It’s no secret: being a “non-technical” team member at a tech company is tough. You may struggle to establish a good rapport with your Head of Product, your projects may be treated with less urgency than the dev team’s, or you may feel like you’re constantly working under a microscope.
As the first marketers hired at two tech companies ourselves, we’ve experienced each of these challenges to varying degrees in our own careers. The good news, though? Things can improve. You do have the power to build trust with your technical coworkers, shed that “non-technical” label, and gain influence in your role as a marketing leader.
After years of building relationships with technical teams, figuring out executives’ priorities, making the case for marketing projects, and negotiating resources & budget, we’ve learned a lot. What follows is the advice we wish we’d had during our early days in tech: a collection of tactics to help you demonstrate your value, prove you’re thinking strategically, and ultimately, get better results at work.
Shift your mindset from “employee” to “essential”
As a marketer, your very first step toward gaining influence is to remember that marketing is integral to the success of any tech company. If you’re the owner of marketing within your organization (director, manager, lead, etc), know that you're much more than just a cog in the wheel. Long gone are the days of marketing being the “arts and crafts” department; your real goal is to generate revenue—and revenue is the lifeblood of the company.
Keep this top of mind, and instead of waiting passively for your CEO to hand you an assignment, get proactive. Start thinking about what marketing can do to make a positive impact on key company metrics like leads generated, prospects qualified, or new customers acquired (more on company metrics in a bit).
Once you start to see your role as essential to the success of the business, your tasks become purposeful (or culled, if you realize your projects aren’t contributing to revenue). This shows other department leaders that you’re thinking about the big picture.
Get (at least a little) technical
To some degree, all digital marketers are technical marketers; after all, you’re marketing primarily online, which means you’re using various tools and software to publish to the web, thinking about things like email deliverability, and even considering SERP algorithms.
For a breakdown of which languages will best serve your needs, check out Codecademy’s post What Language do You Need to Know.
Understanding data is also crucial to gaining influence as a marketer. In a recent Forget The Funnel workshop called “How to Create Content That Won’t Kill You,” Codecademy’s Content Marketing Manager & Strategist Ashley Hockney shared:
“The data-driven get paid. If you can analyze your content’s performance week-over-week, track your metrics, track your growth on Twitter, track which of your inbound channels is generating the most leads, (and—even better—which is generating the most product signups), you’ll have numbers to back up your decisions.”
Earn your CEO’s trust
Your CEO can be your biggest champion - or your biggest blocker. As the person typically responsible for representing your company publicly, the CEO ultimately owns marketing. When your CEO trusts that you’re thinking strategically and acting in the best interest of the business, she’s more likely to champion your ideas, remove roadblocks, and vouch for you when other team members struggle to see the value of your projects.
So, how do you gain your CEO’s trust? How do you establish yourself as an equal with folks at the executive level?
Ultimately, trust comes down to a little truth that we all know as marketers already: people care about themselves and their own struggles more than anything else. So, if you can understand your boss’s struggles, you can run marketing in a way that's relevant to your boss.
How do you learn what your CEO cares about? Ask! At your next one-on-one meeting, try getting (just a bit) personal before or after you’ve shared your regular updates, and ask how they’re doing. Great questions to start with are “what’s going well right now?” and “what are you most worried about these days?” They probably won’t pour their heart out right away, especially if you haven’t already established a pattern of discussing their wins and worries. But gradually, your boss might see it as an opportunity to provide you with context, giving you more visibility into the inner workings of the company—empowering you to plan marketing projects that speak to the things your CEO cares about.
Tie every project to business value
When you tie marketing projects to meaningful metrics and the goals of your business, you prove to the c-suite and the technical team that marketing is a revenue-generating department. For this reason, always connecting your projects to relevant business metrics should be an ongoing habit.
It goes without saying that knowing the metrics that are important for your company is critical. (Need help getting familiar with common tech company metrics? We recommend David Skok’s SaaS Metrics Guide or ChartMogul’s SaaS Metrics Cheatsheet.) Defining your KPIs (key performance indicators) with your boss ties your efforts, and marketing as a whole, directly to its business value. Plus, without knowing which metrics you’re responsible for, how will you measure your performance?
One of the best tools you can use to communicate your goals and demonstrate a project’s value is the ‘marketing brief’: a short description of your project, an estimate of the time and resources required to execute on it, and the results (metrics!) you expect.
Writing a marketing brief to pitch a project can mean the difference between acceptance or rejection, between getting buy-in or getting skeptical side-eyes.
When preparing a brief, you want to accomplish four critical things:
- Explain the purpose and strategy behind the project—why this project? Why now?
- Outline the metrics that will determine success
- Identify the target audience, and the expected outcomes
- Establish clear goals, timelines, and responsible parties
Need a marketing brief template to help you get started? You can make a copy of ours here.
Hold regular one-on-ones with department heads
As a marketing lead, it’s part of your job to keep up with the current needs and projects of other departments—and the best way to do this is by holding regular weekly (or at least bi-weekly) one-on-one meetings with fellow department leaders.
Holding one-on-ones helps you better understand what your product, dev, design, sales, and support teams are working on (or struggling with). Having this context gives you the opportunity to build bridges, and align your projects with theirs. It puts you in a position to support their efforts, or even relieve their struggles. This positions you as a thoughtful ally—someone who’ll advocate for them and their cause (and happily accept the same in return)—and the marketing department as a valuable asset to the company.
Of course, no one appreciates meetings that feel like time-wasters, so to ensure you and your colleagues each get value, keep the purpose of your one-on-ones straightforward and on track:
- Update each other on important things that have happened since you last met
- Review important launches or projects starting in the next two weeks
- Schedule follow-ups with teammates to address issues and remove roadblocks
As John Doherty (CEO, Credo) says:
“At the end of the day, you and your team are directly on the hook for bringing in the traffic and potential customers for your product team, sales team, or whoever is responsible for the close (maybe that’s you). And you can’t do it alone.”
Get familiar with the product roadmap
From minor bug fixes to major new features, understanding what product updates your team has planned is essential context when building your marketing strategy.
Whenever we say this, though, we preface it with “don’t laugh!”—because for some marketers, gaining access to, or even understanding a product roadmap can feel like a huge challenge.
Marketers who do have visibility into their product roadmap still often wind up frustrated, as deadlines and launch dates constantly shift, seemingly without warning (another bonus of regular one-on-ones with your Head of Product: knowing when to expect plot twists!).
However, knowing what’s coming, why and even getting a loose delivery timeline from your CTO will spare you from having to throw together a campaign last-minute—or worse, spending three months developing a big project, then having to scrap it entirely when you find out a drastic product update will render your work irrelevant.
There’s hope (and help!)
Sometimes, it can feel like marketing at a tech company is a never-ending battle to learn more — or of constantly trying to catch up. The reality is that it’s probably a mix of both, but you can gain more influence and make a bigger impact by building trust with your c-suite and technical coworkers. That means tying your work to business value, getting (at least a little) technical yourself, and nurturing ongoing communication with other departments.
If you need help mastering these tactics, we run a free, weekly series of workshops for marketers at tech companies. Our goal is to help you get out of the weeds, think strategically, and be more effective at work.
We’d love to see you at our next workshop. And, when you reserve your spot, we’ll send you all the recordings from our first season (18 workshops total!) right away, no waiting.