At RevelOne, we help our clients identify and hire the right Marketing talent to drive growth. A common question among our early-stage clients is: Who should we hire first? While every organization is unique and their marketing needs are different, after placing close to 1,000 Marketing and GTM roles at the fastest growing companies in the country, we’ve noticed some key patterns.
In this article, we focus on direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce organizations. We offer guidelines for initial hires, areas to focus, and additional insights to support you as you navigate early hiring decisions.
First Hire – A Head of Ecommerce
If you’re like most DTC ecommerce companies, you live and die based on your site functioning seamlessly and intuitively so visitors successfully convert into paying customers (ideally with high AOVs).
Your Head of Ecommerce will be focused solely on creating the best possible online shopping experience for customers and motivating them to purchase… and then purchase more. To do this, they will first need to define and activate the foundational elements of your ecommerce strategy. This includes:
- Selecting the sales/ecommerce platform(s) best suited for your business
- Identifying the required tools and technologies to deliver your desired shopping experience
- Defining relevant user workflows and checkout frameworks
Your Head of Ecommerce will use research and customer insights to develop the user experience, content, and storytelling to create an intuitive and compelling shopping experience. They will introduce incentives and motivators for customers to purchase, such as on-site merchandising and promotional strategies. They will continue to iterate and test changes to the user flow and site experience, using data and analytics to identify new and incremental opportunities. The more business-focused ecommerce leader will also bring with them a GM mentality. They will keep company financials and profitability at the core of every decision, and even introduce additional growth opportunities, for example, expanded payment methods.
While this individual will likely support early customer acquisition and focus on ongoing improvement, you will soon need to turn your sights to the next key hire.
Second Hire – Performance Marketing Lead
With your ecommerce foundation established, you now need to accelerate the volume of users coming to your site. Performance marketing is a critical component of driving sustainable growth in any ecommerce company and when done well, can be a source of competitive advantage. While we often see companies at this stage make the mistake of hiring a general marketing leader such as a VP of Marketing, what they really need is an experienced and knowledgeable expert in customer acquisition.
Your second hire, a Performance Marketing lead, will be hyper-focused on driving potential customers to your site through key channels such as Google search (SEM), paid social, re-targeting, and even Influencers and Direct mail. They will be focused on filling the “top of the funnel” so your Head of Ecommerce can convert them into sales.
It’s important to target candidates with a proven track record of selling a similar type of product at a similar growth stage company. The following are a few dimensions to consider when scoping this position and its level:
- Is your product high consideration (e.g., luxury goods) or low consideration (e.g., snacks, books)?
- Are you selling physical or non-physical goods?
- Will you be selling your product through traditional e-commerce or a marketplace?
- Is your product trust-based and/or regulated (e.g., healthcare, fintech)?
- Is your product in a new category?
The answers to these questions will impact the types of customers you are targeting and inform the specific acquisition strategy your company needs. Make sure you are hiring someone who knows your target market
We are often asked by clients whether a Head of Ecommerce and a Performance Marketing Lead can be combined into a single role. While we see many companies do this, the skillsets for each are unique and the roles are distinct. Because these two functions are so central to the success of an ecommerce company, it is critical to hire someone with the depth of expertise needed for each function and the time to focus on it. Therefore, we advise our early-stage clients to regard them as two distinct positions.
Third Hire – A Functional Expert
As direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce companies are ready to expand beyond the above two key hires, we find their next hiring needs diverge. These are the typical next marketing hires, listed in the order we have seen most effective for many DTC ecommerce companies, but consider them based on your highest-priority needs.
- Email Manager – After you start to generate leads and sales, the next highest ROI will be an email manager. This individual will report to the Performance Marketing Lead, and will be responsible for planning and sending all email and SMS campaigns to website visitors. As a result, they will play a vital role in converting customers, launching new products, driving reviews, and increasing customer lifetime value.
- Business Analyst – You will soon need a dedicated resource to “measure everything.” This individual will be responsible for conducting deep-dive analysis surrounding ecommerce KPIs, evaluate marketing campaign results to provide recommendations, and partner with the Director of Ecommerce and Director of Performance Marketing Lead to build reporting dashboards, tools, and analyses. This will be a junior position, but a very important piece of the equation.
- Creative Lead – Once performance marketing reaches a certain scale, you will require a creative resource to produce and/or oversee the production of high-quality on-brand content for your channels. Up until this point, you will most likely work with a contractor or an agency, but as your organization grows, we recommend you bring this in-house, even though your Performance Marketing Lead will likely continue to leverage agencies or freelancers for specific activities.
- Channel Manager(s) – The Performance Marketing Lead will be responsible for building out each channel, but as these channels start to grow you will need to hire dedicated channel managers. These individuals will report to the Performance Marketing Lead and oversee all end-to-end activities for their channel(s). Their key responsibilities will include buying media, launching campaigns, developing channel-specific creative strategies, and managing customer acquisition costs and volumes. The most common first channel managers are for Google SEM and paid social, and sometimes Amazon.
Final Thought: Avoid a Common Mistake
While it is alluring to hire individuals with experience from prestigious large corporations, the nature of a startup is different. At this stage, everyone at the company needs to be a “doer” and know how to excel with limited resources. Whether hiring your Head of Ecommerce, your Performance Marketing Lead, or your more junior functional experts, we see the best results when clients hire individuals who have already demonstrated success at a similar stage startup.
In summary, hiring for a marketing function is not a “one size fits all” type activity. But from our experience, the roles, sequencing and considerations above have proven successful for our clients.
We have published an example of a fully built-out marketing org chart for an ecommerce company in the Resources section of our website, and we have role scoping frameworks there for many of the most common marketing roles. If you need additional support as you define your own approach, RevelOne is here to help.
RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm. We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.