1. How to build a marketing team

Co-written by Jeremy Gurewitz
Reviewed by Yousuf Bhaijee
This is for startups who’ve achieved some early traction and want to build a scalable growth engine.

This document helps you structure your marketing team. Who should you hire? In what order?

Step 1. Identify your acquisition motion

First, start by identifying what your product’s broad acquisition motion is. To identify your motion, spot which of your acquisition channels (1) can scale significantly and (2) attract customers with high LTV. Motions generally subdivide into three categories:

  • Sales-led: Most customer acquisition happens via sales.
  • Product-led: Most customer acquisition happens naturally through the use of the natural product. This is usually the outcome of a great product team, not a great growth team.
  • Paid-led: Most customer acquisition happens through paying for performance (CAC).
  • WOM/Community-led: Your customers taken it upon themselves to promote the product for you—unassisted by the product itself.

We start by defining our acquisition motion because it determines the core competency we’re building our growth team around. For example, if you’re product-led, you’d hire a Senior Growth Marketer whose core competency is in fact product-led acquisition—not content or influencers.

If you don’t know which channels are likely to work for you, do competitive analysis: use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find people who worked at companies that (1) sell to your same customer persona (2) using a similar business model. Have your founder pay these domain experts $1,000/hr for a couple hours’ worth of of Zoom calls. On the calls, grill them to explore every growth channel that worked and why. Plus ask what qualities/skills were shared by the team members who excelled at those channels. This is among the highest-leverage dollars you will ever spend: competitive analysis via consultation. Almost no startup founder does this in the first year. Do not be afraid to buy directional accuracy.

Step 2. Build an MVP growth team

Now that we have our motion, we build an MVP growth team. This entails hiring or outsourcing key, evergreen marketing roles. This is your support structure for powering the motions above.

This usually consists of the following four roles:

Senior growth generalist whose primary job is to set a cadence for running regular growth experiments. Many will fail, and that’s okay; the goal is smart experiment selection and consistent cadence. In the early days, you hire someone who can tactically do the work themselves—not a pure manager. You hire pure managers only once you’re at scale!

  1. Ensure this person is as much an in-the-weeds operator as they are a manager. They have to tactically know what a job well done looks like. They have to want to roll up their sleeves.
  2. Hire this senior generalist before hiring a channel expert. The generalist is the glue who sits across all channels and marketing operations to ensure data is being tracked and acted upon sensibly.
  3. A senior growth generalist’s role consists of the following:
  4. Propose growth experiments, oversee their implementation, collect the data, share the results with the team, and iterate endlessly.
  5. Oversee funnel optimization to identify and remove conversion bottlenecks.
  6. Ensure the team’s channel experts are delivering good performance.
  7. However, this generalist doesn’t have to be your head of growth. You can empower a generalist with mid-level seniority while retaining the option to hire a veteran above them once you’ve identified what the business ultimately needs to grow later on. This is important because the first senior hire you make will likely not be that great and you’ll regret title inflation when you eventually need a world-class growth killer. Always try to get away with the most junior title you can assign so that you leave room to hire people above without needing to fire folks or unnecessarily hurt their feelings.
  8. The exception is you have an absolutely amazing candidate whose condition for joining is they become VP/CMO/CGO.

Copywriter-marketer who understands copywriting for acquisition (landing pages, ads) and lifecycle marketing (drip emails, sales collateral, webinar content).

  1. Eventually this person will get overwhelmed and be underqualified to run a sophisticated martech operation, at which point you can hire a dedicated lifecycle marketer to focus on overseeing emails/SMS/notification strategy, community, events, and so on.

Outsourced design contractor or agency. They’re needed to put together the ads, marketing/sales collateral, in-product growth experiments, and landing pages. It’s normal to outsource this in the early days to save costs. (Or keep it in-house from the beginning if you have crazy high design standards.)

  1. Here are the agencies and contractors I recommend: 4. Recommended agencies and contractors

Reserve bandwidth from your existing engineering team to support the growth team’s experiments, martech integration, in-product changes, and landing page creation.

  1. Later on, you can hire a dedicated growth engineer. This person will become increasingly important as you build a sophisticated martech stack.

For B2B startups who are scaling: If you are a B2B startup and you’ve found traction, you should consider supplementing your growth marketing team with an experienced product marketer manager. Product marketers are typically responsible for product launches, beta tests, pricing decisions, product positioning, competitive research, and customer interviews. Why do you need this function early on?

Sales enablement: If you have a sales-led motion, you need to provide sales reps with the right materials and resources to convert leads.

Keep your growth marketers focused: Many of the activities I just listed are important for supporting product and sales teams. In the absence of product marketing, the growth marketing team will have to do it, and this will pull them away from their core competency of experimentation and scaling activities.

Step 3. Hire channel experts

Now that you’ve built your MVP growth team, it’s time to hire for channel-specific competency. This is where you return to your key motion (sales, product, paid) and identify which channels within that motion are the most likely to succeed. (Read this to learn how to hire marketers: Where to find marketers and how to hire them.)

Know that most companies get to Series B with one scaled growth channel. If you can’t find your hero channel, the problem is likely with you and not the channel. You don’t have PMF. Because most well-established channels like Facebook and Google are proven to be very scalable. Products with strong PMF get channels to work.

The exception is when you have a small audience that’s hard-to-target and splintered across channels. In this situation, go ahead and run a bunch of channels in parallel to pick up customers on the margins.

You determine the best channels by looking at past growth successes plus doing the competitive analysis exercise explained earlier. For example: If you’re Paid-led, you may find Facebook and Instagram are your hero channels. If so, hire someone to run those channels.

For each channel, start with one hire who’s a swiss army knife on copy, campaigns, optimization, and data—but support them with a design contractor/agency so they don’t have to do design themselves. This person is fully responsible for owning the success of their channel. They have to be able to coordinate and source the labor they’re missing to cover their bandwidth/competency gaps; they’re a mini-manager—not a cog in a machine. Once they’re maxed on bandwidth or have hit their goals and have the potential to scale harder, hire more people to support them.

Some channels require a greater degree of competency that an agency can fulfill much quicker than you would internally. Plus, agencies can be far most cost-efficient in many cases. Here’s how I think about outsourcing:

I would generally outsource paid acquisition creative production and paid acquisition on channels that are second-tier (less popular) such as Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, and so on—everything outside of Facebook, Instagram, and Google. These second-tier channels typically aren’t worth becoming an expert in one-by-one during the early testing phases.

In contrast, content marketing should almost always be in-house as it should be a core competency of most teams and it’s very hard to find competent contractors.

In all cases, if you want to level up a junior or mid-level marketing hire with up-to-date tactics, you can send them through my startup, Demand Curve, which offers tactical marketer training. And you can send senior marketers through Reforge for more management and growth theory education.

Step 4. Hire execs

Once you have a machine that’s working and scaling, now you can consider hiring a truly senior marketer (VP, CMO) to sit above everyone else and instill discipline into the experimentation, reporting, and optimization frameworks. They have to be killers bringing real tactical experience—because whoever you hire needs to be someone who impresses everyone underneath them or you’ll create resentment.

But, from a day-to-day perspective, this person is more of a manager and an optimizer than an operator. This person is also now the key recruiter and manager. If your existing team hates recruiting and management, you need to hire someone at the VP or C-level who can act like an adult.

Beyond a VP/C-level hire, you’re also expanding your team of operators as you scale. To know when and who to hire, keep in mind it’s a function of which growth channels are driving real value and what pain points are preventing you from scaling that value. Hire for those two outcomes and repeat endlessly.

Where does my marketing team fit within my org?

Relationship between growth and product

It’s actually product decisions that are generally the north star for how a company sustains healthy, long-term growth. Meaning, growth should not be in its own silo because its opportunities are constrained by what features the product team releases. These two teams need to be intimately collaborating. Product can likewise consult with growth to prioritize roadmap features that open up high ROI growth possibilities.

This is why it’s advantageous to hire a growth marketer who’s already worked on product in a past role. This will make help them think of growth more holistically and understand the downstream impacts. You don’t want them to only be chasing short, local wins, but also restructuring the intersection of product<>growth for a global win.

Hierarchy

As for the overall hierarchy of your org: many folks suggest having as many VPs as possible reporting directly to the founder—constrained only by the founder’s bandwidth. By flattening the hierarchy among VPs/C-suite, you minimize politics.

Now, that said, you’ll sometimes see the VP of Growth reporting to the VP of Product as an exception to this rule. My experienced growth marketer friend Guillaume Cabane (from Segment, Drift, Gorgias) accordingly proposes two ways to embed a growth team within the larger org:

Source: Guillaume Cabane
Source: Guillaume Cabane

Source: Guillaume Cabane
Source: Guillaume Cabane

The embedded model is typically preferable to start with. Embed growth into the DNA of the business. This distributes a growth mindset throughout the org—and rallies all the troops around a North Star rooted in growth, which is what a business needs to thrive. Over time, re-evaluate the org structure as things break.

Further reading

See Andrew Chen’s blog post here for how to structure your marketing <> product team. Scroll down until you see this image and begin reading from there:

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