How to Recruit a World-Class Marketer for Your Startup

Many of us have experienced feelings of despair when no one would try our brand new product. It takes a lot more than building a product to get someone interested.

If we want a chance to build our business, we need to get serious about marketing.

Sure, the “business” founder can read a marketing book every week, consume hundreds of blog posts and dozens of podcasts, and get things rolling. But what happens when you need to buckle down and get serious? How do you find a world-class marketer and convince him or her to lead your marketing team?

You could get in touch with a recruiter. They’ve got a super fast turnaround, but there’s one little problem… All those candidates will have a ton of opportunities coming their way. For a startup with a limited budget, you’ll have a terrible time attracting the best talent.

To recruit a world-class marketer, you’ll need to pursue a completely different strategy.

Stormtrooper Blackboard

This Stormtrooper needs a new strategy. And so do you.

I sat down with Michael Litt, the CEO and co-founder of Vidyard, to learn how it’s done. You see, Vidyard just recruited Mitch Solway to head up their marketing. The guy’s a marketing beast and helped get FreshBooks where it is today.

Below, you’ll find the tactics and strategy that Michael used to recruit Mitch. And Michael gets full credit for these insights. Any and all errors are mine.

Get in Touch with Marketers that You Respect

When you’re just starting out, you won’t have a massive LinkedIn network to tap or plenty of entrepreneur friends to contact.

You’re starting from a dead stop.

So how did Michael get moving?

He looked for other companies in his space that he highly respected. Vidyard is a B2B SaaS company based in Waterloo, Canada. And guess what other business is a B2B SaaS company in Canada… FreshBooks. Then he checked out its About Us page and discovered that Mitch Solway was their VP of Marketing.

Here’s a quick tip on how to get someone’s email address: use Rapportive. Distilled has an excellent video on how Rapportive can help you guess someone’s email. This is how Michael guessed Mitch’s email.

But now we’ve reached the scary part of all this – sending a cold email. What do we say? How do we get a response?

Here’s what Michael said:

“Hey, I’m interested in hiring a VP of Marketing for my company, Vidyard. You may not have heard of us, [briefly explain what you do]. Let me know if you’d be interested in chatting.”

About 5 minutes later, Michael got a call from Mitch. Yup, he got an immediate call back. They started going back and forth, delving into the details of the company; and Mitch even provided some advice on which direction to go with the marketing team.

Notice how Michael didn’t go for the hard sell. He didn’t immediately try to recruit Mitch or make him an offer.

At this point, you have one goal: make contact with marketers you respect. That’s it.

In order to get a good opening for closing a deal, you’ll need to spend time building the relationship.

Build the Relationship Slowly

For this master plan of ours to succeed, you’ll need to start building a relationship LOOOOOOOOONG before it’s time to recruit. It’s the only chance you have of standing out.

Build your relationships like a snail would

Build your relationships like a snail would.

Around the same time, Michael was considering hiring Stephanie Goodman to manage their content and social media strategy. Since Vidyard’s marketing strategy focuses on attracting inbound leads, having someone manage everything makes a lot of sense.

During the hiring process, Michael introduced her to a number of people to get a better feel for her skill set. Since Michael doesn’t have a deep marketing background, he wanted to double-check Stephanie’s marketing chops. One of the people he introduced her to was Mitch. Right away, Stephanie and Mitch hit it off, and Vidyard decided to go ahead with hiring Stephanie.

At this point, Michael STILL isn’t trying to recruit Mitch. He’s reaching out to him for advice and direction.

Stephanie and Mitch continue to talk back and forth about marketing during her first couple of months on the job. Then Mitch decided to leave his position at FreshBooks and do some consulting for several companies.

With a more flexible schedule for Mitch, Michael realized it was a perfect opportunity to increase Mitch’s involvement with Vidyard.

But wait, we still don’t want to go straight for the deal quite yet. Even at this point, that would have been moving too fast. You want to look for ways to slowly increase your prospect’s involvement with your company.

Michael decided to approach Mitch to offer him an advisory role, working with Stephanie on a regular basis to provide direction on the marketing strategy.

Over the following weeks, Mitch was able to meet the entire team and get direct experience with where Vidyard was going.

You see… Before you know it, it will make sense to expand the role of the individual into a full-time position, assuming he or she is a good fit for your company. That’s exactly what happened for Vidyard and Mitch.

Instead of having to struggle and fight for Mitch’s attention, Vidyard gained his trust over a long period of time.

This process should move slowly enough that people don’t even realize you’re recruiting. You’re not trying to hide the fact that you are; you merely want the entire process to feel completely natural.

And as you slowly integrate someone into your company, you’ll get a first-hand perspective on how well they fit with your company culture. We all want to move fast, but a bad hire can completely derail you, especially a critical hire like your marketing lead. This is when you want to follow the “hire slow, fire fast” rule.

Realistically, this process will take you at least three to four months.

Sell the Opportunity in Your Space

The odds are that you will be going after a seasoned marketer that has deep experience in several industries.

In order to sustain the recruit’s attention while slowly building a relationship, you’ll need to highlight the opportunity of your space. YouTube has only scratched the surface of online video, and Vidyard is jumping into a market with a ton of potential.

But what do you do if your industry isn’t cutting edge and getting a bunch of attention from the tech press? Work with it. Highlight the growth and opportunity that you do have. It doesn’t have to be sexy to be interesting. So sit down with the person you’re trying to recruit, outline your vision for how you want to change the industry, and see if the candidate also gets passionate about where you’re going.

Give Them an Opportunity to Fill in the Gaps in Their Experience

Growth and innovation aren’t your only selling points.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi details in his book, Flow, people need a certain amount of challenge to stay engaged. If something’s too easy, we get bored and disconnect. And if it’s too challenging, we get overwhelmed and bail.

For a marketing veteran, a lot of marketing tasks have become routine. But there are a VAST number of specialties in the field. There’s always something new to learn.

So when you’re trying to sell a marketer on a position at your company, find out what they’re super interested in and haven’t had an opportunity to try. When you tailor the position to meet that interest, you’ll have a much easier time closing a deal.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Developing and building a marketing team
  2. Running a specific kind of campaign
  3. Having an appropriate budget and full responsibility for it (marketing is often heavily constricted by budgets so there’s little freedom to get creative)

To quickly figure out what gaps the candidate would like to fill, ask this question: “What are you super passionate about in marketing these days?” You’ll learn exactly how to define a position that the candidate will be very interested in.

Get Customers in Front of Them

In marketing, there’s a hidden secret. The best way to get your message out there is to get someone else to say it. This is what social proof is all about.

But most people use social proof as just a series of customer logos, testimonials, and press logos. Let’s take this a step further.

The best social proof comes directly from someone else. No filters, edits, or suggestions.

How do we apply this to recruiting? Set up some calls between the candidate and your customers.

And marketers LOVE talking to passionate customers. It lets them know there’s something truly awesome about the product. No reasonable marketer wants to be stuck selling snake oil; we want to sell a product that people love. Not only does it make our jobs easier, it’s also a lot more fun.

Since Vidyard has plenty of super passionate customers, Michael set Mitch up with several calls so that he could talk directly with them. Then Mitch was able to see how much progress Vidyard had already made with its product.

WARNING: This will work only if you have an awesome product. Weak products will not turn your customers into evangelists. And if that’s your situation, you have bigger problems than recruiting a marketer.

Lesson Learned: Approach Multiple Candidates

In Vidyard’s case, Michael was talking only to Mitch the whole time. But Michael recommends connecting with multiple marketers.

When Mitch left FreshBooks, the timing perfectly coincided with a more active role at Vidyard. But what if Mitch wanted to keep expanding FreshBooks and was completely happy with the position? If he hadn’t left, Michael would have had a much harder time closing a deal with Mitch. FreshBooks probably would have made Mitch an offer Vidyard couldn’t match.

Luck and timing helped Michael a lot in this case.

To make sure luck works in your favor, pursue multiple candidates at the same time.

No need to hoard four leaf clovers for better luck

No need to hoard four leaf clovers for better luck. Instead, pursue multiple candidates at the same time.

Recruiting multiple people at the same time will also increase the interest from each of them. Social proof is an especially powerful motivator, and marketers are not immune. When we see that you’re considering a deal with several people, we’ll go out of our way to prove ourselves. You’ll have a much stronger negotiating position.

Your First Step

Connect with other marketers. To get a high response rate, just ask them for a quick interview to understand their job better.

Remember, you’re not recruiting at this point. Your goal is to create a connection with marketers that might be good candidates down the line.

This definitely isn’t poaching. You might find someone that’s a good fit and looking for a new opportunity. Great! Start actively recruiting that person. But if people are happy where they are, don’t get pushy. Take a long term approach.

Before you do ANYTHING else, follow these steps:

  1. Go to LinkedIn
  2. Find the marketing leads at companies you respect
  3. Reach out to them and ask if they’d be interested in an interview so you can understand their daily responsibilities in order to learn from their experiences
  4. Use Rapportive to help you guess people’s emails

Hint: This also works for sales and engineering hires.

Bottom Line

This isn’t a strategy that you’re going to be able to pull off immediately.

It takes months to work effectively, and you’ll also invest a lot of your own time in building these relationships.

So if you desperately need a new hire right now, you’ll probably have to use the traditional recruiter strategy. Most of the candidates will be ready to go, but you’ll have trouble getting the right deal with the one individual that’s a perfect fit. Most likely, you’ll need to compromise on culture, budget, or talent.

But at the end of the day, a bad hire can kill your startup. So if there’s one place to take a little extra time to get it right, this is it.

To land a great hire and attract top-notch talent like Vidyard did, follow these steps:

  1. Get in touch with marketers that you respect
  2. Build the relationship slowly
  3. Sell the opportunity in your space
  4. Give them an opportunity to fill in the gaps in their experience
  5. Get customers in front of them

Would you like to hear the interview? You can download the whole thing here. Enjoy! :)

What other tactics and strategies have you used to make a critical hire? Tell us in the comments!

About the Author: Lars Lofgren is the KISSmetrics Marketing Analyst and has his Google Analytics Individual Qualification (he’s certified). Learn how to grow your business at his marketing blog or follow him on Twitter @larslofgren.

  1. Nice post, Lars. After a recent tenure at a startup, I couldn’t agree more with this “hire slow” approach! My recruiting/interview process with my most recent startup’s marketing group was really fast…only two brief interviews before the offer came.

    In the end, they hired the wrong marketer for their needs, and I signed on to the wrong startup, so we both lost. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just moved too fast and didn’t understand each other’s needs.

    Now, I’m working with startups as a consultant, and taking things VERY slow with potential employers; basically forcing them to contract me before they think about hiring me. Working well so far :-)

  2. Hi Lars, any plans to set up audio like this in iTunes? I’d love to listen to this via the podcasts app.

    • Not yet Dan. We’re still experimenting with interview-type content. But if we decide to do a lot more of this kind of stuff, we’ll certainly take a closer look at iTunes.

  3. Hi Lars,
    Really nice post, thank you for sharing with us this tips.I think finding the right people is the hardest thing but in the same time is the most important for the growth and evolution of a business.
    I totally agree that a good solution is to build the relationship slowly, and not to rush to give that job to a person just because you need someone urgently…..in the end you can see that you have lost more..:(

    Regards,

  4. Hi,

    Glad to hear it Brendan! Thanks for sharing this informative information with us.keep on writing.

    Thanks

  5. Great post. I love how the best ways to sell are always to not try to sell at all. Simply just ask a favor, give some advice, ask for feedback etc. The best of the best got to the top by being genuine and with a thought out strategy in hand, not like the stereo-typical pushy used car sales guy types.

  6. Thanks Lars, exactly. I call those “neighboring” topics: those that directly about your niche but could use your expertise :)

  7. Hey Lars!
    Great tips.
    i will remember these tips on my finger tips. :)
    really learned great techniques.
    Thanks.
    Matt

  8. Wow, these are great examples. I’m gonna use the line of sight example today!

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