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Marketing Strategy

How to Hire a GREAT Email Marketer

January 22, 2016


I’ve had the great fortune of working with some wonderful email marketers. They have delivered incredible value for our brands and have grown into leaders of some excellent email marketing programs. I’ve also worked with a few folks who may have been better off in a different line of work. Luckily, the “n” on this group is much smaller than that first group!

Putting those two sets of characteristics together helps pinpoint some common characteristics of successful email marketers. It also turns out to be a pretty good checklist of interview topics. So here’s the list of qualities I’ve seen in the very best email marketers I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, along with some ideas about how to qualify candidates you might be interviewing.

Of course, these are built from my brand-side experience…agency people may be a different animal. (Nothing wrong with agency people, mind you.)

  1. They understand the value of repetition – One of the key elements in email marketing success is to grind all the burrs off of your program. The only way to do this is to continually look at what you do. Whether it’s rendering, button placement, messaging, or content, there are a large number of small details that can send the program off the rails. Also, what worked before may not work now. The best email marketers will grind and grind until they make sure every pixel is perfect. This is one reason I love to hire musicians – they understand that in order to get great, you have to practice, practice, practice.In an interview, ask about situations where they’ve had to learn a new skill. If the words “repetition is key” don’t come out, they may have difficulty accepting the tasks needed to be great.
  2. They’re not afraid of being wrong – A second key to email success is making sure you are continually testing. If you’re not, it’s often because people are too afraid of being wrong. While school has taught us that being wrong is something to be avoided, the lifeblood of email is continually challenging the status quo. Finding people who love to figure out new ways of doing things – and aren’t afraid when they’re wrong – is a critical success characteristic to be cherished.In an interview, ask them about situations where they’ve been wrong – how it happened, what they did, how it impacted them. If they wear the “wrongness” too heavily, they may not be able to handle the fact they’re going to be wrong. A lot.
  3. They love data – Email marketing is largely about two things – creativity and data. If candidates don’t love data, they won’t be a good email marketer. It’s as simple as that. While you can teach them how to create a pivot table (it’s not really magic…unless you’re linking an external data source…which is total magic) it’s better if they already know how to build one. This is one reason I love to hire science majors – they understand that data is the key.This is an easy question in an interview. Show them a pivot table. Ask them if they know what it is. Have them edit it. If they start to shake, break out in hives or start talking about brand…no email for you!
  4. They’re surprisingly adept at workarounds –  Too many times, email marketers are tasked with doing things on an incredibly compressed time line. Plus, the interwebs are constantly changing. Which forces creativity. NOT having this adeptness is a killer – the person may struggle and can cause more management headaches than they are worth.Here’s one of my favorite email stories…I interviewed a guy on a Friday. Told him that there would be an HTML test on Monday. He came in Monday and passed the test. About six months later he told me – “remember that HTML test? I didn’t actually know HTML. I just said I did. Then I bought HTML for Dummies the next day and aced the test on Monday.” Like I said, creative.
  5. They’re reasonably level-headed –  Email can really test one’s patience. Living with continual tableflips ((╯°□°)╯︵┻━┻)is not fun. So some level of grace under pressure is critical (and yes, I know I fail on this one all the time…) Also, many times “brand” marketers will aggressively come at email people when they don’t get what they want – being able to step back and say “the data tells us a different story” is an art that is critical. For interviews, this is my favorite part – I’m usually the “stress person” – my goal is to totally stress that person out and see how they react. I come in at the end, demand to know why they should be lucky enough to work for our team, demand to know what their worst enemy would say about them. If they lock up, they’re out.
  6. They have a great attention to detail – Sending out an email with a typo in the subject line – or a link that doesn’t work – is just about every emailers worst nightmare. So making sure that person can spot errors before hitting the send button is critical. Plus, tracking links are all about details – attention to detail is critical to success. If you’re not good at detail, make sure you have someone on your team who is, then make them part of the QC process.These interview questions are easy – have a one page doc with 2 or 3 small errors. Ask them to read it over. If they don’t catch them, they’re out. If – after you point out the errors – they say “I saw them but didn’t want to say anything” they are also out…unless they are really good at pivot tables.
  7. They seem to love Comic-Con – Either they’ve gone (ask what costume), want to go or get excited about the prospect of going. Excitement about Comic-Con seems to be a major indicator of email success. Why? Is it that correlation does not mean causation? My take is that email is kinda nerdy but also expresses creativity. Same for Comic-Con. I would not make this the first characteristic I’d look for but if a candidate is repulsed by Comic-Con, it should be a major mark against them. This may be my Southern California bias showing…but I doubt it. Plus, it makes for fun interview questions.In an interview, ask questions like – “If I could get you into Comic-Con, would you go? Why or why not? If you wore a costume, which one would you wear?” If you get the eye roll…move on.You want to find people with most of these traits. If you find someone who hits on all seven, hire them. Today. Be sure to pay them well – they’ll be invaluable revenue generators for your company.

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