Building a B2B Marketing Operation: Key Learning from Asaph Schulman
If you’re a startup selling to enterprises, there are many questions that you’re faced with in the early days. When should you hire your first marketing person? How do you build a content marketing engine? How do you re-market to potential customers who engage with you through community efforts?
These are questions that all B2B founders we work with have to think through as they release their products and attract customers. One of the ways in which we help them answer these questions is by having them meet exceptional operators who have done it before. We recently had Asaph Schulman speak to some of our founders about what he learned as the CMO of Checkmarx, which he helped scale from sub-$1M of revenue to more than $85M, and now as CMO of Firebolt, a fast-growing startup aiming to dethrone Snowflake as the leader in the cloud data warehouse space (They are hiring!). We decided to condense some of those learnings and make them available to all founders and operators out there. We hope these are helpful to other founders seeking to build a world-class marketing operation!
On content marketing strategy
Content marketing is all about experimentation. At Checkmarx, Asaph’s team initially focused on quantity, creating one or two blog posts each day. These posts drove some traffic to Checkmarx’s website, but the content was pretty shallow and didn’t create a lot of value for the reader. This should be a priority for your content team. Think about what the reader is really interested in learning (even if that’s how your competitors stack up against your product) and plan it otherwise.
After switching to a more in-depth model, in which they published one long-form, highly detailed article a week, Checkmarx started getting tens of thousands of reads. These writers were in-house, and were journalists who covered tech, had their own blogs so they knew / loved tech and knew how to simplify technical lingo for the masses. Neither had a technical background. As for topics, they had a brainstorm every few weeks, and kept a running list of topics for everyone to contribute to when new ideas came to mind.
One example is “The Ultimate List of Open Source Static Code Analysis Security Tools”: since customers were usually evaluating Checkmarx against open source projects, they decided to compile a list of all of them. If you were looking for an enterprise solution, open source tools likely wouldn’t be a good fit, so they weren’t worried about losing customers to them. This ended up being a great strategy for them, as they were able to re-target readers of those articles in the future. You can also listen to Asaph give a talk on this topic on YouTube.
Having a website and sales materials in the early days
The earlier you can have a website up, the better. Firebolt’s first website only said “The data world is about to change. Enter your email to stay up to date”. Word of mouth drove the initial traffic, as well as people seeing team members update their job to Firebolt. A trick they used is changing the team’s cover images on LinkedIn to be a banner that looked like the website splash page. People then got curious and went to the website to learn more. The emails you can collect through this process really help you get customer feedback as the product starts to get into beta. A well-designed website and sales deck really helps you stand out from the other startups your target customer meets with, so pay attention to it.
When should you hire your first marketing person?
It’s never too early to bring someone on; in the early days, that person will look more like an SDR than a marketing person, and they will start building relationships with potential design partners and get your name out there. This person should be a generalist, have a high level understanding of multiple marketing channels, and be willing to get their hands dirty rather than wanting to delegate to others. That person should be a part of your discussions with prospective customers to make sure your messaging is resonating with them.
What north star metric should you use
Qualified meetings is their preferred North Star metric to measure. If you can’t generate qualified leads for your sales team, the strategy should be updated. Ideally you are tracking almost all customer interactions, so you are able to back yourself into what made them interested in the product. This is also the metric that gets reported to the board in terms of marketing performance. What a “qualified” meeting is varies based on your team’s qualification framework, an example of which could be MEDDIC.