When you’re building a marketing team — or inheriting an existing one — it’s common and convenient to look at the roles you have and the organizational structure to determine if you have the right stuff to succeed. Do I have my marketing operations person? And my product marketer? And where is my director who knows how to player-coach their team? This kind of thinking is safe — it will provide you with a team that performs at an average level.
But in my time growing startups from nothing to multibillion-dollar companies, I’ve found the standard approach to organization-building is not as successful as considering the traits of your team members and how they meet the fundamental needs of the organization. Considering the personality traits of your team members, separate from their roles, gives you the ability to build a truly exceptional team with members who don’t just do their jobs. Instead, they work together to create a powerful, compelling engine that can drive your company to faster, more sustainable growth.
Your company runs on fuel, grease and fire.
There are three traits you should consider as you reassess your team and look to hire others. Much like a finely tuned and well-running engine, your marketing team needs fuel, grease and fire. Let’s talk about each one and how it impacts your organization.
This is a continuous supply of energy needed to keep a marketing team functioning. It’s the constant flow of leads through events, webinars and the website; it’s the weekly or daily meetings with sales, partners and prospects that will lead to business. It’s the constant flow of blogs, tweets, competitor briefs and whatever else your organization needs to sell its products.
In short, this is the work that requires endurance, consistency and the ability to survive the ups and downs of daily life in your company. It’s often hard to keep this momentum going consistently, especially if you’re in a startup environment where things can be hectic and poorly planned. Having people with a get-it-done attitude that doesn’t waver from week to week or month to month is essential.
Even if your team gets the work done, how smooth is it? Is it friction-free? Is it well communicated and aligned with what your company needs? This is the grease of your team, and it’s an underappreciated skill set.
Grease comes in two flavors: systems and relationships. Systems are the tools — and the discipline to use those tools — to make sure work is transparent, prioritized, measured and on time. The people who build the systems and align the team on using them provide an essential form of leverage to accomplish projects faster, more easily and with on-target results.
Similarly, the people who build relationships with the sales team, the product team, the finance team, etc., provide another form of grease that ensures great feedback on messaging and materials, better alignment on goals and even more flexibility when things don’t work out as planned (such as a budget overrun).
This is, arguably, the hardest characteristic to find. These people are the sparks that get the engine going. They are your idea generators, the ones who can find a totally new angle on a topic. They can turn an issue on its head and look at it through a completely different lens.
This fire provides light to the marketing team for a new approach to a problem, whether it’s a messaging problem, a competitive issue or a process problem. Your fire-starters may not always have good ideas, but that’s OK — they keep coming up with the ideas and pushing the team in new directions.
Your fire-starters typically have some close associations that give them insight. Maybe they spend significant amounts of time with customers or know the product intimately. Perhaps they manage your development community or work closely with your ecosystem partners.
Great ideas can come from anywhere, but it’s important they come from somewhere. And it’s unlikely that your fire will come from someone who is at their desk all day, processing request forms.
Does each team member have a single trait?
One thing that is important to remember is that each of your team members is a multifaceted individual. They are not robots; they are implicitly complex human beings. And that’s great news. Instead of thinking of someone as “your fire” or “your fuel,” recognize that most people will have all three characteristics to some degree.
You can think of these three traits as the corners of a triangle, and each person occupies a point somewhere inside the triangle. The trick is to then figure out where, in aggregate, your team is weak, and either look to upskill or hire to create a well-balanced team.
When you can balance the fuel, grease and fire on your team, you will likely find that your marketing team is inherently self-sustaining. They are innovating, creating, distributing and improving all the time. As the leader, your job becomes more focused on pointing the machine in the right direction and then letting your team do what they do best.