Growth initiatives have been one of the main factors driving adoption of marketing automation (MA), and scalability is one of the most important considerations for buyers and users evaluating MA products.

I recently attended the 2016 Marketing Nation Summit, Marketo's user conference, in Las Vegas, on behalf of my company (TrustRadius). In attendance were 6,000+ marketers who are using Marketo's marketing automation software to send campaigns, track leads, and report on engagement at scale.

As part of our coverage of the conference, I talked with B2B marketing leaders who have experience with rapid company growth. Some of them have successfully helped scale multiple companies; others are now working on major growth initiatives. All of them shared lessons and advice on the following:

  • The role of marketing in driving growth
  • What it means to think like a growth marketer
  • New challenges that arise with scale, and how to approach them

Although the specific growth tactics these practitioners have used or are using are different, during our discussions five key takeaways emerged that can help you get into a growth-marketing mindset.

1. Marketing plays a major role in growth initiatives

Practitioners described Marketing as the core of a company's growth engine, for several different kinds of growth. Marketing is involved across the customer lifecycle—from attracting net new business to creating sales enablement content, to finding and working with customer advocates. In addition to shaping customer perceptions of the brand, Marketing also plays a role in shaping company culture and communicating about the brand to job candidates.

Thus, Marketing is responsible for helping to drive scale on multiple fronts.

"Marketing can potentially be involved in all growth initiatives. There are three things that grow a company: brand awareness, customer acquisition/revenue growth, and people growth. All of those things are brand touch points, places where the company interacts with outside world, and Marketing is the core steward of the brand. Marketing drives awareness through content marketing and advertising, drives customer acquisition through product marketing and lead gen programs, and should also be a really important element in the recruiting picture. For some areas of that growth system Marketing is the direct owner, but I think Marketing can contribute to every stage and help every function in a support role. It's the loudest megaphone of how the brand works on different digital channels, both internally within a company and externally to the public." Chris Bolman, director of integrated marketing (growth) at Percolate

2. Marketing processes and organizational structure need to change as the company scales

Practitioners said efficiency in a small organization does not look the same as efficiency in an organization that is magnitudes larger. In particular, they identified lead handoffs between Marketing and Sales, sales enablement/training, KPI (key performance indicator) accountability, and management chains as things that should evolve to facilitate growth.

"The first thing I'm focused on, which will probably sound familiar for growth-oriented companies, is making sure that we've got the Sales and Marketing alignment process licked. As we scale out our demand gen efforts, and we're bringing in more and more and more leads, we have to diagnose and make sure the process that we had in place when we were sending over a hundred leads per month still works when we're sending over three thousand leads per month. (Invariably, it doesn't.) So we are cleaning up our process, in terms of data cleansing and data analysis especially, as well as the feedback loop from Sales on which programs are turning into deals, which lists are performing well, and managing that. Once we get all of those things in place, we can really start to drive true scale in our Marketing and Sales efficiency programs." Aaron Dun, SVP of marketing at SnapApp

"As we grew, how the team was structured, and the relationship between Marketing, Customer Support, and Sales, changed. This evolved into the latest iteration of the Marketing organization, which is currently split across three different teams. My team was called Growth Marketing, and we rolled up to a VP of Growth and Analytics. Everything that counts towards customer acquisition costs, and all of the quantifiable marketing initiatives, ran through my team. Then we had a VP of Communications, who oversees content marketing, PR, and design—they're a little more brand-focused. Then Product Marketing, including customer education and sales enablement, actually rolls up to the VP of Product. I would describe the current state of the organization as an overlaid matrix structure. It is intended to allow everyone to stay focused on their own KPIs, and take ownership of those numbers, while working together through assist channels and tactics to get what we (and our customers) ultimately needed." Jeremy Bromwell, VP of marketing at TripActions; previously, senior director of marketing at Zenefits

"Recent changes to the product and customer lifecycle organization have added complexity to our marketing/sales process. We've had to put a lot more focus on sales-enablement activities. Especially in sales development, people come and go, and as we grow, the need for training that's more easily replicable has become more and more important. How do I enable the sales team overall to quickly understand the more complex model that we're going to market with? It's changed our approach." Michael Berger, senior director of product marketing at Marketo

3. Marketers should talk to customers and prospects to keep messaging relevant as the company grows

Practitioners found this a difficult but vital element of laying the foundation for scale. They said your value prop and marketing materials should align with the business value your customers are actually getting from your product, and with the business problems that prospects face day to day. Marketing should speak the language of existing customers as well as targets, which means messaging will change as the customer base changes and expands. Practitioners said that while the adjustment was a bit uncomfortable, it has ultimately led to better traction, higher customer satisfaction, and increased profits. Some recommended aligning your message all the way down to the vocabulary level, using the same language your customers/prospects use to talk about their use case.

"When you're in a new category or a new market, you need to make sure that your message is resonating. I've been doing a lot of work with our customers who have been very successful with the product, but also with our prospects, to make sure that we are telling our story in such a way that will really resonate with the marketers we're trying to reach. We need to align with their own business initiatives; as they think about their key priorities, we're thinking about how to help them achieve those key priorities. That work never ends, but it's particularly important as we grow into new markets. Talking to people in the community is critical." —Aaron Dun, SVP of marketing at SnapApp

"Our primary goal in Marketing at Zenefits was growth across the entire prospect and customer lifecycle. As much as our customers have changed, we had to be flexible and agile as a marketing team to get them interested and support them the right way to make sure they have the best experience possible. The Zenefits platform is evolving as our customer base evolves, which means that Marketing has to evolve along with it. When I joined the team very early on, all of our customers were a lot like us—small California-based tech companies, and a couple in New York. They were very tech-forward, with a tech-savvy workforce. As we grew over time, some of the challenges were that as we got into the nonprofit space, or started marketing to professional services organizations, they have different needs. These differences helped shape our product road map, but even more so how we were marketing to prospects, onboarding customers and managing that relationship." —Jeremy Bromwell, VP of marketing at TripActions; formerly, senior director of marketing at Zenefits

"The importance of customer validation is a huge learning from recent projects like our new website launch and the redesign of our pricing/packaging model. You can sit in your office and think about how customers might think about things—the name of the solution is a perfect example—but how can you ensure that customers are going to self-identify with what you choose? You really need to step out of yourself and make sure that the language you use is validated. For us, going through that process has created some very different outcomes than we would have otherwise gotten to. I think in a lot of cases, marketers tend to not seek out as much input as they should." —Michael Berger, senior director product marketing at Marketo

4. Growth marketers take a strategic rather than incremental approach

Practitioners said that in order to drive "true scale" (continual, exponential growth), they needed to think bigger and get creative. While Sales is responsible for short-term revenue growth, growth marketing is focused on long-term change. Based on their experiences, doing more of the same programs with the same KPIs was not the most profitable approach. They recommend using analytics to measure Marketing's impact on company-wide goals and justify budget to try new programs, technologies, and messages.

"The first step is really just to get some degree of product market fit, and make sure you're creating something there's a clear need for. You need enough data to test whether people want to buy this thing. Then I think Marketing really turns into growth engine, and needs to start thinking about how to get economies of scale on that market fit." —Chris Bolman, director of integrated marketing (growth) at Percolate

"Very often marketers get a little myopic and just think about the next quarter, but Marketing really needs to be thinking 1, 2, 3 years out, because Sales is only thinking about next quarter. Marketers tend to think incrementally—for example, if I'm getting 500 leads today, I need to get 700 the month after that, and by end of year get up to 1,000. But that approach is very expensive and doesn't really move the needle if you're a high-growth company that's trying to grow 30% YOY. We've got to be thinking about how we're going to build pipeline at 10x the scale we are today. If we're not thinking about that now, we're going to have a problem. What I try to do is challenge the base assumptions and look for new ways to drive growth. The only way to do that is to test a whole bunch of things, and then bias towards things that you can double, triple, or quadruple down on." —Aaron Dun, SVP of marketing at SnapApp

"I think technology has changed the role of Marketing—or, rather, allowed it to change. One of the key things is being able to measure marketing with technology. This changed Marketing from a cost center to a profit center, and the fact that you can show what you're bringing to the table allows you to do marketing in a different way. If you zoom out far enough, it can make you a strategic partner for growth. For me, at Quintiq, I had unlimited budget to try, fail, and innovate. That's how I managed to grow that company. I was employee 600, and two years later we hired about 1,000 more employees." Diederik Martens, Marketing Ops at Trend Micro; formerly, head of worldwide marketing ops at Quintiq

5. To drive the long-term growth in the right direction, Marketing needs to recognize when prospects aren't a good fit

Practitioners warned that it can be tempting to expand your audience to anyone and everyone, especially when you're trying to achieve quick wins and short-term growth goals. However, marketing and selling indiscriminately may move your message, your use cases, and eventually your product farther away from the company's core mission. Though it seems counterintuitive, figuring out whom not to market to is a key responsibility for Marketing during periods of growth.

"As we scale, we actually have had some wavering in what we consider to be our own ICP (initial career profile). We used to do a lot of selling into Sales, to the VP of Sales. But we looked at our historical data and saw that our close rate and average revenue were lower and our deal cycle was longer when we went into Sales. It turns out Marketing has a more voracious appetite for what we do, which was surprising. We used to be very SDR/research-focused in our messaging, and it turns out that's not the primary use case." Sahil Mansuri, VP of product marketing at SalesPredict

"A big piece is learning who's not a good fit and where we should say no. But when you're in a growth mindset, it's sometimes hard to pump the brakes and say, 'OK, wait, this is taking us fundamentally away from who we are and who we want to be, because we get caught up in hitting our goals and growing 20-30% every month and there's a little bit of inherent conflict there." —Jeremy Bromwell, VP of marketing at TripActions; formerly, senior director of marketing at Zenefits

* * *

Practitioners said that although these five tips may be "obvious," "silly" to point out, or already in practice, they are extremely important and can get taken for granted all too easily, especially in a growth culture.

They've found reflecting on these areas helpful, because in some cases the day-to-day priorities and necessities of scaling their operation had distracted them/their teams from best-practices.

In any growing company, the rules of the game are constantly shifting, so checking in on your own progress and what you've learned so far, even at a basic level, can help you re-center your goals and identify solutions to your long-term challenges.

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image of Emily Sue Tomac

Emily Sue Tomac is a research analyst at TrustRadius, a review site for business technology, serving buyers as well as vendors.

LinkedIn: Emily Sue Tomac

Twitter: @EmilySueTomac