5 Characteristics VCs Look for in a Marketing Executive

by Willis Turner

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Venture capitalists (VCs) are paying more attention to the structure of the marketing teams they invest. Why? Because marketing plays an increasingly influential role in the success of their portfolio companies. To ensure the marketing department can generate the kind of leads that drive sales, they want to see a particular profile in a marketing executive.

Whether you’re a company seeking venture capital or a marketing exec looking to make the leap to a startup or expansion-stage company, it’s important to understand what VCs look for in a marketing leader. At Software Advice, I recently caught up with a couple of VCs to ask them what their ideal marketing candidate profile looks like. Here are five characteristics they prioritize in a candidate.

  1. They Think and Speak in Metrics
    Today, we hear a lot about the need for a left-brained individual who is comfortable analyzing data and crunching numbers. VCs gravitate toward marketing execs who are comfortable with metrics. As Greg Goldfarb, Managing Director of Summit Partners, puts it: “Marketing is not a mysterious function, it’s not a creative-only function. It’s a function that has to deliver quantitative results to the business and drive sales.”VCs want someone who can talk about concrete business terms and discuss things like the conversion rate of marketing material and their contribution to the growth of marketing-qualified leads. For instance, they want a candidate who can say, “I grew marketing-qualified leads from 2,000 per year to 7,000 per year and reduced the cost per lead from $60 to $35.”
  2. They Can Succinctly Sell a Story
    Of course, in a VC-backed company environment, the left-brained qualities need to be complemented by right-brained storytelling capabilities. This means a marketing exec can quickly explain how the company’s offering solves the customer’s pain — and why they should buy from this company rather than a competitor. But they have to be able to frame this in 30 seconds or less. If it takes 30 minutes to do all this, then VCs figure that they’ll have trouble telling a convincing enough story to sell.
  3. They’re Well Connected
    It’s also important for the marketing exec to be well-connected. This means knowing people within the company’s industry, as well as influencers in the press and analyst community. In my industry, enterprise software, this would mean knowing individuals at analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester — and getting placement in one of their industry breakdown reports, like the Gartner Magic Quadrant. But it’d also mean having a record of getting attention at tech publications like TechCrunch and GigaOm.
  4. They’re Versed in Modern Marketing
    Individuals with a background limited to traditional marketing channels (e.g. print media and billboard advertisements) are generally considered the wrong fit for a VC-backed company. Instead, VCs want individuals who know newer marketing strategies, like search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising (PPC), conversion rate optimization and email marketing.One skill that’s in particularly high demand is adeptness with marketing automation. This is a preferred skill because individuals used to working with these systems are used to tying their marketing efforts to a discrete return on investment — which is ultimately what VCs are expecting their portfolio company to generate. Candidates who can use these strategies to improve brand awareness are particularly valuable.
  5. They Have C-Suite References
    VCs also want to see that the higher-ups in a candidate’s previous company give their stamp of approval. In particular, VCs want to hear from CEOs and VPs of Marketing that the candidate has a track record of driving top-line growth. These references are important because these individuals are best able to judge the candidate’s contribute to incremental revenue and his or her ability to drive a return on invested capital.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it helps give companies and marketing execs looking for a job a good head start in understanding what is expected of a marketing leader in a VC-backed startup or expansion-stage company. What’s your experience on this topic? If you have an tips or insights, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

*This blog originally appeared on SMEI.org.

Hear more marketing and leadership wisdom from Willis in his interview with C-Suite Radio.


Willis Turner Willis Turner, CAE CME CSE, has gained international recognition for spearheading global membership engagement and professional certification growth as the President & CEO of U.S.-based Sales & Marketing Executives International (SMEI). Willis is also founder and CEO of Old Clayburn Marketing & Management Services Inc., a full-service association management firm. As a writer and speaker on professional certification, business ethics and leading edge sales and marketing topics, Willis leverages his worldwide business travel experiences to convey an informative and motivating message to his audiences. Willis serves on the National Advisory Board for DECA Inc. He has taught Sales Management at the University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business. He resides near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with his wife of 30 years. Follow Willis on Twitter: @willisturner.