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  • Writer's pictureVijay Mohan

Climbing the SaaS Marketing Career Ladder: A Career Playbook I Wish I Had

saas marketing career stages

Over the past ten years, the world of SaaS marketing has grown exponentially in India, with big companies like Zoho, Freshworks, and Chargebee, and many new ones popping up every day. Though promising, this rapid growth presents a unique challenge: navigating a successful career trajectory in a relatively new field.

5 years ago, I stumbled into the world of SaaS marketing, and it was like finding a hidden treasure trove of possibilities. Even though I didn’t know what SaaS, content marketing, or product marketing was, when I realized what this career option had to offer, it was love at first sight! 

Today, many aspiring marketers and career switchers are becoming aware of this career option and seeking roles in top SaaS companies. But navigating this exciting landscape requires a strategic approach. For anyone serious about marketing, understanding the different stages of a SaaS career path is crucial for growth and success.

This is precisely why I've penned this article, something I wish I had when I started out.

So whether you’re someone looking to enter the world of SaaS, or currently at an early or mid-career level, this article aims to provide you with a roadmap of the different stages of a SaaS marketing career.

Drawing on my journey and insights from industry veterans, we will explore the key skills to cultivate, the mindset one should have for progression, and how to stay relevant amidst changing trends within the sector.

Ready to dive in? Let's go!

Stages of a SaaS marketer’s career:

Establishing a career in SaaS marketing involves progression through various pivotal stages. Each phase has its unique characteristics, challenges, and opportunities for growth. 

From your early days of exploring, and understanding the terrain, to eventually leading and making key decisions, it’s quite the journey. Let's take a closer look at these stages.

Early career stage (Associate):

If you're just stepping into the field, my suggestion would be to start in a generalist role. Get your hands dirty in various facets of marketing for one to two years, or experiment with different things if you’re in a specialized role.

By exposing yourself to various aspects of the field like content, SEO, SEM, email marketing, performance marketing, and so on, you'll identify what excites you most and where you would like to develop robust expertise.

Stay curious. Understand the product you're marketing and the unique needs of your target audience. Go to any extent to talk to your customers. If not customers, then put in the effort to network with your target audience.

With over five years in the industry, I can confidently say that the true journey begins only when you understand the industry's intricacies. Like many other marketers, I didn’t get it right the first time. But reflecting, I value all the experiences that brought me where I am today.

Seek constant feedback and mentorship. Connect with other B2B marketers on LinkedIn or YouTube and learn from their experiences.

Don't restrict yourself to your 9-to-5 job. Explore personal projects like starting a newsletter, writing blogs, or growing a niche Instagram channel. Even if these ventures don't directly connect with your current role, developing these skills can be handy in future leadership roles.

When I started Kwerks in 2021, I didn’t know how to build an audience. I didn’t know how to grow a newsletter. But I started it to learn how it works - how to launch, promote, and build an email list. Same way I built a Linkedin Ads library with my friend, just to learn how to position and promote a product in the market.

Forget putting in 40 hrs, 70 hrs 😜, or 100 hrs per week. Just remember this - compounding. Put in the effort to learn whatever you can about the field during the initial years. After that, the compounding effect will take over.

Lastly, never shy away from asking questions. Chances are, in the initial phase of your career, you'll be more focused on executing tasks than on upskilling yourself or learning about new trends. However, strive to understand the bigger picture. 

For instance, if you're tasked with writing a blog, question why this particular topic was chosen and how it fits into the overall marketing strategy. Understanding the ROI of the task at hand and how you are creating an impact as an individual contributor will fuel your purpose at work. This will not only help you understand how your boss is thinking but also will enable  how to think more like them. 

This also means your first boss has a significant impact on your career. See what you can learn from them. Is it marketing? Is it management? Is it communication?

But if it’s nothing, seek a mentor outside if you still need that salary.

early stage marketing career skills

If you need help understanding about the SaaS marketing landscape, skills you need to develop, or how to crack interviews, feel free to schedule a call with me. Or if you just want to talk marketing, I'm up for that too!

Mid-career stage (Specialist, Lead, Manager):

As you venture into the mid-career stage, the game changes a bit. It's about honing in on your core skills such as critical thinking, communication, management, and understanding and planning business strategy. You'll be shifting gears from 'doing' to more of 'thinking' and really nail down on the 1-2 things you are good at. 

You need to know why you want to implement certain strategies, how to write that email, and how to set it up correctly. You need to stay curious, keep learning, and consider taking on some of your manager's responsibilities.

When asked how you identify top talent to promote to senior-level positions, Chirayu, Head of Global Marketing at Leena AI mentions,

"For me, it's two key qualities - an unrelenting hunger to deliver and grow, and a bias for action. Having an ownership mindset, knowing what ownership means, and getting it done. The person promoting you wants to become redundant, so you should be taking on more of the leader's responsibilities."

Networking also becomes increasingly important during this phase. While it's beneficial to start networking early in your career, mid-stage is where it pays off. You'll have a wealth of knowledge to share and contribute to discussions and also be able to grasp tactics and strategies better. 

Networking could also be instrumental in securing future job opportunities. In fact, I landed my current role at CometChat through networking.

Build leadership skills. As you climb up the ladder, nurturing leadership skills is essential. It's about leading teams and projects effectively. 

Technical skills can take you far, but excellent people management can propel you to senior positions. Take initiatives, lead projects, and develop your people management skills, even with those who don't directly report to you.

When asked about the attributes that enable some marketers to advance faster, Srikanth, Senior Manager, Marketing Operations @ Clarivate believes,

"Exposure to different problems, showcasing leadership skills, and a deep understanding of the business and other functions are the levers I’ve seen. Another question is, are you visible to other functions and are you friends with other teams to steer things in the right direction?"

Meaning this stage is more about understanding the broader business strategy, expressing your ideas effectively, collaborating efficiently, and expanding your skill set.

mid stage marketing career skills

Senior Leadership level (Head, Director, and above):

When you reach the senior leadership stage, the landscape shifts yet again. You'll now leverage your specialized skills and knowledge to lead a team and focus more on people and strategy. It's almost like coming full circle back to being a generalist, but with a whole new perspective.

But before you start aiming for a leadership position ask yourself if you really want to be one. Shri Mithran, Director of Marketing @ CometChat asks to,

“Understand if leadership is really what you want. Leadership is glorified and sadly leadership is seen as a equivalent of growth and success - but it might not be for everyone. Ask yourself do you want to be a leader for the sake of being one or you think it will enable you to be a better individual, double down on your strengths and continue to learn and grow. If you pass the self-introspection test - make sure you are able to embrace vulnerability."

The self introspection test is important as senior and executive roles demand strategic thinking, leadership, and a holistic understanding of the business. Team building, stakeholder management, budgeting, and the ability to drive innovation and change are critical skills at this stage. So it's really important to understand if you're up for the challenges ahead.

As a leader, communication becomes paramount. It forms the backbone of your role, with responsibilities such as articulating strategies, working closely with founders or leadership teams, and ensuring the company projects the right brand image. 

At smaller firms, you'll likely take on a “player/coach” role. You’ll typically lead a small team dedicated to crafting strategies, setting up efficient processes, and designing scalable systems. Your success here will be gauged based on how effectively you use the budget, lead generation efforts, sales pipeline, satisfaction of the sales team, and contribution to revenue.

For managers who have their sights set on leadership roles, Sandeep John, Director of Marketing at Prismforce's, advice is to,

“Practice your craft. Focus on honing leadership and strategic skills and actively seek opportunities to take on challenging projects that demonstrate your ability to drive business outcomes.”

A key part of your role will also involve training your team to become efficient, aligning marketing efforts with sales, and boosting overall efficiency. Your team members will also look to you to outline a career path for them.

Therefore, one of the most critical skills you'll need at this stage is the ability to identify and recruit the right talent, build teams, and ensure team satisfaction.

To sum it up, a marketer's career progresses much like a well-written story, with each stage serving as a unique chapter with twists and turns.

And as we turn pages, we enter an equally important part of the narrative.

Navigating your next move:

When it comes to advancing your career in SaaS marketing, one common question I often hear is, "What's the next step?" Friends and professional connections frequently seek advice on breaking into marketing and determining their next move. 

I often suggest them not to rush into applying for every job they come across. Moving up in your career is about more than just getting a higher position. It's about making sure each new role fits with your skills, interests, and values.

It's essential to understand your strengths and find roles that align with them. Otherwise, you might regret your decision in the future.

For example, when you’re moving from exploring different things to focusing on a specific area. 

Questions to ask before the jump

The first question to ask yourself is what you want to specialize in - Do you enjoy creating content, and analyzing data, or maybe you're interested in product marketing?

After you've picked your area of interest, think about what this new role will involve - What tasks will you be doing daily? Does this match up with what you're good at and what you enjoy?

Also, think about why you want this role - Is it just for the money, or do you see a chance to learn and grow?

To give you a better idea, here are a few sample questions you could be asking yourself before applying, or to the hiring manager during the interview process.

  1. Will I be overseeing daily activities, such as managing social media platforms, or will I also be tasked with specific projects like launching a new brand campaigns?

  1. Does this role aim to scale up existing marketing activities, say, by increasing content production or scaling up paid campaigns? Or is it more about enhancing the quality of our existing campaigns, like improving conversion metrics?

  1. Will there be chances to collaborate with other teams? For example, would I get to work closely with the sales department on lead generation strategies or with the product team for product launches?

  1. What will my role look like during the first 6 months? And how will my role evolve after 6 months? Will I have good vertical growth as well as horizontal growth?

Asking these questions will help you understand what will be expected out of you and also if the hiring manager is clear about who exactly they want to hire.

Are you looking for your next early or mid career role? I can probably help you understand how to fix your resume/assignment and crack that interview. Or we could just talk about life too😂. Let's do this?

Aside from having role clarity, AI is an additional key element that warrants close observation. I’ve been a pre-ChatGPT era content writer. It used to take me 1 week to write good content. And we had to bring in another writer if we wanted to push another good article in the same week.

But today with AI tools, you don’t need 10 content writers to write 10 blogs in a month. You just need one person who is strong in content strategy and a few really good fast content writers to push quality work.

So keep in mind, AI is making mediocre work cheaper and will probably be near zero cost to produce in the future.

In his article, Abdallah Al-Hakim, Head of Growth @ MetaData, envisions a shift in the composition of the modern marketing team. A couple of his quotes that caught my attention were:

“The modern marketing dream team looks different than those of the past. Kiss your “specialists” goodbye. Moving forward, marketing teams will consist of a handful of unicorns who can do it all. Jacks and Jills of all trades, if you will.”
“…the reality is that you don’t need ten paid specialists when one person can do it all”

Now, you might ask, “How to stay relevant in this changing field? One key is to be flexible and ready to take on different roles.

As Shri Mithran says,

“Hiring marketers is arguably the least standardized process in a SaaS start-up”.

And that's why you need to understand how B2B marketing is changing and how today's leaders are thinking about team-building. This will help you to stay relevant, get hired, and learn the skills you need to become the marketing leader of the future.

Closing thoughts:

As an avid gamer I would like to think of a SaaS marketer's career, much like any video game I've played.

As you move from one mission to the other, just remember that each challenge you overcome brings you one step closer to becoming the marketing leader you aspire to be. 

So just try to embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and carry forward the lessons. I think that's more important.

Well then, your career in SaaS marketing is going to be one beautiful journey!

Best of luck!

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