Marketing Masters: Erica Seidel on the State of Executive Recruiting in Martech

Ever wondered what that martech recruiter is looking for when she’s interviewing you? Erica Seidel reveals all.

It’s not just the number of tools and logos that’s rapidly expanding in the martech universe. The demand for skilled martech professionals has never been higher and Erica Seidel is at the forefront.

Erica established her executive recruiting firm, The Connective Good, in 2011, with the philosophy that recruiting needs to look less like procurement and more like one-to-one sales and marketing.

Prior to that, she ran Forrester Research’s global peer-to-peer community businesses for CMOs and digital marketing leaders of Fortune 500 companies, seeing an impressive 600% growth and radical improvement in client retention during her tenure.

We recently chatted with Erica about her thoughts on the state of martech recruiting, the skills she’s looking for, and where things are going next.

What inspired you to enter the world of martech recruiting?

My own background is a mishmash between technology, user experience design, and marketing. And I have always had this uncanny ability to be able to connect people with others that they didn’t realize they needed to meet.

When I got into executive recruiting, I wanted to focus on what I knew and what was growing as a niche. So the client work that I have migrated to is at the intersection of marketing, tech, analytics, and data.

I like the gnarly recruiting projects. A lot of my searches are for roles where there are many potential places for ‘the one’ to come from. I have never done a search as straightforward as, “I’m doing a search for a marketing executive at Coke so I need to bring in a marketing executive from Pepsi.” For example, now I’m doing a search for a political data organization, where the hire could come from a tech company, a nonprofit, an agency, or the media.

What groundbreaking developments have you seen in the martech world in the past few years, and how has that changed the way you approach recruiting?

There are so many different people calling themselves marketing technologists. Some can be really senior, and some are still maturing in their careers. Some are very advanced technically, and others are christening themselves with that title in a more aspirational way.

I did a search for a Director of Marketing Technology for Healthgrades a while back. If I’d only looked for people with the title of Marketing Technologist I wouldn’t have found the guy that I ended up placing. He came from an industry that didn’t really call his role martech but he knew a lot about what we needed; loyalty, digital marketing, and e-commerce.

So, we as an industry haven’t coalesced around what a marketing technologist is. In this country today, if you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you’ve gone to school for something specific, you’ve taken certain tests, and you’ve been licensed to practice. Martech is worlds apart from that.

Another trend is that we’re starting to see martech people become marketing leaders. I think that’s exciting, people coming up through this path and becoming chief marketers.

What should companies expect when they are recruiting martech executives?

When I went to business school to study marketing, the path to a CMO position was ‘go to a top MBA program, go to a CPG company, work in brand management, manage a whole category, and maybe spend some time at an agency.’ There was a set path. But now that’s very different.

Now, with martech, often the top candidate is someone who went to a school you’ve never heard of, worked in radio, was a programmer, started a business which either succeeded or failed, and then migrated to marketing and now is tying it all together. There are umpteen different stories like that as you talk to marketing technologists – all these different paths to get where they are.

I tell my clients to embrace the weird. They’re going to see career paths with zigs and zags that don’t necessarily make sense at first glance. This requires so much more patience and mental energy on their part to evaluate these candidates when the markers of quality are different. Hiring executives have to care less about where someone went to school and more about their results, their curiosity, and the scale and scope of their work.

In one of my recent martech searches, one candidate came to the interview with me having figured out which martech tools the company was using on their site. He shared a report card on how well the company was leveraging each of them. That really demonstrated his interest, competence, and an interest in getting his hands dirty. He got the job.

What are companies now needing from martech professionals that they weren’t before?

I recently recruited a Global VP of Marketing Data and Technology for a major tech company that has over a billion dollars in revenue. This company is very advanced in their martech; they have great scale and scope and operate globally. They are using their martech solutions to their fullest extent, often to the point of ‘breaking’ them.

For this role, it was clear that leading martech was not so much about going out and buying tools. It was more about data management and governance, and stitching together what they had across divisions and countries. Leading martech was not the same as digital marketing, since the company had another group doing that. This role was about martech (working with known contact data), more so than adtech. It was about scale, more than piloting something in a sandbox. It was a very unique flavor of martech job and there were only a handful of candidates who had the skills and scale experience. It was more advanced than a Martech 101 job!  

In doing that search, I saw such a range of interesting job titles: VP of Marketing Technology, of course, but also VP of Customer Information, VP of Demand Analytics, Head of Digital Analytics, Global Demand Center Leader, Head of Marketing Sales IT, and VP of Marketing Automation and Campaign Optimization.

Do you think that the demands that companies are placing on new hires or the things that they’re looking for has really intensified?

Yes. A few years back, many companies needed somebody to manage email marketing, general marketing automation, or build their first martech stack. Now that that’s in place, they are looking at optimizing, scaling, and leading potentially bigger teams. That said, there are still many companies that are at that MarTech 101 level, where the sophistication needed is as much political as technical.

Where do you see candidates falling down in interviews?

I think of evaluating martech candidates with the 3 A’s: aptitude, attitude, and altitude. Aptitude is quite simply the ability to do the job. Attitude is about the personality and work approach to succeed – not only in the company but also in the role. Altitude is the most interesting in my opinion. It’s the ability to not only get into the weeds but also rise above them and talk to a CMO or CEO in the language that they care about. This area of altitude is where I see many martech people fall down.

For instance, I’ll talk to people and they’ll say, “We did a campaign and we got a 30% open rate.” How do I know if that’s good or bad? Is 10% normal for you? What if the industry category you are in has some crazy-high open rate? A lot of people neglect to share the context for their work, and struggle to put it into a consumable story.

But there’s a happy medium. With some candidates, I’ve asked to see some of their work and they’ll go into way too much detail. If we have booked an hour and you spend 45 minutes of that showing me a very dense presentation that happens to be three years old, then how aware are you of your audience and how strong are you at having a give and take?

What will we see in the top martech executives in five years?

We call it marketing technology but that’s a pretty inside-out term. This role is really about being the steward of customer information. And with our world trending towards greater data privacy, maybe we will see the rise of a title like ‘VP of Customer Information.’

As companies and their martech stacks get bigger and more complex, I believe that we will increasingly value martech executives with strategy, vision, and leadership skills. Data fluency will remain important, the ability to go beyond just implementing tools and figuring out elegant ways for the tools to work together.

The top martech executives will find creative and efficient ways to solve the challenge of ‘how do I stay in the know about all the new tools and trends?’ They will figure out how small companies can learn from big companies, and vice versa. They will have unique partnerships with VC firms to keep their finger on the pulse of emerging martech. There’s so much learning that can happen across the big and small divide, and across the B2B and B2C divide.

That perfectly leads into my next question, which is how can martech professionals keep upskilling and learning as the industry continuously changes?

Spend some time every day reading, observing, listening, and tinkering. The best martech people I know say, “I’m trying this and we’ll see how it goes,” or “I’m reading about this,” or “I’m developing this half an idea; help me shape the rest of it.”

Then, there are numerous networks that exist for people to share ideas. The MarTech conference is fabulous for this, of course. Also, I co-run a group in Boston called Marketing Tech in the Hub. It’s a gaggle of people working in and around marketing technology. We get together and we have these topic tables on things like negotiating a good deal with a martech vendor, or tools for marketing analytics, for instance. People geek out and have told us they get a lot of value from it.

Also, get feedback from the people around you, especially if you have trouble demonstrating altitude. Ask others, “how did this meeting go?” Ask them, “How could I have made it easier for the org to adopt this new technology faster? How am I doing at bringing the martech non-believers along?” Being effectively self-conscious is a good skill to develop.

Also, check out this interview guide for interviewing martech people that I guest-published on Scott Brinker’s chiefmartec blog.