An opportunity arose to do marketing with an employee performance software company. While I had never seen myself working for a HR company I was fascinated by the idea that there was a formula. A framework for how to manage a team, making them engaged and highly productive.
We are all trained to do our respective roles. Accounting, Design, Marketing. 4 years in college and more years working as a junior. When we get good at those jobs we get promoted to manager. (Or go out and start a business, hire a team, and be CEO). However, we are never trained to be a manager. So many people get unhappy at this point and fail. In addition, there is the hurt pride with this failure and the view of taking a backward step from your old role.
But yet we never get trained to be a manager.
Over my last couple of roles, I have worked a lot on putting a structure around building, running, and managing a marketing team. Before I did any marketing in my previous role as VP of growth I spent a few weeks putting a plan and structure around the team and mapping these to the different stages of the customer acquisition funnel. I want to share them with you below.
I have discussed this with my friend Des Martin who is head of marketing over at NearForm and has previously managed big marketing teams at Qualtrics and other high-growth companies. Des wrote a great article about this here. It is an excellent overview for bigger teams and why you need to market Marketing internally to the rest of the company and the senior board.
I am going to write about earlier-stage marketing and growth teams. I have researched loads of structures but the following made the most sense to me and the SaaS-type business I have worked in.
The Structure and Roles of a Four-Person Growth Team
The growth team of an early-stage company was composed of 4 people plus myself (total: 5) managing it. Originally this was two people in customer support and two in marketing. This is now structured around three key roles and three stages of the customer acquisition funnel.
Three Stages of The Customer Acquisition Funnel
- Attraction (1 person)
- Convert (1 person)
- Close (2 people, incorporating customer support).
The role of attraction looks at any campaign or activity to attract people to visit the website.
The best and clearest book I have found on this is Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. I had the privilege of presenting with them at the Growth Hackers Conference in Dublin.
The book puts forward the nineteen customer acquisition channels available to your business. For any business, there will only be about three high-performing channels. The book provides a straightforward framework to systematically test and find the best three channels that will work for you.
For any business there will only be about three channels that are really high performing.
This role looks at every stage of the customer acquisition journey and continually tests and optimises to improve conversion to trials. We also need to ensure we are converting the right type of customer to a trial to reduce churn later.
This role ensures that the user on the trial gets the best possible experience and can see that the company and product are the solution to their problem. The end goal is that the user is confident enough to become a paying customer.
These team members work closest with the product and engineering team, finding out who users are, and what they need and feeding that information back to engineering and the rest of the growth team.
At the moment of writing this, there are no sales in the company. However, this will be a channel that will be tested. Outbound sales will sit under Attraction while inbound sales will sit under Convert or Close.
Update: Outbound sales was tested as a channel but the lifetime value of the customer did not support the costs of acquiring a customer in this channel.
Mike Volpe, the ex-CMO of Hubspot.com, has a nice clear description of these three roles and how they expand with your marketing team over time. Mike bases this on his experience growing Hubspot to an eventual IPO.
Tracking and Reporting Growth
The other side of this is how to report on progress and hopefully growth.
We do this at the start of every week at the growth meeting.
David Skok of Matrix Partners (https://soundcloud.com/the-growth-show/david-skok-pt1 ) talks brilliantly about the marketing metrics he as a VC and ideally your CEO and board wants to see. Unsurprisingly this funnel report matches Mike Volpe’s presentation as David is an investor in Hubspot.
The Three Top Growth Marketing Metrics to Track
- The total unique traffic to your website (Attract)
- How many convert to trial (Convert)
- And how many become customers (Close)
We run a spreadsheet (see below) where each role can report their progress and we can track this weekly.
Note: the numbers in this report are not real, just for illustration purposes.
Weekly Growth Report (Above)
- At the top, in green, the report shows a summary of the top-level numbers. Are we growing or not?
- Next, in gray, the report shows the three stages of the funnel. 1. Attraction, 2. Conversion and 3. Closing. Both numbers and % are shown. This is to see the number of actual people and accounts we are attracting. The % is to show how each stage of the funnel is converting regardless of how many people go through.
- In red we track the churn numbers, which the Close team tries to reduce.
- At the very end of the report, we can see trends. Thanks to Cormac Moylan of Matchbook for suggesting this. It does two things. First, it evens out the natural spikes and troughs of traffic by giving a 4-week average of the numbers. This gives you a more accurate view of whether your numbers are growing or not. Second, it compares the current numbers with this time last year, again to show if you are growing and to compare against any season variances.
Each team member also runs their own report where they track what they are doing in more detail. For example:
- Attraction will track each channel and campaign.
- Conversion will track what conversion tests they are running and the results.
Setting the 12-Month Growth Goals
When I joined this particular Saas company I sat down with the CEO and we set two goals.
- Measure what is and is not working.
- Increase new business in year one by 40% (Above expected organic growth).
Working backwards from the marketing report we were able to figure out what and how we should be tracking. What I found most interesting when looking at the 40% growth goal was that, because of the structure of the marketing and tracking/reporting, I could clearly see a variety of ways to achieve our goal where before I might see one or two.
I could clearly see a variety of ways to achieve our goal where before I might see one or two.
- Growth targets can be achieved by increasing the average account size by X. E.g., get a company with 3 users instead of 2.
- Or keeping current average account size and attract Y additional new accounts a week.
- Or improve the trial to customer conversion rate to 33.5% and convert an additional Y trials each week.
- Or stop Y customers from leaving us each week.
I can then split up this goal across the the three stages of the funnel. So if we attract a few more people, convert more of them and reduce the number leaving then we can easily achieve our goal of 40%. Each improvement in the funnel compounds the effectiveness of the others.
Each improvement in the funnel compounds the effectiveness of the others.
Managing a Growth Marketing Team
One of the biggest lessons I learned while working at the HR product company mentioned at the start of this article was the importance of getting your team invested and engaged and how that can greatly affect performance.
One of the most important ways to do this is by setting the team goals and not tasks.
Setting tasks gets you involved in micromanagement. Whereas setting goals hands the micro decision-making over to your team and frees you up to take a more strategic view of marketing and growth. Not setting clear goals was probably one of my biggest mistakes managing a team back in my first business. Without a goal all my team could do was wait for me to give them tasks to do. I became a roadblock.
The difference between the two is that activities and tasks describe how people spend their time, whereas goals are the results that they seek.
Without goals people will occupy themselves with activities that keep them busy; usually activities they are most comfortable doing, but which contribute very little to the organization’s success. An interesting side effect of giving staff goals instead of tasks is that they become more engaged in their role.
“If you want people to think, give intent, not instructions.”David Marquet
WorkCompass has a great book on this topic which you can download here. http://workcompass.com/free-guide-set-employee-performance-goal/
This illustrates the difference very well:
Activities are Not Goals. Goals are Not Activities.
Confusing activities and goals can mean that you focus on doing tasks and not achieving outcomes.
The results of failing to set goals can be:
You potentially reward activity that does not contribute to your organization’s goals.
- Your team believes that it is responsible for activity and not results.
- When it comes to the team members’ review, they enter that meeting happy that they were very busy and got all their tasks done. You go in unhappy that your goals were not achieved.
- You and your team waste lots of time doing stuff that adds no value.
- The tasks required to achieve a goal will change as circumstances do. If you continue with the same list of tasks you are unlikely to achieve your goals.
Effective goals are:
- Recognised as important
- Measurable and framed in time
- Aligned with organizational strategy
- Achievable but challenging
- Connected to increasing revenue, reducing cost, reducing risk or improving capability
Organizations who use great employee performance management systems average $90,586 more sales per employee Becker, Huselid and Beatty in “The Differentiated Workforce”.Harvard Business Review
One of the hardest aspects of becoming a manager for me was adjusting to managing and not doing. Your job becomes setting goals and then clearing obstacles for your team to achieve them.
Secondly you need to be furthering the team members’ personal goals.
Most people are not interested in getting a bonus. Their primary motivations are to do a good job, get recognised for doing a good job and to develop themselves.
When you are setting the business goals with a team member, also set a personal development goal. It could be that they want to learn to do PR and get an article in Forbes. Maybe they want to run a campaign. Something that, looking back on the year, would make them personally satisfied and proud.
Do not do an annual review. Research has show they are demotivating and destructive. Instead you need to look at your relationship with each team member as an ongoing conversation. Do set milestones and due dates but chat monthly. Look at it as a coaching / mentoring session to help them do better.
Annual reviews are demotivating and destructive.
If your team member is surprised by something that comes up in the review you are doing it wrong. If you are checking in regularly then nothing should be a surprise.
Use The Following Headings When Setting Goals
Overall business goal. E.g., increase new business by 40%.
Their business goal. E.g., increase traffic by X.
Personal goal. E.g., Learn to do Y.
Break Each Goal into Three Parts:
- Measured by / metric.
- What does success look like?
- Deadline and milestones. E.g., 3, 6, 9 and 12 month targets.
Meet with them and provide some pointers on how to achieve their goals.
After implementing this structure I very quickly noticed one important thing: I was no longer telling the team what to do. They were suggesting to me what should be done to achieve their goals. I was just offering guidance and helping them do it.
Finding and Hiring Great Marketing People
In terms of hiring a marketing team I do not feel on top of that part of the process yet; at least not experienced enough to have a repeatable framework that I can suggest.
When I have hired people in the past I looked for a few key traits that I blatantly stole from others and so far it has worked out well. They need to show me:
- They are smart and get stuff done (Joel Spolsky).
- They can write and communicate well (Jason Fried).
- They are not an asshole (Robert I. Sutton).
Then it is some sign of competency and experience to do what’s needed or a quick learner if a junior role. Des goes into this topic as well as interview tactics in his post and it is worth checking out.
- Align your team with your customer acquisition funnel.
For SaaS that is 1. Attract. 2. Convert 3. Close.
- Make them responsible for reporting on their stage of the funnel.
- Set clear business, role and personal goals.
- Help them achieve them.
Further Resources and Guides
The ultimate B2B SaaS marketing guide