Some tips for finding the right employees for your new business

The evolution of traditional cataloging into multichannel marketing will force many mailers to look at new ways to find and hire the best workers – those candidates who possess the skills needed for direct marketing success over the long term.

But aside from catalog marketing basics, retail selling skills, and knowledge of Internet technology, what are the skills your new work force will need to help you achieve multichannel marketing success? While no one has a crystal ball, there are a number of skills developing across the industry worth noting.

We recently interviewed more than 100 firms, including more than 50 with substantial direct marketing operations, asking them about trends in 21st century marketing and staffing. Among our major findings was that the professionals who understand the concept of “mass customization” – the ability to customize marketing, delivery, and services to meet the needs and desires of masses of individual customers – and who are able to execute full-scale programs successfully in this new milieu will move to the top of the rAsumA pile.

The seven essentials

A number of more general characteristics of the “new” employee apply to virtually every level within your organization, from the CEO down. The top seven characteristics included the following observations in rank order. (We’ve also added examples of questions you or your recruiter should be asking in interviews to effectively screen candidates.)

1 Strategic vision and strategic process

This is the number-one attribute in the opinion of many executives surveyed. Figuratively, it is the prime dividing line between the good workers and the great employees. The ability to see ahead and take the risks necessary to beat the curve are critical. As one respondent says, “It’s the ability to quickly assess the strategic viability of ideas and translate the potentials into a profitable business model for development and execution.”

The other side of the coin is also being able to translate vision into reality. Dreamers are great, but if dreams aren’t transformed into reality, they’re nothing more than ephemeral concepts. Vision, yes. Execution, definitely. Michael Dell’s vision for Dell Computer turned the PC industry on its ear, creating a revolutionary direct marketing approach that satisfies customers’ needs by tailor-making PCs to customer expectations, and does so with trend-setting response and delivery times. Vision and execution rolled into one.

Question to ask: Give us an example of a catalog marketing idea you’ve had that you directly brought to fruition and that measurably increased your bottom line.

2 Quick reaction/recovery

The second most desired trait is the ability to think on one’s feet, react, recover, and move on successfully. This has become especially difficult, as catalog professionals today are virtually drowning in all kinds of complicated information and often lack the capacity to separate the merely useful information from that which is “mission critical.” Speed is vital. “You get it right 85% of the time and you go!” says one respondent. Another says, “In the olden days, the big ate the small. Now, the fast eat the slow.”

This is especially true the higher up you move in the organization, which means if you’re planning on promoting from within, that trait had better be developed among your junior executives early on.

Questions to ask: Are you comfortable making decisions quickly and without complete information? Can you give an example of when you’ve made a mid-course correction and still successfully completed a project?

3 Ability to be an agent for change

If you’re not challenging the status quo and driving the changes throughout the organization, you will find your firm in a permanent state of inertia and your competition will sail past you. With this in mind, you’ll need to hire employees who are also comfortable with initiating and accepting change. Lou Gerstner and other executives at computer giant IBM transformed the company by creating more than $20 billion in direct marketing and e-business revenue. This transformation proved that IBM could successfully integrate e-marketing with traditional channels.

Kicking over apple carts is not enough, though. The ideal candidate should not just tear down the status quo: He or she should be able to build something that’s better, while creating consensus around the new structure. Forrester Research has a name for this phenomenon: “proactive destruction.”

Question to ask: Have you ever thrown out the status quo and replaced it with something different that not only succeeded, but created a new consensus?

4 Recognition of creativity and innovation

New, creative, and innovative concepts can come from a variety of sources internally and externally. The trick is to recognize the good ideas and foster those that have long-term potential. “There’s a big focus on being able to recognize great creative ideas when we see them,” says one survey respondent. “That intuitive sense of understanding your brand well enough to know when a good idea is placed in front of you is probably one of our biggest challenges.” Often it comes down to corporate culture. Does your company encourage innovative, unconventional thinking, or do you smother creativity in the cradle?

True, not everyone can be constantly creative and innovative, but the best employees need to at least be able to recognize creative potential in ideas and in other people.

Innovation has assumed many forms in response to lightning-fast market changes. Software behemoth Microsoft managed to create a paradigm in which it is simultaneously everyone’s partner, while also being everyone’s most feared competitor. This kind of creativity has led to new heights in the Internet age, with the most successful Internet business models boasting myriad alliance partnerships.

Questions to ask: Can you give an example where you’ve heard an outside-the-box idea from someone else, encouraged it, and brought it to fruition? Name one idea that came out of a brainstorming session and that you brought to completion.

5 Desire for accountability

The desire to take on responsibility and be held accountable for results is a critical characteristic, especially in direct marketing. Marketers who proactively desire to be held accountable for their performance are the ones most likely to move to the front of the class. And hiring employees from a previous culture of accountability is a huge plus.

Questions to ask: Did your previous job encourage a culture of accountability, and if so, how were you held accountable for your results? What results have you delivered recently, and what is your value to the business?

6 High-level communication skills

Regardless of the management level attained within a catalog company, one’s ability to communicate to those above, below, and at the same level, is critical. “It’s almost a prerequisite for everything,” says one survey respondent. “If you can’t present your ideas in a way that gets the floor, and if you can’t get people to rally behind those ideas, then you get nowhere.”

On a practical level, this means the ability to produce convincing written and oral communications that convey vision and translate into enthusiasm and support. It also means someone who can “lead by example” – often one of the most powerful means of communication – and certainly among the most convincing.

Remember that after all, direct marketers are in the communications business, so people with the ability to express themselves clearly, succinctly, and powerfully will always have an edge in this industry.

Questions to ask: Give an example of your communication style up and down the value chain. How did your verbal or written communications result in a clear-cut positive outcome for your business? What do people in your organization say about your ability to lead and motivate cross-functional teams?

7 An action orientation

There was a time when only top executives could delegate execution. No more. To be a leader in the catalog industry, you have to act decisively and be action-biased.

“You just can’t be a good analyzer any more,” says one of our survey respondents. “You can’t just make good conclusions. You’ve got to be a `roll-up-your-sleeves,’ action-oriented individual to be successful.”

Take The online bookseller has moved quickly to add several new businesses – extending its franchise with customers who possess a rabid loyalty to’s customer service model. This is especially important given the industry’s conversion to “Internet time,” in which decisions must be considered quickly and acted upon virtually in real time. Like the old saw about the three kinds of people, “those who get things done; those who watch; and those who wonder what just happened,” doers will reap tremendous benefits into tomorrow’s economy.

Questions to ask: Give an example of your ability to turn ideas into reality. How quick was your turnaround time and how have you improved it?

No easy feat

At a time when nationwide unemployment is hitting record lows, and when the boom in e-commerce is creating a plethora of direct marketing jobs, it may sound like an impossible task to find experienced catalog talent possessing the above characteristics. And indeed, it’s not easy to find good help – or in some cases, any help – right now. But remember, the hiring decisions you make today, especially those made without much forethought or planning, could affect your business’s future. Ultimately, your ability to screen out candidates who don’t have the requisite competitive skills and talents that will help you succeed in multiple channels could save you time and money.

Years ago, Wall Street used to value companies based on “hard assets.” Now it’s the “soft assets” that count, and frankly, most of them ride up and down the elevator each day.

Consider the case of a chief financial officer at a major transportation company who recently went to work for one of the most prominent companies on the Internet. On the day he left, the value of the stock of the company he departed fell nearly 5 points. That same day, the value of the stock of the company he joined went up by the same amount. Coincidence? No. Talent counts, and people are watching more closely that you might imagine. Make the right hiring decisions now to ensure your multichannel success.

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