Effective recruitment is very much part and parcel of life as a product marketing leader.

Nailing recruitment is vital for any company with grand aspirations, particularly in the current market when post-pandemic competition for stellar candidates is tough and there’s very little room for mistakes.

Recruitment is never easy and it’s widely recognized as being one of the most difficult parts of running any business - particularly a startup with little or no reputation in its respective market.

Candidates are often put off by the prospect of joining an unknown quantity, and as a leader at a newly-established company, your powers of persuasion may well be pushed to the limit.

Business News Daily gave their perspective on the eight people new business owners should prioritize over anyone else, citing the following roles:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO)
  • Product Manager
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and VP of Engineering hybrid
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Community Manager hybrid
  • Sales Manager
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Business Development Manager
  • Customer Service Representative

However, when we posed the question to the Product Marketing Alliance LinkedIn community, over 3,000 responses painted an alternative picture.

45% said they'd prioritize a product marketer, whilst 30% said demand gen. 15% favored content marketers, whilst 10% indicated marketing operations would be their first area of focus.

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“A good product marketer can provide the structure that content marketers and demand generation folks leverage.
“They’re the strategic side of marketing, defining positioning, product messaging, etc. amongst other things. Product management and product marketing are the first two product hires in any startup.”

Saeed Khan, Founder of Transformation Labs

“You need to understand what it is you’re trying to market, who’ll care about it, and why they’ll care, i.e. define your value proposition, before you know what content to create, and where to provision it for optimal demand generation.
”So, start with establishing product-market fit and hire product marketers.”

Mary Robbins, Product Marketing Director at Basis Technologies

“I’d prioritize the Growth Product Manager. This is because they’re responsible for leading experimentation, along with data-driven decision-making in your organization to drive products to reach the next level of scale, impact, and profitability.”

Luis Jurado, Freelancer at Agile Coach

“A lot of startups are rushing into demand gen and content marketing games when they don't know customers and don't have a strategy. They should hire a marketing strategist to do market/customer research, define targeting, positioning, messaging, pricing.”

Lena Bomko, Self-Employed Copywriter

“My vote is to demand gen. I wouldn’t prioritize a product marketer because, while I feel this is a highly strategic position, in a startup you as the marketing leader should be directly crafting product messaging and experimenting with how to convey your value prop.
“In my opinion, this should not be delegated (yet). At the same time, you want to experiment with how to get your message out there - which is why bringing in demand gen hire early gives you a partner in crime to manage different channels/campaigns and measure effectiveness.”

Seth Goldhammer, VP of Marketing at Spyderbat

Starza Thompson, VP of Marketing at Apploi, agreed with Seth, stating that demand gen is also her first port of call when it comes to making a new appointment:

“I couldn’t agree more. My first hire is always demand generation to help me put the systems in place, start experimenting with messaging, determine how we target, etc., while I own the product marketing aspect until we understand what resonates.
“A product marketer is usually a year two hire to further refine and expand on what the demand generation person and I built.
“I believe startups need to lead with revenue (action and execution first), otherwise you get stuck in planning/analyzing and you don't make the revenue you need to scale strategically.”

Deanna Graves, CEO & Marketing Consultant at DG Marketing Servicing

“Whoever is first needs to nail the basics - market/ideal customer profile, value proposition, positioning, messaging, personas, etc.
“Product marketing might be best for that, but a good demand marketer should be able to handle that too. The advantage of a demand marketer would be the next step, creating and generating demand. Product marketers are usually better at mid-to-bottom funnel and post-sale engagement.”

John McTigue, B2B Marketing Advisor

“I think a demand gen hire should be the first one to make. Allocate as much as you can on that hire since it will help determine product-market fit, identify customer journeys, and most importantly, bring in revenue early on.”

Andraz Reich Pogladic, SEO Marketing Manager at LeanIX

“Product marketing should be the first hire. They set the positioning, messaging, personas, value proposition, and story.
“Without those factors, it's the fruit of the poisonous tree. You can't write content or build demand without it.”

Tim Johnson, Director of Product Marketing at CloudBees

“This is a tricky debate because a company that can only make one marketing hire is likely bootstrapped or pre-investment. This type of company needs a ‘T-shaped’ marketing skillset.
“Hiring someone who only knows demand gen and can't formulate a strategy around positioning the product will likely fail.
“Similarly, hiring someone who only knows product marketing and can't execute demand gen at a high level will likely fail.
“A start-up needs a jack-of-all-trades type if they can only make one hire.
“One obvious workaround here is hiring an agency or consultant to handle demand gen execution if you have the cash. Demand gen can be outsourced at a solid level, but product marketing cannot. But still, a T-shaped marketer is the better bet.”

Austin Schmidt, Director of Performance Marketing at Netradyne

“I consult/mentor scaling companies on how to do this and have seen it work over and over again.
“The results? Growing companies, happy marketers, happy salespeople, and loyal customers.”

Stacey Danheiser, Founder and CMO of SHAKE Marketing

“In an early-stage startup, if you can only make one hire you'll need a T-shaped marketer who has some experience in demand gen, product marketing, marketing operations, and content marketing.
“They need to have a strong foundation in identifying an ideal customer profile, creating messaging, and general positioning. They also need to know how and where to prioritize their efforts.
“In terms of which skill set they should be strongest in, I think that depends on the stage of the company.
“I think if you're hiring the marketer when the product is pre-launch/bootstrapped, lean towards a marketer who's good at content and SEO since they'll have time to build a foundation that'll compound.
“Or, if you've received funding and need to demonstrate consistent month over month growth, get someone who can drive demand through paid/sponsorships, etc.”

Brian Yam, Head of Computer Systems Analytics & Marketing at Paragon

“Prioritize finding the best marketing ops hire you can find because they’ll be able to build the architecture to allow you to scale. An experienced marketing ops pro will also have a deep knowledge of demand gen execution and the tactical steps needed to execute a strategy.
“If you have a great product, you probably have a great product leader that can drive the initial product messaging. I'm assuming this is a start-up with funding, so you at least have some sort of decent pitch and positioning.
“As you fill out the marketing team over time, you will see a much faster time to value their great ideas with the right systems and processes in place.”

Josh Lucas, Manager of RevOps Solutions at Workato

“Hire a content marketer, and get the product marketer right after. Together they’ll work wonders. Then, switch your attention to demand gen.
“You need content to talk to people. You need a product marketer to translate people’s reactions to ideal customer profiles and messaging. As they work together, your content gets more targeted, your messaging transforms into great copy, and the feedback uncovers patterns. That’s when you need the demand gen specialist to A/B/C/D test and scale these patterns.
“These first steps aren’t easy. It’s a dirt road. Hold tight, be patient, and try to have fun, as you only go through that stage once.”

Petro Vaxevanakis, Product Marketing Specialist at Footsteps

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What marketing hires do you prioritize? Need tips on what to look for in your current circumstances? Join the conversation with leading CMOs on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.