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The first marketing hire for a hypergrowth startup is one of the most difficult decisions a founder makes.  Recently, I was advising an entrepreneur in this situation. He noticed he had two main types of applicants: technical and creative for the Marketing Director role. The creatives were impressive content creators. The technical ones weren’t interested in creating content but came with skillsets like “Google Adwords.” Either one could work, but you’d need to shore up the other side if you can’t find a top content creator who is also technical enough to also create a conversion funnel.

Here are some of the questions I use to find top early stage marketing talent:

What are the main ways you get Google to send us quality traffic? (example..?)

How much does a great blog contribute to conversion? How does that work, technically? How much of an effect does it have? How do you know?

How would you go about getting topics for our blog?

How do you like to test landing pages? (Expect a lot of detail here–it’s not so much that there are right and wrong answers but that they must have a critical process. Ask for an example. You definitely want to hear A/B testing. )

Will social media play a role in our leadgen? How do you measure conversion from social? What kind of frequency do you recommend? (Expect a lot of detail here–it’s not so much that there are right and wrong answers but that they must have a critical process. Ask for an example. They should avoid throwing out a number. If they are testing their processes, then “how many tweets” or Facebook postings should depend on your ongoing conversion optimization, not on an arbitrary number or artificial rule from the mean. You need someone who understand the basics of creating your own strategy rather than someone who regurgitates the generic strategy from a company like Hootsuite or MeetEdgar. Your agility is how you create your early wins and get in front of the competition. )

What’s your experience or preferences on CRM? How would you know when we’re at the right stage for that?

What’s your take on these new AI lead gen services? There are so many, like Conversica, Leadcrunch, Bizible…

Walk me through how you see email campaigns, social and on page factors working together to increase conversion . . . .  Example?

Does PR matter for us right now? Ask the if they see PR as creating lift, and if so, precisely how. If they answer well, then ask if they have PR in their relationship set. If they have worked as a journalist, bonus points. They should be able to share with you how they research a media list, how they reach out to journalists, and what makes a pitch something that a journalist would publish. If their approach to PR is “sending a release” or paying for coverage, they do not know PR. PR is still an extremely relationship-based business. You can test this by asking, as a reference check, to speak with a journalist they’ve had the opportunity work with a few times that would also be a good fit for you.

As you can see, these questions help you see the mindset of the applicant. Are they process driven? Can they create a new process for you, and do they understand enough tools for tracking to understand how to continue to improve it?

Content is critical. Conversion is even more critical.

What’s even more interesting is, they are mutually reinforcing. You don’t get great conversion without great content.

You can always pour more content through a great process–once you have that process.

The biggest mistake I see most startups making at this stage is hiring a strong creative (writer/blogger, web site developer or videographer) and producing cool stuff, without having a process in place that gets qualified eyes on it. One of my favorite fixes is to hire a scrappy agency to work alongside your marketing leader to shore up their weakness.