6 Lessons I Learned as the New Head of Marketing at a Startup
March 7, 2016

6 Lessons I Learned as the New Head of Marketing at a Startup

I joined Enplug in the fall of 2014. We sell digital signage software, and my job was to send personalized emails and Facebook messages to businesses that might want to purchase our technology. My first role was simple. But it would not stay that way for long.

The digital world was growing really fast around me as I got up to speed. And I was doing my best to leverage everything I knew about marketing to help us gain some of our first customers.

Though there were some ups and downs, I had a fantastic first year. The business grew like crazy! And as my first year at Enplug came to a close, I realized that I had gradually taken on a wide variety of tasks without even knowing it. These ranged from email marketing, to analytics, to working in our CRM. I even closed a few new customer deals myself.

It was hard work, but it paid off in a big way.

In November 2015, I suddenly moved into a new role as Enplug’s first-ever Head of Marketing. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I had the awesome privilege of leading our entire marketing team.

My surprise quickly became elation. Then, the magnitude of my responsibilities kicked in. And it has been trial-by-fire ever since. But no matter what I work on each day, there is always a new challenge to tackle. And each challenge brings with it a valuable lesson.

So, if you find yourself in my shoes, let me offer you some advice. Here are the top six tips that helped me thrive in my first 60 days as a new Head of Marketing:

Be responsive I know how hectic a new role can be — especially when you are leading the group. And it might be tempting to try to handle everything. But bouncing back and forth between multiple action items fractures your focus. So, when solving a problem or dealing with an email, don’t delay — be responsive to a single item at a time.

I treat my email account as a to-do list, making sure I’m quick to answer everything that comes in as it comes in. If I need to follow up later, I have a system of archiving each email once I’m done with it or using Boomerang to save for later. These tips help me get down to Inbox Zero every day. Pro tip: The ability to show upcoming Google Calendar events in my Gmail sidebar is a life-saver.

Focus on breadth over depth Your marketing professor might have told you that being awesome at one aspect of marketing is the key to your career. That might be true in some situations — but not if your career goal is to lead marketing for a growing organization. If so, your breadth of skills matters much more than depth.

Having a wide range of skills allows startup marketers to be self-reliant and creative. In the course of a day, that could include making graphics in Illustrator, writing a blog post, fixing a WordPress plugin, and scheduling social media content.

Over time, you can hire specialists to join your team and focus on these specific areas. But when marketing strategy rolls back up to you, it is important that you know how to execute. This knowledge helps you guide your new team members by giving them the tools and goals they need to excel.

Manage feedback well Everyone feels qualified to weigh in on marketing and design strategies. This input can be valuable (depending on who gives it). But be wary of “design by committee” or “bikeshedding” (discussing unimportant decisions ad nauseam). Your job as Head of Marketing is to manage conversations before they spiral into endless noise.

One effective way to organize feedback around important initiatives is to hold a focused “pow-wow” with a few people and an organized agenda. I tried this tactic when several members of cross-functional teams had some feedback on our homepage redesign. I scheduled a 30-minute meeting on their calendars; sent an agenda the day beforehand with allotted time for everyone to speak; and shared my goal for this meeting on that agenda.

The result? Everyone knew why we were meeting, got to share their insights, and collaborated cross-functionally. We all walked away feeling refreshed. And our process for sharing new ideas is much more efficient now.

Automate as much as possible As productive as you are, there are only so many hours in a day. I am sure that your work outnumbers those hours. That’s why automation is your best ally. Researching, trialing, and choosing the right tools to help you automate your marketing strategy is essential. The toolkit I use keeps me and my team going all day, every day.

Zapier can help update and track metrics by linking web services like Aha!, Slack, Hubspot, Google Docs, and Recurly. Automated rules in Bing and AdWords can adjust keyword bids based on quality. And if there’s any time-intensive process involving data, Excel probably has a way to do it quickly. Think deeply about your marketing goals — and invest time in finding the best tools to manage them.

Promote customer engagement B2B marketing is so much more than spreading the word to generate new leads. It’s about promoting engagement at every stage of the marketing funnel. This is especially true at SaaS companies, where churn at the bottom of the funnel can be especially harmful to your growth.

That is why marketing plays a crucial role throughout the customer lifecycle, at every stage of the funnel. Stay close to your customers, and promote engagement even after each “lead” is converted. And always look for your customer advocates. They will be your lifeline as your company continues to grow.

Never stop learning My friends are shocked by how much — and how often — I read. “How do you have time for that?” they ask incredulously. “I can’t afford time to read — I need to be working!”

Here’s the truth: When you work in marketing, reading is working. The insights of those who have been in your shoes will guide you through your first 60 days and beyond.

There is so much insight to be gained from reading often. I read blogs from MarketingProfs, the Content Marketing Institute, HubSpot, and more throughout each workday. At night, when I’m not reading sci-fi, I’m reading books like Traction, the B2B Executive Playbook, and Predictable Revenue.

The great thing about marketing is how transparent our peers are. We know how crucial communication is. And I believe most of us share an innate desire to help each other grow. So, the next time you struggle to gain qualified leads or run a successful A/B test, go straight to Google. I guarantee that someone has already faced your problem — and written about how they solved it.

Rising into a new role at work can make you feel like a fish out of water. But if you are confident in where you are going, then the tips above will guide you there.

One final tip for new Heads of Marketing: never forget to invest in yourself. I am a surfer, and I am demonstrably happier, healthier, and more productive at work when I spend time in the water each week. No matter how busy you are, make time to do something you love each day. It gives you energy, enhances creativity, and helps you lead your team to excellence.

What did you learn in your first few months leading marketing? Got any tips?

This is a guest post by Colin Bovet. If you are looking to be a great product or marketing leader, create brilliant strategy, and build visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!

Colin Bovet is the Head of Marketing at Enplug, a digital signage technology company in Los Angeles. He is responsible for spreading the word about Enplug through outbound and inbound marketing, partnerships, events, and more. He surfs and runs before work, makes constant puns at work, and cooks team meals after work.

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