Whether you are a startup or established company, building your marketing team is the most critical factor in determining success or failure.
Knowing how to build a high-performance team isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t have to be a gamble.
Dennis Behrman is a Vice President of Marketing and Growth with extensive experience creating marketing teams for a variety of different businesses and objectives. He has established a system that is able to consistently find and hire the right people, and in this episode, he explains exactly how it works and how you can use it in your business. Our conversation covers the entire team construction process, including:
- The three things you must consider before you start to hire
- The key attributes successful team candidates must exhibit
- How to conduct high-performance interviews for the best candidates
- And much, much more
Whether you are looking to begin to build your marketing team or need to revamp your team’s structure, this interview is for you.
Mentioned in this episode:
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. The topic for today’s episode is building a high performance marketing team. Here to speak with me is Dennis Behrman, who is the VP marketing and growth at Point Predictive, an AI technology company with deep expertise in building machine learning scoring models that have been widely deployed by banks and lenders. Dennis is the veteran b2b software marketing expert was held marketing and product management leadership roles at cutting edge software, data and analytics companies such as ResMan Property Management Solutions, Active Network, Equifax, Experian, and ID Analytics. Dennis, welcome to the show.
Dennis Behrman: Steffen, it’s a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Steffen: Now, Dennis, before we start talking about how to build a high performance marketing team, let’s find out more about you. Tell the listeners about how you get started in your career and how you ended up in marketing.
Dennis: Sure thing. Yeah, in university, I always knew I wanted to be involved in technology. So I went to Boston University School of Management and had the pleasure of taking courses, really great courses, from some great professors, including AI classes and some data science classes. When I graduated from university, my first job was on Wall Street during the whole y2k initiative. So I cut my teeth and some great technology products and projects there.
And then transitioned into a career as a product manager. So I was the guy for startups who was helping build the solutions, the the enterprise and b2b solutions, that at this point in my career I’ve come come back around to marketing as well. So it’s been a great trip, I, you know, I basically became a product manager and enjoyed the communications and the value proposition aspects of the role. And that kind of led me into a career in marketing.
Steffen: Has that experience helped you from from a general marketing perspective?
Dennis: Completely helped. You know, when you’re a product manager, you spend a lot of your time trying to understand customers, and their business problems and their business needs. And then you start thinking about how to best position your products as the ones they want to choose to solve those business problems. So it’s a very natural transition, I think, to go from a product manager to a marketing executive.
Steffen: Now did you in in marketing or focused on general marketing? When did you start paying more attention to how to set up the team that works for you in order to deliver the results that leadership is looking for you to bring in?
Dennis: That’s a great question. I think as I earlier in my marketing career, as I was building teams, I probably didn’t give it the thought that it deserves, and the diligence that it deserved, and honestly, that led to a couple of failures as a leader in my first couple marketing roles. So I knew at some point that I needed a method or a system that could help me find and pick the right people for what I’m trying to do with my marketing team.
Steffen: Can you share some of those low points, those air quotes failures that you had, and that you can basically say, hey, you know, what, if I wouldn’t have done this, or if I moved in different direction, I could have avoided ABC.
Dennis: Sure, I’ll give you two examples. I think the first example was early in my career. My first direct report actually, was close in age to me, and I was still fairly young in my career. And I guess I had assumed that this person wouldn’t appreciate me going from a peer to a supervisor. And I managed this person that way. And that probably wasn’t the best thing. I think while there is a lot of value in having peers on your team.
That doesn’t mean that you can forego your leadership responsibilities of removing obstacles for for your team and coaching and mentoring and being involved in sharing some of the workload with them. So by not doing that, that was one kind of early failure that I learned from. And then the second one, involved when I took over a team early on, and I just didn’t spend time getting to know the team, or what each individual was good at. Or maybe where their areas for development or weaknesses were.
And so by ignoring that I ended up losing that team, they actually left the company, because it was not a place where they had a leader in me who helped them get to where they want to be in their careers. So those were two, I call them beestings early in my career, but you know, two examples of where I realized, hey, I need a method, I need a process for this.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Now today, we want to talk about how to build a high performance marketing team. Which roles do you start bringing in on first?
Dennis: Well, it’s a good question. So in in answering that and making those decisions, I look at three things to start. The first thing are the financial objectives, or the business objectives that I need the marketing team to achieve as a team. And in marketing, and especially in b2b software marketing, those objectives are often financial objectives, they have to do with, you know, deals and bookings, and revenue and, and the funnel that sits on top of that revenue. So I have to know what I’m being tasked with achieving. And that will give me a good sense for how much production I need. How much work is out there that needs to get done, and how many bodies I need to throw at it.
The second thing I look at is specifically dynamics of the funnel in question. So I want to have a good sense before I start building the team, of how the company gets leads, what sources and channels are best for finding leads, and then what types of skills in a marketing team I will need to have in order to be able to leverage those channels. And then finally, I generally spend a lot of time organizing around my personal style, what I believe to be my strengths, and most importantly, what I believe my weaknesses to be. So in those regards, I know for example, that I’m not a great project manager.
So I know I need people that bias toward highly organized. I know that I am very effective when I’m involved at both of the ends of marketing productions. So the ideation and brainstorming and coming up with the concepts. And also the finalization is an area where I like to focus, which is the proofing the editing, the refining, the getting the finishing up of the work and getting it out the door. So I generally hire for people that can work very well between ideation and launch.
Steffen: Interesting. Does that, from your perspective, that’s obviously your approach that you apply. But can you apply that to any company that you start at? Or does the situation of a company, you know, whether they have actually higher budgets available or lower budgets available? Whether they’re early stage or, you know, an established company? Does that play a role in your approach? Or would that play a role in your approach? Or is that always the same as described,
Dennis: I think the situation is very different every time. So while I’ll use those three guidelines, as I build the team, wherever I may work, you know, every situation is different. And by the way, the available talent for the team, at any given moment can be very different, too. So you know, there’s some there’s some guidelines to follow. But in general, I think it’s probably more different in every environment than it is similar.
Steffen: Now, when you when you hire, or you’re looking to bring in more junior people, more senior people, or does it depend? And if so, what it depends on? What does it depend on?
Dennis: Great question. So when I’m looking to hire a team, I don’t necessarily bias toward junior people or senior people, I try to bias toward the right people. And in particular, there are always roles in a marketing team that are better suited toward junior people. And then there are always roles that are better suited towards senior people.
However, if you’re in startup environments, a lot of times those have to be the same person. In startup environments, very frequently, you start with a small group of people who can do many things at many different levels. And you grow that into a team that has a little bit more structure and organization and discipline around what aspects of the team’s work are for the junior people versus the senior people.
Steffen: So what I’m hearing is basically you’re saying, you know what, in the beginning, it’s it’s it’s generalists, you’re looking for people that can do more things. And, you know, from what you said, a second goal, I think you’re really looking for people that can complement you in the areas that you might not be as strong in.
Dennis: I think that’s right, yeah. You know, when you look at how marketing professionals enter the market, if you’re a CPG provider, for example, I think there’s a lot of great junior talent out there. But at least when I came through college and early in career, they didn’t train for the kind of marketing tasks and skills that I think are necessary today. So that’s an important thing to keep an eye out for, in that some of your marketing hires might not come from the marketing discipline themselves.
Steffen: That makes sense. Now, the values or how individuals of a team are able to work together is kind of almost a make or break when building a team. So attitude, character are important traits to consider when when when building a team. What individual attributes have you found, help you building a high performance team?
Dennis: I think the most important team value that you can implement with your team and establish with your team is the notion of having each other’s backs. So marketing is a unique function in that I think it’s that while there is, you know, a fair amount of individual work, I think there’s a high degree of collaboration on marketing initiatives. And you can’t get effective results from a team, if a team doesn’t function like that. I’ll give you a couple examples. I’ve worked on teams where individuals had to go out on maternity leave, or family leave. And if you really want your team, your, your, the members of your team to trust each other, this is a great example of how you can prove that.
So when a team member goes on leave, you don’t want them coming back to a situation that is in chaos or a disaster. You want them coming back to a situation that you know is in order. And when the team sees this being done, for other individuals on the team, they start to feel very comfortable with each other. And they start to be able to seek help from each other. And seek help from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness. So the number one value in my book is have each other’s backs, always be working as a team. And that will lead to a whole bunch of other team shared team values that are very important.
Another shared value that I think is really important is I like to reward accountability, even when the outcome is undesirable, right. So we want people taking, you know, being accountable for their output and for initiatives, even when they fail. Because if they know there are no negative consequences to failing and going back and trying again, they’re more likely to do a better job next time. And trust me, when I tell you, everybody occasionally fails. There’s no such thing as a perfect member of the team. I do it, I have to admit it. And I think that increases my credibility as a leader. And then also doing doing so as a member of a team increases your credibility with the members of your team.
Steffen: Now in, in developing a team a lot also is around what the team culture, the feeling of the team is. How do you achieve a culture that makes everyone feel comfortable? You said a second ago, you know, everyone makes mistakes. And I couldn’t agree more. We all make mistakes. The important thing is that, you know, you recognize the mistakes and then course correct afterwards that they don’t happen again.
But people also need to feel confident that they can actually make a mistake. Otherwise, they will be always cautious, and they’re not pushing the envelope enough to achieve great results. How do you go about creating an environment where people are allowed to make mistakes? And where they’re allowed to kind of push boundaries to achieve great results?
Dennis: Great question. The first thing that you can do, that allows people to feel comfortable with making mistakes starts before you bring them on. Starts before you hire them. And I like to hire people that have a, you know, a competitive streak in them. They’re competitors, they want to win. I personally believe that people who were biased to a winning attitude, and competition are generally the ones who are willing to take calculated risks, and are generally the ones who can deal with making mistakes and recover and bounce back to future success if they do. So right off the bat, I try to hire people that have some competitive spirit to them before they join. The second thing you can do is you can make taking risks, fun, and enjoyable and rewarding. And obviously communicate upfront that taking a calculated risk.
So first of all, knowing which risks you’re allowed to take, per company policy and procedures and whatnot. When you encourage them to have fun taking calculated risks and involve others, then they’ll take them you know a little bit more confidently and also, you know, look you know, do their post mortems and look back at those efforts and and with a greater degree of truth. Understand what went right and what went wrong. So two things is first, you hire people that have a competitive streak because they’re more willing to try and make mistakes and recover than those who aren’t competitive. And the second thing is encourage, calculated risk taking as a fun activity and a collaborative activity.
Steffen: I like the idea about competitiveness. The challenge I always have, or that I mentioned is that, you know, if you have individuals that are competitive, that could, from my perspective, could go the wrong way. I like to see competitiveness within a team environment because you’re building a team. And if everyone within a team things like as themself as, as the star, and the others not being part of the team that can obviously go in the wrong direction.
Dennis: Sure. And you can also create a team culture where stardom is shared. I’m a big basketball fan. I don’t know if anybody’s watched NBA basketball over the past couple of years. But watching a team like the Golden State Warriors, during their title runs, accommodate stars, and, you know, share glory was was really surprising to me, especially considering that, you know, they, it was a professional sports team. So it shows that it can be done. And, you know, I’ve been blessed to work on teams where, you know, stardom can be shared and, and there is more than one hero on the team. And those are the fun teams to work on. Because you know, that you’re big bucket is only is only minutes away.
Steffen: We talked about team culture. How do you communicate the value that you expect your team to exhibit on the job?
Dennis: I think the first thing that you have to do is be clear about your expectations themselves. You know, when I expect high performance from others, I’ll say that to them. And in fact, I say that to them during the very first interview. Typically, the line I’ve used his role on this team, is not always a good thing for everybody. It is for some, and it is not for others. And, and simply by stating that and getting that honesty out there. I think you’ll self select for people who who feel that way. When it comes to individual projects, and work, and even team projects, you know, clarity of expectations is really what it’s all about.
I’ve said to people that I need an 85% good job on this not a 99% good job on this. I’ve said to people give me as much as you can do as quick as possible, or I’ve said the people, I need this to be really, really good, how much time do you need to make it really, really good. So you know, setting those expectations while you’re discussing projects and specific work is always important. At the team value level, and kind of the the team culture level, you know, I think it really just comes with time with people stepping up, and, and you see things like people volunteering for certain roles on teams and certain parts of projects, that’s always a good sign that you have a culture of high expectations on the team.
And then another, you know, just kind of key nugget that I’ve always used is, you know, expect people to be working at 110% about 95% of the time. So 5% of the time, you know, you can feel free to to deviate from the norm of expectations. And that gives people the feeling that risk taking mistakes, they’re tolerated, obviously we all want to win. But you know, occasionally losses happen. And that’s okay on teams.
Steffen: Great thoughts. Um, well, once you will have identified who you need, and what their traits reveal what specifics they need to bring to the team, how do you go about to identifying the right candidates?
Dennis: So identification of the right candidates is part art that I’ve tried to as much as possible make into science. And I’m happy to share some of my methods here. The interview for me is the number one test of a candidate. I take a lot of time to prepare my interviews for each candidate. But that being said, there’s a fairly standard approach that I use to interview marketing candidates. The first thing I do is I get, I print out a sheet of paper with all the questions that I’ve pre determined that I need to ask that person in order to know that they can do the job and they can do it at a high level. So with those questions on paper, in front of the interviewee, I generally you know, try to keep it as light hearted and fun as possible.
But I tell them this is going to be a very difficult interview, because we’ve actually thought about the things that we need to hire for. And the interview generally takes place and covers three topics. The first thing that I’m testing for is preparation. I want to know that the candidate came in prepared, did their homework, did some research. To me that shows that not only do they prepare for things, but also that they’re actually interested in the role. And it was, it was interesting enough for them to spend time to prepare.
So preparation is a huge part of it. I have a section of the interview that I cover knowledge and skills for the role that I’m hiring for. And these are very, very detailed questions that I asked the candidate about, you know, what they can do, what they know, what skills they have, what are they good at? What are they not good at? Very specific questions. And I also have a section on the interview that consists of mostly problem solving and critical thinking questions. So I want to know that they can think. I want to know that they can see a problem and independently figure out the steps it takes to get resolution to that problem. So there’s a whole series of questions there. And then what I do well, while I’m going through this interview is with a red pen and a black pen, I note down their answers, the ones that are interesting to interesting to me.
And after several candidates with several pieces of paper that have some number of red notes and black notes on them, I can pretty much hold up each candidates interview notes. And based on the amount of red ink, or the lack of red ink and the amount of ink in general, I can pretty much get a good visual sense for which candidate is most likely to get an offer. So it’s a really good approach. I’d be happy to share some examples of those questions for you. But I’ve had to develop it to to build high performance teams, and it’s never let me down.
Steffen: Now, as your team grows, how much is your team involved in hiring the next person? And if they’re involved, in what capacity?
Dennis: I think the team does need to be involved in hiring decisions. I’ve always had members of my team interview candidates. I like the the, you know, the second and third opinions. But I’m also looking for the team’s feedback on how that person fits into the team as a whole. So from my perspective, leading the team, I might see a series of good things and a series of, you know, somewhat unappealing things about any particular candidate. And my my team members, my current team members might see a different set of things. So it’s really, really important. If you’re a person like me, who likes a lot of data to make a decision. It’s really, really important to involve the team in hiring.
Steffen: Now once you have your team in place, starting team in place, how do you how do you ensure that you have the best shot on achieving goals or the goals that either you set or that management set for you?
Dennis: So I think the best shot at achieving goals involves really having your management cadences tied down. You know, every leader likes to work in different ways. And in the toolkit is well known, right? We have team meetings, we have one on one meetings, we have weekly meetings, we have brainstorming meetings. Every leader has their their arsenal of management cadences. And that even includes status reporting. So I tried to keep the administration as minimal as possible. And I’ll give you one example, in terms of status reporting. Keeping people on task and delivering, I discovered a tool called 15 five. It’s a piece of SaaS software that I’ve used in the past.
And I really enjoy it. And it’s built on the premise that any team member status report to their leader should take no more than 15 minutes per week for them to write, and no more than five minutes per week for their manager to review. So there’s an example of a cadence that is very focused on deliverables and productivity, but doesn’t come with the same necessarily tedium maybe that other tools in the management cadence toolbox might have.
I have also been a very, very big fan of a weekly or bi weekly team meeting, where we review progress toward goals. Very specific metrics, and objectives that the team is expected to deliver. And if we’re on track, great. If we’re behind, clearly we need some new actions and some new initiatives to catch up. And if we’re ahead and great, it’s time to celebrate so far, but focus on getting over the goal line.
Steffen: Now to to make sure that each individual in your team contributes to to the overarching goal. How do you go about setting individual goals and and how do you measure that those goals are actually achieved or exceeded?
Dennis: Well, I learned from a really terrific leader of mine who was a CEO at a previous company, a concept called the plan on a page. And what I most admired about this approach was how much of it came from the member of the team and not top down from leadership. But the plan on the page method is quite simply asking the team member to create their plan for the year, the things they’re going to do to hit their individual goals. And of course, they are owed, or they must produce that plan on a page in response to a team’s plan and a page and a company’s plan and a page.
So in theory, if you follow this, this great method that a previous CEO taught me, in theory, if you get a plan on a page from every member of the team, that’s in response to two plans at the team and the company level, you’ll have a great group of people who are bought into what they’re supposed to do, focused on what they’re supposed to do and enthusiastic about doing it.
Steffen: That’s a great way to approach that. Now, Dennis, unfortunately we’ve we’ve come to the end of today’s podcast episode. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast. Now if people want to find out more about you and your company, how can they get in touch?
Dennis: So you can find us on the internet www.pointpredictive.com that’s our website. You can also email us. We read every email. I see and respond to every email. email@example.com. And we have a great presence on LinkedIn where we interact with peers and people we respect in the market.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Performance Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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