In this article, Dan Lyons, author of “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble,” describes the staff of the so-called unicorn (was: dotcom) where he once worked. Nine paragraphs in, he writes:
“The vast majority worked in marketing, sales, and customer support. Those jobs don’t require any special degree or extensive training. Anyone, at any age, could do them.”
Several commenters took offense.
“To be successful,” wrote one, “these roles require a specific skill set and a sophisticated understanding of strategic business practices, the markets your business desires to target, industry trends, and how to develop a customer base that will not only sustain the company but will continue to build it…These are not jobs that just ‘anyone’ can do and expect optimal results.”
Another said, “The more data and tools that we have access to, the more sophisticated those areas need to be in order to keep up and serve customers to the degree with which they expect to be catered to.”
The commenters are right, of course. But I know what the author meant. At least I think I do.
Marketing is a lot like interior decorating. Everyone thinks it’s glamorous, and everyone thinks they’d be great at it. They’re usually wrong on both counts.
But how would the average person know? Anybody, absolutely anybody, can print a business card and call themselves a marketer. There’s no generally accepted standard that people must meet before entering the field.
So in that sense, marketing is not a professional occupation. The only true professions are the ones governed by powerful trade associations. These include law, medicine, and the clergy. Other examples include architecture, public accounting, and some types of engineering.
In the absence of marketing accreditation, some companies have resorted to devising their own competency tests and making them part of the hiring process. A big problem with this approach is that the tests are arbitrary and the people who come up with them have no clue what they’re doing.
To illustrate what I mean, here’s a recent interview “exercise” that a reader shared with me. It was for a newly-created VP role. It should be noted that the hiring company sprang it on her in the middle of a day of onsite interviews:
We believe this exercise should take a little over two hours (we’ve added rough estimates for each question), but feel free to use less or more time for each answer. Please simply write your answers below each question. We know you are not an expert on the company so feel free to make some assumptions in order to smooth the presentation.
1. Marketing Team (~25 Minutes)
Assuming you were designing the team from scratch, and could add four or five positions (not counting yourself), please list the specific roles, duties and estimated compensation for each position.
2. Prospect Letter (~35 minutes)
Let’s assume we have produced an eight-page sample briefing on Yahoo!, its competitors and industry for use in marketing. Please write a one-page cover letter for the CFO at Uber, to be delivered via FedEx with the sample (no other elements/pieces). Assume this CFO is unfamiliar with Zorg Industries and its services.
3. Promotional Approaches (~20 Minutes)
Assuming one major goal is to funnel qualified leads into our mockup pipeline (e.g., we would produce a real-time sample for an interested target on his/her company, competitors and industry), please rank from most effective to least effective the following potential marketing tactics for generating initial interest in our services from qualified candidates: cold calls from a sales rep via telephone; email; snail mail; advertising, FedEx; social media; conventions; something else. Please offer a short reason for each ranking.
4. Marketing and Use of Sale Reps (~20 minutes)
From the beginning of the marketing/sales process with corporate executives unfamiliar with Zorg Industries through the completion of a sale, please sketch out a rough plan/timeline for the role marketing plays, the role Zorg sales reps play, when sales reps become involved in the process, and what you would expect them to do at each stage. Also include how and when you might use other more senior Zorg execs in the process, such as our SVP for Strategic Analysis.
5. Prospecting Database (~20 Minutes)
What tools/CRM would you recommend we use and how? What data would be captured and entered into the database? How would the data be found/collected and then kept current and effective?
6. Early Influences (~2 Minutes)
When you were young or early in your career, did you have a teacher or a boss who had a significant, positive influence on your future career, one who made you excited about learning and growing?
7. Hiring (~15 Minutes)
As you think about yourself hiring marketing team members, what questions that we asked above would you expect to give the most insight, and which ones would give the least insight? What additional question or questions might you have asked to narrow in on the best candidate?
So let’s review. At a moment’s notice—and based on nothing but a cursory review of the company website and a couple of introductory conversations—this candidate was expected to:
- Design a new marketing organization
- Develop a pre-employment evaluation framework for each role
- Create and execute a highly targeted lead generation strategy
- Set up a multi-channel strategic marketing roadmap
- Diagram the company’s end-to-end sales and marketing process
- Define the vendor selection and data management approach for the company’s marketing automation systems
- Reveal the outer mentor that awakened her life force
All in two hours. Two.
There are any number of reasons why the hiring team thought this might have been an appropriate thing to do. In this case I think the likeliest is that they just didn’t know any better. They didn’t understand the extent of problem-solving involved. It’s hard to know until you’ve done it.
But it’s ridiculously inefficient for jobseekers to take a different test for every single marketing position they interview for. It’s deeply presumptuous to expect them to produce proprietary work product on their own dime. And it’s a troubling sign when their skills are judged by folks who may lack the qualifications to make such an assessment.
Accreditation would help both sides of this kind of transaction. Employers would have assurance from a trusted certifying authority that a marketer has met some basic, consistent level of competency. Meanwhile, candidates would be spared having to invest hours (if not days) of effort re-proving themselves against a secret, ill-defined, and constantly changing standard via whatever means the hiring manager chooses to contrive.
Interestingly, independent consultants are the ones who might benefit least from marketing certification. Maybe it’s because hiring a consultant seems less risky than hiring an employee (even though, in the US, firms have little obligation to either). Maybe it’s that we’re further along in our careers, so we get a certain level of trust on that basis alone. Or maybe it’s just that consultants have a different mindset. We have nothing to gain from working for free.
Still, I wouldn’t mind a higher bar if it meant more respect for the field. I think it’d be good for business. I’d even go back to school for it, if that would really help.
Years ago, when studying for my master’s degree, someone in one of my introductory courses asked our instructor what we should call him. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “You can call me Larry. Although after the years I put in to get my Ph.D., ‘Dr. Williams’ sounds pretty good.”
It’d sound good to me, too.