After a search that lasted nearly a year, Mavenlink recently hired a new, and local CMO, Rob Pickell. Enterprise Times had the chance to talk with him about the new role barely a month after he joined. The first question was to ask Pickell why he joined Mavenlink?
“I’ve had the opportunity in my two previous companies to work in B2B SaaS after spending my whole career in various technology organisations. I’ve been lucky to find the SaaS model which I’m completely enamoured with. The two prior experiences also raised my awareness around what I might describe as B2B vertical SaaS. SaaS applications are coming forward into verticals in a way that could fundamentally change major aspects of how companies and those verticals operate. Mavenlink hit those first two boxes.
“Finally, I was responsible for the professional services organisations at my two prior companies. I struggled with a lot of issues that Mavenlink is endeavouring to solve. That was also pretty amazing to find a vertical SaaS company focused on the problems that I faced.”
Pickell also shared that he previously worked with John Reese, the former Mavenlink CMO. He added: “I knew something about the business and was fortunate to follow him into an organisation that he helped build.”
When Enterprise Times last spoke to Ray Grainger, CEO, Mavenlink, he said he wanted to find a local CMO. Pickell lives within Orange County a few minutes from Irvine, the Mavenlink HQ.
“To be able to find someone in Southern California who’s actually been in similar roles, twice before, in this case, I was like the unicorn. Probably the only guy in the county that fit the bill at the end of the day. Sometimes serendipity works out both ways.”
Having been recruited and joined Mavenlink at the height of the pandemic did you have any surprises?
“Probably not within Mavenlink just because of my connections within the business and the thoroughness of the process of me vetting Mavenlink and Mavenlink vetting me. There was a lot of transparency through that process. Our CFO, hired about a year ago, said the same thing.”
Pickell explained that his learning curve and surprises are more around the nuances of the PSA vertical itself. As an industry, it is quite segmented and it seems that Pickell is finding out about this.
Knowing what you know so far, what strategies and tactics are you thinking about putting in place to help drive revenue?
“Building a leadership position in a B2B, vertical SaaS business requires the same things in any company, in any vertical in my experience. That means it’s both easy, but also hard. When companies take off and build a formidable leadership position, it is the convergence of product-market fit and matching that to an outstanding go-to-market engine. Then finally, having the brand to tie all that together.
“One of the things that impressed me was that we hired a truly outstanding product visionary as our head of product in the last year. He’s building a truly phenomenal vision for where we take our product line. That box I feel is being checked; obviously, that’s a work in progress.
“What I bring to the table is those next two areas. Tieing together the considerable sales and marketing capabilities the company has already and to up our game there. Finally, the brand side of things is incredibly important. To my point about running professional services organisations in the past, one of the things I struggled with was understanding what type of solutions existed and what companies were supplying them. That just speaks to the opportunity at Mavenlink. To do even more to get the word out on how we can help companies or organisations like the one that I ran.”
On focus and the future
One of the challenges ET has seen with Mavenlink over the last few years is the focus that it has. Are you looking to hone that focus on specific target markets?
“A month in, I am trying to unpack and understand the market. I want to get a sense of where the most optimal sub-segments are. That’s absolutely a big part of my focus right now. As you can imagine, I don’t have enough of perspective yet to say I understand what that exactly should look like. I think back to this combination of product, go-to-market and brand. What precedes that is being crystal clear on the business you’re in, and the segment’s that you see as the highest priorities. That’s a very insightful question and important for us as we continue to move forward.”
What do you hope to achieve by the end of the year?
“Keep executing, get through the year and do that so we’re able to hit our objectives within the business. None of us know what next year will look like. I hope we find a way to move on progressively beyond this current challenge. I think the company has a remarkable upside next year. This is a period to retool and get ready for a big 2021.
“I feel like my timing was absolutely perfect. There was enough runway between when I joined and the end of the year to do my part in that strategy. I’m going to my first board meeting next week. My sense is, everyone’s excited about the potential of the business over the next couple of years. It’s about putting some of the pieces in place to take advantage of that opportunity.”
From a personal view, what are you hoping to achieve before the end of the year?
“At the hundred days, to be as far along as possible in terms of fulfilling the needs of the role I was brought into. That’s my singular focus. There’s a lot of moving parts underneath that: learning the business, having the processes in place to run an outstanding marketing organisation, assessing the team and making sure we’re in a position to drive the changes in the upside within the business. All of that is part of that hundred-day plan. Hopefully, along the way, I can contribute to the business ahead of the hundred days. “
With no physical events to generate leads currently, how do you see Mavenlink filling that gap?
“That’s a great question. Events have been a big part of our ability to drive awareness and sales opportunities for the business. Right now, we are dabbling with virtual events and trying to figure out where that model works and where it doesn’t work. We’ve seen some successes there. Admittedly, there’s no replacing, a very large scale, highly attended event that has a lot of the types of companies and buyers that you target.
“One of the things that we’ve done, that’s been tremendously successful is ramp up our efforts at education through webinars. As a vendor in that space, there’s a lot more we can do to educate the market. Tell it what best practice looks like, what’s possible and ultimately, how we might be able to help. It seems like there’s an insatiable appetite for really good objective, not totally vendor-centric, education around building an outstanding professional services organisation. With our marketing capabilities, our database and our reach, that’s certainly something that has a lot of legs.“
On the art and science of marketing
Where do you stand on the balance between the art and science of marketing?
“I’ve been in marketing long enough to remember the age-old statement: you knew where 50% of your spend was going and not the other 50%. When I got into marketing in the mid-90s, I was in the mobile industry at a unit that ultimately became part of Vodafone. It was even less than the 50% in terms of the science side of it, and it was still heavily art based. That’s completely flipped now.
“What’s amazing with marketing tech, is that in reality, probably 90% of what we do can be measured either directly or indirectly. Part of the reason SaaS works so well is because of the go-to-market engine. The technology that helps drive it, is remarkably more efficient than is possible in other businesses and industry categories today. That’s one of the most exciting parts of being in a SaaS business as a marketer. Applying that science against a subscription revenue business where you have a high degree of visibility in terms of the data, both prior to acquiring a client and also once they’re working with you. I’m definitely on the science side. I come from more of a technical background; my MBA was in finance. I take that view of the world into what was formerly much more creatively oriented and am finding that happy medium now.”
It is early days for Pickell at Mavenlink. He still learning but at the same time setting up the marketing engine for success in 2021. Come next year it will be interesting to see how the messaging evolves.
Will Pickell look to concentrate efforts on specific verticals? How will then product evolve to accommodate that focus? Jared Haleck, the new senior vice president of product, will need to work closely with Pickell to ensure that product and marketing are fully aligned.