The Startup Marketer’s Onboarding Process: Tips for New Marketing Hires

Starting a new job as a marketer can be stressful. There is so much to learn. Moreover, nearly everything you do is seen by current and potential customers.

I just started working at YesGraph, and I want to make meaningful contributions as soon as possible. I have a lot to learn about how the HR/recruiting industry (our target market) works, so being realistic about expectations is important. Also, I must grasp the product and what marketing activities have been completed in the past.

With all of this on my mind, I started thinking about a process to help marketers onboard themselves at a new company and get up to speed during the first few weeks on the job. Here’s what I’m doing to familiarize myself. I hope it provides inspiration for others in a similar position.

Understand the Company

This first section is comprised of activities that you can complete internally to discover more about your new employer. As a marketer, your goal is to be able to communicate the value of your product, which requires a comprehensive understanding of it.

Why the Company Exists – What is the mission and vision of the company? What do they want to accomplish with their product/service? Working on a startup is a journey, so you need to know what the destination is.

What Worked and What Didn’t – How does the company currently market itself? What campaigns and strategies worked in the past, and more importantly, what didn’t work?

I enjoy looking at the ad copy, branding, and messaging of past campaigns to learn more. Study these, and seek to comprehend the motivation for running certain marketing experiments. If no one documented the past marketing efforts, there’s a high probability you might run a similar campaign in the future, which causes a duplication of efforts.

Sales Cycle/Length – As a marketer, it’s important to be familiar with the sales cycle. On average, how long does it take to close a potential customer? How do customers work through the funnel? As the startup grows, where will the leads come from?

Marketing Channels – What marketing channels is the company using? PPC? SEO? Content marketing? At a startup, it’s easy to focus on a variety of channels, but if you’re limited on resources, you need to focus at the beginning.

My Toolbox – Different startups have different tools at their disposal. It’s your job as a marketer to master these and find out the appropriate time to use them. Should I use Qualaroo or Intercom for user feedback? Is Google Analytics or KISSmetrics my analytics provider?

A full understanding of these tools will aid your future marketing efforts.

One Metric – At a startup, it’s critical to pick a goal. It must be simple to understand and simple to measure, and it must be your highest priority in the near future.

If you’re trying to improve conversion rates, you need to have a funnel to measure. If retention is your priority, you need to use a cohort analysis. Put simply, you must prioritize and focus on moving the needle for a single metric.

Understand your Customer (and the Industry)

As a marketer, a healthy knowledge of your company is only the beginning of the onboarding process. The next (and, in my opinion, the most important) step is to know your ideal customer. These are the people that matter most.

Existing Customers/Users – Does your company have any users or people paying you? If so, understand who these people are. How old are these individuals? What are their interests? The goal is to create a mental picture of the customer you are trying to reach.

Provide Support – Here’s a stupidly simple theory I have about marketing: the closer you are to your customer, the better marketer you will be. I’ve been working in support, and it’s a great way to interact with customers and find confusion they might have about the product. It makes marketing much easier.

Use the Phone – I’ll be the first to admit that I hate talking on the phone. I’m not the best communicator, so I resort to asking questions. I ask questions such as:

  • What do you love about working in [your industry]?
  • If you could change one thing about working in [your industry], what would it be?
  • For someone looking to learn more about [your industry], where do you suggest I start?

But how do you get them on the phone?

Email them.

Here’s what I suggest:

In general, people love being seen as a thought leader. I don’t try to sell them. Instead, my goal is to learn as much as possible. In the early stages of a company, the first sales are a byproduct of the relationships you’ve built.

Next, what’s in it for them? During the course of the conversation, I always try to find out if there’s any way I can help them. It’s basic, but it shows you care.

Industry Publications – It’s surprisingly simple to find thought leaders in a particular industry. If you’re on Twitter, use Followerwonk to find influencers based on certain keywords. Or, if you followed my advice in regard to speaking with people on the phone, you can just ask them.

The goal is to familiarize yourself with the hot topics being discussed and pick up the language of the industry.

Understand your Competition

Competition can be a great source of inspiration when onboarding as a marketer, yet don’t let it consume too much of your time. I try to focus on the competition enough to determine what sets my company apart from the rest, but there are some tools we can use to rapidly increase our learning.

Find Backlinks for SEO – I use Open Site Explorer to find websites that are linking to my competitors. Often, these are industry publications, and they are willing to link to me, too, if I pitch to them correctly.

Find Ad Copy / Keyword Suggestions – I recently found out about SEMRush, and it’s an amazing tool. I can see if competition is purchasing ads on Google, and if so, what keywords they are aiming to win. I also can see the different pieces of ad copy they use, which is a huge stimulus for my work.

sem rush

Keep the Inbox Full – I love an organized inbox, but this is not the time for cleanliness! It’s time to sign up for white papers, start free trials, and enter onboarding flows. One of my main tasks is to work on customer acquisition, so I need to be aware of what’s working for the competition.

When onboarding, I take screenshots of the process as I go along. Please remember, the goal is not to copy directly, but to provide ideas and incentive for your efforts!

Explore Meta Keywords – Here’s a fun little hack: visit the homepage of your competition, open up the page in the html source, and search for “keyword.” Many competitors will have meta keywords in the web page, which lets you know exactly what they are trying to rank for in search engines. The best part about this is that Google doesn’t put any weight into these keyword tags, so you don’t have to give away your “money keywords.”

keyword spying

Wrapping Up

I hope this encourages you as a marketer to develop an “onboarding process.” If you have comments or suggestions for how this can be improved, just let me know in the comments!

About the Author: Luke Thomas is a growth engineer at YesGraph, a startup focused on scaling referral recruiting by involving the entire company in the hiring process. Luke also blogs about marketing on his personal website, and you can talk to him on Twitter if you would like.

  1. Great post–it’s definitely a great initial checklist for new marketing team members to get a sense of how to truly make an impact at a startup out of the gate. I’ll definitely be sharing this.

  2. What a great checklist. albeit many of the Kissmetrics blogs have been fantastic! I was just going to meet with a client for marketing purposes in early Jan. This should prepare me well for that encounter.

  3. I use SEO SpyGlass to analyze my competitors. Compare to opensiteexplorer, it’s not powerfull enough, though.

  4. I use majesticseo to analyze trust of website where i build links. It works very well and i recommend you all to try it once.

  5. Stephen Donegan Jan 01, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Some great information and very comprehensive ! A must read for any aspiring marketers.

  6. Good post and comes in at a good time when I am expanding my team and looking to understand how to improve onboarding.

    The first thing I do is give everyone a high level overview of where we stand today – revenues for past and present, where do they come from, which products are the most selling ones for us, strategy for the next couple of quarters, what is everyone else working on etc – do you think that helps? Or should the onboarding be just focused on what the person is supposed to work on?

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