It’s no secret: being a “non-technical” team member at a tech company is tough. You may struggle to establish good rapport with your Head of Product, your projects may be treated with less urgency than the dev team’s, or you may feel like you’re constantly working under a microscope.
As the first marketers hired at two tech companies ourselves, we’ve experienced each of these challenges in our own careers. The good news, though? Things can improve from here. You do have the power to build trust with your technical coworkers, shed that “non-technical” label, and gain influence in your role as a marketing leader.
After years of building relationships with technical teams, figuring out executives’ priorities, making the case for marketing projects, and negotiating resources & budget, we’ve learned some of the most surefire ways marketers at tech companies can build trust with their technical co-workers.
What follows is the advice we wish we’d had during our early days in tech: a collection of tactics to help you demonstrate your value, prove you’re thinking strategically, and ultimately, get better results at work.
If you need help mastering these tactics, we run a free, weekly series of workshops to help marketers at tech companies level up and be more effective at work. We’d love to see you at the next one!
Shift your mindset from “employee” to “essential”
As a marketing leader, your very first step toward gaining influence is to remember that marketing is integral to the success of any tech company. If you’re the owner of marketing within your organization (Director, Manager, Lead, etc), know that you’re much more than just a cog in the wheel.
Long gone are the days of marketing being the “arts and crafts” department; your real goal is to generate revenue — and revenue is the lifeblood of the company!
Keep this top of mind, and instead of waiting passively for your CEO or your manager to hand you an assignment, get proactive. Start thinking about what marketing can do to make a positive impact on key company metrics like leads generated, prospects qualified, or new customers acquired (more on company metrics in a bit).
Once you start to see your role as essential to the success of the business, your tasks become purposeful (or culled, if you realize your projects aren’t contributing to revenue). This shows other department leaders that you’re thinking about the big picture.
Earn your CEO’s trust
Your CEO can be your biggest champion — or your biggest blocker. As the person ultimately responsible for representing the company, the CEO of any tech company ultimately owns marketing. When your CEO trusts that you’re thinking strategically and acting with the best interest of the business in mind, she’s more likely to champion your ideas, remove roadblocks, and vouch for you when other team members struggle to see the value of your projects.
So, how do you gain your CEO’s trust? How do you establish yourself as an equal with folks at the executive level?
Ultimately, trust comes down to a little truth that we all know as marketers already: humans care about themselves and their own struggles more than anything else. So, if you can understand your boss’s struggles , you can run your department in a way that’s relevant to your boss.
How do you learn what your boss cares about? Ask! At your next 1:1 meeting, try getting (just a bit) personal before or after you’ve shared your regular updates, and ask how your boss is doing.
A great question to start with is “What’s going well right now, and what are you most worried about these days?” They probably won’t pour their heart out right away, especially if you haven’t already established a pattern of discussing personal wins and worries. But gradually, your boss is likely to open up, giving you more visibility into their work — empowering you to plan marketing projects that impact the things your CEO cares about.
And once you begin to understand what issues your CEO cares about, you can begin to identify the business metrics most related to her priorities.
For example, if your CEO’s primary concern right now is getting enough customers in the door every month, the related metric would be Net New MRR (MRR = monthly recurring revenue). On the other hand, if your CEO’s biggest worry is that key customers aren’t sticking around very long, the related metrics would be retention rate and churn rate. (Need help getting familiar with common tech company metrics? We recommend David Skok’s SaaS Metrics Guide or ChartMogul’s SaaS Metrics Cheatsheet.)
With an understanding of which metrics matter most to the business, you can begin identifying areas where marketing can make a direct impact on those metrics.
Get (at least a little) technical
To some degree, all online marketers are technical marketers; after all, you’re creating demand for a technical product, and the key to good marketing is deeply understanding what it is you’re marketing in the first place.
With that said, being successful doesn’t necessarily mean knowing the complex ins and outs of your product’s code. It just means being able to speak the basic language of your engineers.
For this reason, we recommend getting familiar with foundational aspects of development that will save you time in the long run — like deciphering HTML, or learning SQL so you can dive into customer data by yourself (instead of having to wait around for an engineer to help you).
Understanding analytics is also crucial to gaining influence as a marketer. In a recent Forget The Funnel workshop called “How to Create Content That Won’t Kill You,” Codecademy’s Content Strategist Ashley Hockney shared this golden piece of advice:
“The data-driven get paid. If you can analyze your content week over week, track your Google Analytics, track your growth via Twitter, track which of your inbound channels is generating the most leads, and — even better — which is generating the most product signups, you have numbers to back up your decisions.”
Hold regular one-on-ones with department heads
As a marketing lead, it’s part of your job to keep up with the current needs and projects of other departments — and the best way to do this is by holding regular weekly (or at least biweekly) 1:1 meetings with fellow department leaders.
Holding 1:1’s helps you better understand what your technical, sales, and support teams are working on right now, or struggling with lately. And having that context gives you the opportunity to plan marketing projects that help support other departments’ efforts, or relieve their struggles — which positions you as a thoughtful, empathetic colleague, and the marketing department as a valuable asset to the company.
Of course, no one appreciates meetings that feel like time-wasters — so to ensure you and your colleagues each get value, keep the purpose of your 1:1s straightforward:
- Update each other on important things that’ve happened since you last met
- Review important things launching or starting in the next two weeks
- Schedule quick times in the coming days to connect with other project stakeholders, to address issues / remove roadblocks where needed
As John Doherty (CEO, Credo) says: “don’t think about this meeting as a time to build rapport with others at your same level. You should be doing that at after-work happy hours, lunches, or other times. This meeting is all about business.”
Tie every project to business value
When you tie marketing projects to the goals of your business, you prove to the technical team and C-suite that marketing is a revenue-generating department. For this reason, connecting your projects to relevant business metrics should be an ongoing habit when communicating with teams across the company.
One of the best tools you can use to demonstrate any project’s value is a marketing brief: in other words, a short description of your project, an estimate of the time and resources required to execute on it, and the results (numbers!) you expect it to produce.
Writing a marketing brief to pitch a project can make all the difference between acceptance or rejection, between getting buy-in or getting skeptical side-eyes.
When preparing a brief, you want to accomplish four critical points:
- Explain the purpose / strategy behind the project — why this project? Why now?
- Outline the measurements that will determine success
- Identify the target audience, and the expected outcomes
- Establish clear goals, timelines, and responsible parties
Need a marketing brief template to help you get started? You can make a copy of ours here.
Know your customers better than anyone
Conducting customer research can make a huge difference in your work. Customer surveys, website analytics, product usage, customer and user interviews, and target market interviews — all of these help you become the internal expert on your customer. This not only makes you a stronger marketer who can plan and launch more relevant campaigns; it also makes you an indispensable resource to the other departments — all of which need that valuable customer data, but don’t have the bandwidth to collect it themselves.
If conducting customer research is a completely new topic for you, this workshop will show you one quick way to get started. But collecting the data is just step one; sharing what you’ve gathered with your technical team is the extra step that sets you apart as an indispensable resource.
After you’ve done the work, the chances of your colleagues taking the time to sort through a big, messy pile of data are pretty low. So package up what you’ve learned, and present your findings over a short lunch-and-learn to make them digestible for other people on the team. This is the step that will elevate you from secret encyclopedia, to resident customer expert whose input is valued in strategic meetings.
Get familiar with the product roadmap
From minor bug fixes to major new features, understanding what product updates your dev team has planned is essential context when building your marketing strategy.
Whenever we say this, though, we add “don’t laugh!” to the end — because for some marketers, gaining access to the dev team’s product roadmap can feel like a huge first battle.
Marketers who do have visibility into the product roadmap still often wind up frustrated, as deadlines and launch dates constantly shift, seemingly without warning (another bonus of regular 1:1s with your Head of Product: avoiding these unpleasant plot twists).
However, even getting a loose delivery timeline from your CTO will spare you from having to throw together a campaign last-minute — or worse, spending three months developing a big project, then having to scrap it entirely when you find out a drastic product update will render your work irrelevant.
There’s hope (and help!)
Sometimes, it can feel like marketing at a tech company is a never-ending battle to learn more — or of constantly trying to catch up. The reality is that it’s probably a mix of both, but you can gain more influence and make a bigger impact by building trust with your c-suite and technical coworkers. That means tying your work to business value, getting (at least a little) technical yourself, and nurturing ongoing communication with other departments.
If you need help mastering these tactics, we run a free, weekly series of workshops for marketers at tech companies. Our goal is to help you get out of the weeds, think strategically, and be more effective at work.
We’d love to see you at our next workshop. And, when you reserve your spot, we’ll send you all the recordings from our first season (18 workshops total!) right away, no waiting.
Claire Suellentrop and Georgiana Laudi address the unique struggles of SaaS marketers, based on their firsthand experience building brands (pretty much from scratch) as the Director of Marketing at Calendly and VP of Marketing at Unbounce.
Forget The Funnel is a series of free weekly workshops for SaaS marketers, on topics like gaining C-Suite trust, thinking strategically, and getting buy-in when pitching new marketing experiments.