Everyone is replaceable. After our acquisition, one of my transitional responsibilities was to hire my replacement. More specifically, it was to replace the portion of my time that had been spent heading up marketing. A significant upside of this move was that I would get to handpick my successor who would spend 100% of hers or his time in that role. That was exciting for me because I always felt like the 10-40% of my time spent on marketing hamstrung its performance. It needed more than a fractional leader. This is my story of wins and losses in recruiting marketing leadership over the years.
Two Failures Recruiting Marketing Leadership
Twice before I had hired marketing leadership. Both times were failures. I hired a strong director who had to switch coasts for personal reasons and then a VP who simply wasn’t effective in the role. Despite the years that had passed, both of those missteps were fresh in my mind when I set out to fully replace myself. There was more pressure because this person had to fly solo very quickly. There would be no extended mentorship, no year-long soft landing. This was to be full-on, intense transition and then, as Mork once said “Fly! Be free!”. I did not want an egg splattered on the floor.
I had spent the first portion of my post-acquisition transition focused on handing off my CEO duties to an internal candidate who had been promoted to General Manager—operations, finance and business planning for the coming year. My plan was to spend the second third of my time on recruiting and the last third transitioning marketing to the new director.
Switching Costs of New Marketing Leadership
One of the biggest things I learned from my two prior hiring failures was that the switching cost of people was exacerbated by switching costs of systems. There was nothing broken when I hired those people, yet they wanted to change everything. And I let them. Again, this time around, there was nothing broken. In fact, we just needed to do more of what we were already doing—preserving current levels of efficacy. In other words we needed to scale the machine not reinvent it. So, criteria number one was that the candidates commit to scale what we had, and for the most part, work within the existing toolset.
Everyone has favorite tools. Martech is a massive space with thousands of vendors. Modern marketers gain proficiency in a subset of those tools and then believe that their path to future success goes through those specific tools. I completely understand that. But, for the already-successful organization on the receiving end of the switching cost, the upside is seldom worth the lost resources and momentum. In most cases, substitute tools have a different set of strengths and weaknesses that net out to parity. For me, that means there has to be an overwhelmingly strong reason to switch. (This is coming from someone whose marketing automation platform has gone from Pardot to Marketo, to Eloqua, back to Marketo and then back to Pardot.)
Commitment to Preserve the Status Quo
This preservation of status quo extended to the team makeup as well. The last thing I wanted was for the disruption of the acquisition to be amplified by a freight train of a manager coming into the team and making sweeping personnel changes. I needed to be sensitive to compounding changes. My co-founders and I generally liked to promote from within, so internal candidates were certainly welcomed to throw their hats in the ring. I made clear that those folks would be competing with external folks as well.
Once the candidates started pouring in, it was obvious that the bar was high. I read every resume and forwarded those I liked to our internal recruiter for phone screening. The first thirty I reviewed yielded several promising prospects. It felt like a great hit rate. Subsequent days delivered more and the phone screens were rolling. During that time, I also interviewed all of the internal candidates. Our recruiter posted notes on her phone screens and bounced things off of me. We agreed on a short list that ultimately ended up with five candidates, all of them external.
I did two series of video interviews—one wider, and one narrower from just the top three. Before I made an offer, I emailed or video called each internal candidate to let them know why they weren’t getting a offer. Again, I wanted to do everything I could to minimize the trauma.
Capability to Improve on the Status Quo
After my final round of video interviews, I had a clear frontrunner. I felt she was aligned enough to scale what was in place and talented enough to extend, expand and enhance the status quo over the coming months and years. She was a hard worker, progressive thinker and pragmatic manager—three characteristics I was fortunate to find in one complete package. I felt that I was leaving my responsibilities and team in good hands. I had confidence that I was replacing myself with someone awesome.
I can say that replacing myself felt weird. But, I can also say that feeling like I recruited the best possible replacement felt great. I highly recommend it.