Joining a newly created role in a senior team is often most daunting in startups facing scale. It’s a recognition that the company has grown up, that its previous efforts are no longer befitting the business is now is, or is about to be. The challenge then is how to take your team to the next level, how to succeed if you’re moving to a new industry and have a lot to learn. 

We asked Marita Markkula, who joined as CMO of ICEYE, a technology firm that provides access to timely and reliable satellite imagery and solutions, to share her ideas and advice.

You’re not going to know everything – and that’s ok 

Marita Markkula: With ICEYE, the Earth observation industry was all new to me, as it was the case in all the previous companies I've joined.  I've always enjoyed scaling commercially new technologies and that necessarily means you’re not going to be the expert in the one thing everyone else knows lots about. It can be quite daunting but the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to be the know-it-all. I might not be the Earth observation expert but 99.9% of people in ICEYE are the world's best at that. I bring other skills to the table.

You’re being hired as a subject matter expert on how to scale commercial functions and escalate the roles that corporate branding, marketing and communication play in achieving that. So firstly, just trust that while you don’t hold expertise on this particular industry, you will learn it when you listen to it. When you listen to learn, you naturally lean in and start to build bridges. 

Build a strong network across the business

Throughout all my career, success always boils down to the people. As, it should be said, does all the failures and the ups and the downs. It’s people who create the product, it's people who sell and market that product it's also people who actually buy my product.  

First and foremost, build a strong collaborative relationship with the business owners. Regardless, start establishing allies within the company, and look outside your brief for cross functional rapport and joint objectives. In marketing, I’ve always worked closely with sales. Not just for sales, but with marketing positioned as a strategic function close to sales, as equal business partner, from which you can build a joint commercial strategy. 

Similarly, I always try to build a strong alignment with the product team. I want to be aware and learn what those amazing technologies and capabilities the company has, and how can we use them as proof points in our narrative, and help to build a distinctive and impactuf storyline.

You also need to absolutely obsessed in understanding the customer. Marketing’s job is to secure that customer’s voice is heard and addressed in everything we do.

Build a truly diverse team

We should never trivialise the need of hardcore competencies on substance and experience, but I'm a believer also in building teams that are truly diverse. And when I say diverse, I mean the entirety of what that term represents. It’s about having different skills, backgrounds, and also a balanced mix of seniority level. Somebody who may be fresh out of university could absolutely bring in new ways of interacting in digital and social media. But then you also need the more senior members who understand how to build a digital funnel, end-to-end customer experience and a strategy behind it.

Building diverse teams, but then also really nailing that ‘how’ part is something that I cannot emphasise enough is crucial in any growth company.

Measure your success

Recap: listen in first, trust your own experience. Build a network, work side-by-side with them, use them as a soundboard to build objectives for what you owe to and expect from each other. Then it is about building a plan on both what are we doing, to whom, how are we doing and what type of talent or skills we need in order to make that plan to come alive. 

The other piece of advice I’d give anyone starting in any newly created role is to measure your success from day one. Of course trust your gut as well, but verify it with data and make a conscious effort in building analytical, data-driven competencies across the team. For marketing this becomes especially valuable, as it can no longer be seen as an area of subjective opinions and old-fashioned ‘big ideas’. 

You should also utilize the full potential of the joint brain power around you. At ICEYE we organised a marketing hackathon – we called it Macathon, for our sins – in which we brought in the product managers, solutions, analytics and software teams to work with marketing in building new digital concepts. It was magical, everyone leaned in to create something truly novel for the benefit of the whole business.

That’s what also the best marketing and the best teams in general represent today: nobody works in an isolated bubble. You can leverage the whole team's unique competencies and create something maybe no one's ever done before.