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How to scale your marketing team from Seed to IPO

Marketing has evolved from a simple cost centre that seemingly focused only on advertising and PR, to something much more expansive and valuable to businesses, that consistently contributes to growth and therefore revenue.

As the two have become more closely entwined, Growth Marketing has become a key requirement in order to grow your business from Seed to IPO.

I’ve been speaking to CMOs, CEOs and Marketing Strategists in Berlin to ask how you build your business by creating an effective Growth Marketing function.

During COVID-19, as things rapidly moved into the digital space (e.g. online sales), the movement towards growth marketing and away from traditional marketing accelerated. It’s therefore no surprise that the demand for growth marketers has significantly increased and traditional role titles such as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) have been replaced with ‘Chief Growth Officer’.

With marketing functions varying greatly from business to business, I researched some examples of what growth really means and how businesses can structure their marketing teams as they grow from Seed to IPO.

What is Business Growth?

Growth is about more than just money and profit. Business growth is a stage where the business reaches the point for expansion and seeks additional options to generate more revenue. This is achieved through a combined, cross-departmental effort often from marketing, product, engineering, and design, which addresses every aspect of the customer lifecycle.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, marketing has grown out to include social media, SEO, analytics, sales funnels, and pipeline, all contributing towards revenue and growth. Therefore, having a scalable, effective marketing function has become fundamental to boost client acquisition, onboarding, sales, and retention indirectly and directly.

Traditional Marketing vs Growth Marketing

Traditional marketing is responsible mainly for driving awareness through advertising, brand, content, and PR, although you’d struggle to find a business who are happy to just focusing on these areas in 2021. Take a look at most ‘Marketing Executive’ or ‘Marketing Assistant Roles’, and even at that level you are required to do so much more than ever before. It’s apparent that most marketing roles now fall into the “growth marketing” space, which encompasses ‘traditional marketing’ responsibilities as well as customer and traffic acquisition, outbound marketing, product conversions, and sales. Essentially this marketing shift shows how marketing is no longer just about long term, indirect revenue generation through brand awareness and positioning, it’s refocussing on more immediate return on investment.

A growth marketer should have the following skills

  • Be a T shaped marketer
  • Data analysis (growth marketers will be results driven and will likely come from a data driven background)
  • Creative and experimental with experience in A/B testing
  • Some understanding of development/engineering can be beneficial

A T-shaped marketer is somebody who has expertise in about 1-3 main marketing facets. E.G you may be great at content marketing and have a real in-depth knowledge of how to do this. But you are also knowledgeable in other marketing facets such as email marketing, pay-per-click ads, social media, and SEO. You’re just not as knowledgeable as in the three focal facets. As illustrated below;

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However, the focus of this article isn’t how to hire a good marketer or be a good marketer. It’s about identifying the right time to hire the right marketer. A great marketer at the wrong time can be costly and detrimental to growth and progress, so what should you look for at each stage of your business.

Seed Stage

Whilst you are still defining your product and your target audience you need a generalist marketer who is passionate about experimentation and is unafraid of failure. Your first marketing hire should be able to try out different things in order to define your brand message, image, channels, purpose, and strategy. In an ideal world, you would hire someone with 5-10 years’ experience, but for some businesses someone more junior with the right attitude and passion is a better fit. In the current competitive market, you might also struggle to hire someone with that amount of experience. Someone who is new and can be moulded to the business can be a huge benefit as long as you provide the scope for learning. Don’t expect your first hire to be a ‘unicorn’. They will have skill gaps, but this is easily remedied by providing training or by hiring an agency to help out in less experienced areas but avoid signing lengthy contracts as you need to remain as agile as possible.

Series A

Now that you have defined your minimum valuable product (MVP) and have a base of paying customers you need to grow your market function to double down on the things that are working successfully. This will allow the marketing team to continuously refine your product-market fit whilst also still testing new things and researching new acquisition channels. At this point it is time to invest in early-stage specialists. For example, if LinkedIn is a high performing channel for your business, hire a paid social marketer with 3-5 years-experience in LinkedIn Paid Advertising and analytics. Or if content is a big winner, hire someone specialised in editing or SEO. Hiring a specialist in particularly valuable areas of marketing means that they can develop and execute specific campaigns to a very high quality to gain prospective customers and increase sales.

Series B and C

At this stage you have a well-defined product and a target audience but are looking to scale by targeting more customers across more markets with new products. Now it is time to fill skill gaps in your growth funnel in order to sustainably continue growing. You also need to start hiring experienced ‘heads of’ to implement processes, strategy, and best practices within different marketing functions (e.g. paid acquisition, CRM, analytics, product marketing). It is the time to build robust strategies that focus on sustainable growth and long-term revenue generation, rather than growth hacking and one-off campaigns. You need leaders who will mould other marketers in the business and establish and enhance existing culture whilst building new skillsets. As the team grows it can become harder to manage, which is why establishing relationships and responsibilities is absolutely fundamental. Define clear paths of communication and avoid meeting overload! In order to maintain a good team structure, an experienced VP is a great addition. Whilst a VP who is strong in both performance and brand are hard to come by, you can easily compromise by, for example, having a performance driven VP and an exceptional Brand Director.

Series D and IPO

You’re successfully and consistently hitting targets and generating increasing revenue, your headcount has grown exponentially, and it’s now time to hire a CMO or Chief Growth Officer to maintain an efficient and effective growth marketing function. This leader needs to inspire and attract top marketing talent, whilst internally driving a learning culture and working closely with stakeholders. Around this time, some of your marketing function will naturally move on as the company size and structure will no longer fit their skill set. This is okay. Be comfortable with this turnover. As long as you are doing everything in your power to offer your staff safe, inclusive, and interesting employment, staff turnover aligned with growth is natural. Make sure as you continue to hire leaders, that they can build and drive high performing teams, and cultivate a culture that inspires learning, growth, and hard work. Every hire needs to reinforce your competitive advantage, contribute to revenue generation, and drive growth. Right Hire, Right Business, Right Time.

Whilst there is no standard blueprint for a high performing marketing team, hopefully the above might inspire or at least give some idea of one potential pathway. One major point for any business looking to grow, is that effective marketing hires always reflect the needs of the business at its current stage. As those needs start to develop, ensure you are hiring the right marketers to help facilitate that next step. 

It would be great to hear your opinions and stories, the good, the bad and the ugly....