As one of the founders of Woodlyn Partners, Lee Hoffstein has his finger on the pulse of the job market for sales and marketing talent in the Greater Boston area. A diligent publisher of his market observations, Lee has recently drawn attention to what can be termed a “candidate shortage”, for the first time in years. Lee shares what this means for employers and for job candidates – and what he expects is the root cause.
Kathy: Lee, point blank, is there a shortage of candidates to fill sales and marketing jobs in the technology sector of Greater Boston?
Lee: It may come as a surprise, but yes I believe we’re facing a shortage of qualified talent in high tech currently. Woodlyn focuses exclusively on high tech sales & marketing recruiting in the greater Boston area so I can’t officially comment on I.T. and engineering hiring, however from speaking with our agency partners focused in these areas, they’re seeing the same thing.
Kathy: Does this mean there is a shortage of talent, meaning, plenty of candidates, but they are falling short of qualifications, or does this mean that most sales and marketing professionals are gainfully employed, and not looking to make a change?
Lee: Both… The job market is like a pendulum with many different factors impacting the hiring process and talent pool at any one time. Both 2008 and 2009 were extremely difficult years, however as the job market improves and hiring activity increases, high tech companies are competing for top talent again with fewer qualified candidates to consider.
Some of the things contributing to this:
- Our clients tend to be smaller software companies with limited resources and are under great pressure to make the right hiring decision. They look for candidates who have a proven track record and can hit the ground running. They seek people with specific functional experience, domain expertise, and a strong cultural fit.
- Much of the available talent pool is currently employed and in many cases need to be recruited into the active job market. Candidates once again have more viable choices and companies need to tell a compelling story to attract top performers. For most passive candidates it’s all about career growth vs. job change and people who are employed and not necessarily in the market are often available for the right career move…
- Fewer companies have a “farm system” in place to train and grow talent organically, but rather look to recruit candidates from a competitor or similar domain space.
- High tech is competing for talent with a number of other fast growing industries (i.e. Biotech, Green Tech, etc…).
- The aging work force is impacting all companies including high tech.
Talent In Demand
The Bootstrap: What types of positions are currently in demand?
Lee: We’ve seen increased hiring in the following areas:
- Inside Sales Reps. – we continue to see a trend where more high tech clients are building out and staffing high transaction, low price point inside sales models. These teams leverage online marketing and tend to hire sales people with 2-3 years experience.
- “Hybrid” salespeople – in these roles 80 – 85% of the sales process is conducted on the phone and 15- 20% face to face.
- Marketing Programs and Demand Generation professionals – we’re seeing more demand for candidates with experience using Web 2.0 online marketing tools and responsible for driving customers to the web, lead generation and growing the sales pipeline.
- Product Marketing – focusing on sales tool development, competitive analysis, positioning, white papers, etc… Seeing both Manager and Director level assignments.
Kathy: It’s been many years since you’ve painted this type of scenario, and much has happened in the last few years to influence sales and marketing protocols. The recession gave a boost to cost-effective market outreach in the form of social media. Also, some firms sought the efficiencies of marketing automation and other tools that were thought to add marketing and sales muscle, such as CRM systems and other DIY cloud-based services. How has the preponderance of social media and automation tools influenced what firms seek in sales and marketing talent today?
Lee: The new technology you mentioned has definitely impacted how our clients sell and market their solutions. Companies are increasingly focused on web-based demand generation, e-mail campaigns, SEO & SEM and the technologies that monitor report and analyze the quality of these programs. Because of this we’ve seen position requirements change and companies are looking for people with these experiences. Also, we’ve seen Marketing’s impact reach deeper into the sales process then ever before. I think all the positions mentioned above in response to your question about the types of positions currently in demand reflect Sales and Marketing’s changing roles.
The Employer’s Perspective
Kathy: How are employers reacting to the difficulty in filling positions quickly? Do they simply expect vacancies to remain open longer? Are they more open to contractors until they find full-timers?
Lee: It really depends on how much “pain” they’re in and the consequences of the position going unfilled. We may see the some flexible with their domain experience requirements. Also, some hiring managers become actively engaged in the recruiting process and present a compelling reason for a candidate to join, and move quickly and aggressively once they’ve identified the right person.
In general, companies that have the best success filling key roles:
- Have a defined description for the position and how it fits in the organization.
- Interview to qualify vs. disqualify candidates.
- Bring candidates in for a face-to-face meeting as quickly as possible.
- Keep the interview process to no more than 2-3 meetings.
- Are prepared to give the benefits of joining the company and how the future growth of the business could impact their careers.
- The hiring manager extends the offer, personally inviting the candidate to join their organization.
The Candidate’s Perspective
Kathy: What is the perspective of the candidates? Does this open opportunities for less-experienced or differently-experienced candidates? Is there more opportunity to leverage translatable skills as opposed to direct, relevant experience?
Lee: We have noticed a shift in confidence with passive candidates over the past several months. As market conditions improve, they’re looking to reenergize their careers and reenter the market. Some of the reasons we’re seeing increased candidate activity include: limited resources in their current role, reduced pay & income growth, stalled career progression and cultural fit. Yes, sometimes this translates into an opportunity for less experienced or differently experienced individuals, but they typically have the most success making these shifts or transitions through someone they know in their network of contacts.
Kathy: Have there been any merger or acquisition activities that are influencing hiring trends?
Lee: Yes, this has been fascinating to watch. During the dot com explosion almost every company went IPO. Now we’re seeing companies be acquired. Some times people with the acquired company are not impacted and continue to be successful with in the new company. Some times people’s roles are consolidated or may proactively look to leave because they thrive in smaller companies. Then we see the cycle start all over again…
Kathy: Is there any advice you’d like to offer our audience of B2B technology firms? As you know, everyone is either a hiring manager, or a candidate depending on the day.
Lee: In general, the relationship and expectations of companies and employees has changed over the years. In high tech, everything moves so fast and there is so much uncertainty. My advice, recognize this is a nature of our industry and embrace it. To quote Sharon LoVan at Woodlyn Partners. “People need to be the president of their own private corporation”. I’m always disappointed when I see people change jobs just to change jobs. I’d strongly urge everyone to take the time to assess their goals and priorities before starting a search. I’m also just as disappointed when companies act short sighted in the process with candidates and negatively impact their reputation.
Kathy Tito Dunlay
President and Founder, New England Sales & Marketing