It is amazing how much traction a business can get on purely founder-led and word-of-mouth sales. Many companies go years, and reach significant milestones, before building a sales team, and those with product-led growth can go even longer. However, the “no sales team” approach often has a ceiling. At some point, growth may start to slow and flatten. Typically, the desire to build a sales team increases as a business wants to move up-market towards larger customers that bring more significant and secure revenue.
When that time comes, the company is ready to build a true go-to-market (GTM) motion powered by sales and marketing. This is where many entrepreneurs and operators make a common but critical mistake: we try to start doing sales before we have marketing.
At first glance, it often appears that we can “brute force” the sales process by hiring an individual, high-performing sales rep and just hitting the phones or cold emails. While this can yield some results, it is often a fool’s errand because that sales rep lacks the marketing and sales management support needed to be successful. So, why is it so tough to make sales work prior to having any marketing in place?
Suppose you are in the early stages of launching a B2B startup. You have a minimum viable product ready for the world to use. You then realize, “oh crap, now we actually need users/customers, I better figure out marketing…”
The most difficult part of getting off the ground is often not building the product or even getting customers to pay. Instead, it is the fundamentals of marketing: driving traffic to your website and converting visitors into users.
Here we are… the last post in this blog series of building a marketing team at a B2B startup. We’ve covered a tremendous amount in the last 50 posts, and hopefully the content has been helpful in growing your team. As a startup evolves, the marketing needs and team structure will as well.
In this final post, let’s consider what you need to account for as you scale the marketing function for a growing business. For my team at Netpulse, we hit a certain level of growth where we started to struggle with challenges such as:
We’re out of content ideas… what do we write about?
Did our team grow too fast… what should our interns do?
Are we seeing diminishing returns from our inbound strategy?
To help answer those questions and more, let’s outline a philosophy on scaling marketing:
Throughout this blog series on marketing, we’ve gone deep on metrics, dashboards and the tools you use to track them. We’ve covered budgeting and how the different areas of a marketing budget power your lead generation and product marketing. As marketing leaders, you need to effectively communicate the ROI of these marketing efforts to various stakeholders at your company, from other functional leaders to the CEO and CFO. This ensures that you have the necessary support, budget and collaboration with the broader team to expand. Below is a breakdown of the steps to do this effectively:
1. Set expectations
As with any function or project, you need to set the right expectations from the beginning, and adjust them regularly as conditions change. When I first took over marketing at Netpulse, our team was building nearly everything from scratch. I needed to make sure the sales team didn’t expect an immediate flow of MQLs before we got the messaging correct or implemented our marketing automation system.
An important ingredient to successful inbound marketing is variety. Some targets will prefer to read ebooks. Others will attend every webinar and re-watch the recording. In order to appeal to a wide range of targets, you need to build content in many different mediums. One of those is online courses.
While on the surface it may sound like a big undertaking, launching an online course is pretty simple. In most cases, it is just an automated campaign of emails that link to content (i.e. articles or “lessons”) that is dripped to the lead in chronological fashion, guiding them through the lessons. Here is a breakdown of how to get started:
1. Identify topics
Start by figuring out what topics the course should include. This should be based around your company’s core story and positioning. For example, for my business that sells mobile apps to health clubs, we might launch a course on “How to Grow your Club with Technology.” Throughout the course we’d outline best practices for launching new technology, including (but not limited to) mobile apps. This way, the lead is getting educated and nurtured.
The CRM and marketing automation system are the two most important software packages that make up the modern marketing stack. Together, they serve as the core infrastructure required to operate a successful inbound marketing program. Therefore, it’s critical that you tightly integrate them, sharing data so leads get the right message at the right time.
For simplicity, the automation system is home-base for marketing and the CRM is home-base for sales. Ideally, the sales team is rarely — if ever — interacting with the automation system. Your goal is to only present the information most relevant to the stakeholder. For example, the sales team should only be focusing on MQLs and opportunities, not leads higher in the funnel.
There are two integration paths to consider:
Sync all incoming leads
In this model, every time a target fills out a landing page form to download content or register for a webinar, their contact information will be synced to the CRM.
For every piece of content in your inbound marketing strategy, there is a landing page hosting, displaying and providing the ability for targets to download. The landing page is a critical gateway to your content. Depending on design and copy, it will make or break the conversion from targets to leads, a crucial step in the marketing funnel. Therefore, you need to pay close attention to how you develop and optimize landing pages.
This post outlines some best practices in building and scaling landing pages for B2B startups:
1. Always use the marketing automation system
Landing pages are tightly integrated with other components of inbound marketing, controlled by the automation system. This includes CTAs, content distribution, lead capture and the automations that run when a target converts to a lead by downloading content. While it may be tempting to use a separate service specifically designed for landing pages, it’ll make your life so much easier to keep it all under one roof. I use Hubspot to handle everything.
If you are operating a B2B startup, your website still reigns supreme among the most important communication channels. It is the most visible public display of your messaging, story and products. The website is also the primary gateway to engaging with your inbound marketing content, typically through a linked blog. Not surprisingly, building a website is often at the top of the early stage marketing to-do list. It is also one of the more challenging, time-consuming and expensive endeavors.
There are many online resources outlining how to design and develop a website, from being mobile-first to creating content that is optimized for search engines. This post will instead focus on the general approach a marketer should take in launching a website, and some pitfalls to avoid:
1. Prepare the fundamentals
Prior to building a website, you need your messaging, positioning and story solidly outlined. The website will simply be repeating the same core story over and over again, in text and graphics. Once you have it defined, making the website is a lot easier.
An exciting step in a startup’s growth trajectory is when you start expanding internationally. From new laws to currency exchange, international growth brings a fresh set of challenges to the team. For Marketing, international expansion can be intimidating… will you have to run many simultaneous campaigns to address different regional markets? Getting started with marketing internationally is actually fairly simple. Consider the following pointers to kick off:
1. Pay to get started
Some paid acquisition can go a long way. Start by identifying who the major publications (print/digital) and events are, and secure a few sponsorships. If possible, set up a booth at a local event. You need to kickstart your international marketing with an initial list of targets, so manual efforts like paid email blasts and events can get the engine started. This can compliment a locally targeted digital campaign on Facebook, Google and retargeting.
When you are building a product in startup mode, nobody knows who you are. If you’re following an inbound marketing playbook, you’re creating a story, establishing your messaging and creating content to attract targets to your website to convert them to leads. As you create more content, you’ll start to earn more brand authority and trust in your market. If you are creating quality content that provides unique and valuable insight to your target persona‘s problems, you will start to become a thought leader. Here is how it works:
1. Identify your thought leader
To establish a thought leader persona, you need to identify a person that will be the face of your brand and the go-to “thought leader” for whatever problem your product is solving. This may be your CEO, VP of Marketing or Founder. Once this person is selected, they should be the face of content. That means: