In this high-energy and fun episode of ‘How I Work’ Josh talks with Billy Cripe, VP of Marketing at CIBO – a B2B SaaS company in the regenerative Ag and carbon credit space. You’ll hear Billy’s story about how he jumped from coding to being a marketer. He also compares and contrasts what its like to work at big corporations vs lean start-ups and what he’s learned about working with founders, investors and private equity firms. Finally, Billy provides his top 5 key metrics that he believes every SaaS marketer needs to have on their scorecard.
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Josh Becerra: Hi, everybody, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. This is Episode 10 of How I Work. I’m here with Billy Cripe, Hi, Billy.
Billy Cripe: Hey, Josh.
Josh: Thanks for being here. Billy is the VP of Marketing at CiBO, which is like a B2B SaaS company that tracks and manages regenerative Ag processes, so pretty cool tech, and then you take those and turn them into carbon credits that go into a marketplace and you sell them to individuals and companies. That’s cool stuff.
Billy: Yes, it’s a really fun time to be in the regenerative agriculture space and the carbon marketplace, it’s really getting popular out there in the common vernacular, with a change of administration in the US and just we’re at the leading edge of the second wave of carbon and climate awareness, it really feels like a good time to be there.
Agriculture is being rapidly evolved and digitally transformed, and so it’s a really neat time to be part of this space. CIBO technologies, we’ve got some really, really neat technology, some really deep science that’s helping to scale the practices, so it’s easy.
Josh: Well, that’s awesome. You haven’t always been in Ag, of course.
Billy: I’m new.
Josh: You’re new to Ag and you have really interesting story, actually. You told me you started as a developer, and now you’re VP of Marketing and have been a CMO in other companies, so how did that happen?
Billy: [laughs] Well, it was an evolution like anything. Back in the early ’90s, I caught the programming bug, because I love instant gratification, and so being able to type something and see it come to life on a screen, it was like, “Holy cow, this is incredible”. Then, of course, the birth of the World Wide Web was happening right at that same time, and so, that was really gratifying to be part of that and to see, “Oh, now I can make a webpage, now I can do back-end programming.”
I got into programming just because I like doing something and then seeing it come to life right away, I’m impatient that way. Through my education, and then through early jobs, it was just doing programming work, and getting deeper and deeper into that programming space. I’ve always been a performer, whether it’s theater and community theater, or music performance. There are some guitars in the background and some other stuff over here.
I’ve always been on stage. My father– I’m the son of a preacher, and so that might be in the blood, I tell my dad, “Yes, I’m a preacher too just about business and technology instead of saving souls.”
Josh: You got on stages…
Billy: I got on stages talking about technology as a developer, and having that development background, and knowing and understanding how to write code for big businesses gave me an understanding of the technical aspects of what we were doing. I would speak at conferences, I would speak at trade shows, and had the flair for the dramatic. At one point I was doing deep workflow programming, whether it’s merchandising, approval and review processes, or Sarbanes-Oxley audit, and compliance stuff.
I mean, one, really no, not fun, but really important, but getting on stage and talking about this. I would do sessions like workflow for men and kilts. I’d show up all kilted up and just, or a deep dive into workflow, and I’d come in in scuba gear. There’s this flair for the dramatic. Well, eventually, I was tapped on the shoulder and people were like, “Hey, marketing’s the place for you,” and if I’m really honest, my code wasn’t that great.
I was like, “Oh, really? This marketing thing.” I’m like, “Yes, but I still want to keep my technical chops.” It was an incremental process, I moved into a sales enablement role, which is really technical product marketing or solution design and development, and then into product marketing outbound, product management, which would be called product marketing anywhere else, and through a number of different companies, including small, medium-sized companies that got acquired by Oracle, so big giant mega multinational corporations.
Was able, and very fortunate to travel around the world working and implementing these solutions, and then doing some training and some internal sales enablement. Helping our boots on the ground sales development reps, and application design consultants and implementation consultants, and whatnot, helping them understand how to design solutions and then implement them.
Then eventually, I moved from that role into a full-time marketing role, but for a technology integrator. I went from big giant corporation into a small growth-oriented services integrator. Then that was really the hard transition from somebody who was slinging code, at least on a weekly basis and talking about it, to somebody who now just talks about it and lets the smart people actually develop the stuff.
Josh: I think it’s a really cool story, and the fact that you’ve had eyes on these large corporate companies, but then you’ve also like, I know, you have experience with startups and things. What has that– When you look at those two, like working for corporate, working for a startup, what do you like? Where’s your focus today? Things like that.
Billy: Sure. Working for the really large corporations taught me that I love small startup, nimble organizations. I’m very grateful for the experience that I had working with the big giant corporations. It taught me the value of process and methodology, and organizational efficiency, because those organizations can’t exist without organizational efficiency.
I learned that way, but I also learned that I am passionate about growth, and about the opportunity that comes from being able to see an opportunity, and then seize it right away without having to go through layers and layers of bureaucracy, and request processes and everything else.
That’s where my heart lies, and so that really pulled me, that passion has a gravity to it, and that pulled me into the small organizations, the PE-backed organizations, the ones that are looking to pivot and start-up in the startup world. I’ve been there ever since. Really ever since about 2011-2012. I’ve been really focused on small growth-focused B2B technology companies, and I love it.
Josh: You’ve had tremendous success, like you were at Field Nation, and I can’t remember the numbers you were throwing around, but it’s like started at 13 million and scaled to hundreds.
Billy: Yes, they’re up over 200 million in annual revenue now. When I left, we went from 13 million to 120 million.
Josh: That’s great.
Billy: Again, just– There’s no substitute for market timing. I’d love to take credit for all of that. I can’t, I was part of a great team, but it was also there’s a culture of leadership in a small nimble startup organization that says, “Our goal is growth”. If our goal is growth, then those organizations typically are willing to experiment, small elbow grease, and bootstraps experimentation, but then once you find the result of those experiments, then you can pour fuel on that fire and just scale those results until they start to peter out and then you experiment again. That’s a really, really exciting and gratifying place to be especially as a marketer, and as a technology-focused and technology savvy marketer.
Josh: Well, let me ask you. A lot of these investor-backed, PE-backed companies, they’ve got a lot of pressure from investors like, “You got to grow, you got to hit the growth goals year after year.” In your role in marketing, how can you help manage those relationships, so like assist with alleviating that pressure and what– because I think a lot of people who are listening are in this situation. They are feeling that pressure and they’re trying to figure it out. Tell us a little bit about your experience about what boards and executive teams care about, and how, from a marketing perspective, you can actually really assist?
Billy: Yes. That’s a great question. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot through stepping in big stinky piles of poo and messing up, and then cleaning up and having support from my executive peers, as well as from boards and investors to say, “Okay, we get that.” Typically, everybody is a human being, and they want to grow, they’ve invested in you, you belong there.
The first thing to understand is that you’re here because you’ve won the confidence of the recruiting team, of the board, especially when you’re an executive here, typically, you’re talking to your board. You’re not just being hired by a hiring manager somewhere because that’s how it is in a small, nimble startup or pivot-oriented company. You belong there, you’ve got the confidence, and you’re there because of your ideas, and your vision. That’s absolutely imperative.
The second thing is to realize the pressure is real. You can’t pretend that it’s not. You’ve got to come in eyes wide open and have a plan. It doesn’t need to be your typical, 30, 60, 90, day plan, whatever, but you have to have a vision of where you’re going. Being wishy-washy, and I don’t know what I want to do. Then trying to couch that in the language of experimentation, that doesn’t work.
Any good marketer in this environment has to have that vision of where we want to go, at least what the objectives are. If those aren’t being handed to you by the board and your CEO, then it’s your responsibility to say, “Here’s what I believe we ought to be focusing on.” That gives you that clarity of purpose and that clarity of vision.
Once you have that, then it’s all about momentum. Momentum is really, really important. There’s a number of ways that you can demonstrate momentum, but boards, executive teams, your sales peers, they want to see and continue to have that confidence that they’re granting you that they want to see that you’re working towards that ultimate objective.
Momentum typically comes in things that are quantifiable and measurable. You have to have quantifiable and measurable objectives. I’m a very big believer in data-driven marketing. It’s also really important to remember that not all marketing metrics matter to your executive teams and to your boards.
As marketers, we’ve been, especially over the last two decades or so, we’ve been flooded with technology and the ability to quantify just about everything. Impressions and clicks and referrals and domain authority and all of the cool things and we love it. Our eyes get super bright and shiny like, “Look at all the stuff we can track.” The trick is understanding which of those actually matter to your sales, and executive, and board peers. Not all of them matter.
Josh: Are there a few that are your go-to metrics?
Billy: Yes. Absolutely.
Josh: We wrote a blog about like key metrics. I would love to hear what your go-to metrics are.
Billy: I believe that there are really five key metrics for marketing executives. These are the metrics that matter to your executive team, to your sales team, and to your board of directors, ultimately. Everything else matters to marketers, they can help you gauge internal performance and success and failure of campaigns and whatnot, use them, but don’t bother with those. In my experience trying to explain and train everybody else on your board meetings, what they mean.
Those five key metrics are, your customer acquisition cost has got to be less than the lifetime value of your customer and of the blinding flash of the obvious. If you don’t know what the lifetime value of a customer is, you can’t do that math. If you don’t know what your customer acquisition cost is, which includes the timeline to actually acquire them, you can’t do that math.
I have experienced myself the wastefulness and getting slapped on the wrist for spending a whole lot of money because I was just throwing it after acquiring customers, but I didn’t know how to make that efficient. First metric is customer acquisition cost has got to be less than your lifetime value of a customer. Second is you need to know your demand to dollars conversion rate, and those are related. Demand to dollars is not demand to customer count. It’s not leads to conversions. Those are all internal marketing metrics. You need to know your demand to dollars conversion rate. You also need to know your runway to revenue. That’s an elapsed timeline, it’s how long does it take for you to get pregnant?
I was at one company where our runway to revenue was longer than the gestation time of an elephant, which is crazy, was 19 months or something and I’m like, “This is way too long. Our job is to shorten that runway to revenue and increase thrust and angle of ascent during takeoff, to really scale those– [crosstalk]
Josh: Yes, I love that.
Billy: That helps you with your campaign planning, with setting expectations about your pipeline and understanding when somebody comes in top of funnel or mid-funnel, wherever in the funnel in that pipeline is, how long do we have to wait before our first dollar and before they achieve that lifetime value? The fourth metric is your daily active users or your monthly active users’ trend, you really want to know what your engagement level is.
That’s really important, much more for your SaaS companies, your SaaS organizations, and if there’s any one of these five that I could do away with or cut out, it would probably be that one based on what sort of a technology ecosystem I’m in. I spend a lot of time in SaaS, and so understanding that user engagement rate, which is your daily actives or your monthly actives, is really important and those can be early warning signs of when engagement is petering off and what do you need to do to reactivate that.
Josh: It might be something you have on that scorecard for you and your marketing team but not necessarily pushing it up to the executives.
Billy: Exactly, exactly. It’s really important to communicate that, and to get that, and to share that understanding with your product team as well because everything that they’re doing should be– and your product managers especially, should be driving towards delivering value to those users.
If their engagement is petering out, well, then there’s something else that’s missing. What is it that they used to have that they’re not getting anymore? Maybe something in the market has shifted, maybe something in the technology is broken, maybe there’s a new way of doing things that has been accepted and we need to integrate that.
Then your fifth one is your company growth. The growth rate of your company really needs to be greater than the overall growth rate of your TAM, of your target addressable market. That means you have to know what your TAM actually is. I typically start with, when I’m coming into a new company, with a detailed TAM analysis, because if you don’t know what your target addressable market is, who’s in it, what the size of that is and is it growing or shrinking or is it stagnant, you don’t have any idea of where your organization is positioned inside of that TAM.
Now, the reason I say your company growth has got to be greater than overall TAM growth is because oftentimes, your TAM is going to be growing and if your company’s growth rate is shrinking relative to the growth of the TAM, you’re actually losing market share.
You could be like, “Hey, yes, we’re growing. That’s great. Look at this great vanity metric CEO or board.” They’re like, “Yes, but how come we’re getting our lunch eaten by all these little startup players over here, some big giant behemoth over in that area?” It’s like, “Oh, well, it’s because the TAM is growing, but we’re not growing as fast. We’re missing out on some opportunity.”
To recap, those five– My key five marketing metrics are your cost to acquire customers got to be less than the lifetime value of the customer, need to know your demand to dollars conversion rate, you need to know your runway to revenue, which is an elapsed time from first touch to first dollar, your daily active and monthly active users’ rate, and then your company growth rate versus your overall TAM growth rate.
Those are the five that I look at consistently and have been looking at really since 2012 in every single job or fractional client that I’ve had. They’re absolutely helpful.
Josh: Yes. I think that’s awesome. In the key metrics blog we published, there’s a couple of those that are in there, but I would say there’s some new ones that people should be figuring out how to calculate and get on their scorecard. Thanks for giving us those.
Last question, and we were prepping for this. You talked about being in sales enablement but when we were prepping for this video, you said something that I thought was really cool and a little bit cheeky, but I want you to explain what you mean. What you said was, “We get paid in dollars, not leads.” What does that mean to you? Tell us.
Billy: It was a piece of constructive feedback that I really took to heart, came from a very dear friend of mine, who was my CFO at the time. Anytime you have a CMO and a CFO who aren’t fighting with each other, something’s really special there.
My CFO, after one of our executive meetings, I was waving around, “Look how many leads we have. Look at all these leads.” He just turns to me, and he says, “Billy, nobody gets paid in leads. We get paid in dollars. How many dollars do you have?” I went, “Oh.”
You can see how that then reflects in those five key metrics that I talked about for marketers, and I’ve written about this since. Nobody gets paid in leads. We get paid in dollars. Marketers and marketing executives being enamored with the ability to quantify and to measure things like leads and like our conversion stage in the funnel pipeline and whatnot, we try to use that as a proxy for, “Look at how successful we are?”
When a marketer comes in, it’s like, “Look, we’ve got a thousand leads,” or 10,000 leads, and the sales and the CEO are saying, “Yes, but our revenue isn’t where we need it to be, and our win rates aren’t where they need to be,” then marketers, we lose credibility, and we lose trust, and we lose that peer relationship when we’re like, “Yes, but look at all the leads.” Then we start pointing fingers at sales and being like, “Well, they suck,” and then sales points the finger back, and be like, “Well, no. Those leads suck.”
We never get anywhere. Marketers, I think, are left holding the bag because we’re out there trying to say, “Look how great this is.” That’s because we’re focused on leads and not on dollars. When I heard from my CFO, “Billy, you get paid in dollars, not in leads,” that really resonated with me there.
Ever since that point, I’ve made it my mission in the companies that I work with to really be joined, hip to hip and cheek to cheek, with my heads of sales and chief revenue officer, whatever my sales peers are, because, at the end of the day, I get paid in dollars.
If I’ve got an equity stake, that equity stake is only going up if the company is growing, which is measured in dollars. It all comes down to dollars, and it doesn’t matter what hill of beans, if I’ve got a ton of leads and how they’re scored and where they came from, and whatever, if they’re not converting to dollars, or if they’re not converting to dollars fast enough.
What that means for marketers is that we’ve got to eat some humble pie and then ask and continually get the feedback from our sales peers of, “What’s helping you accelerate your deals? What’s helping you get those new deals?”
This isn’t something that we can just throw over the wall to a biz dev team or an SDR team or a sales team or a territory team, or whatever, and be like, “Go follow up on that and go do something, please.” We need to be talking with them multiple times every week, in my opinion, so that we can be helping to augment and amplify their efforts, rather than fighting with them to, “Please, take and chase down these crappy leads that I’ve bought for you from my latest Instagram robot,” or something stupid, “We got somebody who filled out a form on the website, and there’s a Gmail address there.”
It’s like, “Well, let’s do a little bit of legwork, and actually go help people close that deal, or qualify it out, so they’re not wasting time on junk. Because it’s all about the dollars. Marketers need to take that back to heart. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from a creative background or a marketing operations and technology background. Our job as marketers is to tell the story of our organization, of our technology, in a way that it delivers value to our audience, and it delivers enough value that they’re going to pay for it with dollars, or whatever your local currency may be.
Josh: There you go. I love that. I think marketers have traditionally had very adversarial relationships with sales. I think keeping that in mind, the fact that we get paid in dollars, not leads, you should put that on T-shirts and mugs, and sell it to marketers because I think–
Billy: That’d be awesome. That’s a good idea.
Josh: I think we all need those reminders because it’s way easier to blame sales and their processes, and they’re not following up on leads, and what are they doing over there.
Billy: Those things may be true. It’s not all one-sided here, but at the end of the day, whose job is it to go out and get the dollars and get the customers and the prospects to part with their currency in order to receive the value that we have. It’s the job of the sales team. As marketers, we need to be telling the story that gets people interested, and equipping the sales team to go do more of that faster, better, cheaper.
When you have those great relationships with a sales team, when they know that they can rely on you and that your content, your leads, your website, your enablement activities, your case studies, your customer– All of that stuff, when that is going to help them close that deal and get that commission, then they become your biggest fans. A sales and marketing team that’s aligned like that, that are each other’s cheerleaders, is one of the greatest powerhouses in any organization.
It’s literally unstoppable because you’ve got market-building buzz, and awareness, and interest being generated over here, and sales individuals and teams, and territories that are just crushing it because they’re sharing that joint capability. It’s peanut butter and jelly. They’ve got to be together.
Josh: Yes. Well, that’s awesome. Billy, this has been great. I appreciate all your knowledge bombs and your energy.
Josh: We’re just going to have to say goodbye for now for this episode of how I work, but it’s great talking to you. Maybe we should do it again sometime.
Billy: I would love that. Josh, this has been just a great opportunity. Thanks for having me on and thanks to everybody who’s watching.
Josh: All right. Well, see you. Thanks.
Billy: Bye. Take care.