As the rate of change continues to increase in business and technology, the more I’m convinced that marketing is the primary key to success for a new venture. Yet, I find that many technical founders don’t feel they need marketing at all, or at best, point to one person on the team who is responsible for marketing. I believe a better approach is to transform your whole team into a marketing machine, with everybody pulling in the same direction.
That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to participate in creating the typical marketing collateral, or needs to face the press on a regular basis. It does say that everyone on the team, from the founder to the most introverted developer, needs to really understand and believe in the product and strategy, and when asked, doesn’t hesitate to be an advocate for the business.
For example, as a member of an angel investment group, I sometimes conduct due diligence on promising startups looking for funding. A common part of this process is to visit with members of the team to check team dynamics, skill level, and commitment. Unfortunately, I often find team members who are not believers or who have a different view of the customer. The result is no deal.
Thus you need to understand how quickly any individual on your team can be the key to attracting new customers or be the reason that critical partners, vendors, investors, or customers walk away. Fortunately, I’ve found that it isn’t really that difficult to make every member of your team a marketer for your company by focusing on the following priorities every day:
Build a culture of trust, confidence, and pride in the business
This starts with selecting the right partners and hiring people who believe in you and your business. Too many founders, strapped for cash or time, make poor team selections assuming they can fix the problem later. Your team is your business, and you can’t sell without them.
Team members who feel they have a voice and a strategic role are happy and proud to be advocates for your company. You need them not only to close business, but also to keep internal productivity and motivation high, and to use their social media and friends to spread the word. It helps to celebrate small wins, together and often.
Encourage outside engagement and feedback
You set the tone when you schedule and hold regular “all-hands meetings” to provide updates on progress and to recognize team members’ participation in outside events. Be sure everyone has business cards, a current copy of investor presentations, and strategy details.
I find that startups that do this are much more likely to stay ahead of the game by proactive innovation, keeping up with customer trends, and being viewed as a leader in their community. In these days of pervasive communication, this is powerful marketing.
Facilitate participation in industry conferences and networking
Team members need your support in keeping up with peers outside the company and with related industry developments. Their relationships with industry experts and even competitors can be a key marketing boost to your brand and business, or a disaster if not done positively.
Thus, when you participate in trade shows and conferences, staff the booth from development and other departments as well as from marketing. Make sure all team members are considered for events and customer briefings so they know what is going on and have opportunities to develop relationships with real customers.
Provide cross-functional mentoring and coaching
I have found that even the most dedicated developer can benefit from opportunities to speak with your marketing guru and vice versa. Everyone learns from these sessions, and your business will benefit from the synergies. Another approach is putting people on temporary assignments in different areas of the company.
These sessions also facilitate career advancement by providing a better understanding of the skills and experience required to move into marketing or finance. Everybody loves a no-risk approach to testing their ability to advance into new areas of the business.
Recognize and reward “marketing” efforts and results
Team members who see others outside the marketing staff rewarded for their efforts will be motivated to contribute. Opportunities include anyone bringing in a new customer, sharing the load in a social media campaign, or representing the company for a good social cause.
All this doesn’t require a substantial increase in the marketing budget since peer and public recognition are often more important than money. Also, the opportunity to work on social and environmental causes of personal interest generates loyalty.
The most effective teams are the ones who feel a collective responsibility for the success of the business and are willing to reach out and contribute to all elements of the company’s growth. This develops leaders at all levels, and these emergent leaders are not hesitant to take ownership when they see business growth opportunities, thus multiplying your impact and marketing.