We reached out to some colleagues who know a lot about marketing and marketing teams to get their thoughts on how leaders can lay the foundation for a successful business today – and in the future.
Welcome to this edition of Authentic Brand’s “Virtual Panel” series: Building a Marketing Team – What Comes First. This Virtual Panel features a Q&A exchange with four of our Fractional CMOs who have experience in marketing leadership across a variety of businesses.
Here’s a quick virtual introduction to our panel of experts (subsequently referred to by first name in the conversation that follows):
What are some common indicators that a growing business is ready to make marketing a dedicated role or department?
- They have grown their sales department and need them to “be all on the same page” about how they talk about the company.
- They need to expand and generate leads from broader markets through outreach beyond what sales can do.
- They want to go to market within specific verticals or regions.
- They are now competing against larger more established companies with known brand equity and need to have a story that sells.
KAREN: In many cases the founder, CEO or a sales person (turned marketing lead) realizes that what they have been doing is no longer as effective, or they have a desire for greater growth and don’t see how they can achieve it given current efforts and people in place, or they feel like their message or brand no longer accurately represents who they are. These are the most common indicators I’ve seen when a growing company turns to marketing for help and must hire and/or build a marketing function within their organization. Many times it seems like a growing business has reached a point of almost desperation by the time they start looking for dedicated marketing help.
- Sales is requesting marketing support and should no longer be focusing on both roles (and probably shouldn’t have from the beginning, but the company needed to be scrappy). Company has hired an admin to incorporate “random acts of marketing” along with her/his other duties. CEO is looking for results and nothing is being measured, nor is it attached to any kind of business plan. There is no strategy.
- Brought in several freelancers for various marketing activities and it’s becoming clear that having a dedicated leader to integrate those activities and drive a plan forward makes sense.
KELLI: I believe marketing is a central role to any new, growing or tenured business. To be seen as a credible business, at a minimum, businesses create a summary of what they do/what customers can buy, sales collateral and a website. All of this is basic marketing.
As businesses grow, the need for strong, strategic marketing grows as well. Sometimes companies need more awareness or leads. Sometimes the competitive landscape changes and the company needs to adjust. Sometimes the value proposition changes, and the company needs to react. Sometimes customer expectations change, and the company needs to respond. Whatever the reason, businesses need to rethink and reevaluate their need for marketing when it’s time to ‘raise the bar’ on their brand and communications.
When this change happens, it’s time to bring in a person who has a strong background and a track record in designing and developing strategic marketing plans, teams and budgets to fulfill the plan.
How is hiring a marketer different than hiring other roles within the business (i.e. sales, project management, finance)?
JIM: Marketing is a broad term. It doesn’t mean each person is fluent in all aspects. Therefore, a company needs to figure out, strategically, from a business perspective, where they want the business to go and hire the marketing roles accordingly.
KAREN: If you hire someone in HR, their job is to recruit and hire the best talent and also contribute to a positive culture. If you hire someone in Finance, they will deliver financial reports – income statements, balance sheets, etc. If you hire someone in Marketing, they will develop a plan to promote the brand/products to drive revenue BUT there isn’t just one plan or one way or an industry defined “report/tool” that is delivered. Plus marketing takes time and budget plays a big part in what can be achieved and how quickly. This makes finding and hiring a marketing leader challenging. Without standardized tools, a predictable process, or a clear event it makes hiring for marketing a bit more subjective.
KELLI: When hiring a marketing leader, it’s important to hire someone who has marketing experience and a track record as a marketing leader, not just a current high performer in your business. Although it might feel like a good growth opportunity for a high performer, or a safe hire, I recommend hiring a proven marketing leader who has the ability to succeed based on previous training and expertise.
Once you hire the person, set them up for success by setting them up with a clear vision, purpose and clearly articulate company goals to ensure they know the business plan and expectations. Then trust the leader’s background and expertise and give them space and time to do their job. Creating a marketing discipline and then seeing the return on the investment takes time.
BARB: There are a variety of roles within the construct of marketing. Strategic versus tactical (or both), digital, traditional, social, analytics, etc. Because of this range of expertise, there needs to be a discussion around the needs, where they want to begin, and how strategy plays a role in the overall success. Before hiring a full time marketer, growing businesses may benefit by having a part-time, Fractional leader to help determine the business requirements, and create a strategy to build tactics around. This, in turn, helps determine who to hire to execute, and which roles should be in-house vs. contract or agency.
When it comes to making an initial marketing hire, should companies bring on a less experienced, more tactical (more affordable) person? Or should they hire a more senior leader? What are the pros and cons of each approach?
JIM: See my response to question #2; and – a tactical person will always need strategic direction on what tactics to execute and how they connect to the overall business and sales plan. It would be a mistake to hire a tactical level person and expect them to grow revenue.
KAREN: It really depends on the company and the situation. I believe one of the greatest challenges faced by growing companies today is taking a tactical approach to marketing. The need for a marketing strategy and plan that is connected to a business plan is critical, and the ability to execute the plan is just as important. So, this means, any organization will likely need at least two people. They can hire one or both, or they can use fractional leadership or marketing consultants to get to this combination. Who are the two people? A visionary, experienced marketing leader (either full time or part time depending on the need) and a more tactical marketing person who can manage day to day execution and keep tactics moving. Eventually, you’ll need more people on the marketing team but that can be determined as your marketing strategy and plan are defined. These two people are the foundation of your marketing team.
BARB: I think you could approach this a couple different ways. Bringing in a senior level marketing consultant to understand your business is a great place to start. Hiring a fractional marketing leader will enable you to leverage the skills and leadership of an experienced marketing leader and enable you to scale marketing for your business as you grow.
You are adding leadership to your leadership team that didn’t exist before. This individual may add value in areas of your business besides marketing because they have been consulting in many other organizations that have shared similar business growth challenges as you. As the strategy for your marketing is put into place, and a budget has been created to align with the tactical execution, the marketing leader is now equipped to determine what your marketing team and future leader should look like.
Hiring a more tactical individual could work at this point, since there is a strategy set in place, and the marketing plan will need more support to be executed. The senior level fractional role can continue to coach, lead and mentor the newly hired “more affordable” marketer. Some small businesses find success in hiring a junior level person that could potentially grow into a more senior role over time, and under the mentorship of a more experienced marketer.
I think the answer is that there is never a one size fits all approach to hiring a marketing resource. I would recommend the management team ask themselves a few simple questions to help them evaluate what might be right for their business.
- Are you looking for a marketing person to join the leadership team and help to steer the direction of your business?
- Are you looking for a marketing person to lead product management and innovation or other initiatives beyond marketing?
- Are you planning to set the strategic direction for the marketing person to execute against, or are you looking for the marketer to help define the strategy?
- What decisioning capability will the person have within the organization?
- What budget do you have to pay the resource?
Depending on your answers, your business may currently be better suited for a less experienced, more tactical person or a more senior leader.
If a business has never employed a marketer or marketing leader in the past, how would you recommend they go about defining the role and screening candidates to make the right hire?
JIM: Again, see my response to question #2 above. If they don’t know, they need to get some help from people that do know. It’s an expensive mistake to believe that one marketing person, no matter their level, can magically turn on a revenue engine.
KAREN: Clearly define what it is your organization needs and what you are looking for. How do you do that? First, start with your business plan. Where are you today and where do you want to go? What key activities will marketing need to perform to get your where you want to go? Do you need an entirely new brand strategy and look and feel? Will you be launching new products and services? Or do you need more of a sales support focus to sustain the business? Whatever you aim to achieve should be part of the role definition. Once you have some candidates, obviously they need to fit the core criteria defined but two other things are key: 1. Personality and fit with culture. Is this person passionate, curious, a leader that can fit with your culture? (You can’t teach passion, so I believe curiosity and passion win.) 2. Marketing fundamentals aren’t changing but the complexity of creating effective marketing solutions is changing quickly. Look for someone who is up to date on the range of tools in the marketer’s toolbox, and is taking a customer centric approach that leads to modern marketing solutions.
BARB: A good place to start would be through networking and acquiring referrals from trusted connections and colleagues. Searching on LinkedIn for relevant blogs, or other articles related to this topic is another way to bring clarity to your search. Seeking out senior marketing consulting expertise can also be valuable and can help do much of the heavy lifting for you in defining the role – or even filling the role in a fractional capacity until you are ready to make a full-time hire. Marketing recruiters are also an excellent resource to help you navigate talent solutions and narrow your search to the ideal candidate pool.
KELLI: Bringing in a new discipline and new perspective to your business can be a big change. I recommend utilizing all your best resources to help make the decision. Explore if marketing is the correct solution to support your business growth needs. Use every resource and network connection. Talk to other business leaders. Attend industry events. Research marketing success stories (and failures). Talk to different marketers within your network. Use all of your resources to define what marketing is and what it can do to help your business grow. If this feels like a daunting task, you should consider bringing in a business / marketing consultant to do the evaluation work with you or on your behalf.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve seen businesses make in defining and hiring for the marketing role? What is one piece of advice that you would offer to help leaders be successful in building their marketing role or department?
JIM: Thinking “We hired a marketer, therefore we will be growing soon!” Marketing is a long-term scientific process that requires investment beyond salaries. It takes time to set a strategy, seat a message, change marketplace perceptions and get people to pay attention to your company. The advice: Plan on investing time and money for it to work. There is no “on” or “off” switch.
Just because you think your company’s product or service is great, it doesn’t mean others do. Getting people to actually become aware of you and believe you takes time and strategic messaging.
KAREN: My advice is that leaders don’t treat marketing as an afterthought or just a creator of sales materials. Marketing must be embedded within the organization, the person needs to have a voice at the table, and be given permission to affect other parts of the organization. This is critical. Why? Because we live in a buyer centric world. The buyer/customer is in control. Companies are not. The customer demands a personalized experience – even if you aren’t competing with major brands or in a consumer market. Brands such as Amazon and Apple have set the bar for all companies and all buyer experiences. That means your marketing team needs to develop end-to-end customer experiences and solutions that put the buyer at the center. And this means marketing needs to better understand how sales is handling a lead, how customer service is managing a customer, how the company is onboarding a new customer – as a few examples. Every touchpoint has to deliver on the promise of your organization. Customers demand this and the organizations that embrace it will succeed.
BARB: Often, growing businesses make the mistake of hiring someone too junior because they feel what they need is someone to do some tactical execution, i.e. email blasts, social media, etc. Therefore, there is no strategy and no one to think strategically about the why behind the what. Talk through the needs for the organization with the leadership team, outside board, or trusted advisors. Work with sales leaders to define their needs, and look to the organization’s overall growth strategy and goals to be sure you are aligning your marketing tactics toward the overall growth strategy. And be prepared to MEASURE your marketing tactics! OR—hire a fractional marketing leader that can help build out marketing for your business and help you decide what your marketing team/future leader should look like.
KELLI: The one piece of advice I would give to a leader looking to bring marketing muscle into their organization is to embrace different perspectives. Be comfortable with adding a member to your team that may not think exactly like you and be open to hearing new ideas. As long as you can chalk the field for that person and help them understand the overall purpose and goals of the organization, you will be able to create a stronger, more cohesive team.
Unity is only possible when there’s diversity. Without diversity there is conformity. Conformity can lead to groupthink and no out-of-the-box ideas. Embrace a different perspective and allow your new leader to bring new ideas to the table.