A few FounderDating entrepreneurs recently fired up a topic discussion that every founder, startup, and business owner has had at some point in the early development of their idea; that very question, “how do you find great marketers?” – a question that comes up in public discussions more than a few times a week. So what’s the answer? Here’s what I shared with the Founders there…
Peter Drucker, one of the world’s brightest business thinkers and the man who invented the concept of Management by Objectives, famously once said, “Business only has two functions – marketing and innovation.”
It’s astounding to me that early stage teams so poorly value Marketers. Not “marketing” mind you… marketers. Marketing is easily misunderstood, especially in our era of Lean Startup, low risk investment, and focus on “what customers want” – not that there is anything inherently wrong with those philosophies and ideas; rather, they too easily teach (inappropriately) that marketing is about acquiring customers. And therefore, that you don’t hire someone to do marketing until you have a product, know your customers, and have figured out what to charge …so you can pay to acquire more.
This from wikipedia; unfortunately, many mis-read this or stop at the first sentence, “Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling the product or service. It is a critical business function for attracting customers.”
What’s usually misread there?
“VALUE of a product” and “Critical to attracting customers”
Marketing doesn’t start when your product is launched or after an MVP is up, it defines what your MVP should be. Marketing is the process of understanding the value of your idea in the market and, I don’t think anyone would disagree, it’s critical to attracting customers (something you’d want to do first before investing in development).
But it goes on… “marketing is the link between a society’s material requirements and its economic patterns of response. Marketing satisfies these needs and wants through exchange processes and building long term relationships…. Marketing is the science of choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer buying behavior and providing superior customer value.”
That’s why I distinguished a Marketer from marketing. You can hire anyone with opposable thumbs to do marketing, someone with experience in Adwords or email can do some marketing for you. A Marketer is the person who starts by ensuring your product meets the needs of the market through market analysis and segmentation.
What do they do? “The set of engagements necessary for successful marketing management includes, capturing marketing insights, connecting with customers, building strong brands, shaping the market offerings, delivering and communicating value, creating long-term growth, and developing marketing strategies and plans.” Is that the person you have in mind?
Find, Vet, and Engage with Rockstar Marketers
So, now a thought on an actual answer. To what extent is pure customer acquisition the ultimate purpose of marketing?
Make no mistake, Peter Drucker wasn’t so ignorant as to conclude that marketing meant simply acquiring customers for your MVP when he famously spoke. Business has only two functions: marketing, the likes of which we’ve defined here, and innovation. Any other short-sighted form of marketing will, worst case, result in your failure, or, best case, result in a significant waste of time and money as you spend to acquire customers without really marketing.
Marketers identify and seek, attract, and understand how to convert the right customers; this is not an easy job and many people who think they can do it, cannot. Think I’m wrong? Consider how frequently you or a startup you know has attempted to do marketing in 2-4 month sprints or turned over people brought in to acquire customers just as quickly. Why? Most startups hire someone to do customer acquisition and most often, at an early stage, with an incomplete product, no recognizable brand, a developing industry let alone a developing business, and a limited marketing skill set, most, initial, customer acquisition will fail.
Here’s the catch. It won’t appear to fail. Spend a grand on search engine marketing and of course you’ll get a return. Buy some leads and blast a few emails; anyone can get customers. One of the most dangerous and misleading fallacies perpetuated by startup roadmaps such as Lean is the idea that you should focus on acquiring some customers to help validate your business. Early customer acquisition without real marketing can appear to work as 10% month over growth is clearly a positive sign of success. Isn’t it? Anyone with opposable thumbs can get a few customer; the success of our venture depends on real growth. At an early stage, your business should be doubling, not growing at the rate of a mature company. Shouldn’t it?
You may have had troubling finding these people because you’ve been hiring the skill, not the talent.
Where do you start to find these folks? If you don’t yet have a reliable network of peers to which to turn, start with LinkedIn. Forget the cool new tech, HR tools, networks, etc. LinkedIn is still the tried and true network on which to vet someone’s background, skills, network, etc. It’s not right all the time, but there is no better. Start with a search for “marketing” in your industry, or through related companies, and start digging through networks to find good people. Then network network network… marketers by nature like to meet people so it isn’t hard to connect with one and start making headway to find the people recommended in your industry, where you live.
How then do you attract them? The same way you hire Rockstar Developers. Great marketers want a challenge, they want to do innovative work, they want to prove they can, most importantly, they want to work with a team that knows there are no right answers – at least not if you’re innovating. Business only has two functions – if you aren’t doing one, what marketer worth his salt would work with you?
If you are looking for someone to acquire customers or run some marketing programs, look for a recruiter and hire someone who can run a campaign. If you want to attract and appeal to a Marketer, the right hand of innovation, explain why you know you need one and they’ll line up at your door.