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How to Spot Rare Marketing Talent: Signs of a High Performer

August 31, 2020
15 Min Read

Every business is on the hunt for the best marketing talent. Yet, many startups find the hiring process to be a little more tricky than they realised. According to one poll, 92% of hiring decision-makers struggle to find the right creative talent for marketing roles. Meanwhile, over 80% of companies admit to being adversely affected by a poor hiring decision – at a potential cost of £132,000.

When it comes to hiring, then, the stakes are high. And when there is a direct link between a hire and your bottom line, you really can’t afford to make mistakes.

To help navigate this terrain, we spoke to Oren Greenberg, on-demand CMO and founder of digital marketing consultancy, Kurve. With 17 years of digital marketing experience under his belt, and having worked with brands including Lenovo, Canon, Investec Bank, and HomeServe, Oren is one of the UK’s most experienced digital marketers. As such, he’s met his fair share of talented and not-so-talented marketers.

We picked his brain for the most valuable features of marketing talent around – and for tips on how to ensure a candidate is the best person for the job. 

So, how do you spot rare marketing talent? For Oren, it’s the highly specialised skills that you should look for, along with the right attitude and real experience. However, as Oren admits, the real high performers are the people with all three...

Sourcing Marketing Talent: The Talent Jigsaw

“Finding talent is like a jigsaw. On one side, there’s your team, the functions it needs, and the gaps that need filling. On the other, there’s the talent out there available. These two need to fit together.”

Put like this, the hiring process sounds pretty straightforward. Yet, marketing departments are finding it increasingly hard to hire. In fact, according to one Adweek survey, they cite finding good talent as one of the biggest challenges they face.

For Oren, though, a successful hiring process begins before the candidates are even on the scene. Time and time again, he says, he’s seen companies that just aren’t clear on the functions that need to be performed. And, as he puts it, “if you don’t understand precisely the role you need filling, you’ll never recognise the talent that’s going to fit.”

As a result, his first piece of advice is, when seeking the right marketing talent, to always start with a precise and focused brief, directed toward specific goals

“A common problem is that briefs can be too broad, wide-ranging, and fluffy. But businesses need to be specific about the role. They should present exactly what it is that they’re trying to do, and what they want the role to achieve – as well as understanding its challenges.”

Only once you have that can you start looking for candidates. Yet, there’s a common pitfall here, too.

“The biggest mistake when hiring is trying to find the best person for everything. Every brand is searching for people who are the smartest, the most skilled, the best at as many things as possible. While these people are great, this is a very common trap,” Oren explains.

“In the end, you only really need to find the candidate that is best for that specific function.

Where Do You Find the Right Talent for the Job?

Yet, there is a practical question here. In a context in which almost a quarter of UK businesses are unable to find the candidates they need, where should firms look to hire top marketing talent?

According to research conducted by Oren’s consultancy, Kurve, five main channels stand out through which companies hire: personal networks, employee referrals, LinkedIn Jobs, recruitment agencies, and online job boards. Yet, it’s through personal networks that the majority of marketing leaders prefer to recruit their marketing specialists. 

Why? Two main reasons were cited. Firstly, candidates sourced through personal networks come with an assurance of quality. You don’t just have to take a marketer’s word for their skills. Secondly, leaders can see who would make the best fit for their company’s culture. This way, you already have a real window on how that person works – and how well they work, too.

Not all businesses have access to these referrals – particularly early stage businesses. But there is a lesson there, nonetheless. Wherever you are sourcing a senior marketer, seek data-led hard evidence that candidates have the skills that they claim to – and use this to assess whether they’re a fit for you.

If you’re looking for a high-performing marketer on a freelance basis, Traktion can help. Our pool of growth specialists are vetted and approved through our data-led checks – and you can use our platform for free to source the best marketing talent in the world. Find a marketer today.

Defining Marketing Talent: Assessing the Right Fit

So, who are the right people? Or, more specifically, how should businesses best assess talent? 

When it comes to marketing, things are a little trickier than elsewhere. And that’s because, in many ways, there’s no such thing as a typical “marketer” at all.

“Marketing is not like other functions,” Oren explains. “Rather, it’s a hybrid role that draws on multiple disciplines. Unlike a coder, say, who digs deep into a single problem using one skillset, marketers have to bring in everything from psychology to design, from data-centric analytics, to copywriting”.

All of these fields have their own technical complexities. And the trouble is that most businesses don’t do enough to identify the candidate’s specific competencies in them.

“Most businesses emphasise culture over competence when hiring. They assume that if they get on well, or if the candidate claims relevant experience, they’ll probably pick up the skills on the job. While culture is hugely important, in marketing it’s very difficult to develop specialised skills quick enough to deliver impact. That’s why you want to ensure they have those skills before they come into the job.”

Ensuring Competence in Marketing Talent

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the majority of marketers at all levels do not have sufficient knowledge of specific digital marketing tools and theories. In this context, companies need to know if candidates have what it takes in a given role.

This is why Oren defined his own criteria for assessing the nature of a given marketer’s knowledge. In his measurements, besides soft skills, the key aspects of a marketer’s skillset boil down to their theoretical knowledge, their knowledge of tools, and their knowledge of channels – all things that tend to get overlooked by companies when hiring.

“How much knowledge do they have of specific channels like Google Ads or Facebook? How comfortable are they using tools like Unbounce or HubSpot? Depending on what your strategy demands, this knowledge will be key. Theoretical knowledge matters too, or how familiar they are with the concepts and principles of marketing, from audience segmentation and attribution to user psychology.”

“But there is no one knowledge set that is needed,” Oren continues. “Different sized businesses, for example, require different levels of ability and knowledge – and often require different concepts, skills, and tools, too. Combine that with the location of the business, as well as the industry and type of company, and you’ll have more specific requirements.”

“A B2B SaaS business, for example, is going to need something different to a direct-to-consumer eCommerce business. And simply, there’s no point in hiring someone who has skills that you don’t need – or who lacks the skills that you do need. It’s all about finding that fit.”

Spotting a High Achiever: The Signs of Rare Talent

When hiring for a marketing role, then – particularly for the most senior positions – it is no longer enough to get on with a candidate or find a good all-rounder. Rather, businesses that really mean business should be looking for marketers that stand out from the crowd.

So, what might be the signals of rare marketing talent? Firstly, in an industry in which tools are becoming ever more technical, the specialist skills described above are increasingly in demand – and studies show that these themselves are rare.

Beyond these, however, Oren talks us through two rare qualities that suggest you’ve found a candidate that is really something special: experience and attitude.   

Experience: Previous Work and High Spend

For Oren, one of the first simple indicators of high performance is where they've previously worked. 

“People are more familiar with the bigger brands. But, in specialised industries, businesses will recognise a candidate’s previous employer. They’ll recognise the culture of these companies as well,” Oren says.

“However, the thing you want to be looking for is experience – and I don’t think there is much more to that than the amount of marketing spend a candidate has managed. If someone is comfortable spending five grand a month on a channel, that’s great. But if you’re talking £500k, that’s a different story – and it probably gives you an insight into the teams that person has managed, too.”

Yet, marketers with this level of experience truly are rare. As Oren points out, if there are hundreds of thousands of marketing managers, there are inevitably only a few thousand CMOs.

“Experience is just compound time – and one of the differences between a marketing manager and a CMO is the 20 years of experience. This usually translates into a set of hyper-specialised skills, and those are the skills that make marketers genuinely unique.”

Attitude: “Focused Ambition” in the Best Marketing Talent

Experience makes someone capable and reliable, and you can be pretty sure they can deliver results. However, this is only possible with the right attitude, and businesses should keep an eye out for this.

“For me, a high achiever is really just this type of attitude. It’s someone who has the persistence to stick with a problem and to hack away at it. They want to keep growing and succeeding, and part of that is the deep desire to deliver on the task at hand,” says Oren.

“In this way, they need a consistently high level of motivation. In a way, this distinguishes the career marketing managers from the CMOs, too. Some people don’t press ahead and keep going – they get frustrated with the intensity and the complexity of problems. That’s fine, but the very best high performers will break through these barriers and constantly challenge themselves.”

“Focused ambition” is the phrase Oren uses to describe these people that keep on delivering. Yet, there are warning signs too. “If you don’t have that motivation, you get disengagement. If people are disengaged, the quality is not there – and there’s not much that intelligence or experience can do for them,” he says.

“That’s why motivation is one of the most important elements of a high achiever. If candidates don’t have that crucial element, you can’t expect them to always deliver what’s required on a task.”

Conclusion: Finding the Best Marketing Talent

“What else would make a truly special marketer? They would have high intelligence, which is inevitably rare, and that deep passion for solving problems and overcoming challenges. Then they would be willing to learn and adapt, as things are changing very quickly, and they’d have strong people skills, too”.

Oren could no doubt continue – yet he stops himself short. “But all this is a bit like finding a life partner who is a model, Harvard graduate, millionnaire, and a world-class athlete. And someone who is a perfect match at the same time. If we’re honest, that person doesn’t exist.”

Instead, he identifies one rare trait to look out for in top marketers. “The best marketers are highly multifaceted. They have the knowledge of all those skills we talked about above – the tools, the channels, the theory – and the experience to use them,” he says.

“You might not find the candidate with exactly the right experience in exactly the right industry, or the right experience in the right channels – but you can get pretty close”. 

Thanks to Oren for taking the time to speak with us. You can learn more about what he does on the Kurve website, and connect with him on Linkedin.

If you’re looking for a high-performing marketer on a freelance basis, Traktion can help. Our pool of growth specialists are vetted and approved through our data-led checks – and you can use our platform for free to source the best marketing talent in the world. Find a marketer today.

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