Getting Your Marketing Program off the Ground

Let’s face it: People can’t buy a product they know nothing about. Conversely, one of the most ignored disciplines at a nascent company is marketing. One reason: One of the biggest challenges for start-ups is finding the right people to get the marketing program up and running.

For many companies, the founders’ core competencies are usually centered on the product and service they are creating. For the company creating an enabling Internet architecture, marketing is probably the furthest thing from its engineering skills base. And even for the marketing professionals who start their own businesses, marketing may take a back seat as they attempt to juggle all the balls necessary to make a new company work. As they say, the cobbler’s kids have no shoes.

So the key is to have someone within the organization responsible for and, in best cases, knowledgeable about creating and managing marketing programs. Here are some tips for finding that person:

Determine marketing’s role. Before you can hire a person or team, there are a number of useful questions to consider about marketing’s role within your organization. For example, does marketing own product development and management as it does in some companies, or is it focused on taking over only when the product is out of the production pipeline?

My money is on marketing being an integral part of the product-development cycle and a key driver in the process of building the product. In my opinion, a good company is marketing-driven, creating products and services that are meeting a real need of the targeted consumer. So without core marketing disciplines like research and brand positioning, it becomes difficult to really pinpoint how to meet the customer’s needs.

An equally important question is whether you prefer to build an internal department or outsource your needs. My sense here is to start small with a good deal of outsourcing, and, as your company grows, add internal resources to replace external ones.

Regardless of what you decide, knowing the role marketing will play in your company will be critical in selecting and attracting the right person for the job.

Look for the leader. It’s my belief that you start at the top with your hiring and let that person bring in the team that’s going to work for him or her. There are two things you can do when hiring the leader for your team. You can either look for a director-level individual who is ready for a step up to vice president, or you can go for a highly seasoned senior-level vice-president type. It all depends on what you can afford and what the company needs both have their place. But whomever you bring in will set the tone and direction for marketing within your organization at the cultural level, so choose wisely.

What’s the right experience? What makes a good candidate? The first hire should have a broad range of experience in a number of marketing disciplines, including product management, advertising, and PR. As far as specific credentials, he or she should have experience in creating and launching new products or services as well as in managing mature product lines.

I like to look for someone with classic product marketing and management experience like the type of person you’d get from a company like Procter & Gamble. You need blocking and tackling, and classic training brings that discipline with it. A successful candidate should have worked well with outside agencies including advertising, research, and PR. I always look for people who have worked with both small and large budgets. (Beware of folks who have had only large amounts of cash to spend you are a start-up and need to use limited resources carefully.) Another thing to look for is someone who has experience in a variety of industries and who has worked for different-sized companies. Of least importance to me is industry experience look for someone who understands the discipline, art, and science of marketing. This person will learn your business and can bring a fresh outsider’s perspective.

Add specialization. With a good generalist in the leadership role, new staffers can assume the roles of specialists; for example, a corporate communications (sometimes known as PR) staffer is a good early hire since many nascent marketing programs have a major PR component to them (and rightfully so). A trade show and event specialist is a solid addition, too, especially if vertical and channel marketing will play a critical part in your success. A strong product manager is another good supporting role, managing the day-to-day aspects of your product development. The type of specialists you hire really depends on your business, so match your objectives against the positions that are most needed.

Certainly, there are many more criteria, roles, and positions to look at. But the bottom line is not to hesitate to start looking and bring the people in who can do the job, because without marketing, who’s going to know you’re selling anything?

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