EP21: How and Where to Find Your Startup’s First Marketing Hire

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Marketing, Podcast, SaaS


For any SaaS startup, marketing is critical in driving growth and gaining traction in your market. But sourcing qualified candidates who understand SaaS, are excellent in marketing, and can help your startup progress can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. In this article, we’ll look at some of the challenges of hiring your first marketing leader and share some tips on where and how to find them and how to set them up for success once hired.

But before we dive in, let’s talk about some assumptions we’re making about you.

  • You have the budget for a year’s worth of salary for this marketing person.
  • Your marketing leader will be full-time.
  • You’re prepared to manage, lead, and coach a marketing employee (even if you’re not a marketing expert yourself).

Hiring your first marketing leader isn’t about simply filling a role, it’s also about creating a creative, collaborative, and supportive work environment. Without setting the foundation for success, any new hire can struggle to meet your expectations and your business’s needs. With that said, let’s dive into who your marketing professional should be.

Your First Marketing Hire: Demand Generation vs Content Marketing

Marketing is a massive industry and its nuances are’t always so clear to a technical founder or CEO. It’s totally understandable if you’re overwhelmed with all of the specialties, strategies, and tactics candidates bring with them as you’re searching for your first marketing hire. But as a startup in software, there are really only two kinds of marketers that we recommend in your pre-traction and traction stages. They are:

  1. Demand-Generation Marketers
  2. Content Marketers

A demand-generation marketer is someone who specializes in tactics and strategies to create demand for your products or services. They focus on driving sales-ready leads and customers through awareness-raising campaigns like email marketing, paid acquisition, pay-per-click advertising (PPC), and more.

A content marketing expert is someone who specializes in creating and distributing high-value content that’s relevant and targeted for your target market. This kind of marketer uses blog posts, videos, podcasts, e-books, webinars, and other kinds of digital media to engage your audience and drive traffic and leads to your website.

The really interesting thing though is that a demand generation marketer often actually uses content marketing as a way to generate demand, so the content types aren’t specific to each role.

Also keep in mind that while these are the top two skillsets that we see across successful first-hire marketers, their role or title might be a little different. Such as Head of Marketing (most common) or Marketing Manager. If you’re hiring for more senior roles, you’ll naturally hire someone with more executive-level skills like leadership, management, and high-level strategy.

So who should you choose? This depends on your ideal customer’s lifetime value (LTV) and buying cycle. If a customer’s LTV is relatively low, then an inbound marketing expert who keeps the cost to acquire new customers low will likely be the best choice. On the other hand, if you have a high LTV and a slightly more complex buying cycle, a demand-generation marketer can help drive leads and qualified traffic into your sales funnel.

As you vet and interview potential candidates, you’ll find that many marketers have experience with generating demand and content marketing, while others are highly-focused and have highly specific work histories. In most cases, both generalists and specialized marketers can successfully fill your first marketing role. So unless you have a clear need for one or the other, don’t get too caught up in this. We think it’s even more important to pick a candidate with experience in a startup at a similar stage as yours. For example, if you’re pre-traction, then hiring a marketer who has helped a pre-traction startup reach high growth is much more valuable than finding a highly specialized content marketer.

Where to Find Your First Marketing Hire

When it comes to finding your first marketing leader online, we have a few recommendations for where to look:

1. Your Local Network

In our experience, your own backyard is an easy and accessible way to reach out and make contact with highly qualified marketing professionals. Reach out using your company’s Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Reddit profiles. Oftentimes, leads will come to you, and we’ve had great success finding professionals for our roles this way.

2. LinkedIn

Next, we’d like to reemphasize LinkedIn. We’ve sourced tons of incredible talent using this platform. Compared to platforms like Indeed and SmartRecruiters, LinkedIn lets you target a specific skill set or work history and prescreen candidates more thoroughly, which can help in finding qualified candidates who match your unique criteria.

3. Recruiting and Headhunting firms

Recruiting firms will help if you’re struggling to find the right candidate on other platforms like LinkedIn and Indeed. And headhunting firms are great if you’re looking to fill executive-level roles. We’ve seen clients successfully fill positions using both types of firms.


4. Digital Talent Marketplaces

Digital talent marketplaces, like The Mom Project, are excellent resources for finding part-time and hourly contractors and freelancers. These platforms are designed to help you contact professionals quickly and give you the tools to manage those relationships effectively.

What Happens After Making Your First Marketing Hire?

The last thing you want your first marketing professional to Google is, “What to do as a first marketing hire at a SaaS company?” They should have a clear picture of what’s next for them as an employee in your business. They need to know:

1. The Company Vision

While this may sound cliche, understanding the mission and vision of your company will help marketing hires identify with your company and understand how their role contributes to where the company is going.

2. The Company Goals

It might sound obvious, but new marketing professionals should know the company goals. For example, what is your monthly recurring revenue (MRR) goal? In addition to sharing your company’s goals, there should be a discussion on how they plan to support those goals. Bonus: this information can easily be integrated into your onboarding process.

3. Your Expectations

Sharing your expectations is critical, and it transcends a description of roles and responsibilities. Here’s an example: how do you expect them to communicate when they disagree with your vision for a project? Keep in mind that this is a two-way street, and you should create space for employees to share their expectations of you as well.

4. Existing Marketing Strategies

You’d be amazed at how often marketing professionals are hired but never receive a breakdown of how the company has arrived at its current stage. Without this critical background information, your new employees might waste time reinventing the wheel, start from scratch when they don’t need to, or fail to meet your expectations because they don’t know where you’ve already been. Sharing your existing marketing plans and strategies can help new marketers get up to speed and begin making progress sooner.

5. The Product

Ideally your new marketer has quite a lot of experience with the product and its many nuances. If there’s a clear market position that your product takes in the market, ensuring that they have a clear understanding of the true competitors and the competitive differentiators the product has will better enable the marketer to make compelling cases for new prospects to give it a shot.

6. The Customer

If your new marketing hire isn’t talking to customers within the first 90 days of starting, that should be a red flag — but it’s one that you can help facilitate as startup founder or CEO. A new marketer should have direct access to customers, and within the first 90 days, they should be interviewing customers and getting to know their pains, desires, hopes, and dreams when it comes to the full context of why they chose your product in the first place.


First Projects for Your First Marketing Hire

A 90-day plan is a strategy that new, junior to mid-level employees can use to quickly acclimate to their company’s culture, build relationships with team members, and begin working toward achieving the goals of their role and the company overall. Such a plan may be as detailed as you’d like. For example, some companies create goals for each day during an employee’s first three months. Those goals may include things like becoming familiar with company-wide technology or systems. For higher-level positions, a first project could be a company-wide audit that seeks to identify opportunities for improvement.

But regardless of the new hire’s role, it’s essential that they’re talking and listening to customers. Encourage your first marketers to get on the phone with customers, shadow a customer success employee, or review existing voice of customer (VoC) research. Some teams (like new marketers at Ahrefs) even make new marketing hires onboard as customer support for the first 30 days of their new role.

Final Thoughts

Remember, the first step in hiring your first marketing leader is making sure you’re ready to support them in the first place. Establish clear expectations and a roadmap for success. And as you begin looking, take the time to source the candidate who’ll bring the right mix of marketing, enthusiasm, and experience to your startup.

Interested in learning about how long it can take to see marketing results? Check out our podcast episode on measuring marketing success and setting your expectations. We’ll see you there.

Wrapping up 

To learn more about how to reach your growth goals for your SaaS business, check out our top offers here: 

Book a time with me here and I can point you in the right direction. 

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