Talent acquisition, simply defined, is that most crucial capability of defining, evaluating, and securing marketing operations (MO) talent to enable a high-performing team. As frustrating as talent acquisition may be, there are only a few ways to approach this challenge. I know of no shortcuts (If you have one, let’s talk). Across the many companies I work with and talk to, four talent acquisition strategies stand out:
1. RENT THE SKILLS
The great thing about living in the digital economy is that virtually anything can be delivered as a service. From fractional CMOs to software development, we live in a world where we can define our needs and “rent” those services. MO skills can apply this concept as well. You can rent anything from singular skills such as SEO or managing a key function of the MO organization such as inbound. Some companies work best when having this kind of flexibility.
There are three primary benefits that come with renting the skills you need. First, by bringing in this talent, you can shorten the time it takes to reach the next level and produce tangible and credible results. You can immediately accelerate your growth. Second, renting MO skills helps you train your current staff. Your team members learn from those who have done something many times in different types of environments. The third benefit is that there may be a lower risk in renting talent rather than buying expensive talent. Many organizations begin with some type of contract to bring in talent. Through this strategy, organizations can find out what they don’t know and test the waters of a new direction. Companies that change direction frequently may find this type of arrangement particularly helpful.
One negative of renting, however, is that if you do it for too long and for the wrong skills, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable situation of not owning requisite core competencies. There is always a balance to strive for, although it can fluctuate over time as the needs of the business and corresponding technologies change.
2. HIRE OUTSIDE EXPERIENCE
While renting is a solid option for getting quick results, training current employees, and reducing risk, I find more and more MO leaders would rather buy or hire the right skill sets. Doing so gives them ultimate control over their group and allows them to move with speed and agility.
In this scenario, managers hire talent from outside the company. These new hires have experience and knowledge that do not currently exist in marketing. An advantage of this method is that the right hire is an expert in certain areas and does not need to undergo a vast amount of training. They can jump right in and make a difference. For certain situations, such as a critical business need, this strategy is the only appropriate strategy.
Rohit Prabhakar, Vice President of Digital Marketing and eCommerce at Thomson Reuters, uses this technique of hiring experienced individuals. “I constantly build my network,” he shared with me. “And I hire through my network or my network’s network.” Rohit has a highly sophisticated team with a huge set of responsibilities around digital transformation, so he needs more people who can hit the ground running.
The key drawback with hiring top talent lies in cost. I have yet to meet an MO leader with an unlimited budget, and real purple unicorns—required for strategic MO—can be pricey. To be mindful of the budget, MO leaders need to evaluate their situations and decide whether they can reap the most benefit for their organizations by paying a high price for experienced, cross-skilled experts who are ready to make immediate business impacts.
Before you brush off buying skills due to the high price tag, bear in mind that not everyone will be motivated solely by money. Today’s younger workers, for example, are highly driven by their social and capital consciousnesses. They tend to prefer working for companies with similar beliefs. With that in mind, rather than jumping to salary discussions when hiring these younger workers, first learn about their passions. If their passions line up with your company’s goals, a potential match could be made. In such a case, their motivations may include money but will be moderated by social consciousness.
3. TRANSFER TALENT INTERNALLY
To start with, developing what you have is exactly what it implies. A typical path for this approach involves someone on a marketing team who is highly analytical, tech focused, and detail oriented. Over time, that person can grow into an MO role. They learn and develop through on-the-job experience and by being curious and interested. They bring a background in marketing and hopefully a bit of business acumen. For a company that’s not in a big hurry or pressed by a major change initiative, this is an excellent “acquisition” strategy.
Not long ago, I worked with TraceLink, a company with head- quarters in the Boston area, that used the internal talent transfer strategy. For their situation, it made perfect sense. They were building their first formal MO function with an offshore execution capability and needed someone to lead the initiative. An incredibly bright and motivated person was on their marketing team, and she was perfect for the job. She was curious, motivated, analytical and detail oriented. When she became the director of marketing operations, I knew she was going to knock it out of the park. And she has!
4. HIRE YOUNG PROFESSIONALS
Hiring young professionals is the fourth commonly used talent strategy. Some companies begin with college interns. Kira Mondrus-Moyal, senior vice president of global marketing at Tricentis, has successfully implemented this tactic. “We bring in students in their last year or two of college, and we actually give them real work to do,” she told me during an interview. “By the time they graduate, they can do some of the junior stuff that you always need in that team— things like data normalization, quality control, process optimization and some very basic automation or CMS stuff. We love working with interns and then bringing them on board.”
Other companies like to hire right out of college. Stephanie Ferguson, corporate vice president of Microsoft, explained the reasoning behind this method to me. She said, “What we realized is that there’s just not enough talent out there. When we first started to scale our marketing technology platform, we were incredibly challenged to find people who had the right skills.” Part of gathering.
These are mix-and-match avenues to finding the optimal marketing operations talent, but the key to getting the best results is flexibility and patience to develop your individual talent into a cohesive group dedicated to pushing repeatable revenue.