Marketing a startup isn’t for the faint of heart. Fraught with dangers like limited budgets, aggressive competitors and marketplace apathy, it’s a lot more likely that your startup will fall flat on its face than wildly succeed. Yet, if entrepreneurs gave up at the first look at long odds there’d be a lot fewer of us out there.
A few months ago, I wrote about the reasons that early stage startups shouldn’t hire an advertising agency. You can decide for yourself if I’m right or wrong, but either way, marketing your startup is a must if you intend to succeed. So if an agency is the wrong route, is hiring a full-time marketing employee any better?
The totally ambiguous answer is: usually. And like hiring any full-time employee, you need to work hard to find the right person with the right skill set. So what should you be looking for in your brilliant growth hacker/marketer? Let me share a few tips that I’ve learned—and seen others learn—the hard way.
Don’t Hire A Marketer Until You’ve Found Product-Market Fit. Otherwise, Hire A Salesperson.
Product-market fit means that you’re in a marketplace that has moneymaking potential with a product or service that satisfies some type of need or pain point in that market. In other words, you have something that people want to buy and you have an (at least a general) idea of who those “people” are.
This is when great marketing becomes really handy. Marketing is about differentiating from competitors, creating demand and retaining customers. The problem that many startups run into is mistaking marketing as an engine for figuring out who your customers are. Nope. That function can and should be led by the sales/business development team. Even better, it should be led by founders who understand the Customer Development Process.
Once you’ve put your finger on product-market fit, then you can turn to marketing to scale customer acquisition.
Find A Marketer Who Is Good At Statistics And Has Experience With Marketing Technology. Bonus Points If That Person Understands Data Quality And Management Too.
There are many marketing candidates out there who are brilliant creative strategists who intuitively know how to develop and execute an integrated advertising and marketing program. Unfortunately, there are a lot fewer who have real world experience with marketing technology and understand how to properly manage those platforms—and the data they contain—for improved results and lower customer acquisition costs.
Do yourself a favor and don’t hire a one-person marketing team unless the person can a) prove to you that he/she knows how to create/use a pivot table in Excel, b) demonstrate knowledge of at least one marketing technology platform (e.g. marketing automation or advertising management) and c) explain how to properly utilize an A/B split test in an advertising campaign. Once you can find the person who can do all three, then you’ve found a marketer who can help you scale your early stage startup.
Creative ideas alone aren’t enough. Tactics, execution and analysis make all the difference.
Look For Critical Thinking And Creative Problem-Solving.
Having an in-house marketer who is solving problems is all well and fine, however it is absolutely critical that your first marketing employee is solving the RIGHT problems.
There are two questions that all marketers must ask themselves when faced with new problems: 1) Why is this happening? and 2) Is this more important than whatever else it is I’m dealing with?
Why? Because many times the problems we think we’re solving in marketing are really symptoms of an underlying problem. Or, quite frankly, the problem isn’t creating enough pain that it needs immediate solving.
If you can find a candidate that understands that the first response to a problem isn’t to jump to fix it but instead to stop and consider it, then you have yourself a keeper.
Make Sure The Candidate Understands What It Means To Work For A Startup.
I’ll be honest here, I’ve made this mistake and it’s a painful one. No matter how brilliant the marketer you find or how excited he or she is about your startup, in order to succeed the person needs to understand—to feel it in their bones—the constraints, frustrations and hard times that come along with working for a startup.
Early stage startups aren’t glamorous. They’re underfunded, often confusing places that are filled with failure. That’s just part of the process it takes to succeed. However, take a brilliant guy or gal from the marketing department at a billion dollar company that has significant resources and support at their finger tips and stick them the role of leading up a one-person marketing team? Oh boy, you’re setting yourself for a world of hurt.
Now, to be fair, just because a candidate comes from a large or well-resourced company doesn’t mean he or she won’t excel at your startup. It does mean that just like every candidate you meet, you need to provide a high level of scrutiny to make sure you’ve found the right person for the undoubtedly hard job.
Because it’s a lot more fun to hire someone than it is to have to let them go.