Before diving too deep into the answer to whether or not you should build a digital marketing team for your startup, let’s take the time to create a bit of context. This post starts by defining the definition of a “digital marketing team.” Next, I will present a couple of macro-economic trends which create a compelling reason to consider building a digital marketing team. Then, we will examine where digital marketing fits into your overall business strategy. Finally, a quick look at how digital marketing is impacting lead generation and sales. Based on economic trends, strategy, and the impact of digital marketing on lead generation and sales, you will be in an informed position to make a decision.

What is a digital marketing team?

In the broad sense, a digital marketing team uses online technology to communicate with your potential customers. A website anchors your digital presence and functions as a communication hub for content delivery. Social media channels amplify and deliver content to your audience, which drives customer traffic to your website. The purpose of driving traffic to your website is to create awareness of your business and generate leads. What most startup founders want is digital demand generation, not digital marketing. For the remainder of this post, the terms digital marketing and digital demand generation are essentially the same thing.

Macro trends affecting digital marketing

If you zoom out and take a long-term strategic view, two trends create a compelling case for building a digital marketing team. These two long-term macro-economic trends are demographics and digital transformation. Both trends will impact the way businesses start and grow for the foreseeable future.


Most of the population falls into one of five demographic bins; Boomers, GenX, GenY, GenZ, and the emergent GenA. The graph’s X-axis to the left is time-based and starts at 1947 on the left to 2021 on the right. Thus, the generations by the birth year create five (5) generational bins of approximately fifteen (15) to twenty-five (25) years each.

Digital Divide

The Digital Divide


In about the middle of GenY, a clear dividing line separated the generations into two halves; digital immigrants on the left and digital natives on the right. Digital immigrants knew the world before the internet. In contrast, digital natives were born into a world where smartphones and the internet are the norms. The proportion of digital natives relative to digital immigrants is only going to increase as society ages. Demographics and the digital divide are long-term trends that make building a digital marketing team even more critical.

Digital Transformation

E-Commerce Growth 2010 to 2021


Digital Transformation is the second macro-economic trend that will significantly impact how consumers and businesses interact and connect. A good indicator of digital transformation is the percentage of online sales relative to the total retail sales. The graph to the left shows the percentage of eCommerce retail sales online as a percentage of total sales in the US. (Data from US Census Bureau) The trend for doing business online will continue to be a significant source of new sales and leads for businesses. Going online is no longer an option. It is an essential part of business building.

The confluence of an increasingly digitally-savvy population and the movement of all aspects of business online make a compelling case for building a digital marketing team. Both demographics and digital transformation are critical drivers of the need to have an effective digital presence. Your digital marketing team is the architects of your digital presence.

Where does digital marketing fit with overall startup strategy?

Digital Marketing - Strategy Levels


There are essentially three levels of strategy for any business. The three levels are; Strategy, Alignment, and Execution. If you want more information on strategy levels, check out these two posts; Startup Strategy Framework and Startup Strategy Levels.

Digital marketing tends to operate at the lower three levels of strategy within a business. Digital marketing is all about turning business strategy into brand awareness and new customers. Launching a startup or introducing a new product would be at the top strategy level of digital marketing. At the mid-level would be planning a content strategy to support the launch activities. On the ground level would be paid (SEM) and organic (SEO) search campaigns with social media support. Digital marketing is all about turning strategy into new revenue.

How is digital marketing impacting startups?

Digital technology has profoundly affected the way businesses start and grow. Whereas startups traditionally had a single sales funnel to manage, they now have multiple sales funnels. There are also two types of sales teams, outbound and inbound.



Outbound vs Inbound Sales

The advent of digital marketing has created two broad types of sales; inbound and outbound. Inbound sales differ from traditional sales in that instead of going out and finding customers, customers find you. The idea is that by creating exciting and, compelling content customers want to engage with your business. Engagement means that customers are already interested in your products or service when they contact you.

Traditional vs Digital Sales Funnels

The traditional sales funnel uses the AIDA concept. The new digital sales funnels also use the AIDA concept. However, there are at least two new digital sales funnels to manage. The digital funnel happens online and comes complete with a full suite of digital metrics. The conventional funnel begins once you come into contact with the customer.

Sales Funnel vs Customer Funnel

AIDA Sales Funnel vs Customer Funnel


Both outbound and inbound sales have their own sales processes. Since the traditional outbound sales process is manual, mainly based on person-to-person interaction, there are limited ways to measure results. However, the inbound sales process (Customer Funnel) uses in-person and digital marketing activities to generate leads. The startup website anchors the customer funnel. There are many valuable digital metrics to measure engagement and lead generation on a website. The customer funnel has all the attributes of the traditional sales funnel plus many digital metrics to measure engagement at the top of the funnel.

Sales Funnel – The traditional sales funnel uses the AIDA concept (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). Lead generation is outbound activities performed by sales representatives. The SDR (Sales Development Representatives) will perform activities such as cold calling, attending trade shows, and networking to generate leads and fill the top funnel. However, the sales process is separate from the rest of the team and often done in isolation. The challenge with the SDR sales process is that it is manual and not integrated into the rest of the startup team.

Customer Funnel – The customer funnel builds on the AIDA concept with the customer as the focus of sales and digital marketing activities. The customer funnel integrates both inbound and outbound activities into the sales process. Both traditional sales activities and content marketing are used to generate leads. There are also closer ties between marketing and sales because the customer funnel process is more integrated. The customer funnel is also a data-driven sales process.

Digital marketing is making the sales cycle much more technical. However, at the same time, digital marketing is allowing startups to target ads with pinpoint precision. Thus, digital marketing is a two-edged sword that enables far greater productivity and efficiency while requiring a far greater depth of skills and knowledge to manage. Building a digital marketing team is one way to keep the sales knowledge within your startup.

Should I build a digital marketing team for my business?

Concerning the original question that started this post. Yes, all growth-oriented startups need to build their digital marketing team. Marketing and sales are, in my opinion, always the core competencies of any startup. When you outsource digital marketing, you are also outsourcing a lot of your sales and marketing IP.

The long-term macro-economic trends of demographics and digital transformation are strong indicators of the importance of having an in-house digital marketing team. More consumers and businesses are going to be finding products and services online. Growing startups need to build a solid digital presence as soon as possible. The best way to develop and promote your digital presence is with an in-house digital marketing team.

The best time to build a digital marketing team was ten years ago; the second-best time is now.


Ian Paul Graham
“I help startup founders find product-market fit and build digital demand teams.”