May 13, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: Relevant Talent

Dear Catalog CEOs:


Are you in the same place that so many other folks are these days?  In other words, are you struggling to find what one individual recently called "relevant talent"?


The job market places value on specific job responsibilities.  And the job market has a way of moving various job responsibilities between clients and vendors.


For a decade, we placed value on what we thought was important.
  • Catalog Circulation:  Outsourced to the co-ops.
  • Email Marketing:  Outsourced to a small number of vendors.
  • Database:  Outsourced to a small number of vendors.
  • Paid Search:  Outsourced to a small number of vendors.
We almost did this unconsciously, didn't we?  

We were able to downsize a once-robust customer acquisition team, because it was so much easier to just call Abacus for 1,205,448 names.  As a result, a ton of talent that would normally have developed in the catalog industry went elsewhere for employment.

We started with email in-house, then realized that the vendor community could blast our campaigns cheaply and quickly, coupled with opens/clicks/conversion data ... don't need in-house talent to do anything other than coordinate the campaigns now.  So, we shipped that function out, and as a result, a ton of talent that would normally have developed in the catalog industry went elsewhere for employment.

We sent our database out to pasture, didn't we?  When we shipped this function out to the vendor community, a ton of talent that would normally have developed in the catalog industry went elsewhere for employment.

Paid Search became the most relevant online comparable to catalog co-ops ... you either pay for clicks, or you pay for access to the mailbox.  When we shipped this function out to the vendor community, a ton of talent that would normally have developed in the catalog industry went elsewhere for employment.

From 2001 to 2010, this "worked".  We cut back on expenses, and our vendor partners worked their rear ends off to support us.  This was a magical outcome of the "multi-channel" era.

Except for one little problem.

In my time in the industry (1988 - current), talent "developed".  I want to share with you the career path of some of the individuals who became Executives during the past twenty-five years.
  • Accountant -> Circulation Manager -> Circulation Director -> Merchant -> EVP Direct Channel -> Owner.
  • Customer Acquisition Analyst -> Housefile Circulation Manager -> Customer Research Director -> VP Direct Channel.
  • Statistician -> Inventory Manager -> Research Manager -> Research Director -> VP Direct Channel -> EVP Direct Channel.
  • Customer Acquisition Analyst -> Customer Acquisition Manager -> Circulation Director -> VP Online Marketing
  • Housefile Circulation Analyst -> Housefile Circulation Manager -> Merchandising Director -> General Manager -> President
What did each of these individuals possess?  Well, they obtained skills in job titles that, in the past decade, have been largely outsourced to the vendor community.

And while vendor community skills are very important, they are not the same as the skills you obtain in the hand-to-hand combat of a catalog/online/retail brand.

A decade of this activity resulted in a complete dearth of what is now called "relevant talent".

Repeatedly, folks ask me to help them find an individual with a set of skills that simply doesn't exist anymore.
  • "I want an online expert who can also increase the profitability of our catalog marketing program."
  • "I want somebody who can integrate email and search and social into a coherent strategy".
  • "I want somebody who knows how to run a profit and loss statement."
  • "I want an Executive who can chart a course to the future."
These people were plentiful fifteen years ago, because we developed the talent pipeline.

These people barely exist today, because we abandoned the talent pipeline, we outsourced it.

As a result, we have to greatly overpay for relevant talent, or we have to adjust our expectations for the reality we created for ourselves while kick-starting the talent development process.

To date, we've not willing to do either.  Our businesses are suffering as a result.

Thoughts?

4 comments:

  1. I am from India and we are still taking outsourcing projects. its just because we do work for less price and quality of the work is well maintained. Thanks for the interesting post! Job Responsibilities

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