Ask Me Anything: Early Stage Marketing


f7’s Operator Council members, Elise Bergeron, VP Marketing at Snowflake and Jessica Jensen, CMO of Indeed hosted an AMA for f7 founders on the topic of Early Stage Marketing.

Here are 7 takeaways from the conversation:

1. There are so many different roles under the Marketing umbrella that it can be difficult to define …

Simply stated, Marketing is defining and communicating a broad understanding of your company’s unique value and what you can do for your customers.

In tech and product/eng heavy organizations, it’s particularly important to emphasize marketing’s role in driving growth, revenue and great customer experiences.

2. When determining marketing needs at the earliest stages, you must determine what is the most urgent problem you’re trying to solve:

If building in a known category, you need a demand gen focus to take market share quickly.

If you are in the business of category creation, you need product marketing to help define the segment & positioning before you try to activate distribution channels against it.

For certain categories where brand cache, influencers and celebrity make a big difference (e.g., beauty, fashion, sports), you may need more brand-building focus early on — but for most companies brand focus typically comes after you show demand gen and revenue traction.

3. For your first marketing hires, look for creativity — it’s not just paid search and social. Look for individuals that care about messaging, creative and can think creatively about distribution opportunities.

Don’t hire someone that wants to come in and run their standard digital growth playbook. The playbook likely won’t work at a Seed or Series A company. Find someone that’s more experimental and willing to try different things– like social, email and even direct mail (yes it can really work).

The incumbent is rarely what you need to be successful but the pull to hire the experienced incumbent is strong. Resist it — unless they show real creativity and willingness to expand their view and tactics.

4. Do’s and Don’ts of your first marketing hire:

Don’t label someone who isn’t a marketer as a marketer. Ensure your first hire is a good marketer. This sets the tone & expectation of the marketing function. If you don’t establish this as a strategic lever from the start … you will have a lot of work to do to reset expectations later.

MBA interns can be a great way to get high horsepower talent & help at the early stage. Agencies can also help but you need to have someone who has some experience managing agencies or the costs can run away from you.

Founders are often looking for “one marketing unicorn who can do everything.” Sometimes you need two different people / sets of expertise.

5. Marketing’s role to get to Series A benchmarks:

For product marketing – the most important thing is to be crisp on segmentation and targeting so you can show repeatability to raise the Series A. You need to be able to tell the story re: how you’re acquiring customers and how you’re ready to scale.

For demand gen – you need to ensure someone else is wearing the product marketing hat (that someone else can be the founder). Need to ensure you’re pointing demand gen at the right target. If there isn’t a pattern and clear segment with demand gen … you’re missing a clear, scaleable story for the Series A.

For Series B, you need to understand the ratio between marketing and sales, how you’re feeding the sales pipeline and a clear pipeline to sales motion that shows you’re ready to throw gas on the fire.

6. The founder’s role in marketing:

For a marketing team, you’ll need a marketing leader and the three pillars of early-stage marketing: Corporate, Demand Gen, Product Marketing. If as a founder, marketing isn’t your thing, then hire that marketing leader sooner. If you have an affinity for segmentation, marketing, positioning — you can likely have product marketing and demand gen report to you for the first couple years.

Marketing should be a strong leading indicator re: what will happen in your sales cycles. Don’t create too much distance between you and marketing in the early stages. Otherwise, you’ll pick your head up and not have the pulse on the business that you thought you did.

7. Marketing Watch-outs:

Don’t overspend on PR. Metrics can be flimsy. Avoid expensive PR agencies at the beginning. It feels so good but it’s the fastest way to light money on fire. A company needs to have a really unique lens to get a PR story out there — otherwise it doesn’t really matter.

Your product development resources are typically the scarcest. Need to focus your customer segmentation or you risk creating parallel product roadmaps to meet the needs of multiple customers. If you get to your Series A targets with multiple customers/products, you may be on a path to create sprawling product roadmaps and a lot of product debt.

Get your LTV house in order as soon as humanly possible. The companies that do this well make a significant difference in their ramp up and investment potential. It can be a major data undertaking but it will pay off in your growth and fundraising.

If you have/need a sales team, think deeply about the relationship between marketing and sales. Many companies think tension between marketing and sales is good but it doesn’t need to be that way. Alignment in B2B particularly can really allow you to scale quickly. This has been a key factor in Snowflake’s growth where marketing is laser focused on pipeline to feed sales. Likewise, you need to hire senior sales people and marketers so there is equal footing & respect. There is often a tendency to hire senior sales people and junior marketers and then companies have to reset people, partnerships and expectations later on.