My rules for marketing leadership success

My rules for marketing leadership success

After seven years being part of successful marketing teams at two really great startups, I’ve had the opportunity to learn first hand and from experienced executives about what it takes to be a successful marketing leader. As I look forward towards my next great marketing adventure I thought I would share the lessons i’ve learnt and rules I follow.  

Tie your efforts to generating revenue because you can’t assume you’ll get the credit you deserve anecdotally.

As a marketing leader, you need to quickly become fully aligned with sales leadership, and focus right away on demonstrating how marketing activities will directly support the bottom line. Show how your contributions are tied to revenue and making an impact implementing a tracking infrastructure from the start.

Modern marketing leaders need to constantly prove their worth in dollars and cents, and those that can’t rarely last at startups.

Avoid distractions to remain laser focused by defining marketing’s responsibilities up-front.

Get crystal clear about what you’re responsible for with your CEO, VP of Sales, and board so you can deliver the expected results right out of the gate. Define your team’s functions and responsibilities up front to save on pain later.


Put yourself in the shoes of your customers, prospects, and sales teams.

To really excel you need to adopt and fully appreciate the mindsets of many personas. Get in front of prospects and customers who are struggling with their own wants and needs that can be mapped to your solution. Salespeople are constantly being measured and feeling pressure to hit quotas; learn what will help them sell more. Being able to empathize across the board will allow you to add value and fuel success much more effectively.


Success is the best marketing pitch, but try new things too.

Ok. So my first point want to tie your efforts to revenue, but that doesn't mean you should only try things that prove ROI.  Don’t shy away from trying new things and experimenting. Good marketing leadership almost insists you to try some things that are risky, but be smart and selective.

Keep in mind you’ll never have to fight too hard to get funding for the things that do work so. Coca-Cola’s, pioneered the 70/20/10 rule for marketing which I strongly believe in: invest 70% in established programs, 20% to new programs that are starting to gain traction, and 10% to risky ideas that are completely untested. 

Don’t become too strategic and separated from the day-to-day.

Being a micromanager can get you lost in the weeds but at the same time, you don’t want to lose touch with how your marketing team runs. The best, most productive marketing leaders know firsthand how all marketing elements like technologies, lead flows, conversion rates and velocity, etc  work but are also able to connect with their processes and people and can translate them to future innovation and strategy.

Data is king. Be data driven.

Ok, you don’t need to be a data scientist, but you do need to know how data works and how to utilize quantitative methods to gain strategic insights. You’ve got to be familiar and comfortable with the technology and analytics. That’s the only way you’re going to not only succeed as a marketer.

Lead, don’t just manage.

Leadership takes guts. You’re expected to have a vision to transform and lead the organization. That means building or (re)organizing a talented, self-sufficient team as quickly as possible. Don’t gloat in your own success. Help other people succeed by hiring future leaders and put them in the right roles to succeed as you grow.

Quickly build a specialized team.

If it’s all going through you or you’re too involved in the details, you won’t be able to lead at a strategic level. At an early-stage company you may be required to be very versatile and hands-on, but as the business grows you will need to hire for roles with expertise you can delegate to. Always keep good marketing candidates in your hopper and maintain relationships with talented individuals so you can recruit them when the time is right.

Know your strengths and weaknesses and develop your skill set accordingly.

The difference in marketing from early stage to high growth are immense. Each stage poses its own unique challenges and requires totally different marketing and leadership skills. Not every leader is able to shift from building, scaling and optimizing.

The secret is to be honest with yourself about the role you truly want to be in, and what skills you need to develop to succeed.

Think carefully about your culture. Even in the early days.

Remember that although the marketing culture at startups grows organically it needs good leadership to steer it in the right direction. Put down on paper your vision, team charter, etc. Keep it top of mind as you’re hiring and building your team, and start planning out how it will evolve as your organization grows.

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