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Four Marketing-Engineering Relationships SaaS Companies Should Know About

One of the most overlooked dynamics within SaaS marketing (and by extension, design) departments is their relationship with engineering.

Date IconMay 11th, 20225 minutes

Adam Buettner

Marketing Operations Lead

Four Marketing-Engineering Relationships SaaS Companies Should Know About

In a nutshell, SaaS marketing departments need integrated and aligned design and development teams, depending on the business stage the company is in (each stage is briefly highlighted below).

As a company progresses through each stage, the need for its marketing, design, and development teams to be aligned and in sync increases dramatically, especially if you're in SaaS.

  1. Development stage: The decision to start a new SaaS business has been made. A plan is put in place to help guide and prepare entrepreneurs for the inevitable twists and turns that come with starting, and growing, a new business.

  2. Startup stage: Sales are low but slowly and steadily increasing. Businesses in this stage focus on marketing to their target consumer segments by advertising advantages and value propositions.

  3. Growth stage: Companies experience rapid sales growth. As sales increase rapidly, cash flow becomes positive, and businesses start seeing profit.

  4. Mature stage: Sales begin to decrease slowly and profit margins get smaller while cash flow stays relatively stagnant. As companies approach maturity, major capital spending is largely behind the business.

The Four Marketing-Engineering Relationship Types

Let’s briefly go over the four relationship types and how they can be mapped to each of the business stages above. These relationships are:

  1. The Undefined relationship > Development stage

  2. The Defined relationship > Startup stage

  3. The Aligned relationship > Growth and Startup stages

  4. The Integrated relationship > Mature and Growth stages

The Undefined Relationship

Best Stage: Development

When in the development stage, a founder’s best bet is to develop a detailed business plan. Whether they need funding, a set of goals and timelines, a detailed customer profile, or all the above. In the development stage, transforming a website into a growth machine isn't a top objective since the business leader has bigger fish to fry.

Relationship Analysis

If a website is deemed necessary, the most efficient solution is to hire out inexpensive freelance work—typically just a part-time designer with access to a basic CMS—without paying much attention to developing speedy and scalable processes for website project deployment. A developer sometimes isn’t even necessary, making this relationship undefined.

When the relationship between the marketing, design, and development teams is undefined, the three groups grow independently. Each is preoccupied largely with its tasks and agendas and doesn’t know much about what the other is up to—until a conflict arises. 

Meetings between the three functions, typically ad hoc, are likely to be devoted to conflict resolution rather than proactive cooperation.

When to Upgrade to a Defined Relationship

  • Conflicts are evident between the marketing, design, and development teams

  • Marketing website project tasks are falling through the cracks

  • The teams begin to compete for resources or funding

The Defined Relationship

Best Stage: Startup

During the startup stage, the viability of big ideas is tested as well as the effectiveness of the company’s capabilities. This stage can represent a series of make-or-break moments for many small business owners. If things aren’t progressing the way they want or need, it’s okay to reassess and pivot. Flexibility is key and allows leaders to figure out what changes need to be made to build a healthier, more resilient business. Now is the time to define relationships.

Relationship Analysis

In defined relationships, the marketing, design, and development teams set up processes and rules to prevent disputes. There’s a “good fences make good neighbors” orientation and the teams start to build a common language in potentially contentious areas and begin to ask questions such as “How do we define success?” 

Meetings become more reflective; people raise questions like “What do we expect of one another?” The groups work together on large events like conferences and trade shows.

What’s Needed for a Defined Relationship

  1. A marketing-owned UX designer, front-end, and back-end developer.

  2. An SLA defines the roles and responsibilities of the marketing, design, and development teams.

  3. Consistent, shared marketing, design, and development team updates with monthly retrospective meetings to tighten processes.

When to Upgrade to an Aligned Relationship

  • Even with a careful definition of roles, marketing website project tasks are still falling through the cracks or taking too long to deploy.

  • Products are continuously being developed, prototyped, iterated, or extensively customized.

  • Product life cycles are shortening and technology turnover is accelerating.

  • An increased number of stakeholders demand more marketing website resources.

  • There's shared commitment to iterative website improvement and CRO.

The Aligned Relationship

Best Stages: Startup & Growth

The growth potential is an exciting prospect, but knowing how to make it happen can be a strategic balancing act. Matching the pace of increased cash flow and client base without losing sight of core tenets is a struggle that many successful companies at this stage have had to navigate. In addition to taking time to review and recalibrate the business plans, wise leaders upgrade existing processes to match the new reality.

Relationship Analysis

When the marketing, design, and development teams are aligned, clear boundaries between the two exist, but they operate flexibly. The teams engage in joint planning and training. 

Designers and engineers confer early on website projects to eliminate project failure, making this relationship perfect for handling the needs of quick and effective iterative website improvement. Shared languages are developed and implemented between content editors, designers, and developers, translating to a seamless website editing experience and faster project deployment speeds.

Note: Marketing, design, and development teams at high-functioning SaaS startups can benefit greatly from an aligned relationship—and in many cases, should upgrade.

What’s Needed for a Aligned Relationship

  1. A dedicated marketing website product team with an SLA.

  2. Consistent, shared marketing, design, and development team updates with monthly retrospective meetings to tighten processes.

  3. Integration of an efficient content model.

  4. Implementation of an atomic design system—see how we helped Workgrid build a website-focused design system with the atomic approach.

  5. An SEO/CRO specialist

When to Upgrade to an Integrated Relationship

The Integrated Relationship

Best Stages: Growth & Mature

In the mature stage, it’s time for businesses to extend their lifecycle by reinventing themselves and investing in new technologies and emerging markets. This allows companies to reposition themselves in their dynamic industries and refresh their growth in the marketplace.

Relationship Analysis

When marketing, design, and development teams are fully integrated, boundaries become blurred. All teams redesign the relationship to share structures, systems, and rewards. 

Along with the marketing team, designers (and to a lesser degree, developers) begin to focus on strategic, forward-thinking types of website projects. Engineers are deeply embedded in the management of key accounts and the two teams develop and implement shared metrics.

Budgeting becomes more flexible and less contentious. A “rise or fall together” culture develops.

Note: Again, teams at high-growth, high-functioning SaaS startups can benefit greatly from an integrated relationship—and in many cases, should upgrade.

What’s Needed to Achieve an Integrated Relationship

  1. A dedicated website product team with an SLA.

  2. Consistent, shared marketing, design, and development team updates with monthly retrospective meetings to tighten processes.

  3. Integration of a headless CMS and development of an efficient content model.

  4. Implementation of an atomic design system—see how we did it for the #1 SaaS scheduling platform Calendly.

  5. An SEO/CRO specialist.

  6. Infusion of agile methodology.

Parting Thoughts

If you’re a fast-growing technology or SaaS company, in most situations it simply makes sense to implement either an aligned or integrated relationship between your marketing, design and development teams. 

When implemented correctly, these relationships always result in higher team productivity and morale, faster time to market, better quality, and lower risk than traditional approaches can achieve.

To get a pulse on your team’s current situation, we created an assessment that analyzes how aligned and integrated your design and development teams are and helps highlight weak points that can be optimized.

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