“Starting in 2013, after the CMO realizes that he/she does not have the skill sets in place for data analytics proficiency, 50% of new marketing hires will have technical backgrounds.”
That is prediction #5 on IDC’s Top 10 CMO Predictions for 2013, released last week by analysts Rich Vancil and Kathleen Schaub.
I dream about bold declarations like that from mainstream analysts, validating the central hypothesis of this blog: marketing is now a technology-powered discipline, and therefore marketing organizations must infuse technical talent into their DNA. According to my wife, I even talk about this in my sleep, which is an entirely different context for “disruptive” innovation.
But really? 50% of all new hires in marketing this year will have a technical background?
That’s a mighty bold declaration. Okay, I buy the premise: for many CMOs, 2013 will be the tipping point in recognizing just how much their destiny is wrapped up in data and technology. Survival instincts will kick in, and yes, we’ll see a widespread movement to technolog-ify marketing departments from the top-down.
But there will be limits to how quickly this transformation can occur.
First, there’s a real scarcity of technical professionals, even more so for those with passion and aptitude for marketing. And there will be enormous competition for those unicorns, not just from other marketing departments, but from marketing software vendors, consulting firms, agencies, and a whole new bumper crop of start-ups, all of whom need this talent in pursuit of their missions. Expect some serious inflationary pressure on these salaries.
Obviously some of this depends on how you define the word “technical.” For now, let’s assume it’s more than a superficial label for anyone who can use Excel and WordPress.
Second, marketing departments have to develop the capability to successfully manage and culturally integrate technical professionals. This is harder than it may seem. Managing technical talent is challenging enough in an all-tech discipline, such as engineering or IT. Managing such talent in a rapidly evolving, cross-discipline environment — the emergent “new marketing” — will have many more nuances to master. Most marketing executives don’t have that experience yet.
Start with the hiring: how do you know who to hire? What skills to look for? How to validate them? Do the recruiters you work with understand this new breed? Know where to find them? Appreciate what kind of opportunities and incentives will motivate them to want to work with you?
Once they’re hired, how do you organize them in the department? How will they structurally collaborate with other parts of the marketing team? What’s their interface to IT? Who reports to who, direct or matrixed? What budget do they have — is it net new or reallocated from somewhere else? How do you measure their performance? What should you expect? What other confounding variables in the organization may hinder that performance? When there are conflicts, what factors should you weigh in resolving them?
How do you acclimate the rest of your marketing team to their new technical peers? How do you synthesize a culture between brilliant marketers who are non-technical — your creatives, your evangelists, your product managers — and these new technical and analytical additions to the team? How do you promote learning and growth from cross-pollination of ideas and experiences and avoid infighting and turf wars?
How do you coach and lead technical marketers to greater success — for your organization and their careers?
Developing this new kind of management capability in the marketing department is essential. But in the rush to hire technical talent, don’t underestimate the work required to build an environment where that talent can be successful.
My recommendation would be to start with a seed crystal: hire someone who can be a leader around which a technical marketing team can be grown. This is the role of the chief marketing technologist — or whatever “marketing CTO”-like title you prefer. The role is about more than being responsible for marketing technology strategy and operations.
More than anything, a chief marketing technologist should be the champion of making marketing an environment in which other technical professionals can thrive and contribute to their full potential.
I know, now you’re looking for the triple threat: someone with technical skills, marketing skills, and good management skills. Rare, but not impossible to find. I talked with two great candidates who fit that profile just last week (email me if you’d like an introduction). And one strong person in this role, with the mandate from the CMO, can go a long way towards building the capability to be successful with a larger cohort of technical marketing hires.
Only then will marketing truly be ready to ramp up its technical hiring.