Hot Takes

The Top 10 F*ck Ups to Avoid in Building Efficient Marketing Programs with Aaron Cort


Ever wondered what to avoid when building an efficient marketing program in a market where the pressure is higher than ever?

Don’t worry, Aaron Cort has your back–he’ll go through the top 10 things to avoid based on his time growing ClickUp from $4M to $100M+ ARR in 3 years as the first Head of Marketing and now VP of Operations.

[Transcript] The Top 10 F*ck Ups to Avoid in Building Efficient Marketing Programs

Although transcriptions are generally very accurate, just a friendly reminder that they could sometimes be incomplete or contain errors due to unclear audio or transcription inaccuracies.

Armando Biondi

The last session of Hot Takes Live 3, Marketing stage. So, welcome, in case you’ve just joined the conversation. You’re a little bit late to the game, but there will be recordings that you can catch up with. 

The last speaker for today, no pressure, is Aaron Cort, VP of Operations at ClickUp. Aaron, great to have you.

Aaron Cort

Thanks for having me, Armando. Really, really excited to kick things off.

Armando Biondi

Yes, your Hot Take is “The Top 10 F*ck Ups to Avoid in Building Efficient Marketing Programs;” tell us more.

Aaron Cort

Yeah, absolutely. Well, excited to dive in. I’d like to be pretty blunt with how I explain things, so while I would call these f*ck ups, most people would just have to learn these things on their own. I like to call them f*ck ups because that helps me mentally register what not to do in the future. So that’s a quick take on it, but a quick take on me.

I’m the VP of Marketing at ClickUp, I was the 20th employee and the first Head of Marketing. We were bootstrapped originally to about 4 million in ARR and grew to 100 million ARR in about two years, so got to experience a lot. The big callouts that I’ve really learned from building a marketing program from scratch at every stage company (pre-revenue companies up through IPO.)

Strategy, content community, and data are the most important facets. 

The Top 10 F*Ck Ups To Avoid In Building Efficient Marketing Programs With Aaron Cort

Strategy being essential for growth. You need to know where you’re going and why content, being organic, fueling everything in terms of efficiency and long-term sustainability.

Community fueling expansion and net revenue retention. This has to do with how you’re talking with people in your community, customers, users, and everything in between. 

And then data infrastructure being everything. When I say everything, I really mean it. Having a strong data infrastructure will help you predict and understand every aspect of the business. 

So I narrowed down the top 10 hot takes to avoid, no matter what, around all of these areas when you’re building an efficient marketing program. 

The keyword here is efficient. Efficiency is all that matters right now in today’s market conditions, and the first four points I just mentioned are kind of the broader categories in which we’ll dive into each of the hot takes. 

The Top 10 F*Ck Ups To Avoid In Building Efficient Marketing Programs With Aaron Cort

Strategy, we’ll talk about a few areas here. The first thing to avoid is not having a formal forecast or growth plan. Now, should you be completely married to a financial model at every stage of your growth? Not necessarily, but you should have something scoped out that waits out every aspect of the business in terms of what’s driving growth. So this leads to having a KPI-based marketing strategy for predictable and efficient growth. 

This is understanding what measures and metrics are actually going to drive things forward and what marketing actually has control of. The keyword is control. Where can we influence things? Where can we drive the business? And bottom-up companies like ClickUp, in the software as a service space, that is pretty straightforward. It’s people signing up using the product; other businesses are different, but having a formal forecast and growth plan is foundationally important.

The other thing to avoid on the strategy side is hyper-focus on lagging indicators. What are lagging indicators? That is revenue, that is the end result of what happens in the day-to-day of the business.

The thing to focus on when you’re a marketing team, especially, are the leading indicators. These are website visits, signups, activations, and conversions. These are the things that drive revenue that creates the end result, and you need to focus on those as a hyper-focused asset as opposed to hyper-focusing on the end result, which doesn’t lead to control. 

Again I’ll keep going back to the main thing of control because when marketing teams focus on things they can’t control, they look like they suck, and to not look like you suck, focus on things that you actually have control over and that being the leading indicators.

On the content side, organic insights not driving performance. Avoid this; what does that mean? Use organic to drive what is happening for strategy in the business, and when you’re having organic working, this is assuming you have a baseline, or you have some aspect of organic where people are talking about you, content is driving some area of the business, you need to use that to drive growth and performance. 

When you’re doing performance marketing, you need to be using organic insights to influence that behavior. When you’re doing other aspects of the business, as it relates to hiring, as it relates to who your customers are, ICP creation, organic needs to be driving that because that is what people are organically doing on their own without you having to tell them to do it to basically get to your product and get to your business, and ultimately, you’ll see down there finding a way to pay or use your product. 

On the content side as well, you don’t want to scale paid before organic is scalable. What does this mean? You need to have traffic consistently and predictably growing from content or word-of-mouth sources before you make any significant investments in paid. 

Paid can be good for learning things quickly before organic is scalable, but ultimately if basically your organic engine is not actively working, you are not going to be able to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to grow the business predictably on the paid side.

If organic isn’t already doing that, there are a lot of ways to do this, but I’ll save that for Q&A.

Leaky content production process. So if you have a content production engine or any aspect of organic that’s working for the business, there’s typically a production process involved. This relates to publishing and especially resource management. 

This basically equates on the resource side to time spent, time allocation, quality management, time to rank, design, quality consistency, you name it. If any bit of this process is leaky, you will not be able to scale organic.

If you notice that you don’t have answers to how long something takes to get published, or how much time someone is spending on basically working on a particular asset, article, ebook, and then the quality as well time to rank, or the design consistency, or if you’re using like an ebook, for example, driving leads. Any aspect of that process that is leaky, either as in you don’t understand what is driving it or what is going into it or ultimately you don’t understand the measures that influence the results of it, that is a problem. 

Community. Weighting key user and customer personas and engaging where they care/find easiest to engage with you. Now, if you’re not engaging directly one-to-one with users, literally having conversations with your customers, that is a problem.

You need to be talking to people one-to-one; you can’t rely on aggregated form feedback, you can’t rely on aggregated systems of generating feedback and results. You need to actually have a real relationship with your users and customers, and ultimately, this varies, but you can do this on a number of different channels in a number of different ways.

I can definitely talk about some of the specific examples of this in Q&A, but that’s the first thing on the community side. Again, remember, Community influences net revenue, retention, and expansion. This is how you’re talking with customers.

The other side of Community is if you’re shipping updates slowly or irregularly, that is a problem because your users will not be able to trust you. You need to be able to build trust with your customers and your users at every stage of the journey. 

Consistency and predictability allow people to trust you, recommend you, and ultimately want to pay for using your product or use it long term. And that is the biggest part of Community, outside of what I had mentioned on the prior slide.

Another aspect of Community and notice we have a few points for this is not having formal ICP, ideal customer persona archetypes, or definitions. If you’re trying to build community and you do not know who your users and customers are, what they care about, and what they need in order to effectively use your product or find you, then this is a problem because you do not know who you’re talking to. 

If you have to learn who you’re talking to in the midst of basically engaging and creating a relationship with them, that’s a problem because you are two steps behind them. You need to be ahead of your customers in terms of this process by also knowing who they are and what they want to an extent and getting their feedback throughout the process.

Going into Data, if you’re trying to develop a reliable source of truth, you cannot stitch a bunch of data from a bunch of different sources together and expect it to scale. 

Typically you will need the modern data stack, now, this is a deep topic, and I can talk a little bit about it. There are also people that know a lot more than me about the modern data stack because it changes literally almost every week with new tools and new methods available, especially with AI being a big thing right now in the market.

As a whole, you need to have a structured, reliable data warehouse and data architecture to drive predictable, scalable performance metrics methods and measures across the business.

Keyword data warehouse data architecture. If you take away anything from this slide, remember those two things: you can do some research and look into what these are and how you can use them. 

The last bit here is having unclear data definitions on your key metrics. If you do not have your key metrics defined so that a third-grader can understand them, then that is a problem. You need to have very simple definitions of your key business metrics so that everybody in the company gets what they are, gets why you need to do them, and gets where they play into it.

This is the how and the why across everything in the business for every person that is driving business results, especially marketing teams.

Key takeaways here I’m going to go through these pretty quickly.

The Top 10 F*Ck Ups To Avoid In Building Efficient Marketing Programs With Aaron Cort

The first one is going to be finding or hiring someone in finance in your space to help drive strategy or making sure marketing has clear guidance in connection with sales, go-to-market, and the board. 

Hiring for SEO as a starting point or finding out how to make your content work better. These two things can be done in a lot of ways, and happy to talk about them in depth for basically the Q&A section, but that is a key point around content.

The third one here is starting with one place where it is easy to engage with your customers or, if you are already doing this, making sure they are weighing into how you execute development and ongoing product updates.

And the last piece here is if you don’t have a data architecture setup or a data warehouse, implement a data warehouse. Snowflake is the most common, but there are a lot of others out there, and we’re finding ahead of data; this can be augmented by an agency or a fractional leader, or a contract leader.

And then the other bit of this, if you already have a setup here, is learning where your gaps are. If you know where your gaps are, you’ll have better predictability and consistency, and this will better help marketing teams understand where to focus and why to focus on certain areas of the business. 

All right, I have templates on all this stuff, so if you want to hit me up and learn how to not f*ck up on these areas, you can connect with me on LinkedIn or send me an email that’s my personal, and from here we will go into Q&A.

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Hot Takes Live


Catch the replay of Hot Takes Live, where 30 of the top SaaS leaders across Marketing, Sales, and RevOps revealed some of their most unpopular opinions about their niche.

These leaders shared what lessons they learned and how they disrupted their industry by going against the grain (and achieved better results in the process).

Armando Biondi

This was incredible, super sharp. Ten minutes exactly, 10 points, super dense of content, so very much appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Aaron Cort

My pleasure. 

Armando Biondi

One comment from my side. Going through all those 10 points, that’s a lot. Where do you start? If someone were to start thinking about this stuff, is there some sequencing? What would you think about this? What would you recommend?

Aaron Cort

The easiest place to typically start is really the order that I mentioned. Those four initial topics, start with strategy, start with like how you’re forecasting growth in the business, and you can do that in a lot of ways, but that exercise will force you to think about this stuff, and it’ll force every specific conversation or detailed instance you need to look into when you’re building a marketing team and a marketing org.

Armando Biondi

It’s funny because I’m an Ops person by trade as well. A lot of the ways you think about the world are the ways I think about the world, and when you mentioned the plan, my immediate reaction was yes; also, be aware that all plans are wrong. 

Some are useful, right? Which, I guess, gets to your point, if your plan is going to be a representation of how you see the world evolving from here, and so the discrepancies and the gaps will kind of surface where are things that you want to double-click and investigate further. Is that how you would think about this?

Aaron Cort

Yeah, I’d say the plan will just identify what you don’t know, right? So the benefit of the plan is number one, sometimes it can change, but number two, the best thing to know is your blind spots, right? So if you know, within the plan, “Wow, this is a really important metric or area of the business, I have no clue how to influence it,” or, “Hey, I only know a little bit about this,” or, “Man, we only have two people on the team dedicated to this, we probably need more.”

It’s good to start those conversations, and those conversations will lead into what to prioritize, and that’s what’s pretty healthy when you’re at this stage, at least early on. And it can be actually actively, quarterly, or monthly, as part of normal business reviews, so that’s how I look at the general plan as it evolves.

Armando Biondi

For sure. Another question that I get all the time, and I’m curious about your point of view on this, is the fact that aligning a big organization, a complex organization, on some common objectives and goals it’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not easy. What’s your best way of solving that? 

Aaron Cort

Yeah, when you’re aligning the broader organization, we can talk about this as Ops people or as marketing people. As marketing people, the best way to align the organization is to again choose things that you can control in the business and share regular updates on how those things are going. 

The good news about marketing is it’s the top-of-funnel part of the business. Everybody actually cares about it and finds it somewhat interesting, but if you’re not plugged into the right stuff or sharing the right things, if you’re just talking about awareness all day, no one’s really going to care about that, but you need to talk about how website traffic is increasing, the results are increasing, that influence the other areas of business; that’s how you do it in the marketing team.

When you’re doing it on the Ops side, and you’re trying to align, let’s just say, a whole company or go-to-market org, everyone needs to know what their job is. So if everyone understands what their job is and what metrics they influence, and how the business revolves around their particular section of the business, that’s what you need to start with. 

Once you have that in place, regular communication and updates are all you need. Your leaders, in terms of your departments, no matter how the teams are, are the ones that should own that and should be regularly updating that and working with their team and then sharing that with the other orgs as part of an ongoing cadence. 

And that can vary depending on the stage of business and company size, but mainly marketing needs to be providing regular updates on how the top of the funnel is going, how the business is moving forward, and driving efficiency, results, and, then, same thing with the other orgs, if you want to keep everyone on the same page, everyone just needs to know what their job is. 

And that’s where the strategy part is actually probably the most important because it starts those conversations and gets people used to that.

Armando Biondi

Aaron, this was awesome. Thank you so much for that. If someone wants to connect with you, I’m sure they can find you on LinkedIn. Thank you.