3 Risks To Watch Out For When Scaling Your Marketing Team

Premature scaling is one of the biggest reasons startup businesses fail. If you’re growing fast, how can you keep your marketing team from falling into some of the premature scaling traps? Here are three things to watch for.

4 min read

Risk #1 myopia

premature scaling
It’s pos­si­ble to get too big too fast. Same thing applies to mar­ket­ing teams.

Busi­ness­es (and mar­ket­ing teams) fail for lots of rea­sons.

I was struck recent­ly by the team dynam­ics described by for­mer LinkedIn VP and Google advi­sor Fred Kof­man in his inter­view with Sri­ni Rao on The Unmis­tak­able Cre­ative pod­cast.

Fred talks about inter­view­ing soc­cer play­ers about their objec­tives.

He says goal­keep­ers will tell you that their objec­tive is to pre­vent the oth­er team from scor­ing, specif­i­cal­ly by keep­ing that ball out of the net. The offen­sive play­ers will explain their role as almost the exact oppo­site. They are focused on scor­ing, on get­ting the ball in the goal.

Ini­tial­ly, it seems like these roles on the team are focused on dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed things. Their task, their posi­tion on the field, their skills and strengths are all very dif­fer­ent.

But, that view is short­sight­ed. We have a cliché for it, not see­ing the for­est for the trees. Because the ulti­mate goal of both the offen­sive and defen­sive play­ers is to win the game.

Kof­man’s descrip­tion of soc­cer teams could just as eas­i­ly describe mar­ket­ing teams (or oth­er depart­ments) in a grow­ing com­pa­ny.

Depart­ments some­times view them­selves as sep­a­rate enti­ties instead of as spe­cial­ties on the same team. They see depart­men­tal goals as a com­pe­ti­tion between depart­ments for resources and acco­lades. It’s even com­mon to talk about depart­ments as teams or as made up of teams. But suc­cess is real­ly only achieved by the com­pa­ny as a whole.

This macro-phe­nom­e­non also applies to indi­vid­u­als with­in a depart­ment. Indi­vid­u­als may see their func­tion as a com­pe­ti­tion with oth­ers, rather than a holis­tic vision of win­ning togeth­er.

(There’s prob­a­bly an indi­vid­u­al­ist ver­sus col­lec­tivist root to all of this, but that’s for anoth­er post.)

Risk #2 scaling without accounting for increased marketing team specialization as you scale

Com­pa­nies are like economies. As they grow, they expe­ri­ence an increas­ing spe­cial­iza­tion of labor.

Com­pa­nies are like economies. As they grow, they expe­ri­ence an increas­ing spe­cial­iza­tion of labor… which can kill them. Click To Tweet

Mar­ket­ing teams func­tion the same way as they grow.

It’s not sur­pris­ing. Spe­cial­iza­tion is effi­cient.

For exam­ple, Aaron Ross in his book Pre­dictable Rev­enue (which has become the de fac­to play­book for B2B soft­ware sales) divides the sales func­tion into a min­i­mum of three spe­cial­iza­tions: sales reps, sales devel­op­ment reps, and cus­tomer suc­cess reps. He goes fur­ther and spe­cial­izes SDRs into inbound and out­bound teams. He report­ed that at Salesforce.com this divi­sion of SDRs alone was respon­si­ble for a 30% gain in effi­cien­cy.

In an ear­ly stage start­up, mar­ket­ing might be done by a very small team or even a sin­gle indi­vid­ual. One poor suck­er writ­ing all the copy, doing all the design work, build­ing out a nascent mar­ket­ing tech stack, the works. (I know because I have been that indi­vid­ual.) As soon as human­ly pos­si­ble, we aim to hire spe­cial­ists who can focus and bet­ter exe­cute spe­cif­ic func­tions.

Mar­ket­ing sets a trend where growth is a tran­si­tion between gen­er­al­ist to spe­cial­ist team mem­bers. This is fol­lowed by the com­pa­ny as a whole. The more spe­cial­ized these new employ­ees are, the less com­fort­able they are cross­ing over into oth­er ter­ri­to­ries. I’ve hired many design­ers and writ­ers who specif­i­cal­ly ask me, with fear in their voic­es, if they will be expect­ed to do work out­side their spe­cial­ty.

The key here is to rec­og­nize that spe­cial­iza­tion cre­ates unspo­ken sep­a­ra­tion. As a mar­ket­ing leader, your job is to unite these dis­parate souls under the vision that we win as a team.

If you don’t the nat­ur­al lines of demar­ca­tion can under­mine your cul­ture, erode your effi­cien­cy, thwart employ­ee engage­ment, and ulti­mate­ly leave you with a team that (to drop anoth­er cliché) is not all row­ing in the same direc­tion.

In the absence of clear­ly-defined goals, we become strange­ly loy­al to per­form­ing dai­ly triv­ia until ulti­mate­ly we become enslaved by it.
—Robert A. Hein­lein

Risk #3 failing to constantly reevaluate as you scale

The only con­stant is change. Whether your mar­ket­ing team is still small and you need to inoc­u­late it from com­pet­ing against oth­er depart­ments, or you have mul­ti­ple dis­trib­uted teams that need to be coached to pull togeth­er, you need to con­tin­u­ous­ly reeval­u­ate the sta­tus of your align­ment behind com­pa­ny wins.

Take a Kaizen approach to align­ment across indi­vid­u­als, teams, depart­ments, and the com­pa­ny at large.

If your com­pa­ny’s over­ar­ch­ing goals are unclear, use your influ­ence as a mar­keter to artic­u­late some, test them across depart­ments, and when you have buy-in preach them. Mar­ket­ing has undue influ­ence in com­mu­ni­cat­ing com­pa­ny vision through­out the orga­ni­za­tion.


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P.S. Cours­es by Fred Kof­man around his theme of Con­scious Busi­ness are avail­able on LinkedIn Learn­ing (Lynda.com).


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

Published by Chad Jardine

@chadjardine is the CMO @goreact, an edtech company making game film for the classroom. He teaches graduate finance course @uutah and is the coauthor of Pillars of Inflection: Seven Fundamental Strategies for Explosive Company Growth. He accepts a limited number of consulting engagements each year.