Why you should hire a ‘strategic hustler’, and other key marketing advice

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Last month I had the pleasure of listening to an inspiring presentation by Penny Elmslie, Xero’s small business director.

Certainly, down this part of the world, Xero has been a massive success story. So it’s hard to imagine, not that long ago, Xero was a startup itself.

Penny is in charge of the revenue marketing team at Xero Australia, where she started six years ago. Since then, she’s been on my radar, and was kind enough to share an hour of her time so I could pick her brain on Xero’s marketing journey, as well as provide some very straightforward recommendations for founders and growing startups.

What is a revenue marketing team?

Penny is heading up the revenue marketing team, which she explains is “about building, refining and predicting short- and long-term revenue”.

“We build an end-to-end customer journey and are responsible for the revenue of the business.”

The idea of the revenue marketing team was born when a year ago, Penny’s managing director said he wanted her to think about the customer.

“When it comes to customers, we are constantly thinking about how to find, grow, keep and love them.”

Which marketing or revenue role should I hire for first?

According to Penny, it really depends on your own skills. If you have a marketing bend, think about hiring a campaign manager first. As the founder, you would be able to lead the marketing strategy, while the campaign manager would carry out the execution.

However, if you are coming from a more technical background, it would be smart to hire an experienced go-to-market lead first — ideally one with a strong marketing and sales background. Someone who understands and has empathy for the customers, and at the same time, really understands and breaths the commercial requirements of the business. They would also need to be able to build and lead a team as the business grows.

Penny says “this person should first and foremost be a hustler.

“A commercial and strategic hustler, not a car salesman.”*

When Penny started at Xero, the startup was much smaller and it was difficult to hire the right talent.

“I was looking for heavy hitters who can also manage the chaos of a startup. Sometimes I got it right, sometimes I got it wrong. Don’t be afraid to call it quickly and move on,” Penny explains.

“When looking to hire you need to make sure there is alignment between the person’s ambition and your company’s values. Be realistic and don’t over promise what you can’t deliver. They need to have the initiative and be proactive to run with things. As a leader, you need to be able to trust the person and let go.”

She also recommends not building a massive internal team.

“Build a team of external specialists, like PR, and treat them as an extension of your internal team. Don’t feel you have to work with the big and famous agencies, work with the smaller ones. They are cheaper, smarter and more agile. You’ll be a big fish in their pond.”

Should I hire a marketing or sales director?

Ideally, you’ll have both skills in the startup. But if you need to make a choice, Penny recommends hiring the go-to-market lead with a sales background — one who values marketing.

“Without being disrespectful to marketing, it is a lot of common sense, you can figure it out. You’re looking for someone who’s able to close a deal and also appreciate what is needed from a marketing point of view.”

Focus on the right sales channel

Penny’s last two cents are: “Identify your sales channel! By making the channel decision from the get-go, it allows you to make the right investments, focus and create clear value. Be true to your channel, treasure it and make sure you add value to what they do.”

*We apologise to the strategic car sales hustlers out there.

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