Growth marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to make an impact in today’s thriving startup environment.

This sphere isn’t about topping up the funnel.

Rather, we’re expected to leverage tech, automation, and robust digital channels to acquire and retain in great measure.

You need to be nimble, bold, and willing to put your neck on the line. Growth marketers fight stagnation, streamlining the buyer journey, and work to maximize rapid scaling.

It’s a tough gig, but who would have it any other way?

Today’s growth marketers have redefined the startup marketing world.

The discipline has evolved from a broad practice to one with depth and nuance. Success requires an obsession with the buyer, an intricate knowledge of customer journeys, and a methodological approach.

As Gilles De Clerck outlined in his piece, growth marketers must know how to experiment.

The role can influence the direction and success of any early-stage business. With access to unparalleled quantities of data and technology, growth marketers have more agility and efficacy than ever before.

However, there are plenty of challenges.

In this article, I will look at some of the most critical.

These are broken down into:

  1. Tactical challenges
  2. Strategic challenges

 

1. Tactical Challenges

Tactical Challenges

Image credit: Unsplash

 

1. Data integration across systems

There is often a lack of technical expertise in terms of integrating data across different tools.

Such is the wealth of SaaS platforms on the market today, there’s a chance that you’ll have multiple systems in play at the same time. These systems must integrate and add value to one another, whilst benefiting your startup’s growth (acquisition and retention).

 

How to overcome this challenge

The successful modern growth marketer recognizes their limitations. Don’t let a lack of technical expertise leave you scrambling. Delegate to a data integration expert, and be clear on the information you require to do your job.

As my colleague Jonathan outlined in his piece about implementing marketing automation, you will always need technical resources when integrating tools.

As a growth marketer, you mustn’t waste time bootstrapping a solution or wrestling with APIs. Instead, focus your time on high-impact activities within your wheelhouse. Keep an eye on the bigger picture.

 

2. Inexperience with tools

Again, with a buoyant SaaS market and a myriad of options for the modern startup, it’s easy to get left behind in terms of expertise. You can’t possibly have an in-depth knowledge of each tool on the market, and this can be a barrier to the modern growth marketer.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Lean on the vendor for as much support as required. Competition is fierce, and they’ll want to retain your interest not only for your current setup but also for when you move on to the next opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to ask for training wherever possible.

 

3. Flawed expectations of tools

Growth marketers must also understand the limitations of the tools that they’re using.

It’s important to rein in your expectations over what a tool can and cannot accomplish. Whilst I’ll always recommend you try to maintain a dialogue with the vendor over future plans and new features, take their feedback with a pinch of salt.

You never know when they might change direction as a business.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Most SaaS marketing tools allow you to undertake a free trial period – use it wisely.

Consider the capabilities of each tool and try to understand its place both now and in the future. Will these tools grow as the startup grows, or will you constantly need to chop and change? 

In short, research thoroughly and try before you buy.

 

4. Uncertainty about technology capabilities

With over 6,000 martech options out there, it can be very difficult to swim through the vast swathes of pros and cons.

If integration is an aim (and it should be), this becomes even more difficult. To know which tools work well together straight out the box is tricky, and to know whether your combination of tactics can be exercised with each tool is impossible.

This level of uncertainty can ultimately cloud your judgment when it comes to selecting the most appropriate tools for the task(s) in hand.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Don’t be afraid to ask for external help and support.

Even if it’s just a limited consultancy to get you started on the right foot, it’ll be money well spent.

 

2. Strategic Challenges

Strategic Challenges

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1. Sourcing Talent

Perhaps the biggest challenge on this list, sourcing specialist talent has been the difference between success and failure since time immemorial.

Whilst the marketing sphere is one largely characterized by a supportive community when it comes to recruitment, it can be positively cut-throat.

Add to this scenario a tight budget and tighter timelines, and you’re looking at a major obstacle to overcome straight off-the-bat.      

 

How to overcome this challenge

A great place to start when sourcing talent is to use your network.

You have no guarantees that this will get you the results you need, but tapping into your existing contacts will initially save you from relying on inbound applications and poring over hundreds of LinkedIn profiles.

You have additional considerations when it comes to recruitment:

  • If you’re dealing with an internal HR department, it’s vital that you’re involved in the recruitment process from the start. Tailor the job descriptions, screen candidates, and sit in on interviews. Insist on the final say for who will be hired in your team.
  • If you’re pre-revenue, you’re unlikely to be in a position to build out a team of specialists. Look for the experienced generalist who can take weight as you scale. For everything else, there are freelance sites such as Upwork, and crowdsourcing sites such as TopCoder.
  • If you’re funded, you might be able to start adding more specialists in-house. Identifying the most important skill gaps is something of an art form. Conduct a skills gap analysis to ensure the team you’re building meets expectations – you don’t want to be carrying any deadweight from the start.

 

Sujan Patel’s article about hiring your growth marketing team makes for excellent reading on this topic.

Here are some extra useful articles for the various stages of startup recruitment:

 

Finally, when it comes to hiring for particular skill sets, the success of that hire can be intrinsically linked to its source.

Traditional recruitment strategies will typically bring you a pile of CVs to sift through, but talent sourcing in the age of social and cloud technologies should allow you to narrow your focus.

By stepping outside of the box and using a platform like RemarkableHire, you will be able to review a candidate’s contribution to the likes of Dribble, GitHub, and StackOverflow, therefore validating their skill set very early on in the recruitment process.

 

2. Due diligence on external providers

If you’re recommending an external provider, you need to be certain they’re reliable.

Whether it’s an agency, a vendor, or an individual, you need to be confident that they’ll deliver on what is agreed and that they’ll still be in the game next month.

With regards to marketing tools, it’s not wise to place all your eggs in one basket, only for the provider to shut up shop soon after.

To that end, growth marketers must run due diligence on all external providers before making an appointment. It’s not always clear how to go about this, and the process differs depending on what you’re evaluating.

The bottom line is that you should never take expensive external providers at face value.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Ritika Puri’s guest article on the Kapost blog features useful points on tech stack due diligence. She advocates assessing the software’s lifespan, evaluating how systems talk to each other (integration capabilities), and allowing for contingencies.

This is sensible stuff, of course.

When we broaden this to SaaS due diligence, there’s a wealth of advice on the web. ASCAMSO has created a model whereby they rate SaaS providers, focusing on “more than just features”.

SaaS Rating Structure

Image credit: ASCAMSO

 

For due diligence on external consultants, it’s about digging into case studies and testimonials, seeking references where appropriate, and understanding the character of the individual as best as possible.

To dig deeper, growth marketers sometimes lean on specialist due diligence agencies.

Always commit to these kinds of relationships with mutually agreed contracts in place.

 

3. Getting buy-in from senior stakeholders

Growth marketing has been somewhat tainted by its nom de guerre: “growth hacking”.

This issue was addressed by Sujan Patel in his article about effective growth marketing. The difference of one word can leave senior stakeholders feeling uneasy with its underhanded and unethical connotations.

Some even dismiss growth marketing as a fad in itself.

This perception represents a major challenge to the growth marketer because it means you’re on the back foot from the start.

There’s a palpable need to justify every decision, to allay fears and suspicions.

 

How to overcome this challenge

You need to demonstrate how you’re going to make an impact – and not just on the bottom line. It’s vitally important to identify and engage with the right stakeholders from the word go. Understand their concerns and expectations, and be prepared to compromise to avoid roadblocks.

Getting buy-in from senior stakeholders is really no different to any other exchange; you need their commitment, and they need to see ROI.

To that end, it’s crucial that you implement strict and accountable reporting, as regularly as required to keep things on track.

And communication is key throughout – savvy people don’t appreciate being left in the dark.

Forecast and communicate results; make it clear that testing is required to identify what works and what doesn’t; and shout loud about the areas in which your role has a significant impact beyond revenue (culture, trust, brand perception).

Your life as a growth marketer is immeasurably easier if you have and retain the support of key individual stakeholders.

By understanding their character, history, skills, and level of knowledge, and countering their objections, you will encounter less push back and have more freedom to test new ideas.

In short, learn to speak their language, get them onside, and get the job done.

Here are two great articles to help you do just that:

 

4. Motivating and engaging the internal and external team(s)

Team Play

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You know what you want to accomplish, but you can’t do it alone.

The team needs to buy into the same vision, and have the same grit and determination to accomplish goals. The strategic oversight and tactical insight of a growth marketer must be supported by a variety of internal executives and external providers.

Leaders must inspire their team.

The level of man-management depends on the nature of that team, but the universal truth is that without a motivated and engaged collective, it’s an uphill battle.

Common problems within startups and established businesses include:

  • Team members working on specific tasks with no understanding of the wider impact
  • Feeling like cogs in a machine rather than valued human members of a team
  • External providers not aware of business goals or importance of meeting certain objectives
  • Perception of being overworked and underpaid with no tangible personal benefit
  • Disruptive internal conflicts and lack of unity between team members

The problem of how to hire the right team is a uniquely complex one to solve. For the purpose of this section, I will assume that you have a relatively unified and capable team. If not, the following articles will provide some guidance for getting that sorted:

 

Now to motivating your team…

 

How to overcome this challenge

As the senior growth marketer, it’s up to you to keep your team focused and motivated.

Much of this is down to trust and belief. If your team don’t trust you, and they don’t believe in your abilities as a leader, you won’t be able to motivate them, no matter how hard you try.

One of the best ways of building trust is to be honest and upfront from the outset. Let people know what is expected of them; show that you’re there as help and support; and provide the opportunity to team members to share expectations of the role and project.

Concise stand-up meetings will help maintain an open transparent dialogue, and publicly offering praise when merited also keeps the team recognised and appreciated.

If things have gone stale towards the business end of a campaign, consider incentives to drive the team onwards.

These could be financial, or something as simple as pizza.

Incentives should only be introduced for realistic targets, otherwise you’ll run the risk of a pressurised and stressful environment; counterproductive to high-quality work.

Finally, motivation can only materialize from understanding what drives each individual.

Speak to every person privately, and discuss personal and professional goals and objectives. You’ll find that one person’s motivations are very different to the next. Use this information to tailor incentives.

HubSpot have an excellent article covering a number of strategies for team motivation. One part in particular leapt out. Once you have a handle on a team member’s goals, ask them the following:  

  • Are you motivated right now?
  • What motivates you long term?
  • What can you do to motivate yourself?
  • How will I know if you are not motivated?
  • What do you want me to do if you don’t appear motivated?

It’s always better to be direct and get the answers you need, rather than second guessing your team’s motivations. In short, think of yourself as the conductor of an orchestra. There are many different instruments – it’s up to you to make sure they harmonize.

 

5. Strategic insight, learning, and executing simultaneously

It’s easy to become distracted by the “doing” and to overlook your strategic high-level oversight.

As an experienced growth marketer, you should be implementing the strategy, but not getting caught up in the tactical delivery too often.

This is also the case for CMOs, heads of marketing, and other strategic roles.

Of course, there will be plenty of execution involved, but if you’re shovelling coal, you won’t spot the iceberg until it’s too late.

 

How to overcome this challenge

In the early stages of any growth marketing endeavour, it’s crucial that you have a handle on the activities taking place that will ultimately yield results. When it comes to speed and quality of execution, the buck stops with you. It can be tempting to roll your sleeves up and get involved to ensure things stay on track.

However, your role is too important to risk offsetting the balance between big picture, strategic thinking, and falling down the rabbit hole of execution. Remember, this goes both ways: If you spend too long thinking, you’re not going to have enough time to take action.

Balance is key.

In this article, Max Bennett discusses the difference between ‘“thinking” and “doing” activities. While the article itself is geared towards product managers, there are takeaways for today’s growth marketer.

For instance, Max defines “thinking” activities as identifying customer problems, developing the right strategy, and competitor and market research, among others. Doing activities, on the other hand, should include writing briefs, running meetings, and giving presentations.

I think this is a really important distinction when considering the difference between thinking and doing; your thinking activities should inform your doing activities, which in turn should inform your team’s activities.

There’s little point spending valuable time working on one solitary aspect of your overall strategy (i.e. running a PPC campaign) when you could be delegating tasks and retaining control over the direction and success of the strategy.

This is where sourcing the right people for your team (strategic challenge #1) will be crucial. Recruiting people you can trust, and who are skilled in their respective disciplines, will ensure that you can spend less time micromanaging, and more time with your hand on the tiller, guiding your growth marketing campaign to success.   

 

6. Exceptional creatives and ambitious targets

Creative

Image credit: Unsplash

 

Average won’t cut it anymore. The internet is saturated.

We live in a world of huge competition in earned and paid media alike, and so growth marketers have a responsibility to deliver the finest quality in every scenario.

Growth marketing is a multi-faceted role, but you can’t be an expert designer, a business analyst, and copywriter all at once.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Build a network of trusted freelancers in specialist areas. Develop long-term relationships, partner up, and use these specialists to support your internal team where required.

Your company hasn’t hired you to fiddle with the intricate features of photoshop, or battle with Adobe Illustrator. This would be inefficiency at its worst, preventing you from focusing on important goals. I addressed some useful ways to manage a remote team of freelancers in this HubSpot article.

Of course, it’s valuable to build skills in different areas, but not to the detriment of a startup growth plan. Using experienced and trustworthy contractors might seem like a cost, but it’s far more effective and the quality will be higher. This will help you reach ambitious targets, and use your time most wisely.

 

Growth marketers must maintain perspective

Above all, the growth marketer must maintain perspective, context, and strategic oversight. It’s a challenge to keep a bird’s eye customer view in the midst of a competitive landscape, but this is essential best practice for any serious professional who wants to make an impact.

For growth marketers, the pressure is always on. The clock is always ticking. Budgets are always limited. Targets are always ambitious. Competition and constraints make this a challenging job role, but thoroughly rewarding as a result.

If you’re at a fast-growth startup, the product will likely be in its infancy. The first port of call for founders, of course, is to establish product-market fit. This provides you with a path to success, but it will be rocky.

Product infancy brings its own challenges because you’re dealing with constant iterations, volatility, and sensitive CS / product development teams. This requires an agile approach.

As a jack-of-all, you’ll have a broad awareness of what you need from your martech stack.

You’ll have high creative standards for copy and design.

You’ll know what needs to be done in terms of campaign execution, and how it contributes to your growth plan. This is beneficial, but a key challenge for the modern growth marketer is to not get sucked into executing.

Build a great team, and oversee the growth of your startup from a strategic standpoint.