TeamBuilder Search, a professional staffing, team building and recruiting agency, delivers tips, advice and guidance in digital marketing careers, digital transformation careers and emerging tech careers.
Understatement of the day #1: It is difficult to build a strong digital marketing team. It’s not necessarily always difficult to fill roles or hire quickly, but making your team coalesce and become genuinely effective, fun, and profitable is a huge challenge.
Understatement of the day #2: The World Wide Web (remember when we use to call it that?) has dramatically changed our world and our lives. The public-facing web is less than 10,000 days old! Way back in the 1990’s we called our digital teams “interactive,” and they largely consisted of a young male in his underwear working from his parent’s basement. Not very complicated. Fast forward to today—we staff digital teams that contain more than 20 different roles! In response to the growth of the web, multifaceted digital departments are evolving in the same manner the Internet has evolved—stupendously.
Understatement of the day #3: In addition to rapid and astounding size growth, the dimensional growth of the web is extraordinary. It’s difficult to keep up with tools and apps available in the digital realm. They come at you faster than the rate of Microsoft patches!
Understatement of the day #4: Legacy thinking strangles digital success. Traditional marketers struggle with the structure and discipline needed for the delivery of on-time and on-budget digital marketing services. PR companies struggle with the “dialogue” nature of social media, as well as the application of brand and creativity to digital initiatives. Advertising companies struggle with creative boundaries and project management. And almost everyone struggles with the application of the analytics used for insightful action and financial accountability.
Owning, building, and selling a successful digital marketing company taught us a host of valuable lessons. Subsequently going through a merger and acquisition, as a result of selling a digital marketing firm, taught us even more. We’ve had the privilege of helping dozens of organizations properly build and staff their digital and integrated teams. The collaborative nature of staffing got us out of our bubble, forced a period of accelerated and concentrated learning, and has given us an extraordinary view into the process of building digital teams. To help our clients, we developed the Four P’s of Building Successful Digital Marketing Teams. We want to pass this knowledge on to you.
The Four P’s are: Process, Platforms, People, and Planning. (We like Four P’s-check out this post where we break down the Four P’s of Cultural Fit.)
Getting the Four P’s right is critical for digital success. In this post, we dive into each of the Four P’s of Building a Digital Marketing Team, outlining the common failures of each area and the critical questions you should ask yourself to get to actionable, measurable results. We also share our gap analysis tool at the bottom of this post. We created the gap analysis tool to help teams determine how to most quickly improve performance (in both teams and individuals) and we have found that when this tool is properly applied, it yields amazing results.
For some, “process” is a soothing word that reassures and gives clear direction. For others, simply hearing the word “process” evokes emotions similar to those conjured by horror movies and torture. In reality, process is a wonderful thing as long as it doesn’t get in the way of actually getting stuff done, right? Understanding and doing process well in digital teams is especially critical, as digital marketing is much more production-heavy than traditional marketing.
Actually, in some ways, digital marketing is the opposite of traditional marketing. In traditional marketing, the process is flexible and the result is fixed. In digital marketing the process is fairly fixed, while the results are flexible.
Think about print advertising. Once the ad is produced, it is done. Send it off to the printer, newspaper, or magazine, and finis! On the web, however, your digital effort can, and should be, altered and changed based on what the analytics are telling you. It’s ongoing and dynamic. To add to the contrast, it is extremely difficult to get a significant digital product launched on time, on budget, and to meet or exceed expectations with a commitment to a process.
The great W. Edwards Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process you don’t know what you are doing.” This is an acute and sometimes painful truth in the digital realm. No matter how good your idea is, if you can’t execute it, you will lose the opportunity to capitalize. This is a pervasive and disappointing reality for many businesses and teams, not just in the digital realm. A great idea executed poorly can be of far less value than a poor idea executed expertly.
A great idea executed poorly can be of far less value than a poor idea executed expertly.
We have consulted with hundreds of businesses and individuals through the years, and have noted five common process failure areas: process development, project management, stakeholder management, creative execution, and business development (agency specific). Let’s break down each area.
Common failure area #1: Process Development
- Processes are not well documented
- Lack of clearly articulated “deliverables” to drive the process
- “Exceptions” become the “rules”
- Processes made without collaboration of stakeholders
- Processes are created but not adopted or enforced
Common failure area #2: Project Management
- No project managers (PM) or inadequate PM function
- PM’s lack appropriate balance in understanding marketing/technology
- PM’s are given responsibility but not authority
- No resource planning/allocation (traffic)
- PM’s are not interacting directly with clients
- Lack of “billable” or “utilization” standards. For example, developers and designers bill 4-5 times their pay rate, PM’s bill 2-3 times their pay rate, etc.
Common failure area #3: Stakeholder Management (account management in agencies)
- Creative or strategically bent stakeholder-managers lack the needed process-driven attributes
- Failure to say “no” or “I don’t know, let me check with the team to see what this change does to cost and timelines,” or failure to say, “Just about anything can be done with enough time, resources and money.”
- Failure to manage expectations compromises the whole team and the profitability of the initiative.
Common failure area #4: Creative Execution
- Confusion in the difference between print and interactive
- Print = Creating a message to be displayed (Kudos to Adam Pacio)
- Interactive = Creating message and medium (Kudos to Adam Pacio)
- User experience in interactive is much more complex and requires much more discipline from the creative function. For more information on user experience check out this informative pdffrom Jesse James Garrett.
Common failure area #5: Business Development (agency specific)
- Lack of discipline in qualifying what is a “good” client
- No minimum budget (for new client project)
- Too many new accounts are “investments” or “loss leaders”
- No answer to the questions, “who are we, what do we do, and what does it cost?”
Is your head hurting yet? If it is, that’s probably a good sign. Process is the most important of all the “Ps.” Giving it due time and attention, though sometimes arduous at first, yields amazing results further down the road. Once you have a firm grasp of the process, it’s time to think about the next “P”: Platforms.
Next, we dive into the second “P”: Platforms.
a group of technologies that are used as a base upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed. –from Technopedia
In this discussion, “platforms” are the tools, languages, and technologies used to execute your digital marketing strategies. It seems like just about every time you browse the web, someone is touting a new platform that will revolutionize your business or your workflow. It gets a bit overwhelming, and too many choices can cause analysis paralysis. Furthermore, adopting too many new platforms can water down your effectiveness in the areas where you really excel. There are simply too many platforms to learn, and too many in which to be expertly skilled. If we want to build our teams effectively and efficiently, we have to make unemotional, well-informed, and disciplined decisions about what we actually need. We have to carefully and intentionally decide what we will use, and how we will use it. While Alexander Hamilton operated in a different context, he may have said it best when he wrote:
“THOSE WHO STAND FOR NOTHING, FALL FOR ANYTHING.”
We see four main common failure areas in this “P.”
- Failure to identify “what is in”
There are so many shiny objects out there, calling out to us from the advertising sirens, and there are many opinions about what platforms are best. Oftentimes, the information overload can make it difficult to identify what you will stand for—what you will focus on. However, it pays great dividends when we make rational, informed, disciplined, and purposeful decisions about the platforms in which we will develop expertise. These are “rubber meets the road” decisions. You give up learning everything so you can be stellar at just one, or a few things.
Ask yourselves, “In what platform are we going to become experts?”
Become a specialist, then let other specialists do their thing.
- Failure to identify “what is out”
On the flip side of “what is in,” is the conscious and purposeful decision of “what is out.” We say “conscious” because it is all too easy to start letting new platforms creep in. None of us want to be unaware of what is distracting us from our goals, but we are all subject to a few main factors that contribute to being neglectful of the platform overload. Firstly, the marketing engine is in full swing to get us to buy in to the “latest and greatest.” Secondly, we are just plain busy with the day-to-day work that needs to get done.
If we slow down and mindfully evaluate “what is out,” we will see two layers in this statement: In the first layer are the platforms and activities that are determined to be ruled out, and will not be used at all. In the second layer are platforms that are ruled out (for us), but are still needed for our digital marketing efforts. Now, let’s talk about those platforms that are ruled out but are still needed.
- Failure to have trusted partners to help you determine and do “what is out”
Once we have identified what platforms are out, but still needed, we must lean on trusted partners that are experienced in the necessary platforms. When considering these still-needed platforms, it is usually much more efficient and cost-effective to have partners who have that particular expertise to do the work. Where this gets a little messy is when we consider that employees often want to try and learn new and different things—curiosity and the desire to learn are great qualities! But, we just have to be sure challenge and motivation is not in competition with achieving the necessary outcomes on-time and on-budget. Otherwise, this can lead to expensive resume-building for the employee on our company’s budget. Simple, right? Like walking a tight-rope.
- Failure to have deliverables-based processes with partners.
Once we have our trusted partners, we need the ability to successfully and cooperatively work with them toward the desired outcome. The easiest way for this to occur is to work toward an initial, and ongoing, understanding of the deliverables for both parties. Clearly identify what you will give to each other, as well as a timeline for when these things will be delivered. None of us hear people complaining about overly clear expectations. It is when we don’t have them that feathers get ruffled, relationships break down, and goals are ultimately not met. It might sound like common sense, but often with the “let’s crank this out” attitude, we end up being inefficient and ineffective.
Consider slowing down a little, and ask two simple questions: “What deliverables do you need from us, and when?” and “What deliverables can we expect back from you, and when?” Then write them down. This will save everyone a mountain of confusion and frustration. Having done this, it will be time to move on to the next, and most important, component: the third “P,” People.
When building your digital marketing (and emerging technology) teams, there are not many topics more important than this one. Human resources are a powerful, beautiful, strange, complex, and unpredictable factor in any equation. As the person (or team) responsible to hire the right humans to achieve a specific outcome, you have to be on your A-GAME. At all costs, hire the right people, or your “bus” isn’t going anywhere.
Consider this quote from Jim Collins’ influential book, GOOD TO GREAT:
“I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”
Most of us in the business world have heard this quote, read the book, or quoted it ourselves. So why is it difficult for us to get this right? Why is the implementation of this idea so problematic?
Here are three tips that will help you make the jump from “that’s a nice thought” to “we are nailing this!”
- Know your bus.
Remember the first two P’s – Process and Platforms. When processes and platforms are clarified, it is much easier to determine who should be hired. If you can’t clearly articulate what your bus does and doesn’t do and how you plan on doing it, you will most likely miss the target in your hiring. The hiring manager who has clarified these things has a much better chance than the hiring manager who has not.
This process of clarification will often lead to the realization that you need people who are competent at formulating and improving processes. These skills are often included as key competencies in roles we fill for our clients because ongoing growth and success are so intertwined with consistent and effective processes. If you find that you need someone on your team who is skilled in this, then you are right in there with the rest of us!
- Know the seatson your bus.
Once you know your bus, you can more easily determine the specific seats you have to fill. When creating successful digital teams there are at least six categories of “seats.” Some of these categories may require more than one employee. Sometimes more than one of these can be done by a single employee—it depends on your bus. Regardless of the size and age of your organization, the process of clarifying what seats you really need, and when you need them, greatly helps the hiring process. Here are the six “seat-categories”:
- Strategy (What are we going to do?)
- Planning (How are we going to do it?)
- Creative (What does it look like and how does it behave?)
- Technology (How are we going to get it to work?)
- Project Management (How are we going to get it done on time and within our budget?)
- Account Management/Business Development (How are we going to have enough stuff to do?)
You are shooting for clarity so that you don’t ask one person to sit in too many seats. You also want to be sure you have people in the correct seat. And last but not least, you have to make sure you don’t leave a critical seat empty!
- Get the best candidates to board your bus.
Your mentality toward the recruitment process is huge. It’s easier to tackle this step if we see recruitment of top talent as a strategic organizational competency required for success. It’s all too common in the daily grind to forget just how important it is to attract, qualify, onboard and retain the best people. You may wish to remind yourself and others that good hiring practices save a lot of pain and money in the long run. Bradford D. Smart, author of TopGrading and a world-class leader in the field of personnel management, studied mis-hire data supplied by 54 companies. He concluded that the cost of mis-hires is around 25 times the base compensation for those under $100,000, and 40 times for those earning $100,000 to $250,000.
We could do a whole blog series on this area, but we will just summarize it in this post. The most talented candidates have options. Many of the best buses want them. So, what are you doing to get them aboard your bus?
It starts with clear identification AND alignment. You must identify how success in the role will be defined and measured. You must also define what attributes and experiences are needed in the role in order to achieve success. In addition, (and this is where the bus often ends up in the ditch!) you have to make sure all hiring stakeholders are clearly ALIGNED on all these things. We cannot tell you how many times hiring stakeholders assume they are on the same page when they aren’t even in the same book. Lastly, you need to determine the role’s unique value proposition. Why would a top achiever board your bus? Clear definition and alignment will allow you to qualify candidates, but it will also help you to clearly articulate the role. With clearly articulated roles and success measurements in place, you can more easily get the right candidates excited about boarding your bus. It will also help you to provide a cohesive, efficient and enjoyable experience for the candidate. After all, if you show the candidate that the outside of the bus is ugly, disorganized and inefficient then why would they believe the inside of the bus is any better?
Why not take 15 minutes and pull up a new blank document, or even go old-school and get out pen and paper. See if you can write down on one single page what your “bus” is, what the seats on your bus are, and what you can do to get the right talent sitting in those seats. You might be surprised how difficult and helpful this little exercise is.
Now that we’ve talked about the first three Ps, we can move on to the final P, Planning, which provides us with a road map and momentum.
We are wrapping up with the fourth and final “P”: Planning. You’re probably in one of two camps here. When you saw the word “planning” maybe you got all giddy on the inside, or maybe you started sweating and got a little (or very) nauseated. Whatever your reaction may be, proper planning is not easy for most of us. Some people spend all their time planning and never really get anything done. While others create highly involved and intricate plans that can’t survive the first left-hand turn. Some of us faithfully plan to plan, but never actually plan. Some people can’t even spell “P-L-A-N!” No matter where you fall in the spectrum, we believe this post will greatly benefit you and your planning efforts…or lack thereof.
Bringing it All Together
To start, keep all four Ps in mind: Process, Platforms, People, and Planning. Now, imagine the Four Ps as a four-piece jigsaw puzzle. The picture is never going to look right without all the pieces fitting together properly. Once you get the first three Ps properly in place, then it becomes possible to get your planning right too. In other words, if you know what you are doing, how you are doing it, what you are doing it with, and who’s doing it, then you are ready to start some bang-up planning. That’s the first step.
Next, we have to realize that “plan” in its verbal noun form, “planning,” is much more powerful. One of my favorite quotes is from Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” In reality, just about every plan is erred by the time the ink dries. Conditions change, and in the fast-moving climate of today’s business culture, conditions change quickly. We must be clear on where we are going, but be willing and able to account for changes—being agile, if you will. A good plan establishes goals, stakeholder alignment, strategies, tasks, deadlines, and resources. But, even the most carefully plotted route can’t predict every wave in the sea. Good planning is iterative, and it’s adaptable to the prevailing seas, so that you never get off course.
It is also very important to realize that we do need a clearly defined starting point. This is a period of time that is unmistakably different from the actual project or initiative we are pursuing. We can’t just start planning and executing at the same time with any expectation of efficiency. There has to be an obvious separation of the initial planning and the project itself.
While we are in planning mode, there are a few critical actions we have to take.
- First, develop an initial plan that establishes enough focus and parameters to move efficiently.
- Next, make sure to includeall the right people and get them involved and aligned from the very beginning.
- Lastly, this is a tough one, we need to make sure to excludethe wrong people from the project. Every person on the team must add real value in some measurable way. When we have people involved without a real purpose, it can cause the project to flounder.
- get the first three P’s in order,
- do planning(not plans),
- separate initial planning from the actual project,
- include the right people,
- exclude the wrong people.
If you do this faithfully, you have a much better chance of landing at your desired destination. We’ve worked through the Four Ps with dozens of companies and find that careful application of these principles really does yield profitable results. If you are interested in having TeamBuilder Search help you improve your team or assist with your next hire, please email or call us (614) 852-4465.
Watch for an upcoming post that will give you access to the 37 Questions To Ask Yourself When Building A Digital Marketing Team. This is an extremely high-value tool and we are sure you’ll benefit from using it!
Mark Whitman is the founder and CEO of TeamBuilder Search, a dynamic recruiting firm that specializes in digital marketing, digital transformation, and emerging technology. He is an energetic and fearless adventurer who loves working with other innovative, entrepreneurial-minded professionals. He also happens to be a Sport Jujitsu national champion who literally broke his face in competing for the gold medal in the world championship. To discuss your toughest hiring challenges with Mark, contact him here.
Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.