Photo by Edi Libedinsky
- Growth has disrupted marketing by using analytics to better drive revenue.
- Growth is cross-functional, leveraging marketing, product, and design.
- Growth talent is in high demand — so get creative with your sourcing.
- Assess talent with real-time simulations vs. presentations or case studies.
- Retain growth talent by allowing them to test, learn, and develop.
Growth marketers are tasked with disrupting companies. But in the process, they’ve disrupted marketing itself.
Marketing, once a cost-center function dedicated to advertising and PR, is now increasingly responsible for analytics and revenue as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated these changes and, with more consumers transacting online, growth capabilities are increasingly important for marketing talent. In fact, a recent Accenture Study highlighted that 31% of CEOs expect CMOs to determine future paths of growth for the company. AdAge reported that more brands are “ditching the CMO position” altogether, favoring titles like “Chief Growth Officer,” which better captures this wider purview.
A new paradigm requires new skill sets, but what do effective growth candidates look like? How can you effectively find, assess, and retain this talent? With these questions in mind, it was my pleasure to host a discussion with two experts in this field: Geoff Sanders, growth leader and former SVP at Casper and Betterment, and Julie Wrapp, partner at Daversa Partners. Together, we shared insights from our years of experience recruiting and retaining growth talent. Our takeaways are summarized below.
What is Growth?
Before we dive into how to find growth talent, let’s first define what we mean by “growth.” Growth is a cross-functional effort to drive topline revenue — often involving a combination of marketing, product, engineering, and design. As a business function, growth has been around for less than a decade, and most companies tackle it differently. Growth can sit within the marketing function, product, or even as its own cross-functional team. For the purposes of this article, we’ll primarily focus on growth from the marketing perspective. Regardless of where it sits, effective growth efforts tackle the entire customer lifecycle — from acquisition and onboarding to retention — leveraging both creative and analytics to drive results.
Growth vs. Traditional Marketing
While marketing is a cost center, growth generates revenue. Traditional marketing is responsible for driving awareness via advertising and public relations, which indirectly increases revenue over time. Meanwhile. growth marketing encompasses a wider remit, including digital marketing, product conversion, and attribution, which directly increases revenue now. Unsurprisingly, CEOs (and CFOs) increasingly favor marketers employing a growth approach.
Marketing is a cost center; growth is a revenue source.
Effective growth talent can analyze the customer journey, identify the lowest hanging fruit, and work cross-functionally to action change. They probably have a more analytical, data-driven background with a knack for experimentation. In traditional marketing, roles tend to be narrow and deep. By contrast, growth roles are broader, and even T-shaped: a full-stack marketer knows a little bit about a lot, with the ability to execute.
Finding the right talent can catapult your performance, but the wrong hire can cost months — even years — to course-correct. That’s why it’s important to get things right the first time.
Finding (the Right) Growth Talent
To find the right talent, start by looking in the right places. The safest bet is finding someone who’s done it before. But growth talent is in high demand and short supply, so finding and affording someone with ample growth experience might not be an option.
- For manager roles, look for someone with a few years of digital agency experience, ideally in paid search, paid social, or an analyst. You’re looking for someone with hands-on channel experience and/or capable of doing frequent analysis.
- Director, the best strategy can often be to promote a talented senior manager from within your organization. You should also look at industries known for fostering growth talent (such as e-commerce), direct-to-consumer startups, or brands leveraging direct-response (promotional) marketing.
- C-Suite or VP, growth expertise and leadership skills are paramount, so be wary of strong individual contributors with minimal or no team management experience and leaders with only brand marketing experience.
When browsing LinkedIn, search for keywords like “performance orientation,” “data-driven,” “revenue management,” and “results-focused.” When sorting through resumes, look beyond the job title, which can be inflated due to frequent job hopping. Try to find candidates with at least two years’ experience at a company — three or four if possible. A longer tenure means that candidates have had the chance to learn what works, what doesn’t, and to actually implement their learnings and drive impact.
Word of mouth referrals are always a top source for quality candidates but be mindful that recruiting from shared networks can limit your range and perpetuate unconscious bias. Leveraging retained search firms — including Daversa — can diversify your candidate pool and accelerate the search process.
Assessing Growth Talent
The growth field is awash with buzzwords and hand waving, so you must design an interview process that helps you distinguish between the doers and the sayers.
Design an interview process that helps you distinguish between the doers and the sayers.
Case studies and presentations are a useful way of understanding how candidates think, but they don’t tell you whether they’re good at growth. One effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to provide the candidate with a recent growth challenge your team has faced and have them discuss in real-time how they’d tackle that same problem. This simulation is most akin to a real growth environment, where you are required to be agile, leverage previous experience, and make quick decisions with imperfect information.
Another way to gauge impact is to encourage candidates to recount situations where they drove growth using the STAR Method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Ensure that they are optimizing for the right numbers (revenue, not just cost) and assess their creativity during periods of limited resources (propensity to growth-hack and drive ROI).
Apart from assessing growth capability, make sure your candidate is the right fit and get to know them on a personal level. In pre-COVID times, a late-in-the-process coffee or lunch might’ve done the trick. In the age of social distancing, sending an at-home meal kit like Freshly, that you and the candidate can prepare together over Zoom, is just one of the creative ways companies are getting to know people.
Pro Tip: Don’t wait until the offer to start building a relationship and making the candidate feel wanted. The decision to leave their current job is a hard one, and talented candidates have numerous options. Reassure them that if they do leave, they’ll be joining a new family with lots of opportunity to succeed and grow.
Keeping Growth Talent
Finding growth talent is challenging enough, so don’t forget that retaining growth talent is equally as important. Be as attentive to your growth talent as you were when they first agreed to join. Maintain a learning environment where people are encouraged to experiment and feel safe to try and fail. Growth talent — fittingly — embody a growth mindset and love learning new things, so inquire about their interests for personal development and find ways to give them opportunities.
In less than ten years, growth talent has effectively disrupted the traditional marketing function by focusing on revenue and improving the bottom line.
This new paradigm requires new talent and a new approach — one where Madison Ave and Wall Street finally share a common goal: “Growth, for a lack of a better word, is good.”
We empower and invest in visionary financial entrepreneurs. Learn more about Portag3 Ventures at p3vc.com.