As your company grows, your marketing function will require a different set of skills. In the early stages – usually when a company is still building a marketing function – the CEO (or founder) owns a portion of the marketing responsibilities and hires specialists or agencies to fill the gaps.
Once you’ve created the marketing foundation, including a go-to-market strategy, positioning, messaging, design standards, content to support different stages of the funnel, a demand generation machine, marketing automation, and a good sales/marketing cadence – the marketing team (like your other teams) needs structure to scale properly.
At some point, the leadership team needs to graduate from the day-to-day execution and build an in-house marketing function. A question we’re often asked is, “which marketing role should I hire first?”
It’s a difficult question to answer – and, in true consultant fashion, we usually say “it depends”.
Rather than hire for a certain title, think about equipping your team with the right skill groups. There are five primary skill groups that most B2B SaaS companies should look to fill on their marketing team: marketing leadership, product marketing, content marketing, demand generation / digital, and creative.
Some teams may need more of one skill group than another – some won’t need any of certain skills. "It depends". Consider this list a starting point for your marketing team recruitment.
For more specifics on the responsibilities for each skill group, read on. If you're trying to shift the marketing burden from your leadership team to your marketing team and hire your first full-time marketing team lead, click here.
Below is a more detailed breakdown of the skill groups including an outline of responsibilities for each role. Keep in mind that this is not a hard-and-fast list, but a starting point to help you think about the skills you need for each area of the marketing function.
We often work with highly engaged CEOs or founders who get their hands dirty with the “Big M” (strategic) marketing. Sometimes they take ownership of tactical delivery as well. In early stages, CEO involvement in Big M marketing is a good thing. In many cases, CEOs should play a role in defining and leading a company’s strategic narrative and guiding which big bets are made from a marketing perspective.
The head of product often plays a role in product marketing. And more often than not, the demand generation and creative functions are filled by a collection of SEO/SEM/PPC/designer/developer agencies or freelancers.
That leaves a lot of early stage SaaS company “marketing teams” looking something like this:
The CEO, Head of product, and freelancers can fill some of the roles in the beginning. But the freelancers and agencies don’t usually speak with each other, follow a unified strategy, or move in the same direction. The executive team can’t fulfill the entire marketing function since it’s not their primary focus.
Content marketing is often ignored or outsourced. Many early-stage companies treat real content marketing as an afterthought. People see it as an enigma or a waste of time, and it can be difficult to do without deep industry expertise and discipline. But leaving it on the back burner is a big mistake – but that’s for another article.
You can move away from the model above by bringing some of the marketing responsibilities in-house. This also frees up your leadership team to focus on progressing the other business functions as a whole. The main goals of hiring your first full-time marketing team member are to:
If you've received funding or have a steep growth trajectory, hiring three or four single-discipline marketers is a valid option. But this usually isn't the easiest. In order to properly manage those roles, you usually need someone with at least some hands-on experience in each area.
For most companies, it's realistic to afford one full-time marketer as you start to scale. As a first hire, someone with the following traits will help you achieve the three goals above:
With someone like the above, your marketing function might look more like this:
From here, you can hire a more experienced marketing leader to to own the team building and strategic responsibilities. Or – depending on your first marketing hire’s experience (and your timing) – they may be the right person to step into a leadership role and build a team of specialists under them as you scale.
"I'm still not quite sure where to start..."
Even with this framework, you may find it difficult to understand which marketing skill groups your company needs first. It's often challenging for CEOs that don't have deep marketing experience to know what to look for in their first marketing hire. If you're having trouble getting started, it might be worth exploring a short-term fractional marketing leader or coach, who can help asses your situation and make recommendations for next steps based on their experience. Or, here's another in-depth article on how to hire a B2B SaaS CMO.
"I have a full-time marketer, but they're not very experienced on the "Big M" side of marketing and I'm not sure I have the capacity/marketing experience to coach them"
If you already have a marketing team member, but they're not quite ready to step into the leadership role, a 6-month B2B SaaS go to market strategy framework with short-term coaching from a marketing leader might give them the right tools to get up to speed quickly.
"I'm looking for a FT marketing leader... What questions should I ask to make sure they know their stuff?
While this article is aimed at finding a more seasoned marketing leader – these questions will also help you benchmark a mid-level marketing leader as well.