The people principle: finding and keeping the best marketers

What does it take to attract and retain the right B2B marketing talent?

A B2B marketing team is only as strong as its people. “Marketing is now so many things for B2B organisations, and it’s evolving so quickly – the pace of change has never been faster,” says Paul D’Arcy, Senior Vice-President of Marketing at global employment search engine Indeed.When we bring great people into organisations, it’s essential we let them learn and discover, so they can help accelerate and drive the marketing function even better.”

There are more similarities than differences in attracting and retaining B2B compared with B2C marketers. D’Arcy says his B2B team requires more marketers with advanced coding skills, especially as marketing becomes more data-driven. “There are gaps where you have unusual overlaps of creativity and very deep technical knowledge,” he says, “and those people are certainly harder to find.”

Experts agree finding an exact fit can be challenging; while soft skills are in demand, an understanding of metrics and data is becoming critical to demonstrating business value.

“One universal trait that’s becoming harder to find is the ability to think and speak in metrics, and to find talent comfortable with metrics,” says Robin Marchant, Head of Marketing at medical and clinical software solutions provider MedicalDirector. “From my experience in B2B marketing, I’m seeing the marketing function shift to a scientific field based on precise metrics and continual optimisations where measurements and insight are mandatory.

“Soft skills make the difference between average candidates and ideal candidates.”

“Marketing isn’t a mysterious function, and it’s certainly not a creative-only function. It has to deliver quantitative results to the business and drive sales. So to keep the marketing team aligned and focused, you need clear visibility on marketing KPIs that are used as the foundation for all decision-making.”

Commercial law firm Holman Webb Lawyer’s Chief Marketing and Corporate Relations Officer, Adriana Giometti, says the marketing team needs to offer a deeper level of analysis to demonstrate business value. “As marketers, we’re always expected to establish and identify our value to the business,” she says. “This becomes even more difficult in professional services marketing, where we don’t have enough access to the type of analysis that can make a direct link to our contribution. That’s why having a highly functioning marketing team helps immensely.”

In the professional services space, Giometti also sees technology playing a more prominent part within the marketing function, and marketers who can best leverage the latest digital offerings can help drive efficiency and agility within the marketing mix. “Understanding and leveraging new marketing tools and analytics specifically designed for the professional services space all assist in providing better outcomes,” she says.

Don’t rush to hire B2B marketing talent

Experts say while it can be difficult to find ideal candidates, it’s important to look for passionate marketers who can grow, learn, evolve and adapt.

“Strong organisations tend to find people who have raw ingredients to be great marketers, and they help them learn within the organisation and grow their careers,” D’Arcy says. “Find someone who has a passion for the work you do and is willing to get deep and understand the people your business serves. Importantly, look for someone who can offer solutions, craft great communications strategies and marketing programs that resonate and connect.”

According to D’Arcy, the problem arises when you have marketing teams that are too rigid in their hiring approach. They say “I want this person who has had this job, at a place like this,” and make the mistake of creating a narrow pool of people to choose from. “It’s the leaders willing to give opportunities to marketers who are smart, creative and have a passion for what you as an organisation are doing who can find and nurture amazing people,” he says.

Marchant says it’s important to look for skills you can’t necessarily teach – attitude, passion and teamwork. “Soft skills make the difference between average candidates and ideal candidates,” he says. “At MedicalDirector, we want to ensure any new addition to the team adds something extra, either to support what we have or add something new. That could be a skill, such as marketing automation, or a personality trait, such as energetic enthusiasm.”

Freedom to learn: where talent retention starts

Organisational culture is everything, experts say. It’s critical to shaping your candidate pool, retaining talent and driving a great marketing function. “You need to create an environment where people are happy to come to work,” D’Arcy says. “Where they’re learning, experimenting, enjoying what they’re doing and referring their friends, so ultimately your organisation becomes a destination for talent.

“Marketing talent also need an environment where people treat them well, with respect and kindness. After all, today most employees spend more time with their colleagues than with their families.”

D’Arcy says good B2B marketing teams retain talent by giving them ownership of projects or an area of the business, and an appropriate level of autonomy. “Talented B2B marketers need to be given the freedom to try new things, to fail, make mistakes, learn and evolve,” he says.

“When organisations bring in a diverse set of people and skills from other industries, professional and personal backgrounds, creativity really starts.”

“A CMO who constantly tells people what to do isn’t creating an environment people want to be a part of. It’s not going to help build a team that truly benefits a business, and you lose all that potential of your talent. After all, the role of the CMO is to set purpose, to drive passion and to give people the freedom to learn, explore, fail and evolve.”

Marchant says a strong team environment becomes a key ingredient to attract the right candidates, while a culture of transparency and openness is vital to retaining them.

“When you have a culture of transparency and openness, you automatically create a collaborative environment,” he says. “Flexibility also plays a pivotal role in today’s modern marketing environment. There are numerous macro and micro environmental issues that continually evolve, so having flexibility demonstrates an ability and willingness to acquire new hard skills, and an open-mindedness to new tasks and new challenges.”

Creativity and collaboration

While the B2B marketing function varies depending on the organisation, one thing D’Arcy has found constant in his career is that diversity can help foster creativity.

“When organisations bring in a diverse set of people and skills from other industries, professional and personal backgrounds, creativity really starts to happen and they start to better serve their diverse client sets around the world,” he says.

Giometti also says diversity and collaboration play an important part in attracting and retaining great talent. “Within the profession, we have a very good reputation as an employer,” she says. “Our culture is amazing – it’s highly collaborative, has lots of diversity and provides good flexibility. As leaders, we do what it takes to set our staff up for success.

“I like to think that no-one comes to work to do a bad job, so we should make sure our people are challenged, motivated and inspired. But marketing isn’t for the fainthearted – it’s a lot of hard work and you need to have thick skin. It’s a real team sport. You need to roll up your sleeves and assist where needed.”

For Marchant, the best ideas come from cross-business collaboration and teamwork, which means marketing shouldn’t operate in a silo. “Collaborating between departments builds a diverse and strong internal network, enables each department to work together effectively and benefits both the customer and the business,” he says. “Candidates who fully understand how the company works will be better at highlighting the company’s best features.”

 Top 3 things B2B senior marketers should CONSIDER when hiring fresh B2B marketing talent:

  • Find passionate marketers who are willing to learn
  • Look for people who are data-driven and metrics-minded
  • Embrace creativity, diversity and the freedom to learn

- Indeed’s Senior Vice-President of Marketing, Paul D’Arcy

 Top 3 things B2B senior marketers should AVOID when hiring fresh B2B marketing talent:

  • Choosing people who know less than you (yes, less than you)
  • Hiring quickly and purely on skills and experience
  • Overlooking character and culture fit

- MedicalDirector’s Head of Marketing, Robin Marchant

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Further reading: Power to our people: NAB’s Andrew Knott