A Truly Effective Marketing Department: The Impossible Dream
I know I have just offended a bunch of marketers out there, some of whom I hold dear to my heart. So let me caveat this post with this: there are companies out there with truly exceptional marketers and exceptional marketing. What I have a hard time figuring out is how much brilliant marketing is driven by a brilliant product, and how much is driven by truly good marketing.
This post is really targeted at companies that have products and services that don’t fly off the shelves, but rather sell something that requires heavy marketing lift to create differentiation and awareness.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s get to the core of what I think about marketing and how to hire a marketing department.
Building a Truly Effective Marketing Department
It is exceptionally difficult to build a world-class marketing team in an early stage software company. I won’t get into why, as my partner Scott Maxwell has already done so.
I tend to think of marketing as three distinct functions that were somehow lumped together into one. Some will argue that there are five, some will argue two. It doesn’t matter. What matters is to recognize that there are multiple functions within marketing that require different skillsets, and that no marketing leader truly brings all skillsets – or the ability to manage them – to the table.
1. Product Marketing
In my mind, product marketing is a function whose purpose is to prepare a product to be sold and equip a sales team to sell the product efficiently. Product marketing is a function that needs to be joined at the hip with sales. Product marketing, among other things, is the owner of content — including product pitches, competitive positioning, and establishment of value propositions.
Product marketing is responsible for existing market segmentation and research in collaboration with product management which focuses on future product research. Product marketing will draw information about win/loss, competitive differentiators, customer pain points and implementations, and many other sources including the Sales team. This team will create internal and external content that helps increase the efficiency of prospect customer adoption and prospect conversion into paying customers.
Product management then works with Sales Operations to develop and deliver sales rep onboarding and ongoing training. Sales Ops will ensure that the decks, collateral, and information provided by the PM will be used uniformly and consistently. Sales Ops will ensure that sales is certified on all materials. Sales Ops and Product Marketing will work closely on what is or isn’t working on a continuous improvement basis. For early stage companies, the PM has to fill the role of Sales Ops.
In this role, the profile and skill sets of a product marketer are as follows:
- Exceptional understanding of product technology (for a non-techie), including the ability to understand and describe the product architecture; product differentiators; and the ability to do a product demonstration to a technical audience. I find that the best product marketers are ones that started off as developers or sales engineers, migrated to product management, and then to product marketing.
- Empathy towards the development and/or product management team. The product marketer needs to be able to “hang out” at the technical side of the house. He/she needs to be able to draw upon the knowledge on that side of the house in support of building the tool sets required by prospects, partners, and the sales team.
- Empathy towards the sales team. The PM needs to live with the sales team. In fact, the PM should sit with the sales team on the sales floor.
- Exceptional written and oral communication skills: the PM has to be able to write like there’s no tomorrow and be able to be a master communicator with prospects, partners and customers.
2. Marketing Communication
The role of MarCom is to take the content generated by Product Marketing and communicate it through the myriad of marketing channels. The primary goal of MarCom is to drive leads to the top of the demand generation funnel. In this day and age, it means driving traffic to the website.
MarCom’s responsibilities includes advertising, branding, direct marketing, graphic design, packaging, promotion, public relations, influencer relations, sponsorship, sales promotion and on-line marketing.
Given this role, the profile and skill sets of a marketing communicator are as follows:
- Highly creative both conceptually and graphically
- Exceptional written communication skills
- Broad and deep skill sets in marketing through myriad on-line and offline marketing channels
- Exceptional ability to multitask many projects, large and small, simultaneously
- Strong experience in managing analyst and influence relations programs
A MarCom marketer does not need to be technical or process-oriented. This role requires a person with creative DNA, an English or Communications college degree, and exceptional organizational and negotiations skills (working with marketing services and marketing channel vendors).
3. Lead Management
I have always held that lead management is a function of its own. I am talking about designing and maintaining the process of managing inbound leads flowing in through the website into becoming sales qualified leads. This includes the process of re-marketing to a non-engaged database of leads.
This function is ALL about process, and managing a process. It has nothing to do with content at all. Content comes from Product Marketing (not Marcom).
This role requires a highly qualified process technician, coupled with a consultant, who can do a first project to pull the process together around the various systems (website, marketing automation tools, and the sales CRM).
When looking for a marketing leader, be it a VP of Marketing or a CMO, know what you’re looking for first. You must be aware that the three (or five) functions within a marketing department cannot be served by one skill set or one DNA. Be very clear where your strongest marketing need is. Is it product marketing? Is it communications? Or is it the process of managing leads? Hire a marketing leader that has the DNA that is strongest for serving your most significant need.
As expansion stage venture capital investors, we spend a good amount of our time coaching our CEOs on building highly capable senior management teams. Where we find the toughest challenge is in helping our CEOs recruit long lasting senior marketing executives. Where our CEOs have found the most failure is in hiring highly tenured/seasoned senior executives (typically in a CMO role). Where they have found the most success is when they hired a mid-level manager/director with the purposed of filling one of the three functional roles very specifically.