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First of all, it’s likely your fault. Yes, if you are disappointed with your marketing, whether internal or external, it’s due to your misjudgment. Sorry, but someone has to say it out loud.
I hope that by the end of this post, you will understand why I think this way, and I sure hope that you will agree.
But for those of you who always start with reading the last page of every book they read, I have no intention of keeping you in suspense. Here’s the bottom line:
The bottom line
(I even added a subtitle as you can see, so you can easily find this spot later on…)
You are disappointed with your marketers, because, well… Early stage B2B startup marketing should be planned and executed only by B2B startup marketers. More accurately, full-stack B2B startup marketers.
Not just marketers. Not even experienced tech marketers, as talented as they may be. B2B startup marketing should be handled by – B2B. Startup. Marketers.
Yes, marketers that have done it before. Exactly that. Not “the same thing only in a corporate tech company.” Not “yes, exactly that but in a B2C startup” and not “yes, that, but only managing marketing communications (or PR)” and not “I was part of the marketing team in an established startup. How hard can it be for me to now set up your entire B2B startup marketing foundations and build your data-driven marketing DNA, no biggy”
Same goes for the freelancers or agencies that you choose to work with
Let me ask you a question
Do you have a team of marketers, one stand-alone marketer in your team, or no one internal? If your startup is young, and assuming you even have someone wearing a marketing hat, most likely it’s just one person. Makes sense, as this is the situation in most early-stage startups. None or one. Reality Bites.
Just one marketer, huh?
Here’s another question: Is your current marketer the kind I’ve described above? No, I didn’t ask if she is the nicest, magical, most genius creature to have ever walked the earth. I simply ask if your marketer has held a stand-alone marketing position in a similar (same scale) B2B startup, including overseeing a multi-area marketing operation by herself, before joining your team?
When this topic comes up in my day-to-day life, and I must say at least 50% of founders I meet with have already experienced some kind of disappointment from an internal marketer or an external agency (or both), I usually understand what went wrong as soon as I learn that neither the external agency nor the internal marketer can be described as ‘experienced B2B startup marketing masters’.
The key for mismatch and disappointment lies in here.
Those of you who came just to hear the punchline, you can leave now. That’s ok, I got your cookie anyway, expect to feel the love soon 🙂
If you are interested in reading more, I want to share with you a few insights that I have on that matter
Why, oh why?
First of all, to set the record straight: I am talking about early stage B2B startups. That’s my main experience, startups that have raised either early stage rounds (seed to B), are trying to find a market fit and have an internal team of less than 50 people, in most cases.
But, this can be relevant to other creatures as well. You will be your own judge.
Most importantly, these kinds of startups do not tend to have a multi-person established marketing team. Internal marketers in such startups mostly work alone and have no one to lean on for professional training and day-to-day challenges (Needless to say, when teams work together, it’s enough to have one ‘professional startup marketer’ on board that can train the others).
Startup marketing is different
In fact, I’d say that startup marketing is usually the complete opposite of ‘traditional’ or corporate marketing. Startups are unique and their nature is completely different than corporates. Their ability to run quickly, stay agile, innovative and on the go is often a key competitive advantage. Take that away and watch a lot of them die. While corporates move slowly, they are buried under tons of regulations, restrictions, policies, and politics.
A specific type of company requires a specific type of marketing.
The unique attributes of a B2B startup marketer
Why is B2B even relevant here? Well, if you ask me, the B2B marketing landscape has significantly changed over the past years. B2B marketers started to use more ‘B2C’ data-driven tactics and loosened up a bit, drifting away from the traditional B2B marketing prototype. Naturally, as startups are more innovative than other organizations, B2B startups are the trailblazers. They just had to be more creative and much more knowledgeable to survive. Startups are hungrier.
Therefore, if you ask me, the transformation that traditional B2B marketers have to make to become great and successful B2B startup marketers is huge.
Let’s try and compare the qualities that a B2B startup marketer needs to have (in order to help her early stage startup cut through the noise), with the qualities of a corporate marketer.
Please excuse me for the rude generalizations that I am about to make, the reality isn’t black or white, I just think it will make my point easier
I believe that these are just some of the important attributes of a startup marketer:
- A stand-alone player– While almost all marketers who work in corporations are used to being part of a bigger team, a startup marketer in a young company is a stand-alone player who needs to make decisions without sharing the responsibility with other people. It’s a lonely position, and marketers struggle here – even experienced ones who are used to working in startups. But marketers who are inexperienced at working alone may break. I have seen it more than once.
- Full-stack in nature – While marketers in corporations are hardly ‘full stack’ in nature, and usually they master specific activities, counting on other team members to complete the marketing mix, startup marketers must operate multi-area activities simply because they work alone and their resources are limited. They don’t have someone on the ground to be the focal point for social, another one for PR, a third one for lead-gen and… you get the idea. it’s just them on board. If they lack the know-how, and naturally have no one to train them, disappointment and frustration occur.
- A CMO, project manager, and a hands-on executer – Corporate marketers are often clever project managers and can lean on third-party agencies to run all their hands-on activities. However, young startups have limited budgets, meaning that no matter how senior the marketer working in the startup is in terms of title, he or she will eventually have to run a ‘CMO level strategic thinking’ AND conduct project management related planning, AND deal with hands-on execution (even when an external agency is on board to support parts of the execution). Not every marketer is built for this unique mix of skills.
- An agile personality with a strong ability to focus on what’s really important – Startups run faster than corporations. Much faster. That’s their biggest advantage. As this is critical to their survival, they must make compromises along the way. Hopefully, ones that are subtle to outsiders, but still, compromises. A startup marketer must follow the ‘good-enough principle’ and know when to stop. There’s no time to dive into one single task at the expense of others. It’s VERY different from what corporates expect of their employees, and making this shift when working for a startup is hard. I am talking from experience. It takes a lot of time to adjust, some never make it. And when a marketer does not manage to focus on what’s really important and doesn’t deliver fast enough, disappointment is bound to happen, sooner or later.
- En explorer in nature – Big companies usually hire marketers to scale activities that have already proved to deliver a good ROI. No one needs to build things from scratch, as almost everything has already been tried before. Startups are just on the opposite of the scale. Startup marketing is pretty much a lab, made of endless trials, errors, and tweaks that help the company gear up towards more mature marketing. Startup marketers must master the art of research. Again, this shift from working in a corporate to running the marketing of a startup may be long and tedious.
Can a person grow (or shrink, depends on how you choose to look at it :)) to be a successful startup marketer? Sure, it’s not rocket science. Can an agency become a startup fairy? Same goes here.
But it takes time, effort and experience before it’s satisfying, and the problem is that not everyone can wait that long.
Instead of a ‘regular’ summary, let me tell you a story.
Before I just started my way as an entrepreneur (even before the days of G2M Team), I left a tech corporation (well, corporate in an Israeli scale…) and took my first steps in a startup I co-founded. I thought that since I am an experienced marketer, at least that aspect of the business is gonna be pretty easy. I thought I could save on a big chunk of the investment, as I can easily do what I do best, right?
Not only did I not know anything about startup marketing, but I also had to try and forget everything that I did know, as it was just a set of predispositions that interfered with the new methods that I had to develop.
The tactics were different, the tools were different, learning methods were different, the community was made of other people than what I knew before, success measurements were different, quality of deliverables was different – and you know what? Almost nothing was the same.
So I started working towards my startup marketing degree…
Yes, I learned the ropes, and yes, I managed to run startup marketing. But it took time and many mistakes to get me there.
So, hopefully, before you hire someone internal to join your marketing team, or onboard an external agency, you should run a serious set expectations process to avoid future disappointments. Because if they do come, I will again claim that it’s your fault. Good luck!