What Makes a Good Marketing Hire

I got this question recently and struggled to come up with a clear answer.

So I asked a bunch of people who do marketing or work with marketers at tech companies to try and find out what they thought, and here’s what I learned: I couldn’t come up with a clear answer because there isn’t one.

Hiring marketing people is tough because there’s a wide range of personality types and skill sets that might make someone good.  I know former engineers and investment bankers who are now great marketers.  I’ve seen MBA grads struggle, and people with 0 experience crush it.

But while there is no perfect mold for what makes a great marketer (and as Noah Kagan likes to point out, “most marketers suck”) there are a few things that they all have in common:

They have a deep understanding of the customer and the market.  Not just because they wrote up a bunch of questions and sent a survey out to customers.  This understanding comes from things like sitting in on sales and support calls, and most importantly getting outside of the building.

They are great writers.  In tech marketing, a great writer is someone who can easily turn product features into customer benefits and tell stories with their writing.  Evernote is a great example of this.  Anyone off the street could write about their product’s features and say things like “note taking functionality” or “we offer unlimited storage space,” but they got someone who understands the importance of value and the benefit to the customer.  The result is a message like: “Capture your ideas. Save all of your ideas, things you like, things you hear, and things you see.”

@dcorms: No one cares about your actual product.  They care about what that product does for them.  Ex: People aren’t passionate about email marketing; they’re passionate about their business and email marketing helps them be successful.

They are excellent communicators.  Marketing touches all parts of the organization.  Great marketers understand how to change a conversation based on who they are working with, whether it be sales, support, product management, etc.

They are technical.  They don’t have to have the same understanding as a product manager would, but in order to be effective they need to have some technical chops and know (and use) the product inside and out.

@mendelj2: You don’t need to be an IT pro but understanding technology can surface opportunities for growth and operational efficiency before the competition even sees it.

They pay attention to what’s going on in the industry.  It’s not a coincidence all the good ones read and tweet about a lot of the same things.

 They aren’t afraid to fail.  A good marketer will try 100 different things just to find one that works.

@inthekisser: You need to be fearless about trying new things and not being afraid to fail – because if you don’t fail sometimes you’re not trying hard enough.

They are focused on the right data.  Data-driven marketing.  We get it.  Everything is measured now, and we obsess over numbers and analytics.  But not all metrics are worth focusing on (“How many Twitter followers did we get this month??).  A good marketer will find the ones you should care about

They get things done.  Regardless of whether it fits in their job description.

Customer Development: The Difference Between What People Say and Do

One of the things all great marketers share is a deep understanding of their customer. This understanding is often the result of a ton of research.

I’m a huge advocate for research, especially when it involves spending time outside of the building and talking to customers in real life (great article on the importance of getting out of the building here), but research is not always a good indicator of success.

Just because someone says they are going to do something doesn’t mean that they will actually do it.  This is the reason why we have closets full of clothes we never wear, cabinets full of appliances we never use, and New Year’s resolutions that have – well, never been resolved.

So when it comes to your customers, there’s a huge difference between what people say and what they do.  The data that you get from surveys, questionnaires, sign-up forms etc. is definitely valuable, but to really understand a customer, you need see what they are actually doing.

Add to Your Arsenal of Research Tools

Here are two things to try/suggest to your team the next time you’re thinking about doing customer research:

  1. Make friends with the UX team.  Find out who’s responsible for user testing, buy them a coffee, and instead of sending out yet another survey, see if you can start sitting in on user testing.  Ask questions, add value and show that you aren’t just some guy from marketing – and they might even let you add in some questions for the next round.
  2. Create fake doors.  A “fake door” is a methodology that can be used to help predict if someone is going to use a particular feature or not.  Basically, you put a fake door in your product and see if people try to open it.  With web products – as Jess Lee points out – a fake door basically means you pretend a feature exists by serving up a button or an overlay, and then you see if anyone clicks on it.  Lots of clicks = build.  Not a lot of clicks = don’t waste your time (Jess has an awesome five minute presentation on fake doors and her learnings here).

The best part is that you’ll get actionable learnings fast.  The real question now is what will you do with all of the time you had blocked off to write survey questions and analyze the data?