Marketing Job Descriptions: 8 Traits for the Perfect Growth Hire
Why this matters: Hiring (attracting, selecting and inspiring) amazing people is the #1 lever you can pull as a leader. Talent is the only proven true consistent source of competitive advantage.
Why should you listen to me?
I’ve screwed it up many times! For years as a Marketing Director, I hired dozens of people and repeatedly built high-performing teams. Later, as a VC, evaluating founders and their teams became my most important job. During that time, I made lots of mistakes, and learned many things the hard way. I also had some shining successes, of which I’m very proud. Anyone who has worked with me, even my detractors, will tell you that these days I hire great people.
Roles on a Growth Team
On any growth team, you need 5 roles. As an early stage startup, you may not be able to fully staff a dedicated growth team with all 5 roles. But the growth people you do have will need access to all of these resources on some sort of part-time basis.
1) Product – one PM who can spec growth features, manage the growth product roadmap.
2) Engineering – Engineer who can focus on user acquisition and engagement, work on growth experiments. Will likely need to do A/B testing, front-end and database work.
3) Analytics – Somebody who can define your growth KPIs, run the queries, connect the tracking systems, build and populate the dashboard, swim around in the data looking for patterns and insights, and answer millions of questions.
4) Design – A mix of UX, landing page design and branding – very user-focused, can work quickly, “done is better than perfect.”
5) Actual marketing – Last but not least, someone who knows how to understand customers, demonstrate the value of your offering to them, select and optimize channels, run this whole process, and inspire the rest of the company to support their quest.
Silos = Death
One common misconception is that “marketing” is a group that sits independent of product, dev and data, and “puts traffic into the funnel.” This couldn’t be further from the truth, and marketing pretty much only works if it’s part-and-parcel with the rest of your product experience.
The 8 Traits for your Marketing Job Description
Over the years, building growth teams inside big companies and startups, I have identified a pattern of traits that have consistently stood out. Obviously, no single individual possesses all of these traits. (In-fact some of them sit in conflict.) Instead, you should try to make sure they are all present and leveraged among the various members of the team, and that they can work through those conflicts in a constructive, healthy way.
Marketing is a process of learning. You’re only really learning if you’re aware you don’t have all the answers. The best marketers often have no reason to be humble – they are brilliant accomplished people. But they remain humble because they take risks, fail often, and learn constantly.
Great marketers are incessantly curious. It can even be a bit annoying. But when they see results that don’t quite make sense, they are not willing to “assume away” anomalies in the data. Instead, they dig and dig to find insights. They always want to know why things work or don’t work, constantly interrogating data, co-workers and customers.
Growth is literally a science. Many of the best marketers have a background in the hard sciences. You’re developing hypotheses, calling out your assumptions and validating them via a rigorous process of experimentation. These people can design a sound experiment, interpret the results, and design the next test.
There’s no getting around it, great marketing is beautiful. Great design uplifts us , makes us feel good about ourselves. Great writers can draw us into their worlds, inspire and move us. And truly effective marketing connects with us at a deep level.
The artists and the scientists will clash, there’s tension inherent in their collaboration. But they need to work through that conflict to deliver great marketing that converts.
Building a startup is hard work, the pay isn’t great, and neither are the odds. Great marketers will persevere. In our “Distro Dojo” we’d work with batches of 6 – 10 companies. And in each batch, one of the companies would get lucky, and post an early win – an experiment that doubled some important KPI. We’d celebrate the success. But the other teams struggled with that FOMO. They would run test after test, week after week, never managing to move the needle. “Trust the process” we’d say.
Sometimes it took them 2, 3, 5, even 8 rounds of testing to find a “win.” But eventually they did. But this can be hard, gut-wrenching, demoralising stuff. Everyone will question and challenge you. (Everyone thinks they’re a marketing expert). And you need to be able to survive on faith that one way or another, you’ll figure this out.
There is something of a paradox here, it’s true. But it is possible to be both humble and optimistic. (Google “The Stockdale Paradox”). As a VC, I often ask founders “On a scale from 1 – 10, how do you rate your odds of success with this venture?” (I know the actual odds, it’s not pretty). The best founders all seem to come up with the same answer: “How sure am I that we’ll succeed in the long-term? 10 out of 10. But am I sure we’re doing the best work we can and making the right decisions over the next few months? 3 out of 10.” So you see, they are at once deeply humble and deeply optimistic.
And yes, for the record, great entrepreneurs are delusionally optimistic. Just like Steve Jobs’ famous “reality distortion field” they see a clear vision of the change they are trying to make in the world. It’s so real they can touch it, and they are drawn inexorably towards it. “Leadership” is the act of inspiring others to join you on that journey. So yes, you do want to hire somewhat delusional marketers.
If you haven’t read Shoe Dog (Biography of Nike founder Phil Knight) or Ashley Vance’s biography Elon Musk, or The Everything Store about Jeff Bezos’ years building Amazon… that’s some good reading! One thing every normal human being will think, as they read those books, is “why does he keep going?” Each of these men went to hell and back, multiple times, before these businesses became the “obvious” successes you now see.
Before founding their current companies, Phil Knight had an MBA from Stanford, Elon Musk made a fortune from the PayPal IPO, and Jeff Bezos was a hedge fund manager. None of them ever really needed to worry about financial security or success. And all three of those founders’ companies should have been dead multiple times. (In-fact Musk is going through that again with the Tesla Model 3 and Space-X simultaneously!) And where most normal people would have given up 100 times… these nuts persevered. Of course you could say this is “hindsight bias.” And lots of entrepreneurs persevere like crazy and fail. But if you look at all the successful ones, every single one of them was insanely tenacious. (It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition of success).
7. Bridge Builders
Done right, growth really involves the entire organisation. Not just the designers, analysts, product and engineers, but the CEO, operations, customer service. Everyone’s role is connected, somehow, to that “north star” metric. Great growth leaders understand that, and bring everyone on the journey with them. That the company will succeed or fail as a whole. They make sure everyone understands their role and their goal. They are extremely generous with (honest) praise, calling out good behaviours, and acknowledging successes. They give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume positive intent. There’s no petty politics or backstabbing, the entire team shares in the credit for victories. And when things fail, they don’t get into the blame game – they own it and fix it so it won’t happen again.
Integrity describes the alignment between the thoughts in your head, the words that you speak (honesty) and the actions you perform (follow-through). If people lie, even about small things… nobody lies about just one thing… that’s a huge red flag. People who take credit for the ideas or work of others, people who make excuses and pass blame… any hint of impropriety or dishonesty, do not hire. No matter what. In a startup, every employee has the “keys to the kingdom.” Any employee can walk out with the codebase, the financials, customer lists, cash. It happens all the time. Plus these people just have all kinds of other dysfunctional behaviours. This is especially important for growth marketers, who are are, by definition, leaders in your organisation.
What’s not on this list?
Reading these “8 Traits for the Perfect Growth Hire” you might have noticed a few omissions… I didn’t mention Facebook campaigns, Mixpanel, AdWords, SEO, ad agency experience, B2B, B2C, Optimizely, Mailchimp, Hubspot, Marketo, Lead Generation, AppsFlyer, ASO, affiliates, partners, Hootsuite, WordPress, outbound, inbound, direct mail, SQL… or pretty much everything you’d put in a job spec for a marketer is not on my list.
That’s no accident.
Over the years, the best marketers I’ve hired have had no marketing experience at all. I hired them purely for their thinking and approach – to business problems and organisational problems.
In his excellent book Principles, Ray Dalio makes the point I think many of us have learned… skills and experience generally don’t matter, and we should focus instead on attitudes, values, personality and ability.
Marketing Isn’t Rocket Science
Marketing in particular doesn’t require deep technical skill or off-the-charts computational, athletic or musical ability. For me, that really skews the equation over towards the “attitudes, values, ability” vs. “skills/experience” end of the spectrum.
What’s more, in today’s European market, skills and experience around performance marketing command a real premium – it’s hard for an unknown startup to hire people with performance marketing experience. Funny thing is, they don’t need to! (For more on that, see my post Why you should not hire a T-shaped head of growth.)
So next time you have to write a marketing job description, focus on these attitudes and abilities over experience, and you’ll find better people faster without over-paying.