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SaaS Backwards Episode 9: The CMO as a Servant Warrior, Armed with Data with Neil Becker of Behavox

Welcome to episode nine of the SaaS Backwards podcast, where we interview CEOs and CMOs of fast-growing SaaS firms to reveal what they are doing that's working, and lessons learned from things that didn't work as planned. 

You can listen to the full episode directly below via Spotify, or visit SaaS Backwards on Buzzsprout or wherever you listen to podcasts.


The CMO as a Servant Warrior, Armed with Data

Neil Wu Becker, Chief Marketing Officer, Behavox

Edited for clarity and readability 

Host, Ken Lempit:
Our guest today is serial marketing leader, Neil Wu Becker. Today, we'll be talking about his role leading marketing at Behavox, an AI-powered enterprise risk and compliance software that focuses on the financial sector. Before we dig into Behavox, Neil, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into the role you're in today?

Neil Wu Becker:
I came out of college and my whole life I wanted to be a sports journalist. I'm in the San Francisco Bay area, so I did some stints at the San Francisco Chronicle--they all contribute and also Newsday in New York, which was the fifth largest paper at the time. So, I was on both coasts doing journalism, but I was also in the Bay Area at the time when the inertia was pulling every one of my age into Silicon Valley, because it was starting to grow tremendously. And this was during the dot-com boom in the 90s. I actually left journalism--it's an industry that eats its young, especially when you're in your 20s, like I was.

I went to work for some small tech companies to start, but between then and now I've essentially been at small, mid and large cap public companies in the tech sector. I've also been at pre-IPO's and small startups where they're just starting to become embryonic and grow at scale. 

Today I’m the CMO of Behavox, which is a small company that is growing like a weed. 

Ken Lempit:
You joined Behavox post-funding and that’s where I want to start—where a successful fundraise is a real step-change event for many organizations and how marketing leadership takes the reins. 

Can you share with us your view of how you're approaching that at Behavox?

Neil Wu Becker:
It might help if I give you a quick background on the funding part, because I think Behavox is fortunate. In many cases, a lot of the companies I've seen or have been at that are in similar stage or size, they'll get what I would call incremental raises, i.e. series A,B,C,D,Es, etc. So, here's $8 million, here's $12 million, here's $10 million, etc. Or maybe you get lucky at $15 million. 

This was a $100 Million drop by SoftBank last February of 2020. They came in and it was (if I'm not mistaken) the second investment they made in Vision Fund Two (VF2). So, Vision Fund one was for better or worse spotlighted by WeWork and Uber and all their investments in those types of brands. 

This one went strongly toward artificial intelligence (AI) based companies doubling down in that sector. We were the second firm they invested in. The $100 Million is significant because it's a lot of money and it allows the company (not just us in marketing) to bulk hire, to bulk plan, to bulk invest, to bulk innovate everything. And then also to ramp up in marketing, how we start to attack the market as well or invade the market per se. 

It gave us a good opportunity to do a lot of things that you would normally wait over a few years’ time cumulatively, over a series of incremental rounds to be able to go blast off in one shot. Our goal is not to have the traditional ABCDE rounds. This allows us to be a little more careful with how many rounds we inevitably need on our road to potential public offering. 

What that has done for us in the marketing side is that it’s given us a lot of freedom to grow the group as we were building the marketing team on a brand-new plot of land. I'm the longest tenured marketer there, and I joined on March 30th of 2020. Everyone else is about a half year in or less.

So that was an interesting experience--to bulk up and build the team right away. We're 13 people, including me and we’re hiring more reps as we speak. 

[The large amount of funding has allowed us] to put plans in place that were longitudinal in nature versus just step-by-step quarter by quarter. (i.e. let's just try to get this function up, or let's try to do this type of thing with a campaign.) We can do more in terms of long-range planning in and marketing specifically as well as the other functional groups. That's hopefully an overview of just the significance of a large drop, like a hundred million versus 10 million and what it can do for us in marketing in terms of planning ahead versus just being incremental.

Ken Lempit:
It really is an opportunity. A lot of times the folks I speak with they are tasked with doing world-class marketing, but with less than world-class assets. They don't have the budget, they don't have the people, they don't have the tools. And yet the expectations on them are to do the world-class work. So it seems like here they're putting their money where their mouths are, but that also creates even a greater duty—there are no excuses at this point.

Neil Wu Becker:
That's right. And I think at risk of soap-boxing for a minute, if someone came up to you or me and said, "Here's a hundred million," what do you do with it? Would you go buy houses and Ferrari's or would you invest? 

When I was coming up through the corporate ranks, even when I was not always in marketing or if I was, I had a very stereotypical image of CMOs and many of them--this is a harsh word to say--were frauds. And what I mean is they were hurting the profession's brand image by making two mistakes that I committed to myself that if I was ever in that role, I wouldn't do that. 

I would actually try to help pad the positive image of marketing in the B2B tech sector circles and second damaging thing that I saw repeated over and over and over, whether it was at large cap companies or pre-IPO's, was the CMO and his or her teams made no effort to learn the business or the product.

It's a technical field that I'm in. This isn't selling bottled water or Nike basketball shoes. You have to understand the product so you can market it. 

And then secondly, we were always viewed in any capacity as a cost center, which we are in many cases. However, when you are a cost center and viewed stereotypically as a bunch of liberal artists gone wild spending money, and you don't know your business or product, that's when the lifespan of CMOs and VPs of Marketing starts running short versus say a CFO or heads of product, or CTO's. 

And I started realizing that marketing is hurting itself more than helping it because they have this constant churn at all ranks because they're making no effort to learn the product or the business and be able to apply it to sensible campaigns that drive the demand in the business forward. Now plop $100 Million in front of you, and that could exacerbate that problem even more. 

From my perspective, I am a service provider. We as marketers at any level are service providers to the business-- we are service providers to sales. Too many times CMOs try to be the smartest person in the room. 

There has to be more of a humility and a service-oriented nature (where I call it MaaS to play off the cloud acronyms), but it's marketing as a service to sales (and ultimately the business) to make sure I'm giving them what they need versus getting in fights about who's the smartest person in the room.

If I can prove that I understand and have the acumen on the business and the product, and I can actually prove that from a cost center perspective, I'm managing the cost structure as an owner, as if it was my own money, and if I was the founder, would I actually spend that much on digital or would I actually curtail it a bit and be smarter?

If I can act like an owner on the cost structure side, and then also understand the business and product, you can give me a zillion dollars or $1, I'm going to actually be responsible with it and earn the respect of my peers in the business around me that were actually doing the right thing for the company versus just spending money like water, hoping we're doing the right thing. 

But especially when you're in a pre-IPO where there are a lot of investments happening very rapidly and you’ve got to see a quick ROI on it, if you don't have the acumen, you're not going to be able to.

Ken Lempit:
I think it's really important point. I've worked actually within a startup that was very well-funded. The CEO was irresponsible in the way he spent money and it took the VC some time to remove him because of personal relationships, unfortunately. But I saw up close the danger that having more money than you need can create in the hands of people that are not thoughtful and don't have realistic plans, even in this small startup. It wasn't a hundred million, but it was real money. And clearly the goal is to use the money for transformative purpose. I think that's really where you're going here is marketing needing to be purposeful and accountable.

Neil Wu Becker:
That's absolutely right. One of my mentors once told me to be business first, practitioner second--I try to live by it as much as I can. If people have that mindset, then they usually do pretty well. I don't care if you're a financial accountant, salesperson, engineer, HR practitioner or a marketer, if you understand the business and go business first in your logic and your decision-making and then practitioner second, you're dangerous. You become a competitive advantage against any other peer of yours in the competitive landscape.

I like to think that my teams are fighting on the sales front against their sales counterparts in our competitive landscape. Our product guys are geeking out harder than the other product guys at the competitor next door, hopefully, but I fight the CMO and his or her team at the competitors too, and I don't like losing.

When I evaluate a job and its competitive landscape, and I see that their marketing is liberal arts only versus business plus liberal arts--either in their messaging, design, brand persona engagement or their campaigns, I start licking my chops. Because if I can actually go business first, marketing second against the guy or girl who's just doing marketing liberal arts, it’s game over. Go to Vegas, Macau or Dubai, put money on me, it's over--an arrogant thing to say, but I would stack our team up against any team that way, because they're usually going to make the right decisions to be more shrewd at driving better results.

Ken Lempit:
I don't know if I'd call it arrogance so much as driven. You’re saying "Hey, I want to succeed and as a leader, I need to show my people what success and winning looks like." For a long time, I've felt that marketing needs to balance the art and the science. We need really great design and design thinking needs to pervade what we do in business, but we need to back it up. And I think the successful marketing leaders have the ability to create beautiful narrative, create beautiful design that's visual.

And they back it up with the ability to drive the revenue in partnership sales. I'd love to just sort of let you riff on that a little bit, because I think your perspective on the relationship between marketing and sales and how to succeed in that endeavor is really important.

Neil Wu Becker:
To be more direct, the fundamental premise in my mind, when you think about the relationship between a sales and a marketing organization is trust. Sales and marketing naturally have an inherent conflict with each other. They're church and state, they're yin-yang, they're supposed to be a competing force against each other to keep each other honest. Too many times I've seen (and I was once a victim of this doing it myself) where you go into a boardroom and you present your numbers and then the CRO presents his or her numbers and they're completely perpendicular to each other to where no matter who's right, you're both wrong--you both look like clowns. 

And then they start saying, "What the heck are you guys doing together? No wonder we missed our numbers," or, "Great. We made our numbers, but how much more revenue yield could we have gotten if you guys were actually aligned." No matter which way you cut it, that lack of alignment is embarrassing on both fronts, no matter where the finger pointing is.

So, the first fundamental atomic unit to me has always been establish trust from the outset with the salesforce, not just the company or your CEO, but the salesforce. And that's where the whole MaaS or marketing as a service provider thinking comes in where I'm not trying to be the smartest man in the room. I'm not trying to be the highest paid guy in the room, I'm just trying to say, how do I help this sales team actually hit its number? If they hit their number, we all are great, everyone's happy. 

Where I've seen problems is when the trust isn't there. It’s not going to be a healthy relationship. And you're going to have competing interests and a misalignment that can hold your business back even if you're making numbers, because you could probably have made higher numbers than what you did.

If you can establish that through a service-minded approach and you hit your deadlines as an execution machine maniacally, then sales and the exec team don't even have to worry about the integrity of marketing. It then becomes all the Legion that they're doing and the demand gen they're pushing through the pipeline, how can we then double down on the sales execution and make sure that our win-loss and the efficiency of our deal cycles is such that we want it to be. 

That's what's happening in Behavox right now.

Ken Lempit:
There's a really fascinating, because the periodical literature about sales and marketing not aligning (the MQL/SQL disconnect) and that's not really where it's at. It's really at the very top level of the organization not connecting and therefore it cascades down the organization.

Neil Wu Becker:
It sets the tone culturally top-down. They inherit the personality of their leaders and it could be good, bad or ugly. And if they see the brokerage, you start seeing the marketing and the sales teams start complimenting each other. They don't feel like they have to antagonize or attack each other because there is a cascading multiplier effect for sure.

Ken Lempit:
That's beautiful insight for folks that see this issue. It's really a symptom. I try to be a true diagnostician and say, "Okay, I see something, is it the problem or the symptom?" And perhaps if people are debating the quality of the marketing generated opportunities, there's trouble higher up. And actually, the leaders on both organizations need to get involved to reset their relationships so they can code present to their teams, “hey, we are in this together”. We need to work together to arrive at the best fit marketing, to support what we're trying to do in sales.

Neil Wu Becker:
The shared metrics part of things is important--shared KPIs and metrics. And there are two that I use to varying degrees of success depending on the brokerage you have with not just your CRO, but the CEO, (they have to be bought into this too). It helps disarm the tension or potential conflict between the two teams of sales and marketing.

I don't care about vanity metrics, cost per lead (CPL), or time on a website. Those are ingredients in a larger recipe, which is, did you hit your revenue number or not?

So, if you reverse engineered out of the revenue goal and go top-down versus bottoms-up on your prioritization of metrics and KPIs that are important to you, there are two fundamental ones that force and straddle the sales and marketing teams to present it together.

  1. For every lead gen dollar I spend, how much SQL pipeline did I generate? And what is that ratio? Is it $1 to 12, $1 to 18, $1 to 15? Whatever your stretch goals are from there, try to beat it. 
  2. For every lead gen dollar spent, how much revenue do I actually get? Those metrics vary, depending on whether you're a brand leader, a large cap, a small cap, and what sector you're in: Are you in the tech sector or different types of sectors? Are you in third place in the market share standings? Or are you in first? 

It's going to vary based on the competitive landscape and market share standings but whatever those KPIs and metrics end up being, and you set the stretch goal off of it, you can't say, "Hey, you didn't give me good leads," if you’re sales, because your sales execution part of the pipeline that came through on the SQL side that you're slowing down, because those leads were good if they're SQLs. 

Or I can't tell sales, “How come you didn't close that deal?”

If we're sharing the metric of Legion all the way through SQL pipeline to revenue versus just, “I achieved my CPL metric. How come you didn't hit your revenue target?”

That makes no sense, and the trust dissipates. You have a sales and marketing issue, and now your CMO is out the door in a year and a half. So, there's a cause and effect relationship that is preventative.

Ken Lempit:
That's great insight. It makes a little more real, that idea of the shared vision. I want to move on to another topic we talked about, because it's near and dear to my heart, which is thought leadership. I really would love you to spend just a couple of minutes talking about what you're doing.

Neil Wu Becker:
Thought leadership has been jargonized as a term. So, I'm going to try to be non-jargonized in this.

I would say you can't be a market leader or aspire to be one without being a thought leader. And there's a difference between being a thought leader, and a marketing thought leader. 

Let me explain. 

If I did a survey on security threats or risks or attacks and you get 57% of the respondents saying, “yeah, I got hit by a virus or a worm” or” yeah, I got hit by ransomware and then they stopped there.” And then they say, “now, do you want to buy my firewall?” That's not thought leadership, that's marketing. 

Now, if I say “57% got hit by a virus or a root kit or a ransomware attack”, and then you ask, “why did you get hit?” 

I don't know could be an answer. My manager didn't give me the budget. We don't have a capable security team here. Our IT team is understaffed.

Whatever the answers are that are wise is now thought-leadership because you have now introduced a conversation into the marketplace, not just a bunch of numbers.  57% could be good or bad. You just don't know, but you're asking them 20 questions to get to the root cause of it, which might be that just didn't have the right budget or that we didn’t know how to influence our management to get it. 

And we must be reactive and get hit before we actually solve the security problems. So, in that case studies or use-cases for thought leadership become: how do I do something thought provoking and drive a dialogue in the industry and own and command that dialogue to dictate behavior that is an aha moment to someone that has nothing to do with your brand product or company name?

It's like, ah, I get the awareness part of it. And now you're on the road to the sales cycle of awareness, evaluation, or consideration, and then purchase.

That’s where I see thought leadership misused--when it gets called thought leadership and it's really a bunch of marketing that someone's going to look at and say, that is not objective and it's not academic. 

In other words, whatever you're just doing for your own purposes. 

To give a little insight I have this framework, and it works whether you're a PR guy all the way to a marketing leader, which is if you imagine a foursquare and each of the squares has thought leadership, product, customer, and partner. If I were to ask any marketer in any of our integrated marketing campaigns across the entire marketing mix, tell me the top three to five tactics on all four of them. I will bet money in my space B2B tech, it's all weighted in product.

For example, if you’ve just put out a press release with a recent customer--who wrote the quote from the customer? 

My PR marketing guy did. 

That's not customer marketing, that's product marketing. 

The thought leadership portion is usually a bunch of stuff that's product marketing, that they think is thought leadership, but it's not. 

What I am doing at my current company (and I've done at previous ones) to begin small is that I will institute an annual branded study that has multiple chapters or launches to it. Not a one-day, one-hit wonder, but it will own the night for maybe four to six months to own the industry dialogue that influences what I was talking about earlier the awareness building. 

That has nothing to do with my product or company. And it's about some kind of behavioral issue that will set the table to actually buy the solution that you can product market. So it's a subject ahead of the product.

In the past, I've done studies, for example, what are the security risks of remote workers? And how does that impact the risk of a company? Is not hey, did you buy a firewall to solve it? Is literally, why did you do that? Well, my boss, wasn't looking over my shoulder. Why did you hijack your neighbor's wireless? The why answers then started saying, how do you get around it? Let's sell this VPN to you, for example, or this mobile security to you. And that's done in a product launch after that whole mini campaign on thought leadership ends. So now you just built for almost two to three quarters, a mega campaign versus just saying, I have a product launch with the press release and a survey that leads to my firewall one day, one hit wonder. Now, what am I going to do for the other 364 days?

Ken Lempit:
Getting a - level executive to pay attention to a vendor requires getting out of your own shadow, right?

Neil Wu Becker:
Yes it does.

Ken Lempit:
You have to be willing to look to the issues that matter to them.

Neil Wu Becker:

Ken Lempit:
To make your organization relevant. We've been practicing thought leadership for a very long time in a similar way. We believe that it's imperative to raise up awareness of issues that might create opportunity for your category. And then if you can create interest and need for your category, you could become one of the beneficiaries, especially for new products, new offers, smaller companies, they have to sort of seed the ground.

Neil Wu Becker:
It's basically an entree to creating demand, agreed. Yeah.

Ken Lempit:
And it's permission-based, right? I certainly see in the tech startups, even those that have a lot of momentum, they don't look up into the C-suite in a thoughtful way. How do you get the million dollar or $2 million sale as a smaller firm? So if you want to get general motors to buy two or 3 million in ARR from you, how are you going to have permission to even approach that sale?

Neil Wu Becker:
That's right.

Ken Lempit:
I think there's a rationale for thought leadership also in that, you want to be able to have the enterprise-wide adoption. You need to be able to talk to the enterprise leadership in a way that they're going to appreciate. And is my note, correct, that you actually still do stuff in print in your thought leadership?

Neil Wu Becker:
Yeah. Take the study example I was just giving. From an account-based marketing standpoint, we'll print that and then direct mail it to the offices of our accounts and contacts that we're trying to influence directly. We'll even customize it in our ABM campaigns for their needs. And then I've been at some companies where we've monetize it to where you can take your professional services team, either for a new logo, acquisition and or expansion, and say, why don't we run this study inside of your organization? And then we can see if this is even a problem, which you know it will be. And then once they see it themselves, oh, we didn't realize that. And now they're saying, "How do we solve it?" Now to your point, you've gotten the permission. You've earned the right now to peddle your product at that point. And that's the one, two punch.

Ken Lempit:
The recipe here, if you will, is we do a cross industry study of a set of business problems and then we can bring that into an organization and replicate the study, but only within the walls of that prospect.

Neil Wu Becker:
That's right. It doesn't get publicized. I won't name the names, but I can tell you right now it's a bulge bracket bank, the largest telco in Spain, and one of the largest Swiss banks. Just those three examples, multimillion dollar deals. Now this was when I was at a larger cap company just based off that. So you can't tell me that marketing is a cost center, when I can actually dream that up for a salesperson and give them another meeting and a touch point where they don't even have to sell we're coming in as a consultant. And academically professorially saying, "Here's what we're finding the industry, but here's what we're seeing and it's something that we're having conversations with all your peers we just wanted to share it with you. Are you interested?" Hey, give it to them for free. Because at the end of the day, the intel is going to show them they need a product and can't live a lie. And then you get your multimillion dollar deal or whatever your average deal size is respectively game over, you hit your number.

Ken Lempit:
I want to touch on one last topic, the organizational design. You have this really beautiful expression of the organization needs to grow into its people.

Neil Wu Becker:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ken Lempit:
And I thought if we could just spend a minute or two on that and then land our conversation, that would be great.

Neil Wu Becker:
Yeah. So for people like me who are at small embryonic companies that in three to five years, if we do the right thing, we're going to be vastly different, vastly more mature and larger in scale worth. I believe you can't look at it in the present, you always have to look at it in the future tense. When you start planning your org about three to five to seven years out, and let's use me as an example. If you have a company that's sub 100 million in revenue and your head count is 200, 500, 300 people, eventually you can be 1,000, 2,000 people and all that. I'm going to hire people that have been there, done that at the 100 to 250 to 500 million, even though $1 billion revenue marks. So that we grow big, they can take the hello my name is sticker off and say, I've been there. We're on the 13 week clock as a public company now. We know what the process should be.

Neil Wu Becker:
I've seen product launches at this scale or campaigns at this scale now that we are global versus just domestic. And there is no training or development needed. If anything, they're doing that to the other folks in the company. So what I like to do is hire ahead. Or to your point, hire where the company grows into the people versus it grows away. Because if I hire a bunch of people who are great at startups in garages, and then you get past 50 people and they don't know how to do something with more rigor or process, then it's going to actually hinder our company from ever-growing because the people grow your company and they only know how to get you to 50 mil or 50 people in size, or what have you. The other tenet, I would say real quick and is I think people would agree with this, in some cases, begrudgingly, that there are two types of people you can hire.

Neil Wu Becker:
There's the people who do, and those are the people you just say, "Hey, push this button." They push this button, they execute. And then there's people who think and do, and I hire think and do. Think and do is not just a VP having to strategize a plan or ideate and rationalize plans and then they have their minions go execute. A think and do could be an entry-level marketing manager. At all levels, can you think and rationalize and problem solve. And if you can, I want you on my team because I can't be held and spoke and micromanage everyone and solve all your problems. Now, executives get paid to solve problems. That's their number one job, then practitioner second. Or business second, practitioner third. I'd like to groom and hire people who have the mindset of I'm going to be resourceful and solve problems versus I can't do anything I paralyze myself until the CMO tells me what to do. So if you had to think and doers versus the doers at all levels, and the company grows into them, you're going to be able to grow in scale.

Ken Lempit:
I think that's a great place to say thank you. We've covered a lot of topics. I think there are a lot of leavers for people to grab onto and perhaps turn in their own businesses. And if folks wanted to reach out to you to take the conversation further, how would they find you?

Neil Wu Becker:
Probably the best way is on LinkedIn. I'm a LinkedIn power user. They just hit me up there I'm happy to have conversations with them and meet, that's usually the best front door.

Ken Lempit:
And the firm's website is?

Neil Wu Becker: That's B-E-H-A-V-O-X .com

Ken Lempit:
Awesome Neil, thank you so much, really grateful for the time we shared together. People can reach out to me also on LinkedIn, Ken Lempit. K-E-N L-E-M-P-I-T on LinkedIn. My firm's website is Thanks again, Neil. It was great to speak with you today and hope to catch up with you again soon.

Neil Wu Becker:
Feeling's mutual. Have a great year. Take care.

Ken Lempit:
Thank you.


Thanks for listening to the SaaS Backwards podcast brought to you by Austin Lawrence Group. We are a growth marketing agency that helps SaaS firms reduce churn, accelerate sales, and generate demand. Learn more about us at You can email Ken Lempit at about any SaaS marketing or customer retention subject. We hope you'll subscribe and thanks again for listening.

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