Startup marketing career advice – Focus on the 3C’s, not the 4P’s

Kevin Epstein is a senior executive who has worked in Silicon Valley for the last 15+ years driving marketing initiatives at a series of incredibly successful startups like VMware and Proofpoint. Read on for some great startup marketing career advice from Kevin. –John

Kevin, thanks for taking the time to share marketing career advice with our readers. You’ve been a senior marketing leader at a variety of successful startups. What are some habits you practice that help you perform at a high level?

The three C’s are my personal guide — checklists, children, and cheer.

  • Checklists is about keeping track of the company’s needs — if you write down your challenges (on a whiteboard, notebook, something you can see every day) it lets you maintain focus on the important things, balance the tactical against the strategic, and ensure that things get done every day.
  • Children refers to maintaining a balanced perspective (which leads to more measured decision-making); whether it’s family, friends, hobbies, it’s crucial to remember that work is not always the most important thing in your life.
  • Cheer is what you need to project at all times — so find something that brings you cheer and passion at your job, as your team (and customers) will be looking to you for that excitement and energy. After all, no one likes a downer!

I’ve read many of your job posts for startup marketing roles over the years and in those posts you often put a big emphasis on the ‘hands on’ aspects of the job. Can you talk about why this ‘hands on’ aspect of startup marketing is so important and what’s the specific marketing career advice that readers can take away?

I believe Marketing is fundamentally a profession of empathy and education — of understanding your customers’ needs and communication preferences about those needs, and then explaining (in the customers’ terms, via the mechanisms they’d like to learn about your offering) why your offering is uniquely suited to them.

However, to achieve that level of customer understanding in a startup, you need to observe customers personally.  If you lock yourself in an ivory tower and do theoretical research, you’re too far away from your customers. In a startup, you need to be doing primary field research. Go talk to people and test marketing messages yourself.

Kevin is teaching a course at Stanford that will provide a straightforward introduction to the critical aspects of marketing and lead generation. You can attend at Stanford on Thursdays from 7-9 pm, Sep 25 – Oct 23 2014 (or access the course online starting the same week). Info and signups here (for the live course) and here (for the online version).

What’s the best way for a new startup marketing hire to assimilate into their team and into their company? Any tips?

A Silicon Valley urban legend states that John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) was once asked the secret to Cisco’s success, and that his answer was: “We listen to what customers want, and then we build it.”

Successful marketing starts with listening and building — working with sales (your internal customer), fellow marketers, executives, and customers.  Go ask those constituencies lot of questions, write down the answers, and then attempt to repeat them back in the form of marketing materials, presentations, and lead-gen email (and do this quickly).

If you’ve correctly assimilated the message, congrats — you just added value by building materials that were needed; if you didn’t quite get it right, at least you’ve provided something concrete to which people can react (and they see you’re trying to add value).

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