Marketing automation has been on the rise for a little more than a decade, but it’s only in recent years that the industry has really exploded. This new way of marketing has created the need for skilled and versatile employees who can blend strategic, creative, and analytical thinking.
That’s why you’re starting to see more and more job descriptions for a marketing professional who can not only plan out an entire campaign and funnel strategy, but also design it, write it, and analyze the results—and do it all with a specialist’s knowledge. The problem: That person doesn’t really exist.
Why? Marketing has grown up into a department full of specialists, and very few people deep into their careers at this point can do more than one thing competently. In reality, very few people want to.
There’s nothing wrong with being a specialist. It’s just that much of the training has been in traditional marketing practices, and marketing automation is a whole new animal. For this reason, organizations that heavily employ marketing automation are finding a gap in the skills they want from an employee versus the skills people actually have.
Why the gap? In general, we can blame the skills gap on three reasons:
1. Lack of motivation: “Experienced” employees who have worked in marketing for a long time have spent years honing their knowledge and expertise in traditional marketing practices. Sure, they likely keep up with the newest trends, but few have the time or motivation to take on brand new skills like SEO or coding. And–let’s be honest—some are interested only in positions where they can be the “thinker” or “idea person” without actually practicing tangible skills.
2. Lack of resources: This is partly the industry’s fault. The marketing automation community has been slow to keep up with the explosion in MA use, with few training and educational resources available until recently. The marketers left floundering have largely taught themselves, and they usually haven’t had the time or ability to master the complex web of expertise demanded.
And because MA hasn’t made it into college curricula, new crops of marketers tend to enter the industry with no knowledge of marketing automation and the skills required for successful performance.
3. Unrealistic expectations: As marketing automation becomes firmly entrenched as a marketing model, another challenge has risen to the fore: companies with unrealistic hiring expectations.
Earlier this year, LeadMD created this infographic that shows all of the critical roles in a marketing automation team—11 in total. The problem is that most companies look to find one, maybe two people to handle all of those roles (except the last one, of course). Not only is this unrealistic, it’s unfair to employees and sets them up for failure. If a marketing leader can’t claim competency in all of these roles, how can he or she expect an employee to?
So, yes, there’s a skills gap. But to close it, companies first have to recognize their part in it.
Solving The Skills Conundrum
Now the big question: How do we close the gap? To be honest, there’s little we can do to motivate people outside of an organization’s reach. To some degree, people must have a desire to learn on their own. Those who offer educational resources must show the value of gaining new skills while demonstrating legitimacy in certifications.
As marketing organizations, however, a big burden falls to us. We can encourage our people to gain new skills that benefit themselves professionally and our organizations as a whole.
We can also adjust expectation. I discussed above about the high expectations organizations have when looking for new employees. This has to stop. Organizations must recognize that having a few people with well-honed skills is better than trying to force one person to manage the whole enchilada.
Take a good, hard look at your needs, and then at the the skill gaps in your own organization. Draft a list of what it will take to truly close those gaps. And, yes, you can find some overlaps—a copywriter with SEO experience, a graphic designer who can code, a CRM admin who can build MA campaigns. But stop looking for the marketing wunderkind who can do everything.
In addition, many organizations expect their employees to learn new skills completely on their own. But these things require time, money, and practice—something that’s difficult for an employee to handle in addition to their regular workload.
Instead, make a cultural change and place a priority on company-sponsored professional development. Offer to set up or pay for training, seminars, conferences, or other learning opportunities. Encourage cross-departmental training, which will be especially helpful when that one employee goes on vacation and everything he or she does comes to a standstill.
The marketing automation skills gap exists. The struggle is real. But it’s our job as the community to create the right opportunities for people to close it. Let’s commit to sharing our knowledge and creating good resources--and admitting that the conundrums we’re in is also one we can fix.