Two big duties as a CMO: achieving growth goals, and building an effective marketing team.
But in our upcoming Growth CMO Report, we found that over a third of CMOs aren't building their teams with growth goals as the top priority, despite our findings that doing so makes them 21.7% more effective at meeting their goals.
Not sure what that means? We spoke to Maya Moufarek, CMO Growth Consultant, on how you should be approaching growth-focused team building as a CMO.
Originally an episode of CMO Convo, you can find our full discussion in writing below, packed full of insights on to build a marketing team that will be ready for your growth goals.
Introducing Maya and her role as a marketing operator
Hi, Maya. Welcome to CMO Convo. How're you doing today?
I'm great. Thank you for inviting me to join you.
Well, thank you for joining us. Before we get down to business, maybe you could tell us a bit about yourself and why you want to talk about building growth-focused marketing teams today.
Sure. I'm a Marketing Operator. I partner with tech founders and their executive teams as a full-stack CMO, looking at the full customer journey to help companies to define and implement their growth paths. My work is anchored in customer insights, data, and brand marketing, all under the umbrella of my growth consultancy, Marketing Cube.
Prior to that, I worked at Google, American Express, and Not On The High Street, and in my last in-house role, I was digitizing the UK healthcare industry at Pharmacy2U. Today, I run a portfolio career that includes some angel investing and board advisory on top of the growth consultancy work I mentioned.
As a former in-house CMO supporting founders in building the right teams, there are multiple elements to focus on: the “what”, your marketing strategy, and your overall business ambitions. Then there's the delivery of all that, which needs the right approach and a process to learn quickly. And, of course, there are the people who make all that happen. All those elements are interlinked.
I can count at least three or four businesses, just in the last year, for whom helping them with their growth meant figuring out who were the right hires and helping to source them. I guess that's why I'm so passionate about this topic.
What is a growth-focused marketing team?
Let's start on quite general terms and define what we mean by a growth-focused marketing team. What sets it apart from a general marketing team, or are all marketing teams growth focused? If not, should they be?
Firstly, it's important to call out that growth is a company focus and strategy. It doesn't sit exclusively with marketing, or with product or sales for that matter. Growth is a cross-functional alignment and focus. That means the organization needs to have some clear must-win battles and company-level metrics that all departments are aligned with. When we think that growth is delivered solely by marketing, that's very often where challenges start coming up.
The other thing to remember is that growth is at the core of startups, but more mature businesses might be less growth-centric. They might be more retention-centric. They might even be building-an-alternative-business-model-centric, which is arguably a type of growth as well.
So, yes, marketing teams need to be growth-centric if growth is core to the success of that business at that point in time, but hopefully, we're starting to paint a picture of how growth includes marketing but is not limited to it.
For sure. Let's drill down into the components of a growth-focused marketing team, starting at the very bottom because many of our readers are CMOs in a marketing team of one at very early-stage startups, and it can be difficult to know where to start building a team and what to prioritize.
The first step to building a growth-focused marketing team is getting clear alignment with your cross-functional team on the company strategy and core metrics. Then you need to get to grips with the key levers that will allow you to drive the desired growth or other outcomes. That way, you can properly articulate the hypotheses or marketing strategies that you might want to try to deliver to those outcomes at the company level.
When you're a team of one, that cross-functional collaboration is natural because you're not creating a silo alone, right? That needs to continue even as you build your team.
Getting cross-functional buy-in to build a growth marketing team
Because of the cross-functional nature of growth, do other departments get a say in which kind of marketers you prioritize as you build your team, or should the CMO always make the final decision?
When it comes to building teams, for sure the CMO will have a big say.
As I said before, though, growth is not just a marketing function. If you think of the three elements that I highlighted earlier – marketing, product, and sales – some functions have dedicated growth teams, which tend to focus on things like experimentation, conversion, and optimization. They’re all working towards growth together, and some things overlap. Growth marketing is about partnering with other teams to get the right message to the right audience.
As you look at the way your organization is organized today and develop your marketing plan and cross-functional teams agree on how they want to collaborate, that's how you end up deciding if, say, retention is a marketing function, a product function, or both. And if it's both, how do you collaborate on it? You need to look at how all of those pieces work together to drive growth.
Typically, a growth marketing team will do a lot of experimentation with channels and messages to make sure they’re reaching their audience.
When it comes to that kind of experimentation, do you bring in specialists to experiment on those channels, or do you prefer a more generalist approach?
Your first job is to experiment and get a grasp on what your biggest levers will be. For that, you absolutely want to bring a generalist. But what does a generalist really mean in that sense? If you think that your message and your channel together can bring growth, your biggest lever might be product-led growth. We don't know, and that's why you need to experiment in many different areas.
If we focus on the marketing element of it, someone who can create the message, create the content, and experiment with the right channels will be the first support to an organization as it starts to get a handle on those biggest levers.
When you see which lever seems to be doing pretty well and which ones you could try to further expand on, that's where you might say, “Actually, we need more white papers, so we’ve got to hire more long-form content writers.” Or it might be that PPC is working, but the generalist has reached the limit of their experience with that channel, so you need more experts in that space. That's how you usually go through the steps.
So you build on what's working in that approach. You see the levers that are most effective and you build along those lines when it comes to the team.
That's right. It's all about testing and learning at the end of the day. I’ve described some of the strict marketing elements you might want to test with, but I always invite the team to look at growth as a company-wide element and prioritize testing opportunities across the board to collaboratively find those levers.
You must have to be able to communicate quite clearly what those levers are to other stakeholders in order to get the buy-in and the funds to be able to make the hires. Is that right?
Absolutely. I think it starts with some of the things we're covering today – explaining how growth, product, and marketing work together, what the connecting points are, and why growth is a company strategy, not a marketing tactic.
That helps to bring cross-functional departments together in joint partnerships and come up with a plan to present to whoever signs off on the budget – the CFO, CEO, CRO, or whoever is the decision maker at that point, and I have never seen a CEO complain about a well-coordinated cross-functional plan.
It sounds like you need to be able to explain in quite clear terms why you're making those hires, and why those channels work. Do you have any advice on how to approach that, particularly conversations with a CFO who might not be familiar with marketing terminology?
Often, when you partner with your CFO, they will give you what I call boundary metrics – what kind of CPA you can work to, your PnL, and what your marketing contribution target might be. And obviously, the business has some growth model that you are attempting to deliver to your investors.
Because this approach is so test-and-learn based, you're hopefully making very frugal decisions around experiments, and you can demonstrate the before and after of your A/B tests and things like that, to highlight what's happening.
But most importantly, when you bring that to your CFO or CEO, you need to show what you've learned in the process. You’ll probably be opening their eyes too, whether that’s about how you understand the customer, the most effective channel, or a trigger that makes people buy or decide to solve a specific problem that they may have had for years, but never dealt with.
I think that fundamentally a growth team is an experimentation team. It's a data-driven team, and no CFO presented with the right data and proof will not come along on the journey. As for whether your CFO is interested in completely understanding the difference between a conversion copywriter and a long-form copywriter… Maybe not, but these are the steps you can take in that direction.
Let's talk about internal communication because, as you said, growth is a very cross-functional strategy. It requires input from lots of different departments. How much do you need to explain or justify the hire you're making to the people they’re going to be working with? Do you have to give some kind of briefing on what this person is going to do?
Sure, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to them. The first step is understanding the ambitions of the business and the core metrics they’re trying to hit. You're developing your marketing strategy and the hypotheses you want to prove through that marketing strategy to the teams. That's the first thing you sell people on. Then they get how your strategy is going to contribute to the company’s overall vision.
I'm assuming that at this point some customer insight or discovery work has been done because, again, I wouldn't start writing a marketing plan without that understanding. That would be the first point on the agenda before the marketing strategy was even written.
At that point, if you get buy-in for your plan, and everyone is on the same page, you just need to articulate what resources it would take to deliver something like that. It's very much a step-by-step process. You're not like, “Ta-da! Here’s a person we want to hire.” You’re showing how they’ll fit into the bigger picture.
If your new hire’s role hasn’t been defined clearly, and not everyone is bought in, they'll be like, “Why are we hiring this person? Why are we not hiring channel specialists? Why are you hiring a copywriter?” And all those conversations start.
From my experience, those conversations come up mostly in larger organizations when they’re changing the way they do things or when pre-established marketing teams were hired without a plan. Then it's almost a restructuring moment, and so, again, the mindset behind the new approach needs to be explained to get everyone bought into it.
Marketing team red flags
Let's talk about restructuring for a moment. Let’s say a CMO joins a company that has an established marketing function. How will they know if it's not set up for growth-focused tasks and restructuring is needed? What kind of red flags should they be looking out for?
Without wanting to be funny, a lack of growth is a pretty big red flag, right? But fundamentally, I think it comes down to the velocity of the experiments and learnings. How much has the team discovered in the last two weeks? If they’re just churning out the same campaigns for the same or diminishing returns, they're not learning anything.
If there are silos between product and marketing and everyone’s doing their own thing, that’s another red flag. We're all trying to acquire or retain that same audience, so it seems weird to not be doing it together.
I also think there's an undeniable energy, can-do attitude, and willingness to learn in a growth team that performs well. Everyone becomes slightly depressed and disillusioned when nothing is working, and that can be another indicator that it’s time to change things up a bit.
It's not always that the people need to change per se, although sometimes that's the case. It might be that better collaboration needs to be put in place or that you need to set the scene as to what the company is trying to achieve.
Sometimes in cross-functional teams, if there isn’t a leader who knows how to find a North Star metric, align the different teams, and prioritize, it becomes complicated. Sometimes teams just need that guidance and a clear path to be able to rally together.
The core traits of a growth-focused marketer
We seem to have identified, almost by accident, certain traits that go into a growth-focused team member: there’s experimentation, a can-do attitude, and the ambition to achieve growth.
Does the confidence to pull all that off require a certain level of experience? If so, that's got to be quite difficult to hire, particularly in a startup environment. How do you bridge the gap between affordability and the experience that growth-focused marketers need to be able to do their jobs well?
I think it’s less about experience and more about having the right mindset and way of working. All that can be learned. We’re not all born with it, but we worked with the right teams or the right leaders in the right environments and that showed us that this is the way to do it. So you don’t need people with masses of experience; you just need them to buy into the process.
One of the biggest things is understanding your audience. You can't run experiments and you can't do anything if you don't understand your audience, their language, and their context. I often see young and not-so-young team members fail because they're not given this foundation to work from and they may not have the gravitas in their role to say, “The reason this isn’t working is that we haven't done the customer research.”
As a growth consultant, the foundational work that I often end up doing with companies – no matter how big or successful they are – is going back and properly synthesizing everything they know about the audience and expanding on it. That’s going to help them uncover customers’ emotional triggers.
I usually use this example. There’s an HBS professor who is known for pushing the fact you sell features benefits, not features. Customers aren’t buying a drill; they're buying a hole in the wall. I like to expand on that. It’s all good and well to know that they're buying a hole in the wall, but why are they buying a hole in the wall? To secure a heavy mirror. Why are they so worried about that mirror being secure? Because they don't want it to crash down onto their kids.
When you get down to that level, what they're really buying is their children’s safety. The drill is possibly not even the right sell for them – perhaps only getting a professional handyman will fully satisfy their need to feel like their kids are safe.
I use that example to really push the agenda that advertising your product as being faster, better, and more convenient is not always the right way to go. You need to understand your audience, and it all trickles down from there; then you can write the right plan, run the right experiments, and build on that.
It goes back to the mindset and the company culture that we talked about before. It's giving people the support and the platform to explore those avenues, experiment, and even fail – not every experiment is going to work out, so you have to be willing to learn from the failures as much as the successes.
Absolutely. You need to be able to fail because if you don't fail, you don't learn, right?
The other thing to highlight – because I know we spoke a lot about experiments – is that you don't have to test everything. I often have to remind my teams of that.
If you’ve got good quality messaging that is clearer and closer to your customer insights today than it was yesterday, sure, you could test it if there's a specific concern, but you don't have to test every single thing. Just start by building something that, according to all best practices and logic, is better than the earlier versions were and start testing from there.
What I see also in a lot of teams is they have a dire mixed-up landing page, and then they try to experiment on that. Maybe those multiple tests will slowly optimize the page and make it a bit better, but it will never be great.
I think, to your earlier point, that's where you need an element of expertise. That's where I often come and say “Is this good enough to start testing with? Can we get a nice, clean alpha version as if you were starting today with all the right messaging?” Then we start testing.
All of those elements become very important because time is of the essence for startups – they really can’t be wasting time and therefore cash. They have only so much runway to prove their value before the next stage.
In short, you can't just test your way to success completely. You also need a reference of what good looks like; start with that and then optimize from it. Use the best playbooks available to you and create your own off the back of them.
Onboarding growth-focused teams
Let's talk about the onboarding process for growth-focused teams. Particularly with so many people in remote working circumstances, it can be difficult to get a good onboarding process going, but how important is it to have a clear onboarding process?
It has to be clear, for sure, but what needs to go into this onboarding process? We’ve already touched on some of the things growth-focused marketing teams need to have in mind, and they're true for your new starters too. Most of all, you want to share with them everything you know to be true about your audience.
I also very much believe in the jobs-to-be-done framework and use it a lot. In just a couple of sentences, you can outline your customers’ struggles, their desired outcomes, and anything else that you've been able to build from.
I also recommend getting the new employees to interview customers so they can hear this firsthand. Give them a script and help them if they've never done that before. Hopefully, a lot of what you’ve told them during onboarding will be confirmed, and because they’ve experienced it themselves, it will stay with them better. Maybe they’ll even learn something new. Plus, anyone in marketing needs to be able to interview customers. That's the basis of our work.
Depending on the maturity of the startup, you might also want to include some element of what your messaging and your positioning are like to really get them on board. You don't need a massive brand book – a lot of startups won't have that – but some element of that articulation is useful. If the person you're hiring is a brand marketer, they'll be building on that, but if they're not they need to know what is true about the brand today so they can use that as a reference.
Those two elements are super important for marketers, but I would use them across the business too. We all need to sing from the same sheet. We need to understand our audience, and we need to be able to express and focus on what we're holistically trying to deliver.
When it comes to remote, it's definitely a hard one. I know a lot of businesses that continue getting together on a quarterly or biannual basis – whatever is possible. There's nothing better than to learn from each other.
The other best practice I saw implemented is people shadowing each other – actually inviting new starters onto calls, even if they're on mute, so they can listen in on how other people do things. It’s a good idea to insist on that because that's how the junior talent can learn more.
The golden rules of building a growth-focused marketing team
Maya, we've covered a broad spectrum of topics related to building a growth-focused marketing team. Let's pull things together. Do you have some golden rules around what CMOs need to have in mind when it comes to building their teams?
I’d say there are four things that are essential when it comes to building this type of team.
- A growth-focused marketing team is a core partner in delivering the company's growth, so cross-functional collaboration is essential.
- A good team is also absolutely data-driven in its decisions, so the ability to work with and learn from data is vital.
- The team needs to focus relentlessly on the customer.
- Finally, they must have the ability to experiment, learn fast, and possibly even suggest pivots to the product or the approach, while also knowing what good quality is, so they can build from a solid foundation.
Fantastic. Thank you very much, Maya. This has been a fascinating conversation.
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.