The State of CMO Executive Search with SEBA International’s Kate Bullis

In the state of the current economy, how has executive search been affected? What are B2B SaaS companies looking for, and what will these new leaders face?

On this episode of Saas Half Full, host Lindsey Groepper chats with Kate Bullis, Co-founder and Managing Partner at SEBA International, an executive search firm specializing in placing CMO roles. Kate analyzed data from more than 20 search firms — including her own — and uncovered a surprisingly positive outlook. She shares why that’s the case, what it means for SaaS marketing executives and who’s winning during these unusual times.

How B2B Companies Are Coping with Change

With decades of experience under her belt placing growth roles within tech companies, Kate brings a seasoned eye to the executive search world, which has been undoubtedly affected by the current pandemic. With a wide network of search firm owners, she felt compelled to dive into the data around open executive searches to see if — and how far — the “doom and gloom” (as she calls it) had spread. 

And while she found the economy is hurting, executive searches are still happening — especially so in the B2B marketing space — as companies adjust to the new normal: while 25% of search work was on hold, 70-75% was still active. She sees this as a reflection of how much good leadership matters in any company regardless of the economy.

“I think that’s the kind of stuff that we don’t hear about in the news,” Kate said. “And I think that’s important for everybody to know: leadership is leadership. You can’t compromise, it can’t be stopped, and particularly in moments like this, leadership is even more in need.”

A Vision for SaaS Marketing Executives

The current economic downturn is only temporary, meaning companies will move from survival to growth stages. Kate says SaaS marketing executives must be ready to handle both with equal aplomb. Companies will expect their leads to possess the same skills and characteristics as before but also check more boxes around technologies that better predict the marketplace and a customer-centric mentality to meet customer demand. 

With these needs in mind, Kate sees this uncertain time as an opportunity for companies to expand their visions. She suggests leaders should ask themselves why they need to fill an executive role and what their goals are. From there, she takes an approach similar to design thinking to find the right people for the job, which benefits the company and the executive.

“I just think what that ultimately turns into is an opportunity for that company to not just look at the candidates they thought they wanted, but also consider candidates that they didn’t even know could be the right answer,” she said. “And being able to consider all those options really gives that company an opportunity to expand and actually improve the goals that they had in mind in the first place.”

Who’s Winning Now?

Leadership is often tested in times of strife, and Kate has advice for companies wanting to emerge from the pandemic as more resilient organizations. Along with smart investments in working within a digital-only world, intelligent reactions dictate success for B2B SaaS firms. “Reacting is one thing; reacting well is another,” she cautions. “The best companies don’t just seek out operational efficiencies by, perhaps, making some staff reductions and reducing hiring, but they also implement digitization and technology. Seeking out efficiencies of antiquated systems and processes is another great way that companies remain resilient.”

For example, in the SaaS world, Kate points to ServiceNow. The company pledged to make zero staff reductions during the COVID pandemic. To accomplish that, Kate says smart investments into better processes and procedures have increased efficiency. Coupled with investment in their own technology and services, ServiceNow has kept the customer at the center of everything, which has enabled them to weather the economic downturn. 

“They’re a good example of a business that is finding ways to make the most of the opportunity, and not just blanket cost cut,” she said. “They seek out efficiencies and continue to invest in the right spots.”

For more insights from Kate Bullis, listen to Episode 204 of SaaS Half Full.