Once a year I teach a class in the MBA program at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. For the last seven years, my charter has been to introduce MBA students to the real world of B2B marketing. This year, I brought a special guest to help me talk about this real world: Dan Brown, VP of marketing operations at Verint. In addition to having him give the class an overview of his role as a marketing operations leader and what he is responsible for, I requested that he be prepared to talk about career strategies for the students.
Imagine my surprise when Brown began to talk about careers in marketing operations, and he looked the class straight in the eye and said, “Let me begin by saying, I would not hire anyone in this class.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then he went onto explain why: “You simply do not have the right mix of skills and experience. What I need in my marketing operations group are people with solid technical skills, who exhibit a business mindset, who have extensive marketing experience and who are excellent communicators and collaborators.”
Brown added that finding talent has been one of his top challenges as a marketing operations leader.
What CMOs say about the skills gap
In a parallel discussion, I was working with four CMOs preparing for a panel discussion at an upcoming marketing operations conference. The name of the panel discussion is “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Growing a Marketing Operations Capability.” As we were brainstorming topics for the panel to discuss, one CMO was particularly passionate about the challenge of acquiring, keeping, training and grooming talent.
Once this CMO began talking about this topic, the others joined in to express a similar level of extreme frustration with talent acquisition and management in the marketing operations organization. And this frustration went beyond finding the right skills and the right skills mix. A strong shared sentiment was that building a marketing operations team that can evolve with the fast-changing technology landscape will be a strategic imperative.
The gating factor
I share these stories to point out that as we begin to look into 2018, the limiting or gating factor to marketing operations performance and strategic value to the firm is and will continue be talent acquisition and management.
In a study sponsored by SAP and the Technical University of Munich, 64 percent of respondents “rather disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the statement that they currently had enough personnel with the right skills to lead digital transformation of the firm. As we move into 2018, and the pace of technology continues to accelerate, the role of marketing operations continues to evolve, and the marketing operations leader will need new approaches to address this serious challenge.
Talent acquisition strategies
I see talent acquisition as the capability of defining, evaluating and securing marketing operations talent to enable a high-performing team. Here are three strategies used by fast-growing marketing operations teams:
- The Good Accident
- The Intentional Path
- Work with HR
The Good Accident strategy refers to having someone on your marketing team who assumes a marketing operations role early in the maturity of the group and grows into the role as the organization grows. This person may be called a “First-Gen” marketing operations professional, and I see many of these types of people. They enjoy technology, are curious and are constantly looking for a new challenge.
The Intentional Path strategy is a proactive talent acquisition strategy that either hires from the outside or grooms from the inside. I call this person a “Second-Gen” marketing operations professional. The Second-Genner is either hired (at a premium) from another company or is a more technical person who has worked in marketing before coming into the marketing operations group.
Marketing experience is a critically important element, as I’ve seen more than one IT group crash and burn as they tried to run marketing operations. They simply did not have a marketing context in which to create value.
The third strategy for talent acquisition is to work with HR to find the right talent. OK, this sounds so simple, yet I bet that 85 percent of all marketing operations leaders do not work with HR.
I asked a VP of HR about this recently, and their response was, “They typically know what they want.” Wait, what?? Hiring the right talent is critical to leading digital transformation, and working closely with HR (the hiring professionals) should be business-as-usual!
Talent management is the capability of aligning employees with strategic objectives; implementing learning and development programs; developing career paths; providing opportunities for professional growth and development; and rewarding and recognizing achievement. As the marketing operations organization grows and evolves, establishing formal talent management processes will be essential.
One aspect of talent management often neglected is aligning marketing operations talent with all the parts of marketing. I’ve seen companies bring in marketing operations talent, and these new roles totally upset the equilibrium of marketing.
Employees have a need to know where and how they fit into the ecosystem, and new roles bring change. Aligning the new talent with the existing and different talent is a key role for marketing operations management.
The strategic marketing operations leader has many challenges, from budgets to technology to enabling and proving results from marketing. The key factor for effective marketing operations performance is the ability to attract, keep and grow the right talent pool and to fully integrate this talent pool across marketing.
It’s time for marketing operations leaders to formalize and mature their talent acquisition and management capabilities, and in doing so, be proactive and intentional. Helping the senior management team understand the direct correlation between the marketing operations skills gap and performance will be a key task for the strategic marketing operations leader in 2018.
This article was originally published on martechtoday.com on October 19, 2017. It can be found here.