How To Build A World-Class Marketing Team

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By Chris Martin

When I was first asked by a growing scale-up to build the brand a marketing team, I was perplexed. Rather naively, I thought that simply hiring good marketers was the winning recipe. I’ve learned a lot since then. Customers, culture and competition all influence effective team composition. But the end result isn’t too far removed from that original assumption. Building a high-performing marketing team requires the right people, in the right environment, and supported by the right structures.

But it can still feel like a daunting task, especially at the outset. So, to keep things simple, I’ve broken down the process into four key decision points.

Marketing Activities

Before you can even start to think about what skills or traits any future marketing team will need, you’ll first have to understand what exactly it is they will be doing. This will become the bread and butter of the team, the things that need to be done on a recurring basis — from strategic audits and price setting to copy and graphic design. The full gamut of macro and micro activities. While there’s no single right way to conduct such an audit, I find it particularly helpful to create three lists:

• Existing Competencies: This is what your business is already doing well. Not all marketing is done by marketers, and you may be surprised just how much is happening already — from building a shared understanding of markets to managing customer data, creating distribution networks and making communication decisions. This list will help you to identify the largest gaps and most immediate opportunities.

• Effective Tactics: What do your customers respond to, and what converts brand awareness into profitable sales? This list tells you what you need to do more of. After all, there’s no point in investing in activities that don’t move the needle.

• Competitor Actions: Quite simply, what are others in your market doing? It’s important not to fixate on this point, but a cursory understanding is vital. Not only does this list highlight potential gaps in your own existing competencies, but it equally highlights points of difference to capitalize on.

Key Roles

With lists in hand, it’s now time to consolidate. Deciding the roles you want to fill can also be interpreted as shaping the structure of your team. But be sure not to be too rigid at this stage. Structure and talent frequently come into conflict, and it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice preconceived roles in order to accommodate talented people.

There’s a variety of ways in which you can approach the decision of roles. Gary Vaynerchuck famously described the four people every startup needs: the math person, the art person, the video person and the written word person. This neatly aligns roles with skill sets, though others may prefer a different approach. Chris Walker of Refine Labs, for example, breaks marketing down into the following roles: the architect, the distributor, the creative and the subject matter expert.

Personally, an approach I’ve favored over the years involves breaking down the practice of marketing into five domains: strategy, customer insight, communications, sales acceleration and operational support. The curious thing about this model is just how flexible it is. While strategy is given a designation of its own, some businesses may lean more into price-setting skills, others into product development input, or even brand narrative development. The same is true across each dimension. Customer insight activities can span qualitative skills, quantitative skills, CRM management and more, while the range of communication tactics firms have to choose between is simply enormous.

Required Skills

Building a high-performance, market-beating team means investing in the skills that will pay dividends for your business. Data collected for MarketingWeek suggests that digital marketing skills have been the top growers over the course of 2021. Paid social media and ad serving lead the pack with demand growth of 116% and 84%, respectively.

Of course, that makes sense. In a year of lockdowns and digital consumption, it’s no surprise that businesses have been seeking the skills to compete better online. But to build your team, it’s important not to be swayed by the trends of the time. By this point in the process, you have a wealth of data to tap into about what your business needs.

Take the roles that you have created and consolidate activities into them. Be wary not to assume one role equals one person. Depending on the structure you have settled upon, some people may be able to fulfill multiple roles. Conversely, if you plan to invest heavily into one particular area, a role may require an entire team to achieve the scale you seek. It is at this point those tensions may begin to arise — usually driven by the choice between generalists and specialists.

Which is better: to assign more granularity to roles and hire the best at individual activities, or to hire marketers who are more flexible and can move between various tasks at ease? At best, this question is a distraction. At worst, it can lead to poor decision-making. Because the question assumes that these are the only two options. But a better choice exists. T-shaped marketers are individuals with in-depth knowledge of one or two niche areas, but broad general skills across multiple other areas. At startup and scale-up phases, this mix of specialism in priority activities and flexibility to work competency across others is a winning combination.

Mapping Growth

Finally, the last consideration is your expansion plans. It’s all too easy to be unprepared for growth, leaving your new marketing team with more plates to spin or in-the-moment additions to capacity that hinder more than they help.

So, before you even begin building a team, layout the milestones at which you plan to hire more (or invest in greater agency support) and the new skills that are the highest priority at each phase of growth. Because, as the old saying goes: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Source: Forbes.com

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