Melissa Sargeant on The Orbit Shift Podcast


Marketing and the metrics that matter with Melissa Sargeant, CMO of Litmus

Melissa Sargeant, CMO of Litmus, talks about how companies can build a marketing organization as they scale and nail their email marketing strategy.

Chief Marketing Officers have the shortest tenure in the C-suite if you go by some of the recent reports. It turns out, marketing is changing and changing fast, and keeping pace with it isn’t all that easy. 

“The CMO is much more than just the orchestrator of demand programs or awareness programs. They are the orchestrators of the entire customer experience. They understand the market,” says Melissa Sargeant, the chief marketing officer of Litmus, a top email marketing solutions company. 

According to her, successful CMOs connect with larger business outcomes and are able to look at it from a customer experience perspective. In the latest episode of The Orbit Shift Podcast, we talk to Melissa about the qualities startups should look for while hiring CMOs, the red flags to watch out for, scaling the marketing organization, and how email is one of the most effective ways to acquire customers. 

Edited Excerpts from the podcast follow.

Q. Melissa, talk to us about being a CMO. What are the different roles and responsibilities that a founder should hive off to a CMO? And why do we see so much churn amongst CMO’s?

Melissa: Often, founders will hire all of the other functions in the company and then wait to hire their CMO last, don’t do that. Hire the CMO as early as you possibly can. The CMO is much more than just the orchestrator of demand programs or awareness programs. They are the orchestrators of the entire customer experience. They understand the market. They understand the customers. They’re going to help you drive loyalty. Hire them earlier than a lot of companies do. Give them a seat at the table to help you drive the strategy for the rest of the organization early on. 

In terms of churn, yes, CMOs, have the shortest tenure in the C-suite. There are a couple of things that are related to that. When I started marketing, we were like the arts and crafts department. We wrote the press releases, we designed the product datasheets, and digital fundamentally changed the job of a CMO. In that, we finally understood the customers. 

Where some CMOs get stuck is when they focus too much on brand awareness and demand generation. And only do that and not connect the work that they’re doing to business outcomes. You have to sit down with your CEO and come to a shared understanding of business outcomes. Then architect your programs and your strategy around driving outcomes and celebrate those outcomes, not the tactics that go with them. Often what I see is that this key interlock doesn’t happen. 

Q. When a founder looks to hire a CMO, what are some qualities they should look for? And what are some of the red flags that they should keep in mind? 

Melissa: For early-stage companies, it’s all about growth. You’re going to want to find somebody who’s experienced, and depending on how mature your startup is, somebody who’s very hands-on and who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty with marketing automation, solutions, and writing those press releases. 

Ultimately, you want somebody who’s going to help you grow your customers. And that’s going to be somebody who has a lot of experience in the revenue marketing area and experience with companies in that hyper-growth phase. 

From a red flag perspective, it’s any CMO that doesn’t understand the connection between marketing and business goals. If they don’t try to engage you in the interview process about your business goals and the marketing expectation to drive them, that would be a red flag to me. 

Q. How do you structure the marketing team as your company scales through different stages?

Melissa: At the beginning in the Series A stage, you’re looking for what I would call marketing athletes. People that are dangerous in a few different areas in a few different channels. Those folks are not going to just be specialists in paid search, for example. You’re going to need them to write content, update the website, handle the blog, maybe even social media. You want to look for marketers who have done some good work in a lot of different areas so that you can put them in places where you can get more of your marketing channels covered with fewer people. 

As you expand your team and your company is growing, you need to scale marketing to handle all customers and the general growth within your organization. You’re going to have to start looking for more specialists. Your demand generation or your revenue marketing team might need a program specialist, and then you might have your content person on that team who’s creating content. You might need a separate person to manage the website daily. You might need somebody who’s doing social media all of the time. You’ll need an expert in paid media. You’ll also want a dedicated person and team on the product marketing side of the house. And you’ll definitely want a customer marketing crew as you are getting more customers driving loyalty, engaging them, and nurturing them through their journey, whether for renewals, cross-selling, or upselling.

The last piece is your marketing technology stack. You’re going to need a marketing operations leader who can think far into the future, where you are today with your stack and how that’s helping you meet your needs, and what pieces you’re going to need to add to that in the future so that you can scale seamlessly as the organization gets bigger.

Also See: How product-led growth startups can land enterprise customers

Q. What are some of the metrics that you track and some of the levers that work for you?

Melissa: We have two primary metrics in our organization because we run two different sales motions.  

Our direct sales motion is traditional. You talk to a salesperson and go through a qualification process. The metrics here are around pipeline generation. We look at marketing sourced pipeline, total pipeline, and marketing influenced pipeline. We sell into a couple of different segments, like super large enterprise and mid-market. We separate those things. We also have multi-touch attribution built into all of our systems. So that we can see from the first time somebody engages with our programs, what channel they came in through, and the journey they went through with all the different places. We see the entire orchestration from start to finish. 

On the self-serve side of the house, where somebody could come in, give us their credit card, try our software, and buy it online. We have the same thing done differently. It’s more of a B2C type motion, but we can see where they came in, where they went, how quickly they converted. 

For us, the primary channel that works the best is direct to the website. Email is also huge for us. We are an email company, and we have to be really good at email. It’s an underappreciated but effective channel. 

Q. What is the problem that Litmus is trying to solve when it comes to email marketing?

Melissa: Litmus helps companies get more from their email marketing than they ever thought possible. We help companies quickly and efficiently build and test their emails at the same time. 

One of the challenges that email marketers have is that there are over 100 different devices, clients, and browsers. When you’re getting ready to send an email, you’ve done all this work, you’ve coded it, you’ve got the perfect CTA, you’ve got the perfect imagery, the perfect offer ready to go, and you hit send. You want to make sure that when you do that, it lands in that person’s inbox and renders the way that they need to render it. 

To test that historically you would have to send one email to an iPhone, then to somebody else on a Samsung device, and then to a desktop, when you think of 100 different combinations, changing almost on a daily basis, that’s just humanly not possible. 

In our system, you can build your emails in one place and test them as you go along. We enable you to do all the pre-deployment work that you need. Once you hit send, you can see everything they did with the email. How long did they spend reading it? What did they do with it after they read it? How many people were reading it in dark mode? There’s just a wealth of insights that are there. You can take those insights, put them back into your email program so that the next email that you send is even better. You could also harvest those insights and put them into your marketing channel. 

For example, if something’s performing well, an email on a particular topic, or an e-book, maybe that’s a great offer for you to have in your paid search campaign. It really helps you to maximize and get the most from your email by optimizing the entire process from building through post send.

Q. Why do you say that email is an effective marketing channel, because these days, several marketing channels have opened up, and they all seem to offer a way to raise the marketing spend. 

Melissa: There are a few things that make email truly unique. The return on investment for what you get from email is phenomenal. For every dollar you put into an email, you get $36 back in revenue and ROI. If you add on a layer of personalization, you can add another $20 to that. 

In general, email is such an important channel because your subscribers have invited you into your inbox. It’s an opportunity to create a relationship with them. They expect you to respect their privacy, to send them content that’s highly relevant, and to build on that relationship. There are few other marketing channels where this expectation exists, which makes email truly unique. Everything that you have in your marketing mix should be underpinned at some level by an email marketing nurture or drip campaign to help you drive that continuous engagement with your brand and build that trust and that relationship that they’ve invited to build with them.

Q. As a startup, how do you go about building an email list? Is there a framework or a strategy that you would recommend?

Melissa: You want to start off with privacy-first in mind. Make sure that you’re super clear on your privacy policy and handling things like GDPR, and all the opt-in stuff. You might also want to create a preference center on your website. 

Then as you are building out the other channels, make sure that you’re collecting email addresses so that as your company grows, your email list is going to grow. When running your email program, think about your subscribers and understand and infer what they want to hear from you. 

If you have a preference center, they can be explicit on the type of content that they want to receive from you. Protect the relationship so that you’re not overwhelming them with too much information that can ultimately just become white noise, and they ignore it. 

You’re much better off even when you’re building your list to have a smaller list of highly engaged subscribers than you are to have a big list and a small percentage of those are highly engaged and using email to engage with your brand and other areas.

Q. How can startups keep their engagement rates up?  

Melissa: Personalization is critical. Start with segmentation. Understand your audience in terms of the industries that they’re in and what they care about. Instead of doing batch and blast to everyone, send personalized content to a smaller set of your subscribers. The end desired state that we all want is that true one-to-one where you have one asset or piece of content or offer for just one person at the exact moment they need it. 

All of this is going to be dependent on your data and how much data that you have around your subscribers and how complete your data set is. You might have to invest in some data enrichment to do that so that you can see their industries, segments, personas, all of these insights about them. 

You can also have other touchpoints within your marketing channel that you can bring into to get deeper insights and focus on what their true business needs are. 

Additionally, you want to test as much as possible, whether it’s subject lines or offers. The more you can test and learn, that’s going to help you continuously improve. Some companies will get into this trap of ‘set it and forget it’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once you’re out in the market, you need to be listening and paying attention to how people are engaging with you. Take those insights and put them into action so that you can make every email you send out after that a little bit better.

Q. What are some of the top-level metrics that a startup should track as they build out their email strategy?

Melissa: First is your subscriber base, understand what subscribers are engaged, what subscribers are not engaged, and understand who they are and what they care about. 

As you’re looking at your overall analytics, go beyond the open rate, there’s a lot of changes coming on with Apple Mail privacy that’s going to make open rates a little bit more challenging for email marketers, regardless, but go beyond that in terms of click-throughs, in terms of what did subscribers actually engage with, how much time did they spend on your email? What did they do with that afterward? Did they forward it to somebody else?

Those are the insights that really tell you about engagement. Open rates have been like table stakes for a while, just because somebody opened your email doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re engaged with it, or that your offer was successful. It’s about all of the things that happen after the email is opened.

Q. If our listeners want to follow you, where can they find you?

Melissa: They can find me on LinkedIn as well on Twitter.

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