Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2008

 

Where have all the Marketers gone,
Long time passing?
Where have all the Marketers gone,
Long time ago?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

OK, so it's not Highway 61 Revisited, but it's still presents a profound question.  Around Silicon Valley, it's getting really hard to find anybody who really can get the word out, build the community, and heat up demand for complex products.  There's no shortage of candidates, but most are surprisingly mediocre -- nothing like what we saw in the 90's.

What's up with that?

Where did all the Marketeers go?

There are a lot of theories, but let's start with some cold, hard facts.  Real marketing talent has always been rare.  It's also perishable -- retreat and even burn-out are occupational hazards.  

But it's more than just limited supply.  Right now, demand is hot.  It's virtually impossible to find the energy and creativity you need with the domain expertise you want in hot areas like Security and Open Source.  

This is just as true for directors as it is for VPs.  While this makes it a great time for people who do have real talent, it's not great for employers.  See the end of this article for what you can do about it.

So where did all the great marketeers go?  Here's some examples.

They moved up -- The really versatile, smart marketers became CEOs, VCs, General Managers, or consultants (of course, not all consultants are great).  After five or even ten years as a marketing VP, why shouldn't they apply their skills and grow?  

The moved out -- The shrewd marketers went into Sales long before they got promoted in Marketing.  They knew the product, they knew the strategy, they knew the market.  Why shouldn't they make more money?  In their new Sales role, there was even the psychological thrill of giving the marketing department garbage.

They left high-tech -- There are fewer examples of this, but there are some juicy ones.  Real estate.  Craft furniture.  Entertainment.  Adult entertainment.  And my favorite, a killer marketing person who left to become a dog trainer.  Fewer hours, more money, less stress... it's kind of an IQ test.

They punched out -- They made enough bucks after a an IPO or a couple of acquisitions, so they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly (Wisconsin, that is).  They're pursuing their bliss:  music, a master's degree, photography.  

They moved away -- They're still available, but you can only get them in cyberspace.  They cashed out of local real estate and moved to Utah or Oregon or back to India.

They gave up -- Through a political jam or just bad luck, they were consumed by burnout.  These folks may work as consultants, but they're unlikely to be any good despite having a lot of years on the job.  Sigh.

They weren't actually that great anyway -- Under the precept that "it's better to be lucky than good," many a marketing (and sales!) person has had success fall into their lap.  You can identify these "one-hit wonders" by looking for a series of inconclusive outcomes across the span of their career.  Watch out, though:  this phenomenon works in reverse -- some serious talent has had only one "hit."  Everyone makes bets that don't pan out.  Probe deeply below the resume, and you may find some real talent.

They became submerged in a large player -- During the last couple of years, it's been a way better deal financially -- and arguably from a career perspective -- to be inside an established player.  In comparison to being at most startups, the big-player roles mean less risk, more resources, better travel, and a good shot at industry impact.  Problem is, after 3 years or more it's easy to get too comfortable and lose your startup reflexes.

Now What?

In the short run, you'll just have to be as selective as you can, be patient, and be prepared to pay some real money for real marketing talent.  It's a seller's market.  

Where to recruit?   From competitors, mainly.  But beware people who've been in large companies a long time:  they usually have overdeveloped political skills, and they rarely know how to do guerrilla marketing with the energy and enthusiasm needed by small companies. 

You can also "recruit" leadership from inside your sales organization.  If you have a  disciplined Sales VP, you can pull them out of the field and make a really strong leader in Marketing for as long as a year.  Longer than that, and it gets real old for the Sales guy... as well as the marketing people reporting to him or her.

For lower-level talent, look for SEs or customer support people who are at risk of burnout in their current roles, but who really know the technology and the customer, and who love to talk or write.  Some of the strongest product marketers and product managers I've ever worked with came to marketing this way.

If you've got a business school near you that focuses on real-world teachers (read:  executives teaching executives, not professors spewing theory), a good tactic is to recruit students while they're in their last 6 months of school.  Don't wait for the normal recruiting times:  ask to talk to students earlier, and hire them either as interns or full-time.  You'll have to pay for their last year in B-school, but you'll be able to get them trained and productive sooner.

In the longer term, the real problem is a lack of bench strength.  Don't make the mistake of over-promoting, as it causes overload and hurts everyone in the long run.  That said, give your people room to grow as fast as they can.  If you're outsourcing some of your marketing, at least make sure that your internal marketing people are getting project management and high-level messaging experience.  Make sure your internal resources are able to learn and grow from the agencies and outside resources you use.

There's another long term issue:  tech executives need to get an attitude about marketers. Marketing needs to be encouraged...or at least not attacked.  Some engineering, sales, and finance guys* taunt marketing as a matter of habit.  Some tech CEOs publicly ridicule marketing or privately express hatred of all marketers.  Of course, any Marketing VP has a thick enough skin to handle this kind of thing.  But what about two levels down in the organization:  why would any winner stick around if they can sense that they work in a loser job function?  

Don't think this matters?  Think again.

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