Prital Kadakia leads the Growth team at Serent Capital, helping portfolio companies to scale up,  drive results, and find the right leadership talent. As a sales and marketing expert at a PE firm, Prital’s work with portfolio companies spans sales force effectiveness, pricing, operational efficiencies, strategic partnerships, strategy development, procurement, and digital marketing.

In this episode, we talk about a range of topics around how PE investors work ‘side by side’ with portfolio companies, including how they look for the ideal marketing talent, what they expect the CEO and CMO to know about growth marketing, and how to navigate the challenges of hypergrowth.

Here are our top themes and takeaways from the conversation:

  1. Things for CEOs to think about when finding the right marketing leader
  • Context in which the marketing leaders were successful in earlier roles
  • Ability to own the bookings and results (something which is not core to every marketer’s DNA, but is a crucial flag for PE investors, who are focused on close alignment between marketing and sales)bility to forecast into the future - most B2B tech companies have long sales cycles, so focusing on the right metrics that will have a material impact in 6/12/18 months is crucial
  1. Common pitfalls for CEOs to avoid as they search for their marketing leader
  • Not having clarity about what you want
  • Hiring a CMO when a VP of Marketing would be more aligned to the stage and pattern of growth
  1. Tips for marketing leadership candidates: what to keep in mind if you are a potential CMO being interviewed with someone from the PE investor side for your dream B2B SaaS job! (Hint: know thy investor, and thy ROI!)


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Prital Kadakia [00:00:00] The reality is when you're trying to make that hire, you want to set them up for success, and obviously, you set the company up for success. It may not be that that person was a CMO before. That person may not have gone through the journey from taking a ten million dollar company to 30 million, but they may have taken the company for five to 15 in a similar setting. And this would be a stretch where they're not going to have a bigger team, a more significant scope of responsibility. So if you see a good run through, this good pattern of success and familiarity with some of the things we're trying to do, then I think the people feel comfortable backing the folks who, you know, will be stretching into a role. But they're set up for success that they kind of have shown that they know what they're doing in the same set.

Erica Seidel [00:00:44] Welcome to the Get the Marketing Talent podcast. This is Erica Seidel. Your host. We explore what it takes to get and keep the best marketing leaders in the B2B SaaS world.

Erica Seidel [00:00:57] So today, we look at hiring through the lens of the private equity investor. If you are a CEO hiring a marketing leader for your  SaaS company and you have investors, you want to be aligned with them so that you don't run into surprise veto power. And if you're a marketing leader exploring a top marketing job with a SaaS company that has PE investors, you'll want to know what they're looking for and how it might be different from what everybody else within the company is looking for.

Erica Seidel [00:01:28] My guest today is Prital Kadakia. Yeah, he's principal of the Growth team at  Serent Capital, and I'm delighted to have you on the show, Prital. So welcome.

Prital Kadakia [00:01:39] Great. Thanks, Erica, for having me. I'm excited to be here, and hopefully, we can have a great conversation about how we, as private equity investors and private equity community partner with marketing leaders to drive growth in our portfolio companies.

Erica Seidel [00:01:52] Awesome. So let's get right into it. Can you tell us about you and your role, and I'm inquisitive to know how one gets to join a PE company as a marketing and sales expert, which is basically what I understand your role to be.

Prital Kadakia [00:02:08] Yeah, let me start a little bit about  Serent, and then I'll happily share about my role, kind my journey to get here. So Serent was founded in 2008 by two operators, David Kennedy and Kevin Frick, with the fundamental thesis that we were going to have a hands-on business building and Engagement model with companies to drive high growth. So typically look at our founder run businesses in ten to hundred million dollars in revenue that was looking for a partner that would be on the ground side by side with them on mainly run sales and marketing issues, but a variety of different areas within drive revenue growth. And so within  Serent Capital and I lead what we call our growth team. So our growth team is a group of 13 individuals who work directly with the investments that we make in the companies we make after we invest. So their kind of purview is to help scale the organizations inside the portfolio companies we have and then work side by side with the management team as extra arms and legs,  Partners and kind of folks on the ground there to help drive results. And I lead that team overall in terms of how they get here. I mean, there's a variety of different journeys in a variety, different operating models inside of private equity for us. We've kind of focused on growth team members who've got a combination of consulting background, which has helped them look at a variety of different industries and ramp up on new industries and influence folks without having direct kind of line ownership and have had the operational experience. So for me, having had experience working at McKinsey and leading a strategy team for all of Mars chocolate and then running my own small company. That combination helped me kind of get interested in private equity, but also made me a good fit for what we're doing here at Serent, where we've got the combination of consulting and operating DNA. I think it's different for every other private firm, but as a result, that combination helped us kind of work well with our portfolio companies.

Erica Seidel [00:04:05] Right. So let me drill into one thing you said you said side by side. How does that work? Working side by side with the company? What does that look like?

Prital Kadakia [00:04:17] Yeah, I think, you know it has to be kind of a well-established relationship with the management team. So, for example, if we were going to think about rolling out a new set of marketing campaigns, it would be working with the CMO or the VP of marketing to think through what are those campaigns going to look like? How could we help you think about the data that we need to segment the customer base? How do we think about bringing in third parties to help set up the marketing technology framework? And then more importantly, how do we make sure that the sales team can kind of follow up on leads that are generated by marketing? So the person on the ground would be helping to operationalize that as an extension of the marketing and sales leaders at the company. And so we will craft an engagement letter saying this is kind of, hey, you've asked for some help in this area. We'd love to be able to help. Here's the scope of what we think we can do. Then that person from the growth team will be there on-site if it's relevant or remotely, depending on kind of the situation at each company working directly with the executives saying, how can I help and operationalize something that's going to help drive revenue growth.

Erica Seidel [00:05:26] Is there a particular type of challenge that you see over and over again in these SaaS companies that you're working with? You know, you mentioned all these different things or campaigns. Yeah. And getting sales to follow up, is there a particular thing that keeps coming up again and again?

Prital Kadakia [00:05:42] You know, I think it's there's a variety of things, but let me mention three that we see the kind of very often inside of our portfolio companies. Keep in mind that we invest in founder run bootstrap companies for the most part that is kind of taking that journey from 10 to 30 million in revenue up to the north of 100 and helping them go through that journey. And I think software companies at different stages have different requirements. But from Serent's perspective, we've kind of honed our tool kit around these SaaS companies. So the things I want to mention are relevant to the company to fall to this bucket.

Think first how to scale a sales team effectively. And we're talking about taking a sales team that might be three to 10 folks to overtime, 15, 20, 30, 40 folks. How do you think about scaling that in a way that's going to be sustainable and not just merely degrading the sales economics? And that includes the full scope of performance management, the team thinking about the right profiles of the folks in the team. The integration with marketing. So how are we gonna get marketing to enable our sales team?

And similarly, how sales are going to be catching the stuff that market is going to be doing all of that kind of core scope that we see over and over again in our portfolio companies. A second line that I see a lot of the time is around the company pricing to the value it's delivering its customers. A lot of the time, founders of built companies, because they got their first few customers are delivering a phenomenal product, a remarkable service to their customers. But we often don't see that the company is doing a great job communicating the value it's delivering. And as a result, being able to kind of get the right pricing from customers so they can reinvest back in their products, back in their employees. And I think that comes down to what's the value proposition, messaging the sales team focused in on figuring out how we can deliver value and what the problem we're solving is versus the features and clicks and demos inside the products and making sure that that's coming during the companies. And then the last piece is scaling from an organizational standpoint, hiring great executives as you think about that journey gone from 10 to 30 million. A lot of times its new executives and I need to come into help through that journey and maybe even a new set of executives in particular functions to go from 30 to 100 million. And so that is always a challenge in fast-growing companies. And it's not just private equity-backed companies, but it's every software company it's going through that journey is going to have the organizational challenges that come with it.

Erica Seidel [00:08:15] Mm-hmm. All right, let's drill into that last one, which is the hiring of new executives because that's my domain that I know and love. Talk to me about what you guys are looking for when you are interviewing a CMO or another marketing leader. Candidate.

Prital Kadakia [00:08:36] Yeah, I think there are a few things when you're looking for a marketing leader, the first thing and I'll kind of come back to this as we continue to dig in. Still, it is the context in which they were successful, similar to the context that the company is the company we're interviewing for. I think that's the most important thing in both sales leaders, but also in marketing leaders as we think about the right fit. So, for example, having a marketing leader did do a phenomenal job with rebranding and kind of in an environment where it was an educational scale to the end, customers, particularly around large and customers, would not do as well in a high-velocity lead generation demand generation environments where that was the core focus. And so really thinking about what was the context in which the marketing leader was successful.

When does that context match up with the setting that we are hoping to have, that we have in the company that we're looking to hire the person into? The second piece is ownership of the booking results. And I think this is something that does not core to every marketer's DNA but from our perspective. Marketing is hand-in-hand with sales. So when the booking number for the company comes up short. Marketing kind of feels the same amount of ownership over that ad sales. And so I think this is a critical aspect of a marketing leader. It's someone who doesn't feel like their job ends at the MQ. Well, but it goes all the way through the close business. It's coming through in the business, and they're kind of holding their counterparts accountable in sales and doing their work to make sure that the bookings numbers coming through for the whole company. And then the last piece of thing that's important to look for in the end marketing leaders is their ability to kind of see around the corners and forecast in the future marketing in particular, and companies that don't have very high-velocity short sales cycles, which, you know, most software companies have somewhere between two to three months, all the way up to kind of a multi-year sales cycle. Being able to say, look, the work I'm doing today is not instantly generated leads that are going to close this month. But if I don't do the right and the work today, the metrics that I need to hit now, they're going to have a material impact on our business six months from now, nine months from now, 15 months around. There has to be a market leader who can think about the impact of the work today into the future forecast through to what that means to look like he's able to see around the corner, around, hey, we're going to see a hiccup. How do I kind, of course, correct today. So we don't find ourselves nine months from not dealing with the miss the numbers.

Erica Seidel [00:11:12] Interviewing is of limited utility, so how can we? Improve the whole process of hiring. And this is what I think about all the time. And one thing I'm thinking about is bringing in those homework assignments earlier on. So even in the first interview, you have somebody bring in something that they're proud of that they're no longer proud of or have them bring in. An example from, you know, their latest dashboard, you know, fuzzed-out the sensitive areas and, you know and share that and then kind of get the homework assignments progressively more kind of connected to the company that the candidate is looking at. And also maybe progressively harder. It's not like you're going to have ten homework assignments, but, you know, you have them have the level of commitment, match the level of seriousness. And, you know, advancement in the process.

Prital Kadakia [00:12:09] One technique that's been successful for us for marketing and sales leaders, we make. We ask them to fill out a spreadsheet before even their first interview. And in that spreadsheet, it includes what the team looks like or the lead most. Conversion rate. Win rate. Average selling price. Average sales cycle. Collecting all of that data so that we can then quickly answer the question or in the context first. And then secondly, provide that information to the interviewer and then the guidance. We tend to give the interviewers is we're looking for you to test on a couple of capabilities that are in our kind of matrix of must-have capabilities and marketer. But the way we're asking you test for that is, please don't do it. Resumé Walkthrough. Don't start from high school and work up to the current role and why they're going to the next role going forward. If everyone did that, everyone gets kind of a cursory answer, but rather you've got the data around different roles they've done. You've got the resumé. Pick one of the areas and go spend 45 minutes to an hour just talking about that example and try to get illustrations around the capabilities you're looking for. In that example, because that's going to allow you to go deep into OK. Tell me about that conversation with the sales rep to tell me about that technique you tried and why it didn't work and had you course correct it. And you can get a lot of kind of really rich information out of it in. And the interview ends up being less about the person and how they're acting in the room to how do they think about things and what are they recollect from that and how do they think about it now as they reflect on it. And that goes a long way in the interview process. And then if you culminated with the case, one of the questions we ask the management team members because they want to work with this person after the cases. Is that the plan? Does that person just put a plan of what he or she would do? Is that the plan that you want to sign up behind? And if the answer ends up being yes, then that's a great thing. If the answer being it ends up being no, I don't want to be signed up by that plan; then, you're kind of stepping back and rethinking it. That's if that's the right person for the company at this stage.

Prital Kadakia [00:14:09] At this stage, scaling from 10, 15, 20 million up to 50 to 100 million, that can't be well, my marketing ops person knows all that stuff. My field ops person, like we need the leader to be rolling up their sleeves. Driving the day to day, be on top of their operations in numbers. And I think that is critical for folks to be successful in our role. And so we're not asking for any proprietary information by getting him to tell us exactly what you know, who the folks who are on the team are, etc. Or even if Quota performs to give his band, that's OK. But we do need to understand like we're you in a similar context and the questions like if you don't. Off the top of your head, no. With the average selling price was with the did, the average sales cycle was what the win rate was roughly in each of your last three or four leadership roles. Then I think that's kind of raises the question for us if that's the right fit.

Erica Seidel [00:14:59] What are some pitfalls that you want CEOs of these growth-stage companies to avoid as they launch a search for a marketing leader?

Prital Kadakia [00:15:10] One that I think the biggest challenge that I see with CEOs not having clarity. Read whom you're looking for in the marketing leader. And so you go into the process thinking that you want the all-singing, dancing, someone who can rebrand someone and think about value messaging, product marketing, demand generation all in one person. And the reality is it's really hard to find an executive that's not only able to do and manage all that stuff but also do all the work versus having a 15 person marketing department. So I think getting clarity around what's important for the company today and the stage that we're in and how we can kind of drive it and what's the right level, you need a CMO or do you want to VP of marketing that's going to be able to grow into CMO roll over time? I think that's probably the number one pitfall as you can figure that out and how that's going to play with the rest of your organization. I think the actual process of kind of interviewing, hiring does well. But if you end up in this world where I don't know, you end up seeing candidates with all different strengths becomes hard to decide between them because they are strong in different areas. But if you don't know what you need to, really hard to figure out how to make the hire.

Erica Seidel [00:16:16] It is so true. Right. You. You start falling in love with somebody because they might be that extroverted, an articulate marketer. But maybe they're the brand marketer. And what you need is the demand person that the person is more forward on demand.

Prital Kadakia [00:16:29] And there's no question. Every company needs everything. Right. Like, you know, if you want to be in a perfect world. Would you want your company to be thinking about its brand name? Yes. Would you want the company to think about digital marketing and web presence? Absolutely. Would you want it to be thinking about the main generation sales and market sales tools, enablers thinking about product marketing? I think the way to kind of come to an answer is I have goals for the next 24 months, maybe thirty-six months if we stretch. Right. But for the next 24 months, if I think about what I'm trying to deliver and if I'm trying to think about what's going to be important for the company from a lead generation or a solid marketing top of the funnel brand perspective, what do we need to get done? And if I had to pick out of those four or five things, the marketing folks can do two things that I need to kind of hit it out of the park; then, I should focus on that. And that should come down to what are my bookings targets for the next three years. How do I think about that growth? What does that mean in terms of the PML for the business? What resources will I have to put behind it? And then what do I think I can do to enable that bookings target? So if it ends up being handled and grow booking 60 percent every year and all I need to do is increase headcount on the sales team, then maybe I should be thinking about more sales enablement tools, branding, value proposition type resources of insight and marketing. If I realize that, hey, our outbound efforts are not going to get us there, I need to double down on lead generation and get a lot of inbound flow going to our sales team. And that's a very different profile of what I'm going to prioritize or if I realize we have this example in the past too, that nobody associates our brand. Well, in the industry with what we're trying to message to them and what sales folks are running into the weeds with, one of the companies that we've worked with together in the past, they say it's not just a CRM company. No, we're not as you're alone trying to some different. We can't get that out of a small market kind of perspective. Then you need some who are going to actually take the brand and drive it forward and change the perspective in the market. That's a very different skill set. So I think it's important to look forward to what you are trying to be in three years and then back into the thing that you need to accomplish if you have to pick one or two. What are those? And then that's going to help. You got to figure out the ideal profile. It won't be perfect. That person will still have flaws and things that they're working on. But hopefully, it's better than getting the person who's got a different set of skills all you need going forward.

Erica Seidel [00:18:57]  Sometimes PE funded companies are more in growth mode, and sometimes when you have a PE player involved, they're more in cost-cutting mode. So I know you focus more on the growth side of things, but because you're a P E person, I'm gonna ask you, so does that load growth versus you know, I, you know, efficiency say anything about the caliber of marketing talent that can be expected. So in short, you know, you had the pick of the marketing litter more when you're in growth mode and then, you know, the kind of peer to marketing candidates if you're in cost-cutting, because maybe the best marketing leaders want to be in growth mode and you react to that.

Prital Kadakia [00:19:38] Yeah, I think I think that there's a embedded assumption in your question that I think is pretty simplistic, describing best as absolute and dynamic coming back to the same thing from before. It's who's best with the context, right? A very high growth-oriented CMO we may think is the best, but put that person into a turnaround situation. They may not be the right person for that role and may not be the best executives for that company. And so it's all kind of relative to the context of what the business needs.

Who is the best person to do that? And I think that's not on an absolute scale of these at the best CMO or the best marketing, whatever the may, maybe even within the growth. There are so many different spectrums. The marketing leader that you need for a company is trying to grow 200 percent a year to 30 percent a year to 3 percent a year is also really different. Right. And then I think what you're trying to optimize around tend to be pretty different from my perspective. I think on the turnaround side of things or, you know, the companies in cost-cutting mode, the marketing leader that you're looking for, there is not some much drumming up a bunch of leads and trying to create a bunch of new investments in the company, cause that's contrary to what the company trying to do. But they're able to craft the message both internally as well as externally around the company is stable. There's a great future path forward for the company. We're going through this kind of restructuring so that on the far side of it, we continue to invest in the right areas. And so retention of customers is really important, and retention of employees of the right employees ends up being important. I think one of the things a lot of marketing folks talk about it. There's not just external marketing; there's internal marketing. And sometimes internal marketing gets cast off as, oh, that's a human resources function. Well, actually, no. Your employees believing in the value proposition you deliver to your customers is just as important as your customers, will you? That value proposition in many ways. They're the ones on the frontlines talking to the customers. And so I think in that world in that world where things are not all rosy and growing 40, 50 percent a year, you want to have someone who can craft the messaging and knows how to think about different segments of customers and employees, different ways of the nuances between each of those, so that that resonates with each of them. But even within the growth and things, a wide spectrum of folks. But I would just say that I don't think there is a best. It is the best person for that role. For that at that time.

Erica Seidel [00:22:05] Right. Thank you. One final question for you and that is, what is your advice to a marketing leadership candidate? Do you have a great interview with somebody from the PE side of things?

Prital Kadakia [00:22:22] Yeah, I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is. You know, keep your investor-oriented hat on. Understand kind of what the context of the private equity ownership is, what they're looking for. So where's the company for the whole period? If it did, they just invest. Is it in year four of the investment? So they're probably thinking a little bit more around at some point. There's an exit coming up in the next whatever several years. Traditionally, it's a private equity firm being a 3 5 year hold firm or is it a seven to 10-year hold firm, knowing your investor and how they've invested in the past, how they've had patterns around what they've done with their companies will make you better at the interview in some ways. Still, it doesn't make you a better candidate. Make sure that you're feeling like you're getting into a role where it matches kind of the horizon of things that you're trying to accomplish going forward. So I would say that first know your investor and kind of what their pattern recognition has been around how they've handled investments and where the portfolio company sits and their kind of investment lifecycle. The second thing is you think like someone who was in the investment decision-making room with the private equity investor, and this is one of the advantages for a lot of the folks in our growing team is they spend three or four years with us and then go into our portfolio company executives. They've got that lens of like here's how investment judgments made.

Is that an investment committee? Now, I think it's a few things to keep in mind. Private equity investors have an exit horizon. It's not a perpetual hold. Right. And so you have to think about if I'm going to make investments and banks can pay off. Five years is a difficult rule. I'm in the industry. So can you pay off in five years or I might, you know, making a bunch of infrastructure bets that aren't going to necessarily have direct our way that I can point to in five years. And so some of those things are just making sure you're cognitive and the fact that they're happy to make investments into the business and help it kind of grow. There's some infrastructural investments, but they're looking for an hour away on the equity value of the business within a period that they're holding the business. So think about as you're messaging what you're doing now from a purist perspective, but from a there's you know, what I'm doing is you generate equity returns, long run for the business, the shareholders and the private equity firm. I think we keep that lens as you're thinking about what you're talking about, the anecdotes you're sharing in how you can engage with the company and the CEO, not to go a long way in kind of speaking the language of the PE firm.

Erica Seidel [00:24:52] Awesome. So no thy investor and know thy results are kind of two themes that have come up in our community today.

Erica Seidel [00:25:01]  Prital. Thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you so much for joining the show. This has been awesome to hear all about your perspectives, and I appreciate your time.

Prital Kadakia [00:25:13]. Thanks, Erica. Thanks for inviting me and it was a good conversation.

Erica Seidel [00:25:17] Thanks for joining us today for the get. Join us next time with another guest till then. Follow us on SoundCloud, iTunes or Spotify, or check us out on LinkedIn and Twitter. So you don't miss a thing.

The Podcast Team

Erica Seidel

Recruiter And Founder at The Connective Good As host of The Get, Erica talks to CEOs, VCs and Marketing Leaders about finding and keeping great marketing talent for B2B SaaS companies.

Team MarTech Advisor

Chief Editor Chitra Iyer, and the team at MarTech Advisor edit, produce and distribute The Get.


Episode Highlights

Guest Profile

Prital Kadakia

Prital leads the portfolio operations team for Serent Capital, working closely with the management teams at Serent portfolio companies on value-creation initiatives to drive measurable and sustained revenue and earnings impact. Prital's work with portfolio companies spans sales force effectiveness, pricing, operational efficiencies, strategic partnerships, strategy development, procurement, and digital marketing. Prior to joining Serent Capital, Prital was an executive at the Capstone operations team of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts,  McKinsey, and Company. Prital also started and led the strategy and business planning team for Mars Chocolate.