Building a house while living in it… 3 pillars for building B2B growth and marketing teams

Modern marketing and growth teams have to venture into unchartered territory daily. Tactics, plans and knowledge are useless unless you have a team that can deal with the unexpected and execute under pressure. Rather than bolt on the ‘next big thing’ I advocate building solid foundations, I call these the 3 pillars.

The 3 Pillars:

  1. Team & culture
  2. Marketing stack
  3. Cross silo communications & buy in from senior management.

Note: This post is most relevant to B2B companies in the early stages of growth. Typically from 100–1500 employees. This post is a work in progress, if readers have suggestions, please tweet me at @dessie_martin.

Team & Culture

High performing teams deliver on goals and move the needle. It is easy to confuse individual excellence with team performance. This is why thinking as a team and team wide metrics are important. Think of the superb event that does not lead to sales. Or the stunning content that does not get in front of the right audience. Or the beautiful website with the wrong message.

A team delivers on a company goal. A individual that excels often delivers on their own goals. With every hire you need to be building a team not a talented bunch of individuals.

Building a high performing team

Hiring

As team leader a large portion of your time needs to be spent hiring and experimenting with external contractors. Also bringing in promising junior talent and developing their skills. Get this piece right and you save a lot of headaches down the road. Hiring is the single most important factor in building successful marketing, growth and demand generation teams.

A former leader of mine advocated 5 things you should always look for in a new hire:

  1. EQ / IQ
  2. Coach-ability
  3. Motivation
  4. Integrity
  5. Charisma

I have found these to be a great guideline. You can develop a list of questions to test candidates for these traits. For example, “tell me about your most influential mentor?” can be a useful gauge of coach-ability.

If a candidate is missing any of the 5, it is likely you will not make a great hire.

Team Structure

Below is a team structure diagram. The purpose of this diagram is to get people thinking beyond the core marketing team. The most effective teams have stakeholders in many different areas. Take management input and customer feedback, these play a crucial part in team direction.

Marketing champions in other departments like engineering and sales, play an important part in cross silo communications (mentioned later).

Marketing Team Structure

Employee versus external contractor. (This could be a lengthy blog post all of its own) I look at this as employees “and” external contractors. It is unlikely you will have the budget to hire all the people you want nor is it prudent as some specialist skills are only needed from time to time.

I find it is useful to think goals and tasks first and then what staffing resource is available second. This is the big benefit of external contractors you can focus on the goal first and then bring in external people to fill the gaps. When you are limited by an internal team only, the tendency is to think people first and then goals second. For example, with this group of people what can I achieve? The former takes you from limited to unlimited options.

Finding the right contractors. Alway be trailing new contractors with small projects. Even if you have a brilliant contractor you will need cover at some stage. Think of contractors as your “bench”, You will often need someone to run on at short notice and score a goal.

Treat you external contractors well. If a contractor over delivers they should be over rewarded. Many times an external contractor has worked late and saved the day on on larger projects.

Culture

Everyone on the team needs to feel a sense of ownership for their section and the overall team performance.

  • Importance of structured 1:1’s for core team and to a lesser extent the external team. The bigger the goals and the more pressure on the team the more you need to make time for 1:1’s. People are way more productive when they have a voice. I like to start 1:1’s with a ‘teach me anything’ session. This is a 10 minute slot where the team member can teach me anything from a new software tool they are experimenting with to a blog post they read to a potential new supplier.
  • Team wide & company wide communications. Communicating individual contributions to team goals is a powerful way of recognising team members and helping people to assume personal ownership. We will revisit team communications in the next two sections on the “Marketing Stack” and “cross silo communications”.
  • Fun beats metrics. I am a strong advocate of metrics, but sometimes chasing metrics wears people out. You cannot manufacture fun, but you can encourage it when it arises.
  • Team goals & individual goals. I have found OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) work well. With this approach everyone on the team sets out their quarterly goals and publicly states what they are going to do to contribute to company success. Team members are held accountable by their peers at the end of each quarter. Everyone becomes invested in the teams success. OKR’s and radical transparency (mentioned later) play an important part in developing “skin in the game”. Skin in the game is particularly important for remote workers.

Final note on culture, your goal should be to turn the people around you into leaders.

The Marketing Stack

A marketing technology stack is a grouping of technologies that marketers leverage to improve efficiencies and better achieve their goals.

Getting the marketing stack right can unlock big productivity gains for your team.

There are an enormous amount of marketing tools, as can be seen in this giant infographic from Chiefmartech. And this infographic does not cover any team-work, data analysis and researching tools that are important but not specific to marketing.

In my humble opinion every tool your team uses is part of the marketing stack. That could be using Marketo for marketing automation down to the whiteboard used for brainstorming. From the shared calendar in Google Sheets to the conference technology used with remote workers, these play an important part in how the team functions and achieves goals.

Picking the right tools for optimal team performance and sticking to them is hard. Always try to use less tools more often. This should be a team mantra.

Marketing tool selection, adoption and culling:

Having a robust process for selecting new tools and also deciding when to cull use of particular tools is essential.

Software creep happens fairly quickly, particularly in busy high growth teams. Teams end up with lots of software being used infrequently and poorly. It can even result in information silos within the team as people use different software to do the same task.

New tools should to be put to vote by all team members. This is a good way of determining if a tool already exists to complete this task. A roster should also be keep of all tool in use by the team. Once a month there should be a quick review to see if any of these tools can be removed (culled) completely.

Some of the most effective tools are free. The calendars that inform the team and company about upcoming content, events and campaigns can be run on Google sheets. At the same time I would advise not to skimp on a good CRM and marketing automation platform.

Below is an example diagram of a B2B marketing stack

Each company will likely require a different marketing stack, but the diagram should help you to understand the main areas.

Example Marketing Stack

Buy in from senior management & Cross silo communications

The best teams with the best tools can still fall flat if they do not have buy in across the company.

Working closely with senior management on strategy, goals & messaging is an area where growth teams have generally succeeded over traditional marketing.

High performing teams need to run regular workshops with senior management to determine key differentiators that will set the company apart. Refining things like the company ethos and value proposition, will help to give your marketing message the edge over competition.

Two short video clips that are great starting points for workshops with senior management are Start with Why by Simon Sinek and Milkskake Marketing by Clay Christensen. Unlocking the ‘why’ can be a powerful tool for marketing teams.

Another reason to run workshops with senior management is to implement a unified strategy across the entire company. How we are communicating with prospects and customers needs to be inline with CEO strategy and engineering visions for the product. Too often this is broken and the people that feel it first are prospective customers.

Radical Transparency

I am a firm believer in radical transparency. Being completely transparent about the projects the team are working on and the results (by metrics) achieved, can transform cross silo communications. This also means taking ownership of failures and admitting certain projects are going nowhere.

Often marketing teams feel challenged by the sales side of the organisation. Instead of becoming transparent they become closed and exacerbate the problem.

Some of the tools that can be used to achieve radical transparency.

  • Dashboards displaying key metrics accessible to the entire company. Key metrics are things like Sales Accepted Opportunities not vanity metrics like page-views & twitter followers.
  • Regular internal newsletters.
  • Including metrics for previous events or content created in company wide calendars & communications.
  • Possibly the most powerful is involving sales and engineering in the ideation and content creation phase. This helps non marketing people better understand what is involved. This can also help build champions on other teams.

Worth remembering that marketing teams need to communicate up, down and across. Without senior team buy in, ambitious initiatives will fall flat.

Final note on team wide communications. Focus on one thing at a time. The entire company should know the marketing team are going to do “X” this quarter. Then make sure to move the needle in that area.

As mentioned at the start, this article is a work in progress. I titled this post, “building a house while living in it” and that is what it feels like most of the time. Things are chaotic and people do not get the time to do things perfectly, done is enough in most cases. That said, I have found that a focus on the 3 pillars helps bring order from the chaos.

Key Take Aways:

  • Hiring is the most important part in building high performing teams. This could be 40–50% of a leaders time as you ramp up growth.
  • Your marketing team is likely bigger than you realise. Think management input and customer feedback. Think marketing champions in sales and engineering. Think external contractors and suppliers.
  • Getting the marketing stack right can unlock big productivity gains for your team.
  • Use less software tools, more often. Far too easy to end up with lots of tools that are rarely used. Productivity suffers and information silos are created.
  • Workshops with senior management. Time spent updating the value proposition and teasing out the company ethos should be time well spent. This will give the marketing message more impact.
  • Marketing teams need to communicate up, down and across. More than any other department marketing needs buy-in across the company. Focused communications helps, for example this quarter we are going to do “X”. Then over communicate when “X” is achieved.

About the author: Des Martin is Head of Growth & Marketing at nearForm and formerly Head of Growth at Qualtrics EMEA. Prior to this Des founded the digital agency The Search Mill.

Thanks to Alan O’Rourke, Michael O’Connell & Stephen Kinsella for proof reading and suggesting improvements to this post.

Alan O’Rourke has written as great post on “How to run a growth marketing team” over on Audience Stack. Link to the article here.