Building a Talent Pipeline that Pays for Itself. The Key? Demand Gen Tactics

March 22, 2017

Most company leadership teams will tell you that their employees are their most valuable asset, but how do you know they really mean it?

In her role as a strategic consultant for SmashFly, Elana Anderson has identified an important trait that differentiates companies that are walking the walk about recruiting the best people and those that are just offering lip service: the ones that are serious think about recruiting as a marketing function and a critical part of building their brand.

“In so many companies, and certainly in the high-tech industry, marketing is focused primarily on winning new logos and perhaps secondarily on customer growth,” says Anderson. “HR’s recruiting problems are rarely on the radar.” But, as she points out, in a marketplace with so many talented candidates and such low unemployment, finding and hiring the right people is a real struggle for HR teams, particularly those working for startup and expansion stage companies that are experiencing accelerated growth.

Anderson saw some of these struggles up close and personal in her previous role at Demandware. “My job was all about how to effectively scale a marketing organization in a company that was growing at a rate of thirty to fifty percent per year, and how to create a repeatable marketing practice,” she explains. “The company was hiring several dozens of candidates per quarter and if we didn’t meet our hiring objectives it was essentially money down the drain.” The key to solving this problem was close collaboration between marketing and HR. “I have to admit (and I feel bad about it now), that this was initiated by our HR team but we started getting together about how to effectively create an employee brand. We needed to think about how we present ourselves in the market (not just for prospects, but also for potential employees) and how we could collectively drive that brand.”

Marketing/HR Collaboration – Rare but Effective

Historically, marketing and HR have not been considered automatic allies. Anderson is honest in her assessment of the typical cross-functional interaction. “What most HR departments get when they ask marketing for help is a copy of the brand guidelines,” she says. “But, if HR wants to create hiring videos or do focused recruiting on LinkedIn and Facebook, they are usually on their own.”

In this kind of scenario, marketing might eventually review the creative, but the interaction falls well short of being an actual partnership. Why is that? “It’s because the metrics used to evaluate marketing don’t include things like hiring to plan or employee turnover,” Anderson explains. “There’s no incentive for marketing to help.”

Anderson contends that the CFO and CEO have a significant role to play in building a strong alliance between marketing and HR. “People behave based on how their performance metrics direct them to behave,” she explains. “The executive team needs to look more closely at these metrics and realize that the employees you’re not hiring represent a big opportunity cost.”

Anderson puts those lost opportunities in more concrete terms. “Say you’re growing fast and hiring like crazy,” she says. “But, the hiring plan assumes you’ll be able to hire a certain number of employees more quickly than is realistic. So, every quarter you’re literally losing money because you can’t hire as fast as you need to. Funds get wasted because you can’t bring staff on at the target rate. You could have spent those funds on something else, and that’s a very real lost opportunity.”

It’s not a pretty picture, but there is a better way.

Recruiting 2.0

The fact is that there are a lot of similarities between the recruitment process and the demand gen process. “Recruitment marketing is about applying the marketing principles of demand gen and lead nurturing to the HR recruiting task,” says Anderson. “It’s the idea of nurturing a pipeline and keeping people interested so each time a new position is posted, you don’t have to start from scratch — you have a pipeline of people who are already interested in your company.”

This is the idea behind SmashFly’s Total Recruitment Marketing Platform, which helps companies build a candidate journey that starts well before the candidate applies for a job. The platform employs an omni-channel strategy, automation technology, and modern marketing practices to attract the right people so companies can make better hires faster.

“You can recruit the old, hardcore way — with your people pounding on the phone and always trying to keep candidates warm,” Anderson says. “Or you can use recruitment marketing tools like SmashFly that keep candidates interested in your brand and the growth of your company. Using recruitment marketing, you maintain a level of excitement with prospective employees so that when an opportunity comes up, they’re ready to sign on.”

Strategic Partnership – Everybody Wins

When marketing and HR align themselves around a recruitment marketing initiative, both sides of the partnership stand to gain some valuable insights.

“HR can really help open the marketing team’s eyes about the importance of the recruitment brand and how similar recruiting and demand gen tasks are,” says Anderson. “To drive an efficient recruiting machine, you have to find the right talent, bring them on board, and also keep a pipeline of warm bodies who are interested in the company. Those are very, very similar skills.”

On the flip side, marketing can help educate HR on some of the marketing strategies and tools. “Having HR and marketing work together is a great opportunity to have a recruiting specialist sit in with the demand generation team for a quarter and learn how that process works,” says Anderson. “HR and marketing have different audiences, but they really should use the same approach.”

First Steps – Have a Conversation

“When was the last time you sat down with your HR partner to talk about something other than a staff issue,” Anderson asks. It’s a valid question. It’s also the first step in creating a working relationship between marketing and HR.

Anderson recommends opening with some basic but important questions, “You need to talk about the importance of the employee brand and address how hard it is to effectively define and manage that,” she says. “And you need to know things like how many open positions you have in your company, what the associated costs are, whether you’re hiring to plan. Closing the gap in the hiring plan resolves the issue of throwing precious budget dollars away.”

“You need to build a business case for your CFO,” Anderson says, “because ultimately what marketing needs a little breathing room, perhaps on the budget or perhaps on staffing, so they can really help HR solve the problem.”

Next Steps – Get to Work

Once a dialogue has been established and breathing room has been granted, it’s time to get into the strategies and tactics. “You want to start with the brand,” Anderson says. “Marketing needs work with HR to define a clear and consistent understanding of what the brand stands for and how it’s portrayed to prospective employees. Otherwise, you risk attracting employees that aren’t a great fit for the brand or the company mission and vision.” This, she points out, can be a fairly substantial undertaking on its own.

Building on that foundation, you can then work to refine and optimize your company’s employer brand presence on key websites and networks. “You want to look for opportunities to ‘explode’ your employer brand,” Anderson says. “Are you covering the right social channels? Are you focused on review sites like Glassdoor? There are lots of tactics that HR can borrow from marketing to get the most out of those kinds of spaces.”

Finally, you can work on streamlining the process with technology and marketing skills. “At this stage, you can begin borrowing some of those demand gen tactics and using them to create a more automated and replicable approach to help drive your recruitment pipeline,” Anderson says.

Anderson hopes that marketing/HR alliances will become a growing trend in the tech industry. “A few years ago, the focus was on getting marketing to talk to the CIO,” she says. “Hopefully all marketing organizations have done that. Now, it’s time for marketing teams to go and talk to their HR partners.”

Partner at OpenView

Casey leads the end-to-end strategy & programming for OpenView’s network of industry experts, advisors & corporate partners. Her role is focused on creating connections between founders & their teams and the partners, advisors, board members & events they need to reach their goals. Additionally, she manages the OpenView portfolio peer networks and hosts the #WeeklyWalk series.