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Hiring Pro Tip for Behavioral Marketers: Look for Gritty Problem Solvers

by: Dave Walters (@_DaveWalters)
04 January 2013

When it comes to hiring, how many times have marketers thought, “I need to hire someone young to drive my social strategy?” Or, “We need someone who can multitask at superhuman levels to handle all the programs and social updates we need to manage in a given month.” The logical thought process is to overly select for qualities like agility, but it turns out that’s not even close to the full story.

Often, millennials have great impact on the speed and agility of our businesses, but some managers report a whole different set of challenges with this peer group. And some prospective hires might fit the age criteria, but be a different breed of individual altogether. So how do we make sense of these variations, and how do we isolate and hire the best people for our marketing team?

Just before the holidays, my ever-insane travel schedule gave me a serious gift. Our friends at the Corporate Executive Board, who produce the excellent Marketing Leadership Roundtable program, scheduled a session called “Driving Marketing Performance in a Volatile Environment” in the heart of Silicon Valley, directly between two Silverpop customer events in San Francisco and Irvine.

They presented the results of an in-depth survey with more than 600 leading companies designed to extract and describe the five key personas of marketing professionals – and where they best fit into your organization. (As a side note, they’ve also done some great work outlining the same types of people profiles for sales organizations.) Here’s where they ended up drawing the marketing lines:

1) Adapter

  • Comfortable with change and ambiguity
  • Strong learning posture
  • Strong analytic skills
  • Digitally savvy

2) Connector

  • Strong networking skills
  • Digitally savvy
  • Strong data focus
  • Strong learning posture

3) Doer

  • Likes clear direction
  • Reliable
  • Good at executing ideas

4) Fast Mover

  • Fast decision making
  • Strong bias to action
  • Loves change
  • Independent worker

5) Focuser

  • Prefers depth of focus over breadth
  • Perseveres despite setbacks
  • Thinks through issues thoroughly
  • Works independently

Before we go all the way down the statistical rabbit hole, these are the results of the cluster analysis — and yes, they apply across industries and levels of seniority. They may or may not bolt directly to your organization, but I found this construct incredibly useful in putting names and traits to personas we all know.

Once these were extracted, the open question was how marketers should select specifically for the “agility” trait. Well, the “TL;DR” version is that agility turns out to be a negative aspect almost across the board. In fact, hyper-focus on multiple tasks at warp speed ends up wasting a lot of time and resources. The research also included specific inputs such as:

“We had a marketer that fits the ‘Fast Mover’ profile perfectly, but he was managed by someone highly focused — and so performed well. Then he got promoted and had free reign over a whole department. He wreaked havoc and we’re still cleaning up the mess now.”

Consumer Packaged Goods Company

In another stroke of naming brilliance, the researchers coined the term “gritty” to describe the opposite of the agility metric — a propensity to dig into second- and third-order levels, and to focus on a task to completion. When overlaid with the personas, they found strong correlation with the “Focuser” role.

For me, this hit the nail on the head and illuminated what I’ve seen during the last 20 years as digital marketer. Here’s the summary on the role:

"Focusers win because they have 'grit' — the ability to overcome adversity to reach higher-order goals:

  • Gritty people (e.g., focusers) are defined by an extraordinary ability to stay focused on higher order goals and overcome challenges to achieve them.
  • Gritty people are particularly successful in unstructured, ambiguous and challenging environments.
  • In fact, grit is the strongest predictor of success in many environments — above and beyond the impact of IQ and other positive traits."

Sounds exactly like our fast-moving marketing groups that are increasingly focused on analytics and performance, huh? The most important takeaway for me was you don’t need (or want) someone who can give the perception of riding every wave — the most effective players are the ones who can see the longer game, prioritize the solutions and execute to the end.

The problem is that these folks are hard to find. According to the MLR research, just 9 percent of the sample fit the criteria. If I were back to running a marketing team next week, I’d devise a way to both quantify my existing team for “grit” — and develop an approach for resume review and interviewing that would highlight that skill.

For more reading on the topic, check out this piece directly from the CEB, a related Harvard Business Review blog or download the entire report. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Related Resources:
1) Blog: “The New Marketing Team: Who You Need to Succeed
2) White Paper: “Organizational Considerations for the Modern B2B Marketing Department
3) Infographic: “The Marketing Dream Team"




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