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Diary of a first-time CMO - Growing a team

Hey B2B marketers 👋

Here it is. Four years, $50m+ ARR and 200 pages later… My journey as a first-time CMO.

Covering the key learnings I've gathered in four years of leadership. This diary reveals the lessons that helped me scale Cognism from $3m to $50m ARR, build a team from 3 to 39, and transform our set-up from a classic lead gen function to a demand gen engine.

It’s my handbook for B2B marketers looking to thrive in leadership.(especially if you’re as daunted as I was when I started out!)

Diary of a first-time CMO by Alice De Courcy
By: Alice de Courcy
1 minute read

Growing a team

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When I mentioned I was going to be writing this diary, one of the questions I was asked was:

‘Will you talk about how you grew your team from 3 to more than 39+ people?’

And at first, I didn’t really understand why people would find that interesting, but they explained:

‘I wouldn’t know the first thing about when to add which resources at which stages.

  • How do you decide which roles you need?
  • How do you decide which departments to build out first?
  • And how did you justify your decisions to the exec team?’

I feel for me, growing the team felt like a very natural evolution. There were signs and signals along the way that told me when and whom to add to the team. 

When I joined Cognism, it was a small group. We had someone working full-time on content marketing, a full-time designer, and a videographer (which yes, was a bit of a luxury at the time. She was initially working on a 3-month project, but she was so brilliant we had to keep her).

From an outsider's perspective, you might think this was a bit of an unusual setup. If you came in fresh and were building out a team, they may not be the first roles you’d hire.

But each of those team members was driven and dedicated. All we needed to do was to build out more resources around them.

The first person I knew I needed to add to this group was another all-rounder. Someone who could help me with:

  • The paid activity.
  • Look at things from a campaign perspective.
  • Understood Pardot.
  • How to measure, track and report on any marketing activity.
  • Other light operational activity.

Because at that time, I was spanning a wider range of processes than I am now. I had to be pretty hands-on initially, so I needed another body who could help me cover each of these bases.

So I hired a Campaign Marketing Manager, who filled in that gap for me.

If I were to have joined Cognism and had to build out the team from scratch and had the same number of hires, I’d hire:

A wordsmith or content role

The value of having a dedicated content person is immense. The impact you can make by producing value-led content and building out a strong SEO strategy is huge. I would definitely, 100% have a wordsmith.

An operations/mathematical-minded brain

I have quite an operational, mathematical type brain, so between myself and the Campaign Marketing Manager I hired, we managed a lot of the role of Marketing Ops.

We only hired dedicated RevOps/Marketing Ops roles towards the end of last year because, until then, we were able to cover these processes ourselves.

If you don’t have that type of brain yourself - it’s good to have a person who can think this way on board.

A creative, hands-on, all-round marketer who is action biased

Ideally you’d have a marketer who can wear a lot of hats. Someone who understands email, can set up a webinar workflow, can edit landing page copy, is comfortable running paid ads on LinkedIn and more. Multi-disciplined and super hands-on.

Another really important aspect of any person you hire is that they have energy.

Any B2B marketing team is going to run more smoothly when you have people who are eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work. But especially in the early days of a business.

And what proves that each of our initial marketing team members was the right fit for Cognism? Each of them is still here three years later.

Not only that, but they each have a team of people now working under them. They’ve scaled as the business did.

Our Videographer is now a Video Manager and has a new hire helping her with the vast number of videos being produced.

Our wordsmith is now a Senior Content Manager and has a whole team of content writers - from SEO experts to journalistic writers.

And our designer is now a Graphic Design Manager. He has his own team of designers working on all the creative briefs coming from the wider marketing team.

Plus of course my first hire, our Campaign Marketing Manager is now our Global Head of Demand Generation who is leading our demand generation function.

I think this just goes to show that we built things the right way to scale when we needed to.

Another reason I know we built the team the right way was because we were able to achieve the objective I was hired for within 4 months.

I was asked to create a marketing function that brought in 50% of the revenue target - and granted, our targets were much lower back then. But we did it. In 4 months! A proud moment for me and the powerhouse team. Such an amazing milestone.

This was also a crucial moment for building out the rest of the team moving forwards, because it was when the exec team really bought into my process and put their trust in my decision-making. This made justifying my hiring choices much easier.

But where should you go from there?

It all comes down to what’s working and where the positive signals are coming from. It should be obvious from your numbers where your opportunities are - equally, it’s likely pretty obvious when you’re maxed out at capacity.

For example, on the content side of things - we were using our single wordsmith along with various freelancers for quite a while, and that worked for us because we had a great workflow.

But when it came to content for paid, or campaigns, we were being slowed down by the fact that we didn’t have enough people to work on them.

So it was very clear to me that this was an area we needed to add to. There was so much potential, we just needed more hands on deck.

If there was one area I wish I’d added to sooner, it would be product marketing.

There’s so much value from someone who is living and breathing:

  • The product.
  • Your positioning and messaging.
  • Your value proposition.
  • Delivering amazing assets across the bottom of the funnel.
  • As well as having eyes on the website, optimising copy.

All these things can have a massive impact, and we didn’t have this for a long time.

Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula for building a team. You will need to make decisions based on your gut feeling, but you can use the signals around you to lead the way.

Scaling marketing teams is more complicated than sales teams. With sales teams, if you double the number of people, you can likely double the revenue. But with marketing teams, it’s not so linear.

At one stage, I was asked to double our budget, and double our revenue target. We still had a team of 4 people.

I had to come up with a method for deciding how we would scale this spend.

I realised that without allocating some of this budget to new heads in marketing, rather than spending it all on paid, we would end up being inefficient and unable to scale further.

So I put in a proposal for new hires, positioning it to the other execs as the way to manage that spend correctly.

But no matter what your journey through scaling is, I think as long as you are getting down and dirty, being hands-on and involved in all the processes - you’ll see the gaps. You’ll know where to build first.

In summary:

  • Make sure you have the core skills you need.
  • Use the data to inform where your biggest opportunities are.
  • When you reach capacity and can no longer make the best of those opportunities, fill the gaps with new hires. Look for people with energy and biased to action.
  • Continue to review over time as your strategy, goals and skills evolve.

Want to keep up with Alice's latest CMO advice?

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