April 7, 2022

3 Savvy CMOs Share SaaS Marketing Secrets

SaaS is a 145 billion dollar industry that touches almost every aspect of our work lives. Even this podcast is brought to you by SaaS—a collection of 7+ tools to record, publish, and house countless marketing insights.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful software product right now that isn’t either fully SaaS or migrating to it. There are 35,000 SaaS products from over 15,000 companies competing in over 740 vertical markets, which means there’s a noteworthy number of CMOs out there navigating a competitive market with massive growth potential.

To help us understand what makes SaaS marketing such a distinct challenge are CMOs Grant Johnson of EmburseAli McCarthy of Skience, and former CMO of BynderAndrew Hally (he’s now CMO at Markforged). Tune in to hear how these CMOs have navigated the choppy waters of marketing SaaS and how they are using their past experiences to inform future decisions.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to stand out as a SaaS brand in a competitive market
  • The differences in marketing SaaS versus non-SaaS products
  • How to lower the barrier to trial and put the “service” in SaaS

Resources Mentioned


  • [03:11] The rise of SaaS with Emburse CMO Grant Johnson
  • [05:22] The difference between marketing SaaS and on-premise solutions
  • [07:09] Balancing agility with building a brand
  • [09:00] Deepening client relationships with Skience CMO Ali McCarthy
  • [11:11] Making the leap from investment management to SaaS marketing
  • [12:45] Similarities and differences in the SaaS and investment management
  • [14:46] The advantages of being pure SaaS with CMO Andrew Hally
  • [18:06] How product-led growth can enhance customer growth
  • [19:13] Defining multi-tenant and using SaaS data to your advantage
  • [23:38] CMO Huddles Testimonials
  • [26:05] How to differentiate your brand in a competitive SaaS market
  • [30:02] Lowering the barrier to trial
  • [34:52] Competitor intelligence and partnerships in SaaS
  • [39:00] How to put the “service” in SaaS
  • [40:48] Final tips for SaaS marketers from Grant, Ali, and Andrew

Highlighted Quotes

“You have to be able to adapt your value prop, your website, and your customer acquisition really fast because tomorrow someone might create a freemium model for the same product you were charging for.” —@grantejohnson1 @emburse Share on X “You have to be on your toes, be agile, adapt, and be willing to take risks. That’s a key component of being a CMO, making the right bets.” —@grantejohnson1 @emburse Share on X “It doesn't really matter what industry you're in. Humans act pretty much the same.” —Ali McCarthy @Skience Share on X “When you’re pure SaaS, you’re able to much more scalably develop, maintain, enhance, and deploy your software across 10s, 100s, and 1000s of customers. When you don't have SaaS, the operations are so much more complex.” —@andrewjhally @Markforged Share on X “If we don't meet that customer expectation, there's not just one, there are 10 other competitors vying for their business.” —@grantejohnson1 @emburse Share on X “If we are a partner to customers versus just them seeing us as just a vendor, that is helping us give them the roadmap to their long-term success.” —Ali McCarthy @Skience Share on X “But I think there's a risk of holding the competition too close in mind when you're trying to create a brand.” —@andrewjhally @Markforged Share on X

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 287 on YouTube

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Grant Johnson, Ali McCarthy, and Andrew Hally

Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Marketers! Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals.

Alright folks, you’re about to listen to a recording of Renegade Marketers Live, our live show featuring the CMOs of CMO Huddles, a community that’s sharing, caring, and daring each other to greatness every day of the week.

This time we’ve got Ali McCarthy of Skience, Grant Johnson of Emburse, and Andrew Hally of Markforged with us for a conversation about SaaS marketing. It’s a great episode, so let’s get to it.

Hello, I’m your host Drew Neisser, live from my home studio in New York City. Just two decades ago, if someone said “sass” as in, “Enough with your sass, Drew,” we would have had a shared understanding of its meaning, and it would have been unlikely that SaaS would have been the topic of a Marketing Show. Today, however, SaaS, as in software as a service, is a $145 billion—I want just—$145 billion industry that touches just about every aspect of our work lives. Consider just this show. My notes are created on Google Docs. The meeting invites were sent out via Office 365. We’re using Restream to broadcast it live on to four different viewing platforms. We’ll transcribe the show using Otter AI. We’ll rebroadcast it as a podcast using Libsyn, a syndication service, and we’ll track social sharing via Sprout Social. And I protect my logins to all of these applications via Dashlane. And no doubt I probably missed five SaaS applications that we use along the way. Every one of these applications is subscription-based, exists in the cloud, and almost all are minting money for their respective owners. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a successful software product right now that is either fully SaaS today or in the process of migrating to SaaS. So let’s move on to the real topic today—the not so obvious challenge of being a CMO at a SaaS company, particularly one that is in a massive growth mode. And to help us understand what makes SaaS marketing such a distinct challenge, we have three amazing CMOs. Grant Johnson is the CMO at Emburse and in addition to his many accomplishments, he was the star of episode 13 of this show and is a two-time guest of Renegade Marketers Unite. So hello, Grant, how are things in sunny Southern California?

Grant Johnson: Oh, they’re of course sunny and bright and beautiful. Winter may show up one day, but all good.

Drew Neisser: What’s the hurry, right? It’s overrated. All right, well, let’s talk about your marketing career. Both of our careers started before SaaS was a thing. I’m just curious, was it at Pega or at an earlier stop when SaaS became the hot topic in the C-Suite?

Grant Johnson: Yeah, I think it was at Pega—it was right around, you know, the 2010 timeframe. But you know, interesting enough, Drew, we all have journeys that take us into different directions. And back in 2002, I joined a company called Big Fish Enterprises, you may not have heard of them, and I had the fun opportunity of renaming them to Frontbridge. We were actually an early SaaS company. It wasn’t called SaaS, but it was a hosted message management filter spam or viruses like it’s done today. It was all done, you could set it up in a matter of 30 minutes. We had a free trial. We converted 90% of free trials and we retained 90% of the customers. Microsoft bought the company in 2005. So, it’s been a fun SaaS journey.

Drew Neisser: Wow, okay, that was 16 years ago. And I mean, really, you don’t have SaaS till you have internet, so there’s really only, if we look at it, 26 years of this to begin with. Early entrance, but I know that Pega in particular was a company that wasn’t SaaS. So I’m curious how that sort of—as you’re there, and it’s like, “Oh my god, there’s this SaaS thing. We’ve got to solve for this.”

Grant Johnson: Yeah, exactly. We had noticed Adobe was an early pioneer in making that shift in their business model. We were moving more and more in the early 2000 to 2013 timeframe to subscription. Now, if you look, their over a billion dollars. You look at Pegasystems’ SaaS and deferred revenue is larger and larger. And in my last several years, I’ve been, you know, purely in SaaS. It’s like, at some point, as you said, at the outset, Drew, it’s the only way to go.

Drew Neisser: I’m wondering, so I remember when we first talked on my podcast, you were at Kofax. And that was like a hardware company initially, right?

Grant Johnson: Well, before I got there, I probably wouldn’t have joined, I’ll be honest with you, they’d sold off the hardware and they were moving to SaaS and had bought a couple companies and we bought and merged together with Kofax, Perceptive and a company based out of Sweden called Readsoft, and they had pioneered an API automation invoice processing offering called Readsoft Online. That was pure SaaS, you could set it up in a few minutes, almost no administration required. So Kofax, just like Pega, was in that transition from on-premise to hybrid to try to get more and more revenue out of subscriptions.

Drew Neisser: Part of this is helping us understand, what’s the biggest difference as a marketer—I mean, you know, in the way you might have done it when it was an on-premise thing. I mean, we used to buy discs and we put them on our computer or they would sit on a server somewhere locally. What’s the big difference from a marketing standpoint when it comes to SaaS?

Grant Johnson: One word: Agility. As I’ve reflected on my journey, my team’s journey, how we go to market, how we compete, the dynamic nature of the offers, you have to be able to adapt your value prop, your website, your customer acquisition, all these things really fast because, you know, tomorrow somebody comes up with a freemium that you were charging for or they bundled something, like let’s say we’re in the expense and spend management business and suddenly, you can now do bill pay. Well, yesterday, you couldn’t do bill pay, so that adds to your value prop. You just have to have that mindset. In the on-premise, you could move, make decisions and move, you know, I wouldn’t say annually, but at least you could wait a quarter to take action. You know, now if you wait a month, it’s too long. A week may seem too long to some of us.

Drew Neisser: Interesting, okay. That helps and it’s purely because the market is so dynamic, your products are so dynamic, so obviously the competitor can come in. And you use the term freemium and that’s often what is talked about, we’re going to talk about that later with the group… But at some point, how do you avoid… whenever we’re talking agility, the downside of agility is, you know, you’re just all over the place, you’re Ricochet Rabbit, you’re responding and you’re not leading. It’s really hard in that context to think about brand and marketing. So, I mean, are we just working our way from campaign to campaign and messaging to messaging? How do you sort of keep that in the context of, you’ve got to build a brand, too?

Grant Johnson: Well, the brand is, you know, it’s the true north, it’s the constant. We launched a campaign to verb-ify Emburse called “Emburse It” last quarter. We’ve done a lot on social media, we’re doing a lot with our customers, we’ll have conferences and campaigns all around building the brand, the awareness, the affinity, the advocacy around Emburse. So that will be a constant, and we also have campaigns that are ongoing that we do for each of the major segments, so we serve enterprise, mid-market and SMB. But a lot of the tactics to acquire a particular customer or to upsell or cross sell, those have much more variation and allow for experimentation and this more flexible approach to where you do have to maintain that constant brand presence. And the other key dimension I found with SaaS is the inordinate importance of the customer experience. You have to deliver. The expectations have been elevated with the Facebooks and Amazons of the world. Business applications shouldn’t have to be hard and difficult to use and non-intuitive, right? So, you know, we have that mindset that we have to continue to streamline and simplify and support our customers in their journey to adopt our products so they’ll be happy with that experience and tell their customers about it.

Drew Neisser: So, before we sort of get move on… Overall, is this easier or harder or just different from a marketing standpoint?

Grant Johnson: I think it’s more challenging, but then in an exciting way, right? You have to be on your toes and agile and adaptive and willing to take risk. That’s the key component of being a CMO, is to make the right bets and make some calculated ones. And, you know, make some smaller ones to that, hey, if they go south, no harm, no foul.

Drew Neisser: Love it. Okay. All right, we’re gonna come back to you. But right now we’re gonna move to Ali McCarthy, CMO of Skience. Ali, hello.

Ali McCarthy: Hi.

Drew Neisser: How are you?

Ali McCarthy: Good, great. And happy to be here.

Drew Neisser: Nice of you. And where are you?

Ali McCarthy: I’m in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, so it’s about 40 miles west of Philadelphia.

Drew Neisser: West of Philadelphia. Okay, so we’ve moved West Coast to sort of not quite East Coast, but we’re in the Eastern Time zone. Alright. So, before we talk about Skience, you were at Brinker Capital for like six years. I’m just curious, because that’s a sort of interesting and different type of place then what you’re doing at Skience. Talk a little bit about that.

Ali McCarthy: Sure. So, I’ve always been on the traditional investment management side of the business, so Brinker Capital being an investment management firm itself, I really have kind of grown up through that, if you will, my career. And it’s been, I mean, I’ve learned so much. What was interesting about my tenure there, not only was I continuing to manage the marketing, but then was able to layer in additional things like practice management, really understanding how the advisor and client relationship works, and really helping advisors grow their business through deepening their relationships with their clients. So, when Grant was talking about the customer experience, really having this hands-on approach of being able to understand how those conversations happen between a financial advisor and their client, and then how to deepen those… That was a wonderful experience and really allowed me to kind of step outside of just traditional investment marketing. I also was able to finish my doctoral work while I was there, so it really was a wonderful time to be able to really learn the business from different angles.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I love that. And you’re a doctor in…

Ali McCarthy: It’s Advanced Studies in Human Behavior, but I studied the emotional intelligence level of a financial advisor and how it impacts their relationship with their clients. So it was really…

Drew Neisser: EQ. Wow, very cool. Well, you know, if we said, “All right, give me a polar opposite of SaaS,” which is, you know, sometimes the customer goes and discovers it on his own, they click, they might never actually talk to a person—I mean, often in the bigger enterprise they do, whereas investment management is all about that one-on-one… How were you able to sort of make this leap into SaaS?

Ali McCarthy: Well, it’s funny you say that because that was one of the things that I thought was so interesting about making the move over. What was familiar to me was that we serve the same clients. So at Skience, it still serves the wealth management industry, but instead of just focusing on the financial advisor and the client relationship, it’s really looking at digital enablement at the firm level. So how can you help provide a better experience to the compliance folks, to the back office staff, to the advisor’s assistant, down to the advisor and the client? It was really at a much bigger level, but really staying in a space that I was really familiar and comfortable with. A little bit of the blend. You know, there’s a little bit of leap of faith there. Some of the jargon I hadn’t really mastered yet, but I think I’ll get it, it’s fine. I’m here talking SaaS.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, right, exactly. We’re going in with confidence because we know how important that is. So what’s interesting to me is, you know the target, you know the companies, the world to whom you are selling. The whole sort of SaaS sales motion is what would be new. Talk a little bit about how you’ve gotten up to speed because you’ve been there now six months, and how that’s going in terms of, you know, what are you seeing that’s different and you go, “Oh, man, okay!”

Ali McCarthy: Yeah. Well, it’s funny because as I was thinking about that, you know, as I was preparing to have this discussion with you, what was pleasantly I was surprised about was how it is in some ways similar in the sense that in the SaaS world you are trying to land and expand. When we were working with financial advisors, we were selling such an array of products that we were actually taking that same approach with them. We were also trying to get in there and then expand the relationship once we were in there. In some ways, it is different, but in a lot of ways, it’s very similar. And you realize that people, you know, it doesn’t really matter what industry you’re in. Humans are pretty much the same, so we were able to kind of get up to speed and learn the jargon quickly. But I would say I wasn’t as surprised or overwhelmed. I was pleasantly surprised in the sense that some things were very similar.

Drew Neisser: So, lots of things like that, but what have you seen that’s different or what’s on the learning curve for you?

Ali McCarthy: So on the learning curve, I would say here they’re definitely more advanced on the ABM side. That wasn’t something because there isn’t a group buyer on the individual side in investment management at least when you’re doing the financial services products per se. So for me, that was something that I found interesting to be able to explore more with my team, really get that up and running and really dive into the, you know, who is the buyer? What is the persona? How are you managing the firm and the group buyer? And that’s been fun.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and it’s funny because SaaS is such a massive category, and I mean, I think there’s so many SaaS brands where it is a direct-to-individual sale, but in a lot of times and for all three of our guests today, we’re talking about an enterprise sale where it is multiple people and even though the transactions and the product is ultimately delivered online… And yeah, so it’s harder. I mean, I guess the difference might be, right, I was thinking a financial advisor might have to sell, you know, the whole family on the idea, but still, it’s a different thing.

Well, let’s move on and let’s bring on Andrew Hally, CMO at Bynder and star of episode 248 of Renegade Marketers Unite. Hello, Andrew.

Andrew Hally: Hey, Drew, great to see you again. Nice to see you.

Drew Neisser: And where are you?

Andrew Hally: I am in Charlestown, about 50 yards off the monument just outside of downtown Boston. So East Coast like you.

Drew Neisser: Yes. And the monument that you’re referring to just in case we can provide some historical context? Which monument?

Andrew Hally: Yeah, yeah, the Bunker Hill monument. That granite obelisk that you can see from the airplane sometimes when you’re landing at Boston Logan. I’m about 50 yards off of there. So if you see that next time you fly in, you know where I’m at.

Drew Neisser: There you go. Bunker Hill. Important. We’ll have a quiz on that later. Okay, since we’ve landed in Boston, what’s going on? I mean, Boston is such an interesting technology town and it has become really something else in SaaS. What’s happening there?

Andrew Hally: Yeah, it’s frenzied here. There’s so much going on with the market. I know that’s the case in New York City, as well as out on the West Coast where Grant is. And internationally. You know, I’ve been working international quite a bit and it’s just as busy there. But I’ll tell you one extra thing interesting about Boston is, this last year, so the biotech has exploded. There’s kind of a bit of a new kid in town in Boston. You know, tech used to be kind of the only cool new thing starting to elbow out financial services, but biotech is huge and they’re just ripping down buildings left and right building lab space. And there’s also some really cool coming together of tech and biotech. It’s really, it’s pretty crazy here in Boston, Drew.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, between Harvard, MIT, all the universities you have up there, it’s just such a great feeder for the technology. It totally makes sense. And of course, you have these sort of community builders, like the Hubspots out there that have brought a lot of the marketing community and the tech community together. Okay, so I was reading up about Bynder and it couldn’t help but notice in the LinkedIn quote, and I’m gonna quote, “Bynder launched in 2013 as the first pure SaaS DAM.” DAM standing for, it’s not a swear word, digital asset management. And I’m curious, does that matter anymore if a company is pure SaaS? Because I know, I mean, we were talking a little bit about that with Grant. I mean, you know, Pega was not pure SaaS, but they got there. But does it matter?

Andrew Hally: I would say it matters most actually operationally. So you know, behind the scenes of what we as marketers are doing. When you’re a SaaS vendor, right, you’re able to much more scalably develop, maintain, enhance, and deploy your software across tens, hundreds, thousands of customers as opposed to when you don’t have SasS but it’s on-prem, or on-prem’s awkward cousin, single-tenant hosted solutions, the operations are so much more complex. I think that behind the scenes is much, much harder. And of course, if everything behind the scenes is harder, going more slowly, that kind of slows you down on the marketing side. I think another I would say thing that SaaS gives you—and you touched on this, I think we’ll talk about later, too—is the whole ability to use a trial or freemium as a way to deliver value to the buyer ahead of a sales conversation. You know, when you’ve got a multi-tenant SaaS solution that’s much easier to do, it may still not make sense to do, but it’s something that you’re able to do. As a marketer, when it comes to customer and focusing on expanding accounts, a SaaS solution you can market individual features because there’s no necessarily software delivery. You can just turn features on, so it helps you with that customer marketing piece. And then lastly, I think one thing that’s neat is the whole multi-tenant SaaS revolution—if you want to call it that, right, since we’re here in Boston—is the data that vendors get. The business of running a SaaS solution creates user data, sometimes it’s called the data exhaust, which opens up all kinds of neat possibilities for businesses in value delivery to the customer, but also for marketing and the kinds of benchmarking and interesting insights you can share with buyers, again, delivering value ahead of the sales conversation. So I think it’s got some major advantages, yes.

Drew Neisser: Okay, and I want to go through some of those. We’ll get to freemium. But I think it’s so interesting in that, once you have a customer in theory, and it’s an online-based product—I mean, we’ve all experienced this with Zoom all the time. It’s like, “Oh, there’s a new update,” right? And then you open it up and you go, “Oh, look, there’s something new there.” Talk a little bit about that aspect of it. This sort of gets me to this whole world—people use the term product-led marketing and they’re typically talking about SaaS. Is that where the product and the customer upsell, cross-sell, that comes together?

Andrew Hally: Yeah, I think it can be so. Product-led SaaS, product-led growth, is a strategy to lower the barrier to start engaging with a customer, to getting a customer, and then grow it organically by delivering new features, and maybe having that kind of customer expansion require less touches as well. Let the software do it as has been done with the initial SaaS purchases in cases. I think that’s definitely a tactic that can be done with SaaS. But again, even behind the scenes, right, that whole notion of deploying software—and yeah, the customer may click through to get it—is just operationally so much better I think, even if you’re not engaging in product-led growth as a strategy.

Drew Neisser: Okay, before we move on, you mentioned, multi-tenant, and I want to make sure we explain what that is. And I love this notion of data exhaust. I remember having a number of conversations with SaaS companies, you know, 10 years ago and saying, “The reason you’re gonna want to give this away is the data is where the real value is,” right? Sometimes it’s all about the data. But talk a little bit—what is what does multi-tenant mean?

Andrew Hally: Yeah, sure. So multi-tenant is basically when you can run lots of customers on the same unit of infrastructure, if you will, and their customer data is partitioned logically in software. As opposed to, you know, single-tenant, where you basically have to have a machine for each customer. It’s just, again, it’s much easier to deal with all the customers in one place rather than having to have separate houses. It’s kind of like trick or treating in an apartment building versus trick or treating in a neighborhood, right?

Drew Neisser: Now, you got me completely. My kids, absolutely. I mean, when we lived in a large building, you know, in an hour, they covered so much territory. It was unbelievable. That’s hilarious. Okay, and then let’s just get it this from—how does the data exhaust and all this help you as a marketer? I imagine this becomes a very interesting way… We leverage that for content, we leverage that for insight, we leverage that for sales? Talk a little bit about that.

Andrew Hally: Yeah, sure. I think the easiest example from my career was back at Bullhorn, which is software for the recruiting and staffing industry and just a great company. We launched a new product, a new service, I should say, called Reach, which is all about helping recruiters figure out how to use social media back when it wasn’t so obvious how you use that for recruiting. They could post their jobs across social networks and get candidates that way. In the process of having hundreds of thousands of recruiters do this, it produced an enormous amount of interesting data about, you know, what’s the right frequency to post a job on Twitter or LinkedIn? Just by being able to watch all these customers act, we could see what was most effective. And we could do a number of things with that. First of all, we could reflect that in the product by giving tips to the user to help them be more effective in the product. They use the product, they’re more effective, they’re customers, we grow the account, right? We were also able to start aggregating all this data and we came up with The Social Recruiting Report. And we just gave insights about, you know, by geography, by job type, what’s the most effective way to use social media for recruitment. So for example, nursing positions, Facebook was much better than LinkedIn, just as one example. And that would change, so that was kind of content marketing. We could break it down by geography and say interesting things about the UK versus the US. And just the audience, our audience ate it up because there were insights into something they were trying to figure out.

Drew Neisser: So a couple of things and I’m thinking of tips within the product so you use it better, because there’s so many times where we have pieces of software that we don’t use to its fullest advantage… I’m just wondering, and this is a kind of bizarre technical question, but I’m imagining that the product has to be coded in such a way that that data can be pulled out, right? I mean, it’s possible that data wouldn’t be accessible. And as a marketer, how do you make sure that, you know, “Hey, guys, is there any data in there we can use? Or could you reprogram so that we could get that data?”

Andrew Hally: Yeah, that’s actually a really important insight, Drew, because I have absolutely been in SaaS situations where that can be dramatically easier or more difficult depending on choices made in architecture that aren’t always obvious when products are first getting built, right? Because, you know, when you’re in that MVP stage, you’re just trying to deliver value to the customer. You’re not thinking five years down the road, when you have hundreds of thousands of users, how might you want to be able to look at data across all that. So often, working with data exhaust can either be next to impossible even in a multi-tenant solution. If the way customer specific configuration is handled isn’t done well, it can be extraordinarily difficult. With Reach, that was Bullhorn’s second SaaS product, the technical team knew what to do to help make that doable. The company, you know, learned from previous experience. But you’re right, that’s a really important point. It’s not always easy to do even with a pure SaaS product.

Drew Neisser: Well, I’m just thinking because, you know, so many times the marketer is at the mercy of the programmer and this is just a case where experience matters. Or if you tune into this show, you know, when you go to your next SaaS job, you know to ask, “Oh, by the way, can we pull the data and if not, can we make sure that’s on the roadmap?” Alright. And with that, because this show is all about sharing, we’re going to talk about CMO Huddles for a second. We launched CMO Huddles in 2020. It’s an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. We just had a huddle today and we were talking about time management because it turns out that most CMOs are working harder than they were, not less. They’re working more even though they don’t have commutes, so it’s crazy. Anyway, one CMO described huddles is timely conversations with smart peers in a trusted environment, while another called it a cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session. If you’re a B2B CMO that can share and care and dare with the best of them visit cmohuddles.com or send me an email at drew@renegade.com and see if you qualify for a guest pass. Grant, Andrew, Ali, I’m just curious, you know, Grant you’ve been with Huddles for a little bit longer than the others. Any thoughts on huddles?

Grant Johnson: Yeah, I mean, you really struck a chord with this. I know it was precipitated by the pandemic and you and I have known each other for a decade of other CMO groups, but I think the unique combination of where we come together monthly, share best practices, challenge and support each other with our own knowledge that is complementary is a great form. In addition to all the other things like the Lives and the Bonus Huddles, it really has become a valuable part of my monthly work life.

Drew Neisser: I love it. Thank you. That’s great. Thank you for that. I don’t know, Andrew, Ali, you want to add anything to this conversation?

Ali McCarthy: I would just say add that it’s a community that I think I really needed right now, so thank you. And I would echo what you said it, it’s something that I really look forward to, so it helps me fill up.

Andrew Hally: I’ve taken a nugget, a really valuable nugget, at least one, from every huddle that we’ve had, so I think it’s fantastic.

Drew Neisser: Well, thank you all. I read that there are 35,000 SaaS products from over 15,000 companies competing in over 740 vertical markets. And so, that makes me think there’s a lot of brands in every category and the barrier seems to be pretty low to entry. How are you all finding breathing room, and I’ll start with you Grant, with Emburse? I mean, because there’s no shortage of companies that will say that they can do what you do.

Grant Johnson: Yeah, it’s certainly a challenge that persists across all geos and all segments. There’s somebody getting funded in what we call broadly the Travel and Expense spend management categories as part of the broader one. We find that our targeting to the persona, to the buyer group, our communications and nurturing all the way through closing and onboarding has to be top drawer. Because if we don’t meet that customer expectation, there’s not just one, there’s ten other competitors that are vying for their business.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So the standard at which you communicate really sets—at least communicating with this very specific target. Okay, Ali, how are you all finding breathing room for your brand?

Ali McCarthy: Sure. So, we specialize just in the wealth management space, so for us it’s important that we are becoming a consultative trusted adviser to these firms. Because digital transformation in the wealth management industry isn’t as mature as in some other industries. I mean, there’s a lot to unpack and there’s a lot of legacy systems, but yet the consumer—we were talking about this earlier—the consumer does demand a seamless experience. So we always want to help them get it right the first time. We found that if we are a partner to them versus just them looking at us as just a vendor, then it’s helping us really give them that roadmap to their long-term success. That’s been a way for us to get some breathing room for our brand.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So you’re a trusted adviser to trusted advisors.

Ali McCarthy: That’s right.

Drew Neisser: And Andrew, Bynder said it was early to the DAM category. How did they find their space?

Andrew Hally: Well, actually, Ali mentioned digital transformation. In the case of digital asset management as a category and Bynder, digital transformation, the last couple years of rapid acceleration of the digital economy really created new challenges that DAM can solve for DAM buyers, for the marketing team. And, you know, the need to provide great digital experience online, the need to serve up images that are personalized, algorithmically driven in real time, a very different new set of needs. It’s a real new space that affords Bynder the opportunity to lead the category. In some ways, you know, digital transformation kind of shook up the snow globe of DAM, if you will, and afforded Bynder some new space to differentiate and update positioning.

Drew Neisser: Now, was there ever any talk about renaming the category?

Andrew Hally: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, of course. Drew, you know the playbook. But I think, you know, Bynder has a solid case to be the industry leader, you know, certainly an industry leader. And so as an industry leader, your job is to grow the category rather than compete down to those chasing you. And in this case, we did debate that, but it was a pretty easy call—in this case, it’s really is to elevate the DAM category, and then that we will grow along with it.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I was thinking more of the fact that it’s D-A-M. [Laughter] But that’s okay because I just loved hearing you say “We got to elevate the DAM category.” And that works for me. We started to get at this issue of premium and freemium and I think about a conversation I had probably two, three years back with Megan Eisenberg at MongoDB, and they had, I think, 45,000 downloads a day of their free product. The marketing mission was then basically, can we convert 1% of those into paying customers? And I’m curious, do any of you have a version in that world of freemium or something that helps you lower the barrier to trial?

Andrew Hally: Bynder has a free trial. It’s not a full free version and it is available without having a touch with the sales organization, but what we find in practice, Bynder actually, the free trial, is more frequently used after the first sales touch as a way for a customer to try different things. We actually find it’s good for moving the sales process forward. You know, Bynder is an enterprise product. Key parts of the value are integration into the broader digital ecosystem, things that are difficult to really provide in a free way. And it’s just important, you know, Bynder has a fantastic sales team and we really want to get lots of expertise, we really want to have a conversation early on. So we have it, but it’s not the classic usage that you see across lots of SaaS companies.

Drew Neisser: Well, Grant, let’s talk about—I mean, you know, changing your accounting system or your expense system or any of these things is a big deal. And I guess, what kinds of things and how do you think about lowering the barrier to trial? If it’s not giving away a product or a version, what do you do in this way to sort of get someone… I mean, I think about HubSpot and what that’s meant to them—how they’ve been able to get to enterprise by individuals with their free trial.

Grant Johnson: Yeah, I would, I would say two things. One, Andrew made a really good point that for more complex, up-market enterprise, you’ve got to integrate with the information infrastructure of your company. It’s just not easy to say, “Well, here’s a freemium.” They’re not going to be able to see the value, right? So as you go to SMB or even mid-market, for us, if we can show—we do have a free trial, we don’t have a freemium—how easy is to connect to an ERP—you know, QuickBooks could be something for an SMB that’s pretty obvious—then, you know, suddenly, we see the conversion once they’ve had that aha moment from trial to subscription. So that really becomes an accelerator for us. We are looking at next year some other ways to lower the barriers to adoption. I can’t describe exactly what it is because that would leak the launch, but it definitely is a compelling way to try to address a much broader market without having to get 45,000 downloads a day.

Drew Neisser: Right. I’m glad you brought that up again because Andrew’s point was I thought so interesting and wanted to keep in mind, which is, you know, marketing isn’t always and something like a trial isn’t always just about getting a new customer. It could be about accelerating a deal. As we think about the role of the CMO, it’s not just about getting people in the lead funnel, it’s helping close those leads too. Interesting point. We’ll have to, I guess, wait until the next time, Grant, we talk to find out what the new is. Ali, anything in this area that you’re doing to help lower the barrier?

Ali McCarthy: Similar to what Grant was saying. You know, we have typically worked with larger enterprises and as we’re going to the RAA market, which for us would be the SMB market and mid-market area of the wealth management industry, we are looking at giving them some opportunities to try before they buy.

Drew Neisser: Again, I want to make one other point, just going back to what Grant said and Andrew said is: Sometimes the barriers to purchase are just the multiple parts of adoption. And so, again, it’s not just about a freemium product; it is about getting the customer easy and comfortable with this change that so often comes with a new software product. And I think this is a good chance for me to ask what Ben Franklin would say. And part of this is, I think, in the world of SaaS, there is a tendency to over promise and under deliver. One of the ways we just talked about it, the way you can sort of match expectations or sort of set expectations is by letting them see under the hood and get to see how things connect. But what Franklin would advise is: “Endeavor to speak truth in every instance and give nobody expectation that it is not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity and every word and action.” Now that’s a lot longer than his normal quote that I do on the show, but I want to aim at sincerity in every word and action, and really when we talk about marketing today, we are talking about the combination of words and action. Okay, go Ben. Thanks for joining us. One, we’ve talked a little bit about this challenge of this—Grant, you brought it up right away—agility, needing to be able to keep up with the market, and how the speed of competition and overnight there’s all this pricing pressure and churn issues and so forth. And I’m just curious, as a CMO, how much time do you spend or have your team spend looking at the competition? We’ll start with Andrew.

Andrew Hally: Yeah, this is a really interesting one. I mean, obviously, you’ve got to know about your competition. I think the risk though is that we home in too tightly on covering competitive difference. Has anyone on the call read a book called Different: Escape the Competitive Herd. It’s by a woman named Youngme Moon, I think she’s at HBS. Great book and that’s really, Drew, like she really gets like, right at this. There’s a natural inclination in markets, and especially tech, to reduce differences rather than accentuate them. That’s tough on marketing. But yet, in SaaS where it’s enterprise software, we’re competing, we’re going head-to-head with other vendors and you really have to have deep intel about the competitor because you can really help the sales team win deals with great competitive intelligence. So, on the one hand, it’s critical to have it when you’re in the trenches competing, and of course, you want it to guide the roadmap, the product roadmap to bridge meaningful reasons why you lose deals repeatedly. But I think there’s a risk of holding the competition too close in mind when you’re trying to create a brand.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. It’s kind of a little bit of a trap question I have to admit, as I was asking it, I think about when the former CEO, he was a marketing guy who became the CEO of Tesco, he talked about how early in his career, he just kept looking at the competition and trying to keep up with them. His career didn’t accelerate until he started not to even look at what they were doing. And just think about what Tesco could do better than anybody else. It’s hard to say that to a salesperson and say, “Sorry, you’re losing this deal.” But I guess the flip side of that is really understanding why you win deals, right? And recognizing—and it may be that because if you’re all things to all people, it’s problematic. Curious, Ali, Grant, did you have any thoughts on the competition in this question?

Ali McCarthy: The only thing I would add to what you were saying was, you know, I agree that you do have to pay attention to it, but it can’t consume you because it’s so dynamic and you find that who might be your competitor today could be your partner tomorrow. I think you almost need to just have knowledge of it just for the relationship aspect and being able to understand the collective strengths. Because sometimes, you know, we’re not the only solution for the clients we serve. There are times where we might need to—if we’re going to do right by them—that it might be a blend of someone who could be considered a competitor or partner. I do think it’s something you can never take your hand off the wheel, correct, but it is something that shouldn’t be the only benchmark of success.

Grant Johnson: Both what Ali and Andrew said is—we have a director of competitive market intelligence on my team and, surprisingly, we use a SaaS app to track competition. There’s another one for you, Drew. But, you know, our brand mission is to humanize work and we want to live that mission and every interaction on the front lines, on the back office, so that our brand remains distinct. We’re not going to win every competitive battle, but we have to stay true to our brand and not just follow suit with what several others decide to do on a whim, perhaps.

Drew Neisser: I think that’s a perfect bookend to what you said earlier about agility: We can’t be reactive in this thing. I mean, we have to be aware of what’s going on, but we’re also at the same time, there are some things that sort of say yes or no, allow us to let that, “Hey, knock yourself out. You all go that way, we’re going this way.” I want to shift gears just a little bit to—it’s funny, the SaaS world is is very well known for getting customers, but they’re not as good at servicing them, right? They’re good at marketing a service, but not so good at servicing the market, as someone said. I’m curious, for you as you think about both this service part of your business, how does that impact some of the decisions that you’re making? Can you ever take your eye off acquisition? Can you just sort of say, “You know, we really need to spend a little more time on customer service and customer marketing”?

Andrew Hally: I know that quote I think was probably more true in the days before SaaS, right, when it was enterprise software. You know, Grant and I remember this…

Drew Neisser: I’ll tell you what, I see so many SaaS products that use Zendesk, which I have just, I have terrible experience. I never get an answer that I need. And I’m probably one of only folks—I’m sure that at some point Zendesk is going to jump on the show and say, “Drew, you’re an idiot,” but every time…. So to me, when I have a SaaS product, and I have an issue, if I can’t get a real person on the line, that’s a lot. I find, I am just stuck. And so anyway, that’s, I think, what we’re talking about. More of individuals trying to get customer support on a SaaS product. You know, forget about it.

Andrew Hally: I see. Yeah, so it’s a scale problem of having millions of customers. I think in the enterprise space, right, SaaS, where the barriers are lower to leaving than they were with on-premise software, right? And it’s a subscription service—you’re winning that business every year. I think SaaS actually, from an enterprise, Drew, not the individual user as you’re mentioning, actually has led our industry to better service the customer. We’re fighting for that renewal, it’s easier for customers to churn. NRR is a critical metric. It is right next to pipeline on I think the modern SaaS business executive dashboard these days.

Drew Neisser: Okay, all right. Well, you heard that here. We’re spending time on this. We’re keeping our customers. 2022 is going to be the year of the customer. Let’s talk about final words, we’re running out of time here. We’ll start with Ali—for the SaaS marketers who are here, give us just one key thought to be thinking about as you head into 2022?

Ali McCarthy: Well, I think as we head into 2022, we should never lose sight that the customer and the client—their first. We need to approach everything we’re doing now really with empathy more than we ever had. I mean, we went through a lot these past 24 months and we’re not out of it yet, so I think we need to just keep our eyes and our gaze on our clients and where they are and how best we can serve them. Because I think you’re right, if you’re looking at the competition, that’s one thing, but if you’re looking at where the evolving road that our clients are going to, I think that’s more important. I think it’s the right North Star for these firms, all the firms in our category.

Drew Neisser: Okay, Grant, thank you for that Ali. Grant?

Grant Johnson: Well, in 2022, you don’t have to be a horse whisperer, but you do have to remain as Ali said to be a really good listener. The answers are there and your customers are willing to share, you’ve just got to open up the dialog. And then double down where you’re strong, be true to your brand, accentuate your differentiation. There’s lots of upside if you follow those two prescripts.

Drew Neisser: Accentuate your differentiation. All right, very good. Okay, Andrew, final words.

Andrew Hally: I think 2022 is gonna be the year to really focus on talent. Things are going crazy. You can’t grow without great people. We’ve all heard about the great resignation. Focus on developing your people, being human with them. I think, Grant, you said that. To me, the big challenge of 2022 is actually going to be with teams and talent.

Drew Neisser: Love it. And so we’ve covered that. You got to take care of your customer all the way through, be a really good listener, and then Andrew brings it home with the employees first. Of course, in my book, we talk about employees are your first target. But as marketers, we really have a lot more impact with the brand than we think on both retention and recruiting. All right. So thank you, Grant. Ali, Andrew, you’re all great sports. And thank you audience for staying with us.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey. For show notes, past episodes, and the latest on my new book Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, please visit renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.