It’s easier than it’s ever been to get started in business, which, if you’re a budding entrepreneur, is great news. On the other hand, more businesses means more competition. And more competition means we need to work harder and get smarter with our marketing.

In short, we need to level up so we can keep up.

Stick with me, and I’ll talk you through how you can do this, and finish with a strategy for pulling everything together into an actionable plan for taking your marketing team to the next level.

Finding Your Current Level

Before you can formulate a plan for leveling up, you need to know where you’re at right now. This will help you pinpoint your most pressing needs so you can level up in smart, strategic ways.

Audit Your Marketing Team

The first step in assessing your current level entails carrying out a detailed audit of your marketing team – most specifically, what they’re doing well and what they can be doing better.

To do this, you need to answer the following…

  • What do we do well?

If you don’t already know, find out which channels and tactics are generating real results – i.e. establish where your leads and sales are coming from. Where success is defined by another metric (like content created to get links, for example) look at how successful those tactics are (if they’re successful at all).

Once you know this, assess which of those channels and tactics are most profitable (or successful, in general). Set these to one side for now. You can revisit them once you’ve leveled up everywhere else.

For now, focus on those channels and tactics that are getting results, but aren’t your top performers.

  • What do we do poorly?

While you’re figuring out what you do well, look at what you’re doing not so well. Which channels or tactics generate the least revenue or leads (or none at all)? Are you struggling to generate top, bottom or middle-of-funnel leads? Which of your non-revenue-generating activities aren’t generating anything?

Once you know what’s not working, you need to answer a tough question:

What’s worth improving, and what should we drop?

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. If an activity’s not getting results, and is unlikely to get results (something that comes to mind is when a brand is incompatible with the social channels they’re using), be honest with yourself about whether it’s worth continuing to invest in that area.

  • Where is our team skilled?

Establishing what you do well should reveal this. As a general rule, if an activity’s getting results, you can probably say – with confidence – that your team is skilled in that area.

That said, you should also be asking where you might be underperforming.

Say you’re driving 30% of new business from advertising, but you don’t have someone on the team managing that channel. Or your paid search ads are generating leads for a lower CPA than any other channel, but your campaigns are only getting three hours of love a week, from an external agency.

Examples like these expose areas that could benefit from further monetization or expansion. Look at how your team matches the marketing channels you’re currently using to identify areas that could be performing even better if you adjusted staff roles, provided training in certain areas, or brought new team members on board.

But what about those skills your team appears to be lacking altogether?

Bear in mind that responsibility for failing to get results doesn’t automatically lie with your team and their skills. It might be that:

  • You’re not equipping them with the right tools
  • You’re overworking them
  • You’re asking them to meet unrealistic goals (more on those last two below)

This means it’s critical that you assess whether poor performance actually lies with your employees, or if it’s a failure on management’s side to provide those employees with the tools they need. As with underperforming (but successful) channels, identify and note down areas that have the potential to get results with a change in how you allocate resources.

  • Where are our weak points or missing skills?

Once you know where your team is skilled, you should be able to identify which areas you’re lacking in, or are missing altogether.

Make sure to note these down; you’ll need them later.

  • Do we have a defined marketing plan with appropriate goals?

Do you have a marketing plan?

Do you follow it?

Is it genuinely useful?

If you said “yes” to the first question, and “no” to the second and third, you’re not alone.

Just having a marketing plan isn’t enough. Most companies have marketing plans. Far fewer companies have clearly-defined marketing plans with appropriate goals (i.e. goals that are specific and measurable).

If your marketing plan isn’t being used and isn’t actually helping you, revising it will play a key part in leveling up the team that is responsible for executing it – after all, how can you expect your team to do their best if they’re not clear on what they’re working towards, and how they can get there?

  • Are we hitting our goals?

This more or less comes down to “yes” or “no.” In other words, either you’re hitting your goals or you’re not.

Even if you’ve realized the goals you’ve set are a poor fit for what you’re trying to achieve, your answer here is still important. That’s because a failure to meet your goals – whatever they are – indicates that you have an issue (or issues) that needs addressing.

  • If not, why?

Are your goals inappropriate?

Are they unrealistic?

Are you not (as above) supplying your team with the tools needed to achieve them?

(FYI: “tools” could mean anything from the quality of the hardware or software they use, to the support they’re offered by colleagues internally or externally).

Or, are your goals just not in line with your company’s objectives and ambitions? (Employees that have recognized this may choose to work towards their own set of goals that they deem more appropriate – that’s not the worst thing in the world, but it does tend to result in mismatched expectations and friction within the team).

These are all questions you should be asking before placing blame on the people tasked with achieving your goals.

Audit Your Available Resources

The next step in assessing where your marketing team is currently at is to audit your available resources. Are you providing your staff with everything they need to get results? Are you missing key talent? And do you have reasonable expectations of what they can achieve?

Answering these questions will help you figure out where you need to be investing.

  • Are team member workloads reasonable?

Overworked staff underperforms. Numerous studies have found evidence to back this up.

Being overworked, and the stress it causes, is linked to “impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease.”

Do any of those sound like conditions that will improve employee performance?

If you’re asking your team to do too much in too little time, you’re asking for trouble.

  • If we’re missing key talent, what will it cost to fill gaps?

Hiring staff is expensive; really expensive. And it’s not just salaries you have to consider. It’s also things like:

  • Recruitment costs
  • Employment taxes
  • Training expenses
  • Benefits

These are all factors you need to take into account when calculating the cost of bringing a new member of staff on board.

Studies actually indicate that it costs the equivalent of 6 to 9 months’ salary to replace an employee. This means that for an employee making $40,000 a year, you can expect to fork out an additional $20,000 to $30,000 just in recruiting and training costs.

I’m going off topic a little here, but with the points made just above, I want to emphasize the importance of employee retention (or in other words, reducing staff turnover).

If you’re not already, take a close look at your company culture.

  • Are your employees stimulated by their work?
  • Is their workload realistic?
  • Do they get along with their colleagues?
  • Are absences for illness at expected levels (higher than average absences are a strong indicator of problems with management, workload, or culture).

Average sick days in the US in 2017, as reported by Statista  

If your staff isn’t happy, expect subpar performance followed by a costly (to you) move to a new role at another company.

If you can afford to fill gaps with great talent, ensuring they stick around for the long haul is mission critical.

And if you can’t afford to fill talent gaps with a salaried employee?

Consider taking on freelancers. This isn’t always ideal, but in many cases it’s preferable to burdening existing employees by asking them to fill skills gaps.

Extra note: “In many cases it’s preferable.” Chances are at least some of your team will be keen to learn new skills, and will thrive on the opportunity to boost their knowledge and push their careers forward. The important thing is that you don’t force employees into new roles – especially if those roles will leave them stretched and stressed.

  • What time or money can we devote to staff improvement?

What are you currently spending (both in time and cash) on staff improvement, and how much can you realistically increase this amount?

When assessing what you can afford to spend, make sure you’re looking at the bigger picture. Think about how what you spend now will impact your business down the line.

Empowering your marketing team with new skills, or supplying them with the tools they need to improve their existing skills means more leads, more sales, more revenue, and more profit.
It also reduces staff turnover (40% of poorly-trained employees reportedly leave a role within their first year of employment).

Investing in your staff is always worth it.

  • What resources outside of our department can we tap into (as in, time with CS, dev team, etc)?

Marketing does not (or at least, should not) exist in isolation from the rest of your company. What skills, knowledge or data do other departments in your company possess that could benefit your marketing team?

Establish what these things are, and consider how you can include those other departments in the strategies covered just below.

  • Is our current structure serving our needs (as in, is it time to evolve to a growth team model)?

Would your company benefit from shaking up the structure of your marketing team? If things are getting stale, there’s a good chance it would. Consider moving to a more integrated growth-based model that targets the whole sales funnel and emphasizes testing and making data-backed decisions.

Strategies for Leveling Up Your Team

Once you know where the strengths and weaknesses within your current marketing team lie, it’s time to start leveling up.

Free or Cheap

You don’t have to spend big bucks to train your staff effectively.

Here’s how you can level up your marketing team for free (or very nearly free).

  • Sharing internal knowledge (on your team or cross-departmentally)

When leveling up any team, the first thing you should do is decide how you can share internal knowledge across teams and departments.

You might want to try:

    • Process documentation

Establish which team member is most knowledgeable or skilled at a particular application (this could mean anything from how to use a specific tool, to how to write an outreach email) and ask them to create a step-by-step document detailing the process they use.

    • Internal lunch-and-learns

Turn the occasional lunch break into a training session – again, by asking for the help of top-performing team members.

Lunch-and-learn sessions should always be informal, and, as much as possible, fun. While trainers should come prepared with topics to talk about, this shouldn’t be 60 minutes of sitting, listening, and watching slides. A lunch-and-learn should be interactive and off-the-cuff.

Oh, and you should be providing the lunch, too.

    • Internal mentorships

Match up team members according to skill sets. This means employees who are most knowledgeable on a specific subject can work one-on-one with employees who are lacking in that area, and vice versa.

  • Library books

An office library – which could be anything from a single shelf to a furnished “quiet” room – is an invaluable resource for businesses and their staffs.

The library at Shutterstock’s headquarters

Get started by researching and investing in some of the best books on marketing. Next, ask your team to suggest books they’ve found valuable, or have heard about and want to read.

If it helps manage costs, assign a monthly budget that you’ll use to buy books so you can expand your library slowly, over time.

  • Curated blog posts on selected topics

Either dig out quality blog posts to share with your team yourself, or ask everyone to share the best of what they’ve been reading with each other.

If you use an internal communications platform like Slack, create a channel specifically for sharing blog posts. If you don’t, ask your staff to email their suggestions to one member of the team, who will be responsible for sending out a monthly round-up of reading material.

  • Podcasts

Again, share podcasts that you’ve listened to and rate yourself, or ask your team to share favorites of their own.

In both cases, it’s a good idea to allow your team some time out of the working day to get into these sorts of resources.

You might be familiar with Google’s 20% ‘time policy’ in which they “encouraged employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google.” – “An Owner’s Manual” for Google’s Shareholders

While you don’t have to go to these extremes (Google did after all, end up dropping the initiative), the simple act of allowing employees to devote working hours to developing their own skills shows you genuinely give a damn about their personal development.

Extra note: Whether you’re choosing books and other materials yourself, or based on suggestions from your team, make sure you choose resources that are relevant to the current needs of the team (and company), and its ability to meet goals. Avoid supplying your team with resources that contain information that’s “nice to know,” but is otherwise of little value.

Small Investment

There’s a lot you can do to train your marketing team at minimal cost, or none at all, but to really level up, you need to start investing.

Here’s how to level up on a limited budget.

  • Invest in conference recaps

Many of the bigger and better conferences don’t (understandably) release free video footage of the talks, but some of them do make the talks available for a price.

Distilled is a good example.

Their Searchlove conferences cost in excess of $1000 to attend, but videos of the sessions can be viewed online for $40 a month, with a DistilledU membership (which also includes access to an excellent digital marketing training course).

If that’s out of reach right now, you can always find conference write-ups online (which won’t cost you anything but your time).

  • Form internal mastermind groups

Mastermind groups – when you bring a group of smart minds together to share knowledge and ideas – offer a fast-paced and interactive medium for your employees to level up each other’s skills.

They can be formed entirely of people within your company, or you can invite connections from other companies in your area. Either way, the cost to you should primarily be time (although you might want to consider providing snacks and soft drinks).

There are a number of different ways a mastermind group can play out. You could:

  • Choose one very specific topic that all participants will discuss together, or
  • Ask each participant to prepare a 5-minute (or less) talk on a subject of their choice, and then open up the discussion to the entire group.

The above suggestions both work best with minimal participants (ideally no more than 5). If you want to expand your mastermind group beyond this, I suggest trying the “hot seat” approach.

This entails placing a small number (2 – 5) of experts at the front of the group. They’ll be asked to debate a topic for an approximate amount of time (I recommend aiming for 10 to 20 minutes), after which the rest of the group will be invited to join in with their own ideas and questions.

  • Invest in hyper-specific training or education programs

Costs here can vary significantly. For minimal investment, you can ask your top marketers to prepare training programs which they then deliver to more junior members of the team (or colleagues who would benefit from more training in that area).

Alternatively, you can invest in online training programs.

Many of these are available for free (though, remember they take time to complete, and needless to say, time is money).

Google Analytics Academy, Code Academy and Academy for Ads are three that come to mind, though HubSpot’s Sophia Bernazzani has many more suggestions for free courses here.

If you want to boost your team’s knowledge of digital marketing as a whole, and are able to invest a few hundred dollars a month or more, take a look at the training programs offered by ConversionXL.

Major Investment

You can open up a lot of doors if you’re able to invest more heavily in employee training.

Here’s how to level up on a big budget.

  • Team conference travel

Conferences – the good ones, anyway – can cost a lot of money. We’re talking $1000+ – and that’s just for the ticket. However, the best conferences are generally worth it.

Your team will benefit from hearing groundbreaking ideas and insights from some of the best minds in marketing.

But that’s not all they do.

Conferences are about much more than imparting knowledge. They create a sense of community and generate an infectious excitement that attendees will bring back to the office, and all being well, pass on to other members of the team.

  • Coaching/mentorship from industry leaders

The cost of bringing in external marketing coaches varies substantially. You could pay as little as $65 an hour for consultancy from an unknown name, while Neil Patel (reportedly) charges $5000 an hour.

Don’t, however, assume that paying big money for a big name automatically means you’re getting better value. If someone you trust can vouch for that $65 an hour consultant, by all means, book them in.

You can also find experts offering consultancy over the phone on Rates are per minute, which is ideal if you’re working with a specific budget.

  • Bring on new talent

Investing in talent is a huge cost, so it’s not a decision to take lightly.

Begin by filling the gaps using freelance contractors or agencies. Only when you know a channel is actually delivering results and moving the needle should you look at taking someone on full-time.

That said, when you’re ready to level up by bringing on a new, full-time member of the team, always hire the very best you can afford.

This is because top talent typically brings many benefits to their employer.

They bring more than knowledge, skills and experience. They also tend to bring a following that knows their name, listens to what they have to say, and who, by association, will know you now, too. And of course, they can play a key part in helping to train up your current staff.

  • Restructure your marketing department

Restructuring any department tends to be a costly and drawn-out process, but restructuring a marketing department, with its many disciplines, can be particularly complex.

That said, if your marketing department isn’t working as effectively as it could be, restructuring may be the answer.

This is often the case when the department operates largely in silos.

You might have a content creator, a social media marketer, someone in charge of email marketing, and another employee working on SEO. Tons of talent, and yet, they’re not working together.

They’re not utilizing each other’s skills and they’re failing to work towards a common goal.

Image Credit

To fix this, you need to transform how those marketers function, and what they do day-to-day. Match team members according to how their skill sets can help each other perform their roles more effectively, and make sure everyone is working towards the same objectives.

Making a Plan to Level Up Your Marketing Team

By now you should know where the current strengths and weaknesses of your marketing team lie. You should also have some ideas of what you can do to take them to the next level. Now let’s pull this all together into an actionable plan you can use to start the leveling-up process; a plan that considers the unique needs of your team, and the resources you have available.

  1. Look back at the skills you currently have and the skills you’re lacking, alongside what you do well, and what you could be doing better.
  2. Focusing on the skills you’re lacking, prioritize your needs according to the potential gains from attaining or sharpening those skills, and how easily you can level up to where you need to be.
  3. Follow this with those channels and tactics that are getting results, but could be getting better results.
  4. Match your available resources to those skills gaps. Pinpoint specifically who or what is best placed to oversee getting those skills gaps filled.
  5. Decide which of the strategies listed above are best suited to your needs and your budget.
  6. Match those strategies to appropriate skills gaps.
  7. Draw up a strategy in line with your priorities (i.e., focus on sharpening skills that should get you the biggest wins most quickly first).
  8. Assign each activity a specific and measurable goal (or goals).
  9. Monitor whether those goals are being met, and if not, why not.
  10. Adjust your strategy accordingly. This might mean changing or diversifying the training methods you use, or, in some cases, dropping an activity from your marketing strategy.

Bonus tip: Try to involve all team members in the analysis to encourage buy-in to the process. People will be more inclined to level up if they feel personally invested in the outcomes.

Do you have any other tips, ideas or thoughts on leveling up a marketing team? As always, I’d love to hear them – leave a comment with your thoughts just below.

Image: Pixabay

  1. Very useful article Sujan.
    There are so many points you mentioned that i was not thinking about. Thanks for sharing.
    I will try and use these tips to make my team more efficient.

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