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[zz]A Geek’s Guide To Hiring Marketing People



The following is a guest post by Jason Cohen.

Interviewing developers is easy.

OK, not easy. You have to generate resumes, you have to sift
through the deluge of candidates, you have to pound your network
continuously, you have to develop a phone-screen, you have to schedule
interviews, you have to ask them questions and get them to write code
and be hirint classified

But still, you’re a great developer and you’ve worked with enough
other developers that you can tell pretty quickly whether someone else
is also a great developer. Do they say the right things? Do they make
reasonable mistakes? Do they solve easy problems quickly? Do they give
up? You can figure that out.

Not so with marketing folks. What do you ask someone in an
interview to determine whether they have the ability to spread the word
about your still-v0.9-quality product? How do you determine whether
they can not just pull in potential customers but make them truly
successful and thrilled with v0.9 while digging up the new features that
will actually result in more sales?

For an engineer like me, interviewing marketing people is like
interviewing a lawyer:
You know there are vast differences in skill
level but you don’t know how to probe them to determine their skill.

But there’s hope. Although you can’t ask them to "solve" marketing
problems as you would programming questions, there’s certainly something
you can detect: Do they have the attitude and skillset needed to
succeed in a startup environment?

So here’s a list of important qualities. Some of these you
can ask about directly, others you’ll have to intuit from your

  • Social Media doer. Everyone says social media is
    important, but does the candidate actually do it? Does she have a
    sizable Twitter following? Does he have experience getting 20,000 fans
    for a Facebook page? Does she have a quality blog about marketing? Did
    he devise and execute a blogger outreach campaign that actually worked?
  • Frugality. Traditional, big-company mantra is "You have to
    spend money to make money." It’s no longer true. Now it’s "You can
    spend money and you might make money." Of course spending money
    isn’t automatically bad either; what’s bad is if you don’t measure
    whether the money is getting a return.
  • Customer-lover. A startup lives and dies by its customers.
    Not some marketer’s initial conception of who the customer should
    be and what the customer should want, or even the developer’s
    conception of which features should be useful, but what actually
    works in practice. That means the marketing person should be spending as
    much time as possible
    talking to customers. If you don’t have many
    customers, it’s their job to reach out and start the conversation.
    It’s even their job to find
    potential customers who didn’t buy and talk to them
    too. Make sure
    they drive everything from customers, not the other way around.
  • Humility. Startup marketing means working with unknowns.
    The product changes daily, the definition of the perfect customer
    changes as new data appears, marketing messages are invented and
    discarded, and just when you think you’ve got the right combination the
    world changes around you. Anyone who thinks they have the answers isn’t
    paying attention. Anyone who thinks something that worked five years
    ago will automatically work again is wrong. So you need someone willing
    to admit what he doesn’t know.
  • Domain Knowledge. This isn’t a requirement, but it
    sure helps. If you yourself don’t have good domain expertise (i.e.
    you’re your own customer, or you worked in the industry), then this
    becomes more useful.
  • Can distinguish pain from feature. Customers often ask for
    features, and that’s good. But you can’t just implement everything they
    want, how they want it, because they don’t have the big picture, they
    don’t have to support everyone else’s user-cases, they don’t know what’s
    difficult to implement, and they don’t know what’s idiosyncratic. So
    the marketer’s job is to dig past the surface level "feature request"
    into the real information: What is the customer really trying to do?
    What pain is the customer trying to address? That information is
    critical, and bringing that back to development is one of the most
    valuable things she can do for the company.
  • Willingness to learn detail. It’s a huge red flag whenever
    someone says "Every company is essentially the same — we’re selling
    widgets." This is a sign the person isn’t interested in understanding
    your market, your customers, or your product. Fatal Fail.
  • Devotion to measurement. Few people truly embrace
    measurement. After all, if you don’t measure a marketing campaign or a
    sales funnel, it’s easy to explain away any problems and take credit for
    any successes. If you’re measuring, though, you get credit for the
    successes but the losses are just on you. But you’re a startup, so
    "failure" is only a failure if you refuse to recognize it and do
    something about it. Of course most marketing efforts won’t be
    super-successful! That’s OK — what’s not OK is to blindly forge ahead
    instead of identifying which ones to keep and which to cancel.
  • A/B tests and similar. A corollary to measurement is a
    desire for continuous testing like A/B splits for advertisements and web
    pages. If this people loves "strategy meetings" more than just "trying
    stuff and seeing what sticks," that’s a problem. The goal isn’t to be
    the one who came up with the best idea, it’s to find the best idea
    through any means necessary.
  • Respected by developers. Traditionally developers and
    marketing/sales have an unhealthy mutual disrespect. Perhaps rightly
    so, often. But there’s no room for that nonsense in a startup. If the
    marketer isn’t a culture-match with the developers, it’s not going to
    work. That doesn’t mean they need to be able to write code, but for
    example someone who loves metrics and wants to talk about statistical
    significance as it applies to advertisement is probably going to fit in
    with engineers.
  • Branding is irrelevant. This often comes in the form of "We
    didn’t know whether the magazine ad / tradeshow resulted in sales, but
    it was good branding / it got our name out there / people will remember
    us." Coca-Cola needs people to have a warm-fuzzy when staring at a
    shelfful of sugar water; you just need sales. "Branding" cannot be
    measured, so it has no place for you. The only branding you need is a
    strong culture that leeks into everything from the web site to follow-up
    emails to tech support. A culture, not a "corporate image." A
    marketer who ascribes value to branding isn’t spending time on what’s
    important to you.

P.S. This article was inspired by this
question and these answers
from — the
Q&A forum associated with this blog. Come check it out! We solve
problems like these every day.

What do you think? Are these effective in finding good
marketing people? What other attributes or questions can you ask?
Please leave a comment and join the conversation.

Oh, and if
you’re interested in more on this topic, there’s a chapter in the wildly
popular book "Inbound Marketing" from Dharmesh (host of this
blog).  Might be worth checking out.

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