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3 minute read / Feb 20, 2014 /

What to Look for When Hiring a Head of Marketing for Your Startup

When a startup is confronted with the prospect of hiring a head of marketing, founders heads often spin.

What should be the day-to-day tasks for this person? What skill sets are important? Because of the seeming abstract nature of marketing, founders sometimes delay finding a head of marketing until they feel acute pain, at which point they can clearly identify the attributes of the right candidate. But underinvestment in marketing, like underinvestment in infrastructure or software or product, isn’t a good idea.

As a few of the companies I work with have sought to hire heads of marketing, I’ve been working through similar questions of how to define and describe the characteristics of the right marketing hire. There are three distinct marketing skillsets to weigh when hiring a head of marketing: marketing communications, quantitative marketing, and product marketing.

  1. Marketing Communications - aka MarCom, is the team reponsible for the brand and the voice of the company in the market place. Marcom teams typically create sales collateral, white papers, the content for content marketing, event materials and so on. Marcom is the least frequently employed skillset in startups because the effectiveness of the team is very difficult to quantify. Marcom is the mushy work most people associate with marketing. But the lack of metrics doesn’t diminish the value or impact of the team’s work. Marcom teams interact quite a bit with Public Relations (internal or external).

  2. Quantitative Marketing - aka growth hacking, is the team reponsible for marketing qualified leads (MQL). These teams are by nature technical, often performing significant data analysis to maximize return-on-investment of their marketing spend. For consumer startups like gaming companies, quantitative marketing teams buy ads across networks, test different creatives often supplied by marcom or another team and then optimize this process. In enterprise startups, the quantitative marketing teams are also called demand generation teams. They field inbound calls and inquiries and also make outbound calls to drum up meetings with potential customers. These leads are passed to the sales teams. Quantitative Marketing teams are most closely aligned with sales.

  3. Product Marketing - Though there are many different flavors of product marketing. In this case, I use the term the way Apple defines product marketing. Before launch, product marketers analyze the customer base: demographics, interests, needs segmentations, willingness-to-pay, etc. This data informs the product and engineering roadmap. Once the product is launched, product marketers position the product in the market, price and discount it, and own the commercial success of the launch. Product marketers work closely with product managers and engineering leaders at the beginning of a product’s lifecycle and then with MarCom and Quantitative Marketing teams after launch.

By dividing the marketing skill set into these three buckets and deciding which skillset is the most important and which are nice-to-haves, it’s easier to identify the best head of marketing candidate for a particular role.

The key to hiring the right marketing person is to match the needs of the company with a candidates skills. Distilling the needs of the company into these three skillsets helps dispel the amorphous fog around the word marketing.

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