Lessons for all parties on marketing manager recruitment

May 2018

As I have done before in similar circumstances, I took a break from my monthly blog as a result of taking on a four month interim contract as marketing director for a long-standing client. But that four months is now over, so working life is starting to get back to normal – meaning I’m not at it for seven days a week and therefore can spend a little time on my own stuff.

Interim positions at a senior level are typically challenging and this one was no exception. The circumstances which led to the contract were the departure of the marketing manager, with this largely driven by an apparent inability to produce an evidence-based marketing plan for each of the company’s four divisions. Why so challenging? Well for the year or so the outgoing manager had been in place, they’d effectively instilled something of a culture in the wider management team that marketing didn’t have to be based on anything particularly factual, and secondly I’d originally been involved in the recruitment of the person. So a) I had to reinstate a collective mind-set which routinely sought to put facts before subjective opinion, and b) repeatedly defend my original decision on the appointment – albeit, and thankfully for me, the person was actually my second choice but the business owner’s first (nothing like being able to blame your boss). There were also some rather macho sales-led individuals in the company who simply didn’t get marketing (evidence-based or otherwise) but I’ll leave that story to another day.

For further context, the company in question operates largely in B2B markets only and with products including security fencing, industrial sliding gates and machinery guarding. So not exactly everyday or aspirational purchases, and this being the case if you were in the market for such a thing your start point would almost certainly be online search. Indeed, all the evidence pointed to that (e.g. from Google Analytics and data on their CRM system) and hence why, for nearly a decade, I had in place a central marketing strategy built around dominating search results – both organic and paid – and then delivering the potential customer to a content-rich website with a compelling message to engage.

My strategy had worked over the years, and with studies now showing that around 90% of B2B purchasing starts with online research, it was only ever going to get more relevant. This being the case, the alarm bells first rang for me when the marketing manager issued their first draft marketing plan in the autumn of last year, and gone was my strategy – it didn’t even figure on a second tier level. Instead, the central strategy was about building brand awareness – so in other words when you were suddenly in the market for a 20 metre long automated sliding gate, you’d know where to come. Problem is of course that nobody gives a damn about non-aspirational product and the brands that sell them until they actually need them (B2B or B2C markets), and all the outbound tactics proposed were never going to change that. And the alarm bells rang even louder for me – and for the business owner – when the marketing manager not only refused to budge and instead stuck with their preferred plan, but was unwilling to listen to the help and advice I was providing. Talk about dig your own grave.

But now for the good news: Along with delivering a rather excellent marketing plan for each of the four divisions (dare I say so myself), I found my first choice of marketing manager was still available. So now they’re now in place and doing a fine job.

Although, typically, I’m not terribly good and admitting fault, I have done in this case and have learnt a lesson from the original recruitment process. Okay I’ve been able to say that the person wasn’t my first choice, but that original decision was fairly close-run and certainly I didn’t try to talk the business owner out of his preferred choice (my first was actually his second). So how did I get it so wrong and not be able to work out that the person we were appointing wouldn’t be able to see their way around a Google Analytics dashboard, or, more to the point, feel the need to do so? Well the simple truth is that the two interviews I had with them were on Skype and not in person, and this because they were unable to make the day I was doing first interviews, and we lived more than 500 miles apart – not that this should have been an excuse for either party. I was pretty-much taken in by the person, but when I did eventually meet them in person some 9 months after they joined my client, I could see in under 10 minutes that they were hopelessly out of their depth – a conclusion the business owner had already reached months before. I was also taken in by an impressive CV, plus the assurances of the owner of the specialist recruitment agency who had strongly recommended the individual.

So a harsh lesson for me, and never again will I make judgment on a person’s suitability for a job role based on a few Skype calls, a glossy CV and the words of a recruitment agency owner. I also hope the experience has been an important lesson to the now-departed marketing manager, because although it just about might be okay to get yourself into a job you’re not able to fully do, it absolutely isn’t okay to then take a stance of stubbornness to the point that you’re not willing to listen and learn.

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