Your First Marketing Hire: The Essential Questions (and the Right Answers)

The first marketing hire for a hypergrowth startup is one of the most difficult decisions a founder can make. Your marketing strategy, and the person behind it, can make or break your market entrance and conversion.

Recently, I was advising an entrepreneur in this exact situation. He noticed that he had two main types of applicants for the Marketing Director role: the technical or the creative. The creatives were impressive content creators but didn’t necessarily know how to maximize its online reach. The technical ones weren’t interested in creating content but came with skillsets like ‘Google Adwords’.

In most cases like his, either type of Marketing Director could work, but to balance the strength area, you would need to shore up the other side. For example, if you can’t find a top content creator who is also technical enough to also create a conversion funnel, you need to have those skills in-house elsewhere.

The Essential Interview

To find the best combination of creative and technical, here are the essential questions I use in conversations and interviews to find top early-stage marketing talent:

What are the main ways you get Google to send us quality traffic? 

Can the candidate provide specific examples? What are their tried and true (and, of course, always-changing) strategies?

How much does a great blog contribute to conversion?

Everyone knows a blog is important. But, how does that work technically? Can they advise on blog conversion tactics? Follow-up with ‘How much of an effect does it have?’, ‘How do you know?’ and ‘How would you go about getting topics for our blog?’. Producing content and getting that content in front of your market is a balance, and one cannot be separated from the other.

Will social media play a role in our lead gen? How do you measure conversion from social?

Ask the candidate for their frequency recommendations. This question should garner a lot of details, but details that aren’t only focused on numbers. It’s easy to throw out a number for ‘how many tweets’ or ‘the right Facebook frequency’, but that number is likely an arbitrary or artificial rule that Hootsuite or MeetEdgar publishes. A knowledgeable answer integrates your on-going conversion optimization. Your agility is how you create your early wins and get in front of the competition. Ask for examples of past campaigns. Here, there are no right and wrong answers, the answer should demonstrate the higher-level critical process. You need someone who understands the basics of creating your own strategy rather than someone who regurgitates marketing data.

How do you like to test landing pages?

Do they love testing landing pages and optimizing conversion? They should be able to go on about tweaking the content and strategy. Ask for some examples. Again, it’s not about having the right answer, but about having a critical process. You definitely want to hear A/B testing. If not, it’s a red flag. But if it’s mentioned without real strategic understanding, that’s a red flag, too.

What’s your experience or preferences on CRM?

Do they have experience with CRM? Dig even deeper with the question: “How would you know when we’re at the right stage for that?”

What’s your take on these new AI lead gen services?

AI is everywhere, and savvy marketers stay abreast of the best new technologies. There are so many AI lead gen services, like Conversica, Leadcrunch, and Bizible. What are their thoughts?

Walk me through how you see email campaigns, social media and on-page factors working together to increase conversion.

How do they build these foundations to compliment each other, while still best utilizing the medium? Do they have an example? They should highlight how conversion stats impacted their strategy.

These questions aren’t intended to get the ‘right’ answer, they are to help you see the mindset of the applicant. Are they process-driven? Can they create a new process for you, and do they understand enough tools for tracking to understand how to continue to improve it?

Content is critical. Conversion is even more critical.

What’s even more interesting is, they are mutually reinforcing. You don’t get great conversation without great content.

You can always pour more content through a great process – once you have that process in place. The avoidable bump I see most startups hit is hiring a strong creative, like a great writer or videographer, and producing cool stuff, but they lack a process that gets qualified eyes on that content. These questions will help you find the right marketing talent to balance creative and technical.

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