Episode 7

How To Think Bigger Than A 'Dollar In, Dollar Out' Marketing Mentality

Khalid El Khatib is the Head of Marketing and Communications for Stack Overflow, which reaches 100MM people per month -- more traffic than the New York Times website! Khalid shares how his career path prepared him for this role, and how he has structured his organization to serve not just Stack Overflow's developer community, but also its paid SaaS products.

You'll hear about:

  • Avoiding the mistake of underinvesting in brand awareness, especially in PE-backed companies
  • The wisdom of mastering how to articulate the value of a brand investment to CEOs and CFOs
  • How to respond when CEOs say they need a CMO but you suspect they really need a demand gen director
  • Looking around the corners when hiring, and staffing up ahead of a growth curve
  • Experimenting with freelancers before hiring in-house
  • Reserving regular time on the calendar for marketing to meet with other business functions – creating a forcing function for "finding synergies wherever they exist"
  • The wisdom of hiring someone who fulfills the job 90% and is motivated to stay long enough to fulfill all of the job

 

Favorite quote: "If you don't make a brand investment, you can wonder why competitors are beating you and why demand generation isn't working….A rising tide lifts all boats and an investment in brand awareness is that rising tide."

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Key Links

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Hiring great marketing leaders is not easy. The Get is a podcast designed to inspire smart decisions around recruiting and leadership in B2B SaaS marketing. 

We explore the trends, tribulations, and triumphs of today’s top marketing leaders in B2B SaaS.

This season’s theme is Solving for the Scale Journey.

The Get’s host is Erica Seidel, who runs The Connective Good, an executive search practice with a hyper-focus on recruiting CMOs and VPs of Marketing, especially in B2B SaaS. 

If you are looking to hire a CMO or VP of Marketing of the ‘make money’ variety - rather than the ‘make it pretty’ variety, contact Erica at erica@theconnectivegood.com. You can also follow Erica on LinkedIn, or sign up for her newsletter at TheConnectiveGood.com

The Get is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media Productions.

Transcript
Erica Seidel:

Hi, you're listening to The Get, the podcast about

Erica Seidel:

finding -- and keeping -- great marketing leaders in B2B SaaS.

Erica Seidel:

I'm Erica Seidel, your host.

Erica Seidel:

A lot of CEOs and boards, especially in private-equity-backed businesses,

Erica Seidel:

expect marketing to be a sort of dollar-in/dollar-out proposition.

Erica Seidel:

How reasonable is that when you need to build a brand for the long term?

Erica Seidel:

Today, you'll hear from a marketing leader with a lot of advice on

Erica Seidel:

how to articulate the value of a brand investment to CEOs and CFOs.

Erica Seidel:

Khalid El Khatib is the Head of Marketing and Communications for Stack Overflow.

Erica Seidel:

You may think - that's a developer website, not a SaaS company.

Erica Seidel:

Actually, Stack Overflow has enterprise SaaS products for

Erica Seidel:

collaboration and knowledge sharing that are growing like hotcakes.

Khalid makes a good point:

"If you don't make a brand investment, you can wonder

Khalid makes a good point:

why competitors are beating you and why demand generation isn't working...

Khalid makes a good point:

A rising tide lifts, all boats and an investment in brand

Khalid makes a good point:

awareness is that rising tide."

Khalid makes a good point:

You'll also hear about how to respond when CEOs say they need a CMO, but you suspect

Khalid makes a good point:

they really need a demand gen director.

Khalid makes a good point:

And you'll hear about how to look around the corners when hiring and

Khalid makes a good point:

staff up ahead of a growth curve.

Khalid makes a good point:

Let's go.

Khalid makes a good point:

Khalid, welcome to the show.

Khalid makes a good point:

I'm really happy to have you here today.

Khalid makes a good point:

Thanks for joining.

Khalid el Khatib:

Thank you for having me.

Erica Seidel:

So my first question to you is you're pretty young, right?

Erica Seidel:

You're, like, fifteen years into your career or so, and you are now

Erica Seidel:

running marketing for one of the fifty most popular websites in the world.

Erica Seidel:

And so I'm curious, as a career-oriented person, what is it about you that

Erica Seidel:

made you advance as fast as you have?

Khalid el Khatib:

Sure.

Khalid el Khatib:

Yeah.

Khalid el Khatib:

Well, I appreciate you calling that out.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think, you know, I think there are a few things, the first of which is right place,

Khalid el Khatib:

right time, which is true of most folks' careers, people who tend to do well.

Khalid el Khatib:

And that's been true throughout mine.

Khalid el Khatib:

So, I started my career working in comms at Teach for America at a time when Teach

Khalid el Khatib:

for America was very much a media darling.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I was quite young, helping write op-eds for Wall Street Journal, and doing

Khalid el Khatib:

60 Minutes, The Today Show, et cetera.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then from there went to an ad agency that was acquired shortly after I

Khalid el Khatib:

started and went from about twenty-five people cut 250 by the time that I left.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I had the extraordinary opportunity to learn sort of on the job.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think in every job that I had, the two or three or four years that I

Khalid el Khatib:

stayed felt like ten in terms of the fire hose that I was drinking from.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think the other thing is I've had the good fortune of having really excellent

Khalid el Khatib:

managers, people who cared about me, who invested in my professional development,

Khalid el Khatib:

and gave me really, really candid feedback throughout the course of my career.

Khalid el Khatib:

Something that I've tried to do for others.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then thirdly, I think one of the things that sort of made me

Khalid el Khatib:

well-positioned to succeed is that I like to think that I have some

Khalid el Khatib:

self-awareness around what I'm good at and where I could use a lot of help

Khalid el Khatib:

and where I need to hire to help me.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think the one thing that I'm good at that's really helped me as

Khalid el Khatib:

a marketing leader is being a strong writer and a strong communicator.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think that we take for granted how important and how powerful it is to

Khalid el Khatib:

be a good writer, especially in 2021, when a marketing leader's mandate is

Khalid el Khatib:

not just positioning and messaging, but also internal communications to

Khalid el Khatib:

employees who are going through a highly dynamic, very challenging time.

Khalid el Khatib:

CEO communications, when they're communicating to everyone from employees

Khalid el Khatib:

to investors, to customers, and then communicating to your own team.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think that that's something that's really helped me.

Khalid el Khatib:

I studied creative writing in college.

Khalid el Khatib:

I've freelanced for a number of publications over the course of the years.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I really credit being a strong writer to being a strong marketer.

Erica Seidel:

Do you find yourself using your writing skills to prepare

Erica Seidel:

for those sensitive conversations that you're going to have?

Khalid el Khatib:

Absolutely.

Khalid el Khatib:

You know, I think, and this will probably be a theme throughout the

Khalid el Khatib:

conversation that we have today, but agility is super important when you're

Khalid el Khatib:

a marketing leader, especially in 2021.

Khalid el Khatib:

And being a professional writer or really investing in professional writing

Khalid el Khatib:

skills means that you're open to edits, constantly writing and rewriting.

Khalid el Khatib:

You're not so married to a script that you're sort of one and done.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that, you know, being a compelling and a strong writer

Khalid el Khatib:

or communicator doesn't just mean being able to write something

Khalid el Khatib:

good and then read it quite well.

Khalid el Khatib:

But also going back to the drawing board, understanding different and

Khalid el Khatib:

disparate voices and communicating to different audiences and things like that.

Erica Seidel:

That's interesting.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah, this framework for career success that, you know, this is

Erica Seidel:

like me, like twenty-plus years into my career, and I believe that

Erica Seidel:

career success is three things.

Erica Seidel:

It's good decisions, hard work, and good luck.

Erica Seidel:

And so I'm glad to hear you talk about some of those aspects here.

Erica Seidel:

But I want to get into some of the decision-making.

Erica Seidel:

Your business has doubled this year, Stack Overflow, and you anticipate a

Erica Seidel:

further doubling next year, as I recall.

Erica Seidel:

And we talked about hiring ahead of the scale.

Erica Seidel:

I would love to hear you talk about how you can look around corners for

Erica Seidel:

hiring and what that looks like.

Erica Seidel:

Cause that is actually, not everybody can do that.

Erica Seidel:

Sometimes, you know, marketers are a little hampered and

Erica Seidel:

they're like the last ones to get budget, even during a scale-up.

Khalid el Khatib:

Sure, happy to.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think just to level set, just so folks understand, or maybe those

Khalid el Khatib:

who are not familiar will still know what Stack Overflow does.

Khalid el Khatib:

StackOverflow.com is one of the most popular websites in

Khalid el Khatib:

the world, like you shared.

Khalid el Khatib:

More traffic than the New York Times, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

And it's a website where developers and technologists go to troubleshoot

Khalid el Khatib:

their code or learn to code or solve their technical challenges.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so our public platform reaches about a hundred million people

Khalid el Khatib:

all over the world every month.

Khalid el Khatib:

And it's a two-sided marketplace.

Khalid el Khatib:

So we have the public platform and then we have two paid products.

Khalid el Khatib:

We have Stack Overflow for Teams, which is a collaboration and

Khalid el Khatib:

knowledge management platform.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then we have what we call Reach and Relevance, which is an advertising

Khalid el Khatib:

product, whether advertising software or tooling to developers

Khalid el Khatib:

and technologists, or employer branding, advertising your company as

Khalid el Khatib:

a great place to work for developers.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so the paid product side of the company is what's growing so quickly.

Khalid el Khatib:

We've had a great year and we anticipate further growth next year,

Khalid el Khatib:

like you said, and we're fortunate to be able to be hiring ahead.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so as a marketing leader, what I try to do is I try to say, which

Khalid el Khatib:

resources do we need in-house and where can we bring on board a bench

Khalid el Khatib:

of freelancers or permalancers to experiment before we scale?

Khalid el Khatib:

And so to me, what that looks like is a really solid investment in

Khalid el Khatib:

product marketing, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

I believe it's very difficult, though not impossible, to outsource your product

Khalid el Khatib:

marketing efforts because not only do they need to know the product inside and out,

Khalid el Khatib:

but that team has to both build really strong relationships with the product

Khalid el Khatib:

and the sales team, and they effectively have to be the connective tissue that

Khalid el Khatib:

holds the marketing team together.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so that's one area where we try to invest ahead of growth.

Khalid el Khatib:

On the other side of the coin, there's brand and content, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

So one thing that we haven't done historically, because we

Khalid el Khatib:

largely market to developers, is make a big investment in video.

Khalid el Khatib:

Developers notoriously have an aversion to video.

Khalid el Khatib:

They're much more likely to read a long piece of technical content, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

But it's something that we want to do more around, you know, whether it's

Khalid el Khatib:

TikTok on one end of the spectrum, or a coding tutorial video on the other.

Khalid el Khatib:

That said, before bringing on board two or three videographers or an

Khalid el Khatib:

editor, we want to see if it works.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so that's an area in which we can bring on a small, scrappy agency or

Khalid el Khatib:

a permalancer to help us get where we need to go, and where I can free

Khalid el Khatib:

up an FTE for product marketing.

Erica Seidel:

Right, right.

Erica Seidel:

My feeling is that product marketing is the hardest role to hire for right now.

Erica Seidel:

Are you finding the same or do you have this kind of one role that's

Erica Seidel:

like the bane of your existence?

Khalid el Khatib:

I find that to be absolutely true.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think, well, I read your email, your newsletter, and I think I

Khalid el Khatib:

forwarded it to my product marketing team, which they both appreciated

Khalid el Khatib:

and sort of probably groaned to see.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think that's absolutely true across a couple of dimensions.

Khalid el Khatib:

One, product marketers are really expensive and the market is highly

Khalid el Khatib:

competitive right now, as you know.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then two, in a period when there are so many applications that we're seeing,

Khalid el Khatib:

such a high volume of applications, the product marketing title can be

Khalid el Khatib:

something of a misnomer because, as I'm sure you know, so many companies hire

Khalid el Khatib:

what they call product marketers to effectively only do sales enablement.

Khalid el Khatib:

Or a product marketer within a smaller SaaS company, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

It might be something of a generalist and they might do a lot of field marketing.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think a true product marketer, someone who really understands

Khalid el Khatib:

messaging and positioning and can do a pricing and packaging strategy,

Khalid el Khatib:

is like finding a needle in a haystack, especially in this market.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah, yeah.

Erica Seidel:

It's almost like all this stuff that a CEO would do or like McKinsey Consultant

Erica Seidel:

would do, and then we're expecting people with very different backgrounds to kind

Erica Seidel:

of coalesce it all, to do all these like super strategic and important things.

Khalid el Khatib:

Yeah, and I think that it's also, exactly like you said,

Khalid el Khatib:

a unique combination of having some quants and qualitative skills, too.

Khalid el Khatib:

So the expectation that they really understand the mechanics

Khalid el Khatib:

of the business and a lot of metrics and KPIs, but can write the

Khalid el Khatib:

messaging for the product as well.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah.

Erica Seidel:

So your business is, it's so interesting because you have a piece

Erica Seidel:

that's the software as a service, and, obviously, a piece that's not.

Erica Seidel:

And your background, again, you started your career at Teach for America.

Erica Seidel:

Totally like the opposite of a SaaS kind of business.

Erica Seidel:

What's your take on bringing people into SaaS that don't have SaaS backgrounds?

Erica Seidel:

Because, as a recruiter, I often go and start a search and people

Erica Seidel:

are like, well, we absolutely need somebody who's a strong SaaS marketer.

Erica Seidel:

And sometimes I challenge people and say, do we really?

Erica Seidel:

I mean, it's kind of an obvious thing to say you need, but I'm curious to

Erica Seidel:

hear you talk about, do you think that we will see more non-SaaS marketers,

Erica Seidel:

whether B2B or B2C, pivoting into B2B SaaS, and how do you think through

Erica Seidel:

that when you do your own hiring?

Khalid el Khatib:

That's a great question.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think the thing that's benefited me throughout my career is I have a lot of

Khalid el Khatib:

experience around two-sided marketplaces.

Khalid el Khatib:

So Teach for America certainly was not SaaS.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then while I was at WPP, I worked a lot with TED, both the

Khalid el Khatib:

conference and video talk platform.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then, most recently before Stack, I was at GLG, insight and

Khalid el Khatib:

knowledge platform, which has a robust bench of experts and end clients.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think what I've learned through working with two-sided marketplaces

Khalid el Khatib:

is how to prioritize and how to market to two disparate groups while

Khalid el Khatib:

finding the connectivity between them, and then some efficiency in that.

Khalid el Khatib:

But to answer your question, a little more on the nose, I think

Khalid el Khatib:

it largely depends on the role.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think there are some roles if you're a SaaS company looking to

Khalid el Khatib:

build out your marketing team where you can bring someone in and it's fine,

Khalid el Khatib:

like an events person, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think events folks, as long as they're data-driven and super agile,

Khalid el Khatib:

can come from B2C or any sort of field or sector and do well in SaaS.

Khalid el Khatib:

I don't know that that's necessarily true among a lot of demand

Khalid el Khatib:

generation roles, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

So the ABM, the account-based marketing motion for SaaS, is quite

Khalid el Khatib:

different than it would be for, you know, a non-technical B2B business.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think that's one area where you really benefit

Khalid el Khatib:

from having a SaaS background.

Khalid el Khatib:

When it comes to a brand role, again, it depends on the role, but I do think that

Khalid el Khatib:

there's some benefit in hiring a designer who knows the B2C space really well and

Khalid el Khatib:

can bring some elements of it into SaaS.

Erica Seidel:

Is there an aspect of the SaaS business model that has

Erica Seidel:

been hard for people to grok that are new to SaaS, like on your teams?

Khalid el Khatib:

That's a great question.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think, sure, there's not one that jumps out to me.

Khalid el Khatib:

The one thing that I will say about SaaS is because it's incredibly buzzy

Khalid el Khatib:

and because it's seen such tremendous growth over the past few years in

Khalid el Khatib:

particular, there are no shortage of resources that exist in the world

Khalid el Khatib:

to help people get up to speed.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so an example of that is some folks in our product marketing team and our

Khalid el Khatib:

product marketing leader, who's excellent, didn't have a ton of analyst relations

Khalid el Khatib:

experience working in the SaaS space.

Khalid el Khatib:

And that was a core focus for us this year.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so what we did is we brought on a firm called The Skills Connection who

Khalid el Khatib:

is comprised primarily of former Gartner analysts to help us put together our

Khalid el Khatib:

pitch, to help us decide which analysts we should engage with and what our strategy

Khalid el Khatib:

should be for Gartner, Forrester, and IDC.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so that's an example of where we made a relatively small investment, monetary

Khalid el Khatib:

investment, a big investment in time, and said, okay, here's what we don't know,

Khalid el Khatib:

how can you help us get up to speed?

Khalid el Khatib:

And we did really, really quickly.

Khalid el Khatib:

And we didn't necessarily need to hire a bunch of folks to do it.

Erica Seidel:

That's great.

Erica Seidel:

So you do a ton of hiring.

Erica Seidel:

You have a big team.

Erica Seidel:

What's your favorite interview question that you ask that

Erica Seidel:

is surprisingly revealing?

Khalid el Khatib:

That's a great question.

Khalid el Khatib:

I manage five sort of functional teams - brand, content, communications, product

Khalid el Khatib:

marketing, and demand generation.

Khalid el Khatib:

And the questions differ for each role.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think one that's particularly telling for most of them, you know, demand

Khalid el Khatib:

generation, content, comms, and brands, in particular, is what is a favorite

Khalid el Khatib:

campaign that you've seen of late?

Khalid el Khatib:

And it sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but it can be

Khalid el Khatib:

relatively telling because I love when I get a really creative answer.

Khalid el Khatib:

An advertisement, whether it's on TV or that they saw on Instagram recently,

Khalid el Khatib:

that has nothing to do with the field in which we're interviewing them for, but

Khalid el Khatib:

sort of gives me a sense of what their interests are, two, what they find to

Khalid el Khatib:

be powerful, and then three, how often they consume content and the news.

Khalid el Khatib:

And something that I really look for in a lot of the critical hires on our

Khalid el Khatib:

team is someone who has their finger on the pulse of what's happening, not

Khalid el Khatib:

only in our space, but in the world.

Erica Seidel:

Why is that so important?

Erica Seidel:

I mean, it sounds obvious, but...

Khalid el Khatib:

One, at the highest level, intellectual curiosity, I think,

Khalid el Khatib:

makes someone much more successful in a job than someone who is looking to check

Khalid el Khatib:

a bunch of boxes on a job description or follow their OKRs for the quarter.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think that that's really important.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then the other is that I think external perspective and

Khalid el Khatib:

outside expertise is so powerful.

Khalid el Khatib:

And maybe that's my bias from both TED and from GLG where the business

Khalid el Khatib:

model is essentially focused on bringing in outside thought.

Khalid el Khatib:

But one thing that we try to do at Stack, and on the marketing team in particular,

Khalid el Khatib:

is have speakers come and talk to us, employ consultants wherever it makes sense

Khalid el Khatib:

to do so, or advisors, so that weren't looking beyond what we're doing in the

Khalid el Khatib:

day to day to make ourselves better.

Erica Seidel:

Right, right.

Erica Seidel:

That's great.

Erica Seidel:

I talked to somebody else for this podcast whose favorite interview question was,

Erica Seidel:

I'll just share it because you might find this interesting, it was tell me about

Erica Seidel:

a product that is well-marketed and why.

Erica Seidel:

And the guy's really listening to the why and does somebody have a

Erica Seidel:

structure for what good marketing is?

Erica Seidel:

And I think yours is suggestive of that as well.

Erica Seidel:

It's like, okay, does somebody actually know what a good campaign is?

Erica Seidel:

And what are the aspects that they think are really important in a campaign?

Erica Seidel:

Is it just, you know, oh, that it's pretty colors or whatever, or is it

Erica Seidel:

like, oh, they've thought through their audience, they've thought through how

Erica Seidel:

they're going to measure, et cetera.

Khalid el Khatib:

Right.

Khalid el Khatib:

Yeah, exactly.

Erica Seidel:

So, can you talk a little bit more about how you

Erica Seidel:

organize your marketing team to support the two different products?

Erica Seidel:

So you have the public platform versus the P SaaS aspects?

Khalid el Khatib:

One, it's so important to be highly cross-functional in your

Khalid el Khatib:

approach to everything that you do.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I work super closely with our CPO, our chief product officer, and our

Khalid el Khatib:

chief revenue officer on everything.

Khalid el Khatib:

We even have a weekly check-in that we do for thirty minutes every week, just

Khalid el Khatib:

to see what's going on and try to see around corners to the best of our ability.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so the benefit in doing that, and in addition to that check-in our teams do

Khalid el Khatib:

monthly business reviews around the public platform and around each of our products.

Khalid el Khatib:

So the point of doing that, and what that sort of unlocks, is our ability

Khalid el Khatib:

to find synergies wherever they exist.

Khalid el Khatib:

So if the public platform team is working on something that we can

Khalid el Khatib:

help or augment in some way, we can deputize a small amount of product

Khalid el Khatib:

marketing resources or demand generation resources to promote it and vice versa.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think that's one piece that's really important.

Khalid el Khatib:

The second, which is related, is uncovering synergies wherever they exist.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so our Stack Overflow for Teams product is effectively a private

Khalid el Khatib:

version of the public platform.

Khalid el Khatib:

There are, of course, several differences to the approach, but sometimes when

Khalid el Khatib:

something really resonates with the public platform or the paid product, we can make

Khalid el Khatib:

them interchangeable or we can build a roadmap that works in the other direction.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think it's all about finding those efficiencies and those synergies

Khalid el Khatib:

and empowering everyone on your team to think about it in that way as well.

Erica Seidel:

And so you have these monthly business reviews, so you're

Erica Seidel:

saying you have product and marketing and sales altogether at those

Erica Seidel:

monthly kind of NBR, so to speak?

Khalid el Khatib:

That's right, and we also have the full

Khalid el Khatib:

leadership team there as well.

Khalid el Khatib:

So there's representation from the legal team, from the finance team, and the CEO,

Khalid el Khatib:

so that cross-functionally, everyone knows what's happened and what's happening,

Khalid el Khatib:

and they have the opportunity to ask questions about all of those things.

Erica Seidel:

Right, right.

Erica Seidel:

That's cool.

Erica Seidel:

And it gets your marketing team to kind of have that what I

Erica Seidel:

call business first, marketing second kind of view of the world.

Khalid el Khatib:

100%.

Khalid el Khatib:

I mean, I think that the great thing about Stack Overflow, and you can call

Khalid el Khatib:

it transparency or what have you, but there are I don't think any surprises.

Khalid el Khatib:

We tend to be pretty good about cascading information to the company

Khalid el Khatib:

and to the team around performance.

Khalid el Khatib:

We share quarterly financials data and then do AMAs every single month around it.

Khalid el Khatib:

And the marketing team, as well, has a pretty good view into who we're

Khalid el Khatib:

hiring for one or two quarters ahead and what our priorities are as well.

Erica Seidel:

So, can you share an organizational choice that you've

Erica Seidel:

made that you think might be a little bit unique, that some other marketing

Erica Seidel:

leaders haven't done or wouldn't do?

Erica Seidel:

And that organization choice could have worked well or poorly.

Khalid el Khatib:

One thing, and, you know, this is cheating, but one thing

Khalid el Khatib:

that I did do, so I'd been at Stack for three and a half years, and three years

Khalid el Khatib:

ago or so the company itself, Stack Overflow, was 40% remote at the time.

Khalid el Khatib:

And our technical teams were much more remote than that, about 80%.

Khalid el Khatib:

But I elected, because there were so many challenges around hiring great

Khalid el Khatib:

marketing talent in New York, where we're based in London, where we have

Khalid el Khatib:

another office, around product marketing in particular, to hire a much more

Khalid el Khatib:

remote-first, remote-focused team.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so the marketing team is highly distributed, even before the pandemic.

Khalid el Khatib:

Now, obviously things are quite different.

Khalid el Khatib:

But I'm really, really glad that I took that approach because I've found some

Khalid el Khatib:

really excellent talent by doing it.

Khalid el Khatib:

And the team has sort of a remote-first DNA and muscle

Khalid el Khatib:

memory around how to interact on a remote-first basis from day one.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think that sometimes marketing leaders are inclined to say, okay,

Khalid el Khatib:

you know, sales teams, I think more than anyone else, and especially

Khalid el Khatib:

BDRs and SDRs tend to be in person or gravitate towards office work.

Khalid el Khatib:

And sometimes a marketing leader will say, because it's so important to

Khalid el Khatib:

build relationships with sales teams, the marketing team should be in person

Khalid el Khatib:

too, but I think that's a mistake because I think it's really possible

Khalid el Khatib:

to build relationships remotely.

Khalid el Khatib:

And two, I think, especially with regard to strong demand generation teams

Khalid el Khatib:

and product marketing teams, we're no longer going to be able to find the

Khalid el Khatib:

folks that we need just looking at New York or Chicago or San Francisco.

Erica Seidel:

Right.

Erica Seidel:

Right.

Erica Seidel:

I've been thinking that this kind of remote hiring, obviously a lot of people

Erica Seidel:

are doing remote hiring now, you had some expertise with it ahead of COVID.

Erica Seidel:

Do you think it makes you have more of like an optimizing mindset versus

Erica Seidel:

a satisficing mindset with hiring?

Erica Seidel:

Because there's a difference between, oh, we want to hire the best person in

Erica Seidel:

New York, versus, oh, we can look far and wide across, not just the U.S., but

Erica Seidel:

maybe also, across Europe, we're going to find the absolute, very best person.

Erica Seidel:

And do you ever see that it makes it like you're trying to have the absolute

Erica Seidel:

perfect hire and so it can take longer?

Khalid el Khatib:

That's a good question.

Khalid el Khatib:

And that's certainly a risk, one that I haven't spent too much thinking about.

Khalid el Khatib:

I mean, I try to take the approach, maybe less with hiring than

Khalid el Khatib:

everything else, but " don't let perfect get in the way of very good."

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that's true of hiring and I think every position is different.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so, you know, one question you have to ask yourself when you bring someone

Khalid el Khatib:

on board is do you want someone who can do the job at a hundred percent

Khalid el Khatib:

or 110% on day one, or do you want someone who will do it at 90%, invest

Khalid el Khatib:

in their professional development, and hopefully will stay two or three years?

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think that that's one key consideration, maybe one that we've

Khalid el Khatib:

lost in a market that's this crazy.

Khalid el Khatib:

But sometimes, you know, you want someone who can grow into the role to some extent.

Khalid el Khatib:

Or, and I think this is a specialty to run marketing teams, you bring someone in

Khalid el Khatib:

at the manager or the director level, and you don't have any anticipated VP recs for

Khalid el Khatib:

two or three years and where do they go?

Khalid el Khatib:

They're likely to leave.

Erica Seidel:

Right.

Erica Seidel:

So we've talked about hiring an organization.

Erica Seidel:

Let's take a broader lens.

Erica Seidel:

Can you share some mistakes for a SaaS marketing leader to avoid when scaling up?

Khalid el Khatib:

This one is an easy one to articulate.

Khalid el Khatib:

It's a difficult one to fix.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that that's not enough SaaS marketing leaders

Khalid el Khatib:

invest in brand marketing.

Khalid el Khatib:

And that's especially true, as I'm sure you've seen, in private-equity-backed

Khalid el Khatib:

companies where it's sort of this dollar-in/dollar-out mentality because

Khalid el Khatib:

as every marketing leader knows, it's really difficult to prove ROI

Khalid el Khatib:

for dollars that are spent on brand.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think that we were fortunate to have this support of our CEO and

Khalid el Khatib:

our CFO over time to make an investment in brand awareness, and we've also run

Khalid el Khatib:

longitudinal studies twice a year, brand tracking surveys, which have proven

Khalid el Khatib:

out the value of investing in that.

Khalid el Khatib:

We've seen awareness of Stack Overflow for Teams and evangelism for

Khalid el Khatib:

it go up double digit percentages.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think, you know, a couple of mistakes that are made is one,

Khalid el Khatib:

not making any investment at all, and then figuring out why competitors are

Khalid el Khatib:

beating them and why your demand gen teams aren't working because a rising

Khalid el Khatib:

tide lifts all boats and investment in brand awareness is that rising tide.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then the other is making an investment and talking to partners and peers

Khalid el Khatib:

about how you can articulate the value of an investment in brand awareness.

Khalid el Khatib:

Every CEO and every CFO is different, as we all know.

Khalid el Khatib:

A brand tracking survey once or twice a year doesn't always work.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so there are lots of other tricks and things that you can do.

Khalid el Khatib:

Not necessarily tricks, but social listening, for example, qualitative

Khalid el Khatib:

feedback at conferences and events, anecdotal feedback from employees in

Khalid el Khatib:

terms of the campaigns that their friends and family are seeing, and that all

Khalid el Khatib:

sort of coalesces, in my opinion, to be a very, very powerful tool and brand

Khalid el Khatib:

awareness and investment in brand is not something that should ever be neglected.

Erica Seidel:

It's so true and it is a hard conversation to have.

Erica Seidel:

I like your point about the dollar-in/dollar-out expectation.

Erica Seidel:

And I think the best marketers are the ones that can go into a meeting

Erica Seidel:

where somebody has that viewpoint and pivot that viewpoint and have

Erica Seidel:

them realize that - you know, like a former boss of mine says, I love this,

Erica Seidel:

"Today's brand is tomorrow's demand."

Erica Seidel:

it's just a great way to put it.

Erica Seidel:

Any other thoughts on key mistakes to avoid when scaling up?

Khalid el Khatib:

I think a related point is, you know, an investment in

Khalid el Khatib:

brand doesn't mean that you need to take out an ad in the Superbowl or a

Khalid el Khatib:

billboard in Times Square, which is sometimes the misconception that a

Khalid el Khatib:

board or a CFO or a CRO or a CEO will have when people ask for brand dollars.

Khalid el Khatib:

Especially in B2B SaaS, when I as for brand dollars, I'm not saying that we

Khalid el Khatib:

need to do a takeover of the subway system in New York City because I know

Khalid el Khatib:

that it's not going to lead anywhere.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so a related point is always start small, scale and iterate from there.

Khalid el Khatib:

So, I think, one approach that we try to take when it comes to developer

Khalid el Khatib:

awareness is looking at our key 1000 accounts, where are they headquartered?

Khalid el Khatib:

You know, increasingly a lot of them are headquartered in Austin, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

A lot of developer-oriented companies have moved to Texas

Khalid el Khatib:

over the past couple of years.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so, if we're going to do something out of home or some big display,

Khalid el Khatib:

why don't we start it in Austin?

Khalid el Khatib:

Why don't we take over their public transportation?

Khalid el Khatib:

Or billboards in their downtown area where they're much more likely to be

Khalid el Khatib:

working from the office than in New York, for example, or San Francisco?

Khalid el Khatib:

So starting in a hyper-local market and scaling if it makes sense to do so, is

Khalid el Khatib:

how I would approach brand awareness, as opposed to some people who get a capital

Khalid el Khatib:

injection and then right away will take out these massive, massive buys.

Erica Seidel:

Exactly.

Erica Seidel:

Any other advice that you would give to a CEO who is looking to hire a

Erica Seidel:

marketing leader for a scale journey?

Khalid el Khatib:

I have two pieces of advice for CEOs and sort of across

Khalid el Khatib:

the spectrum, whether they're seed or series A or B or C or a public company.

Khalid el Khatib:

Think long and hard and consult with your advisors in terms of the

Khalid el Khatib:

profile of person you're looking for.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so occasionally, someone will reach out to me and say, whether it's

Khalid el Khatib:

a friend or a peer or someone I went to college with, and they'll say we

Khalid el Khatib:

really need, you know, I have a series B company, we're doing incredibly,

Khalid el Khatib:

we've had this massive raise, we have a great valuation, and we're close

Khalid el Khatib:

to, or we have product market fit.

Khalid el Khatib:

We're ready for a CMO.

Khalid el Khatib:

We need a CMO.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I'll say, okay, what do you want them to do?

Khalid el Khatib:

And they'll bullet out ten things and I'm like, you need a VP of demand generation.

Khalid el Khatib:

You need someone who understands marketing automation and can get you off of HubSpot

Khalid el Khatib:

and onto a platform like Marquetto.

Khalid el Khatib:

You need someone who can build out a field practice and ABM practice.

Khalid el Khatib:

You do not need a CMO.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think, you know, sometimes there's this inclination to hire as

Khalid el Khatib:

senior as possible, when in reality, you don't need someone that strategic.

Khalid el Khatib:

You need someone who can execute and build out a team who is in the weeds.

Khalid el Khatib:

So there's that piece of it.

Khalid el Khatib:

The other, which is related, is what type of marketing leader do you need?

Khalid el Khatib:

Do you need a brand CMO?

Khalid el Khatib:

Do you need a demand CMO?

Khalid el Khatib:

Do you need someone with robust product marketing experience, more

Khalid el Khatib:

of a communications oriented CMO?

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that, you know this quite well, I'm sure, and provide a lot of

Khalid el Khatib:

counsel on this topic, but often times a CEO or, you know, the board will

Khalid el Khatib:

have a very, very either nebulous idea of the type of CMO that they want,

Khalid el Khatib:

or they'll point to a specific person at a specific company, when, as you

Khalid el Khatib:

know, CMOs often - you know, one CMO's very, very different from the next.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah, the challenge I see is they want it all, right?

Erica Seidel:

They want the person who can, as I like to say, parachute

Erica Seidel:

between strategy and tactics.

Erica Seidel:

It's like, oh yeah, I want the person who's going to drive leads, but then also

Erica Seidel:

they have to be a great communicator.

Erica Seidel:

They have to be very analytical and they have to be this and that.

Erica Seidel:

I think the challenging thing in recruiting is that focus.

Erica Seidel:

And I think it comes down to saying okay, who do we need

Erica Seidel:

for the next couple of years?

Erica Seidel:

Because in a couple of years, the whole world will be different

Erica Seidel:

and we can hire somebody else or somebody in addition, at that point.

Erica Seidel:

But I don't know.

Erica Seidel:

Do you have any other tips on how to make that conversation more productive

Erica Seidel:

so that you're not just having the CEO say, oh, I want one of everything please?

Khalid el Khatib:

One, I would just say to push back and say, it's impossible.

Khalid el Khatib:

Right?

Khalid el Khatib:

Like I think if you look at the sort of C-suite, the CMO is the least likely

Khalid el Khatib:

to stay at a company beyond two years.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that's largely because the expectations when they were

Khalid el Khatib:

hired are entirely unrealistic.

Khalid el Khatib:

Point two, and I think something that's sort of makes all of this a little more

Khalid el Khatib:

tangible to someone to say, okay, we'll do our best to find you the most strategic

Khalid el Khatib:

leader possible who's also comfortable executing, but who is the number one and

Khalid el Khatib:

most critical hire you see after the CMO?

Khalid el Khatib:

And that will often be clarifying to someone.

Khalid el Khatib:

So for example, for me, demand generation has been part of my mandate and several

Khalid el Khatib:

roles that I've had, but I do not, you know, I'm under no delusion that I am

Khalid el Khatib:

an excellent demand generation leader.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so, there's a VP of demand generation and it's really his bread and butter.

Khalid el Khatib:

I defer to him on most things that he does and that he brings on board.

Khalid el Khatib:

And he's excellent at that.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I recognize my own limitations in the space.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I often think if someone's like, okay, we really need a new

Khalid el Khatib:

CMO, you say, okay, but then do you need a great VP of demand?

Khalid el Khatib:

Do you need a great VP of product marketing?

Khalid el Khatib:

Do you need a great VP of comms?

Khalid el Khatib:

Who is this person's deputy and right hand?

Erica Seidel:

Yeah.

Erica Seidel:

And then sometimes maybe that deputy that they're envisioning is all

Erica Seidel:

they need, or all they need for the next, you know, year or two.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah.

Erica Seidel:

That's very helpful.

Erica Seidel:

So personally, thank you.

Erica Seidel:

That'll be helpful to me when I talk to people.

Erica Seidel:

Let's talk about trends.

Erica Seidel:

So 2022 is, you know, next up here.

Erica Seidel:

Any trends that you foresee for B2B SaaS marketers that

Erica Seidel:

are in scale-up mode for 2022?

Khalid el Khatib:

I think one is embrace agility.

Khalid el Khatib:

You know, I've been saying this for twenty months now, but it used to be

Khalid el Khatib:

that you would set a marketing budget at the beginning of the year, you

Khalid el Khatib:

would maybe check in on budget versus actuals on a monthly or quarterly

Khalid el Khatib:

basis, but you wouldn't really reforecast for at least six months,

Khalid el Khatib:

most likely until the end of the year.

Khalid el Khatib:

And that can no longer be true.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think we're still figuring out what our cadence looks like, but the leadership

Khalid el Khatib:

team needs to at least talk quarterly about whether or not the budget as

Khalid el Khatib:

it currently stands makes sense, the headcount and org chart that you've put

Khalid el Khatib:

together at the beginning of the year still makes sense relative to the needs.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so the very tangible example of that is our events budget for 2022.

Khalid el Khatib:

Our events budget for 2022 looks very different today than it did ten days

Khalid el Khatib:

ago, just because of everything that's happening in the news right now.

Khalid el Khatib:

And, you know, we're no longer bullish on the fact that we'll be

Khalid el Khatib:

at events in February or March.

Khalid el Khatib:

So I think that's one thing that people really need to focus on, the other, and

Khalid el Khatib:

I think a trend that's going to not go away for a while is, we spend a lot of

Khalid el Khatib:

time talking about how SaaS marketing meters need to better partner with sales

Khalid el Khatib:

and product organizations, and I think that they've been laser-focused on that

Khalid el Khatib:

alignment for the past couple of years.

Khalid el Khatib:

Where the B2C space has been focused for quite some time is the synergies

Khalid el Khatib:

that exist between the people or human resources team and marketing.

Khalid el Khatib:

And there's been a lot of focus on employer branding.

Khalid el Khatib:

So like the Facebooks of the world, the Instagrams, the Twitters, and

Khalid el Khatib:

then all sorts of consumer brands have really made an investment in

Khalid el Khatib:

recruiting and employer branding.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that marketing leaders and people team leaders

Khalid el Khatib:

have worked lockstep together.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think that's one area where the SaaS space has really fallen behind.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so I think a big focus in 2022 and beyond is going to be okay, how

Khalid el Khatib:

can marketing teams, whether it's the brand team or the content team or the

Khalid el Khatib:

comms team, partner with people teams to help win in this hyper-competitive

Khalid el Khatib:

environment today and tomorrow?

Erica Seidel:

Totally agree with you on that one.

Erica Seidel:

I'll be excited to see that kind of greater synergy.

Erica Seidel:

I mean, you think about HR, like everything that happened in

Erica Seidel:

marketing, I dunno, five or ten years ago, and it's still happening

Erica Seidel:

is now starting to happen in HR.

Erica Seidel:

Like greater reliance on technology, greater reliance on data.

Erica Seidel:

The years, like this year, last year, you know, it was like the years for HR

Erica Seidel:

folks to kind of come into their own.

Khalid el Khatib:

I think that's absolutely true.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that's true from a resourcing perspective as well.

Khalid el Khatib:

So if you think about like development resources, for example,

Khalid el Khatib:

or engineering resources, they were always deputized to revenue.

Khalid el Khatib:

And this is not, I'm not speaking to Stack Overflow, I'm speaking very generally.

Khalid el Khatib:

But those development resources tend to be allocated towards revenue

Khalid el Khatib:

focused initiatives or product.

Khalid el Khatib:

And then, to your point, at this sort of bottom of the pile is people

Khalid el Khatib:

initiatives or the HR system API.

Khalid el Khatib:

And it's sort of people get to it when they get around to it.

Khalid el Khatib:

And so job descriptions are hard coded, it's glitchy, it doesn't

Khalid el Khatib:

sync with LinkedIn, for example.

Khalid el Khatib:

And now it's an imperative for the business to be able to

Khalid el Khatib:

hire, to be able to compete.

Khalid el Khatib:

And I think that companies have to start resourcing HR teams differently

Khalid el Khatib:

from a technical perspective and from a marketing perspective.

Erica Seidel:

Yeah.

Erica Seidel:

So those are great trends.

Erica Seidel:

Thank you so much for being on the show, Khalid.

Erica Seidel:

This was great to hear all of your perspectives.

Khalid el Khatib:

Thank you for having me again.

Erica Seidel:

That was Khalid El Khatib, who runs marketing and

Erica Seidel:

communications for Stack Overflow.

Erica Seidel:

Now that you've listened, ask yourself: how can you have a

Erica Seidel:

more productive conversation with your CEO and CFO and Board about

Erica Seidel:

the balance of brand and demand?

Erica Seidel:

Next time on The Get, you'll hear from Sydney Sloan, telling us about

Erica Seidel:

her CMO scale journey for Salesloft.

Erica Seidel:

You'll learn about how to think about your market and your marketing, the

Erica Seidel:

bets you're making on each, and the team structure and goal setting as you scale.

Erica Seidel:

Don't miss it.

Erica Seidel:

Thanks for listening to The Get.

Erica Seidel:

I'm your host, Erica Seidel.

Erica Seidel:

Hiring great marketing leaders is not easy.

Erica Seidel:

The Get is designed to inspire smart decisions around recruiting and

Erica Seidel:

leadership in B2B SaaS marketing.

Erica Seidel:

We explore the trends, tribulations, and triumphs of today's top

Erica Seidel:

marketing leaders in B2B SaaS.

Erica Seidel:

This season's theme is Solving for the Scale Journey.

Erica Seidel:

If you liked this episode, please share it.

Erica Seidel:

For other insights on recruiting great marketing leaders - what I

Erica Seidel:

call the 'make money' marketing leaders rather than the 'make it

Erica Seidel:

pretty' ones - follow me on LinkedIn.

Erica Seidel:

You can also sign up for my newsletter at TheConnectiveGood.com.

Erica Seidel:

The Get is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media Productions.

About the Podcast

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The Get: Finding And Keeping The Best Marketing Leaders in B2B SaaS
Your inspiration from the best marketing leaders in B2B SaaS today... from hiring, getting hired, leading, organizing, and more!

About your host

Profile picture for Erica Seidel

Erica Seidel

Erica Seidel recruits the marketing leaders of the 'make money' variety – not the 'make it pretty' variety. As the Founder of The Connective Good, a boutique executive search firm, she is retained to recruit CMOs and VPs in marketing, digital strategy, marketing analytics, and marketing technology. She also hosts The Get podcast. Previously, she led Forrester Research's global peer-to-peer executive education businesses for CMOs and digital marketing executives of Fortune 500 companies. Erica has an MBA in Marketing from Wharton, and a BA in International Relations from Brown. One of her favorite jobs ever was serving as the Brown Bear mascot.

You can find her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericaseidel/, or on her website/blog at www.theconnectivegood.com, or on Twitter at @erica_seidel.