How Do You Choose Your First Marketing Hire?
Ideally, you’d start building your marketing and brand before you even finishing developing your first product or service. Particularly, when entering crowded markets with largely commoditized products, you will need to stand out from the noise and one of the best ways to do this is through a unique brand.
Oftentimes, founders will start the initial marketing efforts on their own in the early days, often bootstrapping what they can do with minimal investment. Perhaps they have some technical prowess and will set up a website, social media accounts, etc. Often, however, founders (unless they have specifically worked in a marketing role previously) lack true marketing expertise and this can be detrimental to initial sales growth. Founders who are very close to their own products tend to focus on what makes their product/service great and different and “what it does”. They often say things like, “We solve this problem,” or,
“We are better than [competitor] because our solution has this.”
Usually, however, founders struggle to realize that while it’s great to have exciting new features that make it their product unique, this will rarely sway potential customers. It’s not enough to have a technically superior product. The customer needs to connect with the company and brand in a way that leaves them feeling positive and willing to commit money to purchasing this product over another competitive solution. The customer needs to understand and believe how they will benefit from the purchase, not just understand the feature list.
Early on, sometimes startups will try to save money by hiring inexperienced marketing talent. The idea goes something like this: We can’t afford an expensive, experienced marketing head and those leaders don’t take hands-on roles anyway. We want cheap talent that’s willing to learn and willing to follow our vision how we want. We can let them grow into the role.
Sometimes this can work out and the inexperienced talent can rapidly grow into the role, but you will lose time while they learn how to do marketing. And, more often, you wind up with a founder continuing to try to take on the marketing leader role while teaching something they don’t have expertise in to someone inexperienced. This can be a distraction for the founder and a very slow way to make progress.
Resist the urge to hire cheap talent and expect the same results you would from seasoned professionals. Your first marketing hire should be someone experienced, who can help define the brand, go-to-market strategy and ensure you are doing the right things with your valuable dollars. Look for marketing leaders who have wide experience with hands-on activities across many areas of marketing. These leaders will have the right balance of strategy and tactical know-how you are looking for.
In the early stages of building your business you want to find marketing talent who has expertise in many areas of marketing over someone who is excellent only in one area. So-called “full-stack” marketers are often good at understanding how the multiple areas of marketing work together and subsequently in a better position to recognize opportunities for growth. Oftentimes, this person can also provide hands-on implementation of the strategies and get the engine running.
If your budget doesn’t allow for hiring this person full time, consider a fractional marketing director/CMO. Even if you are only contracting for one day a week, the expertise and advice you will gain will more than make up for the time of having a full-time, less experienced staff member.
If you have a larger budget, involve this person in the hiring process of more junior level staff to ensure that the strategy will be carried out competently by junior staffers and keep an executive-level Marketing consultant to oversee budget allocation, and own the marketing sourced numbers.