesn't need to be like that. You can just get a few early customers for a roundtable discussion followed by dinner.” 

Don’t generalize customer insights across geos

Roshan believes that B2B marketers often go down the MQL and SQL rabbit hole, forgetting that there’s a huge human element in selling to businesses. To effectively scale your marketing efforts across different regions, it is important to understand the region’s culture and human psychology.

Roshan: “As a marketer, you can’t scale your understanding of customers from India to the rest of the world. You have to localize at the margin. For this, you will have to talk to real prospects and customers at events, through podcasts, for research, or wherever else, and not rely on second-hand information from your AEs.”

“For example, even though one can make the case that Indonesia is similar to India in terms of demographics, financial inclusion, or culture, the way they purchase software is very different from India. Decision-making is complex, and focusing on partners is extremely important.”


There is no fixed recipe for a successful SaaS marketing org structure

The team at Vymo is structured uniquely. There is a Growth team in charge of running all of the campaigns and an Inside Sales/SDR team that qualifies all the leads that the Growth team generates, converts them into opportunities, and passes this on to sales AEs. Then, there’s a Brand team with content and design capabilities to support campaigns. The team is structured this way to create the maximum impact, which again boils down to ‘alignment with the needs of the business.’ 

Roshan: “I asked myself a simple question. Would I care more about the leads I generated, or would someone else care for them more? Obviously, I would care more because I'm spending money, time, and effort as a marketer. So, we said we would be involved in the marketing funnel for longer than a typical marketing team. I don’t want just to generate the lead. I want to qualify it as well.” 

To qualify the leads, Vymo uses a framework called TEMP (Trigger Engagement Mobilize Profile), an alternative to BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing). This came from a need that they didn’t want to hand off partially qualified leads to sales as they felt pushing it to the next level with qualification would make the prospect more serious for the sales team. 

Also, given that Vymo has long sales cycles, anywhere between 3 and 9 months, there are multiple touchpoints, not just with the initial touchpoint/champion but also with their peers/seniors/juniors. So, the marketing team at Vymo does its best to enable these champions to accelerate the sales process. 

Roshan: I cannot abandon this lead even after I give it to the salesperson. I need to do multi-threading. The SDRs will find peers, one down, one up, and start evangelizing. The core premise is that it has taken us a lot of time to understand what Vymo does and pitch it to someone. What makes us believe that our champion, even if willing to fully back Vymo, will know how to position and pitch Vymo to their peers or their superiors in one or two months? So, how can we make that process easier for our champions?”

Some of the activities that Vymo’s marketing team does are customer workshops, hero videos (shareable on WhatsApp) where they shoot a 1-minute to 90-second video that explains what Vymo can do for that particular organization, and also roundtables. The growth marketing team undertakes these efforts. 


Working with founders on creating the marketing team structure

Jason Lemkin, founder of SaaStr, said something interesting about hiring the VP of sales for a SaaS company - when confused between two roughly equal candidates, recruit the one whom you love, even if they are slightly behind in the pecking order. Something similar works in marketing.

Roshan strongly believes that early-stage marketing leaders/folks need to earn the founder’s trust before they can get to the position of what works/doesn’t work.

Roshan: “Align with the founders and give them an early win because you have to move from a position of responsibility to a position of trust, and it will take time, effort, and energy.”

You cannot expect to walk in on day one and tell founders how they should market the product just because you have 15 years of marketing experience and have worked in 2 unicorns. Sorry, that doesn't work like that. The founders are always the BEST marketers for the product as they are the closest to it. Before you say this is how things should be, earn trust.”

How to do it? This goes back to the previous point. Every founder wants a marketing team that can double down when they find momentum.

Roshan: “I am yet to meet a founder who doesn't respect momentum. A founder’s best quality is that they are impatient about achieving success; hence, they want things done yesterday. You will earn their trust if you can build marketing momentum early on and deliver wins.

How to achieve sales and marketing alignment

Achieving sales and marketing alignment is one of the most important and complex things for a founder as the organization scales. While marketing is a force multiplier, sales is an efficiency machine. The onus of achieving this is on the marketing and sales leaders.

Here’s how you should think if you are a VP of marketing: 

  1. Marketing exists to sell/make sales easier

You must choose outcomes to measure that matter to sales. Remember, all marketing exists to make sales cheaper, faster, and better. 

  1. Pick the right marketing metric

Roshan: “You must pick metrics rooted in reality and move the needle on revenue. So, a bit of empathy is required. You’ll often think, I work so hard to generate all of these leads, and salespeople do not even call them. But why should they call? What is their incentive to call? Just because you generate it? No! The idea is to qualify these leads then.”

  1. Build better sales and marketing cadence

At Vymo, the sales and marketing teams align on a target list before every quarter. There is also a weekly call to discuss things to be done during the week for customers with all related parties, and finally, there is a pipeline run to talk about how they're building it.

  1. Align SDR incentives

It is vital to develop an incentive structure that aligns marketing and sales. Finding this structure can make or break the sales motion. 

Roshan: “You align incentives of SDR in a way that, say, 80% of your quota is on pipeline building within named accounts. 20% or 30% of your quota is based on multi-threading. If you move this opportunity tangibly, from 20 to 40 or 40 to 60, you get that 30% variable. Plus, I will give you an incentive for every deal that closes. Incentives lead to outcomes.”

  1. Talk to customers 

Roshan: “Marketing folks want to sit comfortably in AC rooms and just write copy, often forgetting that we're writing this for our prospects and customers. When did you last talk to a prospect or customer? At Vymo, the content team has an OKR to talk to at least one user or customer weekly as it keeps them grounded in reality.”

____________________________________________________________

You can reach Roshan on Twitter (@RoshanCariappa) and LinkedIn (/in/cariappack).

Authors