The internet is rife with advice on when startups must hire their first marketer. “When you have too many ideas and need an expert filter”, “when you need to keep pace with your competitors” are some pieces of advice commonly given to startup founders who aren’t necessarily marketing specialists.
Fair advice, but a little dated.
We know only too well that the B2B startup space has changed quite sharply over the last year or so, and it is time to move the pin ahead with the marketing niche as well.
Earlier, building the product was the most significant piece of the startup journey. Founders spent time and energy on finding the right engineers and developers to build their products. In addition to all else, it was something that simply needed all hands on deck and a lot of time. Naturally, the first 20-odd employees were those with product expertise. Get the product out first and market it later was what startups did, and rightly so.
But today, building a product is easier than it was a decade ago, thanks to easy access to many advanced tools available in the market. Open source products, out-of-the-box tools, DIY kits, open frameworks, plug-and-play services have all made building software so much easier and quicker than before. Consequently, more startups are getting their product out to market faster and are getting on to the next phase of building their customer base, marketing their products, etc.
Here again, proven frameworks and playbooks have made the process easier for startups. Every startup has its newsletter, podcast, community, content engines, keyword strategy, and everything else that worked for other companies and shows promise.
So, what now? How can a startup differentiate itself?
With a solid, unique marketing strategy.
What’s becoming increasingly important for startups isn’t building the product or generating leads, or getting to your first significant revenue milestone. It is predictability. And a solid marketing approach is essential to get that right.
Predictability involves the coming together of product, design, sales, and marketing. It isn’t enough to just have a saleable version of your product. You have to identify the ideal customer profile to figure out exactly what problems you will solve and who you will sell to. Once that’s done, you’ll have to figure out how to reach them, what channels you can use, and how you can bring leads in. And this is the challenge that marketing will solve and help with.
Often, startup founders talk to me when they’re looking to make their first marketing hire, and it is invariably — we’ve started making revenues, and we need a marketer to help us scale our revenue. Most founders are quite hazy with their marketing hiring strategy and don’t always know what exactly they’re looking for from the marketer.
It worries me that many people don’t see what marketing brings to the table and what kind of pain points marketing helps ease.
It isn’t just about hiring a marketer; it’s hiring a marketer at the right time for the right task that is going to make a difference.
We know that marketing includes multiple specializations and adds value at different points in the customer journey. So, figuring out where in this journey you’re having trouble will transform your marketing.
Often, startup founders make the mistake of hiring one marketer and expect the person to handle everything to do with marketing. But just like how you can’t hire a backend engineer to handle all frontend engineering work, you can’t expect one marketer to perform all marketing tasks.
Dissect your marketing journey and your strategy based on external factors, figure where you’re doing well and where the pain points are, and you’ll know what kind of marketer to hire and when exactly to.
At this juncture, whether at all to invest in a marketer at an early stage or simply work with freelancers or agencies is a question that many startups will dwell on.
While agencies have a significant role to play in the marketing journey that you’ll draw out for your company, they can’t do what an in-house marketer can.
The agency vs. in-house marketing debate has been raging for decades now. But I believe that both parties need to work together. Investing in an in-house marketer is critical to ensure that agencies deliver their best to the company.
Marketing is increasingly becoming a core function. It is essential to have someone in-house who is invested in the company’s growth, believes in its vision and culture to chart out the strategy, and executes brand and marketing operations that set the startup apart from the rest.