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The Marketing Automation Skills Gap

I’m on a plane right now, but as usual my mind is at LeadMD. I was looking over an email I sent in 2010, an inter-office memo of sorts, albeit sent to an inter-office of three. This was the size of LeadMD in 2010, and we had just begun to get to the level of busy where you know something great is building. The email was entitled simply: ‘Goals’, and I had sent it out at the time as a mission statement for the company.

The bulleted list contained many items for which LeadMD has become synonymous – hard work, excellence, skill-forward focus. However, half way down the list started a new section, ‘Personal Goals’. The first item on that list read, ‘To be able to go on vacation and not check email’. Needless to say, my personal goals have not faired as well as the company’s. I’ve checked email so many times on this flight that all of my devices are nearing death – those blinking battery bars reminding me that only so much time is left before the void silence – the abyss of a disconnected inbox. Since the end is near, I decided to write this blog post, the last gasp of bits and bytes until, well until I get to a coveted wall outlet. The impetus for the post: why can’t I unplug? Why can’t any of us?

I was reading an Inc. article entitled ‘Where Have All the Workers Gone’ before we took off. It seemed fitting as hiring is, and always has been the largest challenge for this organization. When I speak to other consultancies and business owners, they too seem to always echo this same pain point. It’s completely ironic to me that our largest competitor is not an up and coming group of consultants or a large established firm who has their eyes on the marketing automation space. Hell, it’s not even Marketo who is in a unique position to sell services to their user base before a partner is even aware that a need exists. Our biggest competition is actually the notion that our clients can “do it themselves”. I’ve said many times that the only way to do something successfully is to fail at it. Frankly, if you want to be the one to bear the brunt of that failure with a lot of money and time on the line, I’ll let you take that lonely leap. However the reason that most of us became consultants is that we went it alone at one point, we felt the pain and we bore the scars and we said, “this shouldn’t be how it is.” When I started LeadMD I couldn’t believe the lack of community, knowledge and support around Marketing Automation. In 6 years, not much has changed in that regard. It’s damn hard to find good talent that spans all of the necessary skillsets to drive MA success and digital marketing strategies that succeed. Damn hard.

Anyway, back to the Inc. article. The commentary speaks to the huge skill gap arising in this country and also as that gap grows the sense of entitlement in most of today’s workforce grows along with it. There’s a dirty phrase that you don’t see in many job descriptions because it often means the kiss of death for those seeking skilled employees – that phrase is ‘Hard Work’. There’s an underlying notion that dominates the views of many professionals these days, that’s the notion that the longer you work, the easier your job should become. You start out, you pay your dues and you reap the (large) rewards. That notion is fundamentally flawed. Often with it is bound the concept of management as a graduation point, meaning that eventually you move into management and you find some other shlubs to do the heavy lifting. I’ve got news for you, management IS heavy lifting. A good friend of mine is fond of saying, ‘get as high as you can within an organization without the need to manage anyone but yourself’. If you’re looking for the easy road, you won’t find it in management. Yet, this is the mindset of the many and therefore hiring “doers” has become more difficult than ever before.

At LeadMD, we don’t often hire consultants; we don’t often hire VP or director level folks either, and reason being is that they tend to be lazy and entitled. If you are high up in the chain of command, there’s a good chance you got there based on concepts and methodologies that simply no longer apply. Times have changed and we need to hire those who are willing to completely change their way of thinking. For many seasoned vets, that’s difficult. At the same time, many of the “new class” don’t want to put in the type of effort necessary to cultivate change, these days everyone seems to want to fast forward. The issue is of course that while many are looking for the easy road, the actual road is being built and it’s headed in a completely different direction that where they were looking, only when it’s too late do they realize it.

The gap between the skill that we need and the skills that we have seems to be growing wider by the day. To me this seems a strange phenomenon as the skill sets we are looking for are well advertised. When we list them to potential candidates I can see their faces drop. Without fail everyone believes they can communicate well (very few actually do), they believe they can work hard and they believe they are the type of folk others can count on; then I start listing skillsets.

Q. Can you create basic HTML?
A. Well I normally work with someone who takes the design and creates digital assets.

Q. So you have basic graphic design skills? You create Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign documents?
A. Well, not really, I’ve played in those programs but our designers perform that work. I coordinate with vendors.

Q. So once the assets are created you build the inbound and outbound campaigns that utilize these assets?
A. I help our team, basically the firm we work with builds the campaigns and I check them before they go out.

Q. (As I mentally wad the resume into a tight ball and “file it” in the nearby receptacle) So, are you the one who creates the strategy for the campaign, designs who will receive what message, integrates it with your inbound nurture strategy and creates the benchmarks against which success will be measured?”
A. Not really, my boss does most of that; I do pull the lists from CRM based on job title.

If I have the above conversation one more time I’m literally going to jump out of a window and take the candidate with me. Why? Because they are doomed. The above is not a skillset, it’s a way of hanging out until someone runs out of money for thrills. I don’t mean to break conversational marketing strategy into the minutia of the above skillsets, but I strongly believe its is a very relevant piece of the pie. People say things like, “I really don’t get that far into the weeds” or “I want to remain strategic where my skillsets are best utilized” – I can tell you that those are the biggest cop-outs I’ve ever heard. Go find a VP of Finance who can’t read a P&L or a CIO who doesn’t create network infrastructure – good luck. Marketing remains one of the few disciplines where more often than not, the inmates really are running the asylum. This is taking place because the skillsets involved in modern day marketing didn’t exist when your VP, CMO or CEO “came up”. Marketing operations skillsets were historically performed by vendors, or interns or some guy who was willing to help out. Marketing skillsets weren’t as integrated as they are now, they weren’t as important. Today 10% of the marketing department runs 90% of the output – and that’s scary as hell.

The skills gap is compounded by the fact that honestly much of what we do each day can be learned, it’s the more fundamental elements that can’t. Skillsets like being willing to step outside your comfort zone, being willing to ask questions, the desire to step back and view the entire problem and solve it in a way that can scale. These tend to be the rarest of traits; it’s scary how rare it is to find someone who can do this.

As I replay conversations like I outlined above, it dawns on me as to what the one immutable trait was that we simply can’t live without, and it’s the same trait that each of our most successful employees possess. Honesty. Strange how you don’t associate consulting with honesty and it seems almost out of place as you repeat the two in the same sentence. Honesty is the trait we can’t train and it’s the one we can’t live without. But how do you know when someone doesn’t have it? It’s certainly not something that is easy to determine. It’s become incredibly clear to me just how glaring some of the indicators are to spot however. The reason it’s been so hard to uncover is that actually the entire hiring process has been designed to ensure the least amount of honesty – from both parties.

Like dating, the job interview is where both parties place their best foot forward and even the worst traits are polished to appear as jewels in the applicants crown. How many times has the interviewer heard that an applicants “worst” trait is “working too hard” or “not being able to unplug at night” – seems like music to a company’s ears, and it’s far too convenient. It isn’t until the second month when the employee has exhausted everyone’s patience by simply refusing to put in the effort, or lying to a client or never stepping in to help someone where it doesn’t benefit them that those interview room lies truly bear their full painful brunt. Everyone has bad qualities; there are always areas for improvement. However, I can say this without any hesitation whatsoever, people never change. People improve and grow, but they don’t change. If you can’t be honest in an interview, you won’t suddenly become a beacon of truth on the job. Yet, time and time again, we expect this from employees. In the vein of honesty, this is more the employer’s fault than the employee. All too often we’ve had conversations like the one above and we’ve taken them on as a challenge, an opportunity to mold someone new. People never change, if we think we can change them, we’re not being honest with ourselves.

So what is the solution? How do we bridge this terrible skills gap and fix the problem before it becomes too large or even worse, we run out of budget to fix it? The first step is respecting it. We need to truly understand what it takes to run a world-class modern day marketing department and we need to stop thinking that hiring one person will be the key to improvement. We need to be honest with ourselves and know that this will not be a quick fix.

We’ve rolled out a new infographic as a follow up to Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit. We had a lot of conversations at Summit about what it takes to succeed with Marketo and moreover, WHO it takes to succeed. This graphic depicts what it really takes, in terms of skillset and headcount to run a great revenue focused marketing department. The results are staggering to most, I would imagine, but make no mistake – it’s people who determine the success of software, and it’s time to start setting yourself up for success.

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