Management, Marketing, Podcast

Ep 101: How do you grow and scale a marketing team? With Kevan Lee

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Ep 101: How do you grow and scale a marketing team? With Kevan Lee

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Problem: How do you grow and scale a marketing team?

According to Buffer, its most difficult decision to date was to lay off 10 people and say goodbye to 11% of its team after it started burning cash instead of having positive cash flow. Marketing teams are at the heart of any company’s growth and scale. When scaling the business, you should always plan how to grow and align your hiring plans with your marketing goals. How do you grow and scale a marketing team? 

“The experiences are so different.  Buffer had a very different investment thesis from a budget perspective. So, a lot of that was how do you scale a team sustainably without necessarily adding headcount and then switching to Polly and Oyster,  we are VC-backed businesses, there are more resources. The constraint there is speed, scale, and how fast can you grow? And so in that sense, headcount is just one of the big ways to solve that. So, it was like very different challenges. So at buffer, you might solve it through SEO, which is a channel that scales a bit more sustainably without having to continue to add more folks. Then at Oyster and Polly, you can think of broader about the channel strategy, then apply hiring. So like apples and oranges. And I imagine people  have those different experiences based on the company that you’re in.

Plan Ahead: Think About Goals, Objectives, and People 

If you’re looking to grow and scale your marketing team quickly, you want to plan ahead. Ideally, at least six to nine months. It’s crucial to dive deep into the systems and create processes. You need to solidify your objectives and goals as early as possible. Plan your platforms and communication plans early to understand what seats are vacant and what seats are filled up. Regardless if you’re focused on growing through platforms, or your growth will be dependent on pure talent and human resources. If it’s the latter, focus on hiring the right people to support these goals and objectives. At the end of the day, scale boils down to finding the right people and giving them the correct seat. In this episode, Kevan identifies key tips on how to properly scale and grow your marketing team. 

I mean, usually forget about onboarding too. I’m just like, ‘Oh, cool. We found someone great. Here are all the things you need to do from day one’. So yeah, think there is a window there. If you can plan a year out, that’s fantastic and amazing. And typically, you might plan a year out knowing what are your revenue, projections, where do you expect the business to be 12 months from now. If you need to be at a different trajectory, like if you’re wanting to fundraise. Or want to attack a market in a certain way.  Then you need to start laying those foundations today to be at that point where you need to be a year from now. And that might be new channel operators. It might be new leaders on the team. So yeah, working back from some sort of goal is typically the way I get most confidence in whom we need to hire next.

Step # 1: Do the interview with an objective mindset 

Unconscious bias isn’t something businesses can immediately get rid of. Implicit bias from the recruiters, managers and interviewers may prevent the company from hiring the best person to fill in critical roles. It’s important to understand the goals of the role, as opposed to the applicant and the prospect’s experience. Alternatively, if you find the employee’s skill set is better suited to another role after hiring them, lateral career moves can be suggested to them.  

I don’t know my biases. I don’t really know why it feels right. And so, I try to base it more on what we believe the role is, what we need. These are some objective characteristics of this role. This person checks these boxes, so to speak. And then yes, come on board. I’m a bit more open to moving people around within the team, who have already been hired and been around for a while. But typically in the hiring process, I try to keep it as objective as possible.

Step #2: Hire for the senior roles first

Especially for those who are transitioning to unsettled and challenged teams, it’s important to hire the senior role first. Their experience will help them put current fires out while learning and navigating the business— the process, its nuances, and settling into the team structure.

Someone gave me the advice once, that if you have to scale fast like you’re in a new role, you need to build a team right away. Bring in a few folks to get the fires put out. Get your head above water a little. But then begin laying those foundations for expanding your hiring pool and putting the hiring process in place as you scale the team long term. So, that’s always been helpful because I’ve always felt like there’s always a trade-off there, in a way, who you’re saying no to.

Step # 3: Systematize the process

Putting a system in the hiring process doesn’t just make the applicants’ experience consistent throughout, it makes it speedier. By creating templates for every part of the hiring process, you wouldn’t have to brainstorm for interview questions every time you hire. Some key tips to create hiring systems:

  • Create a playbook for each step of the process. Standardize questions related to team culture and fit, depending on who is doing the interview, whether it’s the human resource manager, the head of the departments, or the executive team.
  • Set guard rails to protect your team from bad hires. There will be recruits that won’t work out. Agree on what questions and experiences will be the best predictors for hiring unsuccessful applicants.
  • Make your recruitment asynchronous. Most remote and distributed teams often work at different timezone and shifts. Don’t wait for everyone’s schedule to line up and test that person’s capability to survive in an asynchronous setup.

And what this looks like is the goal within that system is that everyone has a consistent hiring experience from stage to stage. We have a discrete set of interview, questions that we ask at the initial team fit interview.

Step # 4: Outsource Hiring from Experts

Growing marketing that manages multiple campaigns has its hands full. In a digitally competitive world, these departments don’t just worry about content and design. They also have to worry about channel strategy, organic, and paid ads. As the requirement and demand to scale grow, sometimes, the need to constantly hire has often taken a back seat.

A stretched time-to-hire stands out as the greatest barrier to a cost-effective recruitment process. In the end, hiring time is slowed down as interviews drag on, and good candidates are snapped up by competitors.

Hiring a new employee can result in trading off important projects that could be essential to the growth of the company. Leaving the job to recruitment teams lets you concentrate on your priorities while the recruiter takes care of the hiring process

When I was at Buffer, I started there in an individual contributor role and then works toward people management and leadership. Eventually, we had this concept of giving away your Legos. This is this idea of, as you scale, you need to learn how to give away things to other folks to play with.  You can’t scale yourself if you’re holding on too tightly to everything. And so, I think growing and marketing leadership, that’s been very true. Like even though I want to do all this stuff, especially I came up through content. So, I love writing blog posts and creating things, I know I’m not good at it anymore, which helps me give it up… And my people aren’t going to feel empowered and capable of doing that work on their own. So, it is tough to let go of that control in the hiring process, too.  But I think it is like a common theme for marketing leaders to have to reach that point at some time.

Thoughts on helping leaders lead teams better through feedback

(00:16:46) “I guess the most effective way I’ve found is to have regular performance reviews within the company, your regular sessions. Give your team a channel to share that feedback anonymously or, however, they’re comfortable sharing it. Whether that’s  360 reviews, set it up. Make sure they have a way to voice it out, that you can hear it.”

Kevan Lee Recommends You Check Out These Resources

Check out the recruitment related resources at Oyster HR

  • Free tools to help human resources leaders navigate cross-border hiring and distributed team management
  • Oyster Academy to help build your skills as a remote worker or learn how to take your distributed team to the next level
  • Oyster Library for helpful articles on recruitment and building remote teams

This interview is part of the How We Solve podcast. To hear more from industry experts who are solving everyday business problems, check us out on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and on our website.

About the guest

Kevan Lee

Kevan is head of the marketing team at Oyster, where he sets the strategy, vision, and direction for how they build the brand, drive awareness, create demand, and position the product. Oyster is a mission-driven B2B SaaS platform for Distributed HR, purpose-built to close the global talent gap. Prior to joining Oyster, Kevan led the marketing teams at Polly and at Buffer. He previously worked at Buffer, where he spearheaded their growth from $5 million to $20 million dollars in annual revenue.

How people can people reach Kevan:

Personal Website: 

Twitter: @kevanlee

LinkedIn: Kevan Lee

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