Advice From an Enterprise Marketer Gone Start-Up

By Ginger Conlon

Talk about culture shock.


Jeff Perkins spent most of his career in marketing working at large enterprises such as, PGi, Euro RSCG Worldwide, and Saatchi. And then he decided to take a big risk and accept the job as CMO of QASymphony, a test management SaaS startup.


When he arrived at the office on his first day, he had to go right back out and buy his own desk and laptop. He thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” After nearly three years of challenges, growth, and successes, Perkins, now CMO of Parkmobile, looks back on it all as an auspicious experience.


During his session at Energize Growth’s CLIC 2017 conference, Perkins shared his advice—for any marketer—from an enterprise marketer gone start-up:


1. Build the right team

You may never realize how important it is to have the right team until you can only hire one or two people, Perkins said. “When you don’t have the ability to hire a lot of people, hiring A players is essential,” he said, adding that, even with technology, there’s nothing automated about marketing—even today. “You don’t need a tech stack; you need a people stack.”


Don’t move “nice” people who aren’t good performers to other teams, hoping they’ll be a better fit and perform better, he advised. Make the tough calls instead, and marketing performance will improve.


The same applies to agencies. Your people stack includes your agency network,
he said. Perkins recommends tapping small agencies started by top players from big agencies that went out on their own. They tend to have niche expertise and move faster.


“When you have the right team, there’s nothing you can’t do,” Perkins said.


2. Focus on the most important things first

“Marketers are the most shiny-object focused people in the company,” Perkins asserted. But, he added, you won’t accomplish anything if you try to do everything. So, you need to focus on what’s most important.


Perkins focused his team on what was most important by asking them to fill in the blanks on these two sentences:


We’re are not growing revenue because of _____________________

We are losing deals because of _____________________


Those the two issues also helped the team focus on what tech to buy, by considering whether it would help resolve or improve one or both issues.


3. Maximize limited resources

“It’s scary when you go to a startup and see your budget,” Perkins said. “You think: It’s not enough money to do anything.” So, he and his team “got in the weeds” to determine exactly where the company audience is online. For QASymphony, one hot spot was sites such as and A small spend on those sites resulted in big returns.


The company also hosted its own webinars instead of working with an industry publication. The twice monthly webinars would each feature a thought leader and draw anywhere from about 200 to 1,000 registrants; the marketing for each comprised a few hundred dollars of email and social promotion. It was an excellent funnel builder, Perkins said. “Don’t pay for things you can do for free,”
he said.


4. Track, analyze, and optimize

Perkins and his team would diligently track in great detail where leads came from and what they did in, as well as campaign and channel performance. Doing so help them eliminate campaigns that attracted lower quality leads. The also conducted A/B testing on web pages, which helped improve conversions significantly.


5. Think big

A small budget doesn’t mean you can’t do big things, Perkins said. “We wanted to host a user conference,” he cited as an example. Perkins and his team built a site, booked a space, did promotion…and sold one ticket. Eventually, they gave away tickets and 150 people showed up.


Year two had 400 people for a two-day event. Right after the event, the company closed a deal with one of the largest U.S. quick-serve restaurant chains, which wasn’t even a lead before the event. “Getting customers together to talk about your product and gripe about competitors is a big win,” he said, adding that attendees barely even want to talk to QASymphony staff; they mostly wanted to talk to each other.


6. Be transparent

CFOs think that marketers burn money, Perkins noted. In a startup, they’re even more focused on marketing spend than in larger firms. So, it’s best to partner
with the CFO and it’s essential to help non-marketers understand the value marketing provides.


Perkins’ approach is to compile detailed reports that help C-suite executives see the value of marketing: Here’s how much we spent on what, how each is performing, and the ROI for each. This allows for much more constructive conversations with the C-suite, Perkins said. In one case, a CFO actually came to him to offer more budget because of this transparency.


7. Create raving fans

First and foremost, Perkins said, be a good partner to work with. Make it easy to do business with you. And listen to your customers. He cited as an example how shocked and surprised one customer was that the company implemented a functionality he requested—before his company was even ready to use it.


“There are things you can do that don’t cost a lot that make your customers
love you,” Perkins said. “We created fans because we went out of our way to
help them.”

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.