You’ve finally nailed product-market fit. Customers are telling you how much they love your product. Now it’s time to focus on building your team.
Before product-market fit, founders typically lead sales & marketing, and they should. It’s critical that those holding the vision are soaking up as much direct customer feedback as possible.
Once you’ve hit product-market fit, it’s time to hire your first growth marketer. You need a person focused full-time on understanding your target audience, determining how to reach them, and the best way to persuade them to buy or use your product.
Over time, your growth marketer can optimize different parts of your lifecycle, but at this stage, acquisition is most likely the priority. As you invest in acquisition, don’t forget to closely monitor your retention rates – leaky buckets don’t scale!
At this stage, you probably can’t afford a seasoned C-level, or even an outstanding marketer with VP experience. That’s okay — these candidates are not the best fit for your first growth marketing hire.
A better and lower-risk option is to find an all-star junior athlete that can grow with your business over time. They’re more willing to get in the trenches and do the hard work of finding the 1-2 marketing channels that will drive the majority of your customer acquisition. And they won’t feel the need to put in place an expensive operation that they know will work.
Ideally, you should look for someone who is senior enough to lead a small team in 1-2 years. If your first growth marketing hire is successful, they will test and scale a new marketing channel every ~3-6 months. Adding junior growth marketers to the team provides leverage and frees up time for your all-star to experiment with new channels and tactics.
The best growth marketers have a similar combination of characteristics. They are the same characteristics that founders often possess.
Curiosity. Growth marketers have to test & learn, a lot. The vast majority of marketing tactics won’t profitably acquire new customers for your business. You need someone that will come up with ideas you’ve never thought of, and test each channel into the ground.
Impact-driven. Growth marketers are responsible for driving your top-line. You’re not hiring them to build beautiful products, or come up with the perfect slogan. They are way more motivated by the economic results of their latest campaign than how pretty the creative was.
Will get in the weeds. At an early stage, your company won’t have tons of resources. Quickly executing a new campaign in a high-quality way is hard work. Your growth marketer will have to work through every detail to ensure that experiments are valid, the customer experience is satisfactory, and projects launch on time.
Quantitative & understands your customer. Growth marketers can’t only be analytical or able to sympathize with your customers. They must be both. They have to prioritize the highest-impact experiments, and be able to measure results. At the same time, understanding your customer is key to brainstorming marketing tactics that will work, and upholding customer experience standards.
Works well with others. Growth marketers work across multiple functions. They must partner with design for creative, finance for budget, product to ensure a good customer experience, and data to measure results. While your team is small, your growth marketer will likely wear many of the aforementioned hats. As your company scales and your team is built out, it’s critical that your growth marketer can work seamlessly with these functions.
In general, you should look for someone with a combination of business, marketing and product experience.
Growth marketing, management consulting, or finance experience (investing, banking). The best growth marketers have high horsepower, like challenging problems, understand your P&L, and are motivated by impact. These are the jobs that they’re most likely to take right out of college.
Has managed 1-2 high priority marketing channels. Ideally, you can find a candidate who has hands-on experience managing your top priority channels at a similar business. Keep in mind that channels work very differently at different types of businesses — B2B and B2C email marketing are extremely different, for example.
Experience with marketing tools. Look for candidates who are experts with foundational marketing tools such as Google Analytics & Excel. They should have basic knowledge of a broad range of tools (email, paid search, social media, AB testing, BI), and be able to go deep in their areas of expertise. For example, if you’re hiring an SEO expert, do they know the best SEO tools? Can they break down how the different alternatives compare?
Has worked with a product team. It’s a huge plus if you can find a candidate who has already worked closely with a product team (or on a product team). There are three reasons:
The candidate will better understand how to sympathize with your customers.
The candidate will think about your full funnel, and not just your marketing channels.
Access to your product (i.e. website, software solution) can turbo-charge the impact your growth marketer has on your business.
Ideal growth marketing candidates know how to create business value, the marketing tactics you should test, and what motivates your customer.
Understands how to create value. Creating business value is the northstar metric for growth marketers. They should understand the impact of accelerating customer acquisition, boosting retention, and improving conversion rates.
Excels at building business cases. More specifically, growth marketers must be experts at developing reasonable business cases that estimate the impact of new campaigns. Without this, it is impossible to properly prioritize projects.
Knows growth marketing tactics. Your growth marketer should walk in the door with an understanding of numerous tactics that other companies have used to acquire customers, retain customers and improve conversion rates. He or she should also have an opinion of what would work best for your business.
A marketing analytics whiz. Growth marketers must be capable of measuring the success of their projects. This requires an analytical mindset and the ability to process data across your entire funnel. In addition, they can leverage their curiosity to consistently find new insights hidden in your data.
Understands human behavior. Whether you run a B2B or B2C business, humans decide whether or not to purchase your product. The best growth marketers are experts in behavioral economics. They’ll know professors like Kahneman, Tversky, & Ariely, and can extrapolate experiment ideas from their research.
Your interview process should test for the characteristics, experience and knowledge listed above. Here’s a few tips on developing a process that effectively vetts candidates.
In your initial conversations with candidates, you can probe to see if they have the characteristics of a successful growth marketer.
Are they curious? Ask your candidates the last thing they taught themselves. Curious people like to learn, and the ability to learn is critical to the success of all growth marketers.
Will they get in the weeds? Ask your candidates about a time they had limited resources to get a project done at work. Did they take ownership to get it done anyway? See if they remember small details about the project. People who really got in the weeds will.
Will they understand your customer? Ask your candidates about personal experiences they’ve had with other companies that were terrible. Was it way too difficult to pay a utility bill using a phone? Did a company send an email that was completely irrelevant? Good growth marketers notice these things, and actively think about how to improve customer experiences.
Case studies are a tremendously effective screening tool for growth marketers. After your initial conversations, give your candidate a prompt that includes a business goal (i.e. acquire 1,000 new customers) and asks for a 90 day plan plus a prioritized list of new campaigns to test.
Growth marketers will eagerly dig into the problem, and be motivated by perfecting a plan that delivers business impact. While discussing the case study with the candidate, keep an eye on:
Growth marketers are motivated by impact and the ability to solve difficult problems. You should reinforce how critical their work will be to the overall success of the business, and how much your team has left to learn about your customers and market.
Also have a conversation about how you see the person growing with your company over time. Hearing your plans to support their personal growth and create a space for them to execute will be music to their ears!
Bruce Hogan is Co-founder and CEO of SoftwarePundit. He previously led growth marketing at Teachers Pay Teachers, the largest online marketplace for original educational resources.