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Growth Marketing

12 Essential Skills for Expert Growth Marketing Managers

February 2, 2023
Kelsey Donk

Growth marketers might call themselves “puppet masters,” but they’re more than strategists and managers — they can also run experiments and set up an analytics stack. We asked experts about the essential skills for the role.

Table of Contents

A growth marketer needs to be versatile — “a Swiss army knife,” as former ZipRecruiter CMO Ed Fu told MarketerHire.

For this story, we tried to pin down the core competencies the role requires — the blades in their Swiss army knife, if you like. 

It’s tough. Even growth marketers themselves have a hard time defining what they do. 

“I think it’s a billion-dollar question,” growth marketer Derin Oyekan told us. “While there’s no standard definition, to me, a growth marketer is whoever is tasked with the rapid growth of a business, specifically around using digital marketing tactics.” 

So they don’t do everything —they’re not accountants or salespeople — but they have marketing skills spanning at least four quadrants. 

  • They’re analytical and creative. They can analyze performance metrics, but they can also recognize strong (and lackluster!) copywriting. 
  • They can execute and strategize. That means growth marketers can stand up new marketing channels — but they can also help pick those channels based on your target audience, product and KPIs. 

“It's being dangerous enough in all these different areas to really be able to pull it all together,” Fu said. 

“It's being dangerous enough in all these different areas to really be able to pull it all together."

Of course, they still need support to make an impact. They work best with appropriate testing resources — access to developers, and enough budget to run experimental A/B tests — and often work with marketing specialists to get projects over the line: think brand marketers, SEO marketers and email marketing experts.

Still, they’re powerful on their own. Think of the great ones as the closest thing to a marketing generalist, if that makes sense.

But what skills do the best growth marketers have? We talked to the pros to find out.

The experts

  • Ed Fu, the co-founder of Happy Masks and former CMO of ZipRecruiter
  • Derin Oyekan, a growth marketing strategist and the founder of Reel Paper 
  • Katelyn Glass, founder and managing partner of e-commerce and marketing agency Fifty Six, and former COO of Rowing Blazers
  • ... with a cameo from Andrew Capland, founder of Delivering Value and former head of growth at Postscript

What do expert growth marketing managers actually do?

More than one of our experts referred to growth marketers as “puppet masters.”

Why? Their job tilts more towards strategy than execution, and they tend to work on projects involving various internal teams and external agencies. 

Other names for growth marketers…

  • CRO marketer
  • Performance marketer
  • Marketing manager
  • Deep generalist 

Growth marketers can work with brands to set strategy, and know how to make small iterative improvements throughout the funnel — on marketing campaigns, the website, and even the product itself — that compound over time.

In the day-to-day, growth marketers do things like:

  • Develop an A/B testing program
  • Manage referral programs, paid search, and social acquisition channels
  • Build out big-picture retention strategies

To really master the role, a growth marketer needs to not only understand how to do these types of projects, but also how they fit together.

“How all of those dots get connected is what truly is growth marketing,” Glass said.  

“How all of those dots get connected is what truly is growth marketing."

12 skills growth marketing managers need

The growth marketing experts we spoke to named 12 skills that set the experts who deliver results apart from the amateurs who… try to. 

Those skills fall into four different categories:

  • Analytics, reporting and troubleshooting.
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • People, resource and agency management
  • Strategy and planning

Let’s dive in!

Analytics, reporting and troubleshooting.

A growth marketer should set up a brand for future success. That means standing up analytics infrastructure that works at the business’s present scale — and at 10X that. 

The key is “investing in good analytics, good reporting … that’s going to evolve over time as the company matures,” Oyekan said.

A lot of brands try to skimp on this, and it can become a time suck down the line. They end up having to invest in new analytics tools, run time-consuming data migrations and retrain their teams. 

Expert growth marketers help you avoid that — and make sense of what your analytics dashboards tell you — with two core technical skill sets:

  • Data analysis: Growth marketers understand data well enough to explain their findings to non-technical collaborators —  and they use it to build out hypotheses and larger strategies. At Hint Water, for example, growth marketer Nik Sharma only invested heavily in influencer marketing after it had performed well in a small, cheap test.  
  • Analytics technology implementation: Growth marketers know how to layer together analytics tools -- think Google Analytics and native platform metrics to capture timely, relevant marketing analytics for your team. They can also spot any reporting glitches that occur along the way. 

Conversion rate optimization.

Growth marketers think a lot about customer experience. Like, a lot

“It’s not just optimizing copy on a Facebook ad,” Fu said. “It’s really about understanding the entire user experience across the entire funnel.”

Thinking like a new user helps them spot pain points that could be bogging down conversion rates. Maybe checking out takes too many clicks — or too few. Maybe a product page is slow to load. Maybe the ad landing page has a confusing layout.

Once they’ve identified a potential problem, they test updates and make iterative improvements.

The general strategy: “I collect data,” Capland said. “I try many different things. I optimize what’s working, I do less of what’s not working.” 

That can take a while. “If you’re going to do any type of CRO … you need to run a test for at least 90 days,” Glass said. “A lot of people are shocked by that answer.” 

Here are the specific skill sets within this area that expert growth marketers have mastered:

  • Website CRO: Conversion rate optimization can lift the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action, whether that’s filling out a form or buying shoes. Growth marketers know what tools to use for testing — Hotjar, Optimizely, and Google Optimize are popular —  and what to test. Maybe they’ll test a variety of CTAs, or 41 shades of blue, to see what performs best.  
  • Channel CRO: The ad creative, targeting and landing pages that do wonders on one channel might tank on another. (Just ask anyone who tried to reuse a Facebook ad on TikTok.) Expert growth marketers can stress-test your approach to channels ranging from Snapchat to email, making sure your conversion rate is the best it can be. 
  • Testing framework creation: Successful growth marketers know how to set up a testing framework — a workflow or getting the tests approved, determining the length of tests, and communicating their test results to the larger team. This is tough, though, since there are always multiple variables impacting conversions in every layer of the marketing funnel, Fu noted. (It’s never just button color!)

People, resource and agency management.

It’s okay to hire a developer or a graphic designer who doesn’t have great people skills. But a growth marketer? Not so much. 

Growth marketers are typically in pretty senior positions. That means they’re responsible for their projects’ profits (or lack thereof), and often manage teams of specialists. 

They also routinely collaborate with internal teams beyond marketing — think sales teams, or product teams— and outside agencies, too.

It all takes a knack for managing human and financial capital. 

A couple of key skills fall under this umbrella:  

  • Agency management experience and expertise: Agencies, freelancers, and full-time employees all have their place, but “sometimes brands don’t even know that they need an agency,” Glass said. The best growth marketers notice when that’s a case, and have a Rolodex of preferred agencies that they can onboard and manage. 
  • People management: Most freelance growth marketers have people management skills from previous full-time roles — but when freelancing, “I only people-manage if I’m being onboarded to a brand that has a lot of junior level people and just needs someone to strategically manage them,” Glass said. Even as independent contributors, though, growth marketers leverage their people management experience to set a realistic marketing strategy and communicate benchmarks. 
  • Revenue-generating responsibility: Skilled growth marketers know when it’s time to nip a project in the bud and when to really invest in a channel. They can identify quick, easy revenue wins and blend those with longer-term investments. “I’ll usually pick up on five to 10 pieces of low-hanging fruit,” said Glass, “and then five to 10… longer-term strategies.”
  • Channel resource management: Growth marketers know which existing marketing channels merit more (or less) investment, and which new ones might be worth exploring — and they allocate budget accordingly. That might mean they cut linear TV spend to create a budget for influencer talent in TikTok ads. (After all, Mars Wrigley got 169% more conversions from ads with influencers than with ads featuring M&M characters.) 

Strategy and planning.

At MarketerHire, we sometimes call the growth marketer role a “CMO-lite.” That’s because growth marketers have major strategy chops — though unlike true CMOs, they also dabble in execution. 

Their strengths tend to lie in developing CRO strategy, planning and scaling paid ads, and drawing big picture conclusions from reams of performance data. 

“I say to every single person who hires me, ‘I’m not the best doer out there,’” Glass said. “If someone needs email support, I’m not going to be the one to design and build out the emails in the platform. [But] sure, I can set the strategy.”

Oyekan put it simply: “For good growth marketers, strategies are actually more important than execution.” 

“For good growth marketers, strategies are actually more important than execution.” 

It’s easy to optimize (or completely revamp) execution based on performance data; strategic objectives, not so much. Setting them takes critical thinking and years, if not decades, of experience.  

So growth strategy and planning skills are a must-have for this role. This includes building a plan, organizing a team, and having project management skills!  

  • Full-funnel strategy: Especially at companies without a head of growth, a great growth marketer will work to “understand the symbiotic relationship [between] those different tactics and channels,” Oyekan said — and how they fit together to form your sales funnel. 
  • Customer segmentation: For retention, customer segmentation is everything. The best growth marketers know how to segment a CRM on several dimensions, Oyekan said: intent, customer acquisition channel, purchase history, customer journey stage, churn risk and logical upsell opportunities.
  • Project management: Growth marketers manage projects from start to finish. When Whole30 was working on a salad dressing launch, they hired a freelance growth marketer who “took ownership of our entire digital marketing plan,” CEO Melissa Urban told MarketerHire. He set a budget and KPIs, outsourced creative assets, consulted on packaging and helped the team launch on time — and blow past their sales forecasts.

3 nice-to-have growth marketing manager skills

No growth marketer can do everything, but some have a few extra skills that can come in handy at bootstrapped startups or enterprise B2B companies. These are the ones our experts talked about most. 

Execution capabilities.

Every expert we talked to said that when it comes to the day-to-day work of growth marketing, strategic thinking is more important than on-the-ground execution. 

“I only have so many hours in the day,” Glass said. “There’s only so much I can personally take on — and you'll probably find someone cheaper than me to execute.”

Still, experience in execution roles — as ad buyers, product managers or even founders — helps them have a holistic view of businesses and set realistic strategies.

It also means some growth marketers can execute when called upon, to prove out the need for an expert — which can be especially handy on small marketing teams trying to make the case for more specialized headcount. 

You might want to look for growth marketers with execution capabilities in: 

  • Lead generation
  • Go-to-market implementation
  • Google analytics implementation
  • App Store optimization

Media buying.

Some of the best growth marketers, including Oyekan, have media buying on their resumes. Oyekan said it gives him a sense of how to make campaigns that feel native on each channel.

“[Media buyers] have a hypothesis about what all of the distinct channels will do, and [they’re] flexible and adaptable enough to make changes as the data comes in,” said Oyekan. 

A growth marketer with media buying experience can help you understand if it’s time to reallocate some of the money you’ve reserved for Facebook ads to paid search. Or, they might  figure out that Google is only performing spectacularly because you’re running Facebook ads. 

Media buying comes in handy not just for optimizing paid digital campaigns, but also in channels like:

  • Radio 
  • Podcasts
  • Native advertising

Account-based marketing.

This is a rare skill for growth marketers — most of them work in B2C and e-commerce marketing, and that makes sense for this data-driven role. 

Performance data comes in nearly real-time in the consumer-facing world, and it’s easy to test and iterate quickly.  B2B marketing moves more slowly. 

“There's a combination of inbound marketing, outbound, cold email outreach, phone outreach,” said Fu of the B2B marketing space. “B2B is a longer sales cycle, and the nature of what you're doing is different.”

Some growth marketers can help set the strategy for inbound and outbound B2B channels, though. (Perhaps related: In recent years, the B2B funnel has started to mimic the B2C funnel.)

Often, that means integrating marketing automation into the B2B funnel, using tools like chatbots. These AI tools can help supplement a sales team, and provide quick performance data, growth marketers can use B2C-style iterative testing to optimize their dialogue. 

As the lines between B2B and B2C continue to blur, finding a growth marketer with account-based experience could pay off in unexpected ways. 

Warning: Not every “growth marketer” is a growth marketer 

There’s no formal growth marketing certification.

“None of us went to school for this,” Glass said. “Honestly, these days, anyone can say, ‘I’m a growth marketer,’ and I don’t even really know what that means.”

They might mean they can write website copy with an eye to CRO, but that’s not a growth marketer. It’s a content marketing specialist

Or they might mean they can set strong paid social strategies. But that’s a paid social media marketer — true growth marketers aren’t so specialized. 

The growth marketers on MarketerHire’s platform have been pre-vetted for the versatile skill set outlined above, though — and they’re consistently MarketerHire’s most popular role.

Related: They offer a huge return on investment. Think 4.7X return on ad spend.

We can match you with a growth marketer hand-picked for your business needs in 48 hours. Try us today.

Kelsey Donk
about the author

Kelsey Donk is a writer at MarketerHire. Before joining MarketerHire full-time, Kelsey was a freelance writer and loved working with small businesses to level up their content. When she isn't writing, Kelsey can be found gardening or walking her dogs all around Minneapolis.

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