How to Build a Marketing Function from Scratch: an AMA with Julie Herendeen

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Vertex News Team posted on 05 May 2022

A marketing team has to start somewhere, but that somewhere is a moving target. As Julie Herendeen, Board Member and former CMO, notes, every company is different and their marketing hires will reflect their business model, their stage, and how they reach their customers. As a company grows from seed to Series A to Series B and beyond, that marketing function will continue to shift – uniquely. One of the aspects of building marketing teams that are consistent across different businesses is that you’re assembling a team of experts and each team member brings a very specific skill set such as brand, product marketing, demand generation, marketing ops and analytics. Think of it as an orchestra with the marketing leader as the conductor. But where do you start?

How do you make the first marketing hire?

In early-stage companies, Julie notes that the key to a great marketing hire is finding someone who spikes in a specific area but who can also wear several different hats - the T-shaped marketer. “This type of marketing athlete can be hard to find because marketers often grow up in siloed functions. In my experience, often the most versatile hires come from a product marketing background. Product marketers generally bring depth in strategic positioning and messaging skills to the role and can also help you bootstrap other areas of marketing like brand or growth marketing.”

One of the advantages of product marketers as early hires is that they excel at understanding the product, the customers, and the value proposition to connect the two. “Great product marketers have a communication superpower and they will help you tell your story and iterate that story as the business evolves,” she says. Additionally, product markers are often experienced in working across Product Management and Sales to create a shared understanding of the target customer segments, their customer journey, and the messaging to reach them.

Another skill to look for in your initial marketing hire is the ability to zoom in and zoom out. You’ll want someone who can write the copy but also partner with you to think strategically about positioning, customer segmentation, and even packaging and pricing. Additionally, you want someone who can bring on additional support either by hiring or by bringing on external resources. Julie notes that marketing is a function where consultants and agencies can go a long way toward getting a startup off the ground. “Some areas of marketing like PR, brand design, or event marketing may not require a full-time hire to start and you’ll want a marketer who can find and manage those external resources.”

How do you hire for growth?

Over time, you’ll need to scale your marketing and bring on marketing team members who are experienced in growth marketing or demand generation. “Often CEOs will ask me why they need a different person for product marketing vs. growth or demand generation,” Julie says. “While product marketing plays a critical role in growth by establishing the positioning and messaging, success in growth marketing requires a different skillset, specifically an understanding of the channels, both inbound and outbound, and strong analytical skills. Ultimately successful growth marketing requires dedicated team members who deeply understand those channels, embrace experimentation, and aggressively measure their results.

How do you prioritize skill sets?

“One thing I do with CEOs who are hiring their first marketer is to ask them to rank the deliverables they want from this person a year from now,” adds Julie. Because there are so many different things a marketing person can do - positioning, brand, market research, website, performance marketing, growth marketing -  stack ranking deliverables will help you align the most important work you need done with a candidate's skill set. A candidate may not have all of the skills you need but if they are missing a skill that’s further down in the priority list, the candidate may be able to stretch to learn those skills or hire to fill the gap.  “Most marketing leaders learn new marketing skills on the job,” adds Julie. “When I was hired for my first CMO role coming from a product marketing background, I had to learn customer acquisition, brand and CRM “on the job”. As a result, I always encourage marketing leaders to continue to develop skills outside their core area of expertise so they will be better prepared than I was to step into their first CMO role.

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