Imagine — or maybe you don’t have to — that your company needs a marketing team, but your marketing headcount is exactly zero. How do you get started?
It’s an increasingly important question. Demand for marketing will rise over the next ten years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts, and marketing employment — advertising, promotions, and marketing manager positions — is projected to grow 6% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average occupation.
Refine Labs CEO Chris Walker attributes the growing interest in demand generation marketers to marketing’s unique ability to impact revenue. “You don’t need to scale by sales headcount anymore,” he argued on his State of Demand Gen podcast. “You can scale by marketing efficiency.”
“You don’t need to scale by sales headcount anymore. You can scale by marketing efficiency.”
But what’s the most efficient way to build and scale a marketing team? Which roles should you bring on first? Do your need to hire in-house marketers, outsource to freelancers and agencies, or a mix?
We interviewed MJ Peters, VP of Marketing at fire suppression manufacturer Firetrace, and studied the marketing teams of successful brands, to understand how experts think through these questions and sequence their hiring.
What is the role of a marketing team in a business?
Before we can dive into building the right marketing team for your organization, we need to define marketing’s role in business.
Peters says strategic marketing starts with determining the business’s ideal buyers. “I believe marketing is responsible for identifying the best market opportunities,” Peters told MarketerHire.
“Marketing is responsible for identifying the best market opportunities.”
But defining your company’s ideal market is just the first step. Once you know who you need to reach, a marketing team can develop a strategy that meets them where they are and draws them into your sales funnel.
Peters identified four strategic marketing initiatives:
- Segmentation: How do you segment your market? Which segments are most attractive?
- Positioning: Are we creating a category? If not, how are we differentiating from category competitors?
- Value proposition: What key messages do we want to promote? What’s our pricing strategy?
- Go to market strategy: How will we carry out our marketing plan? What steps will we take?
Creating a marketing roadmap before jumping into execution can improve your company’s bottom line, and make life easier for your sales team. Marketing helps fill their pipeline with qualified leads.
Ultimately, Peters says marketing should act as a strategic partner in the company, advising executives on new and emerging markets, and clearing a path forward.
What does a marketing team do all day?
Marketing team members work together to define their ideal customers and manage, produce, and distribute targeted messaging to them in paid and organic channels.
These targeted messages help brands stay top of mind throughout the buying process, from initial interest to purchase.
By the time people go to purchase, they’ve formed strong opinions and associations with brands in the space. That puts brandless, online-invisible companies at a disadvantage, especially in crowded categories.
There’s no one-size-fits-all marketing playbook, but there are a few effective marketing frameworks. One of the most popular is the AIDA model. AIDA is an acronym for awareness, interest, desire and action. Each word represents a different stage of the buying process — and a different messaging challenge for marketers.
Awareness: This is the first challenge in the brand-building process — making the target market aware your company exists.
- One way marketers tackle it: with long-form, long-tail SEO content that increases website traffic.
Interest: In this phase, marketers need to stoke the target audience’s curiosity.
- One way marketers tackle it: with how-to content, demonstrating results your target market cares about.
Desire: Marketers need to create an emotional connection with the consumer at this stage in the journey, using brand personality and clear value propositions.
- One way marketers tackle it: with ads and case studies illustrating the pain the product relieves.
Action: In this final chapter of the buyer’s journey, marketers get prospective buyers to engage with your brand using CTAs (calls to action).
- One way marketers tackle it: with performance marketing campaigns that drive to conversion-optimized landing pages
Here’s how a funnel might look in an influencer marketing campaign:
Where you focus your marketing efforts ultimately depends on your business goals and customers. Ideally, marketing meets customers where they are throughout the buying journey, steadily building trust, interest and, ultimately, sales.
How do you identify key marketing needs?
Before you start hiring marketers, it’s important to identify a few top-priority projects for them to tackle. Then hire talent ready to take them on.
Peters said she would home in on core marketing needs by asking herself three questions:
1. What balance do I need to strike between “demand” and “brand”?
50/50? 80/20? Peters sees demand marketing as an effective way to put “points on the board” — and money in the bank. In contrast, brand marketing activities are more of a long-term investment.
To capture existing demand, startups and small businesses are more likely to focus on performance metrics first. Once conversion rate optimization is in place, they build an inbound engine.
Common ways to do this are through brand development, long-form SEO content, and social media engagement.
2. How many segments is the company going after?
Some companies segment by size — SMB, startup, mid-market, enterprise. For companies like Peter’s, the target audience is broken out by verticals like manufacturing and logistics.
If Peters is responsible for one vertical, she feels comfortable owning product marketing. Because her current team supports several verticals, she hired dedicated product managers and marketers. The more segments targeted, the more product marketers and managers you need.
3. Is design and creative a full-time hire or can it be outsourced?
“Having design in-house makes everything easier,” Peters told MarketerHire. “I can do copywriting if needed. I cannot do high-end design.”
“Having design in-house makes everything easier.”
Not every startup needs a full-time designer, though. If someone on the team is handy with Canva and you anticipate needing less than 30 hours per week in professional design help, hiring a freelance designer may make more sense.
Once you’ve answered these questions for yourself, you’re ready to explore potential marketing positions and marketing team structures.
Which marketing skills are most in demand?
In their 2019 Marketing Hiring Trends report, McKinley reveals a strong preference by hiring managers for digital marketing candidates.
In addition to the unsurprising shift toward digital, newer marketing roles like marketing operations and demand generation are nearly as popular as established roles like creative services, research and analytics.
For a more real-time pulse on demand for different roles, we looked at our MarketerHire January 2021 hiring report — and saw similar trends. Growth marketers, who often lead digital channel exploration, continued to dominate marketer hiring demand with more than a third of the total requests. That’s held true since we launched these reports in November of 2020.
What are the most common marketing titles?
There are an infinite number of marketing org structures that can work. As Peters pointed out above, building the right marketing team for your business comes down to knowing your business and your customers, and prioritizing hires accordingly.
Here are some common marketing titles to consider:
- Team leads
- Project managers
- Data analysts
- Digital marketers
- Specialists (SEO, CRO, Email, Social, PR, automations)
Marketing automation and content marketing are both heating up, she told MarketerHire, and may generate new standard roles. On Slayter’s current modern marketing team, community and influencer marketing experts both make the cut.
What should you look for when hiring a marketer?
The answer has less to do with marketing proficiency and more to do with work ethic, Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo argued in an article outlining his own experience building a marketing team for the eight-figure SEO software company.
“Don’t get caught up in the whole ‘generalist vs. specialist’ dilemma," Soulo warns. “Hire people whom you trust to get important work done.”
“Don’t get caught up in the whole ‘generalist vs. specialist’ dilemma, hire people whom you trust to get important work done.”
That means Soulo doesn’t hire to “fill positions.” Instead, he looks for FSO (Figure Shit Out) people with these three traits: smart, responsible, and hardworking.
Peters agrees that rushing to fill a position can harm more than it helps. While she doesn’t follow a set formula when hiring marketers, she’s learned (through trial and error) that these three things help:
1. Be patient. It’s better to wait two months for the right candidate than lose six months by hiring the wrong one.
2. Use your network. Recruiting from within your network can increase your chances of finding a good fit.
3. Ask the same questions to every candidate. Posing the same questions in the first phone screen, regardless of the candidate’s resume, allows you to compare like for like and reduce prep time.
Gong CMO Udi Ledergor expressed a similar preference for FSO people on an episode of Dave Gerhadt’s B2B Marketing Leaders podcast:
“Because I give them [my marketing team members] so much room for error and making mistakes [in order] to move fast, we just get lots of shit done.”
To hire a FSO marketer, MarketerHire’s director of marketing, Tracey Wallace, recommends looking for three key traits in interviews: curiosity, the ability to ideate and get things across the finish line, and storytelling talent — or "the ability to connect dots, for themselves and others."
How do you start building a modern marketing team?
You know you should hire FSO folks. But how many? And how do you make sure they’re different enough, and complementary enough, to work well together?
To figure this out, we looked at existing org-building playbooks from marketers who have started from zero and built successful teams. Chris Walker, Gary Vee, Dave Gerhart and others have been vocal about how they think through the first few marketing hires.
Marketing Team Structure #1: Refine Labs CEO Chris Walker on His First Marketing Hire
Chris Walker, CEO of Refine Labs, laid out his bootstrapped marketing org strategy and tech stack on LinkedIn, including costs.
On his company podcast, he dove deeper into the why. He argued you need two main things for marketing: content and distribution.
While he believes marketing teams should leverage in-house subject matter experts to create content, he found early success in outsourcing video production.
Rather than hire an SDR, his first hire was a freelance videographer.
It’s working for Walker. His marketing company hit $1MM ARR in 10 months without paid ads, cold calling, cold emails or a sales team.
Here are the four core marketing roles Walker says departments need to fill:
- The architect — Whether a CMO or growth marketer, this role handles marketing strategy.
- The distributor — This role ensures content gets seen (via paid or unpaid reach).
- The creative — This role handles video, design and written content.
- The subject-matter expert — This role provides deep insights that inform all content.
Marketing Team Structure #2: iCIMS Senior Director of Marketing Jeffrey Mack on Scaling Marketing in a Startup
Jeffrey Mack, senior director of marketing and demand generation at recruiting platform iCIMS, recently shared what he’s learned about building a marketing organization for a startup:
Mack’s marketing hiring recommendations include:
- Hiring a content marketer who is an SEO expert.
- Setting up marketing operations ASAP.
- Working closely with a designer.
- Getting someone to do product marketing (even if that someone is you).
Marketing Team Structure #3: CEO of VaynerMedia Gary “Vee” Vaynerchuk’s Four Marketers Every Startup Needs
While Vaynerchuk now has a team of more than 30 marketers helping him create and distribute content across social media, he believes you only need three or four marketers to start scaling your content marketing and, through that, revenue.
- The math person — This person knows how to run and manage ads.
- The art person — This designer knows how to stand out in the feed.
- The video person — This videographer can film and post-produce.
- The “written word” person — This person can handle short-form copywriting and long-form content.
Why it works:
“This is all media, it will always be media,” says Vaynerchuk. “There is no reason to do anything other than act like a media company in today’s digital age.”
“There is no reason to do anything other than act like a media company in today’s digital age.”
Marketing Team Structure #4: Privy CMO Dave Gerhardt on the Three Marketers He Would Hire First
If Privy CMO Dave Gerhardt was the GM of a new marketing team, here’s who he’d draft first:
- The promoter — You could also call this person a content marketer. This is someone who can write and distribute content.
- The designer — This is a cross-channel creator who can help you move fast.
- The math person — This is someone who can set up funnels and optimize for conversions.
Marketing Team Structure #5: SparkToro Co-founder Rand Fishkin on Building and Scaling a Business
In a recent article, Rand Fishkin lays out a case for hiring consultants and freelancers for “everything you can” in the early stages (and later stages!) of your business.
“My goal with SparkToro [his latest venture] was to reach profitability as quickly as possible, then settle into the process of scaling. We don’t have unlimited funds, but we do have enough of an initial investment to make consultants and agencies the perfect way to make progress with low fixed costs, high productivity, and minimal emotional/managerial bandwidth.”
Whether you’re hiring in-house marketing talent or, like Rand, opting for marketing freelancers and agencies, it’s helpful to know which marketers other companies are hiring and why.
How big should your marketing team be?
While we can’t answer this question without knowing your business goals and existing talent, Peters gave us a good baseline for understanding marketing team size based on company stage and goals:
Another way to think about marketing team size is as a percentage of total employee count. Refine Labs CEO Chris Walker says 10% is a strong ratio of marketing to total employees.
How does a marketing team’s structure change as it grows?
Small marketing teams are often made up of specialists led by a CMO, director, VP, or head of marketing. As the team grows, the marketing leader will assign specialists to sub-teams led by managers or team leads.
While the marketing leader’s title depends on experience, company size and internal factors, their job is to develop the strategy, hire the right talent and put their team in the best position to execute on the highest level.
The marketing leader is often a deep generalist and good people manager — willing and able to roll up their sleeves while often exercising needed restraint so team members can do so themselves.
On their company blog, DigitalMarketer Founder and CEO Ryan Deiss illustrated (literally) their marketing team structure in 2017. Their team of twelve was split into three marketing teams (editorial, acquisition, and monetization) led by one Director and VP of Marketing.
Once a company reaches the enterprise level, their marketing org charts get more complex.
For instance, Leela Srinivasan leads six teams at Survey Monkey:
- Growth marketing
- Product marketing
- Demand generation
- Brand marketing
- CX and Advocacy.
Each team is supported by sub-teams executed by specialists.
When should you hire more marketers?
According to Gong CMO Udi Ledergor, you should avoid hiring “nice to have” employees.
“I don’t hire anyone until I desperately need it,” Ledergor explains in a podcast interview with Dave Gerhardt. “I look for every new hire to add a skill set that we don’t have on the team.”
“I look for every new hire to add a skill set that we don’t have on the team.”
While Ledergor admits there are rare exceptions to this rule, he prefers to outsource to an agency or marketing contractor if he simply needs more of an existing skill set. This hiring tactic helps him avoid redundancy and maintain flexibility.
Agency owner and marketing thought leader Neil Patel takes a similar approach when scaling his marketing team.
“One of the smartest decisions you can make when building a new marketing department is to keep things as lean as possible,” writes Patel. “This way you can focus on quality over quantity, and you can put energy into the channels and tactics that will give you disproportionate results.”
“One of the smartest decisions you can make when building a new marketing department is to keep things as lean as possible.”
Whether you’re building a marketing team from the ground up or scaling your current team, know that skills are transferable and passion plus a FSO attitude go a long way, especially in an industry where speed of execution separates good ideas from good business.
Ultimately, co-founder of content marketing agency Grow and Convert Benji Hyam foresees a shift towards skeletal marketing teams supplemented by freelancers.
If you do decide to build out a larger marketing department in house, though, look for marketers who, like Soulo, a former freelance content writer, ace their assignments and provide extra marketing advice along the way. Hire them and treat them well.
“You don’t get the best out of an employee until two or so years in,” explains Tracey Wallace, director of marketing at MarketerHire. “That’s why it’s so important to hire right, hold onto the talent you have, and outsource where possible.”
In short, hire FSO marketers and provide them with an environment that allows them to do their best work. As marketers and founders know well, growth through retention is almost always more efficient than growth through acquisition.