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What to hand off to more junior people, and what to do yourself
I recently wrote (ranted) about passing off “community building” to interns on LinkedIn, and I want to dig in a little deeper because it’s adjacent to a topic that I hear coming up a lot.
In the journey from marketing practitioner to marketing leader, you’ll inevitably come across the opportunity to hire things out to more junior/cheaper colleagues, an agency that costs less than you/a FTE, OR do the work yourself.
And there is pressure in both directions.
The argument for hiring it out to someone cheaper:
On the one hand, if you’re in the marketing leadership seat at a high growth start up, you have to hire at a rapid enough clip to hit future goals…and you definitely can’t be doing all of the work yourself.
Marketing’s success as an org is partially determined by the cost of the department (headcount plus program spend) and obviously every hire can’t be senior af. In order to drive scalable growth, the cost of people doing the work is important, and if it’s too high that could either eat into marketing’s budget for campaigns, or you get heat because your department is inefficient.
The argument for being very careful about this:
On the other hand…every new hire is another step removed from the deep understanding of the founders’ vision for the business that the CMO is trying to execute on.
In each level of experience there's dilution in general understanding of the business and the customer. You can enable your team incredibly well and it’s still just not the same as what's in your brain.
I’ve heard this advice for founders, which I think applies to marketing leaders (or even a functional leader within marketing who’s hiring out a team).
I actually know two (non-marketing) founders right now who are certified in Google Ads because they want to be able to hire for that incredibly well, and they'd rather create a great system to be edited, vs having a marketer build from scratch. If I ever interview for a full time role again, this is green flags all day, even though it scares my ego a little to have a boss who's smarter than me at my own job.
You need to know what good looks like to hire someone good. And if you don’t have a sense of what works for a given function for your business…you might be giving too much ownership to someone who doesn’t have the chops to pull it across the finish line.
Some examples from my career
The last inbound marketer that I hired was fresh out of college. They’d had one internship prior to joining the company.
I’d gotten my hands into the inbound work myself before hiring them, so I knew exactly what was involved, what I needed from them, and what tactics I would need to leverage more tenured resources for.
Then, I didn’t have to be super in the weeds with their work to know if things were going well or not. Their OKRs were tight, everything was quantifiable, and easy to see progress.
On the flip side, I made a demand gen hire too early once. I hadn’t fully cracked the function yet, and the person I hired had multiple years of experience, but not enough to really stand it up on their own.
I can already hear the pushback on this advice…it’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. People talk all the time about bringing in someone to “own” the function. I just think the arguments for being really involved (before you make the hire) are more legit.
Even if you don’t know anything about brand, for example, you’ll know the goal that brand is trying to accomplish relative to the founders’ company vision, and the way that brand fits into the marketing strategy.
Struggling to figure things out has value...
Specifically for community management
I have super strong feelings on building/managing communities because that’s been such a huge part of my career for the last decade.
From my LinkedIn post:
Community management is not something you hand off to the intern.
It’s taken me 3 years of building Exit Five and a decade of experience working in B2B marketing to grow it to where it is today.
I’d like to think at this point I know what I’m doing, have deep experience in the niche I’m focused on, and also strength as a content creator.
But “community” is one of those hot topics that many companies want to “tap into” and expect to pass it off to the junior members of the marketing team. They expect that someone who isn’t deeply entrenched in the topic will be able to post positive messages and quotes and links to webinars…and then they wonder why “community” isn’t working after 18 months.
I’d argue that the most senior people and/or the people with the deepest experience in your industry are the ones who should be the face of this “community” you’re after.
But of course there’s the catch - because the often think they don’t have the time or it’s not worth it playing on silly social media 😉
Complicated + Important Projects
Building a community is a complicated, important project that takes time. Community is not the only thing like this, of course.
The following applies to marketers who are building a team from scratch, and also entering a role with an existing team.
If we’re trying to hand this project off to an intern, how important is it really? And how critical is it for the success of our business? If it’s really important but you get a hint of: “perfect, let’s shop this out to the cheapest possible solution,” that’s a red flag.
Is the goal to check a box? Or drive an outcome?
IF the goal is to drive an outcome, does the person managing it have the chops to make it happen / are we at a phase of repeatability? If not… just change the scope. A little process run by cheaper resources can make a more expensive person’s time better spent.
Maybe having an intern build a community and make it drive revenue isn’t realistic. But if they sift through posts all day long and send the best ones to the senior marketing leaders to respond to…that's leverage.
I think the main takeaways here are…
Sometimes you have to hire things out, and you definitely need to have interns, junior resources, agencies, etc on your team for the economics of the department to work.
HOWEVER - be careful about what those are, and try to hack roles yourself first to ensure that you know what’s involved, what will drive success, and what functions look like for your specific business/industry/customer base/business model. If tasks are ironed out, repeatable etc, then for the love of god, give it to the intern!
This is not to say that people fresh out of college can’t be total rock stars. They can be. The young person that I hired to run inbound was one of my best colleagues ever. They thought critically about things, asked great questions, worked their butt off, and built out the function.
But the scope was also just right, I knew what I needed from them, and it laid a foundation for them to take on a lot more responsibility over time.
Hope you are having a productive week.
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Some things that I love from the JD:
🎧 Podcast #94: Product Marketing and Career Coaching with Yi Lin Pei
Yi Lin Pei is a 3x product marketing leader and former Director of Product Marketing at Teachable. Now as a career coach she helps high-achieving professionals land and grow in product marketing, marketing, and other no-code tech roles.
She's spent time in marketing working with Series A startups to public companies and was named a Top 100 product marketing influencer and is a frequent guest speaker on the topic of startup marketing and product marketing.
Join the Exit Five Community
Please join us in the new home for Exit Five (and our dedicated iOS + Android app). We have officially moved our community to Circle - our own private community on the web, with a dedicated mobile app for iOS and Android. It's bumping over there already and I've been loving the feedback from members so far.
Here's a video overview from me breaking down the new Exit Five community. You can join the community right now for free with a 7 day free trial and then choose monthly or annual billing (or to not join) after your trial. Hope to see you in there.
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