Good Skill Hunting

Finding staff skilled in marketing and IT is almost impossible. Is the solution to hire two people who can work side-by-side or to develop software that marketers will want to understand? asks Steve Hemsley

One person recruited by Brann Data to work within its database marketing department was previously working as a fork-lift truck driver.

So competitive is the battle nowadays to find people who not only understand marketing but also the IT systems being employed that many companies have little option but to develop their own teams by advertising strategically for staff and providing relevant training.

Brann Data director Hector Vass says: “There is a shortage of people with the right skills, so the best solution is usually to find someone who has obtained some knowledge of IT but has discovered it is not the career for them and is excited by the prospect of moving into marketing. One such person we employed was filling in as a fork-lift driver while he waited for the right job to come along.”

Each year, Brann Data – part of Brann Worldwide – advertises for a batch of 30 people of which it will ultimately choose five. “We provide in-depth training and get them interested in marketing to create hybrid marketing analysts that we call data engineers. Their career path means they can eventually become analysts, work at a more senior level within database marketing or work as consultants,” says Vass.

The database industry has grown significantly in recent years and is worth about $7bn (&£4.7bn), according to analyst company Dataquest. As well as the large players such as Microsoft, Oracle and IBM, the industry also encompasses a hive of small companies that offer a range of products from data visualisation and extraction tools to metadata products, which add extra functions to standard database applications.

Industry estimates report that as many as one in five of Britain’s leading organisations have spent an average of &£1.25m building large customer data warehouses. The grocery retailers, for instance, have gathered vast quantities of customer data through the use of loyalty cards.

Yet most companies implementing analytical and database software systems to deliver customer relationship management (CRM) solutions have struggled to find staff with marketing and IT skills.

Craik Jones database consultant John Wallinger says one problem is many marketers simply do not find databases interesting. “Even though they are the backbone of the entire industry, people don’t make a conscious decision to work in databases. Most specialists have fallen into the job which means there is usually little option but to train from scratch. We find IT people are more receptive because they perceive marketing as a sexier career. But the cultures of marketing and IT are still miles apart,” he says.

He adds that the best most companies can hope for from recruitment is to discover someone who can combine the flair of a marketer with at least some understanding of what the IT systems they are using can ultimately deliver.

“I have lectured on this subject for the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), in an effort to explain what database marketing is in theory and why IT has such an important role, especially with the effect it is having on e-commerce,” he says.

The IDM courses are more popular with clients than with agencies and it is common to see companies sending their IT manager on a course when deciding to create a marketing database. The IDM’s training programme includes a two-day course explaining what database marketing is and how the new technology available can be applied to meet a client’s marketing objectives. There are also courses on how to keep a database fresh and how to use the software as an effective analytical tool.

IDM programme director Jill Hancock says the problem clients and agencies have finding people with the right skills shows no sign of going away. “The situation means we carry out a lot of bespoke training on behalf of clients. For one financial services company we trained the IT people in marketing and showed the marketers how the database technology can be applied,” she says.

The DMA is also well aware of the skills shortage and is considering promoting direct marketing (DM) as a career option to statisticians. Conduit Business Information managing director Tony Lamb, who sits on the DMA’s Data Council, says one problem in agencies is that the IT and marketing departments can have different agendas.

Two skill sets required

“In an agency there are two functions: the back-end technical delivery side where there is the need to use information and crunch data, and the client-facing marketing side. Two very different skill sets are required which really means you need individuals from both breeds,” he says.

IT teams have been criticised for sitting on data and creating a bottleneck in modelling and disseminating that information to the marketing department. In response, some data modelling tools have been designed that marketers can use to obtain valid business conclusions without needing a great deal of IT or data analysis experience.

Alto, which last August launched a range of data driven marketing services, has developed a marketing automation system called Campaign Management and Interactive Relationship Management which it claims enables the marketing department to devise a data-driven marketing strategy without having to involve the IT team.

“Technology is moving forward so fast that no one person can be fully informed of all the commercial implications and opportunities open to the company or be an expert in all technology,” says managing director Simon Swetenham. “In an ideal world we would all be marketing and IT hybrids, yet tight project management skills, close partnerships with specialists with relevant marketing or IT skills and vastly improved technology can provide the synergy required.”

Data-driven marketing may have been renamed CRM by the DM industry but it remains IT driven. Whether it is developing a bespoke database, linking websites to live databases or exploring how new technologies such as wireless application protocol and 3G can be integrated, companies ideally need marketers who can harness the technology in a marketing environment.

FFwd Precision Marketing IT development director David Powis has a degree in marketing, but his career background is in computers. He has run his own IT consultancy and says the developments in the industry do not mean marketing has to be handed over to the IT department.

“DM can be more effective through the use of research and planning, allied with emerging IT capabilities which ensure that messages are precisely targeted and relevant to the recipient, thus reducing wastage,” he says.

“But the database is no good without the data and the knowledge and understanding to create a strategy to manipulate that data within the programme.”

Ignorance reduces IT benefits

In its most simple terms, technology is designed to make people’s lives easier. For marketers it is possible using database technology to deliver individual records to a desktop computer at high speeds, providing marketing departments with access to millions of records of information within seconds. Unfortunately, if the marketer is uncomfortable using the technology or is unable to maximise a system’s capabilities then the benefits of any analytical and evaluation tool are reduced.

Data storage and analysis company Alterian says the harder it becomes to recruit hybrid marketers, the more companies will need the technology they use to do more of the work for them. It creates tailored systems that use graphics, such as e-mail templates, and even words and jargon specific to a client’s industry and which their marketing teams will be familiar with. It means reports and analysis questions can be modified in minutes.

“It can be almost impossible to recruit this hybrid person, so we try to find ways to get marketers interested in IT so they begin to understand it. Marketers are not so much frightened by new technology as frustrated by it,” says managing director David Eldridge.

Despite the development of more user-friendly database software, there is no hiding the fact that as the need for CRM initiatives increases, marketers will require a broader understanding of new technology. Service provider The Computing Group says it is so concerned about staff recruitment that its policy is virtually to hire on sight if someone with the right skills becomes available.

Managing director Rob Macdermott says: “Deciding whether to get someone from IT or marketing depends on the role you are putting them into. With the development of CRM we are seeing more clients moving from being marketing-led to technology-led with the board or the marketing teams asking the IT department to devise a CRM solution.”

“IT people can be creative in marketing terms with the software they are developing, while, on the other hand, pure marketers that have difficulty understanding the technology will find it hard to understand the conceptual design of what the final result will look like.”

While some businesses will attempt to train people in either marketing or IT to create hybrid marketers others, such as DMS, accept that to get the best results they must hire people with different skills who can work side by side.

DMS chairman Andrew Orme says if marketers have even a simple understanding of what the database software can do and the IT person is familiar with marketing jargon they should be able to work together.

“Over the next few years, the software will become even more complicated as it encompasses everything from mail and telephone to e-mail and the Internet and it will become harder for someone with purely a marketing background to understand,” he says. “I believe in specialists working as part of a team of people with specific skills. We will often outsource IT or marketing to one of a number of partners we work with depending on the client and the project.”

Train staff and keep them

There is another twist in the database recruitment saga, as companies that have trained people to be hybrid marketers find themselves struggling to retain them. David Green, marketing manager at GB Information Management, says his company is losing key staff to other marketing and promotional disciplines and, most recently, to dot-com businesses.

“Many organisations find it difficult to keep good people, especially those in database marketing – which is becoming mission critical – and if there are insufficient staff with the right expertise the business could become vulnerable,” he says.

The REaD Group, which monitors home movements to ensure mailings are not sent to people who have changed address or died, says the growth in the DM industry and the attraction of new mediums such as the Web has made recruiting and retaining staff worse.

“Not only has the growth rate in the DM industry been huge, but the relevant above-the-line agencies are now recruiting DM-literate people which they didn’t do previously. We are competing with the salaries and working environments of above-the-line agencies, while the Web is drawing talented computer specialists away from pure data driven campaigns” says business development director Martin King.

If DM companies cannot find the hybrid marketers they crave then it could be up to the IT sector to develop software that traditional marketers can understand and use without needing a great deal of technical knowledge. If not, the benefits that modern IT systems can provide could be wasted.

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