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5 Strategies Marketing Leaders Need to Succeed in 2023

The famous Roman Stoic Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Ultimately, you need both to succeed. The same might be said to marketing leaders in 2023: prepare, prepare, prepare!

There is no way to predict how the macroeconomic climate is going to shift or how it will impact B2B SaaS marketing teams. But one thing is clear — marketing leaders have their work cut out for them to thrive in what is likely a challenging environment. Many best practices that previously worked will be challenged, and agility remains critical.

Based on Insight’s close partnership and expertise in helping companies scale, we’re tracking the emerging questions we believe will shape marketing strategies in the coming year:

  1. How should you change your digital marketing strategy?
  2. What role will customer marketing play?
  3. Events: In-person? Virtual? Hybrid?
  4. How can personalization and generative AI help?
  5. What can be done to keep the marketing function whole in the face of organizational restructuring?

Read on for the marketing strategies we think will make a meaningful impact this year.

Organic efforts can yield higher ROI

One of the most significant challenges B2B SaaS organizations will face is the increasing cost of demand generation. With buyers pushing decisions out, there is a need for more touches to drive leads through the buyer’s journey, and marketers will have to be creative in order to keep their costs low.

Additionally, social media is becoming increasingly difficult to use for targeting given the recent changes across the major platforms and increased scrutiny around privacy. Facebook, LinkedIn, and TikTok have all seen CPM (cost per thousand) increase significantly in 2022. Facebook, and parent company Meta, is particularly difficult since they’ve been at the center of numerous data-related scandals, while Twitter’s shifting focus and paid options have been difficult for marketers to navigate. Twitter’s Ad Manager volume and roster of advertisers both fell sharply in October and November 2022. LinkedIn remains a great platform for targeting, though limited inventory and expensive ad spaces are becoming more common.


Key Insight: Your ROI on investing in stronger organic will likely be higher than paid digital. Reallocate budget to content and SEO.


Invest in customer marketing

As businesses started to experience a slowdown in new business ARR in 2022, customer retention and expansion became critical. Across the Insight portfolio, we saw our companies experience a 4% increase in expansion ARR between Q3 FY21 and Q2 FY 22, while new ARR was flat over the same period. Furthermore, our high-performing companies tend to see greater marketing spend efficiency due to a focus on retention and expansion.

marketing spend vs new and expansion ARR

It’s clear that customer retention will continue to be a major focus for B2B SaaS marketers. As the world continues to grapple with an unfolding economic crisis, businesses across all industries need to fight harder than ever to keep their customers from jumping ship and going to competitors that offer a cheaper price. Investing time into creating an effective customer marketing function is essential.


Key Insight: Expansion revenue will be cheaper and easier to drive than new logo this year. Consider reallocating both budget and people resources to these initiatives.


For more on the importance of customer retention and the role of marketing, read How to Grow by Marketing to Customers.

Shift the events mix

Overall, 41% of Insight portfolio companies indicated event budgets in 2023 will remain the same compared to 2022, while 25% are increasing budgets, and 34% are experiencing a decrease in budget.

events budgets in 2023

With inflation hitting everything from travel expenses to on-site cappuccino machines, events may become a more difficult and expensive prospect in 2023. Data from Insight portfolio company, Bizzabo, suggests that in-person events remain important and are here to stay: 72% of event organizers indicated that in-person events remain a crucial part of their overall event strategy, 98% plan to host at least one in-person event next year, and 85% plan to host at least three.

However, for companies experiencing significant budget constraints, virtual event platforms could provide the solution. Think webinars, tailored content facilitated by virtual assistants and AI bots, as well as interactive 3D experiences. These solutions can help marketers reach new customers and keep current ones engaged in a more cost-effective manner, allowing them to maximize their budget. According to Bizzabo, 68% of event organizers plan to have a virtual component at their next in-person event, and 53% are “focused” or “very focused” on a virtual events strategy for 2023.


Key Insight: Maximize your event budget by getting the right mix of virtual, live, and hybrid events. Make sure to include multiple tactics to drive multiple objectives for events such as brand building, pipeline acceleration, and partner marketing.


For a full playbook on how to think about Hybrid Events, read Virtual, In-Person & Hybrid Events? Oh, My!

Enlist help from AI

Personalization will be key in 2023. As the target market continues to become more demanding, B2B SaaS markets must lead the way in providing a bespoke journey for each customer. From tailored content and products to automated emails and personalized ads, marketers need to find ways to make their customers feel like they are the only ones that matter — and it needs to be done at scale.

Many companies are also starting to experiment with generative AI in creative ways. From creating short-form bespoke content and LinkedIn posts, to brainstorming webinar ideas and product names, the use cases for generative AI are expansive. Be careful to validate content produced by generative AI to ensure the facts are correct.


Key Insight: Personalization demands more content than most marketing teams are capable of creating. Begin experimenting with tools like Jasper and Writer to leverage the power of generative AI and bridge the gap.


For more on generative AI, read What Marketers Need to Know About AI-Generated Content.

Keep marketing’s seat at the table

Marketers will need to fight hard to keep the marketing function whole in the face of organizational restructuring. Marketers need to be aware of the dangers of “siloing” their team. It’s becoming increasingly common to split off demand generation and put it under the CRO’s domain, product marketing connected to the product organization, and marketing operations placed under revenue operations. As B2B SaaS organizations continue to become more complex, it’s important for marketers to have a seat at the table and ensure that their efforts are aligned with business goals.


Key Insight: While some marketing activities may seem to fit better under another functional area, the loss of integrated messaging and tactics will cost the organization far more.


2023 is likely to be an interesting year, but with the right strategies in place, B2B SaaS marketers can emerge as winners. So, start preparing now and maybe your organization might get lucky with a strong year of performance.

Editor’s note: Jasper, Writer, and Bizzabo are Insight portfolio companies.

How to Grow by Marketing to Customers

With many ScaleUps prioritizing customer retention and growth in 2023, marketers must deepen the impact of their customer marketing program.

Engaging customers is good for business, as they can be a company’s most efficient source of growth. GTM teams can generate additional revenue from customers for as little as 1/10th the cost of new business. It takes less time, effort, budget, and companies typically win customer opportunities at a higher rate.

When new business demand wanes or customer churn increases, ScaleUps must respond by changing how they market throughout the revenue cycle. But, in our mid-2022 survey, only 11.1% of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) reported feeling “very well prepared” amidst increasing macroeconomic uncertainty. Meanwhile, 87.3% were experiencing softening demand.

CMOs’ uneasiness might, in part, stem from their comparative lack of engagement with customers after the deal is won. Throughout recent boom years, most CMOs have focused on generating new business. As a result, they’re ill-positioned to retain and expand business from existing customers.

From Insight’s Budgeting & Planning survey of ScaleUp companies, we know that customer marketing has received the least investment out of the seven key marketing functions. By comparison, the typical ScaleUp adds a CSM for every 19 enterprise and 34 mid-market customers. Additionally, just 1 in 5 account-based marketers say customer expansion is in their remit.


Read more: CMO Playbook for Economic Headwinds: Make Your Move Before It’s Too Late


To mitigate softening demand and diversify a business’s revenue mix, marketers must help expand customers. Doing so will supplement near-term deficits in growth and improve marketing’s efficiency over the long term.

“It’s a team effort. Marketing must play a role in driving growth throughout the revenue cycle. They connect sales with new buyers and help close deals. After the sale, marketing partners with customer success to deepen our relationships with our existing customers, driving product adoption and expanding across divisions or territories within a single account.”

-Tal Kain, CEO of Velocity

How? By collaborating with their peers in sales and customer success to do the following:

  1. Forecast addressable customer revenue
  2. Set objectives, goals, and KPIs
  3. Develop a post-sale strategy
  4. Resource and integrate post-sale teams
  5. Execute a joint tactical playbook
  6. Operationalize a unified “go-to-customer” process

Forecast addressable customer revenue

Why it matters: Know the size and types of opportunities within your customer base to decide where to focus and how much to invest. Consider how investments in customer retention and expansion impact your firm’s “Rule of 40” performance (e.g., X% growth rate + Y% profit margin = 40%).

Analyze your current opportunity mix:

  1. How quickly and efficiently do you generate profit?
  2. What changes could you impart on your opportunity mix by investing in post-sale marketing
  3. How might your changes to your opportunity mix impact how efficiently you generate profit?

Based on your forecast, scope your post-sale marketing initiative:

  • Pilot. If the size of the opportunity seems modest or uncertain, plan a narrowly scoped, but representative, pilot. You might focus on improving one or two post-sale outcomes by deploying a small tactical play in a limited customer segment.
  • Sprints. If the opportunity is significant and certain, introduce customer marketing elements in waves, evaluating their impact along the way.

You’ll likely need to make tradeoffs, prioritizing which investments you make within your opportunity mix.

“As a startup company, your rapid-growth strategy for Year 3 should have a lot more customer opportunities than Years 1 and 2.”

-Kerry Cunningham, Senior Principal of Product Marketing, 6sense, and co-author of The Demand Unit Waterfall™

Set objectives, goals, and KPIs

Why it matters: GTM teams must align on goals and how they measure their progress toward said goals.

Once you’ve forecasted the ideal opportunity mix, define your objectives to focus your post-sale program plan. You could:

  • Accelerate time-to-value.
  • Improve product adoption and/or drive more utilization.
  • Upsell to more and/or higher price tiers.
  • Cross-sell the same buyers to additional products.
  • Cross-sell new buyers within a customer account.
  • Secure renewals, reduce churn, and/or prevent downgrades.

Once you’ve homed in the changes you seek to impart on the customer lifecycle, determine which KPIs best measure those changes and set goals for each KPI.

You can use benchmarks to help you set goals. But the benchmarks aren’t your goal, they’re a conversation starter. Consider variables, such as growth stage, expansion motion, and customer characteristics.

Develop a strategy

Why it matters: Businesses must focus on just a few key ways they can provide value to customers–beyond the product itself–and a few key ways in which they can enable staff to deliver on said customer value.

Here’s how:

  1. Brainstorm all the levers you could employ to create value.
  2. Prioritize those levers which create the most value. Pick no more than a few.

Once your go-to-customer strategy is set, refine your customer marketing strategy. Develop customer ICPs, personas, and buyer journey models. Then use those models as a basis for your post-sale messaging strategy.

Customers can be different than buyers in several ways:

  1. Marketers should clarify the differences between pre- and post-sale customer profiles.
  2. They must get to know which personas emerge once the buyer has purchased a product.
  3. They must understand their customer’s journey.

With these insights in hand, marketers can develop messages that motivate a customer to move through the post-sale cycle.

Resource and integrate post-sale teams

Why it matters: Resource your post-sale team well enough to deliver value to the customer, without burdening post-sale efficiency. Hire the right people and place them into the right structure.

Start first by identifying who in your company already owns each part of the customer journey (e.g., Customer Success Manager, Account Manager). Then, consider which marketers might be best suited to partner with them:

  • What capabilities do I need?
  • Given my targets, how will I resource the team? Which hires must I prioritize?
  • How will I balance in-house and outsourced talent?
  • How will I structure my staff?

Your opportunity mix offers clues, as does the functional scope of other GTM teams. Though the marketing team could outsource some of the work, it’s best done by in-house staff who have the skills and business acumen to engage precious customer points of contact.

Execute a joint tactical playbook

Why it matters: GTM teams can employ a nearly endless array of tactics. So, they must draw on their go-to-customer strategy to determine which tactics to execute. The delivery must be well-orchestrated if the message is to have its intended effect. The right tactics, at the right time, with the right people.

Like a sports team might coordinate its offensive players against the defense, a GTM team executes a post-sale play oriented to a target customer’s traits and the business’s objectives.

  1. Based on your objectives and strategy, which plays will you run?
  2. How do those plays suit your customer ICP, personas, and journey?

Based on your answers, create a playbook in partnership with cross-functional GTM teams.

Operationalize a unified “go-to-customer” process

Why it matters: Ensure customer-facing stakeholders know what, when, where, and how to support the customer.

“Our marketing team is partnering with customer success to offer additional value to our customers. We host product release webinars for customers, where they learn how early adopters are putting to work new software capabilities. We’ve found our customers respond better to learning from their peers — and are more likely to ask for a demo — versus a marketing email alone.”

– Jamie Walker, EVP Marketing at Keyfactor

Build boosters and remove blockers to ultimately create value for employees, suppliers, and customers.

  • Incentives. Evaluate your performance-based pay to ensure incentives align to customer outcomes and KPIs.
  • Recognition. Revise your internal communication and meeting cadences to celebrate customer wins.
  • Technology. Evaluate your tech stack to determine if you have the right tools, configured to meet the requirements of customer engagement. If you don’t, procure new tools and/or change the configuration of your existing ones.
  • Vendors. Evaluate the capabilities you have on-staff, the capabilities you need, and the gap between. Outsourcing might be the most efficient way to fill these gaps.
  • Enablement. Seek out ineffective elements of your cross-functional customer operations. Then, develop a “learning agenda” that addresses those elements via an enablement program.
  • Documentation and monitoring. Evaluate your operational performance. Then, define essential processes and monitor their performance.
  • Report. Brainstorm the key questions post-sale staff must answer for themselves. Then, consider which metrics they’ll need to answer those questions and how best to present the metrics in a self-service dashboard or report. Finally, decide which systems to use for reporting.
  • Automate and outsource. Audit your processes and procedures for opportunities to outsource and automate.
  • Fun and relationships. Foster an engaging culture for your post-sale staff and create avenues by which they can build relationships with your customers.

For many businesses, customers represent a compelling source of efficient growth. This growth results from strategically creating value for customers, as well as for employees, suppliers, and partners.
GTM teams can carefully craft tactical plays, executed by way of tightly coordinated go-to-market operations, to deliver an excellent customer experience. In doing so, they’ll earn their customer’s loyalty and advocacy, generating better margins for the business.

 


Examples in practice

To illustrate the strategies outlined above, let’s use an imaginary drone data analytics company to show how these principles work in practice.

Forecasting addressable customer revenue

A drone data analytics company offers software modules that each process three different types of aerial images: photographs, infrared, and thermal.

  • Most customers start by purchasing the photography module.
  • The software provider licenses the modules on an annual subscription and charges a small fee for each image processed.
  • Infrared costs more than photographs; thermal is the most expensive.

Here’s how they might evaluate their opportunity mix:

  1. Increase Utilization: Photography. The marketing team forecasts that it would cost $0.05 per image to drive more photograph processing (i.e., increase utilization). But they earn just $0.01 in revenue for each image processed.
  2. Cross-sell Infrared to the same buyers. They expect that marketing the cross-sale of the infrared module would cost $2,500 per sale, but earn the business $10,000 ARR.
  3. Cross-sell Thermal to different buyers within existing customer accounts. Supporting cross-sales of the thermal module would likely cost $5,000 per sale, but earn the business $20,000 ARR.

So, the marketing team will prioritize support for the thermal module, since it has the best dollar-cost return ratio, followed by infrared (if they have budget leftover). They won’t help drive more photographic image processing, since they forecast a net negative outcome.

Set objectives, goals, and KPIs

KPIs (Output Metrics)

1. Cross-sell thermal modules to 50 new buyers within customer accounts.
2. Cross-sell infrared module to 100 existing buyers within customer accounts.

Key Results (Input Metrics)

1a. Generate 100 cross-sale opportunities
1b. Improve win rates for thermal cross-sales from 35% to 50%

2a. Generate 135 cross-sale opportunities

Develop a strategy

Customer Value
• Community. Create an “advanced imagery” community, where pro users of infrared and thermal imagery can share best practices with novices.
• Training. Develop an “advanced imagery training program” to help photo users learn how to use infrared and thermal imagery.
• Discounts. Offer “existing customer” discounts for infrared and thermal modules.

Staff, Vendors, and Suppliers Value
• Incentives. Offer a spiff/bonus to relevant GTM staff for attaining net new cross-sale goals.
• Training. Direct all GTM staff to take the same “advanced imagery training program” we offer to customers.
• Data-based targeting. Develop a predictive data model to identify prime cross-sale targets.

Resource and integrate post-sale teams

The drone company will hire:
• Community Marketing Manager
• Learning & Development Content Marketing Manager
• Product Marketing Manager, Infrared and Thermal Sensors

They’ll outsource:
• Customer community event production
• Technical copywriting
• Training content design

Execute a joint tactical playbook

Here is an example of how a customer marketing playbook could look for our drone company.

customer marketing playbook example

AWARD: Venture Capital Journal Rising Stars of 2023

Insight Partners Managing Director Jon Rosenbaum has been named to Venture Capital Journal’s Rising Stars of 2023* list.

Read the article and complete list of winners on the VCJ website here.

*The award referenced herein is the opinion of the party conferring the award and not of Insight Partners. Venture Capital Journal (“VCJ”), an independent third party that is not affiliated with Insight, issued the award. Insight submitted a nomination on behalf of certain of its personnel and did not pay a fee in connection with submitting its application. VCJ’s recognition is not indicative of Insight’s future performance and was not based on evaluations of clients or investors of Insight. There can be no assurance that other providers or surveys would reach the same conclusion as the foregoing.

AWARD: GrowthCap Top 40 Under 40 Growth Investors

Insight Partners Managing Directors David Spiro and Thomas Krane have won the Top 40 Under 40 Growth Investors Award* from GrowthCap.

Read the article and complete list of winners on the GrowthCap website here.

*The award referenced herein is the opinion of the party conferring the award and not of Insight Partners. GrowthCap, LLC (“GrowthCap”), an independent third party that is not affiliated with Insight, issued the award. Insight submitted a nomination on behalf of certain of its personnel. After being notified by GrowthCap of the selection of certain of its personnel for the award, Insight paid a fee to secure award receipt. In general, the receipt of compensation influences, and is likely to present a potential material conflict of interest, relating to any granted award. GrowthCap’s recognition is not indicative of Insight’s future performance and was not based on evaluations of clients or investors of Insight. There can be no assurance that other providers or surveys would reach the same conclusion as the foregoing.

[Recording] Winning in 2023: Sales KPIs for Sustainable Growth

Prediction: “Efficient growth” will be a buzzy phrase for SaaS startups in 2023 – and for good reason. In the new macroeconomic environment, your business will need to focus on sustainable growth more than ever. An effective way to keep efficiency at the forefront is by heading into next year with the right sales KPIs in mind.

Tune in to hear from Operating Partner Pablo Dominguez (Insight Partners) as he shares his learnings from working directly with hundreds of startups and their go-to-market teams. He is joined by CEOs Jordan Rackie (Keyfactor) and Neha Sampat (Contentstack), for the SaaS leaders’ POVs on successfully balancing the goals of growing sales teams and investors.

During this session, our panelists cover:

(4:33) – Why sustainable growth matters in 2023

(11:56) – KPI #1 – Customer Acqusision Cost (CAC) & CAC Payback

(12:30) – How do you optimize sales and marketing spend?

(17:27) – Knowing that CAC efficiency is more important than ever in the current economy, how do you see low touch, product-led sales motion fitting in for B2B SaaS companies?

(20:41) – From a valuation multiple perspective, are there diminishing marginal returns beyond a certain level of efficiency? Should we trade off efficiency for growth beyond a certain number for CAC Payback months?

(23:23) – KPI #2 – Net Revenue Retention (NRR)

(24:20) – How can you use NRR to impact valuation expectations?

(26:42) – What are leading indicators of NRR?

(34:37) – KPI #3 – Quota Attainment

(35:53) – As a CEO how do you work with your CRO/CFO to come up with a realistic revenue target for next year and balanced targets for your sales reps?

(41:33) – As the head of the company, how do you align the goals between your CRO and your CMO?

 

View ScaleUp by the Numbers: SaaS Sales KPIs for Startups at Every Stage

 

Disclaimer: Insight Partners is an investor in Contentstack and Keyfactor.

Setting Quotas in B2B SaaS Sales When Facing High Exchange Rate Volatility

Key Insights:

  • While typically normal changes in foreign exchange rates (FX) have limited impacts on SaaS companies, 2022 has not been a normal year.
  • Reps closing deals in denominated currencies other than the one applied to their quota should neither gain nor lose due to FX changes.
  • We recommend setting exchange rates at the start of each quota measurement period.

In 2022, the United States (US) Federal Reserve hiked interest rates in order to fight rising inflation. This has made dollar-denominated bonds more attractive versus those based on other currencies. In addition, US assets are increasingly viewed as a safe haven since the American economy has been less affected by fuel price shocks and by the war in Ukraine. Consequently, the dollar has strengthened against other currencies.

Exchange rate impact on company performance

The general impact of a stronger local currency on multinational companies is negative.

Consider a US-based company’s response to a stronger dollar. If the US company raises prices in Europe, then unit sales will likely drop by more than the price increase as buyers switch to cheaper European alternatives.  If the US company leaves its European prices fixed, then the value of each unit sold declines when converted to dollars.

There are some offsets to this lose-lose scenario. First, the stronger dollar lowers the cost of goods and services purchased abroad. Second, producers of differentiated solutions face lower price elasticity; in lay terms, companies can increase prices to some extent without experiencing as much of a drop-off in unit sales as would companies selling commodities.

While the puts and takes described above mean normal changes in foreign exchange rates (FX) will have limited impacts on SaaS ScaleUps, 2022 has not been a normal year. In the 23 years spanning 1999 to 2021, the euro has only fallen more than 10% relative to the dollar three times (see Figure 1). Thus far, the euro is down nearly 15% relative to the dollar.

Begins in 1999 at -15% and ends past 2021 -14.3%.Notes: (1) Change is from start of year to end of year except for 2022 which is YTD through Oct 7th (2) The 24-year average is 0% with a standard deviation of 9.9%. (3) Source: https://www.macrotrends.net/2548/euro-dollar-exchange-rate-historical-chart
Figure 1: €-to-$ Annual Exchange Rate Change
Source: macrotrends.net
Change is from start of year to end of year except for 2022 which is YTD through Oct 7th. The 24-year average is 0% with a standard deviation of 9.9%

Exchange rate impact on quota attainment

Let’s explore the impact of FX on quota attainment for sales professionals. For simplicity, and because it mirrors the current state of the world, we will compare a US-based rep to a Germany-based rep.

For our range of examples, we will assume:

  • Reps start 2022 with quotas based on the Jan 1st exchange rate of 1.1371 €/$. Quotas are thus $1M when denominated in dollars and €880K when denominated in euros.
  • Prices per deal are set at the beginning of the year at $100K or €88K.
  • The Euro/Dollar exchange rate is down 15% YTD.

In the first scenario, imagine each rep only sells domestically. In this situation, there is no FX impact for the reps other than the fact that it will be easier for the German rep to sell against US-based competitors who may have to raise prices (or limit discounts) to make up for the exchange rate impact.

Next, consider a German rep whose quota is in euros but who sells to US prospects using dollar-denominated contracts at $100K per deal. If this rep’s plan applied floating FX rates, then she would receive a credit of €101K instead of €85K for each sale at current rates. Hence, the rep benefits from the floating exchange rate. Had the FX rate been fixed, there would be no impact on quota attainment.

Assuming the company is based in Europe, they benefit as well since the increase in euro-denominated bookings more than offsets the extra commission paid to the rep in the floating FX scenario. If the FX rate were fixed, the company benefits even more.

The reverse is of course true for a US rep whose quota is in dollars but who sells into Germany using euro-denominated contracts.  An €88K deal converts to $87K instead of $100K if quota credit is subject to a floating exchange rate. With a fixed FX rate, the US rep is ‘protected’ and would experience no impact.

The stronger dollar is detrimental to the US-based company whose euro-denominated sales convert to fewer dollars than expected given the pricing set at the start of the year. Allowing the FX rate applied to quota credit to float transfers some of the company’s pain to the rep.

Our recommendation

One of the key best practices in sales compensation design is that reps should be compensated for their direct effort over what they can control. Since FX is out of their control, reps closing deals in denominated currencies other than the one applied to their quota should neither gain nor lose due to FX changes. Hence, we recommend setting exchange rates at the start of each quota measurement period. Fortunately, this approach is also easier for quota administration.

Our recommendation of a fixed FX rate for quota credit concentrates all FX benefits and risks in the hands of management. Even without elaborate hedging, organizations can protect themselves from FX risk by sourcing talent locally and by borrowing in local currency.

The silver lining is that strongly negative FX impacts are rare. They apply to companies with a strengthening local currency who conduct a large amount of business denominated in a weaker foreign currency and who lack the natural hedges described previously. Finally and fortunately, currency swings exceeding +/-15% are relatively rare in developed nations.

Behind the Investment- Software Defined Automation: Bringing Industrial DevOps into the 21st Century

The explosive demand for developer operations (or “DevOps”) tooling stems from a logical sequence of events. The world’s savviest businesses know they need to wield software to win in their respective markets. This has led to a massive increase in demand for both internally built and externally-procured software solutions. This demand is effectively insatiable, which means a limited supply of technical talent craves increases in efficiency in how software is developed and deployed. Thus, infrastructure software to build software is in itself the most in-demand category of software there is.

So, DevOps has rapidly emerged to address this major imbalance, and has brought new levels of efficiency and efficacy to modern software engineering. This trend elevated the importance of developer-friendly solutions, particularly these developers are self-selecting which tools they use to build and deploy software. Insight Partners has been at the forefront of backing DevOps vendors born on the back of these trends, such as Postman for API creation and management, LaunchDarkly for feature flagging, JFrog for artifact management, and dozens of others.

And yet, not all software is created in the same way, and not all forms of developers have benefited from these trends. Take a walk through any manufacturing or assembly line, and you’ll be confronted with a very different reality of how software is built. Where Netflix engineers might leverage GitHub for code versioning and collaboration, industrial automation engineers carry around USB sticks loaded up with their code. Where Amazon engineers leverage CI:CD to continually deploy updates for cloud-hosted applications, their industrial counterparts have to pause production to directly deploy code onto hardware via LAN cables. The seemingly tablestakes concepts of developer collaboration, code security, code quality analysis, centralized push requests, etc. simply have not been propagated in the industrial context so far. Why is the industrial Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) so clearly lagging behind modern best practices?

While the answer to this question has many nuances, perhaps the most important obstacle has been the unique physical infrastructure powering production lines. Nearly all electromechanical movements on production lines are run on physical “programmable logic controllers,” or “PLCs.” These are highly specialized physical computers that push repetitive commands to machinery and dictate their every motion. These PLCs are extremely reliable despite relying on low-level compute power and functionality, and they are built to operate for decades without downtime or human intervention.

 

Allen Bradley programmable logic controller

These PLCs can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars, and in the current market environment are backlogged for many months due to massive chip supply chain breakdowns. Code is written in one of several common programming languages unique to industrial software, and it then runs locally after being deployed directly on these devices via LAN cables. There is no industrial GitHub equivalent supporting these languages. And unlike with cloud-hosted software, there is no centralized way of deploying applications remotely onto the PLCs.

This hardware dependency precludes industrial automation engineers from self-procuring developer tooling. Layered on top of the hardware obstacle are immense risks around security (e.g., hacking of production lines) or operations disruptions (e.g., applications crashing and forcing a pause in production) which are top of mind for IT leadership.

Industrial automation is widely-recognized as broken for all these reasons, yet the fundamental problems have remained unsolved for decades. Certain point solutions have emerged over the years to help industrial engineers manage and collaborate on their code, but adoption is nascent and they don’t address the fundamental problem: the industry is reliant on physical, siloed PLCs.

Software Defined Automation is bringing a new paradigm to the industrial SDLC

Enter Software Defined Automation. When we first met Josef and Axel, it was clear that they were the right founders to bring modern DevOps to the industrial environment. With senior engineering leadership experience in the industrial-focused teams at Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, as well as a combined 15+ years at Siemens, they intimately understand the nuances of this challenging problem space from both the next-gen cloud and industrial experiences.

Josef and Axel, co-founders of Software Defined Automation

Josef and Axel recognized that the underlying infrastructure problem around PLC dependencies must be solved to bring agility and flexibility to factories, so they are pioneering the concept of virtualized PLCs. “vPLCs” are industrial real-time control software workloads running on virtual machines, enabling instant provisioning, real-time performance monitoring, remote code deployment, and much more.

Virtualizing the PLC is already a hard and meaningful challenge, but the vision of the team goes much further. The SDA team sees this virtualized infrastructure layer as the core platform upon which to build a whole suite of DevOps and TechOps tooling, including code versioning, developer collaboration and cloud-based management of conventional and virtual PLCs. By solving the fundamental “PLC dependency” problem, they are unlocking a huge TAM for DevOps and TechOps in one of the largest and most complex markets in the world. In essence, SDA is equipping factories with modern end-to-end PLC lifecycle management tools.

Ultimately, the winner in this market will be much more than an infrastructure product or developer tool. It will be a single end-to-end platform that marries both, enabling not only independence from physical PLCs, but also a broad suite of DevOps and TechOps tooling tailored specifically for industrial automation. It was clear when speaking with SDA customers and market experts that they are combining the right value prop and team at the right time. We are thrilled to be backing this future category leader on their journey to bring industrial DevOps into the 21st Century and beyond.

Enterprise Mindset: 3 Questions a Former Credit Suisse CIO Always Asks When Evaluating a Technology Experiment

This post is a special feature of Insights Distilled, a weekly tech-focused email briefing for busy financial services executives. Learn more and sign up here. 

While concerns of an economic downturn are driving cost-cutting measures across the enterprise, IT spending – including digital transformation budgets – is expected to remain strong. Not only can technology hedge against prolonged economic instability by driving efficiencies or increasing security, but the stakes are too high to slow down on transformation projects now.

“You can’t afford to not think about digital,” according to Radhika Venkatraman, Insight Partners’ CIO-in-residence. “This is not ground zero of digital transformation; we are now at a point of revolution.”

While the economic climate won’t cut off technology spending, it will bring project prioritization into sharper focus, making it more critical than ever for ScaleUps to understand the perspectives of enterprise leaders. Venkatraman – who served as a CIO at Credit Suisse and Verizon – can offer a peek into how top tech executives think about innovation.

“You can’t afford to not think about digital. We’re at a point of revolution now.”

During her five years at Credit Suisse, Radhika Venkatraman built a “well-oiled machine” for sourcing, evaluating, and scaling technology experiments. While serving as a chief information officer and chief digital officer for its investment bank, she built a process that helped it fundamentally change how it approached innovation.

“Having a digital mindset is not about taking your old process and just asking someone in IT to automate it,” she said. “At the end of the day, if you want to disrupt yourself digitally, you must reimagine your data, operations, talent, and culture.”

As part of this process, she honed her ability to efficiently filter ideas and select which experiments were worthy of funding. While her evaluation criteria mainly focused on internal projects, it’s instructive for ScaleUps to peek into her process: When pitching a leader like Venkatraman, be prepared to explain how your technology solution fits into this equation.

3 questions to ask when evaluating an idea

First, what’s the probability of success versus failure for a given project?

Leaders like Venkatraman want to surface bold ideas balanced with risk appropriate to the firm’s appetite.

“If the idea is absolutely going to succeed, you should just be funding it,” she said. Then, those ideas should flow through the typical business evaluation process versus the innovation pipeline.

For ScaleUps, the real competition to your product isn’t other similar solutions in the market: It’s the home-grown tools an enterprise could build internally. You should be able to articulate why it would be challenging to replicate your solution – and more importantly, its impacts – without a partnership.   

“And if an experiment has almost no chance of succeeding, then why bother funding it?” Venkatraman added.

Share several robust case studies on how you’ve worked with other major enterprises to give leadership confidence in your credibility and experience.

Next, she asks whether an idea is focused on incremental efficiency gains or something more ambitious.

“When you’re creating small amounts of efficiency through your experiments, I’m not interested in that,” she said. “I always tell people to go for a new market opportunity or a new pool of revenue, something which indulges and engages your creativity.”

Have a clear-eyed pitch on how your solution will genuinely move the needle. Don’t just tell the technology story: Prepare to explain the business rationale of your solution, with insight on the rewards that make it worth deploying. Finally, tell them how your product will help them gain an edge in a market that’s getting increasingly tight.

“If your experiment is outlandishly successful, but your output is tantamount to giving birth to a mouse, that’s not an experiment you want to spend your precious resources on,” she said.

Finally, she asks: What timeline is required for testing?

“Fail fast,” she said.

It’s best if you are prepared to quickly spin up a proof-of-concept in an enterprise’s sandbox environment with synthetic data and prototyping tools. Leaders like Venkatraman are juggling so many potential ideas and experiments that they don’t want to wait nine months to understand whether a given partnership could work. Make it clear that testing your product won’t require Herculean effort.

Then, once you score a deployment, start proving your value right away. Producing small wins right out of the gate will help you build a case for winning additional buy-in and potentially larger scope

During her time at Credit Suisse, Venkatraman’s innovation pipeline received over 400 ideas and funded about 18 different experiments. Ultimately, 10 went to production and 3 became new business opportunities – including a so-called “Netflix for bonds” project, a recommendation engine for bond traders.

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Insight Partners’ CxO-in-Residence program brings a G2000 C-level technology leader in-house to share their knowledge with Insight’s portfolio. Through focused feedback sessions, our portfolio can test messaging and positioning strategies, and learn best practices on selling to the enterprise.

 

About Radhika Venkatraman

Radhika Venkatraman

Radhika Venkatraman worked at Credit Suisse between 2017 and June 2022, heading the data and technology functions for the global investment bank division of the group risk and compliance office, Under her leadership, the division developed and implemented a comprehensive data strategy and delivered several bank-wide regulatory programs. She also spearheaded the bank’s innovation agenda, including developing and implementing large-scale platforms for trading, client experience and mangement, compliance, and risk management.

Before joining Credit Suisse, Venkatraman served as SVP and CIO of Verizon’s network and technology organization. There, she worked closely with leadership teams in strategy, finance, and operations on initiatives to expand margins, increase operational efficiency, and enhance the customer experience.Prior to being promoted to Verizon’s C-suite, Venkatraman led the software teams that scaled Verizon’s premiere internet service (Fios) to support 65% year-over-year growth. Her teams’ efforts resulted in 99% on-time customer performance and a 71% reduction in customer complaints.

Alongside her role as Insight Partner’s CIO-in-residence, she’s a member of the board of directors at internet provider Brightspeed.

Head of Enterprise Applications: An Often Untapped Orchestrator for Growth and Scale

Key Insights:

  • Many scaleups are seeing the need for a new role to handle daunting internal systems complexity, back-office business systems, integrations, and data.
  • Hiring a Head of Enterprise Apps and Architecture role in the organization can help scaleups proactively navigate key security and tech process questions while prioritizing growth and innovation.
  • The most common time to hire this function is in the ScaleUp stage — when a company is at $50-$100M annual revenue.
  • This role usually reports to a CIO, COO, or CFO.

 

Boards of directors are seeking digital acceleration from their CxOs and expect enterprise architecture to be orchestrated to enable growth and scale. For ScaleUps already on their digital path, that means transformation of business processes through technology and the deliberate integration of complex digital landscapes. It also means application rationalization to keep operating expenses in check, especially if mergers and acquisitions continue to be part of the growth strategy.

In early-stage companies, many CxOs must also absorb responsibilities for the company’s back-office business technology in addition to their core role. CxOs in these cases can tend to stand up internal business systems in silos while enterprise applications remain poorly integrated with the organization’s IT infrastructure. The repercussions are significant, resulting in low-data quality for internal users to work with, the inability to produce key business KPIs, and ultimately, a poor customer experience. However, there is a solution: The main strategy for dealing with daunting internal systems complexity is to form an enterprise applications and architecture team, responsible for back-office business systems, integrations and data. The head of enterprise applications and architecture thus becomes the master orchestrator of processes and applications for all business units.

Assessing the Need for a Head of Enterprise Apps and Architecture

The need for a master orchestrator was identified in a 2018 survey conducted by threat-assessment company F5. The survey revealed that 38% of the respondents could not name all the applications used by their organization, despite considering 34% of their web applications to be “mission critical.” So how do you determine if your company needs a head of enterprise applications? Below is a simple checklist:

  1. Unmet technology needs. Does the business have capability needs that aren’t supported by current back-office applications? This can happen as the company matures, when the customer base shifts and departments expand their tooling, both to meet demand and to deliver greater value to consumers.
  2. Software ownership. Scaleups often struggle to decide whether to buy off-the-shelf software or to build it themselves. In some cases, it can make more sense to purchase while, for others, an in-house solution works better. Left unchecked, these decisions can result in complex system landscapes.
  3. Architectural vision. Is there a clear internal vision for the company’s business systems architecture? The company should identify which systems add competitive advantage through advanced “best of breed” feature sets and where cost savings can be achieved with mid-market options.
  4. Gaps and overlaps. Which systems offer necessary features and which are redundant? With off-the-shelf enterprise software there will always be gaps in capability, and some redundancies. The problem goes further than unnecessary spending: if different teams use different software to achieve the same objective, progress can be hampered and KPIs can’t be reconciled. Leaders who are dedicated to managing the life cycle of enterprise applications will be able to identify these gaps and overlaps, and make effective rationalization decisions.
  5. Software integration. Are the company’s enterprise applications interoperable? The ability of applications like ERP systems to integrate with sales and marketing eliminates redundancies in capability and provides the functionality enterprises need as they scale. Business leaders have made interoperability a critical part of purchasing decisions, especially as technology needs evolve with the business.
  6. KPIs. Key performance indicators (KPIs) help you understand whether the company’s enterprise systems are delivering required outcomes. If they’re not, then the ScaleUp will likely re-evaluate the organization’s app development and management strategies.
  7. Projects. Perhaps the strongest signal that the company needs a cohesive application strategy – and leadership – is the failure of systems and data projects to deliver on time and/or to offer the expected business capabilities and KPIs.

head of enterprise applications

Scope of the Role

A head of enterprise applications and architecture straddles a wide scope of responsibilities covering the range of tech strategy. Responsibilities include the choice of enterprise platforms for the organizations to adopt, as well as its implementation and testing processes. Improving DevOps and predictable agile delivery also fall under their purview. They are bilingual, well-versed in the languages of business (including SLAs and KPIs) and technology. The head of enterprise applications and architecture connects back-office business technology to core revenue-generating product applications.

The enterprise applications team will oversee most major enterprise software systems, including:

  • customer relationship management (CRM) systems
  • marketing automation platforms (MAP)
  • enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites
  • human capital management (HCM) tools
  • enterprise data systems (EDS)
  • overall integration layer

This team does not need to own every business system, of course. Instead, they focus on those tools that require major investment, integrations or that affect business processes like quote-to-cash or hire-to-retire. These are tools that need to be properly integrated and governed if they are to deliver maximum business impact. ScaleUps are finding that a dedicated enterprise applications team is the optimal way to accomplish this.

head of enterprise apps-IT scope

As mentioned earlier, a key function of the head of enterprise applications is to navigate the build versus buy decision. While engineering is almost entirely a “build” team (they build the product the company sells), enterprise software leaders often lean towards “buy” in order to optimize cost and deliver the best value. However, some companies do give enterprise applications teams the freedom to build internal tools. As a result, enterprise applications leaders are often well-versed in the intricacies of building, integrating, and deploying software and DevOps.

business and IT scope

Timing Based on Growth and Cash Flow

Exactly when a business will need a dedicated enterprise apps team is difficult to predict. Innovation and scale are significant drivers — innovating and investing in digital transformation are top priorities in today’s tech landscape. For most companies, this point arrives as the company transitions from the growth to the ScaleUp phase, typically with between $50 million and $110 million in annual revenue. In later stages, we recommend a CIO, who reports directly to the CEO.

enterprise apps timing

Not all companies manage this transition successfully. Some continue early-stage practices of bringing in consultants to improve processes, but this is a stop-gap measure at best and, when consultants depart, their expertise goes with them. By contrast, organizations with a unified head of enterprise apps and architecture can avoid this churn. This role can serve as a focal point for specific knowledge within the company about business capabilities and managing enterprise applications.

From a cash-flow perspective, companies that struggle to fund and prioritize this role, often have to divest operationally first before they can re-invest strategically, or ask business CxOs to wear a more technical hat.

Reporting Structure

Many companies that create an enterprise applications team assign it to the CIO’s area of responsibility. In the absence of a CIO, the head of enterprise applications typically reports to the COO or CFO.

The CTO is the least-preferred executive to oversee this critical function. That’s because CTOs need to focus on innovating and driving revenue by building out the core product and finding the right product-market fit.

org chart

How does one find qualified IT leaders to occupy this position? The truth is, it can be challenging. Since this is a technical role, the best candidates will have a technical background. IT operations candidates that have only managed networks, desktops or help desks are not good candidates because they lack the business skills needed to speak to sales, marketing and finance executives.

Enterprise applications candidates will have deep experience building software integrations and navigating the complicated web of interoperable enterprise systems. They will also have experience with global implementations, doing configuration or code reviews, and building out proofs of concept for customer relationship management platforms, marketing operations, finance, and accounting systems. Because of the complex nature of the role and the need for outstanding technical, business and interpersonal skills, you can expect to spend at least three months searching for a qualified head of enterprise applications and architecture.

Aligning Business and IT Goals

The ability to unite the company’s business goals with the IT department’s priorities is a unique and critical skill for a head of enterprise architecture to have. That’s because enterprise apps teams serve the entire organization.

That makes this role strategic instead of operational — rather than just managing the status quo, a good head of enterprise architecture will be able to identify areas of business capabilities improvements and drive long-term business value. These skills are part of a wider trend in IT and business leadership – a radical shift from just “keeping the lights on” to planning and driving growth.

IT and business goal alignment

The process includes the ability to get stakeholder buy-in, especially for large-scale changes such as introducing new ERP or CRM systems, or a shift to cloud-based architecture. It also requires a solid understanding of the rest of the organization’s pain points. The best candidates for this role have the ability to identify and implement solutions that align with the organization’s business priorities.

Security Counts

Another critical skill set is a thorough knowledge of application security. As the number of applications a company uses increases, so does its security overhead and the risk of a breach. The diversity of applications also makes the task of securing them more complex.

Furthermore, since many of these systems are used by non-technical staff (such as sales, marketing or HR) there’s an increased burden on the enterprise apps team to educate staff on proper security, release management, and control procedures. ERP systems are notorious for vulnerabilities because they are large, complex applications often used by multiple teams. Their size and flexibility mean that different departments often configure them with customizations or plugins.

However, integrating these systems is not the only concern. Most modern enterprise software is based on cloud technology, which makes IT architecture leaders with strong cloud deployment and cloud security awareness an asset. The nature of cloud technology means there is some overlap between the IT-focused enterprise apps role and the infrastructure engineering role responsible for providing DevOps support to core engineering. While both enterprise app teams and infrastructure teams might work on cloud-deployed technology, they are very often different cloud environments to manage. Enterprise apps are usually deployed to dedicated, vendor-owned (and made) cloud platforms. Infrastructure engineers, by contrast, work much closer to the code on platforms that deploy the company’s core product.

[Virtual Event] Winning in 2023: Sales KPIs for Sustainable Growth

Prediction: “Efficient growth” will be the buzziest phrase for SaaS startups in 2023 – and for good reason. In the new macroeconomic environment, your business will need to focus on sustainable growth more than ever. An effective way to keep efficiency at the forefront is by heading into next year with the right sales KPIs in mind.

This December, hear from Operating Partner Pablo Dominguez (Insight Partners) as he shares his learnings from working directly with hundreds of startups and their go-to-market teams. He’ll be joined by CEOs Jordan Rackie (Keyfactor) and Neha Sampat (Contentstack), for the SaaS leaders’ POVs on successfully balancing the goals of growing sales teams and investors.

During this session, we will answer:

> How can the changing economic environment affect your 2023 goals?

> Which sales KPIs are most important for efficient growth?

> How have other CEOs/founders learned to grow efficiently by working closely with their sales teams and investors?