-How to Build a Marketing Team as Your Business Grows- by Robert Stead, Part-Time Marketing Director at The Marketing Centre
The skills and experience required to launch and grow a startup are different from the skills required to sustain the growth of a large multinational organisation. That’s not to say that businesses need to fire and hire new staff as they scale - a good marketer is a good marketer. But it’s important to be mindful of the challenges you’re going to face and set up a team that can tackle them.
Start-up phase - finding clarity The start-up phase is a crucial period. You only get one chance to make a first impression and mistakes made early on could haunt the company for years to come.
Often this phase is fairly chaotic. Roles overlap and everybody tends to do a little bit of everything. In their eagerness to gain those precious first customers and begin making money, founders can overlook the critical thinking required to answer the fundamental questions every business needs to be able to answer:
• What do we offer? • Who do we sell it to? • What makes us unique?
To refer back to our own Marketing 360 framework, businesses who can answer these questions clearly and succinctly from the outset will be much better able to define, find, win and keep customers in the future.
Answering these questions well requires skill and expertise. Unfortunately, many start-ups skimp on marketing talent early in their growth, seeing it as a cost rather than a value-driver. When they do hire marketing staff, they are often fairly junior.
This may explain why start-ups often struggle with a lack of focus in their marketing. In an effort to appeal to as many people as possible, they opt for broad positioning instead of doubling down on their target market and core benefits. Hiring more experienced marketers early on will help founders to be more decisive and focussed.
Resourcing talent It’s important to realise that you have options when it comes to hiring this talent. As a start-up you may not have the budget, or requirement, for an in-house marketing director. A more affordable route to expertise could be to hire marketing professionals on a flexible, part time basis or draw in an external partner such as a specialist agency.
For example, engaging an agency to build your website and generate content (against your well-written brief, of course) will enable you to focus on serving those first crucial customers, which ought to be your priority.
Whether you source marketing talent in house or externally, remember the words of David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” In other words, marketing is such a critical ingredient of overall business success, it needs the active engagement of the business’ leadership.
Growth - the need for focus Founders typically get involved in everything during the start-up phase. At a certain point, this becomes impossible. There’s too much to do and not enough time.
Similarly, everybody pitching in and muddling through together can work in a small team, but not at scale. When the lack of structure and process starts to become an issue, that’s a good indicator that the business has entered a growth phase and requires a change in approach for your marketing function.
One solution to this problem is to restructure the team around the required specialisms for your business. Everybody doing a bit of everything can work for a while, but it isn’t very efficient. Encouraging specialisation will streamline processes and help your team develop their skills.
The second is to focus on things that have delivered value in the past and cut out things that haven’t. By this point, you should have a few years of performance data at your disposal. Analysing that data will show you where to focus your efforts.
If the data is telling you that a particular approach or tactic is consistently delivering results, then don’t be afraid to double down on that approach. Good strategy requires you to be decisive.
This analysis should be entered into with an open mind. Marketers often use data to reinforce their assumptions instead of helping them to arrive at solutions. Knowing industry best practice or what your competitors are doing is useful, but hard data is preferable because it’s specific to your business and your customers.
Analytical skills are vital at this stage. As is being able to focus on the metrics that really matter. It’s easy to get side-tracked by marketing metrics like traffic or engagement but the metrics you ought to focus on should be closely associated with revenue, such as cost-per-acquisition or customer lifetime value.
Creating a good team dynamic with the broad sweep of skills needed at this stage can be a challenge, especially if you lack experience of people management. It can pay dividends to use the services of a business mentor or coach, to get support for developing your team.
Maturity - the need for efficiency When a business reaches maturity, it will need to shift its approach from finding new customers to becoming more efficient and improving ROI.
The analysis you conducted during the growth phase should have highlighted the tactics that have consistently delivered results in the past. The marketing team will now need to streamline the delivery of this activity, or the cost-per-acquisition will become unsustainable.
Developing and marketing new services to existing customers is a good way to improve cost-efficiency, as is increasing repeat purchases by improving service levels. Whatever your approach, the guiding principle should be maximising the value of what you already have instead of attracting new customers, which is what you’ve probably been focussing on up to this point.
Many business owners make it through the start-up and growth phases by working eighty-hour weeks and doing whatever it takes. At the maturity stage, this is no longer a viable approach. Team structure and processes need to be carefully considered. This requires a level of management experience that wasn’t required previously but will be, in order to drive the efficiencies required to operate at scale.
This is also a good opportunity to assess whether your agencies and other partners are able to deliver what you need. Agencies tend to specialise, intentionally or not, on a particular type and size of client. Furthermore, as your business matures you may wish to rebalance activities that you outsource and activities that you decide to manage in-house. You may, for example, decide that you need a new source of creative marketing ideas and a plan for implementing them - buying in flexible, part time marketing expertise could again be a solution.
Renewal: revisiting your business purpose and vision There are countless examples of large and established businesses that have failed to move with the times and lost out as a result. Blockbuster, Woolworths and Nokia to name just a few.
The renewal stage isn’t necessarily negative - in fact, it can be the start of a bright new future - but it tends to be triggered by some form of decline. After all, most businesses won’t drastically alter their course unless they have to.
Often, as growth begins to falter, businesses will search for tactics that have worked in the past and repeat them, as we recommended doing during the growth phase in this article. However, what worked then may not work now. It’s likely that customer behaviour has moved on and new competitors have entered the market.
What is needed at this stage is a reappraisal of the fundamentals described in the start-up phase:
• What do we offer? • Who do we sell it to? • What makes us unique?
Answering these questions effectively will require vision. The ability to look at your market, your customers and your competitors and imagine a new value proposition that can hold its ground and get you back on track. This may involve rebranding, moving into new markets or developing totally new products or services. You might also consider benchmarking your business against another market leader. Reaching new benchmarks might involve higher performance targets for your team, and you will need to hold them accountable for delivering results.
All these strategies for evolving your business are difficult to do well and require the leadership of senior marketers with years of skills and experience.
At each stage of a business’ growth, the marketing team will need to answer challenging questions. What makes us unique? Which tactics consistently deliver most value for the business? How can we streamline our operations? How can we revitalise our offering?
Answering these questions effectively will help fuel your growth and steer it in the right direction.