Flexible go-to-market planning with Melissa Ayres, CMO at Cervest
Go-to-market planning (GTM) should account for the growth goals of the business as a whole. Marketing-specific tactics should be discussed down the line, after its decided how the business will adapt to make money within a new marketplace.
On this episode of the FINITE Podcast for B2B tech marketers, Alex talked to Melissa Ayres. Melissa is an experienced B2B marketing leader with a deep understanding of go-to-market planning. She discussed common challenges within GTM planning such as planning paralysis, business and marketing alignment and how far you should plan ahead.
Melissa is currently CMO at Cervest, an earth science AI that helps businesses, governments and growers adapt to climate volatility.
This episode covers:
- About Melissa’s extensive background in B2B tech marketing
- Why business alignment is critical for GTM planning
- How a marketer adapts to a C-Suite level position
- Tactical ways the marketing can align with the business
- Tools used to drive go-to-market planning
- The importance of marketing ops in GTM planning
- The difference between GTM planning and execution
- How far should you plan ahead for a GTM strategy?
- Measuring the success of a GTM strategy
- Ideal structures of a go-to-market team
Listen to the full episode here:
And check out more of the FINITE B2B marketing podcast here!
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the FINITE podcast. Today I'm joined by Melissa Ayres. Melissa has 20 years of experience leading marketing and comms for scale ups and corporates on both sides of the Atlantic and specialises in working with high growth technology companies, especially in the B2B SaaS space.
On this episode, we're talking go-to-market, going about Melissa's experience leading go-to-market for a number of B2B tech companies of various shapes and sizes, including some common challenges and some great tips that Melissa has picked up along the way. So I hope you enjoy.
The FINITE community and podcast are kindly supported by 93x, the digital marketing agency working exclusively with ambitious fast-growth B2B technology companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams in B2B technology companies to drive growth.
Hi Melissa. Thanks for joining me today.
Thanks Alex, for having me.
I'm looking forward to talking, we're talking all things go to market planning in the B2B marketing world as a topic for the day. But as we always do, I will let you tell us a little bit about your varied experience and background and different roles you've had in the B2B tech marketing world, and a little bit about what you're working on at the moment as well.
About Melissa’s extensive background in B2B tech marketing
Fantastic. So I've got 20 years of experience leading all things marketing and communications for everything from scale-ups to corporates. And I've done that on both sides of the Atlantic. I'm sure my accent has given me away, I am originally from the US but my home is in London now. I've managed everything from marketing strategy to programs and teams at the global, the national, the regional levels.
But my real sweet spot is working with high-growth tech companies, especially in the B2B space. Earlier this year, I finished a volunteer program with an organisation based out of London called Social Starters. They're a business support incubator that pairs professionals with various social enterprises. And that work led me to getting into the world of consulting. I'm currently working with a FinTech client, and earth science AI client, and someone in the aerospace and defence industry.
Before I went to the world of consulting and volunteering with Social Starters, I led global marketing for a company called Open Signal. They're a mobile analytics, SaaS scale-up based in London, but operating globally. And I helped scale their operations globally, their marketing teams and functions globally.
And before that in the US I spent six years at a company called Constitute Contact meeting their marketing communications team. Much bigger company, they're about a $330 million SaaS company, 1400 employees, 650,000 customers. So a really different experience from the world of startups, which is where I'm at now.
Cool, interesting and varied. It sounds like you've seen a bit of everything of all kinds of different sizes and shapes, which is great. We're talking today all about go-to market. And as is often the case, when we're talking about something specific, it's nice to set the scene and almost define really what that means, and what we're talking about. When we say go to market planning, we'll talk a bit more about this, is something which maybe has become a bit more kind of always on in the world of marketing, but I guess what does it mean to you? I'll let you set the scene and lay the foundations for the rest of the discussion.
Why go-to-market is a business not marketing strategy
So first and foremost, go-to-market is a business strategy. One of the pitfalls that I see companies and individuals even falling into is they think of go to market as a marketing strategy. And fundamentally go to market is how you are bringing the business and how you're going to make money into the marketplace.
So all things related to go to market, the companies that I'm working with now on go to market planning, it all starts with the business strategy and it flows down from there. And honestly that's an eye-opener for some people who really have it for whatever reason, what they've read or their assumptions that it's about, well we're just launching a product. What are we going to do? What are we going to tweet? We're going to buy some ads. And really that level of conversation is really far in. You shouldn't be having that before you start from a business perspective.
Why business alignment is critical for GTM planning
Cool. I think that's a really nice starting point. And I guess it springs to mind the question of, for me, the role that marketing leaders have higher up in the business, and I guess at a C-suite level, and there's often debate around whether there should be a CMO on the board. And sometimes that gets overlooked. And I guess it sounds like what you're saying is that that's quite necessary for this to be effective.
And when we talk about go-to-market, it's not just, as you say, the tactical day-to-day marketing channel work, it encompasses a lot more than that. I guess it isn't necessarily just owned by you as a marketer, but also many other colleagues at that level as well.
That's very true. When people ask me what I do, I actually found a cat herder because really what the marketing leader is the one who leads on the go to market strategy. So there's no question that it should fall within marketing as the ringleader or the cat herder, as I say. But the inputs really need to come, and the alignment needs to come from throughout the organisation.
So a successful go to market strategy is led by a marketing leader, but it has input and alignment. I can't stress alignment enough with the CEO and with their colleagues and peers across the organisation. Commercial who's doing sales, product, service delivery, which is often big in the SaaS model, you've got someone delivering that. If in the case of the last few companies I've been working with, there's a research bit or a science bit feeding in, you've got to have alignment there.
So I can't stress that enough that even though the marketing leader absolutely is leading things, they are the alignment and the buy-in and cooperation from the rest of that C-suite is super important. And it goes without saying that if you're in the startup world and are dealing with boards and direct investors, it's really important to get aligned with them too, because I've seen missteps where the board of specifically a startup can suddenly come in at the 11th hour and derail everything because they weren't aligned from the beginning.
Yeah. That really resonates. I've recorded an episode on the podcast last week but with a venture capitalist. It was the first time actually, where we haven't had a marketer on the show, but I really wanted to get the angle of what investors look for in a marketing team and how they view the marketing function and the numbers that matter. And we talked a little bit about that, but yeah, it strikes me that the human relationship side of this is huge.
How a marketer adapts to a C-Suite level position
I'm interested in terms of your own kind of progression as a marketer to that level. I guess a lot of marketers eventually might get to a point where they're trying to figure out how they take that leap to being kind of a C-suite level ultimately, and it's not always easy to do. How did you find that experience? And was it something that came naturally through the different roles that you took on? Or was it something that you really felt you had to focus on?
Cause I guess one of the things that comes up regularly when I talk to CMOs is them having to really think about how they talk to finance and almost doing a finance course. So they use the same language and there's a lot of stuff that goes far beyond marketing as we were already talking about, but it'd be great to hear your perspective on that.
I came into the world of marketing via the road of communication. So I started early on in the role of PR and corporate communications. And I think that gave me an incredible foundation of the need to have your messaging straight. The need to know who your audience is. That all played really well. And then as I progressed, I started on the consumer side of marketing and went into tech side fairly early on.
And that got me into the world of understanding data, certainly from a different perspective than finances, but had to get comfortable with data and translating complex data into something that people understood. So I think those were two really key foundations.
In terms of the migration, its probably a bit of both, a bit of ambition on my own part of wanting to take things where I had a seat at the table and was able to influence more on the business level. But also a bit of being in the right place at the right time and working with great companies and great people and great mentors. So, almost the perfect storm of events along the way, which has gotten me to a place where I am in a lead position on a marketing level, where I'm at the business level conversation versus just the marketing.
I do think it's important to say that whether you hold a CMO title or not, because titles can be all over the place. You can be the CMO of a three person company or the CMO of a billion dollar company, right? It's really about, is marketing aligned with that. C-suite? So even if you are the director of marketing and there's a CMO ahead of you, these are all things that you need to make sure that your manager is in this conversation.
So I think it's as much about the function as it is about the person and certainly from the world of titles, just because you carry a VP title or a senior VP title, it doesn't mean you don't have the same function as what a CMO does. It's all about understanding that business. But I do think that what sets a CMO apart from say a director is that business knowledge. That they go in and as you mentioned, speak the language.
Tactical ways marketing can align with the rest of the business
Yup. So alignment is something that we keep talking about, are there ways in which you have seen that work? I mean, I think every marketer I've ever spoken to has plenty of war stories and cases where that hasn't worked, even if it's just a sales and marketing alignment thing or a wider thing with finance or other teams.
Are there cases where you've seen that work really well? Certain things that you've done? And I guess on a more day-to-day level, are there ways you structure that? Is there just weekly meetings or monthly meetings with all the right people? How do you make sure that that alignment is built to begin with, but then actually stays in place as well?
I'm going to borrow a phrase from my sales colleagues here and say the thing that works, and this isn't rocket science every good CMO will tell you this, is that you need to sell before you sell. And that is getting one-to-one alignment and input with people before you go in and do any broad presentation at a senior leadership team level or a board level. That you go to your sales colleagues, your finance colleagues, your service delivery colleagues, and you talk through what the thinking is from the marketing perspective, where you see holes.
And so what that allows you to do is see where are people on board? Where is there may be a little misalignment? Have you missed something? Now I'm not a service delivery expert. So most likely there's something missing that I haven't thought about. So make sure you've got that whole perspective on the business bought in. Also people are more willing to share one-on-one than in a group setting.
Sometimes a group setting can either be a group thing to present a plan or an idea that everybody either goes along with it. Or if you're in an organisation that is a bit more hierarchical or political, you might immediately get the naysayers because that's how the culture is. And so those one-on-one conversations, it's really just two people talking and it makes it much more open and honest.
And just to further answer the question that you asked, those conversations shouldn't just happen when something big is launching, or you're trying to put forth a new initiative, they should be just part of the day-to-day drinker. So those one-on-one meetings happen separately. And how often? It depends on the organisation. For example, now I'm working with a science AI startup, and I meet with all of those people, all of my colleagues there regularly because we have to talk on a daily basis, even if it's just 10 minutes to move things along.
But in other roles I've had, for example, at Constant Contact, those meetings could happen less frequently because the organisation was bigger and there were more channels in place to facilitate communication. It was a staff meeting for the chief sales and marketing officers and you would hear news for example. So it's a function of how the organisation is structured as well.
Tools used to drive go-to-market planning
Yeah, it sounds like internal comms is a really important part of this more broadly. And I guess in a business like Constant Contact at that kind of scale, that's more of a challenge than when you're a five-person, 10 person startup. Are there tools, frameworks? I mean, obviously within the marketing world, there's lots of project management softwares and things people use specifically within marketing, but I don't know, maybe there isn't. Anything that you've come across that you've used to drive the why to go-to-market picture?
I have to say, I don't use any of those technologies. I know a lot of people who love Asana, for example. It wasn't something that was used, that type of technology wasn't in vogue when I was at Constant Contact. I feel like they were just coming into their own. And then since then I've worked with such small companies there's frankly not a need for that kind of thing.
So for example, at Open Signal, a lot of the cross team, cross functional collaboration was managed by a program management team. And so they were using Assana I believe. And so marketing would feed into it, but my own personal planning tools, I'm still a big fan of things like Excel because you can just plug things in and it takes data and numbers, which I find really helpful.
But I suppose at some point I'll have to bite the bullet and come into the 21st century. And certainly I can see that need in the companies I'm working for now that very quickly, it will make it easier for people to collaborate. Because ultimately those tools are great ways for people to collaborate and also to hold people accountable.
Yeah, definitely. But I think we often overlook the power of a good old fashioned spreadsheet actually. And I think if you can make it work with that, then I think with a lot of these things, the people and the process are more important than the tool itself. And it happens in marketing a lot, but just generally people try and solve problems that could be solved just by better alignment as we've been talking about and people working better together through some kind of SaaS solution. And it doesn't really work out.
I think I mentioned this on another podcast, but there was a Google documentary actually recently, about how they have been updating the algorithm. It was really fascinating, it's on their YouTube channel for anyone that's interested in SEO. But they were following a team that was releasing basically a new version of Google or tweaks to the algorithm. And when they put this new change live, they just changed the cell in a Google Sheet.
And so I thought if Google are running Google itself off the back of a Google Sheet, then that says a lot about how overkill we are sometimes with tools and tech that we buy into so quickly.
The importance of marketing ops in GTM planning
Maybe let's dive into the actual, we've talked about the top level alignment with other parts of the business. Then as we zoom in a little bit into marketing itself and a marketing function, the marketing team, one thing that has kind of struck me with a lot of what we've been talking about and this maybe stems from the tools that we just talked about, is the marketing operations role.
I don't know whether this is one that you've come across regularly, and actually there was another CMO that I had on the podcast who said that his first hire, if he was building a marketing team from scratch, that would be marketing ops. We'll talk a little bit more about a really key difference between planning and execution and how the two need to work together. But how do you see that role in a more technology driven world? It seems to be increasing in importance in most marketing teams.
Absolutely. So that must be the marketing more digital, because I think I've heard that about five times in the last month as well, that the first time it was analytics. No question, having someone who can dive into the analytics to know what's working is super important and is a critical part of the team.
That role, in addition to looking at what's working, what isn't also puts an ROI on your investment with your finance team always wants to know. Okay, well what are we going to get if we get to do this? If we do this, what do we get out of it? I think it really depends on the life cycle of your marketing team. For example, I'm working with a company right now where I'm helping them build their marketing team. And the first hire will not be an analytics person, probably the second one, but not the first.
However, this first hire will be enough of a generalist that part of what they'll do is have a look at some of the analytics as a beginning piece. But right now this particular company needs to actually do some work because we get out into the market. And that's not to say that that's just spray and pray and we're not giving it some thought, but there's nothing to measure is simply the answer right now.
So we need to get some things going and have an idea of how the website is doing? Let's have a look at Google Analytics, let's have a look at some of these other channels. Are webinars delivering for us? And that will give a sense then of how do we scale? Where do we put more resources? How do we build this out? When you're building a marketing organisation to go global from ground up, it's a behemoth job.
So you've got to plan really specifically what comes when, but I could see absolutely that type of thought in analytics and an operations person being close on the heels of whatever, certainly within the first three hires.
The difference between GTM planning and execution
And what about this difference between, I guess the planning and the execution? They're two hugely different things, which I guess sometimes get a bit intertwined and obviously are very closely linked, but would you say that you're constantly planning and constantly executing?
Is there a degree of upfront planning and then you just get into more business as usual day-to-day type stuff? Obviously it's a bit of a, maybe a vague question and very company specific and product specific, but I wonder how you separate out the planning side and the execution side.
Well, I think it's worth taking a look at what go to market means. It's a bit of a catch all term, I think. Oh, we're doing a go to market strategy. Well, that can be a go to market strategy for your company or category or a product or a new geo launching into a new market completely, or just taking a current product into a new market.
So go to market really can take a huge spectrum. So first of all, understanding when someone's talking about go to market, what do they mean? And so all of those absolutely start with planning, but I think that the acceleration time from planning to execution, depending on what kind of a go to market strategy you're talking about will change.
For example, at Constant Contact, I worked with the team that launched a North America centric company, launching into the UK market. So there was already a lot of things in place there. So we were taking the product we already had, we were launching it in a new market to the strategy that started early on. But we were able to very quickly get into that execution phase. And we didn't have to keep going back to the strategy drawing board too often, but we did iterate every step of the way by having a look 30 days, 45 days, 60 days check-ins and back to that measurement piece.
But when you're working with the AI company I'm working with now, we're doing a whole product launch from scratch. So there's a whole lot more planning, even just given the life cycle of the business where the business is that it's not just simply, okay there's a product let's launch it. We have to take on all these business considerations.
So there's a big stretch of time spent on strategy, which we'll move into execution. And there's this thing happening in the world called COVID-19. I don't know if you've heard about it, but that has made everything, obviously turn everything on a tier. So what we think might happen when we launch, there's anything that could show and we need to be prepared.
So all of those unexpected happenings make you revisit strategy and any market changes whatsoever, maybe a competitor does something, maybe there's an event happening. So I think it really depends on what you're doing and the kind of company. But the one thing I'll say is that neither of those phases are one and done. And there's a lot of overlap between one, that it's almost a constant loop. What you're looking at, is the strategy working?
Because certainly I've seen instances where the best laid plans for go to market strategy are in place, but something happened that threw it all on its head. And we had to go back to the drawing board and rethink it. So sometimes you can just forge on because the plan is done. If market forces change, a new investor comes in and has different ideas, if a competitor does something, there's all kinds of things that can change it. So being agile and on your toes is super important.
How far should you plan ahead for a GTM strategy?
I was gonna say, do you think this just takes a culture of being ready for things to change? I guess there's the kind of failing fast cliches and stuff that comes from the startup world. Which I think a lot of these companies and our listeners are naturally at the advantage of having within them.
But I guess it begs the question, how far do you even try and plan ahead and to what level of detail, because there's a risk that you can just keep planning and planning and planning and trying to get things so detailed that there's a point at which you just have to dive in and accept that you can lay foundations, but until you start doing the doing and accepting that, things are going to change there's any so far you can go.
Yeah. I think I'm going to use an analogy here, which is I had the good fortune and the excitement of when I moved from the US to London, my husband and I took a year off to travel and we traveled independently around the world. This is a backpack kind of travel trip, not a four seasons hotel travel trip.
So we had to plan for a year, but we had a good framework and an idea of what was going to happen six, nine, 12 months out. But what we really focused on the detail of the first 30, 60, 90 days. Then that allowed us to have an iterative plan. So we knew where we were going. And if for example, we know we had a budget.
And so all the time we're looking at what the budget is. And if in six months in, we were 95% through our budget, we obviously would have had to make a change, but it doesn't mean that we hadn't planned for that scenario all the way along. And I think it's really very similar to how go to market planning is yes, you can have planning paralysis where you just keep planning and planning.
But I think the success factor here is that having a really good framework for what are we trying to do? What does success look like in a year? Where are we going to go? And then what are the key performance indicators along the way? And if you have identified those correctly, then you will have your guideposts along the way to tell you, do I need to stop and make a slight course correction? Do I need to scrap it and start again? Do I need to deep dive here more?
So having that long-term roadmap, having those guideposts in the form of KPIs along the way, I think goes a long way to making sure you don't get too far down a rat hole. And I don't think that the plan is always just to throw everything out and start again. There's definitely shades of what needs to be done. In fact, very rarely does your entire go to market strategy have to be completely thrown out.
So if that's the case, either a catastrophic something happened or you really were completely off. And if something went wrong in one of those planning phases, talking about frameworks, there's an important research phase for go to market. If you've got your segmentation wrong, your competitive landscape wrong that might upend everything.
Measuring the success of a GTM strategy
Makes sense. I guess it makes sense to talk a bit about, we've, we've touched on it a few times, but the KPIs and measuring success and how do we know if go to market has been successful. And it sounds like having this kind of one year view of what a North star is to aim towards and then setting KPIs off the back of that, is that typically the kind of approach that you would take and recommend?
Yeah, again, this goes back to it should be a business goal because probably whatever you're launching, a product, a new market, a new geography, it's all about expanding the business, which is all about increasing revenues or margin, profit. So there's a financial goal in there. And then to reach that goal, there's some part of how many customers or users do we need to make that goal. And that's where some of the planning comes in, because maybe if you're an enterprise company, that's potentially 50 customers paying six or seven figures.
If you're a smaller company, it could be 5,000 customers at 20 pounds a pop. So understanding all of those pieces and what you're going for. So at the end of the year, or at the end of the quarter, this is the numbers we need to hit. How do we back into that? And then if a simple budgeting map, if you're trying to reach 10,000 pounds in your first year as a startup, what does that mean in the quarter? And does it equal every quarter? Probably not.
That's one thing I'm speaking about now with one of the companies I'm working with is, you're not going to have the same amount of revenue most likely in each quarter, most likely you will ramp as you launch and people come online, it goes in a cyclical nature, it's going to mean that it should build and that more of your revenue will come later.
However, there's always the quarterly drags. Q4 can be a great quarter for some companies. It can be a rough quarter. It really depends on if you're an enterprise company, what geography are you in, are there lots of holidays in that quarter? Generally speaking, most companies Q3, if you're going on a calendar year is a tough quarter, because it's summertime in the Northern hemisphere, and that's when a lot of people are on holiday. So it's often a difficult quarter and just planning for all that. Does that mean you scale up, scale down? How do you get around that and how do you build a pipeline to ensure that those slower quarters are accounted for?
One of the things within setting these kind of targets that I think is a trap, the marketers often fall into is the difference between targets, which are deliverables based and targets which are kind of marketing outcomes. And it's so easy to say, okay we're going to produce four blog posts a month as a target, but it doesn't mean much at all. I guess we're saying that obviously the outcomes based KPIs, ideally tying back to revenue, which I think is what all marketing should be aiming for. And then you've got the deliverables underneath that need to make those happen.
Yeah, you're absolutely right. But the deliverables are important obviously because you won't get to where you're going without doing them. And because deliverables make the goals tangible for other members of the team.
So if I went to a marketing executive and said, right we need to generate 10 million pounds in revenue. Great. What do you want to do? You probably get deer in headlights for a response, as would be expected. When you say listen, we need to get X in revenue, we're going to be really targeting people in the financial services space. They have this type of a profile, but we really need great content that we're going to deliver through digital channels.
So what I need you to think about is four great anchor pieces of content that we can do this quarter, that we can release as a white paper and then break out into different content pieces, for LinkedIn et cetera, et cetera. Then it makes it sense for them, their goal is a deliverable and that's perfectly acceptable, perfectly fine.
Ideal structures of a go-to-market team
A good point actually. That separation, because I know what you mean. Certain roles are not going to be able to connect what they do to a revenue number, but I think it's just connecting all the dots backwards. But no, that makes sense. I guess one thing to talk a little bit about would just be kind of team structures and sizes and resources. Obviously there's a million different ways of structuring go to market.
And it sounds like you're working with some smaller newer businesses now, but then equally some much larger businesses. Any perspectives on kind of doing this with a small in-house generalist team? Maybe external use of agencies, consultants, those kinds of things? And how you've seen some of the ups and downs and pros and cons of that in the past?
I've had it all. There was 20 people just on my marketing team. There were about 60, I think overall within the marketing group. So big, big marketing team compared to Open Signal where we had five marketing people including myself. So there's really the whole gamut there. But then actually, it goes back to what you're trying to do and that not all functions from marketing live in every single team. And they don't always live early on.
So if we just go back to what is the role of marketing? And I've heard other colleagues say this, I'm going to borrow it, I don't know who first said it, but the role of marketing is twofold. One is support sales and the other is to be the steward of the brand and make sure that people actually want to work with your company, work with your brand. It's the brand story, right? So if you go back to that numbers piece and supporting sales, there's all kinds of ways that marketing can support sales. It can be through product marketing, it can be through lead gen.
It could be through vertical programs. It can be through direct marketing or account-based marketing, event marketing. There's all numerable ways that it happens. So it's about understanding again, okay what is our goal? Who is going to buy it? Where are they? And what's the best way for us to reach them? And then for example, as you go through that exercise, you say you know what?
Really, what we need to do is bring on five low-dose, five enterprise class customers. So the strategy to reach that is a half based marketing strategy with some kind of mass market or one to many digital probably education or awareness building, that's a really different team. So in that case, you'd look on potentially bringing on a product marketing person or content specialist who can create content and distribute it. And then manage that through multiple channels, more marketing, webinars for that one to many aspect.
So it really has to go down to what the goals are and then building out. So for example, right now I'm working with a company and what they need to do is there's a huge education component and there's a huge product marketing component.
The first two things that I'm looking at are a marketing associate who can help with content creation and distribution through multiple channels, including websites. And then the next will be a product marketer because they're going to speak the language of the product team for sales to make sure that we have the right language for that. And from there, we'll probably look at demand gen or what type of demand gen are we looking at? Do we need a campaign manager?
Interesting, interesting challenges. It must be nice taking a top level view now across a few different businesses and being able to start with a bit of a blank canvas and build things up from scratch.
That's exactly what it is, like painting a picture. You have a palette of paints and fancy brushes and you get to pick and choose different ones to see how do we build this picture and build this out?
Awesome. Well, it's been great talking. I think that's some really nice tips and some kind of experience that you've had in the go-to-market side. And I think some good thinking points definitely for me in the bit that I almost skipped past. But luckily we talked enough about it in terms of wider alignment with the rest of the business.
And investors and finance and the rest of the C-suite, which I think is something that a lot of marketers think a lot about, but it's always important to think a little bit more about I think. So I'm grateful for you coming on the podcast and for sharing your insights with us and yeah. Thank you for joining.
Thank you Alex.
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