Every week, EM Marketing sends out an email recruiting for a wide variety of marketing positions on behalf of our clients, most of which are tech firms. A significant percentage of these are in Silicon Valley, where we are supposedly inventing the future, and the future of work.
Doing this matchmaking work, we get to talk to a lot of amazing marketers — both on the candidate side and the hiring side. It’s always satisfying to be part of making a perfect match. That’s the reason our company exists.
But I find it’s also getting harder and harder to make those perfect matches, in large part because of technology and the ways hiring managers are using it — or aren’t. Marketers today are striving to be more nimble, creative and human, but employers are missing out on a lot of really talented people — the very people that could help them deliver on those goals.
Optimizing the Data
Marketing used to be a blend of art and science — in the pre-digital era, perhaps a little too much on the art side. Now, I think we’re shifting too much to the science side. The martech stack has exploded over the last decade, automating a lot of manual tasks. Digital platforms have lowered costs and expanded our reach. And, they’ve given us massive amounts of data to work with. “Data-driven” is our new favorite phrase.
It’s becoming more common to see marketing teams made up mostly of ops and analytic types, or teams being managed by finance or engineering. There’s less emphasis on strategy, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the strategy is to optimize delivery and data.
That’s a game of diminishing returns. Eventually you run out of channels where you can optimize clicks and conversions down to the last penny. It’s branding that ultimately creates an unfair competitive advantage, and that’s an art. You need human eyes to look at the creative, evaluate whether you’re approaching the right targets, and most of all, to get out there and talk to real people and not just sit at a computer sending out emails or adjusting bids.
Where Have All the Strategists Gone?
One of the ways we see this play out from where we sit is a decline in requests for strategists and brand marketers, and an over emphasis on people with expertise in specific tools. But do you really need a person with deep experience running Marketo? I would argue against that.
What you probably really need is a person with a deep understanding of marketing in general and demand gen in particular, who has familiarity with the tools. The tools marketers have today are more intuitive than ever. You don’t need a lot of training to work at a basic or even intermediate level. If you need help with something, you can find plenty of resources on the internet. You should also be able to lean on your Marketo rep for tech support.
Managers need to go back up a level and think about what they’re really trying to do. In this example, that’s drive leads. That’s so much bigger and more strategic than operating Marketo. By getting so granular, organizations are ending up with tool jockeys who sometimes don’t really even know marketing.
The other side of that is hiring managers that are looking for purple unicorns. They put everything on their wish list into the job description, creating a role that no one human being can possibly fill. They think they’re going to find a “ninja” or a “rock star” but what’s more likely to happen is that a lot of potential candidates are going to look at that list and decide not to apply.
Subpar Results at Scale
These kinds of hiring tendencies have always existed, and they don’t get good results. But now we can apply technology to them and get subpar results at scale.
Most companies are now using some kind of app to screen and match candidates based on algorithms and increasingly on artificial intelligence. There’s a lot of discussion going on now about bias in artificial intelligence, and how that can be a problem in HR apps, but let’s start with a more basic problem — the inputs.
The manager uploading the job description for the Marketo expert is going to screen out a lot of perfectly qualified demand gen marketers who are experienced with the tools of the trade but haven’t used Marketo specifically. And the manager looking for the purple unicorn is going to screen out everyone who isn’t a purple unicorn.
They’re probably both going to miss out on some of the most qualified candidates because people with anything more than a few years of experience can’t fit everything they’ve done and every tool they’ve ever worked with onto their resume. So, the keyword match may not be there on the candidate side either.
The other thing is that algorithms are pretty poor at understanding impact — sorting through a candidate’s accomplishments and knowing what is significant. Career coaches are busy telling people to write about their achievements, while bots are busy reducing them to the sum of their keyword portfolio.
There’s always been a tendency to approach hiring transactionally — “I want a person with 'x' years of experience to do this role for 'y' hours at 'z' dollars per hour.” Now we have technology platforms like Fiverr and Upwork where we can do exactly that. We have salary data from LinkedIn and Glassdoor, giving us transparency into the going rate for just about any job in any market.
Those are useful, but they have their limits. People aren’t commodities. They’re not interchangeable units, but if you look at them that way you’re going to be leaving a lot on the table. I think this quote from the author John Elder Robinson sums it up nicely: “We live in a world that values conformity, when it is our differences that provide real value.”
Broadening the Filters
The way you find people with differences that provide real value is to cast a much wider net. What’s ironic is that this is a place where technology is being underutilized. Despite all the remote collaboration tools we have — project management tools; videoconferencing; file sharing apps; calendaring apps; co-working spaces; cell phones; laptops, and the internet itself — most employers haven’t changed their thinking about how they structure their workforce.
All of these tools should free them to look anywhere for the best talent, but the 40-hours-a-week-butt-in-seat mentality still prevails. Our experience is that when hiring firms insist on that, we get far fewer applicants for any given opening.
Even though technology is changing the way people can work, and there’s ample evidence that they want to work differently, employers really haven’t changed their thinking, and that’s limiting their options.
What should managers who want to hire the best marketing talent do?
Filtering software isn’t going to go away, but we can broaden what we filter for, focusing more on results than on tasks. Looking for someone who can drive leads through demand gen opens you up to a lot more possibilities of how that might be done, and it opens you up to a lot more people.
You can consider remote workers. You can consider experienced workers, consultants, and independent contractors. Experience makes people faster and smarter, and independents can often get a lot more done in a day than an internal person who spends half their time going to meetings and an hour or more commuting. A $200 an hour person for 20 hours a week could be as good or possibly better than $100 person for 40 hours a week.
The promise of technology has always been to free humans from the drudgery of repetitive work so that we can be more human — so we can tell stories, create, invent and connect with people. Those are the same things that are being asked of us as marketers today. Let’s use technology as a tool to unleash our human and artistic side rather than to commoditize ourselves and try to turn ourselves into robots.