Lack of marketing power threat to Kiwi SaaS success

Getting the right marketing people, systems and processes in place is key to being a successful Kiwi Saas company and delivering growth.

The most significant drop in the Proxi 2021 Marketing Capability Survey was the indicator of whether companies have the right people, systems and processes in place. Plummeting three places from third to sixth – it is a trend that is likely to continue into 2022.

From conversations we have had with our customers on this topic the problem appears to be three-fold:

  1. Covid is driving a marketing change for many companies and there is a lack of confidence the current team knows how to make the switch.
  2. Kiwi SaaS companies are growing rapidly – requiring more specialist marketing skills and greater strategic input from marketing than ever before.
  3. Our tech marketers talent pool is finite – but demand is not. Whereas we could previously search globally for B2B SaaS marketing talent we have been limited to those within our borders – or working with someone remotely. While the latter is entirely feasible it takes a strong marketing lead to make this work – and that capability is what most companies are struggling to find.

Skills shortages in the NZ Tech Sector are well documented. NZTech worked with the government to secure 600 tech visa exemptions to start bridging the gap closed borders have created. But even then, NZTech CEO, Graeme Muller, admits it is plugging one hole in a very leaky dyke:

“This is a drop in the ocean for the actual numbers needed to support the continued growth of New Zealand’s tech sector and the growing number of critical digital projects across multiple government agencies and large businesses…”

But the even bigger issue for us (mic drop) – none of these visas were for marketers.

Competition is growing

New Zealand’s SaaS sector is growing rapidly. An estimated hundred-plus new companies launch each year with an increasing success rate for maturing companies. Kiwi SaaS is securing investment and successfully growing into globally significant businesses.

The brilliance of our products certainly has a role to play in this – but no one is going to buy if they don’t know your offering exists or understands how it changes their world. While this may be true for other products and services – in the self-service SaaS world it is exponentially more important.

If your entire business relies on your website’s ability to close a deal – be it for a free trial to start the sales process or making the sale itself – then your marketing team moves into mission-critical status. In many cases marketing not only nurtures the prospects into customers but is responsible for creating a community of users to evangelise on your behalf and create built-in retention for as long as possible.

Different skills are needed

For most Kiwi SaaS companies this is even more complicated. You are doing this from the other side of the world to your market(s) and on a budget which is a tiny fraction of what your competitors are investing.

Then Covid just made it harder again. It’s no longer easy to jump on a plane and charm prospects with your accent at a trade show – traditional tactics aren’t playing nicely and new tricks are needed.

And in all of this – one of the biggest issues is – you can’t just put any old marketer into a SaaS company and get results. There are specialist skills required and if you only have one marketing person on the team (which in NZ is often the case) then you need them to know what they’re doing. In most cases the only way to get this experience is to learn on the job.

So it should be no surprise companies are questioning the talent they’ve got and how to get the talent they need. But even if they do have a strong team in place, hanging onto them is also getting harder.

Border opening unlikely to solve this

While many have been waiting for borders to reopen to hire that CMO, digital guru or marketing automation specialist may seem a good idea, we have to remember borders are a two-way street. Anecdotally, there is an expectation we will see a net loss of marketing talent once our borders are fully open as talented marketers exit to get that highly valued US or UK experience under their belt.

If anything, we suspect the answer to the question ‘do you have the right people, systems and processes in place?’ to slip even further in 2022. Because without the right people you can have all the systems and processes in place you like and they won’t really help you. And you actually need the right people to have the right systems and processes in the first place. Yes – it is a vicious circle.

We started to see the impact of this early last year. It is largely what prompted us to start our own end-to-end hiring service – to help companies do a better job at identifying exactly what marketing expertise they needed then supporting the new hires in their roles to have a greater chance of success.

We have also seen the Proxi team increasingly deployed to provide support for existing teams in filling gaps between hires and covering parental leave – as well as navigating new paths to market, including seeking investment to help attract the right talent and provide realistic marketing budgets to meet growth targets.

Three things to think about

If some of this is resonating with you then now is a good time to take stock:

  1. If you haven’t completed it before – then we encourage you to rate your current SaaS marketing capability. It is a means to assess where you and your marketing team are at and make a call on where you might need help. If you already have a scorecard – use it.
  2. Keeping the team you’ve got is likely to be a lot less painful than replacing them in the current market. Consider what you can do to engage with them more effectively and celebrate the value they offer. If you do need to hire – then get some help to ensure you’re making the right hire for right now.
  3. If you aren’t confident in the work being done – it is quite likely your team isn’t either OR they simply aren’t able to translate their confidence into language you understand. They might also be working hard to achieve results that are at best misaligned with high-level company objectives. Consider bringing in a virtual Chief Marketing Officer (also known as virtual CMO, vCMO, or fractional CMO) or similar strategic oversight to build real confidence in the marketing being done.