5 December 2023

How to hold onto your best marketers (because they’re in short supply)


Marketing teams tend to have a higher-than-average employee turnover rate. And it’s a sad fact of life that it’s your best performers who are most likely to leave.

We caught up with People Director Richard Cummings and Marketing Director Liz Cobbold from our friends at People Puzzles to understand why this happens and explore how business leaders can hold onto their best marketers. 

Why marketers decide to leave 

They feel undervalued

Marketing, as a discipline, is often misunderstood by other departments and can be undervalued, particularly in SMEs where small or one-person teams often operate on tight budgets. The wider business sometimes questions the value of marketing and whether its focus aligns with the business’ objectives. It's important to note that marketing teams can sometimes contribute to this issue by not focusing on things that have a genuine impact.

"Marketers can have a battle on their hands,” Richard said. “I've seen situations where other departments question the worth of marketing or what they’re trying to do. If the rest of the organisation doesn't appreciate marketing or isn't receptive to their ideas, it can have a real negative impact."

Lack of growth and development 

Everyone seeks growth and progress - and marketers are no different. But in SMEs with small marketing teams, it can be hard to see what comes next because there are few layers of management to grow into. This can create a sense of stagnation and the feeling of being stuck in the same role, doing the same things year after year. 

“I think it can be hard in SMEs because there are only so many roles and other places you can go,” Richard says. “For some marketers, you are literally the entire marketing department. Sure, you can change someone’s title or give them a pay rise, but fundamentally their role won’t change that much and this creates the feeling they’re not going anywhere.”

A shortage of senior marketers to learn from can also contribute to this. “If you hire a junior marketer, naturally they’re going to want to learn and progress. But realistically they’re probably going to need to learn from somebody. And if that more senior person isn’t there, learning is much harder.”

Misalignment with the rest of the business

Marketers can easily become isolated from the rest of the business. While sales and operations teams are directly involved in selling and delivering products or services, marketing can start to feel like an afterthought that has little to do with the core business strategy or day-to-day operations.

This is a big problem, for a few reasons. Marketers who feel separate from the wider business are going to be less engaged. Their work rate will deteriorate and eventually, they’ll quit. But this issue is much bigger than one employee.

The more isolated marketing becomes, the more likely they are to focus on work that has little impact on the business. And the more likely sales and marketing are to drift out of alignment, leading to a breakdown in their relationship and the effectiveness of marketing overall.

How to retain your best marketers - and keep them engaged 

Listen to their plans

High-performing marketers are often ambitious self-starters brimming with ideas. Embracing their energy and ideas is crucial for job satisfaction and retention. 

As Richard says, “The best marketers are the ones that are always coming to you with a plan. I think they're really hard to find and they’re the ones you need to keep.” 

We’d go even further than this and suggest that any marketer without a plan is a problem. But as the business owner, if you want to hold on to your marketers, you need to listen to them and value their input.

“The business owner has to buy into marketing,” Richard says. “If your marketer comes to you with an idea or a plan, I think you have to trust in what they can do. If you constantly tell them to get back in their box you're just going to force them out of the door.”

One of the advantages of being an SME marketer is that you can have more influence and input than you would in a large corporation. As Liz says, “One of the great things about working in a smaller business is you're dealing with the senior leadership team directly every day. You have much more influence than you would in a larger company.”

By embracing your marketers’ ideas, you’re able to turn the fact that you’re a smaller company into a strength by giving your marketers more input and autonomy than they’d get in a larger company.

Give them someone to learn from

While marketing training is valuable, junior marketers learn a lot faster when they’re learning from someone who has been there and done it themselves. If there are no senior marketers internally, you might want to consider bringing in external experts to coach and mentor your team. 

This is something our part-time Marketing Directors are often asked to do. We try to make sure that every junior marketer has a personal development plan based on the needs of the business, the marketing strategy and where they want to take their careers. This helps make sure that the marketers are kept engaged and that they’re building the skills the business needs.

Peer-to-peer networking can be another good way for them to share ideas and challenges with other marketers. “Give them some time so they can go and talk to other people in the industry,” Richard says. “This is particularly important if you've got a one-person marketing team. Because nobody wants to be lonely and it’s great to share ideas with others.”

Align Marketing with the Business

Your marketing strategy should align closely with your business strategy and sales activities. By aligning your sales and marketing strategy with your business strategy, you’re more likely to end up with marketing activity that has a genuine impact on the rest of the business. This will also help your marketer feel like their work is making a difference and helping the business achieve its goals.

On a more tactical level, marketing should work closely with sales and have an appreciation for what’s happening across the wider business. The more siloed marketing becomes, the less likely it is to have a strategic impact and the less likely your marketer is to feel engaged and valued.

Remember: churn can be a good thing!

While business leaders will want to avoid losing their best people, churn is a fact of life - and it can be a good thing. As Liz says, “Churn happens. And actually, churn brings in fresh ideas and talent. So you shouldn’t always be afraid of it. New people can have a huge impact and bring in ideas from outside your company or even industry.”

Richard agrees: “You want your marketing team to have fresh ideas and new people do that. They may even bring insights from competitors. That can be a lot better than someone who still remembers a campaign you ran five years ago.”

Hold on to your top performers for longer

Marketers want their ideas to be listened to, their work to be valued and the sense that their efforts are having a genuine impact on the business. These things sit alongside the standard things all employees want: a sense of progress, training opportunities, competitive compensation, attractive benefits and a clear career pathway.

By putting these in place, you can feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to hold on to your best marketers - and creating an environment that will attract others.

Thanks to Richard and Liz for making the time to chat. You can learn more about People Puzzles on their website

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