Building a Marketing Team from Scratch w/ Amrita Gurney

Amrita headshot v2.JPG

To start out, give me the 30-second pitch of CrowdRiff and then a little bit about your role?

CrowdRiff is a visual marketing platform - we automate the process of sourcing, organizing, and using visuals across a brand's marketing channels. We work primarily with digital marketing teams in the travel and tourism sector. 

My role as VP Marketing spans the full marketing spectrum - from brand to demand gen to product marketing and operations. 

The topic for the day is building a marketing team from scratch – something you've done a few times in your career. What are some common mistakes that happen along that you’ve experienced firsthand? 

Equating mastery of tools with mastery of marketing
Something I’m seeing more recently is equating mastery of a tool with mastery of marketing. The tools that we have at our disposal in marketing are important to know how to use, but it's also important to know things like how to communicate our value or how to deeply understand our customers or how to design an experience we want our prospects to have. 

Waiting too long to hire Ops
Another mistake that I've made – and this is more recent – is waiting too long to hire a someone into an Operations role. I read a great post by Carol Leaman at Axonify, she was saying that if you're spending your first couple of months as a Ops hire doing data cleanup, you've been hired too late. 

Making sure that you have the ability to track and measure what you're doing and have all of your systems talk to each other properly is so important. It's important to do that as soon as you can because it really is the foundation for evaluating everything else as you grow. 

Writing skills
One more that I’ll point out is something that gets overlooked a lot when people are building a marketing team, and that’s writing skills. We live in an era where everyone's in love with being a technical marketer, but at the end of the day, marketers have to communicate with other humans. 

That doesn’t mean everyone has to be a copywriter, but they should be able to communicate effectively whether it's with colleagues or your company facing audience. 

"Without a go-to-market strategy, Marketing turns into a hot mess of ad hoc tactics."

I recently read a post of yours that encouraged those joining a new company to take a step back and look at the big picture before jumping right in. What are some ways to take that step back?

The first step is being crystal clear about expectations with others in the company. A lot of people assume that marketing is only focused on executing certain tactics really well, but go-to-market strategy and deciding on what the right tactics are is critical. Without that foundation of strategy, marketing turns into a hot mess of ad hoc tactics. 

There's a sweet spot of balancing experimentation and tactics. You have to get in there at least a little and experiment to see what your audience looks like, how they behave, where they can be found, etc. 

In my first couple months at CrowdRiff, I made it a priority to sit in on sales calls, talk to people in different departments, and read up as much as I could on the industry. It helped me put together some kind of general thoughts on what my approach to marketing would be. Not all of those thoughts were right – and you shouldn’t expect that – but it was a really helpful exercise. 

Something I’ve learned over time is that if you don’t put in the work upfront of understanding your customers, how they buy and the market landscape, you’re going to waste a lot of time figuring that out through trial and error. 

"It's time to expand your Marketing team once you have some sort of predictability built into your process."

Are there signs to look out for that indicate when it’s the right time to expand the marketing team? 

My approach has always been that you start scaling when you begin to have some sort of predictability around your marketing efforts. When I joined CrowdRiff, we were a two-person marketing team. As we started being able to measure and learn which channels and tactics were right for us, it was only then that we started looking for new hires. 

If you don't have predictability and you’re not sure what tactics will respond in which ways, it’s hard to know what additional skills to add to the team or where to invest more money. That's why a lot of startups fail as they start their initial growth process because they don’t have the process in place to understand what’s working compared to what’s not.
When it is time to grow, what roles should come first and where should that first Marketing Ops role fit into that plan? 

This depends on your go-to-market strategy. It’s common for a first hire to be more of a generalist. They juggle a lot of different projects because they’re the only one around. Your first hire needs to have a balance of technical and communication skills and also be very adaptable. 

When we hired our first Operations role, it was a role shared by sales and marketing and combined our teams were at eight people. By then we had a number of programs running and needed some additional processes built out. Once you start using a tool like Salesforce, there’s not much longer before you need to have somebody who can really make sure your tools are all working together. 

In terms of expanding and adding other roles, the next hires depend on where there’s traction. For us, we were using a go-to-market strategy that required us to focus a lot on events and other traditional areas like content marketing. So, our next hires were in content, design, events, and demand gen. 

What data do you need to have access to that lets you make those decisions of investing budget?

First, you need to be able to attribute your spend to the effect it's had on your funnel – not just leads, but opportunities generated and revenue influenced. Being able to measure a particular marketing activity and seeing what the result is, what percentage of those leads and opps which closed, and how much revenue was created … it’s critical.

Then you need to be able to have the ability to see where prospects are getting stuck in the funnel. From there, you can look at what programs you have (or need to create) to solve the issue. Then you move onto the next gap in the funnel, fix it, and repeat. 

As far as data sources, the bulk of it will come from your big platforms like Salesforce and your Marketing Automation Platform. 

I like to look at our channels in aggregate as well as at a granular level. So how are trade shows doing overall in terms of influencing pipeline and revenue, and then which ones are worth repeating and which ones underperformed?

Having said all that, I don’t believe that all marketing efforts can be directly measured, and even those we can, are not as black and white as we’d like to think. I’m happy to work with a CEO and Board at CrowdRiff who understand that.

"It's shocking to still see Marketers solely focused on MQLs – that's so 2005!"

In the past, marketing was only responsible for top-of-funnel activities, but today many companies have revenue goals for their marketing team as well. How do you ensure the team you’re building – along with the data we just discussed – help drive buyers through the full-funnel?

It starts with the marketing leader being very clear about what is important for the team. At CrowdRiff, I set a North Star metric for every quarter depending on where we are as a company. It's shocking to still see so many marketers focused solely on MQLs – that’s so 2005!

Taking the North Star metric one step further, each individual on my team has a particular metric that ladders up to the North Star metric to focus on. If our North Star metric is number of demos then our content person has a particular metric she's focused on improving that help drive more content offers that lead to demos. Then our demand gen guy, his metric is going to be a little bit further upstream from that, and so on. 

At the end of the day it's about measurement and communication – not just with your team, but the broader company as well. Exposure and transparency are really important. In our case, we as a marketing team we share our performance in terms of pipeline creation and revenue creation with the entire company every Monday – there is no hiding.

That’s one reason I love working at startups - it’s great training to become a high-performance marketer.

This is an area that isn’t perfect – and you folks know that because it’s something you’re trying to fix – because data is still messy to deal with and manage. 

For startups, it’s easy to keep sales and marketing aligned, but as the company scales it becomes more and more difficult, especially because as teams get to 10+ people only a few roles interact between the two teams. How do you keep those team aligned as the company grows? 

I think it's a problem if only a small percentage of the marketing team is interacting with sales on a regular basis – company size is not an excuse.

Before I even joined CrowdRiff, I spent a lot of time getting to know our VP who runs Sales to make sure that he and I were aligned. Being on the same page when it comes to company goals, as well as having a positive rapport with your counterpart makes communication easy. 

One simple thing we do to keep marketing involved in the sales org is to have team members join the daily sales stand-up on a rotating basis. It gives members of my team the opportunity to hear firsthand the types of conversations we’re having with customer as well as the aches and pains the sales team are feeling. Maybe those aches and pains are things that marketing can help out with, but you wouldn’t know that unless you sit in on those types of conversations.  

Do you have any tips on how to ramp up the skills you have on your team in order to keep up with how fast a company can grow?

That’s a hard one. To start, you need to hire people who love to learn. One thing we've started doing on our team is a weekly team learning meetings where everyone comes together to share something that we've learned with everyone else. It gives us some responsibility to always be learning. 

In a lot of companies, learning happens on an annual/semi-annual basis at some sort of training course or event. Those are great, but learning needs to be constant. The learnings don’t need to be big, but it has to be something, something as simple as “I just read this interesting article, I’m going to try X as a result of it.” 

I don’t want to downplay the importance of formal training at all – it’s something essential for your team to grow. I have certain skills which I am able to coach people on, but then there are other things I don't do well. For that, I need to make sure they have the resources to learn and grow. 

We have a designer that reports into marketing – I can't help her grow in her design skills the way she needs. What I can do is help her with is understanding marketing concepts and communication. That’s where I believe formal training comes in. 

"Building and maintaining a Martech stack today takes much more effort than 5 years ago, and the way we hire reflects that."

Do you find that technology has affected how you hire, and if so, how?

That’s a great question. I would say that it’s augmenting who I hire rather than changing it. 

I'm still hiring the kind of people that I would have hired in the past in terms of having traditional marketing skills around behavior, content strategy, writing, programs, events, etc. Everyone on the team uses marketing technology in one way or another, but to the degree to which it's required depends on the role. I’d say the thing that’s changed is the number of people I would be bringing onto the team whose main role is centered around technology.

To build and maintain a Martech stack today takes much more effort today than five – even ten – years ago. As different operations related roles become more popular, technology skills and expertise will become more and more relevant in hiring. 

Now I'd like to grab a few of your favorite resources. 

Who is a must-follow on Twitter?  
The funny thing is that the first few names I can think about have all been interviewed by FunnelCake, so I’ll try to think of one that hasn’t (yet). 

Super smart guy, Drew Beechler. He’s the Head of Marketing at High Alpha, a venture studio in Indianapolis founded by Scott Dorsey. Drew is doing a really nice job of finding great content and also producing his own content around SaaS marketing. 

Your favorite blog:
I'm a fan of the Intercom blog – they've always had great content. 

Their content spans from product to UX, to marketing, to design, which are all things today’s marketers need to focus on. Another thing I love about their blog is that they commission custom illustrations for most of their posts now. It makes for a really beautiful visual experience.

Your favorite book:
Instead of a favorite, I’ll share one I just finished and you’ve probably heard of it – Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. 

Sean is kind of like the godfather of the Growth Hacking Movement. What I love about the book is that it dispels so many of the myths that are floating around about what a growth team looks like and how it functions. It's a super interesting to read. 

Last one, what is your favorite '90s dance song?

I just want to say for the record that I was more of a Nirvana and Soundgarden fan in the '90’s, but I will go with Everybody by Black Box. It's simply the epitome of the '90s.

Agreed. Thanks for the time today Amrita!