Hot Takes

How to Totally Screw Up Your Marketing Team with Sean Percival


Marketing is hard, but managing marketing people is even harder.

In this hot take, you’ll get some rapid-fire do’s and dont’s for managing a large or small marketing team. Sean has made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to!

In this session with Sean Percival, CMO at Iterate Norway, you’ll learn:

  • How to run super effective status meetings
  • How to figure out when someone is unhappy before they quit
  • How to use the Socratic method for good expectation management and employee retention

[Transcript] How to Totally Screw Up Your Marketing Team

Gary Amaral

For this edition of our Hot Takes Live, as promised, we have Sean Percival, CMO at Iterate, with a super spicy hot take on marketing teams.

Sean, welcome! Please feel free to take it away. 

Sean Percival

Thank you so much, Gary. Hey everyone, great to be here! I’m feeling a little bit under the weather, but as we say in Los Angeles, where I’m from, the show must go on! 

Today we are going to talk about how to screw up your marketing team. Of course, we’re actually going to talk about what to do to not screw up your team. I’m going to make my intro pretty quick.

My job today is as the CMO of a company called Iterate. I’m originally from California, where I worked for companies like Myspace and others, and now I’m living in small and cold Norway.

So you probably have never heard of Iterate Norway. Essentially the quick pitch is that we are a venture builder, so we’re building many startups. I work as the CMO, helping all these companies.

I will say that right now, a lot of what I’ll talk about is for smaller teams, although if you’re in a large organization and you can adopt some of these things, obviously, you might find that you’ll move a bit quicker which is, of course, more challenging to do in a big organization.

So primarily, a talk for small teams, startup scale-ups, whatever you want to call it, but if you can take some of these nuggets and hot takes to your big company, I think you will enjoy that as well.

Fun fact: I once fainted while skydiving, which maybe describes how I do marketing. I jump out of the plane before thinking about it too much. Thankfully, it was a tandem sky jump, so I had someone attached to me, and they got us down to the ground, but that said, let’s jump right into it.

So, first and foremost, a lot of us marketing managers, CMOs, whatever the title is, often start as marketers ourselves. That can be in different areas, be a performance or brand, or something else too.

We then work our way up, we get more experience, and then before we know it, we’re actually managing marketing people–different capacities and different titles, of course. My view on this is, well, it kind of sucks, and why is that?

How To Totally Screw Up Your Marketing Team With Sean Percival

Well, first and foremost, we lose our edge. We develop our edge as good marketers by getting our hands dirty, doing a lot of the work, and finding those little needles in a haystack to drive growth or activate our users.

However, that gets hard when you start managing people. You’re not really hands-on, which is the next thing that also sucks about becoming a marketing manager.

Instead of being hands-on, you’re in all-hands meetings all day. You’re in constant meetings; you’re in sync meetings; you’re in product planning meetings; you’re in one-on-one meetings. Meetings just go on and on, and of course, the bigger the company, the more meetings you have.

So, that takes you away from the work once again. Finally, managing people is really hard. I don’t care if you’re a marketing manager or managing engineers; whatever it might be, people are tough.

We’re very dynamic creatures. We have emotions. People have different backgrounds, different experiences, and of course, different expectations.

Your job as a marketing manager is to try and balance these all out, bring the ones up that are perhaps struggling a bit, and make sure everyone is communicating well, working, and of course, the main job, generating growth revenue.

I definitely relate to the fact that managing people is super hard.

I would not say I am an expert on managing people, although I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Managing teams of all different sizes, from 2 people to the largest marketing team I had, which was about 20. That was at Myspace, too, so everything in between.

I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, so I want to share a few things that you can do to hopefully avoid and not make those same mistakes.

Now, on the topic of why managing people is hard.

Firstly, when you start to bring people into your team, you’re going to start dealing with something that comes up all the time, and sometimes this comes from people that are not even on your marketing team.

Someone will say, “Hey, we need a new CMS.” I feel like this is a favorite thing of a new hire to say. They look at the old CMS, which is Frankensteiny, and they just want to replace the whole thing.

Maybe they don’t say, “We need a new CMS,” but they do say other things. “Oh we need a new style guide, we need this new tool, we need a whole new process.” They mean well, but I think a lot of people in the interim marketing team want to reinvent or find something they can own.

The easiest way to do that is to carve out something massive and take on a big project. I would say that you, as a boss, first and foremost, should try and stop this as much as possible.

It is specifically related to new hires that you bring in, but it could be said for even employees that have been there for a while or if you join as a marketing manager on a team that already exists.

Why is that?

Now, for the newbies, what you really want them to do is get a couple of quick wins before they go for a big win. Redoing the CMS and redoing the process might have a great effect on your company; it might have a good yield, but it’s going to be really challenging, especially for that new person.

So, we want to focus on them getting nice quick wins, letting them build up to the bigger projects and the bigger wins.

Why does this help?

First and foremost, it helps them to start working across departments in a little bit lower overhead way.

So, I think most marketing people know that engineers don’t often like them. Marketers tend to be needy people who need new tools, new integrations, new events, and new analytics.

We have a lot of needs, so if you’re a new employee and your team members go to them (engineers) with lots of big needs, they’re going to face a lot of resistance.

Their first experience working with a company is going to be butting heads as opposed to going with smaller things which allows them to get to know people in the other departments, form bonds, and some good working relationships.

Then it will be easier for them as they have more confidence to tackle those bigger projects.

Confidence is also key when you’re working in an organization of almost any size because they need to have confidence in what they’re saying, what they’re doing, how they scope it out, whatever that might be.

So again, little quick wins give them (newbie marketers) good confidence and allow them to lead forward with that confidence in hand.

Finally, and this I think is really important. Nowadays, we’re all struggling. The markets suck, and since there’s less money, there’s less budget. Everyone is having to use less tools, less SaaS, everyone’s pulling back, and marketing spends are all over the place too.

Quick wins are really awesome because they allow people to do more with less, and that’s really the best thing you can do as a boss. 

I’m going to keep moving because I think I’m renting a bit too much, but let’s talk about managing happiness as a marketing manager. You really only have three jobs:

  1. Job number one is to be there! Be present as much as possible. That seems like a dull moment, but that’s harder now when we work remotely. There are so many distractions as a marketing manager. If you’re a marketing manager sitting and listening to me, your team probably needs you. Thankfully it’s only a 10-minute talk, and you can get back to them, but you’re going to deal with a lot of distractions and a lot of conferences. Conferences are fun, it’s great to travel and drink and do all the fun stuff with other marketing people, but the best thing you can do is spend as much time with them as possible.
  2.  The other job is to knock down walls. That usually means bugging other people so they don’t have to. Again, marketing people are super needy. It’s your job to knock down those walls so those people can get through and do what they need to do.
  3. Finally, it’s empowering them. That means a lot of different things. You need to empower them to make them feel like they can take a chance and work on something. Again, keep it small, trying to make them validate as opposed to going big with something from the get-go, or there might be a tool you can use. Even though I just said that we have to limit those tools, empowering them is a big part of success.

Now, how do I track happiness to see if people are happy?

I do this every single week. You can do it monthly. At my job, where I work now, we do it monthly, but I think weekly is better. There’s a tool called ‘15five’, but you can also use a Google form.

All that really matters is that you send an automated message to them. There are tons of Slack bots that do this as well, and basically, as the manager, I like to know from my team how they’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 5.

If your employees and team members are not saying 5, then something’s wrong. I like 15Five because I can actually chart their happiness over time, and I can see when they’re starting to dip. Maybe it’s a few 4s, and then it’s a 3.

I know that I can jump on it and make sure everything’s okay. Checking in is super important. Make it a really low barrier. I send a survey like this:

How To Totally Screw Up Your Marketing Team With Sean Percival

I ask them one question. Is there anything you need from me? Are you stuck on anything? That’s the most important thing to me because I can knock down walls and help them. So, simple tracking, you can do it however you feel like it; you can use a tool or not, but it’s important to do that and check in as much as possible. 

Now, in terms of marketing syncs; this is also something that is super important. Typically, you do a weekly sync with your whole team, and I do have a few rules for this. 

  1.  I don’t let people make statements like “Wouldn’t it be great if…” or “Did you see this…” or “We should do this…”. It’s super dangerous in a meeting because nobody knows what to do with that idea. Questions like “Do I have to do it? Do I jump on it? Is this a new thing?” get raised. So, I actually tell people not to say that. You can come with opportunities, but you will have the accountability to do it, so be prepared. 
  2. We only really care about action and action items. So, in a minute, I’ll show you the agenda I use, and it’s all about action.
  3. The final point, in my view, especially in startups, is that things happen faster than ever. If projects in any kind of development don’t happen quickly, then it’s going to take a very long time to complete. So, I’m always looking for weekly iterations with my team. The agenda I use is super simple. 
How To Totally Screw Up Your Marketing Team With Sean Percival

The action items are up at the top there. That’s everything we talked about last week, and notice that I put names down there so there’s accountability. When someone does it, they can take it away; when they don’t, though, it’s stuck there.

So, Bob’s going to feel really bad, and that item is going to stay there every week until he gets that done. Then we can take it off. I use an agenda, it’s old school, but I think it’s really important that I let every department speak. They can fill this in as they speak.

Also, another hot take: I think the marketing manager should own the doc, but everyone can do it. Notice I don’t use Trello or other fancy tools. Google Docs is super important and really easy for everyone to use. I don’t overcomplicate it. 

I’m running a bit over time, so I’m going to move on to the last “Screwed up thoughts.” 

  1. Your team is not a family. Don’t call them a family. You might be a sports team, and hopefully, a winning sports team, but your family is your family. Your team is not. 
  2. I use the Socratic method a lot which essentially is like therapy when I work with my marketing team. I try not to give them too many answers unless they really need a specific answer. I help them find the answer on their own. They tell me something, I say what would that mean for us, how would that change XYZ, and so we work on that together. I like them to find the answer by themselves.
  3. The final hot take and ‘Screwed up thought’ is that everybody screws up being the boss or their team members. What’s most important is that you lead with empathy and screw up less the next time. 

That’s it from me. 

Bc Htl Logo Sq@2X

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).

Gary Amaral

Sean! Great chat! Tons of positive feedback in the platform chat here.

We actually have a couple of questions, so I’m going to jump into those first; the first one seems like a pretty difficult one: “What happens when you are asked a complex or hard task that you need to pass on to your team? For example, it has a very short deadline, is hard to achieve, and is a stretch goal type of task. How can you pass the request along to your team without being too bossy and thus ruining all the work of team building you’ve been doing?”

Sean Percival

Yeah, I would suggest using simple methods like Trello, if you want. I know I talked trash on that, but even in that doc that I showed, I try to break it down into little pieces.

I know that people will step up. It’s one thing that I miss working in America because people will step up if you create a clear path for them.

So, just showing everything that needs to be done in a hierarchy and then looking for people to volunteer and work together.

So, break it into pieces. Try and push them or try and elevate someone. “Hey Joe, you were really good at this last time. Why don’t you take this? Are you up for it?”

“Hey Jane, remember when you did that… Do you think you could apply that here?”

So try and give them a layup so that they join in and want to take the accountability. 

Gary Amaral

Yeah, I think, in general, the rule of thumb is that you should never be passing a hot potato without being involved or taking some of the accountability.

You need to make sure that you’re providing all the support you need for that team to be successful. If you’re passing off hot potatoes, you’re just setting them up to fail.

Would you agree with that?

Sean Percival

Yeah, absolutely! You don’t want to walk in stressed out. I’m a very calm guy; I guess it’s the California lifestyle, but I have a deep voice.

I never raise my voice; I never get stressed out because that would just be passing that down to my team.

So, be cool, common, collective, and that’s infectious. It will definitely help.

Gary Amaral

Cool! One of our attendees, Daria, actually suggested a Slack app called Moodbot to help with your team’s happiness tracking. So for those out there looking for a solution, that might work for you.

Antonio, the person who asked that question, said, “It’s all about empowerment!” We completely agree with you, Antonio. 

My final comment looking for a reaction is that I’ve always agreed with your view, “At work, we are not family.” You may build really good relationships one-to-one with some people, but as a group, you should have a high-performing team mentality.

Do you think you’re seeing a shift in tech SaaS from a lifestyle-focused management to a performance management approach or not? 

Sean Percival

Yeah, I think so, and that’s been happening because we have so many great tools now.

If you think about marketing 10 years ago, we were really struggling. We didn’t have much, and the previous speaker was talking about ProfitWell, which is an amazing tool.

So, there are all these better ways that you can measure and take action. As a result, the insights are so much easier to obtain. They’re not like a magical unicorn that only very select people know.

So, I think you have to perform now, and there are not too many reasons not to. We have the power we need, and even media spending can be done significantly better.

So yeah, the landscape’s totally changed, and the market’s gone down. Now you really have to push forward.

So it sucks; the market conditions are what they are, but I advise you to use that pressure. How do we make a diamond? From pressure! So, yes, pressure is up, but that’s good for you. It’s your time to step up to it.

Gary Amaral

Awesome, Sean! Perfect timing! Spot on! Thank you so much for joining. Hot Takes Live is only successful because of speakers like you. We are appreciative.

If anybody in the audience wants to reach out, is there a preferred method to do that?

Sean Percival

Yup! LinkedIn is probably the best. Easiest to find. If you want to send me an email, it’s just which also works as well.

Gary Amaral

Awesome, thanks again, Sean!