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How to Thrive in B2B SaaS Marketing and Meet Sales Objectives

Written by:

Howard Tillerman is the Chief Marketing Officer for Making That Sale and an award-winning marketing professional.

Edited by:

Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.

How to Thrive in B2B SaaS Marketing and Meet Sales Objectives

How to Thrive in B2B SaaS Marketing and Meet Sales Objectives

In our enlightening interview with Kari Hanson, a seasoned VP of marketing in the B2B SaaS sector, we explore her expansive career that spans startups to global corporations. Kari shares her passion for startup culture, her experiences transitioning through pivotal roles, and the mentorship and strategies that have shaped her journey.

From building high-performing teams to aligning sales and marketing objectives, she offers invaluable insights into the complexities and triumphs of marketing leadership. Hanson also discusses the evolving landscape of B2B marketing, emphasizing the critical role of content, data-driven decision-making, and the emerging influence of AI.

Her advice to aspiring marketers and her forward-looking perspective on industry trends provide a comprehensive overview of what it takes to succeed and innovate in the dynamic world of B2B SaaS marketing.

Career Journey

MTS – Could you share your journey and the key decisions that led you to become a VP of Marketing in the B2B SaaS space?

Kari – You can say I’m a startup marketer at heart, with a longer-than-planned tenure at what became a multi-billion dollar startup. I spent a good chunk of my first decade at a communications agency, helping startups find their feet and, more often than not, getting them geared up for acquisition. I loved working with companies in different industries and really honed my craft for storytelling.

Transitioning to ZoomInfo was where I got a taste of startup culture, the excitement of working next to sales and engineering, and really being part of a team that was building something new and exciting. 

My tenure at SailPoint was the most pivotal in my career because I learned so much and got to ride the startup wave from an early employee through the unicorn IPO, and watching my mentors ring the bell was a career-defining moment for sure. Building a team from scratch was a blast, and seeing marketing make a real difference in every stage of the company’s growth trajectory was amazing. But, while I loved building and owning the brand for a global company, I missed the invigorating dynamics inherent in startup life. And when I met the team at Spiro, it was a no-brainer for me to make the move almost five years ago.

Mentorship and Growth

MTS – What advice would you give to aspiring marketers looking to grow in the B2B marketing field?

Kari – For aspiring marketers aiming to thrive in the B2B world, I have two key pieces of advice.

First, immerse yourself in the business. It’s crucial for marketers to grasp the specifics of how their company generates revenue, including customer acquisition costs and profit margins.

Second, go deep into the industry you’re targeting. Read publications like the Wall Street Journal and niche newsletters to really understand your potential customers’ businesses.

This sets the stage for crafting compelling narratives that communicate how your product addresses the specific needs of your target audience and informs your strategy to make sure you’re targeting the most profitable customers.

Team Development

MTS – How do you cultivate and lead high-performing marketing teams, especially in the fast-paced environment of emerging companies?

Kari – You absolutely have to hire the right people, and it often comes down to an attitude more than skill. I love working with smart marketers who know when to solve a problem and when to come to me for advice.

I also think that when you find those people, the more you empower them and let them run, the better. As a leader, I bring real-world experience and can offer valuable context that junior marketers might lack.

Meanwhile, their fresh perspectives and innovative approaches often breathe new life into strategies. That combination tends to yield truly remarkable results if you trust your team.

Integrating Sales and Marketing

MTS – How do you align marketing strategies with sales objectives to ensure both departments work cohesively towards common goals in a B2B environment?

Kari – The challenge of aligning marketing and sales has persisted for many companies, but I never understood why.

I believe that sales and marketing are two sides of a single coin, where marketing should shoulder the responsibility of finding and nurturing 100% of the pipeline in collaboration with sales and partners, while sales owns closing deals, leveraging marketing support for messaging, content, and branding.

The true growth of a company lies in the concerted effort of marketing and sales and finding and closing ideal customers. If your strategy or team isn’t aligned with that single objective for the company, you’re in the wrong business.

Sales Training and Development

MTS – What role does marketing play in training and developing the sales team, especially in the context of product knowledge and market trends?

Kari – The approach to this varies among companies, yet I believe every SaaS marketer should fundamentally embrace the role of a product marketer.

It’s imperative to possess deep knowledge of the product, competition, and market landscape. Marketing serves to furnish the context, which encompasses messaging and crafting the company/product narrative.

It’s about articulating how your solutions address market trends and surpass competitors and how each customer success story reinforces that narrative.

B2B Sales Collaboration

MTS – In your experience, how can marketing teams most effectively collaborate with B2B sales teams to drive growth?

Kari – I talked about this a bit already, but I think sales and marketing need to work together. I want the sales team to tell me when a prospect isn’t good so I can adjust. I also want my team to help the sales team with a consistent message and story.

The more we communicate and collaborate, the more likely both teams will hit our goals, and, more importantly, the company will hit its goals.

Emerging Company Challenges

MTS – What are some unique marketing challenges in establishing functions for emerging companies, and how do you address them?

Kari – The biggest challenge startup marketing faces is limited resources — be it manpower, time constraints, or financial constraints. It boils down to prioritizing tasks that move the needle and being flexible with shifting priorities.

While there’s a laundry list of “best practices” that every marketing team should tackle, the reality for startups is the list of what can be done is much shorter.

The other challenge is that for startups, fast but good will always be better than perfect but slow. Larger companies have the luxury of taking their time and building the best website, the most comprehensive brand platform, etc.

In the startup marketing world, you need to be comfortable building the plane while you’re flying it.

Mergers and Acquisitions

MTS – How do you approach the marketing strategy when dealing with acquisitions or divestitures?

Kari – This is really a situation-by-situation question. At the macro level, it all comes down to messaging the value to all stakeholders (customers, partners, and, importantly, employees) and ensuring a very consistent communications flow that is timed appropriately.

It’s all about making sure the right people get the right information at the right time.

Building Global Brands

MTS – What strategies have you found most effective in building global brands in the B2B sector?

Kari – Consistency. Just when you’re getting bored with a message, it’s probably only starting to resonate with your potential customers. The same goes for visuals. You can’t have a demand gen campaign looking different from the website.

This is really hard when you’re going from an emerging company to being a global brand because, typically, your awareness is at different levels around the world. It takes time and consistency for a truly global brand to establish itself.

Content Marketing

MTS – How do you leverage content marketing in B2B SaaS to generate leads and build brand authority?

Kari – Content is king. However, having a unique perspective is really important, so while content drives every aspect of marketing, the growing focus on AI-generated content is going to create as many problems as it solves here. Only you and your team can add a unique perspective to make your story and brand stand out.

Lead Generation Strategies

MTS – What lead generation strategies have you found most effective in the B2B SaaS space, and how do you measure their success?

Kari – I just need to qualify that SaaS is not a market on its own, so I’m leery of providing advice for SaaS.

It really depends on what product you’re offering and to which markets. Spiro is an AI-driven CRM for manufacturers, and in that space, we’ve found LinkedIn to do very well — both for direct demo requests and driving company leaders to our website. We’ve also found that manufacturers love in-person events, and our direct mail campaign is performing really well.

The measure of success for any lead gen strategy, for me, is always first, the qualified pipeline created (meaning the sales team qualifies the opportunity), and ultimately, which strategies create leads that turn into customers.

Data-Driven Decisions

MTS – Can you give an example of how you’ve used data to inform and drive a successful marketing campaign?

Kari – I fully believe that marketing is art influenced by numbers. So, everything is data-driven for me. It’s too easy to say, “I think this isn’t working,” or “I think we need to change that headline,” but you never really know if the change made a difference if you’re not looking at numbers.

I also use data to help eliminate spending money or effort where it’s not helping. For example, when I first joined Spiro, every blog subscriber was considered a lead. However, when I dug into the data, it was clear that no customer came from that source. There was definitely an emotional attachment to the volume of leads with the BDR team, so to prove what the data was saying, we had them focus on only that lead source for a week — and not surprisingly, not a single opportunity was created.

The upside of using data to make decisions is that when we look at marketing spend vs. qualified opportunities, it’s really easy to cut in areas and focus that prized budget on experimenting with new strategies.

Customer Engagement

MTS – What tactics have you found most effective in engaging and retaining customers in the B2B space?

Kari – I wish I could say marketing is the core of retaining customers, but it really comes down to having a good product and a customer success team.

But, marketing can capitalize on that good will and drive external reviews and referrals. In addition, marketing can partner with the customer success team to engage those customers in online communities (when it makes sense) and customer events.

Bottling the excitement of your customers in a way that prospects can see is a huge tool in marketing’s tool chest.

Future Trends

MTS – What emerging trends do you believe will significantly impact B2B marketing in the next few years?

Kari – AI. AI. And AI. I think every marketer needs to embrace AI in several ways. I also think every marketer needs to understand why AI can’t/won’t/shouldn’t replace content marketers and be able to explain that to their company.

I work for an AI company and see so many ways it’ll change the way we work. But like every new technology, the initial “let’s use this everywhere” approach is going to backfire. For example, AI-generated content is based on existing content. It’s creating so much more content that end users are drowning and already disengaging (we’re seeing this on LinkedIn and social media, we’re seeing it with email responses, etc.). The marketers who harness the power of AI while still inserting a unique perspective, the ones who focus on value over velocity, are the ones end users will engage with.

I believe that marketing strategy isn’t going to change, but AI will change the tactics and mediums and create more noise and clutter. In two years, the marketers who figure out how to leverage AI to really move the needle will be the ones we’re all trying to recruit.