The very first marketing role in a high-growth start-up is an extremely important one. As that person comes into the business to raise brand awareness, generate demand, build a sales pipeline, and drive revenue growth, it’s obvious to see why.
Of course, with modern B2B marketing involving so many different aspects, having just one person responsible for juggling everything – while consistently hitting their targets – is no mean feat.
In this episode, Pinja Dodik talks to Matt Dodgson about her experience as the first marketing hire for Swarmia. Not only did she successfully adapt to working as a stand-alone marketer, but she has been one of the driving forces behind a period of strong growth for the company.
Who they are: Pinja Dodik, Marketing Manager at Swarmia.
A bit of background: Pinja is from Finland, but earned her BSc management and marketing degree at Royal Holloway, University of London. Although she began her career in copywriting and content marketing, she has since broadened her focus and now leads the marketing department for Swarmia.
Where you can find her:
Here you’ll find some of the best advice from the podcast that you can easily digest and learn from.
Swarmia is a Helsinki-based B2B tech start-up that provides a platform which allows businesses to measure key engineering metrics and use those insights to make gradual changes across productivity, collaboration, and workflows.
The company was launched in 2019 and has had an interesting growth journey so far, but what led them to decide they needed to hire their very first marketer?
Pinja said, “They made a conscious decision to spend the first year and a half building the product with some of their early customers, like friends and acquaintances that they’ve done customer discovery with initially. And they only really launched Swarmia to general availability in May last year, or somewhere around that.”
“Around the same time, they got $7-million in seed funding, so it was two things. First of all, they now had a product to sell, and, secondly, they also had the funds to know they could start marketing and scaling up investments without going out of business within two months.”
Of course, with the expectations of investors to see strong growth, start-ups are under tremendous pressure to produce results quickly. It became clear to Swarmia that a marketing function was crucial to help them achieve that once the product was ready to be released into their competitive field.
“This was not a greenfield, type of situation where no competitors exist. We’re actually, not late to the game, but definitely smaller than some of our competitors. So, it was a case of needing to start now, and already kind of playing catch up.”
“We could have built an audience before marketing the product, but personally I prefer it this way. So, by the time I started in November last year, we had a really good product, we had early customers, we had the possibility of making customer success stories with actual humans who had been using the product for several months, if not years. And we were able to get off the ground by talking about those success stories, rather than just building a list of people who might be interested.”
Any business launching a marketing function for the first time may feel like the challenge is somewhat daunting, especially with no existing processes or results to compare with.
However, Pinja pointed to the opportunities available to you when starting from a clean slate, and highlighted some positives she was able to take from being Swarmia’s first marketing hire.
“I knew going in that our pipeline wasn’t the strongest in terms of sales when I started. So, we decided that lead gen is probably where we start. Although, we did have a funny kind of misalignment in that because, for me, if you’re a start-up that nobody knows, lead gen isn’t your biggest bottle-neck. It’s actually brand awareness. You can’t fix the lead gen problem before people know that you exist.”
“I look at it from two sides. First, there’s demand gen, which is all your brand awareness. Basically everything you do in marketing is demand gen. Then there’s demand capture, which is search ads in more direct response channels.”
“So, pretty quickly, we realised that we needed to go big on paid search and those kinds of activities. Our main KPIs have always been pretty close to the business. So, marketing-generated qualified leads in the pipeline is what we landed on.”
“That’s a good thing about starting at a start-up, is that you get to define your goals and KPIs yourself. We never went into the MQL hamster wheel of saying, ‘let’s gate all this content and try to nurture these people down a funnel, and try to force a funnel where there is no funnel.’ That’s one good thing about not having any of that marketing legacy in the company.”
For an excellent case study discussing how shifting from a lead generation strategy to demand generation helped a B2B SaaS company quadruple its inbound pipeline, check out our recent podcast episode here.
As a first marketing hire in a team where there are no marketers, Pinja was undoubtedly faced with plenty of challenges as she settled into her role.
To help you learn from her experience, she pointed to communication as one of the most important aspects of a stand-alone marketing role in a start-up, or any marketing role in any business for that matter.
Pinja said, “You have to be the voice of marketing to the rest of the company. I can’t stress this enough, but you can never over-communicate. I’m the queen of repeating myself 14 times and saying the same things, talking about the same things, but they are the biggest priorities. I think you often need to do the same thing in marketing internally that you’re doing externally, which is to say the same thing until you get sick of what you’re saying.”
“The way I run things now is I do this quick Slack update once per month, at the end of each month, showing the results from the past month and how much we grew from the month before. People don’t look at these numbers every day, so they need the context of how we are growing. I also list out more qualitative stuff, like:
Pinja continued, “And then we do have a weekly cadence of going through our numbers on Monday mornings, and also Friday demos where we can showcase some of the work that we’ve actually done.”
“It’s important to communicate on a bunch of different levels, not only about the outputs, but also the outcomes. I’ve always loved internal marketing, so it’s not so much of a challenge for me, but it’s something that I need to actively remind myself to do.”
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