This article is adapted from Maya's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast.
In a digital landscape teeming with shifting strategies and evolving methodologies, anchoring your marketing team's focus on growth is paramount.
The intricacies of fostering such a mindset, however, go beyond mere metrics and into the realm of collaboration, understanding, and relentless innovation. I'm Maya Moufarek, CMO Growth Consultant, and through my experiences across various startups and established enterprises, I've gleaned insights into the art and science of constructing a growth-focused marketing team.
In this article, I unravel the nuances and share the golden rules that can transform the trajectory of your marketing endeavors.
Defining a growth-focused marketing team
When discussing the concept of a growth-focused marketing team, it's vital to underscore that growth isn't a sole prerogative of the marketing department. Nor is it the exclusive domain of product or sales teams. Growth is a cross-functional commitment and strategy, involving a harmonized alignment across departments.
It's about establishing clear organizational objectives and overarching company metrics that unite all departments. Misunderstandings often arise when the responsibility for growth is erroneously shouldered only by the marketing team.
It's worth noting that while growth is inherent to startups, more established businesses might pivot their core focus. Some might emphasize customer retention, while others could be exploring alternative business models, which, in its essence, is a unique growth avenue.
Should all marketing teams be growth-focused? Yes, but only if growth is a pivotal aspect of the business's success at that particular juncture. Through this, I hope it becomes evident that marketing is an integral part of growth, but growth isn't restricted solely to marketing efforts.
Laying the foundations of a growth-focused marketing team
For CMOs starting out, especially in early-stage startups where you're potentially the sole member of the marketing team, knowing where to begin and what to prioritize can be daunting.
The bedrock of building a growth-centric marketing team lies in achieving complete alignment with your cross-functional team regarding company strategy and primary metrics. Once this foundation is laid, you should delve into understanding the vital factors that can enable you to propel the desired growth or other set objectives.
As you identify and fine-tune these driving factors, you can craft the hypotheses or marketing strategies that might be most effective in achieving those company-level objectives. When you're operating as a one-person team, this kind of collaborative mindset naturally emerges because you're not siloed. It's crucial to sustain this spirit of collaboration and shared vision as your team expands.
Involving cross-functional teams in growth decisions
Although the CMO plays a significant role in building teams, it's essential to understand that growth isn't exclusive to marketing. It encompasses various elements such as marketing, product, and sales. Some functions have dedicated growth teams, focusing on aspects like experimentation, conversion, and optimization. These components work together, and there's often overlap.
The essence of growth marketing is partnering with different departments to convey the right message to the target audience. Decisions about team roles, like whether retention lies with marketing or product or both, depend on cross-departmental collaboration. These departments must work in harmony to drive growth effectively.
Typically, a growth marketing team experiments with channels and messages to ensure they connect with their target audience.
Building and experimenting to define team structure
Start by experimenting to identify your most influential growth levers. Initially, you'd want to bring in a generalist, someone capable of crafting messages, creating content, and experimenting with channels. This individual will help the organization understand the most impactful growth levers. As certain strategies prove effective, the need for specialized roles emerges, be it in long-form content writing or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) expertise.
In essence, the process is about iterative learning. Identify what works, test, and then expand on those areas. It's crucial to constantly test and learn. Although I've detailed some marketing-specific elements, it's paramount to view growth from a holistic company perspective and prioritize testing opportunities across all sectors to collaboratively identify these growth levers.
Communicating the growth strategy to stakeholders
Ensuring clarity in communication is crucial. When seeking budget approvals or explaining strategies, it's essential to clarify how growth, product, and marketing intersect and why growth is a strategic choice, not just a marketing maneuver.
This understanding promotes joint cross-departmental endeavors, creating a united front when presenting plans to decision-makers, such as CFOs or CEOs. A well-coordinated cross-functional plan always gains favor.
When discussing strategies with CFOs, especially those unfamiliar with marketing jargon, it's essential to present data-backed insights. This test-and-learn approach, underscored by data, is critical to securing their support.
Demonstrating learning outcomes from various tests, such as how customers are understood or which channels are most effective, can provide invaluable insights. Ultimately, a growth team is rooted in experimentation and data. A CFO presented with clear data and evidence will support the journey.
Internal communication: Integrating new hires into the strategy
Effective internal communication is paramount. Introducing new hires shouldn't come as a surprise. Start by aligning everyone on the company's ambitions and core metrics. Once the teams understand your marketing strategy and the hypotheses behind it, it becomes easier to showcase how these plans align with the company's overall vision.
Ensuring a clear understanding of customer insights is paramount before even drafting a marketing strategy. Once everyone's on board with the strategy, elucidate the resources needed to bring the plan to fruition, showing how each team member, old or new, fits into the grand scheme.
If there's ambiguity in a new hire's role and not everyone's aligned, questions and doubts will arise. Typically, such discussions emerge in larger organizations undergoing change or where pre-established teams exist without a clear plan. In such instances, it becomes crucial to clarify the rationale behind the new approach to get everyone on the same page.
Recognizing the need for restructuring
When I step into an organization as a CMO, it's paramount to first gauge whether the existing setup is conducive to growth-focused endeavors. A telltale sign that restructuring might be in order is when there's a lack of growth.
But it's not just about numbers. If the team isn’t constantly innovating, experimenting, and learning, it's a red flag. The silos between departments, particularly product and marketing, are another concern. Both teams aim for the same goal - to acquire or retain an audience - and it seems counterintuitive not to be synergizing their efforts.
There's also an undeniable energy in a growth team that's on the right path. They have a can-do attitude, and there's an evident passion for discovery. When that energy wanes, it often signifies that something is amiss.
However, it's essential to understand that restructuring doesn't always mean changing people; it can also be about better collaboration, clearer objectives, and ensuring everyone understands the company's vision.
Treading delicately in restructuring
Whenever restructuring is on the horizon, it’s vital to approach it with a blend of sensitivity and pragmatism. Here's how I typically navigate it:
- Transparent communication: Honesty is paramount. The team deserves to know why changes are being considered and how these changes align with the company's goals.
- Engaging the team: It's always beneficial to involve the team in the decision-making process. Their insights can be invaluable, and it makes them feel part of the evolution.
- Investing in training: Before thinking of reshuffling or, worse, letting people go, consider upskilling. The right training can sometimes turn things around and align team members with a growth-focused direction.
- Making gradual changes: An abrupt overhaul can be unsettling. I've found that making incremental adjustments often eases the team into the new structure more effectively.
- Empathy is key: Understand that change is challenging for many. Recognizing the emotional weight of restructuring and being there to support every team member is essential.
- Setting clear guidelines: Post-restructuring, clarity is critical. Ensuring everyone knows their role and what's expected of them helps smooth the transition.
One of the challenges of restructuring is ensuring the team stays motivated and engaged. Here's how I work towards that:
- Celebrating small wins: It's essential to recognize and celebrate even minor milestones during transitional phases. It provides a morale boost and keeps everyone aligned with the goals.
- Consistent engagement: Regular interactions to gauge feelings and address concerns make a world of difference. It assures team members that their well-being is a priority.
- Sharing the vision: Always remind the team of the end goal. When they're connected with the bigger picture, it's easier to navigate the smaller, transitional challenges.
- Team bonding: Activities that foster camaraderie can be a game-changer during transitional periods. It builds trust and strengthens team dynamics.
- Promoting open feedback: An environment where team members feel safe to express their feelings and concerns is crucial. It nurtures trust and often provides insights into areas that might need more attention.
- Acknowledging efforts: Recognizing hard work, especially during times of change, is vital. It could be a simple shout-out or a more tangible reward, but acknowledging effort is a surefire way to keep spirits high.
Restructuring, while challenging, can be an opportunity for growth and revitalization. It's about guiding the team through the transition with clarity, compassion, and a clear vision for the future.
The real essence of a growth-focused team
It's a common misconception that expertise is the main factor that drives a growth-focused mindset. While experience certainly has its advantages, I firmly believe that the right mindset and approach are paramount.
The beautiful thing about the right mindset is that it's teachable. We aren’t necessarily born with a growth-focused approach. But with the right mentoring, environment, and exposure, anyone can develop it. It's less about the years clocked in and more about being open to adapting and learning.
Understanding your audience is foundational. It's the basis for every decision we make in marketing. Whether young or seasoned, if a team member isn’t equipped with a profound understanding of the customer, they're shooting in the dark. It’s why I emphasize so strongly on the importance of customer research and synthesizing knowledge about the target demographic.
I always come back to this example: Harvard Business School’s principle about selling the benefits, not the features. Let's take the drill example. The drill isn’t the main attraction; it's what the drill can accomplish – a hole in the wall. But why does someone need a hole? Maybe to hang a mirror securely. Delving deeper, it might be to ensure that the mirror won't fall and hurt their children. This deep dive reveals that the real desire is for safety, not just a tool. This sort of profound understanding determines how we communicate with our audience.
Providing an environment where experimentation is encouraged is vital. Not every experiment will yield success. But each one, whether a hit or miss, is a learning opportunity. We need to embrace failures as much as successes, as they offer invaluable insights.
One thing I consistently emphasize is that you don’t need to test everything. Testing should be strategic, not arbitrary. When you have clear messaging derived from a deep understanding of your customer insights, you're already a step ahead. Experimenting then becomes about refining and perfecting, not just trying to figure out what works.
In several instances, I've witnessed teams spend extensive effort experimenting with subpar content or platforms. It's akin to trying to polish a pebble and expecting it to turn into a diamond. An expert's eye can determine whether a strategy is solid enough to merit testing. And in a startup environment, where time equates to money, this becomes even more crucial.
While testing is invaluable, starting with a strong foundation is equally important. Build from the best practices, use the playbooks that have been proven to work, and then create your unique strategy. This combination of leveraging expertise and testing is the roadmap to sustainable growth.
The vitality of onboarding in a growth-focused world
The onboarding process is more than just a traditional introduction to the company. It’s the bridge that connects a new team member to the very essence of what drives the organization's growth. Especially for a growth-focused team, onboarding is pivotal.
The heart and soul of growth-focused marketing is understanding your audience. To ensure new members resonate with this truth, it's crucial to share with them all the knowledge you've gathered about your target audience. An effective way of imparting this knowledge is through the jobs-to-be-done framework. By understanding a customer's struggles and desired outcomes in a concise manner, a new team member can quickly get aligned with the company's growth vision.
However, understanding isn’t just about listening and nodding. I always advocate for immersive experiences. This is why I encourage new members to engage in customer interviews. It’s one thing to be told about the audience, and it's a completely different experience to hear directly from the customers themselves. This hands-on experience not only solidifies their understanding but often leads to new insights.
Another cornerstone of onboarding should be the company's messaging and positioning. Even if a startup doesn’t have an elaborate brand book, having a clear articulation of the brand's essence is critical. For a brand marketer, this serves as the foundation on which they build. For others, it’s a compass guiding their actions and decisions.
Although these insights are essential for marketers, I argue they're just as crucial for everyone in the business. A unified understanding across all departments ensures that the entire company operates in harmony, amplifying the efforts towards growth.
With the increasing shift to remote work, onboarding has indeed become more challenging. But with challenge comes opportunity. Periodic in-person meet-ups, if feasible, can create bonds that virtual meetings might not. Meanwhile, shadowing experienced team members on calls or projects, even in a virtual setup, can provide junior talent with invaluable learning experiences.
Onboarding in a growth-focused team is more than just integrating a new member. It's about instilling the very principles that drive growth, ensuring that every new addition to the team is not just a member but a torchbearer of the company's vision.
The golden rules of building a growth-focused marketing team
Building a growth-focused marketing team is akin to crafting a masterpiece. It requires precision, patience, and a deep understanding of the canvas you’re working on – which, in this case, is the ever-evolving market landscape.
From my experience, there are four non-negotiable pillars that anchor such a team:
Embrace cross-functional collaboration
One of the primary mistakes businesses make is siloing their marketing team. In a world where every aspect of a business impacts growth, isolation isn't an option. A growth-focused marketing team should be intertwined with every other function, be it sales, product, or customer support. This collaboration ensures a unified approach to growth, with all gears of the business machine moving in sync.
Data is your compass
In today’s digital age, we have access to an ocean of data. However, it’s not about how much data you have, but how you harness it. A growth-focused team thrives on data, using it to guide decisions, validate hypotheses, and continuously refine strategies. This doesn’t mean following numbers blindly, but rather understanding the story they tell and acting upon it.
Customer at the core
It's easy to get swept away by trends, tools, and technology. But at the heart of any growth strategy should be the customer. Understanding their needs, desires, fears, and aspirations is paramount. Every decision, every campaign, every piece of content should echo the voice of the customer. In short, become the advocate your customer never knew they needed.
Experiment, learn, adapt, and repeat
The landscape of growth marketing is not static. What works today might be obsolete tomorrow. Thus, the ability to experiment is essential. But equally important is the ability to learn from these experiments, whether they succeed or fail. And it’s not just about external experiments. Sometimes, the product itself or the company’s approach might need tweaking. Being bold enough to suggest such pivots showcases a team's maturity and commitment to genuine growth.
Moreover, amidst all this, understanding quality is key. Starting from a strong foundation ensures that the team doesn't merely chase after vanity metrics but strives for tangible, sustainable growth.
Building a growth-focused marketing team is not about ticking boxes. It's about weaving these four pillars into the very fabric of the team, creating a cohesive unit that is agile, informed, and, above all, relentless in its pursuit of growth.
Need advice on how to build an effective marketing team? Got some insights of your own to share from your experiences as a leader who smashes growth goals? Join the conversation with a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.