Not sure if you need a VP or "just a manager"?
The answer is almost always VP, after even $1m ARR
— Jason ✨Be Kind✨ Lemkin (@jasonlk) October 27, 2020
There’s a painful mistake I’ve touched on many times on SaaStr, but never given a dedicated post to. Since I see this mistake so, so often — and the remedy is so simple — I wanted to give it the attention it deserves.
The mistake is underhiring for your first marketing hire, your first “head of marketing”.
Let me start digging into the problem with a question I was asked hack in the day on Quora:
Question: I have a startup company. I feel my marketing team does not make enough efforts. Should I fire the team?
No … but I think you should top your team and see what happens.
First, start measuring things. Don’t let marketing be a soft science. Measure, if nothing else, (x) leads generated plus (y) ROI on all marketing spend.
Now you have a baseline.
Second, set goals here. If you want to grow revenue 150% in the next twelve months, then say make marketing hit 200% lead growth. And break this up into monthly targets for MQLs, or just Plain Old Leads, or Opportunities, or whatever metric you pick.
So I’m guessing you’ve done neither of these well. Part of the reason may be the marketing team lacks sufficient ownership / management experience. One big problem with junior marketing hires — unlike junior sales hires — is they’re rarely been given a number to own. Marketing thus doesn’t breed ownership and leadership as well as sales.
So if you hire too junior in marketing, you often just end up with a squish soft mess. Blog posts. Social stuff. A B- PR firm. But … not so many more leads.
Now that you have the team aligned around quantifiable revenue goals … you’re ready to hire a boss for the team to blow out those goals. If your team is horrible, yes get rid of them. But in marketing, sometimes for a short term, something is better than nothing. Focus instead on hiring a boss for them.
Then, she’ll figure out who to keep. And who to let go.
Ok, just to be clear, here’s the problem.
Marketing, as a department, as a function, does not really breed leadership. At least, not as often as sales does certainly, or product, or engineering, or almost any other function.
In sales, even as a first-year SDR straight out of school … you are given a quota. Even if it’s just for appointments. And you have to hit it. Accountability just grows from there.
In product, at least in start-ups, you’re usually an owner from Day 1. At least for a feature or two. Usually. (In big companies, this isn’t remotely the case … but in start-ups, it is almost often).
Engineering is the same. You’re quickly given ownership of a feature or product. If you are really good, people look to you for help. You then almost automatically become an unofficial team mentor … and then lead. And that’s an easy path to management, if you want it.
Marketing unfortunately, at least usually, isn’t the same. First, many CEOs don’t know exactly how to judge marketing and gives them soft goals. That’s a disaster right there for the whole team.
Even if there are strict KPIs (e.g., grow leads or opportunity commit 300% this year) … for whatever reason, in most marketing teams, the individual contributors under the VP often don’t have strict goals under them. Do the collateral, they’re told. Do content marketing, Twitter, the blog. Do “digital marketing”. But no one gets fired for the Adwords spend not quite working. Or for the blog posts being too boring. Or for no one listening to the podcasts.
Vs. even the most junior SDR gets fired if she can’t deliver.
So my point is … and I know there are exceptions, I know there are … but … most marketing teams don’t breed true accountability in their non-VPs … and thus, don’t bread true stretch VP candidates.
So, my #1 learning from all this is … be super, super careful your stretch marketing hire can own a number. And don’t cheap out here. Don’t underhire. Of course, don’t hire a CMO that needs a staff of 20 at $1m ARR. But … don’t hire that junior content marketer to start, just to save a few nickels. Don’t hire that demand gen manager than never truly held a lead commit. Just don’t.
Hire a true stretch VP that has owned a number. She can hire those junior resources later.
But a true VP at $150,000 a year than gets you 10 more $20,000 ACV customers in her first 6 months … vs. a $60,000 content marketer that gets no customers directly, because he can’t own a number … which is the better choice?
Aim high. At least — aim high enough in marketing for your first real hire here. Otherwise, it may be close to a total waste in SaaS. At least, a critical wasted opportunity to move the needle.