“Most startups believe in doing things differently and want to change the status quo,” says Mike Volpe, an experienced startup exec and former HubSpot CMO. “An early marketer helps bring that unique viewpoint to the world, getting people to know who you are and what you stand for.”
But for founders without marketing experience, it’s not always clear when, who, and how to hire your first marketer.
When to Hire Your First Marketer
Mike acknowledges that it can be hard to find the right time. “If you hire too late, you’re not giving the marketing person enough time to ramp up or an opportunity to build an early audience,” says Mike.
But if you hire too early—before you have product-market fit—you set your marketer up for failure. “It’s difficult to market to an audience that keeps shifting,” says Mike. Overall, you should be able to clearly and consistently answer these three questions:
- Audience: Who are you selling to?
- Go-to-Market Motion: How will you reach and sell to them?
- Goals: What will the hire need to accomplish to be “successful?”
If you have clear answers, then it may be time to make your hire, which moves us to the next big question: How do you know if you’ve got the right candidate?
How to Identify the Right Marketing Candidate
“Ultimately, it’s about finding the right alignment for your business,” says Mike. Do you need your marketer to focus on brand building, demand gen, product marketing, content, or something else? You’re looking for the person who can best support your specific go-to-market motion.
Alignment typically covers four areas:
When it comes to GTM motion, deal size, sales cycle length, and type of marketing can vary greatly. The hire’s GTM expertise will need to match your company’s price point and sales cycle.
“For example, if you’re selling to Fortune 5000 companies with high ACV and a longer sales cycle, the sales and marketing involved are very different from selling a product for a couple of thousand bucks,” says Mike.
In $5-10K per year deals for mid-market companies, sales cycles are faster and lower touch. If a startup is selling a $100 product, it’ll probably manage all customer interactions online.
Does your marketing hire have experience building plans for a strategy similar to yours?
The importance of industry knowledge can vary from industry to industry, but your hire may need specific industry experience. Consider if this will matter to your customer. In certain industries—regulated industries, for example—there can be a lot of technical nuances.
Does your marketing hire have the industry expertise that a customer would expect?
Your candidate’s seniority level must also match your company’s needs. “A CMO probably won’t roll up their sleeves and do the work that needs to get done at a Seed-stage company,” says Mike. “At that early stage, you’ll need someone who will get their hands dirty.”
Reflect on what resources you currently have in place. Let’s say your product lead is also great at product marketing; leave it to them to create product collateral. In that case, maybe your marketing lead needs more demand gen skills and experience working with sales.
Will your marketing hire be as in the weeds as you need them to be?
Lastly, Mike recommends finding people who will succeed in a rapidly changing startup environment. For him, that means finding marketers who are driven by the company’s success, have a growth mindset, and are true team players.
Are they driven by the company’s overall success? “They understand their role within the broader team, and they know that if they do their job well, the company will succeed,” says Mike. That means they think about the business from an LTV and CAC perspective. “After all, if they generate lots of leads, but they’re high cost or have a low close rate, that’s a problem.”
Do they have a growth mindset? “They should want to learn new things while they leverage their past experience,” says Mike.
Are they true team players? “There can be a lot of finger-pointing that develops between marketing, sales, and product when goals are missed,” says Mike. “Instead, find someone who isn’t trying to defend their turf.”
The right candidate will approach challenges with a team mindset. “They’ll say, ‘Maybe we could have done something different, but we’ll work together to find a solution,’” he adds.
How to Hire When You’re Not a Marketer
First of all, it helps to learn a bit about marketing yourself. “You don’t need to be an expert,” says Mike. “But you do want to be informed.”
To vet candidates, you may want to seek outside expertise. You could:
- Ask an advisor or experienced CMO to do some final round interviews.
- Do a few informational interviews with overqualified, unavailable candidates. Listen to how they speak and answer questions.
“It’s like the first glass of wine you drink,” says Mike. “You might think it’s OK in the beginning, but you have to try a bunch of different wines to figure out if a wine is actually good.”
How to Set a New Marketing Hire up for Success
“As a founder, your role is to enable your marketing lead,” says Mike. A lot of that boils down to communication and goal setting.
That comes in three main forms: sharing information, facilitating relationships, and creating a supportive culture.
Share the Right Information
You’ll need to help your marketing lead gain a good understanding of your customers, competitors, and market. That can come through product demos, listening in on customer calls (either recorded or live), or sharing helpful market insights during onboarding.
“A marketer with zero dollars can only do so much,” says Mike. Be prepared to allocate funds to a marketing budget—beyond salary and benefits for your first marketing hire.
Facilitate Relationship Building
When you hire your first marketer, you can also help them build bridges to sales, customer success, and product teams—setting the foundation for strong working relationships across the company.
Determine Joint Goals
When connecting marketing and sales leaders specifically, work with them to determine their joint goals. That includes ensuring they:
- Define the stages of the funnel
- Name these stages
- Use the terms consistently
- Measure funnel progression consistently across teams
Regular GTM Meeting
Depending on the cadence of your business, Mike recommends having a monthly or quarterly GTM meeting with your sales and marketing leads. That way, both leaders hear the same things from you at the same time.
“In the huddle at a football game, you wouldn’t tell each position individually what to do,” says Mike. “You call the play as a team, and then everyone goes out there and performs together.”
In these meetings, review the prior period and discuss:
- Where did we end up vs. goals?
- How are we trending this year?
- Are we on track? If not, where and why?
- Do we need to make adjustments?
Create a Culture Supportive of Marketing
Creating a marketing-supportive culture starts with everyone understanding marketing’s role and responsibilities. “Some of this is the marketing person’s responsibility,” says Mike. “But founders can encourage it by giving them a platform to share.”
That could be at a company offsite, all-hands meetings, or sales kickoffs. “Every salesperson should understand the marketing strategy—why you’re doing certain things and not doing others,” he adds.
As a final note, “It can be easy to blame marketing when things go wrong,” says Mike. “And it might be marketing’s fault, but it could also be a whole host of other things.”
Maybe product-market fit has shifted, you’re missing an important product feature, or the sales team isn’t using the right strategy. “Don’t just take the easy way out; make sure you review everything before coming to a conclusion,” he says.