Getting to Initial Scale

The Problem With Junior Marketing Hires (And What a True VP Costs)

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Jason Lemkin

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 on Quora:

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 9.50.14 AMQuestion: 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.

Ok …

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.

doogieMarketing, 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.

….

And on that note, you may ask — ok what’s it gonna cost me?  Fortunately, my good friend Dan Green, recruiter at VPofMarketing.com did the surveys!

Results for Directors of Marketing in Bay Area in  SaaS from 1-100 employees (which realistically would include stretch VPs):

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 8.48.45 AM

 

And results for VPs in Bay Area here:

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 8.51.05 AM

 

 

More data from Dan here:

 

Dan Green
Principal, VPofMarketing.com

Aggregate data from this year’s survey; All respondents, all questions: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-RWFQTNP2/

This page includes only and all those who responded: CMO title, Bay Area, B2B, 1-100 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-KTHF7HZ2/
This page includes only and all those who responded: VP title, Bay Area, B2B, 1-100 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-8NVK3N62/
This page includes only and all those who responded: Director title, Bay Area, B2B, 1-100 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-G36C8HZ2/

This page includes only and all those who responded: CMO title, Bay Area, B2B, 100-1000 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-JBYWKQ52/
This page includes only and all those who responded: VP title, Bay Area, B2B, 100-1000 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-XM9BVQ52/
This page includes only and all those who responded: Director title, Bay Area, B2B, 100-1000 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-RK29DQ52/

This page includes only and all those who responded: CMO title, Bay Area, B2B, more than 1000 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-TMN8VS52/
This page includes only and all those who responded: VP title, Bay Area, B2B, more than 1000 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-KTQX8S52/
This page includes only and all those who responded: Director title, Bay Area, B2B, more than 1000 employees. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-6TYT5W52/

This page includes only and all those who responded: B2C. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-TNVZBRKC/
This page includes only and all those who responded: B2C, Bay Area. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-KKV56RKC/
This data includes responses by Bay Area, B2C respondents compared by company size. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-FWLW2G52/

This page includes only and all those who responded: Not Bay Area. https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-NKRS8TKC/

Published on October 27, 2015
  • Mike Sudyk

    Great value in this post. We are a services business that is getting into a SaaS product and currently do not have a strong discipline in the Marketing area. This is largely due to under hiring and knowing that we under hired. However as you state, this leads to “softness” in marketing. Thanks for sharing this!

  • I agree with you point above – “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”

    But Marketing can be measured too, of-course not with the same lens as sales, but with similar yet different lens. I have put together an reference guide for CEOs of startup companies (online and offline) on how to structure their marketing department and listed out metrics to measure and who should be responsible for different areas within marketing. http://visual.ly/3-pillars-marketing

    What are your views?

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