News To Startup CEOs: You Can’t Outsource Marketing

Here’s a common scenario I see with some early stage tech startups…

Incredibly smart/tech-savvy people start a company around a cool idea. These founders build amazing tools/products that demonstrate their concept and their abilities. At this point they might decide they need to get funding. And, what will they use the money for? Often times, the word “marketing” will show up near the top of their funding needs (Sales and Business Development are also near the top, but that’s another post). Seems reasonable enough, right? I mean how else are people going to know about your company/product without marketing?

The trouble begins when you start to dig a little deeper on the “marketing” bullet point. The founders often won’t have a marketing plan yet. No problem they will explain, part of the funding will go towards hiring a marketing person. The basic thinking here is “we don’t know anything about marketing so we will hire someone who does.” If you are a startup CEO, and you think you are going to hire your way in to good marketing, I’ve got news for you: you are almost certainly going to fail. Why? I could write an entire book on this topic, but let’s start with a few basic points:

1) Marketing is not a bolt-on component of your company that you can outsource to another person. Marketing is an integral part of every decision the company makes. In my opinion, it is critical that the CEO drive the core marketing strategy in the early stages because all the major decisions around the company, the product and marketing are interrelated. A good marketing person can only help execute a plan that is based upon a strong vision that is set by the CEO. Hiring a marketing person before you know your marketing strategy is like hiring a developer before you know what platform/technology you are using to build your product.

2) If you don’t know anything about marketing, the odds that you can hire a good marketing person are pretty slim. Sure, a blind squirrel can occasionally find a nut, but I wouldn’t fund a business that was based upon such a rare occurrence. You can certainly get referrals from people you trust and respect. But, unless the person that is being recommended is coming from an identical business and you are planning to steel the previous employer’s marketing strategy (see point #1) there is little reason to believe the recommended person will be a good fit for your company/strategy.

3) If you don’t have a solid marketing strategy, your new marketing hire is either going to drive you crazy or accomplish absolutely nothing or both. If your new hire is motivated to do a good job, they will be constantly peppering you with questions you can’t yet answer in order to get some direction. You’ll be reacting to questions instead of developing a good strategy. If your new hire is bad, they will just sit back and wait for you. Either way, you lose.

So, how do you avoid this common mistake? Like a lot of growth opportunities it starts with self-awareness and acceptance. Once you accept your current understanding of the subject and you recognize the fact that you have to embrace marketing as your responsibility, you can learn quickly and make rapid progress on building an effective strategy for your company.

More thought on marketing strategy coming soon…