“Being data-driven is the only way to be a marketeer these days,” says Alex Poulos, Chief Revenue Officer at MadKudu and former CMO at DocSend and Chartio.
When building and scaling data-driven marketing teams, culture plays a huge role. A team can only be data-driven if the right culture is in place.
While culture is often discussed in ambiguous terms, there are concrete ways to use it to develop a data-minded marketing team, a key responsibility of modern CMOs.
I talked to four marketing leaders to get their real advice on hiring, building the right culture from the top, and evaluating new roles for themselves.
The first step to data-driven success: company mindset.
It is nearly impossible to build a data-driven team without the right culture in place across the organization as a whole.
“Will the leaders value an experimental, data-driven approach to marketing?” Ashley McClelland, Head of Marketing at Coder, shared. When looking for new roles she digs deep to understand how the company uses data today to make informed decisions. For example, how are they measuring sales efficacy? She also looks to make sure organizations have a healthy balance of qualitative and quantitative data. Is the organization talking to users to collect valuable qualitative data? Not all insights come from the numbers. Talking with customers and users is critical to understand trends the data may not show.
When interviewing for roles, Alex asks about the dashboards the company is currently using, and more importantly, if people trust those dashboards. Teams are likely not driving towards the same goals without trust and frequent use. François Dufour, Marketing Partner and CMO in Residence at Decibel, asks leaders of companies he is evaluating what benchmarks they are using and how they allocate budget today.
Kyle Flaherty, SVP of Global Marketing at Cybereason, advises understanding how you as a marketing leader will be measured. He asks questions like, “What would you expect me to present? How would you like me to present it?” He also looks to the team’s current marketing to assess their data culture. For example, are they creating reports and content backed by data?
Tactically, Kyle also checks the website script to see what tools and tech are in the stack (this is recommended for marketers of all levels evaluating new roles!). François similarly asks questions to learn more about the data stack when evaluating new positions. While specific tools aren’t the only factor in determining how data-minded an organization is, it indicates the organization's emphasis on having the right tech in place to track and act on the necessary data points.
As Kyle put it, “the fish rots from the head.”
It is the responsibility of marketing leaders to create and foster a data-oriented culture.
Ashley shared, “if you have a way to run your team that makes sense, your team will adapt to that.” She said that it’s less about each individual having a data-driven mindset but more about the team leader creating processes and routines that drive data-driven outputs.
Kyle shared how he leads with a data-driven mindset at Cybereason. Every Monday, there is a marketing team meeting focused on pipeline and other key metrics like MQLs and opportunities. This meeting kicks the week off with everyone thinking about how the data relates to their business area. It also enables team members to understand how they contribute to the bigger picture. Alex also starts every team meeting with numbers and uses OKRs regularly. Bringing data to the forefront of team meetings sets a measurement mindset and builds a data-driven culture.
Alex further discussed the importance of setting the data-minded culture as a leader. Putting the right processes in place, making decisions as a team, and making it visible that you value decisions based on data are all critical ways to make or break a data-driven team. “Anyone should be able to come to you with a data-driven argument,” shared Alex. As a leader, he believes you should lead with humility and democratize data, ensuring everyone has the resources and training needed to get insights. “Make sure you invest in the right processes and tech stack,” Alex shared.
Another key piece to the puzzle (and what probably comes to mind first for many) is hiring the right people to build a data-oriented team.
A trend among my conversations was asking the right interview questions as a marketing leader when screening candidates for your team.
To determine aptitude for being data-driven, Alex focuses on curiosity and inclination to learn, asking candidates to “explain a problem that was hard to solve, how you solved it, who you worked with, and what was the impact.” “I like people who take on new challenges. They are not afraid to change industries or roles.” Alex shared that making changes and trying new things indicates that the candidate wants to learn and grow.
He also asks candidates how they measure success to understand how they use data to solve problems. “It’s more about the metrics (and what the right metrics are) than how you get to the metrics,” Alex shares. The tool isn’t as important as understanding how to use the data.
Alex’s insights serve as a reminder that being data-driven isn’t just knowing specific tools and technical processes but being willing and excited to learn how to use the data to drive your business forward. “A data-driven marketer aspires to and is able to use data to make decisions more often than not,” Alex shared. As the modern data stack continues to grow, hiring based on adaptability and mindset rather than tool domain expertise will be crucial.
Kyle had a similar sentiment. He shared that he asks candidates how they would track success in their role during the interview process. If they respond with an understanding of how data can drive their business forward, they’re on the right track. “Being data-driven isn’t necessarily the ability to create pivot tables. It’s understanding how marketing is driven by data,” Kyle said.
François believes data-driven marketers are “driven by the right insights.” To measure their ability to find and utilize insights, he asks candidates to explain conversion rates through the funnel, how to set up a plan and budget, how to allocate their budget, and why.
When hiring data-driven marketers, ask the right questions and evaluate candidates’ mindset and aptitude towards using data, even if that means they may not know all the tools yet.
Being data-driven is a mindset and cultural shift that needs to happen in an organization. Having the right tools and tech expertise is only a small piece of the puzzle if teams cannot ask the right questions, communicate insights, and make decisions based on data.
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