Early-stage startups often don’t feel the need for a formal marketing team to drive sales — and growth. But as they scale, businesses need to take a more formal approach to filling their sales and marketing funnel.
In our latest Sifted Talks, we asked the experts how scaleups should grow their sales and marketing function.
Our panel included:
- Sarah Kiefer, chief marketing officer (CMO) of Pitch, a collaboration and presentation platform
- Samir El-Alami, CEO of Doctorly, a management platform for health practitioners
- Jasper Martens, CMO of pension consolidation platform PensionBee
- Adrienne Little, partner at And Rising, a creative agency for scaling businesses
Here’s what we learned.
1/ Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals
For Little, the four Ps of marketing — product, price, promotion and place — are fundamental to the success of any growth plan.
She said that scaleups often become too focused on their communications, possibly to the detriment of the customer. But by zoning in on these core tenets and taking an active approach, startups should be able to deliver cost-effective campaigns that meet their clients’ needs.
Marketing is how the brand lives in the real world — it's not just the paid ads that you're running. The job of a marketer is to meet the customer's needs profitably” — Adrienne Little, And Rising
2/ Data-driven decisions are crucial
The panel discussed how marketing strategies change depending on the profiles of customers. B2B is defined by lead generation — sales people want the top of the funnel to be populated by potential clients that fit their target persona — while B2C is more about driving traffic to a website before conversion, said El-Alami.
Martens added that DTC (direct to consumer) is similar to B2B, in that you have a solution that fits a certain customer. For these businesses, he recommended testing your product to make sure it meets the target persona on a variety of channels.
Underpinning these campaigns is the effective use of data. Before experimenting with ad creatives, the marketing team should be able to demonstrate they can deliver leads or impressions that drive revenue.
When you're ready to scale and investors are putting significant sums of money into your organisation, which is going into the marketing budget, you need to be able to show data-driven decisions, as well as tests and scalability” — Amir El-Alami, Doctorly
3/ Measure brand awareness created by different channels
As a business grows and budgets increase, there's increased scope to try new channels for attracting customers. Some offline media such as radio, TV and trade shows can be difficult for marketers to track. How do brands find out if they’re driving revenue?
Martens suggested logging any changes that are made to strategy and creative so that data can be cross-referenced with the go-live dates of the campaigns.
As customers become more aware of the brand, you should be able to easily track more volume coming through key online channels such as social media and the company website, which in turn would lead to a lower cost-per-acquisition.
However, Martens warned that these returns didn’t happen overnight. Pitch tracks cost per “quality” impression as an indicator of the brand becoming more known among their target audience, said Kiefer.
The more we invest in a brand, it has that halo effect: So you will see an effect not just on volume on your performance channels, but you actually see a lower cost to acquire those customers” — Jasper Martens, PensionBee
4/ AI is a valuable supporting tool, but can’t produce standout creatives
Inevitably, the conversation pivoted to how AI-powered automation tools could help teams in their marketing efforts.
At PensionBee, the team uses Jasper.ai to test different creatives for pay-per-click campaigns. Little said that And Rising uses generative AI to help upskill creative staff. Pitch uses Hemingway.ai to create supporting text on imagery and generate metadata for search engine optimisation.
The panel agreed that AI’s utility lay in productivity rather than brand creation. As a visual platform, Pitch needs to focus on editing creatives, and AI has limited value for design, said Keifer.
AI is based on a machine who's learned similar creatives, similar messages. So if you want [your creative] to stand out, that's probably not going to work… It would all be a bit bland” — Martens
5/ Brand building increases valuations
The panel agreed that creating a strong brand can have a significant effect on a startup’s valuation. Martens said that it could “open the door” to fundraisers, and that as you progress through rounds, it's common for interested parties to have been exposed to your product as a customer.
Keifer said that B2B marketers should invest as strongly in their brands as consumer-led businesses. Little gave the example of Slack and Notion, as "B2B2C" brands, who have centred their messaging and campaigns around the realities of employees as end users to create a base with their target clients. Ultimately, brand messaging can be the difference between breaking through and failing in crowded markets.
Keeping yourself front of mind will have a huge impact on valuation when it comes to raising funds” — Little
6/ Build the basics — before chasing flashy campaigns
El-Alami warned CMOs that if they have to go cap in hand asking for more funds, they should probably give up on the operation. Marketing leaders have to be able to “talk spreadsheets”, forecasting how the business can perform based on current spend, and where it could reach with more funds, said Martens.
Keifer explained that there was no hard-and-fast rule on how you should spend your budget. She instead used the analogy of an engine and fuel — the engine being the fundamental aspects of effective marketing such as establishing market position, proper reporting and building key channels, and spending on the fuel meaning expensive creative campaigns without the fundamentals, which is essentially useless on its own.
They need to build the fundamentals: they need to perfect positioning or find the channel model — and if instead they're spending on fuel, that's pushing them in the wrong direction…That's the most common mistake — throwing fuel on a fire that's just not working” — Sarah Kiefer, Pitch
Like this and want more? Watch the full Sifted Talks here: