Hiring Your Startup’s Chief Marketing Officer
Early stage startups are usually comprised of product-focused teams, both technical and non-technical. Portions of the company’s marketing are handled by the existing staff, often including the founders. So when it comes time to bring on a marketing head, the needs of the company greatly depend on the existing value already present within the company. Determining your team’s existing marketing strengths will expose your company’s marketing shortfalls, shedding light on what elements potential hires will need to bring to the table.
Determine Your Startup’s Needs First
When it comes to your startup’s Chief Marketing Officer candidates’ existing skill sets are of greater importance than when filling roles for other disciplines at your company. Marketing takes on a few different focus areas, each capitalizing on different strengths and skill sets. Identifying which focus area(s) your company needs will give you the proper direction to begin finding the right candidates. We have broken marketing into three focus areas: Demand Generation, Product Management and Customer Management.
1) Demand Generation: This is the most sought after professional among startups, as it closely ties in with what is known as growth hacking. These professionals are focused on lead/customer/conversion generation directly, utilizing quantitative analysis and testing strategies to reach targeted audiences, maximize conversion rates and create new customers quickly. This often goes along with a heavy digital focus, with backgrounds in SEM, viral marketing and other paid and controllable marketing channels.
2) Product Management: This skill set is often fulfilled by the founders at startups in the earlier stages. This area of marketing focuses more on pre and post-launch market research. Product-focused marketers dig into market segmentation and analysis, and determine pricing, messaging and positioning of the product.
3) Customer Management: This area of focus is the public-facing and connection side of marketing. Disciplines include public relations and outreach, social media management and engagement, customer feedback and insights, and much of the branding process.
In most cases, startups are in need of a marketing leader with expertise in number’s 1 and 3. Much of number 2’s disciplines get handled by the existing team early on. This is not always the case though, making it important to evaluate needs based on your company and team.
Find Someone Who Has Bootstrapped
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should bootstrap your own marketing. That being said; one of the most frustrating parts of being a marketing professional is minimal executable resources. This type of situation forces marketing professionals to use resources efficiently, selectively and with greater governance. When they do land in a situation where they have abundant resources, they will be wiser about getting the most out of each one.
Cultural Alignment is Key
Finding a list of qualified candidates is only half the battle. From there, the game becomes a matter of finding someone that your team can work with, who believes in the product and vision, and who can handle and thrive within the startup culture. It doesn’t really matter how great your hire is if they can’t work well with your existing team, or if they don’t believe strongly in your product. Startups especially cannot afford to make the sales of their products more difficult, by employing a marketer who wouldn’t buy it themselves.
Whatever you do, make sure you find top marketing talent for your startup. Leverage the resources at your disposal to locate and qualify candidates. Talk to your network of investors and advisors, and enlist the help of a quality startup-focused executive search firm. Do what it takes to land great marketers, because their impact will reap impressive results for your company.
Hiring Strategies Startups
Recruiting top talent for startups is at its toughest point in 20 years. Between big companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, and the high volume of new and growing startups, competition for talent is fierce. Companies are fighting hard, and in many instances failing, to find and recruit the talent they need to survive, grow and become successful companies.
I’m a huge fan of the NFL, among other things. And as the NFL Draft approaches and fantasy chatter starts to creep up, I can’t help but notice several hiring lessons startups can learn from how NFL teams recruit their top talent. Here are 5 strategies from Draft Day that can help you build a better team:
1. Draft Players Based On Potential, Not Perfection
Many underclassmen are selected during the draft based on their potential and projected growth within the system. They may not even start until 3-4 years after being acquired, but they will receive mentoring from veteran players and learn the team’s playbook and system. Using this strategy, your startup should hire potential candidates based on where they can be in a few years as they discover their fit in your culture, with established employees mentoring them and bringing them up to speed.
2. Greatness In College Does Not Always Lead To Greatness In the Pros
How many times have you seen your favorite college player drafted in the 1st Round, only to become a bust in the pros? Just because a player wins the Heisman or a National Championship does not mean he will play well at the pro level. Tim Tebow comes to mind; an ideal player in college who not only won both the National Championship at Florida and the Heisman Trophy, but was a good guy off the field as well. Yet when he reached the NFL, his notoriety diminished quickly. Not even a change in positions could allow him to achieve the levels he reached while in college. Over the past decade, 1st Rounders have fallen short of Pro-Bowl caliber expectations over 60% of the time, and you’ll find it to be the same case when hiring for your startup. You may find ideal candidates from top schools with a great pedigree, but down the road they can just as easily end up being unreliable employees for you. I have met so many amazing and talented employees who didn’t go to Ivy League schools or top rated colleges (many didn’t even finish college), but they have the startup DNA, the natural talent and the passion to be successful. None of this means that you should ignore where candidates went to school or even their education level, but don’t dismiss talent out of hand simply because of their educational background. Hire someone that you can train, that fits your culture and has the skills, potential and passion that you need.
3. High Scores at The NFL Combine Do Not Make Studs
How many times have you heard about the guy that was drafted because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40, or achieved some other elite level stat at the Scouting Combine? Jerry Rice ran poor 40 times, but the Hall of Famer was uncatchable on game day. Don’t make the same mistakes in recruiting for your startup by overemphasizing how candidates score on IQ tests, personality quizzes or coding assessments. Base you hires on cultural fit and hire people who fit the team and your system. Dig into their past experiences, learn about their goals for the future and assess chemistry with everyone internally. Check their references and then find more on your own. Stats are a great foot in the door for many candidates, but they should not be the only way to get a seat at the table.
4. Don’t Overpay on Hype and Avoid Agent Traps
I’ve seen teams trade up on Draft day and overpay. I’ve seen high draft picks boycott where they didn’t want to play to avoid getting drafted by teams that pick early, only to play elsewhere. In recruiting, there is no reason to overpay because they worked for a big name or had a huge exit. That doesn’t mean you can pay under market for the people you need, but if they don’t fit your culture, find another solution and move on. Look for employees that want to be a part of your organization and focus on people with the right mindset, skillset and passion. Employees who believe in your mission and vision are the ones who will fight the battle with you on your journey. Find those people and pay what you must to recruit them, not because of a name on their resume, but because of their direct value and dedication to your company.
5. Find Franchise Players in Later Rounds
Many NFL Hall of Famers were not picked in the 1st Round. Joe Montana was a 3rd Round pick, Brett Favre was late in the 2nd Round, and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady was in the 7th Round. Warren Moon, Tony Romo, Adam Vinatieri, Kurt Warner and Wes Welker are among many undrafted players who went on to perform at superior levels in the NFL. It just goes to show that talent can come from anywhere, no matter what school they went to or background they come from. Keep your options open, do things you haven’t done before and take the right risks. Just as you do to become a successful business, your startup must think outside the box and go against standard practices to compete in hiring.
Learn from the strategies and mistakes at the NFL Draft. Think about how you’re going to find the right people for your team. Whether you get them in the 1st round or 7th, make sure they’re the right fit for you.
Every hire at an early stage startup is critical. Your first sales hire in particular will have a large impact on your organization, its survival, growth and ultimately, its success. But knowing what you need in your first sales pro and what to look for in candidates is half the battle. Within the scope of the sales profession exists a wide array of experience and expertise, and knowing what your company needs to be successful is an important question to answer.
So what should you look for in your first sales hire? At Millennium Search, we have a long track record of experience in sales recruiting across several verticals and industries, and have learned to be very specific based on the needs of each organization. Among startups, there is a great deal of diversity, and with that comes specific needs for your first sales hire. Consider the following aspects of your company:
Your Organizational Structure and Culture- Cultural alignment is a critical factor to consider in hiring. Your sales hire will be interfacing with you and your existing team on a regular basis, making chemistry with your candidates an important aspect. Ask yourself, do they believe in the company and the existing team? Do they believe the product offers value to future customers? Do they share similar values and goals, or will there be clashing personalities and roadblocks with your candidate? Being one of the more important considerations, it is also the most highly subjective, and not all companies look at it the same. But as a starting point, simply put, your team should probably like the candidate and be involved in the hiring process to solidify that opinion.
Your Product and Customer- The scope of technology products is wide ranging in the startup world, each requiring a different set of sales criteria. At a high level, consider whether your product is focused towards SMBs or enterprise organizations. Why? The enterprise solution often entails a higher price, longer sales cycle and more complex implementation, meaning each close will require a mid to long-term sales relationship. Your sales hire needs to excel at building and maintaining these longer relationships, and will need a strong courting skill set. Compare this to an SMB solution, which often carries a lower price point, is frequently an SaaS solution with a broader support structure, and is generally created to have a simple onboard process and quick pick up. Selling to SMBs still requires a strong relationship aspect, but the cycle is much shorter, and volume is much more achievable for one salesperson. Within those two arenas are other company and product specifics that can take you in several directions, but the point remains that much of what you need in your first sales hire depends on your product and customer base.
Your Company’s Progress- The entrepreneur is very often a jack-of-all-trades, who keeps spending tight by compensating with time. This very often includes the role of sales, until it can no longer be tackled by the founder or early staff. Then again, there are many entrepreneurs who are product people, bringing technical or management skills to the table to move things along, but simply lack the skills, personality or know-how to pursue sales or effectively acquire new customers. For the latter situation, your first sales hire’s job will be more than just making the calls and selling the prospect. He or she will need to define the sales process, create and refine the pitch, research the objections and formulate how to handle them effectively. This hire will need to both conceptualize and execute the sales process from every angle, making the job more complex which will involve a longer timeline to success. Some people are great at closing business but have not generated their own leads. And some salespeople excel at hitting quotas and making companies money, but starting from scratch is a totally different ball game.
Questions We Ask Our Clients- You can learn a lot about your sales needs just by forcing yourself to answer the questions a recruiting firm would ask. Where are you in your sales cycle? Do you have paying customers? How many? How many customers do you anticipate having within the next 6 to 12 months? What type of support structure exists for your salesperson? Will you be hiring both a salesperson and a presales engineer? What are you willing to pay, and how does that fit into the market for talent? All of these are important questions to answer when defining needs for your first sales hire.
Evaluating First Sales Hire Candidates
Once you define what your needs are, the next step becomes aligning your company with the characteristics of the candidates you find. When gauging sales candidates, like many job functions, their background is their largest predictor of success. But within each background, there are many aspects and directions. Consider the following:
Quotas, Revenues, and Actual Sales- Top performing sales pros are proud and unafraid of their track record, despite blemishes and bad years. And while no one has a good year every year, there should still be a demonstrated background of success. When evaluating history, consider not only quotas, but also revenues, and actual sales numbers. Is there a history of meeting and/or exceeding quotas? Regardless of the industry or niche they came from, a salesperson’s ability to meet stated goals is a strong indicator of their ability to be successful. Revenues are also a strong indicator framed within the scope of the product served. A combined look at quotas, revenues and customers sold will paint a better picture of their performance in prior sales roles.
Rankings Within Former Sales Teams- Beyond the numbers, take a look at how they ranked within their past sales teams. Pure numbers are often arbitrary and don’t always paint a great picture, but if you put those numbers within the context of their peers, you can get a sense of whether those numbers are actually impressive or not. Keep in mind that you most likely have no sense of the caliber of your candidates’ former peers. But a history of ranking high or being the top performer in the past can shed light on things.
Sales Style, Experience and Preference- Are they relationship focused or do they hunt for new business? Do they enjoy longer sales cycles and relationship management or are they better suited for short cycle and high volume? Has a candidate worked for 100% commission before (not that they would at a startup or software company, but doing so in the past does indicate a level of boldness and confidence)? Are they cut out to launch a product or are they better suited to come in when things are more established?
Sales Success at a Startup- Not every sales professional is cut out to work at a startup. Determining whether or not a candidate has the chops to succeed at your startup can be tough to determine, but past sales experience for an early stage company can be invaluable. Few startups actually make it, so past success in that role is even better. Depending upon your company’s situation, you may also want to see if your candidates have experience launching a product for a startup or opening a new region in past positions, and see how successful they were in that regard. Some sales pros do better at an enterprise company, and many prefer it. Not all startups think this is a necessity, but finding candidates who have the experience is definitely a plus. Along the same lines, have they ever started or owned their own company? It may not have necessarily been a startup, but any entrepreneurial initiative requires a great deal of hard work. Often times, former entrepreneurs make great first sales hires for startups.
Success In Your Industry & Niche- Sales does not often warrant expertise in the industry or niche you work in, and learning a product is not a major pain point for sales pros. That being said, experience within an industry can be a strength in other regards. For starters, knowing an industry or niche most likely means the candidate already has an established network with your potential customers, and can more readily penetrate the marketplace with a related product. Industry experience can also lead to less of a learning curve when entering a new market with a new product.
Background at a Familiar Company- Often times, founders and early stage startup teams have a pretty good idea of what sales will look like for their company, and relate the experience at their organization to that of another company (i.e. I want to interview sales execs from X company). It’s an identifiable way of finding what you’re looking for based on past experience with a certain company and their sales training, process, and cycle. What’s more, finding sales candidates currently or formerly from companies that would be your competitors or complements in the space would lend itself to many advantages, including product knowledge, potential customer contacts, knowledge of the sales cycle and industry knowledge.
Technical Knowledge- CAUTION: Your sales pros don’t need it! Yes, it’s a technology company, and they will be selling a technology solution, but your salesperson is not developing a product or walking customers through technical support. The role of sales is to find and capture new customers. This can be a dangerous caveat for early stage companies, thinking they need to find a technically literate sales pro with a dev background to be a successful salesperson. This is almost always not the case. They are not selling clean code; they are selling a real life solution for a real life need.
Millennium Search is an executive search firm for emerging and high growth technology companies. We help tomorrow’s technology innovators locate and hire top talent in Sales, as well as technical, marketing, business and design functions, from the C Level to managers and individual contributors. Throughout our 10 year track record, we have worked with today’s hottest technology companies backed by VCs like Benchmark Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures and more! Whether you are making your first sales hire or your hundredth, Millennium Search has the people, the network and the tools to help you find the high caliber talent you need to move forward, reach your milestones, and find success in your venture. Contact us today!