Thinking strategically about startup marketing — Lessons learned at Salesforce, Box, LinkedIn & WeWork
I moved from Denmark to San Francisco on February 1st, 2000, right before the big dot-com crash happened. I was so eager to go work in Silicon Valley that it didn’t scare me that I didn’t have a job, a place to stay, or any money. I just knew that I was a nerd and that I wanted to be with all the other nerds of the world. I even thought that at some point I’d start my own company and create something new that would change the world forever.
I was 21 at the time.
It’s been a wild ride since then, full of incredible experiences and growth. During this ride I was lucky enough to work at some incredible companies, including Salesforce, Box, LinkedIn, and now WeWork. And along the way I’ve picked up some key marketing lessons that you should keep in mind as you grow your own company.
Are you tactical, strategic, or epic?
As you think about going to market with your product and how to tell the story of who you are and why you’re the best, always think about what operational level you’re working on, and be honest with yourself. Every company needs a good amount of tactical execution to grow, however, no company in the history of the world becomes best in class by only focusing on tactical marketing. Yes, that blog post is important, so is that website update, and that competitive deck for your sales team. But they are all tactical things to keep the business running.
You should only be spending about 20% of your time on tactical work.
Strategic marketing execution is where it’s at. When you’re operating on the strategic level, you’re thinking much further ahead, maybe 6–12 months, and creating marketing campaigns that will have a much bigger impact on your company and on the market. Strategic projects are much harder to execute, and usually requires a good amount of planning, teamwork, and sometimes funding. But this is where it’s at.
You should spend 60% of your time on on strategic work.
Finally, you get to the epic level of projects. These are epic ideas that will take a lot of courage (you will have naysayers and doubters), persuasion, teamwork, determination, and belief. Epic ideas only come along a few times in a life time. When they do, you need to seize them because that’s how you create a great company. You need to give yourself and your team time to think about epic and unusual ideas that could have a 5–10x return for your business if executed well. Don’t get me wrong, there’s risk here too. But by going forward you can end up creating a category-defining company, or at least you can say you tried.
I always encourage anyone I work with to spend 20% of their time to come up with those epic ideas that could be game-changers for the business.
Don’t just do what’s always been done, and don’t play it safe. Go out there and try some sh*t.
Here’s an article I wrote about this a while back.
Use the marketing trifecta
The marketing trifecta is simple, but something to always keep in mind. The goal with the trifecta is to ensure you’ve covered all your bases when you’re thinking about your marketing activities.
The first part of the trifecta is around awareness and evangelism. It’s pretty simple really, any good marketing plan needs to have a very clear vision for how you are going to share the story of who you are and why people should care. This can happen in a number of different ways: through PR, events, advertising, you name it. In essence it’s about transference of excitement. Meaning, when someone has been in contact with someone from your company or your message, do they have a level of excitement around your message of vision? I have simple rule of thumb, and that is: whenever I talk to a customer, journalist, analyst, sales rep, if they leave with as much excitement as me, then that’s a pretty fine job. You can even scale this further to when people hear your message at events or in advertising, are you transferring excitement… and of course clarity?
The second part of the trifecta is around growth, and ensuring that all the excitement you have created in the market actually turns into growth. Meaning, at some point, your prospects will need to raise their hand and want to buy from you or else you’ll never be successful. It’s not enough to have excitement, you need customers too. This happens through mapping out the customer journey, and finding great and creative ways to engage them once they’re ready to be engaged. If you do it too soon, you’ll turn off customers. If you do it too late, they might be going with a competitor. Data will help guide you to mapping out the content, messages, and journey needed to get prospects to convert.
It’s marketing’s job to ensure sales have what they need to be successful. It’s not marketing’s job to close deals.
Finally, and this is especially important within B2B and sometimes B2C: enabling and activating sales. You can have an awesome message in the market, and an incredible journey, but if your sales team is not trained to engage with customers AND if they don’t have the right assets, you will fail. You need to make sure your sales team is knowledgeable, has the right pitch decks, competitive information, customer stories, market information, and pricing details. It’s marketing’s job to ensure sales have what they need to be successful. It’s not marketing’s job to close deals. While in B2C, you might not have a sales team, you still need to ensure that it’s easy for prospects to buy your product and that they have the right information to make informed choices.
It’s all about aptitude, hunger, and dedication
Finally, a little bit about hiring. When you’re growing a business, nothing is more important than the team you hire. They will literally be the difference between success or failure, mediocre growth and becoming a rocketship. It starts with you having a clear vision of what you want to become, and then it’s about hiring an amazing team. I look for a lot of things, but I’m really into aptitude, hunger, and dedication. Aptitude is about finding hyper smart people who are quick learners and can play a multitude of roles, because having fixed employees is something that will slow you down. You need speed, agility, and a willingness to grow, learn, and always do whatever is needed to create greatness.
You also need someone who is hungry and willing to roll up their sleeves to make the mission a reality. You can figure this out by asking candidates about motivation, and if it’s just about money, then you know that they are not for you. It has to be about something bigger than that.
And finally, dedication to make sh*t happen, no matter what it takes. Let’s be real, in a startup and in a growth company, there are no 9–5 jobs, so is this person willing to dedicate themselves to making the business successful? This doesn’t mean you need to burn people out, and not focus on work life balance, but you also need people willing to go the extra mile when it’s needed. And you should definitely reward people for the work, especially when they go above and beyond. You can do this with gifts, money, stock options, you name it.
Here’s an article I wrote about this with some practical ways for you and candidates to test for fit.