12 Traits of Highly Effective Marketing Teams

by Brian Doll on November 21, 2022

Reify has a lot to celebrate this quarter – we’ve kicked off our seventh year as a consultancy, and have welcomed our 100th client. We exist to help companies market and sell more software, and we’ve learned a lot over the years about what makes highly effective marketing organizations. Marketing, like Product, is never done. There are always opportunities to improve and grow. Here are a few of those traits and how you can leverage them in your own organization.

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Understand the value of marketing

Oddly enough, lots of companies still believe in the notion that if you build it, they will come. This provably bad take has a catchphrase we often hear – “Engineers don’t like being marketed to!”. We get it – if you’re heads down building a product, you might think that’s all you need to have a successful business. But in order to find success, companies must find their market, and convince folks to give them a shot. Even so-called “product-led growth” (PLG) companies have to get people to give their product a try first, after all. Remember – Software without marketing is a hobby, not a business. If you’re still skeptical, check out Michael’s keynote Why Marketing Matters.

Understand the evolving ecosystem and your place in it

No woman is an island and no product exists in a vacuum. Your prospective customers are already using lots of different products. What does your product integrate with? What other tools might I use to enhance this product experience? What products might yours replace? Understanding the market, from your customer’s perspective, means keeping up with all the other tools, not only in your space, but in adjacent spaces too. The more you know about the ecosystem, the patterns and trends, the different types of environments where these products are successfully selling into – the more you’ll understand your place in it all, and how best to bring your unique value to market.

Understand your customers

Always be interviewing. We worked with a client recently who had detailed notes, quotes, and insights documented from dozens of customer conversations, sales calls, and onboarding sessions. Instead of guessing what people thought about certain things, they had rich insights and context that helped them make decisions, prioritize work, and feel assured they are headed in the right direction. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. Talk to them!

Know your “one metric”

If you ask a few senior people at your company “How are we doing?” – will you get the same answer? We believe it is important to have a singular metric everyone in the company can stay focused on. It can be hard work to narrow down to just one metric. You want high user growth, but you also want to grow revenue, increase revenue per customer, reduce the sales cycle time, acquire users cheaply, and on and on. You need to pick one. The hard work of prioritizing and sharpening your focus to a singular metric that everyone can track and understand, unlocks tremendous potential. Everyone can make decisions faster, understand tradeoffs, choose the most impactful work to focus on, and most importantly, always know how you’re doing. What’s your one metric?

Drive activation, not signups

Coinciding with the early cloud era was the “growth hacker” era, full of gimmicks and tactics that drove user acquisition for startups. Lots of folks coming into the top of the funnel? Sounds pretty great! But as companies soon found out, those hacks to acquire users did little to boost metrics that really mattered, like how many people are becoming paid customers, or at least active users of your product. The problem of vanity-metric-chasing growth hacks is fairly simple – stop looking at signups, and start looking at active users. Define what an active user is – someone who creates something on your platform, or completes your multi-step onboarding and is starting to integrate your tool into their stack. Whatever it is, make this a single metric that you can track and report on. It’s important to experiment in marketing, but if you only focus on signups, you’ll often spend money for little return. Focus on how your marketing efforts result in active users, and you’ll always be heading in the right direction.

Ship constantly!

This may be the absolute most important practice for a marketing team. We often work with teams that have great ideas, but are held back on execution. To create a team of action, you need to reduce the friction to ship. Friction shows up in all sorts of different ways. Some teams require lots of reviews before pushing something live. Some teams have an ambiguous approval process, and nobody really knows if something is good enough to ship. Negative feedback about innocuous details or imperfections can make the act of shipping something feel burdensome at best. Instead, celebrate action! Praise folks for bringing work across the finish line and communicating with your tribe. There are lots of tips and tricks to unblock teams and drive up the velocity of marketing organizations. Drop us a line if you’d like a hand.

Continually mature your assets

You might look at a late stage startup’s case studies and be in awe. Those logos! That quote! That champion! Those success metrics, that story, that transformation! Maybe it appears as an interactive landing page, demonstrating the efficacy of a particular solution, and has downloadable slideware right on the page for folks to use while they pitch your product internally. It has a great contact form at the end that feels effortless to take the next step. Your first case studies don’t need to be this mature in order to ship! None of your marketing assets need to be this mature to ship. The important thing is that you ship them! And then improve them. Level up when you get more folks on the team. Level up when you get more customers. Level up when you get enough eyes on the content to know this is exactly where you should spend your effort right now. Ship and improve, don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.

Balance announcements with evergreen assets

“We’re heads down right now and don’t have any announcements to make!” This may be true, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can say or share with your audience. “Evergreen” marketing assets are named as such because they are always useful. They aren’t time sensitive like a company announcement or new feature announcement, they are educational and help prospects take the next step toward becoming active users. Show them how to integrate your solution into their stack. Show them how your workflows work. Show them how efficient and collaborative your solution is. Show them how important and cost-saving it can be for different types of organizations. If you’re stuck on what kind of evergreen assets could be useful, ask your customer support team. They’ll be quick to tell you what they wish folks knew ahead of time, or what they wish they had a URL for to share when communicating a complex topic to new users.

Continually refocus on the least optimized part of the funnel

You are tracking your funnel metrics right? Great. Once you’ve been tracking for a while, you’ll get a sense of your baseline for each step in your funnel. How many folks are in each cohort? How many of those sign up? How many of those try the product? How many of those look to buy? How many of those stay as customers? How many of those renew? When in doubt, work first to improve steps in the top of your funnel. Optimizing for sales conversions when you have only a tiny number of inbound leads is likely a waste of time. However, once you feel like most parts of your funnel are working ok, refocus your effort to the least optimized part of your funnel. Always be improving.

Reactivate your inactive signup list

When you are looking for more top of funnel leads, do you ever think – I wish there was this big pool of people who care about the problem we solve, so I could share with them how great our solution is? Well, how about that list of inactive signups! Re-activation campaigns are often done via email, but regardless of implementation, effective marketing teams don’t let their all-important list just sit there. Reach out! Share some recent blog posts! Give them an offer to motivate them to activate their trial today, not “later”.

Always be experimenting

At a certain scale, marketing teams and the funnel can start to get a bit static. Reliability can be great, but if you’re not learning often from the market, you’re not maximizing your effectiveness on the business. This takes experimentation. Fear of failure, fear of upsetting those early adopters, fear of doing something that might seem off to some cohort of users – it can have a chilling effect on any marketing team. What if we tried this? What if we tested that? What if we stopped doing this? What if we doubled our efforts on that? Experiment! Learn! Adapt. Sometimes the most effective marketing campaigns and tactics can come from silly experiments that just so happened to work.

Make some noise!

“We’re better than the competition and everyone who knows our product, knows that.” A startup by definition, had better have a better solution, but that’s not enough. You don’t go from zero to a meaningful level of market penetration without making some noise. A lot of noise. As often as possible. Your whole company is working deeply in a certain area. Everything that your team finds interesting, is by definition interesting to your audience. Read a cool paper that pertains to your work? Share it. Optimize something interesting in your product? Share it. Learn something new from a customer? Share it. See a customer write up a cool solution on their personal blog? Share it. A stat I always love sharing is that the first commit for what would become GitHub was in October 2007. By the time GitHub launched to the public in April of 2008 (just over 6 months from first commit to public launch), there were 70+ blog posts shipped. (The first few dozen appear to be missing from the live site, unfortunately). As the saying goes: Build things, tell people. Make some noise!