HomeBlog Marketing’s Big Hiring Problem, PHACE and Unicorns

Marketing’s Big Hiring Problem, PHACE and Unicorns

March 03, 2016 | By Jessica Lillian

  • B-to-b organizations often find it difficult to find qualified personnel for their marketing teams
  • New Relic’s Baxter Denney has created a new framework for finding the best candidates
  • Don’t chase unicorns – instead, look for candidates who might have taken an unexpected path to develop relevant skills

B-to-b leaders who attended the inaugural SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange in 2015 in San Francisco probably remember a certain presentation that featured a lot of pictures of unicorns.

Baxter Denney, vice president, online marketing and operations, at San Francisco–based software analytics company New Relic, delivered a memorable guest keynote at the Technology Exchange that addressed a huge problem that many organizations face today: As their investments in marketing technology systems and tools rapidly increase, they need to find qualified personnel to work with these technologies to ensure they’re getting the most out of them.

But where do you find these people and hire them in the midst of fierce competition for the most talented marketing technologists?

I recently asked Baxter a few questions about his PHACE Framework, which he developed to guide New Relic’s approach to hiring marketing talent and now shares with other organizations.

Why is it so hard for organizations to find and retain qualified personnel for their marketing teams?

Baxter Denney: One of the things I’ve seen is that everyone is trying to hire the exact same people to fill their open positions in marketing technology. But the reality is, most candidates don’t have deep experience with every type of technology.

When preparing my presentation, I went through several actual job descriptions posted online and highlighted how ridiculous they are. For example, Salesforce.com has been around for more than 10 years, but realistically, you’re not going to find someone with that experience.

Organizations just put these requirements down on paper, and they don’t realize that by doing that, they’re excluding a large group of candidates who could be valuable to them.

They’re looking for these ultra-rare “unicorns” with very specific skill sets. Everyone winds up fighting over the same people, which drives up the price for talent and leads them to bounce around to different companies. It’s an arms race that I don’t want to engage in.

How does your PHACE Framework help solve the problem?

Baxter Denney: The PHACE Framework for finding marketing talent has five main talent characteristics: Proactive, Hacky, Analytical, Connected and Empathetic.

The idea is to move away from making hiring decisions based on experiences and qualifications. Your organization can use the framework to identify qualified candidates that you might not have otherwise considered if you were only looking for people who met a specific profile or worked for certain companies.

Sometimes people with an unexpected path have the necessary combination of skills and experience to fill those roles you need in a modern marketing organization. In other words, you build your own unicorns.

For example, for marketing analyst positions, people who have been performing roles outside marketing can be great fits – people from consulting, business operations, financial services or actuarial backgrounds. There are a lot of areas where people have been applying those same skills – just to different problems. It gives you a whole new pool to swim in to get the right talent for your team.

How did you come up with the framework?

Baxter Denney: Long before the Tech Exchange, I was thinking about the hunt for these “rare unicorns” and the ways that many organizations were struggling.

Part of the way that I had already adjusted my own hiring strategy was looking for certain characteristics in candidates that aren’t experience-based. They aren’t typically things that are a major focus for most marketing hiring managers, but they are potentially indicative of future success within the organization.

Those characteristics translated into the five components that make up the PHACE Framework. Working with SiriusDecisions to prepare to speak at the Technology Exchange led me to fully document the framework for the first time and better apply it within my own organization.

What about interviewing candidates to work in a modern marketing organization? Can you provide some tips?

Baxter Denney: The execution portion of the hiring process is where a lot of people really fall down. There are basic tests that you can perform and questions to ask.

For example, to evaluate a candidate on the “empathetic” quality in the PHACE framework, you might ask what he or she thinks the hardest part of being a sales rep is. Some candidates might initially be confused by this question, but it’s important for a marketer to understand the challenges that other roles have in order to make the right contributions to the organization’s success.

Another thing I love to ask people is what they enjoy quantifying and tracking in their daily lives – and what they wish they could track and how they would do it. This shows how analytical they are. Anyone can rattle off metrics that they track on the job, but if you truly have an analytical mindset, you’re constantly trying to quantify things in your daily life.

As marketers, we tend to be extroverts and gravitate toward candidates who seem proactive and excited. Being an introverted marketer can be challenging. Many are the smartest and most capable people, but they get excluded through the traditional interview process because they don’t “seem” like marketers.

What’s next for the PHACE Framework?

Baxter Denney: I’ve posted about it on LinkedIn and in other areas online and gotten a lot of feedback from people and requests to use the framework in their sales kickoffs, quarterly business reviews and other meetings. I’m happy to share it and help other organizations change their hiring approaches. You can build “rockstar unicorn ninjas” yourself to fill marketing tech roles in your organization, and this framework gives you a tool to help identify them. And of course I'll keep writing about this and other topics on my Web site.

Jessica Lillian

Jessica F. Lillian is a senior editor at SiriusDecisions and has more than seven years of b-to-b editorial experience, including five years as the editor of national b-to-b magazines. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jessica_lillian