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PODCAST 100: Succeeding as the First Marketing Hire w/ Nicole Wojno Smith

First Marketing Hire at a Startup
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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Nicole Wojno Smith, the VP of Marketing at Tackle.io.

Nicole is the VP of Marketing at Tackle.io, a company that helps ISVs sell their software through the cloud marketplaces. Prior to Tackle, Nicole was the CMO at UserIQ, where she built the marketing department from scratch. She has 15 years of experience in building brands, implementing inbound marketing programs, and championing team and revenue growth. She also founded and leads the Atlanta Chapter of Revenue Collective.

If you missed episode 99, check it out here: PODCAST 99: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Flourishing at Work w/ Stephanie Blair

What You’ll Learn

  • What you should do if you’re the first marketer at a company
  • Get your foundation in place or your house will crumble
  • Document everything (it’s fine to use Google Docs)
  • Reach out to your community to make yourself better at your job

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:00]
  2. About Nicole Wojno Smith & Tackle [3:09]
  3. Early days in marketing [7:48]
  4. What the first marketer should do [12:49]
  5. Marketing lessons learned [21:15]
  6. The importance of process [26:03]
  7. The importance of community [32:07]
  8. Sam’s Corner [37:30]

Show Introduction [00:00]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today on the show we’ve got Nicole Wojno Smith, the VP of Marketing at Tackle.io. Tackle can give you access to the AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud platforms and your end customer can purchase your solution through those marketplaces, which can streamline the entire process and help you skip a bunch of steps. Nicole’s the VP of marketing. She’s been the first marketer at her last two companies, so she talks about how you spin up a marketing organization from scratch. Nicole is also the founder of the Atlanta Chapter of Revenue Collective, and she talks about the power of community and why it’s so helpful.

Now before we get there, we want to thank our sponsor. Our sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Nicole Wojno Smith.

About Nicole Wojno Smith & Tackle [3:09]

Sam Jacobs: Let me tell you a little bit about Nicole. She’s the VP of marketing at Tackle.io, a company that helps ISVs sell their software through the cloud marketplaces. Prior to Tackle, Nicole was the CMO at UserIQ, where she built the marketing department from scratch and launched their go to market strategy resulting in significant ARR growth. She has 15 years of experience in building brands, implementing inbound marketing programs, and championing team and revenue growth. She also founded and leads the Atlanta Chapter of Revenue Collective, which is a wonderful thing. Nicole, welcome to the show.

Nicole Wojno Smith: Thanks for having me, Sam. I’m excited to be here.

Sam Jacobs: We’re excited to have you. Tell us a little bit about Tackle and your current role.

Nicole Wojno Smith: Tackle was built because at the end of the day, we realized people don’t really like the software buying process and software sellers don’t love the selling process either with the approval purchase, legal, and red lines. There was a big shift of people moving to cloud marketplaces for these purchases and seeing organizations consolidate a lot of their IT spend to cloud providers because the more they purchase over time through something like AWS for example, the better their discount is and they’ll have less burden on the vendor management side of things.

Tackle is a platform that sits between the software company and the marketplace to provide that single simple end point for SaaS companies to integrate with. And we take care of all the hard work for you, like integrating with APIs, turning your data into something you can understand and integrating with your data systems like Salesforce and get you listed in a really quick and short amount of time. And all of this is based on drinking our own champagne. This is our go-to-market strategy and about 99% of our deals are close to the marketplace.

I was the first marketer that joined the team. Tackle had a lot more revenue and more customers than UserIQ did when I joined, but they just haven’t had a marketing presence yet. And it’s been really fun to build this process so far.

Early days in marketing [7:48]

Sam Jacobs: It’s interesting to hear people and how they got into sales, but getting into marketing is sometimes even harder to figure out how to do. How did you get into marketing? What were your early days like?

Nicole Wojno Smith: I was getting my MBA in marketing and my agency decided they needed someone to do marketing for the agency because we are growing really quickly, and I took on that responsibility. I don’t think I knew what I was doing because in grad school, even though you might be getting an MBA in marketing, I don’t think it really prepares you for anything you’re doing on your day to day job at all. So I think job experience is more valuable than school experience.

That was when marketing automation was making a big splash and everyone was trying to figure out how to best use it. And we started using it internally and thought, what if we can use this tool to help our clients as well with their activities expand beyond PR to do more marketing and demand generation and lead nurturing for them? And so I built out an agency partner program with some marketing automation platforms like Pardot and Marketo to get our clients invested in marketing automation. So that’s when I really got my CFO with the agency to stop hating me because I started bringing in revenue instead of just standing out.

Sam Jacobs: When you first took on that marketing role at that first agency, what did they define marketing to be? What did they think you were doing and did that align with what you actually ended up doing or was it different?

Nicole Wojno Smith: I think they really thought I would just help build a lot of nice collateral for the organization and make sure our blog was up to date. Marketing has collateral updating and enablement for everyone, but it really took on that new side of things when we started implementing marketing automation for ourselves. We saw the demand gen opportunities and we started doing things like webinars and gaining more content and really working events through a system with demand generation and that’s when I think it really flipped up, “Okay, this is really what marketing should be doing in an organization. It’s not just pretty things.”

What the first marketer should do [12:49]

Sam Jacobs: So if I’m an early stage company and we’re hiring a first marketer, what’s the order of operations when you’re the first marketer into an early stage company? How do you set the foundation? What’s the sequence of things that you look to do?

Nicole Wojno Smith: There are four parts to that. When you come into an organization and you’re the first person, you really have to prove yourself and say, “Hey, here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t work and this is what we’re going to do.” But I really like to start and say, “Okay, here I have to prove it works first.” You’ve got to think of those quick wins while you’re building your priorities and marketing strategy and aligning with the rest of the organization to figure out those quick wins and show that you know how to do it.

The next step is really process, particularly as it relates to your area, helping connect marketing and sales or marketing and customer success. Go in and see how that can be streamlined or automated better or where there’s a gap and build those processes out… before you start going to the CEO or something and saying, “Hey, I need to hire all these people.”

The last part I think about is technology. When you change jobs or get a promotion or something, people are like, “Congratulations, let me start pitching you my product now.” And I probably won’t even listen to vendor software pitches for at least six months because I need to get the internal foundational items in place before I start thinking about that.

Sam Jacobs: You mentioned get some quick wins and you mentioned build some process, but are you focused on brand as the first thing? What are the specific first action items that you do to demonstrate both your own capability and expertise and also to deliver some quick wins back to the organization?

Nicole Wojno Smith: That’s probably the leads and where things are coming from and how they connect, so we can figure out what channels are working and what isn’t quickly and then try and put more spend in those areas. Some other quick wins might be things like a messaging tweak. When I go into a startup, messaging might be a little disparate across the organization. So how can you get everyone together and really align on what the message is and then provide deliverables that can then be used whether that’s on the website or a new collateral, but documenting here’s where we are and here’s where we want to go.

RELATED: So You Joined a Startup as the First Sales Hire… Now What?

Marketing lessons learned [21:15]

Sam Jacobs: You’ve been doing this for 15 years, working at small companies that are looking to get big and you’ve talked about how a clear vision and mission and company strategy are so important. Tell us what you mean by that and give us some examples.

Nicole Wojno Smith: My biggest lesson from being at startup says your foundation has to be in place or your house is going to crumble. I’ve seen this in a few areas. Like you said, having that clear vision and mission and company strategy. It’s important that everyone in the company knows the goals, can talk about ARR, net revenue, hiring plans and all of that.

A downfall I’ve seen was being at a company where these were not set in stone, and it was very loose and fluid and would change a lot. The CEO would almost quarterly change goals or change strategy. If I had asked like every single person in the company to give us our elevator pitch, no one would give anything near what I thought the messaging was that we had developed.

Sam Jacobs: How do you adjust that if you are at one of those companies that is feeling exactly like you just described? Is there anything to be done about it?

Nicole Wojno Smith: You can definitely give that feedback to the CEO. It works best when you have a lot of data to support it. So whether you’re going around and say, “Hey, I interviewed these people at the company and this is what they think we do.” And also talking to your customers as well. That’s something that’s such a miss sometimes is that people spend all this money on messaging or branding and events and trade shows, but they haven’t really talked to their customers. It’s just been an internal effort of, “Hey, here’s what we think our messaging is. So we’re going to go say this.” But sitting down and talking to your customers and understanding what first brought you to my organization? What were your challenges? What do you think we do? What are we doing now that you’ve purchased us? And asking questions like that will give you so much data that really helps also make a clear point to your CEO.

The importance of process [26:03]

Sam Jacobs: Something else that you’ve talked about is an emphasis on process. Tell us more about your thoughts about process and why it’s so important to scale.

Nicole Wojno Smith: The best way I’ve found is you can start it small with a Google Doc. At Tackle, they’ve also done a really good job of building a company wiki with all our sales enablement information and training. When I was at UserIQ, we used Lessonly to train people and test and indoctrinate a lot of that stuff, but I think without tools, a Google Doc is just a great place to start.

It’s everything from what’s the expectation of what we’re putting out on social media? We’re not just going to post about the company every single day. We need a post about relevant third-party articles in our space or as we’re developing, an event plan for the year. We go to a lot of trade shows, what is required six weeks before the trade show for marketing? I need to know what kind of swag you want. Is there a new collateral needed? Who are our target accounts that we’re going after at this trade show if we’re going to spend money there? And then after the fact of, okay, now that we have these people and accounts that we’ve met with there, what are we going to do with them? What’s our next step towards engaging them further on down the funnel? But just documenting all of that and building a really clear process to get alignment.

Sam Jacobs: That makes a lot of sense. What are the keys for you working on an executive team?

Nicole Wojno Smith: I’ve learned that you really have to have that cross functional alignment. I would say you can’t exist in a silo, especially when you’re just starting out either. You should have weekly touch bases with your sales team, with your customer success team, and product as well, so that you’re understanding everything that’s going on in the organization and that you guys are all aligned on objectives.

And probably another thing that’s worked really well that I would say from UserIQ that I really liked was that all of the executives were aligned around some of our company initiatives for revenue and PS and churn. So it wasn’t just one department or one person’s head on the line. If we weren’t hitting our ARR, our goals, this is a marketing effort, this is a sales effort, this is a CS effort. Everyone was involved in those and had a little stake in those goals to help achieve those, and it really helps companies all move in the same direction.

RELATED: Sales and Marketing Alignment: 3 T’s for a Clear Path to Success

The importance of community [32:07]

Sam Jacobs: You’re leading the Atlanta Chapter of the Revenue Collective. What led to you being interested in forming that community in Atlanta?

Nicole Wojno Smith: I had been a part of a lot of crappy groups over the years for marketing executives or sales and marketing. You would meet every three months and nothing was really getting done in between the meetings and it didn’t really feel like a sense of community. So when I heard about Revenue Collective from Kyle Lacy, the CMO at Lessonly, I was like, “Wow, this seems like it’s the community I’ve been needing.” I really love that the Slack group is so active. It’s this whole new world of having, not just one mentor or three people I can ask a question to, but more than a thousand people I’m asking questions to. Just really, really smart people who have been there and done that before and have that experience that I can leverage and then that I can share my experience back in other ways too of what I’ve done.

Sam Jacobs: Has gender diversity been an issue for you? Has it not been an issue at all? How do you think about managing your own career and making sure that you’re getting what you need over the course of 10, 20 years?

Nicole Wojno Smith: When I first started at UserIQ and was running the marketing team there, I didn’t feel like I had any resources and I was afraid to ask for help. That’s maybe a difference I see too in a lot of women versus men is that men are just going and saying, “Hey, I need to be a part of this group or I need this to help me do my job better.” And I think women are internalized a little bit of, “Oh, I’m just going to figure it all out on my own and I’ll get this done.”

When you open the door and say, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I need help. How can I build this community around me?” that’s when my career really grew a lot. I got better at my job and as a result, my company was getting better results. I was meeting lots of great new companies in Atlanta too and giving them advice on how to hire their first head of marketing.

Reach out to Nicole Wojno Smith on LinkedIn to talk more about hiring your first marketer or joining the Atlanta community.

Sam’s Corner [37:30]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everyone, this is Sam’s Corner. Really enjoyed that conversation with Nicole Wojno Smith, VP of marketing at Tackle.io. She’s on the ground floor of what is going to be a really special success story. Reiterating her focus on process, the steps are first you got to get in there, deliver some quick wins, and really understand the business.. You’ve got to figure out where do the leads come from, how do they work? You’ve got to make sure that you educate your bosses that marketing is not just brochures and collateral and going to dinners, but really it’s about understanding how you can generate awareness and interest to build pipeline, get people to want to be part of your funnel, and ultimately purchase your product.

So step one as she talks about is getting in there, doing it yourself. Step two is documenting process and cross functional alignment. Then number three is the people, figuring out who you need to hire, and number four is the technology.

Most people think of marketing as distributing the message. But you need a message to distribute before you can distribute the message. It’s an investment in a function. One person cannot do all of the things. I think if you’ve got 10 salespeople and one marketer, you’re not doing it right. Overinvest in marketing. Hire three people in marketing when you only have three people in sales. Be patient and understand that this is a lifelong journey that you’re going on with this marketing function.

What We Learned

  • What you should do if you’re the first marketer at a company
  • Get your foundation in place or your house will crumble
  • Document everything (it’s fine to use Google Docs)
  • Reach out to your community to make yourself better at your job

Don’t miss episode 101 next week

I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsor, Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time!

This is a sponsored guest post from a Sales Hacker partner.

Sam Jacobs is the Founder of Aqueduct Revenue Advisors and the New York Revenue Collective and regarded as one of the top start-up CROs in the tech community.

He has has over 15 years of experience scaling companies from post-revenue to ~$300M, has helped raise over $400M in institutional capital, and has helped companies of all sizes achieve an average annualized revenue growth rate of 48% over the last 15 years.