In a category as diverse and competitive as SaaS, it’s not surprising that marketing departments are responsible for an array of different tasks and projects. From website content to acquisition strategies, brand building to retention campaigns, churn prevention to referral programs — the job is truly never done. That’s what keeps it interesting.
It also makes it tricky to identify exactly how to build a team that can come together to achieve your big goals. In the early stages, most SaaS leaders will find themselves with a long list of skillsets and capabilities they need to check off in just five to ten hires.
Whether you’re building a SaaS marketing team from scratch in an early-stage startup or looking for some advice about your next hire, this guide will help. We spoke to 14 SaaS marketing leaders to find out what they prioritize in a team. But before we get into that, let’s start with the basics.
Core areas of SaaS marketing
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, product-led or sales-led, or all four at once, you will want to build your team around three core areas of marketing.
Brand positioning is absolutely crucial to any business — a strong brand leaves a mental tattoo and when someone has a problem your product can solve, that memory will push your brand to the top of the pack. Brand marketing is especially important in industries like SaaS where there tends to be overlap between products and features that may be difficult to explain.
There’s a lot that comes under this broad brand marketing umbrella. Content and brand storytelling, organic social media, graphic design, PR, and event planning to name a few. This means, it’s likely the brand marketing efforts on your team will be spread across a number of individuals, even if the team is small in size.
A great brand marketer is often creative, a strong communicator (visual or verbal), well-versed in brand nuances and positioning, and has an understanding of product users and buyers.
Titles may include:
Social Media Manager
Product marketing is all about product positioning, messaging, and lower-funnel campaigns like retention. Often, product marketing will work very closely with other parts of the team.
In a SaaS organization, the product marketing team or individual will be responsible for things like in-app messaging, feature release announcements, cross-selling and up-selling strategies, competitor analysis, and product positioning on website pages.
A top-performing product marketer has a deep understanding of the product, is not afraid to get on the tools themselves, can collaborate well with other teams and individuals and is data-driven.
Titles may include:
Product Marketing Manager
You only need to take a look at Google Trends to see that, over the past decade, the interest in growth marketers has grown exponentially. Growth marketing is the process of experimenting with marketing activity, messaging or strategy to find the tactics that work for your business. Growth marketing looks at the customer journey end-to-end: from acquisition right through to referral.
A strong growth marketer is equal parts creative and data-driven, that’s what makes them unique. When looking for a growth marketer, look for someone who is unafraid to experiment, results-orientated, tenacious, and full of ideas.
Titles may include:
Marketing Operations Manager
Paid Acquisition Specialist or Performance Marketer
Inbound Marketing Manager
Demand Generation Specialist
Lifecycle / Email Specialist
Account-based Marketing Specialist
How to build your early-stage marketing team
Don’t be intimidated by the number of titles above, a SaaS marketing department of just five people can get you all the skills you need, and you can build from there.
We polled 12 SaaS marketing leaders from companies like Toggl, Mosaic, PartnerStack and Leena AI to find out how they would prioritize their marketing hires. Right now, the majority of these leaders (71.4%) have a team of 1-10. Take a look at the breakdown below.
The first two hires
When it comes to the first hire, a Growth Marketer took the top spot, with Product Marketer and Content Marketer tied in second place.
The next priority, a second hire on the team, was a Product Marketer. Content Marketer, Social Media Marketer and Marketing Ops are all tied at second place for hire number two.
Joe Kevens, Director of Demand Generation at PartnerStack and Founder of B2B SaaS Reviews told us PartnerStack have prioritized hires by taking this four-step approach:
Build a foundation
Capture existing demand
Generate new demand
Win on brand
He shares, “Within each step, we prioritized specific hires for the task at hand.
For example, when we were building our marketing foundation, our Marketing Leader, Tyler Calder, hired me (Joe) to build a Demand Generation team and Brad Tiller to build a content team. When we were ready to capture more existing demand, we prioritized hiring a paid marketing specialist as our fourth marketing hire to maximize our impact in the short-term and prove marketing's value to the business. Fast forward two years when we had a dozen marketers on our team capturing and generating new demand, we were positioned to win on brand and prioritized hiring a Head of Brand and Content. This four-step approach has been a big help in getting internal buy-in and budget for marketing.”
This approach has clearly worked. But hindsight is 20/20, and Kevens said, “If I were to do it again, the main change I would make would be to hire a product marketer sooner because of the complexity of B2B SaaS solutions. It's also a marketing role that doesn't lend itself to outsourcing; you need one in-house.”
Content marketing was another front-runner for the first and second positions. Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing at Motivosity shared, “Hiring a Content Marketer first is important because good content is the cornerstone of your marketing. Without good content, even the best strategy won't be as successful.”
Ilia Markov, Marketing Director at Toggl prioritized content marketing as the first hire and product marketing in second place because, “Content is still the best way for a SaaS company to grow, but it takes time. Product marketing is the Swiss army knife of SaaS. They can do anything from strategy and customer research to writing copy and creating landing pages.”
The first two hires: Takeaways
Breaking down what these experts have shared, there are a few key takeaways for SaaS marketing leaders considering their first hires. Before you write your job descriptions, take these three things into consideration:
Time to value
Content is a long-term investment with huge organic growth potential, but it does take longer to see results. If you know content is going to be a big part of your strategy, it may be best to bring a senior content hire on early.
The swiss army knives
Ilia points out that product marketers are often multi-skilled and can fill multiple gaps while your team is small. If you have a lot of varying jobs to be done, this may be your best first or second hire. Other types of marketers may fit this description too and, in the early stages, it’s often as much about finding the right person as it is finding the right skill set or title.
The task at hand
As a marketing leader, you should be close to the number one goal for the company. Let that goal be your guiding light. Early wins are extremely important when it comes to proving the value of your team, and growing it in the future.
Hires three to five
With your first two hires in place, it’s likely you will have run some campaigns, performed some experiments, and figured out what kind of secret skills your new team members have and the skill gaps you need to fill. This may make hires three to five simpler, or you may find that you’re firing on all cylinders, see opportunity everywhere, and can hardly narrow down the options.
As Parthi Loganthan, CEO at Letterdrop, puts it, “The first marketing hire should be a generalist who can experiment. After that, it's about layering in specialists for different channels.”
Content marketing took the first spot as hire number three for all survey participants who had not placed the role in spot number one or two. Interestingly, social media marketer was neck-and-neck with content marketer after taking a fairly low priority in the top two spots. This is likely because the brand is growing, you have a bigger community to serve, and your branding is more well-established, and you simply have more to talk about on your social platforms.
SEO came in the second position for hire number three and bounced up to top position (by quite some margin) when it came to hire number four. Again, at this point it’s likely you have a good sense of the audience you’re trying to reach and how best to reach them. You also have some content under your belt, refreshed or new website content, and you’re ready to start really chasing that top spot in the SERPs.
Hire number five was, expectedly, a real mixed bag. At this point, almost everyone polled already had a Product Marketer and Content Marketer on their team. If they didn’t already have a Growth Marketer, it was almost guaranteed that would be the fifth hire on the team. Interestingly, the second most popular choice was Partner Marketer, a role that only popped up once before.
Finally, Marketing Ops and Graphic Designers appeared frequently as options for hires three to five. It all comes down to the focus of the company — for example, if brand building is your priority and are creating high volumes of content, a full time graphic designer may quickly become essential.
Hires three to five: Takeaways
When it comes to hires three to five, marketing leaders should consider these three takeaways from our experts.
Love what loves you back
If you’ve seen early success with content created either by a product marketer or content director, consider hiring an SEO or social media specialist who can help you distribute that content.
Consider your own skillset
As a CMO or VP of Marketing, it’s likely you are a T-shaped marketer yourself and have a few areas of expertise. While you won’t want to get deep into the weeds day-to-day, acknowledge that startup and scaleup life often requires you to get in and do the work with your team. If you have deep experience with growth marketing, but no knowledge of SEO, you may be better off hiring a growth marketer down the track. Great leaders agree that acknowledging shortcomings and filling skill gaps is key to building a powerful marketing team.
Even if you only have three or five hires to make now, It’s worth considering what your ideal 10-person team would look like. It will help you identify the candidates who will grow with you and will mean you can move faster when you do get that funding.
Charlotte Bohnett, Head of Marketing at Mosaic shared, “Don't wait for funding to happen to envision your department and create role requests. Create those things as soon as you can and start conversations early with leadership. That way, when funding comes, everyone is on the same page and you can move faster to hire.”
When should I hire another team member?
Now you’ve got your starter team in place, and a dream team on your vision board, you’re probably asking yourself, when should I start looking for my next hire?
We asked the experts which of the following is the best indicator that you need to bring in an additional team member:
You are too busy doing tasks to focus on growth or your team
There is no one on your team who has a specific skillset
You or your team are overworked/burnt out
You are bringing in high volumes of leads and can justify the spend
Your overall budget has increased
In our poll, the response was fairly split. The majority of respondents said that when you or your team are overworked/burnt out, it’s time to hire. An equal number responded with ‘Other,’ sharing that, often, it’s a combination of these things.
Bohnett shared, “It's a combination of these things. In SaaS, so much depends on finances and funding. You grow your team when the budget is there and there is work and purpose to justify the role. Bonus points if you can communicate ROI with the role.”
She continued, “In regards to burnout, that's more of a management and culture issue than a hiring issue. Manage workload with ruthless focus and open dialogue around prioritization. Regardless of headcount, there are only ever so many hours in a workday. Determine what are the most important things to get done, do those, and backburner the rest. A big part of owning a department is managing expectations across the organization.”
Markov said that when, “there's constantly this one thing that comes up that would be great to do, but no one has the time for,” it’s time to hire.
Kevens said you know it’s time to add a team member when, “you’re unable to execute on your marketing strategy because your team lacks the time, skillset, experience or a combination of the three.”
Naturally, budget plays a huge role in hiring, and leaders recognized that when your overall budget has increased or you’re bringing in high volumes of leads and can justify the spend, it’s time to strike.
Overall, pay attention to:
How you and your team are coping with the workload in front of you
Which projects are getting repeatedly pushed to the side
Whether you can realistically justify the role to leadership
What should I look for in my SaaS marketing hires?
No matter which marketing discipline you’re looking at, you’ll find three different types of people:
Experts in their field who have deep experience in one discipline
T-shaped marketers who have one area of deep expertise, and some experience with a range of other disciplines
Generalists who have broad experience, with no deep expertise in any one area
Our poll showed that no SaaS marketing leader is prioritizing a generalist for every one of their first five. At surface level, it may seem like a generalist could handle a wide range of different tasks, which would be good in an early-stage team. But the reality is that when an individual does not have one deep area of expertise, they are more likely to require a lot of direction and hand-holding along the way. This is no problem when a team is larger, but when you’re leading a small department, it can hinder your ability to get things done.
The majority (64.3%) of respondents said they would look for experts in their field, even in the early stages. This is likely because an expert in their field can truly own their domain, meaning you, as a leader, can focus on strategic initiatives and leading the team, rather than assigning tasks.
The remaining 35.7% said they would look for the happy medium of a T-shaped marketer.
Kevens added that it depends on the role and the timing of the hire. “The first hires are more likely to be generalists, followed by T-shaped Marketers, and then specialists, though your marketing strategy may call for a specialist as an early hire.”
Mallory said, “When it comes to hiring, finding people who truly fit with your company culture and values, even if it means taking longer to fill a position. Finding people who truly fit with your values is more important than just finding people. It does require a bit more effort and patience during the hiring process, but it’s more than worth it.”
Example SaaS team structures
We took the results of our poll and built out the three potential team structures, based on the priorities shared by our panel of leaders. Each is structured around a different marketing focus (for example, brand), but could easily stretch to fill the needs of the company as your focus shifts.
The final word
Hiring presents a huge challenge for SaaS marketing leaders who have a wide range of responsibilities and need to plan for a future that can be hard to predict. Thankfully, SaaS, startups, and scaleups are places that generally attract talent who are willing to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to get the job done, so no matter how small your team, you can keep kicking goals.
Keep this in mind when hiring and look for people who have expertise in an area aligned with your key objectives, and who show initiative, demonstrate ownership over their domain or tasks, and have a great attitude. At the end of the day, these are the people you’re building with day-in, day-out — you can’t underestimate the importance of surrounding yourself with people who lift you up.
*All data taken from a survey of 14 marketing leaders conducted by Ortto June 2022