Finding Marketing Support as a Leader Who Distrusts Marketing

In tech, lots of C-suite folks have an innate suspicion of marketing despite its proven utility as a growth factor. Here’s how you can overcome your preconceptions to find a great partner in the field.

Written by Joe Zappa
Published on Aug. 02, 2023
Finding Marketing Support as a Leader Who Distrusts Marketing
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In tech, especially B2B tech, businesses often grow to eight or even nine figures in revenue with a small and possibly even non-existent marketing team. This phenomenon, coupled with a bias toward product-led growth and easily measurable sales victories, often fosters distrust in marketing among members of the C-suite. Ask any tech marketing leader, and they’ll tell you that it’s not uncommon to find CEOs who flat-out claim, “I don’t believe in marketing.”

But marketing is still one of the core growth disciplines, and you can easily find marketers with fantastic track records of growing organizations and positioning them for exits. So, the question for CEOs and other members of the C-suite curious about developing robust marketing organizations is what factors should you consider to find marketing support you can trust? How do you separate the shrewd and visionary leaders who will accelerate revenue growth from schmoozers who talk a big game with nothing to show for it? 

The three most important factors you need to think about when hiring marketing leaders or agencies are people, process, and audience. So, here’s how to evaluate each of those criteria to identify marketing support that will pay for itself several times over instead of becoming another expense item on your balance sheet with uncertain value. 

3 Steps to Finding a Great Marketing Team

  1. Find the right people to own a marketing strategy.
  2. Develop the strategy before you act.
  3. Consider audience but prioritize experience.

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1. Find the Right People to Own a Marketing Strategy

Let’s say you’re the CEO of an adtech company that has been stuck at about $10 million in revenue for a couple of years. Your competitors sold when they had achieved about $20 million in revenue, and they’ve lost or changed focus post-acquisition. So, you know your market is ripe for the taking, but your growth has plateaued. You might be the type of company that makes peers say, “They’re the smartest people in our industry, but no one’s heard of them.” You’ve tried a long series of marketing tactics and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on in-house hires and agencies, but you don’t have the reputation or revenue to show for it.

The answer to this problem is not primarily a tactic or even a strategy, and it’s definitely not a shiny, new toy like TikTok, Threads, or ChatGPT. It is, as entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan says, a “who.” You need an experienced CMO with a track record of growing companies like yours. You need to find someone who has fueled the exits you dream about and can explain the process they’ll undertake to deliver the same results for you. 

For example, the right person for this hypothetical company might be a three-time adtech CMO who has driven two nine-figure exits as well as hundreds of millions in revenue and can explain a replicable process they’ve used to deliver those results.

Where most companies go wrong — and this is what leads to distrust in marketing — is that before they’ve put together a comprehensive marketing strategy or hired someone capable of doing so, they hire a series of agencies and would-be marketing leaders that promise strategy but can only deliver tactics.

In other words, they claim to help the company clarify its goals while determining the messages, channels, and steps that will most efficiently achieve those goals, but in practice, they just execute a predetermined set of maneuvers like creating LinkedIn content or emailing reporters. These tacticians burn through hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash before they’ve even aligned with the CEO on a strategic vision for what they’re trying to accomplish and how to do it. 

Skip that part. Instead of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on a purely tactical marketing agency or an in-house hire without a proven record, start by hiring someone, whether internally or externally, who has a history of setting and hitting ambitious revenue goals. 

In short, your marketing strategist should be able to look you in the eye and tell you, “With $X in personnel and program spending, I can produce enough pipeline to increase revenue growth by X percent over the next 12 months.” Then, the marketing leader and the rest of the C-suite can collaborate on exactly how ambitious the marketing budget should be, which bets they’ll make, and the results they can reasonably expect. 


2. Develop the Strategy Before You Act

Just as startups often go wrong by hiring marketing tacticians instead of strategists, the primary mistake to avoid in terms of process is implementing tactics before you’ve set a strategy.

This rush to tactics happens all the time and is yet another reason so many business leaders distrust not just marketers but the entire marketing discipline. For example, a common agency relationship kickoff goes like this: The CEO or marketing leader hires a public relations agency. In the first month, the agency spends a week or two talking with its immediate point of contact about who the company is, who its customers are, and what its key narratives are. Then, the agency goes off and starts emailing reporters or writing articles to boost awareness about the company and its products.

This approach is a recipe for dissatisfying results and missed targets. Why? Because the agency hasn’t done the level of investigative work required to understand who the company really is, where its value to customers lies, where its leaders want to go, and how to get to the desired destination. 

Under this tactical model, the agency is essentially just emailing reporters. The best-case scenario is that the agency lands a few stories, which may raise awareness. But if the company’s leaders and the agency don’t really know how consumers in the market perceive the company and how they want to shift that perception to drive results, how much is earned media going to contribute to increased revenue, brand equity, and exit potential?

A strategic approach to marketing, whether spearheaded by an agency or internal hire, begins with an investigation. This should be a collaborative process focused on learning the business and identifying the marketing problems to solve. It requires extensive interviews with internal stakeholders (CEO, CRO, any existing marketing staff, and the heads of product and customer success) — not only to absorb their knowledge but also so that they’re included in the process and can buy into the plan. External interviews with three to five customers are also key to understanding where the company really stands with its most important clients and what’s most valuable about it.

Once the discovery process is complete, the marketing leader or agency can create a strategic action plan. This plan should include marketing goals, a strategy to achieve them, and a detailed waterfall of tactics with corresponding budget proposals. It should also include KPIs, personnel recommendations, and recommended activities across paid advertising, email, social, content marketing, events, and PR. Finally, the action plan should include a messaging matrix that aligns marketers and business leaders on whom the company wants to reach — firmographics and personas — and how to communicate with each audience.

If a firm evaluating agencies, consultants, or in-house hires blushes at this level of strategy — if the C-suite just wants to “get to the work,” which is another way of saying tactics — it is not ready to spend money on marketing. Tactics without strategy are where the budget goes to die. And if a marketing hire or agency claims it can devise or implement a strategy without the legwork, they’re selling you magic beans, not a strategic marketing program. 

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3. Consider Audience but Prioritize Experience 

The third factor business leaders should consider when they seek marketing support is a shared audience or niche. Ideally, the agency or leader should have a track record of delivering revenue results for companies in your industry. 

Now, of the three factors to evaluate when seeking strategic marketing talent, the audience is the least important. I am a CEO myself. If I were hiring a CMO or a strategic marketing agency and I could only have two of the three factors, I would much rather hire someone with a track record of owning and hitting revenue targets and a proven approach to delivering those results than someone who has experience in my field but lacks one of the first two qualifications.

But B2C businesses are very different from B2B businesses. Adtech companies are different from corporate law firms. Service businesses are different from SaaS products. If you have the budget to recruit the best possible marketing leader or consultant for your organization, you should seek a person with experience growing businesses just like, or at least similar to, yours. 

In most cases, that person exists. So, if you’re a business leader who’s been burned by marketing leaders and agencies in the past but believes in hiring world-class talent with a track record of solving tough problems, what are you waiting for?

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