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Why Your Startup Needs Marketing People By Brett Fox

I remember when the VP Engineering of the company that I was working at became VP of Sales. The CEO was grooming him to eventually become his successor.

The new VP of Sales and I were visiting Compaq Computer (that tells you how long ago this was), and the VP of Sales asked me, “Why do we need to advertise? Doesn’t our sales team know everything about our customers?”


Ah, the belief that your team has perfect information. It never, ever works this way. And that’s why you need marketing.

At the time, we were running a sales program we called “Type 1”. The idea was that our sales team was tasked with identifying projects at the earliest possible stage of development (Type 1).

If you identified projects when they were early stage, you had a much better chance of influencing the customer to use your products. The Type 1 program worked really well, but it was nowhere near perfect.

I did my best to explain the role of marketing as a lead generating tool for sales. In the example of Compaq, we had to navigate through hundreds of engineers working on hundreds of different platforms and sub-platforms. There was no way we could know everything.

Yet our new VP of Sales, because he had the black and white mentality that comes from being a really good engineering VP, couldn’t get his mind around the idea that sales didn’t know everything. It was a non-compute to him.


The biggest challenge you have coming from an engineering background is the value of really good marketing.


How are customers going to know you exist? I’ve seen this mistake repeated over and over again by engineers turned CEOs with great technology.

I’ll give you another example. I was working with an activist hedge fund on a potential takeover opportunity.

We had dinner with the CEO of the company. We asked the CEO, who was a technologist, how they marketed their products.

His answer was, “I am a big believer in ‘build it and they will come.’”

We could hardly believe our good fortune. There was more upside in the investment because the CEO was clueless.

The hedge fund went ahead with the investment, and their first action was removing the CEO.


Every company needs marketing at some level.


Let’s say you have a customer base of 10 customers with only ten projects that you will either win or lose.

And let’s further say you know the decision makers for these 10 customers. The reality is you are providing the marketing role in this situation.

You’re still going to need to explain who you are, and how you are so much better than the competition. That’s the branding part of marketing.

For more, read: 5 Avoidable Marketing Mistakes That Can Kill Your Startup


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