4 Priorities for the Head Marketer at a Startup
BY Jon Miller
Here's the core of a startup CMO's job.
In my last column, I outlined some of the fundamental steps marketers can take when setting a baseline for success at a new startup.
But in addition to those ground-floor tenants of new business success--building your brand, becoming an expert, leveraging word of mouth--you can’t forget to build from the inside out. All those outward marketing efforts will be wasted if you don’t also keep an eye trained inward and build a strong internal marketing function. In no particular order, here are four ways to make sure your marketing is strong at its core.
Establish your credibility early with the right metrics
From day one, establish marketing’s credibility with the C-suite. You want to position marketing as a revenue driver, not a cost center. How do you do that? With CEO-worthy metrics. If you bring strong metrics to the table--the ones that truly matter to CEO, CFO, and board--you’ll be able to prove (and improve) your marketing ROI.
Now, choosing which metrics to use can be tricky, as there are hundreds of possible metrics to sift through. For one, focus on quality over quantity. This may seem like common sense, but many companies focus on the number of leads without measuring lead quality, leading to programs that may seem effective on the surface but don’t ultimately result in revenue.
In addition to quality, aim for metrics that track results rather than activity. It’s difficult to measure marketing results, so it can be tempting to report your activity. But to the C-suite, all they’ll see is cost going out the door, while Sales gets the credit for revenue. Make a concerted effort to measure the results of your marketing efforts and claim some of that credit for the bottom line.
It’s also important to establish your own, personal credibility as an executive. At many startups, the position with the highest turnover rate is the head of marketing. Make it a goal to stick around and establish your reputation as a valuable leader and revenue driver. To accomplish any of your goals for a new business, you have to first show that you’re dedicated and in it for the long haul.
Build in balance
As the one-person marketing team at the beginning of a new startup, you’re in charge of everything. It’s hectic, but exciting. So when the company starts to grow and it’s time to hire your first new marketer, keep in mind that you’re hiring that person for a reason. It may sound obvious, but once they’re settled, divide and conquer.
If you continue to need to get your hands on everything, you won’t create the scalability that you need. You also don’t want to put too much focus on one aspect of marketing while neglecting another. With each incremental hire, you want to make sure you’re spreading the wealth and not over-burdening or over-building one area, such as just focusing on content, or just on lead generation, or just on communications. An analogy I like to use is that of an athlete who becomes fixated on only training his arms. Eventually, by ignoring other parts of the body, he is going to become disproportional and imbalanced. Instead, he should make sure he’s strengthening his muscles evenly and focusing on the core. Similarly, as marketers, we need to keep our team balanced and focused on the fundamentals.
Focus on velocity
When you formulate your marketing strategy, build for velocity. Instead of setting out to hunt Moby Dick from the get-go, cast your net wider and aim for the more achievable fish. Meaning: don’t only bring in a few really big deals, but aim to close a large number of smaller deals. By focusing on closing deals with customers who have quicker buying cycles, you’ll gain velocity, which will help you build and improve your product in the process. Having more customers means more feedback and more experience in the market for your product. You’ll gain more insights, learn faster, and put out more iterations of your product in a shorter time span. The insights gained from a bunch of diverse customers will result in an overall stronger product than if your entire customer base is reliant on only a few behemoths.
Add capacity in phases
Picture success as a series of incremental steps--not one, huge, all-at-once victory. The company itself isn’t going to reach maturity in one day, and neither will your marketing. When you plan your marketing capacity in step-by-step phases, you’ll be more focused on the achievable task at hand.
A long-term vision is certainly important, but becoming too fixated on that can distract you from what you have to accomplish in the present moment to reach those future goals. For example, when we were first getting started at Marketo, it was a huge victory just to get the website up and running. Next, we launched our first campaign, and after that, we got our first lead. Those were all valuable, incremental steps along the way to building a strong marketing team.
Remember: marketing is a job that’s never over. You’ll have that first step and then the next one and then the next one... but it’s those little victories along the way that keep you motivated, passionate, and ultimately add up to big wins.
JON MILLER leads strategy and execution for Marketo. Before co-founding Marketo, Miller was vice president of product marketing at Epiphany and held positions at Exchange Partners and Gemini Consulting. Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. @jonmiller