“The most important step when hiring marketers,” says Outfunnel’s co-founder and CEO, Andrus Purde (@andrus), “is to pick a time machine and go back a year or two and then always be looking for the right person.”
While that particular urging may not be practical for everyone, the following exchange fizzes with Andrus’ formative clarity on bringing in early-stage marketing hires. Having led Pipedrive’s marketing org from the get-go to ~100K customers (and a bigger logo :)), and now having co-founded his own MarTech SaaS, Andrus addresses:
— Understanding high vs. low category awareness, and why it’s a great “shortcut” to inform not just positioning but messaging and hiring
— Inferring whether you really need a “full-stack” marketer (the shortcut helps)
— The best time to hire your first marketer
— Sourcing without a time machine, knowing specifically what you want people to drive, (and, when possible, hiring them as consultants first)
— A 100-day onboarding plan that clarifies goals and institutes gradual autonomy
A framework for finding the right channels, messaging that sticks, and hiring first marketers; or “a map to an unfamiliar city”
For all the marketing choices you have to make, you need some shortcuts. You need something to hold on to, in order to make your first, broad decisions.
And category awareness and category urgency are your best kind of shortcuts. If you operate in the CRM or the email marketing space, there’s pretty high awareness. People are looking for such tools on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Your job, then, is to be findable.
On the other hand if you’re creating something which people haven’t used/heard of before, say, a decentralized decision-making platform, then your category awareness is likely very low. Being “findable” doesn’t help here as nobody is searching for what you’re building.
Then there’s also category urgency. We know what a gym is all year but most of us flock to gyms during the first two weeks of January. If people are aware of your product category but not searching, that’s very similar to low category urgency from a marketer’s perspective.
These are the two main marketing models.
I thought these were just a way to shortcut which marketing channels to run with, but I’ve realized (after reading Dave Kellogg’s blog quite a bit) how they’re also a shortcut for arriving at messaging that resonates with users.
If you are in a high category awareness situation, then your messaging is about how you are different, how you are better, and so forth. Addressing these specific hows is what matters.
In a low category awareness business, you have to get people to understand new concepts, and sometimes, to nudge them to adopt new behaviors. Then it doesn’t make sense to talk about how you’re different from others, you have to make a case for why your thing exists in the first place.
Acknowledging this distinction means that your marketing is almost served to you on a plate. You know which channels to use. You know what kind of messaging to experiment with.
Interestingly, most companies and products are not one or the other. They are hybrids. Somewhere on a spectrum between high and low category awareness.
Hipchat/Slack make for great examples of hybrids. As messaging has been around since the mid 90s, it was just messaging for enterprise that was novel. People understood the former, the latter, the enterprise part, had a bit of a learning curve. Thus a need for messaging that communicates the how and the why.
Similarly Outfunnel is tricky because we changed what we do, quite comprehensively, at least once in our history. I would even dare to use the P word.
A year and a half ago, we were, first and foremost, an email marketing tool for B2B companies. Then last year, we rebuilt and refocused the app to gradually emphasize the component of data connection.
And as of January 2022, we’ve transitioned from being an email marketing tool and are now a full fledged data connection platform, focused on sales and marketing use cases…
Email marketing for B2B would have definitely been a high category awareness product. Everybody knows email marketing. People know it too well. Everybody has too much email in their inbox.
Data connection, getting your sales and marketing data aligned, resides somewhere in the middle. Some people know that there are products like Zapier and Hubspot Operations Hub. Then there are some who likely have the idea that a connection tool must exist even if they cannot name one.
But surprisingly, hundreds of thousands, millions of SMBs are currently doing their exports and imports with CSV files, or just manually entering everything.
Which means for every new email being captured, there’s somebody typing that into a CRM. Which is crazy. But that’s still happening in 2022.
Thus some of the work we do is simply demand harvesting. That is becoming discoverable.
If you’re searching for an alternative to PieSync, you’ll probably find us.
Although a lot of the growth is to be sought in demand creation. Which lies in getting a much broader base of people to abandon spreadsheets and manual work. Which might take a long while, but there’s incredible potential there.
If you have a good full stack marketer, you can afford to pivot.
Had we hired a great demand-harvesting marketer, someone who could only scale SEO or performance marketing, we would have been stuck.
Some early-stage startups need to be ready to pivot, to be able to easily (I mean, not easily, nothing about pivoting is easy) change the core of a company.
With full-stack skills, you can at least have a shot at switching up your core channels, redoing the messaging, and if needed, fundamentally overhauling your marketing.
We did that.
We’re still in the process of revisiting our marketing mix. Still leaning heavily towards high category awareness efforts.
In addition, we’ve kicked off cold outreach for users of certain tools. Plus we’re now doing more targeted banner ads for people who, based on signals their websites send about their software tools, use some popular apps together, such as Calendly and Pipedrive.
All in all, we’re doing more interruptions to spark demand than we did in the past. And looking to build and flex this muscle further in the future.
All that said, it’s still worth assessing whether a full-stack marketer is indeed a fit for you.
We pivoted, but then we were always in a category of startups where we knew the problem we were solving, but weren’t certain of what the best actual solution would be.
There was always a big risk and a big opportunity for pivoting. We just wanted to chase the customers’ needs. Identify where we could offer the most value.
Other startups are different. Some start out in a brand new category, which in that particular shape and form, hadn’t existed before. A category that doesn’t immediately make sense to people.
If you’re maybe doing a web3 startup in the finance category, you probably won’t pivot to email marketing or a similar established category with high awareness.
Considering web3; it’s a bunch of early adopters who are present in certain communities, so you need great community-focussed skills, maybe even new media relations skills.
You’re not going to set up PPC ads, or even highly-targeted SEO as core channels. There’s no need to be ready to change your marketing mix completely.
You can just define a fitting role/profile and hire for that.
You don’t need a full-stack marketer.
And vice versa as well. A CRM company is unlikely to pivot to something which is completely new or wacky. But I do believe, there’s a certain type of company, like ours was, that’s quite likely to pivot
So step one is to establish the likely scenarios for the near future and then that gives you an idea of who you want to look for.
The timing is different for every company depending on how much money you’ve raised, how much money you have in your bank account, and your MVP’s readiness.
A good rule of thumb, in SaaS terms is, if you have 10 customers. The first 10 which you’ve probably acquired through hand-to-hand combat. The 10 that can then show you how to get your next 100 customers. And the 100 customers you’ve acquired via first marketing experiments will show you the way to 1000 customers.
If you don’t have any customers, maybe it’s too early. But if you’re at 10-50 paying customers and you know that your product is slowly taking shape, that’s a good time to hire someone.
Hiring marketers is easier now because when we started scaling marketing [at Pipedrive] in 2014-2015, the amount of SaaS talent in Europe was almost non-existent. It was definitely non-existent in Estonia. Finding good people, even on the east coast in the US, was very hard.
Whereas fast forward to today, whether it’s the UK, Spain, or Portugal, there are multiple burgeoning startup hubs in Europe. Even Estonia has a much bigger pool of potential hires.
Still. Sourcing, in my opinion, remains the biggest challenge.
Are you casting a wide enough net? Are you being productive enough?
The most important step when hiring marketers is to pick a time machine and go back a year or two and then always be looking for the right person. Because the mistake I’ve made multiple times now is starting to hire too late.
The second best thing is to always be on the lookout for people. Curate a list of those who you’d want to work with. People, or companies, that you think are doing remarkable work. I made mine a year and a half ago.
And I ensure that I’m constantly in touch with them, exchanging notes, and spotting opportunities to meet (virtually and in-person) every few months.
Then I try to hire people who I have worked with before. Bringing them in as consultants first. At Outfunnel, the first such engagement didn’t work out. Then secondly, we hired somebody who actually looked really good, and then they didn’t work out as well as a consultant.
Finally, we managed to hire the fourth person who first consulted us. The best way to know whether somebody works out is to do some amount of real work together.
Luckily, there’s lots of independent consultants you can hire and then you can approach them with a full-time offer.
The next blocker then is that there’s not a fit between what the person wants to do and what you need to do.
Not being very clear in your job description and in your early discussions of what you want to do. Do you want to have better positioning? Or do you want to get more leads? Or you want to get more famous?
If you’re not clear there, then you will lose some candidates who want to do something. If they know that you don’t know what you want to get done, they simply won’t proceed.
Great marketers want to work for leaders who broadly know what needs to be done.
Some people are more driven by money. Some people want stock options. Although I’ve never lost a candidate because of not having enough stock or other comp issues.
To consider my own motivations as a marketer, if I like a project, if I like a leader, I would want to work with them, even if my options are not big enough.
Just spend enough time on the “brief”. As with any other marketing undertaking, the brief dictates the efficiency of marketing dollars and resources being spent.
If you copy-paste job descriptions from other companies, you may get candidates of different qualities and kinds, not the ones you need.
So dig deep into category awareness, your likelihood to pivot, and then ask yourself, what do you think will drive the business? Is it more awareness? Better awareness? More leads? Better conversions? What do you really want to accomplish?
And make sure that informs the hiring process end-to-end.
Again, having a baseline of having worked together helps. Then I create a 100-day plan based on that experience and our goals. On the first day I present this thorough plan, followed by a discussion, and then taking time to reaffirm expectations on both sides.
It isn’t much different from onboarding new users to a product. It’s really in the first 30, and then 100 days, where you get things kicked off well, and you get context relayed on both ends.
You understand how they work. They get how you work.
If you do that well, the rest is easy. I can’t say I’m great at this or an ideal person to work with in any way, but having a solid 100-day plan that communicates core goals is a great start.
As far as autonomy is concerned, you need to ramp it up over the course of these 100 days and not go all in on day one.
Because you need some kind of guardrails in the beginning. Just to make sure that they understand exactly who your customer is, how you work, what the company stands for, what’s been done before, what you have already learned, and what you still need to learn.
As a prelude to the plan, it’s critical that you convey clarity on how their work will be measured:
- The ultimate measure is, of course, in signups, and new paying customers that are directly attributable to marketing activities
- Some other leading measures include: establishing and reaching monthly/quarterly goals, traffic to the site, ROI of paid marketing programs, organic shares and unsolicited links to published content (implying quality), participation in strategy and product planning, testing key message(s) using tools like FiveSecondTest
And here’s a sample, lightly-edited, 100-day plan that we had prepared:
Get familiar with what’s been going on (both strategically and tactically) thus far:
- Review tools such as Google Analytics, Ahrefs, Outfunnel, Chargebee, Pipedrive, Intercom, and Smartlook for a quantitative, historical context
- Read company retro notes for a window into recent decisions and hypotheses
- Speak with customers:
- Attend at least 10 customer calls or meetings
- Conduct at least 3 customer interviews on your own
- Respond to at least 5 support queries (from new users)
Product usage: become an active Outfunnel user
Take stock of the rest of the stack:
- (list of tools)
- Suggest what else do we need
- Review and improve core messaging and implement it on our main channels:
- Marketplace listings
- Capterra (and other software review sites)
- Social profiles
- Other places that come up in search results
- Review and update our Ideal Customer Profile — (only if you think this is relevant or useful at our current stage)
- Review both marketing and product execution of our chief competitors
- Review marketing and traffic sources for tools that partner with CRMs a lot eg. Leadfeeder, JustCall, etc.
- Participate in launching the Hubspot CRM integration
- Review and improve core messaging and implement it on our main channels:
- My view is that in the short term it’s all about findability and recommendations
- Findability: what are the keywords to go after, and the partner sites to work with? (more on this in the next section)
- Recommendations: a combination of working with the right “influencers” and customer marketing — (this needs a better strategy)
- Integration partners as “influencers” are probably important.
- Same goes for integrators and ecosystem members
- At the 100-day mark we should know whether this strategy is good enough to continue to invest in or would you suggest a different route
- My view is that in the short term it’s all about findability and recommendations
Content and findability:
- Review existing keyword research (prioritized in Ahrefs) we’ve done and propose a list of 10-20 keywords/topics to target
- Find low-hanging fruit within existing content (to improve rankings and/or conversions)
- Get 6+ pieces of content published on our blog (that target a specific keyword)
- Ideally also, additional 1-2 thought-leadership pieces that reach 2500+ people each
- Create a regular content distribution plan (centered around the basics of newsletters, social, and link building)
- Review and improve email/lead capture
- Create a (testing) strategy for non-blog content (across videos, Slideshare, Medium, webinars, podcasts etc.) — nice to have?
- Investigate how we can get more trial users to opt-in for receiving our newsletters — nice to have?
- Replicate our Pipedrive partnership strategy for Hubspot and the next CRM to be picked
- Support co-marketing efforts overall
- Propose a marketing budget for Q3-Q4
- Get started on suggested reading below
- What learning goals would you like to set for yourself, if any?
- Weekly 1-1s
- We’ve started using this Airtable doc for planning and backlog management. Worth maintaining?
Last, but not least: mid-term strategy:
- Create a marketing strategy and plan that goes beyond the first 100 days