Imagine starting a marketing department from scratch in a fast-paced, tech-driven environment.

 

How do you align a new team with the established rhythm of a thriving company? This episode unveils the highs and lows of building a marketing framework that not only meets but accelerates business objectives.

 

Welcome to today’s episode, where we explore the intricate dance of establishing and expanding a marketing function within a company. My guest, Dan Malgran, VP of Marketing at Steno, brings a wealth of experience in spearheading marketing initiatives across tech startups and scale-ups.

 

With a unique perspective on demand generation and strategic advising, Dan shares his journey and insights into creating a marketing department that truly drives growth.

 

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

 

Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.

 

Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about marketing marketing and how to get buy-in across the company as you build or grow the marketing function. 

 

Here to speak with Dan Malgran, the VP of marketing of Steno, a leading agency providing tech-enabled court reporting and litigation services. Dan leads the building of a marketing team both from a strategic and tactical perspective. He spends his career building demand generation programs, and teams across multiple industries, but primarily focusing on startups and scale-ups. He also acts as a strategic adviser to multiple tech startups. Dan, welcome to the show.

 

Dan Malgran: Thank you, Steffen. Excited to be here.

 

Steffen: Now before we dive into today’s topic, tell our listeners about how you got started in your career and what led you to Steno?

 

Dan: Sure, absolutely. I was actually at EMT during my undergrad and graduate program. And while doing that for the organization, I started doing some of their social media and that got me into sort of the marketing side. And I had a teacher and advisor that was like, you should look into internet marketing. I think you’d really enjoy it. 

 

And so I started going down that path and started in social and just picked up more and more and more things over the years. In my first career job, I met with a VP of Marketing at Lockheed Martin, where I was working and sort of asked, how do I get to where you are. And she said, touch everything, understand how it all comes together. 

 

And I sort of embodied that in my career, I think. I just grabbed everything, it didn’t matter if it was marketing or not. I just wanted to be able to touch it, to be able to understand it, see how it all comes together. And that has sort of gotten me to where I am today.

 

Steffen: So obviously, today, we want to talk about how to get buy in buy-in the company as you’re building your marketing function or even extending the marketing function. Can you describe the process of building a marketing department from scratch? And what unique challenges present themself within the startup?

 

Dan: Sure, yeah, absolutely. Chaotic, stressful, fun, a lot of fun. Probably all of the above. So I started at Steno coming up on six months ago. And I think when I started the only thing that people thought of when you said the word marketing was Google ads. Oh, that’s just where we spend our money on Google. 

 

And so I came in, sort of fighting that as a it’s just bottom of the funnel lead generation. And I had a plan and direction that I wanted to take it. I knew the first roles I wanted to hire. I wanted to get focused on content marketing and get everything in place. And we’re gonna rock and roll with this. And I think on day two, I changed literally everything I thought I would do when I came in. 

 

And by day three, I had a job rec up for product marketing manager, and a couple of weeks later, a rec up for a field marketing manager. I had assumed, obviously, content lead, I thought my first hire was going to be a content marketing manager or some kind of content person. But sometimes you come in some place, and you’ll immediately spot the gaps that you need to fill before you can build all the rest of that or scale the rest of that. 

 

So I guess for like a little context, Steno, we’re still a startup, but we’re growing incredibly fast. And we are in an industry that is often a very sales lead motion. And so if there is marketing, it’s mostly just providing support to the sales team, or it’s the bottom-of-funnel, lead generation kind of stuff. 

 

There’s no real demand generation, or demand creation. And so even though I came in at the VP level, I was it for marketing. I was the marketing person for my first few months here, which means down and dirty with doing marketing. I’m in Canva, I’m writing ads. I’m helping the AEs with flyers for their sponsorship. I’m building workflows in HubSpot. 

 

And so I think the process can look different for sort of everybody and depending on the situation that you’re coming into. But I think there’s some basics that everybody can sort of look for. And first up, I think is meeting with everyone and asking the stupid questions. I’ve read this somewhere, I’ve seen it, I’ve watched other leaders do it. The stupid questions approach and I am 100% subscribed to it. 

 

I think asking questions that people in the organization that have been there a while would think isn’t that obvious, gets people trying to explain something that they thought everyone was on the same page about. And as soon as they start explaining it, you find that not everyone defined it the same way. Or not every department thinks about that in the same way. 

 

And that gets a lot of answers for you that you may not have been able to find otherwise, because you are listening to one person. And you’re just sort of going by, oh, it’s been done this way. This is how we define it. And then it’s months later that you discover, oh, finance does not define that the same way that sales defines that.

 

Steffen: Interesting that you say that. So what I hear in what you just explained is kind of two things. First of all, you might have the thought about how you want to approach something. You’ve got to be open to throwing it out of the window because from when you were interviewed when people talked about what needs to be done, that might not be exactly what reeds to be done. Right? 

 

As you talk to people and it’s kind of the second element, asking these stupid questions, do that exercise. Because doing that exercise across almost the companies, across the people that probably are in the decision or deciding position, but also just a normal person that does the day-to-day job. 

 

So you get an understanding of is there one voice within a company that talks about the products, who they are, and everything else. And that might lead also to insights that you didn’t expect then based on that you might also have to adjust things.

 

Dan: I think that’s exactly and I think when I was coming in and interviewed by the executive leadership for this role, and they have their own expectation and understanding of what is going on, what the situation is. So they present a certain picture. And I don’t think any of them are trying to mislead or doing, it’s nothing nefarious, but they don’t necessarily have the same picture that you as the coming in as head of marketing are going to have. 

 

And so you have this vision of oh, I’m going to be achieving these different things. But as soon as you get there and you’re asking these questions, you’re talking to these people. It’s suddenly like, oh, that’s a totally different situation. And it’s not that they were wrong. 

 

It’s just the down and dirty part of it is like, oh, well, these workflows don’t work the way we thought they did. And we’re not measuring this the way they thought they were. And as soon as you’re there, you’re like, wow, I’ve got to throw all that out. And I’ve got to try a whole new thing. 

 

And I think on that aspect of like, you know, it’s asking those questions, but it’s also jumping into stuff early. You know, when I got in, within two weeks, I was responding to an RFP, like writing it myself. Sales was like, we can do part of this, I was like, no, I want to write this, I want to do the first draft of this. 

 

Because it makes me ask questions across the department, find out who owns what, who knows what. It makes me write about the company, write about the products, write about the services, and it gets it all ripped apart by people that actually know those answers afterwards. And I think that’s like, incredibly valuable as you’re coming in. 

 

Because you get that attach. You get the knowledge immediately. And that’s going to help you build your position and build your messaging, build all the other pieces that you’re going to need down the road.

 

Steffen: I can see that one of the first problems that comes up. If leadership interviews you and you get the feeling, this is where they want me to take it. I mean, obviously you as a lead, have your own opinion or your own approach. But as you said, you thought about I’m going to set up Google campaigns and get the lead gen machine running. 

 

But actually, we have to do certain things before that before we can move in the direction. How do you manage leadership in that regard? Because they expect A but you need to focus on something completely different to start off with, which kind of potentially creates friction, right? 

 

Because you might not be as quick as getting lead machine going, getting leads in, and growing the business because you have to do the basics first. You have to crawl first before you can walk and run.

 

Dan: Yeah, I think that’s incredibly important. It’s managing expectations up and downward. And I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about how do you manage expectations up. And I’m incredibly lucky here. In my interview process, I was very clear of how I wanted to approach this. And that in this industry, marketing is additive. 

 

We want to be able to build a bunch of stuff because, in the long run, this is going to have an impact. But it might take a while to get there. Building a content engine is not like oh, we just turned it on and tomorrow it’s running and we’re doing all the things. And we immediately have a 200-episode podcast, like others here, but those things just don’t happen. 

 

So I think as early as your interview process, if you’re looking to be ahead of marketing, and you’re trying to get in there, you have to set those expectations early and understand theirs. You have to talk to them and like get a real feel for do they believe in this. 

 

Do they believe in the way I approach this? Or are they looking to just fill a role that’s going to be task-based and do all the things that they expect marketing to do, rather than what you know marketing has to do to get there? And I think oftentimes, you may have to say no to a job because it’s not going to align with the way that you need to work. 

 

And once you’re in there, I think it’s constant and open communication. And this concept of marketing marketing, right? It’s talking about, okay, this is what we’ve accomplished, here’s where we’re trying to get. In my first month or two here I was at our sales kickoff, I did a big presentation of here’s where marketing is today, here’s where I want marketing to be at the end of the year. 

 

And here’s all the things that we’re going to need to get in place to get there. And none of these are going to be tomorrow. Even just like getting a logistics platform in for event management or slag management, it’s a process. You have to ask a lot of questions, you have to demo, you have to get buy-in and approval across different departments. 

 

And that can take months. So it’s setting those expectations. And it’s constantly communicating those expectations. And the wins. I think a lot of people think about big wins. We got this big deal out of this. But that’s not the only thing you can be communicating. I

 

f you are meeting regularly with executive leadership, and you’re saying, okay this week we accomplished this, and this is going to have this impact down the line. It may not happen next month, it may happen in two months, it may happen next quarter. But we’ve accomplished this thing today, that’s going to have an impact down at this point.

 

Steffen: Yeah, you just touched upon why it’s important with this cross-functional collaboration in order to achieve an end goal. It’s quite often, it’s not just one department that needs to kind of work hard. Usually from a marketing and sales perspective, it’s always a good example. 

 

They both need to pull in the same direction in order to create the results for the company. Can you elaborate a little bit more on why is cross-functional collaboration vital in securing buy-in across the company?

 

Dan: I mean, I think it comes to sort of silos. So when you’re thinking about, like, I think a lot of marketers look at marketing as it’s its own thing. And a lot of people don’t necessarily understand what marketing is and does. And so they sort of get themselves in a place where it’s like, product doesn’t necessarily get marketing. 

 

So we’re going to just work in this vacuum and not worry about everybody else. And then when nobody understands how you’re talking about the company or the products, there’s this surprised Pikachu face, of oh, well, why doesn’t anybody understand? Why aren’t they talking about it the way that I want to talk about it? 

 

And so I think it’s when you’re not talking to anyone else, you’re not accomplishing anything. And you’re definitely not giving any other department leaders the ways that you’re trying to, you’re not showing them the ways that you’re making their jobs easier. So what’s their motivation to give you that buy-in on these big projects if you’re not helping them? 

 

Let’s talk about a product launch for example. Launching a product, massive amount of work from a lot of different departments. I bring it up because we’re literally going through it right now. Often those departments don’t know what the others are doing. Product and development probably know what the other is mostly doing. 

 

They understand each other. Development and marketing? Product and sales? I think it gets a little iffy. So marketing has to own a lot of aspects in a product launch. And many of those require help or support from other departments. The product team needs to buy in on the go-to-market plan. 

 

The sales team needs to buy in on the collateral, the training, the way we’re going to talk about it. And even the timeline of when they could talk about it. So they’re not saying stuff ahead of it and ruining a bigger plan. And it can be tough to wrangle all those cats if you haven’t built up the cross-department trust and the cross-department communication. 

 

But if you’ve done that work, if you’ve put in the effort to show how you all impact each other ahead of time, it’s just a million times easier to put together a plan that everybody can sign on to. And I think is critical if you’re going to have any kind of success with a launch with a campaign. Whatever it happens to be, if it requires people across departments, you have to be talking, you have to be showing your impact on them and their impact on you.

 

Steffen: Is there a wider role for marketing, when, for example, when development/product talks to sales to kind of being a mediator, in order to make sure they agree on how sales wants to use information and kind of communicate it out or in conversation with prospects, and then how product or development ideally wants to do it?

 

Dan: I think you’ve defined the product marketing role to some extent. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it. But I very much view my product marketer as that in-the-middle person. I’m like, okay, this is how product and development is thinking about this new feature or this new thing that we’re going to be going to market with. 

 

Here’s how sales, the feedback from sales of talking with the sales reps, here’s what they’re hearing from clients. And obviously, product marketing is also interviewing and doing focus groups or whatever. But they’re able to sort of aggregate and consolidate on all of the different sides, and bring that all together into a plan or a document of here’s the key points for our internal people. Here are the key points for our clients. 

 

Here are the key points for prospects. Here’s a matrix of pain points and the value props of these new features, these new products, and then bringing that all together and getting all of the teams on board. Because now CS needs to be involved in when they’re talking about it. 

 

And executive leadership needs to be involved, because they’re going to be out at panels or webinars or whatever, and they’re going to be talking about it. And product marketing sort of straddles that, and is able to provide all of the interested parties the roadmap of what that looks like.

 

Steffen: Yeah, I would think that certain departments might not be so happy that the lead of who takes a lead on a project, that it’s been taken away from them. How do you deal with pushback from those departments that, I don’t want to say they’ve become second fiddle, but they no longer drive that. 

 

They are part of the conversation and their inputs are really important. But product marketing or marketing now takes on a much more center role to kind of pull everything in that is required to kind of bring it over the line. How do you deal with those pushbacks?

 

Dan: Yeah, I think when you have a company like ours and there hasn’t been much in the way of marketing for years, this comes up a lot. And when we have an awesome product team. I talked with our VP of product on a regular basis. And they have a wide range of experience, including having handled product marketing, prior to this new department that’s coming in and sort of taking it over. 

 

So now that we’re here, there’s a dedicated product marketer, and there’s a lot of instances where we’re sticking our noses in to handle things that product was doing previously. And I think this comes back to that sort of cross-department collaboration, open communication, and a culture of building in the open. I think I’ll probably say it a lot. I have probably said it a lot. But I believe in it. We’re not going to them and saying this is the way we do it now. 

 

We’re coming to them with a plan and showing them how we can take things off of their plate so that they can refocus. It’s not something like oh, well, this is it. Now that product marketing is here, and you don’t get a say in this, this is the new plan and you have to go along with it. It’s much more collaborative. 

 

It’s much more like oh, my product marketer is meeting with the product manager of this and they are talking about, okay, well here’s what product things when we can launch and why it’s important because of the customer interviews they’ve done. The feedback they’ve gotten in product marketing, say, okay, well, we have to do these different things, we can take this part off of your plate and handle it for you. 

 

As long as you can give us the timeline and the timeframe to be able to handle that. I don’t think it’s a one-and-done thing, either. It’s very iterative, right? Especially when you’re building from scratch. We can try this one way. We set up meetings in certain ways, we have an agenda that we want to do. 

 

And then we get into that meeting, we find out, oh, we sort of approached this a little wrong. And we didn’t think about these aspects that product thought about or dev thought about. And so we come back, we come back with a better process, a better agenda, better meetings, whatever it happens to be. 

 

And we’re constantly learning from each other and helping each other get a lot of things across the line. And I think as soon as people understand that, oh man, I no longer have to handle x, y, and z. I can focus on this other thing. Suddenly they’re like, oh, yeah, no, we should definitely get marketing involved. 

 

We should definitely have product marketing handling these different things because I don’t have to write this email anymore. I don’t have to make this copy that we’re going to be sending off to our partners. I could just, I know that’s gonna get done by somebody that does that for their job.

 

Steffen: So it’s basically demonstrating the value of marketing.

 

Dan: Exactly. Yeah. I mean that’s exactly it. Marketing touches so many different aspects of everything in an organization. And I think you really hurt yourself if you silo yourself and sort of do it all in a vacuum, and you’re not talking with these people, and you’re not engaging on a regular basis.

 

Steffen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What role does empathy play in gaining buy-in or fostering collaboration across departments?

 

Dan: I think it’s wildly important. I think a lot of people get caught up in their roles and responsibilities. Especially if you’re a specialist, and you’re focused on one particular set of skills. You know, the things and you know the stuff around that topic. 

 

And often because you know it so well, and you’re dealing with it all the time, and you sit in this, you often forget that everyone else is focused on their stuff and their things. And so you come into a meeting, and you might have an expectation that like, oh, you’re saying these things that they should just get it. 

 

And then why don’t they get it? But they’re not understanding the story of what you’re showing them. And so I regularly tell my team, there were very few people here that have experienced a true marketing department in quite a while, if they ever had, and they don’t know what it is that you do. 

 

And so as we build this department, as we take on more responsibilities and work cross-functionally, we have to approach any pushback or pitfall with the attitude that the other person isn’t coming into this with mal intent, they simply may not have the experience with or understand what it is that you’re trying to do. So you have to tell them the story of marketing, you have to explain why we’re doing the things and how what we’re doing is going to make their jobs easier.

 

Steffen: So early on you said you came in with a certain vision. And then very soon you noticed, you know what, I need a product manager, a product marketing person, and you went out to do that. Now, that’s a cost to the company, right? If you want to hire someone. How did you get that buy-in? Or how do you in general get buy-in from the decision maker, whether it’s the CFO or whoever manages the finance, or the CEO, to say, hey you know what, these are the people I need to bring in because of Y.

 

Dan: I think it’s often about showing examples to them. So I think a lot of the times those that have the authority to say, yes, we could to hire people at  X, Y, and Z are a little bit detached from what are the people, the rank and file, doing and saying, and how are they showing off the company? 

 

And so oftentimes, it’s like, well, let’s do some workshopping. Let’s talk to the AEs and see, let’s look at a couple of demos that they’ve run. Are they all saying the same thing? No. This AE is talking about our product this way, and this AE is talking about our product in a different way. We look at some emails, we look at some call scripts. 

 

And as soon as you start pointing out that like, oh, there isn’t this cohesion across all of it, it starts to become a lot more obvious to I think everybody that it’s now been pointed out. And so if we’re talking product marketing as the first thing, it’s the hey wouldn’t it be better if we had a position on this, if we’re talking about, let’s say, our Steno connects for Zoom application. 

 

If we’re talking about this, wouldn’t it make sense for us all to say the same things? And we all are talking about the same pain points and the same value props. That’s product marketing. That’s who’s going to be building this for you. That’s who’s gonna put together interactive demos. 

 

So that sales reps are all able to show the same thing that we know that prospects care about. And we know that because we talked with the sales reps, and we had that cross-collaboration of understanding what are the big questions that are being asked. It all sort of comes back together. But you can utilize all of that to show the story of what’s happening now and sort of where we can be if we have this new role that owns this and does all these things.

 

Steffen: Interesting. Now, from a more general marketing perspective, what are your thoughts on if you would have come in and you talked about you wanted to build out this lead gen or you said actually, the content engine. Is that your usual approach? 

 

When you start somewhere, would you rather start on kind of the impact that will most likely happen mid and long term because content is nothing as you said yourself something that you write a few articles, you push them out, and immediately you see an increase in site visitors, right? 

 

It takes a while till things are being picked up, till they’re moving up in search engines, etc. Or would you rather focus more on getting an immediate impact in the form of paid media and maybe hiring someone that manages those activities?

 

Dan: I think this is sort of the question of when you come in that is what’s going to define you. I think you could come into a situation where it’s like, okay, we just need to get wins. We need to show stuff on the board today. And we have to get it out, we have to ship stuff. And it doesn’t have to be perfect, we just have to get it out. Perfect is the enemy of done. 

 

If we’re not getting it out, it doesn’t matter, we’re not going to get that opportunity to build later. And I think that’s kind of the situation I came into here. Came in with the idea that content, we’re gonna get that going. I’ve been in this industry before. I understand the audience pretty well. And so I knew content was where we wanted to go. 

 

But as soon as I got here and saw, oh, wait, no, we have to build these foundations, we have to overhaul all of our paid ads and our paid media and search and everything. Because that’s where we’re going to get a couple of wins that we can show off to the executive leadership to the board, and then that helps get that buy-in for later of like, okay, well, they were able to be successful here. 

 

Now we can trust them to do these things that we know will take some time. I came in and overhauled our paid search and a couple other pieces, and we dropped the amount that we were spending by double digits. Double-digit percentages. And we’ve also increased the number of inbound deals by five, four or 5x in the last five months. 

 

That establishes a win very early. And now it’s sort of like you can let that go and do its thing. And I can focus now on this stuff that’s like, we know that long term, focusing only on the bottom of the funnel isn’t going to be it for anybody. There’s only going to be a certain percentage of people that are ready. 

 

So we need to build all of the rest of this stuff that will help us increase that number or be available, be the thing that they’re thinking of when they are ready. And so I think there are absolutely opportunities where you come in, and you just have to find those. You have to get stuff out the door. And that helps build your story and your message for the things that you want to do later.

 

Steffen: Yeah, basically the situation of the company that you’re starting with defines what you should potentially focus on first.

 

Dan: Exactly. And it comes back to asking those stupid questions. What’s working, what’s not, and why are we doing this thing? That I’ll get you those answers pretty quickly.

 

Steffen: If the lead gen engine works, there’s no need to throw anything, or to change anything there. Focus on the things like content, for example. Focus on mid and long-term impact. 

 

Dan: Exactly. 

 

Steffen: You don’t have to focus on the short-term one. Well, Dan, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on how to get buy-in across the company when you are building out the marketing function. Now, Dan, if people want to find out more about you, about Steno, how can they get in touch?

 

Dan: Absolutely. I’m on LinkedIn. Just search Dan Malgran. I think I’m the only one on there. If you want to find out more about Steno, you’ve got deposition needs, it’s just steno.com. S t e n o, and we will be there and ready for you.

 

Steffen: Okay, perfect. As always, we’ll leave that in the show notes. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter, or X these days, at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.

 

Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience-focused and data-driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com.