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How to build a high-performance marketing team

Words by: Chris Goward Last updated: January 20th, 2021 18 min. read

Build a marketing team that gets results

Marketers always want to hear about results: 100% conversion rate lift, doubled revenue year over year, 89% increase in qualified leads, etc.

It makes sense: Results are promising, they’re easy to sell, they encourage you to imagine yourself in that person’s shoes, and to imagine those results at your company.

At WiderFunnel, we obsess about results. That’s why our clients continue to be our clients, because we consistently deliver profitable ‘A-ha!’ moments in the form of insights and revenue lift. In the end, results are what matter, right?

The effort it takes to get great results is less sexy. But it’s what separates the good from the great.

Humans appreciate ease. People love the promise of the silver bullet. We are prone to the cognitive shortcut called Satisficing, which gives us sub-optimal results. It’s difficult for people to push through to the best result.

This is why best practices, tool-centric strategies, ‘expert’ opinions, and 10-steps-to-guaranteed-success blog posts will always be popular.

Satisficing is a cognitive heuristic that encourages a person to stop considering alternatives when they’ve found one that meets the lowest acceptable criteria. It’s why people buy a product when they don’t feel like the additional effort searching for a better alternative is worth the exerting. It can actually be an effective method for optimizing all costs, if it’s done consciously.

The reality is that you reap what you sow: The best results come from a solid foundation. You’ve heard me talk about process and framework thinking as being crucial to getting great marketing results…

…and today, I’m going to talk about another pillar for success: building a high performance marketing team.

The people who you hire are at the core of what you can achieve. If you want to achieve growth, you have to build a high-performance team. I have spent the last 10 years building the WiderFunnel team; they are a group of experts who deliver consistently amazing results for our clients.

Victoria Petriw

If you have no team, you have no business. People often overlook that simple fact. We want to say it’s the ideas, marketing, sales, etc. that are the number one priority. But in order to achieve any results in any of these areas, you need a solid team.

Victoria Petriw, Manager of Operations, WiderFunnel

In this post, I am going to walk through how to build and maintain your high-performance, results-driving, ‘A-ha!’-creating marketing team.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Lay the foundation

You can’t build anything without a solid foundation, so first things first: Who are you as a company? What is your company identity, the glue that holds everything together?

If you can’t answer that question immediately, you may find it very difficult to hire the right people.

Agnes Tseng

You can have a candidate that is extremely skilled, but if they are not on the same page as you, it won’t be a winning relationship for either of you.

– Agnes Tseng, Human Resources, WiderFunnel

Most companies today have created some form of a mission or vision statement, and company values. But I’d argue that most don’t use them to really define what their company does.

Without a shared belief in the types of decisions and behaviors you won’t accept, you’ll accept anything. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

If you have a clear purpose that is written, repeated, and used for decision-making, you’ll be more likely to attract and retain people that resonate together. When people resonate, the added energy from the coherence multiplies their effect.

Strong core values are a proven way of finding people that resonate with each other. At WiderFunnel, five values sit at the core of our company identity. This is who we are.

We created these values as a team to reflect how we work.

marketing team - WiderFunnel values
Our values are at the core of every decision we make.

These values are embedded into everything we do. They are integral to our hiring decisions, reviewed during onboarding, called out in our weekly team shoutouts, and used to decide on client fit.

Often, companies will grow to a certain number of employees, realize that their company culture is waning, and then scramble to define their identity. But, by then it may be too late.

If you don’t intentionally build the culture you want, the culture you don’t want will create itself.

So, start by identifying your purpose and the values you’ll live by. And, build all of your decisions on that foundation.


Build the structure

So, you are happy with your team ‘why’, and have begun the hiring process. How do you maintain a satisfied, productive, and high-performing marketing team?

marketing team - build the structure
It takes a solid foundation, and intentional frameworks to build a high-performance marketing team.

I’ve always recognized the value of framework thinking for conversion optimization. And when developing our human resources process, I’ve sought out the best frameworks for that area of the business too.

The best frameworks simplify difficult decisions, focus attention on the right pieces of data, and align team members on the salient criteria.

How to get the right butts in the right seats

For the first couple years at WiderFunnel, I struggled with our hiring failure rate. It was painful to hire and train promising people only to see them flame out in disappointment.

I knew there had to be a better process for improving our success rate. When I found the Topgrading book back in 2009, it gave me the tools I needed to separate the gold from the quartz in those mountains.

The Topgrading process incorporates very specific questions that are meant to reveal whether someone is an A-player, a B-player, a C-player, etc. The secret is in the exact wording of the questions and steps in the process to reveal insights about the candidate.

There’s also a newer and more approachable (i.e. shorter) book that describes the process, called Who.

We have tweaked the framework slightly to fit our needs, but the premise is to filter out the B-players and C-players, and to only engage with A-players. The process looks a little something like this:

  1. Screening call (Conducted by HR)
  2. In-person in-depth “Topgrading” interview (HR)
  3. In-person culture interview (Team Lead)
  4. Team interview (Team)

Only the most promising candidates make it through to meet with a team leader.

On top of the interview process, we use a lightweight work-style behavior and motivation profiling tool called Predictive Index.

This allows us to create behavior profiles for each position, to identify what behaviors define success in any position. I call it “lightweight” because it only takes a few minutes for a candidate to fill out, but the insights it reveals are stunning.

Once a candidate has passed their Topgrading interview, they fill out a quick Predictive Index quiz, which shows us a their natural behavioral patterns and motivations.

marketing team - employee trust
What is the candidate motivated by? What does she like? How does she work, naturally?

This tells us whether the person will naturally be a great fit for that position. If a candidate doesn’t ‘fit’ the profile, we don’t necessarily remove them from consideration. But, we know which questions to ask to ensure we are creating a position that person will be happy with.

Because WiderFunnel is a data-focused marketing agency (as I hope yours is a data-focused marketing team), we also require most candidates to complete various technical tests.

Yes, it takes effort to hire the right people

If this sounds intense, that’s because it is. But it’s worth it!

There is a lot at stake when you are talking about a person’s job and livelihood (not to mention the well-being of your business), and these upfront processes will help you get the right personalities on your team from the outset.

Not only does hiring the right people save you a lot of money on mis-hires, but a team of A-players wants us to hire more A-players. Someone who can’t match the pace of the team’s thinking and work is frustrating to everyone else. A team of stallions doesn’t invite ponies to their party.

Our team members are proud of the day they pass their 90-day probationary period and receive their full fledged WiderFunnel team jacket. They know they have joined an elite team.

marketing team - WiderFunnel jackets
Thumbs up! It was a good day when James and Agnes got their WiderFunnel jackets.

Keep people at the center

All this talk about A-players, stringent hiring processes, and the cost of mis-hires may sound like people are just cost items. But, that is the opposite of how I see our people. And that wouldn’t be the best way to create any high functioning team.

Your team members don’t leave their personal lives at the door when they enter your workplace. They are whole people and all areas of their lives affect how they show up in their day.

I’m a long-time member of Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and other similar mastermind groups. At EO, I belong to a small forum group of entrepreneurs who meet monthly to discuss the best and worst things that are happening in our businesses and personal lives. I have learned how important it is to have people I trust that can relate to my experiences. In that forum, I have also learned how tightly business and personal life are intertwined.

A few years ago, I brought some of EO’s perspectives into WiderFunnel’s team. It began as part of our Friday afternoon happy hour, where everyone shares their weekly “Awesomes” with the rest of the team.

At 4:00pm every Friday, we stop working, pour a few beers, and every team member shares a professional awesome and a personal awesome from that week. It’s contagious: If you’ve had a rough week, hearing 25 “Awesome’s” is a pretty cool pick-me-up.

Building on my insight from EO, I also encouraged people to share if they have a weekly “Awful” and the result was powerful. The laughter and tears shared within this forum of support encourage our team to be Real with each other.

Victoria Petriw

I am a firm believer that all people want is to be heard, and to be loved. Companies often act like this doesn’t translate into the professional realm, that it only lives in the personal realm. And that is, I think, the number one mistake a lot of companies make.

– Victoria Petriw

It’s important to create structures that help meet your team’s needs.

Individual needs

How often do each of your team members get a check-in with their boss? As you might have guessed by now, I’m going to recommend a structured process for regular check-ins.

marketing team - check in
Real, 1-on-1 conversation can solve emerging issues before they become real problems.

A few years ago, we implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), based on Gino Wickman’s book Traction, which shows a structure for communicating throughout the company. Part of that system defines a regular check-in rhythm.

Some companies take an ad hoc or “as needed” approach to meetings, but I’ve found that team members often feel neglected if they aren’t regularly scheduled.

If you are not checking in with the people on your team, regularly, you should rethink your management strategy. We ensure that each WiderFunnel team member has, at the very least, a monthly check-in with their team lead.

These check-ins are a space for personal and professional review, for project updates, and value-based feedback. Are your team members being heard? Do they feel appreciated and successful?

In tough times, real, 1-on-1 conversation can solve emerging issues before they become real problems.

Team needs

To make sure your team as a whole is jiving, you need to facilitate the right meetings at the right times.

marketing team - alignment
Keeping your team aligned requires intentional meetings.

Within the Traction system, we’ve set up daily huddles, weekly working meetings, quarterly priority-setting meetings, and annual planning meetings within each team. This creates a consistent rhythm and flow of information for the entire company.

This system helps us make sure that the projects each individual is working on come to fruition.

Agnes Tseng

Many of our meetings are recurring, but they all have a specific ‘why’. No one here has time to waste, and each meeting has a purpose, agenda, and priorities.

– Agnes Tseng

I encourage you to look at your meeting schedule and ask yourself whether each meeting is intentional? Does it have a clear purpose? If not, it may be worth your while to test a system like Traction.

A culture of personal ownership

The Dilbert era is over, for big and small companies alike. People want to love where they work. So, how do you make your team attractive to A-players? And how do you retain your A-players?

Do you need more perks? Beer on Fridays? Exotic company retreats? Company bowling night? It can feel overwhelming to keep up with the perks some companies offer. And last week’s perks are today’s entitlement.

Some time ago, we decided to change how WiderFunnel-ers view company culture. In the past, the task of planning fun, culture-stimulating social activities fell to the Operations team.

But it began to feel like team members were sitting back, waiting for Operations to deliver happiness. And if they didn’t like what was happening, morale waned.

Victoria Petriw

It felt like everyone was sitting around the dinner table waiting to be served, expecting ‘culture’ to be provided on a silver platter. But culture is like happiness: You can’t inject it into a company. It has to live in each individual.

– Victoria Petriw

So, we decided to shift the perspective. We encouraged team members to contribute to company culture and activities. Now, we have a WiderFun initiative where we have team-planned monthly fun-tivities, and the change is palpable.

From events like WiderFunnel-themed jeopardy, to WiderFun-lympics, to spontaneous game nights and jam sessions, I have seen the team commit to creating the culture they want to work in. And, they love it even more because they’ve had a part in creating it. (Which, by the way is a great example of the IKEA Effect cognitive bias.)

The IKEA Effect says that people are more likely to love something if they’ve had a part in creating it. I’m no longer surprised when my daughters most-raved-about meals are the ones that they’ve helped cook.

Rather than taking a top-down approach to culture, challenge your team to own it!

What does this mean for your bottom-line?

A happy, smart, engaged team wants to deliver great work. Structures and frameworks like the ones I’ve shared are a starting point. You may find others that work for you, but the principle is the same.

When you have put rigorous thought into building a well-oiled machine, when individuals are in the right jobs, in the right culture, you will see the effects in your bottom-line.

So, now it’s your turn.

What do you do to build and maintain a high-performing marketing team? How does your company create, maintain and enhance culture? Add your comments below.

And, if you know someone you think would be a great fit for our team, please send them our way. WiderFunnel is hiring!

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