7 Deadly Sins of Recruiting – Practical Insights from the Hell of Hiring

In this short post I show you the worst examples of recruitment behaviour I have experienced, I show you the root of all recruitment evil – and I also ask a small favour! :-)

Recruiting revisited – still terrible

Recently I had many conversations with different people who are intimately involved with recruitment: corporate recruiters, headhunters, CEOs, and of course candidates. Observing different processes at different companies is really interesting, especially when you hear the people in charge throwing around buzzwords such as ‘employer branding’ or ‘active sourcing’. And then putting none of that into action. I feel quite passionate about this topic, since I believe recruiting is a strategically important function in companies of any size and industry – and yet it is very often lumped together with HR, which really is not the same!

Recruiting is an active role concerned with finding new talent to secure the company’s future, while HR to me is more of an administrative role, trusted with matters such as payroll or disciplinary procedures.

While still important, the latter does not have strategic importance. Recruiting does. So I decided to list the 7 deadly sins of recruiting I have come across over the years. I believe each one of them is terrible on its own, but I have seen many companies committing more than one, which really is outrageous. Here we go:

7 Deadly Sins of Recruitment

The 7 Deadly Sins of RecruitmentWhy this behaviour is not ok
Take longer than two weeks to give feedbackThe candidate might decide to go with an employer who treats them as a higher priority
Suddenly go dark and never respond againNot even sure where to start on this one…just communicate and be honest
Tell the candidate they will need 2-4 more weeks (or longer!) to screen other applicantsThe candidate is expected to wait in limbo because the company has a terrible recruitment process
Send a template email rejectionMight be ok before first round interview, but after that feedback is not optional. It is good tone and fair
Be late for a phone call or face-to-face interviewOne of the first things they would criticise the candidate for - simply disrespectful to make someone wait
Be vague about what they expectIt is good to be open-minded. It is terrible to be unprepared
Be dishonest about the reason why it did not workThe truth usually is not that hard to take, and it is the only way the candidate can learn something

To me, this list shows one thing very clearly:

Employers still do not treat potential employees at eye level.

Imagine candidates displaying any behaviour of this kind – it would be the end for them. And quite rightly because it is terrible to do any of these things. For companies, however, it still seems to be perfectly acceptable. How many times have I seen a CEO frown at a candidate for being five minutes late, while he made it a habit to make people wait 10-15 minutes – because he is the CEO, right? Best to establish that right from the start: Know your place, and shut your face! Wonderful.

What is needed for recruiting to work

In order for recruiting to really work, companies finally need to start perceiving and treating it as an essential pillar of future growth, not a back-office department generating nothing but costs. This would also result in them treat employees with more respect, leading to a better quality of available candidates and, as a consequence, a better team.

The word candidate, in fact, should be abolished: It makes the company again look superior and the potential employee appear like a petitioner. In today’s world, I think neither party should have an edge over the other when it comes to recruiting. Even in a temporarily one-sided market, the “stronger” party should be smart enough and not take advantage: the tables will turn again eventually, and treating people fairly from day one will be repaid in loyalty.

All of this may seem like old news to you – but that is precisely my point: those thoughts really are not new, and yet it still has not changed, although everyone keeps talking about the importance of it. So I thought it is time to make this list and ask you to do one thing:

Please share this list on Twitter, LinkedIn and anywhere else suitable. The more people see this, the better. And whoever sees this – they will all benefit from recruiting finally getting the focus it deserves.

Making recruiting better than it is today is really important to me, and it would mean a lot to me to get your help with this.

Got any more deadly recruitment sins to report, or any other thoughts? Please leave a comment!

Twitter – Sleeping Giant or Sitting Duck?

In this post I will look at Twitter as a business, identify some of its biggest challenges, add my own experience as a user and draw a conclusion about the future direction of the company.

My relationship with Twitter – it’s complicated

People who follow me on Twitter probably know that I am quite active and that I like engaging with others on a number of topics, usually connected to entrepreneurship and startups. However, very few of you know that I actually only started doing this in January 2015! Before that, I had my account idly sitting there, not doing much at all. Then, I decided to give it a go and engage with people properly, and voila: from 80 followers to currently c. 2,500 in just over five months – without any aggressive following, I usually just follow back. So yes, you could say Twitter works for me, and I do enjoy sharing with and learning from others. Also, my Twitter presence has proven really valuable in both content distribution and content discovery.

So why, I hear you asking, do you feel you have a complicated relationship with Twitter? And why do you think Twitter, a platform with such a massive and active user base, is facing serious challenges?

Surprisingly enough, I have more than just one axe to grind with the old blue bird…and I am going to tell you why!

The Product – Twitter is not really evolving

Let’s get straight to the point: Yes, Twitter have worked on some features here and there over the past few years. They redesigned the profile quite a bit, for example, and built some really helpful analytics. From my point of view, however, not much has really happened to the core product. This becomes especially apparent when you compare it with two other companies who have undergone significant product updates, and even evolutions, in the meantime: Facebook and LinkedIn.

Please note: I do not suggest product updates for the sake of just doing them; they should add tangible value for the user. In Twitter’s case, however, there are many opportunities to even just iron out some glaring flaws – and yet nothing much happens. Here is my personal hotlist of significant UX improvements:

        • Abolish automated tweets: “Hey Matthias (+15 more people), thanks for following me!” Services such as IFTTT (otherwise a really great tool) have made it possible to send new followers impersonal, meaningless welcome tweets – for what purpose? Is it meant to make me feel welcome and appreciated when some algorithm tweets to me? I get why people want to do it, but Twitter really should think what kind of automation it wants to allow via its API to avoid spam.
        • Abolish automated Direct Messages: See above – just that it is even worse! “Thanks for following me, please also like my Facebook page!” Are you mad?! You just got something (a follower) and you immediately want more? The spirit of Direct Messages should be a very personal, private interaction – and yet automation has managed to completely ruin that feature. Again, why is Twitter tolerating this spammy behaviour.
        • Fix disappearing Notifications: Has it ever happened to you that months worth of Notifications simply disappeared? Sometimes they come back, sometimes they do not. While this may not be crucial to some users, I find it disturbing that such a basic, basic product feature has such obvious flaws!

This list is not exhaustive, and I am sure other people can tell you a lot more examples of low-hanging fruit improvements Twitter could make (hint: leave a comment!). To me, policing spammy user behaviour is particularly important as it can easily make or break a service in the eyes of its community. Other companies like LinkedIn should also work on issues such as spammy pictures in their news feed, but that is a story for another blog post.

Community management – if only!

There are a couple of things a company should do to be successful in the long run. While a lot of them are related to its inner workings (e.g. growing a solid culture to support organisational growth and preserve integrity), there is one essential factor no company can ever ignore: the voices of its customers and users.

In Twitter’s case, customers are advertisers, and users are people like you and me. I honestly do not know how well Twitter takes care of their paying customers, but if their handling of users is any indication, I would not get my hopes up.

In short:

Customer care and community management at Twitter are the worst I have experienced in any sizeable tech company!

I am the type of user who sends messages to customer support if I find something not working the way I believe it should, or if I think something could be improved. Why? Simply because I want to help companies I interact with understand what their users think. I have sent quite a few tweets to companies like LinkedIn or Buffer, and I was amazed by the speed and dedication with which they replied and often even followed up.

With Twitter, not so much: I do not remember ever receiving just one response to a tweet when I pointed out an issue or suggested an improvement. Other Twitter users I spoke to made the same experience, and I wonder why a social network thinks it is a great idea to be anti-social on their own platform? Should a company not be happy if their user base cares about the product? It is a strong connection which is easily weakened, if not destroyed, by a lack of responsiveness – because it sends a simple message: “We do not really give a f*** what you think!”

It honestly puzzles me as I simply refuse to believe that the people at Twitter do not understand this very simple truth – so why on Earth are they trying so hard to alienate loyal and caring users? If anyone has an insight, do let me know please.

One thing is certain though: Ignoring your users will lead you to disaster.

Twitter’s Business model – quo vadis?

Looking at Twitter’s business model again brings up the inevitable comparison with other social networks such as Facebook or career networks like LinkedIn. All three of them have an advertising-driven business model (although LinkedIn also heavily monetises their talent solutions and premium paid account models).

Comparing Twitter’s financial success to both Facebook and LinkedIn, established companies which have also been around for a few years, make Twitter look like a dwarf.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook: Revenue and Net Profit Margin
Data Source: Google Finance

While both Facebook and LinkedIn have shown not only impressive revenue growth over the past few years, but also managed to break even some time ago (LinkedIn dipped back into the red last year due to some big investments), Twitter has achieved neither.

Personally I am a big supporter of delaying profitability in the interest of fuelling growth: companies such as Amazon took a very long time to become profitable, and even nowadays reinvest almost all of their profits in order to further develop their product portfolio. However, Twitter’s situation is completely different: the company is not incurring losses caused by tremendous growth, but because the business model simply does not carry itself!

I have yet to understand how Twitter plans to ever drive significant revenue from their advertising business. Consider this:

  • According to numbers from Buffer, the average life time of a tweet is 18 minutes – very short compared to 90 minutes for a Facebook post, which is bad news for advertisers on Twitter
  • User’s attention span on Twitter, given the nature of the Twitter Home Feed, is very short (hint: this is where most of the ads appear in the form of sponsored tweets)
  • Recently Twitter started including sponsored tweets on user profiles as well – personally I find this is getting really spammy, and I am not sure how well it actually works

In a nutshell, I fail to understand how Twitter will be able to drive enough engagement to their paid ads to generate significant revenue going forward. Historic revenue is lagging behind that of its peers, and while you may argue that Facebook or LinkedIn are somewhat different products, Twitter’s valuation of currently $24.5BN, almost identical to LinkedIn’s $24.4BN, sounds very optimistic.

Unless there is a new monetisation strategy about to be launched which will be a game changer? If anyone has any insights on Twitter’s monetisation strategy and disagrees with what I wrote, please comment on this post as I would really like to hear about it!

The verdict

When reading this article you may think that I really hate Twitter. Not true. As I said earlier, I really love using the product, and it has been a tremendously helpful platform for me. In fact, this is the only reason why I wrote this fairly long post.There was a story the other day about Yelp being up for sale, and I never thought about writing about it, although Yelp is also facing considerable challenges. Unlike with Twitter, I do not feel a connection with their product.

So the reason why I wrote this post is because I wanted to share my point of view on a company which managed to build a really great product – and is now facing some big challenges in succeeding as a business.

Some of those challenges Twitter cannot necessarily control, such as their competitive environment. What they can (and should) improve, though, is their way of interacting with users and how they portray themselves. From my experience, Twitter is not seen as particularly progressive and innovative these days – something Facebook, for example, is a lot better at.

And finally, Twitter needs to come up with a completely new way of generating revenue. The nature of its product (very short half life of tweets, combined with extremely short user attention span) are a terrible combination. Unfortunately I do not have a perfect answer on which ad formate would work better on Twitter, but my instinct would tell me to look into other revenue channels, such as monetising access to user data a bit more. However, I still believe the big break through is somewhere else.

Personally, I do hope that Twitter takes a turn for the better. It is such an essential platform and one of the pillars of digital interaction – if anyone at Twitter is reading this, please know that your users care, and maybe you should do the same when it comes to them – it would be a really great, first step.

Got any comments, good or bad? Please tell me what you think, and what other thoughts and ideas you have on how to make Twitter better!

Product Standardisation – Walking on the Razor’s Edge

In this post I will explain why satisfying your clients inevitably creates conflicts in your product development, and how marketing and sales can help ensure that product standardisation is still possible in a customer-centric business model.

“I really like your product – it is exactly what I need, the best solution for me on the market! The only thing I am missing is an interface with this software we have used for years…but if you build that for me, I will definitely go with your solution and get it signed off by our Head of Digital right away!”

Does this sound familiar? If you work in sales or account management, I am pretty sure you have heard those words before – a potential client who really, really wants your product – it just needs a little extra bit of customisation. And unless you work in a industry where bespoke solutions are the norm, customisation should not be your focus.

Especially in an early-stage startup the temptation is very big to just go along and say yes to all client requests – you’re a young company, you need clients because you need proof of concept and, well, money. So it often happens that your first few clients get away with murder, since you simply are in no position to say no, so you end up doing exactly what they request.

And that is where you establish the basis for future account management nightmares and operational chaos! Why? Because you will never be able to achieve meaningful product standardisation.

Product standardisation is key for achieving scale

Making clients happy is important for any business, irrespective of the size and the current phase of development. However, imagine you continue to act like the hypothetical early-stage startup I just mentioned, and satisfy all your clients’ requests for extra features.

Do you think they will be happy? Pretty sure they will be, but will you? Once you start scaling the company by adding more clients, and also enlarge your operations to support more growth, your generosity will come back to bite you.

I have experienced it myself: suddenly your neat and tidy portfolio of 2-3 products has evolved into a jungle of 20+ different variations, with different features and pricing agreements here and there.

You want to role out an update across the platform without much hassle? Forget it. Cut off some features on future releases? Not a chance – after all, each client feels they paid specifically for all those little goodies you gave them!

So what are your options then? You can muddle through the way you did before, and never be able to really scale, or you need to make the hard cut at some point and push through the product standardisations you need – and risk losing many clients in one go.

Neither option sounds attractive – so consider the following instead.

Marketing and sales need to set the right expectations

In order to avoid your product variations growing like weeds on your lawn, you need to set the tone right from the start. Your clients obviously will not really care why product standardisation makes sense for your company – after all, you are meant to solve their problems!

So you need to deliver a different, customer-centric message to them:

  • Position yourself as an authority in your field through strong content marketing to gain expert status
  • Emphasise in your product marketing that you offer a standardised solution which is based on industry best-practice
  • Be consistent in your sales pitches and negotiations to ensure prospective customers have a clear understanding of your value proposition

You may even be honest and mention in a direct sales conversation that your business is dependent on speed and efficiency so that you are able to aways provide the latest updates to your clients – and for that, product standardisation is essential. Some of your clients will certainly understand, since you make it important for them.

This may sound like a lot of work and some extra hoops to jump through, especially for sales when signing new clients and facing their objections to standardised solutions. It is definitely easier to get a new client hooked if they get the feeling that everything they ask for will be possible, but as we established earlier, the cost for you will be much higher later on.

In summary

Promoting product standardisation right from the start may make it harder to win new clients for a company, but the long-term benefits cannot be ignored when you consider future growth. Managing complexity in your product portfolio comes at a high cost.

Marketing and sales can both help influence clients early on to ensure expectations are in line with product strategy and thus make it easier for account management to develop positive relationships with clients going forward.

How do you deal with product feature requests at your company? Do you rate them as an issue? Leave a comment or get in touch!

Sales vs. Marketing – A Proposition for solving the conflict

First, I would like to say that I did not really plan to write this post – it is more the result of my frustration over a topic which is well known to everyone working in sales or marketing: the constant struggle and blame game between both teams. Yes, let’s call it what it is: sales and marketing people hardly ever appreciate each other – but why, and how can we fix it? Here’s how I would do it.

Sales and marketing hardly ever get along

Have you ever spoken to a sales person about the marketing team in their company, or vice versa? I am willing to bet pretty much anything that 9 out of 10 times this will result in an avalanche of complaints, allegations and other varieties of displeasure.

“If only marketing could get our message across properly, we would not have such trouble closing deals!”

“If only sales did not try to squeeze the last cent out of every client, our marketing strategies would actually result in conversions!”

To me, this is really fascinating since I also worked in companies where this blame game took place, and from a management science perspective it was interesting to watch it unfold.

From an operational point of view of someone who was involved against his own will, it was hell. In high-def. Having dynamics like this in a company does not only endanger its performance, but also deteriorates the culture in no time. So I decided to take a closer look at why these two factions behave the way they very often do, and how it could be changed.

The unfortunate role of management

The first, arguably quite obvious observation I made was that this whole situation is completely absurd. Think about it: sales and marketing are both:

  • directly responsible for generating revenue
  • dealing with clients (at different parts of the purchase funnel, but still)
  • conveying the value proposition of the company

Looking at this, you would think that these two teams should act like one army, each group supporting the other, with a common goal and intimate knowledge and understanding of the other team’s function and processes. So this whole conflict does not make any sense now, does it?

It does, unfortunately, when you factor in the role of management. What does management do? That’s right, they seek to maximise the performance of the company by driving revenue up and costs down, and in order to do that they set targets. Marketing have their targets (e.g. generate x new leads per month, to make it very simple), and so do Sales (sign y new clients per month, again greatly simplified).

Now I will show you why this might work nicely on paper, but almost always gets messed up in practice.

Opposing targets – a firm divided

Let’s imagine our marketer now who knows about his monthly target: generate new leads. What kind of target is that? Correct, a very stupid one! It is very stupid because it incentivises the marketer to simply drive up the number of his leads, irrespective of quality, just to hit his target! (Note: I am aware that real targets often contain mechanisms to prevent such obvious flaws, but believe me they are not perfect either). A goal set in isolation, designated to work in a complex environment like a company, is a recipe for disaster.

So let’s switch to the sales manager who receives those leads from marketing, and who needs them to achieve his monthly goal of signing new clients. Will he be happy about the work marketing did here? Probably not. And will he blame marketing if he is unable to achieve his monthly target? You bet he will – even though his own performance might be mostly responsible, but hey, who’s counting?

What is happening? Both sales and marketing are doing exactly what management instructed them to do, and they are pursuing their individual targets. They key word here: individual. As you can see from our little example, the problem is not that either marketing or sales are underperforming; they are both trying to perform well – but according to targets which are set in isolation from each other!

So the answer is that neither sales or marketing are ultimately at fault, but instead the conflict of interest between both groups is caused by the KPIs put in place by management. Is this the case in every company? Probably not – but I have seen it happening too many times to believe that it only applies to a few.

As a manager I do appreciate the difficulty in setting the right KPIs for an entire organisation, which is quite a complicated system on its own. And when you then factor in the human component, it becomes highly complex. Sadly, there is no quick fix: you do have to take all of this into consideration when setting targets, otherwise you will achieve terrible results.

So let’s look at a potential solution to our problem here.

Removing the barriers: an experiment

Thinking about how to better align sales and marketing to avoid these unintended conflicts of interest, I came up with an idea: Why not combine sales and marketing in multiple, mixed teams?

The idea is to create small, agile teams of marketing and sales people and give each team the target to sign a certain number of new clients. That way you would assure that marketing provides not only a high quantity, but also the right quality of leads which can then be converted by sales. And sales would be incentivised to work more closely with marketing and communicate their message in a better way. Both groups’ interests would therefore be aligned.

An additional benefit of removing the barriers between sales and marketing should also be a greater exchange of information. From my own experience this only happens in a limited way if both teams act in isolation (again, lack of common goals), and it is crucial for a company that all information about clients is shared across the organisation.

I do not know whether this has been tried before, but to me it would be a worthwhile experiment to see how sales and marketing interact in small units with aligned goals – could this end the struggle between both teams?

What are your experiences with sales vs. marketing? Have you experienced similar situations? And do you think this solution could work? Leave a comment!